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

BBInn - heavy snow smaller

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

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

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

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

Scot - Kellie flowers

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

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

Scot - Jane's House

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

Scot - Leven

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

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

Baldners Dad

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

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

Rose - houses

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

Scot - Kellie Castle

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

Scot - Culross house 2

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

Scot - Colross

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

Scot - Culross square

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

Scot - Windmill

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

Scot - Peat Inn

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

Scot - Culross house

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

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There’s an old expression in our family – you didn’t learn that from strangers – that I’ve heard said many times over the course of my life.  Some people say, well, that nut didn’t fall far from the tree. Same idea. When I was 9 or 10, I thought I was so different from the rest of my family that I must surely be adopted. Now that I’m a bit older, I can see how closely certain personality traits passed down through generations of Hansens, Lightlys, Paulsons, and Millers are intertwined, and how much they’ve affected who I am and how I live my life.

Danish Girl

My family history and the tales of my growing up years may not be as story-worthy as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, but our Little House on the Big Farm was bursting with colorful characters that have and continue to impact my life in ways I’m both oblivious to and very aware – the perfect storm of nature and nurture. I feel a great sense of connectedness to prior generations of my family, especially since moving back from Colorado Springs to northern Iowa / southern Minnesota where I grew up. Here are 10 things I didn’t learn from strangers.

Food - Black Forest

1. Cooking Up a Storm:  I started out the week making a big batch of Grandma Hansen’s Chicken Pie with Grandma Victoria’s Baking Powder Biscuits dropped on top for a church gathering at the Blue Belle Inn. Later in the week, I found a family recipe for Scottish Ginger Snaps in a cookbook and made them at a cooking seminar. Grandma had labeled them “Grandma’s Ginger Snaps” which means it was my great-great grandma’s recipe. Whether it was Grandma Vic’s famous Sunday roast beef dinners and homemade apple pie, or whatever goodies Grandma Hansen happened to be cooking up for her family, neighbors, or the occasional thrashing crew, I was taught how to cook it up right. And make lots of it. Besides, it was either stay inside and cook, or go out and drive tractor, which I did not like to do.

baby-blue-cinderella

2. No Matter How Tired You Are, There’s Always Time for a Bedtime Story – or Two, or Three:  Sitting around during the day, reading, when you should be working, is frowned upon in our family ;-), but at bedtime, that all changes. My Grandma Hansen was one of the best storytellers I know, and her funny voices for the Little Red Hen, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs still play themselves over and over in my mind. I follow the lessons learned even today, working hard at my bed and breakfast all summer and fall, making hay while the sun shines, and telling stories – writing novels – in the winter when things are slow.

Iowa - sunset 2010

3. Being Stubborn Has Its Perks:  Danes (I’m half Danish) are a stubborn lot. But along with sheer willfulness, which can be a bad thing, comes tenacity and dodged persistence and stick-to-itiveness and the very building blocks that have helped me achieve my goals, get published, run a successful business and more. Don’t be a quitter. Never give up. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Remember the Little Engine That Could saying I think I can, I think I can, over and over again until he could and did? Zion - Sunflower 2013 Sun

4. Keep Looking Up:  My Great-Grandma Paulson wrote these profound words in my autograph book when I was ten or eleven. I knew what she meant – keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s the first rule, and the thing that makes everything else come together.

Mopar

5. Mopars Rule:  Okay, so I strayed from the fold when I was young and foolish. We try to forget those years… the Toyota Corolla, the Mazda 323. Today, I’m back where I belong. I drive a PT Cruiser. My brother drives a Dodge Ram. My parents are on their third or fourth Chrysler mini-van. What can I say? We all tend to vote the same way on election day, too.

Scotland flowers by the sea

6. Getting Something for Nothing is One of the Greatest Joys on Earth:  Found treasures, whether they be bargains or cast-offs nobody wanted bought for a little bit of nothing at a Crazy Day sale, or simple gifts from the earth like agates or fossils or a pretty red maple leaf pressed flat in a book or a little cluster of acorns, are some of the best things in life. If you haven’t tried it, you should – still. The Hansen way to thrill-seek.

Scotland Fishing Shack

7. One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure:  I can’t walk like an Egyptian (good dancing genes do not run in our family), but I can talk like an auctioneer, or at least I could when I was little. My Grandpa Hansen took me to so many auctions that I picked up the lingo. More importantly, I learned about repurposing and adaptive reuse, and refinishing, and respect for the past – all things that hold me in good stead even today. I grew up snuggling under quilts made from worn out wool suits, watching Grandma working in aprons and wearing dresses made from flour and feed sacks. Water was used at least five times before it was thrown out on the garden to make the strawberry patch grow. And yes, I firmly believe that tin foil has three or four lives. And you should ask me some day about the things my Dad makes with discarded doors. Waste not, want not.

