Reel Stories: Why it’s so empowering to be surrounded by kickass women

I had a fantastic time spending my Sunday afternoon on a panel about the art of the interview with a group of creative, smart women who left me feeling energized and empowered as hell.

The panel was organized by my old Press Democrat colleague Alexandria Bordas, who is now the program manager at Reel Stories, an Oakland-based nonprofit that empowers young women and gender non-conforming youth with the skills to create their own media. There were aspiring journalists, animators and filmmakers of all ages and levels. Us panelists shared a bit about our work, talked about how to control the conversation while also allowing an interview to unfold organically, and answered questions from attendees. One question we heard: How do you interview someone you disagree with. My answer: Have an open mind and don’t let your personal opinions guide your questions or hinder you in your quest for an accurate, honest storytelling.

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‘My body is mine, my body is mine’: A few thoughts on my Adventure Cycling article

The cover story for Adventure Cyclist is about my bike ride around Puerto Rico and how it helped me reclaim my body, after years of feeling detached from it.

When you weigh the most you’ve ever weighed, it’s hard to write about your body, then share it with everyone online. For weeks after my Adventure Cyclist article was published, I didn’t share to my social media pages for fear of what friends and family would think of my raw thoughts on the printed page. I wrote about motherhood, overcoming my health problems, feeling disconnected from my body, and reclaiming by body by biking hundreds of miles around Puerto Rico in Dec. 2018. I felt vulnerable sharing my inner thoughts and struggles of that trip, and I hate to admit this but while the accompanying photos taken by the talented Saara Snow are lovely and scenic, it’s hard to look at my body at that point in my life.

Also, I think my newspaper reporter training conditioned me to keep myself out of the story, but here I was writing about myself and my first bike travel experience.

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How to make the perfect breakfast burrito

The perfect breakfast burrito has a sinfully decadent texture from a blend of vegetables, eggs, bacon and cheese.
The perfect breakfast burrito has a sinfully decadent texture from a blend of vegetables, eggs, bacon and cheese.

Editor’s note: The following is part of a food and dining series featuring places and food in Richland County.

The perfect breakfast burrito begins with the essential ingredients.

Simply put, you’ll need a wrap and some fillings. A larger size flour tortilla will do as the wrap, and your basic breakfast staples will do for the fillings.

Before cooking, gather everything you want to put in it. I typically choose eggs, bacon, onion, grated cheddar cheese and an assortment of vegetables.

That’s right, veggies. The best veggies for breakfast burritos are diced zucchini, chopped broccoli, spinach or even sliced asparagus. Some people really loved adding potatoes of some kind to their breakfast burritos, whether it’s hashbrowns or tator tots. I am not a fan of that, but if it floats your boat, go for it.

I choose bacon over breakfast sausage because the crunchiness of bacon is a fun texture to add to a burrito. Two or three strips should suffice. If you go with sausage, two patties or three link chopped up would work well.

After gathering your ingredients and cutting up the veggies, lay out the tortilla plate on a plate and microwave for 20 seconds. Then, cook the fillings. To make things quicker, I suggest having two pans cooking at once. One for bacon and one for veggies.

I like to lightly sauté my veggies in a dash of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and black pepper; pretty simple. Usually I make my breakfast burrito with chopped onions and broccoli because they don’t go bad as quickly as other vegetables.

Try not to overcook the veggies — eight minutes on medium heat is usually long enough for me. Overcooked, mushy vegetables do not make fore the perfect breakfast burrito. The bacon will probably be done sooner than the veggies if you start them at the same time.

Place your cooked veggies in the middle of the tortilla you’ve laid out before cooking, then the bacon on top.

After the bacon is done, I like to use its grease to fry my eggs in. This is unhealthy but much cheaper and more flavorful than oil.

Two medium-sized eggs scrabbled is the easiest method. You can have one cooked over easy or sunny side up, but I find that makes for a very messy burrito, and that’s not our goal here, is it? This column is about the perfect burrito, not a messy one.

Place your scrambled eggs over the veggies and bacon, still in the center of the tortilla. Generously sprinkle cheddar cheese over your hot eggs so that it melts.

Throw in a dash of sour cream or hot sauce if it suits your fancy. I like both; Cholula is my hot sauce of choice. Make sure your tortilla is tucked in around the filling securely. Two small folds on the top first, then wrap it in a roll from the side. If you’re on the go, I suggest storing it in aluminum foil.

And there you have it, the perfect breakfast burrito. It’s a great way to start your morning because it blends a little something from most food groups — dairy, meat, vegetables and grains. Next time you’ve got some time in the morning, I strong suggest making one for yourself. The perfect breakfast burrito can make truly make your day.

Are you interesting in food and dining in Richland County? Whether you’ve got a favorite restaurant or enjoy making delicious meals with veggies from your garden, we’d love to hear about it! Contact or call Susan at 433-2403.

Published in the Sidney Herald on Weds., Sept. 25, 2013.

