The Billings Outpost

Winter book roundup

By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

“Spirit of Steamboat” and “Wait for Signs,” both by Craig Johnson. Viking.

Shoppers for last-minute Christmas presents could do worse than to pick up one, or both, of  these two quick reads by the creator of Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire, now the title character in a TV drama.

“Steamboat” is no mystery at all but a quick retreat in time to 1988, when a young Sheriff Longmire recruits the help of former Sheriff Lucian Connally to fly a desperately injured accident victim to Denver. It’s Christmas Eve, the weather is horrible, and the only plane available is a World War II veteran.

There’s no real suspense here, since we meet all the characters, still alive years later, in the first chapter. But Mr. Johnson can spin a tale, and he will have you on the edge of your seat as the plane fights its was to Denver.

“Wait for Signs” is a collection of a dozen Longmire short stories, drawn from stories Mr. Johnson writes every Christmas Eve.  It’s a mixed bag, and an excellent accompaniment to “Steamboat” for Christmas.

“Duck, Duck, Goose,” by Hank Shaw. Ten Speed Press. Hardback, 229 pages. $24.99.

This may look like one of those recipe books designed for the coffee table instead of the kitchen, but don’t be fooled. Mr. Shaw, a food writer, has compiled a serious volume of recipes and techniques for cooking ducks and geese, both wild and domesticated.

That duck on the frontispiece is carved out of wood, but those inside are seriously edible. Sections are included on buying, storing and hanging birds, in whole or in part, with extra chapters on giblets, charcuterie, fat and eggs.  From basic smoked birds to barbecue, soup, casseroles and gumbo, it’s all here.

“Stone Cold,” by C.J. Box. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. 370 pages, hardbound. $26.95.

Year after year, C.J. Box cranks out successful and highly readable novels – 14 novels about fictional Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, plus four standalone novels.

So perhaps it’s to be expected that on occasion he might slip a notch or two. That seems to be what happened in “Stone Cold,” the latest Joe Pickett novel and a bit of a disappointment.

The opening is promising enough. Nate Romanowski, Joe Pickett’s shadowy but loyal friend, always has lurked around the edges, and sometimes beyond the edges of the law. In the opening pages of “Stone Cold,” he appears to have gone completely over the edge. As the novel opens, he is sneaking up on a log home on the banks of the Bighorn River near Fort Smith with mayhem on his mind.

Romanowski blows past security guards and a technician and shoots the cabin owner, Henry P. Scroggins III, through the heart. Scroggins, we learn, is a corrupt and criminal businessman, and we are assured that the world will be better off without him.

But has Romanowski gone from being an outlaw on the side of justice to a cold-blooded murderer? I have to be careful here not to give away the ending, but the answer never becomes quite as clear as one would like.

The result is strangely unsatisfying, with an occasional plot hole and a mystery not quite solved. Well, there’s always the next book.

“The Road Taken,” by James O. Southworth, edited by Linda Grosskopf. Call 545-9761 for copies. Paperback, 307 pages.

This should have appeared last Christmas, but we never quite managed to get that issue out. James Southworth is best known as a former state legislator, frontman for the bluegrass group Southbound, and a prolific writer, including a number of stories that have appeared in the Outpost.

Some of those stories are reprinted here, along with tales of his life and career. Mr. Southworth is a diligent researcher with a wry and self-deprecating sense of humor that holds him here in good stead. Ms. Grosskopf, an experienced writer and editor, restrains some of his grammatical enthusiasms, with good results.

A collectioi of photos from a rich life round out the book.

“Kevin Red Star: Crow Indian Artist,” by Daniel Gibson and Kitty Leaken. Gibbs Smith. Hardback, 188 pages. $50.

This really is a coffee-table book, a lavish and rich collection of some of the best-known works by Montana’s best-known Indian artist. Chapters are included on his childhood, stages of his career, and his approach to art, but the real charm is the many pages of color plates of his work.

If you are a fan of Mr. Red Star’s work, that’s all you need to know. If you aren’t, then it’s time you took a look.

“Death on the Greasy Grass,” by C.M. Wendelboe. Berkley Trade. Paperback, 384 pages.

Mr. Wendelboe attempts to tread the same ground that C.J. Box and Craig Johnson have walked before him. We get an FBI agent who witnesses a murder right at the reenactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

His search to find the killer takes twists and turns, with occasional flashbacks to the original battle. There are plenty of suspicious circumstances, a lovely woman and a corrupt businessman.

But Mr. Wendelboe has not yet acquired the craftsmanship of Mr. Box and Mr. Johnson. The humor often falls flat; the prose creaks along. Reading it reminded me of watching Brooks Robinson playing third base on TV back in the 1960s.

Nothing to it, I thought. Then I became a public address announcer watching 12-year-olds trying to make those same plays. Quickly, I figured out why everybody said Robinson was so great.

Here, Mr. Wendelboe’s book serves as a foil to show off just how good Box and Johnson are.

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 December 2014 10:36

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Christmas Stroll, Holiday Parade on Friday

This Friday, Nov. 28, downtown Billings hosts the 30th Holiday Parade and 24th annual Christmas Stroll.

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

This year’s theme is “Christmas Around the World.” The first of 100 floats leaves from the corner of North 26th Street and Third Avenue North at 7 p.m. During the parade, Christmas lights radiating outward from Skypoint at Second Avenue North and Broadway will be lighted.

Expect color, music, friends, food and drink, and kids and adults from one to 92.

And above all, expect to have fun. Most downtown businesses stay open, giving you a chance to find unique gifts as well as get a head start on Small Business Saturday.

