Operation Christmas Child… It’s Time to Pack Some Shoeboxes!

Every year my daughter and I participate in Operation Christmas Child. We collect items throughout the year and pack them into shoeboxes for the good people at Samaritan’s Purse to deliver to boys and girls in need who live all over the world. Operation Christmas Child began in 1993 with the mission of demonstrating God’s love in a tangible way and sharing the Good News of Jesus.

I began packing shoeboxes when my daughter was one year old and this year we packed six shoeboxes in honor of her 6th birthday. All four of her grandparents donated items for us to pack and gave us money towards shipping. My daughter enjoys shopping for items as well but with COVID-19 we haven’t been going into stores so my daughter used some of her birthday money towards the shipping instead. I am happy she has been called to care and is growing up sharing her blessings with others.

How to Pack a Shoebox- Samaritan’s Purse has a step by step guide on how to pack a shoebox. I’ll outline a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

Step 1- Find a Shoebox- Although any cardboard shoebox will work, I’ve read that the children often view the physical shoebox as a treasured gift. This year I used plastic shoeboxes. One of our shoeboxes came from Hobby Lobby and was specially designed with the Operation Christmas Child logo printed on inviting red and green plastic boxes. I also used three clear plastic shoeboxes that I purchased elsewhere. The other two are complimentary cardboard shoeboxes with the Operation Christmas Child logo that my mother in-law received from her church.

Step 2- Girl or Boy?-  Although many of the items we pack can be enjoyed by all children, Samaritan’s Purse will ask you to identify if the shoebox was packed for a boy or a girl and what age category. The age categories are: 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14; with the oldest group typically being the one to receive the least donations. We pack boxes that correspond with my daughter’s current age so this year we are packing boxes targeted at the 5-9 age group.

Step 3- What To Pack in a Shoebox?- I keep a big box in our basement labeled “Shoebox Items” and go bargain shopping throughout the year. I scored school supplies for 75% off at Wal Mart, got discounted playground balls at the end of the summer from Walgreens and often pick up discounted items in Target’s dollar area when they change seasons. You can locate some outstanding items during after Christmas sales at all stores.

Samaritan’s Purse recommends packing a WOW item in each box. This could be a doll, stuffed animal, soccer ball with pump or a new outfit. Older children enjoy simple tool sets and expandable shoes. Click here to view gift suggestions by age. Amazon has a nice list of shoebox items as does Hobby Lobby. Besides toys we always pack self care items (a bar of soap, washcloths, combs, brushes, colorful band-aids, socks, hair clips and or bows, and toothbrushes.) Liquids and edible items are not allowed so you have to leave out toothpaste, candy and bubbles! We also include crafts and activities (crayons, pencils with a pencil sharpener, markers, pads of paper, coloring books, puzzles, and stickers.) You can also write a letter to include in your box. My daughter enjoys drawing a special picture and writing a note telling the children that Jesus loves them!

Step 4- Pray- Perhaps the easiest thing to do is pray for the children who will be receiving the boxes you prepared. Pray that the boxes will bring them joy and that by hearing the Gospel they will be filled with hope and encouragement.

Step 5- Follow-Your Box Labels- The cost to ship a box is $9 and you can click here to pay for labels that will track your box.

Step 6- Drop Off Your Box- Collection week is always the third week in November. Several churches and other organizations volunteer to be drop off facilities. This year collection week is November 16-23, so you still have time to pack a few shoeboxes! Due to COVID-19, shoebox collection will be drive-through, so you won’t even have to get out of your car! The Samaritan Purse’s website has a place where you can search for a drop off location near you!

Other Ways to Help?- If you would like to help but don’t have time to gather items and pack a shoebox you can save time and pack one online by clicking here or donate money to cover the $9 shipping. People will often pack shoeboxes but not include the money for shipping.

Whether you pack a few shoeboxes, volunteer at a processing center (like my in-laws have done in the past), pray for the children receiving the shoeboxes or donate money for shipping, I hope you will make Operation Christmas Child a family tradition. For many of the children, the gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received. In addition to the shoeboxes all of the children will hear about the greatest gift of all…Jesus!

