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Have you ever wondered what happens after your favorite book comes to an end? We’ve all turned the last page of a novel, hoping and praying that there’s a epilogue, or as the musician in me likes to think of them, a postlude, so we can peek ahead and get a glimpse of what the future holds. I hate saying goodbye to characters I’ve come to love. Even better, is that moment when you talk to your librarian or do a search online and find out there’s a sequel! If you’re like me, we’re talking overnight express time!

Night and Day (1)

For more than a decade, I’ve heard from readers who have wanted to know what happened to Jensen and Anders after Night and Day came to an end. They’ll be thrilled to know that now, the story goes on. I just finished a rough draft of Daybreak in Denmark, a sequel to Night and Day. It should be ready for release by mid-summer.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

In the almost, but not quite as good category, are cameo appearances by the characters of the previous book in the next. I love linking story lines together in my Wildflowers of Scotland books, although, much as we love getting reacquainted with old friends in a new book, it’s not the same as a true sequel. When old characters are resurrected in a new character’s book, they can’t be allowed to steal the show or take over the plot. After introducing Lyndsie, Rose’s teenaged niece, in Wild Rose, and bringing her back as a spunky young woman in Shy Violet, it was amazing to write her story in Sweet William. I knew Lyndsie so well by the time William came into her life – her background, her hopes and dreams, her foibles, her family – that the scenes in her point of view practically wrote themselves.

I also find that emotions evoked by familiar, beloved characters are deeper, richer, and have a greater capacity to draw us into the story. When readers learn that the same lovely breasts that captivated Pastor Ian, and made Rose something of a scarlet woman, have been invaded by cancer, we truly get it. We weep with Rose and grieve with Ian and pledge to support them both to the bitter end, just like Lyndsie did.

Wild Rose - Photo

Or maybe you didn’t want to know that Rose and Ian adopt her young, immature nephew’s child, who then decides, some years later, that he wants his baby, now toddler, back… maybe you prefer that Rose and Ian stay forever young, their hopes and dreams for a fairy tale future bright and shiny and untarnished for all time.

Sunset 2014 Grass

I had similar feelings once upon a long time ago when I first read the Little House on the Prairie books. If the series had ended with On the Banks of Plum Creek – if I had never opened By the Shores of Silver Lake, I could have continued to imagine Mary’s beautiful blue eyes seeing the world around her, for years to come. But had I not read on and dealt with the heartbreak of Mary’s blindness, I would have missed out on all the pleasure I gained in reading The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years.

From camera December 2015 007

It’s no secret that rarely does anyone live happily ever after. When you turn the first page of a sequel, there are bound to be disappointments – romantic notions lost – along with the delight of seeing what old friends are up to. The important thing is, joy of joys, we get to turn the page and see what happens next! Does that mean the mystery is gone? If you’ve read Night and Day, there will be no wondering who Jensen is going to end up with when you begin reading Daybreak in Denmark. But her future, Anders’, Ed’s, her family’s – what happens next, beyond the pages of Night and Day – will still be a complete enigma.

Daybreak in Denmark (2)

So read on! In a sequel, the complexities of first falling in love are replaced by trying to adjust to a new life and overwhelming changes – some good and some unwanted.  There may be disillusionment and disappointment. Things may or may not turn out the way you hope they will. Because, as Jensen soon finds out, the happily ever after endings that romance novels are famous for are, in reality, nothing but a fairy tale, and even if you have the most wonderful husband in the world, things don’t always turn out the way you hope, dream, plan, wish they will.

Intrigue, drama, conflict and black moments – they’re all there waiting for you in a sequel. But so does joy come in the morning, after even the blackest of nights. Even sequels can have happy endings.

Sunset 1-2015

One reviewer called Night and Day “the thinking woman’s romance.” I can’t tell you what they’ll say about Daybreak in Denmark, but I can promise you it was thoughtfully written from a perspective of deep, abiding love for Minnesota, my home state, Denmark, my ancestral home, and the Jensen, Christiansen, and Westerlund families, my fictional first loves.

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A few days ago, at a funeral, a woman I didn’t know said in passing, “Keep those books coming! I love every one!” I nodded and smiled, because I fully intend to do just that – and something tells me she’s really going to love Daybreak in Denmark.

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The old joke goes that someone asked Mrs. Lincoln, “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” The twentieth century version would be, “Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you enjoy your trip to Dallas?”

Today is the 360th day of the year. There are five days left in 2017. For me, much of the year passed in a fog because in 2017 my father was diagnosed with leukemia and eventually died. When something that life changing happens, everything else is inconsequential. But the year did have some bright points, and I’d like to think on a few of those things as well as what I am looking forward to in 2018.

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In January, Mark and I went to Arizona for a Spiritual Life Retreat. It was a good way to start out the year and helped ground me for what was to come. Seeing the beautiful red rocks and hiking in the desert was an eye-opening  experience for me. Having grown up amid Minnesota Northwood trees, lakes and streams, I’d rarely appreciated the beauty of the desert – until we discovered Sonoran Botanical Gardens. We even saw a rainbow. A promise was a good thing, because even then, we knew something was wrong with Dad.

