The next leg of our Scottish journey felt like coming home. We make it a point to see new places and things each time we come to Scotland, but we also plan return visits to places we didn’t get enough of the first time around.  Scot - Skye sunset

Coming back to the Isle of Skye on the ferry from Harris felt like meeting up with an old, familiar friend for a quick catch up. We saw a phenomenal sunset while we headed back to our B&B, a newly built addition with a comfortable bed, an amazing, spa-like bathroom and a beautiful view of Loch Dunvegan. Only two things marred our visit – more midges and a sad state of affairs at a much-renowned Stein pub where we’d had wonderful meals twice before. We were truly shocked when our waitress ignored us for over an hour before taking our order, not even bringing us water or a menu, while the Scots at the table next to ours ordered, ate, paid and went their merry ways. I won’t go into the details, but it was the first time we’d been treated rudely, probably because we were Americans, on any of our journeys. When our dinners finally arrived, my meat was tough and undercooked. I would have left without paying, but my nice husband took care of the bill and we departed completely mystified at the treatment we’d received.

Scot - Skye sunset 2

 

The rest of our time on Skye was delightful. We enjoyed our room, and the nice breakfast treats left in the refrigerator, and went to sleep dreaming of the opportunity to see some of our favorite spots from two years ago. After taking in the scenery on the loop from Dunvegan to Sligachan Valley, we followed the highway toward Armadale Castle and Gardens, on the east side of Skye, which we had not seen our first trip.

Scot - castle ruins

The gardens were lovely and the ruins of the castle were serene and full of interesting historical images. Our hike through the forest was as brief as we could manage as the dreaded midges were once again out in full force. Thankfully, after we left the castle, we found a locally manufactured concoction made with natural ingredients and essential oils that did seem to deter them, as well as soothing the bites I already had.

Scot - Dornie

 

We stopped at Dorney and Eilean Donan Castle on our way to Loch Carron. Eilean Donan, the only place besides the Glasgow airport that we’ve seen on all three visits to Scotland, is the setting of Shy Violet, and plays a role in Sweet William. I truly do feel a connection to this castle. I took a copy of Sweet William along to give to one of the servers at the Castle café just like I did Shy Violet two years ago, and to my delight, they remembered me! The woman we gifted the book to even had a connection to the house on the front cover. Like so many aspects of our trip, the whole thing felt meant to be.

Scot - Eilean Donan

I had the same pleasant sense of déjà vu in Loch Carron. The idea for Golden Rod was born while I was there two years ago, and it was great fun to leave copies with the owner of the B&B where we stayed and the owner of the Waterside Café, which is mentioned in the book.  We revisited Lochcarron Weavers (and left with more wool remnants), stopped at my favorite craft shop (which had almost burned down in a forest fire the week before).

Scot - Fairy

I bought a wee Scottish fairy, and saw the incredibly scenic overlooks we discovered last time. But from there on, everything we saw and did was entirely new. We had two incredible meals, one at Lochcarron Bistro that included some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Scot - Lochcarron bench The next day, we set off for Applecross, a charming seaside village at the end of one of the steepest, scariest mountain roads I’ve ever been on. Mark navigated the narrow, winding road quite well, and our little Honda put forth a valiant effort while I tried to snap photos whenever I could. One didn’t dare stop to shoot a photo midway up the incline for fear you’d never get going again. It was that steep.

Scot - Applecross

Once we rounded a series of extremely sharp hairpin curves, we walked around the summit and stretched our tense legs. From there, it was downhill to Applecross, a very secluded town on the water, where we discovered a delightful garden that was being restored to its former glory.

Scot - garden

It was totally unanticipated, and one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.

Scot - Mark in boat

Coming down the mountain via the coastal road was a different kind of adventure, with wandering, remote single track roads lined with wildflowers, boothies, sheep and hairy coo, punctuated by the occasional fishing village. The one thing we never saw was a gas station, and we breathed a sigh of relief when we glided into Lochcarron on petrol fumes and miraculously found a gas station that was still open.    

Scot - Hairy Coo

The weather that day was warm and sunny, and perfect for exploring. We stopped frequently and stumbled upon a few gems on that trip over the mountain. I even discovered the work of a potter whose main shop was back in Strathcarron. I left with several little dishes and hearts made by Vicky Stonebridge at Balnacra Arts & Pottery, all in her signature pastel colors and whimsical designs. If ever I live in Lochcarron, I will visit her studio often.

Scot - pottery

The next morning, after another wonderful Scottish breakfast, we said goodbye and left for Fort William, a stopover on our way to Kilmartin Glen, our last major destination.

 Scot - SW House

On the way, we finally found the spot where I took the photo that is on the front cover of Sweet William. I say finally because we’d looked and looked and never found it two years ago. The trick was, you had to get out of the car and hike past an old church ruin to get to the spot where you could look down into the valley to see what I fondly call Rabbit Hill Lodge (in my imagination and the world of Lyndsie and Violet in Sweet William.)

Scot - Fort William

From there, it was more mountains and a drive through the Spey River valley to Speybridge. We heard a bagpiper playing at the summit and watched a storm approaching from the west. The storm followed us all the way to Fort William and while it doused our sightseeing efforts, it didn’t deter us from poking around downtown and finding a restaurant that had room for two. I had haggis with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), served with a whiskey peppercorn gravy.

Scot - Haggis

By this stage of the trip, we felt very aware of the fact that our vacation days were drawing to a close. I remember wondering if this would be the last time I got to enjoy haggis. I think it was – and a good note to end on, it was.

Scot - FW church

Sunday morning, we decided to try a Scottish church once more, and found a lively congregation much like what we’re used to at Zion, in Hudson, Iowa, where my husband is the pastor. They had guitars and sang songs we knew, and the pastor was quite relaxed and even witty at times. While the people were very friendly and welcoming at both churches we visited, this one was more relaxed and joyous and felt like home.

Scot - skye - rhodo close

It was hard to imagine that we would see anything in our last few days in country that would rival the sights we’d already enjoyed, but Kilmartin Glen did just that. It’s called saving the best for last.

Until next time…

Scot - Skye 

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, while living in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

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I grew up wrapping my baby doll in this soft, little quilt, made with scraps from dresses my mom and grandma sewed for my sister and I and themselves in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There’s a bit of the dress my mother made for her first class reunion and some of her curtains, too. My Great-Grandma, Mathilda Jensen Paulsen, from Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, stitched it together, along with a big quilt that matched. Later, when I was old enough to sew but still young enough to play with dolls – Barbie dolls instead of baby dolls by this time – my grandma and I made doll clothes out of more scraps from some of these same fabrics.

Quilt - baby doll

My doll quilt, made by my Great Grandma Mathilda Jenny Paulsen.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love quilts and the memories and history woven into them – or when I didn’t embrace the concept that nothing should be wasted – not the extra fabric after a pattern was cut out, or the few inches of lace or rickrack left over from a project, or the odd button on the button card, or even an empty feed sack.

Quilt - twin bed

Quilt made by Mathilda Jensen Paulsen from dress scraps.

And thanks to Grandma Vic, who scraped out her bowls so clean that you couldn’t tell they had been used, I know that the batter that lingers in the pans of people who don’t scrape out their bowls is enough to make a whole extra muffin or two cookies – very probably the ones you will get to eat!

Quilt - fabrics

I grew up in a family of thrifty, hardworking, creative, and yes, stubborn Danes with a dash of Bohemian, German, English and Scottish thrown in for good value. And I mean that literally. The melting pot that was my family tree produced a bumper crop of large-boned, freckle-skinned, hardy folks who could do most anything they set their minds to – unless it was sports related. We weren’t athletically inclined, nor were we ones to waste time or energy on things that weren’t essential, necessary, or needed.

Quilt - off to bed

Off to Bed, Sleepy Heads. This hung in my Mom’s room when she was a child.

