Monday, September 24, 2018

House Tour, Part III: The Dining Room

In an effort to get back to blogging for the main reason I was so dedicated to it for so many years (before the Instagram bug bit, and bit hard), I'm going to talk about something today at my neglected String of Pearls simply because it's fun for me and it makes me happy.  I doubt many people are even stopping by here anymore, because when they do, they mostly hear the sound of crickets (metaphorically speaking, of course); but if there's anyone reading this and you like a good home décor post (from someone who is most definitely NOT a professional home decorator--let's make that clear from the get-go!), you might enjoy this.  It's the third installment of a house tour I started not long after we moved to our new house (see Part I and Part II here and here; I also did this post about creating a home library).

Not too long ago, one of my daughters-in-law (blog handle "Preciosa," wife of son #3) and I were talking about whether or not a dining room is even necessary or practical anymore in this new age of mostly casual entertaining.  She was trying to decide whether or not to transform her formal dining room into a play room for her three kids who are three-and-under.  She and my son have a roomy eat-in kitchen, and their dining room is a rarely-used space.  It is quite lovely, with a Pottery Barn table-and-chairs set scored on Craisglist, walls painted a deep navy blue above the chair rail, and a gallery wall filled with their eclectic collection of decorative crosses.  But did they perhaps need a play room more?  They have one in the basement, but having one on the main floor would be so much convenient...What to do, what to do?

In the end, my daughter-in-law decided that although my son was more than ready to pull the trigger, she was not ready (yet, anyway) to give up her dining room.  And I totally get that.

I have always loved having a dining room.  The one we had in our old house in NH (where we lived for 26 years before moving to VA in 2017 to be near our kids and grandkids) was enormous.  Even though it had lots of furniture in it--including an antique buffet painted red, an antique reproduction pine pie safe with a punched-tin door, an antique sideboard that matches our oak dining set, and a lighted china cabinet--there was still plenty of room to navigate around the table.  And we're talking about a table that can comfortably seat 10 or 12.  In fact, I once set up two tables for eight in there, for a St. Patty's Day dinner party with neighbors, and it wasn't that tight.

To give you an idea of how much space we had, here are two photos from our Christmas Eve dinner in 2016, when our five boys, our four daughters-in-law, and the seven grandchildren we had at that time all came to NH for one last Christmas before our move.  We had to angle the table and add a smaller one at the end to extend it, but we all fit!

I was a little nervous about how we were going to squeeze all of our beloved dining room furniture into the space we were going to have in our new house.  As you can see from the pictures on the listing, although it is quite lovely, with that dramatic tray ceiling and the pillars, it is not enormous.


I actually considered selling my large antique oak table-and-chairs, which my mom had bought at an estate sale when I was in middle school and had always been in our house when I was growing up.  Mom had bequeathed the set, with its matching antique sideboard, to me when she and Dad downsized to a condo.  My husband and I were about to downsize now, and I thought maybe I should think about getting something smaller, something that would look better in this sort of room.  But I just couldn't do it.
All I can say is that I'm glad the new dining room opens up to the front hallway, because otherwise all of my pieces wouldn't have been able to fit.  We definitely would have had to take a couple of leaves out of the table if there had been a wall there instead of just those two pillars.

The old owners, who took a minimalist approach to this room, might look at what we've done and think it looks mighty crowded, and it kind of is; but I think we've been able to make it work.  The only piece we couldn't use in here is the lighted china cabinet that used to house some of our good china and crystal, which I repurposed as a display case for my porcelain dolls and put in our new master bedroom.





This old table was a hand-me-down from my mother-in-law.  I refinished it and gave the 
beat-up top a painted faux-marble finish years ago.  The pig is from my sister-in-law, 
who recently bought a restaurant and found it left behind. 
(I collect pigs.  Does that make me weird?)

This solidly-built antique buffet is one of my favorite pieces in the whole house.  
I found it a shop in our old NH hometown, where they sold antiques, secondhand items, 
and gifts.  I fell in love with the painted/distressed finish the seller had given it.

