Sep 29, 2016

The Sonoran Desert Has Seasons

By Kari Diane Pike

Post writing conference activities being what they are, I've had little to no time to write during the past two weeks. Then add the normal daily stuff like hubby getting the blue screen of death and having to purchase a new computer and oh, you know, dinner and laundry. 

So in honor of hubby successfully saving everything from the old computer and in celebration of the retreating monsoon season, here is a description of one summer monsoon I wrote about eons ago. The essay needs some serious edits, but the ANWA Treasurer reports are due. So here ya go.

The Arizona Sonora Desert has three seasons: Snowbird, hot and miserably hot. Snowbird season brings sunshine, golf tournaments, and mobile home parks filled to capacity with silver-haired migratory residents. Hot season creates a “dry” heat, not unlike an oven on baking day, and it sears your skin when you dare venture out of the air-conditioned comfort of home, work, or shopping malls. It parches plant and animal alike, leaving dust and a feeling of lethargy hanging in the air. About the time you think it couldn’t get any worse, the humidity begins to rise and the miserably hot season, otherwise known as the “monsoon” or “whiny season,” rears its cumulonimbus head above the horizon. A proper monsoon offers spectacular lightening displays choreographed with thunderous percussionists, torrential rain, and a phenomenon unique to the Sonoran and Sahara deserts. Desert rats call it the “haboob.”

The moments before dawn are precious during the miserably hot season. Balmy breezes brush by, carrying just a hint of citrus, dust, and sage. The low, gentle coo of mourning doves provides respite from yesterday afternoon’s droning of cicadas. Dawn splashes vibrant hues over the otherwise muted colors of the desert sky, offering the coolest minutes of the day and replenishing the energy needed to endure the oncoming heat. Temperature and humidity climb race the rising sun. 

Throughout the morning, puffy white clouds mushroom and darken along the horizon to the south and east. The air becomes thick and sticky. Cicadas recommence the relentless buzzing that intensifies with the heat. Breezes grow up, and turn into adolescent dust devils. They tour neighborhoods and desert alike, teasing school children by snatching their caps and swirling them across the playground with bits of paper and leaves. By late afternoon, heavy, gray clouds stack up against one another until massive, angry-looking anvil shapes loom over the desert valley. Sunlight filters through cloud and dust, giving a greenish glow to the approaching storm. 

A full-grown wind chases off the dust devils, snaps flags on poles, tears laundry off lines, and tosses abandoned pool toys against fences. Litter and tumble weeds dance along the shoulders of roads and freeways. The faint scent of ozone tickles your nose, teasing it with the smell of much hoped for rain. A feeling of unease, perhaps a leftover defense mechanism from ages past, makes you look to the south. You see it in the distance. Fed by dust and sand and wind, a giant brown wall, two thousand feet high and several miles across, marches north across the desert. Haboob. 

The march is swift. Choking, blinding dirt blocks out the sun, swallowing distant buildings, nearby trees, and finally the house next door. The dust sifts under doors and filters through window crevices. Sparkling blue swimming pools turn into murky, muddy messes. Roof shingles, birds’ nests and an occasional trampoline all fall victim to the haboob. When the wind begins to tire, and the dust settle, the light show begins. Long, arching bolts of lightening split into three, four, and even five different directions. Thunderclaps rattle the windows and children of all ages scurry for shelter. A large drop of rain splatters on the window and leaves a muddy trail as it slides down the dusty pane. Drop after drop follow in quick succession until the whole sky seems to open up and dump bucket after bucket of glorious rain. Five minutes later, the last few rays of the setting sun break through the wrung-out clouds and chases them off stage. 

Children and adults emerge from their climate-controlled shelters to frolic in flooded street gutters and park retention basins. Neighbors greet each other, catching up on friendly gossip and swapping tales of storms past. Sunset streaks of flamingo pink and mango orange fade to lavender, and deepen to jewel-toned indigo. The scent of jasmine, steaks on the grill, and the sound of laughter drift through the neighborhood. Cleanup can wait.

