Saturday, June 25, 2011

Super Staycation Tips

There are some great reasons that families are taking a staycation this summer and staying close to home for vacation fun.

Staycations are a great way to save money - and reduce family stress in these tough times. Not only do they help the family budget, they also limit long, noisy hours in a car or the hassles of airplane travel.

Active staycations are also a great way to have play together. Here's a simple way to start:

  • Start with a map of Montana - or your state (online, in an atlas, or the highway map available at visitor centers).
  • Decide the maximum distance you want to travel in a day (5, 10, or 50 miles, for example). Draw a circle on the map of your chosen distance in all directions.
  • Make a family list of all the places and events within the circle that you would like to visit. If you live in Montana and need help finding things to do, go to Explore Montana's Regions & Towns.
  • Write each of the destinations on a piece of paper and put them into a hat or bag.
  • Pick one fun destination every time you need a place to go. Give all family members a chance to pick the place-of-the-day, the picnic-of-the-day, and how to make the day as active as possible.
These close-to-home vacations can be filled with summer fun:

  • Get soaked at a spray park. Many communities have new public facilities just waiting to be discovered, like spray or water parks. Make it a full day adventure by hiking or biking to/from the park. Pack a picnic with plenty of fruits and veggies - and be sure to bring lots of refreshing ice water. Pack non-water toys too (balls, jump ropes, Frisbees®, etc.) for some variety in your activity.
  • Explore a local trail map. This one could take a day or a week, depending on the extent of your trail system. Explore all the trails in a town or at nearby historical sites, wildlife refuges, and county parks. Let each family member pick the trail-of-the-day and plan a healthful picnic to fuel your adventures. Be sure to take plenty of silly family photos to document the memories.

There are even staycations you can enjoy without getting in the car. Kids and adults love scavenger hunts and obstacle courses.

  • Set up a scavenger hunt. The possibilities are only limited by your family’s imagination! The items to be found can be real or digital (just a picture of something), simple (a rock), or complicated (a fossil). The list can also be as long or as short as you like. Need a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing? Check out these Scavenger Hunt instructions.
  • Go for the gold with backyard Olympics. Here’s another staycation that could take an afternoon - or be extended over a week with different games in different places around your neighborhood or town. People can enter as individuals or as family teams. The types of events are unlimited. Maybe you’d like to include the 25-yard lawn crawl, a water balloon toss, a tug-o-war, or a limbo contest? There are also those ‘real’ Olympic sports, such as soccer, tennis, and ping-pong. Other options wacky races (three-legged, egg-on-spoon, etc.) or 3-point basketball in a driveway.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A guest post on The Dairy Report

Taking a short break from this month's theme of getting active outdoors, I invite you to visit my guest blog on The Dairy Report today.

A Toast to the New Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate outlines some of my initial thoughts on the food icon from USDA. Enjoy!!


I’d like to propose a toast―with a tall glass of ice cold, fat-free milk―to the recent advancements in U.S. dietary guidance: the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and MyPlate. Both the detailed guidelines and the plate icon serve up unlimited opportunities for Americans to take simple, delicious steps to eat better and feel better every day.

A toast is especially in order because of a concept that has never before appeared in American dietary guidance. The very first tip on the revamped USDA MyPlate website reads: Enjoy your food, but eat less. The inclusion of enjoy in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate serves as an effective recognition of how important the taste of food is in helping consumers make healthier choices. This is a positive and realistic way to inspire Americans to get the most nutrition for their calories by focusing on enjoying food instead of avoiding food.

