Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Little Saint Liguori Mary Pearl, Pray for Us!

I am sad to report that our oldest son's wife suffered a miscarriage on May 9, which was the day before Mother's Day in this year of Our Lord 2020 and also my beloved late father-in-law's birthday.  The baby she was carrying was at about 12-13 weeks gestation but in all likelihood had expired in the womb weeks earlier.

This family-oriented, hardworking, loving couple, whose Faith is strong and true, have five healthy children living on this earth.  With the loss of this pre-born child, they now also have three little saints in Heaven interceding for them, and for all of us.

As they were unable to determine whether the baby was a boy or a girl, the grieving parents have decided to name this perfect little soul Liguori Mary--a name which would work in either case.

Our son and his wife are working with A Mom's Peace, a lay apostolate that offers help with burial and remembrance ceremonies for couples who have been devastated by miscarriage or stillbirth (and arrangements have been made to have the baby buried in a church cemetery tomorrow).   We became familiar with this wonderful organization last year in August, when our second-born and his wife experienced the tragic loss of their fourth child at about 15-16 weeks gestation.

We are indeed living in the Valley of Tears, are we not?  There are tragedies and losses that seem impossible to endure, and yet we do.  But we have Our Father in Heaven, the Blessed Mother and Her Beloved Son, and the Communion of Saints (who have been joined by Liguori Mary Pearl) helping us.  Loving us.  Waiting for us to meet them in Heaven one day, when our time comes.  And oh, what a joyful reunion it will be!  I imagine these never-met grandchildren of ours, these wee souls--spotless, pure, innocent, and filled with light--welcoming their parents home someday, and it brings tears to my eyes.  I hope that I will get to see them, too!

Please keep our boy and his wife, who have fulfilled their wedding vows with perfect faith, trust, and obedience, in your prayers as they cope with their loss.  Thank you!

St. Alphonsus Liguori, pray for us!  O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!  And St. Liguori Mary Pearl,  pray for us!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Sometimes, I Go by "Ree Ree”

I can't believe I haven't been blogging madly away lately, with the tons of extra time at home we all seem to have these days (but I don't want to mention why we have this extra time, because I think we've all been hearing about/talking about the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating fallout more than enough).  Unfortunately, however, I have not been in much of a writing mood.

But I really do want to get back to keeping up with this poor neglected little site of mine.  So here's a lighthearted little post--mostly for me, I guess (as it falls under the category of "online scrapbook of Pearl family memories"), but maybe you'll enjoy it, too.

My self-chosen grandmother handle is "Grammy."  I thought this would be a cute variation of the "Grandma" title that my siblings and I used for both of our grandmothers growing up.  It took some of our grandchildren much longer to master my name than it did for them to call my husband "Papa," but I was in no rush.  And if in the process of trying to pronounce "Grammy" they had come up with an adorable alternative and it had stuck, I would have been totally on board with that.  But our verbally precocious oldest grandchildren, the twins (now almost 9), started out by calling me "Gra Gra," which eventually morphed into "Gray," and finally they were able to manage "Grammy."

Some of our other grandchildren have had trouble saying "Grammy" when they first began to talk, so I've answered to "Mammy" plenty of times.  "Mammy" didn't stick with any of them, however, once they were able to master the G-R sound.

But then our second-born's firstborn son, Junior (who is now 4), came up with his own unique variation: "Ree Ree."  And my son and his wife thought it was so cute that they all started calling me that. Now Junior's younger brother, Jedi, calls me "Ree Ree" as well, and I'm sure baby brother Topper will follow suit, once he gets more verbally inclined.

So of the four sons who have children, three of the families call me "Grammy" and one calls me "Ree Ree."  If you had told me this would happen ahead of time, I would have thought it very strange; but now, it just seems totally normal.  And I sort of like having both monikers.

I can't tell you how wonderful it's been to live so close to all the little people who call me by those two names (16 of them now, with two more on the way).  We are so glad we made this move to VA, where we could be a regular part of all their lives.  Trips to Grammy's/Ree Ree's house are fairly routine--or at least they were, pre-coronavirus.  Case in point: back in September of 2019, I got this text from Junior's mom.

