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5 All Abilities Special Needs Playgrounds in Utah (And Tips For Navigating Normal Parks Too!)

I am admittedly not a very fun mom. At least I haven't been the last several years. I've always walked this line of being fun enough that my kids don't go crazy... but not too fun because that would put me in an unpredictable situation that I don't know how Em would react to. I know my kids love being outside though, and I do too, which is why we're making such a huge effort to be an outdoors family this summer through hiking, camping, and playing at parks more often.

One thing that Georgia did well was parks. I felt like each town had at least one special needs playground and we were never lacking in having places to go to keep the kids busy. I've been a little disappointed in that all ability playgrounds are a lot harder to come by in Utah... which is weird since Utah is such a family focused state, and I feel like their is an incredibly large special needs population. I've scoured the internet, and have asked around, and have found six special needs, or all ability playgrounds in Utah. Hopefully one of them is near you to take advantage. 

**Side note. I know a lot of you are going to mention the new park in Bountiful. It is not fully accessible, and there is a HUGE hill by the jungle gym that I'm VERY confident a child just learning to use a gait trainer or wheelchair would get very injured on. I wish they wouldn't reference this park as all abilities because I'm confident that Em would get hurt if we went there.**

1.  Adventure Playground: Located in Logan, Utah at 290 N 400 E in the Whittier Community Center. 

2. Veteran's Memorial Park: Located in West Jordan at 1985 W 7800 S

3. All Together Playground: Located in Orem, Utah at City Center Park, 200-298 100 N Orem, Utah

4. Chloe Sunshine Playground: Located in Syracuse, Utah within Centennial Park, 1800 S 2000 W

5. Thunder Junction: Utah's most well known park in St. George Utah. 1851 S Dixie Drive

Since all ability playgrounds are few and far between, and it's not always practical to travel a long distance to get outdoors with your family, here are a few tips to make navigating typical parks with a special needs child:

1. Know What You're Getting Into: Know which park you're going to and it's terrain before you get there. Don't hop into the car to check out a new park just to find out your child's wheelchair doesn't work on the wood chips, or their gait trainer won't fit between the equipment. Try googling the park ahead of time and see if you can find any pictures on google images so you know what you're up against.

2. Bring Toys With You: If you're going to a park that your child won't be able to access the play structures and equipment, bring toys for them to use there. Is there sand or wood chips that your child can scoop up with a shovel and put into a bucket? Is it padded with a rubber material that they could push trucks and cars onto? Do you have a bubble machine that could occupy them?

3. Dress Your Child For The Terrain: If we're going to a park with lots of sand and grass, I don't pay too much attention to clothing, but if wood chips or rubber padding are involved, I'll likely put Em in pants despite the heat so that she doesn't scratch up her legs. I just recently ordered these knee pads for her from Amazon though, and I'm excited to try them when they get here.

20+ Stroller and Wheelchair Friendly Hikes in Northern Utah

I've mentioned a million times that when we moved to Utah we wanted to make hiking a large part of our lives. It seems almost sinful to live among some of the world's most beautiful mountains, and never take full advantage of them. We are in the process of getting Em a hiking pack so she can hike on Derek and I's back, but it's nice to have stroller friendly option for when Derek is at work and we want to take a short walk around somewhere, or if we just want to do something simple for the day. I've scoured the interned and have rounded up 30 of the best stroller and wheelchair friendly hikes in Northern Utah. If you know of any that I didn't mention, let me know in the comments below!

  1. Kay's Creek Parkway| Layton
  2. Beus Pond| Ogden
  3. Ogden Nature Center| Ogden
  4. City Creek Canyon Trail| Salt Lake City
  5. Cascade Springs| Midway
  6. Farmington Creek Trail| Farmington
  7. Snowbird Barrier Free Trail| Cottonwood Canyon
  8. Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve| Layton
  9. Temple Quary| Little Cottonwood Canyon
  10. Ogden River Parkway| Ogden
  11. American Fork Canyon Nature Trail| American Fork Canyon
  12. Cascade Springs| Alpine Loop
  13. Bridal Veil Falls| Provo Canyon
  14. Hike The U| Salt Lake City
  15. Devil's Kitchen| Nebo Loop
  16. Miller B South Interpretive Trail| Big Cottonwood Canyon
  17. Payson Lakes| Nebo Loop
  18. Dripping Rock| Spanish Fork
  19. Jensen Nature Park| Syracuse
  20. Silver Lake| Big Cottonwood Canyon
  21. Thanksgiving Point Garden ($2 Tuesdays in August!)
  22. Provo River Parkway to Utah Lake from Paul Ream Wilderness Park
  23. Murdock Canal Trail Lehi/Orem
  24. Lagoon Trail| Farmington

Transitioning Em to a Floor Bed

Custom Kid's Furniture provided me with a free house bed in exchange for this post, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

When we moved to Utah and we bought the kids new beds, we knew it was time to transition Em from her crib to a twin size bed. Despite the fact that she isn't walking, and certainly wasn't climbing out of her bed, she was over three-years-old, and due to how tall she is, she was quickly outgrowing her mattress.

