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Great expectations have always been a huge motivator in my life. I have a wild imagination that translates into grand dreams. I’m willing to work hard to accomplish my goals. With the help of my talented and resourceful family and friends, a bevy of answered prayers, and a little bit of luck, many of my dreams have come to fruition.

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But for perfectionists and dreamers like me, when things don’t go as planned, lofty expectations can turn into bitter disappointment.

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In Daybreak, my upcoming release, and the long-awaited sequel to my first novel, Night and Day, it seems like Jensen’s dreams have finally come true. Daybreak finds Jensen in Denmark, living out her long-awaited wish to be a mother. But when Anders has to leave, his son, Bjorn, unexpectedly moves home, and Jensen’s family faces a crisis in Minnesota, everything quickly unravels.

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Jensen and Anders are determined to find hygge in the colorful legacy of family, gardens, and quilts that make up their heritage and bind their future together, but with everything going wrong and nothing turning out the way they thought it would, it’s doubtful that a perfectionist like Jensen can be happy. It’s especially disappointing when a bright sky filled with promise turns to heartbreak.

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When I lived in Colorado Springs two and a half decades ago, I used to go dancing with friends. A few times, we stayed until closing. I can still remember the transformation from a dreamy embrace on a dimly lit dance floor enhanced by a glass of wine and the romantic sounds of a mellow voice singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” to that abrupt moment when the band stopped playing and the bright lights were flipped on and romantic notions soured when the reality of a dance partner with glaringly obvious flaws came into focus.

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You may have read my earlier blog post about the anticipation surrounding our upcoming dream vacation to Scotland. Now that we’ve been there and are back, I can tell you that there were definitely unexpected glitches and frustrations despite our well-laid plans. From unsuccessfully fighting off a biting, blister-causing bug called a midge to being abandoned on the remote Isle of Lewis and Harris when we had car problems and our car hire company provided no service and no replacement vehicle, our hopes for an ideal vacation didn’t always pan out as we’d hoped.

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There have been many times in my life when I’ve been forced to give up on my dreams and move on to a Plan B or C or even D. Some of those alternate realities have turned out to be blessings in disguise. But often, those good things don’t become apparent for months or even years and relationships can suffer as a result.

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You’ll have to read Daybreak to find out if the morning star finds a way to pierce the darkness that descends on Anders and Jensen’s life when troubles overtake them from every direction, or if the problems they face will damage their relationship beyond repair.

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Happily-ever-after is a wonderful thing when it happens and definitely a great way to end a romance, but it can be hard to sustain. Thankfully, I believe we have a God who promises us even more than we hope for, dream of, or can imagine.

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If you read Night & Day now, you’ll be primed to see what happens after happily-ever-after when Daybreak is released next month… And if you’d like to see and hear how our dream vacation to Scotland turned out, stay tuned for another blog very soon.

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“NIGHT & DAY’S Anders and Jensen find their happily-ever-after morphing from daydream into nightmare as blended families, rampant hormones, job problems and miscommunications force them apart. The crazy quilt of their lives is told with gentle humor, heartfelt empathy, glorious descriptions and a satisfying patchwork of relationships that must somehow fit together for love to survive. A lovely book, filled with believable characters, achingly sad and happy situations, touches of terror and despair, and the promise of daybreak after the dark, DAYBREAK is a thoroughly enjoyable read.” Sheila Deeth, Author and Reviewer

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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.

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

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong anywhere? When I was a child, I often thought I must have been adopted. I loved to read and preferred to stay in the house while the rest of my family loved the outdoors and rarely opened a book unless they had to. I was and am very blessed to have a wonderful family, but in some ways, I’ve always been and will always be the odd one out.

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I felt the same way in school. I was smart and respected and had a close circle of friends, but I wasn’t athletic, and boys always liked me as a friend instead of a girlfriend, and I wasn’t a party-er and I didn’t dance because I was a Baptist. I read the Betsy Tacy books and wished more than anything that I would someday be part of The Crowd, but the truth was, I never really fit in. After I graduated, I went to Wheaton College, which might seem homogenous at first glance. But to me, it was a place of great diversity. I met people who were far odder than I, quirky individuals who bucked societal norms, did their own thing and didn’t care what anybody thought of them. Despite the occasional forays into uniqueness, there was still a typical Wheatonite – pre-med, ultra talented, superior intellect, old money or conversely, humbly raised children of pastors and missionaries – none of which fit me.

