Music and mad science

Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise.” — Julia Cameron

At our house, Halloween weekend is always a celebration of creativity and make-believe, whether we’re stirring up a batch of Hell’s Kitchen Chili or putting the finishing touches on our costumes.  Which makes it the perfect time to introduce you to Doug’s brand-new CD, “Professor Pandemonium’s Cabinet of Wonders.”

As Doug likes to explain it, his album is a musical variation of an old curiosity cabinet — a wild assemblage that could just as easily belong to a mad scientist. Crack open the cover of the CD and you’ll discover 16 catchy tunes that are classified as “steampunk pop.” Like a potion from the medicine wagon in the Wizard of Oz, the whole mix is a little hard to describe. Start with the Beatles “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and add equal parts Ray Bradbury’s novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Danny Elfmann’s film, “Nightmare Before Christmas.”  Like a costume party, it’s pure fun — and highly entertaining.

I’ve always been a fan of the Victorian circus, so right now, my favorite song from the album is the dark and mysterious “Pandemonium Ensues.” I keep telling Doug that it ought to be included in the soundtrack of a Dr. Seuss film — it’s that atmospheric and cool. But not all the tunes are Halloweenish. “Just Be Friends” and “There Is No Time” are pretty mainstream, each with a lovely hook that stays with me. “Let Monkeys Rule” — which has its own video on YouTube — is pure political commentary on how our inability to get along is endangering our world and thwarting our own progress.

OK, I’ll admit I’m slightly biased. And five years of piano lessons didn’t make me a music critic, by any stretch. But this is my husband’s newest endeavor and I’ve got bragging rights. In any event, I’m the luckiest woman I know — married to such a creative guy who’s full of surprises. For reviews and information about the new CD, as well as a glimpse inside the professor’s cabinet, visit Professor Pandemonium’s Cabinet of Wonders. — CL

–Top photo of Douglas La Ferle (a.k.a. Professor Pandemonion) in his laboratory by Cindy La Ferle–

Halloween “Secrets”

Bring forth the raisins and the nuts-
Tonight All-Hallows’ Spectre struts
Along the moonlit way.”
~John Kendrick Bangs

Anyone who’s known me for a while knows that I’m crazy about Halloween. Like many Baby Boomers, I harbor a ridiculously fierce nostalgia for the holiday. What else would you expect from someone who counts watching The Addams Family on TV as a treasured childhood memory? Not surprisingly, there are few things I enjoy more than dressing up in a costume and handing out candy to the neighborhood kids.

For years, my husband Doug created an artful “Disney haunted house” landscape — replete with a cemetery and a mummy with glowing red eyes — at the entrance where the kids come to trick-or-treat. When our son Nate grew up and left for college, we toned it down a bit, but the neighbors were devastated the year we were out of town on Halloween and didn’t decorate. So we keep the tradition going as best we can.

Inside, I still dress the house with paper skeletons, pumpkins, and shiny black-feathered ravens. I own a small collection of vintage Halloween decorations, which I display on the living-room mantel in a nest of autumn leaves and a string of orange lights. Even when I’m not hosting a big Halloween bash, friends and neighbors like to stop by for a drink and a few ghost stories (or magic tricks) around the fireplace on Halloween night after the trick-or-treaters head home.

While I’ve never been a fan of blood-and-guts “slasher” films, I enjoy scary movies, especially in October. I prefer classic horror films, thrillers, and ghost stories — Psycho, Rebecca, Something Wicked This Way Comes, John Carpenter’s original Halloween, The Others, The Addams Family, The Haunting, The Shining, Practical Magic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Nightmare Before Christmas …. you get the idea.

This Sunday, October 24, happens to be our 30th wedding anniversary. After a celebration dinner, Doug and I will be glued to the TV set, watching the premiere of Secrets in the Walls, a Lifetime horror film in which we worked as background extras last fall. If our brief appearance didn’t land on the cutting room floor, you’ll catch a glimpse of us (as a nurse and a doctor) in the hospital scene. Starring Jeri Ryan, the production was filmed in Ferndale and metro-Detroit. It revisits a time-honored theme: a creepy old house haunted by a spirit that won’t let go. Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!


Variations on a weekend

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” – Joseph Campbell

It felt good to get back to our Wright house in St. Joseph this weekend. Work and family obligations got in the way of our good intentions this summer, so we didn’t drive out to the house as often as we’d hoped. Meanwhile, fall chores were piling up as quickly as the oak and maple leaves on the property.

