Roberts's sweetly vengeful dig at do-nothing husbands follows a smalltown knitting club of wives who are sick and tired of toiling over elaborate Christmas preparations that their husbands don't appreciate. As they go on strike, the women try to stay in solidarity, while the husbands plan retaliation at the hardware store. Roberts revels in detailing the husbands' awkward, often disastrous handling of tasks their wives habitually do for Christmas (taking the kids to see Santa, planning the party, doing up the house). By the end of this gently feminist sendup, each side learns to be grateful for the other's efforts. (Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
On Strike for Christmasby Sheila Roberts
At Christmastime, it seems as though a woman's work is never done. Trimming the tree, mailing the cards, schlepping to the mall, the endless wrapping—bah humbug! So this year, Joy and Laura and the rest of their knitting group decide to go on strike. If their husbands and families want a nice holiday—filled with parties, decorations, and presents/i>
At Christmastime, it seems as though a woman's work is never done. Trimming the tree, mailing the cards, schlepping to the mall, the endless wrapping—bah humbug! So this year, Joy and Laura and the rest of their knitting group decide to go on strike. If their husbands and families want a nice holiday—filled with parties, decorations, and presents—well, they'll just have to do it themselves. The boycott soon takes on a life of its own when a reporter picks up the story and more women join in. But as Christmas Day approaches, Joy, Laura, and their husbands confront larger issues in their marriages and discover that a little holiday magic is exactly what they need to come together.
Sheila Roberts gives the best gift of all in this funny, heartwarming novel that touches the very core of Christmas spirit.
Laura is tired of doing everything around the house while her husband watches TV. Joy is sick of giving in to her grumpy husband but never getting to do what she wants. When they decide to go on strike at Christmastime to teach their spouses a lesson, members of their knitting club are eager to join in. Soon enough, the newspaper picks up the story, and women all over town are giving up on going overboard at Christmas. The harried husbands are in charge of everything, from the school pageant to parties to presents, with hilarious results. Holiday recipes are included. A fun and festive debut; for all women's fiction collections.
“Sheila Roberts makes me laugh. I read her books and come away inspired, hopeful and happy.” Debbie Macomber, New York Times bestselling author of Christmas Letters
Sheila Roberts makes me laugh. I read her books and come away inspired, hopeful and happy.
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On Strike for Christmas
By Sheila Roberts
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2007 Sheila Rabe
All rights reserved.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas ...
Glen Fredericks slapped the back of his last departing Thanksgiving dinner guest. "Good to see ya. Thanks for coming."
"Hey man, great time," said the mooch. "Thanks for having me."
"No problem. We'll do it all again at Christmas," Glen promised.
Behind him, Glen's wife, Laura, suddenly envisioned herself going after her husband with the electric carving knife he'd used earlier on the turkey. "In your dreams," she growled. She stepped around Glen and shoved the front door shut. Having made contact with a hefty male hind end, it didn't shut easily, especially for a woman who was five feet two and a hundred and nineteen pounds, but she managed.
"Hey," Glen protested. "What was that all about?"
"You need to ask?" Laura gave her overchewed gum an angry snap. He did this to her every year, and every year he promised that next year things would be different. But they never were.
"Mama, Tyler's in the frigerator," called five-year-old Amy.
Laura marched toward the kitchen, Glen trotting after her. "Today might have been your idea of fun, but it sure wasn't mine."
No woman in her right mind would volunteer to have her house turned into the city dump by the invasion of family, friends, and Thanksgiving freeloaders her husband had invited into their home. Before the invasion, this room had looked great, decorated with little gourds, cute ceramic pumpkins, and her two prettiest vases filled with mums. Now everywhere she looked she saw a mess. CDs lay scattered on the floor in front of the entertainment center. Her new leather couch was littered with a plastic football, Glen's socks, magazines, and an open can of nuts (half-spilled). Glasses and bottles were strewn every which way across her coffee table. The little hand-painted, wooden Pilgrim couple that she'd set out on the sofa table now lay on their sides as if taking a nap, not that you could really see them anyway in the litter of napkins and appetizer plates and other party leftovers. And it was hard to ignore the towel on the carpet, evidence of an earlier wine spill mop-up.