Downtown Billings businesses offer a welcome relief to the boring sameness of the mass-produced merchandise in the box stores: Downtown you’ll find handmade chocolates, antiques, stained glass, clothing, one-of-a-kind jewelry, art of every genre, gourmet food baskets, hand crafted leather goods and more.

Numerous street venders offering food and handicrafts will be stationed along the parade route, and businesses will also have treats and drink specials, so be sure to carry a little cash.

As we all know, Santa shows up for every Christmas Parade in the world and he’ll be here in Billings as well. It’s part of his magic.

Santa would love to have you perch on his knee for a photo.

But beware! He might ask you if you’ve been bad or good.  

The National Weather Service predicts a pleasant day on Friday segueing into a nose-nipping 15 degrees with a possibility of snow by Saturday morning. But who knows? This is Montana where the weather changes rather abruptly. So join the scouts and come prepared.

One final reminder. It is illegal to park on the parade route one half hour before and through the duration of the parade. If you stay away from the area between Second and Third Avenues North, from North 26th to North 34th streets, you’ll be OK.

May you have a Happy Hanukkah; blessed Bodhi Day (This recalls the date when Buddha attained enlightenment.) Glad Yule, Wiccan; Happy Kwanzaa, African American; Shabe-Yalda, Iranian solstice celebration, originally Zoroastrian; and last but not least, Merry Christmas! See you at the parade.


 

Wrapping offered

The Downtown Billings Alliance office will host free gift wrapping, sell Wine Tree raffle tickets, and offer pictures with Santa before the Parade from 4-6 p.m. Pictures with Santa will be for the suggested donation of $5 and people may either use their own camera or have the photo taken and printed on site. For more information on raffle tickets for the prize of 100 bottles of wine, please contact the DBA at 294-5060.


 

Studio open for Stroll

Billings artist Susan Germer will show new creations during the Downtown Billings Christmas Stroll on Friday.

Her fine silver and fun, colorful, abstract-designed jewelry, watercolor note cards, pastels, bead embroidery and framed photography will be shown.

Germer’s (susang) studio located in the historic Carlin Hotel, 2501 Montana Ave., 2nd Floor, Suite 8, will be open from 5-9 p.m. for the event.

Call 671-7176 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

Her fine silver jewelry and note cards are also shown at Tompkin’s Fine Art on Montana Avenue in Billings. Also visit susangdesigns.com.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 12:38

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Indians, Pilgrims, tapioca, not in that order

Story and Photo - By ARI LEVAUX

You probably got the memo that Thanksgiving, as is currently celebrated, is a far cry from what probably transpired at the original feast. Rather than a cross-cultural love fest, the first Thanksgiving was more like a poker game where each player has one hand on his cards and the other hand on his pistol, under the table, aimed at another man’s lap.

The party did not include a quick game of tag football while the turkey cooked, because there wasn’t even a turkey. Or a pumpkin pie. Or women and children at the dining table.

One aspect of the Thanksgiving story that appears to be true is that the Wampanoag tribal members, who vastly outnumbered the Pilgrims, actually helped them survive the cold winter that followed the feast. The collective regret that followed for not snuffing out the colonists must have been as fierce as it was short-lived, as it died with the few Wampanoag that caught smallpox, or were slaughtered a few years later in King Philip’s War.

This year, Kmart workers have been instructed report to work at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving day, which gives you a hint at the modern day function of Thanksgiving: to usher in the holiday shopping season. So, yeah, we have every right to be cynical, not to mention wonder why anybody would want to eat a Tofurky.

But at the same time, who can’t get behind a holiday that, stripped to its bare essence, is about being grateful for what one has? In this sense, every day should be Thanksgiving, as far as I’m concerned. And there should always be pudding. Pie is optional.

I have nothing against pie, especially pumpkin pie. In a previous life I even ran a pumpkin pie business, which boomed around Thanksgiving. But during that time I realized that I’m too lazy to make crust, and it isn’t necessary. Most of us don’t eat pie for the crust, but rather, the filling, also known as pudding. And pudding is not only the best part of the pie, it’s the easy part. And since, as far as Thanksgiving tradition goes, we’re making up the damn thing as we go, there’s no shame in skipping the crust. Or in skipping ahead to eggnog either, for that matter.

In this spirit, here are some pudding recipes that you can be thankful for in these chilly Autumn days, whether or not you believe the Pilgrims and Indians sang Kumbaya around a turkey.

Tapioca, coconut, pumpkin pudding

Little known fact: a tablespoon or two of tapioca will improve any pudding or pie filling immeasurably. Tapioca operates on the textural level, adding a toothy elasticity to the finished product, and bestowing it with the body you’re looking for. My mother-in-law uses tapioca in apple pie, and since I started messing around with the tapioca trick myself, it hasn’t failed me. And for what it’s worth, tapioca has long been a food of indigenous peoples of Central and South America. So there’s an obtuse Thanksgiving Indian angle for ya.

This recipe also includes corn meal, which thickens the pudding, while adding more complexity to the flavor. It also adds a pinch of indigenous authenticity.

I use molasses here because I really like the dark, intense flavor, especially this time of year, and combined with these ingredients. I opt for the extra-intense blackstrap variety of molasses, which is less sweet, and has a bit of bitterness thanks to a higher concentration of minerals. But if you’ve got a sensitive palate, you should probably avoid blackstrap, and perhaps skip the molasses altogether in favor of sugar or brown sugar.

Final note: this dish is unquestionably better after a night in the fridge.

