An Unexpected Online Break

Ugh. Do you ever have those days – and weeks – when things don’t go according to plan? Well, last Thursday, I was checking my email when I noticed that my reply wouldn’t send. I looked further and it said the internet was down. I did all the tricks that I knew. I waited a bit. I refreshed the page. I turned off the modem and restarted it. Still, no internet. I waited until the next morning, just to make sure, but I still wasn’t able to get online. Andy called them and I called them three times before the tech guy determined it was our modem and sent us a replacement one. He said it would be there in 1 to 2 days. It wasn’t. It was Tuesday before it arrived. When I plugged in the new modem, our internet still didn’t work. I called our service provider again who quickly diagnosed it as a line problem. Why didn’t they say this before? Sigh. He said someone would come out as quickly as they could – in the next two days! Even bigger sigh. So, I continued to wait. It took until today when someone finally came out and got us back online! Unfortunately, my laptop still isn’t picking up the wireless signal but Andy’s laptop works.

It was a long time to do without internet – especially since I didn’t have any other place to get online. I don’t have a Smartphone and I still not back at school to use my school laptop either. I had big plans to work on some upcoming posts this week but it didn’t happen. I couldn’t email. I couldn’t check recipes. I couldn’t work on my photo books. I couldn’t update this website. It’s amazing how much we now depend on the internet!

Still, despite moments of frustration, I determined to make the best of it. Nathan and I took his first trip to the zoo with my preschoolers. We hosted a baby shower for the other preschool teacher. I read several books. Nathan practiced his smiles. We took naps and walks. I baked desserts for the upcoming Volunteer Dinner. I took more pictures of Nathan. Still, as productive as the time offline was, I decided it’s better when I chose to go offline. When it’s taken away without warning, I can’t plan for the break. That was the lesson I learned from my unexpected online break. I wanted to explain that I didn’t forget you all! I enjoyed my last week of maternity leave with Nathan – how can he be seven weeks old already? – and now I’m back online.

Nathan - 7 weeks

Simple Ideas to Help Preschoolers Learn their ABCs

Simple Ideas to Help Preschoolers Learn Letters - A free printable with lots of ideas for teachers and parents!

I’ve been teaching for 10 years now. A decade of teaching, and of that, 7 of those years have been spent in early childhood education. I love teaching young children! One of the questions I am regularly asked as a preschool teacher is how parents can help their child learn the ABCs. I love being asked this question because it means parents are invested in their child’s learning.

When speaking with parents, I try to remember two things. First, parents want practical ideas that will help their child. Second, parents want simple ideas that can be easily implemented – without extra cost.

I believe learning the ABCs can be an enjoyable experience, but it does need to be reinforced at home as well as at school. For that reason, I have developed an ABC handout with a wide variety of activities that can be used in any home to help teach the letters. Every activity I share is a simple and enjoyable one that young children view as a game. Please keep in mind that some children may learn quicker with certain games than others. It is up to the parent (and teacher) to figure out the right approach for their child.

Most of these ideas involve simple things found in the home. I did include one or two ideas with technology aspects because technology (when used correctly) can be a good reinforcement tool. Technology should always supplement actual teaching by the teacher and parents.

Since I know this is a universal question for parents, I have created this free handout with simple activities for helping young children learn their ABCs. Please free to download it and try some of these letter activities. As for teachers, you are welcome to share this handout with your parents, too. I know how nice it is not to have to reinvent the wheel when it’s unnecessary. I hope this handout is helpful to you as well!

Now, go and have fun learning the alphabet with your children! I’d love to hear which of these activities is your child’s favorite!

The Homesick Texan’s Family Table Cookbook Review

This was a new one! As most of you know, I review books. The bookworm in me loves this because I have the opportunity to read the latest books – for free! Blogging for Books is one of the places for whom I review books. They recently expanded the review program which broadened their book selection considerably. There were so many books that I wanted to read but when I saw this title, I knew it was the book for me.

The Homesick Texan’s Family Table: Lone Star Cooking from My Kitchen to Yours by Lisa Fain was a delight. For those of you who don’t know, I grew up in Texas, San Antonio to be precise. My parents still live there. No, I don’t speak with an accent but Texas – the people and their food – will always hold a special place in my heart. This was why I wanted to review this cookbook, because I am indeed a Homesick Texan at times.

The first thing I noticed when I opened up The Homesick Texan’s Family Table was the beautiful pictures. Not only did many of the recipes have gorgeous pictures to tempt you, but the scenery of blue bonnets and barns with Texas flags painted on them reminded me of Texas life. Lisa began the cookbook explaining that for Texans, the time spent together at the family table is to be cherished. A seventh generation Texan now living in New York, Ms. Fain knows about being homesick for Texas.

The cookbook covers Breakfast and Breads, Starters and Snacks, Salads and Sides, Chilis, Soup and Stews, the Main Event, Sweets and Accompaniments. While many of the recipes do call for jalapenos, all of the recipes are straightforward. These recipes call for everyday ingredients from the pantry. I always appreciate cookbooks like these.

To give this cookbook an honest review, I decided I needed to cook some of the recipes. I decided to make the Buttermilk Flour Tortillas and Pecan Pie. The tortillas were for me and the pie for my husband. I didn’t have any buttermilk on hand so soured the milk (with vinegar) so I could try this recipe. The tortillas were delicious! They are really very simple to make – and I will make them again. I ate the tortillas straight from the pan as a delicious snack. It’s one of the things I miss most about Texas – fresh tortillas. Now, I don’t have to miss that! The pecan pie was good, too, but not as sticky sweet as some. My husband still prefers his mother’s recipe but I’m glad I tried it. Next on my list? I want to try her recipe for Breakfast Enchiladas (with bacon?!?) and Spanish Rice.

If you are a Texan (or former one), The Homesick Texan’s Family Table is for you! If you have ever been to Texas or have even a passing interest in the great state of Texas, you’ll enjoy this cookbook too.

Please note that I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

On This Mother’s Day

Today, we give thanks for our Moms. We gave thanks for our Moms who loved us and raised us, hugged us and disciplined us, taught us and shared their Christian faith with us. As we give thanks for our own Mothers, let’s remember to pray for all the other Moms who are known and unknown to us.

Today, we pray for unwed Moms and teenage Moms, expectant Moms and new Moms, empty nest Moms and single Moms, overwhelmed Moms and tired Moms, adoptive Moms and birth Moms, and especially those who long to be Moms but are not (yet).

Today, we rejoice in God’s gift of Moms. May your Mother’s Day be a truly thankful one!

The picture is of four generations of Lehenbauers – 3 generations of Moms. 

Peanut Butter Links I Love

Links I Love Button

Ah, peanut butter. Is there anything more ideal than the combination of chocolate and peanut butter? I’ve always liked peanut butter – but when paired with chocolate, I really like peanut butter! Buckeyes are proof that peanut butter and chocolate are meant to be together. Recently, I’ve discovered quite a few more peanut butter (and chocolate) recipes that I want to try. I don’t know if they’ll be as good as buckeyes (or buckeye cake) but I’d like to give them a try.

This was the recipe that started my thinking of these delicious pairings. Cathy of Lemon Tree Dwelling shared her recipe for Cookie Dough-Stuffed Peanut Butter Fudge. Yum! I love cookie dough and I love peanut butter fudge. What an novel pairing for this decadent dessert!

Lindsay of Life, Love and Sugar shared her recipe for Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Brownie Layer Cake. I’m not really a cake fan, but since the cake is more like a brownie, I could – and would – make an exception.

The Food Fanatic shared a simpler recipe for Peanut Butter Frosted Brownies. It’s simpler than the recipe above, but still looks quite tasty. I like the idea of a frosting on my brownie, too.

The Sweet and Crunchy Blog shared a recipe for Layered Peanut Butter Brittle Ice Cream Pops. No special molds required as they are made in simple paper cups. These look delicious for summer!

Crunchy Creamy Sweet shared a recipe for Skinny Peanut Butter Cup Dip. It’s only 4 ingredients – and uses Greek yogurt to lighten it up. Hmm. Next time I buy Greek yogurt, I’m going to give this dip a try.

Finally, Sally of Sally’s Baking Addiction shared her recipe for Chocolate Peanut Butter Lover’s Granola. There are only 7 ingredients needed for this recipe, too. If you haven’t visited Sally’s blog before, do! It’s the most delicious baking blog ever.

If you don’t like peanut butter, my apologies! For those of you who share my love of peanut butter, which recipe would you like to try first?

Nathan @ 1 Month

It’s hard to believe Nathan is already a month old! The time is going by as quickly as everyone said it would. I can’t believe how much Nathan has grown this month. It’s certainly been a month of adjustment, but I am doing my best to savor all these moments – whatever they bring. Here’s a look back at Nathan’s first month.

I was so thankful Nathan was born over our Spring Break. It was wonderful to have Andy with us at the hospital every day. All too soon, Dad had to go back to school but he hurries home as soon as he is able to cuddle with Nathan. This is the view I often see of my two favorite men, since Nathan likes best to sleep on top of us.

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We were thankful to have my Mom come and stay with us, especially since that coincided with the first week Andy returned to school. Mom was great at keeping us caught up on laundry and cooking meals and cleaning the house so I could sit and feed Nathan – which is what still fills my time every day. Her great help certainly contributed to my smooth c-section recovery as well. It was also so good to have Mom’s help getting ready for our baptism company, as well as having an extra pair of hands to help with Nathan. What Grandma minds doing that?

