The Billings Outpost

ArtWalk expands to 27 venues on Friday

The Summer ArtWalk in Downtown Billings will be Friday, Aug. 1, from 5-9 p.m.

Twenty-seven venues will be open for receptions featuring local and regional artists.

Highlights of the Artwalk will include:

• The Save the Murals committee members from Billings Senior High School will be at Sandstone Gallery and Toucan Gallery with information on their fundraising events in order to restore and preserve more than 100 murals on their school’s walls.

• Anderson Art Studio & Gallery will feature paintings of East Rosebud Lake by Laura Anderson. Laura and her husband, Karl Morledge, were caretakers of the East Rosebud Lake Association from 2005-2010. Living at this isolated lake, Laura experienced everything from bright sunny days to days with 130 mph winds and captured it all in her artwork.

• Connie Dillon’s new gallery will feature a selection of large framed format photographs and small 6-by-6-inch paintings of interiors framed in shadow boxes with miniatures that complement the scenes. She will also offer photo cards, handmade journals and keepsake boxes by John Felten.

• RiverStone Health’s Lil Anderson Center will show photographs of Montana scenery, flowers and animals in the wild by Drs. Mike Geurin, Mike Downing and Rory Rogina.

• Global Village welcomes young artists from the 14th annual Summer Art Academy held at Rocky Mountain College on June 9-13. Kites, watercolors, acrylics, drawings, jewelry, costume designs and prints are among the creations on display from the young artists (ages 8-14) who attended the camp. Refreshments will be provided by Velvet Cravings.

• Sandstone Gallery will feature the pastels of Louise Payovich and the watercolors of Dick Cottril. The gallery’s guest artist will be local watercolor artist, Michiko Conklin.

• Jens Gallery & Design is opening a second location just in time for the August ArtWalk. There is a new show opening at each gallery location. The work of three contemporary female artists, Chris Romine, Jenny Moller and Sue Schuld, will be showcased.

•  Having taught and painted in Indiana for 15 years, Dana Zier, owner of Big Sky Blue Gallery, became inspired by and befriended numerous artists. At various times, all of them painted, created and showed together in Indiana and for the first time they are presenting their work together in Montana. Guest artists include watercolor artist Rena Brouwer; art educators and mother/daughter artistic team Doris Myers and Bonnie Zimmer; sculptor, photographer, oil painter and Billings resident Laura Anderson; local watercolor artist Mary Blain; fiber artist Mary Ann Van Soest; and Zier’s daughter and photographer Margaret Weber.

• McCormick Café will host the Billings Art Association with an all-membership show from Aug. 1 through the end of the month. BAA artists show 60 pieces of their work. Sales of the art will generate funding for art education charitable purposes: BAA Art Education Grant Funding or IMAGE grants. BAA is an organization of 119 artists from this region who gather together to share information and provide education to the members.

• The Northern Hotel will feature in its lobby local artists representing a variety of media including digital photo overlay work on brushed aluminum by native Billings artist Ashley Prange. Her graphic design and ceramics background influence the way she manipulates and builds her work.

• ArtWalkers stopping at the Yellowstone Art Museum will be able to see the exhibit of eight kites and paintings by local artist John Pollock. An art professor at Montana State University Billings from 1974-2010, Pollock has created art that can be found in collections around the country, including the Yellowstone Art Museum’s permanent collection. Admission to the museum is free during ArtWalk.

• The Jason Jam Gallery will present the second annual Super Cute Fun Show, which is an art show of works by Jason and his wife, Wendy.

• Underground Culture Krew will feature its newest gallery member, photographer Ellen Kuntz and her exhibit “Bang” – a series of self-portraits that explores modern day vices in consumer culture. Gallery artists Kristin Rude, Jenna Martin, Gloria Mang, Tina Jensen, Crystal Rieker and five local graffiti artists will also be featured.

•  Billings Open Studio will host numerous events during the Artwalk. “The Tug of War” –  a multimedia collaboration of dance, poetry, acting, spoken word, and canvas artwork produced by over 30 local and national artists – will offer a preview of their premiere Saturday at Billings Open Studio. On display with this installation will be work comprising 30 individual canvases by artist Vincent Severo as well as an abstract triptych created by Kira Fercho. Also at Billings Open Studio, the Rogue Art Gallery will feature works by Cody Meyer, Jenna Christensen, Hollie Paris, Aaron Nathan, and Noah Bourn. In addition, photographers Kristin Carroll, Tony Anderson, Bryce Turcotte, and Ted Kim will show new works as part of their collaborative pop up exhibit, “Music and Motion.”

• Gallery Interiors will feature the figurative drawings of Joseph Booth. Booth was trained as a comic book artist only to find out what he loved about the medium was the figures and not the confined spaces of the panels on a page.

• Susan Germer at Susang will feature silver jewelry, photography, watercolor notecards, bead embroidery and pastels.

• Catherine Louisa Gallery will hold the grand opening of its new space with catering from Bin 119.

• Tompkins Fine Art presents two new artists: Connie Herberg and Mia DeLode. Connie Herberg’s home and studio are in Shepherd. She has a bachelor’s degree in fine art with an emphasis in drawing and sculpture from MSU Billings. Mia DeLode is a fourth-generation rancher from central Montana.

