Archive for the ‘Columns & essays’ Category
Cindy La Ferle on October 16th, 2013
At midlife, our hearts and bodies often become increasingly sensitive to things that no longer serve us.” — Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Long before the weird heart palpitations started, my first warning was a never-ending series of medical appointments on my day planner.
Not one of those appointments was for me.
Three years ago, I’d purchased a new day planner to keep track of my widowed mother’s care management. While transferring dates and phone numbers from my previous planner, I noticed I’d driven Mom to nearly 50 medical appointments in less than a year — yet I’d neglected to schedule an annual physical for myself.
Unable to drive due to her progressing vascular dementia, Mom lived alone in her condo then, relying solely on me to help maintain her “independence.” Between regular trips to Mom’s cardiologist, urologist, audiologist, primary care physician, pacemaker clinic, and various surgeons, I was lucky if I could book a free morning to get my teeth cleaned.
Friends told me I was looking tired, but I ignored them (and thought they were being cruel). Months of worry and caregiving were starting to take their toll — yet I was too frantic to notice.
The beat goes on and on
Since March of this year, Mom has fallen twice, first fracturing her back and later shattering her ankle. (By this time, we’d finally made the difficult decision to move her, totally against her wishes, to a skilled nursing care facility.) These episodes required three extended hospital stays and two surgeries — plus weeks of physical therapy.
Meanwhile, I endured two minor surgeries of my own, but ended up spending my recovery time overseeing my mother’s care at the hospital. I would try to care for myself later, I promised.
Visiting Mom at the hospital, I could feel my blood pressure rising every time she insisted she was “perfectly capable” of caring for herself at home. Deluded by the insidious fog of dementia, she refused to believe she’d broken her ankle and was unable to walk — even when we pointed to the cast on her leg.
Over and over, she’d ask: Why are you keeping me here, there is nothing wrong with me … Why can’t I go home now?… When are you taking me home?
By August, I’d developed some alarming new symptoms of my very own — including heart palpitations — and a wretched case of insomnia. My heart would pound for no reason — even while I was relaxing in front of the TV.
It scared the hell out of me, unpredictably, several times a day.
I was terrified enough to finally schedule an appointment with Dr. Paul Ehrmann, my family doctor, who ordered several tests. As Dr. Paul explained it, I’d been living on adrenaline fumes after functioning on “high alert” for the past couple of years.
Taking versus giving
More than one-third of caregivers who provide continuing care for a spouse or another family member are doing so “while suffering poor health themselves,” notes a study cited by the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org). Not surprisingly, middle-aged and older female caregivers are more susceptible to heart disease, hypertension, and depression than those with no caregiving duties. The stats are sobering, so I won’t go on here.
“In many midlife women, heart palpitations are primarily caused by increasing heart energy trying to get in and be embodied in a woman’s life,” explains Christiane Northrup, M.D., author of The Wisdom of Menopause. “My experience has been that our bodies speak to us only when we can’t seem to ‘hear’ them any other way. When issues of love, issues of the soul, or issues of a woman’s unmet passions cry out for attention, they often take the form of heart palpitations.”
Dr. Northrup challenges women to ask what could be weighing heavily on our hearts — including our key relationships. Are friends and loved ones “investing” as much in our emotional bank as we’re investing in theirs? If not, why do we hang on to unbalanced alliances?
Of course, some relationships — family, especially — are not dispensable. I have no choice but to show up for my mother and to manage all aspects of her life, from finances to healthcare. But when others make silly or unfair demands on my time — or ignore my emotional needs — I have every right to question those relationships. My heart depends on it.
“When issues of love, issues of the soul, or issues of a woman’s unmet passions cry out for attention, they often take the form of heart palpitations.” – Christiane Northrup, M.D.
Reading Dr. Northrup’s advice, I also realized I’d been putting everyone else’s needs ahead my own for the past two decades. Starting in early motherhood, I’d completely redesigned my career goals around the schedules of my husband and son. As soon as my son left for college, my widowed mother’s health began failing, throwing me unexpectedly into the role of full-time caregiver again.
Hearing the heart sounds
Once we “listen” to what our hearts are telling us, Dr. Northrup says, our symptoms begin to fade — though it’s always best to have them checked by a physician, as I did.
Even though Mom has been in a nursing home for several months, I have to remind myself that I needn’t worry about her 24/7. Professional caregivers are being paid to tend to her needs.
I’ve also learned that it’s best to avoid visiting her when I’m feeling especially depressed or exhausted. Mom still begs me to take her “home” — which inevitably leads to more heartbreak and frustration for both of us. The social worker at the nursing home has suggested “redirecting” our conversations to focus on happier memories — which rarely works for anxious dementia patients like my mother, but I keep trying.
Though it might seem otherwise, this post isn’t a pity party. I fully accept the privilege of being part of a family — which often includes caring for a chronically ill (or incredibly difficult) elderly parent. I hope it serves as a warning for anyone fulfilling the role of caregiver while navigating her own middle years — years that inevitably present health challenges and other turning points she might ignore at her peril.
It’s time to listen up. Listen to your heart.
The artwork in this essay — “Cycles of the Muse,” by Cindy La Ferle — is featured in The Rust Belt Almanac, a new anthology of art, fiction, and poetry about growth, change and loss in America’s Rust Belt. Copies available for purchase on Amazon.com.
Cindy La Ferle on October 1st, 2013
The belief in a thing makes it happen.” — Frank Lloyd Wright
Everyone who loves houses enjoys stories about “do overs” and makeovers — so here’s a new one for you. Besides, it’s been a while since I’ve posted news about our second home on the west side of the state.
The past few months have been stressful and exciting for our Frank Lloyd Wright home, designed for industrialist Carl Schultz in 1957. Wright fans appreciate the fact that the house represents the famous architect’s final mark in western Michigan before his death in 1959.
Overlooking a wooded ravine and riverbank in historic St. Joseph, it even came with some of its original Wright-designed furniture.
But the home wasn’t in good repair when we found it.
The day we took ownership five years ago, I was on my knees scrubbing gruesome rust stains in the bathrooms while my husband, Doug, scouted the hallway for more roof leaks. (When you think of a haunted house, you probably conjure images of a crumbling gothic Victorian that only the Addams family could love. But trust me: Even mid-century modern homes can be very scary when they fall into disrepair.)
In other words, the Schultz house needed more than a new roof and a cleaning service. In fact, it was the beauty of the nearby river – along with the leaky roof and plumbing problems – that inspired me to name the house “Runningwater.” Luckily, Doug is a tireless architect, constantly working toward the goal of leaving the Schultz house better than we’d found it.
This spring, Doug launched a massive renovation/restoration project, driving back and forth across the state almost weekly to work with his construction crew. Not a day flew by when he wasn’t on the phone with the construction manager.
I won’t elaborate on the architectural specifics, because you can visit The Carl Schultz House Web site for a complete history of the house and more photos of the renovation process, including the repair and restoration of the original red concrete floors.
Putting it back together
If I’ve learned nothing else over the years, I’ve discovered that architects and construction crews — like newspaper columnists — cannot kick ass without deadlines.
With that in mind, Doug agreed to put our freshly renovated Schultz house on two house tours this fall. The first, a fundraiser for the Symphony League of Southwest Michigan, was held Sunday, September 29th. The second tour — for the national Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy — will be held later this month.
Being the sweet, devoted wife that I am, I volunteered to help Doug redecorate the house — and style it — for its big public debut.
Well, I wish you could have heard me swearing (WTF!? was just for starters) when I arrived at the house on Friday — 48 hours before the first tour. A dozen trucks blocked the driveway. Construction workers had taken over the living room and master bedroom, and construction dust wafted everywhere. All the furniture and accessories were buried under drop cloths and tools, or scattered like roadkill around the driveway. (See top photos.)
The workmen labored on until 7pm the night before the house tour. With the help of a wonderful local housecleaning duo, we all scrubbed and dusted like the devil and somehow managed to put everything back together — excluding the master bedroom and bath — for public viewing. At one point, I looked down and noticed my right foot was bleeding — and I have no idea how it happened.
Once again, I want to emphasize that the two “before” photos at the top were taken last Friday — just 48 hours before the last two photos shown at the end of this post. The second photo, with tool boxes in the foreground, shows another view of the finished room in the bottom photo. You can click on the photos for a larger view.
All said and (almost) done, the hard work on this project has its rewards — the best being the dozens of people on the tour who’ve thanked us for opening our doors and sharing a slice of architectural history.
Meanwhile, I’ve returned home to my old Tudor here in Royal Oak, which is really starting to look like it needs a paint job …
All photos copyrighted by Cindy and Doug La Ferle. Middle photo shows Doug La Ferle (right) with the late Balthazar Korab, who came to photograph the Schultz home in 2010.
Cindy La Ferle on September 20th, 2013
More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need gentleness and kindness.” — Charlie Chaplin
Placing my order in the drive-thru line of a fast-food restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised by the woman who responded on the speaker. Upbeat and professional, her Diane Sawyer-like delivery changed my perception of the restaurant — so much so, in fact, that I mentioned it when I pulled up to the window for my onion rings.
“Wow, thanks for the compliment!” she answered, as stunned as she was pleased. “Nobody’s ever said that before.”
I shared this little episode with an editor who agreed that few of us are used to hearing praise or applause these days. (Journalists, after all, endure more public scolding on a daily basis than any other profession.)
And you don’t have to read the viewpoint pages to realize there are an awful lot of folks out there who’ve managed to turn griping and nitpicking into a full-time hobby. Maybe it’s human nature to derive pleasure from pointing out everything that’s wrong in the world, from errors of grammar to fashion mistakes. Or maybe it’s symptomatic of a clinically crabby culture. Either way, lately I’ve noticed that people would just as soon flip you the bird from behind a car window as say something nice to you in person. How sad is that?
Not that we shouldn’t be held accountable for errors or asked to repair what we’ve damaged. Criticism often paves the road to improvement. But if negative criticism is all we hear, well, it’s just plain demoralizing.
That’s why I’ve made it my mission to practice a new approach: I catch others doing something right, and then I tell them so. It really isn’t as radical as it sounds, since paying a compliment needn’t be such a big deal. Praise shouldn’t be confused with flattery, nor should it be saved for special occasions like award banquets, retirement parties, and funerals.
If the dinner special is outstanding, for example, I ask the waiter to share my review with the chef. If my new haircut is especially flattering, I’m just as generous with my kudos as I am with my stylist’s tip. If my son takes extra care with his household chores, I tell him that his effort didn’t go unnoticed. And if a girlfriend shows up in a sharp new outfit, I tell her how terrific she looks.
As corny as it sounds, I really do feel better when I make others feel good. Even Mark Twain, our greatest American cynic, once admitted that he could “live for two months on a good compliment.” I also believe that every piece of mean-spirited criticism we hurl, whether it’s a spiteful comment about a coworker’s promotion or a lethal letter to the editor, will eventually fly back in our faces like a pie in a Three Stooges film.
Karma can be a bitch, after all.
An impressive body of medical research indicates that chronic complainers and negative thinkers are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, including cancer. Negativity is highly contagious, which is why nobody likes to hang around people who make a habit of it.
This summer, I finished two books by an author whose elegant prose lifted me higher and made me feel like a better person for having read his work. At the end of each book, he extended this invitation: “I always enjoy hearing from readers and fellow pilgrims, and sincerely hope you’ll write and tell me what you think.”
Someday, when I’ve finished grumbling about my lack of free time, I’m going to sit down and write that guy a nice letter.
This essay is excerpted from my story collection, Writing Home, available from Amazon.com in print and Kindle editions. Ordering info is included at the top of this Web site.
Artwork at top is a mixed-media assemblage in progress, by Cindy La Ferle
Cindy La Ferle on September 13th, 2013
Fashion fades, only style remains the same.” — Coco Chanel
Fashion trends are as fickle as Michigan’s four seasons — which is partly why I’m weary of women’s magazines that make me feel old, outdated, or uncool if I’m not wearing what they’re promoting.
But I love clothing and accessories, and have always appreciated beautifully crafted or unusual pieces, new and old.
For years I’ve haunted thrift shops in search of one-of-a-kind treasures to mix with my own wardrobe basics. What I enjoy most about vintage pieces is how they make an outfit totally personal — especially when combined with something new.
Among my favorites: a vintage Christian Dior tux jacket; a 1970s double-breasted blazer with huge tortoise-shell buttons; and a statement necklace refashioned from 1950s costume jewelry. I also own several vintage scarves, belts, and evening bags — always handy for jazzing up the ubiquitous little black dress. While some of my evening dresses from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s are collectibles and not entirely suitable for wearing out, I wear most of my vintage clothing and jewelry.
If you’re as interested in this topic as I am, you’ll want to check out the the September 2013 issue of Traditional Home, which includes a fascinating piece on vintage couture and jewelry collectors. Detroit’s own Sandy Schreier, whose museum-quality clothing collection is respected by world-class curators and fashion designers, is featured in the article.
My own collection of isn’t nearly as chic or noteworthy, of course, but it brings me endless pleasure and often comes in handy when I work as a background extra in films.
Whether I’m shopping for a costume or my personal wardrobe, I carefully examine thrift-shop clothing for damage before I make a purchase. I’m not an accomplished seamstress, but I’m handy with minor repairs and stain removal — and always willing to change buttons. If a piece isn’t hand- or machine washable, that’s usually a deal-breaker for me, unless we’re talking about a couture piece offered at an exceptional price.
An added bonus: Some of the best thrift shops in my community support local charities, or are run by charitable organizations. It feels good to know that my purchases support others in need. Fashion is fleeting, after all, and I’m glad I don’t have to break the bank for it.
Cindy La Ferle on September 7th, 2013
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.” ~Joyce Maynard
Did you hear all the school bells ringing last week? Though autumn isn’t officially here yet, the start of the new school year never fails to begin the season for me. Change is in the air — and I’m ready for it!
For many who’ve launched their kids to college for the first time, it’s also the beginning of the empty nest transition.
If you’re having a tough time letting go of your student, you might find some comfort in my new column for Michigan Prime. The September issue — which also features great back-to-school tips for middle-aged and “senior” students — will be delivered this Sunday with The Detroit News and Free Press, or you can click here to read it online.