Libbys on the Loose:2 Humans. 2 Great Danes. 1 RV.: April 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Alafia River State Park Review - Lithia, FL

Alafia River State Park;
14326 S County Rd 39, Lithia, FL 33547
(813) 672-5320

From Florida State Parks Website:
Some of the most challenging off-road bicycling trails in Florida can be found at Alafia River State Park. Located on what was once a phosphate mining site, the unique topography of the reclaimed land offers some of Florida's most radical elevation changes. Alafia State Park is home to 17 miles of bike trails, ranging from beginner to advanced. Alafia also offers equestrians and hikers the opportunity to explore mixed hardwood forests, pine flatwoods and rolling hills with 20 miles of hiking and horse trails. The abundance of wildlife found along Alafia's trails will delight any bird-watcher or nature enthusiast. The south prong of the Alafia River and the lakes scattered throughout the park provide ample opportunities for canoeing and fishing. The 6,260 acre park also offers picnic pavilions, a playground, horseshoe pit and volleyball court. For overnight stays the park has a full-facility campground, as well as equestrian friendly campsites.

Located approximately 45 minutes southeast of Tampa, Florida, this state park is a great spot to spend some time, especially for the equestrian, hiking, and mountain biking crowds.  Sporting some of the best mountain bike and horse trails in the area, Alafia River pulls out all the stops when it comes to staying and playing.  Even though it's a state park, the amount of activities, including hiking, biking, camping, equestrian riding, camping and picnic facilities (and many other things), it makes for a great stay.  Located about 45 minutes south of Tampa, FL, this spot also puts you in good range of metropolitan areas (if that's what you're looking for) but not so close that you feels its effects!

For the camper, most of the sites are pull through making it easy in and out.  In addition, all the sites are in separate loops so getting around is very easy.  The bathrooms and shower facilities were both clean and updated.  Sites included electric and water, but not sewer.  A requisite free dump station is available near the shower facility and is easy in and out. One thing to note is that very few of the sites offer shade.  If this isn't an issue for you, you'll be fine.  If you've been in the Florida sun, you may want to save this place for the cooler seasons - especially if the trademark Sunshine State humidity doesn't agree with you.
From beginner to advanced mountain bike trails

For the Florida mountain biker, this is one of the best options the state has to offer.  Rumor has it that Tampa, FL was going to host the 1996 Summer Olympics which was to feature mountain biking as a new event.  In preparation for this, an old quarry now where a large portion of the park lies, were a dizzying array of mountain biking trails ranging from flat and mild to the super-technical double black diamond runs!  For Florida, the amount of terrain and elevation change is very impressive.  If you have a smartphone, the Strava app here works great on the trails - it even knows what trails you're riding and shows your speed, time, and pace compared to other riders that have ridden the same trails - talk about motivation! Even if you are riding solo, it allows you to challenge yourself.   The only other place in Florida offering this caliber of mountain biking is Santos in Ocala, FL.  I've ridden both and prefer Alafia River.  Try both and let us know your thoughts!

If you're not into biking or horseback riding, a majority of the trails are also hiking trails for use.  Bikers are required to always yield to horseback riders as well as hikers, so you don't have to be concerned about getting run over by a biker!  With 20 miles of hiking trails, you should not run out of things to do and see while you stay.  Various forms of bird and other types of wildlife can be seen (and identified) any time of year, but is usually better in the winter/spring time. 

Disclaimer:  We are not paid writers, neither for our writing or our opinions. We represent our experiences with products, services, etc, with 100% accuracy and give our unbiased feedback.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Bulow Creek State Park/Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park Review - Ormond Beach, FL

Bulow Creek State Park/Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park
3351 Old Dixie Highway
Ormond Beach, FL 32174
Phone:  386-676-4050
Bulow Creek State Park and Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park is located near Ormond Beach, Florida.  While it doesn't offer camping, it does offer a few hiking trails and lots of Florida history.  It's not a large park (only about 5 square miles in size) and it's one that is easily passed by - if we didn't actively seek out hiking, we wouldn't have found it.  So, if you're interested in getting off the beaten path, it can be a great day trip from nearby beaches and lets you see a part of "Old Florida" - or as many would call it, the "real" Florida. We made this park a day trip while staying at Gamble Rogers State Park last fall - we recommend it!

As far as activities, there are hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, wildlife viewing, and (we didn't this time) geo-caching.  Our primary reason for visiting the park was to get a little exercise while taking in some Florida history.  While Florida doesn't exactly bathe in history like many other parts of the country, it is very interesting to see how the state grew and shaped throughout its own unique history. 

Bulow Plantation Ruins
As far as the hiking goes, there are two different trails.  The first, the Wahlin Trail, a shorter loop that includes a ground water spring offering ice cold Florida spring water (though we didn't test it!) fed through a coquina rock bluff.   Many parts of this trail have "bridges that carry the trail over sensitive plants crucial to the delicate ecosystem".  We were unable to Thermacells!).  Going during the rainy summer season could definitely be more of a challenge to keep your shoes dry as there are several creeks in the area (and few pedestrian bridges).  Make sure that you bring your hats, sunscreen, bug repellant and/or Thermacells, and plenty of water - especially if you aren't starting first thing in the morning while it's still cool out.  Florida is known for its humid, muggy, hot days - prepare accordingly.  Even under the shade of massive oaks and palms, the temperatures usually are soaring by midday. 