Food - melting moments

The first week of February, I celebrated 25 years of being open for business at the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, and my 60th birthday. We served Tomato Basil, Fresh Broccoli, Wonderful Wild Rice, and Potato Ham soups, egg salad and Monte Cristo sandwiches, Copenhagen Cream with Raspberries and my fancy homemade cookies. I hired a DJ and made up an eclectic set-list of favorite songs from 1957 on. It was a wonderful night and would be my Dad’s last time to come to an event at the Blue Belle.

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March brought a flurry of bad diagnosis and a roller coaster ride of hope and frustrations and searches for answers.

Zion - Sunset 2015 2

In April, Dad took his last “big trip” when he came down to Mark’s church in Hudson to listen to the M&MS and Zion’s worship team sing Life is Like a Mountain Railway, his favorite song. We practiced it several times for him because it made him so happy.

Ireland - flowers

In late May, Mark and I said goodbye to Dad at the ICU at Mayo. Dad had pneumonia. I hated leaving him, but we had tickets to Wales, Ireland and England. We compensated for our absence by calling him every night from whatever country we were in. We stayed at B & B’s, enjoyed taking photos of amazing castles, gardens, and beaches, as well as sampling delicious pub grub, smoked haddock, millionaire bars (caramel shortbread), meat pies, Battenberg cakes, and Irish stew. Our adventures on the Wild Atlantic Way along the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland inspired a new book, Seaside Daisy.

Ireland - daisy sea

Dad rallied and was still alive when we came home in mid-June. It seems like the whole summer went by in a blur. Dad had chemo and almost 70 blood transfusions. We almost lost him twice, once when he went into anaphylaxis shock and once when his platelets dropped to 1.7. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren came from all over the country to hug and cheer him on. Through it all, he kept his sense of humor and faith. In the midst of all the busyness, my new release, Golden Rod, came out in July. I tried to promote it a little bit, but my mind was wrapped up in bigger things.

Dad - harvest

In August, it became apparent that more chemo was not an option. The process of acceptance that we were going to lose him began. Dad said it was sure too bad he had to miss his funeral because he knew the music would be great (lively bluegrass) and he’d get to see everyone he knew. When he first mentioned having a funeral rehearsal, we thought he was kidding.

Dad - pick-up

Sept 7, we kids hosted Everett Hansen Day at the Farm. Nearly 250 friends and family came for a potluck, greeted by a joyous, smiling Dad. During the next two months Dad was able to stay at home, and as was his goal, watch the harvest come in. My brothers and sister and I took turns spending the night in the double recliner next to him and enjoying many late night conversations.

Dad - creek

October was spent doubling back to the Blue Belle to serve over a hundred Seasoned Pork and Parmesan Stuffed Pumpkins to lunch guests by day, planning and writing murder mysteries by night, spending Wed, Thurs and Fri evenings with Dad, and worrying about him the rest of the week when we were down in Hudson.

Dad - casket

Dad died on November 7th. The actual funeral was everything Dad envisioned, with great bluegrass music. I started writing again on the 22nd, but switched to working on Daybreak in Denmark, a sequel to my first book, Night and Day, because the father character reminded me of Dad.

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

Gray December has been spent catching up on everything that didn’t get done this summer, trying to break out of the fog, and getting used to the “new normal” of not daily talking to Dad about what is going on in my life and hearing his jokes and advice. I’ve spent a lot of time crying. Comfort foods help for awhile and then make me feel worse. I am so thankful that I was able to spend so much time with Dad before he died, but the resulting closeness made it harder to adjust to him being gone.

bbinn-winter-2016

I think 2018 will bring more big changes in my life. I’m not sure what that means, but I sense it very strongly. I wonder where to go from here. Nothing is as much fun as it used to be, because I can’t tell Dad about it and hear his laughter or comments. Sometimes, I think I could just as well die too, but I have to finish Daybreak in Denmark first – as long as I’m half done already. We Hansens like to finish what we start, and like Dad, I find it very satisfying to watch the harvest come in.

Sunset 2014 Corn

I wish all of you happy endings in 2018. To those of you who have suffered losses in 2017, I pray you will find peace and joy in the New Year. Because it’s not the end, but a new beginning.

Daybreak in Denmark

I’m spending the night at my parent’s house in the country tonight, and the stars are shining brilliantly in the inky black sky. While it’s dark and clear in Minnesota, it was so foggy I could hardly see to drive when I left Iowa. In both places, all I had to do was open a window to feel fresh air.

Sunset 1

A few evenings ago, I was at a conference in downtown Minneapolis, on the 14th floor of a Hilton Hotel, hemmed in by skyscrapers on four sides, fighting off waves of panic as I rode the elevator higher and higher and higher off the ground.

City - flags

The views from our permanently sealed windows were beautiful in a manmade sort of way, but I missed seeing the sun sink into the horizon at night. The small patch of sky directly overhead told me little of what the weather was doing.

