Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

I got a package in the mail yesterday.  A package filled with happiness.  For Mother's Day, son #3 enrolled me in a "coffee of the month" club ("the gift that keeps on giving," as Cousin Eddie would say), and the first shipment has now arrived.
I am extremely fond of coffee, as my family well knows.  I'm a coffee lover--a "coffee achiever," if you will (does anyone out there remember those commercials from years back?).

I make a small pot of Maxwell House Lite (1/2 the caffeine) first thing every morning.  I would share it with my husband, but he is one of those alien creatures who not only doesn't drink coffee, but feels ill if he tries (which he did a couple of times, in an effort to become my "coffee buddy."  Isn't that sweet?).  Then I occasionally have a cup or two in the afternoon.  And I usually brew some just before we pop the DVD in on "movie nights," hoping it will keep me from dozing off during the...zzzzzzzzz.  What happened?  What was I saying?

You know how people say that if they drink coffee too close to bedtime, it'll keep them up all night?  That never happens to me.  I usually drink half-caf at home, but I don't know why I bother.  I think my body can handle all the caf I want to put into it.

If you've read this blog much, you might already know that I'm a real Dunkin' Donuts fan, and that I also fell in love with European-style coffees when I went on some trips with my husband--especially the cafe au lait served in France.  But now I have two new types of coffee on my ever-growing list of BEST COFFEE EVER!

One is called "Mocha Matari," which I tried last night (drinking two fully caffeinated cups and then going to bed and sleeping like a baby!).  This one is naturally organic and comes from Yemen.  The bean is left in the husk for a longer period of time, which results in hints of citrus and chocolate and creates a medium brew that is perfect for breakfast or after dinner.  I LOVE this one.  It is so smooth and delicious that I may never go back to Maxwell House Lite again.

The other is called "Guatemala Coban," which I'm sipping now, as we speak.  It comes from the Antigua region of Guatemala, a country which is often referred to as the "jewel of Central American coffee production."  The bean is roasted on the darker side, which gives Coban a lively flavor--clean, mildly sweet and citrusy, with a smooth, cocoa finish.  I LOVE this one, too.

I don't know which of these two gourmet coffees is my favorite, but I think both of them have my pedestrian go-to brand beaten by a country mile.  They both have a slight hint of chocolate flavor, and it just doesn't get any better than that.  And there is none of that acidy taste that coffee often has--just pure deliciousness.

My son ordered my gift from a company called Amazing Clubs.  I don't know how good their other products are, but their coffee is definitely amazing.  I look forward to shipment #2!

(To give adequate descriptions of the two coffees, I did some paraphrasing and some direct quoting from the Amazing Clubs brochure.  Just wanted to give credit where credit is due.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kicking and Screaming

There are some things I used to say that simply don't apply anymore--now that I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century world of technology.  (Actually, I'm not kicking and screaming these days; I have officially jumped into the fray with gusto, littering the pages of all of my Facebook friends with enthusiastic thumbs-up's and smiley faces, and...oh, no...turning into one of "those people"--the ones I swore I'd never resemble--who's way too attached to her iPhone.)

Here's one of the things I used to say: "I don't need to have my own Facebook page."  It's cute how naive I was back then, isn't it?

A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law (already a Facebook veteran) convinced my husband and me that we should hop on the FB bandwagon, and she showed us how to set up an account.  We put it in my husband's name and used it jointly; we really didn't go on Facebook that much anyway, and when we did it was mostly to do a quick check of our grown kids' pages, to see any new pictures they might have posted or whatever.  I would sometimes leave a comment, and usually would add "XO Mom," just so that my boys would know which of their parents had sent it.  Once, however, I saw a hilarious comment that one of son #4's college buddies had posted, so I told him how funny I thought he was (and that he'd made me LOL, of course), ending with my traditional smiley face.  His reply to my comment began, "Mr. Pearl..."  Oh no, I thought.  If everyone thinks it's my husband who's sending out these comments, they don't make him sound very manly.  (My husband, for the record, does not attach smiley faces or hearts to his comments.)

It was time to set up my own Facebook page...and a monster was created.

When I used to hear about people who were so addicted to Facebook that they gave it up for Lent, I thought, Wow, those people have a problem.  Now, I have that problem.  But I do have a lot more "friends" than I used to, which is nice.

Here's another thing I used to say: "I don't want or need an iPhone."  Ha ha, it is to laugh!

Until this past Christmas, I was perfectly happy with my little pink flip phone--even though it took me about 3 hours to compose the simplest text to one of my sons.  My husband had an iPad and an iPhone already, and he was a true believer by that point.  But it would be a waste of money to get an iPhone for me, I assured him.  He didn't listen and got me one for Christmas anyway.  Let me just say it again: that guy is my hero.  And come to find out, I did need an iPhone.

The great thing about the iPhone is that no matter where I am, I can do a quick e-mail check or look up some important factoid on the Internet.  And guess what else I can do?  I can log onto Facebook--way more often than is probably healthy--to see all the funny comments being posted by my sons, my nieces and nephews, and all of their various friends.  (I hope that doesn't make me a Facebook stalker.)  With an ever-present mini-computer at my fingertips, I've connected with high school friends with whom I've only had a Christmas card correspondence for the past couple of decades, and that has been a really fun off-shoot of joining the FB crowd.  Texting is a breeze with my new iPhone, too (it only takes me 2 hours to compose one now, instead of 3), and so is sending photos, whether via text or e-mail.

And the picture quality I get with my phone--it's unbelievable!  I used to carry a small photo album filled with hard copy pictures of my granddaughters in my purse; but now all of those precious photos are stored digitally on my magical little Apple device.  When I want to show someone my "brag book," I just have to whip out my trusty iPhone.

Oh yeah, and I can also make actual phone calls with my iPhone.  There's that, too.  I used to pride myself on being the only dinosaur left who insisted on dialing phone numbers from memory, but now I'm speed-dialing from my "contacts" list like everyone else.

I don't even know who I am anymore.  But I've definitely stopped kicking and screaming.

(Most of you are probably iPhone aficionados already and wonder why I've bothered to tell you all that it can do.  Forgive me; it's just that I'm still such a n00b about all of this stuff.  And btw: This ad was not paid for by Apple...but it should have been, don't you think?  If you don't have an iPhone yet, I'm sure you want one now.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Boys (and Girls) Are Back in Town!

I'm happy to report that things have been hopping here at the old nest!

We've been thrilled to have our #4 son (who lives in VA) with us for a couple of days--along with his new girlfriend, whom we hadn't met before yesterday.  She is a real sweetie pie.  Last night, we had not only those two kids, but also son #2 (the one who lives relatively close by) and his lovely new girlfriend--whom we'd had the pleasure of meeting already--sitting around our dining room table with us.  We enjoyed some steaks, some caramel brownies, and a lot of laughs.  It was fantastic!  (Unfortunately, though, son #5--the one who's home from Notre Dame for the summer--had to work at the movie theater and missed dinner.  But he was able to join us later at the fire pit out back.)

There's nothing like having our boys come home.  And when you've raised five boys and no girls, there's nothing cooler than having those boys bring young ladies with them--and watching the girls holding their own, matching wits with the guys.

Two and a half years ago when our firstborn got married, we added a wonderful daughter-in-law to our family, and then a year ago, the most adorable twin granddaughters.  Now, girlfriends appear to be coming fast and furious.  Son #3, another VA boy, also recently began seeing someone; and though she and I have "talked" on Facebook (we are the best of FB friends!), my husband and I have yet to meet her. We can hardly wait.

Things get a little silly when the boys are back in town (see the picture below if you don't believe me)...but we wouldn't have it any other way!
Can you feel the love?  (Girls, good luck with these two goofballs.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Tribute

On Memorial Day, I thought I'd post a tribute to the Statue of Liberty--a symbol that would not even exist if not for the bravery and valor of America's military forces throughout her history.

This photo was not taken in NYC; it was taken by my husband a couple of days ago when he was on a trip to Paris.

In 1876 (the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence), French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi was commissioned to make the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States from France, in recognition of the friendship between the two countries during the American Revolution.  The larger version, of course, is the one millions of immigrants to this country passed in NY Harbor on their way to Ellis Island, when they came here in search of the American dream: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  But a second, smaller version of the statue is located in Paris, near the Grenelle Bridge on the Ile aux Cynges, and this is it.

There would be no Statue of Liberty, no Declaration of Independence, no liberty and justice for all within the borders of this great country, if not for our heroic veterans and our selfless fighting men and women.  Today, we thank them for all they have done, and all they continue to do, so that we can enjoy the freedoms we so often take for granted.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

May Crownings

I loved the May Crownings we had at school when I was growing up.

At my Catholic grade school, we always showed our love and devotion to the Blessed Mother during the month of May--Her month--in many different ways: students would bring flowers in daily to place in a vase near the small statue of Mary that was located in each classroom; on sunny days, we would assemble outside, near the large statue of Mary that looked out over the schoolyard, to recite the Rosary together; and always, there would be a big ceremony where a crown of flowers was placed upon the head of that statue, while all the schoolchildren sang "O Mary we crown Thee with blossoms today; Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May..."  Do you remember that sweet song?  And of course, we would sing "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria; Salve, Salve, Regina..."

When I was in 8th grade, the scheduled May Crowning, which was usually held in the schoolyard, had to be moved inside due to rain.  That year, I'd been the lucky one chosen to crown the statue of Our Lady.  I was honored to be given this important duty.  Way back in 2nd grade (at a different school, in a different state), I'd been the one chosen to carry the flower crown on a pillow, as part of a long procession of participants.  Having recently made my First Holy Communion, I proudly wore my white dress and veil as I carried that pillow to the statue of Our Lady; but an older girl got to place the crown on Mary's head.  Now I was that older girl.

It may have been a slow news day in our small town, but our school's May Crowning was actually covered in the newspaper.
I didn't get my picture in the paper very often; aside from my engagement and wedding photos, I believe this was the only time.

I can't think of a more wonderful reason to find myself in the paper than this: as part of a ceremony the sole purpose of which is to show love and reverence for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Yesterday, my husband was in Paris.  I know that sounds very glamorous, but he was only there because that's his job.  He's the captain who flew the plane filled with passengers over there, and he'll be flying it back today.  My jet-setting hubby with the very glamorous job told me that he went to a grocery store last night--I'm sorry, he went to une epicerie--to get himself a banana and some yogurt for dinner (he had already packed a protein bar to go with these items).  Mmmm mmmm!  French cuisine at its finest!

I understand that it's very expensive to eat out in Europe these days, and my husband is a commendably frugal guy.  But let me just say for the record that if I ever get a chance to accompany him on a trip to Paris, we will not be eating epicerie food for dinner!  (Just kidding, mon cheri.  If I ever get a chance to go to Paris with you, I promise I won't be too picky about what we eat.)

Yesterday, my guy took this lovely picture of a landmark everyone will recognize, the Eiffel Tower (which he could see from his hotel), and it was sent from his iPhone to mine via magic (or as they call it, "the cloud").
I was not in the "City of Love" yesterday, gazing at the Eiffel Tower.  No, I was here tending the home fires, spending part of the afternoon mowing the backyard lawn.  I am not usually responsible for yard upkeep, but my husband has been working so much lately that I hate to make him do it when he finally gets some time at home.  I could have made our youngest son, who's back from college for the summer, do it (how great it is to have a member of our work crew here!), but I wanted the exercise and it was a gorgeous day to be outside.  (And don't worry, my baby boy is going to be out there mowing the front lawn today.)

As I was pushing the mower back and forth across the grass, I kept looking at a familiar landmark right here in my own backyard.  It's a maple tree that has grown to a towering height near the back of our detached garage (the one we had built when we turned our old garage into our "new room").
We have been living in this house for over 21 years, and we hadn't been here long when my father-in-law brought us a maple sapling from his own yard to plant out back.  Dad used to like to bring little home improvement items when he and Mom would drive down from Upstate NY to visit us.  He might bring some weather stripping and apply it to a drafty door.  Or perhaps some plumbing supplies for a project my husband was working on.  Once, he brought me a dust pan from the dollar store, because I'd been admiring his when we'd been up visiting (it had a long handle, so you didn't need to bend down when you were sweeping dirt into it).  And he brought us this tree, which started out its life in our yard looking like the maple version of a Charlie Brown tree.  For a number of years, we didn't even believe it was going to make it to adulthood.

But look at it today!  It's huge and healthy--a living reminder of my wonderful father-in-law, who died in 2003.

I wouldn't mind having the opportunity to see the Eiffel Tower someday.  But given the choice between that landmark and this one, I'd take Dad's maple tree every time...and I know my husband would, too.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Family Photographs

Pretty much every available inch of wall space in my house is filled.  I need more walls!  Underneath the countless pictures, there are so many nail holes that the sheet rock is like Swiss cheese. It's only Spackle that's holding everything together.  But I can't help it: I like to hang things up.  And my favorite things to hang are family photos.

In my dining room, I have a wall of antique and vintage photographs that are especially dear to me.
These precious pictures include relatives from both my husband's side and mine.  Our parents are there, as children with their own siblings and again as young, movie star-gorgeous adults.  Their parents are there, too, and their grandparents as well.  I have one of my father-in-law as a little tyke in a sailor suit and one of my mother-in-law as the Rose Queen at her college in the fifties.  I have one of my mother's father and his younger siblings, when Grandpa was a little boy in short pants, and one of my mother posing in her princess-style wedding dress in 1956.

My father's father died when my dad was only six, so I prize the group photograph of him--the grandfather I never met--with my grandma, my dad and his sister, and the rest of Grandma's family.  My mother-in-law's father died when she was only ten, so I am thrilled to have two pictures of him--the grandfather my husband never met, the handsome Irishman who came to this country from County Cork at the age of 19--on my wall as well.

There's so much history on this dining room wall!  And when I look at these pictures--like the one of my maternal grandparents, young and all dressed up for a night on the town--I remember all of these loved ones, most of whom are not with us anymore.  Looking at their faces, captured for eternity on film, reminds me that even after they're gone we're forever connected.

One of my oldest son's high school friends, who has a very dry sense of humor, made a comment once about my wall of family history.  He said that as you go left on the wall, you go really far back on the family tree.  But just for the record, the two people in the picture on the far left are not relatives of ours (at least that I know of!).  That's a piece of artwork on papyrus that my brother-in-law brought back from a trip he took to the Holy Land back in his Navy days.

I used to watch a TLC show called "Trading Spaces," where two couples switch houses for a couple of days and totally re-decorate one room as a surprise for the owners.  (I don't know why I enjoyed this show; almost without exception, I thought the new rooms were far uglier after the designers were through with them than they were to begin with!  I wouldn't have let those people in my house for a million dollars!)  My youngest son used to wander in from time-to-time while I was watching, and whenever they did the big "reveal" of a newly decorated room, his most frequent comment was, "Where are all the family pictures?"  Everywhere he looks in this house, the walls are plastered with them.  It was inconceivable to him that anyone would want a room without them.

I, for one, wouldn't!  And I think we're going to have to build on an addition or something, so I'll have more wall space; because now that we have grandchildren, the number of new family photographs I'll need to hang is going to increase exponentially!  As far as I'm concerned, though, too much is never enough.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Prayer Request

Today is a dark day in my family.  Last night, we got the heartbreaking news that my mother's sister had died.  My mother is the oldest of the five siblings in her family, and this sister was the baby.  My mother lost two of her other siblings to cancer last year, and now she is having to endure yet another devastating loss.  My departed aunt leaves behind no husband or children to mourn her; but there are no words adequate to describe the way her death has impacted her two surviving sisters.

Yesterday in the mail, we got this card offering daily memorial Masses from the Franciscan friars, and I think I'm going to fill it out so that my aunt will be remembered in the friars' prayers.  Please remember her, too, and the rest of my mom's family.  At times like this, life would be unendurable without faith.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Show Some Respect for Those Show Horses!

This afternoon, while my husband, my youngest son, and I were driving back from a quick trip to Upstate NY (where we'd spent some time at my husband's boyhood home and also had a nice visit with my parents and my baby sister and her husband), we saw this truck up ahead of us on the highway.

My husband was getting ready to pass it, but he made sure I'd read the sign on the back before he did.  It made us chuckle, because it reminded us of a routine that one of our favorite comedians, Brian Regan, does about trucks with warning signs like these on them.

