How to Make Spaghetti

You don’t like spaghetti Neo what style anymore? Neopolitan? You been eating it Neopolitan style. You ate it Neopolitan style before you went off to Yale. I don’t care if they served 3 kinds of pasta with 3 different kinds of sauces to choose from.

Image by jeffreyw/Flickr

Image by jeffreyw/Flickr

Boil the spaghetti. Add some salt. Also add oil so it doesn’t stick together. Brown some ground beef seasoned with Lawry’s. Use some paper towels to drain the oil from the beef. Heat some jars of Ragu in a pot. Season it; you know Ragu doesn’t have any flavor. Chop up some bell pepper and onions. Drain the cooked spaghetti. Pour it back into the pot you boiled it in. Add the warm sauce, meat, bell peppers, and onions. Stir it up.

Sauce to pasta ratio? Girl, you can eat this spaghetti or starve.

- Deesha Philyaw is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Deesha's writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteFullGrownPeople.com, and elsewhere. At The Rumpus, Deesha inaugurated an interview column called VISIBLE: Women Writers of Color. 

How to Tense Your Shoulders

When you are stressed out, swallow it.

Speaking up brings no relief. You’re used to being reminded of having said something unsatisfactory years after you said it. Ignore disagreements and keep moving until you really can’t stand to be quiet any longer. 

Look down. Is your mother still talking? Try to keep reading. Think your thoughts. Don’t move. Pencil notes in your paperback. The stress goes straight from your ears to your brain to your neck. Buy headphones to plug into the hifi. You would have loved smartphones, all that information in your hand and the way they shield us from interaction. Your thoughts are a physical burden on your body. You can’t help it. If it wasn’t 1982 you could google the chords to your favorite songs. 

The author’s father, Tom, at a party.

The author’s father, Tom, at a party.

At work, keep mopping. On break, smoke a cigarette, hunch over a joint. At home, after dark, wrap your upper body around a guitar with the TV on in the background, a ball game, maybe M*A*S*H*. Drink a beer, the house is quiet. You can relax, you can have a good time. Still, keep your tension in your shoulders. Feel a pinch when you twist to get a fuller view of the road than you get from the little side view mirrors of your Volkswagen Beetle. Stretch before playing tennis. Play like a jerk sometimes, slam a ball into a far corner when it’s already clearly your point.

Sometimes you erupt and curse over small things: another speeding ticket, or when a child opens the bathroom door on you. Everyone quiets down when this happens and your anger hangs in the air, vibrating. It’s not on purpose. You’re sick and stressed.

When it become clear that you’ll die soon, at thirty-four, there will be a change in the mood of the house, like the loosening of muscle.

 

- Meredith Counts is 35 this year. When she hunched at the kitchen table, her grandpa would pinch hard in the knotted muscle where the shoulder meets the neck. He’d tell her, “loosen up, your dad kept his tension there, too.”

How to Make Potato Salad

Thanks to Black Twitter, the world now knows the significance of potato salad to Black Americans. I don't know why this is, or why potato salad, of all foods, but I do know that "Who made the potato salad?" is the first question you ask before making a plate at a cookout. Because you don't eat just anyone's potato salad. But decades before Twitter existed, my mother instilled in me this culinary suspicion and potato salad monotheism: hers was the one true way to make it. She would bring her potato salad to cookouts, baby showers, and other events, even when she wasn’t asked to bring it. People raved about my mother's potato salad and this only reinforced her belief that hers was the only acceptable potato salad and no one else’s would ever measure up.

Dice the potatoes. Cook until firm. Unless you plan to make mashed potato salad. Also put on a pot of eggs to boil. Drain the potatoes and let cool on the counter, and then chill the potatoes and eggs inside the refrigerator. Finely chop some bell pepper and white onions. Don’t be lazy and chop them into hunks. No one wants hunks of bell pepper and onions in their potato salad. If you can’t do it right, then move and I’ll do it. Once the potatoes are cold, chop the boiled eggs. Combine the potatoes and egg in a large bowl with the peppers and onions. Then do all of the following BEFORE stirring—you don’t want to overstir and end up with mashed potato salad: season with Lawry’s, black pepper, and paprika; add mayo, not Miracle Whip; add yellow mustard (this is not white people potato salad); add pickle relish. Stir just enough to blend and coat the potatoes. You should have added enough mustard and paprika so that it is almost day-glo orange and not white like white people potato salad. Sprinkle a little more paprika on top. And serve. You know, I don’t eat anybody’s potato salad except Van’s. She’s the one who taught me how to make it. 