* Stop by the Stephen Haraden Studio to see a selection of his painting collages. Also on view will be “What I Did This Summer,” works done in silk or felt as well as my examples from teaching at the Summer Arts Academy kids camp.

* CTA Architects Engineers will present the CTA Employee Art Show Mixed media work, both 2D and 3D.

* Toucan Gallery will feature the ceramic works of Great Falls artist Don Hanson. Hanson specializes in functional stoneware, dinnerware sets and fine porcelain. A variety of his work will be on display, and Hanson will be in attendance to discuss his work and answer questions.

* The crew at Good Earth Market will be repurposing unwanted items into new works of art.

* In February, Clark Marten was the second person to own an IQ250 back that joins to a Phase One medium format camera. The result was images that are almost 3 times as sharp as a 35mm camera. Since February, he has used the new camera to photograph the aging tools and equipment of his family’s farm. The black and white series will be the centerpiece of his ArtWalk exhibit.

* The first entries in the Salute to Montana Economy will be on display at the Food Bank. The public is invited to come in and see them and also cast their ballots. A champagne reception will be held Friday evening with the announcement of the winner.

The featured artist at the event will be Leland W. Stewart.

Other participating galleries include Chinatown Gallery, Guido’s Pizzeria, Kennedy’s Stained Glass and Trulove Studio.

Last Updated on Thursday, 31 July 2014 09:37

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Elderly Butte man loses $2,400 in phone scam


By JIM LARSON - The Billings Outpost

A phone caller stole more than $2,400 from an elderly Butte man last week.

The man received a call from a person pretending to represent the Internal Revenue Service.

The caller told the man that he had been audited and that he owed the IRS roughly $2,700, Undersheriff George Skuletich told reporters at a Friday media briefing.

The caller told the victim that the audit had gone back to 2006, Skuletich said.

The man hung up on the caller. A second call then came.

The voice pretending to be from the IRS then told the man that if he didn’t pay, the man’s wife would be arrested, Skuletich said.

The man went to EDTECH Federal Credit Union where he withdrew more than $2,400.

After withdrawing the funds, the victim went to Albertson’s. 

There he was instructed by the caller to purchase three “Reloadit” gift cards. The cards were loaded while the man was on the phone with the scam artist, the undersheriff said.

The man was then instructed to give his PIN to the caller. The victim complied.

Once the PIN was revealed to the caller, the funds became untraceable, the undersheriff said.

The victim’s ordeal was not over at that point.

The caller told him that the transaction had not gone through. He instructed the elderly man to try again.

The man returned to EDTECH Federal Credit Union. There he attempted to withdraw the sum again.

At that point, the credit union called the police.

The responding officers told the man that he had been defrauded.

The police contacted Reloadit. The company confirmed that once the PIN is given to someone else, the transaction becomes untraceable.

Realoadit is a service that allows customers to add funds to a prepaid debit card.

The phone scam was attempted at least three times during the week, the undersheriff said.

The defrauded victim was 83 years old.

Last Updated on Friday, 25 July 2014 11:48

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Red Cross urgently calls for blood, platelet donors


The American Red Cross is facing a looming blood shortage, leading to an urgent need for donors of all blood types to roll up a sleeve and give.

Donations through the Red Cross are down approximately 8 percent over the last 11 weeks, resulting in about 80,000 fewer donations than expected. The number of donors continues to decline, and the shortfall is significant enough that the Red Cross could experience an emergency in the coming weeks.

In addition, the Independence Day holiday falling on Friday reduced the number of blood drives scheduled in early July. Many sponsors did not host drives because people took vacations either over the long weekend or for the entire week. In an average summer week, about 4,400 Red Cross blood drives are scheduled, compared to Independence Day week when only 3,450 drives occurred.

“Hospital patients continue to need lifesaving blood this summer, and they’re relying on the generosity of volunteer donors to give them hope in the days and weeks ahead,” said Julia Wulf, chief executive officer for the Red Cross Lewis and Clark and Arizona Blood Services Region. “Please, consider giving the gift of life. Each day donations come up short, less blood is available for patients in need – and you never know when it could be your loved one needing blood.”

Eligible donors with types O negative, B negative and A negative blood are especially needed at this time. Type O negative is the universal blood type and can be transfused to anyone who needs blood. Types A negative and B negative can be transfused to Rh positive or negative patients.

There is also an urgent need for platelet donations. Platelets – a key clotting component of blood often needed by cancer patients, burn victims and bone marrow recipients – must be transfused within five days of donation, so it’s important to have a steady supply of platelets on hand.

The summer can be among the most challenging times of the year for blood and platelet donations as regular donors delay giving while they take vacations and participate in summer activities.

Upcoming Blood Donation Opportunities include two in Lewistown: from noon to 6 p.m. Aug. 4 in Eagles Hall, 124 W. Main St., and from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Aug. 5 at Central Montana Medical Center, 408 Wendell Ave.

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 11:46

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Hack attack: Half of U.S. adults victim of hacks


Janice from Havre contacted our office with this question:

Q: I am one of the 1.3 million people whose information was compromised as a result of the recent hacking of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services server. Aside from signing up for the free credit monitoring and insurance that the state is offering to the victims of the data breach, what other things can I do to protect myself in the future?

A: Unfortunately falling victim to online hackers is becoming increasingly inevitable. About 432 million online accounts belonging to 110 million Americans — roughly half of all adults — were hacked in cyber attacks during the past year, according to new findings by the Ponemon Institute, a data-collection research firm.

