Mad for a cause

What this world needs is a new kind of army — the army of the kind and compassionate.” — Cleveland Armory

While I don’t typically plug fundraisers here, this is a special invitation to support a very good cause.

My husband, Doug, is a board member of the Boys & Girls Club of South Oakland County, and he’s inviting everyone to be part of “Walk for the Future” — one of the largest annual events sponsored by the Club. This relatively painless walk-a-thon takes place in our community on Saturday, May 5th.

New to the board last year, Doug decided to shake things up and have some creative fun with the walk. Dubbed The Mad Hatters, the team he recruited for the fundraiser last year had to wear crazy hats. Strolling the course at Beaumont Hospital, we played drums, blew on noise makers and, well, you get the idea. We had a total blast, but best of all, our Mad Hatters team raised several thousand dollars for kids in our community.

This year, Doug’s co-captain for the Mad Hatters 2012 team is our good neighbor and family dentist, Dr. Steve Gustafson. The walk will take place at Memorial Park at Woodward and 13 Mile in Royal Oak, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Participants will enjoy free food, refreshments, and activities for kids.

If you’d like to join the Mad Hatters’ team on May 5, please click on the link below and follow the directions. If you can’t join our “Walk for the Future” but would still like to help our local Boys & Girls Club, this link will allow you to make a donation on behalf of the Mad Matters. 

For general information about the “Walk for the Future 2012,” please click here:

You can donate as little as $5 or as much as $50 million. Or you don’t have to give anything but an hour of your time on the walk on May 5th. Don’t forget your hat!

Top photo: A few members of our Mad Hatters 2011 team, from left to right: John Schultz, Doug La Ferle, Matilda Benda, Jeanette Roller, Cassandra Roller, Dr. Shari Morningstar. 

French adventure

Life itself is the proper binge” — Julia Child

One of the challenges — and pleasures — of maintaining old friendships is finding new ways to surprise each other.

Last weekend, it was my turn to host a few women in my neighborhood who’ve been close for more than two decades. For our semi-annual gatherings, we take turns hosting and try to come up with a special theme dinner or a local culinary adventure.

More often than not, we end up renting a movie to watch after dinner — a documentary, foreign film, or even a chick flick that our husbands wouldn’t care to watch. (At one get-together, for instance, we spent an afternoon watching both versions of Grey Gardens, starting with the original documentary.)

Always a Francophile, I opted for a French theme this time around. And since I already own Amelie — one of my favorite foreign films — everything fell into place.

For me, half the fun of hosting a dinner party is shopping and planning for it. Turning to The French Slow Cooker by Michele Scicolone, I chose an easy boeuf en daube that could be prepared ahead of time. The day of our dinner was unseasonably warm, so I opened the windows in the garden room and set our table for dinner there. When my friends arrived, I served brie and strawberries, then put together a simple salad of pears, blue cheese, almonds, and French vinaigrette.

Of course, no dinner party is complete without the right music. For this one I chose the musical score to Midnight in Paris and French Cafe (a collection of original French classics, including Bridgette Bardot’s Un Jour Comme un Autre). I also own the musical score to Amelie, so I played a sampling as a preview. After dinner, oui, we poured French roast coffee and headed down to the rec room to watch the film.

When it comes to entertaining our oldest friends, it’s all too easy to get stuck in familiar ruts and routines. And when life gets crazy-busy, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with throwing in the dishtowel and meeting for a burger and a beer at a local hangout. But it’s twice as much fun to shake things up and try something out of the ordinary. Each time we do, we create a wonderful new memory. — Cindy La Ferle

–Bottom photo: Image of Audrey Tautou as Amelie, from the film. For a larger view, please click on each image. —

The perfect wedding dress

There is something about a wedding gown prettier than any other gown in the world.” –Douglas Jerrold

When my son, Nate, and his fiancee, Andrea, announced their engagement last July, their September 2012 wedding seemed ages away. But here we are, with six months left to go until the Big Day.

Working with Andrea’s mom, Matilda, we’ve spent the past few days meeting with the florist, mapping out the dance floor for the reception, debating the placement of the wedding cake, and discussing restaurant options for the post-wedding brunch. As parents of the groom, Doug and I are absolutely thrilled to be part of the decision-making.

Still, I have to admit that the loveliest part, so far, has been getting a preview of Andrea’s wedding dress. Last fall, I was touched when Andrea invited me to tag along when she started shopping for The Dress. Over the years I’ve logged more than a few hours with Andrea and Matilda at our local shopping mall — but this was, by far, our most memorable shopping trip.

According to suburban wedding lore, there’s a perfect dress for every bride. Andrea had a vision of what she wanted, and was lucky enough to find her dress at the first salon we visited in Birmingham.

Watching Andrea make her selection from rows of dresses embellished with yards of white lace, beaded satin, silk and tulle, I couldn’t help but recall the high school years when she posed with Nate in front of my camera in her prom gowns and homecoming dresses. How quickly those years flew.

And, yes, I blinked back a few happy tears as my future daughter-in-law stepped up to the small platform in front of the mirror at the bridal salon, moving rivers of silk behind her as the sales consultant offered opinions and made adjustments to the various gowns.

As every mother of a daughter knows, it’s a bittersweet privilege to witness a young lady blossom into a self-assured woman with a rich future ahead of her. Since I’ve never had a daughter of my own, I felt honored to be part of this special moment at the bridal salon.

Of course, Andrea looked like a dream in all of the gowns she tried on. But one in particular was, as everyone agreed, an elegant selection. The perfect dress for her.

When we returned for her first fitting last weekend (above), I couldn’t resist snapping a few photos with my iPhone — but I promised Andrea I wouldn’t share any close-ups or key details until after the wedding. Even so, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that she will be the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen. — Cindy La Ferle


Useful and beautiful

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris

After quitting Facebook and limiting the hours I spend online daily, I’ve suddenly reclaimed more time to dig into household projects I’d been putting off for ages.

Borrowing my mantra from William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, I’m making it my mission this month to eliminate everything I don’t find “useful or beautiful.” In other words, this goes much deeper than the topic of spring cleaning or tossing mismatched Tupperware.

It’s about refurbishing an entire lifestyle.

At first, the very thought of sweeping the whole house at once seemed daunting. So I divided my “Pitch and Purge” project into small, manageable steps. Drawer by drawer, room by room, day by day.

Starting with my home office, for instance, I cleared every scrap of paper and dried-out pen from the top of my desk. Then I tackled the bookshelves, filling two grocery sacks with paperbacks to donate to our public library’s annual book sale.

Newly energized by my clutter-free office, I turned my attention to the garden room. One of my favorite spots in our home, the garden room hadn’t been redecorated since it was added to our vintage Tudor about 16 years ago. Because it serves as both an eating space and a sunny spot to read our newspapers, I wanted to make the room even more functional and inviting.

This goes much deeper than the topic of spring cleaning. It’s really about refurbishing an entire lifestyle.”

Clearing every shelf in the garden room, I found additional space to display the Portmeirion Botanic Garden dinnerware we use daily. I gleefully tossed or recycled the knickknacks that were cluttering the tabletops and shelves, saving only the pieces that hold sentimental value. Then I moved some furniture, which opened up more space and makes the whole room look newer, less cluttered. Lastly, in keeping with the room’s original purpose, I added a few more plants to cheer us until spring arrives. The plants, in fact, were the only purchases I made in addition to a new set of woven placemats for the table.

Upstairs in the bedroom, I filled 10 garbage bags with clothes and accessories I haven’t worn in years. Though I can’t bring myself to pare down to the 10 essential pieces listed in Jennifer L. Scott’s Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris, I’m trimming my wardrobe down to several key pieces in a neutral palette. I also pitched an entire bag of shoes that hurt my feet — because life is too short for unbearable footwear, no matter how cute it looks.

When I am not pitching, I’m re-purposing. The cosmetics in my bathroom cabinets and drawers are just a case in point.

Like many women I know, I used to feel guilty about accumulating (and not using) creams and cosmetic samples that don’t work for my skin type. Instead of tossing them, I’m giving some of the creams a second life by using them on my hands. By placing these products within easy reach around the house or in my purse, I’ve freed extra space in my bathroom. An added bonus: The creams that were too rich for my face are now making my hands look nicer. (Note: Liquid cosmetics that are more than a year old may be spoiled and should be tossed.)

I’m nowhere near finished with this project, of course, but I hope it will be ongoing. Every day, I try to look at each room in the house with fresh eyes, then ask myself:  What is useful, what is beautiful, and why do I own it?

As I type this, my soul feels lighter. My possessions have less control over me. My life is less cluttered. And my home, which I’ve always loved, is bringing me twice as much pleasure.  — Cindy La Ferle

NOTE:  For another spin on the topic of house-clearing, please look for my “Puttering” meditation on page 158 in my collection of inspirational essays, Writing Home.