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It’s Apple Mania Week at Our House!

The temps have started to go down, and it’s finally starting to feel like fall!  For our family that means prime climbing season…but it also means the local apple orchards are ripe and ready for pickin’!  I love apples, and they are one of Big C’s favorite foods as well, so this year I decided to dedicate an entire week to cooking nothing but apples (well, maybe we’ll cook a few other things too, but apples will be our main theme!)  My hope is that we  can find a few go-to recipes that we love enough to establish a family tradition (ie “I know it’s fall in our house because it’s time to make ____________.”)  

You gotta eat while you pick to keep your strength up...

You gotta eat while you pick to keep your strength up…

But before we could get cookin’, we had to get pickin’! So this past Saturday I loaded up the kiddos and headed to Carrigan Farms, where we met up with the grandparents (the Crag-Daddy was playing big-shot computer guru at a local Sharepoint conference.)  The orchards in the mountains offer a wider variety of apples, but we settled for the closer drive since I was flying solo (and Baby Z can sometimes be a bit squirrely in the car…)  

Its apple time!!!

Its apple time!!!

After a well-timed 45 minute drive during Baby Z’s morning snooze, we arrived just in time to sample some fresh-made apple cider before catching the hayride out to the orchard.  To be honest, the hayride was a little disappointing compared to other farms we’ve been to.  The start of the orchard was literally a 2 minute walk from the parking lot.  So the only real “extra” gleaned from the hayride (aside from the ride itself, which Big C did enjoy), was going to the back of the orchard where there is a small pen of farm animals to see (although if you wanted to walk a little farther, you could still easily walk the distance from your car.)  Another time I will probably try and convince Big C to just hoof it…

But anyway the actual apple picking part was fun!  The trees were LOADED with fruit (mostly golden delicious), and the branches were plenty low enough for Big C to pick to his heart’s content.  Between, me, Big C, and the grandparents, we picked over 50 apples, then all sat down for a nice picnic lunch before heading home.

Hayride photo opp w/the grandparents

Hayride photo opp w/the grandparents

Since I had scoured Pinterest the week before, we had all of our recipes and ingredients picked out…one for each day, and all recipes that we’d never tried before!  Here’s how our apple-mania week shaped up: 

Culinary Assistant #1

Culinary Assistant #1

Day 1: Apple Butter -This was my personal favorite, mostly because of how yummy it was despite being ridiculously easy to make! We used this super-yummy spread almost any way imaginable (bread, fruit, crackers, etc), but my favorite way to eat it was with a spoon right out of the container!

Day 2: Apple Pear Sauce - With a baby in the house, this was a must!

Day 3:  Apple Cinnamon Breakfast Bars – Since Big C would eat his body weight in bars on a daily basis if I let him, I thought we’d try this homemade option for him to indulge in.  Grated apple, rolled oats, peanut butter, and no added sugar made this recipea fresh, healthy alternative (we also tossed in a grated carrot since I had some on hand to steam for Baby Z!)  

Day 4: Apple Cinnamon Roll-ups - Or, as our family called them, “apples in a blanket.”  Lots of yum crammed into a two-bite package!

Day 5: Apple Crisp – We surprised our small group from church with this delectable dessert one night!  (Actually it wasn’t really a surprise…I told them to supply ice cream.)

Day 6: Apple Volcanoes - Baked whole apples stuffed with all sorts of yummy goodness…butter and sugar and walnuts, oh my! All topped with a dollop of ice cream that “erupted” down the sides.

Day 7: Dried Apple Chips - These were WAY cheaper than the store-bought variety, and even yummier.  Perfect snack for on the trail! 

Culinary Assistant #2

Culinary Assistant #2

We also experimented with some creative ways to eat our apples raw, our favorite being the “apple sandwich.”  Cored and sliced horizontally, an apple makes perfect “ends” to your sandwich, and the filling options are endless – nut butters, fruit preserves, cream cheese, nuts, raisins, even shredded coconut.  

For me the coolest part about our apple-themed kitchen adventures is that just days before, our apples were hanging on a tree.  I love the fact that we were able to gather them ourselves and then turn them into so many delicious things, many of which we were able to share with family and friends! Hopefully it will be a good “where food comes from” lesson for Big C.  

For the recipes we used, as well as even more ideas we haven’t gotten to yet, check out .  If you are hungry inspired by all this talk about apples, you can find all the recipes we used (as well as ones we haven’t gotten to yet!) on ourFall Recipes board on Pinterest.  Also find us on Instagram at @cragmama1, and check out the hashtag #applemaniaweek, where I’ve been posting pictures of all of the apple-y goodness that has come out of our kitchen every day.  Most importantly, feel free to use that hashtag and post your own apple pictures, so that we can glean some more ideas for apple fun!  

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Gear Review: The Luci Lantern from MPOWERD

Luci, fully inflated.

Luci, fully inflated.

Our family got the chance to try out the new Luci solar-powered lantern on our Labor Day climbing/camping adventure to Tennessee.  I had originally planned on mentioning it in the trip report, but we liked it so much that I thought it deserved a post all on it’s own!  

Luci is an innovative idea from MPOWERD, a company that “develops and manufactures game-changing micro-solar energy products for use by people living and playing on and off the grid.”  At first glance it might just seem like any old solar-powered lantern to hang around camp, but it’s cool factor is so much better than that! 

Here’s what makes Luci special:

INFLATABLE: Yes inflatable.  As in, you actually blow it up like a pool toy.  When collapsed, it’s only 5″ in diameter and 1″ thick (fully inflated height is 4″.)  Perfect for backpacking trips, or to keep in your  car in case of emergencies.  

DURABLE: Luci is advertised as both waterproof and shatter-proof.  We didn’t dunk it in the water, and we certainly didn’t run over it with our car, but it’s held up great in both rainy weather, as well as getting tossed around in the tent/car.  

SUSTAINABLE:  Flashlights and headlamps run out of batteries (and are also heavy and klunky.)  Let Luci catch some rays by day and she’ll be powered up and ready to stay bright all night!  

SAFE:  Unlike candles and kerosene lanterns, I don’t have to worry about my kids playing too close to Luci- in fact, it was pretty fun to toss it back and forth in the dark! (And I didn’t worry that we’d burn the tent down!)

AFFORDABLE: We received ours for free in conjunction with this post, but a retail price of $14.99 seems very reasonable to me.  That’s the same if not cheaper than a decent flashlight, especially once you factor in battery costs.  

Two gentlemen from Sub-Saharan Africa excited about Luci

*taken from MPOWERD.com*

taken from MPOWERED.com)

*taken from MPOWERD.com*

WORLD-CHANGING: MPOWERD is committed to “solar justice” by partnering with various NGO’s to use Luci to bring light to those in the 3rd world that are living off the grid in energy poverty.  From their website: “Every Luci light gives a child more hours to study in the evening. An entrepreneur gains 90 more productive hours a month to increase his or her income. Women feel safer at night. And families no longer have to inhale toxic fumes emitted from indoor kerosene lamps.”

Our main use so far has been as a night-light in the tent.  It’s perfect for those last few hours of the evening when the kiddos are asleep, but the grown-ups are still hanging out by the campfire.  When it’s time to turn in, we don’t have to worry about waking everyone up with roving headlamps as we scramble into our sleeping bags.  It has 3 different brightness settings, and even has a handle that can be hung from the ceiling of our tent.  

It also looks cool!  The gallery on their website shows this light being used in home decor and even formal events like weddings! So if you’re in the market for a lantern (or flashlight…or emergency light), check out Luci!  

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Climb Time for the Whole Family (What Works for Us!)

It’s my theory that eavesdropping on a family’s Sunday night dinner conversation is one of the quickest ways to figure out what’s most important to that family.  The weekend is over and everyone is setting their sights onto a new week, planning out the logistics of who’s doing what, when and how.  Which activities/events are the first up for discussion?  You know, those things that you want to MAKE time for, despite how busy you are?  Each family’s discussion will be different of course, but the logistical conversations are often the same – how to make sure ______ gets to do ______ on ______ days.  

