Thursday, January 11, 2018

Throwback Thursday Comes to String of Pearls

I'm on a roll here, guys.  I'm blogging for the second day in a row...using an old post from my "drafts" folder.  (I'm cheating, I know...)  Here's another one that I left half-finished about four years ago, when I was such a prolific blogger that I not only posted my musings almost daily but actually had extra posts waiting in the wings for a rainy day.  Hard to imagine!

This was originally going to be a "Throwback Thursday" post, and it's Thursday.  So what better rainy day to dust it off, polish it up, and post it than today?


Are you on Facebook? (It's not a silly question!  Some people very close to me--people lots younger than I am--have managed to keep themselves from getting sucked into that time-sucking vortex, though I have thus far proven to be too weak to stay away--even though I make plans to break up with Facebook on a semi-regular basis.  Drat!  Those Internets!   They are very seductive, are they not?)

Anyway, Facebook has this thing that people do on Thursdays called "Throwback Thursday" or TBT or #TBT, where 'Bookers post old pictures of themselves, their families, and their friends.

Well, I've noticed a trend.  There have been a lot more "likes" for old pictures of my family (we're talking 80's- and early 90's-era) than there ever are for the more recent photos I post.  So I can only conclude that people like the way we looked a long time ago much more than they like the way we look now.

Can't say that I blame them, really...I mean, there was a lot of cuteness going on in our house, back in the day.

Today's #TBT offering on Facebook was this photo of my two oldest sons.
This priceless pic was taken by some talented Sears photographer in 1987--when I guess I was under the misguided delusion that they were twins or something.  Matching clothes, matching haircuts.  I thought they looked totes adorbs,and it never occurred to me that the day would come when they would look back at this picture and think they looked anything other than awesome. (Silly mom...)

While chuckling heartily as he looked at this photo the other day, my #2 son asked, "How could you think those haircuts looked good?  They're ridiculous."  What, wait--is there something wrong with the Lloyd Christmas-inspired bowl cuts we used to give these guys?

And while we're at it, is there anything wrong with dressing two little boys who are 15 months apart in age as if they're identical twins?  (Those striped tank tops--or I suppose "muscle shirts" sounds a bit more manly--were made by yours truly.  Back when I could still sew clothes for my boys and make them wear them, and they really didn't have any say in the matter.)

Not long after they posed for this picture, these two adorable fellas had regulation little boy haircuts, administered by a barber (before we got smart and bought a clipper set, and set up shop at our own house).  It was the end of the bowl-cut era.  It was also nearing the end of the home-sewn shirts era.  I was still dressing them like twins, but now they were wearing store-bought matching button-downs.  [Sigh...]  They grow up so fast, don't they?


I had no idea when I started that just how fast they really do grow up.  Of course, a lot has happened since that photo of those two cutie-pies was taken 31 years ago. 
But in just the four years since I started writing that post and filed the draft away, there have been some enormous changes for sons # 1 and 2: the older one has added two daughters to the twin girls he already had at the time, and the younger one got married and became the father of two wee boys who are about as close in age as he and his older brother.  So much can happen in four years!

Life is such an amazing roller coaster ride--much too fast at times, and much too scary.  And sometimes you wish that for just a minute or two, you could go back in time to simpler days.  You wish you could have your needy little boys back, with their soft little arms and their wonder-filled blue eyes and their blond bowl cuts...just for a minute or two, mind you.  Or maybe a day.

But you wouldn't really want to go back for good.  You'd just want to visit briefly; otherwise you would miss the upstanding young men they've become and the beautiful wives and children they've brought to your family.  You'd miss them unbearably.  Unspeakably.

So thank goodness for photos like the ones above: they keep your precious memories of your children's early years alive forever, and whenever you look at them you are briefly transported back in time.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Art Imitating Art

Back in the early days  of this blog, I had so many ideas for posts in my head and so much to SAY (or so I thought, anyway) that I actually not only blogged daily, but often had at least a few partially written posts languishing in my "drafts" folder.

