Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Trip Essentials

I've spent the past few days preparing myself (mostly mentally) for my trip to Nice on Friday. This will be my first time ever accompanying my husband on a working trip--where he will be up front in the cockpit, driving the airplane!--in the almost 24 years he's been a pilot for the airline. I'm flying standby, and so far (gulp!) the flights both there and back look wide open, so I should have no problem getting a seat. The flights are so empty as of now that I may even end up in business class, which I've heard is definitely the way to go when you're flying across the Atlantic. The Atlantic Ocean...that big, scary ocean...water, water, everywhere...flying in the dark of night...flying through vast, black emptiness--flying as only birds should do, really--when you could be snug at home, on good old terra firma, in your cozy house that's all decorated for Christmas...WHAT HAPPENED? I think I blacked out for a minute. Where was I? Oh, yes: I was talking about my upcoming trip to Nice, the French city on the Riviera that's a stone's throw from the fabled principality of Monaco. Just about anyone would like to be in my shoes, right? Flying across the Atlantic to the French Riviera, in business class (hopefully), no charge, with a free hotel room waiting over there on the Cote d'Azure, as they call it. So...do you by any chance wear between an 8 and 1/2 and a 9? (Ah, je m'amuse.)

Yesterday, I went out and bought this slim paperback book, See It and Say It in French, to take along with me to Nice. I used to be somewhat fluent in French back in my younger days. In fact, during a French Lit class my senior year of college, I took all my notes and wrote all my papers en francaise, and had even gotten to the point where I was actually thinking in French and didn't have to take the time to translate in my head. Mes amis, those days are long gone. I'm as rusty now as my passport (which I got in 2002 and have never taken out of the fire safe until now, which is a good thing because it expires in a matter of months!). If what they say about the French is true, however, I shouldn't even bother trying to converse in their native tongue. If they pretend not to understand ugly Americans who endeavor to speak their language and mangle it beyond recognition, I may be in trouble. But I do hope to have the opportunity to order un cafe au lait at a restaurant, parler a bit with the locals, and to tell everyone who'll listen about how j'ai pris l'avion! Across the great, big ocean, no less!So these are my trip essentials: my Sparknotes-style French language book; my never-been-used passport; and my St. Joseph's prayer card, which I have with me every time I board an airplane. Before takeoff, I like to recite the "Unfailing Petition to St. Joseph," which I've posted on this blog before: O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in thee all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by thy powerful intercession and obtain for me from thy Divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below thy heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating thee and Jesus asleep in thy arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near thy heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for me. Amen." Saying this prayer, and holding onto this card for dear life as the plane lifts off the ground, helps to calm my nerves.

Am I looking forward to the actual cross-Atlantic flight on Friday? Je pense que non. But I am, certainement, looking forward to the mini-vacation with my husband. And this trip should give me some interesting material to blog about!


Translations
Cote d'Azure: Sky Blue Coast
je m'amuse: I amuse myself
en francaise: in French
mes amis: my friends
un cafe au lait: a coffee with milk
parler: to talk
j'ai pris l'avion: I took the airplane
Je pense que non.: I don't think so.
certainement: certainly, of course

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not Just a Face in the Crowd

My mother--Mimi to her grandchildren--is a very stylish person. There is nothing the least bit tomboyish about the way she dresses; in fact, most of her outfits absolutely scream "girly-girl." She loves to have an excuse to get all dressed up--or as she might say, "all dolled up." She favors bright, vibrant colors, and fancy feminine touches like ruffles, sequins, feathers, fur, and sparkly costume jewelry. And she loves hats, the bigger and more ostentatious the better. (She would have fit right in there with all the mad hatters at the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.) I used to think that she was way too "out there" and theatrical with her hats, and I myself was always much too self-conscious to wear them. But you know what they say: the older a woman gets, the more like her mother she becomes. Oh no, it's happening...because (yikes!) all of a sudden in my fifties, I have become a bit of a hat person.

The hats I wear have nothing on Mimi's, though. As an example, I give you the one she wore to my oldest son's high school graduation about a decade ago.On that special day, the graduation of her oldest grandchild, my mom wore a hot pinkish/purplish/ fuschia? (I'm not sure what to call this color) silk suit that was comprised of a jacket and cropped pants. We would have called those pants "highwaters" when I was growing up, but they were actually very chic* (translation: chic) and en mode* (translation: in style). Mimi topped the whole ensemble off with a wide-brimmed straw hat in a matching shade of purple. She was hands down the best-looking grandmother at that graduation! She looked fabulous that day--very purply, to quote Buddy the Elf--and she stood out in a staid New England crowd that was dressed, for the most part, in beiges, navy blues, and blacks.

My #2 son was watching the proceedings from a balcony in the gym that resembles a choir loft in a church. A friend asked him which of his family members had come to the graduation, and he named off all of his brothers, his parents, and then Bigfoot--stopping to explain that, yes, that's what his grandfather was called...and then he looked down and spied a lone spot of color amidst the hundreds of hatless heads in the crowd. He paused and shook his head. He'd been taken by surprise, because he hadn't seen Mimi's get-up before this moment. "And see that gigantic purple hat?" he said. "That's my grandmother." (This story is a lot funnier when my son tells it himself. The way he describes his reaction to seeing Mimi's big, crazy hat is hilarious.)

My mother is so beautiful, and she's never just a face in the crowd. She's a huge, brightly-colored hat in the crowd. You can't miss her. And you wouldn't want to.

*Excuse my French, as they say. I'm very rusty and I'm trying to brush up; because on Friday, I plan to accompany my husband on a four-day trip to Nice! It's going to be impressionnant (translation: awesome)!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Like Father, Like Son

These images taken at my oldest son's house yesterday morning show that when it comes to my boy and his babies--to his comfort level with them, his tenderness and patience, and his overall style of fatherhood--the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Here is my hubby, the doting grandfather, nuzzling Bonny Babe's utterly irresistible cheek, just like he used to do with our five little guys:And here is his son, the newly minted daddy, kissing the equally irresitible cheek of little Cutie Pie:
Like father, like son, right? You can hardly tell the two of them apart. (That goes for the twins, too, of course. They're identical, after all.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Good News and the Bad News

The good news is that today is the first Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent is a time of great joy and anticipation, as we prepare our souls for the birth of Our Lord on Christmas day. My husband and I returned from our oldest son's house in Upstate NY tonight, and when we got home we lit one of the purple candles on our Advent wreath. I made this large Advent wreath in 1999, the same year that we purchased our church-sized Nativity set. At this wonderful time of year, as we begin our preparations for the Christmas season, we love to adorn our home with garlands and wreaths and poinsettias and lights--and of course, to set up our beautiful Nativity and put up a sparkling Christmas tree so full of ornaments that there isn't an empty branch to be found; but we always feel particularly joyful when we light our Advent wreath. The tall votive candles stay lit continuously for a week (or just shy of that), and each Sunday we replace and re-light the ones that have gone out and then light up a new one while reciting special Advent prayers.

It's Advent, and the Christmas season is almost upon us. That's the good news.

The bad news is that this afternoon, we had to say good-bye to our two precious baby granddaughters, after spending a wonderful week and a half with them and their dear parents. We already miss these girls so much! Look at them: aren't they just the most adorable little creatures you've ever laid eyes on?
The twins hanging out on their "tummy time" mat.

But Christmas is only weeks away, and we'll be seeing them the day after. So there's some more good news.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It Was Friday, Friday

Yesterday was Friday, Friday (the day before that was Thursday...today is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards), and my daughter-in-law and I decided to treat ourselves to a day of pampering while my husband and two sons watched the twins.

