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.

 

Five Easy Pieces

Goodwill Hunting for Stylish School Clothes

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Goodwill shopping for school clothingThere’s an art to shopping for school clothes at Goodwill and other thrift shops, and it’s not all about saving money. It’s the thrill of the hunt, the challenge of building a nice wardrobe from what’s available, the creativity of keeping current while working within a budget.

My 13-year-old niece Melody is a shopaholic. But she’s an amateur, a novice accustomed to shopping retail and, frankly, choosing items without regard to price. Like any good aunt, I wanted to hone her skills, elevate her level of consumer sophistication. Naturally, we headed to my favorite Goodwill store in St. Louis.

(Actually, Melody wanted to go to the big outlet mall in the city–an ordeal I couldn’t face.)

Anyway, the goal at Goodwill was to create a school wardrobe for a girl between 8 and 10 years old. (Boys are just too easy–jeans and t-shirts are all-too-plentiful.) We decided to shop for Melody’s cousin, Lyndsey, a combination girly-girl and tomboy.

We began by perusing the racks, selecting only items that were either new or in good condition. Our first find was a denim skirt embellished with sequined hearts on the hips. In fact, we found two–the first also sported a hot pink, narrow belt. Alas, it was too small, so we put it back on the rack. Thirty minutes later, we found the same skirt in the right size, but without a belt. Melody quickly located the first skirt and appropriated the pink belt.

Goodwill school clothes for girlsWe decided the skirt would look good with either a lime green or pink shirt. We kept our eyes peeled as we shopped, throwing any seemingly suitable top into our shopping cart. In the meantime, we picked up other key pieces–jeans, a pink satchel purse, a beautiful pink linen dress, various t-shirts and a very cute, flippy black jersey skirt.

That little black skirt was vexing. We just couldn’t find a top to go with it. Nothing was suitable–either the material was too flimsy, or too wintery. Or the tops were too big, or the wrong color. Melody reminds me that we probably spent an hour of the two hours we were in the store, trying to pair that skirt with a shirt.

Finally, she looked at me. “What are we doing?” she asked. “We have to give it up if we can’t find the right top.”

Lesson #1: Do not buy something, no matter how adorable, if you can’t leave the store with a completed outfit. This rule holds for retail shopping, too, especially if the adorable item in question is on sale for a ridiculously low price.

Next we huddled in a back corner of the store, sorting through our finds. We triaged. Some things were obvious rejects: either they didn’t go with anything else, they failed our high standards for quality or style, or it seemed unlikely they would fit. A second category was “maybes,” items that would have to earn their way into the final selection. Of course, there were must-haves, the pieces that would form the backbone of a wardrobe–starting with the denim skirt. Five wardrobe staples from Goodwill

We settled on an overall color scheme of hot pink, lime green and denim (though we later threw in some blue and a white jacket).

Lesson #2: Work with a limited number of colors, to maximize the possibilities for mixing and matching.

While I assembled outfits on a wire grid (we moved a bunch of pictures and paintings, so that we could hang our selections and take photos–much to the bemusement of other shoppers), Melody hunted for accessories, as needed. She came up with a suitable white jacket within five minutes. And, when I didn’t agree with her selections, she argued vigorously in their defense. I had to give in–after all, she’s the teenager and has a better sense of style for that age group.

Meanwhile, she found herself a sleeveless black shirt, fitted through the torso, with a nice stand-up collar. A bargain at $3; she wore it just about every day for the rest of her vacation.

School clothes from GoodwillIn the end, we selected about 10 items, including two purses for $3 each. The rest of the clothes cost either $2 or $3. The entire wardrobe–the skirt, a pair of jeans, the white jacket, the dress, the two purses, four t-shirts, a green tunic and the pink linen dress–added up to about $25.

When our cellphone photo shoot was done, we took the clothes back to the appropriate racks, replaced the pictures on the metal grid. Melody bought the black shirt and the two purses. I came away empty-handed.

Lesson #3: A good time can be had without buying anything!

