Redecorating for empty nesters

Version 2

Cindy La Ferle

Spring is here, and our thoughts naturally turn to refreshing our homes and gardens — and maybe starting a new decorating project. In the April issue of Michigan Prime, I trace the bittersweet evolution of my grown son’s former bedroom, and how it reflected the changes in our family life over the years. If you’re an empty nester, you’ll relate to this piece. Look for the magazine this weekend in your Sunday Detroit Free Press or turn to page 3 to read my column in the online edition.

 

Home for the holidays

DSCN2880Now in its second printing and available on KindleWriting Home is a collection of my published magazine essays and family newspaper columns. Awarded several prizes for creative nonfiction, it’s been dubbed “a love letter to home and family life.” If you enjoy my personal blog and current newspaper essays, you might appreciate this collection of earlier memoirs, too.

To read excerpts, reviews, and the new introduction to the Kindle edition, please click this link and visit the book’s page on Amazon.

To purchase Writing Home locally, visit The Yellow Door Art Market, where you’ll find a wonderful selection of other Michigan books and gifts for everyone on your list.

 

 

Home is here, now

So I’ll try to see into your eyes right now, and stay right here, ’cause these are the good old days.” — Carly Simon, “Anticipation”

Thanksgiving2My grown son, who’s married and lives in Chicago, is back in town with his wife for a friend’s wedding. It’s a short weekend visit, but I plan to enjoy every minute of it.

This morning I recalled an earlier autumn homecoming, nine years ago, when Nate first left the state for college. As a brand-new empty nester, I’d been anticipating his fall break and return home. I looked forward to being Mom again, if only for a few days.

Two weeks earlier, I channeled my inner June Cleaver and planned a week’s worth of family meals and favorite snacks. I reorganized my work deadlines, freeing extra time to take him out for lunch at his former haunts. My husband repaired the plaster damage from a roof leak in Nate’s bedroom, and then repainted it.

As soon as our son walked in the side door, the truth hit home: What the kid really needed was a low-key week. Stressed-out from exams, Nate wasn’t expecting a fanfare or fancy dinners. He’d been looking forward to sleeping in and simply hanging out with family and friends. In my efforts to turn his visit into a special event, I’d forgotten that my son didn’t want to feel like a guest in his own home.

Realizing my error, I released my grip and let the week unfurl without a plan.

In retrospect, the high points of that first break were the times we ran a few mundane errands together. Driving around town, between trips to the dry cleaner and the drugstore, we chatted about Nate’s classes, his new friends in the dorm, and the music he was listening to then. College was turning my snarky adolescent boy into a thoughtful young man — and I found myself enjoying his company.

fallcolor3

More than wrinkles and gray hair, our kids never fail to remind us of our own aging.  Overnight, they morph from preschoolers in OshKosh overalls to college students in size 12 running shoes. Letting go also requires that we accept the fact that time isn’t standing still for any of us.

It’s a sobering thought — and ever more poignant when autumn leaves start to scatter across our doorstep.

Earlier this fall, for instance, I watched from a distance while the neighborhood teens posed for homecoming photographs in their formalwear. Giddy with anticipation, the girls could barely stand still while a group of proud parents focused their cameras. The boys struggled to look comfortable in freshly pressed suits and ties. Their youthful beauty took my breath away, and my heart ached a little.

It occurred to me then that my days of snapping photos of prom gowns and homecoming suits were over. And I wondered: Had I fully experienced those moments, or simply captured them on film to savor later? How often had I dashed mindlessly from one “special” event to the next?

Recalling the lyrics to Carly Simon’s “Anticipation,” I’m struck by the fact that our “good old days” are unfolding right here and right now. But we have to slow down long enough to appreciate them.

It’s a worthy thought to ponder before the onset of the winter holidays – before all of us get tangled up in holiday lights and lists, decorating marathons, and long lines at the malls.

In anticipation of Thanksgiving, I’m adding all things beautifully mundane and uneventful to my gratitude list.  I’m counting my commonplace blessings — the bowl of red apples on the kitchen counter; the mischievous cat chasing the pens on my desk; a pot of vegetable soup simmering in my slow cooker; a weekend visit with my son and his wife.

This season I’ll practice coming home to the present moment, to the grace of ordinary days on my calendar.

Home for the holidays

Proceeds from the holiday sales of my book, Writing Home, are donated annually to organizations serving the homeless.  Since the book’s first printing in 2005, I’ve had the honor of donating several hundred dollars from book sales and speaker fees to both the Welcome Inn and South Oakland Shelter, here in metro Detroit.

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”  ~Washington Irving

I do this every year because “home” always tops my gratitude list. I’m blessed to live in a wonderful old house in the middle of a neighborhood and community I love. And that, in a nutshell, is what the stories in Writing Home are all about. Yet here in this same community of established neighborhoods and solid vintage homes, there’s a homeless population that’s been hit twice as hard by Detroit’s long-suffering economy. Like others in my neighborhood, I want to help.

Now in its 2nd printing and available on Kindle, copies of Writing Home can be purchased on Amazon.com for less than $20 and mailed in time for holiday giving. And you can feel good about the fact that $5 of your holiday purchase will benefit someone in need (not the author or publisher). If you live in Oakland County, look for the book at the Yellow Door Art Market in Berkley or at the Royal Oak Historical Museum.

Thank you for your support this year. From my home to yours, I wish you a heart filled with gratitude for all that you have.— Cindy La Ferle

Homecoming memories

Nobody cares if you can’t dance well.  Just get up and dance.”  ~Dave Barry

My son Nate is 25 now, and past the stage of high school homecoming dances. But this week, some of my neighbors are gearing up for this sweet tradition, and I remembered this essay from my book, Writing Home. Happy news: Nate is engaged to the young woman mentioned at the end of the essay and shown in the photo at left. –CL

“The Homecoming Dance”

September 21, 2003

From baptism to bar mitzvah, rituals and rites of passage honor the milestones in our lives.  Certain rituals are so closely tied to autumn, in fact, that I can’t imagine the season without them. Raking leaves, visiting cider mills, and digging woolens out of storage are just a few.

But the annual high school homecoming dance crowns them all.

At our house, as surely as the maples shed yellow leaves on the lawn, this semi-formal event kicks up a whirlwind of activity and emotion. Some of it is not pretty.

Since I’m the mother of a son, my homecoming rituals do not include shopping for the ultimate evening gown and the perfect shade of nail polish. Admittedly, I miss playing Fairy Godmother to Cinderella, so I live vicariously through other moms who have teenaged daughters. That’s how I’ve learned that things are different with boys. The angst level, for instance, is much lower in the wardrobe department. Guys don’t worry about their hair, and they don’t have to obsess over finding a purse to coordinate with a pair of shoes that will be worn only once.

Traditionally, a boy waits until forty-five minutes before the big event to consider whether or not his dress shirt needs to be unearthed from the closet floor. (This is based on the assumption that he owns a dress shirt.) At that point, all hell breaks loose, sending his beleaguered parents in search of an ironing board while the boy hunts down a pair of matching socks. He also waits until the final hour to announce that his good suit has cake frosting on the lapel – a souvenir from the last semi-formal event he attended.

Homecoming rituals will test any parent’s mettle, but I believe I’m a sturdier person because of them.

I miss playing Fairy Godmother to Cinderella, so I live vicariously through other moms who have teenaged daughters.

Last year, a week before the big dance, we drove Nate to Nordstrom’s to shop for a new shirt and tie. Anticipating conflict, I backed off and let him sort through the merchandise with his dad. I tried to keep quiet – until I spotted a handsome gold dress shirt that was perfect for his black suit.

“Look at this one, guys!” I shouted, holding up the prize. On cue, Doug spotted a great tie to go with it. Our sweet son glanced at the ensemble, rolled his eyes, and muttered his new favorite word: “Hideous.”

Seconds later, Nate’s cell phone rang. It was Andrea – a young lady with impeccable fashion sense. Andrea happened to be shopping in the area and would come to his rescue. She would help him find the right shirt.

Well, when the fashionista arrived in the men’s department, she immediately chose – you guessed it – the gold shirt. Suddenly this shirt was awesome, and the tie was fairly cool, too. (I bit my tongue and reminded myself that God really does look out for parents, and He is everywhere, including Nordstrom’s.)

As I type this, the next homecoming dance is a week away. Just as I did last year, and the year before that, I’ve reminded Nate to ask a date in advance. Once again, I’ve explained how girls need time to shop for dresses and book hair appointments. And just as he did last year, the kid kept his plans under wraps until he needed advice on ordering a corsage.

As it turns out, Nate’s date this year is Andrea, the sharp young lady with good taste in men’s shirts. Thinking ahead last week, we bought Nate a new shirt and tie to co-ordinate with her dress. Thank goodness, Andrea approves. Meanwhile, I am not taking any chances and have dropped off the black suit at the dry cleaner.

This is senior year, after all, and we’ve finally learned the steps to the homecoming dance. — Cindy La Ferle

Writing Home is available in local bookstores and on Amazon.com (see link at the top of this page). Proceeds from my book sales are donated annually to organizations serving the homeless, including the Welcome Inn and South Oakland Shelter, at holiday time.