What a wonderful event!

Drawing Near to God

It was a beautiful couple days at a beautiful setting soaking in the Word of God and enjoying each other’s company.

The Blue Belle Inn Bed & Breakfast in St. Ansgar, Iowa, recently provided a relaxing backdrop for a rejuvenating getaway for our Bible Art Journaling Mini Retreat.

After a few ice breaker activities, we joined proprietor, Sherrie Hansen, for some worship singing and a special Celtic prayer circle lesson. We were even part of her daily prayer time on her Facebook LIVE episode for the evening!

We followed a light supper with some creative T-shirt painting. My friend, and charter member of my first Bible Art Journaling group, Mijean, designed our shirts; and we have enjoyed making the activity of painting them a regular experience during our annual retreats the last couple years. There is just something so relaxing about painting and then selecting that special scripture to…

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So, having seen that I’ve just written a new book titled Ragged Robin, you might be wondering, what is a Ragged Robin?

Ragged Robin by Sherrie Hansen

Depending on where you look, you might find your search for Ragged Robin to include a tiny seaside gift shop, a flute and harp duo that plays Irish traditional music, a nutty, time-traveling cartoon character from the Invisibles, a carnival glass pattern, a quaint café in Australia, a niche jewelry shop, a British landscaping, floral or wreath-making shop, a unique line of designer clothing,  an Etsy shoppe filled wth handmade, heartfilled products for your nest, a book of poetry, or one of Cicely M. Barker’s’s fairy flower illustrations.  

But because you know me and my penchant for writing books about windflowers, in this case, you would look to marshy places, damp meadows, marshes, fens and wet woods–in Scotland.

In wet marshy meadows
A tattered piper strays—
Ragged, ragged Robin;
On thin reeds he plays.

He asks for no payment;
He plays, for delight,
A tune for the fairies
To dance to, at night.

They nod and they whisper,
And say, looking wise,
“A princeling is Robin,
For all his disguise!”

Poem by Cicely M. Barker

(Except my Robin would be playing a tune for the Selkies to dance to on midsummer’s night. Now you might be wondering, what is a Selkie? But that’s a tale for another day.)

Now, back to Ragged Robin, the wildflower… With much-divided petals of lavender-pink, this robust, disheveled beauty of a wildflower might be a bit ragged around the edges, but its delicately-fringed, ragged blossoms are perfect to withstand windy weather. Known for its deeply cleft, feathery petals, ragged robin flowers from late May to early August, and is one of the prettiest to be found in boggy ground, transforming the flat brown bog in early summer.

Much-loved by bees and butterflies, it is dedicated to St. Barnabas because hay-making took place around his Feast Day on June 11 and Ragged Robin could be found amongst the hay. In Shakespeare’s time it was known as Crowflower and is one of the flowers in Ophelia’s garland. In the Victorian language of flowers, it symbolizes ardour, aversion, and wit.

In an ironic twist given the seaside setting of my book, Ragged Robin, the plant contains saponins, a soap substitute that can be used for washing clothes, hair etc. Although generally not harmful to humans, saponins are much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, and pose a potential danger to aquatic life. (Just one small example of how my Robin was misunderstood by his family…) Hunting tribes in days of old were even known to put large quantities of the flowers in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill fish. (Sounds like shades of Die Droge to me… And now, you might be wondering what is Die Droge? To find out, you will have to read Ragged Robin.)

Another feature of the wildflower, be it good or bad, is that Ragged Robin can be very hard to keep down. If you want to rid an area of ragged robin for good, it will require patience and determination and will require removing all traces of the plant matter, since any plant matter missed will result in new growth. Missed plant matter can sprout months after you thought you removed the ragged robin. (Springs back from adversity– just one trait my readers will love about Ragged Robin.)

So, if you like a man known for his ardour, and his aversion to evil, lies and injustice, with a good dose of wit about him, you’ll love Ragged Robin. Available now in paperback, Kindle, or Kindle Unlimited versions from Amazon. Just click on Ragged Robin. I’ll have copies at the Blue Belle Inn the first week of June.