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, focusing and creating an artful life.  Do let me know what you are doing to simplify or focus your life–share your tips and tribulations!
 

 

 

 

Going to move or die?

Don’t wait ’til the last minute to downsize

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Here is my advice on downsizing and decluttering: If you think you are ever going to move–or die, start now!

I’ve passed along that advice to several people in the last year, having spent many months–more than a year, really–getting rid of many of my possessions. The recipients of my wisdom have chuckled and nodded, but I didn’t get the impression they were taking me seriously.

Two of those people have lived in their respective houses for more than 20 years. Every closet, every drawer, every shelf is full. In both cases, art work abounds. Photos and mementos are plentiful. Dining room cabinets are filled with beautiful crystal and china, none of it recently used. One person has closets filled with carefully kept business clothing; she hasn’t worked in more than a decade and wears mostly tank tops, shorts and flip-flops.

Neither of these particular people have children, so there is no one waiting or willing to inherit. One woman has her father’s Steinway grand piano; she doesn’t want to part with it, even though she doesn’t play. I have to say, my mother has been diligent in pruning belongings in the last 15 years. Of course, one of her main strategies is shipping things to her various children, mostly without warning. (A strategy I don’t condone!)

Downsizing doesn’t mean you have to move immediately. In fact, you may find that clearing accumulated belongings rejuvenates the home you live in. When I removed a third of my possessions–including art and significant pieces of furniture–in order to sell my house, I was surprised at how well-furnished it still was.

If you need more nudging, read this New York Times article by Elizabeth Olson. She quotes Kimberly McMahon, co-owner of a Maryland downsizing and moving service, who says many people “wait–and wait” to begin getting rid of stuff.

“Downsizing is the hardest, because it is emotionally difficult for people to release their history,” said Ms McMahon. “It’s the worst anxiety associated with any move.” Her advice? “Nothing should be off limits. Either use it, love it–or leave it.”

And here’s another NYT article, about a couple downsizing gracefully to a retirement apartment. One of the subjects says “I didn’t want to spend one night without my husband in our old house. Plus, I didn’t want to do the packing by myself either.” Her own mother, she said, had been an inspiration: she died at 101 with only two small boxes to her name. “She gave away things for years,” Lydia said. “You have to stop accumulating, and start clearing out early.”

‘Nuff said?

 

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, reducing clutter and creating a focused, artful life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Artfully Packed Suburu

How I drove across country–twice–hauling my coffee-maker, three suitcases, office supplies, yoga mat, tennis rackets and swim gear, a leather couch and my great-grandmother’s claw-foot oak table with 6 leaves

My Suburu holds everythingSusan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

So there we were in St. Louis, MO, getting ready to cast off for Louisiana and, beyond that, North Carolina. All that remained to be done was to pack the Suburu. Enough possessions for a year, plus a family heirloom to be delivered to my brother Joe.

My plan was to drive to Joe’s house in Louisiana, drop off the table and spend a few days there, then head for my new (temporary) home in North Carolina. It’s funny how a simple road trip can take on so many facets–sparking childhood memories, renewing emotional connections, provoking anticipation of the future.

Melody, my 13-year-old niece, was along for the ride. She lives in Taiwan. Her only exposure to the United States has been the summers and holidays she spends in Santa Barbara, visiting my mother.  Missouri was a revelation for her. First of all, it was green–the Midwest has had rain, while California is drought-stricken. And there was more for her to do in St.  Louis than in Santa Barbara. We went to the zoo, to the Arch, bowling and, of course, shopping (Melody and her mother are the original shopaholics).

I never really thought about it, but Santa Barbara is really an adult resort town. Unless you’re a beach person–which Melody isn’t–there aren’t that many kid-centric attractions there. It’s the bane of an only child: Adapting to an adult’s idea of fun, and getting used to talking (mostly) to grown-ups. My mother compensates by arranging for lessons. Horseback riding, tennis, swimming and more. She  did the same for my only kid–Max learned to kayak and scuba dive during his Santa Barbara summers.

