Category Archives: Artful life

Gone, bit by bit

Books and photos and stuff … oh, my!

steiff bear w:boxes 2

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I had reason yesterday to look under my couch with a flashlight. Tip to anyone inclined to do the same: Don’t. Under no circumstances should you look under your couch more than twice a year. Especially not with a flashlight.

The beam of light revealed a harsh landscape of down feathers, dust and various unidentified crumb-y looking things on the hardwood floor. No dead bugs, dirty socks or other major debris, so that was a plus. No money, either—a negative. Anyway, I was looking for my cat, whose tortoise-shell coloring provided the perfect camouflage for hiding under the sofa.

Normally, I clean house only when I’ve exhausted all other forms of procrastination. I do make my bed every day. Whoo-hoo! Lately though, I’ve taken an incremental approach to housekeeping.Not a room at a time, that’s too much commitment. I do just as much as I can, then quit. Doesn’t matter if I’ve dusted but haven’t vacuumed. Next time.

"Kobayashi Issa." AZQuotes.com. Wind and Fly LTD, 2017. 28 May 2017. http://www.azquotes.com/quote/692401

I’ve found cleaning takes a lot less time this way and, overall, the apartment is generally cleaner than under my previous system. The old way, in which I aspired to clean a room at a time or the whole place, took way too long. Mainly because of my need to notice the place was dirty, deny the place was dirty, anguish over my sloth, go out and buy new cleaning supplies, and even, in extreme circumstances, sit down and write something. Then I got around to cleaning—maybe.

This incremental thing doesn’t come easily. I’m definitely an instant gratification gal. It has been said—infrequently, mind you—that I have the attention span of a flea. As a kid, I didn’t mind cleaning the kitchen because, with seven kids using the kitchen, the mess made it easy to see progress. Although it really burned me up if, while I was cleaning, someone came in and started making a peanut butter sandwich or poured a glass of milk. Any progress I’d made was spoiled.

Finally, I’ve realized that, yes, progress can be made inch by inch. Incrementalism works in writing (though a deadline really helps). It worked for me in building an art collection over the last several decades, one flea market or thrift shop find at a time. I’ve heard it works in creating an exercise habit, or losing weight, though I can’t testify to that. And it works in getting rid of stuff.

Decluttering can be done gradually. Don't stress about doing it all at once. Just start.

Storage locker bound

The number of my possessions, compared to three years ago, is significantly reduced. It took me two years, but I finally condensed the contents of a three bedroom house with a full basement and a double garage to one ten-by-ten storage locker. (Alright, there was another, smaller locker for a brief time.) I now live in a two-bedroom apartment. Besides the ample closets and cupboards, the only additional storage space is the shower–yes, the shower–in the second bathroom.

Last week, I tackled the shower storage. I need a place for the cat box, so the shower has to be cleared. Besides various boxes of books, it contains two tennis rackets, a basket of tennis balls, a large stuffed Steiff bear that converts to a rock-a-bear, a plastic bin that I believe contains tools (too soon to tell, it’s at the bottom of a stack) and two sets of diving fins, goggles and snorkels, which I bought at Goodwill, intending to sell. (I don’t do that anymore. At least, not much.) Oh, and a box of Max’s children’s books, which I kept, as well as a box of his comic books, which he chose for me to keep.

The bad thing about incrementalism is that it creates temporary disarray, which can easily turn permanent. In order to empty the shower and get rid of stuff, I have to take that stuff out of the shower. I’m doing it a box or two at a time.

Volleyball signed by Olympic champion Karch Kiraly

Goodbye volleyball & comics!

So far, the diving gear, a shower rack and some books have gone to Goodwill. The comics and a signed volleyball will soon be reunited with their rightful owner.

As regular readers know, my number one rule for streamlining and creating a more artful life is this: If you think you are ever going to move—or die—start now! If you do that, the good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once.