Apple Packed Days…Apple Picking, Apple Books, Apple Baking and Apple Exploration!

Fall is in the air and that means it’s time to head to the apple orchard to pick your own apples, make yummy apple treats, read apple themed books and have fun with some special apple activities!

Apple Picking- This year we went to Liberty Orchard, a small apple orchard in Edwardsville, IL not too far from St. Louis, MO. Liberty Orchard had nine different varieties of apples ready for picking on the day we visited and we enjoyed some of each! While at the apple orchard we picked green apples, yellow apples and red apples. We talked about how each variety tasted (sweet, tart, sour, crunchy, crisp, juicy). The orchard educated us on the many varieties and made recommendations on which apples were best for baking. We tasted the following: EMPIRE: Crisp, juicy, tart off the tree – mellows with storage. Chosen by McDonalds for their Happy Meal. Uses: Eating, sauce, pies, baking and salads JONATHAN: Sweet/tart with firm texture. Bright red color Uses: Eating, baking – an apple butter favorite. LIBERTY: Fine textured, crisp and juicy. Rich complex flavor. Uses: Eating, pies, sauces.

Apple Books– To prepare for our day at the apple orchard we read some books at home and my daughter’s kindergarten teacher read some Apple Books at school. These are just a few of the many great Apple Books we read this autumn. Fancy Nancy Apples Galore! was new to us but my daughter loved it because she loves anything and everything Fancy Nancy! Autumn is for Apples was another new read and was perfect for preschool and kindergarten students. Apples and The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons are classics and good informal texts. The Apple Pie Tree and The Biggest Apple Ever are fall time favorites!

Apples! Apples! Apples!– It wouldn’t be fall if we didn’t make the Apples! Apples! Apples! mini book I wrote when I taught kindergarten. My daughter and I have made one of these books every year from age two to age five and it has been fun to compare her increased control in fine motor abilities over the years. One thing that has not changed are the laughs when we read…Blue apples- Yuck! CLICK HERE to download a copy to make with your family.

Caramel Apple Cookies and Apple Pizza– This year my daughter decided that we should make caramel apple cookies with some of the apples we picked. I researched apple cookie recipes and combined a few to create our own Caramel Apple Cookie recipe. CLICK HERE to download the recipe. You have to try these cookies. They are amazing! They call for caramel bits, something I didn’t even know existed, although I did read some people make their own bits. This recipe tastes great with or without the caramel so you can enjoy them either way. We shared some with Lillian’s teachers and everyone thought they were simply delectable. It looks like we discovered a new fall tradition! Another activity from my book is Apple Pizza. CLICK HERE to download this easy but very tasty fall treat!

Apple Exploration- My daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Reed, led the class in a variety of apple activities from making apple sauce, creating apple prints, designing apple trees out of sticks and clay, counting apples and having the class graph their favorite kind of apple. I love the apple peeler the children used to prepare their apples for the applesauce. It brought back memories of the years I taught kindergarten because I did the same thing with my students! My daughter’s kindergarten class enjoyed comparing the length of the peelings…just another example of the fun exploration children can have with their world when given the opportunity.

Click on the links below for more awesome apple ideas from the Noteworthy Mommy!

Apple Activities for the Family

A Truthful Apple Story

Three in One- Using an Apple to Teach the Trinity

Look Out Kindergarten, Here We Come!

Last week was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten! A day I had played over and over in my mind for years. Although COVID-19 and the many changes it brings never entered my mind when I dreamed about sending my child off to kindergarten, my daughter and I were both ready for this new adventure!

This school year will be different in many ways…masks, temperature checks, no parents in the building, lunch and chapel in the classroom, assigned seats, extra hand washing, no field trips. (just to name a few of the many precautions put in place to keep the students at Zion Lutheran School safe.) Since my daughter has never been to kindergarten, many of the changes will go unnoticed. She is simply overjoyed to be back in school, elated to be in class with her best friend and is ready to begin this new chapter in her life. As we drove to school on that first day, a little voice from the backseat said, “Mommy, I am so excited to go to kindergarten. It’s been too long since I’ve been at school!”

