Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

5 favorite activities that spring brings May 7, 2017

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Love hiking in the woods!

The spring weather is slowly trying to make a steady presence in Michigan. The temps have been a sporadic but I’m grateful for the days filled with sunshine and mild temperatures. I’m loving that the days are staying lighter longer. More time to play outside after work and on the weekends!

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With spring comes opportunities to participate in some of my favorite activities. Here are few that I enjoy. What are some of your favorite spring/nice weather activities?

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Biking. I love being on a bike. Whether it’s my road bike or mountain bike, I enjoy the ability to explore the area on a bike. From the physical rush to the mental clearing of my mind to great views to the simple joy of feeling the strength of my legs, biking is definitely a favorite activity. Our mild winter let me get several rides in even during traditional winter months, but it’s much nicer to bike in sunshine and warming temps!

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Hiking. Nothing chills me out faster than spending time on the trails, surrounded by trees, plants and friendly animals. It’s such great physical exercise and mental relaxation, but rarely feels like either since I’m usually enjoying myself so much.

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Logged this geocache find!

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Geocaching. This GPS outdoor scavenger hunt is a fun past time to do with friends, family, or alone when I have some time to spare. I especially love taking my nieces and nephew on this treasure hunt and also logging a cache when I visit new places.

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Gardening. It’s not quite warm enough to plant flowers but it’s soooo close! I’m getting excited to plant bright flowers in my new pots and put them on the porch and deck. Flowers always bring a smile to my face.

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Grilling. Yes, I know that many people grill year-round, even in the snow and cold. But…..I don’t! I have a great new grill that will be often used to make yummy vegetables, burgers, chicken, and much more to enjoy while eating on the deck.

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Geocaching with my niece July 10, 2016

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So excited for geocaching!

My 9-year-old niece heard me talking about geocaching a few months ago and continued to ask when I would take her to see what it entailed. We were overdue for some one-on-one time so I recently planned an outing with her to (hopefully) find some caches.

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If you’re unfamiliar with geocaching, I liken it to a scavenger hunt, only with GPS technology. You can use a smartphone (download the geocaching app) or GPS device. Create a free geocaching account, decide what type of caches you want to find (types are explained on the app and website), then navigate to the location. The cache may be micro, the size of a film canister, big or even virtual. Some are easy to find, others are frustratingly difficult. Once you find the cache, you sign your geocaching username in the logbook, return the cache to the exact location you found it (so someone else can find it!), and log your find on the app. They’re hidden low, high, in a tree, under water, in a pine cone, crevice, lamp post and somewhere in between. There are more than 2 million geocaches hidden throughout the world! Geocaching allows you to explore new places, or even visit again a place in your hometown.They’re hidden in urban locations, parks, rest stops, maybe on your street.

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‘A’ was super-excited to spot several caches on the app map near us. So we chose one to start with, drove to the location, gathered a pen and my phone to guide to us to the location. I explained the need to be stealthy so ‘muggles’ (those who have never found a geocache) wouldn’t notice what we were up to. I let her hold the phone so she could see our location on the app and the direction we needed to go. With very little guidance from me, she led us toward the hidden cache. When we were within a feet of the location, I pointed out different spots it may be hidden and what to look for. Since it was her first time, she didn’t quite know what to look for….but I stayed a little behind her while she moved around a tree…..and spotted her first cache! Once I signed the small scroll and we hid the cache exactly where we found it, I showed her how to mark the cache as “found” on the app so it would be saved on my profile. And she was hooked!

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We went on to find several more caches. We both laughed at how many times we’ve driven by a certain lamp post in a parking lot, never knowing a cache was waiting in there. She loved that we had to be stealthy so no one would pay attention to us. More than once, she stopped me so she could look around to ensure no curious onlookers watched us.

