Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Hubby, the Irishman

Uh oh...I'm doing it again.  Re-posting.  This one is from 2012, but I thought it might be worth a repeat here at String of Pearls.  I've just had a second YA Catholic novel published, titled Erin's Ring, and this new book is a love letter to the Irish people and their God (also known as THE God!).

Reading this old post today about my husband, he of the 100% Celtic blood (don't know where the name "Pearl" came from, though,  because it doesn't sound very Irish), I realized why both of my books are so heavily populated with Irish and Irish-American characters!  Love, love, love those Irish.

So here's that post.  Click on it and give it a read, won't you now?  Faith 'n beggorah, it's a good one, 'tis indeed.  Promise!
Please note the shamrock suspenders!

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Reluctant Angel, Again

Sometimes I go the lazy route here at String of Pearls, and I show you old posts instead of coming up with something new.  And you guessed it, that's what I've decided to do today.

Not that I get so many visitors nowadays--but when I first posted this little story two years ago, hardly anyone was reading this blog.  I think this particular post got less than 25 "hits" back then, so unless you're among a handful of loyal longtime readers (mostly related to me by blood or marriage), you probably haven't read it yet--and it'll be new to you!

This one is all about my oldest son, who was very reluctant to play an angel in the kindergarten Christmas pageant at his Catholic school.  When he balked at having to dress "like a girl," I really felt for him.  I should have gotten him a slew of books about sword-wielding, manly angels like St. Michael the Archangel to get him pumped up for the role, I can see that now.  But I did the next best thing and fashioned him a costume that he felt comfortable wearing.  One that he didn't consider to be an affront to his manhood.

And who's to say all angels wear flowing robes, anyway?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Reluctant Angel

Before we moved east and settled in this New England town, where all of our sons attended the same Catholic grade school, our oldest son spent his first half-year of kindergarten at a Catholic school in Illinois.   And one of the last things he did as a student at that school was to play an angel in the Christmas pageant.

For some reason, it was decided that particular year (1989) that the girls would play the shepherds and the boys would be the angels, and this caused my son a whole lot of 6-year-old angst.  Although a shepherd's costume would have consisted of a bathrobe or some other type of  long, flowing garment, he saw that role as masculine enough.  But he felt very strongly that angel costumes were meant for girls.

"I don't want to wear a white dress!" he said, near tears.

He was really quite distressed, and to say he was reluctant to take part in the pageant is putting it mildly; if he could have gotten out of it altogether, he would have.  So I promised him that I would try to come up with an angel get-up that bore absolutely no resemblance to a dress.  Luckily, each mom was in charge of dressing her own little angel.  And luckily, I was able to find white sweat pants to go with a white turtleneck--and as you can see, my son was one manly little angel.  He was, in fact, the only boy among the Seraphim and Cherubim that night who was wearing pants.

Some might say that I should have just told him to man up and put on an angel's flowing white robe; after all, that's how all the other young ruffians were attired that night.  But I felt I needed to respect his wishes on this one, and he went from reluctant to radiant, all because he was wearing pants.  Look at that angelic smile!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Giveaway Winner (and Claddaghs on the Brain)!

Okay, as promised, I'm announcing the winner of the giveaway here at String of Pearls this morning.  When you hear who it is, you're going to think the contest was fixed, but I give you my word of honor that I chose the winning slip of paper with my eyes closed (and a prayer that I would choose the person who needed the book the most).  The winner is my Aussie blogging friend Erin, from Seven Little Australians and Counting.

Yes, the winner of a signed copy of Erin's Ring is named Erin.  That.  Just.  Happened.
Actually, I think Erin is the perfect choice, not just because of the book's title.  I'm also tickled that she won because she told me that so far, Erin's Ring is not easily available in the Land Down Under.  (For those of you who might have tried to order it on Amazon in the US and saw "temporarily out of stock" on the order form, I don't think it will take too long to receive your copy.  I have already been told by two friends that the books they ordered on-line have arrived.)

So that's one reason I'm glad the slip of paper I pulled out of the hat had Erin's name on it.  The other is that she is a homeschooling mother of ten (you read that right, TEN), and I've seen photos of her impressive home library on her blog.  I know this book will find a good home with her, and it will have a chance to be read by many young eager readers.

So Erin, I'll get that copy out to you as soon as I can.  (I'm going to have to look through my archives for your address--unless you want to just send it to me again.)

If you didn't win this contest, readers, there are three other signed copies out there, just waiting to be sent out to three lucky winners.  I'm hosting a giveaway at Goodreads--and if you enter before midnight on December 15, one of those winners could be you.