Before I even had a chance to drop my daughter off I was receiving phone calls and texts asking me how I was doing? My mom wanted to know if I cried? Others wanted to know if I felt comfortable sending my daughter to school for face to face learning amid the COVID-19 crisis?

Last week my daughter and I went to school for a private “Meet the Teacher.” As we walked hand and hand down the familiar hallway (my daughter’s new classroom is across the hall from her pre-k classroom) to her kindergarten classroom, a sense of peace embraced me. Any doubts I had about sending my daughter back to school for face to face learning were washed away. After a long absence I felt as if we had returned to the open arms of a loved one. We were home. In that moment I was reminded that God was watching over us and that going back to Zion for face to face learning was the best decision for my family of three. During our visit we were warmly greeted by Mr. Debrick, our principal and Mrs. Haun, our early childhood director; two individuals who have worked endlessly making careful decisions, implementing new procedures and putting precautions in place to keep my daughter and her classmates safe. Their leadership made me confident on our decision to send her to school.

And I couldn’t have picked a better teacher for my little one! Mrs. Reed is the quintessential kindergarten teacher…warm, kind and loving, with a clear set of expectations. She has a Christ centered classroom, understands the whole child and has developmentally appropriate expectations for them. I know my daughter will have a fantastic year under her guidance and care and for that I am truly grateful!

On the first day I walked my daughter to the entrance of the early childhood wing where she was warmly greeted by a group of teacher assistants waiting to help her find her classroom. With COVID-19 preventing me from walking her to the classroom, I waved goodbye at the door. My little one excitedly entered the building, never looking back and walking confidently forward, clearly ready to kick off a new year of learning and growth!

I picked my daughter up from school at 11:30 (prior to COVID-19 we had signed her up for half-day kindergarten to start out) and she excitedly shared everything she had done. She described all of the things I would expect to see and hear in a kindergarten classroom on the very first day of school. From singing the days of the week (Adams Family version I figured out) to counting the days they have been in school to singing “Tall Voices on the Playground, Small Voices Inside,” to reading books (she scolded me for reading most of them to her already), to finding her spot on the carpet (she informed me some spots may change because people talked when they shouldn’t) to talking about Jesus, I could tell she going to have a fabulous year! By sharing these intimate details of her first day of kindergarten my sweet daughter had unknowingly presented me with a very precious gift!

The Noteworthy Mommy Gets Her Daughter Ready For Kindergarten!

During my twenty-eight years in the field of education, seven glorious years were spent teaching kindergarten. I look back on that time with found memories and keep in touch with some of my former students who are now young adults beginning careers or parents sending their own children off to kindergarten!

This year I am sending my only child off to kindergarten and we commemorated this milestone with some special books, back to school traditions and activities.

Kindergarten Books- To prepare my daughter for her first day of kindergarten we read several kindergarten themed books. As a former kindergarten teacher, most are from my own collection and as I read them memories of my seven years laying the educational foundation for five and six year olds flooded back. The joy of preparing my classroom and filling it with new materials, the shiny waxed floors and freshly cleaned classroom, the anticipation of meeting my students and experiencing a new beginning with them was thrilling! Now it will be my daughter’s turn. The following books are some of my favorites.

Meet the Teacher– A week before school, we signed up for a private meet and greet with my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and kindergarten assistant. To avoid extra people in the school building, one adult was invited to join their child on this special tour of the kindergarten classroom. My daughter was excited to meet her teacher, Mrs. Reed and her kindergarten assistant, Mrs. Collins. My daughter found her cubby, practiced washing her hands properly, made a painted heart to hang in the classroom and read the book Kindergarten, Here I Come! with her teacher. My daughter got to take the book home so we could read it before the first day of school and inside the front cover was a handwritten note from Mrs. Reed. When I read the words “Jesus loves you and so do I,” any trepidation I had about sending my daughter to Zion Lutheran School for “face to face learning” was washed away. I felt confident that my husband and I had made the best decision for our family because I was reminded that along with Zion’s carefully thought out safety procedures and dedicated teachers and staff, Jesus would be lovingly watching over our daughter while she is at school.

