Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Garden gnomes

"It is a curious fact that people are never so trivial as when they take themselves seriously." ~Oscar Wilde
Cindy La Ferle

I spotted a colony of these garden gnomes at the base of a large tree outside an ice-cream shop in Empire, Michigan. While I'm sure they were put there to entertain visiting children, they stopped me in my tracks and inspired me to take several photos. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Why I'm wearing hats this summer

"Prevention is better than cure." ~Desiderius Erasmus

Cindy La Ferle
While skin cancer isn't something that makes me happy, I'm grateful for the things we can do to prevent and cure it. Part of the following post was originally published in Michigan Prime (a supplement to the Sunday Detroit Free Press)....

My dermatologist spotted it immediately during a full-body check – an appointment I’d neglected to schedule for two years. I had noticed the subtle indentation in my right cheek, too, but dismissed it as a stubborn acne scar that was easily disguised with an extra swipe of powder blush.  Besides, I’d sworn off sunbathing -- years ago -- after an earlier brush with basal cell skin cancer on my shoulder. I thought I was free and clear.

But the biopsy report confirmed that a large basal cell epithelioma was spreading its roots deep beneath the surface of my cheek, just an inch below my right eye.

To avoid as much scarring as possible, my dermatologist referred me to a surgeon who specializes in the Mohs method, a microscopically controlled cancer surgery developed by Dr. Frederic Mohs in the 1930s. Typically lasting from five to seven hours, Mohs surgery involves removing and examining a patient’s cancerous skin tissue one layer at a time until only cancer-free tissue remains. Afterward, the surgeon might opt to close the wound using plastic surgery techniques or allow it to heal by itself, depending on its location.

The cure rate is high -- up to 99 percent for some cancers. And while the stellar reputation of my surgeon was equally reassuring, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about the procedure and the new scar I’d soon acquire.

Facing up to shame  

Even if you're not terribly vain or self-conscious, a long, permanent scar on your face isn’t easy to reconcile. In our celebrity driven culture, appearance matters a lot more than we’d like to admit. Anyone who's ever tried to conceal an untimely acne outbreak -- right before a special event -- knows exactly what I mean. 

For women, especially, it’s hard to ignore the standards of beauty trumpeted by magazine editors and product advertisers. In Daring Great Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (Gotham), sociologist Brene Brown devotes several pages to the tender topic of female self-image and shame.

“After all of the consciousness-raising and critical awareness, we still feel the most shame about not being thin, young, and beautiful enough,” she explains.

Brown’s shame research hit home the day after my first Mohs surgery. Aside from the hideous black-and-blue bruising around and below my eye, I was left with a throbbing, three-inch “Frankenstein scar” on my right cheek. I spent the following day and night clutching an ice pack and regretting every single day I'd sunbathed without wearing a strong sunscreen.

An ounce of prevention 

As I recovered, I kept reviewing a line from my surgeon’s post-op instructions: "Scars will go through a maturation process and sometimes look worse as they heal." Just as predicted, my new scar morphed from red to purple to pink as the months passed. With varying degrees of success, I tried just about every scar treatment on the market.

Ironically, a week before the cancer diagnosis, I’d been scouting local cosmetic departments for the best anti-wrinkle creams available. My crow’s feet and droopy jaw line were underscoring my impending senior status – and I was determined to fight them. But my epic skin cancer surgery quickly altered my stance in the battle against aging. Now, wrinkles and age spots aren’t such a threat to my pride -- and the health of my skin is now a top priority. 

Last fall, I had yet another Mohs surgery (on my left cheek) after a biopsy revealed early stage squamous cell skin cancer. Time and vigilant use of scar creams have softened the appearance of my surgical wounds, and I'm learning to see them as hard-earned life lessons. 

Or, as author Brene Brown advised, I've finally come to accept my scars and “imperfections” as visible reminders of my humanity. And I never, ever spend a day working in the garden or walking a beach without wearing a good sunscreen and one of the sun hats in my growing collection.  ~CL

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day

“Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” ~Mark Twain

Cindy La Ferle
The grave of Ezra Parker, a soldier in the American Revolutionary War, at Royal Oak's historic Oakview Cemetery.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bohemian rhapsody

"So plant your own gardens and decorate your soul instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers." ~Jorge Luis Borges

Sleeve detail, Johnny Was tunic / Cindy La Ferle
Boho chic is back in a big way this spring and I couldn't be happier. I've always been drawn to richly embroidered clothing and accessories with a global twist. Growing up in the '60s and '70s, I made needlework samplers as gifts for my mother and often wore romantic, poet-sleeved Gunne Sax dresses by Jessica McClintock. I embroidered and appliquéd my jeans, pillowcases, and anything else in need of embellishment. 