Life is magnificent!

Sep 27, 2016

A Bible?

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

I have been taking time away from writing to put together a big project, a collection of the five books of The Owen Family Saga as a box set. It has been a huge job of work.

"What work?" you may ask. "Just slap all the books into one file and you're done!"

Not so.

I had to tinker with scenes that don't exactly play well with each other over the scope of the saga. Gotta be consistent.

"Is that kid named Ezra or Harry?" I picked Harry.

"Did Rod Owen meet Julia Helm's brother before they got married?" I thought they had in The Man from Shenandoah. As I write my current writing project, it appears that I was wrong, so I had to fix that in the existing work to jibe with the upcoming story.

Now that I've written Gone for a Soldier, that passage about Rulon and Mary's relationship in The Man from Shenandoah seems off. (Rewrite passage.)

Did he or didn't he during the Mexican War? Hmm. That question may remain forever unanswered.

How to explain the bit about the wedding ring? (Rewrite passage.)

Such fun!

I wish I had started a series "bible" when I wrote The Man from Shenandoah, to keep all the facts and characters straight, but I didn't know then that this tale about the Owen Family was going to expand into a series. Creating the "bible" now is going to be quite a task, but it's one I really need to do. When I'm done, perhaps it can become something new, maybe something called The Owen Family Companion.

After all, it's been done before: "Little did Louis L'Amour realize back in 1960 when he published The Daybreakers, a novel about two brothers who came west after the Civil War, that he had begun creating what would become perhaps North America's most widely followed literary family: the Sacketts." From The Sackett Companion: The Facts Behind the Fiction.

Every author should keep handy a notebook for facts (was the dog black or brown), characters (am I reusing too many names, or do all names begin with a single letter?), items (was that letter written in pen or pencil?), and the like, whether or not he or she is writing a series. Every little thing will come in handy for checking consistency within that story.

Can oxen run?  No, but they can perambulate pretty quickly if motivated. (I asked a large animal vet.)

Did people ride in wagons when on extended journeys? Not if they had a lot of belongings and/or foodstuffs to carry.

How many stories tall is the house? What does the general store look like inside? How far away from the house should the stable/barn/pigsty be? Is the bar/saloon/pub well lit, smoky, smelly, just a "belly-up-to-the" bar, or does it have gaming tables and sit-down tables, too?

You're the author. Make it easier on yourself with a "Book Bible."

Sep 24, 2016


by Cindy R. Williams

One of the best ANWA Conference is now complete. I can honestly say it was extremely illuminating for my personal growth as a writer and a person.

One of the incredible things about ANWA Conferences is the attendees. This was my 10th ANWA Conference and each time it's like coming home to my family of writers. To see so many people I know and love is wonderful. The fact that they are all writers--all of us are a little ummm . . . extra creative--is wonderful. Non-writers just don't get it. And what "it" is, is not definable. You just have to be a writer, and you know what I mean.

I came into the conference looking for some publishing answers. The publishing world seems to be changing rapidly. I wanted to know where the best place for me and my stories was in this world.

Here is what I have decided. I am going to be an "Indie/Hybrid Author." You know, a person that publishes some books independently, (formerly known as self-publishing), and one that has a number of books published traditionally by some well accepted publishing houses through a "real" agent.

Let me share with you why I have chosen to be an Indie/Hybrid Author.

