Tag Archives: Recreation

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7 small American towns with superlative Christmas festivities

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For some small American towns, the Christmas season comes with an invitation to light things up and throw a party. Colorful lights and festive décor set the stage for holiday parades, concerts, sleigh rides and cider tastings.

For those of you ready to step outside of your holiday comfort zone, consider spending some time in one of the following seven towns that take celebrating Christmas to a whole new level.

Leavenworth, Washington

Christmas is clearly the most wonderful time of the year in the Bavarian-inspired village of Leavenworth. Each year this Cascade Mountain community heralds the holiday season with its Christmas Lighting Festival.

More than a half-million Christmas lights brighten the scene that includes a Bavarian-style Christkindlmarkt offering the best holiday shopping this side of Munich, concerts, strolling carolers, sleigh and dogsled rides, tubing, skiing and snowboarding.

Durango, Colorado

Another little mountain town that does Christmas in a big way, Durango celebrates the holiday all December long. There are activities planned for everyone from the holiday traditionalist to the wild and crazy adventure seeker. Durango’s favorite family holiday activity is a ride on the Polar Express — a narrow-gage train that leads travelers on a 26-mile journey along the Animas River through San Juan National Forest to (where else?) the North Pole.

For the more active types, there’s dog sledding, snowmobiling and skiing the slopes at nearby Purgatory Resort.

Natchitoches, Louisiana

Named after a local Native American tribe, Natchitoches (pronounced Nack-a-tish) is the oldest permanent settlement in the Louisiana Purchase Territory — and home since 1927 to the oldest community-based Christmas holiday celebration in the country.

Named a 2018 Top 20 Festival of the Year by the Southeast Tourism Society, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival is a lengthy affair, running from Nov. 23, 2019 to Jan. 6, 2020. Festivities include musical entertainment, arts and crafts exhibits, carriage rides and historic home tours. More than 300,000 Christmas lights and 100+ illuminated set pieces brighten scenic Cane River Lake and the Historic Downtown Landmark District.

Santa Claus, Indiana

The name gives away the fact that this little southeastern Indiana town of 2,400 folks (including elves) is all about Christmas. It celebrates it all year round, so you can bet it has you covered for Christmas-themed entertainment come December.

The Santa Claus Christmas Celebration takes place during the first three weekends of that month, featuring a fabulous display of lights and a host of holiday-related activities at the Santa Claus Museum & Village and the Christmas Store. The latter is loaded with unique holiday finds.

McAdenville, North Carolina

This mill town 20 miles west of Charlotte bills itself “Christmas Town USA” and, much like Indiana’s town of Santa Claus, it goes all out to create holiday cheer. There are so many lighted Christmas trees on display in this 64-year-old celebration that they outnumber the town’s households. There are 250 of them in the town’s common area alone and they are draped with nearly a half million lights.

Hundreds more trees ring the lake at Legacy Park where a two-mile tour route is expected to handle more than 200,000 cars this season for a slow-motion look-see at all the lighted trees — along with 160 homes decorated to the max by individual homeowners. Special events this year include the the annual Christmas Town Festival on the evening of Dec. 12, following the Yule Log Parade.

Williamsburg, Virginia

A stroll through Colonial Williamsburg during the holiday season is surely one of the most picturesque Christmas experiences to be found anywhere in America. The nation’s largest interactive history museum was recently named by Architectural Digest as the best town in America for Christmas celebrations.

Holiday activities got underway this year on Dec. 8 with the Grand Illumination — a night of fireworks, music and stage entertainment — marking the beginning of a month of holiday related celebrations.

The Christmas season brings out Colonial Williamsburg’s renowned holiday decorations and 18th-century seasonal programs. Beating drums, trilling fifes, theatrical programs and costumed interpreters take visitors back in time to celebrate Christmas as Virginians did centuries ago.

Woodstock, Vermont

One of New England’s most popular Christmas celebrations takes place in the historic Vermont village of Woodstock. To best capture the holiday spirit, be sure to visit on Wassail Weekend, Dec. 13-15. During this festive weekend, the town comes alive with a Christmas parade featuring horse-drawn carriages loaded with revelers attired in 19th-century period costumes.

Swathed in garland and colorful lights, village boutiques tease shoppers with an array of fine fashions, curated home goods, antiques, locally made wares and sweet confections.

Another special holiday event awaits Wassail Weekend visitors who join the Billings Farm Experience, a Christmas program at an authentic farmhouse and dairy farm just outside the village center that replicates a 19th-century Vermont Christmas.

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3 great Christmas gifts for hunters

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With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and the turning of the calendar to December, people are now holiday shopping.

