Wednesday, December 30, 2015

35 Years and Going Strong

December 27, 1980
It was a very good day.  It's been an even better 35 years.

Friday, December 25, 2015


For unto us a Child is born...
I hope you're having a blessed and happy Christmas, dear readers! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Our youngest son is winging his way home across the Atlantic as I write this, and he'll be spending the next few days with his dear old dad and me.  I'm not sure if I'll get around to blogging while he's here, so I thought I'd just pop in at String of Pearls to wish you a very MERRY CHRISTMAS.  God bless you and yours with peace, love, and happiness throughout the holiday season.  And I'll see you after all the excitement dies down.

But before I go, I thought I'd spread a little Christmas cheer with these photos of son #2 and the brand new baby boy named after him, playing Santa and his littlest elf to perfection.  (I said in an earlier post that our newest grandson's blog alias was going to be "Little Dude," but I've changed my mind; this little guy will henceforth be known here as "Junior.")

Have yourself a merry little Christmas!  And I'll see you soon!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas around Our House

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around our house.  I think I've got things pretty much ready for our baby, the only one of the five boys who will be here with us to celebrate the birth of Our Lord.  Last year was "our" year, and we had all five boys, four spouses, and four-going-on-five grandchildren gathered under our roof ('twas a Christmas miracle!); this year, it's the in-laws' turn to have the married kids (and the six-going-on-seven grandchildren) with them.  But instead of focusing on what we won't have this Christmas, I am focusing on what we'll have.  I am feeling extremely blessed that even though our youngest son is currently stationed in Germany, he was able to get enough leave to come home for a few days.  Yes, life is good. It is very, very good indeed.

So the halls have been decked.  Cakes and cookies have been baked.  Grocery shopping has been done (and even though there will only be three of us here to eat it, I have enough food to feed a small army--because moms of large families simply don't know how to rein it in at the supermarket, even after the nest gets emptied).

I love decorating for Christmas--not just because the house looks so festive and beautiful, but because almost everything I put out each year has a special story behind it and invokes a precious memory.

I've always enjoyed poring over the Christmas editions of magazines like Victoria and English Home.  It's fun to see how other people decorate (and I usually wind up wishing I was a little better at it!).  But I thought I'd give you a mini-tour of how we do it up here at Chez Pearl.  It'll be like flipping through the glossy pages of the Christmas edition of a home decorating magazine...or not.  Anyway, here goes.

I did something different with the kitchen window this year.  I usually hang some sort of greenery over it; but instead I decided to hang something that reminds me of several of my daughters-in-law, who have a knack for creating visually appealing, Pinterest-worthy signs such as this one.  These little paper "chalkboard" flags are a departure for me, but I really like how this bunting looks.  It makes me happy!  (Perhaps I can chalk that up to the fact that "Be Merry" is the message I decided to write on the flags!)
Moving on to the dining room, one of my favorite rooms in our house.  It's oversized, which is perfect when your family is big and continually growing.
I've got the Christmas crackers out, in preparation for our Christmas Eve pizza party.  And did you notice that little lighted porcelain village piece there?  That's the bridge from "It's a Wonderful Life" (my favorite Christmas movie of all time), and if you look closely, you can see George Bailey standing by the railing.
I didn't put my other lighted village pieces out this year (Ralphie's house and school from "A Christmas Story").  It's not because I don't love them; it's just that I was starting to feel like maybe it's all a bit too much.  And yet yesterday when my husband's sister was telling me about another sister's absolutely spectacular Christmas décor, I fretted that mine was passable, but nothing to write home about.  So as usual, I'm caught between wanting to go big or go home, and wanting to keep things scaled back and modest.  (What are your thoughts on this?)

On a sideboard in the dining room is a collection of wonderfully detailed "Possible Dreams" Santas, mostly gifts from my beloved late mother-in-law.  The one in the green robe, second from the left, was actually a gift that my #2 son gave me one birthday.  He was only about nine years old at the time and conspired with his grandmother to procure it for me.  He had her pick it up when she was visiting with her daughters in VA, and he paid for it with his own money.  How sweet is that?
Speaking of my mother-in-law, in the dining room there is also a Nativity that she made in her ceramics class and gave to my husband and me on Christmas 1980, which was two days before our wedding.  She had fired it in antique white, but told me that I could change it if I wanted to.  In 1990, I finally got around to painting all the pieces.  Now I think of it as a project that she and I did together.
The living room feels almost like a little chapel to me at Christmastime, because of the oversized Advent Wreath and Nativity that dominate the space.
In the center of the Advent Wreath: a Nativity that our youngest son gave
me as a gift last Christmas.  (Those boys know what their mama likes.)
Aside from our main Nativity in the living room, on the shelf there is a large, stunning "Willow Tree" Nativity that sons #3 and 4 gave me several Christmases ago (and next to it, a lovely Santa that son #4 gave me another year).
The living room is also where we display our collection of hand-carved and hand-painted wooden Santas, which my husband brought back from trips to Moscow years ago.  My favorites are the ones with Nativity scenes painted on them.
You can't have too many Nativities--that's my motto!  So I was incredibly touched when our next-door-neighbor gave us one that had been cross-stitched by his mother (who was quite a prolific cross-stitcher, apparently).  When she died and he went through her things, he said he thought of us as soon as he saw it and thought it belonged with us.  This framed beauty has become the centerpiece of our family room mantle at Christmas.
Another thing that's going to become a staple of my family room décor from now on is this precious picture of son #2 dressed up as Santa, with his infant son wearing a "Santa's Helper" elf hat that his Papa and Grammy gave him.  Is that the cutest thing you've ever seen, or what?
So that's what Christmas looks like around our house.  Lots of Nativities.  Lots of Santas.  Lots of family photos.  And lots of great memories of loved ones--some who are still with us, and others who are missed, but never forgotten.
Okay, readers.  That's it for the tour.  May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be...

