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.

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.

Mom1.JPG

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 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.

How to Transport a Thanksgiving Turkey

Start by buying a bigger bird than you think you need. It will be frozen solid so don’t wait until the last minute like last year. On Thanksgiving Day, get up at 4:00 a.m. In a dark house with a single kitchen light burning, make stuffing by tearing two loaves of Wonder Bread into little pieces. Add onions and a lot of sage. 

Wash the bird and study the skin for pinfeathers. Pull them out with a paring knife until you can run your hands over the bird’s skin and not feel a single feather. Pack the turkey with stuffing and put it in the oven. Turn off the kitchen light and go back to bed. At 9:00 a.m., when everyone is awake and dressed for Thanksgiving, take the midnight blue roasting pan with the nearly done turkey out of the oven and set it on top of the stove. Put the lid on the roasting pan. Wrap the lidded roasting pan in a dozen layers of the Detroit Free Press and tie with twine. Call one of your children to put their finger on the knots so they are tied nice and tight. Place the wrapped roasting pan on more layers of newspaper in the trunk of the car.

Ride three hours in the blue and white Chevrolet your husband is driving. Listen to your kids in the backseat counting telephone poles and reading Burma-Shave signs. Worry a little that you didn’t buy a big enough bird. Doze off with the smell of roasted turkey heating the car and wake up in your mother’s driveway. See that your brothers are already there and know they are having cocktails and joking in the kitchen. Put the turkey in your mother’s oven and then look for the yellow baster you left in the drawer last year.

The author's Mom and Grandma after dinner.

The author's Mom and Grandma after dinner.

- Jan Wilberg grew up traveling two-lane roads in Michigan and would still rather be in a car than anywhere. She is a daily blogger at Red's Wrap and has had essays published in Newsweek, the New York Times Modern Love, and three anthologies. She was a 2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year, selected for an essay called "Blindsided" about coping with severe hearing loss. Now a cochlear implant recipient, she is reacquainting herself with the hearing world but still likes the printed page better.

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.

How to Make Potato Salad

Thanks to Black Twitter, the world now knows the significance of potato salad to Black Americans. I don't know why this is, or why potato salad, of all foods, but I do know that "Who made the potato salad?" is the first question you ask before making a plate at a cookout. Because you don't eat just anyone's potato salad. But decades before Twitter existed, my mother instilled in me this culinary suspicion and potato salad monotheism: hers was the one true way to make it. She would bring her potato salad to cookouts, baby showers, and other events, even when she wasn’t asked to bring it. People raved about my mother's potato salad and this only reinforced her belief that hers was the only acceptable potato salad and no one else’s would ever measure up.

Dice the potatoes. Cook until firm. Unless you plan to make mashed potato salad. Also put on a pot of eggs to boil. Drain the potatoes and let cool on the counter, and then chill the potatoes and eggs inside the refrigerator. Finely chop some bell pepper and white onions. Don’t be lazy and chop them into hunks. No one wants hunks of bell pepper and onions in their potato salad. If you can’t do it right, then move and I’ll do it. Once the potatoes are cold, chop the boiled eggs. Combine the potatoes and egg in a large bowl with the peppers and onions. Then do all of the following BEFORE stirring—you don’t want to overstir and end up with mashed potato salad: season with Lawry’s, black pepper, and paprika; add mayo, not Miracle Whip; add yellow mustard (this is not white people potato salad); add pickle relish. Stir just enough to blend and coat the potatoes. You should have added enough mustard and paprika so that it is almost day-glo orange and not white like white people potato salad. Sprinkle a little more paprika on top. And serve. You know, I don’t eat anybody’s potato salad except Van’s. She’s the one who taught me how to make it. 

 

Image by Whitney/Flickr

Image by Whitney/Flickr

I never made potato salad for my mother. Hers was delicious, but I prefer to make mine with less mustard. Or as my mother would say, more like white people’s

- Deesha Philyaw is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Deesha's writing on race, parenting, gender, and culture has appeared in The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Pittsburgh Post-GazetteFullGrownPeople.com, and elsewhere. At The Rumpus, Deesha inaugurated an interview column called VISIBLE: Women Writers of Color. 