Much later, I grew to appreciate the sleek minimalism and neutral palette of clothing designers Eileen Fisher and Donna Karan, but still kept a soft spot in my heart (and a place in my attic) for my embroidered hippie clothes. 

Wearing Gunne Sax in my grad portrait, 1972
With that introduction, I hardly need to explain my obsession with Johnny Was, the California clothing company named for the line in the old Bob Marley reggae tune, "Johnny was a good man...."

Johnny Was revives the boho spirit of my youth -- but with a modern interpretation. As the company explains on its website, Johnny Was designers draw their inspiration "from anything that is beautiful, genuine, and just a little bit special; a timeless piece of art, or the luxurious hand-stitching on a vintage dress, or the simplicity of vibrant bougainvillea." 

My newest Johnny Was tunic / Cindy La Ferle 
Cindy La Ferle

Johnny Was tunics and kimonos are collectible and classic, always perfect with white jeans and sandals in the summer. But if you want to avoid the aging hippie look, the trick to wearing boho is to limit your outfit to one striking embroidered piece and keep everything else simple. For instance, the vintage Moroccan shoulder bag I purchased on my Detroit shopping spree last week will be worn with a simple black sundress -- to allow it stand out on its own.   

I first spotted my deep blue peacock tunic (above) in Robert Redford's Sundance Catalog, and found myself humming "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" for the rest of the day. I was lucky enough to find it on sale earlier this month at D.K. Boutique in St. Joseph (MI). Here in Royal Oak, you'll find other beautiful Johnny Was tunics at Studio Sandra. Or visit the Johnny Was website to browse the current catalog.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

May Madness and snowball bushes

“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.” ― W. Somerset Maugham

Cindy La Ferle
Snowball bushes. I loved them when I was a kid, and recall picking backyard bouquets of the blossoms for my mom. They're showiest right now, in late May, when the school year wraps up and most parents are wilting from "May Madness" syndrome. When my son was in high school, our May calendar rarely showed an inch of empty white space; it was heavily inked with dates for concerts, award banquets, dances, year-end competitions and celebrations. This time of year, I look back gratefully on those rich and fleeting moments of parenthood. ~CL

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A creative wake-up call

"At some point in your life, you'll only have thirty-seven days to live. Maybe that day is today. Maybe not." ~Patti Digh, Life Is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally

You know a book's got you hooked when you read it more than once and hesitate to loan it to someone else. It's the book you buy as a birthday gift for your dearest friends. 

Patti Digh's Life Is a Verb is one of those books. A treasure. Whenever I fall into a creative slump or feel bored and unappreciative, I thumb through its pages and end up rereading favorite passages and chapters. 

So, what's the significance of "37 days" in the book's subtitle? Patti Digh's wake-up call rang loud and clear when her stepfather died just 37 days after being diagnosed with cancer. After that, she vowed to live every day with intention -- saying "yes" to life, speaking up for herself, being more generous to herself and others, trusting herself, sharing her creative gifts, and slowing down long enough to pay attention to what matters. 

Life Is a Verb explains how you can do all those things too. Part memoir, part creative handbook, it's beautifully illustrated with original artwork from contributors all over the country. If you're feeling stalled and could use a dose of motivational magic this spring, grab yourself a copy as quickly as you can find one. (I'd loan you mine, but I'm rereading it now.) ~CL


Friday, May 19, 2017

Shopping in Detroit

Three Cats Cafe at Leon & Lulu, Clawson / Cindy La Ferle
"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." ~Henry Ford

Our adventure began Thursday afternoon at Three Cats Cafe, the new annex to Leon & Lulu, which I often refer to as my "happy place" in small-town Clawson. Proprietor Mary Liz Curtin had invited retail vendors and friends from all over the country to meet at her store for lunch and afterward spend the afternoon touring Detroit. Doug and I were honored to be on her guest list.

