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Life in Missoula, Montana.

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Posted by on in The Great Outdoors

What to Bring on a Day Hike

Those that know me know that I do a lot of hiking. I try to get out twice a week for long day hikes (4-6 hours). I also try to get out at least twice a week for shorter hikes that I can do before work, after work, or during a (long) lunch hour. So I'm out in the woods 3 or 4 times a week, probably around 15 hours a week. I do everything from short, easy hikes near town, to all day excursions into very remote, rugged country that contains all sorts of hazards, including grizly bears. Because of that, I'm often asked what I take when I hike. What do people need when they go out on a day hike? What are the essentials? 

 In Beargrass

 

There are a few ways to approach this idea of what to take when you hike. One theory is just to show up at the trailhead with maybe a water bottle (maybe not even that) and just head off into the forest, assuming that somehow everything will be okay. These people will inevitably end up lost, hurt, or dehydrated, requiring a whole lot of other people to search for them at considerable time and expense. 

Another category of hikers knows that there are Gods of Outdoor Recreation. These gods look down upon outdoor enthusiasts (hikers, bicycists, kayakers, etc.) and determine who is prepared and who is not. They notice wha has the proper gear and who is setting out unprepared. Because of this, If you go out without a first aid kit, you will get injured. If you go without a raincoat, it will rain. the Gods will see to it. On the other hand, if you have a first aid kit (space blanket, toilet paper, or whatever), you probably won't need it. I have worked in the outdoor industry and taken and led dozens of trips. I'd say most of the people I know who spend a lot of time in the outdoors know this rule. If you bring it, you probably won't need it. If you don't have it, you will wish that you did. I load up my pack based on this oft-proven rule. I'm also going to break up the gear I take into three categories: essentials you should have for any hike, optional items that could make your day a lot more comfortable, and survival items, in case you get into trouble.

Essentials

I always have water and food, more than I think I'll need for the day's hike. Let's say I slip on a wet log and hurt a knee, a few hours from the trailhead. Getting back is going to take a looong time. All of a sudden I need more water and food than I thought I would. I also bring extra in case something extreme happens and I need to spend a night in the woods. I bring a small first aid kit to fix up any physical issues, and some duct tape to fix any gear that fails. I wrap some duct tape around the shaft of my hiking poles, layering it over itself. It's a convenient place to keep it until you need it and you don't have to carry a whole, bulky role. I bring toilet paper and use a knife to dig out a small "cat hole" if necessary. I also have a Swiss Army Knife for its many uses. Lastly, I carry a whistle. If you get lost, you can blow a whistle for a long time, whereas if you're just shouting for help, your voice will eventually give out They're small and cheap; no reason not to toss one in your pack. For route finding, I realize I'm pretty low-tech. Old school. I carry a compass and I bring a map. I know how to read a map and how to interprete a topographic map and I'm pretty good at correlating the map to what I see around me. I use landmarks and topography to find my way, much of the time. With these skills, I've never found a need for a GPS unit, though I realize it has advantages (sometimes people I hike with use GPS or apps on their phones). I also bring a raincoat. It's easy to set off on a bright sunny day and have a rain storm blow in suddenly. In Montana I've seen storms come out of nowhere, fast, and change a dry, sunny day into rain, cold, or hail in a matter of minutes. I climb a lot of mountains and the weather up top is often much colder and windier than down below. Storms like to smack the mountaintops, too. I bring my cell phone if I hike alone, but sometimes leave it behind if I know others in the group have them. A bandana is another essential. It can be used as a handkerchief, sling, head-cover, pot holder, route marker, bandage, rag, or for many other things. I always carry a few.

So, with these things you can stay energized and hydrated, you can find your way, you can stay warm and dry, you can fix stuff that breaks, and you can signal if you get lost.

Map

Optional Items

An extra pair of socks. I carry an extra pair (wool) in case the trail goes through a marshy area, or you have to cross a few streams, or if hiking in snow and rain. My boots are "waterproof' but that only goes so far, and having an extra pair of dry socks can make the difference between comfort and hypothermia. If you hike in wet conditions, you might want to move these into the essential category. I bring sunscreen, but not bug spray. I'm concerned with skin cancer, but I mostly ignore the insects. Some crawl on me. Some bite. Other than ticks, I don't do too much about them. I also have a little point and shoot camera that I carry in a pocket. I use hiking poles, which help when you're in tricky terrain: loose rock, scree fields, steep descents, and stream crossings.They also help to take some of the weight off of your knees. I bring them on longer, tougher day hikes but sometimes leave them behind if I'm going on a flatter/easier/gentler hike. The last optional item is Bear Spray. in Montana, black bears are pretty prevalent and some places have grizzly bears. Running into either unexpectedly could be real trouble. Bear spray is a good, non-lethal way of dealing with aggressive bears. I don't bring it if I'm going to hike in certain areas I know well, where the sight lines are long and there are lots of people on the trail.

