Monday, November 9, 2020

An Open Book (Nov. 2020): Just a Few Quick Recommendations

I have recently read some novels that I would like to heartily recommend, but I don’t seem to have the time to write a decent review for each of them right now. Let’s chalk that up to the birth of a 17th grandchild in late October, a big family birthday party for a one-year-old granddaughter not long afterward, a big family get-together at Papa and Grammy’s house on Halloween followed by Trick-or-Treating—13 little cousins all together!—in our neighborhood afterwards, and well...the ELECTION and its aftermath.  (Note to self: don’t overuse the adjective “big”... although that’s getting harder and harder to do when describing events attended by our ever-growing family.)

So...I think for the An Open Book link-up this month, I'll just post a some lovely pictures of the covers of these books, and hopefully they will speak the 1,000 words that I don't have the time or energy to write at this time.  (But I'll try to at least write a few words.)

First up, The Night Portrait by Laura Morelli, a well-researched historical novel set in Germany during WWII (if you know me at all, are you surprised?).

This story goes back and forth in time, from Milan in 1492 to Germany in the 1940's.  A young German art conservator  named Edith Becker has been commandeered by high-ranking Nazis to catalog priceless works of art that they've stolen from all over Europe, but at the same time, she is smuggling information about these stolen treasures to the Resistance.  If you are at all familiar with the Monuments Men (did you see the movie?  It was wonderful!), you will eat this book up--because Edith ends up meeting them and helping them in their efforts to save these priceless works and get them back to their rightful owners (often Jews who have been sent to the camps and had their homes ransacked).  One of the paintings that Edith is particularly fond of is Da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine.  When the novel goes back in time to the 15th century, we get to meet the young girl who was the model for this painting and we learn some fascinating history about Italy in Da Vinci's day.  

This is a well-written book—informative and thoroughly engrossing.  The characters are real and likable.  As a Catholic, I enjoyed the descriptions of the great masterpieces that many brave people worked tirelessly to find and save.  So many of these works depicted sacred religious images such as the Madonna and Child surrounded by saints, or were paintings and sculptures that had graced the altars of spectacular Catholic churches.  If you are a sucker for good fiction, beautiful art, and history in general  (WWII history in particular!), I guarantee you'll love this book.  Five stars.

Second up: another WWII-era historical fiction winner, The Secret Messenger, by Mandy Robotham.  

I think the reason I gravitate towards WWII-era fiction is that it tells the most unbelievable stories about seemingly average individuals who exhibited heroic courage, risking their lives and against all odds finding ways to thwart the enemy.  And these stories are based on actual people and true events, which makes them even more moving and inspiring.

This one is set in Venice, which apparently was spared much of the devastation of the Allied bombings, but whose citizens nonetheless suffered greatly under Mussolini's Fascist oppression and then the Nazi occupation.  Young Venetian Stella Jilani is given a job as a typist at the Reich headquarters, because of her knowledge of the German language.  While working right under the nose of the most powerful Nazi in the city, she finds ways to sneak information gleaned at the office out to the Resistance.  She is one of the women known at the time as "Staffettas," secret messengers who played an integral part in the war effort.  Stella also writes for an underground Resistance newspaper--a crime that would be punishable by death if she gets caught.  

The Secret messenger goes back and forth in time, from WWII Venice to 21st century London, where Stella's granddaughter Luisa stumbles upon a trove of vintage treasures in her late mother’s attic—including an antique typewriter with a slightly damaged E key and a never-before-seen box of old photos and letters. (Who doesn’t love an attic filled with family history?!)    These clues to her grandmother’s mysterious past inspire Luisa to go on a journey to uncover her family’s secrets.    .  

This book has it all!  There's a satisfying love story.  There are twists and turns and edge-of-your-seat moments of near-discovery that could end in imprisonment or death for those who dare to resist the occupiers.  And that typewriter, with a tell-tale dropped E key, is the very thing that might spell disaster for Stella, because if the Nazis find its owner, they find the culprit who has been writing the forbidden stories that are giving the Venetians hope but filling their enemies with rage.  This is a riveting tale, one based on extraordinary women such as Stella who really did play a huge part in the Allied victory.  Highly recommend.  Five stars.