Unfortunately, hunters can be really tough to shop for. This is especially true if the person doing the shopping isn’t a hunter. Here are a trio of gift ideas for the hunter on your gift list (or that you can offer as suggestions to loved ones shopping for you).

.308 Bullet Whiskey Glass

A good gift must have two primary attributes: the recipient must not already have the item and the item in question must be useful or entertaining to the recipient. Well, a whiskey glass with a .308 caliber bullet embedded in it scores on both points.

Drinking out of a glass that looks like it literally stopped a bullet is certainly a novel and unique experience. This is also a very unique item that most people are very unlikely to already own.

It’s also not very expensive. Don’t worry: that’s a solid copper bullet, so there’s no need to worry about drinking out of a glass with potential lead contamination. Add it all up and this is a great gift for a hunter or shooter on your list.

Image: Sage & Braker

Gun Cleaning Mat

A good gun cleaning mat will help protect your firearms as well as the table or workbench underneath. After all, the last thing you want is to accidentally scratch the wood stock on your shotgun or spill some gun solvent on your table while you’re working. Made of wool, leather, and waxed canvas, this gun mat does both of those things very well.

It has a soft and thickly padded cleaning surface that’s also large enough to clean just about any handgun, rifle, or shotgun with room to spare. This mat also has four canvas and leather pouches that can hold your other miscellaneous cleaning supplies.

The whole mat rolls up and compresses into an easy-to-handle package, so you can easily transport the whole thing with all your cleaning supplies to and from the range as necessary.

Finally, this gun cleaning mat just looks cool, too. This makes it an especially nice gift for those hunters and shooters who prefer the classic appearance and feel of leather and canvas to go along with a walnut stock and/or a color case-hardened receiver.

Image: Leupold

Leupold VX-3i Rifle Scope

The VX-3i is one of Leupold’s midtier scopes, but it’s still an excellent choice for all-around performance and is superior to even high-end rifle scopes manufactured several decades ago. This scope has great light transmission, is lightweight, durable, and reasonably priced. All Leupold scopes are assembled in the U.S. and come with a full lifetime warranty.

It’s also available in a number of different sizes and configurations from a larger 6.5-20x50mm version ideally suited for long-range target shooters all the way down to a 1.5-5x20mm model that’s perfect for feral hog or cape buffalo hunting in very thick conditions.

That being said, the 3.5-10x40mm and 2.5-8x36mm configurations will fill the needs of the vast majority of hunters extremely well.

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2020’s recommended countries to visit include sustainability-loving lands

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Both Lonely Planet and Conde Nast Traveler have each recently released an interesting array of recommended countries to visit in 2020. These lists give us exotic locations and places that are making sustainable tourism a priority.

During the last two decades, the travel industry has grown both globally and regionally. That growth, however, has seen some downsides, most important of which is the negative environmental impact caused by travelers.

From the slopes of Mt. Everest to the beaches of Hawaii, we are now witnessing terrible acts of pollution, litter, and damage to nature and property.

The Madrid Climate Change Conference, or COP25, is currently taking place and focuses on the worsening climate emergency that is impacting lives everywhere. It seeks to strengthen the implementation of the Paris Agreement and bring world leaders together, just like the Climate Action Summit did in New York this past September.

The travel and tourism industry is closely following these talks so that stakeholders can implement the eco-friendly steps. This needs to be a joint effort between travel companies, travelers, and respective countries’ governments. The 2020 list toppers are closer to achieving this goal than others.

Let’s take a look and see what makes them stand out.


The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is unique, not just for its incredible beauty but for its criteria of measuring national wealth. Unlike all others, its GDP is secondary to its gross national happiness (GNH). It is no wonder that a country that has a happiness index will have similar goals for its natural environment.

Bhutan’s strict tourism policy operates on a “high-value, low-impact” philosophy. This has helped the tiny nation become the world’s only carbon-negative country. Tourists must pay a high daily fee to explore the nation, but what they get in return is a priceless experience that is unsullied by litter and pollution.

You will find its people entirely in tune with their environment, which is an excellent sign for its government, which is aiming to make Bhutan the first fully organic nation by 2020.


The tiny Caribbean island of Aruba has been a subject of many songs and travel plans. It is known for its breathtaking beauty and rich cultural heritage, which is witnessing a colorful revival. Sustainability efforts are making this already popular destination more popular.

The island, which is under the province of the Netherlands, is in the process of banning the use of reef-harming sunscreens and all single-use plastics by next year. It has also offered itself to be the hub for other countries to test their renewable energy solutions.

Costa Rica

Another popular destination for world travelers, Costa Rica seeks to become carbon-neutral in 2020. Ninety percent of the country’s energy is created by renewable sources, which is more than pretty much any highly developed nation can boast. It is focused on offering biodiverse, safe, accessible, and robust sustainable tourism.


