dogs · hiking · walking · winter

Winter Camping with a Beast (Guest Post)

by Mallory Brennan

A few weeks ago, during March Break, I went winter camping! It was a short 24-hour trip due to an extremely busy life and getting our house ready to sell.

It was me, my younger brother, and our dog Cheddar. It was Cheddar’s first time camping and he was the best-behaved camping beast you could expect! We were the only people I saw in tents, everyone else was in a yurt or a trailer. When we first arrived we set up our tent and put Cheddar on a long leash to explore our campsite. We put a tarp on the ground for him to lay down on during the afternoon (he slept in the tent with us at night).

Then we went hiking. It’s always interesting to see what the parks look like in winter- frozen ponds and lakes, snow, ski tracks.

After hiking, we had a campfire and cooked our dinner. All our normal camping dishes were in storage so we cooked using no dishes- we roasted veggie skewers with vegetables, smoked tofu, halloumi cheese (which has a higher melting point so it doesn’t melt when you toast it). Then, of course, s’mores for dessert! As soon as it got dark (~8:30pm), Cheddar decided it was bedtime. He started circling us, going into the tent and looking at us (“Are you coming?”), coming back out to get us. We gave in after about ten minutes of this and curled up in the tent with him. It is very helpful to have a warm, furry beast in your tent. Especially a Cheddar-beast who loves to be as close to his people as possible and loves sleeping under the covers with you.

When we woke up in the morning and got up (12 hours later), he was still sound asleep in the tent and even looked at us as if to say “Do we have to get up yet?”. But he cheerfully got up once we got his leash out for a W-A-L-K (if you have a dog you know why we need to spell that word!). A couple hours more of hiking and we headed home. A successful 24-hour camping trip with a beast.

Mallory Brennan is many things. She’s the daughter of Samantha (and Jeff!), part-owner of Cheddar the dog, lover of the outdoors, hater of shoes, singer, conductor, and traveler.

dogs · fitness

Lost Without My Doggo (Tails From the Woods)

Hi. This is me, still not doing very much by way of movement. . .EXCEPT. . .dog walking.

In this post I will contemplate the different types of dog walks as I see them. You can argue with me, but I just made this all up so you can be right if you want.

Basic walk: This is the 7:45am walk around the small park. It is necessary for the dog’s health and short because I (or you, or someone) has to go to work or school. The dog loves it and the human just needs it to be over (1km).

Panic walk: This walk happens right before you have to do something important but the dog needs it and you love the dog. So you walk very fast and yell at the dog to stop checking every bit of pee-mail she has and lets go because you need to move. (1km)

Information gathering from teenager walk: This is the one you ask your teen kid to come on with you so that the dog gets a walk and you maybe get some info (intel) on their life or the life of a sibling. Children who are looking in the same direction as the adult talk more than children being directly interrogated. Don’t believe me? Try it. Car ride, swings in the park, park bench, ski lift or. . .dog walk. (1.8km)

Hang out with a spouse walk: The spouse you never see. Ya, that one. Go for a dog walk, get a coffee, don’t forget the Timbit for the dog. (1.8km)A happy yellow lab standing in snow looking up. There are snowshoes with boots in them all around the frame

It’s so cold I hate you dog walk: This is the walk that you wish you never owned a dog for. Except she is so happy and loves you for taking her, so I guess it’s okay and she can stay, but I can’t feel my face. (1km)

Cottage road dog walk: Casual, delightful, you remembered to put your snow pants on so you are not too freezing. Love the cottage road dog walk. (1.5km)

Forest tromp with dog: Snow! Forest! Happiest dog ever in the world. These are the best walks. They can be casual and slow or fast and sweaty. Everyone is having a good time, especially the dog. Let’s face it, the dog always has a good time. (4km)

It doesn’t matter what state you are in or I am in or how long it’s been since I wore running shoes. It doesn’t matter if I’m depressed and peri-menopausal and hate everyone. The dog is always up for a walk and the dog is always happy. Therefore, I walk the dog and the fog of life lifts just a little bit. May your year be full of happy dog walks or some equivalent even if you don’t feel very fit and even if you are exhausted trying to be a feminist in these weird times. Dogs see your potential. Dogs know you’ve got this. Dogs think you are a-okay.


