Monday, March 20, 2017

Pantry Purge: Redux

It has been over three years since Matthew and I embarked upon the original Operation Pantry Purge in the fall of 2013. So much has changed in our food storage and buying habits! And yet I’m astounded by the number of foods that remained untouched and ever more inedible 3 years on.

For starters, we built out a mini-bar in the basement in 2014 and were able to move all the beer/alcohol to it’s own shelves/fridge down there. That made room for a bottled juice empire to grow up in its place. And in 2015 I started meal planning, which encourages us to buy only what we need for the week’s meals when we walk down the grocery store aisles.

Lest you think those big changes alone were enough to prevent disaster, let me just show you the “before” picture so you can see why it was time to purge again.

The tea situation was as bad as ever, and the stuff I hid in the closet during our NYE party needed to be sorted and dispersed. Plus I was getting annoyed at pawing through all the boxes of things to find what I wanted.

The purge redux was completed in two sessions and left behind a trimmer-than-ever pantry, now with room to keep coolers on the bottom shelf. I’m sad to say though that, while we are getting better at not being food hoarders, we aren’t necessarily retaining smartness. It wasn’t until I re-read the posts from the last purge that I realized we were missing an important aid in the evaluation process: beer! I’m not even sure I had a glass of water handy. I was just popping things in my mouth and suffering the consequences. If you are inspired to likewise purge your pantries, learn from my mistake. A bubbly swig of beer could do wonders to disinfect tastebuds tainted by spent oyster crackers. (Matt wrinkled his nose just tipping the bag into the compost bin. Why didn’t I think to use my nose before popping one into my mouth?)

We employed a shelf-at-a-time strategy to separate things into keep and “process”. (“Process” here means separate out compostable and recyclable parts for responsible disposal.) The most difficult thing I tried to process was a little container of concentrated liquid that is meant to be squeezed into water to make it flavored. This one was “iced tea” flavored, and continually peed brown liquid all over me the whole time I worked ever-so-dangerously with a knife to pry off its obstinate lid. The grape Gatorade powder that had become green and slightly malleable like old Playdoh while still maintaining that classic fake grape odor also was surprisingly difficult to process. I had to use a grapefruit spoon to scrape it from its recyclable container. Meanwhile, Matt was nearby unsuccessfully using a meat fork to stab at the hardened contents of an instant iced tea jar.

Green grape Gatorade

Do you remember the Snyder’s honey mustard and onion pretzel pieces from last time? Yeah, Matt didn’t either. They expired in September of 2013.

One of my favorite finds was a desiccated little potato. “Good word,” Matt said when I showed him the dusty skin before depositing it into the compost bin.

During that fall 2013 purge, we thought the cake mix that expired in November 2011 was probably still okay. But now 3 years later, it seems like we never really wanted lemon cake after all. Matt points to himself and pouts “But I did!” I take no responsibility for this. I toss the bag of mix into the trash and the box into the recycle. “Wait,” says Matt, “where are the scissors? I don’t like to confine things to death in plastic.” He cuts open the bag of mix and frees it from a sealed death.

The Kroger brand jello that expired in April ’02 doesn’t get a pass this time, either. Matt pleads innocence, saying it never sounded good (pineapple orange), but I know I’m the one who bought it. Matt does some math. “That’s before I even knew you!” Me: toothy grin.

An open box of Chick-Fri last good in 2008. What were we thinking last time? Simultaneously, Matt asks, “How did the minute rice survive when it expired in 2009?” To make us feel better about our past selves, he hypothesizes that maybe some items escape into a secret hiding place when the purge happens.

Upon examining a box of barbecue chicken seasoning mix, I realize it is full of bug holes and reflexively drop the box onto the floor. I pick it up and re-aim my drop over the trash bin this time.

The beer bread mix with no expiration date was flagged for immediate consumption. I would guess it’s circa 2013. It smelled so good while it was baking! But, SPOILER ALERT, tasted like garbage. I don’t think it was the fault of the expired beer we used in it, but whatever, now that can of beer we never wanted and the beer bread mix we never ate are both gone. Hooray! And I bought some new self-rising flour so we can make fresh, tasty beer bread and right the wrongs we perpetrated on our senses.

(I used my difficult-to-focus wide-angle lens to show off the new hooks and open floor.)

With any luck that’s the last you’ll hear of our pantry, maybe ever! We’ll keep the flours free of bugs, and the jello manufactured in this decade, at least.