 

Image by Whitney/Flickr

Image by Whitney/Flickr

I never made potato salad for my mother. Hers was delicious, but I prefer to make mine with less mustard. Or as my mother would say, more like white people’s

- Deesha Philyaw is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Deesha's writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteFullGrownPeople.com, and elsewhere. At The Rumpus, Deesha inaugurated an interview column called VISIBLE: Women Writers of Color. 

How to Fry an Egg

Use a skillet big enough for only one egg. Others may want one; they can make their own. Your daughter asks you to show her how; you tell her you'll teach her, but later. When you're finished eating. She'll forget because children are stupid, forgetful. She'd ruin it anyway, and waste an egg.

Adjust the tie on your bathrobe. Pour a scotch. Slide the egg from the pan onto one of the good china saucers—you didn't carry them across the ocean to sit in a cabinet. Bring it and your drink to the table along with the Times you've tucked into your armpit.

Cut the egg all at once in neat rectangles; salt and pepper it well. She will watch you, ask how you knew when it was done. Ignore her. Set your knife, dripping with yolk, delicately, nearly noiselessly across the plate's edge. Others would drag the blade across the fork to retrieve the leavings, but that is a chore for people who have not-enough.

The author and her father

The author and her father

Take a bite. Open the newspaper and hold it in front of you. She will ask for a taste. Ignore her. She will ask for a bit of the paper. Remove the funnies; place them beside your plate. Hand her the business section. She will give up soon enough.

- Stefanie LeJeunesse

How to Be a Good Party Guest

Always arrive at least an hour-and-a-half early to offer to help. For instance, you might notice the plastic cutlery sticking up out of the cup that’s holding them. Turn them down, for sanitary purposes. 

Or say you arrive and two paper streamers have been sloppily twisted together and hung over a door. Streamers should be folded properly. Start by taping the ends of two streamers perpendicular to each other, and then fold end over end, until you can’t fold any more. Then tape the other two ends together. It will open up sort of like an accordion and look the way streamers are supposed to look. Once at a party, I had to quickly make streamers to replace a twisty mess that had been hung over the door, and others to hang around the cake table. 

Images by StillWorksImagery and bsaxonspencer/pixabay Modified by Dead Housekeeping

Images by StillWorksImagery and bsaxonspencer/pixabay Modified by Dead Housekeeping

At another party, there were so many things wrong, I couldn’t fix them all. The tablecloth was wrinkled, the silverware was tarnished, the chicken was unwashed. Someone said it was curry chicken. I did not eat it. I could tell just by looking at it that it was unwashed. But the thing that really got me? They didn’t have mints and nuts. Who has a party without mints and nuts? So I drove to the store and picked up some pastel mints and mixed nuts and put them on the table with the wrinkled tablecloth, alongside the tarnished silver and the dirty chicken. It was the best that I could do, given the circumstances.

- Deesha Philyaw is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Deesha's writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteFullGrownPeople.com, and elsewhere. At The Rumpus, Deesha inaugurated an interview column called VISIBLE: Women Writers of Color. 

How to Clean Your Plate

It’s not how you make an omelette that’s important. It’s how you eat it.

You have to eat it all. Stay focused: there is one piece of toast, cut on the diagonal, because your son is too poor to buy extra bread. He is too poor to buy extra bread because you threw him out of your house when he was 18. Don’t focus on that. Focus on the toast.

Eat one forkful of omelette at a time. Make sure each forkful has the same amount of eggs, cheese and chives on it. Don’t say grace. Wonder if your son ever says grace. Wonder if he goes to Mass. Don’t ask. Eat your eggs.

