Kindness…The Universal Language

The Kindness Project– My daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reed, started a weekly kindness project last month. She gives her students a kindness challenge to accomplish every weekend. Some challenges are easy like, “say something kind to your parents” or “call someone and say hi.” Others require a bit more effort like “thank a pastor,” thank the school administrators,” “do something kind for a friend” or “send a card to someone.” All of the challenges are age appropriate tasks to develop a servant heart in the lives of young students. So imagine my surprise when one of the challenges made me reach outside of my comfort zone and transformed my heart forever.

The challenge seemed simple enough, “do something kind for a neighbor.” I thought we could pick our neighbors down the street who have a daughter Lillian’s age or do something nice for the Rogers family, two houses down. They go to our church. But when I asked my daughter which neighbor she wanted to pick she enthusiastically chose our next door neighbors who own Pikachu and Benji, two dogs she absolutely adores! The dogs owners are friendly but we don’t know them very well. They don’t speak much English so our communication with them has never gone beyond a neighborly wave and a nod. Why did my daughter have to pick them? Will our next door neighbors understand why we are giving them homemade cookies and a drawing created with crayons? (what my daughter decided she wanted to give our neighbors) Why couldn’t my daughter pick someone familiar?

Then I thought… What would Jesus do? Would He play it safe or reach out to the unknown? Although this kindness task would force me to step out of my safe haven, I knew I had to assist my daughter and complete the kindness challenge with our next door neighbors. When we rang the doorbell and they didn’t answer, we left the goodies on their door mat. A few days later we saw them in the yard and they waved an enthusiastic thank you and I could tell they were greatly touched by the huge smile on their faces! My heart was overjoyed!

A few weeks later our doorbell rang and our neighbors’ son was at the door with a very special surprise! He was home from college and had a special delivery for my mini me… a stuffed dog that looked like Benji (their dog) and a handwritten heartfelt note that he had written for his parents. It was touching to learn that a small act of kindness meant so very much to them!

All of this happened because of the kindness project initiated by my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and my daughter’s huge heart. As a mother I am hyper focused on all of the things I want to teach my daughter that I never stopped to realize all of the wonderful things I’m learning from being her mother! And what a blessing it is to send our daughter to a Lutheran School where she is growing academically but more importantly learning about Jesus and how to serve others. An authentic friendship has developed between our families and I am thankful my daughter helped me reach out to someone new. I learned that when you show kindness and love to others, language is no longer a barrier!

Happy New Year From the Noteworthy Mommy…An Unprecedented Year and My Wish For You in 2021

If you had asked me in March if I would give up playing with my musical groups, terminate travel, give up my educational consulting job, go without live musical theater, stop singing in the choir, limit my visit with friends and spend Christmas without my parents, in return to spend more time with my family of three at home, I doubt my answer would have been an enthusiastic YES! Although 2020 was filled with its fair share of challenges, struggle and loss, as I look back on the year, it was also filled with many blessings. And spending more time with my family of three is at the top of the list! When all the distractions of my usually busy lifestyle were taken away, it left time for me to focus on a few things… the two people who matter more to me than anything else in the world, my loving husband and our little girl. Don’t get me wrong, there were days and still are (a new year doesn’t make the struggles go away) that I long for nothing more than a night away by myself but in 2020 my eyes were opened to prioritizing my life and putting my family and my faith ahead of everything else.

I almost feel ashamed that it took a pandemic for me to figure out the obvious but I’m grateful that I finally understand what is important. I have tremendous respect for Dan Presgrave, a brilliant conductor, teacher and the founder of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony, which I am a member. He was headed down a very dark path, constantly searching for something to give him a “fix” and then he found Jesus and his life was transformed. He became a pastoral counselor, writes a weekly Christian blog at http://meetpastordan.com/blog/ and created a Christian counseling program for veterans. When he resigned as principal director of the Saint Louis Wind Symphony, I was shocked. How could such a talented man, who devoted his entire life to music completely walk away from such a passion? Now I get it. Now I understand. Although Dan still appreciates music, through Christ he has completely prioritized his life and now he has peace and happiness that was only found when he put Jesus first.

