Tag Archives: artful life

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? 

Horrors! A Rat!

Wildlife woes in California

Alice recalls her adventures in Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland having a very bad dream. Original drawing by Melody Caba.

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

My friends, I’ve told my tales of animal encounters while on the house-sitting trail but the worst (I hope) has just occurred. Sometimes, no matter how simple things get, they just don’t contribute to an artful life.

Thursday began with the discovery of a pretty gray bird huddled low in a corner by the kitchen windows. I hadn’t rubbed the sleep out of my eyes before noticing, on the way to the coffee maker, several little puff-piles of feathers on the floor around the table. Even then, I didn’t register the bird until it made an attempt to escape. But with two cats circling, the bird was going nowhere.

I shooed the cats away, then tried to shoo the bird toward the front door. The bird didn’t cooperate. Panicked, it fluttered against the louvered kitchen windows, trapped and unreachable behind the table. I finally captured it in the folds of a linen shirt and released it outside as the cats looked on, tails twitching.

I was up early on Friday, practically predawn. The cats, all three, were impatiently awaiting their morning rations of dry food. I filled one bowl and bent to fill the other. As the crunchies clattered into the dish, something gray under the edge of the cabinet caught my eye. Something big and gray. I prayed very quickly that it was a baby rabbit. No such luck. Horrors! It was a rat!

My response? I fled. My sister, Celia, lives next door. I planned to enlist her help. On the way down the driveway, my other sister, Mary, arrived. We ventured back into the house. I moved the cat bowl while Mary stood ready to toss a box over the rat. He made a run for it, but Mary was fast with the box. The rat was trapped. Now what? Mary and I went next door, and returned with Celia.

The plan was to inch the box over to the door and shove it out, freeing the rat as it went over the sill. The plan worked perfectly. Except the rat wasn’t in the box. Horrors! We opened all the doors from the family room and left, hoping the rat would, too. I could only hope. I sure as hell wasn’t going to look under the couch to see beady little eyes. If he wasn’t gone, the cats would surely hunt him down–wouldn’t they?

Saturday morning passed uneventfully. Sunday, no such luck. The cats had been hunting all right, but all they caught was a mouse. Which was under the kitchen table, eviscerated. Yuck! I know from  experience these cats will bring a stream of trophies, mice and hapless lizards. Resigned, I went to fetch a plastic bag.

What did I find? A big dead rat, right in the middle of the floor, all four feet in the air. He hadn’t escaped after all. The least the cats could have done was carried him outside.

And I haven’t even mentioned the bobcat that locked eyes with Mary down the block, or the yapping coyotes in the foothills out back.

The Resale Evangelista is winding up a year of house-sitting and getting ready to move to Virginia. No rats or other varmints are invited.

The “good enough” DIY garage and garden renovation

Perfection: A worthy goal…sometimes

Perfection: A worthy goal...sometimes

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

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

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

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

An Imperfect--but

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

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

Ambersand Before

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

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

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

The good-enough garage paint job

The garage before a good-enough paint job.

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



Mugged by my “stuff”

African mask purchased at Leland Little auctionThings accumulated when I wasn’t looking!

By Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

Readers, I backslid.

While I was busy living with less, a bunch of stuff sneaked up and mugged me. I never saw it coming.

Oh, there were clues. The mattress pad and down comforter, purchased early on and cut down to fit my bed in Chapel Hill. The little microwave I bought when I realized I needed one to reheat my coffee. The two small paintings by intellectually disabled artists that charmed me in Asheville.

Art—that was the first telling sign I was slipping. The microwave and mattress pad, the $1 coffee cups and wine glasses from the PTA Thrift store—those I could rationalize as “needs.” There  were no easy rationalizations for the paintings. I liked them, they were reasonably priced and I felt good spending the $25 for a worthy cause.

I didn’t realize how far I’d fallen until it was time to pack up and leave the Kellers’ house. Stuff had accumulated. African masks, for example. A bigger and better coffee maker. Six cans of tennis balls and a hopper to carry them. A small oriental rug. Not to mention the mahogany dressing table which I bought because I wasn’t sitting on my bidding hand at an auction. Besides, it’s for my son’s girlfriend—not that either one of them asked for it.

You’ll recall that, despite rigorously culling over a two-year period, I have a 10-by-15 storage unit in St. Louis that is loaded front-to-back, side-to-side and floor-to-ceiling with my belongings. I arrived in Chapel Hill with a moderate amount of stuff in the back of the Subaru. I’m leaving with suitcases bungie-corded to the roof.

Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Stuff, Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. It’s a well-written, research-grounded book about the motivations and emotions of hoarders. Whew! Glad I escaped that affliction!

I gotta tell you, though, some of the characteristics weren’t entirely unfamiliar.

We are attached to our things because of what they represent—opportunities, memories, and connections to significant people, places and events. Why else would I keep the musical mobile with panda bears that hung over my son’s crib, or the miniature buildings of a Greek fishing village my father brought back from a trip? Why would one friend treasure a tattered book of essays about our national parks she received as a child, or my former mother-in-law use her son’s baby bib—sixty years later—as a potholder every morning in her tea-making ritual?

“It wasn’t the objects themselves that she valued, but the connections they symbolized,” the authors wrote about one woman in Stuff.  “And it’s the same whether we collect celebrities’ clothing, a piece of the Berlin Wall, a deck chair off the Titanic or five tons of old newspapers.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 10.19.13 AMUh-oh. I have a piece of the Berlin Wall. My mother and youngest brother were there as it was being chipped into oblivion.

Jean-Paul Sartre said we learn who we are by observing what we own. Sartre wrote that “to have” is one of three basic forms of human experience, the others being “to do” and “to be.” William James said acquisitiveness is a human instinct, which contributes to our sense of self. “What is ‘me’ fuses with what is ‘mine’ and our ‘self’ consists, in part, of what we possess.”

Our stuff also represents our image of ourselves. Like the time I bought a cunning set of dishes thinking, “these will be just great for a luncheon.” Only after I paid for them did I remember I hadn’t ever had a luncheon. I don’t even like the word.

One woman described in Stuff had more than 300 cookbooks, kitchen counters hidden under cookware and gadgets, and a stove no longer visible under layers of kitchen accoutrements. “Much of her hoard allowed her to imagine various identities,” the authors said. “A great cook, a well-read and informed person, a responsible citizen. Her things represented dreams, not realities. Getting rid of the things meant losing the dreams.”

The anecdote reminded me of clearing the house of a woman who obviously intended to be a great cook—she had an unbelievable stash of baking equipment, mixing bowls, state-of-the-art equipment and serving paraphernalia. All of it was stored in the basement, unopened and unused.

Hoarders or not, it’s because we imbue objects with these layers of meaning that it’s so easy to acquire things and so difficult to get rid of them. Which brings me back to my 8-month house-sitting assignment in Chapel Hill.

It turns out that, lovely as my hosts’ home is, I needed my stuff around me. I brought a few photos of my son with me, but that was about it for personal mementos. My house in St. Louis—if I do say so myself—was an artful, art-filled environment. (Yes, maybe too art-filled!)

And so, reader, that’s how it happened—the African masks, the little Waterford pitcher I bought at Goodwill for $8 (and never used—it was one of those “irresistible bargains”),  the bird feeder, the framed picture of bathing beauties under a beach umbrella, the block-printed greeting cards, the bedskirts from the thrift shop (which I left behind), the frames for unframed children’s art and, oh yes, the DVDs for learning how to salsa dance (which I had to watch in slow motion and, even then, could barely see how the woman was moving her hips).

So, the Subaru is loaded again to the gills. But at least I gave away the lawnmower.

The ResaleEvangelista has culled her belongings, in order to create a simplified, more artful life.

If you’re new to the site, you might want to check out these earlier posts of mine about the joys and perils of house-sitting.

The artful life has its complexities

“Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius.”

George Sand

By Mike Hess

I have a very slight headache.

Yesterday it would have been from trying to solder a brass light switch knob on the back of a Malaysian coin for use as a sealing wax stamp. The torch would not operate well and the combination of burning flux, asbestos siding, fiberglass mat and—despite all this protection I put down—the laminate counter top, made a haze that I happily left for 7 hours.

Today, it’s possible that the fumes from the acetone are at fault even though I did the bulk of the cleaning of the torch tips outside. There will be more acetone to clean the goo off the big wood bowl I bought.

Acetone is not a friendly solvent. Goes right through one’s skin, I’m pretty sure, like DMSO. Certainly it dissolved the plastic of the torch handle. That surprised me. Yesterday I wore gloves (though acetone will dissolve nitrile gloves, I discovered). Today I just planned on not touching acetone, but the dissolved handle ended up on my fingers and no amount of soap will remove the black splotches. I suppose I could clean them off with acetone…

The Fresnel lens is the coolest thing. Every broken projection TV has one. Not to mention a huge trapezoid front surface mirror.

I cut up a stainless steel bed frame. Those parts are ready to be cut to length for the frame I’m building for a Fresnel lens. Perhaps I will put a metal cutting blade on the band saw in my living room. The Eastlake hall tree is completely reassembled after the disassembly of moving it from Seattle. Well, the disassembly caused by the gardening tools landing on it during the move from Seattle. The Eastlake dresser is close to being done. I need to reinforce the candle shelf where the screw head pulled straight through.

The Resale Evangelista tells me all this sounds like “simplifying and focusing to make a more artful life.” Artful perhaps, but believe me, if you were here just now, simplified is not the word that would come to mind. I am encouraged that for the most part, I follow through on all these projects. Right now I’m about to measure the oak from a headboard to build the case of a Jacob’s Ladder I made.

Things that have lost their utility are encumbrances. No need to mourn their loss—they are literally more trouble than they’re worth.

Every once in awhile, I find I’m holding on to a thing or have a fix that’s been stalled mid-operation for a long time. Over by the kitchen door are the remains of a floor lamp someone offered up by the dumpster of an apartment building. Turns out the only part left undamaged on it is the part I hopelessly bent on my own. Instead of the excitement of something for nothing or making an improvement, it’s become an annoyance—a visual and mental stumbling block, the drag on emotion of a thing unfinished. Worse it may become invisible to me.

I always wanted a roll-top desk, but the one I bought needed help here and there. I fixed a drawer and a pigeon hole, but the roll never did work properly and it bugged me every time I opened it.  Got rid of that desk and I never wanted another.

Usually, I’m able to introduce these materials to the dumpster myself, either on the sunny corner on the outside, or into the dark interior. I’ve a motto that if you can’t find it, it’s not doing you any good. Things that have lost their utility are encumbrances. No need to mourn their loss—they are literally more trouble than they’re worth.

Mike Hess is my go-to friend for anything technical, for pithy quotes, opinions on dust, movie recommendations and weird words, like chingadera. Look it up.

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 behomm.com (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:

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.

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.

Fear Not, the Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis, beneficial garden insect, http://gardeningforresults.com/garden-pest-control/10-garden-helpers-and-how-to-lure-them/(Photo from Leonard J. Kovar’s Gardening for Results)

E.T., Phone home…better yet, go home!

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The bugs are bigger here in North Carolina—a lot bigger. Even the good bugs.

One night, heading to bed, I turned a corner and came eye-to-glassy-eye with a long, lime-green thing clinging to the door frame. Its body was delicate, the length of my pinky, thinner and straighter than a string bean, with thready legs bent like paper clips. The torso (do bugs have torsos?) narrowed to a tiny triangular head with, it seemed to me, unnaturally large eyes on either side. After my initial gasp, I decided it was a praying mantis and ignored it, passing on the far side of the short hall to my bedroom.

In the morning, the mantis was gone. I couldn’t help wondering if it was male or female, since females eat the males after mating. In the next few days, it turned up on a wall in the kitchen, then on a picture frame in the dining room. I hoped he/she was making its way to freedom, but I still jumped every time we met and averted my eyes as I passed.

As a kid in New Jersey, we often found a praying mantis or the similarly beneficial walking sticks on trees as we played outside. I remember catching lightning bugs, too, and putting them in a jar. I don’t do that anymore. It’s not that I mind bugs. I just prefer they stay out of sight and not require intervention on my part.Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 10.55.57 PM

The praying mantis, according to Leonard J. Kovar’s website, Gardening for Results, is one of the top 10 bugs you want in your garden. They hunt at night, and eat all the most problematic bugs–including cockroaches. Unfortunately, they are not picky eaters (just ask the males); they also eat other beneficial bugs. They have five eyes, allowing them to spot movement from 60 feet.

Alas, this praying mantis never made it to freedom.

One cool morning, I went to close the windows in the dining room. And there, clinging to the screen—or so I thought—was the lime-green thing. Only he/she looked unnaturally crisp or stiff. Looking more closely, I saw the mantis had been ensnared in a spider’s web (so much for its vaunted eyesight). I went to get the vacuum cleaner, or maybe an empty coffee can, to dispose of the corpse. Fortunately for me (which reveals a lot about my attitude toward insects), as I touched the window frame, the mantis fell from the web and down behind the bookcase under the window.

Which put me in mind of a favorite haiku verse, translated by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass in The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (New York: Ecco, 1994)L

Don’t worry, spider.
I keep house
Casually.

Because, of course, the Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life.