Category Archives: writing

A Moment of Magic

July 26, 2020, one of my most admired people in the world, passed away. Born on July 1, 1916, she had a long and accomplished career as an actor, author, and most gracious lady. Her name was Olivia de Havilland. Many of you will remember some of her iconic roles in motion pictures, such as Melanie in Gone With the Wind. And sadly, some of you will be too young to remember her at all. Thank goodness for film archives and the Internet.

Before I get into the meat of my story, I’d like to fill you in a little on Ms. de Havilland’s many varied career accomplishments in her 104 years. She was nominated for five Academy Awards and won two Oscars; the first for To Each His Own in 1946, and the second for The Heiress in 1949. She wrote a bestselling book called, Every Frenchman Has One. She campaigned for women actors for fair treatment and even won a lawsuit which changed Hollywood.

On Nov. 17, 2008, at the age of 92, she received the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush at a White House ceremony, “For her persuasive and compelling skill as an actress in roles from Shakespeare’s Hermia to Margaret Mitchell’s Melanie.”

She received honorary Doctorate degrees from The American University of Paris, France, The University of Hertfordshire in England, and Mills College in California, U.S.A..

In 2010 she received the Légion d’honneur in Paris, France; the highest honor for military and civil merits.

And in June 2017, two weeks before her 101st birthday, she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

I mentioned all this to let you know why I considered her someone really special. What an amazing life she led, and her death announcement reminded me of an experience I shall never forget.

In the early 1980’s, my son and I were in a Scottish bagpipe band, called the St. Andrew’s Pipes and Drums of Montgomery, AL. Former Post Master General under President Nixon, later businessman and philanthropist Winton M. Blount had a huge estate and his estate manager was our bass drummer, John Lesenger. Finding a place to practice our piping was a problem until Mr. Blount offered us part of the estate as our marching and practice space. Out there on the estate, we couldn’t disturb anyone.

Mr. Blount’s wife, Carolyn, was an avid Shakespeare supporter and together they offered to finance a new home for the financially strapped Alabama Shakespeare Festival if it would move to Montgomery. Not only that, The Blounts gave up part of their estate for that new home. The groundbreaking ceremony was Aug. 10, 1983 heralded by the St. Andrews Pipes and Drums with such dignitaries as Gov. George Wallace and Mayor Folmar in attendance.

Mr. Blount’s son, Thomas and Perry Pittman designed the 100,000-square-foot, 21.5 million complex, christened the Carolyn Blount Theater which houses two theaters—the 750 seat Festival stage and the 225 seat Octagon—as well as production shops, a costume shop, dressing rooms, rehearsal halls and administrative work spaces.

The opening occurred on Dec. 7, 1985 led once more by the St Andrew’s Pipes and Drums and the occasion sparked national interest and actors Tony Randall and Olivia de Havilland served as masters of ceremonies.

Before the public was allowed in, those people most involved with the event were given the opportunity to tour the theaters. As pipers, my son and I were among that group. We all wandered around at leisure and I walked through the big theater and through to the smaller octagon shaped one in the semi-round and came out on stage center with the audience seats in front of me. I was alone and the room was quiet. I stood silently with my eyes closed remembering my college acting days when all of a sudden I opened my eyes and looked down and sitting facing me in the front row was Olivia de Havilland. I was frozen in place until she smiled at me ever so gently. That moment took my breath away. Tears come to me as I remember this. I walked over to her and asked if I could sit next to her and she said, “Of course.” I told her how much I admired her talent and enjoyed her movies and we chatted for a few minutes. I’ll never forget how gracious she was. It truly was a moment of magic in my life. Brava, Olivia de Havilland!

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Ihle’s Smiles

I took a photo of a double rainbow from my sunroom window a few weeks ago and emailed it to all my friends and family, because seeing it had given me so much joy and I wanted to share it. The response I got from quite a few gave me the idea for this month’s blog. I started thinking what exactly is it that makes me smile.

Of course, you realize, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and the tendency to self-reflection is something with which many of us are dealing. I include myself. So, I started writing a list of things that made me smile, which went on and on, but showed me that it depended on the time in my life these smiles occurred.  I found myself dividing my life into sections.

When I was newly married, my husband was commissioned an officer in the United States Air Force and we moved to Texas where our son was born. Early smiles were centered around the new baby, and meeting and making friends with other military people. As time went on, traveling to new places and different climates were added along with more new friends. I started collecting masks and sculptural faces for decoration and to fill up empty places on walls and also to remind me of some of those places we had been and people we’d met. Many of my masks have smiles on their faces.

One of those military assignments was to an R.O.T.C. detachment at North Texas State University for four years in the late 1970s. My husband taught Aerospace Studies and I provided a social home for many of his students along with our commander and other officers. I’m proud to say I am still in touch with some of those former students and we still exchange Christmas cards and yearly newsletters. In fact last week, one of those students sent me a current photo of his growing family that not only brought me a smile, but also a tear of pride to my eye.

