Thursday, April 12, 2018

R U Ready for the R's?

I think I'm actually going to finish this ABC Book that I've been working on for my grandchildren for the past few years (or more accurately, for the past few decades, because it was originally going to be for my youngest son...who's 25 now!).  I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I've got the R's all finished and stored away in their plastic pages in the binder, and I really like how they came out.  (I've noticed that the further along I get, the less critical I am of my drawings and the more I'm enjoying the process).

So here they R, the R's!  
Notice that I included another R animal in the rocket-ship, without naming it in the rhyme.  I've done this here and there throughout the book, hoping the wee ones will discover these hidden gems.
I always knew that I wanted to incorporate some Catholic sacramentals and images in this book (along with all the animals; because I don't know about your little ones, but mine--both my children and my grandchildren--have never been able to resist them).  So I always knew that a Rosary would be included in the R pages.

Now I've got just to finish the pages for I, J, K, N, O, Q, V, W, X, Y, and Z.  I've already got the rhymes written for I, V, X, Y, and  Z; some of those pages are already partially done, but now I have to get going on completing the artwork for them.  If there's anything you'd like to see on the J, K, N, and O pages, leave me a comment and I'll see what I can do. 

I'm kind of cheating on the last three letters of the alphabet: instead of doing two pages for each letter, I'm going to draw only one image for each to create the last two pages of the book.  So the finish line is well and truly in sight.

Coming soon (I hope): the W's.  Watch out for those.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Tribute to My Mother-in-Law

Today is the 9th anniversary of my dear mother-in-law's death.  She was born on All Saints Day and died on Holy Saturday; I think that pretty much sums up all you need to know about Mom and her special relationship with Our Lord and Our Lady, whom she loved so much.  She was a beautiful soul, with deep and abiding faith and an abundance of love for her family, and she is missed by so many.

I wanted to write a new post today in honor of the best mother-in-law a girl could ever dream of having; but I'm finding myself at a loss for some reason.  So instead, I'm going to share an old post I wrote about Mom, a birthday tribute from 2013.  Click here if you'd like to read it..

Gone, but never forgotten.  We miss you, Mom (and Dad), and we love you.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Dream

She was a young mother when she had the dream, just thirty, with four little boys between the ages of one and five.  She would not give birth to her fifth, and last, son for several years.

She was normally not a dreamer.  Always an exceptionally deep sleeper (the alarm had not yet been invented that would easily wake her--except, of course, for the middle-of-the-night cries and calls of her children), she rarely dreamed--and even when she did, she even more rarely remembered the details of her dreams, which would grow hazy as soon as she opened her eyes and then quickly evaporate, like a misty fog being chased off by the sun.  "I was having the strangest dream," she might tell her husband.  But when he asked her what it was about, she could almost never clearly recall the particulars.

This dream was different.

THIS one the heavy-sleeping young mother remembered vividly upon waking--every excruciatingly painful detail of it.

In the dream, it was obvious that the young mother was no longer of this world.  She was floating down to earth, ghost-like, to visit her husband and sons, the beloved family from whom she'd been cruelly separated by a premature death (the reason for her untimely demise unclear, unexplained).  She had been unwilling to ever purposely leave them while she lived; separation anxiety had been a hallmark of her brand of motherhood.  How unbearable it was for her to be separated from them now!  She just had to see them again.  She had to.

She located the house.  There they were: her boys!  Hopefully they would be as glad to see her as she was to see them.  She passed easily through the see-through roof and floated inside, her heart fluttering in anticipation of the sweet reunion.

