Category Archives: Sherrie Hansen

Dream a Little Dreamcation for Me by Sherrie Hansen

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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, and the history behind it, 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.

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10 Things I Didn’t Learn from Strangers by Sherrie Hansen

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.

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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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Precious Memories and A Few Things I’d Rather Forget by Sherrie Hansen

Today is a day when we look back and remember. As people go, I am blessed with a rich heritage of wonderful people and good memories. But the truth is, there are a lot of things in life I’d just as soon forget – poor choices and the repercussions that followed because of them, people who’ve hurt me or treated me rudely or unkindly, money or things dear to me that I’ve lost, tragedies and heartbreak that have affected me, the people I love, or even the world in general. Yet here I am, blogging on a day devoted to memories, a day that memorializes the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom we are so blessed with – a day that brings to mind some of the most painful episodes of history imaginable.

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Memorial Day is a day that can trigger tears and warm fuzzies, pride and patriotism, joys and regrets.

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When I visit the cemetery, I focus on the wild violets growing in the woods around the edge of the lawn, the pretty posies put on my Grandma’s graves – peonies and lilacs, lily of the valley, wild honeysuckle and columbine – sweet signs of life and living.

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I watch the flags blowing in the breeze and am so glad I can move, and feel and see.

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I do not fear death because of my faith, but I do not like to think about it just the same.

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If I had my choice, there would be no more deaths. I like things the way they are right now – the people and things that are a part of my life. I really don’t want to lose any more loved ones – ever.

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But that is not the way of the world. Time marches on. Borders and time are ripped in two, sometimes naturally, sometimes so painfully I can hardly bear to think about it.  Loss comes a visiting whether we like it or not. For every delightful event that occurs in our lives, there is a disappointment or a period of grieving that follows to balance things out.

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For me, the silver lining to all of this is my writing. Whether I’m hurting or sad or just going through an awkward transition in my life, writing about it, in fiction form, with names and details changed to protect the not so innocent, is very cathartic. Writing works a certain kind of magic, in which the real and painful and close becomes fictional and muted and distant. While my characters shed tears and endure the unthinkable, solving problems and masterminding solutions to their dilemmas, I am somehow freed from my past hurts, embarrassments and sorrows.

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On this day of remembering, I am thankful for the sacrifices people have made for me, the love that surrounds me. I am thankful for memories, for reminders of the wonderful things I have experienced in my lifetime. And I am thankful that sometimes, things that are best forgotten really are.

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About Sherrie Hansen:  Twenty-three years ago, Sherrie Hansen 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 grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs, CO, and Augsburg, Germany. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. After 12 years of writing romance novels late at night when she couldn’t sleep (mostly because she was so keyed up from working 12 hour days at the B&B), she met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. Sherrie lives in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. With her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, “Wild Rose” and “Blue Belle”, she has seven books in print. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano with the worship team at church, needlepointing, photography, decorating historic homes, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew.

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Blue Belles in May – What Can I Say? by Sherrie Hansen

In Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota, where I’ve lived the bulk of my life, the bluebells bloom around the first week of May and are usually at their peak on Mother’s Day. this year, we’ve had a long, hard winter, and it’s seemed like spring would never get here. But the bluebells in my yard are right on target, with clusters of tiny blue, pink, and purple buds ready to pop open on the next warm day.

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It seems appropriate that my new release, Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be released just in time for the first week of May. I received my proof copy about a week ago, and should have copies for sale at my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn, by May 1st.

Blue Belle, a contemporary romance by Sherrie Hansen

Yes, that’s a lot of Blue Belles – and bluebells. I’ve already started to think about what I’m going to say about Blue Belle, the book, to my customers at the Blue Belle B&B.

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Some authors sell their books almost exclusively online. Since I have a steady stream of people coming to the tea house at the Blue Belle Inn, I sell a lot of print books the old-fashioned way.

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Over the years, I’ve found that what you write about a book on the back cover, to be read by prospective buyers who might pick it up at a store or look at it on a website, is quite different than what I feel comfortable saying to people face to face. I even wrote a poem for the back blurb of Blue Belle, which expresses many elements of the book very well. But I would feel quite silly quoting poetry table-side to my luncheon guests. Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]

When I tell people about Thistle Down (a novella) and Wild Rose, my first Wildflowers of Scotland novel, I simply say, “In Thistle Down, Pastor Ian MacCraig has two sisters who are going to be married. Emily has found the perfect man to marry. There’s only one problem – she’s not in love with him. Chelsea is wildly, passionately, madly in love with her fiance – he’s a total jerk.  Pastor Ian has some unscrambling to do, especially when the church ladies get involved.”

