No Sugar Added: Jesus is my cashier (and the devil is in the details)

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I’m pretty sure the gentleman’s name was pronounced “hay-zeus” and not “gee-zus,” but as my daughter took her Home Depot receipt out of her wallet to show me how much she’d spent on art project supplies, and noted aloud (and with a subtle blend of dry sarcasm and delight) that, indeed, the son of God had been her cashier du jour, we both lit up in matching smiles.

There we sat in our car in front of the train station as she prepared for her trek back to college after a weekend home, chuckling and basking in the awareness that one small tidbit of unexpected amusement can be the cherry on top of the sundae that is your entire day.

As always, it’s the little things that bring us the most joy. Sadly, those “little things” often pass most of us by, unnoticed.

When I was in art college, (after the invention of television, but before the extensive piercing of body parts now in vogue at such institutions of higher creative learning), I recall sitting in a tortuously banal, yet mandatory, class on two-dimensional design. For six hours, once a week, we’d be given assignments that were mind-numbingly repetitive and made me question my decision to follow my passion towards a career in the visual arts.

Forced to create meticulous tonal charts, execute drawings based entirely upon our perception of “negative space” around objects, become proficient at spatial perspective until our eyeballs bled and utilize a paint medium known as “gouache” that, along with a sultry matte finish, had the forgiveness of a crotchety old uncle, we suffered greatly.

I once painted the same still life – a collection of iconically shaped bottles and cosmetic containers borrowed from my bureau – over and over, until I could no longer stand the sight of them. To this day, the precise angle of curvature of a Halston perfume bottle is burned into the recesses of my brain.

To make the tedium even worse, we were initially forbidden to use color, and instead forced to execute our intentionally boring subject matter solely in shades of grey.

The professor’s name was Ed something or another, and I wished him dead upon more than one occasion. Little did I know that Ed and his monotonous curriculum would be one of the largest influences upon my life.

He was obviously an intelligent and sensitive man, for at one point during our first semester, just as we were contemplating mutiny, Ed shared with us this brilliant illumination:

“After you’ve gone through four years of art school, you’ll never again look at the world in the same way.”

At the time, I’m pretty certain, I shot darts at him through my sleep-deprived eyes and thought, “shut up.” But somewhere in my 30s, his words popped into my brain once again and I realized how right he’d been – and what a gift I’d been given by my arts education.

It taught me to observe, to notice, and to appreciate things most people don’t see when they look at the world. Instead of buildings, I see golden architectural proportions and structural detail. I don’t just see a tree or a trellis or clouds or mountains – I see the way sunlight and shadows dance together and transform the everyday into the extraordinary. I see the foundation of design and find inspiration in everything; from the petals of a flower to the patterns of rocks scattered on the beach.

And don’t even get me started on color. Suffice it to say I cannot date a man who thinks “tan” is a viable selection from the Benjamin Moore color wheel.

An education that trains you in the art of detail, design and the nuances found in the curve of a perfume bottle or the proportion of a pediment also blesses you with the general ability to notice the other enjoyable details in life that many people are too busy to see.

Like the name Jesus on your hardware store receipt.

No matter what your education or occupation, remember that the joy of life lies in the details. Keep your eyes open and you’ll be smiling a lot more often.

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No Sugar Added is Cape Elizabeth resident Sandi Amorello’s biweekly take on life, love, death, dating and single parenting. Get more of Sandi at or contact her at