Monday, December 31, 2012

Irish My Husband Is

Yesterday, I posted a wonderful poem about the Irish that I wish I could take credit for but can't. Unfortunately, I can't even give credit to the author because I don't know who wrote it; but to the poet out there who composed that gem, I must say that when it comes to describing the heart and soul of an Irishman, you nailed it.  When I read it, it reminded me so much of my husband, a full-blooded Irish American.

My husband definitely stubbornly refuses to bow in defeat.  He has always been a competitive guy, which served him well as a high school athlete who excelled at both football and basketball and as a college rugby player.  He's a peace-loving man; but if you challenge him on something about which he knows more than you do and/or feels very strongly about (matters of Faith come to mind), you better watch out: you are not going to win that argument.  It's not that he's always spoiling and ready to argue and fight; but make no mistake, he will fight--whether it means to win a friendly game of HORSE or to defend beliefs he holds dear.  He's the least wishy-washy person I know; like the poem says, there is no middle ground on which he will stand.

The smile of a child fills his soul with delight, and it always has.  My husband was delighted by the smiles of his younger siblings when he was a boy, those of his own children (and their cousins) when they were growing up, and to say that he is delighted by the smiles of his twin granddaughters is the understatement of the century.

His eyes are the quickest to well up in tears these days.  For most of their lives, our sons never saw their dad cry; but the older he gets, the leakier his eyes have become.  Just ask anyone who was there when he opened up my Christmas gift to him this year.


A fleecy blanket printed with a photo of Papa and his beloved  granddaughters.
My husband is the bravest, strongest person I know.  He is my rock, my hero, the fierce protector of his family.  Tears might sting his eyes when he opens up gifts like the one he's modeling for you in the above picture, yet his strength is the strongest to banish your fears. Just having him nearby makes me feel like I'm safe from harm and all is right in the world.

This Irish guy I married is enamored with beauty wherever it lies; he could sit and stare out at the lake in the back yard of his childhood home for hours and never get tired of it, and he says that the view from his "office" (the cockpit of an airplane) is simply the best there is.

There are some adjectives in the poem that don't remind me of the nearly perfect Irishman I married; he's not proud, though he'll tell you that's a flaw he needs to work on; he's rarely sad, never bad, and I don't believe in the almost 40 years I've known him that he's ever been a clod.  But the last line of the poem says the most important thing you need to know about my husband: he's in love with his God.

I was too busy on our anniversary back on the 27th to write much, so this post is dedicated to my husband as we mark 32 years of married life together.  I certainly had the luck of the Irish when I snagged him, didn't I?  Irish my husband is, and Irish he will always be...and that's a very good thing.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Irish He Is

You gotta love the Irish.  Even if my husband wasn't 100 percent Irish and my mother's maiden name wasn't Kelly, even if our family wasn't comprised of the most rabid Notre Dame fans on the planet, even if the only things I knew about the Irish were gleaned from watching "The Quiet Man," one of the greatest movies of all time (and the best role of John Wayne's storied career, in my book), I would love the Irish.  And what's not to love?
Son #5 on Christmas day, proudly sporting one of his Irish-themed gifts.
A couple of days ago, one of my #4 son's buddies from his college days at Notre Dame posted a poem about the Irish on Facebook that came across my news feed, and it says all that you need to know about them.  I decided I should pass it on here for your reading pleasure.  If you're Irish, you'll raise your glass and say, "True 'tis!" (which I believe is how they say "True dat" on the Emerald Isle, isn't it?).  If you're not...well, you'll wish you had even a wee bit 'o Irish blood in ye.

IRISH HE IS

A strange blend of shyness, of pride and conceit,
And stubborn refusal to bow in defeat.*
He's spoiling and ready to argue and fight,
Yet the smile of a child fills his soul with delight.
His eyes are the quickest to well up in tears,
Yet his strength is the strongest to banish your fears.
His hate is as fierce as his devotion is grand,
And there is no middle ground on which he will stand.
He's wild and he's gentle, he's good and he's bad.
He's proud and he's humble, he's happy and sad.
He's in love with the ocean, the earth and the skies,
He's enamored with beauty wherever it lies.
He's victor and victim, a star and a clod,
But mostly he's Irish...in love with his God.

*(This stubborn refusal to bow in defeat is what we Fighting Irish fans are counting on when they play Alabama for the national championship title on January 7!)

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Our Lord's Living Garden

Before I begin this morning (writing what I hope will be the blog post that gets me back in the swing of daily blogging after a joyous and busy and family-filled Christmas holiday), I want to wish my baby sister a very happy birthday.  She's celebrating a big one today, a milestone birthday, and she deserves all the love and best wishes she's sure to get from her wide circle of friends and loved ones.  Happy Birthday, Sister!

This sister of mine, the youngest in our family of five siblings, has a take-charge, outgoing, love-exuding personality that wraps everyone around her in its joyful embrace.  Though we come from the same gene pool, God did not grace me with such a personality; He gave me a quieter, more reserved (I often think of it, in moments of weakness, as more boring!) sort of soul.  And there have been times in my life when I've wished He'd deemed to make me more the way I think I'd like to be.  But therein lies the rub: we human beings often think we know how things should go and what's best for us; but if we trust in God--if we remember that He loves us exactly as He made us and knows better than we ever could what's truly best for us, we can learn to be comfortable in our own skin. Certainly, there is room in the world for all types of souls; if we were all cut from the same cloth (or grown from the same seed), wouldn't that be boring indeed?  As St. Therese of Lisieux put it, "If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness."
St. Therese (born Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin) as a young girl, before she entered the convent.
The tiny flower in the garden is every bit as pleasing to God as the most magnificent bloom.  The wildflower need not wish to be a hothouse orchid.  St. Therese spoke of this theme often--she is, after all, known as the "Little Flower" who promised that after her death she would "send down a shower of roses from the heavens" and spend her heaven "doing good on earth."  I am a devotee of this dear little saint, a humble cloistered nun who died at only 24 and yet is recognized as one of the Doctors of the Catholic Church.  She wrote, "I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy.  I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues.  And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord's living garden."

Okay, I'm definitely out of practice here, after some very lazy days (including December 27, when my family got snowed-in and we ended up watching movies all day...and I didn't get out of my p.j.'s until 4:30 p.m.!).  I'm struggling with a way to find the right words to tie this post up neatly.  I guess I'll just end with best wishes to the birthday girl, one of the loveliest roses in the garden.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

32 Years and Counting...

Every year on this date, I realize that I have to be the luckiest woman on the face of the earth!

How's that for a short and sweet blog post?  :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Red Ryder B B Gun

There just isn't time to blog--not with a house full of people I love who aren't all gathered under this roof nearly as often as I'd like them to be!  I can tell that you're too busy for blog reading, too--as you should be! (There's a way to find out how many people have looked at a blogger's posts each day, and I can see that "String of Pearls" hasn't gotten many "hits" as of late.  My numbers are about as low as they were almost two years ago, when I first began this blogging business.  But as I said: this is exactly as it should be!  We all have more important things to be doing right about now!)

Anyway, I'm posting a picture of a gift my husband got me for Christmas (one I knew about beforehand, because we were shopping together when he picked it up).
What Ralphie's Red Ryder B B Gun was to him, this magical Keurig coffee maker is to me. I didn't bring it to bed with me last night, like Ralphie did with his beloved "Old Blue."  But I've been having a ball brewing different flavors of coffee for myself this morning.  This has got to be the greatest invention EVER!  It's the gift that keeps on giving, for sure.

