Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Daylily Friends

I had the most wonderful morning yesterday, catching up with old and dear friends.  M, a woman I've known since my earliest days in NH (an irrepressible, never-aging spirit like no other!), hosted a lovely brunch at her home.  To give you some background on M, her youngest son, a "change of life baby" who was born many years after his next oldest sibling, was in my oldest son's kindergarten class and went all the way through grade school and high school with him.  Anyway, five other ladies she'd invited, including me, sat around her dining room table drinking coffee, eating quiche and fruit, and reminiscing about old times.  (Okay, full disclosure: there was also cheese Danish.  And I may have partaken of some--you'll never know.)

There would have been more gals there, but during the summertime it's tough to find a day when people aren't on vacation or otherwise busy.  That's why M always hosted a brunch like this right after the kids started each new school year.  It was a given that during August we would all receive a hand-written invitation to her yearly "Back-to-School Get-Together."  There was never a quiet moment at M's table when we all gathered there; we Catholic school moms had so much in common, so many shared experiences.  It was a sad day when M's baby graduated from high school, and the rest of us younger moms realized that this yearly event we all looked forward to was going to end.  How would we start the school year without it?  But M continued the practice for at least a few years afterward, and then the tradition died a proud death...until yesterday.

If you read yesterday's post, and you know how weepy and sentimental thinking of days gone by makes me, you'll be surprised that I didn't break down in tears at the table.  Especially because one of the ladies, who is also the mom of a boy who was in school from K-12 with my firstborn, is getting ready to move away.  She and her husband are empty-nesters, and their four grown children have migrated west and south.  They just packed up a house that they've lived in since before we ever met them.

I didn't cry, but I felt so blessed and happy getting to see all those women again--women I used to run into all the time when our kids were going through their school days.  We met when most of our oldest children were barely older than my twin granddaughters are now.  We never used to have to exchange pictures when we talked about our kids.  But yesterday, we passed around wedding photos of our offspring, and oohed and aahed over how grown-up they all are.  We filled each other in about their jobs and their current places of residence, and a million other things we never could have dreamed we'd be talking about 25 years ago.  And of course, I also showed off many pictures of my three precious little granddaughters, feeling perhaps a bit too proud that other than M, who has grandchildren in college and even one who's married, I was the only one there who'd become a grandparent (so far).

I do hate to brag, ladies...okay, that's not true.  I love to brag about those little sweetie-pies, and also the wee lad who's going to join them in October.  Grammy for the W!

One thing M asked me about, shortly before we said our good-byes, was my gardening.  My gardening?!?  I sort of laughed and told her I might be many things, but a gardener wasn't one of them.  She reminded me that once upon a time I'd talked about gardening at one of her brunches, and then I remembered that yes, I did try (for one or two summers, anyway) to turn my brown thumb green.  Here's the story on that: it didn't take.  The end.  "I like perennials," I told her.  "They grow like weeds, and weeds are the only types of vegetation I know how to grow."

So I'm going to end this post with some photos of my ever-flourishing perennial gardens.  I know you'll be impressed.




In the aftermath of that get-together, I'm feeling happy that I have roots here in NH that won't ever die, no matter how many years pass (and that God made flowers that don't die, either!).  True friends, the kind you can go five or ten years without seeing and then pick up as if no time has elapsed, are kind of like daylilies.  Friendships like that will always survive, even when they've been benignly neglected because life gets too busy for regular watering.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tears During Mass

I often find myself in tears during Mass.  Not always, but sometimes.  And these tears come out of the blue, when I least expect them.  If I don't remember to tuck some tissues into my purse before I head out the door, chances are I'm going to be in trouble.  I'm going to be wiping my nose on my sleeve like a five-year-old.

Sometimes it's the words to a particularly moving hymn that make me cry, or the stirring music combined with the unequaled beauty of a Catholic church's interior.  Sometimes it's just that in those particular surroundings, I feel closer to God, and that nearness hits me just so and goes right to my core--to my very soul. And I am left feeling vulnerable and unworthy of His love, and yet profoundly loved by Him.

