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The old joke goes that someone asked Mrs. Lincoln, “Apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” The twentieth century version would be, “Aside from that, Mrs. Kennedy, how did you enjoy your trip to Dallas?”

Today is the 360th day of the year. There are five days left in 2017. For me, much of the year passed in a fog because in 2017 my father was diagnosed with leukemia and eventually died. When something that life changing happens, everything else is inconsequential. But the year did have some bright points, and I’d like to think on a few of those things as well as what I am looking forward to in 2018.

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In January, Mark and I went to Arizona for a Spiritual Life Retreat. It was a good way to start out the year and helped ground me for what was to come. Seeing the beautiful red rocks and hiking in the desert was an eye-opening  experience for me. Having grown up amid Minnesota Northwood trees, lakes and streams, I’d rarely appreciated the beauty of the desert – until we discovered Sonoran Botanical Gardens. We even saw a rainbow. A promise was a good thing, because even then, we knew something was wrong with Dad.

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The first week of February, I celebrated 25 years of being open for business at the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, and my 60th birthday. We served Tomato Basil, Fresh Broccoli, Wonderful Wild Rice, and Potato Ham soups, egg salad and Monte Cristo sandwiches, Copenhagen Cream with Raspberries and my fancy homemade cookies. I hired a DJ and made up an eclectic set-list of favorite songs from 1957 on. It was a wonderful night and would be my Dad’s last time to come to an event at the Blue Belle.

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March brought a flurry of bad diagnosis and a roller coaster ride of hope and frustrations and searches for answers.

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In April, Dad took his last “big trip” when he came down to Mark’s church in Hudson to listen to the M&MS and Zion’s worship team sing Life is Like a Mountain Railway, his favorite song. We practiced it several times for him because it made him so happy.

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In late May, Mark and I said goodbye to Dad at the ICU at Mayo. Dad had pneumonia. I hated leaving him, but we had tickets to Wales, Ireland and England. We compensated for our absence by calling him every night from whatever country we were in. We stayed at B & B’s, enjoyed taking photos of amazing castles, gardens, and beaches, as well as sampling delicious pub grub, smoked haddock, millionaire bars (caramel shortbread), meat pies, Battenberg cakes, and Irish stew. Our adventures on the Wild Atlantic Way along the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland inspired a new book, Seaside Daisy.

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Dad rallied and was still alive when we came home in mid-June. It seems like the whole summer went by in a blur. Dad had chemo and almost 70 blood transfusions. We almost lost him twice, once when he went into anaphylaxis shock and once when his platelets dropped to 1.7. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren came from all over the country to hug and cheer him on. Through it all, he kept his sense of humor and faith. In the midst of all the busyness, my new release, Golden Rod, came out in July. I tried to promote it a little bit, but my mind was wrapped up in bigger things.

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In August, it became apparent that more chemo was not an option. The process of acceptance that we were going to lose him began. Dad said it was sure too bad he had to miss his funeral because he knew the music would be great (lively bluegrass) and he’d get to see everyone he knew. When he first mentioned having a funeral rehearsal, we thought he was kidding.

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Sept 7, we kids hosted Everett Hansen Day at the Farm. Nearly 250 friends and family came for a potluck, greeted by a joyous, smiling Dad. During the next two months Dad was able to stay at home, and as was his goal, watch the harvest come in. My brothers and sister and I took turns spending the night in the double recliner next to him and enjoying many late night conversations.

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October was spent doubling back to the Blue Belle to serve over a hundred Seasoned Pork and Parmesan Stuffed Pumpkins to lunch guests by day, planning and writing murder mysteries by night, spending Wed, Thurs and Fri evenings with Dad, and worrying about him the rest of the week when we were down in Hudson.

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Dad died on November 7th. The actual funeral was everything Dad envisioned, with great bluegrass music. I started writing again on the 22nd, but switched to working on Daybreak in Denmark, a sequel to my first book, Night and Day, because the father character reminded me of Dad.

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Gray December has been spent catching up on everything that didn’t get done this summer, trying to break out of the fog, and getting used to the “new normal” of not daily talking to Dad about what is going on in my life and hearing his jokes and advice. I’ve spent a lot of time crying. Comfort foods help for awhile and then make me feel worse. I am so thankful that I was able to spend so much time with Dad before he died, but the resulting closeness made it harder to adjust to him being gone.

