Category Archives: Travel

Why Wildflowers? by Sherrie Hansen

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Perhaps I carried a bouquet of goldenrod for good luck at some point in my life, because I certainly feel lucky to have visited Scotland three times – so far.

Scot - Callendish stones

As fans of Outlander know, most books set in Scotland revolve around highlanders, kilts, and keeps. My Wildflowers of Scotland novels (Thistle Down, a novella, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William, and Golden Rod) are modern-day mixtures of romance and suspense with the Scottish countryside as a backdrop.

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They’re also colorful tales, rich in symbolism of wildflowers.

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There are plenty of dark, misty vales, cold, stone castles, and drab, colorless cottages scattered through Scotland. What I love most about the wee wildflowers of Scotland is that they provide the perfect bit of contrast, a much needed dash of color to an otherwise harsh landscape. I hope you can see the Scotland I love in the bouquet of wildflowers I’ve picked for you.

Thistle

THISTLE DOWN – A common, prickly, purple thistle saved the day when an Englishman doing reconnaissance stepped on a particularly thorny specimen and let out a howl, alerting Scottish guards to an imminent invasion by the English. We can all be a bit oblivious at times, especially when we’re up against hard rock on one side and well, hard rock on the other side, too. There’s nothing like the sharp bite of a prickly plant to make you appreciate what you have and see the beauty in your own backyard.

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Such is the premise for my novella, Thistle Down when tenderhearted Pastor Ian MacCraig tries to keep a pair of prickly sisters from marrying the wrong men. Emily Downey has found the perfect groom. If only she loved the man… Chelsea Downey is wild about her boyfriend. Trouble is, he’s two-timing her and everyone sees it but her. Their thorny situation gets even stickier when the church ladies come up with a plan. Can Pastor Ian MacCraig weed out the thistles and get to the heart of the matter in time to save the day?

 

 

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WILD ROSE – Wild roses symbolize perfect happiness, love at first sight, joy and gladness, and happy, forever love. Like other wildflowers, they’re hardy, stubborn and determined to find a foothold whether they be planted atop a stone wall, set amongst ruins, or left to fend for themselves along the side of the motorway. But even the sturdiest of wildflowers can be trampled on when their generous hearts are abused by ones not so honest or caring.

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Such was the case when Rose Wilson learned that Digby, the online friend she met for what she thought was a harmless rendezvous, was a common criminal. Enter Pastor Ian MacCraig, who is trying to capture the thief who is stealing artifacts from his kirk (Saint Conan’s on Loch Awe, Scotland.) The last thing he expects to find on his video is a woman engaging in a passionate romp under the flying buttresses. Rose is mortified and the church ladies are appalled to learn that Pastor Ian, the board of Wilson Enterprises, the constable, and half the town have had a glimpse of Rose half naked. What remains to be seen is how far Ian will go to defend Rose’s honor and if the church ladies will forgive Rose now that they know who she really is… and if Rose can believe she’s worthy of someone as good and kind as Ian MacCraig. Are Wild Rose and Pastor Ian MacCraig a match made in heaven or one hell of a predicament?

GR Blog - bluebells

BLUE BELLE – Bluebells are one of my favorite flowers. The first harbingers of spring, they’re known for their humility, kindness and constancy. They’re as down-to-earth as my characters, and like any springtime bloomer, all the sweeter because you have to endure a bit of weather each year before they return.

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Just as bluebells hide in off-the-beaten path forest glens, Isabelle has traveled to the ends of the earth to try to escape her past. Psychologist Michael is also hiding out, as far removed from his relatives and his practice in Wisconsin as he can get. When Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried at Tobermory Bay, it won’t matter what walls Michael and Isabelle think they are hiding behind. Rocks will fall. Castles will crumble. No secret will be safe. Set in colorful Tobermory, Scotland, on the Isle of Mull, it becomes very clear in Blue Belle that timing is everything – and that sometimes, you just have to jump.

 

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SHY VIOLET – Eilean Donan Castle, near Dornie, Scotland, is a modest castle – not as big, old, nor fancy as many, Eilean Donan is subtle and understated as castles go. Perhaps that’s why it’s grown to be so iconic. In Scotland, it’s “aboot” the simple, everyday things of life, pleasures born both of need and necessity. That’s why, if you keep your eyes open, you’re sure to see majesty galore in nature’s quiet offerings… a shy violet hiding behind a rock, a blush of heather in the hills, a splash of rhododendrons growing deep in the woods.

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Maybe that’s why shy Violet has been so long overlooked in her search for true love even though her name signifies that her thoughts are occupied with the fanciful notion. Violet has always put great stock in the virtues of modesty and faithfulness – particularly faithful love. But that ship has sailed right along with the pirate boat Violet jumped aboard, thinking she could hide from a string of bad decisions in her past. Violet didn’t even know Nathan existed when she inadvertently met his father and ruined any chance of a future with his son. But part of the violet’s essence is to take a chance on happiness. No one knows what will happen when Violet meets a bagpiper whose music spans the centuries in front of a castle with a troubled history. But is Violet fleeing the present only to collide with the past?

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SWEET WILLIAM – Sweet William is equated with gallantry, childlike awe, and the sensation of getting lost in a whole new world of wonder and enchantment. William McKnight is a true sweetheart, and as gallant a man as you’ll ever see, always ready with a smile. From Lyndsie Morris’s tart, hardscrabble childhood, there has gown a spirited flower with character and determination and a true appreciation of the things that really matter in life.

Sweet William Front Cover

But when Minnesota farm boy, William, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie, are forced to work together in the kitchen of Rabbit Hill Lodge, the atmosphere is as charged as an episode of Chopped. Will someone get cut, or will they find a recipe that works? Things just start to get spicy when an angry bull butts his way into the picture, and Lyndsie has to decide if she loves William more than everyone and everything she holds dear. Set in the Highlands near Eilean Donan Castle, on the Isle of Skye, and in volatile Minnesota, they face the harshest of conditions. Will their love take hold and bloom or will stormy weather crush the romance that’s blossoming between them?

Golden Rod Flood Bay 2016

GOLDEN ROD – Goldenrod flowers are thought to hold many symbols – from caution to encouragement, luck to good fortune. Superstitious folklore advises people to carry a bouquet of goldenrod flowers when seeking out treasure or venturing forth on new, but risky, ventures.

Golden Rod front cover- final

All of these themes and more are explored in Golden Rod as the reader gets to know Lachlan—a centuries old castle overlooking Loch Carron, Scotland; Kacie—a twelve-year-old girl whose dying wish is to see it; Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary MacKenzie—500-year-old ghosts who desperately want to escape it; Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod of Lachlan—the rightful heir who wants to live there happily ever after; and Katelyn O’Neal—the well-intentioned but clueless legal heir who’s about to pay a high price for selling Lachlan to a lowlife scum. Golden Rod is a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends and risky ventures, of bad luck and old curses turned to golden wishes. Rod MacKenzie is a gentle gardener and sometimes sailor born of adversity, and so much more lovable than Buck, the arrogant showoff who now owns the castle. How similar to the way of Scottish wildflowers – blooming not in showy profusion, but cropping up here and there in solitary clumps to bloom wherever there is a bit of fertile soil.