Up third, a suspense-filled whodunit by popular murder mystery writer Lisa Scottoline, titled Don't Go.  

I know what you must be thinking: what, not historical fiction?  Not WWII-themed?   Crazy, right?  This novel is set partly in a war zone, but in the recent Middle East conflict.   (See, sometimes I actually do go outside my normal comfort zone and try new things!)

Mike Scanlon, an orthopedic surgeon, is called to serve as an Army doctor in Afghanistan, leaving his wife Chloe and their infant daughter behind stateside. While deployed, Mike receives the devastating news that Chloe has died in what appears to be an unfortunate household accident. When he comes home to bury her, however, he discovers that she had some dark secrets.  While he’s been away, she has had an affair.  And it becomes more and more apparent, as he does his own investigative work, that her death might not have been accidental after all.

I found this book compulsively readable, and it kept me guessing until the end.  On the back cover, it is described as “gripping, thrilling, and profoundly emotional,” and I would agree with those adjectives.  The murder mystery is not my favorite book genre, but I would still give Don’t Go four stars. It would be an ideal choice to take along on a long flight or a beach vacation.

I've just started an historical novel called The Girl Who Came Home, by Hazel Gaynor, about a group of Irish people traveling to America on the Titanic, and it looks like it's going to be a winner.  (I've always been drawn to stories about the Titanic, whether non-fiction or fiction based on real life.)  But I'll have to tell you about that one next month!  If you're looking for more suggestions to put on your "must read" list, head on over to the November link-up to see what Carolyn et. al. are reading.

Friday, October 30, 2020

"Tears Become Pearls"

I have just finished an acrylic painting of Our Lord's Holy Face, which I'm going to call "Tears Become Pearls." This title is in reference to these moving words from "Prayer to the Holy Face," which is printed on the back of a St. Veronica holy card that I picked up in the back of Church one Sunday and which I try to read each day: "I am consumed with the desire of loving Thee and making Thee loved by all mankind.  The tears that streamed in such abundance from Thine eyes are to me as precious pearls which I delight to gather, that with their infinite worth I may ransom the souls of the poor sinners."

I recently wrote a blog post about this prayer, and the way it inspired me to create an image of Jesus' tears transforming into pearls as they fall from His eyes. I did a colored-pencil rendition of the picture that had formed in my head, and it just didn't do the glorious image I had envisioned justice. My attempts at art rarely live up to those mind's-eye images!  But with renewed purpose, on October 20, I picked up my paints and my paintbrushes and went to work on a blank canvas, starting with a rough pencil sketch.

As I began to paint, my early endeavors did not produce very good fruit.  I almost gave up, thinking that perhaps I was not meant to get this image down in the form of a painting.  But something kept me working on it, while singing or humming well-known church hymns almost constantly, down in my basement sewing and painting "room."  (It's not really a room; carved out of a corner of the storage area, it is a cozy little nook that is an introvert's dream and my happy place!)

Yikes!  What is with those eyes?! They make
Him look like an Anime character. (I literally
scraped the paint off and started over.)

Getting better...

As you can see, Our Lord's face kept changing--especially the eyes, which to me are the most important feature of all.

I worked quickly--much more quickly than usual--and within a few days I felt I was close.

A couple of times long the way, I compared my Holy Face to the one imprinted on the Shroud of Turin.  On a whim I even turned my mostly-finished painting around and looked at it from behind, with the ceiling light shining on it (trying, not too successfully, to achieve the effect of a negative).

And now here's a comparison from the front.  The left-hand image was one that I found on Wednesday night, on the front of a prayer booklet on the bedside table at my second son's house (when we were spending the night to care for his three older boys while he and his wife were in the hospital welcoming baby #4--another boy!).  I snapped a picture of it to put side-by-side with my finished version of Jesus' Holy Face when I got back home.

