Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #35): Austen, Writing Fiction, Etc.

I was looking through some old saved documents on my computer yesterday, and I came across something I'd forgotten I'd even written.  I believe it was the beginning of a presentation I was going to give to the Daughters of the American Revolution at a meeting in Dover, NH, in October of 2015, when I was going to be their guest speaker and receive that year's "Women in Arts Recognition Award (for Contributions in the Field of Literature)" from the local chapter of the DAR.  I was nervous about speaking in front of a crowd, and I thought maybe I should have a speech prepared and try to memorize it (but also have a printed version there in front of me to fall back on).

I never finished writing it; I remember now that I told my husband I had decided not to go in with anything prepared, because the few times I'd spoken to young readers at schools, they seemed to like the Q and A format best.  And when answering particular questions, having a sort of "conversation," I felt the most at ease.

So imagine my panicky feelings when the woman who introduced me began by saying, "Here to speak to us today..."  Oh, no.  I fought through my nerves, wishing after all that I'd brought a typed-up speech to present; but somehow I got through it.  Most of the listeners were older women, but there were a few young granddaughters of the Daughters there, who were delighted to have their books signed afterward and were just delightful in general.
Anyway, yesterday when I stumbled upon that partially written speech, I thought, "Hey, I see a blog post brewing!"  So I decided to tweak it a bit, and since this is Tuesday--and that's Book Club day--I thought I'd share it here at the blog.

Jane Austen is a 19th-Century novelist whom I greatly admire.

She once observed that "the best authors have often been the worst talkers."  And I'm not trying to imply that I count myself among the "best authors"--not by a long shot!--but I do believe that I express myself much better on paper than I do in person.  So forgive me if I stumble a bit up here.  I'm a little nervous talking to you all--I'd do better writing you letters!  [See how I was preparing them for having to listen to a sub-par speaker?  Classic me!]

Okay, let's get down to it, shall we?  How does one go about writing fiction?

In his biography Becoming Jane Austen, Jon Spence wrote this of the famous author: "Jane wrote her early pieces for the amusement of her family and friends, and she put in shared jokes, teasing jibes, and allusions to real events in their lives."

In my case, this did not happen as much with Erin's Ring as it did with my first novel, Finding Grace; but in Erin's Ring,  for instance, I just HAD to have a reference to dinosaurs, because all five of my sons were completely obsessed with them growing up.  But I wasn't sure I could use that term in 1870, when I wanted Michael Kennedy to use it while he's talking to Erin Finnegan at the Halloween dance, on pages 170-171.  So I looked it up and was thrilled to find out that in 1842, biologist Richard Owen had given that name to the pre-historic creatures whose bones he'd been studying in England.  So I could use it, and it would be historically accurate.  (And that reference  to dinosaurs--that was totally for my boys.  Like a secret shout-out.)

Also, because of those five sons whom I adore, I knew from the get-go that in Finding Grace, title character Grace Kelly had to have five older brothers (who are loosely modeled after my boys, of course).  In Erin's Ring, Molly McCormick has four brothers and a sister, but her mother is pregnant with a 7th child and in my head, I've decided it will be a boy.  Because I think any work of fiction I ever write will have to include a household with five brothers in it.  (Brothers who are handsome, intelligent, kind, faith-filled--and who treat their mother like a queen!)
[Pause here for raucous laughter of the crowd!  Ha!]

In Becoming Jane Austen, Spence also wrote: "Austen is never autobiographical in the crude sense of recording what happened to her or to people she knew.  But a real situation was sometimes her starting point and developed in her imagination as something quite separate from the 'real.'"

