Tag Archives: The Handy Helpers

Sibling Squibling

sister pictureSummer is a great time for family members to be together. But it can also be a stressful time if siblings begin to feel like they are joined at the hip. I recall many long summer days stuck at home with my brother and sister. It seemed to me like summer would never end.

The Handy Helpers are not immune to sibling strife. Amber has an older brother who is kind and loving but can often be overbearing.  Naturally, as a big brother he is required to tease his little sister. Because Amber has attention deficit disorder, she gives him plenty of opportunities. But Kyle can also be bossy and often takes on the role of a third parent. This is helpful at times, but is frustrating for Amber who is struggling hard to learn to stand on her own two feet. Their relationship reminds me of my own two children.

Chris has an older brother, Eric. Because they lost their father when they were small, the two boys are very close and depend on each other. Eric is a serious young man who wants to become a minister some day. Chris is much more laid back and easy going. Both boys take a protective stance when it comes to their baby brother, Tyler.

Like Jan Brady, Laura is the often-overlooked middle child. Standing in the shadow of her older sister, Amanda, she has to wait her turn to do grown-up things like go on dates or learn to drive. While her two younger sisters are still playing dress-up and having tea parties, Laura has her own interests such as cooking. Their mother owns a dance studio and Laura’s three sisters are training in ballet. Laura enjoys gymnastics which her mother also teaches. To distinguish herself further from her sisters, she cut her long, straight hair and often wears a baseball cap.

Spike has two older sisters who are in high school. This was the situation in my home, growing up. My brother is nine years younger than I and I often thought of him as a total pain. Like Spike, he was prone to pull stunts–most of them intended to get me in trouble–which usually backfired on him.

Logan and Beth Anne are both only children. To the other Handy Helpers, this might seem like an envious position at times. But I’m sure there are times when Logan and Beth Anne feel lonely and wish they had siblings to do things with. Anyway, the situation is going to change for both of them. In Logan’s case it will happen in an unexpected way.

Melissa and her very determined younger sister, Trisha, have the most contentious relationship. Trisha tries to insinuate herself into whatever Melissa has going on. This annoys Melissa who is always telling Trisha to get lost. In addition, Trisha tries to be the perfect child–something Melissa has no interest in being. This excerpt from A Rocky Start is an example of how their relationship  plays out.

“How’s school?” Laura asked Trisha while they were eating their lunches.

“I’m the best reader in the first grade,” Trisha announced proudly. “My teacher is Mrs. Bell. She always asks me to read out loud in class. I get good grades on my report card.”

“She’s a real whiz kid,” Melissa said, somewhat sarcastically.

“She does her homework right away when she gets home from school,” said Mrs. Oates, who shot an accusing look at Melissa.

“I do my homework,” Melissa defended herself. “I might not get it done until ten o’clock, but I do it.”

Amber was thinking that maybe having a perfect little sister wasn’t any better than having a perfect big brother.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Five Continued

Image1-17_edited-1

Soggy Sunday was followed by muggy Monday. The rain had halted for a bit, but the clouds remained, and Amber was sure it would rain again. She took her umbrella with her on her way to school. The class had been progressing through the career unit as Ms. McGuire had said they would. The first careers they explored were jobs in health care. Amber knew that there were doctors and nurses, but she never thought about all the different types of jobs there were in health care. The EMTs who ride in ambulances, people who operate x-ray machines, and those who test blood are all health care workers. Some of them sounded pretty interesting, but some seemed too gory, like those working in emergency rooms.

Many of the students in Amber’s class had already signed up for their career reports. Laura had quickly taken chef before someone else chose it. Melissa had decided to report on marine biology, thinking it meant swimming with dolphins. Logan chose architecture as his career interest, and Chris decided on construction. Chris said that Logan could design the buildings, and he would build them. Spike had signed up for astronaut. That seemed appropriate to the girls as they weren’t sure he was from this planet anyway. Amber was the only one still thinking about what to choose, and she was really feeling the pressure of not being able to make up her mind.

Amber was almost halfway home when the downpour started. The rain was coming down so hard that her umbrella proved useless. At first, she tried to run, but the wind was blowing against her so that all she could do was push forward. As she passed Betty Jenkins’s house, she heard a familiar voice calling to her.

“Amber,” Betty yelled, “get in here out of the rain.”

Without hesitating, Amber did as Betty said, and a few seconds later, she was dripping water on the tile entryway inside Betty’s house. Betty took a towel out of the closet in the hallway and put it around Amber’s shoulders. “Here, dry off,” she said. “I’ve got some cookies in the oven. I’ll be right back.”

By the time Betty returned, Amber had dried her hair as best as she could. Her clothes were still wet, and she was shivering.

“Come in the kitchen,” Betty suggested. “It’s warmer in there with the oven on.”

Amber could already smell the delicious chocolate chip cookies and hoped that Betty would offer her one. Betty told her to sit down at the table, and without even asking, she set a glass of milk and a plate with two cookies in front of Amber.

“So what exciting things happened at school today?” Betty wanted to know.

“We’re studying careers right now,” Amber told her. “Today Dr. Stevens, a veterinarian, came to talk to the class. She told us that she became a vet because she loves animals, especially dogs. She said most of what she does is routine, like giving shots and operating on dogs and cats so they can’t have babies. Chris asked her what the worst part of her job was. She said putting pets to sleep when they were old and suffering. The family is always crying and it is so sad, but it still has to be done.”

“She sounds like a very caring person,” Betty said.

“She’s the vet who gave Domino his shots. Next week she’s going to fix Domino so he won’t be able to make puppies.”

“That is a good thing to do,” Betty said. “You’re being a responsible pet owner.”

“It’s a good thing Domino doesn’t know what’s going to happen,” Amber said. “When I had my tonsils out, I had a week to worry about it. That was the longest week of my life. Why don’t you have any pets?”

“Paul and I had a dog,” Betty explained. “He was just a mutt we got at the animal shelter, maybe a collie and German shepherd mix. We called him Pepper because he was sort of black, white, and gray. Pepper got hip dysplasia like German shepherds do sometimes. Eventually, we had to put him to sleep.”

“I hope that doesn’t happen to Domino,” Amber said.

“He’s a young dog, so you won’t have to worry about that for years,” Betty assured her.

“There’s one part of the career unit that I’m not looking forward to.” Amber sighed a big sigh. “We have to choose a career we are interested in and give a report.”

“What career did you choose?” Betty asked.

“That’s the problem,” Amber said. “I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up.”

“You have lots of time for that,” Betty said. “Your teacher is probably just trying to get you started thinking about what you might be interested in. What’s your favorite subject in school?”

“That’s easy,” Amber said with enthusiasm. “Art is my favorite subject.”

“There are lots of careers that involve art,” Betty said. “You could be an artist or sell art supplies. You could work in a museum or even be an art teacher.”

“You hear a lot about starving artists,” Amber said seriously. “What if I’m not good enough to make money being an artist?”

“I love art too,” Betty told her. “In fact, I have a little studio behind the house. That’s where I keep my paint supplies and my paintings.”

“Was that your career?” Amber asked.

“Not really,” Betty said. “Usually I just give my paintings away. Once in a while, someone pays me, mostly for the supplies. My real job was delivering mail when we lived in Kansas.”

“Did you like that job?” Amber asked.

“I liked it very much. I was out in the fresh air every day. Some days, it was cold and snowy. Once I was even chased by a tornado. But I got to visit with lots of people. I got to know their dogs too. It was a great job, and I miss it sometimes.”

“I’d love to see some of your paintings,” Amber said. “Would you show them to me sometime?”

“I sure will,” Betty said. “When it’s not so rainy outside.”

“Speaking of rain,” Amber said. “It looks like it stopped for a little while. I think I had better get home before my mom starts to worry.”

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Five

Image1-17_edited-1

Betty Jenkins’s weather prediction turned out to be correct. The rain started at about five o’clock Saturday evening and continued most of the night. Amber awoke to a soggy Sunday morning. She jumped out of bed and ran to the window to check on the bird family. There she saw the parents huddled together on the nest. The branch the nest was hanging from provided some protection, but the birds had to be getting wet.

“Guess we’ll be taking the car to church this morning,” John said at breakfast.

Melissa and Chris also attended the Community Christian Church. Laura went to the Catholic church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, on the other side of Bluesky. When Amber arrived for Sunday school, Melissa and Chris were already there. Amber took a seat next to Melissa.

“That was kind of fun yesterday, watching the shuffleboard tournament,” Melissa said.

“I thought you said it was boring,” Amber reminded her.

“That was when the boys were there,” Melissa said. “I pretend like everything is boring when boys are around.”

“Why?” Amber asked.

“I just do,” Melissa said. “It’s part of my mystique.”

“What’s that?”

“That’s something the boys have to figure out.”

“You’ve lost me,” Amber sighed. “I can’t figure it out either.”

“We were surprised to see you girls at the shuffleboard tournament yesterday,” Chris said as he walked over to where they were sitting.

“We were surprised to see you there too,” Amber responded. “Do you like volunteering?”

“Actually, it’s a lot of fun.” Chris smiled. “Most of the seniors are pretty cool, especially Gus. He’s a funny guy.”

“How about the other seniors? Are they cool about having you help them?” Melissa asked.

“Most of them,” Chris told her. “Some of the seniors can be grouchy, and they think we’re noisy. But most of them are friendly and happy to see us.”

“Is that why you do it?” Amber asked.

“When we first moved to Bluesky, I was riding my bike past some old guy’s house. I was on the street, not on his property. But he came out and yelled at me. He told me to get away or he’d call the police.”

“That’s awful,” Melissa said. “I’m surprised you want to help them at all.”

“When we started our Boy Scout project, I told my scoutmaster about it. He said that some people think all kids are troublemakers. Of course, that isn’t true. It’s easy to think that all old folks are grouchy. But that isn’t true either.”

After church, while the family was eating lunch, Amber talked about the Sunday school lesson. “There were two brothers. One did everything he was supposed to do. The other brother made a big mistake. He asked his father for his inheritance. Then he went off on his own and wasted it on the wrong kinds of things. When he ran out of money, he was very poor and starving. He decided to go back to his father and beg his father to give him a lowly job. Instead, his father forgave him and threw a big party because his son was home.”

“What do you think the story means?” John asked.

“I think that God is like the father. He forgives us no matter how big a mistake we make, and he is always happy when we come back to him,” Amber answered.

“That’s exactly right,” John said with enthusiasm.

“What about paying his dues for his don’ts?” Amber looked at her mother.

“Did he get his inheritance back?” Mary asked.

“No,” Amber said thoughtfully. “So he paid for his don’ts by losing his inheritance?”

“That’s right,” Mary said. “He had his father’s forgiveness, but there are always consequences when we don’t choose to do what is right.”

“I hope I only make little mistakes,” Amber said.

“Me too,” Mary added. “But remember, you have a family that loves you no matter what mistakes you make. We’ll always be here for you.”

It was still raining a little after lunch. The Snyder family settled down in front of the television to watch a baseball game. Everyone, that is, except Amber. She decided to go up to her room and work on some of her sketches. The colored-pencil set she received for her birthday would come in handy coloring the bird sketches she had made earlier.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

I really need your help!

please helpI’ve never tried this before, but I’m hoping my friends, fans, and readers will give me a helping hand with  my writing. I’m working on book four of The Handy Helpers. It is entitled, Not a Happy Camper.

Here’s the basic plot:

It is near the end of summer vacation, and the Handy Helpers are planning to go to  camp. Beth Anne wants to go to camp with her friends, but her parents tell her no. They want her to go to a special needs camp in northern Arizona. Beth Anne continues to plead with her parents until they finally tell her the truth–They don’t have three hundred dollars for the camp fees. The special needs camp is free.  Her parents give her the choice of going to the special camp or not going to camp at all. They remind her that life is about compromises and she can’t expect to get everything she wants.

As far as Beth Anne’s parents are concerned, the matter is closed. But Beth Anne tells Laura that she is sleeping with the camp brochure under her pillow and praying that she can go to camp with her friends.

Of course, the Handy Helpers come to her aid and figure out a way to get the camp fees. Their plan is to have a yard sale. Walt gives them permission to have it at the senior center. All they need are things to sell. At first they plan to bring things of their own and things their families don’t need anymore. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be enough stuff to raise the three hundred dollars they need.

Chris suggests that they go door to door throughout the community of Bluesky and ask for donations. Everyone has stuff they don’t need and he is sure they can get enough for a successful yard sale.

THIS IS WHERE YOUR HELP COMES IN. As they go door to door, they will encounter several of the seniors who live in Bluesky. The seniors give them donations, but the kids aren’t really sure what some of the things are. I have thought of things such as a bathing cap, an 8-track tape, a transistor radio, and a wall phone. So many times on Facebook I’ve seen pictures of things with headings like “Do you remember this?” or “Share if you know what this is.” But for the life of me, I can’t think of any of the things in the pictures.

If the Handy Helpers came to your door and asked for donations for a yard sale, what would you give them? Please be creative and help me come up with some funny and interesting things for their yard sale. I’m hoping you will leave your responses as comments on my blog. I look forward to reading them.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Rosemary

A Rocky Start: Chapter Four Continued

Image1-17_edited-1

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

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

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

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

“Oh, I forgot. Well, is Betty here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That sounds pretty difficult,” Laura observed.

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

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

“One of the best,” Gus told them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Quietly,” Laura added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do they pay you?” Laura asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Four

Image1-17_edited-1

“Good morning out there.” The voice on the radio woke Amber as her alarm came on. “It’s another beautiful Monday. Rise and shine.”

Monday, Amber thought with a sigh. A check of the tree outside her window showed no baby birds yet. She dressed quickly and went downstairs to have a bowl of cereal. Soon, Melissa and Laura were knocking on the door since the three of them had planned to ride their bikes to school together.

“Do you have your homework?” Laura reminded Amber.

“No, just a minute, I’ll get it.”

After a few minutes, Amber shouted. “Mom, do you know what happened to my homework?”

“No, Amber, where did you put it?”

“It was right here on the desk yesterday.”

“I saw some torn-up bits of paper in the laundry room by Domino’s bed,” her dad shouted out. “Do you think he might have gotten it?”

“I don’t know,” Amber said. “What did you do with the torn pieces of paper?”

“I threw them in the trash.”

Amber looked in the trash can. There were tiny pieces of paper mixed with eggshells and other goo from breakfast. “Nothing I can salvage out of that,” she said.

On the way to school, Amber thought about what she was going to say to Ms. McGuire. This was the second time this month that she was missing her homework. The first time, it must have dropped out of her binder on the way to school. Ms. McGuire had been understanding and given her credit for it anyway. Maybe she would do that again.

As the girls locked their bikes into the bike rack, they noticed Logan Green and his two friends, Chris Bishop and Spike Smith. Spike’s real name is Mike (actually Michael), but everyone calls him Spike because of his spiked hair. (Melissa says it is because of his spiked tongue.) The boys were looking at Amber and laughing about something.

Amber sometimes wondered why these three boys were friends. They seemed so different from each other. Logan and Chris are about the same height, but that is where the similarities stopped. Logan, who is tall and thin, always looks so neat with his polo shirt tucked into his jeans. He wears his light-brown hair short in a tidy crew cut. Chris is more friendly and easygoing than his two friends. His appearance is kind of casual, with baggier jeans and long T-shirts. His longer brown hair is usually brushed to the side or combed over his forehead. Spike likes to use plenty of gel in his hair and, sometimes, even colored hair spray. The other students are no longer shocked to see him with a red or purple spike. His other way of showing off is to wear shirts with sayings. Today he was wearing a shirt that said, “Homework destroys trees.”

 

“Like he really cares about the environment,” Melissa said when she saw it.

When Amber thought about it though, she realized that her friends were different from her in lots of ways. Although Amber and her two friends dress pretty much the same every day—in jeans and T-shirts—Melissa calls hers designer jeans and fashion tops. Even more important are her accessories. She is always loaded down with jewelry, shiny belts, and fancy headbands. Amber’s mom called it dressing to the nines. Amber thought that sometimes Melissa dressed to the eighteens or even twenty-sevens.

Laura is the smart one who always gets good grades. If Amber or Melissa come up with an idea that might get them in trouble, Laura is the one who talks them out of it. When she wasn’t around, Melissa called Laura “the goody-goody girl.”

Their teacher Ms. McGuire was young, probably in her late twenties. She has been a teacher at Bluesky Elementary for the past three years. Amber thought she was lucky to have a nice teacher like Ms. McGuire. She also liked the way Ms. McGuire dressed. Sometimes she wears skirts with cowboy boots, but most of the time, she wears tan, khaki pants and shirts with buttons. Some days she pulls her shoulder-length brown hair into a ponytail, but most of the time, she wears it down in soft waves.

Ms. McGuire seemed especially enthusiastic for a Monday morning, and Amber wondered what she could possibly be that excited about.

“Today, class,” Ms. McGuire began, “we are going to start a unit on careers. There will be several parts to the unit. We will be reading some stories about people in different careers, and later, we will have some guest speakers, maybe even some of your parents.” Most of the kids groaned when they heard that.

“The most exciting part of the unit will be the oral report. Each one of you will select a different career to research. Then you will give an oral report to the class.” Amber was thinking that didn’t sound too exciting, and looking around the room, she felt pretty sure her classmates didn’t either.

At lunch, the girls talked about what careers they might choose. Laura didn’t have to think twice about what she wanted to do for her report. Laura’s favorite thing to do is cooking. Amber and Melissa weren’t at all surprised when she chose to give her report on becoming a chef. Melissa loves swimming, and she loves dolphins. She was thinking about doing her report on marine biology. Amber listened to them talk about their ideas, but her mind was blank when it came to deciding what she would like to do.

“I have a career suggestion for you.” Spike was sitting nearby and overheard their conversation. “How about mud wrestling?” Then he and Chris doubled over in laughter. Amber shot a dirty look at Logan, who only shrugged.

“What was that all about?” Melissa asked when the boys were gone.

“I fell in the mud yesterday at the park,” Amber explained. “Logan saw it, and I guess he told his friends about it.”

“What a jerk,” Laura fumed. “Boys, who needs them?”

“I like boys,” Melissa said. “Especially mature ones like Kyle.”

“If Kyle was your brother,” Amber said, “you’d change your mind about that.”

Their first class after lunch was math. Amber hadn’t told Ms. McGuire about her homework yet, but she couldn’t put it off any longer. As the students filed into the classroom, Amber went up to Ms. McGuire’s desk.

“What is it?” Ms. McGuire looked up from her paperwork.

“I don’t have my homework,” Amber admitted.

“Why not?”

“My dog ate it.” Amber stared at her shoes.

“That’s the oldest excuse in the book,” Ms. McGuire told her. “What do you expect me to do?”

“Could you take my word for it that I did my homework?”

“Didn’t you have a similar problem a few weeks ago? It seems like your homework fell out of your binder that time. I did accept your explanation and gave you credit for doing the homework. Now you’re here with another excuse. I think you need to take responsibility for turning in your work. I can’t give you a break this time.”

Amber thanked Ms. McGuire anyway and went to her seat. “I sure hope Domino enjoyed his snack,” Amber said under her breath.

 

After school, Amber told Melissa and Laura about the shuffleboard tournament on Saturday.

“Would you like to go with me?” she asked. “We could be the cheering section for Betty Jenkins.”

“I’m not sure shuffleboard is a very exciting sport,” Melissa said. “It’s just for old people.”

“I don’t think that matters,” Laura said. “Mrs. Jenkins is our friend, and we can support her in the tournament.”

“Okay,” Melissa sighed. “I guess you’re right.”

 

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Three Continued

Image1-17_edited-1

After lunch, they all sat around for a while, letting their food digest, and planned the football game. Kyle had already marked off the goal lines at each end of the field. Before they began, he reminded everyone of the rules,

“This is tag football, no tackling allowed. Tagging means tapping someone on the back with both hands. The quarterback stands at one goal line and passes the ball to someone on his team. The other team tries to block the pass or intercept it. If the ball is caught, the player can say ‘down.’ Then no one can tag him. The person catching the ball can run with it. If he is tagged, the ball is down at the spot where he was tagged. If a team makes a touchdown or if there are four downs with no touchdown, the other team takes over at the other end of the field.”

“Do you really think it’s fair to make your mother and Amber play against the two of us?” John asked Kyle.

“What do you mean, make us?” Mary scolded. “What makes you think we won’t beat you?”

“Is this girls against guys?” Mrs. Jenkins asked. “I can throw a pretty mean football.”

“What about running?” Amber asked, concerned.

“You said the quarterback stands at the goal line,” Mrs. Jenkins reminded her. “Let me be the quarterback. You’ll see.”

The girls took the ball first, with Mrs. Jenkins on the goal line. Amber ran out for a pass, and Mrs. Jenkins threw a bomb right to her. Amber caught it and said, “Down.” There was a short delay in the game as Mrs. Jenkins walked to a new position downfield. Amber threw the ball to her mother, who managed to run a few feet before Kyle tagged her. From there, she threw a short pass to Amber, which didn’t advance the ball very far. Everyone seemed to have forgotten about Mrs. Jenkins who was now in the end zone. Amber faked a pass to her mother, but instead threw it to Mrs. Jenkins who made a beautiful catch for a touchdown.

Both John and Kyle were wearing shocked looks on their faces as they realized what had happened. Just then, Kyle noticed Logan Green walking by.

“Hey, Logan, want to play tag football? We need some help. The women are beating us.”

Logan looked at the three victors cheering and high-fiving each other in the end zone. “Sure,” he said. “Where do you want me to play?”

Logan was a student in Amber’s class, but she hadn’t really talked to him very much. He was usually quiet in class and mostly talked to his friends Chris and Spike during lunch or recess. Amber knew that Logan was very organized and always prepared for class. The teacher called on him a lot, and he usually had the right answer.

Now that the guys had the ball, they showed no mercy. Kyle threw the ball to John, who threw it sideways to Logan, who ran it in for a touchdown. The girls just stood there, unable to do anything about it. Then Mary was the quarterback. She told Amber to run out for a pass. Amber was running backward, not really seeing where she was going. Her mother saw it first and tried to yell, but it was too late. When Amber hit the mud, she couldn’t stay on her feet. Slipping and sliding, she let out a yell. That brought Domino to his feet, and within seconds, he was loose from where Kyle had him tied up. As Amber landed seat-first in the mud, Domino pounced on her with his muddy paws.

At first the others stared in shock, but when they were sure Amber was okay, they started laughing. Amber got up and headed for the restroom without even looking their way. That was the end of the football game. At least it ended in a tie.

“You’re a pretty good football player, Mrs. Jenkins,” John was saying as Amber returned from the restroom.

“Call me Betty,” she said. “I raised three boys, so I played a lot of football in my day.”

“Where are your boys now?” Mary asked.

“Calvin lives in Oakland, California. He’s a stockbroker and has two boys of his own. Sam is in the air force, stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson. Robert is a chef in a fancy restaurant in San Francisco. He has three children, two girls and a boy.”

“You must really miss them,” Mary commented.

“They visit when they can. At least they aren’t that far away. My husband, Paul, and I moved here when he retired. After Paul passed away, I thought of moving closer to one of my sons, but I like living in Bluesky.”

John offered Betty a ride home, but she said it was just a short walk to her house. Amber, now passably clean, asked if she could walk with Betty.

“Come straight home after that,” Mary told her. “I don’t want you out after dark.”

“I will,” Amber assured her.

“I can’t believe you made that catch!” Amber exclaimed as the two walked along.

“I wasn’t sure I could stay on my feet,” Betty said. “It was sort of a one-handed catch.”

“Well, at least we scored,” Amber said enthusiastically. “If I hadn’t fallen in the mud, we might have won.”

“I’m pretty sure the guys weren’t going to let that happen. Anyway, we made a decent showing.”

“That was so embarrassing in front of Logan.”

“I think he likes you,” Betty said.

“Logan? Why would you say that?” Amber asked.

“He was looking at you a lot. But the main reason is that when you fell in the mud, he was the only one who didn’t laugh.”

“He was probably too disgusted to laugh. He probably never had something like that happen to him in his life!”

“I think you might be surprised,” Betty went on. “Everybody has things like that happen from time to time.”

“Not as often as I do,” Amber sighed. “You must have been good at sports when you were younger.”

“I played softball in high school,” Betty told her. “Now my sport is shuffleboard.”

“Really?” Amber looked surprised. “I’ve never heard of shuffleboard. Where do you play it?”

“Come around to the Bluesky Senior Center at ten o’clock next Saturday,” Betty invited. “You can cheer me on in the shuffleboard tournament.”

“I’ll ask my mom,” Amber assured her. “If she says it’s okay, I’ll be there.”

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

Who is Beth Anne Riley . . . Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Three

Image1-17_edited-1

Sunday morning proved to be another beautiful day in Bluesky. Amber checked on the family in the sycamore tree. This time the mother was sitting on the nest, but the father was on a branch close by. She knew it wouldn’t be too long before there would be baby birds in the nest.

Amber dressed for church and went down to breakfast. Kyle was the last one down, so he had to say grace. The Snyders live close enough to the Community Christian Church to walk there. John and Mary walked hand in hand as Kyle and Amber followed behind.

“Want to play football at the park today?” Kyle asked.

“Maybe,” Amber said. “Who will be on the teams?”

“How about guys against girls?” Kyle suggested. “That is, if you’re up to it.”

“I think Mom and I can take you guys,” Amber said with confidence, though she had serious doubts.

“You’re on,” Kyle said with satisfaction

As soon as they found a table at the park, John started the charcoal for the burgers. Mary spread a cloth over the table and unpacked the picnic basket. Kyle took Domino to the dog park so he could run around with other dogs. Amber went along to watch.

Domino was the first dog the family had owned. John brought home a dog book so they could decide what breed to get. Mary was thinking about a small dog, such as a Yorkshire terrier. That was until she read about how much work it was to take care of them and that they could be yappy and not always good with children. When Amber read about the Labrador retriever, she knew that was the kind of dog she wanted. They were great dogs for kids. That was part of the reason. But most of all, she wanted a Lab because the book said they were hyperactive. She and their new puppy would have something in common.

Naming their new pup was another issue. Everyone suggested the usual names like Buddy and Blacky. None of the suggestions seemed quite right. One night when they were watching TV, their new pup came into the living room with an obvious problem. His nose was stuck in a pizza box. He was whining and hitting at the box with his front paw, but he couldn’t get it off. They all laughed when they saw him.

“Way to go, Domino,” Amber said. The others looked at her.

“Here, Domino,” Kyle called to the dog. “Let me get that off your nose.”

That was it. His name was Domino. There was no question about it.

It was obvious from the start that Domino was an attention-deficit/hyperactive dog. One day Amber was watching him chase a lizard in the backyard. Domino got distracted by a noise, and when he looked away, the lizard scampered off. He looked back at the spot where the lizard had been. Even though the lizard was gone, Domino kept trying to find him in the same rocks. He gets distracted just like me, Amber thought.

Kyle took charge of housebreaking Domino. He had it all planned, but Domino didn’t always follow the plan. He made his share of mistakes. Kyle was a pretty patient teacher, though. Amber thought maybe he learned that from being her big brother.

John called out to his family to let them know that the burgers were done. As they ate, Kyle talked about his trip to Fox Creek. The melting snow from the mountains above the creek had caused the banks to overflow, filling in their best fishing spots. The water was cold and rushing too fast for Kyle and his friends to get in it. They found a side pool, and Domino jumped in before Kyle could stop him. As the dog book said, Domino was a great swimmer right away. Kyle had a hard time getting Domino out of the pool. At first he tried calling to his dog, but in the end, he had to go in after Domino. Carrying a wet fifty-pound dog out of a cold creek isn’t any fun.

Amber noticed a woman sitting on a bench near the pond. She was throwing bread to some ducks. Amber thought she looked familiar, and then she realized it was Mrs. Jenkins. Amber asked her mom if it would be okay to invite Mrs. Jenkins to join them for lunch.

“I just finished sharing my lunch with the ducks.” Mrs. Jenkins laughed. “But I wouldn’t mind having a piece of that luscious watermelon you’ve got there.”

As Mary put a slice of watermelon on a plate, she commented about being lucky to get a good watermelon.

“How do you choose your watermelon?” Mrs. Jenkins asked. “Are you a thumper?”

“Mostly, I just choose one and hope for the best,” Mary replied. “Do you have a secret for choosing a good watermelon?”

“I used to grow watermelons every summer in Kansas. First, I look for a watermelon that is dark green and not shiny. Then I look for the ripe spot. That’s a sort of yellow spot where the watermelon was touching the ground.”

“You told a secret,” Amber said with surprise. “I thought you never tell secrets.”

“Only when it comes to my chocolate chip cookies.” Mrs. Jenkins smiled her sly smile again.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon

A Rocky Start: Chapter Two, continued

Image1-17_edited-1

The girls waved good-bye as they climbed on their bikes and rode away toward the pond. In the Bluesky Chamber of Commerce brochure, the pond is called Holiday Lake, but most of the people in town just call it the pond. After the winter snows have melted up north, the pond has quite a bit of water, but by the middle of summer, it is nothing more than a mudhole. The summer monsoon rains help refill it a little, but it is never large enough to qualify for lake status.

On that particular Saturday, the pond was full, with lush green vegetation around it. The girls liked to catch tadpoles and other “science specimens” that they put into Ziploc bags so they could carry them home. Laura liked to gather crayfish from the little stream that fed the pond. Her mother, who was from Louisiana, used them to make jambalaya. Amber took some home once, but her mother made her throw them away. She said that city girls got their shellfish at Red Lobster. They didn’t fish it out of irrigation ditches.

Amber’s mom liked to call herself a big-city girl because she was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. Amber’s dad lived in Flagstaff from the age of five. He never thought of himself as a big-city guy, and he never wanted to be one. Amber’s parents had met during their college years when they were both counselors at a summer camp in Pinetop. It was a camp for children with disabilities. After her first summer there, Mary thought about becoming a physical therapist, but she had already started on a business degree at a junior college, and she stayed with that. John was working on his degree in business management at Northern Arizona University.

After summer camp, they had a long-distance writing relationship until John finished college and moved to Phoenix. He asked Mary to marry him, and a year later, they were married. A year after that, Kyle was born. At first they had been happy in Phoenix, but John missed the pine trees and being outdoors. He couldn’t get used to the hot summers in the Valley of the Sun. That’s why when Kyle was three years old, the family moved to Flagstaff. John was happy to be back home, but after two unusually harsh winters, Mary convinced him that they needed to find a place with a warmer climate. That was when they moved to Bluesky.

In Flagstaff, John had been a department manager in the large Discount Mart. A smaller mart was being built in Bluesky, and he had the chance to be its manager. Mary was just getting her insurance license, and she was invited to join a new agency in Bluesky. With cooler summers than Phoenix and warmer winters than Flagstaff, Bluesky seemed like the perfect place to live. Before Kyle was ready to start kindergarten, the family made its move. Amber was born in Bluesky and never wanted to live anywhere else.

Bluesky sits in the middle of a large valley, almost completely surrounded by mountains. As its name suggests, the sky is a brilliant blue, interrupted occasionally by a few wisps of white cirrus clouds. Early in the morning, the sun, on its way up, tints the horizon with muted shades of lavender and apricot. In the evening, the setting sun brushes the sky with vivid reds and oranges, leaving just a hint of the colors after it drops behind the mountains. Bluesky is a small town with plenty of room to grow, though most of the people in town are happy with things just the way they are.

The water in the stream was a little cool, so the girls looked for creatures in the water without wading in as they usually did. After a while, they were tired of the pond and decided to ride their bikes around the park. When they reached the playground, they stopped to play on the swings and slides. Laura’s mom owned a ballet school where she taught gymnastics. Laura had been doing gymnastics since she was three years old, so she showed her friends some tricks she could do on the monkey bars. Amber and Melissa followed her lead as best they could. After that, they played a game of tag with some other children at the park.

The sun was high overhead when they decided it was time to go home for lunch. Amber said good-bye to her friends as they continued past her house on their bikes. She found her dad asleep in front of the television and her mom working on some paperwork in her office.

Amber’s mom looked up from her desk. “It must be time for lunch. How about tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches?”

“My favorite,” Amber answered back.

“What did you girls do this morning?” Mrs. Snyder asked as they ate lunch.

Amber filled her in on their visit to Mrs. Jenkins’s house and their adventures at the park.

“There are a lot of older people in Bluesky,” her mom said thoughtfully. “It must be hard for them to do the things they need to do. That was very nice of you to help Mrs. Jenkins.”

“She makes cookies that have a secret ingredient,” Amber told her. “We tried to guess what it was, but she wouldn’t tell us.”

“Maybe she will when she gets to know you better.”

“I don’t think so,” Amber said. “I don’t think she ever tells anyone.”

“Do you have any homework?” Mary asked her daughter.

“I have some math,” Amber said with disgust.

“If you finish it this afternoon, we can have a picnic after church tomorrow. How does that sound?”

“Can we grill hamburgers?” Amber wanted to know. She loved hamburgers better than just about anything.

“That sounds like a good idea.”

Amber took out her homework. It was fractions, which were hard for her, but she thought she remembered what her teacher told her about adding fractions. They had to have the same denominator. She looked at the example and started to work. In half an hour, she was finished.

Since she was doing homework, Amber decided to read her Sunday school homework. It was about finishing what you started. Amber knew she needed to work on that. It wasn’t that she meant to quit on things before she was finished, but sometimes she just got distracted. At the top of the page, she saw a Bible scripture from Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest.” Amber hoped her harvest wouldn’t be spinach.

The Handy Helpers book series is available at Amazon