Tag Archives: A Rocky Start

A Rocky Start: Chapter Six

AmberFriday morning, Amber checked the nest outside her window as usual. But instead of seeing five eggs, she saw five open mouths. The baby birds were crying in hunger, and Amber was certain that the parents were hunting for food nearby. She watched until the mother returned. Something passed from the mother’s mouth to a baby’s. As the mother was flying away, the father showed up to continue the feeding process.

A yell from Amber brought the rest of her family. They all watched the bird family enjoying their breakfast, until Mary said it was time for them to have their own breakfast. Today was the last day for Amber to sign up for the career she wanted to research. Any students who didn’t select a career by Friday would have one assigned by Ms. McGuire. After her talk with Betty Jenkins, Amber had thought a lot about art careers. She couldn’t quite decide which one to choose. Maybe while she walked to school, she could make up her mind.

Melissa and Laura were waiting for her on the playground when Amber arrived at school.

“What took you so long?” Melissa said. “We’ve been waiting for fifteen minutes.”

“I had some thinking to do,” Amber said. “And I had a stop to make on the way.”

Laura pressed an envelope into Amber’s hand. “It’s an invitation to my birthday party next Friday. It’s going to be a sleepover.”

“Thanks,” Amber said. “I can’t wait. I love sleepovers.”

Walking home from school, Amber thought about how glad she was that it was Friday. She was especially glad about this particular Friday because it was her turn to choose the game for game night. At dinner, as usual, her mother asked about her day at school.

“Did you decide what you are going to do for your career report?”

“Yes, I did,” Amber said with a sigh of relief.

“Well, Fred,” John asked, “what’s it going to be?”

“I can’t tell you yet,” Amber said. “I still have some details to work out.”

“I don’t understand,” her dad questioned further. “If you have a topic, why can’t you tell us?”

“I will,” Amber said, “when I’m ready.”

“You didn’t choose one,” Kyle taunted. “That’s why you won’t tell.”

“I did,” Amber insisted. “You’ll just have to wait and see what it is.”

“Whatever.” Kyle shrugged.

After dinner, Amber set up the game board for the Game of Life. Kyle looked disgusted when he saw it.

“Amber played Monopoly without complaining,” Mary reminded her son.

“I know,” Kyle said. “But there’s no skill involved in this game. It’s just a game of chance.”

“You could say that about Monopoly as well,” John added. “In fact, you can say that about real life too. We’re not in control of everything that happens in our lives. We have to deal with the unexpected and make adjustments all the time, just like in the Game of Life.”

When Amber landed on lawyer as her career, she was practically jumping up and down in her seat. But when Kyle landed on teacher, the lowest-paying job, Amber couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. “Hope you enjoy listening to noisy kids all day while I’m busy with my important clients.” Kyle leaned back in his chair as if to say, “I couldn’t care less.”

That seemed to set the tone for the entire game. When Amber won the lottery, Kyle inherited fifty cats from his aunt. If that wasn’t enough, later he inherited a skunk farm from his uncle. Amber sold her cattle ranch for $200,000, and Kyle had to pay $100,000 because a tornado hit his home and he didn’t have insurance.

When Amber landed on the Revenge space, Kyle didn’t have $200,000 to pay her.

“I’ll loan you some money,” Amber offered, grinning from ear to ear.

“Never mind,” Kyle said. “I’ll just go bankrupt.”

“Too bad for your wife and four children,” John pretended to be concerned.

“At least they have a rich aunt,” Mary added.

“And maybe another one with fifty cats.” Amber was holding her side with laughter.

 

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

Sibling Squibling

sister pictureSummer is a great time for family members to be together. But it can also be a stressful time if siblings begin to feel like they are joined at the hip. I recall many long summer days stuck at home with my brother and sister. It seemed to me like summer would never end.

The Handy Helpers are not immune to sibling strife. Amber has an older brother who is kind and loving but can often be overbearing.  Naturally, as a big brother he is required to tease his little sister. Because Amber has attention deficit disorder, she gives him plenty of opportunities. But Kyle can also be bossy and often takes on the role of a third parent. This is helpful at times, but is frustrating for Amber who is struggling hard to learn to stand on her own two feet. Their relationship reminds me of my own two children.

Chris has an older brother, Eric. Because they lost their father when they were small, the two boys are very close and depend on each other. Eric is a serious young man who wants to become a minister some day. Chris is much more laid back and easy going. Both boys take a protective stance when it comes to their baby brother, Tyler.

Like Jan Brady, Laura is the often-overlooked middle child. Standing in the shadow of her older sister, Amanda, she has to wait her turn to do grown-up things like go on dates or learn to drive. While her two younger sisters are still playing dress-up and having tea parties, Laura has her own interests such as cooking. Their mother owns a dance studio and Laura’s three sisters are training in ballet. Laura enjoys gymnastics which her mother also teaches. To distinguish herself further from her sisters, she cut her long, straight hair and often wears a baseball cap.

Spike has two older sisters who are in high school. This was the situation in my home, growing up. My brother is nine years younger than I and I often thought of him as a total pain. Like Spike, he was prone to pull stunts–most of them intended to get me in trouble–which usually backfired on him.

Logan and Beth Anne are both only children. To the other Handy Helpers, this might seem like an envious position at times. But I’m sure there are times when Logan and Beth Anne feel lonely and wish they had siblings to do things with. Anyway, the situation is going to change for both of them. In Logan’s case it will happen in an unexpected way.

