Languages, Lost, Learning

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We just returned from an Andre Rieu concert in his hometown of Maastricht, the Netherlands. The concert was phenomenal.

We got lost getting in and out of our first hotel—not once, not twice—but every time. It had four corridors on our floor and only one of them led to a tiny, old fashioned two-person elevator. Since an x-ray proved extensive damage to my left knee even if the pain didn’t, taking the lift instead of four flights of stairs seemed prudent. Change the equation to include our unfailing ability to get lost…and I’m not sure the elevator was the best choice.

Blame the train for the next drama. Heading back to Amsterdam there was an announcement over the speakers in Dutch. Only in Dutch. Then the train stopped and everyone got off. Everyone but us. Finally, a kind English-speaking fellow traveler stuck her head into our empty carriage and said, “You have to get off here and take another train.”

So we did. Again an announcement. Again only in Dutch. The train stopped. Everyone got off. Just as we were stepping off the train, a low-flying fighter zoomed over the station with deafening noise. My heart thumped. Were we in the middle of a war and no one told us? How would we know? We couldn’t understand a word of Dutch.

This time, I spotted a train conductor and chased him down…yes…it hurt. He said there would be another train in 38 minutes. Wait where we were. Not even five minutes later, he shouted at us and pointed. Our train was boarding and it was way up the track from where we patiently stood. Again the running on sad knee. We made it…but it was standing-room-only and no one could move, much less sit down. So a two-hour standing train trip with a barrage of Dutch that we couldn’t understand. We still didn’t even know if we were at war.

It gave me new compassion for people who immigrate to another country and don’t know the language. It gave me new compassion for babies who—regardless of their native language—start out in a world of confusing sounds and words that they don’t know. It gave me new compassion for puppies, who like babies, must learn every new word.

We stepped off the train in Amsterdam and quickly got lost at the back of the station when we tried to find a cab. We also nearly got run over by scores of racing bikes. We didn’t know that the red paved paths around the city were bike lanes. Bikes outnumber cars by millions, the taxi driver said—when we finally found him. Amsterdam was built for bikes. We saw one mom with two children and a basket on her bike and another child skating behind holding onto the bike. We saw bikes delivering hot meals, carrying rolls of carpets, carrying huge plants. We saw bike riders holding umbrellas as they rode one-handed. We even saw riders using no hands, just their knees as they raced by at incredible speeds.


We took a canal tour and saw people living on houseboats and barges. It was a trend hippies started back in the 1960s. It became so popular that now only wealthy people can afford to live on the water in Amsterdam.

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My favorite part of the trip, besides seeing Andre Rieu, was meeting River Girl, Val Poore, an awesome bestselling author who writes about living and remodeling barges with such humor and talent that she makes even plumbing interesting. Being on the canals and watching the bikes race bike reminded me of her unique and beautifully written book, “The Skipper’s Child,” which is now also in Dutch.

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And the event on the train reminded me of Jesus. How could we understand God’s Heavenly language without earthly tones had not Jesus come to this earth as a Man and taught us? Now we have the Bible in a language we can understand and it continues to be printed in languages for every nation of the world. God’s Book. A Living Book. A language to share with the entire world.

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Living Life With a Whisper & A Song

I’m turning this week’s blog over to lovely and talented author Tonia Parronchi.

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Hey, Tonia! I’m honored to have you as a guest today. Could you tell us a bit about “Song of the Cypress” and “A Whisper on the Mediterranean?” What would you like readers to take away with them when they finish your books?

Hi, Stephanie, Thanks for asking me to join you here. When I write, I get completely caught up in the story I am weaving. “The Song of the Cypress” is completely imaginary. “A Whisper on the Mediterranean” is a memoir. So in some ways, the second was easier to write as I could check my diary as I went along. However, “Song” just flowed as I took daily walks through the beautiful countryside in my Tuscan valley which inspired the novel. Certain characters, such as Fiammetta, the old wise woman, took over my life and invaded my dreams, bombarding me with vivid images until I found a scrap of paper and wrote down what they wanted to say! I suppose that what I hope my readers will get from my books is a sense of place. I was an armchair-traveler for years and know how special it is to read about faraway places and add a bit of spice to an ordinary-seeming life (although I believe there is magic to be found anywhere if one opens one’s eyes and looks). If I inspire people to come and visit Italy to experience this wonderful country, so full of quirks and contradictions, that would be wonderful.