Second, nearly 7 mile trail (that we didn't complete) sounded not for the faint-of-heart.  We will be revisiting the park again when we are both able to complete the full 13 miles of hiking - now that's a full day!

From the Bulow Creek State Park website:

"The Bulow Woods Trail is a 6.8 mile hiking trail that runs from the Fairchild Oak to Bulow Plantation Ruins State Historic Site. From the parking area at Bulow Creek, the trail will take you through the old growth live oak hammock, following freshwater seepage slopes which are a great visual of our Florida Aquifer in action. A small bridge at 1.5 miles provides a scenic view of Cedar Creek. The trail is 6.8 miles one-way, totaling over 13 miles to return to Bulow Creek. White-tailed deer, barred owls and raccoons are commonly seen and, occasionally, a diamondback rattlesnake. Mosquitoes can be a nuisance seasonally, and a water bottle is highly recommended as there is no potable water available except at Bulow Plantation."

Fairchild Oak located inside the Bulow Creek State Park is one of, if not the largest live oak tree in the south, estimated to be over 400 years old!  This gigantic, majestic tree is enjoyable to see and spend time with and let your imagination run wild with all the things that have happened in its storied life - almost a natural sort of "time machine".  Just imagine the number of hurricanes this old boy's made it through!
The old Bulow Plantation of which you can visit the ruins of in the other park, was the largest in east Florida.  The plantation buildings were made up mainly of coquina rock (crushed shells compacted together over time) and was developed in 1821 by Major Charles Wilhelm Bulow.  The plantation lived a very short life as it was destroyed in the Second Seminole War of 1836.  There does seem to be a little confusion when visiting this park.  If you want to go to the ruins, Bulow Plantation Ruins State Park is the place.  You can also visit the Fairchild Oak (in the Bulow Creek State Park) without all the hiking (handy for those of us who are limited in the distance they can hike - or if it's rainy season).

This is one of those little, out-of-the-way places that only a select few ever take the time to check out.   But, thrill-seekers need not apply for this kind of park.  If you're looking for that kind of ride, Orlando is just a little over an hour away and offers plenty of thrill rides.  This is Old Florida, slow-paced and relaxed.  Take a few extra steps around the plantation ruins and imagine what life would have been like during the sugar mill's heyday.  It's hard to believe that this was one of the largest sugar cane plantations in the southeast.  The towering trees left us wondering what stories some of the oldest ones could tell... 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Eric's Story: The American Dream?

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor's orders. Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head. A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
"How long did it take you to catch them?" the American asked.
"Only a little while," the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.
"Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" the American then asked.
"I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends," the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket. 
"But ... What do you do with the rest of your time?"
The Mexican looked up and smiled "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life señor."
The American laughed and stood tall. 
"Sir, I'm a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you.  You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat.  In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul.  Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats."
He continued, "Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery.  You would control the product, processing, and distribution.  You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management."
The Mexican fisherman asked "But señor, how long will all this take?"
To which the American replied, "15-20 years.  25 tops."
"But then what, señor?"
The American laughed and said, "that's the best part.  When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich.  You would make millions."
"Millions, señor? Then what?"
"Then you would retire and move to a small coastal village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos..."
 -the preceding was an excerpt from The 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

So what does this all mean?  Does it mean I don't want to work? No.  Does it mean I don't have goals that I want to achieve?  No.  Does it mean that I'm going to Harvard to pursue my M.B.A.?  Well.... :) Nope!

"It's not retirement."  (I said that I would get back to the idea of retirement from our first post)  When you tell people that you are going on the road and living in an RV, (after the "You're effing crazy" look clears from their faces) the assumption is that you're retiring.  That is what a lot of people do when they retire, so the confusion is understandable.  I can understand why people think that you're going on an "extended vacation".  I mean, recreation is right in the name Recreational Vehicle!  We're not retiring - heck we can't retire!  Our brains are physically incapable of retirement :)!  But there is a growing movement of non-retired full Time RVers.  These are other couples who still work full time, and travel full time in their RVs.   They travel the country and work full-time from their mobile offices - this sounds like a far-off luxury for most, but if you can do what your employer requires with access to phone and internet, could you do it, too?

When I was younger, I had dreams of living in a 20 room house with a 50 car garage and 10 people on staff to wait on my every need.  I never wanted to worry about what I was going to do when I woke up in the morning.  I figured that I would have so many options that it wouldn't matter.  Simply walking around my amazing house would inspire me so much that plans were unnecessary for that day.  I may have been slightly delusional...but I did have goals.
Just a touch of crazy :)

I always thought "getting rich" was the only goal worth pursuing.   I looked at different career paths and chose the one that would lead me to my riches the soonest.  Unfortunately, I was too young and naive to take the time to consider why I wanted to have lots of stuff.  I didn't consider the cost of having all the stuff but not necessarily the time to appreciate (and use) those things.  And they were just that, things.

I loved my work for a long time.  I enjoyed the challenge and subsequent rewards of helping people with their needs.  I enjoyed being the person that everyone came to when there was a problem.   I always thought that I would get to the point where I could never get enough or too much. I never considered what time I was devoting to work was taking away from time that we wanted to enjoy our lives, even if that meant sacrificing a substantial amount of income. 