When later generations grew up wanting to dabble in the arts – make pretty quilts from calicos bought from quilting shops instead of scraps (because they were in colors that matched a room or enhanced a decorating scheme), eyebrows were raised, prayers were said, and people wondered what the world was coming to. I was a part of the younger generation – I loved certain colors, and it was very important to me that everything matched. One year, my Grandma Victoria made rag rugs for us for Christmas, I dug through the pile until I found one with no red.

Quilts - EJ

A friendship crazy quilt from Blooming Prairie, MN made by Mathilda Paulsen and friends.

Bright red didn’t match the pastel pinks and roses I used in my house. To satisfy my artistic eye, even the threads the rugs were woven with had to be blue or green instead of red – or heaven forbid, orange. (Thankfully, someone had put an old pink bathrobe in the rag bag at some point, so I did get my color-coordinated rug.)

Quilt - houses

A housewarming gift made by Barbara Daugherty.

It was clear. The writing was on the wall. Never ever would I sew a quilt out of old dresses or wool suits (or whatever leftover fabrics happened to be in the mending pile) in a mish mash of helter-skelter colors. I was a colorful prima-dona, a quilting artiste.

Quilt - mine

The quilt I made for the daughter I never had. Pieced by Sherrie Hansen.

Something else had changed over the generations. The hodgepodge, crazy quilts we slept under and covered our beds with and used to keep the dust off of the furniture were replaced by quilts that were so perfect and pretty that we didn’t want to ruin them by putting them on our beds or actually using them.

Quilt - hearts

Log Cabin Heart quilt pieced by Sherrie Hansen.

We hung them on the walls, put them in our hope chests, and lovingly guarded them for posterity’s sake so we could pass them down to future generations. We took them off our beds and put them in our cedar chests.

Quilt - Mom

My mom with a friendship quilt from Blooming Prairie that was in her cedar chest.

We collected old quilts at auction and estate sales and revered any family quilts that had survived said family. Sometimes people made numerous pillows or even teddy bears out of a grandma’s quilt so each grandchild could have a small piece of it. But we didn’t snuggle under them or swaddle our children in them, or cuddle in front of the fireplace wrapped up in them, or throw them on the ground and spread a picnic out on top of them.

Quilt - crazy

Detail of Blooming Prairie Friendship quilt.

So, how does this pertain to my books, Night & Day and Daybreak? Jensen Marie Christiansen comes from a long line of quilters to whom a quilt meant nothing more than something to keep you warm on a cold winter night. Jensen is a designer and creator of art quilts. In Night & Day, Ed has a pilly old bedspread in drab tones.  Anders sleeps under a sailboat quilt in bright blues and yellows that his mother made for him.

Quilt - sunbonnet sue

Sunbonnet Sue and Wedding Ring quilts on a quilt rack made by my dad, Everett Hansen.

Quilts become the catalyst for the conflict of a family, generations of hopes and dreams, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead – a solid, predictable, convenient future with Ed or a wild ‘trip around the world’ with Anders?

Quilt - pink and green

Quilt made by my Grandma Victoria.

In Daybreak, everything has changed and Jensen is searching for order in a world that has become all too crazy. The freeform, artistic quilts she has always designed are suddenly too flighty and fancy free to meet her needs. As her hopes and dreams swirl out of control, she needs the precision of perfectly aligned corners and points that come together the way they’re supposed to. When her family starts to fall apart, and she needs the constancy of her heritage. She even starts a quilt in a red and white Danish design (well, a pretty cherry red, almost burgundy in hue.)

Quilt - CH

The imagery of quilts – a doll quilt that a young Mathilda wrapped her baby doll in, and then gave to Leif to wrap Maren’s newborn baby in, a quilt made by Jensen for the daughter she feared she would never have, a great-grandmother’s quilt that was Jensen’s most cherished possession – the tapestry of a family’s life, patched together in a way that unites the generations of my family for all times.

Quilt - Mathilde

Mathilda Jensen Paulsen’s initials on the Blooming Prairie quilt.

My life – I skipped a generation in Night & Day, so in real life, Maren was my great-great grandmother, Mathilda was my great-grandma, and baby Victoria was my grandma – but it’s all there.

Quilt - Victoria

My Grandma Victoria when she was 5 years old.

The scraps and memories, pieced together with bits and bobs from my imagination, all joined together in fiction form, misunderstandings and conflicting perceptions of the world – a completely different world than existed back then – smoothed out in a colorful pattern and stitched with love.

Quilt - Grandma Hansen

This pillow top matched a quilt and was made by my Great-Grandma Hansen.

Jensen and her family are very close to my heart, and I hope once you read Night & Day and Daybreak, you’ll feel the same way. I chose the design and colors for the quilt on the front cover of Night & Day to coordinate with the color palate in one of my guest rooms – On the Banks of Plum Creek – at my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn.

Quilt - bear

I wanted to use a Trip Around the World quilt – it would have matched the theme of Night & Day so perfectly, and if there’s anything I love more than coordinating colors, it’s perfectly synchronized symbolism – but my publisher liked this one, so that’s what we went with. If you come to stay at the Blue Belle one day, you can still snuggle up under this quilt and dream the night away.

Quilt - plum Creek

I saw and fell in love with the lovely quilt on the front cover of Daybreak online, which has a unique symbolism in and of itself. The colors were perfect, and the design, with sunrise and sea, spoke to me of oceans and time, and seemed perfectly suited for Jensen and Anders’ continuing story. I was able to weave the design into the story in ways that brought the whole tale to life. I hope you agree. (The cover art quilt for Daybreak is by Elena Stokes, and was photographed by the artist. You can visit her website to see more of her work at www.elenastokes.com and follow her at www.facebook.com/elena.stokes.art.)

Daybreak Elena Stokes - It Suddenly Dawned 300 ppi

“It Suddenly Dawned” – Quilt by Elena Stokes

I’m sure some folks wonder why I would put a quilt on the front of a fiction novel instead of a character or a sketch of Maren’s old house, Peter’s bonfire, or any one of the beautiful scenes from Minnesota or Denmark that unfold in the course of the book. But to me, the quilts say it all. Quilts were the inspiration for these stories. The plot revolves around them. The characters are defined by them and shine because of their existence. In both Night & Day and Daybreak, the quilts connect the generations across oceans and time through each precise stitch – a miraculous labor of love, and the gift of a special artistry known only to quilters.

Quilt - Danish flags  Quilt - DEnmark

Even after all these years, when it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark, somewhere, a night owl like me is quilting.

Quilt - Maren

Quilt believed to have been made by my Great-great Grandma, Maren Jensen.

Someone else is fast asleep under a quilt stitched by a mother or grandmother who loved them. Someone on the other side of the world is crawling out from under the covers, ready to face the dawn of a new day, and someone else is sitting cross-legged on a quilt, writing in her journal, and falling in love. Crazy quilts of life – God makes beautiful things out of broken pieces, leftovers and scraps. So do the hands of quilters.

Quilt - names

Thank you to Annie at the Editing Pen for inviting me to write a post about Scotland.

SW 57

As a hostess gift, I’d like to present Annie with a weekend stay at Blair Atholl Castle on the occasion of their annual Highland Games followed by a week at Uig Sands Hotel on the Isles of Lewis and Harris which includes a chance to walk amongst the nearby Callanish Standing Stones. If she carries a bouquet of goldenrod for good luck, perhaps Jamie Fraser will be waiting for her on the other side… Many happy returns, Annie!

Scot - Callendish stones

As fans of Outlander know, most books set in Scotland revolve around highlanders, kilts, and keeps. My Wildflowers of Scotland novels (Thistle Down, a novella, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William, and Golden Rod) are modern-day mixtures of romance and suspense with the Scottish countryside as a backdrop.

