In Case You Missed It — Wendi Lou Lee

Join me this Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 2 p.m. CST for the premier of my social media livestream news magazine, In Case You Missed It.

This week we’ll visit with actor/author Wendi Lou Lee, who you may better recall as Baby Grace from Little House on the Prairie. We’ll visit with Wendi about her career as a young actor, an extraordinary turn of events in her adult life, lessons learned from Little House, and a wonderful book she’s authored titled A Prairie Devotional.

Watch for our interview Wednesday at 2 CST. Set your VCR or Beta Max or whatever you have to do!

And subscribe to our email newsletter to keep up with all the upcoming shows and breaking news!

The Power of Arrival

Distance changes utterly when you take the world on foot. A mile becomes a long way, two miles literally considerable, ten miles whopping, fifty miles at the very limits of conception. The world, you realize, is enormous in a way that only you and a small community of fellow hikers know. Planetary scale is your little secret. ~ Bill Bryson

 

Mocking the snow storm ahead. That was SO wrong.

Mocking the snow storm ahead. That was SO wrong. So VERY wrong.

A nice, long walk on any given day can be about lots of things. Some days I want to burn calories and just enjoy a good sweat. Other days I feel so bogged down in minutia it’s the only way the cobwebs will clear. I just want to go out and have a long talk with myself – solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking.

More often than not, my long walks are about inspiration. Finding it, more specifically. Contrary to popular belief inspiration rarely falls into your lap. Inspiration owes you nothing. You must seek it out, and purpose toward its elusive hideaway.

***

Barbara Kreisel and I met just as she was experiencing new inspirations of her own about walking. We’d crossed paths on occasion but never spent much quality time with one another until an overnight in Terradillos, just short of the Camino’s halfway point. Forking over an extra euro for a lower bunk was the deal of the day, and we shared a room that night with Marie Celton, a Reunion Island native, who’d already tallied more than 1,200 solo miles. Marie and I were captivated with Barbara’s story from just a few nights before when she’d encountered an experience every pilgrim fears. Chinches. As she spoke, she showed us a half-dozen moderate to severe bedbug bites, the red, swollen marks along her arm, ears and neck now insufferably itchy and a constant painful distraction.

The next morning Barbara shared a more significant story as we walked together.

Nearing her sixtieth birthday, she’d experienced a series of illnesses in recent years that resulted in a complete energy depletion. Doctors told her she had about 10 percent the energy of an average person her age. Determined for a remedy, she traveled from her home in Germany to Sri Lanka for promising non-traditional treatments that, in fact, restored her to new energy levels, near 70 percent. It was enough, she thought, to challenge herself on Camino pilgrimage, and when we met, she’d already walked more than 250 miles.

Barbara Kreisel, born in Chile, spent most of her adult life in Germany.

Barbara Kreisel, born in Chile, spent most of her adult life in Germany.

She’d come to the Camino with a simple goal. Just move. That was it. The idea that she’d taken the initiative and put herself in such a radically challenging situation was satisfying enough early on, but not any more. Her thoughts now turned to more transcendent notions. Alas, attempting the hard thing, and the courage in that decision to try just wasn’t enough.

“It was just about the moving in the beginning, and it was so very difficult crossing the Pyrenees. It took a few more days than I thought to recover, but over time I became more serious about the walking. Now, I’ve gone beyond even that, and my number of days here is limited, but I’ve begun to let myself think about arriving,” she said.

She’d gone from a goal of moving, to a new goal of walking, now, to new purpose – arriving. It’s that certain look a person gets in her eyes when a cause is planted in her heart. Barbara decided she had the wherewithal to finish. I loved seeing that look in her eyes and hearing that tone in her voice. And I love that she finished.  Ultimately, Barbara arrived.

Move. Walk. Arrive.

There’s good reason to walk, and Barbara was really on to something. A 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found 90 minutes of walking regularly, especially in non-urban areas, reduces tendencies toward depression and mental illness. Scientists could actually see this at work in people’s brains. Another study used a test group to prove that backpacking and disconnecting from technology boosted creative thinking and problem solving by as much as 50 percent. I know it’s true.

It’s pretty amazing to think just how much putting on a pair of walking shoes can actually change your life – if you actually walk in them, that is. No, the shoes won’t walk for you. That much is up to you.

***

Arriving in Galicia. Sweet Victory! It's the power of ARRIVAL.

