Lamination as Libation

Fetch the newspaper from the tube, reading the headlines as you cross the road. Open up to the obituaries to see who needs a sympathy card or when you'll be going to Calling Hours.

Back in your recliner, continue reading. Don't worry if you nod off. You don't sleep well anymore. Notice the photo of a girl and her horse winning a trophy at the county fair. Realize this is the granddaughter of a woman you worked with at the Eagle Rubber Company during the war. Take the scissors from your sewing basket and clip the photo and its caption. With a ballpoint pen, scrawl today's date in the margin. Add this to your collection of clippings, including the 40th wedding anniversary photo of your former neighbors (make sure you've marked it on the wall calendar) and the birth announcement of your favorite waitress's grandson.

The author's grandma, Marcia, meticulous and ordered

The author's grandma, Marcia, meticulous and ordered

Drive into town to the local office supply store. The girl behind the counter recognizes you. Give her the clippings and your coins. She'll return with the finished products.

Always a lover of animals, Marcia with her dog, Roscoe

Always a lover of animals, Marcia with her dog, Roscoe

Stop at the diner for your usual (black coffee, one scrambled egg, crisp home fries, wheat toast) to deliver the laminated birth announcement to Donna in person. Slip the rest of the laminated clippings into greeting cards with a handwritten note before dropping them in the mail.
You could have just called to say, "I saw this in the paper," but remember: moments worth celebrating are best honored with lamination.

- Cyn K, a thoroughly Midwestern mom, spends her days as an administrative assistant at a private college and her nights wrangling her autistic son, antisocial husband, and anxious dog. She reads the same local paper as her grandma did, though she doesn't clip articles and get them laminated. Maybe she should! She blogs at that cynking feeling and tweets as @cynkingfeeling.

How to Assemble a Tricycle

Buy your only great-grandbaby a tricycle for Christmas, one with streamers on the handles. Take it to your daughter's house on Christmas Eve after the girl is asleep to put it together. 

Lay out all of the pieces in the living room. There are a lot of parts. Scan the instructions. Get a drink, something with bourbon. 

Refuse your grandchildren’s offers of assistance. They are going out to a party and you don't want to interfere with that. Besides, you are perfectly capable of putting a tricycle together. 

As you start to work, you realize that the instructions are poorly written. There are too many parts. Take it apart so you can start over. Get another drink. 

There must be a page missing from these directions. How is anyone supposed to put this thing together? Step back, take a deep breath. This is for the baby. She goes with you to the market and you let her sit in your lap when you drive. You didn't even think you would live long enough to have a great-grandchild. You must get this done. 

The author's great-grandfather, Charles W. Norris, poses calmly 56 years before his composure would be disrupted by a tricycle

The author's great-grandfather, Charles W. Norris, poses calmly 56 years before his composure would be disrupted by a tricycle

Cuss. Get another drink. Glare at the pieces strewn across the living room. No progress is being made. None. This is becoming a crisis. 

Your grandchildren return from the party and survey the scene. Accept their offer of help. That little girl won't care who put it together, she'll just know it's from her Papa. And that's enough.

Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

50 Tickets, or How to Be a Good Citizen

Do your best. Encourage others. When young men ask you for money, offer them odd jobs. Some of them will grow up to look in on you and your wife when you are old. 

The author's grandfather, Dr. Jack Brooks addresses an audience after a 1986 civil rights march via Fort Worth Star-Telegram Archives.

The author's grandfather, Dr. Jack Brooks addresses an audience after a 1986 civil rights march via Fort Worth Star-Telegram Archives.

Open a clinic with your brother and treat everyone, regardless of their ability to pay. When your patients need to be hospitalized, refuse to treat them in the hospital’s basement. Black patients deserve to be treated like everyone else. 

Tell your granddaughter she can be anything she wants. This is not the prevailing thinking in 1970, but you don't care about that. Equality is equality. 

Accept the nomination to be the first Black member of the Parks Commission. Insist that the sign identifying a deep red rose as “Niggerboy” be removed before your family walks past it when you are sworn in. Casual racism is still racism. 

Vote. Volunteer. Take your children with you. Teach them that not voting is never an option. Your daughter will remember this when George Wallace is on the ballot in 1980. Your granddaughter will remember when she votes with her 8-week-old son in 1996. Your great-grandson will rail against not voting in 2016.

The politicians need you. They will realize, on the morning of the Chamber of Commerce breakfast for President Kennedy, that there are no Black people in the audience. When they call to invite you and your wife, tell them that two tickets are not enough. Ask for 50. They need you. They will give you 50 tickets. 

They need you. Ask for your 50 tickets.

- Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

How to Organize a Mother's Day Party

Wear a lungi wrapped artfully around your waist, and an undershirt with frayed sleeves to make phone calls to all the men in the community. If this doesn’t take at least one whole day, you’ve left someone off the list.

Round up fathers, single men, and children over the age of 15. Even if they’re not husbands or fathers, they can still contribute; they have all had mothers. 

They will come to your house the Saturday evening prior to Mother’s Day to prepare and cook the food. Time your preparations so they coincide with the FA Cup final. Cooking is always improved by soccer.

Plan the menu in advance. It doesn’t much matter which curries you cook, but chilli must be used liberally. This is how you maintain your golden rule of cooking; the hotter the curries, the sweeter the dessert. You will organise the dishes efficiently but without much passion; it’s hard to get excited about vegetarian food. 

Your passion is reserved for dessert. You will make sharkara payasam. This sickly sweet umber ambrosia is your speciality, and you’re famed throughout the community for the way you combine the ghee, rice, jaggery, and coconut in perfect proportions. 

The author's father serving sharkara payasam at one of the many parties he loved

The author's father serving sharkara payasam at one of the many parties he loved

Your helpers will be an unruly bunch, heckling soccer teams into wins or losses, but you know they will follow your instructions. Revel in their rambunctiousness.

There will be time to remind them, once more, that all the mothers and mother-substitutes are not to lift a finger on their special day.

- Asha Rajan

How To Be a Sister

When she teaches you how to be beautiful, it is a lesson in resilience. When she tells you to buy a dress, she means, “prepare.”

Together you curate wardrobes, with method and purpose in mentally categorized racks:

Obviously Made for You,

Novelty (buy on sale),

Potentially Amazing On (but questionable on the hanger),

Unflattering Even on the Mannequin, Slightly Outside the Comfort Zone/Worth a Try (rarely not horrifying), and


Investment pieces are special, she says, simultaneously classic and unique, and almost always accidentally found. Their quality and timeless tailoring feel made just for you, and last decades.

Her style blends effortlessly with yoursher wide cuffed black trousers, your navy blue pencil skirt, cashmere crewnecks, iconic printed accessories. Your favorite is a gray suiting dress. It has a drop waist and a single inverted pleat. You wear it to an interview, New York, London, to her funeral and then your father’s and then another, to your best friend’s second wedding, the Union League, to family court. You build a wardrobe around a life that disappears. Who were you when you bought that wool crepe dress with her?

In a dressing room alone somewhere, you remind yourself of her lessons: Choose carefully and invest in clothing that lasts. You’ll need a dress for starting over, and more than once. You slip on a long silk cardigan that should have been hers and is yours now, by default, and you pray: If I am pain, may I also be grace.

Nichole Cordin is a Chicago writer and contributing editor of Dead Housekeeping. When not actively mourning, she enjoys taking photos of her geriatric Boston Terrier and can be found at @NicholeCordin.

How to Make Three-Minute Eggs

A tall porcelain egg cup is the only appropriate receptacle from which to eat a three-minute egg.
Not soft boiled, “three-minute.” Three minutes is the exact amount of time you need to achieve custardy white and soupy yolk perfection.

Use the old Farberware pot. It holds the perfect amount of water to cover the egg, but not so much that you crack the egg when you drop it in.

Watch the pot until the electric stove coil turns red.

The author's great-grandmother; a good egg

The author's great-grandmother; a good egg

When the water starts to boil, take two eggs from the carton and lower them into the pot. Some people use a spoon for this. Not you. Kitchen work is best done with one’s own hands.

Replace the lid. Set the yellow timer. Only the timer, never a clock, because a few seconds over or under done won’t do.

When the timer rings, drain the water and put the eggs right into the cups.

One for her. One you.

Image by Besty Weber/Flickr

Image by Besty Weber/Flickr

Crack the shell. Peel a small piece of the white off the tops. Eat it. Use the yellow and white daisy salt-shaker to salt the yolk.

