Tag Archives: France

Dream a Little Dreamcation for Me by Sherrie Hansen


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


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


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


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


Sometimes, what I see, and the history behind it, makes me more thankful for what I have at home.


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


…or a half-timbered chalet in Alsace.


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


Perhaps we will take in a flower market in Germany…


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


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


I hear the patisseries in France are beyond compare.


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


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


Filed under Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

You Can/Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover, by Carole Howard

In a bookstore in Paris, all cluttered with tomes, I was looking for Madeline … for my granddaughter. (She doesn’t speak French, but she does speak Madeline.) After I found the book I wanted, I wandered around, as if the books might be an insight into aspects of French culture. And indeed they were.


I realized, with a shock, that the French really don’t judge a book by its cover.

Full disclosure: that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Truth is, there really are plenty of books with the same kind of eye-catching covers we have in the U.S. The ones in the photo are the old style (though a French friend tells me this kind of cover is coming back), when all the books had that same cream-colored cover. There might be an outline inside the edge, either red or blue, single or double line. The title/author might be in modestly-dressed Times Roman, or maybe something a tiny bit more exotic. But for the most part they were truly “plain vanilla.”

It started me wondering: is that a good thing?

Imagine: You’re in a bookstore, not looking for anything in particular, just engaging in some luxurious browsing. You’re drawn to the shelf of “New Fiction,” maybe. Or “Best Sellers.” Or – one of my favorites – “Staff Picks.”

And they all look the same. Fifty Shades of Gray, The Goldfinch, Deadly Adagio, The Scarlet Letter, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Picture them: cream cover, stark type. No pictures to guide your choice, no colors, no fonts that hint at the genre. Mystery, romance, paranormal, erotica, literary, historical? All the same. There wouldn’t even be any blurbs from quotes to let you know that, for example, Ann Patchett liked this book so, if you’re a Patchett fan, you probably would too.

I can’t imagine I’d like this. I even have trouble when I read a digital book and don’t see the cover or title every time I pick it up (because the device keeps track of my last page read). Sometimes I even forget the title of the book I’m reading, because I see it so infrequently. And I don’t like that. Not at all.

How in the world would you choose a book if all covers were identical? Personal recommendations, yes. Books by an author you love, sure. Otherwise…… what?  I, personally, need a little come-on, like the coming attractions for movies.

Then again, some books have several editions, each with a different cover. I looked at the listings on Amazon for Moby Dick, for example, and stopped counting when I reached 10 covers.41Adtkskt7L._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_51A2zA7DqvL._AA160_ So which edition of Bel Canto would speak to you, saying “Pick me up, buy me, read me”? I guess it’s different come-ons for different folks.

What do you think? Would it be better if all book covers, like the uniforms some kids have to wear to school to avoid being judged by their clothing, were the same? Or do you like to have a hint of what’s inside?


Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under books, Travel, writing

The Laundromat, Not the Louvre by Carole Howard

When I vacation in Paris, I’m like everyone else, transported by the beauty, the history, the food.  A lot of ooh-ing and aah-ing with an occasional ooh-la-la.

Living there for ten months was different, though.  More than museums, monuments, and meals, what interested me then was getting a glimpse into French-ness.  Not exactly, “What makes French people tick?” More like, “What makes French people French?”

The Louvre can’t tell you about that. La Joconda looks the same whether it’s in Paris or London or New York.  The painting is the point, not the venue.  Real life, on the other hand, changes from one venue to another.  And that’s what I was interested in. Real life.  Nitty gritty.

Since people were more interesting to me than paintings, I loved going on the metro, or to the supermarket, the florist, the gym, the post office.  But my favorite observation-deck for reality was the laundromat. The people-watching was easy, interesting, and fun while I sat quietly, read a little, observed a lot.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Most of my fellow-washers didn’t do anything while they waited.  They didn’t read.  They didn’t talk to each other. They stared at their laundry. Were they wondering if the socks were really getting clean?  Or whether they were getting along with the undershirts?  Were they thinking deep thoughts?  Meditating?  Stoned?  Even the young ones only occasionally listened to music.  Mostly they stared, too.

One day, an oldish woman in nunnish glasses, plaid skirt and sensible shoes, with thin hair pulled into a bun smack in the middle of her head, was there at the same time as me.  It’s true: not all French women are young, tall, svelte, fashionable!

She stared at the instructions on the wall:  Load washer.  Close door.  Add soap.  Pay.  Didn’t she know those already?  She found Le Parisien (like the Daily News) on a washing machine next to her and riffled through it.  She tried unsuccessfully to take her sheets out of the dryer without spilling the underwear and socks that were still rotating.  She went to the folding table in the middle of the room. Then she did something unusual.  She talked to me!