Who am I kidding? All it will take is tea to go on sale 2 for $4 and we’re goners.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Letters From Santa (a seasonally appropriate flash fiction story) by Rachel Dull

At half past 11, I snuck downstairs to filch the enormous sugar cookie with green frosting that my baby sister, Isabelle, had left out for Santa Claus. I had already poured myself a glass of fresh milk before heading into the living room, which was lit by the cozy Christmas tree lights we had left on so Santa could navigate the floor plan when he arrived. I paused in front of the twinkling beacon, holding the magic of Christmas in its ornament-laden boughs. It felt so peaceful in the tree’s halo that I sighed with contentment as I reached for the plate on the side table by the chair. My fingers had just curled around the wreath cookie waiting for me these past 4 hours when a commotion caused me to dropped the stolen goods and jump back in fear as a man’s voice bellowed out “Ho! Ho! Ho!” and a mechanized Santa began to sway his hips and dance to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”.

I hardly knew a sound had escaped my lips, but my younger brother, sitting across the room with a video recorder trained on my every move, described it as the whinny of a horse crossed with the wheeze of our elderly grandfather when he gets out of bed. “Gotcha!” Davey called. I came out of my trembling crouch and recognized the horrible Santa mannequin that our mother had purchased once at a garage sale, and every year insisted on putting out on our front porch to greet holiday visitors who came to call. My brother, in his comedic wisdom, had relocated the devil for the express purpose of catching me in the act of stealing Santa’s cookie and giving me a fright. “Just wait until I show Isabelle!” he cackled, skipping past me, and swiping the cookie before heading back to his room.

As the robotic Santa finished his dance and clicked off, I stood there staring at an empty-but-for-crumbs plate illuminated in the glow of the tree that had lured me into a false sense of security with its angelic topper and glittery tinsel. After Isabelle saw that video, not even the large box I put under the tree with her name on it would win back her love. I drank my milk and pondered for a moment, then pulled a charred bit of wood from the fireplace and tucked it into Davey’s stocking with the following note: “Davey, I know you ate my cookie. I can’t take your presents back now, but consider this bit of coal a warning for next year. I’ll be watching. —Santa.” And then I tucked a special note into Isabelle’s stocking that said, “Dear Isabelle, your brothers mean well, they just make bad choices sometimes. Keep on loving them, just like I do, and they will come around. Don’t give up hope! Especially on Logan. He’s a good brother. Love, Santa.” That’ll teach Davey to mess with Santa, I thought, mechanized or otherwise.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rachel Dull, writer personality

For some time I have been planning to make a website to present a professional “Rachel Dull, writer personality” to the internet. At last, it is live. There you can find a list of my short story publications as well as another blog I am writing to keep interested persons informed of my publication and writing exploits. I’m still figuring out what the difference is between the two blogs, but I think it’s that The Merest Idea is for RB and LB to learn to work together and give them each a chance to exhibit, whereas the other blog will be more writing focused. I would not be surprised if in time I needed to merge these concepts because keeping one blog is hard enough, but for now the division seemed necessary to keep both unshackled from the limitations of the other (i.e. Left Brain asked me to). Also, I don’t know what I’m doing.

If you have enjoyed my writing here, I hope you will enjoy my writing about writing over there. And I’ll be sure to let you know when I start my next blog, which will probably be writing about writing about writing, because going meta is my defense mechanism.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year--where I borrow a song and re-write the lyrics as an ode to my favorite season! This year, please imagine Johnny Mathis belting it out (with more enthusiasm than he mustered for his Oprah performance in 1991).

Autumn, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the football fans yelling
And everyone telling you winter is near
It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It's the pump-pumpkinest season of all
With those kids trick-or-treating and bold colors fleeting
When leaves start to fall
It's the pump-pumpkinest season of all

There’ll be apples for picking
And ciders for drinking
And frolicking out in the leaves
There’ll be donuts for snacking, swim
suits we’ll be packing to
Make room for all the long sleeves

It's the most wonderful time of the year
There’ll be bonfires glowing
And crisp breezes blowing
When autumn is here
It's the most wonderful time
Yes the most wonderful time
Oh the most wonDERful time
Of the year!

Saturday, August 27, 2016


It was a rainy day so I decided to sew a pocket into a skirt I have been wearing a lot this summer. I hardly want to buy anything anymore WITHOUT pockets, but I still have plenty of clothes that I purchased pre-Pocket Awakening, and every time I wear them I wonder if there isn’t a way to just stitch a fold in there for my lip balm at least.

This skirt's getting an upgrade!

My first idea was to steal the pocket pattern from a pants patterned I already owned, but when I got out the pattern, I realized it was for cargo pants from the 90s and the pocket for those pants might be a bit much (seen below, on left). Instead I found a dress with a pocket that works well and traced its pocket onto a scrap of tracing paper I found on top of the sewing room garbage (seen below, center). Then I sat back in awe of the size difference and lamented that smart phones and cargo pants weren’t in vogue simultaneously.

