Thursday, October 18, 2018

Creative Pursuits (Including Some ABC Book Updates)

Before I get started, I wanted to thank all of you sweet readers who have left comments here at String of Pearls in the last month or so.  My husband and I have been so busy lately, between road trips out to Notre Dame (we are going to every Fighting Irish home game this season, five so far with one more to go in November!) and helping out our kids, who are currently in the crazy season of raising toddlers and babies and need a helping hand every now and then, that I don't spend much time blogging or checking my blog's combox.  I just saw some lovely comments readers left on a recent post about our dining room, and I finally responded to them today.  I really do love hearing from you, and please forgive me for taking so long to let you know how much I appreciate it when you take the time to comment.

I do miss keeping up with the blog; writing is one of those "blue flame" activities that keeps me balanced and content.  (I know I probably don't need to elaborate on where that term comes from, but just suffice it to say that if you haven't read Jennifer Fulwiler's One Beautiful Dream, you should.)

Actually, when I do anything creative, that is when my blue flame burns the brightest.  Just yesterday morning, I was puttering around in my basement, looking through my big plastic bins filled with fabric and sewing stuff to see what I had.  One of the bins is filled with all kinds of antique goodies gifted to me over the years, along with some linen-and-lace pillow shams that belonged to my mother-in-law (and from which I have made christening dresses for my grandchildren in years past).  I found one piece in particular that intrigued me--I'd forgotten I even had it, so it was a bit like Christmas morning when I rediscovered it yesterday.
It appears to be a circular tablecloth, with a wreath-shaped Battenberg lace insert hand-sewn into the middle.  It's obviously very old and there are lots of small holes in the linen; but I saw all sorts of possibilities for that insert, so I carefully removed it from the surrounding fabric.
I am trying to figure out what I can make with this.  I might frame it with green velvet behind it and add a red satin bow, and then use it as a Christmas decoration.  What would you do with it?  I am open to ideas!

Another activity that feeds my soul (lights my blue flame, tickles my fancy, revs my get the drift) is working on the ABC Book that I hope to finish for my grandchildren by Christmas.  (Fingers crossed!)

The other day, I decided to tweak the cover a little.  It's a minor change, but I like it much better.  It used to be orange.
Now it looks like this.
 I guess I like my book covers to be green...

Not too long ago, I shared the Q pages in a post here at the blog.  But I've added a small update to them.  Here's how they look now.

I've also finished the I pages.
What a shocker that I included a page about Ireland in this book, right?

Not only do I like book covers that are Emerald-Isle green, but I also love Irish characters--so it's no surprise that they populate my two novels.

Well, that's about it from my neck of the woods.  I hope that wherever you are, you're tending to your own blue flame.  Our hearts all burn for different things and they're all good, as long as we're using the gifts and talents the Good Lord gave us in a way that brings honor to Him.  Amen?

I'll be back soon (hopefully!) with more ABC Book pages.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

ABC Book Update

I'm on a roll here--back at the blog for the second day in a row!  (Shake and bake!  That. Just. Happened!)

I'm sitting in our home office at my desk, getting ready to break out the colored pencils and work on the ABC Book that I'm hoping to have ready for my grandkids in time for Christmas--you know, the same book that started out as a project for my youngest son, the 25-year-old Army lieutenant who is just a tad too old now to appreciate it the way he would have if I'd actually finished it while he was still in diapers.

But better late than never, I always say!  And I've made so much progress on it this year.  I've now finished the illustrations (two pages for each letter--except for X, Y, and Z, which will be condensed into a two-page spread) for A through I, as well as L and M, P through U, and Z.  One of the J pages and one of the W pages have also been completed.  Several pages of drawings are currently works in progress, but right now there are 37 finished pages out of a planned 48, with three others very close to completion.  I can see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel!!

