Skunk Summer and Summer Love

Sharing this blog. Leslie P. Garcia is simply a brilliant poet.

Return to Rio

13131089_996662583702962_1822918684602946358_o alwaysSkunk Summer, Love, and Poetry

 Those of you participating in theSummer of Love Giveaway, good luck. Those of you who aren’t, should be!

A wonderful group of authors has been sharing love through books, gift cards, and goodies of all kinds for several years now, and I’m delighted to be participating. For extra entries, visit all of us and perform some simple task. Here at Return to Rio, just read this blog and leave a comment when you finish.

Although two of my romances, Unattainable and A Love Beyond, will bring you to the searing south Texas heat, the ‘skunk summer’ mentioned in the title evokes love of a totally different kind—love that fills our lives and lingers, regardless of the state of our romantic love journey. Or journeys.

You’ll find Skunk Summer in my collection of poetry, Always the Moon, on sale this week for .99, along with…

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Small & Deadly

Most folks probably fear and flee large critters – but small things can kill.

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One vacationing site on the Scottish Highlands applauded Culicoides Impunctatus, the ferocious Highland Midge. It concluded that if there were fewer midges in the Scottish Highlands there would be more tourists and more tourists would spoil the scenic beauty that tourists come to see. It added cheerfully that no one had ever died from a midge bite. I don’t buy it.

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Painting signs in the Texas Hill Country, I was attacked by the midge’s American cousin, no see ‘ems. While balancing 20 feet up in the air on the metal rungs of a ladder, I battled to keep the invisible biting, stinging gnats out of my eyes. Keeping them out of paint was impossible. They love paint. Thus my straight, neat lines often wobbled as the brush pulled over the bodies of hundreds of still-struggling no see ‘ems.

The Scottish tourist site posted photos of folks wearing head masks and gloves to protect themselves from Scotland’s “nuisances.” Faces under the masks were totally blocked from sight from the layers of midges. Same with the gloves and outer clothing. One photo was a cupped hand piled high with black soil – no – make that “non-deadly” “nuisances,” midges.

With their sight blocked by midges, what if a hill walker gets too close to the edge of a cliff? What if I had fallen off the ladder? No one has died from a midge bite? Are we sure of that?

There’s a delightful folktale Travellers (gypsies) relate about how midges came to Scotland. I included it in my mystery-romance-suspense “Captive of Fear.”

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Watching baby ducks with Mom started me thinking about small things. Bites on my face and neck turned me from thinking cute to thinking kill. But how do you dispatch a cloud of insects that are virtually invisible?

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Something else small is deadly. Words. The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Cruel words break hearts, cause fights, and bring about death and suicide. James says, “The tongue is a little member and boasts great things…No man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” Jesus said that we are not defiled by what we put into our mouths – but by the words that come out of our mouths.

Some small things are cute – like baby ducks. Some small things must be handled with care – like words. Some small things are a nuisance – like midges. Are they deadly? I’d maintain that the jury is still out on that one.

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Write What You Know

18362492_1238027982976551_1361060936_o“Write what you know,” the weathered writing instructor with grey-streaked red hair and periwinkle glasses told us, holding up two lackluster books that had probably not sold more than 30 copies each. Still, her two-day class was cheap, and at 20-something with a gathering stack of rejection slips, I figured some knowledge was better than no knowledge.

Wrong! I was quick to realize that at 20-something, I basically knew nothing. I should have given up writing then. Because by the time I knew enough to write books—reaping that knowledge had imprinted bloodstains on my heart. Some people like pain. I don’t.

When I attended those writing classes, I didn’t know God. When I started to realize God might be real, I prayed for Him to remove every doubt. He did. Accomplishing that meant sending me into the desert at night with a young child to support, no money, no job, no place to stay, and no vehicle. When you’re crying your heart out in the desert at night matching coyote wails, and the next day you receive everything you prayed for—it kind of removes the doubt element. Except, it’s mighty scary and uncomfortable at the time. Oh…almost everything. The vehicle arrived a few weeks later after we had started attending church and my four-year-old son said, “Mom, why don’t you pray for a truck?” I didn’t have enough faith to pray for that, but he did—and the next day—we had our truck.

A failed first marriage, fleeing and hiding from an abusive husband, supporting a child by myself, and working two to three jobs—knowledge is costly.

I must confess that my newest book, “Bridge to Texas,” is a comical mystery-romance-suspense not based on personal knowledge…exactly. I’ve never done a nude calendar shoot and at my age and weight—no one would buy the calendars. However, I covered a story when I was working for a Bandera, Texas newspaper that gave me the idea. Older women raising money for charity took off their clothes and made history, so to speak, plus a lot of money!