Who’s taking the dogs out? Woof, woof

In times of stress, it seems we all are. I’ve been dog hiking a lot lately. Cate explored the kinds of things we do to find meaning in the world in the face of despair in her recent post on sadness and moments of grace . For me, it’s always walking with dogs in the woods. It’s a time and a place of calm and joy. And while I could experience the woods on my own there is just something very special about spending time on a trail through the woods in the company of a dog.

It’s guaranteed to lift my mood. I think it’s because you can’t help but see the world from the dog’s eye point of view. Mud! Puddles! Squirrels! Sticks! Ponds!

Susan visited last Monday we walked Shelby (left) and Cheddar (right) through the Westminster Ponds. Shelby and Cheddar are very good friends. Susan and me, too.

Sarah visited Sunday and we planned to revisit that route with Cheddar, below. (Thanks Google for the prettified image.)

But my mum hurt her back that day and sent us a message, “Could you take the little guy too?” The “little guy” is Charlie, her new rescue dog. We were a bit concerned about how’d he’d be a long walk through the woods. Turns out he was just fine. Charlie hopped over logs and frolicked through the leaves. He drew the line at swimming in the ponds. Too cold.

Here’s Cheddar and Charlie:

Turns out it’s not just us hiking with dogs in the woods. It’s also Hillary and Bill Clinton.

I’ve been feeling so heartbroken since yesterday’s election and decided what better way to relax than take my girls hiking. So I decided to take them to one of favorite places in Chappaqua. We were the only ones there and it was so beautiful and relaxing. As we were leaving, I heard a bit of rustling coming towards me and as I stepped into the clearing there she was, Hillary Clinton and Bill with their dogs doing exactly the same thing as I was. I got to hug her and talk to her and tell her that one of my most proudest moments as a mother was taking Phoebe with me to vote for her. She hugged me and thanked me and we exchanged some sweet pleasantries and then I let them continue their walk. Now, I’m not one for signs but I think ill definitely take this one. So proud. #iamstillwithher #lovetrumpshate#keepfighting #lightfollowsdarkness

See the story here.


dogs · eating

Canine Fitness Coach: Don’t Celebrate Your Skipped Meals (Guest Post)

The last time I wrote about why my dogs are my fitness heroes, I talked about how they’re always motivated, and exercise for joy, not for calorie-burning.

This time I want to talk about their adorable yet irritating tendency to beg food from anyone they meet. This includes their ability to deploy their beseeching eyes and convince almost anyone that they’re on the brink of starvation.

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Seriously though we are about to collapse from lack of snacks

But my poor dog training skills aside, one new lesson I am trying to learn from these beasts is that hunger is not a reason for celebration (though they do admittedly often see it as an emergency). There’s this trap that I fall into entirely too often, particularly when I’m busy (though the frequency of this state of busy is itself an issue for discussion), which is to eat far less than I know I should, mostly because of poor time management. Now, this is a pretty common problem, and here’s some ways that people like me talk about it:

“I know I should have, I just didn’t have time to eat lunch today.”

“There just wasn’t a break between classes and things just had to get done, so I just couldn’t eat before training.”

The problem, though, isn’t just the skipped meals. It’s the fact that secretly, humblebraggily, I’m proud of having skipped them. This pride is a holdover from a mentality that calories are bad (they aren’t). But being secretly proud of your skipped lunch should make as little sense as being secretly proud of your skipped workout, because both types of activity (eating and exercising) are important.

For one, the quality of my training definitely goes down when I haven’t eaten enough. Though I don’t get hangry like lots of people – it’s more like… hinconsolable. And in case you haven’t tried sobbing your way through a circuit, I can assure you it’s not recommended. Especially given that said sobbing usually takes place in front of my partner, who works in the fitness industry, and can’t stand calorie-counting, weight loss based approaches to exercise, or his girlfriend tearfully attempting to wall ball.