Wildflowers

If you’re a lover of wildflowers – wherever they blossom – and most particularly, Scotland, you’ll find the quaint surroundings – and the pirates, pipers and tales of days past that are part of Sherrie Hansen’s novels – to be fascinating. I encourage you to clutch a bunch of goldenrod and take a risk – try a new author!

~~~

Sherrie - bluebells

Twenty-seven years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Wheaton, IL, Bar Harbor, Maine, Lawton, OK, Augsburg, Germany, and Colorado Springs, CO. After 12 years of writing fiction, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker. Mark and Sherrie divide their time between a cottage in St. Ansgar, and the parsonage where Mark serves as pastor. Their two houses are 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. In her “free time”, Sherrie quilts, makes music on the piano, plays with her camera, renovates old houses, travels to the far off corners of the world, and goes on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. Her new release, Daybreak, is her twelfth novel to be published by Indigo Sea Press. Sherrie’s books have been called “the thinking woman’s romance” and her latest books also contain elements of suspense. While many of Sherrie’s books contain issues of faith and family, some also include “steamy” scenes, and some, a candid combination of both. Most are “second chance at romance” stories with primary characters aged 30 to 50. Many of Sherrie’s books contain at least one special quilt.

BlueBelle 2016

Links:

http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

https://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W

http://www.BlueBelleInn.com
https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

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

 Daybreak in Denmark (3)

Books Titles: New Release:  Daybreak, sequel to Night & Day, Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William and Golden Rod, Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.

Wildflowers of Scotland Novels by Sherrie Hansen (2)

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The Jaguar of Our Dreams and the Car Hire Company of Our Nightmares by Sherrie Hansen

You might be wondering how we ended up driving a loaded Jaguar e-Pace SUV around Scotland in the first place, given as we are folks of average means and thrifty habits. The short answer is that we were given a free upgrade – in part because we’d been waiting for the smaller car we’d ordered for three hours. We hadn’t slept or showered for more than 24 hours. We’d also been forced to buy an expensive insurance policy that cost almost as much as the car rental itself, even though our USAA Credit Card covers accident insurance on our rental cars no matter where in the world we happen to be. Long story short, I think the car hire associate felt sorry for us and decided to throw us a bone.

Scot - Jag

I have to admit that we got a bit spoiled in the Jaguar. The seats were plush and comfortable, the ride was smooth. It had a back-up mirror that responded to the cars movements to direct you with curved lines. The GPS was very helpful in finding our way around. It was an amazing car.

Scot - Rocky Road

When we hit a sharp rock along the side of the road on our second day on the Isle of Lewis and ended up with a seriously flat tire in the middle of nowhere, we assumed we could get the tire changed and be on our way. But the impact of hitting the rock, which more or less bounced us against a ridge of razor sharp rocks and back again, was a hugs gash in the rear passenger side tire and a cracked wheel rim on the front passenger side tire.

We were pretty shook up, and not knowing exactly what had happened, prayed our way to the nearest sign of civilization, about three miles down the road. The tire held out until we  turned into the driveway and drove across the cattle guard, when it went completely flat. The place we found ourselves at looked to be a Scottish version of Outward Bound. We were immediately greeted and offered help in changing the tire. Only one problem – there was no spare and the patch kit the car hire company had provided was woefully inadequate. (An associate later told us they remove the spare tires on their luxury cars because they are afraid someone might steal them.)

Scot - Scaladale

From there began a long, frustrating day of repeatedly calling the car hire company’s help line, waiting, and when no help came and no one called back, calling them again. Repeat. And repeat. With no means of transportation, we had to cancel our lunch reservations at North Harbour Bistro. Thank goodness for the kind and very helpful staff at Scaladale Youth Center – Mark and I obviously aren’t in danger of starving to death, but I can’t imagine what would have become of us if we’d had to wait for more than 7 hours along the side of the road with no water, shade, or bathroom facilities.

Scot - Harris viewIn the end, our car hire company told us we would have to find our own way back to Glasgow (over 200 miles and a three hour ferry ride away), where we MIGHT be given a replacement car. So much for the fancy-schmancy insurance policy with promises of roadside assistance and replacement vehicles they’d forced us to buy. This was not a good time. We were hungry, frustrated and completely lacking in any kind of faith in the car company. 

Scot - Harris mountains

But possessing a good dose of Midwest ingenuity, we started calling around to local garages and car hire companies and found ourselves a little Peugeot in Stornoway that we could have for 24 hours while we sorted things out. We hitched a ride into town with a staff member at the end of his work day. He regaled us with stories of life on a remote island while we drove hurriedly home so he could change and go out into the peat bogs and cut peat – free fuel for all willing to go to the work of cutting, hauling and stacking the bricks. He was doing this for his mother, who needed enough to make it through two winters, as he and his fiancé were going to be married and take a year long honeymoon. We were so impressed by this man!

The car hire office was already closed by the time we arrived to pick up our “new” car (they’d left the keys under the seat and parked it on the street). The effects of our delicious breakfast had long since faded, so we had some dinner and headed back to our B&B, which was an hour away, in Uig. On our way back toward the place where we got stranded, we saw a tow truck with “our” Jaguar on his bed – almost 10 hours after our incident with the rock.

Scot - Uig B

We’d lost a whole day of our much anticipated time on Lewis and Harris. The next morning was also spent trying to find a rental car that we could use for the remainder of our trip. There were no car hires on the Isle of Skye where we were scheduled to get off the ferry on the next leg of our trip, and our ferry left from Tarbert, on the Isle of Harris, on the opposite end of the island from Stornoway. The biggest obstacle was that the car hire companies on the Isles of Lewis and Harris only rent cars for use on the island.

Scot - Harris house

It seemed like an impossible situation until a young man whose sister lived in Glasgow said that we could take their company’s car off the island and get it to his sister at the end of our trip so she would get it back to them. We had to pay an extra fee, but it was worth every penny not to have to cancel our reservations or become foot passengers hobbling along with our luggage, trying to find a bus or train that led to Glasgow. Best of all, our faith in people was restored and then some as we dealt with the kind locals from Lewis and Harris. These folks really went out of their way to help us!

Scot - Scalpay food

The day started getting better almost immediately. We made it to the wonderful restaurant on Scalpay for lunch and I had the chance to visit the official Harris Tweed outlet store to buy fabric as planned.

Scot - Harris Tweed

Mark scored an empty blue gin bottle from the Isle of Harris Distillery to use as a water bottle at home, just like they had at North Harbour Bistro. Afterwards, we walked off a little of our delectable lunch at Luskentyre Beach.

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The white sands and tropical-looking blue waters were amazing, while the Belted Galway cows grazing along the shores kept things quintessentially Scotland. 

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After another trip back to Stornoway to switch out our little Peugeot for the even littler Honda Jazz we would use to make our way back to Glasgow, we were off to see the Standing Stones by sunset one last time, and enjoy our comfortable B&B before catching the ferry in the morning.    

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And you know what? Our little Honda did just fine! It was definitely not luxurious like the Jaguar, but it was great for navigating the narrow roads to the beach. It sat comfortably, and all of our luggage fit, between the boot and the backseat!

Scot - narrow roadsAll’s well that ends well? We’re still fighting with the original car rental company over what we should and should not be required to pay for the short-lived pleasure of driving their Jaguar, but we saw everything we really wanted to on Lewis and Harris, and, we ended up on the right ferry (reservations required) at the right time to the right place. We loved the Isles of Lewis and Harris – the people, first, the Callanish stones second, and my fabric treasures third. And let us not forget Mark’s empty gin bottle – a found treasure that we love, mostly because we got it for free.

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Because luxuries like Jaguars are nice, but life’s simple pleasures are the best.

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Stay tuned for more adventure on the Isle of Skye, and in Loch Carron, setting of Golden Rod, the mountains and gardens of Applecross, Fort William, and the ancient sites of Kilmartin Glen.

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Lewis Trees and Harris Tweeds – the Scottish Travelog Goes On… by Sherrie Hansen

We planned to stay on the Isles of Lewis and Harris for 4 nights because it coincided with the relaxing mid-point of our recent trip to Scotland. My husband says once I get away from home and business, it takes me a week to relax, and that a week before we head home, I start to get tense again, thinking about what’s waiting for me. When we go on a three week vacation, it’s the middle week that’s golden.

Scot- Keeper's House

My midge-bite covered body was looking forward to rest and relaxation on Lewis and Harris. The islands are only 14 miles wide and 100 miles long, so we felt sure four days would not only give us time to see all the sites but to spend some time chilling on Uig Beach, near the Keepers House where we were staying.

Scot - Uig beach

I couldn’t wait to see the mysterious, now famous Callanish Standing Stones seen in Outlander.

Scot - Callendish stones

The seas were calm on our three hour ferry ride from Ullapool to Stornoway and our expectations were high.

Scot - Ferry

We drove our rental car off the ferry to find a sweet downtown area surrounded by a wandering park topped with a beautiful castle. We settled into a little restaurant with a creative menu (I had chips – big English-style French fries – topped with gourmet mac and cheese topped with the most wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth roast beef ever. Yum!)  A few doors down, we found a shop filled with thousand of yards of wool Harris tweed remnants at reasonable prices. I left with a lovely assortment.

Scot - Stornoway food

We set off for the castle at the top of the hill, surrounded by lovely old trees, with a great view of the sailboats lining the harbor. The story, or so we were told, is that a man bought the Isles of Lewis and Harris with ill-gained proceeds from smuggling drugs, only to have his wife refuse to move to the Islands because there were no trees.

Scot - Stornoway Castle

She reconsidered only after he planted a small forest and built her a castle. And a beautiful castle it was!

Scot - Stornoway castle ceiling

We left Stornoway to meander toward out B&B on the other side of the island, thinking, “How long could it take to drive 25 miles?” More than an hour of narrow, windy, twisting, single track roads later, we arrived to a warm welcome from a cute pair of lambs, checked into our spacious room with a view, and set off to explore Uig Beach.

Scot - Uig sheep

The fog was already setting in – or had it ever lifted? – giving the treeless peat fields, hills and dales an atmospheric glow as the sun crested and slowly sank toward the west.

Scot - Uig fog

The next morning, after a delicious, made-to-order breakfast at Uig Sands Hotel, we drove north along the Western shore to Callanish Stones, which turned out to be laid out in the shape of a cross.

Scot - Uig stones

I took a lot of photos even though the skies were foggy and grey, and later, more photos with a blue, sunny sky, and later still, with the sun setting behind the stones. Walking amongst the stones was so magical that I didn’t want to leave.

Scot - Uig sunset stones

We were back in the Jaguar, driving toward the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, an open-air museum with restored blackhouses – long stone cottages with thatched roofs, and Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old, when we saw a church with a parking lot full of cars. According to the sign, the service had just started, so we decided to go on in and found ourselves in the midst of a very unique worship service.

Scot - Uig blackhouses

Unbeknownst to us, the Free Church of Scotland has no adornments (stained glass, paintings, crosses) and no musical instruments. The songs are chanted psalms and the women wear hats. I fit right in, and the people were very welcoming, but I missed the lively music and aesthetics of our church services.

Scot - Lewis fence

That afternoon, after more than a good bit of hiking up to the tower house (and back down again) and down to the sea behind the blackhouse village (and back up again), we arrived at the very northern tip of the island, or the Butt of Lewis, where we found a beautiful lighthouse and cliffs covered with hundreds of pink flowers and thousands of sea birds.

Scot - Lewis flowers

We finished off the day with a delicious meal at Uig Sands Hotel, where the chef treated us to house-smoked salmon delicacies and more. We chatted with guests from England, Germany and the Netherlands over dinner. It was all very relaxing and enjoyable. I’m glad I didn’t know what awaited us the next day!

Scot - Uig sands

Our plan was to drive over the bridge from Harris to explore the small island of Scalpay and its red and white striped Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island’s eastern cliffs. We had made reservations months earlier for Scalpay’s famous North Harbour Bistro, which we were told was THE place for a tasty and memorable meal, followed by a visit to award-winning Luskentyre Beach with its white sands and blue waters.

Scot - Harris beach

But as fate would have it, our plans were meant to be broken – as were our poor rental car’s tires and wheel rims. I’ll post the next installment – The Jaguar of Our Dreams and the Car Hire Company from Our Worst Nightmare – in a few days.

Thanks for coming along on the next jaunt of our journey.

Scot - Uig sheep single

You can learn more about Sherrie and her Wildflowers of Scotland novels at https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/.

Wildflowers - Stripes

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West to Inverness, then Off to Ullapool by Sherrie Hansen

It was like 2007 all over again. Not wanting to deal with “big city” traffic, congestion and parking hassles, we drove through Inverness as quickly as possible and retreated to the Scottish countryside, this time, on a farm high in the hills overlooking the Moray Firth. After learning how much there is to see and do in any given area on our previous trips, we tried our best to stay at least two nights in the same place. It’s far more relaxing not to have to pack up and move every single day.

Scot - sunset 2

Our countryside view was amazing. The next day, we headed away from Inverness toward the small town of Beauly. There were several wonderful shops in Beauly, a bank where we were able to exchange more dollars for pounds, a nice restaurant where we enjoyed a high tea, and a great fish and chips place.

Scot - Chanonry Point

From Beauly, we went on two nice drives – the first took us to the narrow end of the Moray First, across a bridge and up the other side. We had a lovely hike along the coast at Chanonry Point, where we missed seeing seals but found a lighthouse and wild roses and Queen Anne’s lace blooming along the rocky beaches.

Scot - lighthouse

A few miles further down the road, we found a small National Trust property that had a delightful garden and a thatched roof house that was the home of Scottish local hero, Hugh Miller.

Scot - hugh's house

His story was fascinating and we related to it on several levels. He believed in Creation and had an extensive collection of fossils.

Scot - Hugh

From there, we headed south through a shady mountain pass to Loch Ness. Once again, Urquhart Castle was closed by the time we got there, so we took a few photos from a distance, watched for signs of Nessie rippling in the blue waters and drove home along the shore.

Scot - Loch Ness

Our B&B for those two nights just west of Inverness was on the first floor of a new house, with a private entry and a very comfortable bed. The sunsets both nights were beautiful, but the midges were starting to bite and came out at sunset. I did a dance as I walked through the grass, snapping and moving and snapping and moving, hopefully fast enough to avoid having a midge land on me.

Scot - Beualy B&B

The next day, we set out to see my Scottish friend, Ang, in Balintore, a seaside village north of Inverness. The fog seems to settle in each night, and it hadn’t yet lifted as we walked along the shoreline, talking. Two years ago, Ang used the word “atmospheric” to describe the misty air hugging the sea, and I will forever think of the word when I encounter foggy landscapes. We exchanged treasures and good conversation – a definite highlight of the trip!

Scot - Ang beach

After lunch, we left the east coast of Scotland and were off  to Ullapool, on the west, when we decided to detour down to another Historic Trust property. As Trust members, we love seeing these properties “for free”.

Scot - inver rhodies

I’ve heard from many people that they’re always amazed at how much we managed to see in one short day. What they may not realize is that everything is so close – the most we drove in a day was 100 miles. It’s also daylight from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m, so if you get up at a decent hour, you can do a lot before dark.

Scot - Invereray

This is one of those days that we stretched things a little too far. Everything would have been fine except that we reached Inverewe Garden about 5:30 p.m. Last entrance was 6 p.m., but the gates to the garden were open until 8 p.m., so we had plenty of time to explore. The sky was blue, but there wasn’t a breeze to be found, and the midges surrounded me in swarms.

Scot - Inver wisteria

Dense forests were crisscrossed with mazes of paths and steps that wound through rhododendrons, bamboo and perennial gardens and eventually, out to the sea. Before long, I was swatting and itching and breaking out in blistering welts. But it was so beautiful, and we got in for free, and…

Scot - inver flowers

The only solution was to walk faster and faster. If I was capable of running up and down rickety, stone stairways that didn’t have handrails, I would have. What can I say? I’m glad we saw the gardens – they were lovely, but I’m not sure the itching and oozing I went through for the next week was worth it.

 

Scot - Ullapool

The sun started to set on our way to Ullapool, and we arrived just in time to see sunbeams shining over the harbor. We found our room at the top of an extremely steep hill overlooking Morefield Brae.  What a beautiful setting! But alas, as we climbed out of the car, our host warned up to enter quickly and close the doors behind us because the midges were really biting.

Scot - Ullapool B&B

Great. While we settled in, our hosts at the Fair Morn B&B found a restaurant with openings for 8:45 p.m. We were seated in a conservatory facing out to the garden and left to choose from a wonderful menu. All was well until we started to notice we were itching even more than we had been earlier. Then we noticed a small window open at the top of the wall. Suddenly, we were caught in a swarm of midges. But the time we caught the eye of our waiter and asked to be reseated in another room, the damage was done.

Scot - skye castle

In the morning, we headed north along the brae and into the mountains where we were treated to castle ruins, sheep grazing, red deer running along the hilltops, and altogether amazing scenery.

Scot - Lochinver house

We stumbled on a craft fair and a pie place at Lochinver and then took a narrow winding road to Achmelvich Beach with its white sands and aquamarine waters. When I heard about the beaches in Scotland, I assumed it would be like California in January, with crisp temperatures and cold winds even though it would have the appearance of being summery. But the day was perfect for beach-going, in the mid 80s, and we had a picnic with the meat and fruit pies we’d nabbed at the pie place in Lochinver.

Scot - Uig beach

By that time, however, I felt like I had a beacon on my back that said “Bug Bait.” There were bugs in the sand, and bugs in the rocks – but unlike midges, these were big, and could be seen, and felt, and they seemed to be going for my eyes, and anywhere my midge bites were oozing and itching. Yikes! I don’t mean to sound negative, but it was not exactly a relaxing day at the beach.

Scot -ullapool house

We ended the day back in Ullapool, where we ate at an upscale fresh seafood shack and found a handmade woolen treasure at a local craft shop. I walked as fast as I could everywhere we went to fend off the midges who were waiting to land. They seemed to get sneakier as time went by, burrowing under my clothes and biting my back and thighs, under my hair and hat. Nothing dissuaded them.

Scot - Ullapool harbor 

I had a hard time sleeping that night because I was so hot and itchy, but there’s always a bright side… We had a delicious Scottish breakfast to look forward to and a forecast of calm seas for our three hour ferry ride to the Isle of Lewis and Harris. And someone told me that there were no midges on Lewis or Harris because there was always a good breeze blowing. Music to my ears…

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My Heart’s In the Highlands by Sherrie Hansen

We headed to the Highlands on the next jaunt of our Scottish journey. In some ways, driving into the Highlands reminds me of when I lived in Colorado Springs and occasionally ventured up to Breckenridge or Estes Park. The higher the altitude, the more pine trees and mountain peaks, the more athletic pursuits and other activities geared toward tourists, and the more cute mountain resort towns with large hotels. But as usual, we skipped all that and sought out a quiet, countryside location away from the crowds.

Scot - Aberfeldy cottage

We spent three nights in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. We could see J.K. Rowling’s summer house across the glen from where we were staying, which tells you there is something magical about the spot. The views were incredible, and we loved watching the sunset while walking down the lane with the owner’s English cocker spaniels in tow. There were plenty of flowers to smell and benches to sit on while scratching the dogs’ ears and rubbing their tummies. I felt right at home and loved hearing sheep baaing and a rushing stream while we laid in bed each night.

Scot - Aberfeldy sunset

Our cottage had its own little kitchen, and most of the eating establishments we had hoped to visit were closed for the holiday weekend, so we visited the grocery and stocked up on some goodies for breakfasts and picnic suppers. Mark makes great omelets which were wonderful with rashers and bangers (bacon and sausages).

