Category Archives: Life

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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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.

 

 

 

 

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? 

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. 

 

Camels, Camels, Camels—you gotta love India!

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

Camel camaraderie in Pushkar, India

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

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

New Year 2015

 

Onward, to the future!

fireworks

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

Small town haven just up the road a bit…

Tiny town of Hillsborough attracts writers

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.