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?”

“Ronald.”

“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.”

“What?”

“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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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Privilege - A parable

Like A King In A Palace In India: Taj Umaid Bhawan - Traveltomtom ...


A wise king had two sons. Like most fathers he loved them very much and desired to give them every advantage he could. They received the best education, ate the best foods, had access to every comfort available at the time, married the most beautiful maidens and were able to travel and explore the world. But the one limit that the king had was he only had one kingdom, and therefore only one of his sons would inherit the title of king.

Unlike many kingdoms the title did not simply go to the eldest, but rather the decision was left to the father. He loved his people and was a benevolent king who desired a great future for his kingdom, and therefore took the responsibility of choosing his successor seriously.

On a beautiful spring morning the king called both his sons to his chambers. “Sons, I grow old and soon must choose my successor. I lay before you a challenge, the winner will be crowned king. In front of each of you is a bag with 1,000 gold limnah.” This was more money than either child had ever seen, as 1 gold limnah was sufficient to purchase anything in the local market. “Take it, in two weeks you will present a gift to me. He who presents the gift that pleases me the most will be awarded the kingdom.”

The older brother had seen much of the world, he knew of beautiful rugs, and exotic species and fruits. These would allow his father a chance to experience things he had only heard tales of. The trip would not be easy, but if he moved fast he could make it. He gathered his fastest comrades and horses and was off.

The younger boy was at a loss. His father was the king, he had access to anything his heart desired. What could he get his father, no matter the amount of money he had, that would impress. Walking down the road of the street market, he looked into each merchant's tent. There were clothes, lamps, food, and jewelry. All things his father had more of than he could possibly want. But no matter how hard he tried to focus on trying to find something unique to purchase, he couldn’t stop thinking about what he always noticed when he came to market street; Chaos.

Everytime he came here he was always being bumped into. People were always having to stop on the curelom for long periods of time in order to wait for people who zig-zagged in front of them. He had long ago thought of a system of backpassages and dividers that would encourage traffic flow to be more organized. It would allow people to more quickly get their goods, and to the place where they wanted to shop without so much chaos. In addition it would help limit crime as constant bumping allowed for pickpockets to more effectively work their trade.

Such a system could be easily built, but it would cost more money than he had ever had--until now. He quickly figured for 400 gold limnah he could get the work done. That would still leave 600 to buy his father a wonderful gift.

He quickly got to work with builders and began to put into place his new system of roadways for the market. The system was simple and with large crews and a few days it was completed. The first day or two were rough as people wondered what was going on, but they soon caught on and before long people were pleased with their ability to get to and move freely in the market.

The next day he went back out into the market to find something for his father. To his delight, a merchant had set up shop selling maps of his new system to people as they entered the market. They were only a few senine, but he bought one. He then realized the merchant who sold it to him returned too much change. This was a common occurrence in the market. He corrected the error and realized that part of the reason this was so common was that most of the merchants never had any schooling. He wondered how often merchants either cut themselves short or their customers simply because of poor training.

That night he went back to the palace and asked his tutor if he would be willing to teach a class to the local merchants at night on simple accounting.

“I am not hired to teach simple merchants. I am the royal tutor!”

“I will pay you handsomely. 100 limnah.” That was money that no one would refuse.

“I accept, but where would you have me teach this class. You can’t have merchants coming into the palace.”

“I will buy a large tent and place it at the edge of the market. That way it will be easy for them to come as they close their shops.”

The whole plan was more expensive than he had imagined: there were the flyers to get people to come, the tent, the set up, and his hard-to please-tutor. He was so anxious for it to succeed that he even offered food. Probably a mistake in hindsight as it filled the tent to overflowing, and a chance to be taught by the royal tutor was sufficient to attract even the most prideful merchant.

Many of the merchants were so grateful, they sent letters of gratitude to the prince. Given the price of parchment, this was no small gesture, and the prince was grateful. But despite the warmth he felt from this success, a feeling a dread also lingered. He was now down to 300 limnah.

He walked the streets anxiously. Tomorrow was the day he and his brother were to present their gifts to their father, and he had nothing. That means that he would never be king. He took mild comfort from the fact that being king was not that important to him. It was the disappointment he feared would be on his father's face that really worried him. His father had always believed in him, even when he didn’t believe in himself. Rain began to fall. At first it did not bother the prince as the night was warm, but as the rain intensified he ran to seek shelter, but found there was little to be found. The roofs were limited to the homes and besides, this shelter was scarce. He finally found an awning that stood at the end of the roadway, but as he approached it was filled with men. Travelers were not uncommon to the kingdom and many slept on the streets before traveling back to their homes in the outer villages. He had never thought about what they were to do when it rained.

The next morning in total defeat he gave his last 300 limnah to builders to extend awnings and other shelters throughout the center of the kingdom so that there would be more shade in the sun and shelter from the rain.

