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Those who are close to me know that I’m approaching a milestone birthday. (I’ll let you guess which one.) In some ways, I don’t think it will make a difference in the way I lead my life, or how I feel about things. In other ways, it looms over my daily walk with great significance.

One thing that I’ve noticed about getting older is that I appreciate a lot of things I’ve previously taken for granted… simple things like a good night’s sleep. I am immensely grateful for those few mornings when I sleep peacefully through the night and wake up slowly and languorously rather than being rudely awakened by a cramp in my leg. Life’s simple pleasures.

As I get to an age where many of my friends have only one or no parents still living, I am daily reminded how blessed I am to have both of my parents still active in my life. I’m grateful for all of the things my parents have done for me, taught me, and given me, and that I have people in my life who love me, just as I am.

I’m thankful to have been raised with a hard work ethic, that I was not brought up to feel entitled, but with the knowledge that if I worked hard. I could earn the things I wanted and have the freedom to do what I wished. Those principals have shaped my life, and because of that, I have been very blessed.

I also find that I spend far more time being grateful for what I have and less time lusting after what I don’t have. It’s the realization that I have enough or even plenty of what I need, and that if I don’t need something, I should find someone who does.

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I’m privileged to have owned and operated my own business for 25 years, and to have served my wonderful customers, and participated in their lives, their special occasions, and the hard times they’ve gone through.

I’m increasingly thankful for my good health, even as it daily worsens, even as the definition of good has to be continuously downgraded.

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I’m grateful for a soft mattress, a sweet husband, nieces and nephews who make me smile and do me proud.

 

I’m grateful to have been able to see so much of the world, to have had the luxury to enjoy beautiful landscapes and picturesque places in so many countries.  I’m thankful to have been given the gift of an artist’s eye to capture that beauty in photographs, to appreciate art and beauty.

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I am grateful to have been given second chances, and that when I’ve made mistakes, I’ve had the opportunity to try again and again, until I’ve gotten it right, or even made amends.

I am thankful for the few, true blue friends who have stuck with me for a lifetime, and not just a season.

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I’m grateful for a Savior who forgives me over and over again, who loves me unconditionally.

I’m thankful that I have the right, the honor, and the skill to express myself.  I’m grateful for every single person who admires my art, listens to me speak, or reads what I’ve written and respects me enough to take the time to let me share a little bit of myself.

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Getting older may not be the most fun thing in the world, but it comes with its perks – one of which is that every so often you have time to sit back and count your blessings.

So, thank YOU – because I don’t take you for granted either.

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Writing and painting, although both creative expressions, are often viewed as being on opposite ends of the spectrum.

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Writers paint pictures with their words. Artfully crafted descriptions help readers visualize the setting of each scene, the appearance of the main characters, and movement within the scene.

Artists take a scene from their imagination and bring it to life with vividly colored paints, textiles or other mediums that you can see, touch, and feel. The only verbal expression that may come into play is a suggestive title of one or two words.

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Both mediums communicate emotion and tell a story. Both require the reader to bring their own interpretation and understanding to fully experience what the author or artist has conveyed through the words or visual expression they’ve chosen to convey.

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As a writer who’s always labeled myself as a visual learner, I think there’s good reason to combine word art and visual art.

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Some writers compile a storyboard to look at and refer to while writing a book.  Whether they tag related visual images on Pinterest or actually make an old-fashioned collage with cutouts from a magazine, these writers find it helpful to surround themselves with tangible images of their characters and setting. It’s become increasingly popular for authors to create a trailer to use in marketing their books – just one more way of pairing visual cues with the written word to enrich the reading experience.

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I’ve long taken photos to use in tandem with my books, even used my photographs on the front cover of my books for a creative tie-in.

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Then, a friend who’s an artist and the leader of an online group called Shedding Light, challenged the members of the group to paint. I resisted for awhile, thinking I didn’t have the time or the talent. But I’ve always been attracted to artistic expression, collected painting that called out to me, and found peace in having beautiful images in my home. Finally, I gave into my fascination and picked up a brush. The paintings I’ve done so far are all reminiscent of Scotland, the setting of my last 5 books. In June, my husband and I visited several castles in Aberdeenshire, and saw hundreds of sheep and boothies dotting the hills of Skye, so I’m fortunate to be able to paint images that are fresh in my mind. When I start writing Golden Rod, my next Wildflowers of Scotland novel, in earnest, I’ll look back at the paintings I’ve done and let my imagination travel back in time.

