All posts by rosemaryheddens

Which Handy Helper is most like me?

Scan_20140821 (2)When I asked Kirstin which Handy Helper character was her favorite, she immediately answered, “Beth Anne.” Of course that’s what I expected since Beth Anne has Down syndrome like Kirstin and she is somewhat based on Kirstin.

Then Kirstin asked me which character I like best. I thought for a moment and told her I didn’t have a favorite. As she insisted I choose one, I felt like a mother being asked to choose a favorite child from among her children.

I’m sure most parents have had the experience of seeing themselves mirrored in their child’s expression or actions. As I thought about the Handy Helpers I came to realize that there is a little bit of me in each character.

Amber tries very hard to do what her parents want her to do, but she still manages to mess up a lot. As a child, it seemed like I was always in trouble for some stupid thing I did. Because of her attention deficit disorder, Amber has to work harder than her friends to keep up in school.  Until I was in eighth grade, I struggled just to earn average grades. I remember that in fifth grade we had to memorize all the states and the capitals. (There were only 48 back then.) Every week we were tested until we had them 100% correct. I was sure I would be in the fifth grade my whole life because I couldn’t pass that test. I finally passed, but  I was the last student in the class to do it.

Laura loves to cook and I share that passion with her. Also, Laura is a gymnast.  I never trained in gymnastics, but it was part of our P.E. program in school. It was my favorite part and I was pretty good at it. Being a wiry little thing, I think I was well-suited to gymnastics, but my mother never put me in classes. Instead, she gave me accordion lessons as if I didn’t look weird enough already.  Melissa calls Laura “the goody-goody girl,” because she tries to keep her friends from making bad choices. I guess  that was me to a certain extent. My parents entrusted me with the care of my younger brother and sister at an early age. It was my job to keep them out of trouble.

Melissa is probably the least like me. Except for having blond hair and blue eyes, we don’t have much in common. Melissa is tall and attractive. She’s all about fashion. I was just this scrawny kid with untamable hair and crooked teeth. My mom tried to dress me in frilly, girly clothes, but it didn’t really work.  I was still a tomboy underneath. I wore my shoes out so fast that my mom resorted to buying me these clunky brown shoes that looked like boys dress shoes. They really stood out because back then girls had to wear dresses to school. A few years ago, my mother told me she always felt bad about the shoes. I told her that wearing those shoes didn’t really bother me all that much. I think that possibly Melissa is me–the deep down inside me–the me that my mother always thought I should be.

So that’s how I see my self in the girl characters, but what about the boys? You’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

Kirstin two years later

kirstin bookThis month marks the second anniversary of This Little Light of Mine. I thought I would fill you in on what’s happened in Kirstin’s life since that book was published.

Kirstin has continued to work at Costco. This is her sixteenth year there. She is the assistant manager in the food court–a responsibility that she handles with her usual determination. Recently she had to help train a new manager. She was working with both the new and old manager. They were having trouble with something. Kirstin told them “Get with the program, managers!”

As always, Kirstin is constantly being recognized around town. We can’t go anywhere without someone coming up to her and telling her what a good job she does at Costco.  The joy she brings to these people is awe-inspiring. And she does it just by being who she is.

If you read This Little Light of Mine, you know that driving had resurfaced as an issue. Kirstin had a learner’s permit for two years, but was not able to get her license. When she applied for her third learner’s permit, she failed the eye test. I think maybe the person who was giving the test had read my book.

Kirstin continues to live in the mobile home that she now owns free and clear. Her grandmother moved into a nursing home in May. Kirstin plans and prepares her own meals and takes care of her home. As always she is organized and makes good use of her time. She budgets well and pays her own bills. I wish I did as well.

As you may remember, Kirstin is an avid reader. Currently, she is reading Jane Austen’s Emma. Jane Austen is my favorite author, but I think her books are challenging to read because of the language.  Kirstin is really enjoying it. Last year she read The Wizard of Oz–all of it. I bet you didn’t know that there is much more to the Wizard of Oz than what you’ve seen in movies. There are fourteen books in the series by L. Frank Baum. Kirstin read them all. That’s 1768 pages on her Nook. She can tell you more about the Wizard of Oz than you would ever wish to know!

