The Best Short Hikes Near Calgary

These scenic hikes are all 4 km or less round trip and less than 1 hr from Calgary.

The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List

Everything you need for an awesome camping trip!

Tips for Fun Family Backpacking

Family Backpacking 101 - what to pack, where to go...

Discover Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site

Go back in time and live like a trapper at Rocky Mountain House National Historic Site, only 2 hours from Calgary.

Why you should visit Writing on Stone Provincial Park

Hoodoos, beaches, and paddling! Need I say more?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Busy Parent Fitness Challenge - Day 18: Free Style Workout (Trick or Treat!)

Happy Hallowe'en! With one munchkin in preschool and one in kindergarten, we have been busy making crafts, costumes and treats as well as eating heaps of treats, so now is not the time to bail on the daily workout. I will be reasonable and make today Free Style workout day, like those Choose Your Own Adventure books (remember those?? love 'em!). Do at least 20 minutes of any kind of exercise. Bonus points if you speed walk or do some on the go exercises. 

We are going to go for a walk with costumes on and beg the neighbors for candy, aka go trick-or-treating! You too? 

I'll leave you with some Hallowe'en pics and vegan, nut free, gluten free snack ideas. 

Mama Witch 
Jack O'Lanterns!
Kettle Corn

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
What are your favorite semi-healthy treats?

How to Get Fit (and strong) at a Toddler's Pace

Like many moms, I do not have the luxury of a nanny or parents to watch the kids while I work out. I have always had to plan to exercise with my kids in tow. With Baby #1, I lost the baby weight in 10 months because I was pushing her in a stroller up hills and all over the neighborhood. After Baby #2, it was nigh impossible to get any real exercise. My oldest wanted to propel herself - hurrah! - but she walked soooo slowly. How do you burn any calories going short distances at that pace? By making the most of it: look at all the flowers, leaves, bugs and birds along the way; do some on-the-go exercises*; or put your kid on a balance bike. (Once your little one is good on a balance bike, you'll be able to jog to the park!)

Baby loved to hike since she started walking!
Some parents give up and a) don't walk anywhere or b) throw their kid in a stroller, but both of those options only delay the day your child will be able to do decent day hikes at a decent pace. Work workouts into your daily life and it will be good for the whole family. Our patience was rewarded when my oldest turned four and managed several 8 km hikes.  Now five years old, she could go further, but we choose to keep the hiking distances moderate (4 - 8 km) to give our 3 year old a chance to do most of the hike before being carried. Combination hike and bike trips (where you bike part of the way and hike part of the way) have also been a huge success allowing us to go further faster.

*On the Go Exercises

If you have limited opportunities to work out, do some on-the-go exercises. En route to/from your destination, try any of the following a few times a week for at least 20 minutes:
  • bum kicks - try to get your heel right up to your bum
  • march - lift your knees as high as possible
  • grapevines - jog sideways crossing one foot in front of the other; start slow so you don't trip!
  • skip - without a skipping rope (save the skipping rope for when you are staying in one place)
  • hop on one foot, then on the other
  • walking lunges
  • squat jumps
I promise these on-the-go exercises will get your heart pumping. Who cares if people look at you funny for marching down the sidewalk? They will be looking at you with envy when they see how good you look after getting all toned and sunkissed. 

Racing your child or playing tag will get your little one running, but depending on her coordination, you could see some skinned knees and palms. I prefer to let my kids run on grass at a park or field.

Stuck In One Place Exercises

At the playground or in your back yard, if the kids are engaged in safe play and not requiring your assistance (i.e. making "rabbit stew" with rocks and pinecones), try some stationary exercises such as: 
  • Busy Parent Fitness Challenge workouts
  • running on the spot
  • step ups
  • skipping (with or without a rope)
  • pull ups on monkey bars 
Equipment Needed

A park bench or picnic table works great for tricep dips and step ups. For other exercises, you may wish to bring an exercise mat or (clean) small, padded diaper change pad. The change pad is just big enough to cushion my hands when I do pushups and fits in a small backpack. 

Ultimately, do what works for you and have fun! I would encourage you to do the Busy Parent Fitness Challenge in addition to on the go exercises (cardio). Cardio will complement the strength building exercises you are doing in the fitness challenge, burn fat, and enhance muscle tone.