First, we went to a posh salon and got pedicures. This was my first pedicure ever (I so excited!), and it was fun to share the experience with my daughter-in-law. I always thought mothers of daughters must enjoy having someone to do girly things with, and now--after raising five definitely un-girly boys--I finally have someone (I so excited!). We sat in big, comfy massage chairs and sipped coffee and tea while the salon gals scrubbed and groomed our feet, rubbed lotions and oils into our calves, and painted our toenails. And look how pretty our toes are! (We so excited!)
Next, we stopped in at the most adorable little coffee shop. It looked like some kind of throwback to the fifties, with vintage decor and comfy couches to sit upon. We were kickin' it at the coffee shop, drinking java spiced up with shots of butter rum (my daughter-in-law's choice) and brown sugar and cinnamon (mine), and eating warmed cinnamon rolls. We were partyin', partyin', partyin'--YEAH! Partyin', partyin', partyin'--YEAH! It was awesome. The quaint little coffee shop was connected to a small antique shop, so we just had to stop in there afterwards and browse around. I found a wonderful vintage necklace made of glass pearls and crystal beads for $10. (I so excited!) We also stopped in at a local used bookstore crammed with shelves and shelves of treasures, where I bought two paperback novels and my daughter-in-law purchased a couple of nice sewing and craftmaking books.

After our wonderful trip back in time at those three darling, old-fashioned downtown establishments, we headed uptown and ran into that dreaded modern-day "Black Friday" traffic (even though by that time it was long past the rush that occurs in the wee hours). We went into JoAnn Fabrics, but turned right around and left when we saw the long, snaking lines leading up to the registers. It just wasn't worth it to fight the crowd, we decided. We made a quick trip to Michael's; the line was pretty long there, too, but we chose to brave it in order to make our few purchases, and then we headed back home. We probably should have spent all of our precious time (and believe me, pampering time is truly a rare and precious commodity for my daughter-in-law, the busy mother of six-month-old twins) visiting the cute local establishments downtown. That was a lot more fun, fun, fun, fun (I didn't want that shopping trip to end) than the mall area. Oh, well. But I just loved this Friday, Friday. Because you know, I just gotta get down on Friday. I do.

(By the way, if you're wondering where I got these inane song lyrics, I just found out about them this weekend from my sons. There is a young girl named Rebecca Black who is currently a YouTube sensation with a song called "Friday." If you want to see a perfect example of how you don't need any real talent whatsoever to get rich and famous in this country these days, check out her YouTube video.)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Passing the Baton

Yesterday, my husband and I had Thanksgiving with our oldest son, his wife and twin baby girls, and our #3 son. I had the rare luxury of getting to sit and relax while my boy (a real Emeril wannabe) and his wife slaved away in the kitchen most of the day. I was given only two duties: making a pumpkin pie and making the gravy. The kids did everything else, and they did it splendidly.

After thirty years of making turkey dinners for my family, I learned a trick or two yesterday that I plan to incorporate into my future Thanksgiving efforts. My son found a recipe for cooking a turkey on-line that included two interesting techniques I'd never thought to try: peeling away the skin so that little blobs of butter could be tucked inside of it, and then putting it back in place--which makes the white meat extra tender and juicy; and putting about four cups of chicken broth seasoned with herbs and spices right in the roasting pan with the turkey before sticking it in the oven. I always add seasonings to the drippings when I make gravy, and I also add chicken broth so that I can extend the drippings and make a larger amount. But I never thought of having the seasoned broth right in the pan with the bird from the beginning. It mixes with the drippings throughout the cooking process and leaves you with an enormous pan of gravy makings (and you don't have to keep stirring it up to keep the fat from separating--it's wonderful!). I was able to make a VAT of gravy yesterday. And I don't know about your family, but mine can never get enough gravy.

The other thing I learned is that I haven't been using enough butter in my stuffing--which I should have known, because when it comes to butter, our family tends to believe there is no such thing as too much. My daughter-in-law followed her mother's traditional stuffing recipe (delicious!), which called for two sticks of butter instead of the one I've been using. It also called for Jimmy Dean pork sausage, and I have to say that adding that spicy ground meat made for exceptionally tasty stuffing. I usually make a simple seasoned bread stuffing without any meat in it, but I may need to re-think that plan in the future. (That's if I ever cook a Thanksgiving dinner again. I could really get used to being pampered the way I was yesterday.)

Every single dish we had this Thanksgiving was delectable, and our meal looked so festive served on the kids' Spode blue-and-white transferware dishes, which they got as wedding gifts. This was the first time they've ever hosted Thanksgiving, and they didn't even make any of the boneheaded mistakes that most newbies make, like cooking the turkey with the package of giblets inside it. They're like a couple of old pros already. A couple of seasoned pros, I should say.

I've always enjoyed preparing the Thanksgiving feast for my family; but yesterday I realized that as much as I like playing hostess, I can be equally happy passing the baton on to the younger generation and playing the part of appreciative dinner guest!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Fooled you, didn't I? I'll bet you thought that if I was going to post a Thanksgiving-themed piece of artwork today, I'd choose the iconic Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell called "Freedom from Want"-- the one that shows the happy family gathered around the well-appointed dining room table, with the bespectacled grandma holding the Thanksgiving turkey on a platter and the grandpa standing behind her, ready to carve it. But that would be too predictable and uninspired, as much as I love that painting and the touching, quaint, all-American celebration it portrays. Instead, I thought I'd share this Post cover from 1928 by J.C. Leyendecker, an illustration which proves that as far back as the twenties, Thanksgiving was as much about football as it was about turkey! With a houseful of boys, watching football has always been an important ingredient in the Thanksgiving day experience.

I do indeed have a lot to be thankful for today. My husband and I are here at my oldest son's house with his wife and their twin baby daughters. Our #3 son flew in last night. Unfortunately, our #2 son--who was going to make the seven-hour car trip yesterday to join us, too--came down with the flu; so instead of having Thanksgiving turkey with us, he is going to be back home in his apartment alone, spending the holiday in bed. :( Our #4 son is on the night shift at his job down in VA, but will probably be able to catch an early dinner with his aunt and her family before he has to go to work. And our #5 son is out in Chicago with his uncle's family, surrounded by cousins, since it would have been too long a trip to make from where he attends college to come here for the weekend. I guess we're lucky that almost everywhere you go in the U.S., you'll find a Pearl relative--so at least our sons that can't be with us can be with other family members.

I'm sad that I'm going to be missing three of my boys today--and especially sad about the one who's sick in bed; but I'm grateful for any time I get to spend with any of my children, now that they're all grown and have lives of their own. I'm counting my blessings, and they are plentiful.

Here's wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, surrounded by friends and family...with plenty of stuffing and gravy. And football, of course.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fabric Shopping in Grandma's Attic

Last week, my husband and I spent two days at his boyhood home by the lake in Upstate NY before we headed west to our son's house to spend a week and a half or so with him and his adorable little family (and enjoy our daughter-in-law's first Thanksgiving turkey dinner!). While we were there, at what will forever be known as "Papa and Grandma's house," I asked my husband if he thought anyone in the family would mind if I did a little fabric "shopping" in the attic. "Are you kidding?" he replied. "They'd be thrilled! Take whatever you want." (So you heard it here, everyone: your brother gave me the green light to remove some of Mom's material from the attic.)