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I think 2018 will bring more big changes in my life. I’m not sure what that means, but I sense it very strongly. I wonder where to go from here. Nothing is as much fun as it used to be, because I can’t tell Dad about it and hear his laughter or comments. Sometimes, I think I could just as well die too, but I have to finish Daybreak in Denmark first – as long as I’m half done already. We Hansens like to finish what we start, and like Dad, I find it very satisfying to watch the harvest come in.

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I wish all of you happy endings in 2018. To those of you who have suffered losses in 2017, I pray you will find peace and joy in the New Year. Because it’s not the end, but a new beginning.

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An almost full moon reflected off a pond hugged by beds of flowers in blues, yellows and violets of various heights. In the center, a fountain trickled down the neck and breasts of a stone statue of a woman with full hips and voluptuous curves. The scene was framed by walls of stone and brick, etched with pink climbing roses and lavender wisteria. This is what they were going to destroy?

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As Mark and I head off on another trip to indulge our love affair with Great Britain and research settings of future books, I’m anticipating the release of GOLDEN ROD, the book inspired by last year’s journey to Scotland.

One of the things I most love about writing is the chance to scope out new locations – and with them, the likeable qualities and legends that give the place its charm. And when we get home, my pleasure is doubled when I get to sit down with my thoughts, reminisce about our experiences, and craft a story with word pictures about the places we’ve seen.

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Although Rod MacKenzie’s exquisite walled garden and the unique castle pictured on the front cover of GOLDEN ROD are fictional in the sense that they’re not located along the shores of Loch Carron, many of the other spots mentioned in the book are as real as you and me. In the text below, I’m going to share a snippet from GOLDEN ROD followed by a photo of the real life image that inspired it. Craigievar Castle, Leith Hall Garden and Crarae Garden, which I magically transported to the Lochcarron and the Wester Ross area of Western Scotland, are actually located to the east in Aberdeenshire and Argyll. Enjoy!

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The blue waters of Loch Carron disappeared, then reappeared. The road widened. Katelyn glanced out the window and caught sight of a rusty old gate surrounding a cemetery. The stones were all but covered with moldy-looking splotches of who knew what and some sort of green slime that looked straight from the pages of a horror flick.

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A few blocks later, a large white building appeared. The huge black letters on its side wall spelled LOCHCA, followed by an R dangling precariously from what looked to be one nail, and a tenuous RON. Which is exactly what she wished she’d done the second she set foot in Scotland – run. Rod might have fanciful – make that delusional – images of the town where he’d been raised, but all she could see was a place that needed a good PR person to improve and update its sad, sorry, broken down image.

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The town was comprised of a long row of houses on one side, with a sidewalk, a greenbelt, and the lake on the other.

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Rod pulled into a parking spot and came around to open the door for her. The sign on the front of the whitewashed building with blue trim and a slate roof said Waterside Café, Tearoom Takeaway. There were round picnic tables with bright blue umbrellas over the top in front. Rod straddled the bench of one, and motioned for her to have a seat.

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“Ye can go in and look at the menu board on the wall if ye like, or wait. They’ll bring ye a menu in a minute.”

“You don’t need one?”

“Nae. They know what I want.”

“How could they?”

“I’m a regular.”

“And you have the same thing every time?”

“For lunch, Stornoway Black Pudding Stack. It’s layered with apples and Stilton cheese. Pure dead brilliant.”

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 “M’Lady? M’Lady? Are ye here?” Valan MacKenzie stood at the window where his wife had fallen to her death 500 years earlier and started to sing her favorite song in the hope she would come to him.

When bluebells start to bloom each spring, I’ll come to ye. My love I’ll bring.

My heart for ye, it always breaks. But sadness will nae overtake.

For hope lives on in each new day. My love for ye will find its way.

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Rod was holding two large china plates. “I took the liberty of getting some essentials since ye were asleep when we reached the grocery. I thought ye’d enjoy trying a full Scottish breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausages, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast. I skipped the haggis and the black pudding on yer plate since ye seemed a bit squeamish about them yesterday, but the rest should be-”

Her stomach had started to roil at the word eggs. It wasn’t that she disliked eggs, but the thought of eating such a huge breakfast when she was stressed out and in an unfamiliar place and it wasn’t even breakfast time where she was from…

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They walked through the laburnum archway he and his da had planted a decade earlier. The slender yellow fronds were just starting to fade.

