Friday, September 19, 2014

New Stuff for the Old House

With all of my recent posts about our kitchen makeover, I feel like String of Pearls is turning into some kind of home design blog, but trust me--it's not!  Because I'm pretty much the last person who should be advising anyone on how to decorate her home.  My "style" tends to include lots of secondhand fixer-upper finds (let's call these pieces "vintage") and trompe l'oeil paintings of animals and exposed brick and whatnot on the walls (let's call that "art").  My house is a place where nothing really matches (let's call that "eclectic").

I love my "nest" dearly, after having spent over two decades feathering it in a way that suits our family.  But I realize that it wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. The kitchen would now probably pass muster with most would-be buyers (if we had to sell our home tomorrow); at least the very dated, very ugly 80's laminate cabinets have been 86'd and replaced with lovely farmhouse-style beadboard beauties.  But even so, some buyers might decide to gut the whole thing and start from scratch, just as soon as they could swing it after taking on the mortgage.  And other areas of the house (where woodland creatures and sea animals are painted on the walls, for instance) would probably have the female half of the house-hunting couple whispering to her hubby, "Um, let's keep looking."

But I do love my house.  It was a great house for raising five sons, and now it's a great nest for two aging lovebirds. This is our "home sweet home," and these days it's looking sweeter than ever.  Remember I told you about the $500 gift card that the folks at Home Depot gave us when our kitchen re-facing project was completed?  Well, we used it to purchase a new chandelier for our dining room and a small rolling island for our kitchen.  My husband assembled and installed both pieces yesterday (he's my hero).  Do you want to see them?

Okay, first I'll show you how the new chandelier looks.  The old one was shiny brass, which I've heard design experts call "dated"; I guess it "screams the 80's and 90's." ( I have a question, though: what's the difference between "dated," which has such a negative connotation, and "vintage," which is so hot right now?  Aren't they really the same thing?)

Anyhoo--the reason we finally switched that light fixture after all these years is that the dining room is gargantuan, yet the chandelier was quite small.  My mother-in-law noted this discrepancy before we'd even gotten our moving boxes unpacked 24 years ago, and we finally decided to make it right.  (On Home Depot's dollar.)

So here's the old light fixture:

And here's the new one:

Mom, you were right.  A larger chandelier suits this room so much better!  (This next picture really illustrates how tiny our old one was in comparison!)
We won't even address my wall paper borders, which I've heard are quite out of fashion.  I know I should take them down, but I just can't yet...

I'm a resister of change, you see.  The fact that I removed the border over the chair rail in the kitchen, since it no longer looked quite right after the revamp, is nothing shy of a miracle.

And now for the new little granite-topped island.  TA-DA!

It not only gives us some much-desired extra counter space; it also provides a surprising amount of storage underneath.
Hmmm....maybe this IS a home design blog.  It sure feels like one lately!

Before I head out, here is the most recent review of Finding Grace, posted by my Aussie friend Erin over at Seven Little Australians and Counting.  Erin read the book while in the hospital for the birth of her 10th child, and it pleases me so much that she says it will always be intertwined with memories of her youngest daughter's arrival!

A home design blog, a writer's blog, a grammy blog...I'm not sure what mine is.  But whenever I sit down to write a post for it, I feel like I'm right where I want to be.  I feel like I'm home sweet home.

OH, and lest I forget: today is my daughter-in-law Preciosa's birthday!  It is fitting that I would write about home décor on her day, because she's SO good at it.  I'm going to have to show you some pics of the nursery she's put together for our soon-to-be-born first grandson.  It's incredible!  So stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Five Favorites

I'm joining Heather over at Mama Knows, Honeychild (or rather her sister-in-law), for the FIVE FAVORITES link-up.

Favorite #1: THIS PHOTO--
of my husband and our oldest son, who is the father of our three granddaughters--shamelessly stolen from my daughter-in-law Regina's blog (I would share the link with you, but it's not a public blog).  This was taken by Regina at the ND v. Michigan game on Sept. 6.  Our son/her husband is an ND alum, Class of 2006, and he hasn't gotten out to a football game at his alma mater in about five years.  And she had never been to a game in the ND stadium ever, so this was a big night for her, too.

