The Thief of Blackfriars Lane, by Michelle Griep

Normally, I avoid Victoria-era stories set in England. I expect them to be too depressingly Charles Dickens-ish. But this recent title by Michelle Griep caught my eye. Here’s the blurb from Amazon (the image is theirs, too):
“Constable Jackson Forge intends to make the world safer, or at least the streets of Victorian London. But that’s Kit Turner’s domain, a swindler who runs a crew that acquires money the old-fashioned way—conning the rich to give to the poor. When a local cab driver goes missing, Jackson is tasked with finding the man, and the only way to do that is by enlisting Kit’s help. If Jackson doesn’t find the cabby, he’ll be fired. If Kit doesn’t help Jackson, he’ll arrest her for thievery. Yet neither of them realize those are the least of their problems.”

This intriguing premise sucked me in, and I’m glad it did! Griep’s likeable characters came alive on the page. Their tale has plenty of suspense, mystery, honor, deceit, humor, spectacular failure, and danger. Plus a sneaking hint of romance that they certainly take their sweet time acknowledging. Maybe it’s the stress of not knowing whether they can trust each other.

Whether you usually like historical fiction or avoid it, I encourage you to give this Great Weekend Read a try.

Thanks for reading,

Jan

(c) 2021 by Jan C Johnson

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Ireland Part 1: “Learn the Dance”

Last week, Brent and I enjoyed a fully-supported Ciclismo Classico bicycle tour in Ireland, more or less along the southwest coast. COVID restrictions in Ireland had lifted just in time for us to make the journey. I have a handful stories to share, but want to start with this one…

In Ireland, vehicles use the left side of the road, not the right as in the US. Currency is euros, not dollars. Distances are in kilometers, not miles. Temperatures are in Celsius, not Fahrenheit.

We had some adapting to do, all of which seemed to involve math. (That, and keeping your bike to the left so you don’t end up bloodying some unsuspecting driver’s fender.) Anyway, as much as I like math, this was a lot of processing. Especially converting miles to kilometers on the fly, while out riding. On what persisted in feeling like the wrong side of the road.

One evening, a pair of incredibly talented musicians delighted us with traditional Irish music. One introduced an Irish jig, explaining that the time signature (rhythm pattern) of the jig is 6/8. “Well,” he amended, “really a combination of 6/8 and 9/8.”

After they played the jig, one of the guests said he tried to follow that complex rhythm pattern, but couldn’t. The guitar player nodded wisely. “Ah,” he said, “ye just have to learn the dance, then it’ll make sense.”

That casual remark stayed with me. It occurred to me that when learning to do anything new, I tend to “math” my way along. Do the calculations. Analyze all the steps before trying any of them.

But what if I tried a different tack?

Instead of doggedly following the numbers, analyzing the pattern… what if I would jump in and “learn the dance?”

This could actually be more fun.

Where to start? Well… after the first day’s ride, I’d thought to set my Garmin to show distance and speed in metric, which allowed me to follow the route instructions calculation-free. That’s the spirit! I set my phone weather app to show Celsius.

Now I was on a roll. Instead of trying to figure out the nearest American equivalent of unfamiliar menu items, I started ordering the most outrageously Irish foods offered. “When am I gonna get another shot at this?” I asked.

Side note: there was nothing I actually didn’t like, not even fresh seaweed or “mushy peas.”

No, really.

We math-y types sometimes have a hard time going with the flow, but I found this shift in thinking freed me up to enjoy the trip in ways I otherwise wouldn’t have.

All I had to do was let the math take care of itself, and just learn the dance.

What about you? Do you math? Is overthinking your superpower, too? Do you give yourself “analysis paralysis?” I’d love to hear your thoughts in the “Your Turn…” box below the post.

Thanks for reading,

Jan

(c) 2021 Jan C. Johnson

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A Day of Gifts

Hometown. There’s nothing like a visit “home” to pull you back from your current busy life and let you relax with a bit of nostalgia. A day in Palestine earlier in the spring did just that for me. Not only that, but I received a whole series of gifts. It wasn’t even my birthday or anything, which made the experience that much more meaningful to me.

First, I met my high school classmate Donna at a new little place called Crepes and Coffee. Though I always liked and admired Donna, we were never really “social friends” in our student days. Now that we’ve both lived a great deal of life and become reconnected, we’ve formed a real bond. Her enthusiasm for my travel and my current project warmed my heart. And she shared more of her story with me, upping my admiration for her even more!

Besides the lovely time together, she surprised me with a beautiful mirror compact (in my favorite colors and style, no less). She explained that for her, such a compact has come to symbolize friendship.

And she even bought my breakfast!

Next, I went to the art gallery on the first floor of the historic Redlands Hotel downtown. I met artist David Tripp there four years ago, and he now owns the gallery. A dozen artists have their works there. It’s always fun to browse the original paintings, smaller prints, sculptures, and works in progress… but I admit my favorites are always David’s nostalgic watercolors.

Since my visit fell during the Dogwood Festival, David had some goodies for his friends who stopped by. One of these was a poem about the artists who share the gallery. I enjoyed the poem, but the gift I really geeked out about was this Blackwing Matte pencil. It draws a nice dark line, yet holds its point well. The thing is, it’s the same kind of pencil John Steinbeck used to draft his novels. It’s now made by a different company, but still… the association inspires my work.
David wasn’t done yet. His best gift of all to me? His words. He’s writing and illustrating a book of stories. He told me he’d considered the project for some time, and finally went for it thanks to the influence of three people. I forget the first, the second was Larry McMurtry, and the third… was me. What?? Such an unexpected honor to have a place in David’s story.

I had some downtime in the afternoon, so I took my journal and new pencil to Davey Dogwood Park. I needed to process this unusual day a bit. Even in cloudy and somewhat threatening weather, the heavily wooded park welcomed me with its peaceful atmosphere. I wrote out my thoughts on the day so far, then went to meet old friends for dinner…

… We got to know Gordon and Amy ages ago, when we first moved to the Dallas area. He was the music minister at the church we joined, and Amy and I sang alto together in the choir. Gordon has a quirky sense of humor, so when he first told me he’d taken a position at a church in Palestine, I flat-out didn’t believe him. But it turned out to be true. We visited for a while at their home, then they treated me to dinner at the Pint and Barrel Drafthouse. The day ended with Amy’s yummy homemade dessert back at their house.

Food, mementos, symbolic gifts, more food… encouraging words and, most importantly, time spent together with people I care about. The whole day was a gift.

And the best gift of all is my friends.

May I be a good friend to those in my life.

Thanks for reading,

Jan

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Cyclist’s Prayer

(c) 2021 Jan C. Johnson

Lord, I’m setting out to ride.
Go with me and be my guide.
Keep me safe from angry dogs,
Poison snakes and feral hogs,

Yellowjacket on my shades,
Gravel up the steepest grades,
Headwinds and torrential rains,
Roadways blocked by poky trains,

Traffic in the neighborhoods,
Sasquatch in the deep back woods,
Drivers texting (how insane!),
Dually pickups in my lane,

Guinea hens that run afoul,
Rednecks passing with a growl,
Sunburn, potholes, cows that roam…
Maybe I should just stay home.

… Naaah.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Yes, I’ve actually seen / experienced pretty much every one of the items listed. The feral hog was road kill that I passed years ago, but to this day, whenever I ride that road I look for escape options, just in case. But I really did have a yellowjacket stow away on my sunglasses. When I tried to flick it off with my safely gloved hand, it fell on my arm, stinger-first.

And yes, I often do pray for safety when I start a ride. Last time I did, my requests got so specific that I laughed at myself and started composing this poem in my head. I threw in everything I could think of.

But you know… if I let every potential obstacle or hazard stop me, I’d never do anything. Hence the poem’s last, short line.

Thanks for reading!

Tailwinds,

Jan

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Why You Need To Hold The Sauce: A Guest Post

Today’s guest post appears courtesy of
Kelsey Gillespy, my longtime critique partner and beloved friend.
(When we became outnumbered by her children, the critique sort of took a back seat… but the friendship never did.)

You’ll love her, too! See more about Kelsey below the post.

Take it away, Kelsey!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday means one thing at our house.

Pizza.

I won’t say how long we’ve held the tradition of grabbing a greasy pizza once a week—that’d be too embarrassing—but I will say it has been such a beloved, time-tested tradition in our family that one of my son’s first words was ‘pizza’.

Back then, he hung from the crook of my elbow in his carseat as I paid for our pre-ordered pizza.

“EEEEEETTTTZZZZAAAAAAAA!!!!” he’d shout, his tinny voice rising above the ringing phones, the bantering employees, the roar of the oven. “EEETZA! EEETZA! EEETZAAAAAA!!!”

