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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My first published book – Night and Day – is set in Blooming Prairie, Minnesota and Copenhagen, Denmark with a brief interlude on Prince Edward Island, Canada. My tagline, “It’s midnight in Minnesota and Daybreak in Denmark”, speaks to the fact that Jensen and Anders connect via the internet, each from their own corner of the world.

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My latest release, Wild Rose of Scotland, is set at St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe.

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The second book in my Wildflowers of Scotland series, Blue Belle, takes place in Tobermory, a picturesque old village whose rainbow-colored storefronts are reflected in the waters off the Isle of Mull.

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For a writer / innkeeper / restaurateur / pastor’s wife whose life is too busy and complicated to plan a vacation anytime in the foreseeable future, “traveling” to these exotic locales in my mind is like taking a mini-vacation. Hopefully, my readers will also enjoy visiting the quaint spots that provide a backdrop to the adventures of Jensen and Anders, Ian and Rose, and any other of my characters who are lucky enough to find their homes in such beautiful places.

But we all can’t live in Colorado. Nor can we go on vacation all the time. My Maple Valley trilogy – Stormy Weather, Waterlily, and Merry-Go-Round – are all set in a fictional town patterned after Osage, Iowa, just 11 miles from where I live. The stage for these books is set with cornfields, cabbage patches, and contented cows grazing in pastures. The secondary characters are small town… well… characters. And it’s not one bit boring. To the contrary, writing about my hometown and the area surrounding it has been very enlightening.

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Looking at my very ordinary world through the eyes of my characters has shed a whole new light on what was once deemed plain. These people see things in my world that I never would have noticed. With their help, I’ve discovered a whole new meaning to the phrase, Beauty in Your Own Backyard. It’s amazing, the things I see when looking through the rose-colored glasses of the three Jones sisters.

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So, wherever it is you find yourself, take a look around. Whether you’re reading – or writing – a book set in Windermere, England, Apple Valley, Minnesota, Moonstone Beach, or Weedpatch, California, there are beautiful sights to behold no matter where you go in the world – a simple wildflower, a spectacular sunset, the moon glinting off a lake (or maybe even a mud puddle).

And next time you’re lucky enough to be able to take a vacation to some lovely new location, by all means, take your camera, your moleskin journal, your steno pad, or your Alphasmart. Take photos, record each memory, soak in every ounce of scenic beauty that you can.

All I’m suggesting is that when you come home, keep your camera out. Try looking at your own, everyday world through the eyes of someone who’s seeing those same, familiar haunts for the very first time. Take notice of the extraordinary, and you’ll discover all kinds of unique beauty – right in your own backyard. Learning to see the Cinderella side of your soot and ashes world, to appreciate the sights you take for granted, will make you a better writer, a better mother, a better lover, a better everything under the sun.

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Sherrie Hansen

http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com

I know… New Year’s Eve came and went over two months ago. So I’m a bit behind. I still haven’t mailed out my Christmas cards either. And like it or not, life’s events don’t exactly follow a tidy calendar. Changes – new beginnings – endings – often hit us unaware and at times that are anything but convenient.

It’s been a year of upheaval, changes, and saying goodbyes for my husband and I. We packed up one home and moved into another in December and January. Now, we’re off to a great new start at a new church (my husband is a pastor), in a parsonage that’s completely different from the home we’ve lived in for the past 8 (me) – 11 (him) years. The walls are painted in fresh new colors and I’m raring to get started on sewing new curtains for the windows and planting a garden come spring.

New beginnings are a wonderful thing any time of year. We’re slowly but surely making new friends, putting new names with new faces, and finding out where the best bargains, best food, and best places  to go around our new home are.

