How To Remodel

Start with the perfect cobalt blue farmers sink, on sale at Lowe’s. It’s too big for your kitchen, but that doesn’t matter, you bought this house for its potential. Set the sink in the middle of the kitchen floor where the tiles are missing because you plan to install a mosaic there, and start ripping out cabinets. Replace the bronze drawer pulls with blue glass knobs.

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Do the dishes in the tub while the kitchen is torn up. It’s not that bad, even if your joints ache every time you kneel down and your back threatens to seize. Take a hot bath after the dishes are clean.

Buy new appliances (also on sale at Lowe’s). Store them in the garage; the kitchen cabinets are still half dismantled, sheets of one-inch tiles laid loosely over the plywood, and that beautiful sink is still on the floor because you need to replumb. Walk around it for the next ten years every time you move from the fridge to the microwave. 

When your lungs are too crowded with smoke to swing a hammer, hire your boyfriend-slash-handyman, who is slow but cheap and does really excellent work when he is sober. When he isn’t sober, lock the door but don’t call the cops, because really he just needs a break. He didn’t mean to set fire to your hair that time. It was an accident. He apologized, later. He started to build shelves in your bedroom.

Buy him tools, a coffeepot, a KitchenAid. Maybe he’ll stay clean now that somebody is taking care of him. And when you do call the cops, that night he is banging on your door and will not leave, that night he stabs the bartender downtown because you wouldn’t let him in, write a letter, telling the judge he’s getting better, he’s not perfect but he’s got such potential.

Take the doors off the cabinets. Line the open shelves with beautiful blue jars full of pasta and beans, flour and sugar and coffee. That sink will look so nice, when the kitchen is fixed up.

 The author and her mother

The author and her mother

 

- Christine Hanolsy is a writer from Portland, Oregon. She serves on the editorial staff of the online writing community YeahWrite, where her primary portfolio includes microprose, flash fiction, and poetry. She was a 2015 BlogHer Voices of the Year recipient and community keynote speaker for her essay Rights and Privileges. Her short fiction has been published in print by MidnightSun Publishing and online by Enchanted Conversation; other pieces appear on her blog, Trudging Through Fog. She is currently revising her first novel, which she co-authored with fellow YeahWrite editor and Dead Housekeeping contributor Rowan Becket Grigsby.

Caring for Cut Roses

You are not my Grandmother. You are kind. My Uncle's mom. 

We are in South Texas. You and your amiable husband snow bird here, in this mobile home retirement park, just above the border. 

My only Grandmother is thorny, cruel; pitting her daughters against each other, stepping back as victim. I'm a child. I can see this. 

I don't know how to do the things my mom and Grandmother do well--sew, cook, create. When I want to learn, I'm told no. It would be too messy. You're in the way. Just go. These are some of the familial secrets kept for the few, to hold over the rest. 'Look at all of this I did. Look at all this I made. By myself.' 

 Image via the author

Image via the author

On this trip, you ask me to help you pick flowers--fragrant tea roses. We go outside after dinner. You let me cut them--vivid magenta and orange blooms. You let me hold and carry them, guiding me. When we go inside, you show me how to: 

run warm water
fill a sink or a bowl
submerge stems
trim at an angle under water, above a node
small slit the stem to force water up the bloom
transfer to vase, arrange
drop a penny in

They'll last longer. 

 Image via the author

Image via the author

You are patient, teaching, content to be with me. 

Each trailer plot has a citrus tree growing on it. Each tree is in bloom. I fall asleep breathing in grapefruit, tangerine. It's Easter. 

We never meet again.

- Jill McKenna Reed stewards bees, helps beekeepers, and writes poems in Portland, Oregon. Her poems have appeared in Vinyl Poetry & Prose, thethepoetry, Gobshite Quarterly and others. She's native to Chicagoland.

Pennies and Velvet

She was a widow longer than a wife, raised two children, but liked them better grown up. When we visited, we found textures, no toys. Not even pens and paper for drawing her pictures. Her Depression-era practicality found purpose, however, as she made what she had into something she needed. 

