5 Top Romantic Destinations in the South and Midwest

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhether for a romantic vacation, a honeymoon or an anniversary a romantic destination can make memories. Sometimes romance isn’t always where but the surrounding situation. There are many places around the world that are wonderful romantic destinations but the price to get there and enjoy it limits somewhat those who can go. Staying right here in the rural south and Midwest can inspire romance. For those who live in the city it’s a chance to visit an area they might never see otherwise. Here are five of the best romantic getaways for your 2009-2010 romantic trip.

1.Take a trip for two that gets you in one of the most romantic settings in the world. Both USA Today and Glamour called the Monmouth Plantation in Natchez Mississippi “one of the top ten most romantic places in America and it makes this list too as the beginning of a romantic trip or as the sole destination. Sitting on 26 manicured acres north of New Orleans this is a historic home, now a luxurious place to stay that is rich in history and provides a setting for romance. The backdrop is there – you make it memorable! There are meals for breakfast and dinner, but not lunch. Of course that is the ideal reason to pack a picnic for two and enjoy the time with just the two of you.

This is the oldest settlement along the Mississippi River, and in the days before the Civil War was second only to New York City in volume of millionaires. Natchez is also the beginning of ‘the Trace’ – a 440 mile route connecting Natchez with Nashville Tennessee. Get off the interstates, fast paced living and follow this historic route that takes you through some of the most beautiful country in the south. This is not a trip for speed – it’s a trip for romance and memories! At the other end is another romantic destination.

2.Nashville Tennessee is well known for country music but there is more to Nashville than just this. Remember some of the most romantic songs in country music were conceived and written here! Take a carriage ride through the city, hit the historical spots and soak in the southern nightlife. There are organized honeymoon/anniversary getaway trips available that include many of the Nashville highlights including the Grand Old Opry.

3. If you’re looking for a different kind of romance – one with a beautiful setting, outstanding dining and luxury, consider a trip to Jekyll Island in Georgia. Organized packages are available at this seaside destination on the Georgia coast just north of the Florida line. Wedding packages are also available. Enjoy a romantic walk on the beach, massage and a variety of outdoor activities or stay in for one on one time in a beautiful accommodations.

4. Interested in a romantic escape with beautiful scenery, history, wine and vineyards? Yes I said these places were southern and Midwest – Lexington Kentucky is absolutely southern. Several outstanding hotels serve as a base for exploring a historic Shaker settlement, Talon Wine & Vineyards or Elk Creek Vineyard and many beautiful areas Kentucky has to offer. For the couple that likes horses this is a home run hit as there is also a deep history not only in Thoroughbreds but Saddlebreds and horses in general. This may sound an odd romantic destination for some but for those who love horses, history and the outdoors Lexington Kentucky is an ideal choice! Few think of Kentucky as a place for wine, vineyards and romance – which is exactly why you should! Less crowds, more romance!

5. Another escape – this one in Illinois – ideal for kindling romance is a trip to Galena. With beautiful B&B accommodations that sets the tone horse drawn carriage rides and an area that you will see a different side of Illinois. Famously known for being “flat and nothing but corn” or, alternately, “Chicago” this is a chance to see a part of Illinois that many never see. The rolling hills offer solitude and – if desired – indulgence. This is in northern Illinois so do pack for seasonal weather that can be perfect for sharing time in front of the fire on a cold winter night.

These are destinations that can be incredibly romantic, often less expensive than others and less crowded. Get away to the country setting – set the stage for romance. The rest is up to you!

Rodeo: Sport or Cruelty

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the National Finals Rodeo draws the attention of many in rural areas, here’s one from the archives.

Rodeo not only is a sport but it’s a sport where the human is at the disadvantage. The amount of misinformation put forth by activists only harms their claim when common sense and illustrating it shows it to be false.

For example – the myth that animals buck because the ‘belt’ is too tight on their genitals. For mares the bucking strap is nowhere near their genitals and for geldings or stallions it is secured in front of it. Old books on livestock husbandry – those before widespread use of chutes and other devices to hold cattle in one place – show ways to run a rope around the area about where the bucking strap runs and when crossed around the body the right way it is restraint. Meaning the animal CAN NOT MOVE. Now if these bucking straps were that tight that the animal cannot move – well they could do no more than stand there so that nullifies that argument. The comparison to humans is another – put a belt on as tight as you can possibly pull it and go out and jump your – well we’ll make it easy – jump a 4′ obstacle.

Some books present that it’s cruel because the broncs have the steel bit jammed in their mouth and are mistreated because of it. I can guarantee that author has not been to a rodeo. NO *BRONC* has a bit in their mouth! Bareback horses are loose and saddle broncs have a halter with a rope rein. No bit, no hackamore, nothing to pull or injure the horse.

One of the most targeted of rodeos is the Salinas rodeo in California. Some years ago I attended and got a press pass. I was looking for the great story that would be a headline – camera in hand I went to the pens. I saw no cuts, broken bones, untreated injuries of any kind. All animals had all the hay they could eat, plenty of water in full water tanks. There were all these claims of abuse of animals at this rodeo – but what I *saw* to document was that they were better cared for than many in pastures across the country. Their feet were in good shape, they were in good condition. Not even indication of tooth issues could I find watching the eat.

I went up to the chutes – this was the place ‘torture’ existed right? I watched the bareback horses come in and each went from the gate in due time, no injuries incurred. Saddle broncs came in and I got closer. Close enough to rub the white face of a big bay bronc who was standing with one foot resting, as calmly as if he was in his own pasture. Horses that are stressed are tense, all feet braced in fear ready to get away. That wasn’t what was seen or photographed! His demeanor changed once saddled and leaving the gate as he became decidedly unfriendly about having someone on his back then once bucked off there was no need for further attitude. He came back to the gate, down the alley and returned to that big bale of hay and water.

Calves and steers all appeared in good shape also with no visible soreness noticed.

Are there injuries in rodeo? Of course there are! There’s injuries to thousands of dogs in their back yards too. There’s dogs who hang themselves on their collars but no one is looking to ban dogs from wearing collars.

There is much criticism of the use of cattle prods, but none of using electric fencing. I, personally, have been zapped by both. It’s perhaps a farm thing – but getting buzzed by hotshots in ‘hot shot tag’ was at one time apparently fun until the batteries wore out and it was needed to move cattle. These aren’t stun guns! It’s mildly uncomfortable and if you don’t know it’s coming startling. People do it with a variety of gadgets. Cattle don’t like it so move – which is usually the reaction wanted. They also learn that a hot wire fence feels the same so do not touch those if they can help it.

PRCA has guidelines to insure humane treatment. Stock contractors with valuable bulls and broncs are not going to let them get injured. Excessive force does no good nor does getting short tempered. There is no human that can make a bull stand still when he doesn’t want to. There is also no human that can make a bull or bronc buck hard enough to be competitive if they don’t want to do it.

It’s said the animals don’t have a choice but that simply is not true. A bull that saunters out of the chute on a regular basis that doesn’t buck no longer gets to go to rodeos – he DOES have a choice. Calves or steers that don’t run straight don’t stay in the herd long.

Then there’s broncs. These are horses that, if not for the rodeo, would have been killed. They had a second career because they had a choice and that was to buck riders off! There’s Classic Velvet, a quarter horse who is one of the greatest bareback horses of all time – many tried riding him and he wouldn’t quit bucking. That was used. Big Chill is an ex-competitor on the English show circuit that is extremely gentle on the ground but if he wouldn’t buck he’d still be sporting an English saddle! High Tide was a descendent of Man O War. Legendary bronc Midnight began his career in the 1920s after bucking off his owner when a car backfired.

Trails End, 1959 bucking horse of the year, was supposed to be a work horse, save for refusing to be ridden. He was sent to be a pack horse but got loose in the fall and wouldn’t be caught until spring. The pack being on him so long wore sores, and he would no longer allow a pack on him.

It’s well documented in other studies that abused horses don’t live long. When the respected bucking horse High Chaparral died peacefully in his stall he was 27 years old.High Tide was 38 years old and long retired when he died. Come Apart, another top level bucking horse, was almost 30 when he was bitten by a rattlesnake in the jugular vein after retirement. Skoal Sippin Velvet, another top bareback horse, was 26 when he died.

