Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A surprise writer


 Valerie Loveless

Reading author bios often makes me feel a little insecure about my dreams as a child. They often start with, “When I was four years old I remember telling a story to my daddy and I looked into his eyes and knew I’d be an author someday.” Someday I’ll read one that says, “It was at that moment, as I passed through the birth canal that I knew I would be an author.”

That is part of what was so refreshing about speaking with Valerie Loveless. “I had no plans to be an author.” She had always been a creative individual and loved music and art, but writing was not one of the creative outlets she took. The first inkling of writing came when her and her sisters collaborated to write two children's books, Singing Not so Sweetly, and Anabelle Loves Babies. But even then the idea of writing a full length novel wasn’t on her mind. “There is a big difference between writing a kids book and something that is 85,000 words,” she notes.

What changed this was another one of her sisters. “My sister wrote a full length novel, and I was like, if she can do it then I can, I am way more creative than her.” That became the inspiration and motivation for her to begin to write. They say, write what you read and so she instantly got into Science Fiction. “I finished one novel and started several others, but they were no good. I just hit a block when I write sci-fi. I love it but at least for now it’s not what I am meant to write.”

The next trial was with romance, “I began sending chapters of a story to my family about a young girl who wrote for a local gazette. The story bounced between the young girl's life and the crazy, over the top, stories she told in the gazette. “I loved writing the gazette portions, because it allowed me to not hold back at all.” When asked what inspired the book she notes a specific episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman she saw that had a story of a local girl who wrote for a local publication. “I liked the idea and it kept growing on me.” The other inspiration that she only realized in hindsight was Little Women. And the similarities are striking. Not her book, but her story. She was sending these fun over the top stories to her family. Much like Jo March in the attic..

After eight or so chapters sent to the family Valerie decided, like Jo, that perhaps there was a market for this. Her sister had not turned her novel into any publishers, but she decided she would be different. Did her family love the novel so much that they said she must publish? “No, they were like, good story, but didn’t really push me to publish that was mostly me,” Valerie Admits. Once the manuscript was finished she turned it into a few publishers and was over the moon when Cedar Fort said they would publish it.

But her relationship with Cedar Fort was about to go far beyond just publisher and author. “As part of promoting my book I wanted to do a podcast, where I would interview other authors about their books and their writing journey.” Cedar Fort loved the idea and asked that she begin doing it for them and their authors. It only expanded from there. “Now I work for Cedar Fort, and in addition to my own podcast I produce another four podcasts.”

And while she did all this amazing recording and podcast work she continued to write. Enduring Promises of the Heart came out in 2018. It has been warmly received, one of her favorite review was from Barbara Raymond, it's a five star review on Amazon that reads, “This book is a definite read but the ending was, oh my, I can't even come up with the word! The end, the end? Really. You will definitely enjoy this book. I definitely recommend it.”

Valerie and her readers loved the story enough that she followed the book up with a sequel, Unbroken Promises of the Heart, that came out in 2020.

In addition to the podcast Valerie also began a newsletter and on April 1st 2019 as part of an April fools joke she told her readers she was working on a book called, My Bigfoot Boyfriend. But the joke only grew on Valerie and by April 1st 2020 she had decided that she was going to write that book after all, and this year in August My Bigfoot Boyfriend was released. The book which is more a novela at just over 30,000 words is also her first self published book. Why self publish a book when you work for a publisher? “Well for one thing it was very short, but the honest reason is that I couldn’t imagine dealing with the team laughing about it when it was pitched.” But it did give her a great chance to better understand a business that has become a huge part of her life. She had to do everything, the cover design, the manuscript set up, setting up the printing. “It was a huge lesson and now when I take issues or questions to different people in the office I understand what I’m talking about.”

So, what’s next? She hasn’t completely given up on doing some Sci-fi, but the next big goal is a hallmark movie. “It’s not too crazy right? After all a few years ago I didn’t think I would be a published author, so who’s to say I couldn’t do this as well.” It’s that kind of ambition and optimism that has gotten Valerie through some amazing adventures, both in and out of her text, and Hallmark or not you can bet her future will be exciting.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

We Never Know

Roland at the bus station before we said goodbye

Six hours is way too long. I hate long drives, and even more than the drive, I hate making it longer by stopping.

“I need to go to the bathroom.”

“You can hold it.” I call back.

“I’m hungry.”

“There are plenty of old cheerios and fries jammed in those seats back there.”

“Is that the gas light?”

“No...maybe...we can make it.”

So it was a surprise when the sudden desire to pull over for the man who looked like a vagrant walking along the highway came over me. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised; Anyone who reads my blog knows I don’t mind meeting new people under the strangest of circumstances, but the problem with people on the highway is a problem that fits best in a jr. high math class:

If a van is traveling the highway at 75 mph and passes a vagrant walking at 2 mph how long does the driver have to notice the vagrant and decide to pull over before he is so far down the road that the driver feels it’s too late?

That is exactly what has happened to me many times. I flinch and the slightest hesitancy at 75 mph makes it too late (probably not really but that is how I feel, which makes me hesitate again and then it's really too late; well, probably not really but that is how I feel, which makes me hesitate again and then it’s really really too late. Well, probably not really but that is how...you get the idea.)

And what causes us to flinch? Many things: We have all heard of stories of people getting picked up and then them finding bodies on the side of the road a short time later. In addition, at this time we were in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Our leadership had instructed us to avoid one another; what better reason is there than that? And of course, number three, I don’t want to get involved (I wrote on this earlier, so reference that here.) And don’t get me wrong, your safety is a valid reason to debate, but I can attest that I felt a real clear impression to pick him up.

The difference this time was I didn’t hesitate. It likely helped that I had recently gone through a similar situation and Jeanine had been nothing but supportive (she really is amazing). I quickly followed the impression and pulled off the road only 100 or so feet in front of the traveler, which, if you are still following the math problem, means I have lightning fast reflexes.

A short, skinny man carrying a small plastic bag and a longboard got in the front seat. We were traveling, so our front seat was covered with snacks, garbage, diaper bag, etc. We pushed what we could to the side and tried to pass the longboard back so he could jam in.

“Thanks for picking me up. I can give you money for gas,” He offers as he gets situated.

“That’s okay. What’s your name?”


“Where you off to?”

“Las Vegas.” His voice was soft and had a sort of accent, and the two made him very hard to understand.

“We can take you to St. George, but you will have to get the rest of the way from there. Why are you going to Las Vegas?”

“I live there. Is it far?”

“Las Vegas?” He nods. “It’s still at least a three hour drive.”

He looks perplexed. “That’s far. But you can’t take me there?”

“No, we are only going to St. George.”

“Okay, I’ll walk from St. George.”

“That’s a long walk. I’m not sure you want to do that.”

He looks concerned, as if to say, ‘what other choice do I have?’ but just says “I mean I will get there tonight?”

“Not if you walk you won’t.”

We are rolling down the road by this point and we offer him something to eat and a water. He graciously takes both. Finishes the whole water quickly, we offer him another, he again finishes quickly, so we offer another, again with the same result. It’s clear he is very thirsty and has nothing to eat or drink in sometime. “How long have you been walking?”

“About 2 hours. You sure I couldn’t get a bike or something in St. George, so I could ride it to Vegas”

“That would still be a long ride. What are you doing in Utah?”

“They drove me up last night to help them move a big chair, but then I lost my friend at the gas station. Could you get me close to Vegas?”

“I’m sorry I need to stop in St. George. So, you like to longboard?”

“No. You can have that. I don’t know how to use it. I just found it on the side of the road.” He goes on to show me what was in the little bag he was carrying, other things he had found on the side of the road. An old political flyer, a paper license plate, a metal hunk of a broken car.

As we spoke a picture of what was going on began to become clear. This was not a homeless vagrant as we had guessed. While he was hard to understand, the more I learned the more I realized this was an adult, who was very much a child. He lived in a group home, didn’t know his phone number, could tell us the basic location but not the address. And no matter what I said I could tell that deep down all he could think about was how could he get home tonight.

It was like you losing your 8 year old at the gas station, them not knowing what to do and then they start walking home, when they are 300 miles away. Why didn’t people stop and help him, after all if you saw a young child in need walking along the highway wouldn’t you stop? But he didn’t ask, and he didn’t look like an 8 year old. He looked like a vagrant, someone who knew what they were doing walking down a highway, if such a thing exists.

We were lucky. The Salt Lake express was running from St. George to Las Vegas, we got him a ticket and made sure he got on the bus. The bus line was super helpful and let him stay with them until our amazingly generous friend, Jason Segedy, (who was willing to pick up a total stranger at midnight at the drop of a hat) picked him up and took him back to his group home.

I wonder what would have happened to our friend Ronald had we not picked him up. It was hot, very hot, he had no water, no food, night was coming. Even picking him up, it took us a lot of conversation, hard to understand conversation, to realize what he really needed and that giving him a ride part way and then dropping him off would likely just put him back into the same situation. I hope that if we had missed him that someone else would have picked him up. That they would have taken the time to figure out what was going on and what he really needed. But if you had been the car behind me would you have stopped?

