Friday, November 25, 2016

Christmas through the years in Lyndon Johnson's Texas home

Gather the family and come out to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park to celebrate the holiday season at “Christmas Through the Years in LBJ Country” on Saturday, December 10, in Johnson City, Texas. This National Park Service centennial celebration will run from 6:00 to 9:00 pm.
Sign designating the LBJ National Historical Park
The special event is free and open to the public. It takes place outdoors at 200 Elm Street in Johnson City on the city block where young Lyndon Johnson came of age. The president’s Boyhood Home will be open for lamplight tours. Next door is the Pedernales Electric Cooperative headquarters, where thousands of Christmas lights illuminate stately live oak trees.

Christmas was a special time for President and Mrs. Johnson and their family. This year the National Park Service carries on the Johnson family’s tradition by making the holiday season special for locals and “out-of-towners” alike.

Blanco County Courthouse in Johnson City, Texas
shines during Lights Spectacular.
If you haven’t been to Johnson City during the holidays, this is a great chance to visit. Christmas glows for the 23rd year during the annual Lights Spectacular presentation, which runs from November 25. 2016 through January 1, 2017. More than 100,000 lights sparkle on the Blanco County Courthouse, centerpiece of the display, while Pedernales Electric Co-op’s Headquarters boasts a twinkling forest with over one million lights. Practically every inch of tree bark and limbs is covered with tiny white lights, and larger bulbs gleam through the branches. This local celebration will cap the National Park Service’s year-long centennial celebration.
A wonderland of festive lights at Pedernales Electri Co-op's
Headquarters in Johnson City, Texas
Activities showcasing Christmas traditions from the 1860s through the 1960s—from the time of the president’s grandparents to the years of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency—will include the following:

  • Traditional country music and Christmas carols with Brian Black from 7:00 to 8:30 pm
  • An 1860s chuck wagon cooking demonstration with cowboy stories
  • Hands-on Christmas crafts for children
  • Display of President Johnson’s historic 1915 American LaFrance fire truck
  • Lamplight tours through Lyndon Johnson’s Boyhood Home
  • An exhibit and presentation on young Congressman Lyndon Johnson making Lights Spectacular a future reality with the creation of the Pedernales Electric Cooperative
  • Screening of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on an outdoor movie screen
  • Brian Black of Bandera, Texas, a music artist who has opened for and played with a number of renowned musical artists, will perform.
LBJ's boyhood home will feature lamplight tours
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is open seven days a week from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. For more information visit  and

Information courtesy of Brian Vickers, Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

Top 3 photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier. LBJ home from free source.

Read more about Johnson City's Lights Spectacular here:


Sunday, November 20, 2016

More about polar bears on Smithsonian channel

If you watched the first installment of Polar Bear Town on the Smithsonian channel, you won’t need convincing to tune in for the rest of the series. If you’re just joining the docu-series, here’s what you’ll see in subsequent programs.
Mother bear will show her cubs how to hunt seals.
Testing the ice as Hudson Bay freezes.
Wednesday, November 23 at 8 p.m. ET/PT
A mother bear is leading her nine month-old cub back from his first hunting season on the ice. Now, they
ll face an even more daunting challenge: throngs of tourists descending on Churchill, which could put the cub and themselves at risk. Veteran guide Dennis Compayre takes on an apprentice, Andrea Dillon, but an aggressive client might complicate her baptism by bear. And fellow guide Kelsey Eliasson flips the script and takes up a camera himself to assist in a groundbreaking research project that identifies bears through their unique whisker patterns. 

Wednesday, November 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Bears spar with each other to learn defensive skills.

