Category Archives: Pregnancy & Baby

Miles & Motherhood: Three Months

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I know I say this every month, but I really can’t believe that Miles turned three months old this week. In some ways it feels like he was born yesterday and in other ways I can hardly remember what life was like before him.

We have one happy baby and two very happy parents! Just how happy is he? Often, while I’m giving him a bottle I have to stop midway to give him a break so he can smile and “talk”. He just can’t contain it! We also get some of his biggest smiles while he’s on his changing table or hanging out in his activity gym.

There’s so much change that happens from one month to the next, but I feel like I’ve noticed some of Miles’ greatest leaps over these past four weeks. It seems like he started out the month still a newborn and is now a full-fledged baby. The fourth trimester is totally a real thing. Within this past month he: eats more at each feeding; goes to bed earlier and sleeps longer at night; strings together noises to make more complex sounds; outgrew his newborn clothes and fits into his 3-month outfits; smiles and “talks” constantly; is more interested in toys, and much more. As you know, he was a tiny 4-pound peanut when he was born so we’re thrilled that he’s growing like crazy. We think he’s about 12 pounds now.

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I think that the biggest lesson over this past month, for me, was to put the gosh darn parenting books down! Every family has their own parenting style and that’s totally cool. All along, Robert and I have taken a figure-it-out-as-we-go approach. Still, I’ve consulted different books for some guidance along the way. But you know what? Miles is our greatest guide–at least at this stage. We may be his parents, but changes are so much easier for all of us when he leads the way because it tells us that he’s ready for them. All we need to do is watch for his cues and help make it happen.

IMG_5216His bedtime is a huge example of this lesson for us. I’d read that babies should start going to sleep earlier as they get a little older. At the beginning of this month, he still had a pretty late bedtime—around 9 or 10pm. I tried moving it up (because the books told me to), but it was a struggle to get him to fall asleep any earlier. That is, until one night Miles moved his own bedtime to 7pm and it has been that way ever since.

Here’s how that went down. One evening around 6pm, when Miles was about 9.5 weeks old, he was completely inconsolable. We tried everything we could think of to calm him down and nothing worked. Finally, as a last-ditch effort we decided to give him a bath because he’s always happy and relaxed in there, even though it was several hours earlier than we’d normally bathe him. Happily, it worked. While taking a bath, he started to yawn so we decided to continue with our bedtime routine and just see what happened. So, after his bath he got some snuggles while wrapped in his towel, we put him in his PJs, I fed him a bottle, and before he was finished he started falling asleep. We swaddled him, put him in his crib, and before 7pm he was fast asleep. Robert and I snuck out of his room and as soon as we got downstairs we did a happy dance. Success! What’s more, he slept 6.5 hours (instead of his usual 3 to 4) that night before waking up for a feeding. Nearly every night since he’s gone to sleep between 7 and 7:30pm. Especially now that Robert isn’t working such crazy hours, it feels pretty spectacular to have our evenings back. Although we know that we should probably get in bed shortly after we put Miles down, we’re just so happy to have a few hours together in the evenings right now.IMG_5106

Miles still wakes up twice at night to eat (the second time is  usually between 4:30 and 5 a.m., so technically I guess he’s only waking once at night?) I’ll take it for now, but I’m hoping he’ll drop at least one of those feedings over the next month, especially now that he’s eating more during the day. But do you want to know a secret about those nighttime feedings? I kind of like them. I realize I probably sound like a weirdo for saying that (and I may change my tune when I’m back to work), but for now I really cherish them. It isn’t always easy to get out of bed when I hear him crying on the monitor, but there’s something so sweet and peaceful about holding and feeding our baby in the middle of the night. I know that Miles won’t be waking up at night forever (right? Right? PROMISE?) so I’ll take those late-night snuggles and sleepy smiles while I can.

IMG_5122Without a doubt, the highlight of this month was our first family trip to Saugatuck, MI. Robert and I went there last September to celebrate our first anniversary and loved it so much. It’s this adorable little town along the Kalamazoo River and we were so happy to be back with Miles. He did great! He slept the whole three-hour long car ride there. He was such a champ while we bopped around town during the day and he napped while we ate a fancy steak dinner (with Robert wearing him in the Lillebaby and standing up at the bar – ha!)  He kept us entertained with smiles in our little rental house and he slept well at night while Robert and I shared a bottle of wine and played cards.

I’m so excited about what’s to come during his fourth month. Miles is on the verge of so many cool things. We’re waiting for a giggle to happen any day now. When he’s really excited he wiggles his entire body, gives us the biggest open-mouthed gummy smile, and makes a sound that’s almost a giggle. It’s like he’s trying to figure out how to coordinate the facial motions and sounds necessary for producing a giggle. When Miles is on his tummy, he lifts his head and chest nice and high and leans to one side (see below) so I know that rolling over is just on the horizon. He did it once on his own last week, but we’re eagerly waiting for him to do it again. His head control has improved dramatically over this past month—it makes such a difference—so I’m sure it’ll continue to get stronger until he can totally hold it up on his own.

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Finally, this is the month that I start back to work. We have a fabulous nanny share situation (I’ll be taking him to the other family’s house) that he starts the second week of June. I’ve already reached out to some editors about my return to work and have quite a few assignments waiting for me when I’m back at my computer. I have about 10 million feelings, both good and bad, about returning to work. I’m so fortunate to work from home, work for myself, enjoy what I do, and have some flexibility so I’m incredibly grateful for all of that. But the thought of being apart from Miles and having someone else care for him is really difficult for me to wrap my mind around at the moment. I know that over time we’ll find our new normal and figure it out together as a family. Just like we’ve done all along.

Miles & Motherhood: Two Months

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Happy two months, little man!

I can’t believe how much has changed since my last post. In his second month, Miles has definitely woken up. He opens his eyes nice and wide, makes eye contact, and focuses on people and objects (and dogs!) around him. He’s also started to vocalize with the cutest “gahs” and “ayes” and we always babble those sounds right back to him. I can’t get enough!

As you can see in the picture above, last week he started giving us some smiles, and…just …wow! Seeing those first smiles—real, unmistakable, on-purpose smiles—is the best thing in the world. It reminds me a lot of what it was like to feel him kick for the first time when I was pregnant. It’s hard to explain, but in both instances I suddenly felt so connected to this little life. We’ll do anything to make him smile no matter how ridiculous we may look.

Robert and I feel incredibly lucky that Miles makes it pretty easy for us to be new parents. Like any baby, he has his moments of crying and fussiness, but overall he’s a calm and content little fella. Not only does he look like his dad, I’m pretty sure he has his easygoing demeanor, too.

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Our little wolf pack

I’m happy to say that a lot of the things that felt so hard during the first four weeks are becoming much easier now. Of course, every day brings new adventures and challenges, but I feel like we’re really getting the hang of things now. In the past month, I’ve also started doing some things that make me feel a little more normal again. I go grocery shopping with Miles, we’ve gone to a few restaurants with him, and I try to go on a super long (70-90 minute) stroller walk most days. Cooking is still way too intimidating–I’ve only cooked a handful of things since he was born, so we’re still living off of those freezer meals and foods that are really easy to assemble (salads, sandwiches, eggs, etc.)

Sleep is a work in progress. In general, I’d say that he’s a pretty good sleeper for an 8-week-old. Currently, he goes to sleep between 8 and 9 p.m. and wakes up twice at night for feedings, which last 30 to 45 minutes each, and then goes down pretty easily after each one. When Miles was about 6.5 weeks old, we moved him out of our room and into his nursery. It was bittersweet, but a good decision for all of us. He makes so many noises at night that were keeping us up! At first he was sleeping in his rock n’ play in his room and he did really well with that. However, we know that he should be sleeping in his crib (which he’s never really liked) so we’ve been working on having him sleep in there at night and for some naps. We still swaddle him using either a Halo Sleepsack or Summer Infant Swaddleme.

