Member Monday: The Airball Queen by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature an essay by Alicia McCauley. Alicia is a teacher, a writer and the President of Vigilante Kindness. Her essay, The Airball Queen, was recently published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible. Welcome, Alicia.

The Airball Queen

by Alicia McCauley

Friday afternoon was our school-wide reading program finale in the gymnasium.  The finale was a series of races and games.  There were jump rope relays, basketball relays, soccer relays, minute to win it games, hula hoop contests, scoot board races and a host of other challenges for my first graders to participate in.   There were times when I was doubled over, laughing so hard that I was crying because of balls escaping, jump ropes tangling, and all my first graders clapping and cheering each other on with abandon.

One of the harder games was a basketball shooting game.  Each kid stood at a line taped in the middle of the key and shot five baskets.  This was a supremely hard task for first graders.  That basket might as well have been in the clouds.  One of my darling little girls-a teeny, tiny breath of a kid-was chosen for this game.  

She was an adorable kid with curls of hair that bounced each morning when she would run to me and wrap her arms around my leg in a hug.  When she got excited about something, her blue eyes opened wide and she flapped her arms.  I’d seen her do this when reading her favorite books, when mastering particularly difficult math problems, when playing at recess and especially when she painted.

She stood at the line, basketball in hand, with a serious expression screwed on her face.  She shot.  Airball.  She scrunched up her face in concentration and shot again.  Airball.  Her third and fourth shots arched through the air and again fell short.  

I bet you’re thinking this is one of those stories where she made the fifth and final shot and ran a victory lap around the gymnasium filled with kids who chanted her name and hoisted her up on their shoulders.

It isn’t that kind of story.

Not one of her five shots even came close to grazing the net.  

Not a single one.

Back in the classroom after the conclusion of the reading program finale, we’d gathered at the carpet to talk about all the fun we had competing and cheering each other on.

My tiny airballer raised her hand to share, “Mrs. McCauley, I was nervous about that basketball game because I’d never played it before.”

She paused and I’d waited, scripting in my mind words of encouragement or some sage advice about perseverance or something, anything to ease the sting of all those airballs.

She continued, the pitch of her voice rose to an exuberant squeal, her arms flapped in wild excitement, “I was nervous at first, but then I played the game and I was AWESOME at it!!!”

Wait, what?  

She explained, “I’d never thrown a ball that high before.  I threw it really high five times.”  She held up five proud fingers. 

My face broke into a huge grin, mirroring the smile on her own precious face.

How silly I was for thinking I needed to pepper her with my “sage advice”.  As is so often the case, I found myself marveling at the unconventional wisdom of my students. 

I can be so hard on myself when it comes to trying new things, so fearful and bound in nerves, so unwilling to try lest I fail, or, worse yet, lest I fail in public.

The next time I’m facing a new challenge, I’m going to remember her face, scrunched up by every ounce of concentration.  I’m going to remember her candor in admitting she was nervous and afraid.  But most of all I’m going to remember her wild, flapping arms and the triumph on her face for throwing the basketball higher than she ever had before.

She didn’t make any baskets that day, and for that I’m grateful because if she had, I would’ve missed the lesson.  She didn’t score any points, but one thing is for sure, my itty-bitty airball queen was a winner.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: An Excerpt from Checked Out by Sharon St. George

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature an abridged excerpt from chapter 1 of Checked Out, book 2 in the Aimee Machado Mystery Series by author Sharon St. George. Sharon is a charter member of Writers Forum and serves as the Writers Forum Program Chair. Here’s a little more about Sharon.

Abridged_excerpt_from_Chapter_1_of_CHECKED_OUT 2Abridged_excerpt_from_Chapter_1_of_CHECKED_OUTSharon Owen, writing as Sharon St. George, is currently working on SPINE DAMAGE, the fourth book in her Aimee Machado Mystery series published by Camel Press. Owen is a charter member and current program director of Writers Forum. She is also a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Visit Sharon at or on Facebook at

An excerpt from Checked Out

by Sharon St. George

In order to carry on a confidential conversation, Aimee Machado, hospital librarian, and her colleague, medical staff director Cleo Cominoli, meet at a diner near the hospital where they work.

“Looks good.” I nodded at the steaming bowl Cleo placed on the table. “What is it?”

“The special. Meatball soup with kidney beans.”

“Okay, enough small talk. What’s up?”

Cleo sucked in a deep breath and blew it out on her soup.

“Sig is scheduled for prostate surgery with Dr. Poole.”

“How did that happen?”

“He didn’t ask me. His family doctor referred him to Poole, so it was a done deal when Sig finally told me.”

“Does Poole know Sig’s your fiancé?”

“ ’Fraid so. Of course she’ll blame me if he tries to back out.”

“Then what are you going to do?

“I don’t know yet, but we’ll have to act before Sig’s surgery date.”


“Please, Aimee. Siggy’s loud and bald and fluffy, but I love him to pieces and we have a great sex life. You’ve got to help me. We can’t let Dr. Poole turn him into a eunuch.”

“You can’t be serious. Poole is aloof and intimidating, but that doesn’t mean she’s castrating male patients just for the heck of it.”

“Doesn’t it?” Cleo scooped a meatball into her spoon, stared at it, then dropped it back into the deep crimson broth in her bowl. She looked a little green.

“When is Sig scheduled?”

“Two and a half weeks from now.”

“Have you tried to talk him out of it?”

“Yes, but Sig’s convinced he’s going to die if she doesn’t operate.”

Cleo’s reaction was so extreme there had to be something she wasn’t telling me. She facilitated every one of TMC’s peer review committee meetings. All of their findings and corrective actions were kept in padlocked file cabinets in her office. She also kept confidences brought to her outside committee by nurses who observed suspicious behavior both on the patient floors and in the operating room.

“Do you know something about Poole that you’re not telling me?”

“Nothing I can confirm, but when a patient leaves the hospital against medical advice the night before his surgery, it raises an enormous red flag. There was an incident several years ago at the last hospital where I worked. One of the surgeons was performing unnecessary surgeries, and eventually the OR nurses got suspicious. Word got out to the rest of the nursing staff, and one of the floor nurses started warning the surgeon’s patients away. After a third patient checked out against medical advice the night before surgery, that nurse was exposed and fired.”

“What about the surgeon? What happened to him?”

“Nothing. He’s still there performing surgeries on other unsuspecting patients. That’s why I turned in my resignation and move here, three states away.”

“Are you saying you think someone warned Cody O’Brien away from Dr. Poole?”

“Why else would he bolt at the last minute?”

“Then you should tell Sig to get a second opinion, even if he has to go out of town.”

“If I can convince him to do that and he does decide to back out, I’m afraid he’ll end up like Cody O’Brien.”

“Cody O’Brien was killed by a horse. Sig’s not a cowboy, he’s a dentist.”

Cleo sniffed and said softly, “How do we know Cody was killed by a horse? All I heard is that he was found unconscious in the trailer with his horse. There was a contusion on his forehead consistent with a kick from a horse’s hoof.”

“Sounds pretty straightforward. Is the sheriff’s office investigating the incident?”

“No, and that’s what bothers me. They won’t investigate unless the coroner’s report shows something suspicious. In the meantime, I thought you and I could do some checking—on the quiet. We can’t go through hospital channels.”

“What kind of checking?” I said.

“Checking up on Dr. Poole. You were hired because you’re a forensic librarian. Use your skills.”

“But I’m not a forensic librarian. I’m a health sciences librarian, and part of my job is building a forensic component for the TMC library. That doesn’t make me a detective.”

“Some of that forensic know-how must have rubbed off. I’ll bet you know more than you realize about how to investigate a murder.”

“Cleo, you can’t believe Dr. Poole is going around killing patients who change their minds about surgery?”

Before Cleo could reply, Margie bustled over to our table. “Hello, ladies. Just dropping off our flyer. Friday night’s entertainment is Code Blues.”

She was referring to a blues combo made up of musicians affiliated with Timbergate Medical Center. I glanced at the flyer and noticed Laurie Popejoy’s name crossed out. I asked Margie what that was about.

“Rumor has it Laurie Popejoy can’t be in the combo now that she’s not employed by the hospital.” That was news to me. I shot a look at Cleo.

“I was getting to that,” she said.

Margie continued her update. “They already have a new gal they found right under their noses.”

“Who is she?” Cleo said.

Margie frowned. “Let’s see … I think her name is Dr. Phyllis Poole.”

As soon as Margie was out of earshot, Cleo grabbed my arm. “Can you believe that? Poole in Code Blues?”

“No, but let’s get back to Laurie Popejoy. What’s going on with her?”

“I was about to tell you that Laurie was Cody O’Brien’s floor nurse last night. He checked himself out against medical advice at the end of her shift. She called in her resignation first thing this morning.”

“What does all of this have to do with Cody O’Brien’s death? Are you thinking Laurie Popejoy said something that made O’Brien skip out on his surgery?”

“He skipped out and ended up dead. Laurie resigned immediately. The timing is too suspicious to dismiss as coincidence. I don’t like it one bit, and I won’t rest until I know whether Phyllis Poole’s involved.”

“Come on, Cleo, don’t you think you’re overreacting because of what happened at that other hospital?”

“Maybe, but we don’t know what lengths Poole’s capable of when it comes to protecting her reputation and keeping her medical license. Meanwhile, she’s not getting her hands on Siggy, whether you help me or not.”

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: An Excerpt from Argentine Assignment by Chloe Winston

Welcome back to Member Monday. Today we feature an excerpt from Argentine Assignment, Chloe Winston’s latest book. Here’s a little more about Chloe.

Chloe Ryan Winston 001Chloe Ryan Winston was born on a ranch in eastern Oregon, graduated from Marylhurst University, and earned a master’s degree at Idaho State University.  She lived in Ashland, Oregon, which is featured in her writing, as well as Mexico, and has traveled extensively to fifty-eight countries.  Ms. Winston has contributed to several blogs, and as a travel writer to publications including The Los Angeles Times, International Travel News, and Mature Lifestyles.  She has been a cruise destination lecturer as well as a high school teacher, counselor, and administrator. Chloe will be signing copies of Argentine Assignment at Barnes and Noble on October 24 at 1 p.m.

An Excerpt from Argentine Assignment

by Chloe Winston

The plane’s engines were already rumbling as we scrambled up the narrow, wobbling steps as though the devil himself could have been right on our heels.  I didn’t dare look back.  I whispered, “Knee, don’t fail me now!”  It wouldn’t do for that old sledding accident to kick up a fuss.

A dim light at the top told me the door was ajar, perhaps we could squeeze through that opening. Was it left open for us? Who was on the other side? Were we leaving the frying pan for a fire?  I tripped, my dicey knee buckling a little, and I grabbed the skinny rail to keep from falling.  One of my fingernails ripped.  A brisk gust of wind tore the scarf off my head.  I glanced down. 

The curly girlish wig that I’d put on Jaime’s head was now askew. I yanked one reluctant hand off the rail to reach over and straighten it.  I wanted him to look like a girl until I found out what was going to happen after we boarded the plane. And perhaps should keep him looking like a girl until I handed him over to Derry in Mexico.

My hurried movement threw us both off balance for a moment.  I feared we would fall, and I took a quick breath. Just a few more steps. The door opened a fraction wider, showing a slender hand extended to us.  I shoved the boy inside just as the airplane’s engine strummed more deeply in an initial readying for takeoff.  As I shoved him, I again lost my footing, falling to my knees. A painful slip.  Our helper giggled—a strange reaction I thought, but at least a friendly sound. We probably did look funny…entering a plane this way rather than the more usual collapsing corridor.  I got to my feet, losing sight of Jaime for a moment. Then the attendant slammed the door behind me, swinging the lock into place.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!

Member Monday: Kijumi is Coming by Alicia McCauley

Welcome back to Member Monday! Today we feature a piece written by member Alicia McCauley during her recent return trip to Uganda. Alicia is the founder and President of Vigilante Kindness, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing education and employment opportunities for students and villages in developing countries. On Saturday, October 17th from 4:30 pm-6:00 pm Alicia will be speaking in the Redding Library Community Room about her most recent trip to Uganda. This event is free and open to the public. Welcome back, Alicia.

Kijumi is Coming

by  Alicia McCauley

I woke this morning to the welcome voice of thunder and the syncopation of rain. I drew back my curtain and breathed in the relief. It hasn’t rained in Gulu in a month and a half, leaving everything and everyone parched and jacketed in ruddy, red dust.

I threw on some clothes-okay, I really just yanked a skirt up under the nightshirt I’d peeled off and thrown on the floor. I didn’t bother with shoes or anything else. I grabbed my camera and iPad. I tiptoed to my mom’s room to see if she was awake to watch the storm with me, but the crack under her door was dark. So with my camera and iPad in hand, I scrambled back down the hall to the balcony outside of my room. The sun wasn’t up yet and I knew I was in for a spectacular lightning show across the dark sky. I sat on the balcony writing and snapping photos.

The storm was behind me, so I didn’t see the fingers of lightning pointing from the sky and touching the ground. Instead the whole of the sky would go from pitch black to electric pinks and yellows all at once, like a camera flash to the face. As my retinas recovered from each flash, I’d count the seconds between the turbulent thunder and the blinding flashes of lightning, counting the miles separating me from the storm, just like I do with my students at home when a thunderstorm rumbles in. To my delight, the increments quickly shrunk from five seconds to one second and then the thunder and lightning were stacked on top of each other, a thrilling assault on the senses.

Not to be outdone by the thunder and lightning, the wind rushed in as well, a welcome reprieve from the stifling, still humidity. The wind whipped at my skirt and splashed my bare feet with rain. My balcony overlooks the once grand Pece stadium and I watched the field puddle.

During my first two nights in Gulu, sleeping was a near impossibility. My jetlagged body struggled to adapt to the correct clock and to the humidity that always sucks the life out of me at the beginning of my trip. At night I’d lay naked under my mosquito net, not the sexy kind of naked, the ugly, sweaty “peel everything off to survive” kind of naked. Mosquitoes buzzed around my net and I laid there sweltering.

I could only imagine what the last month and a half in Gulu had been like. I’ve seen the parched, brown crops and can imagine the utterings from cracked lips praying for rain in this unexpected dry season.

The morning of the storm, I watched the sun peek her pink face from behind the clouds as the spaces between the thunder and lightning counted back up to six, then seven, then ten miles away until the storm held its breath altogether. The soccer field drank the puddles and they vanished almost as quickly as they’d formed. Just when I thought the storm was through, a fresh slashing of rain fell, and a second helping of thunder and lightning filled the sky until the ground was sodden and swollen with rain.

Later that morning, I sat downstairs talking with an old musee. He taught me the Luo name for thunderstorm (mwoc pa-kot) and the Luo names for different kinds of rain. There’s ngito, meaning a drizzle. There’s kot paminilemu, an unexpected rain. But my favorite kind of rain is kijumi, a long, hard rain.

The musee talked about the parched crops and how this mwoc pa-kot and kot paminilemu vanquished his worries of famine.


And here I was complaining about the heat because it made it hard to sleep.

Fear of famine had never even crossed my mind. I’ve never known the worrying pangs of impending famine.

While I’ve not known physical famine, I have known the feeling of famine in my spirit, the ugly nakedness of feeling bereft. I know about waiting and praying with dry, cracked lips for some relief, any relief to fall from Heaven. I also know the reprieve of rain and the joy of hearing the cool whisperings of God blow into my life.

Friends, some of you are impossibly parched right now, famished down to brittle bones, praying desperate prayers from cracked, dry lips. I don’t have any pretty, pious words for you, but I prayed for you today during the kot paminilemu, prayed that you’d be absolutely sodden with a first and second helping of refreshing rain. Hold tight, dear ones, in the midst of your dry season, keep looking to the sky.

Your kijumi is coming.

A Note from the Webmaster: If you’re a Writers Forum member in good standing and would like to be featured on Member Monday, please send your submission to Submissions should be 75-750 words, appropriate for all ages and error free. Please include a short bio, a headshot and any related links. The author retains all rights and gives permission to Writers Forum to publish their submission on the website and/or in the newsletter. Thank you!