Exploring the Outdoors with Little Ones

I grew up in a rural area.

My house was in the middle of a small town, so you could make the argument that it was more suburban in nature, but it took us 15 minutes to get to the next major town. Coupled with living in New England, it meant that you stuck close to home, especially during the winter when roads were hazardous. There really wasnt much to do even if you went 15 mintues away, you had to travel farther to find any sort of quality entertainment.

As a kid, I had to learn to occupy my time with my surrounding environment. This was before the Internet and my parents didn’t have cable for most of my childhood. So I had two choices: inside or outside.

Being inside the house was nice, but that got boring and cramped, especially with a dog. So I spent most of my time outside, even in the rain or cold weather.  I would spend hours outside: building things, climbing trees, reading in the shade. When I was old enough, in summer I would split my time between biking to the library and the town pool.

Sunscreen or not, I built up a nice tan with all the time I spent outside each summer. 

As I mentioned before, I also hiked a bit and spent time at the local Audobon center helping out with wildlife rehabilitation and taking nature classes. When I moved away for college and later down South to a major urban center, I lost touch with how much I loved spending time outdoors. Picking up running within the last year and having a wooded area as the primary training location helped reconnect me with the outdoors.

Having a toddler in an urban setting meant that if I wanted Jai to have similar childhood experiences I did, I would need to work a little harder to make sure he engaged with nature. I would have to take him to parks, interact with our yard, and find opportunities to get him to engage with nature on a frequent basis.


Why Engage with Nature?

It’s not always easy to spend time outside. We get busy or we live someplace where the greenspace is limited. But taking the opportunity to spend a few minues a day outside can be so beneficial. It can reduce stress, promote short-term memory, and act as an anti-inflammatory: all wonderful things for someone with MS.

Likewise, there are also a lot of benefits for children outdoors. Spending time with a toddler outside is a great way for him to engage with the world around him, nurture a love for the environment, and help focus that energy and attention span. It’s also a wonderful bonding experience for the parent and child. A lot of the nature activities require one-on-one time between parent and child where the parent explains new concepts or engage the child in a line of questioning.

The hope is to provide children with options by spending time outside. There are times when power goes out or you have to visit a remote location with limited internet access. By getting children to engage with nature before these scenarios, it will hopefully be easier to get them to go outside until the situation changes.

Things to Do

There are a lot of simple things parents can do to get their children outside, most need parental involvement at first, which will be great for bonding and your own health:

  • Take them on nature walks
    • In your yard, neighborhood, or local park/preserve
    • Ask questions when you see something interesting and get your child to critically think through answers
    • Bring a container for collecting items. See if you can start a leaf, twig, or rock collection for each walk
  • Build a fairy house
    • As a child, I always built one with natural materials (no glue or wire) as a means to see if I could create a stable house in all sorts of weather
    • Set up the house outside and have small dolls or toys to play in the house
    • Write down stories your child creates surrounding the house owners
  • Set up a blanket and read outside
    • Find some shade, grab some snacks and spend time reading outside. Books/stories about nature would be perfect for the surroundings.
  • Set up a bird feeder and do bird watching from a slight distance
    • Make sure you have a bird ID book so you can learn the different birds that visit the feeder
    • Set up the feeder near a window so you can watch birds on rainy/snowy days as well
    • Note: if you have a neighborhood bird of prey, this may be a learning opportunity of life cycle for smaller birds and creatures. You may need to explain what happens if a hawk swoops in
  • If you can do so safely, teach your little one to climb a tree
    • Only do this if you feel comfortable spotting your child and they start with short heights

While you are spending time outside with your little one, make sure to ask them a lot of questions. Not just about their surroundings and what you are doing with them, but also see how they are feeling.

If they start to get antsy, bored, or seem unhappy, make sure to honor those feelings. Spending time outside should be a fun experience and forcing it will make it harder to encourage another excusion. Some days they will be ready to spend hours outside and other days only five minutes. There’s always later in the day or tomorrow, so try to be flexible in your plans until your child gets used to being outside.

As they get older, include them in the plans by asking them what they would like to do. Their answers may surprise you and lead you down the path for a fun adventure that you’ll talk about into their adulthood.

What are some of the things you do with your little ones to get them to spend more time outside? What did you do as a kid when it came to the outdoors? Leave your comments and stories below.

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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography


Benefits of Light Exercise

Getting motivated to exercise after a prolonged winter is hard.

This has been a particularly difficult year in the United States, as we’re experiencing another cold snap in April which is unusual in the Southeast. Engaging in outdoor activity is discouraging when you have to bundle up like it’s the middle of winter.

There are ways to work with the cold weather and kick-start exercising even on a minimal level to help restart those resolutions. Light exercise tends to be discounted in favor of moderate or vigorous exercise, but it does have its health benefits if that’s all you can do.

Taking a few moments to shake up the daily routine, no matter your time or fitness level can go a long way towards becoming healthier.

