Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Latimer Hits Another Harvey House Homerun

With the new year comes the opportunity to pick out some great new books to read. Writer Rosa Latimer has offered a one-two punch with her second and third offering in the Harvey House series, spotlighting the Harvey Houses of New Mexico and Kansas. These are exceptionally interesting reads.

Rosa, for those who haven't read your first book, please give us a recap of what Harvey Girls were and how you became interested in them.
When Fred Harvey established restaurants along the Santa Fe RR in the late 19th Century, it was very difficult to find a staff that could uphold his standards. Mr. Harvey began to recruit “young educated women of good character” using classified ads in women’s magazines and large newspapers in the northeast and midwest. This was the beginning of a business organization that would come to employ over 100,000 women as waitresses known as Harvey Girls. My grandmother was a Harvey Girl in New Mexico and as I began to research her experience I realized this was an immensely under-told part of our country’s history as well as women’s history.

Fred Harvey was quite an innovator. What were some of the advances in hospitality services he pioneered that we now take for granted?

Fred Harvey was the first to require men to wear coats in his dining rooms and kept extra coats on hand in various sizes to accommodate any  gentlemen who came to dine without a coat. He was also the first to feature a “blue plate special” in his restaurants. This daily low-priced complete meal was originally served on a blue-patterned china plate in Harvey Houses. Harvey Houses were actually the first chain restaurants so just as there are certain things we expect at any chain restaurant today, the service, quality of food and the clean, well-appointed surroundings of Harvey Houses were the same throughout the system.   

Your first book focused on the Harvey Houses of Texas. Besides proximity, what were your reasons for writing about Harvey Houses in New Mexico?I actually intended to write about New Mexico first so I could tell the story of my grandmother; however, as I got into the research I realized there was nothing specific documenting this part of Texas history. The publisher also liked the idea of the Texas book first and as you know, what your publisher thinks is very important! So as soon as the Texas book was released I began work in earnest on New Mexico Harvey Girl stories.

In how many states were Harvey Houses located and what are the publisher's plans for future books?

Nine states: Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and California plus a large Harvey restaurant and bar in Chicago’s Union Station. “Harvey Houses of Kansas” was released earlier this month and I think my next “Harvey House” book will probably be Arizona. If the interest in these books continues to hold up, I suppose I’ll cover the other states except for Colorado. There were only three Harvey Houses in that state making it difficult to produce a book on the subject.

The new  book has been very well received in New Mexico, which has led to a lot of personal appearances there. Any surprises or stories you'd care to share about the experiences of promoting this new book?

One surprise has been Las Vegas, NM where there were two Harvey Houses. So far in my research I haven’t found another town that had more than one Harvey House. But, that wasn’t the surprise, because obviously I knew that when I wrote the book! What has surprised me is that I found myself caught up in a large wave of interest in Fred Harvey in this Northern New Mexico town and it now extends to Santa Fe, Albuquerque and further into Southern New Mexico. At the time I was diving into research, a group bought the Castaneda, the trackside Harvey House in Las Vegas, with plans to restore it and Las Vegas is fully behind their efforts. I’ve met a large group of interesting, fun folks that I now consider friends – turns out we have others things in addition to Harvey history in common! Las Vegas is a vibrant art town and there are over 900 buildings on the historical register. I may sound like a Chamber of Commerce rep, but I would encourage your readers to put this on their list of fun places to visit. And, you MUST stop by Pedro’s Baker while you’re there – the best!

Speaking of promotion, many people think that authoring a book is where the job begins and ends. We know that writing the book and getting it published is actually only the beginning. Then the hard work starts. Take us inside the world of book promotion. What are the things you most enjoy and what are the biggest challenges?

You are so right, Bear! This is something I stress in my Writers’ Workshops – the promotion of a book ultimately falls to the writer. My publisher is extremely helpful and has a staff to help schedule and make contacts for book signings and presentations. However, a big part of my job is to maintain interest in my books. No one can sell your book as well as you can nor has the same, strong interest in getting this done. One challenge is that often you have no idea if an event will actually sell books for you. I’ve spoken to fairly large groups and only sold a few books. On the other hand, I’ve spoken to small groups in small-town museums and everyone there bought a book. However, pretty much in every circumstance I meet someone very interesting and/or learn some new piece of Fred Harvey information or have a genuinely wonderful experience interacting with new people! Bottom line: my purpose in writing these books is to preserve and share the stories of individuals who worked for Fred Harvey. The promotion of the books is an extension of that purpose.

In addition to being an author, you are also a book shop owner. Has being away from Ruby Lane Books in Post, TX, during promotional tours created any problems for you?

This does present some difficult decisions. Because my store is a small, independent operation I don’t have a staff to take over when I’m gone so I close the store. I realize I probably lose business and miss making new book-friendly people, but that is simply the choice I have to make. I like to believe it is sort of a “wash:” When I’m away I’m not selling in the store, but perhaps I sell books on the road. And, I really do love to travel so that experience helps balance things.

Speaking of Ruby Lane Books, you recently had a celebrity stop by, who just happens to be one of my all-time favorite entertainers. Tell us about that.

Yes, I did!  Late one afternoon Michael Martin Murphy stopped in on a trip between Fort Worth and New Mexico. I was plenty excited because he is also one of my all-time favorites. He shopped and visited for about an hour-and-a-half – he’s such a nice, talented guy!

Earlier you discussed future Harvey House books. Is there a particular state's Harvey Houses that pose particular challenges to write about? Is the history of the Houses in various states equally well-preserved?