The BEST Chewy Oatmeal Cookies - vegan, gluten free, corn free, gum free

Hi, I'm Karen, and I'm a bakeoholic. I was ready to cry this spring when it became clear I could no longer tolerate foods that are in almost everything: gluten, dairy, eggs, and corn. This ridiculousness led me to try and recreate my favorite treats without those offending ingredients. After a few test batches, these cookies came out on top. Somehow they turned out the same as my usual gluten & egg filled oatmeal cookies! Great taste, great texture, and did I mention no cornstarch or gums required? (Xanthan gum, found in most gluten-free baking, also bothers my tummy.) These are my go-to snack as they are pretty healthy as far as cookies go. I hope you like 'em.

P.S. Even if you can eat everything, these cookies are great! Haven't you ever wanted to bake but found you're out of eggs and butter? ; )

Gluten free, vegan oatmeal cookies
Happy Tummy Oatmeal Cookies
(gluten free, dairy free, egg free, corn free, gum free)


1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup applesauce or pumpkin puree
1 c brown sugar (more if you don't use chocolate chips)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flax seeds

1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup hot water

170 g / 1.5 cups of gluten-free flour blend*
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon (if using pumpkin puree, use 1.5 tsp pumpkin spice instead)

2.5 cups wheat free oats
1.5 cups of "additions" (chopped nuts, dried fruit, chocolate chips or cocoa nibs; we like 1/2 cup Craisins + 1 cup dairy free chocolate chips)

  1. Put first 5 ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix at medium speed.
  2. Combine the baking soda and hot water in a small bowl , stir well, and add to mixing bowl. Blend for about 30 seconds.
  3. Measure the flour, salt and cinnamon into a medium sized bowl. Mix with a spoon or sift; just make sure to stir the cinnamon and salt in well.
  4. Add dry ingredients to mixing bowl. Mix on lowest setting until just combined. (Do not overmix.)
  5. Add in your additions and mix on lowest setting until they are well incorporated into the batter.
  6. Press the dough into a ball with your hands and let it chill in the fridge for 20 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  7. Use a heaping teaspoon to make drop cookies about 1.5" in diameter and place on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. You can flatten the cookies slightly as they will not spread out very much.
  8. Bake at 350 F for 10-14 minutes (our oven is hot, so I bake for only 12 minutes)
  9. Leave on pan for 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
*For my flour blend, I measured the following ingredients into an airtight container and shook it up. Only use 170 g for the cookies!
  • 50 g sorghum flour, 25 g quinoa flour, 25 g oat flour
  • 25 g arrowroot starch, 60 g potato starch + 65 g white rice flour

You can substitute other whole grain flours for sorghum, quinoa, or oat flour and can substitute the starches and white rice flour for other starches, but I can't guarantee the same results. I used arrowroot starch as I can't tolerate tapioca starch or corn starch, but the latter are a lot cheaper!

If you are lucky enough to have no food intolerances, go ahead and make these with butter instead of coconut oil, and regular flour instead of gluten free flour. They will turn out equally delicious! 

Let me know how they turned out and what substitutions (if any) you made.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Busy Parent Fitness Challenge - Day 17: Blast that Belly!

A smaller belly can be achieved with fat burning exercise (moderate cardio like brisk walking, cycling, hiking, or jogging), belly tightening moves, and watching what you eat. While exercise can improve the appearance of your midsection by flattening your stomach and drawing in your waist, weight loss may be required to get noticeable results. For others, who are already at their target weight, minor dietary modifications such as reducing your intake of sodium, carbonated drinks, and gassy foods will help reduce bloating and make your pooch less prominent. No matter your weight or size, core workouts should be done regularly to improve your posture and support your lower back by strengthening your flexor and oblique muscles.

Today's workout 

1) Opposite arm and leg raises: Get on all fours, extend your right arm straight out in front of you and extend your left leg straight out and up. Your arm, leg and trunk should make a straight line. Reach, reach, reach for a few seconds, then bring your arm and leg in. Repeat on the other side - with left arm and right leg. Do 40-50 (20-25 per side).

Start on all fours
Extend left arm and right leg (then alternate sides)
2) Hip Raises - These are great for your abs, butt, and legs! Squeeze those butt cheeks together when you lift your hips. Do 30-40.
Hip Raise - start position
Lift and squeeze

3) Lying Leg Raises: Lie flat on your back with your hands at your sides. Slide hands, palms down, beneath your lower back / top of butt cheeks. Keep your legs straight, with feet flexed (toes pointing up), and slowly raise your legs up so ankles, knees and hips form a straight line perpendicular to the floor. Lower your legs slowly using your hands to cushion your lower back. Do 3 sets of as many as you can do at one time. For example, if you can do 6 at a time, do 6 then do two more sets of 6. If you can do 3 sets of 10, you're a rock star! 

Lift your legs and butt in the air. Place hands, palm down, beneath your hips for support.
Lower legs slowly
Rest a moment and repeat
Some exercises still hurt (like the Lying Leg Raises!), but I can do more reps and my posture is a bit better, so that's progress. I like to think my butt looks better too, but it's hard to tell 'cause well, it's behind me. What changes have you noticed since starting the Busy Parent Fitness Challenge?

My Go Red For Women Story (about heart disease - family history and awareness)

When I got the call about my Dad, I expected something bad, but never expected the absolute worst. My Dad was only 55; he'd always been fairly active and had no chronic health conditions. After hearing about my Dad being taken to the hospital, I had to interrupt the caller and ask, "He will be alright, right?" The answer was beyond belief. I was told that my Dad had suffered a massive heart attack, and after 45 minutes of CPR, had been pronounced dead. Absolutely shocked, I screamed "No!!!! No! No! NO! He can't be dead!" and sobbed vigorously while the minister said a prayer for me. 

Seven years later, I still miss my Dad, and wish I could have helped him. His autopsy showed severe atherosclerosis that had developed over many years. Although he was physically active, wasn't overweight, and didn't drink or smoke, he had a strong family history of heart disease. The family history combined with mental illness was very dangerous and killed him in the end. His paranoia caused him to estrange himself from his family, distrust doctors and dentists (hadn't been to either one in over 20 years), and only eat packaged food and fast food. 

I wish my Dad were still around. I wish my kids had gotten the chance to know and love him. That chance is gone, but I can take care of myself and those close to me. We incorporate physical activity into every day; we cook most of our meals from scratch; we almost never eat processed food. I've learned it's important to discuss family history of medical conditions with your relatives (I didn't know until after my Dad passed away that two members of the family died before the age of 50 from heart attacks.) and that is is challenging to help someone with mental health issues get medical care. Do the best you can to make your loved ones make healthy choices, and take a page from that playbook while you're at it.

This story was written for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women awareness campaign. To share your story, please visit

Busy Parent Fitness Challenge - Day 16: Legs!

Today is all about legs! Are squats your friend yet? They hurt so good!! If they aren't, add some weight or hold them longer. I can do 5 minutes of squats (usually while stretching my upper body) and am hoping to extend that time. You could try jump squats for a more vigorous workout too. With the step ups, you want controlled movements, so don't do them too quickly, but do more reps if you can. The toe raises are new this week and will help strengthen an area of the leg we haven't worked on before and will prevent shin splints. Do these a few times a week if you run or plan on adding runs to your fitness regime.   

1) Step Ups: Stand in front of some stairs, a bench, or picnic table (the higher you have to step up, the harder it will be), and step up with your right leg, placing all weight on your right leg. Once your right leg is straight, bring your left leg up beside it. Step down with your right leg, and repeat on the left side. Do 15-20 per side. If you need more of a challenge, do your step ups with a can of soup or light (2-5 lbs) dumbbell in each hand. Start light, then increase the weight in subsequent workouts.

Step up with one foot...
...and then the other
2) Toe Raises: Stand on a (lower, for safety) step with your toes hanging over. With one foot, lift your toes up and hold for a few seconds. Lower your toes. Do 15-20 per side.  
  • Variation: Do these with your backside supported by a wall as if you were going to do a squat.  See this short video to learn how. 
Raise your toe
Lower your toe
3) 30-second Squats: Do 10. You can do it!! If your knees are solid, do 10-20 squat jumps instead. Squat jump = squat with hands out in front of you, jump up and lift arms above your head, immediately lower into another squat and bounce up. You will find your rhythm. 

Squat - start position

Lower and hold
Let me know how it's going! Are you able to do more reps than before? Hold your squats longer?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Busy Parent Fitness Challenge Day 15: Upper Body

We're halfway through our month-long fitness challenge! Today, we will try to increase the number of pushups we've been doing, try a new kind of pushup to work different areas of the chest, and repeat some other tried and true exercises to strengthen the chest, back, and arms.
1) Pushups: Do knee pushups if you're having trouble completing 5 pushups. If you can easily do 10 of each, you have graduated to standard pushups! Congratulations! Remember to exhale when lifting your body, and inhale when lowering yourself. 

Modified /Knee Pushup - Start Position
Here's our pushup routine for today:
    • Regular Pushups (hands slightly wider than shoulders) - do 5-10
    • Narrow Pushups (hands close together so index fingers and thumbs of opposite hands touch) - do 5-10
    • Shuffle Pushups - 1) Do a regular pushup, 2) move your left hand beside your right hand & do a pushup (not too low), 3) move your right hand back to regular position and do a pushup, 4) move your right hand beside your left hand and do a pushup, 5) move your right hand back to regular position and do a pushup. Repeat from Step 1.
 1a) Shuffle pushup - start position
1b) Do a regular pushup
2a) Shuffle left hand to the right
2b) Do a pushup
3a) Move left hand back to start position

3b) Do a regular pushup
4) Move right hand beside left hand & do a pushup.
5) Move right hand back to start position and do a pushup

2) Tricep (Chair) DipsSit on the edge of a step or sturdy chair (picnic table or park bench works well). Slide forward and lower yourself down off the step/bench, supporting yourself with your arms. Lower until you have a nice 90 degree angle in your elbow. Do 10-20.

Lower down until your elbow makes a right angle
Lift up and straighten those arms
3) Airplane Extension: Lie face down on the floor, feet together, arms out to the sides like airplane wings. Lift your feet and arms up off the ground, pressing your shoulderblades together. Slowly sweep your arms from your sides to in front of you (think Superman). Slowly bring your arms to your sides again and sink to the floor. Basically you're going up into airplane, then Superman, back to airplane and lowering down. Do 10-15.
Let's do this!!! Check in with me and let me know how it's going. Are you getting stronger?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Busy Parent Fitness Challenge - Day 14: Core

In addition to slimming your waistline, working your core can help combat lower back pain, a problem common to many who sit at a desk all day or have gone through childbirth and stretched out muscles you didn't know you had. Today we're going to do a different kind of crunch and supine vacuums to draw in the waistline, and leg raises for the lower abs. If you are exercising on a hard uncarpeted floor, use a yoga mat or folded blanket to be kind to your spine.

1. Criss Cross Crunches: Start in crunch starting position. Breathe out, draw your navel to spine, and lift your right elbow to your left knee while drawing your left knee in (knee should be over hip). Your other leg can float extended a few inches off the floor. Hold briefly, inhale while lowering down, then crunch again lifting your left elbow to right knee, with right leg extended and floating slightly off the floor. Do 30 (15 per side). 

Criss Cross Crunch - start position
Right elbow to left knee
Left elbow to right knee
2. Supine Vacuum: Get into crunch starting position. Exhale and pull your belly button down toward your spine. Now the tricky part - HOLD for 15 seconds. (If you are able to, hold the vacuum for 20 or 30 seconds.) Do 5.

Supine Vacuum - Inhale
Supine Vacuum - Exhale and hold
3. Lying Leg Raises: Lie flat on your back with your hands at your sides. Slide hands, palms down, beneath your lower back / top of butt cheeks. Keep your legs straight, with feet flexed (toes pointing up), and slowly raise your legs up so ankles, knees and hips form a straight line. Lower your legs slowly using your hands to cushion your lower back. Do 10, take a break, then do 2 more sets of 10 (total: 30). 

Lying Leg Raise - start position
Lower legs slowly
Almost there - feel the burn
Take a moment and repeat
Do you have a favorite ab exercise you'd like to recommend? Please let me know. I love comments!


Busy Parent Fitness Challenge - Day 13: Legs & Butt

Strengthening the biggest muscles in your body helps you with endurance, but did you know having more muscle also increases your metabolism? I'll admit it, I hike so I can eat chocolate. Today's workout will work your quads and glutes, but will be amplified if you add in some cardio. Don't have time for a jog? Do some jumping jacks, skip, or run on the spot in between exercises so your complete workout lasts at least 20 minutes. 

1. Hip Raises (aka Glute Bridge): do 30.  Squeeze your butt cheeks together when you lift your hips!
    • variation (not pictured): Single Leg Glute Bridge - lift one leg up and point your toe at the ceiling. Do 15 on one side, then switch legs.
Hip Raise - starting position
Lift and squeeze (your buttocks of course!)
2. Weighted Walking Lunges: Now that you are used to doing lunges, up the ante by grabbing a couple soup cans or light dumbbells. Do 20-30 lunges per side or set a timer for 3 minutes. 

