Fires at home and abroad…

Fire comforts, until it scorches and kills

Logs on Fire
Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista
The last log of the evening ignites in the wood stove and I settle into the couch—cats on one side of me, dog on the other—to enjoy the simple luxury of watching flames.

My biggest aggravation at the moment is that Felix, my black cat companion, keeps nudging my hands from the keyboard, insisting on attention. At last, he lolls against my thigh, a miniature jaguar at rest. The strains of a cello concerto dance with the song of the blustery wind that makes a fire necessary. A glass of bourbon adds a complementary smokey note to the night’s medley of warmth.

That log, though, disturbs me. It’s holding its shape as it burns, flames licking and quivering up the sides from a thick bed of embers.  Finally, the shell of the log collapses with a small display of sparks.

The flames make me think of the Jordanian pilot not only killed recently by Islamic terrorists, but subjected to immolation—surely the most horrendous of deaths. I also think about Kayla Mueller, the young American woman held hostage by ISIS for 17 months, who died—one way or another—in the conflagration that is consuming so much of the world outside my circle of immediate experience.

Except now the conflagration isn’t outside my immediate circle. Last week in Chapel Hill, three young Muslims were gunned down in their apartment by a neighbor, ostensibly over a long-running parking dispute. The shooter’s wife insists he isn’t a bigot, in fact the opposite, since he reportedly disdained the religiously observant of any type. Does it really matter whether a hate crime can be legally proved? The crime was certainly hateful.

My son Max is a year or two older than the slain college students. He’s in the Army now, itching to be deployed (I swear, it’s testosterone poisoning). As a journalist, I should look up the statistics about how few families are connected to someone in the military, thus explaining why Americans seem detached from what’s happening in distant, disintegrating parts of the world. As a mother, I don’t really care about statistics—I just don’t want my son sent to fight in an endless war where the enemy is unidentifiable, insidious and seemingly intent on ever-more brutal displays of violence.

In the meantime, I fret about my propensity toward profligate spending. Admission here, readers: I bought three African masks, a Pakistani rug and a Chinese stacking box today at a local auction. The irony doesn’t escape me that these items originated in some of the very regions where my “struggle” to simplify would be incomprehensible, or maybe just ludicrous. In fact, the things I purchased for their beauty and decorative value were once the implements of daily life in those parts of the world where life is still so often difficult.
And I’m enjoying them, though academic research has verified that the purchase of things provides less satisfaction than the pursuit of experiences. (I have an explanation—okay, a rationalization—to offer: My enjoyment is from the hunting-and-gathering experience of finding a bargain, not the acquisition of, say, an African mask or an inexpensive Oriental rug). The fact I have the leisure to ponder—some would say navel-gaze—the differences between a simple life, a basic life and a life of deprivation is a sign I’m living either a life of luxury or one that’s quite simply frivolous.

In the meantime, as I muse, whole societies are ravaged by flames, metaphorical as well as literal. And I’m afraid  there are as many invisible, insidious and unacknowledged hot spots in the United States; the logs are burning hollow here, too. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said the U.S. will never be defeated from the outside, only from the inside. Doesn’t that sound eerily like what happens to a log as it burns?

Dot’s curled in her dog bed, absorbing the heat. Felix is pacing the back of the couch, mewling for snacks. The logs have collapsed into a bed of incandescent coals.

The Resale Evangelista is committed to creating a simplified, focused and artful life, but knows such a thing isn’t possible in a world of turmoil.

Shopping resale: Nature or nurture?

blue and white china

An inventive wall frieze of mismatched blue and white china  

Follow these rules

to make the most of resale dollars

By Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

So you think shopping resale is easy–just pop into Goodwill and walk out with something worth four times what you paid.

Au contraire, mon ami! I’ve honed my skills over decades, though I admit to a certain intrinsic talent for it. So I’m going to share a few guidelines for getting the most of your resale dollars. You can thank me later, with gift certificates to Rung or Upscale Resale (kidding, just kidding).

