Friday, November 22, 2019

Reflections on "Theology of Home" (#2)

I am about two-thirds of the way through Theology of Home, a lovely book that was gifted to me recently by one of my daughters-in-law, Preciosa, as a way to thank me for watching her children for the day (a favor for which no thank you gift is ever needed, by the way--but this one was much appreciated).

We have only known each other since she started dating my third-born son in 2012, but this D-I-L knows me.  She could not have picked a book that speaks to my heart as loudly as this one does.

Theology of Home is all about the importance of creating a warm and beautiful dwelling where the members of your family can gather and feel loved, safe, accepted, and part of something so much larger than themselves, where their family history and memories are on display through photographs and souvenirs, where guests always feel warmly welcomed...a light-filled sanctuary where they feel God the Father's presence in every little nook and cranny. Because rather than merely dealing with the physical aspect of a home's beauty--the renovating and decorating and furnishing projects with which all the popular HGTV shows are primarily concerned--this book exposes the deep underlying truth that the reason human beings crave a happy earthly home--a "true north," no matter how far they travel in the world--is because they are yearning (whether they are conscious of it or not) for their eternal home in Heaven.

Just as the members of our families who have gone to their eternal homes live on in the next life, the photographs of these deceased loved ones that grace the walls of our earthly homes keep them alive in our memories.

In our dining room: my dad (who died in 2006), my mother-in-law (who died in 2009), and my 
father-in-law (who died in 2003).  The ornate carving above the photos was my M-I-L's and I
acquired it after she passed away; it reminds me of angels' wings, and I hung it above the pictures
of these three with the hope that they are now together in their Heavenly home.

Here is a quote about family photographs from Theology of Home: "There is scarcely a human alive that has not, at some point, felt a keen desire to be both there and here simultaneously.  But the limitations of humanity quickly remind us that we can't be in two places at once...We bridge this gap in our homes with photographs of loved ones...that remind us of the times and places we wish we could relive."

Family photos have always been the backbone of my wall décor.  I used to watch a silly TV show called "Trading Spaces," where two families would trade house keys for 48 hours and with the help of designers, redecorate a room in each other's homes.  I was fascinated by the idea of these folks being able to trust someone else with changing the appearance and personality of the places where they lived, which I never could have done myself.  My youngest son (now 26) once came into the room when he was just a little guy and watched the big reveals of an episode with me. When he saw the before shots and the afters, he said, "Those rooms look terrible now.  Where are all the family pictures?"  He was used to a house that had walls plastered with those, rather than designer-style statement pieces of art.

My only worry is that as my family continues to grow (we are at 16 grandchildren and counting now), I will run out of wall space!

Dear readers, if you cherish the concept of HOME, with all the many deeply emotional elements those four simple letters imply, you would love this book.  The title is spot-on, for it truly is a theological treatise on the very meaning of the word, and it illustrates how every aspect of human life here on earth is ultimately tied in with our need for God and our desire to be with Him in eternity.  It also emphasizes the importance and worth of work done in the home, which seen in a theological context can hardly be thought of as repetitive drudgery: "Whether it's baking bread, pruning a garden, sewing a dress, or even sorting and folding clean laundry, when done with love and in this context of order and freedom [which can assuage fear and anxiety], what was a burden and chore is transformed into a means of sanctification."

Before Theology of Home found its way to me, I had already been inspired  many years ago, when my five sons were still young boys, by similar words in a book that my husband got for me called Holiness for Housewives.

This slim volume was life-changing for me in a way, because I began to see the folding and putting away of every load of clean laundry, the washing of every dish, and even the scrubbing of every toilet as joyful endeavors, because these seemingly menial tasks I was performing were necessary to make our home an orderly world where everyone's needs were lovingly taken care of.  It's not that my husband didn't help me with household chores, because he did; but because he was the one who went out in the world to work and support us and I was the one who stayed home with the kids, the lion's share of the housework fell on my shoulders.  After I read that sweet little book, though, I began to enjoy the work I did around the house on a deeply spiritual level (I mean it!  I did!), and instead of resenting the never-ending chores required to keep our household running smoothly,  I truly began to see housework as a means of sanctification.  Every act performed with sacrificial love for my family became almost like a prayer.