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And – “When Wild Rose opens, someone has been stealing architectural relics from the church yard, so Pastor Ian installs a security camera to try to catch the thief in action. What he captures is Rose Wilson engaged in a passionate romp under the flying buttresses.  My tag line is – Wild Rose and Pastor Ian MacCraig – a match made in heaven or one hell of a predicament?”

Scotland Bashful RoseThe blurb on the back of Blue Belle reads:

Isabelle doesn’t want to be found. Michael doesn’t want to be found out. When Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried in Tobermory Bay, it won’t matter what walls they’re hiding behind. Rocks will fall. Castles will crumble. No secret will be safe.

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 more…
In Tobermory, Scotland, that’s what’s in store.

Blue Belle Promo PoemWhat I’ll probably say about Blue Belle is:

“Isabelle is a reporter from Virgina who’s been burned. Now, all she wants is the truth – and one big story to help get her confidence back.  Michael is a psychologist from Wisconsin who’s not only lying about who he is, but why he’s in Scotland pretending to be a contractor.  What neither of them knows is that Isabelle’s story is buried in Tobermory Bay, practically writing itself, and that Michael’s finely crafted tale – and the castle he’s restoring – are about to come crumbling down around them.”

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As time goes by, I hope to get my verbal pitch trimmed in half, or to think of the perfect one-sentence tagline that says it all.  In the meantime, I hope that one or the other of my blurbs inspires you to give Blue Belle a look. Romance, suspense and mysteries aside, it’s about learning to trust – as I hope you will trust me to deliver another good story.

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To Leave the Bedroom Door Closed or Head to the French Riviera. An Honest Appraisal by Sherrie Hansen

 

I know many authors who keep their characters’ bedroom doors tightly closed, some because it’s dictated by their publishers, or because they’re writing Christian fiction or want their books to be appropriate for all ages. Some writers simply don’t feel comfortable going there for a multitude of personal reasons. Others abstain because it – or in this case, a lack of it – fits the story. Perhaps their characters just aren’t in a place where they’re thinking about or engaging in sex.  Other authors are known for their erotic sex scenes – or as one friend from a writer’s group I belong to recently said, writing books that are “a never-ending sexual romp.”

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Likewise, some readers have strong preferences when it comes to closing the bedroom door or keeping it open. While I sincerely respect those who don’t want to fill their heads with gratuitous sex or violence, I get irritated with people who assume that just because a novel is labeled romance, it’s a bodice ripper or akin to Fifty Shades of Grey. In other cases, the only reason people even read books is for the sex. That’s fine with me, too.  We all have different passions and personalities. We read for different reasons – to relax, to be inspired, to better ourselves, to be entertained or to re-infuse our lives with hope – all perfectly valid.

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Just like people are different, so are characters. Some of the characters I’ve written desperately want to have sex, but can’t or won’t for whatever reason. Others think about it all the time, but never have the opportunity. Some leap in with both feet, others shy away. Some are too busy with more important things, others just don’t get what the big deal is. Some do, and then wish they hadn’t. Others pay grim consequences for a few moments of pleasure that were probably far more disappointing than satisfying.

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So, if I had to put a label or heat index on my books, it would have to be “all over the place”.  Some of my books, like Night and Day or Water Lily, have sweet, tender love scenes, definitely on the mild side by today’s standards. Love Notes, which was originally targeted to a Christian fiction market, has no sex scenes, but does contain a few thoughts of sex. I’m told Stormy Weather is my steamiest novel to date. Wild Rose has adult themes, but only one very mild, “feel-good”  sex scene between a newly married couple.

So here it is – be warned – Blue Belle, which is soon to be released, has one sex scene. It takes place more or less accidentally-  on the beach on the French Riviera. One advance reader called it the hottest sex scene ever.  I can’t tell you exactly why it’s there, or why your heart will break when you find out what happens the next morning, without giving too much away, except to say that Blue Belle is about trust and betrayal, and being naked and vulnerable, and how scary that is, because we all have to tear down the walls we build around our hearts if we want to find love, but it’s so hard to know who’s telling the truth and who’s lying, and when it’s safe to let down your guard and bare your soul – maybe even your body. Or not.

