On Making it Work: Day 1

I won't update you on every single work day going forward, but day number one was a bit of a doozie and deserves documentation.

Bottom line: we all survived and there were some really nice moments along the way. And the crappy parts will surely get better with time.

Getting everyone ready and out of the door for my first day back in the work force wasn't too awful, especially with Nate's later start time on my work days. Just having him get the big kids their breakfast and encourage them to get dressed was HUGE, while I showered and kept Porter happy. Definitely a team effort in the mornings with schedule shuffling between Truman's school, Lori's house, and work. But overall, the a.m. was fine and my favorite part was hauling a ridiculous number of bags to the van. My giant work backpack, my pump and lunch, Porter and Cecelia's 'Lori bag', extra diapers and snacks, bottles and frozen milk….oh, and the car seat full of my baby boy, too. Pretty hilarious to feel like I brought half of our household possessions with me on day one!

(just part of the haul, lined up on the bench)
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Pictures were snapped. We were all amped up and somewhat excited to get the show on the road.

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Drop off at Lori's was excellent. Cecelia was happy to see her friends, Lori was happy to see Porter---who immediately started flashing her his grins from his car seat. I brought in all 1000 pounds of loot to her kitchen, filled her in on mister P, and gave him lots of kisses. I truly did not have much sadness related to leaving Porter all day since I have full confidence in Lori….and she is truly obsessed with babies;)

I had to go up to my office first, which is highly annoying to me since I usually go there once every few months. But it turns out that being off work for over 12 weeks means my laptop was just a tiny bit outdated and I needed a few new paper forms. Sigh. It was nice to catch up with my boss and the rehab assistants, though---obviously I forced them to view pictures of my children on my phone, duh.

I pumped in the van for the first time and oh, the luxury of having so much room! But of course, I had to forget *something* despite my numerous lists and preparations. Totally forgot about packing a nursing cover to pump in modesty, so I just prayed nobody would stare at me in the drivers seat with giant cones and tubes sticking out of my chest.

Then I was off to see my two patients. The actual patient care part of my job isn't something I'll ever 'forget' to do and I had a lot of 'oh yeah, THIS is why I love my job' moments. Thank goodness. I went to Starbucks for paperwork time (always a bonus if I can accomplish this in a work day!), and headed home. Tony and Truman were just returning from an afternoon of fresh air, since they were out and about all over town in the BOB. They obviously had a blast going to McDonalds, a playground, and a candy store. Geez, Tony! Way to spoil the kid on your first day together! Truman gave me a fancy chocolate and said, 'Since it's your first day of work, mommy.' Awww. Love him. I did my third round of pumping at home and headed to get the little guys at Lori's. I really couldn't wait!

One of my favorite parts about being a working mom is getting to see my kids after being apart. And pick up at Lori's was no exception, so much fun to have Cecelia run into my arms! And Porter was ready to go in his car seat, smiling his face off at Lori. They got along JUST fine and of course, he slammed all bottles like it was his job. More on this later.

We returned home and Porter had fallen asleep in the van. THIS IS EPIC and has happened maybe 3 times in his life, so I knew he was tired. Tony left and I could feel myself breathe a sigh of relief that we'd all survived our first day apart.

And then? Porter woke up and began back-to-back-to-back meltdowns. He was just so tired and overstimulated and could NOT settle down. He wanted nothing to do with nursing more than 2 minutes at a time. I tried to get him to bed at 5:00 but he wasn't having it. Totally ugly, although I should have expected it. He had a few sweet moments of smiles and contentedness, but was mostly a hot mess for hours straight.

(very happy to catch him smiling here. This was between freak outs)
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Also a hot mess? Cecelia. It was like she, too, had held it together all day and just could NOT anymore. Anytime I was attempting to soothe fussy pants Porter, Cecelia would lose her mind and screamed for me to hold her. If I tried to soothe her, Porter freaked out. It was a barrel of fun at our house from 4:30-7:00, you guys, and probably the worst evening we've ever had. I totally cried a few times feeling just so overwhelmed and tired and like a failure of a mother, since everyone seemed so…unhappy. I could do nothing right and was unable to be in three places at once, although Truman was mostly just scared of how his siblings were acting. The kids ate crackers and cereal for dinner and I barely got to eat the lasagna I was re-heating (it was yummy, though!). But again: we all survived. Porter finally went to bed at 7:00 and Truman/Cecelia were winding down then, too. Nate got home at 7:30 and we did bedtime for the big kids.

And then I couldn't get off the couch. My wine tasted like a slice of heaven although I still felt defeated by the rough 'witching hour' that just kicked my butt. And yet, the daytime hours were really good. Going to bed at 9pm might be my new favorite thing, by the way.

One thing that should be noted is that Porter's green poops did turn yellow this morning. Yay! So I think getting full bottles with hind milk already in there is a great thing for him. Of course, he is showing even LESS interest in nursing today and is getting really mad when I keep trying to put him to the breast. Two minute sessions are not okay, mister man. Popping on and off throughout is painful and frustrating and really not cool.

And although he took 12 oz in breast milk bottles at Lori's, I only pumped 8 oz----with the other kids I could always match or exceed their intake, which was always about 12oz at first, too. I don't think he is taking too much milk in bottles, I think he is starving and loves the fast flow. I'm pretty sure that his snacking and not really eating well is starting to affect my supply, too---my body thinks he needs very little milk because he is nursing very little. Now that he is getting even fussier at the boob, and he isn't nursing well enough to get hind milk (green poops, slow weight gain), I just do not feel confident that our breastfeeding relationship is going to last a full year.