Survival Items

It's not that hard to get lost in the woods. People have gotten lost in small parks, within a few miles of trailheads, and in areas they knew pretty well. Maps are sometimes wrong, trail signs missing. Sometimes trails on the map no longer exist on the ground. Getting lost can be a life-and-death situation. Similarly, you could fall and break an ankle, wreck a knee, or hit your head. Suddenly the few miles back to the trailhead might as well be a thousand miles. You need to survive until help arrives, maybe overnight.

In case something like this happens to me, I carry several items that, hopefully, I will never use. Portable water tablets are good for purifying water, if your supply runs out. I carry waterproof matches and a ferro rod striker, two different ways to start a fire, just in case. I have a few dozen feet of nylon paracord that I can use if I need a rope or to make a shelter. I have a polypro winter hat and wool gloves stashed in my pack in case I'm stuck out overnight and a space blanket to keep me warm and for sleeping. I carry a good, sturdy fixed-blade knife for survival situations. I recommend one of high-carbon steel, full tang, single edged, with a good thick spine (1/4"). Since you'll need to do some small tasks with it, as well as chopping wood, batoning, etc. you want one about 9-12inches in overall length. With a knife like that you can cut branches to make a shelter, cut firewood, or do any sort of camp chores. If you really want to be prepared, you can put a headlamp in your pack. It would come in handy if you get caught out after dark or if you had to spend an overnight in the wild. Sometimes I carry one, but if I'm trying to save space and weight I'll leave it. Two more things you want to toss into your pack. One is a tough, full-sized garbage bag. It could be used to carry or contain water, as a poncho to keep you warm or dry, as a tarp to huddle under, as a bag to hang food away from bears, or as a groundcover to sleep on. Lots of uses for this if you think about it. Anothet thing I always have in my pack is a big, folded piece of aluminum foil. You could make a little cooking pot or baking sheet out of it, use it as a signal mirror, make a fishing lure from it, or tear strips and hang them in trees to mark your route. 

Rangerknife

All of these survival items take up minimal space in your pack and don't weigh much, but if you need them, you'll be glad to have them. They could be the difference between comfort and misery, safety and danger, or life and death. 

So this is what I typically carry in my pack (bear spray and my fixed blade knife are carried on my belt, camera and bandanna in a pants pocket). Water accounts for the majority of the weight I carry. These days (July and 90 to 98 degrees) I carry close to 90 ounces of water.  Most outdoor experts recommend that you drink 32 ounces (1 liter) of water every two hours when hiking. My 90 ounces lasts me about six hours and I carry more water in my vehicle. Most of the survival stuff is stuffed into the bottom of my pack. These items serve me pretty well even on a long hike over tough terrain whether i'm going to climb a mountain peak or hike up a creek or whatever.

I also do shorter hikes very near where I live on trails I know well. These trails have a steady stream of hikers, runners, dogwalkers, etc. so it's hard to get lost there and if i were hurt there would be plenty of people around to help. I still grab the same pack when I head out, so i take almost the same stuff. The exception is that I might not take my hiking poles, bear spray, or big knife, and i bring less water if i'm just going for a few miles.

 

 

 

Green Mt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Capitol Reef National Park is a great place to connect to the elements of earth and stone. Here you'll find vast monoliths, huge rock formations, and towering cliffs in tones of brown, tan, orange, pink, red, white, and every color in between. As the daylight, weather, and cloud cover changes throughout the day, the colors change like a massive kaleidoscope.IMG 0599

 

The best way to experience the power and scale of the earth element here is by hiking. When you hike, you experience the rock up close and really feel the power of stone all around you. You hike through, over and between the rock, and the trails often take you along slickrock shelves and ramps. You may start in a low canyon with brown and red walls looming high above you and end up climbing up among white layers of navajo sandstone.

 

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I won't go into a lot of technical detail about the geology here. Whole books have been written on the subject and most leave me more confused than before I read them. Two things you need to know about Capitol Reef, though. One is that there are more layers of rock exposed here than almost anywhere in the Southwest (except the Grand Canyon). The other is that the elevation in Capitol Reef ranges from near 9,000 feet in the northwest corner to around 4,000 feet in the south. All this means that you can see lots of layers of rocks, each layer representing a different time in rock history. Rock dominates here and the variety is phenomenal. Above is a photo of the white knobs (domes) of Navajo Sandstone with black volcanic rocks in the foreground.