Are you as happy as I am this morning?  (And as caffeinated?)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Preparations

I love preparing for holiday dinners!  I've been setting the dining room table for our Christmas Eve dinner, which is a traditional Pearl celebration involving pizza, sweets, sparkling grape juice, and Christmas crackers.  (Don't worry, for Christmas dinner, we'll have something a little more high end: filet mignon and mashed potatoes.  Maybe even some real wine!)

I think the place settings look so lovely--and I can't wait until we're all sitting around the table, pulling the tabs on our crackers to make them pop, putting on the tacky paper crowns, reading the awful jokes and riddles aloud to each other, and oohing and awwing over the cheap little trinkets we find inside.  I read recently that it's part of the tradition of Christmas crackers that the jokes are corny and terrible, but that's all part of the fun.  They are definitely corny and terrible...but they do make us laugh.
I hope you are enjoying your time with your family and loved ones.  The Pearl house is a happy place right now, and I'm pretty much in Heaven!

God bless you and yours on this wonderful Christmas Eve!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Reason for the Season (Revisited)

No time to blog today!  My kids are home for Christmas (WOO HOO!), and I've got bacon frying in the pan for our after-Mass brunch as I write this.  But I thought I'd share a picture I found on-line a year ago (which I posted in this blog last December).  I loved it so much, I thought I'd post it again--and also give a link to that post from last year.  It's the lazy man's blogging ploy!
Doesn't this painting fill you with the joy of Christmas?  The bacon is going to burn, so I'm going now!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Peace and Happiness

Most of the people who follow this blog are on our family's Christmas card list already.  But if you aren't a relative or close friend of mine and you're reading this right now (hey, thanks!), I'd like to send some Christmas wishes your way by passing on a lovely card we received a few days ago from Steve Wood of the Family Life Center.
I absolutely love the image on this card!  It speaks to me.  The artist has so beautifully rendered the serene face of the Blessed Virgin Mary, giving Her an expression of such deep love for the Baby Jesus.

Inside, the card reads:
May the peace
and blessings of Christmas
be yours; And may the
coming year be filled
with happiness.

Steve Wood, who was once a Protestant minister, is a convert to Catholicism.  He's a well-known writer and speaker, and he works tirelessly to spread the Catholic Faith.  God bless him, and all those like him, for the work they do.  These days, the world could use a lot more faith; without it, there can never really be lasting peace or true happiness.

Wishing you peace and happiness, this Christmas and always! 

Friday, December 21, 2012

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I can't believe we're down to a matter of days until Christmas!  With four of my boys (and several of their girlfriends, too) due to arrive between Saturday and Sunday, I've been like Buddy the Elf around here.

I've been baking lots of cookies, cakes, and such.  Chocolate has been involved.
When Buddy listed the four major food groups as "candy, candy corn, candy canes, and syrup," he forgot the most wonderful food group of all.  Chocolate!  But I'll let it go, because I'm sure he realized that it could be considered a member of the candy food group.

I've been getting a guest room ready for the girls, so they'll be as comfy and cozy as possible while they're spending Christmas at our house.  I'm putting them up in what I like to call the "Irish room."
(Back in the days when this space was being used as a bedroom for two of my boys, there was not an Irish theme going on, as far as decorating goes; there was more of a "pigpen" kind of ambiance.)

I've been shopping, too, of course.  For food and libations, and last-minute stocking stuffers...and I even splurged on a new Christmas sweater for myself. A couple of days ago my husband and I had to drive to the nearest Apple store (located at a huge mall an hour from where we live) to get our youngest son's iPhone, which had stopped working just before he came home for his Christmas break, either fixed or replaced.  While my guys were waiting for the appointment to start and happily playing with all the amazing iGadgetry set about to entice shoppers to iBuySomething, I popped next door to H&M.  I'd never been in that store before--we don't have one at our little local mall--but I found the neatest sweater in there.  It looks like it's made out of fur...or snow.  Paired with my red sheath dress, I'll look like Mrs. Claus herself.
Isn't it pretty?  It's got 3/4 length sleeves, which I love.  But I love the price even more ($39.99 marked down to $10!).  I think I'll wear it to Christmas Mass.

Yes, excitement is in the air around here.  Can you feel it?  It reminds me of Christmas 1985, when son #1 (a seasoned veteran of two Christmases already) was giving his younger brother (who was about to experience his very first one) the low-down on what to expect.
"Santa?!  Presents?!  Oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!"

It feels a little weird getting ready to celebrate such a joyous occasion in the wake of the recent national tragedy.  I know that there are families who are going to have a brutal time getting through this holiday season, and I truly feel for them. But it makes me even more anxious to have the most wonderful Christmas possible with my own crew.  None of us know what tomorrow will bring, so we need to embrace the present with every fiber of our being.  And I can't wait to embrace my kids.

Even though the world seems like a dark place right now, this is the most wonderful time of the year; for unto us is born a Savior, Christ the Lord.  And we would be lost without Him.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Christmas Bookends

Back in October, I posted a sweet picture of my boys wearing their childhood Halloween costumes, and that little spark of cuteness ignited eager requests from my daughter-in-law and one of my sons' girlfriends to post some more.  I ended up doing about ten posts showcasing old Halloween pictures, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane for me.  Well, after I shared an old Christmas photo with you the other day, my daughter-in-law politely requested that I post some more.  So if you've noticed a trend the past few days, it's entirely intentional.

And I hope you don't get tired of looking at our old family photographs (which are blurry and grainy and definitely sub-par in quality next to the ones I can take now with either my iPhone or my awesome Nikon digital camera).  For my part, I never get tired of looking at pictures of my beloved boys--blurry and grainy or otherwise.

In keeping with this theme of forcing you to peruse my family photo albums, here's another picture from those halcyon days of yore--this one from Christmas morning 1994.
There they are, all five of my boys, checking out the booty Santa had left under the tree. (And please realize that when I use the term "booty," I do not mean it in the 21st-century kind of way; I mean it in the old school, pirate-speak kind of way.  Arrrrr...)

Those are my bookend boys in the foreground: my baby, who's not quite 2 here and is wearing footy pajamas (how I miss those!), is on the left, clutching his ever-present McDonald's Happy Meal "Lion King" toys in his chubby little hands; my firstborn, who's 11 here and is already practicing for his future job as patient father to twin daughters, is on the right, showing his youngest brother how something or other works.

My oldest son's twins are only about four months younger than my baby was in this picture, and I can just see him this Christmas, helping those little girls open their gifts and showing them how to use them.  Now that's the circle of life, isn't it?  Can you hear the theme song to Disney's "Lion King" playing in your head?  How apropos, because that movie was my youngest son's passion at this stage of his life.  In fact, most of the gifts he received from Santa that year were "Lion King"-related.

When your children range in age from 11 to 2, you can't imagine that you'll ever be a fifty-something grandmother, but it happens.  That day comes.  And in ways it's a little sad to see how quickly the years have flown.  If I could get this group of little boys back with me this Christmas, just for a few minutes, what a gift that would be!  But only for a few minutes; because what a gift it is to have lived long enough to see five sons grow into manhood...to see the oldest married with children of his own...to meet twin granddaughters who light up my life...to know the wonderful men that my bookends, and the three lads who were born between them, have become.