With his head bowed low, he entered his father's court. He wanted to crawl into the gold laced woodwork. On the other side of the chamber his brother was lining up camels filled with rugs, artwork, fine china, spices and dates.

“Welcome, my sons. What have you brought me?”

The older son presented first and, for hours, exhibited each of the exotic items he had purchased. When he finished, the king said, “Thank you son. These are beautiful and bring me great pleasure. They were not easy to get and I appreciate what you have done for me.” He then turned to his younger son. “And from you?”

The young prince sat with nothing but a small sac of papers he clutched in his hands. Holding back tears he said, “Father, I am sorry, but I have failed. I could think of nothing to get you.”

“What is in your pack? Surely you have something?”

He now wished he had not carried the pack with him. But he slowly pulled out first, the map, “This is a simple map that was made of the roadway system that I used a portion of the money to build.” He said, full of embarrassment.

He noted the laughter in his older brother.

“Go on, what else do you have?” The king asked.

“Then there are notes from merchants, they were in gratitude for a class I put together to help them with accounting.”

“And?”

“The last is a drawing of the shelters and awnings I asked to be built in the center of the kingdom to provide shade and protection from the rain for travelers. I’m afraid I have spent all your money and neglected to find a gift.”

“Sons, you were both given great privilege in your lives. You will likely have these privileges as long as you live. Privilege is not bad, although many will scoff at you for having it. Some may wonder why God did not see fit to give it to them. But in the great and last judgement God does not care how much privilege we had, only what we did with it.

“My greatest glory is not held in the walls of my palace. It is found everyday walking the streets of my kingdom. It is my people. The greatest gift you can give me, is to make their lives better. And that is also the greatest thing you can do with the privileges given you. Use it to help others have those same privileges.

“Throughout your lives you have both had access to easy access to goods, education and shelter. Others do not have these, but now many of my people have more of them. My young prince,” The king said turning to the younger brother. “Your sack of papers is the greatest gift I have ever received, you shall be king.”

---------------------------------------------------------------------

There has been much said lately about white privilege. It has made me think about the many ways in which my life is privileged. I was privileged with having a loving father and mother in my home that both received great educations and helped me to receive the same.

I am privileged historically, as I get to come forth in a world filled with technology and comforts that would have made my ancestors' heads spin.

I am privileged in my location. I was born in the most prosperous nation the world has ever known. Just being a citizen of the US has given me access to wealth and opportunity most of the world can only dream of. I was raised far below the poverty line in American and yet I was still rich by most of the world's standards.

I was privileged to be raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This gave me access to friends and a safety net. It helped me avoid some of the most dangerous pitfalls in life in regards to addiction and immorality. It has helped me be wise with my funds. And it has given me access to life changing knowledge that I will forever be grateful for.

But one of the lessons my faith teaches me is these privileges are not to be hoarded but used to give others the same privilege. This was made clear as they have asked every worthy young man to give up two years of his life to work day and night to give others the privilege of gospel knowledge and access to the same teachings, society, and safety net that I was born into.

One of the greatest examples of understanding privilege and how it should be used was King Mosiah. When his sons refused the kingdom, probably because they were raised by such a great father. He got rid of kings among the Nephites. Chapter 29 of Mosiah is the most beautiful chapter ever written on politics in my mind but among the many great things he says is:

Mosiah 29:32 “And now I desire that this inequality should be no more in this land, especially among this my people; but I desire that this land be a land of liberty, and every man may enjoy his rights and privileges alike…”

And the greatest example is God himself. He has the privilege of being the owner of, and most powerful being in the universe, and what does he do with it? He shares it with us and desires to give us all that he has.

We can't control what others do with their privileges and many live ignorant of just how privileged they are. But we can recognize our own privilege and seek to use it wisely. I hope we all take the time, no matter our race or creed, to focus on the many privileges we have been given. There is nothing wrong with privilege, but we should each examine what we have done and what we should do with our privilege and how we can use that to help others increase their access to those same privileges.


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Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Indirect Costs of Disasters

Teton Dam - Wikipedia


Today is National Dam Safety day, because on this day in 1889 Johnstown, PA South Fork Dam failed. It flooded the town of Johnstown killing over 2000 people. This was by far the worst dam failure in US history as far as life lost.

As someone who studies dam failures, one of the first questions you get, and one I always have when studying a dam failure is, how many people died? We are all naturally curious. It gives us a way to judge how significant a failure was. Yet, studying dam failures you quickly learn that the question is always a lot less cut and dry than you think.

In large floods many bodies are washed away and never recovered, making a final life loss count very hard. Many dams fail during large rain events. If someone dies in a flood, would they have died anyways or is it the dam? But one of the hardest things to estimate is lives that were lost indirectly. What do I mean by that? Many think in a dam failure the cause of death would be obvious, drowning. But you would be incorrect.