IMG_4089No matter how much or how little sleep I get at night, I always look forward to the morning. Morning Miles is my favorite! (Bathtime Miles is a close second.) Even if our day starts at 5:30 a.m., I’m totally okay with it because of how sweet he is. After Miles has been fed, he’s super alert and so fun to be around. We’ll hang out in the jungle (aka his activity gym), do some tummy time, read some books in bed, make funny noises back and forth, and chill. Miles doesn’t even need to be entertained–he’s just happy and alert–but now that he’s awake for longer stretches, especially in the morning, I try to take advantage of that time when I can.

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This is probably a result of spending way too much time on social media and reading too many blogs, but I often see people lamenting the fact that their baby is growing up and getting bigger. Is it weird that I don’t feel sad about this? As much as I adore this newborn stage (and I really really love everything about it), I’m excited about everything that’s still to come! I can’t wait for giggles, babbling, playing, crawling, and on and on. I love that he’s getting bigger. I love that I’ve already packed away his preemie outfits and his newborn-sized clothes are next. I love that every day he discovers something new like the crocodile hanging from his activity gym or the lights in the kitchen ceiling. I love that as soon as I think I know him, he becomes someone new. For me, this is what it’s all about and I’m happily soaking it all in.

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In my last post I mentioned how much I love the Solly Baby wrap. Well, I’m convinced that babywearing is the key to a happy baby and happy parents, at least in this household! In addition to the Solly, we love our Lillebaby. I love the close contact babywearing provides, while enabling me to have my hands free to do things such as walk the dogs, put together a meal, eat, fold laundry, answer e-mails, and more. It’s also a great alternative to using the stroller when running errands. Babywearing is pretty magical—as soon as I put Miles into one of the carriers, he snuggles close to me and falls asleep. Some evenings I’ll wrap the Solly on while he’s still napping or hanging out and as soon as he starts fussing I plop him in there and all is right in the world again.

Looking ahead, this next month is a big one for us. Robert has one week left of his busy season and then he’ll be around a lot more. Woo hoo! In many ways it feels like a fresh start for us as parents. He’ll be taking a week of paternity leave in May and we planned a little getaway to Michigan for our first family trip, which should be really fun and, hopefully, relaxing.

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Finally, I wanted to end this post with something that’s been on my mind since Miles was born. I realize that it may seem like it’s all puppies and babies and rainbows and unicorns around here, and for the most part it is (well, minus the rainbows and unicorns). What follows, which is about feeding Miles, has consumed a lot of my thoughts and energy during these first few months. As we enter his third month, I think I’m finally starting to accept things as they are, focus on the positive, and let my disappointment go.

So here it goes…

I had every intention of breastfeeding Miles for at least the first year. Before he was born I did everything I could to set us up for success. I took classes, read books, researched, stocked up on everything I could possibly need, and more. It was really important to me to make it work.

Unfortunately, that is not our reality. I just never produced anything. I worked with lactation consultants and tried everything imaginable, but still had nothing to give him.

Finally, my doctor offered one more option: a medication to treat acid reflux that’s prescribed off-label to induce lactation. I considered it briefly. I wanted to know that I did everything possible to feed our baby and that certainly would’ve been everything. However, after careful thought and discussion, I decided that the side effects such as anxiety and depression were too risky (what new mom needs that?) and there wasn’t enough long-term evidence for me to feel certain that it was safe for Miles and me. I also felt that I didn’t want to force my body to do something that it clearly wasn’t doing on its own. And so, our reality is that our baby is formula fed.

Accepting this reality has been the most difficult thing I’ve faced since he was born. I know that in the scheme of things feeding him formula isn’t that big of a deal. (Heck, I was formula fed and I seemed to turn out okay…) And of course, the most important thing is that he’s happy, healthy, growing, and loved. He’s certainly all of those things. It’s just that knowing all of the benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby, I’m disappointed that we don’t get to experience them.

Whenever I feel bummed about giving Miles a bottle I call to mind something my mom said that put it all into perspective for me. At his two week doctors appointment when we found out that he was over five pounds, which was a big milestone for us, I texted my mom the news followed by “no thanks to me.” Her response: “Babies also grow on love.” Isn’t that the truth? I may not be able to feed him in the way I had hoped, but I’ll always be able to nourish him with an endless supply of love.

Meet Miles!

01-IMG_0338 He’s here, he’s here! We welcomed our son, Miles Atlas Fowler, on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 5:39 a.m. I can’t believe the little life that was growing and squirming inside my belly is now sleeping soundly next to me while I type. It’s surreal and more wonderful than I ever dreamed it would be. We’ve been home since Sunday, March 1 and are settling in beautifully as a family of three. (Or five if you count Remy and Pippa, which we certainly do .)

Before Miles was born, I wasn’t sure whether I’d share his birth story or not. Being on the other side of things now with a healthy baby in our lives, I want to be sure to document the experience before it fades and honor the incredible journey we went through in order to bring him into the world. So here it goes…

Miles Atlas’ Birth Story

bw-08-IMG_0378 Robert and I are some of the biggest planners you’ll ever meet, so it’s surprising that except for the fact that I knew I wanted an epidural, we adopted the no-plan plan when it came to our baby’s birth. I’m so grateful that’s what we did because it enabled us to embrace the process as it unfolded in a very unexpected way.

At my 36-week doctors appointment, my belly hadn’t grown since two weeks prior so my doctor ordered an ultrasound to check our baby’s growth. It showed that he was small, but everything appeared healthy. With a month left before my due date, he still had plenty of time to grow.

However, on Thursday, February 26 at my 38-week appointment, another ultrasound showed that our little guy hadn’t grown since the previous scan. Again, there was nothing that appeared to be impeding his growth. Just as I was contemplating whether I wanted to pick up Chipotle or Protein Bar for lunch on my way home, my doctor walked into the dimly lit ultrasound suite and informed me that I’d be having a baby that day. (Or the next morning as it turned out…)

She explained that although there was no apparent reason why he wasn’t growing, it would be safest to deliver him as soon as possible. The moment she mentioned the risk of stillbirth the longer he stayed in there without growing, I knew it was what we had to do. In fact, she strongly urged me to head to the hospital right then and there to begin an induction. I still can’t believe I was so determined, but in my state of shock I pleaded with her to let me run home, grab our bags (or, in my case, pack my bag…oops), and drop the dogs off at boarding. Robert was working at a client about an hour outside of the city that day and it was snowing pretty heavily. I feared that by the time he got home, accomplished those tasks, and arrived at the hospital, I may have already begun the induction process. I didn’t want to go through a moment of it without him so I insisted she let me go.

The drive home is still a blur. I called Robert at work and told him to head to the hospital because we were having a baby (!!!) I called my parents and my sister. I then started calling editors because I had interviews scheduled that afternoon that I needed to cancel or have them cover. I arrived home, sent e-mails to more editors letting them know what was happening and that I wouldn’t be able to finish various assignments. I blew through our house like a tornado grabbing clothes, toiletries, and snacks. I packed up the dogs and their stuff. I dropped the pups off at boarding and headed to the hospital while shoving a banana and two granola bars in my mouth. So much for that burrito bowl.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, Robert had already started checking me in. We unpacked the car, waited briefly in triage, and were then on to Labor & Delivery. There, we waited in a waiting room for an hour or more while they prepped a room for us. Robert and I discussed names some more (we hadn’t fully committed to one just yet), and I chugged as much coconut water as I could. I’m sure we said “We’re having a baby!” and “Can you believe we’re having a baby!?” a few hundred times. Finally, we were admitted to the room where our baby would enter the world early the following morning.

My very last bump picture

My very last bump picture before Miles was born

As far as induction goes, it’s an extremely slow process. Without going into too many details, the rough chain of events went something like this: By Thursday evening I started the CRIB procedure in which a balloon-like device begins to dilate the cervix. At first it was bearable. Robert sat at my bedside, we talked a lot, he ate the leftover quiche he’d brought to work for lunch, and I snuck some Saltines and an applesauce muffin (I was supposed to be on clear fluids only). 

