Tag Archives: Recreation

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Cochise County: A beautiful little corner of Arizona

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It’s a beautiful morning in the San Pedro Valley as I sit on my patio and gaze out among the desert landscape. Patches of sunlight brighten the shaded areas of the cacti.

I feel house bound, my three visits to the VA Medical Hospital for surgery has kept me close to home. However, I am healing well and have a burning desire is to be on the road again.

As I gaze and dream of past adventures, I revel at the wonder of our great mountains, vast grasslands and scenic forest.

As my mind wonders I recall the birds and other wildlife that would flee before us, cawing, whistling or chirping sending forth a warning to other residents as we hiked the narrow trails. I recall the beauty of a group of aspens of white bark invigorating the dark world of green pine on many higher hilltops.

Arizona is a beautiful and diverse state. Where we live in Cochise County, the desert is in full bloom of marvelous colors. Following the trail along the San Pedro River, we admire the tall, green cottonwoods and the cool, mossy riverbank where we stop from time to time among the flowering cacti and mesquite to take in a deep breath of clean-scented air.

This early May morning, the desert is alive with life, and I notice a spider web radiating in the morning sunlight, dew drops glistening on the yucca plants, the beauty of the red flower high on the desert ocotillo. The countryside is covered with golden poppies and yellow brittle brushes growing from the desert floor.

Nearby, in bloom are purple verbena and Palo Verde trees. Here and there among the sage brush a Gambel quail sets to air, and in the distance a coyote can be heard calling their mate.

We enjoy feeding the many birds that visit our patio. Six types of hummingbirds dance around a nectar feeder, purple finches dart among our flower plants arguing over a feeding position, cat birds sing their morning song from beyond the desert growth, and the sap suckers hammering on the soft pine along the arroyo bed.

This is the land of the cactus wren, the unique roadrunner, the noisy long billed thrasher, the cunning black raven, and the screech of red-tailed hawks. We reside in an urban environment, but nature’s wonderful music is heard daily to anyone taking the time to listen.

We first came to Cochise County on a visit to Tombstone, “the town too tough to die.” Tombstone is still home to gunslingers and sassy saloon girls.

Take a walk down Allen Street and you can see authentic 100-year-old buildings where street brawls and gunfights can occur at any time. Visit the Bird Cage Theatre and enjoy a stay at a raucous Big Nose Kate’s saloon while downing a cold beer.

Our initial stay at an RV park near Whetstone was so enjoyable we kept returning to the desert each winter. Over the years, we built friendships with many seniors, some of whom have left this world.

We have visited so many wonderful and exciting places yet we kept returning to the San Pedro Valley. Living conditions were ideal, it has a year-round comfortable temperature, a reasonable cost of living, well-developed medical services, and the awesome beauty of the surrounding mountains. It just seemed natural when we sold our coach, we would take up housekeeping in Cochise County.

There are many activities in the valley, and bird watching is big in the Huachuca Range. Do you enjoy wine? Nearby are some of Arizona’s finest wineries.

There’s plenty of trail riding here, hiking, several mountain ranges to choose from, or you can take a walk along the San Pedro River. There are eight golf courses in the valley, including the championship course at Pueblo Del Sol Country Club. With 300 days of sunshine you can chase the little ball all year long.

We have plenty of educational facilities, shopping accommodations, a weekly open farmer’s market with local growers, and seasonal entertaining events. An hour’s drive north and you can be at some of the country’s best shopping and food to be found in Tucson.

We can travel a short distance and be in the mountain town of Bisbee, which is the home of the Copper Queen Hotel and Mine. Tourists visiting Bisbee can ride into a 950-foot-deep shaft on an open mining train.

Old Bisbee is dotted with unique mountainside homes, boutique shops, distinctive cafes and restaurants and, my favorite, a corridor of craft beer taprooms in Brewery Gulch.

Just off Interstate 10 is the sleepy town of Willcox, a town with a strong history of the Apache Tribes that once dominated the land. Outside of town is the stronghold of the prominent Apache Chief Cochise, the remembrance of Fort Bowe, and the home of Apple Annie’s. It’s worth a drive to Willcox just to taste Apple Annie’s pies and in season pick your own fruit.

Cochise County has some of the most stunning blue skies, white fluffy clouds and unique desert corridors with secreted canyons and caves. The valley at 4,600 feet remains cooler than its surrounding Sonora Desert environment.

In fact, the mountain heights in the winter are normally white from fresh falling snow. For those of us who crave outstanding natural beauty, our little corner of Arizona is absolutely wonderful. The streams, hidden mountain lakes, rolling grasslands, and unforgettable vistas it makes life enjoyable, gratifying and stress-free.

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Travel2020: Puerto Rico welcomes rising wave of tourism 2 years after Hurricane Maria

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Puerto Rico is on the rebound. Discover Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico’s first-ever Destination Marketing Organization (DMO), recently announced that 2019 Q1 lodging demand is now on par with 2017 Q1 levels just 14 months after Hurricane Maria, signaling an unprecedented pace of recovery for a destination.

Total demand for independent rentals is up 72% from 2017 Q1 levels, underscoring a large growth in visitors. The forecast for the rest of the year looks promising as the remainder of 2019 is booking 24.1% higher than 2018 levels. This is expected to continue to rise as the average booking-to-arrival window is approximately 2.5 months.

Since its inception in July 2018, Discover Puerto Rico has embarked on a mission to solidify Puerto Rico’s brand equity and accelerate its visitor economy, empowering the island to fully capitalize on its rich tourism product and thrive as a leading Caribbean destination.

Discover Puerto Rico set a short-term goal to drive a record pace for recovery and reach pre-Maria levels by the hurricane’s two-year anniversary. Based on the 2019 Q1 results, Discover Puerto Rico has achieved this goal much sooner than anticipated, proving itself as one of the Island’s first successes of privatization.

“We learned a great deal from our tourism counterparts in other destinations who have faced adversity, and that helped focus our efforts. We gleaned insights and historical data related to perception, and closely observed how media handled recovery coverage. We optimized our plans to ensure strong results,” said Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico.

“The DMO was established to put the destination and economy first by ensuring consistency and best-in-class marketing strategies to increase business and leisure visitation. This is an exciting time for Puerto Rico’s visitor economy, and it’s rewarding to see early success. However, this is just the first step — our ultimate objective is to put the transformative power of travel to work in Puerto Rico by doubling the size of the visitor economy, benefiting the Island’s residents and businesses,” he added.

Puerto Rico’s tourism industry has made great strides in record time. Additional milestones include:

  • 2019 Q1 leads and bookings in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events (MICE) space far surpass past three-year and five-year averages. Meeting planners are finding Puerto Rico a top choice given its ease of doing business as a U.S. territory and allure of a Caribbean destination.
  • Air access has been growing at all airports. San Juan International airport (SJU) saw a 23.8% year-over-year increase in air traffic in the first quarter of 2019 compared to the first three months of 2018. This is a strong sign of growth, as more carriers expand capacity and add new routes.
  • Puerto Rico’s cruise industry has broken records. January 2019 numbers reflect an increase from previous years of 28.9% of visitors to the port and there has been a 56.6% increase in homeport cruise passengers compared to January 2018.
  • There are approximately 156 hotels accepting reservations. Short-term rentals provide travelers more than 8,000 options across the entire island and the sister islands of Vieques and Culebra.

Image: Discover Puerto Rico/Condado Vanderbilt Hotel

Spring break search traffic across all 50 states and saw a 115% increase in search activity over 2018. The favorite keyword in 30 out of 50 states was San Juan. Expedia Group’s most recent data reports that demand increased by 440% and 40%, respectively, in Q4 2018 as compared to the same period in 2017.

In July 2018, Discover Puerto Rico quickly embarked on a brand repositioning process to ensure an immediate impact on the visitor economy. As the organization approached the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, its #CoverTheProgress campaign challenged media to focus on the positive progress of the tourism industry.

A bold move not previously taken by a destination that faced adversity, the campaign shifted the perception of Puerto Rico, placing the island in the consideration set of travelers and meeting planners. The organization also activated a Google Content Initiative, rapidly updating and improving visual assets available to travelers online.

Just this spring, Discover Puerto Rico launched a new brand identity, including a new logo and a revamped website, featuring dynamic content designed to engage visitors across all digital formats. And last week, the organization launched a new brand campaign called “Have We Met Yet?”

The new campaign re-introduces Puerto Rico to the world and draws inspiration from the Island’s unique cultural and natural offerings — including its iconic doors, the hospitable and welcoming nature of its people, and its geographical position as a United States territory conveniently located to the south of the mainland.

The island was recently selected as the host destination for the upcoming World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) 2020 Global Summit.