(Aren't they the cutest?  That was a rhetorical question, because there's only one right answer!)
whether they're crushing Michigan in a 31-0 gridiron shut-out (refer to above picture) and racking up W's with QB superstar Everett Golson at the helm, or having a painful-to-watch season (we've endured plenty of those), you just gotta love the Irish.  You do.  Well, I do anyway.  (Yes, this former English major just informed you that you "do gotta love the Irish."  And I stand by that.)
Yeah, baby!  A future Heisman winner?

AND SPEAKING OF THE HEISMAN, now for Favorite #3:
a cute-as-a-button photo of my daughter-in-law Preciosa (wife of son #3), striking that familiar pose at a recent UVA football game.
I guess this would have to be considered the first game for my grandson, G-Man, who is going to be born any minute now.  Thanks for taking him along to cheer on the Cavaliers, Mommy--as if you had any choice in the matter!  :)

Moving on from sports talk, I give you
which is the greatest thing EVER!

Talking about my three granddaughters in #1 up there, and then about little G-Man, our first grandson, in #4, gets me feeling all mushy inside.  I don't even know how to describe grandparent love.  Of course I love my sons with every ounce of my being; but the children of my sons hold a unique and special place in my heart--and that place just keeps expanding with the birth of each one.  (I'm hoping for 25 or so of them, when all is said and done; and I have no doubt that the expansion will continue so that all of them can be accommodated!)

I can't think of a greater joy than hearing one of my granddaughters say "Grammy."  So I recently ordered this sign from Etsy (another favorite--five is never enough!), and it is the perfect finishing touch for my newly renovated kitchen.
(Not the best photo ever--but isn't that the neatest sign?)

And finally, while we're on the subject of kitchen must-haves, Favorite #5: MALDON SEA SALT FLAKES!
If you haven't tried this product, you must!  It's amazing!  This is not your mother's salt, with the little girl carrying an umbrella on the canister, let me tell you.  This box is full of thin, crispy flakes of sea salt.  They're so incredibly delicious, with a delightful little crunch to them.
My husband brought a few boxes of this goodness home with him from London, when he flew there on a recent working trip.  One of the co-pilots told him about how great it was, and said that it could only be bought over there in London.  Well, guess what?  I found it on the shelves of my local Hannaford store!  You could probably find this in your local grocery store as well.

It costs a little more than regular sea salt, but it's so, so worth it.  I love it so much...I'm embarrassed to admit that I sometimes pour a little pile of flakes into my hand and eat them plain.  (Maybe I shouldn't have shared that with you.)

 Happy hump day, everybody!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Joy of Writing (When Speaking is So Much Harder!)

I am having so much fun today, hanging out at Barnes & Noble, working on the final chapters of Erin's Ring.  I had to get out of the house, because there were too many distractions back there.  We'd been out of town for a stretch, and whenever we return home after being away I always find a million things that need taking care of.  But right now, I need to regard this book as my top priority.

No, that's not a Walker's Shortbread Cookie wrapper
hiding behind my laptop.  It isn't.
I love these places where you can park yourself at your own little table--for hours--to work on your computer, without being arrested for loitering; and all it costs you is the price of a large cup of coffee.  (You can probably do it sans cafe, too; but I would feel guilty if I didn't buy something.)

I feel very writer-ish when  I work at Starbuck's or Barnes & Noble.  My only complaint about these writer-welcoming establishments is that they don't serve Dunkin' Donuts coffee.  I've never tried to park myself at a table at Dunkin' Donuts, but who knows?  Maybe they would be just as welcoming over there.

Like many writers, I've always been a fairly shy and reserved person.  I have trouble telling a story or an anecdote in a group, because when I realize I've suddenly become the center of attention, I just want to rush through it and be done, and give the floor over to someone else.  I tend to get tongue-tied and jumble my words in my hastiness.  I've always been this way, to a point, and always felt that I'm best at expressing myself through the written, rather than the spoken, word; but this feeling has been magnified the past year or two.  I feel confused more often now, when trying to think of a word I want to use; my brain gets turned around (kind of the way I used to get lost all the time while driving, before the advent of the greatest invention of all time, GPS), and I get frustrated.  Even my husband has noticed my recent tendency to misunderstand him in a conversation, or to have trouble expressing my thoughts to him.