After my husband and I separated and divorced, and my parents died, I spent some time reinventing myself. I hadn’t finished college before marrying, so my choices were limiting, but as luck would have it, I met a gal who was a rather famous belly dancer and we hit it off as friends. She was generous enough to share with me her secrets to success in this business and also in costume design. My gal-friend’s job took her to nightclubs in New York and New Jersey and I lived in Alabama where there were none, so I had to come up with a way to use these skills I was learning in a totally different environment. I decided to start a Belly Gram business. People hired me to dance a short routine for someone’s special occasion like a birthday, anniversary, farewell, get-well, even family reunion. I spent more than twenty years in this job and had smiling moments every single day. I loved it.  I was fortunate enough to be able to help someone celebrate their special day! What could be better?!

Before I decided it was time to retire from dancing, my next career slipped into my life. For over fifty years I had been searching for a sister I knew existed and suddenly found. Talk about smiles! For those who don’t know, I was orphaned when just a toddler and later adopted at the age of four and a half. But I digress. I decided I wanted to write a book about my search to honor the ALMA Society, the agency who helped me find her, and also to have something to dedicate to her. It took me many years since I had to learn how to write. I started attending writing conventions and reading everything I could find about writing and then I began writing. It took me ten years, about 8 years after I retired from dancing, to get the book written, find an agent who found my publisher, and SHE HAD TO KNOW became a reality.

And now I am retired, retired! I write my blog each month and I try to help promote authors whose work I admire, because reading has become my favorite activity as I get older. As a result, I feel so fortunate to be able to say that several authors have become friends. I have bookshelves on either side of my desk in my office where my computer is, so each morning when I come in to read my email, I have a whole lot of people to greet. How can I say I live alone?! That makes me smile!

And during all this I’ve continued to search for my birth family. A year ago, through Ancestry.com, another sister was found. We have visited with one another once, but then the pandemic hit, and we have had to limit our contact to emails, but that’s okay. This sister has a sister whom I haven’t met yet, and that’s something for me to look forward to. And I recently discovered I have a granddaughter I didn’t know I had. She is also an Ancestry.com discovery. Luckily, I was able to meet her and attend both her high school graduation and her wedding. I am so thrilled. Maybe the family will be growing one of these days. There are smiles and more smiles coming in the future I’m sure!

What are the things that make you smile? I’d love to hear!

 

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Pat Your Backs by Coco Ihle

This is my time to say thank you to all the people who have been following the guidelines by implementing social distancing and the health suggestions to get us all through this terrible coronavirus pandemic. I’ve witnessed bravery beyond belief from those in the front lines; not only first responders and health workers in every area of care, but also in the leaders of businesses who have valued their employees enough to hold on to them even in sacrifice, and also to friends who have helped those who have not handled this crisis as well as they.

Kudos to the people who have altered their manufacturing plants to make much needed products. Many doing so without requests made for them to do so. And thank you to those who have generously donated food, medical supplies and other necessary items to those in need.

Thank you to the teachers who are tirelessly not only helping their students continue learning, but are helping the student’s parents, as well. These teachers are using their ingenuity and creativity in amazing ways.

Thank you to my local grocery store employees who have been tirelessly and cheerfully working to keep us fed, and the druggists who make sure we have our medications, and to the trash pick-up guys who even work in the dark, and the postal workers and other delivery people who make sure we have our mail and packages. I actually feel not only grateful, but spoiled.

Thank you to those of you who have thought about and made the effort to check on seniors who may be isolated and lonely, not only to see if they are all right, but also to offer to go to the grocery store, or pharmacy for them or to drive them to a doctor’s appointment, or run an errand or two. I’ve been blessed here, too.

I am thankful to our President for gathering experts in all fields necessary to help us successfully get through this war and for keeping us informed each day with a progress report.

Thank you to all the people of many religions who are sharing their faith and comfort with their congregations and friends online. One of my friends who is also an author and a minister’s wife shares a daily prayer and treats us on the piano with her wonderful renditions of famous old hymns. Thanks, Sherrie. I’m enjoying watching you, so much. And I thank Kevin Latty, a friend’s son for sharing his wonderful inspiration today.

Today (as I write this) is Good Friday and as Easter approaches, I’m reminded why I celebrate this time each year, for Jesus is Risen. He is with us today. I mentioned above how spoiled I feel, but I’m reminded that there are many who are grieving right now for loved ones lost or gravely ill. I pray for those people and I also pray in gratitude for those of us who have been spared and only inconvenienced. I pray for those who have lost jobs and I ask for guidance and help for them at this time. I pray that this spirit of togetherness and compassion will continue far into the future as we move ahead and slowly recover from this terrible pandemic. I pray that we have been inspired to be more considerate of others and united as individuals and communities.

And, on a lighter note, I thank so many friends who have held on to their sense of humor and sent funny cartoons or sayings, phone calls, even greeting cards to keep me in a cheery mood. I can say it has worked! THANK YOU! I’m so grateful!  PAT YOUR BACKS!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Please join her here each 11th of the month.