Well, this morning I was looking through that folder and decided to finish an almost completed post that I began way back on March 11, 2014.  (Yes, you read that right--we're talking four years ago!)

Here's what I had all ready to post, but for some reason never did:


If you're new here, you might not know this about me--but I love art.  Love, love, love it.  (Unless it's modern art, where cans of paint are hurled haphazardly at a canvas--I don't love that.)

Aside from looking at truly great works of art, such as this,

Sybil of Delphi, from the Sistine Chapel murals, by an artist who's somewhat well-known.
I also enjoy creating truly not-great imitations, such as this.

From a girlhood sketchbook, by someone a lot less famous than Michelangelo. 
My artwork will never hang in the Louvre, but that's okay.  Even if the works I manage to produce aren't on par with the masters, the fact that I enjoy the process of producing them should be enough.  And it is.   Working on them has made my life so much richer, if only for the joy of the creative process.  And if art doesn't produce joy, then what is it for?

That being said, I'm taking a few days off from blogging about doing I can actually, you know, DO artwork.  I have an ABC Book to finish for my grandchildren!  (And thankfully, one need not be a Michelangelo to create illustrations that might appeal to little folks.)   So I'll see you in a few days...and hopefully by then, the E and F pages will be completed!


Well, I'm happy to say that in the four years since I wrote that unfinished post, I have completed the E and F pages, as well as the pages for some of the other letters.

I've still got a long way to go before the book is finished...but now I'm feeling motivated.  ABC Book, here I come!
You will be seeing illustrations for new pages in the months to come...I hope!

Otherwise, it will end up being a book for my great-grandchildren!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Happy New Year! (And Is It Too Late to Talk about Christmas Ornaments?)

Happy New Year, dear readers!

It is one of my resolutions for 2018 to give a little more attention to my poor old neglected blog, which must be feeling like the cosseted firstborn child who suddenly has a younger sibling, a baby who seems to be getting a lot more attention.  (That younger sibling being Instagram, of course, where I've been spending most of my online time these days.)

Let's talk about Instagram, though.  It is a downright charming place to visit, I must admit.  There are never any of those Facebook-style vicious political rants in your news feed, just lovely photos with short-but-sweet captions or stories beneath them.  Instagram provides a quick fix for people who would prefer a lengthy novel or a thoughtful blog post, but are just too busy at the moment.  If you don't have time to read a blog post, you almost surely have time to read a few delightful Insta-posts.  Also, I find that there are so many lovely Catholic gals on Instagram who inspire me to grow in my faith, and talented designing women who inspire me to make my house more cozy and beautiful for my family.  And then there are those hashtags, which are sometimes just hilarious.

So I'm liking Instagram a whole lot these days...and unfortunately, I've been ignoring my firstborn baby, my String of Pearls.  But I'm going to try to get back into writing over here more often, because I find I just miss writing for writing's sake.  What is it about putting together words that I find so satisfying?

My twin granddaughters (who are the oldest of our 12 grandchildren, at 6-and-1/2) devour books at an impressive rate, having taught themselves how to read over a year ago.  One of them recently showed me one she'd just finished and commented, "I liked this.  It had nice words."  How I love the way she put that!  "Nice words."  That's all a writer hopes to accomplish for his readers: to not just give them a good story, but one that is told so nicely that it is a joy for them to read the words. Not that I think my words are all that nice, mind you; but that is most definitely the goal.  And String of Pearls has been a great outlet for me for the past six-plus years, a wonderful place for me to do what I like to do--to play with words.  And as a bonus, this blog has put me in contact with a whole bunch of wonderful friends I would never have met otherwise.

So God bless the Catholic blogging world, that's all I have to say.