Then the contractions started. They offered to give me a medication through my IV to help relieve the pain. At first I declined, but eventually they became too much to bear especially since I knew that I still had hours to go with the CRIB even before moving on to the next step (pitocin). It was a great decision. The medication made me drowsy so Robert and I got an hour or more of much needed shut-eye before it wore off.

Robert made a genius move and brought a sleeping bag to the hospital. Everyone who walked into our room throughout our hospital stay was impressed–they’d never seen anyone do that before.

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After six hours, if the CRIB didn’t work they were going to leave it in for another six. I was sure I’d need six more, but, fortunately, the first six did the trick. By about 10:30 or 11pm I was 4cm dilated so it was on to the pitocin. After a while a nurse came in to break my bag of waters. However, her attempts were way too painful so she suggested I get the epidural and she’d come back to do it after that was working.

As anyone who’s had an epidural knows, it can take a while from when you request it to when you receive it, which was the case for me. Thirty to 45 minutes later, through a series of painful contractions (people say they’re worse with pitocin, but I have nothing to compare it to), the anesthesiologist arrived. As far as the epidural goes, I’d say it was uncomfortable, but completely bearable and totally worth it for me. It took about 30 minutes to administer the epidural.

As we moved from one step of the induction process to another, my body shook uncontrollably. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. It happened even before the epidural so I can’t attribute it to that. I’m pretty sure that it was fear overtaking my body. Going through labor for the first time (or maybe every time is like this?) is terrifying. There’s no doubt about it. It’s especially so when one moment you’re contemplating what to eat for lunch and the next you’re being told that you’re about to have a baby two weeks before his due date (when you were sure you’d go past your due date). I didn’t know what anything would feel like or whether any complications would occur. And, due to how urgently my doctor wanted me to be induced, I often felt more fear about our baby’s wellbeing than about what I was experiencing. I just wanted to deliver him and find out if he was okay. While shaking, I did my absolute best to soothe myself with deep breaths. Robert was at my bedside every step of the way holding my hand, reminding me to breathe, and providing endless reassurance. I always knew he’d be amazing when this day arrived, but the reality was so much better.

Once the epidural was in and started working, the nurse came back and broke my water.

From that point, the nurse explained it could take many hours to dilate from 4cm to 10cm. Neither Robert nor I kept track of time during the labor process (we were a little preoccupied…), but I kept reaching the next step much faster than anyone anticipated.

In the early morning hours on February 27, I told the nurse that I felt like I needed to push. She couldn’t believe it, but when two different people checked they agreed it was time. The only problem? Since they figured it would take many more hours before I’d be ready, my doctor was still at home, more than 30 minutes away!!! The wait was excruciating. Not only is it the oddest feeling to want to push and not be able to, but I’d misunderstood the anesthesiologist’s instructions on how to use the bolus to administer more of the medication. For a while, the pain got away before the medication could catch up. Robert was there holding my hand as I breathed deeply through each contraction.

As a side note, ladies, if you ever plan on giving birth start taking yoga now. Seriously. I can’t tell you how helpful it was at every stage in the labor process. Being able to control your breath and use it to its full capacity is an incredible skill I’ve never been more grateful to have. I’m certain that yoga is invaluable if you choose to have a natural birth. But even if you take a medicated route like I did that doesn’t mean it’s painless or comfortable. And when you have to be confined to a bed and can’t use your body to change positions (except from side to side–and even that is limited depending on how baby’s heart rate responds) your breath is one of the only things you have that will bring you any relief. Knowing how to use it makes all the difference. Yoga also proved to be incredibly helpful when it came to pushing…

Which, thankfully, I was able to do shortly after the doctor arrived. Speaking of the doctor, I go to a medical practice that has about six OB’s on staff. Whoever is on call when you’re in labor is the one who delivers your baby. I’d met all of them prior to that day—except the one who delivered Miles. In fact, I had an appointment scheduled for the following Tuesday to finally meet her. As luck would have it, she couldn’t have been more wonderful. Now, I can’t imagine anyone else delivering our baby but her. Between contractions, one of the most helpful things I did was to ask the doctor where the baby was within the birth canal and what exactly I was trying to achieve with the next series of pushes. She explained it all so clearly so that from then on, at each contraction, I was able to visualize what was happening. Not only did this help me make the most of each contraction, it gave me something to focus on beyond the fear and immense pressure I experienced. This is again where I felt my yoga practice made a huge difference thanks to the mind-body connection I’ve developed over time. When I could visualize in my mind what I was trying to do, my body was able to carry it out.

The doctor explained that most first time moms push for two or three hours before baby is born so I braced myself for the long haul. But the contractions came fast and furious. A little more than 20 minutes after I started pushing, at 5:39 a.m.on February 27, baby Miles was born.

I think that every parent hopes they’ll hear those cries as soon as baby is born and I’m so grateful that that’s exactly what we experienced. I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. I immediately dissolved into a flood of tears, crying just as hard as our newborn son. I’m still weepy every time I think about the moment he was born (like right now…) It was the greatest sense of joy and relief I’ve ever experienced in my life.

07-IMG_0375 While I’d hoped they’d be able to lay him on my chest right away for some skin-to-skin, the nurses had to take him to the warmer first so they could make sure he was okay, given his tiny size. And tiny he was: Miles weighed just 4 lbs 13 oz at birth. And, like most babies, he’s lost weight since then–bottoming out at 4 lbs 6 oz. He was almost back to his birthweight at our one week doctors appointment and he’ll get checked again this Friday, at two weeks old, which is also his actual due date.

Thankfully, he was completely healthy and continued to pass every test for both full-term and small for gestational age (SGA) newborns with flying colors throughout our hospital stay. Robert cut the umbilical cord, the nurses cleaned our baby off, confirmed that he was okay, and moments later they laid him on my chest for the first time. During labor, we’d settled on his name, Miles Atlas, and I’ll never forget the first time after he was born that I uttered it out loud. Miles Atlas, our son, was finally here! It’s entirely impossible to capture in words what it felt like to hold him for the first time, except to say that it was the purest sense of love I’ve ever known.IMG_2043 We may never know what stopped him from growing during my pregnancy. It falls under the category of intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), but that may be due to countless factors or for no reason at all. The best the doctor could say is that for one reason or another, my placenta may have stopped working. They sent it to pathology, but told me the results are often inconclusive. I’m just grateful that I was able to carry Miles to full-term and he entered the world as safe and as healthy as could be. My dad has already nicknamed him TBM–Tiny but Mighty–and that’s exactly what he is.

Our hospital stay couldn’t have been more wonderful. I’m healing really well, Miles is doing great and I couldn’t dream of a better husband or father than Robert. There’s no other way to describe how I feel right now, even through the sleepless nights, new mom doubts, feeding challenges (it’s so hard, but we’re working at it) and fussy moments–than peaceful. It feels like Miles was always supposed to be ours and caring for him is already the greatest joy I’ve ever known.

Thank you so much for joining us on this incredible journey!

P.S. I got my burrito bowl on our way home from the hospital : ) 15-IMG_0416

The Most Epic List of Healthy Freezer Meals Ever (Part I)

The most epic list of freezer meals ever

For the past few weeks I’ve been on a mission: To stock our freezer with as many delicious and healthy recipes as I possibly can. It’s become a bit of an obsession, really. I can’t be stopped. Since reaching 34 weeks, I’ve spent pretty much every spare minute cooking and freezing meals. I’ve chopped onions at 5 a.m. I’ve put recipes into the slow cooker at 10 p.m. I’ve been to Costco, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods more times than I can count. I’ve made so many lists that Robert’s sure he’s going to come home from work one day to find recipes scribbled on our walls. I’ve spent so many hours cooking on weekends that by the end of the day I can no longer stand.