When I started this book back in 1993, I was using very large art paper and hand-lettering the text.  I also had three pages of illustrations planned for each letter--biting off way, way more than I could chew, as it were.  That was too ambitious a project for a mother raising five active boys (at least it was for this particular mother, who was never very good at juggling a lot of balls at once).  I only completed 10 pages before I shelved the project until 2013, when I realized it might be fun to dust it off and finish it for my grandkids.

This time around, I decided to use 8 and 1/2 by 11-inch card stock, cut back to only two pages per letter, and print the text on the computer using Word.  Initially, I painstakingly recreated the illustrations I wanted to use over again, making them smaller to fit the new page size; but I have since decided to photocopy some of my original artwork wherever possible, in order to make sure that I actually finish this book before I become a great-grandmother.

Some of the illustrations I did for the 1993 version didn't make the cut.  This one, for instance.
It was inspired by a photo I had of son #2 when he was about four or five, wearing his dinosaur jammies and standing next to a giant inflatable T-Rex he'd gotten as a Christmas gift.  I would have used it again for the new book, but when I decided to do two pages per letter rather than three, I had to come up with new rhymes and this illustration didn't fit as well.  (This boy of ours now has a mini-me of his own, a junior; and he looks an awful lot like this little fella pictured here!)

This page of illustrations for the letter C didn't make the cut either, even though it had been one of my favorites the first time around.
If you've been following along with the ABC Book posts, you've probably figured out by now that two of my favorite subjects to draw and paint are children's faces and furry animals.  Inanimate objects never get me as excited as living, breathing examples of cuteness.

Even though that old illustration won't appear in the final version of the book, you can be sure that there will still be plenty of chubby little cheeks involved (like you see here on this precious face, still a work in progress, inspired by a newborn photo of my youngest granddaughter).
I'm so pleased to be working with these new, smaller pages!
Someone asked me, "Why Nancy?"  The answer is simple, really: I needed an N name, and my paternal grandmother was named Nancy.  She had just five grandchildren, my four siblings and myself; she was our champion, always--she thought we hung the moon.  We all loved her dearly, and I thought this was a nice way to honor her memory.

Okay then, if I really intend to finish this thing, I better sign off and get to work!  But I thought you might be interested in a little update on how things are progressing.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Just Checking In

Testing, one, two, three. this thing still on?

I'm pretty sure that I've used that lame joke here before, when I've been away from my little String of Pearls longer than intended.  But you know how old folks are: they repeat their jokes and stories, over and over and over.  And I am 60 now, after all, so I get to do that.

Anyway, I thought I'd just check in to let you know that I'm still alive and kicking.  Just busy living life, that's all.

I know I promised to write part two of this relatively recent post about celebrating our kids' differences, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.  (Shocker, right?!  I haven't been a very dedicated blogger lately, have I?  However, if you want to know what's going on in the Pearl clan, you can always click on over to my Instagram page...because that is apparently my social media home base these days.)

But phew, you guys.  Life is busy, busy, busy!  I know I'm a grandmother and heading into my restful "golden years," where the bulk of the hard work of raising a family is behind me...but it seems that in some ways, I'm busier than ever!  I mean, if I really think about what a typical day was like when our boys were all living under our roof, in school and playing sports, I know that things have slowed down considerably and my calendar is a lot less filled with reminders about practices, games, dentist and orthodontist appointments, etc. etc. etc.  (My grocery bill is also most definitely smaller!)  But still...

For instance, yesterday my husband and I watched three of our granddaughters for several hours while our oldest son and his wife took one of their girls (and their two-month-old son who is nursing exclusively and therefore can't be left with us yet) to an appointment.  So this is what our basement looked like.

These three cutie pies were reading books that belonged to their daddy and his brothers, making forts out of chairs and bean bags, drawing, and playing with our massive collection of Lion King toys (most of them saved from when our boys were young).  We not only have a whole slew of different toys from the 80's and 90's that I couldn't bear to part with (even when we were downsizing for the move), because they belonged to our crew; but we also have a lot of new playthings picked up at consignment stores during the year-and-a-half we've been living here in VA.

In case you were wondering, this basement is not finished yet--and still, it is the place all of our grandkids like to hang out when they come to Papa and Grammy's house.  We've had a full bathroom  put in and plan to finish off the rest of the space as soon as we can; but for now, it at least has a vinyl floor, some furniture, and a TV.  Oh yes, and plenty of toys!

When I look at these photos, it makes me more confident than ever that the move we made in the spring of 2017 was a smart one.  To be able to be involved in the day-to-day lives of our 13-going-on-14 grandchildren (whose parents miraculously all ended up settling in the same area of the country!) is the most wonderful gift imaginable.  We feel extremely blessed.

As you might know if you come here often, we started out our life as grandparents back in 2011 with the arrival of our firstborn's identical twin girls. In August of 2017, our fourth son's wife gave birth to triplets--two boys and a girl.   Here they are at a photo shoot to celebrate their first birthday.
Son #4 and his wife decided to have DNA testing done on the boys because they looked so much alike.  And it turned out their hunch was right: they are indeed identical.  Isn't that crazy?!  We have two sets of identical twins in the family.  As the triplets' mom, Braveheart, warned her sisters-in-law: Pearl women, watch out!  You might be next!  :)

Now that I've helped you to forget all of the bad things going on in the world these days (because who could look at that picture of the triplets and do anything but smile?!), I'm going to sign off and get ready to do a little visiting with these three doll babies and three of their sweet cousins who live near them.

Bye for now!

Monday, September 24, 2018

House Tour, Part III: The Dining Room

In an effort to get back to blogging for the main reason I was so dedicated to it for so many years (before the Instagram bug bit, and bit hard), I'm going to talk about something today at my neglected String of Pearls simply because it's fun for me and it makes me happy.  I doubt many people are even stopping by here anymore, because when they do, they mostly hear the sound of crickets (metaphorically speaking, of course); but if there's anyone reading this and you like a good home décor post (from someone who is most definitely NOT a professional home decorator--let's make that clear from the get-go!), you might enjoy this.  It's the third installment of a house tour I started not long after we moved to our new house (see Part I and Part II here and here; I also did this post about creating a home library).

Not too long ago, one of my daughters-in-law (blog handle "Preciosa," wife of son #3) and I were talking about whether or not a dining room is even necessary or practical anymore in this new age of mostly casual entertaining.  She was trying to decide whether or not to transform her formal dining room into a play room for her three kids who are three-and-under.  She and my son have a roomy eat-in kitchen, and their dining room is a rarely-used space.  It is quite lovely, with a Pottery Barn table-and-chairs set scored on Craisglist, walls painted a deep navy blue above the chair rail, and a gallery wall filled with their eclectic collection of decorative crosses.  But did they perhaps need a play room more?  They have one in the basement, but having one on the main floor would be so much convenient...What to do, what to do?

In the end, my daughter-in-law decided that although my son was more than ready to pull the trigger, she was not ready (yet, anyway) to give up her dining room.  And I totally get that.

I have always loved having a dining room.  The one we had in our old house in NH (where we lived for 26 years before moving to VA in 2017 to be near our kids and grandkids) was enormous.  Even though it had lots of furniture in it--including an antique buffet painted red, an antique reproduction pine pie safe with a punched-tin door, an antique sideboard that matches our oak dining set, and a lighted china cabinet--there was still plenty of room to navigate around the table.  And we're talking about a table that can comfortably seat 10 or 12.  In fact, I once set up two tables for eight in there, for a St. Patty's Day dinner party with neighbors, and it wasn't that tight.

To give you an idea of how much space we had, here are two photos from our Christmas Eve dinner in 2016, when our five boys, our four daughters-in-law, and the seven grandchildren we had at that time all came to NH for one last Christmas before our move.  We had to angle the table and add a smaller one at the end to extend it, but we all fit!

I was a little nervous about how we were going to squeeze all of our beloved dining room furniture into the space we were going to have in our new house.  As you can see from the pictures on the listing, although it is quite lovely, with that dramatic tray ceiling and the pillars, it is not enormous.