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As always, there may be those who judge me because I’m a Christian and a pastor’s wife, and “how could I?” And yes, a few of my ancestors would probably roll over in their graves if they ever read such a thing. And in spite of all that, or because of it, I wholly endorse the scene for reasons I think you will understand when you read the book. I’m proud of every page of this book and can’t wait for you all to read Blue Belle.  (My husband has also read it, and he’s proud of me, too.)

So, there it is.  Beware — or, order your advance copy now. I think you’ll love Blue Belle. If you choose not to read it, you’ll miss what’s very probably my best book yet. I’m still fond of the the reviewer who called my books, “the thinking woman’s romance”. Because, in addition to the occasional, still mild, comparatively speaking, sex scenes that sometimes crop up in my novels, books by Sherrie Hansen are knit together with intelligent characters in adverse circumstances struggling with real-life issues. They’re lovingly shaped with conflict and joy and heartache, compassion and suspense, intimate moments and lots of trouble – but always, a happy ending. And occasionally, sex happens. And when it does, because it has a huge impact on the lives of the characters, and because it forever changes who they are and how they view the world and themselves, I wouldn’t dream of not taking you along on the journey.

Sherrie Hansen has written 6 books and 1 novella, soon to be 7, all published by Second Wind Publishing. You can purchase Night and DayStormy Weather,Water LilyMerry Go RoundLove NotesThistle Down (FREE at Smashwords or 99 cents elsewhere – how can you go wrong?), Wild Rose, and very soon, Blue Belle, as paperback or e-book formats at Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com, selected independently owned stores,  The Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, or directly from Second Wind.

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What Is It With Me and This Tree? by Sherrie Hansen

 

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Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that my husband and I recently lost the tree in front of the parsonage where we live in Hudson, Iowa.

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So what is it about losing this tree that traumatized me? In the strictest sense, this tree wasn’t even mine, since our church owns our house and our yard. I’ve only lived here for two years. It’s not as though I grew up with this tree.  I have no idea who planted it and I didn’t even know it existed until recently.

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But we had a special bond, this tree and I.  I started admiring its beauty and photographing it even before I knew its days were numbered.

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Once its great arms began to sag and its trunk wasn’t able to endure the stress of blizzards and winds and storms, I tried my best to memorialize it.

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Our Church council president has already promised to plant a new tree come spring.

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The wind is howling again tonight, and I am secretly glad that there are no more creaking and cracking, rubbing and splintering noises outside my window.

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The men who took the tree said it wouldn’t have stood much longer. I was afraid it was going to fall on the house. It is good that it is gone.

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It’s branches will provide warmth for several families next winter.  It’s wood will not go to waste. Small comfort, but something.

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Our house looks lonely and bare without the tree, and sunsets are just not the same. But I know it was the right thing to do.

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Sometimes things just can’t be fixed. And that is the real problem with me and this tree.

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I like things to be perfect, for every thing and every one to have a happy ending.

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There has come a time in my life, where I am starting to realize that there are more sad endings than happy. There are a whole list of things that I can’t do as well as I used to, and will never be able to again.  I’m getting old. I’m on a downhill slide.  I haven’t cracked yet, but I may – probably will – one day soon.

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Just a silly old tree – yet its loss affected me. Replaceable. Botanical. It was just a tree.

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It stood its ground, gave leafy green shade. It witnessed more than a century of sunsets, salvation and nativities.

Now, its time is done. It’s time to step aside and let another tree do its job.

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Now lest you think I’m totally depressed, there is one thing that I think I keep getting better and better at, and that is writing. It’s fun, as I age, to have a skill – a passion – that’s still  growing. The things that I’ve seen as I’ve stood, watching half a century of sunsets, are a network of branches that keep spreading wider and wider. And the more I know, and experience – the greater my understanding, the better.  So that’s the end of my tree. But not of me.

Zion 1-14 Sunset

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Legends Galore, Buried Treasure and More… by Sherrie Hansen

Blue Belle Promo Poem

Isabelle doesn’t want to be found. Michael doesn’t want to be found out. But when Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried in the bay, everyone is in danger. A reporter from Virginia and a psychologist from Wisconsin – both in Tobermory, Scotland, both with secrets –  hers, shocking, his kept to protect the people he loves. When Isabelle stumbles upon the biggest story of her life, and Michael discovers the truth, will the painful memories that are dredged up destroy their chance for love, or will they strike gold?  Blue Belle, a Wildflowers of Scotland novel by Sherrie Hansen. Coming Soon from Second Wind Publishing.

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It’s a Mystery… or Ding, Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead! by Sherrie Hansen

Lately, everyone’s been asking when my next book is coming out. Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be ready in 60 – 90 days. All it needs is a serious going over and a new ending and it should be ready to send off to my publisher. In the meantime, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to get 40,000 words into Shy Violet, the third in the series, so there should only be a short wait between the two books.

BBI Spring 2012

Some of you know that my primary distraction from writing is a bed and breakfast called the Blue Belle Inn B&B. For the past few months, my two passions have come together in a unique way.  In August, I decided to write a series of what I like to call fractured fairy tale style murder mysteries highlighting the storybook themes of each of our guest rooms at the B&B is named after.

BBInn - PC Tree 2010

I started out with our “On the Banks of Plum Creek” room and wrote (with apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder), “Little Oops On The Prairie”. It begins when Nellie Olafson’s somewhat eccentric, mean-spirited cousin, Nutty Olafson, is found face down at the supper table. My tagline read: Something smells fishy on the banks of Plum Creek – is there a wolf in sheep’s clothing lurking in the Big Woods or a little killer loose on the Prairie? Suspects Nellie Olafson, Visiting Professor Jerald Jill of Iowa, Quick Draw McNutt, local football hero Big Brawny, and the much loved but tragically flat-footed Insoles family are all in for a Long Winter in the pokey unless the true murderer can be uncovered. I also planned a theme dinner which included Ma’s Bean Soup with Bacon, Chicken Pie with Baking Powder Biscuit Crust, New England Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Roast Pork with Milk Gravy and Mashed Potatoes.

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We’ve been doing murder mysteries at the Blue Belle Inn for over 20 years now, at the rate of 4 to 9 times a year. Although I have several sources for purchasing the “whodunit” mystery games that become the basis for our dinner theater productions, it’s become increasingly harder to find fresh material that’s well-written.  The actors would often complain about how flimsy the plots were, or that there just wasn’t enough material to work with. Often times, I would spend hours fleshing out the plays I bought online with an opening  dialog, opening and closing statements, and so on, while the actors frequently had to unscramble plot elements that just didn’t make sense.

When I first started writing books, they were pure romance. I thought I’d never write novels that contained murder and mayhem, but in my last two books (Love Notes and Wild Rose) and the ones I’m presently working on (Blue Belle and Shy Violet), there are bad guys who are truly twisted, evil and bent on hurting people, a kidnapping, gunshots, and even a murder. As I worked on the motivation and chaotic situations caused by the suspense element in my novels, it occurred to me that I could just as well try my hand at a murder mystery. (Not to worry, there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my novels, too.)

I also thought, if I wrote my own mysteries, that it would be fun to incorporate some local color. Some of our local spoofs include the World Famous Miracle Whip Clinic in Rochester, MN, where miracle cures abound, and our locally manufactured breakfast cereals with a pirate named Captain Crunch. Because murder mysteries are tongue in cheek, humorous and very irreverent, you can really toss in whomever and whatever you feel like. It’s also great fun writing parts that specifically match our actor’s best (and worst?) features. If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in awhile, what fun are we?

MM Never Ever Land cast

In September, we performed our second original mystery, “Footloose in Never Ever Land”. The intro read: Who will be next to walk the plank in Never Ever Land? One thing is sure – it won’t be poor Woody Stuck, an old hippie who was stuck in the 60′s, because he was found belly up in the Lagoon a few hours ago. Now the clock is ticking and we hope you’ll help Peter Pun and the Lost Boyz find out who is guilty – is it Captain Crunch, the pirate with the biggest chompers ever, Rev. Hal Fyre and his crony, The Church Lady, free-spirit Windy, Fancy Free Willow Tree, Crocodile Rock, who has a scaly skin condition, or Stinker Belle, the church secretary? The theme meal included Gems of the Sea Puffs Mornay with Shrimp & Crab on Scallop Shells, “But Spinach is Good for You, Peter” Chicken with Spinach Artichoke Dip & Italian Cheeses, and The Church Lady’s Sunday Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes.

MM - Sherwood Forest

In October, we did “Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest with Robin Love & His Band of Unmarried Men”. The write-up says:  Relationships are complicated in UnTie the Knotingham, a small but wealthy kingdom where the divorce rate is extremely high. Thus, it came as no surprise when Richie Rich, a philandering playboy, was found dead on his wedding day. The question is, who killed him? Wife #7 – the former Maid Mary Ann, Ginger Root, wealthy nobleman Henry the Eighth, Friar Luck, Viking warrior Little Johnson, or Robin Love – a poor, mild-mannered attorney who has devoted his life to championing the underdog in divorce cases far and wide? It’s up to you to unravel the mystery before anyone else loses their head and does something crazy, like getting married. SHERWOOD FOREST CUISINE featured Cottage Pie with a Thatched Roof, and Fruits of the Forest Chicken with Mushrooms, Apples, Berries and a Splash of Brandy.

That left “Anne of Green Gables”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Secret Garden”, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, and “Heaven to Betsy”, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Victorian era Betsy Tacy books, for future mystery dinner themes. At the rate of one every 3 – 4 weeks, by the time we finished one mystery, my brain has already been working on the next, envisioning characters who tesseract, wear pompadour hair styles and floppy hats and climb big hills with the Crowd, or hob knob with princes and princesses and wicked witches and maybe a giant bunny rabbit or two.

MM - Dudley Do-RightMM - Anne Green

In November, for our Anne of Green Gables Fans, we premiered a mash up Lucy Montgomery’s Anne books and Gone with the Wind. “Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry’s Most Excellent Adventure”. The lead-in read: When cold-hearted Rachel Bag O’ Wynde, the neighbor from down the lane, is found dead, every one thinks she choked on an artichoke heart. But one person knows how she really died, and it was no accident. Help Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry find out who is guilty. Is it sour old Marilla Lemon, Matthew Chokecherry, obsessed with being best Gilbert Plum, Southern belle Scarlett Pimpernel, the pasty faced schoolteacher Ashley Grey, or Rhett, the Butler? Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounted Police even made a guest appearance.The custom menu included PEI Potato Soup, Ingleside Inn’s Fried Steak with Cheesy Onion Gravy and Red Potatoes, and Anne and Dianna’s Most Resplendent Raspberry Cordial Chicken served with Cavendish Creamed Potatoes and Peas. The featured dessert was Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce – sans the mouse.

MM - PCharming

In December, we tackled Sleeping Beauty with “Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?” My teaser read:  When game show host Alec Quebec is found dead, everyone on the latest episode of “To Twist the Truth!” is a suspect. Who is guilty? Is it one of the esteemed panel of judges – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, wicked stepmother Eveele O’Gress, or Glimmer, the Good Fairy? Or is it one of the contestants – dashing Prince Charming, Hermie, the Outcast Elf wannabe dentist, or Dopey the Dwarf, who was last seen clutching a ruby red slipper and looking for Cinderella? Or is it Kermit, a spirited frog that keeps hopping around the stage? The made-to-fit menu included Bavarian Hunter Schnitzel on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Cinderella’s Pumpkin with Pork and Parmesan Filling, and Snow White’s Special Apple Pie.

MM - W in Time

Our January premier was “Who? Whatsit? Which Wicked Witch is Dead?” a mash up that featured childhood favorites “A Wrinkle in Time” and the “Wizard of Oz”. My teaser read: When a Wrinkle in Time causes Camazotz and the Emerald City to collide, the witch is accidentally squished. Or was it Mrs. Which? And was it really an accident? Follow the yellow brick road with Meg Dorothea Ditz, Charles Wallace Wiz, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, the creepy computer guy nobody likes – Jay I.T. Bug, Glinda the Good, scary mafia man Scarface Crow from Central Intelligence, and nice guy Calvin Tim Mann, who wears his heart on his sleeve, to find out which one really did it. I had fun with this meun – Emerald City Soup with Green Broccoli & Garlic Herb Toasts, Over the Rainbow Fruit Wand, Starry, Starry Night Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Aunt Beast’s Best Ever Vegetable Cheese Puff, Out of this World Salmon with Seafood Stuffing, and Mrs. Murry’s Bunsen Burner Beef Stew with Biscuits on Top.