Melissa and her very determined younger sister, Trisha, have the most contentious relationship. Trisha tries to insinuate herself into whatever Melissa has going on. This annoys Melissa who is always telling Trisha to get lost. In addition, Trisha tries to be the perfect child–something Melissa has no interest in being. This excerpt from A Rocky Start is an example of how their relationship  plays out.

“How’s school?” Laura asked Trisha while they were eating their lunches.

“I’m the best reader in the first grade,” Trisha announced proudly. “My teacher is Mrs. Bell. She always asks me to read out loud in class. I get good grades on my report card.”

“She’s a real whiz kid,” Melissa said, somewhat sarcastically.

“She does her homework right away when she gets home from school,” said Mrs. Oates, who shot an accusing look at Melissa.

“I do my homework,” Melissa defended herself. “I might not get it done until ten o’clock, but I do it.”

Amber was thinking that maybe having a perfect little sister wasn’t any better than having a perfect big brother.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Four

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“Good morning out there.” The voice on the radio woke Amber as her alarm came on. “It’s another beautiful Monday. Rise and shine.”

Monday, Amber thought with a sigh. A check of the tree outside her window showed no baby birds yet. She dressed quickly and went downstairs to have a bowl of cereal. Soon, Melissa and Laura were knocking on the door since the three of them had planned to ride their bikes to school together.

“Do you have your homework?” Laura reminded Amber.

“No, just a minute, I’ll get it.”

After a few minutes, Amber shouted. “Mom, do you know what happened to my homework?”

“No, Amber, where did you put it?”

“It was right here on the desk yesterday.”

“I saw some torn-up bits of paper in the laundry room by Domino’s bed,” her dad shouted out. “Do you think he might have gotten it?”

“I don’t know,” Amber said. “What did you do with the torn pieces of paper?”

“I threw them in the trash.”

Amber looked in the trash can. There were tiny pieces of paper mixed with eggshells and other goo from breakfast. “Nothing I can salvage out of that,” she said.

On the way to school, Amber thought about what she was going to say to Ms. McGuire. This was the second time this month that she was missing her homework. The first time, it must have dropped out of her binder on the way to school. Ms. McGuire had been understanding and given her credit for it anyway. Maybe she would do that again.

As the girls locked their bikes into the bike rack, they noticed Logan Green and his two friends, Chris Bishop and Spike Smith. Spike’s real name is Mike (actually Michael), but everyone calls him Spike because of his spiked hair. (Melissa says it is because of his spiked tongue.) The boys were looking at Amber and laughing about something.

Amber sometimes wondered why these three boys were friends. They seemed so different from each other. Logan and Chris are about the same height, but that is where the similarities stopped. Logan, who is tall and thin, always looks so neat with his polo shirt tucked into his jeans. He wears his light-brown hair short in a tidy crew cut. Chris is more friendly and easygoing than his two friends. His appearance is kind of casual, with baggier jeans and long T-shirts. His longer brown hair is usually brushed to the side or combed over his forehead. Spike likes to use plenty of gel in his hair and, sometimes, even colored hair spray. The other students are no longer shocked to see him with a red or purple spike. His other way of showing off is to wear shirts with sayings. Today he was wearing a shirt that said, “Homework destroys trees.”

 

“Like he really cares about the environment,” Melissa said when she saw it.

When Amber thought about it though, she realized that her friends were different from her in lots of ways. Although Amber and her two friends dress pretty much the same every day—in jeans and T-shirts—Melissa calls hers designer jeans and fashion tops. Even more important are her accessories. She is always loaded down with jewelry, shiny belts, and fancy headbands. Amber’s mom called it dressing to the nines. Amber thought that sometimes Melissa dressed to the eighteens or even twenty-sevens.

Laura is the smart one who always gets good grades. If Amber or Melissa come up with an idea that might get them in trouble, Laura is the one who talks them out of it. When she wasn’t around, Melissa called Laura “the goody-goody girl.”

Their teacher Ms. McGuire was young, probably in her late twenties. She has been a teacher at Bluesky Elementary for the past three years. Amber thought she was lucky to have a nice teacher like Ms. McGuire. She also liked the way Ms. McGuire dressed. Sometimes she wears skirts with cowboy boots, but most of the time, she wears tan, khaki pants and shirts with buttons. Some days she pulls her shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail, but most of the time, she wears it down in soft waves.

Ms. McGuire seemed especially enthusiastic for a Monday morning, and Amber wondered what she could possibly be that excited about.

“Today, class,” Ms. McGuire began, “we are going to start a unit on careers. There will be several parts to the unit. We will be reading some stories about people in different careers, and later, we will have some guest speakers, maybe even some of your parents.” Most of the kids groaned when they heard that.

“The most exciting part of the unit will be the oral report. Each one of you will select a different career to research. Then you will give an oral report to the class.” Amber was thinking that didn’t sound too exciting, and looking around the room, she felt pretty sure her classmates didn’t either.

At lunch, the girls talked about what careers they might choose. Laura didn’t have to think twice about what she wanted to do for her report. Laura’s favorite thing to do is cooking. Amber and Melissa weren’t at all surprised when she chose to give her report on becoming a chef. Melissa loves swimming, and she loves dolphins. She was thinking about doing her report on marine biology. Amber listened to them talk about their ideas, but her mind was blank when it came to deciding what she would like to do.

“I have a career suggestion for you.” Spike was sitting nearby and overheard their conversation. “How about mud wrestling?” Then he and Chris doubled over in laughter. Amber shot a dirty look at Logan, who only shrugged.

