Crime and Clutter

Overview

A storage unit, a 1963 Volkswagen minibus, and tattered letters...reveal shattering secrets from the '60s.

It's been a year since Mary Alice lost her father -- the father she never really knew. Now she's stuck cleaning out his rubbish from a storage unit. Just when she'd rather it all go away from her well-ordered life, her long-held secret is discovered by the feisty Marina, one of the six members of the Friday Afternoon Club.

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Overview

A storage unit, a 1963 Volkswagen minibus, and tattered letters...reveal shattering secrets from the '60s.

It's been a year since Mary Alice lost her father -- the father she never really knew. Now she's stuck cleaning out his rubbish from a storage unit. Just when she'd rather it all go away from her well-ordered life, her long-held secret is discovered by the feisty Marina, one of the six members of the Friday Afternoon Club.

When these friends make it their mission to help Mary Alice tackle her stash, they arrive at the storage unit, prepared to clean. But what they discover takes them on a riotous ride through the crime and clutter of the sixties, the angst and betrayal of those caught in The Revolution, and the forgiveness that can only come through acceptance of a different kind of Cause.

Includes fun, easy, and tantalizing recipes!


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Product Details

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Chapter One

FRESH LEMONADE

1 cup sugar

9 cups cold water

1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel (yellow part only)

Lemon slices and fresh mint leaves for garnish (optional)

Instructions

1. Combine sugar and 1 cup water in small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil.

2. Reduce heat and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, and cool completely.

3. Combine syrup with lemon juice, peel, and remaining water.

4. Serve in a glass over ice. Garnish with a lemon slice and fresh mint, if desired.

Makes 2 1/2 quarts.

EASY CROCKPOT LEMON CHICKEN

5-6 frozen, skinless chicken breasts (bone in)

lemon pepper seasoning

2 tablespoons melted butter Instructions

1. Season chicken breasts with lemon pepper.

2. Place in slow cooker. Pour melted butter over chicken.

3. Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours.

I have always hated guinea pigs -- or any kind of rodent for that matter. So why I agreed to become one in my sixteen-year-old son's psychology experiment is still a mystery.

Perhaps it was the puppy dog look in Josh's chocolate brown eyes. Or maternal pride at being asked to do something that didn't involve cooking or laundry. Maybe I'm just a sucker, and he knows it.

Regardless of the reason, I, Elizabeth Harris -- grown woman and award-winning lifestyle columnist -- find myself sitting at the kitchen table with a number-two pencil clutched in each hand, poised over two blank sheets of paper.

I am supposed to simultaneously draw a circle with my right hand and a square with my left. AlthoughI'm trying to concentrate, all I can think about is how I'd like to get my hands on the sadistic psychology teacher who thought up this inane project.

"Ready, Mom?" My freckle-faced son is standing over me -- thumb cocked to click on his stopwatch.

"I guess."

In a split second, I reconsider my answer. "No! Wait! My palms are sweating. Let me wipe them off."

I rise from the chair to grab the striped dishtowel hanging from the handle of the stove.

"Come on, Mom! I've got baseball practice in thirty minutes. We've gotta get this done. My project is due Monday, and my psych teacher -- "

Hot button.

A spark of parental ire temporarily replaces my nervousness at garnering a low score and having my lack of dexterity whispered about at PTA.

"Josh, is it my fault you waited until the last minute?" I say, leaning back on the counter and wiping my hands on the dishtowel.

Do all children wait until a project is in crisis mode before beginning, or am I one of the lucky mothers whose kids claim to work best under pressure?

"Mom, you're the one who's been telling me all week we'd do it later," my son reminds me. Rather smugly, I might add.

Another hot button. Insecurity sprinkled with maternal guilt. A teenager's perfect weapon.

Before I can fully explore the depths of culpability, the telephone rings. All sense of scholastic duty forgotten, my son snatches up the cordless phone from behind the microwave.

