How To Feed The Yellow Cat

Sneak out the back door. Load the shotgun, then tromp through the cottonwoods, past the barn. Look for jackrabbits, but don’t be too picky; cottontails are fine.

Get at least three rabbits, maybe four, if winter’s almost spent. Never hunt for cat food in the warm months, those without an “R” in their name. July hares likely harbor worms.

Dress the rabbits meticulously. Remove every fragment of buckshot. Use tweezers to pluck the deep bits—take no chances with Yellow Cat’s brittle old teeth.

Line up a row of baggies. Portion the meat, bite-size pieces only. Deposit the baggies in the freezer, but save the best tidbits for later.

Reassure the wife that, of course, it’s all jackrabbit meat; no cottontails in the lot. Project sincerity, especially when her glare stings. Nod when she hectors about her Siamese’s more civilized digestion.

 Charles, the feeder of Yellow Cat, with his wife, June

Charles, the feeder of Yellow Cat, with his wife, June

Mollify by helping with the supper dishes. Stack the plastic plates in the pantry, on the shelf above her cat’s store-bought food. Squint at the tuna-flavored scourge and commiserate with the melancholy Siamese. When no one’s looking, loosen his black velvet collar.

Escape the kitchen. Take Yellow Cat’s china dish to the back step. Wait for him to slink out of the shadows, then scratch his ears while he eats. Bask in his ragged purring and kneading claws.

Later, smuggle the last morsel of fresh meat into the Siamese’s crystal dish. Grin, because the taste of shared rebellion is sweet.



- Myna Chang writes short stories in a variety of genres. Her work has been featured in the Akashic Books flash series. She holds B.S. and M.A. degrees in communication. See more at mynachang.com.




Disassociation Dessert

Wait until the older kids are at school and the youngest is taking a nap with the bedroom door closed. Then make your chocolate sauce in secret. In the blender, add one half cup of sugar, one half cup of powdered milk, four tablespoons of cocoa, and four tablespoons and one teaspoon of hot water. Blend on high for thirty seconds. Scrape down the sides. Give it ninety seconds more at high speed.

 The author’s industrious mother in her kitchen

The author’s industrious mother in her kitchen

Grab a spoon from the drawer and eat the whole batch of chocolate sauce sitting at the kitchen table. Don’t bother with a bowl, there are enough dishes to wash and laundry to fold. You should probably clean the bathroom too, but it can wait.

Each taste of the rich smooth chocolate melts it all away: your husband’s yelling, your kids’ demands, the complete lack of intellectual stimulation of being a housewife with four kids. You wanted this. You sigh and savor another bite.

Sometimes you mix this up on steamy summer nights to dollop over ice cream for the whole family, dessert for a dinner of popcorn when it is just too hot to cook.

Years later, when your younger daughter asks you for the recipe, stall her, make excuses, refuse to write it down. Finally relent and tell her what to write on the recipe card.

She will prepare it once for her children. Then she’ll file it away and never make it again.

- Margaret Shafer writes on two acres surrounded by cornfields in the Midwest. You can read her stories about life, her travels and general thoughts about the world at unfoldingfromthefog.wordpress.com.



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. 

Bread for the Birds

Bread and water – two things we cannot do without in life. Let’s make bread: white, wheat, oatmeal, even pumpernickel with a hint of chocolate, or rye with the bitter touch of caraway.

Stir together the flour, water, salt, oil. Whatever else it calls for. Check your recipe, mix, knead, let it rise.

Punch it down, shape it, bake it. See, I have it all written down for the different kinds right here.

Then set out the butter and the strawberry jam. They’ll always eat their fill.

Sometimes you make so much that even after everyone eats it for several days (toast for breakfast, ham sandwiches for lunch, butter-bread with soup for supper) the last pieces go stale. Then it sits on the counter, a few slices in a bag until, finally, there’s a little spot of mold on the last piece.

You might be inclined to throw that last slice away when it turns green. But don’t do it. One must never throw away bread or waste water. Bread is the staff of life. Never forget that. And never throw away even that slice of days-old bread that cannot be toasted or rejuvenated as bread pudding. Put it out for the birds, but never ever throw it in the trash.