One room became two in her arrangement of the high-ceilinged great room: two Oriental rugs—whose borders we walked—and upholstered chairs arranged back-to-back where the rugs touched. Casual rubbed shoulders with Fancy, but did not speak. Each had a role.

The casual side held a wooden lady with carved and painted skirts, whose torso, with resistance, lifted to reveal candy corn in the hollow. A bumpy floral-patterned sofa. A dark-stained mantel clock that ticked and chimed. On the teak table sat a teak turtle, and when I turned over its smooth surface she chided me, "Put that back. It covers a spot." Each decorative object had a function. She grabbed a dishtowel to cover her face if she sensed a camera coming. 

 Grandma, photographed at the author's wedding

Grandma, photographed at the author's wedding

Across the divide stood a green velvet sofa we desired but were forbidden to climb since it was "for company." Nearby was a layer of overlapping pennies, fused to create a dish. She bit into onions like apples, but her breath was never bad. A desk had a cold glass top, family pictures trapped underneath. Often, for the grown-ups’ entertainment only, she set up a card table with metal legs and a 1000-piece puzzle on it: Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World.

Still, she did not completely ignore the grandchildren; she gave us baked goods to take home. Rice Krispies cookies, sometimes with walnuts, cut into perfect squares, repackaged in their blue box, lined with crumpled wax paper. She may have thought this practical, but it was like the Pop Art of the era. I loved how she transformed the packaging from cereal to treat. Although she had not let my aunt become an artist, and never acknowledged my impractical desire to be one, she unwittingly made art herself. She knew how to give new meaning to the ordinary things.

 

- Alisa Golden writes, makes art, and teaches bookmaking at California College of the Arts. Her work has been published in several magazines including 100 Word Story, Diagram, and NANO, among others. She is the author of Making Handmade Books and edits Star 82 Review in the one-square mile city of Albany, CA. 

Choosing the Perfect Christmas Tree

“Let's get the Christmas tree tonight!” You and your wife have discussed this, but it should sound spontaneous to your three children. The right time to go is about two weeks before Christmas. If you go much earlier, the tree will dry out before Christmas; much later and what would be the point?

Visit several lots. Ask for the Douglas or Fraser firs; you’re not interested in the white pines. Walk around each tree, checking to be sure the trunk is straight. All trees look straight in the lot. Was that tree at the first lot fuller? Have your family run their hands over the needles to see if they are soft and springy. Shake it a little to see how many fall off. No one wants a repeat of The Tree That Was So Dead The Ornaments Fell Off and You Had To Take It Down The Day After Christmas And There Were Needles In the Carpet For Months.

Bring home the freshest, fullest, straightest tree, and leave it in the garage overnight so it can thaw. This was necessary during your Ohio childhood, perhaps not so much in Alabama. It's the principle though. Let the limbs fall out an additional day once you bring it inside.

 image by  Ulysses Campbell

image by Ulysses Campbell

Prepare something warm for the family to drink while decorating the tree. Play Christmas music -- The Temptations, Nat King Cole, Smokey Robinson. Set the spire on the top after all the ornaments have been placed. Admire the decorated tree. It's a little crooked.  It's the prettiest tree you've ever had. 


- This is second in a series of three Christmas entries by contributing editor Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

Christmas is Coming

Get the house decorations out of the storage area. You will put up the lights outside and your wife will handle most of the inside, but there is one indoor thing you should do yourself. That large box holds the illuminated Santa head that you painted brown because there were very few African-American Santas in the stores in the 70s. Hang that in the den. 

  image by the author

image by the author

Consult with your wife about the menu. Pull out menus from previous Christmas dinners and look through some of those new cookbooks. You'll be responsible for the meat, maybe capon this year? Standing rib? Absolutely not turkey; seems like we just finished the Thanksgiving turkey. You'll also fix at least one dessert, something different, like a 24-hour plum pudding with hard sauce because Christmas deserves something special. Ask your daughter what breakfast she will prepare.

  image by Ulysses Campbell

image by Ulysses Campbell

On Christmas Eve, pull out the fondue cookbook that is falling apart and the two fondue pots. There will be one cheese fondue, one hot oil, and a warm potato salad for dinner. Buy lots of sterno. You have done this every year and no one has burned down the house yet. There will be lots of laughter as food falls off of forks and is fished out, crispy. 