I actually considered selling my large antique oak table-and-chairs, which my mom had bought at an estate sale when I was in middle school and had always been in our house when I was growing up.  Mom had bequeathed the set, with its matching antique sideboard, to me when she and Dad downsized to a condo.  My husband and I were about to downsize now, and I thought maybe I should think about getting something smaller, something that would look better in this sort of room.  But I just couldn't do it.
All I can say is that I'm glad the new dining room opens up to the front hallway, because otherwise all of my pieces wouldn't have been able to fit.  We definitely would have had to take a couple of leaves out of the table if there had been a wall there instead of just those two pillars.

The old owners, who took a minimalist approach to this room, might look at what we've done and think it looks mighty crowded, and it kind of is; but I think we've been able to make it work.  The only piece we couldn't use in here is the lighted china cabinet that used to house some of our good china and crystal, which I repurposed as a display case for my porcelain dolls and put in our new master bedroom.

This old table was a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law.  I refinished it and gave the 
beat-up top a painted faux-marble finish years ago.  The pig is from my sister-in-law, 
who recently bought a restaurant and found it left behind. 
(I collect pigs.  Does that make me weird?)

This solidly-built antique buffet is one of my favorite pieces in the whole house.  
I found it a shop in our old NH hometown, where they sold antiques, secondhand items, 
and gifts.  I fell in love with the painted/distressed finish the seller had given it.

As you can see, there's a lot going on in this little room!  But I love a nice dining room, and I'm just so grateful that we have one in this new, smaller home in VA.  I would miss it terribly if we didn't...because I'm an old school Grammy who likes to set the table with all the fancy stuff for holidays whenever possible.  It made me happy to set our 2017 Thanksgiving table like this.
Our new dining room is smaller than our old one, to be sure, but it feels bigger than it is because it's so open.  This is the view from the dining room table.

When you're having a large gathering at this house, you can be lingering at the table here and interacting with other guests who are sitting in the living room right across the hall.  (I know this because it's happened already!)  While I'm actually more of a fan of houses that have separate rooms and lots of walls on which to hang artwork and family photos,  I do think this house makes the most of its square footage because of its open-concept design.

Okay then, what about you?  Do you think a formal dining room is a necessity?  Do you like open-concept homes, or do you like separate rooms where you can go to escape the noise and the mess every now and then?  Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, September 10, 2018

An Open Book: Promoting Catholic Fiction

I have been a fan of fiction for as long as I can remember.  Like my oldest granddaughter (a 7-year-old identical twin who is really only the oldest by a few minutes), I can think of almost nothing more pleasurable than curling up with a good book.  I gave this granddaughter the blog handle "Bonnie Babe" many moons ago, but she is hardly a babe anymore; she's growing like a weed and has morphed into a tall, lanky, lovely, well-spoken young lady who could probably outscore most high schoolers on the vocabulary section of the SAT.  She pretty much taught herself to ready by about age 4 or 5, and if you happen to see her on any given day, she will most likely look something like this:
Bonnie Babe has three sisters: Cutie Pie (her twin), Little Gal, and City Girl; and now a baby brother (who shall heretofore be known here at the blog as "Simba") has just joined their crew.  We're not sure about Simba yet, but the four tight-knit sisters have all been book fanatics pretty much since birth; seriously, a trip to the library is their favorite activity--better than an amusement park outing, I'd wager.  Bonnie Babe is not the only one in her family whose nose is often buried in a book, not by a long shot.

Bonnie Babe has mentioned on several occasions that she would like to write books when she grows up (which makes her very much like another little girl I used to know--who had the same dream when she was about her granddaughter's age, but didn't know if it was an achievable one). I'm not exactly sure how, but she has recently been made aware of my two novels, Finding Grace and Erin's Ring.  About a week ago, she said to me in an admiring tone, "Grammy, you write books!"  Ever the self-deprecating, little-known author of a pair of little-known Catholic novels, with a wry smile on my face I sort of mumbled, "Well, I wrote books. But I'm not writing one now, and I don't know if I'll ever write another."  That was probably not the right thing to say, was it?!  If I had known it was going to come up, perhaps I would have prepared a better response for my darling little reader/future writer.

I don't know why I'm so shy when discussing my books, even with beloved members of my family.  I don't know why I feel the need to kind of put myself down and minimize what I've accomplished--especially when talking to a granddaughter who should hear from me that yes, it's very possible that if that's what she wants to do someday, she can--and might--actually do it.  If Grammy did it, then surely she can.  I will have to work on being more positive when discussing my "writing career" with her in the future.  (See what I did there?  I felt the need to add quotes, lest you think I take myself, or my writing, too seriously.  Heaven forbid!)

My wonderful publisher, Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books, knows how much I struggle with the marketing/promotion aspect of being a published author.  (A salesman I am not!)  She has tried over the years to encourage me to put myself out there and proudly promote my work--because when it comes to Catholic fiction, she reminds me, it's not about the author.  It's about the message.  It's not about garnering praise or making buckets of money (thank goodness, or I would have to say it's all been for naught!); it's about getting inspiring works of fiction that spread the Truth of our beautiful Catholic Faith into the hands of those who could be touched or edified by it.  Fiction can definitely be used as a tool for evangelization, because there are some people who would rather just read an entertaining story than tackle a Faith-based non-fiction work that they might consider too "dry."  So Catholic fiction authors should be confident that promoting their work is not a vain enterprise at all; they should realize that if their fiction glorifies God and His Church, the more people who read it, the better!

But still, I struggle.

So I decided to put myself out there today (gulp!) and talk about my own books here at Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book link-up.
My first novel, Finding Grace, was published in 2012 and earned the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval that same year. (It was also a finalist for the Guild's CALA in YA fiction.) This lengthy novel, which I wrote over a period of almost five years (beginning when my youngest son started high school), is near and dear to my heart because it is set in Plattsburgh, NY, where I grew up and starting dating the high school sweetheart who has been my husband for 38 years now.  (He might have even been the model I used to create the handsome love interest of the title character, Grace Kelly--wink, wink.)   The book's target audience is teens/adults; because it deals with some difficult topics (underage drinking, premarital sex, abortion), I would not recommend it for readers younger than high school-aged.  But rest assured, parents, that you will not find any cringe-worthily inappropriate scenes described in this pro-life coming-of-age love-story; it is safe for your teens to read.  Mistakes are made and tough things happen to some of the characters, but these situations are handled with as much tact, compassion, and grace as possible.
My second novel, Erin's Ring, was published in 2014.  It was a recipient of two book awards from the Catholic Press Association in 2015: Second Place in Books for Teens & Young Adults, and Third Place in Books for Catholic Novels.  This is a different sort of book than Finding Grace; written over a six-month period, this work of historical fiction (which goes back and forth between the early 1800's and the year 1998) is much shorter in length and geared toward a younger audience.  It is appropriate for readers as young as middle school or junior high (but has been enjoyed by readers of all ages).  Although my first "baby" might always be my favorite, this book is dear to my heart, too, because it is set in Dover, NH, where my husband and I lived for 27 years and raised our five boys.  I've always been a huge fan of historical fiction, and I was able weave some of Dover's fascinating history into the tale, so this was a complete joy to write.  If you're an inveterate Hibernophile like me, you'll love how this book is populated with a cast of plucky Irish characters (fictionalized versions of some real 19th-century immigrants) who brought their Faith--and a Catholic church-- to a small New England town.
I never believed I would actually have a novel published; and two--well, that was truly beyond my wildest dreams.  So imagine how floored I was this past January when I was approached with an offer to work on a non-fiction book, by someone who works on an acquisitions team for a reputable Catholic publisher.  As flattering--and shocking, too, I must admit!--as the offer was, I knew that I was not the right person for the job.  For one thing, my comfort zone as a writer is in the world of fiction rather than non-fiction, so I wasn't confident that I could deliver what this publisher wanted.  For another, my husband and I had moved from NH to VA just months earlier, to be closer to our married sons and our ever-growing brood of grandchildren (13-going-on-14!), and I just didn't think this was the time to get involved in a project that would burden me with deadlines that might get in the way of my current favorite career: being an available hands-on Grammy.  So I said no to what most writers might consider a "once-in-a-lifetime offer that you just can't turn down," wondering if that meant that I was not a "real" writer after all.