The risks are so widespread that two-thirds of 3,110 respondents to a Consumer Reports survey said they do nothing to protect themselves — the apathetic result of what experts call data-breach fatigue from the seemingly nonstop parade of high-profile hacking of customer records at Target, Neiman Marcus, Adobe and others.

Bad move. “The most effective defense against an international onslaught of shadowy hackers is a well-informed and vigilant individual,” notes Consumer Reports.

5 things you should do

1. Don’t share anything you don’t have to. That includes your Social Security number at the doctor’s office or on medical forms (if needed, your insurer can provide it); where you live, work, shop or vacation on social media; or any personal or financial information in phone calls or emails you do not initiate.

2. Monitor your financial life. Don’t rely solely on monthly statements from your bank or credit card companies; check account activity online or by phone at least weekly for quick indicators of fraud. Also, do what many Americans don’t: Access your free credit reports every four months at

3. Protect your technology. In addition to using strong and different passwords on different accounts and on all electronic devices, change them frequently (take note, Smartphone users). Take an extra step, too, by checking for updates on security software, just in case not all are automatic.

4. Be a smart shopper. Use a credit card over a debit card when shopping online, traveling, at the gas station and most everywhere else. Never shop (or do any financial transaction, including checking banking or credit card accounts) on public Wi-Fi networks. And when online shopping (ideally from a secure home account), always try to type website addresses yourself; relying on links in emails, advertisements or online searches can take you to a scammer-run site or download malware to your computer. When using your Smartphone to shop, use retailers’ dedicated apps, rather than your phone’s browser.

5. Be skeptical. Those “Dear Customer” emails from retailers with which you do business? They’re likely bogus (they have your name, but do they have your email?), so don’t click on their links. And even with a personalized email, before clicking, hover your computer mouse over the link and you should see a full website address. If it’s not what appears in an email-offered link, assume you’re being directed to a scammer-run website or about to download malware. Don’t trust emails, text messages or phone calls that ask you to confirm recent transactions (legitimate retail sites will send an order confirmation, usually with instructions on how to track the delivery of your purchase, but they will not ask for confirmation). Also beware of “warnings” from your bank asking you to confirm your account; look up the phone number yourself if you’re worried.

The best defense against hackers? You!

If you’ve been scammed, notify local law enforcement and the Montana Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection at 800-481-6896 or via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . You may also contact the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Center at 877-908-3360.

Go to the AARP Fraud Watch Network at to find out more about prevention of scams and fraud or to sign up for “Watchdog Alerts.”

Do you have a question for AARP Montana? Send your question to “Ask AARP Montana” at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 30 W. 14th St., Helena, MT 59601 or call our toll-free hotline at 866-295-7278. As we receive questions, we will consult with both internal and external experts to provide timely and valuable advice.


Last Updated on Friday, 25 July 2014 11:45

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Danger in medicine cabinets


A potentially deadly danger lurks in the medicine cabinets of local seniors this summer. Did you know that heat, when combined with certain medications, can seriously harm seniors?

SYNERGY HomeCare, a non-medical in-home care franchise, recommends that families pay special attention to seniors who are taking any medications this summer.

Considering that some 80 percent to 86 percent of seniors suffer from a chronic condition or disease that requires medication, the summer heat can pose significant challenges.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• Seniors are more prone to heat stroke and heat-related stress because their bodies can’t adjust to sudden changes in temperature.

• Seniors who take certain prescription medications are more susceptible to heat-related injuries and illnesses.

“During the hot summer months, families really need to pay special attention to their elderly loved ones who are taking medications and may not understand the health risks,” says Rick Basch, president of SYNERGY HomeCare. “We strongly urge families to consult with their doctor or pharmacist regarding the potential impact of heat on any medications.   If family members aren’t available, our Caregivers can be an excellent resource for monitoring any potentially adverse reactions to heat that a senior may experience.”

Prescription for trouble

• Antidepressants and antihistamines act on an area of the brain that controls the skin’s ability to make sweat. Sweating is the body’s natural cooling system. People who can’t sweat are at risk for overheating.

• Beta blockers reduce the ability of the heart and lungs to adapt to stresses, including hot weather. This also increases a person’s risk of heat stroke and other heat related illnesses.

• Amphetamines can raise body temperature.

• Diuretics act on kidneys and encourage fluid loss. This can quickly lead to dehydration in hot weather.

• Sedatives can reduce a person’s awareness of physical discomfort which means symptoms of heat stress may be ignored.

• Ephedrine/Pseudoephedrine found in over-the-counter decongestants decrease blood flow to the skin and impact the body’s ability to cool down.

“We want to do everything we can to ensure that our seniors don’t make the headlines this summer due to heat-related conditions,” says Basch. “Our Caregivers can be a lifesaver (literally), when it comes to keeping seniors well hydrated, cool and comfortable. They’re an extra set of eyes and when it really counts.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 11:32

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2 facilities awarded Bronze


Billings Health & Rehabilitation Community and Westpark Village, A Senior Living Community have been recognized as 2014 recipients of the Bronze -Commitment to Quality National Quality Award for their outstanding performance in the health care profession.

The award, presented by the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, highlights facilities across the nation that have demonstrated their intention to pursue a rigorous quality improvement system.

