Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Birthday Post, Part I: The Brown Bear Boy

In an effort to play catch-up on the blog, I wanted to honor all the people in my family who've celebrated birthdays recently.  What's kind of amazing is that there are three very important women in my life--my mother, one of my younger sisters, and my daughter-in-law Regina (the wife of son #1)--who were all born on Sept. 30.  They are three extraordinary dark-haired beauties--beautiful both inside and out.  Then there's our precious grandson G-Man, who turned one on Oct. 5. 

I was going to write one long Birthday Post today, but instead I thought I'd make it a two-parter.  (You people have lives, I know!)  So here's Part I, dedicated to the "Brown Bear Boy"; and tomorrow comes Part II: "Beautiful Brunettes"!

I'm going to give you mostly pictures, because G-Man's mommy, Preciosa, said it best in this beautifully written, ineffably touching tribute she posted on her Facebook page on Monday night, in honor of her son's first birthday:
October 5, 2014: The day this sweet face entered this world and turned a couple of newlyweds (married just 10 short months) into parents. There are so many words I could use to describe this year, but the one that stands out the most is gratitude. Gratitude for this life, that I did nothing to deserve, but was gifted to me by a God, whom I could never repay. Gratitude for stretching me to love until it hurts; stretching me to love someone more purely than I have ever been of loving anyone before. Gratitude for the tough lessons learned and the late sleepless nights that so many would-be parents wish they could have with a child of their own but for one reason or another, are not able to have. Gratitude for the ways my life has been put into perspective, because nothing else matters when you are worried about the health and well being of your sweet baby. Gratitude for the father I have been able to watch my husband develop into; who works tirelessly as a hands on dad, who is so quick to lighten my load when my days seems endless or overwhelming. Lastly, gratitude for the village it takes to raise a child, and the amazing parents we have been blessed with who have done everything in their power to be active and self sacrificing grandparents to love on this new soul. Our cups runneth over.

While you grab a hanky, dab at your eyes, and remind yourself of how precious your own children are to you, I'll continue on here with a photo montage from the little guy's birthday extravaganza, a Brown Bear-themed party (because Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is his all-time favorite read-aloud book).  The celebration came a few days before his actual birthday, so that both sets of grandparents could travel to VA to attend it.
G-Man's other grandmother, known as NuNu, thought of every possible bell and whistle that was needed to make this affair the birthday party to beat all birthday parties.  It was because of her efforts that the community center where it was held looked like this, once it was all set up and we were waiting for G-Man's guests to arrive.  (If she decides to start a party planning business, she'll be a smashing success.)
NuNu made the sugar cookie party favors, decorated with fondant
animal toppers from Etsy--and they looked just like the animals in the book!
Grammy was asked to make a personal-sized round "smash cake" for G-Man to attack and a large sheet cake for the rest of the guests; to top them off, NuNu had ordered custom-made fondant Brown Bears and lettering from Etsy, so that the sheet cake looked just like a page from Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
See that Brown Bear material used as a tablecloth here?  NuNu managed
to find that online, too--and G-Man was utterly taken with it.  He kept
crawling over to it and trying to touch it.

There were chocolate Teddy Grahams and goldfish crackers
 (because, you know, in the book, Brown Bear sees a goldfish looking at him--
among other things). There were also fuzzy teddy bear ears for the
little ones to wear, handmade by NuNu.
G-Man's mommy decorated his high chair.
She also custom-made the two t-shirts he wore at his party, one before the cake eating, and one after.
The birthday boy liked his "smash cake," but was a little hesitant to really dig into it.  At first, he kept looking at his mom as if to say, "I don't know about this.  Is it okay if I eat this?"
But with a little encouragement, he got over it and proved that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, when it comes to yellow cake with buttercream frosting.
My favorite part of the whole event was watching our middle son read from his little boy's favorite Brown Bear books, with G-Man on his lap and the other little partygoers gathered around him in a circle.
The wee man of the hour had both sets of doting grandparents on hand to celebrate this milestone birthday.
Papi and NuNu.

Papa and Grammy.
How fortunate my husband and I are that we could be there to celebrate the first birthday of our "favorite grandson" (who shall remain the favorite until Papa and Grammy have more than one grandson!).  It was certainly a day to remember.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #10): Catholic Mom Article

I am WOEFULLY behind when it comes to keeping up with this blog.  Life on the road is not conducive to blogging, I've decided.  And this travelin' Grammy has been on the road a lot lately (but what's new about that?!).

If String of Pearls is to be a well-kept eScrapbook that chronicles my family's important life events (which is one of the main reasons I started it in the first place), I have to do a better job of covering those events! There were some very important birthdays in our family on Sept. 30, and another important one yesterday; and I have plans for a birthday post of epic proportions (truly, it will be epic--wait until you see it!). 

But that birthday extravaganza is going to have to wait until tomorrow; because another thing I'm behind on is my online book club, Grace-filled Tuesdays.  I'm not sure it has any members, besides the usual suspects (hi, husband!) who check in here religiously, but I'm determined to keep up with it nonetheless!  For aside from cataloguing my family's memories, this blog is also one of the few marketing weapons I have in my arsenal; and I feel I have a duty to try to get the word out about my two Catholic novels, Finding Grace and Erin's Ring.
I still sometimes can't believe that I was able to get those two books written, and that they were actually published.  I am well aware that those things wouldn't have happened if God hadn't meant them to.  And because both of my Catholic YA novels show the beauty of the Faith and give glory to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother, I believe they can be a positive influence in the lives of young readers.  But they can only do good in the world if people know they exist.  So as much as promoting my own work goes against the shy and introverted grain of my God-given personality, I am here today to humbly implore you to help me spread the word about Finding Grace and Erin's Ring.

Did you know that Erin's Ring wouldn't have ever seen the light of day if the president of Bezalel Books, Cheryl Dickow, hadn't approached me with the offer to write a second YA novel for her company?  It was not a book I intended to write; I had decided that I was probably a one book wonder (and I use the term loosely, because "wonder" implies that my first novel, Finding Grace, was a monster hit that earned me fame and fortune, which is certainly not the case!).  But God had other plans for me.

If you're interested in learning more about how Erin's Ring came to be, on Sept. 25 the folks at posted a short article I submitted in the "Book Notes" section of their website. Here's a link to that article if you're interested.
Erin's Ring is tailor-made for Catholic classrooms (there's even a glossary in the back!).  Just ask these happy campers, a group of Chicago fourth-graders I had the pleasure to meet last May.
Perhaps your Catholic school or homeschool would like to add this sweet historical novel to its reading, history, or religion curriculum, too.  Depending on the time and the distance, I might even be persuaded to come and talk to the kids.  (Gulp!  Yes, I just volunteered to speak in public...)

Now before I go, I want to announce a giveaway.  Leave me a comment by Oct. 31, and you could win a free signed copy of Erin's Ring.

Meeting adjourned!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Blogging about the Shower, While I Wait for My Flight

Here's a post I started writing on Sunday, determined to get it up on the blog post haste...and yes, it's now Wednesday, so obviously that grand plan fell through the cracks.  My husband and I left for Upstate NY on Monday, to get some work done at our Oyster Haven VRBO house.  That's where I am now.  And I've been so busy that I've been like, "Blog?  What blog?"

So  anyway, here's that post that's been sitting there on my blogging dashboard unfinished, waiting for its close-up.  (I think I was going to add more pictures, but I'm posting this before another three days goes by!)

[Sunday afternoon]
Well, I'm stuck in the airport in NYC, awaiting a flight that has been delayed more than an hour.  I can't really go anywhere or do anything; so this is a perfect time for me to catch up on my blogging.  I have some complimentary free WiFi at my disposal, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to write a post for my somewhat neglected String of Pearls.

I am on my way back home from a weekend trip to Northern VA, where I attended the baby shower of son #2's wife Ginger.  It's always a crap shoot flying on non-revenue stand-by passes, but the trip down to VA went like clockwork.  However, the return trip--not so much!  When I arrived in NY from DC today, there were some complications (baggage issues, having to wait for a shuttle bus between terminals, etc.).  So I ended up missing my connecting flight to Boston.  And now the next flight heading there is going to be late getting out of here.