never mind, forget the white part.  As for me, I'll take a mild, GREEN Christmas this year--thank you very much!

Friday, December 18, 2015

A How-To Post (as Promised!): Quilted Ball Ornaments

On Monday, I showed you a "quilted" ball ornament that a crafty Navy  wife taught me how to make over three decades ago--when I was a ridiculously young wife and mother who looked like this
and I was married to a ridiculously young Naval Aviator who looked like THAT.  Wowsers!

Wait...what happened?  I think I fainted or something.  Deep breaths.  Okay, moving on then.

In the above picture, taken in the fall of 1984, my handsome husband was getting ready to leave for a four-month cruise aboard an aircraft carrier.  We had a one-year-old son and I was about five months pregnant with son #2, and we would be separated until just a few days before our second son made his grand entrance into the world.

I am very nostalgic about anything having to do with my early days as a mom to my boys.  I still have bins of flannel receiving blankets and terrycloth sleepers in my attic, along with stained shirts and little trousers with elastic that is completely shot.  Why I never gave all those things away when they still had some life in them, I'll never know.  I think I am finally ready to cull through it all and throw out/give away most of it.  Not that there's that much great stuff, mind you.  Looking over all the baby clothes I saved makes me realize just how little I did spend on outfitting my little lads.  They were not nearly as nattily dressed as they should have been, I suppose.  And most of their infant jammies and blankets were green or yellow.  Back in the day, no one ever knew the sex of their child until he or she was born, so when the gals gave a shower, they tended to give gender-neutral items.  I suppose if I'd had girls, I would have wanted to get some pink and purple into their wardrobes.  But I thought the boys looked plenty adorable in green or yellow.

Two of the items I'm using today in this project are actually things I made for my firstborn, and in which we had his photo taken: a blue checked cotton romper (that snapped at the crotch--I was so proud of putting in those snaps!); and a t-shirt made from material that said, "I love Daddy."
Once you assemble the garments or material scraps you're going to use to "quilt" your ornament, all you need is a Styrofoam ball and a sharp (ish) knife.
Start by carving a square somewhere on the ball (you don't have to make the cuts very deep).
Cut a piece of fabric big enough to cover the square, with a little excess.  Then start wedging the edges into the cuts you've made in the ball.  I employ the knife to do this--the one I use is sharp enough to cut the Styrofoam, but dull enough to push the material in without continuing to cut deeper into the ball.
You don't want to have too much excess fabric in there (or you won't be able to wedge the adjoining piece in alongside it); so as you go along, you can trim it as needed.
First square done!
Now, using one of those existing lines, you cut another one next to it.  (The shapes don't have to be square; they can be triangular or rounded--whatever works for you.)
Start wedging the second piece of fabric in, cutting away excess fabric around the edges as needed.
When that square is complete, just cut another random shape, using the "seams" you've already cut.
Wedge fabric, cut off excess to make it fit.
And repeat!
As I said, triangles work as well as squares.
For one of my squares, I wanted to make sure that you could read the "I love Daddy" from the shirt I made for son #1, so I cut a shape long enough to fit those words.  (That's the great thing about this project; pretty much anything goes.  You can cut the ball any way you see fit.)
 I love to see the progress!  Almost done.
Again, I wanted to fit this little slugger, an embellishment from a sleeper, on a square.  So I cut accordingly.
Last piece!
Now to put on the finishing touches and get it ready for hanging.