"Why?" you ask, would I want to give up income for time?  Why would I want to give up our dream home?  Because I got to where I wanted to be, where I thought I wanted to be.  It turns out that I was doing the exact same things as I was doing before, just at a different level.  I didn't have any more time to enjoy the things that we'd acquired.  I made more money to be able to afford the things I wanted, but I didn't have the time to enjoy all of the stuff that we amassed. 

It wasn't the stuff that I thought about.  I didn't think about the cars or boats or any of the stuff.  I didn't daydream about the things we had, I thought about where I was and what I wasn't doing.  I wasn't doing what we wanted to do.  We wanted to travel the world.  We wanted to hike thousands of miles and live in a tent for days or weeks at a time.  We wanted to go to the airport on a whim and travel to wherever the next plane we could get on would take us.  Yeah, we're a little crazy.  I agree.  But sometimes a little bit of crazy is what it takes to initiate a change, both in perspective and lifestyle.   

What if I told you that I needed you to tell 1,000 people about a new product - in any way that you wanted, but you had to be able to prove that you told 1,000 people and at a minimal expense.  Here are a few options:
1.  Go to 1,000 doors and knock on all of them.  Tell each person that answers the door about your new product and have them sign stating that they were informed about the new product. 
2.  Mail 1,000 postcards to specific addresses via postal mail service.  Use certified mail or electronic tracking to ensure that proof of receipt had occurred. 
3.  Hire 20 people to go to 50 doors and follow the same directions as step one.
4.  Outsource postcard mailers to a bulk mail center and send to 1,000 people with the same directions as step two.
5.  Figure out the demographics of those groups that you feel will most benefit from your products.  Based on that information, seek out and collect data relating to the contact of people in those groups.  Once all the data is compiled, send out a traceable email to as many people as possible in one email with the subject and body being information about the new product.  Track those who click on "more information" or similar tab.  Once 1,000 people have opened the email, you will have proofs of receipt.

So, which one would you choose? And surely there are many more options.  Each of the above options is achieving the same goal, but the last one is, by today's standards, the most efficient way of reaching the 1,000 people while doing the minimal amount of actual labor at a minimal cost. Can you imagine how long it would take to go door-to-door and tell 1,000 people about your new product?  Days, weeks, at a minimum.  The last option is a little more involved than the others, but achieves maximum results. While this may seem like the obvious choice, think about the many times you've seen these methods employed.  While effective, they are inefficient and costly in both time and money. 
Work Smarter. This is the entire definition of success in my eyes.  It isn't about not working.  It's not about retiring and "living the dream" (whatever that is!).  It's about working smarter and actually living, not just existing for the purposes of working.  It's about achieving the maximum amount of work in the least amount of time.  It's the story about the American businessman and the Mexican fisherman - doing what you need to do to achieve what you want to achieve to make you happy.  Many think that money buys happiness.  Not true, money affords you the things that may make you happy but does not guarantee happiness in any way.  What makes one person happy is usually very different from the next.  Most would agree that the American Dream relates closest with the American businessman's description.  But does every American have the same American Dream?  For some, it may be to have billions in the bank.  For others, it may be to have billions of minutes of free time.  Finding the right balance between time and money is our American Dream. 

The story points out an obvious truth.  If you can do what makes you happy and allows you the time that you require while demanding a lesser amount of man-hours worth of work, why wouldn't you?  Well, a few reasons, most of which is financial security.  By building and making millions upon millions of dollars, it affords you the time, presumably, to do anything that you want - and the money it takes to afford it.   The real question is, what would you do differently if you were a billionaire versus what you do right now - on a daily basis.

Initially, I think most people would do whatever their "dream" is.  Problem is, most people don't really know what their "dream" is.  Is it to own a sprawling mansion on the ocean or a penthouse apartment in New York City.  Ok, so you have your dream home and billions in the bank.  What are you going to do every day - after you've done all the things that you wanted to do i.e. travel, buy lots of toys, charity, etc.  Then what?  You've already driven all your cars.  You've already taken your boats and sailed seas afar.  Keep in mind that you have all of these things only after an average minimum of 15-20 years assuming your business is doing well and is a great success, or longer.  But, in all this time you're taking building this, what are you missing out on?  Is it that vacation that you've always wanted to take but don't have the time?  Is it spending time with your kids but you can't because you work too much? Is it your good health wasting away on your years of working towards the goal of "retirement"?  Or maybe you're wired for work - to that, I say if that's what drives you, then go for it! 

I didn't always think about a career that way.  When I thought I was working towards what I wanted, then found out that it really wasn't that important, I realized that change was inevitable for my well-being.  To add to that, things happened over the past few years that caused many priorities to change.  First, and most important, if you haven't read Jeanine's Story, you should.  There are parts that she revealed that even I was not aware of.   She inspires me every day to want, and to do, more, for us and for our futures.  

Jeanine is, by far, the strongest woman I know.  In the early stages of her most severe back problems, the pain Jeanine was experiencing was reflected by the looks on her face despite her attempts to hide it.   In the more intense moments, she was able to teach herself how to breath and self-meditate to work through the pain without painkillers or any other artificial means of ease her suffering.  Time after time, I watched her reach for the pill bottle, only to stop, reconsider, and go back to her breathing exercises.  Minutes later, when I asked how she was feeling, she would force a smile and tell me she was feeling "ok" - I knew better.  Still, she kept pushing.    