Polar bear season has reached its peak and Brian Ladoon is looking for help at his Mile 5 Dog Sanctuary. Brian cant be in two places at once feeding his Canadian Eskimo dogs and on the lookout for polar bears. Luckily, volunteer Russell Hausler has traveled from Australia to give Brian a hand. But Russell is not experienced in the dangers of Polar Bear Town and he may end up doing more harm than good for Brian and the dogs. Meanwhile, bear guide Dennis Compayre and regular client, California photographer Andrew Bazeley, are looking for the perfect shot to complete Andrews book. They encounter a pair of polar bears that locals call the Scrappy Brothers, because they wrestle each other to hone their skills for mating battles to come. And a cub called Curious ventures away from its mother and finds itself on a dangerous collision course with a hungry but elderly male known as St. Pete.

Wednesday, December 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT

Bear tracks lead into the town
of Churchill

Halloween has arrived in Polar Bear Town. Its the worst day of the year for bears in Churchill and the busiest for conservation officers. Children are trick-or-treating and people like Erin Greene are attending parties. Last year, Erin was on her way home from a party when she was attacked by a polar bear. Erin survived the attack but is afraid that it could happen again. Erin enlists her friend, bear guide Karine Genest, to confront her fears by getting close to a polar bear for the first time since the attack. While humans are understandably fearful, the bears are even more at risk. New Mom follows her nose into a bear trap and separates herself from her cub, whose very survival may depend on Kelseys intervention. 

Polar bears that wander into Churchill are kept in a holding
facility until they are released back into the bay area.

Even long-time residents can't get complacent
about polar bears in and around Churchill.
And a roaming Big Bear is headed directly toward the army of guards protecting town.

Wednesday, December 14 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

Winter has settled in on Churchill. It
s the time of year when conservation officers release bears from its polar bear holding facility, which the locals call Polar Bear Jail. A special release sees a mother polar bear and her cub airlifted out of town, to be safely released in the wilderness. Kelsey has special access for the release and follows along in a chase helicopter. But the tranquilizers that conservation officers use on bears wear off quickly and the helicopter pilots need to find a place to land before the bears wake up. Meanwhile, Dennis Compayre enlists some friends to help him find a special bear called Dancer, whom hes known for over 20 years.

Wednesday, December 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

s spring in Churchill. While most polar bears are now hunting for seals on the frozen Hudson Bay, pregnant females have migrated south to their ancestral dens to give birth. The race is on for guides, photographers and scientists to find hidden denning sites outside of Churchill, in hopes of seeing mothers and cubs emerge. Inside one of those dens, a mother bear has spent three full months nursing her cubs. At around 20 pounds each, theyre nearly ready to leave the den and embark on the epic trek to their icy hunting grounds. And a team of biologists, including Don Moore of the Smithsonians National Zoo, make an astonishing discovery a maternity denning complex that a group of polar bears has used for generations.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier from our own adventure viewing polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Mastering the magic of traveling for free

Everyone likes to get something for free, and travel experiences are among the most coveted. For Greg Davis-Kean, who calls himself a Miles Master, booking travel, hotels, and activities with airline miles, points, and reward programs—no dollars!--is a fun challenge that has taken him all over the world.
“It’s easier and quicker to earn miles in ways other than flying,” the Michigan resident said when I talked with him recently. “Although some people think it’s too much trouble, I have found it’s so worth the effort. I can’t believe everyone isn’t doing it,” Davis-Kean added as he shared some of his secrets with me.

Take a lovely vacation for free with Miles Master tips.
A dream vacation

Davis-Kean recently returned from a luxurious Caribbean vacation on Necker Island, a 74-acre island entirely owned by Sir Richard Branson, for which he spent seven months accumulating 1.2 million miles. Branson is Chairman of the Virgin Group, and his island in the British Virgin Islands is part of the Virgin Limited Edition portfolio of luxury properties. The whole island operates like a resort where up to 28 people can book individual rooms at certain times of the year.

Davis-Kean’s trip was an award listed on Virgin Atlantic Limited’s website, and he decided it was worth pursuing. “I just liked the challenge to do this,” he said of the exclusive excursion. “What I didn’t expect was that the trip exceeded my expectations.”
What’s the trick?

