Tag Archives: Bluesky

The Handy Helpers, Book Four–The End–At last

I have said so many times that I am almost finished with Book Four, I wanted to wait until that was actually true. Last Friday, the completed manuscript was emailed to my publisher for copy editing. So I think I can safely say that it is finished.

This is the story of Beth Anne’s quest to go to summer camp with her friends. Her parents want her to go to a camp for children with special needs. Thinking it is because they are worried for Beth Anne’s safety, she and her friends plead their case. Finally, Beth Anne’s parents admit that it is because they don’t have the money for the registration fee–the special camp is free.

That’s when the Handy Helpers devise a plan to raise the money. Registration check in hand, everything seems set for Beth Anne to go to camp. But Beth Anne shocks her family and her friends when she suddenly changes her mind and wants to go to the special camp after all. The reason for her change of heart is a story in itself.

Some other surprises in Book Four:

  • The outcome of the forest fire that took place in Book Three is revealed–the fire damage and what happened to the Cole children.
  • Logan’s dad–absent more than ever–shows up with someone he wants Logan to meet.
  • The history of the Clawson sisters is revealed, along with the history of Bluesky.
  • A big change is coming for Beth Anne’s family and she is excited about it.
  • In Book Three, Spike learned a lot about dealing with Bullies. At camp he encounters another bully and has to put his skills to the test.
  • At camp, Laura and Melissa’s friendship is stretched to the limits. Amber, who is put in the middle, must act as peacemaker.
  • Chris faces one of his fears and works to overcome it.

I hope you are excited about reading Book Four. I’m already at work on Book Five. Hopefully it won’t be so long before it is ready.

Check out my author page and order books on Amazon.

 

Bluesky Fourth of July

fourth of julyThe Fourth of July was celebrated in a big way in the town of Bluesky. It began with an old-fashioned parade. The people at the senior center dressed up like clowns and handed out American flags along the parade route. To the delight of the Handy Helpers, they invited them to join in–also dressed as clowns of course.

The afternoon was filled with a variety of events including hot dog and watermelon eating contests. One of the more popular activities was Bark in the Park–the dog parade. Amber and Beth Anne were put in charge of the event, which didn’t exactly go according to plan. Here’s how it turned out:

“The parade began just ten minutes late, with the dogs cooperating more or less. The stroll around the park would take only about twenty minutes, even allowing for nature calls. Everything would have gone off without a hitch except for one oversight. Mr. Brooks who was preparing for the hotdog-eating contest in the picnic area near the parade route, momentarily left a tub of hotdogs on the ground while he went to get the buns. It was Bosco who saw it first, or maybe he smelled it.  Mrs. Brooks did her best to hold him back, but the desire was too strong. Tearing the leash from her hands, he made a beeline for the tub of hotdogs. Once the other dogs saw what Bosco had in his mouth, there was no stopping them. They raced to get their treat–all of them, that is, except Cher, who only ate gourmet dog food, and Wilber, who waddled over at his leisure to find the tub empty.

‘I’m so sorry,’ Mrs. Brooks apologized over and over. ‘I’ve told Craig not to feed him hotdogs, but he does it anyway.’

The dog owners grabbed the leashes and attempted to pull their dogs away. Dogs snapped and growled and chomped on hotdogs until every scrap was gone.

‘It looks like Bosco is the winner of the hotdog-eating contest!’ Walt said, laughing.”

On a hot July day, nothing can be more fun than water gun wars. That used to be big in Prescott, near where I live. Every Fourth of July, people would come together to soak each other silly. Unfortunately those armed with soaker guns didn’t confine their blasts to the park, but later in the day, some of them would ride around the courthouse square in the back of pickup trucks and spray unsuspecting tourists. Eventually, the city of Prescott banned the water gun wars, and that was the end of it.

Similar occurrences in Bluesky also brought an end to the water gun wars.

“It was the year that someone with a colossal soaker gun took aim at Mr. Pritchard’s toupee and blasted it clean off his head. It flew twenty feet before landing in the lap of Mildred Parsons, who mistook it for a rodent. After jumping up and down on it for a few minutes, she kicked it in the direction of some children who were playing nearby.  Before Mr. Pritchard got to it, a scruffy-looking dog picked it up in its mouth and ran off. Eventually, Mr. Pritchard was able to rescue his hairpiece from a group of boys who were using it as a hacky sack.”