I got married to an officer in the army after two years of college. Our first duty assignment was in Augsburg, Germany. I won’t go into the mismatched marriage I was in at the time, except to say that in the midst of the ill-conceived mess I was in matrimonially, I felt very at home in Europe, and I found a great deal of acceptance within the military community. For the first time in my life, I started to feel like I belonged. Perhaps it was because the military attracted such a hodge podge of people. There were Okies from Oklahoma, hillbillies from Tennessee, southern belles from Charleston, South Carolina, proper to a fault West Point grads, gentle giants with black skin, and once I got there, a naive Midwest farmer’s daughter. I felt like I’d finally found my niche – and it lasted for all of about 10 minutes. Because the military is one of the most unstable, constantly shifting, always changing things in the world as far as places and spaces go. Command shifts, families transferring to different duty assignments, people staying in and getting out of the military, all set against the backdrop of a topsy turvy world where you’re always on alert, waiting for the next big things to happen – and it usually does.

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I felt I’d finally found my place in the world, and that that place only existed for a few short months in the space time continuum. Here today, gone tomorrow. When my marriage met a similar fate and poof – one day didn’t exist any more, it was a very hard thing. My ex-husband’s family had become mine, and then suddenly, they weren’t anymore. Disconnecting from the marriage and my role as wife was hard enough, but severing myself from the extended family was far worse.

I’m a farmer’s daughter. I was never a particularly good farmer’s daughter, but I was raised to put down deep roots, to commit for life, to count on people and things being there for a good long time if not forever. But the reality is that the whole world is like the ocean, or the sky – constantly changing, shifting, eroding, becoming more and more unrecognizable with every day that passes. And me?

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I’ve gone on to make my way in the world quite nicely. I’ve met with some successes, had a few dreams come true, and done quite well for myself. But in many ways, I still feel like I’m a misfit. I’m not a mother. I wear funky hats. I wouldn’t caught dead in nylons and can usually be found lazing around in Birkenstocks and slouch socks.  I’m a far from perfect pastor’s wife. Each of the walls in my dining room a different color. I’m awake when most people are sleeping, and asleep when I should be awake. If left to my own devises, there are more weeds than flowers in my garden. I play the piano but never the notes that are on the music.

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I make round pancakes instead of flat. I write books with steamy scenes and God sightings – in the same chapter. I raise eyebrows, and have my own quirks, and march to my own drummer. I’ve never quite fit in and have finally starting to realize that I kind of like it that way.

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So Merry Christmas from the Island of Misfits. I rather like it here.  If you’re ever inclined to visit, please pick up one of my books… Jensen from Night and Day, Rae from stormy Weather, Michelle from Water Lily, Tracy from Merry Go Round, Hope from Love Notes, and soon, Rose from Wild Rose… characters who are full of foibles, characters who are sometimes a little off kilter or at odds with the world, characters who desire more than anything to find someone to appreciate them and love them just the way they are.

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Of course, there’s only one place in the world where we can truly find unconditional love, from someone who certainly knows what it felt like to be a misfit.  That’s what makes Christmas such a grand celebration!

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A couple of my friends were chatting on Facebook the other night. The first one asked for recommendations on what books to read this summer. At the end of one of her comments, she said, “Don’t bother to recommend romances, they’re a waste of time.”  When I responded, another friend said they weren’t referring to the kind of romances I write, but the ones that have no plot, and are just an excuse to include one sex scene after another. (I’m paraphrasing as best I can remember… but bottom line, they were not being complimentary to the romance genre.)

Forgive me if I confess to being a bit offended. And forgive me again when I say, I know exactly what they mean.

I’m reading a romance novel right now that’s written by a best selling author and published by a major house.  It has no plot to speak of.  Basically, something bad happened, long before the book began, and the book is spent reliving the past and discussing its implications on the present and future – ad nauseum. I like the characters, but all they ever do is go to work, go on dates, and make love. They sit and think about things – a lot. They talk about things, but they have no real goals, no motivation. No one is trying to keep them from attaining their non-existent goals. They are surrounded by friends – loving, supportive allies who want them to resolve their problems and be happy. They rehash the same old things again and again. I must care enough about the characters to find out what happens to them, because I’m still reading, but I find myself skimming over entire scenes because I am bored.  This is not a good thing.

It irritates me that authors who have the honor of being published by major houses write such drivel. It irritates me that readers, who are obviously buying their books by the thousands, don’t have higher expectations. It irritates me that their publishers don’t demand more from them. But most of all, it irritates me that I am being lumped into the same category as these writers, and writers who write the literary equivalent of porn flicks, just because I write romance.