Ingredients

2 cups cooked squash (preferably kabocha), or 1 cup each of cooked

squash and sweet potato

2 T granulated tapioca (aka cracked tapioca)

2 T cornmeal

2 T molasses

1 can full fat coconut milk

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Combine ingredients in a food processor or blender. Whizz until smooth. Pour into a buttered baking pan. Bake at 300 until an inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight. It’s not an overly sweetened dish, but the inherent sweetness of the squash/sweet potato and coconut combine with the molasses for a truly amazing pudding experience. Or pie, if you’re crusty.

Indian pudding with apples

The next recipe comes from an old recipe booklet, Apple Talk, which was published by the Northern Pacific Railroad in the early 1900s, apparently in an attempt to boost its apple shipping business by giving people more ideas for how to eat apples. My copy of Apple Talk was found in an old homestead in Missoula, Montana, beneath a dusty stack of recipes.

Apples, like squash, are in season during Thanksgiving.

The recipe for Indian Pudding with Apples has an indigenous sound to it, but there’s nothing Indian about Indian pudding. Still, it’s old, and it’s authentic to the settlers, and it’s cool that this recipe was unearthed in a homestead.

When finished, the pudding will bear a black hue on top, as if you burnt it. Don’t worry, it’s just the molasses.

“Scald two quarts of sweet milk [also known as whole milk]. Stir in one cup of cornmeal until the mixture thickens. Remove from the fire. Add one and one-sixth cups of molasses, one teaspoonful of salt, one-half teaspoonful each of nutmeg and cinnamon and two cups of sweet apples, pared, cored and quartered. Pour into a deep pudding dish and bake for four hours. [A temperature recommendation here would be nice. I went with 275, and it was perfect.] When the pudding has baked for one and one-half hours, add without stirring one pint of cold milk. Serve with cream and sugar and syrup.”

I’ve played around with variations like doubling the apples or corn meal, which makes it sweeter and thicker, respectively. It’s a forgiving recipe. Maybe not as decadent as your average serving of tiramisu, but it’s better for you, and closer to what may have been served in the original feast, for whatever that’s worth. Like the squash pudding recipe above, this black pudding, as I call it, is exponentially better the next day, so plan ahead.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 12:29

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Yellowstone, Hellgate: 2 names in Montana

Photo by Rick and Susie Graetz The Yellowstone River flows through Hayden Valley in Yellowstone National Park.
 
RICK and SUSIE GRAETZ - University of Montana - Department of Geography

Call it 670 miles or perhaps more precisely 674 miles, but either way, the Yellowstone River remains the nation’s longest undammed waterway. It’s a great river that gathers some of the finest mountain and prairie topography on the planet as it passes peaks reaching 12,000 feet in elevation, the largest high-mountain lake on the continent, dense evergreen forests, buttes, colorful badlands, deep canyons and sweet-smelling sage and juniper covered hills. A good portion of this wondrous river flows in Wyoming, but Montana claims most of it and gives it a home.

When did the name Yellowstone first appear? Actually the answer is a bit fuzzy with several possibilities. Overall though it’s agreed that the earliest designation for this major tributary of the Missouri River originated with the Indian tribes who lived and hunted within its bounds. An early map produced sometime in the 1790s showed the name Crow or Rock River labeled on the stream. In 1797, another map showed “R. des Roches Jaunes” as its moniker. Translated from French into English, that meant “Yellow Stone.”

Our own research shows that this French name came about because the early French explorers noted a yellowish color to the silt-covered rocks along the banks of the lower Yellowstone River and hence the name. When the Corps of Discovery passed through the upper Missouri in 1805 and again in 1806, they already knew this French name for the river and used various forms of it. Clark’s journal entry of July 15, 1806, when he reached the “Big Bend” of today’s Yellowstone at Livingston, referred to the river as “Rochejhone.”

Another suggestion is that the French name was a literal translation of a Minnetaree Indian expression that possibly referred to the yellowish sandstone bluffs that are prominent along many parts of the river.

The Crow Nation called Yellowstone the Elk River because it was a migration route for the elk moving from summer range, high up in present-day Yellowstone National Park to their winter habitat along the river’s reaches out on the Montana prairie.

When President Grant designated Yellowstone National Park on March 1, 1872, the act referred to “a tract of land in the territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River.” It was only later that discussions between the secretary of the interior and the superintendent of the park finally lead to the name place being called Yellowstone National Park.

Let’s switch years and talk about Hellgate Canyon near Missoula. Today, many people passing through this Missoula gap take the name for granted. At one time, it was quite a different place. French-Canadian trappers and missionaries (take your choice depending on which legends you read) have it that the mountain Indians, especially the Flathead (that’s what Lewis and Clark called them, although they were actually the Salish), traveled through the canyon in pursuit of bison out on the prairies beyond the mountain front. The Blackfeet, who lived on the prairie side, were jealous of those trying to hunt on their lands and attacked them. Many times, the Blackfeet ventured into the mountains and ambushed the western tribes as they came through the canyon. The gruesome evidence of these raids was the “Gates of Hell.”

Hell Gate also was the original name for Missoula. In 1860, entrepreneurs Higgins and Warden established a trading post at the confluence of the Bitterroot and Clark Fork rivers. Later, the town site was moved closer to Hellgate Canyon at the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek and the Clark Fork River and renamed Missoula.

Today, cold Hellgate winds can traverse the canyon in winter. Brought about when deep, cold arctic highs flood the eastern prairies, the winds seep into the Clark Fork River canyon, where the constricting canyon walls force them to pick up speed before exploding into the unsuspecting and usually gentle Missoula Valley. Many a University of Montana student walking to classes will attest to their low wind-chill temperatures.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 November 2014 11:53

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New MSU center works to treat mental illness

MSU photo by Kelly Gorham MSU Professor Behrad Noudoost observes brain waves on monitors.
 
From MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – Montana State University has launched a new, multidisciplinary center that is designed to help improve diagnosis and treatment of mental illness throughout Montana.

The new MSU Center for Mental Health Research and Recovery was approved today by the Montana Board of Regents. It will draw on MSU’s research strength in neuroscience, electrical engineering, computer science, biochemistry, psychology and nursing, among other disciplines, to address pressing mental health challenges in the state.

“The goal of the center is to create a hub in Bozeman, on the MSU campus, that will take advantage of expertise we have at MSU,” said Frances Lefcort, the center’s interim director and head of the MSU department of cell biology and neuroscience.

The center is being established in collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Montana, or NAMI Montana. It will be funded by public and private grants, contracts and gifts.

Lefcort said the center’s work will focus on four areas: basic science, which will be focused on neural mechanisms underlying mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia; translational research, which will be focused on developing new neurotechnologies for diagnosis and treatment; clinical research, which will be focused on prevention, intervention and identifying populations at risk; and outreach, which includes soliciting information about mental health needs while also providing information about advances in diagnoses and treatment strategies.

Specifically, the center will do the following:

• Work to give health care providers in Montana access to cutting-edge, research-driven techniques for diagnosing and treating mental illness;

• Focus research efforts on the specific challenges presented with accessing treatment in isolated rural communities with limited treatment providers;

• Serve as an information hub for the understanding and treatment of psychiatric conditions that lead to suicidal behavior; and

• Create educational opportunities and jobs through the development of a regional “innovation cluster” based upon advances in neuroscience and psychiatric treatment.

In addition to collaborating with NAMI Montana, the center will draw from the expertise of more than 20 MSU departments or colleges, as well as other offices and entities, Lefcort said.

One of those entities is MSU Extension, which is positioned to help share the center’s findings with the public. MSU Extension has a presence in all 56 Montana counties.

The state of Montana desperately needs a research-based center that is focused on mental illness treatment systems, according to Matt Kuntz, executive director of NAMI Montana.

“We work with Montana families every day, and it’s clear that technical challenges in diagnosing and treating these conditions need more focus,” Kuntz said. “They need a multidisciplinary collaboration.”

He pointed to high suicide rates in the state as evidence of the need. Montana consistently ranks as one of the states with the highest rates of suicide and attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kuntz added that it’s important that research is targeted specifically to Montana, which is largely a rural state.

“The solutions for families dealing with mental illness that work in New York or Boston or Los Angeles may not even be possible in Montana,” he said. “NAMI Montana believes it is really important that neuroscientists and engineers and clinicians work together to come up with cutting-edge tools and techniques that can work here in Montana.”

Lefcort said that in addition to generating important research and outreach, the center will also provide valuable educational opportunities for MSU students.

“Students who are interested in going into some aspect of mental health will be able to do internships in the center and be involved in basic or clinical translational research,” Lefcort said. “We view this as a great learning vehicle.”

As the center grows, Lefcort said it will require additional faculty and staff who can provide expertise in cognitive neuroscience, clinical psychology, psychiatry, human neurophysiology and psychopharmacology.

In addition, there is a potential to collaborate with additional organizations across the state, including public awareness groups and clinical mental health care units.

Renee Reijo Pera, MSU’s vice president for research and economic development, said the university is pleased to use its research enterprise to address pressing mental health challenges in the state.

“Montana State has a history of research excellence, and we are confident that the university has the ability to use research to better understand and diagnose mental illness,” Reijo Pera said.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:40

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MSU Billings production aims at mental illness

MSU Billings students rehearse for a community performance of “Under the Blanket,” a Let’s Talk Billings production.
 
MSU Billings News Services

An original theater production created and performed by Montana State University Billings students premiered this week on the university’s campus.

Showcased by Let’s Talk Billings, “Under the Blanket” with a cast of five, explores suicide, depression and mental illness among youth and young adults as part of an innovative suicide-prevention campaign that pairs student actors with the world of performing arts.

Free and open to the public, two performances were held Nov. 18-19 in the Liberal Arts Building’s Black Box Theater. A discussion led by performers, directors and mental health professionals followed the play.

The production director Patrick Wilson said the performance drew from participants and their experiences. The cast included Casey St. Clair, a junior English and creative writing major; Sadie Turner, a pre-pharmacy major; Julie Lanmore, a junior health and human services major; Megan Blanco, a theater major; and Moriah Southard, a freshman communications organization major.

“The students wrote the script based on their own personal experiences of mental illness and suicide,” Wilson said, who is also an adjunct communications and theater instructor at MSU Billings. “It’s a powerful message.”

St. Clair said that after years of battling suicidal thoughts and attempts, she hopes to help others who struggle.

“There is no shame in fighting the battle,” St. Clair told a group of students during a rehearsal performance. “The shame is in not fighting.”

Turner said she felt a strong calling to reach out after her brother took his life.

“Suicide affects everyone around you,” Turner said. “It hurts. It’s real. This performance gives an opportunity to speak out and relate to others who have experienced this kind of loss.” 

For more information and resources, visit www.letstalkbillings.org or contact Sarah Keller, chair of the department of communication and theater, at (406) 896-5824.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:33

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Information available about medical savings

MSU Extension Service

BOZEMAN – An MSU Extension MontGuide provides information about the benefits of opening a Montana medical care savings account before Dec. 31.

The guide, “Montana Medical Care Savings Accounts,” offers advice on who might benefit.

Have you had any medical expenses during 2014 that are not covered by a health insurance policy or a flexible spending account (FSA)? If so, you can open a Montana Medical Care Savings Account (MSA) by Dec. 31 to cover those expenses. Up to $3,000 of your deposit in the account, per taxpayer, is deductible from your 2014 Montana adjusted gross income, thus reducing your taxes.