One day at a time, of course. I'm not throwing in the towel just yet but I'm also not going to kill myself over this nursing war, either. I have to mentally tell myself that it's not the end of the world if he does wean or if we do need to mix our first formula bottle ever. It's just not feasible for me to nurse, then see my baby screaming at the boob, give him a bottle, and then pump after. NO WAY, not with a third baby at least---I'm already up to my eyeballs in demands and feeling stretched thin. Yes, I'm talking to an LC, yes, I've tried to express the fore milk first so that he starts with the hind milk, yes I've tried block nursing. I'm trying any and all ideas that are not going to make this even more time consuming and stressful. He just does not want to nurse very long or at all sometimes. It could be a speed bump in our breastfeeding relationship or it could be the beginning of the end. Boo.

I want breastfeeding to work but I also want Porter to eat and grow and be happy, so if I have to give bottles and even supplement with formula, so be it. Maybe it will just be a phase and we will pull through in the long run but right now, breastfeeding is a source of major stress for me (and Porter!). I'm doing my best but it ain't easy, folks. Can you tell I'm convincing myself that I'm not a failure with the above sentences? While trying not to be too defensive, since this topic can be such an emotional hot topic?

Third babies are definitely wild cards and every kid is SO different, right? Never would have guessed that he would be giving me such trouble with nursing after the other two rocked the boob so well. Huh.

Anyway. My first day back to work was great for everyone, in all of our different locations while apart from each other. Being reunited with my crew was also amazing. The evening hours sucked but hopefully we will all settle into a nice new normal soon. Extra points if Porter remembers how to nurse. Life is nuts but it's good. I love my little hooligans even when they are determined to kill me!





Moms Make it Work: Stephanie | Full Time Working Mom

Today on the Moms Make it Work series, we have Stephanie who is a full-time high school teacher and free-lance writer. Stephanie emailed me and asked to be a part of the series and I'm glad she found it! I really enjoyed the post, and especially found it interesting to read her background story of how her mother's choices to start a family young while staying at home did affect Stephanie's own choices. Of course the way we were raised and the way our moms parented us has an impact on our own lives, but sometimes it's easy to forget that piece of the puzzle. Enjoy!


Hello friends of Julia! My name is Stephanie and I’m excited to talk about “making it work” as a full-time teacher and Mom. I’m a teacher at a public high school teaching AP U.S. History and Humanities. I also work as a free-lance opinion writer for Salt Lake City Weekly. But most importantly, I’m a wife to a handsome tech geek named Dan and a Mom to a wonderful two-year-old named Clara.
Hi, I'm Steph

And these are my favorite people.
What is your background story? What was your career/schooling before you became a mom? And where are you now?

      I discovered my passion for history and writing at 16. In high school I struggled to manage the ADD I inherited from my Dad, and the perfectionist tendencies learned from my Mom. During my sophomore year, I discovered a talent for understanding history, and a natural ability to write about what I learned. My AP U.S. History teacher inspired and encouraged me to pursue my interests, and by the end of my junior year, I knew I needed to be a history teacher.

      In 2006 I met my husband Dan at a fraternity/ sorority mixer. We married in 2007, the same year I graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in History and a minor in English Literature. (With those degrees, it’s a good thing I actually wanted to be a teacher, right?) 
Dan and I on our wedding day. Babies, both of us. 
College Graduation. Go Utes!
     I received my the Masters of Arts and Teaching degree from Westminster College in 2009, and I've been teaching ever since. It amazes me that I teach AP U.S. History, the same class that inspired me to pursue education, and I love helping my students discover their own talents and dreams.  Clara was born in 2012, allowing me to fulfill a dream I didn't recognize until I found Dan and we began our family together. I never realized how much I wanted to be a mother until I held Clara for the first time. Now I can’t imagine life without her, or the someday siblings we hope to bring to our family.  

Dan looking like he didn't just give birth
Me looking really... post-postpartum
What are the best parts of your situations? What are the challenges?

       I always hate it when people say teaching is a great “Mom job” because our hours are the same as our kids, or because we don’t work summers. I chose teaching because the job reflects my passions and goals. Plus, people tend to only classify low-pay/female-dominated jobs as good “Mom jobs” which sends a very negative message to girls growing up with the hope of balancing family and career. But soap-box aside, the schedule is really wonderful. I feel like I still get to do lots of fun things with Clara because I leave work at 3:00 pm, giving me enough time to go to the park or the library before dinner. In the summer, I like to do things with Clara I normally couldn't do. This summer we took a parent/child dance class Wednesday mornings, and it is fun to actually be home to go to community play-groups and friend meet-ups.
Clara wouldn't let me try pigtails until I did my own.
The very best part of my work situation is the in-house daycare at my school. This allows me to bring Clara to work with me, drop her off at the daycare center, and watch her play outside from my classroom window. Clara’s daycare is small and staffed by a group of women who love Clara and are highly trained in childcare, but the cost reflects my pay as a teacher. (About 1/3 the national average for full-time care.) Some of my students are interns at the daycare, and I love image of a family-friendly work-places this instills in my students. Many companies still function on the single-income family with a stay-at-home-parent model. This makes it incredibly difficult for two-income families to find suitable and affordable childcare. But my students see that working and raising a family can work when it becomes a community effort: I work hard to educate the teenagers in my classroom, and they work hard to educate my child at daycare. I know my access to quality childcare is a privilege, and it makes me very passionate about advocating for and writing about the need for sustainable work-places with sufficient parental leave, flex-time, and affordable child-care opportunities. I wish my situation were the norm, not the extraordinary exception.
Clara's Daycare Birthday Party. Those tables are amazing. 
As for challenges, the mythological “second-shift” for working moms still exists.  Even though Dan and I spend about the same amount of time working and actively parenting, my job is still exhausting, and sometimes the last thing I want to do after teaching from 7:00 am to 3:00 pm is play at the park, or read the same Dr. Seuss book over and over. Clara watches more cartoons than I feel comfortable with, my house is consistently messy, and I can’t quite figure out an exercise routine I can sustain. I will openly admit to the occasional break-down where I tell my husband I can’t do it anymore. Usually this happens after a failed dinner recipe, a toddler tantrum, and a long night where I stay up too late to make a writing deadline only to head back to school the next morning wearing a shirt with dried oatmeal on it. When this happens, Dan and I re-evaluate our roles as parents and professionals to re-establish balance. When I’m particularly busy at work, my self-employed husband will pass up a job opportunity to spend more time at home. Dan could probably earn more working for a big company, but the long hours would place more burdens on me. His work flexibility helps ease the challenges of working full-time. He’s the one that takes time off work to take Clara to the doctor, or to come home early and make dinner. Sometimes he works after Clara and I are both in bed in order to have a day off the same day I do. While I crave stability and a predictable routine, I am learning to sacrifice those things in order to maintain a work-life balance that feels authentic to our long-term goals as people and parents. Dan loves running his own business, and I love teaching, so we make it work.
This photo is too funny not to share.