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geocaching image

Cache on the geocaching app

Some things that kept her interested:

  • I demonstrated how to use the geocaching app so she could see the many caches hidden around us. I set the difficulty and terrain search criteria as fairly easy to ensure we’d have luck finding the cache, thus keeping her motivated and spirits up (who doesn’t like to register a win?!).
  • Once we got to the location close to where the geocache was hidden, I gave her the phone so she could lead us to the location on foot. She loved ‘managing’ the search efforts!
  • The app will show your location to the cache in feet so once we got within a few feet, I encouraged her to use her eyes to search. There were a few muddy hiding places, which she didn’t love at first but her smile was huge when she spotted the cache!
  • We took selfies with some of the caches to send to her parents – she was so proud of our finds!
  • Once I signed the logbook, she returned the cache to the hidden location. I appreciated how exact she was with ensuring it was in the same location.
  • She took great satisfaction in clicking the “Found it!” button to register our find!
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The drive back to her house had her wondering if another cache was in that tree, or under that sign or near her neighbor’s house, or……? Now her younger brother, my mom and some girlfriends want to try geocaching. I love geocaching with others!

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The best part of the day for me? As we walked back to the car after logging A’s first cache, she took my hand and thanked me for taking just her (no younger siblings!) on this adventure  and making it special. My heart melted right there – not only am I grateful my nieces and nephew enjoy spending time with me, I’m so proud she loves to be outdoors in nature as much as I do!

 

10 tips to enjoy hiking on the trails June 4, 2016

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Beautiful trail to enjoy!

Today is National Trails Day. This annual event started in the early ’90s by the American Hiking Society to celebrate our country’s amazing trail system and introduce citizens to the variety of trail activities available, including hiking, biking, geocaching, horseback riding, bird watching, paddling and more.

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There are more than 200,000 miles of trails in the United States! Many park staff and thousands of volunteers work hard every year to ensure these trails stay maintained and available for use by millions of visitors.

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Besides my love of the outdoors, I enjoy hiking because it’s usually free (some parks charge a minimal entrance fee) and almost everyone can go. Many parks are creating easily accessible trails to enable strollers and some wheelchairs. It probably won’t surprise you that I also enjoy that hiking is ‘easy’ exercise to me, in the sense that I’m enjoying myself so forget that I’m burning calories and toning my muscles (that’s the BEST kind of exercise!).

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One of my friends recently shared that she’s never been hiking on the trails in the woods, and she wouldn’t know where to start. It got me thinking that there only a few basic necessities if you’re going on a day hike. Here’s a short list of suggestions to get you started:

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Sturdy shoes. Make sure you have good treads on your shoes to provide solid footing on loose dirt, wood chips and other ground cover. No need to get fancy hiking shoes if you’re doing short day hikes without a backpack, but if you plan to do more strenuous and/or frequent hikes, you might want to consider a sturdy trail shoe or boot. I love my Merrell trail shoes (I’m on my third pair!).

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Dress comfortably. Wear layers as your body temp will most likely change as you start moving or the weather changes. Many people recommend polyester as it ‘wicks’ away moisture if you start to get hot (or it rains). I admittedly sometimes wear cotton if I’m on a day hike. I don’t recommend hiking in jeans as the denim tends to stay wet and dry slowly so if your pants get wet, it might get uncomfortable.

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MtHood_hh92010

I love the outdoors.

Sun protection. Slather up with sunscreen, even if you’re hiking in the woods. You’d be surprised how easily the sun’s rays can find you between the tree tops. Wear a hat if you’ll be hiking in the direct sun. Don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.

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Bring water. Staying hydrated is important no matter what you’re doing. You may think you won’t get thirsty if you’re taking a short hike but you’d be surprised. I carry a water bottle or use a water hydration pack for easy drinking while hiking.

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Keep the bugs away. You’re in the woods so bugs are around. I’m not a fan of bug spray but I’m even less a fan of bug bites. I try to wear long sleeves/pants when hiking but sometimes in the summer weather, I need to wear less clothes. I carry a small bottle of my essential oil bug spray to keep mosquitoes and other pests away.

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Food. Even if you ate right before heading to the trails, it’s good to carry a granola bar, protein bar, trail mix or some snack. You’re burning calories on the trail, plus you never know if something may delay you from getting back to the car later than you planned. You don’t want to get light-headed from lack of nutrition or turn into a diva because you’re hungry. I always pack a variety of snacks when hiking with my nieces and nephew (yep, that day pack gets a tad heavy when out with them!)…..one of our favorite parts of a hike is stopping to enjoy water, snacks and fun conversation (and it’s good bribery, er, motivation to keep them moving!).