Aside from the Goodreads giveaway, my publisher Cheryl Dickow has a special Christmas offer going on: a "Mother-Daughter Package," available over at Bezalel Books (Erin's Ring and Cheryl's Elizabeth, a Holy Land Pilgrimmage, $17.99 with free shipping).  Award-winning author Nancy Carabio Belanger blogged about Erin's Ring and this amazing Bezalel offer here.  And if you'd like to order that set, click here.

I've kind of had Claddaghs on the brain lately.  I've always loved the look of Irish Claddagh rings and the symbolism behind the hands, crown, and heart: Friendship, Loyalty, Love.  I fell in love with this sort of meaningful Irish ring back in the spring of 1979, when I was a junior in college and my then-boyfriend brought me a gold one from Dublin, where he'd gone on a trip with the Notre Dame rugby team.  We'd been dating since the summer of 1973, and this was the first serious piece of jewelry he'd ever given me.  I put it on the ring finger of my left hand and couldn't stop looking at it!
This is the original box.  Over the past 35 years, the ring has developed several
cracks that I had to have fixed; but otherwise, it's the original as well.
My Claddagh was not technically an engagement ring, but it could have been--because at that point, we were sure we were going to get married after college.  (We were officially engaged--although without another ring--the following December, during our senior year, and then got married one year after that.)

I do love Claddaghs, and when the story for Erin's Ring started to form in my head, one of the first things I decided was that my young heroine would find an old-looking gold Claddagh ring poking up out of the dirt in a garden next to her parish church, right in front of a statue of Mary.  She would become intrigued by it, convinced by the engraving inside the band--"To Erin--Love, Michael"--that this ring must have an epic, romantic story to tell.  Erin's ring would in turn inspire her to explore the archives of the public library for clues, and in the process she and her best friend would learn all about the Irish immigrants who played a huge role in their small New Hampshire town's history.  (The story is set in Dover, NH, and there is a lot of true Dover history in this book.)  I wasn't even sure at first why the ring had ended up in the garden or how tragic I wanted its owner's story to be; but I let the characters lead me and eventually, it all came together.  In the last few pages, the mystery is solved...but I'm not going to tell you any more--you'll just have to read it!

Since finishing this novel, I seem to be obsessed with the Claddagh image.  Just recently, I typed the word "Claddagh" in a search box on the Etsy home page (a dangerous place to go, I assure you!), and I found this beauty.  It's a wall cross made out of balsa wood.  Look at that intricate scrollwork!  For $15, I thought it was a steal.
And it looks great on my wall of wedding pictures (a wall that's getting mighty crowded these days, now that four of our five boys are married!).
Well, I hope if you read Erin's Ring, you'll have Claddaghs on the brain, too!  (And don't forget about that Goodreads giveaway!)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mary's Day, Mary's Children (A Wedding Story)

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and it's also the one-month anniversary of the wedding of son #2 and his bride Ginger.  I have been meaning to sit down and devote a couple of hours to writing a nice, long post about the glorious day that these two kids got married, filled with delightful pictures of the event; but I've just been having trouble lately remembering that I'm NOT, in fact, a chicken with my head cut off.  And also remembering how sweet the readers of this blog are--and how interested they are in all the news that concerns our growing family.  Activities such as baking coffee cakes and sugar cookies, painting doors, and scouring the attic for our boys' old toys and bringing them downstairs for our granddaughters, all in anticipation of having my entire family with us this Christmas--all of that stuff can wait until after I share these wedding deets with you.

I think this feast day in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a perfect day to talk about a young couple who began their courtship with a 54-day Rosary novena to Her, in order to discern God's plan for their relationship.  I blogged about this before, when I told you their engagement story; but I think it's worth a quick re-tell today.  My boy and his new wife met a year ago yesterday, at the wedding of my middle son and his Preciosa.  She was a bridesmaid and he was a groomsman; and although they talked a little, they never got around to hitting the dance floor together.  My son told me afterward that on the entire 12-hour drive back from VA to NH, he was kicking himself for not spending more time with her.  So the first thing he did when he got home was to send her a Facebook friend request.  (As wonderfully old-fashioned as this couple is in all the right ways, they ARE, after all, 21st-century creatures.)  Once they became FB friends, texts flew back and forth, followed by epic phone calls, followed by visits via air travel...and when it seemed as if they were headed in a very serious direction, they decide to say the novena.  God was a part of the equation from the get-go, and they appealed to His Mother for Her intercession.  Due to the long-distance nature of their relationship, they had to say many of their Rosaries together over the phone.  When the 54 days were up, it seemed that God's answer was something like, "You two really need to be together, and I think you know that."