The fabric I used for my pocket fell off of the fabric shelf when I was pawing through the patterns. It is a piece of leftover muslin that happened to be the PERFECT size for one pocket. (My fabric shelves are a disaster right now and I often walk in to find fabrics in a heap on the floor. I think the cat tries to sit in there sometimes. But I wanted to be honest with you about how I make decisions while sewing, and more often than not it’s based on ready accessibility and chance.)

I ironed the muslin, pinned the pattern onto it, and then cut it out.

Next, I had to rip out the seam on the edge of the skirt where I wanted to place my pocket. I only ripped out a section just long enough for the pocket because, while it is easier to put in a pocket with completely detached front and back pieces of skirt, I didn’t want to take out the elastic and all that because I don’t like seam ripping THAT much. It had both a straight stitch and a serger stitch, so it took a little bit of work to get all the stitches out, but fortunately I am very experienced in seam ripper usage from many errant seams over the years. Running the seam ripper through the serged stitches worked pretty well.

Then I pinned the pocket to the skirt, right sides together. (That’s a lie. I first pinned the pocket wrong sides together, sewed it, and then had to seam rip it all out when I realized I’d done it wrong.) I placed one pocket piece on the front of the skirt, and one on the back. I used a 3/8” seam allowance and sewed the two pieces into place.

The next step was to attached the two sides of the pocket together. I turned the skirt inside out, aligned the two halves of the pocket, and pinned. I stitched around the outside of the pocket, also using a 3/8” seam allowance. (The bottom and the top where the stitches meet up with the side seam on the skirt are always a mystery to me when installing pockets, so I did my best and cleaned up the gaps later.)

Finally, it’s the moment of truth! I turned the skirt right side out and tried it on. I was happy to find out that I had put my pocket on the right side even though I had forgotten to check when I started. I look forward to wearing this skirt again soon where I can keep my phone and lip balm close at hand throughout the day!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

They Sent Us to College

They sent us to college to get diplomas and jobs from which we could retire, but instead we got opinions and debt. We job hop and get laid off and change our careers every other year, eschewing the stability for which they worked their entire lives. They told us we could be anything so we wanted to try everything. And they probably feel let down by all this. They probably think they failed, and we’re failing, and we just don’t get it. But we feel empowered. We feel liberated. Like we really do get it. We get all of it. We are alive and making our own decisions. We are trying new things and changing our minds. We are free to be anything and think anything and marry whomever we please. But one day when our kids grow up and put into practice all the things we thought we were teaching them over the years, we’ll be just as surprised as our parents were with us. The things we valued will be cast aside as they grow into their own strengths, test their own ideas, and live the lives stretched out before them, full of promise. We’ll ask ourselves “What went wrong?” and “How can they live like that?” as we take refuge in the boxes we’ve built from our experiences and settle down on the securely anchored cushions of our worldview where it is safe.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Words: about the ones I can't find to explain myself well, and the ones I can't spell

I don't even feel like I can put into words. Not enough thoughts to compute—just a general feeling of being not good enough at things I've said, ideas I've expressed. I've tried to capture them before they were fully formed and I made a bad image. But I don't have time or wherewithal to properly form good thoughts before I have to speak them.
"Before we can get all the facts, we may be going to have to act." —They Might Be Giants
I am torn and pulled in different directions. My mind cannot settle on one idea long enough to do anything about it. Dart, flit, swoosh, and I'm off to a new idea. I will paint my nails. Write a letter. Eat a snack. Tweet. Write a blog post about how I never liked the illustrations accompanying Shel Silverstein poems. Write a blog post about words I can't spell, like "occasion". Reminisce (<-- not confident on that one either) about how when I wanted to thank accompanists in high school for playing piano for me, I always had to write "Thanks for playing piano for me" because I never, and still haven't, learned how to spell the word for the role they do. Don't write a blog post because no one cares about my quirky asides that are one sentence long and decidedly not worth an entire blog post. Write a blog post about how I always want to write blog posts to have an excuse to tell people my quirky asides. Don't write a blog post, just say my asides randomly to my spouse who is across the room and who will probably love me anyway, even if I say things completely out of context and annoy him by interrupting what he is reading. Is this a blog post? I can't post this—it's the pointless ramblings of a restless person who drank coffee 13 hours ago and wonders if the caffeine (<--that one I can spell, oddly) is just now kicking in. But what if it has comedic value? As soon as you ask that it doesn't. But what if other people sometimes feel the same way? But what if they don't and I look like an idiot who talks to herself?

I write for the case of "just in case": "Just in case I'm not alone on this." I write to make connections with people. I write because I want to say the "connections" thing better but I'm having trouble sentencing today.

All spellings checked and corrected before publication. (Thanks, red squiggly line!)

Bonus quirky aside: What's with cookbooks without pictures? I'm already trying to imagine what a recipe going to taste like and now you want me to imagine what it is going to look like, too?