What has been strange about painting this image is that I've worked more quickly and confidently than I usually do.  I don't have the urge to go back and do all kinds of tweaking now, even though I am well aware that there are aspects of the background and the hastily rendered red robe--and the pearls!--that could probably use some work.  Jesus' hair is not great, but I hesitate to overwork it an end up with something that looks even worse. The white of the canvas shows through in spots, where my brushstrokes were very light, and I normally feel the need to cover every inch of a canvas completely.  But in spite of all the flaws, I find that I don't want to touch this painting anymore, and such as it is, it is finished.

Aside from looking at the Shroud initially, as a starting point to get an idea of the facial proportions I should be shooting for, I worked on this Holy Face of Jesus without any references whatsoever.  Usually, I like to study a number of images to help me decide how I want my faces to look, and I keep them handy throughout the project; for this painting, I just did what came to me out of the picture I had in my head.  And I found myself feeling a more intense closeness with Jesus than ever--not that I'm saying I think I know what He looks like and believe I have captured His image correctly.  But for whatever reason, I felt particularly close to Him every minute that I was working on this.  And even though I am always, always the harshest critic of my own work, I feel nothing but happy when I look at it, now that it's done.

I realized after I had completed work on this painting that there are ten pearl tears--which seems just right, as I think they should symbolize the ten Hail Mary's in each decade of the Rosary.  That way, Our Lord's beloved Mother is included in this picture. I think it's fitting that the tears He shed during His passion because of the sins we have committed should be transformed into the beads of a Rosary.

With Election Day approaching and so many things--our religious freedom, most importantly--at stake, depending on the outcome, images of Our Lord speak to me now more than ever.  But because of Him and the ultimate sacrifice He made for us, I know all will be well in the end.  And I trust that He will take care of all of the Pearls, my very own string of Pearls, whom I love more than my own life.

Jesus, I trust in You!
Jesus, remember me, when You come into Your Kingdom!
Jesus, mercy!

And to quote from the final words of the "Prayer to the Holy Face" on my St. Veronica card, may I one day "reach the vision of Thy glorious Face in heaven!  Amen."

Saturday, October 24, 2020

"Laura's Project," a Poem by Nancy P. Gordon

One of the major life influences I had growing up was my late father's sister, Nancy (but she went by the childhood nickname "Toni," so she was always "Aunt Toni" to my brothers and sisters and me).  She was a constant presence, with a warm hand affectionately rubbing my back if she was nearby or a lovingly and eloquently written letter (in her instantly recognizable and inimitable cursive!) if she was not. She asked us kids probing questions and was unfailingly interested in the answers, no matter how unimportant they might have seemed to most grown-ups. But among all the ways she shaped my childhood, it was her deep love of literature and of reading that helped to inspire me to become a writer.

This beautiful octogenarian still plays golf and could
run circles around most people half her age.  She is
an inspiration to her aging nieces and nephews!

Aunt Toni was my Dad's only sibling.  Brilliant and accomplished, she was a high school English teacher for many years, and then she had a second career as a corporate lawyer.  For most of our formative years our aunt was single--so we were the lucky five children upon whom she doted. And how we benefitted from her love for us and her desire to give us culturally enriching experiences we never could have had otherwise!  She lived in NJ and we were in Upstate NY, but she planned once-in-a-lifetime special trips for us to come and visit her.  Each of her nieces of nephews, one or two at a time, would ride a Greyhound bus down to meet her (back in the days when parents thought this was a safe enough thing to do!).  She'd pick us up at the bus stop in NJ and we'd spend a few days at her apartment, being treated to trips into NYC to see Broadway plays and eat out at fancy restaurants (and not-so-fancy ones, too, like the iconic Automat).

