Grace Notes: A Letter of Gratitude

On October 10, 2016, thirteen helium balloons—carrying hand-written birthday greetings across their colorful surfaces—were released into a clear, Idaho sky. pinkball

Breezes tugged them across the pasture, where Indy, an elderly quarter horse, nodded his white head and swatted his tail, as if wanting to hurry them along, understanding their significance. They drifted, stretching across a wide horizon, their strings shimmying with the wind. Climbing higher, the balloons joined with clouds etched in pink and red, reflecting the setting sun.

The thirteen of us, family and friends, sang the Birthday Song, our voices at first faint but eventually gathering strength. Then we all stood there in silence, watching the floating greeting cards until they disappeared from sight

And even though the intended recipient, my sister Kelly, was no longer with us, having left us only two days prior, I felt her presence, as I’m sure everyone did. Perhaps she was the feathery breeze brushing across our cheeks, the burst of wind chimes singing out into the dusky night, or the shadows darting around Indy.

Our simple gesture of remembrance had altered an evening ripe with anguish and sorrow into a night full of grace. And it was an eight-year-old girl, Lexie, who we had to thank for the transformative gift, a reflection of the love that my sister had generated throughout her life.

Lexie had wanted to give Kelly a birthday present, telling her mother Mandy that she knew exactly how to deliver it, and Mandy made it possible, gathering all the supplies. Because of their initiative, it was easy to imagine the balloons, as they grew smaller, mere pinpricks against the vast sky, leaving this earth for a heavenly embrace.

It was one of many moments of grace over the past several years, during Kelly’s long battle with cancer, in which generosity and selflessness fused together to defeat pain and fear, allowing us to transcend our grief and recognize how extraordinary and giving people can be.

heartThese grace notes lived within Kelly and continue to envelop my family, filling our hearts with gratitude even as we mourn. And so this letter of thankfulness begins with a little girl, who understood that birthday celebrations never need to end, and continues with an almost endless list of people* who helped my sister carry her burden, trying to slip it off her shoulders, if only for a few seconds at a time…

Family

~ My nieces Shaelyn, Sierra, and Sheridan, whose maturity belies their years, filled Kelly with unwavering pride. They never faltered in their support and care for their mother, and their strength and character reflected off the people around them, making us all braver because of them.

~My mother Sherry and stepfather Pete wove a circle of love around Kelly and unconditionally supported her from traveling to Bethesda, MD to driving to doctor’s appointments to simply holding her hand.

~My husband Keith offered endless optimism and humor—even when his heart was aching—without which our lives would have been much darker and bleaker places.

~Visits, calls, and cards from aunts, uncles, and cousins proved that the love of family stretches across any distance. Aunt Janean and cousins Ashley, Kendell, Jon, and Bella met Kelly and Sheridan at Washington swim meets. Uncle Jim, Aunt Kathy, Uncle John, and cousins Ian and Brad joined us at a Corvallis swim meet for a long weekend of sharing family memories. Uncle Alan sent books and cards, and Cousin Liz and family visited Kelly from Arizona, renewing their relationship and strengthening their love for each other. All of this meant so much to Kelly, and she often reflected on how grateful she was to be part of the Fanning-Walsh families.

St. Luke’s MSTI

~Jonathon, Tonya, Karen, and all the nurses and staff at MSTI never stopped fighting, despite the prognosis, and generated a sense of hope and courage through truthful optimism. Their compassion and kindness touched Kelly and my family and will continue to affect us for many years to come, perhaps forever, as I’m sure many families who have dealt with cancer can say. And, Patty, whose willingness to listen, always be available for guidance and comfort, has meant much more than I’m sure she realizes.