“I applaud Billings Health & Rehabilitation Community and Westpark Village for their commitment to delivering quality care,” said Mark Parkinson, president and chief executive officer of AHCA/NCAL. “This award represents the dedication that each Bronze recipient has given to improve quality in the long term and post-acute care profession.”

Implemented by AHCA/NCAL in 1996, the National Quality Award Program is centered on the core values and criteria of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.

The program assists providers of long term and post-acute care services in achieving their performance excellence goals.

Billings Health & Rehabilitation Community and Westpark Village were two of only seven Montana facilities to receive the Bronze level award.

The Goodman Group managed communities, The Village Health Care Center and The Village Senior Residence in Missoula, Mont., were also awarded the bronze-level award. The recipient centers will be honored during the AHCA/NCAL’s 65th annual Convention and Exposition, Oct. 5-8, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 11:29

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Jordan country offers prairie magnificence

 Photo by Rick and Susie Graetz The river breaks and badlands north of Jordan.
By RICK AND SUSIE GRAETZ - University of Montana - Department of Geography

Late 1800s photographer L. A. Huffman called it “The Big Open,” National Geographic termed it “Jordan Country” and others dubbed the sparsely populated landscape south of Fort Peck Lake “The Big Dry.” The heart of this scenic territory is the small town of Jordan.

Rising from the banks of Big Dry Creek and straddling Montana Highway 200, Jordan was founded in about 1896 by Arthur Jordan. He asked that the town take the name of a friend from Miles City who also was named Jordan. The first residence was Arthur’s tent. Later, he established a post office and store for this fledgling cow town.

The town and surrounding expanse of rangeland still are very much cowboy country, and the place retains an Old West flavor. False front buildings on Main Street – some more than 80 years old – haven’t changed much since the community’s early days.

This seat of Garfield County offers entry into some of the West’s most remote and beautiful mix of deep river canyons, badlands and prairie wilderness. The most rugged terrain is part of Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge. Out here, antelope, elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, sage grouse and numerous waterfowl make these lands their home.

Many roads and trails deliver you into and through this wild country. Before striking out, inquire at the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge in Jordan. They can advise you on conditions and the best routes to follow. It’s very important to get good information to make the most of your time. This is big territory you’ll be wandering into, and a place that will amaze you. It truly is an uncommon landscape and one of the most fantastic wilderness regions of America.

Hell Creek State Park, located on Fort Peck Lake 26 miles north of Jordan, is a popular recreation area. On the way you’ll go through the scenic Piney Buttes and over high rises that offer excellent views of some of the upper reaches of the Missouri Breaks and the CMR Refuge. Outside of Jordan, Devil’s Creek, Snow Creek and Crooked Creek also are worthwhile places to visit. And the Haxby Road, about six miles east of town, reaches a long way through the badlands into the Breaks and the western edge of an area called the Big Dry Arm of Fort Peck Lake. These routes reveal scenic wonders that are among the most magnificent prairie geography in the nation.

The stretch of Missouri River Country from the Fred Robinson Bridge to Fort Peck is a showcase of sandstone creatures and badlands that illustrate evidence of what passed here many millions of years ago. Sections of Garfield (Jordan) and McCone (Circle) counties were home to Tyrannosaurus Rex, Triceratops, Albertosaurus, Mosasaurus (a marine reptile) and other giant creatures. Because of erosion, some of the richest records of prehistoric life in the world have been and continue to be uncovered here. In 1902, one of the first intact T-Rex fossils ever found was discovered near Jordan in the Hell Creek badlands. The Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge is home to much of this dinosaur burial ground.

Some 65 million years ago, when not totally underwater (much of Montana east of the mountains was covered by a shallow inland sea), this area was part of a hot, humid sub-tropical coastline of marshes, rivers and river deltas bearing dense vegetation near the watercourses and grassy plains farther to the west. It was the time of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures – the climate and habitat were just right.

Exploring farther from Jordan, head east on Montana Highway 200 towards the town of Circle. Twenty-five miles out, you’ll enter a 10mile stretch of spectacular views with red-and-yellow-colored buttes, badlands and distant vistas. Thirty-six miles from town you’ll encounter Highway 24 pointing north. It parallels the Dry Arm section and eastern edge of Fort Peck Lake. If you’d like to camp, put a boat in the water or just see the lake, take advantage of the recreation areas along the its length. There are several and they are well-marked.

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 July 2014 11:22

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Another promising writer sets her novel in Billings


“The Pinioned Birds,” by Janet Trask Cox. Self-published. Paperback, 302 pages. $12.99

By STEPHEN DOW - The Billings Outpost

Janet Trask Cox’s self-published debut novel “The Pinioned Birds” is a beautiful depiction of life in Montana during the early 20th century. However, a few technical issues keep it from soaring to lofty heights - just like the titular birds.

Even though “The Pinioned Birds” is fiction, it is based on the life of Cox’s parents. The story takes place from 1929-1940 and tells the story of the Matthews family, who own a sheep ranch near Ballantine. Oldest son Will Matthews returns to his childhood home with his new fiancée in the hopes that he will return to work with the Matthews Sheep Co. after serving in World War I.

But when he returns, he finds that his family’s attitude toward him has changed dramatically. He also discovers that his father and younger brother Dixon are taking part in some potentially illegal activities in order to expand the boundaries of the ranch.

