Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Important Cardinal - Cardinalis cardinalis

By Brittany Friedel, Outdoor Education Intern

Few birds are as distinctive as the bright red cardinal. Even if you can’t tell a titmouse from a nuthatch, you can identify a cardinal.  Cardinals are medium sized birds, with prominent crests, and red bills.  Males are all red, with a black area surrounding their bills.  Females are olive to buffy brown colored, with red wings and tail.

The males’ red plumage is particularly striking in winter time, when they can often be seen sitting on a branch against a stark backdrop of white.  

Interestingly, the cardinal got its name from associations between the red robes of the cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church and their bright plumage.  Cardinal originally meant important, and to at least seven states, the cardinal is very important.  Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia all have the cardinal as their state bird.

Cardinals are often seen in edge habitats, areas that have both trees, shrubs, and open grasses.  They nest in thickets, vines, or shrubs and breed from March through August.  They will pick a home range and heartily defend their territory against other cardinals during the breeding season.  For this reason, you may see more cardinals at your feeder in the winter versus spring and summer.

Cardinals are monogamous and will sing beautiful duets with their mates, strengthening their bond.  Cardinals are one of a few species in which the females sing as well as the males. It's not unusual to hear them singing “cheer, cheer, cheer; purty-purty-purty-purty or sweet-sweet-sweet-sweet” together in the early spring mornings.

Winter is the perfect time to coax cardinals to your backyard with some strategically placed feeders.  Sunflower seeds are the top choice of cardinals.  They use their strong beaks to crack the case open after manipulating it sideways with their tongue.   They then spit the shell and swallow the seed.  cardinals prefer seed on trays, platforms, or even spread out on the ground.  Consider distance from your house or walkways, food type, weather protection, and possible predation when setting up a bird feeding station.  You might have to experiment with feeders and locations to determine the best combination for your particular situation.

It is also important to regularly check and clean your feeders.  Poorly maintained feeders and water stations can spread disease among the very birds you are trying to help and enjoy.

Get Out , Go Wild and enjoy some of Ohio’s native wildlife!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Do Critters Get Cold Too?

By John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, District Two, Findlay

Whenever the bottom falls out of the thermometer and temperatures hover close to zero, or below, we at the Ohio Division of Wildlife start to receive quite a few calls from concerned people about the fate of their favorite wildlife species. So, what about our native wildlife that have been exposed to this weather? It may be surprising, but for the most part, they are just fine. It is easy to personify, or bestow human traits upon wildlife, particularly species we are fond of.  However, it is important to remember that native species of wildlife are well adapted to deal with winter conditions.  Although the past few years have been extreme, these adaptations have developed over thousands of years and thousands of  winters. These adaptations can be classified into two groups: structural or behavioral.
Structural adaptations are physical traits, handed down through genetics, that help an animal better survive in its environment. In the case of winter conditions, an obvious example for most mammal species is the pelage, or their covering of hair or fur. In fall, most mammals in Ohio replace their thinner summer coats with a dense winter coat.  This is why furbearer trapping seasons are scheduled for late fall and winter. These thick coats are comprised of two layers, an inner dense undercoat which traps air and provides warmth, and an outer layer of guard hairs to repel moisture, protect the undercoat, and provide camouflage.

Have you ever noticed that the northern members of a species seem to be a bit larger than their southern counterparts?  For example, a rabbit in Arizona is going to be much smaller than a rabbit in Ohio.  It has to do with how their bodies deal with heat. In the south where summers are very hot, bodies need to remove heat in order to protect vital organs, while in the north the opposite is required, heat needs to be retained during the cold months. So how does size help? Think of a cube. For every one additional increase of surface, the volume increases three fold. So the larger and stouter northerly animals have more mass relative to surface area to protect internal organs. Likewise, the thinner and lanky southerly versions often have larger surface areas, such as larger ears, in relation to their volumes to help dissipate heat.