People said you shouldn't have cream-colored carpet when you had little kids. Well, people were wrong. She managed to keep the carpet clean just fine with two kids. It was Glen's moocher co-worker who was the problem. And, of course, Glen had been too busy yucking it up to tell her about the spill. She discovered it only when she stepped on it in her stockinged feet.
"Come on, babe," he protested. "It's the holidays, and it only comes once a year."
"It's a good thing because it takes me a whole year to recover. In case you didn't notice, Glen, we've got two children, a big house that I clean, and I work thirty hours a week." Before Glen could reply they heard the distinctive crash of a dish breaking followed by a startled cry. "Oh, great. Now what?" Laura muttered, and picked up speed.
She found Amy hovering near the doorway, a golden-haired cherub. "I told him not to," Amy said, already the bossy older sister.
Behind her, by the fridge, stood two-and-a-half-year-old Tyler — nickname, Tyler the Terrible — whimpering.
At his feet lay a fluffy pile of whipped cream fruit salad, broken shards of ceramic bowl sticking up through it like mountain peaks through the clouds.
Laura walked over to where her son stood and surveyed the damage. "Mess, Mama," Tyler told her.
She had been going nonstop since six in the morning and it was now eight at night. She sat down on the floor behind her son and began to cry. That set Tyler off, and he started wailing. She pulled him to her and they both went at it.
"It's okay, baby," Glen said and knelt beside her. He was a big, kindhearted, teddy bear of a man. Most days. Today, he was just a big pain in the butt.
He reached out to put a beefy arm around her and she gave him a shove. "Bite me. Do you have any idea what this day has been like for me, Glen? Do you even have a clue?"
"You made a great dinner," he tried.
"Yes, I made the dinner. No one brought anything except your mother, and all she brought was soggy pumpkin pies. I stuffed and baked the turkey, I made the fruit salad, the candied yams, the smelly rutabagas your lazy cousin loves, the green bean casserole, the mashed potatoes and gravy, and the dinner rolls from your mother's recipe. Why can't she make her own damn rolls?"
From the other side of the kitchen, Amy gasped. "Mama said damn."
"Mamas can do that on Thanksgiving," Glen said, thinking quickly.
Yeah, he had a comeback for a five-year-old, but he couldn't think of anything to say to his wife. What could he say, the big turkey? "I cleaned and decorated the house, set the table, and made the whole effing dinner. And, while you and your family and those freeloaders that you call friends all sat around afterward like beached whales and watched the football game, your mother and I got to clean up the big, effing mess you left. I don't care how much football you played in high school and college. You could miss fifteen minutes of one game to help."
He frowned. "Hey, I was watching the kids."
"Yeah, right. When, during the beer commercials? Tyler ate almost an entire candy bowl of M&M's. It's a wonder he hasn't thrown up yet. And if he does, guess who's dealing with it."
Glen held up a hand to cut her off. "I will, don't worry. But you know it's not entirely fair to say I did nothing. I helped."
She glared at him. "Oh, yeah, you put the extra leaf in the table and brought up the folding chairs. Real big of you." She got up and steamed out of the kitchen, calling over her shoulder, "I'm taking a bath. After that, I'm going to bed with my mystery novel. I don't want to see you or anyone for the rest of the evening."
Glen's voice followed her. "That's a good idea, babe. Take a break. You deserve it."
That was an understatement, Laura decided, looking at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The makeup that hadn't worn off was now smudged and runny from her crying jag, and her hair was a mess. She looked like blond roadkill. She felt like it, too. The labors of Thanksgiving had almost crushed her.
And in just four weeks her husband expected her to do this all again. Four weeks? Who was she kidding? It would all start this weekend with cleaning up the mess Hurricane Glen had left in his wake. (Naturally, he'd help ... for about two minutes until he got distracted horsing around with the kids or finding a football game to watch.) Then they'd start hauling out the Christmas decorations and begin the Christmas shopping. The day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year — she couldn't face it. Maybe she'd just stay in the tub until she turned into the world's largest prune. Or until Glen got a clue.
Except Glen was terminally clueless, so she'd never leave the tub again. If only his brain size matched the size of his heart. Maybe he needed glasses. He obviously couldn't see how much extra work he dumped on her this time of year.
She dropped her gum in the garbage and turned on the bath-water, running it as hot as she could and pouring in an extra packet of bubbles. Sighing, she slipped into the steaming bath.