Is this how you expected it to be pre-kids?
No. My mother grew up with a large family in a very strict religious household. She was taught that her duty as a woman was to give up all “worldly” professional ambition to raise her children. She married very young and had the first of her five children at age 22. She was and is a wonderful and devoted mother, but she always told her daughters that we should choose the family plan that worked for us, and to choose personal happiness over dogma. She lives with a lot of regret, not because she stayed home to raise her children, but because she felt she never really experienced any other choice. I saw my mother struggle with her decision to have children, and it made me very afraid to start a family of my own. I also worried that working and raising a child wouldn't “work,” since I encountered very few real-life examples of professional mothers growing up.

Creating this family with my husband and Clara is the most unexpected joy of my life. I’m surprised how much I love motherhood, and yet I realize that my happiness comes from being empowered to make the right choice for me. Waiting for children until I felt established in a career and navigating work-life balance with a co-parent and equal partner is both a privilege and a result of a lot of hard work. I’m so proud of our family, and so grateful for the blessings and straight dumb-luck we've encountered throughout our lives. (I was hired at the only school in my district that provides child-care. I didn't realize at the time how monumental that was.)

Everyone looks a little crazy here. Except Clara, she's perfect. 

 Is this your ideal situation? If not, what is?

Well, I’d like to lose ten pounds, find a million dollars, and insist that the state of Utah lower the maximum number of students per classroom from 45 to 25. (Oh, Utah.) I also still get really bad zits. In all seriousness, I wish my profession came with a paycheck that reflected the amount of work and training I do to educate effectively. I don’t need to make sports-star figures, but seriously, a little respect here, please. Mostly, I wish this because I feel guilty that my husband bears more of the financial burden for our family. His business has grown a lot on the last few years, and while I am thrilled for his success, it also comes with longer hours and more stress. Sometimes I wish I earned more so he could enjoy more of a choice in how much he works. Ideally, our decision to co-parent and work equally would come with equal pay. J Also, I wouldn't have ADD anymore. Anyway.
My hair looks good here. That's all.
Do you see yourself making a career change (whatever that means) in the next 5-10 years? Or is this current set up staying put for the long haul?

                As I mentioned previously, the business Dan started in the living room of our first apartment is now significantly bigger. He’s much less flexible compared to the early years of our marriage. While I’m signed on to teach full-time this year, I may go part-time next year in order to add some flexibility to my own schedule, and pick up some of the responsibilities Dan can no longer manage.  Right now Dan and I share household chores and outside responsibilities fairly equally, but working part-time will put more housekeeping responsibilities back in my court. Working part-time will also allow me to expand on my free-lance writing, which I love. Hopefully Dan will reach a point where he can hire more help, and we will re-evaluate our work positions then. Dan and I find we are happiest when we take turns increasing or decreasing or work schedules as a team, and staying open-minded about what “balance” looks like for us.

Tips on how you make your situation work for you:

                I lower my standards of household cleanliness and what I actually consider a “weed” in my yard.  Dan likes to remind me that someday our children will be grown and we will be retired, giving us lots of time to garden and maintain a perfect home. But right now, we lower certain standards in order to raise a happy child. We want to work at jobs we love, and we want to spend time together as much as possible and have fun. So we do that in a messy house and with less money. I always remind myself to focus on the things that are most important (my family and my students,) and forgive myself for the things I cannot do right now.  I don’t feel qualified to give advice, but I do believe this: whatever you decide to do, be stay at home or work full-time or part-time, you make a sacrifice. There are challenges to all types of mothering. Make the decision that works very best for your family, and don’t compare your sacrifice to someone else’s. All work is valuable, and all sacrifice is important. Lastly, if your situation stops working, be flexible and open to new ideas. Maybe that means going back to work while your spouse goes back to school, or taking a few years off work to be home with your kids. You don’t know me, but I support you in whatever you do.
Sometimes work/life balance is fun! 

Sometimes it is not. 