To assume that my books have no worth simply because they end happily, and include a love story, is just plain insulting.   Reviewer Sheila Deeth called my first book, Night and Day, a thinking woman’s romance. I love that phrase. I have much to learn as an author, and Night and Day is certainly not perfect, but it’s also not trite, mindless, or a waste of time. Here’s what Sheila said:

“Some romances, you know exactly which protagonists are going to get together. You know it will be perfect. You’re just waiting for the characters to work it out for themselves. But Sherrie Hansen’s Night and Day isn’t that kind of romance. These characters are all too real and too flawed for a perfect world. They’re stubborn. They cling to dreams and don’t want to compromise. Their relationships struggle to pass each all-too-human hurdle, and even as the story nears its close, it’s not clear which lives will stay entwined and which connections will quietly unravel. Is love just an idealized dream after all, or are dreams the stuff of love?

Sherrie Hansen creates sprawling farm and comfortable home, American countryside, Danish streets, wobbling bicycles, squabbling siblings, lovers’ arguments… Her scenery and her characters are all equally real, from Anders despising all things American, to Jensen delighting in all things historical, to practical Ed and misunderstood Tara, and parents who’ve moved away to Arizona. The love in these pages isn’t syrupy sweet, the characters aren’t cutouts chasing after dreams, the internet’s not perfect and neither is love, or homeland. But the mysteries of a hundred-year-old romance have messages for an all-too-modern internet relationship, and the lessons of lilacs cut to make them bloom are relevant to all.

I loved following these characters as their relationships grew. I loved wondering what choices Jensen would make, and whether she and Anders could ever turn fairy-tale into reality. I loved the side characters. I loved the conversations. I loved the world…

Sherrie Hansen’s created a thinking woman’s romance, as full of depth and feeling and love as any other, but seasoned with history, internet, real relationships, common sense and hope; a wonderful novel, highly recommended.”

And one more thing, while I’m on the subject of romance. You could do worse. My husband and I just finished listening to all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy. Despair, disillusionment, detachment, and depression – from beginning to end. I’m of the opinion that this world needs a few more happy endings. I believe the world needs a little more love.  And if people find a little hope, joy, peace and love – a little romance – in the midst of all the negative things that pervade our world, is there anything so wrong with that? Take a chance on romance. Look for a novel by Lyn Cote, Pamela Morsi, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Julie Garwood, Jill Marie Landis, LaVyrle Spencer, or Debbie Macomber, to name a few. You’ll find plenty to hold your interest… action, adventure, worthy protagonists and antagonists, symbolism, meaning, depth.

I write novels that are commonly known as romance novels. Because romance novels have negative connotations for so many people, I chose to use the word love in the title of my blog, fearing if I used the word romance, most people wouldn’t even read the article. But don’t be mistaken. I’m proud to be a writer of love stories. I’m a thinking woman, and the romances I write are well worth a few hours of your time. Try one – you’ll be surprised at what you might learn.

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.)

I decided to write about my online aura bright and early this morning. As I lay in bed, slowly waking up, I had the words all planned out… clever words, put together with onomatopoeia and alliteration and all kinds of good “stuff”.  And then my day began. My husband had an early morning doctor’s appointment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. I tried to go back to sleep after he left, but the phone rang several times in a row. I took room reservations for my B&B for a total of 16 nights and started processing the paperwork. I found out a friend had just gotten out of the hospital – and I didn’t know she’d been in. I answered an email about a do-it-yourself murder mystery party. I checked my email, facebooked for a few minutes, then got another phone call reminding me to email some photos to my ad rep at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I followed Kaila’s instructions,  had to resend one photo, and minutes later, proofed the ad. I had barely enough time for a quick shower and then it was off to the Blue Belle to fix lunch for several customers and throw together food, party games and prizes for Tanya’s baby shower. The party was a hit and Tanya liked the gift my husband picked out last night in the big city.  My husband and I climbed into the car as soon as it was over and headed for Thompson, where we scrubbed out the refrigerator, returned some folding chairs that mistakenly got moved to Hudson, and reclaimed a few odds and ends that didn’t make it into the moving trucks last weekend. While Mark finished up at the house and said a few last goodbyes, I and my portable keyboard went to Merle’s house with Mary Ann so the three of us could practice for my upcoming birthday / Blue Belle 20th anniversary party.  We drove the hour long drive home with a quick dinner stop at Subway in Lake Mills. Thank goodness they’re open until 10 p.m. Now, it’s after 11 p.m. and I and my aura are shot.

I was going to talk about the fact that some people have an encouraging online aura, others a humorous aura, and others still, an aura that’s sexy, cute or funky.  Some of my online friends have a bitter, cynical aura. Some come across as being crabby, complaining and whiny. Some have a faithful aura out of which shines a love for God and their fellow man. What kind of silent vibes do you transmit over the internet? Does your online aura personify the kind of person you are in real life, or do you use the internet as an opportunity to set your alter-ego free? If you met an online friend in real life, would they immediately recognize you?