In addition to reading, Kirstin always has a jig-saw puzzle going. She puts together 500-1000 piece puzzles in record time. On her days off she does her singing and dancing to one of her favorite albums–usually Reba McIntyre or Bette Midler. Sometimes she spends the night at my house. We usually play our card game called Pounce. It’s a cutthroat game based on Solitaire. Kirstin beat me four out of the last seven times we played.

You may remember from the book that getting married was Kirstin’s most important plan for the future. It still is. She and David have been together for more than ten years. I think I’ve run out of reasons why she can’t get married. So watch for a wedding announcement in the paper in the not too, too distant future.

This Little Light of Mine is available on Amazon.

What’s next for the Handy Helpers.

At about two o’clock last Saturday, I wrote the final words of the third Handy Helpers book, Red, White and . . . Bloopers! It should be available in early September. I want to share with you some of what you can expect.

It is summer and all Spike wants is to be left alone and to go fishing with his friends. Unfortunately, his parents have other ideas about keeping him busy. But that’s not the worst of it. His sister Jennifer’s new boyfriend Todd seems to be making it his mission to make Spike’s life miserable. When Spike tries to tell his parents about Todd, they say he is overacting. Todd has two older brothers and is used to playing rough. Spike’s parents think that Todd is just treating him like a younger brother. Spike decides he will have to handle Todd on his own.

Spike takes care of the problem in his usual way—with sneaky pranks. But no matter what he does, Todd seems to come out on top. Finally, Spike resorts to a plan of revenge that backfires in the worst possible way. Instead of teaching Todd a lesson, Spike accidently pranks the town mayor. His chances of going fishing are pretty much over as he is ordered to do community service for his crime.

It is during Spike’s community service that he meets some kids who live in the forest. Spike vows to help them as much as he can. But he never expected that to include a daring nighttime rescue.


Here’s what else is going on in the lives of The Handy Helpers:

  • Beth Anne gets her cast off and moves into her new house. She turns ten and has a bowling party for her birthday.
  • Melissa tries to adjust to having her dad around all the time now that he’s home for Afghanistan.
  • Laura has a cooking mishap.
  • Chris goes to California to visit his grandparents and returns with something that shocks his friends.
  • Logan’s dad comes home and spends a few days with his family.
  • Amber goes on sort of a date with Logan.
  • Beth Anne trains for Special Olympics swimming, and involves her friends.


I really had fun writing this third installment of The Handy Helpers. There are some very colorful seniors for you to meet. I think you will all enjoy reading Red, White, and . . . Bloopers! In my humble opinion, it’s the best book yet.

Raising Kids Who Care


I have been a teacher for most of my life, and I consider myself pretty good at it. But when it comes to knowing how to help others, my daughter Kirstin has been my teacher. She knows how to reach out to people in a way that I will never be able to do. She genuinely cares about others and they feel her sincerity. In my book, This Little Light of Mine, a woman with Down syndrome shines brightly in the world, I call her and others like her “angels among us.” If you will permit me to quote myself, “They care for others, even those who are not kind to them, without any expectation of reward. They are patient, gentle, and loving. They hold back nothing but share their feelings openly. They forgive and forget.”

I believe we are all born with a desire to help others. Consider the small child who wants to help his mom in the kitchen, or make the bed or feed the dog. How often does the busy parent dismiss this desire to help and instead hurriedly complete the task on her own? Later, when those same activities are the child’s chores, they become the source of argument because the child no longer wants to do them. I’m not naïve enough to suggest that by allowing our toddlers to help with chores, they will necessarily grow up to happily do them as teenagers, but it is certainly something to think about.

By cultivating in our children the desire to help others, we are developing in  them a lifelong spirit of giving. While they are young, and their lives are less complicated, it is easier to find the time and opportunities to help others. As we become adults with adult responsibilities, it is more of a challenge to do our part as loving, caring citizens of this planet. If helping others is already a natural part of our lives, we are more likely to continue it into adulthood.

The characters in The Handy Helpers books seek out opportunities to help. While their parents encourage them, it is the children themselves who are choosing to serve others. Sometimes children become involved in volunteering through church groups or scouts. These are very good ways to start. Sometimes the entire family volunteers together. How ever it happens, children will always benefit. Rabbi Shumuley Boteach, who hosts a show on Oprah Radio, says, “When we don’t give kids responsibilities, we pay the price. Kids become lazy and complacent and too self-focused. Volunteering and giving back prevents that and helps others.”