We also had Guinness, our four year old Great Dane, who struggled with Wobbler's Syndrome, was also a daily reminder of just how important good health is.  Despite being challenged on a daily basis, he kept getting up day-in and day-out keeping his body moving as much as he could.  If you read Guinness: A Tribute to "Squishy", you know he had his bad days and his good days.  Nearly two weeks ago, he gave his last try.  His last day with us was nothing short of perfect.  Because we were free to work remotely, we were able to spend his last day with us all together. 
Guinness spending this last full day with us

The other major thing that made me take a look at my priorities was moving from the big city (Orlando) to a small town. Jeanine and I both grew up in small towns and both enjoyed the small-town mentality of people-helping-people and knowing most of the people that you live around.  When we lived in the larger city, most of our lives were directed towards working excessively and making as much money as possible - that's what we knew at the time and we truly enjoyed it and what it brought us.  We had a beautiful house with all the latest tech, etc, and put obscene amounts of money into its renovation. We had nice cars and "toys" to play with on the weekends.  We really felt like we were living the American Dream.  Despite that, we both still agreed that there were parts of our lives that we felt like we were missing out on.   Where we were at that time was not adding to our achievement of those goals.

Does backhoe operator who works eight hours a day moving earth work less hard than a ditch digger who does the same with a shovel?  No. He is just doing it more efficiently.   Working smarter IS working harder.  Figuring out new, smarter methods instead of relying on "the way they've always been done" - that's how innovation works! :)  Remember the five options for getting your product out to 1,000 people?  You can go with option 1, 2, but wouldn't option 5 be the smartest choice? 

So how do these things tie together?  Since the night we met, Jeanine and I have known what goals we wanted to achieve.   We always wanted to "live the dream" and make lots of money so that we could travel the world and experience other cultures (and check off those bucket list items!)  We still do.  What we realized is that it isn't about all of the stuff and things, it's about the experiences.  It's about seeing and doing and living how we want to live. 

I started this journey because I wanted for Jeanine to be able focus on regaining her health and for Guinness to spend time and being able to watch lots of things, not sitting all day on the couch. What I didn't realize was that extended travel was possible with the ability to work remotely.  This is not leisure travel - this is nomadic employment.   The perk is that when work is done, we get to experience where we are, not go through the same routine daily which, believe it or not, is very stressful.  For many people, change is uninvited and difficult.  For us, we thrive on change.   At first it was seemingly near impossible idea to live on the road, but by making some adjustments to our lifestyles and creating additional streams of income (more posts on that later), we are moving one step closer to our version of The American Dream.  
- Eric

Disclaimer:  We are not paid writers, neither for our writing or our opinions.  We represent our experiences with products, services, etc, with 100% accuracy and give our unbiased feedback. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Get rid of Mosquitoes and other biting bugs!

Mosquitoes love me.  No, mosquitoes crave me.  No BS.  If you were to look up "mosquito", you would find a picture of a small, funky-looking, flying insect with a long, syringe-like "nose".  Underneath that, you would find "mosquito bait" where you would see a picture of me!  In the case that you live in area free of mosquitoes (heaven?), check out the pic.   If you're not
familiar with who they are, or what they do, consider yourself fortunate - I remain at the top of their most-wanted list.

Mosquitoes suck. literally!  If you're in the woods, as many RVers are, you're bound to have a run-in sooner or later.  There you'll sit, unsuspecting, and wham! suddenly something stings on  your arm.  You look down and see one of these greedy little blood-suckers feasting on... you!  Whether you swat him away or smack him dead, it doesn't matter, the damage is already done.  Within a few minutes, you'll start to have an itching sensation at the site of the bite.  Normally, the infected area will swell up over the course of the next day or so, then usually subsides, along with the itching.  You can use topical creams or sprays to help relieve the pain, but if you're like us, you know that an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure!    

If you've even been to Florida, then you probably know about the swarms of mosquitoes - so much so that it's called the "Florida State Bird' by many Floridians!

Since I've been the one who always draws the mosquitoes, I've been able to test a number of products, some with success, others with utter failure.  Are creams and sprays the best defense or is there something better?  Can you prevent mosquitoes from biting you?  And why is it that some people are more susceptible to getting "attacked" by these little flying vampires?  

From Wikipedia:
"The females of most species (of mosquitoes) are ectoparasites whose tube-like mouthparts (called a proboscis) pierce the hosts' skin to suck the blood. The word "mosquito" (formed by mosca and diminutive ito) is from the Spanish or Portuguese for "little fly"Thousands of species feed on the blood of various kinds of hosts, mainly vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even some kinds of fish. Some mosquitoes also attack invertebrates, mainly arthropods. Though the loss of blood is seldom of any importance to the victim, the saliva of the mosquito often causes an irritating rash that is a serious nuisance. Much more serious though, are the roles of many species of mosquitoes as vectors of diseases. In passing from host to host, some transmit extremely harmful infections such as malaria, yellow fever, west nile virus and filariasis."
By definition, there is much more at risk than just a bite or the itch after.  With diseases that could cause extreme sickness such as West Nile Virus, avoiding mosquitoes isn't just for comfort, it's for safety, too.  Instances of transmissions of the aforementioned diseases are very low in the United States.  However, there have been instances, especially in tropical climates, so again, better to prevent.  

