Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Happy Belated National Chocolate Cake Day!! And National Cake Day!! And Birthday!!

So I was catching up with my blogging friend Madeline over at A Dash of Snark this morning, and I realized that I had missed a national holiday without even knowing that it existed.  There is a holiday known as National Chocolate Cake Day!!  True story!  And I missed it!!
(Am I the only one who didn't know that this perfect excuse for baking one of the best treats a sweet tooth ever tasted even existed?  Did everyone else know about it and not tell me?  Were you keeping it from me because you wanted to help me finally start and stick to the "21-day fix" healthy eating program that is on my long list of grandiose and ambitious resolutions for 2017?)

Well, I Googled "National Chocolate Cake Day," and I found out that it was Friday, January 27, 2017.  That got me curious to know if there was also a National Cake Day for all kinds of cakes, so I Googled that (yes, that's how I spent my morning: Googling national cake holidays!); and it turns out this is a holiday as well--and it was last celebrated on Saturday, November 26, 2016.  Who knew?!  What's so sweet to me is that my dad's birthday is November 26; what's more, he died on November 25, 2016, one day shy of his 82nd birthday, which he really wanted to live to celebrate.

Well, I know now what I have to do: I'm going to bake a cake today in honor of Dad's birthday, and I'll start my "21-day fix" tomorrow.  (Yeah, that's it: tomorrow.)

So...what kind of cake to bake?  There are so many great choices!  My go-to, however, is always a golden cake (made with butter instead of oil), topped with homemade buttercream frosting.

And it just so happens that I have another great excuse, aside from Dad's birthday (and of course, the important national holiday that I missed), to bake such a cake.  In February, my husband and I are heading down to VA to celebrate the first birthday of our little granddaughter, Princesa.
And I was asked if I would be willing to make her a "smash cake" for the party, which will be a royal affair fit for a princess if I know her other grandmother (who could seriously start a party-planning business, she's that good at it).  My answer of course was, "Would I ever!"

So this is the kind of cake I'm going to try to make for Princesa's big day, using 6" round pans.
As soon as I can get out to the grocery store for baking supplies, I'm going to practice by making a prototype of this little beauty.  And then my husband and I are going to do some practice eating of the cake, I believe.  Just so we'll be up to speed for Princesa's birthday.

Yes, I want to "fix" my bad eating habits.  But life is too short...and I also believe that every now and then, I just need to
(P.S.--Perhaps I'll post a picture of my practice smash cake tomorrow...even if it's a "Pinterest fail"!)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

My Sunday Best: Accessorizing!

Here I am, again, talking clothes and shoes and hats and whatnot.

That's right, it's another "My Sunday Best" fashion post, and I'm linking up with sweet Rosie at a blog for my mom to show you what I wore to Mass today.
So...I guess I'm becoming a fashion blogger.  And String of Pearls is becoming a fashion blog.  Mmm hmmm.

Yeah, I know. That was a good one.  But if you're finished laughing at with me, I'll continue now.

As you might have surmised from previous fashion link-up posts, I favor wearing some kind of head covering while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  Normally, I wear a lace veil or mantilla.  But sometimes, I wear a hat.

Today, I donned a boiled-wool cloche that my daughter-in-law Regina had specially made for me at the greatest online craft store in the world, Etsy.  (And no, this is not a sponsored post!  You're welcome, Etsy!)  This extremely lovely one-of-a-kind hat was a Mother's Day gift from her and my oldest son a couple of years ago.
Regina knows me well; she knows how much I love vintage-inspired styles like this one.  She also knows how much I love the blue and gold color combination--thus her choice of fabric for the decorative band (making this hat the perfect thing to wear to a Notre Dame football game on a chilly fall day).
I must have a slight allergy to wool, because when I wear it I always get itchy after awhile.  But this hat is fully lined with high quality cotton fabric, and it is exceedingly comfortable to wear.
I'm not even going to show you my Mass outfit, because it's just too boring: the usual black skirt, black tights, and black leather flats, topped with a bright-colored cardigan sweater.  This is seriously a uniform for me, practically.  You don't need to see it.  Today, it's all about showing you my awesome accessories instead.

Aside from the hat, I wore a pair of Alex and Ani stackable bracelets that are special to me.
I have six of these popular bangle bracelets, and they were mostly gifts.  The one with the wing charm on it was given to me by my older brother's wife back in November, just before my dad's wake and funeral.  (She gave my mom and two sisters the same bracelet.)  Whenever I wear it, I think of Dad and pray that if he isn't there yet, he will soon be among the angels and saints.  The one with the Miraculous Medal on it is actually one I bought for myself.  (I have trouble resisting when it comes to images of this particular devotional, and I consider this bracelet well worth the $30-ish price tag.)

So that's it for me today.  I may not be the most fashion-forward lady on the planet; but I think I may be one of the most lavishly blessed, and I loved visiting God's house today wearing tangible reminders that there are people in this world--and in the next--who love me.

Now head on over to Rosie's for more fashion fun.

Friday, January 27, 2017

This Post is All over the Place!

Hi readers!  I thought I'd pop in and let you know I'm still alive and kicking--I've just been busy and distracted lately, as my husband and I work to get our family homestead cleaned out, updated, and ready to sell.  And as we fly hither and yon to house-hunt down south and celebrate the birthdays of our darling far-flung grandchildren.  And as we drive back and forth from NH to Upstate NY, to take care of our "Oyster Haven" VRBO house on the lake...

Well, you get the drift.

Also, I have "homework" to do: there are several books I've received gratis from authors and publishing houses, in exchange for honest reviews, and I'm very behind (I feel like a college student with overdue papers to write!).  Here are two of said books.

And of course, I must--I MUST--write the story of my father's courageous last days on earth.  That is probably the biggest stumbling block I have to getting back in the groove here at the blog.  It's been two months now since he died, and if I don't write it all down soon, I fear the memories are going to start getting hazy.  So write it I must...but for some reason I can't. 

In the meantime, just to give you an idea of how amazing Dad was in the face of his imminent death, here is a conversation we had on Tuesday, November 22.  My brother took out his phone and videotaped us as we talked, and as you'll see, Dad's sense of humor remained intact until the end.  (He passed away in the wee hours of the morning on Friday the 25th.)
video

Anyway, this kind of writer's block has happened to me before: back when I was writing my first novel Finding Grace (from August 2007 to December 2011), I hit two stretches where I literally couldn't type a word for weeks and weeks: when I was writing about one character's tragic Holocaust survival story; and when I was writing about another character's unplanned pregnancy and (SPOILER ALERT!) abortion.  I was terrified of tackling those two very serious topics.  Even though I'd done tons of research, I had no first-hand experience with either of those life-altering scenarios, so I was worried that I wouldn't be able to handle them properly, with the gravitas, compassion, and truthfulness they deserved.

I feel that way about writing the incredible story of Dad's death, too...

Speaking of Finding Grace (how's that for a segue?), I'm running an ad (or a "boosted post") on Facebook today.  It's such a pro-life novel, and today is the March for Life in Washington, D.C.--so I thought it was a good time to do it.  I would love to get this book in the hands of more young (and not-so-young) readers who might be touched and inspired by it.  If you want to check out my Facebook author's page, you can find it by going to Facebook and typing @laurahpearl in the search box.  If you do head over there, maybe you could "like" or share today's post about Finding Grace.
My middle son is a fan of everything I do.  He's a doll.
I will get back to blogging regularly, I mean it; that is one of my resolutions for 2017.  I have so many things to share, and some of them are so fun!  We've finished a bathroom renovation, for instance, and it looks so spectacular that I think Chip and JoJo would approve.  One of these days, I'm going to share the "Before" and "After" pictures with you.  And I've got Christmas pictures that I never posted, and birthday homages to my two January boys...

So much to do, so little time!  But I'm working on it!

Okay, then, that's enough for today.  Now for a title...okay, I think I've got it!

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Sunday Best: The Notre Dame Edition

I have a lot of resolutions for 2017: to eat better; to exercise more; to pray more and to strive more intentionally for sainthood, which is of course the whole purpose of this life on earth (and to remember in particular to pray to the patron saint chosen for me this year from the Saints Name Generator, St. Vitus--but more about that later); to write more (in particular, speaking of striving for sainthood, to write the amazing story of my dad's brave, heroic, and holy last weeks and hours on earth before his death on Nov. 25)...and the list goes on and on.  But included in the resolution to write more is the plan to blog more here at String of Pearls, as this is an activity that has brought me more joys and blessings (not to mention new Internet friends) than I ever could have imagined when I started out almost six years ago.

So!

Here I am again, not bleeding onto the page with the story of my father's beautiful death (I just can't do it yet, and I don't know why), but just posting something lighthearted and fun.  And what could be more fun than a "My Sunday Best" post by yours truly?  (I can hear some of you saying, "Um...I can think of a few things."  But here I go anyway.)
My husband and I flew out to South Bend this past Friday, leaving NH at oh-dark-thirty and arriving before lunchtime.  Two of his three brothers met us out there later that day, and together we worked to finish setting up the house my husband and his seven siblings bought recently (as an investment property, to rent out for Notre Dame football weekends and other university events).  So we landed at the South Bend airport and rented a Budget moving truck, and our first stop was Big Lots, where we picked up a queen-sized bed, an enormous leather sectional, a rug, and various and sundry other items that we couldn't have hauled away ourselves if we'd just rented a car.

So it was just me being "one of the guys," which is sort of my wheelhouse after raising five sons.  We spent the rest of the weekend moving furniture, hanging pictures, mounting television sets on walls, and shopping for different household necessities.  (The house has already been rented from Feb. 1 until the end of the summer, from a construction company working on a project in the area.  So right from the get-go, it's already proven to be a good investment!)  Then at quitting time, the four of us stayed up til all hours, talking and laughing.  It was a very productive, but also a very enjoyable, weekend.

One of the best things about being out at Notre Dame on a Sunday is having the opportunity to go to Mass at the Sacred Heart Basilica on campus.  It is one of the most breathtaking churches I have ever seen (and now that I've been to Europe a few times, tagging along with my husband on his working trips, I've seen some indescribably beautiful churches).

I wasn't wearing anything particularly wowser for Mass.  It was my usual uniform of black skirt, black tights, black leather flats.  In the winter I most often pair my black skirt with a sweater of some kind, and yesterday I had on a well-loved and much-worn royal blue cotton twinset.  But never mind that; instead, I thought I'd show you the jacket I was wearing, because it was a killer find at our local Goodwill (where I went shopping after Christmas with my similarly frugal daughter-in-law, Regina).  The brown quilted jacket is by Lands End, and on careful inspection it was obvious that it had never been worn. And despite the label and the pristine condition, I got it for a mere $6.00!  Score!  (The brown lace mantilla is one I made for myself.  It's not nearly as pretty as the ones they sell at Veils by Lily and similar retailers, but it's not too bad.)
My husband--who is a fashion photographer extraordinaire--snapped this picture while I was standing in front of the "God, Country, Notre Dame" door at the Basilica.  This is a favorite spot of ours, as it has been the backdrop for several military commissioning ceremonies in the Pearl family over the years.  Notre Dame has always supported our armed forces, and has ROTC programs for every service branch. I love that about ND.

And when you're at the Basilica, as a bonus you have a nice view of its next-door neighbor with that iconic golden dome on top, and the statue of the Blessed Mother perched up there, watching over all.  (Hi, Mary!)
Needless to say, I had a wonderful weekend, and a wonderful Mass experience at Our Lady's university.

But now I'm back home.  And now I need to head on over to Rosie's and see the Sunday Best outfits worn by some of the other bloggers I've come to know and love.  You might want to check them out, too.  (And you might want to check out the Saints Name Generator while you're at it, to see which heavenly friend has been chosen just for you in 2017.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #26): Looking for Some Help

Tuesday's child is full of Grace...

...and Tom, and Sully, and Molly, and Theresa, and Erin, and a whole host of other characters who make their way onto the pages of my novels Finding Grace and Erin's Ring.

That's right, you guessed it: it's Book Club time!  Whether you've been here before or are a first-time member of the club, welcome to Grace-filled Tuesdays!

Today, I'm looking for some help getting the word out about my two novels, both of which I believe would make excellent choices for inclusion in the curricula of Catholic classrooms and homeschools, not to mention homes where people like to curl up with books on rainy afternoons or hide under the covers with book lights late at night, long after they should be asleep...
Published in 2012, Finding Grace was a recipient of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval.  Classified as "YA fiction" but written with older teen readers (and adults) in mind, this deliciously lengthy novel handles difficult topics like underage drinking, teenage pregnancy, and abortion; but it does so without unnecessary salacious details and with great compassion for the human condition.  You can click on this review, by Tiffany, who blogs at Life of a Catholic Librarian, if you'd like to get a better idea of how this book might be just the right work of fiction for your high school-aged reader.  Here's a snippet of that review, in case you don't have time to read the full article right now:

This isn't a quick read, and for good reason. The book captures important moments in a young adult's life, and fleshes them out into a wonderful, relatable story that will grab your heartstrings. As an adult, this book made me nostalgic, and realize how much work I still have to do to make my faith a bigger priority in my life. Do we ever fully grow up? ;-) For young adults, I strongly suspect they will identify with the winningly charming Grace and want to try her approach to life with the saints.  [And of course, there's this, too, dear readers (my favorite part of writing the novel, if you want to know the truth!)]  I couldn't wait to see how things would turn out for Grace and her friends. Who will get the boy?  [Indeed--who will?  I made sure to write the story in a way that it would keep the reader hanging until the very end.]

I also appreciated this positive review, from a book-loving blogger (Rebekah's Weblog was her site) who decided to exit the Internet a few years ago.  Here's an excerpt, if you want a quick synopsis:

The cover of Finding Grace, in all its pastel sweetness, is a bit misleading. I had assumed (based on the cover, shame on me!) this was a book I would read ahead of time in hopes that my 9 year-old AnneMarie would enjoy reading aloud with me as we talked through issues. Not so. The topics covered include Grace experiencing the first hand pain of a Holocaust survivor as well as very mature teenagerly topics such as underage drinking, premarital sex, adoption and abortion. Pretty heavy. This coupled with the length of the novel make this in no way suitable to a young mind. I think perhaps high school is the earliest I would recommend this, and is not at all too youthy for any adult.

I don't recall reading any books with such a theme when I was in high school, a time of great introspection and soul searching for me, as I am sure it is for many girls, although society would not lead us to believe this is true with the typical characterization of the rebellious, bubble headed and fad-driven teens we are continuously subjected to. I know that I would have appreciated and benefited from reading Grace's story during that awkward time, just as I benefited from reading it now!
  
Finding Grace is a book that, although it has much to offer, has yet to truly find its audience.  After more than four years on Amazon, it has only gotten 20 reviews.  Research shows that reviews help a great deal.  So today, I'm asking for help in spreading the word any way you can.  If you read and enjoyed Finding Grace but didn't leave a review on the Amazon site, would you consider writing just a few words?  (Not to put words in your mouth, but even two would work: "Loved it!"  Ha ha!)  Or if you're a teacher or homeschooler, would you consider reading it to see if you think it would make a good addtition to your teens' literature curriculum?

If Finding Grace is too long a book for you, or if its themes are too advanced for the students/offspring/young readers in your life, perhaps you could check out Erin's Ring, a much shorter work aimed at readers middle school-aged and up.
Published in 2014, Erin's Ring is the winner of two book awards from the Catholic Press Association: 3rd Place in Books for Teens and Young Adults, and 2nd Place in Catholic novels.  This work of historical fiction is appropriate for even pre-teen readers, and its length of just under 200 pages makes it a great choice for classroom use.  However, like Finding Grace, although this novel was written with the hope of inspiring young readers, it doesn't ever speak down to its audience and can be enjoyed by adults as well.

I was humbled and pleased by this wonderful review of Erin's Ring by Catholic author and blogger Kari Burke.  If you don't have time to read Kari's whole article right now, here's a short blurb:

Pearl is an expert at creating authentically Catholic characters who are also multi-dimensional.  So, it comes as no surprise that it was the characters that drew me into the story.  I especially love that the relationships in their lives create a perfect conduit for their strengths and weaknesses to be revealed.  The relationships in the book are full of ups and downs, misunderstandings and insecurities, and, like the characters themselves, are just so real.  

Erin’s Ring is a beautiful love story but it’s not so much about the romantic love between a man and a woman.  Rather, it is about true love and devotion to the Catholic faith and to family.  With so many immoral worldly books on the shelves of our library these days, it can be nearly impossible to find wholesome reading material for teen girls.  This story fills a need for real Catholic fiction that never preaches, yet clearly delivers a message of hope and piety.  Erin’s Ring is exactly the kind of story I feel good about encouraging my daughters to curl up with.  In fact, it’s exactly the kind of book I myself enjoy curling up with!

Do Kari's words make you want to read it?  If so, today might be your lucky day, because
Bezalel Books has recently reduced the price of Erin's Ring from $11.99 per copy to $8.99, in order to make it more affordable for Catholic classrooms and homeschools.

And if you do read and enjoy it, could you post a few words on the Amazon site, pretty please?

Right about now, I can just hear you crying ,"What?!", a la Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story,  "It's just a lousy commercial!"

Alrighty then, that's enough about marketing and promotion; let's have a real "meeting" and discuss book stuff, okay?

My husband (the most unbiased of all judges when it comes to anything having to do with his better half, I can assure you) tells me that what makes my books enjoyable is the characters.  He says mine are very fully-developed and real, and they make readers care about them.  (He isn't a professional literary critic, but he did stay at a Holiday Inn Express recently...)  So here are some Book Club questions for you: How important to you are the characters in a novel?  Do you need to care about them a whole lot; or can you be satisfied with not-so-believable/lovable characters, as long as the plot is fast-paced and action-packed enough to hold your interest?

That's it for now.  But I'll be back.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Grammy's Sunday Best

Hi there, readers!

If you're here, God bless you for checking in, especially when I haven't been keeping up my end of things lately.  I've been on a bit of a blogging sabbatical, and I have so much I want to share with you: the grief of losing my beloved father, the beauty of his very peaceful and holy death, and the joy of having every single one of our kids and grandkids under our roof to spend Christmas with us just a month after his passing.  It's a lot to write about, and I have a brain crammed full of thoughts and feelings to process and organize before I can do these events justice...but I thought it might be good to get back in the blogging groove today with a lighthearted "My Sunday Best" post.  So I'm linking up with Rosie to show you what I wore to Mass this Sunday.
Before I get started, let me preface this post by saying that I've been told by several people (when I've gone through occasional periods of "Why am I still blogging?" angst) that String of Pearls does fill a need, even in a Catholic blogosphere that's densely populated with ladies who are much younger, much funnier, much better writers, and much better evangelizers for our beautiful Faith.  Not to mention more fashion-savvy!  Because I am a woman of [ahem!] a certain advanced age, I've been reminded, I have a different perspective than the typical "mommy blogger": I've raised my five sons and [supposedly] have some wisdom to impart, having survived the many stages of child-rearing, entered the empty-nest years, and been rewarded with a growing brood of grandchildren.  I am that rarest of birds: the grammy blogger.  I'm not so sure about the whole wisdom-imparting thing; but I hope I've been able to show younger moms out there that although it's a bit heart-rending having all of your beloved chickies leave your nest, there are so many indescribably wonderful things in store for you when your children are grown and having families of their own.

Anyhoo, time to talk fashion.

The fact that I'm an older gal undoubtedly shows in my clothing choices.  I am drawn to longer hems and longer sleeves and loose, flowy tops.  Actually, my fashion style might be summed up in the phrase "full coverage."  I love layers with sweaters and vests; I love jackets and coats.  Swimsuits?  Not so much!  I would say that this is because I'm in my late-50's; but I was always sort of like this, even when I was young and toned and wrinkle-free.

In recent years, I've enjoyed flipping through my mom's vast collection of women's apparel catalogs when visiting her and my dad at their house...because my mother is 81 and we have very similar taste in clothing!  I've ordered some items from these catalogs from time to time, and now they show up my mailbox, too.  If you're under 40, you've probably never heard of Blair, but I'm always finding things I want in that catalog.  I recently fell in love with a Blair outfit and my husband ordered it for me for Christmas.

Here's the kicker, though: Blair sells clothing for us mature ladies, but the women who model it in their catalog are a couple of decades younger than most of their customers.  So when I fell in love with this skirt and top, I forgot that I'm not 30, six feet tall, and willowy-thin like the girl in the picture.  So...the Sunday Best outfit I wore today wasn't exactly a win on me.
Yikes!  Ugh!  When I showed my husband this side-by-side comparison, he said, "It's just lighting."  Yeah, that's it.  Lighting.  Otherwise this model and I would look almost identical.  (It should be noted that my husband always has my back; I call him "my back-haver.") 

It's possible that I should have ordered a size smaller, I don't know.  But I decided to push through and add a belt.  Surely that would help with the problem of looking extremely shapeless and dumpy.
Okay, the belt might be a slight improvement.  Maybe.  And then I wore a lace mantilla to Mass, too.  Because veiling is just something I've felt compelled to do, and it makes me happy.

My best accessory, however, was a silver Celtic Cross that my youngest son gave me for Christmas.  Back in October, he traveled to Ireland.  When he went to the Cliffs of Moher, he saw this necklace in the gift shop there and bought it for me.  I just love it (and him)!
The thing I thought was great about this ensemble (before I realized that it wasn't going to look all that great on me) was that it would be perfect to pack for airplane trips, because the fabric is wrinkle-resistant.  Also, it's loose and comfortable--which is what I look for in a travel outfit.  As a bonus, I figured I could mix and match the pieces with solid black and turn one outfit into three.  Like so.
I'm not really comfortable with the leggings, because the top isn't long enough.  I would most likely pair it with a black skirt, black pants, or jeans instead.

I have to tell you that half the fun of doing a "My Sunday Best" post is employing my husband as a fashion photographer.  He makes me laugh (perhaps you can tell from the pictures) and he actually works really hard to get the best shot of the clothes.  He would have more success if he didn't have such an awkward model to work with!
He thought maybe the hand-on-hip thing would help.  (Did it?)

Okay, that's it for this not-very-fashion-forward grammy blogger.  If you'd like to see more (and better!) Sunday Best outfits, go and visit a blog for my mom.