That is definitely the way I went about writing my first novel, Finding Grace.  So much of the story is reminiscent of my own experiences growing up: the Catholic school I attended; the house where I lived in Plattsburgh, NY and the houses by the lake where my best friend and my boyfriend (now husband) lived; the kids who were my girlhood classmates and friends; but even people and places that were initially inspired by my real life took on a whole new life of their own through the writing process.  I recently read a book by a modern novelist whom I also admire, Elizabeth Berg [who writes popular, mainstream works of fiction that actually feature positive Catholic characters and families--huzzah to that!!], and she alluded to this very thing.  In an answer to an interview question at the end of The Art of Mending, she says, "The truth is, writing fiction is for me a magical and largely uncontrollable act: the characters create themselves, as does the story."  Before I wrote a novel, I would have said that that statement was just a load of artsy nonsense, because books don't write themselves; after, however, I knew for a fact that it was absolutely true--at least it was for me.  I thought I knew where both of my novels were going at the outset, but they changed course on me (and the characters did and said things I hadn't planned on them doing and saying) as the story progressed.

Austen called Pride and Prejudice "my own darling child," and it's true--when you're an author, your books are your "babies."  You become very attached to the characters you create, and then you sort of miss those people when you finish writing the book.  And you are like a worried mom when one of your precious babies goes out into the world alone, without you, and is now open to criticism and judgment.  There are some people who will not like your baby at all, and that makes an author feel unspeakably vulnerable.  I'll tell you what, I had stomach cramps for about two weeks at the end of the summer of 2012, when Finding Grace went to print.  During most of the close to five years I had worked on it, it was my happy little secret, shared only with my nearest and dearest; I kind of wanted to keep it close to me forever--the way a mom feels when she gives birth to a new baby and can hardly fathom that this child will one day grow up and leave her.  You would think that seeing a book make it to publication would be thrilling for an author, but it's actually pretty terrifying.

Anyway, I read once that a niece of Austen's who wanted to become an writer, too, asked her what advice she could give.  And the esteemed author told her, "Read, read, read!"  So--if any of you think that one day, you might like to be a writer, the best thing you can do now is to read as many works as you can, by people who are good at expressing themselves with the written word.  Reading good writing will help you to become a better writer yourself.

Reading this essay over again, I'm wondering if this was actually something I was working on in preparation for one of the school visits I did (the invitations came from two sweet relatives of mine who taught at the middle school level--a niece and a sister-in-law).  That ending part seems more like something I would say to young people who might be aspiring writers than to a group of DAR ladies.  Especially since I think the Daughters' focus was Erin's Ring, which was filled with historical information about the town of Dover.  If I'd been writing something to say to them, I think I would have focused specifically on the process of incorporating that fascinating local history into the novel.  Either way, it makes a pretty good book club blog post, don't you agree?

Well, I guess I should wrap up the meeting now.  I'm not even sure I should continue to host this online club, because it's not as if my humble little books have been read by too many people.  I have a rather large collection of copies of both novels in my office right now, because I stocked up on them for a holiday craft fair at our church last December and sold only a few copies.
There are lots more in boxes...
I would be happy to sell signed copies through the blog, for the same price as Amazon sells them--but without the shipping costs.  Email me if you're interested.  But please, dear readers, do not feel like this post has been one big commercial, trying to get you to buy something!  I just thought I'd offer that.

Okay, before I go, here's today's discussion question: do you prefer Jane Austen-style 19th-century fiction, or are you more interested in the offerings of modern-day novelists?

Thanks for stopping by.  Now get your nose back in a good book where it belongs!  (Sorry.  Bookworm humor.)

Monday, October 22, 2018

#postcardsformacron--and Happy Birthday to The Boy Who First Made Me a Mother

I'm sure that unless you live completely off the grid, you've heard what French president Emmanuel Macron said not too long ago during a speech at a Gates Foundation event: "Present me the woman who decided, being perfectly educated, to have seven, eight, or nine children."  As you can imagine, this misguided comment unleashed a firestorm on the Internet (from those whom I consider to be the true feminists among us: women who strive as much as humanly possible to follow the example of Our Blessed Mother, the role model for feminine perfection).

"Educated women would never choose to have big families?!  What?!  Oh no, he did NOT just say that!" cried scores of educated women who work both inside and outside the home and who also happen to be loving mothers to large numbers of children.  It is so wonderful to see so many 21st-century women embracing the gift of their fertility and being open to having the number of children God meant for them to have, whatever that number might be. These women are modern-day heroes, if you ask me.  They are counter-cultural (which is exactly what one has always needed to be in order to follow Christ).