Fresh starts can also come in tiny packages. My cook and primary assistant at the Blue Belle Inn, the B&B and Tea House I own and operate, just had her first baby and is on maternity leave for the next 3 months. As a result, I’m shuffling duties and training a new staff member. All good, but challenging, nonetheless. It’s probably good to mix things up once in awhile, but it’s also a lot of work to start over again. My new assistant is a quick study, but I’m starting from scratch, teaching her how to make Stuffed Pork Tenderloin Roll, Lumpy Bumpy Toffee Pie, Parmesan Cream Sauce with Garlic and Rosemary for Heart of My Heart Chicken and our Fondue Feast. No matter how you look at it, it’s a time consuming process to begin anew.

As I sometimes get to do when my husband has no pastor friends to talk to, I’ve also been listening to him bounce around sermon ideas. This week the Bible passage he’s going to preach on is about Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple. Here’s another instance of tossing out the old and bringing in the new. Jesus is all about newness and radical, life-changing alterations to the way we see the world and live our lives.

I’ve heard say that if there’s one thing you can count on no matter what, it’s that nothing ever stays the same.

As a writer, I get a lot of practice saying goodbye and starting out fresh.  By the time I’ve spent months or even years getting to know my characters and writing a book about their comings and goings, it’s a huge let-down when the books ends and it’s time to say good-bye and move on. My last three books (Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round), are a trilogy, so I’ve gotten especially attached to the Jones sisters, their family and friends, over the course of writing about them for the past several years. Leaving their world behind, however make-believe it might be, and moving on to another, is always bittersweet, just like changes and transitions in real life.

My new adventure in the writing world involves a new book (Love Notes) in a new genre (inspirational romance) under a new name (Sherrie Hansen Decker). I can’t wait for you to get to know Hope Anderson, Tommy Love (Tom Lubinski), Billy Bjorklund, Alvin Soldvedt and the people of the tiny, Northwoods town of Embarrass, Minnesota.

Here’s a sneak peek, if you’re one of those people who likes to be the first to know:

Love Notes

Tom Lubinski, aka Tommy Love and the Love Notes, is a fading star in the middle of a stellar mid-life crisis. Tommy needs one more big hit – hip-hop, to appeal to a new generation. Thanks to an old friend who’s a banker, he’s found the perfect spot to build his dream house. When Tommy starts nosing around Embarrass, Minnesota and ends up in the ditch in the middle of an ice storm, he discovers he’s not the only one with plans for the place.


Hope Anderson is determined to renovate Rainbow Lake Lodge, the Northwoods resort where her late husband grew up. Reopening the Lodge so the families who have come there for generations can fill it with life again is the only way she knows to honor his legacy. Then the health inspector informs her that her old kitchen no longer meets state codes, and Billy Bjorklund, the devious new bank president, starts foreclosure proceedings.


Sure, Tommy feels bad that Hope spent all of her late husband’s life insurance money fixing up a lodge he plans to bulldoze. Tommy has always prided himself on being the kind of man who makes women’s dreams come true. But this time, Hope Anderson’s goal is in direct conflict with his. Bottom line, he has the wherewithal to make his dream a reality. She does not. No sense both of them being frustrated.

LOVE NOTES… Hope Anderson set out to preserve a legacy and found Love. Tommy Love wanted to make it big in hip-hop and found Hope. If they ever hope to understand the mystery of love, they’re going to need a little faith.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “old days” this week. My bed and breakfast, the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, in St. Ansgar, Iowa, has been open for 20 years as of February 1st, which was also my 55th birthday. It’s definitely a time to think back, to remember what things were like those many years ago.

Memories are a funny thing. I learned in Childhood Psych that 90% of a child’s brain and 85% of their social skills and personality develop before they are 5 years old. Yet most of us have very few memories of anything that happened to us in this time period.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are sleeping out under the stars with my dad and my sister Becky, on the farm where we lived in Grand Meadow, Minnesota, when we were little. I can remember Marty Hedstrom, a teenager who worked for my Dad one summer, singing “Sherry Baby” to me and rescuing me from the bumblebees who were after me in the haymow of the barn where I used to play. I can remember standing next to my Great Grandma Matilda Paulson and my Grandma Victoria at First Baptist Church singing “Holy Holy Holy”. I can remember climbing on the school bus on the first day I went to school, the day my baby brother and sister were born, and the day my Grandpa Hansen died. Some of these experiences have already ended up in or certainly may one day find themselves into books I’ve written – in one form or another.

