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Here in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota, we’ve been snowed in by a blizzard for the last few days. For two days, we were completely cut off from the rest of the world by 6 and 7 foot high drifts up and down our road. Now that the plows have come through, there are walls of snow 8 or 9 feet high on either side of the road, and the drifts that haven’t been already been blasted away are as hard as cement. Our temperatures heading into the month of March are forecast to be in the single digits, so there’s no sign of a spring thaw anytime soon.

Blizzard photo 2On Sunday, church was cancelled for the first time in decades, and I’ve been totally discombobulated ever since, wondering what day it is and awakening in the night thinking it’s time to get up and play the piano. Our schools have had 10 snow days in less than a month and at the rate we’re going, they may be making up days until the 4th of July.

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Not to complain… our electricity has stayed on and we have heat. We had plenty of warning that the storm was on its way so we were able to get where we needed to be before the weather turned the roads to glare ice and stock up on food to eat while we were snowed in.  Thank goodness!

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Is it just me, or do you get hungry for good old-fashioned comfort foods when something in your life isn’t going quite right?  This weekend, I’ve had meatloaf, home-grown sausage, egg salad sandwiches, and raisin cinnamon bread with a lot of smooth, creamy butter spread on top – and a lot of wonderful cheeses because I was supposed to have a cheese tasting party (it also fell victim to the blizzard).

Cheese

I have a lot of other foods that I associate with warm, cozy feelings – chocolate chip cookie dough (well, any kind of cookie dough), Grandma Hansen’s chicken pie with baking powder biscuits on top, homemade apple pie, Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter and butter sandwiches… I could go on… This is part of the reason I struggle with my weight.  But my point is that food does a great job of  soothing frazzled emotions and making us happy. So do books, and they’re a lot less fattening!

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Reading a favorite book can take you back to happier, less stressful times. Books can transport you to another part of the world, a different era in time, or an altogether unique universe where fantasy reigns. In a well-woven story, dreams can come true. The characters in a wonderful book can reassure you that things could be worse – that your life and your problems aren’t half bad after all. A good novel can help you to dream again, to move forward and keep trying when your own world seems hopeless.

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Books can fill your heart with hope. They can uplift you and make you laugh. They can provide a quick escape from the harsh realities of life and renew your perspective.

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That’s why I like reading a good book when I’m stranded in a blizzard, trying to relax, or feeling anxious and overwhelmed by what’s going on in my life.

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My love for books helped shape my business, a bed and breakfast and country inn called the Blue Belle Inn, just as my passion for good food has. If you come to visit, you’ll find rooms named Never Neverland, On the Banks of Plum Creek, Secret Garden, Anne’s House of Dreams, A Wrinkle in Time, and Heaven to Betsy from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Tacy books. I’m a writer because Betsy Ray was, and if Laura Ingalls Wilder could make it through the Long Winter, then I can survive these horrible winds and snowstorms we keep having.

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If you’re an avid reader, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t picked up a book in awhile – I urge you to give reading a second chance. Whether you need comforting or calming, perking up or settling down, a good book can help. Hopefully, it will bring a smile to your face and a song to your heart.  Cookie dough might give you a momentary lift, but reading can change your life.

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Someone once told me that one great way to restart your brain is to take a shower. I’ve had it happen more than once. I’m working at the computer with whatever I’m working on open on the screen and I can’t think of a thing to write. No matter how hard I try, nothing comes. Then, I get in the shower, with no way to write anything down, and no sooner does the water start to rain down on me than the voices of my characters start to jabber inside my head and new plotlines magically form.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

Over the years, I’ve learned that a vacation – especially one to a far off destination – can have the same effect, only in a much more profound way. Here’s what seems to happen when I take a trip, and how to enjoy a traveling adventure that refreshes both brain and body.

 

1. Let go of expectations. Anything can happen on a vacation. I like to plan our trips and enjoy researching places to eat and stay, as well as things to see and do, but I’ve also learned that it’s fairly impossible to predict what will happen on any given day, how long it will take to get from Point A to Point B, and what things we might encounter along the way. Once I let go of my stubborn insistence that things have to be a certain way, it’s amazing what can happen!

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  1. Forget about staying focused and enjoy the distractions. You may not be able to tell it from looking at my house (creative minds are rarely tidy as the old saying goes), but I’m a highly organized person, at least when it comes to my professional life. I make lists and cross things off when they’re done. I thrive under deadlines. I plan events with an intricate timeline based on what things I can do ahead down to the tasks that have to be done at the last minute. When I go on a trip, it’s a challenge and a pleasure to be able to relax and realize that nothing matters but having fun.

  1. Open your mind to new ideas, possibilities. It’s kind of sad, the way I go to the same restaurants and order the same exact foods and wear the same few shirts and skirts until they’re worn out from washing. I like being in my comfort zone, but when I’m forced out of my established ruts and have to try new things, I experience a wondrous feeling of freedom and discovery!

  1. Bloom and grow. I try NOT to grow any wider when I’m on vacation – it’s difficult when every corner grocery has caramel shortbread (Millionaire Bars), Battenberg Cakes, Meat and Fisherman’s Pies, pâté, amazing cheeses, and oddles of creamy Cadbury milk chocolate delights. But I love widening my perspectives, learning new things and stretching myself. It’s so easy to become stagnant. Letting a Chinook wind blow in and infiltrate my mind is like spring coming to the soul after a long hard winter.

  1. Meet new people. Stir the pot. I think the older we get, the harder it is to meet new people and make new friends. Most of us have lived in the same place for quite some time, and the people already have their established circles. Adult children and grandkids occupy people’s time after a certain age, and the sad truth is, I’m often so worn out after I do what I have to that I’m too tired to want to get out and socialize. When I do go out, I have to think long and hard about what we have to talk about because we’ve already spoken about everything under the sun at least a million times. But when I’m on vacation, every day is an opportunity to participate in new conversations about different topics, to hear what different people from other countries think and feel about things. It’s a great way to not only liven things up, but to gain a new perspective. I love listening and learning from the “chance” people I meet when we’re traveling.

  1. Strip away the mundane and set your sights on the extraordinary. Letting go of old things is almost a requirement for being able to embrace new things. If you’re clutching at what you have, you can’t open your hands and accept something new. If you’re always looking down, you’ll never catch sight of a rainbow. If you don’t walk away from your work or your possessions, your family, or whatever it is that tethers you to the ground, you will likely never fly, accomplish your dreams, or sail off to uncharted waters.

  1. Let your senses be reawakened. Open your eyes. I’ve written several articles urging people to look for the beauty in their own backyard. It’s a wonderful thing to do. But the fact is, after looking at the same garden or flowering tree or porch swing every day for a quarter of a century, it’s easy to get desensitized to even the most lovely scene. Traveling, seeing different sights and fresh images, and taking the time to walk about and relish the beauty in unfamiliar locations not only jumpstarts my creativity, it makes me notice things through fresh eyes.

If you haven’t taken a good long vacation lately, I highly recommend that you find a way to get away. For me, escaping the familiar and journeying to unknown realms is the best way to rejuvenate.

(As you read this, Sherrie and her husband, Mark, are on their way back to Scotland to enjoy a much-anticipated vacation. Watch for Sherrie’s next book, DAYBREAK, a sequel to NIGHT & DAY, coming from Indigo Sea Press in July. All photos are from our home and previous vacations to Scotland, Romania, Kentucky, and England.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

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

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Seaside Daisy – NEW RELEASE

NEW RELEASE!

Daybreak (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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