Thursday, February 28, 2013

Signs of Spring?

Interestingly, the meteorological first day of Spring is March 1st. I've noticed a lot more birds chirping on our morning and evening walks lately... maybe it really is a sign of Spring!

The picture below is from March 25, 2012... Charlie was enjoying the warm sun in the backyard and the grass was already green. I realize we had an unusually warm Spring last year, but this gives me hope that we're almost there.

Along with the extra birdie chirping lately, yesterday a rabbit ran across the walking path down by the river ~ right in front of us! I was so surprised that I just stood there, unsure of how Charlie would react to this. The rabbit either didn't realize we were there or was so scared there was a dog nearby that it freaked out and ran without having a clear path of escape. Normally the rabbit would have run under the chain-link fence on the other side of the path, but the snow is piled up along the fence and those escape routes are long gone. The poor thing was frantically running into the fence trying desperately to find an opening and then ran back across the path from whence it came. Charlie, meanwhile, was at first startled and ran behind me... unsure of what just happened. Then her chase instincts kicked in and she started tracking the footprints in the snow. She gave up eventually and came back to me when I called her.

I'm surprised there wasn't a trail of bunny poo following that rabbit as he ran away from us... I'm sure he was crapping his pants. I'm glad Charlie didn't automatically pursue the chase; her first reaction was to come to me for further directions. Good girl, Charlie.

Chain-link fence along river trail... no bunny escape!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Full Snow Moon

Tonight is the "Full Snow Moon." Charlie's new Sense-ation Harness arrived in the mail today so we took a short walk to try it out. When I turned the corner, I saw the moon rising. We hurried home so I could catch some pictures of it before it disappeared into the clouds... so here is the view of the moon through the oak tree in our backyard!

I threw Charlie's ball into the various snow-piles remaining in the backyard while I fiddled with the settings on my camera and waited for the moon to rise into this tiny opening of branches. We've been playing a lot of "find the ball in the snow-piles" lately. Charlie LOVES hide-and-seek games.

Watch out for the yellow snow!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ice Age Trail: Grandfather Falls Segment

While sipping my morning coffee, I pulled out my Wisconsin Gazetteer to find a place to go hiking today. (If you are an adventurer or road-tripper, I highly recommend you go get one - you can find them at most gas stations and even Wal-Mart.) So after perusing various pages, I found a sweet spot. Since I've never hiked any part of the Ice Age Trail before, this seemed like the perfect time to start. And after today's hike (which was *awesome*), you can expect a series of Ice Age Trail reviews to come.

This segment of the trail is located about 10 minutes North of Council Grounds State Park along Hwy. 107. The marker on the map was for Camp New Wood County Park and there was a dotted line next to it indicating a trail for the Ice Age National Scenic Trail. I figured it would be worth a shot to check it out, and if it was a bust, we could always go back to Council Grounds.

The winter has not been kind to Hwy. 107 and the drive was pretty bumpy. But the scenery made it all worthwhile. Halfway between Council Grounds and the Grandfather Falls Segment is a peak marker on the map for Ninemile Hill; there is a momentary but spectacular view of the Wisconsin River Valley from the top of this hill. Also there are two pick-your-own strawberry farms on this stretch of road ~ Engelberry Farms and M&M Strawberry Farm ~ so if you end up checking out this trail in June, make sure to leave time to get some strawberries!

Upon arriving at the  Camp New Wood County Park, I realized the parking lot had not been plowed and had to put the Jeep in four-wheel-drive so as not to get stuck. There is alternate parking across the road (with a plowed parking lot) for the Merrill School Forest.

The park itself has pit toilets, playground equipment, covered picnic shelters and plenty of parking. Down the trail a little ways, there is another pit toilet area and a few campsites... although the road is only about 30 feet from the camping area ~ it may not be the quietest place to camp, but being so close to the Wisconsin River might be worth the trade-off. I'll let you know when it warms up enough to camp!

