Tag Archives: Blue Belle Inn

Lessons Learned in a Bluebell Wood by Sherrie Hansen

My love of bluebells is no secret.

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They bloom in the woods near my B&B every year in late April or early May.

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I’ve watched their pink and purple buds turn into intense, periwinkle blue flowers, then fade to a soft, sky blue, since I was a little girl.

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I’ve written a book named Blue Belle. The B&B and tea house I’ve owned for 25 years is called the Blue Belle Inn.

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Familiar as bluebells are to me, I’ve recently learned a few new lessons while walking through the bluebell wood.

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It’s possible to be broken, bent, and beautiful at the same time.  One most likely leads to the other, like the beauty of a mosaic made from broken pieces.

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You can focus on the beauty of a place, or the ugliness. Stuff happens. It’s your choice what you dwell on.

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For every hill you struggle to climb, there’s an easy cruise down the other side, and a beautiful view from the top besides.

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Even when you feel hollow and empty inside, you’re a thing of beauty to someone who needs shelter from the wind.

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Finding your own little niche to grow in is one of life’s greatest gifts.

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No matter how bad you have it, someone else always has it worse.

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Being front and center isn’t always the best place to be. Wallflowers are much less likely to get stepped on than flowers that grow in the middle of a pathway.

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You can lift your eyes upward to the tree tops, or follow the shadows down into the valley.  Your choice.

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Being uprooted is never fun, but there’s always a bright spot on the horizon.

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Sunshine or shadow – it makes all the difference.

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Some people live lengthy lives in obscurity, others are chosen to be loved intensely for but a moment.

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Some are fortunate enough to find a clear, straight, well-marked path.

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Sometimes the path winds  so much that you can’t see what’s around the bend. But that’s okay. It’s good to be surprised.

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Everything you do and say is a reflection on the things you love most – the real you.

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I’m in a time of transition in my life. Are you? Wandering in the bluebell wood, I was reminded that there’s no better way to find your way than in new lessons learned from the comfort of the familiar.

 You can see what’s Sherrie’s up to at: 

https://www.facebook.com/BlueBelleInn

 https://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 newest 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.

Sherrie’s next Wildflowers of Scotland novel, Golden Rod, is coming soon from Indigo Sea Press.

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Building Blocks & Construction Skills by Sherrie Hansen

We have to build our lives out of what materials we have. It’s as though we were given a heap of blocks and told to build a house. From Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace

B&W Blue Belle Inn 

I think of this quote often when I’m looking back at my life – and, when I’m starting a new book. My entire life has been a construction project – building up, tearing down, rebuilding, renovating, remodeling and even starting over one or two times when the foundation has been kicked out from under me. As the years go by, I’m getting close to the age when I need to start downsizing, and finding a house / life whose size and upkeep is more manageable.

Another quote from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy and Joe says, The older I get the more mixed up life seems. When you’re little, it’s all so plain. It’s all laid out like a game ready to play. You think you know exactly how it’s going to go. But things happen…

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Things do happen – in life, and in our writing. Sometimes one mirrors the other. When I start a new book, I begin with a cast of characters who each have their own goals, dream, and motivations. They each have a past made up of previous experiences and encounters, loves and disappointments. More importantly, they have challenges, and problems, and people and things that threaten their well-being and threaten to keep them from their goals. I can plan exactly what I think should happen in a book, but at some point, the characters take over, pick up the building blocks I have strewn about, and write their own story. Ultimately, I can’t predict exactly what kind of house is going to get built in my books any more than I can my own life. It’s a good thing I like surprises, and that I’m a curious sort who loves to find out what lies around the next bend in the road.

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Twists and turns are part of the story. But bringing form and structure, color and life, and artistry and rhythm to the heap of building blocks is what a writer does. In writing, I work through my own problems, calm my anxieties, and find hope for the future. My wish is that you will do the same as you read my stories.

Like Maud said in Betsy’s Wedding,  Good things come, but they’re never perfect, are they? You have to twist them into something perfect.

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In my favorite Maud Hart Lovelace book, Heaven to Betsy, Betsy thinks, What would life be like without her writing? Writing filled her life with beauty and mystery, gave it life… and promise.

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Perhaps the magic of a good book occurs when a writer take an ordinary slice of life and turns it into a piece of art. In Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, Maud Hart Lovelace wrote, Betsy was sitting in the backyard maple, high among spreading branches that were clothed in rich green except at their tips where they wore the first gold of September. In Betsy Tacy and Tib, It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.

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I learned to look for the beauty in my own back yard when I read books like Maud’s, set in small Minnesota farming towns, when I looked at the sunset through the lens of my first camera, and when my hardworking family took time to visit Minnesota’s lovely state parks and campgrounds. I learned to appreciate beauty when we traveled across the United States and experienced the vastness of God’s handiwork.

Maybe that’s why I love what Maud wrote in Betsy-Tacy and Tib:  In silence, the three of them looked at the sunset and thought about God.