His wife made the omelette. His wife made the new baby, and the girl sitting beside you. You have never met his wife before. Your son is thirty-two.

When the eggs are half-gone, mop your plate with one half of the toast. Eat it one bite at a time. Wonder if the little girl knows that “chleb” means “bread” in your language.

For the second half of the omelette, cut the eggs with your fork and place them on the toast. Eat the toast with the eggs. Do not help the little girl when the eggs fall off her toast; everyone has to learn sometime.

Turn your plate over. Turn her plate over and hold it above her head. Tell her “This is good. This is clean. This is how you know you are a good girl.”

illustration by the author

illustration by the author

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is the less-censored less-palatable alter ego of an attorney who might want to work in this town again someday. Professional editor and graphic designer by day and professional knitter by night, she has been an Unchaste Reader and is a regular contributor to Ask a Raging Feminist.

 

How to Rag Curl Hair

Start with a cloth: an old T-shirt, a ripped pillowcase. Scissors, the good ones you hide in your sewing chest to keep them from being dulled on construction paper and those plastic packages that make you cry with frustration.

Cut the cloth into longish strips.

Wash and comb your daughter’s hair. Use no-tears shampoo and a wide-toothed comb. They won’t keep her hair from snarling or prevent the wailing that follows, but denial is as important in this endeavor as in all things.

She has your grandmother’s hair, identical to the locks that nestle between the pages of the old books packed into the cedar chest your father made you. It cracked when your husband moved you out West. Things break sometimes, but it doesn’t mean you love them any less.

While the hair is still damp, grasp a small section. Slide a strip of cloth to the very ends and roll the hair up into a tight curl. Knot the ends of the strip together in a single, simple twist. Make it tight, so that it can’t easily be undone. There are things you wish you could undo, but this isn’t one of them.

When you have curled all her hair, let the child sleep. Kiss her. Sing her a lullaby. Tell her a story where everyone winds up happy. There’s no need to alarm her.

In the morning, release everything and shake out the curls. Admire your hard work.

It will be undone again by evening.

 

- Lisa Péré is a freelance writer and editor with too many pets and not enough time. Her specialties are mortifying teenagers and indulging in hyperbole. She is uniquely bad at housekeeping. She lives happily in Colorado, with her two children and a plethora of Oxford commas.

 

Copy Your Life

Every time my dad would travel somewhere, even if it was just to Tijuana for the day, my grandmother would make him Xerox all of his documents.  In case there is an emergency, it is important to be able to prove your identity.

Not just your passport, which the US State Department recommends, but literally every document you might need in your life ever. What if you are detained by a Mexican cartel or someone steals your wallet or if you get into legal trouble or if there is a storm or an earthquake or if? Or if? Or if?

So, Driver’s license. Check. Social Security card. Check. Credit Cards. Check.  Recent photos, medical records, and bank account information.  Also check.  Sandwich club cards and contact information for high school friends.  Probably all that too. Just to be safe.

Preferably, all of this will be contained in a meticulously organized stack, contained in a manila folder that can then be contained in a filing cabinet inside the den next to a computer that needs to boot up for five minutes.  You never know what might happen, so best to get your affairs in order ahead of time (even if those affairs are really just peace-of-mind-Xeroxes). 

For all of the traveling my father did she never stopped him. Instead, she just kept an ever-growing anthology of his papers.  Just in case.

the author's grandma, sans anxiety

the author's grandma, sans anxiety

- Alexandra Bay is a an aspiring writer trying to find her place in the world. Alexandra graduated from the University of Arizona with a MA in history the same weekend that her grandmother died and, shortly after, packed up all her belongings to live in a truck.  Alexandra now lives in a house in Salt Lake City where she is eagerly awaiting summer.

How to Make a Sugar Tit

First, get your mind right. Fool. We aren’t trying to hear that.

For whiners, complainers, man-babies, actual babies.

When shocked by bratty behavior, narrow your eyes and in your most disgusted voice - the one you have to reach to your toes for because what is sarcasm without the odor of feet and fungal decay - say, out loud, “What do you want? A sugar tit?” 