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A minute later, Katelyn came flouncing down the steps of the blue and white house where Colin’s office was located. He’d never met anyone – man or woman – with so much attitude.

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The taller one smiled. “Is Sea Worthy booked for the rest of the afternoon or are you free? We were hoping to see Kilt Rock and Portree from the sea.”

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“Do ye like fish? I’ve two nicely smoked haddock filets that I picked up in Portree this afternoon. My mother used to make something called Haddock Mornay. It’s been years, but I think I can remember how to make the sauce.”

Katelyn looked up and smiled faintly. Aye, the lass was warming up to him awright.

“My mum would make a roux and then stir a wee bit of garlic salt and some buttery, soft white Cheddar from the Isle of Arran into the cream. If ye’re a fan of fish, the taste of the Mornay sauce, o’er a bit of mash, is pure dead brilliant.”

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Rod tried to put Katelyn out of his mind as he walked back to the cottage. The deep, mossy scents of the forest floor, the sun-warmed pine needles, and the last remnants of the bluebells filled his nostrils with the familiar scents he loved so much. He could have spent all evening in the woods.

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Katelyn twirled slowly, not willing to miss a single degree of the panorama spread out in front of her. “Thank you so much for bringing me here. I can’t imagine a place more beautiful than this one.” She peeked through the lacey fronds of Scotch pines and Douglas firs that stretched from blue waters to bluer skies.

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Rod put one arm around her shoulder and pointed with the other. “See the big white house on the other side of the loch? That’s Stromeferry, where my grandpa’s ferry used to operate.”

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Katelyn looked past the feathery fir trees and the hillside covered in bluebells, and the buttercups in bloom, and caught a glimpse of the sky. Moody, grey, towering clouds cast shadows into each valley, every fold of the hillside, turning sunshine to gloom. She felt as unsettled as a changeling, which she might as well believe in now that she’d met a pair of ghosts and God.

She could have stood with her neck arched, looking up at the roiling clouds, forever. It wasn’t because they were beautiful, or even captivating. They were on the move, ever-changing. They were frighteningly unpredictable. They were out of control, so various and sundry that one couldn’t be sure what was going to happen from minute to minute say nothing about tomorrow. Just like her life.

 

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I hope you’ll read GOLDEN ROD when it comes out next month! Although you’ll see a few familiar faces from my first four Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it’s not necessary to read any of them to enjoy GOLDEN ROD.

The only way Katelyn O’Neal can save her niece’s life is to ruin Rod Mackenzie’s. One 600-year-old Scottish castle. A rightful heir. A legal heir. Two desperate ghosts. GOLDEN ROD by Sherrie Hansen. Coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

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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 don’t know who coined the phrase, “the joy in the journey”, but I do know that it almost always eludes me.  A few days ago, I was sitting in an airport in Toronto, Canada on my way to Glasgow, Scotland, the Highlands, and the Isles of Arran and Skye. Like most people, I hate flying and airports in general, and submit to the indignities of being crammed into miniscule seats with dozens of hot, sweaty strangers only because I have no choice if I want to get where I’m going.

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Why is it that we so desperately long to skip the getting there part and jump right to the arrival? Scotland is definitely worth the long flight – no doubt aboot that. But why is it that I can’t find anything to appreciate about the journey?

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My ancestors came to America on ships from England, Denmark, and Germany under deplorable conditions. Many came with barely a penny to their name. Some had to delay their journey to their ultimate destination until they had earned enough money working in New York or Pennsylvania to take the train to Minnesota or Iowa, where a homestead awaited them.

Unpleasant as flying can be, it’s quick, and relatively painless. Sometimes your luggage gets lost, but at least you get to bring things along. I can’t imagine leaving all my treasures behind and having to choose only 1 trunk full of possessions for an entire family.

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We may have an occasional bumpy landing in our modern day aircraft, but many of our ancestors lurched along on muddy, rock-pocked roads in covered wagons with hardwood wheels. Just thinking about it makes my back hurt. It makes me embarrassed to admit that I am traveling with a 1 ½” thick memory foam pad and my own, specially shaped pillow for neck support just the way I like it. (Yes, you can call me a Princess because I can feel a single pea under a bad mattress.)