We waste too much these days. We really must be more careful.

 The author's grandmother (at center) saved bread for the birds, and taught her daughter to do the same.

The author's grandmother (at center) saved bread for the birds, and taught her daughter to do the same.

- Hope Nisly is Acquisitions Librarian at Fresno Pacific University and a writer who lives in Reedley, California where she still tries to cut down on what she throws away. Her writing has been published in Mojave River ReviewFredericksburg Literary and Arts Review, The Esthetic Apostle, and DreamSeeker Magazine. Her stories have aired on Valley Writers Read, a program of the local NPR-affiliate radio station.

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.

The Dolly's Dress

Always make it a pair. When buying a bra, get the matching panty. When sewing a dress for a little girl, make one for her dolly, too.

Mom sat quietly in front of the sewing machine, the lamp shining brightly over her shoulder onto the tiny dress she held on her lap. A matching one, only slightly larger, already hung in a little girl’s closet, far away in Australia. 

Mom turned the dolly’s dress inside out to inspect the waistline seam she had just sewn. She frowned and slowly pulled out each little stitch: something wasn’t right. This was for her first granddaughter. The dolly dress must match the girl’s dress perfectly.

 Mom, Isabel, dress. Photo by Karen Dean.

Mom, Isabel, dress. Photo by Karen Dean.

My own sewing lessons ended abruptly years ago when I broke a fourth needle. Mom had, however, successfully taught me the satisfication of sewing—precision—particularly when attaching a full skirt to a fitted bodice. Each stitch must take in more fabric from the skirt than from the bodice, but it must do so invisibly. Begin by pinning the side seams to one another, then pin the center and the back of the skirt. Do not sew. A gathered seam must first be basted. Cut a long section of cheap thread and sew it first by hand. Squish, push, squeeze the fabric. Do not fold it: we are gathering, not pleating. 

Once the dress was finished, she hung it on a tiny hanger next to her sewing machine, anticipating the dolly’s next visit. Mom refused to mail the dress, preferring to gift it in person so she could savor the delight it would elicit. 

As the months passed, though, her cancer progressed. She could hardly walk by the time the little girl arrived, but in the middle of the international arrivals lounge, next to the luggage carousel, dolly was stripped and joyfully transformed into something quite perfect.


- After her mother’s death, Jerilyn Sambrooke took a renewed interest in sewing but has yet to master the fine art of a gathered skirt. Jerilyn currently lectures in the Rhetoric Department at the University of California, Berkeley. She is also working on a memoir, Alpenglow: A Year of Darkness, that narrates the year following her mother’s death. Her reflections on grief owe much to her academic research on religious practice and secular life in contemporary fiction.

Take Your Granddaughter on a Road Trip

When you drive out to the Midwest to see your eldest son and his small family, there is no one to rotate the beers for the nine hours. But on the way back, you will have your 8-year-old granddaughter with you, and she is a good girl.

Put the granddaughter and a big metal cooler full of Schlitz cans and ice in the back seat. Show the girl how to rotate the cans whenever she hands you a fresh beer as you drive. Each can has to be turned and buried deeper in the melting ice so the beer is icy and refreshing whenever you crack open a new one. Her hand reaches up to give you a wet, ice-chilled beer as you chuck the empty out the window. You don’t ask her to open them. Her fingers are too small.

 The author and her Pappap

The author and her Pappap

Smoke three Camel non-filtered cigarettes while you drink each beer, flicking the ash out the window, which is left permanently cracked. Light the next Camel off of the last one. Your wife, in the passenger seat, and granddaughter, sing songs while you hum tunelessly along and crack jokes about the road signs.

“Hey, why do you have to watch out for Falling Rock? She was an Indian Princess who ran away from home and her old man is looking for her!”, and laugh your wheezy, boozy laugh when your granddaughter groans that she has heard that one a thousand times.

When she asks, tell the girl all of the stories about all of the tattoos that cover your arms and legs.

“I got ‘em in the Navy. This one is the Fightin’ Irish! This one is your Grandma’s name, because she’s my Irish Rose.” Let the girl rub her fingers up and down your right arm, feeling the ridges of the tattoos.

Ask her for another cold one.