Fortunately, in Bluesky, the town council, at the urging of a group of parents, reinstated the water gun wars under a strict set of rules. That’s where Spike headed, wanting to cool off after the parade. As things turned out, he should have gone anywhere put there. His participation in the water gun wars set in motion a series of events that would forever change the way he thought about the Fourth of July.

A Rocky Start: Chapter Four Continued

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Saturday morning arrived at last, but Amber looked out her window at a sunless day. Clouds had moved in overnight and threatened to pour rain on her plans for the day. After breakfast, Amber made a quick phone call to Betty Jenkins to make sure the shuffleboard tournament was going to take place.

“Rain or shine,” Betty assured her. “The shuffleboard courts are covered, so we’ll stay dry. Anyway, I don’t think it will rain until this evening.”

Two hours later, Amber and her friends rode their bikes to the senior center. “Where’s Mrs. Jenkins?” Melissa asked.

“She likes to be called Betty,” Amber reminded her.

“Oh, I forgot. Well, is Betty here?”

“She’s right over there. I think they are choosing up sides or something,” Amber said.

Laura noticed a list of names posted on a wall. After looking down the list, she saw Betty Jenkins’s name in the singles column.

“Do you know anything about shuffleboard?” Laura asked Amber.

“No, not really. Maybe Betty will have time to fill us in before the tournament starts.”

“I can do that for you,” said a little man wearing Bermuda shorts and a straw hat. “Name’s Gus. And who would you lovely young ladies be?”

“I’m Amber, and these are my friends, Melissa and Laura. We’re here for our friend Betty Jenkins, but we don’t really know anything about shuffleboard. We won’t even know when it’s time to cheer for Betty.”

“Well,” Gus began, “if you take a look at the shuffleboard court, you’ll see triangles at both ends. Each shooter uses a stick called a tang to push a disk called a biscuit to the triangle at the other end of the court. You can see the point values in the triangle. Landing in the smallest space earns ten points. There are two seven-point spaces and two eight-point spaces. If the biscuit lands completely inside one of those zones without touching any of the lines, the shooter scores that many points. It takes a score of seventy-five points to win. ”

“That sounds pretty difficult,” Laura observed.

“Believe me, it is. Even if the shooter manages to put the biscuit in a zone, the opponent has a chance to knock it out.”

“Wow,” Melissa said. “Is Betty Jenkins a good shuffleboard player?”

“One of the best,” Gus told them.

“What is the ten-off space?” Amber asked.

“If the biscuit lands there, the shooter loses ten points.”

“Oh, dear,” Amber said, “I hope that doesn’t happen to Betty.”

“Even if it does,” Melissa added, “we’ll yell and cheer for her anyway.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Gus warned. “We take shuffleboard very seriously. You’ll need to be quiet, just like the spectators at a golf tournament.”

“Thanks for letting us know that,” Laura said. “We wouldn’t want to get Betty disqualified or something.”

“You’ll be fine,” Gus assured them. “Just watch from over there.” He pointed to some chairs along the sidelines. Most of them were already occupied. “You better find a seat, it looks like we’re about ready to start.”

The girls found some seats on the sideline. On the shuffleboard court, they noticed some boys lining up yellow and black disks in the ten-off spaces. “Look who that is,” Amber said. “It’s Logan, Chris, and Spike.”

“It sure is,” Melissa said, surprised. “I wonder why they’re here.”

“Those boys help out around here all the time,” Gus informed them. “They’re our junior volunteers.”

As the tournament started, the girls watched Betty Jenkins push a yellow disk from her end of the court toward the triangle at the other end. The disk stopped on the line between the ten-point space and an eight-point space. That meant no points. The other player, a dark-haired woman a little taller than Betty, wearing bright-pink capris and a flowered shirt, took her shot with the black disk, which landed inside the seven-point space. Betty’s next disk pushed the black disk off the seven-point space, but once again, it landed on a line. A man with a movie camera seemed to be catching all the action on film. Amber wondered if he was from the television station in Marshallville.

“That’s Clarisse’s husband, Hank.” Gus seemed to be reading her thoughts. “He got a new video camera last Christmas. He hardly goes anywhere without it. Hank certainly wouldn’t miss Clarisse’s big moment if she finally beats Betty at shuffleboard.”