Depending on your vocation in life, holiness will look different for everyone.  For the woman who works primarily in the home, these words from St. Frances of Rome should be an inspiration: "It is most laudable in a married woman to be devout, but she must never forget that she is a housewife.  And sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping."

That sentiment might sound archaic and sexist and who knows what else, but I think there is so much beauty in it.  To know that being "just" a mother and homemaker is noble work is to be a true feminist--IMHO, as the kids say nowadays.

Anyway, getting back to Theology of Home--

I love the way the authors handle the subject of LIGHT, and how important it is for the comfort of body and soul.  Children are often afraid of the dark, but never the light. And there is so much symbolism involved; after all, Christ is the Light of the World, and "darkness, like sin, is characterized more by its deprivation.  Light can, in an instant, cast out the darkness."

As I read a section of the book about candles, and how sitting by candlelight should not just be reserved for romantic dinners, I realized it had been ages since I'd lit real wax tapers for a special family meal.  I used to do it all the time, but in recent years I've gotten lazy, and I've been relying on electric lighting or on pillar candles with LED faux flames.  Well...I have been inspired to light candles again.  As the authors point out, even in a group where creating a romantic atmoshphere isn't the goal, when the only light comes from a campfire, a fire pit, a fire in the fireplace, or candles, conversations feel "cozier and more engaged" as people huddle together near the light. 

Not only am I determined to bring more candlelight back into my home because of this book; I am also determined to eat at the table more often.  As empty nesters, my husband and I have gotten into the habit (when none of our kids are visiting and it's just the two of us) of eating in our respective recliner chairs, with trays on our laps, while we watch a movie or an episode of Glenn Beck together.  While I have been thinking of this as a cozy routine, I wonder if perhaps we need to make an effort to set the table nicely--with candles--at least more often than we do now.  Even when it's just us. 

Yesterday, I was telling my middle son that the last time his dad and I visited the treat aisle at Trader Joe's, I'd made an impulse purchase and brought home a gingerbread house kit--the first one I've ever bought in my 61 years of life.  "I don't know why I never thought to make them with you guys when you were little," I said.  This son and his wife Preciosa have already begun the family tradition of making gingerbread houses with their children every Christmas season, so my boy joked, "Mom, you failed us!"  For just a second, I thought, "I did!  Their childhood contained no gingerbread house-making contests!  That should be a staple of childhood!"  But then I thought, well, we did dye eggs with them every Easter.  And we carved pumpkins at Halloween.  Gingerbread houses just weren't part of our family's "thing."  Neither my husband nor I have any memories of making them with our parents and siblings when we were young, so I suppose it's not that surprising that we didn't think to make them with our kids.

That random conversation about gingerbread houses led me to think of the homes where my husband and I were raised.  We both grew up in comfortable, middle class families, in nice but relatively modest houses, with lots of siblings (he was one of 8, I was one of 5) but not a lot of extra money for things like fancy vacations, new cars, or top-of-the-line wardrobes.  Our family cultures were different in some ways, but also alike in many others.  Both families have always cherished time spent together more than anything--just talking, laughing, eating, drinking, telling old family stories over and over.  When we have reunions, we rarely have any special "activities" or "events" planned; the plan is usually just to hang out in someone's home and enjoy being together.  Our "love language," if you will, is quality time spent together.

Just as a happy, cozy home where the members of the family feel safe and loved is a reflection of the love of our Heavenly Father and the eternal home He has waiting for us, this love of spending time together, too, is a foretaste of what the afterlife we yearn for has in store: it will not be about the material things we enjoyed on earth, but about the people we love here.  They all play a part in our journey back to the Father.  "It will only be in the next life that we will fully understand the effect of our prayers for our ancestors in purgatory and how they, in turn, intercede for us."  Indeed, we make the strongest connections of our earthly lives with our families, in our homes.  And not even death can really separate us.  We are all connected, forever, in ways we will never fully understand in this life.

I feel as if I've gone off on too many tangents here, so maybe I should end this post and pick up later where I left off.  But just one more thing before I go: I am going to a book talk in Falls Church, VA tomorrow, where I will meet author Carrie Gress and have her sign my copy of Theology of Home!  I will be sure to let you know all about it next week!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Blogging is Writing...Right?

My last post  here at String of Pearls bemoaned the fact that my writing career has been somewhat less than stellar, in terms of worldly success.  I have had two Catholic novels published, one in 2012 and the other in 2014, and if I measured their value by the number of book sales they've generated, I would feel like a bit of a failure as a writer.

But never fear, it was not a sad or negative post!   Because I do believe that the path my life took is exactly the one God had mapped out for me.  I know that writing success is not measured in dollars, at least not in God's eyes.

And what a bonus blogging is--because even if I don't have another novel in me, I have this marvelous writing outlet.  If nothing else, dear readers, I can still come here any day I want, write up a post, and push the "publish" button.  I am so grateful for this blog--which has brought so many blessings into my life over the years.  I have "met" people here whom I would otherwise never have known, and these connections have enriched my life in countless ways.  (One of these people is Kari Burke, author of a lovely pro-life novel called The Life I Dreamed.   If you can get your hands on a copy of it, do!)

So today, I am doing a very writerly sort of thing--the sort of thing I used to do when I was writing my second novel, Erin's Ring: I am sitting at a table at Panera, with my laptop plugged in and my stomach way too full after a pretty awesome lunch (comprised of half of a Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich and a cup of tomato soup--is that TMI?).  And I am blogging--which is writing...right?

I've been meaning to reply to some lovely messages that were left in the comboxes of my last few posts, but I've been so busy that past few days with family events and activities that I haven't had the opportunity.  So that was the first order of business today.  And hopefully, while I'm sitting here without all the usual distractions of home (my favorite place to putter mindlessly), I'll also be able to type up a second installment of the "Refections on Theology of Home" series I started here.

If I was at home, I might put blogging on the back burner and instead find a piece of furniture to paint--like a sweet little antique table that my mother-in-law gave me decades ago.  This humble pine beauty started its life with us as a side table in our NH family room, with a honey-colored stain and a country-style stencil treatment.  Then it was painted black and used as a bedside table in the guest room.  It's been languishing in the basement storage area of our new house for the past few years, still black but nicked-up and looking a bit worse for wear, until just the other day--when I decided it should have a new home in our VA family room and gave it a chalk paint makeover.
My favorite hue for giving a room a "pop of color" is red!

I love that when I look at this little red table, I am reminded of Mom.  Because of that, I could never part with it.

I am an incurable homebody, and I can always find a thousand little projects like that one to work on in my endless quest to make my home as cozy and comfortable as it can be.  And don't even get me started on baking.  (Does anyone else out there find baking to be a deeply therapeutic activity?)

Luckily, with a family as big as ours is now, there is always a birthday cake that needs baking--so Grammy's Bakery is always open for business.

Well, that's it for this post, which is seems to be about nothing (like Seinfeld--remember that hilarious episode?).  It's kind of all over the place.

But hopefully I'll be back next time with more cohesive thoughts inspired by Theology of Home--a book that is beautifully written and filled with gorgeous photographs, a book that I highly recommend.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

I Just Pray That God is Pleased with My Books; If So, Then So Am I

I received an email recently that I've been expecting, but it kind of broke my heart a little bit nonetheless.  The publisher of my two novels, Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books, informed me that Erin's Ring had only sold 9 copies this past year (and it has hardly been a bestseller at any time since its publication in 2014), and therefore she could no longer afford to make it available for distribution.  I know it broke her heart a little, too, because she'd had such high hopes for this book.  She pictured it being used in Catholic school classrooms and homeschool programs, as a part of the history, reading, or religion curriculum.  But despite the fact that it received two Book Awards from the Catholic Press Association in 2015, my sweet little historical novel filled with endearing Irish immigrant characters just couldn't find its audience.  What this means for Erin's Ring is that once they run out of the stock they have on hand, Amazon and other booksellers will no longer have new copies of the paperback available on their sites--although they offer used copies for sale from other sellers, in varying conditions at varying prices.



A year or two ago, Cheryl had to drop my first novel, Finding Grace (published in 2012), from distribution for the same reason.  The good thing about this book, however, is that unlike Erin's Ring it is also available in the Kindle format.  But otherwise, henceforth only used paperback copies will be found on the Amazon site.



RIP, my babies!

And RIP, writing career.

