Procrastination Jobs: Cleaning up the Spice Cabinet

Procrastination jobs are things I do when I should be doing something else. I first noticed procrastination jobs when I was in school. In the throes of finishing a term paper, I’d be overcome by the desire to take a break and sort out my closet or finally put photos in an album – things I couldn’t usually find time for.

Fast forward to today, when I’m procrastinating painting the spare bedroom. The easy parts are done and I’m stuck on the picky parts. Of course I cleaned out my spice cabinet.

Cleaning the spice cabinet -- here's a big mess on my counter.

Oops. This “cleaning” job made a big mess on the counter.

When Bob and I combined households, everything got shoved in; time passed; we added new things and ignored the old. To be fair, most of these were not stored alongside usable ingredients, so if you’ve eaten with me recently, never fear (Sam, Mickey, Susan, SolarBlessed – it’s OK).
It wasn’t hard to identify old stuff. What was interesting to me was just how old it was! I feel like a spice cabinet archeologist.

Here’s my visual list of tips on what to look for when you’re sorting:

Cleaning the spice cabinet -- does it have a date stamp? These are vintage.

Does it have a date stamp? These are vintage, maybe even antique.

Cleaning the spice cabinet -- was it ever used?

Did I ever use it? These hadn’t been opened.

Cleaning the spice cabinet -- is it from a store that no longer exists?

Is it from a store that no longer exists or doesn’t exist in this part of the country? As for CNO, I’ve blogged about it before, and our much loved old Harry’s Farmer’s Market has been Harry’s Whole Foods for years. Sigh.

In Kansas City, I loved to shop at Planter’s Seed Company. It’s still there, but I’m not. We don’t have Safeway here either, but I still have some of their spice jars.

Cleaning the spice cabinet -- is the price amazingly low?

Is the price amazingly low? That might be a clue that no way it’s from this century.

Cleaning the spice cabinet -- is everything stuck to the bottom?

Is all the stuff stuck to the bottom of the container? (ewww)

Cleaning the spice cabinet -- here's one more -- is it empty?

Oh wait, there’s one more — is it empty? (good grief)

On a more somber note: I also found this package.

MoMA salt and pepper IMG_3451I know what’s inside. It’s the “Wobble” salt and pepper set Bob and I bought at the MoMA gift shop in New York two nights before he went in for the medical procedure that led to his death. We rarely bought things like this, but it was modern and roly-poly, and looked like so much fun that we decided to splurge and buy ourselves a Christmas present. The package was still in my suitcase when I came home alone. I put it away without ever opening it. But now I’ve made a fresh start not just with my spice cabinet, but with life. Maybe I’ll open the package. I’ll post a picture if I do.

What will I do with the old spices?
•    Make a fragrant addition to the compost
•    Or, like that quote about life handing you lemons and making lemonade — if life hands you old spices, make potpourri.

What will I do for new ones?  I want something more environmentally friendly. I’m looking for a local store that sells in bulk, where I could take my own containers for refill. Or maybe I’ll just stop by Planter’s Seed Company on my next trip to Kansas City.

By the way, did you notice my newest procrastination job: writing about sorting out the spice cabinet?
What’s your favorite procrastination job?

Related posts and links:


Blog-Tag: Focus on Writing

Today I’m taking a quick break from adventures in downsizing.  I’ve been tagged in a blog-hop post, with the assignment of answering at least four of nine questions about my writing.

This blog-tag assignment came to me from my friend Joan, whose Book Log keeps me reading and whose encouragement keeps me writing. She’s an avid reader, writer, past writing instructor, and was the original Regional Advisor for our area of the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

I’ve been so intent on working on that aforementioned downsizing that I’m a little late in responding to the tag — late, but sincere. Here goes:

1. What are you working on right now?

I’m polishing a book proposal for my memoir about coping with grief after my partner’s death.

2. How does it differ from other works in its genre?

It ‘s a memoir about grief, but also about love, eccentricity, hoarding, and sometimes humor, centering not just on survivor’s guilt but on the impact of inheriting a hoarder’s collections, the messages I’ve found among them, and what I’ve learned by sorting through his things.

