Category Archives: Childhood

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel by Lois Gladys Leppard

Image result for Mandie and the Secret Tunnel lois Gladys Leppard

Almost 20 years separates me from the first time I read Mandie and the Secret Tunnel. I loved this series growing up. I read every book and deeply mourned when Lois Gladys Leppard died before finishing the Mandie College Days series. I still remember the day my Mom took me up to the kids section of our local library and suggested I try the first book. I remember finding it slow at first, and then fascinating. I remember staying up till 9 pm reading Mandie books in the living room and feeling quite spooked when it came time to go to bed. I remember my joy when, after I thought I read them all, my library got Mandie and the Quilt Mystery (2002). I remember impatiently waiting for Mandie and the Missing Schoolmarm (2004) to get published. (Incidentally, I still own that one.) I remember reading New Horizons in 2010 and feeling such delight at being reunited with my old friends. For me, the Mandie series remains a dear, integral part of my literary childhood.

Heady with feelings of nostalgia, I picked up Mandie and the Secret Tunnel for a quick trip down memory lane. Unfortunately…or fortunately…well…see my reaction for yourself: (Spoilers to follow.) 

The story centers around Mandie Shaw, a 12 year old girl whose father dies and whose step-mother decides to quickly remarry. She then send Mandie to work as a nursemaid which prevents her from going to school. Finding this intolerable, Mandie decides to run away to the house of her uncle (whose existence she previously had no knowledge of) with the help of Uncle Ned – an old Cherokee Indian who befriended her father and vowed to watch over her. 

As a kid, this set up a fabulous adventure. Of course she should run away. What an evil family! However, as an adult, I sympathize with the step-mother. What do you do with a rambunctious 12 year old when you do not have food to go around? You send her to a place where she will get food and shelter and be useful. Maybe not kind by modern standards, but perfectly acceptable for the era!

Meanwhile, Mandie travels to her uncle’s home where she learns he is away traveling in Europe. The servants accept her with no questions asked (even though we later learn her uncle only recently learned of her existence, so how they know who she is I-don’t-know) and begin to spoil her. This includes making her fancy new gowns from a special sewing room in the house filled with silks and lace and buttons. (We never do learn why an old bachelor maintains such a glorious sewing room.) Unfortunately, a messenger then arrives to say Uncle John died in Europe and the lawyer cannot find his will. This leads to the crux of the plot, the search for Uncle John’s will. Meanwhile, various people show up claiming to be nieces and nephews of the deceased. Everyone knows they are phonies, but no one can apparently do anything about it. 

In fact, at one point, an old family friend blatantly informs one of the phonies that he knew the family for over 27 years and John never had a sister. Instead of kicking out the phony, the servants go, ‘eh, we knew it was smoky! Pity we can’t do anything about it.’ 

Exactly what these phonies hope to accomplish, especially if a will does turn up, never becomes clear. They really play almost no role in the plot. No one doubts Mandie’s claim as niece, so they don’t even serve to make her role more uncertain. 

Anyway, turns out Uncle John is not dead, but only pretending. Apparently he wanted to find out who was trustworthy to take care of his newly fatherless niece should anything happen to him. The niece, I might add, he completely ignored after her father’s death and left to become a drudge. As he could not know Mandie planned to run away to his house before enacting this scheme, and as the only people who appear affected by his death are his servants, I have no idea what he hoped to accomplish by his plan. Literally, it is the most convoluted, useless scheme possible. But it does create the necessary tension to keep the story going. 

