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    That Time We Scared a Bear at Shenandoah National Park

    August 17, 2015

    Bear FighterThis weekend was our sixth weekend in a row that we went camping. I think the continuous camping happened by accident when we decided to take a break from trying to sell our house but I’m not exactly sure. Whatever the cause, we found ourselves every Wednesday looking for a new place to go camping that weekend. For all you campers out there, you are laughing. You can’t find campgrounds with 2 days notice in the middle of the summer. But somehow we kept pulling it off.

    So when a bear attacked a woman in a park the same weekend I had tried (and failed) to get a reservation there, it grabbed my attention. Bear attacks don’t happen in Virginia. We have black bears, females average around 150 pounds and aren’t aggressive. They are still bears and still dangerous but whatever. This is no Yellowstone. A bear attack was big news here in the hiking and camping world in Virginia. A mother was out hiking with her 3 kids, 16, 19 and 22. The family ended up in pairs, with the mom and middle son ended up walking ahead and came around the corner to find a bear. Both parties were surprised and the bear attacked the mom. The story got progressively horrifying but she lived so that was awesome.


    Derek: Like we could ever be quiet enough to surprise a bear, Kristen???

    Me: Good point.

    Fast forward to last weekend. We were our annual cub scout family camping trip to Shenandoah National Park. It’s not a very structured event. Everyone picks a campsite on the same loop, we go on a hike on Saturday morning together and have s’mores on Saturday night. Other than that, it’s pretty much a free-for-all. I never pay attention to the plan until it’s happening because I’m the passenger at that party. I wear flip flops on hikes. My commitment level is questionable at best.

    So imagine my surprise to wake up on Saturday morning to finding out that the hike we were taking was one that Derek and I have done before. It’s no joke. Very steep, very  rocky. That bad boy was going to put my dress and flip flops to the test. We were driving down the park road there when we saw two cars parked on the side of the road. “Bear!” I yelled. It’s the only reason anyone stops in the middle of the road at Shenandoah. We’ve been here at least 15 times and we’ve only seen a bear once before, on the side of the road like this. I watched as the guy with the New York license plates on his high end SUV chased two bear cubs up the mountain to get a picture with his iPhone. I heckled him as I passed because I think we can all agree, you can’t cure stupid.

    We drove 5 miles down the road and parked at the top of our hike. Our destination was a natural rock waterside at the bottom of a very steep and very rocky mountain. We were exhausted at the bottom of the mountain, swam for 90 minutes and then headed back up the mountain. Every step seemed to require all our concentration. The group spread out and we needed all our energy to keep going. So we weren’t talking very much….


    Derek’s voice was impressively calm as he walked backwards and closed the gap between him and Mason, about 30 feet in front of me and my friend Julie. He had gone around the corner, surprised the bear, and she returned the favor by going up on 2 legs.

    “WHAAAT?” Me, not understanding.

    “A BIG bear,” Derek said, now standing beside Mason. The four of us froze instantly. Even Mason.


    He pointed up the mountain about 30 feet from him to a bear standing on a log, staring at us, wearing a Surprised Bear face.

    Never underestimate the ability of the “I Told You So” spouse to think “I TOLD YOU SO,” even in a dangerous situation. I told Derek we could sneak up on a bear and scare her and get attacked and he was all, “NOOOOO, we are too loud.” If it makes you feel better, I also simultaneously thought “If you step one foot closer to my baby, it’s on” and “that 250 pound bear is not 150 pounds, as described by the ranger in the All About Our Bears night.”

    And this is where things get a little weird. I look at my husband, who is standing beside Mason, and he is looking on the ground. I could feel his frustration from 30 feet away. I knew he was angry his boy scout usual bag of tricks was empty. Later he said he was looking for a stick (Mason had thrown his walking stick into a stream 1/4 mile back because Mason) but I feel like he could have mentioned this to me.  It’s not like we needed to keep our tactics on the DL from the bear. I’m just saying a simple, “I am looking for another stick to impale the bear’s eye when she charges me” shout out would have gone a long way to allaying my “I cannot BELIEVE we are about to be eaten by a bear in this cheesy East Coast national park” fears.  Like throwing a couple of tactical signs in my direction would have inconvenienced him?