Retire: a sticky note I found in one of Bob's slippers. I took it as a message.

When I was worrying about whether it was time for me to retire, I happened upon a pair of Bob’s old slippers. Tucked inside one was this sticky note. I took it as a message and I followed his advice.

One of my earliest donations: canned goods.

This is the background photo on this blog, a record of an early donation of canned goods (the first of many). Working through Bob’s things, I began with food he’d stockpiled. It had an expiration date so it had to go soon, and I thought it was less personal, therefore easier. I was wrong about that — nothing was easy.

3. What experiences have influenced you?

I was Bob’s health care proxy. Still, I never dreamed the time would come when I’d be asked to sign the papers to take him off life support. I followed his directive, but I still viewed it as a choice. I felt the weight of that decision for years.

Bob on a Balcony in Crete 1983

Here’s Bob on a balcony, from a long ago trip to Crete. I’ve forgotten now which town we were in when I took this photo. He looks content, doesn’t he?

4. Why do you write what you do?

Bob when he looked like Father Time

Fast forward twenty years or so…

After Bob’s death I put away ongoing projects in children’s fiction to work on memoir. Going through Bob’s things put me on an emotional roller coaster. Even though I have in most ways “moved on”, it’s a task I’ve yet to finish, and writing about it is cathartic.

5. How does your writing process work?

I carve out writing time from the hours I have to spend on other necessary activities. It really ought to be the other way around — write first then do the other things — but I must do it this way if I ever want to get out of this house. It’s always hard to get ahead.

6. What is the hardest part about writing?

Like painting, putting that first stroke on a blank page can be both inspiring and intimidating. It’s difficult to live up to the early promise.

7. What would you like to try as a writer that you haven’t yet?

My education is in art. I want to write about artists, and I’m keeping notes for ideas on non-fiction for middle-grade readers. I have a bad habit of starting too many things at once. That’s how I manage to get nothing finished.

8. Who are the authors you most admire?

Playwright:  Tom Stoppard, hands down.  Arcadia hits all the right notes for me. I’ve seen it three times and would go again in a heartbeat.

In memoir: among my recent reads, Gail Caldwell for Let’s Take the Long Way Home and Ann Patchett for Truth and Beauty: A Friendship.

In children’s literature there are too many. I’ll have to be content with naming a few:  there’s long time favorite Philip Pullman for His Dark Materials, Rebecca Stead for When You Reach Me,  Ruta Sepetys for Between Shades of Gray, anybody who writes a good time-travel anomaly, and all my critique group friends, published and pre-published (you know who you are).

In Sci-fi: Larry Niven, for Ringworld, Protector, and The Mote in God’s Eye… that is, until he didn’t show up for his session at Dragon Con this year (this disgruntled fan is still wondering about that).

9. What scares you?

Losing what I value most in life.

Bob was a Mensa member, a math whiz, and a computer guru. He even had some of that ditsy lack of practical day-to-day knowledge that reminds me of the story about Einstein carrying his home address on a note in his pocket so he wouldn’t forget it.  I thought Bob was the smartest man I’d ever met. At the end of his life, complications from a medical procedure left him without oxygen too long for recovery. He lost that most valued attribute: his mind.


Now that it’s my turn to tag, I’m passing the blog-baton to the following three writers:

Moody Views (Rants, Raves, and Kidlit Bits)– I was introduced to Stephanie’s blog recently when she did interviews  with YA author Matt de la Pena and picture book author Sarah Frances Hardy, both of whom will be speaking at an upcoming SCBWI conference. I heard Stephanie in person when she gave a memorable introduction to the keynote speaker at the SCBWI fall conference in Birmingham Alabama.  With her background in journalism and public relations, she’s equally adept at speaking, writing, and interviewing.

Solarblessed – She amazes me because, with her pioneer spirit, it seems there’s nothing she can’t do. Writing, painting, gardening, building, planning, she’s a can-do woman. (All that and she raises chickens too!) See her blog for tips on living off the grid, and for links to her books Unplugged and Unplug From the Grid, as well as her YA fiction.

The Forget-Me-Not Cultivation Blog – When I worked for the airlines it didn’t take many vacation days to lure me to travel to the UK. I went as often as I could, and in some fantasy future life, I’d love to live there. Reading about Sophie’s garden adventures and seeing her photos gives me a glimpse of what seems to me to be an ideal life. She mentioned “na-no-wri-mo” lately, so if I tag her, maybe she’ll tell us what she’s writing about when she’s not blogging.

What is This Doing in My Basement?

I’m just putting the finishing touches on painting the stairway to my basement, and now that the trip itself isn’t quite so gross, it’s freed me to go down there more often.

I even pulled out a few boxes of things, just enough to find —

A bottle of Perrier:A bottle of Perrier Water from before the 1990 benzene scare.

I looked at this for a bit before it came to me. I think it’s “classic” Perrier, from the benzene days. Back in 1990, Perrier recalled its product inventory after laboratory tests found it contained benzene. Bob always had an eye for a collector’s item, so I’m sure that’s why he kept it. Hmm, now I’m wondering if I accidentally drank some benzene Perrier sometime in the last few years.

Bob’s mother’s refrigerator-storage containers:

Refrigerator dishes label DSC_0450

I recognize Bob’s writing on this label.

Time capsule – these dishes were packed away and wrapped in newspaper in the 1970’s. The date on the paper is Oct 3, 1973, nearly 40 years old.

Here’s synchronicity in the comics: Beetle Bailey. Beetle’s creator Mort Walker will be 90 years old tomorrow. The costumed character in this comic reminds me of yet another coincidence – here in the Southeast, it’s the last day of Dragon Con 2013.

1973 Beetle Bailey DSC_0471

1973 clothing ad. Did we really look like this?

Did we really look like this? (Kill me now)

There’s a lot to mine from the 1973 newspaper. Hints From Heloise told us that for safety’s sake we should “securely tack the cuffs of those great-looking wide leg pants to the pant leg” lest we catch the heel of our boots and take a tumble. Now are you ready to see those pants?

Bell bottoms ad 1973. Plaid, no less.

The hunks of 1973, in plaid, no less. I do like the price on the refrigerator.

And here are the dishes. Is it my imagination or are these colors back in style? I ‘m going to use them. They’re glass – something to help me be one step closer to plastic-free. I’ll never know why they got packed away so carefully in 1973, but they’ve waited all this time so deserve to be appreciated.

Refrigerator Dishes DSC_0463


My mother’s plastic freezer containers:

Peach 71: label on plastic freezer container lid.

Here’s a lid. She used and re-used the containers for several years. I’m not sure how I ended up with them.

The God of Synchronicity and Kitchen Storage is having a little fun with me here. I found some of these when cleaning out under my kitchen sink, and now I see there were more in the basement.

My parents always planted a garden, and “put up” fresh vegetables and fruit both by canning and freezing. They had apple trees and a cherry tree, but no peach tree. My mother must have bought a bushel of peaches when they were in season. Seeing my mother’s handwriting on these lids melts my heart. I’m ashamed to admit that it also makes me hungry for her peach cobbler. It’s over a decade since her death, but my eyes are tearing up while writing this. I still miss her, think of her often, and try to be a person she’d be proud of.

These containers pre-date recycling so aren’t stamped for sorting. Luckily I have a friend who said she has a use for them, so they won’t go to the landfill.

A tribble, or a cat toy?

This may not be from the basement, but it showed up recently so I’ll include it here so I can end on a positive note.  When I first found it I thought it was a Tribble…they’re the cute but prolific critters from the original Star Trek. Remember, I mentioned Dragon Con a paragraph or two back? I thought this might be swag from a past Con. Now I wonder if it might have been a toy belonging to a beloved past pet, but that brings me back to love and loss, so I’ll go with Tribble.

Tribble or Toy ?

Tribble or toy?

Have you cleaned out your basement lately?