The largest dam failure in history, as far as life loss is Banquio Dam in 1975, where the life loss estimate is over 100,000. Most of the people died, not from drowning but exposure. After the dam failed, millions were left cold, wet and homeless, not only that roads to the towns affected were all washed out, by the time sufficient aid arrived, ten of thousands had died from exposure.

But at times the deaths can be even less intuitive, and it is those I want to talk about. I have spent a significant amount of time studying the failure of Teton Dam. It failed on June 5, 1976 flooding the towns of Wilford, Sugar City and Rexburg in south eastern Idaho. Luckily, it didn’t fail on a dark and stormy night as is all too common in dam failures. Rather it was on a sunny Saturday afternoon, while the warning could have been sooner, it was soon enough to save many lives. 11 people passed away, but as in most failures many were not directly from flooding.

In Teton only 6 were from drowning. The other five?

Mary Gillette at 94 was the oldest woman in the small town of Teton. Teton actually sat just up from the river valley. The town would not be flooded at all but this was before the days of 2 dimensional flood modeling and most people assumed the town would flood. In fact, it was the first town to get the evacuation warning. Mary had been bed ridden for some time, she was ill prepared to evacuate, but at the time evacuation seemed to be the only option. The next day she would pass from exertion.

As the warning passed through town most people were gathering at Ricks College that sat on a hill in Rexburg. One area that for sure needed to be evacuated was also in Rexburg a small trailer park that sat down near the banks of the river. Both due to proximity and strength of structure, this place didn’t stand a chance when compared to the power of the water behind the dam. The warning hit one of the residents Dolly Pendrey, age 62, particularly hard. She lived alone and as she began to pack to exit the stress hit her. She had a massive heart attack. She made it to the hospital but died later that day.

Downstream of Rexburg was not scott free. The city of Idaho Falls was named because it is built around a beautiful falls on the Teton River. There was considerable fear that the town would flood due to the failure. John Heyrend, 72 lived close to the river and began to pack his car with his most trusted belongings. One trip back to his home he had a heart attack and passed away. His town would fare much better, due to great efforts of citizens doing a massive effort to sandbag around the river the town didn’t flood.

The day after the flood the water began to make its way downstream, leaving in its wake, mud, thick, slimy smelly black mud. Many who were evacuated to be with loved ones or at the college, slept an uneasy night wondering how their possessions, homes, pictures and other treasures survived. Stanley Peterson, 51, was fortunate, his home was not in the flood plain and he had spent the night warm and dry. However, his construction trailer where he stored the tools and equipment that he used to make a living as a contractor were all in the floodplain. He not only wondered if they had survived but worried that opportunists would take advantage of a bad situation and steal his valuable tools. He took his gun and jumped in his truck to make his way through the muddy streets back to his storage area. He didn’t get very far, as he went to leave his driveway he knocked his gun off the passenger seat, it went off, shot him in the femoral artery and bled out in his car.

The whole area began the process of recovery. Many people living in St. Anothony and Parker, towns nearby that had remained dry, housed family or friends that didn’t have homes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was being organized and coming from all over the rest of Idaho and Utah, to help muck out homes. Federal government assistance was also coming, providing trailers to house the many middle class families who now understood homelessness in a new way. But in St. Anthony one woman was struggling with her own personal recovery. Karen Virgin, 29 had been working with councilors to overcome struggles in her life. She felt worthless and couldn’t shake the thought that God was not pleased with her. The dam failing was clear evidence that God was punishing the people around her for her actions. As she struggled with these inner demons she decided to end her life, and shot herself on June 10, 1976. She is the last life that was documented as being associated with the Teton Dam.

Disasters are named that for a reason. And often the indirect damage can be as significant as the direct costs. We are currently in the grips of another disaster. The final death toll connected to COVID-19 will be very difficult to compute. There will be deaths that are COVID that are thought to be something else, and deaths that are counted as COVID that are something else. There will also be many indirect deaths. There will be those that die due to stress at this time, just like those that died at the time of Teton Dam. And there will also be those in the midst of fighting other demands and due to the added pressures caused by this disease and economic stress will take their own lives.

The question we should ask ourselves is? What are we doing to better prepare ourselves and those around us, so that when the next disaster comes, and it will. We will be ready to handle the stress and anxiety that will come with it. In the world of dams, one of things that has changed since Teton is emergency action plans, plans that are practiced to prepare those who will react to potential dam incident or failure. As these drills and other items are better communicated it can help a community be prepared if the worst is to happen.

What emergency action plans do we have in our lives? Are we personally prepared for the potential disasters that might be headed our way? We should all do an after action report after this latest disaster. How prepared we were when COVID hit? Were we physically, mentally and emotionally prepared for what we went through?

If not, take the time to determine what you would have done differently, and then take the time so that you and those around you can be better prepared for whatever the next disaster that comes our way.


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