Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Marshmallow Man & Friends

Not too long ago I logged into Instagram and saw this photograph. Talk about making my day! My friend Tina posted this picture of her children reading my book, The Marshmallow Man. I was having a pretty rotten day up until that moment. It made me really happy. What I enjoyed even more than the picture was what Tina wrote in the description. This is what she said:

"Oh my goodness Rena. The kids loved this book so much. Matt laughed so hard! Emily still cannot believe how it ended. She just sat there and looked at me before she giggled. AND ... Joshy thinks it should be turned into a movie! So ... you need to get on that. Loved it!"

Like I said, I was having a bad day, and this totally turned it around. Tina and her family are all awesome on their own, but this really made me smile. Their faces are absolutely priceless! The Marshmallow Man was brought to life by the talented illustrator, Stephen Macquignon. It is published by 4RV Publishing and is available through their website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or ordered through any bookseller. You can watch the book trailer here.

Thanks again, Tina — you and your children totally made my day!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Beary Good Books

I tell you — it is SO nice being able to read again. I've had progressive glasses for a little over a year, but trying to sit down and read a book was treacherous. I can read okay, but when it comes to sitting for long periods of time, I really struggled. With progressives, you have to move your head around to see in just the right spot of the lens. That's fine for when you're standing in the grocery store reading a food label, but not so much if you want to lie back on the couch and spend a few hours reading a book. Talk about strain! Anyway, I recently got new lenses put in my old reading glasses, and it's been a pure joy being able to read again.

I started Casey Anderson's book, The Story of Brutus, ages ago. As with several other books, I set it aside because of the frustration of not being able to read it due to my lagging eyesight. Anyway, I picked it back up yesterday and spent the rest of the day reading it. What a great story. I've seen Brutus before at his enclosure at the Montana Grizzly Encounter. It's right off Interstate 90 near Bozeman, MT. That's quite a ways from us, but we drive by it frequently when going to Billings where Nicole goes to college. It's a great place learn about grizzlies, so if you're ever in Montana, stop by and check it out. There is a fee, but the bears need all the support they can get. They have an awesome website too, which is linked above. Anyway, I've "met" Brutus, so to say, meaning that I've seen him and taken gobs of pictures of him. I have yet to meet Casey, but I hope to someday. His book is fascinating. If you're interested in grizzlies, or bears in general, I highly recommend it.

I also read this book below, Hiking with Grizzlies, by Tim Rubbert. This was another eye-opening book. I've read a lot of bear books that are mostly collections of horror stories about stupid people that put themselves and the bears at risk. I have a lot of those books. This book isn't one of them. It's more about ... well, it's about exactly what the title says ... Hiking with Grizzlies. It covers bear behavior and signs, what to look for, how to prepare yourself, and all the other basics of keeping yourself (and the bears!) safe. It's definitely a must-read if you ever plan to do any hiking in bear country.

So anyway, I'm really enjoying being able to read again. I've missed it so much. I'm not sure what I'll read next, but I have a big stack of books on my to-read list. One of those is aptly titled Do (Not) Feed the Bears, which kind of goes with my current reading trend. It's about the bears in Yellowstone NP and how they used to feed them. Bring on the bear dreams, I guess!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Manny the Mountain Goat

I've totally sucked at keeping up with my blogs, more or less visiting everyone else's blogs. I'm not sure what's the problem. It's not for lack of time. We're taking a break from school right now, so there's plenty of time. I just seem to be wasting it. On the good side, I have a couple of story ideas floating around in my head. That hasn't happened in awhile. I haven't written any of them down yet. They're still brewing in my brain, I guess — kind of like a bitter cup of coffee.

I'm also thinking of digging out Manny the Mountain Goat again and seeing what I can do with it. That was my very first story. It also got me interested in writing for children. Back in 2005 when we were still living in California, we came up to Montana on vacation. Upon visiting Glacier National Park we saw some mountain goats. It was then that I decided to write a story about one of them. It's still unpublished, but because it was what got me interested in writing, it has a special meaning. I need to dig it out and work on it again.