The most epic list of healthy freezer meals ever

And you know what? I’ve loved every single moment of it! Honestly, deep down, I know that it may be a long time before I get to spend six consecutive hours on a Sunday by myself, cooking in the kitchen, blasting the Taylor Swift Pandora station. It’s my happy place. I know it’ll always be there for me, but I also know that it’ll look a little different for a while once Baby is here. So for now, I’m trying to soak up every moment and along the way create meals that hungry, sleep-deprived Future Paige and Future Robert will be oh so grateful to have.

I’ve also kept careful notes (more lists!) of everything I’ve made along with instructions for prepping, freezing, and serving every recipe so I can share them with you! No matter your situation–baby on the way, crazy work schedule, busy home life–everyone can benefit from having a few (dozen?) freezer meals ready to go.

The most epic list of healthy freezer meals ever

My plan is to share my epic list in three parts:

  • PART I: Entrees {That’s today!}
  • PART II: Breakfasts & Baked Goods {Coming soon!}
  • PART III: An update on how everything worked out, things that froze exceptionally well, changes I’d make for the future, etc. Freezing meals isn’t rocket science, but I’ve never done anything like this before so I’m sure there will be plenty to learn.

But first, some things you should know:

  • Although I try to avoid plastic, stocking up on glass containers proved to be way too expensive for the volume of meals that I made. Once completely cooled, I froze most things in BPA-free 1 gallon sized freezer bags.
  • Freeze plastic bags flat (place on a plate or baking sheet while freezing) so they take up less space in your freezer.
  • Keep a list of everything that’s in your freezer and cross them off as you eat them
  • LABEL LABEL LABEL EVERYTHING!!! What’s inside, date, etc.
  • I’ll always prefer fresh food to frozen. So rather than cooking every single recipe all the way through (though some I did), in many instances I cooked it up to a certain point, froze it, and included instructions for how I’ll finish it once it’s thawed. All of these modifications are included in the instructions below. But if you want to cook a recipe all the way through and freeze it like that, by all means go for it!
  • When the instructions below say “thaw in refrigerator overnight” it’s smart to place the bag in a baking dish or bowl in case any tiny holes occurred in the freezing process.

Here’s the complete list of meals that I made for PART I. Scroll down to find cooking/freezing/thawing instructions for each recipe.

Complete List of Freezer Meals (PART I)

And we’re off!

Supplies you’ll need (besides food ingredients):

  • LOTS of 1 gallon BPA-free freezer bags
  • Labels
  • Sharpies

Main ingredient: Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs

Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala 

I made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To cook:

  • In a bowl, combine raw chicken, coriander, cumin, salt, and yogurt. (Skip browning the chicken). Transfer to freezer bag.
  • Make the sauce: Saute onion, garlic, 1 chopped, seeded jalapeno (instead of adding it whole), and salt until onions are soft & translucent (8-10 mins). Add garam masala and fresh ginger, cook about 1 minute, add tomatoes, increase heat and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and set aside to cool.
  • When sauce is cool, pour into freezer bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.

Main ingredient: Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts

Slow Cooker Sesame Honey Chicken 

made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To freeze:

  • Season chicken with black pepper, add to freezer bag (raw)
  • In a bowl, combine soy sauce through sriracha. Whisk together. Pour into bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.
  • Serve with brown rice, green vegetable (such as steamed spinach, broccoli, or bok choy), top with sesame seeds and chopped green onions.

Slow Cooker BBQ Pulled Chicken 

I made the sauce and froze it with the raw chicken

To freeze:

  • Place chicken breasts, raw, in freezer bag.
  • In a bowl, whisk together the barbecue sauce, Italian dressing, and Worcestershire sauce (I omit the sugar). Pour into bag with raw chicken. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Empty contents of bag into slow cooker. Follow remainder of the recipe.

To serve {options}:

  • BBQ pulled chicken sandwiches: Pile chicken onto whole wheat buns with toppings.
  • BBQ pulled chicken quinoa bowls: Layer cooked quinoa on the bottom of a bowl, top with BBQ pulled chicken, black beans, corn, green onion or cilantro, and avocado. (Inspired by recipe from What’s Gaby Cooking)
  • BBQ pulled chicken pizza: Top prepared pizza dough with extra BBQ sauce, BBQ pulled chicken, sliced red onion, and shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake. Top with chopped cilantro.

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it into 2)

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat soup in a pan on the stove or individual portions in the microwave.
  • Add any toppings you like (cilantro, tortilla chips, fresh lime, hot sauce, etc.)

Main ingredient: Rotisserie Chicken

Freezer Chicken Quinoa Burritos 

Makes about 20 burritos

  • Changes I made: Add chopped red onion & use whole wheat tortillas
  • To make, freeze, and reheat: Follow recipe!

Homemade chicken broth using rotisserie chicken carcass from the freezer burritos

This is totally extra credit, but SO easy especially if you use the slow cooker! Just dump the chicken carcass from the rotisserie chicken (and any remaining skin, etc.) into your slow cooker. Add any veggies from your veggie drawer: I usually add 3 to 4 carrots (unpeeled, quartered), 3 to 4 celery stalks (roughly chopped, it’s okay to keep any leaves on), fresh herbs such as parsley or green onions (if you have it—I’ve made it with and without), 1 yellow onion (unpeeled, quartered), 4 to 6 garlic cloves (unpeeled, smashed), 1 Tbsp or more black peppercorns, some Kosher salt, and then pour enough water to cover everything by about 1 to 2 inches. Cover and cook on LOW 12-24 hours. Pour contents of slow cooker through a strainer into a container (discard solids) and store broth in the refrigerator until chilled (overnight or even a whole day is fine). Skim the fat off of the top and either use the broth within a few days or pour into freezer bags or mason jars to freeze.

Main ingredient: Ground Beef

Pasta e Fagioli Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe (I substituted ground beef for the sausage), but skip pasta. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • When ready to eat, cook pasta
  • Reheat soup on the stove. Taste and adjust any seasonings. Add cooked pasta. Add additional broth if needed.

Easy Meaty Mushroom Marinara Sauce

Original recipe: In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and sauté 1 yellow onion, chopped until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 2 to 3 cloves of garlic, minced and cook until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add 10 oz sliced mushrooms (I used cremini), and sauté until softened. Add 1 to 1.5 lbs lean ground beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Pour a 2 lb jar marinara sauce (any kind you like—I used an organic kind from Costco) into the pot. Add 1 tsp dried oregano, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried parsley, ½ tsp dried thyme, and ½ tsp red chili pepper. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Allow sauce to cool completely. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it between 2)

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in a pot on the stove. Add extra sauce, if needed. You could also mix in some spinach or other greens until wilted.
  • Serve on whole-wheat pasta or zucchini noodles

Slow Cooker Beef Chili

To cook:

  • Follow recipe. Changes I made: Saute 1 jalapeno with the onion instead of using chipotle in adobo. Add 2 cups frozen corn when it’s done cooking (it’ll quickly thaw). Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in a pot on stove. Add any toppings you like.

Main Ingredient: Ground Turkey Breast

Barefoot Contessa Turkey Meatloaf  

Recipe is for one huge meatloaf. I made 5 smaller ones—see instructions below

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through mixing ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Instead of forming one giant meatloaf, divide into five smaller meatloaves (you’ll need 2 baking sheets). Spread as much ketchup as you like on each meatloaf.
  • Bake about 60 minutes until internal temperature is 160 degrees.
  • Allow meatloaves to cool completely.
  • Individually wrap each meatloaf in parchment or wax paper, leaving a little space so the ketchup doesn’t get smushed. Then wrap in foil. Store in freezer bags.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Reheat in microwave or oven
  • I like to serve meatloaves with mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes and something green such as sautéed broccolini.

