Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Our Halloween Winter Wonderland

Werewolves howl, are you listening?
in the lane, snow is glistening
A frightening sight
But we're happy tonight
Walking in a winter wonderland

In the meadow you can build a snowman
and pretend that it is Frankenstein...

And there you have it - why I don't write poetry.  But the sentiment is there.  It's cold here, winter has blown in a month or two early, and it's a snowy Halloween.

Outdoor Play in the snow


But unless you want to cancel the holiday, stay indoors, or go trick-or-treating in the shopping mall (which is totally sacrilegious) - you just have to bundle up and find creative ways to enjoy Halloween - in the snow.

Winter hiking


We have discovered that costume hikes in the snow are super fun and have done two now this month.  We brought sleds along and even added some tobogganing.  Most costumes can be worn over snow suits or at least over snow pants and people will forgive you if your green dragon has blue hands because that's all you have for mittens.  They will understand if your dragon is only dressed from the waist up because his green fuzzy pants don't fit over his snow pants, or if said dragon is also wearing a bright orange scarf to keep warm.  The point - add a pair of wings to your child's winter clothes and voila - you have a snow pixie.  Grab a Winnie the Pooh Tunic to put over a winter coat and pants as our friends did.  It's relatively easy to winterize your Halloween Costume with a few extra warm layers and the kids can still get outside to celebrate a fun tradition that lights up a cold autumn night.

Sled hiking

Here are a few final photos from our winter Halloween adventures this year.  May they inspire you to get outside tomorrow and celebrate Halloween the old fashioned way, door to door, mittens and all.

Now there's a smile that says "snow is awesome!"

Winnie the Pooh goes Tobogganing

Roar!

How do you plan to celebrate Halloween?



Friday, October 26, 2012

Enjoying Shoulder Season in the Rockies - Think Outside the Box

Shoulder season - that brief period between summer and winter when you can't ski yet but it's too cold to go camping anymore, not really pleasant out for hiking, way too cold for paddling (trust me, we tried Thanksgiving weekend in early October), and it's even pretty chilly for biking (not to mention icy).  So what's a person to do until the snow has accumulated enough to turn grass covered hills into fantastic ski or toboggan slopes?

Start thinking outside the box!  It's time to get creative and embrace those unique activities that can only be done at this time of year.  Really, they exist.  November is a fun month and there are cool opportunities out there for the person that can think outside the box.

November hiking - make it fun!

Playing around in Jura Canyon mid November

Winter Paddling - aka Ice Skating

Paddling could be defined as human-powered movement across moving or flat water in a water tight vessel.  Take away the vessel (you are the vessel here), freeze the water, and add skates.  You are now moving across water again.   Every town or city has a local skating pond or outdoor rink.  For those of us in Calgary we can also head out to the mountains for a more natural skating experience.

The ultimate skating experience in Banff happens once a year when the waters freeze before they can become snow covered.  It's called Skating Season by locals and Parks Canada has great information about it on their website.  Skating Season doesn't happen every year and I'm not entirely sure if it will this year given all the early snow we've had.  We've pretty much skipped shoulder season this year and launched straight into winter with cross country ski trails already in shape.  When it happens though, it's magical and you can skate clear across some of the prettiest mountain lakes that have not been cleared or professionally transformed into a skating rink.  We went out to Johnston Lake last year on Remembrance Day and there were at least 50 people on the lake, if not more, enjoying a special family moment in the Rockies.  I can't promise it will happen this year but I'm praying hard and I'll keep you posted if you are following my Facebook page.  I will definitely let you know when/if Skating Season has arrived.  Last year was a bit of an anomaly and we still found a snow free lake to skate on in January.  I'm not counting on that one this year.

In the case we don't get our Skating Season this year, here are the other recommended places to skate in the Kananaskis/Banff area that will see snow removal and ice care throughout the winter.


