Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Brain and Neuroplasticity

This post is moving away from what we normally blog about but I thought it was important!!! Cam recently finished his PhD and was asked to answer a few questions on the brain and neuroplasticity. Click here to see how he answers the questions. My favourite part is when he talks about how 'exercise has strong positive effects on the health and function of the brain.' Great evidence for encouraging kids to get outside and be active!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Winter hiking with a baby and a toddler

The weather in Vancouver was amazing over Christmas break, which meant we were able to enjoy the outdoors a whole lot more than we were expecting, based on the prior few weeks of rain, rain and more rain. I guess Etta's singing of "Rain, rain go away" finally worked, and just in time in our books. Even though I try to get outside at least once a day with the kids no matter the weather, we were getting pretty tired of the mix of wet and cold. A turn for the better in time for the holidays was just what we needed, and lifted our spirits during our first Christmas on the west coast that we didn't travel east to be home with our parents.

Since we both grew up in places where Christmas meant snow we decided we wanted to go somewhere snowy over the Christmas holidays, even if this meant just for a day. And so, on New Year's day we decided to head to  Mount Seymour in North Vancouver.
It's been so long since Cam saw the sun, he can't even open his eyes!

Once we got to Mount Seymour, Etta suddenly started to sniffle, sneeze and just get all around fussy. I guess we didn't notice this during the hustle and bustle of packing up everything for the hike, but it seemed that she was overrun by a cold. As such, we quickly adjusted our expectations for the day. Instead of doing one of the harder mountain hikes we decided to do the short 2 km hike to First Lake. We were really lucky that the snow was nice and packed as we were not wearing any snow shoes or crampons. The trail had only a small incline. It felt like walking on sand and the only real obstacle was the occasional falling snow from the trees, which picked up throughout the day as the beautiful sun was melting the snow away. 

Special Note: If we did this again, we'd bring a small toboggan, magic carpet or saucer to slide down certain parts of the trail. Always good to add a little excitement for the little ones (and us too!).

The girls seemed to enjoy their time in their carriers. Etta was happy to get in and go for a ride while listening to Dad sing Christmas songs and tell Dora the Explorer stories. Her most exciting moments were when other people crossed our path, giving her the opportunity to shout "Happy New Year!" Julia, on the other hand, was quite content to snuggle up and zonk right out on Mom's back. 

It did not take us long to get to First Lake. Since it only took us about 30-45 minutes at a relaxed pace, we started to re-consider our earlier decision to scale back the hike (based on Etta's cold) and pondered the idea of hiking a bit further, then returning to First Lake for lunch. We knew that we could not push Etta up Dog Mountain because she was getting fussy so we decided to head up to a spot known as Dinkey Peak (yes, that's the real  name). 

It only took us about 5 minutes past First Lake (and a slightly unhappy toddler) to realize that the extra hiking just was not in the cards for us on this day. My motherly gut told me that we should head back to First Lake, have lunch and just enjoy the winter wonderland that we had found only 2 km from the parking lot. We enjoyed lunch and hot chocolate in a beautiful snowy clearing at First Lake (especially Etta, whose mood was brightened substantially by our decision to not hike on and instead to eat, drink and play) . Julia had some awake time spent rolling around in the snow, and we borrowed a nearby hiker's toboggan for a few runs down a small hill - more like a little snowy bump on the lake, but fun nonetheless.  

Best part of the day, hands-down, for Etta was drinking this hot chocolate!

We hung out at First Lake for about an hour playing in the snow and having snacks. The girl's made 'snow angels' and other hikers stopped to admire Julia and her gorgeous cheeks :)

Once again it was a great day to spend in the mountains. The hike was not as intense or long as maybe we would have liked but being together outside in the snow as as a family was really all we were going for anyways - mission accomplished!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Tips for backpacking with a baby

These tips are based on a post I did previously about when we took our 1 year old on a backcountry trip. Click here to get caught up on our adventures backcountry.  The tips posted here are based on my reflections post-trip and what I might have done differently on my first back-country trip with a baby "If I knew then, what I know now". Please keep in mind that most of the tips are based on things that did not go particularly right for us on the trip. Plenty of things did also go well, and we would do it all over again in a heart beat even with the 'hiccups' that we had.

Choose a short hike
Choose a short hike for your first backcountry trip. By a short hike I mean something you could do even if you were sick and throwing up the whole time (like what happened to us!). That way if something goes wrong you can pack up and only have an easy hike back. Often these types of hikes take you to a nice lake which provides a great activity during the day for the kids. Then if all goes well you can go on a more challenging hike the next time. Our first time we went on a 20 km round trip hike which without a baby would have been relatively easy. Hiking 10 km down the mountain with a baby coupled with a stomach bug was not the most fun.