“What was that all about?” Melissa asked when the boys were gone.

“I fell in the mud yesterday at the park,” Amber explained. “Logan saw it, and I guess he told his friends about it.”

“What a jerk,” Laura fumed. “Boys, who needs them?”

“I like boys,” Melissa said. “Especially mature ones like Kyle.”

“If Kyle was your brother,” Amber said, “you’d change your mind about that.”

Their first class after lunch was math. Amber hadn’t told Ms. McGuire about her homework yet, but she couldn’t put it off any longer. As the students filed into the classroom, Amber went up to Ms. McGuire’s desk.

“What is it?” Ms. McGuire looked up from her paperwork.

“I don’t have my homework,” Amber admitted.

“Why not?”

“My dog ate it.” Amber stared at her shoes.

“That’s the oldest excuse in the book,” Ms. McGuire told her. “What do you expect me to do?”

“Could you take my word for it that I did my homework?”

“Didn’t you have a similar problem a few weeks ago? It seems like your homework fell out of your binder that time. I did accept your explanation and gave you credit for doing the homework. Now you’re here with another excuse. I think you need to take responsibility for turning in your work. I can’t give you a break this time.”

Amber thanked Ms. McGuire anyway and went to her seat. “I sure hope Domino enjoyed his snack,” Amber said under her breath.

 

After school, Amber told Melissa and Laura about the shuffleboard tournament on Saturday.

“Would you like to go with me?” she asked. “We could be the cheering section for Betty Jenkins.”

“I’m not sure shuffleboard is a very exciting sport,” Melissa said. “It’s just for old people.”

“I don’t think that matters,” Laura said. “Mrs. Jenkins is our friend, and we can support her in the tournament.”

“Okay,” Melissa sighed. “I guess you’re right.”

 

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Three Continued

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After lunch, they all sat around for a while, letting their food digest, and planned the football game. Kyle had already marked off the goal lines at each end of the field. Before they began, he reminded everyone of the rules,

“This is tag football, no tackling allowed. Tagging means tapping someone on the back with both hands. The quarterback stands at one goal line and passes the ball to someone on his team. The other team tries to block the pass or intercept it. If the ball is caught, the player can say ‘down.’ Then no one can tag him. The person catching the ball can run with it. If he is tagged, the ball is down at the spot where he was tagged. If a team makes a touchdown or if there are four downs with no touchdown, the other team takes over at the other end of the field.”

“Do you really think it’s fair to make your mother and Amber play against the two of us?” John asked Kyle.

“What do you mean, make us?” Mary scolded. “What makes you think we won’t beat you?”

“Is this girls against guys?” Mrs. Jenkins asked. “I can throw a pretty mean football.”

“What about running?” Amber asked, concerned.

“You said the quarterback stands at the goal line,” Mrs. Jenkins reminded her. “Let me be the quarterback. You’ll see.”

The girls took the ball first, with Mrs. Jenkins on the goal line. Amber ran out for a pass, and Mrs. Jenkins threw a bomb right to her. Amber caught it and said, “Down.” There was a short delay in the game as Mrs. Jenkins walked to a new position downfield. Amber threw the ball to her mother, who managed to run a few feet before Kyle tagged her. From there, she threw a short pass to Amber, which didn’t advance the ball very far. Everyone seemed to have forgotten about Mrs. Jenkins who was now in the end zone. Amber faked a pass to her mother, but instead threw it to Mrs. Jenkins who made a beautiful catch for a touchdown.

Both John and Kyle were wearing shocked looks on their faces as they realized what had happened. Just then, Kyle noticed Logan Green walking by.

“Hey, Logan, want to play tag football? We need some help. The women are beating us.”

Logan looked at the three victors cheering and high-fiving each other in the end zone. “Sure,” he said. “Where do you want me to play?”

Logan was a student in Amber’s class, but she hadn’t really talked to him very much. He was usually quiet in class and mostly talked to his friends Chris and Spike during lunch or recess. Amber knew that Logan was very organized and always prepared for class. The teacher called on him a lot, and he usually had the right answer.

Now that the guys had the ball, they showed no mercy. Kyle threw the ball to John, who threw it sideways to Logan, who ran it in for a touchdown. The girls just stood there, unable to do anything about it. Then Mary was the quarterback. She told Amber to run out for a pass. Amber was running backward, not really seeing where she was going. Her mother saw it first and tried to yell, but it was too late. When Amber hit the mud, she couldn’t stay on her feet. Slipping and sliding, she let out a yell. That brought Domino to his feet, and within seconds, he was loose from where Kyle had him tied up. As Amber landed seat-first in the mud, Domino pounced on her with his muddy paws.

At first the others stared in shock, but when they were sure Amber was okay, they started laughing. Amber got up and headed for the restroom without even looking their way. That was the end of the football game. At least it ended in a tie.

“You’re a pretty good football player, Mrs. Jenkins,” John was saying as Amber returned from the restroom.

“Call me Betty,” she said. “I raised three boys, so I played a lot of football in my day.”

“Where are your boys now?” Mary asked.

“Calvin lives in Oakland, California. He’s a stockbroker and has two boys of his own. Sam is in the air force, stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson. Robert is a chef in a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. He has three children, two girls and a boy.”

“You must really miss them,” Mary commented.

“They visit when they can. At least they aren’t that far away. My husband, Paul, and I moved here when he retired. After Paul passed away, I thought of moving closer to one of my sons, but I like living in Bluesky.”