Catholic University professor and mother of six Catherine Pakaluk was the first to post a picture of herself with her children on Twitter using the hashtag #postcardsformacron.  Pakuluk, who has a BA from the Univ. of Pennsylvania and both a Master's and a PhD from Harvard, urged on her fellow mothers by saying, "Let's flood Macron with beautiful postcards from educated women with large families born from their own loving choice."

Since then, I have been reading the most beautiful testimonies, mostly on Instagram (my favorite social media platform these days), written by women who are both well-educated and mothers to many.  Some are stay-at-home moms who homeschool; others balance careers outside the home with caring for their large families; many of them are Catholic bloggers and Instagram celebs whom I follow regularly, but this hashtag campaign has introduced me to some new people as well.  Some of these postcards are so beautifully worded, they bring tears to my eyes.  I'm sure you 've seen them, too, but I thought I'd share just a few of them here.

Here's Kendra Tierney's postcard (don't you just love her?  She is an incredibly inspiring Renaissance woman and mother of nine).  And here's one from lovely artist/homeschooler/blogger Carolyn Svellinger (I feel a kinship with her, as she is a fellow mom of five boys--although she's very young and I suppose that means there might be more babies in her future).  And here's another short-and-sweet message for Macron from Jessica Thornton (a mother of six gorgeous offspring whose Housewifespice blog used to host one of my favorite link-ups, What We're Reading Wednesday).  And here's just one more, from blogger (Sole Searching Mama) and fellow mother of all boys (seven!), Susan Husband. This is my favorite part of her post: "I am defined by the reality that I am a woman of God, and it is for His glory and by His grace that I am both educated and blessed to accept the calling to raise 7 young boys into men."

Yes, exactly!  Substitute a 5 for the 7, and Susan expresses just how I feel about my vocation, but she does it so much more eloquently than I ever could.  There are many more phenomenal #postcardsformacron, too many to post here.  But check out that hashtag if you haven't yet, and you are sure to be touched and inspired.

Until today, I hesitated to add my two cents to the collection of postcards I've been reading, written with keen insight by well-known women with lovable personalities, deep faith, superior intelligence, enviable wisdom, sharp humor, admirable holiness (and the list of accolades goes on and on).  What could I possibly contribute that hasn't been said (and said better) already by these fine ladies?  And besides, Macron singled out mothers of "seven, eight, or nine," and I have "only" five children. When our boys were in grade school and high school, that was a fairly large number in our neck of the woods, even within our local Catholic school community; we knew very few families that had more children than we did.  On our street in NH, one or two was the norm.  But within the Catholic blogosphere/Instagram world today, it is not uncommon to see families of seven or more.  Indeed, it seems like every other week, there is yet another joyful pregnancy announcement.  As a mother of five, I feel a bit like a slacker!

But it's not about the number.  It's about being open to life, to building a domestic church within your home.  It's about knowing that a woman can be many things and do many things and also be a mother.  It's about accepting the reality that motherhood is a vocation for which God has endowed the female of the species with unique qualities--physical, spiritual, and emotional--that make her perfectly suited for the job.  It's about understanding that fertility is not a curse, but an amazing gift that should never be taken for granted.  It's about knowing that having the ability to assist God in the creation of new life is a miracle--how humbling that He would even give us any role at all in the process!

So I'm adding my two cents, via Instagram, after all.  I'm a little late to the party, but that's okay.

The reason I felt emboldened to write my postcard for Macron today is that on this date 35 years ago, I first became a mother.

That teeny tiny one-week-old baby in those pictures is now 10 years older than I was when he was born.  How did that happen?!?!  (I've got news for you, young mamas: it does happen!)

I was 25 (which seems impossibly young to me now!), bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with dreams of what our family life would be like.  And then this 7 lb.-1 oz., scrawny-legged little boy came into the world after a difficult labor, with the sweet face of a porcelain doll and downy strawberry-blond hair sticking up all over his head, and I fell totally, completely, madly in love.  I had been head-over-hells in love with his daddy since we started dating (when we were both 15) and I thought I knew what gut-wrenching, soul-sucking love felt like; but this was different.  Oh yes, this sort of love was a whole other ball of wax.  Right away, I imagined the speeding trains that I would jump in front of to protect this tiny human, the bullets I would take.  When he got jaundiced and they took him from me to keep him under the UV lights in the hospital nursery, the separation was so painful I felt as if there were a thousand knives slicing through my heart.  That boy came into the world and taught me what it means to be a mother, to know a love that is bottomless and selfless and pure.  There is no greater love--except, of course, for the love Our Father in Heaven has for each of us.

Here I am with my first baby boy in a recent picture.  We've both changed quite a bit since 1983!
I have written two novels, fulfilling a childhood dream of becoming an author. I have seen those books--incredibly!--go to print.  But when I think of who I am and how I define myself in the world, the title of writer is well down the list.  I am first of all a wife and a mother.  (Now a Grammy, too--and what a joy that is!)  On my deathbed, if someone asks me, "What did you do with your life, what was important to you?", my answer will be simply this: "I was a mother."

So thank you, son number one, for giving me the role of a lifetime 35 years ago.  And thank you to your four younger brothers, who taught me just how much the human heart can expand with the birth of each new baby, to the point that you would think it would burst at the seams, yet somehow it doesn't.  I love you all so much, you simply have no idea...

No; actually, that's no longer true--at least for the four oldest of you, who are fathers now.  You know now.  You truly know, finally, the depth of the love your mother has for you.

Friday, October 19, 2018

7 QT: Refinishing Bigfoot's Chair

I thought I'd join the 7 Quick Takes link-up today, because I don't have time to write anything lengthy these days but here I can be quick!  Also, it's fun to attend a "get-together" (in a virtual reality sense, anyway) with other gals in the Catholic blogosphere whom I admire and whose writing I enjoy.

The link-up, as you probably already know, is hosted by Kelly Mantoan, of This Ain't the Lyceum fame.  (Kelly recently signed a book deal with Our Sunday Visitor.  Congratulations, Kelly!)

Okay then, here we go: I'm going to tell you a tale about a dining room chair that was once owned by Bigfoot.  That sounds like a tall tale, I realize, but I assure you it's absolutely true!  That is the nickname by which my dad was known, and what all of his grandchildren called him.

When I was in junior high, my mom found a treasure at an estate sale: an enormous antique oak dining room table with 10 matching chairs, and if I remember correctly, she got it for about $200.  She refinished the top of the table, but as a busy working mother of 5, she never got around to refinishing the chairs. Despite that, it was a beautiful set--solidly built, with exquisite carved details, packed with history.

This dining room set was used for many a family holiday dinner when I was growing up, such as this Thanksgiving (circa 1973 or 1974, when I was 15 or 16).  This is my dad, affectionately known as Bigfoot, toasting with his eldest daughter.  Dad is sitting in the only chair with arm rests, the only one big enough for a giant of a man such as himself (he was over 6'3" with size 13 feet).

When my parents downsized to a condo a number of years after that photo was taken, their tiny dining room could not accommodate such a large dining room table.  By then, I had 4 children (which was more than any of my siblings at that time) and a new house with a huge dining room, so Mom decided that the set should go to me.  (Woo hoo!  Just one of the many perks of having a big-ish family!)  I got the table, 9 chairs, and a matching sideboard.  The only piece of the set that I didn't get was Dad's man-sized arm chair.  He just couldn't part with it.

For the 26 years we lived in our NH house, this dining room set had a perfect home in a space so oversized that there was plenty of room to spare.  I eventually refinished the 7 chairs that still had their cane seats intact--which was perfect because we eventually had a 5th son, so there were enough chairs for all 7 members of our family.

When we moved to VA and experienced a downsizing of our own, however, I was worried that I wouldn't have room for my parents' dining room set.

But I made room!  It's a little more crowded than it used to be, but I think it works.