Wildflowers - Stripes

They’re also colorful tales, rich in symbolism of wildflowers.

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There are plenty of dark, misty vales, cold, stone castles, and drab, colorless cottages scattered through Scotland. What I love most about the wee wildflowers of Scotland is that they provide the perfect bit of contrast, a much needed dash of color to an otherwise harsh landscape. I hope you can see the Scotland I love in the bouquet of wildflowers I’ve picked for you.

Thistle

THISTLE DOWN – A common, prickly, purple thistle saved the day when an Englishman doing reconnaissance stepped on a particularly thorny specimen and let out a howl, alerting Scottish guards to an imminent invasion by the English. We can all be a bit oblivious at times, especially when we’re up against hard rock on one side and well, hard rock on the other side, too. There’s nothing like the sharp bite of a prickly plant to make you appreciate what you have and see the beauty in your own backyard.

Thistle Down - small.jpg

Such is the premise for my novella, Thistle Down when tenderhearted Pastor Ian MacCraig tries to keep a pair of prickly sisters from marrying the wrong men. Emily Downey has found the perfect groom. If only she loved the man… Chelsea Downey is wild about her boyfriend. Trouble is, he’s two-timing her and everyone sees it but her. Their thorny situation gets even stickier when the church ladies come up with a plan. Can Pastor Ian MacCraig weed out the thistles and get to the heart of the matter in time to save the day?

 

 

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WILD ROSE – Wild roses symbolize perfect happiness, love at first sight, joy and gladness, and happy, forever love. Like other wildflowers, they’re hardy, stubborn and determined to find a foothold whether they be planted atop a stone wall, set amongst ruins, or left to fend for themselves along the side of the motorway. But even the sturdiest of wildflowers can be trampled on when their generous hearts are abused by ones not so honest or caring.

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Such was the case when Rose Wilson learned that Digby, the online friend she met for what she thought was a harmless rendezvous, was a common criminal. Enter Pastor Ian MacCraig, who is trying to capture the thief who is stealing artifacts from his kirk (Saint Conan’s on Loch Awe, Scotland.) The last thing he expects to find on his video is a woman engaging in a passionate romp under the flying buttresses. Rose is mortified and the church ladies are appalled to learn that Pastor Ian, the board of Wilson Enterprises, the constable, and half the town have had a glimpse of Rose half naked. What remains to be seen is how far Ian will go to defend Rose’s honor and if the church ladies will forgive Rose now that they know who she really is… and if Rose can believe she’s worthy of someone as good and kind as Ian MacCraig. Are Wild Rose and Pastor Ian MacCraig a match made in heaven or one hell of a predicament?

GR Blog - bluebells

BLUE BELLE – Bluebells are one of my favorite flowers. The first harbingers of spring, they’re known for their humility, kindness and constancy. They’re as down-to-earth as my characters, and like any springtime bloomer, all the sweeter because you have to endure a bit of weather each year before they return.

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Just as bluebells hide in off-the-beaten path forest glens, Isabelle has traveled to the ends of the earth to try to escape her past. Psychologist Michael is also hiding out, as far removed from his relatives and his practice in Wisconsin as he can get. When Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried at Tobermory Bay, it won’t matter what walls Michael and Isabelle think they are hiding behind. Rocks will fall. Castles will crumble. No secret will be safe. Set in colorful Tobermory, Scotland, on the Isle of Mull, it becomes very clear in Blue Belle that timing is everything – and that sometimes, you just have to jump.

 

S - Shy Violet

SHY VIOLET – Eilean Donan Castle, near Dornie, Scotland, is a modest castle – not as big, old, nor fancy as many, Eilean Donan is subtle and understated as castles go. Perhaps that’s why it’s grown to be so iconic. In Scotland, it’s “aboot” the simple, everyday things of life, pleasures born both of need and necessity. That’s why, if you keep your eyes open, you’re sure to see majesty galore in nature’s quiet offerings… a shy violet hiding behind a rock, a blush of heather in the hills, a splash of rhododendrons growing deep in the woods.

ShyViolet6

Maybe that’s why shy Violet has been so long overlooked in her search for true love even though her name signifies that her thoughts are occupied with the fanciful notion. Violet has always put great stock in the virtues of modesty and faithfulness – particularly faithful love. But that ship has sailed right along with the pirate boat Violet jumped aboard, thinking she could hide from a string of bad decisions in her past. Violet didn’t even know Nathan existed when she inadvertently met his father and ruined any chance of a future with his son. But part of the violet’s essence is to take a chance on happiness. No one knows what will happen when Violet meets a bagpiper whose music spans the centuries in front of a castle with a troubled history. But is Violet fleeing the present only to collide with the past?

SW99

SWEET WILLIAM – Sweet William is equated with gallantry, childlike awe, and the sensation of getting lost in a whole new world of wonder and enchantment. William McKnight is a true sweetheart, and as gallant a man as you’ll ever see, always ready with a smile. From Lyndsie Morris’s tart, hardscrabble childhood, there has gown a spirited flower with character and determination and a true appreciation of the things that really matter in life.

Sweet William Front Cover

But when Minnesota farm boy, William, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear. Set in the Highlands near Eilean Donan Castle, on the Isle of Skye, and in volatile Minnesota, they face the harshest of conditions. Will their love take hold and bloom or will stormy weather crush the romance that’s blossoming between them?

Golden Rod Flood Bay 2016

GOLDEN ROD – Goldenrod flowers are thought to hold many symbols – from caution to encouragement, luck to good fortune. Superstitious folklore advises people to carry a bouquet of goldenrod flowers when seeking out treasure or venturing forth on new, but risky, ventures.

Golden Rod front cover- final

All of these themes and more are explored in Golden Rod as the reader gets to know Lachlan—a centuries old castle overlooking Loch Carron, Scotland; Kacie—a twelve-year-old girl whose dying wish is to see it; Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary MacKenzie—500-year-old ghosts who desperately want to escape it; Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod of Lachlan—the rightful heir who wants to live there happily ever after; and Katelyn O’Neal—the well-intentioned but clueless legal heir who’s about to pay a high price for selling Lachlan to a lowlife scum. Golden Rod is a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends and risky ventures, of bad luck and old curses turned to golden wishes. Rod MacKenzie is a gentle gardener and sometimes sailor born of adversity, and so much more lovable than Buck, the arrogant showoff who now owns the castle. How similar to the way of Scottish wildflowers – blooming not in showy profusion, but cropping up here and there in solitary clumps to bloom wherever there is a bit of fertile soil.