Behavioral adaptations are ways an animal reacts to changes in its environment that help it better survive. Hibernation is a behavioral adaptation that is ingrained in some species. These species have no choice whether or not they hibernate. Hibernation is a prolonged state of inactivity with lower body temperature, slower breath and heart rate, and sometimes very low metabolic rate. In Ohio, groundhogs and bears are some of the few mammals that enter hibernation. Other species, like skunks and raccoons enter a lesser form of hibernation called torpor. Animals in a state of torpor are similar to those in hibernation, but for only a short amount of time, such a few hours or a few days. Often, these animals will “sleep” during periods of severe weather and emerge once the weather breaks. These two adaptations help an animal conserve energy.  Low metabolism and slowed bodily functions expend much less energy that they can save for when the weather clears up and can get out to look for food.

Some species learn adaptations from their parents.  Just like Eskimos, many species of wildlife, particularly game birds like ruffed grouse and pheasants, rely on snow for insulation and to protect them from the harsh winds. They will bury themselves in a snowdrift to shelter from the wind and cold.  But, when woodlots and fence rows are removed, the wind driven snow continues on rather than forming snowdrifts along the fences, leaving these species susceptible to the elements.  Similarly, some animals, like chipmunks and squirrels, learn to cache or store food for winter.  They will hide their supplies

Some species have adapted other ways to cope with unfavorable weather. Many species of birds choose to avoid the cold altogether and fly to areas where food is abundant. Migration is an adaptation to capitalize on the seasonally abundant food sources as they occur in different regions of the world.

Still, there are some native species, which are not very tolerant of Ohio’s weather patterns. Often, these species are better adapted to other regions of the country and the edges of their home ranges spill into Ohio. These species are called edge species, since they are not fully adapted to survive in the area. The Northern bobwhite quail is one example of an edge species in Ohio. The numbers of Northern bobwhites in Ohio are subject to dramatic fluctuations due to winter weather conditions. Their populations often increase during mild winters while prolonged snow cover and below normal temperatures may decimate quail populations. On the other hand, Ohio is at the southern edge of the snowshoe hare’s range. Ohio’s relatively “mild” winters mean that the species was probably never abundant here and historically snowshoe hares were likely confined to the Snow Belt region in the extreme northeast corner of Ohio.

In the end, every species has adapted unique ways to help them survive in their environment. For Ohio’s wildlife that includes winters just like the one we are experiencing this year. Although, to some these conditions may seem unbearable, most all of the native wildlife species are well adapted to these conditions. For more information about a particular species that interests you, visit the Species Guide Index at wildohio.gov.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Wild DIY Projects – Sweet Homemade Suet

By: Brittany Friedel, Outdoor Education Intern

    Now that the snow has started to fly, it may be a good time to offer the birds in your neighborhood a nutritious suet feeder to help them through the coldest of days.  Suet feeders are a great resource for wintering birds that primarily rely on insects because of the high fat content.  The solid white fat found in the kidney area of cattle is called suet, but solid fat trimmings from any domestic livestock, as well as deer can also be included in this term.

   Suet feeders are made with varying ingredients, and it’s up to you to decide what works best for your budget and your neighborhood feathered friends. It can be fun to mix up the recipe and offer new varieties, discovering what is favored and what is not.  Optional additives can include: bird seed, peanut butter, dried fruits, oatmeal, cracked corn, chili powder (to deter squirrels), egg shells, honey, nuts, and even some kitchen scraps.  It might be helpful to make a large plain batch and then separate it into several smaller containers to make specialized assortments.  There are many varieties to consider, so experiment to determine what recipes disappear from your feeder the fastest.
     The creation process can also serve as a valuable educational moment for children.  Rather than buying a pre-made suet cake in a store and placing it outside for everyone to watch, children can make varying connections between wildlife and their food sources.  Why can’t birds just go to the store and buy food?  What ingredients are good for birds?  Are they the same for people?  Do all birds eat the same things?  Do some birds eat different foods in winter than in summer?  Why might this be?

