Monday, January 14, 2019

The Baptism of Our Lord--and Our Youngest Grandchild

They both happened on the same day--yesterday--and what a glorious occasion it was!   Can you think of a more perfect day to have a child receive the sacrament than on the day we celebrate Jesus' Baptism?  The pleasingly plump little fella who now shares a baptismal anniversary with Our Lord is the third-born son of our second-born son and his wife Ginger.
With his Papa, my hubby, for whom he was named.



When we sent pictures from the ceremony to my husband's siblings (care of the oft-used family text stream), one of his brothers commented, "What a great day to be baptized," and then joked, "Was the priest's name John?"  It wasn't--but wouldn't that have been something if it was?

The little guy (whose blog handle shall be "Topper," I've decided) was born in late October and was initially going to be baptized quite a while ago; but he ended up going through a number of health crises, including RSV (for which he had to be hospitalized for over a week, and which led to some other upper respiratory infections), so it had to be postponed.  As it ended up being rescheduled to take place on the most perfect Sunday of the year for a Baptism, all was well that ended well.  (And he is definitely doing much better health-wise, although he's still battling a stubborn cough.)
This is what a newly-baptized Christian feels like: oh, the joy!

There was a big (by VA standards) snowstorm that started on Saturday night and continued all day Sunday, so not many family members were able to make it to the Baptism--including our oldest son and his wife, who were named Topper's godparents.  But Papa and Grammy stood in for them, and we were so grateful for the opportunity to see our littlest grandchild receive this all-important first Sacrament of Initiation, whereby he became officially united with Christ and the Church.

Topper wore the same christening gown and bonnet that his two older brothers, Junior (3) and Jedi (18 months) wore.


I made these garments out of some linen-and-lace pillow shams that my late mother-in-law had collected--very likely with the idea of making christening gowns for her great-grandchildren one day, so I feel like she and I created them together.  Mom had a lot of these shams, so I was able to make gowns for the families of all four of my married boys.  When our oldest son's wife was expecting our first grandchildren, twin girls (now 7), I actually made two each of two styles of gown and had her pick which ones she wanted for her babies.  That left two extras that I saved for future grandchildren, and I eventually made several more.  One went to son #3 and another to son #2.  When son #4's wife was expecting triplets, I knew she had a family heirloom christening gown for her daughter to use, but I was able to give her two more gowns for the boys (also identical twins!) to wear for their Baptism.  (Our four oldest boys were baptized in heirloom gowns from my husband's family; the only one of my boys for whom I made a gown was son #5, and I plan to pass that on to him when his first child is born.)

I've actually blogged about making all these christening gowns before, here, here, and here, if you'd like to visit those old posts.  (I guess you'd have to be a dyed-in-the-wool sewing enthusiast, or just really, REALLY interested in the making of christening dresses to do that...so you won't offend me at all if you're thinking, "I'm much too busy to be poking around her dusty archives!")

Enough about sewing; back to the subject du jour: here is a picture of Topper with his family, after his initiation into the Catholic Church.

As parents of grown children, my husband and I couldn't be more thrilled and grateful that our boys are fully and joyfully practicing their Catholic Faith, that they are welcoming children into the world with open hearts and passing on the Faith to them as well--and of course, that would not be possible if they hadn't picked the kind of women they have as their spouses.  All four of our married sons chose the most loving and lovable Catholic girls--beautiful inside and out--as partners for their journeys through life.
These are my girls.  I [heart] them.  I'm the luckiest M-I-L on earth.

Three of our married boys--sons #1, #3, and #4--met their wives on CatholicMatch.com (I've blogged about that before, too, but I'll spare you more links for now!).  Topper's parents didn't meet on the website; but they met because his daddy was a groomsman in his uncle's (son #3's) wedding and his mommy was a bridesmaid in that same wedding.  (Two of our daughters-in-law, Preciosa and Ginger, were dear friends in college who never expected that one day they'd marry brothers and have children who were cousins!)  So we joke that 3.5 of the matches in our family came from what son #3 once jokingly called "the family website."

Anyway, that's about it from down here in snowy VA.  I'm just feeling all cozy and warm inside my house, blessed beyond measure, luckier than I deserve.  I don't know how I got so lucky.  But I know that "to whom much is given, much is expected"--so methinks I better get to work and give back as much as possible, while I still have breath in me.

God bless my boys.  God bless my girls.  And most of all, God bless adorable Topper, the newest little Christian in my world.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Is It Too Late to Talk about Christmas Eve Traditions?