Your words and the things you post, twitter, share and like, all make a statement about who you are – what’s important to you. In cyber space, all we have are words. Make each one count! Let your words shine with the essence of you!

If the subject of internet romance / relationship fascinates you like it does me, get a copy of my first book, Night and Day, and find out how a chance online meeting when it’s midnight in Minnesota and daybreak in Denmark transforms the lives of Jensen Marie Christiansen and Anders Westerlund.

My goal this morning was to write a blog that made me sound perky and pleasant… the kind of person you’d want to buy a book from. Instead, I probably sound exhausted – because I am! (But in the best way possible.) Keep smiling.

I can’t remember if my husband said it in his sermon on Christmas Eve at Zion Lutheran Church in Hudson, or if it was Pastor Mike from Faith E-Free Church in Austin, MN where we worshiped with my family on Sunday morning, but somewhere in the last two days I heard the phrase “Christmas is a time of new beginnings”.
Granted, there are aspects of the Christmas spirit that we should hold on to all year long – love, joy, peace, a spirit of generosity – but in many ways, Christmas is a spearhead that jump starts a whole host of events – a time to move on.
We all love a well-told story full of conflict followed by a happy ending, and certainly the Christmas story has it all… a tenuous engagement in which Joseph learned his virgin bride was pregnant with God’s son, a long, arduous, inconveniently timed journey to Bethlehem, the inability to find a place to stay the night, the stress of Mary’s impending delivery… and the grand culmination:  A baby born, a star shining in the night, a heavenly host singing “Alleluia,” shepherds bowing down in adoration, animals lowing, God’s incarnate presence in the flesh… The Christmas story is a masterpiece loved by all.
But the story does not end there. There is a sequel, and a great one at that.
Fast forward two years, and Mary and Joseph are visited by wise men, then warned in a dream that they should flee to Egypt. An evil King Herod is bent on killing Jesus – and is willing to go to great lengths to accomplish his goal. Perhaps an omen of things to come? The Bible says Mary pondered all of these things in her heart – I can only imagine what must have gone through her head – and Joseph’s – as these events unfolded. I love the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” because it looks past the Christmas story and forward to the miraculous transformation Jesus would bring into our lives as an adult, the Son of God.
If we only come to church at Christmastime – if we don’t ever read – and live out – the sequel to the Christmas story, we have missed the best part. If we don’t move on, past the sweet, little babe laying in a manger, to getting to know Jesus as a friend and Savior, we have missed the real story.
This Christmas season is also a time of moving on for my husband and I as he transitions to a new call at a new church, full of new possibilities, new growth, and new life. Although we hardly have King Herod hot on our tails, there have been some traumatic scenarios surrounding our decision to move. We’ve also said a lot of bittersweet good-byes in the last few weeks as we leave behind a church, a home and friends that we love dearly. But because we believe that God is calling us to live out a new chapter in our lives, we’re also excited and joyful about the sequel that is about to be written.
I am working on my own sequel, too. Almost three years ago, I wrote the last lines of my soon-to-be published book, Night and Day, and left Anders and Jensen in a happy place, planning a life together in either Denmark or Minnesota – maybe both. Hopes were high. Their future looked bright. A happy ending to their story was delivered as promised, and all was well.
But many of my readers wondered what happened next. They wanted to know the rest of the story. They wanted more.
For a long time, I was content, in my mind, to leave Anders and Jensen where they were. And then, a call from Pat Bertram, one of my fellow authors at Second Wind Publishing, for stories about springtime and renewal, got my mind going, and suddenly, I, too, felt a need to revisit Anders and Jensen, to find out what they were up to, and where they had been since I left off.
And so, Daybreak in Denmark was born, and the happily ever after has morphed into a complex new situation fraught with conflicts and less than perfect situations and — wondrous, magnificent, new life. Because life moves on, whether we want it to or not. At this Christmas season, let’s not forget the past – the sweet, inspirational message of the Christmas story – but let us also remember that seasonal sentimentality only goes so far, and that new life and growth will only thrive in our lives if we have the courage to move on and see what happens when we turn the next page, write a new chapter, and fully immerse ourselves in the sequel to the story.

It’s the day after Christmas, and it’s time to move on!

I’ve been thinking a lot about love letters lately. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on an inspirational novel I wrote a few years ago called Love Notes. This week, I started writing a sequel to Night and Day called Daybreak in Denmark.

