Walking with Henry, by Rachel Anne Ridge

If you liked Flash: the Donkey, you will adore Walking with Henry. In this lovely book, Rachel Anne Ridge candidly tells her own story of the tragedy, struggles and questions she’s dealt with.

Rachel and Tom thought Flash needed a companion donkey, so they (sort of) jumped on the opportunity to adopt a rescued miniature donkey. Rachel watched and learned from Flash, “Henry” (the new kid), and their slow-growing friendship. Somehow, as she slowed down and gave her own heart some breathing space, these poky-but-gentle creatures helped her see her doubts and questions in a new light. Meanwhile, she discovered guidance in other unexpected places, until her bruised faith kindled again into a warm flame.

This is one of the most encouraging books I’ve read in a long time. No doubt Rachel’s transparency and delightfully engaging voice get much of the credit. Although I’m flagging Walking With Henry as a Great Weekend Read, I actually recommend reading just a chapter or two at a time. Then let each “settle” a while.

Tyndale, the publisher, sent me an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thanks for letting me share!
Happy Reading,
Jan

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Ingredient-Free Baking

Since I’m trying to dial back the starch and sugar in my diet, and have a bunch of family members with restrictions, I often prowl for recipes. I found one especially promising dessert online. No sugar or grain? Why, that would work for everyone except the vegans! And it sounded really delicious. I give you…

Sugar-Free Pumpkin Brownies (Click here for the recipe!)

Photo credit: SugarFreeLondoner.com
Check out her website for this and more sugar-free goodness!

I made a few practice batches, adjusting to taste (interpretation: used more cocoa and stevia, what else?) after each try. These are seriously good–moist and chocolaty, especially after my tweaks!

Some of our church friends were to have a potluck at our house. Our group includes a grain-free couple, so I signed myself up for the Pumpkin Brownies along with the main dish.

Since there’d be a dozen of us, I decided to increase the small-pan recipe by 50%. I’m quite confident in my ability to do this, as you’ll know if you read my Banana-Bread Math story.

I rushed around the kitchen, adapting the amount of each ingredient in my head… on the fly… including some odd amounts, like 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder.

The only way to accurately increase 1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons by half is to convert the measurement into teaspoons, add half the number of teaspoons, and convert the resulting (large) number back into cups or fractions thereof.

I was on that math like burnt sugar on a pie pan.

Took me FOR. EVER.

At long last, I popped the brownie pan into the oven and hustled the main dish together. The brownies looked slightly flat when I removed them from the oven, but I chalked it up to the different size pan. Maybe 50% was a little short. Whatever.

Everyone arrived, we ate dinner, then it was time for dessert.

I opened the fridge to grab the whipped topping and there, on the same shelf, was a partial can of pumpkin. The pumpkin I was going to finish off before I opened the new can.

For the brownies.

Uh-ohhhh… (Checks pantry. New can has been put back.)“AAAAH! I left out the Pumpkin!

They weren’t terrible, but they lacked a certain something. Like the main ingredient.

Later, I reminded Brent about the newlywed Tuna-Noodle Casserole (no tuna) that I’d been trying to live down since 1979.

That reminded me of the Chicken Pot Pie with my freehand chicken cutout in the top crust instead of the usual three slits. You guessed it–I forgot the chicken. Ha, that was in 1999.

“Now it’s 2019. So, every twenty years….”

Brent: “That’s creepy. And did you notice the missing ingredient is always in the name?”

I can hardly wait to see what I come up with for 2039.

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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The Keeper, by T. F. Allen

Image credit: Amazon.com

I’ve never read a book like this before.

I don’t even know what to call it. Thriller? Mystery? Supernatural / Paranormal?

Um…. yes.

I may not know what to call it, but I sure couldn’t put it down. Here’s the gist, from Amazon.com:

Angel, spirit, or ghost–the Keeper doesn’t know exactly what he is. But he knows he needs to protect Michael Delacroix, a famous artist who is kidnapped and locked in a windowless room deep beneath a Napa Valley vineyard.

Desperate to save the only person who knows he exists, the Keeper uses his abilities to convince two strong-willed women to search for Michael: a reporter who thinks her visions are signs from the Universe, and a nun who swears she hears the voice of God. …

This story is narrated in first-person, from The Keeper’s point of view. But since he can also enter people’s minds, we sometimes know what other characters are thinking.

