Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Erin's Ring is Out, Just in Time for Christmas Gift-giving!

Erin's Ring is now available for purchase!

If you're Irish (or even if you're not), you're going to love this book.  If you wear a Claddagh ring (or even if you don't), you're going to love this book.  If you're a history buff (but even if you're not), you're going to love this book.  If sweet, wholesome love stories make your heart go pitter-pat (and if they don't, what's wrong with you anyway?!), you're going to love this book.  I don't mean to sound big-headed about my own book; but that right there, folks--that's called "marketing."  (How did I do?)

The Amazon page for Erin's Ring is up and running, ready to receive your orders; and if you head on over there soon, you'll be able to have a copy tucked under the Christmas tree, all wrapped up with love, for your favorite young (or old!) reader.
If you do check out the Erin's Ring page on Amazon, you'll see that this YA novel has already received endorsements from some respected names in the Catholic fiction world, including Nancy Carabio Belanger, Rosemary McDunn, Amy M. Bennett, and Kay Murdy, as well as a blogger with whom you might be familiar (Tiffany, who blogs at Life of a Catholic Librarian).

I am a huge fan of Belanger, whose popular Olivia books are beloved by many and widely used in school curriucla; therefore I was especially humbled by her words: "Highly recommended for Catholic classrooms, Erin's Ring is a Catholic novel that weaves Irish-American history with the present.  This wholesome novel had me shed tears of sadness and joy, and these brave young Irish-Catholic women from different generations drew me in.  Lovingly and tenderly written, Erin's Ring is a story of true friendship, sacrificial love, and above all, the God Who is never bound by time or space."

Cheryl Dickow (president of Bezalel Books, the publisher of both Finding Grace and Erin's Ring), wrote a beautiful blog post today about not only the book, but about the kind of strong, courageous women you'll find in its pages.  If you'd like to read Cheryl's post, click here.

My publisher believes in this book.  My husband believes in this book (big surprise there).  And I believe in it, too.  I would love nothing more than to get it into the hands of as many young readers as possible.  Therefore--

I'm hosting a Christmas giveaway here at String of Pearls.  I'm going to send one lucky reader a signed copy of Erin's RingJust leave me a comment between now and December 8, and I'll put all the names in a hat and choose one.

Okay then.  I look forward to hearing from you.  And may you have the luck of the Irish.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Belated Veteran's Day Post

I never got around to writing a Veteran's Day post back on November 11, but I decided I'd give a nod to our brave men and women in uniform today.  Better late than never!

I thought I'd share with you the faces of some of our best and brightest: some Army ROTC cadets at the University of Notre Dame who recently found out that they will receive active duty commissions upon graduation in May and learned to which branches they will be assigned.  (Among these faces is that of the youngest of my five sons, my baby--whom I love with the ferocity of a mother lion and of whom I am proud beyond words).
All five of our sons accepted four-year Army ROTC scholarships that they'd been awarded their senior years of high school.  My husband likes to point out that when kids these days make this sacrificial commitment to military service, it's different than it was back in his day.  He himself spent four years as a Navy ROTC midshipmen at Notre Dame; after graduation, he became a commissioned officer and fulfilled his boyhood dream of following in his dad's footsteps and becoming a Naval Aviator.  He flew A-7's and then transitioned to F-18's. Yes, he was a fighter pilot--which as far as the cool factor goes doesn't have any equal, in this woman's opinion.  But at the time he served, the only real threat to our national security was the ongoing "Cold War," and young men and women who entered the armed forces during that era were almost guaranteed that they wouldn't be called upon to participate in any ground wars.  It wasn't until the tail end of my husband's Navy career, when he'd started working for the airlines but was still a flight instructor in the Navy Reserves, that the first Gulf War broke out and there was a chance that he might be sent into battle.  While he was not called up, many of his buddies were, and one even lost his life when he was shot down on the first night of fighting.

The amazing thing is that even though the last thing my husband would have wanted to do was to leave his wife and sons and be sent into harm's way, he said that there was something deep inside him that sort of longed to be with his brothers in arms, fighting alongside them, putting into practice the years and years of training that had prepared him to be a combat pilot.  The feeling actually surprised him, he said.  But it was there, this yearning to use his particular set of skills in defense of his beloved country.  And like any true military man, it wasn't because he was some blood-thirsty, violent "war monger"; instead, it was because he felt that he would do anything--even lose his own life--if it meant keeping those he loved back here at home safe.

These are the kind of men who belong in the military.  Men like my husband.  And men like my sons.