I've talked before about how seeing my sons dressed in tuxes, standing on the altar in the role of groomsmen at one another's weddings, reduces me to tears.  But even when there isn't something particularly noteworthy going on, such as the singularly wonderful experience of witnessing one of my boys exchanging vows with his soul mate, I can be moved just by the sight of any or all of my sons. Anywhere, anytime.  And looking at them in church, during the Mass--watch out!  There will be tears, and hankies, and nose-blowing.  It's almost guaranteed.

This past Sunday, my husband and I went to the 11:00 a.m. Mass with our baby, who is finally home for a few weeks after spending most of the summer off doing Army stuff.  (He's an Army ROTC cadet, about to begin his senior year at the University of Notre Dame.)  After we got seated, he was asked to help out with the collection when the time came.

So I happened to look at him, as he strode to the front of the church carrying the long-handled basket, dressed nicely in khakis and a blue and white-striped button-down shirt, and looking very much like a grown man on the verge of flying away from the nest for good (like his brothers have already done).  He was still sporting his short, Army-regulation haircut, and his normally pale Irish skin was tanner than usual, after weeks spent training outdoors at Fort Knox.  He's a tall, broad-shouldered lad, and he carries himself like an officer and a gentleman, with his shoulders back and his head held high.  "So handsome!" I thought (without a speck of bias, of course).  "And how did he ever get so old?" 

Just looking at this vision of calm, responsible, Faith-filled manhood, I started to choke up and my eyes got watery.  My mini-pack of Kleenex came out of my purse.   But then it got worse.

I started to think about how this boy of ours had lived his whole life in this town, and how before too long, he would be living who-knows-where.  How he'd signed on to be an altar server when he was about nine, and then had served every single 9:00 a.m. Sunday Mass at this church, from 8th grade through his high school years (unless we were out of town), taking his role as head altar server very seriously. How he often used to ask us on Friday nights if we could give him a ride to church the next day, so that he could go to Confession.  People were always asking him--and us--if he was considering becoming a priest.  He isn't; but the strength of his faith has been an inspiration to his father and me, ever since he was just a little guy.

Anyway, just as I was getting my subtle tears under control, our boy passed the collection basket down the pew that held his old pre-school teacher, Mrs. B., and her husband; and I suddenly felt like I was going to lose it--as in break down and sob, right there, in the middle of Mass!  It hit me that Mrs. B. was a piece of his life that was now part of his distant past--a past he barely remembers, but which is still so clear in my mind.

So many thoughts converged in my brain at once, so many emotions: the way the years have flown since he was a dinosaur-obsessed little boy; the humbleness I feel because God chose me to be his mother; the gratefulness I feel for having been blessed with not just one exceptional son, but five; the sadness I'll feel when he no longer has college breaks and summer vacations, and he can only get back home when work allows; the realization of the huge privilege, but also the huge and sometimes terrifying responsibility, of raising the five souls that God entrusted to our care; the fear I feel when I remember that because they are human, they will die someday--but the hope that when they do, they will go straight back to their Father in Heaven and become saints; and finally, just the enormity of it all--of motherhood, of human love, of God's unfathomable love for each and every soul He has created...

It was truly all I could do to keep my shoulders from shaking, and from literally "boo-hoo"-ing, right then and there.  And all that emotion was caused by simply sitting in a pew, watching my youngest son pass the collection basket at Sunday Mass.

God is everywhere, I know that; but when the Body and Blood of Our Lord are right nearby, He feels closer than ever.  And boy, I sure felt Him all around me this past Sunday.  I pray that I continue to feel His loving presence during the coming year, as my baby gets ready to spread those wings of his and fly.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Wedding Singer

If you're one of those folks who suffers from the Monday morning blues, have I got the Rx for you!  Here's a YouTube video of my younger brother singing (and playing) that great country song, "Chicken Fried," at the wedding reception of our older brother's daughter not too long ago.  This was the first song he performed, and the crowd loved it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8AAXslTb3o&feature=share