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When I’m writing, I’m required to be acutely aware of the pitfalls of using poor grammar, being overly wordy or cliché, not structuring my scenes just so, and a million other infractions that contradict the way a writer is “supposed to write”. When I paint, there are no rules – the more unique, creative, or even bizarre, the better. Painting is my time to let loose, relax, and spontaneously create what I see in my mind’s eye – with no restraints.

 

Which calls out to your heart – visual images or the written word? The ability to use one medium to enhance the other is a gift – and an opportunity not to be missed. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.

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(All photos and paintings used in this blog are Sherrie Hansen originals. The credit for my title goes to Michael Card, from his song, That’s What Faith Must Be.)

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Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, divide their time between two different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

 You can see what Sherrie is up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

www.BlueBelleInn.com or www.BlueBelleBooks.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

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

http://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William. https://amzn.com/B01H2TUD3U

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear.

I’ve been hearing Scottish accents in my head for over a decade, and now, after returning from my second trip to Bonnie Scotland, my mind’s eye is just as steeped in images of the highlands and islands I’ve been writing about.

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Our trip was a flurry of wildflowers and walled gardens, castles and keeps, and lochs and legends. My mind is whirling with the characters and construct of a new story, ancient ghosts and curses, and modern day longings and desires set to clash like pitchforks and swords at Culloden.

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One of my characters is the “rightful” heir of a castle and as fascinated and enamored of Scotland as I am, the other is there only because she could find no other way to wiggle out of her duties as the legal heir of a castle she cares nothing about.

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Even more exciting is the sense of déjà vu I feel about the Wildflowers of Scotland books I’ve already written.

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As I spotted each of the wildflowers I’ve featured in Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, and Sweet William, and the castles and kirks that provide a backdrop for each of the stories, the characters have come to life for me all over again.

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One of the highlights of the trip was the day I left a copy of Shy Violet with a random staff member at Eilean Donan’s Castle Café, where many scenes in the book take place. A few days later, on our way back from the Isle of Skye, we stopped once more to eat lunch. The recipient pulled me aside, and in her delightful Scottish accent, said “I’ve begun to read yer book, and I’m loving it! Ye’re a very good author, and I thank ye so much.”

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The whole time we were at Eilean Donan Castle, I kept catching glimpse of people who looked like Nathan or Violet.

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William and Lyndsie, the stars of Sweet William, felt very close to me when we were on Skye – walking around the mysterious Fairy Glen at Uig, watching the cows graze on Claigon Coral Beach near Dunvegan and dipping a toe in the Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle. Because I know what happens to William while he’s on Skye, I had a deep, sense of foreboding until we were on our way home, and I knew everything was okay.

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There’s a magical connection between Scotland and me. I’m a Blue Belle, and always will be. (For those of you who don’t know me, I have a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn.)

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Loving the blue and white Saltire of Scotland is a natural extension of my love of blue.

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If you’ve yet to fall in love with Scotland, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels and see if the highlands and islands of Scotland resonate with you like they do me.

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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.

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Legends galore, buried treasure, and more…

In the Wildflowers of Scotland novels, that’s what’s in store.

Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen Decker rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B – or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

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You can see what’s she’s up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

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

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

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

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William.

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear.

Sweet William Front Cover

A few days ago, I left behind the cold and snow of the Midwest for the surf and sand of the California coast. We even followed the Ventura Highway. We’re here to visit my husband’s mother, but I can’t deny I’m grateful she lives in a climate that’s filled with flowers and colorful scenery, even in January.

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I always feel a surge of inspiration when I visit new places, and today is no exception. I love the adventure of seeing new things and enjoying the beauty in someone else’s backyard. But I also miss the people and things I love back home.