Our oldest son served in the Army for eight years--with year-long deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was a Chinook helicopter pilot.  He missed the birth of his first children, his identical twin daughters, while on his second deployment (although he Skyped with his wife while she was in the delivery room).  Two of our sons are Reservists, although one was activated to active duty for a year, and the other had to deploy to Afghanistan for six months as a civilian.  While having a child deployed to a war zone is one of the most uniquely terrifying things a mother can experience, the sense of pride and gratitude such self-sacrifice and courage engenders is indescribable.

Now we have another son who has made the decision to spend the next eight years of his life in service to his country.  He will take that oath of allegiance to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."  He may be sent to a dangerous part of the world, but he has accepted that as part and parcel of being an Army officer.

God bless my boy and his buddies in the ROTC unit at Notre Dame.  God bless all those other brave souls--past, present, and future--who have taken or will take that same oath.  And God bless America!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Coming Soon: Erin's Ring

I'm so excited that my second YA novel will be published soon by Bezalel Books.  It looks like it might be available in early December, in time for Christmas gift-giving.  (Updates on that to follow.)

Erin's Ring is a much shorter story, at less than 200 pages, than my first novel, Finding Grace.  It will be smaller-sized book than FG, too, with a larger font that's easier on middle-aged eyes.

ER is also a simpler tale, targeted at a younger audience than FG--although my publisher feels it will appeal to all ages, to "women from 16 to 60."  There are some difficult themes in FG (teenage pregnancy, abortion, the Holocaust) that make it more appropriate for an older teen reader; but this book is just right for even the junior high set.
The front cover (it will wrap around the spine on the left). 
The font for title has been changed, so it looks even prettier now.
Here's the (hopefully) attention-grabbing synopsis:

What story might this ring tell, if only it could talk?

When thirteen-year-old Molly McCormick, who has recently moved from the Midwest to Dover, New Hampshire, finds an old Irish Claddagh ring poking up out of the dirt in a garden outside her local parish church, she is immediately intrigued.  The ring’s inscription, “To Erin—Love, Michael,” fills her head with romantic possibilities.  She teams up with her new friend, Theresa Grant, to uncover the story behind the lost ring.  With the help of the head librarian at the public library, the two girls become immersed in the rich history of the Irish immigrants who came to Dover in droves during the 19th century, to escape famine and poverty in their homeland and make better lives for their children and grandchildren. 

Molly and Theresa learn about the courage, tenacity, and deep faith that were the hallmarks of these Irish immigrants—people with names like Ann and Seamus, Cara and Finn, and of course, Erin and Michael. The young girls eagerly delve into old records tucked away in the dark corners of the library and learn how instrumental Dover’s Irish-Catholics were in getting the first Catholic church built in their small New England town. 

Molly and Theresa set out to discover the origins of the mysterious ring, but they unearth a story that is far stranger and infinitely more touching than anything they could have ever imagined.

Does this synopsis entice you to read it?  I hope so!
"I want to read it, Grammy!"  Thanks, G-Man!  I knew I
could count on YOU!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ice Cream Daily: That's the Ticket!

Remember I told you about this condition I had called hyperparathyroidism, which was discovered after some routine bloodwork revealed decreased levels of vitamin D in my blood, along with elevated levels of calcium?
And to cure this condition, surgery to remove an enlarged parathyroid gland was required (which I had, on October 8, and which went off without complication)?
Well, the surgery revealed that that crazy tumor-like gland, which over the course of who knows how many years had sneakily swelled from its normal size (about the circumference of a pencil eraser) to the size of a walnut, had been busy causing calcium to leech out of my bones and spill into my blood, without me ever knowing it.  It had been working overtime doing this, to the point where the other three calcium-regulating parathyroid glands on its team had just gone to sleep, figuring that they'd been benched by the "it's all about me" walnut-sized superstar.

As part of the tests that were done to confirm the diagnosis in the months leading up to the surgical procedure, I had to have my first-ever bone scan, and it was determined that I had developed "significant" osteoporosis because of my hyperactive parathyroid gland.  At the time I found this out, I never thought to ask for a definition of the term "significant."

Well, yesterday I had a follow-up appointment with the endocrinologist who diagnosed the disease, and I asked him how bad my bones actually are.  I was not really expecting the answer this doctor gave me: he said I have the bones of a 70-year-old.  As I was trying to absorb this discouraging bit of information, he amended his statement: "Well, I'd say a 70 to a 75-year-old."  Oh, thanks, doc.  That's much better!

