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Recognizing how common it is for crafters to start many projects and finish few, a group of women join together to form a guild-Unfinished Projects Anonymous-to keep each other on track and accountable. Three of the friends are tasked with the job of home visits for their guild. Laughingly called “the Cartel,” they snoop around craft rooms and knitting baskets to report on progress for the members. They even expand their mission to include checking on half-trained dogs and half-weeded gardens.
As life unexpectedly changes for one of the members, this ensemble of women in bestselling author Lauraine Snelling’s new novel discovers that much of life is half-finished-projects, friendships, the raising of children, even our very relationship with the Lord. And that may be perfectly fine.
This is it. I can't stand this any longer."
Phone to her ear, Mari Jean, better known as MJ, stared at her craft room and rubbed her head where the plastic tub from the top shelf had slid off and smacked her on the way down. "I just can't." The contents of said bin were scattered all over the floor, skeins of yarn and the extra knitting needles. So that was where they had been. No wonder she'd not found them on the last go-through.
"Come on, you've got all that lovely space and storage galore, just start another bin and put it on the shelf." Her best friend, Roxie, chuckled in her ear. "I mean, one more project, perhaps you'll get this one done. After all, you have a deadline this time."
"Since when has a deadline made any difference? I can manufacture more excuses than Walgreens has pills."
"Not surprising. We are highly creative women."
MJ scraped the fingers of her right hand through her newly shorn hair. She always had it cut shorter in the spring just because she hated wasting time messing with her hair during the gardening season. After all, Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, definitely had four seasons, and one especially dripped with humidity, therefore wash-and-wear hair. And no time to complete the abundance of started things. How often had she promised herself she would not start anything new until she had completed at least one of those on the shelves Daryl had built for her? This room, more than any other in their house, showed off his skills as not only a carpenter but a master finish carpenter/cabinet/furniture maker. She brought herself back to the phone conversation.
"What did you say?"
"I said, I heard about what they call a UFO group."
"UFO? Sorry, I'm not into the unknown ga-ga stuff. I didn't know you were either."
"No-o, loony. Unfinished objects. You know, like all the started but not done projects of all kinds. I'm afraid to add up all I have, and you? Why, you would be the winner in any contest."
"Thanks." MJ stared at the upper shelf running around the room about eighteen inches below the ceiling. The shelf that was crammed with plastic bins and containers of all sizes, from shoebox to twenty-quart. Some holding one project, others filled with who knew how many. Knitting, crocheting, attempts at Hardanger, tatting, hand weaving, cards, cross-stitch, fabric painting, quilting, rug making, embroidery, ribbon embroidery, and probably others she couldn't remember. Some of the bins had been through three moves over the years. And now one of them was scattered around her feet.
"A UFO group?" MJ frowned to herself.
"Yes. We'd invite all those we know are in this situation, get together once a month to work on whichever project we choose, potluck lunch if we want, or however…" Roxie paused. "But the clincher is—we agree to not start any new things until we finish all we have."
MJ shook her head. "Sorry, can't agree to that last line. I've got presents to make and—"
"And none of those things in all those bins could be used as gifts?"
Ignoring that last bit of advice, MJ pondered the idea. "You think anyone else would be interested?"
"Who knows? We could talk it up and see what happens. Think about it. We could take turns where we meet or whatever the group decides." Roxie had the gift of getting excited about something and then getting others excited.
"How about we talk about it tomorrow when walking? Looper did not get his morning walk, and he's giving me the mean mother look." She looked down at the sighing basset at her feet. Daryl had said that when he retired, he would walk Looper every evening if she walked him in the morning. Yesterday they both forgot, or put it off due to laziness.
"We could still walk today," Roxie suggested. "I desperately need a latte fix."
"I was going to tie up the daffodil greens today."
"You need a latte fix too—you know you do. Five minutes."
Looper's long red ears perked up, and the white tip of his tail thumped on the hardwood floor.
MJ had just finished adjusting Looper's harness when she heard Roxie's call from the sidewalk. "Come on, boy, just remember, no jerking me to a stop today so you can read the mail. I need to walk fast to get the old heart rate up. Remember, Anne has treats." At that magic word, Looper picked up his feet and, tail wagging, greeted his walking buddy, Sir Charles, on the sidewalk. Sir Charles, also a rescue but multimix, greeted Looper in the usual doggy way before the four could start down the sidewalk in their usual route, which included Annie's Fountain City Cafe for drinks, lattes for the ladies, and a big bowl holding fresh water for the four-footed customers plus homemade doggy treats.
