Tag Archives: photography

Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod of Lachlan by Sherrie Hansen

If Prince Rod of Lachlan sounds like something straight from the pages of a fairy tale, you’re right.

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When Katelyn O’Neal, a reluctant “princess” from Minnesota, inherits a castle from a great uncle she met only once, she views the whole ordeal as a huge bother, except that selling the castle to a rich developer will pay for a very expensive, experimental cancer treatment for her 12 year old niece, Kacie.

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Rod MacKenzie, the illegitimate but rightful heir to Lachlan, has used his own time and money to take care of the castle and its magnificent gardens for years – despite the fact that his grandfather wrote him out of his will. Rod would love to live happily ever after in the land of his ancestors even though he’s always known it was an impossibility.

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Add Laird Valan MacKenzie and the lovely Lady Rosemary, a pair of 500 year old ghosts who are bound to the castle by age-old curses, and would do anything to escape the place, and you have GOLDEN ROD, a two-week romp through a lifetime of legends that turns everything upside down.

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Lachlan – a centuries old castle on Loch Carron in Scotland. Kacie – a twelve year old girl whose dying wish is to see it. Laird Valan and Lady Rosemary – 500 year old ghosts who desperately want to escape it. Golden-Haired, Most Fair, Prince Rod MacKenzie – the rightful heir who loves Lachlan and its gardens even though he will never inherit.  Katelyn O’Neal – the legal heir who unwitting sold the castle to a low life scum at a high price.

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GOLDEN ROD, a Wildflowers of Scotland novel by Sherrie Hansen – coming from Indigo Sea Press in June 2017.

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Filed under history, photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, Travel

A Rainbow in Winter by Sherrie Hansen

In real life, it’s called a bad case of the blues, losing hope, or hitting rock bottom.   In a book, it’s called the black moment – that devastating culmination of circumstances when all momentum comes screeching to a halt, when you think things are so bad that they can’t possibly get any worse, and then, they do – that time when all hope is lost.

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The thing that saddens me is that, whereas the characters in the books we write and read almost always come around to a happy ending, in real life, when we come to a dead end, we sometimes (often?) really do give up and walk away from the things that could bring us true happiness.

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We all know that summer comes for only a season, and eventually, must ease into fall – which leads to the desolate cold of winter.

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In some cases, it’s even given a name – SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. I’ve been prone to it for years. It can be depressing and debilitating. It can mean death to your dreams and the end to your goals.

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In my book, Sweet William, Lyndsie and William seem to have finally overcome the issues that are keeping them apart when tragedy rips their dreams to shreds. The scenes that follow are some of the blackest I’ve ever written, but because of the pain they have to work through, their joy is deeper, and the ending, more sweet than any before.

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When we hit a wall, we have two choices… we can crawl into a cave, cry ourselves to sleep, and settle in to hibernate for the winter, and maybe beyond.

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Or, we can spend our winters looking for bright spots.

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Because there are rainbows in winter, and rainbows in deserts, and flowers and dashes of color where you might least expect them, and inspiration in odd places.

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And the sun keeps shining even on the coldest days.

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It may be blotted out, or obscured for a time, but it is there, giving warmth and melting the snow away from your heart, and making you ready for spring.

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The next time you feel hopeless and blue, read a book, maybe even THE Book.

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Horrible things will happen, maybe even things that are worse than whatever is making you sad.

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And then, wonder of wonder, there will be a resurrection, and out of the ashes will come new life, and somehow, you will find a happy ending.

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Have faith. There are rainbows even in the desert.

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Filed under photographs, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

Being Grateful for Things I’ve Always Taken for Granted by Sherrie Hansen

Those who are close to me know that I’m approaching a milestone birthday. (I’ll let you guess which one.) In some ways, I don’t think it will make a difference in the way I lead my life, or how I feel about things. In other ways, it looms over my daily walk with great significance.

One thing that I’ve noticed about getting older is that I appreciate a lot of things I’ve previously taken for granted… simple things like a good night’s sleep. I am immensely grateful for those few mornings when I sleep peacefully through the night and wake up slowly and languorously rather than being rudely awakened by a cramp in my leg. Life’s simple pleasures.