Turkey Meatball Parmesan 

I browned the meatballs and froze them in the sauce

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through browning the meatballs. Remove meatballs to baking sheet or baking dish to cool.
  • Pour pasta sauce into freezer bag. Add meatballs. Freeze.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight
  • Preheat oven to 400 F. Finish following recipe: Empty contents of bag into a baking dish. Top meatballs with mozzarella. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes until bubbly. Uncover and broil until a light brown crust forms on the cheese, about 3 minutes.

Other

Beef Vegetable Soup

To cook:

  • I used lean beef stew meat instead of bison.
  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on the stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Chicken Sausage Vegetable Soup

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag.

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Barefoot Contessa Winter Minestrone 

doubled the recipe and separated into 4 freezer bags

To cook:

  • Follow recipe through adding beans.
  • Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag(s).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.
  • Cook penne. Add to soup.
  • Stir in pesto, if desired (I sometimes skip)
  • Serve with baguette or other crusty bread

Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup with Chickpeas 

To cook:

  • Follow recipe all the way through. Let cool. Transfer to freezer bag (I divided it between 2).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove. Add extra broth if needed.

Red Lentil Soup 

doubled the recipe and separated into 2 freezer bags

To cook:

  • Follow the recipe, except double the carrots per recipe (if you’re making one recipe use 2 carrots, if you’re doubling it use 4). Use low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (not water). All soup to completely. Transfer to freezer bag(s).

To eat:

  • Thaw in refrigerator overnight. Reheat in a pot on stove or reheat individual portions in microwave. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  • Top with fresh lemon juice (so key!) and fresh chopped parsley.
  • Serve with naan pizzas: Heat whole wheat naan (frozen) in the oven according to package instructions. Top with hummus, raw baby spinach or arugula, and anything else you like!

Other items I froze:

  • 3 packages of naan from Trader Joe’s (great with the slow cooker chicken tikka and as naan pizzas)
  • Basil pesto from Costco (emptied the contents of two containers into four sandwich-sized baggies; great on toasted baguette or other crusty bread served with soup, excellent in pasta salad similar to this)
  • Giant bag of frozen stir-fry veggies from Costco
  • 2 lb bag of frozen shrimp
  • Frozen wild caught salmon
  • Frozen pizza (pesto, tomato, mozzarella) from Costco
  • Frozen organic chicken dumplings
  • Frozen fruit for smoothies
  • Frozen pie dough for quiche (recipes such as this or this)

Baby Fowler’s Jungle Themed Baby Shower

DSC07075

Last weekend, three friends and my sister hosted a baby shower here in Chicago for our little guy. I can hardly find the words to tell you what a special day it was. They thought of absolutely everything. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time because I was so touched and grateful.

Everywhere I looked it seemed like I noticed something new–the jungle theme and decor were too cute for words and fit perfectly with baby’s nursery (I really can’t get enough lions, monkeys, elephants, and giraffes), the food and drinks were amazing, there were notes for guests to write to our baby, and there were so many thoughtful and generous gifts that I can’t wait to put to use. And there were donuts. Lots and lots of donuts. Is this real life?

But most of all, I loved looking around and seeing so many incredible women all in one place. Some already knew each other and others were meeting for the first time. I loved introducing my mom and sister to so many Chicago friends, too!

This baby of ours is already so loved and I felt that so powerfully all day long.DSC06884Sweet Kiera does it again!!! How adorable are these cookies? You may remember Sweet Kiera’s gorgeous (and delicious) treats from my bridesmaid ask and bachelorette party, too! DSC06860One of the hostesses, Lisa, who also took most of these photos (thank you!!) MADE these animal poufs. I couldn’t stop staring at them!!! DSC06878Mimosa bar!DSC06906DSC06903Parfaits, quiche, salad, muffins, and more made for such a delicious lunch! DSC06869 DSC06870DSC06917 DSC06916 DSC06927 More books for Baby F’s little library! DSC07033DSC07022My mom surprised me with my baby book! I can’t wait to read through it more thoroughly soon. In a separate post, I’ll be sharing something else my mom did for the first two years of my life that I now plan to do for our son, too. Stay tuned!DSC06992You guys, this is my BABY BLANKET! That my Grammy knit! And it’s an ELEPHANT!!!! I can’t wait to wrap our baby in it. Every time, it’ll be like a hug sent from his Great Grammy in heaven. Aaaand cue the tears….DSC06986I absolutely loved having my mom & sister there! DSC06934The incredible (and super talented) hostesses DSC06940Scotch Club WAGSIMG_1882Kappa Delta friends! DSC07069Northwestern!! DSC07073They truly thought of everything—including indulging my biggest pregnancy craving: DONUTS!!! Before becoming pregnant I didn’t really have any strong feelings about donuts. Now, I think about them constantly and can’t get enough. Baby was very, very happy once I ate one…DSC06879After balancing it on my belly of course.IMG_2581FullSizeRenderThank you so much to everyone who made it such a special and memorable day. My heart is still so full.

{Oh and one last thing. That dress? It’s STITCH FIX! Crazy, right? It came in a shipment a few months ago and I knew right away that I’d wear it to the shower (thank goodness it still fit…I was a little worried). I’m a terrible shopper and wasn’t too excited about finding a dress for the occasion, but it literally showed up at my door and I was done! They have maternity stuff and I’ve enjoyed wearing a few Stitch Fix items throughout my pregnancy.}

My Pregnancy Favorites

ABalancedLifeCooks.com Pregnancy FavoritesWell here I am at 33.5 weeks! The countdown is on. Before becoming pregnant, I remember reading other bloggers’ pregnancy favorites and thinking, do you really need that much stuff? Of course, you don’t need much else besides a good prenatal vitamin (I take these), some TLC, and a few people who will tolerate you talking about baby stuff 24/7 (thank you Robert, Mom, and Leah!)

Yet I discovered that it never hurts to have a few things that make you feel a little more comfortable. I never could’ve anticipated that these items would be on my list, but with some trial and error I’ve found that they help me sleep better, stress less, move more, and feel better overall. And I think it’s thanks, in part, to these items that I’ve felt pretty darn good throughout my pregnancy. I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll help me sail through these final weeks.

{From left to right}

Crane Cool Mist Humidifer  There are some things nobody tells you about pregnancy, but are incredibly common. Like how you might get bloody noses all the time. I’ve been (un)lucky enough to experience them often. We finally got a humidifier in our bedroom that we use at night and I’ve noticed a huge difference ever since. Thank goodness.

Bump Nest Pregnancy Pillow I purchased one of these at the very beginning of my second trimester as a gift to myself (and our baby!) I’m so glad I did! This thing is soooo comfy. After the first trimester, you’re encouraged to sleep on your side. When you sleep on your back, there’s a risk that your growing uterus may compress the vena cava and affect blood flow to your baby and to your heart. While there’s some debate about whether this is truly an issue, I decided to follow the guidelines and sleep on my left side as much as possible. Normally, I sleep on my back so this pillow helps me comfortably lie on my side. I’ll admit that it takes up A LOT of space and takes some getting used to at first, but it has been so worth it. Fact: Dogs love Bump Nests as much as humans do. Husbands? Well let’s just say they love having well rested pregnant wives : )

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee  Once I started liking coffee again, I made the informed personal decision to enjoy one cup per day. The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to make one good tasting cup of coffee with a regular coffee maker or a French press. Instead of spending $2 a day for a cup at the pie shop a block away or $4 for a latte at Starbucks (though I’ve been known to do both from time to time), I discovered that Starbucks instant coffee is actually very delicious, convenient, and more affordable. Instant coffee has come a long way.

Fitbit Zip The Zip is basically a fancy pedometer. Since my main activities have been prenatal yoga and walking, I wanted to be sure I was getting in enough steps/activity per day. The Zip helps me keep track of that. Whenever I’m shy of my 10,000 steps per day goal, seeing that number encourages me to fit in some additional movement. I’m quite proud of the day I hit more than 22,000 steps!