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I take my nieces and nephew on a mini-adventure every Wednesday afternoon – a joy I missed this week because I was on my way to the airport. Maybe that’s why I dreamed about them last night. In my dream, I remembered being their current ages – 9, 11, and 13 – and realized that I have the same interests and passions that I had way back then even though almost half a century has flown by.

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I started cooking for 4-H, and then, because I preferred fixing dinner for my family and whatever farm crew was helping out to driving tractor, and then, because I loved hearing compliments from friends and family about how delicious and cute my food tasted and looked. It seems I had an artistic eye that manifested itself in culinary delights. Entertaining friends, catering special events, and cooking at my B&B and tea house for the last 25 years isn’t all that far a stretch.

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I started piano and trombone when I was in grade school and junior high, as they were called back then. My love of music hasn’t diminished in all this time either. The trombone didn’t last, and my taste in artists (John Denver, Bread, Gordon Lightfoot) may have evolved in different directions, but I still play piano with a contemporary worship team and even write an occasional melody. And I love rocking out with drummer and keyboard friends.

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My bright lavender bedroom with sculpted, bronze carpet and lime green love beads may not have had the refined look of any of my current decorating projects, but I was clearly interested in color and design, even as a young teenager. And truthfully, my tastes  – and my passion for wild color combinations and quirky furnishings – haven’t changed all that much over the years.

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My favorite books when I was the age Victoria and Gloria are now were the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace (a series set in the Victorian era that follows Betsy and her Crowd of friends from childhood to marriage, much like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.) Betsy was a writer, so that’s what I wanted to be, too. I loved to read, write poems, plays and stories, and spent hours dreaming about characters for the books I would write one day. Voila!

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I also dreamed of finding my very own, perfect for me, “Joe” (Betsy’s beau) and one day, having my own little Bettina. While that didn’t work out the way I hoped, I’ve certainly seen the Great World and accomplished abundantly more than I ever dreamed possible.

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I’ve thankful that I had people in my life who encouraged me to dream, live large, and think outside the box. When my dream life didn’t materialize quite the way I expected, I’m glad for friends who helped me pick up the pieces and start over. I’m grateful that my family loved and accepted me no matter what crazy things I was up to at any given time.

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If you have children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews who are a part of your life, please cheer them on when they try out new things, and discover their own passions. You never know what might become of it. Little acorns grow up to be mighty oak trees.

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On this day of Thanksgiving, in the midst of mashed potatoes and turkey and stuffing, and even pie, I would like to take a minute to express my gratitude for each of you who reads the words I put together with paper and pen.

Today, I’d like to share ten things I am thankful for, from a writer’s perspective.

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  1. I’m thankful for a publisher who not only saw merit in my work and took a chance on me, but who encourages me to write what’s on my heart. Thank you for not pressuring me to write what’s selling, or what fits into a certain box.

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  1. I’m thankful for faithful readers who return to my stories again and again, and clamor for more. It means the world to me.

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  1. I’m also thankful for those adventurous new readers who take a chance on my books, who spend their valuable time and money on books by Sherrie Hansen even though there are millions of others to choose from.

 

  1. I’m especially thankful for those wonderful, glorious people who actually take the time to write and post reviews of my books. I am quite convinced they are angels!

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  1. I’m thankful that I come from a family of thinkers who talks things through, tries to figure things out, and speculates on possible outcomes. From my grandmas on down, the family members who influenced me the most, know how to tell a good story, nurture imagination, and ask the question “What if…?”

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  1. I’m thankful that I’ve been blessed to live a life sprinkled with novel (novel-worthy?) experiences. It hasn’t always been fun. It’s been traumatic at times. But it’s never been boring, and writing about some of the things that have shaped me, in story form, has been therapeutic and uplifting.

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  1. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to live in and travel to some very exotic locales. From Scotland to Romania, Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs and yes, even Lawton, Oklahoma, my sojourns and journeys have provided amazing backdrops for my stories, and opened my eyes to unique people, different ways of thinking, and alternate perspectives. I love it when I can escape my own comfortable little corner of the world and experience the grand adventure of seeing the universe through other people’s eyes.