When I was 11 and my older brother was 12, we rode the bus down together.  During our weekend stay, Aunt Toni took us to see "Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway and then she bought me the show's soundtrack album as a souvenir.  I played it over and over on my little portable record player and had the lyrics "Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match, find me a find, catch me a catch!" in my head almost constantly for months afterward.  On that same visit, she loaned me a copy of Wuthering Heights to read; and although I might have been too young to truly "get" all of it, I can remember being enthralled.  "Someday," I thought to myself, "I want to write a book that a reader loves as much as I love this one!" 

In her late 30's, Aunt Toni married a kind and gentle man who was both a university professor of physics and a NASA researcher.  (They did not have children, so we have remained the lucky recipients of her maternal affection!)  Similarly interested in learning, traveling, and reading, they share a love of books and have an impressive personal library. I have given my aunt copies of my own two novels (not exactly on par with the likes of Wuthering Heights, to be sure, but a byproduct of my own lifelong love of the written word--a love she helped to inspire).  If they sit on the shelves of her library today, that is an honor beyond description.

Aunt Toni has been participating in a poetry workshop, and she recently shared this copy of a poem she wrote last month.  It was inspired by a memory from when she came to visit us at our home in 1960, when we were still living in NJ.  I am tickled to be the subject of this original work of hers!  And I thought I'd share it here at the blog.


My two-year-old niece is on a mission.

She is focused, doesn’t seem to notice

that I’m in the room.

She walks (more waddling than walking, still)

to a closet, which holds a bag

full of magical papers.

She picks it up for closer inspection,

but she has grabbed the bottom corner

and suddenly there’s a storm of papers,

covering the closet.

She looks, surveys the damage,

sits down on the floor.

She patiently picks up each piece,

puts each photo, each paper,

back in the bag.

She spends time on this task,

carefully replacing everything.

Looking satisfied with herself, she stands,

a balancing act for her two-year-old limbs,

plants her feet and reaches for her prize.

Again she picks it up by the bottom corner.

Photos and papers and envelopes tumble to the floor.

A pause.  No exclamation. 

She stands, looking, for a moment.

She shrugs.

She drops the bag on top of the mess.

Shrugs again, and exits the closet

heading for the kitchen, mom, and a snack.


npg  September 2020

There are some snapshots of two-year-old me playing in the closet--as a matter of fact, I think they were taken at the very time of the incident described in Aunt Toni’s poem.  (Apparently, along with the bag of papers and letters, I found a pair of my mom's high heels to try out.)

I had this post almost finished, sitting in my “drafts” folder and waiting for an ending, when my husband and I went to daily Mass this past week. During his homily, the priest said something about thanking God for the blessings we receive via the people He puts in our lives...and I thought “yes indeed, how very true!” I am no poet, like my aunt; but Father’s words were like poetry to my ears.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A Cautionary Tale about Social Media (Twitter, to Be Exact)

You guys...the online world can be a scary and exceedingly unkind place.  I knew this, and yet something that happened recently really drove that truth home in a big way.

I had fashioned a piece of candy corn into a miniature Donald Trump for the amusement of my husband's family (it's the perfect candy to do this with, as you can see: big yellow hair, orange face!).  And on a whim, I decided to post it on Twitter on Saturday.  (Along with the picture I wrote, "Make Candy Corn Great Again!!  #Trump2020.)

Well, I woke up Sunday morning to find that someone had replied to that tweet by posting a photo of my husband and me that had been distorted into something hideous.  Then as if that wasn't bad enough, another person (with a Twitter handle I can't even repeat here, because it's nothing but a string of obscenities, including the F-bomb) retweeted the ugly photo!