One of the top names on the Conde Nast Traveler list is the idyllic isthmus of Panama. A renewed focus on eco-retreats will offer travelers sustainable ways to explore many islands, along with its sun-drenched Pacific coast, deep tropical forests, and one of the most extensive coral reefs in the Pacific.

Panama’s beauty is well-known, but what is not known is the fact that 100% of food waste is recycled, 100% of the energy used in the island will be solar-generated, and 100% of wastewater will be reused for irrigation at the new eco-retreats.

The retreats themselves are made of certified sustainable wood where single-use plastics will be banned, and 75% of the remote archipelago will not be disturbed. Guests are encouraged to participate in research and conservation efforts.


Morocco makes both lists with its unique blend of stylish, exotic, and sustainable offerings for global tourists. From wellness retreats to eco-adventures, it has something for everyone. It is also undergoing a distinct cultural revival, which is an added attraction for the new-age traveler looking for an immersive experience in faraway lands.

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What’s the best distance to practice at for self-defense? It’s not what you think

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I see the debate of how far out to put the target almost every time I go to a range during public hours.

Put it too close and it doesn’t look very “cool.” Put it too far and it would be embarrassing to miss.

Should I put it at 21 feet because of the “21-foot rule?” Should I put it at 11 feet since half of law enforcement fatalities happen within 11 feet?

Should I put it at nine feet since an “average” self-defense encounter happens within three yards, lasts three seconds, and three rounds are fired?

The answer is a little simpler and a little more flexible than you may think.

There are a couple of distances that are important.

The first distance is six to 10 feet.

Six feet is about as close as you can get to a hanging paper target without the muzzle blast from normal self-defense rounds moving the paper too much. Six to 10 feet is close enough that any gun/ammo combination can shoot 1” or better groups.

Drilling holes flat footed at the six- to 10-foot range is an indication that you can align the muzzle properly and press the trigger without disturbing muzzle alignment.

Any flyers or problems that show up here will be magnified with distance, stress, speed, and movement.

Grip, stance, breathing, and follow-through all help, but muzzle alignment and trigger press are the only two things that are vital.

This seems like it should be simple, but what I’ve found over time is that only about 10% of shooters who carry regularly…including military, law enforcement, competition, and concealed carry permit holders…can actually shoot a five-round 1” group at 6-10 feet with perfect lighting and no time constraints.

If you’re in the 90% who throw an occasional shot at six to 10 feet, it means is that you’ve got some of what I call “low-hanging opportunities for improvement” that will be magnified with speed, distance, movement and stress. Work that you do here gets incredibly high leverage results and will impact all shooting that you do, regardless of the gun, distance, or speed.

Once you’re drilling holes at six to 10 feet…then what?

It depends on what phase of learning you’re in; whether you’re building a basic skill or trying to make it resilient.

If you’re trying to build skill, you want to aim for a distance where you’ve got a 75 to 90% success rate, regardless of the size of the target, speed of shooting, stress level, or speed of movement.

That may be slow fire at five, 25, 50, or even 100 yards, rapid fire, shooting while moving, or whatever combination of speed, accuracy, stress, and movement that puts you in that 75 to 90% success range.

That means that you’re hitting your intended target seven to nine times out of 10 and the misses tell you where the edge of your performance envelope is.

At first, you want to focus on perfection and a 99 to 100% success rate, but once you’re dialed in, you want to start expanding your performance envelope.

For IDPA, “success” might be -0 hits. For USPSA, it might be A-zone.

But, depending on what you’re doing, you might need/want to relax your definition of success. As an example, if you’re shooting at 50 yards, shooting fast, or training for self-defense while moving laterally off-the-x, you might call success anything in the -1 or B zone (reduced silhouette), or it might be any hit on target.

But the goal should always be to make precise hits faster, fast strings of fire more accurate, and do it under more and more challenging conditions.

The way you want to structure your practice is to start with drills where you’re shooting at a 99 to 100% success rate, push conditions until you’re at 75 to 90%, and then end with 99 to 100% again.

I like to think of it as a sandwich.

Start with a sure thing, push it, and then end with a sure thing.

As we cover in Praxis, this will optimize learning speed and give you the most bang-for-the-buck for your training time and training dollars.

If you’ve got the skill built and you’re working on making it resilient to stress…by whatever means of stress inoculation you happen to be using…then you might want to push things to the point where you’re only succeeding 25% of the time…but you still want to dial stuff back to where you know your performance envelope where you can succeed 75 to 90% of the time and end with a win.

How’s this play out at the range?

Start with a few rounds at six to 10 feet with sterile conditions, push time, distance, speed, movement and stress until you’re in the 75 to 90% success range, and then end with a few reps at six to 10 feet again.

