Happy February!! : ) February just happens to be one of my most favorite months of the year. 

So, Sunday Chas mentioned about Harvest Moon Homecoming re-releasing today – it’s below along with a sample and it’s only $.99!! (I don’t usually release at $.99 so grab it now!) I wanted to explain about that series since I first published it though a small press. I just recently got the rights to the series back, and in order for me to publish them myself, I had to take them down off of Amazon and put them back up under my name. So, that’s why they’re re-releasing, one every Tuesday in February.

So…you all know that Jay’s been doing some different projects since he’s gone full time with narration, and, well, it might just be possible that he’s come up with a really AWESOME idea that he’s working right now to implement and that’s going to be the most exciting thing ever…or, idk, maybe not. I haven’t talked to him since yesterday. But if he hasn’t come up with an idea like that, he should. Shouldn’t he? Anyway, I was thinking about how he needs a few more projects to do and he should really think about coming up with an awesome idea for one, and lo and behold, I came up with an idea of my own (hey, it happens once in a while). I thought it would be super cool if Jay started mounting climbing and did a group of audios from the seven highest peaks in the world and called them Mountain Tales with Jay. Yes??? Alright, maybe he’ll have to come up with his own, super-awesome, great idea. Or maybe he already has…

Also, Jay has asked an extremely serious and somewhat mysterious question on his page and if you think you can help him with an answer, I’m sure he’d appreciate it.

Alright, I didn’t get a chance to pick winners, but I will hopefully have that and a new recipe theme in next week’s newsletter.

For now, I recently lost some weight and I thought I’d do a new feature – weight loss tips from Jessie. : )

So, I haven’t really said much about this, but I went away for a bit to write. Now, this place that I stayed at was in the middle of a cow pasture. Not kidding. You had to go through two gates and drive through the cow pasture – being careful not to hit any cows – to get there.

So, yeah, I felt right at home, but I’m also lazy. I did take some groceries with me, but I’m one of those shoppers who only gets what’s on the list. I do not deviate. I guess some people call it a disability, but I get easily overwhelmed when presented with too much “stuff” and shopping is just one of those areas where my brain overloads really fast. I can do it, I just need a list, and honestly I don’t notice anything beyond focusing on getting the next thing on my list and getting out of the store.

Well, I decided to be healthy (why? I can’t really answer that) and I got the ingredients to make pumpkin mushroom soup (thanks for the recipe, Patrice!), blueberries and sweet potatoes. I also got a bag of peas and some cheese and a few filets of fish.

That’s what I had on my list.

I forgot to put ice cream on my list.

So, I left the store, drove to the place where I was staying, got out of the car, opened the gate, got back in the car, drove through the gate, got out of the car, shut the gate, careful to jump over the six inch deep mud puddle that was right where the gate closed on the other side, walked back to the car and drove through the pasture to the next gate, got out of the car, opened the gate, got back in the car, drove through the gate, got out of the car, shut the gate, got back in the car and drove to the house. (Also, the lock on the house was a little tricky and I didn’t lock it while I was there, but I did lock it when I left and it usually took me about ten minutes to get it unlocked when I got back to the house.) 

So, anyway, it was quite a procedure to get in. 

It was the next day before I realized I didn’t have any ice cream.

So, like I said, I’m lazy and it was a LOT easier for me to walk around the house lamenting the fact that there was NO ICE CREAM IN THE HOUSE than it was to leave, spend ten minutes locking the door, driving to the gate, stopping and getting out of the car, etc etc.

So, I’m stuck at this house with all this health food I thought it would be a good idea and NO ICE CREAM.

So, yeah. I ended up losing eight pounds. I guess I got better gas mileage on the way home than I did on the way down, but it took me longer because I stopped at Taco Bell like five times.

Alright, so my weight loss tip is put a fence and two gates around your house and you’ll make junk food runs less often. : ) 

So, the day after I got home Watson asked me to go with him to get a load of silage for our cows. I thought that was sweet – he missed me! But after I said, “Sure, I’ll go,” he said, “Dress warm. The heater in that old truck doesn’t work.”

Ha.

He didn’t miss me. He just wanted me along in case he got stranded along the road he’d have someone to push him.