Practice run
Try out the tent you are going to be using with your family. Our mistake was never trying out our little backpacking tent with our little one before the big hike. We had only gone camping using our 'Glamping' tent which has enough room for us to put our daughters's small camping cot inside as a place for her to sleep. Our daughter likes her space when sleeping so I ended up breastfeeding her all night so that at least one of us could get a good sleep. This was very exhausting on a back country trip when you need energy.
Setting up our tent!
Short Stay
The first time I suggest going for 1 night only. Especially if you go for a longer 20 km round trip plus hike. That way if you do not get much sleep you are back down the mountain and sleeping in your own bed the second night. Our mistake was staying an extra night after having had hardly any sleep the previous night. That is also when our whole family got sick. It was very unexpected and made the trip down very difficult. It might seem like a waste of time to gear up and go for just one night. Then again if you are crazy enough to go on the hike with you baby you probably will love being up in the mountains for even a short amount of time. If it goes well then add another night or two the next time.

Take a Nap
If you have a bad sleep the first night take a nap or rest the next day if you want to stay for more than one night. Do this instead of going on a day hike. Taking a rest with a baby along can be difficult. Take turns looking after the baby if you had a bad night the night before. Instead of resting, we decided to take a day hike the following day because we were so excited to be in the mountains. As previously mentioned I had a really bad sleep and breastfed all night. Breastfeeding burns alot of calories and I find it can be quite exhausting. All these things contributed to a hard descent on the last day.

Go with other people
You honestly never know what kind of adventure will happen even on easy trails you feel comfortable hiking. It was key that we went with some good friends. We never expected to get so sick and without that support it would have been a lot more difficult to get out of the bush ourselves. Having our friends along saved Cam an extra 6 km of hiking to go back and get our pack. It also was nice to have friends to talk with during the hike and hang out with after the kids went to bed.
At night laughing with friends while Etta sleeps in the tent.

Go with other people that are crazier than you
Whenever I started to think about how crazy we were to take our daughter on this backcountry trip I always looked at our friends that came along. They hiked with us with their two (!) kids. One was the same age as Etta (1 year old) and the other one was 4 years old. In a funny way having, them along gave us more confidence that everything was going to be okay. Unfortunately our friend, the mother of the two kids, also got very sick when she was hiking down the mountain. 

Pack light
Bring only the necessities. This is true for any backpacking trip. Follow the regular guidelines and add whatever food, diapers, wipes etc that you will need for your baby. Remember that you don't want to have too much extra weight, since you've already got an extra 12 lbs, give or take a few, just hauling the babe around.
Etta rummaging through the bags.

Pack for all weather
If the weather forecast is sunny and free of clouds, what should you bring? You bring your rain jacket and warm clothes just in case. In the mountains weather can change in an instant and I have personally experienced this on a backcountry trip in Well's Grey National Park. From blue skies to rain and hail. Expect the unexpected especially when bringing your precious little one along.

Be prepared for anything
Make sure you have the appropriate safety gear, first aid kits and medications because you never know what can go wrong in the back country. This is true no matter how much you prepare. We made sure to bring baby Benydryl in case Etta were to have an allergic reaction to something in the wilderness.
A natural change table with a beautiful backdrop.
Be prepared to sing (Or do whatever is necessary)
Most of the hike Etta either slept or took in the nature surroundings. During any of our snack or lunch stops she would get out of the pack and explore. Unfortunately, in the last hour and a half Etta started to get really fussy. We knew we needed to just get to camp but Etta was starting to scream. I look at Cam who is talking with a a friend and yell 'Cam SING NOW!!". (You have to realize that without children, my husband would never sing in public and especially not in front of friends. He looks at his friend and is slightly embarrassed as he starts belting out "If you're happy and you know it clap your hands".)

Etta hanging out in her carrier with her Husk her husky dog. 

Good Fitness and Mental Toughness
Choose a hike that you could do relatively easy without a baby. The hike we took was a moderate hike that would not have been difficult if we had not become sick. Our levels of fitness and mental toughness were appropriate for the hike we chose, and that is what made the hike as safe as possible for us to do with our daughter. You can never predict nature and the obstacles you are going to face. However, when choosing a hike to do with your baby, make sure it is one that you could easily do at your level of fitness. Also be honest with yourself. Are you mentally tough enough to get through difficult situations that might arise? You need to know your limits and your strengths, and pick you hike appropriately. Cam and I talked about this prior to the hike. I knew that I could do the hike easily by myself, but with a baby I could not have done it without Cam. He has a very strong level of fitness and an even greater mental toughness than me which made this hike an appropriate one for us to do as a family.
Etta has some hiking breaks of her own.

Enjoy the experience
Backcountry hiking with a baby is not necessarily 'Fun'. Just like any backcountry hike you will find the experience of enjoying nature is not an easy walk in the park. Yes, there will be beautiful scenery, a break from your everyday life, smiles and encouragement from fellow hikers, looks of wonder and excitement in your child, and many other aspects of the hike that will be easy to enjoy. But, you have to try to enjoy the whole experience which means enjoying the sore muscles that accompany a long hike with a pack, and a baby that will occasionally whine, and need extra attention and entertainment when you're feeling dead tired. Call me crazy, but all of that adds up to an enjoyable experience for me. Now that I have two kids, a 6 month old and a 2 year old, I am looking forward to another back country trip in the summer of 2016 that should be even more 'enjoyable'!