When I was a kid, one of seven ages 1 to 12 years, my mother had a cleaning lady who came in twice a week to restore order in the house. My mother would leave her with the kids and return to find the house clean. Once I heard her ask, “Mary, how do you do it?” Her answer was maybe my first lesson in incrementalism: “Honey, I just start.”

So I’ve started on the storage shower, disposing or dispensing of its contents. Good thing, too. Because when I was searching for the cat, I had to look under the beds. And you wouldn’t believe how much stuff was packed beneath them!

Tortoise shell cat with golden eyes

Marla, the disappearing cat

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s saying Goodbye to All That Stuff (well, a lot of it) in the process.

Related: 

Earth Day Fast Approaching

Earth Day logoEarth Day Celebration
&
Walk-4-Life Resilience
April 22 , 2017
4 p.m. until 8 p.m.
Hopkins Green, Lexington
corner of Jefferson & Nelson

 

Earth Day posters

The power of pollinators!  
Bees, trees and native plants—they’re not just beautiful, they make the world go ‘round. Look into a honeybee hive, and learn to attract them to your garden.
Reduce your carbon footprint!
Is your ecological footprint bigger than it should be? Take a quiz & find out, then look at actions you can take RIGHT NOW to reduce the mark you make.
Get your signs on!
Walk, bike or skateboard to Earth Day (only if you want to!) to demonstrate a low-carbon lifestyle that addresses climate & environmental issues. Invite friends, wear green & carry signs to show you care! (But don’t block the roadway.)
Kids activities, too!
“Seed bombs,” sign-making, parade & more

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Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas, Everyone!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

This snazzy Mustang was photographed by Jim Selzer during the annual parade of lights in Hilo, Hawaii.

Hello from Hilo, Hawaii–via Jim Selzer’s photograph of this snazzy Mustang in the Parade of Lights. I’m hoping he makes it into a Christmas Card we can buy (hint, Jim, hint!)

IN CASE YOU’RE A LITTLE ON THE GRINCH-Y SIDE, HERE’S SOME ADVICE FROM THAT SCRUNCHED UP GREEN GUY: MOAN EARLY AND OFTEN. MOAN ABOUT THE PRESENTS. MOAN ABOUT HOW RIDICULOUS EVERYTHING IS. REMEMBER, BAD CHRISTMASES ARE WAY MORE MEMORABLE THAN GOOD ONES.

A few tips, in case you don’t have time for the whole article by Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore:

  • If something isn’t a cheese straw (or, in the U.S. a cheese ball), no one cares.
  • Is it sensible to put a lot of people who don’t really like each other (relatives) into a small space and fuel them with booze and other flammable humans? No.
  • The average Christmas dinner contains 8,000 calories. That is the entire point.
  • Christmas is the time to bring home all kinds of failure: bad relationships, unwanted childlessness, separation – every imperfection can be amplified.
  • Tweet and post pictures with abandon. Your Christmas should be both the same as everyone else’s while obviously being better. Flaunt it–this is what social media is for.
  • Don’t aim for perfection. Muddling through is good enough.

 

The Resale Evangelista wishes you an artful Christmas, filled with all the familial mess and drama you can muster and/or tolerate!  Heh, heh, heh.

DIY bathroom morphs from drab to bright

Creativity transforms gray days & beige bathroom

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The half-bath was serviceable but ugly, tucked as it was into a former closet and cloaked in beige from linoleum floor to slanted ceiling. My spirits suffered from the same condition, the comedown from my son’s wedding, a scarcity of work and congestive car failure.

The bathroom needed to be tackled–not to mention, spackled.

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The too-beige half-bath

The Lowe’s team came in and installed a new  floor, in a pattern woven of gray, black and white ceramic tiles. They took away the yellow toilet (with a cushioned seat, no less) and hung a tiny sink. The rest, dear readers, was up to me and my sidekick, homeowner and slave-driver Susan Rowe.

