Friendships Through My Ages

My very first friend was, Miss Woodward, the lady who accompanied me to my foster homes. Since it took several tries, we had time to bond while she figured out the answer why. And even though I was still a toddler, I somehow knew she was my only link to my past and I didn’t want to lose that. So when we finally found my “Forever” home, I made sure it would be possible for me to keep in touch. At first we exchanged Christmas and birthday cards. Later, when I was in my twenties, I showed off my child to her to demonstrate and confirm the possibility of successful adoptions. And as time passed we continued our correspondence until she died many years later.

My adopted mother was very involved and influential in my everyday life. In my younger years, she picked friends for me and they were always people who were more knowledgeable or talented in something than I or at which I wasn’t as good. Most of the time, I didn’t mind, because I enjoyed learning, but occasionally, I felt inferior to them. And as I look back at that time, I could have used more confidence building.

My father had six weeks’ vacation each year and the three of us would take a large chunk of this time to travel out West to see the National Parks. We camped all along the way and I was fortunate to visit all the states except Washington and Oregon and all the provinces of Canada. Campsites in those days were great spots to make pen-pal friends and I met several from both the States and Canada.

A couple of my friends were terrific artists who shared their love of horses and art with me. Another loved to cook and she and I had taffy pulling parties. Later, a guy friend shared his love of car mechanics and he helped me keep my ’56 T-Bird in tip-top shape. Another guy friend was into S.C.U.B.A. and we became diving buddies. I later took my diving equipment to Cannes, France when I was in school there, so I could dive with the local club during my stay.

When I found out I had Scottish roots, my son and I joined the local St. Andrews Society and we met several really special people with Scots ancestry and also found a bagpipe teacher. Other people in the society taught me about the history and customs of Scotland and inspired my trips there and interest in writing a book about my adventures. In fact, a lovely man from Scotland has become a friend after he read my book and contacted me to tell me so. He calls himself “The Village Kiltie.”

During my husband’s military career, I took belly dance lessons in several places where we were stationed and after my parents died, I went home to N.J. to settle their estate. While there, I met a gal who became my inspiration/teacher/mentor for a whole new twenty-plus-year career. Who would have guessed it?!

One of my guy friends was into opera, ballet and orchestral music, and since I had studied ballet, piano and cello most of my growing up years, he and I used to share season tickets. And another guy friend and I consoled each other when we each went through divorces.

I had a friend who was a 29 year cancer survivor, who taught me more about living than anyone I’ve known.

As I look back, my mother had a good idea in introducing me to people who could teach me something. It may have been a little difficult in the beginning, but the more I learned the more I wanted to learn, so I pick friends like that, still. I always want to grow and find things and people who inspire me. I have been so fortunate to have met so many really special people. I have photographs of most of them on shelves on either side of my desk and every day when I enter the room, I greet them with cherishing thoughts.

 

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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Risks in DNA Searches

DNA testing can be used in many fields including archeology, paternity, medical history, law enforcement forensics, and even extraterrestrial and pet breed testing. But today I’m talking about the ever popular kits advertised on TV these days. DNA testing is a wonderful tool for ancestry searching, but it can have some unexpected negatives if people aren’t careful.

Many of my readers already know that I was orphaned at a very young age, sent into the foster care system and later adopted. I secretly searched for my birth family during my growing-up years, but continued my search in earnest after my adopted parents passed away. Knowing they were unable to have children of their own, I hadn’t wanted them to know I was searching for fear it would hurt them. We were/are real people with real emotions.

I’m afraid too many people take the DNA test and wait for the results informing them they are a certain percentage this nationality and a different percentage of another and treat it as a game. The connection is so far away, it’s just exciting and fun to know where in the world one started. That’s all well and good, but sometimes people forget these ancestors were real people, with feelings and stories, tragic and wonderful.

Some people may still be alive, and although they may have joined one of the search organizations, that doesn’t mean another member should inquire information from this person without trying to be thoughtful, considerate and/or diplomatic in their query. The ancestry sites try very hard to protect people’s privacy, especially those still living, but some members don’t realize they themselves need to be aware of protecting someone’s privacy, too.

For example, a relative of mine through marriage found some personal information about someone closely related and, without thinking it through, proceeded to copy that information and email it to both another relative and to me, thus violating the person’s privacy who was the subject of the information. As a result, feelings were hurt and this inconsiderate relative is no longer spoken to by several family members. The information was none of that relative’s business and should not have been forwarded so blatantly, however innocent the intentions.

Another case comes to mind, even more serious. I have a friend whose husband wanted to get his DNA done and sent in his sample. My friend had escaped an abusive relationship years before, but at that time this abusive person told her if he ever found out where she was, he’d kill her. I was concerned that her abusive ex, might use an ancestry search company to find her. He had already tried other methods, she told me. There are scammers everywhere. There is always a possibility they could lurk within an innocent source. So, I’m real careful on any site that is open to the public.

With all that said, I’m now 76 years old now and joyfully still finding family members; two other sisters, whom I plan to meet soon, and, sadly, I learned of the death of my brother and mother. Needless to say, it’s an emotional time for me right now, but I’m grateful to know.