There was a lot to like about “The Pinioned Birds,” but perhaps its strongest asset was the engaging setting. As a longtime Billings resident, I was intrigued to learn what Billings and Ballantine were like in the early 20th century. Billings landmarks such as the Northern Hotel and the Babcock Theater were featured prominently and lent a sense of authenticity to the story.

As a history buff, I also appreciated how Cox wove significant historical events such as the two world wars, Prohibition, and the Great Depression into the story. Seeing how these events affected the everyday life of the Matthews family and their ranch added another interesting layer to the rich and surprisingly complex story.

Another aspect of the story that worked well was Will’s complex relationship with his father and brother. This part of the story could have easily fallen into melodrama, but the interactions felt realistic and believable.

This was due in no small part to the engaging characters that Cox created. Will was a particularly engaging protagonist as he attempted to balance his views of right and wrong with his family’s expectations.

Other characters are similarly three-dimensional. For example, Will’s ambitious brother Dixon could have easily become a stereotypical greedy villain, but Cox never lost sight of his humanity. Similarly, Will’s father R.T. was both a hero and villain during certain parts of the story and ultimately emerged as a tragic figure that the audience could sympathize with.

Another strong aspect of Cox’s tale was the relationship between the Matthews family and the Native Americans who lived on the nearby Crow reservation. What started out as a friendship between the two groups eventually turned into a predatory relationship where the Matthews clan did whatever it took to obtain the Native Americans’ land. This subplot provided a poignant reminder of what can happen when we let greed overcome the better aspects of our human nature.

Overall, “The Pinioned Birds” was an engaging novel, but occasional technical issues kept pulling me out of the story. You wouldn’t expect these issues to pop up in a story written by an author who has a master of fine arts degree in creative writing, but they appeared nonetheless.

For example, Cox seemed to be especially fond of convoluted sentences. Here is the worst offender – a sentence that takes up more than 14 lines on page 46 of the book:

“So, when Clara Matthews told R.T. when he came down the staircase smelling of shaving soap in anticipation of Mrs. Lochwood’s Sunday gossip from town, and then Dixon when he came through the swinging door from the kitchen for breakfast with his father and then Jeanette later when she came from the blue house with the proper placement of the salad fork and the dessert fork in relation to the dinner fork predominant on her mind and then the Lochwoods when they drove down after church in Billings (taking the perfunctory highway route rather than loping dumb struck cross-country) and lastly the Treets fresh from the wooden steps of the Ballantine Congregational Church who came out as a matter of habit after shaking dozens of callused hands, each knew what Clara Matthews knew, but what none had been told.”

There were also occasional grammatical errors throughout the book such as this one on page 150 where Cox completely omits a word: “Will did not to stop at the big house.”

It’s a shame that these errors exist because “The Pinioned Birds” was a very good book that could have been a great book with a little tweaking. As it is, the novel provides a likably nostalgic look at the Montana of the past while dealing with issues of greed, racism and family relationships that are just as relevant now as they were in 1929.

I hope that Trask allows us back into the lives of the Matthews family in the near future – though next time, she might want to take an editor along.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 10:48

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‘The Home Place’ has great writing, flaws


By STEPHEN DOW - The Billings Outpost

Billings lawyer Carrie La Seur’s debut novel “The Home Place,” coming out this month, is an engaging and thoughtful novel that dares readers to ask: “What is home? And why is it so important?”

The novel tells the story of Alma Terrebonne, a Montana native who is a lawyer in Seattle. When she finds out that her sister Vicky has died, Alma must confront her own past failures as she returns home and tries to find out the truth about her sibling’s death.

La Seur’s story tries to be many things at once, and it succeeds at some more than others. In just over 300 pages, it contains elements of a murder mystery, family drama and romance. It also attempts to address deeper political issues affecting Montana citizens today.

The mystery driving this story is a compelling one: Was Alma’s sister Vicky murdered or did she simply die from overexposure to Billings’ awful winter weather? And, if it’s the former, then who committed the crime? The mystery keeps the audience guessing until the shocking ending.

The quieter family moments are also quite involving due to the well-developed characters that La Seur fills her pages with. Alma is a particularly relatable character as she tries to rectify her past mistakes and struggles to make the right decisions for her orphaned niece Brittany.

The supporting characters are equally memorable. My personal favorites include Alma’s tender and loving grandmother Maddie, Detective Curtis (the Crow man investigating Vicky’s death), and Alma’s Aunt Helen.

La Seur surrounds these characters with some well developed settings. It’s clear that she knows the town of Billings well as she references many local landmarks (including Montana State University Billings and Billings Clinic) throughout the story. However, as La Seur mentions on her website, she’s not going to be writing tourism brochures for the city anytime soon: Her portrayal of Billings focuses on the city’s dark side while ignoring many of its more positive aspects.

Perhaps that’s because the author’s heart is drawn towards Montana’s rural areas. It is obvious that La Seur has a love for this unchanged land and the people who still live on it as if they were from an earlier era. This affection makes the sections of the book set at Alma’s “Home Place” particularly engaging and memorable.

The Oxford-educated La Seur knows how to write some beautiful sentences as well. Take for example, this memorable opening paragraph:

“The cold on a January night in Billings, Montana, is personal and spiritual. It knows your weaknesses. It communicates with your fears. If you have a god, this cold pulls a veil between you and your deity … . It sounds like wolves and reverberates like drums in all the hollow places where you wonder who you are and what you would do in extremis. In this cold, you understand at last that you are not brave at all.”

