Saturday, March 30, 2019

Weekend column: "Please quit writing about me"

“In the fancy spectacle of life, aspire to find a joy that does not need an audience.”  ~Joyce Rachelle 

Read all about it / Cindy La Ferle

______


Social media sharing buttons are located below each post on the home page.  


Note: A slightly different version of this essay ("Mom, the family columnist") was published in The Christian Science Monitor.

My only child was barely nine when my features editor called to offer a coveted column spot in our local daily newspaper.

“Write about things that typical suburban families can relate to,” said the editor, who couldn't see me doing the happy dance in my kitchen while we finalized the details on the phone.

That was before everyone had a blog or posted selfies on Facebook – so the chance to reach more than 20,000 readers weekly seemed like a professional coup; the perfect beat for a mom who had postponed a journalism career to stay home with her child. I'd already published articles and personal essays in several national magazines -- but my byline was hardly a household name. 

Of course, not everyone read the lifestyles section in our local paper. Not everyone was interested in the poetics of keeping house while keeping a child out of the principal’s office. But before long, I had established a faithful Sunday readership, and was often stopped at the post office or the supermarket to chat about my latest column topic.

My son, in grade school at the time, was the first to expose the hubris in this.

“If you're going to write about me, you better get it right or don't publish it,” he exploded after I wrote about the time I discovered a sticky stockpile of empty soda pop cans under his bed. The column, which had mercilessly trashed the housekeeping habits of little boys, described how I felt when I discovered that one of the pop cans hosted a colony of honeybees. 
Mother and son, years later

Everyone else thought the piece was hysterically funny, but my cute family anecdote turned out to be lunchroom hell for my kid. As it turned out, his teacher shared the column in class the following Monday. Defending himself, my son announced that my story was inaccurate, and that I had “seriously misquoted” him.

Later, when my boy was in middle school, I made a passing reference to the fact that he’d dressed as Spock from Star Trek on Halloween. After the offending paragraph appeared in the paper, I was told that I did not have permission -- or the right -- to document his personal business. I had no idea that a Halloween costume qualified as personal business, but then again, the issue wasn't really the costume. My son had grown suspicious of my motives.

“I wish you'd quit writing about me,” he shouted, fighting tears as he ran upstairs. “I don't want to ruin your job, but that's just how I feel!”  It was a very brave thing to say, given that he knew he had posed a serious dilemma. My Sunday readership had made it clear that the “kid columns” were my best stuff and they wanted more.

I was momentarily caught off guard. Hadn't I been careful all along?

From the start, I published what most editors consider safe or soft material, knowing full well that my child had to face the village at school while I hid behind a desk at home. Furthermore, before sending the columns to my editor, I routinely read them aloud to my husband, always with the hope that I wasn't compromising our family’s privacy.  But I rarely consulted our son.

And so, after our tearful talk at the top of the stairs, I agreed to a temporary ban on the kid columns.


The ban was lifted later, when he started high school. Still, I avoided forbidden material, tempting though it was. As a testament to my prudence, my son's first car accident was quietly resolved without a single paragraph in the Sunday paper. After so many years of teaching him the importance of respecting boundaries --especially personal privacy -- I’d finally learned how to respect his.

Things are different today. We're all accustomed to airing family stories, political grievances, and personal confessions on social media. We post photos countless selfies, photos of our bathrooms, photos of what we ate for dinner, and videos of our kids' birthday parties. Everything is public; nothing is left to the imagination. 


And while I still admire candid writing and blogging, I get squeamish when too much is revealed about youngsters who, like my son, might be melting in the spotlight while their parents try to build platforms or try to attract more followers.   

No matter how much attention we crave, or how large a readership we need to build, our kids have a right to privacy. And we should respect that. ~Cindy La Ferle
_________
To learn more about my published collection of family columns, Writing Home, please click here.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Funny Friday: Holy smoke

"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." ~Anne Lamott


 Cranbrook Gardens / Cindy La Ferle

______

Social media sharing buttons are located below each post on the home page.  


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Good health

“Health is our most important possession, and contentment our greatest treasure." ~Lao Tzu

Cindy La Ferle


Social media sharing buttons are located at the end of each post on the home page.  