Wildflowers

If you’re a lover of wildflowers – wherever they blossom – and most particularly, Scotland, you’ll find the quaint surroundings – and the pirates, pipers and tales of days past that are part of Sherrie Hansen’s novels – to be fascinating. I encourage you to clutch a bunch of goldenrod and take a risk – try a new author!

~~~

Sherrie - bluebells

Twenty-seven years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Wheaton, IL, Bar Harbor, Maine, Lawton, OK, Augsburg, Germany, and Colorado Springs, CO. After 12 years of writing fiction, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker. Mark and Sherrie divide their time between a cottage in St. Ansgar, and the parsonage where Mark serves as pastor. Their two houses are 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. In her “free time”, Sherrie quilts, makes music on the piano, plays with her camera, renovates old houses, travels to the far off corners of the world, and goes on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. Her new release, Daybreak, is her twelfth novel to be published by Indigo Sea Press. Sherrie’s books have been called “the thinking woman’s romance” and her latest books also contain elements of suspense. While many of Sherrie’s books contain issues of faith and family, some also include “steamy” scenes, and some, a candid combination of both. Most are “second chance at romance” stories with primary characters aged 30 to 50. Many of Sherrie’s books contain at least one special quilt.

BlueBelle 2016

Links:

http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W

http://www.BlueBelleInn.com
https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

 Daybreak in Denmark (3)

Books Titles: New Release:  Daybreak, sequel to Night & Day, Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William and Golden Rod, Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

You might be wondering how we ended up driving a loaded Jaguar e-Pace SUV around Scotland in the first place, given as we are folks of average means and thrifty habits. The short answer is that we were given a free upgrade – in part because we’d been waiting for the smaller car we’d ordered for three hours. We hadn’t slept or showered for more than 24 hours. We’d also been forced to buy an expensive insurance policy that cost almost as much as the car rental itself, even though our USAA Credit Card covers accident insurance on our rental cars no matter where in the world we happen to be. Long story short, I think the car hire associate felt sorry for us and decided to throw us a bone.

Scot - Jag

I have to admit that we got a bit spoiled in the Jaguar. The seats were plush and comfortable, the ride was smooth. It had a back-up mirror that responded to the cars movements to direct you with curved lines. The GPS was very helpful in finding our way around. It was an amazing car.

Scot - Rocky Road

When we hit a sharp rock along the side of the road on our second day on the Isle of Lewis and ended up with a seriously flat tire in the middle of nowhere, we assumed we could get the tire changed and be on our way. But the impact of hitting the rock, which more or less bounced us against a ridge of razor sharp rocks and back again, was a hugs gash in the rear passenger side tire and a cracked wheel rim on the front passenger side tire.

We were pretty shook up, and not knowing exactly what had happened, prayed our way to the nearest sign of civilization, about three miles down the road. The tire held out until we  turned into the driveway and drove across the cattle guard, when it went completely flat. The place we found ourselves at looked to be a Scottish version of Outward Bound. We were immediately greeted and offered help in changing the tire. Only one problem – there was no spare and the patch kit the car hire company had provided was woefully inadequate. (An associate later told us they remove the spare tires on their luxury cars because they are afraid someone might steal them.)

Scot - Scaladale

From there began a long, frustrating day of repeatedly calling the car hire company’s help line, waiting, and when no help came and no one called back, calling them again. Repeat. And repeat. With no means of transportation, we had to cancel our lunch reservations at North Harbour Bistro. Thank goodness for the kind and very helpful staff at Scaladale Youth Center – Mark and I obviously aren’t in danger of starving to death, but I can’t imagine what would have become of us if we’d had to wait for more than 7 hours along the side of the road with no water, shade, or bathroom facilities.

Scot - Harris viewIn the end, our car hire company told us we would have to find our own way back to Glasgow (over 200 miles and a three hour ferry ride away), where we MIGHT be given a replacement car. So much for the fancy-schmancy insurance policy with promises of roadside assistance and replacement vehicles they’d forced us to buy. This was not a good time. We were hungry, frustrated and completely lacking in any kind of faith in the car company. 

Scot - Harris mountains

But possessing a good dose of Midwest ingenuity, we started calling around to local garages and car hire companies and found ourselves a little Peugeot in Stornoway that we could have for 24 hours while we sorted things out. We hitched a ride into town with a staff member at the end of his work day. He regaled us with stories of life on a remote island while we drove hurriedly home so he could change and go out into the peat bogs and cut peat – free fuel for all willing to go to the work of cutting, hauling and stacking the bricks. He was doing this for his mother, who needed enough to make it through two winters, as he and his fiancé were going to be married and take a year long honeymoon. We were so impressed by this man!

The car hire office was already closed by the time we arrived to pick up our “new” car (they’d left the keys under the seat and parked it on the street). The effects of our delicious breakfast had long since faded, so we had some dinner and headed back to our B&B, which was an hour away, in Uig. On our way back toward the place where we got stranded, we saw a tow truck with “our” Jaguar on his bed – almost 10 hours after our incident with the rock.

Scot - Uig B

We’d lost a whole day of our much anticipated time on Lewis and Harris. The next morning was also spent trying to find a rental car that we could use for the remainder of our trip. There were no car hires on the Isle of Skye where we were scheduled to get off the ferry on the next leg of our trip, and our ferry left from Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris, on the opposite end of the island from Stornoway. The biggest obstacle was that the car hire companies on the Isles of Lewis and Harris only rent cars for use on the island.

Scot - Harris house

It seemed like an impossible situation until a young man whose sister lived in Glasgow said that we could take their company’s car off the island and get it to his sister at the end of our trip so she would get it back to them. We had to pay an extra fee, but it was worth every penny not to have to cancel our reservations or become foot passengers hobbling along with our luggage, trying to find a bus or train that led to Glasgow. Best of all, our faith in people was restored and then some as we dealt with the kind locals from Lewis and Harris. These folks really went out of their way to help us!

Scot - Scalpay food

The day started getting better almost immediately. We made it to the wonderful restaurant on Scalpay for lunch and I had the chance to visit the official Harris Tweed outlet store to buy fabric as planned.

Scot - Harris Tweed

Mark scored an empty blue gin bottle from the Isle of Harris Distillery to use as a water bottle at home, just like they had at North Harbour Bistro. Afterwards, we walked off a little of our delectable lunch at Luskentyre Beach.

Scot - L Beach

The white sands and tropical-looking blue waters were amazing, while the Belted Galway cows grazing along the shores kept things quintessentially Scotland. 

Scot - cow

After another trip back to Stornoway to switch out our little Peugeot for the even littler Honda Jazz we would use to make our way back to Glasgow, we were off to see the Standing Stones by sunset one last time, and enjoy our comfortable B&B before catching the ferry in the morning.    

Scot - Honda

And you know what? Our little Honda did just fine! It was definitely not luxurious like the Jaguar, but it was great for navigating the narrow roads to the beach. It sat comfortably, and all of our luggage fit, between the boot and the backseat!

Scot - narrow roadsAll’s well that ends well? We’re still fighting with the original car rental company over what we should and should not be required to pay for the short-lived pleasure of driving their Jaguar, but we saw everything we really wanted to on Lewis and Harris, and, we ended up on the right ferry (reservations required) at the right time to the right place. We loved the Isles of Lewis and Harris – the people, first, the Callanish stones second, and my fabric treasures third. And let us not forget Mark’s empty gin bottle – a found treasure that we love, mostly because we got it for free.

Scot - Gin bottle

Because luxuries like Jaguars are nice, but life’s simple pleasures are the best.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep 

Stay tuned for more adventure on the Isle of Skye, and in Loch Carron, setting of Golden Rod, the mountains and gardens of Applecross, Fort William, and the ancient sites of Kilmartin Glen.

We planned to stay on the Isles of Lewis and Harris for 4 nights because it coincided with the relaxing mid-point of our recent trip to Scotland. My husband says once I get away from home and business, it takes me a week to relax, and that a week before we head home, I start to get tense again, thinking about what’s waiting for me. When we go on a three week vacation, it’s the middle week that’s golden.

