Tips for Hiking with Kids

hiking with kids

Hiking is one of my favorite past times, especially in the summer. It takes you to areas in nature that you would not be able to explore otherwise.

This is one of the many reasons I love sharing this experience with my children, as not only is it important to expose children to these kinds of experiences at a young age, it is another way to nurture their natural curiousity and love of the outdoors.

Hiking with children can be a very rewarding and enjoyable experience, if you plan your hike well and ensure you have what is needed than your experience will be successful overall, and the kids will want to go again (Now this does not totally prevent melt downs or life mishaps but it greatly reduces them).

Tips for Hiking with Kids

Getting Started

When taking kids on a hike there are a few things to consider:

hiking with kidsPick a hike that is suitable for the child and their hiking level – so if this is their first hike ever you do not want to take them on a 10 km hike regardless of their age. You also need to consider their age. Children who are young, like 2 or 3 could probably manage a short hike of a kilometer or two with breaks and things to look at along the way. While a child who is 8 might be able to do 5 km. You also want to consider the child, how active they are and how much walking they do in a regular day.

Pick a hike that they can finish successfully. Which means they can get to the end without feeling tired or grumpy, with some energy left over, and they would like to go further. This will also help eliminate breakdowns, you having to drag them to the end or a refusal to go on another hike. For example, if you think they can do 5 km, start with 3km so that they feel successful when they are done and work up to 5 km for the next hike.

What to Bring:

Water – make sure you bring at least a full water bottle per person, more if it’s a hot day. Hydration is key to keeping energy up and fatigue down. It also helps moderate mood.

Food – bring kid friendly high energy snacks and lunch (depending on the length of your hike). When children are fed and feeling full they are happy. This also keeps their energy up.

Clothing – even if it is a hot sunny day always pack rain coat and rain pants, an extra sweater, long pants and a few extra layers. The weather can change quickly, especially if you are hiking in the mountains, and when kids are cold and wet they are not happy, and neither are you!

hiking with kidsProper footwear – now you don’t have to run out and buy the kids fancy hiking boots, especially when you are just starting out, but ensure that the kids have good sturdy footwear – so sneakers, not sandals, and socks in their runners (this helps wick away moisture and prevent blisters). You want something with a good tread and closed toes. As you go hiking more often and start doing more challenging or longer trails, then would be a good time to look at a hiking shoe that is more sturdy and supports and protects the ankle.

Backpack – it is very important that each child have their own backpack and carry their own stuff. Depending on their age this could be as simple as a backpack and their light jacket inside or their lunch (and you carry the rest). If you start teaching them from the beginning that when you hike you all have your own backpack and carry your own gear, they will just accept that that’s how it works. Then as they grow, they can start carrying more in their packs, until they are carrying all their gear. It is also important that the backpack fits them properly, so snug and close to the back, not the straps hanging loose and the pack dragging at their bum. If their pack is not comfortable that is not going to make for a happy experience.

Sunscreen – another element in protecting the skin and avoiding heat exhaustion is using sunscreen. Burning the skin can dehydrate you faster and zap your energy. It is also very uncomfortable and can make anyone grumpy. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 60 for children. You can also use an after sun spray or natural cooling mist to help keep the skin cool.

Bug Spray – protect the skin from mosquitoes and more with an effective bug repellent. No one enjoys being eaten alive or feeling red and itchy after bugs! And children seem to be especially yummy for some reason. Spray all uncovered areas prior to going on your hike and reapply as needed. If you’d prefer a natural repellent instead of those chemical mixes try out this DIY recipe using essential oils.

First Aid Kit – be prepared for bumps and bruises, small cuts and scrapes by carrying a first aid kit. Include things like bands aids, tea tree essential oil (for cleansing), lavender for soothing, mole skin for preventing blisters, correct x for bumps and bruises, tweezers, safety pins, etc.

On the Hike:

essential oils for hikersSet realistic expectations – like mentioned above pick a hike that the kids can complete successfully and enjoy. Don’t push for that big long hike, uphill the first time out.

Start early – kids are freshest in the morning (as are you) so take advantage of that and hit the trail early in the day as opposed to the afternoon, even if it is a short hike that you’ll be done by noon.

Take regular breaks – even though you may be able to go for longer periods, allow breaks for the kids. Encourage them to take a sip of water on the breaks, and at some, not all, maybe a snack. Now don’t dilly dally and stop every 5 minutes or you’ll never get to the end, but allow them time to stop a moment and let their body rest periodically. Remember they are getting used to it!

Allow time to explore – Kids naturally love to explore so allow some time for that on your hike. This could be in the form of an activity you do with them or simply stopping and looking around an area for a few minutes. It is important to be mindful though about staying on the trail as well as staying safe. Teaching them good trail etiquette is part of the experience so set boundaries and guidelines for their exploration.

hiking with kidsTeach them about plants and flowers – there is a lot along the hiking trail that kids wouldn’t normally see in the city. Learn about a few plants and flowers and show them those along the way. Take a guide book as well for both yourself and the kids to look at if they wish. Tell them what they are by the proper name, encourage them not to pick them (and share with them why – that if you pick them in some instances it kills the plant altogether, and no one else can enjoy them). Only point out 2 or 3 on a hike (unless they ask about a specific one), that way it’s unique and fun for them, plus they may be more apt to remember what you told them. It’s ok if they don’t remember the name when you ask them later, they may the next time.

Benefits of Hiking with Kids

Hiking with kids provides many benefits not only for them but for yourself as well. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy some time technology free and to bond with your child. You’ll connect with them in a way that you can’t at home cause there are too many distractions. I’ve had some wonderful conversations with my kids while hiking that I would not have at home.

It gets them out in nature. The benefits of being out in nature for children (and adults too) are numerous; such as boosts your energy and immune system, elevates mood, reduces stress and improves physical health. It is also important for us as human beings to simply connect with nature.

It nurtures their natural curiosity. Children are born with a natural curiosity to figure out how the world works. Nurturing their curiosity, fosters their desire to learn and helps them to become life long learners.

It creates positive memories. I was pleasantly surprised when recently my oldest son rhymed off all the hikes we’ve been on and what the highlights were of each (he’s now 14). He even remembered some things that I had not. We have great pictures, great stories and lots of smiles. And he’ll still go hiking with me, which at almost 15 and finding it challenging to find things to do together, I totally love and appreciate.

Keeping these tips in mind and some pre-planning will help create a very positive hiking experience for kids, as well as for you! It will create wonderful memories and an activity that you can continue to do together as they get older.

hiking with kids

Stay tuned for some of our favorite hikes for kids in Alberta that will be featured over the next few weeks…

Top 8 Essential Oils for Hiking

essential oils for hiking

Hiking is one of those summer activities that I really love. It’s one of those go anywhere activities that is always an adventure, an exploration of the natural space around you and different every time. It’s inexpensive and is available to everyone of all ages and all levels. All you really need is a good pair of hiking boots. (Ok I know to hike safely there’s a few more things you should bring – backpack, first aid kit, water, etc. – but in essence your equipment is minimal and it can be an inexpensive but very enjoyable activity).

Hiking also provides us with many health benefits from strengthening your core, lowering blood pressure and improving your balance. Not to mention the benefits of simply being out in nature (like leaving that technology behind!) I always feel fantastic after a day of hiking, whether it’s been a 3 km loop on a flat trail or a good hike up the side of a mountain. I always feel more alive and invigorated than when I left.

What does not always feel so great though are some of the after effects of hiking. From sore achy muscles (especially if this is my first hike of the season), to possibly a few scrapes and bruises or some insect bites. Even though sometimes that nice all over achy feeling can be a good feeling, I like to avoid the “Oh my God now it hurts to move” the next day.

Last summer, quite by accident, I discovered a combination to help reduce these aches and pains and a few other hiking ‘side effects’ while using my essential oils. I had been an avid user of essential oils for the past year and was discovering more and more about their benefits and uses. I just naturally started to bring them along on trips as I usually needed an oil for something. What I hadn’t though about yet was how I could use them specifically for hiking.

essential oils for hikers

I had just done a hike with the kids around Moraine Lake, which is near Lake Louise. It was only a short hike that day, but we had done a bit of climbing and I was already starting to feel achy. Taking what I knew, I quickly decided to take a drop of Frankincense internally* and apply some Deep Blue to my muscles. (I love Deep Blue, I think it is one of the most amazing blends for aches and pains. I love how it penetrates and gives you that nice cooling feeling). Then I carried on with the evening making supper and sitting around the fire. The next day when I woke up I fully expected to be at least a little bit achy. But to my surprise I wasn’t at all! I was thrilled! and happily put my boots on again for another hike with the kids, this time a 12 km adventure.

Top 8 Essential Oils for Hiking

This also made me think about what other essential oils would be beneficial for hiking and enjoying the outdoors. So I explored more and as a result give you the Top 8 Essential Oils for Hiking (really must have’s don’t leave home without them list).

  1. essential oils for hikersFrankincense – supports cellular health and cellular restructure and rebuilding. Perfect for supporting healing those muscles after a hike or any workout.
  2. Deep Blue – formulated to soothe and cool, this wonderful blend does just that. It reminds me of my Grandpa’s old formula of A5-35, but nicer smelling and all natural! Apply topically where needed.
  3. Peppermint – this one does a lot for hikers. It supports opening up your airways, can soothe aches and pains as well as cools and refreshes (place a drop on the back of the neck) when your feeling hot. It is also a wonderful oil for giving you an energy boost – you know if you need it to get up that last little bit to the top.
  4. Eucalyptus – is the oil of wellness, so great all around for hiking to feel well – will also open up your airways. Apply 1-2 drops topically across the chest.
  5. essential oils for hikersWild Orange – is an uplifting and energizing oil. You probably already feel great cause your outside enjoying the outdoors, but that extra little lift wouldn’t hurt, nor that boost of energy to get to the top! Drop 1-2 drops into your hands, rub them together, cup gently over the nose and mouth and inhale deeply for 30-60 seconds.
  6. Cypress – this one is excellent when hiking at higher elevations as it provides circulatory support. Use 1 drop topically across the chest.
  7. Lavender – eases sore achy muscles, supports anti inflammatory and is great for reducing itchiness from bug bites! Apply topically where needed.
  8. Myrrh – has powerful cleansing properties and when combined with lavender (which is also anti fungal and anti bacterial) in a spray bottle makes an excellent foot spray to use in your hiking boots to prevent foot fungus.

**Essential oils can be used 3 ways, aromatically, topically and internally. Depending on the intended outcome (and kind of oil) will depend on how best to use it.

I use these in a combination of ways from preventative to after care. I usually do my frank and deep blue combination after the hike, but often use my peppermint topically across the chest before heading out and I always take a drop of Wild Orange in my hands rub them together and breathe deeply before I start any day.

Depending on what kind of hike I am doing I’ll use the cypress topically for the higher elevation hikes and I always spray my boots with the lavender myrrh combination before heading out.

Of course I bring a little ‘mini’ first aid kit of these oils (and a few others) so I have them on hand should the need arise – like Lavender for bug bites and Terra Shield for bug repellent. I pack them in small dram bottles which does not take up much room in my pack and I have been very glad to have them on many occasion.

essential oils for hiking

Essential oils are such wonderful things! and can do so many things for us in supporting our health and wellness, both on a physical and emotional level. If you’re interested in learning more about essential oils or would like to give some of these a try on your next hike, contact me and I’d love to help you out.

*Note: not all essential oils are safe to ingest. Depending on what oil it is and what brand (as not all essential oils are created equally due to growing practices, extraction of the oil, etc. There are also currently no regulations or guidelines on producing essential oils in Canada) Ensure you research the brand of essential oil you are using to be sure.

The Perfumes of Nature – Outdoor Nature Activities for Kids

essential oils for hikers

One of the many things I love about the outdoors is all the wonderful smells! The smell of a spring rain, wet leaves, the cherry blossoms, the scent of pinecones, even dirt. And I love when the kids come in and they have what I call that ‘outside smell’, where they just smell of sun, fresh air and the outdoors.

Kids also love to smell stuff! In fact, it is one of the many wonderful things about children how they always have their noses in something, they’re willingness to explore and how they naturally just use all their senses when they are learning.

In learning about nature especially, we engage all 5 senses and smell is no exception! In fact, we get the most out of our learning experience outdoors when we are engaging all of our senses. It becomes just that much more of a cool experience. Smell is a unique one as we often take for granted the smells that we experience when we’re outside, and may not consciously notice them unless they are quite strong or overpowering, and though we appreciate all the wonderful smells outdoors,  we don’t always single them out (except maybe when you’re near a cow paddie!).

Taking the time to do an activity with kids that singles out the different smells in nature can be quite a fascinating experience. Having them learn and identify the smells individually helps them to heighten their outdoor experience and learn to appreciate another aspect of our beautiful natural world.

Identifying the Smells of Nature

In this simple activity we are going to help children identify different smells in nature and learn where they would find them.

You will need:

  • 10 small mason jars or other small containersniffing jars
  • blindfolds
  • dirt
  • dandelions
  • rocks
  • bark
  • pinecone
  • grass
  • bird feather
  • pine needles
  • small stick
  • poplar fluff
  • dry leaves
  • any other nature items you’d like to add

*Note: when gathering your nature items only pick items up off the ground, breaking branches or picking leaves off trees is not encouraged and could actually damage or kill whatever you’re taking it from.

Part 1:

Place one item in each of the containers. Have children sit in a circle with their eyes closed smells in nature(depending on the age of the children it may be easier and better to use blindfolds so there is no peeking!). With the children remaining in a circle pick one item to start with. Take the item to the first child and hold it gently below their nose and ask them to sniff. Ask the child to guess what it is but keep it to themselves so the other children can have a chance to guess. They will have a chance to guess after each child has sniffed the item.

Once everyone has had a chance to smell the item, then you can go around the circle and ask each child to share their guess. Once everyone has guessed then you can reveal to them what it was by name only (unless you are choosing not to do part 2).

Repeat this with the next item until you have done them all. Depending on the age and attention span of the children you may want to use less items, say only 5 instead of 10, as this may be too long and too many for younger children.

Part 2:

Once you have gone through all the items take the children on a nature walk and encourage them to smell different items along the way. Ask them to find the items that they just smelled in the containers live in nature, determining if it is the right thing by only using their sense of smell. Depending on the area you’re in you might be able to find all of them or only a few. That is ok, they are exploring and learning through their sense of smell and that is the whole point of the activity!

smells in natureAfter your Nature Walk come back to your circle and ask the children a few questions to help them solidify what they have just experienced.

  • What smells did they find?
  • Did they match the ones in the containers they smelled?
  • Where did they find them?
  • What was their favorite smell?
  • Was there a smell they disliked?
  • Can they think of other smells in nature that they did not smell today?

Doing this simple activity helps children to identify and appreciate the different smells in nature, as well as associating with where they can be found. Doing this activity will not only enhance their ability to identify different smells in nature but will add to the overall outdoor experience.

Discover more outdoor activities for kids – try a sound hunt, flower printing, or playing in the mud!

Tips for Taking Kids to the Calgary Stampede Parade with Ease

calgary stampede parade

Kicking off “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth”, the Calgary Stampede Parade is a world famous parade that showcases floats, bands, riders, cultural entries and much more. Led by the World Champion Stampede Show Band this two hour parade is not one you want to miss and is an important part of the Stampede experience.

Calgary Stampede ParadeWhen I first came to Calgary I was scared away from going to the Calgary Stampede Parade (attended by up to 400,000 people each year) by my boyfriend at the time. He told me horror stories about how you had to get up at 5 in the morning to go downtown and claim your spot so you had a decent place to view the parade – which started at 9. The whole idea of going down that early and waiting around for the parade for hours just did not appeal to me, no matter how much I loved parades, so I never went.

And I definitely could not imagine getting up that early and doing that with kids! So it’s ironic that it wasn’t until I had kids that I started going to the Stampede Parade. My oldest was 8 the first time we went, and the twins were 2. I really wanted to go and I was tired of waiting around for someone to come with me and being scared by the prospect of not being able to find a spot to sit.

The Magic Formula

Calgary Stampede ParadeA few years earlier my sister had been in town and had gone to the parade with her girlfriend who lived here in Calgary. Her girlfriend had discovered a ‘secret formula’ that allowed her to go down to the parade at a reasonable time and still get a decent spot to sit and view the parade – with her kids and without fighting the crowds; so I took a chance and tried her method to take my kids to the parade without having to go down for 5 am (which honestly is ridiculous). Sure you can purchase bleacher seats and show up whenever you want but these tend to be expensive and few, as 80% of the route is free seating.

It worked beautifully. Not only did we get super spots, right on the curb to view the parade, we only had to wait for an hour or so before the parade came our way (and there is pre parade entertainment starting at 7:30 am) – so it was super easy to keep the kids entertained and engaged until the parade started. Honestly it was fantastic, the kids loved the parade and I was so glad that I had taken a chance and went.

Now we attend the parade every year using this technique that well, yes I am going to share with you, as well as these 6 other tips to make your Calgary Stampede Parade experience with kids not only memorable but easy and fun for all.

7 Easy Tips for Taking Kids to the Calgary Stampede Parade

Pack a Healthy Lunch & Snacks – a well fed kid is a happy kid and you are a happy parent. I always pack lots of snacks and a lunch for everyone so that nobody gets cranky from being hungry. Yes there are places downtown where you can purchase food, but the pickings may not be the most healthy and lines will be long. If you bring your own not only can you choose foods that you want your kids to eat (and they enjoy) but they can eat when they’re hungry and you don’t have to go chasing after food or make them wait.

Calgary Stampede ParadeBring Folding Chairs – you may find these a bit challenging to carry with the kids but believe me it is worth it (and as they get older they can carry their own chairs). Watch the parade in comfort as sitting for two hours on the curb can make your butt pretty sore. The kids will likely be up and down from their chairs but that’s ok, still make sure everyone has their own as everyone will be more comfortable. They are also great space markers if you have to zip to the bathroom or run and grab something and don’t have another adult to leave behind to ‘guard the spot’.

Get into the Spirit of Stampede (and get the kids excited about it) – dress for it! Grab cowboy hats and boots, jeans and button down shirts and wear them to the parade. Kids gear is not that expensive or you can buy second hand. The kids will love dressing up and it’ll build their excitement and interest in what’s happening.

Bring Hats, Suncreen and Water – it can get very hot along the parade route and you are sitting there for at least two hours. Make sure you have full water bottles for everyone, hats (cowboy style of course) and sunscreen. Some places along the route provide some shade then turn into sun or vice versa so be prepared.

calgary stampede paradeDress in Layers (or at least bring a sweater and raincoat) – my mother always taught me to be prepared and that you never go out the door without your raincoat, even when the sun is shining brightly (we all know how fast Calgary weather can change). It also tends to be cooler in the morning as you are waiting and the parade starts and much warmer by the time the parade is over. If you bring a few layers it allows you to put on and take off as needed so that your body temperature is comfortable during the parade.

Pick Your Spot at the end of the Parade Route – this is what I do every year and we find a really good spot curbside for the kids. We drive down and park near the end of the route, getting down there by 9 in the morning, and we never have an issue getting a spot. Now this year they have thrown me for a bit of a loop because they have reversed the parade route – going backwards to what they usually do – so this throws a bit of a glitch into my plan, but the same concept will apply. We find our spot at the end wait maybe an hour for it to start (doesn’t that sound way better than 5 am) and the parade is finished on our end by noon.

Bring backpacks and/ or a wagon – you’re probably wondering how you’re going to carry all this stuff. When the kids were smaller I would bring a large backpack that I put everything in and a wagon for the chairs. As they got older though they would bring their own backpacks and carry their own chairs (seriously start them early and it will become second nature to them – when we went to Florida this year there were times I carried nothing because everyone could carry their own stuff, it was fantastic).

The parade really is a wonderful experience and can easily be enjoyed with kids and by parents with these easy tips (one tip for parents if you want coffee bring your own the line ups for this coveted beverage are crazy!)

Calgary Stampede Parade Combo

It is not one to be missed simply because you’re concerned about the crowd or getting a spot, these can be easily navigated. Really everyone is down there to have fun and enjoy the parade. So as long as everyone is mindful, patient and polite the Calgary Stampede Parade can be added to the memory books as a positive experience and one that is enjoyed year after year.

Calgary Stampede Parade

Have a tip you use when taking your kids to the parade? Share in the comments below.

Thinking of taking the kids down to Stampede grounds? Check out these tips to get the most out of your day, have fun and keep everybody happy.

Tips for Experiencing the Calgary Stampede with Kids

calgary stampede with kids

I love the Calgary Stampede! It is one of my most favorite times of year. The whole city comes alive with buzz and excitement, and the energy in the city is fantastic. When I had kids I knew that the Calgary Stampede would become one of our summer traditions. People looked at me like I was nuts wanting to take my kids to the grounds because it is busy, crazy and loud. But I have found over the years that going to the Calgary Stampede with Kids is not a difficult or horrible endeavor. In fact, with a little planning and awareness, you can have a fantastic day on the grounds with both you and the kids wanting to come back for more.

Tips for going to the Calgary Stampede with Kids

Pre-Plan

calgary stampede with kidsTake a look at the schedule and decide what events you would like to see and what days and times they are. Then plan the rest of your visit around them.

Go during the week

I always recommend you go with your kids on a weekday (omitting Kids Day and Family Day). The crowds are smaller and things are less busy. This will cut down on your waiting times and keep kids happier as they are engaged quicker.

Go early, leave early

Go early in the day, when the grounds open (typically 11 am – there are a couple of exceptions). You not only beat the crowds but head out with kids that are fed (give them a good breakfast), fresh and ready to go. Then when you’re ready to call it a day, for us it’s usually around 4 or 5, the evening crowds just starting to come in and you are on your way out.

Take your own food

Pack a lunch, healthy snacks and waterbottles for everyone. I find when my kids are fed and hydrated they are happier and last longer. I’m not saying don’t enjoy some of the fares on the grounds, but they can be quite expensive and add up fast. Also they are not always the healthiest choices and kids need good stuff to keep them going. When you have your own food, it allows you to feed the kids when they are hungry, without having to go find somewhere to eat, stand in line, etc. Also having water and staying hydrated is key. The grounds can get quite hot, so water is important.

Take advantage of the Free Kids Activitiescalgary stampede with kids

There are lots of free kids events like the Kids Tractor Pull, Chuck Challenge and Penning. There’s also Buckaroos with kids performances with their favorite characters, as well as a character performance on the Coca Cola Stage. There’s the Dog Bowl and the Corral show. Of course there’s the Kids Midway and new this year is the Indian Village Interpretative Program, where you can see daily dances, traditional Pow Wow and drumming. All free with gate admission.

 

Pre-purchase Ride Cards or other coupons

calgary stampede with kidsBefore the Stampede starts you can buy Ride n’ Play cards at Sobeys and Safeway. You cash them in on the grounds for either a ride all day wristband or 60 coupons and save about $20. They are only on sale though up until Stampede starts. Once it has started you cannot purchase them. You can also get deals or coupons on gate admissions. Kids to the age of 6 are free, but you can get free admission for 7-12 year olds when you buy a case of Coca Cola.

Don’t forget sunscreen and hats

It can get quite hot down there on a sunny day and the sun beating down on the pavement. Put sunscreen on before you go and take it with you to reapply throughout the day.

Dress for the weather

Weather during the Calgary Stampede can be unpredictable. Take a raincoat. Even though the prediction may be bright and sunny, thunderstorms are not uncommon this time of year. Also dress appropriately for the day. Bring layers or change of clothes for the kids.

Plan it into your Budget

calgary stampede with kidsThere are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it, the Calgary Stampede is expensive. I always plan it into my budget each year as well as take advantage of the deals and coupons that provide savings, making my dollar go a little farther. Another good idea is to decide what amount you are willing to spend on the grounds. Be realistic but cap it and stick to it so you won’t regret it later.

Know your limit

Don’t do too much and don’t overstay, know when your kids have had enough and it’s time to go home. Better to go home on a high where you all want to go back, talking about what you’d like to see and do next year, then one where you’re so relieved to be home and will never go again.

Last but not least, have fun and take lots of pictures. Relax and enjoy. Don’t stress about the lines or the crowds (I always go over with my kids the expectations when we’re on the grounds, stick together, hold hands, etc. I also register them at the Lost Child booth as soon as we get into the park). Go with the flow and be able to let things go. It’s ok if you don’t get to it all.

Going to the Calgary Stampede with kids can be easy and fun. With a little pre-planning and a backpack of items with you, you’ll create an enjoyable and memorable experience for all. I have used these tips with my kids over the years and as a result they love it and ask to go back every year.calgary stampede with kids

A Day at the Ranch

IMG_5957One of the things I love about summer is all the cool places that you can go and explore! With most of them being right in your own backyard. I find there are so many locally either within the city or a short jaunt away that there is never a loss for things to do or check out!

The Bar U Ranch is one of those neat little places that we have visited recently. Just a short drive outside of Calgary (95 km on the 22, just past Longview, AB); a National Historic Site and part of the Parks Canada system, this ranch boasts 37 historic buildings set in the rolling foothills of the mountains and commemorating the history of ranching in Canada.

IMG_5959This living history ranch hosts daily activities such as calf roping, wagon rides and round up camp, as well as educational programs, group tours and special events.

On Canada Day, they host a special event where admission is free, with a number of bonus activities to the day (such as face painting, rope making, homemade ice cream and cowboy coffee). This was the day we decided to go and check it out. I had been to the ranch only once before, years ago before the kids were born. At that time I remember the ranch being a large piece of property with pretty sparse buildings and feeling it was not very exciting at the time, but I when I read it now had 37 buildings I was quite excited to go and check it out.

IMG_5953

In the cookhouse

We arrived at the beautiful visitors center that hosts a reception area, rangeland exhibit, theatre, restaurant and gift shop. This is also where you pay your admission to go down and explore the ranch. Though on Canada Day admission was free, rates to enter the ranch are quite reasonable with adults $8 and children under 6 are free. I also believe that if you have a National Parks pass that you can gain admission to national historic sites for free upon presentation.

IMG_5973

Calf roping

You can either grab the wagon ride down to the ranch or enjoy a short walk downhill to the site. You are met immediately at the bottom of the hill with buildings to explore, such as the bunk and cookhouses. The kids loved the hands on, being able to actually look at and touch things, getting into the bunk and seeing what it was like.

I was impressed with the fact that you could enter all the buildings and that staff were on hand to answer any questions you had or add to your experience. There were also a plethora of interpretative signs, for added information for those of us who like to read (that would be me!) and learn a bit more!

One of the fascinating things we learned was that the Bar U was well known for its excellence in breeding Percheron horses, a draft horse originally from France. These magnificent creatures are well muscled, intelligent horses and willing to work.

IMG_6043

Rope making

Luke’s favorite was a story of George Lane, the foreman of the Bar U Ranch, and one of the Big Four, who founded the Calgary Stampede. There is a sculpture of George Lane on his horse with wolves attacking him to the right of the visitors center when you arrive. Fascinated Luke asked me to read the sign to tell him the story. I told him the modified, but fairly detailed 5 year old version, and latching onto it, asked me to tell it to him again and again, until he got it right. The story was George was on his way back from Calgary one night, after visiting his wife who had just delivered their first child. He came upon wolves taking down a cow and went charging in. The wolves starving, due to the extinction of the buffalo (as the government allowed the hunting of the buffalo to extinction), had turned to hunting the cows for food and so the battle of man and nature began.

There are lots of old tractors and equipment to view, barns and even a sod house. The kids can enjoy calf roping, which they caught onto quite quickly and other hands on activities. This is the thing I liked the most, the amount of hands on the kids could do and experience. Not only did it keep them engaged and interested but allowed everyone to try something new and find the thing that they enjoyed or were good at the most.

We spent a good 3 or 4 hours there and comfortably saw it all, without feeling rushed or anyone getting bored. We also lucked out and had beautiful weather that day, but rain or shine, the Ranch is open from May to September each year and is definitely worth the trip!

 

Coconut Curry Chicken with Pineapple

IMG_3328I love barbequing! I love how it’s little dishes, less mess and usually very delicious! In fact, I enjoy barbequing so much that we usually bbq year round! Regardless if it is -30 or plus 30 C. (Thankfully it is not usually -30 C around here in the winter, but it is often below zero).

I know! You are probably thinking that this woman is crazy; but I’ve been out there in my winter boots flipping burgers or tending the steaks. Breath coming out in white whisps as it floats into the air. I never worry about the weather forecast or if it is ‘barbeque’ weather, as it is always barbeque weather for me!

It wasn’t until recently though that I actually learned to barbeque. Yes we were barbequing year round but it was my husband who was doing it. In fact I had never even made something as simple as the burgers! I would always mix the ground turkey or chicken and make the patties but never actually cooked them myself. I have no idea why I did this. Perhaps I thought it was the ‘mans job’, or perhaps it was just my way of diveying up the jobs, regardless up to a couple of years ago actually doing the cooking on the barbeque was a whole new thing to me.

Barbecue-gaz-1They say bbqing is an art and I would agree. Certain meats need lower temperatures and longer times, while others do better on a medium to high heat. I learned a little from my Dad and remembered what he said to do as I watched him barbeque over the years. And I did a little figuring it out myself. Overall I am a very good barbequer and I sometimes even take over that task when I am at my parents house!

The one thing about barbequing though, especially if you do it as often as I do, is variety. I believe there is more to barbequing than just burgers and steaks, so I like to explore other recipes are and what other things you can do. I have found that the barbeque has way more options for cooking on it then I originally thought, expanding my repertoire of dishes quite a bit. (Did you know you can do pizza on the barbeque? I did try it once, not so successfully mind you, but it can be done!)

A lot of barbeques these days come standard with rotisseries as well, which opens up a whole other path of options for you, such as roast chicken, roast or lamb. My mouth just waters at the thought of it….

One of my favorite recipes that I have discovered for the barbeque is Coconut Curry Chicken with grilled pineapple. Originally from Clean Eating Magazine, it is really easy, very moist and tastes delicious. It only takes a few minutes per side to cook and voila! dinner is ready. Just add rice and a nice salad (or other vegetable) and you have a complete delicious meal. The only trick is it does require a little bit of pre-planning as you need to marinate the chicken for a couple of hours before cooking it on the barbeque.

The kids love it and my oldest usually gobbles up two chicken breasts on his own (yes he may be a growing boy but he can also be a bit of a picky eater, he will not eat things he doesn’t like no matter how hungry he is). I find the pineapple slice on the top really makes it, the flavors going very well together.

So whether you feel like barbequing tonight or saving this recipe for warmer weather, you’ll want to give this tasty coconut curry chicken a try. Completely dairy free, sugar free and gluten free, it is a dish that will be enjoyed by all.

Coconut Curry Chicken with Pineapple

4 boneless chicken breastsIMG_3324

**1 1/2c. coconut curry marinade

1/2 c. unsweetened coconut

4 fresh pineapple rings

Place chicken in a large ziploc bag. Add coconut curry marinade and seal, squeezing out as much air as possible. Refrigerate for 2-6 hours.

In a non stick skillet, heat coconut on medium heat until lightly browned. Transfer to a plate to cool.

Turn BBQ on and heat to medium high. Lightly oil grate with olive oil (I find best is to brush on with heat resistant pastry brush). Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with paper towel. Place chicken on grill and reduce heat to medium low (I find with chicken a little lower heat and a little longer time, keeps it moist and prevents it from drying out). Grill chicken until cooked through, about 3-5 minutes per side.

If you have room on your grill with the chicken place pineapple rings on and cook until lightly charred, about 2 minutes per side. If you don’t then you can do the pineapple at the end quickly once chicken is cooked.

To serve, sprinkle toasted coconut on chicken and one ring of pineapple on top of each  chicken breast.

Serves 4*

*I have found the marinade can easily accommodate 5 or 6 breasts and creates less waste

**Coconut Curry Marinade

2 c. coconut milk

2 tbsp. curry powder

2 tsp. sea salt

1 tsp. black pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together. Can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days. Can be used on chicken, pork, seafood and vegetables.

For the Love of Fall… and a peek of what’s to come

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Camping in Drumheller

It’s that time of year again, back to school, back to routines and also time to try new things.   We had a fantastic summer full of camping trips, days at the lake and all kinds of other adventures. You may have noticed I was suspiciously absent during the month of August. This is because I packed up the kids and went to Australia for 3 and a half weeks! My sister is there for a year with her family as her husband is on a teacher exchange.

I couldn’t resist the opportunity, as Australia is a place I absolutely love! And even though I have been before there is so much to see and do, it was time to go again. Plus this time we included a week in New Zealand, which I had not been to before.

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Sydney Harbour, Australia

As a result I have tons of things to share with you and lots of blog posts to write about where to go and what to see in that area of the world. So this Fall I will include a weekly feature about some fabulous place in Australia or New Zealand. Giving you the scoop on how it works for families and children and what recommendations we have.

Also this Fall I will continue with sharing fabulous recipes that I have found and tried, that are sugar and dairy free, and sometimes gluten free. There seems to be an endless stream of yummy recipes out there! and I have a big bag (literally) full of them to try. For instance this morning I made Apple Cinnamon muffins again, which I tried last year and we really enjoyed. This year I tried something a little different, using leftover almond mash from making almond milk. They were so moist and yummy… Of course I promptly shared them with my neighbor and friends this morning over coffee as we sat outside amongst the beautiful fall leaves.

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Apple Cake Muffin

These are the posts I will guarantee in amongst all the joys, trials and insights of having 3 children, whether it be tips on how to get them out the door in the morning or programs and crafts that I would recommend. And sometimes whatever moves me, whether it be a good book I’ve enjoyed or a moment I need to share. This is the joy of blogging!

Right now I am up to my ears in apples, like last year, we have reaped an abundant crop from our tree and are enjoying apple everything. I have made more crumbles than I can count, as well as pie, muffins, smoothies (ever tried an apple pie smoothie? Yum!), juice, etc. Though I have recently discovered apple butter – OMG! delicious and might try making that.

Fall is also my most favorite time of year! and I get super excited and motivated at this time of the year. Seasonally it is a time of ending, getting ready for a period of ‘rest’, but I see it as a time of new beginnings with all kinds of things that I want to try, or the kids want to try. Plus I love the warm golden sunny days, and the crisp Fall evenings. Gorgeous.

IMG_4087With that, I will leave you with the promise of what’s to come, and thoughts of what you’re favorite things about Fall are, or famous apple recipes you love. May you enjoy all that the season has to bring and more.

What are your favorite things/ activities in Fall? Have any good apple recipes? I’d love to try them. Please post in the comments below.

Bonding 40 feet in the Trees

Bonding with my oldest son is a bit of a challenge these days. He’s 11 and into all kinds of things that are not a huge interest to me. I’m 41 and his Mom, so there are not a lot of things that I like that are of interest to him. We do have some common ground of course, we both love board games, especially Settlers of Catan, so you will often find us in the evenings battling it out for the longest road and the most settlements.

Sometimes it’s a timing thing to, I’m making supper, or having to tend to his younger brother and sister. So when we had the opportunity to go to Sky Trek in Revelstoke, British Columbia to do the high ropes course; I jumped all over it.

P7290215We had been to the Enchanted Forest next door earlier that morning with my Mom and the twins, which we thoroughly enjoyed. But Matthew and I were both kind of eyeing the course through the trees. I had always wanted to go there since they opened and though Matthew had had the opportunity when he was about 5 to do the kids course, he wanted to get up high in the trees. So when Matthew asked about the course I said well let’s go check it out.

His eyes lit up, he was so excited with just the prospect of ‘maybe’ going. We discovered that the course took 1-3 hours to complete and though reasonably priced we wondered what Gran and the twins would do for that long.

My Mom graciously offered to watch the twins while we went and did the course. So after a quick lunch, off we went! I grabbed my closed toed shoes from the car, which I was glad I had thrown in that morning, as there are no open toed or flip flops allowed. Though I wish I had also had the foresight to put in socks, which would have been much more comfortable.

Matthew and I were both excited and almost ran up to the clerk to get going. First of course we had to fill out waivers, then pay, then meet our guide to get geared up and ready to go.

online-skytrek-02The course consists of 4 components, each one getting higher and more difficult as you go. Training is first, where your guide gives you a demonstration of the elements and obstacles, what equipment to use and how to keep yourself strapped in and safe. We all had helmets, harnesses and carabiners. We had 2 that we needed to clip in and each had to be done in a certain way in a certain order. He showed us how to use our zipline attachment as well as telling us only 3 people to a platform and to remember to call clear after we completed an element – which was the cue for the next person to go.

Then there’s the green, blue and black courses, each one getting higher and more difficult as you go. So by the time you hit the black course you are 40 feet in the air and challenged!

Matthew went first and I was following along behind him. At points when we were waiting for others in front of us we would chat or connect, discussing the last element or what was coming up; continually moving higher and higher. I found the first 3 parts comfortable and easy to navigate, but by the time I hit the black I was not only tired but a little freaked out. Some of the elements were pretty tricky and they definitely pushed my comfort zone.

The very last leg of the black course you could choose to do the double black diamond or stay on the single. The double black offering shorter lengths, more rests, but more challenging (lots of swinging obstacles), while the single black was one long haul across a rope net, which was more tiring but a lot easier to do.

Matthew, the trooper, chose the double black. In fact in his mind there was no question as to whether he would do it or not. I applauded him, but said I was going to stick to the single. Matthew did very well, I was so proud of him. The last leg on the double black he was there legs spread apart between two triangle elements, and ‘resting’. I could tell he was tired, but he was almost there and he was determined. It was one of many moments that I was proud of him or maybe got a little teary eyed watching him and how he confidently navigated the course, though at times I knew he was a little freaked out like I was.

We completed the course with one final zip line to the bottom and high fived each other on the ground. We were surprised to discover that it had indeed taken us 3 hours to complete the course. No wonder we were tired!  And thirsty! as you can’t take water or any extra stuff up there with you. In fact I asked a lady on the ground if she would take a few photos of us and send them to me (unfortunately I don’t have them yet), as though there were times when I could have taken a really nice picture or two, there was no way I would have been able to carry the camera!

Some people may argue that because it was an individual activity that it was not really a bonding experience. But I would disagree. We connected and shared an experience where we both pushed our limits and can now share and discuss this experience. I also have etched in my mind some of those great ‘shots’ of him in the trees which will last forever in my mind.

I enjoy experiences like that with my kids and hope I get to have all kinds with each one of them. And I hope that they enjoy them to and that they will stand out in their minds as some of the best experiences they had, even though it was with Mom.

The Enchanted Forest

Winnie the Pooh and Friends

Winnie the Pooh and Friends

One of the most magical places on earth is The Enchanted Forest. Found along the TransCanada highway between Revelstoke and Sicamous, this beautiful old growth forest is like a child’s dream.

No matter how many times I there I always enjoy it. The beauty and energy of the old growth forest is calming and peaceful. With the delightful storybook and nursery rhyme characters in amongst the trees it truly makes for a magical and wonderful experience.

enchanted-forestIt is a must stop for our family and every time we drive by on the way to Oliver, BC the kids are asking if we can stop there. This summer was the first time for Luke and Chloe. Being 4 years old this was the perfect age for their first experience.

Once you enter your first stop is the Enchanted Castle where the resident wizard welcomes you. You can clamp yourself in the gallows (or any misbehaving children) or explore the dungeons below. Word of caution: the dungeons I find to be dark and scary and definitely not for small children.

Tea for Two

Tea for Two

You can climb the stairs to the tower and enjoy being ‘King of the Castle’, before you continue along the path through the forest. The path then takes you around the forest with stops along the way to play and enjoy the fairytale characters. There is everything from the Three Little Pigs, Snow White, and Winnie the Pooh, to Hansel and Gretel, Old Mother Hubbard and the Cow that Jumped over the Moon.

The forest also hosts the biggest Tree house in British Columbia, with 3 levels and a gorgeous view at the top.

The Three Little Pigs House of Sticks

The Three Little Pigs House of Sticks

There is also a Nature Trail which takes you back further onto the property with opportunities to see beaver dams, row boats and explore other nature items.

Luke and Chloe dashed and explored everything. Checking out the houses, which are just the right size for 4 year olds, going down the slide at the Old Lady in the Shoe’s house and enjoying the cage at the witches house (Hansel and Gretel). At the end of the trail there is a duck pond where you can buy duck food for 25 cents to feed the ducks.

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Little Bo-Peep

You can easily spend a couple of hours in there and not feel rushed. The great thing is once you’ve paid your admission you can return to the forest throughout the day if you choose to. We went through it twice and they wanted to go a third!

Even my oldest who is almost 11, and has gone many times, still enjoys exploring here. Whether you are exploring the Revelstoke area or just passing through, the Enchanted Forest is a must see for all ages, children and adults alike.P7290227