Play continued until each shooter had used her four disks. Betty had seven points. But Clarisse had fifteen. The two women walked to the opposite end of the court where Spike had lined up the disks again in the starting position.

When there was a break in the tournament play, the girls went over to talk to Betty. “It’s so nice to have you girls here today. You are sweet to give up your Saturday morning like this.”

“It’s been fun watching you play,” Amber said. “How is it going?”

“Clarisse Anderson is a very good shooter,” Betty said. “She has me by eight points, but I still have a chance to win.”

“We’re cheering for you,” Melissa said.

“Quietly,” Laura added.

“Yes, I should have warned you that spectators have to be quiet.”

The girls returned to their seats for the second half of the tournament. Logan, Chris, and Spike were busy putting the disks at the starting point. When they had finished, they walked over to where the girls were seated.

“How do you like watching shuffleboard?” Logan asked.

“It’s a little bit boring to watch,” Melissa said. “It might be more fun if we were helping like you guys.”

“Yeah,” Spike said. “We help out here a lot. In fact, we’re three handy guys.”

“You don’t have to brag about it,” Melissa scolded.

“He’s not bragging,” Chris told her. “That’s what we call ourselves. It’s on our flyer on the bulletin board inside the senior center. We’re Three Handy Guys. When a senior needs our help, he calls us up. We wash windows, mow lawns, and rake leaves. In the winter, we even shovel snow. We do the things that are hard for seniors to do for themselves.”

“Do they pay you?” Laura asked.

“No,” Chris responded. “We do it for free. We do it because we like helping.”

“It started as a Boy Scout project,” Logan explained. “Our troop did some work around the senior center. That was when we realized there are a lot of seniors living in Bluesky, and they need our help.”

“We do that too,” Amber said. “Last Saturday, we pulled weeds for Betty Jenkins.”

“Do you have a name and a flyer like we do?” Spike asked.

“Not yet,” Laura said, “but we’re going to.”

“You could call yourselves Three Useless Girls,” Spike laughed.

Just then, Gus came over and asked them to be quiet.

 

By the end of the tournament, Betty was still ten points behind. She congratulated her opponent on the win and came over to where the girls were waiting for her.

“You played a good game,” Amber said. “It was really close.”

“Clarisse is a good player,” Betty said. “I’ve been lucky before, but I think she’s been practicing a lot. She told me she was going to win, and she did.”

“Will you get a chance for a rematch?” Laura asked.

“We have one more tournament next month,” Betty said. “We’ll see what happens then.”

 

Betty headed into the senior center for lunch, and the girls walked to their bikes. Gus waved to them from across the lawn. “See you later, alligator,” he called to them.

“Bye, see you later,” the girls shouted back with a wave.

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

Who is Beth Anne Riley . . . Really?

Beth Anne finishedI have been fortunate in my life to know many people with Down syndrome. Any one of them could have been the model for Beth Anne. But as my daughter Kirstin says, “I would like people to remember that even though we look alike, we are all unique.” And so Beth Anne is her own unique person.

When I first began envisioning the plot for the second Handy Helper book, Seven is a Perfect Number, I knew that Melissa would be challenged by a new girl in town who would threaten her friendships with Laura and Amber. But when Beth Anne showed up, I was totally surprised. I hadn’t considered that the new girl would have Down Syndrome. And yet, there she was.

When I think about it now, I can see that Beth Anne is the perfect person to shake Melissa’s self-confidence. Beth Anne is the opposite of Melissa in so many ways. To begin with, Beth Anne is timid and shy while Melissa is bold and outgoing. Melissa is concerned about her appearance, wearing the latest clothing fads and then accessorizing to the hilt.  As Amber says, “She dresses to the nines” (sometimes the eighteens or the twenty-sevens). Beth Anne is happy to be dressed in comfortable clothes. And even though she rarely gets anything new, she is okay with that. When Beth Anne is going to church with her grandmother, Doris buys her a dress–one of the few dresses she has ever owned.