Sweet William Front Cover

In Sweet William, Lyndsie has to decide between her precious home, career and country and a new life with William in Minnesota. There’s really no other option. When I met my husband almost 14 years ago, we both had established lives and our own homes and career paths. Instead of forcing one of us to give up what we had, we were able to find a way to merge our lives. I’m very thankful for that. Much as I love my husband, it would have been hard to choose between him and everyone and everything else I love. (You’ll have to read Sweet William to see what Lyndsie decides what to do.)

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As we traveled from Minneapolis to Toronto to Halifax, Nova Scotia to Glasgow, I tried to find things to be thankful for. I can’t say I found joy, but our journey so far has included an amazing house sitter who is a definite answer to prayer, some very polite and helpful Delta Airlines employees, a kind stranger or two who could tell I was struggling and offered to help, some prayer warriors on Facebook that encouraged me when our tickets were lost in the system and nowhere to be found, and even an ex-wife who stepped up in an emergency and made sure our car was taken care of. I didn’t seen any 360 degree rainbows from the airplane windows, but there was a handsome man sitting beside me who I’m awfully thankful for. There’s always something to be grateful for, even in the midst of the journey.

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That doesn’t mean I dinnae sometimes get grumpy on the journey. On our second day in Scotland, we hiked to see some ancient standing stones on the moors of the Isle of Arran. We were under the impression that the walk would be just a wee bit of a stroll, maybe 500 meters. Three long, hot miles later, we finally reached the standing stones. And we still had to get back to the car. We had no water, no sunscreen, and no food. It had been hours since we’d eaten breakfast and used a restroom, and it was already time for supper. As we listened to the plaintive “baaaaaaas” of the sheep in the pasture along the way, I wanted to hang my head and wail along with them. (I did a couple of times.) But then I turned around and saw what lay ahead.

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Joy in the journey? Are we there yet? I truly hope you have an easy time of it, and that the getting there goes quickly and is without pain. But if you experience delays, or unexpected trials along the way, or run into a thicket of thorny gorse, remember to look for the bright spots, and the kind hearts, and perhaps you will find joy in the journey after all.

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I may already be in Scotland by the time you read this, perhaps on the Isle of Arran, touring Brodick Castle or walking amongst the rhododendrons in the walled garden. Perhaps we’ll be checking out of Lilybank Guest House, or on the ferry, headed to Craig Villa Guest House, near Loch Awe and St. Conan’s Kirk. I was last in Scotland nine years ago, and have been longing to return for at least five. Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William have kept images of picturesque kirks and castles, hairy coo, grazing sheep, colorful villages, white sand beaches, stone cottages and heather-covered hills fresh in my mind, but I think the need to be there in person, experiencing it firsthand, is born of a more ancient connection.

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Mark and I recently signed up for Ancestry.com and  discovered that my DNA is 43% Great Britain, and only 20% Scandinavian, a slight surprise since I’ve always thought I was half Danish. (There’s also Western and Eastern European mixed in from my Bohemian and German great-grandparents, and a dash of Italian – where that came from, I have no idea.)

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Although my Mom’s family, the Lightlys, were from England, my grandma and now mother have long told me about a supposed Scottish great-great grandmother. My English ancestors lived in the north part of Lincolnshire, near a village called Scotton.  My family tree is leafed with names like Scullin, Maltby, Harrison, and Mcintyre, and in my searches of the generations, I just found a reference to the Shetland Islands. Scotland in my blood. I feel it when I hear the bagpipes, the drums, or a Scottish accent. I feel it when I see a parade of men in kilts marching down the field, when I look out over the sheep grazing, when I see fields of purple heather in the highlands.

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Researching my novels (and watching Outlander – my guilty pleasure) has only fueled my passion for kilts, castles, highlanders, and all things Scottish. I’ve always known I come from hardy stock with a history of eking out a living in a part of the country that’s sometimes brutally cold and harsh. I love the sea, and rocks, and find a great affinity in the creative, yet no-nonsense foods, cottage décor, and crafts of Scotland. I love that the colorful wildflowers and woven plaids of the highlands are such a contrast to the gray and brown stone cottages lining the valleys and lochs. There is something primal and instinctual that binds me to the Scots.