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The layers of rock represent 200 million years of clay, sand, gravel, volcanic ash, evaporated salts, and aquatic fossils that have been deposited here over time. It's easy to feel a connection with the past here among the ancient elements of earth.

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The Golden Throne (above).

You'll find monuments here, monuments of rock. Also spires, domes, thrones, natural bridges, and arches. When you gaze on the steep canyon walls, it's difficult not to see faces, animals, and spirits.

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When you are among these stone walls and formations, it is easy to feel the power of these places. There is a feeling of solidity, strength, and age-old patience in the rock formations here, and its easy to get a feeling of awe when surrounded by the high canyon walls.

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Cathedral Rock on the far right (above)

While the earth element is strong here, there are plenty of vistas with great views of the wide open skies to balance things out. The heat of the desert is balanced out by the green, lush growth around the visitors center, where giant old cottonwoods and a variety of fruit trees grow.

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Posted by on in Life In General

 

 

Adopted

 

 

 

              I remember the day like it was yesterday. I walked through the back door of my house, into my kitchen (back then I sometimes left the back door open), and found a cat standing in the middle of the room.

“Oh. Hi,” I said, surprised.

He gave me a look that asked, “Should I run for the door?” He was a beautiful tuxedo cat with long, graceful whiskers.

“If you don’t pee on anything you can hang out here,” I said.

The cat turned and walked into the living room. He looked under furniture and sniffed around, going room to room. I suppose he was checking to make sure there were no other pets. Soon he was satisfied that the coast was clear and hopped up onto the futon in my office.

 

At first, the cat came and went. He would show up, take a nap on the futon, then wander out. I didn’t know where he lived or who owned him. I thought my house was just a quiet, safe place to crash for a while. I didn’t know his name or even if the cat was male or female. I guessed (incorrectly) that the cat was a male. I referred to him as “little guy”.

 

One night the cat was sleeping on the futon and it started to get late. I watched the clock, wondering what to do.

“Hey, little guy, It’s almost ten o’clock. That means I’ve got to close the doors and lock up for the night. You can stay if you want, but once I lock the doors, you’re in for the night.”

He gave me a sleepy look, one eye half open, then he let his head sink back onto the futon. He had decided to stay and after that night, he slept over once in a while. I started to wonder where he lived, who owned him. One morning I went out into my garden and he came walking out of the bushes. He had slept in my back yard.

 

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Posted by on in The Necropocalypse

 

 

The Top Ten Zombies of All Time

 

The greatest zombies ever, from history, movies, and games

Bill Hinzman - Night of the Living Dead

Any discussion of memorable zombies must begin with Bill Hinzman. In the opening scene of Night of the Living Dead, a woman and her brother are visiting a graveyard, paying their annual visit to their father’s grave. The man teases his sister about unspecified graveyard monsters. They’re coming to get you, Barbara. They’re coming to get you.” Just then a strange, shambling man approaches. He is pale, with dark eye sockets, and a stiff, awkward gait. The strange man attacks. This strange, unsettling man is played by actor Bill Hinzman, modern cinema’s first zombie. George Romero’s first zombie. Bill Hinzman is not the scariest zombie ever. His makeup and behavior were not the best ever, but he was the first. The original. If you want to track the whole line of stumbling, flesh-eating zombies back to their origin, it all leads back to actor Bill Hinzman.

 Hinzman

 

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Posted by on in Fiction

Okay you've written your novel, short story, or poetry collection. You've poured your heart into it, proofed it, edited it, had other people look it over. You tears and sweat are in it. it's all finished except for a title. Now you're stumped. How can you distill all that thought, all that work into a few words?

Coming up with a title can be one of the hardest things. First, it may be hard to distill all your work into one concise (short) statement. Second, maybe you have more than one theme going on. Which one makes the best title? Last of all, how do you select specific words that will convey what you're trying to say and still spark the interest of a potential reader?

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There are three major questions I often hear from new writers. 1. Do I need to outline my whole story before I start or can I just figure it out as I go? 2. Should I periodically stop and edit my work as I go, or can I just let the words flow and come back to it later? 3. Should I write on a computer or could I physically write it all down first?

 

The truth is there’s no right or wrong answer to these questions. Your own style and personality will determine how you actually write, when you edit, and so on. So, as to the first question - 1. Do I need to outline my whole story before I start or can I just figure it out as I go?