John offered Betty a ride home, but she said it was just a short walk to her house. Amber, now passably clean, asked if she could walk with Betty.

“Come straight home after that,” Mary told her. “I don’t want you out after dark.”

“I will,” Amber assured her.

“I can’t believe you made that catch!” Amber exclaimed as the two walked along.

“I wasn’t sure I could stay on my feet,” Betty said. “It was sort of a one-handed catch.”

“Well, at least we scored,” Amber said enthusiastically. “If I hadn’t fallen in the mud, we might have won.”

“I’m pretty sure the guys weren’t going to let that happen. Anyway, we made a decent showing.”

“That was so embarrassing in front of Logan.”

“I think he likes you,” Betty said.

“Logan? Why would you say that?” Amber asked.

“He was looking at you a lot. But the main reason is that when you fell in the mud, he was the only one who didn’t laugh.”

“He was probably too disgusted to laugh. He probably never had something like that happen to him in his life!”

“I think you might be surprised,” Betty went on. “Everybody has things like that happen from time to time.”

“Not as often as I do,” Amber sighed. “You must have been good at sports when you were younger.”

“I played softball in high school,” Betty told her. “Now my sport is shuffleboard.”

“Really?” Amber looked surprised. “I’ve never heard of shuffleboard. Where do you play it?”

“Come around to the Bluesky Senior Center at ten o’clock next Saturday,” Betty invited. “You can cheer me on in the shuffleboard tournament.”

“I’ll ask my mom,” Amber assured her. “If she says it’s okay, I’ll be there.”

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Three

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Sunday morning proved to be another beautiful day in Bluesky. Amber checked on the family in the sycamore tree. This time the mother was sitting on the nest, but the father was on a branch close by. She knew it wouldn’t be too long before there would be baby birds in the nest.

Amber dressed for church and went down to breakfast. Kyle was the last one down, so he had to say grace. The Snyders live close enough to the Community Christian Church to walk there. John and Mary walked hand in hand as Kyle and Amber followed behind.

“Want to play football at the park today?” Kyle asked.

“Maybe,” Amber said. “Who will be on the teams?”

“How about guys against girls?” Kyle suggested. “That is, if you’re up to it.”

“I think Mom and I can take you guys,” Amber said with confidence, though she had serious doubts.

“You’re on,” Kyle said with satisfaction

As soon as they found a table at the park, John started the charcoal for the burgers. Mary spread a cloth over the table and unpacked the picnic basket. Kyle took Domino to the dog park so he could run around with other dogs. Amber went along to watch.

Domino was the first dog the family had owned. John brought home a dog book so they could decide what breed to get. Mary was thinking about a small dog, such as a Yorkshire terrier. That was until she read about how much work it was to take care of them and that they could be yappy and not always good with children. When Amber read about the Labrador retriever, she knew that was the kind of dog she wanted. They were great dogs for kids. That was part of the reason. But most of all, she wanted a Lab because the book said they were hyperactive. She and their new puppy would have something in common.

Naming their new pup was another issue. Everyone suggested the usual names like Buddy and Blacky. None of the suggestions seemed quite right. One night when they were watching TV, their new pup came into the living room with an obvious problem. His nose was stuck in a pizza box. He was whining and hitting at the box with his front paw, but he couldn’t get it off. They all laughed when they saw him.

“Way to go, Domino,” Amber said. The others looked at her.

“Here, Domino,” Kyle called to the dog. “Let me get that off your nose.”

That was it. His name was Domino. There was no question about it.

It was obvious from the start that Domino was an attention-deficit/hyperactive dog. One day Amber was watching him chase a lizard in the backyard. Domino got distracted by a noise, and when he looked away, the lizard scampered off. He looked back at the spot where the lizard had been. Even though the lizard was gone, Domino kept trying to find him in the same rocks. He gets distracted just like me, Amber thought.

Kyle took charge of housebreaking Domino. He had it all planned, but Domino didn’t always follow the plan. He made his share of mistakes. Kyle was a pretty patient teacher, though. Amber thought maybe he learned that from being her big brother.

John called out to his family to let them know that the burgers were done. As they ate, Kyle talked about his trip to Fox Creek. The melting snow from the mountains above the creek had caused the banks to overflow, filling in their best fishing spots. The water was cold and rushing too fast for Kyle and his friends to get in it. They found a side pool, and Domino jumped in before Kyle could stop him. As the dog book said, Domino was a great swimmer right away. Kyle had a hard time getting Domino out of the pool. At first he tried calling to his dog, but in the end, he had to go in after Domino. Carrying a wet fifty-pound dog out of a cold creek isn’t any fun.

Amber noticed a woman sitting on a bench near the pond. She was throwing bread to some ducks. Amber thought she looked familiar, and then she realized it was Mrs. Jenkins. Amber asked her mom if it would be okay to invite Mrs. Jenkins to join them for lunch.

“I just finished sharing my lunch with the ducks.” Mrs. Jenkins laughed. “But I wouldn’t mind having a piece of that luscious watermelon you’ve got there.”

As Mary put a slice of watermelon on a plate, she commented about being lucky to get a good watermelon.

“How do you choose your watermelon?” Mrs. Jenkins asked. “Are you a thumper?”

“Mostly, I just choose one and hope for the best,” Mary replied. “Do you have a secret for choosing a good watermelon?”

