Monday, October 30, 2017

Celebrating Halloween

"The farther we've gotten from the magic and mystery of our past, the more we've come to need Halloween." ~Paula Guran

My front porch, Halloween 2017 / Cindy La Ferle

Happy Halloween! To help get you in the mood this week, I'm sharing a link to an essay I wrote for Read the Spirit.* My piece touches on the ancient Celtic roots and traditions of Halloween, and is the magazine's cover story this week. 

My essay aside, you're in for a treat when you visit Read the Spirit. As founder and editor David Crumm explains it, the magazine and publishing company are built on a "network of writers connecting readers with the most important voices in religion, spiritual, interfaith and cross-cultural issues." Whether you're interested in exploring books and films with a spiritual focus or learning something new about a different religion, you'll find it all on Read the Spirit. 

A longtime colleague and friend of mine, David has won numerous awards for his journalism and is known nationwide to professionals who cover the impact of religion and cross-cultural issues on our world today. Detroit-area readers will remember David's outstanding work as the religion editor and columnist for the Detroit Free Press. 

Happy reading and happy haunting to all! ~CL

*Parts of the essay posted on Read the Spirit were excerpted from another piece in my book, Writing Home.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Believing in magic

“Hope can be a powerful force. Maybe there's no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.”  ~Laini Taylor


Saturday, October 28, 2017

Halloween masks

"You wear a mask for so long, you can easily forget who you were beneath it." – Alan Moore

Apollo, Halloween 2017 / Cindy La Ferle

I've always loved how Halloween inspires us to play dress-up. If only for one night, the holiday gives us permission to drop the dull disguise of conformity and assume a new identity. 

For wardrobe junkies like me, Halloween is reason enough to hoard clothing that should have been donated to charity ages ago. In addition to an attic crammed with costumes, a steamer trunk in my living room holds dozens of crazy hats I’ve collected over the years -- everything from feathered witch hats to horned Viking helmets. Anyone who visits our house near Halloween is encouraged to wear one. 

While costumes bring out the kid in everyone, I believe that choosing what to wear goes even deeper.

For little ones, Halloween costumes provide a safe opportunity to explore the big question: What do I want to be when I grow up? Back in the ‘60s, some of my pals dressed up as secret agents, firefighters, police officers, doctors, and nurses. Others wore the disguise of a favorite superhero – Batman, Wonder Woman, or Superman. Our costumes not only reflected our creativity (or the fact that one of our parents owned a sewing machine) but also revealed our secret aspirations.

As we grow older – if we do it right – we learn that the real gift of aging is uncovering the person we are beneath the various roles and identities we’ve worn throughout our youth. Whether we’re facing retirement, an empty nest, a health crisis, or a change in marital status, maturity poses another question: Who am I -- now that my roles and the dreams of my youth have changed?  

Exchanging a carefully crafted self-image for an authentic self takes work – and a lot of courage. It requires dropping all pretentions. You have to stop hiding behind professional titles, family roles, political labels, and designer logos. And you must surrender the need to appear right or brilliant or perfect all the time. The good news, as author Anne Lamott wrote, is that once you let people see who you really are, even at your worst, “you don’t have to put on the mask as much.” ~CL

Friday, October 27, 2017

Smiling like you mean it

“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don't be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning 'Good morning' at total strangers.” ~Maya Angelou

Coco  / Cindy La Ferle

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Keeping expectations in check

"A light dawned when I realized my expectations were often out of proportion. I thought about the Golden Rule, which I had claimed to live by. It occurred to me that I was expecting others to do things for me that I hadn't been willing or able to do for them. I had been expecting more from life than I was giving." ~Cassandra Augure   

Sunrise on the St. Joseph River / Cindy La Ferle

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Conquering what scares us

"Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are avoiding our fears." ~Les Brown

Fun with gourds at the Krasl Art Center, St. Joseph / Cindy La Ferle

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Compatible weirdness and Halloween honeymoons