The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the Jeep was how silent it was. So quiet. You could barely even hear the river gurgling. Normally, when we're at parks you can hear the distant sound of a highway or roads or... something. But here, there was only silence. The evergreen branches hung heavy with the newly fallen snow from yesterday and there were stray snowflakes still falling from the white sky.

The trees along the trail are marked with little yellow rectangles so you don't lose your way. I'm not sure if this would even be possible because it's pretty clear where the trail is ~ even with over a foot of snow covering it! Luckily, someone had already hiked this section of trail earlier and the footprints matched my stride perfectly! (I found this person at the end of this section and talked with him for a minute about other trails in the area, and thanked him for leaving nice footprints for me to walk in!).

There are cute little foot-bridges throughout the trail. Because the trail is kind of "cut into" the hillside between the river and the road (above the trail), I'm sure there's quite a bit of water runoff down the hillside that would wipe out the path, or make it impassable if it weren't for these little bridges. In any case, I think they're cute.

I seriously cannot get over how SCENIC it was along this trail. I can't seem to find the right words to bring it to life properly. Instead of taking my word for it and trying to experience it through these photos, I highly recommend you get off the computer and make the road trip out there!

I realize a lot of the beauty today had to do with the blanket of fresh snow on everything, but I can't wait to check out this trail during the different seasons... birds and smell of fresh pine in the spring, camping and swimming in the summer, and the beautiful fall foliage in autumn.

As we got closer to Grandfather Falls, the river got increasingly louder. The babble of water over the rocks of the rapids was so soothing. At the end of this segment is a dam with a portage area for canoes. The trail continues across the river, but we had already hiked 3 miles and needed to conserve our energy to get back to the parking lot. Plus I only brought along one bottle of water and had shared some of it with Charlie (which she didn't drink anyway!) and I knew I was getting dehydrated.

Charlie was definitely much slower on the way back and stopped to chew on sticks along the way. She had been so exuberant when we started the trail, funny how walking through a foot of snow will tire you out so quickly. We had fun though, and that's the whole point.

Even though there was a lot of snow on the trail, I never felt like I was in danger of sliding down the slope to the river below. There were good footholds and if you pay attention to where you're going, you'll do just fine. It is a bit of a challenging hike, but still do-able for beginners. Just make sure you stop frequently to enjoy the view and bring along water so you don't get dehydrated. However, if you're super-afraid of heights, this may not be a good trail for you.
Small bird's nest I saw on the way back ~ tiny treasures!
I've lived in the Wausau area since 1996 and I can't believe how little I know about this part of the state that I call home. I'm so lucky to live in the Wisconsin River Valley where there are many natural resources to explore. I can't say it enough, people, get out there and explore your world... whether it be your neighborhood, your city, your state or any part of the world. Don't miss out on anything!

Exploring, going for a walk, checking out a local park... nature is free, people. It doesn't cost you anything to experience the natural world around you. And the reward is immense.

Happy Hiking!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Digging Out

It snowed all day today. I mean it. All. Day. I think we got about 6 inches in total, which isn't really that bad when you consider how bad some other states got it. Upon arriving home from work, I started shoveling the sidewalks and driveway; we live on a corner lot - it took awhile. The streetlights came on by the time I was finishing up. My back hurts and I'm tired, so unfortunately there will be no walks or hikes tonight.

I'm going to bed early and hopefully be recharged for some good hiking tomorrow ~ with fresh snow to boot!


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bath Night!

Tonight is bath night! Charlie's been smelling a little "doggier" than usual so I figured it was time. For a dog who absolutely LOVES water, it's funny how much she HATES bath night. Right away she could tell something was up... extra towels on the bathroom counter, bag of treats in the bathroom, shower curtain open... and she was doing everything to avoid coming near the bathroom door. I had to throw treats in the living room to confine her to a smaller space so she wouldn't run downstairs, then scooped her up in my arms to carry her to the bathroom.

Interesting side note:  why is it that a dog seems to gain 10 pounds when they're all tensed up?

Anyway, as soon as I got her in the bathroom and closed the door, she kind of "gave up." She actually hopped into the bathtub all by herself! I guess she knew it was inevitable and there was no use fighting it.