Ten years ago I wrote in a short story that, “I pray I live long enough to be reunited with the rest of my family. Even if success proves elusive, I’ll continue to search. I’ll continue to dream.” I believe that finally my dream is coming to fruition. Thanks to God, and to DNA testing!

 

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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A New Adventure by Sherrie Hansen

CZECHIA – even the name sounds exotic – and somewhat intimidating. When we made reservations for our first two nights in Prague and the address included the words Na Hřebenkách, Hlavní město Praha, Czech Republic, I started to wonder what we were getting ourselves into.

Czech - prague

We’re almost always in Europe the last week of May and the first two weeks of June. Last year, we spent Memorial Day weekend in Scotland enjoying holiday festivities at Kelly Castle, near St. Andrews and making our second visit to the Highland Games at Blair Atholl Castle near Aberfeldy and Pitlochry. I would happily have gone back to see the soldiers and pipers marching in their kilts to the beat of Celtic drums yet again, but a new adventure beckoned.

Scot - kilts

My husband spent a week and a half in the Holy Lands in April, and in May, we made an unexpected trip to California to bury his mother. Rather than leave on another vacation right away, we decided to wait until the last week of August and the first half of September. Since we were already jarred out of our familiar pattern, we decided to go in a different direction and explore another facet of my family history – Prague and the Czech Republic.

Grandmas

I have no idea what my Bohemian Grandma (Lorna, 1900-2000, in the center) would think of me traipsing halfway around the world to see where our ancestors lived before they settled in northern Iowa, but I’m excited to explore a new part of the globe. And nervous…

Romania - Castle

Mark and I have traveled to a few other non-English speaking parts of the world, but we’ve usually had a tour guide who was fluent in the native tongue – our friend Gabriella in Germany, our daughter-in-law, Cristiana in Romania, and our cousin Helle in Denmark. I could tell you some interesting stories about our adventures in Italy, Switzerland and France, where we were clueless when it came to communicating, but I’ll save that for another day. Suffice it to say, I have good reason to be worried about the language barrier in Czechia. Mark already has a Czech phrase book and audio tape and I hear him practicing every so often… we’ll see how that goes!

Blizzard photo 2

During one of our late spring blizzards when I was holed up in one of our houses, I started perusing the map of Czech Republic for places that we might like to visit. I’m feeling a little more confident now that I can picture our route in my head and have a general idea of what we’ll get to see.

Czech - Mucha

August 28, 29 – We’ll be spending our first two days in Prague in Sector 5 exploring the paintings of Alfons Mucha, who is known for his portrayals of Slavic maidens and a series of twenty monumental canvases known as The Slav Epic. We’ll also visit Prague Castle (Pražský hrad) where we’ll see St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, the Powder Tower, and the Old Royal Palace and Vladislav Hall, so big it was used to host knightly jousting tournaments. And of course, the 16th-century Royal Garden and Charles Bridge (Karlův Most).

August 30, 31, and Sept 1 – Brno, about 2 hours south of Prague, is our next destination.  We’ll be staying in a renovated suite in an old 1820 spa house with an outside seating restaurant adjacent to a park. We’ll be there during the International Folklore Festival, where we hope to enjoy regional music, dancing and foods. We’ll see the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, which has remnants of an 11th-century Romanesque chapel, rebuilt in the Baroque and Gothic styles, and the the 13th-century Špilberk Castle and Tugendhat Villa. We’re told the area is known for its wild “bear” garlic Czech soup. Sounds right up my alley.

Czech - Brno Old

I’m still trying to decide if I want to see the remains of some 70,000 people slain in war or killed by diseases such as the plague in medieval times between the 14th and 16th centuries at the nearby “Bone Church,” the Gothic All Saints Chapel.

Sept 2, 3, and 4 – We figured we’d need a little peace and quiet after the hustle bustle of a festival in the big city, so we decided to spend the next few days in the country village of Rojetin. The guesthouse where we’ll be staying is near three UNESCO Heritage Sites – the the historic and tragic Jewish Quarter in Třebíč, the star shaped pilgrimage church in Zdar, and the old town center of Telč with its Alpine style Italian Renaissance architecture.

Czech - Austria

Sept 5 and 6 – We’ll be dipping down to stay in Niederösterreich, Austria for the next two days because all the rooms in nearby Mikulov were already booked for the annual Pálava Wine Harvest Festival. We’re looking forward to thermal spas, the idyllic wine villages of the area, music, medieval processions, dance and fencing performances, a historic market, and tasty homemade sausages and cheese.

Czech - Znojmo

All this time, we’ll still be within 2 1/2 hours of Prague. But on Sept 7, we’ll venture west to Znojmo and on to the heart of Bohemia. Our next destination, for Sept 8 and 9, is Cesky Krumlov. 