What makes this story a Great Weekend Read is the over-the-top creativity of the story line. I’ll even forgive Allen for my elevated pulse and blood pressure as the two women raced to rescue Michael. I mean, they had no idea what they were dealing with.

If you like thrills and shivers with a strangely satisfying ending, I highly recommend The Keeper.

You can get the book for Kindle or in paperback by clicking here.

Want to know more? Visit Allen’s website, https://toddallenauthor.com/.

Thanks for reading!
Jan

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What IS This, Anyway?

When I saw this… thing… in an antique store, it stopped me in my tracks. Normally, a large ceramic figure that’s really a two-part container functions as a cookie jar. But…

First, cookie jars don’t come with salt and pepper shakers. Plus, I found these particular salt and pepper shakers rather creepy.

Second, I would not put my perfectly good chocolate-chip cookies inside a dead bird.

Even a fake one.

So if you know the story behind these whimsical works of art, do tell! There’s room for you in the “Your Turn: Comments Welcome Here” box below the post, and I am truly curious.

After all, everybody has a story… even fake dead birds.

Thanks for reading!
Jan

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Over-Charged… or, Night of the Zombie Phone

Just in time for the new year… another terrifying tale about my maladjusted appliances. Or, in this case, electronics. Whatever. They’re all in cahoots.

I don’t turn my phone off very often. Instead, I just silence the ringer when I charge it overnight. But not long ago, the thing was acting kind of squirrely so I turned it off.

Minutes later, I turned it on and waited for the little Apple symbol to light up, showing that the phone was waking up, then left it to do its boot-up thing.

Half an hour later, the little Apple symbol still showed. No home screen.

I tried turning the phone off, holding the button down for several seconds.

It wouldn’t turn off.

Unplug it and turn it off again?

No change.

I picked it up. “Oooh, it feels kind of warm.”

Brent said, “Better take it to the AT&T store.”

They’d be open for another 45 minutes, so off I went.

Went inside and told the guy “My phone won’t turn off.”

He took it and immediately dropped it onto the counter. “That thing is hot!

Sure enough, the phone had begun to warp.

The AT&T guy nervously wrapped it in a shop towel. “Is it okay with you if I set it outside in case it blows up?”

“Be my guest,” I told him. I mean, I didn’t want to die by phone shrapnel, either.

After duly buying another phone and getting everything set up, I took the barbecued unit, still in its towel, home for disposal. But what was I gonna do with it? I wasn’t about to put it in the wastebasket and start a house fire.

The one time I’d dropped my first smartphone into water, it went dead in about two seconds. So I got a bucket, ran a few inches of water in it, and gave the phone a burial at sea, only on the driveway. Then I waited respectfully for its light to go out forever.

And waited.

A whole minute went by… It was still looking up at me from its watery grave.

This was ridiculous. Clearly, I had a Zombie Phone on my hands. What can you do but go inside and hope it gives up?

Three minutes later… Yep, I’ve still got a luminaria out here. Stomped back inside, this time stubbornly staying away until nearly bedtime. You cannot imagine my relief when I went outside and found… darkness.

Free at last!

I fished the phone out and let it lie in state on the kitchen island until morning.

Next day, when I went to view the remains, I saw…
(Cue “Psycho” music)

“chaaarrge… meeeeee…” it seemed to be whispering.

Yeah, right. I may not be as smart as my phone, but I’m not about to fall for that again.

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Of Figs and Peppers

“Write what you know,” goes the usual advice.

So… I’m writing this series of short humorous novels. I’ve mentioned before that the stories take place in Palestine, Texas, which happens to be my home town.

I set some key events in Book 2 in late October, during Palestine’s annual “Hot Pepper Festival.” Then I realized I’ve never actually attended the festival. For the sake of research (and another excuse to eat at Little Mexico), I decided to spend that weekend in Palestine.

A friend had posted on Facebook, recommending a B&B just off downtown. We could walk right to all the action.

Not having to park downtown during the chaos of a local festival, complete with parade?

Sold!