Fleischkuechle

She made Fleischkuechle, a strange sounding name for hamburger rolled in flour and fried in a pan. Afternoons, school finished, I’d watch her at the stove, her hair sometimes stacked up in curlers like a fern, sweat trickling down her cheeks from the heat in the kitchen, the spiced tang of meat ripe in the air around us as I sat at a table struggling with math homework, struggling with puberty, struggling with being her son.

She was a focused chef. All the good ones were, she said. We were poor but still she was a chef. I wished she'd pay me as much attention as the food she prepared.

My brothers were always away and I wasn’t sure how to talk to my mother so I’d make up terrific lies that she may or may not have believed. It gave us something to talk about.

“Here,” she’d sometimes say, tossing me a potato peeler. “Strip these as fast as you can.” Strip for peel. A dozen potatoes on the counter, things that looked more like gourds or discarded embryos.

“You are the smart one in the family, reading your poetry,” she said, snickering. “But you can still do things with your hands, or else you’ll go soft.”

1916 color lithograph by Yvonne Vernet from the  Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog .

1916 color lithograph by Yvonne Vernet from the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

As I peeled potatoes I felt Mother coming up behind me, which made me speed up the slicing of the skins. I wanted her to think me capable of carrying out a command. Cigarette smoke wafted over my head and into my eyes, stinging, and I hoped they wouldn’t water.

She leaned across my shoulder and took one of the spuds in her hand, inspecting for a moment, before thrusting it close to my face. “You’re careless. You’re missing the divots, the eyes. See, there’s still dirt and skin there.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yes you are,” she said, dropping the potato on the table. I heard it thunk, watched it roll off and bounce across the floor. 

“Pick it up and wash it,” she said.

We raised and butchered chickens. It’s a scary thing when you’re nine. The beheaded birds would fly off squirting blood, dead but somehow still alive, like me, I’d think.

 

Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans, and the author of I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AND NEITHER ARE YOU out now from Unknown Press.  You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com

Peanut Butter Crackers

Mom would place a box of Salerno saltine crackers, a large jar of smooth Peter Pan Peanut Butter along with a couple of sticks of Blue Bonnet margarine on the kitchen table, putting my older brothers and sister in charge of breakfast. The center of the table had a stack of comics for our morning reading. Coffee was bubbling in the percolator on the table’s edge.

My oldest brother Rich would open the box of crackers to begin the process. He would cut a wedge off the margarine and spread it across the crackers, salty side in. My other brother Pat would slide a knife full of peanut butter on a separate cracker and press the buttered side together with the peanut butter one. My older sister Ruth would pour us each black coffee while I watched the assembled crackers rise on a plate like a Jenga tower before my two brothers decided we had enough.

We would each grab a stack and dip them in our coffee, watching the oil seep across the surface. I loved to squeeze my crackers to make margarine ‘worms’ curl out through the holes. Speaking was at a minimum while we dunked crackers in coffee, ate, traded comics and refilled coffee cups. It was the start of our day.

Two more kids and a half dozen apartments later, Mom would reminisce how she kept us healthy with the peanut butter meals we consumed. She had gotten the tip from a woman she worked with during World War Two when rationing was in place. “Protein keeps you going and peanut butter was one item we didn’t have a problem getting,” she said. “I did what I had to do and you all turned out fine.”

 

- Kathy Doherty has a Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University Denver. She has published work in airplanereading.org, Metrosphere, Foliate Oak, Hot Metal Press and One Million Stories Anthology. She lives in Parker, Colorado with her amazing Siberian Forest cat, Vladimir. 

Fresh Linens

My mother was practical and prudent. She didn’t iron sheets—“It’s a waste of time,” she said— but she didn’t need to. She was exacting about making up the beds when she changed linens. 