If you are a member of the Pearl family, you know most of Brian Regan's routines by heart.  But if you are one of the so-far-uninitiated, I thought I'd post a short YouTube video for your viewing pleasure.  I tried to find one that just had the Show Horses bit, but this was the best I could do.  So this 8-minute video includes three of his routines: Hotel Elevator, Show Horses, and Donut Lady.

Funny stuff, huh?  We love Brian Regan!  And he's got to be the cleanest stand-up comedian around.  In fact, we read that he'd made a commitment to keeping his material family-friendly, which it most definitely is.  You could bring a five-year-old to one of Regan's shows; you would both find him amusing, and you wouldn't have to worry about your little one being exposed to any F-bombs or inappropriate jokes.

Before today, I'd never seen a truck carrying show horses.  There's a first time for everything, I guess!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

You know me and my vintage artwork...well, here's another darling example of it.  Some of my favorite paintings happen to be those that appeared on Good Housekeeping covers in the first few decades of the 20th century.  Modern-day 21st century women's magazine covers have photographs on them, not artwork; and nowadays, if the covers depict people, those people are usually grown-up celebrities.  But back in the 19-teens, -20's, and -30's, more often than not Good Housekeeping cover images, like this one, were sweet paintings of children.

This 1921 cover certainly shows how much things have changed!  For one thing, did you note the price?  23 cents!  I don't think anything costs as little as 23 cents anymore, and the newsstand price of a copy of Good Housekeeping is currently around $3.50.  (Of course, if you sign up for a 12-month subscription, it'll cost you $7.97 altogether, making each issue a mere 66 cents--which actually isn't too bad, is it?  I think I better renew my subscription right now, because I'd be losing money if I didn't take advantage of a deal like that!)

Another thing that has changed quite a bit is swimsuit fashion design.  Look at how modest these little girls' bathing costumes are!  Styles are so skimpy these days in comparison, even for tots--although our son and his wife recently sent us some photos of our baby granddaughters in the pool, and the tops of their little suits looked sort of like t-shirts.  I believe these new-style suits are even given an SPF value, and I think they're great.  It sure makes a lot more sense to cover up those vulnerable little pink shoulders than to expose them to the burning rays of the sun.

And while we're on the subject of fashion, let's talk about the bandanna the older sister has tied around her hair.  Don't you just love it?  She was probably copying her mom (who no doubt tied a scarf around her hair-do to protect it from the wind and water) and feeling like a very big girl indeed.

Today's GH covers usually boast--in large, very bright letters--about all the stories and articles you will find inside, concerning topics such as dieting and weight loss, home decorating ideas, health alerts, beauty tips, fashion trends, recipes, and the lives of the rich and famous.  This 1921 cover, coming on the heels of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution just the year before, highlights only one story: "The Story of the Women Voters' Big Convention."  Yep, that was a big one.  That story probably had more women interested than one about the latest weight loss fad.

What I like best about this cover painting is that it shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  The outfits may be different, but when you're at the beach this summer, everywhere you look you'll see scenes like this, where big sisters are holding onto the hands of their little sisters and walking along the water's edge.  And you'll see baby sisters with their free hands spread wide in excitement, anxious to dip their chubby little fingers into the water.  Lots of things have changed, but that never will.

Monday, May 21, 2012

My Nest Overflows

Yesterday was the most wonderful day!  It was a completely ordinary day, but as so often happens in life, the ordinary can be truly extraordinary.

To begin with, it was positively glorious here in New England, sunny and about 75 degrees. After 9:00 Mass, my husband and I ran into some of our oldest and dearest friends in town--friends who've known our boys since they were knee-high to a grasshopper--and caught up with them over coffee and doughnuts.

In the afternoon, son #2 (who'd gone to a later Mass, as had his slugabed college-aged youngest brother) drove up from his apartment about an hour south of here to spend some time with us.  He brought his overflowing laundry basket with him, but that was okay with me.  He's getting so independent and almost never does that anymore, so having the opportunity to do his laundry for him was almost a...I was going to say "treat," but that makes me sound like a lunatic.  Let's just say it was a pleasure to get to spoil him a little and send him home with piles of clean, neatly folded clothes.

While we were waiting for son #2 to arrive, our oldest son and his wife Skyped with us, and we got to see our adorable almost-one-year-old granddaughters toddling all around their house.  Those girls are so unbelievably beautiful, precious, adorable...there aren't enough adjectives.  When we're on Skype, they come close to the screen sometimes and smile at us.  We could just eat them up.

Doesn't this sound like a great day so far?  But it wasn't over yet.

When son #2 got here, we watched the Notre Dame v. UVA lacrosse quarterfinal game, which my husband had DVR'd earlier so that we could watch it with him and his brother. My husband and I sat with our sons in our "new room" (we've had this room--which used to be our garage--for about 7 years now, but it will always be new to us) and enjoyed some snacks and beverages while we cheered on the Irish together.  In a gritty contest between two well-matched teams, Notre Dame pulled off a 12-10 win to move on to the semifinals.

Could things get any better?  They could.

Son #4, who was on a long road trip from VA to MA, called several times to chat with us while he was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Jersey Turnpike.  Son #3 sent a series of texts, along with photos, giving us updates on his weekend fun--which included playing in a men's league lacrosse game and scoring 4 goals.

I've blogged several times this year about adjusting to an empty nest after raising five boys in this house, but I'll tell you: the nest didn't feel very empty yesterday.  Two sons were with us in the flesh, and I felt the others here in spirit.  My cup--my nest--overflows!

As I was standing at the kitchen sink after the game, cleaning up the mess I'd made putting together some raspberry cobbler for my husband (because the day hadn't been perfect enough yet), I glanced out the window.  I always love the view from the kitchen window, because our yard is bordered by thick woods that give the feeling that we're out in the country instead of minutes from downtown.  The trees look beautiful in all seasons; and while our woodland view might not be as spectacular as the lake view my husband had growing up, we know how blessed we are to have it.

The view I had yesterday was particularly lovely, though, because of the two brothers who were standing in the yard with their lacrosse sticks, playing catch.  Watching them out there, smiling and talking as they lazily tossed the ball to each other, filled me with so much happiness.  Such an ordinary sight--one we used to see all the time when this house was filled with growing boys--but extraordinary to me.
I think Zac Brown (my new favorite singer) said it best when he said, "Life is good today."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's a Dog's Life!

Well, it's Sunday--the Lord's Day, which is supposed to be a day of rest.  My middle son's dog--my beloved girl, Allie--appears to have gotten the memo.  Relax, Allie.  Really, don't exert yourself.  Can we get you some game day snacks or something?  A bowl of bacon, perhaps?  (With a little cheese and gravy on top, you say?)

I appear to have embarked on a life of crime, because this is the second day in a row that I've stolen pictures from my loved ones to post on this blog.  Yesterday, I stole a cute pic of one of my granddaughters walking along the beach with her daddy from my daughter-in-law's blog; today, I'm stealing this priceless shot of son #3's semi-human doggie from his facebook pages.  I'm sorry for these blatant acts of thievery, kids; but your pictures are so awesome that I feel a need to share them here, too.

Doesn't Allie have the right idea about Sundays, though?  Is there a more relaxing Sunday routine than kicking back on the couch to watch a football game on T.V. (with a beer in your hand--a diet cola if you're me--and a table filled with nachos and salsa and other not-good-for-you-but-oh-so-delicious munchies right in front of you)?  As comedian Brian Regan would say, "I submit that there is not."

Well, it's not football season right now.  But on this sunny, glorious Sunday in May, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish laxers are playing a quarterfinal game in the NCAA lacrosse play-offs against UVA, vying for a spot in the semifinals next weekend.  So...can you guess what we're going to be doing today?  That's right, we're going to be livin' the dog's life, like our friend Allie up there.  Our second oldest son is driving up to join my husband, our youngest son, and me, and the four of us are going to be doing the couch potato routine like nobody's business, hoping for an Irish win.

WE-ARE-N-D!  Go Irish!

(Hey, middle child of mine: I have a great idea.  Why don't you pose Allie with a basketball, a baseball, and a lacrosse stick, so that she can be an "Allie for All Seasons."  Just a thought.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Deja Vu

I can hardly wait to check my daughter-in-law's blog ("Knit 1, Pearl 2") each day to see if there's a new post--and especially to see if there's a new picture or two of my granddaughters Bonny Babe and Kewpie Doll, the two cutest little misses on God's green earth.

Recently, she and my son brought the twins to a barbecue at a lake, where they joined some other Army families with whom my son works.  Afterwards, she posted pictures of the twins walking on the sand and checking out the water.  When I saw them, I got a distinct feeling of deja vu!  Our boys spent a lot of time at the lake growing up, both at my parents' rustic camp on Silver Lake in Upstate NY, and at my husband's parents' home on Lake Champlain.  Actually, they spent a lot of time at the ocean, too.  When our three oldest sons were little and we were stationed in FL, we spent many weekend days at St. Augustine Beach, where the sand was so hard-packed that you could drive your car (in our case, a big blue station wagon/"Wagon Queen Family Truckster") right onto the beach and park it there.  This made it very handy, especially with little ones; you didn't have to lug your beach towels, diaper bags, coolers, etc. from some far-off parking area and back again.  You did, however, have to make sure that while your kids were playing around in the sand, they didn't run out in front of a moving car!

Here is a picture of our oldest boy running along the hard-packed sand with his daddy, at St. Augustine Beach in July of 1985.
Now here is a picture of Kewpie walking in the soft sand toward the water with her daddy (the little boy from the above picture, all grown up!), at an AL lake in May of 2012.
I hijacked this photo from my daughter-in-law's blog.  I hope she doesn't mind.  (Sorry about that!  I may have broken some copyright law here!)  It's so lovely in its composition that I think it would make a beautiful oil painting.  And look at the picture quality you get with a digital camera these days, compared to the blurry shots I got with my $20 Kodak Instamatic (although the pre-scanned version of my photo is a little sharper).

These pictures show the circle of life just beautifully, don't you think?  And they really get me anxious for summer!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Work of a Budding Cartoonist

I have mentioned before that all five of my boys were blessed at birth with a good deal of artistic talent.  If you caught "T-Rex Week" (June 20-26, 2011), you know this already.

Not all of them have continued to develop this talent into adulthood, however.  Son #4 is still drawing, though.  In fact, son #3 gave him this amazing gadget for his birthday: some kind of "tablet" that allows you to draw your pictures right onto a computer screen, and then shade and color them (without even having to open up a messy tube of paint!) so that they end up looking incredibly professional.  With this high-tech gizmo, son #4 might someday realize his dream of starting his own web cartoon--who knows?

Anyway, son #4 always exhibited an amazing talent for cartooning, and for coming up with these crazy creatures that look like they belong in a movie about alien invasions.  He made them up, using his fertile imagination and an impressive amount of skill with a pencil and paper.  In fact, I have kept many of these drawings, and I showcased one of them in a post called "Mythological Muscleman" on July 28, 2011.  I've been thinking that "String of Pearls" is overdue for a "Crazy Creatures Week," where I showcase some more of these incredible drawings, posting them from Monday through Friday for your viewing pleasure.  Look for that (coming soon, to a computer screen near you).

Son #5 has always looked up to his older brother, sharing son #4's love for playing video games, mimicking the voices of famous people (his brother can do Christopher Walken like nobody's business, but my baby's Arnold Schwarzenegger is spot-on), wearing silly t-shirts, and drawing "Far Side"-style cartoons, among many other things.  When my youngest was in grade school, he drew a whole series of his own cartoons, which I kept.  I think they are pretty sharp, especially considering he was just a little boy when he did them.  I thought I'd share a couple of them with you today.
You really won't get this second one unless you've seen "Jurassic Park"--the scene where Dr. Grant distracts the T-Rex with a flashlight.  Here my son has the T-Rex saying, "Look pal, I saw that movie and I'm not falling for it!"  Funny stuff.

It's Friday, so you're probably happy already.  Perhaps I should have saved these cartoons for Monday morning, when you could really use a laugh.  Oh well, I hope you enjoyed them anyway!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Prom Night 1975: We Were Stylin'!

I was in J.C. Penney recently and saw endless racks of strapless satin gowns--with beading and sequins, in every color of the rainbow--as I passed through the dress section.  That's right, I remembered: it's that time of year again.  Prom time.

So as a nod to high school proms everywhere, I thought I'd share a picture of my prom date (then my boyfriend, now my husband) and myself, at our junior prom in 1975.
You know how kids these days look like they're ready for the red carpet on Oscar night when they're all decked out in their prom finery?  Yeah...well, we did not look that way.  (Oh, I guess I didn't need to clarify that for you, because you can plainly see this for yourself when you look at our souvenir picture.)

Here's how I prepared to make myself "beautiful" for the big night: The morning of the prom, I went over to school to help out with last minute decorating touches in the gym.  Then I rushed home to lie out in the backyard (coated in baby oil) for a few hours, under the delusion that I could give myself a Coppertone tan by the time my heartthrob came to pick me up.  I did not get a one-day killer tan; I got a one-day painful sunburn.  I had also spritzed my hair with vinegar (a tip for lightening your hair that I'd seen in a magazine), believing that I could not only be tan by nightfall, but have blond streaks in my hair as well.  Apparently, you need more than a few hours in the sun for that to happen.  I ended up having to shampoo my hair about three times so that it wouldn't smell like salad dressing, and that put me behind for having it rolled up in pink sponge curlers by my mom.  I was under her big, old-fashioned hair dryer hood until minutes before my dashing boyfriend came to collect me, and even then, my hair was still on the wet side.  It was bad enough that I'd experimented with short hair (which just didn't suit me) months before the prom and was in the process of growing it out again, making it an awkward length; on top of that, it was damp and had a slight vinegar aroma about it.

And for some reason, I thought a little red velvet bow (which matched the sash on my dress) pinned on the side of my head was the perfect touch. Yikes--imagine our modern misses doing this to their hair on prom night.  It was not a very sophisticated look.

At least my dress was very sweet.  My mom had sewn it for me, using a pattern and fabric that we'd picked out together.  It was made of lace over a taffeta lining.  My shoes were sweet, too; they were pumps dyed to match the cream color of my dress.  Dainty pumps were not at all in style for sixteen-year-olds at the time, however.  In 1975, clunky platform shoes were all the rage.

Which brings me to my boyfriend's get-up:  For some reason, he decided to be a bit madcap and zany that night, and he wore these hilarious, high-heeled platform saddle shoes (??), along with a raspberry red ruffled shirt, a white suit coat, and black tuxedo pants.  He sported a relatively big head of hair back in those days, earning him the nickname "The Nest" from his group of guy friends.  I don't think that either one of us was having his best hair day on prom night.

I don't know why I'm sharing this picture with you.  It's just that it's prom time, and that got me thinking about the good old days...Plus, I thought you could use a good laugh.

(Okay, that's enough.  You can stop laughing now!)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Prayer to St. Peregrine

May 4 was the feast day of St. Peregrine, the patron saint of those who are afflicted by cancer.  This powerful Catholic saint, who died in the 14th century and was canonized in the 18th century, began his life as far from Christ as he could be.  A rebellious and violent youth, he was part of a street gang in his hometown of Forli, Italy.  He even physically attacked a priest who came to preach the Faith, and when this priest responded by forgiving him and turning the other cheek, he was so deeply moved that he began to repent of his evil ways.  Peregrine reformed his life, became devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and eventually became a priest himself.

Peregrine developed cancerous sores on one of his legs, and it was determined that the leg would have to be amputated.  The night before the operation, Peregrine prayed before an image of the crucified Christ.  He had a vision in which Jesus came down from the cross and touched his cancerous leg.  When he awoke the next morning, all evidence of his cancer was gone.  He lived for twenty more years, spreading the teachings of Christ.

Most of us, unfortunately, know of someone who has been stricken with some form of this disease.   There are few words that strike more fear in one's heart (and the hearts of his loved ones) than when he is told, "You have cancer."  A loved one of mine has recently been diagnosed with the disease, and I'm turning to St. Peregrine.  His intercession has aided countless sufferers, and for this he has been given the title of "Wonder-Worker."

O great St. Peregrine, you have been called "The Mighty," "The Wonder-Worker" because of the numerous miracles which you have obtained from God for those who have recourse to you, you who for so many years bore in your own flesh this cancerous disease that destroys the very fiber of our being, and had recourse to the source of all grace when the power of man could do no more; you who were favored with the vision of Jesus coming down from His Cross to heal your affliction, ask of God and our Lady the cure of these sick persons we entrust to you.  [Pause here and silently recall the names of the sick persons for whom you are praying.]  Aided in this way by your powerful intercession, we shall sing to God, now and for all eternity, a song of gratitude for His great goodness and mercy.  Amen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Coffee: It's the Gift That Keeps on Giving

Yesterday, I had my yearly physical, and I was rushing to get ready because I'd been puttering around all morning and time had gotten away from me.  I hopped out of the shower and opened my top drawer (the one filled with all of my--ahem!--undergarments, unmentionables, what have you), and in my haste to unfasten the belt of my bathrobe, somehow bumped into and knocked over the full cup of coffee that was sitting on my dresser (in a trademark move that my husband and sons will recognize).

This couldn't have happened before I opened that drawer; no, it happened when that thing was wide open, and the coffee spilled right into the drawer and splattered on everything in sight.  I frantically grabbed the least caffeinated underthings I could find and put them aside to wear, and then I threw everything else on the floor so that I could mop up the little puddles that had formed inside the drawer with the only thing I had handy at the time, the nightgown I'd left on the floor when I went to shower.  (Thankfully, the little sweet-smelling sachet I'd brought home from my trip to Nice with my husband last December had been spared; it appeared to be the only thing in that drawer that didn't get hit!  Everything else was going to have to be washed.)  I didn't have time to do a thorough clean-up, so I tried to blot up the coffee that had spilled on the rug in front of my dresser with my bathrobe. Afterwards, I threw my soggy nightgown and my stained robe in the hamper and just left the pile of unmentionables on the ground to be dealt with later, with the rug stain setting nicely underneath them, and finished getting dressed so that I wouldn't be late for my appointment.

Getting dressed for a doctor's appointment always requires a good bit of thought, too, because in anticipation of the weigh-in, I always want to make sure I'm wearing the lightest clothing possible.  (Jeans weigh about ten pounds; did you know that?)  So I put on a paper-thin, gauzy summer skirt, a short-sleeved t-shirt, and some thong sandals that could be easily slipped off before I hopped barefoot on the scale. I was not even going to have socks on my feet for that weigh-in.  (Socks weigh at least three or four pounds; did you know that?)  I was dressed for a stroll along the boardwalk at the beach, even though it was rainy and a bit chilly outside.  I didn't care.  I had a slight hint of "eau du cafe" perfume about me, so at least I smelled delicious.

Anyhoo, in spite of wearing the most lightweight articles of clothing I could find, I didn't like the higher-than-optimum number that evil scale came up with.  It was probably wrong, I decided.  But boy, at that point I sure wished I hadn't skipped both breakfast and lunch before my 1:00 appointment--all because of the madcap notion that if my stomach was empty, I would weigh considerably less than if it was full!  (Given what went down, it was the coffee I should have skipped.)

When I returned home, I stopped the car at the end of the driveway to gather the mail, and I was excited to see a card from son #3, who had informed me on Mother's Day that he had ordered me something and it would be coming soon.  With the car still running, I tore open the card.  To my delight, I found that he had enrolled me in a "coffee of the month" club.  I will be receiving shipments of gourmet coffee--woo hoo!  I had to laugh when I saw the note he'd added at the end: "Mom, that's the gift that keeps on giving, the whole year."  (If you've never seen the movie "Christmas Vacation," you won't get that reference--and it's such a classic that you need to rent it, STAT!)

Given what had happened to my pedestrian cup of Maxwell House Lite just two hours earlier, I couldn't help feeling surprised that my son would trust me with such a gift.  I am a lover of coffee...but also a spiller of coffee.  I always seem to have a cup going, but half the time I forget where I've put it until I've knocked it over.  It doesn't help that I like to keep a spoon in my cup, because that just makes the whole operation even more precarious.

But I'm honored, son, that--despite my pitiful track record--you think I am worthy of your gift of fancy, high-class coffee.  And I'll try to repay this trust you have in me by pledging to do my utmost not to spill a drop of the precious stuff from now on.

(By the way: yes, I really did photograph the crime scene when I came back from the doctor, and I know that seems kind of strange...but  I just knew I had a blog post forming once I got that "coffee of the month" club card!)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Double Vision

Yesterday, my oldest son and his wife Skyped with me for Mother's Day.  I got to see my two adorable granddaughters cruising all around the house, stopping every now and then to check out the crazy lady on the screen and give her a heart-melting grin before getting back to their job--which is, of course, making sure that their poor parents never get to sit still for more than a nanosecond.  (God bless parents of multiples!)  Bonny and Kewpie are definitely becoming seasoned walkers!  It was so much fun to be able to watch them, in real time, as they toddled here and there.  That was a great Mother's Day gift for Grammy.

What in the world did we do before Skype?  I know it would have been so much harder for my husband and me when our boy was on deployment in Iraq for a year, and then again for a year in Afghanistan, if we hadn't had it.  (Not to mention how hard it would have been for his fiancee and then pregnant wife.)  It was always such a joy--and a comfort--to see his face on that computer screen; somehow, through the miracle of modern technology, he didn't seen so far away.  I would have loved to be able to see my husband's face when I was the mother of a one-year-old (the twins' daddy) and pregnant with baby #2, and my man was away on a Navy cruise to the Indian Ocean.  We didn't even have phone calls to look forward to, except on one rare occasion when the ship was in port; back then, we just had those archaic, oldfangled* things called handwritten LETTERS.

So the next time I complain about technology and say that I wish I'd been born in the olden days, when life was simpler, ignore me.  Or remind me of how much I love to Skype these days; that'll bring me back to reality.

After we'd been Skype-ing for a while yesterday, my youngest son, who was sitting beside me (and like all males can't resist playing with the buttons on machines), started fiddling around and adding graphics to our picture: pop-up images of a hand doing the thumb's up sign, a punching fist followed by the word "BAM," a bird flying across the top of the screen...well, you get the idea.  Then my oldest son retaliated by making it so that the images coming to us from his end kept morphing into bizarre shapes, the way they would in front of one of those fun house mirrors.  After that stunt, he made it so that the images from his end appeared to be doubled.  While this was happening, I took this picture of the twins, who are already mirror images of each other...and here it looks like they have mirror images of those mirror images.  (You can see their daddy's head doubled in the background as well.)**
I thought this made a pretty interesting shot, and I'm glad I was able to capture it on film.  Woops, I dated myself there; I mean I'm glad I was able to capture it on my memory card.  I guess a roll of film is about as obsolete as a letter these days, isn't it?

It's wild enough to feel like you're seeing double whenever you look at these girls.  But this picture made me think about what it would be like to have quadruplets all learning to walk at once.  Yikes!  Can you imagine?

I'll say it again: God bless parents of multiples!  I think there are crowns waiting for them in Heaven!

*Oldfangled is really a word, believe it or not. (My computer doesn't; it keeps putting a red squiggly line under it. But I found it in my thesaurus, so I'm sticking with it.)
**In the little box at the bottom, inside the double image of the babies, you can see that I appear to have an identical twin, too--because as soon as my youngest son saw how cool it looked when his brother did it, he just had to double us.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day Treasures

It's Mother's Day, so I want to wish all the moms out there who are reading this (all three or so of you!) a very HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!  I hope your families spoil you rotten today and make you feel like a queen.

Personally, I don't believe I've ever felt more queen-like than when my sons were all little boys and brought home precious homemade cards and handwritten notes that they'd made for me at school.

And while we're on the subject, I'd like to give a shout-out to the wonderful elementary school teachers who come up with these cute little projects for their students to do as gifts for their moms.  I treasure my boys' construction paper flowers, made with their own two hands, more than anything they could order me from FTD.  I treasure the words they wrote out for me in pencil, neatly printed or done in perfect Catholic school cursive (which in no way resembles their adult handwriting styles!), more than any way-too-expensive card they could find for me at the Hallmark store.  I keep these priceless gifts stored in plastic pages in an over-sized binder.  Looking at some of them today made me smile.

One that just tickled me was given to me by my second oldest son when he was in kindergarten.  The card is shaped like a teapot, and inside there is a little gift--a tea bag--with this little poem:


Okay, two things about that one: 1) The poem says "when you get upset with me," not "if."  So I guess it's assumed that, Mother's Day notwithstanding, the child is planning that he will probably be naughty at some point, and he hopes the tea bag will serve as a little peace offering.  And 2)  My son made sure to include his last name, just so there wouldn't be any confusion about whom it was from.  (He was definitely in good company there, because his brothers usually added their last names, too, until they hit the 4th grade and decided first names alone wouldn't throw me for a loop anymore.)  I was so amused by this little Mother's Day present.  I loved it.

Another little gem, given to me by my darling baby boy--that is, son #5--when he was in kindgergarten, was a fill-in-the-blanks page with facts all about me.  Apparently, I liked to eat at "Brgrking."  (No, he liked to eat at Burger King!  But great job at creating a killer vanity plate for the Hamburglar, son!)  And my favorite thing to do was "werck."  (I have never worked outside the home, so when I saw that one, I asked him what kind of werck he meant.  He was talking about how I volunteered as a lunch lady on Mondays at his school...I mean, don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it--mostly because it gave me a chance to see him and his brothers during their school day.  I could be a fly on the wall and watch my kids interacting with their friends at lunchtime.  But my favorite thing?  Being a lunch lady?  Hmmm.  I don't think so.)

In 2nd grade, my #3 son wrote out a beautiful letter inside his card.  It included some facts about me, and one was that his mom liked "to take care of the babby."  That was so true; I LOVED taking care of his babby brother. That was higher on my list, by a mile, than being a lunch lady.  He ended with the words, "MOM LOVES ME.  I LOVE MOM."  That's the whole point of Mother's Day, right there in a nutshell.

In 3rd grade, my oldest son made a bouquet of construction paper flowers in a paper pot, with a little poem on the front:


On the stem of each flower, he'd written out a job that he was going to do for me: "Set the Table."  "Make my bed."  "Wash the dishes."  "Make my mom's bed."  This was such a sweet gift.  I loved it.  (Note the way he signed it, with his last name included.  Isn't that just adorable?)

Even when they got too old and cool for the construction paper projects of the K-3 years, my boys often made their own cards for me, and I treasure them.  Take a good look at the hot pink card, which son #4 drew for me for Mother's Day 1997 (when he was nine).  On the front it says: "YOU DO A LOT AROUND THE HOUSE..." And I am depicted sitting on a chair with my head in my hands, a baby crying in front of me, a boy climbing on the back of my chair yelling "Mom!", and my husband standing there naked from the waist up behind me saying, "Honey, where's my shirt?"  I think this is just the most hilarious drawing.  Don't I look beleaguered and pathetic?  Inside, the card reads: "BUT TODAY, RELAX!"  And I'm pictured doing a little shimmying dance and saying, "Yes!"--with one of my sons standing shirtless behind me, frowning.  (I guess son #4 thought one of my main jobs was getting people their shirts.)  This card is definitely a keeper. 

Oh my gosh, looking at these actually made me both laugh (OL) and then feel all choked up, sitting here all by myself at my dining room table.  I have just given myself a little Mother's Day gift with this trip down memory lane.  Happy Mother's Day to me!  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Baby's Back!

As of today, my baby boy is back.  (Well, he's not back yet, but he's on his way and due home in a matter of hours.)  He survived his first year of college and his first year of Army ROTC--not only survived, but came through with flying colors.  I'm so proud of him, and I love him, and I can't wait to see him.
(I couldn't have said it better myself, sweetie.)
My baby boy used to be surrounded by four doting older brothers when he lived under this roof.
Then it was three...then two...then one.  And now, all of the "big guys" (as he used to call them, before he finished growing to his full height of 6'2" and ended up taller than his two oldest brothers) have moved on with their grown-up lives and have places of their own.  This will be the first summer that he will be the only one living at home with dear old mom and dad.  I hope he doesn't get too bored with us!

I'm going to savor this summer, though, and the next two summers as well; because after that, he'll be leaving the old homestead for good.  ("Why you want to leeeeave me?!"--as the dad in the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" would say.  I can totally relate to that dad.)  So while I've got him here, I'm going to spoil him rotten, cook every one of his favorite foods, and do his laundry with a smile on my face.

I'm just so happy today.  I'm happy because my baby's back!

(You can click on the above photos to see enlarged versions if you wish.  It's worth it, trust me.  There is some real cuteness going on in these pictures.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Recipe for "Cakeys"

After getting so serious yesterday, and throwing my hat into the political ring where it doesn't belong, I decided I'd better return to my roots today.  When I got this little blog up an running a year or so ago, my goal was to make "String of Pearls" a happy place to go: a place where a reader could find a cute anecdote about my boys in their childhood days, admire an adorable piece of vintage artwork, choke up over a beautiful prayer to Our Blessed Mother, or hear me brag shamelessly about my heroic husband and my gifted granddaughters.  Those are the sorts of topics that I think about when I'm in my happy place--not politics.

When I'm in my happy place, there's definitely coffee involved.  (If I made myself a soothing bubble bath and had lighted candles all along the edge of the tub, the way they always do in movies, I would not be sipping a glass of white wine.  I would be sipping a cup of coffee.)   A funny T.V. show is often involved as well.  (Recently I've been watching re-runs and taped episodes of "Parks and Recreation," and I find myself almost ROTFL-ing.  If you haven't seen that show, check it out!)  A really good book is always welcome, too, of course.  (I'm looking for a good one to read right now.  Any suggestions?)  And I don't know about you, but in this land of no worries, there's usually something sweet to go along with that glorious cup of joe.  A happy place wouldn't be very happy at all without desserts.

So in the spirit of spreading happiness, I thought I'd share a REALLY SIMPLE cookie recipe with you.  These cookies are made with a cake mix, so in this family we've dubbed them "cakeys."
You need only three ingredients:
~one boxed cake mix (yellow or chocolate, your choice)
~1/2 cup of vegetable oil
~2 eggs
Optional, but I strongly, eagerly--vehemently--recommend this addition: chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, or crushed M&M's, either alone or in any combination (here I've used a mixture of chocolate and white chips)*

Mix up the ingredients.  Form the dough into little balls and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 8 minutes.  And voila!  Cakeys!

You have just made the moistest, yummiest cookies.  (Just make sure you let them cool a bit before you try to transfer them from the baking sheet, because they're very soft when they first come out of the oven.)  It will seem like you slaved in the kitchen over them, but they really are--excuse the pun--a piece of cake to make.  You could powder your face with flour if you want people to think these cookies were a chore for you, like the mom in that old commercial who was making Rice Krispie treats and wanted her family to be impressed with her efforts.  But you really don't have to.  Everyone will love them and they won't care how easy it was to make them.


*I've never tried peanut butter chips, but I bet they would be great in chocolate cakeys.  Please don't ever add nuts or raisins, though; or if you do, then please don't bring your cakeys into this household and expect anyone to touch them!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The "Six Suggestions"?

I was just watching "Fox and Friends," the Fox News version of "Good Morning, America"; and just when I thought I'd heard it all, I heard this: there is a federal judge in this country who wants to have four of the Ten Commandments stricken down.  That's right.  A judge has decided that he knows better than the Big Guy upstairs, and he thinks that four of the commandments God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai should no longer apply.
I am speechless.  I truly did think I'd heard it all.  Apparently not.

I apologize, because for the second time in the year or so that I've been blogging, I am commenting on a story that might come under the label of "politics."  When I began "String of Pearls," my intention was to write about everyday subjects near and dear to my heart: my family, my Faith, baking, sewing, books, art, holidays, sports...I figured that there are plenty of political bloggers out there for those who are interested--and writing about some of the crazy things going on in Washington these days would only raise my blood pressure and make me unhappy.  I think of working on this blog as my "happy time," so I've been determined to steer as clear of political controversy as I  possibly can.

But this is unbelievable!  And I consider it a matter of Faith more than a matter of politics.

Whenever a group of public high school football players makes a free will decision to kneel in prayer before a game, the liberal hue and cry of "separation of church and state!" is deafening (which I find sad, because separation of church and state doesn't mean that prayer can never take place on public grounds; it only means that the government can't force prayer to take place).  So tell me, how in the world can a judge--who clearly represents the state--think he has the authority to mess with the Ten Commandments, which have formed the basis of Christian belief for thousands of years?  Shouldn't those same people who get angry when boys pray before a football game be angry about this?  And if they aren't, what does that say about them?

I only caught a teaser about this story, which I believe will run in full on Fox later on tonight.  I'm going to have to do some digging, because now I'm very curious to know which commandments this arrogant judge has decided we no longer need to follow.  My goodness, what's next?  As Michelle Malkin pointed out on "Fox and Friends," it makes you wonder if the next step will be using the courts to try to get the name changed from "commandments" to "suggestions."

Lord, have mercy!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Doting Dad, A Proud Papa

My father-in-law surrounded by my three oldest sons--summer 1988.
Today is my father-in-law's birthday.  In 2003, he died--much too soon--at the age of 75.  He was the kind of man you think will live forever, so sometimes it is still unbelievable that he is no longer with us.

Dad was one of those men who was born to be a father.  He and my mother-in-law raised eight children--four sons and four daughters--who all grew up to be intelligent, educated, hard-working, decent, moral people.  Eight people who never stopped practicing the Catholic Faith that their parents instilled in them.  Eight people with a love for life, for family, for sports, for Notre Dame, and for laughter.  Eight people who are a joy to be around.  He had a lot to be proud of, and he was.

Dad was an extraordinary man--a man who doted on and delighted in his own offspring, but was a father figure to many other young people as well.  I was privileged to spend a lot of time with Dad as a young girl, because I started dating my husband when we were both only fifteen.  Before my husband got his license, Dad would drive me back home whenever I spent an evening at the Pearl homestead (which was quite often), and although I was the shyest person on the planet, I enjoyed talking with him during those fifteen minute rides.  I left for my freshman year of college about a week after my husband (who'd had to go out to Notre Dame early for a Navy ROTC orientation), and the night before I was to leave, I had dinner out at my husband's house.  When Dad drove me back home, he launched into one of the fatherly "Well, you're about to start a whole new chapter in your life" speeches for which he was well known.  Just recalling that speech today when I was on the phone with my husband brought tears to my eyes.  It is hard to put into words what that man meant to me.  And I'm not even one of his actual children!

It's tough to imagine a role that would make Dad even happier than that of father; but I believe that when the grandchildren arrived, the role of "Papa" became the crowning achievement of his life.  He was never more delighted than when his house was filled with little ones--even if all the babies were crying at once!--and his grandchildren returned his affection in spades.  They couldn't wait to get to "Papa's house" in the summer, to swim in "Papa's lake," and to ride in "Papa's boat."  He was almost larger than life, with a booming voice and a deep, pleasing laugh that you could hear all the way down the block.  The kids adored him.

When Dad died, he had 26 grandchildren already, two of whom were tiny infants he hadn't had a chance to meet yet.  Six more came along after his death.  How incredibly thrilled he would have been to meet these grandchildren.  I can only imagine the reunion in Heaven someday!

Here's to you, Dad: you have been the most perfect example of what a father and a grandfather should be.  You were an excellent role model for the man I married, a wonderful father like you who has now become a doting "Papa," too.  You are missed, Dad; but certainly not forgotten.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Feast of St. Wiro

Yes, you read that title correctly: today is the feast day of a Catholic saint named St. Wiro.  I'm not making that up.

I was feeling out of ideas today, as I often do; and on days like this, my husband will usually advise me to see if there's a saint I can write about.  I do love reading about the lives of the saints--and as a bonus, finding out that there are a lot of zany names you can give to your children, if you're so inclined, and still know that you've named them after saints.  Back on March 30, in a post called "The Feast of St. Fergus," I told you how we'd been amused to discover the existence of Sts. Mucus and Radbod (although somehow those names don't usually appear in the What to Name Your Baby books that expectant parents buy!).  Well, today I'm telling you that there is also a St. Wiro.  And for all of my Pearl relatives out there, who are bonkers about anything Irish: you'll be happy to know that St. Wiro was actually a holy Irish bishop--though certainly not as well-known as dear St. Patrick--who lived in the 7th or 8th century.  Hooray for the Irish!

Not much is written about St. Wiro, but it is known that he traveled to Rome with St. Plechelm (there's another interesting name for you), became a missionary, and afterwards preached the Faith of Christ to the pagans in the Low Countries.  A prince named Pepin of Herstal, who was a great admirer of Wiro's sanctity, bestowed on him a lonely wood near the river Roer, where he lived an austere life; this wood became known as the Mount of St. Peter.  The prince traveled there often, barefoot no less, in order to confess his sins to the holy man.
I believe this window depicts Prince Pepin confessing his sins to the holy Irish bishop, St. Wiro.
When our youngest son was about five years old, he announced--completely out of the blue--that he was going to have seven children, and he knew what he was going to name them.  I forget all of the girls' names, because they were very normal, like Mary and such; but the boys were going to be Coolie, Crazy, and Johnny.  (How did the name Johnny sneak in there with those other two?)  I have to admit that I hope my boy doesn't name a son Coolie or Crazy; but if he wants something really unique and unexpected, he can always give him a good Irish saint's name: Wiro.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Importance of Good Coaches

Our second oldest son is nearing the end of his first year as an algebra teacher and assistant coach (for football and lacrosse) at a public high school about an hour from where we live.  A couple of days ago, his lacrosse team was playing nearby, so my husband and I went to the game. Although it's always fun to watch a game of lacrosse ("the fastest game on two feet," as they call it), what we enjoy most of all--now that our boys' playing days are over--is seeing our son in his role as coach.

Our son's mentor, his old lacrosse coach (who still coaches at his old high school), was at the game, too, scouting for an upcoming game between their two teams.  Before the action started, our son chatted with the man who was his head coach from the time he was a ten-year-old novice learning the sport in the youth league until he was a high school senior who ended his career as an All-State defenseman and Academic All-American.

When our son took a break from college to come home and figure out what career he really wanted to pursue, he worked as a teacher's aide for a few years before finishing his undergraduate degree and master's at the state university nearby; he also began helping out with his old high school's lacrosse team.  He ended up working under his mentor for five years; together with his father (his other mentor), he coached the defense--and in fact was part of the coaching staff throughout the four years that our youngest son was in high school.  Those years spent working as a teacher's aide and acting as an assistant coach for the football and lacrosse teams at his alma mater made him realize that those were the two things he was passionate about: teaching and coaching.

I saw this sign that said, "Coaches teach sports; teachers are classroom coaches."  It's so true that the two go hand-in-hand. People who are good at one of those things are usually good at the other. Our son is good at both, and he has truly found his niche, his calling.  He's a chip off the old block, because he takes after my husband, who would have made an excellent teacher if he'd chosen that career path.  When we were dating in high school, he was not only a lifeguard but a swimming instructor, and he had a knack for teaching little ones and helping them gain confidence in the water.  As the second oldest of eight, he had an enormous amount of patience with children; I knew even then that he would make an excellent father. My future husband came to visit me at college at the end of my freshman year.  He'd finished his finals, but I was still taking mine, and I was dreading my upcoming calculus exam.  In one tutoring session, he was able to make clear to me material that I hadn't been able to fully grasp for a whole semester, and I ended up acing the final, bringing a low C average up to a B.  That guy is a born teacher!

My husband got involved in coaching when our two oldest sons signed up for Pee Wee football in 1992, and he coached all five of our boys while they were playing in the youth league--and even coached our youngest son's high school freshman football team.  In 1996, our two oldest sons signed up for lacrosse, and my husband became an assistant coach--and again, coached all five boys throughout the youth league years.  He had never played the sport himself, but he became a student of the game and an outstanding coach.  Then in 1999, when our oldest son was a freshman, he began helping out at the high school level.  He ended up being the defensive coordinator for our sons' high school lacrosse team for twelve years, until he finally retired last year at the end of our youngest son's senior season.  He had the privilege of coaching all five of his sons during their high school lacrosse careers, which was a wonderful experience; but the last five of those years were particularly special to him, because he was coaching alongside our second oldest son.

My husband will say that if you take a boy and put him into the military, he will turn into a man overnight.  I believe that team sports like football and lacrosse also help boys to become men--and because of that, their coaches can have a huge impact on their lives.  With my husband's guidance, our sons' high school lacrosse team was a perennial defensive powerhouse; but he taught those boys more than the importance of good footwork and positioning.  Recently, he wrote a letter of recommendation for a boy he'd coached for several years.  When this former player, who's currently a senior, got accepted at the prestigious prep school to which he'd applied, he wrote my husband a touching note thanking him for the letter.  He begins by saying, "Your presence at practice is missed, but you are not forgotten. Every time I find myself a little slow to react, or a half step out of position, I can hear your voice correcting and encouraging me."  He goes on to say, "I am grateful for your recommendation, but more importantly I am grateful for the time and effort you devoted to my development...As I have grown up, I have become increasingly aware of the importance of leadership to any situation...I am certain that your legacy of class, dignity, sportsmanship, and athletic leadership contributed mightily [to both my success] and to the improvement of the school as a whole."  Near the end of the note, he says," I remain profoundly thankful for all that you have done for me as a person.  [You are] truly an example of the Hand of God at work on earth."

WOW, huh?!  Now there's a boy who understands and appreciates the importance of a good coach!  I suspect that before his career is over, our son will receive similar tributes from his players; because when boys become men, they tend to remember the coaches who helped them make the transition.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down
in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. 
He leads me in right paths
for His Name's sake.
Even though I walk through
the darkest valley,
I fear no evil, for You are with me.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
all the days of my life.
And I shall dwell in the house
of the Lord
my whole life long.

I just love that prayer.  I find it so comforting to think of Our Lord in the role of the Good Shepherd--for surely, we need His help and guidance as we go through life's trials and tribulations.  Without Him, our journey would be an often scary and lonely one.  I just found out that my daughter-in-law's aunt, whose husband has been waging a battle with cancer, has been diagnosed with leukemia.  Please, please keep these good people in your prayers.  May they be blessed with God's mercy and goodness, and may they be healed.

And may God bless you and yours on this holiest day of the week.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Notre Dame, Our Mother

Last month, my husband and I went out to Notre Dame for the Blue-Gold football game (and a Pearl family get-together), and I snapped this photo of the famous Golden Dome atop the Administration Building.  I've taken dozens of pictures of this iconic structure over the years, but I thought this one was particularly beautiful.  It was taken on the most glorious spring day; the sky was so blue that it looked almost surreal, and it made the perfect backdrop for the gleaming statue of Our Lady.

We are a family of Notre Dame devotees.  It all began with my husband's father, a graduate of the class of '49, who passed on his love for Our Lady's university to the succeeding generations.  My father-in-law's devotion to Notre Dame was deep, fierce, and palpable--a bond shared with just about every alumnus who has ever had the privilege of matriculating on that campus; and in fact, when he died in 2003, his children had the Notre Dame alma mater (not to be confused with the school's well-known victory march) printed on the prayer cards for his funeral.

If you watch Notre Dame football on T.V., you may have seen the team head over to the student section at the end of the game to sing the school's alma mater, titled "Notre Dame, Our Mother," along with the fans.  Everyone links together with their arms on each other's shoulders, and they sway from side to side as they reverently sing these words:

Notre Dame, Our Mother,
Tender, strong, and true;
Proudly in the heavens,
Gleams thy gold and blue.
Glory's mantle cloaks thee,
Golden is thy fame;
And our hearts forever,
Praise thee Notre Dame; 
And our hearts forever,
Love thee Notre Dame.

The last line--"Love thee Notre Dame"-- is sung as a crescendo, with an arm raised to Heaven.  This song always makes my husband, class of '80, get choked up.  It is such a beautiful tribute; it is a reminder that although Notre Dame is most often associated with its legendary football program, that was not the reason it was founded by a handful of French Holy Cross priests in 1842.  It was founded in honor of that Lady up on the Dome: Our Lady, for whom this prestigious Catholic university is named.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Remembering Shamus

Many years ago, we had a dog named Shamus.  She was a female Black Lab/Golden Retriever mix that we adopted from our base housing neighbors down the street when my husband was in Naval flight training in Beeville, TX.  (If you're curious about how she got her odd name, you can check out a post from March 30, 2011, called "The Feast of St. Fergus.")

I say "we" adopted her, but actually I adopted her--behind my husband's back, before he'd given the okay.  I think if he could have stopped me, he would have; but in a truly ninja-like stealth move, I brought her over to our house for a quick visit when she was a tiny black ball of fur (the runt of the litter, and not even weaned from her mother yet) and informed him that she was to be his birthday present.  Ta da!  When I presented Mr. "We are never getting a dog"  with that little puppy, who was quivering with fear and just so shy and adorable, and he held her in his lap...well, that was all she wrote.  He would have felt like he had a heart of stone if he turned down my offer of the best birthday present EVER!  I had to return Shamus to her mother that day; but before long we brought her home for good.  And as we hadn't started having babies yet--and I was in dire need of some needy creature on which to hone my mothering skills--she became our first "baby."

Shamus was not one of those puppies that chews and destroys things, but she did have an over-abundance of puppy energy (which she never lost in the five years she was with us).  She had the sweetest disposition--very much like that of my middle son's wonderful dog, Allie.  Shamus could fetch a ball like nobody's business, she could run like a greyhound, she could jump up and catch a Frisbee with her front paws (I'm not lying), and she was a born hunter, which is not surprising given her Lab/Retriever heritage.  We went camping with Shamus once, when I was pregnant with our first son, and she swam all over the lake trying to catch a duck.  That duck was just messing with her, I think, because it never took to flight; it just kept swimming along with Shamus dog-paddling like crazy behind it.  We had to call Shamus back, because we thought she might tucker herself out and drown--and seriously, she was never going to catch that duck.

We started out having strict rules about Shamus never being allowed up on the furniture, except on an old chair we'd bought for her at the Salvation Army and kept in our bedroom.  Every night when my husband and I would turn in, she would obediently follow us into the room and hop up on her chair.  But my husband was often gone for weeks at a time, you understand, doing training exercises in the desert and whatnot...and I got lonely sleeping all by myself in my big old I found a bit of wiggle room in the rules.  And you know, while the cat's away and all that. So once, when my husband had just returned from one of his two-week detachments and bedtime rolled around, Shamus dove onto our bed as if she did it every night; and my husband looked at me and said, "Wait a minute...what has been going on around here?!"  The second Shamus heard his tone, she leapt off the bed and got up on her chair, looking at me as if to say, "But Mom, you said it was okay."  Oh man, the jig was up!  We mice were busted.  But I've said this before, and I'll say it again: my husband can be a marshmallow, especially when it comes to me.  (I need to remember to use this power I have over him only for good.)  And for a long time after that night, Shamus slept with us at the foot of the bed.  We finally had to put the kibosh on that routine, though, when we kept waking up in the morning with a black snout between us on the pillows.  Even I knew it was time to send her back to her chair at that point.

Shamus came along before the babies; but once they started coming, they came fast and furious.  We had four sons within a span of four years and three months, and obviously, my first "baby" had to take a back seat (a "way back" seat, as we used to call those pop-up seats in the back of the station wagon), because I just didn't have the time or energy to shower her with the kind of attention she'd always enjoyed.  Plus, by the time our oldest son was about two, it became obvious that he had a dog allergy, and Shamus--who'd once slept in our bed with us--now had to spend most of her time outside in our fenced-in back yard.  She loved our boys, too, and I know it was hard for her to have to be separated from them so much of the time.  Since I was always either hugely pregnant or busy with the care and feeding of babies (or both), my husband took on most of the dog care.  Shamus and he formed a strong bond during this period, and the dog who'd come into our home under false pretenses--a present for my husband that was really a present for me!--was now truly my husband's dog.

When my husband decided to get out of the Navy and take an airline job, we were faced with the prospect of him going off to the Midwest for training--and leaving me behind in FL with four children aged four and under, a house to sell (by owner), and an imminent move up north to a rental home that might not allow pets; given all that, and our son's allergy, too, we made the tough decision to find a new home for Shamus.  Luckily, my husband found the perfect person: a single enlisted man who worked for him, a guy who lived out in the country where Shamus could run free.  And better yet, he was a hunter who was looking for a dog to train.  It seemed a perfect fit.  This man came over to meet Shamus, and the two of them hit it off.  But when he came to our house to take Shamus away for good, she didn't want to get in his car.  And my husband says he can still see her looking at him through the back window as the car drove away--looking at him with big, sad, "How could you do this to me?" eyes.  He said it was awful...and he never wants to go through anything like that again.  No wonder he's against getting another dog!

Oh my gosh, I am actually getting teary-eyed right now!  The funny thing is, when Shamus left, I didn't even go out to watch.  I think I needed to block it out, because my life was a bit overwhelming at the time and I was just relieved that we didn't have to worry about Shamus anymore.  But now that my kids are grown and the nest is empty, I find myself wishing I had a little doggy to love--especially when my husband is away on trips.  However, writing this made me realize that I don't want just any dog; I want Shamus!