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I firmly believe that God is the Master Designer. Not only can God paint an amazing sunset, He knows what will happen in my life – has known all along – and in the books I write, even before I do. He gave me the building blocks and the skills to build a life that I hope will glorify him.

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My nephew, Luke, wanted me to play a game with me last week. We each drew a card which told us what we were supposed to build out of the pile of red, green, blue and yellow Legos in the game box. While I stumbled and fumbled around, and came up with something that only slightly resembled a frog, Luke’s creativity amazed me! It’s not just about the building blocks, it’s about the way we put them together.

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Whether you’re a writer or a reader, a musician, a quilter, a farmer, a painter, a pastor, or a poet, I urge you to thank God for the building blocks you’ve been given, the construction skills you’ve learned and acquired, and the creativity and instincts to build a beautiful house where you can thrive and grow.

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In my new release, Lyndsie thinks she knows how her life will go, when suddenly William comes into her life and causes a minor earthquake. When her carefully constructed house starts to tumble and things go from orderly to confused, she has to decide when and how to rebuild her days, and how and where she will spend them. Things are a mess. Nothing goes right…

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And to find out what kind of house Lyndsie builds – western ranch style or a wee Scottish boothie – you’ll have to read the book.

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Twenty-five 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. If you hadn’t already guessed, Sherrie’s favorite books (from way back when) are the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace.

 You can see what’s Sherrie’s 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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Blue Belles in May – What Can I Say? by Sherrie Hansen

In Northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota, where I’ve lived the bulk of my life, the bluebells bloom around the first week of May and are usually at their peak on Mother’s Day. this year, we’ve had a long, hard winter, and it’s seemed like spring would never get here. But the bluebells in my yard are right on target, with clusters of tiny blue, pink, and purple buds ready to pop open on the next warm day.

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It seems appropriate that my new release, Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be released just in time for the first week of May. I received my proof copy about a week ago, and should have copies for sale at my B&B, the Blue Belle Inn, by May 1st.

Blue Belle, a contemporary romance by Sherrie Hansen

Yes, that’s a lot of Blue Belles – and bluebells. I’ve already started to think about what I’m going to say about Blue Belle, the book, to my customers at the Blue Belle B&B.

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Some authors sell their books almost exclusively online. Since I have a steady stream of people coming to the tea house at the Blue Belle Inn, I sell a lot of print books the old-fashioned way.

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Over the years, I’ve found that what you write about a book on the back cover, to be read by prospective buyers who might pick it up at a store or look at it on a website, is quite different than what I feel comfortable saying to people face to face. I even wrote a poem for the back blurb of Blue Belle, which expresses many elements of the book very well. But I would feel quite silly quoting poetry table-side to my luncheon guests. Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00023]

When I tell people about Thistle Down (a novella) and Wild Rose, my first Wildflowers of Scotland novel, I simply say, “In Thistle Down, Pastor Ian MacCraig has two sisters who are going to be married. Emily has found the perfect man to marry. There’s only one problem – she’s not in love with him. Chelsea is wildly, passionately, madly in love with her fiance – he’s a total jerk.  Pastor Ian has some unscrambling to do, especially when the church ladies get involved.”

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And – “When Wild Rose opens, someone has been stealing architectural relics from the church yard, so Pastor Ian installs a security camera to try to catch the thief in action. What he captures is Rose Wilson engaged in a passionate romp under the flying buttresses.  My tag line is – Wild Rose and Pastor Ian MacCraig – a match made in heaven or one hell of a predicament?”

Scotland Bashful RoseThe blurb on the back of Blue Belle reads:

Isabelle doesn’t want to be found. Michael doesn’t want to be found out. When Damon starts searching for the centuries-old gold he thinks is buried in Tobermory Bay, it won’t matter what walls they’re hiding behind. Rocks will fall. Castles will crumble. No secret will be safe.

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 more…
In Tobermory, Scotland, that’s what’s in store.

Blue Belle Promo PoemWhat I’ll probably say about Blue Belle is:

“Isabelle is a reporter from Virgina who’s been burned. Now, all she wants is the truth – and one big story to help get her confidence back.  Michael is a psychologist from Wisconsin who’s not only lying about who he is, but why he’s in Scotland pretending to be a contractor.  What neither of them knows is that Isabelle’s story is buried in Tobermory Bay, practically writing itself, and that Michael’s finely crafted tale – and the castle he’s restoring – are about to come crumbling down around them.”

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As time goes by, I hope to get my verbal pitch trimmed in half, or to think of the perfect one-sentence tagline that says it all.  In the meantime, I hope that one or the other of my blurbs inspires you to give Blue Belle a look. Romance, suspense and mysteries aside, it’s about learning to trust – as I hope you will trust me to deliver another good story.