I am 56 years old, and my bones have aged way ahead of the rest of me.  There is a slight chance that they could repair themselves a little, now that the offending gland has been removed.  With vitamin D supplements and a calcium-rich diet, I might see a little improvement--and they should at least stop deteriorating at the rate they were before the cure.  But they'll never be 56 again.  Not in this lifetime.

I found out from the doctor yesterday that the current consensus among medical professionals is that calcium supplements may not be very good for you in fighting osteoporosis--they may, in fact, cause calcium deposits to form around your heart.  A better way to make sure you're getting enough calcium is through your food intake, by drinking more milk, eating more cheese and yogurt.  And therefore I've made a decision that's all about wanting to be as healthy as I can be: I'm going to incorporate as much ice cream into my daily diet as my waistline will allow.  Yes, that's the ticket!  It's medicine for me, people; that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I worry about falling and breaking a hip--not two decades from now, but RIGHT NOW.  However, I suppose everyone who lives long enough ends up with health issues of one kind or another.  And compared to the crosses and suffering borne by many others, having brittle bones and stooped posture seems like getting off easy.  So I won't complain...
I'll just sit here, shrinking...and eating ice cream!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Rehearsal Dinner Cake for a Pair of Teachers

A couple of sweet readers and fellow bloggers, Madeline and Rosie to be exact, have expressed interest in the rehearsal dinner cake I made for son #2 and his bride.  They've stopped by here often enough to know that this is something I always do for my boys

I decided to use the fact that the two wonderful kids who got married last Saturday are both teachers--my son teaches high school math, and his new wife is a kindergarten teacher--as inspiration for the theme for the cake.  Also, my son has become the adopted father of Ginger's beloved black pug, Reagan, so I wanted to incorporate him into the design as well.  (And yes, the Reagan he's named after is Ronald Reagan, who in this woman's opinion is the greatest US president of the modern era; so as if there aren't already a million reasons why this girl is the perfect match for our conservative-minded son, there's another one.)

Sometimes, I break down and buy ready-to-use tubes of colored frosting, even though they just never taste as good as my awesome homemade buttercream.  When I made the Manchester United cake for my sister's son's rehearsal dinner back in September, I used black frosting from a tube; and not only was it hard to squeeze and control, but it also turned your teeth gray-ish if you ate it.
So I decided to be a purist for this cake and mix up my own decorating colors, going with chocolate for the areas that would otherwise have been black.  The only problem was that my chocolate frosting tended to get very melty as I worked with it, and therefore when I tried to spell out "SCHOOL BUS," I almost made a total mess of the whole thing.  I ended up having to scrape off the word "SCHOOL," and then I spelled out the much shorter, much sweeter word "BUS."  Good enough, I thought.

My son is not only a high school teacher, but he's also a football coach, so I added plastic football embellishments in lieu of a decorative frosting border.

I made this two--layer cake in NH, boxed it up, and put it in the freezer, so that it would be frozen solid for the car trip down to VA.  This is what I've done for every wedding so far, and it works like a charm.  The cake is less fragile in its frozen state, and by the time we reach our destination, it's all thawed out.  Then by the time the rehearsal dinner comes, it's moist and heavenly.  This cake did have a near-catastrophe befall it, when a rolled-up extension cord fell over onto the box, just after we'd arrived in VA.  So a chunk of icing just under the wheels of the bus (which go round and round) was scraped off.  But I did some surgical work on it, and patched it up so that you can hardly notice.

Okay then, here it is.  For a pair of teachers, doesn't this design just take the cake?
The couple, God bless them, were happy with the way this cake turned out.  In a way, I think it looks like something one of Ginger's kindergarten students might draw.  But I guess that makes it just about perfect, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sister, Sister--and a Growing Family!

The pictures from son #2's wedding to Ginger this past weekend just keep on comin'!  My baby sister and her hubby were both johnny-on-the-spot all weekend (not just at the wedding, but at the rehearsal dinner the night before), flashing away with their cameras in their zeal to capture every possible photo-worthy moment of this fabulous occasion.  My boy and his bride had hired a professional photographer, of course; but my sister and her man (a jack-of-all-trades who was once a professional wedding photographer himself) didn't let up all night anyway.  Already, she has posted hundreds of awesome pictures on Facebook.  She's a real peach.
This particular sister is probably the #2 fan of this blog, after my husband; or perhaps #3, after my husband and my middle son.  She's a fan of everyone she loves, and everything her loved ones do.  She's a bubbly, happy person who knows how to shower affection on others with an effortlessness and beauty that I have yet to master.  I might be the older of the two of us, but I think I've learned more from her than she'll ever learn from me.
Oh, yeah--and she's stunning, too.  Did I forget to mention that?