Hugger Mugger Yoga Bolster I’ve had this bolster for years and only used it occasionally. Now? I keep it in our living room and use it almost daily. I’ve been fortunate to not have too many aches and pains, but I have experienced some low back pain and even a few days where I had full on back spasms. Not fun. The ONLY thing that helped was lying on the bolster in reclining bound angle pose. It helps relieve compression in my back, as well as open up my hips, chest, and shoulders, which often feel tight. Surprisingly, I’ve also found that the bolster is super helpful whenever I have heartburn. For some reason, I don’t get a burning in my chest as much as I feel it in my upper back, behind my heart. Lying over the bolster in the same position with a pillow propped under my head has been a lifesaver.

Coconut Oil I haven’t been too worried about stretch marks. If they happen, so be it. However, a few months ago I discovered the awesomeness that is coconut oil–for your skin. It makes your skin so soft and of course it smells delicious. I keep a jar by my bed and rub it on my belly most nights before I go to sleep. So far, I haven’t noticed any stretch marks (whether I can attribute that to the coconut oil, genetics, or my super pale skin, I have no idea.) But I think the coconut oil has been especially helpful for minimizing any itching that occurs as the skin on my belly stretches.

Lululemon Energy Bra I LIVE in this bra. I have two and it’s a sad day when I’m washing both at the same time. It’s super supportive without being too tight in the upper rib cage or shoulders, which is a rare combination. A word to any newly pregnant ladies: As soon as you outgrow your current bras get new ones ASAP even if you have to go up a size more than once. I waited way too long and can honestly say that I felt 100 percent happier when I finally found what worked for me. For regular bras, I like the hidden underwire ones from Gap. The underwire is great for support, but doesn’t cut into you like other underwires do.

Old Navy Rollover-Waist Jersey Lounge Pants (not maternity) and Old Navy Maternity Super-Soft Hoodie Welcome to my uniform. I have two pairs of the black pants and the tops in three different colors and I wear them pretty much every day of the week. Although the pants aren’t maternity, they’re perfect – the waist hits right below my belly so there’s absolutely no pressure on it. I love my Lululemon leggings and Groove pants as much as the next gal, but I found that as I got bigger, the rise was too high and put too much pressure on my tummy. And these hoodies are just as soft as their name implies. There’s plenty of room in the torso to accommodate growth, yet they don’t make me feel like I’m wearing a tent or come down to my knees. I’m sure I’ll still get plenty of use out of both of these items long after baby arrives.

How we spent our Christmas vacation

I’ll always remember this Christmas vacation. We didn’t do anything special or go anywhere exciting. We were right here, at home, for two glorious weeks. It wasn’t exactly what we’d planned. We were supposed to be in Vermont for New Years with my family. However, due to Remy’s surgery we needed to be here to care for him. (By the way, thank you so much for your sweet thoughts regarding my last post! Your comments here, on Facebook, and on Instagram meant the world to me.)

It’s crazy to think about, but those two weeks were the last stretch of time that Robert and I will have, just us, for a very long time.

That time gave us the opportunity to spend our days doing productive things while also spending tons of time relaxing. We slept in, watched a whole bunch of movies (Magic in the Moonlight was my favorite), listened to hours of Pandora holiday music, binged on the first two seasons of The Americans (love!), cooked delicious meals, ate bowls upon bowls of popcorn from our new Whirley Pop (highly recommend!), downed daily plates of homemade Christmas cookies, and soaked in the holiday season by our Christmas tree. We also celebrated Christmas Eve and New Years Eve with wonderful friends.

I tried to snap at least one photo per day to remember this precious time. You won’t see anything especially exciting here (or a stitch of makeup or anything except sweats). Yet it captures, for me, some of the most memorable moments of the past year, cone-headed dog and all.

12/22: Planning our Christmas Eve dinner. This was so fun! It’s the first time I ever cooked for Christmas and we wanted to go big. I’m so happy with how everything turned out. Everyone says you shouldn’t make a recipe for the first time when cooking for guests (our friends Erica and Zack were joining us from Christmas Eve). I don’t agree–as long as I follow a Barefoot Contessa recipe to the letter, even if it’s new to me, it’s always going to be great. Ina didn’t disappoint.

IMG_1117 Robert made this beautiful display for our holiday cards. I loved walking by and seeing so many friends and family up there all season long. Hey look, that’s us at the top right! IMG_1125 I went cookie crazy! Over several days I made: these Christmas tree spritz cookies (a classic from my mom’s side of the family), peanut butter blossoms, chewy molasses crinkles, and frosted sugar cookies (Robert’s mom’s recipe). IMG_113412/23. Ooof, that morning. We’d just dropped Remy off for his surgery and had no idea what the future held. In a teary/numb/zombie-like state we made our way to Glazed and Infused for some good old-fashioned emotional eating. Happily, we got the call a few hours later that we’d be bringing our fluffanutter home. IMG_1181 12/24. Christmas Eve! We had the best day!! I woke up ridiculously early (like 4 a.m.) thanks to a little baby practicing his swim flips in my belly. So I did the only logical thing and started cooking. I made several more batches of cookies and began prepping for dinner. Before our friends arrived that evening, Robert set the table.  IMG_1210Party time!! Appetizers included a cheese plate, olives, homemade spiced nuts, and Barefoot Contessa’s roasted shrimp cocktail and cocktail sauce. IMG_1218 Next course: Apple and butternut squash soup. This recipe from Simply Recipes is SO good. The pinch of cayenne at the end really gives it a kick! Sweet and spicy is always a win. The next course, not pictured (oops), was a simple green salad with a Barefoot Contessa vinaigrette. IMG_1221 Onto the main event. Barefoot Contessa’s Filet of Beef Bourguignon. Oh. My. Goodness. It’s the best thing I’ve ever made. Hands down. Game over. I served it with mashed potatoes and sautéed broccolini. We chased it all down with a plate of Christmas cookies. I’m just sad I didn’t get a photo of the four of us, but we had a great time.IMG_1225 12/25. Christmas Day!! Before Christmas, Robert and I never discussed whether we’d be getting each other gifts or not. Lately, we’ve focused more on experiences (like our anniversary trip) rather than material things. And we love that. So it’s funny that we ended up giving each other a bunch of (thoughtful) material gifts this year. IMG_1261 Also funny: We gave each other bathrobes! Here, Robert’s testing out his new robe with his new shower radio. The man loves his NPR. IMG_1263This pretty much sums up how we spent the rest of our Christmas Day: Watching movies, relaxing, and napping. I didn’t even cook anything because we had so many delicious leftovers from the night before. In case you were wondering, beef bourguignon only gets better with time. IMG_1272 12/26. We may be crazy, but we’re planning to cloth diaper our baby boy. I may do a separate post about this (although do you really want to read about diapers on a blog that also has food?…) After LOTS of research it just feels like the right decision for us. I had everything we’ll need for the first few months and I was excited to prep these prefolds and fitteds. Prepping involves four to five cycles in the washer and dryer in order to strip away the natural cotton oils and increase their absorbency. I’ve never been so excited to do laundry in my entire life, which may explain why I appear slightly possessed : ) IMG_1309The end result! I still stare at his drawers of dipes and covers daily. Also: nursery sneak peek! (Full tour coming eventually.)IMG_1427This spread is basically how we ate for those two weeks. So many snack lunches & dinners!! We had some real home cooked meals in there too, I promise. We didn’t eat a single meal outside of the house for more than a week. It was extremely gratifying. Also, I’m currently obsessed with romaine and iceberg lettuce salads. I know darker leaves are better, but I just can’t get enough of the crunch right now. IMG_1402New Years Eve! Once again, I’m sad I didn’t get a group picture. Our friends Lisa and Brian had a bunch of friends over to their home for NYE. They recently gutted and remodeled nearly the entire house (themselves!!!!) so it was a great way to break it in. Everything came out so beautifully! IMG_1397New Year, new house projects!! Over the holiday we got a freezer for our garage. Robert hung a tennis ball from the garage ceiling so I won’t drive into the freezer. So far so good : ) IMG_1409Painting the baby’s bathroom!! I still can’t believe our baby has his own bathroom (?!??) The walls needed some patching and painting and Robert got ‘er done. Eventually we’ll tackle the weird door-less vanity situation… IMG_1437Chicago has been brutally cold since the New Year, but we had a fairly mild holiday. Finally, on the very last day before returning to work it snowed several inches. Here’s Remy watching the big flakes fall from the sky. I love this picture because it’s less than two weeks after his surgery and he was basically fully recovered by then. Dogs heal so quickly! A snowstorm and another day spent warm and cozy inside was the ideal way for our holiday to end. IMG_1444