I've also had lots of aches and pains in my bones and joints; but then again, all fifty-somethings have that sort of thing--right?  (Along with weak bladders!  TMI, I know.)

And I've had the blues much more often than I used to, along with bouts of anxiety; but then again, women who are adjusting to the empty nest often feel that way--right?

Well...apparently there is a medical reason for some of these developments.  What I was chalking up to just getting older and therefore becoming more achy, forgetful, emotional, and easily confused, has actually been caused (or at least exacerbated) by an excess of calcium in my blood.  I have recently been diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism, a condition wherein one of the four parathyroid glands that are attached to the thyroid (and are responsible for controlling the calcium levels in the body) goes into overdrive and becomes enlarged and tumor-like (although not malignant).  Tests confirmed that I do indeed have one of these tumors, and the doctor says I've probably had it for years.  If my vitamin D level hadn't been so low when I had bloodwork done for a routine physical this past spring, no one would have thought to do further investigation and the problem wouldn't have been found.  I could have continued to walk around with this condition that can be easily cured for who knows how long.  I feel so incredibly lucky.

My first bone scan, which I had a few months ago after the initial diagnosis, confirmed that I do have osteoporosis, which is one of the symptoms of hyperparathryoidism.  Kidney stones are another symptom, but fortunately I haven't had any of those. again.  I'm really close on this one.
(I love Bill Murray quotes--especially from Groundhog Day.)
They call the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism "Moans, groans, stones, and bones--with psychic overtones."  They're so nebulous and seemingly unconnected that you usually don't even think to mention them to your doctor.

The good news is that the offending gland can be surgically removed, the procedure is fairly simple, and the recovery is quick--and then the patient is instantly cured (although bone loss can only be stopped, not reversed).  I am going to have this surgery in a few weeks, and so, dear readers, I would appreciate it if you would keep me in your prayers.  Although the procedure is considered a surgical cake walk and it's highly successful, I still get nervous thinking about neck surgery!  Most patients feel so much better afterward--in fact, many don't even realize how bad they've been feeling until they have the tumor removed, and afterward, they are amazed by how good they feel!  I am hoping for that kind of outcome, and I could use any prayers you want to send my way.

In the meantime, I am so grateful for the writing process.  It is a joy to me, in so many ways.  Aside from being somewhat therapeutic, it is just plain FUN.  I get to sit down and spend time with these characters who have become real people to me.  They are so real, in fact, that sometimes--just when I don't know which direction to head with their storylines or their dialogue--they "tell" me what they'd do or say.  I know that sounds ridiculous (and I used to roll my eyes when I heard writers say such things, before I became one), but it really does happen.  And it's a blast, it really is.  I think I've got a silly grin on my face as I sit here in the Barnes & Noble coffee shop.  People probably think I'm a nut job.  But that's okay; half the time, I do, too!

Okay, then, time to get back to my Erin's Ring peeps.  But thanks for your prayers.  And if any of the symptoms in the above diagram sound familiar to you, when you have your next physical make sure to have your doctor check your blood calcium level.  If it's even the slightest bit elevated, have him check your parathyroid hormone level.  Your bones will thank you for it!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Island Living

No man is an island.

No woman is either.

But just about every woman wants an island.  A kitchen island.  Preferably granite-topped, and about a mile long--long enough to roll out a pie crust or cool a few pans of cookies fresh from the oven.  Or to chop up the veggies for the salad, without running out of space on the counter.  (I had to add the part about veggies, lest you think all I do is bake things that are very bad for you.  You know, very NOT Whole 30-type fare.)

I've already regaled (or bored) you with the details of our recent kitchen makeover, which was a huge thrill for this happy homemaker.  After more than two decades of living with dated 80's laminate, we had the folks at Home Depot reface our cabinets, install new drawers and doors, and basically bring our kitchen into the 21st century.  It's now got this lovely farmhouse/cottage feel to it, which is right up my alley.