My niece had an awesome live band for the event, but my brother got a chance to play a few numbers when they went on break and gave him the stage.  They didn't know that he routinely has gigs of his own, and they were probably thinking, "Here we go--another member of a bride's family who thinks he's a rock star!"  But what was really cool was that after seeing how good he was and how well he was working the crowd, the lead singer of the band sat down at the drums and joined in, and before long, the keyboard player was accompanying my brother on bass. This uber-talented* sibling of mine ended up performing four songs to a really receptive crowd, with some versatile band members giving up their break time to jam with him.  It was so much fun to witness!   He followed "Chicken Fried" up with "Here Comes the Sun" and "I Am, I Said."  Then at the request of the father of the bride, he ended his set with everybody's favorite party sing-along song, "American Pie."  (And my older brother's whole family was on the stage with him by that point, which made it even better.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhqWvZww4T0&feature=share

Not too long ago, I told you about how much I love my two brothers.  I didn't mind being sandwiched between them--and I think the fact that I was might have helped me with the role I was to play when I grew up: mother to five boys.  Seeing how their bond has endured throughout their lives makes me happy that my husband and I were able to give each of our boys four brothers.  I can imagine them celebrating together at the weddings of their children, and the scary thing is...that futuristic, far-off time will be here before they know it.  But it warms my heart to know that even when my husband and I are gone, those boys will have each other.  They are a band of brothers (and yes, I am plagiarizing here, using the title of that HBO series; but it fits so well!).

So raise your glass coffee mug and let's toast: To brothers!  God bless 'em.
 
*(And just so you know: he's totally self-taught, plays by ear!)


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Back in the Saddle

Okay, getting on that horse now.  Saddling up.  I can do this.  I've done it before; I can do it again. 

As of today, I'm going to try to return to my old routine of daily blogging.  It's got to be like riding a horse, right?  Or, since I've never really ridden a horse in real life (do carousels count?), like riding a bike--which I actually have done in real life.

I have documented proof of my bike-riding prowess, written in blue ink in my girlhood diary, excerpts of which I've shared here before.  Here's me at just-turned-eleven: "Today I got my parents' late [birthday] present.  It was a beautiful pale green sting-ray bike.  It's my pride and joy."

Does anyone else remember having a Sting-Ray bike?  They had those long, banana-shaped seats and high handle bars.  Well, here's a picture of one, in case you're a whole lot younger than I am and don't know what I'm talking about.
The Sting-Ray bike: a 60's classic.
Moving on.

One of the main reasons I've been a no-show in the blogosphere so often lately is that I've been working on a YA novel for Bezalel Books, and I've been using most of my writing muscles to accomplish that goal.  When the opportunity to write a second novel was presented to me back on May 18, I was a bit of a wreck, worried that I wouldn't possibly be able to work fast enough to reach the deadlines set by my publisher, Cheryl Dickow.  After all, it took me over four years to write Finding Grace (currently only $12.99 for the paperback version on Amazon!).  What I had forgotten, however, is that I finished the first eight chapters of that book in about two months.  I was inspired to keep them coming rapid-fire, so that I could give new ones to my husband to take along on his trips as an airline pilot.  I slowed down the pace, however, and the next 24 chapters did not come together nearly as quickly.  I went from the hare's pace to the tortoise's.  Without an official deadline to push me--other than my husband saying, "I can't wait to see what happens next"--and with so many distractions caused by still having two of our sweet sons living under our roof, I dawdled and dabbled.  I sometimes skipped a week or more, and in the summers when our college-aged sons were home, I got almost no writing done.  But after all, I never really even believed that the fun little project I was working on (and about which I had told almost no one, for fear I'd never finish it) would ever become an actual published book.

Well, this time around, things are really moving along.  It's been two months since I started, and I don't have eight chapters completed...I've got ten (and then some)!  So far, I'm ahead of my first appointed deadline; and every time I sit down to work on this book, I type faster than I can think.  My online writing friend Kia Heavey, whom I met through Goodreads, had encouraged me to write another book, even before Dickow approached me.  When I told her I was hesitant to start one because it takes me so long (and I'm not getting any younger, you know!), she said that writing the second one is much easier than writing the first--and I figured she knew what she was talking about, since she'd published two novels herself.  Well, Kia, you were right!  And Cheryl, thank you for giving me this extraordinary opportunity!