We Love Remy!

fowler_2014-43Whether you know me in real life or we’re friends on Facebook or Instagram, then you have a glimpse into how much I love our goldendoodle, Remy. It’s difficult to articulate just what this dog means to me. As crazy as it sounds (and yes, I know he’s a dog and not a human), Remy is a part of me. He just is.fowler_2014-06 Remy came into my life when I was 23 years old. I was living on my own in Park City, Utah chasing a dream of being a full-time freelance writer and part-time ski bum. While I was learning how to support and care for myself, I was simultaneously learning how to support and care for him. I can say, without hesitation, that pieces of me exist because of this dog. He helped cultivate my ability and love for nurturing, which I can’t wait to shower upon our son. He’s taught me how to forgive in the face of disappointment. He’s shown me it’s possible to find the good and the fun in almost any circumstance. From him, I’ve learned to accept others exactly as they are. And most importantly, he’s shown me how to love unconditionally. Over and over again.fowler_2014-34Remy’s been by my side through countless miles, a cross-country move to Vermont, and infinite life lessons. He was with me when I moved to Chicago in 2010. We even share the same birthday.fowler_2014-09Remy was there the evening I came home giddy from my very first date with Robert. He was there the first time Robert visited my apartment and we cooked dinner together. He was there the moment Robert asked me to marry him. And he’ll be there the day we bring our baby boy home. fowler_2014-32And so, it breaks my heart to think that just over two weeks ago we thought we might be saying goodbye to Remy forever.

On December 19, I brought Remy in for what I thought was a relatively routine vet appointment. He’d recently lost some weight and was drinking a lot of water. The vet, Dr. Dann, felt something in Remy’s spleen and ran an X-ray and ultrasound. The tests showed a sizable mass. Dr. Dann explained that the mass could be one of two things: There was a 50 percent chance it was a benign tumor and a 50 percent chance it was hemangiosarcoma–a serious form of cancer in which about 90 percent of dogs die within one to three months. I sat there stunned. It was the last thing I ever expected to hear about our seemingly healthy and energetic 7.5-year-old pup. My mind struggled to process his words. Next, Dr. Dann explained that they wouldn’t know which one it was until they removed Remy’s spleen, biopsied tissues from other organs, and sent the samples to a pathologist. Even if it was benign, his spleen had to come out because there was a risk that the mass could burst and cause internal bleeding that could kill him. Surgery was our only option.

The final blow was this: If, during surgery, there was evidence of metastasis throughout Remy’s abdomen, Dr. Dann would call me and recommend putting him down rather than having him go through recovery only to get sick and pass away within a matter of months. As impossible as that was to hear, I agreed that it was the most humane thing to do, should it come to that. I never want Remy to suffer a day in his life. fowler_2014-11 Before Remy’s surgery, Robert and I wanted to have some photos of our family, just as we are now. We have so few photos of Robert, me, Remy, and Pippa* together that we couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to Remy without them. A friend put us in touch with a talented local photographer, Becca Heuer. I e-mailed her the day before Remy’s surgery. And, miraculously, despite being three days before Christmas, she was able to meet us that same afternoon. Although it was cold and rainy and one of the darkest days of the year (in more ways than one), she captured some of my all-time favorite photos. At the time, we knew it could be Remy’s last day with us. During the shoot that thought often crept into my mind, but I did my best to focus on the now and the love I have for him and our little family.fowler_2014-41fowler_2014-60I’m so happy to report that this fluffly white pup whose paw prints are stamped all over our hearts is still with us! His surgery went well, there were no visible signs of disease beyond his spleen, and, after seven nerve-wracking days of waiting, his biopsy results came back negative for cancer. Today, less than three weeks post-op, Remy is 100 percent back to his usual lovable, goofy self. fowler_2014-36We spent our Christmas caring for him as he recovered and loving on him as he healed. Since then, I’ve thought a lot about how fortunate we are with Remy’s outcome. Despite needing major surgery and requiring us to cancel a trip back East over the holiday so we could be with him, it’s turned out as well as we could’ve hoped. And let’s not forget, his tumor was in an organ he doesn’t even need. What are the chances? fowler_2014-22 I can’t help but think about the fact that every day families deal with uncertainty, heart-breaking news, and loss of all kinds. I’ll never know how we got so lucky, but I’m so deeply grateful. The experience isn’t lost on me.fowler_2014-14Whenever I look at these photos, watch Remy use a pillow like a human, hold Pippa as she falls asleep against my squirming belly, or feel Robert’s warm hand in mine, I’m reminded, more than ever, to never take any of it for granted. fowler_2014-01 *Oh, sweet Pippa!! She’s perfect and we love her every bit as much as we love Remy!

Second Trimester Recap

Happy 2015! I hope you had a fabulous holiday. We had a very low key and relaxing two weeks here at home, which I’ll be sharing more about very soon. I also have a few other posts in the pipeline that I’m excited about, including a few recipes (finally!) and life/baby-related things. You can expect to see more lifestyle posts in 2015 on A Balanced Life Cooks as life gets a bit fuller around here : ) I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I love writing them.

I’m now in my 30th week of pregnancy and a few weeks into my third trimester. Writing that completely blows my mind. Thirty weeks has always sounded so far along and I can’t believe I’m there. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to digest the experiences of my second trimester, here’s how those 14 or so weeks went down (along with some slightly humiliating selfies…)

17 weeks

Many women describe the second trimester as the “honeymoon trimester” and I’d say, overall, that was my experience. Soon after the 14-week mark my nausea subsided along with that crazy fatigue (I still experience both every five to 10 days on what I call “first trimester days,” but it’s more bearable than it was before). Mostly, though, my energy in the second trimester was kind of freakish. I think I drove Robert crazy at times because we’d plan to do something relaxing like watch a movie, but then I couldn’t sit still. I had to be up doing something like walking the dogs, cooking or baking, folding laundry, tidying–whatever I could come up with that kept me moving. I wouldn’t say I was in nesting mode quite yet unless I’m just always in nesting mode, homebody that I am.

For the most part, I felt like myself throughout the second trimester, except with a growing belly. I absolutely love it and the little life growing inside. At the same time, I have to admit, there’s been a bit of a mental adjustment that’s had to happen when it comes to accepting this bigger, rounder version of myself (especially lately). I think many women secretly hope they’ll be the type to stay exactly the same, but with a basketball-sized bump on their belly. That’s not the case for everyone and I don’t think that’s been the case for me. I’ve tried to approach the whole body-changing thing with a sense of acceptance and gratitude. As long as I feed myself nourishing foods (with occasional splurges, of course) and move my body in ways that feel right (more on that in a moment), then I’m okay with whatever this body needs to do to grow a healthy baby that we’re so incredibly grateful for.

As silly as it sounds, one of the most helpful things for me in terms of accepting the physical changes has been buying some maternity clothes. I’m fortunate that I don’t need an entire work wardrobe since I work from home, but purchasing a few items has made a big difference. Since I like to keep it real, here’s what it looks like when you try to squeeze into your pre-pregnancy stuff that no longer fits (yes, even sweaters and sweatshirts became too snug):

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Investing in a pair of Paige maternity jeans has been the best decision clothing-wise. I also bought a few sweaters from Gap and Old Navy maternity, all on sale. And I’ve purchased two dresses from the brand Seraphine, which I’ve already worn a few times to weddings and other events. Once my pre-pregnancy clothes stopped fitting by around 20 weeks, I packed most of them away. There’s no point looking at them or trying to make them work if they just don’t.