Oh, DAMN. No, they didn’t. 

But, wait. What is a sugar tit? Really? What is it?

It’s what you give babies who are crying when you can’t give them yourself. It’s a homemade pacifier made from sugar and bits. Make one like this*:

Take a piece of cloth - cotton, clean. Bandana, hankie, scrap of sack cloth. An apron will do in a pinch.

Lay it on the table.

In a small bowl, make a paste of honey, white sugar, and bourbon. Never give your infant moonshine. What are you anyway?

Place the mixture in the center of the cloth. Draw the sides together using the cloth to consolidate the mixture into a ball. Tie in a knot above the glob or secure it with string, twine or a rubber band. Apply to infant.

 

*Do not confuse this with actual advice. Think of it as dodgy field medicine. No honey for infant under one year. And don’t give your babies alcohol. No one deserves moonshine. Your infant least of all.

Jennifer Cumby is a contributing editor here at Dead Housekeeping and is the senior Family Ties editor at Maximum Middle Age, which you should check out, here.

A Wiped Wall Gathers No Mold

Keep (v):  2. "continue or cause to continue in a specified condition"

My grandmother truly "kept" a house. Things stayed perfect—like magic—and thus perfectly non-replicable. I saw the product, not the process. 

Vesta and great-grandson (and apron), 1991

Vesta and great-grandson (and apron), 1991

And then last winter, eight years after Grandmother died and 40 since I'd stayed overnight, I remembered something. It was when I noticed my black bathtub mold had again fluffed itself twice the width of the grout. In contrast twinkled the memory of Grandmother's white grout and pink tile. How did she do it? She certainly did it without a squeegee, ylang-ylang spray, motorized rotary brush and citrus solvent, all of which cannot cure the nadir of nastiness that is my tub. 

She did it with a towel.  

My epiphany was a vision of Grandmother wiping the walls after my little cousin and I had taken turns in the shower. Prevention was this particular magic: a dry wall gathers no mold. And although memory cannot confirm, I am certain she would have used a small hand towel to save on laundry. Not a "company" towel, but one too good for the rag bin and too old for show. And she would have smoothed it onto the shower rack to dry, hidden, for next time. Simple, thrifty, effective.

I'm trying it now. A ratty washcloth hangs in my tub as a working tribute. So far, it actually does work. I will never "keep" a house, but with her help maybe I can at least keep the grout on the lighter side of gray. 

 

Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and educator in Nashville, where she writes the urban nature blog Look Around. Her essays have appeared in Jewish Literary Journal, Killing the Buddha, GeekDad, Mamalode, GardenRant and (forthcoming) The Fourth River. 

How to Race Your Friend

Put the gear of your 3 speed bike on high and power down the street toward the hill. Reach the incline and let momentum take you as far up as possible. When you can go no farther slam the gear into low and pedal like mad. Stand up off the seat so you can pump harder. Crest the hill and start down the other side. Let go of the handlebars, stretch your arms wide for balance and laugh. Put your hands back on the bars, turn around to see that your friend is gaining on you. Use your right thumb to push the gear lever back to high, listen for the clink of the chain and pedal as hard as you can, gaining unimaginable speed. At the bottom of the hill make a fast sharp turn onto a busy avenue. Move forward. Find the depression in the curb and glide onto the sidewalk. Bump over the cracks in the cement for 15 feet then gently swerve to your right into the playground. Grip the hand brakes and press. Proceed slowly to the swing set. Get off your bike and put the kickstand down. Sit on one of the leather slings and laugh at your friend when she takes the swing next to you just second later. Grip the smooth cool chains. Use both feet to push yourself off the ground. Lean back and pump your legs till you feel like you’re flying. Shout out the name of the boy you have a crush on. Drag your sneakers in the dusty soil and come to a stop. Spin to face your friend, let the metal chains twist above you. Say that we are getting too old to keep doing this. 

The author's friend, Marguerite, is at center.

The author's friend, Marguerite, is at center.