Czech - Chesky Krumlov

This town is often referred to by its old German name of Karlsbad, or Karlovy Vary . Established in 1358, Karlovy Vary has for centuries been a popular destination for Europe’s elite, from royalty like Peter the Great to famous composers and writers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Goethe. The town has 13 large springs and Neoclassical and Art Nouveau colonnades with drinking and bathing fountains. It’s also a prominent glassmaking center, and I’m already dreaming of finding a factory seconds outlet store where I can buy millions of unique Czech beads for my art projects.

Czech - Loket

The tiny medieval town of Loket, with its impressive castle and beautiful mountain views, only a half hour west, will be our home on Sept 10 and 11. 

Czech -little castle

Then, on Sept 12, we’re off to the Bohemian Alps and Jilove to spend one night in a little castle. Bohemian Switzerland is an especially picturesque region in the northwestern part of the country.

Czech - mountains

There are two national parks, Saxon Switzerland Park, which is in Germany, and its Czech sister, Ceske svycarsko National Park, on the Czech Republic’s side of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains, which straddle the Elbe River. We’ll see rock castles, ravines, scenic overlooks, mountains, and arches in Bohemian Paradise (Český ráj). The region also has many old castles.

Sept 13, 14, 15, and 16 we’ll be in Lesany, just south of Prague, at an honest to goodness castle, where we’ll be able to get rested up before our trip home. We’ll see another famous castle, Karlstejn, and in České Budějovice, the huge white Neo-Gothic Tudor Hluboká Castle, which is said to be the most beautiful of the Czech Republic’s many castles.

Czech - Lesany Courtyard

We’ll also be near Průhonice Park, which is home to Průhonice Castle, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park includes formal gardens, wooded areas, streams, ponds, and 25 kilometers of walking paths that we can go walking on – IF we can still walk by then…

Come August, I hope you’ll follow along on our adventure via the photos I post on Facebook and Instagram. (Hopefully it’s obvious, but none of the photos of Czechia were taken by me since I haven’t been there yet. ) If any of you have been to Czechia, please feel free to give advice, suggestions or helpful tips!

S - Shy Violet

Several people have asked me if I intend to write a Wildflowers of Czechia novel when I return. The answer is, probably – there are already images of a poor but fiesty gypsy girl and a wealthy Italian diplomat’s son floating around in my mind. Some of those images date back to a wedding reception I went to in 1980 when I was in Budapest, Hungary – but that’s another story…

Ireland - daisy sea

In the meantime, I’m still hard at work on Seaside Daisy, my upcoming Wildflowers of Ireland mystery. Thanks for listening!

______

Sherrie grew up on a farm south of Austin, MN. After living in Colorado Springs, CO, Augsburg, Germany, Wheaton, IL, and Bar Harbor, Maine, she returned home twenty-eight years ago to be nearer her family. Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in St. Ansgar, Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. After twelve years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They divide their time between 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes her novels and murder mysteries on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, and traveling to far off places with her husband. Sherrie has eleven books in print, including her highly acclaimed Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Her new release, DAYBREAK, published by Indigo Sea Press, is the long-awaited sequel to her first novel, NIGHT & DAY, set in southern Minnesota and Copenhagen, Denmark. You can contact Sherrie at https://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor/ or

https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/ or

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

 

 

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Beauty Salon Blues

Years ago when I first started to get my hair cut and colored and my nails manicured or artificial nails put on, an appointment at the beauty salon was an experience where I always felt pampered and special. Am I being old fashioned in thinking that’s still true, or should be?

Almost a month ago, I set up an appointment at a new salon to have a cut and color done on my shoulder-plus-length, medium brown hair. I had researched salons in my area and was impressed by an ad I’d seen in which the owner had expressed how professional she and her staff were and how her salon was a dream come true for her. That sounded good to me, so I set up an appointment with (we’ll call her), Breanna.

I did my due-diligence rounding up photos of favorite styles and examples of color that I liked so I could better explain to my new hair dresser the results I was expecting. Since the examples I selected were actual photos of me, I knew it was possible to cut and color my hair to look like those photos. And I was being realistic in knowing the results I’d see in the mirror would include the wrinkles I now wear, as opposed to some of the early photo examples, sans wrinkles.

Beauty day arrived and I was excited and very much looking forward to meeting and learning about my new hairdresser and explaining to her what I wanted done to accomplish my spiffed-up look, and also to getting my head massaged during the shampooing portion of the appointment. I think just about everybody loves that part!

I arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule and Breanna, a twenty-something girl, came forward and led me to her chair. When she asked what I wanted I showed her the folder of photos and explained that as far as cut was concerned, I’d like a page boy that curled under with a length just below my chin but above my shoulder. She looked at me with a blank look and then pulled out her comb and scissors and started cutting my hair with it dry. Other hair dressers had always cut my hair when it was wet, especially since I have some natural curl, but I‘m not the expert so I didn’t say anything.

After cutting my hair she went to get the color chart. She picked out three reddish samples and I selected a medium reddish-brown that had very definite warm, reddish highlights. She mixed the color, applied it, set a timer and went and sat down and started looking at her cell phone. The owner of the salon (about the same age) was in another chair and they spoke to one another and pointed out things on their phones to each other and ignored me.

