Tag Archives: Susan Caba

The Hungry Squirrel

This squirrel is inadequately afraid of humans! Squirrel, I am a threat to you! We are enemies! Please get off my bench! Oh, god! Oh, god! Don’t touch me—oh, god!

― John Green

Tanya Barrientos Birdhouse 

Tanya Barrientos’ DIY squirrel-proofed bird feeder

 

Who among us has not witnessed the hunger of squirrels, their unrelenting quest to sate their voracious appetites? 

John Green [The Fault in Our Stars] was accosted by a hungry squirrel while eating popcorn on a park bench in Washington D.C., an unnerving interaction caught on video. The squirrel was not only not frightened, it placed a paw on Green’s knee to demand an edible morsel. 

I have seen a squirrel hang upside-down by a toenail in order to suck nyjer seed from a backyard finch feeder. I swear he had a tiny straw for sucking the rice-like seed from the minuscule portals in the feeder. Some say squirrels don’t like nyjer, but go on to suggest lacing it with capsicum [hot pepper] to discourage foraging. Why not just leave a bottle of Sriracha on the feeder?  

A squirrel’s Id is succinctly captured by author Kate DiCamillo in “Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures,” the 2014 Newbery Award-winning tale of a girl [Flora] and a squirrel [Ulysses]: 

Not much goes on in the mind of a squirrel. 

Huge portions of what is loosely termed “the squirrel brain” are given over to one thought: food. 

The average squirrel cogitation goes something like this: “I wonder what there is to eat.”

Thousands of words have been devoted to magazine articles and blog posts on how to prevent squirrels from reaching the bird seed. 

A large segment of the bird-feeder industry specializes in products meant to discourage squirrels from raiding the nuts and seeds meant for birds, not–as actress Sarah Jessica Parker has described squirrels–“rats with cuter outfits.” They include baffles, devices that will spin the interlopers into the air, greased poles and cages that will exclude squirrels but admit birds. I can assure you, these tactics and devices do not work.

Squirrels are undeterred. 

So am I. I consume, but my hunger is not sated. What is it I hunger for?

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes, it’s a puzzle.

 

 

Gone, bit by bit

Books and photos and stuff … oh, my!

steiff bear w:boxes 2

Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

I had reason yesterday to look under my couch with a flashlight. Tip to anyone inclined to do the same: Don’t. Under no circumstances should you look under your couch more than twice a year. Especially not with a flashlight.

The beam of light revealed a harsh landscape of down feathers, dust and various unidentified crumb-y looking things on the hardwood floor. No dead bugs, dirty socks or other major debris, so that was a plus. No money, either—a negative. Anyway, I was looking for my cat, whose tortoise-shell coloring provided the perfect camouflage for hiding under the sofa.

Normally, I clean house only when I’ve exhausted all other forms of procrastination. I do make my bed every day. Whoo-hoo! Lately though, I’ve taken an incremental approach to housekeeping.Not a room at a time, that’s too much commitment. I do just as much as I can, then quit. Doesn’t matter if I’ve dusted but haven’t vacuumed. Next time.

"Kobayashi Issa." AZQuotes.com. Wind and Fly LTD, 2017. 28 May 2017. http://www.azquotes.com/quote/692401

I’ve found cleaning takes a lot less time this way and, overall, the apartment is generally cleaner than under my previous system. The old way, in which I aspired to clean a room at a time or the whole place, took way too long. Mainly because of my need to notice the place was dirty, deny the place was dirty, anguish over my sloth, go out and buy new cleaning supplies, and even, in extreme circumstances, sit down and write something. Then I got around to cleaning—maybe.

This incremental thing doesn’t come easily. I’m definitely an instant gratification gal. It has been said—infrequently, mind you—that I have the attention span of a flea. As a kid, I didn’t mind cleaning the kitchen because, with seven kids using the kitchen, the mess made it easy to see progress. Although it really burned me up if, while I was cleaning, someone came in and started making a peanut butter sandwich or poured a glass of milk. Any progress I’d made was spoiled.

Finally, I’ve realized that, yes, progress can be made inch by inch. Incrementalism works in writing (though a deadline really helps). It worked for me in building an art collection over the last several decades, one flea market or thrift shop find at a time. I’ve heard it works in creating an exercise habit, or losing weight, though I can’t testify to that. And it works in getting rid of stuff.

