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Have you ever noticed that in many novels, the mothers of the main characters are conveniently vacationing in some remote spot on the other side of the globe, or even dead? Having grown up in a family where my mother and grandmothers, even my aunts and cousins, were involved in almost every aspect of my life, I have a hard time relating to a world without a mother’s magic.

Gloria Grandma

When I was 9 years old, I joined 4-H and got sent to Aunt Shirley’s house (my dad’s sister, who is married to my mom’s brother) to learn how to sew. I remember getting into arguments with my mother when she told me a seam was crooked and had to be ripped out. When Aunt Shirley told me something needed to be redone, I very meekly said, “Okay,” and did it over until I got it right. From that time on, I made most of my own clothes.

Going to Dorothy’s Fabric Store in downtown Austin, Minnesota to pick out fabric and notions was an adventure that was shared with the extended family, too. The first thing Mom did when we found a time when we could go to town – preferably without my little sisters and brothers – was to call my grandmas and aunts and invite them to meet us at the fabric store. I can still remember them crowding around me, holding this and that bolt of fabric close to my face, giving their opinions on what color looked best on me and reminding me that vertical stripes were the most flattering to my figure. Which fabric would work well with the pattern we had selected and what kind of cloth would hang right and stand up well under repeated washings were important considerations, too. Dry-clean-only fabric wasn’t even considered because of the extra cost of upkeep. Anything on the clearance rack was given double consideration. Their favorite materials were the rainbow selection of polyester double knits, considered a modern miracle of inventions because the seams didn’t ravel, it didn’t have to be ironed, and it was practically indestructible. When the fun part came – deciding which buttons would accent the fabric to its best advantage and what kind of zipper was easiest to put in – options were discussed at length, a truly matriarchal affair.

Grandma Victoria and Auntie Lu

Perhaps the fact that my mom, grandmas, and aunts were so involved in my life would have driven some teenagers to madness, but it made me feel surrounded by love, special, and deeply cared for. To this day, I have trouble making decisions by myself and almost always call my mom or dad to see what they think I should do before making a major purchase. I still think about calling my grandmas for advice when I’m stumped even though they’ve been gone for over a decade. I’m blessed to have both parents living and hope it stays that way for a good long time.

Blog - KY - Mom and Dad

As for writers who leave mothers out of their fictional equations and plotlines, I would say that they’re missing out on some of the best fodder for character development – and yes, conflict – there is. Mothers and daughters have a very unique relationship. They love, they adore, they disagree, they despise. The imprint our mothers make on us, good or bad, affects us more deeply than anything else in life. And what is more endearing and heroic than a son who loves and respects his mother? Mothers know their children inside and out. They meddle. They make us laugh – they break our hearts. Mothers are our biggest cheerleaders and our worst critics. They’re not afraid to say what they think, and they sometimes don’t approve of the choices we make. And they show us the true meaning of love, over and over and over again.

Pansy

In Sweet William, Lyndsie’s mother (Kelly, who you’ll remember from Wild Rose), and her Aunt Rose, are very influential figures who chide, defend, and lend a listening ear. William’s mother, who is convinced Lyndsie made everyone at their family gathering sick when she served them her homemade smoked haddock pies, takes an instant dislike to the lass her son is in love with, putting William in a very awkward position. To see how it all ends, you’ll have to read the book.

Sweet William

Mothers really do make the world go round. Without them, nothing would be as it is – we wouldn’t exist. A mother’s magical presence, woven into the plotline of a novel, may not be as high intrigue or titillating as  murder and mayhem, but it can tear at the soul and tickle the heartstrings like no other relationship. Grandmas

Grace Corner - Bleeding hearts 2

If you sometimes take your mother for granted, be sure to give her a hug and tell her how much you love her this Mother’s Day.  Next time you read a book, think about how much impact a mother has on what’s happening between the main characters. There are fictional mothers we love, and those we hate, and those we feel lukewarm about, but whatever their make-up, they’re one of the – maybe the most – pivotal, primal component in our lives.

Cherish your mom, today and always.

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.

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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.

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I wear a lot of different hats in my life as a writer, the owner and manager of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, a pastor’s wife, and a daughter, sister and aunt. And I don’t get it from strangers. My Grandma Hansen loved wearing hats. During the depression, she and my Great-Grandma Danny used to make matching mother daughter dresses out of feed sacks. They would go to the feed store with Grandpa and root through the pile of feed sacks until they found enough in the right fabric to make two dresses. They sewed the dresses on a treadle sewing machine. I remember pumping my short legs back and forth on it when I was a girl. Grandma told me once that she never minded wearing a feed sack dress as long as she had a pretty hat to make it an outfit.

