Tag Archives: Seven is a Perfect Number

No good deed goes unpunished.

broken-eggs

When the girls rang the doorbell, they heard Mrs. Henry shout, “Go Away.”

“Mrs. Henry,” Amber yelled through the door. “It’s Laura and Amber. We came to see if you need any help.”

“Come on in,” She yelled back. As the girls opened the door, they heard her say, “Might as well. You already woke me up.” The wrinkled condition of Mrs. Henry’s house dress told Amber and Laura that she really had been sleeping.  Her thin white hair was piled up on her head so that it looked like a giant spider had woven its web there.

“How are you feeling?” Laura asked, trying not to react to her appearance.

“I have a broken hip. How do you think I feel?”

“We were very sorry to hear about your accident.” Amber hoped she sounded sincere. “How did it happen?”

“It’s a long story,” Mrs. Henry sighed. Amber and Laura were sure it would be.

“I was late for my Bridge game and I had my arms full of old clothes I was taking to the thrift store. The gravel in my driveway was loose. I wish I had a cement driveway, but Mr. Henry said we couldn’t afford cement so we had to have gravel. Anyway, the gravel was loose and my feet started slipping. I tried to grab a hold of my car door, but I kept slipping. The next thing I knew, I was down on the gravel. I probably would have lain there until I died, but Doris Duncan came by to check on me when I didn’t show up at the Bridge game. At least I have one person who cares a little about what happens to me. She called for an ambulance and they took me to the hospital. The doctor ordered an x-ray and said I have a broken hip. The next day, I had surgery. They put me in rehab for three weeks, and now I’m supposed to take care of myself. I can get around some in my wheelchair, but no one cares if I starve to death.”

“We care, “Laura assured her. “What can we do for you?”

“You can go to the store and buy me some things that I can cook myself from the wheelchair.”

“We’d be happy to do that,” Amber managed a smile. “Do you have a list?”

“I just need eggs, bread, milk and coffee. Can’t you remember that without a list?”

            “Of course we can,” Laura smiled. “We’ll go to the store right now and be back before you know it.”

            “Sure you will,” Mrs. Henry sounded doubtful. “Here’s some money. Don’t lose it.”

            Laura and Amber jumped on their bikes and raced down the street toward the market. Laura had tucked Mrs. Henry’s money safely in her pocket. After they located all of the items in the store, they went to the checkout counter where Margaret, the clerk, rang up their purchases.

Amber put the milk and bread in the basket of her bike. Laura took the eggs and coffee. They rode back as fast as they could, knowing that Mrs. Henry would be annoyed if they took too long. Just as they were turning the corner onto Hope Street, a large yellow dog ran out in front of them. Amber managed to miss the dog, but when Laura tried to swerve around him, she lost control of her bike. With a loud crash, she landed on the pavement, the back wheel of her bike still spinning around. Amber ran to help her up. That’s when she saw the raw egg spilled on the pavement.

“Are there any unbroken ones?” Laura asked as Amber opened the carton.

“Only two,” Amber said. “Are you all right?”

“I’ll be fine,” Laura sighed, “But what are we going to do about the eggs?”

Just then Amber realized they were on Betty Jenkins’ street. Amber and Laura knocked forcefully on Betty’s door.

            “What’s wrong?” Betty asked when she saw the panic on their faces.

            “We were shopping for Mrs. Henry, and we broke the eggs,” Laura explained.

            “It wasn’t our fault,” Amber added. “A dog ran out in front of us.”

            “Don’t worry,” Betty said, calmly. “It was just an accident. We’ll think of something. Let me see if I have a dozen eggs in my refrigerator.”

            “We just need ten,” Laura said. “Two of them didn’t break.”

            “I’ve only got six,” Betty told them after checking her refrigerator. “Let’s go across the street to Doris’s house and see if she can spare four eggs.”

            “What took you so long? Did you have to milk a cow?” Mrs. Henry fumed as the girls came through the door with her groceries.

            After they had put away Mrs. Henry’s groceries, Laura asked if there was anything else they could do for her.

            “Not today,” she said, “but come back on Wednesday. I’m going to need you then.”

            “You’re welcome,” Amber said when they got outside.

            “You didn’t expect her to thank us, did you?” Laura asked.

            “Of course not.” Amber laughed “Those words aren’t in her vocabulary.” 

From The Handy Helpers: Seven is a Perfect Number, available from Amazon

Martha and Mary

Mary-and-MarthaThe story of Martha and Mary in the Bible is one of my favorites. It is about two sisters who respond differently when Jesus comes to their house for dinner. Martha is busy with preparations, rushing around to get everything done. In the meantime, Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him talk.

I think many of us identify with one of the sisters. For me, I am most like Martha. When I have guests, I am constantly busy making sure everyone has what they need. In between tasks, I try to visit with my guests, but I always have things I need to do as well.

In the Bible story, Martha is upset when Mary doesn’t get up and help her. When Martha complains to Jesus, she expects him to order Mary to help. To Martha’s surprise, Jesus does just the opposite. He tells Martha that Mary has chosen the best way and he will not take that opportunity from her.

An incident in Seven Is a Perfect Number was the perfect place to introduce this story.  When the sharp-tongued Mrs. Henry breaks her leg, the Handy Helpers are called upon to help with some of her daily tasks. Reluctantly, they respond to Mrs. Henry’s daughter Clara’s plea to “not give up on her.” After spending an afternoon vacuuming and dusting Mrs. Henry’s house, Melissa comes home very upset. This is what happened:

“It’s just not right,” Melissa said as she plopped down on the sofa in her living room.

“What’s that, dear?” Her grandmother asked.

“We worked like slaves at Mrs. Henry’s house, dusting and vacuuming and mopping. And she didn’t even say thanks.”

“I’m sure she appreciated what you did for her,” Sarah patted her granddaughter on the shoulder. “It’s just hard for her to admit she needs help.”

“That’s not the worst part,” Melissa went on. “All the time we were working on her house, she was sitting there with Beth Anne, talking and laughing. They were looking at her photo album. Beth Anne didn’t even offer to help.”

“Talking to Mrs. Henry was helping,” Sarah pointed out.

“No it wasn’t,” Melissa continued, getting more upset. “She’s really lazy. I’m glad we didn’t vote to let her in the Handy Helpers.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Sarah said, surprised.

“We were all working hard and she wasn’t doing anything. Like I said, she’s lazy.”

“That’s one way to look at it,” Sarah said, patiently, “but maybe there’s another side you haven’t thought of.”

“Like what?”

“There’s a story from the Bible that might help,” Sarah went on.

“No offense, Grandma. But I don’t think something that happened to people thousands of years ago is going to be much help to me today.”

“I think you’ll be surprised. Anyway, humor an old lady and let me tell it. The story is about two sisters, Martha and Mary. Martha met Jesus and invited him to her home. She worked very hard to get everything ready and when Jesus arrived, Martha was busy serving food. Instead of helping her, her sister Mary sat down at Jesus’ feet and listened to him talk. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Don’t you care that my sister is letting me do all the serving myself? Tell her to help me.’ Jesus said to Martha, ‘You are worried about many things. But you only need one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and I won’t take it from her.’”

“So,” Melissa said with a shrug, “Jesus didn’t make Mary help her sister. I think he should have. She was being lazy.”

“Giving Jesus food was one way to serve him,” Sarah explained, “but Mary was serving him as well.”

“By just sitting there on the floor?”

“There are lots of ways to serve Jesus,” Sarah went on. “Serving him food was Martha’s way. He didn’t reject Martha or the food she served him. He just wanted her to see that Mary was also serving him by listening to his word. They were both serving Jesus, but he told Martha that Mary’s way was better.”

“Well Beth Anne was only talking to Mrs. Henry, not listening to Jesus,” Melissa stated emphatically. “It’s not the same.”

“I’m not so sure. Maybe Mrs. Henry needed someone to talk to more than she needed a clean house,” Sarah said.

From The Handy Helpers: Seven is a Perfect Number

We are all called to have a servant’s heart and to serve one another through love. But first we must have a heart for Jesus as Mary did. It is easy for me to be like Martha and I’m happy to serve others.  But it is my prayer that I can become more like Mary. For I am convinced that I will be a much more contented servant of Christ.

 

“Beth Anne is the hero.”