I know that for most folks, the Christmas season is officially over.  For many (sadly!), it ended on December 26, or possibly January 1.  But even if you're a Catholic who knows that the 12 Days of Christmas actually go from Christmas Day until Epiphany, you have to admit that perhaps it's time now to think about putting away the wreaths and garlands.  Epiphany is behind us, after all.  For a blogger, it's time to move on to other subjects, right?  I mean, who wants to read blog posts about our family's Christmas traditions at this late date?

If you're saying, "Not me!", then you've been warned and can leave now.

But you see, I was so busy just enjoying the festivities during the Christmas season that I didn't blog too much about my favorite holiday.  So I'm going to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about it (before I start taking the Christmas decorations down next Sunday, which is the Baptism of Our Lord and probably a good time to do it--although I've heard some people hold out until February 2, Candlemas...hmmm).

I love reading about other families' unique Christmas traditions--whether they be special faith-related practices or just plain family fun activities.  Popular blogger/writer/speaker/IG star Bonnie Engstrom recently wrote a blog post about her family's "Elf"-watching tradition ("How We Watch Elf"), and I just loved it.  I may need to start something similar with my grandkids one of these years, and I don't think Bonnie will mind if I copy her (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all).

One of my favorite Pearl family traditions is our Christmas Eve dinner, a not-overly-traditional celebration involving take-out pizza and Christmas crackers.  This is what it looked like this year: we had just our youngest son and his girlfriend with us, because the rest of the gang---our four oldest, their wives, and our 14 grandchildren--were going to be with us the next day, for Christmas dinner.


I was trying to remember when and how we actually started celebrating the night before Christmas this way, so I thumbed through a lovely little hardcover memory book titled "Deck the Hall" that my mother-in-law gave me as a gift in 1991, wherein I recorded memories from 10 Christmases (1991 through 2001).  If I haven't taken this sweet book off the shelf in a while, it is so touching to flip through it and see us the way we were, back when our boys were wee lads.  When I began recording our memories in 1991, our oldest son was 8--just a year older than the oldest of his five kids, his 7-year-old twin girls--and our youngest wasn't even born yet.

Anyway, according to what I jotted down in this book, it looks like the first year we opted to have take-out pizza for our Christmas Eve dinner was 1992--and I suspect the menu we chose that year had a lot to do with the fact that Mommy was 8-plus months pregnant and very tired.  But the boys loved it so much that we decided to make it an annual family tradition. They proclaimed, after that first time, "We should have this every year!", and thus a tradition was born.  Even when they outgrew the "Pizza is the best food on earth" mentality, it remained our favorite way of doing things on December 24. We ordered pizza from Little Caesar's (a New England fan fave), or sometimes Pizza Hut, and ate it on fine china in the dining room; and truly, for our boys at that time in their life, that was a more spectacular dining experience than any they could imagine.  Add sparkling grape juice in wine glasses and tons of iced sugar cookies, and wow, could life get any better?

The following year, 1993, I thought it would be fun to add something more to make our Christmas Eve goings-on even more our own; so I bought English Christmas crackers and put one at everyone's place.  We popped them open together and took out all the goodies hidden inside: we put on the paper crowns, oohed and ahhed ironically over the terrible, cheap prizes, and as we ate our pizza feast, we took turns going around the table to tell the corny jokes typed up on little squares of paper.  So 1993 was the year we really solidified our plan for how we would proceed each year.  Pizza and Christmas crackers.  We only messed up one year, when we forgot to call for the pizza before every pizza joint in town closed early for the holiday; that year, we had hors d'oeuvres and desserts for dinner, but we still had our crackers and crowns!

Back in about 2000 or so, I made up a "Recipe Book" for each of my boys as a Christmas present.  My oldest son had asked me to give him my recipes for certain desserts that he loved, so that his future wife could make them.  (Isn't that the best?)  This was well before I was aware of Shutterfly or anything remotely like it, so I made up hand-lettered pages of recipes rather inexpertly on card stock, with photos and illustrations added.  I had five photocopies of each page run off over at Staples, and then I put the copied pages in plastic sleeves in binders.  (Super professional-looking, as you can imagine!)  Along with the recipes for foods, I included some extras like "Recipe for Making a House a Home."

And here are the pages for "Recipe for Christmas Eve Dinner."


So that's how we do it.  Or at least, how we always did it.  (And of course, alcoholic beverages were added, as our boys came of age!)