Credit cards are a great source for
accruing points that can be
exchanged for travel.
How did he collect such a massive amount of miles in a relatively short time? He juggled credit card miles, bonuses, and other miles-earning schemes (all legal, of course) to rack up more than a million miles.
His first tactic is to apply for credit cards that offer large sign-up bonuses. “Be sure you’re getting the best offer because these change frequently,” he said. Check his blog , The Frequent Miler, for up-to-date information and tips on current deals.

 “There’s no downside to signing up,” he explained. He does keep good records on his 30 plus cards to know when the free first year is up (when the annual fee kicks in), so he can decide whether to keep or cancel the card or downgrade it to a non-fee card to preserve credit at the issuing bank.
“Focus on transferable points programs such as those with Chase bank, American Express, and Citibank,” he said. Flexibility to transfer points to airline programs makes them more valuable, and you might even get bonus points at the time of transfer.

Another trick: “Look for credit cards with category bonuses. For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers three times the usual points for travel and dining expenses. Although there is a hefty charge for that card, annual credits reduce the effective rate considerably. The American Express Everyday card is his preferred card for groceries and gas.
Upgrade your hotel stays with points
for free nights.
With hotel cards, Davis-Kean suggests accruing points to use for free-night stays. “That’s a better deal than putting those points on an airline card,” he said. Sure, you might have to pay a small fee, but if you choose wisely, having a hotel card can be worth a lot of money. For example, the annual fee for an IHG card (Intercontinental Hotels, Holiday Inn, and more) is just $49, but you get a free night every year—and where can you stay at a nice hotel for just $49?

Making it work
What started as a hobby for Davis-Kean has turned into a full time career. For the last five years he has produced a blog where he shares tips for readers.  Whether you’re just curious or have gotten hooked and want to take your project to the next level, read his blog at 

Greg Davis-Kean, Miles Master
“These tips keep my wife in top-tier status,” he said with a bit of humor. He also keeps up with new offerings and techniques by reading other blogs that discuss maximizing points and miles. Even if you can’t spend the time and effort that he does, you can still reap plenty of benefits by just being aware of and taking advantage of offers that are widely available.
So what’s next for Davis-Kean? He’s looking at a safari-based trip to Africa.

Photos from free sources




Sunday, November 6, 2016

Top 7 things to do in Helsinki, Finland in winter

Today’s guest post is by Andrew Larson, a semi-retired software engineer turned globetrotter and full-time travel enthusiast. Check out his blog Wanderlust 15 at

You do know it’s cold in Helsinki during the winter, right? Along with the cold come all the things that wintertime in that part of the world entails like shorter days, abundant snowfall, and freezing temps. But January in the Finnish capital city also means there are fewer tourists, out of this world landscapes to wander at your leisure, and a bucketful of activities best enjoyed in a parka with a good covering of snow on the ground.
Here is our list of the Top 7 things to do in Helsinki in winter.

Dogsledding is a fun winter activity in Helsinki
7. Action Activities For some, there’s nothing better than zooming through the outdoors with the wind in your face. With snowfall normally beginning in November and lasting through May in the north, there are plenty of opportunities to partake in snow-related activities. Active Millennials and Gen-Xers might opt for snowboards or skis, while the ubiquitous snowmobile tour provides a way for visitors of all ages to see the countryside.
6. Dogsledding There aren’t many places in the world you can recreate your own Iditarod experience, but Finland is one of them. Choose to go out for a few hours or maybe a two-day safari. The main thing to remember is to hold on tight. Your team of huskies likes to run and might never stop if you don’t make them. Multi-day activities include a night’s stay in a cabin and care and feeding of the dogs. All you have to do is enjoy.
Saunas are an integral part of life in Helsinki.
5. Sauna The only Finnish word in regular use in America is sauna. It’s not surprising to realize that much of their life-- birth, death, and other major life events--revolves around this concept. In Finland, you can find the locals communing with friends or holding a high-powered business meeting in a sauna. Saunas can be found almost anywhere in the country but we suggest you find an outdoor version located next to a lake. Taking an icy plunge after a good heating might be the most invigorating experience of your life.