The new guidelines also urge Americans to be more adventurous in choosing healthful, nutrient-dense foods. Recognizing that new worlds of taste and texture exist when families explore new foods, MyPlate tips suggest dozens of tasty ways to expand food horizons to enjoy a variety of tastes from each group, every day. A few examples include:

  • Get creative with your salad: Toss in shredded carrots, strawberries, spinach, watercress, orange segments, or sweet peas for a flavorful, fun salad.
  • Ingredient switches: When recipes such as dips call for sour cream, substitute plain yogurt. Use fat-free evaporated milk instead of cream, and try low-fat ricotta cheese as a substitute for cream cheese.
  • Be a good food role model: Try new foods yourself. Describe its taste, texture, and smell. Offer children one new food at a time. Serve something your child likes along with the new food. Offer new foods at the beginning of a meal, when your child is very hungry. Avoid lecturing or forcing your child to eat.

A new tool from National Dairy Council―Filling Your Plate The Dietary Guidelines Way―serves up the new advice in a practical meal plan. This simple plan provides a flexible and realistic way to get the most nutrition for your calories by focusing on nutrient-dense foods and beverages such as low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains―just like the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate. The plan also directly addresses the “gap nutrients” identified as nutrients of concern by the Guidelines: potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D. It provides delicious sources of these critical nutrients in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and milk and milk products.

In three balanced meals and two easy snacks, Filling Your Plate the Dietary Guidelines Way illustrates how easy and tasty healthy eating habits can be. Here are a few of the highlights:

BREAKFAST: Jump Start the Day Parfait

  • This super-simple, eat-anywhere breakfast supports the DGA guidance to wake up to a nutrient-dense breakfast every day in order to help meet nutritional recommendations and help manage weight. This meal helps fill those nutrient gaps for potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D if the yogurt and/or cereal is vitamin D-fortified.

LUNCH: Hearty Roast Beef Sandwich

  • This satisfying lunch could easily be brought from home and similar options are increasingly available from delis and restaurants. The glass (or carton) of fat-free milk delivers nine essential nutrients important for good health, including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A and D, B12, riboflavin and niacin (niacin equivalents). Few foods provide this unique contribution of nutrients.

DINNER: Salmon with Fruit Salsa

  • This colorful meal is an almost picture-perfect example of the MyPlate icon, with salmon for protein, rice for a grain and half the plate filled with green beans and a tropical fresh fruit salsa. The glass of low-fat or fat-free milk helps meets the DGA and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) recommendations for three servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy foods per day, a strong testament to the value of dairy in the diet.

SNACKS: Apple Dippers and Hummus/Veggie Plate

  • Both smart snacks illustrate practical ways to increase fruit and vegetable consumption for both children and adults. The crunchy textures and flavorful, protein-rich dips are fun ways to satisfy between-meal hunger and give your taste buds a treat.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

5 Smart Ways to Keep the Fun in Fishing

A day of fishing can provide hours of family fun and plenty of physical activity too. To make the most of your fishing hours (and perhaps to make a few more catches too), pay attention to nutrition and safety before you start and once you’re on the water. The Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is always a good one to keep in mind (as my brother, nephew, and friend are here on east Rosebud Lake).

1. Eat breakfast.

Even when you are eager to start casting, a balanced breakfast is worth the time it takes. For maximum mental focus, enjoy a morning meal with a mix of carbohydrate and protein. A hearty bowl of oatmeal with raisins and nuts will stick with you for several hours. A breakfast sandwich, wrap, or burrito with eggs and some lean meat will also do the trick.

2. Carry smart snacks.

If you’re walking a stream or hiking to a mountain lake, you’ll need snacks that are big on nutrients and energy, but easy to carry. Cheese, nuts, and jerky as well as fresh and dried fruit are great choices. If you’re packing a cooler for a drift boat or canoe, pack it with cut-up veggies, fresh fruit, and sandwiches on whole grain breads, along with a few chips or sweets.

3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Even a little dehydration can spoil an otherwise wonderful day of fishing. Avoid headaches and crankiness by drinking plenty of refreshing fluids. Frozen water bottles are the perfect choice for hot days, since they keep food safe and then provide an ice cold beverage. Save any alcoholic beverages for the end of the trip; they dehydrate when you need fluids most.