Bouldering intervals in the early weeks

Bouldering intervals in the early weeks

For our family, finding time to exercise during the week is a priority.  For cardio, we’d both much prefer to run or bike outside, but having an elliptical in the house has been a great solution for when time is at a premium.  But training for climbing has been a different story, and that’s especially poignant as we are at a season in our life where we can’t climb outside as often as we’d like.  With that in mind, we’ve found ourselves looking to the climbing gym to keep our fitness level up (and our psych high, since all of us find rock climbing a lot more enjoyable than lifting weights!)  

The addition of Baby Z has rocked our world in so many (good!) ways, and figuring out a schedule that allows adequate training time for everyone has been one of the bigger logistical challenges we’ve had to juggle.  One kid is easy (especially one that thinks he’s a ninja!)  The whole family can climb together – parent 1 climbs alone (or with another partner), parent 2 belays kiddo, then after a while…switch!  But two kids have thrown all of those neat, organized plans out the window!  It’s taken some trial and error, but over the past 6 months we’ve managed to settle into a schedule that seems to suit everyone, even Baby Z.  

The secret has been finding ways to maximize everyone’s available “windows” of time – that, and a lot of tag-teaming!  

Here are scenarios that we have tried, but were unable to implement consistently.  But just because they weren’t the best choice for OUR family doesn’t mean they won’t work for YOUR family, so I’m listing them anyway.

Making sure the crag-kiddos log some mileage as well

Making sure the crag-kiddos log some mileage as well

  • MOM’s MORNING OUT w/INFANT: Last spring I took Baby Z to the gym with me while Big C was at preschool. If she fell asleep in the car and stayed asleep transferring her to inside the gym (and that was always a very big IF), then I could squeeze in 45 minutes to an hour of bouldering intervals – sometimes the Crag-Daddy was even able to take an early lunch break and meet me out there!  (Other days he would go after work.) This was a reasonable option during the early newborn months, but it was always somewhat of a stressful gamble…if the nap failed, then I would spend almost my entire climb time nursing or plugging a paci (and would often STILL leave with a cranky, overtired baby.)  Now that Baby Z is older, more aware, and (sometimes) taking longer naps, this scenario doesn’t work for us.  Another downside to it is that Big C never got to climb at all!
  • LINEBERRY, PARTY OF 4: One Saturday we tried taking the whole family to the gym…epic fail.  It was a great way to get Big C on the wall, but the grown-ups didn’t get much climbing in.  (But if you’ve just got one kid, this option is totally doable, especially if said kid is too young to want to climb that much anyway!)

Here’s the magic formula that is currently working for us: 

  • MID-WEEK SHIFTS: This has surprisingly worked out very well for us.  Basically we climb in two separate shifts, with a break in between for dinner as a family.  Steve hits the gym on his way home from work, and I do the “night shift” once the kiddos are asleep.  For me it provides not only an uninterrupted chance to climb, but also a chance to socialize with people that don’t necessarily see me as a mom.  When the kids are with me, they are always a talking point in conversation, so it’s refreshing to be able to go 2 hours without my “mommy hat” on.  The downside for me is that working out late at night means I’m pretty revved up when I get home…so I often end up staying up later than I’d like.  The downside for Steve is that his free window is tight – if he gets tied up at work or hits more traffic than usual, he ends up with a much shorter workout, since dinner can only be delayed so long before it starts messing with bedtimes.  
  • WEEKEND TAG TEAM:  We always try to squeeze in a gym session on weekends that we aren’t already climbing outdoors.  For that we just employ a tag team strategy.  If the weekend is pretty open, one of us goes on Saturday, and the other on Sunday.  Otherwise we both try and go on Saturday, one of us in the morning, and the other in the afternoon (thankfully Baby Z is pretty willing to take a bottle of expressed milk…her brother never was!)  
  • KIDCRUSHER AFTERNOONS:  Since none of the previous options include Big C, we try to set aside some climb time that is just for him.  Although sometimes one of us will take him, it usually means the whole family goes together after Baby Z wakes up in the afternoon. Since none of the grown-ups are even trying to climb, all of our focus is on him, and he can do whatever combination of climb/swing/hang he wants for as long as we’re there. 

 

The only pic I could find of the Crag-Daddy was on the down-climb of our topout boulder...but he has a cute spotter!

The only pic I could find of the Crag-Daddy was on the down-climb of our topout boulder…but he has a cute spotter!

So there ya have it. That’s how we’ve rolled, both past and present, and managed to get everyone the climbing fix they need.  And while it SEEMS like our current strategy will be a good holding pattern for the next long while, who knows, we could be doing something totally different next month!  How has YOUR family managed to find time to do the things you love to do, be it climbing or something else?

Related posts: 
How Parents (and Other Busy People) Can Find Time to Train in the Climbing Gym
Creating a Cragbaby: In the Gym

 

 

 

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Bitybean: A Bit of Babywearing Heaven!

Peek-a-boo from a happy hiker!

Peek-a-boo from a happy hiker!

It’s no secret that our family is into babywearing in a big way.  While I’d like to picture us as a peaceful, attached family that wears our babies purely for the many physical and emotional benefits it brings to our young, the truth is that most of the time we do it for convenience sake.  (That and because a sleeping baby on your chest is one of the best feelings in the entire world…)  That may explain why we have 5 times as many babywearing apparatuses as we do children.  Or it could be because the Cragdaddy and I are both diehard gear junkies.  I guess it’s probably a little bit of both. 

Anyway, there’s a new favorite carrier in the house – the Bitybean!  Founded by a Vermont company in 2012, this innovative carrier has found a way to utilize the best strengths of other carriers, while minimizing the weaknesses.  Here is what we LOVED about it:

COMPACT: Not even kidding, the Bitybean fits into a case about the size of a soda can.  It’s terribly easy to always have it on hand for trips to the grocery store, park, etc.  And because there is so very little fabric involved, you don’t have to worry about long tails of fabric flapping about and getting caught on things (as you would in a sling.)  

LIGHTWEIGHT: Another plus to having the bare minimum amount of fabric coverage is that this carrier feels super lightweight, weighing in at a mere 8 ounces!  This feature also makes it perfect for hot weather.  I’ve hiked Baby Z in to the base of the crag on numerous steamy, humid occasions, and while we of course both got sticky simply from being so close, the sweat factor didn’t feel any worse than it would have been had I just been holding her in my arms.

Checkin' out the wild ponies at Grayson Highlands!

Checkin’ out the wild ponies at Grayson Highlands!

FABRIC: The fabrics used are a very sturdy combination of nylon and polyester.  Spit-up and other stains are easily wiped away with a damp towel (although it can also be put in the washer), and the quick-drying nature of the fabric makes it a great option for rainy hikes or even splashing around at the swimming hole.  

Nice and cozy under the sleep hood...any minute those eyes will close!

Nice and cozy under the sleep hood…any minute those eyes will close!

COMFORT: One of my favorite parts about the Bitybean is how comfortable it is for both the wear-er and wear-ee.  If Baby Z is ready for a nap, she konks out within minutes.  The sleep hood (sold separately, and definitely recommended) does a great job supporting baby’s head during naptime hikes.  As for the wearer, it can easily be adjusted on the fly for a comfortable fit, making it perfect for the mom/dad pair that takes turns wearing baby.  For long hikes, the lack of padding made it not quite as comfortable on the hips as a Boba 4G/Ergo, but that was to be expected, but that’s a big part of what makes it so hot weather friendly, so it’s an even exchange.   

AFFORDABLE: We received our first carrier (the orange one) for free for purposes of this review, but it retails for $59.95 (sleep hood is $15.95.)  We enjoyed it for a couple of weeks, and then promptly left it on the ground in the Frozen Head State Park parking lot over Labor Day (at least we assume that’s where it ended up…all we know for sure is that it never made it home from Tennessee.)  We’d already gotten some great pictures and tested it in a wide variety of environments, so we easily could have just kissed it good-bye without a parting glance.  But by this point I realized that I was relying on the Bitybean more than our other carriers on a daily basis, so we immediately ordered our own at full price (minus the same 10% discount code shared below.)  If that doesn’t prove how unbiased this review is, I don’t know what will!

Bitybean is Cragdaddy-approved.

Bitybean is Cragdaddy-approved.

