Tag Archives: pulling weeds

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


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


A Rocky Start–Chapter One


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