  • Traditional publishing gives a writer more credibility. Even though indie publishing is becoming more accepted, there is still a bit of "thumbing the nose" at it. Traditionally publishing a book or two will establish me as a serious/professional writer who can play with the big boys.
  • Indie publishing will give me COMPLETE CONTROL, from concept to book cover. I LOVE the possibilities here. Plus, if I do my marketing, the 70% return is a potential for some actual money. Maybe even enough to buy a trip to Hawaii for my hubby and I in a few years maybe, although my hopes are much higher.
  • I hope to be able to bring in enough money so that I have only one job. I currently have FOUR; my writing career, part time newspaper reporter, my own company where I run PR campaigns for an engineering firm and others, and finally, I own a music studio. I teach; harp, guitar, 12 string guitar, bass guitar, banjo, ukulele, and piano. I must digress and add that my music is a source of great blessings to both my students and me. I LOVE to teach music. It's a gift to each student to open the magic world of music for them. Music is truly the voice of angels. 
  • As James Owen pointed out at the conference, He has books published by several big publishing houses and his own indie books selling side by side. Each sells for the same price, but he makes three to four times more on his indie books than his traditionally published books. This is extremely attractive. 
  • One of my favorite authors, Janette Rallison, also on the Indie/Hybrid panel at the ANWA Conference, stated that her agent died, yes, died, so she is agent-less at this time and is going to try more indie books. I admire Janette. She is a successful and smart lady.
  • Indie writer, Kelly Oram, made six figures with  her ebooks and print books on Amazon and from her fan base in Hungary, during 2014. WOW! I loved how open and honest she is. My favorite quote from her is: "I'm a hot-mess-Mom, and my fans know it." She tells it like it is and has worked hard to have a fan base of over 5,000 readers.
  • C. J Anaya began indie publishing in February of this year. Her first royalty check was around $2,500. She makes more than that now and it's only been seven months. She shared that she spent many hours researching how to optimize her sales on the internet. So there is much work for me to do.
Back to my decision. My goal is to be an Indie/Hybrid Author for the above reasons. I plan on blogging every two weeks about my journey. Come along for the ride.

Sep 20, 2016

What Team Work Looks Like

by Terri Wagner

As most of you know, I am not only just alumni but a huge fan of the Crimson Tide, number one in the nation at the moment. This year we have a LOT of freshmen and sophomore on the "A" team. Even our quarterback is straight out of high school. Usually that means....a rebuilding year. While we are #1, that could change week to week as this year's college football plays out. What stunned me this past week was the epitome of teamwork. We were down by 21 points at one point, ahead by 18 at one point and ended up winning 48-43. To say neither team gave up doesn't come close to what I saw. At first, down all those points, I thought well youth and inexperience are once again going to lose out to season and experience. I reassured myself that while we might struggle a bit, next year this talent coupled with experience was going to give us one of those dream teams...the kind that win a national championship with a perfect season. As we began to shoot ahead, I was thrilled. On pins and needles as we seesawed back and forth. There were so many exciting moments with a few really bad ref calls. That's not just a fan talking lol, even the announcers were like "what...." Two of or TDs came from the defensive side. The one moment that just stays in mind though was teamework of the first class.

A lumbering defensive lineman barely looks up from a play to find the ball falls literally in his hands. He cradles it and starts down the field. His team members surround him. He appears to run out of gas, linemen aren't quick and fast running backs, but is almost pushed over the goal line by his teammates while adding to the drama, an Ole Miss offensive lineman tries to prevent the inevitable. Watch this play and let it remind you of just how important the people surrounding and cheering us on will actually and literally push us to meet that goal. And enjoy! Thank you Mr. Allen

Sep 17, 2016


       I believe in circles. So much of what we do is affected by, and effects, things on down the road.  I also believe in The Great Video Replay In The Sky. In several hundred years, we will all gather with our boxes of celestial popcorn and watch the story about what really happened while we were on Earth. I firmly believe we will be jaw-dropped awestruck by how often God moves things and people and circumstances around to benefit His beloved children...and we miss most of it! 

         This is a story that I did not miss. It takes place in three places: Austria, a Chicago suburb, and my living room, here in Washington.

       Once upon a time (because that is how all good stories begin) we invited a couple to dinner to get better acquainted, soon after our daughter became engaged a few years ago. After-dinner talk turned to missions. They had both served LDS missions in Germany/Austria, and married soon after they came home. The Cold War was in the headlines, a risky time, late 1970s. That mission did not have any MTC training, and no translated materials; no scriptures, no lessons, nothing! They had to obey rules so very carefully, and after The Incident, the couple said missionaries were under communist government scrutiny constantly, because the people believed they were spies.