Beth Anne finished

Beth Anne walked through the tall grass to the edge of the pond. She looked into the pond and saw tiny fishes swimming just under the surface. Dipping her hand into the water, she wiggled her fingers, scaring the fish away. The water felt cold. Continuing on around the pond, she noticed the grass was shorter and there were rocks along the edge. A lizard sat on one of the rocks, sunning itself.  Tiny bugs had landed on the water. Beth Anne wondered if the lizard would try to catch them for food.

After watching the lizard for a few minutes, Beth Anne decided to join her friends on the other side of the pond. She was making her way there, when she noticed a little girl about three years old, splashing her hands in the water. Suddenly, the rock on which the little girl was standing gave way and she fell into the pond. Beth Anne yelled for help. When no one came, she jumped into the pond and pulled the little girl out just as her head was going under water. Amber and Laura finally heard the commotion and came running around the pond. They helped Beth Anne get the little girl out of the water.

“Where is your mom?” Laura asked the little girl when they had her safely away from the pond.

“Over there,” The little girl pointed in the direction of the picnic tables.

As the girls walked toward the picnic tables, the little girl’s mother saw them and came running.

“Why are you all wet?” The mother asked, upset.

“I fell in the pond,” the little girl answered. “She pulled me out.”

“Thank you so much,” the mother said to Laura.

“It wasn’t me,” Laura said. “Beth Anne is the hero.”

“I can’t thank you enough for saving Tiffany. I didn’t even realize she wandered away. If you hadn’t been there, she might have drowned. You really are a hero.”

Since Beth Anne’s clothes were wet, the girls decided it was time to go home. They got on their bikes and rode back to Doris Duncan’s house.

“I’m a hero!” Beth Anne shouted as she ran in the house.

“Why are you wet?” Her Grandmother asked.

“Because I’m a hero,” Beth Anne said again.

“Well, hero or not, you’d better go change your clothes before you catch a cold.”

Just as Laura and Amber were leaving, the doorbell rang. When they opened the door, they found a reporter and cameraman standing on the porch.

“Is this the house where the little girl lives who saved Tiffany McDonald from drowning?” The reporter asked.

“You mean Beth Anne,” Laura said. “I’ll get her for you.” Laura left to get Doris and Beth Anne. Amber stayed at the door with the reporters.

“How did you find out so fast?” Amber asked.

“We were at the park doing a story on the improvement plans the town council is working on. Mrs. McDonald, Tiffany’s mother, came over and told us the story. She pointed you out as you were leaving the park, and we followed you.”

Laura returned to the door with Doris and Beth Anne, who was now wearing dry clothing. “What is this all about?” Doris wanted to know.

“Your granddaughter saved a little girl at the park. She would have drowned if Beth Anne hadn’t pulled her out of the pond. “

“She told me she was a hero,” Doris said, amazed. “But I thought it was just one of her adventure stories. She likes to make up adventures.”

“I’m Veronica Lyons, a reporter for Marshallville Area News. I’d love to interview Beth Anne for tonight’s broadcast.”

Beth Anne went with Veronica and sat down on the sofa in the living room.  While the reporter asked questions, the cameraman filmed the interview.

“What were you doing at the park?” Veronica asked.

“I went there with my friends, Amber and Laura to look for fish in the pond,” Beth Anne said. “I didn’t know there was a little girl by the pond.”

“How did you notice her?” the reporter continued.

“Laura and Amber were looking for . . . What was it?” Beth Anne looked at Laura.

“Crayfish,” Laura said.

“Oh, yeah, crayfish,” Beth Anne went on. “I was walking around the pond. That’s when I saw the little girl. I thought she might get hurt in the pond. Then she fell in. I tried to yell for help but nobody came. Then I went into the water and pulled her out.”

“You are a brave girl,” Veronica said. “Our television station has a reward fund. We’re going to give you twenty-five dollars. What do you have to say about that?”

“I don’t know what to say about that,” Beth Anne said, hesitantly. “I’m happy to get twenty-five dollars. I can help my grandma buy groceries.”

“That’s very sweet of you,” Doris said, “but that’s your money. You should use it to buy something you want.”

“Watch the news tonight at six,” Veronica told them all. “You’re going to be on it.”

