Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Firewood Factory

Have you guys been to the Firewood Factory?! If you haven't, you must go!

With the weather slowly creeping up to a summer-like temperature, Andrew and I were planning a little family backyard camp-out this weekend, but needed a little extra dry wood to get our fire going, so we thought it would be cool to take Brennen down to the woodlot and check out all that goes on there!

The Firewood Factory is a local, family-run business, owned and operated by Luke and Kaylen Janes. All of their wood is sustainably sourced from harvesters in central Newfoundland, and is seasoned over several months to ensure it reaches a moisture content of less than 20% (ideal for burning).

I actually lived on the same street as Luke a long time ago when we were kids (shoutout to Riverside Drive!!) It was nice to reconnect with him so many years later, and to meet his beautiful family, that now includes three mini-lumberjacks! I remember Luke as the little boy down the road with rubber boots and a fishing pole.. and he hasn't changed a bit! His rubber boots are bigger (and probably steel-toe) but he is still in his element when he is working outdoors.

We had a tour of the woodlot and took Brennen for a walk around to experience all that it had to offer. He loved the sounds of the machinery.. and the smell of all of that freshly-cut birch and black spruce was to die for! We honestly could have stayed there all day.

Um, also, no big deal, but I DROVE A TRACTOR!!! After taking a picture of Brennen by the big CAT, Luke asked me to hop in and he gave me an impromptu lesson in how to drive and operate the machine! You guys, it was the coolest thing! I ended up attaching a scoop, driving around the lot and into the warehouse to pick up a load of wood! A big check mark on my bucket list!

I am so grateful to Luke and Kaylen for making this such a cool experience for my family. Brennen loved it there, and I had an absolute blast!

This is Gunner - the family's 11 year old baby who loves spending time at the woodlot. He is a gentle giant and an unofficial Firewood Factory mascot. He was super chill, and just wanted to hang out in the shade. I could totally relate.

We came home from the Firewood Factory with several campfire bundles and a large crate of kindling, perfect for our backyard camp-out! 

We enjoyed a delicious dinner of pan-fried cod, beans and toutons inside the house before coming out to roast marshmallows over the fire. 
Brennen loves a good marshmallow!

.. and when he smiles like this I can't help but feel as if every painful moment of the past few years has led us up to today and has been so completely worth it.

Nothing could have prepared me for this parenting journey. The difficulties have been significant, but even more indescribable is the immense joy that frequently threatens to make my heart explode right out of my chest. I love my boy for teaching me what really matters in life.

THIS. This is what life is all about. These are my people.

What a wonderful way to spend the weekend! The thick perfume of citronella and wood smoke is embedded deep into the fibers of everything that made its way back into the house, but I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thank you to our friends at the Firewood Factory for helping us create such special memories!

Monday, July 8, 2019

Weekend Adventures

This past weekend, Andrew and I escaped the city and headed out around the bay to the quaint little town of Winterton. I wrote about our vacation out there last summer (see HERE) - that was quite a different experience because we had three children with us at that time. This weekend, however, was just for the two of us.

We stayed in Winterton for two nights but spent most of our time exploring the nearby communities. Andrew and I have so much fun taking pictures of our beautiful surroundings, and every now and then we will set the camera up on a rock or other flat(ish) surface in hopes of capturing us both in the same shot. It doesn't always work out, but sometimes we luck out with a beauty like this one! Nailed it on the first try!

The lighthouse at Bloody Point in New Perlican wasn't anything spectacular, but it offered an incredible view of New Perlican Harbour and the waters of Trinity Bay. Colourful fishing stages can be found in the harbours of many communities in this area. I never get tired of them!

The lighthouse at Heart's Content was more impressive, with its almost 30 foot cast-iron tower that has withstood the rigours of the Newfoundland coast for over one hundred years. We were completely enraptured with the town's history - being one of Newfoundland's oldest enduring fishing settlements, and having a unique role in international communications, with the first successful landing of a transatlantic submarine telegraph cable. There is lots to learn and discover out this way!

While we didn't intend for this trip to be a tour of lighthouses, we did find ourselves stopping to check out any that we passed along the way. 
The Hant's Harbour lighthouse on the western side of the Bay de Verde Peninsula was another beauty that we couldn't help but explore. 