 

- Teresa Giordano writes non-fiction television programs on topics ranging from earwigs to forensic anthropology, to the southwest border, to bad-ass presidents. She’s also crafted dialogue for some of those reality TV stars you think are being spontaneous. She’s published fiction in Devilfish Review, Pyschopomp, and in an echapbook titled Strange Encounters. She’s published non-fiction in The Weeklings. 

This is the third of three Dead Housekeeping entries by Teresa Giordano this week. She can also tell you "How to Put your Mind at Rest" and "How to Take Your Medication."

 

 

How to Take Your Medication

Place the small glass bottle on top of your desk. Unwrap a sterile syringe. Do not bother with the alcohol wipes. Roll the bottle between your hands a few times mixing the medicine. Draw some air into the syringe. Plunge the needle into the bottle and draw out the insulin. Talk the entire time. There's a girl you know. Yesterday she told you a story about a fight she had with her parents over a boy she loves and they disapprove of. Repeat her story with so much passion and pathos it becomes your story. Do not bother washing your hands or wiping the injection site. Pinch 3 inches of your sparse abdomen. Change the subject. You rotate your shoes every day so that they don't get old and smell funky. Your brother may give you a job in his auto body shop and find you an apartment. Plunge the needle into your flesh. You changed the spark plugs and wires in your car last week, it took you less than a half hour. You may not want an apartment, you're comfortable here in the basement of your mom and her new husband; you like being near your little sister. Push the plunger of the syringe releasing the medication. Leave the needle in your flesh for a few seconds so that no insulin escapes. Remove the needle. Pull your shirt down over the injection site. Stand up. Root around for change in the pocket of your jeans. Open a bureau drawer that is already heavy with quarters, pennies, nickels and dimes. Say that when you reach $500 you'll fix up an old motorcycle and ride it across the country.

- Teresa Giordano writes non-fiction television programs on topics ranging from earwigs to forensic anthropology, to the southwest border, to bad-ass presidents. She’s also crafted dialogue for some of those reality TV stars you think are being spontaneous. She’s published fiction in Devilfish Review, Pyschopomp, and in an echapbook titled Strange Encounters. She’s published non-fiction in The Weeklings. 

This is the second of three of Giordano's entries on Dead Housekeeping this week. The first was "How to Put Your Mind at Rest Each Night," here.

How to Put Your Mind at Rest Each Night

Lift the seat cushion from the green brocade couch where your family's been lounging, hold them vertically, shake 3 times and replace. Repeat with the back cushions. Smooth the matching throw pillows and place each at a slight angle toward each other. There’s a place for everything. Eyeball the identical end tables and lamps on either side of the sofa. Make sure each lamp is centered. Empty and wipe the etched bronze ashtray and place it at the corner of the table on the left side of the couch close enough for your wife to reach. Center the piano bench beneath the keys. Chaos lurks in disorder. Unravelling can be measured in millimeters. Arrange your children’s’ pictures on the stereo console so that the high school graduation photos of your daughter and son are minutely angled and flanking the portrait of your three year old daughter. Pause for a moment wondering at the incongruity of it. Move on to the television console in front of the window. Slide the felt bottomed marble reproduction of the Pieta you brought back from Italy toward the back left corner. Move it again, a fraction of an inch closer to you. She is disconcerting, this sorrowful virgin. How can she be appeased? Position the statue so that she has full view of the room. Everything in its place. Click the switch of the lamp on the TV twice toward you so that it turns from the highest to lowest setting. A soft glow in the darkness, a guard against the void. Walk soundlessly across the carpet until you reach the familiar squeak of the bottom step of the stairway. Extend your right hand forward and grip the bannister so that you can pull yourself forward. Stop and turn back to the living room. You’ve conquered another night.

- Teresa Giordano writes non-fiction television programs on topics ranging from earwigs to forensic anthropology, to the southwest border, to bad-ass presidents. She’s also crafted dialogue for some of those reality TV stars you think are being spontaneous. She’s published fiction in Devilfish Review, Pyschopomp, and in an echapbook titled Strange Encounters. She’s published non-fiction in The Weeklings. 

