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, February 26, 2015

Don't Hate the Skinny Bitches

The polarization of healthy and unhealthy lifestyles has grown in recent years, helped along by social media. Health fanatics are posting every meal and workout on Twitter and Instagram, and less healthy folks are whinging about how hard it is to be fat in AmericaSomehow along the way, a FitFam backlash was born, and it became okay to call slim women "skinny bitches". The victims of fat shaming stopped having pity parties and instead announced to the world "I'm fat" as if it were something acceptable and immutable. Body shaming is the new thing: shaming others for being too thin or ripped.

I hate the FitMoms' spam (shakes, anyone?) as much as the next person, but I respect their lifestyle. Since when is it a bad thing to work out and eat well? While most of us have an excuse not to train all day for bodybuilding competitions - sorry, Maria Kang - it is certainly within reach to get half an hour of exercise a day and eat smaller, healthier meals.

Hiking is a great way to get/stay in shape
At 5'3" and 120 pounds (with a healthy BMI by the way, not underweight), I have frequently heard "Oh look, the skinny bitch is eating!", "It must be nice to be naturally skinny", or "It's so unfair you can eat whatever you want." While genetics may contribute to my petite stature, I am challenged by the same obstacles as other women when it comes to managing my weight. Postpartum thyroid issues made it difficult to shed the baby weight. As I approach 40, my metabolism has slowed and I need to go easy on late night snacking. Being a size 4 takes effort; it is not something that happens magically on its own. I make healthy food choices and exercise daily.
Results of working out 20 minutes a day (plus regular walking/biking/skiing)
Do I feel I'm better or more attractive than obese people? Absolutely not! I am confident, however, that I am healthier. Rather than body shaming others, we should examine our own lifestyles and see what changes we can make to be healthy. A lot of small changes can yield dramatic results! I am not talking about being skinny, but being well. Thin people can also have health issues if they are not careful (common ones are high cholesterol or high risk for osteoporosis due to lack of weight bearing exercise).

Do you feel your lifestyle is healthy? What items would you add to the Healthy Lifestyle column below?

Healthy Lifestyle vs. Unhealthy Lifestyle

Activity Healthy Lifestyle Unhealthy Lifestyle*
1. School Drop-off/Pick-up That parking lot's a mess! Let's park over here. (parks across the street and walks kids 2 minutes to school or walks to school if house is close by) Yeah, I know it's a No Parking zone, but I am not walking one step from this car.
2. Kids want to go to the playground Are we walking or riding there? (Jogs to the playground while the kids ride their bikes, starts a game of tag, then works out while the kids play) Can't you just play in the backyard? Okay, okay, let me find my keys. (drives to the playground, then stares at phone the whole time)
3. Day Off Fun Get dressed! We’re skiing! Orange is the New Black Marathon!!
4. Hobbies Photography, reading, cooking, baking, playing piano, cycling, hiking, camping, skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, backpacking, geocaching Photography, reading, cooking, baking, playing piano, couch surfing, eating, watching TV/movies
5. Meal Planning Monday: Teriyaki chicken thighs with carrots, mushrooms and broccoli; rice
Tuesday: Spaghetti and meatballs with salad
Wednesday: Thai (chicken and vegetable) red curry with rice...
I plan to go to McDonald's.
6. Grocery Shopping What a nice day! Let’s bike to the store! We can stop at the playground on the way. (bikes to store and gets food to barbecue) What a nice day to eat on the deck! Too bad the fridge is empty... Oh wait, look what I found! (grabs chips and pop from the pantry)
7. Walking the Dog Which park should we go to today, Fido? Can someone let the dog out?
8. Air Travel Glad I brought my own lunch. That meal looked nasty. First, I had to pay for an extra seat, and now I have to pay for another miniature meal. So unfair.
9. Eating Out I’ll get a chicken taco salad and water, please. Double cheeseburger combo with Coke, please. Can you supersize it?
10. Clothes Shopping I can't decide... I like everything! Good thing they're all on sale! (dances to the till) Could you please get me a bigger size in this and this? (mutters to self: “Nothing fits right. I don't know how I got this way!”)