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  1. I’m thankful for a supportive husband who encourages me to write and helps me make time in my hectic schedule for writing. I am thankful for his little acts of thoughtfulness, like driving us places while I write away in the car, my laptop propped on the open door of the glove compartment – yes, even at night when the light from my screen irritates him.

 

  1. I’m thankful for friends and relatives who critique my work, share candid opinions, and let me pick their brains so I can learn everything they know about cows and everything else under the sun. (Yes, Victoria, you will get credit for sharing your expertise on cows in the dedication for Sweet William.)

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  1. I’m thankful for a God and Savior who created me in His image, and gave me the gifts of creativity, artistry, music and passion. God could have designed us to be obedient, robotic type creatures, but instead, he gave us free-wills, and imaginations, even though He knew both good and bad would come from our choices.

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My sincere thanks to all of you who have read my blog, and in doing so, listened to and shared my thoughts. Anyone who has experienced the thrill of having someone read what they’ve written knows what a true joy this is. On this day of Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you.

November used to be one of my least favorite months. November is dull, dreary, gray, and, after a beautiful summer and fall, oh, so anti-climactic. And we all know what happens when the gales of November come early or the witch of November comes stealin’…

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For me, all that has changed. I look forward to November all year long – not because of the bitter winds or the colorless landscape, but because I do NaNoWriMo! NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing month, the time of year when writers young and old are issued a challenge to write 50,000 words (a short novel) in the month of November. This is accomplished by writing 1667 words a day for each of the 30 days in November, which is no small feat! Because it coincides with a slow time of year at my B&B and Tea House, it’s become my annual time of year to finish my work in progress. Because my novels average 95,000 or 100,000 words, that means I have the first 10 months of the year to write the first half of the book, and one short month to finish it.

The folks at NaNoWriMo recommend that for the month of November, you don’t take time to edit, rewrite or perfect. You just get the words on the paper, or in most cases, in your word processor. There’s plenty of time to get picky come December or January. Some people accomplish this mad blitz of writing by being highly organized and carefully plotting out each scene they intend to write. Others fly by the seat of their pants, dashing off anything that pops into their heads as it comes to them. Fresh, wild and unpredictable.

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My own plan of attack when I start a book is to wing it for the first quarter of the book or however long it takes to give the characters a chance to talk to me about who they are and what they want. By the time I’m a quarter or a third of the way in, I know their stories, and have a clear idea of what needs to happen in the rest of the book. But as NaNoWriMo looms, I make out a list of scenes that need to be included and figure out what POV they will be in, so I know who the antagonist and protagonist are and what conflict will drive the scene. Then, when I have time to write, I can just pick a scene and go. A big part of NaNoWriMo is the discipline to write every day – a definite challenge for those of us with crazy or erratic schedules. My best writing time always used to be late at night, but lately, I find myself more alert and productive first thing in the morning. Then, if I can stay awake after whatever business the rest of my day holds, I try to write a little more at night. I always try to meet my daily word count, but there are days I just don’t have time because of other commitments. I write in larger chunks whenever I can to make up for those days.

Blue Belle, a contemporary romance by Sherrie Hansen

As I said, for the past several years, I’ve attempted to have my next release half done by the time November rolls around in hopes of being finished with my rough draft by November 30. What a grand day of celebrating that is! I do my edits and rewrites in December-February so I can send the manuscript to my editor and publisher in March. They typically have it ready for release in June or July. For me, it’s a good rhythm. I wrote large portions of Love Notes, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, and Shy Violet in November because of NaNoWriMo.

Some writers get involved with a local NaNo group that may meet at some public place or coffee shop for writing jags. Since I live in a small town / rural area and write at odd times of the night and day, often in my nightgown, I work alone. I do have some online NaNo buddies who act as cheerleaders and hold me accountable or inspire me if I get bogged down or discouraged. For me, the best part of NaNoWriMo is the little graph on my homepage that charts my progress. I love logging in to the NaNoWriMo website and entering my word count. I find the camaraderie, reminders and pep talks to be motivating.

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I completed my task of writing 50K words for NaNoWriMo twice. Although I’ve fallen a little short of the word count the other times I’ve participated, I got way more written than I would have without NaNo, and thus, I feel like I accomplished my personal goals.