Food is great. We don’t function well when we’re lacking in it. And we probably shouldn’t take pride (even secret pride) in things that are hurting our overall well-being. Especially if the only reason we’re taking pride in these things is because of an unhealthy relationship to food and eating.

So here’s the official recommendation from the canine fitness coaches I live with.

Don’t skip meals if you can help it. And if you can’t help it, don’t view it as somehow beneficial or a bonus calorie deficit. Oh, and if you forgot to pack lunch, maybe there’s a friend who might be persuaded to share.

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Hello yes I am very interested in pasta salad


dogs · fitness

Real life fitness, or why I’m dog jogging


In an ideal world I break up my day. I take Cheddar out for a walk, I write for a bit, then maybe mid morning, I go for a run, shower, and then bike into my office. Oh, summer days. Walking, running, biking, and writing, all before noon.

But summer is soon ending. I’m a professor and my schedule is about to change radically. Soon there’ll be undergraduate students, and classes, and meetings, oh my. Today I had meetings starting at ten, not the earliest start to the work day, I know, but also a work dinner and reception that would go until 8 pm. That’s a long day to leave a dog, even with my mother next door.

So come 8 am I strapped on the waist leash and took Cheddar out for a run. It’s the busy professor’s perfect combo, the dog gets a walk and I get a run. But it’s not a perfect compromise.

This morning wasn’t perfect for sure. It was garbage day so there was some interval training involved. Run/stop/sniff/repeat. There was also some hopping and jumping and leash biting. (He does best if we run in the evening when he’s more tired or after we’ve romped in the backyard first to get the puppy stuff out of his system.)

But when I’m busy, in the real weekday world of late August and September, it does mean I get to move and so does he.

Does back to school mean a change in schedule for you? What do you do to fit movement in? Any compromises you’d like to share?



Put Yourself First? (But What About the Dog?)



One common piece of advice is “first things first.” If writing is the thing you struggle to fit into your day, then do it first.

When Tracy and I were struggling to find time to work on the book, we set ourselves a goal of working on the book first thing for 30 minutes.

And would-be runners and cyclists and yogis get the same advice. Do it first! Before your day gets in the way, we’re told. Ditto those who want to establish a meditation habit. Start your day with meditation.

Personally, this kind of advice has never really worked for me. I figure the people who offer this advice don’t have children, or dogs.

When I tried the ‘writing first’ thing with the book the only way to do it was to tiptoe to the bathroom and take my laptop into the bed. Otherwise, Cheddar, my dog, would hear me and want love, food, access to the backyard, and shortly after that, a walk.

Really what happens first in my day is coffee and getting people out the door and often, unless someone else steps up, a dog walk. Lately I’ve been walking Cheddar through a nearby nature area, The Coves. And while it’s not really meditation and it’s not serious exercise, it is a little bit of both combined with natural beauty and the great outdoors. And when we get back from our walk, Cheddar snoozes and then I write.

(I was talking about the conflict between writing first and dog walking, and a friend and I had fun making Cheddar memes.)

If you’re a dog owner, or the parent of small children who get up at 5 am, how do you handle the “first things first” advice? Do you make it work for you? Or like me, do you just find it unrealistic?



dogs · health

My 2016 resolution: work less and live more (Guest post)

Two weeks ago I made a New Years resolution, sort of by accident. It was the end of the semester, I’d just finished a pile of grading and was looking ahead to ten days of panicked administrative work, with a shoehorn or two of panicked research labour shoved down the sides. I suddenly realized it was Christmas time – aka, the winter BREAK – and I was about to be in a situation where, in the words of the great Dr Seuss, no break would be coming.

That’s when I REALLY started to panic.


I’m one of those lucky women who, at least on the surface, appears to have a really flexible life. My job’s only set hours are the time I spend in the classroom and in my office hours. I can ride my bike in the middle of the afternoon whenever the weather permits, and I can spend Monday mornings at yoga with a group of older women who are mostly retired. But there’s a catch: not having set hours, while sporting a type-A academic’s personality, means I’m hard on myself: I take on a lot of work and I value doing it thoroughly. So when I’m not in my campus office or in the classroom I am inevitably working from home, or racing between meetings with colleagues and artists across Southwestern Ontario. (I teach theatre and performance, and run the theatre studies major and minor at Western University.)