The Kissing Hand Tradition- I always read The Kissing Hand to my kindergarten students and their parents during our “Meet the Teacher Night.” I also made and decorated heart shaped cookies for them to take home. I began this tradition with my daughter when she was a three year old heading off to preschool. CLICK HERE to read all about it. We continued the tradition this year with Nana and Pops joining us in baking and decorating homemade kissing hand cookies which we gave to my daughter’s teachers and administrators on the first day of school. CLICK HERE for Nana’s homemade sugar cookie recipe and CLICK HERE for Nana’s homemade buttercream frosting recipe.

A Special ‘Twas the Night Before Kindergarten Poem- I was touched to receive this special poem written especially for my daughter by Auntie Jaime, a dear friend and my daughter’s honorary auntie. When I read the poem it brought back faded memories of when I was a kindergartener (43 years ago) and more vivid memories of my first day teaching kindergarten (24 years ago). As you read the following words I hope you are transported to a simpler time, not so long ago, when all children could safely go to school, hold hands with a new friend, learn without wearing a mask and freely play tag on the playground.

Whether you are home schooling, going back to school for face to face learning, engaging in virtual learning or participating in hybrid learning, I pray that you and your children have a safe and productive school year!

A Socially Distanced Summer at the Lake

COVID-19 has changed summer. This was the first July 4th in twenty-two years that I did not play patriotic music with the Northwinds Concert Band. Over the years the band experienced oppressive heat, wind and drizzle, but the event was never cancelled and the band always played on.

With no concert to play my family of three retreated to the family lake house. We enjoyed all of our favorite summer activities but things were different. A majority of people at the lake are not wearing masks or practicing social distancing. As a result we don’t go shopping or out to eat, opting to cook all of our meals at home and using grocery pick up to shop.

Golf– The game of golf is already a socially distanced sport so you may be asking, “What could possibly be done to make the game safer?” When my husband and father in-law went golfing at the lake they reported that The Club at Porto Cima had some extra precautions in place to make sure all of their golfers were safe. Rakes by the sand traps had been taken away, foam was placed in every cup to elevate the ball so there was no need to touch the flag at each hole, water coolers (normally found throughout the course) had been taken away and golf carts were extensively wiped down after each use.

Swimming– We went swimming at the neighborhood pool in the woods. Choosing to swim late in the day proved to be a good decision as we always had the pool to ourselves! New social distancing signs had been added and someone came to clean the bathrooms while we were there (something we never saw in past summers). The pool at the yacht club was the opposite. It was crowded, there were no social distancing signs and the servers and bartenders were not wearing masks.

Boating– We enjoyed several boat rides and were easily able to social distance at the Lake of the Ozarks with 54,000 acres of lake and 1,150 miles of shoreline. Over the years we have become friends with the owner of Bikini Pier, a boat rental business. Mike shared that he was experiencing stellar business due to COVID-19. He is 80% ahead for the year on rentals and has sold 24,000 more gallons of fuel compared to this time last year! Most of his customers were new and many were from IL and IA.

I hope you and your family have time to get away this summer. After months of being confined at home the simple change of scenery was welcomed. Although I missed playing “Stars and Stripes” with the band, we had a fabulous July 4th! We returned home with sun kissed cheeks, adventures to share and long lasting memories. This is summer.

A Socially Distanced Field Trip to the Zoo

Last month we took a field trip to the Saint Louis Zoo. The zoo had many precautions in place to keep everyone safe.

Safety Precautions– To limit the number of guests on the zoo grounds they required everyone to make free reservations online and show up within their reservation window. Upon entering, each group had to show their reservation. Masks or face coverings were required for children and adults over the age of nine. While we were there I saw zoo employees enforcing this requirement. Hand sanitizer stations were placed throughout the grounds and extra measures were taken for keeping surfaces clean.