Okay, cue the "Lion King" soundtrack now, while I grab a tissue...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

King in a Bathrobe

Well, posting that picture of my firstborn son in his Christmas pageant angel costume yesterday made me nostalgic for the days when we had one of those charming re-enactments of Christ's Nativity to look forward to every year.  Thumbing through the pages of my photo albums afterward (tissue in hand), I came across this snapshot of son #4 playing one of the three kings in his kindergarten class's pageant in 1993.  He's the one in the purple tissue paper crown (a favor that comes in the Christmas crackers we open on Christmas Eve in our house--I must have popped one open early so that he'd have this crown for the pageant).  And he's taking his job of bearing a gift for the Baby Jesus very, very seriously, as you can see.
The other two wise men are wearing Burger King crowns, the go-to choice of kindergarten pageant coordinators country-wide, I'll bet.  And they're also wearing robes that belonged to my son's brothers.  For a brief period there, despite their strong aversion to wearing anything resembling a dress, my four oldest boys were into bathrobes.  And I must say, those bathrobes came in mighty handy for making saint costumes to be worn in the yearly parade of 1st- and 2nd-grade saints in the schoolyard around Halloween, and for making shepherd/St. Joseph/king costumes to be worn in the yearly Christmas pageant.
Bathrobes 'R Us, 1992.
Before I sign off, I just want you to note that in the top picture, the two angels on the right are girls (in pretty, frilly white dresses), and the bathrobe-clad shepherd kneeling at the left is a boy.  When roles are assigned for Christmas plays and pageants, that's usually the way it goes.  Unfortunately, that's not the way it went down for my oldest son, the reluctant angel, when he was in kindergarten!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Reluctant Angel

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged...

...that a little boy who has a camera pointed at him must make a silly face.  (Did I have you going there for a second?  Did you think I was going to quote the opening line from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?)

As evidence of this truth, here is a snapshot of my gang from Christmas 1992.
I'm so proud.

Now here's the shot I got when I no doubt begged them, "C'mon, guys!  Please just smile and look normal for me, would ya?"
Ah, that's better--much, much better!  Look at those angelic faces.

In less than a month's time, these four little wise guys were joined by a new baby brother. All I can say as far as that goes is that it is a truth universally acknowledged that having five boys is even better than having four. (Well, maybe this truth is not acknowledged universally, if all the "You poor thing!" comments were any indication; but it is acknowledged by this particular mom, who has thoroughly cherished her God-given role as the mother of all male children.)

Little boys keep you on your toes.  They make you laugh at times and want to pull your hair out at others--when you're surrounded by them you're never bored, that's for sure.  They're as fun as a barrel of monkeys, and that's the truth.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Morning Coffee Cake, "Finger Lakes"-Style

Two days ago, I received my copy of Finger Lakes Feast in the mail.  It is a beautiful, hard-bound cookbook co-authored by Kate Harvey, the young wife of one of my sons' college friends (and my new blogging buddy).  Kate wrote the book with her dad, and her photographer brother provided all the pictures for it.

I haven't had time to really go through it yet, but it looks like a wonderful book.  It's so much more than just a cookbook full of recipes; it also has entertaining anecdotes and interesting information about the Finger Lakes region in Upstate NY, and it is sprinkled throughout with beautiful full-color photos--not just of the savory dishes included, but of the breathtaking part of the country for which it is named.  The book is a true feast for the eyes (as well as the palate).  It's so pretty that I'm afraid to have it out on the counter while I'm cooking.  I tend to be a pretty messy cook (I wouldn't dream of working in the kitchen without an apron!), and I really don't want this book to get splattered upon and stained.  So I think I'm going to photocopy the recipes before I set out to make them, and that way I can keep my copy of Finger Lakes Feast in pristine condition.

Yesterday I tried out a recipe on page 34 called "Sunday Morning Coffee Cake," after reading the irresistible description of a cake that was "light" and filled with "ribbons of sweetness."

Stop right there, I thought.  No need to go on.  You had me at "ribbons of sweetness."

The recipe for "Sunday Morning Coffee Cake" is simple and uses ingredients I always have on hand--and I have a feeling it's one I'm going to make a lot (as cinnamon coffee cake is a must-have item for our Sunday morning egg-and-bacon brunches).  It is supposed to serve 8; so since there are only 3 of us in the house right now (my baby just got back from college for his Christmas break, so the nest is no longer empty!), I decided to freeze it for next Sunday, when I'm going to have a full house.  Because I have a feeling that cake was going to serve just 3 today, with nothing left over.  It looked so scrumptious when I took it out of the oven that I fear we would have just cut it into thirds and inhaled it.
If you're interested in winning a free signed copy of Finger Lakes Feast, go as quickly as you can to this post on Kate Harvey's "Something Ivory" blog.  There's still time left to enter the contest by leaving a comment.  Kate will be announcing the lucky winner tomorrow.

Bon appetit!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Books to Inspire You

When I finally turned on the TV yesterday, I was as shocked and saddened as the rest of the country to learn about the senseless and horrific tragedy that had befallen a small CT community.  I don't know what else I can say that others haven't already said, but I do know that there are a lot of hurting people who desperately need our prayers right now.  So many prayers and images dedicated to yesterday's victims, most of them young schoolchildren, came across my Facebook news feed throughout the day; but there was one posted by my sister-in-law that struck me as so indescribably beautiful and comforting that I thought I'd share it with you, in case you haven't seen it.
The caption for this image read, "Jesus is holding the little children today.  Many of them are kindergartners." It does help to remember that twenty new little angels have taken up residence in Heaven, and their pain is over.

Before I saw the news yesterday, I had written up a draft for today's post already--a post with a couple of book reviews (one of which is for a novel written by my publisher).  Now, in the wake of an event that has caused so much pain and suffering, it seemed like such lightweight subject matter.  But when I started this blog almost two years ago, I set out to create a happy place where a reader could go for a quick escape in the midst of a busy day.  I vowed to steer clear of politics and other depressing subjects--and for the most part, I've been able to stick to that goal.  So I'm going to push on today and post what I'd intended to post.  Maybe the timing of it will seem strange to you.  But you know, I believe in the power of a good book to inspire readers to strive to become their better selves--maybe even to change lives.  That might sound over-the-top, but I think it's true.  So here's the post I had all typed up and ready to go, back when the world seemed like a brighter place: 

If you love novels like I do--you know, really good women's literature, or "Chick Lit," as they call it these days--with great love stories that you can really sink your teeth into, but you've had it up to HERE (imagine me making a sort of salute right now, with my hand at the level of my forehead, showing you just how up to here I've had it) with books filled with F-bombs and blush-inducing, totally gratuitous scenes of sexual intimacy between characters (characters who are rarely even married to one another), then you and I are on the same page.

On the same page...get it?

I used that phrase--"I've had it up to here"--more than I should have when my boys were young whippersnappers.   But cut me some slack, will ya?  My first four sons were born very close together, in a span of four years and three months, and I often felt surrounded by a litter of overly energetic and unruly puppy dogs!  Make that bickering, jumping-on-the-furniture, running-around-the-house-like-wild-banshees puppy dogs.  Anyway, once, when I found myself in the midst of all that little boy chaos, I began to say my usual catch phrase.  "I've had it up to--", I said, but before I could finish, my #2 son, who was about four or five at the time, stopped in his tracks and looked at me with those baby blues of his, and he asked in a truly innocent and curious way, "Are you up to here yet?"  With his little hand somewhere in the vicinity of the dirty-blond bangs on his little forehead, no less.  I was so surprised to hear my very own saying--complete with its accompanying hand gesture--being repeated back to me that I burst out laughing, and whatever tension had been building in me dissipated on the spot!  (Remember parents: they're listening to everything you say, even when you don't know they are!)

Anyway ladies, if you've had it up to here because you've come home from Barnes & Noble with a novel that has a lovely front cover design and sounds like a charming winner on the back cover synopsis, then a couple of pages in you were horrified to find detailed descriptions of private body parts and all kinds of raunchy goings-on, then I know exactly how you feel.  I recently told my husband that I wish novels came with ratings on them, like movies.  If a book had an R rating, I would never buy it.  I would know how uncomfortable the "love scenes" were going to make me!  Let's not even get started on that whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon.  I haven't read the New York Times Bestselling trilogy, but I've heard enough about it to know that I never will.
As an alternative to such trashy "literature" aimed at women, today I'm going to tell you about a book that you will lose yourself in and absolutely fall in love with--without blushing and feeling terrified that someone might look over your shoulder and see what you're reading.  It's called The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  And don't let the odd title turn you off.  My daughter-in-law recommended this book to me, and I'm so happy she did!  It's an absolutely wonderful story, set on the German-occupied island of Guernsey, off the coast of England, during World War II. I have always, always been a sucker for any novel set during the Second World War--I am fascinated by that era--but I think most women, even if they're not World War II history buffs, would enjoy it.  This book shows the courage, strength, and ingenuity with which people deal with impossible situations.  It's filled with great characters, and it has a satisfying love story thrown in there (always a plus!).  I highly recommend it.  A few years have gone by since I read this book, but writing about it here has made me want to re-read it!  (I always read the ones I love best multiple times!)

Another sweet and entertaining alternative to all the latest R-rated romance novels targeted at women is Cheryl Dickow's Elizabeth, a Holy Land Pilgrimage.  Cheryl Dickow is the president of Bezalel Books, the company that published my novel Finding Grace.  Dickow is a well-known Catholic non-fiction writer, and Elizabeth is her first work of fiction.  It is a refreshing book because it deals with a familiar topic--a woman hits mid-life and wonders if her life has meaning any more, wonders if her marriage has gotten so stale that she should just give up on it--but handles it in a whole different way than most contemporary writers would like to convince you is the norm.  The common theme in many works of modern fiction is that when a spouse is unhappy at home, the Rx is to have an extra-marital affair. Dickow's likable Catholic heroine, Elizabeth (also known as Beth or Liz), doesn't start seeing another man to fill the void in her life; she takes a trip to Israel, which has been her lifelong dream.

During the two weeks Elizabeth is away from home on her Holy Land pilgrimage (and forming strong bonds with her new Jewish friends, who provide her with much inspiration), she and her husband have time to think, and both undergo some life-altering changes.  As this book deftly illustrates, it's so true that at times, marriages can hit low points and it's easy to get discouraged and consider giving up.  But Elizabeth's husband Luke remembers the way St. Paul encouraged the Hebrews on this subject: "Marriage, the institution and the daily reality of it, was demanding.  It could take a toll, especially with children and jobs and dreams that did not materialize...But St. Paul wanted them to be re-energized about their calling and that was what Luke wanted of Liz; to be re-energized about their marital vows." Elizabeth is touched by her husband's analogy of St. Paul's letter to the Hebrews, and she begins to see that what each of us does in the small universe to which he belongs greatly impacts the larger universe.  Her life, Elizabeth begins to realize, is far from meaningless. "Liz had always wanted to know that her life made a difference and was seeing, as if for the first time, how very much it truly mattered...She was irreplaceable to her husband and her children...All of a sudden, Liz's universe was bigger and more dramatic than she had ever imagined."

I won't spoil the ending, in case you decide to read this book (which I urge you to do!); but I will say that in this day and age, it's heartening to read a novel where marriage, family, and faith are given so much value.  Elizabeth, A Holy Land Pilgrimage is a quick and satisfying read, and it will inspire you to learn more about your faith.

So those are my "Chick Lit" recommendations for today:  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Elizabeth, a Holy Land Pilgrimage.  (If you do read them, I'd love to know what you think!)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bezalel Books, and Boys in Bow Ties

This morning, I arose wondering what--if anything--I should blog about, and I decided that I'd probably go back into the photo archives and find an adorable picture of one or more of my sons from Christmases past to share with you.  (I never get tired of those.)  I can always think of some story to tell about those boys of mine, who have always been--along with their father--my favorite main characters in the book of life.  (Pretty deep, eh?)

But then as I was waiting for my coffee to brew, I did a quick e-mail check on my iPhone and saw that Cheryl Dickow, author and dedicated president of Bezalel Books (the small Catholic company through which my novel Finding Grace was published), had sent me a note.  She told me that successful Catholic publisher and author Nancy Carabio Belanger (Olivia and the Little Way, Olivia's Gift) had written a wonderful blog article about Bezalel, and in it she mentioned my book along with several other titles under Bezalel's imprint.

Cheryl asked me to share the article if I wished, using any social media I have available.  So if you can spare a few minutes and you'd like to read an inspirational article about some truly amazing people who are working behind the scenes to make sure that the voices of Catholic writers can be heard, just click here.

That article is longer than most of my blog posts, so I'll close now.  But before I do, I just thought I'd share this gem from Christmas 1993.  (Sorry, I couldn't help myself!)
Oh my gosh, this picture is a hoot!  I remember this now!  We were on our way over to our Catholic grade school for the annual Christmas concert and pageant.  Parents had been instructed that all the boys should wear white shirts and green bow ties, and not knowing where in the world I would find green bow ties (remember, this was back before on-line shopping had become a regular part of life), I whipped up some homemade ones out of satin ribbon for sons #1 and #3.  Son #4, who was just a pre-schooler at the time, was not going to be in the performance; but not one to be left out, he insisted on having a tie just like his older brothers--and I think it looks rather sharp with his striped polo shirt, don't you?  Son #2 is wearing a bathrobe instead of a bow tie because he had a starring role that year (I can't remember if he was Joseph or a shepherd).  And lest you feel sorry for son #5, he was indeed with us when I snapped this photo.  He was about a month away from making his grand entrance into the world--but he was there I assure you, making my belly even rounder than Santa's that Christmas.

Well, that was--as always--a fun trip down memory lane for me.  Thanks for coming along.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Grace in Glasses

I am a big fan of Grace Kelly.  Perhaps you know this already, especially if you've read my novel Finding Grace.  I named my main character Grace Kelly, in part as a nod to the famous actress/princess whom I admire so much (but also to incorporate my mother's maiden name into the book).

One of the things I love about the iconic Grace Kelly is that she achieved her legendary status as a world-renowned beauty without ever plastering her face with heavy make-up.  Of course, being naturally blessed with flawless skin, bone structure, and facial features--not to mention beautiful blond hair and an enviable figure--makes this a bit easier to accomplish. But still, she was the quintessential "girl next door"--that is, if the girl next door happened to be drop-dead gorgeous.