Hug your kids extra hard when they go bed, especially once they are grown. It's good to have them all here, under the Santa head and eating cheese fondue. 


- This is first in a series of three Christmas entries by contributing editor Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

How to Have Nice Things

To protect yourself, have Nice Things. With Nice Things you can build a wall of cobalt glass, pink carpet, tiny souvenir spoons. Raise this wall between yourself and Poverty, the Dust Bowl, the Capital-N-Nothing of your childhood.

When your daughter (who does not need Nice Things to protect her; you have protected her) comes for stories with her secondhand recorder, you need not speak of the Nothing. It is walled out.

You eat dust and Nothing, but someday you will have a pink carpet. Vacuum it each time you have visitors, in two-foot strokes against the grain and then across. Repeat this before and after your visitors come; the carpet is a Nice Thing.

 illustration by the author

illustration by the author

Nice Things must be displayed at all times. If a Nice Thing breaks it becomes Nothing. You must never patch up a broken Nice Thing; always replace it with a new Nice Thing.

When you are angry you must not damage your Nice Things. When you need a weapon, use your hands, your fingernails, the family dachshund but not the cobalt glass. Go mad in the uncarpeted bathroom with the white glass case that holds your dusting-powder. The scent is called Chantilly Lace.

Take your grandchildren antiquing. Try to explain the difference between things and Nice Things; their mother will not. Her carpet is brown and threadbare. She fears nothing- not Nothing.

Your youngest granddaughter is fearless. She breaks Nice Things without caring that the Nothing comes in. Her elder sister tries to repair broken Nice Things. You need not explain that it is too late. She will discover this on her own. The last time you see her, tell her you are proud of her. That her life, her accomplishments, are a Nice Thing. It will be the only time you understand each other.

Before you die, make sure your granddaughters have tiny spoons.

 

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is outnumbered in Oregon by a menagerie and spouse. She tells truths at crossknit.wordpress.com and lies at textwall.wordpress.com and has been known to have opinions on the internet.

Evergreen

The pine-scented candles go on sale right after Christmas, and that is when you make your move. It always smells like Christmas at your house. Leaving the candles out all year is your version of never taking the tree and lights down. And pine scent is what you love most about Christmas.

Buy as many as you can carry out of the store. Buy as many different kinds as they have: glass jars, tea lights, giant pillars with pinecones imbedded in them, giant blocks with four wicks. Haunt the sale aisle all year long, just in case.

 photo by  Sade Murphy

photo by Sade Murphy

Every surface in your house should have a candle on it. When they are spent, burned down to residue and charred glass, don’t throw them out. The jars or stubby candle rinds will still give off a faint pine scent. Just place another one next to the husk. There will be about 25 in each room of your small apartment. Light them all at once, just a few for mood, or gaze at their lovely un-lit greenness. Inhale deeply.

They will grow a fuzzy layer of dust. It will burn off when the candle is finally lit, or it will just sit like a sweater on the candle rind. Keep the extra candles in the coat closet on a shelf. Opening the closet door will be the best part of your morning. Your jackets, scarfs, hats and gloves will always smell of pine. This smell will cling to you and remind all of your friends and family of you, long after you are gone.

 

- Beth Dugan grew up in the suburbs of Chicago where she learned to fear mayonnaise and the suburbs of Chicago. She loves the great indoors and enjoys sitting in beer gardens, looking out of windows and having bugs not touch her. She works for the Man in various capacities as a writer and editor of words. Beth is an nationally recognized theater reviewer, a humorless feminist and a lover (not a fighter.)