“This tax advantage does not apply to your federal income taxes and should not be confused with the Federal Health Savings Accounts (HSAs),” cautions Marsha Goetting, MSU Extension family economics specialist.

People should contact their financial institution, such as a bank, savings bank or credit union, to establish an MSA. A Montanan with taxable income over $17,100 could save about $207 in state income taxes by depositing the maximum $3,000 in a Montana MSA.

“It doesn’t matter if you have already paid your 2014 medical bills either by check, credit or debit card,” Goetting said. “You can add up those expenses and make a deposit by Dec. 31 of this year and reimburse yourself for those eligible medical expenses from your Montana MSA as late as Jan. 15, 2015.”

The key word is paid. You can reimburse yourself for paid eligible medical expenses as late as Jan. 15, 2015. But if you haven’t yet paid those bills because your health insurance company hasn’t sorted out what it will pay and what you still owe, you still can reimburse yourself for those 2014 expenses after Jan.15.

The amount you can use to reduce your Montana income is the total deposited, not the amount used for medical expenses during the tax year. For example, if you deposited $3,000 in an MSA but only used $100 for eligible medical expenses during 2014, you still get to reduce your income for Montana income tax purposes by $3,000. The remaining $2,900 is available for paying medical expenses in future years. 

A husband and wife who each establish an individual MSA can receive a $6,000 deduction if they file a joint Montana income tax return. They will save about $414 on their state income taxes. Joint accounts for an MSA are not allowed. Only individual accounts are eligible for the Montana MSA deduction, thus husbands and wives must open separate MSA accounts.

MSA amounts held in the name of a husband or wife can be used to pay the medical bills of either spouse or their dependent children, Goetting said.

“If a husband had $6,000 in medical expenses during 2014, $3,000 from his own MSA and $3,000 from his wife’s MSA could be used for his bills,” said Goetting.

Eligible expenses include medical and dental insurance premiums, long-term care insurance, dental care (including orthodontists), eyeglasses or contacts, or prescription drugs that are paid during the year. Not covered are medical-related bills that have been already covered by a supplemental, primary or self-insured plan. Basically, Montana accepts as eligible expenses any that are listed in the IRS 502 Publication, “Medical and Dental Expenses,” which is on the Web at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf.

An MSU Extension MontGuide will help you decide if you would benefit from a Montana medical care savings account. The publication (MontGuide 199817 HR) is free if picked up from your local MSU County Extension office. Or, download it free from the web at http://msuextension.org/publications/FamilyFinancialManagement/MT199817HR.pdf.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 November 2014 13:32

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Report alleges that BLM favors oil, gas leasing

By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Public News Service

HELENA – Ninety-seven percent for oil and gas, 3 percent for everything else.

An analysis from The Wilderness Society shows that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has made almost all its land within Montana available for oil and gas development. Nada Culver, director of the society’s BLM Action Center, said the stats prove that the oil and gas industry has an unfair advantage.

“If you want to manage for conservation, for recreation, for wildlife, all of those things are really difficult when we’re faced with such an unbalanced situation in current management,” she said.

BLM resource management plans in western states were examined for the report, which found that the agency has strict standards for deciding which lands should be managed for recreation or the environment, but the same standards are not applied to oil and gas leasing decisions.

Culver said the BLM should address imbalances, identify areas for conservation and recreation, and incorporate Master Leasing Plans – which the agency is beginning to do.

“We want to support a direction that the agency is going and can go to really embrace the way the public feels,” she said, “that they’re their lands, that we all have an opportunity to value them and use them.”

She cited another detail from the report: Of the 36 million acres of BLM land under oil and gas leases throughout the West, only about 12.5 million are in production. The report, “Open for Business,” is online at wilderness.org.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:36

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Give garbage new life on America Recycles Day

Keep America Beautiful

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “I Want To Be Recycled” is the theme of Keep America Beautiful’s 2014 America Recycles Day, which takes place annually on and around Nov. 15 throughout the country.

America Recycles Day, in its 17th year, educates people about the importance of recycling to our economy and environmental well-being and helps to motivate occasional recyclers to become everyday recyclers.

America Recycles Day celebrates the benefits of recycling and provides an educational platform that motivates people to take action to recycle more and recycle smarter, influencing recycling behaviors at work, at home and on the go.

“When material is recycled, you’re ‘giving your garbage another life’ as it becomes something new and valuable,” said Jennifer Jehn, president and chief executive officer of Keep America Beautiful.

“For example, a plastic bottle can be recycled into new containers, T-shirts and fleece jackets, park benches, plastic lumber, and more. America Recycles Day can inspire people to reduce, reuse and recycle – and realize that recyclable materials have the potential to become something bigger.”

“The United States has embraced recycling since the first America Recycles Day in 1997 and as a result, today, the vast majority of the population has curbside recycling programs. It is time to re-invigorate recycling by promoting more and better sustainable materials management to secure a healthier environment today and for future generations to come,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “There is much more to do and communities, businesses, and individuals each have a role to play in making recycling work for everyone. By increasing recycling, and reducing contamination in the recycling stream, we can provide the valuable resources essential to a growing manufacturing sector.”

Here are five actions people can take on and around America Recycles Day:

• Take the “I Recycle” pledge and tell us what you pledge to recycle more. Five people who take the pledge will win a park bench made from recycled content.

• Take a recycling “selfie” and post it to your social networks – you just might win a prize! All you have to do is take a photo of yourself recycling and post it with the words “#RecyclingSelfie” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr.

• Visit IWantToBeRecycled.org to find your nearest recycling center, and learn the facts about what materials can be recycled and what they can become in their new lives.

• How can you get involved? Find events near you or host an event of your own.

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:35

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Climate change blamed for cheatgrass growth

By DEB COURSON SMITH - Public News Service

BOZEMAN – Farmers and ranchers gathered in Bozeman last month to learn about how climate change is affecting their livelihood, and what they can do to prepare for risks and manage them.

Montana State University environmental sciences professor Fabian Menalled said one example that everyone has encountered is cheatgrass.

His informal surveys show that almost all ag producers agree it’s become more of a problem, and he explained why.

“Cheatgrass grows in an environment with more CO2 and higher temperature,” he said, “and the challenges and opportunity is, we have to manage it.”

Pesticides can be an effective tool against cheatgrass, but Menalled said their effectiveness declines in certain climate conditions.

Cheatgrass isn’t the only challenge. Menalled said less rainfall, different timing for spring runoff and warmer temperatures earlier in the season all can affect production.

“Get engaged and understand what the costs of climate change are,” he said, “and eventually design an adaptive management program.”

Severe storms and extreme heat were also discussed at the forum.

Event coordinators included the Center for Rural Affairs, the Northern Plains Resource Council and Renewable Northwest.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 09:33

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Sandstone co-op enters 15th year downtown

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

Toad, a sculpture by Leo Olson, poses at Christmas with elf friends on knees and head.Toad, not Mr. Toad, just plain Toad, lives in all his grumpy, gigantic, glory, at Sandstone Gallery. He’s one of artist Leo Olson’s wrought iron creations. With help from his humans, he hops around the gallery whenever displays are updated, currently crouching on the floor near Cararra marble carvings by William Crain.

That juxtaposition points up one of Sandstone Gallery’s great strengths: the diversity of its artists.

Since the gallery’s opening as an artist’s co-op for the ArtWalk on Oct. 6, 2000, painters, wood carvers, etchers, photographers, stone carvers, jewelers, potters, glass workers and woodworkers have all shown their creations. Styles range from very traditional, to western, to impressionism, to abstract; from colorful flights of fancy to black and white.

The Sandstone Gallery’s location at 2913 Second Ave. N. was chosen originally for the amount of space in relationship to the rent as well as for its next-door neighbor, the Artspace Café, now out of business. In a short time, it became obvious that the new gallery was a bit off the beaten track, but the members refused to be discouraged. They got busy doing what every creative person loathes: marketing and promotion.

These days, press releases go consistently to the local papers and magazines as well as the broadcast media, along with paid ads and a telephone yellow pages listing.

The co-op format at Sandstone provides the artists with a place to display and sell their work at a reasonable cost. Retail galleries take a 50 percent to 60 percent commission. Sandstone members pay themselves back just 15 percent to defray rent and marketing costs. The nonprofit mode allows artists of varying levels of skill and experience to sell their work. Retail galleries not only often cater to a certain type of art, they also require a certain price point. Sandstone artists price their own works. 

To keep things lively, both featured members and guest artists change every two to three months, and co-op members are required to rotate at least a third of their work for every ArtWalk.

A list of those who’ve been either a co-op member or guest artist reads like a who’s who of artists in Montana: Ben Steele, Leo Olson, Lyndon Pomeroy, Michiko Carlson, Phil Bell, Cliff Potts, Jean Albus and many, many more.

Creative persons love what they do, however tortured and driven the process may be.

“A quiet country scene is the subject of most of my paintings and oil is my medium of choice,” says Sue Hammersmark, a 15-year member. “There’s something about the way you apply paint to the canvas ... .”

Julie Pederson Atkins, a former co-op member, works with pencil on paper.  “It’s a matter of caressing the paper,” she told Magic City Magazine in 2010. “I baby it. Paper isn’t just a surface to me. Right from the beginning I want it to be transformed.”

Lana Bittner gave up her day job to concentrate on art. She now works in watercolor with ink alcohol.

“The theme of my work is contemporary art for the modern world,” she says. She left her job at a local bank in 2001 and joined Sandstone gallery in 2004. “This is my passion, and it’s definitely more fun than banking.” A current featured artist, she sold three pieces at the October ArtWalk.

Andres Anderson, who has specialized in airplanes for m much of his career, quotes from Robert Henri: “When we look at anything, we see beyond the objects we draw. We should draw with this spiritual sight. The value of a work of art depends from the flight the observer takes from it.”

One word describes Sandstone Gallery: Comfortable. Or maybe two words: comfortable and fun.

For every ArtWalk, Sandstone offers heavy hors d’oeuvres and beverages, a potluck of goodies that lures in many browsers. The artists are also there to discuss their techniques and inspiration with patrons as well. Visitors range in age from preschool to octogenarian, and all questions receive a kind and respectful answer. It’s an ongoing, nonthreatening soiree.

Musicians lend another dimension to the evening. Just as dusk settled in during this October’s ArtWalk, the Dixieland combo, the Second Avenue Stompers, with photographer John Havener on the tuba, entertained on the sidewalk. Patrons flowed around the musicians into the gallery, circulated, picked artists’ brains and purchased everything from a greeting card to a painting.

But, alas, poor Toad remains homeless. Could that be why he looks so glum?  Why not come in and give him a pat on his rusty head at: Sandstone Gallery, 2913 Second Ave. N. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, telephone 256-5837.

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 October 2014 10:16

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Where candidates stand on 2 business issues

Brad Molnar

Recently Billings was treated to a debate between the two men running for the lone Montana U.S. House of Representatives seat. Ryan Zinke (R) and John Lewis (D) spent the evening making sure a 30-second commercial could not be the focus of anything they might say. Too late, ad men from D.C. had the ads in the can before the debate was even announced. Accuracy and clarity are not their hallmarks.