My 25 year old nephew and his pretty wife, Kayla, sang “Sherry Baby” to me this weekend at my birthday / anniversary party. What a flood of memories it brought back! Because I don’t have children of my own, my nieces and nephews are very special to me. I hope that I have made an impact on their lives as well, and that they will carry memories of me and the fun times we’ve shared at the Blue Belle Inn and our family gatherings with them long after I’m gone.

My 5, 7 and 10 year old nieces and nephews were at my party, too. The girls helped get people registered for the door prizes. The two youngest were waitress and waiter and helped clear plates and take them to the kitchen. They were very intense about collecting the dirty plates (Will you please hurry up and finish eating your food so I can take your plate?) and did their jobs well.

I will have to give them some tips next time I see them. (They had to leave early because it was past their bedtime.) Right before they left, the girls entertained us by singing our favorite song, “He Knows My Name,” while I played the piano.

My hope is that they will retain their memories of the very special night they shared with their old Aunt Sherrie at the Blue Belle Inn. Maybe one of them will blog about it one day when they’ve heard “Sherry Baby” played on the radio… er… computer.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have children, but it’s important to me that someone remembers that I’m not just Blue Belle Sherrie (the main hat I’ve worn for the past 20 years). I want someone to know and remember that I climbed Pike’s Peak when I was younger, that I learned to disco dance when I lived in Germany back in the late seventies at the height of the Saturday Night Fever era. I want someone to remember that I went to Wheaton College, and saw Michael Jackson’s Thriller concert at Mile High Stadium in Denver and spent a night at a Benedictine Monastery in Bavaria. And that I made the best Jaeger Schnitzel and Spaetzle noodles this side of the great pond.

I hope you have some sweet memories, too – perhaps something you’ve read in one of my books has evoked a recollection or brought tears to your eyes. I also wish for each of you someone who knows you and loves you enough to remember unique things about you.

Thanks for letting me be nostalgic on the occasion of my big birthday and anniversary. Andrew Lloyd Webber says it well…

Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.

And if you’re a child of the seventies like I am, I’m sure this song conjurers up the very thing it talks about…

Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine

Quiet thoughts come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories,
Sweet memories

Of holding hands and red bouquets
And twilights trimmed in purple haze
And laughing eyes and simple ways
And quiet nights and gentle days with you.

Some of my favorite memories – and ones that will almost certainly die with me, since all my friends from that era are my age or older – are of the 12 years I lived in Colorado Springs. During that time, I heard Amy Grant sing this song in concerts three or four times. From I Will Remember You…

Later on
When this fire is an ember
Later on
When the night’s not so tender
Given time
Though it’s hard to remember darlin’
I will be holding
I’ll still be holding to you
I will remember you

So many years come and gone
And yet the memory is strong
One word we never could learn
Goodbye
True love is frozen in time
I’ll be your champion and you will be mine
I will remember you

Being a writer, I’ve always thought that stories are the best way to share memories. I hope one day, you’ll read mine.

Happy Birthday to me. Cheers to 20 years at the Blue Belle Inn. And a toast to memories that live on forever in the minds of the those who love us.

(Sherrie Hansen is the author of 4 books: Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.)

Have you ever had Blog Fog – that sinking feeling that you have nothing blog-worthy to say?

That moment when you’re looking for the inspiration of a starburst and all you get is fizzle?

When you’re looking for a burst of life and all you get is thistles?

I’ve definitely been there… that moment when you’re craving bright sunshine, and what you get is a sunset in Death Valley…

When you’re convinced you’ll find crystal clear waters and all you see is rusty old crud…

When you desperately need a lighthouse to guide your way and what you see in front of you is a long, low, dark tunnel…

When you need a gushing waterfall of inspiration and all that bubbles up is mud.

