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!

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.

A Fun Loving Pastor Who Taught Me To Never Stop Cheering For God!

If you stay in one place for any length of time chances are good that at some point a friend, neighbor, co-worker, teacher or pastor, will leave your community and you will have to say goodbye, sending them off with well wishes and good speed. My family of three recently participated in a “water balloon” send off for one of our associate pastors who left our congregation to accept a call to serve at a church in West Hartford, CT.

COVID-19 made it impossible to hold a traditional send off but our church staff found a creative way to say goodbye. Pastor Reitz has a fun loving personality, enjoys a good joke and is known to ease awkward situations with a little bit of humor, so, it seemed fitting that our congregation had a send-off for him “water balloon style!” With water guns and water balloons in hand, church members drove through the parking lot drenching Pastor Reitz with water and best wishes. Pastor Reitz and his family will be dearly missed and we wish them the very best!

Fair Weather Fan– A Saint Louis Blues parade passed behind our house prior to our drive through send off for Pastor Reitz. It seemed appropriate, not because Pastor Reitz is a Blues hockey fan but it reminded me of a sermon Pastor Reitz gave shortly after the Saint Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup in 2019. The sermon touched me so deeply that I approached Pastor Reitz after the service and let him know how his words had resinated with me.

The Reitz family on the last Sunday they were together at Zion Lutheran.

I remember Pastor Reitz describing our city’s reaction to the Blues during the championship series. It seemed everyone had became a fan with households in every zip code tuning into the games! Blues banners and flags appeared on businesses and throughout neighborhoods. Stores sold out of Saint Louis Blues t-shirts and jerseys, making them impossible to keep in stock! There was no denying it, everyone in the St. Louis area was bleeding blue! Then Pastor Reitz questioned if these fans had always been Blues fans? Have the fans loyally stood by the team during the wins and the loses? Or were they being fair weather fans, only interested in the Blues when the team is playing well and abandoning them when they have a bad season?

Then Pastor Reitz asked us if we have ever been a fair weather fan to God? Have we ever turned away from God? This question hit me. Although I have never turned away from God, I have historically turned to Him more when I was struggling, suffering and in need of guidance. I have spent more time on my knees praying when I was experiencing a struggle than praying for thanks when everything in my life was going great. So in my own way I do turn away when the going is good. During that sermon I resolved to turn to the Lord during the good and the bad and the in-between. I was reminded that God never turns away from us! He loves us when we sin and forgives us of those sins when we ask for His forgiveness. He loves us when we win and when we lose. God is never a fair weather fan to His children.

Proverbs 3:5 happens to be my daughter’s memory verse for this week and I found it so appropriate.

Pastor Reitz and his family served Zion Lutheran Church for close to a decade. We pray for the Reitz family as they begin a new chapter serving the congregation at Bethany Lutheran Church in West Hartford, CT.

The Tale of Two Dads and Two Ducks…Happy Father’s Day!

During my quarantine cleaning I discovered two ceramic duck banks purchased last year from the dollar store. Planning to have my daughter and her BFF paint them during a trip to the lake last summer, I asked my daughter if she would like to paint a duck for each of her grandfathers for Father’s Day. My mini me excitedly answered, “Yes,” and part of the afternoon was spent painting ducks and decorating cards for the important men in her life.

After gathering all of her supplies my daughter began painting the first duck. She studied the box with intent and proceeded to paint the duck exactly like the one on the box, copying every detail from the orange beak and yellow body to the dark eyes. She grinned, proof that she was proud of her accomplishments. When I asked her who was going to be on the receiving end of the “traditional” duck, without hesitation she answered. “Paw Paw!” Then she eagerly set out to paint the second duck but this time chose blue and green along with the yellow paint, covering the ceramic with an abstract design that resembled a miniature model of the Earth. Taking great effort to cover every last spot of white, a huge smile emerged as my daughter declared the “abstract” duck was for Pops because he is an artist who likes lots of colors. I shook my head in amazement because at five years of age it was clear my little one has us all figured out.

The painted ducks represent her two grandfathers with perfect accuracy.

Paw Paw– The “traditional duck” is perfect for Paw Paw. He is an engineer who can fix anything. He loves Cardinal baseball, playing golf and reading. He dresses conservatively and always wears khakis and a collared shirt. Paw Paw is passionate about history and genealogy and has traced his family tree back to generations. He remembers everything with clear precision and retells events in great detail.

Pops– The “abstract duck” is perfect for Pops. He is an artist who can transform the mundane into a thing of beauty. He loves old movies, gardening and sunsets. Pops is creative. He has an eye for color, draws effortlessly, creates beautiful table scapes and can easily stage a home for resale. He is the party planner extraordinaire who helped me plan the wedding of the century along with themed birthday parties all without missing a single detail. He is outgoing and passionate, often exaggerates the retelling of events and has never been seen in a pair of khakis!

I have been on shopping excursions with both grandpas and the experience was drastically different with each one. Paw Paw would be found holding his wife’s purse and taking a nap while she tries on clothes in the dressing room while Pops would be browsing the racks, putting together outfits with just the right accessories for his wife to try on. While Pops enjoys browsing the aisles and bargain shopping, Paw Paw is a “get in and get out as quickly as possible” kind of shopper who would gladly stay at home and shop online.

Although the two grandpas are as different as they can be, they do have one very important thing in common…they both love their one and only granddaughter! She is their little princess and without hesitation they would move mountains for her! We were blessed to celebrate Father’s Day with Pops on Saturday and with Paw Paw on Sunday. These two individual men are a true blessing in our lives! Happy Father’s Day to Pops and to Paw Paw!