The Train– My daughter loves the train so we rode it around the zoo twice! Plexiglass panels have been installed between each seat to help social distance. At every stop the train announcer reminded everyone to keep their masks on.

The Carousel– One row of animals was marked with red tape and the other row was marked with green tape. They switched colors on each ride so every other animal was being used and an attempt at social distancing could be made.

Although the children’s zoo was closed, along with the indoor animal houses and theatre, there were plenty of animals to see and I appreciated the attempts being made to keep everyone safe. We defiantly enjoyed this socially distanced field trip to our famous zoo!

2020- We Didn’t See That Coming!…Confessions of a Dance Mom

This year was my daughters second one dancing at the Performing Arts Centre (PAC). When COVID-19 closed the studio in March, the Davenport sisters immediately turned to virtual classes and a week later…PAC danced! When our county began to open up in May, the Davenport sisters strategically worked out a plan to keep everyone safe, re-opened the studio and…PAC danced! After weeks and weeks in isolation, dance class was the first place we returned and our hearts filled with joy and…we danced!

As June approached and the dates of the annual recital inched closer, it seemed next to impossible to hold an event of such magnitude, let alone one that loved ones could safely attend. Would PAC even have a recital this year? How will they ever orchestrate such a production when auditoriums and theaters across the country are closed and there are social distancing protocols in place? Without fail, the Davenport sisters got to work and with a bit of creativity and tons of grit, PAC held their forty-sixth dance recital on June 20, 2020 and…PAC danced! Nothing can stop PAC from dancing, not even COVID-19!

Our sweet little dancer posing after her recital.
My daughter with her multi-talented teacher, Ms. Tracy Davenport.

How Did They Do It?– They constructed a stage in PAC’s parking lot, laid out a detailed seating diagram, to ensure safe social distancing, and held nine separate showtimes throughout the day that consisted of eleven numbers each. Each show was live-streamed on-line for those who couldn’t come in person.

The detailed seating chart.
Fans were handed out to keep everyone cool during the outdoor performance.

From the Noteworthy Dance Mom- As a second year dance mom I wasn’t alone in feeling nervous about the recital this year. COVID-19 made the recital challenging for everyone, even the experts! My daughter and her adorable class did a sweet tap routine to, “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake.” My daughter was fantastic and I’m so very proud of her. Having Ms. Tracy Davenport, PAC owner and artistic director extraordinaire, made for an amazing PS4 dance year! As a second year dance mom, I was faced with new costume challenges like attaching shoe bows and a hair piece. My prayers were answered when my mom and dad appeared at our doorstep, unannounced, just minutes before it was time to leave. Pops helped me style my daughter’s hair and successfully attached the head piece in just the right position. I am proud to say we survived our second dance recital, although it will go down in history as the one we didn’t see coming!

Pops styling my daughter’s hair for the recital.

To Dance or Not to Dance? Integrating Into the World After Quarantine…Day 71

My daughter’s dance studio opened up last week. Following CDC guidelines, the owners worked long and hard creating new procedures to keep everyone safe. They even released a video with step by step directions on how to enter the building, move about the building and what exit procedures would look like. From using antibacterial gel, wiping down surfaces and walking on green tape placed 6 feet a part, to creating socially distanced “parking spots” for dancers to place their gear and assigning dancers a spot to dance that is 6 feet a part, they carefully thought about everything. CLICK HERE to watch the video.

After months spent in quarantine I thought it would be easy to return to our beloved activities, but it wasn’t. My husband and I thought long and hard on whether we would send our little one to dance. After calculating the risks and reviewing the well thought out procedures, we determined we would send her. Then the time came to hop in the car and go and I couldn’t bring myself to grab the keys. Knowing we would see Nana in a few days made my mind race at the thought of putting my mother at risk. Why does this have to be so hard?

