How to Host a Guest

You apologize to your guest for the weather, the ice storm that has coated the sidewalks in your crowded Stockholm neighborhood. You apologize that it gets dark so early, but add tomorrow will be sunny and warm.

You apologize for the size of your apartment, though in truth it is like something out of a movie. The kind of place a young, successful woman would live, decorated with the same sense of style that marks your wardrobe. You favor the classics, but some audacious pieces from Vivienne Westwood hang in the closet. You have visited Westwood’s studio, and count celebrities among your friends, a diverse collection of individuals in cities and towns around the world. They marvel at how your life seems so constantly in motion, a shutter-fast series of work projects and ideas, destinations and time zones, captured colorfully on Instagram.

The author's favorite photo of his friend Carolina.

The author's favorite photo of his friend Carolina.

But then there is you at home, apologizing for the lack of space, insisting on sleeping on a roll-up mattress in the living room, giving your guest the bedroom. You make your bed up simply, your laptop perched on the coffee table because you will start working after just a few hours sleep.

After the accident takes you away, this is what your guest remembers. After the clothes are packed away. After he hears the apartment has been sold. He remembers talking well into the night, and he remembers you apologizing, in advance, if you accidentally wake him in the morning. 

 

- T. (Tom) Cashman Avila-Beck is a frustrated creative who lives in Bangor, Maine, where he sometimes gives tourists incorrect directions to Stephen King’s house. Not on purpose, he just has a horrible sense of direction. 

How to Store Seashells

Before you store your seashells, you must first walk along Miami Beach at sunrise with your throat still burning from last night’s margaritas. This is before marrying, having children or growing up. Along the wet sand, collect sand dollars, pointy mitres, ridgy scallops and, your favorite, oversized conch shells. Pack them in your suitcase between your swimsuits and terry-cloth jumpsuits and bring them back to Ohio.

In time, get married. Have one child. Get divorced and married again, always hanging on to those shells. They remind you of who you were before: young and wild.

When your father falls ill, pick up your family of three and move everything that fits into his duplex. Take care of him as best you can. He’s dying, but you won’t admit it. 

Display the shells on a shelf in your six-year-old daughter’s room, because wall space is scarce. She likes them, to shake the sand dollars and imagine real coins inside. When your dad’s health sinks further, hand her the conch and tell her to listen to the ocean. Tell her stories about the beach and how one day, when money and life are better, you will take her there to find her own seashells.

One day she climbs her dresser to play with the shells and bumps the shelf. It topples. Shards of shells ricochet off walls. 

The conch is somehow okay. 

Hold it to your ear. Know not everything is broken.

 

- Danielle Dayney is sometimes a blogger, usually a writer, and always a mom. Recently, her creative nonfiction essays have been shared on BLUNTmoms and Thought Catalog. Her stories have also been published in several anthologies including the Virginia Writers Centennial AnthologyShort on Sugar, High on Honey, Nevertheless We Persisted, andBeach Reads: Lost and Found.In 2016 and 2017, she received awards at BlogHer for creative nonfiction essays. You can find her chasing kids and furbabies somewhere in Virginia, or at www.danielledayney.com.

How to Create a Life You Want in the Wrong Place

Begin early in your arranged marriage to your farmer. Sprinkle a little bit of soda, literally on top of the newly growing corn stalk, ruining the whole row, but not the field, before he stops you. Misunderstanding the difference between sprinkling around and on turns out to be just the thing to ensure you’re put out of the fields forever.

Now the kitchen is your domain. Be sure to always have cornbread cooked and greens simmering in the pot in case time gets away from you. Pile high all of your books, various versions of the Bible for cross-referencing, sheet music you never use, several years of yellow pages, cookbooks full of recipes you can’t get the ingredients for, and cartons of cigarettes. All balanced in precarious columns. Spend moments between preparing meals ordering items you don’t have the money or space for.

Granny Deen on her back porch

Granny Deen on her back porch

Find relief out of the hot kitchen by spending afternoons on the back porch reading and smoking, or playing melodies you heard on the radio, by ear and without sheet music, on the tiny upright piano you convinced your husband to buy. It entertains your children and the neighbors through the porch screen.

