Friday, February 16, 2018

7QT: My Little World Traveler

Let me start right out by admitting that the title of this post is a bit misleading.  It IS about my youngest son, my baby; but it's been a long, long time since he was little.
I mean, these days I have many grandchildren who are older than he was when that photo of him was taken in 1994.  He's 6'2" and has been for about a decade now.  And he no longer allows me to dress him in round-collared shirts.  (Sniff, sniff...where do the years go?  Okay, snap out of it, Laura!  Moving on.)  He's not only tall and broad-shouldered, but also smart and funny and talented and kind and sweet and handsome (said his mommy), and he's a 25-year-old Army officer stationed overseas, with a serious girlfriend he's been dating for over a year.

So.  Now that we've got the size of said traveler straightened out, as well as enumerating some of his finer qualities (and now that I've embarrassed him, if he's reading this), I can tell you that the world part is absolutely true.  This boy of mine has taken snapshots and selfies in some of the most beautiful cities and countries around the globe.  And I thought I'd join Kelly et. al. over at This Ain't the Lyceum and share some of them with you here.

1. My Boy in Ireland

2. My Boy in London

3. My Boy in Finland

4. My Boy in Croatia

5. My Boy in Switzerland

6. My Boy in Germany

7. My Boy in Prague

That's 7 already, right?  7 Quick Takes of 7 really cool places.  And those are just some of the far-off lands our boy has had the opportunity to visit since he graduated from Notre Dame and started his Army career.

I can add another Take, though, can't I?  A bonus take, perhaps?  Yeah sure, why not!  So here's one of the other places where he got to play tourist.  In case you were interested.

8. My Boy (and His Girl) in Venice

Gosh, I could add some pictures from Rome, couldn't I?  And from Poland, where his girlfriend, my husband, and I all met up with him a couple of days after Christmas.  (Now that excellent adventure is a great subject for a future post, let me tell you!  I posted pictures from the Poland trip on Instagram, but never got around to blogging about it here.)

Anyway, I am incredibly happy that during these years that he has been fulfilling his military obligations, my baby boy (and that cute mug of his) has had the opportunity to visit so many spectacular places when he's been on leave.

But I miss him...and I can hardly wait until this little world traveler is stateside again!

(Now don't forget to click on that helpful link I gave you!)

Thursday, February 1, 2018


I’d like you to meet Michael.  He’s one of my heroes.

Michael is the nephew of my second-born son’s wife, the third-born of her sister's six children. He just turned nine years old and I am going on sixty; but believe me when I say that when I grow up, I want to be just like him.  When you hear his story, you will undoubtedly feel the same way.

T-shirts were made for Michael's friends and family to wear in support while he fights the toughest battle of his young life against a bitter foe, a disease that has ravaged his body but not his spirit.  The shirts have this logo on the front: #MICHAELSTRONG

And oh, is he ever strong!  His poor body has been through the wringer ever since he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, T-cell leukemia, in March of 2017.  He's gone through a series of intense chemo treatments with their merciless and horrendous side effects, treatments that would test the spirit of a person of any age.  He's been in the hospital countless times, enduring a level of pain and suffering that is impossible to imagine or describe.  All he wants is to be a regular kid: living at home with his parents and five siblings, not in a hospital bed; going to school with his friends; playing sports and taking swimming lessons.  He just wants to engage in all the normal activities that children his age get to enjoy and take for granted, and he can't.  Every now and then, when his health allows it, he is able to visit his Catholic school and see all of his classmates there.  As his mother wrote in a December 2017 Facebook post,

"Michael was invited into his third grade classroom today to briefly make a Christmas ornament with his friends. This brought tears to this tired cancer mom's eyes and soul and a grin from ear to ear to our little Michael. The social isolation he has faced since March has been more than most adults can comprehend. His classmates cheered and were so welcoming. They even sang to him. We could not stay long due to low counts, but Michael's smile and laughter was enough to show me that there wasn't much else he would have rather done. His illness has made him appreciate the little things we used to all take for granted."

Can you see that he's smiling under his mask in those pictures?  Cancer is trying to wage a war against him, but Michael's heart and soul remain invincible.  He is so brave, and his deep faith is a wonder to behold.

Michael smiles through the agony and can't bear to see his mother looking sad. He apologizes for the inconveniences his cancer causes his family.  He continually thanks his parents and his devoted Nana (who is by his side whenever they can't be), as well as all the members of the hospital staff who care for him.  He continually prays for others as he walks his pain-filled Way of the Cross, offering up his own sufferings for people he knows who are ill or dying.  I can only imagine how the fervent prayers of this young saint-in-the-making sound to the ears of God, and how much good they do for those who need them.

I can't believe that I haven't blogged about this amazing little boy yet.  He is in my thoughts and prayers every single day, and he's one of the people my husband and I always include when we list our special intentions before we pray our daily Rosary.  He has been fighting his epic battle against cancer for about a year now, and like the saint for whom he is named, he has been and is a mighty, courageous warrior.

This past November, his mother shared this on Facebook:

"Michael is very weak, many times he has to crawl up the stairs or I have to carry him. He is skinnier than a skeleton and pale and bald, but he is always trying his hardest and never likes to see his mom cry. He’s my world and my reason for living. Strongest 8-year-old I know."

As much as I've wanted to share his story here (if only because it might inspire even one more person--someone who might not have heard of him otherwise, had they not stumbled upon this site--to offer much-needed prayers for him), for some reason, I have not mentioned him yet at String of Pearls.  I think it's because I am so profoundly sad about the illness that is robbing him of so much of his childhood, and at the same time so profoundly moved by the way he has faced all the pain and fear and loss of normalcy with an almost otherworldly strength.  His story is too big, too important, too hard to put into words that will do it justice.  Just as I have not been able to sit down and write the story of my father's poignantly beautiful last week on earth, I have not been able to write about this extraordinary child and the tremendous cross he has been chosen to carry, either. For how can I possibly do him justice?  If he isn't a saint living among us, I don't know who is.  How can I ever rightly convey the magnitude of his courage and grace, his acceptance of the unacceptable?

Perhaps the best thing to do is to share with you some more thoughts about Michael in the words of his dear mother, who is suffering every pain along with her beloved son.  I can't even imagine how excruciating it is for her to see her boy suffer so. Her heart has been pierced by a sword and she is in need of your prayers, too, during the next three years that Michael is receiving treatment for his leukemia.   (These quotes can be found on Michael's Caring Bridge site, if you are interested in reading more about him and following his story as updates are added.)

As hard as it is for this loving mother to leave her other five children in the care of nannies much of the time while she's in the hospital with Michael, when all she ever wanted to do was be a SAHM and care for her brood herself, she writes:

" a family, we will do whatever we need and must do to save Michael’s life. He’s one amazing fighter. Rarely complains and trust me being held hostage in this prison (hospital) is hard on an adult, I can’t imagine doing this at age 8. He continues to teach me patience, the value of suffering, and being tough and willing to fight no matter how much it seems TOO HARD. I  hate saying this, but he was 'picked' for a reason."

She also writes:

"Michael never ceases to amaze us with his smile that can light up any room, courage, perseverance, faith that is stronger than anyone we know, and love... Suffering, or watching such a young boy suffer, is something so indescribably painful it's hard to put into words. We love Michael more than life itself. The fear of this cancer trying to take our son is beyond terrifying. Oh how we wish we could go back to the days before cancer, when we thought life had its challenges! Our local priest, who has become like family and who Michael absolutely LOVES, has reminded us that Jesus is with us in our pain, He will not abandon us and we must stay close to Him and our Faith.

I will share one short story with you. Because we are never able to get michael to eat anything due to the chemo-induced nausea.....when he asked for a five guys hamburger the other day we were shocked! We masked him up and took him in to let him order a hamburger. However, right away, we noticed him sitting in a chair tears streaming down his eyes making his mask wet. I said, "Michael, why are you crying? We never leave the house and you are the one who wanted to do this. What is wrong?" He looked to the corner of the restaurant where a very clearly homeless man was looking down at his table, with no food on it, but a couple peanuts he had gotten out of the free peanut bucket. Michael said, "Mom, if he cannot eat, then I refuse to eat. I want him to have my food." I told Joe about the situation and Joe gave Michael enough money to keep the sweet cold homeless man comfortable for a while. Michael's eyes lit up with joe and he ran over to the homeless man and said, "Hi! My name is Michael and I have cancer. I want you to have warm food and money. I love you!"

If you haven't learned a lesson from this boy.....I'm not sure what to say."

I'm not sure what to say either.  Because as I said before, when I grow up, I want to be just like him.  He is a role model for us all.  That beautiful, touching story about his love for a homeless stranger reminds me so much of things I've read about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who was always similarly concerned about helping the poor, even when he was just a young boy like Michael.

Please pray for this special boy to be completely cured of this dreaded disease.  Pray that God will continue to give him the strength to endure the years of treatments ahead of him.  And please keep his beautiful family in your prayers as well.  They're suffering right along with him.

As the #MICHAELSTRONG T-shirts say on the back, "PRAY FOR MICHAEL, In It to Win It."  Pray, my prayer warriors.  Pray as if this boy's life depended on it...because it does.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #32): I Think I Was Always a Blogger at Heart

There was no such thing as blogging back when I was in high school (back in the Stone Age, as it were).  There was no such thing as blogging because there was no such thing as a personal computer that you had in your house, or this magical entity called the Internet that has become such an integral part of 21st-century existence.

Back then, if you had a burning desire to write about your life the way bloggers do nowadays, you could either use a typewriter or just good old reliable pen-and-paper and keep your musings in a journal or a diary. (I did keep diaries for a while in my girlhood--until I had to destroy one in junior high, after my best friend found and read it and I realized that no one should be writing down their deepest thoughts unless they wanted the whole world to know them.)

The other thing you could do, aside from the "Dear Diary" routine, was to keep scrapbooks.  And starting at the end of 8th grade, that is what I did: I kept simple scrapbooks that were filled with oversized construction paper pages, wherein I taped all the little bits and pieces of memorabilia that seemed of utmost importance to my teenage self (we're talking things like paper napkins and still-full sugar packets from restaurant meals with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, and popsicle sticks with traces of his DNA still on them, I'll bet!).
My high school scrapbooks were stored away in boxes in my parents' attic when I left for college.  I didn't take them with me when I got married in 1980, and when my parents sold my childhood home several years later, I assumed those boxes had gotten thrown out.  It made me a little sad at first, to think that I'd lost all my precious memories of days gone by; but eventually, I forgot all about the scrapbooks.  I was busy raising my boys, keeping up their baby books, and making photo albums and scrapbooks for them, filled with their boyhood memorabilia.  Then in 2002, my decades-old boxes were unearthed in a storage unit on my youngest sister's property and my long-lost scrapbooks were returned to me.  The scotch tape I'd used had disintegrated and they were a mildewed mess, but with the tape marks to guide me I painstakingly put them back together.

Oh my, the memories that came flooding back to me!  And the things I'd kept!   Things like gum wrappers, movie ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, dried flowers.  But along with my taped-in memorabilia, I also wrote about all my activities and feelings during that time.  (I think I was always a blogger at heart, though I didn't know it yet!)

What is so funny to me is to see pages like this one, from July 1973, when my high school boyfriend and I were just beginning to realize that we like-liked each other, and we rode on some rides together at the County Fair:
Or this one, from the first time he and I ever went to a movie together (not alone, but at least we sat next to each other):
I love how I wrote, "I really like him but I doubt he'll like me for long."  Ever the confident one, I didn't believe it would last.  Then about a week later, he asked me to "go with" him (that was the early-70's term for going steady, at least in our neck of the woods).
Aug. 6, 1973, a date I'll never forget!  It was the beginning of a long life together, but at 15 we really couldn't know that yet.  (Although I tell you, by 16, I was as sure as I've ever been of anything that he was the only one for me.)  Well, my dear readers, here's how it turned out: seven-and-a-half years later, we would get married. And now we have celebrated our 37th wedding I would say that my fears that he wouldn't like me for long were all for naught.  :)

There are so few photos of us from our dating years, because people just weren't as snap-happy back then as they are now.  There are probably fewer pictures of us together during those seven-and-a-half years of courtship than most modern kids take in a single day, in this New Age of iPhone cameras.  But here are a few snapshots from my scrapbooking days; and as you can see from these keepers, my hubby was rocking his big mop of 70's hair like a champ.
This black and white picture was taken on the night of his 16th birthday, when we got all dressed up and went on a double date to the lakeside restaurant where he worked as a bus-boy during the summers.  (The one just above it is from the Junior Prom, when I was growing out an unfortunate short haircut that didn't suit me very well and he was sporting Elton John-style platform shoes.  We were a pair!)
Here is a photo that was in our senior year book, of the guys in our class hanging out in the hallway at our Catholic school.  (My guy is the third one in from the right.  You know, the handsome one.)
When I decided to write Finding Grace, a coming-of-age story about a shy young girl who starts high school in 1972 just like I did, I was obviously drawing upon memories from my own life.  Tom Buckley was most definitely inspired by the only high school heartthrob I could envision, my husband.  That character did become his own unique person, separate from anyone I know in real life, in the course of writing the story; but he undoubtedly shares so many traits with the only man I have ever loved.  I really didn't know how to create a different sort of love interest for my heroine. (It would make me feel almost unfaithful!)

Finding Grace, however, is not my story.  Poor Grace Kelly spends years pining for the boy she loves, while he sees her only as a friend.  She doesn't get to be his girlfriend, the way I did with my Tom Buckley.  But there are certainly aspects of Grace's experiences that come from my own.  She lives in Plattsburgh, NY, where my husband and I grew up and met in high school, and Grace's high school is modeled closely after the one we attended.  She lives in a home that was a lot like mine, and Tom and Irene live in homes that are a lot like my husband's and my best friend's.  Tom goes away to Notre Dame for college, the way my guy did.  But that doesn't mean the story is meant to be autobiographical.  Trust me, it is fiction.  But I think I just don't have enough talent to create whole new worlds, so I had to use the one I knew the best as a backdrop for the novel.

Well, seeing as how this is Tuesday, and I've gone off on a tangent about Finding Grace...let's make this post a meeting of the Book Club.  If you're here, and you're still reading, welcome!
Grace Kelly and Tom Buckley's story ends when they are about to graduate from college (and I won't tell you how, because I don't want to give any spoilers for those who might be inclined to read the book!).  I used to kick around the idea of doing a sequel, but I believe Finding Grace will always remain a stand-alone book.  It's a long novel--the kind you can curl up with and really sink your teeth into--and I would want the sequel to be lengthy, too.  And I just don't think I have the time or energy for that--at least not during this busy season of my life, with so much going on in the lives of my sons and their families.  Being a Grammy trumps being a writer, and it always will.  I might get around to writing a sequel to Erin's Ring one day, though; I've got an idea for one, and it wouldn't have to be more than about 200 pages.  But again: Grammy time comes first.  So we shall see.  In the meantime, there's always blogging.

It's probably a good thing that there was no such thing as blogging when I was a young girl like my Grace; I don't think I would have ever gotten my homework done!  It would have been too much for me, too soon.  But I sure am glad that I discovered it back in 2011, when my boys were grown and I felt like I had the time to really have fun with it.  Blogging has brought me so much joy over the years, and has put me in contact with so many wonderful people I would never have otherwise met.

I think I've always had the heart of a blogger.  And really, what is a blogger if not a writer?

Before we end this meeting of the club, I have a question for you.  I don't think Finding Grace is too long, because I've always liked epically long novels; but some reader feedback over the years makes me realize that not everyone is like me in that regard.  What about you?  Do you like a quick read, or do you prefer a long, involved story that doesn't end too soon?

Meeting adjourned.  Now go read a good book!  (Or if you don't have time for that right now, a good blog post!)