As you see, no matter how fast and cool or how tactical you want to be, it all comes back to a solid foundation of the fundamentals…muzzle alignment and trigger press.

Get those down as a solid foundation and the sky is the limit.

Skip over them in an attempt to get to the “cool” stuff quicker and it’s like driving a sports car with the parking brake on and a clogged air filter…it’s simply impossible to shoot up to your potential. And that’s why shooters at all levels…from new shooters to guys retiring from tier I and special mission units go through our training and report dramatic improvements in performance.

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Travel2020: Traveling for the holidays? Here are the best and worst airports to use

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For those who may want to avoid spending their holiday dinner at the boarding gate, munching on a tuna sandwich and waiting for news about their delayed, if not cancelled, flight, researchers at CompareCards and InsureMyTrip studied the data and came up with lists of the best and worst airports to pass through this season.

First, it is important to note that a record number of passengers plan to travel by plane during the upcoming holidays. U.S. airlines carried a record high total of 1 billion passengers in 2018, 4.8% more than the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

CompareCards analyzed a decade of stats from the U.S. Department of Transportation for holiday flight data between 2009 and 2018 at the 50 busiest airports in the U.S. They came up with these airports to put on “to be avoided” list:

Chicago-area airports are the most likely to have flights delayed during the holiday season. The research found that just 63% of flights out of Chicago’s Midway Airport reached their destinations on time, the worst of any airport they reviewed.

It turned out that one in three flights arrived at least 15 minutes late, and nearly 3% of scheduled flights canceled outright. At nearby O’Hare, only 65% of flights reached their destinations within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival times and just under 4% of flights are canceled there.

Newark Liberty International Airport can almost be counted upon — to cancel flights. Only around 65% of departing flights can be expected to arrive on time. It also has the highest December holiday cancellation rates of all the airports, with a 10-year average of 4%.

More than one in three flights taking off from these airports were delayed: Chicago Midway, Chicago O’Hare, Newark, Denver and Houston Hobby.

Meanwhile, travel insurance provider InsureMyTrip compiled a list of the top 75 U.S. airports that have the least chance of having holiday mishaps this season. But for those who want to make sure their holiday is not ruined and spent on the floor under a row of black faux-leather row chairs, a look at vacation protection through trip insurance may be in order.


Hawaii airports are considered the least stressful, followed by Salt Lake City (SLC) and Atlanta (ATL).

It is forecast that New York’s LaGuardia (LGA) will no longer be most stressful for travelers this season. LGA has improved its cancellation rate this year. The airport previously reported the highest percentage of canceled flights in the country for both 2017 and 2018 (winter storms were a factor).

Flights scheduled for departure between 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. are more susceptible to delays and cancellations.

If a flight is canceled, most airlines will rebook travelers on the next available flight at no additional charge. However, airlines are not required to reimburse travelers for losses incurred as a result of a canceled flight.

Flight cancellation policies vary by airline and circumstance. When an airline cancels a flight, most will try to rebook passengers on the next available flight. However, passengers need to know that airlines are not required to reimburse travelers for losses incurred as a result of a canceled flight, such as prepaid, non-refundable:

  • Hotel rooms
  • All-inclusive vacations or resorts
  • Cruises
  • Tours or safaris
  • Concert or entertainment tickets

Travelers concerned about delays should be aware of the following:

  • Generally, early departures are less likely to be delayed.
  • When booking, ask the airline about the on-time performance percentage for an individual flight.
  • Closer to departure, check real-time airport data. This will provide timely information on weather concerns or air traffic delays.
  • Be aware of “creeping delays.” This is when an airline continues to push back a departure time it can sometimes be extended for hours or lead to a cancellation.
  • If a flight is delayed, try to learn the reason why to better gauge if the flight is in jeopardy of being canceled. Reasons for delays may include maintenance, fueling, crew issues, weather, previous flight with the same aircraft arrived late, causing the present flight to depart late, or security issues.
  • Some flights will be delayed on the tarmac before or after takeoff. As a general rule, DOT prohibits flights to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours.

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Infographic: The history of headphones and their productivity benefits

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Headphones have come a long way since the electrophone was invented in Britain in 1895, allowing subscribers to listen to live musical performances over phone lines. Today, Americans typically spend more than 32 hours weekly listening to music, almost equivalent to a full-time job.

Seventy-eight percent of people say music improves their productivity at work, and 46% of people wear headphones at work to avoid conversation. This infographic outlines the history of headphones and explains the productivity benefits of using headphones at work.

Infographic courtesy RaveReviews.org/NowSourcing

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Is Paris still safe to visit? Recommendations from a recent theft victim

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I was in Paris on a leisure trip last week. It would have been a perfect getaway if I was not the victim of theft. Such an incident significantly affected my travel plans and my well-being even though I tried my best not to let it bother me.