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Whether you’re a new writer who’s always wanted to write a novel, or an experienced author who needs a jumpstart in your writing life, I urge you to give NaNoWriMo a try! You never know what might come from it… but it could be the next best-seller. Whatever the outcome, a little boost never hurts. Yes, this time of year can be a downer, but there’s no need to drown in the dismal seas of November. Let NaNoWriMo be your bright spot!

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!

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I’ve repeatedly been told that people love my books because my characters are so honest. In Blue Belle, my second Wildflowers of Scotland novel, honesty – and the periodic lack of it – is one of the main themes of the book. This week, after several more instances of being told that my characters are so real  that people can’t wait to find out what happens to them, and that they love my writing because it’s so honest – it’s gotten me wondering, how truthful am I really, as a person and a writer?

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It’s much easier for me to be honest under the guise of fiction. People who read my books might wonder if some of the humiliating experiences that are detailed in my books really have happened to me. They may think – did someone really say that to her, hurt her that deeply, take advantage of her, steal from her, or make a fool of her the way they did in the book?   Although all but a few close friends will never know which parts of my books are somewhat factual and which are complete figments of my imagination, if I’m honest, I have to admit that most of the horrid things that happen to my characters have very likely happened to me in one form or another. (Ah, the sweet anonymity of the qualifier…)

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I, and most people I know, come from a stoical, northern European tradition of keeping your troubles to yourself, and not embarrassing yourself or your family by revealing too much information about personal matters. No one I know likes having TOO MUCH INFORMATION, except perhaps my husband, who has sometimes wished that people would feel free to be more honest with him (he’s a pastor). The rest of us tend to stay as far removed from the dreaded disease of opening up to people as is humanly possible.

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It evidently takes a few years before these secretive behaviors are learned, because for years, my family has teased that we should never say anything in front of my young nieces and nephews that you don’t want repeated. I’d love to reveal a few choice tidbits of information that my nieces have told me over the years, but I won’t. I don’t want to embarrass them or the people they were talking about.

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We learn from our teen years on that it’s better not to talk about certain things. We learn to camouflage our emotions and keep secrets and pretend that we’re not really being abused or feeling anxious or depressed or angry or a host of other undesirable emotions. We train ourselves to discount our feelings. It doesn’t matter. I’m fine. No – really – it’s okay. We try so hard to convince ourselves that eventually, most of us do. As we sink deeper and deeper into denial, those around us are often all too eager to buy into the lies. Which of us really wants to deal with a friend who’s having a rough time? Most of us prefer to accept the pretense that everything really is fine, even if we know deep inside that it’s not.

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In these days of political correctness, we’re taught to keep our thoughts about our faith, our political beliefs, and our opinions about anything that really matters, to ourselves. And we all know what happens when the truth comes out and the press gets a hold of it – and it’s rarely pretty. So we cower. We back away from the truth and hide behind walls. We truly believe the lie that if people knew what we were really like, they wouldn’t like us. And because most of us are so unaccustomed to dealing with open, honest people, we – sadly – tend to back away from people when they do tell us more than we like to know.

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We often hear the phrase, children are refreshingly honest. If that’s a compliment, and I think most often it is, then I’m thrilled to be told that the characters in my books are wonderfully appealing because they’re open, honest and real. As I “grow up” as a writer, I promise you I’ll do my best to keep that “childlike” quality in my writing. And for those of you who know me personally, I’ll attempt to be as candid as I can in my real life, too. People love my characters because they’re flawed, human, and vulnerable. Just think how much closer our relationships, marriages and families could be if we were all a little more honest with one another. We’re promised, after all, that “The truth will set you free. ” (John 8:32)

Grace Corner - Bleeding hearts 2

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Some of my best work and most extraordinary inspirations occur when I fly halfway around the world. I’ve always been a homebody at heart – it is quite traumatic getting ready to leave the nest even for a few days. And don’t get me wrong – I love what I do, and my  day to day work inspires creativity of a different kind, but there is something that opens my heart, mind, and eyes to new possibilities when I am away on vacation.