We didn't really know what we wanted in a bed for her, so we just put a mattress on the floor, and then enclosed it with a daybed frame, to make another make-shift crib and called it good. This presented a few problems because it made it really awkward for Derek and I to get her in and out of bed each day, and we weren't giving her any independence to move freely in her own bedroom.

I was on Pinterest looking for some bedroom inspiration for Jay and Em for the design process of our new house, and came across this entire world of floor beds, particularly these Montessori inspired house beds, and instantly knew that was the direction that I wanted to take with Em's bedroom.

The benefit to a floor bed is that it is low to the ground and makes a child's bedroom more accessible to them, since they can get in and out of the bed on their own, and should they fall out of bed when they're sleeping, it's a low enough drop that they won't get hurt. When I was reading about this, I loved the idea of making Em's room a place that was accessible for her. She is three-years-old and crawling, so I knew that she would easily be able to get in and out of the bed on her own, and it's proven to be a very positive thing for her over the last several weeks that we've had it.

I also love that the Montessori House Frame Floor bed encourages imagination and creative play. We've had so much fun as a family playing in Em's room since she got this bed. Her and Jay love to go "hide in the house", together, which mostly turns into them making a fort, and Jay reading books to her with a flashlight after school most afternoons. It's become such a fun novelty that I really think has brought our family closer together in so many different ways.

I seriously love nothing more than hearing her crawl out of her room and coming into my room in the morning when she wakes up. I love that she can wake up from her nap and play with toys until I come and get her.

I think one of the challenging aspects of designing a room for Em is the combination of design and function. I feel like all too often we find things that functionally work for Em and her abilities, but they don't necessarily look cute. I love that this Sophia House Frame Floor Bed from Custom Kid's Furniture makes this room function better for Em, without having to compromise on the aesthetics.

Custom Kid's Furniture also has many other variations of the toddler floor bed, including an option for a white or grey finish, one with a chimney, one that's six inches off the ground, and you can purchase them in toddler size, all the way up to a queen. They are such a fun and creative way to make a room more accessible for your little one, special needs or not.

50+ Summer Bucket List Ideas for Utah 2018

To be honest, I've been a little stressed out about having the kids home for the summer. It's been so nice, especially for Em to have the daily structure of preschool in her life everyday. I've been nervous about whether or not I can come up with enough engaging things to do, or things that will take up enough time in our days that we don't feel like we're stuck in the house twiddling our thumbs all summer. I spent about an hour last week coming up with all these summer bucket list ideas, and then I sat down and marked them all into my calendar so that we have a plan of when we're going to do everything. As of right now, I literally have everyday of summer break planned with something. Obviously if something else comes up that is more fun, or we get invited to do something with friends, we'll do that instead, but it's nice to know we have something to do everyday if nothing else.

  1. Hiking (post coming soon with 30+ stroller friendly hikes!)
  2. Drive-In Movies
  3. Mini Golfing
  4. Spiral Jetty at Sunset
  5. Teach Jay to Swim
  6. Lagoon
  7. Fishing
  8. DIY Popsicles: My friend Emily has tons of DIY Popsicles on her site.
  9. DIY Fruit Leather
  10. Nature Scavenger Hunt
  11. Various Toddler Friendly DIY Crafts
  12. Have a Picnic at the Temple
  13. Playground
  14. Fly Kites
  15. Visit a Shaved Ice Stand
  16. Hunt for Painted Rocks
  17. Clark Planetarium
  18. Cherry Hill Water Park
  19. Hogel Zoo
  20. This is The Place
  21. Treehouse Museum
  22. Tracy Aviary
  23. Bean Museum
  24. Thanksgiving Point ($2 Tuesdays in August!)
  25. St. George Children's Museum
  26. Dinosaur Discovery Site
  27. Star Gazing
  28. Camping
  29. Visit a National Park
  30. Swimming
  31. Cinemark Dollar Movies
  32. See a Parade
  33. Splash Pad
  34. Fireworks
  35. Antelope Island
  36. Bounce N Slide
  37. Run a 5k
  38. Visit a Soda Shop
  39. Make Smores
  40. Lake Day
  41. Library Story Time
  42. Alpine Slide
  43. Kids Bowl Free
  44. Water Balloons
  45. Ride Frontrunner to Salt Lake
  46. Make Freezer Jam
  47. See a Waterfall
  48. Golden Spike National Monument
  49. Take a Scenic Drive
  50. Play in Sprinklers
  51. Heber Railway Train
  52. Family Bike Ride
What are some things you're planning in your area this summer? I'd love some more inspiration and ideas, so let me know in the comments below!