I have been surprised by the three books I’ve published – Texas, New Mexico and Kansas. The basic history is the same although I tried to present it in a different way in each book, yet the personal stories and accounts particular to each state were very different. This is my first encounter with the different “personalities” of individual states. Even as I try to explain it to you, it is difficult yet I experienced it profoundly when in the midst of writing. Perhaps this is why state’s rights in governing are so important? Now I’m getting into an area that I really don’t know much about so maybe I’ll keep this in mind and better discuss it after a few more books!

As we've discussed before, when you head to Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri, which is the Mother Church of Harvey Houses, I'm hoping you need a couple of assistants...that being my wife, Caryl, and me to tag along. That is an amazing building and was home to the first Harvey Restaurant. There's still a Harvey House there, but I know it's not actually part of the original chain. Who owns the Harvey House name now and what has been their response to the books? 

As far as I know, the name Harvey House is up for grabs. I don’t think that name is owned by anyone. After Fred Harvey’s death in 1901, his son, Ford, became the president of the company and at that time adopted the company name “Fred Harvey.” This was unusual as it was not “The Fred Harvey Company” – just “Fred Harvey.” The company logo was Fred Harvey’s signature slightly altered to make it more graphically pleasing and for many, many years Harvey employees continued to say, “I work or worked for Fred Harvey.” In 1968 the still family-owned company, Fred Harvey, became a subsidiary of Amfac, Inc. Through a merger in the early 1990s, all that remained of the Fred Harvey company—El Tovar and Bright Angel Lodge at the Grand Canyon—became part of Xanterra, the largest parks concession management company in the United States. And I would love to have you and Caryl join me on a research trip to Union Station in Kansas City, Missouri. Perhaps the next book should be “Harvey Houses of Missouri?” Although there were only eleven Harvey House locations Kansas City is where the Harvey offices were and where many young women had their personal interviews before being sent to their first job as a Harvey Girl.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

A First-Timers Report on Traveling in China, Part I

No, the Forbidden City isn't forbidden any longer
We’ve had the privilege of traveling a lot, but nowhere was harder for us to wrap our brains around than China. My wife Caryl and I were invited to spend two weeks in The Middle Kingdom (China’s own self-description). All we had to do was pack, and be where we were told when we were told. And smile. And promote my two recent books. And begin work on one more.

In advance of the trip, we studied the history and geography of places we would visit. The “why” seems obvious; can you imagine traveling to Texas, seeing the Alamo, but not understanding its place in Lone Star history? A completely wasted experience.

But China’s history dates back to the Xia Dynasty, around 2700 B.C. That’s about the time that Abraham and Sarah were begatting Isaac. In addition to that, if you go to China and ask about the Zia Dynasty, people will look at you funny.

X is pronounced sh, not zzz. So it’s the Shea (sort of) Dynasty. Likewise, the city of Xi’an, where you can see the terracotta warriors, is pronounced more like Cheyenne (as in Wyoming) than anything else I can think of (Shee-ahn).

After months of investigation, followed by two weeks of travel covering over four thousand miles, here’s what we learned that may make China a lot more accessible to you:

If you want to read up on China before you go, start with the history of The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Genghis Khan, The Three Kingdoms, and Mao. That will give you a good beginner-level handle on China.
Other basics:

Chinese money is known by three terms: RMB, yuan (u-ahn), and quai (kwy). The last term is the least formal. Stick to RMB or yuan.

Change your money at the airport. It is fast, easy, and of minimal expense. Changing it at banks in China involves a mountain of paperwork and took us at least two hours each time, if you can get them to change it. The further you get from Beijing and Hong Kong, the more trouble you’re likely to have.

The exchange rate is extremely favorable right now for Americans, around sixteen to one.

American credit cards are not accepted in many smaller cities (those under five million people). They’re not trying to be obstinate or anti-American. It’s just that the bank card processing software often isn’t in place.

China has one hundred and forty-five cities with more than a million people. The largest is Guangzhou (say Gwan-joe and people will know what you mean) with a metropolitan statistical area of roughly forty-four million people. Just because you haven’t previously heard of a city in China doesn’t mean it isn’t of major importance. There’s a lot more to China than Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau, and Shanghai.

China is both a world power and a developing country. It is not usual to see beautiful skyscrapers and hovels in the same neighborhood.

A traditional neighborhood in
the foreground and the new apartments
to which the residents will soon be "relocated"
in the background
Hotels in China must be certified to accept foreign tourists. Therefore, you can’t just stay anywhere. We typically paid about $50USD per night for a decent hotel. Most Holiday Inn hotels in China cost less than $68USD per night, according to Expedia.com. Luxury hotels shouldn’t cost more than $150 a night USD. Just make sure they have western/Muslim toilets.

Most cities in China are gigantic and the traffic is unbelievable. Stay in hotels close to the attractions you want to see and walk everywhere possible.

Sleeping on a Chinese bed is different, like sleeping on box springs in the US. Seriously.

"Non-free" accessories
A “Business Hotel” in China doesn't necessarily mean Courtyard by Marriott. It usually means it also features an hourly rate so people can go there to do their “business,” if you get my drift. That doesn't mean it isn't a reputable hotel; it’s just multi-functional. And there may be “non-free” prophylactics waiting for you on the bedside table, along with some "non-free" toiletries to help you freshen up before your "date." In a country where multiple generations live in the same small houses, sometimes people rent their privacy by the hour. These are called “micro-stays.” Also, people traveling long distances can use these hotels to take naps before their journey. Pretty nifty.