Friends from across the years and world

~Encouragement, love, and prayers arrived almost daily from friends across the world in the form of cards, online messages/texts, voice mails, visits, and flowers, often accompanied with a much-needed dose of humor. The names of these friends, from schools, organizations, and work, have run across my mind often over the past several years in a soothing litany: Sam, Beverly, Melody, Marilyn, Ben, Cristina, Bob, Xavier, Ann, Lanette, Rachel, Kristine, Pete, Gina, Lori, Tony, Kathy, Bruce, Carol, Peggy, Don, Hilary, Lucy, Susie, Rachael, Arlene, Willard… there are too many to name and some of whose actions were only known by Kelly. But please know that everything you did from lighting candles and donating to Aquathons to hospital visits brightened Kelly’s journey during a very dark time and has had a lasting effect, engraved on the hearts of all who witnessed your deeds.

~And, of course, as in everyone’s lives, there are friends who never quite fit into that category, who are more than that… Shane, Kelly’s dear companion over the past few years and lifelong friend, became a partner in care, traveling to doctor’s appointments across the United States and making himself available at all times (and continues to do so). And Twyla, more sister than friend, lifted Kelly with her humor and love.

Parma

~The support of the Parma community defies words. I’m at a loss to express how much this town and the people in it meant to Kelly. Cards arrived weekly from PEO sisters, and friends like Val, Jay, Kathy, Dana, Kristy, and many others frequently made themselves available to help or for a kind word. The teachers and staff of the Parma School District—Shelly, Toby, Madelyn, Monique, Patricia, Cory, Mick… everyone—wrapped my nieces in a supportive embrace and held them up during a difficult time. And Pastor Mark of Sterry Church spent hours and hours with Kelly, discussing Christ’s message and guiding her on a spiritual path of hope and renewal.

Neighbors

~From weeding and snowplowing to providing dinners and taking care of animals or simply providing a hug, Kelly’s neighbors—the Timmons, Jeffers, Parkers, Pascales, Mcleans, and Morrels—selflessly gave of their time. Mandy Pascale and her family offered tireless help, support, and friendship with Mandy recently completing three quilts that Kelly never had the chance to finish.

Kappa Kappa Gamma

~Thank you, Karena, for a friendship that transcends the meaning of that word and for teaching me that there is always time for the people we love, despite distance and schedules. And Nola, for walking next to Kelly (and me) over the past forty years from swim team to cross country and track to the University of Idaho, as well as all my Kappa sisters for your letters, messages, and visits over the past several years, along with the glorious anniversary weekend last April, which meant so much to Kelly and will be etched in my memory forever.

Swim Teams

~Boise YMCA Swim Team parents and swimmers became cheerleaders, not only for my nieces but also for Kelly. This outstanding organization provided much more than just an outlet for exercise and competition but grew into a much-loved activity and diversion, especially Coach Linda Conger, who texted Kelly daily with jokes and supplied us all with some of the best tamales in the Boise Valley.

~The reintroduction of a swim team in Parma began as Kelly’s dream and will hopefully continue in the years to come as part of her legacy. All the swim team parents and swimmers were loving and supportive, but Coach Andres, in particular, became a dear friend, always in contact, whether visiting Kelly in the hospital or joining us for Thanksgiving and other family celebrations.

4-H

~Like the Boise Y Swim Team, 4-H took on a larger meaning through the leaders and members’ support for Kelly and her daughters, particularly Mandy and Myrn, whose phone calls and cards continue today.

heartsAll these people and their love flowed through Kelly and continue to bolster us up as we navigate through our grief, extending peace like a river (to borrow from Isiah 66:12). The kindness Kelly received and gave during her life will have a chain reaction, touching everyone who witnessed it, linking us together in an endless loop and making us more aware of other people in need. Which, in the end, would have been exactly what Kelly would have wanted.

Her life was, in a sense, one of service—nursing—tending to people in the broadest meaning of that word. She believed our purpose on earth was to help other people, and if that was the lesson she left, then I know she would have been proud.

And, as Lexie proved, Kelly continues to inspire, setting an example of bravery and optimism that pushes us all upward, beyond the edge of the horizon where magical balloons proclaim their love for a person whose birthday celebration will never end.