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When I am at my B&B or at the parsonage with my husband, it is so easy to get caught up in the mundane details of everyday life that I forget to look at the bigger picture. When I fly far far away, I am jolted out of my comfort zone and forced to see the world in a different light.

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New scenery, people and experiences not only intrigue me, they spur my mind to look at the world in a fresh way, and to realize that I and the pesky problems that occasionally plague me are not the life force of the universe, or even the end all to my existence.

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My eyes are opened to new possibilities and different options. It’s freeing.

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Sometimes, what I see makes me more thankful for what I have at home.

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At other times, I see empty houses in need of renovation and abandoned storefronts waiting to be leased and think, I could do this! I could make a life here. I could start over, earn a living, make new friends, be happy here.

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Not that I want to move – well, most of the time – but realizing that the world doesn’t revolve around my business, my frustrations, and my own particular agenda is like magic.

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My short-term problems become inconsequential and my worries fly away and my whole perspective changes.

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Sadly, for various reasons, we have no grand vacation plans for this year. I dream of returning to Scotland, France and Germany. Mark is keen to visit his son in Romania. If we do head east, I would love to see Greece, and Bohemia, where some of my ancestors hailed from.

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But instead, we are grounded by circumstances and obligations, and although we periodically think we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we are not there yet.

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I keep hearing the word Staycation being batted around, which seems to refer to the practice of staying at home and relaxing, perhaps doing fun things where you are,  instead of going on a trip.

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But for my husband and I, who live part time in a beautiful B&B, and the rest of the time at a lovely parsonage next to the church where my husband is a pastor, the concept doesn’t work very well. Since both of the places where we live are also the places where we work, I just don’t see a relaxing Staycation happening.

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So – won’t you join me for a Dreamcation, perhaps to Denmark or Provence,  or Alsace Lorraine?

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I prefer a place where my cell phone doesn’t work and internet connections are spotty. Someplace where no texting is allowed.

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Perhaps a place with so many beautiful gardens, and quaint houses, and  tasty treats that I would soon totally forget what’s happening at home.

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I can see it in my mind’s eye now… a villa in the south of France…

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…or a half-timbered chalet in Alsace.

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I promise you – the views alone will open a window to a whole new world!

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Perhaps we will take in a flower market in Germany…

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…or explore  a village here or there or anywhere, as long as it’s somewhere I’ve never been before.

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Or perhaps you’d like to join me for a taste of Swiss chocolat?

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I hear the patisseries in France are beyond compare.

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Dreaming is my specialty, after all. It’s what makes me a good writer.  Won’t you please join me?

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Sherrie Hansen is the author of 8 novels set in locales as diverse as Denmark, Scotland, the French Riviera, and Embarrass, Minnesota. Her books are available at the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, where she spends her days, all major online venues, and at http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com. All photos in this article were taken by Sherrie Hansen on her last trip to Europe in 2010.

There’s an old expression in our family – you didn’t learn that from strangers – that I’ve heard said many times over the course of my life.  Some people say, well, that nut didn’t fall far from the tree. Same idea. When I was 9 or 10, I thought I was so different from the rest of my family that I must surely be adopted. Now that I’m a bit older, I can see how closely certain personality traits passed down through generations of Hansens, Lightlys, Paulsons, and Millers are intertwined, and how much they’ve affected who I am and how I live my life.

Danish Girl

My family history and the tales of my growing up years may not be as story-worthy as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s, but our Little House on the Big Farm was bursting with colorful characters that have and continue to impact my life in ways I’m both oblivious to and very aware – the perfect storm of nature and nurture. I feel a great sense of connectedness to prior generations of my family, especially since moving back from Colorado Springs to northern Iowa / southern Minnesota where I grew up. Here are 10 things I didn’t learn from strangers.

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1. Cooking Up a Storm:  I started out the week making a big batch of Grandma Hansen’s Chicken Pie with Grandma Victoria’s Baking Powder Biscuits dropped on top for a church gathering at the Blue Belle Inn. Later in the week, I found a family recipe for Scottish Ginger Snaps in a cookbook and made them at a cooking seminar. Grandma had labeled them “Grandma’s Ginger Snaps” which means it was my great-great grandma’s recipe. Whether it was Grandma Vic’s famous Sunday roast beef dinners and homemade apple pie, or whatever goodies Grandma Hansen happened to be cooking up for her family, neighbors, or the occasional thrashing crew, I was taught how to cook it up right. And make lots of it. Besides, it was either stay inside and cook, or go out and drive tractor, which I did not like to do.

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2. No Matter How Tired You Are, There’s Always Time for a Bedtime Story – or Two, or Three:  Sitting around during the day, reading, when you should be working, is frowned upon in our family ;-), but at bedtime, that all changes. My Grandma Hansen was one of the best storytellers I know, and her funny voices for the Little Red Hen, the Big Bad Wolf, and the Three Little Pigs still play themselves over and over in my mind. I follow the lessons learned even today, working hard at my bed and breakfast all summer and fall, making hay while the sun shines, and telling stories – writing novels – in the winter when things are slow.

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3. Being Stubborn Has Its Perks:  Danes (I’m half Danish) are a stubborn lot. But along with sheer willfulness, which can be a bad thing, comes tenacity and dodged persistence and stick-to-itiveness and the very building blocks that have helped me achieve my goals, get published, run a successful business and more. Don’t be a quitter. Never give up. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Remember the Little Engine That Could saying I think I can, I think I can, over and over again until he could and did? Zion - Sunflower 2013 Sun

4. Keep Looking Up:  My Great-Grandma Paulson wrote these profound words in my autograph book when I was ten or eleven. I knew what she meant – keep your eyes on Jesus. It’s the first rule, and the thing that makes everything else come together.

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5. Mopars Rule:  Okay, so I strayed from the fold when I was young and foolish. We try to forget those years… the Toyota Corolla, the Mazda 323. Today, I’m back where I belong. I drive a PT Cruiser. My brother drives a Dodge Ram. My parents are on their third or fourth Chrysler mini-van. What can I say? We all tend to vote the same way on election day, too.

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6. Getting Something for Nothing is One of the Greatest Joys on Earth:  Found treasures, whether they be bargains or cast-offs nobody wanted bought for a little bit of nothing at a Crazy Day sale, or simple gifts from the earth like agates or fossils or a pretty red maple leaf pressed flat in a book or a little cluster of acorns, are some of the best things in life. If you haven’t tried it, you should – still. The Hansen way to thrill-seek.

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7. One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure:  I can’t walk like an Egyptian (good dancing genes do not run in our family), but I can talk like an auctioneer, or at least I could when I was little. My Grandpa Hansen took me to so many auctions that I picked up the lingo. More importantly, I learned about repurposing and adaptive reuse, and refinishing, and respect for the past – all things that hold me in good stead even today. I grew up snuggling under quilts made from worn out wool suits, watching Grandma working in aprons and wearing dresses made from flour and feed sacks. Water was used at least five times before it was thrown out on the garden to make the strawberry patch grow. And yes, I firmly believe that tin foil has three or four lives. And you should ask me some day about the things my Dad makes with discarded doors. Waste not, want not.

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8. Worrying Doesn’t Help, But We Do It Anyway:  There are several genes that I wish I had gotten from my family, but didn’t – the Fix-It Gene, and the Green Thumb Gene, for example. I did, however, get the Worry Wart Gene. I try not to succumb, but if you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

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9.  The Compulsion To Have 10 of Something When You Really Only Have 9:  This one was my husband’s idea. I think the word he’s looking for is perfectionism. He’s right. In my world, everything needs to be just so. Neat. Tidy. Even Numbers. It’s a disease.  But seriously, if you’re going to do something, why not do it right?

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10.  The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together:  It was very important to my Grandma Hansen that we cousins got to play together. She facilitated countless family get-togethers and events where we were all together. Our family isn’t perfect – we have our share of black sheep, and family members who go their own way. But when we go to Mom and Dad’s for Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s a joyous occasion, sharing not only food, but memories, and laughing about things we did when we were kids. The more nieces and nephews who show up, the better. I’m thankful that the glue that holds our family together is good and sticky. I think it’s called love, and I come by it naturally.

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