Anyhoo--I'm such a slacker lately as far as this blog goes.  So I thought I'd use this unexpected "free time" I have today to share some pictures from the shower.  It was an all-gal affair, hosted by my daughter-in-law's sweet mother at her lovely home--well, not quite an all-gal affair, I guess: there was also one bearded guest, who happens to be the father of the soon-to-be-born little Pearl.  He was a great sport and seemed to really enjoy himself, charming all the ladies with his typical easygoing humor and deep, pleasing laugh.  (Not biased about my boy here; no not at all.)

Okay then, here are some images from a beautiful event, which I was quite privileged to be able to attend--and I'd do it again any day of the week, even if it meant being stuck in an airport for hours afterward.  It was so, SO worth it.

Don't we look like twins?

Ginger and her older sister, who is expecting her 6th at around the same time.

Selfie time with Preciosa and Braveheart.

The only one missing is my sweet Regina.

The soon-to-be first time parents!  Adorable!

My son dealt with being the only male at the shower by
harkening back to his boyhood days and building a fort
out of the gift pile.

One-of-a-kind onesies, made by Preciosa.

I love this boy!  And he's going to be a great dad.
Today (the 30th) is a very special day--because it's the birthday of my mother (she's turning 80!), and also one of my sisters and my daughter-in-law Regina.  The Happy Birthday post is going to have to wait until tomorrow...because right now, we have to head back over to Oyster Haven and assemble bed frames!  But stay tuned...

Friday, September 25, 2015

Catching Up, Between Trips

Well, I'm on a bus to the airport.  I'll be boarding a flight to DC in a little while, because my #2 son's wife Ginger, who is expecting their first child in November, is going to be the guest of honor at a baby shower tomorrow and I'm heading down to spend the weekend with her and my boy.  I haven't missed any of the wedding or baby showers for my daughters-in-law yet, and I wouldn't miss this one for the world.

Not even a year ago, Ginger was a radiant bride.
And soon, she's going to become a mother.  For years, Ginger has devoted herself completely to her kindergarten students, but now she is going to devote herself to a wee one of her own.  She is on a cloud.

I am so fortunate that my husband's job affords me the luxury to travel to such wonderful family events using non-revenue stand-by tickets.  I'm sure I would have to miss some of them if not for him.

So, I haven't been here at String of Pearls in a while.  I believe the last time I blogged (on my daughter-in-law Preciosa's birthday six days ago), I had just returned from travels that included back-to-back Notre Dame football game weekends, the first one in South Bend, IN, and the next one in Charlottesville, VA.  It was fun but exhausting.  Finally, I was back home in NH, glad to be sleeping in my own bed again and puttering around my own house...but when my husband went on a trip a few days later and I was alone in that house, I started to wonder if I belonged there anymore.

I love my home here.  It has 100 percent happy memories for me.  It's where my husband and I raised our five boys, where they lived while they went through grade school and high school.  It's the nest they returned to on their breaks from college.  For so many years, my life here was full and busy, and I had many friends who were going through the same life stages as I was.  I saw the parents of my son's buddies on a regular basis, at football and lacrosse games or at team spaghetti dinners.

But now that my husband and I are almost constantly on the road, off visiting with our kids and grandkids (none of whom live close to their childhood home), we don't really have time to keep up with our old friendships.  Lately, it seems that we only stop in at our house to catch up on the mail we've had held while we've been away, and to make sure the place is still standing.

So I was driving to the post office one day last week, while my husband was away, thinking about all of this and getting really sad.  "Where are my people?" I thought.  "I have no people."  But then I pulled into the post office parking lot and saw one of my oldest and dearest Dover friends.  We hugged, and then I told her that she couldn't know how perfect it was that I'd run into her at just that moment, when I was feeling so lost and alone.  We made plans to meet for coffee the very next morning, at a local bakery in downtown Dover where we used to meet periodically when my baby and her son were besties in grade school.

We had our coffee and breakfast--her treat, a belated birthday gift to me--at an outside table on the sidewalk, on an absolutely glorious, sunshiny day.  We caught up as much as we could before she had to run to work.  She is the kind of friend I could meet up with after years spent apart and feel as if no time had passed.  It was blissful.
This friend is Irish through and through--I think she bleeds green.  Her Irish family tree has branches all over this town, and her family's roots here go way back--maybe not back as far as the events that I wrote about in Erin's Ring; but her relatives play an important role in Dover's Irish history.

A few hours after our meeting, I stopped by my friend's office to give her a belated birthday gift, too: a copy of Erin's Ring.  If anyone could appreciate the subject matter in this book, it's this woman!
It's good to know that I do still have people--like this friend--here; but with all the changes in my family over the past few years, it is also getting easier to imagine someday retiring to Oyster Haven, that house on the lake in Upstate NY that my husband and I recently bought and intend to use as a vacation rental property for now.  I popped up there for two days while my husband was at work. I painted the foyer and scrubbed every inch of the kitchen; I put dishes away and hung pictures.  There's still much to do, but the kitchen is almost all set up.  We just need to get a few more gadgets and utensils, and it'll be ready to go.

You guys...the kitchen there is TO DIE FOR!  Check it out.
I mean, there are two ovens--TWO!

And as wowser as the kitchen is, the lake view out those windows is even more amazing.

But more about that later.  It's getting tougher and tougher to blog on this bumpy ride, with my laptop resting on my knees.  And we're getting close to the airport now.

I'm praying for a safe flight and looking forward to a great weekend.  Hope yours is great, too!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Happy Birthday, Preciosa!

Today my blog is dedicated to our sweet daughter-in-law, Preciosa, who married our middle son in December of 2013.

She is now the mother of almost-one-year-old G-Man, and is expecting baby #2 in February.  She was a successful working woman before the arrival of her adorably chubby and incredibly busy little son, but she has decided to stay home full-time with G-Man and his future siblings.  It is a big sacrifice, but the rewards will be even bigger, I'm quite sure.

That little boy of hers sure loves his mama.
That not-so-little boy of ours sure loves G-Man's mama, too.
Preciosa has many lovable qualities.  But what my husband and I can't help but love about her most is the way she loves these two.
As the mother, she is the HEART of son #3's precious little family.
She is a daughter to me.
And she is so incredibly generous to both of her in-laws, never stingy about letting go of that little cutie pie and handing him over to his baby-hungry Papa and Grammy as soon as we arrive for a visit.
She deserves the happiest of birthdays--and I hope her men treat her like a queen today!
Preciosa, whenever I feel like I just don't know what to blog about anymore, you encourage me to keep blogging (thanks for being a loyal reader, by the way).  And you remind me that sometimes people just like to see a lot of pictures.  So I thought you might enjoy this little photo album I put together, to share with anyone who might stop by this blog on your special day. 

Happy Birthday, Preciosa!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Thank You, Prayer Warriors--and St. Therese!

I just wanted to update you on my brother-in-law, who underwent a lengthy surgical procedure yesterday that could have had several outcomes--and one of them would have been utterly devastating.

Thanks to the prayers of many, many people--and the intercession of St. Therese of Lisieux--he came through the surgery with flying colors.  Afterward, his surgeon (a world-renowned specialist for the type of lung cancer my brother-in-law has) told my sister-in-law that things had gone very well. "He looks great," he said.  "Go see him."  This doctor is a man of few words who wouldn't sugar-coat it if he didn't think things had gone well.

She did go see him, finally--after a worry-filled day that seemed like it would never end.  He was in the ICU in a medically-induced coma, hooked up to all kinds of machines; but his color was good, and aside from the wires and tubes, he looked like he was sleeping peacefully.

He will remain in the ICU for a while and his road to recovery will be long and difficult; but we are all feeling very hopeful.  He had the best of all the possible outcomes as far as the surgery goes, and this man is a fighter.  As a friend told my sister-in-law over the phone yesterday, "He's the strongest man I know."

So, dear readers, if you saw yesterday's post and it inspired you to say a prayer for my brother-in-law, thank you from the bottom of my heart!  And my sister-in-law thanks you from hers!  Many, many people were storming the heavens for him, and those prayers were what got him through this ordeal.  Those prayers, along with a dear heavenly friend after whom his wife is named.
I told you yesterday that my brother-in-law, who is not a Catholic yet but plans to convert, held my precious relic of St. Therese as he awaited surgery.  He put that relic on his chest, right over his diseased lung, and he didn't take it off until they wheeled him down to the operating room.  We all believe that the Little Flower was there with him at that hospital in Boston yesterday, and that it is through her intercession that his surgery was so successful. (As Donna commented on yesterday's post, St. Therese died of tuberculosis, a lung disease; she is a wonderful intercessor for any cause, but it is so fitting that we were asking her to intercede for an illness affecting the lung.)

There was a showering down of roses from Heaven yesterday, that's for sure.  And I think we know someone we can thank for that.
There are still hurdles ahead, and my brother-in-law needs a miracle.  But we believe that St. Therese is just the one to give it to him.

Thank you for coming to Boston, St. Therese!  And please stick around for a bit, if it's not too much trouble.  We're still counting on you.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

St. Therese, We're Counting on You

Back in the summer of 2012, I received a precious inheritance from my deceased maternal grandparents: an authentic relic of one of my most beloved saints, St. Therese of Lisieux.  I wrote this post about it not long after this heavenly gift, along with an authentic relic of St. Catherine Laboure, came into my life, if you're interested in reading it.
I keep St. Catherine on a shelf in our living room at home, and I stop by to visit her there often.  She is dear to me because of her association with the Miraculous Medal, which I wear always.  But I love St. Therese--she of the "Little Way"-- in a very special way, and she is always with me.  I keep her relic in a zippered cloth pouch that is embroidered with an icon of the Blessed Mother and the Baby Jesus (a souvenir from the time I tagged along on one of my husband's working trips to Athens).  That pouch is always in my purse, or in my carry-on bag when I fly.  It is especially comforting to me to have St. Therese along when I'm on an airplane, because I'm a recovering white knuckle flyer and she is the patron saint of aviators.  I figure she'll take care of those guys up front--whether that means so that the flight will land safely, or so that if it doesn't, the souls on board will suffer as little as possible and be ready to meet their Maker.

Yes, this is the way my brain operates.  This is the way I think every time I board an airplane (which happens A LOT these days--and you know this if you stop by String of Pearls very often).  So I thought it would be well nigh impossible for me to ever let that St. Therese relic out of my sight.

But I found someone who needs her more than I do right now.

I have a sister-in-law (who just so happens to have been named after Our Blessed Mother and St. Therese) whose husband was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive type of cancer some months back.  Today, he will undergo a grueling 13-hour surgical procedure on his lung, and if all goes well, his post-op recovery will take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks.  This brother-in-law was raised a Lutheran; but because of my sister-in-law's quiet yet persuasive example, he is planning to convert to Catholicism as soon as he can schedule his RCIA classes. In fact, the first thing he said when he was diagnosed was that he didn't want to put it off any longer, because he didn't want to die before he became a Catholic.

Wow, how's that for inspiring?

Last week, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision and handed my brother-in-law that zippered pouch, with the precious cargo inside of it, and told him that I wanted him to have it with him while he's going through his surgery and recovery.

I am on a bus to Boston right now, to be there with my sister-in-law on this, the most difficult day of her life.  I got a text from her not too long ago saying that her husband was holding onto that relic while he was waiting to be taken down for surgery.  That childlike faith in St. Therese's intercession, coming from a man who wasn't raised to know her and hasn't even been sacramentally received into the Church yet, is so touching that it brings tears to my eyes.  I pray that she continues to provide him with comfort and solace in the weeks to come.

Please pray that my brother-in-law's surgery today will be a success.  And continue to pray for this wonderful couple, that they will have the strength to endure whatever trials they will face on his road to recovery.