This lamp is a hoot!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I needed a Goodwill fix after breakfast in Siloam Springs, Arkansas with my cousin Jim Caba and his wife, Carol. Luckily, there was one right around the corner from the restaurant.

Happy Chic White Lola Owl table lamp, by Jonathan Adler, manufactured 2010—2019

Not wanting to impose too much on their willingness to indulge my hobby (okay, addiction), I did a speed survey of the housewares sections. As so often happens, the treasure was tucked behind the drek.

This little owl lamp caught my eye for it’s mid-century-modern style and simplicity, not to mention the $3.99 price tag. I was even more delighted when I turned it over and discovered it’s part of the Happy Chic line designed by Jonathan Adler. It’s just five inches tall and originally had a tall, sunny yellow shade.

Can’t you just see it in a child’s bedroom or as an accent lamp in a bathroom?

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. On the other hand, she’s scouring thrift stores to find hidden treasures.

Gotta love instant gratification!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Sold! Posted this fabric — two yards of uncut vintage Funky Fifties barkcloth — late last night before I went to bed. Woke this morning to see it sold within an hour. It had been in a closet for two years. Gotta love a buyer who knows what he wants and grabs it when he sees it.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. On the other hand, she’s scouring thrift stores to find hidden treasures.

Thrift Store Shopping: I forage so you don’t have to…

Mid-Century-Modern painting from thrift store

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Friends, I’ve been binge-thrifting. It’s a thrill, it’s an addiction, it’s a sickness. It’s recreation and entertainment. It’s my hobby — and I don’t feel (excessively) guilty.

And, oh, I do love the buzz — that blast of dopamine — when I come across an under-priced treasure. Think hand-pieced, hand-stitched sampler quilt for $14, a pristine BMW leather motorcycle jacket on half-price day at Family Thrift for $28, or the Bose stereo marked $48 but discounted, thanks to my senior citizen status, to $36.

I’ve been a thrift-store shopper for years. But lately, I can’t seem to pass a Goodwill, Salvation Army or Family Thrift store without involuntarily turning the steering wheel into the parking lot. 

R2-D2 and C-3PO

In the past, I had the excuse that I might be buying something I needed. That excuse was thin even when I was living in my own house or apartment. I still had more art than I could display and, at some points, stored excess “finds” that were too good to pass up in my basement or garage — and which I often passed along to the children of friends getting their first apartments. “Look in my garage,” I would say, when I heard of someone seeking a kitchen appliance or piece of furniture.

What’s different now is that I absolutely do not need another possession of any type. I gave up my apartment two years ago, to help my sister take care of our elderly mother. I’m literally living in my mother’s garage (which, with the addition of thrift-store finds, I’ve turned into an eclectically furnished space). And yet my thrifting has intensified.

I blame three factors.

  • The Reels — TikTok-like videos on Facebook — in which professional thrifters brag about the bargains they find and flip on the internet for profit. 
  • My dear friend Lee, who (when I might have been spending $50 a week on thrift-store finds) agreed that I could consider thrifting a hobby, no more decadent than going to a movie and eating at restaurants. 
  • The 1996 Chrysler van I bought for $1,000 when my Subaru blew its engine. Rather than rent a vehicle while the Subaru was in intensive care, I acquired the van from my mechanic. Do you have any idea how much stuff a skilled packer can wedge into a van?

The final enticement — okay, rationalization — was Lee encouraging me to flip my finds for money, monetize my hobby, in today’s lingo. Those Reels were proof it could be done. “Stack that Cash,” is the motto of one reseller. 

The idea of reselling isn’t new for me. When I lived across from Washington University in St. Louis, I used to dumpster dive when the students moved away in June, discarding everything from furniture to laundry detergent. I wasn’t the only one harvesting the alleys. A friend and I had an annual garage sale of the scavenged loot. Later I envisioned selling many of the bargains I thrifted, though I proved much better at the buying than the selling.

Martini set and shaker

Lee urged me to be more pro-active in selling, to track my purchases and sales. She set me up with an Excel spreadsheet. Perversely, this had the effect of increasing my spending. Would I have bought the BMW motorcycle jacket if I didn’t realize I could resell it? Highly doubtful!

I’ve had some successes. The Bose stereo? Sold for $140. The quilt? Shipped to a lady in Indiana for $130. The motorcycle jacket? Presumably being worn by the Florida man who paid $130, plus shipping. I’ve made the most money, oddly,  on items I purchased for $1. A Bernina sewing accessories cabinet that sold for $40; two Kate Spade china mugs for $35; a vintage Hawaiian shirt for $39.95. 