*A lot of the unhealthy lifestyle points are things I think myself from time to time (I used to eat microwave popcorn for dinner in University!), but then I kick myself in the butt and go outside or find something healthy to go with my chocolate.

Related Links

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Epic Road Trip Planning Part 3: Embrace the Journey (plan to make many stops)

The ideal family road trip is a pleasure, not a hardship, with a healthy balance between travelling and out-of-the-car exploring. You could drive all day and night to maximize time at your destination, but there would be no joy in the journey! Breaks are necessary to refuel your body and mind in addition to your vehicle. By getting some fresh air and nourishment, you can resume driving with a clear head. Your passengers and backside will thank you, and you may discover some hidden gems along the way: a shaded boardwalk that provides respite on a scorching day, a secluded lakeside campground, or unique tourist attraction. Some of the best places you will ever visit are ones you never planned on visiting!

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta
There is no hard and fast rule for how many hours a day you should drive with kids. While some kids may sleep, play games, or watch movies half the day, others may tantrum or puke if you don't give them very frequent breaks. We were blessed with a child in the latter category, so even 2-hour drives to the mountains used to require pulling over at some point. How did we manage epic road trips? We planned to stop somewhere scenic or interesting every couple hours, and only drove half the day;  a far cry from the 10-12 hour drives we took in our pre-kid road days. If you have kids and need to cover a lot of ground in one day, what are your options?
  1. Drive at Nap Time(s) - Head out right before baby's first nap, take a lunch and play break when she wakes up, then resume driving right before afternoon nap time. When she awoke, we only had to entertain her in the car for 1-2 hours until we stopped to set up camp and make dinner. This method allowed us to drive 4-6 hours a day when our oldest was one year old.
  2. Lengthen your trip - If you are going somewhere more than 8-10 hours away, consider taking extra time off work, so you can spend the night somewhere on the way there and back. A stopover in the Okanagan is perfect when heading to the West Coast. 
  3. Have an Epic Day (Embrace the Journey) - If you must get somewhere in one day, make it an epic day. Take several breaks throughout the day to avoid mutiny. In the evening, go out for dinner - even if it's fast food, get out of the car - and brush the kids' teeth after so if they fall asleep in the car, they are ready for bed. Just transfer your kids from car to bed at the end of the day.*
  4. Drive at Night - While you can log a lot of miles at night while the kids sleep, I only recommend this to night owls or folks who can stay alert for the drive (e.g. shift workers who are used to being up all night). If you night drive, someone should stay awake with you to help keep you awake and make sure you don't fall asleep at the wheel. 
  5. Reconsider your destination/mode of travel. If there is no time for stops and stopovers, or you have difficult/carsick-prone passengers, consider flying or going somewhere closer. You want your children to remember the fun they had, not the interminable hours in the car asking once more, "Are we there yet?" To small children, there is not much difference between Banff or Jasper. They just want to sleep in a tent and roast marshmallows! Save the long drive for when they are bigger and can appreciate the difference and why you are sitting in the car 3 times longer.
Kettle Valley Railway trestle bridge, Kelowna, BC
While many of our stops are spontaneous, I recommend doing some pre-trip research so you don't miss great places en route. Too much effort? Local Visitor Centers can tell you what regional features/destinations would suit your interests. Think beyond roadside pullouts for memorable moments and incredible photos. Our favorite stopping spots are unique Visitor Centres, picnic areas, interpretive boardwalks (these are usually less than 1 km/0.6 mi, perfect for stretching your legs), fruit stands, historical sites, and legendary local restaurants.

Goats on the Roof, Coombs, BC
The benefits to slow travel are numerous. Besides happier passengers, less stressed and well rested drivers, you get to experience multiple destinations. That charming lakeside village you had lunch in might be your getaway of choice next summer! The campground you stayed at on the way to Vancouver might be your new favorite campground. When travelling with children, you will be obliged to make more stops than you would like, but these interludes only make for more epic adventures. Embrace the journey! 