Night and Day, my first book, contained some very special – and revealing – letters from Maren Jensen, who had recently immigrated to Blooming Prairie, Minnesota, written to her cousin, Sophie, back in Slagerup, Denmark.  Night and Day also contains some beautiful love notes from Anders Westerlund, sent from Denmark to Minnesota to Jensen Marie Christiansen, via email. One of my favorite scenes in Night and Day is when Jensen changes the font of an email she received from Anders to one that looks like handwriting, prints his letter on parchment paper, and lays it and a rose she picked from her garden on her pillow.

This morning on Facebook, my second cousin, Marcia, mentioned some letters that she received years ago from her Aunt Vic (my Grandma Victoria, who died at age 93, about 7 years ago). Her comment brought back a flood of memories, as I too used to get letters from my Grandma, special notes in birthday cards, then full-fledged, rambling epistles full of vignettes from her life and stories about aunts and uncles and cousins, even a few relatives I didn’t even know. The letters started when, at age 18, I went off to Wheaton College in Illinois, and followed me when I moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, Augsburg, Germany, Lawton, Oklahoma, and finally, Colorado Springs, Colorado. She stopped writing only when I stopped wandering and came home to northern Iowa / southern Minnesota. From that time on, I saw her and talked to her face to face almost every week.

Letters are a very interesting form of communication. In them, people sometimes dare to say things they would never say to someone were they talking to in person. An expression of love, a passionate – or angry – response, an accusation, a confession — why is it that many of us can say with our pen what we can’t with our lips?

Sometimes letters are simply a matter of practicality. Much as we wish never to be separated from the ones we love, it’s impossible to be two places at once, and sometimes we have to resort to letter writing to communicate. While cell phones, Skype and live chats on Facebook may have eradicated some of the impetus we used to have for writing letters, there is still a time and a place for a thoughtfully written, old-fashioned letter.

When I was in 5th grade, Roy Anderson and I got into trouble for writing love notes in class. We had to sit in the hall – together, on a small bench, just the two of us – over recess. We were so embarrassed by the end of the lunch period that I don’t think we spoke to each other again until graduation day.

The summer between my 7th and 8th grade years I wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote and finally mailed a love letter to a boy I had a crush on. Nothing ever came of it – I honestly can’t remember if I even signed it, but there was something very significant about the fact that I admitted my feelings.

When I was going through First Presbyterian’s Divorce Recovery Workshop, we were asked to write a letter to our ex-spouse, saying whatever we wanted or needed to say. At the end of the exercise, the letters were destroyed. Over 25 years later, I have no idea what I wrote, but I do remember that it was a very therapeutic way to clear the air.

When computers became the rage and internet dating- internet everything –  came of age, I had a good advantage in that I knew how to write. E-mails were suddenly key, and I excelled at them. I was lousy at flirting, and awkward as all get out when it came to first dates, job interviews and loan applications, but I knew how to write, and because of it, many doors opened to me that might not have.  I’ve always been better with words written than words said, and that simple fact has helped to shape my life.

There are everyday, run of the mill letters, and there are famous, life-changing  letters that are known worldwide. Thomas Jefferson’s letters helped shape the course of our country. The Apostle Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, Corinthians, and Philippians and to a young  Timothy, written in the first century, still deeply influence the way many of us live our lives today.

My Grandma’s Danish cousin, Boyda, still has the real letters in which Maren Jensen poured out her heart to her cousin back in Denmark. They’re written in an old-world handwriting and cadence, and we may never know exactly what is said in them. But the mystery of those letters, and the little bit I do know of them, has already inspired a love story whose legend will live on. What is a book, if not a love letter written to our readers?

When it is dark enough, you can see the stars. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

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I love this quote, and as a writer, the moment in time when my characters are in the midst of their black moment and then, suddenly, see a star shining in the darkness.

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I’ve been caught in the middle of a black hole in my own life as of late. I’m sure we’ve all experienced times in our lives when things have looked so bleak and hopeless that we couldn’t imagine we would ever find our way out of the darkness that had descended around us.

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But I’ve learned that even in the darkest hour, there is beauty to be found…

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A beacon of light…

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A splash of color…

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Some thing, some one to light our way in the darkness.

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So next time, you’re lost in the night

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With nary a crumb to follow…

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Next time you’re so far, far from home

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You think you’ll never find your way back…

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There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel…

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A glimmer of hope in the night…

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Always remember that no matter how vast the night, no matter how impenetrable the darkness may seem…

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Daybreak is always just around the corner.

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Light cannot be hidden for long…

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Daybreak… hope…. love… joy…

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Always triumph in the end.

Without the dark of midnight…

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Daybreak wouldn’t be nearly so beautiful.

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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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