A longtime cheerleader for our Motor City, Mary Liz stocks a wide variety of locally crafted products at Leon & Lulu. She believes everyone in the country should know how much fun it is to live, love, and shop in Detroit, which she fondly refers to as "the Paris of the Midwest."
Mary Liz Curtin / Cindy La Ferle

With that in mind, she hired a tour bus and gave us a firsthand look at how retail is done in a roll-up-your-sleeves city that's working hard to reinvent and rebrand itself. Throughout the afternoon we visited shops carrying home goods, re-purposed vintage signs, jewelry, clothing, leather goods, watches, and so much more. As you might imagine, each of these one-of-a-kind retailers has an edgy urban vibe and an entrepreneurial spirit of its own. 

Among our stops: Well Done Goods, Eldorado General Store (where I bought the gorgeous vintage Moroccan purse shown below), Detroit Artifactory, Third Man Records, Nest, Pewabic Pottery (where I bought a cool ceramic necklace), and Shinola Detroit (where I dropped a few hints for an upcoming birthday), and Pure Detroit in the beautiful Fisher Building.    

The city of Detroit is a source of inspiration to anyone who has struggled through a crisis. I'm proud of the city of my birth -- and awed by the people who are working hard to make it thrive again. While I live in one of its suburbs, I'm guilty of not visiting and supporting Detroit as often as I should. Thanks to my adventure yesterday, I'll be back soon. 

Well Done Goods, Detroit / Cindy La Ferle
ELDORADO General Store, Detroit / Cindy La Ferle

My new purse, from ELDORADO General Store / Cindy La Ferle

Detroit Artifactory / Cindy La Ferle 

Gorgeous Detroit-made watches at Shinola Detroit / Cindy La Ferle

Cindy La Ferle

Leather goods at Will Leather Goods Detroit / Cindy La Ferle

Hand-crafted footwear at Will Leather Goods / Cindy La Ferle

A selection of books at Pure Detroit / Cindy La Ferle

A place to rest outside the Nest gift shop / Cindy La Ferle

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Starting the garden

"Just as life is made of days, so are days made of moments. A life well-lived is firmly planted in the sweet soil of moments." ~Wayne Muller

Spring in my garden, May 2017 /Cindy La Ferle

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Not caring what other people think

"My new motto is, 'I respectfully do not care.' Say it to anyone who passes judgment on something you believe in." ~Martha Beck

Apollo with sunglasses / Cindy La Ferle
Martha Beck's wisdom always tops my gratitude list, and I've decided to borrow her motto this year. Repeating it aloud is incredibly liberating when the situation calls for it: "I respectfully do not care."

I'm a few years late in arriving at this place. Learning how to disagree respectfully -- or how to stop caring, as Martha puts it -- is an ongoing challenge, especially if you're genetically encoded to be a people-pleaser. But as I age, I'm gaining more confidence in my own opinions and tastes. This applies to everything from my political viewpoints to the clothes I wear. 

For instance, I'm fully embracing the right to break or ignore rules such as "Never wear white pants until after Memorial Day" or "Women over 60 shouldn't wear long hair or patterned leggings." If I want to grow my hair like Rapunzel and wear my polka-dot yoga leggings in public, I will do so proudly. 

Likewise, I'm exercising my right to step away from all sorts of relationships and institutions that no longer feel healthy, true, or comfortable for me. I'm embracing the right to reconsider my career goals as well as where I shop for groceries. Sometimes it's more respectful to change my mind and move on rather than stay stuck in a gear that's no longer working.

Growing up, I noticed that most people avoided conflict by playing it safe. They kept quiet, did nothing to stir controversy, and told other people what they wanted to hear. That's not the way I want to spend the rest of my life. 

"Once you get that it's truly impossible to please everyone, you begin to live purposefully. You begin to play offense. You start spending your time and energy on things that bring meaningful results, rather than on the impossible goal of making every else happy," writes Dr. Henry Cloud in Never Go Back: 10 Things You'll Never Do Again.  

In other words, trying to meet everyone's expectations is not only a waste of your time, but also a surefire guarantee that you won't reach your own highest potential. At the very least, it's insincere. 

I've always admired people who act as if they respectfully don't care what others think. I want what they're having. They're not divisive -- because they're too busy minding their own business. They simply live by their own lights, even when those lights look blinking crazy. They don't do things to earn approval or "likes" on their social media posts. They don't carry status handbags or wear designer logos. They don't care what other people are eating, sipping, buying, cooking, driving, wearing, or watching. They dig deeper.

Sometimes it's scary to speak your truth, especially when you're standing face-to-face with folks who vehemently oppose your viewpoint or your lifestyle -- and especially if they try to shame you for not believing what they believe. 