Taps Across America (A Social Distancing Memorial Day Weekend)…Day 70

On this Memorial Day Weekend, I wanted to learn more about the holiday while teaching my daughter about this special day. What’s the history behind Memorial Day? Why do we celebrate it? Who does it honor?

According to the USO website, Memorial Day, which is celebrated on the last Monday in May, honors service members who have died in military service to our nation. It’s roots date back to the post-Civil War era and was originally called Decoration Day, when citizens placed spring flower memorials on the graves of fallen soldiers. In 1868, General John Logan declared that the first ever National Decoration Day would take place on May 30. Over the next few decades, the day transitioned to being called Decoration Day to its current name of Memorial Day. In 1968 Congress passed an act declaring that Memorial Day be celebrated on the last Monday during the month of May and in 1971 the three-day weekend for federal employees was established.

Today, unfortunately, Memorial Day is associated with the start of summer, swimming pools, cookouts with friends and discount sales. I want my daughter to grow up knowing the real meaning of Memorial Day, a day where we honor the men and women who died serving our country.

Taps Across America COVID-19 is making most Americans spend this Memorial Day social-distancing. Parades have been cancelled and many Memorial Day ceremonies and celebrations aren’t taking place. Steve Hartman, a CBS journalist, began a campaign called Taps Across America, where he encouraged trumpet players across the country to play taps at 3:00 pm local time to honor our fallen service members and to play tribute to victims of the coronavirus pandemic. My daughter and I were thrilled when my husband, a trumpet player, decided to participate. He has a history of playing taps on Memorial Day, having spent his high school years, rising early and playing at VFW ceremonies throughout town. Today, this Noteworthy Daddy played taps on the front porch of his parents home, while family members, neighbors and friends, listened on and kept proper social distancing. After a moment of silence, everyone spread out their lawn chairs, ate some pizza and simply enjoyed being together.

Memorial Day Books– Picture books are a brilliant way to teach children of all ages. I found a book and a short cartoon that helped my daughter understand why we celebrate Memorial Day. Memorial Day Surprise by Theresa Golding is a captivating book about a mom who takes her son to his first Memorial Day parade. The surprise is seeing his grandfather, who is a decorated war hero, in the parade! CLICK HERE to read the book. CLICK HERE to watch a video that explains why we celebrate Memorial Day.

This Memorial Day was like no other. Filled with honor and remembrance, sunshine and showers and social distancing with our neighbors. We will never forget.

Now What?… Day 66

Our school year is over and summer vacation has officially started. As I sit here thinking about the days ahead, all that comes to mind is…Now What?

As states begin to open back up many uncertainties remain. And our media is no help as it is flooded with mixed messages and different opinions. Early on I thought once the stay at home order was lifted things would go back to “normal.” Now I know that transitioning out of isolation will be a gradual process. Through the transition we will need to continue to practice social distancing. Will we be required to wear masks? Hand sanitizers and extra hand washing will be imperative. So many unanswered questions remain… Will swimming pools open up for the summer? What will worship look like when our church reopens? Will we have VBS in person this year or will it be virtual? Will schools conduct professional development sessions and will I train teachers this summer? What will the 2020-2021 school year look like?

Among all of the unknowns, one thing is known, the pandemic is something we have never experienced before. As we transition back to “normal” we need to be accepting of others, allowing every person, every family, to enter back into society in a way that makes them feel comfortable. We shouldn’t judge others but focus instead, on what feels right for our family.

I continue to find comfort through God’s word and am reminded not to worry about tomorrow. Although COVID-19 has changed our world and the summer continues to hold many unknowns, we will get through this together.

Finding Comfort in the Familiar…Days 61 and 62

Our weekend was filled with the familiar and this brought me comfort as we continue to navigate an unfamiliar world filled with uncertainty.

Trivia Night- The Mid-West is known for holding trivia nights, a fun way for organizations to raise funds and an enjoyable night out with friends. This year, several trivia nights in our area were rescheduled due to COVID-19. We participated in our first virtual trivia night on Saturday when we gathered with friends, virtually, and answered questions as a team. Although there were fewer questions and we didn’t get any of Debbie’s yummy chocolate chip cookies, debating on answers felt familiar and there were snacks, drinks, laughs and a whole lot of fun! 

Church– Although we miss our Zion Lutheran Church family, worshiping together in front of our TV on a Sunday morning is becoming comfortably familiar. When we return to regular worship I’m going to miss these lazy Sundays where we sleep in, eat brunch (sometimes from Donut King) and snuggle together in the family room listening to the word of God, praising Him in song and remembering our many blessings.

I find joy in the music we sing every Sunday. Last week the hymns during worship were all familiar and comforting. CLICK HERE to listen. From the opening hymn, “From All That Dwell Below the Skies,” to the hymn of the day, “At the Lambs High Feast We Sing,” to the sermon hymn, “Christ is Our Cornerstone,” to the closing hymn, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” all were wonderfully familiar. In fact, I can’t remember a time in my life that any were unfamiliar. These are the hymns from my childhood. They bring comfort and healing and have always been part of me.

Family Dinner- We ended our weekend with a big Sunday dinner. COVID-19 has my family of three preparing meals together and eating them every night around our kitchen table. Tonight we enjoyed homemade smoked sausage (leftover from Zion’s sausage supper), mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and green beans. The menu was familiar and took me back to my childhood as this was one of my grandmother’s favorite meals. She prepared it often with sausages bought at a wurstmarkt. The meal also warmed me with more recent memories of our church’s annual Sausage Supper, held a mere three months ago, in February. Although the day felt ordinary at the time, I would give anything to return to that moment. A morning spent worshiping with my family of three in our physical church building, a non-social distanced sausage meal enjoyed with my parents and then serving sauerkraut next to dear members of my church family. There were no masks and plenty of hugs!