Sadly, nothing about this reunion was sweet.  In a similar fashion to those nightmares where you try to run from danger but you realize with horror that your legs are suddenly paralyzed, she kept yelling frantically, through tears, trying in vain to get her boys' attention, but it was as if she had no voice at all, or as if they had gone completely deaf.  Going to them one by one, she cried, "It's Mom!  I'm here!  I'm so sorry I had to leave you!  I miss you and I love you!"  Not one of them turned his head at the sound of her voice, not one; they didn't hear her or see her, didn't feel her presence, even though she was pouring her love out over them with every ounce of strength she had left.  It was as if she didn't exist at all.  They kept doing what they were doing, heads bent over their toys, utterly engrossed, oblivious to her presence; the youngest napped peacefully in his crib...and from all appearances, they were as happy as they'd ever been.  How badly she wanted to hug them, to see their faces light up and to hear the older ones say, "Mom, you're back!  We've missed you so much!"

It seemed as if they'd forgotten her altogether, and her heart felt as if it was cracking into a million tiny pieces.

Profoundly saddened, she reluctantly left her babies to go in search of her husband, her only love, the high school sweetheart who'd been her best friend for half of her earthly life and with whom she'd been chosen by God to raise those precious boys.  On her way to him, floating down an unfamiliar hallway in that unfamiliar house, she passed a doorway and looked in to see a lovely woman sitting in an easy chair, with her head bent over a book...and she was visibly pregnant.  The sight of this woman, a complete stranger who was now the woman of this house, apparently, pierced the young mother's heart.

Finally, she found him--the high school boyfriend-turned-husband who had always and forever been the only man for her.  He was alone in the master bedroom--a room that he should be sharing with HER, she thought, and not with that other woman out there who was sitting in a chair, reading and growing a new baby.

When he saw her, the husband dropped the folded-up t-shirt he was holding and his face immediately lit up with joy.  "It's SO GOOD to see you again," he said, and she could tell that he'd missed her and he loved her still.

"You can see me?  Oh, thank God you can see me!" she said.  She could always count on him.  "The boys..."  A sob caught in her throat.  "The boys can't see me!  I tried to talk to them, and they can't hear me, either."

He looked at her with love (and pity, too, perhaps) in his eyes.  "We're okay.  We're doing okay.  You don't have to worry about us; we're all going to be fine."

How could they be fine without her?  How could they be?  Oh, yes...that woman reading in the chair, who now had the coveted job of caring for her boys--she was their mother-figure now...

It was then that the young dead mother in the dream realized that her beloved men--all five of them--had moved on without her, and she began to keen...

The young mother's eyes popped open.  She had woken herself up with the actual sound of a strangled cry in her throat, a sound that put a merciful end to the unspeakably painful dream, and there were actual tears soaking her cheeks.  This had never happened to her before; she had never cried herself awake.  She was shaken to her core.  It took a long time for her to feel the consolation that comes from realizing that none of that awful stuff had really happened, that it was all just a bad dream--that she was alive, that her precious boys were sleeping in nearby rooms, that her husband was still all hers.  But it had seemed more real than any dream she'd ever had (if you didn't count the part about floating down from the sky and passing through the roof of a house!).  She could not seem to shake the sadness it left in its wake.  Not for hours.

The question I pose now, dear readers, is this: was it a bad dream, or was it, in some ways, a good one?

Yes, yes, I know: it was very sad, for what mother can fathom leaving her babies motherless when they're so little?  But it was also ultimately hopeful, wasn't it?  Didn't the young widower prove, by marrying again (even though he still felt love for his departed wife), that with the grace of God, we can endure even the most painful losses and still find a reason to keep on living?  Wouldn't any mother be comforted to know that her husband and children were going to be okay, even if she couldn't be with them?

You might have guessed by now that I was the young mother who woke up crying, having just experienced in my dream existence what was one of my greatest real-life fears at that point in time.  (My other fears were so terrifyingly painful to imagine that I guess my subconscious didn't even dare to produce dreams about them--or if it did, I was thankfully too heavy a sleeper to remember them.)  At the wise old age of going-on-60, however, I realize now that my faith back then was not what it should have been; and had my faith been strong enough, I might have found more comfort than sadness in that dream--which I imagine now could be a glimpse of what Purgatory might be like for someone like me.

Blurry 1988 snapshots, from the day we brought son #4 home from the hospital.
We think we love our children more than anyone possibly could, but God loves them even more than we do.  It's taken me a lot of years to really understand that, and to put my trust in Him.  We don't know what's truly best for us, and for our loved ones; only God knows that.  And His plans for us are more perfect than any we could make for ourselves--even the tragedies of this life can lead us to greater happiness in the next.

It's easy for me to look back on this dream now and wonder why it tormented me so at the time, I guess: after all, I have been granted the privilege of living long enough to see my boys (all five of them) grow up; to see the four oldest get married and become fathers; to live past middle age with my first and only love and meet a dozen of our grandchildren (with more already on the way).  I am luckier than most.  God's plan for me was not to die young and leave my sons when they were small, and for that I am eternally grateful.

When I was a young mother, I had an intense and irrational fear of flying that could more accurately be described as a fear of dying.  (And I'm married to an airline pilot--go figure!  I know better than most how safe airline travel is, and yet...)  I am a bit ashamed now that I wasn't able to put my life completely in God's hands back then, to trust in His goodness and mercy and without fear say, "Your will, not mine, be done."  Because of my fear of flying and my separation anxiety, I couldn't bring myself to fly AWAY from my boys; but when they grew up, left home, and scattered to the winds, I was able to fly TO them with little trouble.  Wanting to see them when they were far away cured me of my long-held phobias.  I wish I could say that faith alone had done it.

I still fear death (which is to say that I am like most normal humans).  I can only hope that when my time comes, I will be so much stronger than the dream-frightened young mother I was 30 years ago, and that I can fly to Our Lord without fear, like my father did when he died in November of 2016.

When Dad was given his final prognosis--that the chemo was not working, that his leukemia was terminal, and that he had only a week or two to live--he took that news bravely and thanked the doctor for his honesty.  He calmly faced his end, surrounded by his family for one beautiful week that I will always remember with fondness.  His last week on earth was one of peace, grace, courage, love, trust, and acceptance.  He gave himself back to God without one tear falling down his face, without one complaint--even though he knew that he was saying goodbye to my mom, the beloved partner with whom he'd shared his life for 60 years.  His was the happiest, holiest death anyone could ever imagine.  Right before he passed, as he was struggling to take his last breaths, his eyes suddenly popped open and he stared at a spot on the ceiling.  His lips moved as if he was trying to talk to someone.  My husband and I both believe that he was seeing Our Lady, and that She was there in his last moments to take him to Her Son.
That's my dream now: to die the way my father did.

(I'm sorry if this post was a little heavy!  I just recalled that long-ago dream the other day and felt compelled to write about it.  Actually, I used memories of this dream as inspiration for some parts of Finding Grace, when talking about Grace's mother, Peggy, and her feelings regarding faith and motherhood.  Perhaps there will be a Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club post tomorrow?)

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Bonnets, Baskets, & Bunnies Link-Up: Easter 2018

I thought I'd join writer and blogger Carolyn Astfalk for her 2018 Easter link-up, which she's running from Easter through Divine Mercy Sunday.  Carolyn said that anything goes--"spiritual reflections, flower photos, chocolate bunnies, favorite hymns, books, etc."--and I thought that sounded like something I could definitely do, even though I'm not exactly a prolific blogger these days.
I love, love, LOVE Easter; sometimes I think it actually might be my favorite holiday.  (But then Christmas comes, and I show myself to be quite fickle indeed.)

I love to put together baskets for my family.  I love to decorate the house with flowers, eggs, and bunnies.  (And banners, too.)  It's such a happy time of year, and I think my house reflects this.  But I'll let the pictures do most of the talking for me, if you don't mind.

I love my peeps--and I don't mean the marshmallow kind!  (Peeps are some of son #4's favorite Easter treats, but not so much mine.  Give me chocolate, always.)  I'm talking about my PEEPS, you see--that is, my people.  The little ones, especially.

Here are some sweet photos of some of the Pearls on our family string, all dressed up in their Easter Sunday best.