KY - staircase

8. Worrying Doesn’t Help, But We Do It Anyway:  There are several genes that I wish I had gotten from my family, but didn’t – the Fix-It Gene, and the Green Thumb Gene, for example. I did, however, get the Worry Wart Gene. I try not to succumb, but if you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

Food - Cookies Noah

9.  The Compulsion To Have 10 of Something When You Really Only Have 9:  This one was my husband’s idea. I think the word he’s looking for is perfectionism. He’s right. In my world, everything needs to be just so. Neat. Tidy. Even Numbers. It’s a disease.  But seriously, if you’re going to do something, why not do it right?

HansenFamily2

10.  The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together:  It was very important to my Grandma Hansen that we cousins got to play together. She facilitated countless family get-togethers and events where we were all together. Our family isn’t perfect – we have our share of black sheep, and family members who go their own way. But when we go to Mom and Dad’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s a joyous occasion, sharing not only food, but memories, and laughing about things we did when we were kids. The more nieces and nephews who show up, the better. I’m thankful that the glue that holds our family together is good and sticky. I think it’s called love, and I come by it naturally.

Sunset - Zion

Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that my husband and I recently lost the tree in front of the parsonage where we live in Hudson, Iowa.

Zion - Tree 14 branch

So what is it about losing this tree that traumatized me? In the strictest sense, this tree wasn’t even mine, since our church owns our house and our yard. I’ve only lived here for two years. It’s not as though I grew up with this tree.  I have no idea who planted it and I didn’t even know it existed until recently.

Zion - tree

But we had a special bond, this tree and I.  I started admiring its beauty and photographing it even before I knew its days were numbered.

Zion - Tree 14

Once its great arms began to sag and its trunk wasn’t able to endure the stress of blizzards and winds and storms, I tried my best to memorialize it.

Zion 2014 Tree 2

Our Church council president has already promised to plant a new tree come spring.

Zion 2014 Tree

The wind is howling again tonight, and I am secretly glad that there are no more creaking and cracking, rubbing and splintering noises outside my window.

Zion 1-14 Tree

The men who took the tree said it wouldn’t have stood much longer. I was afraid it was going to fall on the house. It is good that it is gone.

Zion - 2013 Sunset

It’s branches will provide warmth for several families next winter.  It’s wood will not go to waste. Small comfort, but something.

Zion - 2014 cold house

Our house looks lonely and bare without the tree, and sunsets are just not the same. But I know it was the right thing to do.

Zion tree split

Sometimes things just can’t be fixed. And that is the real problem with me and this tree.

Sunset - Good Friday

I like things to be perfect, for every thing and every one to have a happy ending.

Zion - tree down

There has come a time in my life, where I am starting to realize that there are more sad endings than happy. There are a whole list of things that I can’t do as well as I used to, and will never be able to again.  I’m getting old. I’m on a downhill slide.  I haven’t cracked yet, but I may – probably will – one day soon.

Zion - tree crack

Silly old tree – yet its loss affected me. Replaceable. Botanical. Just a tree.

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It stood its ground, gave leafy green shade. It witnessed more than a century of sunsets and salvation.

Now, its time is done. It’s time to step aside and let another tree do its job.

Zion - fall steeple 2013

Now lest you think I’m totally depressed, there is one thing that I think I keep getting better and better at, and that is writing. It’s fun, as I age, to have a skill – a passion – that’s still  growing. The things that I’ve seen as I’ve stood, watching half a century of sunsets, are a network of branches that keep spreading wider and wider. And the more I know, and experience – the greater my understanding, the better.  So that’s the end of my tree. But not of me.

Zion 1-14 Sunset

“Be thankful for the bad things in life. For they open your eyes to the good things you weren’t paying attention to before.”  I saw this quote on Facebook a few days ago.  The photo it was attached to was of Kermit the Frog leaning against a pillar. I don’t know if this is a quote from Kermit or if whomever posted it just thought it was a good match.

Zion 2013 Sunset shadows

It did make me think. At our community Thanksgiving service last Sunday, my husband spoke about a song called, Forgive Us, Lord, For Shallow Thankfulness, which came from a Missouri Synod Lutheran hymnal. It resonated with me because, probably like many of us, I tend to get excited about things like getting fiber optic internet access, my latest hat or earrings, a big night at work where everything goes smoothly and I actually make money instead of losing it, getting to play the piano with my musical friends, and things like having a whole day to myself when I can hang out in my nightgown and write all day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but…

Sherrie and Mark 2013

I take the really good, important things in my life for granted. Shelter, enough food to fill my stomach, a family that loves me, a husband who is a dear, friends who care about me, my nice, blue PT cruiser and my nicely decorated homes and … how quickly I forget to enjoy  and give thanks for these very precious things.

Guest Room

And when bad things happen or things don’t go the way I’d hoped they would, like most of us, I tend to grumble instead of giving thanks.

Zion 2013 Stormy

If I go one step further and look at the really big picture – I am embarrassed that I don’t feel more gratitude for the most important things – the fact that God loves me and gave His son to die for me, and that He is always by my side, through good times and bad. The fact that I am loved by the Lord Creator, Risen Savior of all is certainly something to be thankful for, yet, so very often, I live my life as though the stone, unrolled, still lay across the door.