 

 

 

 

 

*If I’ve forgotten someone, please forgive me but know that everything you did was remembered and greatly appreciated by Kelly.

Winter Solace: Finding Comfort With Cecilly in Cinderland

During times of sorrow, I find solace in the written word, escaping into novels whose authors create characters and settings as vital and vibrant as the real world, yet with a dash of the unexpected, a sense of lyricism or a character so believable I wouldn’t be surprised if she walked through my front door.

Cecilly in CinderlandThis fall in particular has been a time for comfort literature, seeking wisdom from favorite authors like Rosamunde Pilcher and her gorgeous prose, as well as debut authors like Emily Deibel and her imaginative world of Cinderland.

In Cecilly in Cinderland, Emily retells the classic story of Cinderella, but with her own creative and original spin. The reader journeys from a city of towers and turrets to the magical world of Cinderland, inspired by Yellowstone National Park, deep within the earth. Here, the protagonists find all their wishes come true; but, as the cover implies, wishes won’t protect them in Cinderland. (Read a full plot description and excerpt here.)

As soon as I encountered Cecilly, the main character, I could see and hear her, as if she were a lifelong friend inviting me on an adventurous excursion, and that ability is one of Emily’s strengths. She offers the reader a few details—a bit of dialogue, a gesture, or even simply a collection of buttons—and weaves them into three-dimensional characters.

The same can be said for both worlds she creates, from the everyday to the fantastical land of the Cinders. I immediately saw the towers and turrets of Cecilly and her sisters’ dress shop, as well as the wall that separated their district from the rest of Havenshire. When she and her sisters descend to Cinderland, the creatures and landscape are described with equal precision, coming alive as Cecilly converses with a ghost or flies on a pygmy dragon.

Emily Deibel
Emily Deibel

And in each location geysers feature prominently, lifeless in Havenshire, bubbly and colorful in Cinderland. The mystery of the geysers connects both worlds, and before Cecilly can resume her life in Havenshire, she must make a sacrifice to the geysers, which Emily reveals in a clever and surprising climax.

But like Cecilly and her sisters, I eventually finished the adventure and had to return to reality. I closed the book with sadness, yet I realized I was able to step back into my life with more ease, a bit of Cecilly’s courage rubbing off on me, making me grateful for Emily’s imagination and an escape to Cinderland.

Click here to visit Emily’s author page on Facebook.

Perfect Conclusion to the Mutants Series

Love, Lattes and Angel (Mutants, #3)Love, Lattes and Angel by Sandra Cox
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Love, Lattes, and Angel, the third installment in the Mutants series, perfectly concludes Piper’s adventures with an imaginative blend of fantasy and romance. The plot takes Piper, Joel, and their daughter Angel, all dolphin mutants, through the Bermuda Triangle to an idyllic tropical island, where they meet a voodoo priestess. Author Sandra Cox expertly weaves descriptions of island life and the undersea world into this nonstop tale of danger and romance that accelerates to the end, where the mutants must battle a powerful mad scientist. Highly recommended!

View all my reviews

Kensington Launches Digital Speculative Fiction Imprint

From Publishers Weekly: Kensington Publishing will launch Rebel Base Books this fall, which will publish science fiction and fantasy e-book originals. A digital-only imprint, Rebel Base will be overseen by Kensington editor Martin Biro.

“As a lifelong fanboy raised on a steady diet of Star Trek and Lord of the Rings, I couldn’t be more excited to boldly go where Kensington has never gone before,” Biro said in a statement.

Read the rest of the article here.