Too much stuff!

There have been mistakes made and lessons learned. I’ve overstocked my inventory of Disney plush animals, Star Wars-related items, and too-cute children’s clothing, not to mention vintage Vans skate shoes. Both the Chrysler and my artfully furnished garage/living space now resemble the lairs of hoarders and the homeless. It’s time for a clutter-busting blowout sale. Either that, or a trip to the nearest Goodwill with some return donations!

In the meantime, thrifting is still fun and irresistible. Just the other day, I swung by the Family Thrift in Santa Barbara, intent on looking only for Pyrex lids and Starbucks travel mugs, both reliably popular resale items. Of course, I made the circuit of the whole store and walked out with two unexpected treasures — a 1980s IKEA Flower Power fruit tray and a delightful watercolor for $5. 

I’ll be detailing my thrifting adventures and misadventures here at Resale Evangelista. But I may have to revise my tag line. Currently it’s “Simplifying, Clarifying and Creating an Artful Life.”

The new version? “I forage so you don’t have to.” 

IKEA of Stockholm Flower Power Tray, designed by Monica Mulder

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. On the other hand, she’s scouring thrift stores to find hidden treasures.

Kind of Blue

The Song is Ended, the Melody Lingers On

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

“I know the timing of this statement will seem a bit odd, my friend. But we so should have slept together that night we were listening to Jazz at your place! Two passionate people. It would have been combustible! I so should have made a move.”

His message came out of the blue.

We’d been colleagues decades earlier, working on an afternoon newspaper. We sometimes ended the workday at a nearby hotel nightclub, listening to singer Irene Myles perform her repertoire of blues and jazz. My favorite was her rakish version of “The Mean and Evil Blues.”

“I’m so mean and evil
Even rain don’t fall on me…”

One night he brought albums (yes, actual vinyl albums) to my apartment. He was schooling me in the jazz classics. If it was a date, I had no idea. I was caught up in the rhythms of jazz.

Cornell Fowler, jazz lover, reporter, political operativeCornell was slender and probably the closest thing Des Moines had to “cool.” I was—well, I’ve never been good at figuring who or what I am. I’ve come to realize I was slender, too, but curvy. My mother said, on the occasion of her 50th high school reunion, “If only we’d known then how hot we were.” I guess I was hot to Cornell’s cool.

I covered City Hall. Cornell wrote about popular culture. His nightclub reviews—including the dank and dirty—tended toward hilarious.

The afternoon newspaper closed. I moved to the morning paper, and eventually to Philadelphia. Cornell went to work for a wire service, had a weekly comedy gig on the radio—and then discovered his true avocation: political operative. He moved to California in 2000 at the request of  Al Gore’s campaign, and was active in Kamala Harris’ first election as San Francisco’s district attorney.

Scrolling through my messages and Facebook timeline, I see we reconnected in 2011. I was in St. Louis, and so was Cornell’s mother. She grew up there, got married there, had Cornell, then the family moved to the south side of Chicago when he was five. Cornell put down deep roots in Chicago, though he still spent summers in St. Louis.

“I hope you’re still listening to great jazz!!!,”  he wrote, in a message otherwise devoted to finding a dentist for his mother. She had returned to St. Louis to be near her sisters. He called the three of them “The Moms.”

“I still listen to great jazz. But my all-time favorite is the woman who sang in the club in Des Moines–and I wish I had a recording of “I’m so bad” that she sang,” I responded.

Flirting about that “jazz night” wound through our messages the way the languid sound of a clarinet insinuates its way into a melody. Like the best jazz lyrics, his sporadic messages were tantalizingly explicit, but teasingly elusive.

You know, when we were sitting in your apartment
istening to jazz albums, we really should have…..

Never too late!!!

Then we’d send laughing emojis and drop the subject. This time, we improvised a flirty confection that lifted my spirits during a stressful time. I reread it several times over the next day or two, like a woman tracing her lover’s face in a photograph.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I know the timing of this statement will seem a bit odd, my friend. But we so should have slept together that night we were listening to Jazz at your place! LOL two passionate people. It would have been combustible! I so should have made a move.

Well, wish you had!

You had the hots for my friend and former roommate, Mitch. Still…

Sorry for that brief answer, I was busy slamming a Trump troll with the facts of how much The Cheeto in Chief spent on golf vs Obama.

Now, back to business. I don’t even remember Mitch, let alone having a crush on him–though I remember that he died and you said I went out with him once. I was thinking today that the evenings we spent at the Savery listening to music were some of the best I’ve ever spent. And I think of you often when I appreciate a piece of music, esp jazz!