“I used to grow watermelons every summer in Kansas. First, I look for a watermelon that is dark green and not shiny. Then I look for the ripe spot. That’s a sort of yellow spot where the watermelon was touching the ground.”

“You told a secret,” Amber said with surprise. “I thought you never tell secrets.”

“Only when it comes to my chocolate chip cookies.” Mrs. Jenkins smiled her sly smile again.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Two, continued

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The girls waved good-bye as they climbed on their bikes and rode away toward the pond. In the Bluesky Chamber of Commerce brochure, the pond is called Holiday Lake, but most of the people in town just call it the pond. After the winter snows have melted up north, the pond has quite a bit of water, but by the middle of summer, it is nothing more than a mudhole. The summer monsoon rains help refill it a little, but it is never large enough to qualify for lake status.

On that particular Saturday, the pond was full, with lush green vegetation around it. The girls liked to catch tadpoles and other “science specimens” that they put into Ziploc bags so they could carry them home. Laura liked to gather crayfish from the little stream that fed the pond. Her mother, who was from Louisiana, used them to make jambalaya. Amber took some home once, but her mother made her throw them away. She said that city girls got their shellfish at Red Lobster. They didn’t fish it out of irrigation ditches.

Amber’s mom liked to call herself a big-city girl because she was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Amber’s dad lived in Flagstaff from the age of five. He never thought of himself as a big-city guy, and he never wanted to be one. Amber’s parents had met during their college years when they were both counselors at a summer camp in Pinetop. It was a camp for children with disabilities. After her first summer there, Mary thought about becoming a physical therapist, but she had already started on a business degree at a junior college, and she stayed with that. John was working on his degree in business management at Northern Arizona University.

After summer camp, they had a long-distance writing relationship until John finished college and moved to Phoenix. He asked Mary to marry him, and a year later, they were married. A year after that, Kyle was born. At first they had been happy in Phoenix, but John missed the pine trees and being outdoors. He couldn’t get used to the hot summers in the Valley of the Sun. That’s why when Kyle was three years old, the family moved to Flagstaff. John was happy to be back home, but after two unusually harsh winters, Mary convinced him that they needed to find a place with a warmer climate. That was when they moved to Bluesky.

In Flagstaff, John had been a department manager in the large Discount Mart. A smaller mart was being built in Bluesky, and he had the chance to be its manager. Mary was just getting her insurance license, and she was invited to join a new agency in Bluesky. With cooler summers than Phoenix and warmer winters than Flagstaff, Bluesky seemed like the perfect place to live. Before Kyle was ready to start kindergarten, the family made its move. Amber was born in Bluesky and never wanted to live anywhere else.

Bluesky sits in the middle of a large valley, almost completely surrounded by mountains. As its name suggests, the sky is a brilliant blue, interrupted occasionally by a few wisps of white cirrus clouds. Early in the morning, the sun, on its way up, tints the horizon with muted shades of lavender and apricot. In the evening, the setting sun brushes the sky with vivid reds and oranges, leaving just a hint of the colors after it drops behind the mountains. Bluesky is a small town with plenty of room to grow, though most of the people in town are happy with things just the way they are.

The water in the stream was a little cool, so the girls looked for creatures in the water without wading in as they usually did. After a while, they were tired of the pond and decided to ride their bikes around the park. When they reached the playground, they stopped to play on the swings and slides. Laura’s mom owned a ballet school where she taught gymnastics. Laura had been doing gymnastics since she was three years old, so she showed her friends some tricks she could do on the monkey bars. Amber and Melissa followed her lead as best they could. After that, they played a game of tag with some other children at the park.

The sun was high overhead when they decided it was time to go home for lunch. Amber said good-bye to her friends as they continued past her house on their bikes. She found her dad asleep in front of the television and her mom working on some paperwork in her office.

Amber’s mom looked up from her desk. “It must be time for lunch. How about tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches?”

“My favorite,” Amber answered back.

“What did you girls do this morning?” Mrs. Snyder asked as they ate lunch.

Amber filled her in on their visit to Mrs. Jenkins’s house and their adventures at the park.

“There are a lot of older people in Bluesky,” her mom said thoughtfully. “It must be hard for them to do the things they need to do. That was very nice of you to help Mrs. Jenkins.”

“She makes cookies that have a secret ingredient,” Amber told her. “We tried to guess what it was, but she wouldn’t tell us.”

“Maybe she will when she gets to know you better.”

“I don’t think so,” Amber said. “I don’t think she ever tells anyone.”

“Do you have any homework?” Mary asked her daughter.

“I have some math,” Amber said with disgust.

“If you finish it this afternoon, we can have a picnic after church tomorrow. How does that sound?”

“Can we grill hamburgers?” Amber wanted to know. She loved hamburgers better than just about anything.

“That sounds like a good idea.”

Amber took out her homework. It was fractions, which were hard for her, but she thought she remembered what her teacher told her about adding fractions. They had to have the same denominator. She looked at the example and started to work. In half an hour, she was finished.

Since she was doing homework, Amber decided to read her Sunday school homework. It was about finishing what you started. Amber knew she needed to work on that. It wasn’t that she meant to quit on things before she was finished, but sometimes she just got distracted. At the top of the page, she saw a Bible scripture from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest.” Amber hoped her harvest wouldn’t be spinach.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start–Chapter Two

Image1-17_edited-1          Amber awoke to a beautiful spring morning with the sound of birds outside her window. She pulled back the curtain to look at the nest in the sycamore tree. Earlier in the spring, she had watched as two parents-to-be built their nest from pieces of dry grass and straw. The male bird was orange and black, and the female was black and yellow. Both birds had black wings with white stripes. Amber’s dad said that he thought they were orioles. But he took Amber to the library to get a bird book so they could find out for sure. After reading about all the different types, they decided the birds must be hooded orioles. The black face and orange head that looked like a hood kind of gave it away. In her sketchbook, Amber had drawn several pictures of the birds, some flying and some sitting on a branch.