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As I get to an age where many of my friends have only one or no parents still living, I am daily reminded how blessed I am to have both of my parents still active in my life. I’m grateful for all of the things my parents have done for me, taught me, and given me, and that I have people in my life who love me, just as I am.

I’m thankful to have been raised with a hard work ethic, that I was not brought up to feel entitled, but with the knowledge that if I worked hard. I could earn the things I wanted and have the freedom to do what I wished. Those principals have shaped my life, and because of that, I have been very blessed.

I also find that I spend far more time being grateful for what I have and less time lusting after what I don’t have. It’s the realization that I have enough or even plenty of what I need, and that if I don’t need something, I should find someone who does.

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I’m privileged to have owned and operated my own business for 25 years, and to have served my wonderful customers, and participated in their lives, their special occasions, and the hard times they’ve gone through.

I’m increasingly thankful for my good health, even as it daily worsens, even as the definition of good has to be continuously downgraded.

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I’m grateful for a soft mattress, a sweet husband, nieces and nephews who make me smile and do me proud.

I’m grateful to have been able to see so much of the world, to have had the luxury to enjoy beautiful landscapes and picturesque places in so many countries.  I’m thankful to have been given the gift of an artist’s eye to capture that beauty in photographs, to appreciate art and beauty.

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I am grateful to have been given second chances, and that when I’ve made mistakes, I’ve had the opportunity to try again and again, until I’ve gotten it right, or even made amends.

I am thankful for the few, true blue friends who have stuck with me for a lifetime, and not just a season.

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I’m grateful for a Savior who forgives me over and over again, who loves me unconditionally.

I’m thankful that I have the right, the honor, and the skill to express myself.  I’m grateful for every single person who admires my art, listens to me speak, or reads what I’ve written and respects me enough to take the time to let me share a little bit of myself.

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Getting older may not be the most fun thing in the world, but it comes with its perks – one of which is that every so often you have time to sit back and count your blessings.

So, thank YOU – because I don’t take you for granted either.

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Filed under life, photographs, Sherrie Hansen, writing

To Hear with Your Heart, To See with Your Soul (by Sherrie Hansen)

Writing and painting, although both creative expressions, are often viewed as being on opposite ends of the spectrum.

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Writers paint pictures with their words. Artfully crafted descriptions help readers visualize the setting of each scene, the appearance of the main characters, and movement within the scene.

Artists take a scene from their imagination and bring it to life with vividly colored paints, textiles or other mediums that you can see, touch, and feel. The only verbal expression that may come into play is a suggestive title of one or two words.

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Both mediums communicate emotion and tell a story. Both require the reader to bring their own interpretation and understanding to fully experience what the author or artist has conveyed through the words or visual expression they’ve chosen to convey.

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As a writer who’s always labeled myself as a visual learner, I think there’s good reason to combine word art and visual art.

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Some writers compile a storyboard to look at and refer to while writing a book.  Whether they tag related visual images on Pinterest or actually make an old-fashioned collage with cutouts from a magazine, these writers find it helpful to surround themselves with tangible images of their characters and setting. It’s become increasingly popular for authors to create a trailer to use in marketing their books – just one more way of pairing visual cues with the written word to enrich the reading experience.

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I’ve long taken photos to use in tandem with my books, even used my photographs on the front cover of my books for a creative tie-in.

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Then, a friend who’s an artist and the leader of an online group called Shedding Light challenged the members of the group to paint. I resisted for awhile, thinking I didn’t have the time or the talent. But I’ve always been attracted to artistic expression, collected paintings that called out to me, and found peace in having beautiful images in my home. Finally, I gave in to my fascination and picked up a brush. The paintings I’ve done so far are all reminiscent of Scotland, the setting of my last 5 books. In June, my husband and I visited several castles in Aberdeenshire, and saw hundreds of sheep and boothies dotting the hills of Skye, so I’m fortunate to be able to paint images that are fresh in my mind. When I start writing Golden Rod, my next Wildflowers of Scotland novel, in earnest, I’ll look back at the paintings I’ve done and let my imagination travel back in time.