Possibly the biggest excitement for Melody was staying with my friend Patricia, mother of four sons and a daughter. They’re all in their 20s, except Patrick, who is 16. Let’s just say they have a boisterous way of communicating with one another.  As the oldest of seven, it’s nothing new to me. To her credit, by the end of the five days, Melody could discern the difference between mock outrage and true trouble. And she grew to enjoy the mock outrage.

One of my tasks while in St. Louis was consolidating my two storage lockers. By the time I finished moving last spring, I couldn’t manage the careful packing required to fit all my belongings into one 10-by-15 storage unit. Melody patiently sat watching while I shifted boxes and furniture to empty the smaller locker into the larger one.

The key to this successful effort was taking my great-grandmother’s oak claw-foot table out of storage.

I have a photo of myself as a toddler in a highchair, exchanging sideways glances with my mother–with spit-curls bobbie-pinned into her hair–at that table. I collected it from my great-grandmother’s house when I moved to Philadelphia to work for The Inquirer. I’ve had the table for 30 years.

My ex-husband and I hosted many a Thanksgiving dinner on it, once for 18 people. As a single person, I am most frequently a guest during the holidays, not the hostess. It was time to pass it along to my brother Joe, who has three daughters. The table, lightly scarred considering its age, will provide ample space for home-schooling and homework, as well as holiday dinners.

I have to say, the Suburu is a great car for hauling. I can’t tell you how many people have marveled at its capacity when they see it fully loaded. The key is artful packing. If I do say so myself, I’m a master at maximizing space.

Suburu road tripA 19th-century oak pedestal table, with six leaves, is not a standard size object. The round table top is 54 inches across. The pedestal, with four impressive lion’s feet, complete with toenails, is massive and bulky. The leaves, at least, are manageable.

Luckily, the top pulls apart into two pieces. Each just fit into the back of the car. No two ways about it, the pedestal parts had to stand up behind the front seats and took up more room than their actual volume. In other words, canny packing was required. Then I had to add the rest of my possessions. Enough for six months or more in North Carolina.  This required some jiggering around. Ultimately, two suitcases had to be bungee-corded to the top of the Suburu.

I’ve said it before. Getting rid of possessions and moving has been a revelation. Who knew that the essential contents of my house could be squeezed into a 15-by-10-foot space? Who knew enough possessions for almost a year would fit in the back of a relatively small vehicle? Even so, I won’t be surprised to find there are still things I won’t need.

Eventually, I got it all in. As usual, it was two steps forward, one step back. I put stuff in, packed around it, then found it necessary to pull things out and start again.  Of course, when I got to Joe’s house, I had to unpack the whole car in order to get the table out, then repack for the onward journey. But that’s another post. This is enough for now.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying and clarifying her life. It’s a journey. Come along for the ride.

 

Three Little Words:

Vintage Chanel JewelryVintage Chanel Jewelry

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Do not miss this: Chanel Vintage Jewelry show, Aug. 9, 2014, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Marlene Vitanza, owner of Peregrine Galleries, is celebrating the gallery’s 30th anniversary with an exhibit and sale of vintage Chanel jewelry. The collection was  originally owned by a long-time employee of the fashion house.

The tiny Peregrine Galleries, in Montecito, CA (home to Oprah, as well as other celebrities) is a destination for anyone interested in fine vintage jewelry, especially designer pieces by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel and Miriam Haskell. Marlene is also nationally known for her premier collections of silver jewelry by Georg Jensen,  William Spratling, Hector Aguilar, Antonio, Margot, and Los Castillo, as well as paintings by masters of California plein air painting.

But for this big anniversary, she is pulling out a never-before-seen collection of Chanel pieces, the likes of which Mademoiselle Coco herself would be proud. In addition to hard-to-find and limited edition runway jewelry, the collection includes several couture Chanel jackets. The collector worked for Chanel in the 1970s, loved the jewelry and amassed many rare pieces.

Beyonce & Beyond: Everyone loves Chanel
Beyonce & her Chanel birdcage earrings

Beyonce Knowles, wearing Chanel birdcage earrings.

Looking for the iconic Chanel birdcage earrings with Chanel’s CC logo dangling inside, designed in the 1980s for a runway show? You can find them–or could–at Peregrine Galleries.

Mother-of-pearl earrings the size of a quarter, trimmed in gold-tone metal to look like turtles? Will the cuff with poured glass beads make your hands tremble, your heart palpitate? There they are in the case, along with ropes of Chanel pearls and gold chains embellished with variations of Coco’s favorite lion’s head motif–her astrological sign.

Marlene has been buying Chanel jewelry for about 20 years–and only regrets that she didn’t buy more early on. “I can’t tell you how many pieces I passed up that I would be thrilled to find now,” she says.

“Fashion fades, only style remains the same”  Coco Chanel

Marlene divides her Chanel collectors into three groups: Those who want original Chanel, but nothing visibly sporting a Chanel logo; those who want original Chanel, but only pieces with subtle logos; and those–many young people and many celebrities–who want the biggest and most visible logos possible.Vintage Chanel Earrings

Coco Chanel gained fame not only for her iconic knit jackets, with chain trim and demure pockets, but also for popularizing the suntan, wearing costume jewelry as a means of self expression, and articulating a philosophy of authenticity, rather than pretension.

Many of Mademoiselle Chanel’s thoughts (my thanks to Brainy Quotes) are as relevant now as the day she uttered them:

  • “Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
  • “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.”
  • “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”

And a personal favorite of The Resale Evangelista: “Elegance does not consist of putting on a new dress.”

Marlene Vitanza & Vintage Chanel collection

Marlene Vitanza, owner of Peregrine Galleries in Montecito

I’m going to write a lot more about Marlene in later posts. I’ve been visiting both her gallery in Montecito and the one her late husband had in Santa Barbara for many years. I was first attracted by the mid-Century plein air landscapes by California artists. But Marlene is known nationwide as an important dealer in Taxco Mexican silver jewelry and Native American jewelry and as an early and prolific collector of Bakelite. And she’s just fun to talk with, generous with her time and knowledge. I’m so sorry I won’t be in Santa Barbara for the  opening celebration of Peregrine’s anniversary.

 

If you are anywhere in the vicinity, either that evening–or for that matter, any time–stop in and browse.

About Peregrine Galleries

 

Flea market fanatics flock to…

What Cheer, Iowa

Croquet, anyone?

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Took this picture at a flea market in Iowa. Oh, wait. It wasn’t just any flea market. It was the What Cheer flea market, in What Cheer, Iowa, renowned in years gone by for the What Cheer Opera House, which still stands.

I just like saying “What Cheer”–it’s a great name for a nearly deserted little burg that comes alive three times a year, when the old fairgrounds fill with the trucks, trailers, tents and the decrepit cars of vendors.

Discarded Babydoll

The What Cheer Flea Market takes place three times a year. The biggest–and often muddiest–is in the spring, in early May. It’s quite the scene, with dealers getting there early and picking over each other’s treasures.

There’s a lot of trash and, depending on your mood and tastes, probably a lot of treasure. Mostly there’s just a lot.

I’ve gone as a spectator and a vendor. Both experiences were, well, intense. I had fun, but then I blend into crowds.

If you want the best bargains, go late Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning, when the dealers are anxious to pack up and go home. Setting up a booth is bad enough; breaking one down after two nights sleeping in your car is hell. The less a dealer has to take home, the better he/she feels.

Rental of a 20×20 outdoor booth is $45. Electricity is a few dollars extra. There’s a kinda camp-like chowhouse that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are bathrooms. Don’t count on getting a hotel room in What Cheer–there aren’t any. A lot of the vendors bring campers, or simply sleep in their booths or cars–it’s that kind of place.

The next dates are: Aug. 1-3 and Oct. 3-5. The gates open at 7 a.m. Admission is $1, a dollar extra for early birds on the market’s first day.

Resale Evangelista is dedicated (mostly) to simplifying, reducing clutter and creating a focused, artful life.

