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I grew up wrapping my baby doll in this soft, little quilt, made with scraps from dresses my mom and grandma sewed for my sister and I and themselves in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There’s a bit of the dress my mother made for her first class reunion and some of her curtains, too. My Great-Grandma, Mathilda Jensen Paulsen, from Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, stitched it together, along with a big quilt that matched. Later, when I was old enough to sew but still young enough to play with dolls – Barbie dolls instead of baby dolls by this time – my grandma and I made doll clothes out of more scraps from some of these same fabrics.

Quilt - baby doll

My doll quilt, made by my Great Grandma Mathilda Jenny Paulsen.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love quilts and the memories and history woven into them – or when I didn’t embrace the concept that nothing should be wasted – not the extra fabric after a pattern was cut out, or the few inches of lace or rickrack left over from a project, or the odd button on the button card, or even an empty feed sack.

Quilt - twin bed

Quilt made by Mathilda Jensen Paulsen from dress scraps.

And thanks to Grandma Vic, who scraped out her bowls so clean that you couldn’t tell they had been used, I know that the batter that lingers in the pans of people who don’t scrape out their bowls is enough to make a whole extra muffin or two cookies – very probably the ones you will get to eat!

Quilt - fabrics

I grew up in a family of thrifty, hardworking, creative, and yes, stubborn Danes with a dash of Bohemian, German, English and Scottish thrown in for good value. And I mean that literally. The melting pot that was my family tree produced a bumper crop of large-boned, freckle-skinned, hardy folks who could do most anything they set their minds to – unless it was sports related. We weren’t athletically inclined, nor were we ones to waste time or energy on things that weren’t essential, necessary, or needed.

Quilt - off to bed

Off to Bed, Sleepy Heads. This hung in my Mom’s room when she was a child.

When later generations grew up wanting to dabble in the arts – make pretty quilts from calicos bought from quilting shops instead of scraps (because they were in colors that matched a room or enhanced a decorating scheme), eyebrows were raised, prayers were said, and people wondered what the world was coming to. I was a part of the younger generation – I loved certain colors, and it was very important to me that everything matched. One year, my Grandma Victoria made rag rugs for us for Christmas, I dug through the pile until I found one with no red.

Quilts - EJ

A friendship crazy quilt from Blooming Prairie, MN made by Mathilda Paulsen and friends.

Bright red didn’t match the pastel pinks and roses I used in my house. To satisfy my artistic eye, even the threads the rugs were woven with had to be blue or green instead of red – or heaven forbid, orange. (Thankfully, someone had put an old pink bathrobe in the rag bag at some point, so I did get my color-coordinated rug.)

Quilt - houses

A housewarming gift made by Barbara Daugherty.

It was clear. The writing was on the wall. Never ever would I sew a quilt out of old dresses or wool suits (or whatever leftover fabrics happened to be in the mending pile) in a mish mash of helter-skelter colors. I was a colorful prima-dona, a quilting artiste.

Quilt - mine

The quilt I made for the daughter I never had. Pieced by Sherrie Hansen.

Something else had changed over the generations. The hodgepodge, crazy quilts we slept under and covered our beds with and used to keep the dust off of the furniture were replaced by quilts that were so perfect and pretty that we didn’t want to ruin them by putting them on our beds or actually using them.

Quilt - hearts

Log Cabin Heart quilt pieced by Sherrie Hansen.

We hung them on the walls, put them in our hope chests, and lovingly guarded them for posterity’s sake so we could pass them down to future generations. We took them off our beds and put them in our cedar chests.

Quilt - Mom

My mom with a friendship quilt from Blooming Prairie that was in her cedar chest.

We collected old quilts at auction and estate sales and revered any family quilts that had survived said family. Sometimes people made numerous pillows or even teddy bears out of a grandma’s quilt so each grandchild could have a small piece of it. But we didn’t snuggle under them or swaddle our children in them, or cuddle in front of the fireplace wrapped up in them, or throw them on the ground and spread a picnic out on top of them.

Quilt - crazy

Detail of Blooming Prairie Friendship quilt.

So, how does this pertain to my books, Night & Day and Daybreak? Jensen Marie Christiansen comes from a long line of quilters to whom a quilt meant nothing more than something to keep you warm on a cold winter night. Jensen is a designer and creator of art quilts. In Night & Day, Ed has a pilly old bedspread in drab tones.  Anders sleeps under a sailboat quilt in bright blues and yellows that his mother made for him.

Quilt - sunbonnet sue

Sunbonnet Sue and Wedding Ring quilts on a quilt rack made by my dad, Everett Hansen.

Quilts become the catalyst for the conflict of a family, generations of hopes and dreams, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead – a solid, predictable, convenient future with Ed or a wild ‘trip around the world’ with Anders?

Quilt - pink and green

Quilt made by my Grandma Victoria.

In Daybreak, everything has changed and Jensen is searching for order in a world that has become all too crazy. The freeform, artistic quilts she has always designed are suddenly too flighty and fancy free to meet her needs. As her hopes and dreams swirl out of control, she needs the precision of perfectly aligned corners and points that come together the way they’re supposed to. When her family starts to fall apart, and she needs the constancy of her heritage. She even starts a quilt in a red and white Danish design (well, a pretty cherry red, almost burgundy in hue.)

Quilt - CH

The imagery of quilts – a doll quilt that a young Mathilda wrapped her baby doll in, and then gave to Leif to wrap Maren’s newborn baby in, a quilt made by Jensen for the daughter she feared she would never have, a great-grandmother’s quilt that was Jensen’s most cherished possession – the tapestry of a family’s life, patched together in a way that unites the generations of my family for all times.

Quilt - Mathilde

Mathilda Jensen Paulsen’s initials on the Blooming Prairie quilt.

My life – I skipped a generation in Night & Day, so in real life, Maren was my great-great grandmother, Mathilda was my great-grandma, and baby Victoria was my grandma – but it’s all there.

Quilt - Victoria

My Grandma Victoria when she was 5 years old.

The scraps and memories, pieced together with bits and bobs from my imagination, all joined together in fiction form, misunderstandings and conflicting perceptions of the world – a completely different world than existed back then – smoothed out in a colorful pattern and stitched with love.

Quilt - Grandma Hansen

This pillow top matched a quilt and was made by my Great-Grandma Hansen.

Jensen and her family are very close to my heart, and I hope once you read Night & Day and Daybreak, you’ll feel the same way. I chose the design and colors for the quilt on the front cover of Night & Day to coordinate with the color palate in one of my guest rooms – On the Banks of Plum Creek – at my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn.

Quilt - bear

I wanted to use a Trip Around the World quilt – it would have matched the theme of Night & Day so perfectly, and if there’s anything I love more than coordinating colors, it’s perfectly synchronized symbolism – but my publisher liked this one, so that’s what we went with. If you come to stay at the Blue Belle one day, you can still snuggle up under this quilt and dream the night away.

Quilt - plum Creek

I saw and fell in love with the lovely quilt on the front cover of Daybreak online, which has a unique symbolism in and of itself. The colors were perfect, and the design, with sunrise and sea, spoke to me of oceans and time, and seemed perfectly suited for Jensen and Anders’ continuing story. I was able to weave the design into the story in ways that brought the whole tale to life. I hope you agree. (The cover art quilt for Daybreak is by Elena Stokes, and was photographed by the artist. You can visit her website to see more of her work at www.elenastokes.com and follow her at www.facebook.com/elena.stokes.art.)

Daybreak Elena Stokes - It Suddenly Dawned 300 ppi

“It Suddenly Dawned” – Quilt by Elena Stokes

I’m sure some folks wonder why I would put a quilt on the front of a fiction novel instead of a character or a sketch of Maren’s old house, Peter’s bonfire, or any one of the beautiful scenes from Minnesota or Denmark that unfold in the course of the book. But to me, the quilts say it all. Quilts were the inspiration for these stories. The plot revolves around them. The characters are defined by them and shine because of their existence. In both Night & Day and Daybreak, the quilts connect the generations across oceans and time through each precise stitch – a miraculous labor of love, and the gift of a special artistry known only to quilters.

Quilt - Danish flags  Quilt - DEnmark

Even after all these years, when it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark, somewhere, a night owl like me is quilting.

Quilt - Maren

Quilt believed to have been made by my Great-great Grandma, Maren Jensen.

Someone else is fast asleep under a quilt stitched by a mother or grandmother who loved them. Someone on the other side of the world is crawling out from under the covers, ready to face the dawn of a new day, and someone else is sitting cross-legged on a quilt, writing in her journal, and falling in love. Crazy quilts of life – God makes beautiful things out of broken pieces, leftovers and scraps. So do the hands of quilters.

Quilt - names

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I had a birthday a couple of weeks ago, and I received a card from my Mom and Dad that really made me think. On the inside, it said “Lots of love  from Mom and Dad. We are very proud of all your accomplishments.  Now it’s time to slow down and enjoy the fruits of your labor?”

Yes, there was a question mark at the end, which left me wondering exactly what they meant.

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The card came at a time when I was working hard to finish Shy Violet, my next book – coming soon from Second Wind. I’ve been short staffed at my restaurant and B&B since last fall, and have been doing much of the cooking and cleaning myself. I’ve also been writing the scripts for our popular murder mysteries, about one a month – a very fun, but time consuming process. In the past week, I filled a large order for the cookie business I have on the side, and took my nieces and nephew out to dinner and to a school play (the favorite part of my busy week). In the past month, I’ve also baked 12 or 15 dozen cookies for church, practiced a lot of music, and written a Christmas program for our Sunday School youth. And on the day of my birthday – a Sunday, I had 23 people over for a birthday brunch after church.

Food - Cookies Noah

Even when I’m riding in the car, or watching TV, or doing something that could be construed as relaxing, I have my laptop open so I can  be working on something, or a needlepoint project in my hands. I really don’t like going to the movie theater because it forces me to do nothing but watch.

Rose - needlepoint

Let’s just summarize by saying that I like to keep busy! I’m the original multi-tasker, and very probably a workaholic. My husband says my brain has no off-switch. While I did not inherit these traits from strangers, I guess I should also listen when these same people tell me that I’m at that time in my life when I need to reexamine some of my priorities and start relaxing a little bit.

My first response, when I read the card, was that I don’t know how to relax – don’t want to relax, don’t enjoy relaxing – that I’d rather be busy than the alternative, that I like the hectic pace of my life, and find it energizing.

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And then, a 16 year old girl from our old church died in a car accident on Sunday night – a girl we’d known since she was little – a sweet, talented young woman who should be the honoree at a graduation party instead of a funeral. On Monday, we found out that there’s going to be a wedding in the family – in Romania. On Tuesday afternoon, my mom ended up in the hospital with congestive heart failure – she’s been treated and is going to be fine, but it shook us all up. And on Wednesday, a dear young woman who I greatly admire – talented, beautiful, engaged to be married, just starting out in life, her whole future ahead of her – was killed in a car accident on snowy roads.

Zion 2013 Frost Close

Last Sunday, a friend from church who has 15 or 20 years on me told me, “Do it now. Once you get to be 50, things start to happen. So travel now. Have fun while you can, while there’s still time.” More good advice.

So… I’m off to start writing Sweet William, finish my edits on Shy Violet, and get my next murder mystery done – this one is called, A Taste of Murder – the Galloping Gourmet Gets the Trots – and it has to be done by March 7th. While I’m working, I’m thinking about my birthday card, and trying to figure out what relaxing and enjoying the fruits of my labor looks like for me.

Zion - bowed head

In the meantime, I am grateful to be alive, and to have had the chance to live out my life, to be loved, and to love. I am grateful for the privilege of living, and I intend to live every second to its fullest potential.

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

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By day, Sherrie Hansen operates the Blue Belle Inn B&B & Tea House and tries to be a good pastor’s wife. By night, she writes. Her novels, Shy Violet (coming soon), Blue Belle, Wild Rose, Thistle Down, Love Notes, Night & Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily & Merry Go Round are available from SecondWindPublishing.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It has been a different kind of harvest this year in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. We did not receive enough rain this summer – none at all for almost 2 months. As a result, the ears of corn hanging on the stalks are half shriveled up and burned dry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

None of the crops matured the way they should, and the yields will be low. Mid-summer storms brought devastation in the form of hail and high winds to many fields. Some of the crops are laying flat on the ground, making them nearly impossible to combine.

 

In early September, a few days after it finally rained, giving the soybeans what seemed like a reprise – one last chance for the pods to fill out, an early frost turned the fields from green to black. And that was that. We have had two weeks of hot, 85 degree days this October – highly unusual for this far north – making everything so parched and dry that there have been many fires in the fields.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like giving birth to a stillborn baby, our farmers must still go through the labor of harvest, even though the joy of reaping a bountiful harvest will not be there to reward them for all their hard work and sacrifice.

 

 

 

 

 

My husband’s 11 year ministry at the church where he is pastor has also come to a disappointing end. Two weeks ago, a congregational vote that might have saved the day failed when people who rarely even attend church were brought in to vote, skewing the results. The majority lost because there was not a 2/3 majority. The result means the end of life as I’ve known it for almost 8 years. My time there has been the honeymoon period in my life as a wife, and a pastor’s wife, and will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m not ready for it to end.

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I am trying to leave things in God’s hands, knowing that the God of the universe does not need my stress, anxiety or exhaustion to accomplish his plan in the world. But it is hard to let go and trust, to believe that after months of stress and worry, arguments, threats and political maneuvering by people we thought were friends and higher-ups in a church that is supposed to be my refuge and sanctuary, that this whole terrible mess will suddenly be all better. And the truth is, that although joy is promised at the end of the journey, some of the wounds caused by this battle may never heal. I know I sound bitter. I am trying not to get caught in the caustic cauldron of resentment and anger.

I am having Circle at the parsonage tonight – a time to say my good-byes, and hopefully, to give closure. I miss playing the piano with my friends, a wonderful drummer and keyboardist, more than I can say. Making music with them and glorifying God through our praise and worship has been my ministry, and one of the highlights of my week for over five years.

 

The time of harvest has come to an end. A door has slammed shut. I know God will open a window. I can’t wait to climb through and fly high. I am increasingly ready to let go and move in a new direction.

Yet I know that winter lies between fall and spring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God, please provide another call for my husband, one where he can use his gifts and talents for you, one where he will be appreciated and loved. And please let it be within an hour of the Blue Belle, and please, if you would, let them like contemporary praise music. Let them love rousing old hymns. Let them sing lustily. And let them need a piano player.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for listening.

And now, to new growth, to moving onward and upward.

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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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