 

- Beth Dugan's previous essays for Dead Housekeeping are Blue and Grey and Brown, Evergreen, and Everything Can be Used Again. Her website is www.bethdugan.com.

 

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.

How to Pierce Your Granddaughter's Ears

Ask your granddaughter to wait until she is ten.

When the time comes, seek the consent of her mother, your hard-working daughter-in-law.

Pull out the thinnest needle, cotton thread, and a lump of beeswax from your sundry box. Rub wax on the thread to make it strong and then run it through the needle’s eye. Hold the needle in the flame of a candle to sterilize it.

Sit the ten-year-old on a stool in the breeze of your table fan. Tie up her hair and dot each delicate earlobe with your ballpoint pen. Give her candy to suck on.

Place your pet parrot on the girl’s arm and teach it some tunes. Let her feed it hot peppers to sharpen its tongue.

While whistling a tune, push the needle quickly and smoothly in with your right hand, stretching the lobe with the left. Cut the thread and tie its ends while blowing on the red lobe.

“Bahadur girl. Bewaqoof parrot.” Let your roaring laughter drown the pain.

Repeat.

 The author's grandfather immaculately dressed

The author's grandfather immaculately dressed

Each month, dress up and trim your beard for going to the bank for your pension. Your granddaughters will ask you to get laddoos. 

Save ten rupees each month per girl for gold earrings—60 rupees in total.

Gold is on a rise but your life isn’t. Only two of the six have gold in their ears when you die.

You cannot fill all the holes in one lifetime.

 

 

- Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American. She was born in a middle-class family in India and will forever be indebted to her parents for educating her beyond their means. She now lives in the United States. Her life is blessed with plenitude but she is oceans away from her family. That pain makes her write and express herself. Her work has been published in Ms Magazine blog, The Same, The Aerogram, The Sidereal, Star 82 Review among others. She blogs at PunyFingers.

Abuela's Special Vegetable Soup

Chunky vegetable soup at your house was a treat.  The fun began when you started to prepare the vegetables. I was the happy recipient of your discarded strips of potato and carrot peel, celery ribs, fennel stalks. Butter knife in hand, I set to work industriously in the covered patio outside your kitchen.

We both chopped, sliced, and stirred in unison, you at the kitchen counter; me, at a picnic table, listening to your crystalline voice. You always loved to sing.

 Abuela in her garden

Abuela in her garden

You brought your soup to the table with a radiant smile. My pretend soup ended up in the trash. 

You didn’t complain if your 11 grandchildren made a mess, but you never tolerated rude language. “¡Te voy a poner una papa caliente en la boca!” The threat of a hot potato in our mouths was an effective deterrent.

Years later, when it was time for me to make soup for real, I asked you what made your soup taste so special. Your green eyes twinkled and you settled down for a chat, matecup in hand. The secret ingredient included flavors from the land of your ancestors, Spain.  

“Mix a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a heaped tablespoon of smoked paprika and heat over a low fire until the paprika dissolves,” you said. The paprika imparts a smoky yet subtle flavor. “Make sure you don’t burn it, or it’ll taste bitter. Then trickle this infused oil on the soup.” 

These orangey-red pools of oil carry flavor, family traditions and childhood memories. 

 

 

- Ana Astri-O’Reilly is a fully bilingual Spanish-English travel blogger and writer originally from Argentina. She now lives in Dallas, USA, with her husband. Besides writing on her travel blogs, Ana Travels and Apuntes Ideas Imagenes, Ana has published travel and food articles in a variety of outlets as well. She likes to eat good food, read good books and play tennis (she’s a beast at the net!)    

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 Get Your Grandchildren Ready for Church

It’s a little easier, but not by much, if the children’s parents also spent the night before Sunday service, but for the mornings you are alone preparing anywhere from five to seven grandkids for church:

Wake up the two girls first. Give the sisters a little privacy as they pick out their toothbrushes from the bathroom collection. Invite them to the table as you finish your coffee. Remind them to bring what they need for their hair. No, not on the kitchen table. Coffee table is fine. Make sure it’s blue Ultra Sheen for extra shine.