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I was delighted to find the woods around Strathtay still abloom with bluebells.  Mark played a couple of holes of golf while I walked in the bluebell wood. Then, our excitement turned to disappointment when we wandered into town and found that the art gallery on the main square where I bought a painting of Menzies Castle by Artist Audrey Slowrance was now a real estate office.

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After looking wistfully at the listings and feeling more than a little tempted to invest in a piece of Scotland, we finally tracked Audrey down in her new studio in a garage and bought a couple of her lovely prints. It made my day to get to talk to her about painting and what inspires her. How I wished I’d had my paints and a couple of canvases tucked in my suitcase!

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We also attended the Highland Games and Fair at Blair Atholl Castle, where once again, we had the thrill of seeing the Atholl Highlanders march to the tune of bagpipes and drums. Be still my heart! A walk through Diana’s Forest, which has some of the tallest trees in Great Britain, was restful and quiet after the boisterous sounds of the crowds cheering on the brawny competitors, graceful Highland dancers and talented bagpipers at the Highland Games.

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Our last day in the Aberfeldy area, we followed a narrow, winding, mountainside road to Glenlyon, where there’s a tiny post office in the middle of nowhere that’s famous for its desserts. The waitress’ young daughter, who invited us to sit with her, entertained us while we had a bowl of leek and potato soup, crusty, homemade bread with butter, and pudding… well worth the slightly hair-raising drive along a single track road with too few passing places.

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On the way home, we took a new road to Kenmore, a village along Loch Tay that we’d seen featured in several of Audrey’s paintings, and happened upon a delightful spot. We were looking for a loo when we overheard a desk clerk at the local hotel mentioning that Rick Steves’ tour bus would be arriving any minute. Being fans of his TV show, we waited around for a glimpse, took a photo, and gloated because we have such a keen knack for sniffing out desirable locations.

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The next day, it was time to head north to our next destination, Ben View House at Lentran Farm, in the countryside near Inverness, where we had two nights booked. On the way, we had two significant experiences. The living Highland Folk Museum had miles of wonderful examples of how the Highlanders lived and built their homes. We learned that several scenes from Outlander had been filmed in the blackhouse village, and I have to admit it was a thrill to walk where Jamie, Claire and Dugall had. The smell of a peat fire wafting in the air, hand woven linens and many authentic touches made history come to life.

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After another bit of driving, we had a bit of trouble locating the Kilted Fudge Company in Aviemore, but our minor detours were rewarded with an enthusiastic greeting and our own personal tasting of over a dozen of their creamy, buttery fudge flavors. After stocking up on oodles of my favorite (Clootie Dumpling fudge, which is not too sweet, and packed with gingerbread spices and raisins), and a few new varieties like Rhubarb Cream, Salted Caramel and Millionaire’s Shortbread, we headed on through the mountains.

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As we were coming into Aviemore, I spotted a sign that pointed to a Mountain Railway, which of course, made me think of my dad, whose favorite song was Life is Like a Mountain Railway. But then, these days, everything makes me think of him. Last year, when we left for Ireland and Wales, he was in the hospital with pneumonia, and we weren’t sure what would happen while we were gone, so we called him every night about midnight to tell him about our day. This year, over and over again, I found myself thinking, Dad would love this. I’ll have to tell him about it when we call him tonight. How I wish I could, but for that, I’d need a Railway to Heaven.

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I’ll end on that note. Vacations are a wonderful way to relax and forget your troubles, but being free from a hectic routine also gives you more time to remember… and think…

Stay tuned for our trek northward and westward, ho…

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February Dream to Life in Fife by Sherrie Hansen

When I shared the itinerary for our third trip to Scotland a few moths ago, I was snowed in by a February blizzard and dreaming of warmer days.

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It was probably fitting that last month, when we arrived in Scotland, we found ourselves in the middle of a heat wave. The wonderful side of the warm, sunny days was that we saw the sights under blue skies and never needed our umbrellas. The bad side was that the early heat brought out the dreaded midges, a tiny insect with a stinging bite that causes blisters on sensitive skin like mine. And several nights, we found ourselves sweating in sweltering hot guestrooms that came loaded with extra blankets and cozy warm duvets designed for the normally cool, highland weather conditions. Scots typically don’t need air conditioning or even fans, but this year, even the mountains were wrapped in stuffy, sultry air – and we didn’t dare open the windows unless we wanted a room full of midges. It was so hot that one of our destinations almost burned down a week before we arrived when the intense heat and dry conditions fueled wildfires in Wester Ross.

I guess that’s what I get for cursing February’s cold and trying to wish away winter!

Locals were delighted with the warm temperatures after enduring their own long winter, and repeatedly thanked us for bring the good weather with us. As it turned out, the whole time we were in Scotland, our cell phones kept buzzing with notifications of tornado, flood, high wind, and excessive heat index warnings – the weather in Iowa was horrible while we were away.

But enough about the weather. I’d like to try to share more than an itinerary in this blog, instead focusing on my reactions to the amazing sights we saw.

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Our first three nights were spent at a B&B in the East Neuk of Fife countryside between Edinburgh and St. Andrews. We arrived exhausted from a long flight and a missed night of sleep as we traveled forward in time. We couldn’t have found a more restorative place to stay.

After strolling through the castle gardens at Falkland Palace, at the foot of the Lomond Hills, we wound our way to Colinsburg to check in to our first B&B.

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The house was long and narrow, a renovated stable that was artistic and creatively decorated but comfortable and homey, with walls and walls of bookshelves and a million doors, each one different. There was a fireplace in our room and each morning, we could hear the birds singing through the chimney. Our host gave us herbal potions to ease our jet lag and boost our immune systems, and built us a fire in the library each night. (Those first few days were chilly.) We felt gloriously pampered.

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The family we stayed with were descendants of the same Lorimer family who rescued and restored nearby Kellie Castle, where we enjoyed a wonderful tour and an afternoon tea in the castle gardens discussing art and architecture of Robert Lorimer. The legends surrounding the castle were fascinating and I had the most interesting conversation with a curator for the National Trust of Scotland.

When I shared with her that I have four houses filled with treasures and that I fear that soon-approaching time when I have to part with the wonders I have collected over the years, she recommended a succinct way to approach the task. The method she uses is to give each item a number between 1 and 4 based on its true worth after rating the objects according to their historical value, personal or emotional significance, monetary worth, and family importance. Those items that rank high in all categories should be saved for posterity, and those things that fall short in one or more categories should be released.

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It reminded me of a conversation I had with my Dad before he died when he was saddened by the fact that no one would probably want much of the beautiful wood he collected and never used for one of his many projects.

I started thinking about the fact that I don’t have any children, and that my nieces and nephews don’t share my tastes and wondering what would become of my beautiful artwork and pottery and china. As I listened to my dad talk, I thought about how much I paid for each of my paintings and asked myself if I had gotten my money’s worth out of the item based on how much enjoyment I’d gotten from each piece over the years. The answer in each case was yes. So, one day, if they get sold at a garage sale for $10 or carted away by a great niece for free or even thrown on somebody’s bonfire, it’s okay, because I’ve enjoyed them so thoroughly, and in the end, that’s all that matters.

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I think I was meant to have those conversations, one on the double recliner at the farm in Minnesota with my dad, and one in a castle in Fife with a stranger.

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Kellie Castle was also a rare find in that the castle garden was adjacent to the castle. You can see the castle from every corner of the garden, and photograph its towers and gables and spires with flowers in the foreground. You don’t have to walk to the back forty to enjoy the garden’s beauty. The castle and the garden are one entity. It’s exactly how I pictured Lachlan, Rod’s family’s castle, in Golden Rod. I found myself wanting Kellie Castle to be on the cover of Golden Rod, and will put it there one day. Kellie is lesser known, and a better choice for an imaginary, fictional place known only to my novel, than is Craigievar, which is so easily recognized my anyone familiar with Aberdeenshire. Perhaps then, I can forgive myself for taking artistic license with the history of Lochcarron.

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The rest of our time in Fife was spent exploring the Neuk fishing villages of Fife, briefly visiting St. Andrews, and exploring the Firth of Forth, the waterway that cuts deep into Scotland from the East, separating Edinburg from the areas to the north. We took the time to explore a little village called Crail because we know Crails in St. Ansgar whose family come from there. Crail is an enchanting little seaside town, and I fell in love with Crail Pottery. We teased about the fact that we couldn’t imagine why the Crail family ever left. It made me wonder about those of us from America who love Europe, and feel strong ties to the area. Would the lure of the promise that America held have been so enticing that I would have left my home and country behind to seek my fortune in the new world? And is it some sort of homing instinct deep inside my soul that makes me want to go back, after almost a century and a half and five generations?

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We visited the medieval village of Culross where parts of Outlander were filmed and climbed a million steps to look down over the rooftops rimming the sea. When we got lost looking for the city center, I was so exhausted after all those steps that I thought perhaps I might have to be buried right there under the wandering cobblestones.

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And as usual, when it was all said and done, we gained less enjoyment from the famous Culross, billed as one of the most picturesque and oldest medieval villages in Scotland, than we did watching the sunset from an old church, and then, a deserted windmill by the sea. No surprise there – time and time again, we are drawn to unpopular, out-of-the-way places.