Tonia Parronchi (FILEminimizer)

You have amazing versatility as an author. “Song of the Cypress” is lyrical fiction, a poem in prose with a mix of mystery, romance, and suspense. “A Whisper on the Mediterranean” is a memoir. “Poppies” seems to be your life in poems. Do you have a favorite genre, or have you enjoyed writing each of them equally?

There is no doubt in my mind about my favorite genre, either as a writer or a reader, I love fiction. I had fun writing the memoirs (as you say, “Poppies” is a kind of poetic memoir), but I really fell in love with writing during “The Song of the Cypress.” As I said above, certain characters really took over my life. I felt that I was living two lives at times, my real one, and alongside that, my imaginary one. The characters that I created seem quite real to me, as if they are old friends that I have not seen for a while. I have just finished a second novel which has a completely different flavor, and it made me laugh as I wrote it. Fiction gives me a freedom to write whatever I want and it is such fun!

I’m so glad to hear about your new novel. I can’t wait to read it! Could you tell us a bit about it?

My new novel is called “The Melting of Miss Angelina Snow.” It is set in England, in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and follows the adventures of frosty, middle-aged estate agent Angelina Snow and the brave man who falls in love with her, Leonardo Marconi. Mr. Marconi brings Italy into the novel—there had to be something Italian in there after all! Both my main characters are cynical, sarcastic and hard to love. I really enjoyed their verbal battles and finding a way to let them fall in love. I have another novel which is really only vague ideas and a lot of post-it notes at the moment. It is to do with the sea, a woman whose life is influenced by water. There is a mermaid or mythical creature deep within each of us, I think. It is hard to pin down the element of water and fascinating to write about but I am still playing with it

When did you start writing? Was it something that was born in you, or something that developed?

I remember a short story I wrote when I was about 10, about a ghost in a castle. I think my mother still has it somewhere! I was forever scribbling things down, and so I suppose I always wanted to be a writer. It was only when I met my husband, though, and he encouraged me to stop talking about it and start writing that I really began. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

What was your first success? And, conversely, did you have any failures?

Getting a publisher (the lovely Sunpenny) for “A Whisper on the Mediterranean” was my first success. Before that I had, as most of us writers do, a nice folder full of depressing rejection letters. I can honestly say that the day I first held my finished book in my hands was one of the best in my life. I kept wandering over to it, picking it up and stroking it lovingly and had a silly smile on my face all day.

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You were born in the UK. What took you to Italy? Do you think of it now as your forever home? “Song of the Cypress” paints a poignant thumbnail sketch of Italy. Is the beauty and drama of the land why you call it home? Or is it some other reason?

I moved here because I met Guido and moved in with him, in Rome in 1990. I feel a bit like a fish-out-of-water in the UK, and Italy, really. I have been in Italy for so long that it has become home, but England is forever in my heart and I don’t fit in either place properly. Maybe that is what allows me to write about both places with understanding and complicity but still be an observer, on the outside looking in. I love dramatic scenery and beautiful locations and am lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. However, my heart often yearns for the countryside of my youth. I could write with the same intensity about the Cornish coast, Welsh valleys, or Scottish highlands. I live in Italy above all because my husband is here. A few years ago we took a trip to Brittany, in France, and I lost my heart to that region. Before we booked the holiday, I was reading a brochure that made me giggle over some of the translations. One description of the Cote d’Armor coast informed me that I would love to “trot myself along the pink the granite cliffs.” Indeed, I loved trotting myself along there. Maybe I could live there one day?

You call your husband an “Italian Action Man.” From “A Whisper on the Mediterranean,” it would seem as if you share a sense of adventure. Were you always adventurous?