Corral the boys. The girls are savoring perfectly toasted bread spread with real butter. They fantasize about the day they will be old enough to be offered a pour from the percolator. Shout the wrong names at all the boys until they get it together enough to sit at the table for scrambled eggs, toast and orange juice. Inspect all their haircuts. Giggle to yourself remembering the edge ups their grandfather had given them the night before: Lord, how that Tony screamed, then, with tears drying in his eyes, reassured his brother in the chair that it doesn’t hurt. It don't hurt, Andy. That Tony, oh boy, that Tony.

Style the girls’ hair and here comes their favorite part: picking out the hair ribbons that match their dresses. Clip barrettes to the ends of their ponytails, pin a bright bow to their pigtails. Inspect their knees for ash.

Cry out for the industrial-sized lotion bottle and attack those ashy knees. Pile everyone into the Lincoln after carefully wrapping their offering coins into embroidered handkerchiefs. Arrange those beautiful black children in a row on your regular pew. Sorry, Sister Campbell, my grands are visiting and they are taking your seat. Pass down to each a hard butterscotch candy and a final warning hush. The service is beginning.

 This custom doll by Jacqueline Bryant Campbell wears a dress made from the author’s daughter’s baptismal gown.

This custom doll by Jacqueline Bryant Campbell wears a dress made from the author’s daughter’s baptismal gown.

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

- Jacqueline Bryant Campbell is a contributing editor at Dead Housekeeping, and you can admire and order her dolls at her shop, Jacq's Dolls.

What to Do When it Snows

Action News is predicting snow, just a few flurries, but you never know. Could be a blizzard. When you go out for coffee, pick up a few ice scrapers and some salt. Truth is, no one else in the family will be prepared. Mention snow, but don’t harp. Find out who has to be where at what time. Place all of your gear on the porch and near the front door. Smoke your cigar.

The next morning, get up before everyone else. Go to Wawa and get some coffee. Come home. Scrape off all the cars. Your daughter has clinical and has to be at the hospital early, so do hers first and warm up her car so she isn’t cold on the way in. Better yet, decide to drive her and pick her up.

 "Thanks for talking to me" was the author's father's catchphrase.

"Thanks for talking to me" was the author's father's catchphrase.


Shovel the driveway and sidewalk. Put down plenty of salt so no one slips. Keep going, up and down the street, until you run into other dads who are also shoveling snow and sprinkling salt so no one slips. Go to Wawa and get another coffee. Drink it there, while reading the paper for free. Help anyone who’s stuck. Wave goodbye to everyone at Wawa and say, “Thanks for talking to me.”

Go home. Drive your daughter to clinical. Don’t listen when she tells you to use the defrost. Keep wiping the windshield clear with your gloved hand. Drop her off. Think about those you know who can’t shovel their sidewalks, and go to their houses to help them.

 

 

- Mary Finnegan is a nurse and writer living in Philadelphia. She misses her father in so many ways - for the snow removal, the cigars, the rides, and especially the love. Thanks for talking to me.

Mom's Garden

In later years, before her last tiller disappeared and cancer from 50 years of smoking reduced her to large tennis shoes and large ears with her shrinking body in between, Mom regularly put on shorts atop pantyhose atop varicose veins and tilled the garden. She allowed no weeds to grow between rows, none within sucking distance of the nutrients her vegetables consumed from the rich alluvium left by countless floods of the nearby creek, augmented by 5-10-10 fertilizer, the percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium of her preferred blend.

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Mom kept the tiller among nearby trees—pin oaks, pines, sycamores, and poplars—where she cranked it and directed its twisting tines out to the rows of corns, beans, peas, potatoes, squash, okra, and tomatoes. Neighbors who passed on the nearby road admired the garden’s order, with no grass, leaves, nor organic matter left between rows.

But a tiller has no key. Perhaps she should have locked it, chained it to a tree. But when someone stole it, she said, “Fuck it,” or the Baptist equivalent after a life of swearing off swearing. She turned over the garden to an ex-con who needed community-service hours, a former student at the school where she was once secretary. He mowed her yard and endeared himself to her. As her memories faded, he replaced her only son.  Once her golden boy, her son had become her jailer in a locked memory-care unit of assisted living.