Today is Em's Last Day of Preschool

It's hard to believe that today we're closing the door on Em's first year of the developmental preschool. She is officially on summer break, and Jay will soon be joining her in four more days. I didn't have high expectations going into the school year since we had our awful experience with being lied to several times when trying to get her enrolled in Georgia, but this experience has turned out to be above and beyond everything I could have ever expected. 

Em started off the school year pretty rough and cried hard every time I left, and would basically cry off and on the entire time until I came back two hours later. It was hard on her, and on me to be honest. There is nothing worse than leaving your kid somewhere, knowing that they're upset. It's heartbreaking on both ends really. 

After two weeks though, Em became obsessed with preschool and was excited to go back every chance she got. The weekends became dreaded days in our home because Em would beg and beg to go to school, and we would have to tell her over and over that she would have to wait until Monday. 

I was convinced that Em wouldn't learn that much just from going to preschool for two hours a day, but she has excelled so much in the last eight months. She can count to 10 easily, and I think if we worked on it over the summer, she would easily get to 20 (she knows all the numbers to 20, just mixes a couple up every so often). Thanks to school and Youtube Kids, she knows her colors extremely well. Over the last few weeks she has really mastered knowing all of her shapes, and the alphabet is the next thing she's really working on. She can also tell you what every animal is and what sound it makes. She's such a little champ. 

She is also talking so much more. At her IEP meeting in January they told me from what they noticed she was only putting about 2-3 words together at a time, and at home over the last several weeks we've noticed that she's attempting bigger groupings of 4-5. She's even using big words like, "delicious", which I happen to think is the cutest thing ever. 

The physical changes that have taken place though are huge. She went into the school year barely sitting and now she crawls, pulls to stand, can go up and down stairs, walk in a gait trainer, push herself in a wheelchair, and most recently, she has learned to pedal a bike (although that wasn't really learned in preschool but still happened this year!) It's been amazing to see her going from relying on us for everything, to really becoming very independent. 

From a fine motor standpoint, Em can hold a pencil in a tripod grip, and has learned to feed herself with utensils very well. I remember in Georgia they were unwilling to teach eating with utensils to Em unless we sent her to school in the mornings for breakfast and were super condescending to us about the task, and here they naturally just taught her how to use them... I've mentioned how I have zero respect for the teacher in Georgia we were assigned to right? 

Overall, Em's first year of preschool was amazing. I feel like we were truly blessed to be able to find such a kind group of teachers and aids who really made Em feel like a million bucks in school each day, and they really helped to make the school year amazing for her. I have so much respect for special education teachers, and how they willingly dedicate their life to the upbringing of those with disabilities. It is such a hard job for me as a parent, and they go out and serve and love an entire classroom each day. Her teachers truly are angels, and I couldn't be more grateful for them. 

What's Next For Me With Running

It's been almost a month since I ran the Salt Lake Marathon, and I've spent the last several weeks spinning around different ideas of things that I want to do and accomplish over the next few months. Right after finishing, I thought that I was going to want to hit it hard with training again, and get in shape for a fall marathon, but to have the build up that I want for a fall race, I would have to start training hard again right now, and that didn't leave a lot of room for me to work on other goals that I want to hit.

Ever since I got my 2:01:57 at The Sun Half Marathon in February, getting sub two in the half marathon has been a huge goal for me to hit by the end of the year. I obviously couldn't really work on that goal while marathon training, and now that the marathon is out of the way, I have two races in the next few weeks where I'm going to try and make it happen. 

At the last minute I jumped in and registered for The Ogden Half Marathon this Saturday. This will be another PR attempt at the half marathon distance, and I'm hoping to get just a little bit closer to the sub two mark, if not hit it all together. It's expected to rain, which works in my favor because I would much rather run cold than run hot, so I'm actually looking forward to that. 

Then a few weeks later I have Drop 13 in June. Drop 13 is a completely downhill race, and should weather conditions work in my favor and not be too hot, I'm confident that I will get my sub two half marathon here once and for all. I've been looking forward to this race for months, and it will be fun to see how I measure up, and where my fitness is at after nine months of consistent training. I'm hoping for a big PR here. In my mind, I'm hitting sub two in Odgen, and want to try and get 1:50 at Drop 13. We'll see how that pans out. 

For the summer, I really want to cut back on the distance dramatically. I am not a summer runner by any means, and so I thought that this would be an awesome opportunity to work on my 5k time. I set a really big goal to get a sub 25 minute 5k. I don't have a race in mind, and don't have a plan made to accomplish this goal at all, but I'm hoping to train hard for it through July and August, and then jump into a race in September and see how it all comes together.

As far as my next marathon, I'm shooting for somewhere between February-April of 2019. I don't have the exact race picked out yet, but I feel like this will give me enough time to work through my shorter distance goals that I want to work on over the next few weeks, and then I can dedicate my beloved cold winter months to the marathon like I did this last year.  Recovering from the Marathon was a lot harder for me than I thought it would be, and I want to respect that recovery time by not rushing into another marathon right away. I really want to shave off 40 minutes on my marathon time the next time I attempt the distance, so when I find my perfect race, and training plan, I'll be sure to share the details when they unfold. 

My Go-To Running Products

If you follow me regularly over here, or on my instagram, you know that over the last six months, running has become a major part of my life again. There is something about the combination of me, and living in Utah that just draws me to running. I just love it here more than anywhere else we've ever lived, and I want it to continue to be a part of my life, big or small for as long as I can. 

When I started running long distance after high school I was a very minimal runner. Give me an ipod and a pair of shoes (and sometimes no shoes at all... I did 15 miles in a pair of socks once!), and I was good to go! Now that I'm getting older, wiser, tracking paces more, and trying to keep my body and skin as healthy as possible, there are a number of products that I rely on almost daily. I know a lot of people that follow me were interested in knowing what some of my favorite products for running are, so I thought I'd share them in a cohesive post over here so that they can be found all in one spot. 

Garmin Vivoactive HR: This was my big Christmas gift for 2017 and I love how versatile of a watch it is. You can use it for swimming, biking, running, and many more sports, and it has a huge battery life. I was going to get an apple watch but then saw that this watch can hold a battery for up to several weeks, and can be used in GPS mode for up to 30 hours, which far surpasses the battery of an apple watch. I also love that the bluetooth connects to my phone so I can see text messages on my wrist while I'm running!

Hoka One One Clifton: These have been my go to running shoes. They're heavily cushioned which I fine works well for my back, which is prone to injury. I feel like it really cushions the impact, and keeps me feeling strong. I'm in the market for a new pair and will likely get another pair of these Hoka One One Clifton's or try their Hupana line.

Hat: I'm at the age where I'm noticing sun spots and all the things on my skin. I got a hat to help keep my facial skin healthy, and I've been really liking this one so far. It comes in a ton of different colors, and is just a super inexpensive and great hat for running.

Sunglasses: I never thought I needed sunglasses for running until we moved here and I run towards the west every night after dinner. The sun seriously blinds me! These glasses are super inexpensive, don't bounce on my face, and are also polarized!

Gatorade Protien: These protein drinks are my favorite after I do a long run (usually 12+miles). They have 20 grams of protein and a ton of carbs to refuel glycogen stores after they've been depleted through a hard run or race. They're not ideal if your trying to cut weight or be a body builder, but are perfect for running recovery.

Bottle Caps: Below you'll see the water bottle I love, but I prefer a sports cap that you can push up and down, so these have been perfect to replace the cap that came with my Nathan Bottle that I love.

Nathan Bottle: I wanted this water bottle because it held 16oz and was a little bigger than typical hand held bottles. I also love that the zipper pocket is large enough to hold my phone  (iPhone SE probably wouldn't hold a larger newer model), and a couple energy gels.

BCAAs: I haven't used these much since I stopped Crossfit, but then my chiropractor who runs ultras mentioned that he used them in his water bottle while he did his training runs, and so I started using them again. They're awesome for recovery and to help reduce soreness.

Powerbar Gels: These are my running "GUs" of choice, or commonly referred to as energy gels. These particular ones have a combination of carbs and caffeine which work well to keep me going during long training runs and races.

Asics Socks: I used to not care about what socks I ran in until my seven year old socks from Target started giving me huge blisters. Then I bought these Asics ones a few months ago and there is no going back for me. They stay in place, are thick, but not too thick, and I don't get blisters anymore.

Foam Roller: I don't use this as much as I should, and I actually have it from when I did Crossfit, but this was crucial to marathon recovery for me. My hamstrings felt like death, and then after two weeks I finally used this and felt a million times better. Foam rollers are awesome for stretching out and massaging those worn out muscles.

Lacrosse Ball: I bought this from my chiropractor to roll out my hip and back muscles when I was injured a while back, but I've also found it works amazing for rolling out my feet. My arches have been giving me some problems lately and this has been amazing for that. Now if only my kids would stop stealing it to play with it.

Apple Ear Buds: I know everyone always wants to know what ear buds other people like, and I've honestly have always loved the ones that are from Apple that have come with our phones and iPods over the years. We have about 10 pairs floating through the house and they fit my ears perfectly. I realize that I'm in the minority though of people that love these.