Another week has come and gone and I am faced with the same dilemma…to dance or not to dance? I reviewed the procedures once more and after two months of isolation, my daughter went to dance class. She happily walked inside, looking forward to something “normal” being brought back into her life. I was a mess the entire time. It was the first time in over two months I have been separated from my mini me and I experienced separation anxiety. Something I never expected.

An hour later my daughter emerged from the studio with a huge smile on her face, something that had been missing for months! The video prepared her for the new expectations and allowed me to help her process the changes, making my daughter’s return to dance class a success! As we continued our day she explained, “Today was the best day ever!” Fully unaware of the difficult decision her parents had to make, she was filled with joy and the innocence of childhood. Although some won’t agree with our decision, please know we did what we felt was right for our family of three.

This is the first of many decisions our family will make over the coming weeks and months. As states begin to open up and we find ourselves integrating back into society, like me, you might feel uneasy. COVID-19 has changed our world and even the familiar will feel unfamiliar. During this difficult time please be responsible, follow recommended guidelines and show kindness and compassion to your neighbors as they make decisions they feel are right for their families. And remember, you are not alone, everyone is in this together.

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.

From “Caterpillar to Butterfly” and a Pop-Up Flower Shop…Day 51

During the seven years l taught kindergarten, one of my favorite things to do with my class was to order Painted Lady caterpillars from Insect Lore. My students and I enjoyed watching these teeny, tiny caterpillars grow and change; first into a chrysalis’ and then transform themselves into beautiful butterflies! It amazes me that the entire metamorphosis took a mere 3 to 4 weeks!

The caterpillars in my daughter’s classroom have all changed into chrysalises and her teacher placed them into the butterfly net. The caterpillar cam has been turned off, for now, as the metamorphosis begins. While we wait, my daughter and I continued our study of butterflies with some exciting activities. Our day ended with back yard play and an impromptu pop up flower shop in the backyard.

A Butterfly Garden– After completing the Scholastic Learn From Home module “From Caterpillar to Butterfly,” we went outside and planted some wildflowers that are supposed to attract butterflies. My daughter loves the dirt and is looking forward to watering her flowers everyday.

“The Very Hungry Caterpillar Yoga”– There are extensive benefits of doing yoga with children! Yoga improves their physical, mental, emotional and social health. From helping to balance energy levels and calming the nervous system, to building sensory awareness, flexibility and balance, yoga is simply amazing! My daughter needs to develop these skills so doing activities like yoga do not come naturally and it’s difficult to get her to do it without a fight! Her teacher recommended Cosmic Yoga, engaging story based yoga for kids presented by storyteller, Jaime Amor. My daughter was resistant at firs, but after awhile, to my great surprise, she began to request Cosmic Yoga! Amor has created yoga stories for just about any theme you can think of. From “The Wizard of Oz,” to “Star Wars,” to “Frozen,” everyone will find something they like! CLICK HERE to do “Very Hungry Caterpillar” yoga.

Pattern Block Creations– We used pattern blocks to create caterpillars and then we made symmetrical butterflies. We also played a symmetry game found here. Young children have a strong intuitive sense of symmetry. Research shows that knowing symmetry helps us learn things like graphing, understanding negative numbers and how to simplify complex information.

Pop-Up Flower Shop– Being an only child my daughter effectively plays independently and benefits greatly from child-directed, free play opportunities. One of her favorite places to play, during the quarantine, is in our backyard. Today she created an impromptu flower shop after gathering wildflowers in the field behind our house. She got plastic containers out of her water play toys and used them as vases. She used her toy phone to talk to customers and solicited me as her number one customer! I gladly joined in and helped direct her imaginative play. I asked the following questions…How much do the flowers cost? What is the name of her shop? Can she created mixed bouquets? I provided paper and crayons and encouraged her to create a menu for her shop, listing the prices for her various creations. By guiding her play, I was able to introduce new vocabulary and incorporate literacy skills in a fun, engaging way. CLICK HERE to read a short article about the benefits of adult guidance in play (or learning).