After my husband and I decided to push our long trestle table up against the wall across from the counter area (now that there aren't routinely seven bodies--five of them pretty large--sitting around it at meal times, just us two little ol' empty-nesters), we have all this wonderful floor space in the middle of the kitchen.  We can both be working in there at once without bumping into each other constantly.  It's the best.  We could swing dance in the middle of the floor, if we were so inclined.

Well, you know what they say: nature abhors a vacuum.  Indeed, every void needs to be filled.  And I found myself wishing for just a wee bit more counter space in the middle of my spacious new kitchen.  You guessed it: I found myself wishing for an island.

Well...the good folks at Home Depot just sent us a $500 gift card, for the privilege of letting them do our kitchen makeover for us.  I was all excited when it arrived, thinking, "Woo hoo!  Free money!"  Then my husband reminded me that this magical "freebie" had actually cost us about $12,000.  Details, shmetails--it was like we had someone else's money to spend!  It was like Christmas.

So we headed over to Home Depot, gift card in hand, to get a new chandelier for our dining room.  When we moved into this house about 24 years ago, one of the first things my mother-in-law said was, "You'll want to get a bigger chandelier.  That one is too small for this room."  We have a HUGE dining room, and our chandelier is rather undersized; but somehow "buy a new chandelier" always got moved down to the bottom of the "things we need to do for the house" list.  But hey--free money, remember?  Cha-ching!  (Mom, I wish you could see the new one we're going to be installing in the next few days.  I know you would approve.)

Next, we inquired about rolling kitchen carts/small moveable islands, and we found out that we could only get them at Home Depot's online store.  So I went shopping on my laptop when we got back home, and within no time I found what appeared to be the perfect piece.  It's been ordered and it's been shipped.
Isn't it adorable?
This next shot is what really sold me on it (well, that and the fact that we had just about the right amount left, after the chandelier purchase, to put it on the gift card).
Those cabinets look sort of like mine, as does the floor.  This sweet little
island on wheels should be a perfect fit for my newly renovated kitchen!

Okay, now I should cook something, I think.  Or at least eat something.  (But not pears.  I don't care how good they look staged on that island; to me, they are yuck-ee.)

But before I go: "No man is an island"--name that poet!  First one to tell me in the combox gets a free signed copy of Finding Grace!  (I'm feeling as generous as our gift-giving friends over at Home Depot right now!)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11, Thirteen Years Later

Our oldest son was a senior in high school on September 11, 2001.  In his valedictory speech on his graduation day in June of 2002, he mentioned the tragic event that forever scarred the hearts of  all Americans.  In part, here is what he said:

 ...this year we looked on in disbelief on September 11th as innocent lives were taken by the evil of terrorism.  The pain we felt...was acute, but strength is often forged in the fires of misfortune...through the 9/11 tragedy, I hope, we learned to respect and protect life, every human life. 

It is this that our society needs most today.  Our society's moral values have been in a downward spiral for quite a while, and this trend shows no sign of getting better unless there is a change in the way we think.  At the heart of this moral decline is a cheapening of human life.  Pope John Paul II has called this the "Culture of Death."  Choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense are gradually becoming socially acceptable.  One of the tragic consequences of this trend is abortion.  The amount of abortions performed in this country is truly staggering.  Each day, more pre-born human lives are lost to abortion than the total death toll in the 9/11 tragedy.  This moral conditioning has also spawned assisted suicide and euthanasia and now human cloning experimentation is a reality.  To quote our Pope, "conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value of human life."

Our country has lost sight of the very value of every human person and has thrown away morals for convenience.  We see the evil of terrorism executed by other countries, and so take the focus off the evils that plague our own country.  We must look at our problems within before we can begin to alleviate problems without.  The biggest problem in our society is indifference.  As the Italian poet Dante Aligheieri said, "The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who remain neutral in a time of great crisis."  We must keep our convictions strong and fight against the tide of indifference that is washing over our country.

