It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

For Cassie Franklin, the heroine of my novel The Substitute, back-to-school time is without a doubt the most wonderful time of the year. For years she and her husband Joe, a school administrator, have transmitted that enthusiasm to their children. Cassie puts her home economics skills to work in August, trying out new recipes for breakfast muffins, bread, and sandwich spreads. Children Jen and Paul help their mom make a schedule of menus for their lunches. As the children got older, Joe gave them a budget for clothes and school supplies and drove them to the mall. Cassie used the quiet time to get started on lesson plans. But this year, it’s different. The kids are both in college, and Cassie doesn’t have a job. Will her life ever get back to normal?

By mid-August Sully High School assistant principal Michael Lansdowne is racing around the building. His mission: to locate missing boxes of supplies and file cabinets moved into the wrong classroom after all the floors were waxed. For relaxation, he straightens his desk and stocks up on evaluation forms for his assigned teachers. How did he wind up with more teachers to evaluate than any of the other APs?  He’s already stressed, and school doesn’t start until the day after Labor Day.

Newly-minted P. E. teacher Holly Bush, the heroine of The Jesus Car, doesn’t have as much to do as Cassie or Michael. She’ll be buying a couple pairs of athletic shoes, some shorts, and a whistle. She’s already purchased Sully Lions sweats, polo shirts, and ball caps. If only Katrina and Yolanda would get in touch so they could go over the safety and procedural lessons and field hockey rules handouts! And then there’s the matter of her anemic bank balance. How will she make it until the end of September when she gets her first paycheck?

Francine Paris, the culinary arts teacher at Sully, works for at least a week in her demonstration kitchen before the contract year begins. She runs all of her dishes, glasses, and flatware through the dishwasher and hand washes the pots, pans, baking sheets and knives. She inspects everything in her pantry to make sure no pests have wreaked havoc there. Then she’ll write a purchase order for Foodie Village and get that to the finance technician before the rest of the faculty monopolizes her time. She works hard and she works alone, which is what puts her in a predicament as The Substitute opens.

Like their real-life counterparts, fictional teachers and administrators work during the summer.  Even so, most of them anticipate the newness of the first week of school and enjoy the ritual of getting ready for it.

What are your back-to-school rituals? Are you anticipating the start of the school year?

The Singing Dog Walker (Part 2)

 

Angie on walk.jpegAngie settled me into my routine without delay. Four walks a day became a necessity since even at five years old, she wasn’t house trained. Those walks turned me into “the singing dog walker.” Don’t be fooled by the nonchalant sound of the name. I exuded ineptitude with every walk we took for the first couple of months.  Whatever I did, Angie would not walk unless she was in the mood. And so, I sang. I danced. I did cheers. We moved a few inches. I picked up the twenty-five-pound Angie and carried her a few yards, then started over.

Take me home, Virginia roads

To the place I belong…

Add something that looked like moon walking on mom’s part.

Let’s go, Angie! Let’s go!

I’m sure there are YouTube videos of us out there taken by amused passers-by, but I’m not going to search. Be my guest, though.

It got better. I got a trainer. Now I don’t wind the leash three times around my wrist and gear up like we’re going hiking every time we go out. I still sing, though. When I’m hustling Angie along on her walk so we can get to the sitter’s, to the tune of We’re Marching to Pretoria:

We’re marching off to Emily’s, to Emily’s, to Emily’s.

You’ll watch TV at Emily’s, at Emily’s, at Emily’s.

 

Angie expects me to sing when we walk. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty! This indoor girl has seen more of All Creatures of our God and King in two years than in the rest of her lifetime. We’ve had a rather gloomy, rainy summer here in Virginia, so on the rare sunny days I’ve sung Sunshine in My Soul.

I’ve relaxed that death grip on Angie’s leash and she enjoys our walks. Even when she plops down in the grass for a few minutes, I don’t fear the covert videographer like I used to. We’ve found our rhythm together, and I’ve found more time to communicate with our Creator.

How about you? Do you sing silly songs to your pets? (Please share them!) Do you worship God outdoors?

 

 

The Singing Dog Walker (Part 1)

My first dog, Inky, was not the typical car-ride-loving dog. She balked at the idea, and she also had a tendency to run away. After just a few months of Inky love, Mother made an announcement. We were moving from Illinois to Virginia, and Inky couldn’t come with us. She wouldn’t put up with the long car ride, and even if she got in the car, she was likely to bolt at the first opportunity.

I was only five, and parting with Inky was a tough introduction to doing what was best for a pet. It would be decades before I owned another dog. I had two cats as a child, and as an adult I became a cat lady. Cats fit a busy teacher’s lifestyle better than dogs.

With a lifetime cat experience of six cats and some research on dogs stored away, I figured becoming a dog owner couldn’t be too difficult, right?

Wrong. I was totally unprepared for having my quiet life turned upside down! I adopted Angie the purported “beagle mix” in August 2016 from Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation. The coordinator steered me to Angie, a sweet dog from Puerto Rico. That was Saturday. I could see her Sunday afternoon and adopt her on the spot if I wanted.

I dashed out of Bible study that morning right after the final Amen and made it to PetSmart within the hour, my heart beating rapidly in my throat.

Sensing that I was a rookie, Angie was skeptical when we met. I attempted to maneuver my new fur girl around the slick floors of the store as an employee helped me outfit her. Thank goodness the adoption representative didn’t shadow us—I was sure she’d rethink her decision, even though I’d already paid the adoption fee. Finally we were in the car, and in a half hour, we were home.

Now what?

How do you think I did? I’ll tell you about it in my next post.

What was your first month as a new pet owner like?

Inky & Pammy
Pam and Inky

 

The Worst Summer Ever

Hot and rainy, this summer doesn’t even begin to register on the scale of bad summers. Nothing can top that awful summer when I wasn’t allowed to check any books out of the library. Not. One. Single. Book.

Since I’m a writer of fiction, allow me to fudge on the details a bit. I probably served my sentence in the summer, when time crawled for this non-athletic introvert. We’ll say it’s the summer before fifth grade. Perfect. That’s the same summer Mother made me memorize the multiplication tables the weekend before school began. Let’s make it the day before school began. Oh, unhappy Labor Day, stuck in the bedroom until 9×9 always came out 81!

In the olden days, when this tale occurs, the only other source of books besides the library was a bookstore! When you find out what my literary crime was, you won’t even bother asking if my mother let me go to the bookstore.

What was my crime? Too many overdue library books and a fine that broke my piano-teacher mother’s budget. We’ll say  $3.65! Gasp! In the interest of authenticity I double-checked my estimate. After all, I’m no Dr. Evil, holding the world hostage for a million dollar ransom. Okay, Google. What would $3.65 be in today’s economy? $29.20? (http://www.in2013dollars.com/1965-dollars-in-2018?amount=3.65) Not bad for someone who learned her multiplication tables so late in life!

So now you know the scandalous reason I was banned from going to the library.

What’s a suffering bookworm to do after she rereads her meager personal book collection? Write some stories of her own? Of course.

And now for the true confessions. I’ve always loved to write as much as I loved to read. My mother and my teachers were generous in their encouragement of my writing. In fifth grade, with the times tables under my belt, I wrote and starred in the class American history play, Ghosts! Ghosts! Ghosts! In junior high, I wrote a two-book YA series, Everyday Escapades. (If I become famous, no one will find it.) In my thirties, I tried my hand at freelance writing and had a handful of articles and poems published.

I wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Fast forward into the present. I’ve done some more living, losing and missing the mark. Thankfully, God has kept a strong grip on me through all the ups and downs. Fiction helps me share what He’s taught me. My characters are women and men confronting challenges in their lives–people like us. I invite you to let them entertain you and encourage you.

Root for the heroine or the villain–it doesn’t matter.

Anybody can grow…in grace.