Arriving in Galicia. Sweet Victory! It’s the power of ARRIVAL.

If you pay attention to guidebook elevation charts as I do, you have time to mentally prepare for the days that really push your legs. Not only were Naomi, Aida and I uncertain about the physical challenges ahead the day we set out to climb O Cebriero, there was now much trail talk of a substantial snow storm ahead, and we needed to beat the weather to the top. A change in conditions loomed, and you could feel it in the air. It was time to push. We’d deal with whatever hand the weather dealt when we arrived. As Barbara learned many kilometers back, there’s power in your arrival.

The walk from Villafranca to O Cebriero begins with an extended two-hour hike down into a beautiful valley just east of the Galician border. It’s daunting, because you know for every step you take down into that magnificent lowland, the tide will turn to a radical upward ascent. Sure enough, you bottom out in the small village of Vega de Valcarce, and get your first glance at the winding, skyward footpath that lie ahead. You know right there your legs will start talking to you soon.

As the climb ensued, we adopted a pattern that lasted much of our remaining Camino. Aida, packed light and with the frame of a runway model, gradually pulled ahead as Naomi and I lagged behind. Naomi preferred a slow walk, taking things in. My hemorrhaging shin demanded slow. I lost count of the times Aida pulled ahead, then respectfully waited on us to catch up through the sierra.

It was reminiscent of the daylong trek through the Pyrenees, hopefully but incorrectly thinking the summit lie around every blind corner and every false plateau. Eventually, our team slowly disintegrated into three individuals, each on his own, now testing their metal one slow step at a time to the top.

Seven hours later and now 4,000 feet higher we rounded a corner leading to the locally famous marquee signaling our official arrival in the Galician territory. We took photos, slapped high fives and absorbed a sublime expanse of countryside most people never see. The further you walk through Galicia, the more striking these vistas become. The final leg of our journey was now officially under way, and the end of our day just a few short kilometers ahead.

O Cebriero is distinctive in every way. The Galician people are descended from Spain’s second wave of Celtic invaders who migrated across the Pyrenees. At the fall of the Roman Empire the region fell under the authority of several Germanic tribes, followed by the Visogoths and the Moors. The architecture is uniquely slate-based, the food rich and hearty, the people, hard-working, private and proud.

***

The winds of O Cebriero. Little did we know this was the calm before the storm.

After a celebratory beer in a local pub, our threesome considered its options for the night. Our decisions had greater ramifications now. If the snow talk was real, tomorrow was a complete unknown. An albergue would have us out the door by 8 a.m., whether we wanted to go or not. We needed a Plan B.

A local tavern with several private habitaciones was the answer. Naomi and Aida split a room, and I took my own private quarters across the street. Hot showers, privacy, the steady aroma of roasted pork and bubbling caldo gallego from the downstairs kitchen, and an antsy,  high-energy pilgrim family – all citizens of the world – made for a divine early evening environment. It was home for a night.

Anxious about the forecast and our next day’s prospect for hiking downward to Triacastela, I walked outside several times during the evening. Three hours after our arrival, and as the sky went dark, a misty rain set in, and the wind blew.

I’ve never been in a colder, stronger, wetter wind. It howled with a mocking, obnoxious fury.

All you could do was go to bed for now, and see what lie outside the frosty windows tomorrow.

But at least, we’d arrived.

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Becoming Tim

“The friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you.” ~Elbert Hubbard

 

In 2000, Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam wrote and conveyed one of the most significant social phenomenons of our time. His book, Bowling Alone, demonstrated statistically how over just a few years American society moved increasingly further away from so many of the social constructs on which it was founded.

A simple research illustration in Putnam’s work showed while the number of people who bowled during the last 20 years increased, the number who actually bowled in leagues decreased. They were bowling alone.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 8.57.11 AMCarried further, his data indicated fairly dramatic decreases in group social affiliations that were once important to us – Parent-Teacher Associations, church, political parties, evening dinner parties. Neighborhoods where children once roamed freely and without care evolved to burgs where families don’t know their next-door neighbors, and everyone looks at one another with shocking anxiety when the doorbell rings.

We’ve personally disengaged with society to the point, Putnam diagnosed, where we are less healthy, and less happy.

Simply stated, Putnam’s book addressed the truth that no one really talks to anyone anymore. We self-seclude. I understand it in an acute way.