There was more--and the topic was one that was not suggested by my husband or me; this speech was entirely of our son's making.  We only helped him by reminding him that he should thank certain people in the introduction.  I also remember telling him that perhaps he should substitute one adjective.  He'd written, "The amount of abortions performed in this country is truly disgusting," and I thought "staggering" might be a preferable adjective to use in the setting of a graduation ceremony: it was strong enough get the point across without making any pro-choice listener in the crowd tune out.  But otherwise, this speech was his baby.
I've always been proud of this kid;
but that day, I was bursting with it.
As you can see, it was a vehemently pro-life speech--which should have made the audience erupt into a rousing standing ovation at its conclusion, seeing as how this was a Catholic high school and all; but it elicited the regulation amount of applause, and no more.  And sadly, the "brave" and "controversial" (???!!!) content of the speech made some of our longtime friends--parents of our son's classmates--avoid commenting on it.  Where even a generic, topic-skirting comment like "You must be so proud," or "He sure did a nice job" would have been warranted, we got the sound of crickets.

One thing our terrorist enemies are not is pro-life.  They have absolutely no respect for human life at any of its stages.  They don't even have respect for their own lives, as they are more than willing to sacrifice them, or the lives of their women and children, in order to carry out their hateful anti-Christian mission.

Shouldn't we, as Christians, show a greater respect for human life than the terrorists?  And if we do, shouldn't we be appalled and deeply saddened by the daily slaughter of countless pre-born human beings?  Someday in the future, won't our silent acceptance of abortion be looked at with as much horror as the silence of the witnesses to the Nazis' ruthless elimination of millions of Jews (whom they thought were less than human, as many believe fetuses are)?

Well, I've gotten off-track here...or have I?  For isn't the whole story of 9/11 a story of one group's violent, inhumane treatment of another--and aren't pre-born human babies trapped inside a womb where they are considered the enemy just like those poor victims trapped inside the Twin Towers?  If we don't celebrate and protect every human life, especially the lives of the most vulnerable among us, are we any better than the terrorists?

On the 10th anniversary of that history-changing tragedy, I wrote a blog post called "Remembering 9/11."  It says pretty much all that I would say again, if I wrote a new post about it.  The only thing to add is that it's been thirteen years now, and the pain is still raw.  Worse yet, the threat of a similar incident lives on.  God bless us all, each and every one of us--no matter how small.  And God bless America.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Home Again--for Now, Anyway!

We're back from our most recent travels--and hey, I just remembered: I have a blog!  And I haven't posted anything on it in ages.  But I've got all kinds of great excuses for my Internet silence.

You see, I've been out of town for about a week.  My husband and I flew out to his alma mater to watch ND beat Rice in their season opener on August 30.  Most of his siblings, their spouses, and many of our nieces and nephews were there, too (sharing a rented condo)--and of course our youngest son, who's a senior.  Our baby, whose mother used to tidy up his room for him and keep his laundry basket from overflowing, is living in an off-campus "Army house" with seven other Army ROTC cadets.  His bedroom is a bit of a nightmare.  (AAAGGGHHH!!!  Why do college boys want to live off-campus when they can live in a dorm, with cafeteria meals and a laundry service??!!  Why are they okay with living in utter squalor??!!)   But our boy is happy, so I'm happy.  And the main part of the house is fairly neat and clean, thanks to the oldest housemate, a former enlisted man who will graduate with our son and be commissioned as an officer.  He's got a few years on the other guys, and he's the designated "dad" of the house.   Those eight housemates are some of the most awesome young men you will ever meet--and I'm not just saying that because one of them belongs to me. The US of A is in good hands with those lads preparing to enter the ranks of our military forces, I'll tell you.

After the game, we headed over to the Kalamazoo area to spend the week with our oldest son, his wife, and our three precious granddaughters.  Then we rounded out our Midwest jaunt with another trip to South Bend for the game on September 6--and this time, our oldest son's family came along to tailgate with us.  I decided to forgo my ticket, and our son and his wife got to sit with my hubby and watch ND annihilate Michigan (in a 31-0 shutout!), while I stayed back at our rented house with the wee ones.  (Grammy loves ND football; but not as much as those three little girls dressed in ND cheerleader outfits--it's not even close, people.)

On Sunday, we had the privilege of attending Mass at Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and at one point both of the twins (3-year-olds who are at the top of the growth charts for both height and weight and wear size 4-5 already) wanted to sit on my lap--and they stayed there for quite a long stretch.  I often play the role of C.L. (chopped liver, that is) whenever their Papa is available; but suddenly, I was the rock star.  They both wanted me, and only me!  They burrowed into me, played with my hair, gave me snuggles and hugs.  A woman behind me leaned over and whispered in my ear, "You're being smothered with love."  I was.  And it was HEAVEN.  As if going to Mass at the Basilica isn't heavenly enough!  It actually brought tears to my eyes at one point, I felt so very blessed.  I wondered, as I often do, if it's possible for a heart to actually burst wide open, because it's so over-full of love.

After Mass, we visited the Grotto behind the Basilica, a replica of the one at Lourdes.
Little Gal and her daddy, saying a prayer together.
And then we crossed the street to feed the ducks at one of the campus's two small lakes.  (Luckily we had plenty of hot dog buns that were getting mighty stale, since they were more than a week old--leftovers from the tailgater we had before the Rice game.)

My little Mass buddies.
It was pretty much a perfect Sunday.

By the by, those three matching dresses the girls are wearing, bought at the Hammes Bookstore at ND during the weekend of the Rice game, were supposed to be Christmas presents.  But Papa and Grammy couldn't wait to see them on their sweetie they were just "I love you" presents.

I've been home since Monday night, and yes, this is Wednesday I suppose I could have gotten a post up before now.  But we are out of town so much these days that whenever I do get home to my poor neglected house, I have a list a mile long of things I need to get done.  First on the list, of course, is to finish the last few chapters of Erin's Ring!  Also, I'll have to find out when I can offer the deep discount on the Kindle version of Finding Grace, and I'll update you on the book club--which I believe is going to be called "Grace-filled Tuesdays."

I think I'll be back here again tomorrow.  I'd almost forgotten how much fun blogging is! 

Good night and God bless you!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

More on That Book Club Idea (Not to Beat a Dead Horse or Anything)

In yesterday's post, I mentioned the idea of starting an online book club dedicated to my Catholic novel Finding Grace.  My publisher at Bezalel Books thought this might be a good way to introduce the book to some new readers, while leading the way for my second YA novel, Erin's Ring, which will be published by Bezalel in 2015.  It might also be fun for those who have already read FG but would enjoy discussing it with other readers.  (With the club starting in January, that would leave plenty of time for re-reading, too, if one was so inclined.)  For my part, I could field any questions readers might have and that sort of thing.

For instance: if you're wondering why Tom Buckley, the love interest of my shy, endearing little heroine, Grace Kelly, has a big gap between his two front teeth, I could show you a picture of my husband, and there would be your answer.  (Not that Tom is modeled exactly after my own high school boyfriend, mind you; but there are definitely similarities.  In fact, of any character in the book, Tom is the most like someone I know in real life.)
The man of MY dreams, when he was not
much older than Tom is in the book.
And here he is today, still rocking that tooth gap,
still making my heart go pitter-pat.
In the combox yesterday, Barb mentioned that the Mother Goose image I posted was very Wicked Witch-like, and she was right--so I decided to make amends for that in today's post.
There, that's better.  Let's just keep scary old MG out of the picture today.
I certainly wouldn't want to compete with the wonderful Wednesday book clubs at Housewifespice and Life of a Catholic Librarian.  Or with Theme Thursdays at Clan Donaldson or 7 Quick Takes Fridays at Conversion Diary.  (Ha ha! Not that this little blog could possibly compete with those blog staples anyway!)  So I've decided that my book club full of Grace will be held every Tuesday, in keeping with the oft-quoted childhood verse.
When I asked for feedback about titles for the book club, it was agreed that "Tuesday's Child is Full of Grace" is a little too long.  So I mentioned "Tuesday's Child" as one option and that got a positive response.  Now my question is this: which of these choices do you think would work best: "Tuesday's Child," "Full of Grace," or "Grace-filled Tuesdays"?
I plan to come up with some sort of snazzy meme to go with each book club post; but until I get a chance to create that, I thought I'd share some vintage images by one of my favorite artists, Jesse Wilcox Smith, showing some eager little readers.  You know, to get y'all in the mood for some book readin'.  (And also just because they are so unbelievably adorable.)

I'm looking forward to this little online book club!  And I'll keep you posted about the upcoming Kindle discount on Finding Grace.  :)