Decluttering can be done gradually. Don't stress about doing it all at once. Just start.

Storage locker bound

The number of my possessions, compared to three years ago, is significantly reduced. It took me two years, but I finally condensed the contents of a three bedroom house with a full basement and a double garage to one ten-by-ten storage locker. (Alright, there was another, smaller locker for a brief time.) I now live in a two-bedroom apartment. Besides the ample closets and cupboards, the only additional storage space is the shower–yes, the shower–in the second bathroom.

Last week, I tackled the shower storage. I need a place for the cat box, so the shower has to be cleared. Besides various boxes of books, it contains two tennis rackets, a basket of tennis balls, a large stuffed Steiff bear that converts to a rock-a-bear, a plastic bin that I believe contains tools (too soon to tell, it’s at the bottom of a stack) and two sets of diving fins, goggles and snorkels, which I bought at Goodwill, intending to sell. (I don’t do that anymore. At least, not much.) Oh, and a box of Max’s children’s books, which I kept, as well as a box of his comic books, which he chose for me to keep.

The bad thing about incrementalism is that it creates temporary disarray, which can easily turn permanent. In order to empty the shower and get rid of stuff, I have to take that stuff out of the shower. I’m doing it a box or two at a time.

Volleyball signed by Olympic champion Karch Kiraly

Goodbye volleyball & comics!

So far, the diving gear, a shower rack and some books have gone to Goodwill. The comics and a signed volleyball will soon be reunited with their rightful owner.

As regular readers know, my number one rule for streamlining and creating a more artful life is this: If you think you are ever going to move—or die—start now! If you do that, the good news is that you don’t have to do it all at once.

When I was a kid, one of seven ages 1 to 12 years, my mother had a cleaning lady who came in twice a week to restore order in the house. My mother would leave her with the kids and return to find the house clean. Once I heard her ask, “Mary, how do you do it?” Her answer was maybe my first lesson in incrementalism: “Honey, I just start.”

So I’ve started on the storage shower, disposing or dispensing of its contents. Good thing, too. Because when I was searching for the cat, I had to look under the beds. And you wouldn’t believe how much stuff was packed beneath them!

Tortoise shell cat with golden eyes

Marla, the disappearing cat

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s saying Goodbye to All That Stuff (well, a lot of it) in the process.

Related: 

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? 

Ditch my books? Oh, no!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

little-library-in-sb

A little free library on Grove Lane in Santa Barbara

Books. Among the people I know, books are the hardest possessions to get rid of when editing their possessions. Even using the phrase “get rid of” seems too harsh when it comes to books—sort of like murdering a friend.

Books hold memories beyond their own contents—memories of when, where and why you read them, how their content reflected your life at the time, what adventures they prompted and the disasters that may have ensued. Our most-loved books, or at least mine, have aged along with me, acquiring wrinkles, creases, rips and stains inflicted by a well-read life.

I have a small box of outdated tourist guides that are more potent mementos of my travels than the now long-forgotten souvenirs I lugged home from Greece (Greece on $5 A Day—now there’s a throwback to another era!), Brazil, Calcutta or Peru. No doubt their information is useless but merely riffling through their pages prompt images of folk dancing on the beach in Mykonos, shopping a flea market in Buenos Aires, or photographing a rickshaw driver in repose in Calcutta.

Some books evoke particular eras of my life. I can think of three examples that turn back the years each time I catch a glimpse of their covers: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook taught me to deal with a life issue, tie it in a package and tuck it under the eaves of my brain’s attic—not gone, not forgotten but no longer possessing the power to interrupt my dreams. I read The Women’s Room, by Marge Piercy, in college and know it influenced my feminist persona. I still long to wander the United States on the Blue Highways described by William Least Heat Moon, discovering “three-calendar” country diners, eavesdropping on insights of the local denizens.

I may be part of the last generation with an attachment to physical books; my son sells them back to Amazon as soon as he finishes reading them (sometimes he does regret this). I guess I’ll get used to it—after all, I’m probably among the last to have grown up with three channels on the television (not to mention the revolving dial and, later, the wired remote).