THE ONLY CON: The only issue I have found is that the shoulder strap is difficult for me to snap in place by myself on a front carry.  I can do it but it’s very awkward.  (Unsnapping is far easier.)  My hubby, however, experienced no issues with this.  At first I just chalked it up to shoulder mobility (as a climber, my shoulders tend to be tight.)  But after further inspection, we realized that it’s a size issue – because I’m small I have the straps cinched down as tight as they will go, which makes the shoulder strap sit lower on my back.  Lucky for me, 90% of the time I have an enthusiastic 4 year old on hand to “snap me up.”  (Back carries are irrelevant, since the shoulder strap connects on the front.)  

While no carrier is perfect, the Bitybean is the closest we’ve found to babywearing heaven.  It is ideal for both the mundane (running errands) as well as the adventurous (strenuous hikes and scrambles.)  It’ll comfortably and conveniently go wherever you need it to go, and is hands down the most versatile carrier we have.  

With that said, I would HIGHLY recommend this carrier to any babywearing family.  Shipping is free from their website, and their customer service is top notch (when we ordered the second one, we initially received the wrong color, and the Bitybean folks bent over backwards to make it right!)  I’ve even got a nifty discount code that’ll give you 10% off – just enter #bitybeanlove when prompted on their website.

Grateful that Bitybean allows us to enjoy vistas like this!

Grateful that Bitybean allows us to enjoy vistas like this!

 

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Gear Review: Powerfingers!

Baby Z looking for some finger strength gains.

Baby Z looking for some finger strength gains.

If you’ve read this blog with any amount of regularity, you’re probably aware that our household is way into “pre-hab.”  I firmly believe it’s important for climbers of all ages and skill levels, whether you are projecting 5.14′s or struggling your way up 5.8′s on toprope.  A big part of prehab is training the muscles that do the OPPOSITE movement than the muscles you use while climbing.  When you climb, you pull, pull, pull.  So to keep your body in balance, it’s important to do some exercises that push – push-ups, presses, etc.  (For a whole post dedicated to antagonist muscle training, click here.)  

One of the most common “out of balance” area of the climber’s body is in the forearms.  All day long we close our hands, gripping the most miniscule holds very tightly.  Our forearm flexors get pretty darn strong…But our forearm EXTENSORS (the muscles on the back, non-palm side of your arm) are ridiculously weak in comparison.  Over time this can lead to all sorts of overuse injuries in the elbow, hand, and even fingers.  

In the past, I’ve incorporated everything from reverse wrist curls to rice bucket workouts into my routine to balance my forearms out.  But while dumbbells easily allow for varying resistance as you get stronger, they only work the extensors of the wrist, not the fingers. And while rice buckets are able to intricately engage all the extensors, varying resistance can be inconvenient.  Not to mention that bucket of rice is a pain to lug around and just plain messy.  That’s where powerfingers enter the scene.

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Powerfingers are a system of rubberized discs in varying resistances that engage the extensor muscles of the entire forearm.  It provides the benefits of dumbbells and rice bucket workouts WITHOUT the cons of either.  The exercises are easy – just insert your fingers into the little holes in the disc, and start opening and closing!  I guarantee you will feel quite the burn in a very short amount of time!  (As with any other exercise, form is important to avoid injuries, so check out these videos from the Powerfingers website to see what to do/not to do.)

Yes, we really sit around at night and do stuff like this.

Yes, we really sit around at night and do stuff like this.

Beginners can start with the lightest color (for the lightest resistance), and work up to blue, then purple.  When that gets too easy, you can do the exercises with multiple discs at once, so the possibilities are really endless!  Do them watching TV.  Do them in the car to and from the crag.  Do them around the campfire after a long day of climbing.  The discs come in a small case that is easy enough to take anywhere, leaving no room for excuses about finding the time or opportunity to use them.  

This product is fairly new, especially on the climbing scene (it was originally designed to improve speed, strength and dexterity for musicians.)  But I personally think the design and concept is brilliant, and expect to see it sold in climbing gear shops all over the place very soon.  If you are looking for a convenient way to prevent/improve overuse conditions like tendonitis, Powerfingers may very well be your ticket! 

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