In the nest, Amber could see five bluish-gray eggs with black specks. The male was sitting on the nest, but Amber knew that the two birds took turns. A few weeks after they had spotted the birds in the tree, Amber’s mom brought home an oriole feeder, which she hung in another tree in the backyard. Other birds used the feeder as well, but Amber could always pick out her pair.

The smell of pancakes brought Amber down to breakfast. Her mom made pancakes almost every Saturday. After breakfast, she would have to do her Saturday chores. This week, it was cleaning the bathrooms. Her mother always cleaned the kitchen and did the laundry. Amber, Kyle, and their dad rotated the other chores. Today Kyle had to vacuum, and Dad was dusting.

As Amber walked outside to begin pulling weeds in the front yard, she saw two girls on bikes, riding toward her house. As they came closer, she recognized her two best friends, Melissa Peterson and Laura Thomas. Both girls were dressed in jeans and T-shirts. Melissa was almost a foot taller than Laura and Amber. She had her long straight blond hair pulled back and held by a clip with a flower on it. Laura’s short brown hair was covered by a baseball cap.

Her friends left their bikes in the driveway and started across the grass to where Amber was. They were both pulling gloves out of their pockets and putting them on.

“We’re here to help you with the weeds,” Laura said. “Then maybe you can go with us to the pond.”

“I’ll have to ask my mom,” Amber said with a smile. “But I’m pretty sure she will let me.”

“What’s Kyle doing today?” Melissa wanted to know.

“He’s going to Fox Creek with some of his friends,” Amber told her. “He’s in there packing a lunch right now. I think he’s taking Domino with him.”

“Maybe we could go to Fox Creek too,” Melissa said hopefully.

“I know my mom would say no to that,” Amber shook her head.

“Mine too,” Laura chimed in. “Fox Creek is definitely out-of-bounds for me.”

About a half hour later, Amber pulled out the last weed from the front yard. She carried the bag of weeds over to the trash can.

“That didn’t take long at all,” Laura said.

“No, it didn’t,” Amber agreed. “I’ve got an idea. Yesterday, I met Mrs. Jenkins. She lives on Hope Street, and I was walking past her house when she asked me to get her newspaper out of the bushes.”

“She must have the same paperboy we have,” Melissa interrupted. “Derrick Carson. He always throws our paper in the bushes too.”

“Well, anyway,” Amber continued, “Mrs. Jenkins seems really nice, and I noticed she has some weeds in her yard. She couldn’t bend down to get her newspaper, so it’s probably hard for her to pull weeds. Maybe we could do that for her before we go down to the pond.”

Melissa and Laura both agreed that would be a good thing to do. After Amber checked in with her mom, the three girls got on their bikes and headed for Mrs. Jenkins’s house. They found her sitting in the glider on her front porch.

“Mrs. Jenkins,” Amber called out as she laid her bike down, “these are my friends, Melissa and Laura. We’ve been pulling weeds in my yard, and we thought you might like some help with your weeds.”

“That is a very nice offer, but are you sure that’s what you want to be doing on a fine Saturday morning?”

“It won’t take long,” Laura assured her. “And we love to help people.”

“In that case,” Mrs. Jenkins said, “I think I’ll take you up on your offer. That is, if you’ll have some lemonade and cookies with me when you’re done.”

“That’s a deal,” the girls responded with glee.

Amber, Melissa, and Laura started to work on the lawn, and Mrs. Jenkins went into the house. It hadn’t rained for quite a while, so there weren’t too many weeds. It didn’t take the girls long to finish. When Mrs. Jenkins returned, she was carrying a tray with a pitcher of lemonade, four glasses, and a plate of cookies. When Melissa saw her trying to get through the door with the tray, she ran over to help.

“Let me take that for you,” Melissa said. “Those cookies smell awfully good.”

“It’s my special recipe for chocolate chip cookies,” Mrs. Jenkins told her. “No one can ever guess my secret ingredient.” She told the girls to go inside and wash their hands. Then she poured the lemonade into glasses.

“These are the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had,” Amber said. “What is your secret ingredient?”

“I can’t tell you.” Mrs. Jenkins smiled a sly smile. “Or it wouldn’t be a secret, would it?”

“We wouldn’t tell anyone,” Laura pleaded.

“Sorry, you’ll just have to try guessing.”

“Is it cinnamon?” suggested Melissa.

“No, any other guesses?”

“What about nutmegan?” added Amber.

“You mean nutmeg,” Laura corrected. “I think it’s something exotic like cardamom.”

“Good guesses,” said Mrs. Jenkins, “but you’re all wrong.”

For a few moments, everyone ate the cookies in silence. Then Mrs. Jenkins said, “The yard looks much better. I don’t know how to thank you girls. When my husband, Paul, was alive, he always took such good care of our lawn. If a weed popped up, he would snatch it out of the ground right away. I think the weeds finally gave up and decided not to grow in our yard. Since I’ve had to use this cane, I haven’t been able to keep up like he did. I hire a neighbor boy to mow the lawn once a month. That’s about all I can manage.”

