Tag Archives: gymnastics

A Rocky Start: Chapter Eight


At five o’clock, Mary dropped Amber off at Laura’s house. Her mom hadn’t mentioned the meeting with Ms. McGuire, and Amber had no plans to bring it up. Melissa and Laura came rushing out to help her bring in her gear. Laura lived in one of the fancier homes in Bluesky. Her dad, Bill Thomas, was a banker. He worked at a large bank in Marshallville. Laura’s mom, Emma Thomas, had trained for a career as a ballet dancer when she lived in New Orleans. Now she was a dance teacher. She had a small studio in Bluesky where she taught tap, ballet, and hip-hop along with gymnastics.

There were four girls in the Thomas family. Fourteen-year-old Amanda was the oldest. Everyone called her Mandy. Laura, who was having her tenth birthday, was next. They had two younger sisters, Molly, who was six, and four-year-old Taylor. All the girls were dancers, except Laura who tried ballet but changed to gymnastics, which she liked better. Laura’s mother and her three sisters all had long straight brown hair that was pulled into a bun when they performed ballet. Laura liked to keep her hair cut short. She said it was easier to do tumbling without a knot on the back of her head.

Out in the backyard, a tent was already set up, and the girls helped Amber put her things inside. Unlike Amber’s backyard, the Thomases’ was carefully landscaped. Matching lawn furniture was arranged artistically on the patio. A stone walkway led to a gazebo in the middle of the carefully manicured lawn. Neat planters filled with bushes, and flowers lined the fence. Amber knew that once it was dark, Mr. Thomas would turn on the decorative lighting. There would be lights bordering the planters, rope lights on the edges of the patio roof, and tiny twinkling lights in the trees. Taylor called it the fairyland.

Each girl selected a lawn chair and sat down. “Tomorrow we’re going to the senior center, right?” Melissa asked.

“That’s the plan,” Laura said happily. “I wonder what jobs Mrs. Snow assigned us.”

“I hope it’s not doing the dishes,” Amber groaned. “I hate doing the dishes.”

Mandy came in with a tray of lemonade. “We’re not going to make you do the dishes,” she insisted.

“We’re talking about the senior center,” Melissa explained. “We’re volunteering there tomorrow.”

“That’s a really nice thing to do,” Mandy said. “I’m sure they need lots of help.”

“We even put up a flyer in case any of the seniors needs help at home,” Amber added.

“Have you gotten any calls?”

“Not yet, but we just put the flyer up on Monday.”

Bill Thomas came out onto the patio to light the gas barbecue grill. Laura’s mother called her through the open sliding door, and Laura got up and went inside. Amber followed her in.

“Could I use the phone?” she asked Mrs. Thomas.

“Of course, help yourself,” she answered.

“We’re having individual gourmet pizzas,” Laura informed her. “We’re going to cook them on the grill.”

Amber noticed a tray with a variety of pizza toppings: chopped meats, peppers, onions, olives, mushrooms, and some other things she didn’t recognize. There were bowls with red and white sauces and several types of shredded cheese. She was sure this was Laura’s idea, since cooking was her passion. Laura’s little sisters were busy making their own pizzas to cook in the oven.

“Where’s the pepperoni?” Molly asked.

“These are gourmet pizzas,” Laura explained. “You don’t put pepperoni on gourmet pizza.”

“That’s the kind I like,” Molly said.

“Me too,” Taylor added. “That’s the kind I like.”

“Don’t say everything I say,” Molly scolded, and Taylor hung her head.

“Be nice to your little sister,” Mrs. Thomas reminded her. “You were the baby once yourself.”

“I’m not a baby!” Taylor insisted.

Amber had just finished putting the toppings on her pizza and had given it to Mr. Thomas so he could put it on the grill when Mandy called her name.

“Kyle’s here to see you,” Mandy said, her face obviously red.

“I wonder what he wants,” Amber said as she walked in the house.

“Here’s what you forgot.” Kyle handed her a birthday-card-sized envelope.

“Thanks.” Amber hung her head. “I thought Mom would bring it.”

“She’s busy,” Kyle said. “Come here a minute.”

“What are you looking at?” Amber asked.

“Just making sure your head is attached to your shoulders. I wouldn’t want you to leave it anywhere.”

“Brothers!” Amber spouted as she walked back outside. “Be glad you both have sisters.”

“We have little sisters,” Laura reminded her. “Need I say more?”

When they finished their pizzas, Mandy came out with a tray full of graham crackers, Hershey bars, and marshmallows. “S’mores!” Amber and Melissa shouted together.

Laura noticed Molly and Taylor with their sad faces pressed up against the window. “Come on out,” she said with a sigh. “You can make s’mores with us.”

“You’re not supposed to cremate the marshmallow!” Laura yelled at Molly. “You are supposed to toast it lightly a little at a time. Watch me.” Laura put a marshmallow on her stick.

“I like it burned,” Molly insisted.

“No, you don’t,” Laura said. “Who would like burned marshmallows?”

“Me,” Amber said. “The more burned, the better, as far as I’m concerned.”

“Well,” Laura said, “you’re both weird.”

“Because we’re not marshmallow gourmets?” Amber asked.

“Because you like burned food,” Laura corrected.

Just then, Taylor held up her stick with a melted marshmallow dripping onto the patio. “I didn’t burn mine,” she said with pride. Everyone started laughing.

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas came out to the patio, carrying a birthday cake and gifts. After the traditional singing of “Happy Birthday,” Laura blew out the ten candles on her cake. There were gifts from her parents and from each of her sisters. Mostly, they were clothes and hair clips or jewelry. The gift from her mother was a cookbook for young chefs. Melissa gave her a CD she’d been hinting about for weeks, and Amber gave her a gift card to her favorite store. Laura thanked everyone appreciatively. With help from Melissa and Amber, she toted her gifts off to her bedroom. The girls decided to put on their pajamas and then go get into the tent to listen to music. At ten o’clock, Mr. Thomas came out to tell them to turn off the music so they wouldn’t disturb the neighbors.

“If Logan, Chris, and Spike were the only boys on earth,” Melissa suggested as the girls sat in the dark tent, “which one would you want to marry?”

“If Spike was the only boy on earth,” Amber said, “I would be single for my entire life!”

“He is kind of cute,” Melissa said.

“You think every guy is cute,” Laura responded.

“What about you, Laura?” Amber asked. “Who would you choose?”

“Logan’s so serious,” Laura said thoughtfully. “He doesn’t seem to want to have fun.”

“Yeah,” Amber agreed. “Chris seems like the most normal one, but personally, I couldn’t imagine being married to any of them.”

“Lucky thing there’s more fish in the sea,” Laura sighed.

“What does that mean?” Melissa asked.

“It means you don’t have to choose the first guy who comes along,” Amber said.

With that, the girls burst into laughter.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Two, continued


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

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.