As you can see, there's a lot going on in this little room!  But I love a nice dining room, and I'm just so grateful that we have one in this new, smaller home in VA.  I would miss it terribly if we didn't...because I'm an old school Grammy who likes to set the table with all the fancy stuff for holidays whenever possible.  It made me happy to set our 2017 Thanksgiving table like this.
Our new dining room is smaller than our old one, to be sure, but it feels bigger than it is because it's so open.  This is the view from the dining room table.

When you're having a large gathering at this house, you can be lingering at the table here and interacting with other guests who are sitting in the living room right across the hall.  (I know this because it's happened already!)  While I'm actually more of a fan of houses that have separate rooms and lots of walls on which to hang artwork and family photos,  I do think this house makes the most of its square footage because of its open-concept design.

Okay then, what about you?  Do you think a formal dining room is a necessity?  Do you like open-concept homes, or do you like separate rooms where you can go to escape the noise and the mess every now and then?  Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, September 10, 2018

An Open Book: Promoting Catholic Fiction

I have been a fan of fiction for as long as I can remember.  Like my oldest granddaughter (a 7-year-old identical twin who is really only the oldest by a few minutes), I can think of almost nothing more pleasurable than curling up with a good book.  I gave this granddaughter the blog handle "Bonnie Babe" many moons ago, but she is hardly a babe anymore; she's growing like a weed and has morphed into a tall, lanky, lovely, well-spoken young lady who could probably outscore most high schoolers on the vocabulary section of the SAT.  She pretty much taught herself to ready by about age 4 or 5, and if you happen to see her on any given day, she will most likely look something like this:
Bonnie Babe has three sisters: Cutie Pie (her twin), Little Gal, and City Girl; and now a baby brother (who shall heretofore be known here at the blog as "Simba") has just joined their crew.  We're not sure about Simba yet, but the four tight-knit sisters have all been book fanatics pretty much since birth; seriously, a trip to the library is their favorite activity--better than an amusement park outing, I'd wager.  Bonnie Babe is not the only one in her family whose nose is often buried in a book, not by a long shot.

Bonnie Babe has mentioned on several occasions that she would like to write books when she grows up (which makes her very much like another little girl I used to know--who had the same dream when she was about her granddaughter's age, but didn't know if it was an achievable one). I'm not exactly sure how, but she has recently been made aware of my two novels, Finding Grace and Erin's Ring.  About a week ago, she said to me in an admiring tone, "Grammy, you write books!"  Ever the self-deprecating, little-known author of a pair of little-known Catholic novels, with a wry smile on my face I sort of mumbled, "Well, I wrote books. But I'm not writing one now, and I don't know if I'll ever write another."  That was probably not the right thing to say, was it?!  If I had known it was going to come up, perhaps I would have prepared a better response for my darling little reader/future writer.

I don't know why I'm so shy when discussing my books, even with beloved members of my family.  I don't know why I feel the need to kind of put myself down and minimize what I've accomplished--especially when talking to a granddaughter who should hear from me that yes, it's very possible that if that's what she wants to do someday, she can--and might--actually do it.  If Grammy did it, then surely she can.  I will have to work on being more positive when discussing my "writing career" with her in the future.  (See what I did there?  I felt the need to add quotes, lest you think I take myself, or my writing, too seriously.  Heaven forbid!)

My wonderful publisher, Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books, knows how much I struggle with the marketing/promotion aspect of being a published author.  (A salesman I am not!)  She has tried over the years to encourage me to put myself out there and proudly promote my work--because when it comes to Catholic fiction, she reminds me, it's not about the author.  It's about the message.  It's not about garnering praise or making buckets of money (thank goodness, or I would have to say it's all been for naught!); it's about getting inspiring works of fiction that spread the Truth of our beautiful Catholic Faith into the hands of those who could be touched or edified by it.  Fiction can definitely be used as a tool for evangelization, because there are some people who would rather just read an entertaining story than tackle a Faith-based non-fiction work that they might consider too "dry."  So Catholic fiction authors should be confident that promoting their work is not a vain enterprise at all; they should realize that if their fiction glorifies God and His Church, the more people who read it, the better!

But still, I struggle.

So I decided to put myself out there today (gulp!) and talk about my own books here at Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book link-up.
My first novel, Finding Grace, was published in 2012 and earned the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval that same year. (It was also a finalist for the Guild's CALA in YA fiction.) This lengthy novel, which I wrote over a period of almost five years (beginning when my youngest son started high school), is near and dear to my heart because it is set in Plattsburgh, NY, where I grew up and starting dating the high school sweetheart who has been my husband for 38 years now.  (He might have even been the model I used to create the handsome love interest of the title character, Grace Kelly--wink, wink.)   The book's target audience is teens/adults; because it deals with some difficult topics (underage drinking, premarital sex, abortion), I would not recommend it for readers younger than high school-aged.  But rest assured, parents, that you will not find any cringe-worthily inappropriate scenes described in this pro-life coming-of-age love-story; it is safe for your teens to read.  Mistakes are made and tough things happen to some of the characters, but these situations are handled with as much tact, compassion, and grace as possible.
My second novel, Erin's Ring, was published in 2014.  It was a recipient of two book awards from the Catholic Press Association in 2015: Second Place in Books for Teens & Young Adults, and Third Place in Books for Catholic Novels.  This is a different sort of book than Finding Grace; written over a six-month period, this work of historical fiction (which goes back and forth between the early 1800's and the year 1998) is much shorter in length and geared toward a younger audience.  It is appropriate for readers as young as middle school or junior high (but has been enjoyed by readers of all ages).  Although my first "baby" might always be my favorite, this book is dear to my heart, too, because it is set in Dover, NH, where my husband and I lived for 27 years and raised our five boys.  I've always been a huge fan of historical fiction, and I was able weave some of Dover's fascinating history into the tale, so this was a complete joy to write.  If you're an inveterate Hibernophile like me, you'll love how this book is populated with a cast of plucky Irish characters (fictionalized versions of some real 19th-century immigrants) who brought their Faith--and a Catholic church-- to a small New England town.
I never believed I would actually have a novel published; and two--well, that was truly beyond my wildest dreams.  So imagine how floored I was this past January when I was approached with an offer to work on a non-fiction book, by someone who works on an acquisitions team for a reputable Catholic publisher.  As flattering--and shocking, too, I must admit!--as the offer was, I knew that I was not the right person for the job.  For one thing, my comfort zone as a writer is in the world of fiction rather than non-fiction, so I wasn't confident that I could deliver what this publisher wanted.  For another, my husband and I had moved from NH to VA just months earlier, to be closer to our married sons and our ever-growing brood of grandchildren (13-going-on-14!), and I just didn't think this was the time to get involved in a project that would burden me with deadlines that might get in the way of my current favorite career: being an available hands-on Grammy.  So I said no to what most writers might consider a "once-in-a-lifetime offer that you just can't turn down," wondering if that meant that I was not a "real" writer after all.

But those two Catholic novels are real to Bonnie Babe, who I hope will read them one day.  And they've touched at least a couple of young readers who have written me the sweetest notes.  If God is pleased with them, if they have brought Him greater glory even in some teeny, tiny way, then my mission has been accomplished.

I may never write another book. But if I ever do, I'm pretty sure it will be fiction.  If Bonnie Babe writes books when she grows up, I think they'll be fiction, too.  And her Grammy will be cheering her on every step of the way.

(BTW: I just checked and today Finding Grace is marked down on Amazon, from $14.99 to $9.80.  It would be a good time to get a copy, if you're interested!)

Before I sign off, here are two worthy works of Catholic fiction that I've read recently and for which I am currently working on written reviews:  A Single Bead, a YA novel by Stephanie Engelman; and The Wideness of the Sea , by Katie Curtis.   These are books that deserve a shout-out, and I hope to have a post about them finished in time for next month's installment of this link-up!


Okay, then.  Now head on over to Carolyn's to see what all the other bibliophiles are reading these days!