 

- Dale Easley is a Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Dubuque, which he joined in 2005 after 15 years at the University of New Orleans. He has been a volunteer math teacher in Kenya, a volunteer working on water wells in Haiti, and a Fulbright Fellow in Qatar. His interests include environmental geology, statistics, and the intersection of science and culture. Currently, he focuses upon storytelling in science. You can visit his blog here.

How to Stamp a Robin

Here in Michigan, where Marilyn always lived, not all robins migrate south for winter. But unlike a hardy cardinal who will brighten a snowy view, or a crow who gloriously doesn't give a shit when you see or hear it, robins are out of sight, out of mind here, until lots of them show up come spring.

Robin, Mrs. and worm.jpg

If you "stamp" the first robin you see once the snows melt, it will bring good luck.

When you see that first robin of springtime, you lick the pad of one thumb and grind it into the opened-flat palm of your other hand, as if securing a stamp on the "envelope" of your hand. That's it. The missive need not be addressed, apparently the stamp knows where it's going.

You can do this even if you are not very superstitious. For example, Marilyn had an aunt back in the U.P. who read the tea leaves from the bottom of a China cup. It was fun, but Marilyn didn’t put much stock in it. Annotations in her cookbooks all deal with measurements, never improvisation. If Ed hadn't insisted she stay home because his management job at General Motors "was enough," Marilyn said she would have liked to become a librarian because she liked putting things in order.

All this is to prove: Even the data-minded can celebrate spring by stamping a robin.

 Marilyn and Meredith laugh and wait for the snow to melt in 1998 or 99.

Marilyn and Meredith laugh and wait for the snow to melt in 1998 or 99.

The only other thing that needs doing is to check in with a few loved ones you’ve taught to stamp robins. If you're the first to stamp one, it will alert them that it's time. If they already beat you to the stamping, you let them know anyway because spotting a robin is something good to talk about.

Don't worry about missing your chance. Once the habit is ingrained in you, you will always know, as soon as that first spring robin appears, to stamp it. It is satisfying to do so, like balancing your checkbook to the penny, but better because this makes you feel like a family and the forsythia will blossom any day now.

 

- Meredith Counts is one of the founding editors of Dead Housekeeping.

How to Make a Grocery List

1. Number it. Start with the number one.
2. Use a piece of scrap paper. Leftover stationery from the insurance agency is good. For the weekly list, you will need the whole page, divided in two columns. For a quick weekday list, tear off a quarter of a page.

 the author's mother

the author's mother

3. Sit in your chair in the living room. The one across from the TV.
4. Write it in black ballpoint pen. Bic. Don’t write it in pencil. That will smear.
5. When your son-in-law offers to go to the store for you, make him read the list aloud to you before he leaves the house. When he hesitates on an item, tell him to hand the list back to you and write the name of that item in block print above your script.
6. Apologize to your son-in-law for your terrible handwriting.
7. If your son-in-law comes home with two cakes, a chocolate and a vanilla, instead of the two cukes you needed for the tomato salad, make a big fuss over the cakes. Pretend like they are the most beautiful cakes you’ve ever seen, like you didn’t even know Rouse’s made cakes at all.
8. Make a pot of coffee. Eat the cake. Go on and on about how moist it is. 
9. Slice two extra pieces, put them on paper plates, cover them loosely with foil, and ask your daughter to walk one over to Miss Lorraine and one over to Aunt Sally.
10. Throw the list away.

 One of her lists from right around this time of year (I didn't let her throw them all away!), which you can tell because of "Crawfish" added at the top. They come into season in late Feb/early March.

One of her lists from right around this time of year (I didn't let her throw them all away!), which you can tell because of "Crawfish" added at the top. They come into season in late Feb/early March.

Originally from southwest Louisiana, Elizabeth Boquet now lives and works in southwest Connecticut. She writes to bridge the distances between New Orleans and New Haven. Her writing has appeared in Full Grown People, 100-Word Story, and The Bitter Southerner.

Hank Has a Cigarette

Hank settles into a lawn chair as the graduation party unfolds around him. He adjusts himself against the vinyl as he watches his youngest grandson swapping jokes with some of his buddies over by the big cottonwood tree. He’s a good kid. Got a bit of a wild streak in him, but honestly it would be a little disappointing if he didn’t.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Hank roots around for his plastic lighter. As his fingers close around the soft pack of cigarettes, he thinks back on 20 years of subterfuge. Joyce, God rest her, always on him any time the grandkids came to visit. Scrub out all the ashtrays. Open the windows and turn on a table fan to air out the three-season porch. Get those smoky polo shirts in the laundry basket and put on a fresh one before they get here. Keep up the routine once they arrived. Take the dog out for long walks by himself. Run unexplained errands after meals. Blame the smell in the mini-van on some wayward poker buddies. Always keep a roll of breath mints in a front pocket.

An irritating routine, but all for a good cause. Filthy habit and all that, and certainly not one he’d want to pass on to a couple of impressionable young boys. But they’re not boys anymore. They’re men. And now that high school is over, they can make their own decisions.

Hank 1.jpg

Hank pulls a Newport out of the pack and lights up with all the casualness of a six-decade smoker. He’s aware of the multiple shocked gazes that have settled on him. He takes a slow drag and exhales a smooth white cloud as he watches a red squirrel winding its way up the trunk of the cottonwood. They’ll get over it.

 

Ira Brooker lives in Saint Paul and writes anything for which people will pay him, plus a lot of things for which they will not. He has a site for professional stuff, and another for pop culture.

 

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 Fold Clothes

Even clothes of varying shapes should fit neatly on top of the pile. You do this through immaculate folding, so that a button-down takes on the same area squared as a pair of corduroys, and all of our Peter Pan collars spread flat beneath a man’s bulky knit sweater. 

When he’s been home so late night after night, the clothes can feel like tea leaves. This shirt’s sweat stain is on his side, this shirt’s remoulade stain is not. Martinis do not stain and he is lucky for that, though he probably doesn’t even know it, accustomed as he is to peeling a shirt off, throwing it into a hamper and putting it on again, clean. 

 Image credit: PDPics/Pixabay

Image credit: PDPics/Pixabay

The pile shakes as you slap down each folded shirt, towel, pantleg, furiously folding and dizzy from illness. You reach from the heap to grow the pile. You can still fold our clothes. Cancer isn’t contagious so there’s no risk of infection.

From the heap comes a Barbie’s dress, carelessly tossed into the dirty clothes. I’m guilty as it sparkles, the way only hers can. You hold it in your hand, letting its fabric catch the light. Admiring it in a way, the briefest smile. You turn to me and say, “Gosh, the woman your father is sleeping with sure is small,” then slap the dress onto the pile to join all of our other clothes. 

- Jeanie Riess is a writer from New Orleans. She has written for The Oxford American, Smithsonian, The New Republic and others.

How To Manage Your Tattoos And Food

Your first tattoo is gateway ink. Think about the theme you want to begin with this one; it’s going to matter. Your first tattoo is the Wonder Bread spots, on your calf. As soon as it heals, begin planning the next tattoo.

Make all your friends become vegetarians. Be a good cook, and take the time to show them the basics: pasta, eggs, salad with nuts. Garlic. Lentils are fast food. Always have lentils in the cupboard.

Your favorite food is Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. When you decide that your next tattoo will be the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese box on your bicep, you will discover that they changed the packaging. It now has ridiculous cartoon characters on it.

 The author with her friend, Mark in 1990

The author with her friend, Mark in 1990

Write to Kraft and ask if they have a box of Macaroni & Cheese with the old design because you need it for your tattoo.

Potatoes are your second-favorite. They should be eaten at every meal. Go to the Potato Museum in Bruges. Drink vodka.

Kraft will write back and decline your request, but they will enclose coupons for free Macaroni & Cheese. These coupons display the old design.

Stay close to all your vegetarian friends. When you are dying, they will help you keep weight on. Pizza. Red wine. High-fat yogurt, if you can find it.

Wear sleeveless shirts to show off your Kraft Macaroni & Cheese tattoo. Warning: people will love you for your tattoo and not for yourself.

- Betsy Brown is author of Year of Morphines, a National Poetry Series winner. She is a poet and writer based in Minneapolis. Everything she ever learned about food was from Mark.