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20 weeks in one of my favorite Seraphine dresses

In terms of exercise, I was finally able to do a lot more in my second trimester. I took it very easy in my first trimester in part due to the nausea and fatigue, but mostly because I was afraid of doing anything that could hurt the baby (even though I know how important exercise is for a healthy pregnancy…) By 17 weeks I summoned the courage to take my first prenatal yoga class, which was also my first yoga class of any kind in months. And I discovered that prenatal yoga is kind of the BEST THING EVER. It made me feel like myself again since yoga is such a big part of who I am. It also makes me feel better overall because it helps open areas that are tight and achy such as the hips, shoulders, and low back. I take prenatal yoga classes twice a week and, bonus, the studios are within walking distance of our home (so no excuses!) I wish I hadn’t waited so long to go and next time around (if we’re lucky enough) I plan to start prenatal classes in the first trimester. I also try to walk a 3 to 5-mile loop with Remy most days of the week as long as the weather cooperates and that always feels great.

24 weeks

24 weeks

Other second trimester things:

Sleep For the most part, sleep has been good and restful. However, a few nights per week I experience what I describe as “running out of sleep.” I’ll wake up between 3 to 5 a.m. for absolutely no reason and can’t fall back asleep. Preparing me for what’s ahead? Perhaps. If you ever see my #firstbreakfast posts on Instagram, this is why. Once I’ve been lying awake for a while I start to get really hungry, which makes it even more difficult to fall back asleep so I get up and have something to eat.

Appetite I noticed that I have lower tolerance for hunger so when I get hungry I have to eat rightthisverysecond. I eat about one extra snack per day beyond what I ate before becoming pregnant or make some of my meals just a little bigger. Also, uh, digestion got a little rough around the 19 to 21-week mark and things were not moving. That was no fun at all. I’m thankful for a family that loves potty humor and always responded to my complaining texts with hilarious and appropriate emojis.

Cravings/aversions. I experienced phases throughout the second trimester where I loved and ate several different foods repeatedly until I pretty much got sick of them. Among them were: Sabra pine nut hummus with veggies, salty snacks such as cheddar rockets (Trader Joe’s version of cheddar goldfish, but better), chicken noodle soup, panini with fig jam, and citrus everything–orange juice, lemonade, oranges, and clementines. Oddly, I stopped liking Greek yogurt in the second trimester so that was kind of strange. I haven’t been a big fan of fish throughout my pregnancy, but I still try to down salmon once a week and take fish oil supplements.

So much homemade chicken noodle!

So much homemade chicken noodle!

Highlights of my second trimester included:

  • Healthy results at our 20-week anatomy scan!
  • Finding out that we’re having a BOY!
  • Feeling our baby kick for the first time and having his kicks become stronger and more frequent
  • My family’s visit in November!
  • Dreaming up nursery designs, starting to set up our nursery, and researching baby stuff

What I’m looking forward to most in my third trimester:

  • Watching baby (and my belly) grow and feeling consistent kicks and other movements
  • Baby showers in Kansas City this weekend and Chicago in February!!!
  • Finishing our nursery
  • Getting a stroller. Would it be weird if I practiced walking around the block with the stroller and the dogs? I kind of can’t wait for that.
  • Making LOTS of freezer meals. Over the holiday we bought a freezer for our garage and joined Costco. I also made a freezer meal Pinterest board that I will add to over the next few weeks. If you have any recommendations please let me know. It’s harder to find healthy freezer meals than I thought, but I’m up for the challenge and will keep you updated on that.
  • Meeting our baby boy in March! (Please stay put until then, little guy!) Hopefully we’ll have a name for him by then : )
27 weeks

27 weeks

For additional pregnancy posts see:

Our pregnancy announcement

Journey to baby

Gender reveal

First trimester recap

98 days until baby 

98 Days Until Baby!

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Holy moly. This week we passed a major milestone. Wednesday marked 100 days until our due date and now we’re in the double digit countdown. WHAT? That’s just crazy talk. Considering the fact that only five percent of babies are actually born on their due date I realize it’s just a ballpark, but it’s still a big deal to me. I’ll be posting a second trimester recap in a few weeks, but I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this whole brewing a baby thing now that we’re just over three months away from meeting our little guy.

Physically, I’ve been feeling really great. I can feel him kick, which is the coolest thing ever and still totally weird. To feel your body move and have no control over it is just…wow! I first felt kicks around 21 weeks and we could feel kicks on the outside by 22 weeks (I’m 26 weeks today). Some days he’s more active than others. And some nights he wakes me up while doing a conga line across my belly (or maybe it’s hiccups!) and I secretly LOVE that. I just lie there in the dark with a hand over my little dancer and a smile on my face until he goes back to sleep.

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My belly is growing a lot more, too. I feel like it took a while for me to show and I’m happy to be out of that “is she pregnant or did she just let herself go?” phase. It’s sort of astonishing to watch my body change so much. I’ll never forget the first time a stranger commented on my belly. We were in the airport and the woman doing my pat down (I’ve been skipping the big X-ray machines) asked me right away how many weeks along I was. I kind of wanted to hug her right then and there, but figured I’d probably be breaking some TSA laws.

Once I passed the 20-week mark we started thinking about the nursery and buying and registering for baby stuff (!!!) We recently got a crib (already set it up!), mattress, dresser (that will double as a changing table), changing pad, bookcase, and ordered our glider. The glider will arrive in January and I can’t wait to sit in it, read, and just hang out in baby’s room. I realize that this stuff is just stuff and probably more than this little human will ever need. But I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been for my mental state. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve experienced a lot of fear throughout this pregnancy. It comes and goes, but sometimes the fear gets the best of me. There’s been something so reassuring about furnishing our nursery and researching baby items that’s made a big difference for me. I think it’s the fact that I can picture our baby using these things and it helps me trust that everything will be okay.

Speaking of our nursery, before becoming pregnant I wasn’t a huge fan of nurseries with a theme or that were overly babyish. Now? We’re going with a colorful safari/jungle theme and everything we’ve found is so cute I could just burst. Funny how things change, huh? Bring on the giraffes, elephants, rhinos, and monkeys!! Robert and I also bought baby’s very first clothing items last weekend: two onesies from Baby Gap and a hat and mittens. The thought of our little guy wearing them turns my heart to mush. Baby boy clothes are seriously the cutest.

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Thanksgiving Day in Kansas City

As someone who basically researches stuff for a living (and enjoys it), I always imagined I’d spend the entire pregnancy reading stacks of baby books. I’m surprised (and maybe a little embarrassed?) to say that so far I’ve only read one (Bringing Up Bebe) and it was actually more entertaining than informative. Robert just finished The Happiest Baby on the Block (seriously ask the man anything about the fourth trimester and the 5 S’s and he’s on it!) I’ll be reading that next followed by Heading Home with Your Newborn (it’s written by two pediatrician moms and the closest thing I’ve found to a baby owner’s manual; I actually received a copy years ago for a story I wrote for American Baby magazine so I’m happy I held onto it). I may read some Ina May Gaskin books I have, too. If you have any must-read recommendations, I’d love to hear them! We’ll also be taking some classes offered through the hospital in the next few weeks. But ultimately, I know that the real learning happens in getting to know our baby and figuring things out once he’s here. Plus, I’m relishing this time when I can still get through as many novels as I like : ) I just finished a really cute book called Vintage that I’d recommend if you’re in the mood for some chick lit fluff.

I have a feeling that with the holidays coming up, the next few weeks are going to fly by and all of a sudden we’ll be well into the third trimester and preparing for baby’s arrival (aaaaand making 10,000 freezer meals…I’m super excited about that). For now, I’m trying to make it a priority to slow down and soak in this time as much as I can because I know it really is so fleeting and such a gift.