Okay, that is just extremely dramatic!  And seriously, how can I be sad about the way things turned out when I had the opportunity to do what I love--to write fictional stories that showcase the beauty and truth of the Catholic Faith, of married love, of strong family bonds, and of openness to life--and not only that, to fulfill a girlhood dream of being a published author?  I always thought that was an unreachable goal for me, and it happened.  How blessed am I?  My husband used to joke--years before I ever got around to starting work on Finding Grace, after decades of being a SAHM--that I would one day write a blockbuster book that made me a millionaire, and he could retire early and be supported by my earnings in old age.  Ha!  He's 61 and 1/2 now, and mandatory retirement in his line of work is 65.  So with this latest email from my publisher, I would say that his dream will not be coming true!

God has a plan for all of us; and even though I question Him sometimes, I know this to be true and I trust that He knows what I need to get to Heaven a lot better than I do.  If my books were meant to sell like hotcakes, they would have.  (I've told this story before here at the blog, and if you are a longtime follower, forgive me for the repetition: my husband, who makes me laugh every day, would always say, "But they're selling like lukewarm cakes.")

Early on, I was somewhat involved in the world of Catholic authorship.  My husband and I attended a Catholic Writers Guild/Catholic Marketing Network conference in NJ in August of 2013, and Finding Grace was a finalist for a Catholic Arts and Letters Award that year.



I even stepped way (way,WAY) outside of my comfort zone at that conference and did a short interview with EWTN when they stopped by the CWG booth!


Wow, looking at these photos for the first time in years, it seems like a whole lifetime ago.  And truly, it was.  Not too long after this conference, we had a whirlwind 11-month stretch during which three of our sons got married.  And in the summer of 2013, I only had three young grandchildren; but before long, our sons' families would start to multiply at breakneck speed, and this Grammy's life would become more and more about traveling afar to see them and less and less about traveling afar to do author-type things.

But I would not trade the full and busy family life I have now, with all five sons happily married and at last count, 16 grandchildren--all of whom live within an hour of their Papa and me!--for all the tea in China (or all the 5-star reviews and massive book sales in the world).

So I am not a bestselling author.  But I am an author.  And what's most important of all to me is that I believe God is pleased that I used whatever talents He gave me to give glory to Him--or at least I hope and pray He is pleased.  The fact that these two books didn't succeed in the eyes of the world is not the measure of their worth.  Even as I sit here, feeling a bit down about the fact that my books will not be as easily available to the young souls who might be inspired and edified by their messages (which are in direct opposition to the messages with which they are being bombarded by our increasingly secular-humanistic world), I realize that they were published for a reason, and if just one reader was meant to find them, he or she will (or has).

Luckily, I will still be able to order author copies of my books for myself, to give as gifts or to sell here at the blog.  These author copies are considerably more expensive than they used to be, so I can't offer the same lower prices that Amazon could, or that I used to.  But if you're interested in either book, there are yellow "Buy Now" buttons on the sidebar at the right on my home page under the images of the book covers.  If you click on one of those buttons, you will get to a PayPal page and can make your purchase there.

I am offering signed copies of my books here at String of Pearls, for the following prices (which include shipping and handling):
Erin's Ring: $12.00
Finding Grace: $17.00

I'm thinking that maybe with the holidays approaching, I'll run a little blog book giveaway.  What do you think?  I could offer one of the novels...or I could offer a copy of My Little ABC Book (a labor of love for my family which was never expected to be a commercially successful project!).


Which of these three books should be the giveaway item?  If you have any preferences, let me know in the comments.

I don't know if I'll ever write another book...but I'm glad I'll always have this little space on the Internet to come to when the writing bug hits.  God bless you for stopping by!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Hola, Hermosa!

Remember this post that I wrote back in May, in which I told the story about how our third- and fourth-born sons and their wives announced that grandchildren #15 and #16 were on the way?  (They did so in hilarious fashion--it's a fun post, if you haven't read it yet and you'd like to take a minute to do so.)

Anyway, #15, a sweet granddaughter, came in October, and I wrote about that new little one here, in a post titled "Hola, Hermanita!"  She got a Spanish blog handle because her mama is of Spanish descent.  Well #16, another precious granddaughter (bringing the String of Pearls total to 9 granddaughters, 7 grandsons, so far), is part Hispanic as well.  Her mama is half Cuban.  So this new little Pearl gem is going to be known here at the blog as "Hermosa."  She joins brother G-Man (5), sister Princesa (3), and sister Rosita (2).

On Nov. 9, the Saturday before Hermosa arrived, my daughter-in-law Preciosa was 39 weeks along and feeling as if she could go at any time (she'd been five days early with her first three babies).  My hubby was on a trip, so I asked if they'd like me to come and help out for the day, and said if they wanted I could even stay overnight just in case things got going.  We live about 35 minutes away, and I probably would have made it in time if I'd gotten the middle-of-the-night call; but I was alone anyway, so I thought, why don't I just come for a sleepover?  Preciosa's mom was en route, driving all the way up from FL to help out with the three older kids when her daughter was in the hospital having the baby.  But she was not due to arrive until Sunday--so my boy and his better half were all for the idea of me staying the night.

The baby did not come on Saturday.  But I got to have movie night on the couch ("The Grinch," a new animated version), in jammies with popcorn, with my adorable grandchildren.  So it was a win for me.

It had previously been decided that if Preciosa didn't go into labor on her own over the weekend, she would be admitted to the hospital on Monday morning and labor would be induced, so this is what eventually happened.  I had been relieved of childcare duty on Sunday, after Preciosa's mom arrived.  But on Monday afternoon, I took over for her so that she could be there while her daughter was in labor.  As it turned out, she was also there in the room when the baby was delivered and this was a thrill for her, as it was the first time she'd been present.  (She'd been at the hospital when each of her older three grandchildren had been born, and had met them shortly after their births.)  My husband joined me for babysitting duty at about dinnertime, and after we'd gotten the kids to bed we waited together for the news, which came at about 7:30 p.m.

We received some pictures of our precious new baby girl via text.  What a wide-eyed little beauty!



We headed back home Monday night, because my husband had a work trip scheduled the next day.  But I was able to go over to the hospital and meet this newest addition to our ever-growing family the evening following her birth.


I have to say that I thought she was the most beautiful one-day-old baby I'd ever seen.  Well, at least since last month, when I saw one-day-old Hermanita.  And actually, since the times I've seen every single one of our 16 grandchildren at a day old.  (That's not me being biased, that is just objective truth!  We have the most beautiful grandchildren on the planet!)

Yes, son #3 and his wife have certainly got their hands full these days...but their hands are not as full as their HEARTS!




And this Grammy's heart is pretty full as well.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Reflections on "Theology of Home" (#1)

Not too long ago, I spent the day taking care of my middle son's three little ones (G-Man-5, Princesa-3, and Rosita-almost 2), while my daughter-in-law Preciosa showed some houses to a prospective real estate client.  I don't ever expect any sort of official "thank you" for helping out in this way, because the very reason my husband and I moved down to VA just over two and 1/2 years ago was so that we could see our four oldest married sons and their families--who by some miracle had all migrated to and settled in the same area of the country!--on a regular basis and offer support and help when needed.  But Preciosa gave me the most thoughtful gift after my day with her darling offspring: a copy of Theology of Home, a beautiful book with the subtitle "Finding the Eternal in the Everyday."



To say that I love this book is putting it mildly.  I started to read it a few days ago and decided that I'd like to devote a series of blog posts to it (thus the addition of the "#1" in the title of this post!).  This eye-pleasing hardcover coffee table book deals with a subject that is near and dear to my heart: HOMEMAKING, in the truest sense of the word.  Being a homemaker is a vocation I take very seriously; after marriage and motherhood, I feel it is the most important work I do in my life here on earth.  As the "heart of the home" (a title that I believe belongs to all mothers, everywhere, whether they work inside or outside the home), I long to create a sanctuary for my family.  Because as authors Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber say in the introduction to Theology of Home, "Home is that place where we are meant to be safe, nurtured, known for who we are, and able to live and love freely."

"Ironically," the authors also say, "despite the innate human desire that there is for home, the notion that someone would actually want to make a home, providing a place of safety, love, order, education, and hospitality, has fallen out of favor.  Could there be, in the minds of millions of women today, anything worse than being a 'homemaker'?  The pendulum, however, seems to be swinging back toward home even if the homemaker title is still unpopular."

Personally, I don't care if the term is unpopular.  I am actually proud to call myself a wife, a mother, and a homemaker.  (Homemaker is a title that much more accurately describes the role of a woman who works primarily inside the home than the term "housewife," which really must be unpopular these days!)


My husband and I will celebrate our 39th wedding anniversary this December.  We are more financially capable of home improvements now than we were in the early years of our marriage. To say that we didn't always have the means to have the newest and the best of everything, when it came to the homes we lived in and the kind of furnishings and finishes found within them, is an understatement.  Back when our boys were little, our priorities were keeping them healthy and well-fed and paying their Catholic school tuitions; home improvements were usually put on the back burner until we could afford them.  So my home might not have always been ready for its HGTV close-up; but even during those times when we were on a shoestring budget, I always tried to make it as warm and cozy and comfortable as it could possibly be. I also wanted it to be pretty--a kind of foretaste of Heaven, a dwelling place that might ultimately help to steer the beloved members of my family to the Father's House, their eternal home.



Luckily, my husband learned over the years to be an outstanding handyman, tackling every sort of building, plumbing, and electrical project imaginable, and I have always been game for wall painting, picture hanging, and furniture refinishing.  We did our best to make every home we lived in feel uniquely "ours," even if it was just a rental.  We started out in a small apartment in Corpus Christi, TX; next, we moved into Navy base housing in Beeville, TX, and at the end of our time there, we became parents when we welcomed our first son; from there, we moved to Jacksonville, FL, where we bought our first home, a ranch-style house, and welcomed three more little boys; after my husband switched careers from Naval to commercial airline pilot, we lived for less than two years in a 1,100 sq ft house in the Chicago suburbs; next we moved to a rental home in Dover, NH; and after just a year there, we bought our "forever" home in that same town, a big Colonial on a quiet, wooded cul-de-sac street, where we lived for 26 years, welcomed a fifth baby boy, and raised our family.  In every one of those settings, I was a SAHM and homemaker, working tirelessly to make my family feel safe, comfortable, and happy within the walls of our home.

Eventually, when our boys grew up, moved out, and moved away, the NH house didn't make as much sense anymore.  We were constantly on the road, traveling to visit them and their growing families.  So we made the somewhat painful decision to sell that house (the one into which we'd poured so much sweat equity over the years, the one we thought we'd never leave), and we moved south to be near all of them.  I wasn't sure if our new, smaller house--located on a postage stamp-sized lot, in a cookie-cutter VA neighborhood--would ever truly feel like home.  But not quite three years in, I can happily say that this new house is indeed our HOME now.  A house is not a home if your people are never in it--and ours sure spend a lot of time in this one!


My husband is busy working on a project that will really make this new house work even better for our ever-growing brood of grandchildren (15 and counting!!), who come to visit here often.  He is currently finishing off the basement, so that we will have a huge, kid-safe play area (as well as another guest bedroom and bath).


I help him any way I can, but let's be honest--he does most of the work!  However, I am always busy myself at the task of homemaking, looking for ways to make this VA house of ours attractive, welcoming, and grandchild-friendly.


I love this G.K. Chesterton quote in Theology of Home: "There are two ways of getting home.  One of them is to stay there.  The other is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place."  Which one are you?  The homebody who never wants to leave, like me?  Or the world traveler who loves change and adventure, but breathes a sigh of relief when you finally return and walk through the door of your own house?

Discuss amongst yourselves!  I'll just be in my living room, staring at those canvas images of my grandchildren there on the wall...sighing with contentment because I'm home sweet home.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Sewing, and Thinking of My Mother-in-Law

I meant to write a blog post about my mother-in-law on Nov. 1, her birthday, but family events down here in VA kept me busy and the date got away from me.  We had a tornado watch on Halloween, so trick-or-treating was postponed until the next day.  And after all the excitement was over, I was too tired to blog...but here I am, a day late and a dollar short, as I usually am these days.

Mom would have been 87 this year.  I can't believe she's been gone 10 years already!  I still miss her and I always will.  I don't think it was an accident that she was born on All Saints Day: never was there a woman more devoted to Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother; never was there a woman who said more Rosaries and novenas for her loved ones.  (She was a daily communicant whenever she was in a season of her life where this was possible, and never was there a woman who would be more thrilled by the fact that her birthday is a holy day of obligation, a day on which all of the children she raised in the Faith would be sure to get to Mass!)

I met this amazing woman--daughter of an Irish immigrant father who died when she was 10, sister to one older brother, and mother to eight children (four boys, four girls)--when I was 15 and started to date her oldest son.  From that very first meeting, I just adored her.  She had that gift of making you feel loved and important, without making too much of a fuss doing it.  She was the best mother-in-law a girl could ever ask for--my role model now that my boys are married; she never judged or interfered, just accepted and supported.

Mom had the soprano voice of an angel--she could seriously have been a professional singer, but she shared her gifts in the church choir instead.  She was a breathtaking beauty, but the least vain person I ever knew.  She was a lover of all things beautiful for the home: china, crystal, Hummels and other figurines, Nativity scenes and Christmas decorations in general, and last but certainly not least, FABRIC.  Mom considered all of these things true works of art and could hardly resist them (particularly if she found them in the aisle marked "clearance sale").  Her attic was filled to the rafters with boxes and bins of every kind of fabric you could imagine, along with laces, ribbons, and all sorts of other sewing notions.  It was like JoAnn Fabrics up there, truly.

In 1997, my in-laws' house caught fire (caused by outdated, faulty electrical wiring) while they were away visiting some of their children.  Fortunately, their home was not completely lost.  But due to the smoke and water damage, the interior had to be mostly gutted and rebuilt.  After the fire, the attic had to be cleared out and the fabric collection assessed, and some of it was too damaged so it was thrown out.  But a remarkably large amount of mom's precious materials (which I'm sure she had many plans for using in the future) were saved and put back up in the attic.

So these days, whenever I need some material for a sewing project, I "go shopping" up there first.  That's where I found the piles of exquisite white linen-and-lace pillow shams that I used to make my grandkids' christening gowns.  And at the end of the summer (which we'd spent living in my husband's childhood home in Upstate NY, while taking care of our nearby Oyster Haven VRBO house), I took a trip to the attic and brought home some plaids for myself and my daughter-in-law Regina, who wanted to make a Christmas stocking for her little boy.  She had already made them for her four daughters, using plaid material from Mom's attic; but she'd run out and asked if I could look for more.

My grandson, Topper, recently turned one.  His mom, my daughter-in-law Ginger, is a huge fan of vintage-style clothes for her three little boys, and I knew she'd appreciate a new Jon Jon romper as a birthday gift for him.  Well, it just so happened that I had some perfect pieces of material from Mom's attic to make some garments for the upcoming holidays: a hunter green velveteen that I'd found a few years ago, and those lovely plaids I'd unearthed this past summer.  So I decided to make two rompers!


I like to put "made by" tags in the garments I sew for the grandkids, in case they get handed down to a new generation someday.  Topper's two older brothers call me "Ree Ree" instead of Grammy, so that's what I put on the tags for these two Jon Jons.

I could hardly wait to see how these rompers would look on my adorable grandson, who has the most heart-melting smile and edible chunky thighs.


All I can say is that I think my dear mother-in-law would approve of how her stash of fabric is being put to use.  Yes, I think she would very much approve indeed!  And I hope these pictures of her great-grandson wearing rompers made out of some of the pieces she lovingly chose from the clearance racks at JoAnn's are making her smile.

Miss you, Mom!  And when I grow up, I want to be just like you...because I believe you were born on All Saints Day for a reason.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Hola, Hermanita!

I just got back home yesterday, after spending five days staying at the house of son #4 and his wife, Braveheart.  I went over there because they were due to welcome baby #4 any minute and needed Grammy on deck, ready to watch their 2-year-old triplets (identical twin boys Pumpkin and Peanut, and their sister, Paquita) when it was time to go to the hospital.

The first time around, Braveheart had had a C-section at 32 weeks.  She was told that therefore, even though this was her second pregnancy, her body might behave as if it was her first labor and  delivery--so it might be tough and take a while.  But of course we were all hoping that this would not be so.

Braveheart started having contractions on Friday, and who knew how quickly things would progress?  (Not as quickly as she and my son would have liked, as it turned out; not by a long shot!)  Just in case she was going to have a quick labor and delivery, I decided to pack an overnight bag and drive over that day to stay with them--even though we only live 35 minutes away and I probably could have made it in time if I'd been called last minute.  I figured that I could give my daughter-in-law a bit of a break and help out with the three munchkins until the baby came. (My husband was out of town but would join me when he could.)
I flew solo most of the time; but Papa came on Sunday in time for dinner,
 and he was able to be there for part of the day Monday, before leaving again
for work on Tuesday morning.

Braveheart labored all through the night Friday and into Saturday, but still wasn't sure if it was time or not.  By late Saturday afternoon, the contractions were getting extremely painful (and although they were not coming regularly, when they did come, they lasted an agonizing three minutes each!).  The kids decided to head to the hospital, hoping that it was go time.  After more than four hours of observation, however, they were sent back home.  Braveheart was only one centimeter dilated and they said she really wasn't in active labor yet.

Then just a few hours later, at about 11:00 at night, my son woke me up to tell me that he was putting the triplets' baby monitor in the guestroom (soon to be nursery) where I was sleeping, and that they were heading back to the hospital.  My poor daughter-in-law was just in so much unrelenting pain.

This time, thankfully, she was admitted, and before long she was progressing nicely.  She had her water broken and received an epidural, and she was finally able to get some relief from the pain.  But her labor was long and difficult.  Her contractions were irregular and lasted much longer than normal.  At one point, it looked like she might have to have another C-section, and our son posted a prayer request on our family text stream.  The prayers worked: shortly afterward, she was fully dilated and ready to push.  Unfortunately,  though, she had to push for an exhausting three and a half hours.  Finally, just before midnight on Sunday October 27, she delivered a beautiful, healthy baby girl with a head of thick black hair.  At 8 lbs. 11.05 oz. and 22.05 in., she weighed more than twice as much as her largest triplet sibling at birth!

On Tuesday, this sweet baby girl (who shall heretofore be known here at the blog as Hermanita--which in Spanish means "little sister") came home.  Her brothers were largely unimpressed and uninterested in her, although they came over to check her out and smiled at her.




Her big sister, on the other hand, had a totally different reaction.

At first, Paquita was confused and jealous and couldn't stop crying.  But those emotions soon evaporated and were replaced by a wave of fierce maternal love and protectiveness.  (Who says girls and boys aren't wired differently?  That little girl, hardly more than a baby herself, had an instinctive desire to nurture that baby!)  She wanted to hold HER baby constantly, to kiss her and hug her.  She kept putting her chubby little finger to her mouth and saying "Shhh" to the rest of us as she held her baby sister.





We were joking that Paquita might love the baby almost too much, if that's possible.  She's rather possessive and it's very hard to get Hermanita out of her arms--she puts up quite a fuss when that happens.  So Mom and Dad are going to have some challenges as their little family transitions from three to four children and everyone gets used to their new routines and their new normal.

I took some selfies with my precious new granddaughter soon after she came home.

When I saw the above photo it reminded me a little bit of a snapshot my husband took of me and our firstborn son shortly after we got home from the hospital, way back in October 1983.   The way I was positioned and holding the newborn infants in these pictures taken 36 years apart looked so similar, not to mention the expression of pure happiness on my face (and tiredness, too: in the old one, caused by childbirth...in the new one, by childcare!).
Did you notice the small, extremely old-fashioned TV photo-bombing us in this picture?

I still wear ginormous glasses (wait long enough and everything comes back in style!).  I still wear my hair long (but it's thinner and grayer these days).   When it comes to my fashion sense, very little has changed.  But oh, in almost every other way my life is so different now!  That inexperienced young mom was on cloud nine after the birth of her first baby boy.  But she could never have imagined how much richer and fuller (how could that be possible?!) her life would be one day: how four more sons would follow this one; how all five of them would get married and bring her daughters; and how, just when she started to mourn the loss of her babies, she would get so many new ones to love.

I'm telling you: one day you're a 25-year-old first-time mother...and before you know it, you're a 61-year-old grandmother of 15.

And this grandmother is still recovering from five days of wrangling three very busy, very chunky toddlers. I've been catching up on my sleep and I believe a nap is on my to-do list today.  After all, grandchild #16 is due any time now, and I'm going to be on call to watch her three older siblings when her parents leave for the hospital, at least until their other grandmother arrives to take over...so I better be rested up!