Rose - hat

So she would take a few pennies of the money she raised selling the eggs her chicken laid (their only source of cash during the depression) and drive to the Millinery Shoppe in St. Ansgar to buy a hat.

Zion - Hollyhocks

Grandma Hansen was a multi-tasker, and a wearer of many hats, just like I am. She cooked enough for a threshing crew even when there wasn’t one, had a huge garden, entertained family, friends and neighbors on a regular basis, taught a Sunday School class, and always seemed to find time for a game of Aggravation or Sorry with the grandchildren.  She taught us how to make hollyhock dolls (with pretty little hats) and pick eggs and butcher chickens. She was a woman of many talents. But no matter how busy she was, she always had time to tell us a story.

Grace Corner - Bleeding hearts 2

When I think of how tired Grandma must have been at the end of a long hard day washing clothes on a wringer washer, sewing on a treadle machine, cooking over a wood cook stove and standing on her head out in the garden, it amazes me that she had the energy to tell us bedtime stories, And never just one… My favorites included Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, The Little Red Hen, The Three Little Pigs, and Chicken Little with Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky, Goosey Loosey, and Turkey Lurkey. There were also stories about our dad when he and his brother and sister were little. And there were stories from the Bible, stories about Jesus, and people he knew, like Nicodemus, Peter, and Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Grandma wove her stories with Billy Goat Gruff’s deep, scary voice, and Goldilocks sweet soprano. She held us spellbound for hours, telling stories that were new each time we heard them even though we had heard them hundreds of times.

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So it seems that I got not only my love of hats from my Grandma Hansen, but the gift of storytelling. As a writer of novels, I’ve spun tales of pure imagination in Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, Merry Go Round, Love Notes, Thistle Down and Wild Rose that I hope would make her proud.

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When I put on my chef’s hat and go to work in the kitchen of my B&B, I tell people how the Blue Belle Inn came to be, and how I concocted their favorite recipes, how I met my husband and what interesting guests we’ve had that week.

Sherrie - Mark

I really do wear a hat to church most Sundays, when I dabble at being a pastor’s wife. And I tell the old, old story with my hands and voice, as I play the piano and help lead worship. When I’m with my nieces and sometimes my nephew, I tell stories about their daddy when he was a baby, and about what happened in our family before he was born. I’m 16 years older than my brother, and someone has to pass down the stories and legends and funny family tales. Who better than I, the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter for generations back? It’s a sacred calling.

Danish Girl

I used to wish I had one outstanding talent that would propel me to some sort of greatness. I play the piano plenty well enough for our small church, but a concert pianist, I’ll never be. I was a straight A student, but I’m no rocket scientist. I am good at a small dabbling of different things instead of being great at one thing.

Sherrie - hat Sherrie - beach

Sherrie - pirateSherrie - porchSherrie - dreadsSherrie - Zion

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided I like wearing different hats – my purple one to parties, my velvet one to church, my straw hat to tea and my floppy Florida hat with the big brim to the beach. What I once rued, I’m now thankful for. I’m a storyteller, a preserver of legends, a mind set free to fly anywhere in the world my imagination may take me.

Sherrie library

So thank you, Grandma Hansen, for telling me about Indians and horse-drawn sleighs and one room schoolhouses and eloping to the Little Brown Church in the Vail, and all the stories of your life. My hat’s off to you.

I started reading romance novels in earnest about 18 years ago, while visiting friends on Prince Edward Island.  Before long, a pattern began to take shape… The heroines were almost always young, beautiful, career women, living in a big city. These women were most often naive, innocent virgins in their early twenties who were struggling financially and trying to succeed in a career dominated by men. Heroes were typically much older – in their late thirties, and rich, powerful, men of the world. The men were successful in their careers, experienced in lovemaking (having been with a multitude of partners), and often had a “bad boy” persona. Siblings were almost non-existent, and parents were distant, and at the time of the story, were often vacationing in Europe or conveniently dead.

While worlds filled with characters of this sort were fascinating at first (What woman hasn’t wished at some point in their life that they would get swept off their feet by a wickedly handsome, wealthy man with a mansion on the coast and an apartment in Paris? Who hasn’t dreamed of a world where you can do whatever you want to without having to worry about the fact that it’s probably going to break your parents heart, who will find out because your siblings ratted you out?)