MonDak Heritage Center elects new board members, plans ahead

Julie Baker, outreach coordinator, runs the MonDak Munchkins educational program at the MonDak Heritage Center. (Susan Minichiello | Sidney Herald)
Julie Baker, outreach coordinator, runs the MonDak Munchkins educational program at the MonDak Heritage Center. (Susan Minichiello | Sidney Herald)

The election results for the MonDak Heritage Center board was announced Sunday at the annual board meeting. Current board members Zach Yockim and Karen Redlim were reelected, while Deb Crossland was newly elected for a three-year term.

There were five nominees for three positions and 545 member votes. “It was a very competitive election this year,” Joe Bradley, MonDak Heritage Center president, wrote in an email newsletter.

The annual board meeting drew attention to some key goals the heritage center hopes to meet.

One goal is a reprinting of “Courage Enough,” a 1976 book of family histories in Richland County. “This is what most people refer to as ‘The Big Brown Book,’ and we’re now completely out,” executive director Benjamin Clark said during his speech.

“Courage Enough II” is also out of print. The cost of reprinting both books is $10,000, and Clark said they have 20 percent of the amount so far.

Clark told the Herald that the heritage center also aims to be more interactive and engaging with area residents. Part-time outreach coordinator Jenny Baker was hired last fall as part of that goal.

Baker runs MonDak Munchkins, an educational program from children ages 1 to 5. She also offers art classes for adults, including painting and pottery.

“It’s been a tremendous response, and we’d like to do more,” Clark told the Herald. In the nine months since art classes have been offered, 1,200 people have attended. “It’s just phenomenal since it’s so new.”

Baker is originally from a town outside of Great Falls and is adjusting well to Sidney. “The community just opens its arms and scoops you up,” Baker said.

Classes are described as a “fun fusion of history and art” by Baker, who encourages area residents to partipate.

Volunteers are instrumental at the MonDak Heritage Center. In his speech at the board meeting, Clark said various volunteers “logged over 3,200 hours in the last year, which is nearly equivalent to two full-time employees.” He also mentioned that according to, that amount of hours in Montana is valued at $47,678.

Tammy Linder has been a volunteer at the MonDak Heritage Center for 31 years. She said the center is a “great way for new families to be involved in the community,” particularly since there is an influx of new people moving to the area with the Bakken oil boom.

“I look at [new residents] as an open invitation to knowledge,” said Linder, who also teaches fourth grade at Central Elementary School.

Linder’s volunteer work ranges from helping with the photo archives to event planning. Events hosted at the center include family night, movie night, concerts and conferences. Members also have access to the museum.

“We need people to come and take advantage of the things we do,” Linder said.

“We could always use more volunteers,” Baker added.

The StarLab Family Nights are Thursday and Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The MonDak Heritage Center is hosting the 40th Annual Montana History Conference which will explore “Boom and Bust: Extracting the Past” on Sept. 19-21.

“This conference is not only for academics, but anyone who loves Montana’s history,” Clark said.

Published in the Sidney Herald on Weds., Sept. 11, 2013.

How an outsider learns about Sherry Arnold

Late Sunday afternoon, I sat at my desk in the Herald office uploading photos for my latest story. While I waited for the files to transfer, I browsed around Facebook to find locals to friend.

Being new to town, most of the Sidney names I scrolled through were unfamiliar, until I came across the profile of Sherry Whited Arnold.

My heart stopped for a moment. I carefully observed her profile picture. In it, she’s outside in sunny weather, standing in front of a boat and wearing sunglasses and a sleeveless shirt. She’s fit and tan with a relaxed smile.

Before moving to Sidney, I had heard about what happened to Sherry. It was in national news, and a few of my Missoula friends warned me.

“You don’t want to move to Sidney,” one of my friends told me. “Didn’t you hear about Sherry Arnold?”

I’ve heard Sherry’s named tossed around to symbolize the “craziness” of this little oil boom town. People have warned me not to ever go out alone in the early morning or after dark, and Sherry’s name is usually muttered in those warnings.

To me, she’s been just that. A name. A warning. A symbol. A tragedy. An event that shook up and scared this small town.

But looking at her profile, I was reminded that she was much more than any of that. Sherry Arnold was a living, breathing human being. Sherry had wide eyes and a thin face. She used a smart phone. She posted pictures with her kids. She looked pretty in hats. She liked to go running. She taught math. And from what I hear, she was a good person.

The next time I hear Sherry’s name getting tossed around as a reminder of the worst of this town, I’d like to redirect the focus to how Sherry Arnold the person was actually representative of everything good about this town.

Sherry taught for 18 years, had a big family and was a part of the community. There was so much more to Sherry than how her life ended, and in the fear and whispers that followed her death that seems to be forgotten by some people.

I studied her face in photos, thinking about how alive she looked. I’m glad I came across her profile. In the future, I’ll no longer associate her name with just her tragedy. Instead, I’ll think about her life.