 

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INSPIRITING POEM by Coco Ihle

Back in 2011 I wrote about this, but I was urged to mention it again. When I decided I wanted to become an author in my late fifties, I had no idea how to go about accomplishing that goal, but figured I’d learn along the way. When I spoke about it to friends, their responses were varied. Some said, “That’s nice.” I could tell their answer was just that, not one that took any thought, just something polite to say. Some were discouraging without meaning to be, saying it was really difficult and getting published was almost impossible. And a few were encouraging, but uninformed about the possibilities or lack thereof.

One of my dearest friends whose opinion I seriously sought, totally surprised me by not being encouraging at all. She was an educator and a Stanford Grad and I expected a “go-for-it” attitude from her. At that point in my life I might have been discouraged, but I was lucky. I had been successful in my last few endeavors and had gained confidence from those experiences, and my desire to write a book was fueled by the recent discovery of a sister for whom I had been searching for over fifty years.

My deep down determination was pretty sealed, but what cemented it in place was a friend who had traveled the world and wore the wisdom of many varied life experiences. I hadn’t seen him in a while, so when we did meet up one evening, I told him about my search for family and how dogged I had been through the years and that my efforts had finally been rewarded. I told him I wanted to write a fictional story about my search for my sister, but make it entertaining for others to read. As I spoke, I could tell he was hanging on every word and I could sense his interest.

When I finished telling him my hopes, he smiled and said he wanted to recite a poem by an unknown author that had been given to him many years before.  He also said it literally changed his life.  Here it is:

 

I wish I were a could be

if I could not be an are.

For a could be is a maybe

with a chance of reaching far.

 

I’d rather been a has been

than a might have been by far.

For a might have been has never been

while a has was once an are.

 

When he finished he said, “Now, keep this poem close and go write your book.”

I did and I did.

I’d love to hear if you have had any special something that has helped you fulfill your dreams, besides persistence and hard work.

 

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland.

Join her here each 11th of the month.

 

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I’m Hooked by Coco Ihle

I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands to create original art pieces and because I’ve tried quite a few different areas of art, I rather quickly realized my likes and limitations and therefore developed a respectable appreciation for other people’s efforts as well. I’ve tried oil painting and water color and working in acrylics; wood carving, mask making and ordinary fabric sewing. When I was dancing, I created almost all of my costumes, which gave me experience in not only fabrics, but also in leather and silks and beadwork.

My sources for learning were teachers, friends and lots of books. In my day, there was no YouTube or Internet, so my discoveries were often somewhat different than they are today. I have to say, though, I really prefer learning from a person, in person, so that I can ask questions as I go and also get feedback and pointers from that teacher right away. If there is a certain correct way of doing something, I’ve also learned it’s best to learn the right way rather than try to unlearn a wrong way. This sentence recalls to my mind incorrect fingering while learning a new piece of music for either my piano or cello or bagpipes.

Now that the holidays are over and life is settling back to normal, I’ve been thinking I’d like to get back to doing a project with my hands, but didn’t know what I was in the mood to try. Years ago I used to crochet a little. That might be fun. And I’ve always wanted to learn to knit. I tried once and found I seemed to tighten up on my stitches as I went and my work didn’t look good at all. Maybe I didn’t give it enough time and experience. I didn’t have a teacher for that.

Then I remembered when I was living in Germany, my neighbors upstairs in my apartment building were avid latch hook rug makers. I remember they were a husband and wife who were working on a rug maybe 9’ x 12’ in size and they’d sit side by side a few feet apart, and work together on each row. It was a beautiful French pastel design and so elegant looking. They told me it was a kit, with precut yarn and they’d work on it whenever they were in the mood and had time. I was so impressed!

When I came back to the States, I found a latch hook pillow kit that was a 24” square and thought that would be a good size for me to see if it was something I would enjoy pursuing. I started it and really loved working on it and then somehow life stepped in and I got busy doing other things. Years went by and I forgot about it. So while I was trying to decide what project I could get involved with, I thought of finishing that one. I started searching for it and found it waiting for me in my studio. Luckily, all the pieces seem to be together and I still really love the colors and design of the pillow, so I think I’ll finish it. It’s about three-quarters of the way done. Here’s a photo. Wish me luck!

24″ Latch Hook Pillow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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The Mystery of Love by Sherrie Hansen

The New Year is traditionally a time to set your eyes on new endeavors and shake things up a bit. Some think of it as being a time to start out with a clean slate, but to do that, the old slate has to be wiped clean, an idea that’s always been very distasteful to me.