I've mentioned this before, but my late mother-in-law, who was a talented seamstress and sewed throughout her lifetime, had a deep love for fabrics--all kinds of fabrics. One might even call it an obsession. She couldn't resist a beautiful piece of cloth, always seeing the possibilities it had to offer. Over the years, she filled her attic with packages, boxes, and bags, all filled to bursting with folded pieces and bolts of fabric, spools of ribbon, and yards and yards of lace and other trims. In 1997, my in-laws' had a fire on the first floor of their house, and they had to gut it and rebuild it because of all the smoke and water damage. That meant clearing out all of the boxes of fabric in the attic (an enormous undertaking!) and tossing out anything that was deemed unsalvagable. In spite of that purging, a lot of Grandma's fabric stash was found to be unharmed and went back up into the attic after the house was rebuilt...and so--fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it--the attic is still pretty much filled with material! Some of it has smoke stains on it, but for the most part, it's in good shape.

Grandma's attic is a virtual goldmine if you're like me: you love to sew; you have trouble choosing fabric for your projects because you know once they cut it for you at the store, you can't return it; and you have trouble spending the kind of money that quality fabrics cost. So when I went up there, I was like a kid in a candy store. I was mainly looking for some red velveteen, to make Christmas jumpers for my twin granddaughters--and wouldn't you know, one of the first boxes I opened was filled with a number of large pieces of velveteen, two of them red. Bingo! I looked around a little bit longer and also found a box filled with various pieces of cotton calico prints, and I thought they might be good for making little girls' dresses, so I took those as well.

When we got to my son's house, my daughter-in-law and I were talking about making a dust ruffle for Bonny Babe's crib (the bedding set on Cutie Pie's crib came with one, but not the set on Bonny Babe's); so I looked through the treasures I'd plucked from Grandma's vast fabric collection and sure enough, I found a calico that matched one of the designs on Bonny Babe's crib bumper almost exactly.
The funny thing is that after I cut out the six sixteen-inch strips I needed to complete the project, there was just a small, smoke-stained remnant left. I think it's almost like a sign that I had exactly enough of the unstained fabric to make the dust ruffle before I came to the damaged part. It feels like a thumb's up from Grandma, who would probably be thrilled to know that one of the pieces of material she chose with such care was being used to make something for her great-granddaughter's crib. Now there'll be a piece of her in my granddaughters' bedroom, all because I got to go fabric shopping in Grandma's attic.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pleasing Plumpness, and Cuteness in General

I hope you're not tired of hearing about my twin granddaughters, because I'm sure not tired of talking about them. These two baby girls have the cutest faces and bodies. Put all of their different parts together, and they comprise perfect tiny humans who are without a doubt the embodiment of the phrases "pleasingly plump" and "living dolls."

For a good example of this pleasing plumpness, I give you Cutie Pie's chubbly little leg. Look at those folds of pink baby fat: is that the most adorable, chunky little thigh you've ever seen, or what? As much as I love them, however, I don't wish for thighs like those myself--no offense, girls--because somehow that plumpness is not quite as pleasing on an old grandma of fifty-three. But on my granddaughters, these chubby little legs are irresistably cute.

I'm going to pass on the chunky thighs, if that's okay; I would like to have the twins' eyelashes, however. Look at them! They are so long and lustrous! The lashes in this picture belong to Cutie Pie, but Bonny Baby has a set just like them. Incredible. I often find that boys are born with thick, gorgeous eyelashes, an attribute about which they could not care less (my husband has them, the bum!), and girls are cursed with sparse ones that need a little help from Maybelline. I don't think these lucky little girls will ever need eye make-up (and I'm sure their daddy would be just as happy if they never discovered such a thing existed).

Now take a gander at Bonny Baby's chubby little wrist, with that deep crease in it. This is another perfect example of plumpness at its most pleasing, don't you think? This little wrist and hand look like they belong to a Cabbage Patch Doll, but they are in fact part of a true living doll.

It's well nigh impossible to keep from kissing and hugging these irresistible babies--these human Cabbage Patch Dolls (with way cuter faces!)--to pieces. Papa and I are thoroughly enjoying our stay with them and their mommy and daddy. What fun it is to be surrounded by such pleasing plumpness and overwhelming cuteness!

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's This Baby Thinkin' 'Bout?


Here is a picture I snapped of my little sweetheart, Bonny Baby, the other day. I think the expression on her face is hilarious. I always try to catch her when her face is lit up with one of her amazing toothless, gummy smiles; but with the digital camera delay, I usually end up getting an interesting post-smile expression instead. In this particular shot, it looks to me like she's thinking, "Who is that crazy lady, and why is she always pointing that silver thing at me?" I suppose she'd better get used to having me take her picture, because I'm pretty sure I'm going to be doing that ad nauseam or ad infinitum--one of those ad's--for the rest of my days. Sorry, but with a face like that, oh cute little granddaughter of mine, what do you expect?

Actually, in this picture, here's what it looks as if she'd like to say (if only she had the vocab for it): "What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

That just made me think about a funny t-shirt I saw recently on a website called NoiseBot.com--where I was doing a bit of on-line Christmas shopping--that said, "I'm what Willis was talkin' bout." Don't you love it? If you're ever looking for a funny t-shirt to give to a person with a slightly off-beat sense of humor (I seem to have a few sons who would fit that bill), this is a great website. Some of their designs are on the inappropriate side, but for the most part what they have to offer is just plain silly. For instance, there's a t-shirt that has the word "PANTS" emblazoned across the front of it in great big letters. Get it? It's a shirt...but it says "pants." Maybe you have to be a tad weird to appreciate NoiseBot.com t-shirts; but if you are, check out their website. I think you'll be amused.

Anyhoo, I was with my daughter-in-law at the twins' four month check-up awhile back, and the doctor was talking about how neat it would be to know what's going on in their little heads as they look about them at all the wonders of the world and discover new things daily. Their many expressions are just so priceless, and this one is a prime example. When I look at it, I just have to wonder: what's she thinkin' 'bout?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Treasure in Need of a Little TLC

Today is the last Sunday of the Catholic liturgical year, and it is the day we celebrate the feast of the Solemnity of Christ the King.

This morning, my husband and I went to a 7:30 Mass at a church about an hour and ten minutes away from our oldest son's house, where we are staying through Thanksgiving weekend. The reason we didn't go to a later Mass with our son and his family at their local parish church is that my husband had to go directly from Mass to the airport to catch an early flight to NYC, so we had to choose a church near the airport. (Coincidentally, the church we attended this morning, St. Margaret's, is the parish church of my older brother and his family--but there was no way we were going to run into them at the 7:30. I don't think my brother even knew their church had a Mass that early!) Anyway, my husband--who is an airline pilot--had to go to work today, to fly a three-day trip to San Francisco and back. (But lucky me: I get to stay behind and play with my little granddaughters!)

We arrived at the church about fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, and I saw a table set up in the foyer with this lovely 20-inch-tall statue of the Infant of Prague on it. I went up to take a closer look at it, and there, propped up by the feet, was a handwritten note that read: "Free to anyone. Thumb and cross need repair." I don't know if I've ever mentioned this before, but I LOVE to refurbish old religious statues. I have rescued others that were left on the "free" table in the parish hall at our church back home, painstakingly repainting them, and then adding varnish to give them a like-new luster. Nothing pleases me more than to find one of these fixer-uppers and turn it into something beautiful and inspiring to adorn my home. I could hardly believe my luck. I even went up to an older gentleman who was acting as a greeter at the door of the church to make sure that it was really okay for me to take it. "Oh, yes," he said enthusiastically, "and if you could bring it in after you've got it fixed, I'd love to see what you've done with it." I had to inform him that I was a visitor to his parish and probably wouldn't be able to bring the statue back; but he was thrilled that I was taking it nonetheless.

