Preserving Time

Perfect sun-warmed peaches fill baskets slung on my arm in August. A recipe from my mother reads “Pfirsiche,” but I hardly need it. That day, my granddaughter fetches the folded paper. She is a struwwelpeter, a messy child, whose hair catches on the fly paper hanging in the barn. She needs taming, and I start with teaching her to preserve peaches.

I tie an apron behind my neck, as we begin putting time in a bottle.  We wash a dozen quart-size jars with Ivory liquid in the porcelain sink. Rainbow bubbles escape into the sunlight streaming through the wavy glass of the farmhouse windows. Her smooth young hands—a contrast to my wrinkled ones—reach out to catch them.

The author's grandmother and great-grandmother, picking peaches in 1943

The author's grandmother and great-grandmother, picking peaches in 1943

Dropping the clean glass into pots of boiling water with tongs, I set the timer to twenty. I show her how to schnibble with a paring knife, and she fills a red enamel bowl to the brim, my clever Schnookzie.

Add the zucker and the salz, I say, teaching her German as we cook—two-cups per two- cups per bowlful. Easy. I want her to remember. She rolls lemons under her palm, halves them, squeezes out the juice. Mixing everything together with my hands, I tell her, these will be the best tools in your kitchen. I sprinkle in ein kleines of vanilla, which we both pronounce a klex into the filled jars.  Sealing the lids, I say, wait for the magic.  Peng! go the tops, and she laughs.

- Ryder Ziebarth is a writer, a gardener and a mother, who lives on a hay farm in Central New Jersey where her daughter is fifth generation. Ryder received her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2016 and has been published in Brevity, The New York Times, N Magazine and is currently working on a memoir about her life on Cedar Ridge Farm.

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.

Save the Bows

It’s early and you’ve barely put in your teeth and combed your strawberry blonde hair with a plastic comb made at the factory where you work, but your velour robe and house slippers are perfectly matched.

The author's grandmother at 18 years-old

The author's grandmother at 18 years-old

Gifts are opened in order by age. There is a big, black trash bag into which all the spent wrappings are collected, and you repeatedly call out over the bustle to save the bows. You will use them again next year and the year after. Sometimes you will save the boxes and flatten them to use again. You don’t call this recycling, you just have seven children.

After gifts are opened, you will leave the boys to put on football, the children will play with their toys, and the food will come out - shrimp dip, sweet mix pickles with cheddar and pepperoni, meatballs, and ham. People will yell at the television and yell at each other because that’s how you get heard in a big family. Your house is warm and full.

The author's grandmother and mother on Christmas Eve

The author's grandmother and mother on Christmas Eve

Two days before Christmas you will be taken off of life support. Your children will be gathered around you. You will be cremated over Christmas, and share your mass with Saint Stephen. Your children, their children, and their grandchildren will all gather in your house every year to carry on your traditions. There will be shrimp dip, sweet mix pickles with cheddar and pepperoni, meatballs, and ham, every year. They will save the bows.

 

- Tamara Oliver is great at banana bread but pretty awful at Twitter. Find her there and admire her socks @sensoryoverlord

Ginny's Magic Cookie Dust

Roll-out cookies are the wild child of Christmas goodies. The dough can be temperamental and sticky, but Ginny Snyder, who was practically a second mother to me, used her gentle ways---and a neat little baking trick--to tame the flour, butter and sugar.  Beneath her large, capable hands, cookie dough relaxed and became a docile, calm collaborator.

Ginny concocted a sweet, silky dust from an equal  mix of flour and confectioner’s sugar to keep the dough in line. She’d pinch a tablespoon or so between her long fingers and thumb and sprinkle it over the work surface to prevent unruly stickiness.  And with each creaky, back-and-forth of the rolling pin, she coaxed the dough into a thinner and thinner canvas.

I marveled at her firm, tender technique. With a grainy swipe, she slid a metal spatula underneath the freshly-cut shapes, lifted them off the board and onto the cookie sheet, not a tear, wrinkle or deformed Santa in sight. Even the leaping reindeer’s antlers stayed intact.

Image via Chauncer/Flickr

Image via Chauncer/Flickr

With her long torso bent over the cookie sheets, Ginny’s fingertips moved with care and lightness, and each piece of raw dough got a smidgeon of affection.