Dad - creek

I may as well admit that I’m one of those persons who likes to stay friends with my old boyfriends. Even when I found myself divorced and single once again back in the 1980s, I didn’t want to forget about the years I was married. Yes, things ended badly. Since we had no children when we went our separate ways, I had the opportunity to put the past completely behind me.  At one point, when my ex-husband wanted to get married again -this time to a devote Catholic woman, I got a call from a priest offering to annul my marriage. But saying that it never happened would have meant forgetting about all the wonderful friends I made in Germany, Oklahoma and Colorado Springs during the years we were married.  Wiping the slate clean would have minimized the impact of the adventures we shared and the unique places we explored while living in Europe. It would have meant turning my back on my ex-husband’s family, who I dearly loved. It would have meant forgetting about the lessons I’d learned and the woman I had become while going through the good and bad of our marriage. I didn’t want to do it.

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Now, I’m facing another metamorphosis – not nearly as life changing as a divorce, but a fairly significant event in my life.  After writing romantic suspense for a publishing house for the last several years, I’ve released an independently published mystery, Seaside Daisy. It’s a change, and one I’m very excited about. In addition to getting the knack of writing mysteries, I’ve also had to get acquainted with the mysteries of publishing, designing covers, and formatting text for Kindle and paperback books. It’s been a little daunting to say the least!

Seaside Daisy Front Cover 10-17

So, the owner of a bookstore that carries my books contacted me today and wanted to put an ad in the paper advertising an event in February. The headline referred to me as the “Queen of Romance.” I don’t see myself that way, and at this point, I really don’t want to be viewed that way. I’m trying to appeal to a new group of readers who may not like romance, but who do like mysteries. I’m having fun exploring a new genre, and learning and growing by using a new set of building blocks to shape mysteries.

Scot - Uig sunset stones

I feel this way for a couple of reasons. First, my romance novels never fell into the mold of typical romances anyway. My characters are a bit older than normal and many were second chance at love stories rather than first loves. Many contain steamy scenes side by side with struggles of faith and family. My novels are character-driven and unique rather than formulaic or predictable. I loved being published by a mid-sized press who cared more for distinctiveness than being a match with a specific genre. One reviewer called my novels “the thinking woman’s romance,” but in fact, many men enjoy reading them, too. I think calling my novels romance novels hurt me in many circles, when in reality, they are far more than that.

Daybreak - N&D

In some ways, I think I’ve been writing mysteries all along — the mystery of why Jensen’s great grandparents immigrated from Denmark to Minnesota in Night and Day, the mystery of the who’s trying to recover the centuries-old gold buried in Tobermory Bay in Blue Belle, in Golden Rod, the mystery of how two, 500-year-old ghosts can break a curse and save Lachlan Castle and Rod’s beautiful gardens from being razed to make room for a golf course… And then, there’s the mystery of love – how two people so very different from one another, each with their own lives, foibles, and passions can come together and forge a new life as one.

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I’m not embarrassed to have written my romance novels – as I’ve republished each of them under my own name, rereading sections and looking at the reviews that have been posted over the years, I feel exceedingly proud of every one of them.  The characters still call out to me. Rose and Ian, Jake and Michelle, William and Lyndsie, Hope and Tommy Love, Rod and Katelyn – they still have the power to make me smile and bring me to tears. They were good books, with complex characters and intricate plots, when I wrote them, and they’ve stood the test of time. I don’t want to leave the past in the past and move on. I love the memories and meaningful images surrounding each of my “old” books. I would be losing so much if I were to ignore the part they’ve played in my life. But I’m ready to take my writing in a different direction to try to expand my readership. It’s fun and exciting, and it stretches me as a writer and as a person.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov

I hope that no matter what kind of books you like to read, you can relate to my new “brand” — Explore the Mystery of Love with Author Sherrie Hansen. I think the Mystery of Love fits both my older novels and my new. If you haven’t already given them a try, I hope you will. As always, I love to get honest reviews in one or more of the many places you can post them – Amazon, Goodreads, and Bookbub to name a few. I’ve also received private messages with feedback from people who have shared emotions evoked by my books. I love it when those kind of connections are made. It’s a true honor when I discover that my fiction is someone’s reality.

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So – no matter what your “old year” has been about, or what your “new year” might bring, I wish you the best in your future endeavors.  I’ll be starting out the year with the first time performance of a new murder mystery over dinner on New Year’s Eve. Next on my list is finishing my work in progress, Plum Tart Iris, a Wildflowers of Czechia Mystery.

Czechia - Loket

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to each of you!

believe

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Seaside Daisy, a New Wildflowers Novel from Sherrie Hansen

If you’ve read any of my novels, seen my B&B or my house, followed my photographic journeys on Facebook, or even paid attention to the clothes and hats I wear,  you know I love the imagery of flowers.

Grace Corner - Bleeding hearts 2

Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William and Golden Rod all take their cues from flowers and the unique traits of the genus I’m writing about. I love drawing parallels and weaving the characteristics of the flower into terms and images that define the people in my books who are named after them.

 

SEASIDE DAISY, my new release, is my first mystery, the first of my books to be set in Ireland, and my first attempt at self-publishing. But it’s my 6th Wildflowers novel, and as such, I’d like to tell you why I chose to write about Ireland and seaside daisies, formally known as erigeron glaucus.

Ireland - Daisy lavender

Erigeron may look fragile, with its thin, tender-looking petals and pale colors, but it’s the perfect plant for coastal zones and seaside gardening. Wind and salt spray won’t affect this robust little plant. They grow well in sandy, dry soils and even prefer soil that isn’t too fertile. They thrive when dead-headed of finished flowers to encourage more blooms. The plants can be cut back at ground level to encourage new foliage. I can’t begin to describe how hard the frigid, biting winds were blowing the day my husband and I took these photos except to say, we raced to climb back into the shelter of our cozy car as soon as we’d snapped each picture. And we explored the Wild Atlantic Way in early June!

Ireland - beach

When Daisy Fitzpatrick discovers a treasure trove of gold in a sea cave near her Granny’s shanty on Dingle Bay, she rents out her art studio in Dingle, buys an old mansion in Killarney, and overnight, finds herself a local celebrity with a wonderful new life. But when the real owner lays claim to the gold, she loses everything, including her fickle, new friends. Can Daisy find it in herself to start over? With Cavan’s help, the sea captain’s ghost, and her granny’s quilt to point the way, the quest for more gold is soon underway. But when a priest ends up dead and a pirate takes up the search, Daisy may have to learn the hard way that gold can be a blessing, or gold can be a curse. The Wild Atlantic Way might be a hard foe to tame, but the townsfolk of Dingle soon learn that even the roar of the sea is no match for a Fitzpatrick with her mind made up.

Seaside Daisy Front Cover 10-17

My Seaside Daisy was certainly trimmed back to ground level when she lost the gold she’d thought would solve all of her problems. Her spent blossoms were definitely pinched off. A less hardy plant may have stopped blooming, withered up and died. But like her namesake, my Daisy soon started sprouting new growth. As you’ll soon find out if you read SEASIDE DAISY, the more adversity that comes her way, the more she thrives. I hope you’ll give my new mystery a try – I’m a firm believer that God makes beautiful things out of broken pieces… it’s been a recurring theme in my life, and in the novels I’ve written. Because I think we all know that the delicate-looking flowers growing along the Wild Atlantic Way – or anywhere the wind blows – aren’t just pretty faces.

Pansy

SEASIDE DAISY’S SHANTY – an original song by Sherrie Hansen

Where my Seaside Daisy’s shanty’s

On the Wild Atlantic Way,

There’s a treasure at the rainbow’s end

In the caves on Dingle Bay. In the caves on Dingle Bay.

 

In early morn out on the sea,

The fog gives way to sun.

You can hear the seabirds singing

As the waves come crashing in.

Ireland - blue cottage

Where my Seaside Daisy’s shanty’s

On the Wild Atlantic Way

There’s a treasure at the rainbow’s end

In the caves on Dingle Bay. In the caves on Dingle Bay.

 

The Captain’s ghost and Granny’s quilt

Are there to point the way

But a storm at sea and a pirate’s curse

Are turning the blue skies gray.

Quilt - names

Where my Seaside Daisy’s shanty’s

On the Wild Atlantic Way,

There’s a treasure at the rainbow’s end

In the caves on Dingle Bay. In the caves on Dingle Bay.

 

For gold can be a blessing

And gold can be a curse.

But true love is the greatest gift

Through better and through worse.

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Where my Seaside Daisy’s shanty’s

On the Wild Atlantic Way,

There’s a treasure at the rainbow’s end

In the caves on Dingle Bay. In the caves on Dingle Bay.

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You’ll find SEASIDE DAISY and my other Wildflowers books at Amazon. Enjoy!

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Bohemian Rhapsody Road Trip by Sherrie Hansen

Exhilarating and Exhausting are the words that seem to best describe our trip to Czechia from August 27 to September 17. We arrived in Prague tired and worn out and in need of rest and relaxation. When you own your own business (me) and are the only pastor on staff at a church (my husband, Mark), there are always a million things to do in advance before you leave on a trip.

Czechia - church roadside

This year was no exception, in fact, it seems like every year, there are more things on our To-Do list than ever before.

Czechia - Prague street

We enjoyed our first two days in Prague and had some wonderful experiences, but we also missed out on seeing several things that we should have due to our frazzled condition. The best thing we did was to schedule a spur-of-the-moment Airbnb Experience:  Ten Course Dinner in a Chef’s Home.

Czechia - Ladislov plate

Ladislav, our chef, was an amazing host, and we enjoyed excellent food and conversation around a table for 8 adjacent to the kitchen in his apartment.