Now I don’t doubt that if you would have known the situation, essentially a child, hundreds of miles from his home, lost and just hoping to get back, that you would have acted. But that’s it, we never know. We need to make split second decisions when traveling at the breakneck pace that society sets for us, whether to stop and put our own lives on hold to help others, or to stay in the fast lane. And if we don’t watch, listen, and be prepared to set aside our priorities we will leave Ronald and so many others like him lost on the side of the road.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The Rain Circle - The other view point.


The Rain Circle - The other view point.

While walking up in the high parts of Puno, me and my mission companion (I was serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) got into sharing stories from different parts of our lives. One story that really became a focal point for me was the story he told me about the “rain circle”.

As a young child his mother had warned him about rain circles, rain circles you see are rainbows but rather than the arch shape you typically see with rainbows, rain circles form a perfect circle. The rain circle will typically form around the sun. However once spotted, they then will fall down and encircle the viewer, though this may seem like a beautiful and serendipitous encounter it has a most heinous outcome. The viewer once encircled will encounter death. You can always tell when someone has been killed by a rain circle because they will have a certain coloration in their skin, just a little remnant left behind by the rain circle. There is however one way to protect yourself from a rain circle. Once the viewer has spotted the rain circle they must pee a circle around themselves and stay within confines of the circle until the rain circle has passed. The pee circle you see protects you from the rain circle. Treding even a foot beyond the pee circle while in the presence of a rain circle could mean eminent death.

My companion went on to state that once he and his friend were once walking out in the countryside when they spotted the rain circle. They of course were well aware of the legend so naturally they peed out a circle and stayed safely inside until the rain circle had passed.

I walked on and was waiting for some kind of punch line to the story, but looked over at my companion and realized he wasn’t telling a joke, he was serious. I then started to giggle. He turned and looked hurt by my laughing and stated, “What is so funny”. I then said, with much amusement, “Not only is there no such thing as a rain circle, but even if it did exist which it doesn’t, it most certainly wouldn’t kill you!” I laughed and I laughed and I laughed some more, to which my mission companion shot back at me, “My mother wouldn’t lie to me about that kind of thing”. I laughed some more and I protested at the ridiculousness of his notion and he protested back. It wasn’t long before it was clear we were in two different camps when it came to rain circles and there simply would be no compromise. I wiped my tears away, my laugh is ridiculously large and breathy, and we both decided to leave the issue behind us.

Though we didn’t agree on rain circles we grew to be close friends, we shared many a laugh together, but as fate would have it after 6 weeks he was summoned to go serve on an Island out in the middle of Lake Titicaca. I stayed in my area with a new Elder that was assigned to work with me. A few days after he arrived we were walking through the same remote part of town up in the highlands where my old companion had first told me the story of the rain circle; when my new companion blurted “Hey look, a rain circle”. I in awe said “What?” Sure enough I looked up to see none other than a rainbow but in a perfectly formed circle.

This served as a lesson for me, I simply don’t know everything there is to know. “The world is wide” I tell myself. If I hear something that is beyond crazy I try to think, I don’t know everything and maybe there is truth to this. A few weeks after spotting the rain circle, I was told of the story about Kharisiri; a person who steals fat from people for evil purposes. Once the fat has been taken, usually without the victim knowing, it will leave the victim feeling sick and no western medicine can help. The only cure is to walk with a lamb to a holy spot in the mountains, which can only be found by someone who has made the journey before. Once there you have to then sacrifice the lamb and perform a ritual and then start the journey home. If you make it back successfully you, or the loved one you made the journey for, will be cured. Those who don’t do this, will have a slow, gradual but painful death.

When I heard this story I so wanted to say “Wow there are people stealing fat from people! People would pay good money for that in America, and to think they do it free of charge here.” But I thought back to the rain circle and kept an open mind and said instead: “Wow I had no idea that happened.” The teller then went on to tell me about their personal story, an encounter with a Kharisiri, which was truly a captivating story and one I never would have heard if I would have gone with my original gut comment.

Recently, I have thought back to the story of the rain circle. Our nation seems unrecognizably divided, the two sides thinking that the other side is utterly incomprehensible. Each side dehumanizes the other. The story of the rain circle however reminds me to accept the lived experiences of others. I often think that if I were to have lived the life that the other person had lived, that I would probably see the logic in their point of view. I still think disagreements are healthy but all sides can benefit from a bit of humility and an ounce of compassion. For there may come a day where you too might look up and say, “O gosh there is a rain circle”.

Lastly you might be wondering what I did when I saw the rain circle? Well, naturally I did as anyone would do when encountered with a rain circle, well anyone who survives to tell the tale that is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Real Pandemic

I can’t help but notice while COVID has substantial risk to our country it is not the pandemic that worries me the most, nor is it the one that is most common among Americans today. The problem with this other pandemic is not only that it is much more pervasive but those who have it rarely recognize it, it’s highly contagious, and it attacks the fabric that holds our society together, the ability to live peaceably with others.

What is this pandemic? To introduce it I bring in a concept that is a very popular topic among those who are loyal to our current president but before I do I must be careful to note that this pandemic equally affects all parties and political creeds. Early in Trump's presidency his supporters started touting the idea that pundits and die-hards on the left had come down with Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). The idea that Trump was the embodiment of evil, that everything in their life that was bad came because of him. TDS blinded them from noticing or admitting if he did anything right. It allowed them to categorize and minimize his supporters. That they were dumb, uneducated, backwoods folks who don’t know what’s best for them. This also allowed them to turn a blind eye to the reality that there must be something real, something worth paying attention to in the moment that elected him. Something they needed to learn from and change.

In my humble opinion TDS is real. I believe far too many people have it to one degree or another, but that is not the pandemic I am writing about. And part of the reason is BDS or Biden Derangement Syndrome is just as real. There are just as many on the right who can’t accept any discussion or recognition to anything good that this man has done. They envision him as a socialist baby killer who can’t wait to destroy the economy by taking from the hard working and giving it to the lazy. They equally begin to believe that any rational decent person couldn’t vote for Biden.

If I said right now that I am endorsing Biden and you cringe you have BDS. If everytime you see a yard sign that says Trump Pence you negatively judge the person who owns the home you have TDS and if you hear a business owner is supporting Biden and you think you’ll take your business elsewhere you have BDS. I hope you get the idea. The truth is that the decision about who to support for President is nuanced. There are so many factors that impact it. Yet we often try to trivialize it down to one issue or topic.

As an example, I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, while not every member is Pro-Life, I think it is safe to say that a majority of active members feel that protecting the unborn is an important issue, I for sure do. But it pains me when I see members of my church who support Biden get attacked online because of his stance on one issue. In doing this they turn a blind eye to many other issues. And I feel the same for those who get attacked for supporting Trump. But he’s an immoral bully, they say. 

What do I do if I have a I don’t want to vote for a canidate who will increase access to abortion or a immoral bully? If I belive Biden will increse access to abortion and that Trump is an immoral bully than I have to pick one, vote for someone that has zero chance of winning or not vote. Those are my options. And I only list this as one example. There are hundreds if not thousands of nuanced decisions that go into a voting decision. My point is I know smart, moral, and well thought out men and women who will be voting for Biden and Trump. If you don’t, you have blinders on and need to cure yourself of TDS or BDS. How? I’ll get to that in a second, but first:

I still have not told you the real pandemic. Biden and Trump in time will dissipate and will become like Mitt and Obama or old. Whatever your feelings for or against them may change (has your views of Romney changed?) and their importance will diminish as the spotlight moves onto someone else. This is not about Trump and Biden. The pandemic is perhaps best called PDS, Political Derangement Syndrome. The disease that makes us think that our political views are the only ones worth having. That allows us to instantly judge, in a negative light those who don’t think or believe as we do. This to me is far more pervasive than racism, sexism or any other ism, but has all the same impacts. I saw it with the Black Lives Matter movement, on both sides. People lost jobs over things their relatives said on facebook. Like all political movements there were a huge amount of things that went into the BLM movement, any honest person no matter their political views probably agreed and supported some of them and disagreed with others. Therefore it’s perfectly rational for people to either support or not support the movement. The problem is we pick which side of the political world we sit on then we only look at the negative issues and the most extreme supporters of the other side all while turning a blind eye to the fact that our side, whatever it may be, has those same problems.

The problem with this is obvious. The worst and most dangerous enemies are always from within. Internal division, the endless desire to focus on what divides us over what unites us is far more likely to destroy our nation and our economy than is China, Coronavirus, Hurricanes or a Nuclear Bomb. So how do we cure it? 

  1. Accept that you are wrong at times. Politicians and policies we love aren't always as good as we thought. And sometimes ones we thought would be horrible end up not that bad.

  2. Make sure you have close friends who disagree with you. Most people, the more we get to know them the more we like them. If you have a black lives matter and Biden poster in your front yard, invite the neighbor with the Trump and All Lives matter poster in theirs. And don’t talk about politics. Find out that you have far more in common and that they are really good people. People worth loving, people worth listening to, not to belittle and unfriend on social media or more importantly in life.