This book did not age well. Uncle Ned speaks awkward, broken English that 90% of the time consists of the words “papoose” or “happy hunting grounds.” If I remember correctly, this does not change throughout the series. Joe – Mandie’s neighborhood friend who reached heights of romance in my eyes as a child with his repeated statements about marrying Mandie someday – informs her she can’t go to school for too many more years because he “does not want a wife who is smarter than him.” Also, let’s talk about the fact that he is 14 when he says this. What 14 year old thinks that far into the future? You say, ‘ah! They grew up faster then!’ I say, you can’t pick and choose when you want to be historically correct. The characters definitely use the word “boyfriend” – a phrase that would hold no meaning at the time. Finally, I’m not saying he is a gold digger, but I am saying he went from saying “I’ll take care of you” to “I’ll marry you” only after she learned she was an heiress…

Throw in several other slightly sketchy plot elements (like the way Mandie’s real mother kind of get strong armed into marrying Mandie’s uncle) or really off the wall statements (like Mandie’s mother telling her mother she could move away since she knew her mother “had the servants to take care of her”) and you get one weird book. 

But not a bad book. You see, I went in excepting a mystery novel. The plot elements baffled me because no mystery really existed, and the motives of the characters made no sense. I do not think this book ever intended to stand solely as a mystery novel, though. It resembles much more the genre of ‘adventure books for girls.’ 

From a writing perspective, it screams plot inconsistencies. From an adventure book for grade and middle school girls? Oh, it rocks. An orphan heroine, strong friendships, secret tunnels, missing wills, ghosts, wealthy relatives, fabulous dresses, a Cherokee spy network, long-lost relatives…this book contains it all! When you focus on the adventure, plot consistency matters less. What does matter is an exciting story with crazy twists and scary turns. And this book contains those elements in abundance. 

While this book lost some of its nostalgic glow (poor Uncle Ned), overall I am pleased with it. It remains a romping adventure for young girls. It made me wince occasionally, but it also reintroduced me to some of my favorite characters and awoke a bunch of dormant memories. I consider this re-read a success. 

 

 

 

And finally, to the person who told me it did not matter that Lois Gladys Leppard would write no more Mandie College Days because fans could write fan-made sequels, I’ve thought about what you said for 8 years and I disagree. It is not the same. 

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Homeschooled…Not Shy

Twice today, someone stared at me and said something along the lines of, “You aren’t very shy, are you?”

And twice today, I opened my mouth to deny it but ended up saying, “No, I’m not.” 

The questioners didn’t probe further but if they had, I would have answered, 

“I’m not shy. You see, I was homeschooled.” 

Although homeschooling has become more mainstream, a definite stereotype exists about homeschoolers. And as far as I know, “not shy” is not one of them. (Unless you count socially awkward as not shy?) But really, I owe a great deal of my “non-shyness” to the fact that I was homeschooled. Here are 3 ways homeschooling made me a confident adult:

  1. No peer pressure. From a young age, I learned to like myself for who I was. There was no one to tell me different. Oh, sure, sometimes I felt quirky when around other kids my age. But I also made friends who shared the same interests and values as me, most of them homeschooled too. I think a huge reason I’m “not shy” is that I’m simply confident in who I am, and that is in great part thanks to the early lesson I had in being me. You don’t like me? Your loss! I like me
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  2. Friends of all ages. When you don’t spend X number of hours a day with kids the same age as you, you don’t get the false idea that friends must be the same age as you. Old(er) people are your friends. Younger people are your friends. Your siblings are your friends. Your neighbors are your friends. Incidentally, this is one reason I think the “socialization” question is silly. You don’t stop being around people when you are homeschooled. You just get more opportunities to be around different types of people.
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  3. Learning to deal with people early on. When you’re homeschooled, everyone has an opinion about your parents’ manner of raising you. Some people are more vocal about it than others. And those people can be very vocal. As far as I know, people don’t feel the need to ask public school kids if they have friends or if they use books. Yet I bet almost any homeschooler has gotten some variety of both those questions…and countless more. So you know what homeschooling taught me? How to deal with rude, well-intended questions. It gives you thick skin. And if you gain that early on, it becomes part of your personality and very little in life can intimidate you. Certainly not strangers. 

I realize this wasn’t everyone’s homeschooling experience. It looks different for every person. But for me, these three reasons represent some of the countless ways I’m grateful for the sacrifices my parents made to educate me at home. I can be “not shy.” I can be me. 


It Takes Two

“We’re watching It Takes Two,” said my housemates, all 8 crowded in the living room together. 

It sounded vaguely familiar – maybe a popular chick flick? – so I flopped down to join them. And then the movie began and my childhood came rushing back. 

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The movie was one long déjà vu. It also reminded me of a favorite series of mine growing up: 

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Their dog made the most lasting impression on me. Good times. 


Happy Birthday, Anna!

I know a girl/Whose full of grace/she’s got red hair/and a happy face

Her name is Anna/she loves bananas/someday we know/she’ll be in a drama!

She’s our lima bean/but as you can see/she is Anna Keen! Dunt dunt duh! 

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Y’all, I officially have the coolest 21-year-old sister on the planet. I can’t imagine life without her.

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Anna, I hope you have a spectacular day and a wonderful year. Let’s drink responsibility when I get home! 


Parental Programming

My siblings and I have long been firm believers in the theory that if a parent walks in the room, whatever you are watching on the TV will suddenly take a turn for the worse. As children watching PBS programming, we would enjoy a show for weeks without the slightest qualms, but the moment our Mom watched the show with us, there would be an episode full of dark magic and death. She would then ban us from watching the show, and we would feel justifiably wronged. 

As we have gotten older, this problem has persisted. Perfectly clean movies will suddenly get sketchy when Mom comes home. It doesn’t matter if we are watching DramaFever, Netflix, or a movie from the library. Something gets inappropriate the minute she walks in. 

Last night my sisters and I started a new Korean drama while my Mom was out. Bethany insisted that we watch only until Mom got home, because the minute she entered the house it would get weird. I laughed at her superstition. She grew more frantic. The drama was upbeat, bubbly, and extremely funny. I told her there was no reason to worry. Our Mom came home and walked in the room…and out of NOWHERE a creepy, evil guy kidnaps a girl and chains her to a bed in his basement. I kid you not. 

Murphy’s Law isn’t quite the phrase for this, but there must be one like it. Something like, The Parental Programming Law: no matter what you are watching, it will get inappropriate the minute your parent walks in the room. 


Sibling’s Day!

Many years ago, my 4 siblings and I came to a hard realization: there were no holidays between August and Christmas. (Apparently we forgot about Thanksgiving and my Mom’s birthday…but neither of those events involved us getting presents, so it is excusable.) To remedy this, we decided to celebrate a Sibling’s Day on October 10th and give presents to one another. 

Now, Sibling’s Day is an actual holiday on April 10th, but we didn’t know it at the time and I don’t think it would have altered our purpose any if we had. We needed something to celebrate between Elijah’s birthday and Christmas. So Sibling’s Day was created! 

It has been over a decade since we first started exchanging gifts, but it is a tradition we still hold to. This year we have the joy of adding a sibling…our new sister-in-law Amber!  Though busy schedules means we can’t always be together on this day, October 10th remains a wonderful reminder of how fortunate I am to have such great brothers and sisters. I love you all! (And I can’t wait to exchange presents! 😉 ) 


Never Forget: Remembering 9/11/01

I’ve never tried re-blogging something before, so we’ll see how this goes.
This is the first year freshmen in high school are learning about 9/11 as a historical event, not something they lived through. 5 years ago today, two friends and I sat down and tried to express our memories of 9/11. We were young (both when it happened and when we wrote this.) However, the echo of that day shaped who we were and who we became. I want to keep alive a little bit of our memories if only to make sure I don’t forget. 

Out of the Air

They say you will never forget where you were on September 11, 2001. The date will go down in history as a tragedy to rank alongside the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the sinking of the Lusitania, or, most comparably, the attack on Pearl Harbor. Events and tragedies that shook our nation and forever changed the way we look at our world.

That is what this day means to us.

AMY – I was doing math when Mom came running down the basement stairs on the phone. I even remember the table I was sitting at. She turned on the TV, flipped through the channels. Arthur was on. I wanted to watch Arthur. Instead we watched the news, as the image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Centers played over and over again.

I didn’t know what the World Trade Centers were. I certainly was too young to…

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