Blue Belle winter

On February 7 and 8, we’re looking forward to presenting another original murder mystery entitled “Betsy and Tacy Go Downton” – a mash up of my favorite books, the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace, and the popular British TV series, Downton Abbey. Here’s what guests have to look forward to: When Betsy Ray’s British cousin, Matthew Crawley, fakes his death in a car accident and comes to Deep Valley, MN because he needs a break from Downton Abbey, a round of parties is planned to introduce him to the Crowd. When Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess cross the pond to put an end to his lark, the unthinkable happens and Matthew is murdered. (Yes, this time, he’s really dead.) Did someone tamper with his dance card, hot wire his motor car, or spike his punch? Or could he simply not tolerate the caterwauling during the Cat Duet? Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Bad Boy Tony, Busty Bonnie the Minister’s Daughter (who we’ve never quite trusted), Joe Schmo, and Thomas, the Valet are all suspects. The menu includes “Onion Sandwich” Soup a la Mr. Ray, Betsy’s Heart of My Heart Chicken with Garlic Rosemary Cream Sauce and Artichoke Hearts,  Tib’s Beef Rouladen with Bacon & Onion Gravy on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Tacy’s Irish Meat Pie with Pork and Potatoes, and Lady Violet’s Elegant Roast Beef with Chardonnay Cream Sauce, Gorgonzola Cheese and Red Potatoes – and of course, a bite of the Crowd’s Famous Fudge for dessert.

bluebells-fern.jpg

A tale based on the book “The Secret Garden” is next, in March or April, and will probably feature a mad Farmer MaGregor and that rascal, Peter Cottontail. After that – who knows? It’s been an absolute thrill to see the creative costumes the actors have come up with for each of my mysteries and watch the way they’ve brought my characters and words to life. My only regret is that I’m usually working in the kitchen and don’t get to see much of the performances. Our actors are some of the best and so creative! John Deyo’s portrayal of a hopping, green frog / Prince Charming and Lisa Deyo’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty were amazing and very memorable. Mel Schroeder has done everything from A to Z including a one-legged pirate. My favorite of Deb Stickney’s roles to date is The Church Lady but she also does a great German accent. My husband, Mark Decker, makes foaming at the mouth and dying look so realistic that it’s scary. Neil and Terri Hernan, Mark and Ken Borchardt, Phyllis Ruehlow, Brenda and Michael Esdohr, Julia Crail, Tiffany Adams, and so many more who have filled in for us on occasion are some of the most versatile, slightly crazy, very silly actors ever.

I’m thrilled to say that our new, original mysteries have been getting rave reviews from our customers, including my mother, who said, “Are all those crazy things really in your head?”, to which I replied, “They kinda are.”

If you live in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota and haven’t been to one f the Blue Belle’s mystery dinners yet, it’s high time! Like I always say, at what other event does the guilty perpetrator of a dastardly deed get a round of applause? And as always, if you guess correctly or solve the mystery, you could get your dinner free.

One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing Blue Belle and Shy Violet, but in the meantime, if you’ve wondered what I’m up to – this is it! I hope you’ll also watch for another instance when my innkeeping and writing worlds are scheduled to collide… Second Wind Publishing will be hosting a Pitch the Publisher event at the Blue Belle Inn B&B sometime this summer or fall. Stay tuned for further details!

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Wildflowers in Winter by Sherrie Hansen

Christmas - peacock 

I woke up this morning filled with sweet memories of a Merry Christmas spent with my family, prepared to do a “Twas the day after Christmas” blog, but then I looked outside.

Blu Belle winter tiny

Here in North Iowa and Southern Minnesota, we’ve had a lot of snow and below zero temperatures already this winter. The forecast HIGH for Tuesday is -2 below zero. Don’t even get me going on wind chills – they were – 25 and -30 a few days ago and forecast to dip as low or even lower next week.

Zion 2013 snow view

Can you blame me for wanting to take a little trip to summertime?

Flowers - strawberry  Duluth - close

I’m deep into Shy Violet, the third of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, and almost ready to do edits on Blue Belle, the second, and relishing summertime on the Isles of Skye and Mull.  When I can’t remember the sights and smells of summer, I look at my photos and dream of warm days and starry, summertime nights and write on. It’s fun to escape to a landscape filled with wildflowers and green grass. Some people take a vacation to the south of France or Florida or the California coast. I get lost in a book set in the summertime.

Sporing - bluebells

My favorite wildflowers are those that I find growing in front of a picturesque sight like a castle or an old church, a lake or ocean, a stunning mountain, or even those that grow in the front yard of my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn. If I were a wildflower, that’s where I would plant myself.  Life is short. It’s good to get outside and enjoy the views as often as you can.

203 Scotland St. Andrews  Duluth - lupine

Wildflowers take root wherever they can find a toehold.  They’re persistent and determined and slightly stubborn, just like me. Many of them survived the last ice age. That’s tenacity!

197 Scotland - Flowers in Stone  201 Scotland -- Fence

Wildflowers grow in a wild tangle of disarray. Although I try to make myself tidy up my house on a regular basis so it looks like a photo shoot from Beautiful Home magazine (in case my mother should drop by unexpectedly), it more often looks like a tornado just touched down. The truth is, I’m just not into neat, regimented gardens planted in straight rows a specific number of inches apart. I’m more of a wildflower and always have been.

Ely - Thistle   WI2 - Thistle

The heroines of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Wild Rose (Rose),  Blue Belle (Isabelle), and Shy Violet (Violet) – are all prone to living their lives in unconventional ways. They don’t like to be fenced in. They know how to make the best of a bad situation – to bloom where they’re planted despite that fact that the weather and soil and growing conditions are less than ideal. They get trampled on and they bounce back.  They’re true glories of nature. 

Grace Corner - Bleeding hearts 2

Thanks for taking a brief trip to summertime with me.  I hope you’ve enjoyed the green scenery, warm breezes, and raindrops on roses.

175 Scotland - Cambo gardensraindrops  Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]  Love Notes Cover - Final

NOTE:  If you refuse to get in the summertime mode, you can go read Love Notes – it starts as autumn is changing to winter and ends on Christmas Eve. It takes place in Embarrass, MN, the coldest place in America.  If you’re in the mood for a good winter read, this is it. Google Embarrass, MN on Tuesday and see how warm it is up north! It’ll make you thankful for whatever temperature it is where you are. As for me, I’ll be cozied up, dreaming of roses and bluebells and violets, waiting for summer to return.  Merry Christmas!

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The Doors of Dorney, Scotland by Sherrie Hansen

I have a confession to make. I’ve never been to Dorney. I’ve been as close as Eilean Donan Castle, but I was in a hurry to get to Fort William, and I never thought to go up into the village. Now, I’m writing a book called Shy Violet, the main characters are living in Dorney, and I’m left wishing I had walked a bit further and scoped out the town with my own two eyes.

That’s the way it is with doors. We choose to walk through them, or we skip on by, oblivious to what might be inside.

I’ve always been fascinated by doors, so when we started exploring Scotland, it came as no surprise that all kinds of unique and intriguing doors caught my eye.

Scotland - doors blue

Sometimes, when we get to a door, we’re hesitant to open it. Because doors can lead to places you’d rather not go.

Doors - Luss

Sometimes, when you see a door, you’re consumed with curiosity about what’s on the other side, and you can’t be happy until you know.

Door - Ayr

Doors can be a bit daunting – after all, one can never be quite sure what you’ll find when you open them.

Door - Castle

Doors can be portals to a make-believe world.

Door - Castle to Castle

The sights you see through an open door can make your imagination soar.

Door - Culzean

Doors can lead you deeper and deeper into a mystery that will take you who knows where.

Door - Double

Doors can lead to an alternate reality – perhaps one from which you will never escape.

Door - drawbridge

Doors can open up to adventures you’ve never even dreamed of.

Door - Edinbough

Doors – and the places they lead to – can inspire overtures and epic poems and all kinds of artistry.

Door - Fingal's CaveDoor - Fingal's Cave close-up

Doors can be common, comforting, familiar and welcoming.

Door - Sanctuary

Doors can be austere and foreboding.

Door - St. Michaels

Doors can be pretentious affairs.

Scotland - doors big

Doors can be plain and functional.

Scotland - door plain

When a door opens, light floods into the dark corners of you mind and enlightens every last nook and cranny.

Door - Sea

When you unlock a door, you never know what secrets you’ll uncover.

Door - Secret Garden

When a door shuts behind you, sometimes you wonder if you’ll ever go home.

Door - St A

Sometimes doors are a nice fit. Not too big, not to small.

Door - St Conans

Although it’s always wise to mind your head.

Scotland - door in a row

Sometimes doors dwarf you, and you wonder, who were these doors made for, giants?

Door - St Conans 2Some say that when God closes a door, he opens a window.

Door - St. Andrews

But we all know that when a door is closed, you can get left standing outside in the cold.

Scotland - doors closed

Next time you go in or out a door, I hope it leads to somewhere you want to be – maybe even Scotland – and that someone you love is waiting on the other side.

Scotland - door

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