Today’s to-do list…

Wake Up, Get Up

Finally, a mantra I can live with–most days!

A friend asked me recently to describe my routine.

“Routine? What routine?” I replied.

I know, I know–anything worth doing seems to require a plan, a process, a structure. But I grew up in a household where the best strategy for survival was wait and see, then react as necessary. I’m good at making a plan, devising a process but I seem constitutionally unable to carry out the plan, follow the process.

I think I’ve finally found a simple solution, a process I can follow–most of the time!

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. It’s an ongoing process.

A bountiful woodpile….

Autumn colors in the sunlight

Is the true definition of luxury

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Autumn’s cooler temperatures are painting the leaves around my North Carolina retreat in shades of gold, rust and ruby. Nights are wonderfully crisp, necessitating fires in the wood stove to chase away the chill.

Which brings me to my latest definition of luxury: An abundance of firewood.

An abundance of wood is true luxuryThanks to my host, Mark Keller, I’m enjoying that luxurious abundance. Before he and his family departed for India, leaving their house in my care, Mark filled the woodshed with seasoned, split logs harvested from their wooded property. There is an ample pile on one end of the porch and an equally generous stack of kindling on the other end. So far, I haven’t turned on the furnace.

There is something deeply satisfying about building a fire. First the little fire-starter cube, then a teepee of kindling. When that gets going, I add a few logs as thick as a child’s wrist, then some split timber that catches the flames with a series of resounding pops and crackles. After a while, the pile devolves to embers. I add whole logs, which Mark has cut to just the right length.

These logs catch fire but don’t collapse. They morph into incandescent, mesmerizing holograms–they glow and throb with the fire consuming them but somehow still hold their shape.

The dog settles herself at the hearth. One cat perches on the back of the sofa, the other on my lap. All three of us watch the flames in silence, save for the cats’ purring. Lost in our own thoughts, we share a comfortable serenity.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. She is a former Camp Fire Girl.

To dust, perchance to sneeze…

George Carlin on dusting

How often do you dust?

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The question was posed on a writer’s forum. As it happens, I’ve been noticing a thick ridge of dust on the edges of the ceiling fan above my bed, and thinking I should get up there and wipe the blades. So far, I haven’t progressed beyond noticing. In general, I’m with the late columnist Erma Bombeck who wrote: “My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.”

“I am reading a book in which a woman dusts weekly,” wrote the initiator of the discussion thread. “One day she does low dusting, another she does high dusting…my goal is once a month. I should do it more, but just can’t bring myself to and I don’t have the time.”

In one paragraph, she sums up 50 years of domestic history, taking us from June Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver to Debra Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond; from aprons and pearls to sweatpants and tee-shirts. Despite the gains of the women’s movement, there is still the immutable, inescapable, inevitable reality of dust.

The question is a verbal dust-bunny of life’s dilemma: Am I doing enough? Am I good enough? Should I be doing more?

“I shoot for once a week, but often don’t stick to it. It’s funny you mention this today, as I’ve been wondering whether a dust (or dust mite) allergy is contributing to bad post nasal drip.”

“Dusting floors with the Swiffer, 2-3 times per week. We have all wood floors and only a few throw rugs. The dust / hair / lint build up is crazy. … “

How often do you dust? How often should you dust? These are two of life’s existential questions. Our answers to them are as good as any other clue to who we are and what we value, aren’t they?

“Every other weekend. My husband and I do a top-to-bottom cleaning of the whole house. We both loathe it, but he would never agree to having someone else come clean for us. … But I shouldn’t complain, since he does all the bathroom cleaning, leaving me with dusting and floors.

“Um…. well….. when it gets to the point that I notice it and then I wait until it annoys me?”

I once interviewed the wife of a Mafia capo  who felt very guilty because she neglected to dust behind the family’s television. So she failed to discover an electronic bug planted there by the FBI.

History is writ in such motes of dust. If she had cleaned more diligently, the FBI couldn’t have persuaded her husband to testify against his mob boss. On the other hand, the agents were kind enough to inform the capo that he was next on the boss’ hit list and put the family into witness protection.

To dust, or not to dust, that is the question—
whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
the jibes and titters of outrageous gossip,
or to take arms against a sea of dust mites,
and by opposing, end them?

To dust, to Swiffer—
no more; and by our vow, to say we end
the heart-ache, and the thousand natural germs
that homes are heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
devoutly to be wished. … Aye, there’s the itch.

(With apologies to Wm. Shakespeare)

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. She hardly ever dusts.

Jane Austen’s Words of Wisdom

Who needs a 21st Century guru?

“I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.” 
–  Jane Austen in Emma

Bookstores are awash in self-help books, guides to the good life, volumes of advice, psuedo-philosophy/psychology and just plain pap. My friend Jone Bosworth reminded me that we used to  glean that knowledge from literature.

As just one example, Jone points to English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817). She wasn’t out flacking her advice on the streets of London; she rarely left the homes she shared with her mother and sister. Yet Austen’s books–including Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815)–are rife with still-valuable insights.

“You don’t have to be an Austen fan to appreciate the lessons on how we should expected to be treated, who we need to surround ourselves with, and who is really the best judge of our choices,” Jone said in a recent post, Austen Top Ten for 21st Century Women.

Here are just five Austen-isms, compiled by Jone, that I’m contemplating (leading a simplified life allows time for contemplation.)

  • “My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” (Pride and Prejudice)
  • “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” (Northanger Abbe)
  • “Success supposes endeavor.” (Emma)
  • “Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.” (Jane Austen, letter 1817)
  • “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”  (Sense and Sensibility)
The Resale Evangelista is editing and simplifying, in order to create an artful life.

Fear Not, the Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis, beneficial garden insect, http://gardeningforresults.com/garden-pest-control/10-garden-helpers-and-how-to-lure-them/(Photo from Leonard J. Kovar’s Gardening for Results)

E.T., Phone home…better yet, go home!

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The bugs are bigger here in North Carolina—a lot bigger. Even the good bugs.

One night, heading to bed, I turned a corner and came eye-to-glassy-eye with a long, lime-green thing clinging to the door frame. Its body was delicate, the length of my pinky, thinner and straighter than a string bean, with thready legs bent like paper clips. The torso (do bugs have torsos?) narrowed to a tiny triangular head with, it seemed to me, unnaturally large eyes on either side. After my initial gasp, I decided it was a praying mantis and ignored it, passing on the far side of the short hall to my bedroom.

In the morning, the mantis was gone. I couldn’t help wondering if it was male or female, since females eat the males after mating. In the next few days, it turned up on a wall in the kitchen, then on a picture frame in the dining room. I hoped he/she was making its way to freedom, but I still jumped every time we met and averted my eyes as I passed.

As a kid in New Jersey, we often found a praying mantis or the similarly beneficial walking sticks on trees as we played outside. I remember catching lightning bugs, too, and putting them in a jar. I don’t do that anymore. It’s not that I mind bugs. I just prefer they stay out of sight and not require intervention on my part.Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 10.55.57 PM

The praying mantis, according to Leonard J. Kovar’s website, Gardening for Results, is one of the top 10 bugs you want in your garden. They hunt at night, and eat all the most problematic bugs–including cockroaches. Unfortunately, they are not picky eaters (just ask the males); they also eat other beneficial bugs. They have five eyes, allowing them to spot movement from 60 feet.

Alas, this praying mantis never made it to freedom.

One cool morning, I went to close the windows in the dining room. And there, clinging to the screen—or so I thought—was the lime-green thing. Only he/she looked unnaturally crisp or stiff. Looking more closely, I saw the mantis had been ensnared in a spider’s web (so much for its vaunted eyesight). I went to get the vacuum cleaner, or maybe an empty coffee can, to dispose of the corpse. Fortunately for me (which reveals a lot about my attitude toward insects), as I touched the window frame, the mantis fell from the web and down behind the bookcase under the window.

Which put me in mind of a favorite haiku verse, translated by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass in The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (New York: Ecco, 1994)L

Don’t worry, spider.
I keep house
Casually.

Because, of course, the Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life.

Reflections on a porch

 

Porches, Southern Homes

Light, leisure & time: Luxuries of a simplified life

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

There’s something about a porch, especially one that wraps like a hug around a house, providing shelter and comfort. Here in Chapel Hill, many mornings find me sitting, as I am now, in a faded blue Adirondack chair on the porch, interrupting my reading to watch chickadees fluttering around the bird feeder.

Matisse Gold Fish, 1911, I hung the feeder over a tiny goldfish pond, hoping to discourage the cats and the squirrels from guerrilla raids on, respectively, the birds and the birdseed. Occasionally, a small frog leaps from a crevice in the rocks bordering the pond. His splash is small, but enough to startle the goldfish. All six dart to the other side of their world, molten sunlight captured just under the water’s surface.  Pine needles net the pond, their geometry emphasized by a single lemon-colored maple leaf that fell prematurely. I think of Matisse.

