Sunday, July 17, 2016

7 Quick Takes Friday (Playing Catch-up...on Sunday!)

I haven't done a 7 Quick Takes Friday post in ages.  But then again, I haven't blogged in ages either!  (At least it seems like ages, when I think that for the first three or four years of String of Pearls' life, I was here just about daily, hardly ever skipping an opportunity to share my thoughts the way we introverts like to share them best--from the safety of our laptop computers...)

Anyhoo, I thought it was time to get back into the 7QTF routine. I'm already two days late to join Kelly et. al. for the link-up, so I better get to it lickety-split and keep these takes short and sweet.  Quick, that's what they'll be.


1
My brother-in-law died just over two weeks ago, but I don't feel able to write about the events surrounding his premature passing just yet.  His last days were filled with heroic acts of humility, acceptance, courage, selflessness, faith, hope, and love, as well as some truly extraordinary supernatural signs and tender moments of grace that have left all who were a witness to them forever changed.  I did blog about this beloved man, who is a hero and a role model for us all, in a recent post, just days before he died.  When I can manage to do it, I'd like to tell you more about him and his beautiful and holy death.

2
One great blessing, for which my sister-in-law and our whole family feel extremely grateful, is that before he died, my brother-in-law was able to realize his dream of opening a craft brewery/tasting room/ restaurant/event center/B & B in a Civil War-era structure known as the "Old Stone Barracks."  Valcour Brewing Company is located in Plattsburgh,  NY, with a bird's eye view of Lake Champlain, on what was once a large Strategic Air Command Air Force Base.  My brother-in-law had a vision for transforming this historical building--overseeing and doing much of the gutting of the interior himself, and then along with my sister-in-law designing what has become, just in the few months since its doors have been open, the popular place to be in Plattsburgh.  If you're ever in the area, you must stop by to enjoy one of their signature brews and soak up the Barracks' one of a kind ambience.  (And the food is as good as the beer!)



3
Our 40th high school reunion was at the end of June.  (My husband and I started dating in 1973, the summer after our freshman year, and graduated together in 1976).  One of the weekend's events was held at VBC's Old Stone Barracks.
It was so much fun catching up with dear old friends, like this beautiful lady.  (Thank goodness for Facebook, which has been helping us to stay in touch between reunions!)
My baby sister also had her 35th  high school reunion gathering at the Barracks recently.  My husband and I crashed the party.  (We can do this, you see, because we know the owner.  We have an in.)


4
My high school boyfriend and I are actually spending the whole summer in Plattsburgh (except for the times when he's commuting to work or we're off visiting with our kids and grandkids), staying at my husband's childhood home on the lake (which he and his seven siblings decided to keep after their parents both died, forming a family LLC to maintain its upkeep).  So needless to say, our date nights are usually spent at--where else?--VBC!

5
One of the reasons we're staying here, besides the fact that it gives us the opportunity to visit with both of our families, is that we're keeping an eye on Oyster Haven, our VRBO house located just several miles down the road.  Our first renters came for a week in June, to participate in a big bass fishing tournament on Lake Champlain.  One of the six professional fishermen who stayed at Oyster Haven was Andy Morgan, who ended up winning the FLW Tour's 2016 "Angler of the Year" award.  (He also won the title in 2013 and 2014).

I don't know if it's the luck of the Irish or what...but it seems that we have a lucky house.

6
Speaking of Oyster Haven, I really must do some posts about it, complete with pictures.  It is such a charming old house on such a glorious piece of lakefront property.  We have our third set of renters staying there as I write this.  So far, we have six weeks booked this summer, and inquiries are coming in all the time.

But I ask you: who could resist this view?

7
I was honored to be a guest on Allison Gingras's "A Seeking Heart" radio show (a sort of online Catholic book club) on July 15.  She was kind enough to have me on to talk about my Catholic YA novel, Erin's Ring--although we covered a lot of other topics as well, including the fact that we both married our high school sweethearts.  It was so much fun to talk to Allison.  I was a bundle of nerves beforehand, per usual.  I thought about backing out and seeing if we could reschedule for a later date.  But I overcame my fears, thank goodness.  And once we got started, I felt as if I was just chatting over coffee with an old friend.
If you're interested in listening to the podcast, here's the link.

Okay, that's it for me.  Now maybe you should head on over to Kelly's (if you haven't been there yet)!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

An Open Book: Sunflowers in a Hurricane

I haven't been doing a whole lot of blogging lately (which you may or may not have noticed, depending on how often you stop by this little old blog of mine); but a bookworm's got to talk books.  She's just got to.  And what better way to do that than to link up with Carolyn Astfalk et. al. for An Open Book discussion?
So books...books.  Let's see, what have I read lately?  Hmmm...

I did finish this one (at 30,000 feet, because that's where I spend half my life).  I had started it back before the June link-up and mentioned it there, because I thought it was going to be amazing; but I didn't end up enjoying it as much as I thought I would.
I loved the WWII-era parts of this novel that goes back and forth in time between the 1940's and the present, the well-rounded and very believable characters, and the engaging writing style of this talented author.  I didn't like the way-too-detailed descriptions of intimate scenes--that always ends up turning me off.  And there is one particularly disturbing scene involving a sexual assault.  So I can't in good conscience give this book a big thumb's up.  But I admit that it kept me turning the pages, because I had to see how it all turned out.

So I did read that one book.  But aside from not blogging much in recent weeks, I haven't been reading much either.  I have a list of books as long as my arm that I'd like to get to (Anne of Green Gables--how in the world did I grow up without ever having read that one, even once?  I started it while out visiting our oldest son's family earlier in the summer, and after sampling 40 pages of my daughter-in-law's copy, I knew I needed to get my hands on that whole series of novels by Lucy Maud Montgomery, which I have no doubt are destined to end up on my "favorite books of all time" list); but the list of those I've actually read is very short.

HOWEVER--

There is one book that I'd like to tell you about, a wholesome work of Catholic fiction that I think you'll really enjoy.  Although it has only recently appeared in print, I had the rare privilege of reading it months ago, while it was still in manuscript form, and giving feedback to the author (who has become an online friend of mine over the past few years).  Here is the Amazon review I wrote for that recently published novel:


I was honored to receive a pre-publication copy of Anne Faye’s latest novel, Sunflowers in a Hurricane.  Having read—and very much enjoyed---The Rose Ring, I was quite excited to read the latest offering by this talented author of Catholic women’s fiction.  Sunflowers in a Hurricane is a short novel, at about 50,000 words; but it is by no means short on substance.  If you are able to clear your calendar for an afternoon, you could devour it in one sitting—which is exactly what I did!  I dare say you won’t be able to put it down once you start it.
There's my endorsement on the cover!
As I was reading along, I could clearly picture every scene of this sweet and uplifting novel, and the thought occurred to me more than once that it would make an excellent Hallmark channel movie.  Faye has woven a compelling tale here, with engaging characters whose flaws and struggles are so painfully real that any reader can relate to them.


George is an elderly gentleman who still misses the beloved wife he lost tragically during childbirth when they were both very young.  Long ago, he was also forced to make a decision no one should ever have to make, and he’s had to live with the consequences of that heart-rending decision every day since.  Cheryl is a bitter single mother who has been raising a teenage daughter on her own, far from the town where she grew up.  When her estranged mother dies, Cheryl returns to her hometown to take care of her mother’s affairs and is ultimately forced to confront her own mistake-filled past.  Cheryl’s daughter Ruth is a confused and mildly rebellious thirteen-year-old who didn’t want to move away from the only home she’d ever known, has never met her father, and can’t understand why her mother won’t allow her to even talk to boys.  She develops her first crush, and becomes intrigued by her late grandmother’s kindly next-door-neighbor, George.

George and Ruth develop an unlikely friendship, which leads to some wonderful developments—not only for the two of them, but for other characters in the story as well.

The writer’s tools of first person point of view and time shifting are deftly employed by Faye in this novel.  Each chapter is told from the first person perspective of one of the three main characters, so the reader is able to really get inside the heads of George, Cheryl, and Ruth and see what makes them tick.  Aside from changing speakers, the story also bounces back and forth in time, from 1935, to 1972, to 1986, and back to 1935 again, which allows the reader to experience all the events that drive the plot right along with the characters who are experiencing them.

While Sunflowers in a Hurricane clearly illustrates the sad reality that life here on earth is filled with trials and tribulations, with loneliness and sadness, with tragedies and tough choices, it is ultimately a story about faith, hope, and love. It is a story about sin, yes, but also redemption.  It is a story about the healing power of forgiveness.  As a Catholic, I was especially touched by the way George’s deep faith—his daily Mass routine, for instance—influences his young friend.  But a reader of any faith should appreciate the positive messages conveyed in this book.