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start–Chapter One, Continued

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Mary Snyder, Amber’s mom, called to her from the sliding glass door. “Oh, Amber, you’re doing such a nice job. Why don’t you quit now and wash your hands? You can set the table for dinner in about half an hour.”

As Amber walked through the living room, she saw Kyle and their father, John, watching the ball game. Kyle had changed out of his baseball uniform and was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, but her dad was still dressed in the dark-blue pants, light-blue shirt, and dark tie that he wore to work. He had loosened the tie, which was now draped around his neck.

“Hi there, Fred,” her father said as she came in the room.

That was what he always called her ever since she was born, and her mom named her Amber Nicole. Her dad had said, “She looks like my Uncle Fred.” It was true that in her baby pictures she was kind of red and wrinkly and didn’t have much hair, but she didn’t think she looked like Uncle Fred. Anyway, now that she was ten years old, she had thick bronze-colored hair that sparkled red in the sunlight and thoughtful brown eyes. The wrinkles had smoothed out into peaches-and-cream skin. Amber looked more like pictures of her mother when she was young than pictures of Uncle Fred.

The Snyders were having meat loaf and mashed potatoes for dinner along with carrots. Amber liked carrots better than broccoli or cauliflower, but she was really glad they weren’t having spinach. She couldn’t imagine why anyone wanted to eat that slimy, stringy, foul-tasting green stuff.

“Anything interesting happen at school today?” Mary Snyder directed her question to both of her children at the dinner table.

“It was a short day,” Amber said with a sigh. “Nothing interesting ever happens on short days. We just do what we have to do and go home.”

“Well,” Kyle said enthusiastically, “I took a biology test today. I’m pretty sure I aced it.”

“That’s nice,” Mrs. Snyder told him. “What about you, dear?” turning her attention to Mr. Snyder. “How was your day?”

“It was a pretty ordinary day,” he said, “except the antelope got in the garbage again. They spread it all over, and I had to send three people out to clean it up. My employees tried making a lot of noise to get them to leave, but the nosy antelope just came closer to see what was going on.”

Although everyone in town calls them “the antelope,” they are really pronghorns, according to Amber’s teacher, Ms. McGuire. The pronghorns live in the grassy sections in the middle of town. They look beautiful with their elegant necks and stately horns. When they are frightened, they raise the hair on their rumps to present a dazzling white warning that can be seen for miles. Pronghorns are the fastest animals in North America, but they are not very good jumpers. The citizens of Bluesky often see them going under fences, and several times a week, the traffic comes to a stop as they cross a street.

The pronghorns graze alongside the cattle owned by the Fontaine Cattle Company. Before there was a town called Bluesky, the whole area belonged to the Fontaine family. They have raised cattle on this land for more than a hundred years. In the 1970s, the Fontaines decided to develop some of their land. The first homesites were intended for summer cabins built by families from Phoenix who wanted to get away from the heat. The lake and community horse corrals were added to make country living more attractive to the big-city folks. As the nearby towns started to grow, more people bought lots in Bluesky and built homes to live in all year-round because housing was cheaper there. Basically, there were two types of families in Bluesky: families with young children like Amber’s and retired people. Although the two types of households tried to blend in together, sometimes there was friction. The senior citizens weren’t always patient with the noisy kids running around the neighborhood. Some of the kids tried to stay out of their way, but that wasn’t always possible.

 

Amber was happy about two things that evening. The first was that Friday night was her dad’s turn to do the dishes. The second thing was that it was game night. If it had been her turn to choose the game, she would have chosen the Game of Life that her grandparents had just given her for her birthday on March 22. Unfortunately, it was Kyle’s turn to choose, and as usual, he chose Monopoly. As soon as the table was cleared, he set up the board and started counting out money for each player. Kyle liked to be the banker.

As usual, Kyle bought Boardwalk and Park Place, which he built up with hotels. Amber owned some properties, but not any sets, so she couldn’t buy houses or hotels. Their dad owned one of the railroads, but Kyle owned the other three. Mom had a utility company and some properties with houses on them. Amber kept landing in jail, and Kyle had the “Get out of jail free” card. After hitting Boardwalk or Park Place three times in a row, Amber was bankrupt.

“I’ll loan you some money,” Kyle offered.

“Yeah, with high interest,” Amber shot back.

“Of course,” Kyle said, rubbing his hands together.

“I’m kind of tired,” Amber told her parents. “I think I’ll go to bed early. There are lots of weeds waiting for me in the morning.”

“Okay, sweetie,” Mom said. “Get a good night’s sleep.”

“I guess you don’t need me to rock you to sleep, do you, Fred?” Dad said that almost every night.

Amber kissed her parents and went upstairs to her room.

When Amber closed her eyes to go to sleep, behind her eyelids she saw weeds, weeds, and more weeds. She noticed that her arms were a little sore, and when she stretched out her legs, she felt her muscles tighten, probably from crouching for so long.

Amber’s mom came in to check on her. “You did a nice job in the backyard,” she said. “You accepted responsibility for leaving the trash out, and you didn’t complain about having to pull weeds. I’m very proud of you. So are your dad and brother.”

“Kyle,” Amber questioned, “proud of me?”

“I think he’s even sorry he beat you so badly at Monopoly.”

“No, he’s not,” they both said at the same time. Then they laughed.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

 

An interview with Amber Snyder

AmberVeronica Lyons here from Marshallville Daily News. This week we’re talking with kids who are making a difference in their communities. Today I’m speaking  with ten-year-old Amber Snyder. Amber is a member of the Handy Helpers, a group of children who assist the elderly in the town of Bluesky. Thank you for joining us today. How are you?