Mom / Grandma & Uncle Joel

We celebrated Nathan’s baptism on Palm Sunday at Ascension and had a full house of family to rejoice with us. It was impressive that we had 6 of his 8 Aunts and Uncles with us for the day, too. Nathan is a content baby in church and has slept through every single church service he’s attended…so far.

Nathan's Baptism at Ascension

We also celebrated our first Easter as a family of three only a week later. It’s good to have a tripod at times like these, because we certainly don’t want to miss out on these family picture opportunities!

Easter 2014

Other than the big events of baptism and Easter, we’ve been staying home and away from the various illnesses that seem to be making the rounds lately. Nathan did get a bit of congestion already but handles the nose cleaning pretty well. He weighed in at 9 pounds at his three week check-up. Now, we don’t go back until 2 months in June but I am confident he has gained substantially since then.

Nathan is handling breastfeeding very well – after a bit of transition from our time in NICU. He takes a bottle without any fuss, too. This is a boy who loves to eat so if there is food, he’ll drink it! He does have some gas issues that have caused him discomfort so we are hoping he grows out of that soon. He also loves his pacifier, and that is very helpful at times!

Nathan and I take lots of naps together because he sleeps best on top of us. Thankfully, with rare exception, Nathan is sleeping 3 to 4 hour stretches at night – which is lovely! It’s even more lovely now that he’s sleeping at night in his bassinet. Now, if I can just get him to nap there during the day so I could get more things done! Oh well. We’re working on it, and I figure these newborn holding days will be over before I know it.

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We take lots of pictures so Daddy won’t miss anything that happens during our day. Actually, it is my husband who is taking most of the pictures. With over 600 pictures taken in this past month, we are going to need several photo albums to capture all the cuteness like this.

Nathan - 2 weeks

Nathan likes riding in his carseat. This has been great for our drives to and from church, as well as the doctor. This bodes well for our travels this summer because we have two trips planned to Nebraska for weddings!

Nathan likes his carseat

I enjoy all the precious moments at home with my boy. He has such big eyes and is eager to take in all that is happening around him. I think we’re starting to see the beginnings of real smiles, too.

Baby Boy in Blue

Nathan likes his tummy time. I hear that some babies do not, but Nathan has enjoyed it from the very beginning. He also has very strong neck muscles as all his visitors and doctors have commented. This is a tummy time picture from 3 weeks and you can see how well he controls his neck muscles already! Nathan has even rolled over several times (from tummy to back) when he gets excited.

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Of course, we have been reminded day in and day out that Nathan Reagan was indeed worth the wait. We are so thankful that he’s here! This month has brought so many changes to our lives and we look forward to the changes in the months (and years) ahead that Nathan will bring to our lives!

Worth the Wait - Color

I hope you all enjoyed the glimpse into our lives over this past month! I’ll try to keep you posted with monthly updates on Nathan as he grows. Now, to attempt to resume our regular posting schedule here at Joyfully Thriving!

An Inspiring Read: For Such a Time

Oh my. Little did I know what I was in for when I picked up this debut book by new author Kate Breslin! For Such a Time was absolutely incredible and inspiring. This is a book I would highly recommend to each and every one of you!

For Such a Time is a retelling of the Biblical story of Esther – set in modern WWII times. Hadassah / Stella is deported to a concentration camp, and rescued by SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt. Stella is Jewish but has false papers that Aric believes to be true. Aric takes Stella to his house under the guise of employing her as his secretary.

Stella learns to play the role of Gentile secretary, even as she struggles with the fact that she was singled out to be saved. As she works for Aric, Stella begins to suspect that he struggles with some of the war decisions mandated. Stella appeals to his compassion as she attempts to save those in the nearby transit camp. Still, Stella questions how she can save others when she is unsure of her own fate in the hands of Aric.

For Such a Time is powerful, emotional, and incredibly well-written. I have always loved the story of Esther and how God used her in such an unlikely way. Kate Breslin did a marvelous job of presenting this story in a new and unique way. It should be noted that while Esther provides the framework, this book is a work of historical fiction. That said, this is one book that you will not want to put down until you reach the very end.

Please note that I did receive a free copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Rejoicing in God’s Gift of Baptism

1 Peter 3:21

Today, our family rejoices as Nathan Reagan becomes God’s child in baptism. What a precious gift! God gave us this child and now we give him back to a Heavenly Father who loves Nathan even more than his earthly parents do.

Many of my school children are singing today, teaching our congregation at Ascension the beautiful truths found in the hymn, “God’s Own Child I Gladly Say It.” It is found in our Lutheran Service Book 594, for those of you wondering. This beautiful hymn shares the theology of baptism more eloquently than I ever could.