“Puerto Rico is looking more and more like a historic comeback story, and I’m proud to see the Island’s travel and tourism industry plays a starring role,” said Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. “Discover Puerto Rico has proven that a destination’s marketing arm is an indispensable component of a successful turnaround.”

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Before you plan your next trip, take a look at Mobility-as-a-Service

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We can’t think of life without Netflix. What if there was a Netflix of transportation to change the way we travel? As fantastic as that may sound, it’s already happening and we should get ready to sit back and enjoy the ride.

A new McKinsey & Company report states that the future of U.S. urban transportation lies in Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). Rapid population growth and expanding urban spaces are leading to increased pollution and road congestion.

New-age mobility possibilities can provide some solutions to combat these issues by offering means of alternative transportation. The McKinsey estimates that the revenue share of new-age mobility systems will grow from 2.6% in 2017 to 31% by 2030.

Disruptive innovations that include autonomous vehicles (AVs); electric vehicles (EVs); connected cars; and shared-mobility services are likely to converge to create autonomous, electric-powered robo-taxis.

These robo-taxis are set to generate a revenue of almost $1.5-2.0 trillion by 2030 and completely redefine modern mobility and usher in a new era of personal mobility.A new ResearchAndMarkets.com report, “Global Mobility-as-a-Service Market 2019-2023,” states that the MaaS market will grow over 35% by 2023.

On-demand ridesharing revenue has grown a whopping 130 percent since 2013 to become a $30 billion industry in 2018. Now, companies like Uber and Lyft are in pursuit of automation to further streamline profits.

Then, there are the options from dockless, two-wheel mobility alternatives, like bike- and electric scooter-sharing options offered by startups like Bird and Lime. They contribute to MaaS and also help reduce carbon footprints.

The Denton County Transportation Authority in North Texas is a forerunner in seamless urban travel. It is using a MaaS contract model that includes both public and private services to expand its transit offerings. It wants to supplement its existing transit services by offering personal mobility options that are specifically tailored to each community and pave the way for future mobility technologies.

New collaborations, like the partnership between Fujitsu and Autonomic, will bring advanced mobility services in North America and around the world. These companies are working on fast and flexible cloud services solutions for connected vehicles that will integrate fleet management, ridesharing, and autonomous car routing services.

Of course, integration is incomplete without seamless payments. Financial giants like Mastercard are working with companies like Kisio to help passengers book their entire trip in one app. Now these travelers can manage their multimodal journeys through one account that will cover all local types of transportation.

In the future, we will have more people moving away from owning vehicles to MaaS. The seamless travel opportunities of the new mobility ecosystem will provide passengers with a unique way to travel. MaaS seeks to bring all kinds of transportation together, like rideshares, taxis, car rentals, and other forms of public transport, which will all be connected via any smart device.

Innovative mobile apps like Whim will offer users all the transportation they need as a service package and operate it through a smartphone. They will handle everything from planning trips to payments.

Users can pay a monthly subscription fee, just like Netflix, and have tailored packages for your travel and commuter needs. Whim is based out of Finland, which hopes to make it unnecessary for any city resident to own a car by 2025.

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Horror stories from the GPS

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I don’t know if everyone has a name for their GPS system. Over the years, we programmed all of ours to use a female voice and call it “GPS Lady” when we are feeling generous. There are other times where we are less generous.

The mixture of technology and an RV pulling a car can bring about some chilling stories. Even buying a GPS specifically designed for RVs hasn’t stopped all the problems. Here are some of our stories or ones we have heard.

A shortcut between two major roads.

The Shortcut

Our GPS likes shortcuts. For some reason, the idea of driving just a bit longer on a main road to reach the next main intersection pains our GPS Lady. So, off we go on whatever small road that connects these roads. We’ve been on dirt roads filled with potholes and puddles.

Many times it has taken us longer since we don’t have a traffic light on the shortcut road and have to make a left on a main road. We’ve heard a story of an RV being sent through a cemetery as a shortcut.

This forest road is not even ready for cars!

Out-of-date or Bad Information

We are pretty good at updating our GPS, but sometimes it is seems out-of-date. On a trip to a military museum, we were taken to the back side of a military base where a gate existed years ago.

In this case, military police stopped us wanting to know why we were there. Luckily, we weren’t the first person to be sent that way and they gave us better directions.

Another time we were put on a forest road full of potholes. Fortunately, we were in the car at the time. I am pretty sure we would have been stuck in our RV.