There are a few things about all of this that make it particularly disturbing.  For one, I am a nobody on Twitter.  I'm a nobody in the blogging world and in the Instagramming world, too; but truly, I'm just a complete nobody in the Twitterverse, where the blue check marks rule the roost.  I have a whopping 216 followers there.  I am not even close to being an Internet “influencer” and no one cares what I have to say. (In fact, I say very little on that platform; I mostly use it as a means to find news stories that don't always show up elsewhere or to read the clever observations of the people I follow.) But what is even more concerning to me is that this person actually went to the trouble of finding a nice photo of my husband and me to use as a way of trashing me for tweeting something positive about a presidential candidate they despise. I'm not even sure where they found the photo.  Here on my blog?  On my Facebook page?  I had to do a bit of digging myself to find it online--and it's my photo!  (I did find it on Facebook, in an album of profile pictures I've used in the past.  Do you think this person who is a complete stranger to me went trolling through my FB photos?!)

People can be mean.  And 2020 has really brought out the vitriol.  We are no longer allowed to have differing opinions without cruelty and violence erupting--or at the very least, unkind remarks (and distorted photos!). Even a simple “#Trump2020” is enough to make someone angry enough to scour the Internet looking for a photo to weaponize against you. God help the truly influential people who dare to express an unpopular opinion; they have to endure much crueler retaliations than I, such as doxxing and receiving death threats aimed at them and their families.

As our pastor said in his sermon on Sunday, we are at a crucial point in our country’s history, and much of what is happening on our streets and in our media is reminiscent of Germany in 1939.  Prayer and fasting are more important than ever in these dark days.  God help us all!!  And God bless America. 

(P.S. My husband and I are feeling a little self-conscious about our teeth right now...but we also think the altered photo is pretty hilarious.   So thanks for the laughs, @WhoeverYouAre.)

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Holy Face (Tears into Pearls)

I got in a creative mood today and just had to draw something, so out came my sketch pad and various other art supplies.  And I knew exactly what I wanted to draw.  For several days I'd had an image in my head.  It was inspired by these words, part of a Prayer to the Holy Face printed on the back of a St. Veronica card that I have started to read daily during morning prayers:

"I am consumed with the desire of loving Thee and making Thee loved by all mankind.  The tears that streamed in such abundance from Thine eyes are to me as pearls which I delight to gather, that with their infinite worth I may ransom the soul of the poor sinners."

Wow, isn't that beautiful?!

Meditating on that prayer, a vivid picture developed in my mind's eye of Jesus' tears turning into pearls, and I wanted to capture this image with my colored pencils.  (Especially after it hit me that as much as I've always loved to draw human faces, I've never attempted a portrait of the one person who was both human and divine at the same time!)

I got to work.  I did my best, such as it is.  And this is what I ended up with.

This humble picture doesn't begin to live up to the image I've had in my head.  (That one was glorious, I tell you--Michelangelo or Raphael might have been able to achieve what I had in mind.)  I know it's not professional quality and a better artist could have created something truly extraordinary.  But I used the Shroud of Turin as a guide to get the facial proportions as accurate as possible, and I worked on this with joy in my heart, a song on my lips, and so much love for the subject.  I believe that all the Lord asks of us is that we use whatever talents we've been given by His Father to the best of our abilities--in a way that gives glory to God.  So I hope He is well pleased.

I wish I could make a portrait of Jesus that looked more like this one, which I found online (I'm sorry I can't figure out who to give credit for it!).

But that kind of work is not in my skill set!

When I showed my drawing to my husband, before he could say a word about it I made sure to tell him that I knew it wasn't very good, but I thought Jesus would like it anyway because I did the very best that I could.  And my husband answered that of course He would like it!!  "If one of your sons drew a picture of you, you would love it no matter what.  You are God's precious child; of course He would love any gift you made for Him!"  (I'm paraphrasing but those are essentially his words.  Doesn't he always know the perfect thing to say?)

I may tweak my picture a bit before I'm completely satisfied.  I think perhaps there is too much gray shading in the pearls, so I may make them whiter.  But otherwise, I think I'm going to leave well enough alone.

