Writing Home column collection

front cover dec 3Described as “both a memoir and a handbook for living,” this collection of my most popular published essays and columns, Writing Home, is now in its second printing. Awarded several prizes for creative nonfiction, the book is for everyone who has ever attempted to combine work, parenthood, and homemaking. Detroit-area readers can purchase copies at Yellow Door Art Market in Berkley.

The Kindle version is also available on Amazon.

Writing Home for Christmas

DSCN2883Need a last-minute, affordable gift this Christmas?* My essay collection, Writing Home, is available on Amazon or can be purchased locally (in Berkley, MI) at the Yellow Door Art Market, where you’ll find lots of Michigan-made gifts and books.

Now in its 2nd edition, Writing Home won several awards for creative nonfiction, including one from Writer’s Digest. It’s a large collection of my favorite published pieces — inspirational, feel-good stories about home, family, and life itself. It’s now available in both print and Kindle editions. Over the past 10 years, several hundred dollars from the profits of my book sales have been donated to organizations serving the homeless in my community.

Wishing you a wonderful, meaningful holiday season this year!

*With apologies for the shameless plug.

My last photo with Dad

This short piece was first published in The Daily Tribune on Father’s Day, 2002, in my old “Life Lines” column. It’s reprinted in my essay collection, Writing Home

249570_10150280937670242_5875146_nIt’s my favorite photograph of Dad and me — one of those priceless family icons I’d rescue if the house caught fire.

Taken on Father’s Day in 1992, it reveals the totally uncomplicated relationship we’d enjoyed right up to the moment the shutter clicked. I use the word uncomplicated because I cant think of a more lyrical way to describe my father or the way he lived.

Even when pop psychologists urged us to scrutinize our parents and find them suspect, I saw my dad as a sweet, patient man whose agenda was rarely hidden. He was the kind of guy who appreciated most people just as they were, and I think that’s what we all loved best about him.

But let me explain the photograph.

Dad and I were standing on my back porch, having just finished the surprise dinner I’d hosted for him and my father-in-law. Dad wore a pale blue-gray windbreaker and an outdated pair of glasses that somehow looked right on him. My hair was orange, thanks to a failed experiment with a drugstore highlighting kit. The late afternoon sun shimmered through the maples in our yard, and my mother was anxious to finish the film left in her camera.

Dad and I hugged tightly for the shot.

He was sixty-five and grinning — despite the grim diagnosis of degenerative heart disease he’d been given a few months earlier. At thirty-seven, I was newly unemployed and unsure of my career path. The travel magazine I edited for nearly six years had folded abruptly, dropping me off at midlife without a new map. Still, summer had arrived and we were optimistic. Dad’s diabetes was under control, or as he put it, he’d been “feeling pretty darned good lately.”

Better yet, the ball games were in full swing. It wasn’t shaping up to be a stellar season for the Tigers, but Cecil Fielder and Lou Whitaker were giving it their best. While I never shared my dad’s religious devotion to baseball, I still can’t hear the crack of a bat against a ball without remembering the old transistor radio he kept tuned to his games.

But theres something else about the photo. Looking at it today, youd never imagine the two of us had a major-league concern beyond what we’d be eating for dessert that evening. Nor would you guess that this 35mm print chronicled one of our last days together.

The inevitable phone call came two weeks later on a Monday morning: “Your dad collapsed in the driveway. The ambulance is coming.”

So this week I’m very grateful for that luminous Father’s Day afternoon ten years ago — grateful I hadn’t waited another day to throw my dad a surprise party. I usually postpone my good intentions, adding them to a long list of things I plan to do later. Later, when theres more time…

“Today is the only time we can possibly live,” wrote Dale Carnegie, whose work my father read often and admired. I see now that Carnegie’s philosophy is gleefully captured in my father’s grin, which my mother wisely captured on film.

Remembering 9/11

This piece is included in 09/11 8:48 AM: Documenting America’s Greatest Tragedy, an anthology of raw, immediate accounts published across the nation after the tragedy of 9/11, edited by Ethan Casey with the New York University School of Journalism. It first appeared in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI).

The Long Way Home

By Cindy La Ferle

September 20, 2001, Royal Oak, MI

A little more than a week has passed since our country was attacked and brought to its knees. A friend of mine says she is trying to wake up from what she calls Stephen Kings worst nightmare. The rest of us still feel as though weve been wandering in a fog, unable to find our way home. Home, it seems, has been completely redesigned by horrific acts of terrorism. Ever since last Tuesday, everything is different. Everything.

sept11I have stopped assuming that home will ever be completely safe from disaster. This thought alone makes every wall, every window, every piece of oak, maple, brick, or concrete in my neighborhood, my world, seem all the more precious.

Ive stopped obsessing over the things I used to obsess about. Ive stopped worrying about the fact that my refrigerator needs cleaning and the walls in the kitchen need repainting. Things like that dont matter now. My focus has changed.

It doesnt matter if my family leaves a mess on the breakfast counter every morning. And so what if I trip over somebodys shoes in the hallway? I am deeply grateful that there are people living here — eating breakfast and wearing shoes.

I imagine this is all part of the grieving process, and that someday things will seem normal again. Right now, though, I feel a bit like Emily in Thornton Wilders Our Town. Emily is the character who, near the end of the play, returns to her hometown as a ghost and realizes how much she took for granted when she was alive. Emily recites a list of the simple things that made her days precious — things like the smell of freshly brewed coffee in the morning.

I know exactly what she meant. This week Im savoring the taste of summers last tomatoes. Im taking time to watch the sun set behind the maples in our yard, and to listen to the sound of cathedral bells just a few blocks away.

But I cant think of anyone who is appreciating the comforts of home as much as Norma Gormly of Troy, Michigan.

Normas plane was diverted back to Londons Gatwick Airport immediately following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Norma and her daughter, Jan, had been on vacation and ended up stranded at a bed-and-breakfast inn outside London until the airways were cleared for their return to the United States. Theirs was the first Northwest flight to leave last Friday. As Norma told me, it was quite an experience.

“We had to go through four checkpoints and check in all bags,” she recalled. “We were allowed our purses with personal stuff only. Following a body search, we were admitted to the lounge area.”

None of the passengers complained, though, even though their wait was long.  Another three hours passed before their flight left Gatwick.

“We felt good that they had done all that they could for our safety,” Norma said. “We had the same flight crew from our diverted plane.”

That crew, Norma recalled, wore black ribbons around the gold wings on their uniforms. Some were fighting tears, “but they all promised to do their best to make our trip as normal as possible. Our captain was informative and soothing.”

Norma and her fellow passengers clapped and cheered loudly as their plane finally took off. They cheered again when the plane passed over Canada. And it was, as Norma remembers, a tremendous relief to arrive back home in America.

“We cheered and clapped, then cheered and clapped again upon landing at Metro Airport. We were home at last!”

No matter what shape its in, Norma added, theres no place like home. Home is a word every American cherishes – more than ever, now. — Cindy La Ferle

This essay was originally published in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, Michigan) and is also included in my essay collection, Writing Home. The book is available locally at the Yellow Door Art Market, Berkley, MI 

The waiting season

Take time, slow down, be still, be awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary, yet is wondrously present.” –Edward Hays

A longer version of this essay was published in The Heart of Christmas, a Guideposts anthology. It’s also included in my book, Writing Home. — CL

The Waiting Season

December 13, 2003

Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation; a time that feels as if something truly awesome is about to unfold. For most Christian churches, it marks the beginning of the liturgical year. Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day — the Sunday closest to November 30 — and ends on Christmas Eve. If Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is then counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent. In many churches, a ceremonial candle is lighted near the altar every week during the season.

I still remember my first Advent calendar. A simple cardboard model, it was sprinkled with gold and silver glitter and had tiny perforated windows to be opened daily until Christmas. Behind each window was a small illustration associated with the Nativity in Bethlehem – an angel with a trumpet, a Wise Man, or a shepherd with a lamb.

My best friend in grade school was a devout Catholic and a seasoned authority on the proper use of Advent calendars. As she often reminded me, the perforated windows were meant to be opened only on their designated days. Sneaking a peak at the future was strictly prohibited.

Being a practical Presbyterian at the time, I could see nothing sinful in staying ahead of schedule. And by the second week of Advent, I knew what was behind every door and window, including the largest and final one that revealed the baby Jesus. Once I did this, of course, Id completely spoiled my own fun. Half the beauty of any Advent calendar, after all, is the magical sense of wonder and anticipation it provides. If nothing else, Id learned a small lesson in patience — or how to wait gracefully.

“Most of us think of waiting as something very passive,” writes Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen in “Waiting for God,” a lovely essay on Advent. “Active waiting means to be fully present to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.”

My own sons birthday also falls during Advent. Nate just turned eighteen last week — a landmark birthday that got me thinking about patience, grace, seasons, and the incredible journey of motherhood.

A senior in high school now, Nate is over six feet tall and diligently preparing for college. Every day after school he makes a beeline to the mailbox, hoping to find acceptance letters from the various universities hes applied to. He is in a waiting mode, too, anticipating a bright and challenging future.

My duties as a parent often seem paradoxical. I must help my child feel grounded and secure, yet loosen my maternal grip a little more each year. And like most parents, I often try to imagine what the future holds. I want some assurance that my boy will be safe, happy, and fully capable of managing on his own. But its not for me to know whats behind every door or window to his future.

The only thing I have for certain is the moment at hand, a moment to be seized and cherished. Its another lesson in patience for me – one little window at a time. — Cindy La Ferle