Eat the warm egg with a spoon straight from the shell. A piece of toasted challah, well buttered, for mopping up the drips.

It’s a small thing you do together, once a week. But she will remember it even after thirty years have passed.

- Samantha Brinn Merel spent one day every week at her great-grandmother's apartment when she was little. Along with how to make a perfect three-minute egg, during those visits she learned the appropriate way to apply blue eyeshadow, the joy of rhinestone clip-on earrings, how to make a thumbprint cookie, and how to knead challah dough by hand - even though owning a Kitchen Aid mixer means she will never actually employ that particular skill. She was a contributing author to the anthology The Herstories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship, and blogs at This Heart of Mine.

How to Make a Gumbo

The roux is everything. It cannot be rushed, there are no shortcuts. It is finicky, precise, requiring your constant attention, otherwise it will burn in an instant and the whole thing is shot to hell. The only way is to stand over it – flour and butter– and smoke three Vantage cigarettes end to end, stirring until the desired shade of brown. Between inhales, tell your children about patience and the importance of slowing down.

Next add the Holy Trinity: onion, celery, green peppers. Cook until softened. Add three cups broth and change into a terrycloth jumper before deboning the chicken and cutting up the sausage. You only go to this kind of trouble for people you love, so call the kids back to the kitchen. Laugh loudly and ask questions while your son tells you about his latest video game. When your daughter moodily rests her chin on the bar, draw out the story of the sneering girl in the Guess jeans.

The author and her mother, in her signature terrycloth jumper

The author and her mother, in her signature terrycloth jumper

The okra will be slimy if added directly. Boil it for 3-5 minutes first, drain, then add. For a secret kick, throw in a can of Rotel tomatoes. Tony Chachere’s and pepper to taste (only a Yankee would add sea salt). Simmer with 2 bay leaves. 

Eat standing up while fetching the kids sparkling grape juice and more rice. When you’re gone, your daughter will create a mythology about your selfless love and won’t realize until she's 40 that virtue is not necessarily born of self-sacrifice. 

Freezes well.

- Elizabeth Beauvais is a writer and independent sustainability consultant.  For twenty years, her writing and editing largely focused on food justice and security, environmental policy and corporate social responsibility, but now she's hard at work to develop her creative side in narrative nonfiction through her blog at and through other channels.

Sandwiches for a Crowd

She said I needed to hold back a bit; not everyone liked that much. I watched her garish pink lips and wondered at the pigment in the creases around her mouth. You can’t taste the jam with all that peanut butter, she explained. 

I spread the peanut butter the way I wanted anyway. A thick application that overwhelmed the bread’s integrity. My job was the peanut butter; she did the jam.

I liked a lot of peanut butter. Besides, she wore weird summer shirts with rhinestones and liked making minestrone. Blocks of frozen minestrone lined the freezer for months after each visit. You can’t trust a minestrone-lover to know anything about peanut butter, really.

The author's great-grandmother living life to its fullest

The author's great-grandmother living life to its fullest

She said I had to think about what other people might want as her knife swept the excess off one slice and onto a fresh one. I focused on her liver spots I was sure had once been freckles like mine, confused as to why anyone would object to more peanut butter. 

It was just too much, she said gently.

But really I was too much, and that’s why I was hardly ever asked to help. More trouble than I was worth in most areas. The peanut butter had been my job and I had mucked it up like always. I climbed down from the chair I’d been standing on to help.

She stopped me and handed me an uncorrected, heavy sandwich.

It’s okay to not like the same things, she said.

- Jennifer Kovelan moves numbers around during the day and studies development economics in the evening. Occasionally she puts words on the internet and in print. Her clothes always clash and she has too many cats. She laughs much louder than you are probably comfortable with.

Mrs Brown's Cardamom Bread

We were newlyweds, poor, and convinced that living naturally was important for ours and the earth’s welfare. We bought flour, grains, and beans in unpacked bulk and shopped at grocers that sold abundant supplies of beautifully green produce. I learned how to bake yeast bread—basic white, wheat breads.

He spoke longingly of the bread his mother made at Christmas. He called it Cardamon bread, a light gently sweet aromatic bread made with a cardamon spice. I tried but no recipe I found matched his memory of its texture and flavor. I needed guidance, but his family lived in Minnesota far from DC. Two years later we went to Minnesota for Christmas. His mother’s kitchen was immaculate. I felt awkward there, but watched her make the bread. 