Blog Fog is unlike Writer’s Block in that the words flow quite freely. But when you have Blog Fog, your brain is so bogged down in minutia that you can’t think of anything significant to say. It doesn’t work just to write, because all that comes out is drivel. There’s no comforting knowledge that you’ll re-write it twenty times before it goes to press anyway, so it doesn’t matter. When you blog, it’s out there immediately. As soon as you post it – and you have to, because it’s your day to blog – everyone will know that you’re not really brilliant after all, that your brain is just a pile of mush.

It’s hard to be clever when you’re under a lot of stress – when things are so busy at work that you’re putting in 12 hour days and still not making a dent in your pile of papers to file and things to be done. It’s difficult to think of a topic when a new first line for your book is running through your head and there are bills to pay and people coming for lunch and rooms to be cleaned and new employees who need to be told what to do.

But you have to try. You don’t want to gain a reputation as a difficult blogger – someone who misses their day or doesn’t attract the numbers the site is accustomed to. And you can forget about getting Freshly Pressed or Creating a Buzz, or getting Re-Tweeted or even Liked – not unless the fog clears.

You check your spam digest – maybe something will trigger an idea. Febreze Air Freshener… I’ll Help You… I Quit My Job and I’ve Never Been Happier. Hard to do when you own your own business. Although, there have been times I’ve been tempted. But maybe someday, someone will invent a pill that floods your brain with hard facts and novel ideas. It’s certainly possible.

Did you know that if you Google “blog ideas” you will get a list of helpful articles like “Need Ideas for Your Blog?”, “101+ Ideas That Will Make Your Blog Sizzle!”,  “12 Typical Blog Post Types to Kick Start Ideas”, “Blog Post Ideas That Generate Buzz”, “How to Create Viral Blog Posts”, and “Killer Blog Posts” will inundate your screen. Unfortunately, when you have Blog Fog, it’s going to take more than a bunch of stagnant, stodgy old lists to make the fog clear. What you need is a stiff breeze to blow the fog out to sea.

Maybe if I turned the ceiling fan on high…

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?

My nephew is getting married tonight. In fact, I’m posting my blog from a hotel in Des Moines, awaiting the big event. My husband, who is a minister, is performing the ceremony. But not because Cole is his nephew. Kayla, the beautiful woman Cole is marrying, grew up in my husband’s church in Thompson, Iowa.

For the first and only time in my life (so far), I played matchmaker. And it worked!

One day, in the church basement after church, Kayla’s mother and I started chatting. She was lamenting that her daughter, who is such a sweetheart, couldn’t seem to meet a nice, goodhearted man. I’d thought for years that my nephew, Cole, and Kayla would be a good match, but had never found the right time to bring it up. Cole was in between relationships. It seemed the perfect time to put the wheels in motion, which we proceeded to do.

To be honest, I never really expected anything to come of it. Neither, I’m sure, did Cole, when I first mentioned sending him some digital photos of a girl from our church who I thought he might enjoy getting to know. What young 20-something thinks his fat, grey-haired old aunt is going to be the one to pick out his future bride?

But God had plans for Cole and Kayla (Cola, as we now affectionly call them). I, of course, was delighted when they fell in love, and later, announced their engagement. And I truly do believe they’re a match made in heaven.

As a writer of romance novels, I get to play matchmaker in my imagination all the time. Even as a child, I spent hours spinning romantic fantasies in my mind, all starring me, of course, and whatever handsome young man had captured my fancy at the time. None of them ever worked out, although the silver lining is that I got so practiced imagining these steamy, “what-if” scenarios that it led to a writing career.

I feel a great deal of satisfaction in my writing life when the love affair I’ve orchestrated comes to a good fruition. But I have to say, it is even more fulfilling to see a tiny seed that I planted grow and blossom into a real-life romance, now marriage. On this, their wedding day, I feel a deep, intense sense of satisfaction. I did good.

Early on in Cole and Kayla’s relationship, I invited Cole’s mother (my sister) to have lunch with me. When she arrived, she said, “Cole thinks you asked me to lunch so you could pump me for information. But he says not to tell you anything – he thinks you’ll put it in your next romance novel.”

I promised I wouldn’t, and my sister filled me in on what sketchy details she knew. It made me smile. And I’m still smiling today. And while I won’t crow about my excellent matchmaking skills in a book, I never said I wouldn’t blog about it. Besides this isn’t a fictional romance, it’s the real thing.

My latest novel, and the conclusion of my Maple Valley Trilogy, has been out for two months now. I’ve had a brief rest from writing, in which I’ve been busy with high season at my bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn, spending fun summer times with family, languishing on too hot, too humid days (and nights), stressing out over  the latest goings-on at my husband’s church, and promoting “Merry Go Round”.

But now it’s time to get back to work. I’ve dusted off my electronic copy of Blue Belle of Scotland, a novel I first started about eight years ago. I was within a chapter of  being done with the book soon after I married my husband. I remember trips in that first year of marriage when he would drive, and I would type into a laptop propped on pillows perched on the open glove compartment door. Life with a new husband, a 13 year old stepson and new people in a new town soon took on cyclonic properties and has been a whirlwind for the last 7 1/2 years.

Glengorm Castle, Island of Mull, Scotland, at sunset.

Fast forward to the present, and three or four used laptops later – the last chapter of Blue Belle of Scotland is missing, and I am one blue belle. By the time I discovered the chapters were missing, it was far too late for benefit of instant recall. My husband eventually recovered a few pages of the missing text, but gone is the climactic, attempted murder at the top of the keep, the tender reunion of Alianna and her savior, Micheal’s heartbreaking downfall… and who knows what else…

Tobermory, on the Island of Mull, Scotland – the setting of Blue Belle of Scotland.

It appears I am in good company. In “Love Me”, a short story written by Garrison Keillor for The Atlantic, Keillor writes about leaving a manuscript in the bathroom of a train.  The bartender in the story, who tells the devastated Keillor that T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land fell into a hot bath, where the ink washed off, and that Robert Frost once wrote a poem that was eaten by a dog, advises him to “Take adversity as an opportunity! Pick yourself up and do better. That’s the American way. You lose your manuscript, you write a better one!”

Ernest Hemingway was devastated when his first wife, Hadley, lost a suitcase filled with his manuscripts at the train station as she was traveling to Switzerland to meet him in December 1922. She had packed all of his manuscripts – including the carbons – in a small valise, which was stolen (Never leave your bags unattended!). The material was never recovered and the marriage eventually failed. If found today, I suppose Hemingway’s missing works would be worth their weight in gold.

This is not the first time I’ve lost a precious creation. When I finished my sophomore year at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, I left Chicago directly, without first returning home to Minnesota, to drive to Bar Harbor, Maine to meet my friends Julia Swann and Katherine Anne Hutchins. I was told I could leave some of the personal belongings I had packed up from my room in a storage area in the dormitory. I labeled the boxes with my name and address and drove off to Maine with a light heart and a couple of suitcases filled with clothes. I soon had three or four jobs – playing an old piano and a pump organ at a tea house called the Crystal Palace, working as a chambermaid, and serving lobster to hungry tourists in the tiny town of Hull’s Cove. I also picked blueberries, made a lot of scrumptious pancakes and muffins, lived on my own for the first time ever, and got engaged. It was decided that I would drop out of college since my future husband and I would be heading off to live in Germany.

That fall, I returned to Wheaton to say good-bye to my friends and retrieve my belongings, only to find they had gone missing.  One box included the work I had done for my creative writing class that spring. In it were short stories and poems I had labored over  for hours. And I could not remember them, perhaps because my summer had been so full of new, first-time sights and experiences, perhaps because my memory is bad. Most of the poems were frivolous – one was about a tennis ball, and obviously wouldn’t have changed the world with it’s austere wisdom. But there was also an Easter sonnet that I had written on Good Friday of that same year that still haunts me. I remember only one line, in all it’s iambic pentameter glory:  “We live as though the stone, unrolled, still lay across the door.”  In my heart, I believe it was inspired, and was and still is the best thing I have written.

Island of Mull, Scotland.
Sheep grazing in Ayrshire, Scotland.

I will rewrite the final chapters of Blue Belle of Scotland. Perhaps the new ending will be better than the old one. Perhaps what was lost can never be found.

Eileen Donan Castle, Scotland.

In the little town of Saint Ansgar, Iowa, where I’ve lived for 20 years, a conscientious Christian has posted a sign on the way into town that announces “The wages of sin is death.” Not exactly the greeting you might expect…

On the back of the sign, which you can’t possibly see until you leave town (unless you can spin your head around and drive at the same time – I can’t), is the rest of the story:  “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ Our Lord.”

The Bible verse (Romans 3:23) is one of my favorites. When read in its entirety, it has a beautiful message. But I hate the way the sign leaves me dangling. What if I don’t leave town for several days, two weeks, or a month? What if I leave town by a different route? What if it’s dark? I might never get to the good part. I might never know the rest of the story.

As a reader – of signs and books, I don’t like to be kept waiting too long. If the beginning of a book is too depressing or slow-paced, I might not keep reading long enough to get to the good part. If a climax builds too slowly or drags on for too long, I might stop caring before I get there. If a book contains too many cliff hangers, I’m going to be very frustrated, especially if I have to wait a year or two to finally find out what happens. Even in a series where each book comes to a complete end, with the next installment starting up with a new character or generation of the same family, I don’t like to be kept waiting too long. I forget pertinent details, names and relationships and connections between characters.

And what about those books that have multiple story lines about several different characters and so many sub-plots going all at once that by the time you get six chapters down the road and are finally taken back to the main storyline, you can’t even remember what was going on? Next time I pick one of them up, I’m going to read Chapters 1, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 21, then go back and hit Chapters 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, and 22… and so on. It’ll be much less irritating.

Am I the only one who gets impatient if I’m left dangling too long?

The third and final book in my Maple Valley Trilogy, Merry Go Round, was released about a month ago, and it’s been surprising to me how many people have bought all three books at once. “We’ve been waiting until the trilogy was complete”, they’ve claimed. “We hate having to wait between books, so we don’t even start a series until we can read the whole thing from start to finish.”

I wrote as fast as I could when I was working on Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round, knowing that those who had started the series were clamoring for the next in line. My publisher worked with me as much as possible to get each subsequent book out quickly. I do understand where those readers were coming from, and am glad I could oblige without leaving anybody waiting for too long.

If the owner of the “Wages of Sin is Death” message is reading this, my advice is to get a second banner and post them like the old-fashioned Burma Shave signs… “The wages of sin is death,” and then a few yards up the road, a second sign with the hope-filled conclusion, “The gift of God is eternal life…” I don’t mind being left hanging for a few yards, but I don’t like to be left waiting for too terribly long, or the point is lost on me.

A little suspense is great, but don’t keep me on the edge of my seat forever. A nice, slow build up to a tender love scene is very sensual, but don’t dash my hopes too many times or I may not even enjoy the happy ending when it comes. As a reader and a writer, my opinion is that once you have the momentum going, it’s best to keep on climbing at as brisk a pace as you can manage.

And as for my neighbor, if you’re going to tell me the bad news, you’d better find a way to share the good news now – not later!

I hate thinking of myself or the romances I write as middle-aged. In many ways, I still think of myself as being young. Besides, age is relative. When  my mom had my baby brother at age 37, I was mortified. To a sixteen year old girl, she seemed ancient – way too old to be having sex. At 54, I realize the error of my thinking. 🙂

When I was a young girl, the church I grew up in talked about something called God’s Perfect Will for Your Life.  When I married the wrong man at age 20 and got divorced at age 27, I figured I’d missed the boat for good, and that whatever awful fate befell me from that point on was no one’s fault but my own.

