Monday, September 1, 2014

Let Me Know What You Think!

My publisher recently came up with an interesting idea for this blog: an online book club to discuss Finding Grace (and also to hopefully drum up a little interest in my second YA novel for Bezalel Books, Erin's Ring, which will be coming out in the spring of 2015).  We could offer a deep discount on the Kindle version of the book for a couple of weeks in September, and then I could have a once-a-week discussion on the blog starting in early 2015.  You know, I could write a few sentences about the writing process, share a few tidbits about how I came up with this or that storyline, or give readers a few questions to ponder, and then there could be a discussion via the combox.  I would also be more than willing to answer any questions posed by readers.

I was trying to decide what day of the week to hold the club, and what to call it.  Then I remembered this well known childhood verse:
Tuesday's child is full of...grace!!!

Tuesday's blog posts could be full of Grace Kelly, the heroine of Finding Grace!  And I could call this Tuesday book club "Tuesday's Child is Full of Grace."  (Or my husband suggested shortening it to just "Tuesday's Child.")

What do you think?  Is this something that anyone would be interested in?  Do you think the name "Tuesday's Child Book Club" works, or do you have any other suggestions?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Goodwill Hunting

See what I did there?  :)

I'm not going to talk about movies in this post, which may surprise you.  I'm going to talk about hunting through the dusty, jumbled shelves of our local Goodwill store, hoping to stumble upon some hidden treasures--a favorite pastime of mine.

The other day, I went there strictly for the purpose of dropping off stuff that we don't want and don't need.  I've been on a bit of a kick lately, going through every room in the house, weeding through the clutter and getting everything in order--largely inspired by the fact that all of our kids, their spouses, and their little ones are coming here for Christmas, but also partly inspired by the fact that my husband and I are empty-nesters (with our youngest son just starting his senior year of college), and yet you'd hardly know it by the amount of stuff there is in this house.

So when I went to unload my packages, boxes, and bags of junk stuff that someone else might want or need, I was going to leave the store without a backward glance.  I was NOT going to quickly peruse the home goods section, thinking I might happen upon some stray bit of transferware (which is pretty much my Kryptonite).

But then I decided, "Well, as long as I'm here, I should just take a quick look..." So I strolled to the back of the store and was so excited by what I found that I ran back to the front to get myself a shopping cart, pronto!  They had a whole bunch of English Staffordshire transferware dishes, in black on cream, priced at 99 cents apiece.  They were old ones, too--I could tell by the very slight crazing of the finish and the imprint on the back.  I have lots of blue transferware, and some pink; I also have some Christmas-themed pink and green pieces.  But my collection is filled with mostly new pieces, picked up here and there at TJ Maxx or secondhand stores.  And I don't have any black ones yet.  And gee, black accents look great in my newly renovated kitchen...

Well, I proceeded to load up that cart with 2 dinner plates (because they didn't have 4), 4 dessert plates, 4 cups and saucers, and a shallow bowl.  I also thought about getting the matching sugar bowl and creamer, although they were a bit pricier at $2.99 apiece.  But then I stopped in my tracks. 

WHAT WAS I THINKING?

I'm trying to PARE DOWN what we own, I reminded myself, NOT ADD MORE STUFF!  I already have all the dishes I need, and then some!

But the thought of leaving all those treasures behind was so tough...

Well, I made a compromise: I put almost all of the dishes back; but I did buy the little 99-cent bowl, having convinced myself that there are plenty of useful purposes for it.  It would make an excellent dipping bowl, for Italian bread and olive oil, for instance.  Or it could be used as a small vegetable bowl.  Or I could just look at it every now and then, which is pretty inexpensive entertainment when you consider what I paid for it.
So, what do you think?  Does this make you want to get out there and do some Goodwill hunting of your own?  If so, may the odds be ever in your favor! 

(Okay, now I better go, before I resort to using anymore movie references...)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

And now for a little catching up...

Hi there!  I've been AWOL (again), but life has been incredibly hectic.  I would tell you why, but that would ruin some surprise DIY Christmas gifts I'm working on for my boys, so...

And it's not just that; there's the matter of that book I'm writing...

And there are also thank you notes to write, and they're long overdue (my mom, who instilled in her children from a very young age the importance of thank you note writing, would be appalled!)...

And I've been busy rearranging/cleaning out the boys' old bedrooms, so that they'll be perfect for putting up the whole family at Christmas--that means ALL FIVE OF OUR SONS, ALL FOUR OF OUR DAUGHTERS-IN-LAW, AND ALL FOUR OF OUR GRANDCHILDREN (including the as-yet-to-make-his-appearance G-Man, due in October)!!!!!!!  Can you tell I'm excited about this?  My work has included the following tasks, and then some: bringing my old rocking chair down from the attic and putting it in G-Man's room; setting up a port-a-crib for Little Gal (the twins' little sister, who will be 22 months at Christmas); finally storing away all of the trophies and bric-a-brac left behind by sons #3 and #4 in the "triple" (once shared by our three youngest, now the domain of just our baby...until he graduates from college in May); moving furniture around and hanging shelves; making trips to Goodwill and finally unloading the clothes the boys have told me they're never going to come back and take; patching and repainting/touching up walls and then re-hanging everything...Well, you get the idea.  It's almost like I'm nesting, but I'm certainly not pregnant.

Ha ha!  That reminds me of the time I was visiting my maternal grandmother in Florida when I was a fresh-faced mother of one, and while I was there I got the exciting news that son #2 was on the way.  She joked that SHE looked pregnant; she patted her little pot belly and said, "I've told my friends that this is the miracle of Sun City Center."  (Grandma, I'm finally where you were back then; I've got the little pot belly now--but there's surely no baby in there!  Sadly, it's all fat!)
My wonderful Grandma Kelly, who never knew just how beautiful she was,
with our firstborn son.
 
Son #1 had barely learned to crawl, and son #2 was on the way.
(Was I ever this young?)
But I digress...

So, I've been pretty busy--but it seems that the more I have to do, the more productive I am.  So it's all good.

And remember when I showed you the three flower girl dresses I made for son #3's wedding last year?  Well, I'm getting ready to make three more for son#2's upcoming wedding, with pink sashes this time.  The two I made for my twin granddaughters still fit, so they'll be wearing those again and all I'll have to do is change the sashes (that's one of the perks of having three sons get married within an eleven-month period!).  The twins' first trip down the aisle (with navy sashes) in December was pretty shaky; Bonny Babe was too scared and never made it at all, while her sister Cutie Pie ran down the aisle at top speed and jumped into the arms of her Papa.  They were pretty young flower girls for that wedding, just 2-and-1/2.  The second time around (with champagne sashes), in February, they did better; both girls actually walked all the way down the aisle.  However, it may have helped that Papa and I each had a twin by the hand that time.  But I bet the third time will be the charm.  By the time November rolls around, I think they're going to be old pros.  They might even be able to do it all on their own this time, following the lead of the three older flower girls.

Okay, now I've got to give a little update on the kitchen make-over, because last night I was talking to son #3 on the phone and he said I never showed what I did with the wall where the gigantic bulletin board used to be.  So here are some "before" and "after" pictures of that wall.

BEFORE:
Wow...that's a busy wall.  Yikes.

See how the blue-gray paint ends where the cabinets end?  I decided to
go ahead and paint the whole kitchen.  (I know, it looked sort of weird,
didn't it?)
 
My wallpaper border had to go, finally.

AFTER:
The painting (a signed original watercolor by artist Pat Reynolds)
was a wedding present from my paternal grandmother, and it took me
33 years to figure out the best place to hang it!

The wallpaper under the chair rail will probably go, too...eventually.

This Pottery Barn pig dinner bell was a birthday gift from my soon-to-be fourth
daughter-in-law.  (The thank you note is coming!)


I think these little guys look better against a blue-gray wall than they did
against the white.
Okay, just one more thing before I go.  I have the best siblings!  I received the sweetest, most thoughtful gift from my baby sister recently.  She sent me an Alex and Ani bangle, and the card's envelope read "Open box first!"  So I looked inside and found a bracelet, with a charm shaped like half a heart and engraved with the words "FRIENDS."  When I opened my sister's card, there was a photo inside of her wearing my bracelet's mate, with a charm on it that says "BEST."  (She was also wearing one that says "SISTER," which was a gift to her from me.)

I love, love, love my new bracelet!  And not just because I've become a fan of these Alex and Ani stackable bangles (thanks to my daughter-in-law Preciosa, who started my collection), but because of the thought behind it. 
Sister, you are the sweetest.  A BFF for sure.  (And your thank you card will be in the mail soon, too!)

Okay, then--happy hump day, everyone!  And hopefully I'll be back again tomorrow.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Finding Grace: Shelved and Reviewed

I try not to talk about my Catholic novel Finding Grace (or the WIP called Erin's Ring) all the time on this blog, because it feels like self-promotion and that makes me really uncomfortable. (I also worry that readers will get bored and say, "Okay, okay; we've heard enough already about your books!")  But my publisher encourages me to use any and all social media at my disposal to get the word out, because the bottom line is that this is not about me at all.  It's about Him.  And He deserves all the promotion He can get--anywhere, anytime.  Especially in this increasingly God-less world of ours.

Dreams of fame and fortune, or of 7-figure movie deals, are not what motivated me to start writing fiction. (Good thing, too!)  Aside from the fact that I enjoy the process (I just love to edit and re-edit, to switch words around until they sound the way I want them to!), the main reason I write is to give greater glory to God.  The last thing I want to do is to write something that's "popular" or a "bestseller," if it includes storylines that I'll be ashamed to explain to Him on Judgment Day.  I might not have had this focus if I'd tried to write a novel when I was young, so I'm actually glad I never had the inclination (or the time!) to work on one until my sons were almost all grown up.  Having raised children, and having been a witness to all the ways the world comes at them with lies and half-truths meant to destroy their souls, is what gave me the inspiration to write Catholic fiction for teens and young adults--fiction that tells a good story, but more importantly, ends up inspiring them to have the courage to stand up for what is right and to fight the good fight.  Fiction that inspires them to ultimately become saints in Heaven.

When I decided back in the summer of 2007 that I wanted to write the novel I'd dreamed about writing my whole life, this was my prayer during a daily Mass with my husband: "God, if I'm meant to do this--and it will be for the good of my own soul and for Your greater glory--then please inspire me."  That very day, I started to write.  When my husband and I got home from church, I furiously typed up about 20 pages of notes.  Within 2 months, I'd written the first 8 chapters.  True, it took me over 4 years to finally finish the next 24 chapters; but I was just taking my sweet time--with weeks off here and there if I needed them, because back then I had boys coming and going around this house. Besides, I never really thought it would be published.  Finding Grace was just going to be for me, and for my family.  I pictured running off copies for my grandchildren.  I never in a million years thought it would be sold on Amazon, and I certainly didn't imagaine that copies of it would show up on a shelf in an actual bookstore.

After more than 2 years in print, I now have proof that Finding Grace has made it onto a bookstore shelf. Not too long ago, my daughter-in-law Regina sent me this picture, which she took while visiting a bookstore in downtown Kalamazoo, MI.
(Actually, my sister-in-law in FL said a friend of hers who owns a Christian bookstore was selling it last year, but I never saw the photographic evidence.)

I know this doesn't mean that I'm going to find Finding Grace listed in the New York Times alongside YA fiction supernovas like The Fault in Our Stars or The Hunger Games.  But if even just one young person (or adult--it's for big people as well) picks it up and not only enjoys it, but is edified by it, that makes me the happiest writer on God's green earth.

Endorsements of Finding Grace make me happy, too--like this recent review by Tiffany over at Life of a Catholic Librarian.  Tiffany's lovely blog has a Catholic Book Club on Wednesdays, and if you love to read as much as I do, you might want to check it out.

Thanks for indulging me here, once again.  I promise I won't turn String of Pearls into one big advertisement!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

My Awesome Etsy Necklace

I haven't done a whole lot of Etsy shopping--until recently.  My daughter-in-law, Regina (wife of son #1), has been finding interesting gifts at Etsy for years now.  And then son #3 got married last December to Preciosa, who has given us some absolutely wonderful, very unique and personalized gifts found on the site. So I finally realized it was time to get on board that Etsy train, and last fall I went on there to find some Pearl Beer-inspired Christmas gifts for a few of my boys (copying Regina, who'd gotten one of them as a gift for her hubby a while back).  I just typed in "Pearl Beer bottle openers" and easily found a seller's site, where I was able to order a few of these beauties:
So anyway, I've been getting my latest mother-of-the-groom ensemble together, for son #2's wedding in November, and I was looking for a special necklace to wear with it--but not the kind of thing you would normally find at the mall.  I wanted it to incorporate pearls (because I always like to wear my favorite gems to celebrate special occasions in the Pearl family) and a Miraculous Medal (because I wear mine 24/7, and if I remove it to wear a string of pearls, then I will usually pin an inexpensive version of the medal inside my clothing, because I hate to go without my favorite devotional).  So I had a "Eureka!" moment and decided to try Etsy.  I typed in "pearl necklaces with Miraculous Medals," and one site that came up was ABABeadsKC, which offered this lovely piece:
"This is almost perfect!" I thought, because it just so happens that the suit I'm wearing is pale green, and those peridot gems would look lovely with it.  But I really wanted cream-colored pearls, because I'm traditional; and although this Our Lady of Guadalupe medal is spectacular, I wanted a Miraculous Medal instead.

There is a place on Etsy sellers' sites where you can contact them directly, so I sent the woman behind ABABeadsKC, Beth Ann, a personal message asking if she could design a necklace similar to this one, but with just a few changes. And I'll tell you, she was wonderful!  We emailed back and forth, and she showed me different pearls--both round and baroque-shaped, in several different sizes--and different styles of Miraculous Medals.  She told me she could make my necklace whatever length I wanted, in either silver or gold.

After a few online "conferences," we had a winner!  The final product is 18" long, made with 10 mm baroque Swarovski crystal pearls, oval peridot crystals, and an antiqued-gold Miraculous Medal.  Before she shipped it to me, Beth Ann sent me these three pictures, to make sure the necklace met with my approval and to see if I wanted to make any last-minute changes.


I didn't--because I LOVE it!  And for $35, I think it was a great deal--especially because it was made exactly to my specifications.
(The Danny and Nicole jacquard suit I'm going to wear with my necklace was a 2010 JC Penney find--regularly priced at $90 and marked down to $17.99!  I snapped it up, shortly after our oldest son's wedding in late 2009, thinking it would make a good mother-of-the-groom dress for a future son's wedding.  Well, the future is now.)

This has not been a sponsored post, BTW--I just thought I'd give this Esty shop a little plug because I was so happy with my beautiful necklace.  If you're looking for religious jewelry (or perhaps a new set of Rosary beads), you might want to check out ABABeadsKC.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Keep Calm and Blog On

Sometimes I feel like I've run out of things to blog about; and then in my reading travels I learn something new and think, "I wonder if everyone knows about this?!  Just in case they don't, I simply must share it!"  And then I get excited to keep on blogging on.

I recently read the most interesting little article in Victoria, which is absolutely my most favorite magazine of all time.  My original subscription was a gift from my beloved late mother-in-law many, many years ago, and I've been renewing it, year after year. When it comes in the mail, I'm always anxious to sit down and flip through its lovely pages.  Every issue is a feast for the eyes.  I mean look at the cover of the most current (September 2014) issue:
If I had a Pinterest board, chances are that pretty much every pin would come from the pages of this magazine.  I look at the beautiful vignette on this cover--an artfully arranged display of fruits, flowers, linens, and vintage English transferware dishes--and think, "Now THAT is what I'd like my life to look like."  It's oozing with simple elegance, down-to-earth beauty, and old-world charm--all auras that I would love to have in my home.

I knew I would devour this issue when it came, because any magazine cover that looks this pretty and says things like "Our Beloved England" or "Special British Issue" is sure to be a home run hit with me.  I suppose it's time to admit that I'm a closet Anglophile, and I blame my father and his almost 100% British blood for this.  (The only country whose culture intrigues and inspires me more is England's western neighbor, Ireland.)

Victoria is always fun to thumb through: it takes you on trips inside the most beautifully-appointed homes (sometimes the castles of the British Isles), where you can drool over Victorian-inspired décor, and on strolls through the quaintest little villages; it features fashion spreads quite different than the ones in Vogue, filled with fresh-faced models sporting feminine laces and the woolen tweeds and plaids of a country gentlewoman (boots are often involved); it features uncommon recipes (where else are you going to get directions for making English delicacies like, say, Welsh Rarebit or beef pasties?); vintage-y artwork and knickknacks are often on display; and there is always a short and insightful musing by the magazine's current "Writer-in-Residence."  This issue's offering was extremely interesting, because it explained the whole story behind this iconic image that you will find literally EVERYWHERE these days:
Like a lot of people, I wondered where this now-viral meme had originated, and why in the world there was a crown on it.

It turns out that this was a motivational poster designed by the British Ministry of Information during WWII.  Two other posters--one that said, "Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory" and another that said, "Freedom is in Peril, Defend It with All Your Might"--had already been distributed and posted in shop windows and railway stations all over England.  Two million copies were printed of the third in the series, the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster, but they were held in reserve to be distributed if there was a German invasion of England--which was, of course, a very real threat at the time.  But as that scenario never came to pass, the poster was never officially issued by the crown.

In 2000, a British seller of antiquarian books bought a box of old books at auction; and although the books proved to be rather worthless, he found an original copy of the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster at the bottom of the box.  His wife took a fancy to it and framed it for their secondhand book shop (which is located inside an old railway station and has been called one of the twenty most beautiful bookstores in the world), and people liked it so much that the bookshop owners started selling re-prints to their customers.  In 2005, the poster was mentioned in a newspaper article by a journalist who'd seen it in the shop, and by 2010, you could hardly go anywhere in the world without seeing some version of it.

So, in case you were wondering where in the world this crazy "Keep Calm" trend started, it's actually a little-known piece of England's WWII history.  But spoofs abound these days:


 
Truly, parodies are everywhere, and some of them are rather humorous.  But like the bookseller who unearthed the poster that started this whole craze, I like the original version best.  It really illustrates that admirable British trait of endeavoring to keep a stiff upper lip and carry on, even in the face of something as terrifying as having their country invaded by the Nazis.
 
However, I must admit, I'd be willing to take the advice of this one any day of the week:
So I'll just keep calm and blog on...while eating chocolate.
 
Cheerio, readers!


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Game Day Onesies for G-Man

You may have heard that our middle son and his wife Preciosa are expecting their first child.  The gender of this wee one has been revealed,
and he will henceforth be affectionately called "G-Man" on this blog.

My son is a Notre Dame alumnus and rabid Fighting Irish football fan.  Preciosa is a Florida State alumna and rabid Seminoles football fan.  Their two worlds are going to be colliding on October 18, when ND travels to FSU to play on the Seminoles' turf.  We were all planning to attend that game together, and my husband had already purchased our tickets.  But God had other plans...because not too long after their wedding in December of last year, those two kids found out that they were going to become parents.  And their little darling was due to make an appearance around October 12, making travel to that game for the parents-to-be something that just wasn't going to be happenin'.

That's okay, though.  We're used to curve balls like this in our family, so we just called an audible.  (I'm mixing my sports metaphors, I know.)  My husband is still going to be off for the ND-FSU game (and the week prior), having put in for the vacation time so that we could travel down to FL to meet up with the kids for the big game.  SO, new game plan: instead of heading to FL, we're going to VA, where we'll watch it on TV--and hopefully G-Man will have already made his appearance (if he's a good boy, and doesn't make his mama go past her due date!), and he'll watch it with us.

I thought I'd make G-Man some game day onesies for the big contest between his parents' alma maters.  If it seems like the ND appliques are a tad more substantial, that was purely accidental.  There was no intent to show which of the two opponents I hope will be the winner.  ;)

GO IRISH!
GO NOLES!
And before I sign off, just a word about boys--because after raising five of them, I think I have earned the authority to speak on this topic.

They're wonderful.  That's it in a nutshell.  They're noisy and messy when they're little fellas, and they make every single activity into an intense competition.  But with boys, it's all out there in the open; there aren't all those emotional undercurrents that you have with girls.  Boys can be at each other's throats one minute, and laughing together like best buddies the next.  I always tell my husband that I think males are simple creatures, and I mean that in the best possible way.

The sweetest thing about boys, though, is that they really, really love their mamas.  When mine were little rascals, my husband promised me that they would grow up into tall, strapping lads who treated their mother like a queen.  He was right.

And I know, women who have girl children will tell you that there isn't anything that compares to the unique bond between mother and daughter.  And moms of all sons get the "Oh, poor you, no girls?" thing all the time (I sure do!), as though we have been cursed or something.  Recently, I was reading a blog post by a mother of four sons that really hit home with me.  She said that she was irritated by people who are "unnecessarily sympathetic" toward her because she has only boys.  Yes, I thought!  All that sympathy I've gotten over the years has been totally unnecessary!  I feel blessed!   Maybe there's something a mother misses out on when she doesn't have a daughter...but I'm getting that now, with the wonderful young women our boys have brought into our family.

Preciosa, you are about to be blessed to a degree that you can hardly imagine.  And my prayer for you is that that little son of yours treats you half as well as his daddy has always treated me.  If so, you will be the luckiest woman on earth!