     Making suet feeders with children is a great way to attract wildlife to your school or backyard and your feathered visitors will thank you for the necessary energy and nutrition that your feeder provides.

    This recipe will melt in warm temperatures (about 70°) and turn rancid, so it is recommended that this be used during the colder seasons.

Approximate time this project takes: 2 hours

Materials Needed:
Slow cooker with liner (or old saucepan – clean up may be messier!)
Large mixing bowl
Large mixing spoon for stirring
Muffin pan, old plastic containers, other small pans for forming the finished molds
Muffin liners (if using muffin pan)
Suet holder – cage, onion bag, etc
String for hanging

1lb of lard, suet, rendered fat, or vegetable shortening
Bird seed mixture
Peanut butter
Chopped apples
Plain yogurt

Step 1
Cut suet (or substitute) into small chunks and place in slow cooker (or old saucepan) and heat to 350° to melt.  Stir occasionally, but continually monitor.

Step 2
While suet is melting, chop up any ingredients (fruits, nuts, shells, etc.) that you may be using and mix in a large bowl.

Step 3
Once suet has reached liquid form, add peanut butter and melt.  Let cool for 5 minutes and carefully stir in other ingredients.  This ensures everything does not settle on the bottom.

Step 4
Place suet cake mixture into your selected molds and harden in the fridge for an hour

Step 5
Remove suet cake from molds and place into your suet holder.

Step 6
Enjoy watching the various birds that visit your feeder and take note of which recipes perform better!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Whet Your Palette with the Idea of Watering Down Your School Site

While it might be covered in snow, your school site can still be a source of inspiration for future planning.  If you can't get outside to you use your site, you can still daydream and plan from inside.  Here is an entry from Jamey Emmert about using water features on your school site.  Enjoy, and stay warm!  Jen

“Water is the driving force in nature.”  Leonardo Da Vinci sure knew what he was talking about when he made this statement. While many of us recognize Da Vinci as a remarkable artist, he was also a skilled and knowledgeable pioneer of hydrology science. I can certainly see his attraction to water.

Fresh, clean, healthy water is something that we humans simply can’t live very long without. Period. It’s been said humans can live up to three uncomfortable weeks without the nourishment of food. Do you know how long we can survive our thirst? Maybe slightly more than a week if you’re superhuman.

Wildlife, generally speaking, is very much the same. If the local fox squirrels have plenty of acorns tucked safely away in their secret little hiding places during the dead of winter, that’s good news. If all the watering holes around those secret spots are frozen solid for over for a week or more, that’s not good news. We wildlife enthusiasts might forget such an important factor and consequently take water for granted sometimes. This is why you should whet your palette with the idea of watering down your school site!

I’m a big proponent of focusing activities and projects in outdoor learning labs on creating, nurturing, and maintaining water sources. It sounds simple and, the beauty of it is that it can be. Many if not most of the projects and activities conducted on such a site can be as simplified or as complex as you choose to make them. There are countless options from which to choose when offering water to your local wild creatures.

Here are a few to whet your palette:

  • Bird bath: since smaller birds are reluctant to enter deep water for drinking and bathing, a shallow collection of fresh and clean water kept in a garbage can lid, drip tray for potted plants, or a scooped out log will all work well. Obviously, you can obtain something specially designed for birds, but be prepared to pay a hefty price for concrete or pottery. Location, location, location is key too!  Place your bird bath in a safe area where birds feel less vulnerable to predators; a more open space away from cover will reduce options where predators can hide.
bird bath
  • Pondless Water Feature: a very popular way to go; simply a re-circulating waterfall and/or stream of any shape and size. 
pondless stream
  • Pond/pool: an artificial pond or garden pool can be designed out of an old bath tub, child’s wading pool, a salvaged watering trough, or other similar container. Definitely plan to do some homework before you break ground; nobody likes broken pipes!
  • Shallow wetland: just like it sounds; a wetland of any shape and size which holds, ideally, just a few inches of water. This feature is completed with specialized plants and soils which like to keep their feet wet. Use a rubber, plastic, or concrete liner to help ensure water stays put and doesn’t seep out of the area. Again, do your homework before you dig! 
small wetland