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Cambo Gardens was a disappointment and a relief. The gardens I loved so much 11 years had been dug up and redesigned. The flowers might be as pretty as they once were in another decade or so – more proof that you can’t go back. I must be a true optimist, because I always expect things to keep improving with time, to be better than I remember, not worse. I was pacified by the fact that the barely navigable, half washed out path to the sea I hiked 11 years ago had also been redesigned, and was quite pleasant. The woods were filled with fragrant wild garlic blossoms, bluebells and tiny fairy flowers. The midges were organizing, fluttering their tiny wings in sunny spots in the glen, but not yet biting.

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But the absolute best experience we had in the Kingdom of Fife and by far the favorite meal of our vacation was lunch at the Peat Inn, in the tiny town of Peat Inn. Indescribable. Every morsel more wonderful than the last. The kind of food artistry and flavorful food I aspire to. Impeccable presentation and heartfelt service. I loved every bite, every second.

Scot - Culross house

Our three days in Fife flew by, and now, it seems like a dream. No wonder, as I was so tired and jet lagged for those first three days. It always takes me a few days to remember what it means to be a relaxed person, free from responsibility, ready to enjoy being served by others instead of serving. I couldn’t have had a better place to put the trip in perspective and set the scene for the days ahead.  NEXT:  From the Lowlands to the Highlands…

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Twenty-seven years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Wheaton, IL, Bar Harbor, Maine, Lawton, OK, Augsburg, Germany, and Colorado Springs, CO. After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker. Mark and Sherrie divide their time between a cottage in St. Ansgar, and the parsonage of Zion Lutheran Church, rural Hudson, Iowa, where Mark serves as pastor. Their two houses are 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. In her “free time”, Sherrie quilts, makes music on the piano, plays with her camera, renovates old houses, travels to the far off corners of the world, and goes on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew.

DAYBREAK is Sherrie’s twelfth book to be published by Indigo Sea Press. Sherrie’s books have been called “the thinking woman’s romance”. Her latest books also contain elements of suspense. While many of Sherrie’s books contain issues of faith and family, some also include a few “steamy” scenes that may not be appropriate for younger or sensitive readers. Most are “second chance at romance” stories with primary characters in their 30’s and 40’s. Many of Sherrie’s books contains at least one special quilt.

Sherrie attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, and University of Maryland, European Division, Augsburg, Germany, majoring in Creative Writing and English Lit. 

Links:

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

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

Books Titles: Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William and Golden Rod. Night and Day and Daybreak (July 2018), Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.  

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Rwanda and Uganda – My Favorite Things By: Maribeth Shanley

               So many people have asked me what were my favorite parts of my trip to Rwanda and Uganda that I decided to make them the theme of my May blog. 

                The entire trip was my favorite, but, okay, okay, I’ll be more specific as I break it down into two parts. 

                Part One – Significance of Family 

               I enjoyed meeting Edwin’s friends, most of whom were family members.  I especially enjoyed experiencing the African “family” theme that resounded on a continuous basis.  In a few words, the family is the core of every African’s existence.  Children grow up with relatives, for example,  as they identify their cousins as their best childhood friends. 

                 In the U.S. we claim the importance of family, however, for many of us in the U.S., that’s an overstated theme. 

                 While we are children, we yearn for the day we grow up and can move away from our family and hometown.   Instead of concentrating on our childhood, we long for adulthood, freedom, and independence.  Americans are the ultimate cowboys and cowgirls.  We’re fiercely independent to the detriment of our core family.  Not so in either Rwanda or Uganda.  The family is central.

                  A few days after arriving in Rwanda, Edwin and I made a day of driving to Uganda to visit with his mother’s side of the family.  We stayed three nights with Edwin’s favorite uncle, Emmanuel.  A flamboyant man, I found him to be proud, caring and full of mischief.  Shortly after arriving at his farm, Emmanuel informed Edwin that another uncle and aunt were about to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  In fact, an elaborately planned event would take place on the second day of our visit. 

                  Before leaving my home in South Carolina, I thought about packing a dress but decided I would probably never wear it while away.  I did pack a pair of black leggings and a nice tunic.  I was glad I did; and, I was also happy I thought to pack it for the trip to Uganda.  The celebration was amazing.  I felt a sentimental joy in being included. 

               Bob and I will celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary two years from September of this year.  I feel the fiftieth-anniversary folks belong to a special club, regardless of where we live.  For me, it’s amazing to recognize that I’m married to my first husband and that, after all these years, we still love each other to the moon.  It was evident that Uncle Geofrey and Aunt Jemima also share a special love.  It was wonderful watching Geofrey’s attentive gentility as he guided his wife, decked out in a long, elaborate gown, tackle the bumpy ground on their way from the event entrance to the stage where they both sat.  They were, after all, the king and queen of the day.

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                While visiting with the couple for a few hours the day after the celebration, Jemima and I exchanged thoughts on how much work is involved in keeping a relationship going for that long. However, we also agreed that we wouldn’t have it any other way.           

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                Too, the day after their celebration, I was able to meet Edwin’s godfather, Christopher, and his family as well as two of Edwin’s best childhood friends who also happen to be his cousins.  I had forgotten all about Uganda’s eight years of tyranny under the rule of the monster, Idi Amin. 

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               Christopher told us a chilling story about how he and his family became the targets of Amin.  In fact, as an act of retribution toward Christopher’s brother who fought with the rebels in their effort to  overthrow the brutal dictator, Amin focused on Christopher.  Amin’s people couldn’t find the brother so, because Christopher was conveniently available, and physically resembled his brother, he and his family became targets for Amin’s revenge. 

               On one particular day, Christopher discovered from a friend and informant that he and his family were destined to be slaughtered that evening.  Fearing becoming trapped, they left their home and wandered out into the bush where they hid the night.  Christopher’s and Anna’s (his wife) had a baby with them.  Their first child, a daughter, was just a few months old at the time.  Christopher related how Anna had to hold her hand over the baby’s mouth as they heard the soldiers who were searching for them in the same vicinity.   

            As Edwin and I sat with Christopher and Edwin’s two cousins, I listened to the four men talk in their native language.  Although I couldn’t understand any of their conversations, I intuited from their body language how much they all love Edwin in addition to feeling protective of him.  I also recognized that Christopher was sizing me up.  He wanted to make sure I was the best writer for Edwin’s autobiography.  In fact, when Edwin said, “Maribeth, feel free to jump in and ask any questions you would like answered,” my heart skipped a few beats as I thought, “Oh, geez, what am I going to say that won’t sound stupid or lame?”  I wanted to crawl under my chair.  Instead, I asked an open-ended question about Edwin’s childhood.  “What was Edwin like as a child?”  To my surprise and pleasure, the question opened up a lively discussion as I learned about Edwin’s mom and how Christopher became his godfather.  I also learned of the Amin threat which made the hair on my neck crawl with fear.               Christopher now had a second daughter, Angel, a precocious little girl who sat glued to Christopher’s lap for most of our visit. 

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                I was thrilled when, in my presence, Christopher commented to Edwin that he was fortunate to have me writing his autobiography.  My sensitivity toward people and the pain they experience touched his heart and soul.  In fact, Edwin later told me Christopher said, “The next time Maribeth visits, she’s staying with me.”

                The following week, Edwin and I were scheduled to meet with one of his father’s relatives and friends.  We had to cancel seeing the one relative in the Kigali, Rwanda area.  Our schedules simply couldn’t mesh.  However, we did travel about an hour from Kigali to visit with his father’s best friend, Patrick Byabagamba.   He’s known as the family’s historian.  He has a wealth of knowledge with a bear-trap mind for details.   His face, manners and gentility endeared him to me.  I hope to see him again one day.

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              Last, but not least was meeting Edwin’s youngest brother, Enoch. What a sweet young man and not at all bad looking. Enoch works with Edwin on his Rwanda Eco Tours venture. In fact, he’s Edwin’s right hand man. For me, he’s my go to guy when Edwin, who is extremely busy, can’t be reached.

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Part Two – The Amazing Animals of Africa              

                My second favorite part of my trip were the animals we were able to see.  Actually, seeing the animals was not at all my second favorite part.  It’s right up there and equal to my first favorite part. 

               My entire adulthood I have dreamed of going to Africa and seeing all the exotic animals  untethered and in the “WILD!”  Animals doing what they are designed to do; live normal lives without fear of entrapment and being slaughtered.  Rwanda does not allow trophy hunting.  They honor and value their wild animals and for me, seeing them was an absolute dream come true.  Thank you Rwanda.  Thank you. President Kagame, for your intelligence and compassion to know the value of these special creatures.  I only wish more African countries did as well and that they too banned hunting these animals for nothing more than a trophy, a purpose I can’t fathom a reason for wanting to hang a beautiful animal’s head on a wall or wear it as a coat, or walk on it as a rug.  The animals of Africa are living monuments to be cherished and shot through the lens of a camera and not by the end of a rifle.

* * * * * * *

                On our way back to Edwin’s home, we spent the evening at Akargera National Park.  The 463.32 square-mile Park is fenced off to keep the animals from wandering into a local village where, before being fenced off, the wild animals would wreak havoc. 

                We were fortunate to see one or more of the majority of most the animals that inhabit this massive park including a 30-foot tall giraffe, several antelopes, baboons, hippos, a crocodile swimming with the hippos, zebras, more giraffes, and many unusual and beautiful birds.  We also saw a small monkey who sat on a clay mound looking as if he was waiting for a cab or uber to come pick him up.