        The man, Carl, told a story that took place in their mission. Four young American elders on P- day crossed the communist border into Czechoslovakia, down that forbidden road, past the huge warning signs, past the armed guard towers, past the painted warning lines. They actually crawled through razor wire fences, just to take pictures to send home!

They were arrested, and it was all over the international news. The Church took a huge PR hit, once the media reported that all missionaries were actually American spies, worldwide. After a couple of days, two LDS apostles flew to Austria, along with several high-ranking American officials. They negotiated for their release for two full days and nights. Finally, they convinced the military holding the young men that that they were merely unwise, not devious. They flew the elders back to the states, without any of their belongings, straight from the firing squad to the airport, under military guard.
Image result for concertina wireCarl said many areas were closed because of The Incident, and missionary work was much more controlled after that. As he related the story, waves of chills washed over me, and not just because I love a good story.

Carl concluded, "...and we never heard what happened to them after that.”

        Shaking, I burst out, “I know! That is my story!" 

           To condense my conversion story: I was a teenager in Illinois, meeting with the Assistants to the mission president at the mission home, and went to tell them I wouldn’t be meeting with them again. Good men, I'm sure, but seemingly carved of wood, as exciting as dust, and determined to recite the discussions, word for word, when all I wanted was to ask questions. As I went to the mission home that final day, a bouncy young elder with round John Denver glasses popped out, greeted me warmly, and said "Hi, I’m new here. I hear you have questions. Let's sit here and just talk."  Turns out he had just arrived, and expected to be sent to the far reaches of the mission the next day.

           I found out much later that he had been called to serve in Austria. He and some others had crossed a forbidden border. They were imprisoned as spies for five long days, then put in front of a firing squad, which was halted just moments before firing commenced. He was sure he was going to die.

Two apostles negotiated for their release, and dragged them to the airport under heavy police guard. He said that flight was very long, longer because the Church leaders never said a word to the terrified elders. They were dirty, had not slept or eaten in five days, and were not sure what would be done to them once they arrived in Salt Lake City.

Landing in America, the young missionaries were taken directly to Church headquarters. In a meeting with all of the twelve apostles and the First Presidency, the four young missionaries were verbally blasted. They were told they had set back missionary work by decades. Each was given the option to be assigned to the Illinois mission, or to go home. Three chose to go home. One said he had been called for two years, had only served one, and would be grateful to be allowed to serve anywhere. He arrived in Illinois the next day, I met him that evening, and I was baptized two weeks later.   I had to delay a week, due to all of America celebrating the Bicentennial.                                 

          I was stunned that night as Carl told the story – my story! 
I told you I believe in circles. The couple we invited to dinner was our daughter’s fiancé’s parents.  What are the chances of them having the other half of my story? Or their son marrying my daughter, thousands of miles from both Austria and Illinois?  There they sat in my living room, as shocked as I was to finally learn what had happened to those four renegade elders who stirred things so badly, then vanished.  The story parts came together in a tidy circle, thirty-five years after the events. 

        What if I had not stopped to hear that bouncy new elder, the one who was in such trouble the mission president promised to banish him to outer darkness, AKA southern Illinois, the very next morning? I prayed for the very first time that night, something like, “Look, God, I don’t even know if You are there, but if this is Your church, as they say, and You want me in it, put him nearby. I can listen to him.” At 7am the next morning, Calvert called to say he’d be living two blocks from my home. 

 The circle rolls on. If I had not been baptized, I would not have met my husband, had our daughter, she would not have met her husband and now they’re expecting their third child. Pretty amazing circle, don’t you think?

At the end of a long, distracting story, I hope you get the point that God is real, and concerned about even details.  He loves us! The Lord is in charge of small and large things.

        I believe firmly in circles. I also believe that we are blind to most of the Lord’s blessings. For all you know, that one person you meet, that one uplifting sentence you say, that one service you offer, may be the catalyst that sets off magnificent things. 

We won’t know until all the circles are revealed.  