Wednesday, March 27, 2019

No contest

"People who feel secure and trust their own abilities have no reason to compete. They seldom do." ~Barbara Addson 


Blooming / Cindy La Ferle

___________

Social media sharing buttons and more content are located at the end of each post on the home page.  




Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Valuing our time

"Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, 
it’s the only time we’ve got." 
~Art Buchwald


Shinola Headquarters in Detroit / Cindy La Ferle

______
For social media sharing buttons and more content, please visit the home page

Monday, March 25, 2019

Emotional freedom

“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” ~ Don Miguel Ruiz


On Lake Michigan / Cindy La Ferle

___________

Social media sharing buttons are located at the end of each daily post on the home page.  


Friday, March 22, 2019

Funny Friday: Indisputable opinions

“My opinions may change, 
but not the fact that I’m right.” 
~Ashleigh Brilliant

Cindy La Ferle

______
For social media sharing buttons and more content, please visit the home page


SPECIAL NOTEI'm taking the weekend off and won't be posting again until Monday. If you're a local reader and a fan of Niki's in Royal Oak, please look for the Sunday edition of The Daily Tribune this weekend. Borrowing from last Saturday's blog post, I wrote a new piece about the closing of Niki's for the Sunday paper. ~Cindy La Ferle





Thursday, March 21, 2019

Basic needs

"As much as we need a prosperous economy, we also need a prosperity of kindness and decency." ~Caroline Kennedy


Good morning / Cindy La Ferle

___________

Social media sharing buttons are located at the end of each daily post on the home page.  


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Quality versus quantity

"As we mature, we start to value our time and our friendships more, and shift our focus from quantity to quality. The energy of your inner circle is contagious, which is why it is so important to surround yourself with people who support and uplift you." ~Bella Grace

Choices / Cindy La Ferle

____________

Additional content and social media sharing options are located at the end of each daily post on the home page.  

Please share with friends. 




Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Choosing what matters

"Some things don't matter much. Like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person's heart -- now, that matters. The whole problem with people is, they know what matters, but they don't choose it. The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.” ~Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees


Bay Harbor Inn / Cindy La Ferle

______

More content and social media sharing buttons are located below each post on the home page.  


Monday, March 18, 2019

Almost spring

"These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.”  ~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek 


Almost Spring / Cindy La Ferle

______

Additional content and social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Weekend column: Comfort food and community at Niki's

"The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift." ~Laurie Colwin


Donna Iljkoski (center, in apron) and staff at Niki's, December 2011 / Cindy La Ferle

______

Additional content and social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  



When a family diner closes, you might feel as if you've lost an old friend. Here in Royal Oak, Niki’s was a favorite neighborhood hangout -- our own private Cheers without the booze -- for about 30 years. 


When my son was a small boy, it was also my home-away-from-home. In those days, I was writing freelance for several local papers, so I’d often head to Niki’s to work on my stories in the back-corner booth while eating lunch. It was cozier than writing at home alone, especially during the dark midwinter months. 


Owner Donna Iljkoski, who opened Niki's three decades ago with her late husband, Tony, always made me feel nourished and welcomed. I could scribble my column notes while enjoying a Greek salad along with one of Donna’s homemade soups. 
When Nate was out of school for the summer, we’d ride our bikes to Niki’s for lunch (while Doug worked at the office). Nate typically ordered Donna’s chicken club sandwich with French fries -- and no tomatoes. Year later, after Nate grew up and left home, Donna still remembered “no tomatoes” when Nate returned to Niki's and ordered the same sandwich. 
Friends and family  

Once Doug was semi-retired, the two of us routinely dined together at Niki’s at least twice a week. (It didn’t take long to get Doug hooked on Niki's ever-popular Greek salad.) We'd always stop in on Monday nights when Donna served her spinach tortellini soup and broccoli quiche with potato crust. 
Cindy La Ferle
Niki's menu was always more creative than your average diner. A tireless chef, Donna once told me she loved watching cooking shows on TV and experimenting with new recipes at home. She also offered several meatless dishes for vegetarian customers, including a hearty lasagna -- and I've yet to find a breakfast entree as delicious as her savory Mediterranean crepes. 
And did I mention Donna's waitstaff? Over the years, we also appreciated the hard-working crew that remembered our special requests and menu favorites without prompting. 

As longtime staffer Vanessa Kaiser told me: "It was always a team effort at Niki's. I borrowed this motto from a sign I saw, 'Come as a friend, leave as family.' I like to believe that's how we all felt." 

Doug and I got to know the other regulars on our dining schedule, too. If you frequented Niki's, you couldn't walk in the door without hearing someone shout your name, or at least spotting another familiar face from your neighborhood. Donna and her staff had a knack for fostering an atmosphere like that. 

It wasn't just about the food, after all. Like Luke's Diner in the Gilmore Girls TV series, Niki's became a central campfire for our whole community -- students, families, reporters, retailers, city officials, grocers, police officers, retirees, hair stylists, and every other imaginable character in town. Whether we were perched at the counter or hunkered over mugs of coffee in a corner booth, we dished out local gossip along with our own stories of illness and recovery, success and failure, love and loss.    

A serving of real connection  
About five years ago, several women in my neighborhood decided to form a weekly Breakfast Club. Choosing a restaurant was a no-brainer. We began meeting at Niki’s every Tuesday morning.  
All of us were concerned when we first spotted the "Closed" sign on Niki's entrance in February. We were twice as worried when we learned, not long afterward, that a health scare had influenced Donna's decision to close the place indefinitely, maybe permanently. We're all wishing Donna the best, of course -- but we're going through withdrawal right now. 

I miss those Greek salads, but most of all, I miss my friend Donna. I'm writing this because it's the only way I know how to thank her (I can't bake anything she'd want to eat) and because I could use some closure. 

Not long ago, another friend and I were talking about why family diners like Niki's are so important to us.  

Despite our countless cyber-connections and followers on social media sites, most Americans feel lonelier now, according to current studies. Robert Putnam, who wrote about building community in his book, Bowling Alone, noted that we spend more time watching Friends rather than having friends.  

What we're seeking, in one form or another, is real community. Who doesn't dream of visiting a brick-and-mortar gathering place -- like Cheers, Luke's Diner, or Niki's -- where there's always friendly conversation and a bottomless pot of coffee?  ~Cindy La Ferle
_________

EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS: To share this post on social media, please return to the home page. Scroll past the end of the post, where you'll find a beige-tinted box with a row of social media buttons. Click the one you want to use.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Funny Friday: Government spending

“It would be nice to spend billions on schools and roads, but right now that money is desperately needed for political ads.” ~Andy Borowitz


Cindy La Ferle


______

Additional content and social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  


Thursday, March 14, 2019

Telling the truth

“There is beauty in truth, even if it's painful. Lies only strengthen our defects. They don't teach anything, fix anything, or cure anything. Nor do they develop one's character, one's mind, one's heart, or one's soul.” ~José N. Harris

Foggy morning in Vinsetta Park / Cindy La Ferle

______

Additional content and social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  


Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Unplugging

"Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. Including you." ~Anne Lamott

"Time out" / Cindy La Ferle

Additional content and social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  

____________



Tuesday, March 12, 2019

No regrets

"Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely." ~Haruki Murakami 



Cindy La Ferle

__________

Additional content and social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  



Monday, March 11, 2019

Embrace your individuality

"When you're different, sometimes you don't see all the people who accept you for what you are. All you notice is the person who doesn't." ~Jodi Picoult

One of a kind / Cindy La Ferle

Social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  



Sunday, March 10, 2019

Time-tested friendship

"Wishing to become friends is quick work,
 but true friendship is a slow-ripening fruit." 
~Aristotle


Cindy La Ferle


Social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Moments of solitude

“I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden


"Colors at dawn" / Cindy La Ferle

___________

Social media sharing buttons are located below each post on the home page.  


Friday, March 8, 2019

Funny Friday: Writing advice

"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better." ~Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life


True stories / Cindy La Ferle

Social media sharing buttons are located below this post on the home page.  


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Throwback Thursday: Fragile Season

"We must be willing to let go of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that's waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come." ~Joseph Campbell


Daybreak / Cindy La Ferle

Social media sharing buttons are located at end of this post on the blog's home page.

Note: This essay was written in March 2005, and published the following year in the anthology, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined  (Seal Press).

Spring is just a few weeks away, but the barren landscape outside my home office window looks more like the moon than southeast Michigan. Piles of brittle gray snow flank the curb, and the sidewalk shimmers with black ice. Only diehard neighbors stick to their evening jogging routines. Spring is just a mirage. 

On the liturgical calendar, it is the Lenten season. In T.S. Eliot's poem, "Ash Wednesday," it is the time "between dying and birth." 

It is not the ideal time to face a changing identity, pending menopause, a career reinvention, or a newly emptied nest. It is the time of year when my optimism is easily dampened. And lately my writing life feels like a long wait in line at the post office.

It's not that I'm seriously blocked. Just lonely. For the past five months, my only child has been happily settled in his cramped dormitory room at a university in another state. I'm still adjusting to the hollow echo of his oddly clean and empty bedroom; still looking for remnants of my old self -- my mothering self -- in the bits and pieces he left behind. 
Empty nesting, I'm convinced, is harder on mothers who work at home -- mothers who stare into a computer monitor until the garden thaws in mid-April and children migrate home from college.


March morning/ Cindy La Ferle
Following the advice of a friend who happens to be a local pastor, I'm learning that community service is the best antidote for what we Midwesterners describe as acute cabin fever.

"You need to leave your comfort zone," urged the pastor. "Use your gifts in the community." In other words, do unto others and get over yourself. Which is how I ended up working the afternoon shift at a warming shelter for the homeless.


Answering a need during the cruel winter months, a small church in my neighborhood opens its kitchen and dining room to approximately 50 homeless men and women at a time. Job counselors and social workers donate their time and expertise to those who struggle with substance abuse or unemployment. Volunteers from community service groups and churches are recruited to serve meals, scrub sticky tables, pour pots of black coffee, and perform various clerical tasks for the under-staffed warming center.


Homeless visitors (always referred to as guests by the staff) are required to wear name tags. Before starting my first shift, I was advised to call each person by name. 


I have worked with the homeless in other circumstances. But I am always a bit shy at first. These individuals, the guests, have formed their own community, complete with its own set of rules and rhythms. I am an outsider in their company; a white journalist from planet Suburbia. I feel inept and alien when confronted by their need -- yet I have come to serve, and in a small way, to mother.


My first assignment was to ladle out steaming portions of ham and au gratin potatoes to each hungry guest who had lined up at the serving table. 


On that brutally cold day, there were close to fifty -- mostly men. Most were eager to talk, and visibly grateful for the meal. I was moved when I discovered that each guest wanted me to spoon his portion onto a plate and hand it to him. Nobody would take the plates I had already filled and set on the table in the interest of moving the line quickly.


Nearby, in a cluttered corner that served as a makeshift office space for the warming center, another volunteer was keeping company with a guest whose name tag read "Marian." Aloof and unkempt, Marian flashed angry brown eyes and wore a burgundy wool cap over her brow. 


Playing a game of Scrabble on the office computer, she didn't mix with the other guests, nor did she want to converse with the volunteers. Her body language wasn't hard to translate: Keep out. Don't touch. My heart is not open for friendship or charity. She didn't look up when we asked if she wanted a hot lunch. Fixed on the computer screen, she mumbled something about a candy bar she had eaten earlier, and declined our offer. 


One by one, all of the guests except Marian were served, and I was told by the center organizer that it was time to clear the tables for dessert. I began my task quickly, grateful once again for the focus required of even the simplest domestic routines.


Then, suddenly, a voice. 


"Excuse me, excuse me?"

I barely heard her over the metallic clatter of roasting pans, plates, and serving utensils. It was Marian, the Scrabble player. Without turning away from the screen, Marian repeated her question, loudly this time, to anyone within earshot: "How do you spell fragile?"

Slowly, carefully, a nearby volunteer voiced the letters aloud, and then repeated them: F-R-A-G-I-L-E.


Fragile.


Returning to the kitchen with an armload of dishes, I reconsidered the word and what it meant. I recalled how carelessly I'd been using the adjective to define or describe the unfamiliar terrain of my new empty nest. And how, in a single instant, its meaning, its very etymology, had changed forever. ~Cindy La Ferle

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Rocking your best self

"When you are living the best version of yourself, you inspire others to live the best versions of themselves." ~Steve Maraboli


Rock a positive attitude / Cindy La Ferle
_____________

Social media sharing buttons are located below each post on the home page.  

Please share with friends. 


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Healthy parenting advice

“It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.” ~Ann Landers


"The path ahead" / Cindy La Ferle

_____________

Social media sharing options available at the end of each post on the home page.  

Please share with friends. 



Monday, March 4, 2019

Showing up

"Sometimes, the bravest and most important
 thing you can do is just show up." 
~Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

"I'm here for you" / Cindy La Ferle

_____________

Social media sharing options available at the end of each post on the home page.  

Please share with friends. 


Saturday, March 2, 2019

Weekend column: The healing power of art

"The creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity." ~Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

"Star Mender" by Judy Munro

Social media sharing options available at the end of each post on the home page.  

Please share with friends. 


I rarely purchase anything on impulse when I visit an art gallery. First, I consider the price tag and our family budget, and then return home to check for available wall space. But the moment I saw "Star Mender" at the Synchronicity Gallery in Glen Arbor nearly six years ago, I knew I had to own it.    
Rendered by the gifted Michigan artist Judy Munro, the 30” by 30” oil painting has a dream-like, fairy tale quality. 
In it, a woman stands over a table of broken stars, the indigo night sky swirling behind her. Looking directly at the viewer, she cradles a box of broken star points in one hand and raises a glowing, mended star in the other. Her gaze is calm, confident, and reassuring. 

At first glance, I assumed the woman in the painting was a surgeon rather than a baker -- probably because I'd been spending way too much time in doctors' offices and hospitals.   
That summer, my own little galaxy was spinning out of control and falling apart.  

Ongoing medical drama

For starters, my widowed mother with advanced dementia had been in and out of the hospital for several weeks -- first for heart problems, and then for a serious infection in her newly broken ankle. 

I'd just gone under the knife for a seven-hour, outpatient skin cancer surgery that left me with a painful, three-inch row of Frankenstein stitches on my right cheek. My mother was recovering at a nursing rehab center at the time. 

I had hoped to have a couple days off to care for my own surgical wound -- and I didn't want my mother to see it right away. So I flew into panic mode when a nurse called to report that Mom was on her way back to the hospital for her infected ankle. I had to meet her there immediately. 

As soon as my husband and I arrived at the ER, I wondered how my mother would react when she saw the deep purple bruises and large bandage covering half of my swollen face. In her confused state, Mom didn't understand when I tried to explain that I'd been successfully treated for skin cancer, and there was no need for her to worry. She heard only one word -- cancer -- and replied, "Who will take care of me if you have cancer?" 

In that vulnerable moment, I felt like a character in a TV medical drama. Which is why, when I first saw "Star Mender" at the gallery, I knew the painting was meant for me. 
Art and soul

I’ve never met an artist who didn’t hope that his or her work would speak to the soul of the viewer, so I contacted Judy Munro to chat with her after my husband and I purchased her painting. I wanted to know more about her art and what had inspired "Star Mender." 
“Once I drew the face, it seemed to be telling a story of strength and resilience, but with a hint of magic and mystery,” Munro told me. “The face seemed otherworldly, and the idea of fixing broken things -- stars, ideas, and dreams -- just came to me.”

Munro also explained that "Star Mender" was inspired by the sight of a friend baking a batch of cookies; yet she fully understood why it conjured the idea of a "surgeon" in my imagination. 

A work of art, whether it's a painting or a novel, invites us to walk around inside its narrative and to become a part of it in our own way. I was viewing "Star Mender" through the lens of my recent medical trauma, and was comforted by the mended, glowing star in the woman's hand. 

I suppose a good therapist would find it telling that I identified the figure in this painting as a doctor -- not a baker or a pastry chef. In any event, I wanted to believe that my poor mother's broken ankle and my own wounded cheek would be healed as easily and miraculously as the broken pieces in Munro's painting. 

That summer, "Star Mender" became a magical talisman for me. I felt a glimmer of hope each time I saw it on my wall at home.   
After she completes each piece, Munro told me, she steps away from the canvas and says: “Go out and find the home you belong to.”  She said there’s no greater compliment to an artist than to have someone enjoy one of her paintings so much that they are willing to purchase it "and make it part of their lives.” She was pleased that "Star Mender" and I had found each other. ~Cindy La Ferle


Friday, March 1, 2019

Funny Friday: Wisdom

"Some people drink from the fountain of knowledge; 
others just gargle." ~Robert Anthony

Cindy La Ferle


____________

Social media sharing options available at the end of each post on the home page.  

Please share with friends.