Unfortunately, I was sitting next to the noisy spin cycle of the largest washer in the place, 16 kilos.  (Why did they measure the capacity in terms of weight?  Couldn’t some things take up the same amount of room but weigh different amounts?  Do American laundromats do it that way, too? I digress.)

I put my finger to my ear and shook my head, indicating I couldn’t hear her.  And then she did what French people always do – she said the same thing at the same speed and the same volume.  I semi-shouted that I didn’t speak French fluently.  She did what French people always do.  (See above.)  So I did what I always do in that case: watched her body language and mimicked.  She smiled, I smiled.  She furrowed her brow, I furrowed mine.  A nod here and there.  She was satisfied with that, so I was too, though I had no idea what she’d said.

Then I noticed my reaction to not understanding her and realized that, somewhere along the way, I’d absorbed some Frenchness.  I’d mentally used that very French phrase,  “C’est comme ca, voila.” (“It’s just the way things are, oh well.”)  It’s about accepting something you can’t change or don’t want to be bothered trying to change. A sort of Froggy Buddhism.  It felt great.

Have you ever tried to penetrate another culture?  What happened?


Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under musings, Travel, writing

Do You Speak French: Parlez-vous francais? By Calvin Davis

After studying French in high school, in college, and Graduate school before taking French lessons at private workshops, I landed in Paris prepared to speak French. Yet upon hearing Parisian natives converse for several days, I was convinced my plane had somehow landed in the wrong country.

I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. I was prepared to call the airline and complain about their pilot’s directional error. In fact, I wanted to demand the refund of my money, explaining that the pilot had taken the passengers to some God forsaken land whose inhabitants spoke only gibberish. While contemplating this move, I was reminded of what Mark Twain once said, declaring he had gone to France and spoken to the natives in French, and was greatly surprised the Frenchmen didn’t know how to speak their own language.

Reason prevailed and I decided not to complain to the airline after all. Instead, I concluded it would be wiser to allow the French to teach me to speak their language. My classrooms?  Cafes on Boulevard Saint Germaine and Saint Micheal. Seats in Left Bank parks. Department stores as I eavesdropped on conversations of shoppers.

In spite of the fact I’d taken all these courses in French, I couldn’t, in an “embarrassing emergency,” ask a Parisian where the lavatory was. By the way, in Paris, it’s not “the lavatory.” It’s “the lavatories.” Saying “the lavatory,” the natives feel, is too crude and shows a lack of refinement and taste. One has to wonder if in an emergency one wishes to be refined or to be relieved. That, as the Bard would say, is the question. I vote for the latter.

I quickly learned certain things about French that I hadn’t learned during my “French education” in the States. One: in a restaurant, never call the waiter “garcon,” meaning “boy.” Doing so is an insult. Address him as “monsieur.” If a waitress serves you, call her “Madame” or “Mademoiselle.” As for giving the waiter a big tip, as many Yankees are prone to do, remember, usually the tip is included in the bill. If you wish to give an extra tip, do what the natives do: they sometimes leave a nominal one. A few centimes (cents) will do.

Internet Explorer Wallpaper (160x120)Also, don’t feel at a restaurant or café, you have to drink or eat and run. I’ve sat at a café or a restaurant for hours and nobody has asked me to move. To do so would be considered poor taste in France. In contrast, I’ve been asked to move on in a restaurant here in the States. The owner wanted to give my table to another paying customer. Such a request would never have happened in the City of Light. So much for “French crudeness and impoliteness.”

My free French lessons made me aware that what I’d learned about the language Stateside, I had to unlearn in Paris. I was taught “Comment allez vous,” is the way you ask how a person is feeling. Most Frenchmen don’t say that. Instead they say, “Ca va?” Pronounced “Sah, vah?” This means, “How are things going?”

I’m delighted to report that the tale of my French language adventures had a happy ending. After being in Paris about a year, I made an amazing discovery. French are smart people. During that time they’d learned to speak their own language properly. Amazing, isn’t it?.

Footnote: Don’t feel guilty if you slept half the time in your high school French class. That may be a blessing. If you slept half the time you’ll only have half as much to relearn if you go to Paris. I didn’t sleep in my French classes…sadly.

Anyway, Parlez vous Franciseplopfront-148x223

Fin. The End.

Au revoir.



Filed under Humor, Travel

How important is research? by S M Senden

I have been complimented over and over again about the depth of my research for Clara’s Wish, and my ability to re-create another era so readers feel as if they are right there.  In preparing for an interview, someone asked me that question ‘How Important is research?’  They thought that research amounted to reading a couple of books, looking up some things on the internet and that would be it.  Then I would be ready to write a book set in another era.

I had to laugh at that, for research ~ at least for me ~ can become a deep quagmire that is difficult to extract myself.  But then I do consider myself a devoted history geek.  Once I find myself doing some research on a subject, all too soon it points me in another direction, to another book, to another set of references and so on.