  3. Talk politics with those who disagree with you, not to persuade but to listen. I know I just said don’t talk politics with the neighbor you disagree with. And not to disagree but to understand. You will be surprised when you ask, Why are you voting for Biden? They won’t say because he kills babies and wants to destroy our economy. They likely have reasons that if you really listen, not just superficially long enough to see a weakness and attack, that they have really worthwhile reasons.

This year is very interesting for me. The man I respect most politically, my father, and I will likely be voting for different candidates. I think we agree on 90% of political issues, but we predict different outcomes based on the votes. Is he right? Maybe, I for sure can’t say with any certainty that I am. But I feel good that the vote I am making is right. Likewise there is a decent chance my wife and I vote differently this year. There was a time in my life that this would really bother me. That it would lead to endless arguments, endless focus on how we see things differently. But this year I am very at peace with both my decision and theirs. And at peace is a great place to be.

If we want more of it we need to fight this pandemic.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Give me the *&%*# Hammer and how we can learn from construction workers.


Construction Workers

This week my Mother is having some construction work done at her home, and I happen to be there, also working from home. I have forgotten how angry and full of vitriol some construction sites can be. As the concrete pumper truck begn to flow so did the swear words. Now don't get me wrong I have worked on concrete jobs and they are stressful. Once the truck starts pouring there is no turning back. 

They yelled, they cussed, they called each other totally inappropriate names. And as a team they got together and did an amazing job.  As the job was complete they laughed together, told jokes and were clearly once again the best of friends. 

My point is not that we all need to expand our vocabulary by the extensive use of swear words so we can get more accomplished. No, I would just assume go without the anger and swearwords, but what we could learn is the lesson they teach on forgiveness and not taking offense. In the ultra PC world we live in, and in many court rooms what I saw and heard in the yard would be nothing short of a hostile work enviroment. But whatever you call it, the individuals were slow to take offense, and within a few hours had forgiven each other of any hard feelings, if there ever even were any. 

Is it too much to belive in a world that takes the best from both worlds? One where we work hard to not get angry and swear at work, but when we do or when we encoutner those who struggle with this, we don't take offense, claim harrassment or file a lawsuit?  

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Are you Present?

In Pennsylvania, May 23 will be '143 Day' in tribute to Mr. Rogers ...
Fred Rogers, doing what he always did, smiling, listening and being present.

When we hear that a member of congress has voted present we often mark it as cowardness. Likewise, we have a tendency to call those who show up only physically retired in place. For valid reasons we disparage the idea of being physically present but in every other way are absent.

Mister Rogers who physically has been absent from this earth for 13 years is making his presence very much known. This has come as books, documentaries and popular films have all been produced about his life. Rogers didn’t mean much to me as a child. I mean, I enjoyed his program like I enjoyed almost anything on TV. True, it probably was more beneficial watching Mr. Rogers talk about how to get through a tough day instead of witnessing one by seeing an affair and murder come to light on days of our lives on the other station. But can I say I always looked forward to Mr. Rogers? Or remember a hard time in my life when I needed to think of Daniel Tiger to get me through it? No.

However, I have watched both, Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with Tom Hanks and the documentary on Fred Rogers life, Won’t you be my Neighbor, as well as begun reading The Good Neighbor and I can say Fred Rogers is having a profound impact on my adult life.

In April 1967, Misterogers Neibhorhood, (They changed the name to Mister Rogers Neighborhood later). The show had been on the air for a year and they decided to do a meet-the host event in Boston. They knew Rogers was popular and planned for 500. Over 5,000 showed up, the line wrapped around the studio and down the street to Soldiers field. But despite the crowd Rogers insisted that he kneel and speak with each child individually.

The thing that stands out to me as I read about Fred Rogers is he had learned how to be present. Wherever he was, whomever he was with, once he chose to be there he was fully there. His eyes were there, his ears were there, his mind was there, and his spirit was there. The rest of the world became non-existent.

With this skill came a peace that he carried with him continually. A peace that is increasingly rare as this skill is becoming lost to the world. Our cell phones allow us the opportunity to remove ourselves from where we are at any second and put portions of ourselves somewhere else. Being distant while present, half engaged and half aware has become a way of life, a part of who we are. We rush from one place to another, always late, always in a hurry and then get there only to be more focused on the next appointment than the task at hand.

There is alot spoken and written on being at the right place at the right time. However, the person in the wrong place but fully present will outperform his peer whose body is in the right place, but is not fully present.

You want to have a great marriage? Be fully present when you are with your spouse. You want to be a great parent? Don’t have a phone in your hand, or work on your mind when you listen to your children tell about their day. Want to be more successful at work? Be fully there when you are there. Don’t have your mind worried about Donald Trump, your favorite sports team, black lives matter, or what you are going to have for lunch.

You want to be a person who has great character and understands why they are on earth? Be there for yourself and your God. Too often when we find ourselves with even a second of silence, or boredom we quickly reach for the phone and see what in the news, on facebook, the stock market or the number of coronavirus cases. Because in not being able to be fully present with others, we are losing the ability to be fully present with ourselves. Moments that should be for reflection, prayer and self improvement, when we give ourselves and our God our full attention, when we process what we did right and what we did wrong are handed over to a screen to see an acquaintance's views on politics, or pictures of what someone else ate for dinner.

Paul gave a wonderful analogy about the importance of us as members of the Church to work together. That we are all part of the body of Christ. He said, “For the body is not one member but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; … If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the member every one them in the body as it hath pleased them?” (1 Corithians 12: 14-18)

Paul used this analogy because the idea of walking out the door without our ears was so ridiculous, but that is exactly what so many are doing every day. It’s driving with headphones on and reading a text. We try to listen to meetings while our eyes look at something else, and our brain does a third thing.

Christ well understood our tendency to disengage. He taught in parables in part because he knew that to understand them would only be accomplished by those who choose to engage, to be fully present. He said, “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” (Matthew 13:15)

But? You say, “I have too much to do. I have to check emails while in meetings, I have to check facebook before I sleep, I have to be reading work assignments at the dinner table.” We all feel too busy to slow down. That we have too much. That if we give our wife or kids our full selves then we will get behind on our work or be passed up for that next promotion.

That is why Mr. Rogers is so important for me today. Did he, giving his full attention to each child, taking time to be present with whatever one he was with, limit his ability to achieve? His ability to influence? His success? No, the Lord magnified him in incredible ways that are still influencing people like myself over a decade after he is gone.

But as I think about Mr. Rogers I realize why he is having so much impact on the world. It’s because he is a reflection of someone who had this exact same skill. A man who could be fully present when he ran into a total stranger getting water at a well. Who gave his full attention and energy when he ran into lowly fishermen. A man who while only living into his early thirties continues to have a larger impact on earth than any other man. A young man from Galilee who we would all do well to find time to be fully present with.

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Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Romance of Writing - Aspen Hadley

World Changer! Aspen Hadley #WaitByTheGate #ChooseLight – Shannon ...
Aspen Hadley- Author

Loose papers, three-ring binders, and pencils lay strewn across the kitchen table. “Aspen, what are you up to?” Her mother asked.

“This summer I'm going to write a novel.”

“What about?”

“I’m not for sure yet, but my heroine is going to be named Tara and she will fall madly in love with Mark. It’s a romance.”

That 8th grader handwriting out her first novel during summer break with her cousin was Aspen Hadley. Storytelling was something she always loved. But it would be a few more years before she would finish her first novel. First came alot of life. She took creative writing classes whenever she could fit them in as she continued through high school and a few years later, at age 21, married her sweetheart.

But even while starting a family with young kids storytelling was never far from her life. She wrote stories about her life and sent them to her family through letters or emails. After a while, she began to publish the stories on a blog, and her family and friends encouraged her to write a novel. It took a while to percolate, but she finally decided she would do it. She wanted to see her name on a book. It took six months to write the story of two bickering neighbors who over time begin to understand and learn to live with one another. Once she had written her great American novel, she decided she better get some feedback, so she found some people she didn’t know who loved to read and reached out. She didn’t want them to be biased. All four said the same thing:“You’re a good writer but don’t care for the story.”

Not one of them liked it. She was devastated. Clearly, this book writing thing was not for her. She decided that story would never see the light of day and debated if her writing ever would either. While writing took a back seat, life continued to do what life does. She had a surprise number 4 child and her brother passed away from cancer. Shortly after these events, she thought she might be brave enough to try writing again, and put down on paper the beginnings of a story she titled, Simply Kate, about a young widow with her son and next door to her aunt in the mountains of Colorado. Kate is making that awkward step of reentering the dating scene. The story goes through the struggles that would be unique to anyone finding themselves single later in life and being a mother.