Bodacious was a charbray called the most dangerous bull in the world. He was retired at age 7 and at home an infection being treated with medications resulted in damage to his kidneys. He died at age 12. Red Rock, one of the most famous bulls in rodeo history, was 18 when he died. Tornado’s career was 14 years…putting him well over his teens.

Many horses not involved in rodeo do not live this long, and this is an indication of the quality of care these animals get. Ask how many 15 year old bulls are around in the dairy or beef barns. No industry is perfect, including “rescues” but cruelty is not something that is standard. The animals themselves indicate that.


Beautiful and Energy Efficient Christmas Display Tips

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADecorating for Christmas doesn’t have to result in breaking the bank for electrical costs. For many people heating costs add to the power bills already in December and although the lights aren’t the same as electric heat, they do add to the meter spinning. Decorating for Christmas can be beautiful and conservative. Here are some Christmas decorating tips.

If you are in an open area one easy way to make the most of the sunny days is using lights that are solar powered. These have a small charger that automatically charges as the sun comes out so long as the power cell area is cleared off. There is also a sensor that turns the lights on automatically at dark. This adds nothing to your power bill! Although the lights often aren’t as blazing bright the glow of Christmas doesn’t need to be neon!

Another option is using conventional lights but having them on a timer to come on at, for example, 6 p.m. and turn off at midnight. This allows your lighted display to be enjoyed in the evening hours but not run all night when there are few to see it. From midnight to 6 a.m. is 42 hours per week that the lights are not on – which can add up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChoose energy efficient lights and make use of timers on the Christmas tree as well as outdoor lights. This insures no one forgets to unplug the tree before bed and also gives a consistent turning on of lights that can appear someone is plugging them in.

Still another option is to have an unlighted display with solar lights illuminating it. These lights can be standard ones that often sell in a package for about $20. A soft glow on a manger scene, for example, can save money and capture the spirit of the season.

Look to non-powered displays such as candles set up in luminary fashion. Be sure to secure the bag or can solidly so it doesn’t blow or tip over and so the candle doesn’t start a fire in dry leaves or other debris.

Decorate posts on yard lights with safe tinsel or plastic wreath garland. These are very inexpensive and the evergreen looking garland can be offset with weatherproof ribbon for the maximum in energy efficient Christmas decorations – those that use no electricity.

Using evergreens in the yard is a natural way to decorate. You can even add a natural touch with securing suet feeders nearby to encourage live birds to add to a display. Brightly colored cardinals, wrens and other songbirds appreciate a treat and are resourceful if you aren’t able to feed the whole winter. You can even add sunflower seeds, dry unsugared cereal, ‘buggy’ oatmeal and castoffs from popcorn as extra goodies in a flat feeder where it won’t get wet.

For those with more than the average commitment a live nativity can be a touch of Christmas present. A doll can represent the baby, with a few sheep and a donkey and cow tethered as well as the people. Creative types might combine tradition with technology for a modern Christmas scene.

These are just a few ways that can spread the Christmas decorating while not resulting in high fees on your power bill. Energy efficient Christmas decorations need not be expensive or dull!

Prepare for Cold Weather Travel

Winter_Coats_On_The_BoardwalkProper preparation for the cold can greatly make for more comfort when you travel to cold places. Whether you are traveling for a winter vacation, business or any other reason clothes for cold weather can make a big difference. Here are some packing tips to get you started.

Think layers. You’ll want a layer that wicks moisture away from your body – this need not be a thick layer to be effective but should be able to move moisture from your skin. This is important because moisture leads to dampness leads to being cold and wet! It’s also important that these shirts be not too baggy but not too tight. A little bit of air helps you stay warmer.

On top of this is another insulated layer. If you are going in extreme cold long underwear and undershirt should also be part of the packing process. Natural fibers – cotton and wool – are a bonus. Remember with the bottom layer (or two) the wool won’t be against your skin, but still effectively protects from the cold.

Be prepared. The thing about layers is you can take a layer or two off if you end up inside for a while, such as an airport or stopping at a restaurant for a meal. As it gets colder put those layers back on.

Top layer for outdoor is a good quality coat. This need not be a fancy name brand but get something warm and water resistant. If your layers get wet then your planning and packing is for nothing.