Whatever road you choose to travel when it comes to your water feature just make sure you keep these things in mind:

  • Maintenance/accessibility - bear in mind that nearby water supply will make life much easier when cleaning and refreshing your water source, especially small bird baths which will need frequent attention. Hopefully occasional rain showers help you out during warmer months, but know that you might have to put the students to work to carry buckets or a hose from time to time. 
  • Electricity - to keep water fresh throughout the school year and thawed in the wintertime (when water can be as much needed as during a summer drought), you have a few options. Water pumps, filtration, and aeration can all be important when shooting for the most successful wildlife water sources. Consider solar power as an alternative or a supplement to old-fashioned electricity. As a side note, birds can hardly resist the sound of moving water; aeration not only help keep mosquito larva at bay but reduces concerns with algae too! Please resist the urge to use chemicals to keep a handle on the bugs and algae!  

If you’re thinking “well, I am already fortunate enough to have access to natural, existing, on-site water, so I have no need to create such a feature,” then you’re still in luck! There are many resources through Division of Wildlife as well as our partner agencies to learn more about using and perhaps improving these types of important components of a WILD School Site as well.

Please visit wildohio.gov  to build on these ideas and to read more about grant opportunities. Visit our Contact Us page to get connected with your regional Division of Wildlife representative who can help you further.

You'll be amazed at what water can do for wildlife and for your WILD School Site! Best wishes with your endeavors and thank you for your interest in Ohio’s wild creatures!

by Jamey Emmert, Wildlife Communication Specialist, Wildlife District Three, Akron, OH

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Batty Education Ideas

I know this is a little late for this year, since most educators do bat education programs BEFORE Halloween, but I was at a conference all last week and couldn't get this posted.  I want to
acknowledge Tabbi Kinion, state Project WILD Coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, for sharing this awesome list of resources to celebrate #BatWeek last week.  The Project WILD Coordinator list-serve went batty when she posted it, so I thought I'd share it with you all.  Enjoy!

"The USFS, USFWS, and several other partners have been working on new activities to teach about bats. For non-formal folks like park interpreters, these activities will be very useful as a great ideas for bat programs! However, these are brand-new activities that were not put through rigorous testing by teachers and they are not correlated to standards, so I’m not sure how much the average classroom teacher will be able to use them. http://batslive.pwnet.org/edubat/index.php  

The Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife also released a video for bat week this week. http://vimeo.com/109934165

And finally, just for fun and because it’s nice when Hollywood cares about wildlife, Batman likes bats too:

On Social Media, you can follow #batweek and #savethebats for lots of fun things going on around the country this week (actually last week now) in honor of bat week. You can also like Save the Bats on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/savebats  "

Also, the Indiana Project WILD Coordinator, Warren Gartner,  "wanted to share a video a group of local third graders did on the endangered Indiana Bat. The kids presented at this year’s bat festival and got great reviews. You can see their video at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUHQh0fm9Dw  "

"It sounds like Halloween week will be “Bat Week” for the next few years – just for future planning."

Thanks Tabbi and Warren for being Am”bat”ssadors  for wildlife education!

If you haven't done so already, don't forget about our WILD About Bats workshop later this month. You can find details on our website.  We hope to see you there!


Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Guide to Using Animals in the Classroom--Do you need a permit for that?

During winter, it is more difficult to take classes outside. It may be tempting to bring the outdoors inside. While the concept is admirable, ALL of Ohio’s wildlife is protected and cannot be taken or possessed without the proper permits. Even some animal parts, like antlers, need a permit or receipt to possess them.