Still, some books don’t rate room on the bookshelf—some never even make it past the bedside table. In my case, those are the novels that, once read, go right back to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. But for those books that may be more difficult to part with, here are a half-dozen ideas for placing them in new homes:

  • Set up a Little Free Library. This charming “take one, leave one” book-sharing movement zoomed from a one-man tribute to his book-loving mother in 2009 to an international phenomenon, with more than 32,000 Little Free Libraries throughout the U.S. and countries from India to Italy. The idea is simple: Erect a book box on a stand curbside, place your adoptable books inside and invite passersby to take a book—free—and leave one, if they are so inclined. I once left an 24-inch plastic brontosaurus on top of the Little Library in my neighborhood, knowing it would find a good home. Building a Little Free Library is a great project for kids, too.
  • Donate to a school or college. This is a particularly good option if you have a topic-specific collection of books. The director of a Stanford University journalism fellowship program winnowed his extensive library by donating to a nearby community college. No need to aim for Harvard University or Berkeley. Nearby community colleges and high schools would probably welcome books related to their programs, such as journalism, design, construction or historic preservation. If you have children’s books, find an age-appropriate local school and see if any teachers want books for their classroom.borges-book-quote
  • Seek out collectors. If you have a narrowly focused collection—on history books, cook books, atlases or some other specialty—find others who collect on the same topic. You may have a rare book and not even know it. When I sold my house in St. Louis, I took a bunch of books to The Miriam Switching Post, one of my favorite non-profit shops. The great thing about the Miriam shop is they provide year-end, itemized lists of your donations for tax purposes. I was perusing my list when I noticed this item: Two books, value $460. What!? The titles were specified but the individual values were–one for $340 and the other for $120. I have no idea what these were and I for sure never spent that much on a book! Probably there were decorative books I picked up for a few dollars to use as platforms for a lamp. At any rate, someone at the Miriam Shop researched their value. At first, I was aggravated that I didn’t do that myself. Then I realized I never would have done that, would also never have found someone to buy them. The tax credit was great, though. If you think you have books like that, advertise on Craig’s List, check websites like The Book Collector or look at the ads in publications such as  First, The Book Collector’s Magazine. Be very, very careful with this option–I sense their are some among us who could be lured into a new collecting habit. You know who you are.
  • Sell them—in bulk, if possible.  If you have a lot of books with no particular pedigree, call local second-hand book sellers and see if they will buy the whole lot for a single price. If you are having a garage sale, books usually sell relatively well. Just don’t expect to get anything more than a pittance for most—and resolve to banish any that don’t sell to your local thrift shop. Remember, the idea is to get rid of the books. Price ‘em low, to encourage everyone to buy an armload.

    Prisoners prize dictionaries

    Dictionaries gather dust in thrift shops but are prized by prisoners

  • Give them to prisoners. The Prison Book Program is a grassroots organization founded in 1972 to send free books to prisoners. The website points out that most prisons don’t allow family or friends to send books to prisoners–they must come from a bookstore or publisher (the old hollow-out-the-book-to-hold-something-illicit problem). The Prison Book Program is affiliated with a bookstore and gets books from many different sources, to serve thousands of prisoners each year. The website includes links to local Books for Prisoners programs, to cut the cost of shipping. While the organization delivers books on many subjects and genres (see the list on their site), there is high demand for two types in particular: Basic legal information and dictionaries. They even have a special program to purchase dictionaries in bulk. (I’m so tempted to visit a thrift shop I know of that is over-stocked with dictionaries, I suppose because anyone with access to Spellcheck doesn’t need them.) Unfortunately but understandably, there are restrictions on some books–no books with a spiral cover, no writing in the margins, no children’s books, nothing with weapons on the cover, no chic-lit, romance or (obviously) true crime. No travel guides, either.
  • Goodwill, of course.

 

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. She’s saying Goodbye to All That Stuff (well, a lot of it) in the process.

Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas, Everyone!

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

This snazzy Mustang was photographed by Jim Selzer during the annual parade of lights in Hilo, Hawaii.

Hello from Hilo, Hawaii–via Jim Selzer’s photograph of this snazzy Mustang in the Parade of Lights. I’m hoping he makes it into a Christmas Card we can buy (hint, Jim, hint!)