4. Breaking Ice If the idea of smashing through ice in a boat appeals to you, consider booking a tour on the Icebreaker Sampro. Included in admission is the option of taking a dry-suit frolic into the frigid sea. Don’t worry, the crew won’t let you drift away never to be seen again. Though Sampro is no longer in official service, this is as close as it gets to seeing a bow plow through ice up close and personal.

3. Ice fishing You don’t need a license for ice fishing in Finland, and there are plenty of lakes in the Helsinki area. Hardy tourists may prefer to go it alone, but there are plenty of guided tours that are likely to end with a sausage and coffee feast and singing around a campfire. The main fish to catch are perch and pike, both good for eating. Drill a hole in the ice and drop a line. All you need is a pole and bait.

Stay in an ice hotel for bragging rights with your friends.
 2. Ice Hotel This is undoubtedly the coolest and (pun intended) thing to do in Helsinki in the winter. Yes, these are entire hotels constructed from snow or blocks of ice. Even the furniture—beds and tables--is carved from ice. Though there are plenty of warm blankets, furs, and sleeping bags to keep you from getting the sniffles, the temperature in these places must stay below freezing, for obvious reasons.
Christmas in Helsinki is a magical time.
1. Christmas in Helsinki One of the best places to visit in Finland is the open-air St. Thomas Christmas Market. If you’re headed to Helsinki (called “Christmas City” for good reason) for a winter vacation, plan to arrive before December 25. Helsinki has it all—shopping, caroling, and plenty of festivities—for those who love the Christmas season.

Photos provided by Larsen from free sources

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Polar Bear Town series on Smithsonian channel

Every fall, approximately 10,000 tourists from around the world descend on "The Polar Bear Capital of the World," Churchill, Manitoba. This community of about 800 people on Hudson Bay in Northern Canada (1,000 miles north of Winnipeg) is home to the annual migration of more than 1,000 hungry polar bears that pass through town as they wait for the Bay to freeze so they can hunt seals.
The programs

The new Smithsonian Channel docu-series POLAR BEAR TOWN documents a season in Churchill, following this extraordinary migration of human and four-legged animals as they collide in unexpected and sometimes dangerous ways. This six-episode series premieres Wednesday, November 16 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
Polar bears start to migrate to Hudson Bay in late October as ice
begins to form.
Having visited Churchill myself and experienced the extraordinary events described in the series, I can wholeheartedly recommend this adventure for anyone who appreciates seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and loves being in magnificent natural settings. Tune in for an unforgettable experience.

The series takes viewers close to the enormous creatures known as the Lords of the Arctic. These polar bears can grow to be 10 feet tall and more than 1,300 pounds. They are also skilled hunters that can detect the presence of seals beneath three feet of snow and ice and can pick in scents from nearly 20 miles away.
A unique town

Churchill's hotels are simple but comfortable, and the food is good.
Churchill is one of the few human settlements where polar bears can be observed in the wild, and prime viewing happens in October and November. POLAR BEAR TOWN captures that moment when tourists from around the world fly into town in hopes of getting up close and personal with a polar bear. Professional guides Dennis Compayre and Kelsey Eliasson have a delicate mission: the get their clients close, but keep them safe.

In the series premiere, POLAR BEAR TOWN: WELCOME TO CHURCHILL, the town prepares for the fall migration. As the season opens, tensions are higher than usual. Last Halloween, a surprise late-night encounter with a polar bear left a local woman seriously injured and the bear dead, the nightmare all in Churchill strive to avoid.

Gift shops in Churchill entice visitors with handmade items.
Subsequent episodes will be broadcast each Wednesday for six weeks on the Smithsonian channel.  I’ll tell what each covers in a following post.

Information courtesy of Eddie Ward, Roslan & Campion PR, To learn more about the series, go to

Photos by Beverly Burmeier