I'm hoping to mold a new thumb for this statue of the Child Jesus out of plaster or air-drying clay, then touch up the paint job and add a cross to the top of the globe. I also plan to sew Him a red robe trimmed with lace and find a small golden crown to glue on His head. When I finish the job, I'll post an "after" picture.

Have a blessed and holy day, on this Sunday dedicated to Our dear Lord, Our Savior, Christ the King!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Babies and Bad Fashion

To the proud, ecstatic new mother in this picture, the idea of being a grandmother was such a distant and surreal possibility that I'm sure she rarely gave it a thought. She was much too busy wrapped up in the euphoria of finally being a mom--her lifelong dream--and having a precious little boy to nurture and care for, to snuggle and cuddle and kiss. As you can see, she was on Cloud 9. That new mother, who was younger by several years than the baby she was holding is today, never would have imagined how quickly the little peanut in this picture (who was about a week old when it was taken) would grow up and become a daddy himself. Yep, that's right; that sweet little newborn baby boy is my oldest son, the father of my twin granddaughters.

Last night, my husband and I babysat for this son and his wife so that they could enjoy a rare night out, dining and dancing, at an Army Ball held in honor of all the troops attached to my son's base who recently returned from their year-long deployment to Afghanistan. The opportunity for date nights is almost nonexistent for these extremely busy parents of twins, so we were happy that we could be here to watch the girls for them. My son and his wife got all dressed up--they looked fantastic!--and were able to get about a six hour reprieve from their usual 24/7 job--a job that's twice as challenging and twice as hard as mine was when I became a mother to my firstborn son. (But on the flip side, there is also twice the cuteness.)

By the way, did you notice what I'm wearing on my face in this picture? Are those ski goggles? Could those glasses BE any bigger? I know big glasses were all the rage in the eighties (the era of truly bad fashion), but why didn't anyone tell me that I looked ridiculous? Now I know why my older brother used to call me "the fly"! I hope my granddaughters don't laugh at their Grammy when they see how silly she looked when their daddy was a baby!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Finding True Love

My husband and I are here at my oldest son's house, watching him and his sweet wife interact with and care for their infant twin daughters (and helping out however we can). It is a joy beyond measure to be a parent, and then to see a grown child in that role. It's also the best feeling in the world to know that our son has found his true love, the perfect woman with whom to raise those beautiful girls. Having had the wonderful experience of creating a family with my own perfect partner, the love of my life (and I assume my husband feels the same--he better!), I can only hope that our other four boys will also find their perfect mates. My husband and I pray often for their future wives--they're out there somewhere, waiting to be found. Someday.

Thinking about this concept of "finding true love" made me remember a wonderful poem written by my youngest son his freshman year in high school as part of a creative writing assignment in Honors English. (I've blogged about this son's writing talent before: "My Son the Writer," Sept. 9; and "My Son the Writer, Chapter 2," Sept. 10. I may just be a proud mama, but I do believe my baby has a real way with words.) After getting the green light from the author to publish his work on my blog, I am posting this poem for all of you romantics out there. I think you'll enjoy it.

He's going to be a true Prince Charming, this son of mine, to some lucky girl. That's all I can say.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Jeepers Creepers

I'm late getting to my blog today, but it's not because I slept in or anything. Actually, Grammy has been up since five o'clock (Papa, too). Our son and his wife told us when we arrived at their house last night that the twins are always really happy first thing in the morning, so we told them to wake us up when the babies got up. And the early wake-up call was well worth whatever sleep we sacrificed, because they are such happy little campers at that early hour! They are both very smiley and talkative--in their own special way, that is: Bonny Baby blows lots of loud bubbles, and Cutie Pie squeals. They are positively adorable, and it's just about impossible to be near them and keep yourself from sniffing their downy little heads and kissing their chubby little cheeks.

I had my husband snap this picture of Cutie Pie peering over my shoulder. Jeepers creepers, where'd she get those peepers?! I tell you, she and her sister have just about the roundest, bluest eyes I've ever seen. And the thickest, longest eyelashes. Lucky them--I don't think they'll ever need to wear mascara.

These two little dolls definitely keep their parents hopping, and I'd like to say right now that mothers of multiples are my heroes. My daughter-in-law deserves a medal for the way she handles all the demands of not one, but two, needy five-and-a-half month old baby girls. And I'm quite proud of my oldest son, too, for the way he pitches in and splits the baby duties with her 50/50 whenever he's not at work. We're hoping that while we're here, we can lighten their load a bit. Papa and I are always more than willing to volunteer whenever we hear "Who wants to hold a baby?" (But look at the positively squeezable baby I'm holding in this picture. Who could ever turn down an opportunity like that?!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Room with a View

This morning, I'm sitting at the kitchen table in my husband's boyhood home in Upstate NY, and this is what I'm looking at through the sliding glass doors just behind the table. Talk about a room with a view! I didn't even need to stand up, or even try very hard, to set up this shot. I just sat in my chair, pointed my camera, clicked, and voila!: I captured proof of the existence of God. Who else could create something so beautiful?

It's no wonder that my husband loves coming here so much. He could just sit and stare out at the lake for hours at a time.

We spent the day here yesterday doing some Christmas decorating-- hanging wreaths and garlands, and putting lights on the trees out front--so that when the different family members who plan to come home for Christmas arrive, they'll be greeted by Christmas cheer. Some of my husband's sisters celebrate Christmas with their families in this house. We usually have Christmas at home, and then the next day we come here and stay until around New Year's. I know I've mentioned the magic of this house before, and all of the great family memories it has helped to create (see "Making Family Memories, July 7). Even though my husband's beloved parents are no longer with us, when we're here in this house, with its spectacular views of the lake, we feel their presence keenly. And we know how happy it would make them that we still gather here to celebrate the birth of Our Lord. They loved this house, and it would please them so that it's still our "home base," the place where all the Pearls go to laugh and catch up, and to make sure the numerous first cousins stay close, despite the many miles that separate them.

Today, we get back on the road and head to my oldest son's cute little house in the country, which is about three hours from here. We're going to be staying there for about a week and a half, through Thanksgiving. There is not a room in his house with a view like this one; but that house has something so incredibly beautiful and amazing in it, something that, like this lake, is also proof of the existence of God (two somethings, actually): of course, I'm talking about his adorable, blue-eyed, chubby-cheeked twin baby daughters. My husband and I enjoy the lovely view here; but I think we're going to enjoy the view of our granddaughters' precious little faces even more.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bigfoot Sighting

Last night, my husband and I had a lovely evening at my baby sister's house with my sister, her husband, and my parents. My sister fixed a pork chop and gravy dinner that was absolutely out of this world. I've never had pork chops like that, so moist that they fall apart when you go to cut them with a knife. (These chops are so tender that you really don't even need a knife.) She did share her secret recipe with me; but sorry, people--this is a special dish for which she is locally famous, and I'm not going to reveal it to the whole world. You're just going to have to get yourself invited to her house if you want to experience these to-die-for pork chops.