Okay then, this is my first post of 2018, and it should be about something momentous.  But it won't be.  I find that I wish I'd done some Christmas-themed posts over the past few weeks, but I was so busy being a hands-on Grammy (and traveling to Poland to see my baby boy--now there's a subject for a future post!) that I didn't get around to it.  But luckily, for Catholics the Christmas season doesn't even start until December 25.  So I'm not too late, not too late at all.  And you know what?  I'm going to totally copy one of the ladies I follow on Instagram (Mary of Better Than Eden) and highlight some of the ornaments on my tree.  I enjoyed Mary's Instagram post about her ornaments so much that it inspired me to do one of my own.  So here we go.

Way back in 2013, during the Christmas season I ran a contest here at String of Pearls.  I had readers guess how many ornaments we had on our 9-and-1/2-foot tree, and the prize was a handcrafted painted wooden Santa ornament (holding a string of pearls, of course ;)).  The winner guessed 430 and she was close; we had 439 ornaments on the tree that year. And we've acquired plenty of new ones since then, because I have always been of the opinion that you can NEVER have too many of them.

But here's the thing: last year we sold our beloved house in NH, where we'd lived for 26 years (and where we had a converted garage-turned-man cave, with a ceiling high enough for a tree that tall), and we moved to VA to be near some of our grown sons; and our new house, while lovely and cozy, does not have such an area for such a tree.  So we had to retire our old tree, sadly, and get something smaller.

Since we couldn't have a big tree, we decided we could at least have one with an obnoxious amount of lights on it.
There are so many lights, it looked pretty even before we put the ornaments on it.

But of course, we did put ornaments on it!

There was a whole plastic storage bin filled with treasures that never made it on the tree this year, but the branches still ended up looking pretty packed.
Every year when we decorate our tree, I love to open the bins and boxes.  Each and every time, it's like Christmas morning all over again, and each precious memento feels like it's brand new.  I love that about ornaments!

I'm just going to highlight a few for you (if you're even still here; and if so, I'm sorry this post is so long!).

A few Christmases ago, our second-oldest son hand-painted two ornaments for his author mommy, recreating the cover of Finding Grace in one;
 and Erin's Ring in another.
For our last NH Christmas together in 2016, I had these porcelain ornaments made, one for us and one for each of our five boys--with a photo of our NH house on them.
After my dad died in November of 2016, I took his vast collection of NY State Lottery t-shirts (which he was always wearing, as a proud employee we called the "Lotto Guy") and made a t-shirt quilt for my mom and five of these "quilted" ornaments for my siblings and me.
I also made this "quilted" ornament, using scraps of material from our boys' old Catholic elementary school uniforms.  They wore gray pants and white oxford button-downs (see the button on that ornament?), and then maroon sweatshirts and sweatpants for gym.  I made the boys some bell-shaped ornaments out of these scraps as well, and I know how snazzy they thought their school uniforms were, so I'm sure they treasure them.  ;)  (If you'd like to see a how-to post on making ornaments like this, I did one once and you can read it here.)
Of course, no tree would be complete without the handmade ornaments the kids brought home from school in their boyhood days.  Like this one.
Or this one.
I should give the boys their TMNT ornaments, which we've had for about 25 years...but I don't have the heart to part with them.  Yet!
The same son who painted the book cover ornaments above painted this one-of-a-kind Garfield number for us back in 1997, when he was 11.  (All of my sons are quite artistic!)
I recently added a VA ornament, fashioned from a cookie cutter shaped like our newly adopted state.
Lots of our ornaments are Irish-themed. And lots of them are gifts from our kids or other loved ones. That metal and bead Claddagh ornament (right near the glass Irish step dancer) is a gift from our #4 son.  (Our boys all know what Mom likes!)
I have several ceramic mouse ornaments that I made when I wasn't even a mother yet.  There was a studio on the base where my husband was stationed, and I took classes there with several other Navy wives.  We were a crafty bunch!  (We were alone a lot, and crafting helped to fill the hours that our husbands were away.)  This little guy is hanging near two blue and gray ornaments from Salmon Falls Pottery in Dover, NH (the old world Santa and Merry Christmas ball) that are quite dear to me.
In 2013 I made eight of these stuffed "This Tree Stinks" ornaments for my husband and his seven siblings.  There's a funny story behind it; if you have the time you can read about it in this old post.  What tickles me is that now, every year each of them takes a picture of this ornament when they're decorating their trees, and they post the pictures on the family text stream.  I wasn't even sure they would like them (I mean, they're kind of tough to explain to outsiders who come to your home!); but these ornaments have become part of our Pearl Christmas tradition, and I love that I was able to contribute to that.
Okay, then...on that note, maybe I should wrap this up.  This is a long post (with links to old posts to boot!).  If you stopped by here for a quick pick-me-up, you're probably thinking you should have just gone to Instagram instead.  But bear with me.  I'm just trying to get my blogging muscles warmed up again.  After taking too much time off the past few years, I've gotten pretty stiff.

But I'm going to keep plugging away.  And maybe I'll even find more important things to talk about than what I have hanging on my tree.  We shall see.


Monday, December 25, 2017

A Couple of Minor Christmas Miracles (and a Minor Photo Dump, Too)

Just when I thought it was about time to throw in the towel as far as being a writer, I found two very sweet reasons to keep plugging away at it.

If you're in the habit of stopping by this little old blogsite of mine, you know that my blogging output has dwindled down to almost nothing during this past year, a year of extremely busy times for our family. (I mean, five new grandchildren--including triplets--were added to our string of Pearls in 2017.  And we moved from NH to VA.  And we've been managing a vacation rental in upstate NY.  And well, excuses: I've got a million of them.)

Anyway, as I said, with all that's going on in the ever-expanding Pearl clan--with all the LIFE that needs living, leaving very little time to write about it--I thought that perhaps my writing days were kind of behind me.

Then just before Christmas, in the span of a couple of days, I got two unexpected surprises.

One was an email from a woman in Austria (Austria?!  How did she stumble upon this blog?!), who contacted me to tell me that she's been following String of Pearls for quite a while now and praying for my family (including those aforementioned triplets and their mama).  She wanted to know how she could purchase both of my novels and have them sent to her in Austria.  I was a bit blown away, I must say. Blogging has certainly given me some wonderful blessings over the years!  I have "met" so many interesting people, and I've been humbled to learn that our family has prayer warriors who live far from us, people we may never meet who care about us as if they know us.  If that isn't reason enough to keep this blog going, I don't know what is.

This Austrian reader who introduced herself to me made sure to point out that she was from Austria, "not Australia!"  Could she be a Dumb and Dumber fan?  Was she worried that I was going to reply to her email by greeting her with Lloyd Christmas's goofy, "G'day, Mate"?  If so, I like her even more than I thought I did!
Gabriela, as soon as we can get the details all sorted out, those books will be on their way across the Atlantic to you.

The second minor miracle came on the heels of my Austrian friend's email.  I was checking up on my books' Amazon pages, to see if there were any new reviews posted.  Whenever I do this, I am almost always disappointed.  Neither book has had a new review in quite some time.  But lo and behold, I was surprised to see that there was a recently posted, generous 5-star review of Erin's Ring by a Christian YA author named L. Wahl.

Lovely Historic Fiction
on December 17, 2017
Such an enjoyable historic fiction book! I really liked how the book alternates between a modern day story and the history of Irish immigrants that came to America in the 1800’s.
It begins when Molly – a modern day middle school girl, finds an engraved ring at her church. When she discovers it’s a traditional Irish ring, she decides to research the town’s rich Irish history for a school project. As she delves into her research, we are drawn into the world of the Irish immigrants that fled from Ireland during the Potato famine to find a better life here in America.
This is a fascinating look into the struggles of the Irish Catholic immigrants – many of which were single young men and women who came over to work and sent money back to their families.
The historical parts were quite interesting and thought-provoking and the storyline in the modern day chapters was very touching as well. I really wonderful story about the importance of family, friendship, and faith.

Humbled!  Grateful!  Blessed!

I have added PayPal buttons to my home page, on the sidebar on the right.  If you live in the US and would like to order a signed copy of either book (or both!), you can do so directly through me.  If you live on the other side of the ocean, contact me and we'll see what we can do.

Anyway, enough about books and writing--now on to the reason that I started this blog in the first place: to create a sort of online scrapbook where our family memories can be stored.  I have so many wonderful photos of our first Christmas together in VA that I want to share here at the blog.  We are making new memories with our kids and grandkids, and the new house is starting to feel like a real home.  At the end of our big celebration on the 23rd (which included 12 grandchildren aged 6 down to newborn, and was crazy and chaotic in the best way possible), one of our 6-year-old twin granddaughters said to her Papa, "I'm going to remember this day forever."  Isn't that the sweetest thing you've ever heard?  I so hope that's true!  We want our grandchildren to have magical memories of playing with their cousins at Papa and Grammy's house.

It's Christmas Eve as I write this, and tomorrow morning my husband and I are going to be on the road all day traveling.  We went to Sunday Mass this morning and anticipated Mass at 9:00 tonight, knowing that we would have to leave early to head to the airport.  First we have to get from here to NYC, and from there we'll fly off to Poland.  We're going to spend about a week with our youngest son who is stationed overseas.  Oh, and his girlfriend, too.  

I won't be taking my laptop with me on the plane--I'm trying to travel as lightly as possible on this trip.  But I'll have my phone and I'll be posting pictures of our travels on Instagram.  Follow me there if you're interested  (my Insta-handle is @laura.h.pearl).  

In the meantime, I'm going to leave you with a Christmas photo dump.  The caption for each picture could read "We are blessed."
My guy, channeling Cousin Eddie.

The newest addition to the clan, a granddaughter born in November.

How cute is this guy?

It was a Build-A-Bear Christmas.


Can you tell I'm happy when I'm with my boys?

You get a baby.  And you get a baby.  Everybody gets a baby!

Love these smiles.

He was about three pounds at birth. And look at those cheeks now!

Papa getting a movie going for the little peeps.

Heart emojis all over the place.

Son #2 as Santa, son #3 on his lap.  These guys make me laugh.

A Christmas Eve Nativity Pageant with son #1 and his girls, narrated by his wife.
So adorable and touching.

That's it for now.  Must get to sleep or I'll never get through our tiring day tomorrow.

Well, it's not Christmas Eve anymore.  This took me so much longer to write than it should have (another reason I've been a blogger-slacker!).  So--

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and I promise you I'll be back here at the blog much more regularly in the New Year.  It'll be another Christmas miracle!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday Goings-On

Happy first Sunday of Advent, dear readers...that is, if there are any of you left out there; and if so, God bless you, because there hasn't been a whole lot going on here at the blog as of late.

It's not that I don't have anything to write about, either; quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.  But the problem is that I just don't seem to have the time.  Or perhaps I do, but when I prioritize all the things I want to do or should do each day, sitting down to write keeps ending up at the bottom of the list.  (Kind of like working out.  And my expanding waistline is proof of that!)

So much has been happening in our family, it's enough to make my head spin.  The triplets were baptized, for instance.
I made the boys' christening gowns and bonnets with fabrics that my
mother-in-law had collected; the wee lass wore an exquisite 
heirloom gown from my daughter-in-law's family.
And a brand new granddaughter--our 12th grandchild--recently joined our clan.
My third baby, with his third baby.  It's the circle of life!
We celebrated our first big family Thanksgiving in our new house in VA.
The "grown-ups table," set for 11.  (There were also 12 kids,
aged 6 down to newborn!)
The first anniversary of my father's death came around, a tough day, followed by what would have been his 83rd birthday; and I had hoped to write the story of his amazing and inspiring last week on earth (the story of the making of a saint, I believe) by now, but even with a whole year to get it done, I still haven't been able to do it.
Literally hours before death, here he is: raising his glass of
Tia Maria and smiling, after enjoying a Thanksgiving meal
with his family at the hospital.
My mom has had a slew of health issues this past year; she has quite literally been in and out of the hospital or the rehab center.  Because she is not ambulatory anymore without a great deal of help, she is no longer a candidate for the assisted living home into which she'd moved shortly after my dad's death.  So not too long ago, she moved in with my baby sister and her husband, who hired round-the-clock aides to help with her care.  But as I was writing this post, my sister texted to say that Mom is sick again, about to be admitted to the hospital for the umpteenth time since she lost her husband of 60 years.  Please keep her in your prayers, if you would!

As you can see, there's so much to write about--so much, in fact, that I am overwhelmed and suffer from almost crippling writer's block.  I miss writing, and one of my resolutions for 2018 is to do it more regularly. the spirit of getting back on the proverbial horse, I am going to force myself to post something here today.

I thought maybe I could tell you about the holiday craft fair at our new parish in VA this weekend, and about how I decided to rent a table to sell my books.

I had fun setting up my wares; but I started out feeling really shy, even though there weren't really too many shoppers after the anticipated Mass on Saturday evening.  But on Sunday, I started to come out of my shell a little bit and enjoyed meeting and talking to some of the parishioners after the Masses.

I made a few sales--six copies of Erin's Ring and two copies of Finding Grace.  And talk about stepping boldly outside my comfort zone: I even asked a couple of buyers if I could snap photos of them to include in this post.  They were very good sports, as you can see.

In the spirit of the holidays, I wore a Christmas-y red Talbot's knit sheath dress (purchased on clearance)--because as my sister-in-law who wears almost exclusively Talbot's clothing likes to say, when your outfit is attractive and well-made and you feel comfortable in it, you feel happy and therefore you can't help but spread happiness.  (I have talked about this Talbot's happiness-spreading quality before here at the blog, actually.)  I paired the dress with a black 3/4-sleeved ruffle-front jacket from Dress Barn.
Okay, well now this is turning into a My Sunday Best post, isn't it?  So you know what?  I'm going to link up with Rosie et. al., as long as I'm talking fashion.
I closed the front of my jacket with a special pin--it's actually a tiny picture frame.  I found it on Etsy and fell in love with it, thinking that if I slipped a tiny picture of one of my book covers inside it, it would make the perfect brooch to wear for book signings.  (Or for church holiday craft fairs like this one, where my books didn't exactly sell like hot cakes, but more like "tepid cakes," as my husband so humorously put it.)
A couple of tables down, there was a sweet gal selling hand-made Rosary bracelets, and I couldn't resist getting one for myself.  I am a sucker for a Rosary bracelet.  Or anything made of pearls.
Although I didn't sell many books, I feel like it was a successful outing for me.  I grew in confidence as time went by, and I met lots of nice folks.  I'm finding that almost everyone I meet down here is so friendly and exudes the hospitality for which the South is famous.  The longer we live here, the more comfortable I feel in our adopted hometown.  I will always have a soft spot for the Northeast, and a deep sense of nostalgia for the beloved home on a quiet wooded street in Dover, NH where we raised our five boys.  But northern VA is proving to be a very nice place to live.

And those five boys?  Four of them, and their wives and kids, live a stone's throw from us down here.

Life is good.  It is very good indeed.

Well, that's it for today.  But I'll be back.  Sooner rather than later, I hope!

(Now head on over to Rosie's for more Sunday Best fashion talk.  And remember that you can get a signed copy of Finding Grace for $10 here at the blog, from now til Dec. 10.  Email me for details, or use the "Buy Now" button to purchase your copy via PayPal.)