                   For Moms in transition, going back to work or staying home after leaving the work-force, I will quote my personal hero, Edna Mode from the movie The Incredibles: “Life favors the prepared.” Dan and I certainly got lucky with our careers. But one of our first serious conversations as a couple involved me telling him I wanted to work, even when we had kids. So we planned our education and careers around those goals. Work-life balance doesn't happen over-night. So if you leave work, keep your resume updated with volunteer opportunities or free-lance work, and keep in touch with contacts in your industry so you can be prepared to go back if you need to. If you are coming back to work, reach out and find mentors in your field to help guide you, and talk to your partner about how your new work situation is going to impact the division of labor at home. Maybe you need your spouse to start making dinner a few nights a week, or budget for a house-keeper if neither of you can remember to clean to toilet.
Clara has a leather jacket. I do not. 

How do you handle mommy guilt?
 I cried when I realized the parent/child dance class I loved this summer was only offered in the mornings. I felt like a bad mom because Clara didn't get to do something fun because of my job. I think it is okay to recognize and honor the sacrifices you make to maintain the lifestyle that works for you. It’s okay to feel sad or stressed sometimes, as long as you recognize it doesn't reflect your entire worth as a parent. Thus, sometimes I deal with mommy guilt in healthy ways: remembering all the things Clara does get to do, like play with her friends every day at daycare. I also remember that the stability of my job allowed Dan the freedom to experiment with his business practice and take financial risks he otherwise wouldn't feel comfortable doing. I also deal with it in unhealthy ways: buying Clara the toy she sees at the store even though she doesn't need it, and eating my feelings. So, uh, choose the approach that works for you.Also, while I am not particularly religious at this point in my life, I do take great comfort in this scripture from Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Whenever I feel overwhelmed by my responsibilities, I ask myself if I am doing my best to be just, merciful, and humble in my walk with God. I remember that God doesn't require me to be perfect just yet, and that loving mercy means showing mercy to myself for the days I fall short. (End of sermon.)
Happy baby, messy house.
Household stuff

 Dan and I split cooking and cleaning pretty equally. I do tend to cook more, since I’m home earlier, but Dan is great at cleaning up dinner, as well as cleaning up after me and Clara leave for work in the morning. We do have a chore-chart with jobs for each day, and when we accomplish everything on our list, we get rewards. Mostly candy, because we are adults. Adults with chore charts. Honestly though, our house is often clean enough to be sort-of healthy, but messy enough to be happy. Once every few weeks we do a massive Saturday deep-clean, and then we pretend we never have to do it again. Dan usually does the big grocery shopping trip once every two weeks before work, and I usually pick up the in-between ingredients once a week on the way home from work. Sometimes one of us goes to the 24/7 grocery store at  11:00 pm, but that represents a low point and a degree of desperation I wouldn't necessary recommend.

Almost the end of this post! 
     If you read this whole thing, congratulations! You get an A in blog reading. I want to end by emphasizing that I know everyone makes different parenting choices based on their own needs, and that no choice is the universal best fit. Sometimes my stay-at-home-mom friends make comments that make me feel judged for working, until I realize they are just talking about what works for them. I hope I've made it clear that I believe my choices are the best for me and my family alone, please don’t read them as a “mandate” for anyone else.  I also know that many of my decisions come from a place of privilege. Many moms and dads would love to work, but can’t due to a myriad of circumstances. Other parents long to stay home but need to work to support their kids. The only thing I believe in 100% is happy families, and doing whatever it takes to make sure everyone feels loved and cared for.  Thanks again for reading about how I “make it work.”

{Thanks, Stephanie! Find the rest of the MMIW series here}

The End of Maternity Leave | Final Round

Sweet Porter boy is eleven weeks old today! I know, I'm not sure where the time has gone either. I have now been away from work for over twelve weeks, using my first week of maternity leave being very very pregnant and impatient. Monday will be my first day back in the workforce after 12.5 weeks off. Glorious, glorious maternity leave is over. Insert sad face emoticon here.

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So many feelings about this, but I'll keep it short: I'm nervous, tired just thinking about it, but also ready to get the show on the road already. It will be the next chapter in life with three and I *know* we can all handle this big transition. I will just assume it will probably suck for awhile and I'll likely feel like I've been hit by a bus. But SOMEDAY we will slide into a new routine and I might even feel like I'm doing more than simply treading water. We shall see. As long as I don't drown we'll call it a win.

Porter is the exact opposite of his sister in one way: Cecelia refused the bottle and was in love with nursing, and I'm afraid that Porter is refusing to nurse and will make out with his daycare bottles. It's quite ironic to me that in my 'end of maternity leave' post with Cecelia, I was stressed out over the transition because she would NOT latch on to a bottle. And Porter? I'm stressed because he seems to only want a bottle. Kids. It's always something. (Except for Mister Perfect Truman who was a dream boat baby with nursing....all 14 pounds of himself at this age).

The backstory: for the past 2-3 weeks I've had this nagging feeling that Porter wasn't nursing well anymore. It was better for awhile and not so great again. He will nurse for literally 5 minutes and usually only on my right (big producer) side. Sometimes he is happy and just done and other times he is angry and just done after that. There are times I can convince him to keep going but many times he just doesn't wanna. Milk is literally still dripping out from my body but he isn't having it. I thought maybe he was just efficient? My official diagnosis is that he gets mad after the first let down and wants the milk to keep spraying out at him, annoyed if it slows to a trickle. But whatever, he has been nursing about every 2-3 hours, isn't fussy, seems mostly satisfied, etc. I figured if something was really wrong with breastfeeding we would know. Wouldn't he be totally inconsolable and obviously angry at life? Because he is usually so happy. Like, disgustingly happy.