The first types of products most campers use are topicals, sprays, and creams.  Application to the skin and/or clothes is usually necessary for the best effectiveness.  There are a few keys things that we consider when we do use topical repellents:
  1. Does it work?
  2. Skin feel - is it greasy, light?
  3. Smell - is it pleasant?
DEET based products.  The FDA says that it's safe for those over the age of 2 months to use up to 100% DEET as suggested.  There are two things we like about DEET.  
  1. It works!
  2. Spray on clothes, not skin.
  3. Smell is pretty neutral - depends on product
So what's the bad it it?  It seems like those are two great things!  They are, but (despite the FDA's findings) I don't trust it.  There are products with lesser percentages of DEET that you spray directly onto your skin, but they can leaving you feeling greasy and you defiantly need to wash it off when your done being outside.  Also, if you have sensitive skin, the DEET can give you a rash.  I've also had DEET stain clothes that have been treated with some DEET based products.  We use the product below to treat outdoor furniture, steps, and perimeter fences - in my opinion, it helps!

Another product that we use are tiki torches that burn an oil/citronella combination.  They add a nice touch to the campsite with the light of a few small fires.  The added bonus is that the torches repel mosquitoes because of their citronella oil content.  For us, the jury is still out on these.  It seems like every time we've had tiki torches, citronella candles and products of the like, there have still been bugs attacking us.  OK, so maybe not attacking us, but they were definitely still in the area.  So maybe at the worse, these act as more of a deterrent than a full-on repellent - a "first line of defense" against the (sometimes) wave of mosquitoes. 

Citronella definitely seems to have some effect on helping deter the hunter from getting to the hunted.  The two products below have all-natural ingredients to get rid of both mosquitoes and other biting insects.  Bottom line:
  1. They work!  The No Natz works best with no-see-ums, black flies, and other flying pests.  The No Mosquitoz works best for mosquitoes.  It's not quite as effective with other pests, but it works great on mosquitoes!
  2. It's a mixture of natural oils.  Some would probably say that it feels greasy (it is natural oils) but doesn't bother me at all.  
  3. It smells amazing.  I like to spray it on and inhale.  :)
If we are choosing based on natural vs chemical and effectiveness vs not, this one wins hands down.  I do find that I have to reapply this stuff more than the DEET-based products, but I feel better about putting all natural oils on my skin and clothes than I do putting chemicals anywhere near my skin!  As far as a solution for a topical, this one comes out on top. 


This brings us to the last, our favorite, method of repelling mosquitoes.  Like most amazing products that we've discovered, this one comes from a close friend, Robby S. - thank you! This is the same guy behind the Big Green Egg story.  The Thermacell is a butane-powered device that heats a plate on which an oil-soaked fiber square sits.   As the square heats up from the plates' conductivity, it emits a light smoke from the from of device.  That's about all we know about it.  A magical smoke comes out and mosquitoes go away.  If you want to know more about how it works, click here.

According to the company, one unit is good for 15'x15' coverage. We can confirm that as pretty accurate.  That said, if you have more than one or two people and/or pets, we recommend

one for every two people or pets.  They will definitely work with only one per two people, but if you are in the deep woods, etc, where there are more mosquitoes than trees, we would err on the side of caution and use one each.
  1. They work so well, we hardly ever use anything else!
  2. There is no touching of anything oily, greasy, or "yucky" - you don't feel like you have to shower after using this product
  3. The smoke that the device emits is neither a bad or good smell - it's just sort of...there.
For us, if we had the two of us and our two dogs, we would use two Thermacells.  Speaking of the furry four-legged types, they benefit from using the Thermacell, too.  Dogs and cats are susceptible to biting insects, too.  When we take ours hiking, they usually wear harnesses, so we attach one to each of their harnesses.  We've literally seen swarms of mosquitoes a few feet behind us, but didn't dare come near as long as we were using the Thermacells. 

Our dogs are also treated with a topical called K9 Advantix II in addition to using the Thermacell units.  Advantix repels fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other flying and biting insects.  According to Bayer's website:
"K9 Advantix II is a once-a-month topical application for dogs and puppies that REPELS and kills ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes. K9 Advantix II contains imidacloprid, permethrin and pyriproxyfen that work in concert to REPEL and kill parasites that can potentially transmit disease-causing organisms."
In addition to the monthly topical, we also give our dogs a monthly oral medication called Heart Gard.  Heart Gard prevents heartworms from being transmitted to pets by infected mosquitoes.  While this is not something that humans are susceptible to, our four legged loved ones are, so we want to ensure that they are protected!  Not only does it protect against heart worms, but also has protection from roundworms, hookworms, but Heartgard, much like Advantix, comes in strengths based on the weight of the dog.  Please let us know if you have any questions on any of these - we want to make sure your pets are protected just like you are!

That pretty much sums it up for the pet products.   There are other pet products that we've used (Comfortis - discontinued use due to concerns about its safety - and it only repelled fleas) but these have proven to be the most effective for the longest amount of time, and have the benefit of being recommended by our amazing vet. The length of time that Advantix works and its strength and effectiveness is dependent upon a few factors (Heartgard is an oral medication, so its effectiveness is only affected by the size of the dog):
  1. Size of your pet (make sure you get the right size/strength product)
  2. Pet activity - If your pet plays in water a lot (Bayer claims waterproof), it may shorten the effective use time, especially in saltwater 
Generally, you should expect about a month of use out of each application.  The product usually comes in six-application containers, so each package lasts about six months.  We usually administer our medications on the first of every month - makes it easier to remember.