Anyway, I put a bunch of layers on and got in the old dump truck. It’s the truck I drove last spring when I was hauling rocks – the one that didn’t have any brakes. I think the copperheads were all hibernating.

Watson said we had to hurry because there were no lights in the truck. Like, no headlights. No tail lights. No brake lights. No turn signals. No lights. At all. Also, not only does it not have a heater, but part of the floor is missing to the point where you can see the road flying by beneath you. That didn’t concern me too much, neither did the rattles and shakes until Watson said, “Is your door shut?” 

Well, I’m an old hand at this, so, as we’re driving down the highway (not too fast because it has a top speed of like 40 mph), I grab the handle, shove it open and slam it shut. It still kinda rattles, like it’s thinking about falling off, but wants to wait until we’re going around a turn until it does so. 

I check – because you all are thinking it too – no seatbelts. This does not shock anyone, right?

So, we’re going on these backroads and it’s wide enough for two cows to pass side-by-side as long as one of them isn’t pregnant and we’re going down this steep hill into a gully and the road kind of turns in the middle of the hill and right on the turn we meet a school bus.

(There were maybe two houses along that whole ten mile road and we passed, like, three busses. Maybe there was a field trip back there somewhere. idk)

So, Watson has just told me how he bypassed the air dryer because it was keeping the truck from airing up, and he mentioned that the truck was too far gone for him to want to put any money into maintenance and I grab ahold of the door handle – because when it evacuates, I’m going with it – and just pray the end is painless, because I drove the truck and the brakes didn’t work.

Watson slams on the brakes – the truck actually slows down – and he moves the truck as far off the road as possible and I’m pretty sure I see my guardian angle picking the bus up and moving it overtop of us and once we’ve made it down to the bottom of the gully and start up the other side I say, “I guess you fixed the brakes.”

Watson looks at me like I’m the stupidest person in the world and he says, “Well, yeah. You can’t drive a truck on the road with no brakes.”

Humph. That’s not what he said last spring when I was driving the truck. But hey, whatever. By the time we got home, I was too cold to be upset about it. Plus, I think that was our Valentine’s Day date and I didn’t want to ruin it.

Okay, that was yesterday and I’m still wearing my beanie hat and five layers of clothes. I think I might have mentioned that the hot water in our shower wasn’t working and I was terrified of taking all my clothes off and getting in the shower only to find that it STILL wasn’t working. I’m a big believer in better safe than sorry.

Thanks so much for spending time with me today!

Hugs and blessings!

~Jessie 💖 

Chapter 1

Fink vowed to stop the chaos.

He glanced at the large Roman numeral clock on the wall of his office. With narrowed eyes, he turned back to stare out the big picture window overlooking the main entrance to the small Pennsylvania school.

Monday morning. Eight forty-three. Any minute now. 

He straightened his tie, then drummed his fingers on the desk. This had gone on long enough, and he was going to put a stop to it. Today.

As if his determination had conjured it, the old blue Ford F-150 shot into view. Smoke billowed out of the tailpipe. The roar and rumble of the motor shook the window glass. No muffler. Rubber squealed and the passenger-side wheels lifted from the pavement as the truck careened around the turn. The two heads inside the cab bobbled and jerked. As the truck slowed, the cloud of smoke engulfed it. It lurched to a stop with the front passenger tire on the sidewalk.

Mr. Finkenbinder frowned and rubbed the side of his nose. He could never figure out whether Mrs. Bright parked that way on purpose, or if it was truly an accident every time.

He turned to the solid glass wall on his right. With all the privacy of a goldfish Mr. Finkenbinder would never be accused of any impropriety. 

Three, two, one. Mrs. Bright barreled around the corner, her wild brown hair waving like Medusa’s snakes, her hot pink pajama bottoms churning, her large orange T-shirt rippling like a flag in the wind, her Muck boots clomping against the freshly waxed floor. 

“Hurry up, Harper. We’re late.” The frightful woman turned to her daughter, who trailed behind her, unfazed. A small pang of envy zipped through his chest. How did such a crazy, irresponsible woman have such an organized, obedient daughter? And why, in the name of all that was holy, did the nephew who had been dropped on his doorstep this fall have to be more like Mrs. Bright than her daughter?

“Crap, I forgot paper for a note.” Mrs. Bright stopped and slapped her forehead. 

Harper tapped her mother’s shoulder and handed her the sheet she carried on top of her neatly stacked books. 

“Oh, you’re wonderful, Harper. Thanks,” she gushed. As if Harper didn’t do that every Monday morning.

Jordon Swoop raced by the window, screeched to a stop, backed up, and tapped Mr. Finkenbinder’s window. “Are you lifting tonight, Mr. F?” 

He gave the kid a small smile and nodded. Jordon’s grades had been high enough to keep him eligible for sports since last winter, but he was still holding Mr. Finkenbinder to the deal they’d made—Mr. Finkenbinder would help him with his academics and Jordon would be his lifting partner. 

Jordon gave a thumbs-up and hustled away.

Mr. Finkenbinder had lost sight of Mrs. Bright and her daughter as they entered the office, blocked by one of the nonglass walls. But when they stepped up to the counter in the office, he could again see the odd pair through the window in his door. His nostrils flared and his smile disappeared. 

He reached for the intercom on his desk and depressed the button. “Mrs. Herschel?”

“Yes, Mr. Finkenbinder?”

“Once you have authorized the late excuse and administered the tardy notice, would you please send Mrs. Bright into my office?” He looked down, adjusting the single sheet of paper on his pristine desk, but out of his peripheral vision, he sensed Mrs. Bright turn and stare straight at him. His big wall clock ticked seven times before he lifted his eyes and met hers, which were a startling blue. 

She spun around.

“I don’t have time to meet with that pompous donkey today.” 

Because his door was cracked and her voice was raised, he heard her quite plainly. He could have yelled out the door to Mrs. Herschel. Some might say he should have since this was a small country school with none of the metal detectors, door locks, and ID cards that other, larger schools had acquired in the last decade. The atmosphere of the school was casual. Mr. Finkenbinder didn’t do casual. 

He depressed the button of the intercom again.

“Mrs. Herschel?”

“Yes, Mr. Finkenbinder?”

“If Mrs. Bright should find her schedule too full to grace me with her presence in my office”—Mr. Finkenbinder could hardly believe he’d used Mrs. Bright’s name and grace in the same sentence, but there it was. English was a complicated language—”you may dismiss her and assign her daughter to Room One for two hours of after-school detention.”

“Yes, Mr. Finkenbinder.”

This time Mrs. Bright whipped around and yanked open his door. It banged against the doorstop and lurched back, smacking her in the temple. She tended to lead with her head, as if she had horns.

She swore. At him or the door. Maybe both. 

He did not look up, using the pencil in his hand to make a short remark about nothing on the paper in front of him, noting the scent of fresh pine filling his office.

Ten ticks of the clock. He glanced up. “Oh, Mrs. Bright. Why, you found time in your schedule to see me after all? How nice. Do come in.”

She walked in and slammed the door. 

“Please sit down.” He gestured toward the two metal chairs facing his desk.

“Let’s not pretend we like each other, Fink,” she said with saccharine sweetness as she swiped a Tootsie Roll from the container on his desk and plopped down.

Mr. Finkenbinder managed not only to withhold his growl, but to also plaster a pleasant, bland smile on his face. “I’m sorry you feel that way, Mrs. Bright.” He straightened the Tootsie Roll container so it aligned properly with the corner of his desk.

She crossed her arms over her chest. 

He noted the nasty red swelling on the side of her head and squelched the compassion threatening to trickle up into his heart. Any sign of weakness on his part would give a woman like this too much of an advantage.

“Since I became principal of this school last year, I have noticed that almost every morning you arrive with your daughter at least thirty minutes late. Once or twice we could allow to slide by, but your daughter is missing important instruction in her first period class. You do want what is best for your daughter, Mrs. Bright?”

“Actually, no. I was thinking about chaining her to the railroad tracks on my way home tonight, Fink.” 

He set the pencil down with a snap, perfectly parallel with the edge of the paper, and refrained from commenting on her striking resemblance to a fire-breathing dragon. 

Mrs. Bright popped the Tootsie Roll into her mouth, threw the wrapper on his desk, and grabbed another piece of candy. Did she deliberately move the container? Only a slight bump, but his entire desk felt crooked now.

Mr. Finkenbinder clamped down on his tongue as he picked up her trash, threw it in the trash can on the other side of the desk, and straightened the candy container. 

Next Wednesday, the Chestnut Hill school board would meet for their regular monthly meeting. On that evening, they would choose a new district superintendent. Mr. Finkenbinder intended that his name be chosen. If he grabbed Mrs. Bright by her Medusa hair and dragged her out of the building screaming, it would lower his chances of improving his position in this district. 

“I understand that it must be difficult for you to raise your daughter after the death of your husband.” Was it possible for a wife to disorganize a husband to death? “But I must insist on punctuality. Other students who are late face the consequences.”

She probably chewed her Tootsie Roll with her mouth open on purpose. Mr. Finkenbinder ignored the irritation threatening to close off his throat and focused on his speech. 

“Harper is a contender to be valedictorian or salutatorian this year. Her tardiness is through no fault of her own. Because of that, I am reluctant to punish her. However, lest I be accused of playing favorites, there must be a consequence. I am prepared to apply the repercussion to the actual offender. You.” 

Mrs. Bright rolled her eyes. “Right, Fink. I know you have it in for me. What’d you want me to do? Sit in detention? Write an essay? Stand in the corner?”

He waited. Fifteen ticks of the clock. 

Savoring the moment, containing his anticipation, he opened his mouth. 

Before he could speak, Mr. Daschel, the chemistry teacher, ran past his window. His hand left a grubby mark on the glass as he grabbed it with a clunk and screech, to slow his pace enough to make the turn to the office. He still overshot. His hand disappeared, then reappeared, windmilling in the air.

Mr. Finkenbinder said to no one in particular, since Mrs. Bright and he were not exactly on casual speaking terms, “I do believe he was smoking.”

“God forbid there be a cigarette in the sanctuary.” She slouched in the chair and rolled her eyes.

“No. I mean, his body was smoking.”

Mr. Daschel barged into the office. He stopped short when his gaze landed on Mrs. Bright. 

“Uh, I’m sorry. Knock, knock.” He gave a sheepish smile.

Mr. Finkenbinder did not return it.

Smoke wafted up from the man’s clothing. His left eyebrow was gone. “Yes?”

“Didn’t mean to interrupt, Mr. F, but the float we were making for homecoming exploded.”

“Good grief.” Mr. Finkenbinder stood. It was possible an evil chuckle came from Mrs. Bright, but he choose to ignore it. “Was anyone hurt?”

“No. No. You see, I thought if I combined hydroquinone and—”

“Later, Mr. Daschel. The police will be here any minute.” There went his opportunity for superintendent. “And the news media. You might want to…put yourself out.” Mr. Finkenbinder gestured toward the smoke. He couldn’t believe the fire alarm hadn’t gone off. That would make his day complete. All 328 Chestnut Hill High School students wandering around outside, wasting valuable learning time, while the volunteer fire company sprayed Mr. Daschel’s jacket with fire-retardant foam. Lovely.

“Wait.” Mr. Daschel glanced at his arm and seemed startled to realize he was smoking. “The float explosion happened this weekend and I forgot to tell you. I ran out of class as soon as I remembered.” He swatted at his smoking arm. “But we did have a small mishap in the room just moments ago—nothing out of the ordinary. De rigueur, so to speak.” 

Mr. Finkenbinder blinked at the incorrect usage of de rigueur, but did not interrupt.

With his head lowered, Mr. Daschel shuffled his feet before he continued. “Anyway, it reminded me of the explosion this weekend, and the ruination of the homecoming float. I’m afraid the parents of the committee members have revoked permission for their children to help build it. We are floatless, and our volunteers have resigned.”

Mr. Finkenbinder sat and resisted the urge to drop his head into his hands. The acrid odor of scorched material overpowered the fresh scent of pine and burned his nose.

The parade was Saturday evening.

First Mrs. Bright. Now the homecoming float. The people in this community were laid-back, but they had high expectations for the homecoming parade. Every group from the Boy Scouts to the three members of the Backyard BBQ Club would be in it. 

Mr. Finkenbinder thought again of the superintendent position and squelched a sigh. He could kiss it goodbye if there was no school float in the parade.