 

Author A.S. Fenichel: Stories that will last forever

Foolish Bride

I’m thrilled to once again feature romance author A.S. Fenichel on my blog with a sneak peek at the cover of her upcoming novel Foolish Bride, the latest installment in The Forever Brides series. Look for it to be released on March 28, 2017 from Kensington Books. In the meantime, you can preorder it here:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
iBooks:
Google Play
Kobo

Read on for more about Foolish Bride and A.S. Fenichel…

 

Blurb

Sadly ever after. . . unless some dreams really do come true?
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Elinor Burkenstock never believed in fairy tales. Sure, she’s always been a fool for love—what woman isn’t? But Elinor knows the difference between fiction and truth. Daydreams and reality. True love and false promises. . . . Until the unthinkable happens, and Elinor’s engagement is suddenly terminated and no one, least of all her fiancé, will tell her why.
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Sir Michael Rollins’s war-hero days seem far behind him when, after onelast hurrah before his wedding, he gets shot and his injuries leave him in dire shape. He wants nothing more than to marry Elinor, the woman of his wildest dreams. But Elinor’s father forbids it . . . and soon Michael is faced with a desperate choice: Spare Elinor a life with a broken man or risk everything to win her heart—until death do they part?

About the Author

A.S. Fenichel gave up a successful career in New York City to follow her husband to Texas andA1 Headshot asf pursue her lifelong dream of being a professional writer. She’s never looked back.

A.S. adores writing stories filled with love, passion, desire, magic and maybe a little mayhem tossed in for good measure. Books have always been her perfect escape and she still relishes diving into one and staying up all night to finish a good story.

Look for her on the Historical or Paranormal Romance shelves. A.S. is the author of The Demon Hunters series, The End of Days Trilogy, Wishing Game, and more. A.S. will be bringing you her brand of edgy romance for years to come.

Originally from New York, she grew up in New Jersey, and now lives in East Texas with her real life hero, her wonderful husband. When not reading or writing she enjoys cooking, travel, history, and puttering in her garden. Her babies are both rescues and include a demanding dog and a temperamental cat, both bring constant joy and laughter.

A.S. loves connecting with readers. Here’s where you can find her:

Web Site- http://asfenichel.com/

Blog – http://asfenichel.com/blog/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/A.S.Fenichel

Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5154640.A_S_Fenichel

Twitter – https://twitter.com/asfenichel

Google +1 – https://plus.google.com/113195747154467378107/posts

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We’d love to hear what you think of this new cover. A.S. will be checking in and responding to any comments.

Writing your autobiography: Words of wisdom from Elizabeth George

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A touch of philosophy from the wonderful Dorothea Harriman, a character created by Elizabeth George, a great writer who only seems to improve with age: “What I mean is that one’s whole life is an autobiography, don’t you agree? Whether it gets written or not doesn’t make a difference. What goes into it, though? That’s what counts.”

Cover Reveal: Bound to be good

Bound
Jen Colly
(The Cities Below, #2)
Published by: Lyrical Press
Publication date: January 31st 2017
Genres: Paranormal, Romance

The streets are a battleground for humans, vampires, and demons alike—where survival is a skill, love is a weapon, and the most dangerous act is to care for another . . .

Keir is an assassin devoted to Lady Arianne, the last of her royal bloodline. He is sworn to protect her, and that means eliminating any threat to her life. But while on a mission, he is set upon by a pack of demons, barely escaping with his life.

Cleopatra lives by a set of rules so rigid she no longer knows her true self. But her kind and loving nature resurfaces when she finds a man, bloodied and dying. Moved to help him, she risks her future and her life to save a stranger far below her aristocratic station.

Their attraction to each other is as powerful as it is forbidden. But even as their love grows, Keir keeps his true identity a secret—and this lie is not the only threat to their love . . . or their lives.

Goodreads / Amazon

Sequel to:

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Author Bio:

Jen Colly is the rare case of an author who rebelled against reading assignments throughout her school years. Now she prefers reading books in a series, which has led her to writing her first paranormal romance series: The Cities Below. She will write about anything that catches her fancy, though truth be told, her weaknesses are pirates and vampires. She lives in Ohio with her supportive husband, two kids, one big fluffy dog, and four rescued cats.

Website / Goodreads / Facebook / Twitter

 

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