However...I won't be surprised if, at some point in the near future when the creative juices are flowing, I feel compelled to give Our Lord's Holy Face another try.  If I do, I'll be sure to tell you all about it! ;) 

Friday, October 9, 2020

An Open Book: Come Back to Me (& Ornamental Graces)

I've been somewhat down lately, worrying almost to the point of despair about the dark state of our world: about all the hate and violence; about the bitter divisions; about the intolerance for any belief that is not held by one and all (especially by those folks who tend to be anti-religion in general and anti-authentic Catholic in particular); about the endless "social distancing" (which I've come to think of a tragic loss of normal human interactions and which seems to be producing in many an actual FEAR of being near others); about the masks, which hide the wide range of expressions that normally play across the faces of people who have been created in the image and likeness of God, and which appear to be required for the foreseeable future (if this is our "new normal," no thank you!); about the all-too-real fear that, depending on how the election goes, the freedom to practice our essential Catholic Faith could be taken away from us and that we might, for the first time in the history of this great country, have to literally go underground and/or face true martyrdom...

But just when I think I can't bear it all anymore, I stop looking at news stories, pick up a good novel, and escape into another world (which, albeit fictional, is at least the pre-Covid world that I took for granted when I had it and now miss with every fiber of my being!).

So let's talk about books, shall we?  I'm joining the An Open Book link-up party, hosted by writer Carolyn Astfalk, and as a matter of fact the book I'd like to highlight today is a novel by Carolyn titled Come Back to Me.  

I was thrilled to win a paperback copy of this engaging and thought-provoking work of fiction from the author via an Instagram giveaway.  It is a well-written sequel to her 2015 debut novel  Stay with Me a pro-chastity love story which I read a few years ago and enjoyed very much, and I devoured her latest work of fiction in a few sittings.

I have been having an enormous amount of trouble carving out time to blog lately, so I'm going to keep this review brief.  Here is the synopsis on the back cover:
"Alan Reynolds slid into marriage.

When his wife kicks him out, it looks as if he may slide out just as easily. Forced to bunk with his newlywed younger brother and his pregnant wife, Alan gets a firsthand look at a blissfully happy marriage while his wife rebuffs his attempts at a reunion. 

Caught in the middle, Alan and his wife's mutual friend Megan grows increasingly unhappy with her own empty relationships.  If that weren't enough, her newly sober brother has found happiness with Jesus, a goody-goody girlfriend, and a cockeyed cat.

When Alan and Megan hit rock bottom, will there be grace enough in their bankrupt lives to right their relationships and find purpose like their siblings have?"

Although Come Back to Me is a sequel (Stay with Me tells the story of Chris and Rebecca's courtship), it is a stand-alone book.  The characters are fully fleshed-out and believable, even the secondary ones, and you will definitely find yourself rooting for them to each find their happy ending.  

This is a story about the ways that human beings, who are all fragile, flawed, and broken in some way, can wound each other deeply, but also about their boundless power, with the help of God's grace, to forgive completely.  Indeed, life isn't perfect, people aren't perfect, and every marriage--even the best of them--has its inevitable ups and downs.  Alan and Jamie hit a low point in theirs when they realize that they aren't on the same page about starting a family, and that perhaps they entered into married life too hastily, without truly contemplating the sacramental nature of their vows.  Jamie kicks Alan out in anger, and he goes to live with his brother Chris and his wife Rebecca, a besotted newlywed couple expecting their first baby.  As if it isn't bad enough to be going through what appears to be the dissolution of his own marriage, Alan has to endure daily reminders, by the lovebirds whose privacy he's invaded, about what a ridiculously happy marriage looks like.  I won't give any details about how it all turns out, because I think you should read this book!  But suffice it to say that Come Back to Me drives home the message that love is more than just a feeling, it's a CHOICE--sometimes a really hard one to make.  But when a couple puts God first in their relationship, they can weather all storms.  With God's grace, those promises made in their wedding vows--"for better or for worse"--are much easier to keep.

With the holidays fast approaching, I also want to give a shout-out to another sweet novel by Astfalk, Ornamental Graces.  I read it last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think you will, too!

Here's a snippet from my review of this novel, which appeared here at the blog in April 2019:

When I looked at the appealing poinsettia-red cover of Ornamental Graces, which is graced with a Christmas tree ornament, an evergreen branch, and a love-struck couple embracing in the snow, I couldn't help but think that this book would be akin to a sweet and simple Hallmark Christmas movie (you know, a holiday love story with a predictable but satisfying happy ending), but told from a Catholic perspective.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  Astfalk's novel is so much deeper than a Hallmark movie; it tackles some of the most difficult subjects--human frailty, sin (sins against chastity in particular), faith, and redemption--while telling the story of Dan Malone and Emily Kowalski, two twenty-somethings who fall in love but spend most of the novel at cross purposes.  At times, I was reminded of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (one of my all-time favorite books), who never seem to be on the same page, even though it is plainly obvious to the reader that they are meant to be together.  Every time Dan and Emily grow closer, something--usually a hidden truth about Dan's checkered past, but sometimes a simple misunderstanding caused by poor communication--tears them apart again.  I wanted to strangle one or both of them a few times!  But those two crazy kids kept me turning the pages--just like Rhett and Scarlett did!

(If you'd like to read the full review of Ornamental Graces, here's a link to that blog post.)

One last note before I sign off:  I often worry about all the negative effects of spending too much time online.  But one of the great unexpected blessings of my years of blogging/writing/posting and scrolling at IG is my online friendship with other Catholic fiction authors--like Carolyn Astfalk, a writer whom I admire immensely for using her God-given talents so well to give glory back to Him.  When my IG giveaway prize arrived in the mail, here's how it was inscribed:

I can't tell you how tickled I am to be considered a great friend of Catholic fiction, a medium that I believe can be a powerful evangelization tool.  Thank you, Carolyn Astfalk, for this lovely compliment.  :)

Now head on over to the link-up, readers, for more book recs.  Because losing yourself in a good book can help you to forget the world's cares--at least for a little while...and perhaps that's good for your soul.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Realtor Listing Images v. Real Living: the Dining Room

With so many people spending so much more time at home, due to the countless closures and restrictions that have occurred in the wake of the Covid-19 virus, there has never been a time when the "Theology of Home" mindset--the idea of making your home a true Domestic Church, an oasis of peace and tranquility for you and your loved ones--has been more essential (IMHO). No matter what storms are brewing outside your doors, inside your house, you can create a comforting and beautiful atmosphere that is like a foretaste of what awaits us after we leave this imperfect world and go to our eternal home to be with our Lord.

I have always been such an inveterate homebody that the quarantine life (not that we have been living that life as strictly as some) comes somewhat naturally to me!  I've always been happiest at home, with my family gathered about me. If I had to pick one place to spend my time during this earthly life, that would be it. Home. Not Paris.  Not Rome (that's right, not even my beloved Rome!).  Just HOME.

I have always been a nester, too, never happier than when feathering my own little corner of the world.  And we didn't always have the most impressive of nests, either: during our married life we've lived in two different tiny apartments in TX, a modest base housing duplex in TX, a 3-bedroom ranch house in FL purchased with a VA loan, a 1,000-sq. ft. rented ranch house in IL, another slightly bigger rented Cape Cod house in NH; and then finally, we bought what we figured would be our "forever home" in NH, a 4-bedroom Colonial that sat on a bucolic wooded lot more than an acre in size, at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac street.  With five Catholic school tuitions to pay and five large and growing boys to feed, we didn’t always have a big home improvement budget, so we put a lot of DIY sweat equity into that house (a foreclosure bargain for us, because it was not quite finished off when the builder went bankrupt and it sat unoccupied for two years) over the course of the 26 years we lived there.  And it became  perfect for us, a home we thought we wouldn't ever want to leave: not only was it a spacious, solidly-built, lovely house in an idyllic setting, but it was our home base, our true north—most importantly because it was filled with memories of raising our boys. We moved in when the oldest of our five sons was half-way through first grade, and it was the only home our youngest ever knew.  We imagined how well it would fit all the grandkids we would someday have when they came to visit us there.

But the funny thing is, before we owned that beloved Colonial, every other place we ever lived was every bit as much "home" to me, an oasis of peace and a source of joy.  Home really isn't a place; it's a feeling.  And I got that desired feeling of utter contentment and “belonging” every time I walked into the door of any apartment or house where my people lived, no matter how humble it might be. 

When all of our boys grew up, graduated from college, and started establishing themselves far from NH, we spent most of our time on the road visiting them, and every time we pulled into our driveway we would ask ourselves, "Why do we even have this house?"  We were never there anymore!

When it became clear that three of our five boys were going to stay settled not far from each other in VA, we decided to make the move to live closer to them and our growing brood of grandchildren.  So in late 2016/ early 2017, we started looking at listings that would put us as equidistant to all of our VA peeps as possible.  And one listing kept drawing my eye back, not matter how many I looked at--even though it was just one of those quickly-built, pre-fab houses in one of those cookie-cutter neighborhoods where every other house looks practically identical to the one two doors down.  It wasn’t a one-of-a-kind treasure, by any means; but this sweet house just looked RIGHT for us.  When we finally took a trip down to walk through it in person, we only looked at this house and one other, and that's all it took: my mind was made up (and my husband was happy with it as long as I was; he's pretty awesome that way).

Our cozy cottage is not as large or well-built as our old house.  The yard is the size of a postage stamp.  But I have grown to love this house so much--and when I think of home, I no longer pine for that Colonial in NH. I think of this darling white-picket-fence house in a quaint little VA town, which became ours in the spring of 2017 and which has become my home in every way that's important.  (And now all four married sons live in the area, and all 16-going-on-17 grandkids!  And this is the house they think of as "Papa and Grammy's house," so how can I not love it?)

If you've come here often over the years, you might know that I am a big fan of having a dining room for special holiday meals, even if it isn't used all the time.  Our dining room in NH was almost ridiculously oversized, and it was one of my favorite things about that house.  If this VA house hadn't had one, I don't think we would have bought it; there is a roomy breakfast nook area off the kitchen, but fortunately, there is also my must-have formal dining room.  In the listing, this room was set up in a very minimalist way (probably staged for selling).  With so little furniture to distract the eye, the beauty of that gray-painted tray ceiling really stood out.

I have a lot of dining room furniture--I mean, really...A LOT.  But I hoped I'd be able to squeeze it into this room.  One glass-fronted china cabinet was repurposed to showcase my porcelain doll collection and has a spot in our new master bedroom.  But I was able to fit the rest of my pieces--including the antique oak dining table and chairs, with a matching sideboard, that my mom passed on to me when she and my dad downsized many years ago.  There isn't as much room to walk around the table as there was in NH, but we have made it work for us here!

I guess my decorating style would not be considered minimalist [insert laughing face emoji here!].

In our old dining room the antique oak sideboard served as a bar.  One thing I really appreciate about this new house is the little bar area (kind of a mini butler's pantry) between the kitchen and dining room, right around the corner from the sideboard.  (The kitchen in this new house, in fact, is wonderful; it's bigger and has lots more storage and work space than our old kitchen had--but that's a topic for another installment of Realtor Listing Images v. Real Living.)

Over the years, I've often wondered what kind of blog I have.  I'm not an Internet "influencer" when it comes to any of the usual topics--Faith, fashion, home decor, parenting...I just write about this and that, when the spirit moves me.  For some reason, all this Covid stuff is making me focus even more than usual on my home, and I want to write about how blessed I feel to have one that I love so much.  But as I said, that's been pretty much the case no matter where we've lived.  As long as I have my familiar things about me, and my husband by my side, I could live just about anywhere.

That's all for now.  But I do have the real estate listing pictures from the other rooms in our VA house, and maybe I'll be back to show you how different (and more cluttered!)  this place looks, now that it's set up for real living and not for show!