But fun as these little fantasies were, I longed for stories about people who were more like me, plot lines that I could relate to, men and women whose happily ever endings were meaningful because, on some level, they were like me. At the time, I was single, in my mid to late thirties, divorced, slightly cynical, maybe even a little jaded. I was not a virgin, nor was I beautiful. I had gone on a few dates with a man who owned a BMW and a Mercedes convertible, but alas, he had neither an estate on the East or West Coast nor a summer home in Europe. My job was important to me, but family and friends were far more important. I had 2 brothers and 2 sisters and my parents – even two of my grandmothers – were alive and well. In fact, I had learned at the world-wise age of 22 while on a train to see the Passion Play in Oberamergau, Germany, when a man from the grain elevator in my hometown spotted me and said, “Aren’t you Everett Hansen’s daughter from Austin, Minnesota?” that wherever I went in the world, someone would always know who I was.  Which meant I couldn’t get by with anything.  I remain quite certain to this day that if I were ever to have a torrid affair with the a fore mentioned wickedly-handsome, sinfully-wealthy man of my occasional dreams, that one of my aunts, uncles, or many cousins would spot me, and my parents would know by nightfall.

While it was fun to periodically drift off to a fantasy-world filled with people totally different than I, it soon lost its luster. A friend recommended I read LaVyrle Spencer’s novels. She was from Minnesota, and her books were full of honest-to-goodness, down-to-earth, real-life characters with all kinds of small-town, Midwestern family twists and turns. Historical and contemporary – I could relate to and loved LaVyrle’s books.

When I eventually started to write my own novels, I followed suit.  For me, home is where your story begins. Living in the Midwest, surrounded by family-based accountability, love, interference, sharing, guilt trips, support, and yes, sometimes meddling, how could I possibly write a book that didn’t include those elements? What can I say? If one or both of your parents are on Facebook for the sole purpose of keeping tabs on you and other family members, you would probably like my books. If your family tree has many limbs and branches, and if you like realistic stories about struggles with family and faith by characters who aren’t perfect-looking or rich, you’re probably my reader. If you like characters who missed out on God’s perfect will for their life years ago and are down to Plan C, D or even E; if you can relate to men and women who are slightly disillusioned with how their lives have turned out but ever hopeful that miracles can happen, then you will probably like my books. If you’re from a small town, but have a big family, you’re probably my reader. If you know what “Heard it on the grapevine” means, if there are no secrets in your family (well, very few) and if you like the kind of tangled webs that result from brothers and sisters and moms and dads being an integral part of each others lives, then you’d probably enjoy reading my stories.

Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round are all full of local color, family interactions, and honest, this-could-really-happen situations.  In my humble opinion, when someone like me – and probably you – believable people – find true happiness in the midst of  their everyday and occasionally extraordinary problems,  it fills me with hope. If it can happen to them, it can happen to me. What is more exciting, more comforting, more thrilling?

I’m at my desk, looking at a picture frame that includes the graduation photos of my Grandma Victoria and her sweetheart, my Grandpa (Harold) Lightly, and my Grandma (Lorna) Hansen and her dapper beau, my Grandpa (Albert) Hansen. Love stories that beget love stories that inspired love stories.   Home is definitely where my story started. How about you?

I received a very warm welcome from Erik and friends at the Danish American Center in Minneapolis yesterday. I spoke about “Night and Day” and its Danish connections, our recent trip to Denmark, and the creative process of writing a book.

My first book, Night and Day (It's Midnight in Minnesota and Daybreak in Denmark...)

The Melting Moments (little Danish butter cookies with almond frosting) I took were a great hit and the book signing went well! My Mom and Dad went along and so did my husband, Mark.

I told several family stories and told about my niece making Danish aebleskivers when I was talking about new generations of Danes. I also told them about the delicious pork roast with the crackled skin and brown gravy that my Danish cousin’s daughter, Anne-Sofie, who is 21 years old, made for us when we were in Hillerod last month. (Red cabbage and new potatoes, too!) My mouth still waters thinking about it! It was so fun getting to know another generation of Danish relatives, who will hopefully keep the family relationships and stories going strong for another several decades!

My Danish cousin, Helle, me, Anna-Sofie, her daughter, and Boyda, her mother, who wrote letters to my Grandma Victoria for decades.

Another of Maren Jensen’s descendants (my Mom’s second cousin, Shirley) also came to hear my presentation and bought a copy of Night and Day for each of her brothers and sisters. It was a great day, and I enjoyed meeting all the fellow Danes at Danebo! I even met a fellow Betsy-Tacy / Maud Hart Lovelace fan!

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PLUM TART IRIS – New Release

Seaside Daisy

NEW RELEASE!

Daybreak (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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