RAGGED ROBIN…When a deadly virus ravages the seafood population off the coast of Scotland, the townsfolk of Portree, Isle of Skye, are devastated. Charter boat captain Robin Murphy and café owner Becca Ronan stumble upon evidence that ties the contamination to a pharmaceutical company, thrusting them into a tangled net of mystery. Robin fears—Becca hopes—the Selkies, if they’re real, hold the key. Robin says his priority is finding a cure, but the seal folk he’s befriended on his getaway isle have stolen his heart. Becca’s long-lost father and free-spirited mother may save the day…or bring down the ship. As Robin and Becca search for the truth and struggle to keep their businesses afloat, everything is at risk–their love, their beliefs–even their lives.

Mark and I only send Christmas letters to those who send them to us, so if you use the same system, this is your only chance to see what we included in our Christmas Letter for 2020.

Dear Friends and Family:

Amid the many disappointments of 2020, we make adjustments while continuing to be thankful and have hope for the future.

The year began with what has become our regular continuing education experience, the Abundant Life Summit in Fountain Hills, Arizona. As we waited at the Phoenix airport for our flight home, the big news was the first few cases of COVID-19 being noticed locally. We had cut our time in Arizona short because of a large private party scheduled at the Blue Belle, which ended up being cancelled at the last minute. Little did we know it would be the first of many bookings, special events, mystery dinners, and trips to be cancelled in 2020.

A Taste of Arizona

Like everyone else, our lives were greatly impacted by the pandemic. Although we both had the memorable experience of dealing with kidney stones in 2020, so far, we are thankful to report that neither of us have been infected with the virus.

The Blue Belle Inn B&B amd Tea House, St. Ansgar, Iowa

For Sherrie, the Blue Belle Inn was without any overnight guests for two months – something that has never happened before in the 29 years she has been open. We are grateful for her loyal customers (many of whom we are happy to call friends) who found ways to support the business as she re-opened with limited seating for dining and many more take-out orders than she’s ever had. She has come to appreciate the new demands of being a “short order cook” and greatly enjoys the pleasant crew of people she has as her staff members as business begins to trickle in once again.

Zion Lutheran Church, rural Hudson, IA

Mark continues as pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in rural Hudson, Iowa, now completing his ninth year. He finds great fulfillment in the ministry there. Although the church never “closed” we have greatly adjusted how we do things. We switched to putting our services on Facebook Live, when we couldn’t have worship with people inside the building. While we continue those internet postings, we are blessed to have a faithful group of in-person worship participants. What a surprise it has been to see people from well beyond our regular membership viewing these services online.

Plum Tart Iris, my new release.

Sherrie published her 14th novel, Plum Tart Iris, set in the Bohemian Alps of the Czech Republic and is nearly finished with her next book, Ragged Robin, set on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. She started posting a daily prayer time on Facebook Live to pray for our country, and friends and acquaintances going through rough times because of the virus, playing a song on the keyboard each day – another big adjustment for someone who has always been shy about having her picture taken and playing the piano by herself.
 
Mark was able play golf more often than in previous summers. Although part of that involved a trade-off of devoting less energy to his other hobby of repairing old bicycles, getting outside in the fresh air has been positive. He wore short pants so often, that he actually had tan-lines for the first time in many years.

This photo was taken about 5 years ago. If you want to know what we look like now (ei. how much weight we’ve gained during the pandemic,) you can see me live doing my Facebook Prayer Time each day, and Mark, on Sunday mornings on the Zion Lutheran, LCMC page, Hudson, Iowa.

As we look ahead to 2021, we pray you may all have a year blessed with love and health. We are hopeful that we will finally get to go back to Europe this spring, and that some of the frustrations we dealt with in 2020 will be worked out eventually. Because we know that’s what God does! We continue to believe that God works all things together for good. As Sherrie likes to say, God makes beautiful things out of broken pieces.     

Love to all of you, 

Mark and Sherrie

Something beautiful made from broken pieces.

We only went on one trip this year – a quick visit to Arizona for an Abundant Life conference just before the pandemic struck. We spent as much time hiking as we could and saw several beautiful sunsets.

Saguaro Nation Park near Tucson, AZ
Saguaro National Forest, near Tucson, AZ
McDowell Sonoran Preserve near Scottsdale

Since the remaining trips we had scheduled for 2020 were cancelled, I’m going to take a look at some of my favorite sunsets from past years. And of course, some of the best sunsets are found close to home.

