Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

Climbing with a 5 month old (Reader Question from Megan D.)

When it comes to logistics of climbing with young kiddos, I’ve written about every age in the 5 and under set, sometimes more than once. But as my kids are growing (sigh), it’s easy for those posts to get lost in the archives, especially the itty-bitty-baby ones. So I thought I’d try something different with a question I received recently from Megan D out of Seattle, WA, about getting back into climbing with her 5 month old.  As I was digging through old posts, I realized that it might not be a bad idea to share her question with the masses – to give her multiple perspectives as well as help any other mamas in similar situations who may stumble across this blog!  But first indulge me some shots of my own sweet cragbabies at 5 months…sigh.

Cragbaby #1 at the New River Gorge, WV

Cragbaby #1 at the New River Gorge, WV

Cragbaby #2 at Grayson Highlands, VA

Cragbaby #2 at Grayson Highlands, VA

The following is an excerpt of our correspondence…
Hi Erica,
I was wondering if you could give me some tips and tricks of climbing with a 5 month old. We were finally able to make it to a gym yesterday and actually did well with the little one. We left her in her car seat and let her watch us. She was content and we were excited to get some climbing in. I know the car seat worked for us that trip but I am a bit worried about when she is older, when the gym is busier, or when we go outside. When your little ones were smaller did you ever put them in a carrier on your back while top rope belaying?

How did you handle climbing outside with a little one? We do not know any climbers out here so I have been trying to figure out how the three of us could climb outside safely together for when the weather gets a bit better. Also, how do you contain them once they are scooting around? Especially outside?

I appreciate any pointers and tips you can give. We love to go hiking together and want to get back into climbing g once it dries out here. Thanks and I love reading about the adventures your family goes on. It is nice to see a family going outside, there are so many families that stay home because it is easier.

My response:
Hi Megan!
Congrats on your newest addition and kudos to you and hubby for staying committed to getting out and about, whether it be climbing, hiking, or just staying active.  To be honest, I have not had a ton of success when it comes to good gym sessions with baby in tow, unless baby is sleeping, which for us only worked in those first couple of “sleep anywhere” months…but I’ve had recent success belay-slaving for Big C (almost 5) while Baby Zu (11 months) watches on.  We go when the gym is not busy, and when Zu gets fussy I put her in a soft-structured carrier on my back and belay on.  With my hubby I never felt comfortable belaying while babywearing because of the weight difference.  I also never felt comfortable with the babywear-belay outdoors because of the risk of falling rock and/or dropped gear, but I know people who do it all the time.  A lot depends on the rock quality at your crag.
The ONLY way we’ve ever rolled outdoors with kids in tow is with an extra person.We were JUST feeling comfortable to start going out again with just the 3 of us…and along came Baby Zu. As you said you don’t know any other climbers out there, that may not help you that much, but if you can find a willing partner, it will be SO MUCH EASIER! That way they can scoot around and explore safely to their hearts content, and you aren’t constantly worried about them konking themselves out on a rock! The extra person really just pulls extra belay duty, unless they WANT baby duty, so it doesn’t have to be someone who is GREAT with kids, just someone that doesn’t mind a kid around…and also is cool with probably getting in a few less pitches in a day, which always happens as a party of 3, regardless of whether there are kids around or not. 
Kudos to Megan for getting her family outside in all types of weather!

Kudos to Megan for getting her family outside in all types of weather!

I’ve got several blog posts that i wrote back when C was little. Most were part of the Creating a Cragbaby series, and here are some specific ones that may fill in the gaps of anything I may have overlooked, as well as provide additional info about outdoor craggin’ with a wee one.
Indoor Tips:
Outdoor Tips:
Hope that helps!
Thanks to Megan D for allowing me to share your question – hopefully you’ll get a few more answers than just mine.  And hopefully this will help some other new mamas trying to find a new climbing groove. Other mamas that have been there, done that, feel free to chime in with any tips and tricks that have worked for you!

Ain’t No Party Like a Super Hero Party!

The weather was absolutely gorgeous this weekend, but we didn’t spend it on the side of a mountain.  Instead, our family took an unconventional opportunity to channel our inner superheroes in celebration of Big C’s 5th birthday!