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I have no idea if a new book will be born of this journey to the motherland. I’ve labeled Sweet William (coming soon from Indigo Sea Press) as the last of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, but I named Violet’s baby Heather, leaving the door open for a look-ahead novel some two decades down the road. And there’s always Red Jasmine, Blue-eyed Mary, Cherry Primrose, Bee (Bea) Orchid, Golden Rod, Lily of the Valley, Seaside Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and other names I can use if I change my mind.

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My main goal is just to relax and enjoy Scotland’s magnificent scenery and history. Everyone keeps telling my husband and me to travel while we can, so we plan to keep returning to Europe as long as we’re able – hopefully every year.

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There’s something to be said for getting out of the country, for going so far away that you can’t be easily found. Years ago, when I lived in Germany, my mom and dad came to visit me, and I learned this very important lesson. When I was little, our family went to Florida, Colorado, and northern Minnesota into Canada. Our trips were fun while they lasted, but on all these adventures, my Dad was still close enough to home that he was a little tense and consumed with wondering what was going on at home. A few times, after hearing the weather, or the news, or the crop reports, 5 or 6 days into a 8-10 day vacation, he would get worried or frustrated and utter the dreaded words, “Get in the car. We’re going home.”

When he and Mom arrived in Germany, with expensive tickets and a locked in return date, he had no choice but to relax and enjoy himself. This was before the days of email, Skype, texting with international minutes, or cheap long distance. Dad had no idea what was happening on the farm, and even if he had known, there was absolutely nothing he could have done about it.

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I saw a completely different side of my Dad on that trip. His sense of humor shone – he laughed and smiled and chatted with strangers and truly relaxed. It was amazing. He was like a new person.

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The same kind of magical transformation occurs between me and my husband when we travel. We get to know each other all over again. We rediscover ourselves when we forget the stresses of being a frustrated business owner and a busy pastor. We set aside the issues we’re preoccupied with and reconnect. Our tired brains and downtrodden psyches rejuvenate. Our bodies start to thrive again.

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I hope you’ll come along on our journey. You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram to see my photos, or wait for my next installment at Indigo Sea’s blog. Sweet William should be ready to release just about the time I return from Scotland. I’ll do my best to bring it to life for you in the meantime.

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped. Legends galore, buried treasure, and

Bon voyage!

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Twenty-five years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now split their time between 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Sweet William”, Sherrie’s ninth book and the last of her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, is coming soon from Indigo Sea Press.
You can find more information about Sherrie Hansen here:

WEBSITE  http://BlueBelleBooks.com  or http://BlueBelleInn.com

BLOG  https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Pinterest  https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

It’s been a little over a month since we came back from our dream vacation to Romania, with a delightful stopover in Devon and Cornwall, England. While I cherish the memories of the exceptional things we experienced and the beautiful places we saw, it’s been so busy since we’ve been home that there’s been little time to bask in the glow of vacation bliss.

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The price you pay for being gone three weeks… bills and responsibilities at work pile up, an intimidating stack of mail needs your immediate attention, and the suitcase full of dirty laundry you brought back from the trip is daunting. You step off the merry go round for a few days, but the world keeps spinning, and sooner or later, you have to run fast and leap on to the carousel to catch up.

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But despite the busyness that’s plagued me since our return, I’ve been writing. With inspiring images newly etched in my mind and fresh voices echoing in my head, I can’t help myself. It’s amazing what clearing the cobwebs out of your mind and giving your brain a good spring cleaning will do.

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Being back from vacation has also reminded me that I love living near my extended family. I missed them while I was gone and am happy to be in a place where I can regularly visit them once more.

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I really do like my life, the way I earn a living, and the things that occupy my days. I feel a renewed sense of gratefulness for the things that I have and the life that I lead.

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I also feel challenged to take more mini-vacations – to go to a concert or take the time to attend a festival or community activity, to make time to read a book or go for a walk or take some photographs of the beauty that surrounds me right here, in my own back yard.

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I feel inspired to take better care of myself, to get more sleep, and to do simple things like eating breakfast, to pamper myself in little ways every day, not just when I’m on vacation.

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Sweet William, the Wildflowers of Scotland novel I’m currently working on, will be a better book because I took time out from my busy life and renewed my perspective. Seeing a different corner of the world infused my life with color and light and music – an unfolding drama that is vastly different from the daily grind that so often consumes me.