I am currently researching two historical settings for two books I am writing.  The periods are sufficiently diverse that it is easy for me to keep the research separate in my mind.  One of these stories is set primarily in Europe in the late 1700’s about the time of the American Revolution, running through the French Revolution and into the Napoleonic era.

The story is about a young girl, Eleanor, who has finished her education in the French convent and comes home to live in England with her only living relative ~ her sister.  The sister has married well and has young children.  They introduce Eleanor into the society of the Bon Ton hoping to find her a suitable husband.

In researching this strata of society, I was caught up in the amazing and volatile times in which they lived.  Since I am a hopeless history geek, I like to have readers learn something as well as be swept along in a good story.  Dorothy Sayers always managed to teach readers something, and I aspire to emulate her.  I read about the people that I wanted to include, in some way in my book, for their lives were extraordinary.  Some in particular are Madame Tussaud, Miss Lenormand, the Duchess of Devonshire and the possibilities that arise when the some of these people meet at Spa in Belgium with a whisper of possible spies and political intrigue.

I have no idea at this point where all my research may take me.  I have the idea for the story and what I would like to have happen to the main characters.  Yet, I do not know how this will end.  My research may change the story or it may reinforce it.  That is the process that I love, creating, pulling research and story together to make another era come alive, not just for me, but for those who read the words I have written.

So, how much research is enough?  I can only say that ~ for me ~ my research never seems to end, for it always points me in a new direction.  However, I do have to get the story written, and as I continue the research process, I can add or take something away and make corrections as I work.  Sooner or later, I will need to say, enough and hope that I have done my best to create another era and bring a fulfilling experience to my readers.

Right now, I better get back to research, for there are still so many books to read!


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Round and Round and Up and Down… by Sherrie Hansen

Have you ever felt like you were going in circles? We all have highs and lows in our lives, valleys and mountain-top experiences, periods of relative calm followed by turbulent times. We expect ups and downs to be part of our lives.

But sometimes I have a great sense of deja vu, a feeling that I have been here or there before, that even with all the maturity and wisdom I’ve accumulated over the years that I’m right back where I started from. Gaining weight, losing weight, gaining weight, losing weight. Making money, losing money. Finally outgrowing teenage hormones only to get hit by menopausal hormones. Firing one employee and hiring another, divorcing one husband and marrying another, only to come full cycle and discover that the same old problems persist – despite the fact that the faces and names have changed.

It’s discouraging. It’s frustrating! Like one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek, Next Generation, it’s like being caught in a time warp, living the same few minutes or days of your life, over and over again, and not being able to escape.

And then, every once in a great while (or sometimes, in alarmingly frequent succession), we get thrown out of our established, comfortable orbit. Our socks are knocked off. We’re thrown for a loop.  Something catastrophic and life-altering happens. We’re permanently kicked out of our circular, holding patterns and forced to take a new look at life.

Riding the merry-go-round of life can be a delightful experience. Coming around the bend, making a full circle, and seeing those familiar, once-per-revolution sights can be heart-warming and comfortingly familiar.  Yet I pray I will never be lulled into such complacency that all I do is go in circles.

My new release, Merry Go Round, scheduled to be out later this month or first thing next, has made me examine my life. There are some circular ruts that I need to break out of. There are some new, unexplored paths I need to explore. There are some old habits that I need to shed – permanently. There is a whole new world waiting to be experienced.

Maybe someday, I’ll move to France. I’ve heard they like carousels there – and that the lingerie is very pretty. And that the food is quite delicious.


Tracy’s supposedly perfect life as a pastor’s wife and mother of three is turned upside down when her husband leaves her for a man.

Clay Alexander’s charmed life starts spinning out of control when his father threatens to shut down Maple Valley’s woolen mill – unless Clay turns his back on everything he believes in.

Is Tracy and Clay’s love meant to be, or will they always be caught in the chaos of other people’s expectations, riding up and down and round and round on opposite sides of the merry-go-round?

Her children. His parents. Her pride. His honor. The welfare of an entire town.

MERRY GO ROUND… Hang on for dear life.

Coming soon from http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com


Filed under books, Sherrie Hansen, writing

Bastille Day

While it is just July 14th in America, it is a holiday in France.    

On July 14, 1789 the medieval prison, also known as the Bastille, was stormed and fell.  At the time it only contained seven prisoners.  Regardless, it was what some believe the beginning of the French Revolution.  In France it is formerly known as Fete de la Federation (Federal Holiday (and I can’t get my accents to work)).  We know it as Bastille Day.

 I love history and most of the time my mind is in another century, which is probably why 99% of what is write is historical.  My favorite periods, at the moment, are the Georgian and Regency, from our American Revolution on through approximately 1820.   One of my latest fascinations is the history of the French Revolution.  After two visits to the country I continue to research. The city is rich with history, bigger than life historical figures, architecture, etc. I am sure there is a book or two in there somewhere. 

