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There’s something very exciting about seeing familiar characters in new situations. I love it when I get to experience my favorites things from days past paired with a handful of brand new adventures to shine a light on things and places that are fresh and exciting. My upcoming release, Daybreak, a sequel to Night and Day, will give readers a chance to reminisce and reacquaint themselves with some of their favorite characters. At the same time, it has to be realized that this second glimpse at Jensen and Anders, Ed, and the Christiansen family begins at a time when everything has changed, some things for the better, and some for the worse. Familiar characters (something old), different situations (something new).

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That’s how I’m looking at our third trip to Scotland this coming May and June. We’ll be revisiting some of our most loved spots, interspersed with a few new adventures and never before seen destinations.  Familiar sights, new experiences. Hopefully, it will be the perfect mix!

We’ll be starting out at a new B&B in a new village, halfway between Edinburgh and St. Andrews, both of which we’ve already seen. We have a beautiful room lined up in Colinsburgh, Scotland, where we’ll be our first three nights in country.

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On our first trip to Scotland, I fell in love with Cambo Garden Estates in Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife. This will be Mark’s first time, and I can’t wait to show him around, hopefully this time, not in the rain – although the raindrops and overcast haze made for some lovely photos in 2007.

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Some newly discovered treasures we hope to see while we’re in the area include Kellie Castle, with its fairytale stone towers, and an Arts & Crafts garden with herbaceous borders and old rose gardens, and Culross, Scotland’s most complete example of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries. Envision white-harled houses with red-tiled roofs lining steep, cobbled streets running from market cross to the hilltop abbey. In the centre is an ochre-coloured palace with a beautifully reconstructed herb garden, complete with rare Scots Dumpy hens. We’re told it’s one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland.

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On next few nights will be spent in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. When we’re not enjoying our cozy abode, we hope to visit some new spots – Ailean Chraggan Hotel, where we’re told you can meet the locals, and the food is good. The Breadlabane Bakery is on my list, and a highly recommended Deli-ght, a great delicatessen with very good home cooked ready meals we can enjoy at our home away from home.

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Our trip to Aberfeldy will include a visit to a favorite art gallery belonging to Artist Audrey Slowrance

And – a return visit to nearby Blair Atholl Castle where we will once again see the Atholl Highlanders marching in review, and the famed highland games

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From there, we’re off to Inverness, or the countryside near Inverness, where we’ll spend two days at Ben View House Lentran Farm, which looks lovely inside and out.

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While we’re in the highlands, we plan to visit the living Highland Folk Museum. Visitors to this living history Museum can learn how our Scottish Highland ancestors lived, built their homes, tilled the soil and dressed. We can’t wait to see the restored buildings and witness Highland history coming to life.

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The Kilted Fudge Company is next on my list. I first tasted their handmade cream and butter fudge at the highland games in 2016. Located in Aviemore, Scotland, they feature mouth-watering Scottish favourites such as Irn Bru, Crannachan, Clootie Dumpling (my absolute fave), Millionaire’s Shortbread, Turkish Delight and Parma Violet.

On our last visit, we couldn’t quite squeeze in Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, the Scottish residence of the British Royal Family. After watching two seasons of Masterpiece Theater’s Victoria, we’re intrigued by the history of Balmoral Castle, which dates from the 15th century, but was considered too small when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with the region and people during a visit to the Scottish Highlands. Prince Albert set about organising the design of the current castle and grounds when the Royal Family purchased the estate in 1852. Construction of the new castle started during the summer 0f 1853, on a site just 100 yards from the original building. The couple spent many weeks each year relaxing at their new home in Highlands, and after Albert’s death, Victoria spent up to 4 months each year at Balmoral.  If we have time, we’ll also explore Braemar Castle, a largely restored 17th century castle originally built in 1628.

From there, we head to Ullapool…

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Our host will be Fair Morn Bed & Breakfast, in a room with a view, at Morefield Brae.  This will be another first for us, as will the lovely Achmelvich Beach, and the award-winning Inverewe Garden, where we’re promised we can lose ourselves in the lush setting and enjoy a riot of colours and scents.

We’ll start out June with a three hour long CalMac Ferry Ride on hopefully calm seas!