Before I get off the topic of my book (and I promise, my renewed dedication to daily blogging doesn't mean that I'm going to talk about writing every day, until you're screaming, "I wish she'd take another nice, long break!"), here are some items that are inspiring me as I sit at my laptop and work on this new novel.
This work of art is called Bobbin Girl, and it's by Winslow Homer.
Intrigued?  [Moowoohaha!]  If so, then I've got you right where I want you.  And you can look for Erin's Ring, due to be released in the spring of 2015.

Okay, the promotional portion of this post is now officially over.

In other news, we're heading down to VA this coming weekend.  If you come here often, you know that we take lots of trips to VA, where three of our grown sons have made their homes.  This time, it's for a baby shower for our first grandson, to be known here on the blog as "G-Man," who is going to make his appearance in October.  I already sent his parents, my middle son and his wife Preciosa, a little sailor suit that his daddy wore when he was but a wee sprout.  Get ready for cuteness now...
This work of art is called Son #3 at Two Months,
and it's by God--with a little help from my husband and me.
We have gotten G-Man some useful items from the Pottery Barn Kids collection; but I've also made something very special for his nursery, and I don't want to show it to you here because that'll ruin the surprise.  Stay tuned, however: I'll be posting pictures of that after the shower.  [Moowoohaha again!]

In yet OTHER news, we are going to have our kitchen cabinets refaced very soon.  We've been living in this house for about 24 years.  We are the first owners and the house was not completely finished off inside when we bought it at a bargain price from the bank (it was in foreclosure), but the hardwood floors were already down in the living room, dining room, and front hallway (YAY!), and the kitchen cabinets and countertops had already been installed (BOO!).  Not that the kitchen was that bad; it was just much too modern for our taste.  But having plenty of higher priorities on our list than new kitchen cabinets (Catholic school tuitions and college expenses come to mind), we lived with what we had; and wonder of wonders, even with a less-than-magazine-spread-worthy kitchen, we lived well and happily.  It wasn't until the drawers started sticking and the drawer fronts started to fall off (I actually repaired one recently with a creative combination of Velcro and duct tape!) that we decided to finally do what so many other empty-nesters do: update our kitchen.

And if I said I wasn't extremely excited about this, I would be a big, fat liar.

I'll be sure to post "before" and "after pictures later on.  But in the meantime, I got inspired to change the forest green homemade valance over the kitchen sink.  Here's the "before" on that.
It's okay...
And the "after."
...but I think this is much prettier, and more polished-looking.
I originally bought a black and cream toile valance from Country Curtains; but it was almost $40, and the pastoral pictures on it were very faded out.  I didn't love it enough to pay $40 for it.  So I returned that one, and I copied the design using toile fabric that I found at JoAnn's on sale for $12/yd.  I bought two yards, and I have enough left over for another project in the kitchen that I have planned.  Which goes to show: if you are willing and able to go the DIY route, you usually get something you like more and you almost always spend less than you would on the store-bought version.

Now I'm going to sign off, before I exhaust every topic I could possibly use in upcoming posts--daily ones (at least that's the plan!).  See you soon!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Five Favorites!

First of all, let me say that I love blogging.  Blogging is my favorite.

"Could have fooled me!  You'd sure never know it by how many new posts she's produced in the last month."  Is that what you're thinking, my dear reader?  If so, I don't blame you.  My output has been decidedly sub-par as of late.  (But wait: being below par is actually a good thing, if you're a golfer...the lower the score, the better!  Although I don't think that applies to the world of blogging, where the higher the number of posts, the better.)

Anyway, instead of giving you all the usual excuses for my Internet silence (remember, I am trying to write a book--so go easy on me), I thought I'd get back in the game today by not only blogging, but linking up with other bloggers, too!   So I'm joining Heather at Mama Knows, Honey Child for that popular Wednesday link-up, Five Favorites.