Mrs. Brown smashed the cardamon seeds from their shells, dumped them into a bowl of hot milk, and added the yeast when the milk cooled. She mixed sugar and shortening (margarine or Crisco) in the electric mixer bowl and stirred in the yeast mixture. Flour was added gradually to obtain a soft dough. 

She let the dough rise, doubling in size, then punched it down. At the second rising, she turned the dough out onto a floured board, it was allowed to rest for about fifteen minutes. The dough was then divided in half, the halves were divided into three sections. Their ends dampened, pressed together and braided. Two loaves were made. They were allowed to rise. Then a yolk diluted with water was painted over the top, and sugar sprinkled over it. Then she baked the loaves. 

The bread was as delicious as my husband said. I would bake it for him the next sixteen years before our divorce.

-- Leslie Brown grew up in a close-knit working class family in Detroit and now lives in Virginia.  Where many playmates went south during the summer, she spent many fondly remembered weeks at her grandparent’s apartment near Hastings Street before the area was urban renewed. She retired from work as a librarian, working in public as well as university libraries. She enjoyed work helping students discover literature and information. She holds n MFA in creative writing from American University and served as an editor for American University Graduate magazine while there. Since retiring, she has explored various writing forms and multi-media formats. She created a video imagining the black migrant’s experience, "Detroit Great Migration Impressions.” 

How to Grow and Preserve a Garden

Don’t worry overmuch about details. Consult a grandchild about where you should put the garden, and then dig up the lawn wherever they point. Pretty much if you till the ground and throw some seeds in and make sure it gets watered, things will grow. You will have to do the tilling, but little kids like to help plant seeds. Show a grandchild how to do the first one and then let them do the rest however they want. If they get bored and abandon the job, you can finish it.

The best way to water is the beer method: stand out there watering for as long as it takes you to drink a beer while the child swings on the rope swing. When your beer is done, or the child wants to do something else, you are done watering.

Harvest when there are too many strawberries for the child to keep up with by eating them straight from the vine. For veggies, harvest whenever. If several are ripe together, then you can preserve them.

People worry about canning, but really the process is pretty easy. It’s okay if your kitchen is dirty as long as the jars are clean. Boil the jars in a stock pot while you are cooking the preserves. For the preserves, measurements can be approximate; let a grandchild do the measuring, but don’t let them stir the preserves if they are young, lest they burn themselves. They can help transfer the hot preserves to the jars if they are old enough and carefully supervised. Details like head space and pretty labels don’t matter; if the jar is 2/3rds full, it will be fine. Process the jars in the stock pot and then take them out and line them up on the counter. Draw your grandchild’s attention to the popping sound as each jar seals.

Give the preserves to your children: the grandchild’s parents, aunts, uncles. The labels can read “cranberry something” or “corn peppers onions.” A general idea of what the jars contain is fine.

Months after you die, your children will open the jars, and you will be able to feed them again.


- Tedra Osell is a freelance writer and editor who lives in California with her precocious son and a bitey cat. She used to be a famous blogger and a non-famous English professor. Her father died of pancreatic cancer this spring.

How to Shop for a Car

Never buy a new car.

Never buy a car from a dealer.

Buy directly from another owner, and have your own mechanic check it out.

Try to buy for cash, or put at least half down. A car loan is the worst loan to have.

To find your car, comb the paper all week for several weeks.

Don’t rush. 

Seek patterns. 

The people who took out an ad every single day of the week bought the package deal the newspaper offered, and so they know good value. 

They do not cut corners. 

They are pound wise instead of penny wise. 

They probably cared for their car, and probably know how to negotiate.

Never enter into agreements with anyone who does not value what they offer.

Do not begin with a dream in mind. 

Read first, see what’s out there, see which cars have the lowest mileage for the best price, consult the Blue Book, consult Kelly’s. 

Let the dream car find you.

Lisa's dad, J.J. Wormser in 1970, while he was an engineer at Continental Electronics. If this thing had tires, he'd kick them.

Lisa's dad, J.J. Wormser in 1970, while he was an engineer at Continental Electronics. If this thing had tires, he'd kick them.

Low mileage and a clean accident record are the two most important things, followed closely by ownership. Single ownership is best, two at most. Three? Walk away. But stay detached. Don’t lock in on anything. Be ready for the surprising right one.