We hope that you never have to worry about using any of these products.  The reality is that, chances are, unless you live inside and never spend any time out-of-doors, you will need to fend off these little flying demons.  I've personally been bitten at least a thousand times in a research effort for this article - you're welcome :)  But if you do want to (or have to) brave the outdoors and spend lots of time in it like we do, the use of these products, whether alone or in conjunction with each other, will help you and your pets to steer clear of potential disease-carrying insects. 

Disclaimer: We are not paid writers, neither for our writing or our opinions. We represent our experiences with products, services, etc, with 100% accuracy and give our unbiased feedback.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Guinness - A tribute to "Squishy"

Guinness was picked out at least eight or nine years before he was born - for his name.   Jeanine and I's first vacation as a couple over 14 years ago was to Ireland. I had never really been a stout beer drinker, but that trip led to my love of the beer - Jeanine was right there with me about that part.  So, early on, we had a mutual love for Guinness - the beer. 

After our first Dane, Brutus, we knew that we wanted to have as many different variations of the breed as possible.  Brutus was known as a Boston Mantle which sports a coat similar to a cow's but with larger parts black and a white chest and "collar". This guy was a great big pile of love.  He used to give us "the paw" where he would wrap his paws around one of our arms so that we would rub his chest. 
Brutus taking a nap -
We got our second Dane about a year later. She was a Blue.  We named her Atae - the Greek goddess of mischief.  When she was younger, she definitely lived up to it!  We called her our "Pretty Little Princess" because she pranced around like everyone had their eyes on her - they usually did.   
Atae and Brutus on "their" bed
Guinness came along when Brutus and Atae were seniors.  On the advice of their doctors, having an energetic, young puppy in the house is many times reinvigorating for older dogs.  We truly feel that having Guinness around kept them young and with us for longer.

We found Guinness from a "breeder" from North Carolina.  We did our research and everything about them seemed to check out.  The day that we picked him up from the vet (which should have been an indication of issues), we found him to be anemic, had worms, and was underweight.  He was 4 pounds.  To put this in perspective, most Great Dane puppies at his age weigh at least 7-8 lbs.  By all accounts, we should not have accepted him.  We were pissed off and outraged that someone would allow such a sweet boy to be mistreated like this.  But we knew what would happen if we left him there.

We took Guinness to our primary care veterinary clinic, Underhill Animal Hospital in Orlando, Florida.  Underhill is the veterinary hospital that Orange County Sheriff's Department uses for all of their canine officers.  To call their practice an amazing vet would be an understatement.  We moved over an hour from the practice a few years ago and still take our babies there. Upon their first examination, Guinness was  found to have an over-accelerated heartbeat (4 times the normal speed) along with a stage IV heart murmur and a host of other issues.   His doctor encouraged us to take him back to the breeder and demand our money back.  How could we even begin to think about that?  Against the doctors' advice, we stuck with Guinness.  He was ours.

The faces of Guinness
After Brutus passed, Guinness did an exceptional job of keeping smiles on Jeanine and I's faces while we dealt with the loss of our big boy (at his highest weight, he was a full 210 lbs).  Of course, no dog could ever replace another, but Guinness did his marked best to distract us.  In fact, he was such a distraction most of the time that we called him PITA (Pain In The Ass!).  He was the epitome of a high energy crazy dog - we had never known that in a Great Dane!   Brutus was always a chill, laid-back kind of dog.  He would play if you wanted to, but was just as happy sleeping.  Atae was more energetic, but more on the relaxed side - most likely a side-effect of her brother's behavior.  Guinness needed to interact with people. 

Guinness was such a sweet, loving boy who, with the right diet and care, overcame his puppy issues.  Our neighbor had a one year old daughter that would crawl on him like a jungle gym, complete with ear-pulling and elbows to the nose.  Guinness didn't budge.  He would lay belly up with those sweet, golden eyes begging for affection.  (A quick belly rub would bring the handiest floor cleaner (his tail oscillating back and forth at break-neck speed) around put to good use.  The video below shows Guinness playing with his favorite toy, a red ball on the end of a knotted rope.  Simple, but kept him entertained for hours! 

In late 2011, just before Thanksgiving, Guinness started to exhibit problems with controlling the rear portion of his body.  He seemed far too young to have any kind of degenerative diseases.  Jeanine and I spent days scouring the internet and talking to his doctors about what could be going on. It came on so suddenly (went from walking one day to literally not being able to stand up the next) that we we in disbelief.  Underhill ended up referring us to a specialist in Winter Park, Florida.  After running a battery of tests on him, most notably a cervical myelogram (a myelogram is a test where a dye is injected into the body).  The dye travels along the nervous tissue.  Any points that the dye stops or has blockage are where problems exist.  After being diagnosed with Wobblers Syndrome (we had suspected this from all our internet searching) and a number of "wiring problems" in his cervical-spinal area, it was recommended that we undergo invasive surgery on Guinness' neck.  We were told that there was about a 60% chance that the surgery would be effective.  With surgery, he would be crate-confined for at least six months in a neck cast with nearly no movement allowed.  To Jeanine and I, quality of life has always been our first priority.  Living in a crate does not equal quality of life in our minds.  After a quick, tear-filled discussion on a Friday, we decided that we needed to go home and think about the options, few as they were.