Rialto Beach, Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Related Posts

The complete Epic Road Trip Planning series may be found here:

Part 1: Vehicle Check

*EXAMPLE: Calgary, Alberta to Shuswap, BC (578 km)
  • 8 am - Leave Calgary
  • 9:45 am - 10 am - Washroom/snack break at Castle Junction (157 km)
  • 11:30 am - 12:30 pm Lunch in Golden (109 km)
  • 2 pm - 2:30 pm Walk/snack at Giant Cedars Boardwalk & Picnic Area, Mount Revelstoke National Park (121 km)
  • 5 pm Arrive at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park - camp for 2 nights (191 km)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Raising Nature Lovers & Little Scientists

When we received Big POG's first report card, it was no surprise that her highest marks were in Science. With Science geek parents, it can't be helped! When the kids ask us questions about the world around them, we encourage them to make a guess (form a hypothesis), and then help them look for clues or do some research to see if they were right. By fuelling our children's curiosity, we aim to foster a love of lifelong learning. 

Learning about nature is most fun when you let your children take the lead.  Be a scientist, observe what your kids are interested in, then provide some tools to help them discover more facts about their favorite things. Fun things to try include:
  • Birding - With apps like Merlin Bird ID, birding is fun for the younger crowd too! Identify birds by size, colour, and location, then have fun "talking" to them by playing bird calls. Read more about birding with Merlin Bird ID here:  If you are really keen, contact local birding clubs/associations to find out when birds will be tagged in a nearby park, and ask if you can watch. My girls had the rare opportunity to release some tagged birds last summer!

Releasing a tagged bird
  • Bug collecting - Purchase a bug house and magnifying glass from the dollar store or make your own bug house (just be sure to poke some air holes!). Teach gentle handling of the insects and release them after looking at them. Plan ahead and take some books out from the library on creepy crawly critters and insect life cycles. Seeing bugs up close helped my youngest be less afraid of them. "They don't have big teeth to bite me!" Caution: Avoid stinging bugs like wasps and bees, and hairy spiders as some spiders are poisonous.

  • Learning about edible plants and berries -  For my girls, the highlight of most hikes is finding a berry patch. We like blackberries, saskatoons, huckleberries, raspberries and wild strawberries. Caution: Teach your kids to always ask an adult before eating wild plants. Since some mushrooms are deadly, our rule is no picking or eating mushrooms.
Enjoying some freshly picked wild raspberries
  • Geocaching - Right now, it's all about the treasure hunt, but my 5 year old is starting to pay more attention to directions and is getting a better sense of distance. She can read numbers and understand that we're getting closer or further away by the distance indicator on the app. Did you know you can geocache with your smartphone and a free app? The only other items you need are a pen to record your find in the log book and treasures for trading. Learn more here:
A cool geocache - treasure inside!

  • Meteorology - There are books at the library suitable for preschoolers (and up) that show what kinds of clouds are associated with what kind of weather. Identify cloud types, make your weather prediction, and see if it comes true. Clouds by Anne Rockwell is an excellent book for 3-6 year olds.
Clouds by Anne Rockwell

  • Rock collecting - Challenge the kids to find rocks of different sizes, shapes, and colors. My girls enjoy finding round rocks and painting them (acrylic paints adhere well and have a nice finish). As the kids get older, try to identify what kinds of rocks you found and how they formed.
Ladybug rock

  • Stargazing - Winter is the best time of year to do some stargazing because you don't have to stay up late! If you're like me and don't know many constellations, have no fear! There's an app for that! We like The Night Sky Lite. For the best bedtime story ever, read some Greek and Roman myths with a red light (to save your night vision), and locate the corresponding constellations or planets. Venus is easy to spot right after sunset and some constellations little astronomers can find easily include Cassiopeia, Big Dipper, and Little Dipper.
A nest makes a good scavenger hunt item.
How do you instill a love of Science and nature in your kids?