To make matters worse the people asking the questions did not know enough to ask good follow up questions. For example, both candidates support the building of the XL pipeline to obtain American energy independence.

A great follow-up question would have been, “Sirs, North American oil from Canada and the Bakken will be delivered to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, owned by the Royal Saudi and Royal Dutch families. They will turn the crude oil into diesel fuel to be delivered to South and Central American countries. How does that reduce our dependence on the world energy market?”

But alas, the response from both, “I will put America first,” went unchallenged.      

All six candidates for the two federal open seats were invited to address a germane question each week. On week one, four of the candidates determined not to answer because  A) The question was too difficult  B) It was their bowling night C) It is none of your business what or if they think D) Their handlers will not let them answer questions embarrassing to their donors E) All of the above.

All answers that were received are printed here with  minor edits for clarity.

Question one

Canada has implemented cost containment of prescription drugs while guaranteeing reasonable profits to the pharmaceuticals through a process much like what our Public Service Commission does for energy costs. Canadian citizens have safe pharmaceuticals and enjoy triple digit savings compared to what American citizens have to pay. It would appear that implementing the Canadian system would save taxpayers massive amounts in the Medicaid and Medicare systems as well as personal/family health care costs. Would you favor implementing a cost containment system for prescription drugs in the United States or would you not favor such a system. Please explain.

SENATE CANDIDATES

Amanda Curtis (D): “As Senator, I will fight directing the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical manufacturers to reduce the costs seniors pay for prescriptions. Pharmaceutical corporations should not be making billions off of our seniors. That’s why I support the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act.”

HOUSE CANDIDATES

Mike Fellows (L): “We will continue to have high cost drugs in the United States, because we are in a sense subsidizing the rest of the world. Having a Public Service-type Commission determining how much drug will cost won’t work.

“With the FDA process, getting a new drug on the market can take anywhere from 10 to 12 years, at a cost of over 800 million dollars.  Drug patients only last for 18 years, before we see those generic drugs on the market produced by the competition.  Streamlining the process will help. We could also legalize obtaining drugs across the border in Canada.”

Question two

American citizens and institutions seem to be under constant cyber attack. The attacks of last Christmas season on Target stores claimed billions of dollars and volumes of personal information sold on the black market. It was reported that the attacks came from criminal organizations in the Ukraine and Russia.

The recent attacks against JP Morgan are also thought to come from Russian criminals and, according to Reuters and the New York Daily News, in collaboration with the Russian government (in retaliation for U.S. sanctions imposed for Russian involvement in the Ukrainian civil war).   

If proof is found implicating foreign government involvement in cyber attacks on U.S. citizens and financial institutions, or proof is found implicating foreign criminal elements but extradition is not forth coming, what should the response of the U.S. government be?

SENATE CANDIDATES

Roger Roots (L): “Call me skeptical of claims that the federal government needs more power to protect Americans from ‘cyber attacks.’ The CIA and the defense establishment have been pushing this line for years. Newt Gingrich and Richard Clark (among many others) have even falsely claimed that the power grid can be shut down or that nuclear plants can be hacked by cyber terrorists. Of course such systems are off-line and not connected to the internet. It is propaganda aimed at controlling and censoring the internet.”

Steve Daines (R): Montanans have seen firsthand how many federal websites, such as the Obamacare website Healthcare.gov, often make it too easy for hackers to obtain Personal Identifiable Information. That’s why I’ve fought to secure increased accountability on all federal websites and introduced legislation to address the serious security risks that exist specifically with Healthcare.gov.

“As a member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and as someone with more than a decade of high-tech experience, I know the risks of foreign cyber-attacks firsthand. Cyber breaches pose serious threats, and those responsible must be held accountable. I’m committed to finding solutions that protect Montanans’ civil liberties and privacy.”

HOUSE CANDIDATES

Mike Fellows (L): “Companies need better security to stop these attacks on our information. U.S. sanctions on Russia don’t work and diplomatic solutions aren’t working either. Better investment in the educational development of computer security systems will help to stop these attacks. If our U.S. foreign policies are being used to foster these attacks, then we should be looking at policy as well.”

Ryan Zinke (R): “We live in an era of modern warfare, the likes of which has never been seen before. There are few aspects of our lives that are untouched by technology. We depend on the internet to conduct businesses, power our electrical grid, and even maintain our economy. Should our energy grid or other technological infrastructure components be attacked, it poses a major threat to the security of the United States.

“Should evidence of cyber attacks be uncovered, the response of the U.S. government should be to take a firm approach with the perpetrators of cyber attacks, while also focusing on developing cyber counterattack measures and aggressively pursuing offensive techniques to address cyber security threats. However, while pursuing these methods, there needs to be oversight and accountability that protect and promote information security for individuals.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 October 2014 12:54

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NILE gets under way Tuesday at MetraPark

A cattle drive and parade kick off the Northern International Livestock Exposition at 2 p.m. Saturday. The cattle drive, which goes from downtown to MetraPark, encompasses 75 head of cattle, a trail boss, outriders, chuckwagon and bunk wagon followed by a motor-less parade.

NILE itself begins on Tuesday, Oct. 14. Among the highlights:

Lou Taubert Cattle Drive

A part of the NILE’s mission is to respect our western traditions and heritage. The idea of a western parade and cattle drive was born from the desire to share with our modern culture our agricultural roots. The event will encompass a cattle drive assembled by the Yellowstone County Museum, which will also serve as the grand marshal.