Scot- Keeper's House

 

My midgie-bite covered body was looking forward to rest and relaxation on Lewis and Harris. The islands are only 14 miles wide and 100 miles long, so we felt sure four days would not only give us time to see all the sites but to spend some time chilling on Uig Beach, near the Keepers House where we were staying. I couldn’t wait to see the mysterious, now famous Callanish Standing Stones seen in Outlander.

Scot - Callendish stones

The seas were calm on our three hour ferry ride from Ullapool to Stornoway and our expectations were high.

Scot - Ferry

We drove our rental car off the ferry to find a sweet downtown area surrounded by a wandering park topped with a beautiful castle. We settled into a little restaurant with a creative menu (I had chips – big English-style French fries – topped with gourmet mac and cheese topped with the most wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth roast beef ever. Yum!)  A few doors down, we found a shop filled with thousand of yards of wool Harris tweed remnants at reasonable prices. I left with a lovely assortment.

Scot - Stornoway food

We set off for the castle at the top of the hill, surrounded by lovely old trees, with a great view of the sailboats lining the harbor. The story, or so we were told, is that a man bought the Isles of Lewis and Harris with ill-gained proceeds from smuggling drugs, only to have his wife refuse to move to the Islands because there were no trees.

Scot - Stornoway Castle

She reconsidered only after he planted a small forest and built her a castle. And a beautiful castle it was!

Scot - Stornoway castle ceiling

We left Stornoway to meander toward out B&B on the other side of the island, thinking, “How long could it take to drive 25 miles?” More than an hour of narrow, windy, twisting, single track roads later, we arrived to a warm welcome from a cute pair of lambs, checked into our spacious room with a view, and set off to explore Uig beach.

Scot - Uig sheep

The fog was already setting in – or had it ever lifted? – giving the treeless peat fields, hills and dales an atmospheric glow as the sun crested and slowly sank toward the west.

Scot - Uig fog

The next morning, after a delicious, made-to-order breakfast at Uig Sands Hotel, we drove north along the Western shore to Callanish Stones, which turned out to be laid out in the shape of a cross.

Scot - Uig stones

I took a lot of photos even though the skies were foggy and grey, and later, more photos with a blue, sunny sky, and later still, with the sun setting behind the stones.

Scot - Uig sunset stones

We were back in the Jaguar, driving toward the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, an open-air museum with restored blackhouses – long stone cottages with thatched roofs, and Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old, when we saw a church with a parking lot full of cars. According to the sign, the service had just started, so we decided to go on in and found ourselves in the midst of a very unique worship service.

Scot - Uig blackhouses

Unbeknownst to us, the Free Church of Scotland has no adornments, and no musical instruments. The songs are chanted psalms and the women wear hats. I fit right in, and the people were very welcoming, but I missed the lively music of our church services.

Scot - Lewis fence

That afternoon, after more than a good bit of hiking up to the tower house (and back down again) and down to the sea behind the blackhouse village (and back up again), we arrived at the very northern tip of the island, or the Butt of Lewis, where we found a beautiful lighthouse and cliffs covered with hundreds of pink flowers and thousands of sea birds.

Scot - Lewis flowers

We finished off the day with a delicious meal at Uig Sands Hotel, where the chef treated us to house-smoked salmon delicacies and more. We chatted with guests from England, Germany and the Netherlands over dinner. It was all very relaxing and enjoyable. I’m glad I didn’t know what awaited us the next day!

Scot - Uig sands

Our plan was to drive over the bridge from Harris to explore the small island of Scalpay and its red and white striped Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island’s eastern cliffs. We had made reservations months earlier for Scalpay’s famous North Harbour Bistro, which we were told was THE place for a tasty and memorable meal, followed by a visit to award-winning Luskentyre Beach with its white sands and blue waters.

Scot - Harris beach

But as fate would have it, our plans were meant to be broken – as were our poor rental car’s tires and wheel rims. I’ll post the next installment – The Jaguar of Our Dreams and the Car Hire Company from Our Worst Nightmare – in a few days.

Thanks for coming along on the next jaunt of our journey.

Scot - Uig sheep single

Daybreak – Chapter 1

Anders Westerlund flipped over a packet of cucumber seeds and read out loud, “Plant after all danger of frost has passed.”

Even in April, daybreak in Danemark was a chilly affair. Jensen kept insisting that the Copenhagen winter they’d just experienced was mild compared to what she was used to in Minnesota, but there was still a good chance that the tender new shoots poking up from the ground could freeze before spring actually arrived.

Anders wished he had more time, but the brutal fact was, he did not. If he could just coax some summer flowers into blooming and get the garden greened up before he had to go, he would feel better about leaving Jensen. He wanted to do as much as he could to make her transition easy.

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Another gust of cold air swirled around his neck, then wormed its way under his collar to chill his shoulder blades. According to the Danish Meteorological Institute, the average date of the last frost was the 18th of April. To be absolutely sure, they recommended waiting until May 7th. But it had been a warmer than usual spring, and Anders was feeling lucky.

Why he felt so optimistic was beyond him. Everything in his life was uncertain, and at least one of the drastic changes about to unfold was not welcome. The only thing he knew for sure was that he was not going to be around when it was time to reap his harvest.

He planted one hill of cucumbers, one of eggplant, and another with one of Jensen’s favorites – zucchini squash, each at the base of their own trellis. He liked his vegetables planted amidst his flowers. There was no room in his tiny yard for a separate vegetable garden with long, well-spaced rows like Jensen’s sister-in-law had in America. Here in Danemark, every inch of land was precious and put to good use.

He moved to the south side of the house and dug in a row of corn just far enough out from the foundation so it would catch the rain. He tucked a few delicate, curly leafed basil that he’d seeded in the house into a window box with some geraniums and planted his fledgling tomato starts in a basket with multiple openings that was designed to hang over the fence.

Daffodils.jpg

He’d put in the lettuce, potatoes, beets, carrots, kale, red cabbage, dill, broccoli and radishes almost two weeks ago, the day after the Christiansens had come. He hoped he had not seemed rude when he had ignored Jensen’s parents so soon after they had arrived, but the growing season was short in Danemark. If you did not work the ground as soon as the frost was out, your garden would not amount to much. Besides, when houseguests stayed for almost a month, you could not put your entire life on hold for the duration of their visit.

With Jensen expecting, and everything else that was going on, he was glad his onions, peas and spinach had been planted on schedule. He had not expected Jensen to help. With a belly so big she could hardly tie her own shoelaces, her only form of exercise was waddling around the neighborhood on their nightly walks. He loved pampering her, and doing for her so she could rest as much as possible. If he had not had so many things to get done at work before the baby came, he would gladly have driven her and her parents to Als.

The important thing was that Jensen would be here to water and weed the garden once he was gone. At least, he hoped so. It brought him joy to imagine Jensen picking the peas, digging out the potatoes, and enjoying a good spinach salad when the time came, especially since he would not be around to do it.

He swallowed his frustrations, straightened his back and thrust his shovel into the ground between two clusters of late-blooming tulips. The crab-apples were in full bloom and each time the wind blew, a smattering of petals wafted down around him.

Flower - Crab Apple

 

Springtime. New life. Daybreak. His favorite time of day and his most cherished time of the year – although he had to admit that being snuggled up with Jensen over the course of this year’s long, icy winter had done much to improve his opinion of cold weather.

Even with spring well underway, the nights were cool enough to cuddle under Jensen’s quilts. But the days were warm enough to ride bicycle and work in his garden. Life was good – had been good, during their honeymoon period. Now, changes were in the wind.

Jensen and he were going to be parents together. He was so excited for the baby to arrive he could hardly bear it.

Everything would be perfect if he didn’t have to leave.

Daybreak in Denmark (3)

His cell phone jingled in his pocket. Probably Jensen. She knew his schedule, knew he wouldn’t have left for work yet. He flipped the top open and found Bjorn on the line.

They exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes before Bjorn asked the question that was on both of their minds.

