Tag Archives: simple life

High/Low: Shedding light

Which lamp cost $9?

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Can you tell which of these lamps came from a thrift store for less than $10 and which sells online for 40 times that amount?

Both have solid, turned-wood bases, commonly called Barley Twists. One has a natural linen shade, the other a chandelier-style shade in cream silk.

Barley Twist Lamp for 475 This lamp is sold online for $405.

Barley Twist Lamp from Goodwill The base of this lamp was $6. The shade, also from Goodwill, was $3.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. Elegant style and practical thrift, she believes, are not mutually exclusive.  


House-sitting, with pets…

A dog-gone good way to vacation

By Susan Caba Resale Evangelista

Dot and I jHouse Sitting for Pets, by Susan Caba in Spring 2015 Bark Magazineust returned from a walk in the woods around the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. While I stumbled over roots, Dot reveled in the fresh smells of a muddy creek bed, hid behind my legs when approached by a larger dog, and snuffled delightedly through a pile of pine needles. … 

So begins my article on house-sitting in the Spring edition of The Bark magazine. My sojourn with Dot, a 10lb Jack Russell named for the single brown splotch on her right hip, has come to an end. Her rightful owners have returned from India and Dot was happy to see them.

Dot and I got along just fine as roommates for close to 8 months. She was part of my year-long house-sitting adventure, moving around the country in search of a permanent location. House-sitting is a also great option for those who merely want to get away for a few weeks and don’t mind–or welcome–caring for a homeowner’s pet during their vacation. 

House Sitting Pets is a great way to see the world and live an artful life

My erstwhile roommate, Dot

I got to stay in the Kellers’ lovely home with a wraparound porch and woodburning stove while getting to know the area around Chapel Hill, NC. The Kellers didn’t have to worry about Dot and their three cats–who benefited by staying in their own home. You might consider this arrangement if you have pets that you’d hate–or couldn’t afford–to put in a kennel while you’re gone.

House-sitting arrangements are part of the new sharing economy. While house-sitting has been around for decades, the internet has energized the practice by making it easy for homeowners and house-sitters to connect without having to coordinate locations and simultaneous travel plans. One of the major factors driving the trend is people’s desire for in-home pet care.

Andy Peck, founder of TrustedHouseSitters.com–the site I use most–told me that 80 percent of the people looking for house-sitters have pets. “The most important thing to most homeowners is that they’ve got happy pets cared for at home. More and more people don’t want to use kennels.”

“It’s a win-win for both parties. The sitter goes the extra mile—it’s not liking asking a reluctant nephew to do the job,” he said. “And a lot of people genuinely love looking after pets while having a “stay-cation” in a great place, a vacation where they can live like a local.” 

House Sitting with dogs, Spring 2015 Bark magazine

My dog, Frazier, now living in California

Some assignments involve luxurious properties—sometimes quite decadent luxury. Ocean-view estates in Costa Rica, country mansions in Great Britain, and apartments in New York, London, Paris and San Francisco are  frequently among the listings, though these tend to be filled fast–often within hours. There are always lots of listings for Australia, New Zealand and Canada. House-sitters just have to keep local weather in mind. Canada is cool and green in the summer, but most listings are for winter months, fine for skiers. Australians flee their country during its torrid summers.

Shari Keller told me that Dot sealed the deal for me in getting their house-sitting assignment. Dot’s a shy creature at first but took to me almost on first sight. Within days of my arrival, she was already giving me the nightly signal that it was time for us to repair to the bedroom. She started out sleeping in her own bed on the floor but rapidly insinuated her way into sleeping in my bed, invariably taking a spot in the middle. (I’m told that arrangement has come to an end and Dot is back in her own bed. Sorry about that, Dot!)

Browsing the pet photos in house-sitting ads are enough to make me laugh out loud. One couple wrote: “We live in South West Calgary, about a half hour from the downtown core. We are looking for someone to feed our dogs, and give them lots of attention as well as take care of our home, water plants, etc.” The listing included pictures of Ginger, a doleful English bulldog, and a very perky Coton de Tulear named Willow.