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              When it was nearly time to leave the park, Edwin lamented that we had not seen elephants.  He knew these beautiful creatures were among my favorite.  I was concerned that Edwin felt bad about not seeing the elephants.  I said, “Edwin, don’t worry.  I’ll be back and will see elephants.  Besides, they are here living their lives.  They’re not here for our entertainment. I’m good.”  We were all resigned that the elephants were hiding when our guide spotted a humongous male elephant walking out of the bush into a clearing.  I got out of the car but climbed back in when I realized how massive the bull was.  So, at a safe distance, we stayed a while longer watching him tare down a tree and devour all the vegetation.  The crunching sound of the vegetation and then some of the tree itself was incredible!  Seeing the elephant meant that we had seen all the animals except the rhinos and lions.  We were happy and content.  I was thrilled and can’t wait to see them all again.

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                Several days later, I had an incredible experience and the thrill of a lifetime!  

                With a group of eight individuals and guided by a wonderfully energetic, fun man, Francios Bigirimana, who spent fifteen years of his life working side by side with one of my heroes, Dian Fossey, I trekked up the mountainside to visit with a troop of mountain gorillas.  What an amazing experience!  After taking several photos, I stood still just watching their behavior when I recognized that they were aware that they are related to us.  In fact, I walked over to where Francios stood and said, “Am I right?  I think these guys know they are our cousins.”  He said they did indeed as he also took my camera relieving me of the burden of taking photos so I could be with the gorillas.  I think my thoughtfulness gave Francios pleasure.  Having the ability to observe the gorillas gave me pleasure.  I loved being in the presence of my not too distant cousins with whom we share 98.8% DNA!  I hope to return one day with my husband and my sister, Gail,  to visit again with these incredible beings.  Below is the troop’s silverback.  What a clown he was.  He loves posing for photos.  Beautiful cousin!

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            One last thing deserves mentioning because it left a lasting impression on me and my soul.  I stayed in the front-room bedroom of Edwin’s home.  It faced a hill that led down, then back up another hill to the city of Kigali.  Unlike the U.S., Rwanda does not discriminate or disparage other people who are different.  Instead, they embrace difference.  

               The evenings in Rwanda are cool enough to leave the windows open.  It was wonderful to wake to all the beautiful birds the country has to offer.  In addition to the birds, however, I would wake each morning around 4:50 a.m.  That’s when the Imam of a local mosque would climb the stairs of the tall tower called a minaret to announce the call to prayer.  His announcement was not spoken.  It was sung.  I absolutely loved waking to his song.  His voice was low and gravely, but romantic as well.  The first morning I listened I couldn’t help but choke up a bit as I thanked the country for it’s acceptance and tolerance of one of the four most important and historic religions of our world, Islam.   It filled my ears with pleasure and my heart with joy.   I will never forget my 4:50 a.m. beautiful ritual.

               In summary, I’ve never cared about traveling anywhere else in the world except Africa.  I’ve wanted to experience the continent for as long as I can remember.  My trip was a dream come true.

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Francios Bigirimana

                Note:  There is a section on my website, www.maribethshanley.com, where I posted daily blogs and included lots of photos if you care to see and read more about my wonderful month in beautiful Rwanda and Uganda.  I can’t wait to return.  It’s where I left part of my heart.

 

 

 

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Take Two: Something Old, Something New – by Sherrie Hansen

There’s something very exciting about seeing familiar characters in new situations. I love it when I get to experience my favorites things from days past paired with a handful of fresh new adventures. My upcoming release, Daybreak, a sequel to Night and Day, will give readers a chance to reminisce and reacquaint themselves with some of their favorite characters. At the same time, it has to be realized that this second glimpse at Jensen and Anders, Ed, and the Christiansen family begins at a time when everything has changed, some things for the better, and some for the worse. Familiar characters (something old), different situations (something new).

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That’s how I’m looking at our third trip to Scotland this coming May and June. We’ll be revisiting some of our best loved spots, interspersed with a few never before seen destinations.  Familiar sights, new experiences. Hopefully, it will be the perfect mix!

We’ll be starting out at a new B&B in a new village, halfway between Edinburgh and St. Andrews, both of which we’ve already seen. Our beautiful room is in Colinsburgh, where we’ll be our first three nights in country.

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On our first trip to Scotland, I fell in love with Cambo Garden Estates in Kingsbarns, St Andrews, Fife. This will be Mark’s first time, and I can’t wait to show him around, hopefully this time, not in the rain – although the raindrops and overcast haze made for some lovely photos in 2007.

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Some newly discovered treasures we hope to see while we’re in the area include Kellie Castle, with its fairytale stone towers, and an Arts & Crafts garden with herbaceous borders and old rose gardens, and Culross, Scotland’s most complete example of a burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries. Envision white-harled houses with red-tiled roofs lining steep, cobbled streets running from market cross to the hilltop abbey. In the centre is an ochre-coloured palace with a beautifully reconstructed herb garden, complete with rare Scots Dumpy hens. We’re told it’s one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland.

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Our next few nights will be spent in a cottage near Aberfeldy, Perthshire – one of our favorite places on earth. When we’re not enjoying our cozy abode, we hope to visit some new spots – Ailean Chraggan Hotel, where we’re told you can meet the locals, and the food is good. The Breadlabane Bakery is on my list, and a highly recommended Deli-ght, a great delicatessen with very good home cooked ready meals we can enjoy at our home away from home.

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Our trip to Aberfeldy will include a visit to a favorite art gallery belonging to Artist Audrey Slowrance

And – a return visit to nearby Blair Atholl Castle where we will once again see the Atholl Highlanders marching in review, and the famed highland games.

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From there, we’re off to Inverness, or the countryside near Inverness, where we’ll spend two days at Ben View House Lentran Farm. 

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While we’re in the highlands, we plan to visit the living Highland Folk Museum, where we’ll learn how our Scottish Highland ancestors lived, built their homes, tilled the soil and dressed. We can’t wait to see the restored buildings and witness Highland history coming to life.

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The Kilted Fudge Company is next on my list. I first tasted their handmade cream and butter fudge at the highland games in 2016. Located in Aviemore, Scotland, they feature mouth-watering Scottish favourites like Irn Bru, Crannachan, Clootie Dumpling (my absolute fave), Millionaire’s Shortbread, Turkish Delight and Parma Violet.

On our last visit, we couldn’t quite squeeze in Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire, the 
Scottish residence of the British Royal Family. After watching two seasons of Masterpiece Theater’s Victoria, we’re intrigued by the history of Balmoral Castle, which dates from the 15th century, but was considered too small when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with the region and people during a visit to the Scottish Highlands. Prince Albert set about organising the design of the current castle and grounds when the Royal Family purchased the estate in 1852. Construction of the new castle started during the summer 0f 1853, on a site just 100 yards from the original building. The couple spent many weeks each year relaxing at their new home in Highlands, and after Albert’s death, Victoria spent up to 4 months each year at Balmoral.  If we have time, we’ll also explore Braemar Castle, Aberdeenshire, a largely restored 17th century castle originally built in 1628.

From there, we head to Ullapool…

2018 - Ullapool deck2018 - Ullapool room2018 - Ullapool view

Our host will be Fair Morn Bed & Breakfast, in a room with a view, at Morefield Brae.  This will be another first for us, as will the lovely Achmelvich Beach, and the award-winning Inverewe Garden, where we’re promised we can lose ourselves in the lush setting and enjoy a riot of colours and scents.

We’ll start out June with a three hour long CalMac Ferry Ride to Stornoway, hopefully on calm seas!

2018 - Isle of Lewis outside2018 - Isle of Lewis view

While on the Isles of Lewis and Harris, we’ll stay at Keepers House, Uig Beach, Tinsgarry, Isle of Lewis. Although it was tempting to head back to the Isle of Mull, where Blue Belle is set, or Isle of Arran, which we enjoyed so much in 2016, we decided to strike out and try something new…

The mysterious, and now famous standing stones seen in Outlander will no doubt be our first stop.  We’re also hoping to drive over the bridge from Harris to explore the small island of Scalpay and its red and white striped Eilean Glas Lighthouse on the island’s eastern cliffs. We’re told Scalpay’s North Harbour Bistro is the place for a tasty meal and that we need to browse the beautiful Harris Tweed products at the Pink Sheep Studio. We want to see Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, an open-air museum with its restored blackhouses – long stone cottages with thatched roofs, Dun Carloway, the remnant of a stone broch (small tower) that’s roughly 2000 years old, the very northern tip of the island, or the Butt of Lewis, Luskentyre Beach, and St. Clement’s Church in the tiny town of Rodel.

2018 - Skye view

After another ferry ride to Uig, Isle of Skye, we hope to have dinner at Stein Inn, a favorite from two years ago, and take in a sunset like this one.

B&W ViewIMG_20160605_114838

We’ll definitely revisit our favorite scenic overlook on Skye, and the much loved Eilean Donan Castle featured in my books Shy Violet and Sweet William. One spot that we previously missed is Caisteal Maol (Castle Bare) near Kyle of Lochalsh. We hope to include it on this trip… something old, something new…

2018 - Lochcarron room2018 - Lochcarron view

Staying in Lochcarron, setting of Golden Rod, will be a new experience, (Castle Cottage looks wonderful!) but we’ll also enjoy some of our favorite spots while we’re there.

GR Blog - Waterside Cafe

And then, it’s off to Fort William on our way south toward Glasgow.

2018 - Fort William

After one night at Loch View Estate, Fort William, we’re very excited to get to explore a new corner of western Scotland, where we get to stay in a B&B that looks absolutely delightful.

2018 - Kilmartin chairs2018 - Kilmartin living room2018 - kilmartin room2018 - Kilmartin sheep2018 - Kilmartin view

Kilmartin Glen is located between Oban and Lochgilphead, on the west of Scotland. The area spans 5,000 years with a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles. Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.

And then, it’s off to Paisley to repack our suitcases and catch an early morning flight back to the U.S.

2018 - Paisley fireplace2018 - Paisley room

If we have time, I’d love to see House for an Art Lover in Glasgow. It’s situated in Bellahouston Park, about 10 minutes from the flat where we’ll be staying. It’s a wonderful Charles Rennie Mackintosh building with a fantastic restaurant and art collection.

Maybe now you have a sense of why I keep revisiting Scotland in my books, my travels, and my dreams. And although I took a detour back to Denmark and Minnesota in my new book, Daybreak, the concept is the same. Something old and familiar, something new and exciting, something borrowed (aren’t all stories?) and something blue… always Blue. It’s the stuff the best stories are made of.

BlueBelle 2016

(Sherrie is the owner of the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, Iowa. She is a Wheaton College alumni, and attended University of Maryland, European Division, in Augsburg, Germany. Her husband is the pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, an LCMC Congregation in rural Hudson, Iowa. In Sherrie’s spare time (?) she likes to dabble in the creative arts, play piano, paint, decorate vintage homes, and travel.)

Wildflowers - Stripes

(Disclaimer:  I use my own photos except for those of places I have never been, which I obviously couldn’t have taken – yet.)

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Filed under photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, Travel

I Think I Got the Lividity and How Perceptions Differ by LV Gaudet

Anyone who has ever experienced the family vacation knows the family vacation experience starts weeks before and ends weeks after the actual vacation.

 

This is about a family vacation experience, and about different perceptions.  Writing a story is all about the use of perception.  Twisting and focusing the reader’s perceptions, utilizing opposing perceptions, and even tricking the reader into thinking you are following a certain line of perception before revealing your true intentions.  What you do with this depends on your story and its goal.

 

Real life is drama.  Don’t shortchange your readers by forgetting that in your stories.

 

Feel free to skip to the parts that actually interest you.  I am also sick again as I write this, so please bear with me.

 

BEFORE THE VACATION

 

Of course, there are the “pre weeks” aka “the months you can’t get back”; the weeks where one of you spends a painful amount of time researching vacation possibilities (because travel agents are for wusses, people less cheap than you, and people with a different type of common sense).  They endlessly read opposing reviews, getting excited and then woefully disappointed by the same resorts, before finally taking a great intake of air, holding it indefinitely, scrunching their eyes tightly closed, and hitting send.  The vacation is booked.

 

And then once the vacation is booked it is the stressful “vacation time coordination”. Anyone with differing vacation in-house work rules will find this more difficult.  We are lucky in this.  Unlike some, we don’t have to definitively and un-irrevocably book vacation time all at once for the year and not be able to change plans.  Still, you have at least two people with different work vacation booking rules, plus kids/others, to try to book everyone off for the same week and it can be a juggling act.

 

Then it’s the preparation time.  You have to make sure you pack all of your stuff, that everyone else has theirs, and plan for every possible contingency and buy a pharmacy.

 

How you think it will go aka “the boring story” or “what your character wants” – You make your list, pack and purchase, and everything is packed nicely and easily.  Stress free.  And you happily and contentedly go to sleep looking forward to your vacation.  Your vacation is flawless. You do stuff, relax, enjoy, and come home refreshed.

 

How it really goes aka “insert drama here” – Ugh.  Let us not forget how real life can get.  You have a job, kids, dogs, and a house.  So, in between looking after all of that, you have to find the time for packing, lists, shopping, re-packing, and cleaning.  And, if your dogs are lucky enough that you have someone willing to house sit/dog sit so they don’t have to spend the week stressed and panicked in a boarding kennel, you also want the house clean when you leave.

 

Starting with the dogs, the husky, Roxy aka The Big Dumb Bunny, decides to pick that time right before your vacation to start blowing out her coat.  In the middle of winter and -30 to -45 wind chills.  How a dog can shed more than her weight in hair every hour is beyond me. Cue the endless vacuuming.  We call the other dog, Meeka, the “good dog”.  She does not blow out her coat, steal all your socks, or make you put her out every five minutes.

 

20180210_173118.jpgThe kids.  Anyone with kids can tell you that you really need to plan a week off kid free to clean the house for anything upcoming of importance.  This still applies when they are teens.  As fast as you try to clean, the place is unraveled around you into a bedlam of chaos and mess.  And, the virtual extra large dogs aka the Big Dumb Hair Bunnies you need to vacuum up endlessly.  You are also trying to get all the laundry done, and make futile attempts to pack your own stuff.

 

Just a quick interject – naturally, pre-vacation week you get sick (cough cough). You feel like Bill the cat from Bloom County looks. If you don’t know, look it up.  But you still must be up before six every morning, go to work, and deal with the kids, dogs, family, house, etc. every evening, plus vacation preparation.

 

Three days prior to vacation you announce to the entire household (repeatedly), “Tomorrow night I have to pack my stuff for the trip.  All my stuff.  I have nothing packed.  So let me do that or I won’t have any clothes to wear.  After I pack all my stuff, I can help you with yours.”

 

Two days prior to vacation, the “I MUST PACK ALL MY STUFF” evening, …guess what. Yes, you guessed it. Kids.  One, who is old enough to handle it in my opinion, absolutely needs your help to figure out and fill out the grade 10 course registration for next year that ABSOLUTELY MUST BE DONE THAT NIGHT OR THE WORLD WILL END.  Because it has to be handed in tomorrow, since it is due when you are gone on vacation.

 

The other kid has a mountain of homework that she absolutely cannot figure out on her own, even though she is the one going to school to learn it and knows it better than you do.  Seriously, some of these math word problems I am sure are written in some archaic ancient dead language from a planet in a far away galaxy.  Mostly I repeated the questions on the page until she started actually thinking about them and solved them herself.

 

Now, it is past bedtime for everyone, you still have laundry and cleaning to do, and have not packed a single sock.  Or maybe you did pack a sock, but the Big Dumb Bunny stole it.  At this point you are too tired and sick to know or care.

 

The Nightmare before Christmas, I mean (um), the night before vacation.  Okay, now you really need to pack.  You start your morning with slopping an entire cup of coffee on yourself minutes before you have to leave for work.  Nice.  Now you have to do laundry again because you had to pull clothes out of the stuff you washed to pack, because you don’t have enough clothes that fit.  You bust your butt at work all day making sure everything is done. You half expect at this point that your car will break down on the way home.  Somehow the stars and planets align and it does not.

 

However, and, I should have put that in all caps.  Let’s try that again.

 

HOWEVER, you get home and while you were at work the good dog puked, the toilet upstairs plugged and overflowed, and the house is a complete disaster.  The panicked teen tries to resolve the overflowing toilet by staring moodily at the toilet bowl, water flowing over its sides to flood the bathroom floor, glares at it, and starts throwing all the towels on the floor in an effort to make it all stop without asking for help, and the water continues to flood over the toilet bowl.

 

Meanwhile, on the downside, aka the kitchen, water has begun to flow from the ceiling light fixture located directly below the offending toilet.  Cue the sudden discovery by your spouse that something is wrong upstairs.  This, by the way, is next to the brown spot in the kitchen ceiling from the other kid previously trying to fill water balloons by placing them over the entire tap end, forcing the water to wash back up the space between the water pipe and the tap covering until it wets and stains the ceiling below.

 

20180210_075200.jpgIt is your last evening to pack, and you are overtired, still sick, and trying to clean, do laundry (again), deal with dramas, back up all your life’s work so you don’t risk losing it if anything happens to your laptop (because you stupidly think will all that spare time while you are up hours before everyone else every morning on vacation you will have time for writing), and attempt to pack your stuff, finally.  Only, the evening is gone before you know it, you have accomplished little if anything, the house is still a mess, you are still doing laundry, and EVERYONE HAS GONE TO BED WITHOUT YOU.

 

Oh yeah, and you still have to pack all your stuff for the week, but you can’t because everyone went to bed.

 

Vacation day!  You are not sure what time you went to bed.  Eleven?  Eleven-thirty?  You are up at two am because you are supposed to be ready to leave the house by 4 am.  Showered, dressed, and dolled up.  Your brain is mush.  You know you are forgetting a thousand things.  You have half an hour to pack.  You are constantly being interrupted despite your pleas of, “Let me pack!”  Your spouse is trying their best to help.  You gather stuff, set it down, turn, and it is gone. Your spouse packed it in their bag.  At this point you are now packing without knowing what you actually packed.  You can’t find anything because your brain is mush.  You will take stock of everything you are missing when you get there.

 

20180208_194931You will get there to find that you are missing basic essentials like deodorant, hair brush, and a toothbrush.  You will spend an exorbitant amount of money buying two of the three at the little resort store, only to find halfway through the vacation it was packed in your spouse’s suitcase.

 

After arrival and after going through the customs security screening and passing through the door of “Thou Shall Not Go Back”, the thirteen-year-old discovers she left her phone in the bathroom on the other side.  Being stupid Canadian tourists they let us through and watch in confusion as I scurry with her to retrieve the lost phone.  Later we learned how terrified our handler was that we committed such serious a faux pas, and we speculated was possibly shocked we were not arrested for it.

 

20180210_112138.jpgThe vacation.  Day one, everyone wakes up cranky.  Everyone is moody, miserable, and fighting.  The beds and pillows actually inflict pain; they are so bad.  But, once settled in, each person has the time to start living the moment instead of only reacting to a fast paced series of reactionary moments.

 

While on the drive from the airport to the resort the previous evening, you are taking in the world the local people live in through the bus window, your kids, who are sitting much closer to the front of the bus, are noticing how rude, insensitive, and disrespectful they feel some of our fellow vacationers are being towards the travel guide whose job it is to get everyone to their hotels.

 

20180209_153704.jpgWe are in a place where the local population is predominantly dark skinned.  You notice how kind and friendly all of the people working there are, how some struggle with the language barriers between them and their guests, but they still do their best to help.  Your kids, however, whose sole experience with different people in your other raced neighborhood is what they learned in school about the history of black slavery, are feeling weird and at odds over watching all these dark-skinned staff serving the predominantly white guests.  They question the appropriateness of it, not understanding it is so only because of the nature of the local population’s demographics.

 

20180210_103428(0).jpgDuring one dinner, while you are observing the strange behavior at the next table, your spouse is observing a very different scene behind you.  The table next to you, a larger group, are taking turns politely clapping each person as if each is taking a turn quietly sharing some life affirming moment.  The moment feels almost cultish to you, and you wonder if this is some sort of retreat for some group.  Your spouse reaches across the table, touches your hand to get your attention, and looks you in the eyes.