    At this point I see a woman come around the corner way down at the switchback beyond Derek. I can tell by her perkiness and fancy new hiking attire that this is probably a second date (been there,  done that #Arlingtonrepresent), this is going to be her first run in with a bear and she looks like a runner. Which would be a problem solver for me except she would be running in the direction of my other children who are with the rest of the cub scout group further up the trail and she looked faster than them.

    “BEAR!!!! GO BACK!!!!” The girl was gone instantly. Bear never even looked her way.

    I can’t figure out why this bear is standing here still staring at us when they are known to turn and run, and why my husband seems to be reacting a  little slowly. I mean, let’s be honest. When you are at that initial point in the dating game, doesn’t everyone look at a potential partner in life and think, will this person protect his own in the event of a zombie apocalypse? Because up until this point, I’ve been feeling solid about the zombie apocalypse and the thought hasn’t crossed my mind that this should have also covered bear attacks.   (In his defense, unknown to any of us, he had gotten bitten by something and was in the middle of having an allergic reaction, exactly like the last time I was charged by a wild animal).

    I start screaming at the bear and flailing my arms at her. Apparently, at this point, Mason ALSO starts flailing his arms and screaming at her. Because #sixyearoldbadass. (Later I asked, “were you scared?” and he said, “OF COURSE. But you were yelling so I knew I needed to yell too!!”) She is rocking on this log about 30 feet above him and Derek but she’s not leaving. I don’t understand what’s happening. At this point I’m trying to calculate if we can take her if she charges. I’m feeling like we’d all be in bad shape in the end, Derek and me and the bear, but I was thinking we would survive and that bear would be sorry she ever looked at my baby. Also, that if an alternative to fighting a black bear presents itself, I will happily take it. I’m doing what they say in every “WHEN YOU SEE A BEAR” handout. The bear apparently has not read the handouts. At this point I think Julie is fumbling for her phone to try to take a picture, I presume because she felt I had everything under control (“Kristen, I feel like I may have underestimated the amount of danger we were in at the time, having never surprised a bear before.”)

    I look over at Mr. Still Looking for a Stick and yell,”GET BIG. NOW.” He later said he wasn’t opposed to taking on the bear but he preferred doing it with something in his hand. Valid point but his failure to mention it to me in the midst of this crisis is a fine example of the unease that occurs when there is a break in communication in a relationship. Good communication is key in every relationship and also in every faceoff with a bear.  He throws his arms up and growls at her. She hedges for a second and then bolts towards the path, but parallel to them. She jumps onto a log that is crossing the creek that runs beside the trail and heads up the mountain.

    “Awwww. Look. She’s back with her baaaaabies,” Mason happily yells, pointing across the ravine at the mama bear with two baby bears we hadn’t. even. seen. They had crossed the path before her. We were in between her and her babies no longer. And she wasn’t between me and mine.

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    Ultimate Hop Cone Sculpted Cake for My Favorite Hopster

    April 6, 2015

    IMG_5500 (2)

    Carrot cake, Chocolate Cake and Chocolate Stout Cake

    Fondant hop leaves, airbrushed with leaf green and avocado.IMG_0365 (2)Beer by Sierra Nevada, Daddy Needs a Beer shirt available here.


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    Bad weather doesn’t stop fishing

    August 15, 2014


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    In the Clouds

    February 6, 2013

    April 5, 2012

    “Tell Mom what happened on the plane.”

    They had been gone for 5 days across the country, on a trip that was too soon and too much and too hard for me. I am 40 and I may as well be 6 again. No one is going to make me do anything, ever again. I’ve already heard about the incident with the secreted civil war play gun in a backpack that was missed on the final parental check that brought an entire airport security checkpoint to a standstill, if only for a few minutes. Nate sits on the chair, swinging his legs and playing with the Lego creation in his hand.

    “Mom.Mom.Mom.” Always multiple times, this little Sheldon Cooper of mine.

    “Yes, Nathan, what happened on the plane?”

    “Mom. Mom. Mom. I saw your friend.”

    “Which friend?” as I plod along with dinner, already mentally moving on, worried about the time and everything that needs to get done for life to continue.

    “Kristen. Listen to Nate.”

    My name falls with a heavy thud like a book that has fallen off the shelf. I swing around, if only because I rarely hear my name from my husband’s mouth. I don’t know what’s happening but now I know I’m supposed to really listen because he never uses my name. It’s not that he normally calls me something else. It’s not something I even realize until it is happening. Kristen. It sounds almost foreign from his mouth. Maybe it’s because we live in short-hand because there is so much life and so much talking and we are always yelling a child’s name. Maybe my sorrow is so overwhelming that there is no room left for my name.