We scoured the internet even more, this time with confirmation of what we were looking at for anyone who had been through something similar then praying that we wouldn't find it for fear of what it could be.  We found a limited number of other stories with Danes (and Doberman Pinschers) having similar symptoms.  The ones who underwent surgery did not seem to fair any better than those who sought "alternative" forms of treatment.  Since Guinness' problems were nervous system related, we found instances of acupuncture and other Eastern medicines being effective at helping with Wobblers.  After doing some consulting with different doctors, we concluded that he was beyond the point of being helped by these short-term remedies.

We found a few of stories online about canines with Wobbler's that had been implanted with microscopic gold beads.  To be honest, it sounded a little crazy at the time.  How could some tiny gold beads help a dog walk?  After doing some more in-depth research, the science started to make sense.  The problem was that the electrical signals couldn't get from his spinal cord in his neck and his spinal cord in his back.  Since gold is a metal that doesn't deteriorate and is a superior conductor of electricity (or electrical signals), the beads would act like mini conductors for his wiring problem. 

The doctor that brought the procedure to the United States from Europe in the late 1970s was located in Marion, Indiana.  Western Avenue Animal Clinic now Durkes Veterinary Clinic was a 16 hour drive from Orlando.  We called and talked to Dr Durkes and asked what seemed like a thousand questions.  Dr Durkes was so patient with us and very informative.  From the phone consultation he also gave us a 60% chance of success, but without the lengthy recovery of invasive surgery.  We made the appointment for Monday morning thinking there was no harm in trying this first.  We left at sunrise Sunday morning and drove straight through, taking turns at the wheel.  We got there at about 10pm that evening, checked in to a hotel and slept as much as our stress would allow.  Our sweet boy curled up between us as we fell asleep, each silently praying the following day's events would help him walk again. 

It was a chilly, icy morning in Marion that early December day.  We loaded Guinness in to the SUV and made our way to the small, nondescript clinic.  There wasn't anything that seemed all that spectacular or "miracle-inducing".  We came a long way and had even longer hopes - every ounce of courage we had was going to Guinness.  We helped him walk in to the exam room where Dr. Durkes examined him and made his assessments.  "Come back at about 2pm - he should be ready to go".  Jeanine and I exchanged doubtful glances and managed to get an "O.K." out between the two of us.  Six hours in the bustling town of Marion and we were ready to lose our minds with anticipation.  Finally, the afternoon arrived and we were back in the same exam room where we left our boy.  Five minutes later, with a spring in his step and a gleam in his eye, Guinness, under his own power, walked out from the rear of the office!

I'm not sure who was more excited, Guinness or Jeanine and I!  We couldn't believe that he was walking - six hours after we left him!  The only thing different, physically, was that his neck was shaved and he had a brace around it.  If you don't already know, Guinness' nickname was "Squishy".  This was the result of the brace scrunching up his face.  It gave character to a guy that was already overflowing with it... Squishy.


Squishy, or Squish, or Squishasaurus Rex, Squishy McSquisherson - you get the picture.  He was a cute face with a whole lot of names.  At his core, Guinness loved people, especially his Momma and Dad. He has had many "uncles" and "aunts" that he's acquired throughout the years.  Family, friends, neighbors, everyone that he met, he instantly nudged for attention and gave an approving wag of the tail.  The people whose lives he touched were innumerable.  I think about the kids that got to grow up with him that will tell the story of "this huge dog my friend/neighbor had".

 Guinness was the consummate diner in Orlando.  Outdoor dining at restaurants with amazing food drew us - naturally so he could go out with us.  Guinness went nearly everywhere with us and people loved him and his goofy personality, so it made it easy to stay on-the-go with him.  One of Guinness' favorite places to "sit" was outside in a chair.  He would literally back up to the chair and plop his butt down, dangling his rear legs from the chair.   People recognized him as "Marmaduke" or "Scooby-Doo".  He could play the part of any "Gentle Giant" as he was that, but more of a different type of cartoon character. 
Daddy's boy

His favorite spot to "sit"

Nyx (Nix-e)
I love my sister!

In the fall of 2013, Guinness started to exhibit signs of depression (you don't understand this unless you're a dog person).  After losing Brutus at a young age, Atae at a year old, Wobbler's onset at two years, and Pepper (a rescue we had taken in) coming in and then all too quickly leaving his life so abruptly, it was understandable.  He lay around and stared off his couch outside at the pool or the occasional bird flying by.  "He needs a friend" we thought. It was logical, except with Guinness logical didn't usually apply.  We couldn't have just any dog.  We had to have a dog that was gentle, played according to direction, was not aggressive, along with a laundry list of other requirements that we needed for his "therapy" dog to have.  After looking for a number of different breeders with history of exceptionally healthy bloodlines, we thought one of them may have a senior Dane that a family could no longer care for.  We couldn't risk another random rescue after the heartbreak with Pepper.  Without much luck, we reached out via email to a few breeders to see if they had any, or knew of anyone who had a senior.  Again, we didn't come up with much.  Another problem crept in.  After speaking with Dr. Durkes about Guinness and our thoughts, he (against what we expected) suggested that we may want to look in the other direction, a young dog.

Kelly, from KRW Danes outside of Jacksonville, Florida, brought us our fifth Great Dane, Nyx.  Nyx was a female black Dane that was going to be kept as a personal show dog for KRW.  After telling Kelly our story,  we were soon in talks about when we could come to meet this little girl.  Needless to say, as soon as we met her, our hearts melted and succumbed to her puppy charms.  We were looking specifically for a well-developed personality so that we would avoid getting an alpha dog, possibly being bad for Guinness. 