The Division of Wildlife is the state agency mandated with regulating and managing all wild animal populations. Part of that responsibility is protecting species to ensure that they are not “loved to death.” Therefore, regardless how noble the cause, proper education permits must be obtained BEFORE removing animals from the wild. While we in no way want to restrict access to wildlife study, we just want educators to do it in a manner that conserves wildlife to be studied for future generations.  The Division of Wildlife strongly supports and promotes wildlife education, both in formal and non-formal settings. 

Educators who wish to use wildlife in their classrooms are able to obtain a permit which allows them to legally possess an animal for educational or scientific purposes. For more information on which permit you may need, or how to obtain a permit, refer to Publication 5009 “A Guide to Using Animals in the Classroom.” Or contact the Ohio Division of Wildlife's Permit Coordinator, Melissa Moser, at 1-800-WILDLIFE for more information.

Inquiry Adventures at Five Rivers MetroParks

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Stinging

by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist, Ohio Division of Wildlife--District Two

“Leaves of three, leave it be” is the old adage used to teach people how to identify and avoid an uncomfortable experience outdoors. However, the axiom is not completely accurate and quite a few plants with three leaves do not need to be avoided, like strawberries and raspberries. Learning to properly identify a few common plants is relatively simple and can help ensure a positive experience, or at least avoid a potentially uncomfortable one when venturing outside.

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are probably the most famous members of the “plants to avoid” list in North America. The sap of these plants contains the chemical urushiol which can cause an allergic reaction when it contacts the body. The reaction is often an irritating, itching rash that can develop into a more severe reaction in some people. When a plant is injured or damaged, urushiol is released to the plant’s surface. Urushiol is an oil that adheres to anything it comes in contact with including skin, blankets, clothing and pet fur.
Photo from webmd.com
Usually around 24 hours after contact with the skin, a rash will begin to develop at the point of contact. Rashes usually last for 1 to 2 weeks, but can last up to 5 weeks in some cases. The rash is not contagious, and the fluid from blisters cannot cause the rash to spread. Rashes can only be spread through continued contact with the urushiol oil. Similar to other oils, urushiol does not evaporate and water alone is not very effective at removing the oil. Soaps containing detergents that remove oil are preferred as is plenty of cold water, since hot water opens up skin pores allowing the oil to penetrate. Ordinary laundry detergents can be used to remove urushiol from most clothing and fabrics, except leather and suede.

Poison ivy
The best way to deal with urushiol is to avoid contacting plants that contain it. Of the three aforementioned plants, poison ivy is the most common in Ohio. True to the adage, poison ivy does have three leaflets. The leaflets are oval shaped containing a few narrow teeth along the edges. The center leaflet has a longer stalk than the outside two. Leaflets can vary in color from light green to dark green in the spring and summer, to red, yellow, or orange in the fall. Poison ivy can be a plant, a vine or a shrub, and is thorn less. Poison ivy vines are often “hairy” and the 3 leaflets connect to a stem which connects to the main vine in an alternating pattern.

Poison ivy is sometimes confused with other plants found in Ohio. Virginia creeper is a vine that often grows along tree trunks, similar to poison ivy, but contains 5 leaflets instead of 3 and the vine is “hairless.”

Virginia creeper

Both box elder, a member of the maple family, and fragrant sumac have leaflets similar to poison ivy. The leaflets of box elder saplings attach to the main stem opposite of each other, rather than in an alternating pattern like poison ivy.
Fragrant sumac is a small shrub found in half of Ohio’s counties. The center leaflet of fragrant sumac tapers to the base of the other two leaflets without a long stalk of the poison ivy center leaflet.