Okay, that was better. The scented water began to soothe away her anger. She really shouldn't have lost it with Glen. After all, it wasn't entirely his fault. She'd agreed to this insanity. But only after he'd promised to help her.
Her mind drifted back to the days when she enjoyed parties as much as Glen. Boy, that felt like ancient history. In those days she didn't have kids and a large house to keep up and a job, and a lot of the partying happened at restaurants and clubs and other people's places. Those days had sure vanished. Somewhere along the way her house had become Party Central, and she had become everyone's maid. Someone had tipped the scales, leaving her to do all the work while Glen did all the playing.
She'd tried to explain to him how hard he made it for her when he invited the world over. He always promised he'd do more to help, but then company would show up and he'd be useless. Or one of his buddies would call him to come play some flag football and the honey-do list would get completely forgotten. He loved people, and he loved the holidays. No matter what, Glen always managed to have a merry Christmas. In fact, his Christmases were getting merrier every year, while hers were getting more and more stressful. And she was sure she was getting TMJ. She'd quit smoking years ago and taken up chewing gum in its place, but lately it seemed she didn't so much chew as grind her molars in anger and frustration.
She frowned at the frothy pile of bubbles around her, poked one with her finger and watched it pop. There was definitely something wrong with the Frederickses' holiday picture these days, but if she was going to keep her sanity, she'd have to find a way to fix it. Before Christmas came.
Joy Robertson could feel it even before she turned and saw the long-suffering expression on her husband's face. They'd been at her brother's house for nearly three hours and he'd had enough. It was time to leave.
Sometimes she wished she didn't have that mental connection forged over twenty-four years of marriage. Then she could just stay and party on until she dropped.
She set the second piece of pumpkin pie she'd been enjoying on the counter and said to her sister-in-law, "I guess we should get going."
Lonnie shot a look to where Bob stood in the kitchen doorway. He was a nice-looking middle-aged man. So far Father Time had been good to Bob, leaving him with a full head of sandy-colored hair, barely sprinkled with gray. He had a disgustingly great metabolism and was still as slim as the day they married.
"It won't kill Bob to wait while you finish your pie," Lonnie said with a grin.
Bob tried to look like he didn't mind if Joy lingered over her pie, but he was a very bad actor. The pleading was plain to see in those brown eyes of his.
"I don't know," Joy said, eyeing him. "It might."
"You can have another piece, too, while you're waiting," Lonnie told Bob. "Heck, as skinny as you are, have two." Good, old Lonnie; she was twelve years older than Joy and Bob, with a big heart and waistline to match, more a mother figure than a sister, and she was very much used to being in charge.
"No, thanks. I've had enough," Bob replied.
Obviously. When Bob was ready to leave, his adult body channeled an unhappy seven-year-old who followed Joy around and psychically whined, "Can we go now?" When the psychic whine didn't work he resorted to head nods in the direction of the door. And rather than argue, she always acquiesced.
Why should she always have to give in and make him happy? Bob knew how much holiday gatherings meant to her, especially these times with her family. Lucky for him she hadn't realized back when they were young and crazy in love that he was the world's biggest party pooper.
She sighed mentally. Oh, well. Something was better than nothing. "I don't need the extra calories anyway," she told Lonnie. Thanks to shifting middle-age hormones she was now carrying thirty more pounds than she wanted, pounds that kept sneaking up on her when she wasn't looking and attaching themselves to her hips.
Still, a woman only got to eat pumpkin pie once a year. And now that she was Menopause Mama, coping with hot flashes and mood swings, she ought to be allowed a few small pleasures. Anyway, she didn't look all that bad naked. So that meant it had to be the clothes that were making her look fat. Note to self: Find some nonbulky winter sweaters.
She picked up the plate again. "One more bite for the road," she decided and forked up another mouthful.
"Why not?" Lonnie agreed. "You've got a designated driver."
The designated driver gave his wife another pleading look.
Joy took one last quick bite. Rushing through pumpkin pie — it was a crime. She set down her plate, then brushed past Bob and went downstairs to the split-level's lower floor, dubbed the party room.
The two long tables that had held their Thanksgiving feast had been removed, and now her nephews and several of their children were busy with the annual Thanksgiving leg-wrestling contest. The spectators were coupled up, women standing with their husband's arm draped over their shoulders, all laughing, enjoying themselves. They looked like they could be posing for Norman Rockwell.