Lunging with left leg. 
3. Step Ups: Do these on concrete steps, a bench, or picnic table. The higher the step, the harder the workout will be, so start low and increase height slowly. Do 20-30 per side. Aim for controlled movements.
    • variation: do weighted step ups, holding a light dumbbell in each hand.


Remember to stretch afterwards so you aren't limping around 'til the next leg workout! Dancer's Pose (below) is a good one.

Grasp your right foot in your right hand. Hold it for a few seconds.
Lean forward and pull your foot back at the same time.
 Regular cardio will burn fat and reveal muscle! Try to do 20-30 minutes two to three times a week.

What are your lower body training objectives? I would like to have strong legs for ski season and shape up my backside!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Busy Parent Fitness Challenge - Day 12: Free Style

Now that we have been at this fitness challenge for 11 days, we can mix it up a bit. Changing up your exercise routine keeps it fun and interesting, so you will be more likely to stick with it. Whatever you do, aim for at least 20 minutes of exercise. Here are some options:
  1. Walk, jog, or run: Take it easy if you haven't run in a while; work up to longer distances gradually. At the beginning, you may want to jog for a few minutes and walk for a few minutes. 
  2. Take a hike: You don't have to go out of town; urban hikes are also great. Try a different trail each time so you have something to look forward to.
  3. Go for a bike ride: This is a great option if you have knee problems or are prone to shin splints as it is low impact. 
  4. Swim: Get some good, no-impact exercise if you have the time to shower and all that. If you aren't keen on swimming laps, try an aquacize class.
  5. Do an exercise video: There are lots of excellent FREE videos on Youtube. I really like the ones by POPSUGAR Fitness. The instructors are fantastic and the workouts are just the right length for me to complete in the morning before the kids get up. 
  6. Recycle a favorite Busy Parent Fitness Challenge workout. I know you love them. : ) 

Opabin Prospect, Yoho National Park
Track your mileage with a fitness app so you can record your achievements and see your improvement. I like the free MapMyFitness app. 

What activity will you choose for Free Style day?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What do you DO at the park? How to keep the kids outside for hours.

We go to a park or playground almost every day, so people often ask, "What do you DO there?" They can't fathom hanging out there for over an hour on a regular basis. What's left to do when the kids are done with the slide and monkey bars? Lots! And you don't even need to bring much with you.

Leaf Fun
  • Ride bike/scooter around the playground if the playground is on a pathway (not on a busy road). We usually bike to the playground for exercise too.
Biker Babe
  • Play tag (or grounders if your kids are old enough to understand the rules)
  • Play hide and seek
  • Fly a kite
It takes 2!
  • Make a leaf pile / mud pies / fort / snowman / snow shelter
  • Collect pine cones, interesting rocks
  • Identify animal tracks
Moose Track in Bragg Creek
  • Go tobogganing
  • Take a nature walk and look at all the different plants, bugs, and animals. Let the kids take their own photos, print them, and let them create a nature journal. Or have the kids draw a picture of the things they saw when they get home.
Old Man's Beard makes a great Young Girl's Moustache
  • Look at / collect bugs (bring a clear plastic or glass container with holes poked in the lid)
  • Geocaching - My kids love "treasure hunting". To learn more, go to
"Insectophobia" Geocache in Nose Hill Park, Calgary
  • Birding: See my review of the free Merlin Bird ID app and how to use it. We love using the bird calls to "talk" to birds and get them to come closer.
  • Splash in puddles, creek, etc.
  • Throw rocks in the pond, lake, creek. See if you can hit the log (target practice). Teach older kids how to skip stones. 
  • Blow bubbles
  • Do chalk drawings 
Budding Artist
  • Play pass with a ball or frisbee; use trees or signs as goal posts.
  • Work out: I do the Busy Parent Fitness Challenge while the kids play. Sometimes they do some of it with me.
  • Do yoga: I've learned some cool kids' yoga from Jamie on Cosmic Kids Yoga. Once you've watched a few of her videos, you can make up your own stories. My girls love doing yoga on the picnic blanket.
  • Have a snack or picnic lunch: This is my kids' favorite thing to do at the park. I swear we spend half our time eating!
What do you like to do at the park with your kids?