Once, an employee stopped everything he was doing to cock a brow at the little baby. Then he turned his confused look to me. “Is that baby yelling, ‘pizza’?”

Flushing, I gave a casual flick of the wrist, as though it were totally normal for babies to have an addiction to greasy food. “He really likes pizza.”

And it continued that way for a long time. The boy ate so much pizza in one sitting, his cheeks were stained red from tomato sauce.

So it isn’t any wonder that, not too many Thursdays ago, my son came to the pizza parlor with me and his baby sister to pick up a big ol’ pie (fortunately, this time, the baby wasn’t screaming ‘pizza’ at all the employees).

“All right, bud, I’m going to need your help,” I said as I gathered all our things together.

Eagerly, the little boy leapt to my side, ready for action. “What can I do to help?”

I plopped three containers of extra sauces into his hands. “I need you to carry these.”

Three sauces. Two small hands.

His jaw dropped in disbelief. “You mean I have to carry ALL the sauces??”

“Yes, that would be very helpful,” I replied as I slung the diaper bag over one shoulder and picked up the baby in her car seat. And also got the pizza. And the breadsticks. And opened the door so my son could walk through. And. And. And.

My son followed, grimacing in intense concentration as he stared down the full load in his hands. Gingerly, he walked to the van, taking one slow step. Then another. Aaaaand another. Careful not to drop what he’d been given. Finally—thank heavens—we were at the car door.

Is that what I look like when God asks me to do something? I wondered to myself, a smile half-cocked on my face as my son dumped all the sauces in the passenger seat, and then grumbled about how much he had to do.

The answer was yes. That’s exactly what I look like.

Every day, God plops some extremely minuscule portion of His will into my hands.

I feel its weight in my clumsy fingers, and almost instantly, my jaw drops in disbelief.

You mean I have to take care of ALL these kids?

You mean I have to do ALL this laundry?

You mean I have to wash ALL these dishes?

You mean I have to write ALL these chapters?

“Yes, that would be very helpful,” God replies, humbly leaving out the fact that He was the One who created the kids. And gave me an amazing, supportive husband. And provided our clothes, our home, our washing machine, our dishwasher, our dishes, our everything. And gave me the ideas and inspiration for my writing. AND opened the doors for me to pursue writing. And. And. And.

I follow Him as best I can, grimacing in intense concentration as I stare down the full load in my hands. Gingerly, I walk beside Him, taking one slow step. Then another. And another. Careful not to drop what little I’ve been given.

Finally, thank heavens, I reach the end of the day and let everything drop, often astounded by how much I got accomplished.

Yet, in reality, I hold the smallest fraction of the big picture. God knows I can’t hold the big stuff. It would flatten me outright. So He does the heavy lifting, walking beside me, matching my extremely slow stride as I fumble the tiny bit in my hands. Struggling to take. Each. Slow. Step.

The truth is, it would probably be easier for God if He just did everything and we got out of His way.

But, for whatever reason, He made us to be helpers. Co-redeemers.

All we have to do is hold the sauce and walk with Him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

See? I told you you’d love Kelsey. Don’t stop with this one story, though. For more of her fresh insights and zany stories, visit her website, Kelsey Gillespy | Faith ~ Family ~ Fiction.
Here’s the link:
https://kelseygillespy.com/

Kelsey Gillespy homeschools her four kiddos, gets her fitness fix with Camp Gladiator, writes faith and family blogs and dystopian novels, captures the beauty of the world through photography, serves as a seventh grade youth minister, and plays piano badly.
All WITH kids. Living proof that life doesn’t end when you become a mom.

Thanks for reading,

Jan

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Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish, by Bethany Turner

Chef Hadley Beckett’s cooking show is all sweet Southern charm. Chef Max Cavanagh’s show, To the Max, perpetuates his hot-tempered, bad-boy reputation. When they’re the two finalists on a cooking competition show?

Hide the knives.

Weeks after his end-of-competition meltdown, Max gets out of rehab / anger management to find his popularity is shot. To get back on the air, he’s forced to work alongside Hadley, who never wants to see him again.

I thoroughly enjoyed this hilarious story. Between the on-camera personas, the backstage maneuvering, and the minefield of personal feelings and career aspirations–not to mention the droolworthy dishes the chefs keep whipping up–author Bethany Turner kept me laughing and turning pages.

The book is available from Amazon and other retailers. I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for this Great Weekend Read!

Thanks for reading,

Jan

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