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While on the Isles of Lewis and Harris, we’ll stay at Keepers House, Uig Beach, Tinsgarry, Isle of Lewis. Although it was tempting to head back to the Isle of Mull, where Blue Belle is set, or Isle of Arran, which we enjoyed so much in 2016, we decided to strike out and try something new…

The mysterious, and now famous standing stones seen in Outlander will no doubt be our first stop.  We’re also hoping to drive over the bridge from Harris to explore the small island of Scalpay and its red and white striped Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island’s eastern cliffs. We’re told Scalpay’s North Harbour Bistro is the place for a tasty meal and that we need to browse the beautiful Harris Tweed products at the Pink Sheep Studio. We want to see Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, an open-air museum with its restored blackhouses – long stone cottages with thatched roofs. Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old. on the very northern tip of the island, or the Butt of Lewis, Luskentyre Beach, and St. Clement’s Church in the tiny town of Rodel are also on the list.

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After another ferry ride to Uig, Isle of Skye, we hope to take in a sunset like this one.

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We’ll definitely revisit our favorite scenic overlook on Skye, and the much loved Eilean Donan Castle featured in my books Shy Violet and Sweet William. One spot that we previously missed is Caisteal Maol (Castle Bare) near Kyle of Lochalsh. We hope to include it on this trip… something old, something new…

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Staying in Lochcarron, setting of Golden Rod, will be a new experience, (Castle Cottage looks wonderful!) but we’ll also enjoy some of our favorite spots while we’re there.

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And then, it’s off to Fort William on our way south toward Glasgow.

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After one night at Loch View Estate, Fort William, we’re very excited to get to explore a new corner of western Scotland, where we get to stay in a B&B that looks absolutely delightful.

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Kilmartin Glen is located between Oban and Lochgilphead, surrounding the village of Kilmartin, on the west of Scotland. The area spans 5,000 years with a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles. Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.

And then, it’s off to Paisley to repack our suitcases and catch an early morning flight back to the U.S.

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If we have time, I’d love to see House for an Art Lover in Glasgow. It’s situated in Bellahouston Park, about 10 minutes from the flat where we’ll be staying. It’s a wonderful Charles Rennie Mackintosh building with a fantastic restaurant and art collection.

Maybe now you have a sense of why I keep revisiting Scotland in my books, my travels, and my dreams. And although I took a detour back to Denmark and Minnesota in my new book, Daybreak, the concept is the same. Something old and familiar, something new and exciting, something borrowed (aren’t all stories?) and something blue… always Blue. It’s the stuff the best stories are made of.

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(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

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(Disclaimer:  I use my own photos except for those of places I have never been, which I obviously couldn’t have taken – yet.)

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There’s no better way to spend a wintery day than to plan a summer vacation. My home in northern Iowa got over ten inches of snow on Thursday night and Friday. The murder mystery we had scheduled for that night was cancelled due to 40 mph wind gusts and blizzard conditions. Thankfully, we didn’t lose power, because I was busy online, reserving rooms and planning our late May, early June trek through Wales, Ireland and southern England.

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Now that Mark and I are both in our 60’s, our goal is to take an adventurous vacation every year for as long as we’re able. Everyone we know says, do it now, while you can. We’re following their advice. We don’t want to be one of those couples who works too hard and waits too long to see the world, only to lose their health, their mobility, or one or the other of them to death.

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Last year, when we were in Scotland, we walked 7 to 10 miles nearly every day of our 2 1/2 week trip in order to see things like the Fairy Glen, the cows grazing on Claigan Coral Beach on Skye, the Fairy Pools, the ancient Standing Stones on Arran, the ruins of Findlater Castle on Cullen Bay, and Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.

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In Romania, we went up and down hundreds of flights of stairs  to see Dracula’s Bran Castle. We strained our muscles to the max  to walk down steep inclines to the sea in Cornwall to see Tintagel Castle and again, in Clovelly, Devon. It wasn’t easy because we’re not in the greatest shape, but we did it, and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we can.

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This year, we’re off to Wales, Ireland and the south of England. We got a great price on our airline tickets, and have pinned down where we’re staying. Our first three nights will be spent exploring the coastal paths, beaches and sunsets of southwest Wales at Cardigan, where we’ll be staying in an restored, 18th century, attic apartment.

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We’ll move on to Northern Wales, where our home for three nights will be Glyn House, in Capel Curig, in Snowdonia in the Welsh mountains.

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From there, we’ll catch the ferry to Ireland, a new country for both of us. We’ll see the historic area north of Dublin from Hollow Stream B&B in the village of Kingscourt, which boasts a pub with live Celtic music the first Friday of the moth. Perfect timing!