Some people like to plot out their entire story before they begin writing it. These people usually create some type of formal outline in the process. The outline then, is their guidebook, their map to follow. They can write following the outline and be assured that their story ends up where they want it to. The advantage to this style is that you have organization, structure, and goals. It’s all very logical, but some writers think that this is a wrong way of going about it. They believe that this way of writing squashes creativity and puts the writer in a narrow creative box. The outline, once created, limits what a writer can do. Stephen King once described the process of writing this way: “Create interesting characters, put them in a situation, then see where it goes.” I’m paraphrasing from memory, but that’s the gist of it. He and other writers prefer to let a story develop organically. They like to be surprised by the twists and turns of the story, of how characters develop in unintended ways. They like to let their imagination, and the story, run where it will. The advantage is freedom and creativity.

Each of these styles have been used very successfully by hundreds of authors. When you begin to write, you’ll probably find out almost immediately which way you lean. If you find you can’t start without an outline, there’s your answer. If you just want to start writing and see what happens, you’re probably in the second camp. You might start out one way and find that you’re more comfortable doing things the other way. You might make the world’s best outline. Halfway through your story you might decided to throw away the outline and go a totally different direction. Maybe you make a new outline, maybe you throw caution to the wind.

The point is to start writing. Find your own style. If you decide you need more structure in the process, you can go that way. If the outline gets in your way, scrap it.

 

2. Should I periodically stop and edit my work as I go, or can I just let the words flow and come back to it later?

The second question is also a matter of personal style. Some people like to write a chapter, or paragraph, or a certain number of words, then stop and proofread and edit it before moving on. They like to know that their work is somewhat correct and refined before continuing. Other authors like to let the words and ideas flow. Sentences become paragraphs, paragraphs become chapters, and so on. These people revisit their work later, maybe not until the entire draft is finished. They feel that mistakes happen, grammar will need to be corrected, parts re-written, dialogue corrected, etc. In their world all this can be done later. To stop during the writing process and proof/edit would break their flow and interrupt their thought process. They believe (correctly) that writing and editing require two different skill sets, two different mind sets. They prefer to work in one or the other, without having to switch.

Personal preference. See which works for you. Whatever you do, don’t get too concerned with fixing mistakes as you go. Write, without being too critical or nitpicking. Tell your inner critic to shut up until the first draft is done. There may be a few glaring errors that you correct while you write, but let most of them go. Later, you’ll need to re-read and edit your work a few times, at least. That is the time to look at it critically, to scan for mistakes and necessary changes. that’s the time to let your inner critic speak.

 

  1. 3. Should I write on a computer or could I physically write it all down first?

Some people write their first drafts in longhand on a big legal pad. Others use Word, or a host of other specialized word processing programs. Writers used to type their stories on actual typewriters. It doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as it gets done. That being said, There are things that can make the process easier. 

There are programs and apps designed specifically for writers. I write using a program called Scrivener. It has many advantages that I find handy. For one, Scrivener makes it easy to organize your work by chapters and/or scenes. You can import all your research, web links, photos, documents, etc. into your project and keep it all together. It’s also easy to compile your work, when finished, into whatever format you need: standard paperback, kindle e-book, script/screenplay, and more. The list of benefits goes on and on, but the bottom line is that I use that program because it works for me. 

 

If you use word processing documents in the rest of your life, you’ll probably use one for writing. Check in writers’ groups to see what people recommend. Many apps have free trial periods so you can see if they work for you. One bit of advice that is worth mentioning: many new writers get intimidated by the all functions and features of some of these writing programs.They end up not using them, thinking they are too complicated. A better way to look at these programs is to learn the basic functions first. Most work, on a basic level, just like any other word processing program. For this they are fairly easy and intuitive. Approach them as just another word processor. Then, when you’re comfortable with those functions, you can start looking at what else the program can do for you. Check out the higher functions little by little, adding one or two as you see the need or benefit. Just because a program has the ability to instantly translate and format your work in Klingon doesn’t mean you have to use that function.

 

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Posted by on in Fiction

        Since I wrote my first novel a few years ago, I’ve come across many people who feel that they have a story inside them. Most haven’t gotten down to the actual nuts and bolts of writing because the task is just too daunting. Constructing all the elements and putting them together seamlessly seems a massive task. I am often asked, “How do I get started?”

 

If you’ve ever thought of writing a short story, novella, or novel, I’m going to give you some advice. These are things I’ve learned over the past few years, things I wished I knew before sitting down to write a first novel.

 

First let’s address your inner critic. Many of us have a critical voice that critiques our work (sometimes harshly) and may even tell us that we can’t do this. I’m here to tell you that when you sit down to start that first work, IGNORE THAT VOICE. Roy Peter Clarke, in his excellent book “Writing Tools”, says, “the internal critic ...becomes useful only when enough work has been done to warrant evaluation and revision.” In other words, don’t criticize until you have actually written something. Another famous author, whose name escapes me, states it more bluntly: “Write shitty first drafts.” By this she means write, even if it’s not your best. Get a draft down on paper/screen. Once that is done you can always fix it, but you can’t improve anything if you’re too paralyzed to put words to paper. Both of these authors are saying the same thing: ignore your inner critic and write. Give yourself permission to write poorly. That takes all the pressure off of you. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t even have to be good, you just have to write. Get started. Get something written. 