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For the Love of Dark Chocolate

When we first met, Ash told me how much he loved dark chocolate.

Me: Dark Chocolate? Really?
Ash: Yeah. It’s great. It’s delicious.
M: It’s gross. Ugh. So bitter. How can you like the stuff?
A: Well, I don’t like all dark chocolate. I like specifically 82% dark chocolate. My friend from college – his dad was a Swiss chocolatier and introduced me to that percentage. It’s not too bitter, not too sweet, but it’s the perfect balance of the two for me.

I tried it and rejected it for my milk chocolate love because it was too bitter to get around the flavor. Yet, when I quit sugar it meant I had to quit chocolate. This was devastating because chocolate is delicious and I am addicted to that endorphin release.

I was able to last a month without chocolate at first and focused on fruits as a means to satisfy my sweet tooth. But soon I started craving chocolate again. I looked around and found that there are several options available for those trying to get a chocolate fix without added cane sugar. (These are not sponsored links, but I do recommend them)

Ash saw me unwrapping a candy bar one day and wanted to know what I was eating:

A:What’s that?
Me: Chocolate. Why?
A: Can I see the wrapper?
M: Yes… (I hand him the wrapper)
A: You know this is dark chocolate right? You always said you hated the stuff.
M: (My mouth full)…so?
A: I TOLD you it was delicious.

He caught me. I found that by dropping sugar I was more receptive (desperate?) to dark chocolate. It was a good thing doing so because I was starting to get the actual health benefits from eating dark chocolate that’s on the news.

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Drinking Probiotics

This post is timely for me: as I mentioned in my health check-in last week, I am fighting a nasty gut infection from infected tap water. When treating an H.pylori infection it is necessary to take two different antibiotics at the same time to ensure the eradication of the bad bacteria. Both of these antibiotics are strong and the ones I’ve been taking have caused insomnia, an inability to run due to joint concerns, and stomach problems.

With any antibiotic regimen, especially for women, it destroys bacteria indiscriminately. It is killing the H.pylori and all my beneficial bacteria with it. My gut biome that I’ve been trying to nurture these past 8 months or so is currently being destroyed because of these strong antibiotics.

Don’t get me wrong – I am a strong proponent of responsible antibiotic use. I am just mildly annoyed that I need to start over and be particularly mindful of my intake to help nurture a healthy gut biome again.

As a woman, antibiotics are particularly problematic because they also affect the vaginal biome balance. Women report higher levels of yeast infections during or after taking antibiotics because the pH balance gets out of whack. For men (and women), there is an increased chance of getting oral thrush, a form of yeast infection.

That is why it is important for people taking antibiotics find ways to replenish the good bacteria either during the antibiotic regimen or immediately afterward. Probiotics are a great way to get started and there are several ways to painlessly consume them.

What are Probiotics?

In short, they are healthy living bacteria that are meant to keep your gut healthy. They naturally occur in yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut or kimchi, so inevitably at some point, you may have consumed them.

There are various ways to consume them, but before adding them to your diet, make sure to consult with a healthcare professional to be sure they are safe for your health. Certain medical conditions may make probiotic consumption unsafe for immune health so always take the necessary precautions.

My favorite way to increase my probiotic intake during this antibiotic regimen is to drink a bottle of Kombucha a day. Before I started my diet shift I was always wary and slightly grossed out by the stuff, but I’ve since converted to the dark side.

Let me be upfront: this is in no way a sponsored post. I am going to be talking a lot about my favorite brand of Kombucha, GT’s, because I love it that much. This particular brand may not be for you, but don’t worry, there are plenty of other brands that are just as delicious. Read More

Benefits of an Anti-Inflammatory or Mediterranean Diet

One of the things that I have found most beneficial for my MS is to maintain an anti-inflammatory diet. This is because I am lowering my intake of foods that might cause flare-ups such as wheat, dairy, or sugar. It isn’t easy to drop these delicious foods, but it’s doable because there are plenty of delicious recipes available all over the internet and passable alternatives for specific cravings.

Unfortunately, some of the recipes take time and prep and if you are low on energy, that can be discouraging. Making food ahead or finding shortcuts can help minimize food prep-stress.

In the news recently, there’s been a lot of talk about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Looking at the two food pyramids for each diet there’s a lot of similarities between the two. So if you were ever considering doing the Mediterranean, or already on the Mediterranean, then you are maintaining an anti-inflammatory diet.

Food Pyramids

*I am linking to them to respect each site’s copyright.

Comparing the two, Dr. Weil breaks down the Mediterranean Diet in further detail, but each food category is in the same area of the pyramid; there are certain foods types you eat more of and others you eat less of and they overlap. While it may not be 100% the same, the overlaps are significant and the health benefits equitable.

The advantage to recognizing the similarity between the two is it can open up the doors for more recipe options with modifications. When starting new diets, it’s easy to get discouraged by recipe limitations. Having more options available can make the diet shift process smoother and more pleasant.

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