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When I’m writing, I’m required to be acutely aware of the pitfalls of using poor grammar, being overly wordy or cliché, not structuring my scenes just so, and a million other infractions that contradict the way a writer is “supposed to write”. When I paint, there are no rules – the more unique, creative, or even bizarre, the better. Painting is my time to let loose, relax, and spontaneously create what I see in my mind’s eye – with no restraints.

Which calls out to your heart – visual images or the written word? The ability to use one medium to enhance the other is a gift – and an opportunity not to be missed. The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.

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(All photos and paintings used in this blog are Sherrie Hansen originals. The credit for my title goes to Michael Card, from his song, That’s What Faith Must Be.)

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Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, divide their time between two different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

 You can see what Sherrie is up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 http://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

www.BlueBelleInn.com or www.BlueBelleBooks.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

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

http://www.amazon.com/Sherrie-Hansen/e/B007YXQJ4W/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William. https://amzn.com/B01H2TUD3U

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, 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.

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Filed under photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, writing

Castles, Kilts and Cows by Sherrie Hansen

I think by now, anyone who has followed my travels to Europe or read my Wildflowers of Scotland novels has figured out how I feel about castles and kilts. Although it’s a wee bit unusual to see a man in a kilt in the Midwest where I live, I saw an abundance of them at the Minnesota Scottish Fair and Highland Games earlier this month.

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Cows dot the hillsides and valleys all over the countryside in the rural areas of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa that I frequent – castles, not so much.

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While castles and kilts are one of the main reasons I set my most recent novels in Scotland, in Sweet William, I also came home to my Minnesota roots and Midwest connections. And the common denominator is the cow.

My first introduction to the Highlander breed of cows, commonly called Hairy Coo in Scotland, was 9 years ago at a B&B alongside Loch Ness.

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The owner hadn’t fed the coos their dinner for the day, so they were all gathered by the fence, waiting patiently, when we arrived to check in. When I started taking photos, she told me to pay close attention to how thick their hides were. She said they’d had heavy snow a few months earlier, during the cold of winter, and that the 7 or 8 inches that had accumulated on the backs of each coo during the storm stayed exactly where it fell for 2 or 3 weeks, until a stiff wind and warming temperatures finally blew and melted off their white winter coats. Their hides are so thick that not even their body heat melted the snow away. That was my first glimpse into why many hardy breeds of cattle come from the highlands of Scotland.

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I started watching for hairy coo wherever we drove from that point on, and included a scene with a toppled coo in Blue Belle. Michael St. Dawndalyn was embarrassed that he didn’t know more about coo even though he was from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, deep in the heart of the dairy state.

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That’s only one of the Midwest Connections in the Wildflowers of Scotland novels. Although each of the characters in Wild Rose is native to the UK, beginning with Blue Belle, many of the main characters are from the Midwest.

Wisconsinite Michael and Virginia blue belle Isabelle are hiding out, hoping to escape their troubles by settling in a place far, far away from waging tongues and family dramas in their hometowns. When they discover that the world is a much smaller place than they’d thought, and it’s next to impossible to lose yourself in today’s electronic age, they end up back in the US to own up to the messes they were fleeing from.

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Both Violet and Nathan are from America, Nathan on a teacher exchange and Violet, on an ill-fated European Adventure. When they’re both haunted and very nearly destroyed by the past – despite their wish to create a new life for themselves in Scotland – they find that they’re made of stronger stuff than they’d once imagined.

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William, Michael’s cousin from southern Minnesota, appears at the very end of Shy Violet and steals the show with his buttery soft potato rolls and sweet Farm Boy BBQ sauce. The only one who’s not impressed is Rose’s niece, Violet’s friend, Lyndsie, who doesn’t like her meat – or her men – sweet. What happens next is like an episode of Chopped come to life, as sweet William and sassy Lyndsie spar in a charged cook-off.

Calamity strikes just when everything finally seems to come together, and on the other side of the globe, a whole new set of troubles present themselves.

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Scenes set in fictional Blue River, Minnesota and at the Minnesota State Fair will make Midwestern readers feel right at home. Fancy castle or farm house comfortable, there are quirky characters that readers can relate to in each of my Wildflowers of Scotland books.

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When I started researching cattle for Sweet William, I not only learned a lot about Highland cows, but French Charolais, and two other breeds that originated in Scotland – Belted Galloway and Aberdeen Angus. Without really intending it, cows became the unifying factor between Scotland and the United States.