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(smiling, unknowingly, before his two month shots)
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Warning: poop talk ahead. I'm such a mom right now, discussing my baby's diapers on the internet. But his poops have also been greenish for as long as I can remember. I brought this up to the Ped at Porter's one month appointment but the doc thought as long as P was growing, was happy, and was having enough wet/poopy diapers it was fine. Don't change anything because we could just have more problems to deal with, and odd colored poops are not uncommon at one month. Apparently now at two months, it's more of a concern. Could be that he's not getting enough of the fatty hind milk since he prefers to 'snack' most of the day and that's what is making his poop green. Who knows.

But combining the short nursing sessions, the green poops, and now a drop in the weight percentiles? It still could be nothing, or it could be a sign that something isn't working. Mister man is 'only' 11lbs 12oz right now which puts him in the 19th percentile for his weight. I know those charts are sort of wonky and the doctor isn't too concerned. I know he has still gained over 3 pounds and 3 inches in his two months of life. But still! He was in the 80th percentile at birth so it's a pretty big drop. It makes me feel like my son must be starving himself in the name of wanting an immediate, constant flow of milk when he nurses. He is growing but it's really slow, and now my biggest baby at birth is my lightest at two months. Numbers play with my head, can you tell? It makes me question a lot of things. Really hate that growth chart right now.

Maybe he really isn't getting enough milk from me? I truly don't think it's a supply issue and must be more of a 'Porter issue' since I do have the milk when I pump. And I see it coming out of my boob!! But I'm totally doubting myself as a breastfeeding mama right now. Maybe I should totally cut things out of my diet? Maybe I should stop working out? Maybe I should stop stressing about this? ;) Porter is proving to be a challenging eater and I'm lucky enough that I haven't had one of those before. It's really no joke, as many of you probably already know.

So the doctor suggested that we just see how the next few weeks go with Porter getting bottles three days per week while I'm at work. Maybe that will be the key to getting more milk into the boy. Maybe his green poops will turn yellow, since the fatty milk will be in those bottles and he doesn't even have to be patient for it. OMG, so much pumping in my future!!

If nothing really changes with bottles and he still gains weight slowly that might just be 'him' and doesn't mean he is unhealthy. As long as he isn't actually losing weight, isn't super pissed all of the time, and doesn't seem to have anything else going on it's fine. The doc said he is 'incredibly low risk' for this being anything wrong with Porter, like if he can't process my milk correctly or something. Maybe he's destined to be my little peanut after all? He certainly doesn't LOOK malnourished or skinny to me.

(lololz at the privacy patch of his towel here. But needed to show you his rolls---all 19th percentile of them.)

Of course, maybe he will simply stop nursing all together once he gets used to the faster flow of the bottles. Yes, we use slow newborn nipples but it's not the same as mother nature's faster/slower flow. After a few sub-par nursing sessions today, I offered a breast milk bottle and both times he sucked them down. I'm starting to think that our nursing days are severely limited and I better get used to seeing his sweet face drinking from a bottle.

(but I love this view so much!)
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It's not the end of the world. Lots of things could still happen. The doctor isn't concerned and Porter is a happy, seemingly healthy dude. But I just don't like the weight (no pun intended) of this whole thing. It's too early, WAY too early for my last baby to stop breastfeeding. And if he was my first baby, I'm sure I'd be totally freaking out even more. So at least I can hang onto a little bit of 'big picture' perspective with Porter as my third?

(also, GoGo flew back to Colorado yesterday so my mental state is SUPERB tonight!!!)

Nursing issues and worries aside....maternity leave has been amazing. Life at home with three kids is more chaotic than I could have ever imagined, but it's more awesome than I could have imagined, too. This maternity leave has been nothing like the peaceful days of Truman's, and even the semi-peaceful days of Cecelia's, but I've enjoyed my time home with Porter. I wish I had 12 more weeks home with him but alas, I do not. And so we will figure out our new normal and focus on the positive. Because there are so many wonderful things about our new normal of me working part time!

Sweet Porter, I love you more than words. I'm sorry our house is so incredibly loud and obnoxious, and that it's difficult to give you 100% of my attention with your big siblings competing for my time. But you still have it pretty good, buddy, because you have two siblings who love you to pieces. You have a mommy and daddy that think you are absolutely perfect and we regularly discuss how adorable you are. Don't let it go to your head just yet. We just want to eat you up while you are still so little and innocent, and before you turn into a toddler or a preschooler with your own set of....challenges;)

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We are going to rock this 'working mom' thing, buddy. Lori is going to love having you at her house a few days per week. I hope you don't love those bottles more than my boob but I know we will figure out that whole mess, too. We can do it. We will settle into our new routine, and perhaps we will even surprise ourselves.

I've loved every single day of my maternity leave with you, bud. You are the perfect puzzle piece that completes our family. You have brought us even more joy into this already awesome life since the day you were born. These eleven weeks with you in my arms, instead of you being in my body, have been amazing. Hard, of course, but amazing. I'm so excited to see you grow into the Porter you will be someday. So much fun awaits!!

You really are the best little baby I could have asked for. Thank you for being you, Port.

(Fist pound. Let's do this thing).


Stocking Up on Freezer Meals

freezer meals: My Life in Transition

Let me admit something to you in this post: I really don't love to cook. Maybe it's just because in this season of our lives, dinner time is hectic and not exactly 'fun' at all. Especially on the nights when Nate doesn't get home until 7:30 pm, dinnertime is just freaking rough. It usually involves me trying to throw together whatever we have on the meal plan while two out of three children are crying/need me to hold them. Since have the meals planned ahead of time it always *seems* like a super doable recipe, but once it's crunch time I find that chopping anything, manning the oven, or opening any jars proves to be way too much for me to handle. Yes, I have tried wearing my baby. Yes, I have tried prepping during nap time and keeping the recipes simple. But there are always constant interruptions of Porter needing to nurse/be changed/crying, and Cecelia needing all of my attention as well.