Fleischkuechle

She made Fleischkuechle, a strange sounding name for hamburger rolled in flour and fried in a pan. Afternoons, school finished, I’d watch her at the stove, her hair sometimes stacked up in curlers like a fern, sweat trickling down her cheeks from the heat in the kitchen, the spiced tang of meat ripe in the air around us as I sat at a table struggling with math homework, struggling with puberty, struggling with being her son.

She was a focused chef. All the good ones were, she said. We were poor but still she was a chef. I wished she'd pay me as much attention as the food she prepared.

My brothers were always away and I wasn’t sure how to talk to my mother so I’d make up terrific lies that she may or may not have believed. It gave us something to talk about.

“Here,” she’d sometimes say, tossing me a potato peeler. “Strip these as fast as you can.” Strip for peel. A dozen potatoes on the counter, things that looked more like gourds or discarded embryos.

“You are the smart one in the family, reading your poetry,” she said, snickering. “But you can still do things with your hands, or else you’ll go soft.”

1916 color lithograph by Yvonne Vernet from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

1916 color lithograph by Yvonne Vernet from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

As I peeled potatoes I felt Mother coming up behind me, which made me speed up the slicing of the skins. I wanted her to think me capable of carrying out a command. Cigarette smoke wafted over my head and into my eyes, stinging, and I hoped they wouldn’t water.

She leaned across my shoulder and took one of the spuds in her hand, inspecting for a moment, before thrusting it close to my face. “You’re careless. You’re missing the divots, the eyes. See, there’s still dirt and skin there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes you are,” she said, dropping the potato on the table. I heard it thunk, watched it roll off and bounce across the floor. 

“Pick it up and wash it,” she said.

We raised and butchered chickens. It’s a scary thing when you’re nine. The beheaded birds would fly off squirting blood, dead but somehow still alive, like me, I’d think.

 

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans, and the author of I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AND NEITHER ARE YOU out now from Unknown Press.  You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com

How to Show the Fight at Your House

Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear while my cousin Tony, the host of that night’s pay-per-view event in his apartment overflowing with friends and family, placed coasters beneath stray tumblers and handed napkins to those eating pizza on his carpet. I don’t know if he witnessed the bite firsthand, he was so busy keeping his place perfectly in place with 20 people taking advantage of his free premium cable. He wiped his kitchen table. Guests would drop, he would pick up. He checked and rechecked his spotless bathroom. I’d been in there moments before just looking around as I tinkled, in complete awe of how it could be so...so clean. Were those baby wipes in place of toilet paper? Is that a cherrywood wipes holder? The wipes were to me the single reminder of Tony’s severe diabetic condition that would eventually kill him at 29: tall, thin, graceful, his mother’s best friend. To anyone else that night, they were simply a sign of a man who took great care in his toilet time.

I missed the ear bite myself. It took about 20 seconds and it stopped the fight. I was in Tony’s bedroom checking on my baby sleeping in his bed, and I lingered at his bookshelf filled with framed photos of family, my daughter included. You notice dust when things are dusty, but with Tony, you noticed how nothing was ever dusty, nothing was ever without care. By the time I could pull myself in complete admiration from this curiosity, the fight was over.

illustration by Maia Butler

illustration by Maia Butler

- Erica Hoskins Mullenix is a freelance writer and editor, and a contributing editor here at Dead Housekeeping. Besides personal essays detailing her life as an introverted middle kid, bewildered but kickass mother and special needs parent, she also writes short fiction. Proudly an alum of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Erica created the online writer’s community known as yeah write in April 2011. She has had essays published in Salon, The Houston Chronicle, PANK, and other print and online publications. Her fiction and other writing can be found on her personal blog at freefringes.yeahwrite.me. Follow Erica on Twitter @freefringes