The proposed route will go west down First Avenue North and back on Second Avenue North, then continue out to MetraPark.

Ranch rodeo

Elite ranch rodeos from across the region sanction with the NILE. All rodeos are guaranteed a spot for one team to compete in the NILE Ranch Rodeo Finals (with the exception of the Wyoming State Fair Ranch Rodeo Finals that will fill two teams slots).

Again this year, the NILE has sanctioned with the WRCA, which will allow the first place team to compete in the Ranch Rodeo World Finals in Amarillo, Texas.

This year’s NILE Ranch Rodeo Finals will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 15, at 7 p.m. in the Rimrock Auto Arena.

Cat-Griz Shoot Out

Date: Oct 16

Time: 07:30 p.m.

Location: Rimrock Auto Arena

The biggest sports rivalry in the state of Montana will take on the toughest bulls and broncs at this year’s NILE ProRodeo Cat/Griz Rodeo Shoot Out.  In a unique competitive style, the rodeo teams from each school will draft Pro-Rodeo Contestants to compete for their school earning points throughout the night. 

Up for grabs will be prize money offered by the NILE garnered from $1 of every paid ticket.  After the dust settles the winning school will receives 60 percent of the prize money while the other school will receive 40 percent.

The money will be awarded to each college in the form of Scholarships to be given to collegiate rodeo athletes. 

Western Expo

Date: Oct 14-18

Time: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

These vendors showcase authentic western art or jewelry, saddles, tack, and western wear as well as livestock equipment, feed and supplements, and cattle genetic based companies.

Don’t forget that it’s the only place to get NILE merchandise. It all unfolds at MetraPark in Billings.

In 2013, The NILE Stock Show and Rodeo saw:

• Over 1,000 head of livestock on the grounds.

• Total five-day attendance: 40,000 people.

• Visitors were from 38 states, and 85 percent were from Montana.

• Visitors came from several  Canadian Provinces and other countries.

Horse Extravaganza

Date: Oct 17-18

Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Location: Ford Super Duty Arena (Montana Pavilion)

The 2014 Horse Extravaganza is a two-day horse showcase Spectators will have the opportunity to view a wide range of equine demonstrations, Stallion Row and peruse the equine based trade show booths and exhibits.

Those include:

• NILE Raffle Filly

• Stallion Row- a breed showcase of horses

•The Newest in Equine Equipment and Tack

• Horse-shoeing Demonstrations 

If it’s related to horses, the Horse Haven trade show should have it.

For information, contact Traci at 651-0440 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 October 2014 10:57

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Big game hunting prospects strong

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here are hunting outlook reports for antelope, elk and deer in this section of Montana. The reports are from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Antelope

Things are looking up for Montana antelope with populations continuing to recover from previous years’ winter mortality and reduced recruitment in central and Eastern Montana.

This year, there are even a few more special licenses available reflecting that reduced but improving status. 

Successful antelope license applicants may recognize increased fawn production in many areas as populations respond to generally favorable weather and habitat conditions in 2014.

Montana’s antelope archery season will close Oct. 10 and the general rifle season for antelope will run Oct. 11-Nov. 9.

For more information on antelope hunting in Montana, visit FWP’s website at fwp.mt.gov, click “Hunting” then click Hunting Guide.

Antelope numbers throughout south central Montana are stable to increasing from the past couple of years.  Fawn production increased dramatically in the spring of 2014 and should result in hunters seeing more antelope than last year. In areas impacted by bluetongue in 2008, population numbers remain below average, but are increasing. 

Elk

With elk populations continuing to be strong across most of Montana these are good times for elk hunters.

In some areas of Western Montana, where populations have declined, wildlife biologists have recently observed increased recruitment of calves.

In many hunting districts, however, because access to private lands can be difficult, which can affect hunting success given landownership patterns and distribution of elk.    

Montana’s general, five-week long, elk hunting season opens Oct. 25.

Even if you didn’t draw a special permit this year, remember Montana offers numerous opportunities to hunt for elk with just a general hunting license.

Elk numbers along the Beartooth Face and in the Crazy Mountains, Big Snowy Mountains, Bull Mountains and southeastern Belt Mountains are at all-time highs, though most are restricted to private land where access is difficult. Harvest will likely be slightly higher than last year.

Deer

Mule deer numbers have experienced recent declines in many areas of Montana but should be improving with favorable weather and habitat conditions in 2014. 

Recent seasonal insect-related disease outbreaks have reduced white-tailed deer populations in parts of eastern, central and west-central Montana.  Other areas have stable populations with favorable weather and habitat conditions in 2014 enhancing recruitment levels across the state. 

Bottom line, deer hunters in Montana will find improving populations but a mix of hunting opportunities when the general season opens Oct. 25.

Mule deer numbers throughout south central Montana are stable or up slightly from last year, though they remain 30 to 40 percent below the long-term average. Harvest likely will be similar to last year.

White-tailed deer numbers are quite low at lower elevations and north of the Yellowstone River, at least partially because of last summer’s outbreak of epizootic hemorrhagic disease, commonly known as EHD. Numbers closer to the mountains, where the bugs that spread the disease are not present, remain reasonably strong.

 Whitetail buck harvest opportunities likely will be similar to last year, while antlerless harvest will decline due to significant reductions in B-tag numbers.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:51

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Observe safety rules

The 1,200 volunteers who teach Hunter Education remind all hunters there are four basic rules of gun safety.

1. Always point the muzzle of your gun in a safe direction.

2. Always treat every gun as if it were loaded.

3. Always be sure of your target and beyond.

4. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.

      Hunting is a safe activity. It is up to each hunter to make responsible decisions to keep it that way.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 September 2014 10:50

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Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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