My dad, God rest his soul, died almost two years ago, and when my mom sold their house about a year later, she took what she wanted for the assisted living room that would become her new home and encouraged her kids to take whatever they thought they might use (before the rest was sold in a giant garage sale).  Everyone agreed that I should take Dad's chair, because it belonged with the dining room set.  So I did.

Dad's chair has been sitting in the basement ever since we moved to VA, because I have been too busy to deal with refinishing it.  Well, yesterday I decided that it was time to get it spruced up so that it will be ready to use at our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year.  It will become my husband's head-of-the-table seat, just like it was Bigfoot's.

To refinish an aged beauty like this, I find that stripping the piece with Formby's antique furniture refinisher and then rubbing Formby's tung oil into it afterward gives the best results.

I actually love doing this.  I find it so satisfying to see the old varnish melt off to reveal the beautiful grains of the wood underneath.

This before-and-after comparison shows how dark and dingy the wood looks before Formby's works its magic.  What a difference!

Here is what Bigfoot's chair looked like, after I'd stripped off the old finish but before I'd rubbed in the tung oil to give it a protective glow.  It is so much more beautiful now!  It still has imperfections in it, like any piece of furniture that has been around this long; but what an improvement from the first picture up there, taken before I started the refinishing process.

The after picture!
Bigfoot's chair now has a home in our VA family room, providing extra seating in there when our large and ever-growing brood comes to visit.  And it can be easily brought into the dining room when needed for special meals with our kids and grandkids.

I am so grateful to have this piece of my family's history--and a reminder of my dear dad--in my home.  I'll be toasting Bigfoot this Thanksgiving...with fond memories of the guy with the 70's sideburns and the full head of brown hair, who used to call me his "Ickle Aurie-Do" (which translated means "Little Laura-Do").

They weren't that Quick after all, but those are my Takes.  Now head on over to Kelly's for more!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Creative Pursuits (Including Some ABC Book Updates)

Before I get started, I wanted to thank all of you sweet readers who have left comments here at String of Pearls in the last month or so.  My husband and I have been so busy lately, between road trips out to Notre Dame (we are going to every Fighting Irish home game this season, five so far with one more to go in November!) and helping out our kids, who are currently in the crazy season of raising toddlers and babies and need a helping hand every now and then, that I don't spend much time blogging or checking my blog's combox.  I just saw some lovely comments readers left on a recent post about our dining room, and I finally responded to them today.  I really do love hearing from you, and please forgive me for taking so long to let you know how much I appreciate it when you take the time to comment.

I do miss keeping up with the blog; writing is one of those "blue flame" activities that keeps me balanced and content.  (I know I probably don't need to elaborate on where that term comes from, but just suffice it to say that if you haven't read Jennifer Fulwiler's One Beautiful Dream, you should.)

Actually, when I do anything creative, that is when my blue flame burns the brightest.  Just yesterday morning, I was puttering around in my basement, looking through my big plastic bins filled with fabric and sewing stuff to see what I had.  One of the bins is filled with all kinds of antique goodies gifted to me over the years, along with some linen-and-lace pillow shams that belonged to my mother-in-law (and from which I have made christening dresses for my grandchildren in years past).  I found one piece in particular that intrigued me--I'd forgotten I even had it, so it was a bit like Christmas morning when I rediscovered it yesterday.
It appears to be a circular tablecloth, with a wreath-shaped Battenberg lace insert hand-sewn into the middle.  It's obviously very old and there are lots of small holes in the linen; but I saw all sorts of possibilities for that insert, so I carefully removed it from the surrounding fabric.
I am trying to figure out what I can make with this.  I might frame it with green velvet behind it and add a red satin bow, and then use it as a Christmas decoration.  What would you do with it?  I am open to ideas!

Another activity that feeds my soul (lights my blue flame, tickles my fancy, revs my engine...you get the drift) is working on the ABC Book that I hope to finish for my grandchildren by Christmas.  (Fingers crossed!)