Just about the time I was feeling totally neglected, the timer went off, I was directed to the sink and my hair was shampooed very quickly. No massage. In fact, I wasn’t sure she even got the nape of my neck wet. Then the towel was wrapped around my head and I went back to her chair where Breanna started blow-drying my hair. She had me facing away from the mirror so I had no idea what I looked like until she was done.

After spinning me around to face the mirror, someone with dark brown shoulder-length hair stared back at me and the bottom of her hair was flipped up in some places and hanging limp in others. Along with the feeling of neglect, I was trying to understand where the reddish color was and what had become of the page boy I had asked for. Then it occurred to me that Breanna may not have known what a page boy even was. That would explain the blank look she gave me, but I had had a photo of one that I had shown her and I remembered pointing to it. If she was too young to know what a page boy was, why didn’t she say she hadn’t heard that term used before?

I was so disappointed and exhausted by this time, I paid her and left, thinking I’d just not ever go back. When I got home, I went into my bathroom and ran my spread-out fingers up through the bottom of my hair at the nape of my neck and my hand came out covered in wet, gooey, dark-brown hair dye. How could Breanna have dried my hair and not noticed she’d not rinsed all the dye out? I couldn’t believe my eyes! And to make matters worse, there was not a hint of any red in the dye. The more I thought about it, the madder I got. The cut she gave me was too long, too. I had asked for a length between my chin and shoulder. What I got was hair that hung down and split at my shoulder because it was too long. To top it all off, not only did she do a poor job; she had no social skills whatsoever!

Clearly, I made a bad choice in salons, but I never dreamed I could be off that much. Throughout my adult life I worked in a service oriented business and I always gave my customers more than they expected. In other words, I treated people like I would like to be treated.

Is this a millennial thing? Or is this an unqualified stylist thing? Or both? Are young people unable to communicate with the public because of their isolation as a result of technology; the cell phone? Is that the problem? I have noticed people don’t communicate much anymore in doctor’s or dentist’s offices, restaurants and such, but this oddity seems to have totally crippled young people in particular. I might even be so bold as to say this lack of communication has become what appears to be an act of rudeness. Am I alone in thinking this? Do they know this is how some older people feel? Do they even care? Can I ever hope to get my hair done in a salon and feel pampered again? I’ve lost my confidence in being able to tell. Am I being unreasonable? Maybe so, if I didn’t say anything. I guess I should I have told her, but didn’t because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings? This is really bothering me.

Let me know your thoughts, dear readers.

 

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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Why Mysteries?

People have asked me why I like to read and write in the Mystery genre. My answer: mysteries have it all. If I need an intellectual challenge I can select one that has a complicated plot and denouement and slug all the way through to a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps I’ll spend a good deal of time working out a puzzle, deciphering clues and enjoying the challenge of working out the solution on my own, maybe even before the protagonist does. Mystery writers are great at creating suspense and misdirection and keeping us readers on the edge of our seats. They also generally play fair by providing the clues for the reader to utilize along the way, and they usually wrap up loose ends before the story reaches completion.

If I’m in the mood for a lighter touch, I can turn to the cozy or humorous side of the genre. These mysteries can contain romance, fantasy, laugh-out-loud fun, comfort settings and food, and often a beloved pet. In other words, they provide a happier, more positive and relaxed environment where I can escape from daily trials.

Then there’s the kind of story in which the protagonist sets out on an adventure of discovery and suddenly I’m learning about an occupation or foreign country and its customs and mores unfamiliar to me. Or the atmosphere or setting of a place will inspire me to draw or paint the feeling it gives me or recreate it in an original story of my own. How many times have you been reading something that sparked all sorts of creative ideas in you?

Series mysteries are very popular. As readers follow a specific character or characters through different adventures and become emotionally attached to them and their settings, these characters become “family” and readers enjoy following along in their lives. And, luckily, most series authors are good about making each book work as a stand-alone. I really try to read series books in order though, because the protagonist (and sometimes other characters) tends to learn and develop with each case he/she has to deal with and it’s nice to see how and why these developments occur.

Mysteries often contain atmosphere. British mysteries come to mind immediately. The phrase, ‘A castle in Scotland” immediately conjures up an image somewhat similar for most people, but along with that phrase can come, ancient, gray, crumbling stones, thunder and lightning, rain and fog, lonely, dark and dreary landscapes, ramshackle outbuildings, etc. Or perhaps you see in your mind’s eye a palace with all the finery that comes with that image. Plush, royal robes, crown jewels, carriages, a monarch. Words that are full of colorful paint.

Most of my favorite authors are traditionally published and their books have been edited professionally. That is extremely important to me as a reader, because correct grammar and sentence structure make for clear writing and thus, for me―understanding. I must add that I have read some self-published authors who have gone that extra step to have their books professionally edited and I say kudos to them.

I have a TBR pile (To Be Read) and there are many sub-genres of mysteries represented in it where international characters, each vie for my attention in this century and others, depending on my mood. I do have some memoirs, women’s fiction, biographies, fantasy and horror books, too, but most of my TBR pile consists of mysteries. Mysteries all ready to load onto paintbrushes. What’s your palate preference?

 

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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Auld Lang Syne by Sherrie Hansen

Spring has finally started to poke its head out of the long-frozen ground. That’s one of the reasons I’m in the mood to tie up winter’s loose ends and move on to new adventures. By this time most years, we’re deep into planning our summer vacation, with reservations made and dreamy visions of B&Bs and castles and seaside villages floating through our minds as we await May, when we usually depart for our destination.

Scot - Crinan Bay

We’ve always found February snowstorms to be a good time to plan our travels, but this year’s schedule is a bit off because my husband just returned from a tour of the Holy Land.  We both went to Arizona for a conference in January, and because Mark has had a second “working vacation” already this year (Mark is a pastor, so Israel was a great way to continue learning more about the Scriptures and walk in Jesus’ steps), we decided to wait to take our next outing until late August and early September.  And because his trip to Israel earned him enough frequent flier miles for a free ticket to Europe, we delayed buying our tickets until he returned.

Scot - Kilmartin sheep

So here I am, starting to think about Prague and the Czech Republic, the Bohemian Paradise, Alfons Mucha’s paintings of Slavic maidens, spa resorts and quaint countryside villages, and folklore and grape harvest festivals,  and I just realized I never did a final post about last year’s trip to Scotland.

Scot - kilmartin glen

The bit I left out was Kilmartin, on the far west side of Scotland, and it’s simply too significant a place to ignore. Of all the places we visited, it was the most restful and remote, far off the typical tourist trail. Our B&B was private and plush, a very respite for our travel weary souls, and walkabout backs, hips and feet…

After nearly three weeks on the road, and the trauma of our car hire incident on the Isles of Lewis, we truly felt pampered in Kilmartin Glen.

Scot - KM Appetizer

Crinan Bay was just a few miles away from where we stayed, and we delighted in watching the sunset over the sea.

Scot - Crinan boats

…It will be different visiting a landlocked country on the mainland of Europe this year. I truly love Scotland’s little harbor towns.

Scot - KM boat

The ancient history and evidence of civilizations past surrounding Kilmartin Glen was fascinating.

Standing stones and burial chambers and Celtic graves and prehistoric rocks carved with Pictish runes… the glen was full of preserved sites to explore.

Footprints of ancient kings and beautiful views of hills and valleys all made for amazing explorations.

But the thing I liked most was the peaceful aura surrounding the glen.

We were sad to leave, yet eager to get home.

Scot - Bothie

A few quick stops at a new-to-us historical village, a beloved garden we discovered two years earlier, and one of our favorite castles, and we were once again following the shores of Loch Lomond back to Glasgow, ready to go home.

 

So… To Springtime! And to Bonnie Scotland! To goodbyes and new adventures! Until next time, you know where to find me, and where my heart remains.

Scot - KM sheep

Twenty-eight years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and has lived in Bar Harbor, Maine, Colorado Springs, CO, and Augsburg, Germany. She attended Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. After 12 years of writing romance novels late at night when she couldn’t sleep, she met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. Sherrie lives in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. With her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, “Wild Rose”, “Blue Belle”, “Shy Violet”, “Sweet William” and “Golden Rod”, and her new release, DAYBREAK, the sequel to NIGHT & DAY, she has eleven books in print, most featuring a “second-chance-at-love” story. Sherrie enjoys painting, playing the piano with the worship team at church, photography, decorating historic homes, and traveling. You can learn more about her books by visiting  http://amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

Scot - kilmartin bay

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The Miracle Mother

By the age of two, I had developed a syndrome called “failure to thrive”, which is a condition in which a child doesn’t meet recognized standards of growth and, in my case, was caused by neglect, poor nutrition and physical abuse. With me, it manifested itself in my refusing to eat. Subsequently, I was removed from my birth mother’s care and placed in the Foster Care System.

The agency dealing with my placement became worried when I was not responding well within several foster homes and they began a serious search for a foster parent who had experience with children with nutritional and emotional issues. When I was three and a half years old, along came Mrs. Gladys Morrell, who would eventually become my new mother.

Gladys, for some unknown reason, was unable to have children of her own, but she had been very successful in fostering. My case seemed to contain just the challenges Gladys was looking for, so I was placed in her home, where I did well.  When all requirements were met and I was eligible for adoption, I became Gail E. Morrell. By this time I was four and a half years old and my new parents were Gladys and Dr. Charles Morrell, a research chemist.

Although, I was reared in what might be termed an upscale neighborhood, my parents were of humble origins and they instilled in me good Christian values such as honesty, hard work and the concept of giving back to the community. My mother had grown up in a poor area of West Virginia and realized early on that education was to key to one’s choices in life. She graduated from college and started teaching to save money to send her mother through college also. She then went on to get her Master’s degree and had almost completed her Ph.D. when she married.

During the time I was growing up, she joined the local school board and the National Board of the YWCA. And she started a sewing group that met once a month in her house to sew clothing, blankets, and whatever for needy children all over the world. I remember going with her into New York City to get supplies for the sewing group.