Most things in China are identified by where they are in relation to the “ring roads.” Ring roads are equivalent to our loops. If something is inside the first ring road, it’s near the center of town. Something outside the sixth ring road (if the city has that many) is out in the boondocks. Plan accordingly.

If you are trying to find the name of a tourist attraction, the best way we’ve found is to start your search on Google (if you’re not yet in China) or Yahoo (if you are). Sometimes places can have multiple names. For example, you can simply Google “Beijing Night Market” and learn that the real name of the place is Dong Hua Men Night Market. Now you can ask your hotel to write it down in Chinese, along with the address, for the taxi driver. Some places have multiple names, and the name can vary from guide book to guide book. Using Google to start your search allows you to figure out which multiple names refer
The welcoming committee at Zhangjiajie
to the same location. We found that in Hunan Province (a province is like a state in the US), the names Zhangjiajie, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Wulingyuan, Wulingyuan Scenic Area, and Baofong Lake all refer to roughly the same area. One guidebook listed it as Zhangjiajie, another as Wulingyuan. Without Google to sort it all out, we wouldn’t have had a clue.

China is one of the most polluted countries on earth. However, because of their political system, the factories can be turned off anytime the government says so. Hence, if the prime minister of Pakistan or trade officials from Australia are coming to town, suddenly the sky is crystal clear. If you can find a time when important people are heading to the city you want to visit, go then.

If you get lost in an airport, start asking for someone who speaks English. Often, the person who shows up will offers to walk you to where you need to be, including getting you through security in record time. Just don’t be surprised if he expects a couple of hundred RMB for his trouble (about $32 USD). Compare that to missing your flight and it seems like a pretty good deal.

Our guide at Zhangjiajie
Speaking of guides, you can book a guide in advance, but you’ll pay prime price. Most tourist venues have English speaking guides wandering about listening and looking for lost Americans (of course, so are the pickpockets and scam artists). You can hire these impromptu guides for much less than you pay online. Use your own judgement.

People in China eat at round tables with Lazy Susans in the middle. The food is placed on the glass Lazy Susan and rotated. You don’t load up your plate. You take a bit with your chop sticks, hold your small bowl under the food to keep from dropping it, and take it to your mouth. Everyone at the table is doing the same. Hence, double-dipping with your chopsticks is the norm. When you go, take antibiotics. Strong antibiotics. And Imodium.

Canadian pharmacies sell an excellent OTC anti-nausea medication called Gravol. We tried it after some bad food in China and found it worked like a charm. In the US, the same active ingredient at the same strength is sold as Dramamine. We just take one Dramamine, instead of two, for the Gravol effect.

Spitting, slurping, and nose picking are not social faux pas in China. Get used to it.

A formal setting with Lazy Susan
When you check into your hotel, you will see business cards for the establishment resting on the counter. Take several. They usually list the name of the hotel, the address, and directions regarding how to get back. Simply give one to your taxi driver when returning from sightseeing.

Have your hotel write down the name of the places you want to sightsee in Chinese, along with the address, so you can give the information to the taxi driver. Have them write it in English so you can keep it all straight.

People in China aren’t big on standing in lines. Go with the flow; don’t get mad, and don’t wait for people to let you in front of them. You have to gently, but persistently, nudge your way onto subways, into queues for places you want to visit, etc. When in Rome…

Subways are busy, even when
it's not rush hour
You are a guest in their country. Always assume that people around you understand English. Talk nice.

Chinese LOVE getting their pictures taken with westerners. They assume if you can afford to come to China, you must be rich-rich-rich. Who doesn’t want their picture taken with a super wealthy person?  You might be famous, too. Who knows? China is very good for the self-esteem of western tourists.

If you travel by train (which I highly recommend), make sure you book a “soft” sleeper. That means you are staying four to a compartment and your bed will be the most comfortable you sleep on while visiting the country. Take your own food, as selections on the train are expensive and limited. If you accidentally book a “hard” sleeper, you are in for an experience: Six people to a compartment, beds like rocks, and people who can’t read no-smoking signs in any language. By the way, if there are only two of you in a soft sleeper, that means you are sharing the compartment with two strangers. The only way around that is to book all four beds. However, if you only have two passports, that might be a nifty trick. Let me know how it works.

I was always a sucker for the upper berth

A First-Timers Report on Traveling in China, Part II

In a word, steep.
The Great Wall of China is steep terrain. Wear your most comfortable shoes. Badaling is a great access point located just north of Beijing. There’s a gondola/cable car that saves hours of climbing, though you will walk plenty once you’re at the top. Like most places in China, it is not very handicapped accessible.

Having said that, a blind woman from Great Britain said Beijing in the most blind-person-friendly city in the world.

Hotel rooms all feature electric kettles/hot pots that heat water to boiling. Essential for purifying your tap water and making tea, coffee, Raman noodles, etc. Hotels everywhere should have these.

China is known for tea, but they almost never have it in the breakfast areas of hotels. BYOTB (bring your own tea bags).

Same with coffee. A good cup of black coffee is almost impossible to find. We even visited a Starbucks that didn’t have coffee. Whaaat? They make it a pot at a time and were all out for that day. The closest thing you can find in convenience stores is Nescafe packets that also include sugar and creamer. Folgers makes coffee bags that travel well.

Take hand sanitizer and pre-packaged baby wipes. You can use the baby wipes as napkins, to clean surfaces  and chop sticks, and wipe your hands after climbing the Great Wall and other places where millions of other hands have been.

Bottled Cokes, beer, and wine won’t make you sick (depending on how many you drink). Avoid drinks with ice or from dispensers. Bottled water from stores is safe, but if you order a bottle of water from a restaurant, you don’t know but that it was filled there or poured – as a courtesy – into a dirty glass.

My wife reports Chico’s is a great place to buy women’s no-wrinkle travel clothes for your trip.

How NOT to pack
for China
Pack light and carry clothes with lots of polyester or Dacron so you’re not one big wrinkle. Rooms usually don’t have irons. Traveling light is imperative. Getting around with multiple bags is a nightmare. Plus, taxis have very little trunk space for your luggage. If you pack heavy, you will pay for it every day you are there. I even brought socks and underwear that I could discard along the way, so the bags got lighter and there was room for souvenirs.

Speaking of bags, suitcases over forty-four lbs get extra charges that can add up to $100USD on Chinese airlines. Did I mention, “Pack light?”

Make sure that if your passport is expiring within a year, you get it renewed before you apply for a Chinese visa. A ten-year visa is no more expensive than a one-year, but you can’t get one if your passport is expiring.
Certain areas of China have their own visa regulations. If you apply for a visa to Tibet, you probably won’t be approved; it’s a politically- and religiously-sensitive area. Hong Kong and Macau also have their own visa requirements. One size does not fit all when it comes to visas in China.

Beige air in Beijing
Carry sinus pills. The pollution is not your friend.

Ditto for peanut butter crackers and granola bars.

Your new best friend, food-wise, will be the simple, lovely, fried eggs they serve during breakfast at many of the hotel buffets.

I don’t care what the talking heads on TV say about all the exotic foods in China; starfish tastes like crackers and fish oil, and bugs taste like bugs. You’re probably not going to want to eat spicy duck head or chicken feet. And most chicken is cut up with the bones and cartilage included so you get “the good marrow.” Go to China for the history and the beauty, not the cuisine.

Speaking of beauty, take time to explore the parks and natural areas of China. Zhangjiajie National Park is one of the most incredible places on earth (or on Pandora, as seen in the movie Avatar). The city parks in Guangzhou (near Hong Kong) rival any urban green space you could visit.

Plenty of green spaces in Guangzhou
If you are a Christian and want to attend church in China, many large hotels offer an “international service” on Sundays. There are also registered Christian (Three-Self) churches in most cities. Visiting house churches is more problematic, as a westerner’s visit could bring down persecution on them from the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA).

Persecution in China rarely involves throwing someone in jail; too expensive and too much bad press. The most common forms of persecution involve a SARA official visiting a religious person’s work place or landlord and asking if that person is a troublemaker. That will usually be a “word to the wise” for the landlord or boss that it’s time to find a new tenant or employee.

As a visitor, you’d never want to intentionally or unintentionally cost someone their job or their residence. Be careful what you say at all times about religion, the Christians you may have met, etc. (James 1:19, Proverbs 17:28) Taxi cabs are not safe zones. Neither are translators. Just because they speak English doesn't mean they share your values.

China Southern Airlines features some of the nicest planes on which we have ever flown. Air China, not so much.

To understand the Chinese government, don’t compare it with that in the United States, Canada, or Germany. Compare it with Exxon Mobil, Microsoft, or any other large corporation. The citizens are employees. They are there to do a job. You, as a visitor, are on a factory tour. If a Chinese person grouses, but does his job, he is ignored. If someone is impeding productivity, that’s a problem. If Christianity, or any other religion, is thought to be impeding productivity, it gets shut down. If it improves productivity, it is, to a degree, encouraged. (Colossians 3:22-25)

Don’t count on Google, Facebook, or Gmail. They aren't available in China. If you want to communicate with the folks back home, find out the international texting rates (often not as expensive as you’d think. With Verizon, I paid about fifty cents a text, as long as it didn't include pictures). Also, set up a Yahoo or Hotmail e-mail account before you go.

If you like diet drinks, Coke Light is about your only choice, and it’s not widely available.

One of the most insightful things we did before going was to download the podcast Letter From China by Peter James Froning. He was an American teacher at a Beijing university for one year, sending back weekly e-mails on his experiences. Endearing and entertaining…and free, though you are encouraged to make a voluntary contribution if you listen to it.

Inner Mongolia is not the same as Mongolia. Inner Mongolia is part of China. Mongolia is more closely aligned to Russia, but regards itself as an independent country.

In spite of what you’ve heard, China is not free from religion. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and Daosm/Taoism are all to be found. One of the most problematic religious groups for the Chinese government is Catholics, because of their loyalty to the pope as the ultimate earthly authority.

Welcome to China
And finally, let’s talk about toilets. Western-style toilets, often called Muslim toilets, can be impossible to come by in public. Even universities and nice businesses feature squat pots, not western toilets. If you don’t have good knees, this is an issue, pure and simple. Spend some time locating western toilets. And BYOTP. Seriously. At all times. Forget and you will be sorry. Yes, sometimes there is one giant roll outside the restroom, but sometimes not. I call it the Roulette Wheel. You guess how much you need, spin the wheel, and hope to get lucky. If you’re wrong, you crap out. (Hotels for foreigners have western toilets, but it never hurts to ask, just to be sure.)

Questions? E-mail me at wwbearmills@gmail.com. Happy travels!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Podcasts open up an entire world of possibilities

Chris Christensen, your new
favorite podcaster
Podcaster extraordinaire Chris Christensen recently shared a study regarding the listening habits of Americans. It shows that the average person aged 13+ spends a little over four hours a day listening to some type of audio. Of that, less than two percent are podcasts. As a podcast enthusiast, I am working to improve that number.

For the uninitiated (and we were all there at one time or another), podcasts are simply a type of audio you can listen to online or download for later. They might be your church’s weekly messages, a presentation by NPR, or content recorded to go straight to podcast without being heard somewhere else first.

Podcasts can be retrieved from websites or the iTunes store. There may be podcasts that cost money, but I only go for the free ones, so that’s the only kind with which I’m familiar. And why are they called podcasts? I’m just guessing here, but it’s probably because they were originally listened to on iPods. (Feel free to correct me, if that’s not true.)

For me, the great value of podcasts is they literally open up the entire world to you…and on your schedule. Whether you are looking for information about the world around you, intellectual floss, spiritual nourishment, or simply “the odd laugh along the way,” (more about that later) podcasts are a no-charge way to listen to the very best of audio broadcasts from around the world.

This list of suggestions to get you started is broken up into three categories: The Physical World, Intellectual Considerations, and Spiritual Food.
The Physical World
Because inquiring minds want to know, the show 99% Invisible is a public radio podcast dedicated to why things are the way they are. It’s a show spawned by really smart people who were driving down the street asking themselves, “I wonder why…?” Topics vary from the sprightly carpet at the airport in Portland, Oregon, to the development of those air-powered floppy guys you see at used car lots.

Quick quiz: How are the island of Trinidad, the Olympics, and used car lots irrevocably tied together by fabric “air men?” Listen and learn, my friend. Listen and learn.

The shows are incredibly funny, stockpile you with hours of interesting conversation for cocktail parties and church socials, and will leave you absolutely unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit. And why is the show called 99% Invisible? That will be the first thing you’re smarter about when you go to http://99percentinvisible.org/.
When I recently asked visitors to my author’s site on FB to list their favorite podcasts, an overwhelming number of votes came in for This American Life, another NPR offering. I first became aware of TAL through SiriusXM. However, when my Sirius subscription expired and I was otherwise financially obligated, it was nice to know there was another way to access the show. And here’s the beauty of podcats: it doesn’t matter when a show airs or even if it airs in your local market. With podcasts, the world is your audio oyster, and served up on your timetable, not the broadcaster’s.

My favorite episode of TAL is the one in which they spent an hour explaining, point by point, how an earlier show was completely wrong. In the age of Brian Williams, it’s good to have an outlet that isn't afraid to admit when they screw up. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/podcast

I mentioned Chris Christensen earlier. His Amateur Traveler podcast takes you all over the world, from Fort Worth to Portland to Xi’an to Quito to –ready for this? – North Korea.
How much desire do I have to travel to North Korea? Zero. How interesting was it to hear from someone who did? Totally. If you’re planning a trip or wanting ideas for your next vacation, you have to make this a regular part of your listening pleasure. (http://amateurtraveler.com/)

Intellectual Floss
We know from Harvey  Deutschendorf that people with high levels of emotional intelligence are “lifelong learners, constantly growing, evolving, open to new ideas, and always willing to learn from others. Being critical thinkers, they are open to changing their minds if someone presents an idea that is a better fit. While they are open to ideas from others, and continuously gathering new information, they ultimately trust themselves and their own judgment to make the best decision for themselves.”  (http://www.fastcompany.com/3028712/7-habits-of-highly-emotionally-intelligent-people)

Hence, if you wonder what the rest of the world is thinking, what better way to find out than to find out? Three options include the daily news podcast from the People’s Republic of China (http://english.cri.cn/cribb/programs/hour.htm), the documentary archive from the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/docarchive), and from Jerusalem, the podcasts of The Israel News (http://www.haaretz.com/misc/podcasts).

The Beijing Hour podcast promises to give you a new perspective on the world and “the odd laugh along the way.” I’ve listened and listened, but not a single odd laugh.

Okay, I came close once when they did a news story on a city official from southern China who was sentenced to three years “rehabilitation” for “repeated, excessive use of irony” in dealing with citizens. Yikes!
There are entire American cities that would go to the slammer if that was a crime in the good ole’ US of A.

Another podcast I’m quite amused by is Indiacast (http://www.theindicast.com/index.php/indicast-podcasts). It presents all things India, including their current success at the world Cricket championships. I've listened to the episode on cricket at least a half dozen times. What do I now know about cricket I didn't know before? Not a blasted thing.

But it does give me a real-time appreciation of what I've been putting my wife through for years by making her watch Sports Center and listen to ESPN Radio. Gibberish. Pure gibberish.

Spiritual Food
Many people take great care of their bodies, but their spirits are suffering serious malnutrition. Either they’re loading up on empty calories or simply starving themselves to death. Regardless of what church you attend, or even if you currently attend a church, there is a bountiful treasure of nutritious snacks available via podcasts.

Andy Stanley, son of famous preacher Charles Stanley, keeps the followers of Jesus on their toes with books like, “Can We Do That?” His podcast (http://northpoint.org/resources/podcasts) is just as refreshing and, dare I say it, irreverent.

Have you seen the t-shirts that say, “No Perfect People Allowed,” and wondered what that was all about? Wonder no more. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/experience-life-audio-podcast/id258983493?mt=2)

And finally, have you ever wondered what was going on at the church down the street? Now you can walk right in (via podcasts) and find out. Study after study shows people – even extroverts – are reluctant to visit a new church.

Now you can literally be a fly on the wall and see what’s being taught without having to fill out a pesky visitor’s card or make small talk with strangers. Here are some to get you started from across the US.
Philadelphia, PA: http://www.epicwired.net/

To find which churches have podcasts in your city, simply Google or go to the iTunes store and do a podcast search. 

By the way, you can set your iPad or other device to record all programs from a given source, only the particular episodes which you choose, or only the most recent episodes. I choose the last option for newscasts like "The Beijing Hour." If I get behind in my listening, chances are I'm not going to go back and listen to two-week old news. Hence, I set it to only keep the most recent two episodes and erase any older episodes, whether they have been listened to or not.

Enjoy, friends, enjoy. There are a lot of great podcasts out there. And if you find one you really like, please pass it on to me at Bear Mills Author on FB.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Boulder Bear Motor Lodge is a slice of
heaven in the Northwoods of Wisconsin

Dennis in his boat on Wildcat Lake
Dennis Duke and his wife Cathy are owners of the Boulder Bear Motor Lodge in Boulder Junction, deep in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. Last summer we had the privilege of staying with them for a week. It was one of the most refreshing times of our twenty-eight year marriage. The accommodations are homey and comfortable, and the Northwoods whisper life and nourishment. In addition, the many restaurants and resorts in the area offer a diversity of tasty foods suitable for any budget.
However, the principal charms of the Northwoods lie in the forests themselves. The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest encompasses 1.5 million acres of northern Wisconsin. It is a playground of lakes, bike and hiking trails, and quaint villages that will keep any outdoor enthusiast entertained for as long as you want to stay.

Boulder Bear in Boulder Junction, Wisconsin
Dennis, we visited in the summer. However, you also do a brisk business in the winter. Tell us about Boulder Junction in the cold months. All you need to know is it started snowing on Halloween, and February never got above 32F.  But that is a good thing for the winter sports that we depend on during the cold months.  Like other times of the year, it is the forests and the lakes that draw people to the region.  Ice fishing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and sitting by a fire are reasons to come north.  But the big draw is the hundreds of miles of groomed snowmobile trails in the region that wind themselves across the landscape from town to town. It is a unique area of the country, blessed with cold weather, an abundance of snow, helped by Lake Superior.  In this area snowmobiling is about trail riding, the destination, and the tavern stops along the way.  
The snowmobile crowds are passionate about their sport, and they are the reason Motels like ours can survive.  Before the advent of the snowmobile, this area could not support a year-round lodging business.  Now, with the coordinated efforts of all the snowmobile clubs, the State of Wisconsin, and the riders that come every year, the winters in the Northwoods can be as busy as June or August.  Minus 30F, which we saw a few times this year, doesn’t seem so bad, really.

A loon
I seem to recall you’re not a native of northern Wisconsin. What brought you here originally? This area has always been like a second home to me.  I have been coming here on vacation for 50 years, and my father before that with his parents.  It has always been our get-away, and I’ve always felt comfortable here.  I was born and raised a corn-fed Hoosier from the south side of Indianapolis.  My family roots go back to the original settling of Indianapolis in 1822.  But Boulder Junction was always a place we longed to spend more time.  My parents built their retirement home here in the mid-1980s and it always reminded my mom of where she grew up in Germany.  They called their cabin “Waldes Ruhe.” My wife and I honeymooned here, as did my Brother and Sister.  So it holds a special grip on my family.  My kids now have the same attraction to Boulder Junction and Wildcat Lake.  Every year when I came for vacation, I would leave the area with all kinds of business ideas that would allow me to someday move here and make a living.  We didn’t know how, but I think it was always in the cards that we would end up here at some point.

What did you do prior to owning the Boulder Bear? What caused you to change professions? Cathy taught for twenty-five years, and I worked in the Defense industry for 38 years.  My degree is in Engineering, and I spent my whole career with the same company.  Originally with Allison, a Division of General Motors, and then we were sold to Rolls-Royce in the mid-1990s.  I worked in Indianapolis until 2001, mostly aero related Gas Turbine stuff.  In 2001 I transferred to Rolls-Royce Naval Marine which was located in Walpole, MA, just outside of Boston.  We lived there for 12 years, raised our kids through high school and college, and enjoyed New England.  But we always drove the fourteen hundred miles to vacation in Boulder Junction.  Our three kids are all married and out of the house, two in the military and one working for Rolls-Royce.  Eventually, my fun meter ran out, and in July of 2013 I began the effort to buy the Boulder Bear Motor Lodge, knowing it was time for me to move on to my next thing.  We closed the end of May 2014, just a few weeks before we met you. 

Yours truly enjoying the bike trails
It seems northern Wisconsin has as many miles of bicycle and hiking trails as any place I've ever visited. That had to be expensive. What is the back story on all those miles of trails? As you noted, there are large areas of state and federal land in Northern Wisconsin, along with several Tribal Reservations.  We are in the ceded territories that go back to the original treaties with the native Indians in the area.  Boulder Junction, as with many towns up here, are surrounded by DNR managed land.  I am happy to say that the DNR partnership is active and healthy in this area.  The trails and outdoor resources we enjoy are closely tied to this public/private relationship.
We have about 200 lakes within about 10 miles of Boulder Junction, and numerous hiking and biking trails.  You can find trail systems that range from paved, to semi-civilized, to wilderness.  That goes for hiking and biking (cycling).  We are blessed with rivers and lakes that make the canoe/kayak enthusiast happy. 
But the newest blessing to our area is the fifty miles of paved bike trails.  They are the result of town leadership vision from over twenty years ago, and a strong partnership with the DNR.  The Town Board, and its Chairman of 30 years, Jeff Long, saw the vision of bike trails along before they became widely popular.  Through a combination of town funds, government grants, and local donations, the towns of St Germain, Sayner, Boulder Junction and Manitowish Waters are now connected by what we call the Heart of Vilas County Bike Trail System.  By the end of next summer, the Town of Mercer will be connected to the system of trails as well.
But if you don’t like paved, we have plenty of off-road riding trails as well, as well as some lightly traveled roads if you are into road rides.  Even this winter we began to see the emergence of Fat Tire bikes.
Finally, dual sport motorcycle enthusiasts are starting to find our area very attractive.  All the DNR land is crisscrossed with logging roads, and unpaved roads that are excellent pathways for this emerging sport. 