  • The Pond at Kananaskis Village (Cleared by Delta Resort Staff and open to all visitors.  Skate rentals on site)
  • The Pond in Canmore (located on 7th Avenue at Mallard Alley two blocks from Main Street, cleared by the Town of Canmore.  Note – no hockey sticks allowed on this pond)
  • The Pond behind the Banff Springs Hotel (Open December to March)
  •  Lake Louise (Cleared area on the lake in front of the Chateau Lake Louise, open from November  to April)

Johnston Lake last November

Lake Windermere, BC this past January
Skating at Kananaskis Village last winter
 

Master the Half Day Trip and Art of Slowing Down

Summer is busy and I even find September to be crazy.  We're gone every weekend, we plan big epic trips that require tons of planning, and no sooner am I finished unpacking from one trip than I'm packing for the next one.  October arrives though and I finally slow down! At least for a couple months.  Last October we discovered the secret to slowing down in the mountain and it's all about the relaxed start, half day trip.  You can read all about our adventures in the two stories I wrote called A Stress Free Day in the Mountains and November in Banff

On top of Tunnel Mountain last November

Lake Minnewanka last November (as you can see, this lake was not frozen)
Sundance Canyon last year in October with my little Cookie Monster (we did a few costume hikes)

Fall Tripping, Camping, and Wilderness Adventures

This section is thanks to our friends at Backcountry With the Kids who wanted to share a couple of stories with you about Fall Canoe Trips, Wilderness Adventures, and Camping in the Off Season.  Now for some of us out here in the Rockies, it's a bit too cold to go canoeing right now, but I know not all of my readers live here so I really wanted to include this section.  Jen has some really good reasons why you should plan your next camping trip for the off season and why you should take up cool-weather paddling.  Follow the links to read her stories, Have I told you lately that I love you, and Falling - a story she wrote for Mountain Equipment Coop's Blog.

If you live here in the Rockies there are still ways to get out into the backcountry or have wilderness experiences without having to buy a winterized RV (though that would be cool). We love to stay at backcountry huts and wilderness hostels in the off season or winter.  They are toasty warm, allow you to sleep inside, and provide a warm base camp for your cool-weather adventures.  Please read the recent story I wrote after staying at the Mosquito Creek Wilderness Hostel in late September.  Follow the link to the story here, Autumn Camping at Mosquito Creek

Fall paddling
What November camping would look like in the Rockies

Winter Hiking - aka Snowshoeing

Most people don't start snowshoeing here until December or later but there are a few trails that you have to do now in November  if you want to do them at all.  One of these gems of a hike is Elbow Lake.  It's an easy family hike with only 120 metres of height gain spread out over 1.5 km.  Most people visit the beautiful lake in summer due to it's awesome family-friendly backcountry campground.  Very few people see it in winter though because Highway 40 is closed past the turn-off for Peter Lougheed Park at the beginning of December each year.  Go at the end of November though and it's a winter paradise up there with more than enough powder to snowshoe in.  Last year there was actually too much snow to even pull a sled up there!  Thankfully we had our son in a child carrier.  Not sure what we'll find this year but we're definitely heading out there again to try. 

For more information on November hikes at Highwood Pass visit the Kananaskis website and scroll down the hike index to the Elbow Lake or Ptarmigan Cirque Trails.  Note that there is potential for avalanche risk at Ptarmigan Cirque so call a local visitor centre for conditions before you head out. Elbow Lake is a safer option as the trail does not go above tree line.  Ptarmigan Cirque will get you higher up into the alpine for prettier scenery but also windier conditions with that dreaded avalanche risk too off nearby peaks. 

Other great snowshoe hikes can be found in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park as well where snow falls early each year.  Rawson Lake and the Upper Kananaskis Lake Circuit would be my two top picks.  It's a beautiful hike along Upper Kananaskis Lake to either Rawson Lake from the Upper Lake Day Use Area or to the Point Campground (and waterfalls just beyond) from the North Interlakes Day Use Area.

