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

My Grandma Hansen is in the center.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Some of my best work and most extraordinary inspirations occur when I fly halfway around the world. I’ve always been a homebody at heart – it is quite traumatic getting ready to leave the nest even for a few days. And don’t get me wrong – I love what I do, and my  day to day work inspires creativity of a different kind, but there is something that opens my heart, mind, and eyes to new possibilities when I am away on vacation.

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When I am at my B&B or at the parsonage with my husband, it is so easy to get caught up in the mundane details of everyday life that I forget to look at the bigger picture. When I fly far far away, I am jolted out of my comfort zone and forced to see the world in a different light.

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New scenery, people and experiences not only intrigue me, they spur my mind to look at the world in a fresh way, and to realize that I and the pesky problems that occasionally plague me are not the life force of the universe, or even the end all to my existence.

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My eyes are opened to new possibilities and different options. It’s freeing.

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Sometimes, what I see makes me more thankful for what I have at home.

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At other times, I see empty houses in need of renovation and abandoned storefronts waiting to be leased and think, I could do this! I could make a life here. I could start over, earn a living, make new friends, be happy here.

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Not that I want to move – well, most of the time – but realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around my business, my frustrations, and my own particular agenda is like magic.

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My short-term problems become inconsequential and my worries fly away and my whole perspective changes.

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Sadly, for various reasons, we have no grand vacation plans for this year. I dream of returning to Scotland, France and Germany. Mark is keen to visit his son in Romania. If we do head east, I would love to see Greece, and Bohemia, where some of my ancestors hailed from.

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But instead, we are grounded by circumstances and obligations, and although we periodically think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we are not there yet.

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I keep hearing the word Staycation being batted around, which seems to refer to the practice of staying at home and relaxing, perhaps doing fun things where you are,  instead of going on a trip.

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But for my husband and I, who live part time in a beautiful B&B, and the rest of the time at a lovely parsonage next to the church where my husband is a pastor, the concept doesn’t work very well. Since both of the places where we live are also the places where we work, I just don’t see a relaxing Staycation happening.

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So – won’t you join me for a Dreamcation, perhaps to Denmark or Provence,  or Alsace Lorraine?

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I prefer a place where my cell phone doesn’t work and internet connections are spotty. Someplace where no texting is allowed.

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Perhaps a place with so many beautiful gardens, and quaint houses, and  tasty treats that I would soon totally forget what’s happening at home.

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I can see it in my mind’s eye now… a villa in the south of France…

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…or a half-timbered chalet in Alsace.

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I promise you – the views alone will open a window to a whole new world!

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Perhaps we will take in a flower market in Germany…

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…or explore  a village here or there or anywhere, as long as it’s somewhere I’ve never been before.

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Or perhaps you’d like to join me for a taste of Swiss chocolat?

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I hear the patisseries in France are beyond compare.

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Dreaming is my specialty, after all. It’s what makes me a good writer.  Won’t you please join me?

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Sherrie Hansen is the author of 8 novels set in locales as diverse as Denmark, Scotland, the French Riviera, and Embarrass, Minnesota. Her books are available at the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, where she spends her days, all major online venues, and at http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com. All photos in this article were taken by Sherrie Hansen on her last trip to Europe in 2010.

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