“Get ready to move fast, there is going to be a fight behind you and I think it will be ugly.”

You glance quickly at your teen sitting next to you and then at the couple quietly arguing being hind you, just at the moment the whispered argument gets louder.  The wife was very inebriated, and the husband not.

We each had a very different memory of that dinner.

 

Naturally, being a vacation of the sort we have not been on in years and may not again for years to come, everyone has to take a turn being sick.  Another wrench thrown into that perfect vacation.  Another drama, another obstacle to overcome.  I have to say, I don’t know when I felt a sickness like that.  After the vomiting the large ball of discomfort settles in to take up permanent residence in your stomach.  You are cold and hot.  Every inch of your muscles and skin hurts.  The weight of your body against the mattress is agony.  Even the feather weight of the light sheets is pain.  Luckily we packed a pharmacy.

At one point, as I lay there, my spouse thought he saw bruising.  It was only shadow.  I said I had the lividity.  That now I know what dying feels like and it hurts like hell. That I am now The Walking Dead and if I didn’t feel like such crap I would probably be eating everyone.  My spouse called me a dork.

 

20180210_075334.jpgOf course, the vacation was not all bad.  Kids and teens, being who they are, were in a constant flux between getting along and annoying each other.  Anyone with teens knows how little you see them when they start hiding in their rooms.  And, with work and kids, how little time a couple actually has together.  We had eight full days, including travel both ways, of all four of us being together 24/7, getting reacquainted with each other.  That was through good and bad, sickness (literally, with us taking turns being up all night vomiting), and health.  We still like each other.

 

20180211_144645.jpgThe trip home.  The plan was to have everything packed and cleaned up the night before and ready to go.  Everyone is up, showered, dressed, and last bit packed with lots of time to haul our stuff to the front lobby, get lunch, and hop on the bus to the airport.  Easy.  No fuss, no muss.

The reality; okay that actually did sort of work out for us.  Not so much for the other family with two small boys who were on the wrong time zone.  They missed the mandatory check out time, thus incurring the wrath of the forewarned late checkout surcharges.  The bus did wait for them while they hurriedly put their two small boys on the bus and scurried off to hastily pack all their belongings and race back to the bus.

It also presumably did not work out so well for the others who our vacation company on-site liaison, bus driver, and hotel staff were unable to locate.  They missed the bus.  All but one eventually made it to the airport, where we all looked at each other wondering what fate befell the mysterious man they kept paging over the intercom to make his way immediately to our boarding gate.

 

20180211_105331.jpgGoing through customs is its own experience.  Leaving Canada, the fourteen-year-old was randomly selected for the “sniff test”.  Yes, apparently they had to make sure a fourteen-year-old girl was not carrying or recently in contact with cocaine.  I, being the concerned parent, laughed at her plight.  The Canadian customs staff were typically Canadian, indulgent and kind about it.

And then there was the phone in the bathroom incident on arrival, which we teased the thirteen-year-old about and told her that her father would have had to contact the Canadian embassy or consular service or whatever they have there to have our government try to negotiate our release from a foreign country prison.

Coming home, we learned while in line to check our luggage that the rules for carrying going the opposite way are different.  We hastily shifted items from our carry on to our checked luggage.  On the way to security I ended up having to throw out my chapped lip stick because that apparently is illegal.  Every man woman and child went through a cursory pat down.  The Dominican customs people were all very understanding and kind while processing all of us.

On arrival in Canada, and after a slightly bumpy landing, it is time to breathe a sigh of relief.  It is over.  You are home.  Cue laughter.

We are in the back quarter of the plane.  Naturally, disembarking is done from the front to the back.  Everyone is collecting their stuff from the overhead compartments and beneath the seat in front of them, committing incredible acts of acrobatics trying to squeeze through the ten-inch aisle with their stuff to the front of the plane, and stumbling numbly down the tunnel ramp on legs and buttocks that are no longer functional after a more than six-hour flight trapped in tiny uncomfortable seats with their legs pressed to their chins.

20180211_144010.jpgLiterally, with the last of the rest of the plane passengers passing through the door at the end before us into the great terminal beyond, an airport worker hurriedly rushes to the door and closes it in our faces.  We, and our fellow back of the plane passengers, are left staring dumbly at him as he motions us to stay and runs off through the secondary set of doors.  We look at each other.  There are a few nervous chuckles.  We are literally in a dry aquarium.  A glass-walled prison with no way out except to race back to the plane, whose door is presumably closed by now, and no place to shelter.  Is there some sort of airport security event?  Should we be afraid?  But, this is Canada, so the worst it might be is that someone forgot to say please and thank you.

After some moments of the same man who locked us in and another worker looking around in confusion, the other trying his swipe card on some random card swiper at a desk through doors the rest of the plane did not disembark through, a third airport worker came along and let us through.

20180211_143714.jpgAt last, we are home.  Or at least on the last leg of home, driving home with a slight detour that involved going in completely the opposite direction of home for some distance before realizing we are going the wrong way, and made it home.

The vacation, naturally, does not end there.  Because now you have to catch up at work and do all the other post-vacation stuff.  But the real story has already ended and that stuff happens after you cut to end story.

 

And that, my friends, is how an unexciting vacation story becomes filled with obstacles and drama.  Real life throws a wrench in things and so must you when you write your story.

 

While we were all in this together through various stages, every person would have had their own unique perspective and experience.

 

There is more to the story, of course.  The monkey on the beach, the walk off-resort through a possibly sketchy area, and the salami taxi.  But that is the fine details you flesh out later in your story.

 

Now, if I were to re-write this from each person’s perspective, each would tell a very different story.

 

Follow me on my blog.

The Intangible World of the Literary Mind

This blog is about writing, being an author, and life.

 

LV Gaudet, author

This blog is for the fans of dark fiction, those stories that slither softly into your dreams in the night to turn them dark and foul.

 

 

Published with Indigo Sea Press:
where the bodies are

 

He can’t stop killing.

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]

Learn the secret behind the bodies in Where the Bodies Are.

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Filed under L.V. Gaudet, life, Travel, writing

Musings of Hawaii

Rob and Florence, my son and daughter-in-law just returned from their honeymoon in Oahu, Hawaii. I dropped them off at the airport in Orlando and my grandson, Colby, met them at the airport in Honolulu and showed them around, since he lives there. While they were gone, Hawaii was on my mind.

I had visited three of the islands in February, 1989, with my friend, Joe. On Maui, we had arranged to go scuba diving one day. The prelude to this activity was to have a short lesson in the hotel pool to make sure everyone was familiar with the equipment. I was about to find out that Hawaii actually does have winter so, while the air temp may not be cold, the ocean water is.

I didn’t think that would be a problem, though, because in my formative diving days, my diving buddy and I used to break through the ice in northern New Jersey quarries before diving in winter. Hawaiian water wouldn’t be that cold, so… What I hadn’t taken in to account was the fact that I was renting my equipment during this trip. I had always had my own before. That fit me.

The “wetsuit” I was given was not a long-sleeved neoprene affair that covered all but my face like I expected, but a puffy vest that looked like it would fit an extra-large Sumo wrestler. My whole bony little 103 lb. body could fit in the arm holes and as for my legs, they were on their own. No other size was available and there was no way that vest would provide me with any warmth. My instructor ignored my pleas and told everyone to get in the pool. That’s when I knew I was in trouble. Not wanting to seem a sissy, I decided to “man-up” and shut-up. After all, Joe and I were experienced divers. Surely the two other couples, whom we knew had never been diving before, would say something when we all hit the frigid pool water. Wrong! Between them they had several hundred pounds on me.  Joe, being a guy, had more meat on him, too, so I knew I was facing a dilemma.

We all jumped into the pool and learned the vest held the weights needed to help us sink and it was also inflatable to help us rise in the water. Okay. The trick was to balance those two things so a person would be essentially weightless. I was used to a separate weight belt to weigh me down and the air tanks to provide buoyancy, but this set-up seemed easy enough. Next was the face mask. Can you believe my mask was apparently also made for a large Sumo wrestler? It didn’t come anywhere near fitting my tiny face. In the last fifteen minutes, had I suddenly morphed into a munchkin? Uh, oh, things were not boding well for me, but I didn’t want to ruin the dive trip for Joe, so I kept quiet.

To make a long story short, I spent all of my dive time trying to regulate my weight/buoyancy, clear my face mask of water and equalize pressure in my ears. So, my view of the ocean near Maui consisted of multi-sized bubbles obstructing my vision of some fish and coral, while I rose up and down like I was on a seesaw. Joe realized I was suffering from hypothermia when we departed the dive boat and the air hit me. He rushed me to our rooms and I spent a while in a cold shower to warm up, and gradually changed the temp to lukewarm. I was so exhausted; I slept the rest of the afternoon. So much for scuba diving!

The next day we went whale watching and every time I saw a whale surface, before I got the chance to snap the photo, it had disappeared, so I have wonderful photos of water and more water, port side and starboard. So much for whale watching!

The next day we flew to Kauai where it rained the whole time and our helicopter trips were canceled. So we decided to go shopping. I was lucky to find some colorful, thin wooden ornaments of Hawaiian fish that are perfect for my Christmas tree and remind me of Hawaii. Joe and I both bought exotic shells and had them drilled so when we blew them we could call the Hawaiian sprits to our homes on the mainland. And since I had had such a difficult time during our dive, he bought me a pretty dress to wear to one of the fabulous shows at our hotel in Oahu, the Royal Hawaiian.

Some things didn’t work out on this trip, but it didn’t matter to me. The Hawaiian people were so happy and friendly and had a certain spirit about them that I can’t explain. The scenery was spectacular and the food was delicious. I hope I get another chance to go. Meanwhile, I can’t wait to hear all about Rob and Florence’s trip!

 

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 musings, Travel