Leaving the incident behind, I am sharing the lessons I learned from my own experience. I am hoping my recommendations will help prevent people from being other victims of theft.

What happened?

I arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport at around 10:30 a.m., where I met my friend who arrived earlier at the same airport. My friend and I each traveled with one standard-size backpack and one rolling luggage suitcase.

I used Google Maps for directions. I saw in the app that Uber was not available in the area at that time, even though I found out later Uber worked just fine in Paris. My friend and I then decided to take the RER B train to the hotel (downtown), an alternative suggested by Google Maps.

Before this trip, many friends had warned me that I must pay special attention to the pickpocketing crimes in Europe. Accordingly, I kept one credit card along with 200 Euro in my pocket, and I stored the rest of the valuables in my backpack. I told myself:

“Even if someone steals my credit card and cash in my pocket, I still have all my other valuables with me in my backpack.”

I did not expect anything but pickpocketing crimes, but it turned out I was tricked by an experienced thief. My whole backpack with all the valuables inside was stolen on my way to the hotel!

The trick

My friend and I sat down, facing each other after we got on the train. I left my luggage on the right (aisle side) and my backpack on the empty seat next to me. I did not tie everything together with my body — I really should have done so though — but I put my hands on top of the backpack.

Suddenly, I noticed that a slim-built Arabian man in his 50s began moving our luggage on my right side away from me while looking at the floor. His move got our attention.

I held tight on my suitcase and tried to provide some assistance to him if needed — I still had no clue at that time that he was after me. It “appeared” that he dropped a few coins on the floor, and he needed to move my luggage away to pick up the coins.

He finally picked up all the coins on the floor. Meanwhile, the train stopped at the Gare du Blanc-Mesnil station. He then stepped off the train quickly, right before the train closed the door behind him.

I then realized my backpack on the left side was missing. I stood up and looked for the item inside the metro car. I could not see it.

I looked outside as the train just began departing from the station. I saw the back of the Arabian man, with his left hand holding something still in front of him. Still, I could not tell what he was carrying because his back was blocking my view as he walked towards the exit. I realized that everything I had in that backpack was stolen and gone for good.

The loss

It was a significant loss for me. I had my passport, driver’s license, cash valued at about $900, a MacBook, an iPad, a few credit cards, and other valuable items inside that backpack.

The crime

That was probably more than just simple larceny or pickpocketing. Besides, because the total loss of my valuables exceeded $1,000, it could be categorized as grand theft.

The recovery

My friend and I got off the train at the next station. I was trying to get help from the staff working in the station. We found no police officer or staff inside the station.

It did not seem I could get any assistance from anyone there. I also noticed my friend and I still had two rolling suitcases with us.

I then decided to get to the hotel first without getting out the station — I did not know if the area outside of the train station was safe; I did not know where I could find a police officer for help even if I got out of the train station; and it was not easy for us to do anything with the two big suitcases with us.

We took the next train to the hotel. I informed the hotel staff about the accident and got directions to the nearest police station.

I put my luggage in the room and went straight to the police station. I waited for 2.5 hours in the police station before an officer was able to meet with me for the police report.

On the same day, I also spent a couple of hours, either on the phone or online, to freeze my credit card and bank accounts. I also tried to make the appropriate arrangements online to replace the legal documents lost on this trip.

The next morning, I went straight to the Embassy in Paris for a temporary passport because such a service is not available after 3:00 p.m. It took about two hours to get a temporary passport, which was good enough for me to leave France and get back to the U.S. later.

I did not sleep well at all during my time in Paris. Besides jet lag, I could not stop thinking about what I could do to recovery quickly from the accident.

Recommendations to travelers

Based on my experience, I recommend travelers to consider taking the following actions when traveling in Paris:

  • Tie all belongings together and attach them to our bodies at all times.
  • Bring no more than two credit cards with a sufficient amount of cash (about $300) only.
  • Keep your passport and travel documents in an inner pocket.
  • Store valuables and travel documents in different places.
  • Take a picture or have a photocopy of all travel documents — I used them many times when I applied for the replacements.
  • Take a cab or Uber between the airport and downtown — the hotel staff also feels it’s safer to travel by car than by the RER B train.
  • Seek help from trustworthy parties only, such as the hotel staff or police officers.
  • Leave a spare house key and/or a car key in the office or with a trustworthy friend.
  • Remain calm — when I look back, I am glad I did not get out of the station to seek help because I found out later that area was not safe.

Recommendations to government agencies

When I was in Paris Metro, I heard a repetitive announcement that reminded people about pickpocketing crimes. Yet, what happened to me was more than just pickpocketing.

