Tag Archives: The Handy Helpers books

A Promise Kept

A few years ago, someone tweeted a plea to authors of children’s books. She asked if we would consider writing about  “Hug-a-tree” as a way to help parents learn how to keep their children safe when out in the wilderness. . At the time, I had just begun writing Not a Happy Camper. I responded to the tweet saying that I would use “Hug-a-tree” in my book. I kept that promise with the hope that it will be helpful to someone, someday in the future.

“When Mr. Rawlings had finished speaking, a large screen was set up in front of the audience. Everyone watched intently as a video showed a family on a camping trip. A young boy name Tim wanted to go exploring on his own. Before he left, his mother gave him a backpack with water, a few snacks, an orange trash bag with holes for his head and arms, and a whistle. Tim ran through the woods, having a great time exploring everywhere. He was so excited about what he was doing that he forgot to notice where he was going. After a while, he became confused and didn’t know which way to go back to camp. At first Tim panicked, running around yelling for help. Finally, he calmed down and began to remember what he was supposed to do. He found a tree and piled up pine needles for a place to rest. He drank some water and ate part of his food, saving the rest for later. He knew it might be a long time before he was rescued. He put on the trash bag over his jacket so he would stay dry if it rained. Also, the bright orange trash bag would be visible to his rescuers.

When Tim didn’t return to camp, his parents called for help. Soon, people were searching the woods calling his name. They searched until dark and started searching again at first light. Finally, Tim heard them calling his name. He began blowing the whistle. He knew that the sound of the whistle was louder than his voice. One of the searchers heard the whistle and found the boy. He was checked over by a paramedic, who said he was fine—just a little dehydrated. Tim had done a few things wrong, but he had done more things correctly, which was why he was rescued.

After the video, there was a brief discussion about what happened to the boy. Parents were given a flyer with important information about how to keep their children safe when camping or hiking. As the campers left the dining hall, they were given a whistle and an orange trash bag. ‘Carry these with you at all times,’ they were told, ‘just in case you need them.’”

You can learn more about the Hug-a-Tree program by visiting their website http://www.nasar.org/hug_a_tree_program

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.


A Sneak Peek at Book Four

rheddens_order_delivered_jpgI am busy working on the final chapters of book four–Not a Happy Camper. But I decided to offer a little sneak peek.

“Do it again, Gus! Do it again!” Rachel shouted, excitedly.

            Gus looked over the top of his newspaper. He used his tongue to push his bottom dentures out of place until they rested on his lower lip. Rachel giggled and jumped up and down, clapping her hands. Gus popped his teeth back in place and went back to reading the paper.

            “Stop bugging Gus!” Jeremiah scolded, “And pick up that mess!” He was referring to the crayons and coloring book Rachel had abandoned on the carpet in front of the television.

            “Okay, Jeremiah.” Rachel picked up the coloring supplies and placed them on the desk.

            “She’s not bothering me,” Gus said, laying down the paper. “I love to hear her laugh.”

            “She needs to behave properly,” Jeremiah insisted. “She can’t go around annoying people.”

            Daniel was working on a jigsaw puzzle Gus had given him. It was a picture of a farm with a big red barn and lots of animals. Occasionally little squeaking sounds came from Daniel and his head jerked. “Go sweep the front porch,” Jeremiah told him in a harsh tone. “You’ve gotta pull your weight around here.”

            “The dust on the front porch can wait,” Gus smiled at Jeremiah. “Let your brother finish his puzzle.”

            “We don’t expect something for nothing!” Jeremiah said forcefully. “Our parents raised us to pay our own way. As soon as I can get a job, I’m gonna pay you back every cent you spent on us.”

            “I’ve told you, Jeremiah, that you don’t owe me anything. I’m happy to help you kids. You’ve been taking care of Rachel and Daniel on your own and you’ve done your best. There’s no shame in accepting help. Besides, having you around brightens up my life. You’re paying me back just by being here.”

            Before the forest fire, Jeremiah had been living with his brother and sister in a little lean-to he had built in the woods. He fished and trapped to feed them. After Spike discovered their hiding place, he began bringing them food. When the fire changed directions and headed toward their lean-to, Spike and his friends hiked into the forest at night and rescued Daniel and Rachel who were alone because Jeremiah had gone into town.

            The story of the Cole children was a sad one. Three years ago, their mother died of cancer. Their father, Charles Cole, moved the family to Harrison, a small mining town south of Bluesky. He rented a tiny house and they were getting settled in their new home. Charles enrolled the boys in school. Rachel was only four, so he found a neighbor to care for her while he worked in the copper mine. Jeremiah adjusted quickly to the new school, but Daniel struggled. Some of the children teased him, and the teachers complained because he was disruptive. Charles tried to explain that the jerky movements and noises Daniel made were due to a condition called Tourette’s syndrome. There was nothing Daniel could do to control the movements or the sounds. Putting him under stress only made them worse. The teachers seemed sympathetic, but said they had other children to consider. Daniel had to remain quiet or he would be removed from the classroom. Daniel continued to have problems, so when Charles was offered a job as a wrangler on the Morgan ranch, he took it. Mr. Morgan gave them a little cabin to live in. Like the Morgan children, Jeremiah and Daniel were enrolled in an internet school since the nearest town was too far away. When she turned five, Rachel started kindergarten, going with her brothers to the big house every day to work on the computers. School was going well for all of them. It seemed that everything was looking up and then tragedy struck again. While riding the fence line, Charles was thrown from his horse. It was a day later when he was discovered. By that time, it was too late to save him.  

            Mr. Morgan didn’t want to, but he knew he had to let the authorities know about the children. Jeremiah was sure they would be placed in foster homes, and probably separated. That would be bad enough for him and Rachel, but he knew Daniel would never survive it. They had to leave the ranch. His only hope was to hide out with Daniel and Rachel. When he turned eighteen in nine months, he could get a job and raise his brother and sister himself. The night before someone from Child Protective Services was coming to the ranch, Jeremiah packed up his brother and sister and ran away.

The Handy Helpers series is available on amazon


“Washing windows is fun.”

window washingSpike let out a long sigh and surveyed what seemed like an endless row of windows. This job was going to take all morning. Two seven-year-olds , Connor and his friend, Blake, walked across the lawn to the front porch where Spike was wiping the window. Just like Spike, Connor had his hair spiked. And just like Spike, Connor liked to wear shirts with sayings on them. Today he was wearing a T-shirt that said  “ Being Cool is my Job.”

“Whatcha doin’?”  Connor asked. “Did your mom make you wash windows?”

“My mom make me?” Spike gave Connor a shocked look. “My mom  didn’t make me. My mom let me wash the windows. I asked her— in fact, I practically begged her to let me wash windows.”

“Why’d you do that?” Connor asked.

“’Cause washing windows is about the most fun thing you can do on a summer morning. You get to spray water,  and no one will yell at you. Then you get to use these cool window-cleaner bottles, see?

“Can we help you?” Blake asked. “We’re looking for something fun to do.”

“I don’t know,” Spike said  thoughtfully. “I was thinking about keeping all this fun for myself.”

“Please,” Connor begged. “Let us help. I’ll give you half my candy bar.”

“Well . . . maybe,” Spike said casually. “I guess it might be worth half a candy bar. But just you,  okay?”

“What about me?” Blake asked. His dark eyes flashed under his baseball cap. “Can I help too?”

“Well . . . What’ve you got?” Spike questioned.

“I have almost a whole pack of gum,” Blake offered, taking the gum from the pocket of his tan shorts.

“Okay,” Spike said, snatching up the gum, “you  can both help.”

Connor and Blake grabbed the cleaning supplies and started on the next window. Spike took out a piece of gum and popped it in his mouth. Then he stood back, chewing the gum and watching the other two. “There’s a streak right there,” he pointed out to Blake.

Just as the pair finished wiping the window, a girl named Madison came by to see what was going on. After paying Spike a quarter, she joined the other two at the next window. Before long, there were five little kids washing the windows. Spike was feeling pretty pleased with himself. This was the best plan he’d ever devised. The windows were being cleaned by little gnomes, and he was free to do whatever he wanted. Maybe he would take a nap or watch TV.

“Michael David Smith!” His mother’s voice made him jump.

“What’s going on here?”

“I . . . I . . . I thought you were working in the church office?” Michael stammered.

“I just came back to get something. I was expecting to see you washing the windows!”

“They begged me to let them help,” Spike tried to explain. “I didn’t have the heart to tell them no.”

“Washing windows is fun,” Connor defended Spike. “That’s why Spike let us do it. He’s a nice guy.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say that,” Spike said to his mom.

“Neither would I!” Carolyn stormed. “You kids put down the cleaning supplies and go home. Washing the windows is Michael’s job!”

“But I paid him a quarter,” Madison whined.

“You took money from these kids?” Carolyn glared at her son. “You give it all back right now!”


From The Handy Helpers: Red, White, and . . . Bloopers!








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.


A Rocky Start: Chapter Seventeen Continued


If Amber thought going to church was difficult the Sunday before, that was nothing compared to the way she felt this week. It seemed like everyone at church was looking at her, like they all knew what she had done. Amber tried to avoid running into Mrs. Snow, but it seemed that Mrs. Snow went out of her way to say hi to Amber. “I hope you enjoyed the luncheon yesterday,” Mrs. Snow said, as if nothing was wrong. “You left so quickly we didn’t have a chance to talk when it was over. Hopefully, we’ll see you back at the senior center again. We always need good volunteers.”

Amber spent the afternoon in her room. By that time, her parents knew the whole story. Mrs. Snow didn’t want to get Amber into trouble, but Mary persisted until she finally had no choice but to tell what had happened.

“You can’t hide up here forever,” Mary said. “It’s a beautiful afternoon. We’re all going for a bike ride. Why don’t you come with us?”

“I’m not hiding out,” Amber said. “I’ve grounded myself. I’m paying my dues for my don’ts.”

“That’s not what you’re doing,” Mary insisted. “You know the right thing to do. You have to go back to the senior center as a volunteer. That’s how you can pay your dues for your don’ts. Pray about it. Have faith that God will show you what to do.”


“You’re lucky,” Amber said to her little plant as she picked it up from the windowsill. “You can’t make any mistakes. I wish I could sit in a pot of dirt all day. Then I wouldn’t make a mess out of everything I try to do.”

“If you sat in a pot of dirt all day, you might not make any mistakes,” John said as he came into his daughter’s room, “but you wouldn’t accomplish anything either.”

“All I accomplished was hurting other people,” Amber said sadly. “I wish I’d never gone to the senior center.”

“Don’t say that,” John frowned. “You’ve done lots of good things for seniors, and you have a chance to do lots more.”

“No,” Amber insisted. “I’m just like the son in the Bible who wasted his inheritance. I’ve wasted my chance to help seniors.”

“I think you missed the point of that story,” John said.

“No, I didn’t,” Amber assured him.

“His father forgave him,” John reminded her.

“But he didn’t get his inheritance back,” Amber said.

“Do you remember what happened when his father saw him coming?” John asked.

“He ran to him. The son asked his father to make him a servant because he didn’t deserve to be his son.”

“But the father didn’t do that, did he?” John continued. “Instead, he put a robe and a ring on his son. He ordered a feast in his honor because his son was lost and now he had been found.”

“He forgave him.” Amber remembered. “He forgave him and made him his son again even after he made so many mistakes. I guess he thought his son had suffered enough.”

“Forgiveness is a gift that’s freely given,” John explained, “not because someone has earned forgiveness. It is given out of love. Christ suffered for us when he died on the cross. That’s why we don’t have to suffer for our sins. All we have to do is go to him and ask for forgiveness. Do you know what mercy is?”

“Not exactly,” Amber admitted.

“God shows us mercy when he forgives us. God’s mercy is what we need the most when we deserve it the least. We follow Christ’s example when we show mercy to those who have hurt us. Do you understand?”

“I think I understand,” Amber said thoughtfully. “God forgives us because he loves us, and we forgive each other because we love each other.”

“But there is another part to the story that you have to remember,” John told her. “After he was forgiven, what did the son do?”

“I guess he wore the robe and ring to the feast,” Amber offered.

“That’s right.” John smiled. “He accepted his father’s gifts. But in order to do that, he had to accept his father’s forgiveness. What if he had said, ‘I can’t take your gifts because I don’t deserve them’?”

“He would have hurt his father’s feelings, I guess,” Amber said thoughtfully.

“That’s right,” John agreed. “His father gave him a chance to start over and be his son again. Your friends at the senior center have offered you the same chance to start over. All you have to do is accept their forgiveness and forgive yourself. Do you think you can do that?”

“I still feel like I don’t deserve it.”

“Think about what I said.” John put his hand on her shoulder. “Then when you’re ready, I know you’ll make the right choice.”


By Wednesday afternoon, Amber still hadn’t decided what she was going to do, when Betty Jenkins came to visit.

“I brought you some chocolate chip cookies,” Betty said as she took a seat in Amber’s living room. “It’s sort of a bribe.”

“A bribe for what?” Amber was curious.

“Well,” Betty continued, “this Saturday is the last shuffleboard match of the season. I’m up against Clarisse again, and I don’t think I have a chance without my cheering section. I’m really hoping you’ll be there.”

“I’m not a volunteer there anymore.”

“I’m just asking you to come as a spectator,” Betty said hopefully. “It would mean a lot to me.”

“I might . . .” Amber took a bite of her cookie. “There might be one thing you could do to get me to come.”

“What’s that?” Betty asked.

“You said you were trying to bribe me. Tell me the secret ingredient in your cookies and I’ll come.” Amber smiled shyly.

“I don’t know.” Betty sounded doubtful. “Can you keep a secret?”

“I’m really good at keeping secrets,” Amber assured her.

“You did keep the secret about your career report, didn’t you?”

“Yes, if you tell me the secret ingredient, wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me,” Amber promised.

Betty leaned over and whispered something in Amber’s ear.

“Honest?” Amber sounded amazed. “That’s what it is? I would never have guessed that.”

“See you on Saturday,” Betty said on her way out the door.


Laura and Melissa were busy setting up the yellow and black disks when Amber arrived. They waved to her as she walked over to the sidelines. Logan and Chris were setting out folding chairs for the spectators.

“Hi,” Chris said hesitantly. “Glad you could make it.”

“Me too.” Amber smiled. “I didn’t want to let Betty down.”

“Here.” Logan pointed to the chair he had just unfolded. “You can have this seat.”


Clarisse, in her hot-pink stretch pants, was warming up by swinging her arms in a circle. Betty was using the time before the match began to have a chat with Gus. It looked like he was talking to her as a coach. Soon, Walt was blowing the whistle for the start of the match. Betty won the toss. She elected to take the black disks, which meant that Clarisse would have the yellow and go first. Clarisse’s first disk landed on the line, which meant no points. Betty sent her first disk down to the scoring area, but it too fell short of landing in a space. By the first end, Clarisse had fifteen points and Betty had seventeen. Amber began to feel nervous watching the ladies walk to other end of the court. At the end of the second round, Clarisse was ahead, thirty-three to thirty-two.

“Don’t worry,” Gus said. “Betty is holding the hammer.”

“What does that mean?” Amber looked confused.

“It means she has the advantage,” Gus explained. “Letting Clarisse go first was a good strategy. Betty’s a smart cookie.”

After two more rounds, the score was sixty-six to fifty-eight, with Clarisse still in the lead. A collective gasp went through the crowd as Clarisse scored seven points with her first disk, bringing her score to seventy-three. She was now only two points away from winning the match. Amber wanted to cheer when Betty’s first disk landed in the 10 spot. Now she had a chance to win. But Amber’s hopes were soon dashed when Clarisse scored eight more points.

“The game isn’t over yet,” Gus assured her. “Betty still has a chance.”

“She does?” Amber asked with surprise. “But Clarisse has more than seventy-five points.”

“But Betty’s holding the hammer.” Gus smiled.

“Oh, yeah,” Amber said, still not sure what that meant.

With her next disk, Betty knocked Clarisse out of the 8 spot and clear off the board. Amber managed to stop herself just before screaming out loud. Clarisse was noticeably shaken as she took her next shot. It barely made it to the “dead” line, scoring no points. Then Betty moved in for the kill. All she needed was seven points for the win.

Amber ran to Betty’s side and gave her a hug. “You did it!” Amber shouted. “You won!”

Clarisse shook Betty’s hand and congratulated her on the victory. Betty was beaming with pride as she thanked Clarisse for a great match.

While Laura and Melissa were putting away the equipment, Amber sat on the bench outside the door to the senior center.

“I was really happy to see you here today,” Gus said as he sat down beside her. “Betty was worried you wouldn’t come.”

“Did she tell you she bribed me?” Amber said with a laugh.

“Oh, yeah, well, she drives a pretty hard bargain. You’re very important to her,” Gus added. “I hope you know that.”

“I do,” Amber assured him. “She’s important to me too. That’s the real reason I’m here.”

“She’s not the only one who likes having you around,” Gus went on. “I hope you’re coming back as a volunteer.”

“I’m thinking about it,” Amber said. “I probably will.”

“Walt and Mrs. Snow will be happy to hear that.”

“You know”—Gus became more serious—I never had a daughter or a granddaughter, but if I did, I’d want her to be just like you.”

“Really?” Amber sounded doubtful. “Laura’s a lot smarter than I am, and Melissa is way prettier. Besides, I mess up a lot.”

“My wife, Barbara, would have loved you,” Gus said. “In some ways, you remind me of her.”

“Do I look like her? When she was younger, I mean?”

“Not too much,” Gus explained. “She had white hair when she passed away, but when she was young, she had dark-blond hair. She called it ‘dirty blond.’ She was really short too. No, you don’t look too much like her, except for your eyes. She had the same warm, deep brown eyes you have. Sometimes there was a little mischief in them just like I’ve seen in yours. Definitely, it’s your eyes that remind me of her.”

“You must really miss her,” Amber sighed.

“I miss her every day.” Gus looked away thoughtfully. “Someday I’ll be with her again. But until then, I’m glad I have friends like you to spend time with.”

“I’m glad I have friends like you too.” Amber looked up at Gus.

“You know,” Gus went on, “there’s someone who’s missing today.”

“You mean Spike.” Amber looked down at her hands.

“That’s just who I mean. He must be feeling pretty bad not to show up here for the shuffleboard finals. You may be the only one who knows just how bad he feels.”

“Maybe I should go over to his house and talk to him,” Amber offered.

“That sounds like a great idea.” Gus patted her on the shoulder as he got up from the bench.


Amber knew where Spike lived even though she had never been to his house before. She was surprised at how neat his home looked. A white picket fence surrounded the freshly mowed lawn. Flowers spewed out of planters under the windows and from pots on the front porch. Spike’s oldest sister, Jennifer, answered the door when Amber rang the bell. She wore a long gray sweatshirt over black leggings.

“I . . . I’m here to see Spike, I mean Mike,” Amber stammered.

“Come in,” Jennifer said. “I’ll take you to him.”

The inside of the house was equally as neat. Jennifer led Amber down a hallway lined with family portraits. In the kitchen, Monica, Spike’s other sister, was doing homework at the kitchen table. She was still dressed in her softball uniform. Amber recognized the math spread out in front of her. It was algebra, like she had seen Kyle doing. Then she remembered that Monica was also a freshman.

“Michael’s in the backyard, playing with the dog,” Jennifer said as she slid the patio door open.

Amber found Spike dragging a tattered stuffed toy tied to a string. The toy was being chased by a pure-white miniature Siberian husky.

“What a beautiful dog,” Amber said. “What’s her name?”

“This is Tigger,” Spike told her. “She’s really Jennifer’s pet, but she lets me play with her. She can do some tricks. Want to see?”

“Sure,” Amber said.

Tigger followed Spike’s commands as he told her to sit, beg, and play dead.

“Kyle’s trying to teach Domino some tricks,” Amber said with a laugh. “Unfortunately, he’s an ADHD dog.”

“That’s funny.” Spike laughed too. “Jennifer took Tigger to a special doggy school. That’s why she can do so many tricks.”

“I don’t think Domino would do very well in school.” Amber laughed again. “He would probably flunk out.”

“I’ve seen Domino. He’s a nice dog.”

“Thanks.” Amber smiled. “I think so too. You know, everybody missed you at the shuffleboard match today. Betty beat Clarisse. It was pretty exciting.”

“I don’t think anyone wanted me there.” Spike looked away. “Especially not the Happy Helpers.”

“That’s not true,” Amber said emphatically. “Besides, we’re all working together now. We’re all one group.”

“You’re one of the Handy Guys?” Spike sounded surprised.

“We’re not calling ourselves the Handy Guys,” Amber informed him.

“Chris and Logan are now Happy Helpers?” Spike guessed again.

“No, we compromised. We took the handy from your name and the helpers from our name. Now we’re the Handy Helpers. It works for everybody.”

“You know I’m the one who got you girls in trouble, don’t you? Chris and Logan had nothing to do with it. I hid the spoons and spread the rocks all over the walkway. I even messed up the copy room with the papers you shredded.”

“We were pretty sure it was you all the time,” Amber admitted. “Why did you do that?”

“I was afraid that you would take over.”

“What made you think that? You guys were there first. Anyway there’s plenty of work for all of us.”

“You said it yourself, the day you put up your poster. You said you could do anything we could do, but you could do it better.”

“That was just a joke,” Amber assured him. “We didn’t really mean it. Why would you think we were serious?”

“I have two older sisters,” Spike explained. “They’re always telling me how girls can do things better than guys. Why wouldn’t I think you were serious?”

“I guess I can see your point,” Amber said thoughtfully “But there are lots of jobs that need to be done and lots of things you guys can do better than we can. I think it makes sense to work together. Don’t you?”

“It does make sense,” Spike agreed. “Too many people get hurt the other way.”

“Too many innocent people,” Amber added.

“I’m really sorry.” Spike looked up at Amber.

“I’m sorry too. I’m the one who cut holes in the bags of shredding and threw the muddy water on the van you washed. We both did things we shouldn’t have, and we’re both sorry. But now we have a chance to start over and work together. That’s why I came to see you. I’m hoping you’ll join us. We really need you.”

“Chris and Logan told me the same thing. They aren’t mad or anything, but I don’t deserve a second chance.”

“That’s what I thought.” Amber tried to smile. “Then my dad explained to me about forgiving yourself. He said that forgiveness is a gift that is freely given, not because we deserve it. But to accept forgiveness, we have to forgive ourselves first. Otherwise, we are rejecting the gift of forgiveness. Does that make sense?”

“I think so,” Spike said thoughtfully. “You mean that if I don’t forgive myself, I can’t accept forgiveness from other people, like Walt and Mrs. Snow.”

“That’s what I mean,” Amber said. “By offering us a second chance, they’re offering us a gift. We shouldn’t say no, because forgiveness is the nicest gift that anyone can give.”

Spike and Amber went back into his house. He walked her to the front door.

“See you later, alligator,” Amber said as she went out the door.

“After a while, crocodile,” Spike answered back.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Sixteen Continued


“Hurry up!” Melissa practically dragged her two friends to the bike rack after school on Tuesday.

“Slow down!” Laura insisted. “What’s the big hurry?”

“We have to get to the senior center before the boys do,” Melissa answered. “Hurry up!”


The girls had been in their hiding place for a few minutes before the Three Handy Guys showed up. They watched as Spike got the cleaning supplies out of the storage cabinet and headed to the men’s room with Chris and Logan. They could hear them talking in the men’s room but couldn’t quite make out what they were saying.

“They’ll be going in the ladies’ room next,” Melissa said in a hushed voice. “Then we’ll make our move.”

“What’s our move?” Amber asked, unsure about what they were doing there.

“You’ll see,” Melissa said, taking out a length of rope.

“What are you going to do with that?” Laura sounded worried. “We can’t tie them up.”

“We’re not going to tie them up.” Melissa laughed. “We’re going to tie them in.”

Just then, Logan and Spike came out of the men’s room and headed for the ladies’ room. As soon as they were inside with the door closed, Melissa made her move. Walking quickly, but quietly, she reached the restroom door. Wrapping part of the rope around the doorknob, she stretched it over to the copy room door and wrapped more of the rope around that doorknob. Then she tied the two ends of the rope together. Laura and Amber, who had remained in their hiding place, were beginning to understand what Melissa had in mind. The girls only had to wait about ten minutes before the boys tried to leave the ladies’ room. They thought the door was stuck. The girls could hear them pushing on it. When it wouldn’t open, they began pounding on the door and yelling for help.

The noise Spike and Logan were making brought Chris running from the men’s room. “What’s wrong?” Chris shouted through the door.

“We can’t get the door open.” It was Spike’s voice from inside the ladies’ room.

“I see the problem,” Chris said to Spike, “There’s a rope tied around the doorknob. Just a minute and I’ll untie it.”

Chris was still untying the rope when Walt and Mrs. Snow came on the scene. The girls, hidden behind the door, watched as the guys tried to explain what was going on.

“We needed some more supplies to clean the ladies’ room,” Spike began, “and I was trying to open the door. We thought it was stuck.”

“This rope was tied around it,” Chris continued. “I don’t know where it came from.”

“Why were you cleaning the ladies’ room?” Walt asked.

“That’s what it said on the assignment sheet.” Logan looked confused. “We’ve never had that job before, but we thought that was what you wanted us to do.”

“I didn’t assign you to clean the restrooms,” Mrs. Snow said. “I didn’t assign anyone to do it. I was planning on doing it myself.”

“Well, it’s right here on the assignment sheet,” Logan said again. “See for yourself.”

The girls were having trouble holding back their laughter. They could hardly wait for what was coming next. As the guys looked at the assignment sheet, the color drained from their faces, and they couldn’t even speak.

“So what do you have to say for yourselves?” Mrs. Snow wanted to know. “This is not a place to play. You’ve been warned before.”

“We weren’t playing around, Mrs. Snow.” Spike was the first to recover from the shock. “Honest.”

“We’ll talk about it after the luncheon on Saturday,” Walt told them. “But no more funny business, you hear?”

“There won’t be any,” Logan managed to say. “Not from us.”

Walt and Mrs. Snow went back into their offices. The girls watched as the guys returned the cleaning supplies to the supply closet and headed for the front door. Then the girls sneaked out the back door, got on their bikes, and rode away as fast as they could.

Fifteen minutes later, they were sitting in Melissa’s backyard.

“I can’t believe you got away with that!” Amber exclaimed.

“I was sure we were going to get caught,” Laura added. “I was shaking so hard I was afraid I’d give us away.”

“I never had a doubt,” Melissa assured them. “I told you I’d come up with the perfect plan.”

“You sure did,” Amber agreed. “The guys never saw it coming.”


Amber was sitting on her bed, working on a sketch of Domino. She was working from memory now. She had managed to get Domino to sit still for a few minutes, but then he wandered away downstairs.

“Amber, telephone,” she heard her mom call up the stairs.

“I’ll be right there,” Amber called back.

“Hello . . . Yes, this is Amber . . . Mrs. Henry? . . . You saw our flyer in the senior center? . . . Yes, we can do that . . . After school tomorrow? . . . No problem, we’ll be there . . . Just let me write down the address.”

“Who was that?” Mary asked after Amber hung up the phone. “And what about after school tomorrow?”

“It was Mrs. Henry’s grandson. She’s out of town and wants us to water the plants in her front yard. I said we could do it after school tomorrow.”

“Kyle has his big play-off game tomorrow,” Mary reminded her. “He expects us to be there.”

“I’ll have time,” Amber assured her. “It won’t take long with the three of us doing the watering. I’ll be home in plenty of time to go to Kyle’s game.”


The Happy Helpers were excited about the job at Mrs. Henry’s. This was the first response to the flyer they had put up on the bulletin board at the senior center. Of course, they had helped Doris Duncan when she hurt her back, but Betty Jenkins had gotten that job for them.

Mrs. Henry’s home was on Briar Street, just three blocks from Amber’s house. The girls left their bikes in the driveway and looked for the faucet and hose where her grandson said they would be. Laura grabbed a bucket she saw on the front porch and started filling it with water.

“I can use this to water some of the smaller plants,” Laura said.

“Drag the hose over to that tree,” Melissa told Amber. “I’ll turn the water on for you.”

Amber finished watering the first tree and was carrying the end of the hose to the next tree. Melissa was helping her by moving the rest of the hose so it wouldn’t get caught on anything. Just as Amber reached the next tree, she noticed that no water was coming out of the hose.

“What happ—”  She was staring at the end of the hose when Melissa let go of the crimp she had made in the hose. Now under greater pressure, the water gushed out, spraying Amber in the face.

“Why did you do that?” Amber yelled at her laughing friend. “Now I’m all wet!”

Amber used her finger to partly cover the end of the hose, making the water spray. Then she aimed the hose at Melissa. Expecting the counterattack, Melissa moved out of the way. But Laura, who turned around when she heard Amber yell, got it right in the face. Melissa, now bent over in laughter, didn’t see Amber fill Laura’s bucket. It was too late when she saw Laura coming toward her, flinging the water in Melissa’s direction.

Melissa picked up the hose and sprayed both of her friends, who ran over and pounced on her. Amber took the hose away from Melissa and made sure she was as wet as they were.

“What do you think you’re doing?” The three dripping girls looked up to see an elderly woman standing on the front porch. She was wearing a housedress, and knee-high stockings that didn’t quite make it to her knees. Her powder-white hair had been pinned up on her head, but was now tumbling down on her face. In her hand was a broom, which she was waving in their direction.

“Turn that water off and get out of here!” she was yelling at them. “I’ve called the police. They’re on their way!”

Laura, who was closest to the faucet, turned off the water as the other two ran for their bikes. A few minutes later, all three of them collapsed on Amber’s front lawn.

“Do you think that was Mrs. Henry?” Laura asked.

“Probably,” Melissa said. “I don’t think she knew we were coming to water her plants.”

“Well,” Amber added, “her grandson asked us to. Maybe he forgot to tell her.”

“But she obviously isn’t out of town,” Laura pointed out.

“What did her grandson sound like?” Melissa asked.

“What do you mean?” Amber was confused.

“Was he old, young? You know.”

“He was kind of young, I guess,” Amber said.

“I bet it was one of those handy guys,” Melissa said with disgust.

“Now that I think about it, he did sound kind of funny,” Amber said thoughtfully. “And there was some laughing in the background. I thought maybe they were having a party.”

Just then, three boys rode by on bikes. They were waving and yelling something.

“Was that Spike and company?” Amber asked sarcastically.

“It looks like them,” Laura said. “I wonder what they were saying.”

“They were probably watching us at Mrs. Henry’s. I bet they saw the whole thing,” Melissa said, irritated.

“Well, I guess they got even,” Amber pointed out.

“Bet we’ll never hear the end of it,” Laura added.

“Amber, get in here,” Mary called from the front door. “Why are you all wet?”

“I was just—” Amber started to explain.

“Get changed,” Mary interrupted. “We’re late for Kyle’s game.”


Amber looked at the scoreboard as she took her seat at the baseball game. It was the top of the second inning, and both teams were scoreless. She watched as the batter struck out for the third out, bringing Kyle’s team up to bat. The first two batters were out at first base, and the third batter hit a fly ball that resulted in out number three. The score remained nothing to nothing through two more innings. Kyle came to bat in the fifth inning and hit a single. At the end of the inning, he was stranded at third base, with no runs being scored during that inning. The first batter on the other team hit a lead-off home run at the top of the sixth inning. The Bulldog pitcher, obviously shaken, walked the next batter. Then a batter hit a single. A wild pitch allowed the two runners to steal. Now there were runners on second and third. The next batter hit a ground ball, and the runners both made it home. The final score was five to one. For once, Kyle hadn’t scored a single run. Amber was as shocked as the other fans when the Bulldogs lost.

After the game, Amber and her parents went out on the field to congratulate the team on a great season. Spirits were a little low, of course, but there was talk about next year and what they would do as junior varsity players. Kyle stayed behind for an end-of-the-season celebration in the locker room while Amber and her parents headed for home.


Amber had been home for about an hour when she heard Kyle come in the front door. On the way back from the bathroom after brushing her teeth, she saw the door to Kyle’s room was open and he was sitting on the bed.

“Sorry you didn’t win your game,” Amber said sincerely.

“Thanks, sis,” Kyle said. “We knew winning was a long shot. That was a really good team we were playing. Anyway, at least we made the play-offs, even if we didn’t get very far.”

“But you’re a great player,” Amber said. “You always win.”

“We don’t always win, and I’m a pretty good player,” Kyle corrected her. “I don’t think I’m a great player. There are lots of guys who are better than I am.”

“It just seems like you do everything right,” Amber went on, “and I mess up all the time.”

“I mess up plenty,” Kyle said. “And you do lots of things better than I do.”

“Like what?” Amber asked.

“Like drawing,” Kyle answered. “I have no artistic talent at all. You’re a very good artist.”

“Thanks.” Amber smiled. “It’s usually hard for me to concentrate. But when I’m working on a drawing, I don’t seem to have that problem.”

“Well, it shows,” Kyle said. “Maybe you’ll be a famous artist someday.”

“I doubt that.” Amber shook her head. “Good night.” Then she added, “I’m glad you’re my big brother.”

“So am I.” Kyle smiled back.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon