Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Way We Were (Freshman Photos)

In yesterday's post about my upcoming 40th high school reunion, I promised to post pictures of my husband and me from our freshman yearbook.  I'm sure you've been waiting with baited breath for those.

I just dug this mildew-stained piece of our history out of a trunk in the attic.  Are you digging the sort of psychedelic-looking 70's cover artwork?
Anyhoo, as promised, here they are--pictures from 1973, when we were both just shy of our 15th birthdays.  We would start dating within months of when we posed for these group photos, both of us in the center of the back row.
That school year, I was unbearably shy.  Many of the kids in our class had been together since kindergarten and they were a very tight group; but I was one of a handful of "new kids" who'd come from the other Catholic grade school in town.  I could barely bring myself to make eye contact with my husband back then, much less talk to him.  Towards the end of the year, I passed him in a hallway and bravely said "hi"--and it took him so much by surprise that I had actually spoken to him, he didn't even respond!  But by the time we started our sophomore year, after officially becoming boyfriend and girlfriend over the summer, we could talk to each other about almost anything.

So that was then.

This is now.
And life is good!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Coming Soon: My 40th High School Reunion

I've started taking long bike rides every day, on the brand new "Call the Midwife"-style retro bicycle my husband got me for Mother's Day.  (You know, the one I told you all about in this recent post.)  Tuesday, I pedaled 4.2 miles.  Wednesday, I upped that to 5.4.  Today, I logged 6 miles even. I'm hoping to work up to 10 miles a day in the coming weeks.
The view from my handlebars.  Not too shabby.
Along with this new exercise regimen, I am trying to drastically reduce the amount of sugar and carbs I eat, and to cut all my portions down to the proper size for someone my age.  When I was over in Germany with my youngest son for the month of March, I kind of forgot that a 57-year-old woman can't combine eating as many gigantic Milka chocolate bars and soft pretzels as she wants with going out several times a week and ordering schwein filets and baked potatoes smothered in herb butter and sour cream and expect to stay the same size.  I am aware that it is now May, so the after-effects of my German pig-out should no longer be an issue; but even after I got home, I couldn't seem to get motivated to shake the bad habits I'd formed and get back into any kind of healthy eating routine.  (I mean, chocolate is SO GOOD.)
And let's be honest: I can't even remember the last time I took one of my Beach Body Turbo Jam DVD's out of its case.

But I have a really good reason to get motivated now: at the end of June, my husband and I are going to be attending our 40th high school reunion.  And if I don't reduce my caloric intake post haste, I'm not going to be able to fit into any of my clothes.  It's not that I want to "impress" my old classmates. We're all pushing 60 now; most of us have grown children, and many of us are also grandparents.  But I just want to feel comfortable in my own skin, and to be able to get dressed for the reunion events without tears and a pile of discarded, too-small outfits on the floor around me.
Actually, I did order a new dress for that weekend, even though I have plenty of dresses--because I'm a girl and that's just what we do, right?  I wanted one that was mid-calf length, or at least well below the knee, so that perhaps I can actually wear it with summer-appropriate bare legs and sandals.  (I normally wear opaque nude-colored tights with skirts and dresses, even in the middle of a heat wave; but I'm trying to work on being less vain about my veins.)  I also wanted a dress that had some green in it, since green and white were our school colors.  I found this one on the JC Penney website, and was able to use an on-line coupon code to knock the already reasonable sale price of $49.99 down to $39.99.  What really sold me on this particular dress is the ruching at the waist, though.  Hey, anything to help me camouflage my mom bod (the awesomeness of which, unfortunately, does not seem to have taken the social media world by storm the way the dad bod did).

Just for grins, do you want to see what my husband and I looked like when we were fresh-faced freshmen in high school, just months before we started dating the summer after that school year?

You do?  Well, you'll just have to come back here tomorrow, I guess.  (Ha ha!  I bet you didn't know this post was going to be a cliff-hanger, did you?)  Because I don't have my 1973 copy of our Catholic high school's Aquila yearbook on me at the moment.  It's in the attic at our NH house, and I'll be getting in the car in a few minutes to head back there.  So come back tomorrow, when I'll scan and post pictures of my husband and me when we were 8 years younger than our youngest child is now!!  And 17 years younger than our firstborn!  YIKES!!!  We're getting old!

(But all my high school earrings still fit.  So I've got that going for me, which is nice.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #18 ): A Little History Lesson

I woke up this morning in the mood to blog, but I said to my husband, "I have nothing to write about.  I feel like I'm completely out of ideas.  There's nada going on in here [as I tapped my empty noggin]."  (Okay, I didn't really say "nada," or tap my head; but I'm trying to make this post a little more interesting.)

I sat down at the kitchen table of our Oyster Haven VRBO house to face the empty screen of my laptop.  With my trusty Hatch Prints Morning Offering mug by my side--filled with the first of the three or four cups of coffee I will consume by 11:00--I looked out the window, sighing and wondering if I was ever going to get my blogging groove back...

And this is what I saw (minus the helpful arrows, but I'll explain those).
That big island on the left is Valcour Island; and the much smaller one on the right is Gunboat Island.  Beyond the islands you can see the blue outline of the mountains of Vermont.

It's a spectacular view, isn't it?  And you can't see them, but the ghosts of Revolutionary War battleships steam right alongside those two islands.

Oyster Haven is located so close to where the Battle of Valcour was fought in 1776 that this historical marker sits just on the edge of our property.
Gunboat, Valcour's itty-bitty sibling, has a rather interesting story.  Let me show you a zoomed-in shot of it, so you can get a better idea of what it looks like.
Anyway, as I was sitting here on this sunny morning, mesmerized by the sparkling diamonds on the surface of the water, I had an epiphany: since it's book club day, and Finding Grace most definitely touches on the rich history of this area and the key role the lake (and these two islands) played in that history, I thought I'd give you a little excerpt:

          "The Battle of Valcour (which is a large island off the southern shore of Plattsburgh) was fought on Lake Champlain on October 11, 1776.  Led by Benedict Arnold, the Revolutionary War hero who would later become a traitor, the Continental navy was defeated by the British in this battle, losing eleven ships.  However, in ways it was a victory for the Americans, because the British forces had been hurt enough that they retreated into Canada to nurse their wounds for the winter instead of staying to establish a strong presence in the northern colonies.  Had they stayed, it would have cut the colonies in half and could have altered the outcome of the war.
          It was said that in the confusion of the battle, British Colonel Guy Carleton fired upon a small island off the tip of South Hero, Vermont, mistaking its rocky silhouette for an American ship.  Afterward, this island was christened 'Carleton's Prize,' in mockery of the British leader's mistake, but these days it was known simply by the nickname 'Gunboat Island.'  (In defense of the colonel, its outline really did resemble that of a small battleship.)  To this day, local divers frequently brought up rusty old cannonballs found around both Valcour and Gunboat Islands, tangible reminders of the bravery of America's fledgling navy."
                                                                                                                  Finding Grace (Chapter 3)

See, Finding Grace is both entertaining AND educational!  And there's some romance in there, too.  And a bit of humor.  And definitely some strong messages about how our choices have consequences--not to mention the importance of faith in God's will and in His loving mercy.  I call it "a pro-chastity, pro-life, pro-family, Catholic coming-of-age story."  I hope you'll call it "next on my to-read list," or "next assigned reading for our high school homeschool co-op."  Actually, you can call it anything you like, just don't call it late for dinner.  (Is that joke/wisecrack still in circulation, or did it die out back in the 1950's or 60's?)

Okay then, now it's back to window-gazing for me (which ranks only slightly higher than navel-gazing on the productivity scale).

I have an offer for you, before I sign off here: if you'd like to order a signed copy of Finding Grace for $15.00 (and skip the Amazon shipping fees), contact me using the "EMAIL ME" button on the sidebar.  I would love to introduce you to Grace Kelly and her family and friends, and to the history-filled area she calls home.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

My [Pentecost] Sunday Best

I'm joining Rosie today for the My Sunday Best link-up at A Blog for My Mom, to fill you in on what I wore for Mass this Pentecost Sunday (in case you were wondering).
I'm still a bit jet-lagged from our recent trip to Germany to visit with our youngest son, even though we got home on Thursday and my body should be adjusted by now.  (It's called "getting old," I believe.)  We were planning to go to the 9:30, because I thought there was no way I'd ever be able to get up for the earlier Mass.  But my eyes popped open at 6:00, miraculously, so off we went to the 7:30.

My good-natured (but long-suffering) husband, who keeps getting roped into taking pictures of me to post on this blog, got the opportunity to show off some more of his iPhone photography prowess this morning after we got back from Mass.  I posed (rather awkwardly) on the deck of Oyster Haven, our VRBO house on Lake Champlain, which will soon start welcoming vacationers.  (Our very first renters arrive on June 10!)

I was not wearing liturgically appropriate red, unfortunately; instead, I wore a royal blue polka-dotted knit dress that I bought on sale a few years ago when I was out for a day of shopping with my mom.  It's belted around its rather high waist and has a swingy skirt.  I wasn't so sure the shape worked on me, but Mom insisted I should get it and like an obedient daughter, I did.
I decided I needed to wear a cardigan over my short-sleeved dress--because it was a tad nippy outside, for one thing; but also because I just like cardigans, and I also like to keep my skin as covered up as possible for as long as possible.  (Summer is coming, I know; and soon, I'll want to jump into that lake you see behind me here.  But I'm encouraged by the fact that the most recent Land's End catalog that came to our house showcased all kinds of modest swim dresses and long-sleeved swim shirts.  Finally, swim fashions I can feel comfortable in!)

For Mass today I covered my "crowning glory" (although that might be giving my straight-as-a-stick, mousy-brown-and-turning-gray hair too much credit) with a lovely black and gray lace mantilla that once belonged to my late mother-in-law.  Since her death in 2009, her kids have been slowly going through the house and deciding which of her things they can't bear to part with and which need to find new homes.  When I discovered this veil of Mom's tucked away in the back of a drawer, I was so thrilled.  I own about five veils now, but not one of them is quite as beautiful as this one.  The vintage lace is such high quality--soft, with a lovely drape to it.  And it has the added bonus that it was once worn by a woman who was truly like a second mother to me, a woman whom I loved so dearly and miss so much. 
I really like the patent leather wedges I wore today.  They are super-duper comfy and super-duper cute.  I can't remember the brand name (and I've worn them so often that it's been rubbed off the inner soles); but I know I got them at TJ Maxx, where you really always do get the max for the minimum.
As Mass was ending, I was thinking how lucky my husband and I were that just one week ago, we were in Germany attending Mass at the huge, magnificent cathedral that's just down the road from our son's apartment.
But then I looked up at the altar and realized that this church--the same one where we exchanged our wedding vows over 35 years ago--is just about as spectacular as any cathedral you'll ever see.
The altar was dressed in red for Pentecost, even if I wasn't.  And it was glorious.

Now if you'd like to see what other Holy Spirit-filled ladies wore this Sunday, head on over to Rosie's.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Rosary Giveaway Winner

Dear readers, please forgive me for the delay in announcing the winner of the blue cord Rosary made by my friend Sarah.

The contest ended at midnight on Mother's Day...but I have had lots of trouble with the Internet here in Germany, where my husband and I have been staying for the past five days with our youngest son, and I haven't been able to fire up my laptop.  So this post is coming at you via my iPhone.  Yikes--not my favorite gadget with which to blog!  (I dread what auto-correct might decide I meant to say and change without my permission!)

Anyway, without further ado, here is the name of the winner: Kathy Tauke.  Please contact me, Kathy, and let me know where to send the Rosary. We return to the States on Thursday, and as soon as I recover from my jet lag, I'll head to the post office and mail it off to you.

Thanks to everyone who entered to win by leaving me a comment here at String of Pearls. It always delights me to hear from readers, and I appreciate every single comment more than I can say.   May the Blessed Mother wrap you all in Her mantle and keep you safe in Her loving care!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Channeling My Inner Midwife (Call Me!)

Actually, don't do that.  Don't call me.  Because like Prissy in Gone with the Wind, "I don't know nothin' about birthin' babies!"  Well, I might know a little, since I did give birth to five baby boys of my own; but I don't think I could have been on the other end of things during those labors and deliveries.  God bless medical professionals--doctors, nurses, physician's assistants, midwives, et. al.  I couldn't do what they do.

When I was over in Germany visiting my youngest son during the month of March, I discovered the BBC period drama "Call the Midwife."  How did I ever miss this made-for-me TV show when it first came out?  Each day when my boy was at work, I was either doing laundry, cooking, shopping, doing the kind of deep cleaning that a 23-year-old bachelor would never dream of doing...or binge-watching "Call the Midwife."  I raced through the first three seasons (which were the only free ones available on Netflix over there).  I couldn't get enough of it.
If you've never seen this show (adapted from a book with the same title, I believe), here's a synopsis from an online source:

Based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth; the story follows twenty-two year old Jenny, who in 1957 leaves her comfortable home to become a midwife in London's East End. She is surprised to find that she will be living in a convent: Nonnatus House. Working alongside fellow nurses and the medically-trained nuns, Jenny has her eyes opened to the harsh living conditions of the slums, but she also discovers the warm hearts and the bravery of the mothers. Even after Jenny leaves Nonnatus, she continues to chronicle the lives of the midwives who have become her family.

I love everything about "Call the Midwife": the old-timey feel of the show, with its vintage cars, fashions, and morals; the heart-warming friendships that form between the midwives who live together at Nonnatus house--all very different types of young women, but each endearing in her own way; the love and charity that the faith-filled nuns who run the convent shower upon the underprivileged families to whom they minister; the compelling stories about marriages and families and heroic struggles for survival.  Oh, and the BABIES!  It's simply a gem of a show.

Now let's talk about those vintage fashions.  I think I was born in the wrong decade sometimes, because I just adore the way these gals from a bygone era dress, with their twinsets and Peter Pan collars.  I even like the starched white caps and aprons that they wear when they're nursing.

I also love the way the midwives ride their bicycles all around East London to make house calls and deliver babies.  So when I saw a retro "Call the Midwife"-style bike at Sam's Wholesale Club about a month ago, I fell in love with it and proceeded to give my husband numerous not-so-subtle hints that it would make an excellent gift.

He was listening to his dear wife, as he always does; so yesterday, he took me out to Sam's and bought me the bike of my dreams.  It is the best Mother's Day gift I could have ever hinted about/asked for!  It's totally "old school," like me.  Even has a drink holder and a basket!
When we went to Sam's to pick up this mint-colored beauty, I was already wearing my trusty black trench coat, which is practically a uniform for me (and which a cashier at the grocery story recently complimented, saying, "It looks very British"); so when we got home, I added my vintage black felt hat, which I've worn for my boys' weddings, and enlisted my husband to use his iPhone camera skills to do a little "Call the Midwife" photo shoot in our driveway.

This was not at all corny.  It wasn't.

If I had a light blue nursing uniform with a white Peter Pan collar on under my trench, and my hat was maroon instead of black, I could practically show up at Nonnatus House and fit right in, don't you agree?

However: if you think you might be in labor, please don't call me.  I might look the part of a midwife...but that's not the same thing as being one, now is it?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Oyster Haven's Irish Cousin

I made the most wonderful discovery on Sunday.  It was like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it truly was.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me start from the beginning.  Okay, so my husband and I were at Oyster Haven, finishing up a week or so of work on the house.  Located on the shore of beautiful Lake Champlain in upstate NY, we are planning to open it up as a VRBO rental property starting on June 1, and it's just about ready to welcome its first guests.