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Take a long vacation if you can – leave the country, do something drastically different than the norm, rediscover yourself in the faces of a foreign country. If you can’t, go for a walk, escape the house, even if only for an evening of music or fun, sign up for an online class, invite someone you don’t know very well to dinner… Shake it up. I promise you, you’ll only be better for the experience. And keep on writing, or moving, or dancing. You have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help others. Rejuvenate!

Pictures from phone 9Sept2015 121 Zion - Sunflower 2013 Sun

It’s been a whirlwind ever since we returned from Romania about 10 days ago, so this will be short, and I’ll let my photos do most of the talking.

Romania - Bran Castle

In addition to trying to catch up with everything we missed out on while we were gone, and getting back on track at work, my mind is humming with the task of trying to process everything we saw and experienced on our journey.

Romania - Castle

There’s so much to write about that my fingers can’t move fast enough. I started working on Sweet William, the next of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels again when we were in Cornwall and Devon, surrounded by British accents and quirky UKisms. My love affair with the British Isles came rushing back the second the roads narrowed to bicycle path width and the hedgerows got so tall that I felt like a rat in a maze.

England - narrow road England - menu England - heather

I will say of our “vacation” that it wasn’t very restful. And that’s just fine with me. We admittedly kept up a bit of a frantic pace, trying to take everything in, but in retrospect, we wouldn’t have traded a second of it in the name of relaxation. Nothing new there! When I was growing up, we had friends that went to the cabin at the lake every summer… the same cabin at the same lake, surrounded by the same people. Not my family. We liked to camp, and would often stay in a different state park every night, setting up camp, tearing down camp, building a new fire to cook over every night. And we traveled all over the state and the United States, and saw so much, and met so many people, and experienced a whole variety of places and things. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. Or maybe I did trade it for the world.

Romania - Sibiu

So for those of you who have never caught the travel bug, here’s what I like about jaunting about the Great World…

Romania - village England - Thatch Romania - Timi

  1. New experiences stretch me, help me to grow, and push me to my limits. I never would have chosen to go to Romania if my stepson, Erik, hadn’t moved there 1 ½ years ago, and met his lovely bride, Cristiana.  Romania E&C I never would have believed that I could climb 1000 rickety stairs to the top of Dracula’s castle at Bran, Romania, or the watch tower overlooking the medieval city of Sighisoara, Romania or climb down a steep, 70 degree cobblestone-paved descent to the sea at Clovelly, Devon, or see the fabled ruins of King Arthur’s birthplace at Tintagel, Cornwall. Romania - stairs  Romania - stair curve Romania - stairway But I did it, and I’m so happy that I was thrust into a set of circumstances that allowed me to experience so many memorable things.

Romania - Haywagon Romania - wagons Romania - Buzias spring

  1. Seeing how the rest of the world lives and experiencing their joys and frustrations helps me to reopen my eyes to the beauty in my own back yard, and make me thankful for what I have. Part of it is looking at life through the lens of my camera. Once you start looking for beauty, you see it everywhere, even at home. Once you realize that much of the world doesn’t have and can’t afford air conditioning and a million other luxuries we take for granted, you realize how blessed we really are.

Romania - Hundedora Romania - ax

  1. Fresh inspiration and a renewed perspective gives me a boost of positive energy. It’s not that my life in northern Iowa is boring – far from it, but we don’t have the seashore and castles and roundabouts and surfing and medieval cities, and face it – never will. I’m glad I live exactly where I do, but I love the burst of creativity and inspiration that I get when I travel to the far ends of the earth.

Romania - swords Romania - storks

  1. Colorful new characters, each with their own story, make me want to write a million tales. Here’s where I will let my pictures – or rather the people in them – do the talking.

Romania - woman in window Romania - Skeleton Romania - Ukranian woman England - fisherman

Thanks for listening and looking into their eyes. Here’s hoping you have a chance to see the world from a new perspective one day soon, whether it’s a different corner of your own little world, or a vast new expanse on the other side of the globe.