Czechia - Ladislov

The other guests at our table were from Canada and Australia, so we all spoke English, in different accents. It was the highlight of our time in Prague. The B&B we stayed in was wonderfully historic and our host very gracious. We were able to walk a quarter of a mile to get on a bus which linked to trams and metros throughout Prague. The transport system was quite daunting for me, and even with it, we walked 7 miles up and down steep inclines, on cobblestones each day. We had our first taste of Czech garlic soup and cinnamon pastry trdelnik filled with ice cream and fruit in Prague. After an extensive search (we got lost), we found the Alfons Mucha museum and saw his portrayals of Slavic maidens. Sadly, the Slav Epic Exhibition I so wanted to see was no longer open.

Czechia - Prague houses

We saw the outside of Prague Castle from an outdoor cafe with a wonderful view of the castle and city below. We enjoyed a delicious Czech dinner where we had our first dumplings (both bread and potato).

Czechia - Dumplings

But the castle was closed by the time we were done, and our attempts to get there had been so traumatic (long story – think three or four story high escalators, an extremely steep hill, overweight and out of shape people who are terrified of escalators (me), hot, humid weather in the high 90s and no air conditioning anywhere, and one crazed taxi driver who tried to charge us $50 for a 3 block ride to a restaurant he never found) that you may understand why we never went back to see the cathedral, basilica, tower, palace, the hall that hosted knightly jousting tournaments, or the royal garden. We also missed the famous Astronomical Clock Tower in the main  square in Old Town, but we did walk across Charles Bridge twice and climbed millions of stairs to see the view of Prague from the top of the Klementinum Astronomical Tower and Old Library.

Czechia - Prague

What can I say? We were half-asleep and in a daze. These things happen when you’re in your sixties and you’ve just missed out on two nights of sleep.  I appreciated the lovely architecture and colorful facades throughout the city. I could see why people love Prague. But a big city person, I am not.

Czechia - church

Unfortunately, our next stop was Brno, another big city 2 hours to the south. We were supposed to stay in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house, but there was a water emergency and we were relegated to a city center apartment (which I avoid like the plague when searching for accommodations) which turned out to be filthy dirty. You don’t even want to know about the 3-4″ ginormous spider that came running out at me just before bedtime. Although my brave husband killed it, I still didn’t sleep that night.

Czechia - Brno dancers

The one good thing about our city center apartment was that it was near a tram stop that took us to the International Folklore Festival (one of our main reasons for visiting Czechia), where we had a wonderful time enjoying regional music, vintage bicycles, traditional dancing and more good food.

Czechia - Brno bicycles

We had quark dessert dumplings filled with strawberries and a sour cream sauce that were so wonderful I will dream of them until I die – and fried cheese, and more garlic soup. We climbed to the top of the city (twice) to see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, a striking 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles.

Czechia - Brno

Another highlight was the traditional dance review with costumed dancers from many countries.   

Czechia - Folklore Festival

When planning our trip, we figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in a big city, and boy, were we right! Our time in the tiny country village of Rojetin was our salvation.

Czechia - traditional cottage bed

The stars were brilliant, the countryside was gorgeous, and the quiet was just what we needed.

Czechia - garden door

While there, we were able to see three UNESCO Heritage Sites – a lovely church in Třebíč, a star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and our favorite, the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture.

Czechia - Telc cafe

Czechia - Telc

We also discovered a quaint town, Velkabites, where we watched them putting up an extremely high pole with a tree on top for an upcoming festival.

Czechia - Telc statue

It was the season of festivals. We dipped down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were booked for their annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival.

Czechia - Wine cellar

We loved the storybook villages and wine cellars of the area, and the wonderful music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, historic market, and tasty homemade crepes, sausages and cheeses at the festival.

Czechia - Grape Arbor

But our best memory is of Austria, and a wonderful chef at a delightful restaurant just a few kilometers from our B&B. By the time we left, we were full of creatively prepared food, and we felt like we’d made a friend.

Czechia - Znojmo view

The next morning, we headed to Znojmo, where we stayed in an amazing B&B in an old bakery, and discovered a beautiful church with an amazing view over the heart of Bohemia.

Czechia - Znojmo church

The next few days were a confusing jumble. First, the person who planned this trip one snowy day in April while short on sleep (me), got mixed up and thought the towns of Cesky Krumlov and Karlovy Vary were one in the same.

Czechia - CK Window

Bzzt, wrong. Second, while I was sleeping in the passenger seat, our GPS directed Mark to go east, back to Prague, crisscrossing the country instead of driving a short ways north, from one town to the other. Third, we missed seeing a beautiful castle along the route we were supposed to have been going.

Czechia - Chesky Krumlov shop

In our defense, I will say that we were completely wiped out from walking miles and miles a day up and down hugely steep hills on cobblestones and rough rock surfaces. In the rain.  Or did I already mention that?

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov

Despite some rain while we were there, we loved Cesky Krumlov. I’m so glad we thought it was Karlovy Vary or we might have missed it. We actually liked it much better than Karlovy Vary.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov river

It was quaint and beautiful, with a magnificent medieval castle and beautiful gardens, picturesque river walks, good restaurants, and (be still my heart) several hat shops.

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov view

Due to my confusion, we didn’t ever stay in Karlovy Vary. That was fine with me, because the nearby town of Loket, where we did stay, was smaller, more manageable and twice as delightful.

Czechia - Loket

I liked it so much that I’ve decided it’s going to be the settling of my next book, Plum Tart Iris, a Wildflowers of Czechia novel. We saw a spectacular sunset while eating outside at a great cafe wrapped in furry blankets to combat the chill from the mountain air.

Czechia - Loket sunset

The medieval castle was amazing, as was the river that curves around town on three sides, and a pottery shop and a creative tea house that I fell in love with.  I interviewed a few locals, and discovered some interesting historical facts that will define the plot of my new book.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary colunnades

But back to Karlovy Vary. I’d already committed to writing a murder mystery set there, so we had to research it. Since 1358, Karlovy Vary has for centuries been a popular destination for Europe’s elite, from royalty like Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Goethe.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary spa

The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains.

Czechia - Karlovy Vary mineral water

We walked miles to experience as much of it as we could, but were glad to retreat to little Loket at the end of the day.  Have I mentioned that we were quite tired and very sore but this point?

Czechia - Cesky Krumlov table

Mark spent a lot of his time sitting on a bench while I explored the town. I may have been in as much pain as he was, but I am more stubborn. Or maybe not. He was hurting pretty badly.

Czechia - Pernstejn Castle near Zdar

Our next stop was a small castle in Jilove that was built by a famous doctor in the early 1900s, then taken over by the Nazis in World War II (Hitler even stayed there) and then, by the Communists after the war, who used it for visiting dignitaries, and then, turned it into a factory. It still needs a lot of work, but the new owner is working hard to get it renovated and we enjoyed staying there and being a small part of its history.

Czechia - woods

Our objective for this stop was to see the Bohemian Alps. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

Czechia - sunset

After a run in with a lot of road construction and some unsavory Vietnamese entrepreneurs who were gatekeepers to the parks, we decided to forego the promised paradise of rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches. However, while in the area, we drove through a bit of Germany, where I enjoyed a mug of hot Gluhwein and a German dinner and Mark had fun driving 100 miles an hour on the autobahn in our Mercedes rental car.

Czechia - crystal

Other highlights – when our plans to see more of the National parks soured, Mark researched and found a factory seconds outlet store at a glass bead factory where I bought millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects. It was heavenly! We also found a Bohemian crystal factory outlet store and came home with two treasures from their shelves.

Czechia - glass beads

Our last four days in country were spent in the small town of Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we hoped to get rested up before our trip home, since we always have to hit the ground running when we get back from a trip. It had a wild boar skin on the floor and the bed was so hard it was like sleeping on a granite slab. But other than that, we liked it. It was very charming.

Czechia - Lesany

We could have gone back to explore more of Prague, but we opted to see some castles in the nearby countryside instead.

The medieval castle and surrounding village, Hrad Karlstejn, was incredible, and after climbing everywhere, we decided to splurge on a horse drawn wagon ride which took us part way to the top.

Czechia - Karlstejn Castle tower

We walked all the way down to take in the shops and eating spots along the cobblestone streets.

Czechia - Karlstejn Castle

In České Budějovice, the huge white Neo-Gothic Tudor Hluboká Castle, which is said to be the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many castles, was also stunning. We were able to find an English speaking guide who gave us a private tour of the huge chef’s kitchen in the castle.

Czechia - Hluboká Castle

Our final excursion and another favorite was Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, was delightful. The formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, and ponds involved a lot of walking, but we persisted and got some beautiful photos.

Czechia - Roses

I had been longing for gardens and flowers and water, as we’re so accustomed to seeing them when we travel to Great Britain, and I was not disappointed.

Czechia - Průhonice Castle

I can’t begin to touch on the dozens of other quaint villages, delicious meals and delightful experiences we had or we would be here all day.

Czechia - after dinner

Suffice it to say, I’m so glad we went, and I so enjoyed walking where my Bohemian ancestors walked.

Czechia - country sunset

In other news, Seaside Daisy, a Wildflowers of Ireland Mystery, is now available in both paperback and Kindle versions.

Seaside Daisy Front Cover 10-17

Please grab a copy soon and let me know what you think! Reviews warm my heart!

Czechia - Plum Tart Iris

I plan on starting Plum Tart Daisy during NaNoWriMo this November while the trip to Czechia is still fresh in my mind. My goal is 50,000 words by November 30. Thanks for listening!

Czechia - Rose Garden

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Filed under photographs, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

Cozy Authors & Social Media

It seems to me that mystery books by cozy authors have become more and more popular among readers in the last few years. I am one of those readers and I love escaping to another world or hovering temporarily in a favorite character’s life where discoveries are made, problems are solved and often humor and lighthearted banter is exchanged. I enjoy pondering a good puzzle, perhaps learning something new, and knowing all will be wrapped up in the end for the protagonist(s). It’s comfort food to me.

I guess the key word here is “escape.” My experience with that word comes from a more than twenty-year career in the entertainment business as a belly dancer, doing mostly “belly-grams” to celebrate special occasions like a birthdays, anniversaries, get-wells, fare-wells, even family reunions. When I arrived on my job site, before I even left my car, I was in character and remained so until I returned home. Every detail was considered important to me, from my freshly laundered elaborate costumes to exciting Middle Eastern music on my boom box, and from immaculate fingernails to my beguiling smile. My 10 minute surprise dance routine was designed to involve many spectators beside the Guest of Honor, so no-one felt left out and it was conducted with class and meant to be good clean fun for all.

All through my career every time I left my house for any reason, I was aware there might be people (past or potential) who would see me and form an impression, so I always made sure I had my make-up on and my hair washed and clothing presentable. As it turned out, there were many, many times I was glad I had gotten in that habit, because I lived in a smaller city and worked full time and eventually became well known. I was proud of my reputation and had worked very hard to gain respect.

With all that said, since I’ve gone to a lot of writers’ conventions and conferences, I’ve met quite a few authors and many of them write cozies. The opinions I formed about these writers came from hearing them speak, perhaps on convention panels, and by reading their books. And often I associated them with their characters.

In days gone by, it used to be popular for authors to have their own website. Now days, group websites seem even more popular along with social media like Facebook. I follow authors through Goodreads and Amazon, but don’t have much time to go to Facebook unless there is a book giveaway by a specific author or authors. Twitter is just too much for me. I’m with Betty White!

Yesterday, I was visiting the website of one of my favorite authors, Molly Greene, and she wrote something that really spoke to me. She said, “Social media is a tough road right now, with the world upended and chaotic, and folks are understandably distraught and upset much of the time.”  This sentence explains so well why I read cozies. It’s the escape thing, so well said!

So I’ve actually been shocked lately to visit some of my favorite cozy writers’ Facebook pages for a giveaway offer or something, only to feel my escape mode splintering and being destroyed by negative remarks that have nothing to do with writing, cozy books or anything about their characters. I want to ESCAPE, not be drawn back into chaos. It’s become so upsetting to me, I’m thinking of dropping a couple of my favorite cozy authors for this very reason. Years ago I had an editor tell me that a certain sentence wording or something-or-other pulled them right out of my story. It’s the same thing. I feel yanked out of my cozy mood and thrust back into the “world and its troubles.” Authors are entertainers too, and I want to be entertained!

Am I alone? Are there others who feel this way, too? Let me know by leaving a comment below. If you can’t see the comments area, go up and click the title of the blog and it will refresh the page for comments. And have a comfortable, happy, cozy day.

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under books, fiction, marketing, musings, writing

Let’s Celebrate!

Back in April 2011, when my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW came out, my publisher asked me if I would write a blog once each month for what is now Indigo Sea Press. I thought it would be fun and agreed. Today I am celebrating my 100th post!!! During the last eight years, I’ve only missed one. For that one, I was blessed to have Pat Bertram fill in for me with an exceptional post. Thanks again, Pat!

For my blog posts, I was given free rein and have been allowed to write about anything I wanted. The only exception would be a topic that might compete with my publisher and/or the other authors writing for ISP, or be subject to controversy. We strive to be G rated.

To refresh my memory, I skimmed through previous past posts to see the variety of subjects I’ve covered and realized I’d touched on lessons I’ve learned about writing techniques and discoveries having to do with the craft of writing; places to which I’ve traveled and objects I’ve collected that reminded me of those travels; what it was like living in certain places like Germany and Montana; discovering my Scottish roots; dealing with the loss of friends through death; and various emotional subjects with my expressions of joy, sorrow, surprise, wonderment, even fear. One example was a post in 2012 written while I was in the hospital recovering from a stroke. The stroke came as such a shock (I mean, I had always been so healthy and I was so happy I survived), I complained about a normal problem like dealing with Microsoft Windows 10 on my new computer as opposed to a previous Windows program. And I had to keep the post short, because I was having difficulty typing with my still limp left hand.

But my very favorite part of all the monthly offerings was, and still is, when readers contribute by adding comments and likes and even emails. I love it when people tell me about how my posts affect their lives or when they share how glad they are to not be the only ones who feel a certain way about something. I love it when readers tell me about their experiences. It’s always so special when an author realizes that people actually enjoy reading their posts and exchanging ideas and opinions. Not all people know we generally don’t get paid to write blogs. I don’t anyway. It’s our opportunity to share our somewhat isolated lives with the outside world, which suddenly becomes smaller and more intimate. I love that!

So, on this day of celebration, I want to thank all my readers out there, especially the ones who have given me feedback. And I thank other author friends whose works I’ve learned about through blogging. Here we go. I’m lighting 100 candles. Help me blow them out. To the next 100! Let’s celebrate!

 

Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.

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Filed under life, memory, musings, Pat Bertram, writing