Poison sumac is the only other of the infamous three plants that is found in Ohio. It is mostly confined to the northeastern part of the state, and even in that region it is a rare occurrence. Poison sumac is a shrub with leaves containing 7 to 13 oblong leaflets with smooth edges. The stems of the shrub are hairless. It is almost always found in wet locations, like sphagnum bogs, fens and swamps.
Poison sumac
Poison sumac should not be confused with the common staghorn and smooth sumacs which are abundant throughout Ohio.
Staghorn sumac
Common sumac

Stinging nettle
Stinging nettle is another Ohio plant that can quickly turn a hike into an unpleasant situation. Unlike poison ivy and poison oak, stinging nettle does not contain the oil urushiol. Instead, stinging nettle, as the name implies, has very fine stinging hairs on the leaves and stems called trichomes. The trichomes act like tiny needles that inject multiple chemicals into the skin which cause a stinging sensation. Ironically, stinging nettle is edible and may have medicinal uses when handled properly. Stinging nettle grows 2 to 4 feet tall and can be found in fertile soils, often in forest floodplains and along stream banks. The dark green leaves are oval in shape, have a rough paper-like texture and contain very coarse teeth along the edges.

Jewelweed or Touch-Me-Not
Jewelweed is another important plant to know before heading outside, but for a very different reason. Despite one if its common names, touch-me-not, jewelweed is an important medicinal herb and can often relieve the adverse effects of stinging nettle, mosquito bites and bee stings. Some even claim that jewelweed can prevent poison ivy. The waxy leaves of jewelweed are oval in shape, with a few rounded teeth along the leaf edges. The stem is succulent and translucent with a clear liquid inside, which contains the anti-inflammatory ingredients. Interestingly, jewelweed prefers shade and moist soils near running water, which is often where stinging nettle is found.

So whether you are heading into your backyard or hiking deep into the back country, being able to identify a few common plants can have a dramatic difference on the outcome of your trip. If you are interested in learning more about Ohio’s wild plants, there are a variety of excellent field guides available as books or online. Although plant identification may seem overwhelming at first, a good field guide will help point you in the right direction.

Most photos were taken from The Ohio State University Extension or USDA websites.

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Educator’s Back to School List

by John Windau, Wildlife Communications Specialist

It is time for educators to begin thinking about this year’s lessons. The Division of Wildlife has many resources available to educators including professional development, loaner equipment and educational materials. Most of these resources are offered to educators free of charge. 

You may be interested to learn more about the Division of Wildlife’s professional development opportunities for educators from preschool through high school. These programs offer project-based learning programs that fit Ohio's New Science Learning Standards. And most are free or very low cost! 

For K-12, we offer training in the Project WILD and Aquatic Project WILD programs. Project WILD is a supplementary education program emphasizing awareness, appreciation and understanding of wildlife and natural resources, while helping students learn more about science, ELA, math, and more.

Realizing that early childhood educators are also looking for ways to incorporate wildlife into their classrooms, Growing Up WILD is the newest offering from Project WILD. Most instructors are also Step-Up to Quality approved.

All of these programs are referenced in the new Model Curriculum as high quality Instructional Strategies and Resources throughout most grade levels in Science. They are fun, easy to use, and don’t require any extra time or materials to implement. All can be received through a professional development workshop for 3-6 contact hours. You can find a listing of upcoming workshops on our website.  Just scroll to the bottom of the page.

WILD School Sites is another program you may be interested in. This program is an action extension of Project WILD and can involve any school property as a place to learn about and benefit from wildlife and the environment. WILD School Sites allow teachers and students to take what they learn from Project WILD and apply it to the creation of wildlife habitat on their school grounds. They can then use those habitat improvement projects to help bring real life lessons in science, language arts, math, and visual arts into their curriculum. These types of project or performance-based activities are very important in today’s standards. For more information about these programs, please visit the Conservation Education page

Materials from the Wildlife History Timeline
 Loaner Trunk
A wide variety of loaner materials are available to educators from the Division of Wildlife. Travelling trunks are a great way to bring wildlife education into classrooms using hands-on learning activities and visual aids. These rolling suitcases can be borrowed for two weeks at a time. Most trunks contain activity guides to help educators who are less familiar with Ohio wildlife to structure their lessons.