My mother-in-law recently asked me what thing I missed the most in 2020? I think she was surprised when I shared that I didn’t miss anything. That wouldn’t have been my answer in March when we were in full shut down or even the months that followed. But once I began to concentrate on the gifts God has given me instead of what was taken away, I found an inner peace that has brought tremendous joy even during this difficult year.

My daughter’s amazing kindergarten teacher has her students write in a thankful journal every week. The entry for the weekend after Christmas asked the children why they are thankful for Christmas? My daughter looked at me and said, “That’s easy. There’s only one answer…Jesus!” Tears of joy filled my eyes because my young daughter understands what is important. I pray that she continues to put Jesus first.

Without my faith, my church, my talented pastors, my family and most importantly, Jesus, I would have never survived 2020. I don’t know what waits ahead in 2021 but I know that Jesus will get me through. He will continue to walk beside me through the joyous times, the hard days, the unthinkable and all of the days in between.

I close this New Year message with hope for you and your family. Patrick Swierczek, a childhood friend, posted this on social media and the words accurately depict my wish for you in 2021.

The Sweet Smells of Christmas

Christmas is almost here and for two generations this sweet book has helped my family of three get ready. Originally published in 1970, The Sweet Smells of Christmas, by Patricia Scarry, was one of my favorite childhood secular Christmas books. I discovered a few years ago that my husband had a copy of the book as a child and enjoyed it just as much as I had. When my daughter was a toddler my mother-in-law bought her a copy so she could have one of her own and it quickly became one of her favorite Christmas books.

I got lost in the pages with Little Bear and his parents and scratched the fragrance labels so many times that bare paper was revealed. My favorite smells were the hot chocolate and the orange. My daughter’s favorite smell is the candy cane and like me she fell in love with the scratch and sniff pages.

Like Little Bear, my childhood Christmases were magical. As an adult they still are! You easily could have replaced me with Little Bear as my house smelled of cookies lovingly baked by my mother and grandmother and I accompanied my dad each year as we carefully selected and cut down a fresh pine tree. Our tree, along with our entire home, was decked from top to bottom with Christmas cheer! There were years that carolers visited our home and filled our hearts with their angelic voices. And like Little Bear, Santa Claus always brought me more than a little girl could possibly wish for!

Now as parents, my husband and I get the joy of seeing and smelling Christmas with our mini me. There were Christmases where we yearned for a little one to hold so dear so even though we are spending a Christmas in quarantine, away from the rest of our family, we know we have been blessed! It will be different from past Christmases and we will dearly miss being with grandparents but we rejoice knowing that everyone will be healthy and safe. Like the bear family in the book our family of three will have a Christmas filled with love. And the best part will be celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, the greatest gift any of us could ever imagine!

Advent Traditions…Preparing The Way

This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the liturgical season where Christians prepare and anticipate the coming of Christ by celebrating His birth on Christmas and looking forward to the day we will see Him again. This year Advent is going to look a bit different and I’m going to dearly miss some favorite church traditions like Advent By Candlelight, Family Advent Night and Advent services led by school children. As the pandemic continues, our traditions are forced to be altered and a little bit of sadness creeps into a season usually filled with cheer.

Instead of concentrating on what is missing this year, I am focusing on the gifts God has given me. More quality time with my family of three has allowed us to try new activities and as a result, the beginning of new traditions. Without the parties and added distractions, I am taking more time to study God’s word, beginning each day with an Advent devotional that is deepening my relationship with God. And the extra time I’ve gained from cancelled events has allowed me to slow down and clearly see the many blessings God has given. And that fills by heart with hope and joy, which is truly what Advent represents.