The way I see it now, you've got two options. You can either change the topic and pretend that everything is fine and dandy, or, as Martha Beck would suggest, you can remind them that you respectfully do not care.

The photo at the top of this post was taken in my garden last weekend -- before I had a chance to plant Apollo's new hairdo. Nonetheless, it's clear that he's got the confidence to rock a pair of sunglasses, with or without a new crop of hair. I love his attitude.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Magical reading for gardeners

"Here was a place that defined beauty in petals and leaves, scent and sight....It was waiting for one pair of hands, one heart, one fine and tender soul to rouse it and release its magic." ~ Ellen Herrick, The Forbidden Garden

Cindy La Ferle
I make a point of visiting independent bookshops wherever I find them. Thanks to indy bookstore staff recommendations, I've discovered many favorite books and authors that would have escaped my attention at national chain bookstores.

During a recent visit to Horizon Books in Traverse City, for instance, I found Ellen Herrick's The Forbidden Garden on the front table. Perfect for the English major in search of a light spring read, the plot circles around a gifted gardener's mysterious call to restore an ancient walled Shakespeare garden in England. Evoking the magical realism of Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic and Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells, it delivers a sweet love story with a heady dose of enchanting plant lore and a family of quirky Brits.

I learned, after starting the novel, that it's actually a sequel to Herrick's debut novel, The Sparrow Sisters, which introduced readers to three sisters who own a plant nursery and are tightly woven into the history of a New England seaside town. So I finished that one, too. 

Both novels touch on the conflict between traditional and natural medicine practices, keeping me entertained from start to finish. Real-life herbalists and avid gardeners will be charmed by Herrick's considerable knowledge of herbal lore and natural medicine.      

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Remembering Mother's Day

When a daughter loses a mother, the intervals between grief responses lengthen over time, but her longing never disappears. It always hovers at the edge of her awareness, prepared to surface at any time, in any place, in the least expected ways.” ~Hope EdelmanMotherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss

Cindy La Ferle
My mother died two years ago after a seven-year battle with cardiovascular disease and dementia. In retrospect, I started losing her long before she died, one sad year at a time, as her mind slipped and her personality changed. I struggled to process the sad, slow death of our old relationship during the caregiving years, and later, her physical death in September of 2014.

Which is why it's still hard to walk past all those sentimental Mother's Day cards at the drugstore. I'm reminded, as I head straight to vitamin aisles at the back of the store, that my life isn't the same without my mom. I miss her.
My daughter-in-law and son in Amsterdam

Of course, I can re-spin this in a positive way, which is usually my style. I've got a wonderful son and daughter-in-law who'll call me later today from Europe to wish me a happy Mother's Day. And my thoughtful husband has already gifted me with beautiful flowers (above) and a funny card from our cats, plus a cheery yellow gift bag filled with chocolate-pistachio bark (pun intended) from our dog. 

All said and done, there are hundreds of ways to be a mother to others -- and hundreds of ways to be mothered by others. Today I celebrate them all. 

To honor the good mothers we've known and loved, we can practice nurturing one another every day of the year. We can listen deeply and unselfishly, offer consistent support and caring, and show genuine interest in the lives of people we love. Just like a good mother would. Happy Mother's Day to all. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Peace, love, and cool shoes

"Give a girl the right shoes, and she can do anything." ~Marilyn Monroe
My new Earth shoes / Cindy La Ferle

I was thrilled to discover these comfy slip-ons last week -- and my inner hippie was surprised but gratified to learn that Earth, Inc. is still in business. If you were a kid in the 1970s, you probably remember Earth shoes, the wide-toed hippie shoes with the negative heel. Maybe you even owned a pair? Designed by Danish yoga instructor Anne Kalso, the footbed of the original "Kalso Earth Shoe" was crafted to improve posture. Kalso believed that wellness should be applied to every aspect of our daily lives -- including our footwear. 

Cindy La Ferle
As much as I admire sexy shoes with higher heels, my feet are getting more rebellious as I age. These days, I'm striving to feel more grounded, and I'm always on the lookout for shoes that make a creative statement without pinching. (Look for your own favorite Earth shoes at Nordstrom or Zappos.)

While it's been a beautiful season for the tulips, dogwoods, and redbuds on our property, recent frost warnings reminded us that it's still a wee bit early to start planting in our part of Michigan. And so, until it's safe to buy plants and dig in, I'm enjoying the blooms on my jazzy new Earth shoes.