As she joined Roxie, MJ pointed at the woman's feet. "You're wearing your opera pink shoes. Celebrating?" Roxie changed shoe color according to her moods.
"Just needed a pick-me-up." She rocked one foot back on the heel to study the walking shoe. "Someday I am going to wear one pink and one chartreuse, just to confuse people."
MJ snickered. "It would. You with your shoes and Amalia with her hats. People are going to start calling us the bat-crazy old ladies. And that your hair matches Sir Charles might cause comments."
Roxie leaned over and fluffed the sort-of-maybe-a-spaniel's ears. "They can call us both redheads." She huffed out a breath when she stood up. "At least I don't have to pay to have his colored."
"True." MJ lifted a strand of silvering blond. "I refuse to color mine and Daryl agrees. The kids keep saying, 'Mom, color your hair so you don't look so old. You're retired now, but you don't have to look like it.'"
Roxie snickered. "My Loren knows better than to make comments like that. She might end up out on her ear." Roxie's daughter, Loren, still lived at home with her mother, but always dreamed of meeting her mate and living happily ever after. Somehow working at the library did not offer many dating opportunities. "So how is retirement going anyway?"
"I don't know. At first it was wonderful. Pure freedom. Now, not so much. Roxie, I supervised fifty-seven people. Now I supervise a basset that is a master at selective listening."
"I can think of a dozen volunteer organizations that need strong leadership. Take your pick."
"I could, but Daryl says, and I kind of agree, that I'm pretty forceful to be doing a volunteer gig. I tend to order people around, not cooperate with them. You had to do that to get stuff moving in the warehouse. Looper, for the love of Pete's sake, find another bush to stick your nose into. That one is sufficiently sniffed." She gave a tug to coax the lackadaisical basset into moving.
"So, did you think more about my idea?" Roxie asked as they picked up the pace.
"The UFO thing? You got to admit, I've not had much time for that." Visions of the yarn still on the floor made her shake her head. "How do you propose getting out info about this rather strange idea of yours?"
"Well, I thought of flyers at the senior center, the Knitting Room, possibly churches, maybe the library on the community board, Mona's Quilting, you know, all the regular places."
"If it gets too big, we won't be able to meet in homes."
"True. I'm dreaming of maybe eight to ten regulars and perhaps some that come and go."
MJ jerked to a stop and looked behind. Sure enough, Looper had found something he could not ignore, unlike the slight jerks on his leash. Sir Charles sniffed around and sat down on the sidewalk. He had learned how to wait for his walking buddy. "Looper, drop it." She twitched the leash. "Drop it." Looper glanced at her and opened his mouth to drop a child's lime green shoe.
Roxie picked it up. "Oh my. A small child's Croc."
MJ wagged her head. "I'll bet some little girl in a car seat is learning how to throw things out of a moving car."
"Or else her mother put it on the roof of the car to unlock it and forgot." Roxie carefully set it on the curb in an open spot, where it was easily seen.
MJ snickered. "You and your shoes; that must really stab your heart."
"At least it's not a dead mouse. That's happened."
They continued, Looper leading the way.
* * *
They paused at one yard where the daffodils were nearly done but the tulips were about to bloom. "Their yard is always so lovely." Roxie heaved a sigh. "You never see a mole or gopher."
"Or a weed." The two sighed together. A perfect yard like that would be nice but their husbands were not into gardening like Barb's husband, who could teach Yard and Garden 101. As could Barb. On top of that, she never had UFOs. Everything that was started got finished within a reasonable time frame.
"You two want to come in for tea?" Barb called from the front porch.
"Thanks for the invite," Roxie called back, "but our four-footers need their walk. If we stop now, we'll never get it done."
"Let's plan on it." With Looper tugging on his leash and Sir Charles pulling in the other direction with his nose to the ground, the two ordered their buddies onward.
"Thank you," MJ muttered. Going in Barb's immaculate house always made her little gremlins of jealousy peek out.
"How come I got left behind the door when God was handing out doses of perfectionism? I don't want it to the degree of Barb there, but a ticket to pull up when I need it would sure be helpful." MJ deliberately dropped her shoulders from her earlobes. Somehow talking with Mrs. Perfection always did that to her. They picked up the pace after the next cross street in spite of their four-footed companions, who tried to insist on sniffing every smell that came their way
"Come on, you two, I'm thirsty." Roxie tugged on Sir Charles's leash, and for that block, they made good time. "You seen Amalia lately?"
"Saw her ride by this morning in a new blue-and-white boater hat, so yes, but talked with her, no."
"Maybe she'll be at Annie's."
"My mouth is watering for a ginger cookie. Gary makes the best. You know I tried to talk him out of the recipe but no such luck." MJ paused as Looper found yet another enticing aroma.
"I'm counting on lemon bars." They crossed at the stoplight and turned right on the other side. We're not going all around our route today?"
"I not only need a latte, I need the restroom." They looped the leashes over hooks in the low windowsill of Annie's Cafe. She not only provided a lovely place for the dogs to wait, but also kept fresh water in a steel bowl. The maple tree on the corner of the shop gave them shade. Maybe that was a major reason MJ so enjoyed this town. Everyone here seemed to have a heart for pets.
They pushed open the door, to be greeted by the perfume of something yummy just coming from the oven.
"Good morning, ladies," Anne called from behind the counter. "Your usual?"
"Yes, but what smells so good?" Roxie asked.
"Fresh sticky buns."
MJ made her stop at the ladies' room and joined Roxie. They looked at the Plexiglas display of baked goods on the counter. "No ginger cookies?"
"Sorry, the baker took the night off."
MJ snorted. "The nerve. Then I guess I will have to sacrifice and have one of the sticky buns. I swear you must have an exhaust fan that blows your yummy smells out to the street. When you bake bread…" She wagged her head, eyes closed. "Mmmm-hmmmm."
"I know, compliments of my dad." Annie set the two lattes on the counter. "You said two of each of these?" Her grin made the two women shake their heads.
"Yes, two, one for each of us. Not two each."
"Oh, sorry." Anne's grin came from teasing her good friends.
"Yeah, right." They carried their cups and plates to one of the round wrought iron tables next to the wall decorated with a big painting, done by a local artist. After Anne had waited on another customer, Roxie waved her over. "Got an idea we need to discuss with you."
Anne brought her coffee and pulled out another chair. "What's up?"
"You have any idea how many UFOs you have at your house?"
"UFOs?" Anne moved her head to give them a sideways, you-gotta-be-kidding look. "UFOs are out in New Mexico."
"Not that kind. UFOs—unfinished objects. As in projects, stored at home."
"You expect me to keep count?"
"Nope," Roxie explained, "that's the point. We propose a group that meets once a month to work on UFOs. That way we'll get more done. Working together is always more fun than alone."
"Hmmm." Anne stared from one friend to the other, then gestured around at the café. "This is rather a major one, wouldn't you say?"
"Well, we weren't talking about something like this."
"Where are you going to have it?"
Roxie shrugged. "Haven't gotten that far. But the article I read said that in their group, everyone had to agree to not start any new projects until they finish all their UFOs."
"All?" Anne wore the same horrified look MJ had.
MJ added, "Yeah, I'm with you. I'd never get to start something new in this lifetime. I must admit I'm warming up to the idea, though."
Roxie went on, "But this would be our group and we can set our own guidelines, so that's negotiable."
"You could meet here in the back room." Anne nodded over her shoulder to the comfortable meeting/game/general-purpose room in the back. "You thinking daytime, or evening?"
MJ wagged her head. "Daryl doesn't like me being gone in the evening."
"Why not invite him to come too? He's got plenty of UFOs out in that workshop of his."
"Open the group to men too?" MJ stared at her.
"Well, why not?"
"Hard to move a boat into the back room here."
"He's got smaller projects, I'm sure."
MJ thought about that. Daryl had started building a stitch-and-glue open kayak earlier in the winter. His dream of having it in the water this summer was in dire difficulty, even if he worked all day every day and part of the nights. And yes, he had a shop full of ideas that he had started. They could both come in the evening. "I think I'll offer a contest—whoever gets the closest guess to the number of projects in my sewing/craft room gets one to finish." MJ shook her head at their chuckles. "It's hopeless, I tell you."
"How many tables can you set up back there?" Roxie asked.