But, today is about Bastille Day. 

 When last in Paris I was able to visit the site of this famous fortress. Of course, it no longer stands, but there is a sign on the side of a building so you know you are in the very spot where history took a turning point.  There was much that led up to that day, and the people finally deciding enough was enough.  They had reached their limit and wanted change for France and they viewed the Bastille as a symbol of royal tyranny.  Though not the only prision in Paris, it was quite famous and known for having held “criminals” for speaking out against the king and queen. 

 Earlier in the day, the people had gathered arms after storming the Hotel des Invalides. However, they lacked powder and shot. This was stored at the Bastille.  Around mid-morning a crowd gathered around the prison and demanded surrender and to hand over the munitions.  Negotiations did take place but they were taking too long and the crowd lost their patience.  They surged into the inner courtyard and the gunfire followed. It is unknown who fired the first shot and the fighting became violent.  Some tried to call for a cease-fire, but it went unheeded. 

 The Royal Army troops who were camped on the nearby Champs de Mars did not intervene and eventually Governor de Launay ordered a cease fire.   His order was ignored and when he realized his troops could not hold out any longer, he opened the gates and the Bastille was liberated.   The death toll was ninety-eight attackers and one defender.  The Governor was seized, beaten, stabbed and killed. His head was then cut off, placed on a pike and carried through the streets.  Three officers of the Bastille were killed by the crowd. 

 Those at Versailles were ignorant of this attack and what was happening in Paris. 

 If you are wondering why I am visiting the Bastille, besides it being a French holiday, it is because I have been participating in a blog challenge called Paris in July at my own blog.  Stop by if you have a love for Paris and France.


Amy De Trempe is the author of Loving Lydia and soon-to-be released, Pure is the Heart. Both Historical Romance Novels with an inspirational touch.


Filed under writing

In Search of Inspiration… A European Adventure by Sherrie Hansen

In exactly 10 days, my husband and I will be leaving for Europe. We’re going for a much needed break, a vacation, to see the sights. But we’re also going in search of inspiration.

We’ll be flying into Stuttgart, Germany on April 6, where we’ll be connecting with an online friend – in person – for the first time.  While staying with her, we hope to enjoy seeing her neighboring areas – Rothenburg, Baden Baden, Strasbourg, France – and wherever she wants to take us. I haven’t been back to Germany since I lived there (1977-1980) and I can’t wait to see it again, especially through her eyes.

On April 11th, we will be picking up our rental car and leaving for Augsburg, where I lived for three years. I’m sure the town and surrounding countryside will have changed immensely, but I look forward to visiting my favorite haunts (those that still exist, and that I am lucky enough to find)! We’ll be staying at the Landgasthof Lindermayr.

On the evening of April 12, we will be at the Schloss Hotel Swiss Chalet on Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. If you are interested, you can have a peek.

April 13, we will be spending the night along the Italian Riviera near Genoa, at Hotel Villa Bonera.

April 14, 15,and 16, we will be staying at the wonderful Le Mas Perreal B&B in Provence, France.

On April 17, we head north again, stopping for the night at Le jardin d’ Elisa.

April 18th, we’ll be back in Stuttgart to say good-bye to Cristina. Then, on April 19th, we fly to Copenhagen, Denmark to see our Danish relatives in Hillerod and Slangerup. We’ll be staying at Rose-House. We leave to fly home on the 23rd, so we should have a lot of time to see our cousins, explore the area around Copenhagen, and even take a day trip to Sweden.

I have just finished Water Lily, the second book of my Maple Valley trilogy, which follows Stormy Weather. In fact, I just sent it off to my publisher (a wonderful feeling). The last book, Merry-Go-Round, is written in rough draft form, and needs a lot of revisions. As soon as I’ve completed it, I plan to move to Europe, at least in my mind.

I’ve already written a book set in Tobermory, Scotland called Blue Belle of Scotland. It is almost ready to submit. A second in the series, Wild Rose of Scotland, is about 1/3 of the way done, and was inspired after we stumbled upon St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe, a wonderful church in the Scottish countryside. I really should finish itas soon as I’m done with Merry-Go-Round …

And then… who knows which of the countries or gasthofs we visit will become the setting for my next book…? I am so ready to be inspired… so open to new ideas… just waiting for the person, scene or occurence that will spark my imagination… and result in the birth of a new story.  I have no idea if it will occur in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Denmark, or Sweden – maybe all of the above. But I know it will be there – the kernel of insight, a gem of wisdom, a beautiful vista – something will call out to me and an idea will be born.

Have you had a similar experience when traveling? If so, I’d love to hear where your story idea was born!


Filed under Sherrie Hansen, writing