Oh, Stephanie, I am not brave or adventurous at all, only very much in love with my husband, who leads me into all sorts of scrapes. I was a tomboy as a child and forever climbing trees—but never getting very high because I am afraid of heights! I sail and fly with Guido (he built a small 2-seater plane in our workshop!), but get tied up in nerves each time. I am, however, very grateful to him because he has introduced me to so many wonderful things that otherwise I would not have tried. Skiing—I do not ski anymore because each time I go I end up injuring myself, as I am not at all sporty. Snorkeling—but I get panicky with the mask over my face. I went up in a hot air balloon and must be the only balloon passenger ever to not to have seen anything of the flight except the inside of the basket and my white knuckles tightly gripping to the edge! With Guido, I have also been to some amazing places and others that I would not want to go back to, such as the cockroach-infested hotel in Kenya. These experiences will surely, one day, be good to write about.

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That’s funny! But I know you are not the first to see only the inside of a hot air balloon basket, I would be the same! My legs would never allow me the courage to stand. I think you are both brave and adventurous, and I love the example you set of loving your husband and being his partner in everything—even if it scares you! But back to your books; being a parent myself, I was alarmed and enthralled reading about your experiences sailing with James when he was a baby. You wrote your fear with such emotion when he almost fell into the engine room that my heart pounded. Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time—would you do it all over again?

I would not change a thing. It is true that I was scared stiff for James more than once when we were sailing, and questioned my own judgment quite harshly then. Now he is 21, and a very independent and interesting man. I think his early experiences helped to form his unique character. I would not change a thing because my experiences are what make me the person I am now. I can honestly say that I am happier with myself now than I ever was when younger and have no wish to go back in time, either to re-live or to change anything. Just keep the adventures coming. I have become a bit of an adrenalin junkie.

What is some parting information about you and your books, or your life in Italy that you would like readers to take away with them?

What I would like to say to anyone who is wondering about changing their lives but scared about it, is this. Do it. If you don’t, you will always regret not trying. I am so glad that I have had a chance to live an integrated life in another country. Learning another language was a big challenge to me but now I am fluent, although I do still make lots of mistakes and am used to my son and husband rolling their eyes and apologizing for me when I come out with particularly strange sentences. They refer to these mistakes as Toniaisms and find them vastly amusing. My Italian friends are warm and loving, the food and wine here is amazing and the countryside and cities exquisite. The politics, corruption and pollution are terrible but that is true in many other countries too. Everyone should visit Italy at least once in their lives. It is a uniquely wonderful country. I also hope that readers of “The Song of the Cypress” will look at nature differently after reading the book. Maybe they will stop for a while in the shelter of some ancient tree and really take time to look and absorb the beauty around them. If they stay still long enough, maybe they will begin to feel the deep connection that runs through all things. Some call it God, others think of it as the universal spirit that flows through life. I think of it as the song, the entrancing music of the shadow lands—just out of sight, almost impossible to hear but strumming the air with an exquisite melody if you open up your hearts to it.

Thank you, Tonia, for that lovely parting thought. It has put a song in my heart today, and I know your unique books will do the same for your readers.

Why I Chose Child Abuse over Abortion

I didn’t say to someone when I was in my mother’s womb, “I know if I’m born I’ll get abused – I choose abuse over abortion.” I didn’t say that because unborn children can’t speak for themselves.

Had I known every heartbreak in my life before I was born, I would still have chosen life over abortion.

Let’s pretend a moderator had interviewed me in the womb.

Moderator: “If you are born, you will face years of sexual abuse from your father. He will start raping you when you are eleven. He will get you pregnant twice, then heat up your mother’s knitting needles and perform two backwoods, medically unsupervised abortions to hide his crime. You will nearly die both times and it will take you weeks to recover. You will miss a lot of school and fail math. He will beat you up, stomp on you, throw things at you and threaten to kill you if you tell anyone. You can avoid all that by being aborted now.”

Me: “There will be some good days and good times. I want to live.”

Moderator: “It won’t be easy even when you escape abuse. You’ll be homeless with no money. You will live under a bridge in the back of a truck. Even on the coldest days of winter, you will wash yourself and your clothes in the river. You will be miserable.”

Me: “I will find ways to cope and become a stronger person because of hardship. I want to live.”

Moderator: “You will have a son. You will spend more than seven years as a single parent, working two and three jobs to make ends meet. One time you’ll be so tired after working all night, getting your son off to school, then going back to work at 11:30 a.m., that you drive your truck to a shopping center parking lot, let your son go visit the toy shop, lock the doors and sleep in the cab in freezing weather. You hate being cold.”