Photo by Mike Crowley, used with permission
Your area features a beautiful oddity of nature known as ghost deer. Tell us about them. The white deer, some being true albino, have become a visitor draw in their own right.  They cannot be hunted in Wisconsin, so that helps their survival.  But this area seems to have an abundance of them.  And, when asked, the locals will tell the visitors the most likely areas to see them.  If you try several times over the course of your visit, there is a good chance you will spot one.  They are a majestic sight, and I had a recent guest that saw two white and one brown buck running together. 

 Most people think the white coat to be a disadvantage, but I am not so certain.  In this area anyway, it is not unusual to have snow covered ground during hunting season.  So who has better natural camouflage in that case? If you want to see some great pics of the white deer (or this area in general), check out and follow Mike Crowley, at www.LifeintheNorthwoods.com, or on Facebook.  His work adorns our lobby, it was one of our first changes after we took over. They have become so popular, we have named our new Triathlon event the “White Deer Triathlon”.  This is the inaugural year, check it out at www.whitedeertriathlon.com  It is the first event in the Northwoods of Wisconsin Tri-Master Series. 

Many times, remote or semi-remote areas are a little lacking in quality dining establishments. However, within a few miles of the Boulder Bear are all sorts of great places to eat. Any you want to spotlight? You are putting me in a tough spot.  We are a very tight knit business community and I sit on the Chamber of Commerce Board, so I am reluctant to publically list favorites.  But honestly, you can’t go wrong with the food establishments in the area.  Bad food and bad service doesn’t survive here very long.  The season is too short and the market is too small. 
As you might expect, they all have their draw, or specials, and most of them do a great Friday Fish Fry.  Some of my individual favorites are Blackened Prime Rib at Headwaters Restaurant on Saturdays, The Guides Inn Liver Pate and homemade ice cream, Gooch’s Pizza, Boulder Beer Bar Cheese Curds, Aqualand Alehouse Craft beer selection, Junction Tap Walleye Sandwich, Granary Corn Beef Hash breakfast.  Now I’m hungry….
There are a lot of great choices and I didn’t name them all, so you will just have to come and try them.

The Bohemia Lodge in nearby Manitowish Waters
You've had your share of celebrities in the Northwoods over the years, including the gangster John Dillinger and the actor Johnny Depp. You clued us in on their connection to the area. Tell our readers about it. The story you reference is always told as part of the John Dillinger story.  In the 1930s this area was really out of the way and it seems those looking for a place to stay low would come up to the Northwoods.  Dillinger and his gang came to Little Bohemia Lodge in the 30s and the local police were tipped off.  The result was an FBI ambush that killed locals, but did not catch Dillinger.  Little Bohemia is still in operation today and you can see the bullet holes in the glass and buildings from the raid.  Johnny Depp was here to film his movie “Public Enemy” about Dillinger a few years back.  An hour or so west of here, Capone had a similar hangout.
In the Fifties President Eisenhower visited here to go fishing, and Elizabeth Taylor spent time at Wildcat Lake at the cabin owned by the owners of Coca-Cola.  Wildcat Lake is the lake my parents built on, and it is the lake that I showed you around when we took the boat trip.

The lakeside cottage once frequented by Elizabeth Taylor
If people just want to drive into Boulder Junction for a week of R&R, without venturing into the neighboring hamlets, tell us some of the things to do there. Boulder Junction is a hub for all the “Silent Sports:” Fishing, hiking, paddling, cycling, bird/nature watching, fishing, geocaching, swimming, water skiing, etc. We have public parks, with sport fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, a skateboard park, and access to beaches. You can visit the Boulder Junction Museum, shop for sporting goods, antiques, clothes, custom-made cedar strip boats, jewelry, leatherwork, art, pottery, clothes, home goods, chainsaw carvings, rent bikes and various types of watercraft, just to name a few.  

Boulder Junction at sunset
Conversely, if one wants to go farther afield, what do you recommend? Boulder Junction sits right on the state line with the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  We are perfectly situated for day trips up to the Porcupine Mountains, Black River Harbor, or the Apostle Islands.  Copper Peak is a cool visit.  It is an old Ski Jump, once used for Olympic trials, that has been refurbed and they are planning to reopen as a ski jump.  But, it is open now for visitors and you can take a ride to the top, and get a magnificent view of the U.P. Minocqua, Manitowish Waters, Mercer, Eagle River, Land O’Lakes are all towns within a 45 minute drive that are worth a visit while you are staying in Boulder Junction

Finally, if readers want to learn more about your excellent motor lodge or the Northwoods, recommend some good websites.   You can check out the Boulder Bear at www.boulderbearmotorlodge.com or follow us on Facebook.  The Boulder Junction Chamber of Commerce is at www.boulderjct.org and is also on Facebook. 
Vilas County and Wisconsin also have great sites at www.vilaswi.com and www.travelwisconsin.com    

Monday, March 23, 2015

Planning a trip? Don't do it without Chris Christensen, aka The Amateur Traveler

Chris Christensen is one of America's top travel reporters. His podcasts, website, and videos feature the most interesting people and places in the world. I dare say it would be impossible for your Bucket List to not expand dramatically as you listen to and read his reports. 

by Jim Cords
Chris's iconic image, found on
the Amateur Traveler podcasts
The website, http://amateurtraveler.com/, is an incredibly handy site for perusing various destinations, deciding what you want to do once you get there, and choosing the best way to travel there and home again. If Chris hasn’t been there, he knows someone who has and will share their insights. It truly is a travel community.