No wonder I couldn't find the phone when I needed to call John this morning.

"Oh yeah, she's here, Miz Favazza," he says in a low tone. "But she's kinda busy."

Busy! Josh would kill me if I told one of his friends he was busy and couldn't come to the phone. I hold out my hand. "Josh. Give me the phone."

Josh blows a hank of russet-colored hair out of his eyes and gives me the handset.

"I'll just be a minute." I turn away before speaking into the phone. "Hi, Marina. You're still coming over for FAC today, aren't you?"

"Yeah, I'll be there," Marina booms on the other end of the line, "but maybe a little late. That's why I'm calling."

I hear the chirp of the police radio in the background.

"Hold on a sec, Liz, will ya? Hey, Stokes! Tell Nino to quit flirting with the counter girl."

I laugh to myself. Marina is one of two female lieutenants on the Omaha, Nebraska, police department. Although very feminine with her wild black hair and perfect manicure, she can stand up to even the most macho of men.

"Okay, I'm back," she says into the phone. "Nino thinks he's God's gift to women. Give me a break. Now...what were we talking about?"

"You said you might be late for FAC."

"Oh yeah. I'm wrapping things up at a sting out here in the boonies."

"Sounds exciting."

"At least it's better than the duty I pulled last week at the Omaha Country Club. Try watching a bunch of aging frat boys play golf all afternoon. It's enough to drive even a patient woman like me crazy."

I catch Josh's pleading look out of the corner of my eye and hold up a finger to let him know I'll be off the phone soon.

"But this afternoon did have its highlights," continues Marina, oblivious to the teenage angst in my kitchen. "I saw Mary Alice out here paying the rent on a storage unit. In cash."

This catches my attention. "M.A. with a secret stash of stuff? I always knew those uncluttered counters were too good to be true. Did you ask her what's up?"

"No, I couldn't. I was undercover. But when I get through with her this afternoon, the queen of clutter control better fess up. Or she may have to give up that crown." Laughing, I press the end button on the handset. My humor turns sour as I spot the dreaded experiment waiting for me on the kitchen table.

This has got to stop!"

I look up from my fourth try at completing Josh's experiment to see my normally patient husband red-faced and sweating at the door leading from the garage into the kitchen.

Granted, it's a welcome interruption from my torturous task. But what is John doing home so early?

"Wuz up, Dad?" asks my son. "You okay?"

"No. I am not okay."

I rise from the kitchen table and cross the room to place a hand on my husband's forehead. "Are you sick, sweetheart? Is that why you're home early?"

He gently brushes my hand away. "Don't worry, Liz, I'm not sick. I came home early because I knew you were having FAC. I wanted to get the kids out of your hair so you'd have plenty of time to do whatever it is you do."

"Really? You came home early for me?" I give his shoulders a squeeze. "You are so sweet!"

"Well, I try," says John, basking in my appreciation.

I can understand why he is basking. Poor guy -- or should I say, guys. Most husbands have no clue about what makes a woman tick. Like how we can get absolutely ecstatic over an offer to clean the bathroom but then often greet attempts at buying us gifts with a smile that fails to mask the What was he thinking? in our eyes. A perfect example is the set of salad tongs shaped like bear claws that John bought me on his Alaskan fishing trip to let me know he was thinking of me.

Exactly what was he thinking?

But to my husband's credit, one thing he does get is my need for FAC. And his thoughtfulness in coming home early so I can enjoy the afternoon without the regular chaos of our busy home has earned him major brownie points.

So what in the world is FAC? Our family members have called it a lot of things in the past. Funky Adult Conversation. Friendship And Chocolate. Even, Fabulous After Children. The truth is far from exotic. FAC is short for Friday Afternoon Club -- a group of women (Lucy, Jessie, Marina, Mary Alice, Kelly, and me) who get together on Friday afternoons for that vital shot of "girl time" that all women need but too often sacrifice.

Today is my turn to host -- and my family is well aware that FAC is an important factor in keeping Mom happy. Just like the old saying: "If Mama ain't happy...ain't nobody happy."

My son interrupts my musings. "If you're not sick, Dad, then why is your face all red?"

John takes a deep breath, pushes a lock of sandy hair off his sweat-slicked brow, and straightens to his full height of six feet. "My face may appear to be a little red because I'm frustrated. I'm tired of people in this house borrowing my things and not putting them back."

"What did you lose now, honey?" I say in a soothing tone, my hand rubbing his shoulder.

When John delivers one of those "don't treat me like one of the kids" looks, I realize this is the wrong approach.

"I didn't lose anything. Someone took the garage door opener out of my car."

"The garage-door opener? You mean the controller?"

Before John can answer my question, Josh slips the stopwatch into his pocket and heads toward the door. "Gotta go! I'm late for baseball practice."

"Not so fast, young man." John blocks any hope of easy escape by placing a strong arm across the doorway. "Did you take the opener out of my car?"

"Why would I do that?"

"You didn't answer my question."

"I said I didn't take it, Dad. Why do you always blame me?"

The muscles in John's cheek begin to twitch.

Not a good sign.

Oblivious, Josh continues. "What about Katie? Why don't you ask her? She uses the car more than I do."

John's face takes on a deeper shade of red and a little bead of sweat meanders down his left cheek.

I attempt to diffuse the situation before it turns into a full-blown case of sibling rivalry, further frustrating my husband. Josh, our middle child, often feels overshadowed by his strong-willed older sister, Katie, and outmaneuvered by our precocious younger daughter, Hannah. "Now Josh, let's not bring -- "

"Young man," John continues sternly, his brown eyes intense, "I'm sick and tired of hearing 'I don't know' or 'I didn't take it' whenever something is missing around this house. Someone has to know what happened to my garage-door opener, and I intend to -- "

"Come on, Dad," Josh interrupts, "whaddya want me to say? I don't have it. And I'm already late for practice 'cuz Mom hates guinea pigs."

My husband shoots me a quizzical look.

I shrug. We've had many discussions about what I believe may be a vast conspiracy to pass rodents off as pets.

John obviously decides not to pursue the subject, sighs, and lowers his arm. "Fine. But this subject is not closed."

I shake my head sadly, knowing what the real problem is. My husband refuses to accept the presence of what I've come to call "the troll under the house." This ugly little pest emerges periodically with one goal -- to drive unsuspecting parents crazy. He taunts us by secretly siphoning all the gas from the family car. He creates unimaginable frustration by wearing clothes that are not his -- and hanging them back in our closets with mysterious stains. He is also a master at leaving dirty dishes and wet towels all over the house. If John could just learn to accept that our troll will probably get bored and move away after the kids go to college, he'd be much happier.

"Sweetheart, sit down. Let me get you something to drink."

I cross to the refrigerator to pull out a pitcher of my sugary lemonade. Perhaps an infusion of carbs will elevate both our moods.

Our younger daughter, Hannah, charges into the room, strawberry blond curls bouncing with indignation. "Mom, tell Katie to quit flicking her belly-button lint at me!"

"Katie is doing what?" I ask our eleven-year-old.

Hannah wrinkles her nose. "Mom, she is so gross! You would think that someone who is going to college next year would -- "

"Just so you know, Mother," shouts my older daughter from the family room, "I would never do anything so disgusting. Hannah's trying to get me in trouble because I won't take her to the mall."

"Hannah...," I warn.

"Come here, sweetie," says John, reaching an arm out to Hannah. "Do you know what happened to my garage-door opener? There's a trip to the mall for the first person to find it."

Once again, my poor husband is forced to use a frustrated parent's tool of last resort. Bribery. I've been there myself. More often than I care to admit. As I check on the Lemon Chicken I put in the Crockpot for dinner, I wonder what Dr. Dobson would think.

Copyright © 2007 by Cyndy Salzmann


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