Since it is very close to my dad's birthday, and my husband and I will be at our oldest son's house on his real birthday and won't be able to celebrate with him, we decided to have cake and presents for Dad afterward. Here was his reaction to all the birthday boy attention:

My father is...hmmm, how shall I put this? My father is a bit of a quirky fellow. Yeah, that's it. He's not weird, he's...quirky. In case you think I'm being hard on my dear old dad, here's a for instance: he insisted that he didn't want to be called any of the usual grandfather names, like "Grandpa" or "Papa" or "Gramps." Most men can hardly wait to become a grandfather and earn one of those coveted titles (my husband is over the moon now that he's "Papa"), but not Dad. He wanted his own special title, the kind of name that would never be forgotten for generations to come. So when he became a grandfather, he became "Bigfoot," and that was the only name he'd answer to. When my oldest son was very young, my father nicknamed him "Tex" because he'd been born in Texas, and my son didn't like it at all. He asked his incorrigible grandfather to stop calling him that, and when he didn't, my wise-beyond-his-years little boy said, "Okay, but if you call me Tex, I'll call you Grandpa." The teasing stopped immediately, because that was the last thing Dad wanted to happen! Well, I'll give him this: he accomplished what he set out to accomplish and distinguished himself from all the other run-of-the mill grandfathers out there. I'm pretty sure his grandchildren are the only people on the planet who have a Bigfoot.


Now tell me: what is Bigfoot doing in this picture? What kind of reaction is this to a cake and a card and presents? Is this a small child's reaction, as in, "If I close my eyes and can't see it, it doesn't exist"? He did inform us last night that he's decided he's not having any more birthdays, because he's not going to get any older. So if Bigfoot covers his face, will his birthday go away? Or is he just feeling shy, now that he's become the center of all that attention? Perhaps, but I doubt it. He's never been averse to a little attention. Actually, Bigfoot may simply be overcome with emotion. That happens to him from time to time. Last year, my siblings and I actually made him cry on Christmas by pitching in to buy him and my mother a small flat screen T.V. After all the dry-eyed reactions to all the sentimental gifts we'd presented our father with over the years, tears over a television set were the last thing we were expecting!


He's an enigma, our Bigfoot. But we love him.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Getting into the Christmas Spirit

Well, I've already decorated my house for Christmas. I know it's early, but my husband and I are going out of town today, and we won't be home until after Thanksgiving weekend. I usually like to put everything up the day after Thanksgiving--and since I won't be here to do that, it will be nice to come home and have everything done already. We don't have our tree up yet, and the stockings are not hanging over the fireplace; but otherwise, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here. The wreaths and garlands are up; the poinsettias (nice fake ones, because--brown thumb that I am--I prefer them to real ones) are out; the Advent wreath is ready to light up; and now my favorite Christmas decoration of all--our amazing Nativity set--is standing in its usual place of honor in our family room.

My husband and I decided to splurge on this oversized Nativity set twelve years ago, so that the focal point of our Christmas decorations would always be a reminder of the true reason for the season. Its figurines are the same size as those of a Nativity that is displayed every Christmas in one of the Catholic churches in our town. (In fact, this set came from a catalog that sold Catholic statuary, priests' vestments, and other church supplies.) My husband built the beautiful wooden creche several years after we bought it, out of scrap wood left over from his building projects, and then he installed a light behind the angel. I like to sit in the dark, when there's a soft yellow glow illuminating the Holy Family, and just gaze at it.

Sometimes in this country, you could forget that the whole reason for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ, Our Savior. There was that campaign to outlaw the phrase "Merry Christmas" in the workplace and replace it with a nice, generic "Happy Holidays." (I hope that nonsense is finally past us.) You'd think a Christmas tree was a Satanic symbol the way some places refuse to display one--and then if they do, they insist on calling it a "holiday tree." I remember how upset and disappointed I was when I found out that the traditional "Christmas Parade" that they put on in our town every year the Sunday after Thanksgiving had been renamed the "Holiday Parade." My boys used to love to go to that parade and try to catch the hard candies that Santa threw from his float. If I had any kids young enough to attend the event now, I'd boycott it, out of principle, because of that name change. That trend towards making Christmas a secular celebration rather than a religious one is widespread. If you're out shopping for things with which to adorn your home during this holy season of Christmas, you will find a lot more snowman decorations than you will religious ones, or cute penguins wearing Santa hats (I love penguins as much as the next guy, but they really have nothing to do with Christmas!).

I may be behind the times; perhaps, after years of having the religious nature of Christmas downplayed, Christians in this country have had enough and things have turned around. Maybe "Merry Christmas!" rings through the halls of businesses across our fair land. I hope so. But at least I know that inside our family home, our lovely Nativity showcases the true spirit of Christmas.

Well, we're getting set to get on the road again...just can't wait to get on the road again...and I really can't wait, because we're going to be spending about a week and a half with our son and his wife--and the twins!--in Upstate NY. This is going to be such a blessed Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rascally Rodents and Worthy Wives

The other day, I decided to pay homage to my little nocturnal visitor, the flying squirrel who came down my chimney and ruined my night's sleep in the wee hours of the morning on October 10, by painting a likeness of him in the guest room where he was held hostage for several hours. Although I wasn't too happy to have him in my house, I had to admire his speed, his athletic prowess, and his well-honed survival skills. That little guy managed to make me look pretty ridiculous, I'm sure, eluding me with ease as I chased him around with a lacrosse stick in one hand and a laundry basket in the other. Kudos to the flying squirrel--he was definitely the winner of our little game of cat and mouse. Exhausted and defeated after almost two hours of trying to outsmart him, I finally trapped him in one of our bedrooms, the one that was occupied by my two oldest sons back in the day, and left him in there until the Animal Control people arrived later in the morning to remove him for me. Aside from all of his admirable talents in the art of evading capture, when I finally got a good look at him, I had to admit that rascally rodent was awfully cute, too. So here is a likeness of that uninvited little houseguest, forever immortalized in paint (I may have mentioned before that I like to paint animals on the walls of my house), perched over one of the windows in the bedroom that I now think of as his, too.

Well, the bacon's cooking, so I better go and tend to it before I burn that precious commodity and ruin our Sunday brunch. Happy Sunday, everyone! But before I go, I have a quick question for all of the worthy wives out there: didn't you just love the first reading (from Proverbs) at Mass today? "When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls." Take note, guys: pearls (or anything beyond pearls--diamonds, maybe?) are always appropriate tokens of appreciation. I mean, some wives will even battle squirrel invasions to keep nice homes for their husbands! That makes a wife pretty worthy, doesn't it?

(If you'd like to read more about the flying squirrel episode, check out these previous posts: "Animal Control"--Oct. 10; and "Squirrel Interrupted"--Oct. 11.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Way We Were

Look at these happy young people, all dressed up for the Navy Ball and having a grand old time. That's me in the blue maternity dress. My oldest son was about eleven months old at the time, and I was about four months pregnant with son #2. My dashing, mustachioed Naval Aviator husband--Holy Cow, he was a handsome devil!--is the one on the far right. (Wow, it's true what they say about a man in uniform. Be still my heart!) This dinner-dance took place shortly before my husband's squadron was due to head out on its four-month cruise to the Indian Ocean, so there we were: celebrating a rare night out, without babies, with the couple who were our dearest friends in the early days of our marriage (and a random single guy who jumped into the shot--and looks like he may have had one too many!). While the military life is not for the faint of heart and requires much sacrifice from its members and their families, my husband and I have many fond memories of our Navy days: of the comfortable and secure life it provided as we set out into the grown-up world and started our family, and of the many wonderful Navy people we were privileged to meet.

When this picture was taken, my husband and I were only 26 years old. This seemed plenty long in the tooth at the time, but now seems impossibly young. The amazing thing is that the son I was carrying in my womb at that Navy Ball in the fall of 1984--the ball we attended YESTERDAY--is 26 now, and will turn 27 in a matter of months. He is older than his parents were here! How did that happen? And why wasn't I consulted about this turn of events? And when did my husband and I get so OLD?

Now that I'm much older and wiser (I hope), I'd like to tell the girl in this picture a few things I've learned along the way. I'd like to tell her to STOP WORRYING so much, about things over which she had no control and about things she was afraid might happen but never did. I would advise her to worry a lot less and pray a lot more. I tell you, I should have always carried with me a copy of that prayer that says, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I've always been such a worry-wart. Once, the mother of one of my oldest son's grade school friends said to me, "You're such a fretter." That sort of bugged me, and I went home to my husband and asked, "Do you think I'm a fretter? I don't fret too much, do I?" Hmmm. Methinks my friend may have been onto something, because her comment caused me to worry...that people perceived me as a worrier!

I'd also like to tell the girl in this picture not to be so hard on herself--about weight fluctuations and physical flaws and all the other silly things women like to beat themselves up about. I would tell her to enjoy her youth while she had it, because she had no idea how much worse it was going to get once her metabolism slowed to a snail's pace and her body began to lose its battle with gravity. It's true what they say: youth is wasted on the young! They don't know what they've got 'til it's gone, as the song goes.

And finally, I'd remind this young mother to savor EVERY SINGLE SECOND with her five greatest gifts, her sons--even those trying, "I've had it up to here" times, when bedtime seemed like the only thing that stood between her and the looney bin. She wouldn't have believed me, but I'd tell her that one day she would turn her back for one minute and those little boys would be all grown up.

I'm afraid this post has ended up sounding a bit maudlin, but that wasn't my intention. Looking at this photo truly does bring back some really happy memories of the way we were. You know--misty water-colored memories, and so forth.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Martinmas!

I realized when I woke up today that it is a very special date: it's 11/11/11! It's also Veteran's Day, of course, when we remember all the selfless members of our military, past and present, who have served this country with courage and honor. Veteran's Day began as "Armistice Day" under Woodrow Wilson in 1938, commemorating the anniversary of the World War I Armistice (or truce) that was signed by the Allies and Germans in 1918. There are many members of the military in my own family and in the extended Pearl family, both retired and active duty. I just want to say God bless you all, on this Veteran's Day and always, and thank you for your sacrifices. We are all so proud of you.

Aside from the secular holiday called Veteran's Day, November 11 is also the Catholic Feast of St. Martin, or "Martinmas." St. Martin of Tours was born about 316 A.D. and was the son of a Roman military officer. When he grew up he joined the Roman army. Once, while riding on horseback, he met a starving man begging for alms. Filled with compassion, he tore his red woolen cloak in two with his sword and gave half to the beggar. The next night, he dreamed that he saw Jesus surrounded by angels, wearing the half of his red cloak that he'd given away. Jesus spoke to him in the dream, asking him if he recognized the cloak. Because of this powerful dream, St. Martin came to the realization that he must convert and devote his life to Christ.

When St. Martin was about 20, some Teutons invaded Gaul but were successfully repelled, and Emperor Julian wanted to give Martin a reward for his bravery in battle. The future saint replied, "Up to now, I have served you as a soldier; allow me henceforth to serve Christ...I am a soldier of Christ and it is not lawful for me to fight." Martin was imprisoned as a coward for refusing to fight any longer, but was eventually released during peacetime. After his life as a soldier, he went on to become a member of a Benedictine monastery, a preacher, and then--in spite of his humble protests that he was not the man for the job--the Bishop of Tours. He led an exemplary life, evangelizing and setting up many religious communities; and when he died at age 81, he was so beloved that he became known as "The Glory of Gaul."

St. Martin is usually depicted on horseback, handing half his cloak to a beggar or relinquishing his weapons. His symbol is the goose. He is the patron of beggars, vintners, equestrians, soldiers, tailors, innkeepers, alcoholics, and geese. (I'm sorry--I know so far this has been a very serious post; but geese? I didn't realize that even our friends in the animal kingdom had patron saints!) In England, St. Martin's Feast--which comes at harvest time, before the onset of winter and the penitential season of Advent, when the vintners' wine is ready for drinking--is a celebration of the earth's bounty much like our American Thanksgiving. And instead of a turkey, the main dish is--what else?--a Martinmas goose.

It seems quite fitting that the Feast of St. Martin, the patron saint of soldiers (who was himself a brave warrior for both his country and for Christ), would be celebrated on the same date as Veteran's Day.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Leonardo da Vinci's Drawings

When you think of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), you immediately think of the brilliant, iconic paintings for which he is famous, like the "Mona Lisa" or the "Last Supper"--at least I do. Yet da Vinci also produced a huge collection of black and white sketches that resulted from his studies of a plethora of subjects in which he was interested--like science, engineering, mathematics, warfare, animals, and human anatomy, to name a few. He was an inventor, too, who was way ahead of his time: for instance, in 1488 he drew designs for a flying machine. (Thanks a lot, Mr. d! Love them flying machines!) But that was not all; he also drew designs for helicopters, parachutes, steam engines, boats, submarines, tanks, and catapults. Obviously, da Vinci was a genius, a true "Renaissance man" if there ever was one.

This is a drawing that I had tacked up on the bulletin board in the basement "classroom" where my husband and I homeschooled our youngest son from 4th through 8th grade. Leonardo da Vinci drew this picture of a fetus in the womb in 1489, long before there were sonogram pictures to offer visible proof of pre-born life. In his day, this would have been the ultimate pro-life poster, wouldn't it?
We studied da Vinci and other painters of his time in our homeschool art class during 5th grade, and one time I came up with what I thought was a nifty assignment for my son: I drew a rough outline of the "Mona Lisa," with her head missing, and I told my son to finish off the picture any way he wanted. Here is the resulting masterpiece, for your viewing pleasure:
That's right: it's Mona Lisa (whoever she was) as an alien. What can I say? My son was a typical ten-year-old boy when he drew this. But look at that attention to detail! Notice the precision of the pencil strokes that produced such beautifully shaded areas! I like to believe that Leonardo wouldn't have been too offended by my baby's drawing, and might in fact have appreciated the creativity of a young, up-and-coming artistic genius. If not, my apologies to serious da Vinci fans everywhere.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Impressionist Mary Cassatt

This painting entitled "Children Playing on the Beach" is by American painter and printmaker Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). Cassatt moved to France in 1874 and lived there the rest of her life. She befriended and was inspired by Edgar Degas (the famous Impressionist known for his paintings of ballerinas), and in 1879 eleven of her paintings were exhibited alongside those of the famous French Impressionists of the day.

Although many Impressionists focused on painting landscapes or street scenes, Cassatt was famous for her portraits--particularly portraits of women in everyday domestic settings, with a special emphasis on the mother and child theme. She was very fond of children, and they appear in many of her paintings. This fondness for little ones is certainly evident in the darling scene depicted here.

Mary Cassatt's work has an honesty and sweetness that speaks to me. In general, I'm not a huge fan of the Impressionists. Although I admire their talent, I don't always care for their subject matter. But I am drawn to many of the works of American Impressionist Mary Cassatt. And "Children Playing on the Beach" is one of my favorites. Now that I have twin granddaugthers, I love it even more than I used to. This could be Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie, digging in the sand at the beach near the Pearl family's lakeside homestead in Upstate NY. The twins' maternal grandpa has often said that he can imagine them there one day, with little bathing suits and life jackets on, giggling and splashing around in the lake (he may not have used those exact words, but that was the gist of it). That is a scene I look forward to seeing, I can tell you that! That will be a scene worth immortalizing in paint on canvas.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Trading in the Big Red Van for a Sportier Model

For the past ten years or so, our main vehicle has been a huge, red, 15-seater 2000 Dodge Ram Van that we got secondhand. When we bought it, it was a only year old and had less than 20,000 miles on it. It looked brand new; obviously, no family as messy as ours had owned it before we bought it and put our stamp on it. (Think Pigpen, from the Charlie Brown comic strip. If our van was a person, it would be Pigpen.)

We always wondered if our van had been used for some sort of commercial transportation, like an airport limo service or something of that nature, in its past life. Years after we bought it, we got our answer when I noticed for the first time--because the dust layer was just so, and the light in the garage was hitting it just right--that the words "Boston Coach" had once graced the passenger side front door. Just enough of the residue from the glue or paint that had been removed had been left behind to make it so that, if the conditions were perfect, the words were still discernable. So before this van became an indispensible member of our family, it had had a very different sort of life: it had been a clean and well-kept little passenger bus, ferrying sightseers around Boston perhaps, or shuttling folks from their hotels to Logan Airport. That van took on a whole new purpose, and logged a whole lot more miles (about 225,000 of them), when it became the Pearl van.

That big red van has been a real workhorse for our family over the years: it has taxied our children and their friends to and fro and made countless trips to school, to church, and to visit relatives many miles away; it has taken smelly high school football and lacrosse equipment--and often stinky players as well--to games and back, when the team bus didn't have enough room on it; it has carried the long tables and coolers necessary to put on tailgaters at our sons' sporting events and team picnics; it has acted as a U-Haul truck when our four oldest sons moved away to college, with most of the benches removed to make room for all of their belongings, and brought them home again after the four years were up; it has taken the place of a moving van for several of our sons when they moved into their first aparments. And although it has been a real godsend for all of these purposes while we were raising our family, it only got about 2 miles to the gallon. A van that size isn't exactly the most gas-efficient (or cost-efficient) vehicle on the planet. It's not very green, as they say these days. It doesn't love the environment nearly enough.

But I have loved driving that enormous thing, believe it or not. I love it that you feel on top of the world, almost invincible, when you're at the wheel of such a massive van. I love it that I knew my van would "win" in most cases if it got hit by another car, which always made me feel that my boys were fairly safe when they were riding in it. It has been like a home on wheels for me, with plenty of space for my coffee mugs and gigantic purses, grocery and shopping bags, and all of the various things I've had to cart around to keep my life in order. That van never had the neatest interior, though, to put it mildly. Sometimes when people were exiting from the back, rubbish like empty cans and plastic bottles would spill out onto the tarmac, causing my husband to dub it "the garbage scow." But it's kind of nice, when you have five kids, to have a vehicle that isn't too precious--one that can handle dirt tracked in by muddy cleats, food crumbs and spills, and even a football player vomiting on one of the back benches (which happened once, when I was taking freshman players to a game hours away, driving on a hilly, winding road in the boondocks...but that's a story for another time).

As great as that van was, though, it became too unreliable--with breakdowns along the side of the road in the middle of long trips (more stories for another time!)--for us to trust it on the trip out to the Midwest to bring our youngest son to college. And things had stopped working: luxuries, like AC, and more necessary things, like doors. And engines. You know, those sorts of things. So shortly before our #5 son was due to leave the nest this past August, we bought a new car for the trip: a charcoal gray 2011 Nissan Maxima. This little beauty is so sleek and comfortable, it gets about 30 miles to the gallon, and it's such a pleasure to drive. Nowadays when I leave a store and scan the parking lot, looking for the easily-spotted big red van with the Red Sox and Notre Dame magnets on it, I have to remind myself that we own a sporty-looking little number more suited to our new life as empty-nesters. I have to pinch myself when I go to put the key into the ignition...which I don't even have to do, because this car is like something out of the Jetsons: to start it up, you just have to push a button! It's very cool.

We keep our new car as clean as a whistle. Everything works. We even have this Blue Tooth set-up so that when our cell phones ring, we answer by pushing a button on the steering wheel, the radio automatically turns off, and we talk on speaker. I tell you, it's the Jestons. Have you heard of this newfangled gizmo? It's amazing!

The only sad thing is that people always used to know we were coming when they saw the big red Pearl van/garbage scow/former Boston Coach bus. Now, we just blend in with all the other shiny little sports cars on the road, and nobody waves at us anymore.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

My Husband's "Irish Twin"

Here is a picture of the Pearl tailgating crew, having a grand old time before the Notre-Dame v. Wake Forest game last night in Winston-Salem, NC. This latest family tailgater was, as always, a big success; and bonus: it was a win for the Irish, too! (Not a blow-out or anything. But we’ll take the W.)

Today, my husband and I are back in VA, spending the night with his older sister, his “Irish Twin,” who traveled to NC for the game, too, along with her fiancee and youngest son—and whose Irish eyes are smiling in the above picture. If you’ve never heard the term “Irish Twins,” it means siblings who are born less than a year apart. This sister is the oldest of the eight kids in my husband’s family, but she has my guy beat by less than a year. He came along when she was three days away from her first birthday; so for three days every year, they are the same age.

This sister-in-law is one of the brightest people you’ll ever meet. As they say in our neck of the woods back home, she’s “wicked smaht.” She is a retired Army colonel with a high-powered job who manages two households (one here in VA and one by the lake in Upstate NY), helps to find plum jobs for family members (two of my grown sons included), designs and executes household renovation projects beautiful enough to be showcased on HGTV (her favorite channel, I think!), and does about a million other things—and does them all well. And she has done all this while raising five of the finest children you’ll ever meet. I don’t know how she’s managed it all with such class, but she has.

Yes, she’s an amazing, competent, accomplished person; but more important to me is that when I began dating her brother thirty-eight years ago, she immediately treated me like a sister. I know how highly she regards her younger brother, her “Irish Twin,” so I am humbled by the fact that she gave me the thumbs up all those years ago. There’s nothing like family—the one you’re born into, and the one you inherit when you get married. Especially if you luck out the way I did, because I really hit the jackpot when I became a Pearl!

Tomorrow, we get on the road again. Next stop: home sweet home!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Little Slice of Heaven

Today we are at my husband's sister's lakeside house in North Carolina. This is the view of her amazing backyard. It can be seen in all its splendor in every room of her house that faces the lake, through floor-to ceiling windows. Is this a little slice of Heaven, or what?

My husband's family home is on a beautiful lake in Upstate NY, and having grown up in that setting, it has always been his dream to have a house on the lake. His little sister and her extremely cute family are living his dream! I have decided that we're going to have to make this trip to NC at least once a year from now on (now that we're empty nesters and spend most of our time crisscrossing the country to visit our boys and other members of our far-flung family), to soak up not only the glorious location in which my sister-in-law lives, but to enjoy the creature comforts provided by my sister-in-law and her husband, who are the proverbial host and hostess with the mostest. They are happiest when they are sharing their home with family, so we'll be more than happy to come and stay with them whenever we can swing it. (We're only thinking of them, of course.)

This sister-in-law was the most adorable, precocious, affectionate little girl, just shy of five years old, when I first started going out with her brother; that seems like yesterday, and now--incredibly--the youngest of her five children is four. Hard to believe. My sister-in-law is still the most adorable and affectionate person, and she looks about fifteen years old, even though her oldest son is now a high school freshman. I just love her to pieces, and if anyone deserves this little slice of Heaven she calls home, it's she.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Here's Finny!

Well, we're on the road again, and last night we drove down to VA and stopped off to spend the night visiting with my husband's sister, and also our two sons who live there. We got to meet son #4's dog Finny for the first time. He is very, very cute, but he also gets very, very wound up when meeting new people. He is a super energetic puppy, to put it mildly. This is how he looks when he's relatively calm. Like his buddy Allie, this dog SMILES. He's a real cutie.And now this is how Finny looks when he gets a little too crazy and has to be put in doggy time-out in his crate (so this is how he looked just minutes after we came in the door). I think he looks like this a lot. Poor Finny. :( Now we're off on the next leg of our trip, to visit with another one of my husband's sisters and her family. Sons #3 and #4 are going to join us there, too, and we're going to have a big tailgater together and then go to the ND-Wake Forest game at Wake Forest on Saturday.