When the timer pinged and they emerged from the oven, those cookies loved her back. They required only a slight nudge to break free of the pan. No breaks or crumbles either.

- Linda Miller is a freelance writer and memoirist who has worked in newspapers, higher education public relations and magazine publishing. She's a Baby Boomer from Slatington, a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania, and grew up with the quickest, funniest Dad ever, a former RN Mom who created a loving and beautiful home, and a younger brother who never missed an episode of Combat! on Tuesday nights. 

Grandma's Bread


Grandma raised seven children during the Great Depression, baking bread every morning but the Sabbath. Even a generation later, with the house filled only on weekends, there was never a loaf of store-bought bread.

Grandma couldn’t read, so I had to watch her prepare what we all called “grandma’s bread,” writing down the recipe and guessing at amounts. “Feel the water on your wrist,” she showed me, as she mushed a cake of Red Star yeast into a glass of warm water, “and add a bissel sugar.” We waited for it to bubble and foam. Five times she scooped from the 50-pound sack of flour that lived in the corner cupboard, dumping each scoop into a large ceramic bowl. “Make a well,” she said. Into it she tossed two small piles of salt, measured in the palm of her hand, the yeasty water, a blob of Crisco, and another glass of water. “Here’s the secret,” she whispered, cracking two eggs, saving out a little yolk for the crust, and pouring in the rest.
 

the author's grandmother sitting in her yard

the author's grandmother sitting in her yard

Grandma’s large, rough hands – hands that also embroidered, and cleaned, and hovered over the Shabbos candles, but rarely had hugged her own children – kneaded the smooth white dough. I knew I gave her naches: joy from children. “Just for you,” she’d say, forming a baby loaf, back when I was a little girl who tiptoed downstairs at sunrise. It smelled and tasted of love when I ate it, hot from the oven, slathered with good Wisconsin butter.

- Enid Kassner is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University writing program. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Elephant Journal3QR: The Three Quarter ReviewRat’s Ass ReviewInscape, Switchgrass ReviewWatershed Review, and other publications. She was awarded first place in creative nonfiction by the Coastal Bend Wellness Foundation. Enid writes and teaches yoga in Arlington, Virginia.

How to Make Daal

Spread lentils on a rattan tray, surveying every single grain. Scan for tiny pebbles masquerading as lentils. Close your eyes. Feel with fingertips for hard pebbles amidst the suede of lentils.
 
Rinse once. Drain. 
 
Rinse again, watching bits of dirt surrender—the flotsam you wish you could cull in your life. Drain.
 
Rinse again. Wonder if it’s ever completely cleansed? Be reminded of scars. Drain.
 
Repeat till it feels redundant or clear, whichever comes first.
 
Cook low and slow in a silver-clad handi —stir in all the spices you can muster. Simmer till the tiny beans forgot they were tiny and turn into fiery silk. Lace with garlic slices fried in ghee. Entice everyone within one kilometer of the house.
 
Ladle two big spoonfuls of steaming daal onto an island of gleaming white rice. Your plate: cheery and hopeful. A ruse.
 
Suck in your breath. Brace yourself for the unabashed heat. 
 
The first spoonful is confrontational, the second, loud. The following are demanding—your mouth feels numb and your skin lets go of beads in apology for all you can’t go back and heal.
 
Remember—it’s punishing and delicious. Remember your childhood zeal for it annoyed your mother who made perfectly delicious daal herself, though hers didn’t try to pick a fight with the world; being so brash, like your grandmother’s.
 
Your mother’s daal: a well-constructed, post-colonial argument, checking off all the vagaries of politeness and repression. Her daal took the path of perfectly balanced civility in spices, tried to smile its way out of anger, tried to look to the ground to mask moments of rage. 

the author's Nani and mother on her mother's wedding day in 1975

the author's Nani and mother on her mother's wedding day in 1975


You are definitely full. Ladle another big spoonful.
 
Because this reverie will end the moment you lick your fingers. You’d be back yearning for a home that never was.
 

- Saadia Muzaffar is a marvellous, brown, work-in- progress - trying to feel her way through life, friendship and love while fighting to stay angry.

Of Modakams and Meticulousness

Savoury Modakams were everyone’s favourite. Soaked uraddhal and chillies, coarsely ground then steamed. Seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves, a pinch of asafetida and a generous amount of grated coconut.

The author's Patti, whose nimble fingers moulded perfect modakams

The author's Patti, whose nimble fingers moulded perfect modakams

“Never leave the coconut for more than thirty seconds in the hot oil,” was Patti’s thumb rule.

“The determinant of a good ‘Modakam’ is its wafer-thin skin and not the sweet or savoury puran whose taste lingers on after the consumption.”

Pinching off a ball of wet rice dough, cooked in boiling water with a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of oil, she would use her fingers to flatten the edges and work the middle to get a cup shape. Then she would spoon the filling, nimbly bring the edges closer to taper it at the top and break off the extra dough. the finished Modakam would join the army in the steaming plate.

"Innipu kozhukkattai" Image by Jayashree Govindarajan/Wikipedia 

"Innipu kozhukkattai" Image by Jayashree Govindarajan/Wikipedia 

“It is an endurance test, a testimony to becoming a good wife.” I would look at the broken dough in my hand, panic shuddering through me. Secretly smashing it, I would start again.

As the making peaked, Patti would multi-task. She would knead fresh batches of the dough with water and oil, splash water on the cooked Modakams, coax them apart and transfer them to big steel bowls after they cooled.

The process would go on throughout the day. By night, not a single Modakam would be left. Patti would be stretched on the heirloom wooden swing, expecting no praise.

- Vijayalakshmi Sridhar has been surrounded by stories since young - both telling and listening to. Her day job as a freelance feature writer for the mainstream dailies and monthlies is the platform through which she meets people, many of whom have found their way to her stories’ characters- either as they are or in disguised forms. She believes that human relationships and their dynamics are the most interesting things to write about. She is keen to explore her journey as a story writer in non- specific genres. A mother of two girls, Vijayalakshmi is also interested and involved in many other creative pursuits.

It's always the season for "Sleeping Bags for Two or One"

Editor's note: We Housekeepers haven't put up any new material in November save for our group reaction to the U.S. presidential election. We have more to share soon, though, and invite you in the meantime to revisit one of the most loved, and most heartbreaking, pieces we've ever run. It's "Sleeping Bags for Two or One" by contributing editor Ashley Nicole Black, with an illustration by Ilana Shabnam. We are proud that it was featured on Elan Morgan's Five Star Mixtape when it first ran.

 

Sleeping Bags for Two or One

Few people know the proper technique for using sleeping bags. I learned how at an early age. Once you learn, you don’t forget.

illustration by Ilana Shabnam

illustration by Ilana Shabnam

You’ll need two sleeping bags, and a best friend. If you don’t have a best friend, I feel sorry for you because best friends are magic. Find one who is kind, likes the same things you do, and has asthma so they’ll stay behind with you to play pretend and tell stories, when the other kids run off to play sports. Go everywhere and do everything together. So that if your best friend died, and someone made a collage for her funeral, they wouldn’t find a single photo of her that didn’t have you in it. 

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Open both sleeping bags all the way. Place one on the ground. Place yourself and your best friend on top. Cover yourselves with the second. Cuddle and whisper all night. Bite each other’s shoulders as a joke. Giggle, but quietly, because your babysitter is mean when she’s sleepy. Hold on to your best friend very tight. Because she’s magic, and has great ideas about sleeping bags. And because she’s Black, and lives in a poor neighborhood. So if her asthma ever gets too bad, and the ambulance won’t come to her “dangerous” neighborhood, and she’s brain dead by the time her mother drives her to the hospital, and nobody has the courage to tell you what brain dead means, and you write letters and poems and drawings that nobody will tell you she can’t read, and when they finally tell, you climb into your sleeping bag and pretend to be dead as hard as you can, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t cry yourself to death and join her. That, they’ll tell you. So hold on tight. 

Maybe if you hold on tighter.  Maybe if you zip the sleeping bags together. Maybe if you spend the rest of your life shouting about injustice, ambulances will show up at little girls’ houses when they’re called. 

I recommend two Little Mermaid sleeping bags. Available wherever Disney products are sold. 

- Ashley Nicole Black

 

The text has not been altered, but you can find the original here.

 

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

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

Basics.

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 https://ebeauvaisblog.wordpress.com 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