Amber:  I’m a little nervous but I’m happy to be here.

Veronica: Tell us a little about the Handy Helpers and what you do.

Amber: The Handy Helpers are kids like me who help at the senior center. We do some yard work and set the table for lunch. Sometimes we even help clean the kitchen. We call that KP duty.

Veronica: Are you organized like a club or do you just show up to help when you want to?

Amber: We are like a club. We have meetings every Monday. Logan is like the president. He wasn’t actually elected, but he’s really smart and organized. He’s a good leader.

Veronica: Do you just help at the senior center or do you help seniors in other ways?

Amber: We like to help seniors in any way we can. Sometimes they need help watering their plants or sweeping the porch. We’re always ready to help.

Veronica: How can seniors contact you if they need assistance?

Amber: We have posters around town to let people know we’re available. The best way to contact us is to call Walt at the senior center. He gives us our messages at the Monday meetings.

Veronica: How many members do you have?

Amber: There are seven of us, four girls and three boys.

Veronica:  Handy Helpers is a clever name. How did you come up with it?

Amber: At first, it was only the three boys helping at the senior center. They were Three Handy Guys. Then when my friends, Melissa and Laura wanted to start our own group, we called ourselves the Happy Helpers. After a while, we decided that we could help more if we worked together. That’s how we became the Handy Helpers.

Veronica: Well, I’m sure the people in Bluesky really appreciate all that you do. What do you like best about being a Handy Helper?

Amber:  I like helping, of course. But what I really like most is getting to know the seniors. They are so fun to be with. Sometimes they dress up in goofy costumes. They like to tell jokes and do fun things. They’re also good listeners when you have a problem.

Veronica: It sounds like you have made some very good friendships with the seniors in your town.

Amber: Yes, I have. They are my friends–Like Gus who always says, “See you later alligator,” and Betty who makes the best chocolate chip cookies you’ve ever eaten.

Veronica: Well, I make pretty good chocolate chip cookies. Are you sure Betty’s are the best?

Amber: Yes, they are. They have a secret ingredient.

Veronica: What’s the secret ingredient?

Amber: I can’t tell. I promised.

Veronica: You can whisper it to me. I won’t tell anyone.

Amber: I’m sorry. I can’t do that.

Veronica: Well, you’re a very loyal friend. I’ve enjoyed talking with you Amber. Good luck with your Handy Helpers group.

Amber: Thank you, Veronica.  I’m happy I could be here and talk about the Handy Helpers.

 

Beginning Friday, April 10, and continuing every Friday, the first Handy Helpers book, A Rocky Start, will be presented in serial form. I hope you will make it your Friday read.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

 

 

 

I Write the Stories–Jesus Adds the Message.

IMG_0792 (2)I have put off writing about this subject, partly because it’s personal, but mostly because some readers might think I’m weird–okay weirder than they thought.

When I first envisioned the Handy Helpers books–before I even knew what they would be called–I never considered including a Christian element, at least not to the extent that I eventually did. In A Rocky Start, the Snyders are a Christian family that has dinner together, plays board games on Friday nights and walks to church every Sunday. That could have been enough, but it wasn’t.  I needed a Sunday school lesson, so I looked on the internet for some fourth-grade Sunday school topics.  I randomly selected the story of the prodigal son. After hearing about it in Sunday school, Amber relates the story to her parents and they discuss its meaning. That could have been enough, but it wasn’t.  Near the end of the book, Amber is feeling very guilty about some things she’s done. She tells her dad, “I’m like the son in the Bible who wasted his inheritance. I’ve wasted my chance to help seniors.” Her father uses the story of the prodigal son to show Amber how she has already been forgiven. All she needs to do is forgive herself. He goes on to explain to her about God’s mercy. Had I chosen a different Sunday school lesson, the book might have ended in a similar way. I believe I was directed to choose that Sunday school lesson so that the message of God’s love and mercy could be the primary message of the book.

As I planned the second book, Seven is a Perfect Number, I knew it would include an explanation of why seven is God’s perfect number. But there were lots of surprises in store for me as I wrote that book. One surprise was The Servant Song that Beth Anne and her grandmother sing on the way to Phoenix. We sang that song once in church and I thought it was a very nice song. I wondered if there was some way that I could use it in the book. Every week at mass, I would turn to that song in the hymnal and read the words. More and more I began to feel like it needed to be part of the book. Words from the song appear in the book four times and it is crucial to the story. Beth Anne sings it to Mrs. Henry when she is trying to cheer her up. Later, when Beth Anne is alone in the dark on a hillside, she imagines Mrs. Henry singing it to her. Finally, when Mrs. Henry is sitting with Beth Anne in the hospital, she sings the song and Beth Anne wakes up to hear it.

As I said, we sang The Servant Song once at mass. We did sing it a second time a few months after Seven is a Perfect Number was published. I was feeling  discouraged and disappointed that my books weren’t selling as well as I had hoped. In my morning devotions, I talked to God about it, feeling that maybe this wasn’t what I was being called to do. I asked for a sign, some way that I would know that I should continue with the Handy Helpers project. We were in the middle of mass and I needed to go to the restroom. I decided to go during the offertory. Just as I stood to leave, the choir began to sing–The Servant Song. Immediately, I sat down and joined in the singing. I had my sign.”