She also was an avid antique collector and she decided to collect spindle-style wooden oak, maple or cherry kitchen chairs with the cane seats. Going to garage and estate sales was something my father and I also enjoyed doing on weekends and while traveling. Many times the cane seats in these chairs were damaged, so Mom set out to learn how to do the caning herself. I remember many an evening passed while my Mom caned chair seats in the kitchen of our home.

We had a large basement and Mom stored chairs down there and eventually collected and refurbished what became sets of four, six and eight in addition to individual ones, which she sold over time. Her goal was to sell enough to send money back to her home town in West Virginia to a young person, who without help, could never afford to go beyond high school.  Her efforts sent three kids all the way through college.

Then she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Even during her illness, she researched her disease and helped her doctors discover new ways to help other patients. I remember how amazed her doctors were by her.

Throughout the years, whenever I heard people talking about my mother, it was always with such sincere respect. It was intimidating growing up in her shadow, and I knew I’d never be able to even put her shoes on, much less fill them. But I feel so privileged to have known her. She was not only a miracle mother, but a miracle human being.

 

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

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The Color of Love Is Blue – By Maribeth Shanley

My favorite season is spring.  I love the smell of growing grass.  I love the trees that are budding and sprouting leaves.  I love that it’s warm during the daylight, and slightly chilly when the sun goes down.  As a homeowner, I especially love feeding, listening to and watching all the birds.

A little more than two years ago, Bob and I signed the papers to build a new house.  This house would become our last home.

We paid extra to have the house built on a lot where the backyard met the pond.  It was early spring the day we signed the papers and put down our earnest money.  After signing, we stopped at the lot and walked back to see it.  The first thing I noticed were the bluebirds flying around the pond.  I was thrilled.

I’ve been feeding the birds for as long as I can recall.  I’ve also always provided a few bird boxes for them to build a nest.  Except for our residence in Illinois, we’ve had bluebirds.

At each home we owned in the Nashville, TN area, I would religiously put up a bluebird box.  Our last Nashville home, however, one of the existing residents had already established a bluebird nesting box.  I was fortunate to attract the sweet blue colored birds with a brownish belly to nest at every backyard, except that home we last lived in before moving to South Carolina.

Each spring I watched as one couple would build their nest.  The box in that neighbor’s backyard was visible to me when standing or sitting on my back deck.  I knew I wouldn’t have the birds nesting. However, I thought, Maybe there’s something I could feed the bluebirds to entice them to visit my yard.  After all, the same neighbor didn’t feed the birds.  I was the only person who did.

So, on my next trip to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store, I asked the clerk what bluebirds ate only to discover they love mealworms.  The store kept live mealworms in a small refrigerator.  I not only purchased a large container of squirming mealworms, but I also purchased a bluebird box feeder.  I had a ton of other birds coming to my backyard to feed at the birdseed boxes I had erected.  I wanted the bluebirds to feel safe in my yard.

The wooden bluebird feeder looked similar to most ordinary bird feeders.  Like traditional feeders, the front and back panels were plexiglass.  However, the plexiglass wasn’t slanted inward like traditional seed feeders.  Instead, they were straight up and down, creating a more squared off effect.  Like other feeders, one section of the slanted wood roof was hinged enabling me to lift the roof and drop in the mealworms.

Unlike seed feeders, on either wood end panels of the bluebird feeder was an entrance and exit hole making it easy for the birds to enter the box on one side and fly out from the opposite side.  From that year on I was able to sit on my deck and watch the little birds fly in, eat and then fly out.  I watched for the eight years we lived in that house from early spring through the end of summer.  The presence of the box would also give me the pleasure of listening to their quiet conversations which were sweet and low.

Our first home in South Carolina had a small backyard that backed up to a natural runoff ditch that, when it rained hard would fill up with water.  There were trees on either side of the ditch, and the lot behind one next-door-neighbor was heavily wooded as well.  We had a lot of different types of birds that visited our feeders.  A raccoon and an opossum also visited.

I recall, one night, as I turned on the back outside light the opossum was inside the feeder that I had nailed to one of the trees.  He was eating the cracked corn I put in that feeder for the squirrels.  When I walked out the door, the opossum stopped and looked up at me.  Because I didn’t walk toward the box or move threateningly, he put his head back down and ate more corn.   Since the backyard was small, I didn’t put up any bluebird houses.  Instead, I put one up around the front of the house and in the landscaping next to the roll-up garage door.   The bluebirds found it and raised several broods over the two years we lived in that house.

Unlike most other wild birds, bluebirds can nest up to four times each year.  However, between broods, the box needs to be cleaned.  The female bluebird won’t lay her new eggs in an existing nest, even if it was where she hatched her last brood.

When we moved into our current house, we had immediate success.  The blue colored nesting box I put at the end of our yard and overlooking the pond was perfect for a bluebird pair.  They nested three times that first spring and summer.