Elbow Lake last November
November snowshoeing at Highwood Pass
Upper Kananaskis Lake in October

Play Tourist in your nearest Park - Without the Tourists!

 Last October I wrote two stories on Life after Summer in the Mountains.  The second piece in the series (with a very creative title), Life After Summer in the Mountains, part two, covers the topic of Why you should get out hiking in the off season.  This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Solitude
  • Tourist free trails
  • You can hike the best and most popular trails such as Johnston Canyon or Lake Agnes - with no other people around!
  • Enjoy early snow on the surrounding peaks - Beautiful!!
  • Frozen water for those pesky stream crossings or canyon hikes
  • Uncrowded highways
  • You can actually drive around downtown Banff or Canmore!
  • The sidewalks of Banff and Canmore don't resemble those of NYC
  • You can get into the popular cafes, restaurants and pubs
  • Find a snowy spot and get your Christmas card photos done early
  • Visit tourist attractions such as the Banff Gondola and Hotsprings - Uncrowded!!!
 Please read the story above for information on trails I recommend hiking, more reasons why you should get out hiking next month, and why I love November hiking. And don't forget the yak trax, ice cleats, or some kind of Traction Device for extra grip on your feet.

Jura Canyon in November - You can hike right through the canyon when the water is frozen!

Lake Agnes in October with only a third of the crowds
Early season hiking in Kananaskis Country
Taking a walk in the town of Banff early season
Lake Louise is a lot quieter in winter!

 The most important thing - just get outside and have fun! 

Cold weather is awesome if you embrace it!
Dress for the weather and get out there.

What is your favourite cool-weather thing to do?


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Enjoying Shoulder Season in the Rockies - Get Creative!

I look out my window and see a sandbox full of snow, the sand buried somewhere underneath, and there's a toy lawn mower sitting on what was once visible grass a couple days ago. Welcome to fall in the Canadian Rockies where you can be riding your bike one day and sledding the next!  Despite the fact that we had a full week's notice that this recent storm was coming in, it's still obvious by the toys littering the backyard that we weren't entirely prepared for it.  How does one prepare for winter?  How do you adjust to the sudden drop in temperature that seems to scream at you to stay indoors and hibernate?!  Maybe you love winter like I do, but struggle with this in-between season when you can't skate, ski, snowshoe, or do anything fun yet.  These are just some of the questions and topics I hope to discuss over the next few weeks.  I don't profess to be an expert by any means but I have learned to find happiness in every season and I'd love to share the few lessons I've learned over the years.

You don't need much snow to go sledding

Lesson One - Get Creative with Games

When those first cold days arrive in autumn, it can be very hard to motivate yourself and the kids to get outside.  I know!  I wasn't outside all weekend for more than 2 minutes.  And while I don't feel guilty about that for one weekend, you eventually have to suck it up, pull out the winter clothes, and get creative about having fun outside.  Below are some of my favourite games that will transform a normal playground visit or hike into something a bit more magical.  These games and activities can be played all year long but will be especially helpful when it's winter and you want your children to play outside for more than five minutes.  My son played the ABC game below for over half an hour last winter when it was well below -25C. 

ABC Scavenger Hunt

Find the simple directions for this playground game by following the previous link on the title to a post I did early this spring.  All you'll need for the game is a set of foam bathtub letters. 



Lions, Tigers and Dinosaurs

Any hike or walk will be more interesting if you run down the trail roaring like a dinosaur, lion or tiger, flapping your wings like a dragon or a bird, hopping like a rabbit, or jumping like a frog.  If you have at least two or three children in your group they can chase after each other roaring, and laughing or even pretend to be the cars on a train with a loud chugga chugga choo-choo!

A summer game that's just as much fun in winter

Football, Singing, Car Races, Running and other Trail Games 

Follow the link to a post I wrote this summer called "Hike" is Not a Four Letter Word, featuring many of my favourite outdoor games for young children.  These games can be played year round and will definitely improve the mood of your crew the next time you go outside. 