I so wanted you that night and beyond. A smart, hot woman who liked jazz… it didn’t get any better than that! Pretty sure I kissed you that night and we left it at that.

Oh, no, I think I would remember a kiss!
You know, I was pretty oblivious in those days of what men thought of me or about me.

There’s no question that was a sensual night
Obviously, it’s been impressed in my memory all these years.

That’s funny because one day a few of us voted you the hottest body in the office! Pretty sure it was Kolarik, Perkins and me…

Really? Dammit! Somebody should have told me!

And I haven’t forgotten that evening either.
I can even name the albums we listened to.

Yes? One was Kind of Blue, wasn’t it?
I had those albums for years…I may still have them somewhere!

Very good! The other was the Heath Brothers Live and we listened to some Sarah Vaughan. Good Lord that was like 40 years ago. We still have time.

Sarah Vaughn, you know my favorites are still female singers. One of the things I did in Philadelphia to celebrate the end of my 90-day tryout period was to take myself to see Ella Fitzgerald. And there is a woman I saw at a nightclub in Manhattan (her name will come to me). That was a magical night.

And now, here we are both in California and separated by the coronavirus!

I do remember you told me the 10 essential albums I had to have.

I was a huge Dinah Washington fan. She was from Chicago. But New York has some great singers too… Betty Carter, Alberta Hunter, Ernestine Anderson, Helen Humes… too many to name.

Betty Carter! That’s who I went to see with a friend who was from New York. We saw her second set at whatever was the famous nightclub she sang at. One of my favorite albums ever is “I can’t help it.” I love, love, love that song.

Betty played a voice teacher on a great episode of The Cosby Show. Such a distinctive voice.

I’m so loving our conversation.

Let’s figure out a way to hang out one of these days when it’s safe. Seriously. I still think about that night.

I would love that.
I think about that night, too.
And you really did bring music into my life.

Thanks for the memories—
and the glimpse of a hoped-for future hangout! Stay well!

No, thank you. Speaking of Dinah Washington, here is one of the most sexual jazz songs ever… Got her kicked off of a couple of stations. Talk to you soon.

Written By Dinah Washington in 1948 LYRICS: I’ve got a dentist who’s over seven feet tall Yes I’ve got a dentist who’s over seven feet tall Long John they ca…

Will listen to it with you in mind!

Remember you said that.

I will.

OMG! I just listened–and laughed out loud. No wonder it was banned!

Remind me to tell you, sometime, about a dentist who had me put on head phones and pick out music to have my teeth cleaned, then suggested I should have laughing gas. “But I’m just having my teeth cleaned,” I said, nonetheless agreeing (I had never had gas anaesthesia before!). Despite having just said I wasn’t aware of what men were thinking at that time, I did manage, through the drug fog and throbbing music, to realize I needed to grab ahold of my fleeting wits!

Looking forward to meeting sometime in the future—
and letting go of my fleeting wits!

Is it bad that I’m lying here thinking about drilling you? LOL

No, but I think we should pick a different set for the background music, cuz I don’t think it would be good for me to bust out laughing at the lyrics!

This is her signature tune… 

Dinah Washington What Difference A Day Makes from Give Me Back My Tears

Don’t tempt me to encourage you
I can slip into provocation all too easily.

I’m already encouraged! All I had to do was think about our Jazz night. Provocation I can handle.

Jazz vocalist Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues, was the most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s. She had a sultry, sexy voice.

Blues and jazz singer Dinah Washington, 1924-1963, Queen of the Blues



Softly, like velvet?

I will be really glad when this lockdown ends. In the meantime I’m glad I have certain memories to call upon. That’s probably why I’m smiling right now.

Those eyes. Jazz. Perfect.

Here’s a soundtrack to put you to sleep–or not:

That will definitely be our background music when we finally…
Damn I want you right now, Caba.

I’m smiling, too.

This is a good thing.

‘night, Cornell. Sleep loose…
Needless to say, I’m glad you reached out..

Good night my friend. Sleep well.


♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

“We still have time,” he wrote.

Except we didn’t. A few days after our exchange, Cornell — fit and apparently healthy — suffered a cluster of strokes.  Three days later, he died.

I was sad, but I was mourning the young man I knew 40 years earlier, when we worked together and shared that “jazz night.” I didn’t really come to know the man Cornell had become until his memorial service. And then, I felt an even deeper regret at his passing.

He was a man with three passions, said a friend at the memorial: His fraternity, in which he had just celebrated 44 years; politics, and jazz. “Don’t forget women,” someone called out and everyone laughed. “Oh yes, Cornell loved women,” said a voice from the crowd.

Cornell Fowler, 1956-2020, loved Jazz, politics, his fraternity and women. He was a graduate of Drake University.

Cornell, 1956-2020

He was, in the words of another friend, “a charming, handsome rascal who loved to raise hell.” He was 13 years in recovery from a drug addiction, and kept his annual tokens from Narcotics Anonymous on his dresser. To his Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers, he was “the Golden Goody,” though they wouldn’t say how he earned the nickname.

Maybe it had something to do, in part, with the bronze-y undertones of his complexion, or his eyes that shaded from brown to hazel. He and one of his cousins had a running joke about which of them was the best-looking in their family. Cornell had a lean, unlined face, nicely shaped lips between faint dimples, dark hair cropped close and—most importantly—a warm gaze.

He was usually dressed in workout clothes—his landlady said he had “a zillion tee-shirts” from his gym, Boss Barbell—and an Alpha Phi Alpha baseball cap worn backwards. But he cleaned up nicely, wearing a dark, well-tailored suit.

His story was not what I expected.

He seemed to work the gig economy when he wasn’t involved in a campaign. He picked up jobs at the Mountain View Day Worker Center, managed a Kiwanis Christmas tree lot every Christmas, worked on a crew staging furniture, and consulted for politicians and political causes.

Lately, he’d was actively pushing for Kamala Harris to be Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick. Asked if he might have a job in a Biden administration, he immediately quipped “Minister of Funk.”

Cornell was defined by his friendships, not his jobs. Several dozen people attended his “social distancing” memorial, standing six feet apart on an asphalt parking lot for more than an hour to share memories. Almost every one who marked his passing on his Facebook page began their posts with “I first met Cornell…” The times and places were frequently decades in the past, though their last contacts were often in the previous weeks.

He was an only child, survived by two elderly aunts and a pack of cousins. He apparently never married. Maybe that’s why he forged such long and deep connections.

Which is not to say Cornell didn’t have his struggles, or moments of despair. His landlady found a little notebook in his room. Written in the corner of one page, she said, was this: “Thank you to all the people who said “no” to me. It’s because of you that I did it myself.”

I can’t pretend to have known him well. But he touched me with his grace and energy. And I’ll always have jazz.


The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. The most artful lives include close connections, past and present. Cornell Fowler was a master of making and maintaining connections of all kinds. The world is less full without him.

The Song is Ended, from the 1961 album, Unforgettable.  Kind of Blue, 1959 studio album by Miles Davis.

Spray paint, a girl’s best friend!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

lamp detail after waxing prebuffing

If you see me with a can of spray paint in hand, you’d do well to not stand still. I find there is very little that might not be improved with a blast of new paint.

Spray paint makes some projects so easy! I used a can of hammered copper to revive an old waste basket made of nondescript metal. It looks great. I could even buy spray stuff that would create a patina on the waste basket. Depends how ambitious–or bored–I get. Stay tuned.

In this case, my eyes fell on a faded pottery lamp that, while still in working condition and of good quality, no longer fit the decor. And never mind that somehow the decor had gone very brown–brown suede sofa, brown wood tables, brownish chairs and brown carpet. The lamps (there are two, but I’ve only done one, so far) cried out for color.

I was going for Chinese red, which fit the floral motif on the lamp. I had already tried my old standby, hammered bronze, but that didn’t do anything but put a shine on the brown. The hardware store didn’t have Chinese red, so I picked the next closest thing–kind of a cherry red. Too red. The lamp looked like a floozy.

The hardware store did have antiquing paste wax, which you rub over a flat painted surface to darken the color and add a satin patina. I got kind of a mahogany brown, which I figured would darken the red, make the raised details stand out and not be as harsh as black.

The wax goes on like mud. You let it set for a while, then buff off the excess, leaving more around the details you want to highlight. Definitely easy and a good project for these corona virus days. I’m pleased with the way the lamp turned out, and I’m going to do the second one tomorrow.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s making her mark on the world one can of spray paint at a time!



Passing on the magic: New adventures for Mr. McC’s topper



Matt Musial in Top Hat

Matt Musial, sporting current casual formal look of T-shirt and top hat.

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I’ve hung up my top hat. Sold it, actually. It’s gone, gone, gone.