 

The question I hear most from aspiring writers is this: Do I need to plot out my whole story in some sort of official outline before I write or can I just wing it and let the story unfold as I go? The truth is that both styles can work. Some people are very formal and want to know the major plot points, including the ending, before they start to write. J.K. Rowling had apparently worked out the entire Harry Potter saga, including the ending, before writing it. Stephen King, on the other hand, recommends that people create compelling characters, put them in interesting situations, and see where they take you. 

 

Okay, so you’ve decided to write, what elements does a writer need to keep in mind? First you need a main character (or characters). Is your story about a young Jedi? A peaceful hobbit? A wary gunslinger? if you have a story that’s been percolating in your head for a while, you have an idea of who the main character is. The best authors create characters that are well developed and interesting. They have their own motives, habits, even quirks. They have pasts that have affected them and continue to influence them. As an author, you will know a great many details about your character. Not all will make it into your story, but in knowing them, your character will be stronger and more developed.

Unknown

You will also need to choose a viewpoint. Will your story be told in the first person, where the character tells their own story? “I pulled the knife from its sheath”, etc. Some well known novels in the first person include The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, The Hunger Games, and Twilight. The third person is even more common - “He pulled the knife from its sheath”. These are the two most common viewpoints and when writing your first work it’s best to pick one and stick with it.

Next decision: which tense? In other words is the story told as if it is happening now? (present tense) or are we hearing about something that happened in the past (past tense). Past tense is the most common for longer works of fiction. It is simple and easy to follow, but viewpoints and tenses can get very complicated. It’s possible to combine different viewpoints, to switch who tells the story and how, to change tenses for different sections. Unless done very well this can get very confusing for the reader. I would keep it simple for a first effort. As science fiction writer Orson Scott Card says in his excellent book “Characters and Viewpoint” : “Choose the simplest, clearest, least noticeable technique that will still accomplish what the story requires.” Like I said, keep it simple for your first effort.

 

You need some kind of conflict, some big event that your character(s) will face. The Jedi will have to fight the evil empire. The hobbit will need to undergo a dangerous journey. The gunslinger will need to track down the bandit who killed his brother, and so on. Our introduction to the conflict should come early in the story. This introduction may be sudden and violent or subtle and mysterious. In either case, the first chapters of a book should have the reader saying,” something interesting is going to happen to this character, I want to see how it plays out.”

Your main conflict usually involves a protagonist, someone whose motives are contrary to your main character’s. The protagonist doesn’t have to be an evil scientist, a monster, or a devious fiend. It could be a corporation without a conscience, a volcano, a co-worker, or the girl next door. Like your main character, your protagonist should be well developed and fully fleshed out. With all of your characters, ask yourself “What is their motivation? What does each one want?” this is the basis of how each character will act and these motivations will drive your story.Darth

Your story unfolds and eventually heads toward the big final scene. As it does, your main character undergoes some degree of change. The timid, peaceful hobbit gets tougher and more confident. The gunslinger comes to see that revenge makes him no better than the killer he is pursuing. Events affect these characters and they also may find out things that change their lives, their way of looking at things. Luke Skywalker finds out that he’s related to almost every other character in the story. If you’ve created a character that is interesting, one that readers identify with and want to follow, readers like to see how the events of the story affect them.

 

Eventually, the main characters blow up the death star, destroy the ring, get the girl, whatever. Congratulations, you’ve finished your first draft. You’ll move on to the editing/revision phase, but we can think about that later. For now, be proud of yourself, because you’ve accomplished a great deal.

 

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Posted by on in Fiction

Since I released my first book (Strange Hunting), I have had the good fortune to meet and correspond with a number of new, independent authors. Most of us are all in the same boat: We love to write, we have taken the time and effort to produce novels or short stories, and we now are in the position of having to promote and sell our books without help from a publisher. It's a tough job. Yes, writing a novel takes hour upon hour of writing, proofreading and editing. It's sometimes a difficult process, getting concept, plot, characters, and description just right. But for many, promoting a novel and getting sales is even harder.

Many writers are not great self-promoters. Some are just not comfortable with it. Others find it is a new skill set to learn when all they want to do is write, but this is the world we live in. Most authors, even those with established publishers, have to do a great deal of their own promotion. So, we release books, then we try to promote them. We do book launches, join facebook groups, online book clubs, we send books to bloggers, reviewers. We measure success in shares and likes. We join writer's groups and reader's groups. We blog, we post. We go from being writers to being people who beg for reviews on Amazon. If your book has no reviews, people probably won't give it  a second look. If you have a handful of reviews, all five stars, readers assume those are from your friends and relatives. So we try hard to get people to read the book and to post honest reviews. We try to find ways to reach more readers, to find a wider audience.