Make sure to do all of this in your house dress, bra off and no shoes, because none ever fit just right. As you’re rocking and reading on the porch, be sure to make notes in the margins of your thoughts and reactions, even in the Bible. Feel secure that they will always see your thoughts scribbled around passages, like a frame. Who would throw out a Bible? Surely, not your children. 

 

- Leah Rosa O'Donnell is a native New Orleanian and Licensed Professional Counselor. She remains fascinated with observing people and occasionally writes about what she sees. 

How To Say No

Work long hours and travel frequently to keep a steady income for your mother and three younger sisters. Soon enough, the five of you will shrink to three. 

Let your skin darken from too much sun, and your hands grow callouses where they clutch the handlebars of your genuine imported Italian Vespa scooter; your one indulgence. Bury your nose in the newspaper and allow your mother’s complaints about your complexion to wash over you. Keep your nose buried when she asks when you’ll marry. 

The author's uncle on his Vespa with one of his younger sisters

The author's uncle on his Vespa with one of his younger sisters

Store away the Nos you want to say. You’ll need them later.

Cultivate a fearsome moustache, at first for gravitas at work, and then to scare your nieces and nephews into good behaviour. Your moustache and the bulging of your eyes allow you the freedom to not raise your voice to them. 

Marriage in your forties will release the Nos.

Learn to drop your voice into a resonant baritone when you say No. Imbue the two syllables of the Malayalam word with all the resistance and rejection you’ve locked deep inside, all the Nos you’ve never said; vēnda.

Speak little, laugh often and heartily, and raise your voice only to say No. Vēn-DA.

When your wife, constantly moving, constantly talking to fill the silences you leave, insists you have a second helping at lunch, boom vēnda without looking up from your plate. Laugh unrestrainedly when your tiny grandnephews giggle at the scene. Pull them, still giggling, onto your lap and teach them to say vēnda too.

The author's uncle with her children in 2006

The author's uncle with her children in 2006

 

 

author's note: Malayalam doesn't have a generalised word for No. Instead, it directly negates verbs. Vēnda means "doesn't/don't want".

- Asha Rajan

How to Name a Daughter

Don’t rush into a name for the fetus. It’s just a bump, just a lump in your housedress that will maybe come to nothing after all: you’re not eating well, he drinks too much. The Depression has its hooks in you womb-deep.

Don’t hurry to name your baby. There’s so many of them and they die so young so often. She cries when she’s born; a good sign, a strong baby, but anything can happen.

illustration by the author

illustration by the author


Take your time naming your toddler. You’ve lost children already; you can lose this one too. Farmer’s rules: don’t name the animals you’ll have to slaughter. Don’t name the children that die, unrecorded. 

Call your little girl Precious and Darlin and Princess. She is the youngest and could be any of those things, barefoot in the red clay dust of the yard. Eventually she will return from her first day of school – so big! – asking “Mama, what’s my name?”

Say the first thing that comes into your head.

 

- 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, a contributor to Ask a Raging Feminist, a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee and one of BlogHer's 2017 Voices of the Year for work we consider required reading, including "How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101."   

Rowan has also told us How to Clean your Plate and How to Have Nice Things.

How to Make the Coffee

This essay was written collaboratively by the editors of Dead Housekeeping. We honor how caretakers come together across race, religion, and nationality to mourn, to commiserate, and to plan after cataclysmic events. We owe the idea to our founding editor Lisa Schamess, for calling us in as a group to write this about the letter-writing, stamp-licking coffee klatsches of the 1960s and 1970s. It was healing for us to write after the U.S. election results last week. We hope it’s healing to read as well.

 

How to Make the Coffee

 

First, go to the store. In addition to things for the coffee, make sure and buy tissues. Some people will need a place to cry tonight.

The house may sparkle or it may be filthy. Maybe you clean when you are upset, maybe your nervous energy propels you to scrub the baseboards, or maybe the house has gone all to hell. If a mountain of junk has grown on the table, clear it off. You can put everything neatly in its place, or throw it in a hamper for later. You'll need a clear workspace, a place for everyone's cups.

Bring up the folding chairs. Alter the furniture for company and tasks. Vignettes for conversation, for work, for sitting next to.