I think the highlight of our weekend was hiking the Sugarloaf Trail near Winterton up to the lookout over Trinity Bay. The hike was quite steep, and I was nearly dead by the time we got to the top, but the views were amazing, and it was well worth the effort!

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!"

On our way home, we drove through Heart's Delight, Cavendish, Green's Harbour, and Dildo, where we stopped for lunch at the Dildo Dory Grill (highly recommended!) These are the iconic fishing stages in Cavendish that have become famous from provincial tourism ads. They are sweet, but the harbours of Winterton and New Perlican are much more colourful and impressive, in my opinion.

We had a wonderful weekend of adventures and have now returned to our cozy home in Logy Bay. We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful province, where just an hour from home can feel like a resort destination. Andrew actually said this little trip ranked up there with our vacation in Mexico a few years ago.. and I have to agree! There is nothing better than waking up in the morning on the edge of the ocean and breathing in the salt sea air. We spent the evenings strolling the side roads of Winterton, going off the beaten path and living life the way it is meant to be lived - slow and unplugged. We drank tea with our feet up by the wood stove, talked a lot, and made sweet memories that we will treasure for years to come.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Tulip Tales: Amelia

I am so excited to share the story of a precious little girl named Amelia. Her Mom, Veronica and I met several years ago, before Amelia was born, and we have since reconnected at the Janeway Children's Hospital. I asked Veronica some questions about her daughter, and have decided to share her answers exactly as I received them. Raw and real. Meet Amelia.

Tell me a little bit about your family.

We are a small family. My husband is an only child and I have one brother. Our three children are the only grandchildren on both sides. Our boys, Greg & Mace, are 16 & 14 respectively. Amelia is the 'Bonus Baby' - she came along when her youngest brother was 11. She's 3 now.

What is your daughter's diagnosis?

Her full diagnosis is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (Pre B). When she was diagnosed last summer, her Platelets were 1 and her Hemoglobin was 54. Both readings are critical - potentially fatal for the platelets! She had 82% Leukemia blasts in her bones and 35% in her blood! Now she shows no signs of disease, but as Leukemia is known to hide from current medical technology, she will continue with chemotherapy through September 2020.

When and how did you find out there was something wrong?

We were camping at Terra Nova on Canada Day weekend last year. She was running to her brother and I noticed a limp. I couldn't explain it. I'm home with her all the time and hadn't seen this before. I called the doctor when we got back to town, and had an appointment for Wednesday morning, which was the next day after the long weekend. While in the doctor's office, she bled from her gums. Our doctor sent us straight to Emergency and called to let them know we were on the way. Those were her only symptoms, other than a brief fever that came and went within hours on Monday night and a rash that I noticed on Tuesday, which I now know to be petechiae.  

By the end of the day on Wednesday, they were preparing us for the likelihood that it was cancer and her blood work confirmed her diagnosis the next day.

Tell us about the treatments she has had to date and what her treatment plan is for the future.

Amelia spent two weeks in the hospital following her initial diagnosis. She had 11 blood transfusions during that period. A port was installed in her chest through which to administer the chemotherapy for the next few years. This is safer and easier than having to use an IV every time, especially when chemo is sometimes given as much as four times a week. She didn't wake up from the surgery to install the port and spent five days in ICU. One day when they tried to wake her up her responses were abnormal and they sent her for testing that revealed a small pool of blood in the back of her head and they thought she may have had a seizure. That was a scary time. But she woke up a couple of days later.

Chemotherapy for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) is administered in 6 phases. Each phase is a little different with phase 1/Induction being the most intense. She received her first chemo into her spine during the surgery to install the port and they continued with it per protocol even when she was in ICU. Phases 1-5 last anywhere from 28-56 days. Sometimes there is a delay due to low blood counts, then they have to wait for her to reach a minimum level of health to continue. Most of her chemo has been textbook. She is only delayed 9-10 weeks from textbook. During these phases she received chemo (most often vincristine and methotrexate among others) through her port anywhere from once every 10 days to 4 out of 7 days. She also had several medications to take at home (i.e.: 6MP, methotrexate, dexamethasone).

Right now she is in the final and longest phase - phase 6/Maintenance. This is to attack any lingering leukemia/cancer cells that can't be detected by today's technology. She gets chemo through her port now only once every 28 days, followed by steroids twice a day for 5 days. I give her another chemo drug every night and yet another once a week. She will continue with this phase/routine until September 2020.