England - sunset

My husband and I are going to Bucharest for Mark’s son’s wedding in a few weeks. Every time I mention our plans in conversation, people ask me if my next novel is going to be set in Romania. I have to admit that seeing Dracula’s castle and roaming around remote areas of Transylvania has captured my imagination. While researching our destinations, I learned of a forest that is reputed to be the most haunted place on earth. Deep in the woods, there is even a place where no vegetation grows, and where hundreds of people have gone missing. Some consider it to be a portal to another time. Even thinking about going there makes me feel nervous and unsettled. Sometimes I’d like to escape from certain realities of my day to day life, or at least, take a lengthy sabbatical. But what if I never found my way back home? I would miss my family and the people I love. But who knows what adventures or people I’d meet up with if such a thing were to happen… 

 Rainbow - Becky

I wonder if L. Frank Baum took a trip to some exotic locale before he wrote The Wizard of Oz? Were the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road, the scary forest, the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch’s castle pure figments of his imagination, or did a glimpse of this or that, or a travel documentary, or stories told by his grandmother prompt his wild literary adventures?

 

What inspires you? In my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it was a copper, rabbit- shaped downspout on St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe (Wild Rose), the legend of a Spanish galleon, fully loaded with gold, still believed to be at the bottom of Tobermory Bay (Blue Belle), and the melancholy melody of a bagpiper in front of Eilean Donan Castle (Shy Violet) that gave my muse voice.

 Shy Violet

When I was a child, it was the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, and her tales of close friendships, the Crowd’s adventures, grand social events with dance cards and flowing lawn dresses, and extravagant hats with blue ribbons, that revved up my imagination and made me want to be a writer (check), live in a Victorian house (check), and wear all kinds of wonderful hats (check).   

 

When we visited Florida a few years back, a historic hotel, The Pink Palace, on St. Pete’s Beach, and a trip to the alligator-infested waters of the Everglades, made my mind start whirling.

Romania  Cerna 

So – will my next novel be set in Romania? There’s a spa with healing waters near the Black Sea that’s calling out to me – Cema Spa in Turcoaia. It’s in the opposite direction of the other places we want to see, yet I’m scheming in my mind to find a way to go there. Something about it… maybe it’s a story waiting to be born.     

 

Sherrie Hansen’s Bio:
Twenty-three years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie has also lived in Colorado Springs, CO, Augsburg, Germany, Wheaton, IL, and Bar Harbor, Maine. She grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota. After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Shy Violet” is Sherrie’s eighth book to be published by Second Wind Publishing.

Links:

http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/
http://www.BlueBelleInn.com or http://www.BlueBelleBooks.com
https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

https://www.pinterest.com/sherriebluebell/

Books Titles: Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet. Night and Day, Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.  

Forgive me for being momentarily morbid, but I’m in the middle of another long, dreary winter, and it’s time I did something to cheer myself up. Perhaps I’m being overly sensitive because my birthday is coming up, but it seems like every time I open the newspaper, someone very near my age has died. So my assignment for today is to take stock – to think about baskets full of blessings and all the things I have to look forward to. If I have to give a nod to the fact that I’m in my late fifties (which my young nieces and nephews assure me is very old), and that the end gets nearer every day, then I’ll write a bucket list one day soon.

Sunset 2014 Grass

What memories do I most cherish? What do I most regret? What do I have to look forward to?

Promise you won’t laugh. Writing about Shy Violet (my work in progress) has made me realize that I’m the one who is typically standing on the sidelines encouraging the people who are actually doing the things I want to do, perhaps even taking photos, or filing away observations for future characters, dialog or plot lines for my next book. Instead of entering into the merriment of the occasion, I hang back and let others have all of the fun.

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Some of my best memories are of the time I lived in Augsburg, Germany, when I admittedly went a little wild and acted like a crazy person, probably because I drank a wee bit too much Liebfraumilch. Among other things, I took disco lessons (you promised not to laugh) and danced many a night away to ABBA and the BeeGees, learned to soul dance with a big black man who taught me moves so smooth I can still feel them if I try, called a 3 star general on the phone and told him what I thought about what I perceived to be a bad decision on his part, took my dog, Ginger, and went on volksmarches by myself when my fuddy-dud husband wouldn’t budge off the sofa, and drove myself to Holland and the Italian Riviera and wherever else I wanted to go, just because I could.

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By the time the 80’s arrived, I had been hurt. I’d gone too far on a couple of occasions and realized certain things were very, very bad ideas. I retreated back into observation mode, sitting on the sidelines and watching as my friends lived out their fantasies, afraid to even say what I wanted, and more importantly, to follow where my heart led.

sherrie - pikes peak

For whatever reason, in the 90’s, I went a little wild again – I climbed Pikes Peak and almost Mount Massive, left Colorado Springs and moved to Iowa to buy a house everyone else though should have been bulldozed, opened my own business, and participated in a few adventures so reckless and unthinkable that I really can’t talk about them here. Have to save something for my tell-all memoir…

Bicycle2010

But alas, when all was said and done, my soul once again felt singed. I was afraid of being hurt. I stopped riding my bicycle because my muscles and my heart ached, and I didn’t climb any more mountains because I stopped believing I could. I let myself be talked out of going to the Gaelic cèilidh on Iona when we were in Scotland because it might get too late and I didn’t insist we cross the bridge to Sweden because we might not have enough time, and I didn’t go on the side trip to take a dip in the healing waters of the Blue Lagoon when in Iceland because it cost $45 extra per person. I let so many opportunities slip through my fingers, And the more I stopped doing, the more depressed I felt, and I was always tired. I passed by opportunities to have parties or be social because I was too timid to pick up the phone and call people or because my house isn’t tidy enough, or because I weighed too much or didn’t look the way I wish I did anymore. Or because I was afraid people would reject me.

13 Scotland - Band in Kilts

I let my light fade. In my third book, Water Lily, I wrote a scene where Michelle chooses not to join Jake and his boys in the swimming pool because she’s embarrassed about how she looks in a swimming suit. This scene is so typical of my life it is ridiculous. It is so hard for me to let go and let loose – except in my books, where my imagination takes those moments and makes them live.

waterlilyfront

So I’m in my late fifties, and I’ve had a great life. I’ve gone places and done things that many people only dream of. But to be frank, I’m at that stage of life where if I plan to do anything else, it’s now or never. It’s time to start wishing again, to go to the places I dream of seeing and – more importantly – experiencing. It’s time to live life to the fullest and seize every opportunity – because a kiss to build a dream on is fine, and I do have a great imagination, but sometimes a kiss isn’t enough. Sometimes, I want wild, passionate lovemaking all night long. I want to live. I want to fly – to be the one in the picture instead of the one holding the camera.

Sherrie - dreads

So my husband just came home from working over at the church and asked if I wanted to go for a ride and take in the sunset. At first I said I needed to finished my blog and then call the computer guy, who is waiting to do a backup on my new laptop. But then I said yes and went out and got in the car. It’s a start.

Sunset 1-2015

Gardiner, Montana is a pretty little mountain town perched at the north entrance to Yellowstone Park. The Roosevelt Arch, dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt himself, used to be the main entrance to the park and recalls a time when cars where much smaller and times were simpler. It was a thrill to drive through the gates, knowing my parents had driven the same route on their honeymoon back in the ’50’s.

The hour long ride from Yellowstone Falls to Gardiner is one of the most picturesque routes in the park.  

The loop to the east is more steep, and has lovely views of green valleys with white mountain peaks looming in the distance.

One night, we were a little late in getting back to our B&B – the moon that guided out path was lovely.

The trip was much prettier, and probably a good deal safer, by daylight!

Even a section of trees that had burned in a forest fire some years ago showed signs of beautiful new life.

The western loop heads towards Old Faithful.

Stops along the way feature hot springs that have created shimmering waterfalls of white and golden rocks.

The assent down into the valley where Gardiner sits is breathtaking. The town itself has the feel of an old west frontier town, with many building built of stone with quaint gingerbread trim, plank boardwalks instead of sidewalks and wooden railed fences.

We stayed on the 3rd floor of a Victorian bed and breakfast near a creek at the edge of town. The sound of the rushing waters from the creek was a soothing balm as we lay in our bedroom with the windows open so we could smell and feel the crisp mountain air. Although a delicious breakfast was served in a common dining room, we had our own little kitchenette, and a cute window seat that looked out over the mountains.


The shops in Gardiner featured many local artists and crafts people in addition to having typical tourist fare. I found some of the most original pottery creations I saw on our trip in an art gallery in Gardiner.

Gardiner is just far enough away from the hustle bustle and traffic of the busiest part of Yellowstone Park to be attractive.

It’s also just close enough to be the perfect jumping off point for the beauties of Yellowstone Park.

On the way home, we left the park via the southern route so we could see the Grand Tetons and a glimpse of Wyoming.

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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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