I said in Monday's post that glue was not necessary--but that was a little white lie.  (Mea culpa!)  I like to embellish my quilted ornaments with faux pearls (but of course!).  To do this, I put a dab of hot glue in the corners where the "seams" meet, and then I stick pearl-headed straight pins into them.  You could pin on any sort of bead or button to dress these balls up, or you could glue on sequins for a little sparkle.  There's really no end to the ways you could finish them off.
For a hanger, I use a ribbon.  Before attaching it with a pin, I put a dab of hot glue on the ball, right where the pin is going to go in.
Busted!  Yes, I'm in my nightgown doing this craft...long past the time
when I should be dressed.
Now I've got this sentimental keepsake ornament, made with scraps of clothing that my baby boys wore way back in the 80's...and it looks good on the tree to boot!
One quick note before I sign off: this craft works best with thin fabrics.  That being said, I have made one of these ornaments using scraps of bulky burlap in the design.  It can be done, but it's a little trickier and requires lots of readjusting and re-wedging (not to mention patience).

Now you have all weekend to go and make some ornaments for yourself or someone on your Christmas shopping list.  No two will ever come out the same--which makes them truly one-of-a-kind heirlooms.  (As for me, I'll be working on another one, I believe...made out of scraps of satin from the dresses I made for my twin granddaughters when they were flower girls three different times in a span of 11 months, for three of their uncles!)

Happy crafting, readers!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Crafty Navy Wives

Many, many moons ago--thirty five years ago this month, to be exact--I married my high school sweetheart.  At the time, he was a newly minted Navy Ensign and a flight school student.
One of the great things about being a Naval Aviator's wife (other than having a handsome fighter pilot husband, who looked like a Hollywood heartthrob in his flight suit--and woah baby, in his dress whites, be still my heart!) was the unequaled camaraderie that existed between the squadron wives.  We gals got together regularly for wives' club meetings, both when the guys were stateside and when they were oceans away: we ate and drank, talked and laughed; we shared coping techniques for surviving long separations from husbands, along with favorite recipes; we delighted in each other's young and growing families, brought each other meals when new babies were born, and threw each other showers.  And because most of us were far from home, having followed our flying men to the duty station chosen for them by the US Navy, we became like family.

Sometimes, we even did crafts together.  Actually, we did this quite often.  It is my theory that many Navy wives become skilled cooks and creative crafters because they are so often alone at night while their men are serving on a ship in the middle of some faraway ocean.  Experimenting with recipes or craft projects is an excellent way to fill the lonely hours.

I still remember the first craft I ever did at a Navy wives' gathering.  One of the girls told us to bring along some scraps of Christmas material to the meeting; for her part, she brought Styrofoam balls and a finished sample of her creation.  Once we'd all had a glass of wine, beer, or diet soda, or a cup of decaf (depending on whether or not we were playing the role of DD for our pals that night, or whether or not we were pregnant or nursing), she proceeded to give us a how-to demonstration--and I thought her idea was absolutely brilliant!  With nothing more than a Styrofoam ball, a sharp knife, and some scraps of fabric, she created a pretty and unbreakable ornament that looked as if it had been quilted.  There was only minimal gluing involved, in order to attach a hanger.  But otherwise, it was a glueless endeavor.  (Good news for a woman who has rarely wielded a hot glue gun without second degree burns involved.)  Following her lead, I made one of these beauties at the meeting that night...then went home and made more of them, both for our own tree and to give as gifts to loved ones that Christmas.

Here is an example of what my first attempts (from circa 1981) looked like; every year when I hang these balls on the tree, I am reminded of those sweet long-ago days when I was a dewy-eyed Navy wife, when my husband and I were just starting out on our long life together.
Over the years, I've occasionally made new ones; but instead of using traditional red and green Christmas fabrics, I've chosen different "themes" for my ornaments.

Here's a Notre Dame beauty.
And here's one created by using our boys' Catholic grade school uniforms (white oxford button-downs, gray slacks, and maroon gym sweatsuits).
The white parts are actually bits of real shirts;
note the buttons still attached!
I made my daughter-in-law Preciosa a Notre Dame & Florida State-themed ball, using scraps of fabric left over from the decorations I made for the rehearsal dinner we hosted for her and our son the night before their December 2013 wedding.  I also made her mom one that was "quilted" with bits of burlap and scraps of ivory and navy blue satin, to remind her of the incredibly beautiful wedding décor she created for the big day.  The great thing about these ornaments is that you can also personalize them (by writing on some of the "quilt squares" with fabric paint), and they make one-of-a-kind gifts for friends and family.

You know, I've been wondering what to do with all the decades-old faded and stained baby clothing I have in the attic (items that aren't nice enough to pass down to my grandchildren, but which I haven't had the heart to part with yet).  And just this minute, I got a killer idea (I think a light bulb appeared above my head, I really do!).  I can take bits and pieces of those sweet little boys' clothes, and even the flannel receiving blankets they used as infants, and turn them into ornaments!  Stay tuned! 

Say, while I'm working on my sentimental Christmas balls, would you like me to take step-by-step photographs?  Are you interested in a how-to post?  Let me know, readers.  I'd be more than happy to do that for you.  I know how grateful I was when that Navy wife shared her craftiness with me, all those years ago.