City - night

My brief visit to the big city reminded me of the tale of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse. In the version I remember, a very proper, slightly haughty town mouse goes to visit her cousin in the country. The country mouse welcomes the city mouse with delicious, old-fashioned food and warm, heartfelt hospitality, but the visiting cousin is not impressed. She then adjusts her fancy hat and invites the country mouse to visit her in the city for a taste of the fine life.

City - clouds

When their decadent, uptown feast is interrupted by a pair of big city fat cats, they have to scurry to safety. After this, the country mouse decides to return home, preferring the peace and quiet of the country to the opulence and excitement of the big city.

Sunset 2014 Grass

Once upon a time, I dated a big city boy. At first, he thought he might enjoy living in the county, but as time went by, he realized it was not the lifestyle for him. I wasn’t interested in residing among the steel and glass giants of the city, so that was the end of that.

Zion - bowed head

In the land of fictional relationships, a character may give up his or her chosen lifestyle to be with the one they love, but in real life, it’s hard to reconcile concrete differences that go to the core of what makes us unique. In my first book, Night and Day, it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark when Jensen and Anders meet. Since they both love their respective countries, they struggle as to whether she should leave her home, or he, his, or if they should pick somewhere halfway in between and both be homesick.

Night and Day (1)

In Golden Rod, my new release, Katelyn comes to Scotland from Minnesota to sell a castle she inherited. She doesn’t like international travel and has no intention of staying for more than a week or two. Rod is bound to MacKenzie land that’s been in his family for centuries. Their differences go even deeper than the ocean between their two homes. Katelyn lives in Minneapolis and works for a big company. She is mortified at the thought of losing her job and salary and is loyal to a boss she has always trusted and respected. Rod spends his time at sea or working in the walled garden at his family’s castle.  He’s a fiercely independent entrepreneur who controls his own destiny. Sink or swim, it’s all on him.

GR Blog - Kilt Rock

I worked for a boss in a big city before I moved back to Iowa to open the Blue Belle Inn B&B. It was a hard adjustment to go from a consistent salary to a haphazard income that fluctuated seasonally and at the whim of my customers. Gradually, I learned to trust myself and adapt to the variety of lean and leaner times. I had learned in Colorado Springs, as Katelyn eventually does, that bosses and bankers can be unreliable, and sometimes, even cities can be boom or bust fickle. But then, so can relationships, weather, and a million other things in this world. People accuse the Midwest of being boring, but to me, it feels reliable, secure, and stable.

BlueBelle 2016

Perhaps the ultimate comfort comes from staying near the places we grew up. For me, that’s the flatlands of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa – black dirt, farmland, bean and corn fields, big skies and unfettered horizons in all four directions.

Blog - Sunset

My dad and I were watching reruns of the Andy Griffith show last night. There are several episodes with Country Mouse, City Mouse themes. When I was young, there was a time I couldn’t wait to escape to the big city. Now, I see what a hold the country has on me. Much as I occasionally enjoy being wined and dined and courted while visiting the big city, I will never live in one again. For me, country is comfortable, easy, and filled with delights.

az-purples

The closest I typically come to cities these days is to fly in and out of airports in the world’s major hubs before taking the shortest route out of the city and heading to the nearest village, mountainside, or ocean-side drive. In recent years, I’ve bypassed London, Bucharest, Edinburg, Paris, Copenhagen, Milan, Denver, Phoenix, L.A., and Munich for more remote, secluded locations. Country mouse to the core.

Sunset 1-2015

But some real life stories do have happy endings. When I met my husband, I told him if he married a Minnesota farmer’s daughter, he’d be stuck in the alternately freezing cold or hot, humid Midwest for good. My roots grow deep. He grew up visiting Disneyland and surfing in southern California, and went to law school in downtown Los Angeles. Did he realize I was serious? If he didn’t then, he does now. Thankfully, he appreciates my farm family and loves them like this own. So, sometimes, love can overcome differences like Country Mouse, City Mouse. And for that, I’m very happy.

Sherrie and Mark 2013

Late summer is a golden time of year. Fields and ditches are full of goldenrod, tansy and black-eyed Susans blossoms shining bright in the sunlight. Springtime blues, lavenders and pinks gradually give way and are outshined by the yellow gold hues of early fall.

Golden Rod - lighthouse

… Just one reason why late summer is the perfect time to read Golden Rod, my latest Wildflowers of Scotland novel.

Golden Rod

When I first chose to name my new book Golden Rod, I had a flurry of people tell me that they were allergic to goldenrod, and associated  the flower with sneezing and feeling like their head was going to explode.

Golden Rod bird

My research shows that allergies to goldenrod are very rare, since it is not airborne, and that people who suffer allergy symptoms this time of year are more likely affected by ragweed, which blooms at the same time.