“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness–and call it love–true love.” ~Robert Fulghum, True Love
Decked out for Theatre Bizarre: The Greatest Masquerade on Earth

Doug and I are celebrating our 37th anniversary today. We were married on October 24, 1980, and spent our two-week honeymoon driving around New England after the wedding. Not that I had any doubts, but I knew this marriage would last when Doug agreed to stop in Salem, Massachusetts, on Halloween. How many guys would want to tour the creepy old house that Nathaniel Hawthorne made famous in The House of the Seven Gables -- on their honeymoon? We also visited the historic Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, where several of America's greatest authors are buried. Such is love. 
Cindy La Ferle

Given that Halloween falls so close to our anniversary, we decided to kick off this year's celebration by attending a formal Halloween masked ball in Detroit -- a first for us. As you can see from the photo above, we looked as if we were characters out of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. I wanted to look dignified in the photo, but one of the clowns near the entrance was trying to solicit "clown hugs" while we posed, and I couldn't keep a straight face.

What's the secret to an enduring, loving marriage? I believe the answer is different for everyone. Speaking for myself, I feel lucky to be married to the best friend I've ever had. I also think it's essential for married people to retain their spirit of adventure, their flexibility, and a wicked sense of humor -- because you really can't predict what life's three-ring circus is going to throw at you next. ~CL   

Monday, October 23, 2017

Spellbinding Halloween entertainment

“My darling girl, when are you going to realize that being normal is not necessarily a virtue? It rather denotes a lack of courage." ~Alice HoffmanPractical Magic

Favorite Halloween reading / Cindy La Ferle
Which do you like best -- the book or the movie? When it comes to Alice Hoffman's beloved Practical Magic, the debate has been going on since the film's release in 1998.  
"Practical Magic" homage / Cindy La Ferle

Along with rereading Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, revisiting Practical Magic is one of my favorite Halloween traditions. I love how the themes of being "different" and turning to a community of women for support are woven throughout the plot. I like to think of the novel as the autumn version of a summer beach read -- nothing too heavy but captivating enough to be worth your time.

Featuring Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Diana Wiest, and Stockard Channing as the bewitching (and cursed) Owens clan, the film is silly Halloween fun and perfect for watching with your best girlfriends. 

If you enjoy quaint small towns and architecture, you might want to watch it a second time -- just to appreciate the turreted Victorian home of the eccentric aunts. Filled with cozy nooks, winding staircases, and plenty of antiques, the house is central to the story -- and you'd never guess it was built from scratch for the film. If I could redo our kitchen, in fact, I'd want it to look exactly like the one in Practical Magic. (To learn how the home's exterior and interior sets were designed and furnished, visit Hooked on Houses, here.) 

Another seasonal tradition at our house is roasting pumpkin seeds while we watch a spooky Halloween movie. On Saturday I roasted two batches of pumpkin seeds with the The Addams Family on the kitchen TV. Here's a recipe similar to the one I use. ~CL

Friday, October 20, 2017

Making meaningful connections

"In all areas of life, successful people are the ones who make the effort. They ask for what they want, they initiate plans, they dream up the ideas. They don't just sit and wait for other people to call or make things happen. The world opens up to you when you extend the invitation."  ~Louise Hay

Three Cats Cafe at Leon & Lulu, Clawson / Cindy La Ferle

Yesterday was a near-perfect autumn day, thanks in part to an impromptu lunch date with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. 

I first met Karen several years ago when she worked for one of my doctors. Now that she's retired, we keep in touch via email and meet for lunch occasionally. One of the things I admire most about Karen is her gift for reaching out to others and initiating friendship. 

In fact, I credit her for making sure we've stayed in touch -- and especially for not giving up on me when I've been ill, out of town, or otherwise unable to get together. She's the sort of person who checks in to see how you're feeling, or drops a note when she enjoys something you've written or posted. Not surprisingly, Karen has an active social life and a long list of interesting friends. The more I get to know her, the more I discover how much we have in common, including our political views, favorite vacation spots, and the fact that we're not on Facebook.