My novel isn’t enough to distract me from the expanse of trees, shrubs and open spaces that flows from the porch and pond, on across a gravel road to another woodland vista. I imagine rhododendrons and azaleas interspersed among the tall pines to further block the sight of occasional traffic, and wonder whether iris would thrive near the woods’ edge, where the soil is cushioned with pine needles.

I’ve been puttering in the garden. I potted up some rosemary and sage to take inside when the weather turns cold. I’m contemplating digging up some ferns down by the creek, and planting them at the edge of the pond. Part of the pleasure of staying in new places that aren’t your own is imagining the changes you would make, regardless of the fact that what exists is already beautiful. This is especially true because there’s no need to actually get anything done, let alone stick to a budget.

Henri Matisse, 1937 Odalisque with Yellow Persian Robe and Anemone.  Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White CollectionAs I write, I realize my eye is drawn to the edges, the borders and boundaries of the landscape. That’s where the light changes and textures shift, where one plant grows and thrives, while others wither or struggle. It occurs to me that I am at one of those edges in life’s landscape, in the transition from one emotional and mental environment to another. Will I adapt and thrive? Too soon to tell…

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life.

Jigsaw puzzles…

 

Goodwill's Answer to ValiumGoodwill’s answer to Valium

by Jone Bosworth, JD
  Founder,  InCourage Leading, LLC

Look up “doting” in the dictionary and you’ll find my picture. The label reads “Doting Aunt.”

Remember prehistory, back before Skype? In that bygone era,  I spent hundreds of dollars–thousands, really–talking with my nephews and nieces on the telephone. (You remember: Two pieces, attached to the wall by a cord, a rotary dial that evolved into push buttons.) Especially while I was living abroad, the phone charges added up quickly.

Inexplicably, when I’d ring from Tokyo, my sister thought it wise to put her 3-year old on speaker-phone. He’d describe every single thing in the house to me. The conversations went like this: “I’m in the living room Aunt Jone. Here’s the t.v., here are my books, there’s my dump truck, here’s Anarchy (the dog), there’s Mommy’s shoes. I have a red block, Aunt Jone…”

I’m not exaggerating. And I’m not complaining. The world can be a tough ol’ place, growing up can be  bumpy, and doting is one little antidote I can offer. Now that I live closer to family, much more of my doting gets done in-person.

Problem is–at the risk of exposing what an old fogey I’ve become–my 4-year old nephew loves having me sit at the computer beside him and watch him play games. I find this not only super boring, but a resounding defeat of my doting-time-together goals. I decided we should try our hands at jigsaw puzzles. We’d be doing something together, playing in a much more social way. I dug out a puzzle from my mother’s closet and we set about putting it together.

Potential alert to pre-dementia:  I’m not smarter than a 4-year old. At least not when it comes to assembling jigsaw puzzles. Wow! I remember this task being so much easier!

Jigsaw puzzles are apparently good for the brain. Several studies revealed that solving puzzles increases our concentration, sharpens our memories, and perhaps even improves our brain function.  According to an article on Social Psychiatry.com, “Working on jigsaw puzzles and focusing on the same image for longer periods can actually turn out more like meditations and induce a calmness and peace in the mind.”

There may be other physical benefits too—lowered breathing, heart and blood pressure rates. And of course, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment, of success, when you place that last piece.

Susan (The Resale Evangelista) frequently reminds me that I could be consuming less, living a simpler life. When it comes to puzzles, I’m listening. So, anticipating my next visit to my nephew in Nebraska,  I picked up a brand new puzzle for $2.15 at my neighborhood Goodwill. The box hadn’t been opened, the puzzle pieces were still sealed in a bag.

Just for fun, I decided to try my hand at putting it together at my house. You know, making sure it isn’t too hard for my nephew. Sure, it says on the box that this puzzle is for ages 8+. But hey, it gives me a chance to get (okay, appear) smarter than a 4-year-old. I can’t remember–is that cheating?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Besides being a doting aunt, guest blogger Jone Bosworth is a strategy/business consultant and certified professional coach. She founded InCourage Leading to help women (and egalitarian men) develop their leadership potential and contribute to the common good.  Jone is trying to avoid, at all costs, what her former boss, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, called the “special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Jone’s blog is a witty take on leadership. I highly recommend her posts on Learning to Communicate with younger generations and 3 Great Lessons from The Rolling Stones. She’s also a frequent contributor to The People Development eMagazine. Check out her latest piece, Witty Wisdom on Workplace Politics. All three pieces are not only useful, they’re amusing, too.

Three simple steps…

…to a more artful life

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

My friend Jone Bosworth–strategist, professional coach and all-round super woman–posted three simple tasks to put on what she calls “a honey-do list” for Labor Day. They’re all related to taking time to recognize the gifts we enjoy, sharing them and making time in our too-busy lives to revel in the present. 

There was a time when many of us would scoff at the concept of consciously expressing gratitude and living in the present. It was the Eighties, what can I say, and some of us bandied the phrase “psycho-babble” recklessly about. It turns out there are plenty of studies that confirm measurable improvements–mental, emotional and physical–in the lives of people who do exactly what Jone suggests.

For my own part, as I try to rewrite (or at least decipher) my own “life story,” I intellectually recognize the value of Jone’s three steps. I do still struggle with implementing them. I read somewhere that cynics are more realistic about life, but optimists are happier. I agreed with that statement and took a certain pride in being a cynic. Now I think that maybe I’d rather be an optimist.

Anyway, take a look at Jone’s suggestions. They are simple and valuable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot pepper flakes, anyone?

Ripe red tomatoes and green tomatoes

Having a go at gardening

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Those of you who know me will get a chuckle out of this: I’m going to make my own hot pepper flakes, from peppers I harvested from the garden (note that I did not say I planted or grew them). Also, I blanched and froze an excess of kale, to keep a good supply for green smoothies. And I am going to slice and freeze green tomatoes so that I can, as one website states, “enjoy their zesty flavor all winter.”

A moment here for your recovery…

Well, I know I don’t do much in the kitchen or vegetable garden. (Those of you who don’t know me, rest assured I am no Suzie Homemaker.) But I’m staying in a really lovely house just outside Chapel Hill, N.C. and it has a garden. Mark, the homeowner, planted it and uses the produce in family meals.

Now that Mark, Shari and the kids have gone to India, I couldn’t let the remaining bounty go to waste (and not to the deer, either). So I ventured out today to harvest, disturbing the early evening meal of a young-looking doe. She escaped through an apparent hole in the netted fence.

Jalapeno, banana and hot red peppersThere were peppers galore. Tiny red peppers, jalapenos, banana peppers and some other kind of green pepper. I’d already Googled how to make pepper flakes. The first entry said something like “Making pepper flakes in 15 steps.” Pass. The next one, from Old World Garden Farm, is much simpler.

Basically, you cut and clean the peppers, put them on a cookie sheet in the oven for 8 to 10 hours on low heat, then throw them in the blender. Or was that a grinder? If you’ve a mind to try this, go directly to the instructions.

To my surprise, there were several ripe tomatoes on the vines. I’ll have a tomato salad tomorrow. I do love tomatoes, but I have a problem with produce–it goes bad before I can eat it all. Right now, there is a half bag of spinach wilting in the refrigerator. It will take a yeowoman’s effort to consume all those tomatoes. I don’t know if I’m up to it.

As for the green tomatoes, I remember reading in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” that you can wrap green tomatoes in newspaper and put them in the basement and they will slowly ripen. As I write, though, I realize I must be wrong–I don’t think they had newspapers on the virgin prairie.

Never mind. Now that I’m in the South, I understand the thing to do with green tomatoes is slice them, bread them and fry them for breakfast. Again, there are a lot of green tomatoes. The good news is, I can freeze the slices. I’m exhausted already at the thought of the slicing. I will, though, persevere.

Kale from the gardenNow to the kale. Abundant. One of nature’s wonder foods. Deeply green, harboring mega-doses of phytonutrients. A key ingredient in healthful green smoothies (which taste a lot better when they include fruit, sweet peppers, cucumbers and a little coconut–all for zing and less of that sludgy green taste and texture.)

However, again with the wilting problem. Again with the Googling. Turns out you can freeze kale. But first you have to blanch it which, for those who don’t know, involves plunging it into boiling water for two minutes, then shocking it silly by plunging it into ice water. Pat the poor leaves dry and throw them in the freezer.

I was loathe to do it. Not for the plants’ sake but because I didn’t feel like boiling the water and preparing an ice bath. (There, does that give you a very clear picture of my culinary ambitions? I find it hard to believe, myself, that I used to make puff pastry.) But I blanched (the kale, that is). Now, all I have to do is stick to my resolution to drink a green smoothie every day.

This simplified life isn’t exactly as simple as I envisioned. More later…

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and living a more artful life.