Zion 2013 Frost Close

When bad things happen, we’re often jolted into realizing what’s really important, and feeling appreciation for what really matters. My husband tells the story of a study about a man who won the lottery and a man who endured a horrible car accident and many months / years of healing and rehabilitation. The study looked at who was happier after ten years, and surprisingly, it was the man who survived the horrific car accident.

Zion - bowed head

I wish you nothing but happiness on this Thanksgiving Day, but the next time your day, week or month is frustrating instead of ideal, and your microwave dies and your glasses break and your blog disappears and won’t post, I hope that we are (I am) able to humbly give thanks with a grateful heart and remember I Thessalonians 5:18 – in ALL circumstances, give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving!

My books aren’t written about the most earth-shattering events. When you read one of my books, you can be fairly certain that the world isn’t going to end in 24 hours. Life as we know it isn’t going to cease to exist. Murders – at least of anyone you dearly love – aren’t likely and extreme violence is rare. But my characters do learn and grow from the world around them, be it a sleepy little town in the heartland where everybody knows way too much about everybody else, the coldest place in the USA, or a quaint village in Scotland or Denmark. My characters are smart, savvy, and intuitive, They know how to figure things out and make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes it takes them awhile, but in the end, there’s always an ah-ha moment, a reawakening, an eyes-open-wide experience when they finally get it.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]  Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]

Last night, I spoke about my latest books, Thistle Down and Wild Rose, at the library in Hudson, Iowa, where my husband is a pastor. We had only a small crowd, but my photo journey of Scotland on the big screen was well received, the caramel shortbread disappeared very quickly, and I sold 7 books. More importantly, it was good for me to get my slides and my impressions of Scotland organized in to a nice presentation, since my next two books will be set in Tobermory (Blue Belle) and on the Isle of Skye (Shy Violet). If anyone wants a speaker for their library or group, let me know! I’m all set now, as well as being inspired to start working on my Wildflowers of Scotland novels again.

Here’s part of what I spoke about – lessons learned while traveling in Scotland:

1. Don’t stay inside and miss out just because it’s raining a little.

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I’m not recommending that you venture out in a hurricane to see what’s up or become a storm chaser in tornado alley, or go looking for your cows in the middle of a raging blizzard, but so many people miss out on so many opportunities because it’s a little windy or overcast or too hot outside. The day we had designated for golfing St. Andrews, visiting the beautiful gardens on nearby Cambo Estates, and hiking down to the sea on the garden path, was alternately drizzly, and downright sopping wet. Between the 7th and 8th holes of the famous golf course, my husband was so wet that he ducked into the men’s room at the clubhouse, took off his shirt, and crouched under the hand dryer to take the chill off. Would he have missed the probably once in a lifetime chance to golf St. Andrews so he could stay warm and cozy? No way.

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Mark’s sister, Becky and I donned floppy hats and vinyl rain gear, shielded our cameras with a sheet of plastic and slipped at slid over the muddy paths that wound through the walled garden and down to the sea at Cambo Estates.

191 Scotland - Cambo gardensSea2

Were we sorry? No. In fact, here’s another lesson learned.

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2. Colors are brighter on cloudy days and raindrops on roses are one of my favorite things.

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3. When your life appears to be crumbling around you and everything’s in ruins, there’s still beauty to be found. (On the beach at St. Andrews.)

203 Scotland St. Andrews

4. When everything around you feels sad and gray, add a splash of color to the mix and everything will look brighter.

173 Scotland House Blue Door

5. Keep looking up! There’s always a rainbow after the storm.

135 Scotland - Rainbow 5

6. Even the most nondescript things in life look better if you plant a few flowers.

166 Scotland Window boxes

7. Find balance wherever you can. It helps.

205 Scotland - House1

8.  Be thankful for what you have.

209 Scotland - Street in Luss

While I was oohing and aahing over their little stone cottages and thinking they were like something straight out of the pages of a story book, the Scots were loving the photos of my Victorian B&B and saying it looked straight from the pages of a fairy tale.

169 Scotland -- B&B

9. Never judge a book by it’s cover, or a house by it’s formidable exterior. There’s probably something nice and cozy waiting for you inside.

171 Scotland - KirktonBarns.Parlor

10. No matter how impossible the path ahead looks, there is always a way through the mountains – or over whatever’s blocking your way .

199 Scotland - Mountains  195 Scotland Moat  91 Fence - ladder

11. Bloom where you’re planted.

201 Scotland -- Fence

12. Sometimes you have to dig your heels in and be tenacious. If you think you can do it, you probably can.

197 Scotland - Flowers in Stone

13. The road may seem narrow, but there’s always enough room to get where you need to go – somehow.

207 Scotland - Street in Tarbet

14. Pay attention to the little details. All information is useful, and bound to come in handy one day.

13 Scotland - Band in Kilts

15. Keep looking up. (This one bears repeating.) Often, what you see will point you in the direction you need to go.

217 Scotland - Celtic Cross1

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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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