Now, this would seem to be a post about faux painting and DIY bathroom decoration. And it is, on one level. But it occurred to me, when the project was complete, that it’s also about the restorative power of creativity to lift the spirit when times are bleak. More about that in a little bit. Now back to the bathroom project.

I wrested the old toilet paper holder off the wall, crumbling some of the plaster down to the lath. No amount of patching and spackling–at least no amount I was willing to undertake–would smooth away the age lines of the roughened walls. And there was a lot of wall for such a small space, just 3 feet wide and 8 feet deep, with tall ceilings. The walls were divided horizontally by a chair rail.

We decided on a gray for the lower half of the walls. The Lowe’s guy, a former painter, suggested “Popular Gray” or “Amazing Gray” by Sherwin Williams. You gotta love those names, so easy to remember. Going for a classic color combo, we agreed on sunshine-y yellow for the upper walls and bright white for the trim.

But what about those wall scars, especially on the lower half? And gray? With 32 square feet of wall space on each side, the result could resemble a dimly lit air raid shelter. The solution popped into my head as I fell asleep that night—texture, we needed texture. That would break up the expansiveness of the walls and hide the roughness.

snr-bathroom-sponge-detail

Is this an improvement? Maybe not!

Susan and I decided to single-handedly revive the apparently dying trend of faux painting. (We assume it’s a dying art because the clerk at the Sherwin Williams store tartly informed us that “We don’t do faux painting,” when we inquired about supplies. And even Lowe’s didn’t have the array of sponges and glazes that were typical until recently.)

We eschewed professional tools and made do with Saran Wrap for the sponging and regular eggshell latex paint for the surface color. (I won’t go into technique—check YouTube here and especially here for better instructions than I could give—but don’t use cling wrap. It goes limp too quickly.) We also decided against shades of gray (50 or otherwise) for the colors—too cold, too monotonous. We chose light putty, a medium green, a dark gravel color and the yellow from the upper half.

A day later, the lower walls resembled camouflage. Even after patting on the final layer of green, I had serious doubts about the outcome. The undercoats didn’t seem to be showing through the top layer—“We should have used glaze,” I thought. Susan, though, was enthusiastic. “It looks like expensive wallpaper,” she declared. (Susan is from Georgia, she’s entitled to “declare.”) When the top coat dried, I saw she was right—the layers beneath peeked through just enough to look like distressed  plaster.

The trim went quickly. The mirror was hung, the new toilet paper holder attached, towels and artwork went up and—voila—the ugly half-bath had morphed into a cheery little jewel box. Susan and I took turns exclaiming how great it looked. The best reaction came later, when her twenty-something son—unaware of our efforts—opened the door. From the kitchen, we heard “Whoa! What happened here?” Oh no, something must have fallen!  But he was just taken aback by the transformation. His “whoa!” was high praise from someone not often inclined to offer effusive praise.

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Transformation complete!

The real value to me occurred a few mornings later, when I woke up feeling blue about a lack of work and worried about the slow expiration of my faithful Subaru. My psyche was a pastiche of Popular Gray and Amazing Gray, streaked with shades of Charcoal. The world was not a sunny place for someone as untalented and powerless as I felt.

But then I thought about the bathroom. It came out pretty near perfect, because I focused on making it so. That’s what Resale Evangelista is about—creating beauty and value, even when resources are slim. I got out of bed with a little more faith in my creativity.

Ah-ha, I thought, so that’s what hobbies can be about—exercising the creativity muscle for the sole pleasure of accomplishment. That’s a thought I’m going to remember, and put into operation more often and not just when I need to chase away the gray and beige.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes that requires cutting through the fog to see the light behind the clouds. 

 

Breaking up is hard to do…

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Image from the Museum of Broken Relationships, Los Angeles

Not to mention, getting rid of the mementos left behind!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

What do you do with the detritus–or cherished mementos–of lost love?