  • Develop a loop of your favorite resale shops and hit your circuit regularly. You become familiar with the inventory, you know how the pricing works and you’re tuned into the timing of sales and price reductions. New merchandise comes out on Thursday evenings at “my” Goodwill on Manchester Road in Brentwood, MO. That’s where you’ll often find me (and every other regular) on Thursdays.
  • Know your style and assess your wardrobe to see what it lacks. When you know what you need, you can grab it when you see it. The same thing goes for furniture and household items. I always wanted an Oriental rug with a dark background, but never saw one. Until one day, I did, at the Miriam Hitching Post. And I bought it.
  • Equip yourself for success. I carry a small tape measure in my purse. Because I’m interested in vintage jewelry–and because my eyesight is no good anymore–I have a jeweler’s loupe in my purse (cheap and available on the internet). Use your cellphone’s camera if you need to get advice about a piece. If you are looking for something with a particular space in mind, carry the measurements of the space with you. Same with fabric swatches and color chips, when necessary.

    German china, handpainted

    Thrift shop china

  • Pounce when you see something you really, really like–and know you will wear or use. Inevitably, if you take a day to think it over, the item will be gone when you go back. I have a friend who says “The only purchases I ever regret are the ones I didn’t make.”
  • Invoke the “if it’s meant to be” clause. If you find something you love but aren’t sure you will really wear, or that costs more than you want to spend, wait and watch. If you decide you want the item, it will still be there when you go back, if it’s meant to be yours. If not, it wasn’t meant to be. No tears. If you really wanted it, you should have pounced.
  • Be patient. Resale stores often reduce prices if something goes unsold for 30 days. If I see something that’s so cool, but impractical or too expensive, I’ll put off buying it. I recently bought a gorgeous belt with a big turquoise buckle. It was priced at $30 and I don’t wear many belts, so I passed. But it lingered, unsold. I finally got it on clearance for $10. It was meant to be.
  • Think ahead. I bought a beautiful, perfect black leather jacket at Goodwill in April for $20. Retail would have been around $300. What a Christmas gift it was for my son’s girlfriend. (See “Pounce.”)
  • Know thyself, discipline thyself! I really, really wanted some never-worn bisque suede boots (how practical is that?), priced at $60. I knew the precise date and time they would be reduced to a more reasonable $40. So I avoided that store for several days around that time. When I went back, the boots–thankfully–were gone.

    fox stole

    Fox fur to warm your heart (or at least your neck)

  • Be mindful of return policies. Most resale and thrift stores don’t allow returns. You bought it, there is no going back.
  • Use return policies to your advantage. On the other hand, Goodwill has a 7-day return policy. I can make a final decision on purchases at home because they can be returned (keep your receipts). Once, I bought six designer purses there–Coach, Kate Spade, MK. Some were dirty, but could be cleaned. The Coach purses were authentic (I Googled “Coach and authentic details”), so I kept and resold them. The Kate Spades were knock-offs (again, use the internet to check), and I returned them.
  • Don’t be greedy. Some stores don’t bargain, including Goodwill and most boutique resale shops. (Though, if you’re a regular and you’re wavering, or a piece is close to the 30-day mark, or is taking up too much space and is unlikely to sell to anyone but you, the store manager may give you an extra discount.) Antique stores usually do allow haggling–most will give a discount of at least 10 percent above a certain price threshold. But you have to ask. The accepted phrase is, “Can you do a little better on the price?” or “If I buy these items, can I get an overall better price?” For big-ticket items, go ahead and ask if the vendor will take a particular dollar amount. But don’t offer an insultingly low price, unless you absolutely know the value of that item. Greed just ticks people off.
The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life!

Saving “brown furniture”

Don’t hold back–color it bright!

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

painted furniture, red paintA formerly ugly wooden dresser, now glitzy red

Thrift shops and resale stores are filled with solid wood furniture, most of it brown.

Brown as in natural wood, often with fairly glossy finishes. I’ve never looked at the potential for painting this furniture and therefore bringing it up to date, for two reasons.

painted wood furnitureFirst, I started buying furniture in the Eighties, a time when original finishes were sacrosanct. You just didn’t paint golden oak or walnut or mahogany. Second, I thought painting these finished pieces would be a pain–that they had to be sanded or scuffed up in order to take the paint.

Well, I was wrong. I still wouldn’t paint a beautiful piece of golden oak or walnut or cherry. But you know, a lot of the furniture from the second half of the last century is so boring, not to mention ugly. And any life to the wood is buried beneath the finish–it’s depressing.

Recently, I’ve seen several pieces of this type of furniture painted in rich colors. It looks great. And I’ve learned it’s not that big a deal to prepare the surfaces for painting, even if they are somewhat glossy.

That brown dresser in the photo? It’s the same one pictured at the top of this post, painted a glamorous, glossy red. I found it on, where Sucheta gives tips on turning ugly, boring brown furniture into pieces to be proud of. For example, she used Tulip Red by Fine Paints of Europe to get this gorgeous, rich red with a high shine. Generally, she said, “it takes 13 million coats of red paint” to achieve that finish. This job took only two coats of the Tulip Red.

“Red pigment is very transparent. Not only that, red also tends to be very dull, lackluster, meh…you get my point,” she says. “I won’t be exaggerating if I said this is the most vibrant red I have gotten my hands on.”

painted wood furnitureAs for sanding and other preparation for painting previously unpainted furniture, there are plenty of websites offering advice. They tend to be of two schools.

Traditionalists argue for thoroughly sanding the furniture before painting. Modernists (in my view) say that isn’t necessary–a coat of Kilz or primer should make the finish coat adhere just fine. If you want a flat finish, you can either use “chalk” paint, or just regular flat paint.

Ipainted desk‘m not going to offer any particular advice, since I don’t have much experience. Check out these sites or others. or

What I will say is: Go for it! Glamorize a desk, a dresser or a bookshelf. Change the hardware, add legs or take ‘em off. Follow Sucheta’s lead: Transform that ugly brown furniture and make it yours. The world will thank you.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need and making the rest more useful and beautiful.

The artful life has its complexities

“Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.”

George Sand

By Mike Hess

I have a very slight headache.

Yesterday it would have been from trying to solder a brass light switch knob on the back of a Malaysian coin for use as a sealing wax stamp. The torch would not operate well and the combination of burning flux, asbestos siding, fiberglass mat and—despite all this protection I put down—the laminate counter top, made a haze that I happily left for 7 hours.

Today, it’s possible that the fumes from the acetone are at fault even though I did the bulk of the cleaning of the torch tips outside. There will be more acetone to clean the goo off the big wood bowl I bought.

Acetone is not a friendly solvent. Goes right through one’s skin, I’m pretty sure, like DMSO. Certainly it dissolved the plastic of the torch handle. That surprised me. Yesterday I wore gloves (though acetone will dissolve nitrile gloves, I discovered). Today I just planned on not touching acetone, but the dissolved handle ended up on my fingers and no amount of soap will remove the black splotches. I suppose I could clean them off with acetone…

The Fresnel lens is the coolest thing. Every broken projection TV has one. Not to mention a huge trapezoid front surface mirror.

I cut up a stainless steel bed frame. Those parts are ready to be cut to length for the frame I’m building for a Fresnel lens. Perhaps I will put a metal cutting blade on the band saw in my living room. The Eastlake hall tree is completely reassembled after the disassembly of moving it from Seattle. Well, the disassembly caused by the gardening tools landing on it during the move from Seattle. The Eastlake dresser is close to being done. I need to reinforce the candle shelf where the screw head pulled straight through.

The Resale Evangelista tells me all this sounds like “simplifying and focusing to make a more artful life.” Artful perhaps, but believe me, if you were here just now, simplified is not the word that would come to mind. I am encouraged that for the most part, I follow through on all these projects. Right now I’m about to measure the oak from a headboard to build the case of a Jacob’s Ladder I made.

Things that have lost their utility are encumbrances. No need to mourn their loss—they are literally more trouble than they’re worth.