Perhaps my favorite line comes early on when Alma is talking to Detective Curtis:

“Detective Cutis’s voice is soft, contrite, and marked with the softshoe rhythms of a native Crow speaker. Ka-hay. Sho’o Daa Chi, Alma thinks, the greeting all she remembers of the language that floats unseen through the city like water in the irrigation ditches, dust underfoot, ever present, barely acknowledged.”

Though “The Home Place” works as a whole, there are still some problematic issues that make it a bit less enjoyable.

While the first and last few chapters are engaging and intriguing, the book does lag quite a bit in the middle – especially as La Seur takes a break from both the mystery and the family drama to focus on a romance between Alma and her high school crush Chance Murphy. I am not normally opposed to romances, but this one is so predictable and takes up such a large chunk of the book that it distracts from some of the more thoughtful and creative ideas that La Seur introduces.

La Seur’s political commentary is similarly unsuccessful. Her attempt to address the impact of industrialization on rural lands is too broad. The main coal company employee in the book is a forgettable one-dimensional villain who’s willing to do whatever it takes to get land rights. In reality, this issue is much deeper and complex than the simple conclusion that La Seur reaches: Coal companies are evil and home owners are good.

While the treatment of coal companies in this book is heavy-handed, the other political issue that La Seur addresses is dealt with so briefly that most readers will completely miss it. Through the character of Detective Curtis, La Seur attempts to address the bigotry shown toward Native Americans in Montana. It’s a subject worth addressing, but La Seur only brings it up in two short and fairly forgettable conversations. In fact, I didn’t even realize that La Seur was trying to address this issue until I looked at her website a few days after finishing the book.

Though “The Home Place” has some problems, it is certainly worth reading. At the very least, it serves as a likable introduction to a talented new writer. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait another decade for her next book.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 10:45

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Chinese pollution may threaten American food



Heavy metal pollution makes no distinction between how crops are grown. Supposedly clean agricultural practices like organic will offer no protection, if the likes of cadmium, arsenic, lead, nickel and mercury are in the soil or water.

Human practices like mining and manufacturing are by far the largest source of potential contamination. Such activities release heavy metals into the air and water, from where they find their ways into the soil and plants, from where they are extremely difficult to remove.

Last April the Chinese government acknowledged that a staggering one-fifth of its arable land is seriously polluted with heavy metals, thanks to decades of aggressive industrial development. China’s Environmental Protection Ministry, looking at samples taken between 2006 and 2013, described the situation as “not optimistic.”

The revelation came after months of speculation about the report, which at one point was not going to be released as the results were considered to be a “state secret.”

Heavy metals can accumulate in the body, causing chronic problems in the skin, intestine, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and brain. Some can occur naturally in soil, though rarely at toxic levels (although some plants, like rice, are really good at accumulating some metals, like arsenic).

The most commonly found heavy metals were cadmium, nickel and arsenic. Cadmium, one of the most toxic of heavy metals, moves through soil layers with ease, and is taken up by a variety of plants, including leafy vegetables, root crops, cereals and grains. Last year it was discovered that nearly half of the rice for sale in the southern China city of Guangzhou was tainted with cadmium.

Nickel and arsenic, the other two pollutants found in greatest amounts, aren’t so great either.

In the U.S., arsenic in apple juice has been on the radar since September of 2011, when Dr. Mehmet Oz reported high arsenic levels in multiple samples of apple juice that were independently tested for his television show. More than half of the apple juice consumed in the U.S. comes from China.

Oz was taken to the woodshed by a number of experts and authorities, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which disputed the results with its own data. ABC News’ senior health medical editor Dr. Richard Besser called Oz’s claims “extremely irresponsible,” and compared it to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

A few weeks later FDA admitted that it had withheld many test results which did, in fact, support Oz’s claim. Besser apologized to Oz on national television, and soon after the FDA collected about 90 retail samples of apple juice for a new round of analysis. According to FDA documents now available, the levels reported by Oz are in fact consistent with those detected by the agency in samples from China and Turkey.

Last year the FDA set a limit, also known as an “action level,” on arsenic in juice, at 10 parts per billion, the same level that’s enforced in drinking water. Currently, FDA has import alerts set for four companies that deal in apple concentrates, two each in China and Turkey. The products of these companies are regularly tested for arsenic because of previous violations of this action level, but they continue to be imported.

While China isn’t the only polluted place from which we import food, with a combination of aggressive industrial development and legendarily lax enforcement, it’s become a poster child for scary food imports. But any region with rapid industrial development and suspect environmental regulations could be a candidate for producing food contaminated with heavy metals (and other toxins, for that matter).

While we don’t import a huge amount of food from China overall, we do consume large amounts of certain things in addition to apple juice, like garlic and farmed seafood - including 80 percent of the tilapia we eat. Much of China’s surface water, including water where aquaculture occurs, is polluted, not only with industrial toxins but also agricultural fertilizers, which fuels the growth of algae. Algae can accumulate heavy metals, as will the fish that eat it.

“Foods offered for import into the U.S. are required to meet the same U.S. food safety standards as domestic products,” explained FDA Press Officer Lauren Sucher, via email. “If the FDA encounters information that indicates that a particular product could pose a public health concern, the FDA can target that product for increased testing.”

When asked if the revelation that 20 percent of China’s farmland is polluted with heavy metals will inspire increased testing on Chinese imports, Sucher replied, “The FDA doesn’t announce its actions in advance. If our surveillance sampling indicated a problem with a particular commodity, the agency would take steps to protect the public.”

Wary consumers who aren’t interested in waiting for FDA to possibly ramp up its testing of Chinese food imports can take their own measures to minimize the possibility of contamination. Local, as in American-grown produce, will trump labels such as “organic,” if the food in question was grown in a potentially polluted place.

In fact, if the food is grown in a polluted place, organic produce could contain more heavy metals than conventionally grown food. Organic agriculture practices include the use of manure, which could add heavy metals to the soil if the cattle were eating contaminated feed, such as hay grown in a contaminated field, according to Dr. Michael Schmitt, a soil scientist at the University of Minnesota.

“Once you put metals in a field,” he told me by phone, “they don’t go away.”

The notion that organic food from a polluted place like China could carry more heavy metals than nonorganic food from the U.S. puts a new spin on the idea of eating locally.

In this case, eating locally could mean consuming food grown anywhere in this vast continent. But in a way, the reasons are similar to why many people prefer buying from the local farm stand: You have more information about how something is grown. But using this information requires knowing something about where you live. Such as, is there any heavy metal contamination around here?

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 July 2014 10:31

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Montana teens text and drive



HELENA – Teens in Montana and throughout the nation were quizzed about their behavior and lifestyle choices for the latest Youth Risk Behavior survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey showed teen smoking has dropped below the target level of 16 percent. But that victory is tempered by the number of young people nationally, 41 percent, who admit to texting or e-mailing while driving. In Montana, that rate is about 56 percent.

Stephanie Zaza, director of the division of adolescent and school health at the CDC, urged parents to step in to stop any behavior that takes a teen’s attention away from the road.

“Parents play an active role in keeping their teen drivers safe,” said Zaza, “by close monitoring, frequent discussions, parent-teen driving agreements and acting as a role model of good driving habits.”

Tom Frieden, CDC Director, said the smoking reduction numbers are a fragile victory, because of the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, smoking pens and electronic hookahs, as well as a lack of regulations for those products.

“We’re particularly concerned with e-cigarettes re-glamorizing smoking traditional cigarettes,” said Frieden, “maybe making it more complicated to enforce smoke-free laws that protect all nonsmokers.”

The study also found that teens are drinking fewer sodas and less alcohol. They’re also getting into fewer fights, but condom use has also become less common.

, and most teens are still not eating a balanced diet. While most young people are spending fewer hours watching television, they’ve replaced it with time spent before a computer beyond school reasons.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 July 2014 10:31

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PA alumna tells students how it is


Rocky Mountain College

Stephanie (Ridgway) Hudson, who became a physician assistant in 2012 in the Rocky Mountain College Master of Physician Assistant Studies program, works in a general surgery practice as the first-ever PA among seven surgeons. Her coworkers say uniformly, “Why didn’t we do this before [have a PA]? It’s so much easier!” she said.

In June, she spoke to the class of 2015 before they begin their year of clinical rotations for their PA certification. “There are not enough primary care providers,” she said about the first years of her career. “More and more patients are coming in with the ACA [Affordable Care Act] – people who’d put off surgeries.”

She is in the operating room three days a week, usually for thoracic surgeries. “Wednesday is Whipple day,” she said, for the extensive surgeries that deal with cancers at the head of the pancreas. “What we can take apart and put together to create a functioning digestive system is just amazing.” Hudson is the first assistant and does teasing apart of blood vessels, cauterization and tying.

Being on call is the greatest opportunity, she said. “The first line is the PA. We decide ‘When does the doc need to be involved? Does the patient need to go to the OR now? What will they need, a central line?’”

“You guys are so much more prepared than the other guys out there,” she reiterated to the Rocky Mountain College students.

RMC President Bob Wilmouth taught Hudson when he directed the RMC MPAS program. He told the first-years, who head to rotations in August, “When you guys go out and knock it out, they see you guys and want a Rocky grad. It’s a pay-it-forward model, and it has worked here.”

Hudson and her husband, Jeff (’10 MPAS), found dual PA careers in Vancouver, Wash. He joined a private practice in orthopedic surgery and trauma after a one-year Chicago residency in which he worked 80 to 100 hours a week. A surgeon in his current practice had endured the same residency, so they hired him for a job he might not have otherwise qualified for.

Back in the RMC classroom, she did not hesitate to rapid-fire quiz current grad students. “What are the indications for a cholesystectomy [gall bladder removal]? What are the most common complications [of the surgery]? So what would you do in that case?” she asked.

Her questions all came from her experiences. Students’ faces brightened as they saw the parallel thought processes of their revered instructors and of an alumna. “Offer to take call on all your rotations,” she said, because RMC students learn as much as anyone can.

Hudson’s advice for clinical year? Without any notes, she rattled off “Always be early and always dress professionally, even before surgery. Prepare before exams. Always wear the white coat. Be willing to document fully. Enjoy the specialty. Find an answer before anyone asks you again. And don’t hesitate to share questions – they’re all waiting for you to ask.”