I, therefore, make the following recommendations to the government agencies to improve public safety:

  • Educate travelers about the common types of thefts at the airport. For example, playing educational cartoons in the areas while travelers are waiting for the luggage or at the immigration checkpoints.
  • Use flyers and announcements to remind travelers to hold their belongings at all times.
  • Assign full-time staff members to work in the stations with a high theft or criminal rate.
  • Have police officers or security staff check the stations/areas with a high theft or criminal rate frequently. It seemed to me everyone I spoke to in Paris (e.g., the hotel staff, the police officer, the agents at the Embassy, etc.) knew about the station I reported for its theft crimes.
  • Remind the passengers that they must hold their belongings at all times with announcements when a train approaches the station or areas with many theft crimes.

Is Paris still a safe place to visit?

All travelers must go through security checkpoints before entering most of the tourist spots in Paris, possibly due to the terrorist attacks that happened in recent years.

Even though it was not as carefree as in the U.S., I generally felt safe when traveling inside Paris. I knew I must be more cautious of my surroundings in Paris.

What safety recommendations will you make to the travelers who plan to visit Paris or other European cities? How about the recommendations to government agencies in another European city/destination?

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Death of a blacktail

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The Sacramento River in Northern California is magnificent.

With cool waters running from the Klamath Mountains in the shadow of magnificent Mount Shasta, it flows over smooth, gray stones along wooded shorelines.

As I made my way up a game trail leading from the main river, a shocking scene unfolded before me.

Lying on the edge of the trail was a massive, dead blacktail buck. With antlers that would make any hunter proud, it was evident this buck had died within the last 24-36 hours.

For a moment I pondered if I might have come across a mountain lion’s kill, but it was not buried and there were no marks in the neck. Upon closer examination it was evident coyotes had started eating the hind quarters but there was no sign they killed the buck.

There were also no gunshot wounds. Only a single hole with no exit wound could be found near the base of the neck and judging by the diameter it was made by the antlers of another buck.

It seems like this old buck met his match and I had been fortunate enough to get a glimpse before nature had its way and all of its parts went back into the ecosystem.

The blacktail is America’s forgotten deer.

Whitetail dominate conversations among hunters and wildlife managers and mule deer take up the slack but blacktail barely make a blip on the radar. Scientists believe blacktails split off from the whitetails eons ago and at some point mule deer arose out of the blacktail.

There are two varieties of blacktail, the Columbia, which can be found from California through Washington, and the Sitka, which roams British Columbia and Alaska.

Blacktail are facing a number of issues in the Pacific Northwest ranging from an exotic louse introduced to the region in 1995 to loss of habitat and decline of quality forage in available habitat.

A 2018 report by the Mule Deer Working Group of the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies features concerning observations from a majority of states and provinces in the blacktail’s range.

Oregon: Both mule deer and black-tailed deer are substantially below the long-term statewide management objectives and benchmarks.

Washington: Regional harvest trends indicate black-tailed deer in western Washington have decreased. Loss of black-tailed deer habitat due to encroaching human development continues to be a concern.

British Columbia: Predation from wolves and cougars on black-tailed deer continues to be a concern in most areas as well as the need for effective measures to conserve high quality habitat. Black-tailed deer buck harvest has dropped by approximately half since the early 1990s.

California’s population seems to be stable, but habitat problems proven in other states seem to be rearing its head there. Alaska’s numbers have faced ups and downs but seem to be holding steady overall.

Things are changing quickly in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and it is my opinion that blacktail and their close cousins the mule deer are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine.

What happens to them is an indicator of what is happening at a much larger level ecologically and I have committed to monitoring this issue.

Finding this massive buck inspired a deeper look at blacktails and gave me an even deeper appreciation for these majestic forest dwellers.

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Volunteering on the road

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Volunteering can mean different things to different people. When I think of volunteering, I think of two things. One is giving time to a project or organization that is near and dear to your heart.

The second is volunteering in exchange for full hookup (FHU). This means volunteering one’s time in exchange for an RV site. Many people participate in work camping, which is completely different from volunteering. With work camping, you get the FHU as well as an hourly income.

In this article, we will discuss non-monetary rewards of volunteering while on the road.

I have volunteered in different ways while traveling; ways one might not think of. Do you have a special talent? A craft or hobby? Do you sew, crochet, bake, or create artwork?

I want you to think about what it is you love to do, because when it comes to volunteering your time, it is important that you enjoy what you are doing. Love shines through your talents.

For example, I am a crocheter. I have crocheted red newborn and preemie hats for the American Red Cross. I have created hats and booties for Heartbeats. I have donated crocheted purple hats to aid in the awareness of shaken baby syndrome.