Sherry Arnold
Sherry Arnold

Published in the Sidney Herald on Weds., Aug. 14, 2013.

The Sharp Shooter: On moving to a small town

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Here is what happens when you move from big city America to small town America.

On your first day, your coworker offers you a free bed, since she knows you drove out here with just a car of clothes.

Your other coworker says, “Dontcha just have a compact car? I’ve got a truck, so Imma haul that bed for ya.”

After work, they all proceed to move the bed into your bedroom, even though they’ve just met you. You think about how nice that is and how no one anywhere else would ever do that for a stranger. That night, you sleep comfortably.

The next day, while waiting in line for a taco at lunch, the person standing behind you asks, “where are you from? How are you liking it here?” It startles you when someone breaks “elevator psychology,” but you learn that they ask because this is a place where everybody knows everybody, and when there’s a new face in town, it’s news.

Your first time driving around town you realize it only takes 10 minutes to get from one end of it to the next. The nearest Walmart is an hour away, but you come to realize you’re OK with that.

When you drive to the next town over, the scenery is miles upon miles of green pastures and a never ending horizon. And in the case of Richland County, several oil rigs.

One evening, you visit the local bars with a new friend. You stop by one called the Ranger, and your friend tells you “you’re never a stranger at the Ranger.” You think this is a just a saying, until the bartender actually calls your friend by his first name and knows all his favorite drinks.

You hear stories that you wouldn’t hear about in other places. Like one about a little girl with cancer in a nearby town, and how her small community raised a good fortune to pay for her medical bills, for no other reason except that they cared about her.

Everybody around you gets excited about the county fair and rodeo coming up.

People invite you to join their church, and generally respect it if you don’t.

There are real cowboys who walk around with bigs hats and leather boots and clunky belt buckles.

At night, you marvel over the fact that there are actually stars in the sky.

There’s a siren that goes off daily at 10 p.m. to signal a curfew for underaged kids.

Men watch you when you’re out eating at a restaurant.

People born here tell you that they’re used to leaving their doors unlocked and keys in the ignition, but with the oil boom impact have stopped (or should stop) doing that.

You realize this town has its problems, but in spite of that you intuitively know that at its heart, it is a good place. Because in small town America, people are very giving. And you think to yourself, there’s no way people this giving aren’t good people.

“The Sharp Shooter” is the name of Susan Minichiello’s column. This column was published in the Sidney Herald on July 31, 2013.

Montana native publishes ‘Badlands’


Eastern Montana native Tom Biel toured the state last week following the release of his debut book, “Badlands: A Collection of Stories.”

It’s not a typical Montana book, Biel explains. There isn’t “any mining, fishing, ranching, or intense relationships with nature.”

Mainly, it’s a coming of age story set in the Badlands.

“I grew up mostly in Glendive. I think the town, the people, the place and the Badlands themselves made an impression on me that never left,” Biel said.

The stories’ main characters are Matthew Davis and Idaho Wells, two young men who live in the fictional eastern Montana town of Riverside during the Vietnam War era.

“It’s a unique, different point of view,” he said.

Biel was born in Sidney. He attended the University of Montana and the University of Northern Colorado.

His father was the late Rev. Kenneth Biel, formerly of the Ebenezer Congregational Church in Sidney.

“There are 10 stories in the collection, and each and every one of them have an event, person, or place that’s real,” Biel said. “I used that as a starting point, and then followed the characters.”

Although Biel drew from his real life experiences, “Badlands” is ultimately a work of fiction. For example, in one of the stories, there is a reverend who has a crisis of faith, which Biel says never happened with his reverend father in real life.

Biel describes his literary style as “simple and lyrical,” a style that stems from his beginnings as a young poet.

“Poetry has so much intense value on individual words and lines, and that influenced me as I wrote,” he said.

His two main literary influences are F. Scott Fitzgerald and Samuel Beckett. As a high school English teacher, Biel taught Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” repeatedly throughout the years, which instilled a deep appreciation for Fitzgerald’s “carefulness and intensity of language.”

From Beckett, Biel enjoys the “simplicity and minimalism” of his plays.

Biel himself has written four plays, none of which were published but a few were produced in New York City and Germany.

Of the 10 stories that make up the “Badlands” collection, Biel singles out “The Telescope” as his favorite.

“The Telescope” is the story of young kids eavesdropping on an older, voluptuous woman, and a brother who has an objection to the Vietnam War draft.

It’s a blend of humor, mischievous behavior, and serious political turmoil.

He hopes his debut book will effortlessly entertain readers. “To me, what makes a book worth reading is that it’s enjoyable; you don’t have to work at it,” he said.

Biel currently lives in Milwaukee, Wis., with his wife, Lena, and their two young sons.

“Badlands” cover art was painted by artist Dale Beckman, who is originally from Glendive and currently lives in Helena. More of Beckman’s work can be viewed at

“Badlands: A Collection of Stories” was published by Henschel Haus Publishing and is available on, and

This article was published in the Sidney Herald on July 21, 2013.