Every once in awhile, I find I’m holding on to a thing or have a fix that’s been stalled mid-operation for a long time. Over by the kitchen door are the remains of a floor lamp someone offered up by the dumpster of an apartment building. Turns out the only part left undamaged on it is the part I hopelessly bent on my own. Instead of the excitement of something for nothing or making an improvement, it’s become an annoyance—a visual and mental stumbling block, the drag on emotion of a thing unfinished. Worse it may become invisible to me.

I always wanted a roll-top desk, but the one I bought needed help here and there. I fixed a drawer and a pigeon hole, but the roll never did work properly and it bugged me every time I opened it.  Got rid of that desk and I never wanted another.

Usually, I’m able to introduce these materials to the dumpster myself, either on the sunny corner on the outside, or into the dark interior. I’ve a motto that if you can’t find it, it’s not doing you any good. Things that have lost their utility are encumbrances. No need to mourn their loss—they are literally more trouble than they’re worth.

Mike Hess is my go-to friend for anything technical, for pithy quotes, opinions on dust, movie recommendations and weird words, like chingadera. Look it up.

Damn! I’m jealous…

…of these designer house swaps

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

The grass is always greener in the other person’s yard, isn’t it?

I just read this article in the New York Times about design professionals swapping homes with one another. Needless to say, the houses are exotic and gorgeous. Unfortunately, you have to be in a design-related business (which I think I could swing, with a little judicious wording) and have a beautiful home of your own to exchange.

My house in STLMy house wouldn’t make the cut

Damn! And here I’ve been bragging about the joy of not having a house to care for. Of course, I think these people probably have people to take care of their multiple abodes. One house-swapper said she learned to make Moroccan food from a cook her host sent over. So far, none of my hosts has sent over a cook. (Although one sends a pool boy from Guatemala–strictly eye candy.)

Besides, cute as my house may have been, it would not have made the cut for the website, which is (pronounced be home).

The site was created 18 months ago by Eva Calduch and Agust Juste, both graphic designers in Barcelona, Spain. They were tired of “slogging through” the more declasse homes on other home exchange sites.

“Around 10 to 20 percent of applications are rejected, often because the homes are shown to be messy or dirty. As for the rest, choices are based on “subjective aesthetics,” in Ms. Calduch’s words. Those decisions have nothing to do with size or luxury, she added: “A tiny place with very little can be nicer or more tasteful than a castle.”

The site has some 1,200 members, with Spain and the United States supplying the most — about 200 each. The locations are as far-flung as Bali and Florianópolis, Brazil. Even Japan has four subscribers. (A remarkable number, Ms. Calduch said, considering that a Japanese colleague told her, “We don’t even invite friends over.”)

Ah well, even if I don’t qualify, it’s fun to look at the slide show.

The Resale Evangelista is decluttering–her mind and her belongings–to create a more focused, simplified and artful life.

Check out these earlier posts of mine about the joys and perils of house-sitting:

Have a yen to try house-sitting?

Going on the lam for a year

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

Took Dot, the dog, for a forest walk today and am now sitting in front of a roaring fire in my adopted North Carolina home. I’ll be house-sitting here for almost another four months.

If you’re anxious to try the house-sitting lifestyle, the Jan. 4 New York Times Travel section features my article, A Primer on House Sitting. There are two other related articles, Home Exchange 101 and A Crash Course in AirBnB.

If you’re new to the site, you might want to check out these earlier posts of mine about the joys and perils of house-sitting.

The Resale Evangelista is decluttering–her mind and her belongings–to create a more focused, simplified and artful life.

New Year 2015


Onward, to the future!


“Irrelevant that the tiger has leapt,
is even now at mid-point in an arc
that will certainly end in your destruction.
So it is for all the ten thousand created things.
Of relevance only is the curious fact that, at this present instance,
you are alive.”
Chief Inspector, Homicide, S.K. “Charlie” Chan, The Last Six Million Seconds

Small town haven just up the road a bit…

Tiny town of Hillsborough attracts writers

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

The Wooden Nickel Pub is a cozy gathering place with a killer Kobe hamburger, garlic fries that will keep vampires (and probably others) at bay for weeks on end, and a menu of locally crafted beers to please any aficionado. I  keep meaning to try some of the other restaurants on Hillsborough’s main street but the Kobe burger usually proves irresistible.

The Nickel is just one of the attractions of Hillsborough, a tiny burg about 10 miles from my abode near Chapel Hill. I’m also fond of the Dual Supply Company, the old-fashioned hardware store around the corner from the pub. In late summer, locally grown tomatoes for $1 a pound filled bushel baskets outside the door. In the fall, the tomatoes were replaced by local apples.

Over the past year, I’ve realized that community is essential to living a focused and artful life. That sense of community is one of Hillsborough’s main attractions.

Hillsborough is no sleepy little town, though it has a population of only about 6,000. The town was featured earlier this year on the front of the Wall Street Journal, in an article touting Hillsborough as America’s Little Literary Town.” About two dozen well-known writers live there, including Frances Mayes, author of “Under the Tuscan Sun.”

Why so many writers? Novelist Allan Gurganus told the WSJ it’s the welcoming community.

“Community is such that you start buying band candy from people and you hire kids to cut your grass and neighbors bring you pies. Before you know it, you’re pulled into the life of the community and it’s magical that way.”

There’s a coffee shop across from the hardware store, Cup A Joe, which is the gathering place for the local writers. However, they gather there at 6:30 in the morning, so I doubt I’ll ever see them! They have killer salted chocolate chip cookies, a good incentive for sitting there and writing.

I can’t talk about the friendliness of the town without mentioning the Saratoga Grill, a second-story restaurant on the main drag. A friend and I stopped there at 3 p.m. one afternoon, just when owner Kevin St. John was closing to get ready for the dinner shift. The dining room was empty.

“Come on in,” he said. “I’m sure I can find something for you! I don’t like to turn anyone away.”

Hillsborough is a leading finalist to be named Budget Travel’s “Coolest Small Town” in 2015. The town has already taken home the awards for “Great Main Street,” “Best Literary Small Town” and a “Distinctive Destination.” The town has a rich history, stretching back before the Revolutionary war. You can read about it at Matt Barrett’s North Carolina Travels.

If you get to Hillsborough before the end of April, look for me at the Wooden Nickel–I’ll be the one scarfing down a Kobe burger.

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

Merry, Merry Christmas!

christmas tree2

My Christmas Tree

That’s not really my Christmas tree–it’s the tree at Sprung, the St. Louis children’s resale boutique. Sprung is as fabulous as Rung, with tons of toys and baby gear as well as barely worn clothing (you know how fast babies grow!) Anyway, I love the tree. And I have a aluminum tree in the storage locker that’s going to get the full treatment next year.

In the meantime, I also want to share this post of Wild and Wonderful Holiday greetings, written by Jami Oetting for Agency Post. There are some very imaginative and clever people in the world–enjoy their work with your eggnog.

The Resale Evangelista

Sing along with … Orrin Hatch?

Who knew? Senator penned Happy Hanukkah song

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I’m way late on this bit of news–which broke in 2009–but I found it so amusing, so absurd, really, that I had to share. Orrin Hatch, Republican Mormon from Utah, wrote a song for Hanukkah as a “gift for the Jews.”

Really. He’s sincere. You can sing along with the Senator on YouTube. The song, Eight Days of Hanukkah, has been described as “happy and peppy and bursting with love.”

If you want the whole back story of the song, here’s a link to writer Jeffrey Goldberg’s account in Atlantic Magazine of how he urged and encouraged the Senator to put pen to paper for Hanukkah.

I once forbade my son from mentioning Orrin Hatch’s name (along with he-who-shall-not-be-named, Rummy, and the devil incarnate, Cheney) in my house. I violently disagree with every aspect of Hatch’s philosophy. I could never have conceived of featuring him on my blog.

But then, that’s what Hanukkah is about–the miracle of light, right? If he can write a Hanukkah song (he also writes love songs and Christian hymns), maybe we can hope Senator Hatch is subject to other forms of enlightenment, too.