The Division of Wildlife also produces a wide variety of educational materials and resources, including posters, an eNewsletter for educators, life history sets, 12 different field guides of Ohio’s wildlife, and a Wild Ohio Magazine for kids. 

Again, most of these items are provided free to educators by the Division of Wildlife. You can find our Education Materials Brochure online. Or contact the Education Coordinator or your local Communication Specialist to find out more about these resources.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A little love for "that state up North" and why getting away is so important to kids

I have a secret to share...I love Michigan! Now, being a devout Ohio State graduate and fan, that is a hard thing to admit.  But it's true! And, let's be clear here, I love Michigan, not that team up North.  ;-)

People ask me all the time "Why do you spend so much time in Michigan?"  Well, for a couple of reasons:

  1. I have a dear friend with a sweet little cabin who is kind enough to let me crash there several times a year for a variety of outdoor adventures.
  2. Said cabin is smack in the middle of Kirtland warbler nesting territory!! If you've never been to Mio, Michigan for the U.S. Forest Service warbler driving tour, you owe it to yourself to do so.  Totally worth the 7 hour drive (from central Ohio at least).
  3. The fishing is fantastic! Smallmouth bass (my favs), largemouth bass, walleye, perch, and of course, PIKE! There's water everywhere and it's actually difficult to decide where to go.
  4. The birding is fantastic! Besides the aforementioned Kirtland's, I get to see lots of northern species in breeding behavior that I don't get to see down here.
  5. It's quieter, clearer, and just plain different every time I go.
So, why am I telling you all of this? I just got back from another trip, this time with my five year old daughter, Katie, and it reminded of me why "getting away" is so important.  Not just for me, but for her too! We left on Friday and came back yesterday to beat the traffic.  That plan didn't work out too well on Friday as the "cabin crowd," as my friend calls it, had the same idea. But that's another story.  By the time we got there, we were both exhausted, a little bit cranky, and a little bit tense.  But, when we stepped out into the quiet of the Huron National Forest, it's like it all melts away.  Even on a five year old's face, you can see how relaxed she gets just being there.  It's like all the stress of daycare and home life leave her little body in an instant. "Stress of daycare?", you ask? Imagine if you were a five year old and you had to go to some other place every day, follow rules that you have no say in creating, are made to do tasks that require you to think about and learn new things all day long, it's hard work for a little growing body!  So these getaways give her what I call a brain break.  And me too.

Once we unpacked everything and got settled, she and the dog just started running! If you have a five year old, you know what I mean by this.  At least with Katie, she never walks anywhere.  She runs!  She climbed out of her booster seat, did the obligatory potty trip, hit the grass and never looked back! She and the dog explored every square inch of the yard, the surrounding prairie plot my friend has added, the little grove of trees behind the garage, the ditches full of weeds along the road, every thirteen-lined ground squirrel hole they could find, the latter being my dog's sole motivation, every flower, every leaf, everything! And then, she was hungry. She eats better up there, she sleeps better, she behaves better! It's really quite amazing to watch the transformation.

Heck, even the dog had fun!

We later explored a waterfall, climbed a lighthouse, waded at the beach, took a boat ride and just generally relaxed.  We had some very funny conversations about music, food, her favorite movies.  These are things we never seem to have time to just sit and chat about at home.  We're always on the go, always rushing here and there to swim lessons, the grocery store, the library, work, school....you know how it goes.  

So, getting away with just her is just as important for her as it is for me.  I highly recommend even just short trips with your kids in the summer.  That one-on-one time I'm sure is going to be some of her favorite memories of being a kid.  I know it will be for me.  Thank you to my friend and thank you to Michigan for being such a great place for relaxation.