It felt good to be writing again, but life continued to happen, so writing took a back seat to living and raising her children. But five years later and the youngest was off to kindergarten. She wanted a creative outlet, now that some free time had found her. One day, while reading through old files on her computer she ran into Simply Kate. She had almost forgotten it existed. She read through and surprised herself with how much she enjoyed it. She decided to finish it. She spent the next several months getting the book drafted and then sent it to three beta readers. This time she chose people she knew but also knew would be brutally honest with her. Doing both those she knew and those she does not, she was surprised to find that those who knew her actually gave her more feedback. All three loved the book. When it came to writing, she instinctively knew, even back in eighth grade, what she was meant to write: romance. They suggested some edits and she went through the book again, but clearly this novel had potential. So what next?

Aspen often feels like the least educated person in the world, having not gone to college, but she loves to read and from that has learned how to learn. So, she hit the books, or rather the internet. She studied how to do a query and synopsis. She read that you had to put together a marketing plan. Something she didn’t know existed, let alone how to do. But she found examples and learned. Then she went for it, submitting her work to three publishers, Shadow Mountain, Covenant, and Cedar Fort.

Then the waiting. She wasn’t naive, after doing her research, she knew that the world of fiction is a sea of authors, and that most get rejection after rejection before they land a book contract. “I was standing at my kitchen table folding laundry, I was waiting for an email on something else, so I checked my phone and there it was. An email from Cedar Fort Publishing, accepting my book,” she recalls. She danced, she sang and ran around the table. She quickly called her husband, but he was in a meeting. “Get out of the meeting I have big news.” She wanted to scream, but ultimately it was her 16-year-old daughter getting home from school who got to be the first to hear.

“They sent me a contract, and I was like I don’t know if this is good or not, but I’ll take it.” The process to go from an accepted manuscript to an actual book took longer than she had envisioned. First, they reviewed and did a developmental edit. “They sent me back the file and I could accept or reject their edits. Or as was often the case I understood their point and edited into my voice.” Then came the copy edit with the commas and capitalization. “On that one, I was like accept, accept, accept.” They asked her to go through similar books on Amazon and pick covers she liked and covers she hated. Then they sent her three to pick from. And then the title. They went through lots of options and eventually settled on “Simply Starstruck.” “Now when I write, I don’t worry about the title because I know that will get worked out later,” she says.

A year later the book was done. “I remember getting my box with 20 author copies and just crying. I don’t cry much so my kids wondered what was wrong with me. I assured them they were happy tears.” Shortly thereafter the book started appearing on shelves in Deseret Book, Barnes and Noble, and even Target. “I made my kids pose at the store with my books. It was so exciting.”

From there she just kept on writing. Gathering ideas for her second book she decided to write on a Facebook group asking for weird and bad blind dates people had been on. “I got like 700 comments. They were so funny and great.” From those she selected 12 and got more details, ultimately six ended up in her second book, “Blind Dates, Bridesmaids and Other Disasters.” People regularly comment that the unbelievable blind dates in the book can’t be true stories but as she states in the book, they are 100% real.

She stayed with Cedar Fort as she has been very satisfied with their work. Her third book comes out this fall but the title hasn’t been released yet. People always wonder about how much an author makes. Has her writing allowed her to start paying cash for beach homes? “Writing is only what you put into it. I love doing it and seeing my books on the shelf. I'm blessed in that it doesn’t have to cover my living. If it did, I would have to put out much more than a book a year and I would have to do way more marketing and events. But I get some extra money and every year I do a trip with some of my friends and I can pay for it myself now and that is nice.”

It was great to learn more about Aspen’s journey as an author. I have read both her books and if you like romantic comedies, I recommend you pick them up. As noted the third book will be out this fall and she is almost done with the manuscript on the fourth, so look forward to seeing that the following year. If you liked this I hope you will take the time to subscribe to my blog. As I plan to do more author interviews and journeys.

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Sunday, July 5, 2020

Lessons from COVID and preparing for the next...

Human security in Africa: Assessment and capacity-building to ...
Digging with a mask after war impacts took out this African towns water supply. Disaster often increases the need for work, unfortunately not our ability to pay for it.

For many of us COVID-19 was a wake up call. Not necessarily about our handwashing techniques, the use of masks, or how teleworking may dominate our future, but a wake up call to how fragile our economy and even our political system is. There are many examples of the scriptures about a people who do not believe they could be destroyed:

“We will not believe thy words if thou shouldst prophesy that this great city should be destroyed in one day.” Alma 9:4- People of Ammonihah to Alma.

“And it came to pass that the jews did mock him because of the thing which he testified of them;'' 1 Nephi 1:19- Speaking of Lehi’s prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Of course there are many more, Noah, Jeremiah, Samuel the Lamanite… the list goes on and on.

And perhaps you could add us. But hopefully COVID has opened our eyes a little. I firmly believe that COVID’s greatest mission may be a simple warning. A way to show us that we need to be prepared for things. Because I strongly believe COVID-19 is not the greatest challenge I, or our society, will face in my lifetime. We need to be prepared for worse.

So, how do we prepare:

  1. I have always been a supporter of The Church of Jesus Christ stance that you should have a 1-year supply of food. And I did...did being the key word. My storage had dwindled some and the number of people and the amount of food they consumed had increased. I was far from a true year supply of food. We need to take the council prophets have given us for years seriously and get a true 1-year food supply.
  2. Our supplies should carry more than just food. Okay for some weird reason toilet paper this time was the big one. But if you can’t live without it then you should store some, but it showed us a broader point. There are things that aren’t food that we may not be able to get in disasters and we should store those too.
  3. Pay off debts and have some money saved. This has been the council for years and we would do well to follow it.
  4. Live on far less than you make. We have grown accustomed to lifestyles that are not sustainable, the food we eat, the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the boxes of stuff from Amazon, and the electronics that provide endless entertainment. Learning to take a step back and realizing that we can go without them and then doing it will be great preparation. It is far better and honestly easier for us to do it now, when it’s a choice and we can see what works and doesn’t, than wait until we are forced by circumstances. Another thing that can help this one is:
  5. Find fulfillment through self improvement, service and spending time with family instead of things and increased lifestyle. Many of us, if not all of us will go through a time in the near future when our lifestyle as measured by the world will be significantly reduced. We can prepare today by changing what we value. The best things in life are truly free. If you find your entertainment through service there will always be entertaining things for you to do. But if you only get it from Hollywood and high end dining, you may struggle. In fact, if you really want to find happiness in a disaster the number one thing you can learn to find joy and fulfillment in is...
  6. Hard work, learn to do it now. No matter how bad things get there will always be work to do. It may not be the work you want to do, and you may not get the salary you want but there will be work, much of it manual work. This has been a huge eye opener to me. I am not good at, nor do I do enough manual labor. I need to prepare by spending more time on the weekends in my yard weeding, trimming, digging, planting, building, painting, and harvesting. As well as, (Hopefully Jeanine doesn't see this, she might hold me to it) in the house cleaning, washing, cooking and picking up. It’s the type of work that is excellent for my mind, my body, and my ability to care for myself in hard times.
Bottom line is when we think of preparing for a potential disaster we often think of food storage and paying off debt and saving money. And that is good, we need those things. But in addition we need to change our lifestyle as well. We need to eat less and better, spend less and wiser, and work more and harder. Think about it, no matter how bad things get, the people who learn to live on little, find joy in things money can’t buy and are willing to work hard, will get by far better than the guy with 100 buckets of wheat who has never made a loaf a bread, hates hard work, and isn’t healthy enough to do it anyway. I firmly believe if we lived in the way the Lord would have us it would be sustainable as a way of life, through good and even the worst times. If COVID gets these lessons into my mind enough that I actually follow through with them then I will look back, as hard and horrible as it was, and be grateful for what it taught me.

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

The Parable of the Gift Cards

The Best Gift Cards For 2020 And How To Save Money On Them

Scott was a serial entrepreneur. And he knew how to catch a fad. Purple, Serta, Sleep Number, mattress companies were popping up offering high end mattresses with huge margins, there was even one selling mattresses made out of parts of avocados. He decided that the right thing to do was mix a new craze with an old one. Hollywood had taught him that nothing sells like nostalgia, look at the box office: Star wars, Ghostbusters, Beauty and the Beast. For him the obvious answer was waterbeds.

He quickly got with his manufacturing contacts and within a few months Ocean Rest was born. But clearly nostalgia has its limits and while he was making a living the beds weren’t flying off the shelves. The Christmas holiday was fast approaching and Scott decided to get in on the gift card business. Why would you buy gift cards for $25 or $50 dollars for a $2,000 item? Even the optimist in him didn’t think he would sell a lot, but on the bright side because of that many that were sold would never get redeemed. So, he would sell a 10 cent piece of plastic for $25. That was the kind of business he could get into.

He dropped some money on a graphic designer and when he got them back he had to admit, they were very cool looking. He bought a few hundred and distributed them around at some stores. A few days later his phone rang. It was from his friend, Sai, who owned the local hardware store. “We would like 200 more gift cards.”


“You heard me, the 20 you gave us flew off the shelf. We project we could sell 200 more this holiday season.”

“Sai, you’re very funny. But I’m not making 200 cards.”

“Suite yourself, but I’m serious. They like your cards.”