Czech Republic, 2019
Holbrook, AZ 2019
Moonstone Beach, Cambria, CA 2019
Greene, Iowa 2019
Hanging Horn Lake, MN 2019
Callanish Stones, Isle of Lewis, Scotland 2018
Scotland 2018
Ullapool. Scotland 2018
Scotland 2018
Devon, England 2017
Dingle Penninsula, Ireland 2017
Beatty, Nevada 2016
Furnace Creek, Death Valley, CA 2016
Zion Lutheran Church, Hudson, IA
Hudson, IA
Zion Lutheran Church, Rural Hudson, IA

What the heck, you’re probably asking, is FOMO?

I recently participated in an online experience called Re: United States of America, a weekend long discussion between people from different parts of the world (primarily Iowa and California in this case), of different ethnic, cultural, and political persuasions.  Thanks to organizer, Ben Caron, it was amazing to find support, encouragement and acceptance from the intentional exploring of the things we share in common instead of our differences.

One of my take-aways from the weekend was the word/acronym FOMO. Being an old person from Iowa, I had to ask my California counterpart what it meant, and was told it stands for the Fear Of Missing Out. At the time it was used, I was participating in something called a Human Library, where one person in the room is a “book” who shared a phenomenon called Burning Man. As a “reader”, I listed to his account and asked questions to learn about something new. He said the people who attend the Burning Man event, which covers acres and acres of land in the Nevada desert, are overwhelmed with FOMO because no matter how hard they try, there are not enough waking hours to cover enough ground to see and do all there is to experience.

Common ground found: I immediately thought of our trips to Scotland and France and Czechia and the fact that while we try to plan relaxing and restorative vacations, we routinely fall into the trap of franticly attempting to squeeze a million things into every day we’re in the county. Fully acknowledging that we probably won’t ever walk this way again due to time constraints and a limited travel budget, we don’t want to miss out on anything. It’s our one and only chance – and even if it kills us, we’re going to see and do everything in the area! And that’s the things we know about – by the time we take in the quaint, unexpected wonders we stumble upon along the journey, by the time we return home, we’ve typically walked a good 7-10 miles a day for three solid weeks.

I also thought about my Grandma Victoria, Grandma Hansen, and my Dad in the weeks and months before they died. Yes, they knew they were going to a better place, but it was tremendously hard for each of them, and I’m sure others in the end years of their lives, to know that they were going to miss a grandchild’s visit or a family gathering or an upcoming wedding – to know that everyone would be there except them. I feel quite certain that FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out, keeps a lot of people alive well past their expected time here on earth.

We all have once in a lifetime experiences. It’s completely understandable that we don’t want to miss a single second of what’s going on. For the three years I lived in Germany, and the twelve years I lived in Colorado, it was hard for me to miss out on things back home even though I was able to enjoy dozens of things I never would have gotten to do had I stayed in Minnesota. Because I didn’t have the time or money to fly home every time something fun or significant happened, I had to make choices. I made new memories in those years I couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving when I roasted a turkey and hosted other singles and folks who had no family in Colorado Springs to a Thanksgiving potluck at my house. The next year, when I did go home, I felt bad to miss out on the special time I shared with my friends the year before. I keep waiting for technoloigy to catch up with Star Trek so I can beam wherever I want to go in the world and back again at whim. But until then…

FOMO is both a great motivator and a sticky wicket. We’ve all missed out on a lot of things during the pandemic. Senior proms, year-end concerts, dream weddings, long awaited vacations, county fairs, sports events, Easter Sunday services, family gatherings, precious time with loved ones  While there’s no way to get those special times back, we have a choice – we can dispel FOMO – along with other types of fear – and find hope for the future. We can open up our hearts and dream about what is to come – the places we’ll be blessed to to go, the things we’ll most certainly see and do.

We can begin to dream about the adventures and possibilities that are waiting for us just down the road.

When we finally get to go back to Scotland next year (thinking positively here), I’m sure I’ll be hit with a fresh case of FOMO as I wind my way back and forth across the county, taking in every castle, garden, seaside village, and bagpipe event I possibly can. In the meantime, I’m trying to get my houses in order, my next book finished, and do all that I can do – just in case I die of COVID. Because, well, FOMO, of course.

Today would have been my Grandma Lorna Miller Hansen’s 120th birthday. She was born in 1900 and died in 2000 at one hundred years of age. I always thought of her as my Bohemian grandma. When I filled out family nationality charts in grade school, I was told that she was 100% Bohemian, which meant my dad was half Bohemian and I was a quarter Bohemian. But the reality was, she was half Bohemian and half German. So began the curiosity that sparked my new mystery, PLUM TART IRIS, which is dedicated to Grandma Hansen and her mother, my great-grandmother, Mary Eukel Miller Danielson, who we called Grandma Danny.