The following year, I added a box that still sits just outside the office I share with Bob giving me the opportunity to watch the birds as they enter and exit the box.  Last year, a pair of bluebirds nested in that house once.  The female laid her eggs in mid-August.  By the end of August, I began to worry about the eggs.  The temperatures last year were, for the third year in a row, record temperatures.  August was a brutally hot one.  Although the female kept going into the box, I knew something was wrong.  The eggs never hatched.  I guess that the heat was too intense for the eggs.  When I finally pulled the nest out of the box, I broke open the eggs.  There was a speck of blood in each of them, leading me to believe that the hot climate air caused the box to serve as more of an oven than a nest.

This year, there’s been a flurry of birds trying to nest in our backyard.  The original blue painted box was taken over by a house sparrow pair.  I watched a bluebird couple compete for that box when, finally, the sparrows won the competition.  I bought another box and hung it on the square column on our downstairs deck which runs up to the roof of the deck just above the patio.  For a short time, it seemed the bluebirds might use that box, but the female lost interest in it.  So, I went online and ordered another bluebird box and pole set.

That same week, I noticed the bluebirds seemed desperate to nest.  Thus, instead of waiting for delivery of the online order to arrive, I ran down to the local Wild Birds Unlimited store and bought another box and pole setup.  When we came home, Bob helped me erect the house.  We placed it so that the box hole faced away from both of the existing boxes which now were occupied by sparrows.  We also made sure that there was at least twenty feet from either of the other two boxes.  The same bluebirds seemed interested at first. However, the female wanted to use the original blue painted box from last year.  Of course, I can’t tell if the pair are the original pair that nested last year or if one of them was born in the blue painted box. However, the female simply wasn’t interested in either that newly erected box nor the other new box now secured to the patio column.

I continue to feed the bluebirds with mealworms.  I no longer buy the live mealworms.  Instead, I purchase large bags of dried worms and order them from Amazon.  As long as the bluebirds come to the feeder, I feel confident they will nest.  Once the sparrow’s broods have left their nests, I can clean out the houses giving the bluebirds a choice of four boxes during the remainder of the spring, and summer months.

Yesterday, the box and pole setup I ordered online from Walmart arrived.  I had one more opportunity to help the bluebirds raise their first brood.  I wanted to place the house away from the backyard and the other boxes.  I was about to set it up on the west side of our house and intended to move the mealworm feeder to that side but far enough away so they would use the box.  Then I remembered how hot last summer was.

Knowing that this summer will most likely be another record breaker as will all summers going forward if the U.S. and the world don’t embrace that climate change is real and dangerous, I walked around the front of my house and walked down the east side of our house to find a spot for the birdhouse.  I put it close enough to the house where I know it doesn’t get much sun so that the box can stay cooler than the other boxes.  Also, the box is about forty or more feet from the mealworm feeder.  However, it’s a straight shot to the box opening.

Sure enough, the bluebirds discovered the new nesting box and have been on top and inside several times.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  The new box location will not only provide shade for the birds, but I will be able to watch the birds now through the end of their mating season since it sits just around the corner from the patio.  When sitting on the deck, I can watch from directly above.

Spring is here, and love is in the air.  The color of love is blue!

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Filed under How To, Maribeth Shanley

Comfort Foods and Calming Books by Sherrie Hansen

Here in northern Iowa and southern Minnesota, we’ve been snowed in by a blizzard for the last few days. For two days, we were completely cut off from the rest of the world by 6 and 7 foot high drifts up and down our road. Now that the plows have come through, there are walls of snow 8 or 9 feet high on either side of the road, and the drifts that haven’t been already been blasted away are as hard as cement. Our temperatures heading into the month of March are forecast to be in the single digits, so there’s no sign of a spring thaw anytime soon.

Blizzard photo 2On Sunday, church was cancelled for the first time in decades, and I’ve been totally discombobulated ever since, wondering what day it is and awakening in the night thinking it’s time to get up and play the piano. Our schools have had 10 snow days in less than a month and at the rate we’re going, they may be making up days until the 4th of July.

Zion 2013 snowy

Not to complain… our electricity has stayed on and we have heat. We had plenty of warning that the storm was on its way so we were able to get where we needed to be before the weather turned the roads to glare ice and stock up on food to eat while we were snowed in.  Thank goodness!

Blizzard - 2019

Is it just me, or do you get hungry for good old-fashioned comfort foods when something in your life isn’t going quite right?  This weekend, I’ve had meatloaf, home-grown sausage, egg salad sandwiches, and raisin cinnamon bread with a lot of smooth, creamy butter spread on top – and a lot of wonderful cheeses because I was supposed to have a cheese tasting party (it also fell victim to the blizzard).

Cheese

I have a lot of other foods that I associate with warm, cozy feelings – chocolate chip cookie dough (well, any kind of cookie dough), Grandma Hansen’s chicken pie with baking powder biscuits on top, homemade apple pie, Skippy Super Chunk peanut butter and butter sandwiches… I could go on… This is part of the reason I struggle with my weight.  But my point is that food does a great job of  soothing frazzled emotions and making us happy. So do books, and they’re a lot less fattening!

Food - Strawberry Pie 2.jpg

Reading a favorite book can take you back to happier, less stressful times. Books can transport you to another part of the world, a different era in time, or an altogether unique universe where fantasy reigns. In a well-woven story, dreams can come true. The characters in a wonderful book can reassure you that things could be worse – that your life and your problems aren’t half bad after all. A good novel can help you to dream again, to move forward and keep trying when your own world seems hopeless.

Quilt - bear

Books can fill your heart with hope. They can uplift you and make you laugh. They can provide a quick escape from the harsh realities of life and renew your perspective.

Celtic Crosses

That’s why I like reading a good book when I’m stranded in a blizzard, trying to relax, or feeling anxious and overwhelmed by what’s going on in my life.

Wildflowers

My love for books helped shape my business, a bed and breakfast and country inn called the Blue Belle Inn, just as my passion for good food has. If you come to visit, you’ll find rooms named Never Neverland, On the Banks of Plum Creek, Secret Garden, Anne’s House of Dreams, A Wrinkle in Time, and Heaven to Betsy from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy Tacy books. I’m a writer because Betsy Ray was, and if Laura Ingalls Wilder could make it through the Long Winter, then I can survive these horrible winds and snowstorms we keep having.

Scot - Chanonry Point

If you’re an avid reader, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven’t picked up a book in awhile – I urge you to give reading a second chance. Whether you need comforting or calming, perking up or settling down, a good book can help. Hopefully, it will bring a smile to your face and a song to your heart.  Cookie dough might give you a momentary lift, but reading can change your life.

heaventobetsy-179x269

Sherrie grew up on a farm south of Austin, MN. After living in Colorado Springs, CO, Augsburg, Germany, Wheaton, IL, and Bar Harbor, Maine, she returned home twenty-eight years ago to be nearer her family. Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in St. Ansgar, Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. After twelve years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They divide their time between 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes her novels and murder mysteries on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, and traveling to far off places with her husband. Sherrie has eleven books in print, including her highly acclaimed Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Her new release, DAYBREAK, published by Indigo Sea Press, is the long-awaited sequel to her first novel, NIGHT & DAY, set in southern Minnesota and Copenhagen, Denmark. You can contact Sherrie at https://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor/ or

https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/ or

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


			

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The Quest for Techies

The other day I received an e-mail from an organization that caters to seniors (of which I’m a member) and that has a 4 letter acronym as a title. This organization was offering a series of free classes in how to operate a smartphone, both android and iOS (Apple) phones. I immediately read further to get the particulars. I have an older android smartphone and my knowledge of its functions is basic to say the least. I can add and subtract people in my contacts, make calls, text, send a photo to an e-mail address and play with my Bitmoji app. That’s about it, so a class to learn more sounded excellent to me. However the letter also stated that our specific phones would NOT be addressed. We students would learn on a phone they would allow us to use during the class. I could just picture in my mind’s eye the chaos in a room full of seniors, all with “deer in headlight” syndrome, interrupting the instructor to ask how this lesson was different than on the phone they used. I had already experienced this phenomenon when I took a class in operating a late model camera and also when I attended a hospital lecture about AFib for which there are several different medications which all work differently.

The e-mail also said that two classes would be offered for android and two classes for iOS phones. One set of classes was offered in the morning and one in the afternoon for each, and these classes were available in St. Petersburg or Tampa. I live an hour north of each of these heavily congested locations. The next thing I noticed was that all the classes in the morning said registration was already full. I never even had a chance to sign-up for a morning class. And the afternoon classes concluded right at rush hour. Surprise, surprise! I wonder who was responsible for setting that schedule up?

I decided to call the number suggested in the e-mail for further questions and when someone answered they knew nothing about these classes. After fumbling around for a while, putting me on hold and coming back, they didn’t know why the morning classes were already full and they didn’t know why the afternoon classes were scheduled to get out at rush hour. They also didn’t know if any classes would ever be offered anywhere nearer me. Why was I not surprised? This sort of thing is so typical in today’s world. Some half-wit took a great idea and turned it into an idiot’s endeavor, by being too lazy or ignorant to figure out how to make these classes possible for people in this geographic area.

Some people have disdain for seniors, claiming they are too stupid or lazy to learn how to use a smartphone or other technology. Those who feel this way are not being fair. I am a senior and I love to learn new things, as do many of my friends. The problem is in finding a source for that learning. I’ve always been good at reading owner’s manuals or going to a store where I’ve purchased an item when I’ve gotten stuck. Owner’s manuals are no longer being printed. The manual that does exist is on the phone, but if one doesn’t know how to get to it, what good is it!!! And if by some miracle you do get to the manual, nothing is explained in detail. It’s assumed we are already tech knowledgeable. And phone stores don’t typically teach people how to use their phones. They upgrade!  The few classes I’ve seen offered are too basic for me. Talk about frustration! It’s laughable!

We seniors need patient young folks to offer instruction in operating cell phones!!! Other technology, too! We’re even willing to pay. Help!!!

 

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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