Oh my goodness, is this the best or what?   She followed it up with, "Meanwhile he's in his underwear and doesn't know how to pedal."  (My girls are so funny, among their many other great qualities.)  That little guy can run away to Ree Ree's house anytime he wants--although he does live 50 minutes away, so it's probably not going to happen!

Junior is quite the host with the most, and one of the last times his parents had Papa and Ree Ree over for dinner, he made place cards for everyone so we'd know where to sit.

I especially like that he wanted me seated next to him at the table.  (Heart-eye emojis all over the place.)

I do believe I'm the most blessed (and perhaps only?) Ree Ree on the planet!  Life is good, my friends.  Even when the world seems to be falling apart around you, there is always a reason for joy.  In my case, make that 16-going-on-18 reasons.

Stay healthy, dear readers!  And believe that this will be over one day, and our lives will be filled once again with big family dinners!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Beating the Coronavirus Blues (through Art!)

I am aware that I am luckier than many during this difficult stay-at-home period, and for that I feel extremely grateful.  I am an incurable homebody, never happier than when I'm hanging out with my hubby in our home, which has always felt like a sanctuary to me during every stage of our almost 40-year marriage—from the first tiny, humble apartment we lived in as newlyweds to the sweet cookie cutter Colonial we inhabit now, in our empty-nesting golden years.  We’d almost always rather cook our own meals than eat out, so restaurant closings aren’t stressing us out much at all (other than the worry that so many of them will probably be put out of business if this goes on much longer).   I have a plethora of hobbies and interests to keep me occupied inside the cozy and comforting walls of my own house—reading novels, sewing, drawing and painting, blogging, working on DIY projects, Netflix binge-watching with my guy—and even cleaning (yes, I admit it: I actually like to clean my house!).   And I don’t need to constantly interact with lots of people—in fact, having “nothing” on my social schedule is usually right in my wheelhouse.  To quote my introverted youngest son and what he said of himself and his bride of less than a year, I, too am "eerily well-equipped for quarantine life."  

But it’s one thing to choose to stay at home, and quite another to be forced to—especially when you’re not sure when things will ever return to normal.  The stress caused by fear and uncertainty about the future can be oppressive at times.  When I need to “get away from it all” and chase the coronavirus blues away, nothing does the trick better than spending a few hours messing around with a blank piece of paper and some colored pencils.

During Holy Week, talented and well-known botanical artist Katrina Harrington (of @roseharringtonart) hosted a #prayandpaintwithRH challenge, with a different bloom for each day, chosen specifically for its timely and meaningful religious symbolism.  I didn't participate every day of that week; but I was able to get two drawings finished and posted to the Instagram hashtag link-up.

Here was Wednesday's offering, featuring a yellow flower called St. Johnswort:

Along with the above image, I wrote this: "I cannot feel anything but happy and peaceful when I break out my colored pencils and get the creative juices flowing.  I spent the last few hours in a state of near euphoria, forgetting all about the world's problems and focusing on creating this picture.  @katrinaharrington is a gifted botanical artist.  I am not!  (Obviously!)  But my first love has always been drawing and painting faces.  So along with this weak rendition of St. Johnswort, named after St. John the Baptist, is the face of one of my wee granddaughters (also a weak rendition, because her perfection cannot be duplicated by an amateur artist like her Grammy!).  St. Johnswort is also called Christ's Bloody Sweat, because the red ends of the many stamens of this flower resemble drops of blood."  (You learn so much about flowers, and all the beautiful religious symbolism attached to them, if you follow Katrina!)

On Easter, the chosen flower was--what else?--a Resurrection Lily, or an Easter Lily.  I was not able to complete my artwork in time for the link-up on Sunday, so I posted it on Easter Monday:

Here's part of what I wrote to go along with this colored pencil drawing: "Here is my best effort at a Resurrection Lily, a beautiful bloom that symbolizes Our Lord's triumphant victory over death (alleluia!); and because I can't seem to create any piece of artwork that does not include a face, it is paired with a drawing of a baby that was inspired by one of my precious grandsons on the day of his Baptism.  It seemed fitting to show a tiny Christian on the day he was reborn through the sacrament and made a member of Christ's mystical Body alongside a flower that is  symbol of Christ's glorious Resurrection from the dead, by which we were saved and given the hope of eternal life with Him in Heaven."  Then I thanked Katrina for her #prayandpaintwithRH challenge, which in my case turned out to be "a true balm for the soul."

Holy Week is over, but I still feel like drawing babies and flowers, two of God's most glorious creations...so perhaps this will continue to be my way of finding peace and joy, until the worst of this current crisis is past, our churches are reopened, and life starts to make sense again.  

I hope you have a lot of babies, and a lot of flowers in your life...because they can both really help beat the coronavirus blues, can't they?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Easter 2020: Mass at Home (Plus a Special Blessing)

Easter 2020...it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

In so many ways, the whole lockdown, or quarantine, or stay-at-home order (whichever you prefer to call this strange situation that is life in America these days) under which we've all been living has given families the opportunity for a kind of togetherness that they were never able to enjoy before.  Many parents are tele-working from home rather than leaving in the morning to drive or commute to their offices, and while this can create challenges as far as work productivity, I'm sure, it also means a lot more time spent at home with their offspring.  And children whose schools have been closed--possibly, in many states, even for the rest of the academic year--are being homeschooled by their parents or are participating in some sort of distance learning on their computers, or a combination of the two; I'll bet there are many parents who used to declare "I am not the type who can homeschool!" who have learned that in an emergency, they can, and they are better at it than they thought they were.

With everyone stuck at home--goodbye movie theaters, sporting events, concerts, and even play dates at the local park!--thank goodness there are all sorts of video streaming services available to us in our high-tech age to help fight off the homebound boredom!  There's always Netflix or Disney Plus to keep the troops entertained...but one cannot live by screen alone, and I've heard that giant jigsaw puzzles and good old-fashioned board games are being employed by families more than ever before in the past month or so, as the weeks stretch on and there doesn't appear to be a definite end in sight (although, God willing, there will be soon).

So there is some good to be found in these times.   There is always some good, however small, if you really look for it.

But there's also much bad.  No one wants to be forced to homeschool; that should be a choice parents make after much research and discernment.  No senior should have to miss out on prom, graduation, and a host of other social activities that are part and parcel of every high school kid's regular life in these United States (or at least were).  Working from home isn't always easy, and for some (maybe most), it isn't even an option.  Many Americans are currently jobless, and countless businesses will probably not survive the shutdown.

And the right to assemble, so long taken for granted by us all, has been stripped away because of an invisible enemy with the power to take life--but about which even the scientific experts cannot come to a unanimous agreement.  While they decide the best way to fight it, we stay locked in our houses...

Yes, there is also much bad.  And you don't even have to look that hard for it.

But I was going to talk about Easter, before I went off on that tangent.  Easter 2020, the best and the worst of it.

The worst, of course, was not being able to attend Mass or to receive Our Lord's precious Body and Blood.  And that was a uniquely painful experience for those of us Catholics who have never been denied the freedom to practice our Faith openly and regularly, without a care in the world.  Yes, it was painful.  But it was also an opportunity to embrace Christ's Cross in an intimate way during the season of Lent, and to grow closer to Him through prayer.  It seems we are always closest to God during the times in our life when we suffer most.

A dear friend from high school emailed me after my last post (when she found herself unable to leave a comment here at the blog).  Her mother was one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met, a devout Catholic woman whom I always considered to be a living saint.  It's obvious that when it comes to her daughter, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  My friend wrote the most touching letter, first remarking that when she read that post, she sensed "a feeling of sadness and maybe some powerlessness" on my part, regarding the closure of our VA churches.  (I misspoke in that post, by the way; our bishop did actually tell the churches in the diocese to stop having public Masses before the governor's mandated closures of all "nonessential" businesses and meeting places were announced.  So I'm sorry for giving a false impression there.)  She then proceeded to tell me about some of the positive things that had happened in her faith life, in spite of the disappointments caused by all the closures and cancellations.  "For the veneration of the cross on Good Friday," she wrote, "I chose to use a small comfort cross that belonged to my late mother.  Instead of kneeling before it as I would have in church and probably should have done here at home, I held it to my heart with both hands and felt closer to the crucified Christ than I ever have before."  She also related how she'd begun new daily prayer devotions, even though "sitting quietly and clearing the thoughts racing through my brain" is not her strength.  "I'm sure I'll struggle with that again, but, at least for now, I will work hard to continue this practice in my home church."  Her home church.

I can absolutely relate to this friend's experience.  Never before have I felt as deeply and surely that the home my husband and I have created is truly a "domestic church."  And as sad and strange as this time of quarantine has been, in some ways it has made me grow in my Faith in ways I never could have imagined.  Because of the fact that I have to try so much harder to be intentional about living sacramentally these days, when the Sacraments are not available to me, I sometimes feel closer to Our Lord than ever.

Has this happened to you?  If so, leave me a comment below.  I would love to know if you also feel that when this whole scary episode is behind us, you believe you will love the Lord, and the Mass, with a renewed zeal--a zeal so intense that it feels as if your heart will burst.

I did post a picture on Instagram on Easter Sunday, with my husband and me all decked out in our Sunday Best attire for our at-home Mass (live-streamed from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, which has been the "home parish" where we've chosen to "attend" 10:00 a.m. Sunday Masses during most of the lockdown).

As I shared over on the 'gram, my husband's Sunday Best included one of his iconic ties with pictures of his grandchildren on them.  For me, it included a fascinator hat that I purchased about seven years ago on a shopping trip with one girl who I knew would soon be my daughter-in-law (and another who ended up being one of them, too--although none of us could have predicted that at the time!).  I have chickened out of wearing this fancy little headpiece for four different sons' weddings in the intervening years...but I finally found a congregation small enough (just the two of us!) that I could wear it to "church" without feeling self-conscious.  I figured that since this was about the most unusual Easter Sunday I'd ever experienced in my lifetime, sporting a special Easter bonnet was in order.

In our family room, we've set up an "altar" on the mantle, with my first-class relics of  St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Catherine Laboure (both precious heirlooms inherited from my maternal grandmother), a small pair of crucifixes, a small reproduction of the Pieta, two lit pillar candles, and some saint prayer cards on display.  Even when all the Catholic church doors are opened wide once again, I don't know if I'm going to be able to dismantle that mantle.

It was a very different sort of Easter for the faithful this year, no doubt about it.  But as the Notre Dame priest reminded us in his homily that day, the Cross and the Resurrection are unbreakably intertwined; without one, there would not be the other.  So we just need to keep bearing the weight of this suffering that we didn't choose but have been forced to carry as best we can, knowing that there will one day be a glorious reward unlike anything we can imagine.  So in spite of all the reasons to be sad, given the current situation, I felt a real joy in my heart on Easter morning.  I felt keenly and humbly aware of my many blessings.  And I wanted my Easter finery to show on the outside all that I was feeling on the inside--thus the famous long-hidden-away fascinator!

At 2:00 p.m., our local VA parish had a drive-through blessing, so we headed over to join the line-up of cars in the church parking lot.  One by one we drove by our wonderful pastor, an extremely holy priest who must be missing ministering to his flock in person terribly, and he sprinkled us with holy water through our open windows as we drove past him.  He shouted the most enthusiastic Easter blessings, with a beaming smile on his face.  He tends to be a relatively shy priest, whose usual demeanor might be called "serious"; so his utterly joy-filled expression as he greeted his parishioners was both touching and inspiring and made me think, "Yes, that's right!  We ARE an Easter people, and alleluia IS our song!"  There is really no room for sadness, is there?  No matter what may come in the wake of this pandemic.  Jesus died for our sins, and now He is risen; and if we put our trust in Him, all will be well in the end.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Faith!  Thank you for a husband who has been the perfect partner for me and the best father for our boys!  Thank you for all my undeserved blessings, too many to count!  Thank you for my life, dear Lord, and thank you for giving yours for me, a poor sinner, so that I have the hope of spending eternal life with you in Heaven!

Easter 2020: it was the worst of times.  But as always, it was also the best.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

From Our House to Yours (From a Safe Social Distance, of Course!)

I feel a coughing fit coming on, but rest assured it isn't being caused by the coronavirus; I'm just choking on the dust here at the old blog, which has been sitting on the shelf, utterly neglected, since March 7.  When I first decided to dip my toes into the then-overcrowded pool of daily bloggers back in March of 2011, I woke up itching to write every morning and could not have conceived of a time when I could go over a month without posting. But nine years later...well, things have changed.

Now there's an understatement for you!

So. Much. Has. Changed.

My last post on March 7 was about something so frivolous, in light of current events: it was about setting my table with my beloved blue-and-white transferware dishes.  (And about how much I love setting said table for big, extended family dinners--remember those?)  At the time, I was meal planning for a Pearl family St. Patrick's Day party at Papa and Grammy's house, with our four grown sons who live nearby and their growing broods.  But then we were told to begin the process of social distancing and were advised to gather in groups of no more than 10.

So a get-together that was going to include 10 adults and 16 young children did not happen; and our St. Patty's extravaganza ended up looking like this (as in corned beef and cabbage for two).

Luckily, that Irishman up there is my favorite human; so if I have to be quarantined inside my home with anyone, at least it's with him.  (He is an essential worker; but since he flies exclusively internationally, all of his flights have been cancelled for over a month now and he's been hanging out with yours truly.)   Things could most definitely be worse.

So, what happened?  (I realize, dear readers, that you know very well what happened; I'm just asking that rhetorical question so I can get the answer written down for my future self with my future old age memory loss, and for posterity.)  In a nutshell: a virus was globally unleashed, the world reacted with unprecedented fear, and one by one, the freedoms granted to Americans in the United States Constitution began to disappear with breakneck speed.  Worst of all: no gathering in churches.  No Mass.  No Eucharist. Lent 2020: it was the Lentiest Lent we ever Lented.  (I can't take credit for that line; I saw it somewhere in my online travels--over on Instagram, I think.)

I am not going to tell you my innermost thoughts on all of this, because that's one surefire way to draw the ire of some.  Lines have been drawn, people are taking sides, neighbors have turned against one another.  I won't get into it except to say that I do believe with all my heart that God can make good come out of bad, and I am holding on to the hope that before too long, life will look normal again.  Maybe God knew we were getting too complacent...I doubt that I will ever take the Mass or the Eucharist for granted again, once this is all over, I can tell you that.

I have not been able to make myself blog about this terrifying and soul-aching era of the coronavirus pandemic, though; at a time when so many people are writing very deep and moving pieces about how this difficult situation has strengthened them in their Faith and reminded them to lean on God and trust in His endless love and mercy, I find I have the most monumental writer's block.  I think this is the reason I've stayed away from my blog throughout this crisis.  I can't really write about it.  I can't.  I've put together a few brief Instagram posts, but just haven't had the heart to go into it too much.  My mind and heart are so full right now, I would find it overwhelming to try to figure out how to put my thoughts into words.

But pictures--they're worth a thousand words.  (Or so I've heard.)  So I thought I'd do a little Lent 2020 photo dump.  Because someday, this crazy season filled with so many crosses that we could have never imagined we'd have to carry will be a faded memory that seems like a bad dream (I hope so anyway!), and I want to remember that it really happened.

So without further ado--

Who will ever be able to forget the great toilet paper shortage of 2020?

(Really?  Toilet paper?  When intestinal distress is not even a symptom of the virus?)

Or how about Mass at home, live-streamed on the television?

We "attended" the 10:00 a.m. Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the University of Notre Dame campus every Sunday, after our local parish church had to close its doors by order of the governor of VA.  We set up our mantle like an altar, dressed in our Sunday best, and tried to make it as holy an experience as possible.  But it made me tear up each and every week.

And aside from the churches, who could forget all the other closings...

so many closings!

Schools closed for the remainder of the year!  No going to the movies, to sporting events, to restaurants!  In some states, even, no visiting from house to house, even amongst family members... [Insert a shocked face emoji, here, followed by a crying face emoji.]

At least we can still shop for groceries and other essentials.  Masks are encouraged when you're out and about--but of course, like toilet paper, they are a precious and hard-to-find commodity.  To help out until more can be manufactured and distributed, seamstresses are encouraged to make them at home (but good luck finding elastic anywhere!  In a pinch, hairbands will do the trick!).

So here's another Lent 2020/coronavirus memory of mine...

making masks
(to donate to local EMT's and nurses, as well as family members who need them for work).

I suppose it's fortunate that we live in the Internet age during this strange era where we are all staying inside our own homes and not able to get together with our loved ones.   I don't think any of us will ever forget

the Zoom happy hours with family!