God’s own child I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ! He because I could not pay it, gave my full redemption price. Do I need earth’s treasures many? I have one worth more than any, that brought me salvation free – lasting to eternity.

Sin disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ! I have comfort even stronger, Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice. Should a guilty conscience seize me, since my baptism did realize me in a dear forgiving flood – sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! Drop your ugly accusation, I am not so soon enticed. Now that to the font I’ve traveled, all your might has come unraveled, and against your tyranny, God, my Lord unites with me. 

Again, it a special day for our family. We are thankful to have Nathan’s sponsors, Joel and Saydi Rempfer, here with us today. His other sponsors, Jose and Liesl Beaton, are represented by proxy today since they are still in Okinawa. We are thankful that Nathan has 3 of his 4 Grandparents here on this special day as well as 6 of his 8 Aunt and Uncles present. We are also thankful for many of our Whirrett, Schiffli, Barz and Lehenbauer family who are rejoicing with us in person – and from long distances – today.

Rejoice in your baptism! Remember the day God wrote His name on your heart!

At Home with Nathan

I know my last update was from the hospital so I wanted to stop by with the joyful news that we brought Nathan home from the hospital last Friday. My discharge and his actually were on the same day which was wonderful, because I didn’t want to leave him there alone. It is so good to have Nathan home with us!

Coming Home from the Hospital

As I mentioned before, Nathan’s stay in the NICU was necessary due to respiratory issues. The hospital ran lots of tests on Nathan and feel confident there will be no lasting effects from this rocky start. We are very thankful for the care Nathan received from Dr. Pebble and his nurses. It’s amazing to think that a week ago, this was our first view of Nathan.

Nathan in the NICU

Now, this is the how our sweet baby boy looks only one week later. God is indeed good!

One Week Old Nathan

We thank God for covering Nathan with his healing touch. There were so many other precious babies in the NICU that were smaller than Nathan, and will not be leaving nearly as quickly. My heart goes out to all mothers and fathers – but especially those who sit beside the hospital bed of their babies. Nathan’s story didn’t begin as we planned – in so many ways – but God’s way continues to teach us that He is with us through it all.

As I said before, we are thankful to be home together! Nathan and I were sad to see Andy return to school on Monday, but Nathan saved lots of cuddles for his Daddy when he returned. My mom is here to help us for the next week, and my mother-in-law is only a phone call away. It’s lovely to have their help! For now, we are adjusting to new sleeping and feeding schedules and planning for company this weekend as we celebrate Nathan’s baptism. I pray all is well with you and your families!

My 5 Favorite Freezer Meals

My 5 Favorite Freezer Meals

It’s so lovely to have a freezer full of meals for those nights when you don’t feel like cooking. Since I’m at home on maternity leave with the baby, it’s been especially nice to rely on frozen meals so I can focus on the baby without worrying about what’s for dinner. I’m such a believer in freezer cooking that I spent an entire month focusing on 31 Days of Freezer Cooking where I shared some of my favorites. Today, I want to revisit that series and share my five favorite freezer meals with you.

Baked Oatmeal

For breakfast, I love having baked oatmeal in the freezer. This recipe can be cooked in a pan but I prefer to make it muffin tins so I can remove one or two for breakfast. I microwave them for 30 seconds and I have a filling breakfast almost faster than I can pour a bowl of cereal.

Best Ever Homemade Crescent Rolls - Joyfully Thriving

These homemade crescent rolls are simple to make and a great bread to serve at any meal. I like to make a double batch before storing them in the freezer. Once again, you can remove as many as you like and reheat them in the oven. If you’re intimidated by the thought of baking bread, don’t be! This is a simple recipe with which to start.

Poppy Seed Chicken - Joyfully Thriving

Poppy seed chicken is a delicious recipe to serve for your family or for company. I dice the chicken ahead of time which makes it even easier to prepare. Then, I can quickly pull a pan of poppy seed chicken out of the freezer and bake it while the rice is cooking. Yum! I do love poppy seed chicken.

A basic meatball recipe for your freezer cooking - Lots of flexibility for future recipes with this one!

This recipe for basic freezer meatballs is adaptable to so many different recipes which is why I like to keep a batch of cooked meatballs in my freezer. If the meatballs are already cooked, two of my favorite meals to use them in are meatball sandwiches or sweet and sour meatballs. You can add the meatballs to spaghetti or make appetizers out of them, too. There are so many uses for a basic meatball!

Apple Pie Kits for the Freezer - Joyfully Thriving

Finally, every Fall I stock my freezer with apple pie kits. I make the crusts ahead of time as well as diced, seasoned apple filling and the crumb topping. When we have the craving for an apple pie, I can have one in the oven within 5 minutes. I love making a homemade pie so quickly!

Those are my top 5 favorite freezer meals…so far! I’m always adding new ones to my freezer and list. Do you have a favorite freezer meal?

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