Advent Wreath– Christians have adopted the tradition of lighting candles during Advent to observe this as the time of the coming of Christ who is the light of the world. One tradition is lighting an Advent wreath at church and at home to mark each Sunday in Advent. This Advent tradition dates back to Germany and the Lutheran Church following the Reformation. Today Advent wreaths are made out of evergreen and are shaped like a circle to represent eternal life. The Advent wreath we use at church and at home has five candles with three of the candles being blue or purple in color to match the liturgical colors. The candle lit on the first week is blue and represents hope. The candle lit on the second week is blue and represents peace. The candle lit on the third Sunday is pink and represents joy. On the last Sunday of Advent a blue candle representing love is lit. The candle in the center is white and is know as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Advent Family Devotionals– This year my family of three are doing two different Advent devotionals, “The Way in the Manger” and “Jesus’ Family Tree” (Praying through Advent with the Jesse Tree). We begin our devotional by lighting our Advent wreath and singing the following song..

“Light One Candle”– Light one candle for hope, One bright candle for hope. He brings hope to every heart He comes! He comes! **For verses 2-4, replace hope with peace, joy, and love.

The tiny Advent wreath above was created by my mini me during her first year of preschool. Carefully crafted out of clay and decorated with green paint and birthday candles it is very special to us.

Advent Calendar With Pastor Rouland and Rupert the Dog– Our senior pastor is making daily Advent videos where he leads viewers in singing “Light One Candle,” reads a scripture verse and reveals a new ornament for his Advent tree. My daughter squealed with delight when Rupert the Dog makes a special appearance. Search for Zion Lutheran Church St. Charles on You Tube or click here for a video link.

Chocolate Advent Calendar– When I was little I always had a chocolate German Advent calendar. In fact, the German Club at my high school sold them. The tradition continues with my daughter and everyday we guess what shape the chocolate will be, hunt for the number and then rip open the little window and enjoy the sweet treat hiding inside.

Advent Tree– We’ve had this Melissa and Doug wooden Advent tree since my daughter was a toddler. My daughter loves adding a magnetic ornament to her tree everyday. It’s the perfect countdown to Christmas

Turkeys on Parade…Fun Turkey Activities for the Entire Family!

This week it’s all about turkeys! From tasty turkey treats to reading turkey books to building a trap to catch a turkey, our family of three are having some terrific turkey fun!

Turkey Treats– We started the week by making these yummy cinnamon roll turkeys for breakfast! We used pumpkin flavored cinnamon rolls and followed the baking directions on the container. When they were cool it was time to transform the rolls into tasty turkey treats! We used bacon for the feathers (bacon makes everything yummy), candy corn for the beak, candy eyeballs (found at craft stores) for eyes or you could use chocolate chips and pretzel sticks for legs. Our family of three gobbled them up!

Turkeys on Parade Mini Book- When I taught kindergarten I wrote this turkey mini book, Turkeys on Parade, for my students to color and read. The book helps young readers learn the words “on” and “the” along with the color words brown, yellow and orange. CLICK HERE to download your own copy of the book. 

Terry the Thankful Turkey– This year we were introduced to Terry the Thankful Turkey and all month we are stuffing Terry’s tail with pictures and words describing what we are thankful for. CLICK HERE to read all about Terry the Thankful Turkey.

How to Catch a Turkey– My daughter is doing virtual learning this week and her teacher read the class the book How to Catch a Turkey by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton. This fabulous book about a turkey who is running loose in school right before a Thanksgiving play will get you thinking about how to catch a turkey! My daughter’s teacher asked her students to make a turkey trap. My daughter wondered what turkeys eat, thinking that by putting food in her trap she would entice a turkey. We predicted that turkeys eat bugs but after investigating online we found out they also eat grass, maize (corn) and nuts. So we went outside and gathered acorns, grass and used the maize from our Thanksgiving decorations. She also gathered some leaves to make a nice bed. My daughter built a cage out of blocks and added a water jug and she is ready to catch a turkey!

Turkey Dances– Who knew there were so many turkey dances online? If you need a brain break or want to plan a Thanksgiving dance party check out the following….

Turkey Disco Dance– This turkey disco dance, by The Learning Station, will get everyone in your family moving! CLICK HERE to view.

“T” Turkey Dance– This turkey dance by Go YOYO is full of fitness and fun! CLICK HERE to join YOYO in doing her hip hop turkey dance.