***

I stayed in a mostly dark bedroom for the better part of two years, and went to even further extremes looking for healing in places where it simply can’t be found. In the wake of a failed 19-year marriage followed shortly by a shuttered business where I’d invested everything I knew, and all that I had, I woke up one day completely lost and blaming myself for everything. In fact, I wasn’t at fault for everything, but that’s what chronic depression tells you. And it tells you to give up.

With Dana, my new wife, her help, and time, I healed painfully slowly, and walked gradually, one step at a time, into the light. Our slow persistence to bring me back, didn’t prevent missteps, or lessons from some of the more extreme directions we took. But I think it was our most extreme undertaking that brought the greatest lesson.

***

When an only son loses his father a new sense of responsibility is born. Whether it’s true or not that he becomes the head of the family is debatable, but inevitably, he feels the call of a new role. My dad’s death early that year woke me to some new realities and forced an incomplete, but new phase of my healing. In fact, I think it paved the way for what I needed to learn most.

The windfall of a small early inheritance my mother graciously shared opened up the new possibility of a financial reset. It could’ve been seed money for a new business startup, an investment in our retirement or any other traditional pursuit within reason. I opted for an extreme idea outside all good reason, but that’s really nothing new.

Throughout my secluded depression I’d get lost in re-living the far-fetched notion I’d had since exchanging childhood notes with a Venezuelan pen pal. South America seemed so distantly different to all I knew about life. Late at night Dana and I watched travel show re-runs about people who dropped everything to expatriate to the unknown challenges of a new life abroad and start fresh with the possibilities only new landscapes can bring.

The short-story version is that we took an exploratory trip to Ecuador, and at the end of 10 days bought a small parcel of land near the beach. Three months later we began construction on a small house, and six months after that we took two plane tickets and five suitcases on an adventure from which we didn’t know if we’d honestly ever return. We had an open-ended ticket to a life of new possibilities.

It was the adventure of a lifetime. Our marriage relationship as friends and partners strengthened beyond everything either of us ever dreamed. We made new friends, watched amazingly spectacular Pacific sunsets from our rooftop every night and were like two kids learning all new things in a Latin culture we now love.

It was a new phase of real healing for my depression, but only the beginning and not the cure-all so many of us think we can find by running away. What I realized several months after our transition was this: Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.

It’s exhaustingly painful to hide behind a mask every day. Thank goodness I’m becoming more like Tim.

***

Certain stories resonate more than others along the Camino, and among Camino family herds. Because of their magnitude, they take on a certain lore. I’d heard Tim’s story weeks before I met him and he was gracious enough to share it with me in detail only a few moments after we met in the iconic Parador Plaza in Leon. It’s the kind of sharing that’s a Camino trademark, and is the anti-thesis of Bowling Alone’s conclusion. The Camino fosters a genuine transparency you find in almost no other environment. I’m not sure why that’s true, but it is.

(Above, my interview with Tim in Leon. Such a good man.)

I knew from conversations with other pilgrims that Tim came to Spain as part of a healing process from the unexpected loss of his wife, but wasn’t completely prepared for the clear picture he painted so quickly about the loss.

A self-described Alaska slug and goof-off who’s always enjoyed lying on the couch watching football, Tim was in good spirits from a 40-kilometer walk the day before (the equivalent of a full marathon) when he stepped on a scale to realize he’d lost 20 pounds. I asked if he minded sharing why he’d come so far.

In the first 30 seconds of our impromptu interview, Tim said he’d come as a tribute to his wife who’d died 18 months earlier. She was a physical therapist and lifeguard out for an afternoon walk when she experienced a seizure, fell to the ground and drown in six inches of water. In an instant, Tim and his family were overcome with the void left by her death. She was his best friend. It didn’t bother Tim one bit to let me, a complete stranger, know how much it hurt.

“She loved long walks. This is kind of for her. She would’ve enjoyed every step,” he said.

The following day Tim placed a few of his wife’s ashes at Cruz Ferro, the place where, for a millenia, pilgrims have left the hurt of their burdens behind.

Our conversation that day was part of an ongoing process I gradually understand more each day.

We don’t have to pretend. No matter how much things hurt, it’s okay to be you. And by being the real you, you might actually help someone else.

My goal is that each day, I become a little more like Tim.

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Linda Benya “Breathes in Freedom” on House Hunters International

(Blogger’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories about the experience Dana and I had filming with HGTV’s House Hunters International. The show, depicting our experience of buying a second home in Ecuador, should air in late August or early September. Here’s the link to the first post in the series: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-1bh)

***

Linda Benya, (second from right, and on my right) was the director for our upcoming HHI episode. This is a shot of Dana and me with the entire crew.

Linda Benya, (second from right, and on my right) was the director for our upcoming HHI episode. This is a shot of Dana and me with the entire crew.

Linda Benya’s spent her entire career telling stories. And for her, telling stories about others people’s’ adventures around the world keeps life exciting, and fulfills a real artistic talent.

And it doesn’t hurt that she’s always been a big fan of House Hunters International, a show for which she directs more than 20 episodes a year.

“Even as a director, I still approach the show as a fan. I think I’ve always had a real  wander lust for meeting people and going places in other countries and learning just what you can get for your money,” Linda said. “I love going into people’s homes and seeing how they live. And that’s the appeal for everyone who enjoys the show, I think.”

A graduate of New York University Film School, Linda worked both on and off camera early in her career. She worked on Animal Planet’sDogs 101,” “Cats 101,” and “Pets 101,” as well as “Selling New York” and “The Martha Stewart Show.”

She’s produced shows with the likes of Dancing with the Stars’ Tom Bergeron and hosted on camera with Jeff Probst.

house hunters international steve and dana watkins

Breaking for a keepsake photo with Linda during the “packing scene” in our bedroom in Jonesboro.

It was at the conclusion of filming a “Dogs 101” episode that she struck up a conversation with a videographer who mentioned he was flying to Columbia on assignment the next day.

“I asked him what he was up to and he said he was heading out for a shoot with House Hunters International. I told him I loved that show, and he said I’d be great.”

Even so, her career went on and Linda said there was a time when she spent six consecutive months working an “office job” for “Selling New York.” For someone like Linda, six months in an office is a long time.

“After those six months, I looked at myself in the mirror one day and said, ‘I can’t breathe.’ I’ve got to get back out into the field.”

The rest was history, and that moment led her to a steady opportunity with House Hunters.

For Linda, directing House Hunters International is a job that fits her professional talents, creative personality, and her interests in pushing her own comfort zones.

“There are a ton of responsibilities with this. You fly into a country where you’ve never been, meet up with some freelance assistants you’ve probably never met and you don’t know the culture. You hit the ground running and are required to keep an American schedule in a different culture and that almost never works,” she explained. “And it’s your job to be the creative manager in capturing all this reality.

“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s never boring.”

I explained to Linda countless times that the venti latte was to be in my dressing room at 7:09 sharp every morning! Honestly, she was such a great sport to allow us to have so much fun.

I explained to Linda countless times that the venti latte was to be in my dressing room at 7:09 sharp every morning! Honestly, she was such a great sport to allow us to have so much fun.

One of the most challenging aspects of filming a show like House Hunters International is that the scenes aren’t filmed consecutively in the sequence that television viewers may see. It’s all about logistics, efficiency and a clock that never stops ticking.

“We’re weaving in and out of a story and really flying by the seat of our pants, but it’s the challenge that makes it fun. I love the challenge that we inevitably have, and I love working with a team.”

Linda uses both her technical and artistic sensibilities in laying the groundwork for capturing hours of video to hand over to producers who create this relatively brief show.

“This doesn’t just happen. There’s a lot of time and work that goes into a 22-minute show. On TV it looks like we just stopped by and captured a moment of your life, and that’s exactly the way we want it to look, but in reality, there’s a ton of work that goes into one of these shows,” Linda said.

Pulling the whole thing off is an art form, she said, and requires huge attention to detail.

“You have to be keenly aware of everything that’s happening around you, and you have to know how to key in on what makes it special.” But she’s also very much a manager of personalities. “You have to sincerely like people, and there has to be a genuine curiosity somewhere inside of you. It helps a lot if you get excited about learning and discovering new things.”

As director for the show, she’s required to be a subtle micro manager of details without getting in the way of the story.

“My job is to make sure we capture moments. We don’t make those moments you see on television. We simply capture those moments, and if we do it well, it’s a really entertaining show.

“I’m the band leader and I set the tone. I always tell myself, never to let anyone see me sweat. It’s about being decisive, firm and never letting anyone see whatever internal struggle you may be dealing with in the moment. Then at the same time you balance all that with letting the story play out. Gut instincts are important, and you have to know when one thing is less important than another. The work in putting a show like this together is a constant struggle and decision-making process about what’s most important, and how can I accomplish all I need to get done within all the challenging parameters that we’re working within.”

In the last year, Linda’s directed more than 20 shows with four days of filming each show. She’s been in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Argentina, Sweden, France, Germany, Malaysia and Mexico.

She said she finds some common characteristics among participants who go on the show.

“Everyone has a different reason for why they set up shop in a different country, but I think more than anything, they all have a sense of adventure. Whether it works out or not, you definitely can’t do something like the people do on the show without having a real sense of adventure and learning.”

Just the same, Linda said House Hunters has a common appeal to those who enjoy watching.

“I think people love the show, because to some extent we all have a voyeurist nature. It appeals to a sense of adventure and education, especially about how people live in other places. It gives you a realistic look into the lives of people who are choosing to live differently, and that appeals to a lot of us.”

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A story about new friends and neighbors from Washington.

Las Palmas Ecuador

By Steve Watkins

steve@ecuadorguidedtours.com

It was pure happenstance nearly a year ago when Linda Beltz walked into a co-worker’s office to hear him telling a small group of colleagues about his recent adventures in Ecuador.

The enthusiasm he shared for what he’d experienced captivated the small group and they hung on every word as he shared as he shared his findings in a tale of adventure and exploration.

An abundance of beautiful and reasonably priced properties, low cost of living, a perfect climate and an emerging transportation and communication infrastructure were just a few of the things he’d found as facts about life along the Pacific coast.

As a result of it all, Linda’s colleague was now seriously contemplating the previously unthought dream of an expatriate life in Ecuador, and he encouraged his friends to check it out for themselves.

As much as she wanted to dismiss the contagious…

View original post 740 more words

(Timing + Buzz) x Tags = Blog Hits

It’s a formula that will demand blog hits every time. A recent event in my home town proves it works.

Quick Background: On the evening of July 28, a young man was arrested in Jonesboro, AR, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a patrol car. Moments later, he somehow managed to commit suicide.

The arresting officers were white. The man placed under arrest was black. And for several weeks to follow a divide between races went public. National news agencies from all the major networks covered the story, only adding to the local community buzz.

Ten days ago, Rev. Jesse Jacksoncame to Jonesboro to lead a prayer vigil and a

chavis carter and jesse jackson

Chavis Carter

peaceful march questioning the details (or lack thereof) of Chavis Carter’s death.

***

From a blogger’s perspective, a story like this has the perfect ingredients for a recipe that will set your blog afire.

When Jackson arrived, I spent no more than a grand total of 30 minutes snapping photos and doing a quick interview. But it was important to be there in a physical sense to observe and get a “feel” for the environment.

I came home, tired from a long day, and really didn’t feel like writing the full story, so I published an immediate tease with a photo of Jackson. The short post gave readers notice the story would appear on the blog first thing next morning. The tease story, a photo and one paragraph, generated hundred of blog hits over night while I slept soundly in bed.

Early the next morning, I wrote the full story with a headline designed to get search engine attention, tagged the photos and story with key words, and the blog lit up like a match.

Some readers even criticized the post for “stirring up a mess.” I’m okay with stirring up a mess when it’s based on facts and newsworthy events. The fact is, controversy generates attention.

Since the time of the original post more than 30 different phrases have been plugged into various search engines leading them straight to my blog.

In all, the original post’s had more than 1,500 hits, and a day hasn’t gone by when a search engine didn’t lead a reader to the story.

It’s an opportunity that presents itself more often than you may think.

Here’s another example:

Were there more hours in the day, I’d write an additional post today about Hurricane Isaac, a story that’s dominated the news for days. The hurricane, now a tropical

hurricane isaac

Arkansans will receive much needed rain from now Tropical Depression Isaac. Just a different angle to the story.

storm, soon to be a tropical depression, is headed straight up the gut of my home state. While it’s created havoc at the point of landfall, Isaac will bring much-needed rain to hundreds of thousands of acres devastated by drought conditions over the last four months.

Isaac is actually a positive weather event in my neck of the woods, and it would be a great angle for an original blog post. There’s just not enough hours in the day. But you understand the strategic potential.

When you’re presented with an opportunity that has the elements of timing and buzz, you can choose to make a small investment of time, think “tag-strategic,” and readers will come.

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