Grace Kelly also dressed so elegantly and fashionably, but never wore anything that was too low-cut, tight, or revealing. Even photos of her in a bathing suit that made it into the pages of magazines looked wholesome, because she never wore anything too risque or immodest.  I love her style--that classy, put-together, uber- feminine style that was typical of the 40's, 50's, and early 60's; I'm convinced that I was born too late, and would have been happier sporting the glamorous women's fashions from that era than I am wearing the more casual styles of today.  (And yet, despite my resolution to start wearing skirts and dresses more often, I find myself pulling on my trusty go-to jeans almost every day...What about you? Do you wear jeans most of the time?)

Apparently, Grace Kelly and I (and my book's young heroine, too) do have something in common, though; the flawless beauty had one humanizing flaw: she was incredibly near-sighted!  Although she didn't normally wear glasses in her movies, she was photographed in them for magazine stories and covers, and it was reported that she even wore them once to the Oscars.  But here's the thing: Grace Kelly could make even glasses look chic and attractive.  To prove my point, here is a famous photo of her in her specs, from her Hollywood days.
 And here's another, from her Monaco days.
Wow, huh?  Now here's one of me, from my young motherhood days.*
Not exactly Grace Kelly-esque--to put it mildly!  Even my 3-month-old son is laughing at my ridiculously over-sized glasses. Grace Kelly, I suspect, would never have been caught dead in these huge, unattractive frames.  (If you've read my book, perhaps now you can see where my heroine's tendency towards self-castigation comes from!)

But seriously, if glasses are good enough for Grace Kelly, then they're good enough for anybody.  And they're good enough for me.

(*Just to clarify: I did not plan to have my picture taken when I took my baby in to Wal-Mart for a photo shoot that day!  I would have tried to make myself more presentable if I'd known the photographer was going to convince me to be in one of the shots!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

And the winner is...

Okay, I'm about to do the big drawing to see who will be the lucky winner of a signed copy of Finding Grace.  Drum roll please...
And the winner is...

Kate Harvey!

Kate has a beautiful, insightful, and entertaining blog called "Something Ivory"--if you haven't checked it out yet, you should.  Kate, I know your address, so the book will be in the mail ASAP.

Thanks to everyone who decided play along.  Most of you are people I know very well (or I'm related to), and you've been loyal followers.  Thank you!  There were also two comments from new visitors to "String of Pearls."  One was from a creative neighbor down the street who owns a booming home decor business called Domicil Design, if you'd like to check out her site (and visit her Etsy store).  And the other was from M.R. Zapp, who has a fascinating and articulate blog called "Regency Catholic."  In it, she explores the history of Catholics during England's Regency period (Jane Austen fans, you must check out this site!).

Thanks again, everyone!  This was fun.  I love playing Santa!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Christmas Giveaway

I've been noticing that in the blogs I read (the blogs of professional-type bloggers and authors, who obviously have webmasters because their blog home pages are filled with all sorts of neat links and graphics and such, unlike my plain and humble little "String of Pearls"), bloggers often give away free stuff to their readers and/or followers.  So I got to thinking that, with Christmas just around the corner, I'd give away something you could wrap up for that special somebody and put under your tree.

Speaking of trees, this our 2012 tree.

It looks a lot like our 2011 tree, and our 2010 tree, and our 2009 tree...because it's the same 10-foot artificial tree plastered with the same ornaments.  Although I do add at least one new ornament every year, because as you can see from this close-up, I just don't have enough yet.
I say there can never be too many ornaments on the tree; what say you?

 Anyway, back to the Christmas giveaway here at "String of Pearls": I thought I'd send one lucky reader a signed copy of my novel, Finding Grace (see link above right).  It might make a good gift, particularly for a special young adult in your life.

To enter, just leave me a short comment today.  I will write down the names of each person who does so, put them in a bowl, and draw out the name of the winner.  I'll announce the winner in tomorrow's blog post, and then I'll need to figure out a way for you to contact me with your address (if I don't already know you!).  I can have the book in the mail almost immediately.  You should really enter this contest--judging by the number of comments my blog posts usually get, your odds of winning are about 1 in 3 or better!

Ho Ho Ho!  Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Mom, do you wish YOU were a kid...?"

Well, I'm a real lazybones today.  A real slugabed.  It's almost 10:00 a.m., and I've only been awake long enough to get the coffee started!

I don't know what's going on here!  If I sleep past 8:00 a.m., I kind of feel like the day is half over!

So this is going to be a short blog post today--nothing more than a picture, really.  But I do believe a picture speaks a thousand words.  And the little boy in this picture spoke a lot of words the day I took it.

It was Christmas 1991, and son #4 was 3-going-on-4 at the time, and he'd gotten his dream present that year: a 12"-tall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.  Our boys had zillions (or just shy of zillions) of the little 5"-tall Ninja Turtle action figures, but this was the first giant version of the toy that anyone in our family had ever gotten.  To say that this little guy was thrilled is putting it mildly.
He asked me that day--maybe not a thousand times, but close to a hundred times, I'll bet--the same question: "Mom, do you wish you were a kid so you could get this turtle?" And every time, I answered with an enthusiastic, "I sure do!"

The happy little boy in this picture is going to turn 25 in about a month, and I don't think there's anything we could get him this Christmas that would make him as excited as that gigantic Ninja Turtle toy did that year.  I think he really felt sorry for me because I wasn't a kid like he was, and no present under the tree with my name on it could possibly compare to that glorious toy of his.

I just hope my boy remembers that long-ago Christmas, and the patience with which I answered his sweet question over, and over, and over--and OVER!--when I'm a forgetful old lady and I ask him the same question a thousand times in a row!  That's the circle of life in a nutshell, isn't it?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Old School Glamour

About 4:00 a.m., downtown Boston:

Late on Friday night, I took a bus in to Logan Airport to meet my pilot husband, who had a two-night layover in Boston.  The crew was being put up in the swanky Park Plaza Hotel, right in the heart of downtown Boston, and we thought we'd take advantage of that and have a little date weekend in the city.

Our plans for yesterday were simple: we were going to get to Mass (it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception), have a couple of nice meals, maybe walk around the city a bit--with a stop at Faneuil Hall marketplace, of course.

It turned out to be a cold and rainy day, so we didn't do the walking we had planned to do. Instead, after lunch we just curled up in our cozy king-sized bed at the hotel and watched a movie on TV.  The movie was a Will Ferrell comedy called Old School, and I do not recommend it!  I love Will Ferrell in any of his PG or PG-13 movies (Kicking and Screaming, Bewitched, and Elf); but R-rated comedies are too raunchy for me, and when this came out in theaters, it was an R.  It was cleaned up for television, otherwise we never would have watched it; but it was still a bit much.  And it was very infantile and ridiculous.  And not old school at all.  Old school is Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life or Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in anything.

Anyhoo--

What is old school is the Park Plaza Hotel!  It's got so much old-Hollywood-style glamour about it.
When you walk through its immense, plush foyer, bedecked with enormous crystal chandeliers, you feel like you should be dressed like this:
Now this gal's ensemble is old school, isn't it?  I love everything about this fashion statement: the hat, the pearls, the dress with the matching jacket.  It's so modest, yet becoming--so pretty and feminine.  I want this outfit.  I need this outfit!  It would look right at home in the Park Plaza Hotel.  (Actually, it is right at home in the Park Plaza Hotel; this photo--along with other oversized black and white photos depicting similar old school glamour--is part of the hotel's lobby decor.)

Well, I've got to sign off, because my husband's crew bus to the airport will be here soon. After our little sojourn in these glamorous surroundings, he must get back to work.  And I'll board a bus to NH, dressed in my not-very-glamorous jeans, cable-knit sweater, and clogs, and head back to the old homestead, where my husband will join me tonight after he flies a plane down to Atlanta and back.

About 5:30 a.m., on a bus to NH:

They have free WiFi on the bus, and I'm trying something I've never tried before: blogging in a moving vehicle.  It's a little bumpy, so I'll keep this brief.

I just had to tell you about the incredible lunch I had in Boston yesterday.  My husband and I went to a seafood and steak restaurant called McCormick & Schmick's.  I thought I'd support the local fishermen and have seafood, so I ordered an appetizer called "Shrimp Kisses."  This dish consisted of five jumbo shrimp topped with pepper jack cheese and wrapped in applewood-smoked bacon.  That's right, every bite entailed suculent shrimp, melted cheese, and crisp bacon.  If there is a more heavenly food item, I don't know what it is. If you're ever in Boston, I encourage you to go to McCormick & Schmick's and try their Shrimp Kisses!

I'm going to sign off now, and maybe even try to get a little shut-eye after the early wake-up call this morning.  Hopefully, I'll dream about being on a lavish date with my tuxedo-clad leading man (my hubby, not Cary Grant!), dressed to the nines like the gal above (complete with a stylish, broad-brimmed hat), and eating as many Shrimp Kisses as I want (without gaining an ounce)...

A girl can dream, right?

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today is an extremely important date in the Catholic Church calendar, a feast day that is celebrated as a holy day of obligation: it is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Many people, even some Catholics, misunderstand the meaning of the term "Immaculate Conception," and they assume it has to do with the manner in which Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary's womb.  Actually, the term refers to the fact that in the first instance of Her conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, Mary was exempt from all stain of original sin.  Original sin was not removed from Her soul, as it is for the rest of us, through the sacrament of Baptism; it was excluded in Her soul from the very moment of Her conception.  This was a singular privilege and grace granted by God to the Mother of His Only Begotten Son.

This continual union with grace, from the very moment of Her conception, is what sets Mary apart from every other human being who has ever walked the earth.  She is immaculate, preserved in a holy state of purity and perpetual virginity.  This is Mary's role in Salvation History; She is ever virgin, yet fruitful mother.  She was the first person to kiss the face of God, the first to believe in Jesus as Her Savior, the one disciple who never left His side or doubted Him, when others fled and doubted...She was the first Christian.

O God
Who by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin
didst make Her a worthy habitation for Thy Son
and didst by his foreseen death
preserve Her from all stain of sin,
grant, we beseech Thee, 
that through Her intercession
we may be cleansed from sin
and come with pure hearts to Thee.
(Benedictine Monastic Diurnal)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dinos in the Manger Scene

My sons were absolutely crazy about dinosaurs when they were little boys.  All five of them. They had countless books about them and just pored over those books, learning every fact they could about each species.  One of their favorite shows was a cartoon called Dino Riders, which was sort of like Star Wars--except that the characters landed their spaceships on earth, and then went around shooting at each other while riding on the backs of armed dinosaurs (BTW, does anyone out there besides our family remember that short-lived, but totally awesome, cartoon?).  They learned how to draw dinosaurs, and draw them well.  And they had far too many dinosaur toys--especially after the Jurassic Park franchise hit it big, and with it came incredibly realistic models of the dinos from the movies.  (Santa knew what to bring!)

My boys are all men now.  In a month, my baby will turn 20--so all five of my sons will be in their 20's together in 2013 (until October, when--gulp!--my oldest turns 30!).  But the great thing about men is that a little bit of boy remains in them, no matter how old they get.  At least that's my experience with my men.  To prove my point, here's a picture of son #3 at his girlfriend's house this Thanksgiving.  When asked to pose in front of the "I AM THANKFUL FOR" sign, look what he wrote on the little chalkboard.
Yes, that's right: he's thankful for dinos.  Out of all the things he could have picked (good health, family, friends, Notre Dame being #1 and going to the national championship game, etc.)...he picked DINOS!

This should come as no surprise to me, however.  During the 1988 Christmas season, when this same son was just a wee sprat of two and a half, I came upon him rearranging the plastic figurines in our little Nativity set.  Apparently, the cow, sheep, and donkey were just not cutting it.  That manger scene needed a little something extra, and of course it was--
DINOSAURS!

I just thought I'd share this adorable photo with you--in case the Christmas season hasn't already filled your soul with more joy than you can handle.  It makes me smile every time I look at it.

(And P.S.  If you've been a follower of this blog, you will not be surprised that my little guy isn't wearing any pants!  My boys loved dinosaurs, yes indeed; but they did not love pants!)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Some Serve, So That Others Can Celebrate in Freedom

With Christmas coming, we must all remember our troops who are serving for us overseas and won't be able to be with their families this year.

I remember how hard that was for me back in 1984, when I was a young mother.  Our oldest son turned one in October, and that same month, my husband--a Navy fighter pilot--left for a four-month cruise.  (We were actually more fortunate than most Navy families; his squadron joined in when the cruise was already underway, or it would have been six months.)

After he left, I made a point of showing my boy pictures of his daddy every day, so that when he returned he wouldn't seem like a total stranger.  (If only we'd had Skype!)  It got to the point where my son was picking him out of every snapshot.

One day, my little man went into the room where I kept the photos, and I followed him to see what he was up to.  When I got there, I found him holding a wallet-sized picture of his dad, and softly saying, "Daddy."  I ran as fast as I could to get my camera and capture the image for posterity.  I assure you, this was not a staged event.  My son really was just standing there, in his cloth diaper and plastic pants, carefully holding that picture with his chubby little hands and staring at it.
That Christmas, about seven months pregnant with son #2, I traveled with my firstborn from Florida to Upstate NY to spend the Christmas holidays with family...but my poor husband spent them on a Naval aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean.  And boy, did he ever miss this little guy!

Skype is great and everything; I know it helped the boy in this picture in 2008, when he spent Christmas in Iraq, and again in 2011, when his twin daughters were born, and he couldn't be there to welcome them into the world because he was on deployment in Afghanistan.  But Skype-ing is just not the same as being with your loved ones and holding them close, and I know there will be a lot of hurting soldiers, sailors, and pilots this Christmas.

So God bless them, every one.
I love this photo (found on-line), because it shows the indomitable spirit of our American soldiers.
They celebrate Christmas, even when they're serving in war zones. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Mother of God

With Christmas only weeks away, I thought I'd post a beautiful painting that came to our house in the mail, via the cover of the latest issue of Columbia (the magazine of the Knights of Columbus).  I absolutely love it, because it depicts the Mother of God as very human--which of course She was--and heavy with child, ready to give birth to Her Son, the Savior of the World.  This painting is a reminder that although Mary's Son was indeed the Son of God, sent by the Father as our Redeemer (note the glowing light emanating from Her rounded belly), He was also made man.  He was flesh and blood, like you and me--a baby born to a loving Mother in a humble stable on Christmas day.
This is not the way Mary, the Mother of God, is usually painted, which is why the image immediately jumped out at me from a large pile of mostly junk mail.  She's usually depicted after the birth of Our Lord, cradling the Baby Jesus in Her arms; but we don't often see Her as an expectant Mother.  This painting is a reminder that She loved that baby boy who grew in Her womb, flesh of Her flesh, as much as I love my own boys--as much as any mother loves her children.  And when, 33 years later, She had to watch Him suffer and die for mankind, it was as excruciating for Her as it would be for any of us.

Here, though, Mary is filled with peace, serenity, and joy as She awaits the birth of Her beloved Son--as are we during this season of Advent.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Home for the Holidays

I'm so thrilled that most of my children are going to be home with us this Christmas!  Our oldest son and his family (which includes, of course, those adorable twin granddaughters of ours!) will be heading out to WI to spend the holidays with my daughter-in-law's folks, but our other four sons will be here with us, and three of them are bringing their girlfriends with them, too.

There's nothing like having family around!  I am extremely grateful that our house is going to be full again with the sounds I love and miss: the sounds of our boys--with their deep, loud voices--laughing together and talking about football and teasing each other and arguing the merits of their movie choices as they struggle to come to some consensus about which DVD will make the perfect "family movie night" choice.  (The choosing of the movie to be viewed usually takes longer than actually watching said movie.)

I love my house so much.  We moved here when our oldest son was only 7, and our baby has never known any other home.  Over the years our sons were growing up to be the fine men they are today, this place was a warm and cozy (and noisy and funny) nest.  It holds so many precious memories for me; but it's gotten rather quiet and empty these days, except when our youngest boy is home for his college breaks.  Although every mother wants her children to grow up and move out and be capable of taking care of themselves, it is somewhat difficult making the adjustment to "empty-nester."  Especially when her whole purpose has been the care and feeding of her children.  I mean, don't get me wrong--in some ways, being here alone together is like being on one long date with my hubby (we've seen more movies in the theater the past two years than the total number of movies we saw during the twenty years prior!), and we're doing just fine on our own; but we do miss having our boys around.  And I'm so looking forward to having them home in a few weeks!
Boys (and girls!), we'll leave the lights on for ya!
Years ago son #5, our baby, wrote the most beautiful essay about our home as part of a 9th grade Honors English fiction project.  I originally posted it back in September of 2011, but I thought I'd share the link to it again today.  It's called "My Son, the Writer," and I like to read it whenever I'm feeling melancholy about that sweet part of my life being over forever--the part where I get to see the beloved faces of my children every day and do for them.  It makes me realize that even though they don't live here anymore (and even if they're living too far away to come home often), wherever they go, this happy home we made for them will always be a part of them.

Monday, December 3, 2012

An Easy Craft to Light Up Your Life

When we were out in Colorado over Thanksgiving, we had an overnight visit with one of my husband's younger sisters.  (In fact, it was at her house that we watched Notre Dame beat USC--the win that guaranteed their spot in the national championship game in Miami in January!)

My sister-in-law and her family had just moved to the Denver area, after living in California for the eight years she'd been married, and now they're a mere hour-and-15 minute-drive away from our oldest son and his family.

My sister-in-law's house is absolutely lovely, and it has many decorative touches that are worthy of copying, if you're an inveterate copycat like me.   Most of us are copycats, though--aren't we?  I'm sure that's why Pinterest has become such a phenomenon.  And I've heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so...Anyhoo, my sister-in-law, who used to live near wine country on the West Coast, had the neatest thing on one of the counters in her kitchen.  It was a wine bottle filled with white Christmas lights, with raffia wrapped around the mouth of the bottle and tied in a bow, and a wine cork and a little bit of faux greenery attached to the raffia.  A California friend had made it for her as a gift, and I'm sure it has a lot of sentimental value for her (the wine bottle was probably from one of the local vineyards she'd visited during her time as a California resident).  I should have taken a picture of it--it was simply lovely.

When we returned from our trip out west, I was determined to copy my sister-in-law's little wine bottle lamp, and I went through our vast wine collection to look for a suitable bottle--but alas, we had only two bottles in stock (which is about par for the course), both Merlots in dark green bottles.  So I went to the grocery store and chose a Pinot Grigio, because it had a clear glass bottle, and told my husband we were going to split a bottle of wine to celebrate our safe travels home.  That would have been a great idea if I was a real wine drinker; but unless I'm in just the right mood, I have trouble drinking more than about half a glass.  And I wasn't in the right mood, unfortunately, on the night I wanted us to finish a bottle at one sitting!  I did my best, and my husband picked up the slack, and finally we had an empty bottle for my project.

All you have to do for this craft is clean out the wine bottle and let it dry, stuff a strand of 20-25 white Christmas lights inside it, and add a ribbon--or raffia, if you'd prefer--to the mouth of the bottle (tying the cord in place in the process).  It's so cute, and so festive (especially at Christmastime)--and so easy!
The one thing I would do differently is next time, I would use a bottle with a smaller label on it.  This one features a picture of a knight in shining armor, which I thought looked very cool; but the label ended up blocking the lights, so I had to turn the bottle a bit to the side to get the best effect.  Also, I used a battery-operated light set, but the plug-in variety would work just as well.

I LOVE this lit-up wine bottle so much, I want to make several more to have in different areas of the kitchen...but I'm not that big a fan of wine, as I've told you...and it seems wrong to buy a bottle of wine and pour it down the drain just because I'm feeling crafty...but perhaps if it's a cheap bottle of wine, I could live with myself...

Maybe I should just inform the wine connoisseurs I know that I'm in the market for their empties!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Advent is Here

It's the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday we'll light one of the candles on our Advent wreath.
Our oversized wreath has tall 7-day candles that stay lit throughout the week, until it's time to light another one the following Sunday.  We have back-up candles ready to replace the burned-out ones, until eventually we have all four lit up at the same time.  When we first started using this wreath about ten years ago, I was worried about leaving the candles burning while we were either sleeping or away from the house; but these pillar candles encased in glass are like the ones they use at church, and they are very safe.  So today, we will start our yearly Advent Wreath Ceremony by reciting the following prayer:

O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth by blessing upon this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Then my husband will light one of the three purple candles, and we'll pray:

O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I love Christmas, with all of its traditions--including the decorations, the tree with the gaily-wrapped presents under it, the sugar cookies shaped like stars and slathered with buttercream frosting and sprinkles, and the stockings hung by the chimney with care.
This year, three of our sons have girlfriends who will be with us on Christmas.  So I made them stockings out of red velveteen from Grandma's attic (remnants left over from the jumpers I made for my twin
granddaughters last Christmas). 
When I look at the stockings hanging on the mantle over the fireplace in our family room, visions of sugarplums dance through my head, and I am filled with a small child's Christmas joy: "Santa's coming!  Santa's coming!"  But it is in the Advent wreath that we find the true meaning of Christmas, because it symbolizes our anticipation of the birth of our Lord.  And every time I pass our living room and see the Advent candles burning, I am reminded of the true "reason for the season."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...

I am so excited!  Yesterday I finished my twin granddaughters' green corduroy Christmas jumpers. I think they turned out very well, and those two little cutie pies are going to look simply adorable in them.
Now I just have to wrap the rest of the gifts we got for them and their sweet parents, and I can mail their Christmas box off to Colorado.