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My nieces and nephew raise cattle and show heifers at their county fair in southern Minnesota, so I had expert advice to draw on. My niece, Victoria, educated me about the different personality traits of various breeds – which are skittish, gentle, or aggressive and likely to be mean, which have horns, and which are polled (hornless), which are able to withstand poor soil, rocky terrains and wet climates, and which produce lean meat and best care for their calves.

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When it comes right down to it, there are likely more differences in cattle than there are in people. Although living conditions, traditions and perspectives may vary from culture and country, I think human nature is pretty consistent from one part of the world to another. A reader recently wrote to me and said, “Boy, you know people. I have been practicing psychology and social work for 45 years and you must have been sitting in the office next to me. You know your stuff!” Whether I’m traveling in or writing about France, Romania, Germany, Denmark, or Scotland, I love observing interactions between people.

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I’ve been told by several readers that when I started writing my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, they missed the local color, familiar places, and quirky Midwestern characters from my first five books, which are all set in Minnesota or Iowa. If you doubt that people are the same everywhere, check out the church ladies in Wild Rose. In the meantime, I hope my local readers are pleased that Sweet William is partially set on a farm in Southern Minnesota. Wherever you’re from in the world, I hope you’ll feel “at home” when you’re reading my books.

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Seeing the World in Blue and White by Sherrie Hansen

I’ve been hearing Scottish accents in my head for over a decade, and now, after returning from my second trip to Bonnie Scotland, my mind’s eye is just as steeped in images of the highlands and islands I’ve been writing about.

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Our trip was a flurry of wildflowers and walled gardens, castles and keeps, and lochs and legends. My mind is whirling with the characters and construct of a new story, ancient ghosts and curses, and modern day longings and desires set to clash like pitchforks and swords at Culloden.

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One of my characters is the “rightful” heir of a castle and as fascinated and enamored of Scotland as I am, the other is there only because she could find no other way to wiggle out of her duties as the legal heir of a castle she cares nothing about.

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Even more exciting is the sense of déjà vu I feel about the Wildflowers of Scotland books I’ve already written.

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As I spotted each of the wildflowers I’ve featured in Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, and Sweet William, and the castles and kirks that provide a backdrop for each of the stories, the characters have come to life for me all over again.

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One of the highlights of the trip was the day I left a copy of Shy Violet with a random staff member at Eilean Donan’s Castle Café, where many scenes in the book take place. A few days later, on our way back from the Isle of Skye, we stopped once more to eat lunch. The recipient pulled me aside, and in her delightful Scottish accent, said “I’ve begun to read yer book, and I’m loving it! Ye’re a very good author, and I thank ye so much.”

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The whole time we were at Eilean Donan Castle, I kept catching glimpse of people who looked like Nathan or Violet.

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William and Lyndsie, the stars of Sweet William, felt very close to me when we were on Skye – walking around the mysterious Fairy Glen at Uig, watching the cows graze on Claigon Coral Beach near Dunvegan and dipping a toe in the Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle. Because I know what happens to William while he’s on Skye, I had a deep, sense of foreboding until we were on our way home, and I knew everything was okay.

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There’s a magical connection between Scotland and me. I’m a Blue Belle, and always will be. (For those of you who don’t know me, I have a B&B and Tea House called the Blue Belle Inn.)

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Loving the blue and white Saltire of Scotland is a natural extension of my love of blue.

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If you’ve yet to fall in love with Scotland, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of one of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels and see if the highlands and islands of Scotland resonate with you like they do me.

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Age old castles and blue-watered bays,

White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.

A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,

A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped.

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Legends galore, buried treasure, and more…

In the Wildflowers of Scotland novels, that’s what’s in store.

Twenty-four years ago, Sherrie Hansen Decker rescued a dilapidated Victorian house from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a B&B and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn. Sherrie and her husband, Mark, who is a pastor, live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart. Sherrie writes murder mysteries and novels whenever she’s not working at her B&B – or trying to be a good pastor’s wife. Her contemporary romantic suspense novels include Night and Day, Love Notes, and Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William, her Wildflowers of Scotland novels.