Sure, you can burn the wedding photos, toss left-behind t-shirts that still smell of your lover, donate the books once read together to charity. But what about the most intimate symbols of your intense love or overwhelming heartbreak–the things that demand a more dramatic gesture to mark the end of the relationship?

I’ve just discovered the solution–the  Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles. Opened just last year, it is already the repository for, among other keepsakes, silicon breast implants that–once removed–signified freedom to their previous owner (wearer? implantee?); a blue dinosaur pinata that was one lover’s first birthday gift to another, and a piece of belly button lint preserved in a small plastic bag.

The label on the lint reads: “D’s stomach had a particular arrangement of body hair that made his belly button prone to collecting lint. Occasionally, he’d extract a piece and stick it to my body, sweaty after sex. One day … I met his oddity with my own; I put the lint in a small bag and concealed it away in the drawer of my bedside table.”

Love is strange.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.11.29 AMThe original Museum of Broken Relationships was opened in Zagreb in 2010, established by two Croatian artists who decided to celebrate their love affair, according to a delightful article in The GuardianLos Angeles lawyer John B. Quinn was captivated by the emotions stirred by the exhibits in Zagreb and decided to open a local branch in the home of a bankrupt Hollywood Boulevard lingerie shop, formerly decorated with leopard-print carpet and red velvet dressing rooms. Donations were solicited with an ad that read:  “Unburden the emotional load. Don’t throw away the debris of your romantic exploits – give it to us.”

The texts, wrote Laity, have a compressed power a bit like a short story.  “I spent an entire summer making this birthday present, and he left it in my car”; or “You … did not want to sleep with me. I realized how much you loved me only after you died of Aids”. Some are little narratives of failed promise: “We met at a bar in NY; I lived in LA. 3 drinks, 2 poems, 1 walk later, we had sex on his friend’s couch … We saw the northern lights, but they were not as bright and vibrant as we thought they would be.”

Not every item memorializes lost romantic love. One of the most heartbreaking is a fake gold charm bracelet that once belonged to a daughter abandoned by her father–a souvenir from what she said was the best and the worst holiday of her life.  “Disney World 1977. You stood at the entrance and promised to bring us back there one day. Mum told you not to make promises you can’t keep. I have given up trying to make sense of your rejection of your two little girls.”

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Image from the Museum of Broken Relationships, Los Angeles

Can you imagine how cathartic it must be to boil a broken heart into a few words attached to a small object, then mailed to the Museum of Broken Relationships? Talk about clarifying and simplifying! And yes, the museum does accept donations.

I can’t think of a better resting place for these objects–things that we all, no doubt, are harboring with the knowledge that they deserve a dignified disposal, a metaphoric Viking funeral.

The Museum of Broken Relationships, Facebook is at 6751 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, California.

 

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes that includes getting rid of emotional, as well as physical clutter!

 

The girlfriends-power house remake, Pt 1

A buffet makes a statement,

sparks redecorating frenzy

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I only wish I had taken “before” photos of my friend Susan Rowe’s living room and dining room before we redecorated–the transformation is that dramatic.

Susan Rowe's oak buffet

The oak buffet that kicked off a make-over

And we did almost all of it with things Susan already had. That’s a lesson in looking at what you have–shopping your own house. When you do, you often get a clarified sense of your own taste. You notice the commonalities of color, pattern and style preferences. When you pull together items that, for one reason or another, have been scattered throughout the house, you’re rewarded–as Susan was–with a impact much bigger than the effort to make it happen.

A description of Susan’s downstairs, pre-makeover will have to suffice. The last time she redecorated, she was going for a monochromatic neutral look. The rugs in both the living and dining rooms were pale gray-on-white patterns. The window treatments in both rooms were Roman shades in a nubby cream, with sheer half-curtains below for privacy. Threads of orange and khaki in both materials were the only colorful accents. Both the sofa and love seat were off-white, rolled-arm, tufted back pieces. There was an upright piano in one corner of the living room, a contemporary black desk in another, along with a random armchair.