"Possibly two eight-footers," Anne replied. "I'm warming up to this idea too. You put together a poster and we can tack it up on the bulletin board. Start with an organizational meeting?" Anne pushed her chair back when the bell tinkled over the door. "I'd say the sooner the better."
"Hold the first meeting here? See how many we get?"
"Sure. We can seat more without the tables." Anne hustled off.
While Anne greeted the new customer and took her order, MJ dug her calendar out of her always-present belt bag. "I'll bet Maureen would love for us to meet at the yarn shop too. She has a lot more space."
"All depends on how many people show up," Roxie replied. "I'll go home and do a mockup on the laptop. I'd say get started meeting in May, on a Monday night at seven." She pointed to Wednesday, April twenty-sixth. "At this organizational meeting we can vote on day and time, but locking in one day each month is easier to remember. That gives us two weeks."
"Okay, April twenty-sixth, seven p.m., here at Annie's. You might add, bring a friend. I'll try to bring Daryl."
"Headline needs to be, YOU GOT ANY UFOS AT YOUR HOUSE? in a big font. JOIN US… and the time, place, etc. You want your phone number or mine?"
"Sounds good. I'll find a graphic or two."
They paid their checks, thanked Anne for the dog treats she'd baked in-house, waved at another table of women, and headed for the door, only to veer around as if joined at the hips and stop to talk to the other two.
"What are you cooking up now?" Paula asked.
"What makes you ask that?"
"I know you two. You have that look about you." Paula nudged the other woman. "You know, Gail?"
The greetings taken care of, Roxie jumped in. "We have the best idea."
"See, I told you."
As Roxie described their idea, MJ was getting more and more pumped herself. "And so we are making a flyer to put around as an invite."
"UFO party." Paula looked dubious.
"Well, not a party but a group. You know how much more fun doing things together is."
Paula shrugged. "I do my knitting or crocheting in front of the TV when George is watching sports, so that technically, I am with him."
"Me too. Knitting bag is right by my chair, but…" Roxie shook her head, making one curl flop over her forehead. "So put April twenty-sixth on your calendar. We're meeting right here." She pointed to the social room. "You can bring something to work on if you want, but this is for organizational purposes."
Both women nodded. "I will be there. If I got my storage spaces cleared, I would near to faint."
Gail grinned. "Your hubby might too."
"I know, Mr. Organized."
MJ and Roxie waved good-bye and headed for the door again. Their furry-faced friends sat up immediately, tails wagging.
"Yes, we're going home." Both dogs got to their feet, whimpering and dancing, to head out. They nosed for their doggy treats, well versed in the drill, and crunched away, tails wagging all the while.
While on the way there, they'd checked out every smell, so now they pulled against their leads, heading for home.
"I'll call Amalia as soon as I get in. Looper, slower." MJ yanked.
"You could have used your cell."
"I know, but it and I are on a sabbatical. I left it home for that very reason."
"But what if Daryl tried to call?" Roxie snorted.
"Then he might have heard it ringing if he was in the kitchen. I hate being tied to that thing."
"My friend," Roxie said with exaggerated patience, "you've got to come into this century. Tech is here to stay and will only grow." They waited for the light, then strode across.
"We should have gone the other way to get our mile and a half in."
"Yeah, well, we didn't, so sue me. Make sure your computer is turned on, because as soon as I get a rough draft, I'll fire it over to you. You can edit it on the screen or print it out."
MJ rolled her eyes. Roxie was determined to make her use the computer. She knew how but she and it had a love-hate relationship. When it worked right, it was great. When it didn't, she threatened it with a baseball bat. One never knew what kind of mood the thing was in.
Roxie dragged on Sir Charles's leash. "We can each take a handful later this afternoon and post them in the places we discussed. Make sure you have pushpins along."
"You'll have it done by then?"
"MJ, this isn't a book we're writing, but a one-sheet poster. I think I'll make it eleven by fourteen. Bigger will attract more attention. I'll make it plenty bright."
"I need another latte."
Looks pretty good." Amalia nodded, setting the blue ribbon on her straw hat to bobbing. Leave it to Roxie and MJ to come up with an idea like this. UFO group. Not that she had so many UFOs since she'd sold her home and moved into the senior apartments in what used to be the Tilden School. The school her children had attended. Seemed strange at times for it to be housing seniors now. But she was plenty comfortable there. Besides, quite a few of her friends lived there now too.