Follow the Leader - great in any season

Lesson Two - Get Creative with Nature and the Elements

Paint a pumpkin, collect leaves for a collage, go on a photography scavenger hunt or make a bird house for the cold little birds left for the winter.  There are lots of ways to get creative with nature in any season.

Check out this fabulous post by our friends at Adventure Tykes, 10 Ways to Enjoy the Cooler Weather. Melissa has some really fun ideas that will help you blend nature, art, photography, and play.

For more ideas, check out the amazing resource we have here in Canada at the Active Kid's Club.  Kari has written 10 Outdoor Play Ideas for Winter and each one is wonderfully creative!  

How can you incorporate art into your outdoor play?

Plan a Halloween Hike!  

It doesn't matter if there's snow on the ground or not.  You'll still get adorable photos of your child running, jumping and climbing in an actual tiger costume.  Want to stay closer to home?  Dress up and head to the zoo!  The Calgary Zoo has an annual event called Boo at the Zoo where little ghouls and goblins can run around the zoo and participate in Halloween themed games while they're there.  The daytime event is included with your regular season's pass.  For more information on Boo at the Zoo follow the link to the Zoo's website. 

Tiger on the loose at the Zoo

Cookie Monster goes hiking

Learn to Like Rain and Snow

Jumping in puddles has to be the best shoulder season activity out there!  In autumn puddles will freeze over making morning walks even more fun as you try to crack the ice without sinking ankle deep in to the freezing cold water.  Feeling brave?  Take a bike ride (when it's not icy) and see how many puddles you can ride through.  For other creative ideas visit the Active Kid's Club again for their 10 Fun Rainy Day Activities.

A rainy bike ride with lots of puddles!
Can you believe my son's feet were dry at the end of this?


Meanwhile, snow is easy!  Make a snowman, go sledding (even if there's grass poking through the sow), make a snow tunnel, dig in the snow with sand toys, have a snow ball fight, play snow tag, or make a snow angel.  Kids are usually more excited than you will be when that first snowfall hits so grab your thermos filled with hot chocolate and get out there.  Your children likely won't even notice the cold. 

First snow fall this season in Calgary

The best snow tunnel ever!


Have a favourite game or activity that you love when the temperature drops?  Please tell us all about it in the comments section below.  








Thursday, October 18, 2012

Babes in the Woods - Book Review and Giveaway

What do backpacking, hiking, camping, and boating all have in common besides the obvious outside factor?  These are all things you can do with infants, babes, and children of all ages.  Even rafting, sea kayaking and sailing!  Don't believe me?  Think backpacking with a baby is just crazy talk?  Then you really need to check out Jennifer Aist's book Babes in the Woods.

Please proceed to the book review below and make sure you continue all the way to the end if you would like to win a copy of this book. 


Jennifer's book is full of practical advice, lists, suggestions, and even no-fail camping recipes with  the goal of  De-mystifying the whole subject of family outdoor adventure and play.  Jennifer believes in this way of life with kids so much that she even teaches classes on Babes in the Woods, Babes in the Snow, and Babes on the Water in her native Alaska, a state not generally known for its gentle or mild weather!

The book is divided into four parts:  Taking Care of the Basics, Transporting Little Ones on the Trail, Having Adventures, and Connecting with Nature.  It then wraps up with a fabulous resource list and section with check lists.   The book is worth purchasing for her check lists alone. (yes, I love lists!)

In the first part of the book, Taking Care of Basics, Jennifer tackles the issues that will challenge most new or even seasoned parents:
  • How do I dress my children for the elements (be it rain, snow, or blazing sun)?
  • What should I bring on the trail for my children to eat?  
  • How will I keep my children hydrated?  Out of the sun?  Safe from bugs?
  • How should we practice good hygiene from bathing to teeth brushing while camping?
  • What do I do with my child who's in the middle of potty training when we're outside?  
  • Where will my baby nap while we are outside on the go?
  • How will we keep the kids warm at night when camping in cold weather?
  • Will I need to take a wilderness first aid course or learn any special skills to keep my children safe?
If you don't know the answers to these questions, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Babes in the Woods.   Every outdoor child needs a confident outdoor parent and Jennifer can teach you the skills to get there.

In the second part of the book, Transporting Little Ones on the Trail, Jennifer reviews the various models of child carriers, jogging strollers, bike trailers, trailer bikes, and even child-sized bikes.  I wish I would had this knowledge at hand when I was choosing our first child carrier.  I didn't even know what an Ergo was when my son was born a few years ago!  Everybody I knew either had a Baby Bjorn for infants or a full fledged external framed backpack.  In the end we went with the same backpack friends had because we figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us.  In hind sight there are probably better ways to choose a child carrier when you hike as much as we did and still do.  Thankfully times have changed and there are a lot of great resources out there for active families now.  You need not go down to MEC or REI in the dark so to speak about the best products to meet your family's outdoor needs. 

We chose the perfect jogging stroller for our family and we've been able to use it for backpacking, cross country skiing, and biking.  This doesn't mean though that we knew what we were doing when we bought our Chariot.  It was again, just what everybody else had at the time.  Jennifer breaks the whole topic down for you with important questions to ask and features to look for (broken down by age of your children).  She devotes a whole chapter to biking in case your stroller doesn't come equipped with a bike attachment.  The chapter also gives practical advice for parents who want to juggle multiple children on their bike rides from the infant in the bike trailer to the preschooler or school aged child riding behind mom or dad on a trailer bike.

Part three of the book, Having Adventures, was my favourite because preparation, safety, planning, and shopping aside, you are finally ready for the actual adventure.  Here is where you'll find out how it's going to actually work to take your kids hiking, camping, backpacking or boating.  There's even a chapter devoted to exceptional children and those with special needs.  And while I can't say this for certain, I'm pretty sure Jennifer tackled a subject there that has seldom been discussed in guide books before.

For each activity mentioned above, Babes in the Woods gives solid information on planning, safety, required gear, and even suggestions for keeping the trip fun!   Jennifer covers a lot of basic information such as:
  • The ten essentials to bring on a hiking trip
  • Choosing and setting up your campsite
  • How to plan and pack for a remote base camping trip in the wilderness
  • Choosing a backpack and packing for an overnight trip
  • Backpacking when pregnant
  • How to carry infants or tote toddlers into the backcountry
  • Water safety skills for boating adventures
  • How to entertain children on a boat
And finally, in section four of the book, Connecting with Nature, you'll find activities for the campsite, wildlife activities, and nature activities.  The chapter is broken down by age group so even if you think that you are beyond the subject matter of this book because your baby has grown into a feisty preschooler, you will still find useful advice, tips and suggestions in these chapters.  Judging by the amount of highlighting I did in this section of the book, I'd say I found many new ideas that I can't wait to try next summer. 

What really stood out to me in this book

The author had no agenda when she wrote the book to sell you the most expensive outdoor clothing and gear on the market.  She wasn't commissioned by a large outdoor company to push their tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, etc.  Jennifer simply tells it like it is.  She outlines the good and the bad with each product on the market and then leaves it up to you to know what your family will most need.

Jennifer really wants to help you save money as you prepare the necessary gear for your chosen family activity or sport.  Her book doesn't tell you that you need some fancy bug suit, napping tent, or winter boots for an infant who isn't even walking.  Instead, with a little sewing experience, she teaches you how make some of the simplest things from bunting suits to mittens by yourself.  She also teaches you how to modify pieces of adult clothing and equipment that you already have!  If you have a couple lawn chairs that you can place seat to seat in the shade for example you already have a place for your baby to nap.  If you have a pair of adult wool socks, you have a pair of baby mittens.