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Our remaining time in Ireland will find us in a luxurious 1930’s home near Croom village in Limerick, a stone house in Killarney, Kerry, from which we can visit Dingle, on the far southwest coast of Ireland, and a 250 year old Georgian house in Cashel, Tipperary.

After ferrying from Dublin back to Wales, we’ll spend one indulgent night at a Georgian restaurant with rooms on the Llyn Peninsula on the far west side of Wales.

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On our first night back in England, we’ll be cozied up in a 17th century Cotswold stone farmhouse home in Evesham, close to Chipping Campden and Stratford upon Avon, and more important, my cousin Sarah and her family in Bicester. The B&B is beautiful, but it was the rare Soay sheep they keep that called out to me and said, “Boooook.”

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Our second to the last stop of the trip is just north of Devon, near the southern shore of England. If I don’t come home, this is where I’ll probably be…

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Our last two nights will be in a sweet Victorian cottage in Kent, somewhat near Gatwick Airport for ease of travel. We tried to think of ease and comfort when making a lot of our reservations… queen or king beds, no steep staircases or ladders leading to loft bedrooms, quiet countryside locations with plenty of parking, pretty gardens for relaxing,  two or three nights per location, and views to the west so I can watch the sun set.

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Even more important, I tried to find places that captured my imagination. As I learned when we stumbled upon St. Conan’s Kirk in Loch Awe, Scotland, an idea for a book (Wild Rose) can spring up from the most unanticipated locales. The same thing happened when I heard “Nathan” playing the pipes in front of Eilean Donan Castle and caught a glimpse of the pirate boat in the cove (Shy Violet and Sweet William).

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It was an old legend on a castle tour that primed the pump for Golden Rod, coming this summer.

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I’m not sure what about, or even if this trip will result in a new book, but it wouldn’t surprise me. My mind is already tantalized after choosing the places we’ll be staying. I can’t wait! If it’s still cold and snowy where you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking about summer for a few minutes. If my preview didn’t do the trick, pick up a book and escape to a faraway place where the wildflowers are blooming and a summer breeze is blowing across the Atlantic. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

Until then, mar sin leat. 

I’m not sure why, but all of the sudden, I’m starting to feel like an old fogy. (Definition:  an extremely fussy, old-fashioned, or conservative person.) It started last summer when my mom and dad celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and their 80th birthdays. My parents have always seemed quite young to me, and they are compared to many of my classmates and peers, since I’m the oldest child in our family. (They only waited a couple of years before they had me, so that tells you about how old I am.) When did they get to be so old?

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Suddenly, my little niece is taller than I am, and most likely smarter, too.

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This winter, the house my dad built when I was 16 suddenly needed a lot of updating because it was over 40 years old. When did that happen? Earlier this month, a video of the house I renovated and turned into a bed and breakfast almost 25 years ago started to recirculate, and as I looked at a young, energetic, spry-looking version of myself smiling on the video, I realized that my staff, neighbors, nieces and nephews, and half the people in town have no idea how horrible the property used to look, and how absolutely heroic I was to rescue the place from the bulldozing it probably deserved. They either weren’t born yet, or were about 5 years old.

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Yes, that’s me in the middle.

I’ve always prided myself on being pretty with it. I play with a contemporary Christian band and there’s nothing I like more than rocking out with the volume on my keyboard at full blast. I pound out a mean bass line and I’ve got the rhythm. I write steamy novels, wear funky clothes and hats, and work circles around many of my years younger staff members. I may be a little gray; I may be getting a little stiff in the joints, but I like to think I’ve still got it. Well, part of it anyway.

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But lately… well, I’ve started to feel more and more irked with the way the younger generation thinks and does things. I routinely say things like, “What is this world coming to?”, and “Back in my day, we used to…”, and “When I was your age…” When I watch the Grammies, the only musicians I’m familiar with are those being inducted into the Hall of Fame.  To be honest, most of what we call contemporary music at our church are songs written 30 or 40 years ago. And when I visit churches with truly contemporary music and smoke machines and light shows, I cringe and probably feel the way my parents did the first time I sang Ralph Carmichael’s “He’s Everything to Me”.

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And don’t even get me started on the fact that many of the obituaries in the paper are for people my age or even younger. It’s scary to think that I’m in the twilight years of my life, or that it’s all downhill from here. And to quote a comedian three-fourths of you have probably never heard of, “I don’t get no respect.”

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Suddenly, I understand all the fuss about bucket lists, because time is running out, and if I’m going to do it, it needs to be now, while I still can. My goal has been to leave the country every three to five years to go on a dream vacation, but suddenly, it makes more sense to take a good long trip to somewhere far away and exotic every year, before it’s too late. Even then, you’ll probably find me on a cruise ship or one of peering out the windows of one of those big buses with really comfy seats. I hate the thought of missing out on anything.

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Because today I noticed something. Sunsets are just as beautiful as sunrises. Maybe even more so. I have wisdom, and grace, and the kind of polish and beauty that a rock gets from being in a rock tumbler. I’ve worked hard for what I have, and now, I get to enjoy it (well, whatever the government doesn’t take first). But that’s another thing I shouldn’t get started on.

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Sunrises are just fine. But watching the sun sink into the horizon in a blazing display of color and class… All I can say is, I’m going to enjoy every last minute of the show. Sometimes, the sky is at it’s most brilliant when the sun has already set, and the truth is, I’ve always been a night owl.

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I firmly believe that each book I write is better than the last, and besides, it’s great fun to put my characters up to things I would never do now that I’m… And that I’m so in the groove at my B&B that the food we turn out only gets better and better. And, like all of us, my music – my generation’s – is the best. So there.

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Smile if you will, but think of me next time you see the sun setting, and remember, one day, you’ll be an old fogy, too.

Cal - Rachel SS

 

 

 

 

Hard as I’ve tried to crop out my big, unsightly arms and hold my chin high and my stomach taut when posing for and posting photos on the world wide web, I’m sure it’s no secret that I struggle with my weight.

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Just last weekend, I posed for a photo on the front porch of the Blue Belle Inn, the B&B I’ve owned for 22 years, with a group of published authors who were here for a Writer’s Retreat, without putting on my trademark hat. Besides the fact that I love hats and I’m told they look particularly cute on me, I use them to camouflage a head of hair that I’m decidedly not fond of,  So there it is. There were at least 6 or 8 cameras being snapped as I stood, blissfully unaware of how I looked at that precise moment – I can hardly delete every instance of a photo that’s already appeared on Facebook, in blogs, and on the front page of at least one local newspaper.

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Being less than confident about the way we look is a familiar struggle for not only women, but men who are starting to inch past their prime. One of my heroines, Michelle from Water Lily, and the middle sister from my Maple Valley trilogy, is so down on the way she looks that it almost costs her the love of her life. But the vast majority of my female characters – Jensen from Night and Day, Rae from Stormy Weather, Tracy from Merry Go Round, and Hope from Love Notes – are quite comfortable in their skin, They’re not necessarily beauty queens, but most of the time, they feel pretty and confident about the way the world sees them.

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Tommy Love, in Love Notes, is in the midst of a full-blown mid life crisis, and hates that he’s no longer the teen idol, heart throb he was on his first album cover. Rose,  in Wild Rose, is mortified to have been inadvertently captured on Pastor Ian’s video in the midst of a passionate romp under the flying buttresses, but it’s more about half of Scotland seeing her next to naked than it is her BMI.

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Just as my characters feelings about themselves vary, I have readers who range from skinny to obese, young, with full heads of hair, to aging and half (or all the way) bald. I have readers who run marathons, climb mountains and bicycle across entire states, some who have had weight loss surgery to attain their desired weight, and those who range from pleasingly plump to hating the way they look – some for good reason, and others, because they simply can’t see how beautiful they really are.

So, my question for my readers as I sculpt characters for Blue Belle and Shy Violet (The next installments of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels) is – do you appreciate and empathize with a somewhat homely or otherwise flawed character who struggles with their weight or other physical attributes they’re not fond of, or when reading, do you prefer to escape into the world (dreamworld?) of a young or perfectly aged character who loves the way they look?

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Two of my favorite characters of all time from the Little House on the Prairie books, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Tacy books, endeared themselves to me, at least in part, because of their physical foibles – the seemingly unable to stay tidy and prim and proper looking for longer than 10 minutes Laura, with her sunbonnet dangling around her neck and the resulting freckles she got from being out in the sunshine, and Betsy, with the much detested space between her front teeth that she so often rued. I could relate, and oh, how I loved them for their imperfections – because they mirrored my own.

To those of you who are beautiful people, or at least confident in the way you appear and unfazed by physical imperfections – do you lose patience with a character who periodically bemoans the way they look, or do you find yourself drawn to their insecurities and rooting for the underdog?

Just curious!

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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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