My Grandma Hansen is in the center.

I knew my Grandma Danny until I was a young teenager. She was very precious to me, and very proudly Bohemian. I can still remember watching her make homemade noodles, sweet dough, and kolaches. She had large, strong hands, and was famous for doing cross stitch so precisely that it was as beautiful on the backside as it was the front. When I knew her, she lived in Minnesota, next door to my Grandma Hansen in a trailer ringed in snow-on-the-mountain and Johnny Jump-Ups. When my dad was young, she lived in St. Ansgar, Iowa, where I now own a B&B and Tea House. 

My Great-Grandpa Miller died of cancer when he was a young man. My dad never knew him, so rarely spoke of him, and I never questioned but that he was Bohemian, too. When I went to live in Germany when I was twenty, no one mentioned that I was part German. I was there for three years and had no idea that I had roots in the German soil and culture. When I came home, my family fell in love with the jaegerschnitzel and homemade spaetzle noodles I prepared. When we adopted German food as our preferred holiday meal, we joked about how odd it was that we preferred it over longtime family favorites even though we had no German blood.

I should have known something was amiss, but no one in all those years had ever cooked us German food, or talked about German traditions, or even mentioned anything German.

As I got older, I finally realized that the surname Miller was not Bohemian, started to question my dad about his heritage, and found out that his Grandpa Miller was a migrant farm worker – German – who came to the Eukel farm – Bohemian – looking for work. He was hired and told he could live in the barn. They were not happy when he fell in love with their daughter. Although they married and had four children, it was evidently easy to forget his contribution to our family tree and pretend the whole episode never happened when he died.

This was my first clue that the enmity that has impacted German and Bohemian history for centuries had touched my family. My curiosity led me to research historical documents from different periods, to start plotting a book set in Bohemia, and eventually, to plan a trip to the Czech Republic where I was able to see the land from where my ancestors immigrated and learn more about my heritage.

I chose today as the release day for PLUM TART IRIS, my first Wildflowers of Bohemia Mystery, to honor my ancestors, and the secrets and surprises that are part of my heritage. What happens in Plum Tart Iris is purely fictional, but it was sparked by a fascination with my own family’s history. Whether you have a bit of Bohemian blood, a bit of German blood, both, or neither, I think you’ll enjoy taking a look at the history of two families who lived in Bohemia when World War II came to an end, and how what happened impacted the lives of the generations that followed.

I just read an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of a new series by S.E. Turner.  Because the new book I got to read (Sorceress of the Sapphire, Book One – Kingdom of Durundal 2) isn’t out yet, I can’t write a review, so I thought I’d rave about it here. I’ve never done this before, but I  think this series is the perfect read for the situation we’re in now – so here I go…

The Kingdom of Durundal series is listed as fantasy, a genre I don’t normally read – but I think it’s much more than that. The characters feel too real, and the problems they face too immediate, to be fantasy. To me, it feels like a historical look at what clan life used to be like in Scotland, or some other ancient realm before recorded time. And we all know that history repeats itself, like it or not. For the same reasons I love J.R. R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis’s novels, I am completely drawn to The Kingdom of Durundal.

Why? Horrible things happen to Turner’s characters, but they rise above their challenges and survive. Heroes spring up and save the day when least expected, when all seems lost. Whether old-fashioned ingenuity or analytical minds applying themselves in a genius way, or something just a little magical or beyond our understanding, the battle is always won. There is loss, there is heartbreak – people die and worlds change so much that you know deep down things will never be the same, but somehow, in the end, good always prevails over evil. Hope blossoms when you are sure that all hope is lost. I don’t know about you, but I find that inspiring, now more than ever.

In the author’s own words, The Kingdom of Durundal’s five books are made up of the following elements:  Fantasy, history, ancient mythology, sword and sorcery, battles, apothecary (herbal medicines), spirituality, honour, betrayal, vengeance, magic, sacrifice, coming of age, love, strength, courage.