We’ve also been put on a rough back road with trash on both sides. Apparently it was a neighborhood dumpsite.

Tough to drive to this campsite, but worth it!

Not-for-RV Roads

Perhaps some of these roads would have been OK for a car, but the extra size of an RV is just too much. Twice, we’ve taken roads to out-of-the-way campgrounds where the roads were twisting and included many blind curves on a narrow road.

After we get there, we hear that RVs aren’t supposed to take that route. In one case, we heard about how people had died on those curves and that one intersection was called Deadman’s Crossing!

Then there was the parkway where trucks were prohibited. We ended up driving in the center of the road to get through several arched overpasses before we could get off the parkway. We’ve heard horror stories of RVs ending up stuck in a low tunnel.

Missed Directions

If you miss a turn, all bets are off. In one case we were sent on a country road. We ended up having to ask permission to turn around in someone’s front yard when the road dead ended at their home.

The interesting part when the owner told us, “I’ve never seen such a large rig,” given that we had only a 26-foot RV plus the car.

This is not a “big rig” but it is still hard to turn!

U-Turns and Sharp Turns

Sometimes GPS Lady tells us, “Please make a U-turn” to get to our destination. In one case, this was on a four-lane highway with a median. We ended up stuck in the middle of the opposing side of the highway when we couldn’t make the turn. This had to be our fastest separation of our RV and car as two lanes of traffic backed up to watch us finish the turn.

We know how to disconnect quickly.

In another instance, at least we were on a deserted road as we had to disconnect and even take the car off the dolly to completely turn around on a country road.

Updating the GPS

Another issue we found was when I tried to update a GPS while at the RV park. I started early in the morning using the park internet. Unfortunately, the upload took over four hours and we had to leave.

So, we ended up without a GPS that day. This was before we had our smartphones to show us the way, which meant we had to pull out the atlas until we reached our next stop.

Do you have a good story to share?

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Texas game wardens have curious stories to tell

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While game wardens spend a bunch of time doing thankless work, every now and then they also have some interesting experiences that result in entertaining stories. Texas Parks and Wildlife publishes a few of the more noteworthy events from game warden notes each month, and I’ve summarized a couple humorous happenings from the notes released in the February 2019 edition below.

As you’ll see in a minute, both cases involve men that essentially broadcast their activities for the world to see, which I’m sure really made the job easier for the game wardens that got to deal with them.

Busted On Social Media

Hunters and anglers are constantly searching for their own secret “honey hole” with plenty of fish/game and minimal competition from other sportsmen. This often involves travelling to a difficult to find or access location. For instance, a man in Bexar County apparently found a great fishing spot on Calaveras Lake.

However, as it turns out that involved trespassing on San Antonio Power Plant property and fishing in a prohibited area. Game wardens received a tip about his adventures and it didn’t take long for them to discover that he’d been sharing his exploits on social media. Further investigation revealed the man was a convicted felon on probation.

So, game wardens informed his probation officer and the judge presiding over the man’s scheduled court hearing of his recent illegal fishing activities. I’ll bet he probably wishes he hadn’t gone fishing where he wasn’t supposed to.

Not Best In Show

In another case, a game warden checking out the famous Muy Grande Deer Contest down in South Texas noticed something unusual in one of the categories. One lucky hunter had entered two massive bucks that both scored over 200” on the Boone & Crockett scale. The gigantic bucks ended up winning first and second place, respectively, in the Macho Grande Division of the contest.

However, while the hunter had a resident fishing license, the game warden couldn’t find any record of the man possessing a valid hunting license. As it turns out, the hunter had entered his hunting license number from the previous year in the harvest log of the ranch where he shot the bucks. Game wardens seized the bucks in question from the taxidermist and cited the man for hunting without a license.

It’s unclear exactly what the circumstances were of this particular man’s hunt. However, it seems like he was hunting with permission on the ranch where he took those bucks and, aside from not having a license, was hunting in an otherwise lawful manner. If that’s the case and he paid to hunt at the ranch in question, that was probably an extremely expensive hunt that got even pricier due to the penalties resulting from not purchasing a $25 hunting license.

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Where to camp, eat and play in Sandusky Bay

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Every year, we take a trip to Sandusky Bay on Lake Erie in Ohio. We started this tradition about 10 years ago to celebrate my daughter’s birthday and my anniversary. Through the years, we have really gotten to know the area: the best places to camp, eat and play.