I also have no children, and currently no partner. Which means I feel added pressure to take on labour that consumes time which might otherwise be filled with child care or nurturing a relationship. That’s not to say I am unduly pressured or compelled by colleagues who are parents; for me, it’s also a coping mechanism. If I’m working I’m not thinking too much about the things in my life that are missing.

Because I’m relatively free of responsibilities at home (my dog is an exception; she is an old but sporty girl, and likes a nice walk, or two, or three, or four in a day…), I can spend a lot of time doing the sports I love.

Emma in Stratford (where's my swan??) IMG_0158

(Like many singles, I’m obsessed with my companion animal. Emma visits the swans in Stratford, ON, and the Olympic rings in London, UK.)

I ride three times a week; I row twice a week (more in season); I swim, try to stand on my head at yoga, garden, and walk a lot (see above, re sporty dog). Like Nat Hebert, who writes in this space on Saturdays, I know my sporty lifestyle is a huge privilege, economic as well as social.

And I’m grateful for it, believe me. As a feminist, I am hyper-aware that women in particular often get short shrift in mixed households when it comes to sports time. I ride with a cycling club that is easily 90% men; our long ride is scheduled for Saturday mornings. I’ve often wondered aloud what the wives of my fellow (male) riders are doing while the guys cycle 100+km and have breakfast with their friends. Typically this musing is greeted sympathetically, but most have been quick to point out that the ride is scheduled early on Saturdays so that the married men in the club can head home for childcare and other household duties. Which is marvellous – but it also sidesteps the basic good fortune most men in the club share: the ability to leave the house at 7:30 on a Saturday, while their partners take the first childcare shift.

So my free sports time is a wonderful privilege for me, to be sure. But it can also be a burden emotionally.

How’s that? Isn’t sport a great emotional release? Without a doubt. But for me – and even more for working moms and dads I know – it’s easy to convince myself that sporty time is ME time, and thus I ought not to grouse about not having other time for me in the week. In other words: I tell myself that I should work hard when I’m not sportsing hard, because I’ve already taken this huge chunk of time for me, for my sports. That turns, perversely, into negative self talk, where I insist to myself I should buckle down twice as hard, nose in the screen, because lucky me has just been out for a three hour ride. Isn’t that more than enough “me time”?

No, it’s not. And thinking it is is not a healthy attitude, either. The three hour ride is a pleasure and a blessing, but it does not, and should not, substitute for “having a life”. It’s a great PART of my life – just like cooking, eating, walks with the dog, reading books, watching great TV, seeing friends, and sitting quietly with a cup of coffee or tea are all part of my life, or should be. Having a healthy life means prioritising all these things, not feeling guilty about enjoying them, and not worrying while enjoying them that I should really be working.

Which means, of course, that having a healthy life means working less. More than that: it means being conscious of overwork, addressing it, and then choosing to work less. Or, when required, insisting on working less.

We live in a world that now insists, perversely, on overwork as a norm. Everyone is working more for less; the unluckiest among us work all the time and are not even paid enough to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families properly and safely.

(This is a feature of the economic system under which most Western governments operate today: neoliberalism. It’s a system in which the shareholder is the most important beneficiary of human labour, and workers are valued only insofar as they can generate greater shareholder profit. Banks and the wealthy benefit most from this system; most other human beings are the underpaid and undervalued cogs in its machine. Governments today depend on shareholder profit and bank-sector stability for their own budget success [and thus electability], and so generally support this system at the expense of workers’ rights.)


I fully understand that not all of us have the privilege that enables us to insist on working less – but that’s all the more reason for those of us who DO to insist, when we can, publically and actively, that all human beings should work only as much as is fair and feasible, and should be paid a living wage when they do.

Because it shouldn’t take a New Years resolution to have a life. Work-life balance is a human right. Somehow our culture, here in North America, has forgotten that. My hope in 2016 is to remind myself and all those around me of this basic fact.

A happy and healthy 2016 to you all!