    “Your FRIEND,” Nate says with mild annoyance as he reaches under his seat for a Lego has fallen on floor. “Your friend who died.”

    My breath catches in my throat and for a split second, there is no oxygen. I don’t understand how everyone is breathing because there is no air. I can’t understand what’s happening. I can feel the tears that are never ever far begin their hot sting.

    “Susan,” I say, confused. Not a question. A statement.

    “YES, your friend Susan,” he says, looking up, relieved that I helped him remember her name. She is MY friend, her sons are HIS friends.

    My eyes lock with Derek’s and he gives me the “wait, there’s more” shrug of his shoulders.

    “Where did you see Susan, Nate?” He has my complete attention.

    He has laser focus on his toy. As is often the case, this conversation is happening on the periphery of Nate’s world. He’s taken apart the Legos and is well on his way to forming something new.

    “Well, I was in the seat by the window on the plane. Ethan was sitting there but then Dad made him let me sit at the window. He was really mad. I looked out of the window when we were flying. I saw Susan in the clouds. She is happy in heaven, Mom.” He’s reporting the event as if it is something that happens every day.

    This is all complicated because he doesn’t really know anything about anything. He doesn’t really know about Susan being sick. He played with his friends and his mom hung out with their mom who was her friend. He stopped seeing his friends because kids have colds and he couldn’t share his colds with his friends. I wanted to tell him but it wasn’t my place and it was really complicated and so I didn’t. Late nights and early mornings I disappeared with no explanation. Crying. Always with the crying and never with an explanation.

    “Susan was sick, Susan died, Susan is in heaven.”

    The last two parts were spoken to him only twice, on February 6 and two weeks later to remind him not to ask about her to her boys. It’s not how I imagined we would do things but this time we did because it felt like we were supposed to do it this way. Whatever way it is that you are supposed to do things like explain to a just-turned five-year-old that his mom’s friend is dead and now his friend who is his age and loves Legos as much as he does doesn’t have a mom. But now Nate has seen Susan and I’m trying to understand. Because we believe in Jesus and heaven at our house but it doesn’t have anything to do with clouds and I haven’t spoken Susan’s name to him in six weeks. He doesn’t understand loss because he’s never felt it. He doesn’t understand the origin of my grief because I have never once spoken of it. But he has seen Susan and he knows it. And when his dad heard the story from the aisle seat as it was happening, he told him his mom like to hear his story.

    “She is happy?”

    “Yep. She is happy, Mom.” He looks up with a big ‘isn’t that great’ grin, hops off his chair and runs out to find a Lego he needs to finish. And he doesn’t even realize how great a gift that really is.

    As we honor Susan’s memory, please consider furthering her legacy through a contribution to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation or the Cancer Card Xchange. If you would like, please join bloggers throughout the web in honoring Susan Niebur’s life and contributions with a post, and please add your link at

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    Presidential Debate Drinking Game

    October 3, 2012

    There are several good debate drinking games out there, but I’m taking a different tactic. I mean, if we all drink every time someone says “main street,” we’ll be hammered in the first 10 minutes.

    Instead I intend to drink every time someone in my Twitter stream does one of the inevitable…

    -tweets inferring personal intellectual and political superiority from a person who regularly live tweets, with emotion, Honey Boo Boo
    -or The Bachelor, that Toddler show or any of the those Housewives
    -self-righteous tweets from people who are too intelligent to watch the debates about not watching the debate
    -tweets using “talking points” to bash the other side’s “talking points.”
    -tweets bashing Fox or MSNBC
    -tweets with passive-aggressive emoticons :-) 😉 :-0 :-(
    -tweets with any version of “Mic Drop” or the sound that results (BOOM)
    -tweets with intellectually superior facial responses **eyeroll** or sounds **sigh**
    -tweets using the Daily Show as a source of domestic policy data
    -tweets with the words Romney and “helmet hair”
    -tweets about “work” Jim Lehrer has had done or his apparent inability to blink his eyes
    -tweets affirming sappy candidate marital stories
    -tweets with the words contraception, girly bits, lady parts, vagina
    -tweets with anything at all in ALL CAPS
    -tweets about candidates related to subjects not even remotely being discussed
    -tweets with the phrase “I love how (insert candidate’s name) loves (insert dogs, kids, trees, wife, doing laundry, the state of Wisconsin)”

    Derek has pointed out that with my version, we’ll all be drunk in 5 seconds.