Gobble Gobble Turkey Wobble– This Noteworthy Mommy loves Koo Koo Kanga Roo and the duo has a catchy turkey dance that I know you and your family will love!

Turkey Trouble– We watched the book Turkey Trouble by Marc Maron being read online and then made a disguise for our Terry the Thankful Turkey so he won’t get eaten for Thanksgiving dinner! My daughter came up with the disguise and used a tape measure to make sure his costume would fit! CLICK HERE to read the book online.

There are so many fun things to do this time of year! Even if you only have time to do one activity, you will be making some wonderful Thanksgiving memories. I hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving. Although our celebrations may look different this year, don’t forget, there is always something to be thankful for!

Terry the Thankful Turkey…There’s Always Something to Be Thankful For!

Our family began a new Thanksgiving tradition this year with Terry the Thankful Turkey. My daughter was thrilled when she discovered Terry the Thankful Turkey on our kitchen table in early November. (I put him out for her to discover on her own) She immediately asked me to read the book that accompanies Terry and we both fell in love with this gracious little guy.

Written in bouncy rhyme, the book, “Terry the Thankful Turkey,” created by the talented Marcela Osello, introduces the young reader to the many things Terry is thankful for. The beautiful illustrations surround the reader with visions of autumn and reminds us that we can find joy in the simple things like the falling leaves, clouds in the sky and sitting down to enjoy a delicious meal with loved ones.

At the end the book the reader is instructed to be like Terry and share what they are thankful for. They can be thankful for something, someone or someplace.

Throughout the autumn season, Terry encourages the reader to write or draw something they are thankful for on the included thankful pad. Fold the paper and stuff it in Terry’s zippered tail. By Thanksgiving Day, Terry will be stuffed with messages of gratitude. My daughter asked me if we could take Terry to our family lake house, where my family of three are gathering with my parents and in-laws for Thanksgiving. Terry the Thankful Turkey will become part of our Thanksgiving tradition when we unzip Terry on Thanksgiving Day and share all of the things we are thankful for with our immediate family.

I love Terry the Thankful Turkey because he is much more than an adorable stuffed animal and a catchy book! Terry the Thankful Turkey is interactive, promotes literacy and teaches gratitude. As an educator, Terry is something I wish I had to share with my students when I was a kindergarten teacher. When I saw how much my five year old is enjoying Terry, I knew he would have been a huge hit in my classroom! I was shocked, when, without prompting, my daughter wrote and drew a picture of something she was thankful for on the thankful pad. She carefully unzipped Terry’s tail (great fine motor practice) and joyfully filled him with words of gratitude. Terry the Thankful Turkey is something the entire family can enjoy together for years to come and a tradition that will be passed to future generations!

Without prompting, my daughter writes and draws something she is thankful for.

You can purchase Terry the Thankful Turkey on Amazon or by visiting his website, www.thankfulterry.com. Follow Terry on Facebook and on Instagram at thankful_terry. Don’t forget to #thankfulterry with photos of you and your family being thankful with Terry!

Although this unprecedented year has been filled with struggle, loss and anxiety, it has also been filled with reinvention, creativity and innovation. I encourage you and your family to be like Terry the Thankful Turkey and take the time to count your blessings. And remember, no matter how hard life gets there is always something to be thankful for!

My mini me loves Terry the Thankful Turkey so very much that she drew his portrait at school.

Spiders, Spiders, Spiders!…Reading, Art, Music and More

October is the month for spiders, those often feared but very helpful eight legged arachnids. My daughter and I found ourselves “caught up” in a lot of spidery fun this month!

Spider Mini Book– I created this book when I taught kindergarten and it was a big hit with my mini me. This spider book teaches young children all about spiders. CLICK HERE to download the book.

Spider on the Floor!– I fell in love with the song “Spider on the Floor,” recorded by Raffi in 1976. We used spider rings and acted out the song which is great for identifying body parts, following directions and rhyming.

Spider Web Painting– My daughter and I love to marble paint and this time of year is the perfect time to grab some paint and marbles and make a spooky masterpiece. If you use black paper and white paint your creation looks like a spiderweb. My daughter drew a spider and glued it to her web. She has learned a lot of interesting spider facts and made sure her spider had eight legs!