The walls in both rooms were painted a creamy neutral. Photos of Susan’s two kids were plentiful, both on walls and almost every surface. Small paintings by her father were a little hard to see, as they were hung too high or in out-of-the-way corners. Lamps, I am sorry to say, were too-few and in sad condition. You know how it goes–you decorate or redecorate, get consumed in work while raising your kids and volunteering at church and pretty soon, twenty years have passed. That once-fresh decorating is dated and possibly faded!

What does it take to get started? Time, for one thing. And a buddy, for sure. Having someone else along for the ride, at least at first, makes all that decision-making (where do I put the sofa, should I make curtains–or take a nap) much easier. Susan’s decorating streak burned brightly for several months after our mission in the living room and dining room was complete.

Susan’s  house is beautiful, with hardwood floors, pocket doors, a big bay window and elaborate mantels over the fireplaces, one in each room. The dining room mantel includes built-in glass cabinets. Like most of us, Susan had acquired and accumulated knick-knacks and decorative items that crowded the cabinets and almost every surface.

Susan opened her own law practice, working from home. The two kids are grown, graduated and out of the house. All of a sudden, she had time to look around and make changes. And boy, did she!

 

susan's dining room, with rug and valences

The dining room got a new, Craftsman-style carpet, new seat cushions and a decorative valance over the window. Susan loves sunflowers and keeps a bunch in a vintage green glass pitcher that was just a few dollars at Goodwill.

I don’t know where she got the courage, but she ordered a massive Mission-oak side board for the dining room on eBay. When I arrived, it was shrouded in cardboard, awaiting placement in the dining room. The designated space was occupied by a much smaller buffet. My first night there, I was up late so I tore apart the cardboard shroud and moved the sideboard into place. It looked magnificent, perfectly scaled to the room. That was the start of our decorating frenzy.

The final results are pictured above. With the new buffet in place, and the old one on a more appropriately sized wall, we rehung the art. You can’t see it because of the reflections in the glass, but the piece at the far end of the room is a Japan-esy abstract of leaves floating on a lake. We took four of the largest formal portraits on the Susan and Ross’s children, and grouped them above the buffet–which created a much bigger impact. The antique lamps on the new buffet belonged to Susan’s grandmother (we found them in the basement) and the big pottery platter was purchased during a visit to North Carolina. Susan had the antique gas lighting fixture–original to the house–rewired and placed on a dimmer switch.

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We cleared the clutter out of the mantel shelves and hung decorative plates above.

Textiles made the biggest difference in the look of the dining room. After a long online search, we settled on the geometric rug from Lowe’s. We saw a lot that were more elaborate or more striking–but also more expensive. This rug, as I recall was around $200. Susan and her friend Barb Montgomery recovered the dining room chairs with fabric we also used to make Roman shades in the living room. The two of them also made valances from a different but coordinating fabric over the dining room windows. Susan later used that material to make accent pillows for a couple of chairs.

The takeaways

  • The big, beautiful buffet provided a huge focus for the room. We balanced it’s heft at the end of the room with the smaller buffet, topped by a large piece of art.
  • The Craftsman-style rug is stylistically compatible with the quarter-sawn-oak, Craftsman buffet.
  • The colors of the rug, the window valances and the chair covers complement one another without being “matchy-matchy.” The fact that the chair covers are the same fabric as the Roman shades in the living room, and that there are living room accent pillows out of the valence material in the dining room, pulls those adjoining rooms together into a relationship.
  • The shape and size of art work matters almost as much as the subject matter. Grouping the portraits together made them more “important” than when they were hung singly. The size of the print over the other buffet gave that wall enough heft to balance the bigger buffet, as well as the elaborate fireplace that takes up the wall to the left of the table.
The Resale Evangelista is all about simplifying and clarifying while creating a more artful life. A beautiful house that reflects who we are is one way of making life more artful–and it doesn’t have to cost much. Next up, a look at Susan’s redecorated living room, as well as a before and after post about  her revitalized garden.

 

Camels, Camels, Camels—you gotta love India!

Camel Camaraderie in Pushkar, India, at the annual Camel Fair

Camel camaraderie in Pushkar, India

On my last trip to India, I finally made it to the annual Pushkar Camel Fair, held for a week every November in the desert of Rajasthan. What a sight! Thousands of camels–thousands! And hundreds of Brahma cattle and Marwari horses, not to mention the colorful herders and families who travel by foot or camel cart across the desert to the fair. I just wrote about the fair for Mehera Shaw. You can read about it here…

Mehera Shaw, owned by Shari and Mark Keller, is a fair-trade company in Jaipur. Mehera Shaw artisans use centuries-old traditional Rajasthani hand-blocking and hand-screening processes to create gorgeous cotton and silk fabrics. The company is dedicated to preservation of these traditional processes, while improving the lives of their employees. I’ll be writing regularly for Mehera Shaw, as I share their belief in simplified, sustainable and artful lifestyles.

The “good enough” DIY garage and garden renovation

Perfection: A worthy goal…sometimes

Perfection: A worthy goal...sometimes

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Work on my friend Susan’s garden and garage is almost finished. The garage is painted, the shade garden is an oasis of hostas and ferns, the yews are lacy shadows of their former selves, while new azaleas, rhododendron and hydrangeas are positioned to put down roots.

The result is a 1,000-percent improvement, a restful environment under the spreading limbs of a maple tree. But it is by no means perfect–and we didn’t aim for perfection. This is a garden project accomplished within the limits of time, energy, money and ambition of two working women of a certain age.

It’s the good-enough garden restoration, which fits into my philosophy of incremental improvement. Sure, we could have gone for perfection. If we had, we probably would never have gotten started, let alone finished.

An Imperfect--but

We painted Susan’s garage a mossy blue-green, to complement the shade garden to the right.

This isn’t a philosophy that comes to me naturally. Incremental improvement, in this case in the garden, means waiting until next year for the hostas and ferns–dug from the gardens of friends and neighbors–to reach their full potential. A good-enough paint job meant we didn’t reset every popped nail in the garage siding.

Ambersand Before

I have friends who are true craftsmen when it comes to building projects, gardening or handiwork. They might be appalled by the unfilled nail holes or the fact that we planted the hostas in the middle of July, rather than in spring or fall. My thought is, you gotta start somewhere. I’ve never painted a garage before–next time, I’ll probably get it done with a little more finesse.

I’m not saying you should do a sloppy job–some corners shouldn’t be cut, no matter what the task. Be realistic about your resources, then accomplish what you can within those limits.

So, if there’s something you’re waiting to do until you can “do it right,” consider plunging in and doing a good enough job for the time being. You can always go back and make it better.

The good-enough garage paint job

The garage before a good-enough paint job.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Sometimes that means going for what works for the moment and planning to circle back later for more improvements. Just because you can’t have it all doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have some of it–whatever “it” is!



House-sitting, with pets…

A dog-gone good way to vacation

By Susan Caba Resale Evangelista

Dot and I jHouse Sitting for Pets, by Susan Caba in Spring 2015 Bark Magazineust returned from a walk in the woods around the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. While I stumbled over roots, Dot reveled in the fresh smells of a muddy creek bed, hid behind my legs when approached by a larger dog, and snuffled delightedly through a pile of pine needles. … 

So begins my article on house-sitting in the Spring edition of The Bark magazine. My sojourn with Dot, a 10lb Jack Russell named for the single brown splotch on her right hip, has come to an end. Her rightful owners have returned from India and Dot was happy to see them.

Dot and I got along just fine as roommates for close to 8 months. She was part of my year-long house-sitting adventure, moving around the country in search of a permanent location. House-sitting is a also great option for those who merely want to get away for a few weeks and don’t mind–or welcome–caring for a homeowner’s pet during their vacation. 

House Sitting Pets is a great way to see the world and live an artful life

My erstwhile roommate, Dot

I got to stay in the Kellers’ lovely home with a wraparound porch and woodburning stove while getting to know the area around Chapel Hill, NC. The Kellers didn’t have to worry about Dot and their three cats–who benefited by staying in their own home. You might consider this arrangement if you have pets that you’d hate–or couldn’t afford–to put in a kennel while you’re gone.

House-sitting arrangements are part of the new sharing economy. While house-sitting has been around for decades, the internet has energized the practice by making it easy for homeowners and house-sitters to connect without having to coordinate locations and simultaneous travel plans. One of the major factors driving the trend is people’s desire for in-home pet care.

Andy Peck, founder of TrustedHouseSitters.com–the site I use most–told me that 80 percent of the people looking for house-sitters have pets. “The most important thing to most homeowners is that they’ve got happy pets cared for at home. More and more people don’t want to use kennels.”

“It’s a win-win for both parties. The sitter goes the extra mile—it’s not liking asking a reluctant nephew to do the job,” he said. “And a lot of people genuinely love looking after pets while having a “stay-cation” in a great place, a vacation where they can live like a local.” 

House Sitting with dogs, Spring 2015 Bark magazine

My dog, Frazier, now living in California

Some assignments involve luxurious properties—sometimes quite decadent luxury. Ocean-view estates in Costa Rica, country mansions in Great Britain, and apartments in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco are  frequently among the listings, though these tend to be filled fast–often within hours. There are always lots of listings for Australia, New Zealand and Canada. House-sitters just have to keep local weather in mind. Canada is cool and green in the summer, but most listings are for winter months, fine for skiers. Australians flee their country during its torrid summers.

Shari Keller told me that Dot sealed the deal for me in getting their house-sitting assignment. Dot’s a shy creature at first but took to me almost on first sight. Within days of my arrival, she was already giving me the nightly signal that it was time for us to repair to the bedroom. She started out sleeping in her own bed on the floor but rapidly insinuated her way into sleeping in my bed, invariably taking a spot in the middle. (I’m told that arrangement has come to an end and Dot is back in her own bed. Sorry about that, Dot!)

Browsing the pet photos in house-sitting ads are enough to make me laugh out loud. One couple wrote: “We live in South West Calgary, about a half hour from the downtown core. We are looking for someone to feed our dogs, and give them lots of attention as well as take care of our home, water plants, etc.” The listing included pictures of Ginger, a doleful English bulldog, and a very perky Coton de Tulear named Willow.

As always, I caution you to read the listings of house-sitting assignments very carefully. The listings are often mini-biographies that reflect the homeowners’ adoration of their dogs and other pets. Sometimes, that familial love can be a little over the top or the pets that need care are elderly or ailing. There is also the risk the animals won’t be as adorable as described.

A friend agreed to move into a Victorian house in Colorado for a month, only to find that one of the two dogs she would be sitting was a snarling hound of the Baskervilles. Her first clue was when the homeowner provided “the biggest ham I’ve ever seen,” to lure the dog to his kennel.

Don’t take on more than you can handle. (I again thank the Kellers for getting rid of the two dozen chickens they had before they left for India. I didn’t think it would be a big deal taking care of them. However, when it snowed 7 inches one February day, I was very glad I didn’t have to go out to the chicken coop and hook up some heat lamps.)

I‘ve written about some of the more hilarious posts in Talk to the Animals.

If you’re interested in house-sitting, here are some of my earlier posts: More Talk to the AnimalsHave a Yen to Try House Sitting?, Tiny Houses, Travel and Defining Home.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need. She’s traveling around the country for a year, seeing how other people live.   

Fires at home and abroad…

Fire comforts, until it scorches and kills

Logs on Fire
Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

CHAPEL HILL, NC:
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.