Our favorite campground when we visit the Sandusky Bay area is East Harbor State Park. East Harbor has so much to offer: fishing, swimming, hiking, mushroom hunting, butterfly and bird observation, a game room, a camp store, an amphitheater, a playground, and an ice cream shop.

The thing that I find unique is the on-site, enclosed fish cleaning station, which is free to campers. There are a few ponds to fish and you can also fish the harbor.

After all that fish cleaning, you’ll need to wash your clothes, and the campground offers on-site laundry facilities along with clean modern bathrooms. While you’re cleaning up take note that East Harbor has a pet camping section and a non-pet camping area.

When we go to Sandusky Bay, we make it a point to eat at Jolly Roger Seafood House in Port Clinton, Ohio. Besides the delicious seafood, Jolly Roger’s customer service is outstanding. They make each person feel appreciated. Since the restaurant is well-known, they can get busy, but the long lines are worth the wait.

Finally, where to play at Sandusky Bay. There are two big attractions in this area: Cedar Point and the fishing industry. In 2016, 3.6 million visitors attended Cedar Point. The park is known as the Disneyland of the Midwest and features record-breaking roller coasters.

I don’t do roller coasters much in my older days, but I do love the water attractions. Cedar Point Shores Water Park offers everything from a wave pool to extreme water slides.

Looking for something scaled down? Check out Watering Hole Safari and Water Park. It offers gem mining, a raceway, and a water park.

While I enjoy amusement parks, dining out and safaris, I am all about the fishing. Lake Erie is known for its fishing and I make it my mission to fish the Sandusky Bay of Lake Erie.

I’m going to let you in on my favorite fishing spot: the Old Route 2 Bridge. It is owned by the division of wildlife and is used for fishing only; there is no day-to-day traffic and comes to a dead end.

It is a popular fishing spot, and I especially like it because there is a handicap dock. You can fish both sides of the bridge, and it offers easy access for shore fishing. Due to special regulations from sunset to sunrise you cannot fish this area during March and April. Please keep in mind that this area is known for storms and there is no shelter facility located on the bridge.

I have installed a weather alert app on my phone, seeing as I travel a lot and don’t want to get taken by surprise. However, one May we were there fishing on the dock and a hail storm hit. My mother, father, husband and our two daughters were fishing with me.

When it started to rain, everyone placed their fishing rods into the rod holders on the dock, then ran to their vehicles. I wasn’t far behind because the wind was fierce. We did not have time to vacate the area.

This is why it’s very important to install a weather alert app and know about incoming storms. My dad was not leaving his pole behind like the rest of us. He ran to his car, fishing pole in hand, yelled “woman, take this!” and threw his pole in the car window. He sat in his car holding his pole out the window.

By this time, everyone was soaked but safely situated in the vehicles. That’s when it happened! My fishing pole bent down, and the fight was on! I jumped out of my car, ran for my pole, set the hook, and battled that catfish like my life depended on it.

I ran up and down the dock. I’d make headway, then, sure enough, he’d take the line and you could hear the screaming drag and feel the pulse of his pull in the handle of my rod. The wind is blowing, rain is pouring, hail is falling, the sky is dark, and it felt like gravel was embedding into my legs, but I was not giving up.

My husband said it was probably the hail that was hitting my legs. Despite the chaotic weather, I landed my fish! I’m not known to be that adventurous, but I take my fishing seriously — maybe a little too seriously at times. Now, I can look back, laugh and take pride in my catch. It was a monster 30-inch channel catfish.

So, if you’re looking for the big one, head on over to the Old Route 2 Bridge. Just be sure to keep an eye on the weather.

There are other places to stay eat and play at Sandusky Bay; but, for me, these are the most memorable, enjoyable and fun.

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10 tips for beginning meditators

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The number of people meditating in the U.S. is growing. A recent National Health Interview Survey found that, between 2012 and 2017, meditation by adults increased from 4.1 percent to 14.2 percent, while meditation by children increased from 0.6 percent to 5.4 percent.

It’s not surprising because studies have shown us the benefits are many. In addition to the obvious perks, such as increased calmness and emotional well-being, regular meditation may also reduce numerous physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, digestive issues and other stress-related illness.

Perhaps you’ve thought about adding a meditation practice into your life but don’t know where to start or find it intimidating. For example, I have a friend who has been meditating for 20 minutes twice a day for 40 years. That can be a high bar to reach for when just starting out.

Personally, when it comes to mediation, I consider myself more of a dabbler. I’ve tried a number of different types of mediation over the years but didn’t establish a regular meditation routine until fairly recently. Now, I can’t imagine my life without it.

Given that there are so many different approaches to meditation, here are 10 tips to help you get started.

1. Keep it simple.

Don’t book a 10-day meditation retreat that requires you to get up at 4:00 a.m. to begin an all-day meditation practice. This is marathon-level meditation and it requires some training and preparation to do this. Instead, just getting quiet for brief periods every day, away from your phone and computer and the noise of the world will contribute to your sense of well-being.

2. Start with guided meditation.

With smartphones and YouTube, there are hundreds of sources of guided meditation at your fingertips.

Following along with a meditation created by someone else relieves you of the pressure of having “to do” anything more than simply listen and relax. It also means that you don’t have to sit in silence observing the endless thoughts running through your mind.

3. Start with a small commitment.

You don’t have to begin with a lofty goal. Five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening are better than not doing anything.

It’s the same with establishing any new daily habit. Start with the smallest amount possible so that you don’t resist doing it.

4. Choose the same time every day.

Beginning and ending your day with meditation can serve as peaceful bookends to an otherwise hectic day. Having some quiet “me time” in the morning can set the tone for your entire day. Ending your day with a quiet meditation can help you let go of the day’s worries and get a more restful sleep.

5. Select a quiet location with as few distractions as possible.

If your house if full of people, you might need to retreat into your bedroom to meditate or plan to awaken before anyone in your household to ensure that you have that quiet time.

6. Get comfortable.

So that you aren’t distracted by physical or other types of discomfort, you may sit in comfortable chair or couch, meditation cushion, lie on a soft rug or recline in a lounge chair.

Meditating in bed is fine, but there is a risk that you will fall asleep It’s better to be comfortable without signaling to your body that it’s time to sleep.

7. Find a focus.

Some people use a mantra while others focus on a candle or on their breath. The purpose behind this, as you will discover when you begin meditating, is that when we sit still, our minds often become hyperactive.

Instead of simply sitting and watching those thoughts bounce around, focusing the mind on something anchors our attention there.

8. Be patient with yourself.

Enter into the practice of meditation without expecting much at first. It may not even feel as though anything is happening or that you’re receiving any benefits.

Do yourself a favor and stick with it. Long-time meditators promise that this stage will pass, and eventually you’ll recognize the impact physically and psychologically that meditation is having on your daily life.

9. Don’t compare your progress with others.

There are many people that are skilled at meditating for hours per day, typically in the context of workshops, retreats, monasteries, etc. You may never meditate at that level.

However, that doesn’t mean your meditation practice isn’t of value or beneficial. Be careful not to get swept up in that type of comparison. It will only frustrate you and diminish what benefits you are receiving.

10. Notice how you feel afterwards.

Little by little, day by day, with practice, you will notice a difference when you add meditation into your life.

You may feel calmer and more relaxed. You may not react as much to your external world. You may find yourself making healthier choices. You may become more loving and gentler with yourself and others.

Whatever you discover after meditating for a while, make sure to take a moment to acknowledge your progress.

I hope you find this helpful. The main thing to remember is find a practice that feels right for you. Make it yours. Once you get the hang of it, it will become an enjoyable part of your daily routine.

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Texas legislative update: Bill would create tax holiday for firearms, hunting supplies

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Though this is not an extremely busy session of the Texas Legislature in terms of legislation directly related to outdoor activities, there are still some noteworthy events coming out of Austin. Specifically, there are now two pieces of legislation to keep an eye on: Senate Bill 317 and Senate Bill 457.

We covered SB 317 and HB 3550, the accompanying legislation in the House, in early April. Basically, those bills would remove the existing requirement to possess a valid hunting license to kill feral hogs on private land in Texas if they become law.

Though not much has happened with HB 3550, SB 317 passed the Texas Senate with overwhelming support by a vote of 31-0 on April 11. It’s now pending in the House Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Committee.

Senate Bill 457 is a particularly interesting piece of legislation that would create a state sales tax holiday on firearms and hunting supplies for one weekend each year. Texas currently has sales tax holidays for emergency preparation supplies; Energy Star and water-efficient products; and back-to-school supplies during specific weekends in April, May, and August, respectively.

SB 457 appears to be designed in a similar matter, but for hunting gear. Specifically, the legislation would exempt purchases of firearms and hunting supplies (defined as ammunition, archery equipment, hunting blinds and stands, hunting decoys, firearm cleaning supplies, gun cases and gun safes, hunting optics, and hunting safety equipment) from sales tax during the last weekend of August each year.

If passed, this legislation would enable hunters to purchase new equipment before hunting season opens during the fall without paying sales tax. Though that may seem like a minor change, sales tax can really add up when making a big purchase.

For instance, a person buying a rifle, scope, and a couple boxes of ammo can easily pay over $50 (and often much more) just in sales tax for that purchase. That’s not even getting into the price of a new deer stand, binoculars, etc.

Especially when combined with special promotions that retailers may offer during this theoretical hunting equipment sales tax holiday, that weekend might potentially turn out to be a great opportunity to upgrade gear. It could also just be a good chance for hunters to just stock up on other important items like ammo and gun cleaning supplies for the rest of the year.

If you need to buy something anyway, might as well make the most of opportunities like that as they come along, right?

In any case, both pieces of legislation are a long way from becoming law right now. So, stay tuned for more updates on how things progress on that front through May 27, when this session of the Texas Legislature ends.

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The places that make Texas weird and unique

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Texas is a special state with a unique history and people known for their independence.

Perhaps to celebrate these special qualities, there are several unique and weird spots throughout the state, which makes it a terrific place to visit. Here are some of my favorites.

SpongeBob tree art.

Tree Sculpture Tour

Back in 2008, Hurricane Ike destroyed many of the large live oak trees in Galveston. Instead of cutting down the stumps, homeowners and local artists decided to make the best of it.

Each piece of tree art is different. There are maps of the art online or at the Galveston visitor center. Some require a drive but most are walkable and in areas where you can both enjoy the art plus the architecture of these grand homes.

My favorites were “Venus on a Half Shell,” “Tin Man & Toto,” “Great Dane,” and “SpongeBob.”

Marfa, Texas

For spooky lights and some unique art, visit the town of Marfa. For art, tour the special offerings at the Chinati Foundation and Judd Foundation, along with the multiple galleries in town. Hours vary and most tours have a fee. Prada Marfa is farther out of town but is open to view all the time and is very unique.

The Marfa Lights are a strange occurrence. The story is that balls of lights will move up, down, and around at night. The balls of light can be several different colors. Supposedly these lights have been seen since the 1800s and before cars.

Marfa Lights viewing area.

However, studies have shown they are probably headlights on cars traveling I-67. However, an alternate explanation is that the lights are a mirage caused by temperature inversions. While we didn’t see anything spooky, the viewing station built along I-90 is a great place to visit and even boondock overnight.

The stars are fantastic and kept that way with red lighting at the viewing area so your eyes aren’t blinded by the lights. Plus, it can be fun talking to the people who show up to look at the lights.

Texas Prison Museum

Huntsville is the site of the first Texas prison and also houses the Texas Prison Museum dedicated to prison life. There are samples of things that prisoners made for the prison to sell like furniture or signs along with things prisoners made without permission like weapons or games.

The exhibit about the death penalty is rather creepy with “Old Sparky.” Bonnie and Clyde were killed by a man sent by the head of the Texas prison system, so there is an exhibit dedicated to them.

Nearby, you can visit the 67-foot-tall statue of Sam Houston. Seriously, it is tall and worth the visit!

Luckenbach, Texas

It is a song, a bar, and a town with a population of three featuring a general store/saloon/former post office along with a dance hall. This is my favorite place of all time to sit back and relax.

You can buy a sandwich and a beer, then sit down to hear free music played by whoever shows up for a Picker Circle. I am not a country music fan, but the laid back atmosphere is attractive to all ages.

Plus, you can enjoy the sight of roosters wandering the area and maybe even a guy riding a longhorn steer.

Groom, Texas

Groom, Texas stands out for two unique sites. The biggest is a 190-foot cross and one of the largest free-standing crosses in the world.

It was built by a Texan millionaire in 1995. Besides the cross, statues depicting the 14 Stations of the Cross surround the base.

The leaning water tower nearby is just fun! Originally designed to bring in business for a truck stop along Route 66, it still stands to make those passing on I-40 wonder what they just saw out their car windows.

Tornado Beam

In 1902 a F4 tornado came through Goliad, Texas, killing 114 people and leaving 250 injured. The tornado destroyed a newly constructed bridge.

One of the steel beams flew almost a mile and landed in the backyard of a house near the courthouse. It is too deep in the ground to remove so it stays in the backyard. It is private property but can be seen from the street. Ask for directions at the local downtown museum.

Also, visit the Hanging Tree at the courthouse while you are in town.

Cadillac Ranch art.

Cadillac Ranch

This one is my favorite weird spots in the United States. Ten Cadillacs are planted in the ground.

They say they are at the angle of the pyramids in Egypt. The fun part is that visitors are encouraged to spray paint the cars. This means there are 2-year-olds and great-grandmothers out in this field spray painting.

It is best to buy a can before you go, but many times someone hands off their spray paint cans as they leave or you can find one on the ground. The story is that whatever you paint is covered within 24 hours by the next visitors.

Do you have a favorite weird and unique place in Texas?

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Tips for effectively shooting a side-by-side shotgun

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Side-by-side shotguns can seem really weird. For one thing, both barrels are joined horizontally instead of stacked, as is the case on the more common over/under shotgun. Side-by-sides often come with two triggers, which in itself is enough of a freak-out.

The stock doesn’t have a pistol grip as with most shotguns and handguns, and instead there’s a long, straight neck that twists your wrist downward at about a 20-degree angle. And those big forends on the barrels of an over/under are gone, often replaced with a tiny piece of wood aptly called a “splinter” forend.

The elegant lines of a classic side-by-side.

Given the design of a traditional side-by-side, introductions to them are often painful. Side-by-sides are nearly all field guns intended to be carried for miles in wingshooting hunts, with stock angles optimized for fast-moving quarry. That means they can be lighter than over/unders with a stock that feels uncomfortable: the bottom line is a wallop to the face, shoulder or both.

So, a side-by-side may sound pretty awful by now. In fact, it doesn’t have to be if you follow some important tips.

1. To manage recoil, always make certain that the side by side is firmly against your face (right under the cheekbone) and the fleshy pocket between your breast and shoulder. Don’t strangle the gun, but hold it firmly.

2. Get accustomed to the double triggers. The reason side-by-sides have two triggers is because they date back to the mid-1800s before the invention of screw-in shotgun chokes. When bird hunting, two triggers gave the owner an option of barrel constrictions for both long and close shots. Side-by-side newbies typically forget to pull the second trigger or pull the first trigger twice. Spend time practicing with the double triggers before embarking on a hunt.

The double triggers of a side-by-side serve a purpose of providing barrels constrictions for both long and close shots in the days before screw-in chokes. After shooting a box of shells, you should have mastered the art of the double trigger.

3. If your side-by-side has a splinter forend, don’t wrap your fingers around the barrels. For one thing, you’ll find yourself looking at your thumb, and second it’s an easy way to burn your hands on the hot barrels.

4. Side-by-sides are not intended to shoot hundreds of clay targets in a single session as with an over/under. You’ll regret the recoil, burnt fingers and missed targets. Keep your side-by-side for field use.

5. The long, straight neck of the side-by-side provides plenty of room for error in where to hold the shotgun so that you can comfortably shoot both triggers. Feel free to experiment with the grip for the sweet spot of trigger accessibility and gun swing.

6. Shoot the front trigger first. The front trigger fires the right barrel and is better for close shots. If your first shot is a long one, you may opt to shoot the back trigger first for a better pattern.

7. Learn where the gun shoots. Side-by-sides shoot flatter than over/unders. That means you may actually have to cover the target with the barrels rather than float the target over the barrels as with an over/under. It takes a leap of faith to shoot a target covered by the barrels, but once you get accustomed to it, the side-by-side should be as easy to point as an over/under.

Give your eyes enough time to understand the wider barrel view of a side-by-side. Ultimately, you’ll find it’s not that much different to shoot than an over/under.

8. Because of the horizontal barrels, side-by-sides have a wider shooting plane. Be patient and give your eyes time to master the view down the barrel.

9. The straight stocks on a side-by-side can be lower than on an over/under. Never lift your face off the stock of a side-by-side to get a better view of the target. The consequences can be as nasty as a bruised jaw.

Despite the challenges of learning how to use a side-by-side, the guns are actually fun and stylish. And for women, a lighter side-by-side is easier to carry for upland hunts.

Just a word of caution when buying a side-by-side. You’ll come across hundreds of years’ worth of used guns that have endured harsh treatment in the outdoors or are simply old, feeble and unsafe. If a vintage side-by-side strikes your fancy, take it to a qualified gunsmith for examination before firing it even once.

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