Sep 15, 2016

Finding Strength

by Kari Diane Pike

When Theresa Sneed introduced me to American Night Writers twenty-one years ago, I had no idea what was in store. Through ANWA I’ve not only had the opportunity to improve my writing skills, but made lifelong friendships. Those friendships have given me strength when I’ve felt weak, courage when I’ve been afraid, and hope when I couldn’t see beyond the challenges.

That’s the biggest reason, when asked by Deb Eaton if I would be willing to step in and serve in the treasurer position, I had to say yes, even though I had zero bookkeeping experience (Don’t worry – I am being trained by highly qualified mentors). Deb’s comment that the experience would look great on my resume may or may not have played a tiny part in my agreeing to give it a try. Of course, there’s also the opportunity to hang out with some pretty amazing ladies behind the scenes and soak in their wisdom and wit. Sometimes they even share chocolate. Was I scared? Definitely. I still am. But I know it will all work out.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 is one I have read and pondered on multiple times, but every time I study those words, I gain a new perspective. My most recent encounter came while preparing to teach a seminary lesson. In Matthew 25: 14-30 a wealthy man, before traveling to a far country, gives of his goods to his servants. To the first he gave ten talents, the second, five talents and to the third, one talent – “…to every man according to his several ability.” The rich man then left on his journey and during his absence, the first man took the five talents with which he had been entrusted and “traded with the same and made them five other talents.” The man who had received two talents put them to work and made two more. The third man, afraid of losing what he had received, buried his talent in the earth and did nothing with it (You can also watch a great video portrayal here).

From a lesson I gave last week, I learned that during the time of Christ, one talent equaled about 10,000 denarii (Roman currency) and that a common laborer typically earned one denarius per day. Can you imagine being handed one talent (the equivalent of twenty-seven years of labor) let alone two or even five and being trusted to take care of it for someone?

When the lord of those servants returned to reckon with them, he gave the same response to the first two servants, “Well done thou good and faithful servant,” and made them rulers over many things. Their blessing was the same because they had used their gifts to the best of their abilities and fulfilled their purpose. Even though the third servant didn’t lose the talent his lord had given him, it was taken away from him because he let fear keep him from using the gift and increasing it.

Elder Sterling W. Sill of the Seventy said, “[The third servant’s] loss was not because he did anything wrong, but rather because his fear had prevented him [from] doing anything at all. Yet this is the process by which most of our blessings are lost…When one fails to use the muscles of his arm he loses strength….When we don’t develop our abilities, we lose our abilities. When the people in past ages have not honored the Priesthood, it has been taken from them. Neither spiritual, mental, nor physical talents develop while they are buried in the earth” (The Law Of the Harvest [1963], 375).

Another little story taken from the Savior’s life helped me better understand what it can mean to not be afraid to share what gifts we have, as insignificant as that contribution may seem.

When Jesus learned about the death of his beloved friend and cousin, John the Baptist, He crossed the Sea of Galilee and took Himself “into a desert place apart” (Matthew 14: 13-21). When the people discovered where He had gone, they followed Him. Even in His own time of sorrow, Jesus took compassion on them and healed their sick. The hour became late and being “in a desert place” there wasn’t a place close by where the multitude could find food. Andrew told Jesus that there was a young lad with five barley loaves and two small fishes, “But what they among so many?”

The Savior instructed his disciples to bring the bread and fishes to Him. He gave thanks for the food, blessed it and brake it and gave it to His disciples to distribute among the people. Everyone all ate until they were filled and twelve baskets full were left over.

In the past, I’ve always focused on the compassion the Savior had and the miracle He performed in providing for some five thousand people. I hadn’t thought about the young boy giving all he had, even though his offering seemed meager and wholly inadequate. And then the Savior used His power to make the young boy’s sacrifice enough and to spare – a wondrous miracle indeed.

The Savior has given me gifts according to my abilities. Every talent carries tremendous value, but I don't need to be afraid to use them because I know more than ever that the Savior accepts whatever I can give, no matter how insignificant my offering may seem. All He asks is that I try. He makes my effort enough.  He makes me enough. Through His atoning sacrifice He cleanses, heals, enables, redeems, inspires, strengthens, and helps me become what He created me to be.

Life is magnificent. 

Sep 13, 2016

Writing Book Descriptions AKA Book Blurbs

by Marsha Ward @MarshaWard

I've seen a whole bunch of authors lately asking for help in writing their back cover copy, a.k.a. book descriptions, a.k.a. book blurbs.

As usual, writers panic when they get out of fiction-writing mode and into writing the bits of non-fiction that help them either sell a book to an editor or publisher (pitch, synopsis), or sell the work to readers (book blurb). They start to sweat, thinking of the overwhelming job of writing just the right words to do these jobs.

Author Dean Wesley Smith thinks it's not all that monstrous a task. One only needs to realize that the job calls for sales copy, not elaborate descriptions of the plot or even of the characters. Just sales copy.

Mr. Smith wrote a short book on this topic called How to Write Fiction Sales Copy. I have found it to be a must-have book on my Essentials Bookshelf.

He says that it is imperative to get rid of two deeply ingrained bad habits when we buckle down to write our sales copy for a book.
  1. We can't see beyond the plot
  2. We tend to write about our work in passive voice
How to Write Fiction Sales Copy gives many excellent blurb patterns. Here is just one, a very basic blurb of four paragraphs. Yes, only four paragraphs, and short ones, at that.

  1. Summary of character or world. Make it interesting, Nail down the genre, if possible.
  2. One very short paragraph with short sentences about the first page of the plot.
  3. Plot kicker line.
  4. Why readers will want to read the story, mostly using tags.

I know you're saying gaaaa, how do I do that?

Let's see how it works for Smith's A Bad Patch of Humanity: A Seeders Universe Story
Most of humanity died one ugly day four years before. Now the survivors wanted to rebuild.

Angie Park’s job consisted of telling survivors outside of Portland, Oregon, of the plans to rebuild. But some survivors wanted nothing to do with civilization.

And some thought killing worth the price to pay to stay alone.

In the galaxy-spanning Seeders Universe, “A Bad Patch of Humanity” focuses down on an early event in Angie Park’s life, an event that starts her on her path to becoming a woman of legend in a hundred galaxies.
That's not so hard, right? You can do it, too! Resist any instances of "and then this happens." Use only action verbs.

To read more and quit having the vapors over book blurbs, go get this book, How to Write Fiction Sales Copy. It's well worth the price!

Sep 3, 2016

I Know What I Know

I know what I know, and that’s that. Not a very open hearted sentence, I realize, but it’s true.  I'm on the verge of releasing my next book, More Tips From The Cruise Addict's Wife. My research recently took me and Husband to Copenhagen, Denmark, part of a fifteen-day
, tax deductible  trans-Atlantic cruise. Oh, the sacrifices we make for our craft.

I happily explored the streets of the city, a delightful mixture of the modern and the very old. The Disney Store shares a wall with a 13th-century building. Copenhagen's center is a no-vehicle zone, which is probably redundant since the tax on motor vehicles is 185%  Cars are too costly for most people to consider. I've never seen so many bicycles in one place in my life! Mail, delivery services, commuters, all use bikes.

As a child, I was not allowed to read fairy tales. Following my tenth birthday, when the restriction was lifted, I read them all, Charles Perrault, Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen. Mom may have been right...the originals were not meant for children. I felt a chill, touring Andersen's home in Denmark, as the images I devoured as a little girl leaped to my mind. We loved Denmark!

When I travel, I seek local souvenirs: a lobster cookie cutter from Maine, vanilla from Mexico, a windowpane shawl from Istanbul, chocolate from Iceland. In Denmark, I wanted liege sugar, a couple pounds of the pearlized stuff used in many fancy desserts. As I explored Copenhagen, I kept an eye out for a grocery store. 

Over the course of a couple of days, we walked about eleven miles in the city center, but I never saw a food store. Finally, I asked a clerk at the hotel, where I was confident they’d speak English. The clerk was puzzled as to why I wanted sugar-- don’t they sell sugar in America?—but assured me a market was not far.