She turned to a woman she knew from church who had also stopped to read the poster on the library's bulletin board. "You have any unfinished projects?"
"Do birds eat seeds? I do have a quilter friend, however, who has none. A big zero. She doesn't even have a stash. Uses her fabrics up and then buys new for the next quilt. You'd think that would be illegal, you know."
"Or she's lying."
"I think so, got to check my calendar. You?"
Amalia nodded again. "Oh, yeah, MJ and Roxie'd have my head if I didn't show up. Besides, maybe Gary will have his ginger cookies there. Tried to talk him out of the recipe but he wouldn't budge. Says he has a secret ingredient."
"Well, I better get my books and head on home. My husband gave me a list to pick up for him too. See you there."
Amalia watched her friend as she disappeared in the stacks. She sure wasn't walking as well since that minor stroke she had. Pity. Just the thought caused a thank-you to raise heavenward that she could still ride her bike and walk as far as she needed to. A hip replacement had freed her from the worst pain anyway. She went on over to the desk to pick up the two books she had put on order, checked them out, waved to another friend sitting over by the window reading, and headed out to where she had parked her blue three-wheeled bike with both front and rear baskets. This was her main mode of transportation, other than public, since she'd moved smack-dab in the middle of Fond du Lac. Much easier than when she'd lived a couple of miles out in the country.
Digging her cell phone out of her rear jeans pocket, she punched Roxie's number. "Looks good," she said after the usual greetings. "Where all did you post them?" She nodded as Roxie caught her up. "You got any more? I'll put one up at the apartments. No, on my way home right now. I'll swing by and pick it up."
"You got time for tea?" Roxie asked at the door.
"Can I take a rain check? Made a big pot of chicken soup and need to deliver it to a couple of places. That flu has been hard on our residents. You hear that old Mrs. Goldson passed away from it a couple of days ago? Funeral is next week."
Roxie frowned in thought. "She was in her nineties, right?"
"Ninety-three to be exact. Seemed healthy as a horse." Amalia took the poster. "If you've got enough, why don't you give me another? I'll put up one at the garden store too. Got to stop there anyway."
"I can always print more. Thanks. See you at Annie's for coffee tomorrow morning? Usual time?"
Amalia nodded. "You back to regular walking?"
"Working on it."
Amalia leaned over to scratch Sir Charles behind his ears. "Such a good dog. Okay, see you in the a.m."
After posting one flyer at the garden store, she pedaled on home, parked her bike in the rack, and gathered up her packages. She pushpinned the poster up on the bulletin board in the entrance. Someone must have recently removed all the out-of-date ones since there was room for this one. She noticed a card about a cat needing a home. Darn, Ima Goldson's old cat, Jehoshaphat, needed a home. Got to think on that, she said to herself. She had assumed Ima's daughter would take the grumpy critter home to her house. For some strange reason, Jehoshaphat liked Amalia, one of the few people he tolerated, in fact. But did she want to be tied down again? Not that she planned on being gone for any length of time, but…
The fragrance of chicken soup greeted her as she opened her door. Which reminded her why she was hesitant about taking in Jehoshaphat. The odor of a litter box. All the ads claimed the newfangled ones had no odor, but while her sight wasn't as good as it used to be, her sense of smell made up for it. Hauling cat litter around on her bike might cause a bit of a problem. Of course, with Amazon, she could have both litter and cat food delivered right to her door. Was she trying to talk herself into or out of being owned by a cat?
The Crock-Pot fragranced the house anyway. She dug out plastic containers, most of which had had an earlier life containing cottage cheese or sour cream. Her Norwegian mother referred to them as Norwegian Tupperware. She had most assuredly passed on her frugal ways. This way no recipients felt obligated to return the containers. Once the four were filled, she had enough left for only two or three meals for herself. Perfect. She sealed them, then wrote instructions on the lid of the one for old Mr. Green. Usually she brought his down on a tray, ready to eat instantly. But with instructions, he could manage his microwave. She sliced and buttered the remainder of her sourdough-four-ingredient-bread-with-no-kneading, and slid each slice into a sandwich bag. Into two of the bags she added a recipe card with instructions on how to make the bread. Clara still liked to bake bread and Bess would manage this easy one. No kneading saved joints.
- On Sale
- Mar 26, 2019
- Page Count
- 336 pages