As always, I caution you to read the listings of house-sitting assignments very carefully. The listings are often mini-biographies that reflect the homeowners’ adoration of their dogs and other pets. Sometimes, that familial love can be a little over the top or the pets that need care are elderly or ailing. There is also the risk the animals won’t be as adorable as described.

A friend agreed to move into a Victorian house in Colorado for a month, only to find that one of the two dogs she would be sitting was a snarling hound of the Baskervilles. Her first clue was when the homeowner provided “the biggest ham I’ve ever seen,” to lure the dog to his kennel.

Don’t take on more than you can handle. (I again thank the Kellers for getting rid of the two dozen chickens they had before they left for India. I didn’t think it would be a big deal taking care of them. However, when it snowed 7 inches one February day, I was very glad I didn’t have to go out to the chicken coop and hook up some heat lamps.)

I‘ve written about some of the more hilarious posts in Talk to the Animals.

If you’re interested in house-sitting, here are some of my earlier posts: More Talk to the AnimalsHave a Yen to Try House Sitting?, Tiny Houses, Travel and Defining Home.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need. She’s traveling around the country for a year, seeing how other people live.   

Fires at home and abroad…

Fire comforts, until it scorches and kills

Logs on Fire
Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The last log of the evening ignites in the wood stove and I settle into the couch—cats on one side of me, dog on the other—to enjoy the simple luxury of watching flames.

My biggest aggravation at the moment is that Felix, my black cat companion, keeps nudging my hands from the keyboard, insisting on attention. At last, he lolls against my thigh, a miniature jaguar at rest. The strains of a cello concerto dance with the song of the blustery wind that makes a fire necessary. A glass of bourbon adds a complementary smokey note to the night’s medley of warmth.

That log, though, disturbs me. It’s holding its shape as it burns, flames licking and quivering up the sides from a thick bed of embers.  Finally, the shell of the log collapses with a small display of sparks.

The flames make me think of the Jordanian pilot not only killed recently by Islamic terrorists, but subjected to immolation—surely the most horrendous of deaths. I also think about Kayla Mueller, the young American woman held hostage by ISIS for 17 months, who died—one way or another—in the conflagration that is consuming so much of the world outside my circle of immediate experience.

Except now the conflagration isn’t outside my immediate circle. Last week in Chapel Hill, three young Muslims were gunned down in their apartment by a neighbor, ostensibly over a long-running parking dispute. The shooter’s wife insists he isn’t a bigot, in fact the opposite, since he reportedly disdained the religiously observant of any type. Does it really matter whether a hate crime can be legally proved? The crime was certainly hateful.

My son Max is a year or two older than the slain college students. He’s in the Army now, itching to be deployed (I swear, it’s testosterone poisoning). As a journalist, I should look up the statistics about how few families are connected to someone in the military, thus explaining why Americans seem detached from what’s happening in distant, disintegrating parts of the world. As a mother, I don’t really care about statistics—I just don’t want my son sent to fight in an endless war where the enemy is unidentifiable, insidious and seemingly intent on ever-more brutal displays of violence.

In the meantime, I fret about my propensity toward profligate spending. Admission here, readers: I bought three African masks, a Pakistani rug and a Chinese stacking box today at a local auction. The irony doesn’t escape me that these items originated in some of the very regions where my “struggle” to simplify would be incomprehensible, or maybe just ludicrous. In fact, the things I purchased for their beauty and decorative value were once the implements of daily life in those parts of the world where life is still so often difficult.

And I’m enjoying them, though academic research has verified that the purchase of things provides less satisfaction than the pursuit of experiences. (I have an explanation—okay, a rationalization—to offer: My enjoyment is from the hunting-and-gathering experience of finding a bargain, not the acquisition of, say, an African mask or an inexpensive Oriental rug). The fact I have the leisure to ponder—some would say navel-gaze—the differences between a simple life, a basic life and a life of deprivation is a sign I’m living either a life of luxury or one that’s quite simply frivolous.

In the meantime, as I muse, whole societies are ravaged by flames, metaphorical as well as literal. And I’m afraid  there are as many invisible, insidious and unacknowledged hot spots in the United States; the logs are burning hollow here, too. I think it was Abraham Lincoln who said the U.S. will never be defeated from the outside, only from the inside. Doesn’t that sound eerily like what happens to a log as it burns?

Dot’s curled in her dog bed, absorbing the heat. Felix is pacing the back of the couch, mewling for snacks. The logs have collapsed into a bed of incandescent coals.

The Resale Evangelista is committed to creating a simplified, focused and artful life, but knows such a thing isn’t possible in a world of turmoil.

Today’s to-do list…

Wake Up, Get Up

Finally, a mantra I can live with–most days!

A friend asked me recently to describe my routine.

“Routine? What routine?” I replied.

I know, I know–anything worth doing seems to require a plan, a process, a structure. But I grew up in a household where the best strategy for survival was wait and see, then react as necessary. I’m good at making a plan, devising a process but I seem constitutionally unable to carry out the plan, follow the process.

I think I’ve finally found a simple solution, a process I can follow–most of the time!

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life. It’s an ongoing process.

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

Because, of course, the Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating 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 sharing economy

Resale Evangelista gets restless & embarks on adventure

By Susan Caba

Exciting news, Evangelisti–my year of living restlessly is developing nicely.

At the end of the month, my 10-week sojourn near Washington, D.C. will draw to a close. I’ll be on my way to six weeks in Santa Barbara.

And after that? Chapel Hill, N.C., an unfamiliar part of the country for me. I recently agreed to house-sit for a family off on an adventure of its own, six months to a year in Rajasthan, India. The homeowners, Mark and Shari, have a business in Jaipur and will home school their  children there, to familiarize them with the culture their parents love.

That’s right, I’ll be in North Carolina for six months and possibly more. The brick house, with a wide, wraparound porch–part of it screened, is surrounded by trees on three acres just outside town. Sunlight flows in through big windows; a wood-burning stove will stave off the chill of winter (in what may be the greatest gift, Mark is stocking the wood shed to the eves with fuel enough for a full season). Company will be provided–at least until I meet some humans–by Dot, a Jack Russell terrier, and three cats. There is nothing like a dog and a drift of cats to keep things cozy.

I’m looking forward to settling in, exploring the happenings at the University of North Carolina, getting some writing done and embarking on my year of changing my “story,” my brain and my life while indulging my restless nature.

The Restless — er, Resale–Evangelista sold her house earlier this year and is exploring the country (and other locations) by house-sitting. It dawned on her (while listening to NPR, of course) that’s she’s become part of the new “sharing economy.” Not sure yet exactly what that means, but the Evangelista will keep you posted as the situation clarifies!


Scenes from a move

My house is gone, sold, cleaned out

The Resale Evangelista

And oh, what hell it was! But I’ll get into all that later. Suffice to say for the moment that what I thought would take 4 days took 10.  I missed two flights and rescheduled four others. My arms and legs are bruised from packing and moving. And this was an operation that went relatively smoothly. The simplified life is not as easy as it might look.

For the moment, I’m just offering a few verbal snapshots of the experience–and repeating my advice: If you think you will ever move out of your current abode, begin sorting, packing and discarding now! Trust me–start now!

Telling Time, Bird by Bird

I’ve always enjoyed spring’s predawn cacophony of birdsong. The earliest chirps break out around 5 a.m., soon escalating into full-fledged orchestral tune-up. The first fingers of sunlight begin tracing shadows on the window shade by 5:30. Secure in the knowledge that another day is dawning, I turn over, pull the pillow over my head and sleep another hour or two.

Not this time, Missy. I closed on the house Tuesday morning, got my hair cut and had a quick lunch with a friend. The buyers were closing the following day. Needless to say, there were a few things left to pack and haul away. Luckily, I had realized Monday evening that I was a little behind and changed my departure from Tuesday at 6 p.m. to Wednesday at 6 p.m. Thank you, Southwest Airlines, for your no-change-fee policy. (Which I used again on Wednesday to reschedule for a Friday flight.)

Back to the birds. There I was, sorting through a few things (okay, a lot of things) when I heard the tell-tale predawn chirp. Nah, couldn’t be, could it? I checked the windows: Still dark, but with the unmistakable bruised-blue tint of approaching sunrise. The bird orchestra was soon in full-throated warm-up. I’ll say this about working through the night–deciding to get rid of things is a hell of a lot easier at 3 a.m. than it is during the day. That’s about when I decided to give my television to my son’s girlfriend, rather than pack it for storage. The impulse evaporated with the realization I’d still have to pack and transport the TV. Simple solution? Just walk the television (in the dark) over to the neighbor’s porch. Imagine their surprise in the morning!

Misery Loves Company

By Thursday, everything was at least out of the house and in the garage. But there were boxes, so many boxes. Boxes I hadn’t opened in 10 years. Why start now? I determined to save time by pitching without sorting. After all, what could be so important in boxes stored for so long in the garage or basement?

Well, my son’s baby book, which I found when I noticed his name on a folder in one of the boxes. A brand-new-with-tags Coach laptop bag, origin unknown. Four years of journal entries from the late Nineties, which I long ago gave up on finding. A copy of my parents’ original family trust, now the subject of sibling dispute. Several pieces of writing, the only other copies of which are locked on obsolete floppy disks. Pitching without sorting was no longer an option.

Enter my neighbors. Chris and Maryann (you may remember their sons, Joe and Matt, as models of my top hat) pulled me away from the garage on Wednesday for hamburgers and Matt’s special fries (crinkle-cut), and again on Thursday for chicken curry. Maryann wrapped the delicate kitchen things left on the shelves when I couldn’t stand touching another sheet of butcher paper. Jason and Christie said I could leave anything I couldn’t carry, and they would dispose of whatever it was, one way or another. Mike and Linda stood with me for two hours while I went through boxes. Mike took anything technical and all the foreign language dictionaries; Linda claimed odds and ends for a charity garage sale and even accepted the two under-the-bed drawers that would in no way fit into my rental SUV. And when it was dark and cold and I just wanted to leave a bunch of crap–er, stuff–on the lawn until the following morning, Mike helped me put it all in the garage.

Thanks, guys. I couldn’t have done it without you.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? 

It was Friday. I had packed the last, most difficult load of my belongings into the rented SUV. A bed frame with slats, which I couldn’t–or wouldn’t–take the time to disassemble, therefore requiring that it be fitted diagonally into the SUV, stretching from the front seat, passenger window and protruding out from under the hatchback on the driver’s side. That necessitated tying the hatchback down with an extraneous piece of some sort of cable (of which I had many baskets that ended up at Goodwill). The load consisted of other bits of flotsam and jetsam, including the most problematic–several gallons of old paint. I hadn’t been able to locate a disposal center and was, therefore, planning to illegally dump the paint at my storage center.

My flight was to leave St. Louis at 6:05 p.m. I was heading for Public Storage at 4 p.m., thinking I might actually make the flight–which I had already rescheduled three times (thank you, again, Southwest, for your policy of not charging for changing flight schedules.)

Driving down Manchester Avenue, another driver started beeping his horn and, when I met his eyes, he gestured toward my tailgate. Shoot, I thought (no, that’s not exactly what I thought), maybe the bed frame is slipping. I pulled into a bus-stop lane, put the emergency flashers on and got out to check the tailgate. The bed frame was secure. But a can of cream-colored paint had tipped and was spilling over the bumper of the black rental vehicle. “Fudge,” I thought. No, that is definitely not an exact quote. I pulled the offending can of paint out of the car and dumped it in the public trash basket at the bus stop.

Since this was not my car, it wasn’t equipped with the wealth of rags and shammies normally available in the back of my Subaru. I headed–hyperventilating–for the nearest gas station, hoping for a hose or faucet. No such luck–there was only an air pump for tires.

I dashed inside and bought two bottles of water. No cleaning rags available. I poured the water on the paint and used the windshield cleaning wand stocked  by the gas pumps. This was not going to work or, at least, not quickly enough. I ran back inside and bought a gallon of windshield washer fluid and grabbed a big handful of paper towels. Thank God the paint was latex, and hadn’t spilled inside the car. I managed to swab off the paint before it dried, thus saving myself thousands of dollars in charges for repainting the vehicle. (I have to admit it: I also disposed of two or three more cans of paint at the gas station. What can I say, I was desperate.)

Maybe it’s my sporadic practice of Buddhism. After the paint spill, I realized I was going to again miss my flight. I think in my whole life–the child of a TWA pilot, so one who flew often–I have actually missed three flights. In the past, I would be cursing, sweating, racing to the airport. Now? Phhfft! There will be another flight tomorrow. (Thank you yet again, Southwest.)

Ending on a bright note

Here’s the best part. In pitching stuff–I did empty about 30 boxes, consolidating them into three or four–I tossed out a lot of film negatives and slides. Joe Musial, 15, retrieved many of them and asked if I minded if he kept them. Of course I didn’t–I sense a fellow dumpster diver in the making.

Over dinner, we looked at the negatives and slides. And you know what? Joey, who (along with his brother) is one of the two smartest kids that I know, said he had never seen a slide or negative. Isn’t that amazing? I once interviewed a man in Iowa who remembered seeing his first steam engine chugging across the prairie, spewing smoke. I felt like that old man, having witnessed a bygone era of technology.

We held the negatives up to the light over the dinner table and, without having my glasses, I was able to identify myself by the shape of my hair. Maryann explained that negatives reverse the dark and light areas of a photograph. I had developed some of the film myself; Joey was unfamiliar with that concept. And when Chris mentioned that, if you wanted to magnify a slide image, all you had to do was use a thumb and forefinger to swipe the picture, Joey–a computer jockey–didn’t get the joke. Made sense to him.

Lessons Learned

Did I learn any valuable lessons through this ordeal…I mean, experience? Not really, nothing that I didn’t already know about myself.

  • I am overly optimistic. I always assume a task will take much less time to accomplish than is realistic.
  • I live by deadlines, even when I miss them. Having a deadline at least gets me started.
  • My first instinct in a crisis is panic. I hyperventilated twice while moving–I’ve never hyperventilated previously in my life.
  • After the hysteria passes, I do what needs to be done. What choice do I have?
  • Friends are the best.

And for you all? I can’t say it often enough: Start getting rid of stuff now!










Tiny house simplifies life

Illness led her to downsize–drastically


The Resale Evangelista

I have a “thing” for tiny houses.

That’s always been true, though I think their pull is stronger at the moment as I’m selling my current home–which is not so big. There is a purity of function to a tiny house. Nothing unneeded–or at least, not much that’s unneeded–is allowed to take up precious space.

I’m sure it’s because that’s how I would like not only my house, but my mind, to function. Edit away the superfluous to focus on the essential. I’d elaborate but I have to get back to the house and finish cleaning out the closets before I move out for good tomorrow.

In the meantime, here’s an article from the New York Times about a woman who, upon learning she has a chronic and serious health condition, pared down to the minimum. And I do mean minimum–she downsized from a three-bedroom house to an 84-square foot cabin she built herself. It’s built on a truck bed, so it’s mobile. This reminds me of the gypsy wagons I saw long ago in Ireland.

The little house that Dee Williams built is a bit too minimalistic for me–it has one propane burner for a kitchen and no shower. She’s parked the house in the yard of close friends in Olympia, Washington, and uses one of their houses if she wants to bake or take a bath. The arrangement has created an intimate community of fewer than 10 people.

I haven’t had a chance to find her book, but she’s written a memoir–The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir (Blue Rider Press)–about her diagnosis of cardiomyopathy and how it caused her to reassess her life. “I started seeing ‘congestive heart failure’ in my health records,” Ms. Williams told the Times reporter.  “If you look it up online, your life expectancy is typically one to five years. The notion of paying a 30-year mortgage didn’t make sense.”

I’m looking forward to reading it and contemplating what’s next–as soon as I get rid of the queen size mattress still lingering at the house, and finish dumping whatever is in the boxes still tucked in the back of the closets. Here’s my advice to any of you thinking you may move in the next four, five, 10 or 15 years–start culling now!



Something different–a journalism tale

Nate Thayer, crossing a river in Cambodia

Nate Thayer, in Cambodia

Sympathy For The Devil

A Journalist’s Memoir from Inside Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a letter from the Pope, if the guy with the AK-47 has been told not to let you in, then you are not going anywhere…”
Nate Thayer
“He chews tobacco, has a five-o’clock shadow, and knows his weapons. Nate Thayer is a swashbuckling reporter who has a reputation for landing himself in the middle of the action … And no one who knows Thayer was surprised that he was the one who landed the big story.”
The Boston Globe

I haven’t met Nate Thayer, but I’ve been following his blog and reading excerpts from Sympathy For The Devil for several months. I never wanted to be a war reporter–my ideal foreign bureau would have been London or Paris, since I don’t even like humidity, let alone slogging through jungles or being blown up by landmines. But Thayer’s accounts of the years he spent covering Cambodia and tracking Pol Pot are, by turns, heroic, absurd, tragic and hilarious. It is, or should be, every journalist’s dream to have so much influence and so much fun covering a beat with so much passion.

He relished the role of “larger-than-life swashbuckling reporter,” but earned respect for routinely reporting what would have been for other journalists once-in-a-lifetime scoops, according to Urban Lehner,  who was executive editor of Dow Jones in Asia while Thayer reported for the now-defunct Far Eastern Economic Review. “His editors never knew where he was but they knew they could count on him for major scoops,” said Lehner. A staff writer for the New Yorker described Thayer as a combination of “a slightly spooky, great raconteur” and “hardcore investigative journalist.”

All of which is to say, I think it’s worthwhile for you to check out his blog and consider supporting his efforts to finish and publish Sympathy For The Devil.

After all, isn’t having a driving passion one way of defining a simple life? This post is adapted from Thayer’s website, Nate-Thayer.com.

The Resale Evangelista

Nate Thayer is best known as the freelance journalist who emerged from the Cambodian jungle in 1997-98 with the last photographs, the last interview and then with definitive evidence of the death of Pol Pot, the despotic and deposed leader of the Khmer Rouge. (Although last year, Thayer stirred up a widespread publishing world kerfuffle—one of his favorite words—when he complained about the financial exploitation of freelance writers by big-name, for-profit publications.)

His Pol Pot coup, published in the Far Eastern Economic Review (and around the world in other publications) was the culmination of nearly two decades reporting and writing about Cambodia.

Thayer, now living in Washington, D.C., is finally getting around to chronicling his quest to find and confront Pol Pot regarding the slaughter of 1.8 million Cambodians.

“I was convinced that, one day, I would meet Pol Pot face-to-face and he would have to answer the questions that haunted his broken countrymen,” Thayer writes in Why Journalism is Better than a Real Job: Excerpts from Sympathy For The Devil.

“I was always encouraging, maneuvering for, and poised to take advantage of increased and higher level contacts within [the Khmer Rouge] ranks. I approached it as an endless chess game, requiring long-term strategy and patience and an intimate knowledge of one’s opponent. By the mid 1990′s, obstacles were being removed and I was advancing. I knew from viewing their chessboard that I was closing in, however slowly, on their king—Pol Pot.

“For many years, my biggest fear was that Pol Pot was going to die on me before I was able to meet him. I would wake at night, my stomach in knots, with the thought of years of effort abruptly extinguished with Pol Pot’s last breath.”

Nate Thayer

No doubt, Sympathy For The Devil will fill in a significant chunk of history, largely unknown to most Western readers. Thayer hopes to raise $67,500 in direct crowd-sourcing to fund completion of the manuscript and related materials. He says he will provide explicit records of donations and expenditures to anyone who asks. More information and a video can be found on his blog, Nate-Thayer.com.

But the book also promises to be a rollicking account of a bygone era of journalism, when reporters were colorful characters who nonetheless possessed serious intent and influence. The remarkable thing is that Thayer did it as a freelance or contract writer—which is akin to what someone once said about Ginger Rogers, dancing with Fred Astaire: “She did everything he did, but backwards…and in high heels.”

For anyone who wants to know how journalists work—or used to work—Sympathy For The Devil will be something of a handbook. Not to mention, fun. Thayer’s writing is laced with cynicism and idealism, with dark humor, pathos and outrage.

Consider How–And Why-The New York Times Didn’t Interview Pol Pot, Thayer’s account of outfoxing a reporter from the New York Times who attempted to muscle her way into his hard-won jungle appointment to meet Pol Pot.

“I was goddamned if I was going to be beat on this story by a Washington-based NYT reporter in high heels, a short skirt, enough luggage to require a bellhop and a luggage cart, who flew in from Washington with letters from senior U.S. officials…requesting she be given assistance in her reporting efforts.”

“I excused myself from my whiskey and notebooks…and simply called the chief of staff of the Khmer Rouge army and inquired whether there were other journalists scheduled to come into Khmer Rouge territory the next morning with me. He said no, there was not. He further assured me–being the man in control of all the guns and check points accessing their control zones—that he would immediately put out a directive that no one else would be allowed access the next day except for me and my team.

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a letter from the Pope, if the guy with the AK-47 has been told not to let you in, then you are not going anywhere…

“On the other hand, if you have slept in the jungle with the field commanders and his troops, and for a decade talked about what a drag malaria is, compared medicines, shared your food over jungle campfires eating rice and bugs, and commiserated together on how you haven’t been laid for weeks…and how the food sucks and you are tired of getting shot at and not getting paid shit, when it comes time [for the guys with the AK-47s] to raise the bamboo pole, the chances are considerably greater you will be allowed access.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 5.02.39 PM“Nate was arguably the most knowledgeable and experienced foreign journalist covering” Cambodia, according to David E. Miller, a former service officer for the State Department in Phnom Penh.  “His writing was informed by a strong sense of justice and the belief that those who perpetrated the wrongs that the Cambodian people had suffered deserve to be exposed and punished.”

Thayer’s time in Cambodia was not all about Pol Pot. Check out The Night I Lived, his account of nearly dying when the truck in which he was riding with guerrilla fighters ran over a double-dose of land mines. It’s a vivid illustration of the absurdities and tragedies of war and wartime journalism.

“There was a severed leg lying across my face. I held the leg up and looked at it. It was not connected to a body. …

“I needed to know whether it was my leg I was holding in my hand. But I was very scared to find out. I reached down and ran my hand over my left leg and it was still attached to my body. I did the same with my right leg. It, also, was still attached to my body. …

“A few feet away was the young Cambodian truck driver, moments before with whom I was laughing and smiling and chatting. Life, for both us, would be, from that moment on, very different. His would be much shorter than mine.”

And, if you read no other excerpt, don’t miss Spies and Journalists, in which a distressed Prince Chakrapong—who has attempted a coup—calls upon Thayer to save him from the armed government troops who have surrounded the hotel in which the Prince has taken refuge.

“In the preceding hours, Chakrapong had fled his home to a hotel with nothing… but his 22-year-old mistress. He begged me to come right away. Chakrapong was hiding in the false paneled ceiling of his 2-star hotel room with his mistress, with no bodyguards and no guns.

“I called three people. My friend, the American station chief and told him there was a coup underway and it would be great if he and some of his people could come down because I thought an American citizen’s life might be at risk—specifically, mine.

“I then called Prime Minister Ranarriddh’s top aides and told him I was in the hotel room with his hated brother and to please shoot carefully if or when attempting to enter.

“And I called my editor in Hong Kong to tell him I thought I had a very good  story… a great fucking story.

“That was my job. Get as close as I could to a story, witness it and report it. I loved that life.”

Check it out at Nate-Thayer.com