If you don't laugh, you'll certainly cry...so in times of crisis, sometimes you just have to try to see the humor in things.  One thing there hasn't been a shortage of during this strange time (thank you, Iinternet!) is

funny memes! :)

(That should say masks, not mask; yes, I am the typo police--even when it
comes to humorous Internet memes.)

You know, on that positive note, I think I'll end this post.  But I'll be back soon--maybe even tomorrow--to show you how my husband and I managed to make our Easter special, in spite of having to watch the Mass on TV and being denied the opportunity to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  And I'll also be back to show you what I've been doing lately to help chase away the blues when the weight of the world's problems becomes too oppressive to bear.

Aside from praying, that is!  Because my hubby and I have a busier prayer life than ever these days--the list of prayers we say after our daily Rosary is ever-growing. We have so many perpetual novenas going, among them this one to of all people, St. Corona.

St. Corona--Patron saint of plagues and pandemics.  (!!)

God bless you all with health and peace, until next time (which will hopefully be a lot less than a month from now!).

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Refelctions on "Theology of Home" (#3): Setting the Table with Blue-and-White Transferware

Sometimes, I have an interior battle over THINGS.

I mean, I know that we're not supposed to love things--clothes, electronics, jewelry, household furnishings, knicknacks--too much, because they are of this world.  And as the saying goes regarding all the material possessions we accumulate in our relatively short lives here on earth, when our time comes to meet our Maker and begin our eternal lives (hopefully with Him!)--"You can't take it with you!"  None of it will be the least bit important in the hereafter.  Most of our stuff, quite honestly, will end up at Goodwill after our children have taken the few items they might actually want for their own households.

I know this, I do; and I want to become completely detached when it comes to things.  I want to give up any and all feelings of attachment I feel toward the "have to have's" that I've been collecting over the course of my 60-plus years on the planet.  I'm not there yet, and I dearly hope I'll get there in time.  But I'm working on it.  For instance, I popped into TJ Maxx yesterday and during the 20 minutes I was in the store I picked up four or five different decorative items that caught my fancy and then talked myself out of them and put them back.

They had the sweetest little porcelain candy bowls, with little bunnies perched on the side, some of them frozen in the act of climbing in.  I picked up two of these bowls, thinking that when my family comes for Easter brunch, one would hold chocolate eggs and the other jelly beans.  After all, they were only $4.99 apiece!  Why shouldn't I get them?  Then I paused and thought of all the pretty candy bowls I already have at home.  (None of them have climbing bunny rabbits on them, but they will certainly do for holding Easter candy!)  And I put those adorable little bowls back on the shelf.

Lest you think I'm bragging about my ability to walk away from the home décor aisle of TJ Maxx with nothing in my shopping cart, I have to be completely honest: I'm still thinking about those bowls, and it's not out of the realm of possibility that I'll be heading back to the store soon, hoping that there are still some left.

As I said, I battle.  Sometimes I win, but often I lose.

One of my biggest weaknesses over the years has been for blue-and-white transferware dishes made in England.  My love affair with blue-and-white started back in the early 90's, when my mother-in-law (who loved dishes and tableware like nobody's business) gave me 10 dinner plates she'd gotten years earlier at of all places the grocery store, which was running a special (spend X amount of dollars and get a plate for X).  These plates purchased by Mom for a mere pittance, emblazoned with a Colonial-era scene depicting Independence Hall, are now a collector's item.

My mother-in-law got me started with 10 of these beauties.

I was hooked.  And I started keeping my eyes open for inexpensive blue-and-white pieces to add to my collection at places like TJ Maxx and thrift stores.

Over the course of a few years, I found 15 of these at TJ Maxx, each for between $3.50 and $5.
I LOVE that they depict Ireland's Blarney Castle!

More TJ Maxx treasures, collected for a few dollars apiece over a number of years.  I think it's
fun mixing and matching the different patterns.

A thrift store find.

Some years ago, I was able to accompany my husband on a working trip to Amsterdam. 
So when I found this platter with its quaint Dutch scene at a second-hand store, it was hard
to resist.  (And I didn't resist!)

I feel like blue-and-white always looks good, no matter what the occasion.  At Thanksgiving, I add orange napkins; at Christmas, I use red and green.  I so enjoy setting my dining room table with these well-loved dishes.  They are just so pretty, but also so durable and affordable.  (And I know I have a lot of plates!  But we have a lot of people in our family now!  So they are getting used.  Often.)

Not all of my blue-and-white transferware makes it onto the table; some of it is for decoration only.  We are a Notre Dame family, so when I found a transferware plate dedicated to that beautiful campus on eBay, I had to have it.  My baby sister knows about my obsession, so when she and her husband were visiting Jefferson's Monticello, she got me a souvenir plate from the gift shop.  We live in VA now, so this iconic image has even more meaning for me.  These two very special plates hang on one of the walls of our dining room.

Just when I thought I had better put the kibosh on collecting blue-and-white china--I mean how much does one gal need?--my husband surprised me this past Christmas with possibly the coolest platter in existence.

It appears to have a typical Blue Willow pattern, but look closely...

BTW: This is not a sponsored post; but if you're interested in blue-and-white dishes with
all kinds of whimsical creatures on them, check out calamityware.com

My husband got just the reaction he'd hoped for when I opened the box and oohed and aahed about how pretty the platter was--but then laughed and exclaimed with delight a few seconds later when I realized it had DINOSAURS on it!  It totally took me by surprise.

That guy knows me, that's for sure.  Our boys were absolutely obsessed with dinosaurs when they were little fellas (actually, they kind of still are!).  To have found a platter that combines blue-and-white transferware with images of those prehistoric beasts is to have found the perfect blend of beauty and whimsy--both of which make my heart extremely happy.

Should dishes make me happy?  Maybe not; after all, they are just things.  But maybe the reason they do make me happy is that, for me, they are so much more than just plates, cups, and platters.  They symbolize hospitality, because I use them whenever we have guests for dinner.  They symbolize serving my family whenever we gather for special occasions.  They symbolize holidays spent together with my favorite people on earth.  It is not necessarily sinful to find joy in the things we use to set a beautiful table, as long as we don't make an idol of them.

I love this quote from page 121 of Theology of Home: "A life seeking God above all else is a reflection of a deeper, more profound order within the soul, an order that frees us of distraction and attachment so that we might strive with constancy for God.  In giving us a desire to live beautifully--in the humble garden clippings adorning our tables, in items arranged on a shelf with care and consideration--even in these quiet ways, he invites us to closely participate in his very essence which is beauty itself. (Emphasis added with italics is mine.  And I would add to the part about garden clippings and items on a shelf, "in the setting of a table with blue-and-white dishes.")

On that same page of the book, the great C.S. Lewis is quoted: "These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited." 

And that right there is the theme running through Theology of Home: we create earthly homes with as much comfort, beauty, light, warmth, peace, and security within their walls as we can, and we do this to make of them a foretaste of our final home in Heaven, the home for which we are always yearning ("the country we have never visited," as Lewis calls it), whether we are aware of it or not.

When I set my table with my beloved blue-and-white, it is not really the dishes themselves that I love.  They are beautiful, indeed, and just looking at them fills me with pleasure.  But what really makes them so special to me is what I am reminded of when I see them: memories of the times that our family or friends have been gathered at our table, talking and laughing and sharing a meal.  I hope that when our children and grandchildren look at them, they have that same association.

I have just one more reference from Theology of Home before I wrap this up: on page 84, the authors quote J.R.R. Tolkein: "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world."

Perhaps there are worse things to collect, after all, than the blue-and-white transferware dishes that have graced our table for so many food-filled, cheer-filled celebrations over the years.  I hope they have made it a merrier world for the most important people in my life--a world that is not only merrier but also gives them a glimpse of what the next one will be like, when they're back home with God.

My dear late mother-in-law had 8 kids and 32 grandkids; we have 5 kids and 16 grandkids (so far).  I wonder if the desire to amass a huge collection of dishes kind of goes along with the territory when your family is so big...just a thought.  (Or a justification?  LOL)

Happy weekend, dear readers!  I hope yours is filled with food, cheer, and song!

Friday, February 28, 2020

Speaking of Fatima...Meet Someone Who Knows a Whole Lot about the Subject!

I mentioned Fatima briefly in yesterday's post, and it got me thinking about something extraordinary that happened way back in October of 2019.  It was the kind of thing I would have blogged about the very next day if it had happened in 2012 or 2013, when I was ablaze with blogging energy and pretty much posting daily here at String of Pearls.  But I haven't been on top of my blogging game for quite some time now, so I never got a post about it written up.  I never even shared it on Instagram.  It felt too important, in a way, to share lightly.