“Don’t yank on the corners,” she would remind me, “unless you want to use your allowance to buy new sheets when they tear. Watch me.” She would line up a corner seam of the fitted bottom sheet with a corner of the mattress and ease it into place. Then the other corners, gently, never tugging hard, not even on the last, stubborn one. The result was taut and smooth, not a wrinkle to be seen. Then the top sheet, hospital corners folded and tucked with military precision. 

She took special pride in her method of putting on pillowcases. She’d turn the case inside out, all but the very end, then reach in and grasp the tips of the corners at the closed end. With these she’d grab one end of the pillow, pinching the corners into the ends of the pillowcase she was holding and shake the pillowcase over the pillow. Faultless: none of the lumps and bumps you get from cramming a puffy pillow into a barely-big-enough case. She’d hold it up, as if demonstrating a magic trick: “See?”

"See?"

"See?"

Forty years after her death I still bask in her presence when I change the sheets. And I still do it her way.  “Don’t yank on the corners,” I remind my husband. 


- Alice Lowe reads and writes about food and family, Virginia Woolf, and life. Her personal essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Permafrost, 1966, Upstreet, Hippocampus, Tinge, Switchback, and Lunch Ticket. She was the 2013 national award winner at City Works Journal and winner of a 2011 essay contest at Writing It Real. Two monographs on Virginia Woolf have been published by Cecil Woolf Publishers in London. Alice lives in San Diego, California and blogs at www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com.  

 

How to Celebrate the Vernal Equinox

Plastic grass tucked in loose nests into baskets. The full moon just passed. The formica from 1964 with alternating wheels and stars in mint and sunshine. She calls us “Bewwwip!” from the back door. We run, twigs from the apple tree in our hair. “Okay now,” she says, pulling the egg from the carton’s hollow center. We stand back, hands clasped, eyes on her delicate fingers. The first stands, and she smiles. “Let’s do two.” And the second. Witchcraft. The Egg of Columbus. She rights a third.

the author's Mama

the author's Mama

The phone rings from the grocery store. They, too, have stood their eggs at noon. Now social services. A law class. The notions department at the store downtown. Eggs stand all over town, the phone ringing. We know that eggs will stand on a Friday in February when the mourners file out into the frigid air. We know that eggs will stand when we celebrate birthdays, when the wreath we place in December collapses into wire and foam by Easter. The eggs will stand, and she quietly believes in the magic and does not, her faith another form of wit and play, the pagan inside her teasing the Catholic. We share the secret knowledge that the eggs will stand whenever we need them, but not yet. For now, it is all light and gravitational pull, all things in balance. She plucks them up from the counter and boils them for lunch, the shells cracking from the steam.

 

- Frances Badgett is a writer and editor in Bellingham, WA. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Drunken Boat, Matchbook, Smokelong Quarterly, The Atticus Review, among other places. She is the fiction editor of Contrary Magazine and editor-in-chief of a local lifestyle magazine. 

Fair Share

My mother wanted all for whom she baked to enjoy their fair share. She often adjusted her work to make sure. 

Take her chocolate chip cookies. Surveying twenty-four blobs of raw dough on the last two cookie sheets, she redistributed chocolate chips and walnut pieces until she achieved fairness. Only then did the dough go into the oven.

When she baked a pan of bread pudding or a casserole of rice custard, she inspected the stirred, poured mixture for an equal distribution of raisins before entrusting the dish to the oven. 

When Mom was visiting after the birth of my second child, she offered to make me a healthy bread pudding full of whole wheat bread, eggs, milk, grated apple, cinnamon, and, of course, raisins. While I nursed the baby in the kitchen, mom and I chatted quietly as she measured, mixed, and stirred. The longer my son nursed, the hungrier I became. At last, he fell asleep, and I was ravenous. But mom hadn’t even put the pan of bread pudding into the oven. Unconsciously, she had been placing one raisin at a time into the mixture as though planting equality in perfect rows.

- Andrea (Andi) M. Penner, President of the New Mexico State Poetry Society since 2015, arrived in New Mexico for doctoral work in 1994, and stayed to teach college English. She now works as a technical writer, editor, and program communications specialist, and writes creatively in the wee hours. Her first collection of poetry, When East Was North, was published in 2012 by Mercury Heartlink. 

the author with her mother, August 1987

the author with her mother, August 1987

Marlene's Bread Pudding

Bread pudding is forgiving, not exact. Be sure to use dry bread so you don't create a mushy mess. If your bread is fresh, you can dry it first in a 300°F oven, or toast it slightly in a toaster.

3 cups dry bread cubes (about 4 or 5 slices of good whole grain bread)

4 eggs

2 cups milk

1/3 cup sugar (brown is nice)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (you could also use ground ginger)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 c. raisins (or dried cranberries)

(optional: 1 grated tart apple, sprinkled with lemon juice so it doesn't turn brown)

Preheat oven to 325°F and lightly grease a small baking dish (8" x 8").

Beat together eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Mix in the grated apple.

Place the dry bread pieces in the baking dish and sprinkle it evenly with raisins. Pour the egg mixture over all. Bake for 35-40 min, or longer if needed, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. 

 

Wax

Who cleans the wax out of your ears? My mom used to. She would make me lie next to her on the couch, head in her lap, one ear facing up, while she used the head of a safety pin to scrape the inside walls of my ear. Then she would pull out the pin with its clump of yellowish goo and drag it across the top of my hand, leaving the small spot of wax to rest there, intact. 

She would repeat this until my hand hosted a constellation of little clumps. Then it was time for my next ear. In the end, we had visual proof of how much she had taken out. It satisfied us both, the whole process. It is one of the greatest forms of intimacy I have ever known, and every time I do what I know doctors have been telling us not to do for eons, every time I stick something like a pin or a bobby pin or a q-tip in my ear I feel the absence of my mother, the absolute safety of having someone else in charge.

image provided by the author

image provided by the author

- Caroline Allen has been a lecturer at the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara for over 25 years. Her work has appeared in Solo Novo, Lumina, Mary, Spectrum, Into the Teeth of the Wind, and The Santa Barbara Independent, among others. She has work forthcoming in Juxtaprose and Forge. She is also a painter. Her website is carolineallenstudio.com.

Sunday Biscuits

Winter mornings when frost etched my bedroom window and icicles dangled outside, I snuggled under my thick warm blankets waiting for the call to get ready for school.  But on Sunday mornings, the whispered songs of women longing for love, playing on mamma's stereo, nudged me from my child’s dream. 


Awake, I’d slip from my bed and wander into the living room. It was warm from the kitchen where the biscuits mamma made every Sunday were baking. Sometimes I’d get up in time to catch her sifting the dry ingredients made of flour, baking powder, and salt then shaping them into a volcano-like funnel in which she blended with her hands the Crisco, and next stirred the right amount of buttermilk to the dough. Then she’d roll the dough out on a floured board and cut out the biscuits using a tea-cup. Her biscuits puffy light and delicately flavored.

photograph by  Asha Rajan

photograph by Asha Rajan


I’m sitting here in my home sipping coffee waiting for my biscuits to bake. I’ve modernized her recipe: Sunflower seed oil—a healthy substitute for Crisco, and yogurt—because it’s easy to find in stores—for the buttermilk.  These moist ingredients lead to a drop biscuit. It’s not as magical and less work. But the biscuits are puffy and it approximates the flavor I remember. On the radio, Sunday’s Jazz DJ celebrates Billie Holiday’s birthday and plays three versions of “Fine and Mellow.” I am mother and child.

 

- 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 was an editor for American University Graduate magazine where she received and MFA in creative Writing. Since retiring, she has explored various writing forms, multi-media formats. She created a video imagining the black migrant’s experience, "Detroit Great Migration Impressions.”