Golden Rod - JD

Although I can truly promise you nothing by pleasant sensations if you read Golden Rod, this brings me to a related topic – why some of you think you are allergic to reading romance novels. Here are some of the reasons I hear from romance reading skeptics:

Golden Rod 2016 a

Fallacy #1:  Romance novels are for women. I’m a guy.

My Response:  Don’t let my flowery titles fool you. My novels all have two perspectives, two point of view voices – one male and one female. My books are not about women living in a fantasy world – they’re about men and women struggling along in a very real world. Their differing attitudes, perspectives, feelings, needs and approaches to problem-solving provide my books with stimulating conflict, movement within the plotlines, and differences of opinion. I’ve had many men tell me how much they enjoyed my books, and one couple who even argued over who got to read it first.

Golden Rod 2017

Fallacy #2:  Romance novels are shallow, dumbed down versions of the literary novels I enjoy.

My Response: A reviewer who’s a very intelligent mathematician called my novels “the thinking women’s romance.” Doctors, lawyers, and professors have written telling me they enjoyed my books. My characters are complex and my novels include complicated situations and scenarios worthy of readers who like books that stimulate their intellect and emotions.

Golden Rod Cattails

Fallacy #3:  I like action and adventure novels, thrillers and mysteries.

My Response: Today’s romance novels can and do include all of the above. My books have included murders, sex-crimes, scams, thefts, kidnappings, and all kinds of deceitful goings on. They also include romance, but love definitely isn’t the only thing between the covers (no pun intended).

Golden Rod Flood Bay 2016

Fallacy #4:  Romance novels are full of graphic sex scenes.

My Response: I’ve written on this topic previously. Some of my books have love scenes and some don’t. When love scenes are included, they’re not gratuitous, they’re there for a reason. They’re a necessary part of the plot. They’re also sweet, tender and satisfying. Sometimes, they’re even humorous. And just like real life, lovemaking is rife with consequences.

Golden Rod Ely

Fallacy #5:  Romance novels are filled with overly dramatic, shirtless bodybuilders and low-bodiced, big-busted heroines who I can’t relate to.

My Response:  My books are set in modern times and my characters are as real as you are. Some are good-looking, others not. They have flaws and frustrations and quirks just like all of us do. That’s what makes them so lovable and most importantly, believable.

GoldenRod 2016

So let me recommend this trusted cure for allergies. Expose yourself to just a little bit, then, gradually a little more, until your discomfort disappears. I’d be delighted if you’d try just one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, and Golden Rod is a great place to start. If you like it, you can read more.  Hopefully, you will find that you enjoy my romantic suspense novels.

Golden Rod Flood Bay 2017

What have you got to lose? Enjoy the goldtones of late summer, and don’t be afraid to read a new book or a new author.

Golden Rod shore

You’ll find beauty in all kind of unexpected locations.

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What started it all was a stretch of wind-swept, treeless terrain and a bright blue cottage built from timber washed ashore after a shipwreck. I’ve always loved the notion of “if these walls could speak”. And building a house out of second-hand lumber sounds just like something a Hansen would do.

Ireland - blue cottage

How many men died aboard the ship this cottage used to be, trying to navigate the churning waters of the Atlantic, I’ll never know, but these much-treasured, repurposed boards live on as part of their legacy.

Ireland - daisies fence

Have I made my case? Writing a book set in Ireland is a perfectly fine thing to do. Still, I felt like I was cheating on Scotland the whole time we were in Ireland, Wales and southern England. Everyone who reads my blog knows that my love affair with Scotland has taken me through over five weeks of exploration of the bonnie country (in both 2007 and 2016) and five Wildflowers of Scotland novels – WILD ROSE and THISTLE DOWN, a prequel novella, set at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, BLUE BELLE, in and around Tobermory’s rainbow tinted harbor and cottages, castles and white sand beaches on the Isle of Mull, SHY VIOLET, set in Dornie at the magnificent Eilean Donan Castle, SWEET WILLIAM, in the nearby highlands and on the Isle of Skye, and now, GOLDEN ROD, set against the backdrop of Wester-Ross and lovely Lochcarron’s wooded shores.

the-wildflowers-of-scotland-novels

GOLDEN ROD is almost ready for the press. I’m very excited to know that soon, people will be holding freshly printed copies in their hands and reading the story of  Katelyn O’Neal, a well-intentioned but naïve American who inherits a castle in Scotland. Katelyn is thrilled to have an opportunity to sell Lachlan Castle to a wealthy bidder who is a client at the PR firm where she words because her twelve-year-old niece is dying and needs a very expensive, specialized treatment. Then she meets the “rightful” heir, Rod MacKenzie. As the “legal” heir, she has every right to cast Rod out of his home, and to destroy the beloved garden that is his legacy. She has no other choice if she wants to save Kacie’s life. But when a desperate pair of 500-year-old ghosts intervene, the whole course of history could change.  GOLDEN ROD is a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that I think you’ll find both amusing and uplifting.