We end up connecting with other writers who are going through the same things that we are. In the past year or so I've had the good fortune of meeting several authors and connecting with countless others on social media. Many are nice people, most are pretty interesting (they're writers, after all). They write because they love to write. All of them are just trying to get people to read the books they've worked so hard to create. The following highlights six of those authors  and the books of theirs that I've read. I urge you to check out their work. A review posted on Amazon, Goodreads, etc would mean a lot to any of them.

1. Ken Grace - Blood Prize

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Blood prize is a thriller with lots of intrigue and suspense. Tom Fox is a man on the run, trying to survive, and trying to find a relic that would change the course of history. It's well written and moves at a good pace. If you like action, thrillers, and international intrigue, it's well worth a read.

His website is kengracebooks.com

Blood Prize is available in paperback and Kindle formats (at this link) from Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This article was originally written in 2010, but lately has gotten a lot of attention. I have had drum group facilitators and drum therapists contact me from the U.S., Mexico, and South Africa asking to use this article. (If anyone wants to use this information please ask and I am generally happy to let people use it. It is copyrighted.) I decided it was time to update it slightly, citing a few newer studies regarding the beneficial effects of drumming.
Ten Reasons to Drum for Your Health (Updated 2015)


1. Drumming is for everyone
Drumming does not require advanced physical abilities or specialized talents. It does not require participants to read music or understand music theory. Drumming, even a simple pattern, offers benefits to a huge range of people. Drumming is a universal language. It transcends gender, race, age, and nationality. In fact, nearly every culture on earth has some form of drumming tradition.

Furthermore, group drumming and drum therapy is currently being used for people with brain injuries or impairment, physical injuries, arthritis, addictions, and more. Studies and therapeutic drumming programs are finding numerous health benefits from drumming for at -risk youth, seniors, as well as people with PTSD, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, hypervigilance, and depression.

 
2. Drumming reduces stress and boosts the immune system
Studies have shown that drumming lowers both blood pressure and stress hormones. The active component of drumming helps reduce stress in a number of ways. It’s fun, it’s physical, and it’s a great diversion from other stress-filled activities. If you need to vent, what better way than to hit something?

Drumming is also meditative, inducing relaxed mental states that reduce anxiety and tension. Drumming combined with deep breathing and visualization techniques offers even more stress reduction benefits. “We know that stress takes a toll on the immune system,” says Ann Webster, PhD. “When you’re under stress, blood levels of stress hormones go up and your body is no longer able to make killer cells and other cells of the immune system in the amounts it normally would, and that can lead to disease progression. Reducing stress is very restorative. It gets the system back in balance.”

But lowering stress levels isn't the only benefit. Group music making, including drumming, can actually reverse your body's negative response to stress on a genomic level. A 2005 study ( "Individualized Genomic Stress Induction Signature Impacts" - Barry Bittman, MD.) "looked at the effects of recreational music making at the genomic level and demonstrated not simply a reduction in stress, but a reversal in 19 genetic switches that turn on the stress response believed responsible in the development of common disease." So drumming can have positive effects on us even at a genetic level.

A 2001 study of 111 group drumming participants showed that after just one hour, drumming does boost the immune system. According to cancer expert Barry Bittman, MD, the study found that group drumming actually increases cancer killing cells, which help the body fight cancer and other viruses.

 

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The Bear Sarks in The Brave and the Dead are based on a unique class of warriors from ancient Norse literature. 

 

King Harald Fairhair, son of Halfdan the Black, is generally considered the first king of Norway. In 866 he began a series of conquests that united the scattered kingdoms of what is now Norway. What we know of King Harald’s life was not written until the 12th or 13th century in various epic poems and Norse sagas.

 

Skaldic poems describe a special group of warriors employed by King Harald. These men wore shirts (in some languages ‘sarks’) made of bear pelts and were known by some as the “bear sarks”. In Old Norse, bear is ber- and shirt or coat is translated as -serkr, therefore the warriors came to be known as berserkers. The bear was a sacred animal that represented Odin, the All Father of Norse mythology, and warriors wore the shirts to gain the favor of Odin in battle. 

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In the Ynglinga Saga (1225), the Icelandic historian and poet, Snorri Sturluson, described the berserkers:

 

“His men rushed forwards without armour, were as mad as dogs or wolves, bit their shields, and were strong as bears or wild oxen, and killed people at a blow, but neither fire nor iron harmed them.”

