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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.

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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)

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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…

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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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