Now that our four oldest boys have families of their own, they are making their own traditions.  We will probably seldom be all together for Christmas Eve henceforth, but I hope they carry fond memories of all the years we celebrated this way together in their hearts.

Those memorable nights--gathered around the dining room table in paper crowns, laughing too hard at not-funny jokes, anticipating the joy of Christmas morning--must have made an impression on our oldest boy, at least.  Because he and his wife decided that pizza-and-crackers would be the Christmas Eve tradition in their household as well. It is so wonderful seeing it being carried on with the next generation of Pearls.  #success

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

Mass today was so wonderful at our new little parish here in rural Northern VA.  It gave me that happy feeling I often get on Sundays, that understanding that to be a Catholic is to know true joy!  It makes me wonder why anyone would choose to be anything else!

Students from the local Catholic grade school (called Epiphany Catholic School--how perfect is that?) did the readings.  Their school choir sang the songs.  And after Mass, adorable little people clad in their neat and tidy school uniforms passed out house blessing kits to all the parishioners.

So when we got home, my husband and I did our first-ever house blessing.  That seems kind of embarrassing to admit here in the Catholic blogosphere--that it was our first; but we didn't grow up practicing this tradition in our families, and we didn't know anyone who did.  Things had begun to change a bit in the Church by the late 60's and early 70's, when we were in junior high and high school, and we fear that in some ways our faith formation was a bit lacking.

I've often said that I credit my early religion classes, in 1st and 2nd grade, with giving me the foundation that led to a lifetime of solid Catholic Faith.  I can still remember the way the illustrations in the catechism text looked, and the nun who taught us; I can still see in my mind's eye the page that showed the black spots that would fill my soul if I committed sins.  I can remember living in dread of soiling my newly-whitened soul after I made my first Confession, and kneeling to say an Act of Contrition if I ever thought I did anything that might have left a spot.  (Oh, to be as sweet and innocent and ready at any moment to meet my Maker as I was back then!)

Anyway, using the kit provided by the school, I lit the stick of incense and my husband sprinkled holy water in every doorway and room of the house.  I wrote in chalk, 20+C+M+B+19, on a VA-shaped piece of wood that I painted with chalkboard paint and nailed above the door.  (I hope this is okay; I was worried that no one would be able to read the blessing if I wrote it on the door frame, because it's painted white.) 2019 stands for the year.  The initials C, M, and B stand for the three Magi--Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar; but it also means "Christus Mansionem Benedicat," which is Latin for "May Christ Bless This House."

Finally, we recited this prayer together:

"Bless this house and all who inhabit it.  Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect His love.  May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is Lord,  forever and ever.  Amen."

There are so many reasons why we are thrilled that we made the bold decision to leave our longtime home in NH and move to VA back in March of 2017.

For one thing, we get the best pop-in visitors--like these three little people who showed up on my doorstep yesterday.  They belong to our middle son, and they live just over a half-hour away in one direction.

G-Man and Princesa--playing the Magi?

We also get to frequently witness sweet moments like this one, between our second-oldest son and his two oldest boys (he has three of them!); they live less than an hour away in the other direction.

But we also love the idyllic little town where we landed, even though before we bought our house we knew almost nothing about the area.  The location alone--a central meeting spot for the four sons who have settled here with their families--would have made it ideal; but it is also just a lovely place to live.  And our parish...I can't say enough about how much we love our new parish, and the priests there who lead their flock with courage and love, unafraid to say the tough things that need to be said so that we will all find our way back to our Father in Heaven.

Today, our pastor spoke passionately about the importance of Catholic education and the need to support our Catholic schools any way we can.  My husband and I made sending our boys to Catholic school a top priority, and thought any financial sacrifices we had to make to do so were well worth it; and we feel very strongly about the need to have thriving Catholic schools available for our grandchildren and their peers, and for generations to come.  So we are currently trying to decide the best way to lend support to our local school, an institution named for this day.

Readers, I have to tell you that I am brimming with feast day joy!  We had coffee and pastries after Mass, at a little gathering in the church hall hosted by the Epiphany Catholic School--and even met someone new there, an art teacher who could potentially be a friend.  (What are those anyway?  I have not made one yet down here in my new hometown.  #introvertproblems)  We did our first-ever Epiphany house blessing.  It was just an all-around good day and I am filled with love--for my family, my home, my Faith, and most of all for Christ.