I've decided to start taking my little stuffed mountain goat on some adventures. Not sure if this will tie into the story or not, so time will tell. I bought him in GNP years ago, and right away, named him Manny. He usually sits on my dresser, but recently he took a trip up to Many Glacier and posed for some pictures. Sadly, he got left behind on our recent camping trip to Thompson Lakes State Park. That's okay though. He's all excited about going to Olympic National Park next month for Rick's birthday. Trying to keep him clean will be the real challenge!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

When Bears Attack

As most of you know, I love being outdoors, especially doing things like hiking, camping, swimming, and kayaking. I also live in bear country. Even before moving to Montana, I took bears very seriously when I was wandering around places like Yellowstone, Glacier, Sequoia, Yosemite, etc. If we saw a sign about current bear activity in a certain area, we'd take it to heart and go another way. It just wasn't worth it when our kids were little. However, now I'm getting interested in longer hikes, often without my kids, so I take the bears even more serious.

I always carry bear spray, even when I'm on very heavily used trails. Sometimes people give me weird looks, but that's okay. It's always better to be safe than sorry. They see me with my bear spray and probably think, "She's paranoid." I see them hiking at 6pm, in sandals, with no backpack, and only a cell phone that won't work where they're at, and I think, "They're crazy."

So, it bothers me when I see something about bears that is highly inaccurate. On Twitter I saw a camping company from the UK put up a graph of what to do if an animal attacks. True, we don't hear of too many bear attacks in the UK, and they did mention that. However, many people from the UK visit the northwest. I see them every time I'm in the parks. When I went to look at it, I was appalled by the misinformation on the chart. These were the things listed to do if you run into a black bear: wave arms, speak calmly, drop item to distract, walk away.

Only one applies, and that is to speak calmly. Waving your arms frantically could confuse a bear into thinking you're aggressive. Dropping an item to distract it could literally get you killed. People have had their lives saved because they kept their backpacks on. If you drop a backpack because you think the bear might go for the food in it, you're doing the bear a disservice. All you have now is no protection from a possible attack, and you have a bear who associates people with bags filled with yummies. That's not a good combination. Walking away is good advice, but there's a lot more to it. You need to evaluate the situation before you just turn your back on a bear and walk away. The bear's behavior should tell you whether it's afe to walk away, or to stand your ground. A chart with just "walk away" doesn't cut it for me.

For grizzly encounters, they suggest slowly backing away. That's true, however, each encounter is different. Again, you have to evaluate the situation. It suggested climbing a tree. That might save your life, but grizzlies have been known to climb trees. They're heavier than black bears, so it is harder for them, but it's certainly not impossible. The UK chart said to climb at least 4m. Most everything I've read says to shoot for 10m. That's about 33 feet. I'm not sure I could climb that high, to be honest. I'm not sure there would always be a tree with suitable limbs for climbing, also. Each encounter is different, depending on how the bear is behaving as well as your surroundings. The chart also said that during a grizzly attack to lie face down, legs spread, with your hands over the back of your neck. Everything I've read says to lie in a fetal position, curled up, with your hands clasped around the back of your next. The latter makes more sense to me, simply for the fact that there are less exposed limbs to be chomped on.

These might sound like minor differences, but they seemed major to me. I give them credit though, because the chart got others right. Always fight for your life against a mountain lion. You can play dead to deter a bear, but a mountain lion will kill you. The best thing you can do to prevent any animal encounter or attack is to be educated — read books about hiking in certain areas, read the signs at the visitor centers, stop and read the warning signs on trailheads, and learn to look for signs of any animal activity in the areas (tracks, scat, carcasses, disrupted plant life). The original chart is here, if you're interested in seeing it. Wolf sightings are very rare, and attacks even more so. On that note, the same applies for bear sightings, encounters, and attacks. Be prepared, but consider yourself blessed to see one of these amazing creatures in their own habitat. The chart shows moose too. Most people injured by moose are simply too close, trying to get that perfect picture. Buy a good zoom lens. Sadly, the chart didn't include bison, which I believe are the most common in Yellowstone. Again, those are from people thinking they can get just a little bit closer for that perfect picture. Idiots.

The most important thing to do when hiking in bear country is to carry spray. If you're going to be hiking in country with black bears, grizzlies, or mountain lions, a can of spray could save your life. Rick and I both carry Counter Assault. From what we've read, it's the best there is. Nice thing is that it is made right here where we live. The bad thing about it is that it costs about $50 a can. That can be expensive for a one-time hiker visiting Glacier National Park, so it's not surprising most people don't carry it. Experienced hikers do, and most locals will have it. I was happy to see one place just outside of Glacier renting a can of spray for $5 a day. I suggested that to the national parks ages ago, but I don't think they ever implemented it. Considering you can't fly with the spray, most people would have to buy it once they got to their destinations. It's expensive, so most aren't willing to dish out that kind of money for a one-time deal. Renting it is a great idea. I wish the NPS would start doing that.

Oh, and for the record, that's a grizzly bear on the top of this post. I know my title is When Bears Attack, but no one has to worry about Sheena. She lives with the infamous Brutus-the-Bear at the Montana Grizzly Encounter. She's a sweetheart — although I hear she's the alpha-bear when it comes to Brutus. She's a lot older than him. So, if you love bears, but aren't interested in hiking where they live, you can always come to the Encounter to see them up close, but safely. The rescue is run by Casey Anderson, who you might recognize from National Geographic Wild. If you want to see more of Sheena, click here. She has a new bed!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Blueberry Angel Food Cake

My friend April posted a recipe on her Facebook that I thought sounded interesting. It said to mix a can of fruit pie filling with a box of angel food cake, and then bake it. That was it — just mix the two together and nothing more. Sounded pretty good to me, so I bought the ingredients last night. Then I went online to see if I could find another recipe similar to that one. I found this recipe for Gooey Blueberry Angel Food Cake

We weren't doing anything special today for the 4th of July, so I thought I'd make this cake to keep things simple. It turned out really good. Mind you I took this picture right after I took it out of the oven. Within a few minutes the cake had sunk down, but the recipe said that was normal. The only thing I was missing was some whipped cream, which would have made it perfect. Even a small scoop of vanilla ice cream would be nice. However, it was fine just the way it was. Just remember to buy the angel food mix that doesn't require any other ingredients added to it. All you do is mix the fruit filling with the dry mix. That's it! Then you bake it for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven. It doesn't get any easier than that. The recipe said to use an ungreased 9x13" pan, but I went ahead and sprayed mine with cooking spray just to be safe. It turned out really good and was so simple that it was ridiculous. I'm looking forward to trying it with other fruit fillings, and maybe even adding some fresh fruit in there, too.

Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I'm watching you ...

This morning I was thinking about the bear we saw on our hike last Saturday. It looked a lot like the bear in this picture, although it was a different one. This is the bear we call Sassy. I've got a bunch of different photographs of Sassy Bear — including ones with her mom, her brother, and more recently, two adorable cubs of her own. She's my favorite, obviously, because I've watched her grow from a cub to being a mom. The bear we saw on Saturday looked a lot like Sassy at one point. The fur was shorter though, and it was a little older than Sassy was in this picture. I would guess Saturday's bear was between 1-2 years old.

Anyway, I've seen a lot of bears between living in Montana and traveling to national parks. Every single time I've seen a bear it was because I or someone else spotted it first. Most of the time the bears are so far away that they don't even notice us looking at them. The ones I've seen at home have definitely seen me, and I've even been snuffed at by quite a few of them.

The bear I saw on Saturday saw me first. I don't think that's ever happened in any of my bear sightings. I'm pretty sure I've always seen the bear first. Not this time — that bear was looking me dead in the eye when I first spotted it. That was a first for me. The more I think about it, the more eerie it feels. How long had it been watching me? As soon as it heard me say, "Bear!" it took off. Rick and I were glad about that, but more worried about it being with its mother. We have never felt the need to walk with our bear spray canisters out of the holsters before. It all turned out okay, of course, but it makes me wonder how many bears have seen me first that I didn't even notice were there. That's kind of creepy to think about.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Just doing my part ...

... to keep our local Walgreens in business, that is.

If you read my blog the other day, you know I took a nasty fall while hiking with Rick on Saturday. As if the sore knee and scraped up leg weren't bad enough — now I'm dealing with the mosquito bites I got that day. We had repellent on, but obviously not enough, and certainly not a strong enough formula for that many insects. They were literally eating us alive. I had Rick spray me with Benedryl last night and then I took an antihistamine on top of it. Those always make me really loopy and sleepy, so I don't like taking them. I had to because all these bites flared up, and I'm miserable. You could probably find a constellation on my back!

I tried counting them today and got up to around 80 bites. Then I looked closer at my face when I was putting my make-up on and found about 25 tiny ones along my hairline, on my cheeks, even one on my eyelid. I know I have some on my scalp too. It's just crazy. I have to have over 100 bites! Like a dork, I wore shorts and a tank top that day. The news kept saying it was going to be in the 90s, and might even get into the 100s. I didn't want to overdress and then get too hot. I know better. It barely reached 85 that day, and we hiked early, and in mostly covered areas of the forest. Next time I'll be more prepared for such a rugged hike. As you can see from the picture, I'm stocking up for the next trip out, which hopefully will be this week!