One year, I created 19 hats for the local homeless shelter in my hometown. While those are worthy causes, I have one organization that is near and dear to my heart; Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Turban Project.

While the organization is more about sewing, it gladly accepted my artistry of crocheted character hats for the cancer patients at a hospital. I created everything from Minions and princesses to Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

There is never a shortage of needs in this world. So, think about how your efforts could best be spent. Many times, nursing homes need blankets for patients.

I know when traveling there can be a lack of storage space. I used totes. I donated often, so I did not accumulate a lot of items. You can physically drop them at a set location, such as the Red Cross, or mail them to the organization.

Be sure to check with the company you are donating to; sometimes they can pay for the shipping or send gift cards to aid with the cost. I was able to solicit donations from those who were financially willing to aid in my efforts. I truly appreciated their contributions. They made it possible for me to work my creations and, as a team, we have blessed many men, women and children over the years.

Many times, we want to help, but due to laws or regulations we can’t. So, please be sure to do your research before you put forth a great deal of effort. You do not want to waste your valuable time.

One place I always wanted to volunteer was Give Kids the World. They have given so much to my family that it is only right we give back. My daughter, who is now 19 years old, had stage 4 kidney cancer at the age of three.

Doctors told me she would not make it, and to take her home and let her live out her time here on earth. She was granted one wish by Make-A-Wish Foundation. Her wish was to go to Disney World. In part of that wish, she was granted a stay at Give Kids the World. Thankfully she survived and to this day still loves to visit Give Kids the World.

I recently also learned of volunteers who travel and help build ministries and homes for those in need. They at times live in rough conditions like cold weather, hot temperatures and bug-infested areas.

That is something to think about when planning where to volunteer. Will you need mosquito nets? Snow boots? Or sunscreen? If you are looking for volunteer opportunities, check out Workamper News.

When it comes to volunteering on the road, I think it really comes down to what is in your heart, what your special talent is, and where the need is. Volunteering helps pass the time, brings joy to those lives you are touching, and puts a smile on your face, too.

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Avoid this dummy drill and turn it into a ‘smart’ drill

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One of the most popular range drills is the “ball and dummy” drill.

The way it typically works is that someone loads your magazine with mostly live rounds and one dummy round with the expectation that, when you get to it, you’ll press the trigger and flinch to manage recoil that didn’t happen.

It’s a “gotcha!”

Sometimes, the simple fact that the instructor is telling the student that it’s a test to see if they flinch will create enough anticipatory stress to cause them to flinch. This is especially the case with a powerful instructor and a less experienced shooter. The power of suggestion of a good instructor is strong.

When it happens, everyone smiles or laughs…the instructor says, “don’t do that,” and the shooter feels a little burst of shame, embarrassment, confusion, a hit of cortisol, and in some cases, even a minor sympathetic response.

A few examples of dummy rounds

It’s a horrible drill for most shooters and you should do your best to avoid it until a very specific time in your training.

Wait, what?!?!

You may be saying, “Ox…but every Delta/SEAL/Ninja/SWAT instructor I’ve watched on YouTube and trained with has told us to do that drill — you better have some darn good proof to back that claim!”

I do.

First off, why does flinch happen?

Flinch happens when the brain tries to manage recoil. It can be good or bad, but for 99% of shooters…maybe 99.99% of shooters, flinch is bad.

Flinch can be good in very rare occasions when shooters have it properly timed to happen after ignition to bring the sights back into alignment quicker…it can shave a few hundredths of a second off your splits. (Those few hundredths aren’t worth chasing after until you’ve exhausted SEVERAL other opportunities for improving speed…you really need to be able to consistently hold tight groups with .15-.2 splits before you go down the rabbit hole of trying to time your flinch. It has very little practical application and the time/effort would be better spent on superior tactics)

I only include this because I know there are several of you .01%ers.

For the other 99.99% of shooters, the flinch happens pre-ignition and causes either low or low-left groups. Flinch is a natural, normal response to repeatedly having an explosion happen 18 inches from your face.

It’s especially common among shooters who were introduced to guns with more recoil than they could handle before they had basic firearm manipulation figured out.

This happens for two reasons…

First is that when you’re just starting out shooting, everything is new and it can be a little overwhelming to remember stance, grip, sight alignment, sight picture, breathing, trigger press, and follow through.

Add to it a “surprise” break of the trigger and a gun that recoils enough to buck back at your face, a flash of fire, and a loud boom from inadequate newbie hearing protection, and it’s natural to get a little adrenal response.

And, it doesn’t help that a lot of complete jerks hand heavy recoiling guns to new shooters just to see how much the gun flops around when they shoot.

Experiences like this early on create strong, emotional, episodic memories that can quickly get you to flinch in anticipation of recoil just like you’d flinch back from a hot stove after getting burned once or twice.