The other day, I decided to tweak the cover a little.  It's a minor change, but I like it much better.  It used to be orange.
Now it looks like this.
 I guess I like my book covers to be green...

Not too long ago, I shared the Q pages in a post here at the blog.  But I've added a small update to them.  Here's how they look now.

I've also finished the I pages.
What a shocker that I included a page about Ireland in this book, right?

Not only do I like book covers that are Emerald-Isle green, but I also love Irish characters--so it's no surprise that they populate my two novels.

Well, that's about it from my neck of the woods.  I hope that wherever you are, you're tending to your own blue flame.  Our hearts all burn for different things and they're all good, as long as we're using the gifts and talents the Good Lord gave us in a way that brings honor to Him.  Amen?

I'll be back soon (hopefully!) with more ABC Book pages.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

ABC Book Update

I'm on a roll here--back at the blog for the second day in a row!  (Shake and bake!  That. Just. Happened!)

I'm sitting in our home office at my desk, getting ready to break out the colored pencils and work on the ABC Book that I'm hoping to have ready for my grandkids in time for Christmas--you know, the same book that started out as a project for my youngest son, the 25-year-old Army lieutenant who is just a tad too old now to appreciate it the way he would have if I'd actually finished it while he was still in diapers.

But better late than never, I always say!  And I've made so much progress on it this year.  I've now finished the illustrations (two pages for each letter--except for X, Y, and Z, which will be condensed into a two-page spread) for A through I, as well as L and M, P through U, and Z.  One of the J pages and one of the W pages have also been completed.  Several pages of drawings are currently works in progress, but right now there are 37 finished pages out of a planned 48, with three others very close to completion.  I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel!!

When I started this book back in 1993, I was using very large art paper and hand-lettering the text.  I also had three pages of illustrations planned for each letter--biting off way, way more than I could chew, as it were.  That was too ambitious a project for a mother raising five active boys (at least it was for this particular mother, who was never very good at juggling a lot of balls at once).  I only completed 10 pages before I shelved the project until 2013, when I realized it might be fun to dust it off and finish it for my grandkids.

This time around, I decided to use 8 and 1/2 by 11-inch card stock, cut back to only two pages per letter, and print the text on the computer using Word.  Initially, I painstakingly recreated the illustrations I wanted to use over again, making them smaller to fit the new page size; but I have since decided to photocopy some of my original artwork wherever possible, in order to make sure that I actually finish this book before I become a great-grandmother.

Some of the illustrations I did for the 1993 version didn't make the cut.  This one, for instance.
It was inspired by a photo I had of son #2 when he was about four or five, wearing his dinosaur jammies and standing next to a giant inflatable T-Rex he'd gotten as a Christmas gift.  I would have used it again for the new book, but when I decided to do two pages per letter rather than three, I had to come up with new rhymes and this illustration didn't fit as well.  (This boy of ours now has a mini-me of his own, a junior; and he looks an awful lot like this little fella pictured here!)

This page of illustrations for the letter C didn't make the cut either, even though it had been one of my favorites the first time around.
If you've been following along with the ABC Book posts, you've probably figured out by now that two of my favorite subjects to draw and paint are children's faces and furry animals.  Inanimate objects never get me as excited as living, breathing examples of cuteness.

Even though that old illustration won't appear in the final version of the book, you can be sure that there will still be plenty of chubby little cheeks involved (like you see here on this precious face, still a work in progress, inspired by a newborn photo of my youngest granddaughter).
I'm so pleased to be working with these new, smaller pages!
Someone asked me, "Why Nancy?"  The answer is simple, really: I needed an N name, and my paternal grandmother was named Nancy.  She had just five grandchildren, my four siblings and myself; she was our champion, always--she thought we hung the moon.  We all loved her dearly, and I thought this was a nice way to honor her memory.

Okay then, if I really intend to finish this thing, I better sign off and get to work!  But I thought you might be interested in a little update on how things are progressing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Just Checking In

Testing, one, two, three.  Testing...is this thing still on?

I'm pretty sure that I've used that lame joke here before, when I've been away from my little String of Pearls longer than intended.  But you know how old folks are: they repeat their jokes and stories, over and over and over.  And I am 60 now, after all, so I get to do that.

Anyway, I thought I'd just check in to let you know that I'm still alive and kicking.  Just busy living life, that's all.

I know I promised to write part two of this relatively recent post about celebrating our kids' differences, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.  (Shocker, right?!  I haven't been a very dedicated blogger lately, have I?  However, if you want to know what's going on in the Pearl clan, you can always click on over to my Instagram page...because that is apparently my social media home base these days.)

But phew, you guys.  Life is busy, busy, busy!  I know I'm a grandmother and heading into my restful "golden years," where the bulk of the hard work of raising a family is behind me...but it seems that in some ways, I'm busier than ever!  I mean, if I really think about what a typical day was like when our boys were all living under our roof, in school and playing sports, I know that things have slowed down considerably and my calendar is a lot less filled with reminders about practices, games, dentist and orthodontist appointments, etc. etc. etc.  (My grocery bill is also most definitely smaller!)  But still...

For instance, yesterday my husband and I watched three of our granddaughters for several hours while our oldest son and his wife took one of their girls (and their two-month-old son who is nursing exclusively and therefore can't be left with us yet) to an appointment.  So this is what our basement looked like.

These three cutie pies were reading books that belonged to their daddy and his brothers, making forts out of chairs and bean bags, drawing, and playing with our massive collection of Lion King toys (most of them saved from when our boys were young).  We not only have a whole slew of different toys from the 80's and 90's that I couldn't bear to part with (even when we were downsizing for the move), because they belonged to our crew; but we also have a lot of new playthings picked up at consignment stores during the year-and-a-half we've been living here in VA.

In case you were wondering, this basement is not finished yet--and still, it is the place all of our grandkids like to hang out when they come to Papa and Grammy's house.  We've had a full bathroom  put in and plan to finish off the rest of the space as soon as we can; but for now, it at least has a vinyl floor, some furniture, and a TV.  Oh yes, and plenty of toys!

When I look at these photos, it makes me more confident than ever that the move we made in the spring of 2017 was a smart one.  To be able to be involved in the day-to-day lives of our 13-going-on-14 grandchildren (whose parents miraculously all ended up settling in the same area of the country!) is the most wonderful gift imaginable.  We feel extremely blessed.

As you might know if you come here often, we started out our life as grandparents back in 2011 with the arrival of our firstborn's identical twin girls. In August of 2017, our fourth son's wife gave birth to triplets--two boys and a girl.   Here they are at a photo shoot to celebrate their first birthday.
Son #4 and his wife decided to have DNA testing done on the boys because they looked so much alike.  And it turned out their hunch was right: they are indeed identical.  Isn't that crazy?!  We have two sets of identical twins in the family.  As the triplets' mom, Braveheart, warned her sisters-in-law: Pearl women, watch out!  You might be next!  :)

Now that I've helped you to forget all of the bad things going on in the world these days (because who could look at that picture of the triplets and do anything but smile?!), I'm going to sign off and get ready to do a little visiting with these three doll babies and three of their sweet cousins who live near them.

Bye for now!

Monday, September 24, 2018

House Tour, Part III: The Dining Room

In an effort to get back to blogging for the main reason I was so dedicated to it for so many years (before the Instagram bug bit, and bit hard), I'm going to talk about something today at my neglected String of Pearls simply because it's fun for me and it makes me happy.  I doubt many people are even stopping by here anymore, because when they do, they mostly hear the sound of crickets (metaphorically speaking, of course); but if there's anyone reading this and you like a good home décor post (from someone who is most definitely NOT a professional home decorator--let's make that clear from the get-go!), you might enjoy this.  It's the third installment of a house tour I started not long after we moved to our new house (see Part I and Part II here and here; I also did this post about creating a home library).

Not too long ago, one of my daughters-in-law (blog handle "Preciosa," wife of son #3) and I were talking about whether or not a dining room is even necessary or practical anymore in this new age of mostly casual entertaining.  She was trying to decide whether or not to transform her formal dining room into a play room for her three kids who are three-and-under.  She and my son have a roomy eat-in kitchen, and their dining room is a rarely-used space.  It is quite lovely, with a Pottery Barn table-and-chairs set scored on Craisglist, walls painted a deep navy blue above the chair rail, and a gallery wall filled with their eclectic collection of decorative crosses.  But did they perhaps need a play room more?  They have one in the basement, but having one on the main floor would be so much convenient...What to do, what to do?

In the end, my daughter-in-law decided that although my son was more than ready to pull the trigger, she was not ready (yet, anyway) to give up her dining room.  And I totally get that.

I have always loved having a dining room.  The one we had in our old house in NH (where we lived for 26 years before moving to VA in 2017 to be near our kids and grandkids) was enormous.  Even though it had lots of furniture in it--including an antique buffet painted red, an antique reproduction pine pie safe with a punched-tin door, an antique sideboard that matches our oak dining set, and a lighted china cabinet--there was still plenty of room to navigate around the table.  And we're talking about a table that can comfortably seat 10 or 12.  In fact, I once set up two tables for eight in there, for a St. Patty's Day dinner party with neighbors, and it wasn't that tight.

To give you an idea of how much space we had, here are two photos from our Christmas Eve dinner in 2016, when our five boys, our four daughters-in-law, and the seven grandchildren we had at that time all came to NH for one last Christmas before our move.  We had to angle the table and add a smaller one at the end to extend it, but we all fit!

I was a little nervous about how we were going to squeeze all of our beloved dining room furniture into the space we were going to have in our new house.  As you can see from the pictures on the listing, although it is quite lovely, with that dramatic tray ceiling and the pillars, it is not enormous.

I actually considered selling my large antique oak table-and-chairs, which my mom had bought at an estate sale when I was in middle school and had always been in our house when I was growing up.  Mom had bequeathed the set, with its matching antique sideboard, to me when she and Dad downsized to a condo.  My husband and I were about to downsize now, and I thought maybe I should think about getting something smaller, something that would look better in this sort of room.  But I just couldn't do it.
All I can say is that I'm glad the new dining room opens up to the front hallway, because otherwise all of my pieces wouldn't have been able to fit.  We definitely would have had to take a couple of leaves out of the table if there had been a wall there instead of just those two pillars.

The old owners, who took a minimalist approach to this room, might look at what we've done and think it looks mighty crowded, and it kind of is; but I think we've been able to make it work.  The only piece we couldn't use in here is the lighted china cabinet that used to house some of our good china and crystal, which I repurposed as a display case for my porcelain dolls and put in our new master bedroom.

This old table was a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law.  I refinished it and gave the 
beat-up top a painted faux-marble finish years ago.  The pig is from my sister-in-law, 
who recently bought a restaurant and found it left behind. 
(I collect pigs.  Does that make me weird?)

This solidly-built antique buffet is one of my favorite pieces in the whole house.  
I found it a shop in our old NH hometown, where they sold antiques, secondhand items, 
and gifts.  I fell in love with the painted/distressed finish the seller had given it.

As you can see, there's a lot going on in this little room!  But I love a nice dining room, and I'm just so grateful that we have one in this new, smaller home in VA.  I would miss it terribly if we didn't...because I'm an old-school Grammy who likes to set the table with all the fancy stuff for holidays whenever possible.  It made me happy to set our 2017 Thanksgiving table like this.
Our new dining room is smaller than our old one, to be sure, but it feels bigger than it is because it's so open.  This is the view from the dining room table.

When you're having a large gathering at this house, you can be lingering at the table here and interacting with other guests who are sitting in the living room right across the hall.  (I know this because it's happened already!)  While I'm actually more of a fan of houses that have separate rooms and lots of walls on which to hang artwork and family photos,  I do think this house makes the most of its square footage because of its open-concept design.

Okay then, what about you?  Do you think a formal dining room is a necessity?  Do you like open-concept homes, or do you like separate rooms where you can go to escape the noise and the mess every now and then?  Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear from you!