In a nutshell, Sunflowers in a Hurricane is a wholesome and inspiring novel, one that I highly recommend for teens and adults alike.


Okay, that's it for me.  Now head on over to the An Open Book link-up, to find out which books everyone's noses are in this summer (and maybe discover your next great beach read!).

Saturday, June 25, 2016

TRUE Death with Dignity

My brother-in-law is dying.

His poor body has been ravaged by a particularly unforgiving form of cancer called mesothelioma, with which he was diagnosed almost exactly a year ago.  Fifty years after exposure to asbestos while doing chimney work as a young man, this terrible disease struck him like a thunderbolt, just as he and my sister-in-law (my husband's older sister and "Irish twin") had begun the process of fulfilling their dream of starting a craft brewery in an old stone Army barracks that dates back to the Civil War.

In spite of all he's been through this past year, this dream became a reality a couple of months ago, and the historical building he and my sister-in-law lovingly transformed into a brewery/sports bar/tasting room/event center/restaurant/B&B has opened for business and has been wildly successful, breathing new life into the hometown where my husband's family has deep roots, going back several generations.

There is nothing more that can be done for my brother-in-law medically now, other than palliative care.  Surgery and chemo and trips back and forth to Boston to receive the most cutting-edge treatments from the foremost experts on the disease did not produce the hoped-for and prayed-for miracle, and he has come home to die.  He is surrounded by people who love him dearly and upon whom he must depend more and more every day to help him with even the simplest of tasks.

This man has always been exceptionally strong, a warrior, a rock for so many people--both personally and professionally.  It has to be hard--not just hard, but truly humbling--to depend on others for everything now, but this guy makes it look easy.  No one who has been privileged to observe the manner in which my brother-in-law handled the news of his diagnosis a year ago, how he endured the harrowing and painful treatments and recoveries in the past months, or how he has exhibited such tremendous heroism as he walks his own personal way of the Cross on the road home to his Father, will ever forget what they have witnessed.  He is showing us the way to die, the way to have a holy death; and it is a lesson I believe I for one badly needed.

Last night, my husband and I attended a party in one of the brewery's event rooms, and I got talking to my old high school biology teacher (who has a special place in her heart for the class of 1976, as we were her first real teaching job after she got her degree).  I mentioned that I was so awed and inspired by the dignity with which my brother-in-law is facing the end of his life.  He is uncomplaining and serene, appreciative of every little thing his loved ones do for him and thanking them profusely.  He is dealing with his own helplessness with such acceptance and grace, it's a wonder to behold.

"I don't like that word, 'dignity,'" she said.  "It has a different connotation now."  And she's right: the pro-euthanasia crowd has hijacked that particular term and made it mean something different to many folks.  There are some who would look at this man who is suffering in a way that no one should have to suffer (yes, but who is surrounded by so much love, who still has the capacity to give and receive love and find an incredible amount of joy in that, whose dying days have profoundly changed and improved the lives of everyone around him) and say that to give him a dignified death,  his pain should be ended at once.  It would be more merciful, they would argue.

But I would argue differently.

I started out this post by saying that my brother-in-law is dying.  Scratch that; what I should have said is that my brother-in-law is becoming a saint, right before our very eyes.

The first thing this man said when handed the worst news of his life was, "I want to become a Catholic before I die."  Let that sink in for a minute.

Raised a Lutheran, he was inspired (not pressured, but inspired) by my sister-in-law to convert.  He has been attending Mass for years, even going alone when my sister-in-law and he happened to be apart.  But the official process of entering the Church had not been completed.  Well, I am happy to report that last week, a priest at the parish my husband and his family always attended baptized him a Catholic, and he was able to receive First Holy Communion.  If this had happened even a few days after it did, he might not have been able to swallow the Host.  God is so good!

My brother-in-law is, as my husband says, giving the rest of us a clinic on how to die a holy death.  He is facing the end of his earthly life with courage, grace, and deep faith.  He is graciously allowing his loved ones to give of themselves unconditionally to keep him as comfortable as possible (a privilege which is in fact a tremendous gift that those who never get to witness a truly dignified death completely miss out on).  He is not bitter or resentful, despite his suffering.  He loves life, even now; but he is not afraid to die.  This, I believe, is what death with dignity is really all about.

I realize that it is not our place to automatically canonize our loved ones, no matter how saintly they might seem, when they pass from this life; we are instructed to pray for them unceasingly, for no one but God can know the state of any individual's immortal soul.

But I can't help but feel as if I am watching the making of a saint.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Just a Little Something to Brighten Your Monday

Okay, folks, in case you needed something to make you smile today, now that the weekend is over...here is a picture of my adorable but sometimes naughty 20-month-old grandson G-Man, which my daughter-in-law Preciosa posted on Facebook recently with this caption: "Where he hides after hitting his sister. ‪#‎guiltatitsfinest‬ ‪#‎toughbigbrotherlove." 
Is that priceless or what?  (Are you smiling yet?)

One of the main reasons I love Facebook so much (and can't break away, no matter how many times I convince myself that I ought to try) is that I get to see cute or amusing (or both!) pictures of my grandchildren on there almost daily.

And then as an added bonus, I can scroll through the comment streams underneath those pictures and enjoy the hilarious observations of my sons (and their cousins and friends).  Here is what my youngest son had to say about the above photo of that lovable, guilt-ridden little stinker: "The ole' Ostrich maneuver. His form's a little sloppy but he'll get there."

I'm pretty sure I L'ed, OL, when I read that one.

I guess G-Man has no other option but to hide his face in shame when he gets rough with his sweet 4-month-old baby sister, because Princesa is just a precious little bundle of joy, an angel.  Take a gander at her beautiful face.

And she's always, always this happy.

Okay, if you're reading this, you are definitely smiling now.  How could you not be?  So this blog post has served its purpose, and I'll sign off here.  Because Grammy's got a suitcase to pack, so that she can catch an early flight tomorrow morning and head out to the Midwest for a visit with four of G-Man and Princesa's older cousins.

Have a great week, dear readers.  And keep on smiling!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Reviewers Wanted for a New Catholic Novel

My writer friend Anne Faye, a Catholic blogger and novelist, published her second novel, Sunflowers in a Hurricane, less than a week ago.   (Her first novel was titled The Rose Ring, for which I wrote this review.)  I was privileged to receive a pre-publication copy of Sunflowers in a Hurricane and serve as a beta reader for Faye, in exchange for feedback and an honest review.  I enjoyed the book enormously, and gladly wrote a five-star review for Amazon.  And I was surprised and delighted when she asked me if she could include a quote from my review on the front cover of the book!  Wow, what an honor!

Would you, too, like the opportunity to read this wholesome and heart-warming novel?  Anne Faye is offering a free copy in exchange for an honest review.  Here is a June 10 post from her blog:


Reviewers Wanted for Sunflowers in a Hurricane

Would you like to read a free copy of the new Catholic Fiction Sunflowers in a Hurricane in exchange for your honest review on your blog, Amazon, and/or Goodreads? Please send an email to AnneMFaye@gmail.com. I'm happy to send you a .pdf, Kindle version, or hard copy.

Thank you!

"Sunflowers in a Hurricane is a wholesome and inspiring novel, one that I highly recommend for teens and adults alike." - Laura Pearl, author of Finding Grace and Erin's Ring

George Ferguson, an elderly gentleman, still misses his beloved wife who died in childbirth many years before. Cheryl Callahan is an angry single mother who left her home and her faith after high school and never looked back. Her teenage daughter Ruth chafes under her mother’s rules and resents having to travel from Ohio to Massachusetts to bury a grandmother she didn’t even know.

When Cheryl and Ruth move next door to George, the older man and young girl form an unlikely friendship as all three are forced to face the past in order to create a new future.


I'm always happy to help out fellow Catholic authors, who are writing fiction that is nothing like the usual fifty shades of secular humanism you'll find on the shelves of most bookstores and instead entertains while also giving glory to God!  I wish Anne Faye much success with her work.

Friday, June 3, 2016

An Open Book: Modern Fiction Can Leave Me Sort of...Meh

I recently finished a novel that I had been dying to read for quite some time, Kate Alcott's The Daring Ladies of Lowell
     
Here's a Booklist blurb about it:

Alcott (The Dressmaker, 2012) chooses another working-class girl as the heroine of her second historical novel. To Alice Barrow, a job at a textile mill in 1832 Lowell, Massachusetts, represents both an escape from her rural roots and a chance to forge an independent future. Although the hours are long and the work arduous, she enjoys the companionship of the mill girls and the opportunity to take advantage of the intellectual subculture of Lowell, including the mill’s literary magazine and lectures at the Lyceum. Alice’s common sense and intelligence attract the attention of Samuel Fiske, the mill owner’s son, who invites her to act as an emissary for her coworkers at a meeting with his family. However, when Alice’s best friend is found hanged, her burgeoning relationship with Samuel is threatened as his family withholds crucial evidence during the investigation. Set against an authentically detailed mill-town backdrop, this novel interweaves the ­industrial ­revolution, feminism, and workers’ rights into an engrossing narrative with a love story at its core. --Margaret Flanagan

The Daring Ladies of Lowell was published in 2014: the same year that I was working on my second novel, Erin's Ring--the same year that Erin's Ring was also published.
When I was writing that book (and also during the years I spent writing my first novel, Finding Grace), I rarely read the fiction works of others, fearing that it would cause me to lose my focus/lose my confidence through unhealthy comparisons/worry that readers would think I'd hijacked the ideas of other authors, if there were any similarities (no matter how slight).  I was especially afraid to read this novel of Alcott's, since Erin's Ring tells a similar story about New England mill girls in the early 1800's.  In fact, my Irish mill girls in Dover, NH participate in a workplace strike in 1828; that "turnout" really happened, and it was the first time women had ever done anything like it in the US.  The Cocheco mill strike in Dover actually preceded the Lowell, MA strike that is showcased in Alcott's novel by four years (although the Lowell strike is much more famous and well-documented).

Anyhoo--long story short, the similarities in content made me afraid to delve into The Daring Ladies of Lowell until I was far removed from Erin's Ring.  But recently, I finally downloaded it onto my Kindle and read it.  And although it is a fairly interesting story, and there's really nothing to complain about as far as the author's command of the English language, it just left me sort of...meh [imagine a slight shoulder shrug here].  It didn't grab me.  The characters were somewhat likable, but never seemed real enough to me to make me care about them deeply.  I didn't find myself thinking about this story long after I had finished it, the way I often do when I turn the last page of a book that's so good I can hardly bear to see it end.

I always know a best-loved book when I'm sure that I will re-read it again sometime in the future, just for the sheer joy that the author's words have given me--it doesn't matter if I know what's going to happen and how the story will end, not if the book is just that good.  And in this humble reader's opinion, this one just isn't.

One beef I had with this book is that most (not all, but most) of the mill girls seem to be against religion, which I find to be sort of unbelievable for that time in history.  (For this time in history, sure.  I mean, show me a novel set in the present that has characters who are Catholic and not portrayed as priest pedophiles or thoroughly unlikable holier-than-thou types, and I'll show you...a book that might be better than 99% of what's being put out by the big publishing houses, but will probably never get seen by the readers who might be both entertained and edified by it.)  I was also sort of annoyed by the fact that the suspected murderer of one of the Lowell mill girls was a tent revivalist preacher, because I thought it played into the whole stereotype of "people who appear to be very holy Christians are really the worst people around."  But then I remembered that the details of the murder investigation had actually come from a real-life case, and even the name of the preacher who was accused of killing the girl he'd gotten in the "family way" was historically accurate.  So I simmered down about that and tried to focus on the good aspects of the story.

And there are definitely some very positive things about The Daring Ladies of Lowell.  I am grateful that there are no inappropriate scenes of passion and intimacy.  The would-be lovers, Samuel (the rich son of the mill owner) and Alice (the feisty mill girl from the other side of the tracks) never engage in anything more risqué than a hug or a kiss.  For that, at least, I admire Alcott.  It must be difficult to become a commercially successful author nowadays without bowing to the gods of secular humanism.  So much of modern fiction seems intent on titillating and shocking readers, but this is actually a rather sweet and chaste romantic tale. Also, the mystery involving the murder of Lovey, Alice's dear friend, is fast-paced and does keep you guessing. That being said, I'm not exactly sure why this book left me sort of unaffected.  But it did.

However, if you're a fan of historical novels, you could certainly do a lot worse than this well-researched bestseller.  That doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, does it?   But I would be lying if I said this was one of my favorite books of all time.  Maybe it's that the whole Kindle experience doesn't stack up to holding a book in my hands and turning its pages.  If I ever read the paperback version of this novel and have a different assessment, I'll let you know.

Right now, I am reading a paperback copy of a debut novel by Iona Grey, called Letters to the Lost.
Oh my word, that cover!  If a book could be judged solely by its cover, this one would be a home-run hit.  I just adore this image.  It screams, "Vintage style!"  "WWII-era!"  "Hand-written love letters, between star-crossed lovers!"  All things that I am drawn to like a moth to a flame.

 Here's the delicious-sounding synopsis from Amazon:

An accomplished novel from a talented writer, Letters to the Lost is a stunning, emotional love story. Iona Grey's prose is warm, evocative, and immediately engaging; her characters become so real you can't bear to let them go.

I promised to love you forever, in a time when I didn't know if I'd live to see the start of another week. Now it looks like forever is finally running out. I never stopped loving you. I tried, for the sake of my own sanity, but I never even got close, and I never stopped hoping either.

Late on a frozen February evening, a young woman is running through the streets of London. Having fled from her abusive boyfriend and with nowhere to go, Jess stumbles onto a forgotten lane where a small, clearly unlived in old house offers her best chance of shelter for the night. The next morning, a mysterious letter arrives and when she can't help but open it, she finds herself drawn inexorably into the story of two lovers from another time.


In London 1942, Stella meets Dan, a US airman, quite by accident, but there is no denying the impossible, unstoppable attraction that draws them together. Dan is a B-17 pilot flying his bomber into Europe from a British airbase; his odds of survival are one in five. In the midst of such uncertainty, the one thing they hold onto is the letters they write to each other. Fate is unkind and they are separated by decades and continents. In the present, Jess becomes determined to find out what happened to them. Her hope—inspired by a love so powerful it spans a lifetime—will lead her to find a startling redemption in her own life in this powerfully moving novel.

I'm not far enough into this book yet to endorse it; for all I know, it will disappoint me or just leave me feeling meh once again.  But some of the passages I've read thus far are making me fall in love with Grey's prose.  When the new mother-in-law who disapproves of her gives Stella a compliment that is not really a compliment at all, "Stella remembered the roses in Lillian's garden in Dorking, which were as stiff and immaculate as she was, and realized the compliment was as barbed as their stems."  To me, that's just beautiful.  I wish I could write like that.

I'll let you know next time if the story lives up to its promise, if its message turns out to be as beautiful as that metaphor.  But for now, you can head on over to the June An Open Book link-up to see if there are any not-so-meh titles you might want to check out!
(P.S., Carolyn's link-up is on catholicom.com now, too!)

Monday, May 30, 2016

In Honor of Our Fallen Heroes

This Memorial Day, I am so grateful to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country.  And I am endlessly thankful that this guy was not one of them.
This photo is circa 1980, when my husband was in flight school.
My husband was a Naval Aviator for the first decade or so of our marriage.  He went on one four-month deployment (we called them "cruises" back then--but believe me, the aircraft carrier ones did not resemble the Carnival variety in the least), when our oldest son was a year old and we were about four months away from welcoming son #2.
While his father was away flying jets off a carrier, I constantly showed our
firstborn pictures so he would recognize his dad when he came home. 
One day, I followed him into a room and watched as he picked up this
wallet photo and murmured, "Daddy."  (Ow!  My heart hurts.)
Not too long after that cruise, my husband's squadron transitioned from the A-7 to the F-18, so he got to be a land-lubber for a while as he went through training.  And then he became a flight instructor.  So he did periodically have long detachments (weeks of bombing exercises in the deserts out west, for instance), and he worked long days; but he was home with us for the most part.

We lucked out; most Navy families had/have to endure many more separations than we did, and longer ones, in the course of a career.  And many other Navy families had/have to endure losses that I have trouble even imagining.

Yesterday, an old Navy friend of my husband's, a former fellow F-18 pilot, posted a tribute to their fallen buddies (he lists them by their "call signs"--the sometimes funny nicknames that sprang from inside jokes the guys shared).  It is so beautiful and poignant that I thought I'd share it with you today, in honor of all of our fallen heroes:

Tremendously humbled with a deep debt of gratitude on this weekend of reflection and remembering all American Patriots (like Spike) who sacrificed their all at the altar of Freedom! My prayers this Memorial Day weekend are especially with the families of great Naval Aviator friends, warriors and patriots who lost their lives serving their country: BJ, Bone, Nuke, Gramps, Turbo, Bubes, Crazy, Rip, Cashman and too many others----you will NEVER be forgotten and my life and the lives of soooo many are better because of each of you. I pray for the peace of the families of all these heroes who will endure yet another day of grief and pain without them. May God bless and comfort you all!!!

God bless you Spike, BJ, Bone, Nuke, Gramps, Turbo, Bubes, Crazy, Rip, Cashman...along with countless others.  And God bless America.