“Have you made a decision yet?”

“Decision?” Anders made a clucking noise with his tongue and moved out of the way of a honey bee that was honing in on his tulips. “The only decision they gave me was Greenland or the Faroe Islands. I was given no choice about moving.”

“You could find another job. You could take early retirement. You could move to America.”

“None of these things are options, Bjorn. At least, not at this time. You’ve read the newspapers.”

“An occasional news bite on Facebook or Twitter.”

“The Euro is nearly worthless. The world’s economy is in shambles. My retirement funds have suffered greatly. I am blessed to have a job that pays me well. With a new baby on the way…”

“I get it,” Bjorn said.

Anders held his breath. He knew that Bjorn had mixed feelings about being displaced as his only child. He did not want to argue with Bjorn when he was halfway across the world. A good fight was not nearly as satisfying when you could not hug each other at the end of the fray.

“Have you told Jensen yet?”

Anders truly believed that Bjorn loved Jensen. Still, adjusting to having a new step-mother and all the changes that came along with her had been difficult for his son. He knew that. So when Anders heard a tinge of gloating in his son’s voice, he understood. Bjorn was still disappointed that he and Jensen had not settled in Minnesota, and somehow, the knowledge that he would soon be one of two offspring rankled on him.

Anders stabbed his shovel into the ground. “I will tell Jensen soon. And I will soften the blows by giving her a choice – she can stay here in Danemark, watch over the house and tend the garden while I am gone, or return to America to be with her family.”

“Good luck with that one,” Bjorn said.

“The situation is far from ideal. She will have to adapt.”

“So when are you going to tell her?”

“Tonight when she returns from Als. It has to be soon. My boss wanted me to leave next week, but I have told him I will not go until the baby is born.”

“Jensen’s not going to be happy.”

“Believe me, I am well aware of that fact. I did not want to cast a pall of sadness over her parent’s entire visit, but I am sure that telling her now, when her parents are still here to comfort her, is a good thing to do.”

“I hope you’re right. If it was me, and someone was going to hit me with some bad news, I wouldn’t want anybody around to watch the fireworks.”

“Jensen has very much respect for her parents. Perhaps they will even agree to delay their flight home and stay longer so they can help Jensen with the baby when she comes. She is very close to them. Having them here to help her consider her choices will make her feel much better. I am sure of it.”

Except that he was not. These days, he was not sure about anything.

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Daybreak is available as a paperback now. The Kindle version should be available any day.

If you want to read Night and Day to hear how the story begins, click here.

Night and Day (1)

It was like 2007 all over again. Not wanting to deal with “big city” traffic, congestion and parking hassles, we drove through Inverness as quickly as possible and retreated to the Scottish countryside, this time, on a farm high in the hills overlooking the Moray Firth. After learning how much there is to see and do in any given area on our previous trips, we tried our best to stay at least two nights in the same place. It’s far more relaxing not to have to pack up and move every single day.

Scot - sunset 2

Our countryside view was amazing. The next day, we headed away from Inverness toward the small town of Beauly. There were several wonderful shops in Beauly, a bank where we were able to exchange more dollars for pounds, a nice restaurant where we enjoyed a high tea, and a great fish and chips place.

Scot - Chanonry Point

From Beauly, we went on two nice drives – the first took us to the narrow end of the Moray First, across a bridge and up the other side. We had a lovely hike along the coast at Chanonry Point, where we missed seeing seals but found a lighthouse and wild roses and Queen Anne’s lace blooming along the rocky beaches.

Scot - lighthouse

A few miles further down the road, we found a small National Trust property that had a delightful garden and a thatched roof house that was the home of Scottish local hero, Hugh Miller.

Scot - hugh's house

His story was fascinating and we related to it on several levels. He believed in Creation and had an extensive collection of fossils.

Scot - Hugh

From there, we headed south through a shady mountain pass to Loch Ness. Once again, Urquhart Castle was closed by the time we got there, so we took a few photos from a distance, watched for signs of Nessie rippling in the blue waters and drove home along the shore.

Scot - Loch Ness

Our B&B for those two nights just west of Inverness was on the first floor of a new house, with a private entry and a very comfortable bed. The sunsets both nights were beautiful, but the midges were starting to bite and came out at sunset. I did a dance as I walked through the grass, snapping and moving and snapping and moving, hopefully fast enough to avoid having a midge land on me.

Scot - Beualy B&B

The next day, we set out to see my Scottish friend, Ang, in Balintore, a seaside village north of Inverness. The fog seems to settle in each night, and it hadn’t yet lifted as we walked along the shoreline, talking. Two years ago, Ang used the word “atmospheric” to describe the misty air hugging the sea, and I will forever think of the word when I encounter foggy landscapes. We exchanged treasures and good conversation – a definite highlight of the trip!

Scot - Ang beach

After lunch, we left the east coast of Scotland and were off  to Ullapool, on the west, when we decided to detour down to another Historic Trust property. As Trust members, we love seeing these properties “for free”.

Scot - inver rhodies

I’ve heard from many people that they’re always amazed at how much we managed to see in one short day. What they may not realize is that everything is so close – the most we drove in a day was 100 miles. It’s also daylight from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m, so if you get up at a decent hour, you can do a lot before dark.

Scot - Invereray

This is one of those days that we stretched things a little too far. Everything would have been fine except that we reached Inverewe Garden about 5:30 p.m. Last entrance was 6 p.m., but the gates to the garden were open until 8 p.m., so we had plenty of time to explore. The sky was blue, but there wasn’t a breeze to be found, and the midges surrounded me in swarms.

Scot - Inver wisteria

Dense forests were crisscrossed with mazes of paths and steps that wound through rhododendrons, bamboo and perennial gardens and eventually, out to the sea. Before long, I was swatting and itching and breaking out in blistering welts. But it was so beautiful, and we got in for free, and…

Scot - inver flowers

The only solution was to walk faster and faster. If I was capable of running up and down rickety, stone stairways that didn’t have handrails, I would have. What can I say? I’m glad we saw the gardens – they were lovely, but I’m not sure the itching and oozing I went through for the next week was worth it.

 

Scot - Ullapool

The sun started to set on our way to Ullapool, and we arrived just in time to see sunbeams shining over the harbor. We found our room at the top of an extremely steep hill overlooking Morefield Brae.  What a beautiful setting! But alas, as we climbed out of the car, our host warned up to enter quickly and close the doors behind us because the midges were really biting.

Scot - Ullapool B&B

Great. While we settled in, our hosts at the Fair Morn B&B found a restaurant with openings for 8:45 p.m. We were seated in a conservatory facing out to the garden and left to choose from a wonderful menu. All was well until we started to notice we were itching even more than we had been earlier. Then we noticed a small window open at the top of the wall. Suddenly, we were caught in a swarm of midges. But the time we caught the eye of our waiter and asked to be reseated in another room, the damage was done.

Scot - skye castle

In the morning, we headed north along the brae and into the mountains where we were treated to castle ruins, sheep grazing, red deer running along the hilltops, and altogether amazing scenery.

Scot - Lochinver house

We stumbled on a craft fair and a pie place at Lochinver and then took a narrow winding road to Achmelvich Beach with its white sands and aquamarine waters. When I heard about the beaches in Scotland, I assumed it would be like California in January, with crisp temperatures and cold winds even though it would have the appearance of being summery. But the day was perfect for beach-going, in the mid 80s, and we had a picnic with the meat and fruit pies we’d nabbed at the pie place in Lochinver.

Scot - Uig beach

By that time, however, I felt like I had a beacon on my back that said “Bug Bait.” There were bugs in the sand, and bugs in the rocks – but unlike midges, these were big, and could be seen, and felt, and they seemed to be going for my eyes, and anywhere my midge bites were oozing and itching. Yikes! I don’t mean to sound negative, but it was not exactly a relaxing day at the beach.

Scot -ullapool house

We ended the day back in Ullapool, where we ate at an upscale fresh seafood shack and found a handmade woolen treasure at a local craft shop. I walked as fast as I could everywhere we went to fend off the midges who were waiting to land. They seemed to get sneakier as time went by, burrowing under my clothes and biting my back and thighs, under my hair and hat. Nothing dissuaded them.

Scot - Ullapool harbor 