 

These men went into a state called berserkergang, a condition of wild fury. They fought like crazed men, with no consideration of their own safety. Now we refer to it as going berserk. The berserkers were so aggressive, so feared that some enemies even said they became bears during battle. A fighter who could enter the berserker state was sometimes called “hamrammr” which translated to “shapestrong”, a shapeshifter who could become a ferocious animal.

 

There are a lot of theories about how these warriors entered their “state of wild fury”. Some say the men participated in elaborate rituals and took herbal substances that helped put them into that state. It’s possible that hallucinogenic or psychoactive drugs were responsible. Others have suggested that a rare combination of psychological or medical conditions could cause these men to kill without remorse and even disregard their own safety. Recent war movies, such as Oliver Stone’s Platoon have showed modern warriors going into a dissociative state during battle due to a combination of adrenailine, amphetamines, and PTSD. Nobody knows what made the berserkers tick, but no army wanted to face them

 

The berserkers and King Harald took over all of modern day Norway. These fearsome fighters were the basis for the Bear Sarks in my story.

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  1. Samhain. Halloween has its roots in the ancient Celtic holiday Samhain. Samhain, November first, celebrated the Celtic New Year and the transition from summer to winter. It is the time between the light and the dark, a time when the souls of the dead make their journey to the other world. Festivities start at sundown on October 31st, the night before Samhain.

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In Writing the book Strange Hunting, I did a lot of research. In fact, more than one reviewer has mentioned the amount of research that went into my book. In doing that research I relied on many sources.

The second chapter, I Rabas, starts off in a remote village in Mali, West Africa. The main character, Berk Willis, and his father are later hired to protect a camel caravan that goes into the Sahara Desert, meeting bands of nomads, Tuareg tribesmen, and desert bandits along the way. Setting the story in Mali had a few advantages, first I knew a few people who had visited there and a few who were born and raised there. I was able to pick people's brians, study their photos, and watch their videos. Second, I had always wanted to go there and had studied some of its cultural traditions of drum and dance and related rituals. I had collected a fair amount of information on Mali in hopes I would visit one day. Lastly, Mali was the perfect setting for the story I wanted to tell. The place had to be remote, difficult, and it helped that it was populated with a diversity of people each with their own traditions, stories, and myths.

Here are some images I found that helped me create the second chapter of Strange Hunting.

Fulani

 

This first photo is of a person from the Fulani, or Fula, tribe in Mali. They are known for their unique conical hats, their jewelry and other accessories, and the dark dyes often used to make their mouths black. Yellow face paint is commonly used by the Fulani for certain occassions.

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10. Leave It To Beaver - This one's a classic, a great tune from the days when people could really arrange music. Plus, It does a great job of capturing the tone of the show, and the time.

9. Cheers - This one's a little sappy, a little over-the-top on sentiment, but it's one of the most famous, most recognized theme songs of all time. Thirty years later, it's still being referenced in commercials and sitcoms.

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In the last year, I’ve climbed ten different mountains. I’ve learned some things about myself and a lot about mountains. I’ve found that most mountains don’t let you just stroll to the top. No, you have to earn the top and most peaks make you work for it. They do this in a number of ways. They hit you with snow, wind, rain, and sleet. Trails are choked with deadfall. They offer you terrain so steep that muscles burn and you struggle for air. You sweat, you strain. One step, then another. How about some self-doubt? Are you a quitter? The mountain wants to know. 

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A mountain can turn you around, confuse you. If it doesn’t want you on its flanks, it can shrug you off like a dog with a tick. Sometimes you have to bushwhack through dense forest that slams your shins and grabs at your clothes. If you get overconfident, think you’re prepared and fit and raring to go, some mountains throw in additional obstacles. Snow so deep that the trail disappears. Trail signs that underestimate distances. Scree fields. False summits. A mountain makes you work, to struggle. It decides if you’re worthy.

 

Even for those who persevere, the summit can be a triumph or it can be the mountain’s final lesson. Fog, snow, or low clouds can rob you of your scenic payoff. Beautiful summit view denied. The mountain has decided that if you want that nice bonus, you’ll have to go through it all again. That’s right, you’ll have to work for it, and the mountain has decided you’re only half done. I believe that mountains want respect. They punish those who aren’t prepared, people who don’t bother to bring the right gear, or the right attitude. Some are fairly forgiving, while others really make you pay. And pay. 

 

You don’t conquer a mountain. Instead a mountain decides whether or not it allows you to get to the top. It decides how many obstacles to put in your way.