 “Go down two blocks, inside the coffee shop on the corner, and down the steps.” 

Baffled, I protested, sure she had misunderstood.  I’d passed that coffee shop at least six times in the last 46 hours, never seeing any indication of a market. 

“Just walk,” she nudged.

Reluctantly, I walked down the two blocks, inside the coffee shop, down the steps, and a grocery store lay before me. It was smaller than my living room, but well stocked and interesting. While Husband hunted for treasures recalled from his mission decades ago, I found the tiny baking-supplies shelf, and strained to make out pictures, since my Danish is non-existent. We made our purchases, a thick grey syrup for Husband, a bag of sugar for me.

I knew there was no market: I’d been by there. The hotel clerk knew there was a market; she’d experienced it. We need to listen to those who are farther down the road, rather than arguing, as is often our first impulse. In life, it never hurts to listen. In your writing, if a writer or reader you value suggests that phrase needs tweaking, or reminds you that you need a comma there, don’t argue. It’s quite possible she knows more than you do.  At the least, ask why until you understand.

Oh, the sugar? Turned out to be desiccated coconut pearls; apparently my ability to guess at packaging is about as good as my foreign language skills.  I ordered liege sugar online when I reached home. That’s not the point, is it?   

Sep 1, 2016

It's a Small World - Part II

by Kari Diane Pike

Shortly after I posted about a couple of "small world moments" and the joy of connecting with people, we received an email from our youngest son Levi, who is serving as a young volunteer in the Moscow Russia Mission.  Part of his letter:

By far the best thing that happened this week is that a less active family that I'll call the Blackwells came to the Branch picnic!!!! Yeah yes booyah hooray и так далее! It's been years since any of them came to ANYTHING
We brought peanut butter cookies (apparently they love peanut butter) to them to say thanks, since the Mom is our registrar (essentially she makes sure we're legal, since you have to do paperwork everytime you're in a new city for more than a few days) and helped us with the emergency transfer.
The Mom didn't come because she was at home taking care of their 1 year old, but the Dad (who was Branch President for 7 years, 7 months, and 7 days and also the 1st baptism in Yaroslavl) came with 3 of his older kids (like 11, 9 and 6 ish). They love soccer, so I spent probably a 20 minutes just playing monkey in the middle with them. I loved it, too. Also, I found out that they know Brother Fishbeck in Arizona! Small world
It turns out that the father of that family was the first baptism in that city and Brother Fishbeck was the missionary who baptized him. The family told Levi how much they loved Elder Fishbeck. Almost four years ago, we moved into the same ward as the Fishbeck family and came to love them too. We passed on the message to Brother Fishbeck and he told us how he thinks about that family often and was sad he didn't have a way to contact them. He was thrilled to be able to get in touch and express his love and concern for them.

When I think about all of the circumstances that happened to put our family in this community at this time and for our son to be in that mission and meet those particular people, I get goosebumps. Looking back, I can see the Lord's hand in all this. There are far too many pieces of the puzzle that had to fit just right for any of this to be mere coincidence. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin shared something that Pres. Monson once told him. Pres. Monson said:

There is a guiding hand above all things. Often when things happen, it’s not by accident. One day, when we look back at seeming coincidences of our lives, we will realize that perhaps they weren’t so coincidental after all.The Lord knows your trials. He knows your victories. And if you will “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding [but] In all thy ways acknowledge him, . . . he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5–6). (Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Lessons Learned Through the Journey of Life," BYU Speeches, Nov. 7, 1999)
This mother's heart rejoices knowing that our son is right where the Lord needs and wants him right now. Things happen for a reason. I am more determined than ever to think twice before I grumble or whine that things aren't going the way I planned. I learn more and more every day that it's not about me. Life is all about love - loving Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ and loving others. Sometimes that means I find myself taking unexpected detours from the goals and plans I set for myself. And that's okay because Heavenly Father always has something far more interesting and exciting in store. Life is magnificent!