Socks that are thick enough to protect your feet and keep them warm are also important. In colder weather also have a hat and scarf. An incredible amount of heat escapes via our head and neck – if we keep those covered we conserve heat.

Long pants are important. This means denim, or if you can’t wear that pick corduroy. Forget dresses, skirts and think slick lightweight pants. Along with it if there is likely to be ice or snow. Forget heels and shoes with slick bottoms – this is not just for fashion but for comfort and safety! Use good quality footwear – even hiking boots are better than dress shoes.

How many layers you’ll need depends on how cold it gets and what your comfort level is but be sure to choose clothing that is comfortable and layer it well. This need not be expensive clothing if chosen well.

Cabela’s has complete layering sets available with wool, fleece and Merino wool that allows you to look good and be warm. Although much of their line is designed for hunters (and therefore camouflage is prominent) there are many colors and styles available once you understand the principles of layering, and many of the selections you may have in your wardrobe now.

Cold weather clothing is also easily found online among stores that cater to people who need it – hunters, farmers, military, emergency workers and others. Your own comfort zone will help dictate choices.

Be comfortable and remember layers to maximize warmth. You don’t need a parka that makes you look like a snowman unless you are going in cold weather for a considerable amount of time. however, another thing to keep in mind in cold weather areas is being prepared. This can keep you alive if the unexpected happens.

Layers of comfortable clothing give you maximum warmth. Use that as your guide along with your own comfort (do you get cold easily?) and the temperature where you’re going or going through. Stay warm, stay comfortable, stay safe!


Did you know – A well known wildlife photographer once made the point that cold weather and poor preparation kills more people in Alaska than grizzly bears.

Tips to Cut Your Fresh Christmas Tree

treeslandMany people seem intimidated by if not puzzled by how to cut a Christmas tree. A fresh cut Christmas tree that is properly cared for is much safer than one that may dry out soon after you get it. Here are some tips to keep your tree safe and beautiful.

There are many farms where you can select a tree but when visiting them remember that their business – their annual income! – is on this season. As one who raised trees for the Christmas season there are many mistakes someone can make that cost you money and can also cost the farm money.

The biggest waste was from people who would cut a tree then see a “better one” and leave the first one to cut a second one. In effect this takes two trees while paying for one. Another one is in ‘topping’ trees – the 10 foot tree that someone liked the top 5 feet so they cut the tree half way up, leaving a bottom half that could not be sold or used as a tree, and reducing the big trees available for businesses or churches that wanted those big trees. Be considerate of your tree farmers!

One of the biggest errors is not measuring! That big beautiful 8 foot tree just is not going to fit in your six foot living room! Additionally a six foot tree won’t fit with room for the star or angel tree topper! Be realistic about the size tree you need.

Keep in mind also to allow 4-6 inches you’re going to take off before putting in water. Opinions vary about treating the water, using 7-Up, using just plain water – but not in that the tree needs plenty of it! When you get the tree home make another fresh cut at the base of the tree.

A fresh cut insures the water is soaked up and the pores aren’t clogged shut with sap. Use a solidly secured bucket or tree stand and remember that your tree can use a gallon of water per day. Keeping your tree watered is the #1 way you can reduce drying it out, which reduces the fire issues.

Ideally you’ll have two people to cut and, for most trees of the size you’ll be searching for a hand saw or bow saw will do the job fine. Have the helper hold the tree upright which reduces the chances of the tree falling and “tearing” the cut. Try to arrange a time that you can cut, get the tree home, do your “butt cut” and get the tree in water. The faster this can happen the better for the tree.

The Christmas tree cutting can be a family tradition and a fresh cut Christmas tree starts the season off well. Have a great Christmas and enjoy your cut Christmas tree.

10 Top Halloween Songs for Your Party

No matter what type of party music can set the mood – here’s some ideas for songs for Halloween parties.

Thriller is the song of a generation for Halloween. It redefined music videos. It had enough of a “what if” out of control that creates fear even when you “know better.” The full length official video starts with what it turns out is a movie, but the movie becomes reality for the characters. With input from Vincent Price the evil is given a face as ghouls come to life. It’s an ideal dance tune and is featured at Halloween parties even in country music territory.