Look for rust. Don’t buy a car that has rust.

Check the tires. If necessary, ask for a couple hundred dollars off if the tires look anything but wonderful.

When you find the one for you, don’t go in with half measures. 

Make an offer, make it fair, be ready to be rejected. 

If you get the car of your dreams, be proud. Drive safe.

I will do this first one with you. Hand you the keys. Tell you to be proud. Tell you to drive safe.

Someday you will share these lessons with your child.

- Lisa Schamess


White yarn turned into lacy covers for toilet paper rolls. Skeins of homely grey wool became 17 Christmas mice. Grandma’s knitting needles kicked together on long silver legs through balls of yarn that darted around the living room. Hot afternoons high above Minneapolis, her stout thighs stuck to my skinny ones on the sofa, her needles clacked like a second old lady while we watched Days of Our Lives, with its slamming doors, kisses, and crying. “He’s no good,” Grandma would tell me, or “She deserves better,” or “I was afraid of that.”

The author's grandma, making something pretty.

The author's grandma, making something pretty.

Over TV trays of Wonder Bread covered in oleo and sugar, with the last of her preserved rhubarb, we’d watch General Hospital, then As the World Turns. Summer vacation passed, as each day Grandma wore a different homemade purple dress, ranging from palest lilac to deep violet, and a rotation of aunts, uncles, and cousins visited while she knit them baby blankets and ski caps, and once, with a tiny, hooked needle, she crocheted a red bikini for my Barbie. Sometimes someone would mention The Farm, a place they all loved but could never return to because Grandpa still lived there. In the city, Grandma had fashioned herself a new life, with lots of accessories and a pink car, just like Barbie. She’d cushioned herself with family and ball upon ball of colorful yarn, made a soft place, a woolen fortress blocking out the one person who could make a big woman feel small.

- Lynn Mundell's flash fiction has appeared most recently in Drunk Monkeys, Tin House "Flash Fidelity," and Pure Slush. More is forthcoming this year in Split Lip Magazine, A3 Review, KYSO Flash, and Five Points. Lynn lives in Northern California, where she co-edits 100 Word Story.


Blue and Grey and Brown

The walk-in closet smells like lavender, shoe polish, cedar and dry cleaning chemicals. This is what a man’s closet should smell like. There are 130 shirts (dress and casual), 13 suits, 9 pairs of jeans, 7 pairs of slacks, 25 pairs of shoes, 10 belts, and 14 sweaters. This closet comes with many instructions: 

He keeps the sweaters in clear boxes with a bar of Yardley Lavender soap in each box, along with three cedar balls the size of Milk Duds. The clear boxes are dusted regularly.

Because it is the best kind of lavender soap.

He only hangs ties on the tie rack and never with a knot in it. Silk is only so forgiving, he explains as he smooths down the wrinkles from that day’s knot. 

No, I don’t need ties that are more fun. These ties are appropriate. 

John in an appropriate navy pinstripe, at his college graduation.

John in an appropriate navy pinstripe, at his college graduation.

His shirts from the dry cleaner are hung on the right-most part of the closet because new shirts are chosen from the left-most. They rustle like fall leaves in their dry cleaning bags as he squares the shoulders and lines them up perfectly. 

White and blue are the only acceptable colors for a man’s dress shirt. Pink is for salesmen. I am not a salesman.

Laundered shirts are hung by color grouping and sleeve length. 

Your mother shrunk this one.

Jeans in one section, slacks in another, hung legs on the left, perfectly aligned on trouser hangers.

Because that is the correct word for them.

All shoes, even gym shoes and sandals, have shoe trees in them; big, heavy, shoe trees that feel more like weapons than items of haberdashery. They are all cedar. 

If you treat them right, all shoes can last a decade or more. These are older than you, dear.

Suits stay in their waxed canvas bags until they are worn, and they go right back in at the end of the day. He tells me where and when he bought each suit, and the thought process involved in each. 

No. I prefer dark blue and dark grey. Brown is too midwestern. Black is for nightclub owners.

When I have to clean out his closet, and choose a suit for him to wear in the casket, the choice is easy, as if he was making it for me. 

- Beth Dugan is one of our favorite multiple-contributors to Dead Housekeeping and can be found at

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, 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, 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, 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.