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You can see what’s she’s up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 http://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

http://www.BlueBelleInn.com or www.BlueBelleBooks.com

https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

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

Sherrie’s new release is Sweet William.

He’s a real sweetheart. She’s a wee bit tart. When Minnesota farm boy, William McKnight, and sassy Scot, Lyndsie Morris, 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.

Sweet William Front Cover

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Filed under photographs, Scotland, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

Scotland Revisted by Sherrie Hansen

I will be in Scotland by the time you read this, perhaps on the Isle of Arran, touring Brodick Castle or walking amongst the rhododendrons in the walled garden. Perhaps I’ll be checking out of Lilybank Guest House, or on the ferry, headed to Craig Villa Guest House, near Loch Awe and St. Conan’s Kirk. I was last in Scotland nine years ago, and have been longing to return for at least five. Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet and Sweet William have kept images of picturesque kirks and castles, hairy coo, grazing sheep, colorful villages, white sand beaches, stone cottages and heather-covered hills fresh in my mind, but I think the need to be there in person, experiencing it firsthand, is born of a more ancient connection.

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Mark and I recently signed up for Ancestry.com and  discovered that my DNA is 43% Great Britain, and only 20% Scandinavian, a slight surprise since I’ve always thought I was half Danish. (There’s also Western and Eastern European mixed in from my Bohemian and German great-grandparents, and a dash of Italian – where that came from, I have no idea.)

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Although my Mom’s family, the Lightlys, were from England, my grandma and now mother have long told me about a supposed Scottish great-great grandmother. My English ancestors lived in the north part of Lincolnshire, near a village called Scotton.  My family tree is leafed with names like Scullin, Maltby, Harrison, and Mcintyre, and in my searches of the generations, I just found a reference to the Shetland Islands. Scotland in my blood. I feel it when I hear the bagpipes, the drums, or a Scottish accent. I feel it when I see a parade of men in kilts marching down the field, when I look out over the sheep grazing, when I see fields of purple heather in the highlands.

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Researching my novels (and watching Outlander – my guilty pleasure) has only fueled my passion for kilts, castles, highlanders, and all things Scottish. I’ve always known I was from hardy stock with a history of eking out a living in a part of the country that’s sometimes brutally cold and harsh. I love the sea, and rocks, and find a great affinity in the creative, yet no-nonsense foods, cottage décor, and crafts of Scotland. I love that the colorful wildflowers and woven plaids of the highlands are such a contrast to the gray and brown stone cottages lining the valleys and lochs. There is something primal and instinctual that binds me to the Scots.

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I have no idea if a new book will be born of this journey to the motherland. I’ve labeled Sweet William (coming soon from Indigo Sea Press) as the last of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, but I named Violet’s baby Heather, leaving the door open for a look-ahead novel some two decades down the road. And there’s always Red Jasmine, Blue-eyed Mary, Cherry Primrose, Bee (Bea) Orchid, Golden Rod, Lily of the Valley, Seaside Daisy, Mountain Laurel, and other names I can use if I change my mind.

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My main goal is just to relax and enjoy Scotland’s magnificent scenery and history. Everyone keeps telling my husband and me to travel while we can, so we plan to keep returning to Europe as long as we’re able – hopefully every year.

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There’s something to be said for getting out of the country, for going so far away that you can’t be easily found. Years ago, when I lived in Germany, my mom and dad came to visit me, and I learned this very important lesson. When I was little, our family went to Florida, Colorado, and northern Minnesota into Canada. Our trips were fun while they lasted, but on all these adventures, my Dad was still close enough to home that he was a little tense and consumed with wondering what was going on at home. A few times, after hearing the weather, or the news, or the crop reports, 5 or 6 days into a 8-10 day vacation, he would get worried or frustrated and utter the dreaded words, “Get in the car. We’re going home.”

When he and Mom arrived in Germany, with expensive tickets and a locked in return date, he had no choice but to relax and enjoy himself. This was before the days of email, Skype, texting with international minutes, or cheap long distance. Dad had no idea what was happening on the farm, and even if he had known, there was absolutely nothing he could have done about it.

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I saw a completely different side of my Dad on that trip. His sense of humor shone – he laughed and smiled and chatted with strangers and truly relaxed. It was amazing. He was like a new person.

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The same kind of magical transformation occurs between me and my husband when we travel. We get to know each other all over again. We rediscover ourselves when we forget the stresses of being a frustrated business owner and a busy pastor. We set aside the issues we’re preoccupied with and reconnect. Our tired brains and downtrodden psyches rejuvenate. Our bodies start to thrive again.

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I hope you’ll come along on our journey. You can follow me on Facebook or Instagram to see my photos, or wait for my next installment at Indigo Sea’s blog. Sweet William should be ready to release just about the time I return from Scotland. I’ll do my best to bring it to life for you in the meantime.

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped. Legends galore, buried treasure, and

Bon voyage!

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Twenty-five 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.  After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now split their time between 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Sweet William”, Sherrie’s ninth book and the last of her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, is coming soon from Indigo Sea Press. You can find more information about Sherrie Hansen here:

WEBSITE  http://BlueBelleBooks.com  or http://BlueBelleInn.com

BLOG  https://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor

Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

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

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Sunrise, Sunset by Sherrie Hansen

I’m not sure why, but all of the sudden, I’m starting to feel like an old fogy. (Definition:  an extremely fussy, old-fashioned, or conservative person.) It started last summer when my mom and dad celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and their 80th birthdays. My parents have always seemed quite young to me, and they are compared to many of my classmates and peers, since I’m the oldest child in our family. (They only waited a couple of years before they had me, so that tells you about how old I am.) When did they get to be so old?

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Suddenly, my little niece is taller than I am, and most likely smarter, too.

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This winter, the house my dad built when I was 16 suddenly needed a lot of updating because it was over 40 years old. When did that happen? Earlier this month, a video of the house I renovated and turned into a bed and breakfast almost 25 years ago started to recirculate, and as I looked at a young, energetic, spry-looking version of myself smiling on the video, I realized that my staff, neighbors, nieces and nephews, and half the people in town have no idea how horrible the property used to look, and how absolutely heroic I was to rescue the place from the bulldozing it probably deserved. They either weren’t born yet, or were about 5 years old.

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Yes, that’s me in the middle.

I’ve always prided myself on being pretty with it. I play with a contemporary Christian band and there’s nothing I like more than rocking out with the volume on my keyboard at full blast. I pound out a mean bass line and I’ve got the rhythm. I write steamy novels, wear funky clothes and hats, and work circles around many of my years younger staff members. I may be a little gray; I may be getting a little stiff in the joints, but I like to think I’ve still got it. Well, part of it anyway.

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But lately… well, I’ve started to feel more and more irked with the way the younger generation thinks and does things. I routinely say things like, “What is this world coming to?”, and “Back in my day, we used to…”, and “When I was your age…” When I watch the Grammies, the only musicians I’m familiar with are those being inducted into the Hall of Fame.  To be honest, most of what we call contemporary music at our church are songs written 30 or 40 years ago. And when I visit churches with truly contemporary music and smoke machines and light shows, I cringe and probably feel the way my parents did the first time I sang Ralph Carmichael’s “He’s Everything to Me”.

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And don’t even get me started on the fact that many of the obituaries in the paper are for people my age or even younger. It’s scary to think that I’m in the twilight years of my life, or that it’s all downhill from here. And to quote a comedian three-fourths of you have probably never heard of, “I don’t get no respect.”

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Suddenly, I understand all the fuss about bucket lists, because time is running out, and if I’m going to do it, it needs to be now, while I still can. My goal has been to leave the country every three to five years to go on a dream vacation, but suddenly, it makes more sense to take a good long trip to somewhere far away and exotic every year, before it’s too late. Even then, you’ll probably find me on a cruise ship or one of peering out the windows of one of those big buses with really comfy seats. I hate the thought of missing out on anything.

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Because today I noticed something. Sunsets are just as beautiful as sunrises. Maybe even more so. I have wisdom, and grace, and the kind of polish and beauty that a rock gets from being in a rock tumbler. I’ve worked hard for what I have, and now, I get to enjoy it (well, whatever the government doesn’t take first). But that’s another thing I shouldn’t get started on.