During my maternity leave, I started to realize that on Nate's late nights, which are Mondays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Fridays, I needed to revamp our routine a bit. It just wasn't working to make anything with fresh produce---although we love our veggies and fresh fruits. Name of the game: survival mode. Our family needs to eat but it cannot be at the expense of my mental sanity and dinner time and it cannot take me 3 hours to complete.  And so? Enter in freezer meals. If I'm feeling especially energetic I can always try to throw together a side salad or fruit in a bowl, but I cannot promise anything on those 'solo parenting/dinner/bathtime' nights!

When mom was visiting us, she suggested that we team up and assemble a ton of freezer meals together before I returned to work. I can then use this stash on Mondays and Wednesdays, and when Nate is home on the other nights we can do more fresh and elaborate dishes. (Note: by elaborate I mean grilling burgers, making a giant spinach salad, or doing anything that takes longer than 5 minutes. That is elaborate to me!)

I will also admit that I don't have a super-refined palate by any means, and I'm pretty boring with my food choices. Nothing spicier than ketchup will touch my lips and I really just love chicken or beef with various amounts of cheese and veggies. So my meal choices are not fancy or special, but they work for us! And since our kids don't usually eat much of our 'adult' meals, I planned these portions to suit just Nate and I. This is a separate issue, I realize, and no---I'm not a 'short order cook' for my children. But I would rather make them something that I know they will eat, then encourage them to try a bite of OUR dish as well, to keep dinner time as pleasant as possible. Again, I realize this is a debatable topic on the internets but that is what works for our family! And: survival mode does not include constant food battles at the dinner table, especially when I'm alone with three kids during the hardest hours of the day. I just cannot right now.

I figured that I should document our little journey through seven different freezer meal recipes in case we do this again in the future, but also because it might be really helpful to anyone else out there who wants a supply of ready-to-go meals in their freezer. I'm hoping we can always have a few meals like this on hand because it's just so nice to have them! Planning it all out and making the grocery list was half of the work, so I will try to save you some time here.

SO. I made this post with a grocery list, all of my recipes and tips/explanations of each meal, and then the general procedure we followed. I hope this helps someone!

Grocery list for all seven recipes:
*Note--I did not include the spices or items we already had in this list. So eggs, butter, milk, olive oil, flour, etc were all in our kitchen already and possibly yours, too. But I figured it might be helpful to see a grocery list that we used to purchase the other items for these recipes. Definitely read all of the specific recipes first to make your own shopping list, but this part did take me awhile to organize so I wanted to share it with you. Hopefully it helps! Our grocery bill was $200 for this but that also included other weekly staples like deli turkey meat, milk, eggs, bread, etc. Not too bad for 23 meals!

-one 6 pound 'bone-in' pork shoulder (for the pulled pork recipe)
-8 chicken breasts (for enchiladas, quinoa casserole, and the white chicken chili)
-2 pounds of beef chunks for stew (beer beef stew)
-3.5 pounds of ground beef (lasagna and the beef chili)
-1 pound of breakfast sausage (lasagna)
-1 pound of bacon (for the beef chili, special addition for fun)

Canned products:
-2 cans of black beans (enchiladas)
-2 cans of white beans (white chili)
-2 cans of kidney beans (beef chili)
-2 cans red beans (beef chili)
-2 cans mild chili beans (beef chili)
-2 cans diced tomatoes (beef chili)
-2 cans whole tomatoes (lasagna)
-2 cans tomato paste (lasagna)
-2 cans green enchilada sauce--or one large 28 oz can (enchiladas)
-1 can of tomatoes with green chilis, like Rotel (beer beef stew)

-1 package of cream cheese (enchiladas)
-2 bags of shredded Monterrey and Colby cheese mix (enchiladas)
-2 big bags of flour tortillas (enchiladas)
-1 bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (quinoa casserole)
-1 tub of cottage cheese (lasagna)
-parmesean grated cheese-2 cups from our big can (lasagna)
-1 block of mozzarella cheese to slice accordingly (lasagna)

-1 medium onion (white chili)
-2 celery stalks (beer beef stew)
-2 large carrots (beer beef stew)
-1 pound of potatoes (beer beef stew)
-1 head of broccoli (quinoa casserole)
-2 shallots (quinoa casserole)

-BBQ sauce (pulled pork)
-1.5 cups of quinoa
-1 package of no-boil lasagna noodles
-disposable 8x8 pans-we used nine of them

Lasagna: my version inspired by the Pioneer Woman

{Made three 8x8 pans} {Took me 1 hour to assemble and store}


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-1.5 lbs ground beef
-1 lb breakfast sausage
-2 cloves of minced garlic
-2 cans (14.5 oz each) of whole tomatoes
-2 cans (6 oz each) of tomato paste
-2 T dried parsley
-2 T dried basil
-2 T dried oregano
-1 t salt
-2 cups (one big container) of cottage cheese
-2 beaten eggs
-1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
-1 block of mozzarella cheese, sliced up
-1 package of no boil lasagna noodles

-Pre-cook the beef and sausage.

-To make the meat/tomato sauce: in a big skillet, add the tomatoes and tomato paste, 2 T of parsley, 2 T of basil, and a bit of salt. Then add your meat and let this whole thing simmer for a bit.

-To make cheese sauce: mix the cottage cheese, beaten eggs, grated parmesan, 2 T of oregano, 2 T of basil and some salt. Set aside.