With that in mind, I reserved a room at Fig Tree Manor. I’d drive over on Friday morning–I had people and places to see–and Brent would join me on Saturday.

One place I wanted to visit was the historic Redlands Hotel. My ol’ high school friend Kevin recently helped launch a Smooth Rock radio station (93.5 FM), and had posted that they were broadcasting from the Redlands. I had to pop by and check it out.

Yeah, there’s an office upstairs, with the computers and mics and stuff. But where do Kevin and his co-DJ Marc broadcast their live morning show? Well, from a table in the first-floor art gallery, of course. (Ooo-kay… why not?) They sit right in front of the picture window (“Our Window on the World,” they call it) and play music and keep everyone updated on the latest local goings-on.

Kevin was running around getting ready for the Hot Pepper Festival. While I waited for him to orbit back to the studio / art gallery / hotel / Building of Historic Awesomeness, I looked at some beautifully nostalgic watercolor paintings… then got to meet the artist.

David Tripp paints country and small-town scenes, nature, railroad art, and antiques. Here he is with some of his work. (Like it? Click here to visit his website, or HERE to visit his blog.)

After duly having dinner at Little Mexico, it was time to go back to the B&B to recharge. PERFECT place for relaxing!

Tom, our host, cooks up a fabulous breakfast that is friendly to any dietary preferences you might have. You want a little kick in your omelette? — hang on, let’s grab a banana pepper from the garden out back. An array of teas and Keurig coffees ensure you are fueled with your favorite caffeine (or non-). And all from this vintage little kitchen…

I tell ya, that home town of mine gets more interesting all the time. Let’s hope my novellas can do it justice.

Thanks for reading,
Jan

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Tuscany on Two Wheels

Last time, I promised to tell you all about our Ciclismo Classico bicycle tour in Italy, besides just the amazing food and guides and lodging and cappuccinos.


Here’s the bike garage at Il Mollinello, our guide Sandro’s home / B&B / 14th-century gristmill. First, let me say up front that this jaw-dropping wonder world of bikes absolutely could beat up the bike garage at our house.

I think I saw Brent taking notes.

 

 

The rides started out pretty easy–at a casual pace, too. Here, Brent is uncharacteristically taking time to stop and get a photo.

That’s as opposed to his usual technique of taking them one-handed, on the fly, with sometimes less-than-graceful results.

 

 

Some of our routes coincided with the route of L’Eroica, the gravel ride that was to be the pinnacle of the tour. Area road signs include permanent route markers.
Every hour or so, whichever guide was driving the van would pull over and set up a rest stop. Snacks, baby!

The next day, we rode to a town called Montalcino. Please note: when riding to a place in Italy whose name starts with the letters “Mont-,” don’t expect the road there to be flat. As you can see from my elevation reading (below left), this wasn’t exactly a Rocky-Mountain level peak. I mean, there was air at the top, and all. But talk about steep!

Our reward for that climb was getting to see this old castle (right), which our guide Marcello knew all about.

After the castle, we rode downhill (yaaay!) to a unique vineyard for a tour and lunch. Here’s what happens when a family of artists are turned loose in a vineyard…

The day before L’Eroica, the group took a practice ride on their retro bikes. If you notice the third-person pronoun, yeah. I didn’t participate. By this time I’d decided that gravel roads are just not for me. No worries, that left me free to take photos and do a little shopping around the village of Radda in Chianti. Gelato may have been involved.

Next morning started waaaay early. Brent bravely chose to do the long route, about 80 miles. Here he is with the other hardy souls before they rode down to Gaiole for the start. He’s the one in the middle, whose light, um, didn’t work.

As for me, I rode my nice new Bianchi to Gaiole–after sunrise, thank you–and enjoyed the village all morning. Best of all were the participants dressed in period costume. Plenty of them wore retro jerseys, but some folks went all out…
The guy in the middle photo was giving people old-school beard trims or, in this case, fixing up some mutton-chop sideburns.

 

And here’s my hero of the day, looking remarkably perky after the finish:

 

This was the greatest vacation ever. I challenged myself, rode up hills I had no idea I could climb, ate gallons of gelato, learned a lot about Italy, and made friends with some of the most charming and fun people around.
 

Thanks for reading!
Tailwinds,
Jan

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