It was a glorious thing, silky and glossy like an infant’s head of fine, soft hair that begs to be stroked. I didn’t need to part with it, but I didn’t need to keep it, either. Our time together had passed.Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 4.45.37 PM

I’m not a big fan of this whole Marie Kondo metric of judging your possessions by whether they “give you joy.” Joy, like happiness, is an elusive concept. I know a lot of people—millions, apparently—disagree with me, but I think it’s asking a lot of an object that it sparks joy. That’s a pretty high bar. My top hat gave me a giggle or two and served as a sculpture in the dining room, before retiring gracefully to a closet.

All I ask of my possessions is that they play a part in the satisfying mosaic of my surroundings.

Sometimes I sit in a black leather-and-chrome chair to contemplate a mid-century painting of a river that reminds me of my 50th birthday, spent with a friend near Paris. I’m equally happy in my guest bathroom, looking at a $15 painting of a flower, done by a girl with Down’s syndrome. I’m reminded of the weekend I bought it, traveling with a friend, as well as the pleasure of knowing that $15 went to support this girl’s art. It’s a damn good little painting. I wonder where the artist is now.

The thing I like about my apartment is that it represents a medley of experiences—the fat Chinese piggy bank I bought in Taiwan when my youngest brother got married; the Buddha that came from the estate of a good friend; the oak church pew from Sister Anne’s convent. I look at my surroundings as an artwork in progress, and love it when I find something—a painting, a table—that fits into my vision and my budget.

Painting by resident of Open Hearts Art Center, NC.

I’ve accumulated things gradually, when I found them and when I could afford them. And I’ve reached the age where, really, I don’t need a damn thing. I’m content in my surroundings. They please me, even if they don’t make me joyful.

Why do I have a top hat?

Now to the top hat. I bought it to be a decorative object. I got a bowler sometime later, and was always on the lookout for a flat-top derby to complete the trifecta. I envisioned them as sculpture. 

Like any art, their meaning was in the eye of the beholder. You could surmise the hat was an allusion to the strength of the American economy, or a reference to Uncle Moneybags of the Monopoly game. Or maybe it referenced dancer Fred Astaire in “Puttin’ on the Ritz”–or possibly it signaled a child’s love of Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat.

One thing I like about buying vintage items is imagining the lives of previous owners.Inside of top hat

What stories could my vintage silk top hat tell? I know it was formerly owned by a Mr. E.R. McC; his initials are inscribed in gilt on the inside, along with the purveyor, “Dobbs, Fifth Avenue, New York.” The hat is size 7.5. It’s a reasonable height, not a stovepipe by any means.

Who was Mr. McC? Where did he live? What did his wife wear on those occasions he was wearing his top hat? I know he was a man of means, and that he cared for his belongings. The hat is nearly pristine, with just a bit of fraying on the stitches along the rim. The leather band inside shows little signs of wear–the hat rested lightly on what I imagine was Mr. McC’s silvery hair.

Did the hat give him joy? Who can say? I only know it pleased me. And now it has gone on to another life, whether one of joy or frivolity, I can only imagine.

Let’s hope the man who bought wants to dance like Fred Astaire, “dressed up like a million-dollar trouper.”


The Resale Evangelista is editing, clarifying and trying to create a more artful life. It’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-backward kind of process. And sometimes, you have to let go of something you really, really like, but whose time has passed!

You can’t take it with you….

baby book family tree
The Resale Evangelista’s baby book

And you can’t make other people take it, either

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

“I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year, as I recollect the journey that brought us together. … I am also fantasizing about how I am going to pass my things on to my children. Who, I insist, must take them.”

Dominique Browning, 2015

We possess–for a while–and then let go. Things, places. Memories, sometimes. Emotional baggage, if we’re lucky.

I’m at the stage of life, mostly, of letting go. Or trying. (Historically, I’m much better at acquisition, you may not be surprised to learn.) It’s a long process, this letting go.  That’s why, as regular readers know, my mantra is “If you think you are ever going to move–or die–start getting rid of your stuff now!

My mother is much further along in the process. She is disassembling her home bit by bit–a chair here, a painting there.  It’s a painful process and it’s complicated.  In part, it’s  sad that she is old and frail, coming nearer to the end of her life.  In part, it’s sad because family turmoil has prompted her to take apart her house before she really needs to.  And it’s sad because some of the things she wants her children to take are her treasures–the first good sofa and coffee table she bought, her china that is rarely used except at holidays. Like Dominique Browning, she wants to pass along her belongings to her children.  The problem is, we don’t want them.

In the meantime, my son is not yet 30. He and his wife don’t know where they will settle. He’s always been a minimalist. (Is that in spite of me, or because of me?). They don’t want to be burdened by belongings. I can understand that but still, when I see a great walnut dresser at a fabulous price and he’s said they need a dresser, I want to buy it for them. (Okay, I did buy it for them.) My mother gave them her sterling silver as a wedding present. I gave them the Rosenthal china she gave me when I married. Do you see a pattern here? (I did ask if they wanted the china before giving it to them.)

Our material lives–mine, my mother’s, my son’s–have come to a curious junction. My son and daughter-in-law are building their lives; I am focusing and clarifying mine, and my mother is bringing hers to a close. These generational passages are reflected in the disposition and  dispersal of our household belongings.

Who will adopt the family Christmas ornaments?


Resale Evangelista Christmas stockings

I just mailed a Santa Claus and an Ebenezer Scrooge stocking to my son and daughter-in-law. The stockings belonged to my parents.  We hung Ebenezer over the fireplace every Christmas, while the Santa stocking sat nearby in a chair. The joke was, my father was Scrooge; the stocking did resemble him a little in it’s fluffy white hair. My mother was the interface between his supposed stinginess and the largesse of Santa Claus. Family history and mythology, writ decoratively.

Did my son want the stockings? Does he even remember them, or are they meaningful only to me? I don’t know and I didn’t ask. The stockings are family history, and it’s his burden to carry them. I, in the meantime, have agreed to take the sofa my mother once had in her formal living room, just as I once accepted the round oak dining table from the house of her great aunt, who raised her. Not my style, but my burden to carry. (Until I passed it to a brother–now it’s his burden.)

How many of us are at this passage, recognizing that life is finite, possessions are ephemeral and yet, some hold meaning we yearn to pass along to future generations?

Let me be clear. Nothing I have is intrinsically valuable. I might have a few good paintings and a couple of pieces of moderately distinctive furniture.  I understand my son may want just a few of my belongings, or maybe none at all. My approach has been to tell him what’s worth selling and what could be appropriately trashed or given to Goodwill. I collect the names of good estate sale agents, should he need one. Luckily, my son did instruct me to keep paintings by a particular artist–he has grown to appreciate her talent.

That’s not the approach of Dominique Browning, former editor-in-chief of House and Garden magazine.  “Why on earth would we get rid of our wonderful things?,” she wrote in a blogpost. “I am not done with living. I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year …  I will cherish them, till death do us part.”

Browning fantasizes–rather aggressively–about passing her belongings to her sons.

“That tchotchke you think you’re going to put out on a tag sale table for $10? … That’s Nymphenburg. It is worth hundreds of dollars. I found it at a tag sale for $10, and pounced.” She imagines herself transmogrified into her stuff, watching over her grown children in perpetuity. “The cells from my sweaty palms, or the eye beams from my covetous gaze, will reside in my things forever.”

Yeah, but….

To be continued…





You can’t take it with you, Pt 2 …

So get busy and start getting rid of it–now!

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

“I am not done with my things. I love them, in fact, more and more each year, as I recollect the journey that brought us together. I will cherish them, till death do us part….I am also fantasizing about how I am going to pass my things on to my children. Who, I insist, must take them.”

Dominique Browning, 2015

Browning, former editor of House and Garden magazine, imagines watching over her children through her possessions.  “The cells from my sweaty palms, or the eye beams from my covetous gaze, will reside in my things forever.”

Well that’s creepy.  I picture Jacob Marley haunting Scrooge but instead of chains forged “of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses wrought in steel,” he’s shackled to a dining room table and 12 matching chairs.

I get it–and I like it–that belongings may carry the aura of previous owners. But immortality,  much as we might wish for it, cannot be achieved through household goods. Insisting that someone else cherish our things–all of them–as much as we did, is just selfish.


My late friend Lisa collected quirky plates

When a friend, youngish, died unexpectedly in her sleep a few years ago, her
husband called me an hour after the paramedics left with her body. He was
wailing with heartbreak. The second or third sentence out of his mouth? “What
am I going to do with all this stuff?”

Beside her desolate husband, she left behind a house she inherited from her father, along with all the belongings he had accumulated in a long life. She couldn’t bear to part with any of it, and she’d added 20 years of her own possessions.

She made her husband promise to keep the house if she died first (which neither of them expected). Two years later, he still has the grand piano, a kayak, and the bicycle she grew up riding as a child in Spain.  Not to mention china belonging to her mother and two grandmothers, among many other items.

wood planers

Old wood planers, well worn and probably well loved, await life with new owners

My son’s generation doesn’t want to be weighed down by possessions. They don’t feel connected to things the way earlier generations did, maybe because things are much more abundant and affordable. Besides, my parents had seven children on which to offload their stuff. I have one child and he’s married to another only child. Even if they wanted to, how much, realistically, could they absorb?

Not only do our families not want our furnishings and memorabilia.  No one else does, either.  The market is flooded with the possessions of baby boomers ready to downsize while coping with getting rid of their parents’ belongings. I think about that every so often as I stroll through a thrift store or antique mall, perusing the discarded relics, remnants and treasures of other lives.

Browning scoffs at the pared-down lives of minimalists. “I would like to submit an entirely different agenda … One that acknowledges that in living, we accumulate. We admire. We desire. We love. We collect. We display. And over the course of a lifetime, we forage, root and rummage around in our stuff, because that is part of what it means to be human. We treasure.”

steiff bear w:boxes 2
Steiff Rock-A-Bear, from the Evangelista’s  family  living room, now in storage awaiting the possibility of grandchildren.

Age and family circumstances have made my mother determined to dispose of possessions while she is still alive. She once told me that the living room–embellished with family photographs, travel souvenirs and small, quirky details–was “the story of my life.” Now it’s an empty stage, sparsely furnished.

We may hope that others will love, desire, collect and display the things we imbued with meaning and treasured.

In the meantime? If you think you are ever going to move–or die–start getting rid of stuff now!  Your heirs will profoundly thank you.

The Resale Evangelista is editing, clarifying and trying to create a more artful life. It’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-backward kind of process. But she soldiers on. Please, let the Evangelista know she’s not alone–let me know if you, too, are dealing with generations of belongings. Especially let me know if you have discovered a workable solution!


Fabulous Fourth of July: Award-winning art book

granpas beard art

All paintings by Catherine Rademacher Gibson

The Bear on the Stair & other fantabulous stories

“As I was walking through our house one night, a smelly, fierce, roaring black bear appeared out of a dark corner and chased me up the stairs. He almost caught me.”

The bear in question had quite a few teeth and a long, pink tongue which he waggled as he roared at the bottom of the curving staircase.

“I ran as fast as I could, slammed the door on his nose, and leaped to safety deep beneath the covers of my bed. The bear made one last horrible roar and left.”

The words belong to Catherine Augusta Rademacher Gibson, recalling a tale told to her as a child by her grandmother in a little house in South Dakota. The vivid watercolor of the bear is hers, too, painted by Catherine many years later, as she grew old.

“Even now, I get goose bumps when I think of that bear. Mom’s sister, Aunt Clara, told me that I had a wild imagination. She did not mean it as a compliment.”

Though Catherine died in 1996, her “wild imagination” lives on.

Her watercolors and stories have just been published in a book, Glorious Fourth of July and Other Stories from the Plains. Catherine recounted the tales to her two daughters so they would sit still while she braided their hair. Later still, she made what she called “memory paintings” of these childhood stories. They were exhibited, in 1992, at the Mitchell Museum in Mount Vernon, Ill. Her friends told her she should make a book.

bear on the stair artCatherine never got around to following their suggestion. But her daughter,  Mary Gibson Sprague, kept the paintings and remembered the stories. Finally, in honor of her mother, she gathered the work, researched the stories for historical accuracy and, two years later, the result is Glorious Fourth.

I remembered the stories and did not want them to end, I owed it to her to pass them on,” says  Mary, a renowned artist who lives in St. Louis. “Mother taught me to see creatively…from baseball to gumdrops, she paid attention to the world around her.”

Each of the 32 paintings tells a story, recalled from Catherine’s childhood in the early 1900s, about life on the plains of South Dakota and Montana. Glorious Fourth is sure to beguile children, but will also be appreciated by historians, art enthusiasts and anyone who grew up reading Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Glorious Fourth is published by The South Dakota Historical Society Press—Laura Ingall Wilder’s publisher.

“The coyotes were so quiet and thin that it was creepy. She barked harder and we walked faster. The coyotes drew closer. Finally, Shep laid his ears back, faced the animals and bared his surprisingly large, white teeth.”

The book tells tales of menace—a circling pack of coyotes, cyclones, and an Indian who showed up unannounced, but only wanted to borrow a needle. There are stories of everyday entertainments—dancing the Mazurka on the parlor rug, telling ghost stories during a thunderstorm, ice skating on empty lots flooded by the Watertown Fire Department. And then, of course, there was mischief—but I’ll leave that for you to discover.

Catherine was a master of composition and color. These watercolors, painted between 1986 and 1989, are edgy and fresh—a mash-up of Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse, with a dollop of Keith Haring. They are as alive as stained glass windows on a sunny day.