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First aid supplies. You never know a branch might scratch you or your niece will run her finger along a fence and get a splinter. For day hikes, I carry a small first aid kit (that I actually keep in my car on a daily basis) that includes band-aids, tweezers, alcohol wipes and Benadryl.

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The kids are prepared!

Know where you’re going. You can usually get a map of the trail system online or at the park’s entrance. Check it out before you leave the trailhead and pay attention to markers on the trail. It might seem hard to get lost in a small park/local trails but you should be prepared. You might carry your cellphone (on silent/vibrate please) but service isn’t always available in the woods.

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Check out a local park’s trails. You don’t need to hike a mountain to enjoy the trails (although depending where you live, your local park may be in the mountains. In that case, I’m jealous!), or drive hours away from home. Odds are there is a park with trails somewhere near your home – you might not even know it! I recently mentioned the trails by my home to a local resident who had never visited it, but now plans to.

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Enjoy yourself! Unless you’re training for a trip, there’s no need to race through the trails. You’re in nature to enjoy it so look around at the beauty, listen to the animals and trees, and breathe in the fresh air!

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For more suggestions on what to carry on a hike, check out a “10 essentials” list as a starting point.

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Now I’m off to take my friend hiking. Get outside and enjoy the day. Happy hiking!

 

8 local outdoor activities for everyone to enjoy April 10, 2016

Michigan experienced a taste of spring recently with sunshine and temps in the 50s. Then winter decided to pop back in (I’m watching the snow fall outside my window). I already mentally switched my seasonal preference to spring so I hope the snow melts quickly.

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I’ve been thinking of some fun warm-weather outdoor activities to plan with my nieces and nephew. I love that they also enjoy the outdoors, love my time with them and love that we have so much fun together. I’m so excited to get moving on these ideas. Rather than get annoyed with the white weather, I thought I’d daydream of picnics, floppy hats and sunscreen while I share some family-friendly (and couple-friendly, group-friendly, etc.) suggestions for outdoor fun (these are of course fun with and without children!). If you’re not local to metro Detroit, I’m sure there are some great local trails, parks and cultural hot spots near you. Feel free to share your ideas in the comment section!

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kidstrail1. Hike the local trails: One of my 2016 goals is to hike all 13 of the parks in the Huron-Clinton metroparks system. Stony Creek tends to be my go-to park because of its location to my home, but each of these parks offers something new, pretty and fun. There are also many community parks, nature centers and more that provide great opportunities to wander in the woods.

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2. Bike the trails: All of the kids are old enough for bike rides and a few of us own bike racks for the vehicles so I think it will be fun to take the group to the Macomb Orchard Trail, Clinton River Trail and/or Paint Creek trail. These rails-to-trails paths are the perfect place to bike without too much traffic to interrupt your journey. My regular readers know my love of these local bike trails, whether alone or with company.

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3. Matthaei Botanical Gardens: Located in Ann Arbor, these expansive gardens include beautiful examples of nature and multiple display gardens (children’s gardens, bonsai samples and more). There are also hiking trails. The gardens connect to the Nichols Arboretum, which is worth a visit too.

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4. Greenfield Village: This unique village spans more than 80 acres, highlights 83 historic structures separated into seven districts, and offers plenty of cool opportunities to see history come to life. There are numerous events and activities occurring throughout the year at Greenfield Village, which makes the village get pretty crowded, so sometimes I just enjoy wandering on a ‘regular’ day where there is always something to see and learn. Summer is not complete to me without a visit to Greenfield Village. The Henry Ford Museum is connected to Greenfield Village and worth the exploration.

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5. Camping: The youngest three kids first experienced camping last fall and the 9-year-old is still talking about how fun it was to share a tent with just me! We’re discussing a getaway to Sleepy Hollow State Park, where I really enjoyed the clean, quiet, good-size campsites. There are also many more local campgrounds, including Proud Lake Recreation Area and Metamora-Hadley Recreation Area.

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Logging their first geocache!

6. Geocaching: This scavenger hunt type activity uses GPS-enabled devices to locate hidden caches (or treasures!) throughout the world. There are many hidden caches in metro Detroit, ranging from easy to very difficult, covering all sorts of terrain (from parks to street lights!). I’ve taken the older two girls geocaching and they had a blast. The younger ones are antsy to see what it’s like so we’ll for sure go hunting this summer!