Luckily my husband and I love road trips, because it looks like we're going to be doing a lot of them from now on! Next stop: North Carolina.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Button Noses and Birthday Girls

Today is the birthday of one of my husband's sisters, the sixth out of the eight children in his family. I met her when I was a shy high school sophomore who had just started going out with her brother over the summer and she was a shy little girl of six. It was my first time at my boyfriend/future husband's house, and while her two younger siblings danced around me chattering, she stood hiding in the doorway of the living room, too shy to talk to me. She could barely make eye contact when her mother introduced us. (I totally "got" her, being a shy person myself.) She was such an adorable little girl, blond and blue-eyed, with the cutest freckled button nose. That nose was as cute as...well, it was as cute as a button, that's what it was. A tiny little ski jump nose, the likes of which I'd never seen. I was so taken with the cuteness of that nose, and the face that went with it, that I went home and tried to sketch it from memory. I did a pencil drawing of that little girl's profile, a crudely rendered doodle that didn't even begin to do her justice; but I showed it to my boyfriend, and he showed it to his family. And from then on, every time I went over to his house, the four youngest Pearls (especially the two youngest, who were three and four at the time) would say, "Draw me!"

None of the drawings I did of those incredible little faces were all that great, especially since I'm not gifted enough to draw objects that are in motion (and boy, was my husband's youngest brother--who was 100% boy through and through!--in constant motion when he "sat" to have his portrait done). Not surprisingly, though, from then on it seemed that all of the faces I doodled in the margins of my school notebooks resembled my husband's siblings. My mother always used to tease me that every face I ever drew looked like a Pearl.

After all these years, I am seeing my sister-in-law's upturned button nose in the faces of the littlest members of our family. Her two-year-old daughter definitely has it. My twin granddaughters have it. It's just the cutest thing imaginable. Anyway, Happy Birthday, A! You're not as shy as you used to be, but your nose is still adorable.

And by the way, I forgot to post Happy Birthday wishes to some other important women in the family who've celebrated birthdays in the past month or so: my mom, my sister (who hit the big 5-0, although she'd probably prefer I didn't mention that), my daughter-in-law, and another one of my Pearl sisters-in-law, one of the original "Draw me!" bunch. I love you all!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dresses for the Twins

I recently finished making a pair of dresses for the twins and mailed them out yesterday. I am so excited to have little female children for whom to sew! I did make some things for my boys when they were very small: red corduroy Christmas rompers, a tiny blue and white striped seersucker suit, play shorts, Halloween costumes; but there is a very small window of opportunity to make things for boys before they outgrow homesewn attire. Let's just say that I don't think wearing Mom's homemade dungarees, with an elastic waistband and sideseam pockets, would have been too cool. (And the fact that I just called them dungarees instead of jeans is not very cool, either.) But with girls, you can always make dresses, no matter how grown up and sophisticated they--and their wardrobes--become. There are so many opportunities for dresses: First Communion, Christmas dances, and proms, to name just a few. I'm hoping to keep my sewing machine busy for years to come!

I decided to use a doll that belonged to the twins' father to model one of the dresses. Whoa! That didn't sound very good! I better back up here and explain, because trust me, neither my oldest son nor any of his younger brothers was ever into playing with dolls! When my firstborn son was just over a year old (and brother #2 was well on the way), my mother-in-law had this cloth likeness of him made to give to her first grandchild for Christmas. (Technically, it was for him; but let's be honest--we all knew it was really more for me.) She knew a woman who had a little cottage industry creating dolls to look like specific children. So Mom described her grandson: a blue-eyed boy with white blond hair that stuck straight up, Billy Idol-style; and from that description, this doll was born. That Christmas when my boy opened up his present, he briefly hugged the doll (a real "Awwww" moment for the family), but pretty much ignored it from that moment on.

That poor doll was never loved the way it should have been. As the years went by and the number of boys in our household multiplied, it was flung about and mistreated, used as a weapon, and yanked at until there was a rip under one armpit and the stuffing started to come out. For some reason, my boys thought that doll was the most hilarious-looking thing, and it brought out the bully in all of them. When it got ripped, that was the last straw. That was when the doll officially became mine, and I stored it away in a safe place where their grubby little hands couldn't harm it anymore. I waited until they were much older before I dared to bring it out of hiding. Now, this doll sits in a guest room, in a child-sized rocking chair that we've had for almost thirty years, and it is loved beyond measure--because of that baby boy with the sticky-up hair that it resembles, because it can wear real baby clothes that my boys used to wear, because of the loving grandmother who had it made...and simply because I have a huge soft spot for dolls.

And although this doll is supposed to be a boy, I think it looks really cute in a dress--but not nearly as cute as my granddaughters are going to look in them. (Fingers crossed: I hope they fit!)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Remembering Mom

Today is All Saints Day, and it is also my late mother-in-law's birthday. Before age made it too difficult for her to do so, she loved to go to daily Mass and was a daily commmunicant. I think it is fitting that this deeply devout Catholic woman was born on a day honoring the saints--a holy day of obligation when all faithful Catholics go to Mass in remembrance of them.

My mother-in-law grew up with just one older brother and lost her father when she was only ten years old. She was not used to big families, and she said that if anyone had told her when she was young that she was going to have eight children, she'd never have believed it. But that's just what she did: she raised eight outstanding children--four boys and four girls--with my wonderful late father-in-law; and if any set of parents was meant to bring a lot of children into the world, it was those two.

My mother-in-law was stunning, a raven-haired Irish beauty with almost translucent blue-green eyes. As a senior in college, she was voted Rose Queen. Even in her later years, when her hair was snow white and her health was deterioriating, she was beautiful; she was the kind of person whose smile and laughter absolutely lit up the room. But Mom had no vanity and was in fact self-deprecating.

This woman could sing like an angel, but was always shy about having to get up in front of a crowd and do it. As a young girl, she attended summer music camps, and her soprano voice was so exquisite that it could have launched a professional career. She never became a professional singer; but she did sing at weddings and at her parish church every Sunday--making that congregation a truly lucky bunch, that's for sure.

Mom didn't consider herself a great beauty or a great singer; she didn't identify herself as a teacher, either, even though she taught for many years, starting when her younger four children were almost school-aged. Above all else, it was her role as mother that defined her.

My mother-in-law spent much of her time praying for her children and their many intentions. When one of her daughters-in-law was trying desperately to have a fourth child, she began a novena for her. Not only did that daughter-in-law conceive, but just about every woman of childbearing years Mom knew, all up and down the east coast, did, too! And that included one of Mom's daughters and myself (so three of Mom's thirty-two grandchildren were born within six days of each other)! Everybody joked about that novena, "Mom, stop praying! It's too strong!" But I feel like I have my mother-in-law to thank for my #5 son, and I can't even imagine my life without him in it.

Mom is missed so much by the children she adored and their families. It's sad that we can't see her anymore; it's sad that we can't go to her with our problems, knowing we'll find a loving and sypmathetic ear, and ask her to say one of her super-powerful novenas. She always did seem to have a direct line when it came to praying. And you know, I believe this special woman born on the Feast of All Saints still hears us, and the line might be more direct now than ever. So we're going to just keep talking to you, Mom, and I'm sure you'll be listening.

Happy Birthday, Mom.