Spider Snack– Another idea from my book is this easy and nutritious spider snack. Use two crackers as a body and peanut butter, cheese spread or some type of spread to make a cracker sandwich. Stick eight pretzel sticks (four on each side) inside the cracker to create the spider’s eight legs and use raisins as eyes. Although my daughter pointed out that spiders have eight eyes instead of two there wasn’t enough room to add that many raisins! CLICK HERE to download this yummy snack!

Charlotte’s Web– I have begun reading chapter books to my daughter and this was the perfect time to introduce her to the beloved book, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. The book tells the story of an unlikely friendship between a pig named Wilber and a barn spider named Charlotte and my daughter and I enjoyed reading and discussing the book together. Now I want to introduce her to the Charlotte’s Web movies. The 2006 movie is currently on Netflix and the 1973 animated version is on Amazon Prime. I enjoyed watching the animated version when I was a little girl and it will always be my favorite!

I hope you and your family enjoy some of these spooky spider activities. And remember, most spiders are our friends. They eat insects that harm gardens and crops.

Fun Fall Activities… Scavenger Hunt, Pumpkin Coloring Pages and Remembering the Reformation!

My daughter and I have been enjoying fall this year. From apples to pumpkins to leaves to spiders, there is so much to do! So I decided to write another fall post with links to more fun fall activities!

Fall Scavenger Hunt– This fall scavenger hunt made our ordinary daily walk exciting! My daughter was motivated to find everything on the list! We were able to observe the fall changes happening in nature while getting some fresh air and exercise. We brought a bag along and my daughter enjoyed collecting her “treasures” and proudly showed them to daddy when he got home from work! I got the fall scavenger hunt from www.printablesfairy.com.

Shine With His Light Pumpkin Coloring Pages– I love these meaningful Christ inspired pumpkin coloring pages created by Oriental Trading. My daughter and I colored some to send to family and friends. It is the perfect way to remember to let the love of Jesus shine through you! Click Here to download the Shine with His Light page and Click Here to download the Jesus Shine in Me coloring page.

Reformation SundayCelebrated on the last Sunday in October, Reformation Sunday commemorates the Protestant Reformation as well as Martin Luther, who nailed his 95 Theses to the door of
Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany,
on October 31, 1517, the eve of All Saints’ Day.

Teach your little ones about the Reformation by making these paper dolls. Samantha, from Pleasantly Crafted, created these fun paper dolls and is gifting us with free downloads. Click Here to download the Reformation paper dolls and go to Pleasantly Crafted to purchase beautiful Lutheran inspired arts and crafts designed by Samantha.

Pumpkin Spice Makes Everything Nice…Spookley the Pumpkin and Jack-O-Faces

I love fall and I am crazy about everything pumpkin spice! In this post I share some of my favorite pumpkin spice products along with a new pumpkin spice bread recipe. You will learn about two of my little pumpkin’s favorite fall stories…Spookley the Square Pumpkin and Jack-O-Faces!

Pumpkin Spice Everything!- It seems like you can find pumpkin spice everything these days. I love trying new things and I just discovered Pumpkin Spice Whipped Topping at ALDI. It pairs perfectly with Coffee Mate’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer and Pumpkin Spice Coffee (I told you I loved everything pumpkin spice!) I can’t wait to try some on Thanksgiving with my homemade pumpkin pie. Other ALDI pumpkin favorites are Pumpkin Spice Pancake Mix, Pumpkin Spice Pretzels and Pumpkin Spice Rolls.

Pumpkin Spice Bread– Since I love everything pumpkin spice I am always on the lookout for new pumpkin recipes. I recently discovered this yummy pumpkin spice bread. It has similar ingredients to my favorite pumpkin pie recipe so it tastes just like a piece of pumpkin pie in a slice of bread! My daughter enjoyed helping me mix up the dough and my mini me loves the bread just as much as I do! CLICK HERE to download the recipe.

Pumpkin Beer– It seems that every brewery, big and small, brews a pumpkin beer in the fall. I have enjoyed sampling many of them but my favorite will always be O’Fallon Brewery’s line of pumpkin beers. Every year O’Fallon Brewery comes out with a pumpkin pack that includes some interesting pumpkin flavors. This year they brewed a spicy Mexican Hot Chocolate Pumpkin beer. It wasn’t my favorite but I loved their new Pumpkin Whip, a tasty pumpkin cream ale with a hint of whipped cream. My favorite O’Fallon Brewery beer is their Salted Caramel Pumpkin! This caramel ale has the perfect blend of sweet and salty with just a hint of pumpkin, making it the perfect beer to enjoy with your favorite sweet or savory pumpkin treat!

Spookley the Pumpkin– Three generations in our family enjoyed reading the Spookley books by Joe Troiano. Wearing our matching Pumpkin Spice, Living My Best Life t-shirts from the clothing boutique, Foxtail Lilies, we enjoyed reading both of the Spookley books and then watched the Spookley movie on Netflix. The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin is the first of the two Spookley books and it introduces the reader to Spookley the Square Pumpkin. Little ones learn that pumpkins come in all different colors, shapes and sizes and that you can’t judge a pumpkin by its cover! The follow-up book is called Spookley and the Pumpkin Jamboree. Both books are written in rhyme and the Netflix animated movie is based on both books.

Jack-O-Faces– My mom discovered this cute pumpkin rhyme when she was in college and my dad and I turned it into a reproducible book for young children. CLICK HERE to download the mini book. My daughter enjoyed coloring with Nana and reading her book to all of us!

I shared some fun pumpkin activities with my readers last year. CLICK HERE to learn more. In a year filled with change, unrest and uncertainty, I hope you enjoy your best life this fall… whether that includes pumpkin spice treats, a pumpkin beer or creating some special memories with your favorite little pumpkin!

Octoberfest Fun!…a Favorite German Meal Prepared With Love

With COVID-19 cancelling Octoberfest celebrations around the world my parents and I decided to hold our own celebration this year. During the first weekend of Octoberfest my family and I celebrated the occasion with a big German meal. Aldi, a German company, came in handy by providing some yummy shortcuts to our meal.

German Items From Aldi– With Aldi being a German based company the discount food chain offers some limited items during the fall season to make your Octoberfest authentic! I read online that Aldi sells these imported German favorites two times throughout the year, so if you missed buying them this fall you’ll have another opportunity in the spring, usually around Easter.

For our Octoberfest meal I looked to Aldi for their imported dried spaetzle (a small dumpling popular in southern Germany). Another limited favorite is Aldi’s red cabbage with apples, delicious and good for you too. I always get my sauerkraut from Aldi (imported from Germany and found at Aldi year round.) And you can’t have a proper German celebration without a yummy dessert and the caramel apple strudel from Aldi did not disappoint. It was the perfect ending to our meal. The strudel comes frozen and is available in apple, caramel apple and mixed berry.

Schnitzel Prepared Hunter Style– I make pork schnitzel (breaded and fried pork cutlets) throughout the year and usually serve it plain or with a slice of lemon. This time I wanted to make a Hunter Sauce to go with it and my dad and I cooked up the sauce together. Hunter Sauce is a creamy mushroom sauce with onions and it is so good! After pouring the rich sauce over the schnitzel, we garnished the dish with real bacon bits and fried onions. The main dish was delicious and cooking with my dad was fun! CLICK HERE for the recipe.

Big Shark Lemon Radler by Urban Chestnut– I love radlers (beer mixed with lemonade or lemon lime soda) and I found a local radler brewed by a Saint Louis brewery, Urban Chestnut. Urban Chestnut’s radler is hands down the best radler I’ve ever had in the states. During the summer I enjoyed their Big Shark Grapefruit Radler and it was delicious. I wish they brewed them year round! We drank from mugs decorated with my hometown flag, a city founded by German immigrants.

You don’t have to be German or come from a family with German heritage (my maternal great grandmother was a German immigrant) to enjoy Octoberfest! You simply have to love beer, good food and family fun!