4. Practice sun protection.

Hot summer sun and the glare from the water can be very hard on skin and eyes, even on seemingly cloudy days. Keep covered with a hat or visor and a light, long-sleeved shirt and pants. Apply sunscreen before you dress (to cover hard to reach areas) and every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day. A good pair of sunglasses is also essential.

5. Be water safe.

Since bad weather or an accident can happen anytime, always practice water safety. Make sure that everyone has a properly-fitted life vest and that they wear it at all times. Choose snug fitting water shoes; bare feet get banged up easily and make it difficult to get around on slippery rocks. Be aware of lightning; get off the water and get fishing poles on the ground.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

5 Fun Ways to Create A Family Physical Activity Plan

Summertime is a great time to get on a path to better health (and a better attitude) with a family activity plan! In May 2010, the National Physical Activity Plan was launched to get Americans up and moving. The goal is to help us all enjoy the physical and mental benefits of being active every day. Here’s what your family can do.

1. Set some screen time limits.

Here’s a simple approach to screen time (TV, DVDs, computers, and video games): Do more, watch less together! While the transition may be a little rough, families are happier and healthier when they pull the plug or cut back. The American Academy of Pediatrics says no screen time under two years, none in the bedroom, and no more than 1-2 hours total per day.

2. Make a list of easy, everyday activities.

Since it can be hard to get some kids (and adults too!) off the couch, make a long list of fun activities that are close by, free or inexpensive, and easy-to-do as a family. They can be in your own backyard, around the neighborhood, or at a local park. Keep the list in an easy-to-access location - like on the fridge - and add more activities as you think of them.

3. Get equipped for active family fun.

Easy-to-use equipment is another great way to get your family off the couch and having fun. There’s no need for brand-new, expensive stuff from a sports store or catalog. Check out the possibilities at used-equipment stores, thrift stores, and yard sales. Look for Frisbees®, balls, hula hoops, soft spongy stuff (like Nerf® and Koosh®), and sprinkler toys for summer fun.

4. Schedule time for weekend activity.

Weekend schedules can easily fill up with chores and errands. Make fun plans for plenty of activity early, especially on hot summer days. Use a family dinner in the middle of the week to discuss the possibilities. A hike in the mountains? A bike trip on the new trails in town? A little canoeing and fishing at the lake? A family treasure hunt (aka geocaching)?

5. Plan an active vacation.

If you’re planning a family vacation or a stay-cation this year, make sure that some fun physical activity is built into every day. That’s easy on a backpacking or camping trip, but also lots of fun if you are visiting relatives or touring a city. Just plan ahead: Check out the activity options online or in a guidebook - make active fun a family priority every day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Celebrating National GO Outdoors Day at Farmer's Market

Today I celebrated GO Outdoors Day at the Boulder (CO) Farmer's Market.

Beautiful sunny weather, beautiful fresh produce, it was a perfect day to be outside.

And, now we have some delicious asparagus to enjoy for dinner tonight.

If you're in Boulder on a Wednesday or Friday, check it out for produce and for an outdoor meal. We had a global breakfast of veggie pot stickers plus a cheese and green chili pupusa. Perfect way to fuel an outdoor adventure.

All the details at Boulder Farmer's Market.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More fun ways to get outside in the Last Best Place

Montana - affectionately known as The Last Best Place - is looking forward to a sunny Saturday after weeks of rain and many flooded areas.

What a perfect prediction for Get Outside Day MONTANA!!

Here are three of the many examples of fun outdoor opportunities for Montana families - from border to border of the Treasure State.

In Florence, Hideout Mountain at Florence Park will be the scene of many activities for families from 9 AM to NOON on June 11th. Family hikes, family tennis, family fishing, and family birding clinics will be featured along with numerous ways for families to get into the biking habit. Bicycle helmets will be available for purchase, along with free parts and assistance for bike repairs.