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Ultimate Trail Mix

For a quick, satisfying, high energy snack, it's hard to beat homemade trail mix. The beauty of making it yourself is that you can fill it up with all of your favorite ingredients and leave out the undesirable bits, thereby reducing waste. You also have more control over how much salt, oil, and additives go into your snack. 

To make your own trail mix, start with premium nuts, then add coconut or banana chips, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, and dried fruit. Tart, dried cherries are a refreshing change from raisins, but my girls prefer dried, sweetened cranberries. For a special treat, add some chocolate chunks or M&Ms! I swear the cocoa-based additions make my kids hike better. 

Our tried and true trail mix blend follows with a variation for kids. 

POG's Ultimate Trail Mix Recipe
  • premium unsalted nuts (cashews, almonds, pistachios) 
  • Oceanspray Craisins or Kirkland dried cherries 
  • Rockwell's coconut chips and/or dried banana chips
  • pumpkin seeds
  • dark chocolate chunks 
Add as much or as little of each ingredient as you like, and store in an airtight container.

Big & Little POGs' Ultimate Trail Mix Recipe
  • premium unsalted nuts (cashews, almonds, pistachios) 
  • Oceanspray Craisins or Sun Maid raisins
  • Rockwell's coconut chips and/or dried banana chips
  • pumpkin seeds
  • M&Ms, Smarties, or chocolate chips
Add as much or as little of each ingredient as you like, and store in an airtight container.

POG's Ultimate Trail Mix

Salted or Unsalted Nuts?

Unsalted nuts are usually considered the healthier choice, but you may wish to consider salted nuts when you are working hard (i.e. sweating a lot), or spending a lot of time in the heat. Not only does salt replace some of the electrolytes lost in sweat, but it makes you thirsty, so you drink more water. It's a tasty win-win!

Where to Buy Ingredients

All the ingredients are available at Costco (except the Lindt Madagascar, but Costco has Lindt 70% Cocoa bars).

Do you have a favorite trail mix recipe? Share it in the comments!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Epic Road Trip Planning Part 2: Budgeting Tools & Tips

Road trip expenses can balloon quickly if not managed, as we discovered after our epic road trip through the northwest U.S. and B.C. After being on the road for 4 and a half weeks, driving over 4,500 km (2796 miles), and visiting 6 U.S. National Parks, we grossly under-estimated our expenses at two to three thousand dollars. When all was said and done, we found we had actually spent over $9,000! Were we enjoying the finer things that 5-star hotels have to offer? No. We stayed in modest motels for 6 nights, and camped the rest of the time. We even cooked most of our own food! In disbelief, we reviewed the hefty credit card statements and paid them with heavy heart knowing we'd blown our travel budget for the year. We don't regret the trip at all, but might have done things differently had we known how much we were spending. Since then, we have developed a system for planning epic road trips using common sense and a few free apps, and we haven't broken the bank.

A Truly Epic Road Trip

Epic Road Trip Planning: Budgeting

  1. Select a budgeting tool to record your expected expenses in. An Excel worksheet works well for your initial budget. Vertex42 has a template that allows you to enter your starting amount, enter your expenses, and see how much you have left. For tracking expenses on the go, a free app such as Concur (for Android or iPhone) or Expensify (for iPhone) is convenient. 
  2. Determine a reasonable total dollar amount to spend on the trip. If you have $1,000 in the vacation account, start with $800 (80% of what you have to spend). 
  3. Enter all "fixed" costs you can anticipate such as lodging, park fees, and tourist attraction admission fees. If you do not know exactly where you will be staying, enter the average price of a campsite/hotel in the area and multiply it by the number of nights you are planning to stay. 
  4. Estimate the cost of fuel. To get an estimate on gas, use Google maps to calculate the distance you will cover (kilometres or miles), then divide it by your typical mileage (km/L or mpg) and multiply by the price of gas (per litre or gallon). e.g. (3,500 km / 10 km/L) x $1/L = $350.
  5. Expect food to be a major part of the budget; it is the biggest expense if camping, and the second biggest expense if staying in motels. For an estimation on groceries, prorate your monthly grocery bill to the length of your trip and round up. If you will be eating out most of the time, set a budget that is in line with the type of dining you would like. For family restaurants and fast food, you can get away with $5-10/person for breakfast, $10-20 per person for lunch, and $10-30 per person for dinner. Allow extra for a special meal here and there.
  6. Pad the budget. Gas and groceries typically cost more in small towns, so expect to pay more. Where you entered $1/L for gas, change it to $1.30. Add 10% or more for taxes if you are going to a province/state that has a higher sales tax. 
  7. Allow for incidentals. Add a fat, juicy "Other" line to your budget and give it a generous allowance. You never know what random costs will come up: It's pouring rain, your kids are super sick, and you need to stay in a hotel to dry off and warm up; your daughter needs new hiking boots thanks to her sudden, massive growth spurt. You never know when you will need to spend a little extra.
  8. When you are saving for your trip, put aside a contingency fund. This money should be easily accessible and available at short notice, but only used in case of emergency (car repairs, a new sleeping bag because the dog ate it). A credit card with room available works too, but going into debt will jeopardize future epic road trips, so I don't recommend it. 
  9. Consider trip insurance & review medical benefits. If there were a medical emergency on your trip, could you afford to fly everyone home or would their flights be covered by your insurance provider? 

Putting It All Together 

If you have saved $1,000 for a one-week camping trip in the Okanagan, a healthy travel budget would like this:

Sample Travel Budget Using Vertex42's Travel Budget Template
Note that I changed the template's unit cost for gas from $0.56/mile to $0.12/km (assuming mileage of 10.2 km/L and gas price of $1.20/L).

Money Saving Tips


  • Go mid-week if possible so you do not need to make a reservation and pay a booking fee (At provincial campgrounds, the booking fee is almost half as much as a night's stay!).
  • Share a site if allowed. Alternately, book a double site (often cheaper than two separate sites) or group campsite if you wish to camp with many families.
  • Bring as much of your own food as you reasonably can since groceries in small towns can be expensive. Also, if you have dietary restrictions, it may be difficult to find certain items.
A sunny site at Firerock Campground, Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park
  • Gas Buddy, available for Android or iPhone, is a helpful, free app that can show you where the lowest gas in town is. 

Motels / B&Bs / Hostels / Vacation Rentals

  • Look for lodging that provides free breakfast or has a kitchenette so you can make your own meals.
  • Share a cabin, condo, hostel, or hotel/motel room with friends.
  • Many vacation rentals have 2-bedroom units that are far less expensive hotels/motels.
  • Consider a private/family room at a hostel! In Lake Louise, most hotels are over $200/night, but a family room at the HI-Lake Louise hostel is only $100. 
    Solara Resort & Spa, Canmore has luxurious 1 & 2-bedroom suites

Park Passes

  • If you will be staying in national parks for 7 days or more, or will be staying in several national parks over the duration of your trip, purchase an Annual National Park Pass. A family pass in Canada is currently $136.40 (versus $19.60 per day). Save 7% by purchasing your pass from your local CAA if you are a member. AAA also provides a discount on park passes.

Epic road trips should be about creating memories, not epic debt. With some planning, and a few helpful apps, you can manage trip costs and focus on the fun. How do you manage expenses on the road?