But those two Catholic novels are real to Bonnie Babe, who I hope will read them one day.  And they've touched at least a couple of young readers who have written me the sweetest notes.  If God is pleased with them, if they have brought Him greater glory even in some teeny, tiny way, then my mission has been accomplished.

I may never write another book. But if I ever do, I'm pretty sure it will be fiction.  If Bonnie Babe writes books when she grows up, I think they'll be fiction, too.  And her Grammy will be cheering her on every step of the way.

(BTW: I just checked and today Finding Grace is marked down on Amazon, from $14.99 to $9.80.  It would be a good time to get a copy, if you're interested!)

Before I sign off, here are two worthy works of Catholic fiction that I've read recently and for which I am currently working on written reviews:  A Single Bead, a YA novel by Stephanie Engelman; and The Wideness of the Sea , by Katie Curtis.   These are books that deserve a shout-out, and I hope to have a post about them finished in time for next month's installment of this link-up!

Okay, then.  Now head on over to Carolyn's to see what all the other bibliophiles are reading these days!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Celebrating Our Kids' Differences

Any parent who has more than one child knows that it doesn't matter one bit that your offspring all come from the same DNA pool and are raised in the same home by the same mom and dad; in spite of all the factors that point to the conclusion that your children will be more or less alike in personality and temperament, nothing could be further from the truth.
My husband's all-time favorite picture of me with my boys.
God created each human person with his or her own unduplicated set of fingerprints--not to mention his or her own one-of-a-kind immortal soul!  So!  We certainly shouldn't expect that our children will grow up to be carbon copies of one another.  We certainly shouldn't expect that the same methods of discipline will produce the same results with each of them.  It is our job as parents to figure out what makes each of those precious souls entrusted to our care tick, to help them to become the very best that they can be (in the eyes of God, not the world), and then to celebrate the differences between them.  I was always of a mindset that each of my boys was my "favorite" child, simultaneously, because of the special gifts, talents, and virtues that each one of them brought (and continues to bring) to the family dynamic.
My five favorites, circa 1998.
In our case, son number one was a sweet, happy, placid baby--an easy introduction to parenthood for a pair of 25-year-old first-timers.  A reserved, observant type, he was rather cautious, as firstborns often are, so he didn't give us too many worries.  He was an early talker and an eager learner of letters, shapes, and colors.  It's a good thing we didn't waste too much time before producing a sibling for him, or we might have given our parenting skills too much credit and thought that we had more to do with his serene temperament than we did.  We didn't know yet that certain personality traits appear to be formed before those little folks exit the womb, apparently!

When our next son came along 15 months later, we soon found that he was a different animal than his big brother.  He was a happy little guy, too (except for those first six months of his life when he screamed every time we strapped him in his car seat).  Exceptionally affectionate and funny, and very much attuned to the feelings of those around him, he was also way more physically daring than his brother had ever been.  Our firstborn had never had any interest in getting on a swing until he saw his little brother do it at a much younger age.  To see the differences between the two was fascinating, and to watch them forge a bond was one of the sweetest things ever.