 

Most of the mountains I’ve climbed are relatively small, 7,000 to 10,000 feet. Not the high Andes or the Himalayas by any means. The consequences are not as severe, though the lessons are the same. A mountain can make you struggle, or a mountain can kill you. Bring the right attitude and be prepared and maybe, just maybe, it will let you see the top.

Josephine Pk0001

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I've recently written two different book reviews for a site called Horror Novel Reviews.  "Hekura" by Nate Granzow is equal parts action and intrigue with some twists. It takes place in the jungles of South America. I gave it 4 of 5 stars, you might even give it more.

Check out the review here

 

The second review is for a book called "Specimen: A Novel of Horror". It's a horror story with lots of action. There are a ton of characters to follow in various time frames and locations, but it all comes together in the end. The kindle version has a lot of editing errors, but not a bad book. 3.5 out of 5 stars. The full review is here.

 

 

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I wrote this for a site called Horror Novel Reviews and they posted it early this month - Check them out at horrornovelreviews.comRead on to find out the ten scariest creatures in fiction, from ancient Greece to Hannibal Lecter. 

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Anyone who knows me knows I'm into superstitions and people's little rituals. I only have a few of my own - I'm a frequent knocker of wood, and I have some lucky items - but I think superstitions are really interesting. Especially the old world rituals that people still follow.

Superstitions are still a big part of people's lives. Many pro athletes have very specific rituals that they must perform the same way before each game. 

Serena Williams, the famous women's tennis player, has many superstitions. She brings her shower shoes to courtside for each match, and ties her shoes in a very specific way. Before her first serve she bounces the ball five times, before the second serve she bounces it twice. Like many athletes, she will not change socks if she is on a winning streak. These rituals need to be followed exactly, as she attributes some tournament losses to not having performed them.

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The NBA's Jason Terry eats chicken before every game, and wears five pairs of socks during each game. His most strange habit, though is the night before a game. Jason feels he must wear the opposing team's shorts to bed, and many friends, players, and equipment managers have gone to great efforts to secure those shorts on nights before games.

These are just the superstitions of two famous athletes. Hockey goalies are notorious for their superstitions, as are baseball pitchers, but the habit extends to football players, skiers, and runners. They all believe, on some level, that if they don't perform these rituals they will lose, have bad luck, or even get injured.

But there are a lot of superstitions that all of us pay attention to on a daily basis. Like me, a lot of people knock on wood when saying positive things. the knocking helps you avoid the good thing being jinxed. the custom of knocking on wood has old roots. In Germanic folklore, people knocked on wood, in the forest, to wake up beneficial forest spirits. In the Celtic tradition, knocking on wood (specifically oak) was akin to asking certain gods for their protection. Oak was a holy wood and symbolic of certain higher beings.

Most people know that spilling salt is bad luck, and many people were even taught to throw some of the spilled salt over their left shoulder to minimize the bad effects. Where does that come from? First off, spilling salt was thought to be bad luck because, in Davinci's Last Supper painting, Judas is shown spilling the salt. Not only did he betray Jesus, but Judas was also the 13th person seated at the supper. It was thought by some that spilling salt would temporarily make you vulnerable to evil powers, (as apparently happened to Judas). Throwing the spilled salt over your shoulder is throwing it in the eyes of the devil, which would typically stand behind your left shoulder. 

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Here are some other things that cause bad luck or trouble. Tripping in a graveyard means bad luck is imminent. In Irish folklore, leaving shoes on a table is bad luck, so is bringing lilacs indoors! It's bad luck to start a trip on a Friday, or to cut one's toenails on a Sunday. In German folklore, walking between two old women brings bad luck. In many cultures, a bird entering your house means someone might die. Dropping coins on a boat means you will encounter storms. In Old Bavaria, it was considered bad luck to give a woman an odd number of flowers. In Russia, it is bad luck to give a woman an even number of flowers. Also in Russian folklore, whistling in your house or your car is bad luck, financially - it is believed that you are whistling your money away. If you bite your tongue while eating, it is because you have told a lie. If you bump your elbow, someone will give you a present.

It all seems silly and a little outdated  until you have a big game or an important meeting. Then we don our lucky socks, perform our little rituals, and hope that black cat doesn't cross our path.

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For Strange Hunting fans, here's an extra chapter. Berk Willis travels to Algeria where he finds warlords, witchcraft, and hungry hyenas. Here's the story, in his own words.

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One chapter of Strange Hunting takes place in an ossuary, which is a place where human bones are stored. This post is about some of Europe's famous ossuaries.

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I've recently created a facebook page, Dave Robertson, Writer. You can like it to see the latest updates about my writing, but it also will have info. about writing in general, about books, authors, literature, even cool words. Like it, post comments, or just browse. Check it out here https://www.facebook.com/daverobertsonwriter?ref=hl 

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