-Layering: put a bit of your meat sauce down first, then noodles, then cheese sauce, then sliced mozzarella cheese, and more meat sauce. Keep going until you run out of room. I had two layers of this concoction in each of my pans. Then stop with a lot of grated parmesan, cover with foil, and store frozen. Will probably take at least an hour to bake with the noodles uncooked and with the dish frozen solid.

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*This was the first time I've made this recipe and I sort of changed it around from that link above. Apparently one large tub of cottage cheese is just a bit over 2 cups and I actually needed 3 cups. Oh well, it didn't seem to matter that I used less. I also used oregano and basil instead of the parsley for the cheese mixture. I fried the meat ahead of time then used it in a skillet with the tomato products to make a sauce later, which isn't exactly how PW did it. I didn't love using whole tomatoes and really tried to smash them up for the sauce, so I'd probably use diced tomatoes next time. Then our noodles were 'no boil' and a little oddly shaped, but they did fit perfectly inside our 8x8 pans. I doubt the ratio of meat to cheese to noodles matters *that* much anyway since I don't think you can go wrong with lasagna! This made three 8x8 pans for us and since I used no boil noodles, I will plan to bake this for a really long time since it will be frozen and noodles uncooked. It took about an hour to put this all together, wearing Porter on my chest.

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Cream Cheese Enchiladas: my version inspired by Pearls, Handcuffs, and Happy Hour

{Made four 8x8 pans, 5-6 enchiladas in each pan} {Took about an hour to assemble and store}

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-3 boiled chicken breasts, shredded
-one 8oz package of cream cheese
-two 10 oz cans of green enchilada sauce, mild
-2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed (original recipe calls for one can)
-4 cups of cooked rice (original recipe calls for 2 cups)
-2 bags of flour enchilada tortillas, the smaller size
-1 bag of shredded monterrey/colby cheese (original recipe calls for 1-2 cups)

-Boil chicken and shred. Make rice.

-Make your filling: chicken, cream cheese, and 1 can of enchilada sauce.

-Pour a bit of enchilada sauce into your pan. Start making your enchiladas by layering rice, black beans, and your filling mixture. Place these bad boys seam down into your pan and keep going until it's full. Top with a bit more enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Cover with foil and store. Will bake at 375 for about 25 minutes once it's thawed.

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*This is one of my favorite tried and true recipes that I love to make for friends with new babies AND for us:) It always seems to make a TON of extra filling when I follow the recipe portions, and then I run out of tortilla wraps, rice and beans to make more than just a 9x13 pan plus a few random extra enchiladas for a separate 8x8 pan. So this time I decided my goal was to make four 8x8 pans, using one pan for a 'meal' for Nate and I. The above recipe is what I used this time but you can visit the link for the original version if you'd like. Our children are not big fans of enchiladas so I didn't have to worry about feeding four mouths with each pan---I eat 2-3 enchiladas for a meal and Nate gets 3. Easy peasy.

I doubled my black beans to two cans, doubled my rice to 4 cups, I got two big bags of the small sized enchilada tortillas, and two bags of shredded cheese. But I kept the amount of filling (chicken, cream cheese, and enchilada sauce) the same to see if that would get me to four small 8x8 pans instead of one large 9x13 plus a few extra. Doubling everything except for the filling worked out well and I could fit 5-6 of the small sized enchiladas in one 8x8 pan, making four pans total. Therefore this gave us a total of 21 wrapped enchiladas (three pans of five, one pan of six).

Also, the enchilada sauce is VERY important in this one. We have tried red sauce and hated it so the green sauce is a must for us. Plus, since I suck and hate anything remotely spicy, we always stick to the mild green sauce which is sort of hard to find but worth it to me!

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Cheesy Broccoli Quinoa Casserole: Made to freeze from Annie's Eats recipe
 {Made two 8x8 pans} {Took 45 minutes to assemble and store}

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-1.5 cups of dry quinoa
-1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
-3 T butter
-3 T flour
-2 shallots, diced
-2 cups of milk
-1/4 tsp. garlic powder
-1/4 tsp. dry mustard
-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
-1 8 oz bag of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
-2 cups of shredded, cooked chicken

-Cook quinoa according to package. Boil chicken (probably about 2 chicken breasts or so?).

-Steam broccoli in a skillet with a bit of water, covering it as it boils then removing from heat once it's bright green.

-Make cheese sauce: melt 3T of butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Make a bowl full of the following: flour, shallots, garlic powder, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper. Then add this bowl to your butter, whisking until it's light brown for a few minutes. Then add in your milk, stirring frequently, and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Finally, whisk in the cheddar cheese until it's nice and thick and pull it off the heat. Season with salt and pepper as you want.

-Put the quinoa, chicken, and broccoli together in a huge bowl. Then add your cheese sauce and stir it all up so it's nicely coated. Place this mixture in two 8x8 pans, cover with foil, and freeze. Will probably take about 30 minutes to reheat once thawed.

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*This was one where I followed the recipe directly, without any changes on my end, except I made it specifically to be frozen. It was pretty easy to make especially since I cooked the quinoa and chicken the day before. It very easily filled two of my 8x8 tins and hopefully it will cook from frozen nicely. I might even add breadcrumbs to the top before baking. It took me 45 minutes to put this all together, not including the quinoa and chicken cook times.

White Chicken Chili: Mom made this one for us before and we loved it, so it went back on the 'master list' for the big haul.