Golden Rod Front Cover Final

But now, even as GOLDEN ROD is being birthed, a lass named SEASIDE DAISY is calling out to me. She hails from Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way in a town named Dingle. My fickle heart has already fallen in love with the people and places of Ireland’s western-most peninsula.

Ireland - daisy sea

Sea caves and standing stones dotting the shoreline, pale lavender and white seaside daisies with yellow centers bent almost flat from the pounding rain and wind – but still blossoming, and even thriving – tell a story of perseverance and determination that captivates my imagination.

Ireland - Daisy lavender

Colourful shoppes filled with driftwood sculptures, fuchsia fairies dangling from lacy branches, and sea glass and beach pottery made into jewelry, call out to me.

Ireland - driftwood horses  Ireland - fairies  Ireland - vase

Constantly changing, ever dramatic skies and rainbows appearing and disappearing in the mist stoke my curiosity until I know I cannot NOT tell this story.

Ireland - beach

Ireland - rainbow

Bicycles. Black-faced sheep with curly horns. Hidden beaches, abandoned bothies, and crumbling battlements… The Wild Atlantic Way. Wild in what way?

Ireland - bicycle  Ireland - sheep

Overgrown rose gardens, fuchsia hedgerows, quirky hat hires, seafood chowder and Irish stew…  It may be a bunch of blarney, but it’s all so exciting and new!

Ireland - flowers  Ireland - fuchsia

Ireland - Hat Hire

Ireland - Seafood chowder

Scotland, it’s been swell. You know I’ll be back. There’s Aberfeldy, Dornoch, St. Andrews and Portree – and many more amazing castles waiting to be explored.

S - Inverary Castle

But I need to find out about this new place and its wild, wonderful ways.

Ireland - sun beach

Read GOLDEN ROD. You’ll agree with me when I say that after all they’ve been through, Rod and Katelyn need a vacation – or might it be a honeymoon? Perhaps they’ll find themselves on a ferry boat traveling across the Irish Sea? Michael and Isabelle from BLUE BELLE might be there, too, on a bicycle built for two, because Isabelle loves to pedal and Michael needs to know if Daisy will give Cavan Donaghue her answer true. Don’t you?  Only eight pages in and I’m already crazy over the likes of these two.

Ireland - daisies

An almost full moon reflected off a pond hugged by beds of flowers in blues, yellows and violets of various heights. In the center, a fountain trickled down the neck and breasts of a stone statue of a woman with full hips and voluptuous curves. The scene was framed by walls of stone and brick, etched with pink climbing roses and lavender wisteria. This is what they were going to destroy?

GR Blog - Wisteria.jpg

As Mark and I head off on another trip to indulge our love affair with Great Britain and research settings of future books, I’m anticipating the release of GOLDEN ROD, the book inspired by last year’s journey to Scotland.

One of the things I most love about writing is the chance to scope out new locations – and with them, the likeable qualities and legends that give the place its charm. And when we get home, my pleasure is doubled when I get to sit down with my thoughts, reminisce about our experiences, and craft a story with word pictures about the places we’ve seen.

GR Blog - Goose bench.jpg

Although Rod MacKenzie’s exquisite walled garden and the unique castle pictured on the front cover of GOLDEN ROD are fictional in the sense that they’re not located along the shores of Loch Carron, many of the other spots mentioned in the book are as real as you and me. In the text below, I’m going to share a snippet from GOLDEN ROD followed by a photo of the real life image that inspired it. Craigievar Castle, Leith Hall Garden and Crarae Garden, which I magically transported to the Lochcarron and the Wester Ross area of Western Scotland, are actually located to the east in Aberdeenshire and Argyll. Enjoy!

GR Blog - bluebelle garden   GR Blog - Castle   GR Blog - Bleeding hearts

The blue waters of Loch Carron disappeared, then reappeared. The road widened. Katelyn glanced out the window and caught sight of a rusty old gate surrounding a cemetery. The stones were all but covered with moldy-looking splotches of who knew what and some sort of green slime that looked straight from the pages of a horror flick.

GR Blog - Cemetery

A few blocks later, a large white building appeared. The huge black letters on its side wall spelled LOCHCA, followed by an R dangling precariously from what looked to be one nail, and a tenuous RON. Which is exactly what she wished she’d done the second she set foot in Scotland – run. Rod might have fanciful – make that delusional – images of the town where he’d been raised, but all she could see was a place that needed a good PR person to improve and update its sad, sorry, broken down image.

GR Blog - Lochcarron Hotel

The town was comprised of a long row of houses on one side, with a sidewalk, a greenbelt, and the lake on the other.

GR Blog - Loch Carron park

Rod pulled into a parking spot and came around to open the door for her. The sign on the front of the whitewashed building with blue trim and a slate roof said Waterside Café, Tearoom Takeaway. There were round picnic tables with bright blue umbrellas over the top in front. Rod straddled the bench of one, and motioned for her to have a seat.

GR Blog - Waterside Cafe

“Ye can go in and look at the menu board on the wall if ye like, or wait. They’ll bring ye a menu in a minute.”

“You don’t need one?”

“Nae. They know what I want.”

“How could they?”

“I’m a regular.”

“And you have the same thing every time?”

“For lunch, Stornoway Black Pudding Stack. It’s layered with apples and Stilton cheese. Pure dead brilliant.”

GR Blog - Stornoway

 “M’Lady? M’Lady? Are ye here?” Valan MacKenzie stood at the window where his wife had fallen to her death 500 years earlier and started to sing her favorite song in the hope she would come to him.

When bluebells start to bloom each spring, I’ll come to ye. My love I’ll bring.

My heart for ye, it always breaks. But sadness will nae overtake.

For hope lives on in each new day. My love for ye will find its way.

GR Blog - bluebells

Rod was holding two large china plates. “I took the liberty of getting some essentials since ye were asleep when we reached the grocery. I thought ye’d enjoy trying a full Scottish breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast. I skipped the haggis and the black pudding on yer plate since ye seemed a bit squeamish about them yesterday, but the rest should be-”

Her stomach had started to roil at the word eggs. It wasn’t that she disliked eggs, but the thought of eating such a huge breakfast when she was stressed out and in an unfamiliar place and it wasn’t even breakfast time where she was from…

GR Blog - breakfast

They walked through the laburnum archway he and his da had planted a decade earlier. The slender yellow fronds were just starting to fade.

GR Blog - Laburnum Arch

A minute later, Katelyn came flouncing down the steps of the blue and white house where Colin’s office was located. He’d never met anyone – man or woman – with so much attitude.

GR Blog - Blue House

The taller one smiled. “Is Sea Worthy booked for the rest of the afternoon or are you free? We were hoping to see Kilt Rock and Portree from the sea.”

GR Blog - PortreeGR Blog - Portree Harbor  GR Blog - Kilt Rock

 

“Do ye like fish? I’ve two nicely smoked haddock filets that I picked up in Portree this afternoon. My mother used to make something called Haddock Mornay. It’s been years, but I think I can remember how to make the sauce.”

Katelyn looked up and smiled faintly. Aye, the lass was warming up to him awright.

“My mum would make a roux and then stir a wee bit of garlic salt and some buttery, soft white Cheddar from the Isle of Arran into the cream. If ye’re a fan of fish, the taste of the Mornay sauce, o’er a bit of mash, is pure dead brilliant.”

GR Blog - Haddock Mornay

Rod tried to put Katelyn out of his mind as he walked back to the cottage. The deep, mossy scents of the forest floor, the sun-warmed pine needles, and the last remnants of the bluebells filled his nostrils with the familiar scents he loved so much. He could have spent all evening in the woods.

GR Blog - bluebells and buttercups.jpg

Katelyn twirled slowly, not willing to miss a single degree of the panorama spread out in front of her. “Thank you so much for bringing me here. I can’t imagine a place more beautiful than this one.” She peeked through the lacey fronds of Scotch pines and Douglas firs that stretched from blue waters to bluer skies.

    GR Blog - Loch Carron

Rod put one arm around her shoulder and pointed with the other. “See the big white house on the other side of the loch? That’s Stromeferry, where my grandpa’s ferry used to operate.”

GR Blog - Stromferry

Katelyn looked past the feathery fir trees and the hillside covered in bluebells, and the buttercups in bloom, and caught a glimpse of the sky. Moody, grey, towering clouds cast shadows into each valley, every fold of the hillside, turning sunshine to gloom. She felt as unsettled as a changeling, which she might as well believe in now that she’d met a pair of ghosts and God.

She could have stood with her neck arched, looking up at the roiling clouds, forever. It wasn’t because they were beautiful, or even captivating. They were on the move, ever-changing. They were frighteningly unpredictable. They were out of control, so various and sundry that one couldn’t be sure what was going to happen from minute to minute say nothing about tomorrow. Just like her life.

 

GR Blog - Clouds

I hope you’ll read GOLDEN ROD when it comes out next month! Although you’ll see a few familiar faces from my first four Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it’s not necessary to read any of them to enjoy GOLDEN ROD.

The only way Katelyn O’Neal can save her niece’s life is to ruin Rod Mackenzie’s. One 600-year-old Scottish castle. A rightful heir. A legal heir. Two desperate ghosts. GOLDEN ROD by Sherrie Hansen. Coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

Golden Rod Front Cover Final

My love of bluebells is no secret.

Bluebells

They bloom in the woods near my B&B every year in late April or early May.

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I’ve watched their pink and purple buds turn into intense, periwinkle blue flowers, then fade to a soft, sky blue, since I was a little girl.

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I’ve written a book named Blue Belle. The B&B and tea house I’ve owned for 25 years is called the Blue Belle Inn.

BlueBelle 2016

Familiar as bluebells are to me, I’ve recently learned a few new lessons while walking through the bluebell wood.

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It’s possible to be broken, bent, and beautiful at the same time.  One most likely leads to the other, like the beauty of a mosaic made from broken pieces.

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You can focus on the beauty of a place, or the ugliness. Stuff happens. It’s your choice what you dwell on.

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For every hill you struggle to climb, there’s an easy cruise down the other side, and a beautiful view from the top besides.

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Even when you feel hollow and empty inside, you’re a thing of beauty to someone who needs shelter from the wind.

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Finding your own little niche to grow in is one of life’s greatest gifts.

Bluebells - log

No matter how bad you have it, someone else always has it worse.

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Being front and center isn’t always the best place to be. Wallflowers are much less likely to get stepped on than flowers that grow in the middle of a pathway.

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You can lift your eyes upward to the tree tops, or follow the shadows down into the valley.  Your choice.

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Being uprooted is never fun, but there’s always a bright spot on the horizon.

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Sunshine or shadow – it makes all the difference.

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Some people live lengthy lives in obscurity, others are chosen to be loved intensely for but a moment.

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Some are fortunate enough to find a clear, straight, well-marked path.

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Everything you do and say is a reflection on the things you love most – the real you.

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Sometimes the path winds  so much that you can’t see what’s around the bend. But that’s okay. It’s good to be surprised.

bluebells - winding path

I’m in a time of transition in my life. Are you? Wandering in the bluebell wood, I was reminded that there’s no better way to find your way than in new lessons learned from the comfort of the familiar.

There’s no better way to spend a wintery day than to plan a summer vacation. My home in northern Iowa got over ten inches of snow on Thursday night and Friday. The murder mystery we had scheduled for that night was cancelled due to 40 mph wind gusts and blizzard conditions. Thankfully, we didn’t lose power, because I was busy online, reserving rooms and planning our late May, early June trek through Wales, Ireland and southern England.

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Now that Mark and I are both in our 60’s, our goal is to take an adventurous vacation every year for as long as we’re able. Everyone we know says, do it now, while you can. We’re following their advice. We don’t want to be one of those couples who works too hard and waits too long to see the world, only to lose their health, their mobility, or one or the other of them to death.

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Last year, when we were in Scotland, we walked 7 to 10 miles nearly every day of our 2 1/2 week trip in order to see things like the Fairy Glen, the cows grazing on Claigan Coral Beach on Skye, the Fairy Pools, the ancient Standing Stones on Arran, the ruins of Findlater Castle on Cullen Bay, and Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.

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In Romania, we went up and down hundreds of flights of stairs  to see Dracula’s Bran Castle. We strained our muscles to the max  to walk down steep inclines to the sea in Cornwall to see Tintagel Castle and again, in Clovelly, Devon. It wasn’t easy because we’re not in the greatest shape, but we did it, and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we can.

Romania - Castle

This year, we’re off to Wales, Ireland and the south of England. We got a great price on our airline tickets, and have pinned down where we’re staying. Our first three nights will be spent exploring the coastal paths, beaches and sunsets of southwest Wales at Cardigan, where we’ll be staying in an restored, 18th century, attic apartment.

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We’ll move on to Northern Wales, where our home for three nights will be Glyn House, in Capel Curig, in Snowdonia in the Welsh mountains.

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From there, we’ll catch the ferry to Ireland, a new country for both of us. We’ll see the historic area north of Dublin from Hollow Stream B&B in the village of Kingscourt, which boasts a pub with live Celtic music the first Friday of the moth. Perfect timing!

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Our remaining time in Ireland will find us in a luxurious 1930’s home near Croom village in Limerick, a stone house in Killarney, Kerry, from which we can visit Dingle, on the far southwest coast of Ireland, and a 250 year old Georgian house in Cashel, Tipperary.

After ferrying from Dublin back to Wales, we’ll spend one indulgent night at a Georgian restaurant with rooms on the Llyn Peninsula on the far west side of Wales.

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On our first night back in England, we’ll be cozied up in a 17th century Cotswold stone farmhouse home in Evesham, close to Chipping Campden and Stratford upon Avon, and more important, my cousin Sarah and her family in Bicester. The B&B is beautiful, but it was the rare Soay sheep they keep that called out to me and said, “Boooook.”

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Our second to the last stop of the trip is just north of Devon, near the southern shore of England. If I don’t come home, this is where I’ll probably be…

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Our last two nights will be in a sweet Victorian cottage in Kent, somewhat near Gatwick Airport for ease of travel. We tried to think of ease and comfort when making a lot of our reservations… queen or king beds, no steep staircases or ladders leading to loft bedrooms, quiet countryside locations with plenty of parking, pretty gardens for relaxing,  two or three nights per location, and views to the west so I can watch the sun set.

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Even more important, I tried to find places that captured my imagination. As I learned when we stumbled upon St. Conan’s Kirk in Loch Awe, Scotland, an idea for a book (Wild Rose) can spring up from the most unanticipated locales. The same thing happened when I heard “Nathan” playing the pipes in front of Eilean Donan Castle and caught a glimpse of the pirate boat in the cove (Shy Violet and Sweet William).

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It was an old legend on a castle tour that primed the pump for Golden Rod, coming this summer.

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I’m not sure what about, or even if this trip will result in a new book, but it wouldn’t surprise me. My mind is already tantalized after choosing the places we’ll be staying. I can’t wait! If it’s still cold and snowy where you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking about summer for a few minutes. If my preview didn’t do the trick, pick up a book and escape to a faraway place where the wildflowers are blooming and a summer breeze is blowing across the Atlantic. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

Until then, mar sin leat. 

In real life, it’s called a bad case of the blues, losing hope, or hitting rock bottom.   In a book, it’s called the black moment – that devastating culmination of circumstances when all momentum comes screeching to a halt, when you think things are so bad that they can’t possibly get any worse, and then, they do, that time when all hope is lost.

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The thing that saddens me is that, whereas the characters in the books we write and read almost always come around to a happy ending, in real life, when we come to a dead end, we sometimes (often?) really do give up and walk away from the things that could bring us true happiness.

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We all know that summer comes for only a season, and eventually, must ease into fall – which leads to the desolate cold of winter.

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In some cases, it’s even given a name – SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. I’ve been prone to it for years. It can be depressing and debilitating. It can mean death to your dreams and the end to your goals.

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In my book, Sweet William, Lyndsie and William seem to have finally overcome the issues that are keeping them apart when tragedy rips their dreams to shreds. The scenes that follow are some of the blackest I’ve even written, but because of the pain they have to work through, their joy is deeper, and the ending, more sweet than any before.

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When we hit a wall, we have two choices… we can crawl into a cave, cry ourselves to sleep, and settle in to hibernate for the winter, and maybe beyond.

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Or, we can spend our winters looking for bright spots.

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Because there are rainbows in winter, and rainbows in deserts, and flowers and dashes of color where you might least expect them, and inspiration in odd places.

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And the sun keeps shining even on the coldest days.

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It may be blotted out, or obscured for a time, but it is there, giving warmth and melting the snow away from your heart, and making you ready for spring.

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The next time you feel hopeless and blue, read a book, maybe even THE Book.

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Horrible things will happen, maybe even things that are worse than whatever is making you sad.

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And then, wonder of wonder, there will be a resurrection, and out of the ashes will come new life, and somehow, you will find a happy ending.

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Have faith. There are rainbows even in the desert.

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One of the highlights of 2016 for me has been that I’ve started to paint. I won’t say I learned to paint, because except for a 3-4 minute online tutorial on how to paint flowers and leaves, I haven’t had a teacher. I have had a lot of inspiration and encouragement, from both people and places.

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A favorite quote from my favorite author, Maud Hart Lovelace, who wrote the Betsy Tacy books –  “Isn’t it mysterious to begin a new journal like this? I can run my fingers through the fresh clean pages but I cannot guess what the writing on them will be.” (from Betsy in Spite of Herself). For me, the new year has long been the time to start a new diary, write the first words in a blank journal, or begin a new book. I’ve always had a wild imagination, an abundance of curiosity, and plenty of thoughts and opinions. But painting has taken me to a whole new layer of creativity. Here’s why I like to think of 2017 as a blank canvas.

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When we write, we start out with white pages. When I paint, I begin with a stretched linen canvas, painted black. It provides a good base, a medium for blending, and the perfect contrast and background for other colors. Black separates the colors and keeps them from becoming muddled. It gives the painting a sense of unity. Unless you’re a lot younger and much more pristine than I am, it seems fitting to start out with a canvas that’s been woven, wet, starched and stretched, maybe even painfully so.

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To me, the black represents the past – triumphs and treasures, mistakes I’ve made and ongoing struggles. Much as I might wish that some of those events never even happened, I realize that they’re the foundation of who I am, and that the finished painting will be many times more beautiful because of the richness of my past experiences and the things I’ve learned along the way. The wonderful thing about painting is that I can start out fresh and cover the background with colorful new dreams and experiences.

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I can paint whatever I like on my canvases. If I don’t like how they turn out, I can choose new colors, or alter the lines, or even start completely over again. There are no rules, no rights or wrongs, no preconceived notions to worry about. It’s all good.

Painting - Northern Lights

 

I don’t begin to know what 2017 will hold. I hope to see Golden Rod finished and published. All things considered, I feel a great sense of anticipation about what the year will bring. I wouldn’t be human if it wasn’t mixed with a little trepidation about what lies ahead. There are some significant milestones in store for me – a big birthday, and the 25th anniversary of the opening of my bed and breakfast and tea house.

BBI - Spring 2012

The important thing is that 2017 will be filled with all kind of opportunities – to choose the high road, focus on the good, to choose hope over despair, and people over technology. Don’t be afraid to add some color to the mix. Create some new hues, try something you’ve never done before. Travel to new places and sing a new song or two. For the rest – “Brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. “ (Philippians 4:8)

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Wishing you many blessings and many colorful landscapes in 2017. It’s a blank canvas – pick up your brush and paint.

 

 

 

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Golden Rod – New Release!

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Night and Day

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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