    I accept that challenge.

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    Sample Letter to Your HOA that Hates Children, Treehouses and Recycling

    October 1, 2012

    On Sunday, I got this picture……

    On Monday, my husband got this email. You know, because he’s the MAN of the family…

    “The Board has received a formal complaint concerning the
    project ongoing in your backyard. Consequently, the board requests
    that you temporarily stop any further work and provide the board with
    an explaination of the project.”

    It only took 2 hours to craft this greatness. Some of my finest work. (and my mother worried I would never put my law degree to any use)

    [Insert name of Guy Crazy Enough to Run for HOA President],

    This is about the platform in the trees? I was confused because the subject line of your email was “Yard Work.” I’m wasn’t sure if the problem is that we are taking down trees or that the boys put a platform in them. We’ve worked really hard this summer to maintain our yard to the standards of a planned adult golf community that our neighbors would prefer to live in than the heavily wooded lots we actually purchased 5 years ago. If you have been running interference for us all summer and I didn’t know it, I apologize for taking my frustration out on you. But the vagueness of your initial email did not reflect the actual complaint that we haven’t seen. The anonymity in the formal complaint process allows for the complainant to freely air his grievances without being held responsible for his own violations of the covenants if no one complains. It is the foundation of the American system of justice that one be allowed to face his accusers, to know what (s)he is being accused of and to know that rules are being applied consistently. This anonymity also violates the open records section of the bylaws. I realize that HOAs are above this concept, but give a girl a second to just long for a little justice.

    But I really hate this, [HOA President]. Instead of someone just being a good neighbor, rolling down the window and asking “what’s up?” while exposed to my yard for the 3 whole seconds anyone can see it as they drive by (because our lots are so big and we have no neighbors who can directly see it from their house), everyone heads right to combat mode. We have always complied with the bylaws requirements (plans for the shed–twice) and accommodated the board’s requests for the maintenance of our yard which far exceeds the bylaws requirements (seasonally-appropriate tarp colors). Our neighbors do not but we don’t complain about it because we don’t care. We’ve happily supported variances for alpacas and scandalous lot divisions. Because we don’t care.

    There’s no need for a cease-and-desist on construction because there’s nothing else being “constructed.” It was “built” by Derek and the boys 1) as a Boy Scout project involving recycling and using our resources responsibly and 2) it would give them something to do outside as Derek diligently works to clear the trees that have been identified by (electric company) for being at risk in a storm to power lines supplying our neighbors with electricity (but electric company won’t remove them). This tree removal is a service primarily to our neighbors on [insert road name full of neighbors super pissed off when they lose power] because [electric company] indicated that if any of those trees go down, it wouldn’t affect our service personally. While it is no one’s business, we’re happy to share that we are planting fruit and evergreen trees in the place of the precarious oak trees. Derek has been outside working on clearing out the trees five days a week for the last two weeks. Apparently that isn’t fast enough for whomever has issued the complaint. He will now work every single day after his real job so our neighbors are not inconvenienced by his inability to make the tree limbs magically disappear after he cuts them down.

    But now we are in that awkward situation where we feel defensive and feel compelled to identify to the board that a structure in a tree is not regulated as a “building” in any rural [county] laws or regulations and that platforms or tree houses are not mentioned in the bylaws. If the board feels that the neighborhood would be a safer place by the board determining what goes on in trees, it may be in their best interest to propose a modification of the bylaws to include “structures in trees in which children play.” Were we to construct a tree house for our children, please know that we would take into account the unique sensitivities of our neighbors around us, even though we would not be legally required to do so.

    The platform was never intended to stay for very long and is constructed from only ropes, trees that have just been cut down and a few pieces of recycled plywood. Had someone just asked us about it and explained their particular aversion to it (nicely), we would have taken it down immediately. Suddenly, we want to keep it forever. (Ir)Regardless, we’ll take it down now, even though we’d prefer to wait until after the boys stop crying about how some people hate recycling and about how some people hate seeing small children playing for 6 whole seconds (round trip) in their own 3 acre yard.

    [Mic Drop]

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