Popular culture sent the same message. In Donna Summer’s hit song, “Last Dance”, she sings,  “Last dance, last chance for love. Yes it’s my last chance for romance tonight.”  Grab it now, while you can, when you’re young, in the prime of your life – or you may never have a second chance.

But our God is a God who forgives, who gives second chances, in His time… a God who promises, “All things work together for good to those who love God.” Even when things go awry along the way. Even when the unthinkable has happened.

There’s something sweet and magical about the naivety of our first love. But there’s also something rich and particularly satisfying about a second chance at love.

  I wrote several novels about falling in love – fantasies all – while waiting for a second chance at real-life romance. It was hard to be patient.  It was tempting to grab on to the first man who came along. Anything had to be better than being single, didn’t it? But eventually, with the council of many wise friends, I could admit that it was far better to be alone than to be married to the wrong man.

There was a song we used to sing in The Growing Edge, the Sunday School class for single adults aged 25 to 4o that I attended at First Pres in Colorado Springs, called “In His Time.”

IN HIS TIME, IN HIS TIME
HE MAKES ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL IN HIS TIME
LORD, PLEASE SHOW ME EVERYDAY
AS YOU’RE TEACHING ME YOUR WAY
THAT YOU DO JUST WHAT YOU SAY
IN YOUR TIME.

IN YOUR TIME, IN YOUR TIME
YOU MAKE ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL IN YOUR TIME
LORD, MY LIFE TO YOU I BRING
MAY EACH SONG I HAVE TO SING
BE TO YOU A LOVELY THING
IN YOUR TIME.

There were times that I was so tired of waiting, so frustrated with my circumstances, that I could barely make it through the song without crying – or feeling downright mad at God. I wanted to be in love, I wanted to be loved. I wanted to be married, to have a family before it was too late.

Almost 20 long years after my divorce, I was still waiting. I’d had a handful of relationships that weren’t meant to be for one reason or another, a couple of broken hearts, and a couple of terrifying near misses that – thank the Lord – never came to fruition.

I thought I’d missed my chance. The odds against a woman in her late forties finding love and remarrying were staggering, and I knew it.

And then one day, a nice (and very handsome) man asked me out on a date. He was a pastor. After our second or third date, he asked me to come to the church where he is a pastor, to hear him preach.  Obviously, if our relationship was to progress, I had to be comfortable with his calling.

I drove an hour that Sunday to attend his church. When I entered the sanctuary the organist was playing the song… IN HIS TIME.

Yes, there is something very satisfying about a second chance at love. When you find love after 40, there’s a greater appreciation, a deeper joy, a more wonderful than ever love that envelops you – heart, soul, mind and body. When a man can love you when you’re – yes, I’ll say it – middle aged – with all the “imperfections” and attitudes that come along with living 4 or more decades, when you’re not nearly as cute and perky as you were at 20, it’s a joyous surprise, maybe even a miracle.

And that’s why I write books about second chances. That’s why Jensen in “Night and Day”, Rachael in “Stormy Weather”, Michelle in “Water Lily” and Tracy in “Merry Go Round” are all approaching 40.  That’s why some of my heroines have been married and divorced, some are “old maids”, and one, Hope Anderson, in an upcoming novel, Love Notes, is widowed. That’s why some have baggage, one has a complex, and another, a huge chip on her shoulder. That’s why they’re tarnished and even a bit tattered.

The heroes of my novels are also older.  Like my leading ladies, Anders, Mac, Jake, and Clay have lived, they’ve loved, they’ve lost, they’ve been crushed, and heartbroken and devastated. And they’ve survived. And because they’ve lived through the pain of life, they’re richer and more sensitive, and infinitely more loveable.

Here’s to second chances…

(Written by Sherrie Hansen, who lives in a 116 year old house who, just like her, got a second chance when she rescued it from the bulldozers grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast.)

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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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