Part of my vision in writing The Handy Helpers books is that someday there will be groups like the Handy Helpers in communities all over our country. I don’t know exactly how that will happen, but I pray every day that it will. On the back cover of Seven is a Perfect Number, I quote one of my young readers who says, “I love the great moral values talked about in the book. It inspires me to want to start a Handy Helpers group myself.”

Serve one another through love.


“Will you let me be your servant; let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” (From The Servant Song, by Richard Gillard)

This is the primary theme of Seven is a Perfect Number. After her recovery from a broken hip, Mrs. Henry refuses to try to get out of her wheelchair and walk. It is Beth Anne, a young girl with Down syndrome, who coaxes her out of the chair and helps her learn to walk with the aid of a walker. When Beth Anne breaks her leg, Mrs. Henry shows up with the same walker and insists that Beth Anne get out of her wheelchair and walk.

Sometimes in life, we are the servants and sometimes we are the served. While both roles can be challenging, from my own personal experience, receiving the service is harder. On the night before he died, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Peter’s first response to this is much like our response when someone wants to do something for us. “I can’t let you do that.” or “No thanks, I can do it myself.” It is much easier to be on the giving end of service than on the receiving end. To receive help from others is to put ourselves in a vulnerable position—one of dependence. And yet that is what Jesus expects us to do. He wants us to depend on him for everything. How hard is it for us to do that when we can’t bring ourselves to depend on others? And yet it is through others that we receive God’s grace.

God does not always call the best among us for the job at hand. Melissa struggles with this concept in my book. When Beth Anne is recognized as a hero for rescuing a little girl who fell in the pond, Melissa is upset that she wasn’t there. After all, Melissa is the best swimmer. She could have performed the rescue easily, and yet it is Beth Anne who gets the praise and reward. Later, when the Handy Helpers are cleaning Mrs. Henry’s house and Beth Anne just sits on the sofa looking at photo albums with Mrs. Henry, Melissa calls her lazy. Melissa’s grandmother uses the story of Martha and Mary from the Bible to help Melissa understand that there are many ways to serve. As her grandmother tells her, “Maybe Mrs. Henry needed someone to talk to more than she needed a clean house.”

In my personal life I have many people who are dependent on me. I am cast in the servant role daily. Yet it is difficult for me to ask for help or accept it when it is offered. Even small requests such as asking my Facebook friends for prayers are often not made by me because I’m too busy trying to hold it all together by myself. I should take a lesson from my own writing. I often wonder why I was called on to write these books when there are so many better writers who are already well known. And yet this is the task I was given. Much as I would be happy at times to relinquish it, I am driven to press on. And so I ask you who are reading this to help me share my message. If these books are intended to reach a child somewhere who desperately needs to hear of God’s infinite love, it is only through you that it will happen.

Jumping the Generation Gap

Scan_20140721I was fortunate as a child to be able to spend lots of time with my grandparents. My grandfather was in a wheelchair as far back as I remember, due to hardening of the arteries. I remember sitting on his lap and how he smelled of juicy fruit gum and Day’s Work tobacco. He was a proud World War I veteran who insisted we attend the Veteran’s Day parade every year. My grandmother was a sturdy, hardworking woman who kept her family going during the Great Depression. My grandfather worked for the WPA, a program that was part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. My grandmother worked at any job she could find along with caring for her five children, washing their only clothes every night so they would be clean for the next day. Knowing who my grandparents were has helped me know who I am.

In our world today, there are still many strong extended families, but there are also families that are spread out across our country. In those families, children may only know their grandparents as some people who visit occasionally. Making that connection between the younger generation and the older generation was the main impetus behind the Handy Helper series.