The complete Epic Road Trip Planning series may be found here:

Part 1: Vehicle Check
Part 2: Budgeting Tools & Tips
Part 3: Embrace the Journey
Part 4: Deciding Where to Stay
Part 5: The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List


American Automobile Association (AAA):
Canadian Automobile Association (CAA):
Concur App:
Epic Road Trip Planning Part 1: Vehicle Check:
Expensify App:
Gas Buddy App:
Seven Best Apps for Tracking Business Expenses:
Travel Budget Template:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Epic Road Trip Planning Part 1: Vehicle Check

It may seem early to plan for summer road trips, but to have a truly epic adventure of the positive variety, you need to plan ahead. I'll never forget Christmas eve of '87 when we ate Ichiban in the camper in a small, coastal town. Our best laid plans had fallen by the wayside as our truck sputtered sadly, 4 hours from Anaheim, and refused to go any further. So much for Christmas at Disneyland! With the only garage around closed until the 26th, we hunkered down, made do with what we had (Ichiban for dinner), and went for lots of rainy beach walks. Once our vehicle was roadworthy, we carried on - all the way to Mexico! Was it an epic road trip? Hell, yeah! Unfortunately the costs for my parents were epic too; the truck had needed more than a few parts, as in a whole new engine! Had they taken the truck in for a pre-trip inspection, they may have avoided a massive expense and lengthy delay. 

We drive for sights like this! Moulton Barn and Grand Tetons, Wyoming

Planning An Epic Road Trip - Part 1: Vehicle Check

  1. Tires: Ensure that your tires have lots of tread left and are properly inflated. Old tires are more prone to blowouts, and blowouts at highway speeds can be deadly. Properly inflated tires will give you better gas mileage, traction, and reduce the chance of punctures. Be sure to fill up your spare tire too! While you're doing that, check to make sure you have the tools you need to change a flat (and instructions if you've never done it before).
  2. Maintenance: Check your vehicle's maintenance records to make sure all work is up to date. It is important to check your oil, lights, brakes, timing belt, and battery. I like to get a pre-trip oil change and multi-point inspection for peace of mind. Shop around in advance for a deal, and do some research so you can determine whether you need to do all the recommended work. 
  3. Fluids: Check fluid levels, replenish as necessary, and ensure caps are well fastened. Check for leaks the net day. 
  4. Windshield Wiper Blades: You don't want to find out in a torrential rainstorm that your windshield wiper blades are shot and streaking your windows. Test them out and replace them before your trip if need be.
  5. First Aid Kit: Purchase or replenish your First Aid Kit as needed.
  6. Essentials: Booster cables, battery booster, jerry can, shovel, tarp (for tire changing or emergency shelter), flashlight. Some boosters even have a built-in light and USB port to charge your phone. If you are not camping, be sure to pack some survival gear such as blankets, a firemaking kit, flashlight/mini lantern/headlamp and matches and candles (as backup - batteries die), and some extra food and water in the event of an accident or breakdown far from town. A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) such as the InReach is good to have if you are frequently off the beaten path. In winter driving conditions, you should always keep blankets, extra clothes, and kitty litter in the car. Some kitty litter sprinkled around your tires will give you traction in the event you slide off the road (but aren't so far off the road to need towing).
  7. Registration and Insurance: Are these up to date? Did you remember to place the sticker(s) on your license plate?
  8. Roadside Assistance: If you do not have roadside assistance from your vehicle's manufacturer (some provide it for the first 1-2 years after purchase) or a credit card that you carry, consider signing up for roadside assistance. CAA / AAA is excellent value for the money. We have used our membership for free maps, towing, battery boosts, and unlocking the door when we locked our keys in. They will even bring you gas if you run out!  
This battery booster saved us a couple times when the kids left a light in the car on all night long!
It can also charge your phone! Available on Amazon (affiliate link).
Getting your vehicle ready is just the beginning. In Epic Road Trip Planning Part 2, we will discuss budgeting and how to make the trip of your dreams a reality. Stay tuned! 

Has your vehicle ever let you down? How did you deal with it?

The complete Epic Road Trip Planning series may be found here:

Part 1: Vehicle Check
Part 2: Budgeting Tools & Tips
Part 3: Embrace the Journey
Part 4: Deciding Where to Stay
Part 5: The Ultimate Car Camping Pack List