The Montana Audubon Education Center in Billings will kick off a FREE multi-week, back-to-nature event for all ages June 12th from 1 to 3pm @ the Audubon Center. Families can engage in some friendly competition as they explore Billings and Red Lodge’s conservation areas through activities such as hiking, biking, Frisbee golf, scavenger hunts, canoeing, and much more!

How does it work?

  • Teams must consist of at least one person over the age of 18 and one person under the age of 18.
  • Each week of the competition features several “guided” or “self-guided” events. A self-guided event allows teams to visit the designated park anytime during the 4-week event and engage in an activity on their own such as Frisbee golf or a scavenger hunt.
  • Each team will receive a passport which will be used to track teams’ participation in the competition. When teams check-in at each guided event, they are awarded a point for their attendance. Teams must provide proof of completion of self-guided park activities (e.g., a sketch or photograph) and will be awarded a point for each activity completed.
  • Teams will be eligible for some awesome prizes (tents, bicycles. etc.).
On Montana eastern high plains, Makoshika State Park celebrates the return of the turkey vulture to eastern Montana with Buzzard Day, a tongue-in-cheek day of appreciation for one of 'nature's cleaners'. Makoshika's badlands topography provides excellent habitat for Turkey Vultures, a species of concern because of its breeding requirements and its position in the food chain (carrion eaters ingest toxins carried throughout the entire food chain).
  • Buzzard Day has events for all age groups, including a pancake breakfast, nature walks, 5K and 10K Buzzard Runs, festival games and food.
  • Admission is free to all the Buzzard Day events on June 11, 2011.
Not lucky enough to live in Big Sky country ... visit National Get Outdoors Day to find a fun event in your state!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Go OUTDOORS for FUN at a State Park!

After two family weddings (same couple in Montana and Mexico), I am back online again - and excited to begin writing about getting outdoors as an exciting way to celebrate Great Outdoors Month.

Actually, I am most excited to get outdoors myself. I had a wonderful hike on Saturday in the Beartooth Mountains.

Here are some other wonderful places to have fun in Montana's beautiful outdoors!


While every day is great day to be outdoors in Montana, June as Great Outdoors Month, is a special time to get into the swing of summer. Now that winter has passed and spring rains have turned the “Last Best Place” many shades of green, it is the perfect time to have some outdoor family fun. And, there are dozens of Montana State Parks - all sizes, shapes, and descriptions - that make wonderful, close-by destinations for free or inexpensive summer fun.


  • Learn where the parks are located: Planning your Montana State Park visits is super simple on the Fish, Wildlife, & Parks website.
  • Explore the opportunities to play: On the website, you can search for parks that offer your family’s favorite activities, like hiking, water skiing, or bicycling.
  • Plan the best times to visit your choices: Fill in a few dates on your family summer fun calendar, giving each person a chance to choose a different park (or two).


So many parks, so few days of summer! Montana State Parks really do offer something for everyone, including many locations with accessibility for those with disabilities.

  1. Ackley Lake: Camping (no fee) and fishing in the very heart of Big Sky country
  2. Clark’s Lookout: One of many historical sites from Lewis and Clark’s Expedition
  3. Giant Springs: Accessible hiking, biking, and picnicking near Great Falls
  4. Hell Creek: Full-service campground on Fort Peck near the Missouri Breaks
  5. Logan: Camping and boating on Middle Thompson Lake along the Idaho border
  6. Medicine Rocks: Hidden treasure near Ekalaka for hiking and primitive camps
  7. Placid Lake: More camping and boating in a full-service campground
  8. Sluice Boxes: Mining history comes to life in this spectacular setting
  9. Tower Rock: Montana’s newest state park has a rich history, right off I-15
  10. Yellow Bay: How often can you camp in the midst of cherry orchards?


Spending time in Montana State Parks is a perfect way to combine family fun with the physical activity every body needs for good health. Just GO and have FUN!!