I hung the twins' jumpers under my Christmas village, which I absolutely love.  I never intended to have a lit-up miniature village, like my mother does.  "I have enough Christmas decorations already!" I'd tell myself.  But are there ever really enough?  If you asked either my mom or my late mother-in-law, the answer would be a resounding "NO!"

But still, I fought the urge to start one.  I fought it, and I fought it.  Then two Christmases ago, when I was in Sears shopping for something else, I spied this Dept. 56 ceramic house marked down 60%--before Christmas!  Do you recognize it?  Can you see the leg lamp in the middle window?  (Click to enlarge for a better view.)
That's right!  It's Ralphie's house!  From the classic movie "A Christmas Story," one of my all-time favorites. If it had been full-price, I could have resisted...but I took that house home with me, along with a figurine of Ralphie checking his mailbox for his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring and one of him trying to hoist up his younger brother Randy, who "lay there like a slug [in his overwhelmingly bulky snowsuit]; it was his only defense."

Right after that Christmas, I returned to Sears and picked up the floor model of Ralphie's school, priced at 75% off.  The sign over the front door read "Cleveland Elementary," but my astute husband reminded me that the school in the movie was actually called "Warren G. Harding Elementary" (and Warren G. is a distant relative of mine--more about that some other day!); so I made a new sign out of card stock and glued it over the erroneous sign.

I was pleased with my little "A Christmas Story" village, which now had two buildings as well as several new figurines, including the boys standing around the flag pole in the school yard, triple-dog-daring Flick to stick his tongue on the cold metal.  But I wasn't satisfied yet; because even though the movie didn't feature a church, I wanted my village to have one. And I didn't want it to be just any church, but a CATHOLIC church.  So in my travels through the after-Christmas sale aisles that same year, I came upon a beautiful Dept. 56 church called "Our Lady of Grace," with a statue of Mary up in a niche near the bell tower. At $100, I never would have bought it; but at half off, I couldn't resist (even though it was still rather pricey).  So now Ralphie, Randy, et. al. had a Catholic church in their village, and I didn't intend to add any more buildings to it.
Except for the "Chop Suey Palace," where Ralphie's family ate their Christmas dinner after the Bumpuses' dogs ate their turkey...I picked that one up at Walgreen's at an after-Christmas sale last year, and it sits on my oak sideboard...

But that's it...no more miniature houses...I mean it...I do!

Friday, November 30, 2012

An Early Christmas Present

Yesterday I got the most wonderful news.  I was informed, via e-mail, that my novel Finding Grace had been awarded the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.

When I filled out the application a couple of months ago, I was far from confident that my book would earn this seal.  I had mentally prepared myself for rejection, knowing that God always knows better than we do what's best for us and trusting in His will for me.  If Finding Grace didn't earn the seal, there was a good reason--and I was determined to accept my disappointment with as much grace as possible...but still, I awaited the decision of the reviewers with a great deal of excitement and hope.  Today, I feel like I've been given an early Christmas present!

One of the big pluses about this award is that now, my book will be showcased in an upcoming issue of Catholic Book News, an on-line newsletter that is mailed out to over 500 Catholic bookstores and libraries in North America.  My publisher warned me back in August that the hard work for an author really begins after his book is published, when he is trying to get the word out to prospective readers.  Having my title included in this newsletter will be incredibly helpful as far as marketing is concerned.

I am truly humbled, and I feel so very blessed.  If there's anything under the tree for me on Christmas morning, that will just be gravy.  I've already gotten the best present I could ask for.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

I'm Blessed--and So Are the Irish

Just when I thought my life couldn't be more blessed--when all of my girlhood dreams had been fulfilled (i.e., marriage, motherhood, grandmotherhood), I was fortunate enough to see the thick stack of 8 and 1/2-by-11-inch typed pages that I'd been working on for over 4 years get published and become a real, honest-to-goodness book.  I never believed--although I hoped--that I would ever be able to add the title "author" to the other titles I hold so dear: "Snooks," "Mom/Mumsie," "Grammy/Gra Gra."

God has been so good to me.  I know I don't deserve it; however, I am profoundly grateful.  I am especially grateful for the love and support of my husband and my kids, who always believe in me and are unflagging in their encouragement of any endeavor I undertake.  What would I do without them?

Recently, I had the opportunity to write an article promoting my book on CatholicMom.com. The woman behind this website is Lisa Hendey, a well-known Catholic author, speaker, and blogger--and she is also a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, Class of '85.  (She is an Irish football fan extraordinaire, so she has a lot in common with the people I know and love!)  In my travels across the Internet, searching for websites that might be willing to list my book in their suggested reading for young adults, I stumbled upon her name and contacted her.  She invited me to write a guest article, and on November 18, 2012, it was posted on CatholicMom.com.  As I am quite busy today, getting settled in back at home after a 2-week-long trip out west and back--unpacking and shopping and decking my halls with boughs of holly, etc.--I just thought I'd post a link to that article (if you're interested). Click on this title, "Finding Grace: A Novel to Inspire Young People," and it will take you there.

For the article, Hendey suggested that I include a photo.  So I had my hubby snap this one, staged to make me look very author-ish.
It's a little bit nerdy.  I posed as if I was sitting there at my laptop, writing away--with my ever-present cup of coffee by my side.  (It's not TOO nerdy, is it?  Please tell me it's not too nerdy.)

Before I go, I wanted to include a link to a blog article that Lisa Hendey posted recently about Fighting Irish linebacker--and probable Heisman candidate--Manti Te'o, who is beloved by Irish fans everywhere.  Click on the title "Manti's Mission, The Year of Faith & Me" to read it.  It's worth the time, believe me; you will be moved, touched, inspired. (And if you weren't a Notre Dame fan before, you might become one!)

Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fightin' Irish Christmas Tree

Yesterday, we took off in the morning from our hotel in Iowa City and stopped--as planned--to have lunch in South Bend with our youngest son.  We picked him up at the Notre Dame campus and took him out to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings, a favorite haunt of his.  Afterward, we went to Wal-Mart to stock him up on Gatorade and protein bars and then dropped him off at his dorm.  It was a quick visit, and we'll see him again in just a few short weeks when he comes home for his Christmas break--but it was so wonderful to see our baby!

Before we got back on the road, we stopped in at Notre Dame's awesome Hammes Bookstore, because I'd seen something in their catalog that I wanted to get for my hubby for Christmas and thought it would be a good idea to pick it up and save on the shipping charges.  In the foyer of the bookstore, we were greeted by this lovely sight:
Isn't this Fightin' Irish Christmas Tree simply gorgeous?  I'm not normally a fan of "theme" trees, but I'll make an exception for this one!  (Click on the photo if you'd like to enlarge it...go ahead, click on it.  Trust me, it's totally worth it.)

Seeing the bookstore all decked out for Christmas made me even more anxious to decorate my own house.  Usually, it's all done by now, but we've been away from home since November 17, when we began our westward road trip out to Indiana for the ND v. Wake Forest game...which turned into a road trip all the way out to Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with our beloved grandbabies.  We departed from Colorado Springs on Monday morning and made it to Buffalo last night; today, we only have about 9 more hours of driving to go before we're home sweet home again.

So this is what I'll be singing just as soon as I've had my morning coffee tomorrow: "Deck the halls with bows of holly, Fa la la la la, la la la la..."