My other lovely and loving sister was also at this wedding (it was just us Harding gals, since my dad and my two brothers were unable to make it).  She flew down from NY to VA with my indomitable mom, who's been having trouble walking due to some issues stemming from her arthritis (and one of our nephews came along to help out as well).  My mom, a great-grandmother of four now, didn't kick up her heels the way she used to when she was known far and wide as the "Energizer Bunny"; but she did plenty of dancing in place and had a wonderful time in general.

The Harding women, left to right: the sister on the left is #4 of 5 in our family, I'm #2,
and the sister on my right is the baby.  (The photo-bomber is my oldest son!)
My mom and the older of my two younger sisters are both dark-haired, dark-eyed beauties, as you can see.  The funny thing is that my brunette sister up there on the left looks a lot more like the beautiful new young bride of son #2 than she does like me.  They could be sisters!  (Or aunt and niece, or whatever.)

I normally refrain from posting pictures of my three granddaughters (the children of my firstborn son), out of deference to his and his wife's wish to protect their privacy; but this shot is rather blurry, so I thought it would be okay.  I just wanted to show you our growing family.  Once, we were seven.  But between December 2009, when our oldest son got married, and November 2014, when we celebrated this latest wedding, we have more than doubled in size.  In a mere five years, we've added four daughters-in-law and four grandchildren--so we've gone from seven Pearls to fifteen (sixteen, really, with another wee one in utero: a sibling for our little girls).  Here's our ever-expanding gang, with my mother (who goes by the handle "Mimi").
Praise God from whom all blessings flow! (And there will be more pictures where these came from, just you wait and see...)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Trio of Adorable Flower Girls

Our wee twin granddaughters have just survived another stint as flower girls--their third such stint in the past eleven months.  Three of their uncles have gotten married in less than a year, and all three wanted their beloved nieces to play this special role in the festivities.

Back in December of 2013, for the wedding of son #3 and Preciosa, Bonny Babe panicked and wouldn't leave her mother's side; Cutie Pie raced down the aisle alone, straight into Papa's waiting arms; and the third flower girl, the six-year-old daughter of the bride's cousin, ended up walking down by herself, carrying the "Uncle M, here comes your bride" banner that the twins were meant to carry as a pair, with her following along right behind them.  It didn't go off as planned, but was very cute nonetheless.

Just a couple months later--in February of 2014, when son #4 married Braveheart--the twins were to be the only flower girls in the wedding.  That time, we decided from the get-go that we shouldn't put everyone through the stress again; so when my husband and I processed down the aisle ahead of the wedding party, we each held the hand of one of the twins, and their mommy followed closely behind holding their baby sister, Little Gal.  (There were no older flower girls involved in that wedding.)  It all went off without a hitch; and although the way our sweeties came down the aisle wasn't textbook flower girl style, it was very sweet.

This time around, there were five flower girls altogether: the twins and three older girls (the bride's niece, along with the daughters of two of the bride's friends).  During the rehearsal, we tried to get our granddaughters to process down the aisle with the other three, but they weren't having it.  The poor things--for every single wedding with which they've been involved, the ceremony has taken place right in the heart of what would be their nap time!  So Papa and I asked if we could just do a repeat of the February performance, and let them come down the aisle by our sides, holding onto our hands.  It was absolutely the right call!  They are just too young for the job, in our opinion.  Five- and six-year-olds make ideal bridesmaids, but younger girls are not always ready to be in the spotlight like that.  At least ours aren't, because right now they're just too shy.

So that's how it went with this latest wedding of son #2 and Ginger: we got the little girls down the aisle and happily seated up front with us; and later, the three older girls came down together.  They were just precious!  All somewhere in the neighborhood of five or six, those three girls were the perfect age for the job.  They looked (and I believe felt) like princesses in their satin dresses, carried bouquets, and wore flowers in their hair.  They were quite the trio of best buddies.
There aren't many little girls who have played this role three times between the age of two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half, like our twin granddaughters have.  I hope by the time our youngest son gets married, they'll be the right age for the job.  And perhaps by then, their little sister can be a flower girl right along with them!  With this in mind, I'm hanging onto these dresses I made.  All I'll have to do is change the sashes so the color matches the décor of the next wedding.  (I like to think ahead...but no pressure, youngest son!)