I must thank my husband Alan T McKean, talented author in his own right, for “Bridge to Texas.” The entire story grew out of a comment he made: “You should write another Texas Miz Mike. You could have Evan get kidnapped.” Does he get kidnapped? Read the book. Oh, and here’s a link to Alan’s books: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Alan-T.-McKean/e/B00BR1PM5Y/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

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The differences between Scotland and Texas spin comedy effortlessly in “Bridge to Texas,” and the characters are a bossy bunch who grab a’holt of a story plot and corral it for their own rodeo. So you can say the book wrote itself. I say God wrote and I typed it. But whatever your personal outlook, you will probably enjoy this romping mystery-romance-suspense that can make you laugh…yes…out loud!

Even the cover and cover blurb are the result of knowledge: photographer Don Davis’ genius with a camera; Paul Garrison III’s mule training advice, and friend Shawn Petersen’s riding skill.

So that jaded teacher was right. Write what you know. And if you’re too young yet to know a lot…be thankful and wait. Don’t rush the knowledge—unless you’re one of those peculiar folks who enjoy pain.

Why God Made Dandelions

Before we moved, one neighbor would look at our yard critically and glower if he spotted a dandelion. Me? I love the cheerful yellow flowers and would gladly have a yard full of them. But the Bible instructs to live peacefully, as much as possible, with all people—thus the countless hours digging up the poor dandies by the roots and discarding them.

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Why did God make dandelions? Critics claim that dandelion clumps on athletic fields and golf courses result in poor footing for humans. Critics say they reduce the aesthetic quality of turf grass. Fruit growers claim bees prefer dandelion blooms to fruit tree blossoms and that dandelions entice the bees away resulting in a loss of pollination. Defenders of dandelions make tea and entire meals out of dandelions and tout their health benefits.

Me? I have my own reflection on dandies and why God made them. They are hardy, prolific, cheerful, thrive in almost any climate condition, and are almost impossible to kill. They’re tough! They’re encouraging.

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When we first moved to Dunoon, we found an impossibly steep hill that had to be conquered in order to walk our dog. So impossible did the hill look that I turned back and wasn’t going to attempt it—until I spotted a dandelion growing out of a rock wall. If that flower could conquer that ages-old rock wall…we could conquer the hill. And we did.

Successful people are like dandelions. Tough.

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Bill Gates, the richest person in the world, failed in his first business. Albert Einstein survived a miserable childhood and never spoke until age four. Jim Carey was a homeless high school dropout. Stephen King’s first novel was rejected 30 times—but he never quit writing. Vincent Van Gough only sold one painting in his lifetime—but he kept painting and left behind 900 works of art.

Bethany Hamilton had her arm bitten off by a shark when she was 13. She was back on her surfboard one month later, and two years later she won first in the Explorer Woman’s Division of the NSSA National Championships. Oprah Winfrey was repeatedly molested as a child and gave birth at age 14 to a son who died shortly after. Her net worth today—$ 2.9 billion.

Tough. As tough and successful as dandlelions.

I like that! I like dandelions!

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http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

One Person CAN Make a Difference

Think one person can’t make a difference? Think you can’t make a difference? Think again.

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More than a thousand years ago, an Irish holy man named Fintan Munnu started one of the first Christian communities in western Scotland. His chapel gave the present historic village of Kilmun its name. Over the centuries, a place of worship has always graced the hillside where Fintan Munnu—one man—walked, prayed, worshiped, and built a life of service to God.

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An American, James Piers Patrick, bought an estate on the Cowal Peninsula of Scotland close to Dunoon and planted an avenue of Giant Sequoia trees in 1863. The enormous awe-inspiring trees—now 148-feet high—continue centuries later to draw visitors to Benmore Botanic Garden. One person who made a difference.

James Duncan—one man—bought the 120-acre estate in 1870, planted more than six million trees and added paths through the forested hillside. One person.

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Henry Younger took over the estate in 1889 and added exotic shrubs and trees before gifting the estate to the nation.

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“Wild Horse Annie” Velma Bronn Johnston successfully campaigned to stop the eradication of wild horses and free roaming burros from U.S. government land. Legislation to protect wild horses and burros was passed in 1971 after Velma engaged school children around the United States to join the campaign to save the animals and stop the rampant cruelty and slaughter that was desecrating herds.

Wild Horse Annie died in 1977, and wild horses need prayers and protectors again. You can, we can make a difference again.

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There are likely thousands of other examples of one person who made a difference…but I just happen to have pictures for these!

Whoever you are and wherever you are…you CAN make a difference.

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Broken Dreams

Before we moved from Fortrose to Dunoon, Scotland, I made a brief foray into the land of Broken Dreams when I discovered a tarp-covered boat growing in a plot of brambles and tall weeds. Someone had dreamed of adventuring aboard that boat. It had once been a prized possession, as evidenced by the green tarp that had been lovingly gathered around the earth-bound boat for so long that one of the seats had broken through its protective covering. What shattered those watery dreams? Illness? Lack of time? Lack of money? New interests? Whatever the reason, the forgotten boat slips into oblivion in the land of Broken Dreams.

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It seems as if we have forgotten Paul’s wise advice in the Bible: “And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (I Timothy 6:7)

Moving took us on a journey to the land of Broken Dreams. We had to condense 35 years of my husband’s ministry career from a seven-room house to a three-room house. Before the moving van arrived, we had already gifted furniture, books, clothes, and cool “things” to a Christian charity. When we got to the three-room house, we had to get rid of more so we could fit.

How many things do we need for survival and how much is space-wasting clutter? Folks who live in RVs, barges, boats, and tents (Yes, some folks live in tents, as per Miz Mike #3 mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge to Xanadu.) have a ready answer for what is vital to keep and what to toss. Space constraints point wobbly accusations at space raiders—things that we simply couldn’t live without when we first got them—and then realize we didn’t need after all.

Allow me to vent briefly. I get angry when people here in the UK talk about “wasteful Americans.” I have never lived anywhere in the US that didn’t have “fix-it” shops, that didn’t sell vacuum cleaner parts, or where folks didn’t continue driving their vehicles until long after they passed the 100,000-mile mark. Here, cars are shiny new. It’s hard to find an old one. No fix-it shops. Everything is tossed out when it breaks. It’s impossible to change the belt on a vacuum cleaner. They are solid molded plastic and don’t come apart. Folks are expected to throw them out and buy a new one when the belt breaks. Leftover food? “Health and safety” warns against it.

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Not that my husband is wasteful. We eat everything. And I’ve lost track of what hubby brought with us to the new house and then discarded, including a huge ball of used rubber bands. He still has his set of “Word Studies in the Greek New Testament,” and enough history books from different countries to start his own library.

We found a rubber band outside on the ground yesterday. I picked in up and started to toss it in the garbage. He grabbed it out of my hand and said earnestly, “We should keep this. We might need it.”

I didn’t say a word.

http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Moving Chair

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We first spotted it in the woods along a dog-walking path. A strange place to find a wooden chair from someone’s dining set, but the mystery deepened when the chair moved to the beach.

Being a writer, my head spun stories about the moving chair: a thief stole it and abandoned it when spotted. Said thief went back to retrieve the chair, but was caught again. Or perhaps one ex was getting back at the other by cleaning out the house, one chair at a time. Or an angry teen with a lazy parent moved the chair to make the parent question his or her sanity when things vanished. Being lazy, said parent would never go looking for the missing item. Or perhaps some kind person thought older dog walkers would appreciate a comfortable place to rest.

My favorite story is dedicated to the memory of Bandera County, Texas pioneer Edwina Boyle—because it mirrors her real life story.

An old woman lived in the woods near the beach. She couldn’t watch the sea from her house, but each day she walked through the woods to the beach. She threw stranded starfish back into the waves. She rescued baby seals. She carried injured sea birds home with her and nursed them back to health…until…until the day she suffered a stroke.

Usually a mild person, the old woman experienced anger when she heard negative, disparaging words about her condition. “It was a severe stroke,” the doctor said. “She’ll never recover. She’ll never walk again. She needs to go to a nursing home.”

Family members were just as pessimistic. “She can’t walk. She can’t even move her legs. There’s no choice. She will have to go into a home.”

The angry woman mounted a secret campaign against her bleak prognosis. She prayed, asking God over and over to heal her legs. Daring even to demand that God heal her! Every time she was alone, she concentrated all her thoughts and energy into making a toe move, then a foot, then a leg. One day before her scheduled hospital release, she slipped out of bed and teetered around the room.

Once home, the determined woman continued her self-imposed physical therapy. She propped her back door open and carried one of her kitchen chairs out to the porch. The next day, she carried the chair down the steps. Each day, the woman carried the chair further, sat in it to rest, then returned home. Before long, she was sitting in her chair at the beach reading moments of joy and fury from the voice of the waves. Neighbors stopped to ask her to forecast the weather because they knew the water talked to its faithful friend.

Writing is like that moving chair. At times, it’s hard not to listen to the negative, derogatory predictions for success. Rejections, lack of sales, bad reviews—it’s enough disappointment and broken dreams to send authors to retirement homes.

Don’t give up and surrender yourself to a retirement home. Keep moving the chair. Oh—and when it gets too heavy for you to carry, ask God to help.

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http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Pee on Crabs

Our rough collie is a lady. If she became homeless and had to “dumpster dive” for food—she would starve.

So, too, with her bathroom habits. She simply will not do her business on: a road, a sidewalk (pavement in the UK), the golf course, or manicured lawns. Heck—she will hardly defecate in her own yard!

A dead crab on the beach, however, fails to benefit from her gracious habits. She will pee on it in a heartbeat. It seems unseemly to abuse a corpse, but Angel Joy shows no remorse. A dead crab shell on the beach is a fair target. Most uncouth, but there you have it.

So I looked up information on crabs to find out what’s wrong with them—from a doggy perspective. Nothing. They wear a thick exoskeleton, which they shed and replace as they grow, and range in size from the aptly named tiny “pea crab,” to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span of 13 feet. They are renowned for their sideways walking, but that’s no different from politicians skirting questions. Crabs are aggressive, yet they are also known to work together to provide food and protection to their families.

And there you have it: the secret to writing interesting fiction characters that will nab readers. Complex. Layered. Not all good, not all bad. As a writer, don’t hesitate to pee on the crab.

As to why Angel Joy, who is not a writer, pees on crabs…well, I will probably never know.

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http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Humpty Dumpty

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Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Be kind. Even if the other person isn’t kind, be kind. We’ve all had falls. But not everyone mends. The world is full of shattered humans who are not kind to others because of their own level of suffering.

My recent experience with agony heightened my compassion for others who are suffering physical or mental hurts that no one sees. Even as a writer, I can’t find words to express how ghastly the pain in my hip was except to say that I wish readers could rate my books at my pain level—10.

When a person tries to sit on a toilet seat and accompanies that attempt with loud enough hollers to bring the cows in from the field…it’s bad. Walking and standing elicited the same response. As for bending over to pick something up—forget it. Since we have a dog that needs walking, not being able to bend over was especially awkward. My poor husband had dog picking up detail for weeks. Additionally, our dog thinks she’s the housekeeper. When anything is on the floor that doesn’t belong there, she puts her nose on it and stares at it until someone picks it up. (Except for her toys. They are exempt.)

Yay! I picked up dog poop today! What a relief to be able to return to that simple chore. Part of the healing involved pushing through the pain to do back exercises and go running. For those who say, “I don’t run. If you see me running, you better run, too, because something is after me,” I will admit that fast walkers can pass me when I’m “running.” It’s not about speed, it’s about exercise to re-build the body. It’s also about a verse from Marjorie Ainsborough Decker’s “Christian Mother Goose” book:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

Humpty Dumpty shouted, “Amen!

God can put me together again!

Prayer and praise. As I was “running,” I sang, “You are the God Who is healing me.” And I believed it.

So today I picked up dog poop. The possibilities for tomorrow are endless! God still heals, he still answers prayers…and, yes, He still instructs and expects us to be kind to one another.

Forgive shattered people and give them the gift of kindness. We never know when we will be next one to fall off the wall.

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http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Great Love

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Texas Miz Mike #7 mystery-romance-suspense “Bridge Home” was released—but, wait! It is not the best love story ever written.

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Great love stories light our inner fires and inspire us. Some of the most famous include William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights,” Leo Tolstory’s “Anna Karenina,” Boris Pasternak’s “Doctor Zhivago,” and Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Other great love stories revolve around remarkable people like John Smith and the Indian Princess Pocahontas, Marie and Pierre Curie, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

This is just a fleeting mention of some of the world’s greatest love stories because nearly all life-changing, life-impacting stories contain an element of love. Not surprising since God’s Word proclaims, “Love never fails,” and “Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians, Chapter 13).

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My favorite love stories tend to be embedded in musicals. The social commentary and unforgettable music in “Show Boat;” faith victorious in “The Sound of Music,” rollicking fun in “Calamity Jane” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” and the soul-plumbing “South Pacific.” And of course the musical everyone in Scotland hates—but I’ve always loved, “Brigadoon.”

Whether they end in tragedy, or joy and “happy ever after,” love and love stories make life worth living.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Don’t forget to read the greatest love story ever written. It’s written in God’s blood. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Then He proved it by dying for us.

“For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

God’s love story about us and for us is greater than any love story ever written by humans—even William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” which is still ranked #1 in love stories 400 years after it was written.

As for “Bridge Home,” well, I hope you’ll read it, enjoy it, and leave a review—but trust me…it won’t the list.

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http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Parker-McKean/e/B00BOX90OO/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0