Since her chemo began she takes an antibiotic, Septra, 3 days a week as well, and has Zofran and Ranidine on hand for the side effects of nausea and irritated belly from the various cocktails of meds she takes. Her immune system is compromised during her chemotherapy and will be for 6 months afterwards.

How has your daughter's illness affected your family?  

It was life altering. And I thought we'd been through that already. My Dad went into the hospital unexpectedly in October 2013 and stayed in critical care for 9 months until he passed in July of 2014. I found out I was pregnant 6 months later. Amelia is that baby. She brought the laughter and joy back to everyone. She was everything you could want in a surprise baby - happy, easy to care for. Just a delight. To have her get sick, when she had just set my world right-side-up again, it was devastating. But you push through. What else can you do when it is your baby? It was a rough summer. The boys got out of school on a Thursday for summer vacation and by the following Thursday they were told their sister had cancer. Amelia didn't understand why she was in the hospital and not home, or why she couldn't go back camping. 

Overall, it has made me even more grateful for my children, husband, family and friends. Amelia is one heck of a fighter. So resilient. Her brothers are amazing. They have taken extra responsibility and odd schedules and the hectic chemo life all in stride. They adore her and she adores them. My husband and I know we can face anything together. Our friends and family have been wonderful support. Our fathers have passed but our moms ROCK. My mom helps a lot with Amelia since my husband went back to work last fall (he was home the first couple of months). I am unbelievably proud of Amelia, Greg & Mace!!!

How has Amelia impacted your older children?

They were always doting big brothers, but I think it has made them even more aware of how much they love their sister. They wanted a sister even before we knew we were expecting. Watching them with her, I know they will be fantastic fathers should they choose to have children! There is the realization with her illness that anyone can become seriously ill at any time. How precious life is. That has hit home. But I think they are also learning that you roll with what you're faced with. We have continued to make good memories and make the most of our family time together. 

What are your hopes for your daughter?

Oh my! A long, happy, healthy life! Minimal late effects from chemotherapy. That she knows that after conquering cancer she can do anything. That she knows how much she is loved. 

How has this experience changed your outlook on life?

I feel so much more connected to other people. To my friends and family who have shown up for us. To the nurses, doctors and staff who care for her. To the other parents of Childhood Cancer patients and of all sick children. One mom said to me that it's a club... One where the admission is way too high, but a loving club when you're there. She's right.

I am more likely to advocate for the charities I believe in. Where once I wouldn't want to bother you, now I will flat out ask you if you can donate to Camp Delight (for childhood cancer patients and their siblings) or if you are going to give blood! It makes me realize that anyone could be getting life shattering news at any time. When someone cuts me off in traffic I give them the benefit of the doubt. I think to myself that they could have just found out their kid has cancer, or their parent is in ICU. It makes me even more adamant in my belief that we should all be kind to one another, we can all do better and should try to do so everyday. I try to "Hope for the best, deal with the rest" and not get caught up in the details of a bad day.

I know that Amelia has relied on blood transfusions. Can you tell us why donating blood is so important?

Amelia had 11 blood transfusions in less than two weeks. I watched that blood go into her knowing it was keeping her alive. I learned that blood has a short shelf life. Platelets last only about 7 days! There is a constant need of donors to refresh the supply. Blood often has to be sent in from other provinces when we don't have an adequate supply on hand. Donations dwindle during peak vacation times but the need for blood doesn't, so it is important to donate as often as you can.

Blood donors give such an intimate gift. It is so much more than blood - it is the opportunity to live, love, learn, run, walk, jump! It is life-saving. Some people need blood almost every day and others only during a short period, like Amelia. But it could be any of us at any time! And in order to save a life, the supply has to be there!

Please donate blood in Amelia's honour on July 5th!  
7 Wicklow Street, St. John's 9-1pm, or your nearest Canadian Blood Services clinic! 
1-888- 2DONATE. Keep the supply going for other children like Amelia!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Outdoor Inclusion Summit

Last week, I attended the inaugural Outdoor Inclusion Summit, facilitated by TA Loeffler and Tomás Aylward. The goal of the Summit was to bring practitioners, students, individuals and/or families experiencing disability, and community organizations together to share their stories, experiences, and visions for inclusive outdoor recreation.