Jedi, Batman, Super Girl, and Wonder Woman at your service.

Jedi, Batman, Super Girl, and Wonder Woman at your service.

As a pretty laidback kind of a guy, Big C didn’t request a lot of fanfare.  But he DID have two very specific requests – he wanted his guests in super hero attire, and he wanted a Batman cake.


We may not have spent a lot of money, we didn’t rent out a giant playspace, and we relied on our own imaginations for the entertainment.  But we ended up with an afternoon filled with joy, laughter…and weapons, of course!


Kids, dads, and imaginations running wild.


With Baby Zu’s birthday, then Disney World, and finally Big C’s party, this March is shaping up to be the first month in a long time in which we’ve logged absolutely ZERO hours on real rock!  And while I wouldn’t have traded any of those occasions for the world, we are hoping to make up for lost time during the month of April.  So now if the weather would just continue to cooperate with us for the next 5 weeks…In the meantime, what super hero would YOU most like to be any why?!?

Superman taking a turn at "Pin the Bat on the Batman"

Superman taking a turn at “Pin the Bat on the Batman”

Its a bird, its a plane, its a flying Super Z!!!

Its a bird, its a plane, its a flying Super Z!!!


Disney World Highlight Reel

March will always and forevermore be a hectic month for our family.  Not only do we celebrate mine and hubby’s anniversary and Baby Zu’s birthday at the beginning of the month, but with the first day of spring also comes Big C’s birthday.  And THIS year in particular was even more crazy, since we celebrated Big C’s milestone 5th birthday (a couple of weeks early) in Disney World, courtesy of my parents (aka “GaGa and Paw Paw.”)

Obligatory pic in front of the castle - wearing our Cragmama colors proudly!

Obligatory pic in front of the castle – wearing our Cragmama colors proudly!

We packed so much stuff into a 6 day trip, I could easily write a separate blog post for each day.  But, unless you are somehow related to us or currently planning a Disney vacation, you’d probably be bored out of your mind by Day 2.  So I’ll just give you a condensed version of the highlights and tips here (but if you ARE planning a trip and would like some more specific beta, don’t hesitate to email me!)

Thanks to the Disney Dining Plan, our crew was never at loose ends when it came to good food, but we all unanimously voted Chef Mickey’s Character Meal at the Contemporary Resort as our favorite – for food as well as atmosphere.  We actually ate here our very first night, and it was a fantastic kick off our trip.  Big C got to meet Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald WITHOUT standing in line…and Baby Zu shrieked in terror whenever any of the characters made eye contact.

Big C and Minnie at Chef Mickeys

Big C and Minnie at Chef Mickeys

Tusker House at the Animal Kingdom (also a character meal) was everyone’s second favorite.  In fact, we all decided that buffets in general were the best way to go for dinner – faster, more variety, and a great kid-friendly atmosphere. The biggest disappointment in food was Be Our Guest in Fantasyland, which ironically is known as the hardest-to-get dinner reservation in all of Disney.  The setting is gorgeous (in the ball room of the Beast’s Castle), but we all thought it was dark, loud, and overrated (the food was good though.)

The Fastpass system was great – each day we got to choose 3 attractions in which we could “skip” the regular stand-by line and jump ahead to the front, so long as we showed up in our reserved time slot.  It took a couple of days or so to figure out the best strategy for how to use them, but by the end of the week we were pros. (Tip: Most of the lines were short until around 10 am or so, so the best bang for our buck was to get to the park early and ride as much as we could, saving the fastpasses for later once the park got crowded.) We also took advantage of the “Rider Switch” program a few times – since someone generally had to stay back with Baby Zu, it was a great way to get everyone to be able to ride (and let Big C ride twice.)

The only picture that included everyone, taken at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom

The only picture that included everyone, taken at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom

When we first started planning this trip, I’d wondered whether Big C was going to be too little to enjoy a lot of it.  But I was pleasantly surprised to find that “turning 5″ seemed to be the PERFECT age – he was old enough to enjoy a lot of the big kid rides, but still small enough to enjoy all of that Disney magic!  Steve and I were pleased to discover that we’ve got a roller coaster lover on our hands – he laughed and shrieked with delight on all the thrill rides. My favorite moment of the entire trip was looking over to see his feet flying higher than his head amidst cackles of laughter on the Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios!

Like father, like son ;)

Like father, like son ;)

My least favorite moments of the trip was watching his crest-fallen face when he got booted out of line for Everest (Animal Kingdom) AND Space Mountain (Tomorrow Land.)  He was literally a quarter of an inch short (as in, his HAIR was touching the top of the post, but not his head…), but neither ride operator was willing to fudge him in.  I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to kick myself for not letting him pack his bulky and uncomfortable (but heeled) cowboy boots…But as hard as it was to see that dejected little face, I was proud of how he handled himself, and I know having something to look forward to will make it extra special next time.

Another low point in the trip was when sweet Baby Zu landed herself in the Urgent Care with a double ear infection. This was actually our second time in an Urgent Care in a week (3 days before we left Big C had logged a 104 fever w/a nasty case of the croup.)  He was kind enough to share his germs with Baby Zu, who thankfully only presented with mild symptoms…but combined with a plane flight, those poor little eustachian tubes were toast.  To complicate the issue, the ear pain made Baby Zu go on an 18 hour nursing strike (and pretty much eating/drinking ANYTHING strike).  That plus being out in the heat meant we had a dehydrated little girl on our hands (and a very uncomfortably engorged mommy) by the time we got to the doctor.  But the wonders of modern antibiotics cleared her up in no time, and literally within hours she pepped up and was beginning to nurse again.

A sick little girl with her Daddy.

A sick little girl with her Daddy.

  • Big C’s wild shrieks of laughter and joy on Tower of Terror.
  • Baby Zu giggling on the lone small drop at the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Big C’s ecstasy at meeting his favorite characters (especially Woody, Lightning McQueen, and Minnie Mouse
  • The Crag-Daddy getting as excited as a 5 year old when he got to make his own light saber.
  • Date night with the Crag-Daddy on the Aerosmith Rock N Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios.
  • Listening to Big C constantly jabber on and on and on…and on…AND ON about how much fun he was having.

A big thank you to Gaga and Paw Paw for footing the bill for all of our fun. It was an experience we will never forget! Anyone else have a favorite Disney memory to share, either your own, or one you have of your kids?  Feel free to share some Disney love in the comments below!

cropwoody IMG_0016

Homesteading: Finding Time to Make Your Own Yogurt

I’m one of those people that is hesitant to start something if I can’t envision how I’m going to finish it.  I am not a fan of failure, which means a lot of things on a lot of different levels. In the interest of this post, however, it meant I was pretty intimidated about the idea of regularly making kitchen staples like yogurt and bread from scratch.  But the potential benefits outweighed my fear, so I jumped right in…and haven’t looked back!  Finding the time to get both of these things made on a regular, consistent basis was actually far easier than I’d anticipated, it just took a little bit of planning.

From scratch breakfast for our family of 4!

Snapshot of our breakfast – doesn’t it look yummy?!?

I started with yogurt because the process is simpler and less involved – 15-30 minutes of hands-on time at the beginning, then all those little organisms take over and do the rest of the work!  There are numerous recipes out there, but they are basically all variations on the same handful of steps.

1. Sterilize your milk. Microwave, stovetop, or even crockpot. (I do mine in the microwave.) The important thing is to get it to 180 degrees to kill any “bad” bacteria.
2. Cool your milk. I make an ice bath in the sink.  The ideal temps for the bacteria to multiply is between 110 – 120.
3.  Culture your milk. You can add storebought yogurt for the first time, and thereafter set aside a few tablespoons to use as a starter for next time (I use 1/2 cup starter for a 1/2 gallon of yogurt.)
4.  Add any mix-ins. I add a tsp of homemade vanilla extract and a tablespoon of maple syrup per pint, just to give it a little bit of zing.  You could also add honey, agave, or other extracts.  Note: Fruits can affect the ph level, which can hinder the ability of the bacteria to do their thing, so it’s best to add fruit later!
5.  Incubate your cultured milk. I use a small cooler filled with a few inches of 120 degree water.  The incubation time is not an exact science – a shorter time produces sweeter, runnier yogurt, and a longer time produces, tangier, firmer yogurt.  you’ll have to experiment with what you like best – for us that magic window is 8-9 hours.
6. Refrigerate, then enjoy!

Not too complicated, right?  Especially once you memorize the recipe and can just make it on auto-pilot.  The harder part is figuring out the logistics to keep the process going.  Here’s some tips:


  • Your yogurt will last up to two weeks, but the longer you go between batches, the weaker your starter will get. (You’ll know because your yogurt will start taking longer to get the same consistency.) But nobody wants to make yogurt every 3 days…so the key is to find that sweet spot amount that will allow you to make a new batch once a week or so.  I started out making a quart at a time, but quickly learned that a half gallon was a better balance for our family.
  • Multi-task.  The first few times you make your yogurt, you’re going to need to pay careful attention to every step.  But once you’ve done it a few times, you can easily make it while you’re doing other things, which will save time.  For example, on yogurt day, I start the process in the morning while I’m fixing breakfast.  I get all of my equipment and ingredients out and ready to go before we sit down, so that all I have to do is make sure the process stays moving every few minutes (ie, check temp of milk, turn microwave on, move milk to ice bath, check temp again.)  I can usually finish the entire process before the kiddos are even done with breakfast, which means I can then just put my cooler on a shelf and forget about it until around dinnertime!
  • Keep some storebought starters on hand in case you accidentally kill/eat yours.  I freeze some in ice cube trays and keep a stash in the freezer.  Just pop a few into the fridge the day before you intend to make your yogurt and voila! Instant starter!  (I sometimes add a couple to my own starter to “beef it up” if it seems to be getting weak.)

I love that there are no weird, hard to pronounce ingredients, and nothing artifical.  I personally find the taste to be 10 times more flavorful than the storebought kinds – so light and refreshing! I actually had storebought yogurt for the first time since I started making my own at Disney World last week one morning…and even though it was just regular old vanilla flavored, it tasted sickeningly sweet!


Holy Cannoli Dip!


I also love how much money we are saving.  Discounting any flavorings, the cost of your yogurt is equal to the cost of your milk.  We use whole milk, and make it organic when it’s on sale.  I have not tried any other kind, but apparently if you use anything less than 2% fat you’ll need to add some sort of thickeners (gelatin or milk powder.)

And speaking of things you can make from whole milk – if you haven’t ever made ricotta cheese (also known as farmer’s cheese), you are missing out!  It tastes NOTHING like the cakey, pasty stuff in the tub at the grocery store.  It’s way easier to make than yogurt too – here’s a recipe!  It tastes great in savory italian dishes as well as sweet (I used it as well as homemade mascarpone to make a variation of this amazing cannoli dip at my hubby’s birthday party a few weeks ago!)  It’s also yummy served with fruit and drizzled with smidge of honey…but now I’m getting side tracked (and hungry!)

Obviously every family has their own rhythms and routines.  What works for me very well may not be the answer for you and your family.  But I’m hoping that this glimpse of “how we do” will help out anybody that’s wanting to do something like this but not sure how to start.  The next homestead topic will be on bread-making, which has been the most recent piece to our from-scratch puzzle (and also the most complicated!)  So stay tuned!


Rock Climber’s Training Manual Part 1 (Base Fitness and Strength)

When I first started climbing, I didn’t bother with any sport-specific training of any sort. My formula for improving was to just climb.  However, once Cragbaby #1 came into the picture, our midweek climb time was greatly decreased, which meant the time we did have needed to be a little more efficient.  I started keying in on my weaknesses and choosing routes/problems/techniques that focused on those (for example, adding some off-set pull-ups and movement drills to increase lock-off strength.)

Outdoor Mileage at Rocky Face Park in January

Outdoor Mileage at Rocky Face Park in January

Then I broke my ankle in February of 2012.  I knew I’d go nuts if I didn’t do SOMETHING, but I couldn’t very well hike in to the crag with my giant boot on, so I hit the hangboard instead. Six weeks later, I was amazed at how much strength I’d gained!  After seeing such good results from training, I began to sprinkle in a few goal-oriented training cycles into my gym time every now and then – HIT Strips, and Interval Training for Bouldering and Roped Climbing.

But I’d always steered clear of a rigid, scheduled training program.  My reasoning was that family climbing adds a whole lot of other logistics than just MY agenda, especially now that there are TWO cragbabies in the mix (well, I guess one of them is not a baby anymore…)  It seemed selfish at best, and a scheduling nightmare at worst to try and incorporate a more sophisticated training program into my routine.

So when Trango athletes Mark and Mike Anderson came out with a detailed book about their Rock Prodigy Training Program, I wasn’t so sure I was ready to jump on the bandwagon.  The science was solid, and everyone else seemed to be getting great results with it, but being the perfectionist that I am, I was hesitant to commit to it without knowing if I’d be able to make it work (the whole program takes 3-4 months to complete.)

However my two-kiddo mantra these days has been “Do the best you can with what you’ve got.”  So after the holidays, I decided that I’d apply that mantra to training for climbing.  I figured that even if I couldn’t do all the steps correctly, it would at least be a great learning experience.

The goal of this program is to take the climber through various phases of sport-specific training, each with a different objective – Base Fitness, Strength, Power, and Power Endurance.  The idea is that after all of the training phases are complete, the climber can then enjoy several weeks of peak performance, planned strategically for a timeframe that would be most beneficial (ie, right before a long trip, or prime climbing season.)

I’m currently at the beginning of my Power phase, which means I have completed Base Fitness and Strength. Here’s my experience with it…


Base Fitness – (Building a Foundation)

This phase is all about long bouts of relatively low-intensity training.  The goal is to be on the wall/rock for long periods of time in a “barely pumped” state – in other words, a lot of mileage on routes that aren’t necessarily easy, but not HARD. For me, this meant a lot of traversing and auto-belays, and running up/down laps on 5.10 over and over again. This is probably the phase of the program that I adhered to the LEAST strictly.  I did pretty well in the gym, but outdoors was a different story. The “outdoor mileage” days are supposed to feature 8-10 pitches on moderate terrain.  As a climbing mama with two young kiddos at the crag, one of whom is still nursing, that’s an unrealistic expectation. These days I’m doing really well to get in 5 pitches, including warm-ups.  So my strategy was to work hard in the gym but go with the flow when outdoors and just get on whatever everyone else was getting on.

Sending: In two trips I managed to tick six 5.11’s at Rocky Face, most of which were routes that I’d previously “preggo-pointed” but hadn’t tried on the sharp end yet.  I also sent Fashion Original (5.12b) with friends.

Pinch grip with added weight.

Pinch grip with added weight.

Strength – (Finger Strength)

Hangboarding is the primary apparatus for this phase, which is also the most monotonous and anti-social.The goal is to get in 6-10 hangboard workouts.  I managed 7.  Outdoor climbing is not really recommended during this time, but I did sneak out to Sauratown Mountain on two separate occasions.

I’ve always thought of power/power endurance as my weaknesses, and finger strength as one of my forte’s, but I was shocked at how difficult it was to hang from even the biggest grips when I first started this phase.  There was a learning curve in figuring out what weight I needed, and judging from my results I think I need to start out with smaller grips next time.  I started out using a pulley for some of the more difficult grips, but by workout 7 I had not only graduated from the pulley to body weight, but was adding additional weight on my harness for each grip!  I was most pleased with my progress on pinches, which are notoriously difficult for me.  I wasn’t able to quantify it as well, since I didn’t have a pulley option for the pinches I used, but I went from failing miserably halfway through every rep of every set to completing two entire sets at +10 pounds!

Sending: The Amazing Joe (5.12b) – This crag is only open during Jan/Feb, so I knew if I waited, I’d have to wait til next year.  It gave me a great mental boost to get through the rest of the hangboard sessions.

Power and Power-Endurance involve a lot more actual climbing, as well as something that has intimidated me for a really long time – the campus board.  Stay tuned for an update of the latter phases in a few weeks!