Category Archives: Artful life

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.

DSCF2277

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, www.sdhspress.com

The paintings of Mary Gibson Sprague can be seen at marysprague.com

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.

 

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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.)

 

 

 

Memento Mori

 

Ceci's purse

Carpe Diem: Lessons from a grande dames’s purse

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Ceci Lowenhaupt wore her elegance like a Chanel suit. Even in old age, even when her memory was caught in loops of the past, her silvery hair was always coiffed, her lipstick immaculate, her fitted jacket embellished with a silver brooch.

“Hello, dear,” she would drawl when she greeted me—even in her final years, when I’m quite sure she no longer remembered my name or even how she knew me. She had the husky voice of a former smoker. 

Ceci, in another era, would have been recognized as a grande dame. She liked her vodka martinis, presided over the St. Louis Print Market’s annual art sale, and insisted on a particular table in her favorite restaurant—sometimes even when it was already occupied.

I became acquainted through her daughter and my friend Alice, when Ceci was in her 80s. She held tickets to the St. Louis symphony, but needed a companion, in her later years, to accompany her. We went to dinner first and for drinks after, before I took her home.

Ceci was 97 when she died last year.  Alice and her sister-in-law emptied Ceci’s rambling apartment with the grand piano, the Japanese prints and multiple sets of china. Last week, a package arrived at my doorstep. Ceci portrait_0002

It was one of Ceci’s purses. A structured purse of deep green suede and walnut-colored leather, with a complicated clasp and a hand-stitched handle. A Ceci purse, made in Italy, in perfect condition and still redolent with the smell of leather. A purse for a grande dame.

There’s a thing called “memento mori.” The Latin phrase means “Remember that you have to die.”  The idea originated as a medieval Christian theory that we should live our lives by reflecting on our mortality, so that we can escape the temptations of our transient earthly existence.

Plato introduced the idea in his writings about the death of Socrates, saying that a thoughtful life is “about nothing else but dying and being dead.” Cheerful.

The ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca the Younger (How ancient? Really ancient—he was an advisor to the Roman emperor Nero) offered a pithy summary in a collection of 124 letters that may or may not be fiction:

“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

Ash Wednesday is the modern Christian reminder that earthly pleasures are fleeting, and we should focus our thoughts on the afterlife. Does this sound familiar: “Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” That’s what the priest says while inscribing your forehead with a cross of ashes.L0058632 Brooch containing human hair, Europe, 1701-1900

So anyway, memento mori take various forms, most of them rather gruesome. Tombs decorated with skulls and cadavers, chapels whose walls are covered with bones, and even clocks or watches inscribed with the motto “tempus fugit”—time flies. Victorians created memento mori out of their loved ones’ hair, weaving or braiding it into rings, lockets and bracelets. Mourning wreaths were elaborate concoctions of flowers, leaves and branches composed of hair from multiple deceased family members.

Ceci would not have approved. I never got the sense she had mortality on her mind. No, a more appropriate phrase for her philosophy would have been joie de vivre, joy of living. She never lapsed, in my limited outings with her, into contemplation of life after death. She certainly never renounced the pleasures of an earthly life!

Even when her short term memory lasted no more than a minute, Ceci retained an air of elegance. She might not remember what she’d ordered for dinner—or even that she had ordered—but ask about her family history and she’d launch into detailed histories of her immigrant grandparents. The manners and mannerisms of a grande dame were so deeply ingrained, they carried her gracefully through her age of decline. I can only hope to do the same.Grande dame Ceci Lowenhaupt of St. Louis

I laughed when I opened the package that contained her purse. It was so Ceci—and so Alice to know that I would  love it. The idea of memento mori popped into my thoughts, with visions of those awful hair wreaths. I knew  immediately that wasn’t Ceci.

When I contemplate the purse, I think of life—a vibrant embrace of daily pleasures. Ceci had her faults, but I never knew them. I’m free to follow her example: Carpe Diem. Seize the day!

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. When she can, she carpes the diem.

 

 

 

 

The Hungry Squirrel

This squirrel is inadequately afraid of humans! Squirrel, I am a threat to you! We are enemies! Please get off my bench! Oh, god! Oh, god! Don’t touch me—oh, god!

― John Green

Tanya Barrientos Birdhouse 

Tanya Barrientos’ DIY squirrel-proofed bird feeder

 

Who among us has not witnessed the hunger of squirrels, their unrelenting quest to sate their voracious appetites? 

John Green [The Fault in Our Stars] was accosted by a hungry squirrel while eating popcorn on a park bench in Washington D.C., an unnerving interaction caught on video. The squirrel was not only not frightened, it placed a paw on Green’s knee to demand an edible morsel. 

I have seen a squirrel hang upside-down by a toenail in order to suck nyjer seed from a backyard finch feeder. I swear he had a tiny straw for sucking the rice-like seed from the minuscule portals in the feeder. Some say squirrels don’t like nyjer, but go on to suggest lacing it with capsicum [hot pepper] to discourage foraging. Why not just leave a bottle of Sriracha on the feeder?  

A squirrel’s Id is succinctly captured by author Kate DiCamillo in “Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures,” the 2014 Newbery Award-winning tale of a girl [Flora] and a squirrel [Ulysses]: 

Not much goes on in the mind of a squirrel. 

Huge portions of what is loosely termed “the squirrel brain” are given over to one thought: food. 

The average squirrel cogitation goes something like this: “I wonder what there is to eat.”

Thousands of words have been devoted to magazine articles and blog posts on how to prevent squirrels from reaching the bird seed. 

A large segment of the bird-feeder industry specializes in products meant to discourage squirrels from raiding the nuts and seeds meant for birds, not–as actress Sarah Jessica Parker has described squirrels–“rats with cuter outfits.” They include baffles, devices that will spin the interlopers into the air, greased poles and cages that will exclude squirrels but admit birds. I can assure you, these tactics and devices do not work.

Squirrels are undeterred. 

So am I. I consume, but my hunger is not sated. What is it I hunger for?

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes, it’s a puzzle.

 

 

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

Lorax.png

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.

20161120_162918

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!