Dr. TA Loeffler is an educator, adventurer, nature advocate, author, and professional keynote speaker from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. She brings 30 years of expertise leading people through significant life-changing experiences to every facet of her work. Her work and adventures have taken her to 45 different countries and all seven continents. TA has completed 6 and 4/5 of “The Seven Summits,” the highest peaks on all seven continents! In 2015, TA was named to the “Canada’s Greatest Explorers 100 Modern-Day Trailblazers List” by Canadian Geographic.

As a Professor of Outdoor Recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland, TA has developed a reputation for excellence in experiential education because her students are more likely to be outside chasing icebergs than sitting in a classroom. TA inspires hope, possibility, and vision in those whose lives she touches. Over the past 15 years, TA has shared her message of “Big Dreams, Big Goals” with over 100,000 youth in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

TA believes that we all long for a balanced, engaged, and creative life that challenges us to be the best we can possibly be. She models this belief in her life on a daily basis and combines her broad range of skills to inspire all to create the life they truly want.

Tomás Aylward joined us from Tralee, Ireland, where he has been teaching Outdoor & Experiential Learning modules at the Institute of Technology, Tralee (ITTralee) for the past 16 years. He lectures on degree programs in Outdoor Learning, Health & Leisure studies, Adapted Physical Activity and Field Biology/Wildlife Tourism. He continues to have an evolving outdoor learning practice with influences from adventure sports as well as experiential education and environmental education.

The Summit included a combination of keynote presentations, discussion, and workshops related to inclusive outdoor recreation. After some instructional time in the morning, we spent most of the afternoon outside, stepping out of our comfort zones and experiencing the outdoors in ways that we might not have ever before. Some participants tried navigating the grounds of Easter Seals House in a mobility device, some of us were blindfolded, eliminating our sense of sight, or some wore noise-cancelling headphones, reducing our sense of hearing. It was incredible to see how drastically our experience of the world is altered when our senses are impaired. You quickly learn to depend more on your other working senses.. and to rely more on others for help!

There were a number of different pieces of adaptive equipment available to try throughout the day. There was a TrailRider (which we previously borrowed, and I wrote about HERE), as well as a Hippocampe (see HERE). It was great to be able to try these different pieces of equipment first-hand, to ask questions about their use, and to see them demonstrated on all types of terrain. 

Here I am testing out the GRIT Freedom Chair. What a workout! The GRIT Freedom Chair is an all-terrain wheelchair built for every type of adventure. It is a lever-driven wheelchair that comes armed with rugged mountain bike wheels, a big, sturdy front wheel that doesn’t get stuck, and optional trail handles, allowing you to choose your own custom journey. (TA was spotting me here because I wasn't so great with the steering!)

We had a lot of great discussion about the importance of getting outside, regardless of your physical ability, and it made me think about the things that we do as a family and how we can incorporate more outdoor recreation into our lives. It can be tricky here in Newfoundland, because the weather doesn't always cooperate when we want it to, but we recognize how important it is for our health and well-being to spend time in nature, away from screens and electronics, enjoying our natural surroundings.

When I think of some of my all-time favourite moments, the majority of them involve some sort of outdoor adventure rooted in nature. I think of days that Andrew and I spent hiking on the East Coast Trail, or walking the beach in Mexico, or snowshoeing across a frozen pond. Most recently, we took Brennen in a TrailRider up to the top of Red Cliff (see HERE), and my heart still skips a beat when I think of the magnitude of that. It was something I never though we could ever do, but we tried, and we did it, and it turned out to be one of those moments that I will rank up there with the greatest of all time. Perhaps it has something to do with taking risks, conquering our fears, venturing beyond our natural confines, and realizing that we can do more than we think we can if we put our hearts and minds to it. Brennen loved our adventure, and we loved being able to share that incredible experience with him. It won't be our last.

I came away from this Summit feeling so inspired by TA and Tomás and the passion that they both have for the outdoors. I am grateful for the fact that they are committed to inclusion and exploring how we can provide support and opportunities for individuals to access the outdoors regardless of barrier or disability. The truth is that everybody should be able to enjoy their natural surroundings, and there are ways to make that happen. Physical activity and time outdoors is paramount to health and happiness, and no one should be excluded from nature for any reason.

We are looking forward to creating more adventures of our own this summer, and while they may not all provide the adrenaline rush of a mountain hike, or include a trip to a volcanic island, there are adventures to be had in our own backyard, and we are determined to find them!