Favorite #1:
Having my baby home! 
Our youngest son returned home last night, after being gone almost 2 months.  First, he spent 3 weeks in El Paso doing an Army summer internship; and immediately following that, he reported to Fort Knox, for the required Army leadership course that all ROTC cadets must attend between their junior and senior years of college.  We picked him up at the airport late last night, and he warned us that he would probably sleep most of the day today.  Fine by me.  I just love knowing he's up there in his own bed, and that when he finally wakes up, I can feed him like a king.  After all those weeks of enduring MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat, once known as K-rations or C-rations), he's ready for Mom's home cooking, that's for sure.
I made fried chicken, gravy, and mashed potatoes yesterday, which I plan to heat up for him tonight (along with some stuffing, which just might be his favorite side dish).  I also baked him a "Welcome Home" cake.  Which leads me to favorite #2.

Favorite #2:
Baking!
I could bake every single day, that's how much I love to do it.  The only reason I don't is that we would all be as big as a house around here if I did.  As it is, I often bake just for the joy of it (I swear, it's downright therapeutic!), even when there is no occasion whatsoever that calls for a special dessert.  Then I have to freeze the goodies I've made to save for a later date.  It might be some sort of illness, I'm not sure...

But I'll tell you, making cakes and cookies is so much more fun, now that I have a Kitchen Aid mixer!  (You guessed it; that's my segue into Favorite #3!)

Favorite #3:
My Kitchen Aid mixer!
As if this appliance wouldn't be magnificent enough in any color, mine is in my very favorite hue in the world: Kelly green!  (How do you like that?  Another favorite!)  This past Mother's Day, my 5 sons, along with their significant others and my husband, all pitched in to get me this dream gift, and now I'm wondering how I was able to manage without it all these years.  The brilliant pop of color makes me smile every time I look at it.  Preciosa was wondering what color they should choose, and her hubby (my beloved middle son) said, "No question--it definitely has to be Kelly green."  He knows his momma. 

Until I received "my precious," I always used a hand mixer...and I always made a huge mess whenever I baked.  I couldn't seem to find a mixing bowl that was deep enough to keep the batter from splattering all over the place, yet shallow enough for maneuvering the hand mixer.  Now I toss all the ingredients into the deep stainless steel bowl that comes with the Kitchen Aid, turn that industrial-strength baby on, and get to enjoy splatter-free, hands-free, super-efficient mixing.  It's like a dream come true.  I can see now why brides-to-be usually put a Kitchen Aid mixer on their bridal registries.

Hey, how 'bout that?  My last two favorites were in fact inspired by the wedding of a brand new bride I know, my older brother's daughter.  The amazing celebration after her nuptial Mass was like nothing you've ever seen (I like to call it "My Big, Fat, Italian Wedding").  280 guests, a live band, mouth-watering plated dinners...it was something else, I'll tell you.  Just so much fun!  And I got to dance with my sweetheart, which leads to what else but--

Favorite #4:
Dancing with My Husband!
Weddings are always such a great opportunity for my husband and me to do something that we absolutely love doing--dancing together, jitterbug/swing-style--but really don't do very often. 
Back in 1975, shortly before our high school junior prom, my mother gave the two of us some basic lessons in this style of dancing.  I remember going through the motions in our living room, with Mom coaching us.  She taught my cute boyfriend how to lead, and I learned how to follow (for the most part).  We cut a pretty good rug at that prom.  Then when this boyfriend/future husband went off to college, he would show me new moves he'd learned at Notre Dame dances every time we were home together on breaks, and we'd incorporate them into our "routines."  Over the years, our timing and confidence continued to improve.  We're not half-bad (if I do say so myself)--and a lot better at it at 56 than we were at 16, although we get winded quicker.  We definitely give the young kids out on the dance floor a run for their money!
 
But there was a lot of impressive dancing going on at my niece's wedding.  Even my brothers were swinging each other around the floor, making everyone around them laugh.  So I guess you might be able to predict what #5 is going to be...
 
Favorite #5:
My Sweet, Funny (and Talented) Brothers!
I'm the second-oldest sibling in my family, sandwiched between two brothers; one is about 16 months older than I, and the other is about 18 months younger.  (We also have two younger sisters.) 

The Harding boys are both such showmen, each in his own way.  My older brother will make you laugh until your stomach hurts, and he's never afraid to make an utter fool of himself to get that reaction.  My younger brother has a traditional job, but is also living out a dream from his garage band days in high school: in his off hours, he plays his guitar and sings at bars, parties, etc.--and he's incredibly good.  When he's up there doing his thing, he works the crowd with his quick wit and self-deprecating humor.

I can't say enough about these two guys.  The band let my younger brother get up on stage and play 4 songs at our niece's wedding reception, and within the next few days, I just might be sharing some videos my sister took while he was performing.  And while I'm at it, I've got to show you the video of my older brother doing a choreographed father-daughter dance with his baby girl; it's almost guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.

But for now, here are some still shots of my silly brothers, acting like they've got a major bromance going on.  (I'm the gal in the blue polka-dot dress, laughing her head off.)

Ahhh...good times, good times.

Now tell me, what are some of your favorites?

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Careful What You Wish For!

I guess I've got marriage on my mind today, which isn't all that surprising.  In about 2 hours, we will be attending the wedding of our niece, my older brother's only daughter.  She appears to have chosen her mate quite wisely, and this glorious day is sure to be filled with laughter, joy, and [happy] tears.  (And I've heard that my brother and his girl have prepared something hilarious for the father-daughter dance, so there's that to look forward to.)

When I was 9 (way back in 1967), I had my husband all picked out.  I was totally, madly in love with John Cowsill, a member of a singing group called the Cowsills.  There were six siblings in the group, along with their mother--and they were the inspiration for the TV show "The Partridge Family," as a matter of fact.  I had one of their albums, which I played over and over on my little record-player-in-a-cardboard-suitcase.  (Do any of you fifty-somethings out there remember those?  So much cooler than iPods, am I right?)

I've blogged about John Cowsill before, in case you missed that little gem of a blog post called "Diary of a (Very) Young Girl."  He was my first serious crush, and in typical 9-year-old-girl style, I daydreamed about marrying him when I grew up...which makes the theme of this post "Careful What You Wish For."  Not that he wasn't a cutie pie.  I mean, look at this All-American freckle-faced kid.
But here's a more recent photo of the boy to whom I thought I would hitch my wagon, if only I had the chance.
Not.my.cup.of.tea.at.all.  Not anymore.  I'm not really into the whole rocker vibe (and I know that for every old sock, there's an old shoe; but still, not my thing).

I didn't know my husband when he was 9; but I've seen pictures and he, too, was an All-American freckle-faced cutie pie.  The difference is that this is what he looks like today, after 33 years of marriage...
...and he is still exactly my cup of tea.

Marriage is certainly not something to be taken lightly, is it?  Husbands should not be chosen by 9-year-olds from the pages of 16 Magazine, that's for sure!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Seeing the hand of God...

...everywhere I look.

Is it any wonder that I've been having trouble keeping up with this blog, when I'm surrounded by such breathtakingly beautiful scenery as this?  Talk about a distraction!
Sunset--July 10, 2014 (This is just an iPhone photo, not retouched in any way!)
Looking at this utterly otherworldly splendor, how can anyone doubt our Creator's existence?

This is the view from the back yard of my husband's childhood home, which he and his seven siblings have decided to keep until the last one of them has passed on from this world.  (They won't give up Heaven on earth for anything less than Heaven itself!)  None of them can conceive of parting with such a one-of-a-kind piece of real estate, and who can blame them?  My husband and I feel lucky that we live less than five hours away by car, so that we can come here and soak it all in on a somewhat regular basis.

[Sigh]...within a couple of days (after a weekend trip to attend the wedding of my older brother's only daughter this Saturday), we'll be back home.  And I'll try to get out of vacation mode and get back to business.  In the meantime, I hope your summer has given you many glimpses of God's loving and powerful hand in this glorious earthly home of ours.