IN CASE YOU’RE A LITTLE ON THE GRINCH-Y SIDE, HERE’S SOME ADVICE FROM THAT SCRUNCHED UP GREEN GUY: MOAN EARLY AND OFTEN. MOAN ABOUT THE PRESENTS. MOAN ABOUT HOW RIDICULOUS EVERYTHING IS. REMEMBER, BAD CHRISTMASES ARE WAY MORE MEMORABLE THAN GOOD ONES.

A few tips, in case you don’t have time for the whole article by Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore:

  • If something isn’t a cheese straw (or, in the U.S. a cheese ball), no one cares.
  • Is it sensible to put a lot of people who don’t really like each other (relatives) into a small space and fuel them with booze and other flammable humans? No.
  • The average Christmas dinner contains 8,000 calories. That is the entire point.
  • Christmas is the time to bring home all kinds of failure: bad relationships, unwanted childlessness, separation – every imperfection can be amplified.
  • Tweet and post pictures with abandon. Your Christmas should be both the same as everyone else’s while obviously being better. Flaunt it–this is what social media is for.
  • Don’t aim for perfection. Muddling through is good enough.

 

The Resale Evangelista wishes you an artful Christmas, filled with all the familial mess and drama you can muster and/or tolerate!  Heh, heh, heh.

DIY bathroom morphs from drab to bright

Creativity transforms gray days & beige bathroom

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

The half-bath was serviceable but ugly, tucked as it was into a former closet and cloaked in beige from linoleum floor to slanted ceiling. My spirits suffered from the same condition, the comedown from my son’s wedding, a scarcity of work and congestive car failure.

The bathroom needed to be tackled–not to mention, spackled.

20161120_162918

The too-beige half-bath

The Lowe’s team came in and installed a new  floor, in a pattern woven of gray, black and white ceramic tiles. They took away the yellow toilet (with a cushioned seat, no less) and hung a tiny sink. The rest, dear readers, was up to me and my sidekick, homeowner and slave-driver Susan Rowe.

Now, this would seem to be a post about faux painting and DIY bathroom decoration. And it is, on one level. But it occurred to me, when the project was complete, that it’s also about the restorative power of creativity to lift the spirit when times are bleak. More about that in a little bit. Now back to the bathroom project.

I wrested the old toilet paper holder off the wall, crumbling some of the plaster down to the lath. No amount of patching and spackling–at least no amount I was willing to undertake–would smooth away the age lines of the roughened walls. And there was a lot of wall for such a small space, just 3 feet wide and 8 feet deep, with tall ceilings. The walls were divided horizontally by a chair rail.

We decided on a gray for the lower half of the walls. The Lowe’s guy, a former painter, suggested “Popular Gray” or “Amazing Gray” by Sherwin Williams. You gotta love those names, so easy to remember. Going for a classic color combo, we agreed on sunshine-y yellow for the upper walls and bright white for the trim.

But what about those wall scars, especially on the lower half? And gray? With 32 square feet of wall space on each side, the result could resemble a dimly lit air raid shelter. The solution popped into my head as I fell asleep that night—texture, we needed texture. That would break up the expansiveness of the walls and hide the roughness.

snr-bathroom-sponge-detail

Is this an improvement? Maybe not!

Susan and I decided to single-handedly revive the apparently dying trend of faux painting. (We assume it’s a dying art because the clerk at the Sherwin Williams store tartly informed us that “We don’t do faux painting,” when we inquired about supplies. And even Lowe’s didn’t have the array of sponges and glazes that were typical until recently.)

We eschewed professional tools and made do with Saran Wrap for the sponging and regular eggshell latex paint for the surface color. (I won’t go into technique—check YouTube here and especially here for better instructions than I could give—but don’t use cling wrap. It goes limp too quickly.) We also decided against shades of gray (50 or otherwise) for the colors—too cold, too monotonous. We chose light putty, a medium green, a dark gravel color and the yellow from the upper half.