Am I making you curious about what in the world this event could possibly have been?

Well, here's the story.  One night in October, our daughter-in-law Ginger (wife of son #2) invited my husband and me to join the two of them for dinner at a restaurant near their home, and then to see the newly released Downton Abbey movie afterward.  They were going to be treating a couple of very special women who were visiting from Portugal to a dinner-and-a-movie night out, American-style, and they wanted to include us.  Aside from the two Portuguese women who were houseguests of Ginger's folks, a kind and humorous young priest, another friend of Ginger's family, was going to come along, too.

You're not going to believe this, but the special guests were two nuns...from Fatima!  One of them, Sr. Angela de Fatima Coelho, is very close to Ginger's family, and she'd made the trip (along with a sweet young postulant from her order) in part to visit them and to be present for the Baptism of Ginger's younger brother's new baby, for whom she'd been chosen as godmother.  While in the States, Sr. Angela was also slated to give some talks; because, you see, this incredible and holy woman actually plays a very important role in spreading the message of Fatima around the world.  She was nominated in 2009 to become the postulator for the cause of the canonization of then-Blesseds Jacinta and Fransisco Marto (who were named saints on May 13, 2017 by Pope Francis).  And she is currently the vice-postulator for the cause of the beatification of the third and last Fatima visionary, Lucia de Jesus dos Santos.  As if that work--along with the ordinary work of her religious order, the Congregation of the Alliance of Holy Mary--isn't enough, this amazing woman is a practicing medical doctor as well.

You might assume, with her consecrated status and all the lofty positions she holds, that this lovely young nun would come across as very serious, that she would be a rather intimidating person to meet, that she might act holier-than-thou and not be all that interested in ordinary chit-chat; but I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.  I have rarely met a funnier, more engaging, more delightful person in my life.  She simply exudes joy!  We talked easily and laughed often throughout the meal.  Sr. Angela speaks accented English fluently, and she was so interested in asking my husband and me about our lives and our family.  She talked about her own life and her work (which includes an overwhelming amount of exhaustive research) with humility, passion, and humor.  She was as down-to-earth as they come, in spite of the monumentally important work she has taken on, work that is so vital to our Catholic Faith.  I just adored her from our first hello, and felt that I was in the presence of someone who is closer to God than most of us mortals.  What a privilege it was to spend that time with her!

The young postulant who accompanied Sr. Angela was shyer and did not speak much English; but she, too, seemed to be just about as good as they come.

Before we parted for the night in the parking lot of the movie theater, Sr. Angela gave my husband and me some holy cards with pictures of the Three Seers of Fatima on them.

And then I reached into my purse to show her something that I always carry around with me: a relic card with a picture of St. Jacinta on it, which was a gift many years ago from a fellow football mom at our sons' high school.  (She'd made a trip to Fatima and said that when she was there she thought of me, because she knew how much I'd have loved it. I don't believe I've ever received a better compliment--or a sweeter souvenir.)

Sr. Angela's face lit up with excitement when I showed her my holy card, as you can see in this photo.

I felt my eyes welling up with tears as my husband and I parted from the group and headed across the parking lot to our car.  As I said, I felt very much as if I'd just been in the presence of someone very close to God--a woman who will probably be a saint herself someday.  It was a very emotional experience for me.

I probably should have explained this at the beginning of this post, but the reason Sr. Angela knows Ginger's family so well is that Ginger's dad has had a deep devotion to Fatima for many years.  He plans and organizes annual trips over there, where he takes on the role of leader to groups of pilgrims.  Fatima is like a second home to him, and he knows many of the priests and nuns who live and work there.  My husband and I affectionately call him "the Mayor of Fatima," and we are in awe of  his dedication to the cause of spreading the message Mary imparted to three young children there in 1917.  In a way, he is doing the same kind of work that Sr. Angela is doing.  And I can only imagine how pleased Mary's Son is with him for his efforts.  May God bless him in this important ministry!

If you'd like to learn more about Sr. Angela and her work, you can read about her here, here, and here. (I guess you can Google her name on your own if you're interested, so I'll stop there.)

God bless dear Sr. Angela de Fatima Coelho in her work.  And Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us!