{Made 3 quart sized bags} {Took 20 minutes to assemble and store}


-2T. Olive Oil
-1T corn starch
-1 medium onion, chopped
-1 can chopped green chilis, drained
-2 cans white beans, drained
-2t cumin
-2t chili powder
-1 lb boiled, shredded chicken
-2 cups chicken stock (for later, when cooking)
-1t salt
-1t pepper

-Place all ingredients except chicken stock in large freezer bag, toss to coat and freeze. When ready, place ingredients in slow cooker, add chicken stock, cook on low for 4-5 hours. Remove chicken, shred and return to crockpot.

*For all of the meals that went into quart freezer bags instead of 8x8 pans, I figure that one quart bag is probably a good guess at two serving sizes. So one bag for Nate and I at dinner, especially if we have something else on the side like bread or crackers or grilled cheese to go with our soups/chili. We will see if I have to use one quart bag per person when super hungry. That will totally throw off my numbers! No pictures of this one yet.

Beef and Bean (and BACON) Chili: this is my personal concoction that I make as someone who HATES anything remotely spicy. 

{Made four quart sized freezer bags full of chili} (Took 20 minutes to assemble and store)

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-2lb ground beef
-1 lb bacon
-2 cans red beans
-2 can chili beans
-2 can kidney beans
-2 can diced tomatoes
-chili powder seasoning, garlic, salt and pepper

-For this freezer meal session, we cooked the beef and bacon ahead of time. I added the eight cans of beans and tomatoes right to my giant stock pot, and did not drain them. I added in the two meats and a bunch of seasoning, stirred it up and then divided it into ziplock bags. I'll use the crockpot or stove top when we're ready to eat this, and I'm thinking a quart sized bag will give us about 2-3 hefty bowls of chili total. Excellent served with shredded cheese. Love it with grilled cheese sandwiches. Took me a total of 20 minutes to add everything together, stir it up, and divide it into bags.

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*I randomly wanted to try it with bacon this time just for fun, too, but usually I just use beef, three kinds of beans, and diced tomatoes plus seasoning. I am not a super-fancy chili person and both Nate and I really like this ultra-simple version. It might not have enough kick for everyone, so obviously change it as you want. Sometimes Nate will add extra hot seasoning to his personal bowl to compensate for me being a huge wuss with heat.

Beer Beef Stew: This was one mom made for us before and it was a hit!

{Made four quart sized bags} {Took about 30 minutes to assemble and store, meat stays raw here}


-2lbs chopped stew beef chunks
-2T olive oil
-2T butter
-2 celery stalks chopped
-2 large carrots chopped
-1lb potatoes chopped
-2 garlic cloves chopped
-2 bay leaves
-1T parsley
-1 cup dark beer
-1 cup beef stock
-1 can tomatoes with green chilis
-2t salt
-1t pepper

-Season beef with salt and pepper but do not cook. Place all ingredients in large freezer bag (or quart bags) except beer and beef stock. When ready, place stew mixture in crockpot, add beer and beef stock, cooking on low for 6-8 hours.

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*Again, hoping that one quart bag will feed Nate and I for dinner. This is the only meal I made that has raw meat in it, so it will definitely have longer crock pot times than the others that just need to be re-heated.

Crockpot Pulled Pork: my version inspired by The Way the Cookie Crumbles

{Made 4 quart sized bags} {Took 5 minutes to prep/rub, then 8 hours in crock pot to cook}


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-Penzey's 'BBQ 3001' rub
-bone-in pork shoulder, 6 lbs
-BBQ sauce

-We used our favorite Penzey's rub instead of making one out of other spices, like the recipe said to do. I just rubbed it all over (gross), wrapped up the meat in plastic wrap, and let it sit in the fridge over night. Then the next day we put it in our large crockpot on low with 1/4 cup of water. After about 8 hours, we shredded the pork, added BBQ sauce, and put it back on low for one more hour.

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*Ate this one the same night we did the crock pot all day. BIG HIT. Super yummy and moist, which is something that I usually cannot achieve with a crock pot. We plan to eat this with BBQ sauce on buns and Nate likes to add cole slaw to his pulled pork sandwiches. The meat was so good we could even eat it by itself with a side or two. I'm thinking that once it's frozen and then thawed out, I might have to add a bit more sauce but we will see.

The Procedure:

After the big grocery shopping trip, we got right to cooking all of the meat. So we fried the bacon and put it aside. Fried the breakfast sausage and put it aside. Fried all of the ground beef with just salt, pepper, and garlic instead of trying to divide up the stuff for the chili with chili seasoning and the stuff for the lasagna without it. Nate was very concerned about not using any seasoning at all on the ground beef but I figured that it's going to be 'marinating' with the dishes for long enough before we eat it, and would be fine. We also boiled 8 chicken breasts with chicken stock and set it aside, then shredded it. All of this took maybe an hour to cook and store it away.

After the meat was cooked (because the beef stew uses raw chunks, and the pulled pork is sort of a separate deal), I cooked the rice for the enchiladas and the quinoa for the casserole. This took about 30 minutes.

Then I made all four pans of enchiladas and packed them away. This took about an hour. The next day I made the lasagna in an hour. Then I took a nursing break and made the quinoa casserole in 45 minutes. Then I combined everything for the beef and bacon chili in 20 minutes. Took a break, then Mom took over for the white chicken chili, which took 20 minutes. Then her beer beef stew took about 30 minutes for her. I did the pork rub over night, then cooked it in the crock pot the next day. So all together, we did this over three days mostly during naps and after bedtime. It cost roughly $200 and we should have about 23 meals for two out of these seven recipes. Not bad!

I will add pictures of the cooked meals once we eat them and can update this as needed, if we find a dish we love/hate/etc.  Let me know if you have other great freezer meal recipes or tips!
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