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 July 2014 10:34

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RiverStone accredited


RiverStone Health, Yellowstone County’s public health department, received accreditation notification from the Public Health Accreditation Board last month.

RiverStone Health is the first public health department in Eastern Montana to be nationally accredited and one of fewer than 50 health departments nationwide to earn PHAB accreditation. 

To receive accreditation, a news release said, a health department must undergo a rigorous, multi-faceted, peer-reviewed assessment process to ensure that it meets or exceeds a set of quality standards and measures.

There are more than 3,000 public health departments in the United States, and hundreds are seeking national accreditation. RiverStone Health and the Missoula City-County Health Department are the only two local health departments accredited in Montana, although several other local health departments in the state are working toward accreditation. 

The PHAB voluntary accreditation program works to improve and protect the health of the public by advancing the performance of the nation’s Tribal, state, local and territorial public health departments, the news release said. PHAB, which launched in 2011 after more than a decade of development, is jointly funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 July 2014 10:31

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‘Dire Wolf’ doesn’t work


“Dire Wolf,” by Eric Jubb. Self-published. Paperback, 493 pages.

By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

You really can’t judge a book by its cover. “Dire Wolf,” a new Montana-based novel by Eric Jubb, has a handsome cover with a wolf looking balefully at the reader. The back cover is a lovely shot of Flathead Lake.

It’s what’s in between those covers that causes problems. It’s a promising enough story about an ancient breed of canines that come back to haunt modern Montana and about a wounded veteran who is trying to stop the attacks. But the writing just doesn’t get the job done.

Mr. Jubb  relies heavily on dialogue for exposition, which would be tough to pull off even if the dialogue were better. But the dialogue is nowhere near enough to carry the story.

Much of it reads about like this:

“Thanks, Gavin, for the ice cream.”

“You’re welcome, Feather. I’ll see you in the next day or two.”

This is not the sort of dialogue that leaves one hungering for more.

Mr. Jubb does have basic skills, and he seems to have a knack for original ideas. But he still has an apprenticeship to serve before turning out a novel that is worth your time.

Last Updated on Saturday, 19 July 2014 10:42

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Marketing expertise helps students, businesses


MSU Billings News Services

Business students in A.J. Otjen’s marketing communications courses at Montana State University Billings discover there’s more to creating a great marketing campaign than meets the eye.

“It’s more of a visual call to action,” senior marketing major Alissa Barth said. “All aspects of marketing are involved—from psychology to research, to analysis, communications and execution.”

Barth was one of 13 business students who were tasked over the past year with creating three 30-second commercial spots for the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch as part of a two-semester long project focused on applying classroom theory into real-world practice.

The commercials began airing this month on Bresnan and Charter Communications stations.

Students enrolled in Dr. Otjen’s Integrated Marketing and Communications fall semester course and, subsequently, her spring semester Applied Marketing and Communications Undergraduate Research course, work with community businesses and nonprofit organizations who need help with brand identity and marketing strategies.

The project is an ongoing effort by Otjen, associate professor of marketing in the College of Business, who has over the past decade worked with clients such as the Salvation Army, Billings Depot and the Beartooth Nature Center. She and her students have garnered 11 American Advertising Awards — six of which are gold awards.

For students, Otjen said, the opportunity is a taste of how the professional world will be different from the learning environment of their classroom.

“The strategy and client set the pace and project deadlines,” Otjen said. “The coursework is designed to be as close to real life as possible so that the students have a clear understanding of the dynamic and sometimes messy experiences.”

This year’s class worked with Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch to help advance public awareness of its programs . Students researched best practices for the industry and worked closely with YBGR to develop the message.

“Youth suicide and mental health is a serious issue, and YBGR has many community-based services to help address these issues,” Barth said. “The messages we helped develop were clear — the whole community needs to be a part of the solution to teen suicide and other mental health issues youth experience. YBGR is here to help youth and their families whether it is in their home, school or life.”

Otjen and YBGR set parameters for the students on how to stay consistent with the organization’s brand identity and ensure copyright law and university policies weren’t violated. Outside of this, students were given creative freedom to script and direct the commercials.

Participating businesses and nonprofits provide the funding for research, production and design expenses. Often times, nonprofits are awarded grants and sponsorships to help cover the cost.

The class collaborates with Spotlight Productions, a Billings-based video and marketing company. The production company has sponsored a large portion of their services since 2005 for participating nonprofits.

Anne Gauer, one of two principals of the production company, said before video production begins in the spring semester, students verify every statistic and test each one of their concepts in the fall semester to see what marketing strategy will be most effective.

“These students are very busy, hardworking people and their efficiency always impresses me,” Gauer said.

Although the production is a team effort, each student was assigned roles such as script writing, talent casting, location scouting, costume and set design, and budget and time management.

Next year, Otjen and her students will work with Billings Clinic and a marketing campaign aimed at fighting childhood obesity.

“Service-learning helps students understand social responsibilities, which is essential to becoming a successful business person,” Otjen said. “Students are gaining such a valuable educational experience.”

Students are also making a positive impact on the Billings community, Barth said.

“The results of our efforts matter. It’s not just about getting a good grade, it’s truly about making a difference,” she said.

Those interested in working with the marketing class must be willing to spend time with the students and provide management, operations, marketing and financial information to the team. For more information on how to be a participating business or organization, contact Otjen at 657-4378 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 26 June 2014 21:51

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