Within six months of meeting, they were engaged.
And just one year (actually, less than a year!) after being members of the wedding party at the wedding of her college friend and his younger brother, they became man and wife.
It's a beautiful story, isn't it?

And they had a beautiful wedding day to go along with that story.

To begin with, the Mass was very holy and reverent.  The couple recited their vows while holding a crucifix that they bought especially for that purpose, and which they plan to hang in their house for the rest of their days together on this earth.  The music was so incredibly lovely--in fact, the same team that sang and played for the wedding Mass of son #3 and Preciosa a year ago was employed once more.  (Ginger and Preciosa have been friends for more than a decade, and the singer is the younger sister of one of their mutual best friends.)  The litany of the saints, a favorite of mine, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  It was like being in the company of the angels.  The priest who married them is young and extremely likeable--and as someone pointed out, bears an uncanny resemblance to Brian Kilmeade of Fox TV's "Fox and Friends" morning show!
Ginger picked out something quite different for her attendants to wear than the run-of-the-mill prom-style gown.  She had striped skirts made on Etsy, and then her bridesmaids wore black twinsets with them, accessorized with multi-strand pearl necklaces given to them by the bride.  I LOVED this classy, unexpected look.  Two of the bridesmaids had given birth recently and two were pregnant, so it was challenging coming up with an ensemble that would suit all the various body types; but look at these pictures!  I'd say the outfit flatters every single one of these beautiful young women!  It's like the preppy look meets Audrey Hepburn, or something like that.  (Work with me here!)

Okay, I better stop with the bridesmaid pictures, or this is going to turn into a fashion post!  (But don't you love this look?!)

What about the guys--you didn't think I forgot about them, did you?  Here is a clever shot of the gray-suited groomsmen that I didn't understand at first.
You'd think after raising five sons, I'd know a superhero-themed stunt when I saw one...but I didn't.  It was explained to me that son #2 was pretending to hit the ground, Thor-style, and that the force of his superhero strength made the earth explode and sent all the other guys flying into the air.  How did I not know this right away?  It's so obvious to me now.  I love this picture, because it illustrates a quality in the male of the species that I love so much: a man, no matter how old he gets, will always have a bit of little boy in him.

I'll bet you're smiling, aren't you?  Okay then, on to the reception!

We were thrilled that the party was held in the same Marriott hotel where all the out-of-town guests had reserved their rooms, so it was an easy walk back "home" after the festivities.

The ballroom was decadently beautiful.  The food, served buffet-style, was decadently tasty and plentiful.  The air was filled with the sound of non-stop dance tunes (provided by a father-son DJ duo the bride has known since high school), and the dance floor was packed from the minute dinner ended until the lights went on at the end of the night.  I don't think there was anything about that wedding reception that could have been improved upon.  One of the best things about it was that there were so many CHILDREN in attendance, which is the hallmark of any Pearl wedding--and our son married into a family that is very like-minded!
I got to dance my third mother-son dance in the span of eleven months, and I started to get a little weepy.  But then my son and I decided to do a little swing dancing to lighten things up.

My husband loves watching me dance with my sons.
That's him back there next to the bride, holding his little dance partner Bonny Babe.
I could go on and on here; but I think I'm going to let some pictures do the talking for me.

No wedding reception would be complete without "YMCA"--am I right?

Or my baby's "Thriller" routine.
Cutie Pie was either on my lap or on the dance floor
with me, all night (we were like peas and carrots!),
 until it was time for a sitter to put her to bed.

My husband was sporting his wedding must-have: shamrock suspenders!

Ginger was a spectacularly beautiful bride.

My son likes to say he "married up."  But I'd say they both did quite all right indeed!
Mary, these children of Yours came to You for help when they were in the process of discerning whether or not they should be joined together for life.  You helped them to see that God's answer to their prayers was a resounding "YES!"  Please continue to watch over and guide them.
But I don't have to tell you that.  You're their Mother, after all.
(P.S.: Today's the last day to enter to win a signed copy of Erin's Ring.  Just leave me a comment before midnight tonight, and your name goes into the hat!)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Lot Can Sure Happen in a Year!

One year ago today, our middle son married his Preciosa.  It was an extraordinarily beautiful day, and the start of an extraordinarily beautiful life.
These two kids are perfect for each other, in every possible way.  Both have happy dispositions.  They are both the type of people who make friends easily and love to plan fun outings.  They are both passionate about college football (and live in a house divided, with Preciosa rooting for her beloved Seminoles, while son #3 wonders what ever happened to the luck of the Irish!).  They are fiercely devoted to whomever and whatever they love...and more than anything, they love each other.