Anyway, I had my laptop set up on the kitchen table, and I was enjoying gazing out at the lake as I posted this Instagram picture (with a reminder about the Rosary giveaway I'm currently hosting here at the blog).
I've got to admit that I'm enjoying Instagram enormously these days.  I think I like it better than Facebook, actually--partly because no one seems to use it as a proverbial soapbox to trumpet their political views or disparage Christians, but mostly because it showcases some of the most beautiful photos you will ever see.  Instagram has inspired me to put a lot more thought into every photo I take, paying special attention to lighting, angles, and composition.  Coming up with the "perfect" picture fills me with delight, it does.  And I can see why many bloggers have transitioned from the blog to the 'gram, because they are able to say so much with so few words--creating mini-blog posts that are easier for busy readers to digest than full-length articles.

The best 'grammers are the ones who are able to write the pithiest blurbs to go with their photos, and to use the hashtag most cleverly and effectively.  Some of the Insta-hashtags are absolutely hilarious (I'm thinking of Grace from Camp Patton and Dwija from House Unseen, Life Unscripted when I say this).  I have not figured out how to employ the hashtag the way the young whippersnappers are doing it; but I'm trying, folks, I'm trying.

In an effort to abide by the 21st-century rules of engagement, I'm trying to remember to add hashtags to my Instagram posts.  (My hashtags are pretty boring; but #givemeabreak #improbablyoldenoughtobeyourmother.)
Therefore, whenever I post pictures of our lake house on Instagram, I add #oysterhaven.

Well, I don't normally even think of clicking on hashtags to see what else is out there...but for some reason this past Sunday, after I posted my picture, I clicked on #oysterhaven, and it took me to other photos with that same hashtag.  As I scanned the first page, I saw several pictures that I've posted right there front and center, showing both inside and outside views of our Oyster Haven house.
When I first glanced at that picture on the top right, I thought it was one that I'd posted of the view of our back yard...then I realized that we don't have our outdoor furniture yet.  But can't you see how it would make me do a double take?

Here are a few more of our photos, part of the #oysterhaven collection on Instagram.  Note the arrow pointing to our view...
...and here's an arrow pointing to the photo that fooled me for a second into thinking it was one of ours.
To me, those two views were practically twins, or at least distant cousins.  My curiosity was definitely piqued.  So of course, I clicked on that photo to see what it was all about.  And to my utter delight, I found out that it was a picture of a place called Oyster Haven Bay, in Kinsale (County Cork), IRELAND!

Oh my goodness, I could not have been more thrilled to know that we had inadvertently named our lake house after a place in Ireland!  We wanted the word "oyster" in the title, since we are Pearls and oysters are homes for pearls.  And we have a little secluded inlet behind our house, so we considered calling our place "Oyster Bay," but thought that sounded too much like a body of salt water rather than a freshwater lake.  My husband grew up in a neighborhood by the lake that had the word "haven" in its name, so as a nod to his roots we therefore ultimately decided to name our VRBO house "Oyster Haven."  We thought it was a good name; but knowing that there is a seaside vacation retreat in Ireland with the same name (and with some views that look eerily like ours!) is just the icing on the cake.

Because if you've been coming here a lot over the past five years that I've been blogging, you might know that my husband's maternal grandfather (after whom he was named) came to America from County Cork at the age of 19.
You might also know that my husband's family is Irish on both sides, my mom is part Irish (a Kelly by birth), and I am an incurable Hibernophile  (dictionary definition: person who is fond of Irish culture, Irish language and Ireland in general. Its antonym is Hibernophobe. The word originates from "Hibernia", the word used by the ancient Romans to refer to Ireland).  If you are familiar with the content of and/or have read either of my two Catholic novels, you are well aware of this obsession I have with the Irish and their culture.  God love the Irish!

It warms my heart to imagine that many years ago, my husband's grandfather might have gazed out at Oyster Haven Bay, in his native County Cork.  And now, his grandson and I have a home by the water, with the very same name as that Irish cousin by the sea.
Sitting at the kitchen table in Oyster Haven, with a
picture of Oyster Haven Bay, Kinsale, County Cork,
Ireland on my computer screen.
It just seems very fitting.  Very fitting indeed.

(A little reminder before I go: if you'd like a chance to win the beautiful blue cord Rosary in the photo at the top of the page, leave me a comment by midnight on Mother's Day!)