Hazard – not typically thought of as a Halloween song but consider it. It’s a classic story song but creates more questions than it answers. An unsolved murder – or was it suicide? Was he framed and set up because people expected him to be ‘trouble’ and would believe it?

Tubular Bells Pt 1 – Is there anything creepier any time of year but especially on Halloween than the theme from the Exorcist? It doesn’t need a lyric or voice to give chills.

Monster Mash – Bobby Pickett portrayed a lab experiment gone wrong with the Monster Mash. When “spooky” or “monster” songs come out this one leads the charge!

Stampede – Chris LeDoux painted a picture of the desperate attempt to control a terrorized herd of cattle in a lightning storm as his horse fell and he stood up to find the cattle about to run him over. He woke to find a peaceful camp site and about the time he thought it was a dream the real terror of being out of control hit as the ground shook with a real stampede. Being out of control is the core of being scared – or thinking we’re out of control!

Ghostbusters – few found Ghostbusters frightening but it did hum the infectious theme song and it’s remained as a Halloween favorite for many.

Don’t Fear The Reaper is not only a classic rock song but Blue Oyster Cult made it theirs. Recognizable and can fit in a party easily.

Somebody’s Watching Me Rockwell brings paranoia to a new level with lyric, glimpses from scary movies and the imagination. Large dogs to colored water in the shower to invasion of privacy but is it real or imagined? Sometimes the things we imagine are so much different!

Ghost Riders In the Sky painted another runaway cattle herd but this one much more symbolic. Johnny Cash made us feel the hot breath of the Devil’s cattle as the ghost riders chased the herd endlessly across the sky.

Werewolf Bar Mitzvah gives a light hearted look at what happens when – well things go not according to plan!

Look for the unusual – look through soundtracks and scary movies as well as popular music. Scary music isn’t just for Halloween!

Cow Productivity Depends on Cow Comfort

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACow productivity and cow comfort is something that often is pointed at dairy cattle. Beef cattle, too, are more productive when comfortable. The comfort of cattle is of primary concern among producers who not only want to maximize the care of the cattle.

Modern dairy cows are often a focus due to confinement situations that are needed from a labor standpoint. Many modern confinement systems provide shade, fans and even misters for cows in hot weather. Feed that is easily available is important as well as clean water – both make for more milk. While concrete pens are usually used for reasons of ease of cleaning, it can be hard on a cow’s feet and legs. For this reason a comfortable, dry, clean place to lie down is important.

Free stalls are designed so that cows walk in and lie down, helping to insure that the manure deposited when she stands up is in the gutter or at least at the back of the stall where it is easily scraped into the gutter to be scraped out. Sand, shavings, rubber and cow mattresses are all options that are used in dairies around the US.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the basics of feed, water, shelter are a great deal towards cow comfort that certainly isn’t all. Dairies that dry cattle off for a rest grass based dairies and beef facilities also make use of pasture. Ground is easier on feet and legs, but more difficult to keep dry and sanitary.

Dry areas to lie down reduce the chances of mastitis and other problems. Cows will lay down in many areas and some cows are just messy and don’t seem to mind laying in manure, but most given a choice will choose a dry stall over a wet one.

Cow comfort of course goes much further. Keeping feet properly trimmed and maintained makes it easier for cows to walk without pain. If they are hesitant to stand or walk they won’t be up eating and, pasture or confinement, can lose production and condition.

Pest control is another important part of cow comfort. Cows that spend their time fighting flies aren’t eating or resting – both essential activities of a cow’s productive day. There are also diseases such as pinkeye that can be transmitted with flies. Pest control also includes controlling mice and rats around the feed supplies.

When designing barns, shelters or even feeding areas in pastures keeping the focus on cow comfort pays off whether it’s 2 cows or 2,000. Observe cattle daily for signs of soreness or injury.

Keeping up on cow care basics is important but it also is important to think from a cow’s preference, not a human one. Don’t let dominant cows keep more submissive ones from the feed – make sure there is plenty of bunk space for all to eat without harassment or fear.

Plan well for cow care and productivity. Your cows depend on you as much as you depend on them, and a good cow is too expensive to replace in rotation before her time. Take care of your cows and they’ll take care of you.