I feel blessed.  And now my house is feeling that way, too.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Now for the N Pages

I am finally, finally nearing the finish line with this ABC Book, with just four more pages of illustrations to do. Before I show you the N pages, I wanted to thank those of you who left comments on my last post, about the X, Y page--which is a bit odd, to be sure, and most likely won't suit everyone's tastes.  (It may even get a re-boot, if I decide I just can't live with it the way it is.) Lately, when I get a blog post up I often don't get around to going back and checking on it for days--so I just got around to replying to your comments today, dear readers.  I'm sorry it takes me so long.  I really do appreciate it when you stop by!

Now for the N's...

I got a suggestion from one of my favorite bloggers, Colleen Martin for this letter.  Thanks to her inspiration, the word "novena" is included in this children's picture book that I've been working on for my grandkids--and I couldn't be happier.  Although this book is not a completely Catholic work, I have tried to throw some Catholic words and imagery into the mix, along with all the animals, foods, etc.  Hopefully in some small way, this humble little ABC Book can be an evangelization tool for innocent, impressionable little eyes.

The first novena page I did came out like this.

But after it was done, I thought it looked a bit too bland and I wanted to add some color.  So I re-did the page, giving the novena prayer card a blue border.

I decided not to tilt the card this time--not sure if that was a good idea or not.  And for some reason, I made the new 9 orange...then added some black spots.  And now I'm afraid that it looks sort of like a cheetah.  I'm not really sure why I did that; sometimes my hand seems to have a mind of its own.  When I told my husband I thought I'd ruined the page, he said not to worry because kids like colorful things.  Which reminded me of something very important: this artwork is not going to hang in the Louvre; it's for small, relatively uncritical children!  (And most of the ones who will look at it call me "Grammy" and they love me!)

Here are the two N pages together, safely in their plastic sleeves in my binder--which is very full, now that I'm nearing the end.

The baby had to be called Nancy, because that was the name of my paternal grandmother as well as two of my aunts, one on my mom's side and one on my dad's.

And I am so, SO glad the to have novenas represented.  Our family believes strongly in the power of these prayers--we are saying one now, to St. Peregrine, for a loved one who was recently diagnosed with cancer. ( Please pray for one of the most precious Pearls in our string, as he begins the fight of his life.  Thank you!)

Monday, December 31, 2018

X and Y Page: It's Been a Process!

Warning: ABC Book update coming at you.  (That's right, the ABC Book that was going to be a Christmas gift for the grandchildren this year...but is still several pages shy of completion.  Yep, that ABC Book.)

I have been working on the X and Y page for this book (a love gift for my grandchildren) for a while now.  That's right, I said "page," not "pages."  It's just one page for the two letters, and you'd think that would mean getting it done would be a piece of cake.  Here I thought that devoting just one page to two letters (instead of two whole pages of illustrations for each letter, as I did throughout the book until I got to X, Y, and Z and decided it was time to wrap things up already!) was going to make things move along pretty quickly.

Wrong!

I printed up my cardstock page and began working on the drawing of the yak...and to my horror, part-way in I realized that I had forgotten to highlight the featured words in the colors that coordinate with those of their letters.  Horrors!
The word "yak" needed to be blue, and the word "x-box" needed to be red.  So it was back to the old drawing board for me.  Literally.

I used the fact that I was going to have to start over as an opportunity to incorporate a Y adjective into the page, and I decided that the yak was now going to be yellow.  (Yes, yellow!)  I also realized that I had misspelled the word "x-box."  Since this is a real product, I knew I had to spell it properly and changed it to "Xbox."  (That would lead to a whole new headache, but I'll get to that in a minute.)

So I was practically finished with the page, and it looked like this.

And then my heart kind of dropped.  Because I realized that I can't use an image of a trademarked video game system if I plan to try to sell this ABC Book.  Not that I think I should do that, or that anyone would really buy it if I did.  But I have had several kind readers, both here and over on Instagram, comment that when I finish, they would like to buy a copy.  Whether or not that would ever really come to pass, I don't know.  But if it does, I can't have an Xbox on this page and risk a legal problem over using a well-known trademarked product in my humble little book.  (I don't know what I was thinking!)

I simply could not get myself motivated to start fresh on yet another image of the hairy horned beast!  So instead, I decided to cut away the yak portion of the now-defunct page and glue it to a new one.  And this time instead of an Xbox, I decided to use that familiar ABC book stand-by for the letter X, the x-ray.