Nyx couldn't possible have been better.  Sweet, intelligent, and full of energy, she played with Guinness with the slightest of touch - it was like she knew that he wasn't a normal guy.  We worked with her day-in and day-out making sure she knew the "proper" way to play with her big brother.  Many times, she would start to play paws with Guinness.  Guinness was allowed to paw her, but she was not allowed to paw him back (no jarring of the neck area so a swift swipe across the head could prove disastrous for Guinness at that point).  We taught her the command "no feet" where she would tuck her paws underneath and just nibble play with Guinness.  She was exactly what Guinness needed to keep going everyday.

Guinness health again started to decline in the fall of 2014.  Again, two years later, he was plagued with the same mobility issues he had before.  Though his symptoms were not as severe and didn't set on quickly like the first time, he was already showing signs that we feared were the same problem repeating itself.  We found another doctor that studied under Dr. Durkes in a much closer locale, Miami, Florida.  Ludlam-Dixie Animal Clinic in South Miami houses Dr. Robert Ferran's practice.  Dr. Ferran also specializes in gold bead implants.  After the first consultation, Dr. Ferran scheduled Guinness for another application of gold bead implants.

Two months went by and no improvement.  After consulting with Dr. Durkes, Dr. Ferran, and an independent orthopedic surgeon, it was concluded that Guinness now had cervical spondylosis, a breakdown of the spaces between the vertebrae in the central spinal cord area leading to (again) "wiring problems".  The signals weren't getting to where they needed to go.  This was another area where the gold bead injections had proven effective before, so we did a third and last procedure.
Laying in the dirt and loving it!

After that last treatment and a short time to follow, Guinness' condition had still not improved.  His condition was worsening by the day.  For months, he had had difficulty getting up on his own.  He could no longer get up or off his couch or  move on his own without some kind of assistance - I (Eric) was the only one that could move him.  He could not get outside to use the bathroom, nor could he hold himself up many times when he did.  After the last treatment, the time before its effectiveness is about four to six weeks.

Just past the two week mark (a few days ago), Guinness had  a great day.  He laid outside all day while Jeanine and I worked busily on our computers.  Guinness' favorite place was wherever there was something going on.  He laid in the cool dirt and worked his body around the best he could, changing scenery like channels on a TV.  He went for two short walks and watched squirrels play around our site.  Nyx and him played with a rubber ball while a number of people stopped by and visited with us throughout the day.

Later that night, many of Guinness' muscles started twitching involuntarily.  He had been having even more trouble walking earlier that evening.  With every few steps, his rear end would give out and his body would drop straight down to the ground.  After speaking with his doctors, the prognosis was not good.  His symptoms were consistent with signs of cervical myopathy, a different type degenerative spinal disease with irreversible effects. Though it could not be concluded from only symptoms, it fit the all the signs.  Still, he didn't give up.  He got up every time I helped him.  We wanted him to get a good night's sleep so on the doctor's advice, gave him some tranquilizers so that he could rest his muscles and recover for the morning.
One of his last pictures

The following morning, Nyx didn't wake us up early as usual.  She had the habit over the past few months of coming to wake us up in the middle of the night when Guinness needed something.  She stayed and laid in the living room with Guinness.  He had slept through the night and was still quietly snoozing.   I went through my usual morning routine of getting up and putting on pants and jacket, grabbing doggie waste bags, and using the bathroom.  We always sit with Squish for a few minutes to before taking him outside, so I took up residence wherein he quickly plopped his head in my lap, gazing up at me with his adoring eyes.  

Helping him had become second nature to us.  He had been fighting so hard for so long - he deserved a break.  Guinness always let us know when he needed something.  When he was hungry, he smacked his lips.  When he needed water, he licked his lips.  When he needed to go out, or wanted off his couch, he would whine a little or Nyx would come and get our attention.  We got him whatever he needed.   That morning, he wasn't ready to get up - he wanted to lay with me, then momma sat in and gave him some affection.  Shortly after, I asked him if he was ready to go out.  I tried to help him up but his body simply wasn't working anymore.  His two back feet would knuckle over when he tried to walk.  He had trouble putting weight on them with every step.  After struggling to get him outside and the same to get him back in, he fell just inside the door and sat quietly.  When I tried to help him up, he turned his head and looked us with a look we had seen before - he was tired of fighting... It was time to say goodbye to our baby.

Guinness made such an impact on everyone he met.  People constantly stopped us and met him - most times surprised by how sweet and loving he was.  For many, his size was intimidating at first, but soon they warmed to his affectionate nature.  Because of his struggles in life, Guinness was an inspiration not only for Jeanine who also has degenerative back problems, but for countless others.  It probably sounds silly (and that's OK) but if you knew Guinness, you would understand that he was just, different. He was not just a dog - he was our boy, our Squishy.  He gave everyone he met unconditional love and affection and has carved himself a place in many hearts forever, especially ours.  Our lives have forever been touched by his entering in to it.  No amount of tears can express how much we miss you already.  Goodbye, Guinness.  We will never forget you...

Our sweet boy...

Disclaimer: We are not paid writers, neither for our writing or our opinions. We represent our experiences with products, services, etc, with 100% accuracy and give our unbiased feedback.