Category Archives: Luxury

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.





Plush touch for the tush


By Susan Caba

The Resale Evangelista

Dammit! I just discovered I bought cheap toilet paper. And by cheap, I mean flimsy—see-through-it flimsy.

I don’t like flimsy toilet paper. (Don’t worry, no graphic details ahead. And, oh my God, don’t read the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry on toilet paper!) I like thick, cushiony toilet paper. White, preferably with those embossed stripes.

Toilet paper comes in one-ply all the way up to six-ply, just like cashmere. And just like that lovely, soft and strong material, multi-ply toilet paper is softer, stronger and, as a practical aside, more absorbent. I like the feel of it—in my hand—better than the thin stuff. I deserve, and can afford, the luxury of good toilet paper.

You may be wondering what the quality of toilet paper has to do with living an artful life. Well, we all have our quirks and preferences, the little things we notice in our daily routines. One of them is soft toilet paper. It’s not like I notice when it’s good–I just don’t like it when it’s bad. 

Would that I had stopped with that thought, rather than deciding to write a bright little blog post. If only I hadn’t felt the need to Google toilet paper history. And why wasn’t I satisfied with the perfectly acceptable bits of information in the Wikipedia post—the first hit of 7.2 million on the topic of toilet paper history?


Are you a wadder or a folder?

As a result of that idle observation and my subsequent, too-extensive web-surfing, I can now tell you:

  • Americans buy more than seven billion rolls of toilet paper every year. Each of uses an average of 23.6 rolls every year, according to the Cottenelle Roll Poll as reported by the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia. Americans use 50 percent more toilet paper than people in other Western countries and Japan. (According to The Guardian, the British use 110 roll per person each year–but I bet they aren’t buying the jumbo rolls.)
  • If stranded on a desert island with only one item, 49 percent of those surveyed would take toilet paper. Not food, toilet paper. Really.
  • The answer to that age-old question, over or under, is overwhelmingly in favor of over—72 percent over, 28 percent under.
  • And here’s a factoid to drop at your next gathering: 40 percent of people wad their toilet paper before using, 40 percent fold, and 20 percent wrap it. Men tend toward folding while women prefer wadding.

My toilet paper musings brought back memories. I remembered the trip I took to Europe after high school and the rough brown paper squares dispensed in European bathrooms.

I remembered when my son’s girlfriend and her pals tissued-bombed the fir tree outside our front door. Some of those girls had quite the arm—toilet paper streamers hung from branches 20 feet up. Half-unspooled rolls littered the ground like pinecones. “Their mothers will kill them when they find out all this toilet paper is missing,” I thought, as I filled a grocery bag with usable rolls.


Put a bow on it

And Mr. Wipple—I despised those iconic commercials. He was always lurking around the paper goods aisle, accosting customers as they squeezed the Charmin.  These days, I dare say, he would be branded a perv-y stalker. Because of Mr. Whipple, I will not, to this day, buy Charmin.

I  don’t buy toilet paper with printed patterns, either. In this I am a minimalist. Nor do I fold the loose ends into a triangle—or a paper swan, a leaf or a bird on a tree. Yes, folks, your can origami your toilet paper to make an elegant statement in the bathroom. There’s even a name for this artform: toilegami.

If you’re really interested (and if so, you have waaaay too much time on your hands) download free directions for these toilet paper confections from the Origami Resource Center. After all, says the website author, “If you are going to sit for a long time, why not fold an origami flapping bird with toilet paper?” Yes, why not? 

Who knew? Greenpeace has a TP policy

Did you know—I’ll bet you didn’t!—there are four categories of toilet paper: Super
Premium, Premium, Regular and Economy. 20161106_151801The difference between soft, thick toilet paper and the flimsy stuff is the mix of wood and recycled materials in the paper. The more wood fibers, the fluffier the toilet paper. Eighty-four percent of American households buy premium or super premium. I blame Mr. Whipple.

So now we come to a moral dilemma. Believe me, if I knew my idle thought would lead to moral ambiguity, I never would have started this post.

Really soft toilet paper is bad for the environment. Greenpeace, the environmental activist organization, says Americans’ pickiness about toilet paper is contributing to deforestation, global warming, harm to indigenous peoples and extinction of endangered species. Virgin forests are being ravished to make toilet paper.

We should be buying paper made with a high percentage of recycled pulp, according to Greenpeace. In Europe and Latin America, about 20 percent of households use toilet paper with recycled content. The rate is about half that in the U.S. Singer Sheryl Crow suggests using just one square of toilet paper per bathroom visit. Uh, no.

Next thing you know, toilet paper will be labelled with its carbon footprint. Oh, wait a minute, that’s already happening.  Proctor Gamble and Kimberly Clark are duking it out in California for a low rating by the state’s Air Resources Board, based on greenhouse gases emitted during manufacture–balanced by absorbency that, I guess, makes the finished product more efficient. A British company has determined that a sheet of TP made with recycled pulp uses 1.1g of carbon to manufacture compared to 1.8g for paper made with 100 percent wood pulp.

So there’s my dilemma, soft on the tush or hard on the environment? 

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s going to try not to think too much about toilet paper. There must be easier ways to reduce her carbon footprint!

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:

A bountiful woodpile….

Autumn colors in the sunlight

Is the true definition of luxury

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Autumn’s cooler temperatures are painting the leaves around my North Carolina retreat in shades of gold, rust and ruby. Nights are wonderfully crisp, necessitating fires in the wood stove to chase away the chill.

Which brings me to my latest definition of luxury: An abundance of firewood.

An abundance of wood is true luxuryThanks to my host, Mark Keller, I’m enjoying that luxurious abundance. Before he and his family departed for India, leaving their house in my care, Mark filled the woodshed with seasoned, split logs harvested from their wooded property. There is an ample pile on one end of the porch and an equally generous stack of kindling on the other end. So far, I haven’t turned on the furnace.

There is something deeply satisfying about building a fire. First the little fire-starter cube, then a teepee of kindling. When that gets going, I add a few logs as thick as a child’s wrist, then some split timber that catches the flames with a series of resounding pops and crackles. After a while, the pile devolves to embers. I add whole logs, which Mark has cut to just the right length.

These logs catch fire but don’t collapse. They morph into incandescent, mesmerizing holograms–they glow and throb with the fire consuming them but somehow still hold their shape.

The dog settles herself at the hearth. One cat perches on the back of the sofa, the other on my lap. All three of us watch the flames in silence, save for the cats’ purring. Lost in our own thoughts, we share a comfortable serenity.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. She is a former Camp Fire Girl.

Jane Austen’s Words of Wisdom

Who needs a 21st Century guru?

“I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.” 
–  Jane Austen in Emma

Bookstores are awash in self-help books, guides to the good life, volumes of advice, psuedo-philosophy/psychology and just plain pap. My friend Jone Bosworth reminded me that we used to  glean that knowledge from literature.

As just one example, Jone points to English novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817). She wasn’t out flacking her advice on the streets of London; she rarely left the homes she shared with her mother and sister. Yet Austen’s books–including Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815)–are rife with still-valuable insights.

“You don’t have to be an Austen fan to appreciate the lessons on how we should expected to be treated, who we need to surround ourselves with, and who is really the best judge of our choices,” Jone said in a recent post, Austen Top Ten for 21st Century Women.

Here are just five Austen-isms, compiled by Jone, that I’m contemplating (leading a simplified life allows time for contemplation.)

  • “My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” (Pride and Prejudice)
  • “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” (Northanger Abbe)
  • “Success supposes endeavor.” (Emma)
  • “Pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.” (Jane Austen, letter 1817)
  • “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”  (Sense and Sensibility)
The Resale Evangelista is editing and simplifying, in order to create an artful life.

Reflections on a porch


Porches, Southern Homes

Light, leisure & time: Luxuries of a simplified life

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

There’s something about a porch, especially one that wraps like a hug around a house, providing shelter and comfort. Here in Chapel Hill, many mornings find me sitting, as I am now, in a faded blue Adirondack chair on the porch, interrupting my reading to watch chickadees fluttering around the bird feeder.

Matisse Gold Fish, 1911, I hung the feeder over a tiny goldfish pond, hoping to discourage the cats and the squirrels from guerrilla raids on, respectively, the birds and the birdseed. Occasionally, a small frog leaps from a crevice in the rocks bordering the pond. His splash is small, but enough to startle the goldfish. All six dart to the other side of their world, molten sunlight captured just under the water’s surface.  Pine needles net the pond, their geometry emphasized by a single lemon-colored maple leaf that fell prematurely. I think of Matisse.

My novel isn’t enough to distract me from the expanse of trees, shrubs and open spaces that flows from the porch and pond, on across a gravel road to another woodland vista. I imagine rhododendrons and azaleas interspersed among the tall pines to further block the sight of occasional traffic, and wonder whether iris would thrive near the woods’ edge, where the soil is cushioned with pine needles.

I’ve been puttering in the garden. I potted up some rosemary and sage to take inside when the weather turns cold. I’m contemplating digging up some ferns down by the creek, and planting them at the edge of the pond. Part of the pleasure of staying in new places that aren’t your own is imagining the changes you would make, regardless of the fact that what exists is already beautiful. This is especially true because there’s no need to actually get anything done, let alone stick to a budget.

Henri Matisse, 1937 Odalisque with Yellow Persian Robe and Anemone.  Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White CollectionAs I write, I realize my eye is drawn to the edges, the borders and boundaries of the landscape. That’s where the light changes and textures shift, where one plant grows and thrives, while others wither or struggle. It occurs to me that I am at one of those edges in life’s landscape, in the transition from one emotional and mental environment to another. Will I adapt and thrive? Too soon to tell…

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life.

Three Little Words:

Vintage Chanel JewelryVintage Chanel Jewelry

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

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

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

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

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

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

Beyonce Knowles, wearing Chanel birdcage earrings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marlene Vitanza & Vintage Chanel collection

Marlene Vitanza, owner of Peregrine Galleries in Montecito

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


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

About Peregrine Galleries


Tick Tock

Keeping track of time

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Miniature Clocks at TimeKeepers

Watches are sooo last century. When was the last time you saw anyone under the age of 40 wearing a wristwatch? (Hmmm, wonder how many under-twenties have seen one?)

Which I frankly don’t understand, since turning my wrist a fraction and glancing down to see what time it is seems so much more convenient than digging my phone out of my purse or a pocket. And a watch, particularly a vintage watch, can be such a distinctive way of expressing your personality, or even your mood.

Once, during a tumultuous life episode, I was visiting TimeKeepers in Clayton and took a liking to a clean-lined Hamilton wristwatch with a beveled-edge crystal, priced at $200. I didn’t need a watch so, believe it or not, I resisted temptation.

But a few days later, I was harrumphing about my circumstances and telling myself it was “time to move on.” Inspiration struck. I bought the watch and had that phrase engraved on the back. As you may have guessed, I have little trouble rationalizing unnecessary purchases.

Semyon Ilyashov and his daughter, Ella Ilyashov

A quality wristwatch is Number Two on my evolving list of 10 Things You Should Always Buy Resale. (Unless, like my Batman watch, dating from the first movie, you buy it from a street vendor in Manhattan for $25. Then you ask the vendor if it comes with any kind of guarantee. “Lady,” he says, “it’s a $25 watch from the street.” “Oh,” I reply.)

My favorite place for vintage watches—and I don’t mean just my favorite place in St. Louis, I mean my favorite place anywhere—is TimeKeepers. Owner Semyon  Ilyashov and his daughters, Ella and Rachel, specialize in the repair and restoration of fine timepieces, clocks and music boxes. They also carry fine estate jewelry.

Semyon, the son of a Russian watchmaker, has been in business in St. Louis since 1979. He rarely comes to the counter, though I’ve sometimes seen him,watchmaker’s lenses perched on his nose, talking a customer who is obviously a collector—as in collecting watches costing tens of thousands of dollars. I usually talk to Ella, who is very kind in letting me look at watches when, with the exception of the “Time to Move On” watch, I haven’t purchased anything.

TimeKeepers does have sweet deals on pre-owned watches. A gold, 20-year-old Rolex Presidential was $7,500 the last time I visited, compared to $18,000 for a new version. A Patek Phillippe—among the crème de la crème of name-brand watches—was $4,500. Patek Phillippes start around $10,000 new, with prices rocketing into the stratosphere. I fell in love with a platinum ladies Hamilton from the 1930s, tastefully encrusted with 8 karats of diamonds for $9,500. Maybe I should have thought of the slogan “Tiime to Sparkle,” to justify that watch!

All watches at TimeKeepers come with a one-year guarantee and all repair work is done right there. There is a second TimeKeepers on Olive Boulevard.


A rare music-making machine at TimeKeepers

The Clayton store is worth a visit just to see Semyon’s vast collection of clocks and music boxes, ranging from tiny enameled bedside clocks to large music boxes that open to reveal ensembles of mechanical performers. Don’t even ask for prices—once Semyon gets his hands on a clock, he’s not very willing to let it go. The reason there are so many pieces displayed in the store, said Ella, is that there isn’t anymore room in his home.

Semyon did make an exception to his hold-on-to-it philosophy. When Ella had her first child, a boy, Semyon gave her an antique clock (she covets them as much as her father). A few years later, she wanted another one and Semyon told her, “You’ll get another one with the next child.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Ella told me at the time. I relayed that information to Semyon, who chuckled. “She’ll have another one,” he said. “She really loves the clocks.”

Ella’s daughter is now 10 years old.

Timekeepers Olivette · 9495 Olive Blvd Olivette MO 63132 · (314)991-0994
Timekeepers Clayton · 17 N Meramec Clayton MO 63105 · (314)721-4548 ·

Tomorrow: Tips for buying vintage watches


The thing about peonies…

 Lush, blowsy, sensual…and fleeting

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

“The flowers bend their bright bodies, and tip their fragrance to the air, and rise, their red stems holding all that dampness and recklessness gladly and lightly, and there it is again…beauty, the brave, the exemplary, blazing open….

“Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden and softly, and exclaiming of their dearness, fill your arms with the white and pink flowers, with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, their eagerness to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever?”

From “Peonies,” a poem by Mary Oliver

Peonies in bloom

Peonies are the flowers closest to my true heart. Not for me the strait-laced daffodils and simple tulips. I crave the peony and its unkempt beauty.

Big and bold, sensual and messy, sturdy enough to keep coming back in the garden for decades–but fleeting in their bloom time, best picked and savored when their buds are the size of fists. Bring them inside and they burst open like fireworks. Yes, sometimes they bring in ants. So what? Life has ants. Get over it.

Delicious and blowsy, the white blossoms are tipped with scarlet–the scarlet letter? The pinks are sugarplum fairies, a little girl’s dream. And the scarlet blooms? They unfold wantonly, revealing gaudy yellow pistils. Only their scent is subtle, a  soft and romantic fragrance that whispers intimacies.

It’s June and the peonies are blooming. When I lived in St. Louis, I would occasionally slip into the darkness of a June night with scissors, looting the neglected peony bushes of neighbors. They might be content to let the flowers bloom and wither without gathering them, but I was greedy. I wanted more peonies, even, than my own shrubs produced.

Peonies don’t grow in Santa Barbara–not for them a gentle climate; they need a harsh winter to produce their bounty. But the universe was generous. Trader Joe’s was awash in peonies, buds not yet burst, when I stopped in for groceries. True to my greedy self, I gathered an armload, then augmented them with ferns and geranium leaves cut from the gardens around the house into two billowing bouquets.

What, you may be asking, does this paeon to peonies (which, by the way, are named for Paean, physician to the gods of Greek mythology) have to do with a simplified, artful life–or with buying resale.

It’s simple, really. I’ve made physical and emotional room in my life to enjoy the beauty of the peonies,  and to take time to tell you why I love them. Could any pursuit be more luxurious? I think not.