Look for the folding table you last used at Thanksgiving. It isn't in the basement. Did you lend it to Sybil and forget to get it back? Or did the leg break? No matter. Someone has one you can borrow. Start with Sybil.

Consider making coffee cake: That recipe that everyone raves over. A little sweetness at a time like this is always welcome.

At least one person you invited doesn't drink coffee. Check your tea supply.

Not everyone will want what's in that cup. Offer anything. Everything. Until you get it right.

The coffee is bitter and the product of so many hands.

The milk is farmed from beings who made it for their children, not ours.

The sugar is bitterest of all, bitterest of all.

How do we raise our bitter cups together?

Let the children play under the table. What do they know yet. What will they know.

Drink the bitterness, leave lipstick on the cup.

You have a close friend who comes early to help set up. She's telling you what she cannot say later. She thoughtfully sets a napkin under the percolator spout.

This is just your "little coffee klatsch" you tell the men. You'll be home by 11 or so.

Light a candle in the bathroom. Not everyone wants to cry in public, but those who need privacy deserve warmth, too.

There's the smell of coffee, perfumes, and store-bought pastries. Cocktail napkins, condiments, cups stacked on a tray.

It will feel good to see everyone together. Your heavy hearts will fill the whole room. Everyone brings what they can. For example: There's nothing wrong with a friend liberating a pack of legal pads and two boxes of envelopes from the office where she works. We all find our way to stock the communal tote bag of supplies.

An envelope on an end table is displayed quietly for group costs. One friend leaves a generous ten every meeting. It's what she has to offer.

The dryer will buzz. Leave it.

Draw water. Fill the urn to the line. Put the basket into the urn and turn the stem. You will know it is set right when you feel the click in the notch.

Measure out the grounds, spoon by spoon. Add one for the pot.

Put the lid on and turn it to lock. Plug in the cord. The brew will begin to bubble.

Let your children watch all this.

Someday they too will mix and brew and stir the pot.

Call them from under the table to put the pastry on the plate, the good one with gold leaf that your grandmother gave your mother. Let them lick their fingers and put them back into the pastry box. Pretend not to see. A little spit never killed a soul.

One day when you re old, write the instructions for the percolator on an index card, and tape it to the inside of the box the percolator came in. Your children will need this when you're gone, when percolators have fallen out of common use and yet await their time for gatherings.

- The Housekeepers

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 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.

 

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.

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.

Tips for Balancing Your Checkbook

My grandmother balanced her checkbook on Sundays, after Johnny Carson had gone off the air. I’d stay up late with her, listening to the CLICK CLICK CLICK of the adding machine as we watched reruns of Hitchcock muted on the screen.

“You must take care of your finances, Franny,” grandma would say as she checked off each deposit and withdrawal, all written in her elegant parochial school handwriting. “I have a perfect credit score. Never been late on paying, not even once!”

She’d say that last bit smugly, before turning back to her calculations. Occasionally I’d hear her muttering tidbits of advice while she tried to reconcile the bank’s statement with her own precise records.

Next to the adding machine, grandma kept a neatly folded, damp paper towel, so she could carefully wipe each finger each time they grazed the black carbon copy paper.

“Always make a copy when you write a check. And use ink,” she’d say. “Most folks are decent, but that’s no excuse for being an easy mark.”

She was full of this unsolicited advice.

“Never finance toys, Franny. You take a loan for a house, even a car. Sure. But never toys. No one needs a record player enough to go into debt for it. “

Grandma survived as an orphan during the great depression. That kind of wasteful indulgence “got her dander up,” as she would say.

“Balancing a checkbook is easy. Money in, money out, easy as pie. It’s getting the money that’s the hard part. “ This was a constant refrain.

“You have to work hard. Nothing is free.”

 

- Frances Locke is a writer from New York City and the founding editor of Witty Bitches Magazine. She’s currently living a self-imposed exile in Las Vegas, with her partner and children, and enjoys proselytizing about the wonders of cats whenever possible.  You can find her on Twitter at @frances_locke

Warding Off the Evil Eye

It is strict adherence to ritual that keeps your loved ones safe. Rise at 4 am to pray. The Gods are most attentive in the early hours. Morning prayers, an oil lamp lit every evening before the electric lights are flicked on, a ban on Friday travels, these are your lines of defence against evil.  