It’s an amazing combination. Some things that I personally love about these books – the author interweaves themes like greed and selfishness, a struggle as contemporary as it is ancient – and redemption! Forgiveness, and second chances, delayed gratification and patience, make the characters so perfectly imperfect that you will fall in love with them just as I did.

https://www.amazon.com/S-E-Turner/e/B078Q7LZW9/

Click here to check out S.E. Turner’s novels on Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/S-E-Turner/e/B078Q7LZW9/

I can’t tell you to rush out and buy Sorceress of the Sapphire, the first book in the new series, which I am thrilled to report, takes place a decade and a half later, but still in the Kingdom of Durundal, because it won’t be available until May 1st. But if anything I’ve said sounds interesting, it’s the perfect time to read A Hare in the Wilderness – Book 1, A Wolf in the Dark – Book 2, A Leopard in the Mist – Book 3, A Stag in the Shadows – Book 4, A Moth in the Flames – Book 5. By the time you’re done, the first book in the continuing series will be available for order, and you will thank me for recommending them.

Although a very minor disappointment in the total scheme of things lost because of the pandemic, it looks like our trip to Scotland, described in an earlier post –  is most likely not going to happen.

We receieved a note from one of our hosts this morning saying that they were cancelling all reservations. We’ve also confirmed that the Blair Atholl Castle’s Highland Games and Bagpipe and Atholl Highlanders Review scheduled for the end of May has been cancelled. So has the Taste of Granpian Food Show we were going to attend in Aberdeenshire in June. Oh – the Peat Inn in Fife, and the Kilted Fudge Company are closed until further notice.

I don’t know how to alter photos to include a big red X drawn across them, but we can scratch out the following:

Hope springs eternal, and I know we were all wishing that this situation would resolve itself quickly. But the experts seem to think we will be dealing with COVID-19 for a long time. On my best days, I manage to take things in stride – I am very blessed, and I trust in a God who is able to work all things together for good. I’ve been sticking to my diet, sleeping fairly well, and staying busy preparing take out food at my tea house instead of stressing out and eating everything in sight (my usual way of dealing with stress.)

BlueBelle 2016

I am blessed with a wonderful husband to be quarrantined with, a mortgage that’s paid off, a family that’s nearby, and some wonderfully faithful customers, so it’s all good. But I am afraid of what will happen if Mark or I gets the virus because of our reduced immune systems.

Sherrie - Mark

I usually survive the long, dreary winter and times of stress by dreaming about our next great adventure. Our trips to Europe sustain me and motivate me and inspire me mentally, physically, and emotionally. It’s hard to find things to look forward to when we can’t see our friends or get together with our families or attend fun events or even regroup and recenter at a worship service at church.

Zion - Sunset

And isn’t it funny that I’ve been dreaming for weeks of having the time to get back to my painting, and now that I have extra time, I just can’t seem to get into it?

Droid August 25 2016 005

I started to outline a new book, which I can set anywhere in the world, based on my memories and imagination. Right now, I’m thinking Portree, on the Isle of Skye. When Plum Tart Iris comes back from my proofreaders, I’ll have editing and polishing to do.  Spring is coming, and soon, there will be flowers to photograph and walks to take.

Scot - Chanonry Point

Everything will be fine, right? And if this virus changes my life in a more significant way than the current minor disapointments we’ve all experienced, I will adapt. At least, I hope so.

97 Scotland - Celtic Cross

In the meantime, let’s all pray. Really pray. Keep looking up. Stay home. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Pray. Keep praying.

Take care and stay healthy!

Love, Sherrie

I commented to someone last week that I’ve been feeling sad and alone these last few weeks even though I’ve been surrounded by people and busier than busy at the Blue Belle and church. I blamed it on the wintertime blues. We’ve rarely seen the sun since returning home from Arizona (how thankful am I for that brief break from winter!)

Blizzard - 2019

While friends on Facebook are posting pictures of the first blooms of spring, our snow keeps piling up and up and up. I think there’s almost a foot on the ground already, and another 3-5 inches are expected today.

Scot - kilmartin glen

That’s when a friend said to me, “Don’t you always feel this way when you finish a book?” Sigh. She was right. I finished my rough draft of PLUM TART IRIS and wrote The End exactly two weeks ago. I’ve been feeling lost ever since.

Czechia - after dinner

One of the many joys of writing novels, and hopefully reading them, is that the worlds we escape to, in this case, the Czech Republic, feel real. The characters become our friends, and sometimes, even more. If you’ve ever fallen in love with a character, you know the feeling – but fun as a fictional crush may be, it’s not just about “love.”

Czechia - Brno dancers

When we write or read a good book, we explore new worlds, learn invigorating new truths, think about things that would otherwise never have entered our minds, and have the type of honest conversations that we rarely have in our real lives. In many ways, book relationships can feel more real than the ones that fill our everyday lives.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov view

As a writer, I bare my soul via the characters in my books, spend hours researching other cultures and historical backdrops, and conjure up visions of lush landscapes and tucked away, intimate corners of places we have visited on our vacations. It’s exhausting and exhilarating. The moments – days, weeks and months – I spend in the fictional worlds I create in my books are so dear to me that I often feel that I could stay there, in those places, with the people I have grown to love, forever.

Czechia - traditional cottage bed

It’s no wonder I feel lonely now that I’ve written The End, closed the door, and started the process of moving on. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m trying to catch up on some projects neglected while I was immersed in my novel, catch up on my reading, and even talk to some real people who haven’t heard from me in awhile, but there’s still something missing – namely Iris and Mikulas! So, what now?

Czechia - Karlovy Vary colunnades

I could immediately begin another book, but I’ve still got edits to do, a cover to design, formatting and promotional materials to build, and a release party to plan for PLUM TART IRIS. Besides, I’m already feeling a little schizophrenic, planning Irish-themed festivities in honor of  SEASIDE DAISY, my current release, for Saint Patrick’s Day, editing and marketing PLUM TART IRIS, my Czechia mystery, while simultaneously planning a trip to Scotland. And of course, I have to devote at least some of my time to Iowa and Minnesota family, friends, and business pursuits.

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

So what’s the solution? I’m not sure what to do about my dilemma, but I’ve been told that it’s great fun to binge read my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, one after the other, while the characters and details from the previous book are still familiar and fresh in your mind. If you fall in love with a fictional hero or heroine, it’s all good, because you’re bound to see them in the next book, and the next, and the next. The same holds true with NIGHT and DAY, and the sequel DAYBREAK. Many have told me they’ve gone back and reread one and then immediately gone on to the other. Those who originally read my Maple Valley trilogy had to wait a whole year between STORMY WEATHER, WATERLILY, and MERRY GO ROUND – now, you can see the story unwind through Rachael, Michelle, and Tracy’s lives all in one setting. 

Quilt - bear

So, if you have the wintertime blues, there’s nothing like “good book immersion therapy.” The experience can carry you through to spring. Make a new friend, travel to a far off country, learn to dance or quilt or make teatime delicacies. Be inspired. Be my guest! All you have to do is open the door and take the first step. 

Czechia - garden door

The tickets are bought, the Airbnbs have been booked. We’re going back to Scotland for three weeks in May and June!

Scot - Uig sunset stones

At least one person has already made the comment, “Again?”, so I’ll explain our reasoning. The answer is, while we loved exploring a new country and seeing new sights when we went to the Czech Republic last summer, we found it exhausting and much more strenuous to vacation on completely unfamiliar turf while dealing with a foreign language in a place where it was rare to find someone who spoke English.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov view

Our Czechia trip took far more research and planning than usual, and we struggled to get oriented and figure out the lay of the land. It wasn’t unpleasant – we saw some absolutely amazing sights, and I love the story that came out of the experience (PLUM TART IRIS, coming summer of 2020), but it wasn’t as relaxing or fun as going “home” to Scotland. (This will be our 4th trip and our 10th, 11th, and 12th weeks in country.)  Maybe one day, we’ll still morph into one of those couples who goes to the same cabin (stone cottage?) on the same lake (or should I say loch?) in the same state (country?) every single summer. Stranger things have happened!

B&W View

In our defense, Scotland has so many things to see, and such variety! From highland castles to seaside villages, remote islands to bustling towns and quaint country hideaways, each and every place we’ve visited has been full of charm. The things to do and see are basically limitless. Each time we go, we make sure to include a new island or region in our itinerary as well as some old favorites that bear repeating.

Scot - Hairy Coo

Both of us had enough frequent flier miles to get a “free” overseas ticket, so long story short, we have a lot of connections and we’re flying into Edinburgh instead of Glasgow. But our only expenses were taxes and airport fees, so we can’t complain. We leave on May 18th.

For the first three nights, we’re staying in a stone cottage on a small farm with a stream running through the garden near Humbie, southeast of Edinburgh.  From there, we can explore previously unseen gardens, beaches, manor houses and abbeys in the Borderlands.

S2020 - Cottage in Country

We’ll spend our next 3 days in the same renovated barn we stayed in two years ago when we were in Aberfeldy, one of our favorite places in all the world.

I’ve already made reservations for a return visit to the famed Peat Inn, near St. Andrews, where we’ll enjoy lunch to break up our drive to the highlands.

Scot - Peat Inn

While in Aberfeldy, we’ll see the Atholl Highlanders and bagpipers marching in review and the Highland Games at Blair Atholl Castle for the third time. Love it!

SW 57

Then, it’s back to Dornie, home of Eilean Donan Castle (where SHY VIOLET and SWEET WILLIAM are set), for two nights. Loch Carron (where GOLDEN ROD is set) is an easy side trip from Dornie.

SW 140

Need I say more?

Scot - LC dessert

Dinner at the Lochcarron Bistro, and a visit to Balnacra Pottery at the Smithy and Carron Pottery, Craft Shop & Gallery are on the list as well – maybe even Lochcarron Weavers – all great enticements.

IMG_20160604_185526

We’ll be spending one night in Portree, on the Isle of Skye before heading out on the ferry to a part of the Outer Hebrides Islands that we’ve never seen before – North and South Uist.

S2020 - Uist

I’ve been following a photographer on Instagram who posts photos of the sunsets on the Uists and I can’t wait to experience the magic. This photo of Loch Bee was taken from the bedroom window of Na h-Eileanan an Iar Bungalow where we’ll be staying for 4 nights.

215 Scotland - Tobermory 5

From South Uist, we’ll be taking a rather complicated jaunt on a couple of ferries to get to Tobermory, Isle of Mull (where BLUE BELLE is set.) Hopefully the seas will be calm that day!

95 Scotland Dining

I’ve already made sure that Cafe Fish, where we ate 13 years ago on the harbor, is still open. They are, and my only problem now is what to order – the Haddock Mornay rolled haddock fillet stuffed with baby spinach and herbed mushrooms, and topped with a Mull cheddar sauce or the Café Fish Pie salmon, smoked haddock, fresh haddock and queenies in a creamy sauce topped with crushed potato  and cheese. I had the fish pie last time and loved it, but I had Haddock Mornay in 2016 on the Isle of Arran and it was wonderful, too. My usual solution to this dilemma is to see if my nice husband will order one while I order the other, but every so often, he won’t cooperate… we’ll see… Maybe if he gets to play golf one day while we’re on Mull?

97 Scotland - Celtic Cross

Our third night on the Isle of Mull, we’ll be staying on the other side of the island, the Ross of Mull in Fionnphort, where we’ll be catching the foot ferry to the Isle of Iona, one of the oldest Christian religious centers in Western Europe. We hope to visit Duart and Torosay Castles on out way back to catch another ferry to the mainland. With that last jaunt to Oban, our island-hopping will be complete and it’s off to the Highlands again.

S2020 - Fortingall

We’ll be spending one night at Keltneyburn to break up our drive. It’s near Fortingall, a picturesque little town we’ve been to before.

Scot - Haggis

Our farm stay reservation in Aberdeenshire will be our home for the next two nights so we can attend the Taste of Grampian, a food and drink show near Inverurie with over 200 exhibitors – including our favorite food vendor, Kilted Fudge. Their Clootie Dumpling Fudge is the best!  I’m sure I’ll be able to enjoy some Haggis, tatties (potatoes) and neeps (turnips) as well.

Aberdeenshire is castle country, and we hope to see one or two that we missed last time we were there. I love castle gardens and hope to enjoy a bit of color. The bluebells, wisteria, and rhododendrons should still be in bloom in the highlands and the roses just beginning to bloom.

 

We’ll be circling back to Crail, another favorite spot, for our second to last night in Scotland. This is the sea view from the garden where we’re staying. Crail is along the east coast, a traditional Neuk village just a wee bit from Edinburgh. I’m glad we’ll be able to stay by the sea once more before we head home – and of course, I’ll need to visit Crail Pottery again.

Wildflowers - Stripes

On June 9th, we’ll fly home to Iowa. I’ve been asked if this trip to Scotland means there will be another Wildflowers of Scotland novel. As of now, I have no ideas, but then, the whole point of traveling is to expand your mind and find inspiration in the things you see, experience, and learn. So, we’ll see!

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We appreciate your prayers for a safe and relaxing journey.

(Please note that while most of these photos were taken by me, there are a few (3) that I did not take because they are of places I have not yet visited.)

 

 

 

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