Fifteen months after son number two was born, along came son number three, a happy-go-lucky, easy-going little fella with a quick, heart-melting smile.  While son number one was a rule-following peacemaker and son number two tended to wear his deeply-felt emotions right on his sleeve, everything just rolled right off son number three's back.  His brothers (when they got older, and funny in an adult-rather-than-eight-year-old-boy-obsessed-with-potty-humor kind of way) used to joke that that was his superpower: you could not get a rise out of him because nothing bothered him.  (As his fourth grade teacher once said of him, he was "a peach.")
Two-and-a-half, fifteen months, newborn!  
Son number four joined the team about 21 months after son number three, and now we had four boys aged four and under.  As crazy as that sounds, it was actually pretty wonderful.  (#BOYMOM)  But it was loud; so son number four learned pretty early on that if he wanted to be heard, he'd better crank up the volume.  He was a kind-hearted, instinctively empathetic kid, but he did cry a lot, and loudly, over the many injustices that came with being the youngest, weakest, and slowest of the bunch.  He had no idea what an inside voice was supposed to sound like.  (And BTW: it wasn't long before he caught up with his three brothers in size and speed!)
We had a big break between sons number four and five--just about exactly five years. And you would think that with an age gap like that, our fifth-born would be the stereotypical baby of the family: a demanding, perennially immature attention-seeker.  But he was more like a firstborn in temperament: an "old soul" who was serious, eager to please, loath to get in trouble--and above all, in a hurry to grow up as quickly as possible and be just like the big guys, who were his heroes.  You might also think that after five whole years as the baby, son number four would be jealous and resentful of the newcomer, but the opposite was actually true: instead, he took the little guy under his wing and in spite of their age difference, they became the best of playmates.
All my men!

Our boys were--and are--five unique individuals.  Yet growing up, they had many interests and personality traits that bound them together (the term "Band of Brothers" comes to mind).
When they were little, our boys were all dinosaur fanatics; I think they could have given most paleontologists a run for their money when it came to knowing every fact there was to know about those prehistoric monsters.  They always liked the same TV shows and movies, laughed at the same kind of jokes, and played the same sports (football and lacrosse).  All competitive by nature, they excelled both on the field and in the classroom.  All five were self-motivated, hard-working students who never needed us to nag them about studying for tests or doing their homework.

While many people think that having a houseful of teenage boys sounds like a nightmare, I look back on their high school years with fondness and nostalgia.  They loved sports too much to risk losing playing privileges by engaging in bad behavior (one of the many reasons I am a huge fan of kids playing sports), so they stayed pretty close to home and kept their noses clean.  In the grand scheme of things, they required minimal discipline.  (I mean we were strict, don't get me wrong; and there were some bumps in the road.  But compared to what we saw going on with some of their peers, we felt extremely blessed!) Many of the parents we knew at our boys' high school were more than ready for them to go off to college by the time graduation rolled around, but I can honestly say that each time one of our guys left home to start that next chapter in their lives, it was hard for us to let them go.  Not just a little hard; terribly hard.

So to recap: in many ways, our kids were quite similar; but in other ways, they were so very different.  And we were glad about that.  We appreciated their differences and didn't want them to compare themselves to one another.

Of course, once your kids grow up and get married (to kindred souls who are every bit as one-of-a-kind as they are), and then start raising children of their own, the ways in which they are similar and the ways in which they aren't become even more striking.
I'd like to explain more in depth what I mean, but it would take too long and this post has already turned into a novella of sorts.  So I think this is going to be a two-parter.

But I'm sure you want to read more about my favorite subject, my boys...don't you?  Sure you do!
These guys...sigh.  How lucky was I to be the one chosen to be their mother?

My hubby and I are going out of town this weekend, to a Notre Dame football game, so I may not get to it until early next week.  But I'll be back with more on this subject, I promise you.  Stay tuned!  (And in the meantime--go Irish!)

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Home Sweet Home (Complete with a White Picket Fence!)

I absolutely loved this relatively recent Instagram post by Dwija (of House Unseen fame).  My favorite line was this: "home is not a place but a satisfaction of the heart."  

In the past year-and-a-half, I have grown to appreciate just how profoundly true that sentiment is. (I had also relatively recently posted some similar musings of my own on Instagram, saying that "home is not about walls and ceilings; it's about where your people are."  That's not a bad way to put it; but I think Dwija said it better.)

