Friday, August 28, 2015

He Loves "Lucy"

Well, I just updated from Windows 8 to Windows 10.  How do I like the change, you ask?
AAAAGGGHHH!!!  Nothing is right in my computer world anymore!

I can't figure out how to add pictures to my blog now, which is a bummer.  So until I make a visit to the Geek Squad and get things ironed out, I'm going to be using my Kindle Fire to write posts.  Should be interesting!

This will be short and sweet today, because typing on my Kindle...woof.  I'm just going to share a picture with you, from about a million years ago--when my better half and I were fresh-faced newlyweds with nary a line on our plastic faces.  I think it would have made a great addition to yesterday's post, about the time I bought a dress we couldn't afford and then kept it a secret from my husband.

Because I think it looks like he's doing the Ricky Ricardo routine here:
"LUUUCYYY!  You got some 'splainin' to do about that dress!"

[With a guilty face]  "Umm...but you were hanging out at that club, Ricky. Waaaaaah!"

On that note...have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Storytime...

You want to hear a sweet little story?
It's sort of like O Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," but in reverse.  You probably remember that famous short story from your high school English class (at least if you grew up when I did).  You know, the classic tale about the young newlywed couple named Della and Jim, who didn't have much money but desperately wanted to give each other something very special for Christmas.  So Della secretly cut off her glorious waist-length tresses, and with the money she got for selling her hair she bought a chain for Jim's beloved watch.  And Jim, not knowing what his selfless wife was up to, sold his watch to buy her a pair of tortoise shell hair combs that she had been coveting, to adorn her beautiful hair.

Oh, the irony!

My story is different.  Because the story I'm going to tell you is about a time when my husband and I secretly spent money we had no business spending; but we did not spend it on each other, like those sweet kids Della and Jim...we spent it on ourselves.  (As my husband said when I told him I was writing this post, "It was more like the gift TO the Magi.  And we were the Magi.")

Shortly after the birth of our fourth son in as many years, my husband switched careers--from active duty Naval Aviator to civilian commercial airline pilot.  During that first probationary year in the airlines, he made half what he'd been making in the Navy, and I was a full-time stay-at-home mom.  To say that we were living paycheck-to-paycheck and just barely getting by financially is putting it lightly.  Even though we'd never exactly been rich in the eight years we'd been married, we'd never had any real financial worries up to that point.  But boy, did we have to tighten our belts!

I was alone a lot during that first year in Chicago (1988), and I'd lost the comfortable circle of fellow Navy wives I'd always had to rely on.  My husband was either working for the airline or flying down to our old home in FL to serve in the Navy Reserves; and I was holding down the fort, taking care of four needy and active pre-school boys.

You know how it is, girls: sometimes, when you're feeling a tad low, you just need a bit of retail therapy.  So one day I happened upon a dress at TJ Maxx that I thought was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen.  It had Princess Diana's uber-feminine, lace-collared, shoulder-padded, 80's style written all over it.  And it was only $25!  A steal!  Certainly, I deserved at least one pretty thing, especially when it was so reasonably priced, to pick me up during that difficult year of privations...right?
So I talked myself into the dress.  But when I got it home, I tucked it way in the back of the closet, afraid to show my husband what I'd done.  I left the tags on it and kept telling myself that I'd return it for a refund, and he never had to be the wiser.  But when I finally got around to returning the dress, I found out, to my dismay, that too much time had elapsed; I had to either keep the dress, or I could take a store credit.

I kept the dress.  But I kept it hidden, and my feelings of guilt, remorse, and regret just continued to mount.  I felt like the most selfish, spoiled woman in the universe.  Here we were, barely making ends meet, and I had bought this dress that I didn't really need.  Shame on me.

Well, some time went by.  And then one night, my husband told me he had a confession to make.  On one of his recent trips, he'd gone out with some crew members to a comedy club.  The cost of admission (which included food and drink, along with the show) was only $11; but he was beside himself afterward, feeling so guilty that he was eating out, when he knew I was probably back home having peanut butter and jelly or mac and cheese with the kids.  He was just sick over it, and he hadn't told me about it for the same reason I hadn't told him about my TJ Maxx purchase.

"I have a confession, too!" I admitted, getting all teary-eyed.  And I told him about the forbidden dress hiding in the back of the closet.

He was actually happy that I'd bought myself a treat, because he knew this was a tough year for me; and I was glad he'd given himself a relaxing time out, because I knew how hard he was working--at two jobs--to take care of his family.  So all was well that ended well.  We hugged and laughed, and we both felt better after we got our secrets off our chests.

I still have that 27-year-old dress, you know.  It's been up in the attic for a number of years now, because I didn't think I liked the style of it anymore...but even though I wasn't wearing it, I just couldn't ever bring myself to give it to Goodwill.  It represents a piece of my husband and my shared history, a time in our marriage that was difficult, to be sure, but actually made our union even stronger than it had been before.  I love that dress.  I love the fabric and the color and the length, and the way it flares out at the hem.  I still think it's very pretty, even though the blousy-topped look is probably a huge fashion don't these days.  It's as comfy as all get-out, so I just might start wearing it again.  (Yay for elasticized waistbands!)
Um...we lived happily ever after.  The end.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #9)


It's book club day!  Welcome!

So, to start things off...I just visited the Barnes & Noble website and came across this 5-star reader review for Erin's Ring (written by a gal who goes by "Catholicmum"--love it!).  Apparently, it was posted 143 days ago, but I saw it for the first time this morning.  I thought since it's book club day, I'd share it here at the blog:

Laura Pearl writes a wonderful novel that will be enjoyed by both adults and teens alike.
She blends in the rich history of life in a New Hampshire town in 19th century America and then describes life for a 13-year-old Molly, a member of a large, Irish Catholic family.

.
There's joy and sorrow interwoven in the pages, and of course, there's the mystery surrounding the Claddagh ring. Mrs. Pearl possesses a wonderful, heartwarming ability to tell a story, keeping the reader's attention. I look forward to additional novels from her.

Mrs. Pearl also describes the importance of faith and its role in people's lives. The beauty of the friendship between Molly and  Theresa highlights the importance of opening one's heart to others, particularly people who are undergoing trials.


Reviews like that completely warm my heart, I'll tell you. They remind me that it doesn't matter if my books sell a lot of copies or if they garner a lot of accolades; if they touch the heart of just one reader, that's enough.

When I started writing Finding Grace in 2007, I had a different sort of story in mind than you'd find in most modern mainstream novels.  I wanted to leave something behind for my grandchildren, something that would show them the beauty of their Catholic Faith and hopefully inspire them to swim against the tide and fight the good fight in an increasingly secular world.  I was going to run off copies for them; that was the extent of my ambition.  But my husband and one of my sons had bigger plans for that book, and they encouraged me to send the manuscript to Bezalel Books, where it was published in 2012.  And without Finding Grace,  there would be no Erin's Ring, because the first book led directly to the second.

Sometimes I'm completely amazed that I've had two books published. (I'm pinching myself--and OW!--I guess I'm awake.  So my wildest dreams have come true, and then some.)  But I know it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't meant to happen, if God didn't have some special plan in mind for those books.  I may not ever know what that plan is during this lifetime, but I believe there is one.

In the meantime, I have been given marching orders by Cheryl Dickow, the publisher at Bezalel; knowing my reticence when it comes to the marketing and promotion of my work, she has encouraged me to "be brave, be bold."  It's not about me, she reminds me; it's about using fiction as an evangelization tool.  It's about trying to spread the Word of God through the medium of an entertaining story. So...

Okay then, now I'm going to show you how brave and bold I am:  If you are a teacher or a parent of middle school, junior high, or high school students, and you think your school would be interested in using Erin's Ring in their religion, history, or reading curriculum, I might be able to work it out so that I could come for a classroom visit.  I did this for my niece's fourth-graders last May, and it was a wonderful experience.  I am able to travel more easily than your average Joe, due to the perks of my husband's job; and since becoming an empty-nesting grandmother, I have overcome a formerly crippling fear of flying.  My husband and I do a lot of traveling to see our kids and grandkids--but I just might be able to squeeze in a side trip to most locations in the Continental US.
Please notice the "Commas Save Lives" t-shirt in the background!

Just thought I'd throw that out there.  :)  :O

Okay, before I go, here's a book club question for you: what's your favorite genre of fiction (YA, historical fiction, romance, sci-fi, etc.)?  I love historical fiction and 19th-century literature--and actually, just about any genre but sci-fi or fantasy.

Until next time, happy reading!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dreaming about Oyster Haven

My husband and I are going to be closing very soon on a marvelous old renovated Colonial house on the shore of Lake Champlain.  I took some photos the day we met with the real estate agent for a showing back in July--which was also the day we fell in love with it.

You can't beat the view from the house.
Or the enormous grassy yard that leads down to the water.
Or the private beach, located in the center of a little protected cove.
This is the house to which we will retire, in eight years or possibly less.  In the meantime, we are setting it up as a VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) property, so that we can afford to own it until we feel we're ready to sell our home here in NH, where we've lived since 1990.  Until we can move there, the plan is to block off a week or two every summer for our personal use--and hopefully the kids and grandkids will start making special memories at this house by the lake.

I am sure that there will be many posts in the future, regaling you with all the ups and downs of being the landlords of a vacation rental property.  But for now, I'm just giddy with ideas for setting the house up and making it look pretty.  And I think we're going to name it "Oyster Haven"...you know, because an oyster is a haven for a pearl?  (Clever?  Or cheesy?)

We've been ordering lots of stuff online from Wayfair and Amazon and Overstock.  One of our bedrooms upstairs is currently filled with sheet sets, towels, comforters, dishes...not to mention all kinds of framed artwork, pictures, and signs that I plan to hang on the walls of the new house.
 
I am a tad, shall we say...overzealous when it comes to hanging things on the walls of my house.  Most of the walls in our home look about like this.
I can't even fit all the things I'd like to hang on the walls of the NH house, so I just happen to have lots of excess wall décor items that I can put to good use.  I needed a second house, because I was running out of wall space here.

So here are a few of the things we'll be taking up to NY (where my new decorating mantra, as far as the walls go, is going to be "less is more").
On the left, a watercolor by Adirondack artist Pat Reynolds (a wedding gift
from my Grandma); on the right, an old window (given to me by my D-I-L
Ginger, with a wreath that was a gift from son #4 hanging on it).

Top right: an artist's rendering of our old high school (which has since been torn
down).  Bottom right: my Grandma's house on the left; the Old Stone Barracks
(home of my S-I-L's soon-to-open Valcour Brewery) on the right; this frame used
 to hang in our downstairs bathroom, with pictures of our boys in sports gear in it.

That oil painting on the left is something we've had more than 30 years,
since before we even had children.  We got it at a silent auction charity event
when my husband was an Ensign training to become a Naval Aviator.
Some of the stuff that goes in the Oyster Haven house will be new.  Like this great mirror I just found at a secondhand shop for $5.  (Well, I guess it's not technically new; but it's new to us.)
I dream about our grandchildren playing by the water at this idyllic location, swimming in the lake...making memories of being at Papa and Grammy's house that will last them a lifetime.  My dreams look something like this:



 
But those are just artist's renderings, pictures of someone else's grandchildren.  So actually, my dreams for this new house look more like this:
Can't wait to make them come true!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Grace in Glasses (Again? Really?)

In the four years that I've been a blogger, I've written not one, but two (two!) posts dedicated to Grace Kelly and the fact that she wore glasses.  On December 13, 2012, there was this one called "Grace in Glasses":
 And then on February 7, 2013, there was this one, called "Grace in Glasses (Again!)" :
Well, it's 2015 now (where did the time go, readers?), and I haven't talked about Grace Kelly and her glasses in quite a while.  So I think it's time for another installment of "Grace in Glasses."

You were just waiting for this, I know you were.  Or maybe not.  But if you were, you can read on, 'kay?

The other night my husband and I were looking through some old photos I'd scanned to my computer, and we came across this one, taken right after son #3 was born in 1986.
My husband smiled when he saw it and exclaimed, "Look at you!"

Yes, I thought, grimacing.  Look at me indeed.  I look puffy-eyed, exhausted (this was the third baby boy I'd given birth to in a two-and-a-half-year span, mind you, and he weighed in at 9 lbs. 13 oz.!), and...what are those things on my face?  Ski goggles?!

Egads!!  Holy backfire, Batman.  Holy costume party.  Holy horrible day-mare.  (Those are actual Robin quotes from that wonderfully cheesy old TV show.  I googled "Robin's sayings," readers, because I wanted to keep it real here; I care about this blog that much.)

Anyway, after seeing that day-marish photo, I found myself musing that my fashion idol, Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco, would never have been caught dead in such ridiculous-looking glasses.

Or would she?

Oh no, Grace.   Say it ain't so! The 80's got to you, too!!

For years now, I've been wearing rather smallish frames, usually wire ones, because they've been the style that's "in."  I was never, ever, ever going to go back to wearing ginormous plastic frames again.  (Refer back to the above picture of me with newborn son #3, in case you need to be reminded why I didn't dare entertain the idea.)

Yes, I was actually in Monaco here!  These photos are from December of 2011,
when I tagged along on one of my husband's trips.
And I'm wearing nice, normal-sized wire-framed glasses, not goggles.
But, as they say...never say never. 

I've always been as blind as a bat (or almost, anyway), but my husband's eyes were always better than perfect.  He had 20/15 vision--something that I never even knew existed before I met him.  I thought 20/20 vision, which had left me in the dust by my 11th birthday, was the be-all-and-end-all of good vision;  but I was so wrong.

Over the years, I've tried contacts from time to time (in college, and in my early motherhood years); but mostly, I've just worn glasses.  They're easier, for one thing; and I like to sort of hide behind them, for another.  Meanwhile, that guy of mine with the Superman-like vision never had to don specs, because those enormous baby blues of his were always able to see the world with razor-sharp clarity.

Then middle age hit, and suddenly my superhero was forced to wear "cheaters" in order to read.  Eventually, his worsening vision required him to break down and get actual prescription progressive lenses to wear while on the job.  Suddenly, we were in the same-ish boat.

This summer, we both were due for eye check-ups.  So about a month ago, my husband and I did something that we've never done before: we went for back-to-back eye appointments and then shopping for glasses together.   It was a super fun glasses-shopping date, where we tried on a multitude of frames and helped each other to choose which ones we should get.

Long story short (is this story short, Laura?  Is it?), I am now back to wearing big old plastic frames.  (Holy throwback, Batman!)
I thought they looked extremely goofy on me, but my husband LOVES them, for some reason.  He strongly encouraged me to get them, and I have a hard time saying no to him.

Actually, he got himself some retro-style glasses, too.  I think they make him look like Clark Kent.

Do these glasses make us look smarter?
While doing research for this post, aside from looking up Robin quotes I also googled "Grace in glasses," just for grins.  And I found these pictures of the young actress wearing frames almost exactly like my new ones.

 
Here they are, the Grace Kelly frames.
And they are just about the same shape and size as the ones my husband convinced me to get.

When I showed him these pictures, he said, "See?"  (No pun intended.)

It's true that Grace Kelly would have looked good in anything...I mean, even those awful 70's and 80's monstrosities couldn't mask the beauty of her perfectly proportioned face.  I, on the other hand, can look pretty bad in bad glasses.  But you know what--I think if big plastic frames are good enough for Grace Kelly (and of course, for my husband), then they're good enough for me, too.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Review: "Altaration, the Mystery of the Mass Revealed"

Some months ago, the people over at Ascension Press asked me if I'd be willing to watch and then review their new DVD series called "Altaration, the Mystery of the Mass Revealed."  I eagerly agreed, and was gratified to receive the entire program, complete with a teacher's guide and student workbook.
In a nutshell, as described on the Ascension Press website, here is a description of this extremely well-done and thought-provoking series created by Mark Hart:
 
The 3-DVD Set provides five lessons (approximately 20 minutes each) and features some of the top Catholic youth presenters in the church today, including Mark Hart, Jackie Francois Angel, Fr. Mike Schmitz, Chris Stefanick and Fr. Josh Johnson. The program also features music from acclaimed Catholic musicians Ike Ndolo and Emily Wilson. Through a combination of stunning cinematography and powerful testimonies and teaching, teens will come to see the Mass in a dramatically new way.

With the exception of Lesson 5, which is a dynamic, 60-minute specially formatted walk through the Mass.

I could leave you with that blurb and then just say, "Two enthusiastic thumbs up!"  Or, "'Altaration' is a wonderful series--every parish should have this DVD set for its CCD programs and youth ministries!"  Or "Every teen should watch these attention-grabbing and informative videos--and so should his or her parents!"

But I feel I need to give you more.  Much, much more.

Because even a 50-something cradle Catholic like myself needed to see this series: to be reminded, again, of the enormous importance of participating regularly and reverently in the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is not a mere obligation to be fulfilled, but a true privilege.  To be reminded, again, of the enormous gift of Himself--Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity--that Christ gave us in the Eucharist.  To be reminded, again, that I must never allow myself to take the Mass experience--and especially the Eucharist-- for granted.  Ghandi is famous for saying that if he believed what Catholics believe about the Eucharist, he would crawl on his hands and knees to receive it.  Yet sometimes, it seems that even we Catholics, who ought to know better than anyone what--make that Who--is contained in that Sacred Host and the many graces this Sacrament offers us, have lost our sense of awe and reverence when it comes to receiving it.

There are five lessons, or sessions, in the "Altaration" series.  Each of these sessions is broken up into three segments, presented by the very energetic and appealing young individuals mentioned above (Mark Hart, Chris Stefanick, Jackie Francois Angel, and two wonderful young priests, Frs. Schmitz and Johnson).

My husband and I watched Sessions 1 and 2 with a group of our teenaged nieces and nephews in early July (I blogged about it here), and it kept them very engaged.  One nephew (now a freshman at Catholic U) called the material, and the way it was presented, "relatable."  I can see why he thought that, because in this series, the presenters are youthful, good-looking, and enthusiastic--utterly real and normal people--and they don't come across as preachy or judgmental.  Instead, they come across as regular folks who are flawed and human, just as we are; they are people who have struggled through periods of doubt or ennui themselves, but who have fallen totally in love with their Catholic Faith. Their enthusiasm for the Mass is contagious.
Another nephew (now a freshman at the Univ. of Notre Dame) said that at first, it seemed like "Altaration" was going to be the same sort of thing he'd seen many times before in his different religion classes over the years--good enough, to be sure, but just nothing all that new, nothing to write home about; but then after watching the second segment of Session 1, he said that it was obvious this series was something altogether different.  That segment includes scenes of both Fr. Schmitz and Fr. Johnson at Mass, raising the consecrated host, their faces radiating reverence and love, until it is aligned with the large crucifix in the background that's hanging high over the altar.  These scenes are so beautiful, they will bring tears to your eyes.  Parts of them are included in the "Altaration" trailer, which my husband and I watched together back in April (and which I reviewed in this post); when my husband first saw them, he was blown away.   Watching the full-length video and seeing those scenes more fully fleshed out only strengthened his reaction.  We both agree that this segment is easily the most deeply affecting in the entire series.  In this session, Fr. Schmitz  hammers home the fact that the priesthood is an essential part of the Mass, that the priest acts "in persona Christi."  When, as if speaking to Christ, he says the words, "I will be your priest"...wow, that part made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Our oldest son and his wife (the parents of four little girls, 4-years-old and under) watched Sessions 3 and 4 with us.  They thought the series was wonderful, too, and that the format--each lesson broken up into three short segments, with a different presenter for each segment--was perfect for teens.  My son commented that because kids can sometimes have short attention spans, he thought this was an ideal way to present the material.  Each segment can be easily digested before going on to the next one.

The presenters in this series are all quite dynamic.  Chris Stefanick, a young father of six, beautifully explains that going to Mass is not an invitation; it's a command.  But he reminds viewers that commandments come from a place of LOVE, that parents set boundaries because they know their children need them.  Just as Stefanick, a loving dad, wants to feed his own children with food that's good for their bodies, God the Father wants to feed us with what's best for our souls.  Jackie Francois Angel, a young wife and mother, is as stunning and glamorous-looking as any supermodel; but this sweet-voiced and faith-filled beauty has so much more to offer than the Hollywood celebrities to whom teens are typically drawn.  "How long would you wait for VIP passes to see your favorite artist or band?" Angel asks.  Most young people answer that they'd camp out overnight for such a privilege; and yet, she asks, how much value do we place on God's gift of Himself?  How far would we go for Him?  Can we give that hour a week at Sunday Mass, and in return receive his grace and peace?

Wow.  That's the word that kept popping into my head at the conclusion of each segment: "Wow." In our increasingly God-less modern age--where reality TV stars become role models, where there is an almost epidemic (and unhealthy) longing for worldly riches and pleasures--these vibrant Catholic speakers show young people how you can live in the world, but still be holy.

My husband and I watched the final installment, Session 5, by ourselves.  (By that point, we were back home in our empty nest, after summer travels to visit with our grown kids, grandkids, and extended families on both sides.)  I must say that by the time we got to this portion of the series, which is an hour-long lesson explaining each part of the Mass and showing the symbolism and meaning behind every gesture and every prayer, I was more than ready for it.  In Sessions 1 through 4, the presenters reawakened in my heart a stronger love for the Mass and a desire to understand it better.  Although the last session is much longer than the previous ones, it is unbelievably interesting.  Riveting, really.  I can't think of a better ambassador for the Mass than Fr. Mike Schmitz; he's a good-looking, likeable, athletic, down-to-earth, engaging, and holy young priest whom viewers will feel they know very well by the time they get to this all-important lesson that teaches what the Mass is really all about.  I believe young people will find Fr. Schmitz incredibly "relatable," and he will inspire them to know and love their Faith better.  I wish he'd been in our parish when our boys were growing up!
In closing, I have to say that it seems like young Catholics of today--and even of my generation--were shortchanged a bit in our catechesis. What a great tool "Altaration, the Mystery of the Mass Revealed"  provides for strengthening our understanding of our beautiful Faith and inspiring a deeper devotion to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  May it find its way into the religious education programs of Catholic parishes across the world!

Many thanks to Ascension Press for allowing me the opportunity to view and review this series.  I hope--and believe--that it will touch many hearts and minds, and bring many souls closer to Heaven.

(If my husband writes a review of the "Altaration" series--and I dearly hope he will--I am going to have him on to do a guest post.  So stay tuned...)

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #8): The On-Air Version

We haven't had one of these "meetings" since way back on June 16--it's been such a busy summer!  Sorry about the long absence.

After I had my phone-in radio interview with Ken Huck at Radio Maria last Thursday, I thought to myself, "That was a bit like a book club meeting.  Too bad my Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club members weren't there to participate." (All two of you, that is. Or three?  Maybe four?)  Because as shy as I am sitting in a group, telling a story face-to-face (rushing through, usually, because I think I'll bore people to death), I seem to be surprisingly comfortable talking on the radio.  In spite of the pre-interview jitters, once Ken and I got going I felt like I was having a one-on-one conversation with a friend.

So instead of going on and on in writing here, I thought I'd just post a link to the interview.  It might answer some questions you have about Erin's Ring--about what inspired the story, the writing process, the target audience for the book, etc.  If you'd like to listen, I was Ken's second guest that day on his "Meet the Author" program (his first was well-known writer Matt Kelly, so--gulp!--I had quite a tough act to follow), and my part of the show starts at about the 28:55-minute mark.

Here's the link, if you're interested: http://radiomaria.us/august-13-2015-matthew-kelly-and-laura-pearl/

If you have any questions for me, about either Erin's Ring or Finding Grace, leave me a comment, and we'll discuss them at a future "meeting."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rings 'n Things

Recently, my husband and I were visiting with our oldest son and his family out in the Midwest.  We have been so incredibly blessed that in spite of the distance that has always separated us from him and his wife since their marriage in 2009 (and also since the birth of our first grandchildren, their twin daughters born in 2011), we have been able to see them quite often.

With all of our boys grown, four of them married, and the grandchildren coming fast and furious (praise God!), never have we appreciated the perks that come with my husband's job more than we do now.  I never thought I'd become a jet-setter; but life has a way of surprising you sometimes.

When my boys were little, the idea of airplane travel was the stuff of my worst nightmares.  I avoided it whenever possible, and never did it if it meant leaving my children behind.  Now, I fly all. the. time. 

Because if I didn't, I wouldn't see my  kids--and now my grandkids--nearly as often as I do.

Anyway, one day during this most recent visit, 4-year-old Cutie Pie (one of the twins) was sitting on my lap, fiddling with my Claddagh ring.  I pointed out all the elements on it--the crown, the heart, and the two hands holding the heart--and told her what these images symbolize.  She sighed, and breathed, in the most awe-filled little voice, "It's beautiful."

"Tell me more about this Cladddagh ring, Grammy."
I've had my gold Claddagh ring since 1979 (faith 'n begorrah, that was a long time ago!!  I'm old!), when my then boyfriend/now husband brought it home for me from a trip to Ireland that he'd taken with the Notre Dame rugby team.  We'd been dating for 6 years by that point, and it was the first serious piece of jewelry he ever gave to me.  I was about as awe-struck when I looked at it as Cutie Pie was a week or so ago.  (I might have said, "It's the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen," or something like that.  Or maybe that was Rudy's father when he first saw the Notre Dame stadium in the movie "Rudy"...but I digress.)

My Claddagh ring, still intact after all these years (although I've had to
 have it repaired a couple of times); and its original box.
Needless to say, after seeing how enthralled Cutie Pie was with my ring (which she'd never really noticed before, because she's typically so busy looking at/holding/turning over the gold Miraculous Medal that I always wear on a chain around my neck), Papa and I are already plotting a trip to Dublin to purchase Claddagh rings for all of our granddaughters!  (I know you can get them here in the US of A; but I think I need an excuse to finally see this legendary Emerald Island that has long captured my heart and imagination...)

Speaking of Claddagh rings, I actually wrote a book about one.  (How's that for a segue?!)  It's called Erin's Ring.

The past month, I was running a giveaway over at Goodreads, which ended last night.  Two people have been chosen to win free signed copies of Erin's Ring, an historical novel about an Irish Claddagh ring (and other stuff, too).  If you entered and didn't win, I'm sure I'll be running another giveaway sometime in the future.

Now no more navel gazing (or Claddagh ring gazing).  I'm off to cook up some bacon.  Sundays mean big egg and bacon brunches with my main man, something we always look forward to when we get back from morning Mass.

Here's a wish that your Sunday will be golden, too, wherever you may be. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Reminder about the Goodreads Giveaway

Just a reminder: there's not much time left to enter to win a signed copy of Erin's Ring.  The contest over at Goodreads ends tomorrow, August 15, at midnight.  If you'd like to throw your name into the hat, click here.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

I Survived!

Well, just a little while ago, I finished up my radio interview with Ken Huck on his "Meet the Author" show.  I called in and talked to Ken about Erin's Ring for 20 minutes or so; and when we were finished I hung up, grateful that although there were some points in the interview where I might have been a little awkward in giving my answers, I had survived it.  After I hung up the phone, I exhaled, and even said "I survived!" aloud--then worried that perhaps I hadn't pushed the "off" button on the phone hard enough and those words had gone out over the airwaves.  I really, really hope not. 

Here's what kept me company on the dining room table as I talked to Ken.  With friends like this around (St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Joseph, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, and Mary, Our Mother), how can you go wrong?
I had a quivery feeling in the pit of my stomach for parts of the interview; I babbled at times, and then at others didn't know how to end what I was saying. I think I ended some of my long-winded answers with, "So..."  I still need work at this public speaking business.   But Ken couldn't be nicer, and I so appreciate his willingness to have me on his show.  Not once, but twice! 

Ken gave away two signed copies of Erin's Ring during the broadcast, to callers of the show--with one caveat: they were asked to share the book with three people, and then to email Ken about those experiences.  I can't thank him enough for helping to spread the word about this book, which I hope will touch many young souls.

Thanks so much to those who prayed for me.  I appreciate it more than I can express!

Radio Maria Interview Today!

Today at 3:30, I'll be speaking with host Ken Huck about Erin's Ring, on his "Meet the Author" show on Radio Maria.  Tune in if you're interested (or just keep me in your prayers, as this sort of thing takes me way, way out of my introverted comfort zone!).
I "met" Ken already, when I went on his show last January to talk about Findong Grace.  He's a kind and interested interviewer, and he was able to put me at ease (relatively speaking!).  So I'm sure things will go okay today.  But prayers. Say them please.  That is all.

(P.S. There are only two more days left for the Goodreads giveaway, where you could win one of two signed copies of Erin's Ring.  Click on that big "g" on the sidebar to enter.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Review of FULCRUM, an Irish-American Novel

Dan Flaherty is a well-rounded writer who tackles a variety of non-fiction topics—everything from Notre Dame sports to online dating.  In fact, the whole reason I became acquainted with Dan in the first place is that he interviewed and then wrote Catholic Match blog articles about two of my sons (out of the three!) who met their spouses on the CatholicMatch.com dating site.  If you’re interested, you can read Dan’s articles about these two sons and their wives, here and here.
Fulcrum, an Irish-American Novel, an epic story of post-WWII Irish-Catholic Boston, is Flaherty’s debut work of fiction.   Published in 2007 and available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats, this book is a treat for any reader who’s a history buff, a sports nut, or a descendent of Irish immigrants.  It is especially wonderful for any proud, loyal Catholic who longs to see his Faith celebrated in print rather than denigrated and scorned, as it so often is these days. Flaherty weaves many of the Church’s teachings, tenets, and traditions into his engaging tale, as well as stories about the saints, so that a reader whose faith formation has been lacking will come away with a deeper understanding of what it means to be truly Catholic.  His love for and knowledge of the Faith is obvious.  And most movingly, the author’s deep devotion to the Blessed Mother—a trait shared by many of the Irish-Catholic characters who populate the book’s fictional Boston neighborhood known as “Shamrock” (modeled after “Southie,” for you Beantown insiders)—is ever-present.  It is Mary, the Mediatrix, who gives strength to Flaherty’s struggling characters, holding them together like the metal links between the beads of a rosary.

This ambitious work of historical fiction evokes an era when families were big, Mass attendance was high, and religious vocations were flourishing in neighborhoods like Shamrock.  When daily Rosaries were the norm for faithful Catholics.  When a young man who was striving to live chastely turned to a trusted priest for help in fighting the temptations of the flesh.  When there were countless holy and hard-working parish priests, like Flaherty’s Father MacMahon, and they provided excellent role models for young men who were often inspired by them to discern whether or not they, too, had a calling to religious life.

Fulcrum drew me right in on page 5, when I started reading this poignant passage about Annie Cavanaugh, Irish widow and mother of four: “Her heart was pierced and she felt closer identity with the suffering Mother of Christ as she tried to work through her thoughts and contemplate the raw horror of Calvary…Annie genuflected in front of the tabernacle and walked out into the bright sunlight ready to face the rest of her life as a widow.  Our Lady endured for Him all the way to the end, she thought.  She’ll endure for me too.”
Of another devout woman, Flaherty writes: “Mary was a widow and another product of the 1920s immigration.  Her husband Seamus was a longshoreman who drank much too heavily and died when Danny, their only son, was just five years old.  Mary never spoke ill of her deceased husband and she knew that whatever his failings he had loved her and their son.  This kindly woman often appealed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for mercy on his soul.”

Oh wow, does my soul cry out for writing such as this—all wrapped up in a novel that includes a wholesome love story (between a pretty red-headed lass named Bridget, and Danny, an upstanding lad who is a Boston College football star), a hotly contested baseball season (Go Sox!  Boo Yankees!), a fierce political battle (between an old school-style mayor and a progressive challenger), and a large cast of Irish-Catholics (saints and sinners all) who can trace their roots right back to the Old Sod. The well-drawn characters have hurdles to overcome and difficult decisions to make, and their Catholic Faith is what guides them.
Female readers will enjoy Fulcrum for a number of reasons; for me personally, it was the tender rendering of the mother-child bond throughout the novel that was most touching.  Also, Flaherty’s writing reveals a great reverence for the true Catholic interpretation of feminism.   When her daughter Patty begins to rebel against tradition and gets involved in a far-left women’s rights group that embraces anti-Catholic practices like contraception and abortion, Annie Cavanaugh is concerned: “The widow…knew that feminine dignity was found in the Woman, whom she prayed to every day on the rosary beads.  The now wrinkle-faced girl from Cork didn’t have the education to lay this all out in precise terms—that was something she hoped her kids would be able to do—but she knew it in her heart.”
Flaherty’s novel is like one long prayer to "the Woman," with a capital W: the Blessed Mother.  It just doesn’t get any better than that, in this woman’s opinion.
But Fulcrum is very much a guys’ book as well, filled with a host of strong male characters and lots of detailed play-by-play football and baseball action. Male readers will be sure to love Brother Dougherty, the high school football coach; he helps to mold the boys’ souls through their Catechism curriculum—but also pushes them physically and drives them to excel on the gridiron.  (My husband often comments that this genre of priests—men who were typically the CYO coaches back in our youth—is harder to find nowadays; which is too bad, because such mentors show would-be seminarians that men of the cloth can be young, approachable, masculine, and fun, and at the same time holy.)
My only beef with Fulcrum is that there are some unusual punctuation choices (mostly regarding quotation marks and commas) that I found somewhat distracting at first, along with other typos.  But as my publisher once reminded me, when I was obsessing over every little nit-picky error during the editing of my first book, there is no such thing as perfection in the printed word.   Editing issues aside, Flaherty’s writing is quite powerful—especially when he talks about matters of faith in general, and about Mary, the Mother of God in particular.  Fulcrum, an Irish-American Novel is a compelling tale by a writer whom I consider a friend (although we’ve never met in person!), a nice thick book you can curl up with and really sink your teeth into.
Bravo, Dan Flaherty.  Or as Our Lord would likely say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Typical Day in the Life of Papa and Grammy

Yesterday was a travel day!  (Make of that exclamation point what you will!)  From the home of our grandson G-Man to the home of our four granddaughters.  It involved three legs of flying.  And nail-biting stand-by status.  And getting bumped multiple times.  And praying that the next flight we were trying to get on wouldn't be overbooked.  And when our final flight got delayed several hours, it also involved a trip to Budget Rent-a-Car, because we just couldn't wait to get where we were going (and we knew that if we drove the rest of the way, we would be there before that last flight even took off).

It was tough to leave this little guy, after a nice visit with him in VA.
But we knew that on the other end, we were going to see our precious little gals.
Hey, you know what?  I think I'll show you what our day looked like, and just let the pictures do [most of] the talking for me.

These days when I look out my window and contemplate how beautiful the world looks up at 30,000+ feet, I don't know why I was ever so afraid to fly.  (Then I remind myself that OH YEAH, my newfound courage in the air is almost 100% due to the little people in the above photos, and the fact that none of them live down the street from their Grammy!)

Here are the spectacular views from yesterday's travels.


Another reason I have more courage when I fly now is that I always, always have my wingman, St. Joseph, on board with me.  I hold my St. Joseph prayer card during take-off and say the Unfailing Petition to this powerful saint, and I figure everything will be okay.
 
Diet Coke is another thing I usually have with me when I fly; but it's not really a wingman--it's more of a security blanket.

As is coffee.
On this particular flight, they were not offering Biscoff cookies as a snack--and those would have tasted a lot better with my coffee than pretzels.  But when you're flying non-revenue stand-by, you don't complain about such things.  (Even if you want to.)

I usually let my husband lead the way, as we run from one end of the airport to the other.  So this was my view for a lot of the day yesterday.

Follow that Notre Dame cowboy.  That was my mantra.

I also let him deal with the gate agents when we get bumped from flights and have to make other arrangements.  So this was another frequent site yesterday.
We enjoy traveling together, even when things aren't going according to plan--say, when we've been up since 4:00 a.m. and we think we're going to reach our destination by 1:30 p.m. (in a perfect world!), but then we end up arriving at about 9:00 p.m., after our sweet granddaughters have gone to bed.  :(
Even when it's not, it's always fun...as long as we're together.

We take pit stops at airport fast food joints and turn them into dates.
Nowadays, I always wear my Liz Claiborne flats (a J.C. Penney steal, fashioned to look like way-more-expensive designer shoes by Michael Kors or Tory Burch) when we're doing the jet-setter routine.  They are the comfiest shoes on the planet.
 They have sneaker-like soles on them.  Perfection.  Sheer perfection.
I once wore a pair of stylish-but-uncomfortable wedge sandals on a trip to San Juan with my husband (he was at the controls, while I proudly sat in the back thinking, "That's right: my husband is driving this thing!"), and they hurt my feet so much--and gave me such epic blisters--that I left them behind in our hotel room.   Good riddance!  And lesson learned: comfy flats are always the way to go when you've got a long day of hoofing it through airports at a jogging--or maybe even sprinting--pace ahead of you.  Always.

Well, my husband is in the next room making the twins scream with laughter, and I'm having some serious FOMO.  So bye for now!