Babes in the Woods is full of simple advice, mom to mom, dad to dad.  In fact, the book is full of advice that Jennifer received from other parents just like you.  It's a collaboration of love that Jennifer passes on to you.  Parents who have gone before pass on their wealth of information (often obtained the hard way through trial and error) to those about to embark on the same journey with their own family.

How to get your own copy of Babes in the Woods

For more information about Jennifer Aist's book, visit her website, Wilderness for Kids. The book can be ordered right off the website. 

You can also purchase or order a copy of the book from any Chapters or Indigo bookstore.

Finally, I have a second copy that I would love to give away.

To win a copy of Jennifer's book please leave a comment below with your name and a question that you hope Babes in the Woods can answer for you.

The contest is open to all residents of Canada or the United States.  The contest will end Sunday October 22nd at midnight, mountain standard time.  I will announce the winner's name on Monday morning.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Autumn Family Traditions

I've been reading a lot of autumn themed blog posts over the last few weeks and it looks like everybody has special autumn traditions that include everything from that first Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte to the moment when you finally find the perfect Halloween costume.  We got lucky this year with the costume and have already found a bright green dragon for our son complete with wings and a tail.  I was going for orange but at least it's a dragon and it will make for adorable outdoor photos when we do our Halloween hike later this month.

One thing on my annual to-do list is to get autumn photos of our family enjoying a day in the country.  Nothing says autumn like a corn maze, pumpkin patch, tractor ride, and hay! Lots and lots of hay.

I was a little worried about finding a pumpkin patch this year when snow fell early and sledding season suddenly came a month early.  However, the snow melted and the sun returned for one last weekend so we could quickly make that escape out to a local farm.

This was the first thing we saw when we got to Kayben Farms  greeting us at the gate.


We had a lot of fun on the Berry Bounce - a giant jumping pillow that is ingenious in its barrier-free design.  Unlike a bouncy house, adults can jump too!  No age restrictions - Whee!!


I had fun playing Ring Around the Rosie with the kids.  Playing with kids really does keep you young.


The giant hay pile was a highlight of the day for sure!  We jumped, we threw hay, we buried ourselves in hay.  Even Daddy joined in the fun.


This is my favourite photo I got of the day.  Yay for the bright orange sweater.  And yes, I chose it on purpose for the photos I wanted to take.


Grandma was a VERY good sport playing in the hay with Noah!  I don't know about your parents, but most older women aren't this keen to get straw down their jacket, in their hair, down their pants, etc. 


Noah also had a lot of fun playing in the hay with one of his best friends who joins us on most of our adventures. 


The pumpkin patch was pretty small but I manged to build up a little pile of pumpkins to get this shot that I absolutely love!


My son isn't very crafty but here's a photo of his friend painting her pumpkin masterpiece.  I think it's a very creative way to have a bit of fun with a pumpkin for the preschool child that can't quite carve a jack-o-lantern yet.


And finally, what visit to a farm would be complete without a few friendly farm animals.



We ended our visit to the farm with some more fun in the hay and a quick walk through the corn maze.



Love this photo!


We extended our day with a drive through the Sheep River area of Kananaskis since we were down in the area (and are never down that way).  We stopped at a couple of small waterfalls not listed in most guide books (it helps to know the area for things like this) and took a short walk.  We had planned to actually join the two waterfalls in a 2-3km loop hike but crossing the Sheep River half way along proved to be something that would get our feet wet and none of us had thought to wear sandals.  Sadly, we had to turn back and drive to the second set of falls.  But next time when water levels are low, we will make a loop out of it! 


Tiger Jaw Falls is a short walk right off Hwy 546 west of Turner Valley.  Park at the Indian Oils Day Use Area and walk down the short fire road to the river.



The next set of waterfalls further along Hwy 546 is Sheep River Falls.  You'll find these falls at the Sheep Falls Day Use Area. 



What traditions make up your family's autumn memories?


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