Category Archives: Emotions & Associations

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.

 

 

Boot Camp!

Snowy days, reflections & free time

yield memories of things outgrown

SusanCaba
The Resale Evangelista

Housebound by snowstorm Stella and disinclined to wield a shovel against the cold confection piled like meringue across her driveway, poet Sarah Freligh chose, instead, to fight the weather with words.

She challenged fellow writers on Facebook to a Snow Day Boot Camp: “Make a list of things you’ve outgrown,” she wrote. “Start with concrete objects like jeans, bras, and pencil skirts, then move to the more abstract—mean friends, bad habits, worrying about how your hair looks in Wegmans. Then write a poem/flash fiction or nonfiction that follows your list—what you’ve outgrown, what you can feel yourself outgrowing.”

To add aerobic intensity, Sarah set a deadline—30 minutes. Other than shoveling snow, there’s nothing like a deadline to get the heart pounding.

The challenge—things you’ve outgrown or are outgrowing—was a natural for Resale Evangelista. We’re all about simplifying and clarifying to create a more artful life. Most of the time, that means recognizing what is no longer needed and throwing it overboard. Sounds simple, but it’s not.

Little girls across the ages experience First Communion

The author and her mother, each after their First Communion, 50 years apart.

I tuned in late, so had nothing to contribute. But many others did, and the results were striking—fond farewells to everything from patent leather First Communion shoes to grateful goodbyes to the miseries of youth, like this from Julie Mellen Damerell:

submerged in snow, remembering
white patent leather shoes I wore for my First Communion
the day Grandma gave me the gold watch I lost in a year

that tan and white shift with matching coat I wore to Easter mass
not knowing Grandma’s money would not buy Sunday dress again

those three-inch heels I wore to prom and the sprained ankle

red and white checked bell bottoms I sweated in at the pool party
too embarrassed by my thirteen year old body in a bathing suit

buried in all that white, fear that I would not have a thirteen-yea old body
or hope that heels, a matching coat, or bell bottoms would make me
good enough

Outgrowing the angst as well as the ankle socks

Sarah Freligh is the award-winning author of two books of poetry, Sort of Gone (2008, Turning Point Books) and Sad Math (2015, Moon City Press), winner of—among other accolades—the 2015 Moon City Poetry Award. She’s a former sportswriter and colleague of mine at the Philadelphia Inquirer, now teaching creative writing at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y.—a city which is always a contender in the annual ranking of snowiest U.S. cities. One learns that the necessities of life in Rochester include lap-cats, wine or hot chocolate (depending on whether it’s before noon or not), and something to keep the mind from slipping into a snow-glare  daze. Hence, Sarah’s impromptu Boot Camp for writers. She was feeling magnanimous, so she extended the usual 12 minutes to a full half-hour.

The great thing about this snow day concept—Things I’ve Outgrown—is its acknowledgment of emotional as well as physical mementos of the past. The parallels to editing our surroundings are inescapable. There are emotional costs and benefits—sometimes both—when you decide, or are forced, to pitch a bit of history: furniture imbued with fond memories, valued or valuable detritus from failed relationships, books associated with a certain time of life, a treasured tidbit from childhood.

Poet Jessica Cuello, author of Pricking (2016, Tiger Bark Press) and Hunt, winner of the 2016 Washington Prize from The Word Works (as well as other prizes, awards and fellowships), captured that mix of things and emotions lost or outgrown, starting from childhood.

Little Lulu with the stitches
where my brother bit her foot off,
the banana seat bike.
The Little Nutshell Library: “There once was a boy
named Pierre who only would say I don’t care.”
The key to the 4th grade diary. The diary.
The cut out obituaries.
The track ribbons. The letters
back and forth where I lost my best friend (No,
not those yet.) The journals from each year—
shame written in them.
The nursing pump, The Boppy, the kids’ art pieces
that must be thrown out secretly.
My appendix, mole on my breast,
my windpipe, esophagus,
left hand from grading, dinner with my mother,
mortgage, teaching roster,
responsibilities, body.

 Speed-writing lets hidden feelings leak

One of my favorite quotes (not to mention one of the few I can remember) is from Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe:  “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” I bring it up because, as I said, I appreciate the forced-march nature of a deadline. You have to think fast, but not too deep. Paradoxically, the speed sometimes uncovers a thought or feeling you couldn’t capture if you were thinking too much or too long. There’s always time to refine later.

This may sound crazy, but you could take the same approach to your linen closet or tee-shirt drawer. Fifteen minutes, no stopping to consider whether the excess towels should be saved for summer beach visits, or if the shirt from the first Rolling Stones retirement tour really is a piece of history. Pitch it, move on. Unlike the snow day writing assignment, you could have a buddy on hand to intervene when you hesitate over the well-worn baseball cap that reminds you of your first love.

Another striking thing about the flash-art that came out of the Snow Day Boot Camp is the sense of place and time evoked by the writers. Sarah Cedeño has lived in Brockport, N.Y., her whole life. She described her childhood in an interview with the Missouri Review: “I spent a lot of time in my parents’ back yard growing up, digging up potato bugs and playing with poisonous berries.  We didn’t vacation.  I didn’t do summer camp.  I made friends with two girls who went to the church across the street from my parents’ house when I got bored of my best friend, who lived next door.”

I so remember that kind of childhood. I don’t know how she managed, in 30 minutes, to convey both the placid beauty of that small town life and the occasional frustrating limitations, in this, her Boot Camp memory:

I’d outgrown my childhood playhouse years before. I watched it dismantled when I was in college: my father, with a hammer, while my cousin’s husband and his twin daughters watched, ready to rebuild in their own yard. Me, I was up the hill at the kitchen window—counting it all: the plywood, the shingles, the sign that said “Sarah’s Place” in rainbow font, the rainbow font like a fantasy.

I’ve outgrown a toy chest I used to hide in on the front porch with Hulk Hogan and Godzilla, Barbie and Gumby, the crayons I wrote my name with above our doorbell, that humid, screened-in space between home and not. And my sister’s hand-me-downs, shrunken and pale with too many washings. Wine coolers in flavors like raspberry dazzle and chillin’ cherry. I’ve outgrown beer that isn’t pretentious.

I’ve outgrown straightening my hair on the regular, dying my hair lighter or darker or red, fingernail polish in any shade. I’ve outgrown time like I have (outgrown)  four identical pairs of leather boots and about a million dreams, I’ve outgrown silence and a well-placed smile over my open mouth.

My skin has become tight, and whoever said you grow into yourself is full of shit— I grew through my own skin, and some mornings I want to rip and run out of it, but the sidewalks are too short and the road too long.

I didn’t start out to compare the process of a writing boot camp with the process of simplifying and clarifying life through the act of decluttering or downsizing—I thought this post would be all about the content. But it seems a natural fit. And I’m not the only one who noticed. One of the last comments on Sarah’s FB post came from Barbara Hammon.

“OMG!!,” she wrote. “I’m too late to play, but only because I was cleaning out my pantry and disposing of homemade pickles from ’02, cans of soup my past boyfriend bought (I don’t eat canned soup and he’s been gone almost 3 years), and multiple unrecognizable stuff. My pantry is cleaned and reorganized and ready to face the next decade. One room at a time.”

“So,” Sarah replied. “You did do the prompt.”

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. That often requires recognizing what you’ve outgrown and need to pitch, to make room for something else–maybe even just space! I’d love to hear what you’ve decided you’ve outgrown. Or maybe there’s something you suspect you may never outgrow? 

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.

20161122_141055

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…

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 10.16.32 AM.png

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!

 

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.

Jigsaw puzzles…

 

Goodwill's Answer to ValiumGoodwill’s answer to Valium

by Jone Bosworth, JD
  Founder,  InCourage Leading, LLC

Look up “doting” in the dictionary and you’ll find my picture. The label reads “Doting Aunt.”

Remember prehistory, back before Skype? In that bygone era,  I spent hundreds of dollars–thousands, really–talking with my nephews and nieces on the telephone. (You remember: Two pieces, attached to the wall by a cord, a rotary dial that evolved into push buttons.) Especially while I was living abroad, the phone charges added up quickly.

Inexplicably, when I’d ring from Tokyo, my sister thought it wise to put her 3-year old on speaker-phone. He’d describe every single thing in the house to me. The conversations went like this: “I’m in the living room Aunt Jone. Here’s the t.v., here are my books, there’s my dump truck, here’s Anarchy (the dog), there’s Mommy’s shoes. I have a red block, Aunt Jone…”

I’m not exaggerating. And I’m not complaining. The world can be a tough ol’ place, growing up can be  bumpy, and doting is one little antidote I can offer. Now that I live closer to family, much more of my doting gets done in-person.

Problem is–at the risk of exposing what an old fogey I’ve become–my 4-year old nephew loves having me sit at the computer beside him and watch him play games. I find this not only super boring, but a resounding defeat of my doting-time-together goals. I decided we should try our hands at jigsaw puzzles. We’d be doing something together, playing in a much more social way. I dug out a puzzle from my mother’s closet and we set about putting it together.

Potential alert to pre-dementia:  I’m not smarter than a 4-year old. At least not when it comes to assembling jigsaw puzzles. Wow! I remember this task being so much easier!

Jigsaw puzzles are apparently good for the brain. Several studies revealed that solving puzzles increases our concentration, sharpens our memories, and perhaps even improves our brain function.  According to an article on Social Psychiatry.com, “Working on jigsaw puzzles and focusing on the same image for longer periods can actually turn out more like meditations and induce a calmness and peace in the mind.”

There may be other physical benefits too—lowered breathing, heart and blood pressure rates. And of course, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment, of success, when you place that last piece.

Susan (The Resale Evangelista) frequently reminds me that I could be consuming less, living a simpler life. When it comes to puzzles, I’m listening. So, anticipating my next visit to my nephew in Nebraska,  I picked up a brand new puzzle for $2.15 at my neighborhood Goodwill. The box hadn’t been opened, the puzzle pieces were still sealed in a bag.

Just for fun, I decided to try my hand at putting it together at my house. You know, making sure it isn’t too hard for my nephew. Sure, it says on the box that this puzzle is for ages 8+. But hey, it gives me a chance to get (okay, appear) smarter than a 4-year-old. I can’t remember–is that cheating?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Besides being a doting aunt, guest blogger Jone Bosworth is a strategy/business consultant and certified professional coach. She founded InCourage Leading to help women (and egalitarian men) develop their leadership potential and contribute to the common good.  Jone is trying to avoid, at all costs, what her former boss, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, called the “special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”
Jone’s blog is a witty take on leadership. I highly recommend her posts on Learning to Communicate with younger generations and 3 Great Lessons from The Rolling Stones. She’s also a frequent contributor to The People Development eMagazine. Check out her latest piece, Witty Wisdom on Workplace Politics. All three pieces are not only useful, they’re amusing, too.

The Artfully Packed Suburu

How I drove across country–twice–hauling my coffee-maker, three suitcases, office supplies, yoga mat, tennis rackets and swim gear, a leather couch and my great-grandmother’s claw-foot oak table with 6 leaves

My Suburu holds everythingSusan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

So there we were in St. Louis, MO, getting ready to cast off for Louisiana and, beyond that, North Carolina. All that remained to be done was to pack the Suburu. Enough possessions for a year, plus a family heirloom to be delivered to my brother Joe.

My plan was to drive to Joe’s house in Louisiana, drop off the table and spend a few days there, then head for my new (temporary) home in North Carolina. It’s funny how a simple road trip can take on so many facets–sparking childhood memories, renewing emotional connections, provoking anticipation of the future.

Melody, my 13-year-old niece, was along for the ride. She lives in Taiwan. Her only exposure to the United States has been the summers and holidays she spends in Santa Barbara, visiting my mother.  Missouri was a revelation for her. First of all, it was green–the Midwest has had rain, while California is drought-stricken. And there was more for her to do in St.  Louis than in Santa Barbara. We went to the zoo, to the Arch, bowling and, of course, shopping (Melody and her mother are the original shopaholics).

I never really thought about it, but Santa Barbara is really an adult resort town. Unless you’re a beach person–which Melody isn’t–there aren’t that many kid-centric attractions there. It’s the bane of an only child: Adapting to an adult’s idea of fun, and getting used to talking (mostly) to grown-ups. My mother compensates by arranging for lessons. Horseback riding, tennis, swimming and more. She  did the same for my only kid–Max learned to kayak and scuba dive during his Santa Barbara summers.

Possibly the biggest excitement for Melody was staying with my friend Patricia, mother of four sons and a daughter. They’re all in their 20s, except Patrick, who is 16. Let’s just say they have a boisterous way of communicating with one another.  As the oldest of seven, it’s nothing new to me. To her credit, by the end of the five days, Melody could discern the difference between mock outrage and true trouble. And she grew to enjoy the mock outrage.

One of my tasks while in St. Louis was consolidating my two storage lockers. By the time I finished moving last spring, I couldn’t manage the careful packing required to fit all my belongings into one 10-by-15 storage unit. Melody patiently sat watching while I shifted boxes and furniture to empty the smaller locker into the larger one.

The key to this successful effort was taking my great-grandmother’s oak claw-foot table out of storage.

I have a photo of myself as a toddler in a highchair, exchanging sideways glances with my mother–with spit-curls bobbie-pinned into her hair–at that table. I collected it from my great-grandmother’s house when I moved to Philadelphia to work for The Inquirer. I’ve had the table for 30 years.

My ex-husband and I hosted many a Thanksgiving dinner on it, once for 18 people. As a single person, I am most frequently a guest during the holidays, not the hostess. It was time to pass it along to my brother Joe, who has three daughters. The table, lightly scarred considering its age, will provide ample space for home-schooling and homework, as well as holiday dinners.

I have to say, the Suburu is a great car for hauling. I can’t tell you how many people have marveled at its capacity when they see it fully loaded. The key is artful packing. If I do say so myself, I’m a master at maximizing space.

Suburu road tripA 19th-century oak pedestal table, with six leaves, is not a standard size object. The round table top is 54 inches across. The pedestal, with four impressive lion’s feet, complete with toenails, is massive and bulky. The leaves, at least, are manageable.

Luckily, the top pulls apart into two pieces. Each just fit into the back of the car. No two ways about it, the pedestal parts had to stand up behind the front seats and took up more room than their actual volume. In other words, canny packing was required. Then I had to add the rest of my possessions. Enough for six months or more in North Carolina.  This required some jiggering around. Ultimately, two suitcases had to be bungee-corded to the top of the Suburu.

I’ve said it before. Getting rid of possessions and moving has been a revelation. Who knew that the essential contents of my house could be squeezed into a 15-by-10-foot space? Who knew enough possessions for almost a year would fit in the back of a relatively small vehicle? Even so, I won’t be surprised to find there are still things I won’t need.

Eventually, I got it all in. As usual, it was two steps forward, one step back. I put stuff in, packed around it, then found it necessary to pull things out and start again.  Of course, when I got to Joe’s house, I had to unpack the whole car in order to get the table out, then repack for the onward journey. But that’s another post. This is enough for now.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying and clarifying her life. It’s a journey. Come along for the ride.

 

Reinventing Self

Joy of Life

Joy of Life

“There is no answer. Pursue it lovingly.”

SusanCaba
Resale Evangelista

I just placed an order with Amazon. Within two business days, I will receive these items:

  • The 10-Day Green Smoothie Diet, which promises me clearer eyes, more energy, dewier skin, reduced cravings and improved intestinal health within 10 days–not to mention a substantial weight loss.
  • Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence. The benefits are spelled out right in the title.
  • Meditations to Change Your Brain, a 3-CD set of instructions for implementing the lessons of Hardwiring Happiness. When I’m finished listening, I will have mastered specific practices for making positive changes in my body and mind, strengthened my meditative abilities, and healed and nourished my relationships. I will have increased my capacity for joy, love and spiritual bliss.

In 10 days (all right, maybe as long as two weeks), I will be able to report that I am dewier, more blissful, slimmer and living with a newly energized sense of serenity. The cost? A mere $55, with free shipping.

I am a sucker for self-help books. When it comes to self-improvement, I want a road map–a guide, a course or a workbook–to get me to my goal of the moment.

My current project is to redefine myself, to myself. That’s a pretty fuzzy aspiration. The parameters are still evolving. As I wrote in a post last week, I didn’t start with a clearly articulated goal other than discovering a permanent place to live. But my thoughts are starting to gel along the lines of creating a sense of belonging for myself.

So I sold my house in St. Louis and embarked on a year of serial house sitting. In the course of this odyssey of restlessness, I would “change my story, change my brain and change my life.” But how? I needed a workbook, which is why I turned to Amazon.

(I would have gone to an independent bookstore, because Amazon is currently holding its own customers hostage as pawns in a business battle with the Hachette Book group. But I had an Amazon gift card. So much for values.)

As it happens, one of my favorite websites–BrainPickings.org–led with an article this week titled: The Psychology of Your Future Self and How Your Present Illusions Hinder Your Future Happiness, about a Ted Talk by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. He’s the author of the 2006 book “Stumbling on Happiness.”

In his Ted Talk, Gilbert says: “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’re ever been. The one constant in our lives is change.”

By following links on the page, I came to Maria Popova’s list of 7 Essential Books on the Art and Science of Happiness. The me of grandiose ambitions would announce a study group that would read these books to glean their wisdom. Ain’t gonna happen–that much I know. But even just reading the synopsis of each book raised interesting, difficult questions about our sense of self and happiness.

There are TED Talks embedded in the list. They, too, are provocative–and, at times,, funny. I recommend two of them. I’m not going to attempt to summarize them, because that would trivialize their rather profound messages.

The first is by French scientist-turned-Buddhist monk Mattieu Ricard, talking about the habits of happiness. Ricard is the author of Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. (Hey! I just knew there was a guide out there someplace!)

My favorite was Brené Brown, talking about the power of vulnerability. Brown’s books include The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Both were New York Times’ bestsellers. Her TED Talk is one of the most popular ever, with more than 15 million views.

Despite titles that imply pop-culture psychology, these books–and these people–are exploring the common aspiration of humans: The pursuit of well-being and the end of suffering. Most of us don’t have the time, or don’t take the time, to pursue these questions are our own. I’m grateful for the guidance and that I do have the time, at least for the moment.

In the meantime, I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks whether I’m slimmer, dewier, more serene, more energetic, healed, nourished, content and calm. Let’s hope so!

The Resale Evangelista is on a quest for clarity and simplicity, in order to create a more focused, creative life.

Thrift-store shopping and life lessons

Wise Beyond Their Years:

High School Seniors Write About Money

SusanCaba
The Resale Evangelista

As the mother of an about-to-graduate college senior, I am, of course, often on the lookout for advice to pass along. The headline on the NYTimes article made it seem a likely candidate: Four Stand-Out College Essays About Money.

(Note: I usually don’t pass along advice, for two reasons. First, I know he’ll never read these articles. Second, he’s already more mature, in many ways, than I am–and capable of filling in the gaps on his own. When he wants advice, he asks–that last bit is the lesson I’ve finally learned.)

Anyway, the other element that caught my eye was a phrase about thrift-store shopping morphing from being a hidden necessity for some families to a societal trend.

“We’ve got it down to a science at this point. That stain can be washed off. That hole can be sewn. That looks really comfortable! Wait, doesn’t every girl in your school have those shoes over there? Don’t pick that, it looks like it’s from when I was your age,” Clare Connaughton wrote, about shopping with her mother at Goodwill.

“Going thrift shopping with my mom is one of my most cherished pastimes now that I am older. Growing up, it felt so dirty. Why can’t we just buy clothes at the mall? I would incessantly ask my mother that every single time she brought me with her to Goodwill. Our shoes, jackets, pants, shirts and even appliances were from thrift stores. It annoyed me to no end.”

Max once asked me why we bought his jeans and t-shirts at “these charity stores,” instead of a mall store. “Because I’m not paying $50 for a ratty T-shirt at Abercrombie & Fitch,” I retorted. It our case it wasn’t so much about necessity as it was one of the relatively rare occasions I was practical about money. Now, of course, second-hand shopping for me is sport, as it is for Ms Connaughton.

“Today, going to the thrift store is a way for me to spend time with my mom when she is free from her busy work schedule. It’s fun to see who can find the nicest shirt or the fanciest designer shoes for the lowest price. My mom, the inventor of “shabby chic”, my mom, my mentor.” (I may break my rule about advice and send that last bit to Max. A little reminder can’t hurt, can it?)

The Times article is good; the four essays–also published–are fantastic. They could just as easily be college commencement speeches. Two of them not only made me envious of their authors’ writing ability, they touched me enormously with their insights.

I am estranged from my mother. I view her actions harshly and don’t see any path to reconciliation. But maybe there is a glimmer of light for me in the essay written by Andy Duehren–decades younger than I–about his father.

“I looked at my dad and I saw that being a man isn’t about any sort of superficial, external measure. As it was during my childhood misadventures, it’s about us, the imperfect son with the imperfect father, supporting each other up the proverbial mountain.

“For me, the transition to manhood was not an external one: Fortunately, there was no rite of passage or singular circumstance that forced me to become a man. Rather, sitting there against a cliff with my father, I wondered if maybe adulthood simply meant looking beyond oneself, to the other, without any pretense or pomp. Maybe my father, with his unpretentious generosity and willingness to get back up and continue the trek, is the best example of a man I have.”

In her essay, Viviana Andazola Marquez, describes an unrelenting focus on getting an education, in order to lift her family out of homelessness. Her writing is so concise, her words so perfectly chosen, that I’m struggling to match her quality.

“During the bitter winter of 2012, I reached a dead-end. …  Every night, my mother, sister, toddler brothers and I arranged ourselves on (a stranger’s) kitchen floor and turned on the oven, hoping the warmth would embrace us through the night. What were we going to do? Surely, we couldn’t live in front of an oven forever, but I couldn’t see my next move. …

“My whole existence is devoted to maximizing my potential. By tapping into a stranger’s Wi-Fi, negotiating with hotel managers, accepting the kindness of strangers, and sometimes, just for a short time, putting my own needs before my family’s, I fill the cracks in the road to success made by forces beyond myself. I won’t let these circumstances victimize me. I won’t let guilt paralyze me. I remain in control, making my moves, winning the game. Attending college is the surest path to victory, and I am prepared to play along until I reach the end.”

I’ll post Ms Marquez’s essay near the computer to remind myself of two things. Cut out excess adverbs and adjectives. And stop complaining about misfortunes, obstacles and frustrations. Just get on with the game.