He and Sai often played pranks on each other so he ignored the call until all the others started coming in. “We will take 100 more.” They all said. Something about that card. And after he filled those orders the calls for 1,000 more came almost as fast. People all over the country were calling asking to get his cards. Soon Wal Mart ordered 10,000. For some reason everyone wanted one.

Scrolling through his facebook feed one day he saw it, a woman holding one of his cards saying, “Can’t wait to give my parents their waterbed gift card for Christmas. The day I punctured theirs and flooded the room they will never forget. They are going to lose it when they get this.” And they started popping up, memes, jokes, memories all with his card. Clearly, $2,000 was too much to have a nostalgic experience, but $20 wasn’t.

As the cards came off the shelf the money started pouring in. First thousands, then tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions. Making gift cards felt like printing money.

“Dad, I don’t know what to say.”

“The polite thing to say is, ‘Thank You’.” Scott said as he sat with his daughter and their family on Christmas.

“But Dad, I can’t accept this.”

“Of course, you can, it's your Christmas Gift.”

“But my home...paid off.”

“I know you and Billy are doing okay but think about how much easier things will be without the mortgage.”

And Scott was also generous with his extended family. Aunts got boats and Uncles got trucks to pull them with. But Scott wasn’t worried it seemed the money poured in faster than he could spend it. So, he just kept spending.

But all crazes die, and when this one died, it died in two phases. Phase 1 was when people stopped buying the cards. The money slowed down and Scott began to scramble. In addition to gifts he had bought many nice things for himself, and the beach condo had a steep HOA, and the water bill at his new mansion with the lazy river, equaled most people's house payment. Things were getting very tight, he even wondered if he would have to sell one of the six new homes when Phase 2 hit.

In Salt Lake another young entrepreneur’s wheels were turning. The world was flooded with $20 gift cards for water mattresses that were almost worthless to those who held them. People would gladly cash them in for pennies on the dollar.

Scott was excited when he got the first order for 15 waterbeds. After all, he could use the money. But then he noticed how they were paid for, all with gift cards. He wouldn’t see a dime, he already had and spent the money for these. This was painful, but he had to deliver. Then another order for 20, then 30. The young man in Salt Lake was buying $2,000 waterbeds with worthless gift cards and selling them for $500 and turning a decent profit.

One by one the six homes were sold. Pouring all his money to fulfill orders that didn’t bring in a cent. It was staring at a computer in his daughters basement at an order of 100 mattresses that he realized the game was up. He didn’t want to declare bankruptcy but it was his only option. In desperation he called a number he had looked up sometime ago.

“Hello, this is Anash, did you want to order a mattress?”

“Anash, this is Scott, owner of Ocean Rest. I can’t do it.”

“Do what?”

“I can’t fill any more orders. I’m bankrupt, I can’t afford to sell you any more mattresses.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. You were paid in advance for these orders. Paid one gift card at a time. You should have money to spare. Getting paid in advance of the orders is an advantage, how could you not have the money?”

Scott knew Anash was right, he knew money today is worth more than money tomorrow, but he also knew why in his case, that hadn’t been the case. “I didn’t expect people to use the gift cards. I assumed most would get lost or thrown away. At least, I guess that is what I assumed. I probably didn’t really think about it enough. I’m sorry, but you have to stop.”

“I can’t, I have orders to fill. I’ve taken another 50 since I sent you that last order yesterday.”

“Then it looks like we're both going out of business.”


I think this parable needs some explanation. Scott is you and me. It’s all the citizens of the United States and the gift cards are $100 dollar bills. Since the great recession the demand for $100 dollar bills has skyrocketed. As demand goes up they simply print more. They now print more $100 dollar bills than $1 dollar bills. There are several reasons for this. Many countries knowing that large bills are often used in crime stopped printing large currency bills. The Euro for instance discontinued their 500 Euro note for this reason. The US dollar is also amazingly stable, so it is seen as a safe place to store your money if you are overseas.

So with all this printing of money why are we not seeing inflation. And isn’t having the world use our currency a good thing? We are not seeing inflation because much of the money isn’t going into circulation. We get to essentially spend it for goods and services and then it goes into someone's mattress or in some cartels shed. Is this good for us? Like Scott and his family members it is, in the short run. We get the world's goods and services and what do we have to provide in return? Nothing, or practically nothing, a 12 cent piece of paper.

The danger is that just like Scott, this game will die and die in two phases. Phase 1 will be when the demand for $100 bills stops. When people in India, China and drug cartels no longer want to use $100 bills as their preferred source of money storage. That will be painful, because no more buying goods and services for practically nothing. But it is nothing compared to the pain we will feel in Phase 2 when people decide to begin to liquidate the bills they have. There will be massive inflation. That is when we will be forced to make goods and services and get nothing in return. Just like in the story the pain will be shared by both us and those who hold our money.

What should we do? We need to realize that we can’t keep printing money without consequences. The decision to print or not print money is based on keeping inflation low, because deflation would also cause economic pain. The best way we could control this is do what Europe and other nations have done and discontinue the $100 bill. It would be a tough decision. It would be like Scott deciding not to sell gift cards when they are flying off the shelf. But we need to. Because the only other option is actually to use good times to save money and prepare for the payback when it inevitably comes. And unfortunately I don’t see us as a nation doing that.

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Saturday, June 13, 2020

Llewellyn Hanson- Dead Detective- Chapter 20

Move over Poirot, a new detective is here - columns - Hindustan Times

Here is the Link to the Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18, and Chapter 19

“What was that?” Trout asked, as he Hanson and Chief Grassly were all back in the office.

“It was the sound of the judge removing her inner ability to influence,” Hanson said.

Trout imagined the judge removing some sort of light crystal from the heart of Stacy as she cried out in pain. “Really?”

“No,” Hanson clearly enjoyed the joke, and the chief couldn’t help but have a chuckle at Trout’s expense as well. “More likely she found out a painful truth. I found out this morning, and honestly I reacted almost the same way. Her daughter,Trish, moved on last night.”

“Moved on?” The chief said in surprise.

“You mean the second death?” Trout asked.

“Some people call it that.” The chief replied

“What do you call it?” Trout asked.

“I try not to think too much about it.”

“So, we can call a witness from those who have moved on?” Trout asked.

“No. You can’t,” the chief jumped in.

“But you said…”

“I was bluffing.” Hanson said with a calm that only comes from a gambler after his play has worked out.

“That was a little gutsy.” The chief said. “You went to trial with your only witness not available. You basically had nothing.”

“Nothing is a bit strong, I had circumstantial evidence and I had visited with her daughter, who helped me quite a bit on the details. She had agreed to testify but she moved on. I wasn’t going to give up because of some bad luck.”

“Couldn’t they wait until after the trial to take her?” Trout asked.

The chief and Hanson shared a glance. “I’m not sure who you think ‘they’ are, but we don’t have any control over it. In fact, the second death, as you call it, is as unpredictable as, actually...” he thought of something they handled everyday, murder, and changed his mind, “even less predictable than the first death.”

“Where do they go?”

“Not sure. But it isn’t here.” Hanson stated with the same matter of fact tone he usually did.

“Do we ever see people who have moved on?” Trout asked.

Hanson turned to the Chief, “You take this one.”

The chief cleared his throat, which was completely unnecessary for someone who is dead. “Well, some people say they have seen people who have moved on. The best way to explain might be to ask, did you know people in life who claimed to see us? I mean dead grandparents in dreams and things?”

“Not personally but heard of people, mostly crazys.”

“There you go. Same here, but we do exist, so I guess they might be telling the truth.”

“I guess.” They could tell that Trout was not fully satisfied with their answers. But the truth was the questions weren’t answered any better for the chief or Hanson; they had just experienced these situations long enough to know they worked, even if they didn’t know why. So at some point they stopped asking and just lived with it. Sort of moved on, and that is exactly what they tried to do now.

“Speaking of the board, Hanson, they came back with what to do about you and I can’t believe what you’ve done.”

“What?” Hanson feigned innocence.

“Well before I tell you, how about your outburst at sentencing?”

“Oh yes, I’m sorry but five years was a bit light.”

“Not your call.”

“Fine. The judge called you back for that?”

“No. She didn’t mention it. She is a bigger person than I would be. It’s the board. They came back on your using the elements to stop Tom from using drugs.”

“They’re still bent out of shape about that?”

“No, turns out the board had it reviewed by the judge panel. Judge Sherman wanted me to tell you. They have ruled that you effectively used your expanded authority in enforcement to further the protection of life within the boards of duty and further that such use is hereby authorized for all members of enforcement. You’ve done it again, you have changed the rules of the game.”

Hanson gave a smirk

“I’m proud of you. But I’m supposed to remind you that we have to get those things vetted before, not after we use them.”

“Oops,” Hanson said in as much jest as was possible for him.

“Well, after a big case win like that you boys need a day or two off.” Hanson glared at the chief. “Just kidding, I’ve already got a case. It’s an odd one. No body. Almost unsolvable.”

Hanson smiled, “That is more like it.” He turned to his junior, “You ready, Trout?”

Trout was looking down unto his visor, ignoring Hanson.

“Trout, I said you ready?” Hanson reiterated.

“Stop interrupting. I’m reading the case file.”

The chief laughed, “You two are the perfect team.” but his words were spoken into the empty space in front of him, they were already on the case.

The End

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Llewellyn Hanson- Dead Detective- Chapter 19

Move over Poirot, a new detective is here - columns - Hindustan Times

Here is the Link to the Prologue, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15Chapter 16, Chapter 17, and Chapter 18

The next morning, Hanson and Trout sat waiting in Chief Grassly’s office.

“How does this all work?” Trout asked.

“Once they have a judge and a location, the chief will get us. After he ports us to the spot, you are free to get Caden and bring him back to the courtroom. Then the trial will begin.”

“Is it like trials on the other side?”

“What do you think?” Hanson asked.


“You’re right. I mean there is a judge, but court over here is much more an open conversation and takes as much or little time as needed. I have seen whole cases start and finish in five minutes and I had one last three weeks without a break. But just like back home, the judge runs everything, and just as the judges on the other side have certain powers and authorities, so do the judges over here.”

The explanation was barely finished when the Chief ported in. He had hardly appeared when Hanson asked, “Who’d we get?”

“Sherman. Not that it matters,” the chief replied.

“Sherman! Not Sherman!” Hanson bemoaned.

“Who’s Sherman?” Trout asked.

“She’s the judge,” Grassly answered. “Hanson and her don’t always see eye to eye. He finds her a bit lenient at times.”

“A bit!?” Hanson cried out.

“We better get going,” the chief said, and seconds later they were in the courtroom.

However, Trout would not have called it a courtroom. He would have more likely guessed it was a room for a group therapy session. It was a fairly large room with a circle of chairs. There were two people already sitting in the circle. One stood and walked to them. “Welcome, welcome, I am Judge Sherman.” She was a kind, older woman. Trout was shocked that Hanson could say anything bad about this woman, she seemed so inherently kind.

Hanson leaned towards Trout, “Go get Caden. I’ll tell the judge where you are.”

Trout appeared in the living room where Caden sat jovially speaking with the Worthlins. “Oh, hi Trout. Is it time for the trial?”

“Yeah, let’s go.” Trout said he wasn’t sure how quickly he was expected back and didn’t want to hold up the trial.

“Can the Worthlin’s come?”

“Um…” Trout had no idea if they would be allowed. “I guess so...?” While it was a bit awkward, Trout asked that they all put a hand on him and a second later they were back in the courtroom.

“Oh, a few guests, how nice. Good thing we have a few extra chairs,” said Judge Sherman excitedly. They headed into the circle and sat down. Trout, who sat next to Hanson whispered, “Who is the other lady?”

“Reviewing judge,” Hanson replied. “They always have two. One runs the show and the other reviews and watches. The second won’t speak.”

“Welcome everyone.” Judge Sherman began. “Well Hanson, before we do official introductions why don’t you tell us why we have all gathered here today.”

“Thank you, your honor.”

“Oh, Hanson, you can call me Jill. You know that.”

Hanson had warned Trout that the court was different, but he was still ill-prepared for just how different the atmosphere was.

“Thank you Jill,” Hanson started over “I have called us together because Stacy Wall directly influenced Jim Gillman to kill Caden Mason, and I believe if actions are not taken she will continue to influence others in an attempt to destroy the lives of others.”

As Hanson mentioned Stacy, the Worthlin’s gasped slightly. Clearly they, unlike Caden, had heard of her.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Before the case begins we will invite Mrs. Stacy Wall to join us.” The Judge said.

Instantly Stacy appeared in one of the empty seats next to the judge. She looked shocked and then almost instantly angry. Anger was clearly the predominant feature in her eyes. One by one, she took an inventory of who was there while she looked around the room.

“Stacy, I’m Judge Jill Sherman, but you are welcome to call me Jill. I believed you were informed yesterday that you had been asked to appear.”

“And I told them no,” Stacy interrupted.

“I do understand that it is not always convenient, but we are glad you made the time to be here.”

“I was forced.”

“That may be true, but I appreciate you being here regardless. Let’s begin by introducing ourselves. I already introduced myself, next to me is our review judge, Judge Jane Bolin. As a reviewer she is here to ensure I operate this court in accordance with policy. She will not speak. Let’s go around the room. Tell me who you are and why you are here.”

The Worthlins went first, after saying who they were, added, “The deceased is our son-in-law and we were curious about the process.”

“Thank you, but we’re all deceased here. I assume you mean Caden is your son-in-law.” The judge said.

“That’s correct.”

“Thank you for coming.”

Next, Caden stood up, “So, I’m Caden Mason and I was killed recently. I guess that’s why we are here. I have no idea who Stacy is. So listen judge, this detective guy is okay,” he pointed to Hanson. “But he’s done some weird stuff the last few days. I’m not sure he knows what he is doing when it comes to this Stacy lady.”

Hanson, as usual, was not happy to have Caden along, but restrained himself from reaching over and porting him out of the room.

“Thank you Caden, I’ll keep that in mind. I’m glad to see you appear well. Death been okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine, takes some getting used to but it’s been overall okay. Honestly, Detective Trout has been a huge help. He showed me how to get around with your magic, which is helpful. In fact, you want to hear something rather funny, Judge?”

Hanson shook his head and buried his face in his hands as Judge Sherman said, “You can call me Jill and I’d love to hear something funny.”

“Well, in some ways my family’s better off with me dead, and I mean it. Last night my brother-in-law and his daughter stayed in my home, something I would have never allowed when I was alive.” Then he recalled that Tom had been sneaking into his home. “At least not knowingly, and I realized I was being dumb - plain old dumb about it. I think there has been a lot of healing.”

Stacy squirmed and rage filled her face as Caden spoke, something the judge seemed to ignore. “I’m very glad to hear it, and very mature of you to recognize it.”

Stacy’s fists were clenched and she began to visibly shake as Jill turned to her, “I am sorry Stacy, but porting out of here is not possible, so you can stop trying.”

“Then I’m leaving,” she yelled. Trout had no concept of exactly where they were. There were some windows but they were high above eye level and while light was streaming in, it was impossible to see anything out of them.There was only one door into the room and it was toward that door that Stacy now headed. Once she made it to the door she yelled, “I demand you open this door!”

The judge walked over to Stacy, and in a soft voice said, “Stacy, I know you don’t want to be here but it will be easier for you and all of us if we all work together. Can you come back and sit in your seat?”


“Very well,” The judge walked back to her chair, “Go on,” she said, gesturing for Chief Grassly who was next to introduce himself. He, Trout and Hanson all introduced themselves, briefly stating who they were.

The only one left was Stacy, who now sat in the fetal position on the floor by the door. She had her hands over her ears, which was purely symbolic because doing so had almost no effect in limiting what she heard. “Stacy would you like to introduce yourself?” the judge asked.

Silence prevailed, so the judge continued, “Very well.”

“Stacy, we are here because Hanson has accused you of influencing Jim Gillman to commit murder. It is our job to work together to come to an understanding of the facts of what happened. If we cannot agree, it’s left to my judgement as to what happened and what to do about it. Stacy, we’d rather proceed with your involvement but we will proceed either way. The silence continued.

“Hanson, what do you believe occured?”

“Thank you Jill,” he said as he stood. Hanson went to the middle of the circle and turned his focus directly to the judge. Some people are said to have presence and Trout couldn’t say why, but Hanson had it now. The focus was on him and he spoke without a hint of embarrassment or fear. He conveyed confidence and authority. And while he was never unsure of himself, this was something more. Clearly he was no stranger to the courtroom. “About six years ago Thomas Worthlin did a horrible thing. In a fit of rage and sorrow he took Daisy’s vehicle to find his wife who had run out on him. He discovered her in the arms of another man. He quickly left in even greater rage, seeking comfort from the only place he knew where to find it, a needle full of heroin. High as he could afford to get himself, he got behind the wheel of Daisy Mason’s Toyota Camry to get back home. At the intersection of Branch and Loos in Hartford, Wisconsin, he ran a red light, T-boning a Nissan Leaf being driven by a 19-year-old, Trish Wall. She died instantly.” The Worthlins were crying. The story still came with a certain amount of pain to them.

“It was at that intersection, only a few days ago, that I realized where I had seen Stacy, who is with us today. Oh, I had seen her at several places related to this case, but that is where I had seen her the first time. It was a picture of a grieving mother at that intersection laying a cross on the side of the road for her daughter. That grieving mother, Stacy Wall, was and still is, devastated.

“Tom pled guilty to manslaughter and was given 7 years. Stacy was outraged, she demanded that the penalty was a mere slap on the wrist. And while Tom was rotting in jail, Stacy began to see her life fall apart. Her bitterness was overwhelming and when her husband begged her to get help, she angrily decided he did not understand. Her marriage and her health deteriorated, and three years to the very day of the incident she died.

“First she was happy to be reunited with her daughter, but soon grew disappointed that her daughter was so forgiving of the fact that her life had been taken from her so early. Her daughter had done what she couldn’t - she moved on. The bitterness became rekindled and as it grew, so did the distance between her and her daughter. She blamed Tom and the person who had given him the weapon to kill her daughter, Daisy. When he was released after serving only five years for good behavior, she was ready. She came up with a plot to rob the two people she blamed for her daughter’s death of the things they loved most. For Tom, it was being with his daughter and for Daisy it was her husband Caden. In order for her to find a way, she needed someone easily influenced who would be willing to do her dirty work. She quickly focused on Jim Gillman. His lavish lifestyle left him deeply in debt and greedy for opportunities to enrich himself. It took some work, but she was able to help him land the CEO job at Canine Hope, an organization the Mason’s were already associated with. That set up Jim to be the perfect accomplice.

Suddenly Stacy jumped up and began to yell, “It’s not true!” as she walked towards the circle, “It’s a lie, he lies!”

“Stacy, thanks for joining us. Can you tell me what portion of what Detective Hanson has said is a lie?” the judge asked in a calm tone that was in perfect contrast to the emotions Stacy displayed.

“All of it, every word!” She yelled.

“Stacy, I’m afraid I need you to be more specific.” The judge replied.

“Why should I be? Let me out of here!”

“Stacy, I need you to calm down and not yell.” The Judge kept her calm.

“I will not calm down. Nor will I listen anymore. This system is ridiculous!”

“I will ask one more time. Please calm down.”

“No. I will not! If I need to I will keep yelling until this is over, or you let me out. I don’t need to be subjected…”

Suddenly Stacy ported next to the judge and while it appeared she was still yelling, no one could hear her. She stood and tried to go back to the corner she had been in but an invisible box constrained her to stay where she was. The constraint did not diminish her anger, but despite every visible sign of yelling, silence prevailed.

Trout was in awe. When alive he would have given half his income to have the ability to do that with his children.

“Continue, Hanson,” requested the Judge.

“Once it was clear that Jim would be her accomplice, Stacy began to work on motive. In order for her to be able to influence Jim, she needed Jim to have an incentive. The easy connection was for the Masons to leave money in their will for Canine Hope. After all, it was an organization they believed in deeply but despite her consistent prodings they would only leave token amounts. Caden, as you recall, you told me, ‘we felt the need and prodding to give more, and several times adjusted our will to give ten or twenty thousand dollars.’ But despite a large nest egg, Caden wanted his wife to be secure upon his death. Stacy needed the Masons to first, feel they were each separately secure without the other and second, to get a large sum that would finally make them feel set for life. The obvious solution came clear. The Worthlins needed to die.”

Mr. and Mrs. Worthlin looked at each other in shock. The idea that someone had orchestrated their deaths had never crossed their mind and even as they heard this theory they questioned its validity.

Hanson continued, “This solution was almost perfect. The Worthlins would bring sorrow to Daisy and Tom, it would cause a windfall for Daisy, and give her the security she needed. Tom had been in prison for almost five years and the thought of his mother dying before he was freed made her cold heart warm. But in that, there was one snag because Tom had been in jail for five years, and that was five years of sobriety. He was determined to stay that way for his daughter, Riley. Of course, Stacy would do all in her power to ensure he did go back to drugs but what if he had the strength to stay clean? Also, if the Worthlins died one-half of all they had would go to Tom. Not only would that diminish Daisy’s windfall but Tom would leave prison a wealthy man. He could afford to move out of the slums, where temptation and access to drugs was plentiful. His life might actually be good. That was something Stacy could not risk. So, before she could take care of the Worthlins she needed them to change their will. She began telling them daily, ‘No drug addict can handle that money. He’s only been sober because he’s been in prison. He needs to prove himself while he’s free.’

“And as she pressed these thoughts daily, the Worthlins contemplated giving Tom less and less, with more and more constraints.” Barbara began to cry and Stilton resolutely looked directly forward but his expression betrayed his thoughts. Both knew Hanson spoke the truth, but they were not angry at Stacy. Rather they felt remorse that they had listened to her promptings. Both felt that reducing Tom’s inheritance was wrong but couldn’t shake the feeling that they needed to. Now they knew why.

“A week after meeting with their solicitor to change their will, they were dead.”

The judge looked to Barbara who simply nodded. Hanson pressed on. “Killed by a drunk driver. When I met you, Mr. Worthlin, you called it poetic justice, yet it was actually planned, planned justice, or at least Stacy Wall’s form of justice. From the moment the ink dried on the updated will she became 100% dedicated to finding people under the influence and using them. Those with impared mental faculties are far easier to encourage and she didn’t need to convince them to kill you, just to get behind the wheel. Where to? Anywhere that would cross your path. The fact that encouraging them to get behind the wheel of a car might destroy or end their lives and the lives of other innocent people didn’t mean anything to her.

“She also likely encouraged you to spend more time on the road,” he said turning to the Worthlins. “Simple things: grocery runs, to the hardware store, sudden thoughts that it has been awhile since you went to the beach. Where were you going on the night you were killed?”

A courtroom of eyes turned to the Worthlins. The Worthlins turned to each other. Barbara was trying to gather the fragments of emotions that lay around her, at least enough to speak, “We were on our way home from the theater. It had been years since we went. The drive was longer than we generally took but I wanted to see, ‘A Street Car Named Desire.’ While it wasn’t something I’d usually thought of, I had several people tell me how good it was. A stranger in the line in the supermarket even mentioned it...” She trailed off, overcome by emotions. The thought that she allowed herself to be manipulated and it led to her grave left her wondering how much of her life was hers at all.

Hanson hated to cause distress but was tasked with bringing truth to light and continued. “While Stacy was pleased that her plan was progressing, her bliss was short lived. Bill Stoleman, the driver she had convinced onto the road that night was given 20 years for gross vehicular manslaughter. A sentence almost three times harsher than what Tom received for the death of her daughter.”

Everyone could tell Hanson was getting to Stacy. She had given up trying to end the proceeding by screaming, now with a deep scowl and stare she fixated on Hanson. Her internal suffering and pain was only overshadowed by her desire for Hanson to feel the same. Everyone felt the truth in what Hanson said, especially Stacy as he went on, “She felt it diminished her daughter's life. Why did Bill receive a worse sentence than Tom? Were the Worthlins of more value than her daughter? Her rage only accelerated her plan.

“With the inheritance going to Daisy, combined with the constant prodding from Stacy, it was only a few weeks before Caden and Daisy adjusted their wills. And after one more week Tom was out again. He had his daughter back but little else. Stacy saw to that. She worked double time to remind any potential employer that Tom couldn’t be trusted. Likewise, she kept working on Caden to ensure the rift in the family remained strong. But she knew Daisy couldn’t be turned against Tom. Daisy had failed to stop him from using her car that fateful night and her failure to say no this time would be her downfall. With Tom desperate for any work, she began to prompt Jim at Canine Hope to hire him. Why? It was perfect, she told him. Not only was he cheap skilled labor, something that appealed to Jim, he lived far enough away that he would need to stay somewhere closer, especially if he was forced to work late. Jim could ensure that would happen. Given the distance, he’d be violating his parole every time he went to work, an extra bonus just in case she needed it.

“As planned, a job was offered and accepted, Tom tried to make the commute work but constantly asked to stay late and come early and eventually he did what Stacy knew he would do; He asked Daisy if he could stay at her home at night. Daisy knew how hard it was for a felon to get work and decided to allow it, but didn’t think Caden would feel the same way. She worked out a deal that allowed Tom to come in through the doggy door late and leave the same way early. And to ensure Caden didn’t awake, she began giving him sleep medication. The dishonesty made her uncomfortable and she began to be more distant from her husband, but never told him. So, the secret was safe for a time but eventually Tom told Jim. Why? I’m not sure. Jim, likely at Stacy’s prompting, asked him where he was staying and if there was anything he could do to help. And Tom admitted he was at Daisy’s and must have told him about the peculiar relationship with Caden and thus the need to use the doggy door.

“The trap was laid. Stacy correctly guessed it was only a matter of time before Jim would be desperate for money, and she made sure to plant the obvious solution, have Canine Hope, the charity from which he was busily embezzling money, cash in on the Mason’s inheritance.

“But first the Mason’s two dalmations, who stood watch at the home, had to go. That part was simple, a night when Tom was forced to stay late he’d stop by the Mason’s and throw poison-laced dog treats over the fence. At least that was the plan until an email from Rebecca, a few days before the plan was put into action. That email said she was looking for a dalmatian. He knew the dog of her dreams would open up the purse strings, so why not nab one and poison the other? So he did.

“With the dogs out of the way, it was time for the next move. The plan was simple, Caden visited Canine Hope regularly, signing in at the front desk. This would provide the hand writing sample Jim would need to copy to create the suicide note. He mimicked the handwriting fairly well but like most counterfeits, pressed harder than is natural. Tom was forced to work all night, leaving Jim time to sneak through the doggy door, an easy feat with the dogs gone, then kill Caden and leave the suicide note.

“It was that note that first tipped me off that this was no suicide. I instantly recognized it’s lack of any specificity common to suicides, but something else bothered me that I couldn’t put my finger on.

“The note read: I can’t go on. I have been living a lie. I have cheated on my wife and know she will be devastated. I can’t be without her. So we say goodbye.”

“The last ‘we.’ I guess it could be interpreted that it was Caden saying goodbye to Daisy, but the note is not to Daisy. The note was written for Daisy and Caden to both say goodbye to the world because Jim had planned to kill them both. The problem was Caden.”

Caden noted that the last sentence was delivered with more emphasis, Hanson seemed to enjoy that sentence more than the others.

“Caden had grown leary of his wife’s sleep aides and refused to take them. Perhaps this was even influenced by our good friend Stacy. He heard Jim enter, got his gun and headed downstairs. Jim did not want a confrontation. The plan had been to shoot both at point blank range while they slept and then set the scene of the supposed murder, suicide. As he heard Caden come down the stairs he quickly jumped into the large safe in the corner of the room and waited, waited for time to help Caden drift off to sleep. Once all was quiet, he crept out of the safe and saw Caden on the sofa. The plan to kill both would require him to shoot Caden and then go upstairs to kill Daisy. He had a silencer but what if she heard? With the encouragement of the only other person in the room, he decided one death was enough.

“Stacy liked it better that way. She didn’t want Daisy dead... not yet at least. Rather, she relished the thought of Daisy living through the devastation of her husband’s supposed suicide. Plus, with Daisy alive, if they figured out it wasn’t a suicide they would find out Tom had been going to the home, a convict who hated his brother-in-law. Having him back in jail for murder before she decided to take Daisy and rob him of yet another loved one while he was behind bars, that would be perfect, and she almost got it.

“She had a busy couple of days. Making sure Jim fired Tom as soon as he left Caden’s. Making sure the neighbor regularly shared drugs with Tom, and pointing the police in his direction. I might throw in getting Jim to poison Daisy, but I’m not sure if Stacy helped on that one. Jim may have been on his own by that time. Either way it didn’t work.

“But,” he said, turning to the judge, “as you can see Stacy has consistently used her influence to harm, kill and lead to suffering and I put to the court she should be stopped... indefinitely.”

The judge sat back, looked at Hanson and said, “You have put this together very nicely but, with what evidence?”

For the first time since the trial began Stacy sat up from her sulking position and smiled. She, like everyone in the room, knew that evidence of people influencing others was hard to obtain. After all, physical evidence didn’t exist because physically she didn’t. And therefore physically hadn’t done anything.

But her smile diminished a bit as she turned to Hanson and saw he also smiled.

“Of course, I have extensive circumstantial evidence. Stacy’s clear anger at Tom. The fact that she was always there, at Caden’s on the day of his death, at Tom’s apartment in several cases, and at the police station...but I understand that is only circumstantial. I’d like to call my first and only witness, Trish Wall.”

Stacy’s look was of absolute horror, and for the first time since the judge had confined her, the court heard her speak, “My daughter should not have to come here.”

The judge maintained her calm demeanor and said, “You are correct. She does not have to come but she can choose to. Do you have an objection to hearing her testimony if she chooses to speak?”

The room was silent and after a long pause, Stacy finally said. “Yes.”

“And what is your objection?” questioned the judge.

Again silence owned the moment. And then you could see it. Stacy changed from a cold-hearted and defiant defendant to a mother, “because she’s honest.”

The judge said nothing, allowing the transformation to take place and as it did, Stacy in calm loving tones said, “She’s always been. Honest to a fault. It doesn’t matter who it was or who tried to stop her, she always told the truth. When the other kids in the neighborhood blamed others she’d admit when it was her. I remember the first time she broke a window. She told me right away. I always loved that about her. I loved everything about her. And then that man, that horrible man took it all from me, from her. Stole my chance to be at her wedding, to see her be a mother, and look into my grandkid’s eyes. Those are things I would never experience. So, yes, I believed he should pay. Trish wanted me to move on, to forgive. Somehow she could, but I couldn’t. The justice system in life had failed, so I did my best in death to correct it. I learned we could influence people and as the detective stated, I did. And I told Trish all along what I had done for her. She kept telling me to drop it, which only pulled us further apart, increasing my pain and my need for true justice. Yes, I influenced people but only to get justice for my little girl.” As she closed, tears flowed freely from her face.

“Thank you.” The judge said softly. “I know that is hard to say and I am grateful for your honesty, but just so I am clear, did you encourage Jim Gillman to kill Caden Mason?”

Reluctantly, she nodded.

“Stacy Wall,” The judge spoke softly with a compassionate tone, very different from how Trout was used to hearing a judge pass sentencing. “You have misused your influence in a way that shows disregard for the value of life. Influence is privilege, but for a time you will lose it. For the next five years, you…”

“Five years!” Hanson interrupted, clearly he was not afraid to let his views of the judge’s sentence be known.

The judge looked up at Hanson like a parent who is warning a child not to cross a line. Once she had a clear view right into his eyes she said, “You of all people should know how quickly people can change.” Hanson turned from her gaze. There would be no more outburst from him.

The judge turned back to Stacy. “As I was saying, for the next five years you will be unable to influence the living. This will be a time for you to appreciate how important the opportunity to influence anyone, living or dead is, Stacy.” The judge spoke as if they were the only ones in the room. “You are obviously talented at influencing. Not everyone is. When you get your power back, and you will, I hope you will reconsider using this power for good. You will find there is much healing if you do.” The judge turned to the reviewing judge who sat in complete silence this entire time. They made eye contact and the reviewing judge simply nodded. Judge Sherman looked up and said, “Case adjourned. You are all free to go, but if you are willing I would like to speak to Chief Grassly, Detective Hanson, and then Stacy.”

Trout could hardly believe it. The entire case had opened and shut in less than an hour. It was a whirlwind, and he had so many questions. But before he could ask, Caden and the Worthlins walked up to Hanson and Trout. Caden was the first to speak, “Well thank you, both of you. Even you, Hanson. You not only solved the case, but brought us closer together as a family and we will forever be grateful for that. Thanks.”

“Just doing our job,” Hanson said. It was clear that Hanson would just as soon forgo this part. The group wanted to continue their congratulations, Caden most of all. He wanted to do this by reliving many of the things they had done. He started by telling the Worthlins about the time he found himself jammed in the back seat of Jim’s Corvette. “I recall at that moment telling detective Hanson that there was more to this case than met the eye.”

“Excuse me a moment,” Hanson said as he walked away from the group towards Stacy. She stood, arms folded. Trout wondered what he had to talk to her about. Chief Grassly and the judge were huddled in the back of the room talking. Shortly after Hanson went over to talk to Stacy, the Chief called out to Hanson, “Your turn,” and then ported over behind Trout.

Caden's story clearly was going to go for a long time, Trout hated to be rude but as happy as the moment was he had too many questions not to ask. “Caden, I hate to interrupt but I have to get a few questions straight with my Chief,” he said, gesturing behind him.

“Got it, official business, never a dull moment in the force. Well if you ever need me to solve the case for you and Hanson again, just give me a call.” Caden said with a wink.

“Thanks, Caden.” He turned to the Worthlin’s, “Glad you could both make it.” They acknowledged him and with that ported away, leaving himself and the Chief.

“Did you really have questions or just want to get out of the conversation?” The Chief asked.

“Both.” Trout admitted.

“Okay, ask away.”

“I have so many. First of all, why the nod to that other judge at the end of the trial?”

“That was her validation that Judge Sherman had followed proper protocols and could officially close the trial.”

“I guess that makes sense. Also, there was that moment when Hanson questioned her for sentencing to five years.”

“Yeah, remind me to smack him for that,” the chief said.

“I guess talking back to the judge isn’t any more popular here than on the other side?” Trout asked.

“No, even less so. I’m shocked she didn’t send him to the box.”

“What she put Stacy in?”


“But that wasn’t my real question. What I am wondering was, she looked at Hanson and said that he of all people should know how quickly people can change. What did she mean?”

“I’m not sure I should be the one to tell you. I mentioned to you that Hanson is the reason we even investigate dead people. I think it is okay for me to tell you that Hanson was involved with the very first trial where we tried someone dead for their part in a murder. And after the trial he was very influential in helping them change, and become a very valued part of society.”

“Hanson was the first one to catch someone influencing living people to murder?”

“Yes, you might say that.”

“What happened?”

“That is not for me to tell. And I’m not sure I would recommend you ask Hanson, but I’ll leave that up to you.”

Trout’s questions were far from answered; in fact the conversation with Chief Grassly brought up more questions than answers. But they would have to wait because Hanson had ported by their side and Stacy began to head over to the judge.

“Shall we head back to my office?” The chief asked. I need to tell you both a few things.

“Sounds good,” Hanson said as he went to put his hand on Trout.

Trout stopped him, “I’ll drive,” he said as he put his hand on Hanson’s shoulder. Hanson rolled his eyes. Just as they were about to port they heard a loud scream come from the direction of the judge and Stacy. Trout turned to see who and why they had screamed but over his shoulder he only saw the wall of Chief Grassly’s office.

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Here is Chapter 20