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It’s a Mystery… or Ding, Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead! by Sherrie Hansen

Lately, everyone’s been asking when my next book is coming out. Blue Belle, the second of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, should be ready in 60 – 90 days. All it needs is a serious going over and a new ending and it should be ready to send off to my publisher. In the meantime, I took advantage of NaNoWriMo to get 40,000 words into Shy Violet, the third in the series, so there should only be a short wait between the two books.

BBI Spring 2012

Some of you know that my primary distraction from writing is a bed and breakfast called the Blue Belle Inn B&B. For the past few months, my two passions have come together in a unique way.  In August, I decided to write a series of what I like to call fractured fairy tale style murder mysteries highlighting the storybook themes of each of our guest rooms at the B&B is named after.

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I started out with our “On the Banks of Plum Creek” room and wrote (with apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder), “Little Oops On The Prairie”. It begins when Nellie Olafson’s somewhat eccentric, mean-spirited cousin, Nutty Olafson, is found face down at the supper table. My tagline read: Something smells fishy on the banks of Plum Creek – is there a wolf in sheep’s clothing lurking in the Big Woods or a little killer loose on the Prairie? Suspects Nellie Olafson, Visiting Professor Jerald Jill of Iowa, Quick Draw McNutt, local football hero Big Brawny, and the much loved but tragically flat-footed Insoles family are all in for a Long Winter in the pokey unless the true murderer can be uncovered. I also planned a theme dinner which included Ma’s Bean Soup with Bacon, Chicken Pie with Baking Powder Biscuit Crust, New England Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots, and Roast Pork with Milk Gravy and Mashed Potatoes.

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We’ve been doing murder mysteries at the Blue Belle Inn for over 20 years now, at the rate of 4 to 9 times a year. Although I have several sources for purchasing the “whodunit” mystery games that become the basis for our dinner theater productions, it’s become increasingly harder to find fresh material that’s well-written.  The actors would often complain about how flimsy the plots were, or that there just wasn’t enough material to work with. Often times, I would spend hours fleshing out the plays I bought online with an opening  dialog, opening and closing statements, and so on, while the actors frequently had to unscramble plot elements that just didn’t make sense.

When I first started writing books, they were pure romance. I thought I’d never write novels that contained murder and mayhem, but in my last two books (Love Notes and Wild Rose) and the ones I’m presently working on (Blue Belle and Shy Violet), there are bad guys who are truly twisted, evil and bent on hurting people, a kidnapping, gunshots, and even a murder. As I worked on the motivation and chaotic situations caused by the suspense element in my novels, it occurred to me that I could just as well try my hand at a murder mystery. (Not to worry, there are still plenty of sweet, romantic moments in my novels, too.)

I also thought, if I wrote my own mysteries, that it would be fun to incorporate some local color. Some of our local spoofs include the World Famous Miracle Whip Clinic in Rochester, MN, where miracle cures abound, and our locally manufactured breakfast cereals with a pirate named Captain Crunch. Because murder mysteries are tongue in cheek, humorous and very irreverent, you can really toss in whomever and whatever you feel like. It’s also great fun writing parts that specifically match our actor’s best (and worst?) features. If we can’t laugh at ourselves once in awhile, what fun are we?

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In September, we performed our second original mystery, “Footloose in Never Ever Land”. The intro read: Who will be next to walk the plank in Never Ever Land? One thing is sure – it won’t be poor Woody Stuck, an old hippie who was stuck in the 60′s, because he was found belly up in the Lagoon a few hours ago. Now the clock is ticking and we hope you’ll help Peter Pun and the Lost Boyz find out who is guilty – is it Captain Crunch, the pirate with the biggest chompers ever, Rev. Hal Fyre and his crony, The Church Lady, free-spirit Windy, Fancy Free Willow Tree, Crocodile Rock, who has a scaly skin condition, or Stinker Belle, the church secretary? The theme meal included Gems of the Sea Puffs Mornay with Shrimp & Crab on Scallop Shells, “But Spinach is Good for You, Peter” Chicken with Spinach Artichoke Dip & Italian Cheeses, and The Church Lady’s Sunday Roast Beef with Mashed Potatoes.

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In October, we did “Shenanigans in Sherwood Forest with Robin Love & His Band of Unmarried Men”. The write-up says:  Relationships are complicated in UnTie the Knotingham, a small but wealthy kingdom where the divorce rate is extremely high. Thus, it came as no surprise when Richie Rich, a philandering playboy, was found dead on his wedding day. The question is, who killed him? Wife #7 – the former Maid Mary Ann, Ginger Root, wealthy nobleman Henry the Eighth, Friar Luck, Viking warrior Little Johnson, or Robin Love – a poor, mild-mannered attorney who has devoted his life to championing the underdog in divorce cases far and wide? It’s up to you to unravel the mystery before anyone else loses their head and does something crazy, like getting married. SHERWOOD FOREST CUISINE featured Cottage Pie with a Thatched Roof, and Fruits of the Forest Chicken with Mushrooms, Apples, Berries and a Splash of Brandy.

That left “Anne of Green Gables”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “The Secret Garden”, Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”, and “Heaven to Betsy”, from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Victorian era Betsy Tacy books, for future mystery dinner themes. At the rate of one every 3 – 4 weeks, by the time we finished one mystery, my brain has already been working on the next, envisioning characters who tesseract, wear pompadour hair styles and floppy hats and climb big hills with the Crowd, or hob knob with princes and princesses and wicked witches and maybe a giant bunny rabbit or two.

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In November, for our Anne of Green Gables Fans, we premiered a mash up Lucy Montgomery’s Anne books and Gone with the Wind. “Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry’s Most Excellent Adventure”. The lead-in read: When cold-hearted Rachel Bag O’ Wynde, the neighbor from down the lane, is found dead, every one thinks she choked on an artichoke heart. But one person knows how she really died, and it was no accident. Help Anne Green and Dianna Dingleberry find out who is guilty. Is it sour old Marilla Lemon, Matthew Chokecherry, obsessed with being best Gilbert Plum, Southern belle Scarlett Pimpernel, the pasty faced schoolteacher Ashley Grey, or Rhett, the Butler? Dudley Do-Right of the Canadian Mounted Police even made a guest appearance.The custom menu included PEI Potato Soup, Ingleside Inn’s Fried Steak with Cheesy Onion Gravy and Red Potatoes, and Anne and Dianna’s Most Resplendent Raspberry Cordial Chicken served with Cavendish Creamed Potatoes and Peas. The featured dessert was Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce – sans the mouse.

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In December, we tackled Sleeping Beauty with “Will the Real Prince Charming Please Stand Up?” My teaser read:  When game show host Alec Quebec is found dead, everyone on the latest episode of “To Twist the Truth!” is a suspect. Who is guilty? Is it one of the esteemed panel of judges – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, wicked stepmother Eveele O’Gress, or Glimmer, the Good Fairy? Or is it one of the contestants – dashing Prince Charming, Hermie, the Outcast Elf wannabe dentist, or Dopey the Dwarf, who was last seen clutching a ruby red slipper and looking for Cinderella? Or is it Kermit, a spirited frog that keeps hopping around the stage? The made-to-fit menu included Bavarian Hunter Schnitzel on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Cinderella’s Pumpkin with Pork and Parmesan Filling, and Snow White’s Special Apple Pie.

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Our January premier was “Who? Whatsit? Which Wicked Witch is Dead?” a mash up that featured childhood favorites “A Wrinkle in Time” and the “Wizard of Oz”. My teaser read: When a Wrinkle in Time causes Camazotz and the Emerald City to collide, the witch is accidentally squished. Or was it Mrs. Which? And was it really an accident? Follow the yellow brick road with Meg Dorothea Ditz, Charles Wallace Wiz, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, the creepy computer guy nobody likes – Jay I.T. Bug, Glinda the Good, scary mafia man Scarface Crow from Central Intelligence, and nice guy Calvin Tim Mann, who wears his heart on his sleeve, to find out which one really did it. I had fun with this meun – Emerald City Soup with Green Broccoli & Garlic Herb Toasts, Over the Rainbow Fruit Wand, Starry, Starry Night Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce, Aunt Beast’s Best Ever Vegetable Cheese Puff, Out of this World Salmon with Seafood Stuffing, and Mrs. Murry’s Bunsen Burner Beef Stew with Biscuits on Top.

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On February 7 and 8, we’re looking forward to presenting another original murder mystery entitled “Betsy and Tacy Go Downton” – a mash up of my favorite books, the Betsy Tacy books by Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace, and the popular British TV series, Downton Abbey. Here’s what guests have to look forward to: When Betsy Ray’s British cousin, Matthew Crawley, fakes his death in a car accident and comes to Deep Valley, MN because he needs a break from Downton Abbey, a round of parties is planned to introduce him to the Crowd. When Lord Grantham and the Dowager Countess cross the pond to put an end to his lark, the unthinkable happens and Matthew is murdered. (Yes, this time, he’s really dead.) Did someone tamper with his dance card, hot wire his motor car, or spike his punch? Or could he simply not tolerate the caterwauling during the Cat Duet? Betsy, Tacy, Tib, Bad Boy Tony, Busty Bonnie the Minister’s Daughter (who we’ve never quite trusted), Joe Schmo, and Thomas, the Valet are all suspects. The menu includes “Onion Sandwich” Soup a la Mr. Ray, Betsy’s Heart of My Heart Chicken with Garlic Rosemary Cream Sauce and Artichoke Hearts,  Tib’s Beef Rouladen with Bacon & Onion Gravy on Homemade Spaetzle Noodles, Tacy’s Irish Meat Pie with Pork and Potatoes, and Lady Violet’s Elegant Roast Beef with Chardonnay Cream Sauce, Gorgonzola Cheese and Red Potatoes – and of course, a bite of the Crowd’s Famous Fudge for dessert.

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A tale based on the book “The Secret Garden” is next, in March or April, and will probably feature a mad Farmer MaGregor and that rascal, Peter Cottontail. After that – who knows? It’s been an absolute thrill to see the creative costumes the actors have come up with for each of my mysteries and watch the way they’ve brought my characters and words to life. My only regret is that I’m usually working in the kitchen and don’t get to see much of the performances. Our actors are some of the best and so creative! John Deyo’s portrayal of a hopping, green frog / Prince Charming and Lisa Deyo’s rendition of Sleeping Beauty were amazing and very memorable. Mel Schroeder has done everything from A to Z including a one-legged pirate. My favorite of Deb Stickney’s roles to date is The Church Lady but she also does a great German accent. My husband, Mark Decker, makes foaming at the mouth and dying look so realistic that it’s scary. Neil and Terri Hernan, Mark and Ken Borchardt, Phyllis Ruehlow, Brenda and Michael Esdohr, Julia Crail, Tiffany Adams, and so many more who have filled in for us on occasion are some of the most versatile, slightly crazy, very silly actors ever.

I’m thrilled to say that our new, original mysteries have been getting rave reviews from our customers, including my mother, who said, “Are all those crazy things really in your head?”, to which I replied, “They kinda are.”

If you live in northern Iowa or southern Minnesota and haven’t been to one f the Blue Belle’s mystery dinners yet, it’s high time! Like I always say, at what other event does the guilty perpetrator of a dastardly deed get a round of applause? And as always, if you guess correctly or solve the mystery, you could get your dinner free.

One of these days, I’ll get around to finishing Blue Belle and Shy Violet, but in the meantime, if you’ve wondered what I’m up to – this is it! I hope you’ll also watch for another instance when my innkeeping and writing worlds are scheduled to collide… Second Wind Publishing will be hosting a Pitch the Publisher event at the Blue Belle Inn B&B sometime this summer or fall. Stay tuned for further details!

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Sleep Deprivation and Other Random Happenings by Sherrie Hansen

 

About 10 pm, I left work. My last words were, “I’m going to blog, and then I’m going to bed.” I’ve not been getting enough sleep lately and I have to be back at work at 7 a.m. tomorrow morning to receive a shipment.

 

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It’s now almost 2 am. I fell asleep in my chair.

 

So the moral of the story is…

 

Sometimes I think it would be nice to be Superwoman – to do everything I want to do and be everything for everyone I love.  But it just doesn’t work that way.

 

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I’m more Supernova than Superwoman.

 

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So get it while you can. Read “Wild Rose”.

 

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Just as the night is darkest just before the dawn, perhaps the light is brightest just before it fades from view .

 

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Memories… Sweetened Through the Ages by Sherrie Hansen

I’ve been thinking a lot about the “old  days” this week. My bed and breakfast, the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, in St. Ansgar, Iowa, has been open for 20 years as of February 1st, which was also my 55th birthday. It’s definitely a time to think back, to remember what things were like those many years ago.

Memories are a funny thing. I learned in Childhood Psych that 90% of a child’s brain and 85% of their social skills and personality develop before they are 5 years old. Yet most of us have very few memories of anything that happened to us in this time period.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are sleeping out under the stars with my dad and my sister Becky, on the farm where we lived in Grand Meadow, Minnesota, when we were little. I can remember Marty Hedstrom, a teenager who worked for my Dad one summer, singing “Sherry Baby” to me and rescuing me from the bumblebees who were after me in the haymow of the barn where I used to play.  I can remember standing next to my Great Grandma Matilda Paulson  and my Grandma Victoria at  First Baptist Church singing “Holy Holy Holy”.  I can remember climbing on the school bus on the first day I went to school, the day my baby brother and sister were born, and the day my Grandpa Hansen died. Some of these experiences have already ended up in or certainly may one day find themselves into books I’ve written – in one form or another.

My 25 year old nephew and his pretty wife, Kayla, sang “Sherry Baby” to me this weekend at my birthday / anniversary party. What a flood of memories it brought back! Because I don’t have children of my own, my nieces and nephews are very special to me. I hope that I have made an impact on their lives as well, and that they will carry memories of me and the fun times we’ve shared at the Blue Belle Inn and our family gatherings with  them long after I’m gone.

My 5, 7 and 10 year old nieces and nephews were at my party, too. The girls helped get people registered for the door prizes. The two youngest were waitress and waiter and helped clear plates and take them to the kitchen. They were very intense about collecting the dirty plates (Will you please hurry up and finish eating your food so I can take your plate?) and did their jobs well.

I will have to give them some tips next time I see them. (They had to leave early because it was past their bedtime.) Right before they left, the girls entertained us by singing our favorite song, “He Knows My Name,” while I played the piano.

My hope is that they will retain their memories of the very special night they shared with their old Aunt Sherrie at the Blue Belle Inn. Maybe one of them will blog about it one day when they’ve heard “Sherry Baby” played on the radio… er… computer.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have children, but it’s important to me that someone remembers that I’m not just Blue Belle Sherrie (the main hat I’ve worn for the past 20 years). I want someone to know and remember that I climbed Pike’s Peak when I was younger, that I learned to disco dance when I lived in Germany back in the late seventies at the height of the Saturday Night Fever era. I want someone to remember that I went to Wheaton College, and saw Michael Jackson’s Thriller concert at Mile High Stadium in Denver and spent a night at a Benedictine Monastery in Bavaria. And that I made the best Jaeger Schnitzel and Spaetzle noodles this side of the great pond.

I hope you have some sweet memories, too – perhaps something you’ve read in one of my books has evoked a recollection or brought tears to your eyes. I also wish for each of you someone who knows you and loves you enough to remember unique things about you.

Thanks for letting me be nostalgic on the occasion of my big birthday and anniversary. Andrew Lloyd Webber says it well…

Memory
All alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then
I remember the time I knew what happiness was
Let the memory live again.

And if you’re a child of the seventies like I am, I’m sure this song conjurers up the very thing it talks about…

Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine

Quiet thoughts come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories,
Sweet memories

Of holding hands and red bouquets
And twilights trimmed in purple haze
And laughing eyes and simple ways
And quiet nights and gentle days with you.

Some of my favorite memories – and ones that will almost certainly die with me, since all my friends from that era are my age or older – are of the 12 years I lived in Colorado Springs. During that time, I heard Amy Grant sing this song in concert three or four times. From the song “I Will Remember You”…

Later on
When this fire is an ember
Later on
When the night’s not so tender
Given time
Though it’s hard to remember darlin’
I will be holding
I’ll still be holding to you
I will remember you

So many years come and gone
And yet the memory is strong
One word we never could learn
Goodbye
True love is frozen in time
I’ll be your champion and you will be mine
I will remember you

Being a writer, I’ve always thought that stories are the best way to share memories. I hope one day, you’ll read mine.

Happy Birthday to me. Cheers to 20 years at the Blue Belle Inn. And a toast to memories that live on forever in the minds of the those who love us.

(Sherrie Hansen is the author of 4 books:  Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.)

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Compelled to Compare by Sherrie Hansen

I’ve been at two conferences in the last two weeks. The first was a writing conference, the second a conference I’m attending with my husband, who is a minister. No offense to St. Louis, but I must say, when I compare the two cities, I have to say I prefer being in Des Moines where I have a nephew and niece, several friends, and no exes.

We’re staying in a beautiful, award winning B&B – Butler House on Grand. It’s a three story, brick English Tudor with a very impressive façade… and that brings me to my topic today.

Butler House on Grand, a B&B in Des Moines, Iowa.

Mark Vander Tuig, one of the speakers at the LCMC (Lutheran Congregations for Ministry in Christ) Conference we’re attending, spoke about envy today. The word was mentioned at the Christian Writers Conference I attended as well.

It’s hard not to compare ourselves to others, whether writers or pastors. Published or unpublished, published by a large press or published by a small press, self-published, or getting 6 figure advances, there’s always someone to compare yourself to. Maybe your e-book sold 3 dozen copies and someone else’s sold 2000. Maybe you both write for the same publishing house, but one of you gets smaller advances than the other. Maybe your friend won two awards and you got nothing.

Comparing ourselves to others is a great temptation no matter what stage of life we’re in, and yes, envying the person who seems to have it better than we do is an easy trap to fall in to.

If you’re a pastor, you may be envious of the person whose once tiny church plant has grown to a 6000 member mega-church with six services because you’re lucky to get 150 at church on a Sunday. The pastor who gets 25 – 35 may be envious of you. One pastor might have a church overlooking the Pacific Ocean, another in the beautiful city of Colorado Springs, whereas you’re in the middle of nowhere surrounded by cornfields and hog barns.

California Dreamin'

Midwestern Reality

There’s always a man or woman who’s skinnier, prettier, or has more of whatever it is you want – money, kids, cars, whatever. If I’m honest with myself, there are plenty of reasons for me to envy Clark and Lauren, who own Butler House on Grand B&B. When they opened, a group of designers did a showcase at their B&B. They’ve been featured in a zillion magazines, and Meredith Publications has done all kinds of photo shoots at their property. (One of my dreams.) Midwest Living named them as one of their top 30 B&Bs… American Historic Inns, one of the top 10 romantic inns in the US (or is it the world?) I could go on, and on and on. They’ve won a great many honors – every one of which is well-deserved.

The master bedroom suite at Butler House on Grand.

I’m sure there are B&B owners who whose dream is to have a place like the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House. It’s all relative, isn’t it?

The Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House, Saint Ansgar, Iowa.

Our speakers point is that you should be thankful for what you have, and accept yourself – limitations and strengths – for what you are.

So why is it that we’re so compelled to compare ourselves and our situations to others? Perhaps it’s because we feel better when we compare and find ourselves on the top of the heap. We feel better about ourselves when we realize that we’re better off than this person or that person. Perhaps by comparing ourselves to others, we’re inspired to follow our dreams – that if this or that person could accomplish this, maybe we can, too.

But even when applied in a positive light, comparing ourselves is usually unproductive. Why? Because while the Blue Belle Inn B&B may be wonderful in just as many (but very different) ways as the Butler House is, it will always be in St. Ansgar, a quaint little town of 1000 in northern Iowa. It will never be a couple of blocks from the governor’s mansion, the art center, downtown Des Moines, and Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  It is what it is, and so am I. If I want to be successful, I have to find my own niche and capitalize on my own strengths.

The church where my husband is currently serving, in a town of 600, nearly an hour from even a moderately sized town, will never draw the kinds of crowds or have the resources to have the kinds of programs that Hope Lutheran in Des Moines or Hosanna Lutheran in Lakeville, MN have. I’m guessing they have more members in their church than we have in our entire county.  That doesn’t mean God can’t and won’t use them – ordinary people in an ordinary town – in extraordinary ways.

Jealousy is unproductive and a negative influence. It can destroy your self-confidence, eat away at your goals and aspirations, and sabotage your efforts to be the best you can be. Yet how easy it is to begrudge our many blessings and covet what another has.

As for me, I’m going to choose to appreciate all that I have. I may not get a hefty advance on my novels since I’m published with a small press, but when I look at what I’ve earned in royalties and profits in the last three years, I realize I have much to be thankful for. Given the odds of success in this business, it’s a miracle that any of my books are even in print. And in all honesty, if someone had offered me the amount of money for my books that I’ve currently made, I definitely would have signed the contract. Don’t get me wrong – if I’m ever blessed enough to make it onto the bestseller list, I’ll definitely do a happy dance, but in the meantime, I feel honored that people are simply buying, reading, and liking my books.  (Which, if you’re interested, you can buy at www.SecondWindPublishing.com.)

And with that, I’ll close. We’re at a banquet, and I couldn’t help but notice that my husband’s piece of chicken is bigger than mine. It’s been a long day, and I’m hungry, and yes, I’m feeling a little jealous. Maybe if I’m nice, he’ll trade plates with me. (Just kidding.)

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What Day Is It? by Sherrie Hansen

Hi. My name is Sherrie Hansen and Friday was (is, I think) my day to blog. Trouble is, it’s been such a busy week that I’m not at all sure what day it is.

It all started on Monday, when we had a hugely busy lunch (I own and operate a Victoria tea house and bed and breakfast called the Blue Belle Inn in my “spare time”). Same story on Tuesday – a few reservations, a lot of drop bys, a crazy busy day of quickly making more food in our steamy hot kitchen. Tuesday night, I drove the 45 miles between our two homes (my husband of 6 1/2 years is a pastor in a town 45 miles west of the town where my bed and breakfast is) and spent the night at the parsonage after practicing a new song with one of our worship team members (I play the piano at church).

Bright and early Wednesday morning, I gave the devotions at our ladies aid group, complete with slides to illustrate my study – “Mosaics – How God picks up the broken pieces of our hearts and makes something beautiful.” Being as pastor’s wife is the third tier in my tipsy topsy life as innkeeper/restaurateur/author of romance novels/pastor’s wife.

The talk went well, according to my husband. I was unable to stick around after the meeting because our lunch crowd mushroomed at the last minute and I had to leave early and “fly” back to the Blue Belle Inn to help with another busy lunch hour at the tea house.

That afternoon, I picked up my nieces (ages 6 and 8) and met up with my sister-in-law and nephew (age 3) and went to a benefit / carnival in Austin, MN. After a few hours of balloons, bouncing and big, sticky prizes, I left with a rainbow painted on my face and a purse full of gooey candy wrappers, to go get groceries.

It was a late night by the time I escaped the grocery store, stopped at my parent’s house to pick up some green beans from Aunt Shirley’s garden and chat with Villiam, a friend of our cousin Helle’s from Denmark who’s been staying with my folks for the last three weeks. My husband helped me unload the car, and we tumbled into bed (back in St. Ansgar, where the Blue Belle is, tonight) sometime between one and two a.m.

Thursday brought a trip to Rochester, MN, 1 1/4 hours to the northeast of us, to shop for groceries at Sam’s Club in preparation for a wedding to be held at the Blue Belle Inn on Saturday.

Late Thursday night, when I had finally fit all the groceries into the freezer and refrigerator, I got a few more hours of sleep.

I’ve been cooking since 9:30 a.m. this morning. The rehearsal dinner for the same wedding starts in about 30 minutes, so I need to sign off and get back to work. The groom and a crew of men were here early this morning to put up a tent in the yard between our St. Ansgar house and the Blue Belle. The yard and flower beds needed a lot of grooming, and it looks very festive.

Tomorrow will find me dipping 200 strawberries in chocolate, stuffing freshly made cream puffs, spreading seafood cheddar spread on baguettes and making millions of other cute little crudites.

Oh, and Villiam came by earlier to say good-bye (he is off to Wisconsin and then back to Denmark) and introduced me to another man from Denmark who met his wife (a doctor from San Fransisco) on an airplane when there was a medical emergency. Sounds like a great opening to a romance novel, doesn’t it? I’ll probably be dreaming about the characters in my sleep tonight. If I get any.

All I can say is, thank goodness God doesn’t throw us away when we’re chipped, cracked or broken. I’d have been relegated to the trash bin years ago. Instead, I’m a beautiful mosaic, and very multi-faceted – wouldn’t you say?

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Lost – Ode to a Manuscript Gone Missing

No, this isn’t a post about Lost, the TV show. It’s a funeral for the ending of a story that is lost. The last two chapters of Blue Belle of Scotland, a romance / suspense novel I wrote about five years ago, have gone missing, and try as I might, they seem to be permanently gone.

Me, working on Blue Belle of Scotland on my Alphasmart in Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland, where the book is set.

Me, working on Blue Belle of Scotland on my Alphasmart in Tobermory, Isle of Mull, Scotland, where the book is set.

I evidently wrote the chapters on a lap top, because there is no trace of the chapters on the hard drives of either of my two desktops. I probably wrote it on the A drive, a floppy disk, so I could later insert it into either of the desktops and continue writing no matter where I was, and which computer I was writing at.

Why would any sane person have 2 home computers, two laptops, and an Alphasmart?

Midway into writing the book, I married a wonderful man, a pastor, and started the delightful, but crazed existence I’m still living – in two different houses, 45 miles apart. Some nights we sleep in one house, some nights in the other. Some people have one house in cold, snowy Iowa, and one in warm, sunny Arizona. We have two in Iowa, come rain, snow, sleet, or hot, muggy weather.

When we married, Mark had been the pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church and lived in the parsonage in his little town for almost 4 years. I had owned and operated the Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House and lived in an adjacent cottage in my little town for over 12 years.

Neither one of us wanted to give up our job or our house, move to the others town, or drive 90 miles round trip every day. Because of the unique natures of our jobs, both of us felt like we needed to be present at our own house – in our own town – at least part of the time, really, most of the time.

And so we hatched the plot – two houses in two towns.

My only requirement was that the beds we slept in be identical, so wherever I was, I would feel like I was sleeping in my own bed.

So, a bit of mattress juggling, and two new memory foam mattresses later, I moved half of my clothes over to the parsonage and made room in an extra closet for some of Mark’s clothes at the cottage.  We each bought two sets of deodorant, two toothbrushes, a bunch of extra underwear, and an overnight case for transporting those must-have-at-both-houses-can’t afford-to-buy-two things back and forth.

For the most part, the plan has worked amazingly well. My husband, Mark, makes the drive more days than I do. It’s not that we prefer the cottage to the parsonage, it’s that he is better at long-distance driving, and I work more evenings, checking in guests and serving them dinner. When I do get to spend a few days at the parsonage, away from the B&B, it is a wonderful retreat, a place where I can write all day long, in my nightgown, if I want to.

But things do get confusing after awhile. Anything I’ve written since we got married is a jumble of chapters edited here, there, and everywhere. I write in the car between houses, when Mark is driving. I start a chapter at one house, on one computer, and finish it on another. I have a system of saving things to a disk, or sending the file I’m working on to the other house as an email attachment, then saving it to the hard drive, renaming the files each time, so in theory, I know which is the most recent version.

But there are those times you leave one house in a hurry, or arrive at the other frenzied, and have to hit the ground running. Obviously, the system is not foolproof or the ending of Blue Belle of Scotland would not be gone.

Why this loss is affecting me so deeply, I don’t know. I’m currently reading The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. The main character loses his daughter, his faith, his peace of mind. That’s loss. Losing the ending of a book is nothing in comparison. I mean, I’m a writer. I can write it again, can’t I? Maybe, by some stroke of genius, it will be even better.

And yet, my loss haunts me. I wrote it so long ago that I honestly can’t remember what I wrote. All I know is that is was good stuff, riveting, probably the best thing I’ve ever written. I agonized over it. I sweated it out. It was hard to write, a new style for me, action-packed, edge of your seat suspense.

It’s been so long since I wrote the first part of the book that I feel totally incapable of writing a coherent ending. I barely remember the names of the characters, the twists and turns of the plot. I like my endings to mirror my beginnings. How can I do that when the images are so blurry I can hardly see?

I want it back.

All I can do is accept that it’s lost.

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