Be watchful, ever vigilant for the intrusion of errant spirits into the family. A crying child in the evening, a sure sign of the Evil Eye.  

Gather your arsenal while muttering under your breath about the visiting neighbour-woman, with her too abundant praises, her too ardent admiration of beauty and intelligence in the child. Steel yourself, this is no trifling issue. Shut your ears, your heart to the child’s sobs, she is held and comforted by her mother.  

Work quickly, ignoring the arthritis gathering in your joints. Before misfortune falls.

First the dried red chillies, one, two.  

Then the black mustard seeds. A small pinch will do. 

Gather together with grains of rice, 

Circle the child’s head precisely thrice.

Throw the spices with deadly aim

Into the fire of licking flames.

Chanted prayers allay the fears,

And distract the young one, now no longer in tears.

image by Asha Rajan

image by Asha Rajan

Keep a keen eye for the wisps of smoke rising from the fire-flung spices. These mark the demise of the Evil Eye, the restoration of the world to its rightful order. 

Your daughters, and one day your granddaughters too will repeat these actions, and think of you.

- Asha Rajan

Rags

My mother never wore gloves to clean, and she never used trendy, fresh-scented cleaners advertised on TV. She cleaned the bathroom with bleach, and the windows with ammonia. She scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees with a brush and Fels-Naptha, wearing my brother's football kneepads; never with a mop. Her other implement of choice was a rag, whether cleaning the toilet or her ceramic figurines.

Any fabric that had outperformed its original duties was re-purposed for cleaning. A faded T-shirt became a dust cloth. A sock polished shoes. A threadbare washcloth sat under the soap dish to absorb drips. Every morning after washing her face, my mother used that soaped-up swatch to wipe down the sink, fixtures, and vanity. She cut over-fraught bath towels into pieces for cleaning the toilet. She swished the brush only to remove visible stains, then flushed and poured a cup of bleach into the bowl, thrust in her hand, and scoured the porcelain with the same determined vigor she used on pots and pans. I learned this routine when I stayed home from school with a cold.

Just the thought of ammonia still burns my sinuses. But my mother appeared to enjoy sloshing a soaked rag over the windows then wiping the pane with an old, torn dishtowel until the glass was nearly invisible. Afterward, she would admire her wedding set, sparkling on her hand. "Cleans diamonds better than anything."


- judy b. is the author of the fiction collection Stories for Airports, and she leads literary bike tours with readings in the San Francisco locations that inspired the stories. She co-produced and co-starred in Kristin Tieche's award-winning short feminist horror film The Spinster and produced and co-starred in Gates and Strays, a webseries created by Jen Ralston. From December 2015 through February 2016, judy b. is a resident artist at Listhús Artspace in Iceland. Find her at onze11 and on Facebook.

Christmas Day

Wake up early, but don't get up until your children do.  Your father-in-law would have woken everyone, but you'll wait. They will be up soon.

When you hear them, turn on the Christmas lights and the music; Christmas morning is incomplete without Donny Hathaway. Go to the kitchen to get some coffee. If your grown daughter has already made it, thank her. She doesn't drink coffee, and this looks like tar, but try to drink it anyway. Don't let your elderly father near this stuff. Make him a fresh pot.

image by Ulysses Campbell

image by Ulysses Campbell

Ooh and ahh over the presents. You are an excellent shopper and it pleases you when you get the gifts right. Take lots of pictures. Play with the toys.

After breakfast, get started on the meat for dinner. Your wife and daughter will be working on the side dishes. Trade one-liners with your daughter until the two of you are laughing like fools and your wife puts you both out of the kitchen. It's temporary; that standing rib won't season itself.

When you sit down at the beautifully decorated table for dinner, take a moment to give thanks. There is an abundance of food, your family is healthy and joyful. Soon there will be in-laws and grandchildren, cancer and funerals, but today it is just the five of you, eating by candlelight. Today all is calm, and all is bright. 


- This is the finale of three Christmas entries by contributing editor Jacqueline Bryant Campbell

Let Her Think it's Terrible

When a grandchild pesters you for a sip of your coffee, because you have a known sweet tooth and she figures whatever you're having must be good, make a strong pot and give her a steaming mug of her own.

Telling her coffee will stunt her growth won’t work. She is contrary and will say she prefers to be small. She still isn’t brushing her teeth because someone tried to turn Merritt Morrison’s dentures into a cautionary tale. That backfired and now she wants false teeth just like he has.

Give it to her straight, so full she can hardly lift it.

After her first burning taste she will leave you alone. Don’t say you haven't had your coffee black since the war. Add milk and sugar when she wanders off to pet the poodle. Stir idly, enjoy.

In the afternoon the child will grab her customary can of Coke from the fruit cellar. She’ll find you first, sweeping sweet-smelling sawdust in your little basement woodshop or enjoying the sun on a patio lawn chair, planning tomorrow’s puttering. Maybe you will trim the apple tree, or hose off the cement Virgin who presides by the shed.

painting by Kathy Codere (daughter of the subject, mother of the author)

painting by Kathy Codere (daughter of the subject, mother of the author)

Do you want a pop, too? She’ll drink hers in front of the TV with M&Ms from the cut glass candy jar by your seat on the couch.

This same method works for your evening 7&7s. Let her have a harsh taste of Seagram’s before you sweeten it. She won’t bother you for another sip and her mother will come take her home as you turn the dial to Wheel of Fortune.

 

- Meredith Counts is a Founding Editor of Dead Housekeeping. This piece appears on the three month anniversary of starting this site. 

Everyday Cloth Napkins

He was the handsome product of an excessive upbringing, immodestly garish by sensible Midwest standards. His business casual wardrobe was unmistakably prep schooled, and always buttoned down. He was a classic. As classics sometimes do, he was unable to adapt gracefully to some generally accepted conveniences of our modern lives. Namely, paper napkins.

Over time, he learned to tolerate them as a necessary evil, reluctantly procured with fast food perhaps.

If you are also among the genetically classist and/or enjoy mild to moderate OCD, the cloth napkining lifestyle is practical and easy to implement.

Everyday cloth napkins must be cotton, and of a woven variety that is wrinkle-free post-clothesdryer. While color and pattern are a matter of preference, anything too endearing is bound to get hoarded away for a dinner that will never happen. I prefer classic-size darker neutrals. Oversized napkins are annoying and basically less charming tea towels.

Keep your napkins in an accessible kitchen drawer or countertop basket. Two sets of eight are plenty for most people, and unsoiled napkins can be set aside for personal reuse. Rotating them into like colored laundry is a good habit to ensure you always have several clean.

Solo meals frequently eaten in alternative spaces can be made exponentially more enjoyable with a cloth napkin. On the sofa, use one to carry then hold a hot soup bowl, or insulate a cup of ice cream. Guests may question the "need" for such extravagances while eating pizza off your coffee table. Shrug them off knowing you won't be forced to look at or clean up their defiled tacky paper wads.

image by the author

image by the author

Everything Can Be Used Again

There is a place for everything. Being caught in need of an item that you once had in your possession, but let slip away, is shameful.

Gumbands, cracked, mismatched Tupperware lids, and pantyhose with runs. There is a place for all of it. Store it neatly in dusty shoe boxes along the back basement wall, or under the bed. Shove it in corners, under the bureau, in the backs of closets, where the records used to go in the stereo cabinet and under the couch.

When the grandkids and grandnieces are little, they will love to play with the unmatched Tupperware in opaque blues, greens and pinks. They will sit happily on the floor and smack them together or stack them in untidy towers and laugh when they topple over. You laugh, too. When the kids get older, they use them as frisbees. Send them outside. Outside! Get out of my kitchen!

Plastic shopping bags crackle out of every nook and cranny, making a soft static sound in the breeze. Hide the bags when your daughter comes to visit. She will only throw them away. When she is gone, you forget where you hid them and start again. You never know when you will need a plastic shopping bag. With them, you can send the nieces home with squishy, over-ripe fruit (There was a sale!), or pop one over your perm in the rain, if you don’t have your plastic babushka with you. But you always have the plastic babushka with you.

photo by the author

photo by the author

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

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.