While it’s certainly a privilege to own a second home — especially one designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — the fact remains that no house cleans or maintains itself while you’re away.

So, finally, Doug and I headed to the west side of Michigan on Thursday morning, the mid-October sun illuminating foliage and farmland along the highway. While we knew we’d check off a few chores and repairs on the Wright house to-do list, we also promised each other that we’d make time to enjoy the house — and even do some exploring beyond downtown St. Joe. It was the best decision we’ve made this season.

We spent all day Friday in South Haven and Saugatuck — two charming Lake Michigan towns known for their art galleries, independent bookstores, boutiques, and good restaurants. Browsing through a small antiques mall in South Haven, we stumbled on a few treasures, including a vintage crystal bracelet (had to have it) and some doodads for art projects.

Chicago side trip

Few opportunities make me happier than scouting for clothes, books, art, and old junk in adorable small towns. And one of those is visiting our son Nate. Our decision to purchase our Wright house in St. Joseph was influenced by the fact that Nate moved to Chicago after college graduation, and St. Joe is less than two hours away.

On Saturday morning Doug and I drove to the train station in Michigan City, then boarded the South Shore Line to Chicago. It was another mellow afternoon, weather-wise, and we enjoyed having our little family together again. Of course, Chicago is always more fun when you experience it with someone who lives there and loves it. Nate introduced us to one of his favorite restaurants, the Southport Grocery and Cafe, which features a savory menu of creative brunch dishes. I can’t think of a better balm for a mother’s soul than to share bread-pudding pancakes and cinnamon butter with her grown son — a son who clearly feels at home in his world.

Back at the Wright house on Sunday, Doug and I did some housecleaning and yard work. Taking a short break before packing up, I walked behind the house to get another look at the ravine and the St. Joseph River beyond it. It’s a view that never fails to calm me down; to remind me of what’s truly essential.

Only a few of the poplars have turned gold at this point, so we’ll have to come back soon to see the maples at their peak. But some of the trees in the woods below are already surrendering their leaves, reminding me that autumn — and this season of my life — is all about release, letting go. Meanwhile, I discovered the perfect spot for a meditation bench, overlooking the river. Once I find the bench, I plan to sit and savor more moments like these.

We really couldn’t have planned a lovelier weekend, all in all.

Amazing, even to me, is the fact that I allowed our time away to meander at its own sweet pace. I let go of my need to plan things down to the minute — and stopped worrying about problems beyond my immediate control. I didn’t dwell on my mom’s series of pending doctor appointments or her new dementia symptoms or her recent fender-bender. I didn’t think about my chores or deadlines back in Royal Oak. And I lost the ridiculous urge to check my e-mail every hour.

“It occurs to me that perhaps I don’t have to push at life quite so hard after all, that sometimes the best thing we can do is allow our lives simply to take us where we need to go,” writes Katrina Kenison in The Gift of an Ordinary Day, a motherhood memoir I finished reading on the train.

Kenison’s words resonated all the way home. Driving back, I thought about the “major” vacations I’ve taken with my husband and family over the years. An anniversary excursion to Paris. A family cruise on the Mediterranean. Back-roads tours of New England. I don’t take those trips for granted, nor would I trade them for other experiences. Yet few of them shimmer in my memory as brightly as the simple pleasures I enjoyed this weekend.  — Cindy La Ferle

— Top photo: View of the St. Joseph River from the back of our property. Middle photo: Doug and Nate. Bottom photo:  The rear view (terrace) of the Carl Schultz House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Photos by Cindy and Doug La Ferle. —

Unexpected sparks

Our brightest blazes of happiness are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.” — Samuel Johnson

It was one of those luminous Indian summer afternoons — clear cobalt skies and pure yellow light shimmering through the maples on our front lawn. This was autumn’s last hurrah, and even the neighborhood kids sensed the day was ripe for celebrating.

We woke early that morning to find a crisp runner of mustard-gold leaves carpeting the sidewalks. If you squinted hard enough and used your imagination, you’d swear it led straight to Oz.

I’d taken the day off work and suggested we drive to the old cider mill in Franklin Village, where it’s always worth standing in line for the best cinnamon doughnuts made in Michigan. But Nate, who was six at the time, had his own ideas. He and Catie, the girl next door, would set up their own cider-and-doughnuts stand in our front yard, which faces a well-traveled boulevard.

Naturally, I ended up at the local fruit market, loading a shopping cart with doughnuts and several gallons of apple cider.

Back home, I retrieved a card table and some cardboard for a poster, then rallied the kids to assemble the doughnuts and paper cups on a serving tray. The three of us positioned the cider stand at the corner of our front yard.

The small entrepreneurs perched on lawn chairs and waited patiently for customers. They waved at passing cars and periodically rearranged the paper cups. Business was painfully slow. Watching the eager pair from the front porch, I felt my heart skip each time a car sped past them.  Surely some generous adult would step on the brakes, reach deep into a pocket, and pull out a dime for a cool cup of cider.  But most drivers didn’t seem to notice.

I’ve been guilty of similar oversights. Rushing to the office, the bank, or an appointment, I’ve driven past countless children trying to earn spare change at their sidewalk stands. Sometimes I rolled down the window and promised to catch them on my way back, at my convenience, which was usually too late.

Slowly but surely, my faith in humanity was restored as a few neighbors came around to patronize the cider stand.  Quarters, dimes, and nickels clinked musically in the collection cup, while Nate and Catie whirled around the card table.

And I’ll never forget how stunned the pair looked when a stranger pulled up in a red convertible with the top down, radio blaring. Leaping from the car, the man sprinted up to the table, grabbed one of the cups, and downed his cider in one memorable gulp. He smiled as he stuffed a bill into the collection cup, and didn’t wait for his change. As the stranger roared down the boulevard, the children flew to me on the front porch, chirping like startled sparrows all the way up the steps.

“Guess what!  That guy in the car gave us ten dollars for the cider and he didn’t want any change!!  TEN DOLLARS!!”

Breathless and giddy, the two began negotiating how the miraculous windfall would be divided. One of them remarked that the cider must have been very good, having earned such an awesome profit.

Despite everything that’s wrong in the world, it’s hard to remain cynical on a grace-filled day like that. I remembered a phrase I’d read by the poet John Keats, and I knew that this was what he meant by “Moments big as years.”   –Cindy La Ferle

— Copyright 2005; Hearth Stone Books; excerpted from Writing Home —

Support your local authors

Miss a meal if you have to, but don’t miss a good book.” — Jim Rohn

Earlier this year, I went to a friend’s book signing event that was so well attended it brought tears to my eyes. My friend and his co-author gave a wonderful presentation to a standing-room-only crowd — and sold more books than they’d initially planned.

I was reminded of my very first book signing for Writing Home at our local Borders. Before the signing, I worried that only a handful of relatives would show up. Imagine my surprise, and gratitude, when I walked into Borders and saw a line forming at my table — a line of new friends, old neighbors, and column readers from all over the community. I sold so many books that the manager invited me back to do another book signing at holiday time two months later.

All of this got me thinking: What if I could provide a similar supportive experience — a huge book signing — for other authors in my hometown, all in one location? And what if this book sale event could also serve as an opportunity to encourage aspiring authors who want to learn more about getting published?

The first annual Royal Oak Authors Book Fair sprouted from that seed. Thanks to the Royal Oak Public Library, a dozen authors from Royal Oak will gather for a community book signing and public panel discussion this Saturday, Oct. 9, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.

Nearly every literary genre, from fiction to self-help will be represented at the Fair. Many of Royal Oak’s authors have been featured nationally and are “best-sellers” in their own right: Book Fair authors and publishers will include: Gerry Boyan, David Clements, Judy Davids, Steve Haffner (Haffner Press), Dr. Charles K. Hyde, Steve Lehto, Trevor McCauley, Maureen McDonald, Eleanor Payson, John S. Schultz, Tom Weschler, and yours truly.

So bring your questions on publishing and the writing life to our panel discussion at 1:30 in the Royal Oak Public Library Auditorium. Help us celebrate the printed word. And plan to do some book shopping afterward. I’ll be signing copies of my own book, plus you’ll find several books on Detroit’s automotive history; fantasy and sci-fi novels: a biography on Bob Seger; a hitchhiker’s novel; a photo-history of Royal Oak; a self-help guide; plus memoirs, murder mysteries … and more! — Cindy La Ferle

Royal Oak Authors Book Fair poster (above) designed by Judy Davids. Click on the poster for a larger view.