According to several friendship experts I've interviewed, lack of regular communication (including failure to initiate social plans) is most often cited as the reason why so many friendships drift apart. 

All too often, I'm guilty of saying, "Let's get together soon" -- but later neglect to act on it. Seeing Karen yesterday reminded me of how important it is, no matter how busy we are, to make time for the relationships we value and hope to keep. ~CL

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Local color

“It was a beautiful bright autumn day, with air like cider and a sky so blue you could drown in it.” ~Diana GabaldonOutlander

Autumn color show in Clawson / Cindy La Ferle

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The rare beauty of humility

“To quote an old proverb, an empty cart rattles loudly. In other words, always remember that the one who lacks substance boasts loudest.” ~ Alan Brennert 

Greenfield Village, Dearborn / Cindy La Ferle

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Dancing your own steps

"The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can." ~Neil Gaiman

Cindy La Ferle

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Growing better as we age

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.” ~Robert Frost

In case you haven't seen it yet, Prevention magazine's October "Love Your Age" issue is a winner. The special edition includes more than 40 pages of pro-aging content, including a piece about four inspiring female athletes in their eighties, plus an in-depth report on the science and scams of anti-wrinkle products. In particular, I was fascinated by the results of 
Prevention's extensive national survey on various aging topics. Here are just a few highlights from the survey:

*Despite the stereotype of the "crabby old woman," many of us get happier and less stressed as we age:

"Nearly half of the women in their 40s and 50s and one-third of women ages 60 and older reported being happier now than they were 20 years ago," Prevention reported. "In fact, as people age, their physiological response to stressful situations starts to diminish."

*Appearance matters less to mature women -- and not as many women are opting for anti-aging cosmetic procedures:

"Only one in 10 respondents said she'd had an anti-aging procedure or cosmetic surgery, and only 11% plan to do so in the future," Prevention found.

*Maintaining good health was the top priority of the women surveyed:

"Health outranked marriage, children, money, and weight in terms of importance," Prevention reported. "Boomers are leading the demand for fresher, less processed food." For many of us, healthy diets and fitness classes are regular routines, which could add a few more years to our lives. 

*As we age, friendship is important to us, but we now value quality over quantity, preferring supportive relationships over superficial ones:

According to the survey, most boomers said they now choose their inner circle more carefully, and spend more time building reciprocal friendships. "I cleaned house of the occasional friends who did nothing to support me emotionally when my mom broke her pelvis and needed constant care," recalled survey respondent Jackie Morel of New York City. "I have fewer friends now but closer ties overall." 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Cultivating a garden of brighter thoughts

“I once had a garden filled with flowers that grew only on dark thoughts -- but they needed constant attention, and one day I decided I had better things to do. ” ~Brian Andreas

Glass garden ornaments at the Bayside Gallery in Suttons Bay

 Cindy La Ferle

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Keeping my own score

“Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.” ― BrenĂ© BrownDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Silver Beach merry go 'round, St. Joseph / Cindy La Ferle

Today's a big day for college football in my part of the state. Michigan State University (my alma mater) and the University of Michigan (my husband's alma mater) are gearing up for their big showdown this evening. Everyone I know will be watching.  

We are, after all, a nation of spectators -- and proud of it. A lot more of us watch sports, or pay to watch sports, than actually play a sport ourselves. Of course, when big-league network advertisers team up with any professional sport, there's big money to be made -- always a win-win. And, yes, I appreciate all the motivational metaphors about fostering teamwork, cheering for the players who represent our hometown or school, staying fit for life's challenges, and keeping our eyes on a common goal. Wouldn't it be marvelous if all of that actually unfolded on the playing field of real life ... right now? (On the topic of great sports metaphors: Joe Jackson's iconic tune, "Go For It," says it all for me. It inspired me to get off my butt, quit my office job, and become a professional writer.)

It's impossible to live in this culture without getting swept up in sports talk. When people don't know what else to discuss, they often lead with a conversation on baseball, hockey, football, or basketball scores; complaints about a lousy or stellar player; a mini-debate over whether or not a coach should be fired; or how they got tickets to The Next Big Game. Sports talk is a great unifier.

Which makes it hard, sometimes, for people like me.

I learned early on that it was sacreligious to admit aloud that I'm not very interested in sports. Whenever I did, the "friends" and family members who were devoted sports fans openly made fun of me, or inferred that there was something dreadfully wrong with me. I always thought that was a little unfair or unsportsmanlike -- especially since I've never made fun of anyone who wasn't interested creative writing, photography, or any of the other arts and crafts that occupy most of my time. 

But hey, I know most of you love sports, and I'm cool with that now. And I applaud your athletic enthusiasm. Go for it.   

Will I be watching the game tonight? Probably. Everyone will be talking about it tomorrow, so I'll pull up a comfy chair and sit and watch as long as I can stay awake. Go State!! ~CL

Friday, October 6, 2017

The beauty of real conversations

"True happiness arises from the friendship and conversation of a few select companions." ~Joseph Addison

A boxed set of Picture a Conversation(TM) cards by Debra and Martin Darvick 

Debra Darvick, a longtime pal of mine, has created a brilliant card deck that's sure to revive what she calls "the endangered art" of simple conversation. I'm so enthused -- and proud of my friend -- that I want to share Picture a Conversation with you. 

A little background: For several years, Debra and her husband, Martin, have been designing and selling greeting cards that combine Martin's beautiful photography with Debra's inspirational messages. But that was just the beginning of this talented couple's creative collaboration. 

The seed for Picture a Conversation was planted when Debra noticed a family of four sitting at a table in a restaurant, all totally focused on their electronic devices. Soon after, Debra set out to develop a tool that would get people talking with one another again. 

Each of the 25 cards included in the Picture a Conversation deck features one of Martin's nature photos paired with a quote on the front, and three related discussion questions on the back. The cards can be used to break the ice or stimulate meaningful conversation at cocktail parties, business seminars, family gatherings (the holidays are coming!), writing classes, spiritual retreats, school reunions, and a variety of other social functions. 

Ready to put down your iPhone and start a real conversation? Let's start talking. To learn more and order your own deck, please click here. ~CL

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Truth seeking

"Just because you believe something you heard doesn’t mean it’s true. Set yourself free from other people's opinions." ~Louise Hay

At Wildflowers in Glen Arbor / Cindy La Ferle

Monday, October 2, 2017

Looking for hope in dark times

"Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place." ― Kurt Vonnegut

Sunset on Silver Beach, St. Joseph / Cindy La Ferle

Every day this year, I've been reminding myself to limit my intake of news on current events. Despite our ongoing national turmoil, I keep looking for all that's beautiful, respectful, compassionate, wise, and loving. I try to block out (or avoid) anything divisive, combative, abusive, or hateful. 

In other words, maintaining my optimism is now a challenge requiring daily discipline and discretion.

This means that my world has become deliberately smaller; more curated and contained. I find myself drawn to films, books, TV programs, and social situations in which people nurture and uplift each other. I draw closer to friends who think fearlessly, act kindly, live creatively, give generously, and share a more hopeful view of our future. 

But sometimes, like this morning, I turn on the television and learn of yet another mass shooting -- yet another national crisis that fills me with dread and sadness. I know this too shall pass, as surely as I know that nothing will be done to change it. Right now, I'm struggling hard to believe that the world is still a beautiful place. ~CL  

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A bowl of cherries

"Life always has an unhappy ending, but you can have a lot of fun along the way, and everything doesn't have to be dripping in deep significance." ~Roger Ebert

Cindy La Ferle