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7. Thelma G. Spencer Park: My family has been visiting this 113-acre Rochester Hills recreation area since I was a child. A 38-acre lake surrounded by beaches, picnic areas, activity areas, concession stand and more, Spencer Lake is a popular, family-friendly spot. Walking trails also surround the lake.

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8. Crossroads Village and Huckleberry Railroad: This historic village set in Flint brings back memories of my youth when we made numerous visits to this cultural attraction. Crossroads Village is an authentic Great Lakes town from the turn of the last century that contains more than 34 historic structures, amusement rides, a carousel, and more! You won’t want to visit the village without taking a ride on the Huckleberry Railroad, which is made up of 11 original and replica passenger cars, a red wooden caboose and a restored coal-fired locomotive. The 40-minute ride goes through woods and meadows, and along a lakeshore. There are lots of activities throughout the summer season so this is definitely a must-visit location.

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There are SO many more fun activities to do during the warm, sunny weather season! What favorite summer activities are you looking forward to doing?

 

Finding the cache (not the ca$h) August 5, 2012

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 12:25 am
Tags: ,

We found our first cache (so small!).

In a CVS parking lot. On the back of a stop sign. On the edge of a goat farm. Under a bush. Inside a hollow tree. These are just a few of the creative places that we found cache.

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So what’s a cache? Well, it’s short for geocache. It’s the ‘treasure’ you find when geocaching! This fun activity that Justin and I recently discovered (thanks to our friend, Jeff) can be described as a treasure hunt game played outdoors with GPS-enabled devices.  Players try to find hidden containers, called geocaches, using a GPS or smartphone, then share the experiences online.

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The basic concept: you navigate to specific GPS coordinates to find a cache hidden at that location. There are over a dozen different cache types, ranging from micro (tiny containers) to multi to puzzles to even virtual. Sometimes you’re looking for a plastic container or film canister or fake rock.

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Once you find the cache, there is a logbook (or sheet) to sign so you can log your find (we usually carry a pen with us). When I write ‘logbook’ I’m not referring to a book size object; more of a tiny scroll. You sign the logbook and return the cache to the hiding place. We’re always discreet in returning the cache so people passing by don’t see us and come take it. No one wants to log a ‘Did not find.’

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This may sound confusing to figure out but it’s actually fairly easy! And fun. There is an official Geocaching website that provides great information on how to get started, explains the different type of caches available, what you’ll need and other resources. I still refer to the Geocaching 101 section of the website every so often for a refresher.

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On the website, you create a username that will be used when you log a find, search for caches in a

iPhone app lists geocaches in the area

specific area, interact with others online and learn some really great information. According to the Geocaching website, there are 1,843,526 active geocaches and more than 5 million geocachers worldwide. So we’re a little late to the party but better late than never!

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Jeff suggested we download the ‘Geocaching’ app to my iPhone to ensure we enjoy the activity before spending several hundred on a new GPS device. Great idea as I love the iPhone app. It is linked to the Geocaching.com website so you can find nearby geocaches, easily navigate to them, know what size/description to look for, log a find or picture to your username and get other useful tips.

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Once in a while the app is slow to update the GPS coordinates or how close we are to the cache or the accuracy is good only to 16 feet, but overall it’s worked very well for us. Depending on how many caches we look for and how long we’re on the go, it can suck up the battery level of my phone so I recommend starting with a fully charged battery.

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We have mostly found urban geocaches hidden in the surrounding neighborhoods, parks or businesses. It’s been fun finding a geocache, realizing how often we drive by it on the way to work or other outings. People are creative in where and how they hide a cache!

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Geocaches are hidden all over!

Since we’re newbies, we typically search for cache that are ranked easy to moderately difficult to find as we get more familiar with GPS coordinates and what to look for; although I have to admit that sometimes searching for the micro caches are pretty challenging since these are SO small and there are so many good hiding places. We attempted an Earth cache when we were exploring a nature preserve in Fort Myers, FL – we had to answer several questions on habitat and animals found throughout the preserve as we explored. This was interesting but we kept getting distracted by other things, like the alligator in the lake!

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I’m excited to get more experience and try to find more difficult caches. We have several upcoming weekend getaways to northern Michigan scheduled for August so we’re planning to search for some cache. You never know what you’ll find or where it will be hidden!

 

 
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