Here's the final version.

So what do you think?  Does the yellow yak (with the X-rayed horn) work?  Yea or Nay?

Even if your vote is Nay, I don't think I can possibly bring myself to do another version of this page.  Because Yikes, I'm eXhausted!

(But just four more pages to go!  Two K's, one O, one V.  I can do this!!!  Look out, 2019; I have big plans for you!)

Happy New Year's Eve!  I will be sure to toast all of you fine readers when my husband and I have our typical wild New Year's Eve celebration...in jammies, at home, by the fire, with a movie on the TV...

Saturday, December 29, 2018

It Was Merry!

Yes indeed, it was!

We had a wonderful Christmas, with our whole family home (even our youngest son, who returned recently from a 3-year tour of duty in Germany).  We had 30 for Christmas dinner: 16 adults and 14 children (aged 7 and under!).  All 5 of our boys, all 4 of our daughters-in-law, all 14 of our grandkids, our youngest son's girlfriend, and one daughter-in-law's parents who were visiting from FL got together at our house on Christmas day for a few hours of glorious chaos, an always eagerly anticipated Yankee Swap, and a roast beef dinner.  It was a day of blessings.

We even managed to get a few photos of all 14 little ones sitting on a couch together, but I won't post those here because I'm honoring the wishes of one of my sons, who doesn't want his kids' faces publicly shared on the Internet (which I totally respect and understand).  But I will post this one of what I like to think of as my husband and me with "The Big 5" ("This Is Us" fans will understand the reference).
Our  boys...the 5 greatest gifts we have ever received, that's for sure.  (Each INFINTELY better than a Red Ryder BB gun.)

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, and I wish you many blessings in the coming New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Little Boys in Red Rompers

At the end of my last post, which was about my grandson G-Man's pre-school Christmas show, I warned you that there might be a sequel.  Well, here it is, as promised!

Back in the fall of 1985, with Christmas on the horizon, I made matching red corduroy rompers for my two wee sons to wear when we had our Christmas card photo taken at Sears.  (Back then, if you wanted a "professional" photo shoot, you went to the studios at Sears or JC Penney; or if Olan Mills was in town and you could afford the exorbitant prices they charged, they were the best around.)  Our boys were almost 2-and-1/2 and almost one that Christmas, but it was the first time I decided to send out photo Christmas cards.

To go with the rompers, I bought matching plaid round-collared shirts--which look so sweetly vintage now.  Those two little guys looked adorable, they really did.  I was very proud of that first card.

The rompers showed up a few more times, as we had four boys in four years, and someone could always fit into one.
By the time son #4 was wearing one of the rompers, I had added little iron-on embroidery 
wreaths to the button-on tabs on front.  I had meant to have the tabs monogrammed originally,
but...four boys in four years.

I regret that I never got a picture of son #5 (who came along after a bit of a break) in this get-up.  He was too big to wear the smaller one for his first Christmas, and then I forgot to dig these precious garments out for his second.  Ah, well...

Anyway--

This past Thursday our 3-year-old grandson Junior had his pre-school Christmas show.  And he was all dressed up in one of the beloved red rompers.  Before it started, his dad (our second oldest) and his mom (our darling daughter-in-law Ginger) both warned us not to expect much.  I think they had visions of him running off the stage, or perhaps bursting into tears.

Junior did not do either one of those things.  But he didn't stand with his little classmates and sing, either.  He got very, very shy, covered his eyes with his arm, and then sought comfort in his teacher's lap for the remainder of the program.  It was actually quite adorable.



During the show, I was feeling very nostalgic, seeing his dad holding his one-year-old boy--who was wearing the very same outfit he had worn 33 years ago for our first Christmas card.

Junior was very happy back at home, after the show, when he didn't have to be on display anymore.  Then suddenly, his little brother Jedi got camera-shy...

I don't know if I can adequately describe how touching it is to me to see these red rompers being worn again, by little boys who melt my heart the same way their daddy and his brothers did when they wore them.

I wish now that I'd made more matching rompers for my boys when they were little. (But I guess I didn't have the time back then...because four boys in four years--followed by a fifth.)  Maybe it's better that I didn't, though, because these red Christmas ones would not be nearly as special to me if there were countless others like them.

But I will say that I am enjoying making matching rompers for son #2's boys now, because their mommy is a sucker for anything vintage-looking.  And hopefully someday she will be able to see her own grandchildren wearing outfits that their great-grandmother made for their dads.