Basil Martinis

Day One, Vodka & Basil

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m on a self-improvement kick. Meditation, better nutrition, rewiring my brain–the usual. Oh, yeah and a 10-day menu of “green” smoothies. The promise is dewier skin, clear eyes and youthful energy.

My friend Lee Carey is visiting from Minneapolis, so she’s in on it with me. We transitioned into the cleanse with calamari at Brophy Brothers Seafood at the harbor, then got serious with nutritious “green” martinis–basil picked from the pot, lemons from the tree and sliced peaches. And organic vodka, naturally.

I already feel more youthful and dewy.

 

Reinventing Self

Joy of Life

Joy of Life

“There is no answer. Pursue it lovingly.”

SusanCaba
Resale Evangelista

I just placed an order with Amazon. Within two business days, I will receive these items:

  • The 10-Day Green Smoothie Diet, which promises me clearer eyes, more energy, dewier skin, reduced cravings and improved intestinal health within 10 days–not to mention a substantial weight loss.
  • Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence. The benefits are spelled out right in the title.
  • Meditations to Change Your Brain, a 3-CD set of instructions for implementing the lessons of Hardwiring Happiness. When I’m finished listening, I will have mastered specific practices for making positive changes in my body and mind, strengthened my meditative abilities, and healed and nourished my relationships. I will have increased my capacity for joy, love and spiritual bliss.

In 10 days (all right, maybe as long as two weeks), I will be able to report that I am dewier, more blissful, slimmer and living with a newly energized sense of serenity. The cost? A mere $55, with free shipping.

I am a sucker for self-help books. When it comes to self-improvement, I want a road map–a guide, a course or a workbook–to get me to my goal of the moment.

My current project is to redefine myself, to myself. That’s a pretty fuzzy aspiration. The parameters are still evolving. As I wrote in a post last week, I didn’t start with a clearly articulated goal other than discovering a permanent place to live. But my thoughts are starting to gel along the lines of creating a sense of belonging for myself.

So I sold my house in St. Louis and embarked on a year of serial house sitting. In the course of this odyssey of restlessness, I would “change my story, change my brain and change my life.” But how? I needed a workbook, which is why I turned to Amazon.

(I would have gone to an independent bookstore, because Amazon is currently holding its own customers hostage as pawns in a business battle with the Hachette Book group. But I had an Amazon gift card. So much for values.)

As it happens, one of my favorite websites–BrainPickings.org–led with an article this week titled: The Psychology of Your Future Self and How Your Present Illusions Hinder Your Future Happiness, about a Ted Talk by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. He’s the author of the 2006 book “Stumbling on Happiness.”

In his Ted Talk, Gilbert says: “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’re ever been. The one constant in our lives is change.”

By following links on the page, I came to Maria Popova’s list of 7 Essential Books on the Art and Science of Happiness. The me of grandiose ambitions would announce a study group that would read these books to glean their wisdom. Ain’t gonna happen–that much I know. But even just reading the synopsis of each book raised interesting, difficult questions about our sense of self and happiness.

There are TED Talks embedded in the list. They, too, are provocative–and, at times,, funny. I recommend two of them. I’m not going to attempt to summarize them, because that would trivialize their rather profound messages.

The first is by French scientist-turned-Buddhist monk Mattieu Ricard, talking about the habits of happiness. Ricard is the author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. (Hey! I just knew there was a guide out there someplace!)

My favorite was Brené Brown, talking about the power of vulnerability. Brown’s books include The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Both were New York Times’ bestsellers. Her TED Talk is one of the most popular ever, with more than 15 million views.

Despite titles that imply pop-culture psychology, these books–and these people–are exploring the common aspiration of humans: The pursuit of well-being and the end of suffering. Most of us don’t have the time, or don’t take the time, to pursue these questions are our own. I’m grateful for the guidance and that I do have the time, at least for the moment.

In the meantime, I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks whether I’m slimmer, dewier, more serene, more energetic, healed, nourished, content and calm. Let’s hope so!

The Resale Evangelista is on a quest for clarity and simplicity, in order to create a more focused, creative life.