If you are a regular visitor here, you know that in the spring of 2017, my husband and I rather suddenly decided to leave our NH home, where we'd lived for 26 years and raised our five boys, to move down to VA, where three of them (married, with growing families) had settled.  We had to purge like nobody's business (in a mere two months’ time!) to prepare for downsizing to a smaller house, filling two huge dumpsters in the process.  We gave away countless bags of clothes and miscellaneous household goods.  It was a brutal process, both physically and emotionally (which you might know if you read any of my posts between January and March of 2017).  It was made harder by the fact that I am the queen of nostalgia, and every single item I laid eyes on during the culling process seemed to have sentimental significance for me.
But we did it.  We moved from a roomy Colonial on more than an acre of land (set far back from the street on a quiet cul-de-sac, with lovely deer-filled woods in our own back yard), to a smaller cookie-cutter house in a cookie-cutter neighborhood (where the houses are situated very close together on postage stamp-sized plots of grass, and our driveway is just long enough to park our pair of small Nissan four-doors safely).  It has been a bit of an adjustment, to say the least.  Homebodies such as I, who like to feather their nests and rarely leave them, have a lot of trouble starting over.  I mean, it was easier when we were younger and hadn't had time to set down permanent roots anywhere.  We did a bit of moving in the early years, when my husband was a Naval aviator and then a new hire in the airlines.  But once we bought that "forever home" in NH, it became harder and harder each year to imagine we would ever live anywhere else.

But I'm here to tell you, that quote of Dwija's is right on the money.  Home is not a place--not even as lovely and cozy and comforting a place as that wonderful house was for our family for so many years.  Home is a satisfaction of the heart.  And what satisfies this heart of mine is being close to the people I love most in the world.  I could have dug my heels in and stayed in NH, all for the sake of a house; why, though, when all of our sons had grown up and gone, and it didn't look like anyone would be coming back to settle in the Northeast?  Why, though, when by some miracle three of our boys had made their homes in Northern VA, a stone's throw from one another, and it didn't look like any of them would be moving anytime soon?  The answer to the question "what/where is home?" became more and more obvious as time went by: VA was where we were meant to be.  (And now a fourth son has moved to the area, at least temporarily, by some serendipitous twist of fate! Forget subtle signs; God realizes that some folks need to be hit over the head, I guess!)

So we moved; we sold our home in NH, and we never looked back.  (Well, at the beginning I looked back a little; but not anymore!)

My husband and I have been away from our VA home for most of the summer, with the exception of a few weeks in July:  first when we traveled back to have a family week with our youngest son, who was home from Germany on leave (all five Pearl boys were together again--huzzah!);
and then when we rushed back to help out after the birth of our newest grandchild, our oldest son's first boy after four girls.
Other than those two trips South, we have been hanging out in our old hometown in Upstate NY, staying at my husband's childhood home on the lake while managing our Oyster Haven VRBO property just down the road.  It's been great having the opportunity to spend time with family members--including my mom--who are still in the area.  And not too long ago, we had a wonderful family vacation week at Oyster Haven with two of our sons and their families, which I will blog about soon.  (There might be a photo dump involved, too--just a warning!  And here's a mini-dump to tide you over...)

Oyster Haven was home for that week; it was a place where all of our hearts were extremely satisfied indeed.

But as summer draws to a close, I find I am getting homesick.  In less than a week, we will be heading back to VA, and I have to say, I'm beginning to feel very anxious to get home.  Yes, HOME.  Because that's where home is these days.  That's where my heart is most satisfied.

You might think you know just where you're going to end up; you might believe you have the most perfect plan mapped out for your future.  But be ready to go where life leads you.  Even five years ago, it would have surprised this born-and-bred Northeasterner to know that she could be so happy in a cookie-cutter house in a cookie-cutter Southern neighborhood.  But I am.

There it is, home sweet home.
It's even got a white picket fence out front, and a statue of Our Lady; truly, what more could you want?
There's my front door, welcoming me back from a walk through my sweet little neighborhood.
You know house, you're okay, you really are.  And I miss you!  See you soon.