How To Try Everything To Stay Alive

Thais Lynnae Reynolds

When you are young and you have cancer and it’s the 1990s, it’s important to keep your wits. And if you have a lot of wits, all the better. It’s important to be honest about your bald head, especially on an airplane with your brother and especially by sliding your wig backwards ever so slowly until it tips back just almost enough to nearly slide off your head but not quite. It’s important that when you’re taking a break from wig shopping and your friend orders food, but the waiter doesn’t like her at all and “forgets” her fortune cookie that you flip your chair giving chase into the kitchen in protest. It’s important that you have someone smuggle gay male porn into the hospital for you because what good is a flaccid penis? None. It’s important that you try everything to stay alive. Even risky things. Even things that make you die. It’s important that when you are dying you mistake your friend for a cat even though you are on the telephone and cats don’t use telephones, except maybe they do in heaven and you were already halfway there. It’s important that you so make a heart-mark so indelible, your friends place your photograph on the stage occupied by your favorite artist, even though it’s been two decades since you or that artist were either alive or relevant. It’s important that you were here. It’s important that we miss you. It’s important that we love you still. Meow.

- Jennifer Cumby is a contributing editor here at Dead Housekeeping and is the senior Family Ties editor at Maximum Middle Age, which you should check out, here.

Always and Never: Ma's House Rules

Always cook enough for more people than you expect.

Never use the same toothbrush for more than a month.

Always turn off the lights when you leave a room.

Never let the dog on the couch.

Always refill the ice tray.

Never go to bed with a sink full of dirty dishes.

Always try a strong cup of coffee for a headache, before taking painkillers.

Never bring food or drink to the bedroom.

Always treat yourself to expensive, well-made shoes. 

Never be the guest who shows up empty-handed.

Always offer to wash the dishes.

Never let clean laundry sit in the dryer for too long.

Always rinse cans and bottles before putting them in the recycling bin.

Never be cheap with money or food.

Always rinse the rice until the water runs clear.

Never drop in on people without an invitation.

Always give the mailman $20 at Christmas.

Never forget a birthday.

Always talk to children about everything - it’s how they learn how to be in the world. 

Never add sugar to spaghetti sauce.

Always have fresh garlic in the kitchen. 

Never co-sign a loan.

Always watch the original King Kong on Thanksgiving day.

Never throw away loose buttons.

Always be respectful of old people.

Never back down when you know you’re right.

Always have you sister’s back.

Never forget where we came from.

Carmen and Lana, April, 1967

Carmen and Lana, April, 1967

 

- Lana Nieves is a Puerto Rican writer, photographer, and lunchbox enthusiast from Brooklyn, who has somehow landed in San Francisco. One of her many online projects can be found here. 

Check out Nieves' previous Dead Housekeeping entries: how to give a  toast and make cafe con leche.

Nine Kinds of Ice Cream

In the basement, you keep a spare freezer for extra necessities – a turkey on sale in October that will do for Thanksgiving; the fruits of a 10-for-$10 sale. When your son calls to say he will be bringing your granddaughters to visit, you want to have something to offer them. Children love ice cream, you know, but you have not met these children. What flavors would they like? Your son says anything will do. But you want to be sure. You buy ice cream and keep it in the basement freezer. You present a different flavor on every visit.

Neapolitan

You chose this one because it is bound to have something everyone will like. The granddaughters are shy, but smiling. They eat all the strawberry and vanilla, but leave the chocolate.

Orange sherbet

When your children were young, they loved orange sherbet. Your granddaughters are clearly children of a different time.

Rainbow sherbet

Apparently sherbets of all flavors have fallen out of favor with modern children.

 

Maple walnut

Your son’s wife mentions that this is her favorite flavor. The granddaughters seem to like it too, though they pick out the nuts.

Coffee

The ice cream is the same shade as your granddaughters’ skin, and just as smooth. You realize their visits bring you joy. You did not expect joy.

Vanilla

Your son proudly tells you that when he buys this flavor, he still pours on chocolate syrup from a can. Your oldest granddaughter loves it too, he says. You smile.

Mint chocolate chip

You buy this flavor in the summer, to ease the ever-present heat. Your granddaughters finish quickly so they can play with the Tinkertoy set you brought down from the attic. You offer your daughter-in-law a cup of coffee. Her people come from the south, after all.