I had a hard time sleeping that night because I was so hot and itchy, but there’s always a bright side… We had a delicious Scottish breakfast to look forward to and a forecast of calm seas for our three hour ferry ride to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. And someone told me that there were no midges on Lewis or Harris because there was always a good breeze blowing. Music to my ears…

We headed to the Highlands on the next jaunt of our Scottish journey. In some ways, driving into the Highlands reminds me of when I lived in Colorado Springs and occasionally ventured up to Breckenridge or Estes Park. The higher the altitude, the more pine trees and mountain peaks, the more athletic pursuits and other activities geared toward tourists, and the more cute mountain resort towns with large hotels. But as usual, we skipped all that and sought out a quiet, countryside location away from the crowds.

Scot - Aberfeldy cottage

We spent three nights in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. We could see J.K. Rowling’s summer house across the glen from where we were staying, which tells you there is something magical about the spot. The views were incredible, and we loved watching the sunset while walking down the lane with the owner’s English cocker spaniels in tow. There were plenty of flowers to smell and benches to sit on while scratching the dogs’ ears and rubbing their tummies. I felt right at home and loved hearing sheep baaing and a rushing stream while we laid in bed each night.

Scot - Aberfeldy sunset

Our cottage had its own little kitchen, and most of the eating establishments we had hoped to visit were closed for the holiday weekend, so we visited the grocery and stocked up on some goodies for breakfasts and picnic suppers. Mark makes great omelets which were wonderful with rashers and bangers (bacon and sausages).

Scot - bluebells

I was delighted to find the woods around Strathtay still abloom with bluebells.  Mark played a couple of holes of golf while I walked in the bluebell wood. Then, our excitement turned to disappointment when we wandered into town and found that the art gallery on the main square where I bought a painting of Menzies Castle by Artist Audrey Slowrance was now a real estate office.

Scot - Audrey Slorance

After looking wistfully at the listings and feeling more than a little tempted to invest in a piece of Scotland, we finally tracked Audrey down in her new studio in a garage and bought a couple of her lovely prints. It made my day to get to talk to her about painting and what inspires her. How I wished I’d had my paints and a couple of canvases tucked in my suitcase!

Scot - kilts

We also attended the Highland Games and Fair at Blair Atholl Castle, where once again, we had the thrill of seeing the Atholl Highlanders march to the tune of bagpipes and drums. Be still my heart! A walk through Diana’s Forest, which has some of the tallest trees in Great Britain, was restful and quiet after the boisterous sounds of the crowds cheering on the brawny competitors, graceful Highland dancers and talented bagpipers at the Highland Games.

Scot - Phone booth

Our last day in the Aberfeldy area, we followed a narrow, winding, mountainside road to Glenlyon, where there’s a tiny post office in the middle of nowhere that’s famous for its desserts. The waitress’ young daughter, who invited us to sit with her, entertained us while we had a bowl of leek and potato soup, crusty, homemade bread with butter, and pudding… well worth the slightly hair-raising drive along a single track road with too few passing places.

Scot - Kenmore Church

On the way home, we took a new road to Kenmore, a village along Loch Tay that we’d seen featured in several of Audrey’s paintings, and happened upon a delightful spot. We were looking for a loo when we overheard a desk clerk at the local hotel mentioning that Rick Steves’ tour bus would be arriving any minute. Being fans of his TV show, we waited around for a glimpse, took a photo, and gloated because we have such a keen knack for sniffing out desirable locations.

Scot - kenmore

The next day, it was time to head north to our next destination, Ben View House at Lentran Farm, in the countryside near Inverness, where we had two nights booked. On the way, we had two significant experiences. The living Highland Folk Museum had miles of wonderful examples of how the Highlanders lived and built their homes. We learned that several scenes from Outlander had been filmed in the blackhouse village, and I have to admit it was a thrill to walk where Jamie, Claire and Dugall had. The smell of a peat fire wafting in the air, hand woven linens and many authentic touches made history come to life.

Scot - highland folk village

After another bit of driving, we had a bit of trouble locating the Kilted Fudge Company in Aviemore, but our minor detours were rewarded with an enthusiastic greeting and our own personal tasting of over a dozen of their creamy, buttery fudge flavors. After stocking up on oodles of my favorite (Clootie Dumpling fudge, which is not too sweet, and packed with gingerbread spices and raisins), and a few new varieties like Rhubarb Cream, Salted Caramel and Millionaire’s Shortbread, we headed on through the mountains.

Scot - sunset

As we were coming into Aviemore, I spotted a sign that pointed to a Mountain Railway, which of course, made me think of my dad, whose favorite song was Life is Like a Mountain Railway. But then, these days, everything makes me think of him. Last year, when we left for Ireland and Wales, he was in the hospital with pneumonia, and we weren’t sure what would happen while we were gone, so we called him every night about midnight to tell him about our day. This year, over and over again, I found myself thinking, Dad would love this. I’ll have to tell him about it when we call him tonight. How I wish I could, but for that, I’d need a Railway to Heaven.

Scot - Daffodil

I’ll end on that note. Vacations are a wonderful way to relax and forget your troubles, but being free from a hectic routine also gives you more time to remember… and think…

Stay tuned for our trek northward and westward, ho…

When I shared the itinerary for our third trip to Scotland a few moths ago, I was snowed in by a February blizzard and dreaming of warmer days.

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

It was probably fitting that last month, when we arrived in Scotland, we found ourselves in the middle of a heat wave. The wonderful side of the warm, sunny days was that we saw the sights under blue skies and never needed our umbrellas. The bad side was that the early heat brought out the dreaded midges, a tiny insect with a stinging bite that causes blisters on sensitive skin like mine. And several nights, we found ourselves sweating in sweltering hot guestrooms that came loaded with extra blankets and cozy warm duvets designed for the normally cool, highland weather conditions. Scots typically don’t need air conditioning or even fans, but this year, even the mountains were wrapped in stuffy, sultry air – and we didn’t dare open the windows unless we wanted a room full of midges. It was so hot that one of our destinations almost burned down a week before we arrived when the intense heat and dry conditions fueled wildfires in Wester Ross.

I guess that’s what I get for cursing February’s cold and trying to wish away winter!

Locals were delighted with the warm temperatures after enduring their own long winter, and repeatedly thanked us for bring the good weather with us. As it turned out, the whole time we were in Scotland, our cell phones kept buzzing with notifications of tornado, flood, high wind, and excessive heat index warnings – the weather in Iowa was horrible while we were away.

But enough about the weather. I’d like to try to share more than an itinerary in this blog, instead focusing on my reactions to the amazing sights we saw.

Scot - Kellie flowers

Our first three nights were spent at a B&B in the East Neuk of Fife countryside between Edinburgh and St. Andrews. We arrived exhausted from a long flight and a missed night of sleep as we traveled forward in time. We couldn’t have found a more restorative place to stay.

After strolling through the castle gardens at Falkland Palace, at the foot of the Lomond Hills, we wound our way to Colinsburg to check in to our first B&B.

Scot - Jane's House

The house was long and narrow, a renovated stable that was artistic and creatively decorated but comfortable and homey, with walls and walls of bookshelves and a million doors, each one different. There was a fireplace in our room and each morning, we could hear the birds singing through the chimney. Our host gave us herbal potions to ease our jet lag and boost our immune systems, and built us a fire in the library each night. (Those first few days were chilly.) We felt gloriously pampered.

Scot - Leven

The family we stayed with were descendants of the same Lorimer family who rescued and restored nearby Kellie Castle, where we enjoyed a wonderful tour and an afternoon tea in the castle gardens discussing art and architecture of Robert Lorimer. The legends surrounding the castle were fascinating and I had the most interesting conversation with a curator for the National Trust of Scotland.

When I shared with her that I have four houses filled with treasures and that I fear that soon-approaching time when I have to part with the wonders I have collected over the years, she recommended a succinct way to approach the task. The method she uses is to give each item a number between 1 and 4 based on its true worth after rating the objects according to their historical value, personal or emotional significance, monetary worth, and family importance. Those items that rank high in all categories should be saved for posterity, and those things that fall short in one or more categories should be released.

Baldners Dad

It reminded me of a conversation I had with my Dad before he died when he was saddened by the fact that no one would probably want much of the beautiful wood he collected and never used for one of his many projects.

I started thinking about the fact that I don’t have any children, and that my nieces and nephews don’t share my tastes and wondering what would become of my beautiful artwork and pottery and china. As I listened to my dad talk, I thought about how much I paid for each of my paintings and asked myself if I had gotten my money’s worth out of the item based on how much enjoyment I’d gotten from each piece over the years. The answer in each case was yes. So, one day, if they get sold at a garage sale for $10 or carted away by a great niece for free or even thrown on somebody’s bonfire, it’s okay, because I’ve enjoyed them so thoroughly, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

Rose - houses

I think I was meant to have those conversations, one on the double recliner at the farm in Minnesota with my dad, and one in a castle in Fife with a stranger.

Scot - Kellie Castle

Kellie Castle was also a rare find in that the castle garden was adjacent to the castle. You can see the castle from every corner of the garden, and photograph its towers and gables and spires with flowers in the foreground. You don’t have to walk to the back forty to enjoy the garden’s beauty. The castle and the garden are one entity. It’s exactly how I pictured Lachlan, Rod’s family’s castle, in Golden Rod. I found myself wanting Kellie Castle to be on the cover of Golden Rod, and will put it there one day. Kellie is lesser known, and a better choice for an imaginary, fictional place known only to my novel, than is Craigievar, which is so easily recognized my anyone familiar with Aberdeenshire. Perhaps then, I can forgive myself for taking artistic license with the history of Lochcarron.

Scot - Culross house 2

The rest of our time in Fife was spent exploring the Neuk fishing villages of Fife, briefly visiting St. Andrews, and exploring the Firth of Forth, the waterway that cuts deep into Scotland from the East, separating Edinburg from the areas to the north. We took the time to explore a little village called Crail because we know Crails in St. Ansgar whose family come from there. Crail is an enchanting little seaside town, and I fell in love with Crail Pottery. We teased about the fact that we couldn’t imagine why the Crail family ever left. It made me wonder about those of us from America who love Europe, and feel strong ties to the area. Would the lure of the promise that America held have been so enticing that I would have left my home and country behind to seek my fortune in the new world? And is it some sort of homing instinct deep inside my soul that makes me want to go back, after almost a century and a half and five generations?

Scot - Colross

We visited the medieval village of Culross where parts of Outlander were filmed and climbed a million steps to look down over the rooftops rimming the sea. When we got lost looking for the city center, I was so exhausted after all those steps that I thought perhaps I might have to be buried right there under the wandering cobblestones.

Scot - Culross square

And as usual, when it was all said and done, we gained less enjoyment from the famous Culross, billed as one of the most picturesque and oldest medieval villages in Scotland, than we did watching the sunset from an old church, and then, a deserted windmill by the sea. No surprise there – time and time again, we are drawn to unpopular, out-of-the-way places.

Scot - Windmill

Cambo Gardens was a disappointment and a relief. The gardens I loved so much 11 years had been dug up and redesigned. The flowers might be as pretty as they once were in another decade or so – more proof that you can’t go back. I must be a true optimist, because I always expect things to keep improving with time, to be better than I remember, not worse. I was pacified by the fact that the barely navigable, half washed out path to the sea I hiked 11 years ago had also been redesigned, and was quite pleasant. The woods were filled with fragrant wild garlic blossoms, bluebells and tiny fairy flowers. The midges were organizing, fluttering their tiny wings in sunny spots in the glen, but not yet biting.

Scot - Peat Inn

But the absolute best experience we had in the Kingdom of Fife and by far the favorite meal of our vacation was lunch at the Peat Inn, in the tiny town of Peat Inn. Indescribable. Every morsel more wonderful than the last. The kind of food artistry and flavorful food I aspire to. Impeccable presentation and heartfelt service. I loved every bite, every second.

Scot - Culross house

Our three days in Fife flew by, and now, it seems like a dream. No wonder, as I was so tired and jet lagged for those first three days. It always takes me a few days to remember what it means to be a relaxed person, free from responsibility, ready to enjoy being served by others instead of serving. I couldn’t have had a better place to put the trip in perspective and set the scene for the days ahead.  NEXT:  From the Lowlands to the Highlands…

Great expectations have always been a huge motivator in my life. I have a wild imagination that translates into grand dreams. I’m willing to work hard to accomplish my goals. With the help of my talented and resourceful family and friends, a bevy of answered prayers, and a little bit of luck, many of my dreams have come to fruition.

Scot - sunset 2

But for perfectionists and dreamers like me, when things don’t go as planned, lofty expectations can turn into bitter disappointment.

Scot - Rhodadendron sunset

 

In Daybreak, my upcoming release, and the long-awaited sequel to my first novel, Night and Day, it seems like Jensen’s dreams have finally come true. Daybreak finds Jensen in Denmark, living out her long-awaited wish to be a mother. But when Anders has to leave, his son, Bjorn, unexpectedly moves home, and Jensen’s family faces a crisis in Minnesota, everything quickly unravels.

Scot - Windmill

 

Jensen and Anders are determined to find hygge in the colorful legacy of family, gardens, and quilts that make up their heritage and bind their future together, but with everything going wrong and nothing turning out the way they thought it would, it’s doubtful that a perfectionist like Jensen can be happy. It’s especially disappointing when a bright sky filled with promise turns to heartbreak.

Daybreak in Denmark (3)

When I lived in Colorado Springs two and a half decades ago, I used to go dancing with friends. A few times, we stayed until closing. I can still remember the transformation from a dreamy embrace on a dimly lit dance floor enhanced by a glass of wine and the romantic sounds of a mellow voice singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” to that abrupt moment when the band stopped playing and the bright lights were flipped on and romantic notions soured when the reality of a dance partner with glaringly obvious flaws came into focus.

bluebells - smashed

You may have read my earlier blog post about the anticipation surrounding our upcoming dream vacation to Scotland. Now that we’ve been there and are back, I can tell you that there were definitely unexpected glitches and frustrations despite our well-laid plans. From unsuccessfully fighting off a biting, blister-causing bug called a midge to being abandoned on the remote Isle of Lewis and Harris when we had car problems and our car hire company provided no service and no replacement vehicle, our hopes for an ideal vacation didn’t always pan out as we’d hoped.

Scot - Aberfeldy sunset

There have been many times in my life when I’ve been forced to give up on my dreams and move on to a Plan B or C or even D. Some of those alternate realities have turned out to be blessings in disguise. But often, those good things don’t become apparent for months or even years and relationships can suffer as a result.

Scot - Chanonry Point

You’ll have to read Daybreak to find out if the morning star finds a way to pierce the darkness that descends on Anders and Jensen’s life when troubles overtake them from every direction, or if the problems they face will damage their relationship beyond repair.

Scot - kilmartin glen

Happily-ever-after is a wonderful thing when it happens and definitely a great way to end a romance, but it can be hard to sustain. Thankfully, I believe we have a God who promises us even more than we hope for, dream of, or can imagine.

Scot - Crinan boats

If you read Night & Day now, you’ll be primed to see what happens after happily-ever-after when Daybreak is released next month… And if you’d like to see and hear how our dream vacation to Scotland turned out, stay tuned for another blog very soon.

Night and Day (1)

“NIGHT & DAY’S Anders and Jensen find their happily-ever-after morphing from daydream into nightmare as blended families, rampant hormones, job problems and miscommunications force them apart. The crazy quilt of their lives is told with gentle humor, heartfelt empathy, glorious descriptions and a satisfying patchwork of relationships that must somehow fit together for love to survive. A lovely book, filled with believable characters, achingly sad and happy situations, touches of terror and despair, and the promise of daybreak after the dark, DAYBREAK is a thoroughly enjoyable read.” Sheila Deeth, Author and Reviewer

Scot - Skye water

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Daybreak – New Release! (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

Golden Rod

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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