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Sunrises are just fine. But watching the sun sink into the horizon in a blazing display of color and class… All I can say is, I’m going to enjoy every last minute of the show. Sometimes, the sky is at it’s most brilliant when the sun has already set, and the truth is, I’ve always been a night owl.

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I firmly believe that each book I write is better than the last, and besides, it’s great fun to put my characters up to things I would never do now that I’m… And that I’m so in the groove at my B&B that the food we turn out only gets better and better. And, like all of us, my music – my generation’s – is the best. So there.

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Smile if you will, but think of me next time you see the sun setting, and remember, one day, you’ll be an old fogy, too.

Cal - Rachel SS

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Life Lessons from Death Valley by Sherrie Hansen

More than one person thought we were nuts to head to Death Valley this January when we could have stayed a few more days at the beach.

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You may agree. Or you see why we love the desert after you’ve read a few of the life lessons I learned in Death Valley.

  1. Your greatest flaw may be the thing that makes you beautiful.

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These photos are from the Artist’s Palate, one of the most scenic areas of Death Valley. If Death Valley had enough moisture to support vegetation like the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas and the Appalachians do, these mountains would be covered with trees and underbrush and grasses just like they are, and we would never see the splendor of the colors underneath.

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  1. If not for the darkness, you can’t see the stars.

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If Death Valley was bordered by a beach, people would flock there, and the absolute darkness, the brilliant starlight that we experienced there would be gone. Not that there’s anything wrong with the bright lights of nearby Las Vegas, or even great cities like Paris, the City of Lights, but I’m glad there’s a place where we can experience complete darkness and see the Milky Way. Starlight has a way of settling the soul.

  1. It’s good to be able to hear yourself think.

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If Death Valley was a place where people wanted to settle and live, its airspace would soon be cluttered with the same intrusive sounds we hear in our day to day lives. It’s amazing what being alone, and enjoying a little peace and quiet can do. Stripping things down to the basics help you focus in a way that we rarely have the opportunity to do.

  1. Things don’t equal happiness.

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Having no services, no fast-food places, no internet access, and no cell phone reception makes you realize very quickly that you can survive quite well with very little. The important things come into focus without the distractions that so often occupy our time. Suddenly, you start seeing beauty all around and noticing things that likely would have gone by unappreciated… like a picnic under the stars,  We’ve all heard stories of pioneer families who had only what their covered wagons would hold, if that much, who were happy. We have so much, and are so often unhappy and dissatisfied. It was great to be reminded that without our toys, there is all kinds of old-fashioned fun to be had.

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  1. You won’t believe what a few little sprinkles will do.

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All it takes is a little shower and the desert bursts into a flowery oasis of color. Give someone the slightest encouragement and they will bloom. Those of us who live in places where there are dozens of inches of rainfall every year think it takes a deluge to make things grow, but when you’re in the desert, you learn that just a little bit of rain or kindness or love goes a very long way and can make all kinds of surprising things happen.

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  1. Trust your instincts and wander where you will.

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When we first realized we were totally off the grid and that our GPS didn’t work, I’ll admit I was a little worried. I really don’t like the feeling of being lost and I guess I’ve gotten used to the magic voice pointing me in the direction of my destination and telling me where to turn. What I rediscovered was the joy of wandering down this road and that to see what we would find. It’s something my Dad used to do when we were on family vacations. I had forgotten how freeing it is to flex your wings, trust your instincts, and fly.

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  1. Be patient – some things are worth the wait.

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A canyon lit by sunlight looks completely different than a canyon shrouded in shadows. In His Time. God makes all things beautiful in His time. This is a lesson I’ve had to be reminded of over and over again in my lifetime. If you try to manipulate things to fit your timeline, you’re bound to be disappointed. Being patient and waiting for the right time, when the lighting is perfect and everything lines up the way it’s meant to brings dazzling results. A little sunshine makes a big difference.

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  1. When you’re at the lowest spot on earth, there’s no place to go but up.

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Being two hundred plus feet below sea level gave me an eerie feeling. And when we left the lowlands to climb up the canyons, my muscles were painfully stretched. It’s hard to transition from low to high. I’ve been thinking about high points and low points a lot as I’ve worked on my novel, Sweet William, this winter. One of the characters is dealing with the death of someone very dear, and trying to work their way back from deep despair to some sense of normalcy. Another character is living a perfectly grand life at a time when she’s at the pinnacle of her dreams. The only catch is, if she wants to be with the man she loves, she will have to give it all up.

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Is he dragging her down? Can she lift him up? From the heather- colored highlands of Scotland to the flat, black fields of Minnesota’s farm country – which way will she go?

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And the moral of the story? I said I learned some life lessons in Death Valley – I didn’t say I had all the answers. Never fear. I hope to have them soon. In the meantime, be patient with me. Oh, and please be quiet so I can think. I can’t seem to connect to Google Search right now so I’m looking for a star to guide me.

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‘Cause the Free Mind is Blowing Through My Hair by Sherrie Hansen

A few days ago, I left behind the cold and snow of the Midwest for the surf and sand of the California coast. We even followed the Ventura Highway. We’re here to visit my husband’s mother, but I can’t deny I’m grateful she lives in a climate that’s filled with flowers and colorful scenery, even in January.

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I always feel a surge of inspiration when I visit new places, and today is no exception. I love the adventure of seeing new things and enjoying the beauty in someone else’s backyard. But I also miss the people and things I love back home.

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I take my nieces and nephew on a mini-adventure every Wednesday afternoon – a joy I missed this week because I was on my way to the airport. Maybe that’s why I dreamed about them last night. In my dream, I remembered being their current ages – 9, 11, and 13 – and realized that I have the same interests and passions that I had way back then even though almost half a century has flown by.

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I started cooking for 4-H, and then, because I preferred fixing dinner for my family and whatever farm crew was helping out to driving tractor, and then, because I loved hearing compliments from friends and family about how delicious and cute my food tasted and looked. It seems I had an artistic eye that manifested itself in culinary delights. Entertaining friends, catering special events, and cooking at my B&B and tea house for the last 25 years isn’t all that far a stretch.

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I started piano and trombone when I was in grade school and junior high, as they were called back then. My love of music hasn’t diminished in all this time either. The trombone didn’t last, and my taste in artists (John Denver, Bread, Gordon Lightfoot) may have evolved in different directions, but I still play piano with a contemporary worship team and even write an occasional melody. And I love rocking out with drummer and keyboard friends.

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My bright lavender bedroom with sculpted, bronze carpet and lime green love beads may not have had the refined look of any of my current decorating projects, but I was clearly interested in color and design, even as a young teenager. And truthfully, my tastes  – and my passion for wild color combinations and quirky furnishings – haven’t changed all that much over the years.

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My favorite books when I was the age Victoria and Gloria are now were the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace (a series set in the Victorian era that follows Betsy and her Crowd of friends from childhood to marriage, much like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.) Betsy was a writer, so that’s what I wanted to be, too. I loved to read, write poems, plays and stories, and spent hours dreaming about characters for the books I would write one day. Voila!

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I also dreamed of finding my very own, perfect for me, “Joe” (Betsy’s beau) and one day, having my own little Bettina. While that didn’t work out the way I hoped, I’ve certainly seen the Great World and accomplished abundantly more than I ever dreamed possible.

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I’ve thankful that I had people in my life who encouraged me to dream, live large, and think outside the box. When my dream life didn’t materialize quite the way I expected, I’m glad for friends who helped me pick up the pieces and start over. I’m grateful that my family loved and accepted me no matter what crazy things I was up to at any given time.

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If you have children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews who are a part of your life, please cheer them on when they try out new things, and discover their own passions. You never know what might become of it. Little acorns grow up to be mighty oak trees.

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Twenty-four 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.  After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Shy Violet” is Sherrie’s eighth book to be published by Indigo Sea Press, a mid-sized, independent press out of North Carolina. “Sweet William”, the last of her Wildflowers of Scotland novels, will be out early this summer.
You can find more information about Sherrie Hansen here:

WEBSITE  http://BlueBelleBooks.com  or http://BlueBelleInn.com

BLOG  http://sherriehansen.wordpress.com/

Twitter https://twitter.com/SherrieHansen

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SherrieHansenAuthor
Goodreads  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2870454.Sherrie_Hansen

Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/author/sherriehansen

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

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Filed under photographs, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing