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

Scot - Crinan Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Bonnie Scotland! To tying up loose ends! To new beginnings! So, until next time, you know where to find me, and where my heart remains.

Scot - KM sheep

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

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It’s been two months since I blogged – but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing.  In late October, I dashed off a Christmas play called Count Your Blessings which has since been performed by the Sunday School at my husband’s church to rave reviews and a few laughs, too.

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Blog - 1Christmas program

In November, I wrote the first 50,000 words of my first ever mystery, Seaside Daisy, set on the Wild Atlantic Way in Dingle, Ireland. I’m loving my main characters, Daisy Fitzpatrick and Cavan Donaghue, and even Aunt Sheelagh and that spawn of the devil, Darcie Sneem.  If you liked my ghosts in Golden Rod, you’ll love Granny Brigid and Captain Donaghue. It’s been great fun reliving the days we spent in Dingle and Killarney and touring the Wild Atlantic Way as well as all our other Irish adventure in early summer 2017.  Participating the the annual NaNoWriMo writing challenge was a great way to jump start my novel and discipline myself to write every day in the month of November.

Here’s a sneak peek at what you have to look forward to in Seaside Daisy:  When Daisy Fitzpatrick discovers a treasure chest filled with gold unearthed by a storm in a sea cave near her granny’s Dingle Peninsula shanty, she rents out her seaside shop and loft apartment, buys an old mansion in Killarney, and overnight, finds herself a celebrity with a grand new life. A few months later, the local priest in Dingle ends up dead and the police claim the gold she found was on his land, not hers. When Daisy loses everything, including her friends – both tried and true and new and fickle, can she find it in herself to start over? The Wild Atlantic Way might be a hard foe to tame, but the townsfolk of Dingle, Ireland soon learn that even the roar of the sea is no match for a Fitzpatrick with their mind made up.

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When December 1st came, it was time to set Seaside Daisy aside and begin writing a murder mystery for New Year’s Eve at the Blue Belle Inn, the bed and breakfast I own and operate when I’m not writing. Of course, I had a million other things to catch up on after doing little but writing the whole month of November. I also needed to tweak the Christmas program before rehearsals started and plan and create characters for our February mystery. And, I wanted to make some of my Celtic Crosses to go with my Danish books and my Wildflowers of Scotland novels in case people wanted to buy them for Christmas gifts. And, of course, since I was thinking about Seaside Daisy, some Irish crosses, too. That’s where I got sidelined. 

Then, the next week, when I came up with the following premise for our February 15 and 16 mystery dinner, I was so in love with the concept that I wanted to write it immediately! And the menu – well, be still my heart. 
Food - Seafood Mornay
Oh Venus – Make My Dream Come True (or is that too much to ask?) a Mt. Olympus Murder Mystery by Sherrie Hansen – When the Roman gods have a horse fall gravely ill that cannot be healed using any of their powers, they call in Dr. Brown, a gifted veterinarian from Iowa, to try to find a cure. When Dr. Brown restores the horse to health, the gods invite her to a relaxing stay at Mount Olympus Spa “on the house.” “Sorry, Charlie,” she wrote to her husband, “but since I am having such a divine time, I am going to stay on at the spa as a Valentine treat to myself.” After all, she knew that he was not going to buy her flowers or chocolate or take her out to dinner. A few days later, when her worried husband arrived at Mount Olympus Spa to surprise her, she was found dead from an arrow in her heart. Now Jupiter, Mars, Diana, Vesta, Neptune, Pluto, Venus, and Dr. Brown’s husband are all suspects. Figure out who killed Dr. Brown, and you could be the lucky sleuth who gets your dinner free!

MENU:

Mount Olympus Tortellini Soup, Green Salad and a Roll with Your Choice of:

Chicken Carbonara a la Jupiter with Parmesan Cream Sauce, Bacon, Mushrooms and Peas on Bow Tie Pasta OR

Pork and Parmesan Stuffed Manicotti a la Mars with Spinach Artichoke Alfredo Sauce and Italian Cheeses OR

Seafood Mornay a la Venus with Swiss, Shrimp and Imitation Crab on Puff Pastry Hearts on Scallop Shells OR

Italian Meatballs a la Vesta in Tomato Basil Cream Sauce with Provolone Cheese on Garlic Toast Rounds OR

Roast Vegetables Diana with Spinach Artichoke Dip on Wild Rice with Italian Cheeses

A choice of Our Homemade Desserts including Italian Cream Cake and Amaretto Whisper Cheesecake will be offered for $5.00 each. Optional Beverages $1.50 each. You may bring your own wine, beer and champagne. A charge or $1.00 per stem includes uncorking as needed. Dinner and Mystery $24.95 each. Blue Belle Inn B&B and Tea House in St. Ansgar, North Central Iowa.

MM - Midsummer Night's Murder
But since December 31st comes long before Valentine’s Day weekend, I knew I needed to get cracking on my December mystery. I finally found time to write it the week before Christmas and I love the way it turned out.  Here’s the story:  I was in Paris, France on New Year’s Eve, 1979 to ring in 1980. I had been living in Germany for 2 1/2 years and couldn’t wait to experience a unique French menu and entertainment. When we arrived, the host hotel “surprised” us with a German dinner and “oom-pah” band to play polkas! So, remembering that night, I’m preparing the French meal I was dreaming of to go along with a mystery called The Unresolved New Year’s Resolution.

 

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Our New Year’s performance is sold out, but we will be doing a repeat performance on Friday, January 18 at 6:30 pm. Here’s the scoop:  When someone tries to put an end to newbie 2019’s hopes, dreams and ambitions before it even has a chance to get started, the New Year is forced to go into hiding. If guests can’t determine who is guilty of attempting to stop the New Year in its tracks, 2019 won’t come out of hiding, New Year’s resolutions will remain unresolved, and 2018 will continue on in infamy! It’s up to you to solve the mystery of who’s trying to put an end to 2019 – time traveler Claire Voyant, numbers fanatic Flo Bia, computer geek Y2K19, Back to the Future opportunist Biff Baby Back Baby Back Baby Back, devilish incumbent 2000 Haight Teen, politician Lane Duck, 64 year old Rhea Tyree, and old timer Lester Day, who longs for the good old days when all his troubles seemed so far away… One lucky sleuth will get their dinner free.

Menu for December 31, 2018 and January 18, 2019:

French Onion Soup, Green Salad and a Roll

Your choice of:

French Steak with Cheddar Chablis Sauce and Red Potatoes OR

Herbes de Provence Chicken and Bacon with Roquefort Cream Sauce on Mashed Potatoes OR

Chicken Cordon Bleu Crepes with Ham and Swiss Cheese Sauce OR

Seafood Stuffed Salmon on Wild Rice OR

Roasted Vegetables with Spinach Artichoke Dip on Wild Rice with Cheese

Dinner and mystery $29.95 each. Our featured desserts will include Blueberry French Cream Pie and Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake and will be offered for $5.00 each.

MM - Blue Belle

So that’s what I’ve been up to and why I’ve been too busy to blog. I didn’t even mention writing our Christmas letter since my husband did most it! I hope you enjoyed catching up and that you’re having a great holiday so far. Blessings to all of you as we look ahead to a hopefully wonderful 2019!

This March, I’m going to be speaking to a group of bed and breakfast innkeepers on the subject of how and why we choose accommodations when we travel. Of particular interest to this group is:  When people are planning a trip, how do they start looking for a place to stay? Do they have a favorite booking platform or do they prefer booking direct? Do they even consider looking at B&Bs or do they automatically head for the big chain hotels? What are some things that attract or discourage them from staying at a  B&B? What catches their eyes, makes them stop and take a second look, and press reservations – or run as quickly as possible  to the local Motel 6?

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As an author of ten books, soon to be eleven, I often ask myself the same sort of questions. Why do people buy my books instead of the thousands of others on the book shelves or the millions of others available online?

Sometimes I think the hardest thing about being a writer is finding readers who are a good match with the books we’ve worked so hard to write.

This isn’t the Match Game, but I’m going to take a stab at helping you to determine if you and my books would make a good pair.

Love Notes - Winter

  1. You might like my books if you’re from Minnesota, Iowa, or anywhere in the Midwest.

I was born and raised in Minnesota. I’ve lived just 9 miles south of the Minnesota border, in Iowa, for the past 26 years. If you have ties to either state and like stumbling upon familiar places in the books you read, you will probably like my books. Most of my Wildflowers of Scotland novels even have Midwestern characters scattered throughout – hopefully just enough to make you feel at home.

Daybreak in Denmark (3)

 

  1. You might like my books if you enjoy being surprised when you’re reading.

My books are character-driven and as different from one another as each person is unique – anything but cookie cutter. Some have a mystery to solve, some are a tad bit suspenseful, others, completely relational in focus. A few have Christian fiction leanings, while others are on the steamy side. A number are set in Scotland, and soon to be two, in Denmark. Most are romances, but my new book, Daybreak, focuses on a married couple and what happens when happily-ever-after doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Golden Rod has a pair of 500 year old ghosts. Although I will admit to having kidnappings in two of my books, you’ll find that each of my novels follows its own unique template. I like to think they’re refreshingly unpredictable and far from formulaic.

Wildflowers

  1. You might like my books if you enjoy having characters from previous books reappear in future novels.

My books aren’t serials – each of them stands alone, but several are linked together in groupings for those who enjoy getting another glimpse of a favorite character or two. My Wildflower of Scotland novels (Thistle Down, Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet, Sweet William, and Golden Rod) are interconnected through family and friends, as is the Maple Valley Trilogy (Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round) through the lives of three sisters, Rae, Michelle, and Tracy. Daybreak, to be released this summer, is a sequel to Night and Day, and has cameo appearances by characters from Love Notes and Sweet William.

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  1. You might like my books if you’re a follower of mine on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Instagram.

I truly believe that the things we like, comment on, and post about on social media are a window into our general aura and a commentary of what’s important to us. If you like my perspective, the things I focus on and take photos of, the music I listen to, the foods I make at my B&B and teahouse, and the paintings I create in my spare time, you’ll most likely enjoy my books and the characters I write about, all of whom are at least some reflection of me, my style, and my passions.

Golden Rod (3)

  1. You might like my books if you’re a small town girl at heart.

Whether my books are set in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Canada, California, Denmark, Scotland or France, they have small town or even rural settings. They’re populated by people who love wide open spaces, seeing the sun sink into the horizon at the end of the day, and appreciate the quirky personalities that are a part of small town living.

Night and Day (1)

 

 

  1. You might like my books if you enjoy knowing both sides of the story – from a somewhat experienced point of view.

My books are all written in two or more points of view. At least one is a woman’s, and the other, a man’s. Some say I’m more adept at writing the male point of view. And speaking of characters, mine are a bit more grown up than some, with most ranging from their late thirties to early fifties. They’re not superhuman or stupendously sexy or heroic. They’re rarely virgins or too young to know better. They’re nice, normal, slice of life, girl or boy-next-door kind of people – believable, relatable, and loveable despite their flaws and shortcomings.

 

If you’ve read any of my novels, you can probably think of a few more reasons you enjoy my books and choose them over the millions of other options available to you. A friend of mine once said he never wanted to be accused of being normal. I’ve tried to apply this concept to every part of my life, whether my B&B, teahouse, art or writing. I don’t know if I’ve inspired anyone new to give my books a try, but I’ve enjoyed giving you a glimpse into what makes me and my books unique. To those who are already readers, thank you for coming along for the ride! It means the world to me.

P.S. If you’ve enjoyed one or more of my books like I hope you have, please remember that authors need reviews to attract prospective readers!

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I grew up in a home where we were taught “If you can’t find something nice to say about something, don’t say anything at all.” This bit of wisdom seemed like good advice then – and still does now.

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But somewhere along the way, the world changed, and now, everybody’s a critic. I see it on shows like Chopped, The Taste, The Voice, and Dancing with the Stars, where judges nitpick over tiny imperfections, and criticize and compare what the contestants bring to the table ad nauseam.

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I grew up in a world where there were defined winners, but doing your best, and working as hard as you could to be the best you could be, was both admirable and praiseworthy.

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The generation that followed mine strayed in the direction of skipping rankings altogether, of not giving any grades beyond a satisfactory rating, and passing out participation ribbons instead of purple, blue, red and white. They didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or damage anyone’s fragile self-esteem. Now, we’ve gone so far in the opposite direction – we’re so hyper competitive – that it’s scary. Nothing’s ever good enough. It’s all about being the best, better than, a notch above, a perfect 10, a fraction of a point ahead of the other competitors.

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Even more frightening is the fact that we routinely ditch the opinions of qualified judges, food critics, teachers and editors along with their years of experience and training, instead opting to give the vote to ordinary Joes. We vote to save the contender we like the best with live tweets and text messages and special apps. We, the people, hold the power.

BBI Spring 2012

Consumers make decisions on which books to read, which hotel, B&B, or restaurants to stay at or eat at based on what unaccredited strangers post on Yelp, Trip Advisor, or Angie’s List. We review people’s performance on eBay and Airbnb. We rate products and services on Amazon.com and e-pinions and hundreds of other websites. Some of these posts are honest, genuine, thoughtfully written assessments. But there are also overly harsh reviews from drama queens, people trying to get hits, whiners, complainers, obnoxious know-it-alls and yes, liars. And we listen to them, take their advice to heart, and chart our course of action based on what they say.

Food - Breakfast Palm Tree

 

These days, every time I walk into my kitchen at the B&B and tea house I own and operate, I feel like I’m on an episode of Chopped… the stress, the clock ticking down, the feeling that if I don’t deliver a product that’s not only beyond reproach, but exemplary – in record time – I will be chopped from the list of restaurants my clients frequent and recommend. Is it just my imagination, or are my customers picking apart every detail of my culinary efforts, second guessing my choice of cheeses, the seasoning I used on my chicken breasts, and the amount of Parmesan I sprinkle on top of my casseroles? Did one flavor overpower another? Did I plate too hurriedly? Did I commit any one of a multitude of culinary sins when I envisioned and created my menu?

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I’ve had far more complimentary reviews than bad when it comes to my B&B and tea house, and my books, but every negative comment is like a dagger in my heart, sometimes because the remarks are unfair, untrue, and unjust, and other times, sadly, because what my critics have written is a valid criticism.

night-and-day-book

Our expectations are so high, our standards so close to perfection that it’s almost impossible to please. I’ve read a few early works of my favorite, big-name authors and found in many cases that the writing is amateurish, lacking in basic writing skills, and what would generally be considered sub-standard in today’s world. To be frank, there is no way these books would ever be published in today’s hyper-critical world. And what a tragedy that would have been, to shoot them down before they had a chance to grow and bloom and shine.

BBInn - daffodils

Is there a place in today’s world for a thin-skinned, people-pleasing author/restaurateur/ innkeeper who craves positive attention and compliments? My husband gets a yearly performance review – I get one every time someone opens one of my books or eats at my tea house or stays at my B&B. And the thing is, there’s not a pillow or mattress or book on earth that will please everyone, because some like it hot, and some like it cold, or firm or soft, or spicy or mild, or big or small. And no matter how wonderful our stories are, not everyone is going to resonate with our characters or get into our plot line.

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I was told early on that you had to have thick skin to survive as an author. I was also told that it takes 10 positive comments to make up for one negative. I get hundreds of verbal compliments and affirmations every week, in person, and on social media. Why is it that the people with complaints never seem to speak to you directly, or give you a chance to correct the problem, but instead, chose to publicly humiliate and damage your reputation online? And why is it that those dear people who pay me compliments tend to do it privately instead of shouting it from the rooftops, as I would selfishly prefer?

Rainbow - Becky

What I’d like to suggest is that we all learn to look on the bright side. No situation – no traveling, dining or reading experience – is perfect. Most generally, the flaws lie in things that are beyond our control. Not to say that we shouldn’t speak up if something is grievously wrong, but in each situation we’re faced with, we have an option of focusing on the negative or the positive. If you choose the positive and look for the bright spots, the silver lining, and the good that can be found, you will be happier by far. So will I. 🙂 The negative? Try letting those irksome little foibles roll off your back. If you can’t find something good to say, then say nothing at all.

Now, if you have something good to say about me, my books, my tea house or my B&B, please consider posting a positive review at whatever online sites you frequent. In this Chopped world, the gift of praise is so appreciated, and much needed. Ever so humbly… Sherrie

Storm sun beams

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.

BBInn - PC Tree 2010

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.

MM - Little Oops cast

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?

MM Never Ever Land cast
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.
MM - Sherwood Forest

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.

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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.

MM - Dudley Do-Right MM - Anne Green

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.

MM - PCharming

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.

MM - W in Time

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.

Blue Belle winter

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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Blue Belle Inn.

Laura Ingalls Wilder books

On the Banks of Plum Creek at the Blue Belle Inn B&B, Saint Ansgar, Iowa

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Daybreak – New Release! (Sequel to Night & Day)

Night and Day

Golden Rod

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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