In my books, the children and seniors come to respect each other and discover that they have a lot of common ground. For example when Doris hurts her back, Amber and her friends want to help. At first Doris turns them down. Amber asks another senior, Betty, why Doris won’t let them help her. Betty tells Amber, “You have to understand something about seniors. We need to be independent. Sometimes people treat us like we can’t do anything. Sometimes they make us feel like we are just in the way. Doing things for ourselves is really important.” Amber responds, “I do understand. It’s the same way for kids. Sometimes adults treat us like we’re helpless. We may make mistakes, but it’s because we’re still learning. We like to be independent too and show everyone what we can do.” Perhaps the two groups do share a common (for lack of a better word) enemy—the generation in between. When Amber wants help with her career report she doesn’t ask her family who tend to take over. Instead she asks Betty who shares a common interest—art.

Sharing between the two generations should be a two-way street. For example, when I finally broke down and got an iphone, I arranged for my granddaughters to spend the night. Together, they walked me through the ins and outs of my phone. It was a great experience and one we will always cherish. It was certainly more fun than a tutorial. My granddaughters showed me how to use Facetime and added emoticons so my texts wouldn’t be boring.

Many people are looking forward to retirement, but I would guess that few of them are wanting to grow old. Unfortunately, the two experiences are hardly ever mutually exclusive. Our society seems ready to put the older generation out to pasture, but there is still so much they can contribute. The seniors in my books are not sitting around complaining about aches and pains. They are out experiencing life to its fullest. They dress up in silly costumes and have all kinds of events, always including the Handy Helpers in whatever they have going on. While the Handy Helpers do help some seniors who are in need, more often they are helping the seniors who are helping the community.

It is my hope that in writing these books, I can inspire young people not only to help the seniors in their community, but to spend time with them. If they do, everyone benefits.

A little about me…

IMG_0443 (3)I was born in Phoenix, Arizona where I grew up during the fifties and sixties when it was still a small town. As a child, I spent most of my time outdoors, roaming the neighborhood, playing with any children who were available. I preferred to play in the dirt, catching lizards or little red racer snakes, climbing trees and riding my bike. But I could be prevailed upon to play dolls or dress-up. I never wore shoes in the summer and my feet must have been as tough as leather. I recall standing on the sidewalk that was literally hot enough to fry an egg on, and not feeling any pain.

Because my mother worked, I spent my summers with my grandparents who owned a laundry. It was not like the laundromats we have today. It was a huge building filled with agitator washing machines. After the clothes were washed, they had to be put through a wringer that was turned by hand. Then the wet clothes were hung outside on what seemed like miles and miles of clothes lines. Around the outside of the building was a gutter for the water to drain from the washers. My sister and I would check it daily for any lost change, buttons, or other prizes we might find.  My favorite place was the mangle house. It was a separate building with large pressing machines. People who could afford it sent their linens there to be pressed. I loved the smell of the crisp, freshly ironed sheets. That may explain why I love to iron.

My bohemian lifestyle came to an end when I was twelve years old and I foolishly suggested that I be permitted to care for my younger brother and sister while my mother worked instead of the caregiver my parents usually employed. I must have been hoping that some of the money budgeted for the caregiver would come my way, but that was only wishful thinking. As I proved to be a trustworthy teenager, my parents put more and more responsibilities on me. Eventually, I was doing most of the housework and cooking. By all rights, I should hate both of those jobs, but I don’t. During my years of teaching, I considered cooking to be my evening therapy.

My husband and I met as seniors in high school. I had plans to attend college and insisted that we wait to get married. It was during the Vietnam era, so Craig joined the Air Force just ahead of the draft. He was only in for a short time, before receiving a medical discharge due to a sinus condition he didn’t know he had until he went to Texas. (There used to be a saying, “Send your sinuses to Arizona.”) We were married in 1970.  We have raised two children, Michael and Kirstin.   Michael was an outdoor child like me, but even better at catching wildlife. Kirstin was born with Down syndrome, a chromosome defect that results in mental retardation. In spite of her challenges, Kirstin lives by herself in a mobile home she owns and works at Costco where she has been employed for fifteen years. Michael is the operations manager for the local cable company and very kindly provided us with three beautiful grandchildren.

Craig and I are both retired now. Craig operated a variety of businesses over the years, but his career came to an abrupt end in 2009 with the recession. After thirty years of teaching high school special education, I retired in May, 2013. Even with the responsibility of caring for my elderly mother, Craig and I enjoy our lives here in Chino Valley which is in the central highlands of Arizona.  We are fortunate to have several small lakes where we can take our kayak and hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails to explore.