I'm so proud of these two young newlyweds, who found each other on CatholicMatch.com--because out there in the post-college world they just weren't meeting the kind of people with whom they felt they could share their futures.  They were looking for faith-filled mates who shared their love of the Catholic Church and its teachings, and who would take seriously the sacramental aspect of marriage.  And what's especially refreshing in this day and age is that they wanted to put themselves 100% in God's hands, knowing that He alone is the perfect "family planner" and would send them children when they were ready.  Well...

Less than two months after they recited their wedding vows, they got the joyful news that their first child was on the way.  And this absolutely adorable little guy was their reward for their trust in God's will for their marriage.
Is that not THEE cutest face you've ever seen?  (Tied with three other faces, actually--said this proud Grammy.)  He often seems to be the spitting image of his dear old dad at that age; but other times, we can see his mommy in that expressive little face.  He's part dad, part mom--but he's ALL G-Man!  And like all God's creations, he is utterly one-of-a-kind.

A lot can sure happen in a year's time, can't it?

Happy anniversary to my sweet boy and his sweet girl.  You have made a beautiful start on what I pray is a long and happy life together, and I couldn't love you more or be more proud of you. 

(Now kiss that little boy's cheeks for me, and tell him Grammy can't wait to see him in a few weeks!)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent Activities (and a Giveaway Reminder)

I love Advent. 

I get excited when it's time to pull out our oversized Advent wreath each year, and to light a new candle each Sunday--something my hubby and I used to do with our boys, but which we now do together (unless he's off on a trip to somewhere else when he'd rather be home with his favorite girl; then I have to do it alone).  It sits atop a coffee table that's 36 inches by 36 inches, and it fills up most of the tabletop.  Go big or go home; that's what we always say.
I love this wreath.  We made it ourselves, many years ago.  My husband used his jigsaw to cut out a huge plywood "doughnut" shape, which I then painted green.  I glued lots of faux greenery to the wood, leaving room for four round glass discs--which I found on the cheap at Wal-Mart to hold the pillar candles, and glued onto the wood as well.  We ordered our large 7-day-burning candles, which we keep lit throughout the week, from a Catholic church supply company.  A few years ago, I added a straw-filled "manger" and Baby Jesus to the center of the wreath.

We love to pass by the darkened living room at night and see those Advent candles glowing, a constant reminder of the true reason for the season.

I finally got the tree all decorated--which is a massive feat, if you know how many ornaments I have!  There are more ornaments per square inch on that 9-and-1/2-foot artificial tree than the law allows.  (I actually ran a "guess how many ornaments I have" contest here at String of Pearls in 2013, and I gave away a hand-painted Santa ornament as a prize.  The number then was 439.  And it's grown.)
Not to be outdone by Mrs. Excessive, my husband (a.k.a., "Clark Griswold") has increased the number of lights on the tree.  When we succumbed to the ease of an artificial tree a while back, after years of going to a local Christmas tree farm with our sons to cut down our own, it came with 1,000 white lights on it.  When partial strands started to go out, we painstakingly removed all the attached lights and added our own.  This year, there are 2,500 lights on there (a combination of white and colored), and it looks magical.

I have acquired two new daughters-in-law since last Christmas, so I needed two more stockings.  I was all set to go out and buy them, but then I remembered my stash of lovely fabrics and laces, which I found in my dear late mother-in-law's attic (a treasure-filled place--piled to the rafters with material and other notions--that could have been a satellite store for JoAnn's Fabrics.  And that's not an exaggeration!).  I was pleased that I had some lengths of cranberry-colored velveteen, as well as a half-dozen linen and lace napkins that are way too beautiful to let my family wipe their gravy-stained mouths on them at holiday dinners.  So I used the lace parts of two of the napkins to embellish a pair of identical stockings, one for son #4's bride Braveheart and one for son #2's bride Ginger
Both stockings are lined with off-white satin, remnants from the three dresses I made for the older flower girls in Ginger's wedding party.  So there's all kinds of nostalgia sewn into these stockings, which makes them that much better in my book.  I just have to write my new daughters' names on them, above the intricate cutwork, with fabric paint.  (I KNOW, professional embroidery would be so much classier...but there's nothing like that homemade touch, right?)

Well, I have to go...because I'm in the middle of a big project--some gifts I've been working on for my boys.  I can't show you yet; some of them actually read this blog, so that might ruin the whole surprise.  But I'll show you after Christmas.  :O   (That's my excited face.)

Before I go, don't forget to leave me a comment, for a chance to win a signed copy of Erin's Ring.  (If you want to learn more about this Catholic YA novel, click on the image of the book's cover there on the sidebar.)  I'm taking comments until midnight on December 8, and I'll announce the winner on the 9th.

Happy Advent to you and yours!