Me: “I want to live.”

Moderator: “You will be heartbroken because your son is chronically ill and doctors don’t know what’s wrong. Seeking medical help, you will drive over Donner Summit in the winter in a truck with no defroster. As you drive over the mountain, you will be constantly scraping ice off the outside, then the inside of the windshield so you can see. The truck will break down and you will be two years without your own transportation.”

Me: “I will love my son. I want to live.”

Moderator: “You will want to be a writer. You will spend 40 years sending out manuscripts and getting rejections back. Working two and three jobs at a time, you won’t have opportunity to research the market. Many times, you won’t have enough money for postage to send out your books. You will get so frustrated that you feel like slamming your head against a concrete wall.”

Me: “I want to live.”

Moderator: “More tragedies. All on the same day, your mother dies and you can’t plan to attend her funeral because your husband is sent home from the hospital to die; your sheepdog dies, and your truck catches on fire in downtown San Antonio.”

Me: “I want to live.”

Moderator: “You will get scammed out of your property by a drug-addicted con, and a pastor you trusted. You will live in an open-ended garden center with no indoor plumbing and no kitchen or bathroom facilities. You will take cold water showers with the garden hose. In the winter, you will put up hay bales and wrap up your little living area in plastic to keep out the cold – it’s all you can afford. Wildlife will share the garden center with you – even wasps and scorpions. You will eat one meal a day and survive on granola bars the rest of the time. The legal system will fail you, and you will be broke and homeless again.”

Me: “I want to live. I might be broke, I might be homeless – but I will never be poor.”

Because I lived, I taught in Christian schools in two different states and remain in contact with some of my former students who claim I had a positive influence in their lives.

Because I lived, I worked on newspapers in three different states, writing stories that uplifted and helped others.

Because I lived, I was honored by God with the most awesomely wonderful son any mother could ever have, the late Marine Corps Major Luke Gaines Parker. Even after his Nov. 17, 2013 plane crash, Luke continues to bless others with the writing, memories, and Christian example he left behind. Because Luke lived, he leaves behind daughter Dulcinea, who makes the world a better place. All that was possible because – first of all – I lived.

Because I lived, I am now married to a marvelous husband, Reverend Alan T McKean, the author of time travel-adventure books The Scent of Time, The Scent of Home and the soon-to-be-released The Scent of Eternity. Because I lived, we live in the lovely Black Isle of Scotland, working together in his ministry.

Because I was abused, not aborted, I have written six “inspirational,” “life-changing” books, which include the pro-life adventure-romance, Love’s Beating Heart – a book which readers say helped them choose life and adoption for their unborn instead of abortion.

Child abuse is unforgivable. It should never happen. Abortion is ultimate child abuse – it tortures the child, then murders him or her.

What about you? Life hasn’t been easy. Would you have chosen abortion over life?


To everything there is a Season

More than 2,000 years ago, King Solomon wrote in the book of Ecclesiastes, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” He added, “God has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Fall foliage reminds me these Bible verses. Trees take turns dressing in their fall flowering of red, gold, streaked and spotted colors. It is, as some have said, as if God individually paints each leaf and takes turns striking each tree with a swath of His glory. The result is bright cheering beauty to break a drab and dull world preparing itself for sleep.

Sometimes we want to rush our goals and dreams in life, and who could blame us? Life on this earth is short. The Bible equates it with a grass blade that soon withers; a vapor; a flower bloom that fades. Not happy thoughts – if we believe this life is it. But the same Bible that describes the brevity of life also promises that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ gains entrance into eternal life with Jesus in Heaven.

As much as we want to press ahead with our plans, we need to remember that God is in control. He holds our lives in His hands. He knows the number of our days. Sometimes he withholds the answer to a prayer; a promotion in our career; recognition that we’ve earned because He is too wise to make mistakes and too good to be cruel. God knows that waiting will either bring us something better than we could ever ask or think, or will build us into the kind of person that He wants us to be. So if the wait seems long, remember that God is painting the leaves one-by-one.

I don’t understand why as a writer it’s taken me forty years to build a successful life as an author when some people as young as 14-years-old break into the publishing industry. I don’t need to understand. That’s God’s look out. What God requires of me is faith and gratitude. It’s been a long wait, but I think the five Christian mystery-romance-suspense books and the one pro-life adventure-romance have benefited by the wait. (The newest, “Fear of Shadows,” will be out this week!)

Like fall leaves, God has painted my books one-by-one using the colors mixed by a waiting heart.


Texas Grit

Dreaming and following your dreams is awesome, but success demands work, effort – and even a measure of true Texas grit.

For weeks now, I’ve wanted to get a picture of a house along the beach with the sun setting behind it, but it’s always been too clear, too cloudy, the wrong time of day, or I’ve been too far away. I wanted to capture the image for my sixth Miz Mike Bridge to Nowhere series. Sunpenny Publishing has yet to release the second one, but I’m working ahead to number six.

When Miz Mike leaves Texas to live in Scotland, she gets stuck in an isolated, lonely beach house. Even there – somehow – trouble finds her and she stirs up enough mystery, romance and suspense to entertain any reader – with a big dose of humor added.

When I went running today, I stuck the camera in my pocket. Since I’m running on a stress fracture, I stuck to the sandy beach. I turned around sooner than I usually do and headed home. I was too tired to run more. My foot was complaining. I hadn’t felt like running in the first place. Then I saw the sky. It was perfect for the picture I wanted…except.

Now to serve up the Texas grits – grit. To get to the cabin would mean turning around again and heading back down the beach, then cutting across a hard-packed path to the main road. Not only would it add about half-a-mile to the run I didn’t want to make in the first place, it would result in running on pavement – stress fracture and all.

I turned and went for it. Yes, my foot throbbed by the time I got home – but I had the picture. My entire writing career has been painful. Dream the dream, yes! Never give up on the dream. I didn’t, even after receiving 150 rejection slips (along with some checks!) over the span of forty-five years. Becoming known as “Author” Stephanie Parker McKean has taken work, effort – and even true Texas grit at times. Everyone brave enough to dream a dream must also be brave enough to make the journey to reach it.

Wise King Solomon got it right in Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might.”




Follow the Jumper!

We are blessed to live in Fortrose, Scotland, within walking distance of Chanonry Point where the dolphins come to jump and play. Well, truthfully, to eat salmon!

One thing we’ve learned about photographing these amazing animals is to follow the jumper. The firth can be full of surfacing dolphins, but if none of them jump – the pictures are boring ones of water, fins and backs. To get an interesting photo, watch to see which dolphin is a jumper and keep the camera trained on the jumper.

Life is like that. Some folks sit watching their TVs and eating snacks and let others jump out of apathy and attempt to change the world. If you want to have an interesting life – jump! You may come down on the wrong foot and end up with a sprain. Don’t let that stop you – sprains heal. Mediocre couch-sitters will despise you and attempt to break you in pieces with words so that they can build up their self-image without getting up out of their comfort zone. Not to worry. Jesus went through the same thing. He was a Jumper.

Being an author is similar. My goal is to write “jumpers.” Books that people will remember; mystery-romance-suspense books that will inspire them to leave their comfort zone and jump for their dreams. Bridge to Nowhere, from Sunpenny Publishing, follows older Texan protagonist Miz Mike who would mind her own business except for her motto to “never let an adventure pass by unmolested.” She almost loses her faith in God when her youngest grandson is kidnapped and law enforcement lets the murderer who kidnapped him escape. Her involvement in the mystery threatens the renascent romance with her cowboy hero Marty. Then she jumps.

Love’s Beating Heart jumps all over the place. A pro-life teen and up adventure-romance with a strong supporting arm for homeschooling and the sanctity of marriage, Love’s Beating Heart is out there jumping through the waters of controversy like an entire pod of dolphins!

Heart, Shadows, Until the Shadows Flee and the soon-to-be-released Fear of Shadows all contain a strong Christian message woven into the action and believable characters – not some preachy tacked on addition. They all jump.

Writing “jumpers” matters to me. I want to offer readers books that won’t discomfort them with profanity or negative lifestyle examples. Books that entertain and delight. Books that jump! Someday I will be gone just as surely as the dolphins fade away from Chanonry Point when the salmon run is over. My desire is to leave something behind that will cause others to jump up out of their ordinary lives and do something extraordinary for God.

I want to live for the jump!