One of the things I most appreciate about Chris’s interviews is that through his Dick-Cavettesque questioning style, you learn not only information about a place, but the biases of the interviewee. That can be invaluable, and you don’t get that from travel books.

The Amateur Traveler, his podcast, often includes the kind of information you usually don't find in tour books. Most importantly, his podcasts are completely entertaining. If you've never heard them, make a beeline for iTunes. The podcasts are free.

First, Chris, this interview is being conducted following an extended boat trip off the coast of South America. Tell us where you went and what you were doing there. I was on a cruise around Cape Horn from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile. I was sponsored by Holland America to take this cruise. We saw penguins in the Falklands, tango in Buenos Aires, and glaciers in the fjords of Chile.

Mr. Christensen's Penguins,
photographed during his trip to South America
I believe your professional career was originally centered around Silicon Valley. How did you transition from that to being a professional travel writer? I actually still make my living from software, both my own start-up company (BloggerBridge.com) and part time contracting work for my old employer, TripAdvisor. I used to be their director of engineering for TripAdvisor Flights and SeatGuru. Travel writing and podcasting are my third job.

You call yourself and your website The Amateur Traveler, but I just referred to you a professional travel writer. That sounds like a contradiction, but I know it's not. Clarify that for us. When I chose the name Amateur Traveler, I had in mind “travel for the love of it.” Amateur meaning to do something for love. Remember you used to have to be an amateur to be an Olympic athlete, yet they were considered the best in the world. The ark was built by an amateur and the Titanic was built by professionals.

Chris took this picture at the Great Wall
While people might think about travel writing as a fairly right-brained activity, what I see is that you approached this in a very left-brained way. Tell us about The Amateur Traveler as a business. I think I find the travel writing is right brained, creative; but being a travel blogger or podcaster also means that you are not just a writer, but a publisher, with all that implies. You need to sell ads if you are going to have them, set schedules, set and meet deadlines. Some parts of that I have done better than others. I am not the best salesperson for instance.

You have well over four hundred podcasts available through iTunes and on your website, www.amateurtraveler.com. Talk about what's involved in putting a show on the air. An episode of Amateur Traveler probably takes about eight to nine hours of production work starting with the interview, then editing the interview, adding in other elements, publishing, and publicizing. We also do "This Week in Travel" which takes less because we don’t edit that show. Fortunately, I hire an editor to take care of the editing of the audio, and also adding in the photos and links that we have in the iTunes enhanced version of the show. That takes 5 hours off my plate.

How do you select guests for your show? I find they are all extremely effective communicators. What's your audition process? I reach out to some people directly who I have heard speak, or ask the travel blogging community who would be a great guest for a specific destination. I also get unsolicited pitches (http://AmateurTraveler.com/pitch-me) for being on the show. You need to pitch a place, not a person. Sometimes the shows just don’t work. Not every interview gets aired.

Chris as Yosemite
What are some of the highlights of your own travels? If you were putting together a "greatest hits" list of your adventures, what would make the cut? Some of the most memorable destinations would include Tanzania, Egypt, Istanbul, China, and Japan. Rafting down the Green River in Dinosaur National Park and blackwater rafting in New Zealand were some memorable adventures. The most unusual may have been working as a photo journalist for the day in Jordan covering a visit by the pope and the royal family (http://asia.amateurtraveler.com/day-papal-paparazzi/) or an invitation last December to the White House (http://amateurtraveler.com/white-house-wants-study-abroad/).

You've traveled all over the world. What locations are still on your bucket list? I have published a Bucket List (http://amateurtraveler.com/my-travel-bucket-list/) and am working through checking things off. I also use the UNESCO World Heritage list (http://amateurtraveler.com/unesco-world-heritage-sites/) and the list of U.S. National Parks as a bucket list.

A walk among the ruins
with Chris Christensen
How do you see your work as being unique from, say, travel books like Frommers or websites like Tripadvisor? I am a big fan of both Frommers -- I consider Pauline Frommer a friend -- and TripAdvisor. I sometimes describe an Amateur Traveler episode as an audio guidebook for a destination. We won’t provide all the information you will need to go there but we will help you decide if you want to go there.

In addition to writing about travel, you are also periodically leading travel groups. Tell us about that. We have not done that very often but in April we are having the second Amateur Traveler group trip (http://amateurtraveler.com/amateur-traveler-trip-morocco-april-2015/). We will be with a group of eleven people, or a few more if anyone is interested, counting my wife and I heading to Morocco. We did an Amateur Traveler photo tour of Egypt back in 2010, just before the Arab Spring. That trip was part of a larger group trip, so I am looking forward to a more intimate trip. I am working with a great tour company that is doing all the logistics.

The Amateur Traveler,
Chris Christensen
I believe I am correct in saying that you come from a Lutheran background. Your website also has links to some Bible study options. What is the connection, in your mind, between our physical journeys and our spiritual journey? Yes, in addition to three jobs and two travel podcasts, I also lead two bible studies a week. One is a podcast, The Bible Study Podcast (http://TheBibleStudyPodcast.com), and the other is in a lock-down unit for violent youth offenders in the local Juvenile Hall. I view all of life as a journey, only some of which comes with jet lag.