This conditioned response, once established, can keep coming back like a bad weed and haunt a shooter for the rest of their life unless it is effectively replaced or overwritten by a more effective conditioned response.

Ball and dummy drills just add fuel to the fire, strengthen the conditioned response of flinching by dumping cortisol and adrenaline, and make it MORE difficult to kick the habit. It makes shooting frustrating, not fun, and reduces the level of neurotransmitters in your brain that you need to learn skills that you want to be able to use under stress.

For new shooters, the key to keeping out of this rut is to start teaching with dry fire and the lowest recoiling platform you have access to until the shooter can handle and manipulate the gun safely and effectively without effort…then start moving up to bigger calibers and higher recoil.

The instant flinch enters the picture, and it’s time to shift back to less recoil and more dry fire.

If you’re already in this rollercoaster cycle of flinching/not flinching, I’ll tell you how to get out of it in a minute.

The second reason why shooters develop flinch is from doing too much live fire training.

The fact is, there is a mini-concussive wave that hits your head every time you shoot a live fire round. The bigger the recoil, the bigger the concussive wave.

A lot of people seem to be immune to this…but many people, especially those who have had multiple concussions, TBIs, chronic ear infections as a child, tubes in the ears as a child, tinnitus, or balance issues are affected by too much high recoil live fire — and high recoil is relative. It’s not a matter of being tough or weak…it’s a neurological phenomenon.

Even if the concussion doesn’t bother your head, too much high recoil shooting can beat up your hands…especially with light and super-light pistols…and the brain’s natural response to pain that it anticipates is coming is to flinch.

This is something that I’ve talked with several top competitive shooters about “behind the scenes” and is one of the reasons why so many shift to doing more and more dry fire training as they progress as a shooter…tens of thousands of rounds of live fire every year can be tough on the mind and body.

When is the ball and dummy drill “not dumb?”

There are two times…

First, is when a shooter has no problem at all with flinch and wants to practice malfunction drills.

It’s important that when you do this, if you or the shooter flinches, you completely ignore it and only focus on the malfunction drill. Every time you attach an emotional response to a flinch, it makes flinching a stronger conditioned response.

It’s similar to a kid or dog realizing that they get more attention when they act out, and everyone knows you can’t reward bad behavior unless you want the bad behavior to continue. So, you either ignore it or respond unemotionally. Responding emotionally to a flinch is the equivalent of “rewarding” bad behavior by releasing neurotransmitters in the brain.

NO instructor that I know does this to their students on purpose. (I used to use this drill with students.) They simply haven’t had the opportunity to learn about how memories, skills, and conditioned responses are created, and they’re using the best teaching methods that they know. If you know of an instructor who uses ball and dummy drills, you might want to forward this to them.

Second is when you’re using ball and dummy drills to integrate dry fire and live fire.

Here’s what I mean…done incorrectly, the way most shooters do it, dry fire will create separate neural pathways for dry fire and live fire.

That means that you can do 1,000 dry fire reps without flinching and pick up a gun and flinch on your first live fire shot.

You’ve got to convince the brain that there is only one neural pathway to use, regardless of whether you’re doing dry fire or live fire.

One way to do this is a variation on the ball and dummy drill…and if you’ve been on a lifelong roller coaster of flinching/not flinching, this is what you want to do on a regular basis to kick flinching to the curb for good.

The “dumb” ball and dummy drill is mostly live rounds with a couple random dummy rounds.

With the “smart” ball and dummy drill, you simply have someone load your magazine with mostly dummy rounds and 1-2 randomly placed live rounds, without knowing how many. Have them insert the magazine and rack the slide.

Now, pick up your pistol, knowing that there’s a very high probability that you have a dummy round chambered, aim, and press the trigger as if you know there’s a dummy round in the chamber.

Just like your grip firmness and trigger press should be identical between dry fire and live fire, it should be identical regardless of whether you think there’s a dummy round or live round in the chamber.

Don’t give a flyin’ flip if you flinch but let out a little “whoop!” or “YES!” if you press the trigger with rock solid sight alignment.

If it was a dummy round, then treat it like a malfunction…tap, rack, assess/press again.

If it was a live round and you treated it like it was going to be a dummy round, then you will have shot it without flinching! Give yourself a pat on the back and keep going.

If you are still flinching, the next step is to switch to doing the drill with a heavier gun with a lighter load until you can overcome the conditioned response of flinching…and then work your way back up to your preferred gun/load.

This is an example of applying cutting-edge advances in neuroscience to firearms training…and the end result is better performance in less time with less cost. This brain-based shooting approach, combined with accelerated learning techniques, is the core of what we do.

It makes shooting less stressful, more fun, and high-speed/high-stress performance shoots through the roof.

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