My oldest son and his wife have requested that their girls don't appear in photos on the blog, and I strive to honor their wishes regarding the privacy of their family (even though it kills me not to share my granddaughters' sweet faces with you!).  But here they are, in a recent photo taken on their front porch.
These four girls just found out that theirs will no longer be "an all of a kind family," like their daddy's was; in July, they will welcome a new baby brother!

God bless you this Easter and always.  And Happy Divine Mercy Sunday to you, too!
Now head on over to Carolyn's My Scribbler's Heart blog for more Bonnets, Baskets, & Bunnies!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Making Old Things New Again

I love that old New England adage, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without."  That sort of thinking has kind of gone by the wayside in our throwaway society, where shiny and new is always thought to be better and is just a short click away.  Which is too bad, because some things are worth keeping--not just because they can be fixed, but because they have priceless sentimental value.

When my grandmother (my father's mom) died, we went through her things, and this old broken frame is one of the items that I took.  In it were photos of my mother and her five children.  We five were Grandma's only grandchildren, because my dad's only sister married relatively late in life and we never had any first cousins on his side.
That's me top-left, in 6th grade--with an awful hair-do and a string of pearls.  And please check out
my older brother's 'do, top-right: Justin Beiber ain't got nothin' on him!
My grandma had SO MANY framed family photos in her house (I think I inherited her taste for home décor!).  She was such a lovely, soft-spoken, refined, almost regal lady, and because she was this way, I always assumed that everything she had in her home was top-quality.  It certainly always appeared that way to me, due to Grandma's high-class aura.

But the truth is that she was a survivor of the depression, whose well-to-do father lost everything in the big crash of 1929.  He never recovered financially and became a broken man.  Grandma's mother, a tough, no-nonsense matriarch and mother of six, got a nursing degree and became her family's primary bread-winner.  Grandma was the oldest of her siblings, her father's favorite.  She had been given a roadster of her own and was ready to start college at Bryn Mawr--she was just totally living the life of Riley--when her world came crashing down.  She, too, eventually went to nursing school.  And she, too, eventually became the primary bread-winner of her family, when her husband died and left her with two small children, a six-year-old boy (my dad) and a two-year-old girl.  For the rest of her life, money was always very tight.

So the truth was that everything Grandma owned was not the newest and the best.  This is what the back of that picture frame I inherited looked like.
The little oval on the bottom left had broken off completely and was being held to the rest of the frame by duct tape.

Just yesterday I was thinking about that frame, which I knew was hiding somewhere amidst all the precious mementos that had survived the culling process when we made the move from NH to VA about a year ago.  I have five children, too, just like my mom; and I thought it would be adorable to fill this frame with photos of them--my favorites from their toddler years, when they all posed wearing the same white sailor suit.

When I found the frame, which was in a trunk down in the basement storage area of our new house, I kind of laughed.  It probably should have gone into the dumpster when we moved, I thought.  But I never could have done that.  It was my grandma's.  We were everything to her, and that little broken frame was a symbol of her love for us.

It took a little bit of engineering to get the back of the frame in some kind of working order (truly, what it needs is a bit of soldering, but that's not going to happen--so duct tape it is!); to keep the broken piece from flopping, I added some cardboard strips for support.  (Hey, I was joking before, but perhaps I am an engineer!)
I am so pleased with the results--and so glad I decided to figure out how to give Grandma's frame new life.
Ahoy, cuteness!
We have very little space on the fireplace mantel in our new house, because we have a huge flat-screen TV hung on the wall right above it.  But this sweet little frame--an homage to both my grandmother and my boys--fits perfectly.
I am so pleased with how it looks.  It's like a whole new frame in the front.  No one needs to know what's going on in the back but me--and the great thing is that whenever I do look at all that duct tape, I'll think of my grandma and smile.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Real Face of Jesus

You might have seen this Aleteia article making its way around social media recently.  It is about a group that did intricate scientific studies of the Shroud of Turin, and using the information gleaned from it came up with a 3D model of the Man--Jesus Christ--who was wrapped in that cloth after His death by crucifixion.  It is a fascinating and thought provoking article, and if you haven't seen it yet you can read it here.

That article led me to click on some other related links, one of them a short YouTube video about an artist named Ray Downing, who has done a series of paintings of what is believed to be "The real face of Jesus" (also using information coded in the Shroud to come up with these images).  It's not a long video, and definitely worth a look, if you're interested.

I am so drawn to Downing's paintings.  I can't stop looking at them...because whenever I've tried to imagine what Jesus really looked like, this is the face I saw.  It really is.  These paintings are achingly beautiful.  Here are just some of them.

I love these images.  I can't seem to stop looking at them.  I feel as if in some way, they have actually drawn me closer to Our Lord.  I am so glad that I stumbled upon them just before Good Friday, because I believe they will help me to meditate today about the great Sacrifice He made for us, with His death on the Cross.  I just find myself wanting to look at them all the time.

Ecce homo.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Whole New Chapter

Don't let that title fool you--I'm not talking about books here.  It's been a while since I wrote a new chapter for one of those: almost four years, to be exact.  And as much as I'd like to believe I will someday write a sequel to Erin's Ring (a really compelling story I've been kicking around inside my head for several years now), I'm not sure I'll ever get around to it.

No, I'm talking about LIFE--the great big, amazing, surprising, ever-changing, sometimes terrifying, sometimes gloriously perfect, God-written book of life.

This morning, I was passing this photo collage that hangs on the wall in the stairwell of our "new" house in VA.  (I need to put the word "new" in quotes now; because as of March 20, we have been Virginians for a whole year already.)
My boys!  (If you're thinking this is the most adorable quintet of lads you've ever laid eyes on, you're spot on!   #truth.)

I pass this collage of cuteness countless times every day, on my way from the first floor to the second and back down again.  Those precious faces, more dear to me than any others--save the face of the man they call "Dad"--look a lot different these days, to be sure.  Those round-cheeked, soft-skinned little fellas range in age from 25 to 34 now, so you can imagine how much they've changed.  The four oldest of them are married, and have given us 12 grandchildren so far (with two more on the way!).  A number of those grandchildren are older than my baby boys were when these photos were taken.

How does that happen, anyway?  You turn your head for one minute...But I'm here to warn you, it will happen, mamas: your children will grow up.  Meanwhile, you'll feel exactly the same age you were when they were in diapers, so it's a very strange phenomenon.  (You will not look as young as you did when your babies were in diapers, unfortunately...but that's a topic for another day.)

Yes, once upon a time, I was the fresh-faced mother of very small boys.  It was all I'd ever wanted to be, from the time I was a little girl: a full-time wife and mother, a homemaker (and I don't care how antiquated and un-PC that sounds!), taking care my home and family.  All my hopes and dreams were fulfilled, all my prayers answered, when God gave me five sweet sons to raise and a doting and supportive husband who made it possible for me to do it without working outside the home.  God has blessed me so much more than I deserve, and I am constantly reminded that to whom much is given, much is expected.

When our four oldest boys were between the ages of 3 and 7, we moved into a lovely Colonial house on an idyllic acre-plus of wooded property on a quiet cul-de-sac street in NH.  Two years later, we welcomed a fifth son.  This was our home--in every possible definition of the term--for more than 26 years.
But the chicks, they do leave the nest.  As I said before, mamas, this is a fact of life; your babies grow up (the nerve!).  They go to college, they get jobs, they get married, and before you know it, they're buying homes in which to raised their own chicks.  If you're lucky, they stay within striking distance.  But in our case, they moved much too far away to see them on a regular basis without constant traveling.  Long car trips and cross-country flights became the norm.  During the last few years that my husband and I lived in that beloved house in NH, we spent so little time under its roof that we began to wonder why we even owned it.

But God works in mysterious ways, doesn't He?  Who would have thought that three of our boys would end up settling in Northern VA, two within minutes of each other and the other less than two hours away from them?  If we picked a spot somewhere in the middle, we decided, we could see all three easily and our new house could become the perfect gathering spot for their growing families.  But no, we thought; we could never, ever sell our NH house.  It's too full of memories!  We've put too much sweat equity and love into making it the perfect place for us!  Our house is practically a member of the family!  Maybe it doesn't make sense for us anymore, but we could never sell it and move somewhere else.  We just couldn't do that.

Never say never, my friends; because do that we did.

A year ago, we moved to a small Virginia town that we have grown to love.  Our town is surrounded by bucolic rural vistas (Horses!  Cows!), and everywhere we go, we can see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  We've joined a new parish run by two of the most holy priests a thirsting Catholic could ever hope for.  (Not that we didn't love our old parish; but liberal thought in the Northeast is so pervasive that even in the parking lot of Catholic churches, you will see bumper stickers promoting pro-abortion political candidates.  Not so here in NOVA, thank the Lord.)

We made this move for our children and grandchildren, of course, and that alone would have been worth it; but it would have been so much harder if we hadn't been as pleased with our new adopted hometown as we are.  I am a manic nester; I burrow in and fill every space with comforting and familiar furnishings and mementos, and after I've feathered my nest, I find change very difficult.  That's why last year, the Lenten season was marked by sadness, stress, and exhaustion: I was dismantling a home that I never thought I'd leave, and all I could see when I looked about me were memories of a long and happy life lived there, surrounded by growing boys.  Getting that house ready to hand over to a new family was, for me, the hardest Lenten sacrifice I could imagine (not to put too dramatic a spin on it!).
After all the framed photos of our boys playing sports, all the pennants and homages to the Red Sox and the Patriots, came
down, the last items to go were our boys' high school football jerseys.  It was sad.  And afterward, my husband could
no longer hang out in this "man cave" he'd built himself, by converting the garage, even though it had been
his favorite place in the house.

As I swept the attic out attic one final time, this is the pile that went into the dust pan: it tells the story of our life in that house, doesn't it?
I think perhaps my attachment to worldly things needed a bit of adjustment, and God saw fit to help me let go of that house for the good of my family. I still feel little waves of sadness and longing sometimes when I look at photos of our family gathered in our old NH house.  But I wouldn't change where we are for all the tea in China.  The move was, to put it simply, the very best thing we could have done--for ourselves, and for our kids and grandkids.

The incredible thing is that not too long after we moved here, our oldest son moved to the area, too, (probably just for a few years, as he begins a new career where he will originally be working out of DC; but we'll take what we can get!).  In fact, while he was in training in another state, his wife and their four girls lived with us for a couple of months, until they were able to find a suitable house to rent.  (They found one, just 17 minutes from us!)

So never fear: just when you think that part of your life is over, that wonderful season of hearing little feet going pitter-pat around the house, this is what will happen.
I am so happy that I kept most of the toys our boys played with when they were young.  They
are being enjoyed all over again!

And just when you think that with your 60th birthday looming on the horizon, the best season of your life is behind you, you'll look in your kitchen breakfast nook and see the new baby paraphernalia you've gone out to buy, because your house is once again often filled with adorable little people.
One of our daughters-in-law made us a sign for Christmas that reads: "Papa and Grammy's House, Where Cousins Become Friends."  If that's what this house will be for our grandkids, then once again I'll say that this move is the very best thing we could have ever done for our family.

I'm going to end this post (which I think of as a celebration of the one year anniversary of living in our new home) with a few pictures from our recent St. Patty's Day celebration--with all four married sons and all 12 grandchildren in attendance.

See those little people in those pictures?  They're just a few of the very good reasons I'm not posting much here at the blog these days.  Being a hands-on Grammy is almost a full-time job.  (I'm "off" today, and taking advantage by blogging this morning, and later on going to Confession and Mass.)  And just like being a SAHM to five little boys, it's a really good gig.

Even if you have to sell your home and move to a new state to get a gig like this, I'm here to tell you that it's very much worth it.