Monday, June 30, 2014

Swimming in the Weeds

Our camping plans were spoiled by the threat of severe weather last weekend, so Charlie and I spent the weekend at home and did a few local hikes instead. The weather didn't turn out to be as severe as predicted, but the humidity was high.

I hate camping in humidity, so having to change our plans turned out to be a good thing:
Heat + Humidity + Bugs + Bug Spray = Sweaty, Unhappy Heather

Anyway, the humidity did end up affecting me on our Sunday hike. I was clipping along at a good pace, it was mid-morning before the temps got too hot and we were under a thick canopy of shade trees with a pretty strong breeze. And yet, after 30 minutes of hiking my head was spinning and my hands were shaking; I had to stop and sit down, eat my granola bars, drink my entire bottle of water and just plain rest.

I cut our hike short and headed back up the trail to the park where I found a section of shoreline (away from the swimming beach) where Charlie could play fetch in the water for awhile and expend her energy.

The water in this reservoir currently has an outbreak of blue-green algae, which is toxic to dogs, and I had been trying to keep Charlie away from it during our hike. Luckily this area in the weeds seemed to be clear water; I could see all the way down to the sand, so I figured it was a safe spot to swim.

Charlie agreed.


After a long time of stick throwing, she still didn't want to leave. I actually had to start walking back to the parking lot without her because she wouldn't come out of the water. Every now and then I'd turn back to make sure she was coming. There she would be, about 50 feet behind me, watching to see if I would turn back and let her swim some more.

And even though she put on this pouty show of wanting to stay, she immediately fell asleep on the front seat of the car on the way home. Silly girl.

*If you're having trouble viewing the YouTube video, try using a different browser, like Chrome.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Backyard Watermelon

My container in front with the "good" pieces and Charlie's in back with the scraps.

Summertime is the BEST time to feed your dog watermelon! Not only is it in season, but you can feed it to them outside and contain the mess to the backyard.

The watermelon I got from the store yesterday turned out to be a tad "over-ripe" giving it that grainy texture that is not very appealing to me. The best thing to do in these situations is to cut off the best parts into a container for me and the rest goes into the doggie container!

Using a piece of rind as a dish, I transported some of Charlie's watermelon to the backyard and let her enjoy a noontime snack in the sun.

After eating up all the pre-cut pieces, she got to work nibbling the remaining watermelon off the rind. This kept her occupied for over half an hour and she got a healthy and fun snack too!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Dog-Hiking + Chlorophyll

We ended up with a free Saturday afternoon last weekend and headed toward our favorite central Wisconsin park - Big Eau Pleine County Park! Everything was much greener than our last visit. Luckily, it was a very breezy day which made it difficult for the mosquitoes to land on us.

The ferns were almost as tall as me!

A bald eagle flew through the forest right in front of us, followed by a younger juvenile one. I had to stop and watch the pristine maneuvering of their large wingspan through the dense trees - just amazing!

We also saw several deer on this day - mostly young ones, and a mother doe nursing her baby fawn.

We revisited the site of the dead raccoon from our last visit, and was surprised to see it had not been disturbed; the process of nature taking its course.

Charlie was startled by a large piece of "garbage" near the trail, so we stopped to investigate. It turned out to be one of those luminaries that people release in the night, glowing with their messages to loved ones. A beautiful idea, but still... garbage littering the landscape.

All was going well with our long afternoon hike until Charlie stopped near one of the large piles of horse dung randomly scattered along the trail (most of these trails are shared by horseback riders, mountain bikes and hikers), and took a big bite out of it!


There's not much that turns my stomach, but poop-eating is definitely one of them!

But I started thinking about my recent reading assignments from my dog nutrition course books and I wondered if she was eating this horse poop because it was filled with grass. Because you know dogs like eating grass.

The downside is that grass is not the greatest source of chlorophyll and typically goes through the digestive system without releasing much benefit.

Most wild animals get their source of chlorophyll from the intestines of their prey and they also have access to all the wild vegetation they can find. Domestic dogs don't get this opportunity, and typically grass is the only green thing they have access to.

Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in almost all plants and has enormous benefits. It helps cleanse the cells of the body, fights infection, heals wounds, builds the immune system and detoxifies the digestive system. It also promotes digestive health, which is why dogs probably eat grass when they're not feeling well. Another bonus to eating chlorophyll - it can eliminate mouth odors, helping with bad breath!

No wonder we're always being told to eat our veggies! And that goes for dogs too.

So next time you're preparing dinner, saute some greens in a little butter for both you and your dog. Some good veggies to start with:  spinach, broccoli, asparagus, peas, kale, parsley, beans and sprouts. I regularly feed Charlie fresh fruit and veggies, but since this poop-eating incident, I might try ratcheting up some of her veggie variety to make sure she's getting everything she needs.

I have to admit that even though I keep Charlie's healthy interests in mind, I stopped on our way home for a Pup Cone at our local ice cream place. Sometimes you just have to have a treat!

Disclaimer:  I am not a veterinarian or licensed health professional. All information contained in this article is my own opinion gained through educating myself from a variety of sources. Always consult with your veterinarian regarding your pet's health. You are your pet's health advocate and it is up to you to make wise and healthy decisions on their behalf.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Point Beach State Forest

To escape the hustle and bustle of our city home, I packed up the car for a 3-day camping trip and headed east to Point Beach State Forest last weekend. Not only did I want to enjoy sunshine, sand and seagulls on the shore of Lake Michigan (with a designated dog beach!), but another segment of the Ice Age Trail awaited us inside the park!

Upon arrival, our first stop would be the dog beach just south of the Rawley Point Lighthouse, one of Lake Michigan's biggest and brightest lighthouses. After a short hike along a trail leading to the dog beach, we found that there wasn't much "beach" to be found; mostly sand dunes with a short drop-off to the waves below. This sure wasn't going to be the picturesque walk along the beach I had imagined, but Charlie didn't seem to care. We headed south down the beach away from the crowded main area and found a secluded spot a little ways down where we played a game of frisbee. The park ranger had informed me that the entire 6-mile stretch of beach south of the lighthouse was open to dogs, so there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy your own slice of shoreline.

The campground consists of over 120 sites, pit toilets, water faucets and a couple of shower buildings. There is a nature center with a concession stand and a few picnic areas with access to the beach right across from the main campground. In fact, the beach is only a short walk from many of the sites!

My first impression of the campground was that there were a LOT of dogs here! And also the mosquitoes were very large and extremely relentless! I sprayed down with bug spray immediately after exiting the car and reapplied often throughout the weekend. I even had to apply some to Charlie a couple of times because she was getting welts from the mosquito bites.

Considering there are so many campsites here, they are surprisingly well-spaced with quite a bit of privacy. Our site, #42, was large enough to fit two tents and two cars easily and had a nice walking path all along the back side within the pine trees. We even heard deer running along the path a few times.

On the Ridges Trail.
After setting up camp, Charlie and I headed off to hike the nearby Ridges Trail. I quickly realized why there were so many mosquitoes in this park: the trail followed along the top of a small ridge with marshes, also called swales, on both sides. The still, stagnant water is a prime breeding ground for the pesky bugs. It turned out the campground was also interspersed with these swales, some of them right next to campsites!

The next morning, Charlie and I warmed up around the campfire and ate a hearty breakfast in preparation for hiking the Point Beach Segment of the Ice Age Trail. Because I wanted to have time (and energy) to spend on the beach, we planned on hiking only the section within the park, and not the entire segment.

In all honesty, I wasn't looking forward to hiking this segment at first; the idea of stagnant marshes were a bit unappealing to me. But once I got on the trail, I fell in love with the scenery and the peacefulness surrounding me. Since most people come here for the beach, the trails were quiet and uncrowded. I began finding tiny treasures, like a small skull, dainty flowers and bright green marsh plants that were like nothing I'd ever seen before. The trail curved around old trees and rolled along a low ridge with water-filled swales on either side. Sounds of birds and frogs filled the air and a refreshing breeze from the big lake swirled through the woods. The sandy soil, covered with a thick blanket of pine needles, muffled my footsteps allowing me to concentrate on the sounds of the forest.

Swale along the Ice Age Trail - Point Beach Segment.

Mosquitoes were thick, but if you kept moving it was not too bad; understandably it is still early in the season and they will most likely get worse as the summer wears on. Benches were available to take in the scenery and there were occasional cordwalks leading off the trail to the dunes and beach beyond.

Charlie and I took a long break at the beach to play in the sun and surf. But when it was time to head back to the trail for more hiking, Charlie decided to throw a tantrum! Just like a small child, she did not want to leave the beach. I had to agree with her; the water was an enticing blue-green color and the bright sunny skies reflected sun sparkles along the crashing waves. It was too inviting not to stay a little while longer.

Here is a VIDEO of our trail walk and playtime on the beach:

This area is an outdoor enthusiast's playground with so many things to do! There are miles of shoreline trails offering an opportunity to enjoy the cool Lake Michigan breeze while taking in the scenery.

Bring your bicycle or rent one, to explore the 6-mile long Mariner's Trail connecting Manitowoc and Two Rivers and then continue on the additional 6-mile long Rawley Point Trail all the way up to Point Beach State Forest. Once you're at the forest, there are additional trails to explore inside the park.

Walk along the cordwalk to Rawley Point Lighthouse located at the entrance of Point Beach State Forest and learn about the maritime history of the area.

A short drive to nearby Manitowoc and Two Rivers will bring tons of shopping opportunities and plenty of restaurants to choose from. Take a scenic walk out to Manitowoc's Breakwater Light and watch the car ferry depart while letting your dog run inside the small fenced-in dog park located at the end of the trail.

We had a fun-packed weekend and I was so pleased to see how dog-friendly this area is. Not only are dogs visible everywhere, but they are welcome most places too. While dogs have certain restrictions - like being on-leash inside the state forest and only being in designated areas - people are making their dogs a part of their everyday lives, including vacations. As we travel and explore our state, I'm so happy to see dogs and their people enjoying the outdoors!

A tired Charlie is ready to go home.

*A portion of travel costs were sponsored by Katzenbarkers Natural Pet Food and Supplies. Thank you for supporting me and Charlie on our adventures to encourage other pet owners to get active with their dogs outdoors!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Charlie ~ My Little Athlete

I may need to become a "soccer mom" even though I have no children.

Let me explain...

A couple of weeks ago, we visited family including my 6-year-old nephew, Tyler. He's involved in just about any sport you can name, and most recently soccer. During the visit, Charlie and Tyler got to playing with his soccer ball which he had brought with him.

I often have to check on Charlie when she's off playing with people because everyone thinks it's so cool how she fetches over and over and over again, however they fail to realize that she's about to die of exhaustion. This dog of mine has no "off" switch; she will literally fetch until she keels over and dies. So I find myself giving humans a time-out from playing with Charlie and have even hidden her toys to make sure she stops and takes a break. (This doesn't always work, because Charlie will then scrounge up sticks, acorns, and any little bit of something she can coax someone into throwing for her.)

Anyway, when I went to check on Charlie and saw that she was playing soccer, I was pretty impressed! Charlie has always been a bit of a "goalie" when it comes to playing ball, but she was interacting with Tyler as if she knew how to play soccer.

And then Tyler turns to me and says, "she's pretty good!"

Oh how I beamed. I glowed. I have an athletic dog. I am a soccer mom.


It's been a little while since that weekend, and now every time we go out to the backyard, Charlie wants to play soccer. With me.

Honestly, I try my best, but I am not as agile or athletic as my young nephew. The good thing is, Charlie doesn't seem to mind. In fact, the only thing that seems to bother her is when I try to go back inside and she wants to keep playing.

Ah, the joys of summer. Long days, warm temperatures and soft, green grass to play on. I typically sigh and smile at the antics of this silly dog of mine and give in - once again - to her exercise demands and play a little longer.

That's what soccer moms do.

It's really hard to get photos of myself playing soccer with Charlie, so if you're at all curious about what we're using to play "dog soccer" you can check out my March blog post reviewing the Chuckit! Fetch Ball. Interestingly, I had commented in that post how I was looking forward to playing with it in fields of green grass and testing its floating capabilities... guess that is coming full circle now! I'll bring it along to our camping trip this weekend and hopefully catch some photos of it in the water.

(I purchased the Chuckit! Fetch Ball with my own funds and did not receive any free product for my review; my opinions are all my own!)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

National Trails Day - June 7

National Trails Day always falls on the first Saturday of June, and last year it happened to be my birthday; hiking a trail was an awesome way to spend a birthday!

I love hiking so much that I don't need a special occasion to get out on the trails plus Charlie and I are typically hiking every weekend anyway, but if you're new to hiking, National Trails Day is a perfect excuse to get out and explore! If you need inspiration or help finding events in your area, click on this LINK for more info.

We'll be heading out this Saturday for a 3-day weekend full of camping, hiking and exploring in one of Wisconsin's fabulous state parks that also happens to contain a segment of the Ice Age Trail. I'm so excited to explore a new place and share it with you, so make sure to check back next week for pictures and tales of our adventure!

And don't wait to find your own adventure - head out this weekend and go hiking!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Continuing Education

Last year around this same time, I headed off for Wilderness First Aid training and certification. It was the first time I'd done any continuing education since graduating from college. And it was something that I really wanted to learn rather than something I was learning purely for career advancement. Without getting too "preachy" on you, I think everyone should take a class or sign up for some kind of continuing education in something that really interests them at some point in their lives. It's so rewarding.

With kids starting to get out of school this time of year, I began thinking about summer school and how when I was a kid, I always looked forward to signing up for something during summer. I know... I'm a little weird. But those summer classes were so much fun! I took classes in photography, sewing, cooking and all kinds of fun things that you normally don't get to do during the regular school year. I guess this kind of continuing education has always been a passion of mine.

Ever since my first aid training last year, I've been itching to do some more classes, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to focus on. The answer came to me a couple of months ago and I've spent a lot of time since then researching where to get this next phase of training and soul-searching to see how deeply I wanted to get into this area of study.

Today, I took the first step! And since I turned 40 today, I think it's a perfect time for me to dip my toes into the deep end and see where this takes me.

A few years ago I started an all-natural dog treat bakery business and last year I started this blog. Both of these passions were centered around creating a healthy life for my dog - through nutrition and exercise. If you don't already know by now, dogs are my LIFE! I can't imagine a life without dogs. And my recent stint working at an all-natural pet store sparked my interest in learning more about pet nutrition. I loved helping people choose the right food for their pets and learning about different diets and nutritional needs.

This summer I will be embarking on a journey - a 500-hour journey (according to the course syllabus) - that will most likely take me over a year to complete, but at the end of this trip I'll be a Clinical Pet Nutritionist! And who knows where this new-found knowledge will take me.

The future is wide open.