Cherry vanilla

Your granddaughters poke at the cherries. The older one eats some, slowly, saying they are too cold and hurt her teeth; the younger one leaves them all in the bowl. You move that box to the back of the basement freezer and tell your son that maybe they’ll like that flavor when they’re older. You wonder if it will be true.

Chocolate marshmallow swirl

Your oldest granddaughter tells you this is her favorite flavor. You glance at your son’s pale skin, his blond hair under the kitchen light, and then at the dark skin of your daughter-in-law, her jet-black curls. You clear the empty bowls without comment.

 

- Laura Lucas is an alumna of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop and an Artist Trust EDGE graduate.  Her writing has appeared in Beat the Dust, Falling Star Magazine, Line Zero, Imaginaire, The Poetic Pinup Revue, Vapid Kitten, and It Starts With Hope, the blog for The Center for Victims of Torture. 

Graphic artist and painter Allen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University's Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection. Forrest's expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas. (@artgrafiken on Twitter, website here)

Peanut Butter Crackers

Mom would place a box of Salerno saltine crackers, a large jar of smooth Peter Pan Peanut Butter along with a couple of sticks of Blue Bonnet margarine on the kitchen table, putting my older brothers and sister in charge of breakfast. The center of the table had a stack of comics for our morning reading. Coffee was bubbling in the percolator on the table’s edge.

My oldest brother Rich would open the box of crackers to begin the process. He would cut a wedge off the margarine and spread it across the crackers, salty side in. My other brother Pat would slide a knife full of peanut butter on a separate cracker and press the buttered side together with the peanut butter one. My older sister Ruth would pour us each black coffee while I watched the assembled crackers rise on a plate like a Jenga tower before my two brothers decided we had enough.

We would each grab a stack and dip them in our coffee, watching the oil seep across the surface. I loved to squeeze my crackers to make margarine ‘worms’ curl out through the holes. Speaking was at a minimum while we dunked crackers in coffee, ate, traded comics and refilled coffee cups. It was the start of our day.

Two more kids and a half dozen apartments later, Mom would reminisce how she kept us healthy with the peanut butter meals we consumed. She had gotten the tip from a woman she worked with during World War Two when rationing was in place. “Protein keeps you going and peanut butter was one item we didn’t have a problem getting,” she said. “I did what I had to do and you all turned out fine.”

 

- Kathy Doherty has a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University Denver. She has published work in airplanereading.org, Metrosphere, Foliate Oak, Hot Metal Press and One Million Stories Anthology. She lives in Parker, Colorado with her amazing Siberian Forest cat, Vladimir. 

Fresh Linens

My mother was practical and prudent. She didn’t iron sheets—“It’s a waste of time,” she said— but she didn’t need to. She was exacting about making up the beds when she changed linens. 

“Don’t yank on the corners,” she would remind me, “unless you want to use your allowance to buy new sheets when they tear. Watch me.” She would line up a corner seam of the fitted bottom sheet with a corner of the mattress and ease it into place. Then the other corners, gently, never tugging hard, not even on the last, stubborn one. The result was taut and smooth, not a wrinkle to be seen. Then the top sheet, hospital corners folded and tucked with military precision. 

She took special pride in her method of putting on pillowcases. She’d turn the case inside out, all but the very end, then reach in and grasp the tips of the corners at the closed end. With these she’d grab one end of the pillow, pinching the corners into the ends of the pillowcase she was holding and shake the pillowcase over the pillow. Faultless: none of the lumps and bumps you get from cramming a puffy pillow into a barely-big-enough case. She’d hold it up, as if demonstrating a magic trick: “See?”

"See?"

"See?"

Forty years after her death I still bask in her presence when I change the sheets. And I still do it her way.  “Don’t yank on the corners,” I remind my husband. 


- Alice Lowe reads and writes about food and family, Virginia Woolf, and life. Her personal essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Permafrost, 1966, Upstreet, Hippocampus, Tinge, Switchback, and Lunch Ticket. She was the 2013 national award winner at City Works Journal and winner of a 2011 essay contest at Writing It Real. Two monographs on Virginia Woolf have been published by Cecil Woolf Publishers in London. Alice lives in San Diego, California and blogs at www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.