She studied art at the University of Minnesota, met and married her husband, Verne Cyril Gibson, and graduated in 1929. Verne—known as “Gib”— took a job as an engineer with the U.S. Lighthouse Service, which became the U.S. Coast Guard. With two daughters in tow, the family followed his assignments to lighthouse stations around the country, finally settling in San Francisco. Catherine painted when she could and joined the artistic community in every place they lived.

granpas storm artWhen Gib retired, Catherine could finally paint full-time. And, during the last few years of Gib’s life, when he was ill and housebound, she made her memory paintings to pass the time and cheer him up. In doing so, she created vivid images and stories that made the past come alive—and seem magical.

“During the making of this book, I realized these stories are more than a collection of one family’s anecdotes,” says Mary Gibson Sprague. “They belong to any family that ever had the imagination to move from place to place in search of a better life.”

If there is one trait that defined Catherine Augusta Rademacher Gibson, it was imagination.

“One day, Dad came home (and) the back seat of his car was soaking wet, while, oddly, the front half was completely dry. He said he had driven home so fast that the line storm could not get past him…my daughters decided that I made this story up. I finally painted a picture to show them how it happened. They said I made the picture up, too.”

Glorious Fourth of July is available from the South Dakota Historical Society Press, 900 Governors Drive, Pierre, South Dakota 57501,

The paintings of Mary Gibson Sprague can be seen at

The Resale Evangelista cannot recommend this book highly enough. You will love it if you are a child, an art lover, a historian, or someone who grew up in the Midwest with the Little House on the Prairies book. Heck, you’ll love it no matter who you are.



Saarinen tulip table begged me to buy it

Knoll Tulip Table by Eero Saarinen

Tulip Table by Eero Saarinen for Knoll

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

When is an impulsive $500 purchase not as stupid as you’d think?

When the object of desire is an iconic mid-century Modern piece of furniture. When you know the general vintage price range is $1,000 to $1,500 and you will never be willing or able to spend that much. And when you stumble across the piece in a reputable store at a price you can afford, at a time you actually have the money.

That’s the story of my new 42-inch dining table, designed by Eero Saarinen for Knoll in the late 1950s. Saarinen was the Finnish architect who designed the St. Louis Arch, as well as other notable buildings and pieces of furniture.

I know, I know, I know–I don’t need one more damn thing. But what does need have to do with desire, anyway?

vertical tulip table with orchids

Knoll Tulip Table

Saarinen designed the so-called Tulip Table (and complementary chairs) to get rid of “the slum of legs” beneath a table top. The top–either oval or round–is balanced on a slender cast aluminum column that swells at top and bottom to provide support and stability. The design was immediately popular and immediately copied–still is, by any number of companies. Knoll still produces the original, in a number of sizes and materials. New, mine would cost about $2,200

Reader, meander a little with me. When I go back to St. Louis, I naturally make the rounds of my favorite thrift and resale shops. (This summer, to my dismay, I discovered  the two best clothing consignment shops had closed.) Then I hit a couple of antique consortiums and, finally, MoModerne, on Watson Road.

MoModerne, I have to tell you, is pretty pricey–for my pocketbook, too pricey. I can only afford to lust over the collection of mid-century Modern furniture, art, lighting and knick-knacks. I go to see what I should be watching for in my cheaper haunts.

So there I was, with my friend Susan, admiring the freshly upholstered, low-slung sofas, the Eames chairs and a couple of Sixties Pop tables. I ran my hand over the Tulip Table, then looked at the tag. “Wow, $500!” I whispered to Susan. (It’s that kind of place–if you’re not feeling soigné enough, you whisper.)

But we moved on, circled back to admire the table once more and left.

I drive to St. Louis. It’s cheaper and, more importantly, faster than flying. There are two problems with driving. The first is, I never leave home when I say I will and I always stay longer than I plan. The second is, nature does not like a void. A void as in the empty cargo area in my Subaru. I leave home empty and I inevitably return home full.

And so I went back the following day to buy the table. I have a philosophy. If I go back to get something I’ve previously passed over, and it’s gone, that means I wasn’t meant to have it. The obvious corollary is, if it’s still there, I was meant to have it. My table was still there. And it came apart and fit perfectly in the Subaru.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. When she can, she carpes the diem. This time she just carpe-ed the table. 

(Note to Latin grammarians: The Resale Evangelista couldn’t make heads nor tails (nam caudae capitibus uel) out of the directions for conjugating carpere (the infinitive of carpe), so she just made up her own. Deal with it: Vita est brevis. If you need to know more, read Seneca.)