Joy felt a wistful tug on her heart. Over the years Bob had edged closer and closer to the outside of the extended family circle. Now, although they came to the celebration in the same car, they weren't really a couple. They were two people engaged in a holiday tug-of-war, each one pulling from opposite ends of a crowded house.
Their daughter, Melia, was holding eight-month-old Sarah, Joy's first grandchild, and standing at the edge of the circle next to her husband, Cam.
"We're leaving," Joy announced.
Melia's eyebrows shot up. "Already?"
"It's been almost three hours." That was Bob's limit.
Melia checked her watch. "It's only been two. What's Daddy's problem?"
"Too much of a good thing." Joy kissed her grandbaby, hugged her daughter and her son-in-law, and then started to make the rounds.
"Sorry you have to rush off," said her other sister-in-law, Susan.
Lonnie was with them now. "Well, Suki, if you weren't still holding that whipped-cream can maybe poor Bob could bring himself to stay. But he's been looking nervous ever since you started chasing people with it."
"Wait a minute. Let's set the record straight," said Susan. "It was Joy who started chasing people with the whipped cream."
Joy held up empty hands. "Do you see any whipped cream on me anywhere?"
Susan grinned. "No. It looks like you got it all out of your hair." She looked across the room and said, "Anyway, I'd never hurt Bob. He ought to know that after all these years."
Joy looked to see that Bob had changed doorways. Now he was hovering at the party room entrance like the Grim Reaper.
"Well, here," said Susan, holding up the can. "Open up and I'll give you a shot for the road."
Joy obliged and Susan gave her a whipped cream fill-up. She wished she had the rest of that piece of pie to go with it. She ought to have finished it. It wouldn't have done her steadily widening hips any good, but it might have made her feel better about leaving before she was ready.
She hugged her mother and Lonnie's mother, and all the little great-nieces and nephews, waved good-bye to the wrestlers, and, finally, hugged her big brother, Al, who was getting ready to referee a new wrestling match.
Now the gray-haired patriarch of the family, Al had been hosting the festivities ever since he and Lonnie married, and no one ever considered going anywhere else. Who would want to? Their house was always decorated to the hilt and filled with laughter. It was the quintessential holiday house.
"Glad you came, kiddo," Al said, and kissed the top of Joy's head. Kiddo. She was a middle-aged, overweight woman whose brown hair color now had to come from a bottle and her brother still called her kiddo. She loved it.
"Me, too," she said, and thought, and sorry I'm leaving. The last to arrive, the first to leave. What else was new?
If only she could take some DNA from her neighbor Laura's husband and inject it into Bob. Knowing Bob he'd only morph into a two-hundred-pound hermit.
They retrieved their coats from the pile on the bed in the guest bedroom in silence, Bob's relieved, hers slightly miffed. Lonnie met them at the front door with Joy's bowls and platters, now empty and clean. "Thanks for bringing all the goodies," she said. "It pays to have a caterer in the family." Lonnie hugged her, then Bob. "Good to see you Bob," she said. "See you at Christmas."
"I'm afraid so," Bob muttered as he and Joy went down the front walk toward their car.
Joy pretended not to have heard. Oh, well, she told herself, you did have a wonderful time; be thankful for that. Pollyanna, playing the glad game, sneered the Joy who was miffed.
They got into the car. The good Joy ignored the miffed Joy and attempted to get Bob to join her in the game. "That was fun," she announced, forcing good humor into her voice.
Excerpted from On Strike for Christmas by Sheila Roberts. Copyright © 2007 Sheila Rabe. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Sheila Roberts is the author of Small Change, The Snow Globe, Bikini Season, and other bestselling books. Before settling into her writing life, Roberts did lots of other things, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Now, when she's not speaking to women's groups or at conferences, she can be found writing about the things near and dear to women's hearts: family, friends, and chocolate. She lives on a lake in Washington.
Sheila Roberts is the author of On Strike for Christmas, Small Change, The Snow Globe, Bikini Season, and other bestselling books. Before settling into her writing life, Roberts did lots of other things, including owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Now, when she’s not speaking to women’s groups or at conferences, she can be found writing about the things near and dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate. She lives on a lake in Washington.
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