Charlie's favorite part about bath night (if there is anything good about it) is the towel. She LOVES being toweled off and then racing around the house with a towel in her mouth doing crazy-circles. Charlie is really good at doing crazy-circles. It's like she's possessed! I'll have to try and catch some video of her doing this sometime ~ it's impossible to explain in words.

My favorite part about bath night is seeing my "naked dog" ~ that is, without her collar. She looks so extra cute when she's naked! Also, she smells like lavender for a couple of weeks. I found some great puppy shampoo when I first got Charlie, and about a year later when I went to buy more, I found out it was discontinued. I got online and found a distributor with 3 bottles left and ordered them all. I think we're pretty well stocked-up on this lovely lavender shampoo for a few years now.

Goodnight and sweet dreams.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Monday Night Blahs

I really didn't feel like going for a walk tonight. I had a long day at work and am just plain tired. Charlie seemed like she was going to let me off the hook and just chill with me, but I guilt-tripped myself into going anyway. You see, it's a balmy 35 degrees today but going to get much colder for the next couple of days, so this might be our only chance to enjoy some *nice* weather. Plus it was starting to snow those big fluffy slow snowflakes that I love so much.

I was reading #2 on one of my favorite blogs today, 1000 Awesome Things. His quote, "You will never be as young as you are right now." is so true and got me thinking that even though I'm tired and don't feel like going for a walk, I have to take advantage of the time I have. Today, Charlie and I are as young as we're ever going to be and I want her to enjoy every minute of it. Some day she's going to be old and incapable of running or maybe even walking.

So we went. And we had a GREAT time! I brought along her spiky, fluorescent green bouncy ball and a bag of treats. We had an awesome* walk down to the River Edge Parkway and I threw the ball all along the path while we walked. Charlie got to "go find it" when the ball landed in the deep snow ~ one of her favorite games and I got to quietly contemplate all the things I'm grateful for while watching the snow fall in the light from the street lamps. There was a quiet moment where all I could hear was the tinkling of the snow as it landed on my coat.

Ahhhh. <insert smile here>

*We had a bit of a leash-walking breakthrough tonight. I've been reading up on different harnesses that are supposed to help with leash-pullers and one of them that I'm particularly interested in has the leash clip ring on the front (chest part) of the harness ~ supposedly reducing the pull-effect of top ring harnesses. Anyway, in adapting this theory of the front ring, I looped the leash around my hands and kept them behind my back, stepping in front of Charlie every time she tried to walk in front of me. Eventually she gave up and trotted along happily behind me, looking up occasionally (making eye contact with me!) to make sure she was doing it right. I was so impressed and my shoulders were grateful for not having to deal with the leash-pulling! I can't tell you how proud I am of both of us... me for figuring out how to *lead* my dog instead of letting her be the leader, and of Charlie for cooperating. Good girl, Charlie.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Fern Island Repeat (with Charlie)

Charlie didn't come along on my previous excursion to Isle of Ferns Park since I went on my lunch break, so this morning she joined me for a repeat hike! We started out on the River Edge Parkway behind the VFW and walked down to the park, all the way around the island, and then back up the Parkway. She had so much fun!  Here's a photo recap of our hike today:

Happy Hiking!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Lunch Break Excursion - Isle of Ferns

I couldn't resist taking an excursion to the Isle of Ferns Park on the tail-end of an extended lunch break from work yesterday. We had gotten 5 inches of wet snow and it was clinging to all the tree branches enticing the photographer inside me; I had to get some pictures of this!

Snow slid from the heavy branches in *splats* on the path below while big snow-blobs continued to fall from the sky. No one had been on the path yet... just a fresh blanket of new snow. I ran along snapping as many pictures as I could while keeping in mind that I needed to get back to work soon. Oh how I wish I could have called in sick yesterday to spend the day out photographing and hiking instead!

Wausau is so lucky to have these little "island" parks along the banks of the Wisconsin River throughout the downtown area. It's a nice break from the hustle and bustle and an awesome place to take a lunch break while getting in a quick walk!

Aerial view of Isle of Ferns Park

This particular island has stone bridges scattered throughout the trail and a big open area in the middle for picnics or playing frisbee, etc. There's a boat launch that will give you access to Lake Wausau and the park connects to the River Edge Parkway for even more walking pleasure. The adjoining park, Oak Island, has a playground for kids, baseball diamonds, tennis courts, picnic shelters and plenty of riverfront footage for fishing. The Wausau Farmer's Market is also held in the open space near the park on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer. For dog owners, there's a small section dedicated to off-leash dogs from 6-9am and 6-9pm.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Autopilot Moments

Hugging Trees ~ Happy Valentine's Day

I took a half-day of personal leave from my "regular job" yesterday to catch up on baking dog-treat orders. In between batches, I decided to take Charlie for a mid-week hike and take advantage of daylight! The days are getting longer one minute at a time, but we are still in the dark for our evening walks after work.

We headed out to one of our fave hiking spots and I proceeded to sludge through the snow and ice, head down, with a million things racing through my mind as Charlie happily hopped along sniffing everything. After about a half-mile, I realized Charlie was lagging behind... she was so engulfed in taking in all the sights and smells that she wasn't doing a very good job keeping up with me! As I waited for her to catch up, I became aware of big snowflakes slowly drifting out of the steel-gray sky. They were kind of floating all around me. All of a sudden I realized I had been on autopilot and wasn't paying attention to anything but the bazillion thoughts in my head ~ worrying about how to build my dog treat business so I can be self-employed, how to update my web page, designing labels for my new treat flavors, whether my oat flour would last until my next supply order arrives, etc.

We all have those moments where the busy-ness of life weighs heavily on our minds, when you've driven to work and don't remember actually driving there, or someone is talking to you and you've only heard 5% of what they're saying. Autopilot.

Watching Charlie romp in the snow and breathe in the world around her, instead of thinking about how lonely she'll be tomorrow when I go back to work, reminded me that life is now. Lesson learned from my dog:  slow down and be present in the moment. Don't get caught up in what happened yesterday or what you have to do tomorrow. Your presence in this moment is your present.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bumpy Ride

Do you ever feel like as soon as you decide to do something, everything works against you? This is usually the case when I decide to join a gym; inevitably as soon as I pay the membership fee I get a bad cold that keeps me from going for the first few weeks. Then it turns into one excuse after another why I can't make it. When I *actually* do go, I realize I'd rather be doing something outside than stuck indoors with a bunch of other people working out while trying to ignore each other.

Last week, I decided that I should be walking to work every day rather than driving a mile. It seems so wasteful to start the Jeep for a 5 minute drive when I would benefit (body and soul) from a 20 minute walk twice a day instead. But this past weekend we got a bunch of freezing rain that has done horrific things to the sidewalks. At first, they were glare ice ~ much too dangerous to walk on. Then the ice melted a little bit and an inch of snow was added to the top of the slush. The slush eventually froze when temperatures dropped yesterday. Now there are thick ice-slush sculptures growing out of the sidewalks. Bumpy and slippery.

The walk to work this morning was an exercise in concentration. Instead of absorbing the world around me, I was absorbed in watching where I was going; head down the whole way. The sidewalk terrain varied so much from one house to the next that I really needed to pay attention. Sometimes it would look like dry sidewalk, but really there was a thin layer of very slippery ice, some houses had not shoveled the snow or slush which actually provided good traction, some houses were on a slope and a river of frozen ice flowed across their lawn and sidewalks. Treacherous conditions. But I'm proud of myself for doing it instead of taking the easy way to work.

The skies are gray today and the snow is flurrying. The landscape is a collage of varying shades of gray, white and brown. But the snowflakes that landed on the dark sidewalk in front of me were their own little works of art and I had to stop and bend down to take in their beauty before entering my office building. Hopefully their whimsical shapes will keep me going through the day until I can get outside again for the walk home.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hiking Sustenance ~ Recipe

It's raining today. Actually it's freezing rain, to be more specific. We were planning on attending the last Dog Gone Snow Stomp of the season, but it's really too dangerous to be out right now. If it was just rain, I would totally go; I'm not afraid of getting wet, and neither is Charlie. But the sidewalks are glare ice and every step could result in a fall. I'd just rather not take any chances!

Charlie seems content to be lazy today, so I'm going to take advantage of this reprieve by working in the kitchen. In yesterday's post, you may have seen me refer to home-made granola bars. I'm going to share my recipe for these today, and if you like them as much as I do, you'll probably never buy store-bought ones again! I love taking these along hiking with me because they're full of good stuff like nuts and oats and also very satisfying to my sweet tooth. Plus you can modify the recipe for your own tastes.

Granola Bars
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toast the following ingredients for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning:
2 cups oats
1/2 cup oat bran (or wheat germ)
1/4 cup ground flax seed
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup chopped nuts (your choice)

Mix following ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring to a simmer on medium heat stirring constantly:
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey (up to 1/2 cup if you like them sweeter)
4 Tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp Kosher salt

The sauce pan mixture will start to get bubbly and that's how you know it's ready.

Mix the toasted oat mixture with the sauce pan mixture and stir together in a large bowl.

Stir in a cup of chocolate chips or dried fruit during this step... be creative! Sometimes I use chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, coconut flakes, dried blueberries or raisins. You can also leave it plain.
Pour mixture into a 9x13 cake pan lined with parchment paper or wax paper sprayed with cooking spray and press down firmly with a spoon or some extra wax paper.
Let pan cool for 2-3 hours then remove from pan and cut into bars. Store them in a covered container.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Big Eau Pleine County Park

This is my secret spot. I almost hate to write about it because it's a good place to avoid crowds. It's a bit of a drive to get there and typically secluded ~ especially this time of year. Or so I thought... today we crossed paths with a few other couples out snow-shoeing, saw cross country ski trails, heard snowmobiles and waved at some ice fishermen. All in all, a pretty busy day for this park!

Blazing her own trail

It was 14 degrees when we got there at 10:30am this morning. The weather forecast had predicted temps in the low 30's by mid-afternoon and partly cloudy skies. While we can "predict" the weather, it shouldn't be relied upon. It started snowing when we left the house this morning and continued on through early afternoon. It was the kind of snow where the sun is trying to peek out, but never quite makes it. There was a bit of a wind too. We stuck to the trail on the less-windy side of the reservoir. The snow and frost was stuck to all the tree branches making it look like a winter wonderland. The breeze blew clumps of snow from the branches which then mingled with the other snow flakes as they drifted down to the trail below. It was so quiet.

She can hear the mice scurrying beneath the snow

The snow on the trail hadn't been trampled down by anyone in awhile. It was almost knee-deep on me and up to Charlie's belly. I was the only idiot in the woods with *just* boots on... everyone else had snowshoes or ski's. It was hard. I was tired. At one point I stopped to lean against a tree for a rest, tilted my head back and yelled, "WHAT WAS I THINKING???!!!" 

At this point on the trail, I was about halfway. No point in turning back, might as well keep walking. No one was going to swoop in and whisk me away back to my warm vehicle. Must. Keep. Walking. My legs were cold, I was tired from sludging through the deep snow and I was out of breath. Even Charlie was lagging behind; obviously tired out too.

Finally the trail opened up onto the road, which we took back to the parking lot. It was revitalizing walking on a flat, plowed surface! We trekked the mile back to the Jeep, blasted the heater and munched on a snack of home-made granola bars (Kanine Kitchen dog treats for Charlie!). I couldn't believe this small section of trail had taken us an hour and a half to walk! Normally we would do three times this amount of trail in that time. Deep snow really slows you down.

On the road back to the parking lot
We had a nice nap when we got home. The effort of our hike was worthwhile to be able to snuggle with my sleepy puppy all afternoon. It makes up for missing her all week long when I'm stuck in my office cubicle, wishing we could be out hiking together instead. I love being in the quiet woods with my best friend watching the snow quietly falling.