From The Handy Helpers: Seven is a Perfect Number  available on amazon

The Story Behind the Snake Picture

picture with pythonOn the cover of Seven is a Perfect Number are pictures of my granddaughter Avery’s lovely little hands signing the title of the book.  In the book, Amber and Laura help out in a special education class and learn a little sign language, so it seemed appropriate to have sign language on the cover. It also gave me a way to use hands on the cover as is my plan for every book.

When it came to choosing a picture for the back cover, I had several ideas. I like to show parts of our beautiful state. The back cover of the first Handy Helpers book is of me and my granddaughters at the Grand Canyon. But as I considered various pictures, I kept coming back to the one of me holding a huge python. It was taken by my friend, Tari Dane, while we were at Out of Africa with our students. Our tour guide brought out the snake and most of my students took turns holding it. At last, she asked if I would like to hold the snake, and of course I said I would. As soon as the snake was draped around my neck, the cameras came out. I stood there for ten or fifteen minutes cradling the snake’s head in my hand while everyone in our group took my picture. It was just like stepping out on the red carpet. I felt like a star.

As I considered whether or not I should use the picture, I decided to ask for advice from my friends on Facebook. I posted the picture along with the scene from the book that inspired me to use the snake picture. It is a scene where Logan and Chris are helping the science teacher clean the animal habitats and get them ready for summer. This is what happened:

“As Melissa walked back to her classroom, she noticed some kind of commotion going on.

‘What happened?’ she asked one of the students standing on the walkway in front of their classroom.

‘Some snakes got loose,’ the student explained. ‘Chris and Logan were cleaning their aquariums and somehow the container they put them in got knocked over.’

‘What kind of snakes?’ Melissa sounded worried.

‘Harmless ones,’ a boy named Carl told her. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of, but you couldn’t tell by looking at all those stupid girls in there jumping up on their chairs.’

Melissa looked in the classroom and saw girls running around screaming and standing on chairs. Laura and Amber were trying to calm them down. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of,’ she heard Amber say. ‘Those snakes won’t hurt you.’

‘I hate snakes!’ one of the girls yelled, and they all started running around and screaming even more.

Melissa was about to go into the classroom, when Chris came walking up with a little California king snake wrapped around his wrist.

‘Caught the king snake,’ he called to Logan, who was crawling around in the bushes outside the science room.

‘That’s all of them, Logan said, ‘except the bull snake. He’s big and should be easier to find.’

Kids standing on the walkway started yelling and pointing. ‘Here comes your snake,’ Melissa laughed. Chris and Logan looked up to see Ms. McGuire coming up the walkway. She had the bull snake draped on her shoulders with its head in one hand. She was stroking the snake with her other hand.

‘What are you yelling about?’ Ms. McGuire scowled at the students outside the classroom. ‘It’s just a bull snake. He won’t hurt you. Be quiet or you’ll scare him.’

‘Not any more than he’s scaring us,’ said one of the students.

‘Go on back in the room,’ Ms. McGuire told them, ‘the reptile rodeo is over.'”

As the vote came in, my friends overwhelmingly urged me to use the picture. Even my niece, Tara, who is horribly afraid of snakes, voted for the picture. When I told my cover editor, she said, “Well let’s put that picture on the back cover then!”

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

The night God erased my manuscript

miracle mileI had been working hard on the second Handy Helpers book all day–first making some important revisions and then focusing on chapter ten. After dinner, I returned to work on it again, eager to finish the chapter. With chapter ten not quite completed, I was forced to quit as my mind was shutting down. Suddenly, the computer screen went blank. I stared at the white screen for a few seconds before deciding that I must have hit a function key and opened a new file. When I clicked the x to close the file, I was asked, as usual, if I wanted to save the changes. Just as I clicked “yes,” I realized I had not opened a new file, but I had actually deleted everything–thirty thousand words gone in an instant!

My initial shock was eased a little as I remembered that every night at eleven o’clock my writing was automatically backed up on a thumb drive. I hadn’t lost everything–only my work from that day. Still feeling the loss and wondering if I would be able to recall all that I had written that day, I went to bed.

The next day I was able to retrieve my backed up work and  easily return to the parts of my manuscript where I made changes. With all the changes completed, I turned my attention to the part of chapter ten I had been working on but my mind went completely blank. Try as I might, I could not remember any of the words I had written. As I struggled to think of something to write, it seemed as if a wall had gone up, blocking my thoughts. Finally, in frustration, I gave up.

Later that night, I was reading my homework for an apologetics class I was taking at church. It was a long reading assignment and not terribly interesting, and I was struggling to stay awake. Determined that I was going to finish, I pushed on through the sleepiness. At last, I completed the assigned reading, but for some unknown reason, I continued to read on. My eyes came to rest on a scripture passage–Ephesians 2:8–“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is a gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast.”

It was at that moment I recognized God’s hand on my writing. I had been working on a part of the book where Beth Anne asks her grandmother to tell her what grace is. Apparently, I hadn’t done an adequate job the first time. Now I had a second chance to get it right. Focusing on the scripture I had been given, I wrote the following:

“There’s one part I don’t understand,” Beth Anne said seriously. “Who is Grace?”

“Grace isn’t a person, honey,” Doris explained. “Grace is . . . grace is . . . well, grace is a gift from God.”

“A gift from God? You mean like a present?”

“Yes, kind of like a present, but the very best present you could ever imagine.”

“If I’m really good, do you think God will give me a present?”

“God doesn’t give us his gifts of grace because we’re good. No one could ever be good enough to earn God’s grace.”

“I don’t understand.” Beth Anne shook her head.

“Let me see if I can explain it.” Doris hesitated for a moment, thinking. “You are holding a gift for your mother, right? Why are you giving her a gift?”

“Because it’s Mother’s Day and I love my mother.”

“Exactly.” Doris let out a sigh. “We give each other gifts to show how much we love each other. But no matter how much love we have, we can never equal the love God has for us. That’s why we can never earn his gifts of grace. He gives us those gifts out of love.”

I’ll never know what words I had written originally. Those words are gone forever–erased by the hand of God. But in their place are words he wanted me to write. I’ll be forever grateful for his gift of grace.

 

An Interview with the Handy Helpers’ Number One Fan

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RMH: I heard that you are an avid reader. What are some of the books you like to read?

KIRSTIN: I like Anne of Green Gables, Rizzoli and Isles, Princess Diaries, and Janette Oake. When I was a kid I liked to read the Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High. I’ve been rereading some of those lately.

 

RMH: Why did you choose to read the Handy Helpers books?

KIRSTIN: The main reason is that my mom wrote the books. I started reading the chapters as she finished them before the books were even published. I’m also her advisor so I have to read the books to give her advice.

RMH: Which book did you like the best?

KIRSTIN: Seven is a Perfect Number. I liked that book because there is someone with Down syndrome in it and I like that character. She kind of like me but different in some ways.

RMH: What was your favorite part?

KIRSTIN: I liked the part where Beth Anne becomes a Handy Helper. Melissa was jealous of Beth Anne and didn’t want her to be a Handy Helper. In the end, Melissa learned that she was wrong about Beth Anne.

RMH: Who’s your favorite Handy Helper?

KIRSTIN: Beth Anne is my favorite character. She is sweet and kind to everyone.

RMH: Who’s your favorite senior?

KIRSTIN: My favorite senior is Mrs. Henry. She is grouchy at first but after she spends time with Beth Anne she changes to a nice, sweet person.

RMH: If you could hang out with one of the Handy Helpers, who would it be and what would you do?

KIRSTIN: I would like to hang out with Amber. She has a special bond with her mom like I do with my mom. I would hang out with her at the mall.

RMH: What do you think readers will gain from reading the Handy Helper books?

KIRSTIN: They will learn that we should all do our part to help others. When the Handy Helpers have problems they get help from their parents or from the seniors. We all make mistakes. We have to learn to overcome them.

RMH: Would you recommend the Handy Helpers books to everyone or is there a certain type of person who would especially enjoy reading them?

KIRSTIN: I recommend the Handy Helpers to everyone who wants to read a good story.

RMH: Have you previewed any of the chapters in the next Handy Helper book, Not a Happy Camper? If so, do you want to give away any surprises from that book?

KIRSTIN: Yes, I have. Here are some surprises. Gus becomes a foster parent for three children.  Beth Anne makes a new friend. Spike gets to be a Handy Helper again after his big mistake in book three.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon