Tag Archives: The Handy Helpers

News from Spike

mqkTKySDzy7mUaLE6NWbfoA (2)Okay. Okay. I know I shouldn’t a done it. But having two older sisters is a pain in the butt. When they’re not bossing me around getting me to do stuff, like vacuuming they’re supposed to do, they’re telling Mom about something I did–usually something I didn’t mean to do anyway. Accidents happen you know. So Jennifer found my fake rat, Chuck, in the box of cereal. She didn’t have to make such a big deal about it. Then she got Mom all worked up. I had plans you know–plans to go fishing with my bros. But no! I got stuck washing windows! Then when I figured out a way to get it done quick, (I got some little kids to do it for me. They even paid me to do it.) Mom came home early and spoiled the whole thing.

I guess washing windows isn’t the worst thing to have to do. Anyway it’s summer–there’s plenty of time to go fishing. That’s not what’s really bugging me. What’s really bugging me is Todd. Todd’s Jennifer’s jerk boyfriend. Why he’s always hanging around here I have no idea. Doesn’t he have a home of his own? I’d think Jennifer would get tired of seeing his dumb face everywhere. I know I am.

The first time I ever saw Todd, he was trying to show off for Jennifer, doing tricks with the basketball. First he was dribblin’ tween his legs. That looked  stupid ’cause he kept hitting his leg and then he had to chase after the ball. When he finally shot a basket, it did go in a few times. But that wasn’t good enough. He had to show Jennifer how he could make a shot with his eyes closed. He opened his eyes just in time to catch the ball when it was rolling off the roof. His backwards shot bounced off the rim and hit him in the back of the head. It was so funny, I thought I’d die laughing. When he saw me, he threw the ball at me. “Let’s see you do better!” he yelled. I just threw the ball down and went in the house.

After that, me an’ Todd have been sworn enemies. Mom and Dad think he’s trying to treat me like a big brother–but they don’t know him like I do. He’s a jerk and a bully. I’ve gotta figure out a way to get him off my back. Anyway, Jennifer only keeps a boyfriend for three months. Todd doesn’t know it, but his days are numbered. When Jennifer drops him on his butt, I hope I’m there to laugh in his face!

My friend, Rosemary, asked me to write this blog. She writes down the things that me and my friends do as Handy Helpers. You can read about all the stuff we’re into in the Handy Helpers books. If you have any ideas about what I could do to get even with Todd, I sure would like to know.

Scan_20141120(The Handy Helpers books are available at amazon )

Living in Bluesky

 

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“The Bluesky Chamber of Commerce brochure boasts 273 sunny days each year. Nestled in the central mountains of Arizona, Bluesky has the ideal climate. Residents enjoy temperatures ten to twenty degrees cooler than the desert cities and four picture-perfect seasons. Even on rainy days, the clouds are not able to hold on for long but are soon pushed out of sight by the bluest blue sky imaginable. Yes, there are snowy days in the winter, but by three in the afternoon, the snow seems to have vaporized into thin air, without even a trace of mud to indicate the ground had once been covered with a powdery blanket of white.” (From Seven is a Perfect Number)

It may seem that Bluesky is too good to be true, but actually that is a fairly accurate description of the climate here in Chino Valley, Arizona.  When people who have never been here think of Arizona, they often picture a vast desert with saguaro cactus and rattle snakes. In fact our state has much more than that to offer. Here in the central mountains, we have tall ponderosa pines, grasslands, and chaparral.

Bluesky is actually based on Prescott Valley, Arizona of the 1980s. When we moved there in 1983, it was a very small town with just a few thousand residents. Nearly everyone lived on a dirt road and our mail was general delivery.  My son, who was twelve at the time, was in heaven. He roamed far and wide, discovering Lynx Creek and an old house that he called “the castle.”

Most travelers hurried through Prescott Valley on their way to Prescott. One landmark they would have seen was a boat house, a strange sight on the prairie.  A popular place was the Jack Ass Bar. Prescott Valley was originally named “Jack Ass Acres,” because of the wild burros that roamed there at one time. When we moved to Prescott Valley, pronghorn antelope shared the grasses in the middle of town with the Fain’s cattle.

Bluesky is a more developed version of Prescott Valley. The streets are paved and there are sidewalks. The pond that was at the end of our street became Holiday Lake in the Handy Helper books. Michael, my son, spent much of his time at that pond, collecting specimens and bringing them home. His sister’s splash pool was filled with dirty water and held his collection.

While the Handy Helpers could live in any town in America, I’m glad they live in Bluesky. The people there look out for one another. The Handy Helpers are welcomed and encouraged to pitch in and do their part.

I named the town Bluesky in honor of the splendid backdrop God paints for us every day here in the central highlands. But there is more. I like to think of blue sky as a metaphor for second chances. It reminds me of a slate being wiped clean so that we can start over. In A Rocky Start, Amber tells Spike, “. . . forgiveness is a gift that is freely given, not because we deserve it. But to accept forgiveness,  we have to forgive ourselves first.” That’s what blue sky means to me. We all make mistakes and come up short, but we have to forgive ourselves and start over.

The Handy Helper series is available on   amazon.

Meet Betty Jenkins

IMG_0426The first senior you will meet in A Rocky Start is Betty Jenkins and you meet her as Amber does on the second page. She is having trouble retrieving her newspaper from the bushes and asks Amber for help. That’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Betty is a retired mail carrier who moved from Kansas to Bluesky with her husband Paul.  When Paul passed away, Betty made the decision to remain in Bluesky. She has three sons. Calvin is a stockbroker in Oakland, California and has three boys. Sam is in the air force, stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Robert, who has two girls and a boy, is a chef in San Francisco.

Amber and Betty quickly develop a strong bond, due partly to their mutual love of art. Betty has a small studio behind her house where she paints landscapes. She sells a few of her paintings, but she gives many of them away. Amber is also drawn to Betty because Betty accepts and supports Amber as she is. While Amber’s family is loving and supportive, they can sometimes be a little overbearing. Betty is more likely to help Amber find her own way through situations.

There are two things Betty is famous for in Bluesky. First is her special chocolate chip cookies. She has a secret ingredient that she never tells to anyone–well, maybe just one person. The other thing Betty is famous for is shuffleboard. She invites Amber to her shuffleboard match at the senior center. Amber brings her friends along to cheer for Betty. Not only do they learn about shuffleboard, but they also discover the opportunity to become junior volunteers.

Betty is the best example of “love your neighbor.” When Doris Duncan hurts her back, Betty is right there to lend a hand. In this way, she is a role model to the Handy Helpers. Mary Snyder’s failed attempts at planting a garden lead her to enlist the help of Betty’s green thumb. Betty is there, hoe in hand, to lead the Snyders toward a bountiful garden.

It is Betty’s sense of humor that draws others–including the Handy Helpers–to her. She has a talent for lightening up any situation. When Amber has a mishap with her spinach salad, Betty tells a funny story on herself to make Amber feel better. Betty is the kind of friend and neighbor everyone would wish to have.

A Rocky Start and all the Handy Helper books are available at amazon

 

Meet the Snyders

Handy Helpers Books are available at amazon

Amber

 

Amber Nicole Snyder is the main character in the first Handy Helper book, A Rocky Start. In fact the entire story is told from her point of view.

Amber is a fourth-grader at Bluesky Elementary School. She just turned ten on March 22.  For her birthday, she received art supplies because she likes to draw. She loves hamburgers and hates spinach–or so she thinks.

There are four members of the Snyder family–John and Mary, the parents; Kyle, the big brother; and of course Amber. John and Mary met when they were in college. Both of them were working at a summer camp for kids with disabilities in Pinetop, Arizona. After college, John moved to Phoenix and they were married. Mary loved living in Phoenix, but John hated it. He missed the cool weather and being outdoors. After Kyle was born, the family moved to Flagstaff, but Mary hated the harsh winters. When John had a chance to become the manager of the Discount Mart in Bluesky, he moved his family there. Like the story of the three bears, Bluesky was just right.

Amber was a bald-headed baby and her father said she looked like Uncle Fred. Amber is now a lovely young lady with thick bronze-colored hair and big brown eyes, but her dad continues to call her Fred.

Kyle is the perfect big brother, which in Amber’s opinion is not a good thing. He’s great at everything–school work, baseball, and playing the guitar. Amber struggles because she has attention deficit disorder, or ADHD. Kyle says it stands for “Amber’s dramas happen daily.” From forgetting to take out the garbage to losing her homework, Amber seems to have lots of dramas. Although she has a very loving and supportive family, they can be somewhat overbearing. For example, Kyle checks Amber’s homework even when she doesn’t need him to.

Judging from the Snyder backyard, Amber isn’t the only one with attention problems. All the members of the Snyder family seem to start projects that they don’t finish. But they do spend time on activities that are important. There are game nights on Fridays, football games in the park, and family bike rides. John and Mary are a very loving couple who hold hands as they walk to church and watch romantic movies together.

The Snyders have a  black Lab puppy named Domino. He manages to cause his share of trouble as well. Amber wanted a Lab because she read they can be hyperactive. She thought their new dog would have something in common with her.

There is a strong mother-daughter bond between Mary and Amber. They enjoy being together, cooking, shopping and going on walks. But Mary does hold Amber accountable for her own behavior. There are consequences when she does something wrong. Mary calls it “Paying your dues for your don’ts.” Amber’s relationship with her father is more laid back. He tells her, “You worry too much.” But when Amber’s impulsiveness lands her in trouble, it is her father who helps her find the answer. He is a steady supportive force in her life.

Sometimes I think of the Snyders as my neighbors. I have enjoyed getting to know them. I hope you will too.

 

 

The miracle of the lost diamond

Scan_20140903Jesus told several parables about the extent someone would go to in order to find something of great value. In each case, once the lost item was recovered, the owner called together friends and family to celebrate. I can relate to this in a very real way.

It was 1981 and my husband Craig and I were at the Jaycee National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. We had attended the week-long convention which culminated in a parade through the streets of downtown Cleveland. We would be driving our new Audi in the parade. Since it had a sunroof, it was decided that the Arizona Jaycee president and his wife would sit on the roof of our car with their feet in the opening of the sun roof. This arrangement upset me greatly and I made it obvious that as the president of the Arizona Jaycee Women I thought I should be riding on the top of the car instead of inside.

I continued to pout and otherwise act like a spoiled child as I got into the car to start the parade. As I sat down in the passenger seat, my husband gasped, “Oh my gosh, your ring!” I looked down at my left hand to see a gaping hole where my diamond should have been. Now instead of being upset about my position in the parade, I could think of nothing else but the missing diamond.

To make matters worse, we had left our children with Craig’s grandparents in Kent. While we were visiting there, his grandmother showed me a diamond she had found and told me how important it was to have your set checked regularly. I had shrugged this off as something I didn’t have time for. Now I was faced with returning to Kent and admitting I had lost my diamond. Shame piled upon shame filled my heart and mind.

As the parade came to an end, I vowed to search every inch of downtown Cleveland until I found the diamond. Obviously this was an impossible task as I had no idea when or where I had lost it. Finding a needle in a haystack would have been an easier task. At least the search would be limited to the haystack.

Craig and I returned to the spot on the street where we had lined up for the parade. Both sides of the street were cluttered with trash. I looked at Craig and said, “It’s hopeless. Even if it’s here I’ll never find it.” Just as I was ready to give up, we looked across the street to where I had stood visiting some friends before the parade began. Craig and I noticed a tiny glint in the pavement under some litter. Certain it couldn’t possibly be the diamond, we raced across the street anyway. I’m not sure how much light a half-carat diamond can reflect, but it was enough. I bent down and brushed away the trash. There in the dirt-filled street lay my diamond.

Just as in the parable, I spent the rest of my time in Cleveland telling everyone I saw about my miracle experience. In the Handy Helpers book, A Rocky Start, Amber’s dad tells her that God’s mercy is what we need most when we deserve it the least. Certainly, there was nothing in my behavior that day that warranted any mercy but I received it anyway–proof that God responds to our needs even when we’re too self-absorbed to ask.

 

Which Handy Helper is most like me? –The Boys

Scan_20140901 (2)I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was a tomboy.  I still am as much as I can be  at my age.

It’s kind of obvious from my picture that I was a goofy little kid. That’s my dog Freckles who went everywhere with me.

Of the three boys in The Handy Helpers, I guess I’m most like Spike. He’s a practical joker and so am I. Just ask my students about some of the April Fools gags I played on them. When I was a kid I liked to make prank phone calls. Mostly I called my grandma and asked her things like, “Is your refrigerator running?” Of course my grandma was wise to my tricks and would ask, “Where would it run to?” One time I got a big pan of water. I called a plumber and when someone answered, I yelled “Help!” Then I stuck my face in the water and went blub . . . blub . . blub. Of course my little brother told on me. My mom had me half convinced that we would get a bill from the plumber. Good thing there wasn’t caller ID back then.

Like Spike I was short for my age. But Spike likes to attract attention to himself with his spiked hair and shirts with sayings on them. I was never bold like that. Instead, I tried to blend in and not be noticed.   In that regard, I was more like Logan. But when it comes to being shy, Logan doesn’t even come close. Here’s an example. Growing up in Phoenix, we watched the Lew King Ranger Show. Wayne Newton, who was a child, was a regular on the show. The sponsor of the show was First Federal Savings. To encourage the good habit of saving, children who had savings accounts at First Federal were invited to be on the show. Finally, the opportunity came for me and my little sister. There was a special place for us to sit on the floor and all that was required of us was to stand up and say our names when called on. As the MC went around the group, I became more and more stressed. When it was my turn, I couldn’t move. No amount of cajoling or urging on the part of the MC could get me to open my mouth. I just sat there with my butt glued to the floor. My mother was so embarrassed, I was afraid she was going to pretend I wasn’t hers and leave me there.

When Chris, another character,  was three years old, he lost his dad in a car accident. I was also three when my dad died during surgery. I have been told a lot about my dad, so I feel like I know him even though I don’t really have any memories of him. I’ve been told that I look like him and that he liked to joke around like I do. Like Chris’s mother, my mother always made sure that I had a close relationship with my father’s family. Every summer she would drive me to Prescott so I could spend a week with my father’s sister, Aunt Marylou and Uncle Kenny. I have so many cherished memories of the time I spent with them and my cousins. My father’s oldest brother, my Uncle Ray and Aunt Ruth always made sure that my sister and I felt like we were part of the family. I remember them being at every important event in my life. I know that wasn’t  easy because they had five children of their own. Today I feel fortunate to have my wonderful Morgan cousins as Facebook friends and  stay in contact with them as much as possible.

What’s next for the Handy Helpers.

At about two o’clock last Saturday, I wrote the final words of the third Handy Helpers book, Red, White and . . . Bloopers! It should be available in early September. I want to share with you some of what you can expect.

It is summer and all Spike wants is to be left alone and to go fishing with his friends. Unfortunately, his parents have other ideas about keeping him busy. But that’s not the worst of it. His sister Jennifer’s new boyfriend Todd seems to be making it his mission to make Spike’s life miserable. When Spike tries to tell his parents about Todd, they say he is overacting. Todd has two older brothers and is used to playing rough. Spike’s parents think that Todd is just treating him like a younger brother. Spike decides he will have to handle Todd on his own.

Spike takes care of the problem in his usual way—with sneaky pranks. But no matter what he does, Todd seems to come out on top. Finally, Spike resorts to a plan of revenge that backfires in the worst possible way. Instead of teaching Todd a lesson, Spike accidently pranks the town mayor. His chances of going fishing are pretty much over as he is ordered to do community service for his crime.

It is during Spike’s community service that he meets some kids who live in the forest. Spike vows to help them as much as he can. But he never expected that to include a daring nighttime rescue.

 

Here’s what else is going on in the lives of The Handy Helpers:

  • Beth Anne gets her cast off and moves into her new house. She turns ten and has a bowling party for her birthday.
  • Melissa tries to adjust to having her dad around all the time now that he’s home for Afghanistan.
  • Laura has a cooking mishap.
  • Chris goes to California to visit his grandparents and returns with something that shocks his friends.
  • Logan’s dad comes home and spends a few days with his family.
  • Amber goes on sort of a date with Logan.
  • Beth Anne trains for Special Olympics swimming, and involves her friends.

 

I really had fun writing this third installment of The Handy Helpers. There are some very colorful seniors for you to meet. I think you will all enjoy reading Red, White, and . . . Bloopers! In my humble opinion, it’s the best book yet.