A day later, the lower walls resembled camouflage. Even after patting on the final layer of green, I had serious doubts about the outcome. The undercoats didn’t seem to be showing through the top layer—“We should have used glaze,” I thought. Susan, though, was enthusiastic. “It looks like expensive wallpaper,” she declared. (Susan is from Georgia, she’s entitled to “declare.”) When the top coat dried, I saw she was right—the layers beneath peeked through just enough to look like distressed  plaster.

The trim went quickly. The mirror was hung, the new toilet paper holder attached, towels and artwork went up and—voila—the ugly half-bath had morphed into a cheery little jewel box. Susan and I took turns exclaiming how great it looked. The best reaction came later, when her twenty-something son—unaware of our efforts—opened the door. From the kitchen, we heard “Whoa! What happened here?” Oh no, something must have fallen!  But he was just taken aback by the transformation. His “whoa!” was high praise from someone not often inclined to offer effusive praise.

20161122_141055

Transformation complete!

The real value to me occurred a few mornings later, when I woke up feeling blue about a lack of work and worried about the slow expiration of my faithful Subaru. My psyche was a pastiche of Popular Gray and Amazing Gray, streaked with shades of Charcoal. The world was not a sunny place for someone as untalented and powerless as I felt.

But then I thought about the bathroom. It came out pretty near perfect, because I focused on making it so. That’s what Resale Evangelista is about—creating beauty and value, even when resources are slim. I got out of bed with a little more faith in my creativity.

Ah-ha, I thought, so that’s what hobbies can be about—exercising the creativity muscle for the sole pleasure of accomplishment. That’s a thought I’m going to remember, and put into operation more often and not just when I need to chase away the gray and beige.

The Resale Evangelista is simplifying, clarifying and trying to live a more artful life. Sometimes that requires cutting through the fog to see the light behind the clouds. 

 

I tried to get out…

But they pulled me back in

By Susan Caba
The Resale Evangelista

Uh-oh, I’ve become one of those people.

You know, the people who drop something off at Goodwill, then go inside to see what they need. Well, okay–I’ve been one of those people for many years. But I recently took a turn for the worse. I became one of those people who loiter around the door to the backroom, waiting for new stuff.

Didn’t I say it was bad? I know, very bad.

In my defense, I was waiting for a specific item. I spotted it–a KitchenAid MixMaster–on the pricing desk as I was donating a box containing two small oil paintings, a brand-new Swiss hot chocolate pot and a 50mm Nikon lens, among other highly valuable items. “When is that going out?” I asked the attendant, lifting my chin toward the mixer.  “About a half hour,” he said.


“I don’t care what it’s called!” said a woman testing the first home mixer on a stand. “It’s the best kitchen aid I’ve ever had!” And thus, a brand was born.


So I went inside and posted myself in housewares, just outside the swinging door marked “Employees Only” that is all-too-familiar to Goodwill patrons. At my favorite Goodwill, in St. Louis, I looked scornfully at the regulars who gathered outside the door every Thursday evening (a heavy restocking period), waiting to pounce on new merchandise as it appeared. “Get a life,” I thought. And yes, I did recognize that I was in the store often enough to know these people as “regulars.” I, however, am not a pouncer.

Or I wasn’t. Goodwill was relatively busy that day, so I didn’t stray too far from the swinging door lest some other fleet-fingered shopper spy the KitchenAid and spoil my big score. I determined that I would pay up to $50 for the MixMaster. New, they cost almost $300.


The KitchenAid home mixer cost $189.50 when it was introduced in 1919–$2,200 in today’s dollars. The mixer and the price were both refined in 1936. The weight was trimmed from 65 pounds to about 30 and the price was cut to $55. (Thanks, Jitterbuzz, for the KitchenAid page!)


My mother had a MixMaster when I was a little girl. It was white, with black trim. As I recall, it had two beaters. Since there were four kids, two of us got a beater each to lick, someone else got the bowl and the fourth person took the spatula–or as we called it, the scraper. I always made it a point to lick the outside of the beater, then did tongue twists to get the batter from the inner surfaces.

It’s hard to say whether my (temporary) conversion to a door-hanger constitutes a degradation in my habits, or a step up to a higher, more discerning level of thrift shopper. Anyway, i wasn’t doing it for myself, I was cherry-picking for a friend.

(Which reminds me of the time my then-10-year-old brother said to my sister, Mary, on her 16th birthday, “Let’s go down to the pasture and hug and kiss under the moonlight!” When the rest of us hooted, he said, “Oh, I’m not doing it for me–I’m doing it for her, because she can’t get anyone else.”)

kitchenAid ad

Vintage KitchenAid advertisement

I digress. My friend Maryann mentioned she wanted a MixMaster for a friend whose disability makes it difficult for to hold a mixer and turn the bowl simultaneously. As I said, a new MixMaster costs almost $300, more than Maryann wanted to spend. So there I was, loitering–and drawing weird looks from other shoppers. I think they suspected I knew something good was about to appear and they were considering whether they, too, should loiter. I may be paranoid about that, but I don’t think so.

The door swung in, the door swung out. Nothing good appeared. I strayed just far enough to find a tennis ball basket with a handle that converts to a stand, for $2.99. I have such a basket. But its handles are hard to use. This basket was much better. I put it in my cart.

Finally, the swinging doors opened yet again and there it was–a slightly grubby but still majestic MixMaster, white under a spattering of old cookie dough. All the accoutrements, or at least the basics, were present and accounted for: Aluminum bowl with removable rims to keep the batter from splashing, a beater, some kind of paddle and a bread hook hefty enough  to tow a car.

The Goodwill staffer made a sharp right at the aisle containing kitchenware. Before he could get it out of his cart, I was by his side. Goodwill protocol required him to actually put it on the shelf, rather than right into my basket. I hefted it myself, without even glancing at the price sticker: $4.99.

Four dollars and 99 cents, people! And when I got it home and plugged it in, it worked! Another fruitful day spent Goodwill shopping.

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

Shopping resale: Nature or nurture?

blue and white china

An inventive wall frieze of mismatched blue and white china  

Follow these rules

to make the most of resale dollars

By Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

So you think shopping resale is easy–just pop into Goodwill and walk out with something worth four times what you paid.

Au contraire, mon ami! I’ve honed my skills over decades, though I admit to a certain intrinsic talent for it. So I’m going to share a few guidelines for getting the most of your resale dollars. You can thank me later, with gift certificates to Rung or Upscale Resale (kidding, just kidding).

  • Develop a loop of your favorite resale shops and hit your circuit regularly. You become familiar with the inventory, you know how the pricing works and you’re tuned into the timing of sales and price reductions. New merchandise comes out on Thursday evenings at “my” Goodwill on Manchester Road in Brentwood, MO. That’s where you’ll often find me (and every other regular) on Thursdays.
  • Know your style and assess your wardrobe to see what it lacks. When you know what you need, you can grab it when you see it. The same thing goes for furniture and household items. I always wanted an Oriental rug with a dark background, but never saw one. Until one day, I did, at the Miriam Hitching Post. And I bought it.
  • Equip yourself for success. I carry a small tape measure in my purse. Because I’m interested in vintage jewelry–and because my eyesight is no good anymore–I have a jeweler’s loupe in my purse (cheap and available on the internet). Use your cellphone’s camera if you need to get advice about a piece. If you are looking for something with a particular space in mind, carry the measurements of the space with you. Same with fabric swatches and color chips, when necessary.

    German china, handpainted

    Thrift shop china

  • Pounce when you see something you really, really like–and know you will wear or use. Inevitably, if you take a day to think it over, the item will be gone when you go back. I have a friend who says “The only purchases I ever regret are the ones I didn’t make.”
  • Invoke the “if it’s meant to be” clause. If you find something you love but aren’t sure you will really wear, or that costs more than you want to spend, wait and watch. If you decide you want the item, it will still be there when you go back, if it’s meant to be yours. If not, it wasn’t meant to be. No tears. If you really wanted it, you should have pounced.
  • Be patient. Resale stores often reduce prices if something goes unsold for 30 days. If I see something that’s so cool, but impractical or too expensive, I’ll put off buying it. I recently bought a gorgeous belt with a big turquoise buckle. It was priced at $30 and I don’t wear many belts, so I passed. But it lingered, unsold. I finally got it on clearance for $10. It was meant to be.
  • Think ahead. I bought a beautiful, perfect black leather jacket at Goodwill in April for $20. Retail would have been around $300. What a Christmas gift it was for my son’s girlfriend. (See “Pounce.”)
  • Know thyself, discipline thyself! I really, really wanted some never-worn bisque suede boots (how practical is that?), priced at $60. I knew the precise date and time they would be reduced to a more reasonable $40. So I avoided that store for several days around that time. When I went back, the boots–thankfully–were gone.

    fox stole

    Fox fur to warm your heart (or at least your neck)

  • Be mindful of return policies. Most resale and thrift stores don’t allow returns. You bought it, there is no going back.
  • Use return policies to your advantage. On the other hand, Goodwill has a 7-day return policy. I can make a final decision on purchases at home because they can be returned (keep your receipts). Once, I bought six designer purses there–Coach, Kate Spade, MK. Some were dirty, but could be cleaned. The Coach purses were authentic (I Googled “Coach and authentic details”), so I kept and resold them. The Kate Spades were knock-offs (again, use the internet to check), and I returned them.
  • Don’t be greedy. Some stores don’t bargain, including Goodwill and most boutique resale shops. (Though, if you’re a regular and you’re wavering, or a piece is close to the 30-day mark, or is taking up too much space and is unlikely to sell to anyone but you, the store manager may give you an extra discount.) Antique stores usually do allow haggling–most will give a discount of at least 10 percent above a certain price threshold. But you have to ask. The accepted phrase is, “Can you do a little better on the price?” or “If I buy these items, can I get an overall better price?” For big-ticket items, go ahead and ask if the vendor will take a particular dollar amount. But don’t offer an insultingly low price, unless you absolutely know the value of that item. Greed just ticks people off.


					

Saving “brown furniture”

Don’t hold back–color it bright!

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

painted furniture, red paintA formerly ugly wooden dresser, now glitzy red

Thrift shops and resale stores are filled with solid wood furniture, most of it brown.

Brown as in natural wood, often with fairly glossy finishes. I’ve never looked at the potential for painting this furniture and therefore bringing it up to date, for two reasons.

painted wood furnitureFirst, I started buying furniture in the Eighties, a time when original finishes were sacrosanct. You just didn’t paint golden oak or walnut or mahogany. Second, I thought painting these finished pieces would be a pain–that they had to be sanded or scuffed up in order to take the paint.

Well, I was wrong. I still wouldn’t paint a beautiful piece of golden oak or walnut or cherry. But you know, a lot of the furniture from the second half of the last century is so boring, not to mention ugly. And any life to the wood is buried beneath the finish–it’s depressing.

Recently, I’ve seen several pieces of this type of furniture painted in rich colors. It looks great. And I’ve learned it’s not that big a deal to prepare the surfaces for painting, even if they are somewhat glossy.

That brown dresser in the photo? It’s the same one pictured at the top of this post, painted a glamorous, glossy red. I found it on TheResplendentCrow.com, where Sucheta gives tips on turning ugly, boring brown furniture into pieces to be proud of. For example, she used Tulip Red by Fine Paints of Europe to get this gorgeous, rich red with a high shine. Generally, she said, “it takes 13 million coats of red paint” to achieve that finish. This job took only two coats of the Tulip Red.

“Red pigment is very transparent. Not only that, red also tends to be very dull, lackluster, meh…you get my point,” she says. “I won’t be exaggerating if I said this is the most vibrant red I have gotten my hands on.”

painted wood furnitureAs for sanding and other preparation for painting previously unpainted furniture, there are plenty of websites offering advice. They tend to be of two schools.

Traditionalists argue for thoroughly sanding the furniture before painting. Modernists (in my view) say that isn’t necessary–a coat of Kilz or primer should make the finish coat adhere just fine. If you want a flat finish, you can either use “chalk” paint, or just regular flat paint.

Ipainted desk‘m not going to offer any particular advice, since I don’t have much experience. Check out these sites or others. LiveLoveDIY.com or CentsationalGirl.com.

What I will say is: Go for it! Glamorize a desk, a dresser or a bookshelf. Change the hardware, add legs or take ’em off. Follow Sucheta’s lead: Transform that ugly brown furniture and make it yours. The world will thank you.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need and making the rest more useful and beautiful.

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.