The biggest difference between Melissa and Beth Anne is how they treat others. Melissa is friendly and helpful, but often puts her own needs ahead of the people she is helping. Beth Anne reaches out in a loving way and gives fully of herself. The difference becomes obvious in the way the two girls respond to Mrs. Henry. Melissa sees her as a grouchy old lady who needs help but doesn’t appreciate it. Beth Anne sees a lonely woman who wants someone to care. While Melissa is busy dusting Mrs. Henry’s living room, Beth Anne sits on the sofa and gets Mrs. Henry to talk about her photo albums.  It is Beth Anne who coaxes Mrs. Henry out of her wheelchair so she can walk again.

Little by little, the Handy Helpers realize that Mrs. Henry is changing from a grouchy old lady to a sweet, kind friend. All of them know that it is Beth Anne’s influence that is bringing about the change–all of them except Melissa. But even Melissa can’t fight the obvious forever.

It is not until Beth Anne is rescued from the mountain, that her impact on the Handy Helpers becomes apparent to all of them. Beth Anne’s willingness to give of herself so completely, rubs off on each member of the Handy Helpers and is reflected in tiny acts of grace. Chris lets Elizabeth Sawyer win the Sunday school contest even though he has more scripture verses. Spike has been avoiding Connor, the little boy who tries to be like Spike. But in the end, Spike becomes his friend and even brings him to Melissa’s birthday party. Although Melissa had been trying to keep Beth Anne out of the Handy Helpers, it is Melissa who insists that the group won’t be complete until Beth Anne is the seventh member.

Like the Handy Helpers, I’m so glad that Beth Anne came to live in Bluesky. Our lives would not be the same without her.

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 One

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Amber kicked at a rock and watched as it rolled from the sidewalk onto the street. “Grounded,” she said under her breath. She had been looking forward to this day all week. It was an early-release day at school, and it was Friday. Amber and her friends had a fun-filled afternoon planned, but now it was all ruined.

“Grounded,” she said again and kicked another rock. Not even really grounded; not the way her friends were grounded. They just lost their television privileges or had to live without video games for a few days. Her mom took grounding seriously. She called it “Paying your dues for your don’ts.” What that meant was mistakes came with consequences.

This time her mistake had been forgetting to finish emptying the trash. She had taken the bag out like she was supposed to and tied it with a twist tie. Then she had gotten distracted by the music she heard on the TV and went into the family room to watch her favorite commercial. By the time it was over, she forgot about the trash. After she left for school, her ten-month-old black Lab, Domino, found the trash bag. He dragged it out through the open sliding glass door and spread trash all over the backyard. Before she left for work, Amber’s mom made sure Domino was outside and started to lock the sliding door. That’s when she noticed the backyard looked like a blizzard had hit. First she saw white, and then when she realized it was trash, she saw red!

All dressed up in a skirt and heels, Amber’s mom had to go outside and collect the trash that was stuck in every bush and lawn chair in their backyard. When she was finished, her makeup was running and her hair was hanging in her face. Since she was already late for work as an insurance agent, she didn’t have time to change her clothes. By the time Amber’s mom got home from work, she was calmed down, but she’d had plenty of time to figure out the most appropriate way for Amber to pay her “dues.” Today she would be pulling the weeds in the backyard, and tomorrow morning, she would be working in the front yard.

“Excuse me, little girl.” Amber looked up to see who was calling. Then she noticed a woman with white hair, leaning on a cane in front of the house she was just passing. “Excuse me,” the woman said again, and Amber realized she was talking to her.

“Do you need some help?” Amber called back to the woman.

“Yes, I do,” the woman explained. “I’m trying to get my newspaper out of the bushes, but I can’t bend down far enough. Would you mind getting it for me?”

“I’d be happy to.” Amber started across the lawn toward the woman.

As Amber handed her the newspaper, the woman introduced herself. “I’m Betty Jenkins. I’ve seen you walk by here before. Do you live on this block?”

“I live on Sycamore Street. It’s just one street over. My name is Amber Snyder.”

“Nice to meet you, Amber, and thanks so much for your help.”

“Nice to meet you too.” Amber smiled and walked back to the sidewalk.

When Amber got home, she found a note from her mom and a peanut butter sandwich. The note said:

Have a snack. There are gloves and trash bags on the counter. See you at four.  Love Mom.

Amber poured herself a glass of milk and sat down at the kitchen table to eat her peanut butter sandwich. She thought about turning on the TV but decided not to. It was watching TV that had gotten her in trouble in the first place. Amber put her dirty dishes in the dishwasher and went upstairs to change into some old clothes. Ten minutes later, she was grabbing the gloves and bags and heading for the back door.

As Amber started to go outside, Domino put his clumsy paws on the sliding glass door. His nails clicked against the glass as he tried to stand on his two hind legs. “Get down,” Amber yelled at him. “I can’t open the door.” Domino licked her hands as she walked outside, his tail wagging a friendly hello.

The Snyder backyard was a sort of memorial to the family’s unfinished dreams. A pile of rocks in one corner was all that remained of her father’s attempt to build a fountain. Two years ago, he had come home with his pickup truck full of decorative rocks that were on sale at the Discount Mart where he is the manager. His plan was to dig a hole and put in a basin to receive the water as it tumbled down the rocks of the fountain. The pump he planned to install would pump the water back up so it could tumble down again. He had carefully drawn plans for the project, but unfortunately, he never seemed to have gotten around to finishing it.

In another corner were the remains of a garden her mother had planted last fall. Grasshoppers were unusually plentiful that year. The giant insects seemed to be everywhere, chomping down anything that was green. Her mother soon gave up in despair and stopped watering the leafless skeletons, which were all that was left of her broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. Amber pretended to be disappointed, but secretly, she was happy to have the grasshoppers eat her share of the gross-tasting spinach.

In the middle of the yard was a fire pit her brother, Kyle, dug last summer so he and his friends could roast marshmallows. He had used some of their father’s fountain rocks to build a ring, but now the rocks were pretty much spread around in the yard. Domino had been responsible for some of the backyard mess as well. He had displaced many of the rocks with his nose or paws in his efforts to catch a crafty lizard, not to mention the many digging projects he had started around the yard.

On one side of the yard, near the patio, was Amber’s splash pool, which had been drained and leaned against a wall. Wind must have blown it down, and rainwater had collected in the bottom. She hadn’t used it as a pool for the past two summers. Mostly, she and Kyle used it to hold “specimens” they captured from the pond in the park at the end of their street.

By the time Amber began pulling weeds, it was almost three o’clock. That meant an hour of weed pulling before her mother came home. She started with the little weeds, thinking that they would be easier, but Amber soon realized that the bag wasn’t filling up very fast. Switching to the bigger weeds meant a little more pulling, but the results were more dramatic. Maybe if she did a good job today, her mom would let her off tomorrow. It wasn’t too likely, but she could always hope.

“Well, if it isn’t the wacky weed whacker.” Amber didn’t even have to look up to know it was her brother, Kyle.

“No baseball practice today?” she asked, still not looking up from the weeds.

Kyle plopped down in a plastic chair on the patio. He took out his phone and started texting as he talked to Amber. “Yeah, we had practice. This was early release, remember? Oh, I forgot you were let out of school early so you could do your community-service weed pulling.” Kyle laughed.

Amber figured that most little sisters weren’t crazy about having a big brother, but having a big brother like Kyle was the pits. Being older, Kyle got to do anything he wanted, which of course he rubbed in. What made it worse was that Kyle was good at everything. He always got perfect grades in school without even studying. He was the catcher and the best hitter on the freshman baseball team. Besides that, he played the guitar in a band with his friends. Now that he had baseball practice every day, he wasn’t doing much with his band, but when baseball season ended, Amber knew he would once again be spending his evenings in his friend Spencer’s garage.

Amber was lucky to get average grades in school. She tried, but because of her attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which everyone calls ADHD, she had a hard time paying attention in class. Kyle teased her about everything, but mostly about the ADHD. He said that it stands for “Amber’s dramas happen daily.” It was true that Amber made a lot of mistakes and forgot to do things, like the time she was getting a Popsicle out of the freezer. To reach the Popsicles, she had to take out a pound of hamburger, which she forgot to put back in the freezer. By the time her mom found it, the meat was defrosted and had to be thrown away. The cost of the meat was deducted from her allowance the next week. “Everyone makes mistakes,” her mom told her. “And we all have to learn from our mistakes. Unfortunately, there are also consequences. Those are the dues we pay for our don’ts.” The doctor gave Amber medication that helped with the ADHD, but it still seemed like she forgot to finish things more than she should.

Kyle played with Domino for a while, throwing a ball, which Domino ran after and returned. Then he and Domino went in the house. A few minutes later, Amber heard the television. She could tell that Kyle was watching a baseball game.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon