Monday, March 18, 2019

The Future Mrs. Pearl

In my  post yesterday, I mentioned that my husband and I had flown out to Detroit to meet up with our youngest son and his girlfriend, and hinted that maybe there was more to that story than just a simple visit...well, that's because it was not exactly a run-of-the-mill weekend.   At all.

Our boy, who is currently stationed in OK, was flying out to MI to meet up with his girlfriend of more than two years, who currently lives in St. Louis (and whom he met on, the "family website" as we like to call it), at her sister's place in the Ann Arbor area.  TO PROPOSE!   He figured he could play the whole "we're just getting together for a fun St. Patty's Day weekend with your sister in a crazy college town" angle, and he might be able to take her by surprise.  He wanted his dad and me to fly out there, and her folks to drive there, too, from their home about four hours away, so that both sets of parents could be present to witness the big moment...

I might as well let these pictures do the talking for me!

With my newest girl.

We love her already!

Check out that rock!

The two sets of parents were told to meet under the marquee of an historic old downtown theater, and to be there out front waiting when our son, his girlfriend, his girlfriend's sister, and one of her good friends came out of the restaurant across the street where they'd just had lunch together.

The surprise worked--she really didn't know this was going to be the day--even though she has been semi-expecting it every time they've gotten together since he returned stateside from his three-year stint in Germany.  (The amazing thing is that it went off without a hitch, in spite of several people--myself included--almost totally giving it away ahead of time!  There's another story for you...but I don't want to get into that here in this happy post!)

My daughter-in-law Ginger asked us yesterday if that theater had any special significance; the answer is not really and sort of.  Our son and his future sister-in-law were just trying to pick a landmark that would be easy for the two sets of parents to find, in a city where she hadn't been living that long and that he didn't know at all.  But I love that that's where it happened, because he is one of the most enthusiastic movie buffs of all time. (There is a link to his blog, The Layman's Movie Corner, up there on the sidebar if you want to check it out and see what I mean!)

The neat thing about having it happen on a busy downtown street was that right as our boy got down on his knee, a passing car honked its horn like crazy.  It was so fun!

Another plus was that the bride-to-be's good friend is a professional photographer, so she took lots of great shots while it was happening.  And then she made this wonderful image using photoshop.

Our daughter-in-law Preciosa made the happy couple a framed sign commemorating the event, using an Etsy download, which they held up for many of the photos.  She also designed and crafted two special t-shirts for her future sister-in-law.  Here's my favorite.
So the Pearl boys are four for four with Catholic Match. That's quite a success rate, isn't it?  (And the fifth couple, son #2 and Ginger, met when they were both members of the wedding party of son #3 and Preciosa!  So that's practically five for five?)

When we sent out the word on the family text stream that includes all the boys and their spouses--saying "They're engaged!"--this is the reply we got from son #4.

I love my boys!  They make me seriously LOL on the daily.  They tease each other mercilessly (it is their "love language," if you will), and I think our baby might even have been slightly disappointed if his big news hadn't elicited at least a few ridiculous comments like this one from his older brothers.

I don't know if my heart can take all the excitement!  First this beautiful proposal on Saturday--seeing our baby boy happier than he has ever been and imagining the beautiful life ahead of him with his Babisiu (that's her blog handle, I think); and then almost immediately afterward, a long-awaited trip to Rome!  (We leave tomorrow!)   I feel like I'm living la bella vita, truly I do.

I will be sure to share pictures of our Italian adventure when I can.  In the meantime--

Dio ti benedica.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

St. Patty's Day Party (with Pinterest Flair!)

We will be on the road this weekend, flying out to Detroit to meet up with our youngest son and his girlfriend (more to come on this soon...wink wink!). So we won't be hosting a St. Patrick's Day party for our family, like we did last year.  No, on the 17th my husband and I will go to Sunday morning Mass in Michigan and then we'll get on a plane back to DC, so we'll be drinking our green beer in the air.  (We really won't be doing that, but I thought it sounded good.)   I don't even know if we'll be home in time for dinner, so the traditional corned beef and cabbage feast will have to wait.  (And actually, it'll have to wait a while...because we'll only be home for a day, and then, it's off to Rome for a week!  Not that we're jet-setters these days or anything...)

I am actually writing this post ahead of time and leaving it in my "drafts" file, so I can just hit the "publish" button two days from now.  I have suddenly rediscovered my interest in keeping up with this blog.  (You're welcome, sweet husband and baby sister of mine!)

I just thought I'd post some pictures of last year's St. Patty's Day festivities chez Pearl.  I can't believe I never wrote a blog post about it, because I went on Pinterest to find some creative ideas for making our family celebration extra-special, and faith and begorrah, I was pretty proud of myself, dontcha know.

Okay, here's the photo dump.

I used photos of son #5 (the only one not there, stationed in Germany at the time) wearing his second grade saints parade
costume, and my husband's Irish grandfather, who was born in County Cork and came to the US at 19, in the décor.

My oldest son was teasing me about this fruit tray, which I kept filling as people ate from it so it would stay pretty.
  I was definitely not the Pinterest-mom type when he was growing up, knowing that boys care more about 
taste and volume when it comes to food than they do about presentation!

The Irish flag!

I knew I would have trouble finding a tablecloth like I made it myself!

We did not have green beer--but we did have green punch.

I always love to have a good excuse to make a cake.

Some very ugly Irish soda bread (without raisins or seeds or any of that other icky stuff my boys
won't eat in their baked goods!).  It tasted better than it looked (not a hard feat to pull off).

There he is: my favorite Irishman!

This adorable little leprechaun even had gold coins in his pocket! 

Oh my goodness...those shoes. Hats off to son #2 and Ginger for their costume-making prowess!

The triple threat!  

Not to be outdone by my little leprechaun grandson, here are the shoes I wore for our family "hooley" (as Kendra Tierney would call it).
And on that note, good bye!  May the road rise to meet you...and you know the rest!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

7 Quick Takes: This 'n That

Quick Takes is usually a Friday deal at This Ain't the Lyceum, and I'm a day early (for once in my blogging life!).  But I just really felt like writing today; and hopefully I can add this post to the link-up once it goes live over there.

I recently invited all four of my daughters-in law (who are practically my neighbors now), along with their combined 14 children, to my house for a luncheon/mother's day out/play date.  I had this fantasy that my husband and I could send the bigger kids down to the basement to play unsupervised and we could watch the toddlers and babies upstairs, even for a little bit, so the girls could sit at the dining room table together in peace.  You know, so they could relax and eat nice food and have some uninterrupted girl talk.  I even set the table all fancy for them.

Only three of them were able to come, because son #1's wife Regina was dealing with a stomach bug at her house.  (When there are 14 grandchildren aged 5 months to 7 years, it seems like someone is always sick.  Or at least that's the way it's been this winter.)

I love it that our home is in a central location for everybody.  Papa and Grammy's house is a great gathering place for our growing brood.  (As a sign my d-i-l Preciosa made for us says, it's "where cousins become friends.")

Remember how I said my fantasy was that the girls would be able to sit and chat in peace?  It wasn't entirely the case!  There were some little visitors in the dining room.  They were having serious FOMO, thinking their moms were getting a better deal than they were.  (But come on, Kraft mac 'n cheese at the kitchen table; what's not to like?!)

Our house in VA is ideally located, and it's very nice; but it's a good bit smaller than our longtime family home in NH was.  And our string of Pearls seems to be having new gems added to it all the time, so I'm anxious to get our basement finished off so that the kids have a big, safe area in which to play.

Not that the grandkids don't play in the basement already--they definitely do!  All the time.

As you can see, there are plenty of toys to play with down there, and there's lots of space (and we even had a full bath put in).  There's a couch to sit on, a table to draw at, and a TV to crowd around.  It's not bad, as far as basements go.  But I'll be happy when it is finally truly finished off--something we've been planning to do since we moved in two years ago.  The toddlers are starting to get a little too interested in investigating the dangers hidden in the storage space.  Not to mention Grammy's sewing area.

Speaking of sewing, I have been working on a special project for our oldest grandchildren, identical twin girls who will be making their First Holy Communion next month.  Their mom (knowing how much I enjoyed making christening gowns for all of our precious grandbabies) asked if I would be interested in making white dresses for their big day.  Would I ever!

The dresses are about 90% finished--I just need to sew in the zippers, put elastic in the puff sleeves, and then add some embellishments, like big satin bows and perhaps some pearl buttons.

Yesterday, I took one of the dresses over to the girls' house so they could try it on.  I wanted to make sure it fit and the length was okay.  "It's perfect!" cried Bonny Babe (the older twin, by a few minutes), twirling and looking like she was on a cloud.  How sweet was that reaction?  And when Cutie Pie found out that it was made of satin, she oohed and aahed.  "It's satin?!"  It was adorable.

I'm hoping these dresses become family heirlooms and get used by lots of granddaughters.

Speaking of heirloom garments (wow, my segue game is on point today), I have several special outfits worn by my boys when they were little that I put away many years ago to save for the grandchildren I dreamed I'd one day have.  It is such a thrill to see this sailor suit, worn by son #2 in 1985, being worn by his three boys, Junior, Jedi, and Topper.  (Thanks to my d-i-l Ginger, who put together this wonderful photo montage.)

Seeing our grandchildren wearing clothing once worn by their dads is pretty touching; but what is even more amazing is seeing how much they look like our boys did when they were wee lads themselves.

I recently came across a photo of son #4 that reminded me so much of his identical twin boys Pumpkin and Peanut (who have a triplet sister, Paquita!), particularly Peanut.  After I showed it to my d-i-l Braveheart, she sent me this side-by-side comparison that she'd made of our boy next to his boy Peanut.

What do you think of that resemblance?!  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it?

I just have one last tidbit of information to share here (now that I've shown you how cute my grandchildren are and what lovely daughters-in-law I have):  My husband and I are taking a trip next week, to his favorite city...ROME!

He has been working as an airline pilot for over three decades, and flying internationally for much of that time.  He estimates that he's probably been to Rome about 200 times in his life; but these trips were working trips.  He would fly the plane over on the first day, have a one-day layover there, and the third day, he'd fly the plane back.  Over the years, he was able to see many of the city's treasures.  But he's never done it as an actual vacation.  And he's never done it with me.  Once our boys were mostly grown and I overcame my separation anxiety and fear of flying, I tagged along on a handful of his working trips to some beautiful European cities.  But I've never been to Rome.

It will be the adventure of a lifetime!  And you can be sure I'll be sharing pictures and stories about our trip here at String of Pearls when I can--and definitely on Instagram.  (I'll be like those friends who invite you over and make you watch their vacation slide shows...but the beauty is, you can leave any time you want--and I won't know, so I won't be offended!)

That's it for me.  Ciao!

(P.S. It's Friday now.  Here's that link to the link-up!)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

An Open Book: A Single Bead, YA Catholic Fiction at Its Finest

First of all, I want to thank Carolyn Astfalk for hosting this link-up, which I haven't gotten around to joining much in the past year or so (because Grammy time trumps writing time, always--and I've got 14 little ones to spoil now!).  I'm happy to be back here, however, talking about one of my favorite subjects: Catholic fiction.

Secondly, before I even begin my review of Stephanie Engelman's A Single Bead, I just want to say a few quick things about it: Five out of five stars! ***** Highly recommended!  Get a copy for your favorite young (or not-so-young) reader, stat!

I am always eager to help other Catholic authors whenever possible, because the work they do can be such an important evangelical tool--and this is especially true of fiction, I believe, because often YA readers prefer an engaging made-up story, populated by characters to whom they can relate, to a work of non-fiction, which they might consider a bit too phlegmatic for their taste.  I am convinced that fiction can do much good in the world, and that promoting entertaining books that showcase the beauty and Truth of the Catholic Faith is a very worthy cause.  We need to get this kind of edifying literature into the hands of as many young readers as possible, so that they can be armed to become soldiers for Christ in an increasingly sinful world--one that needs as many tireless and passionately committed warriors for Him as it can get.

Having heard a lot of positive buzz about Engelman's novel, I finally got my hands on a copy (so long ago now that I can't even remember exactly when), and I devoured it in a few sittings.  I was blown away by the way the Rosary--the Pearl family's favorite daily prayer--is the heart and soul of the book.  To say that I am a fan of this well-written YA novel is an understatement.  I felt it would be an honor to help spread the word about it in my own small way here at the blog; but then I got busy with family life and didn't get my thoughts about the book down on paper (or computer) right away...and time flew by...and I eventually realized that if I was going to give the review the attention it deserved, I needed to see the book with fresh eyes.

So I recently read it again.  And you know what?  I'm not sorry at all that I had to read it twice for this review--because A Single Bead is an utterly charming and deeply touching story, told with keen insight and filled with a large cast of flawed but lovable characters who are all at different stages of their faith journeys; and best of all, it has a profound message hidden in or between every single line, and it is this: there is nothing more powerful than prayer, and there is no prayer more powerful than the Rosary.

When the story opens, we meet Katelyn Roberts, an angsty 16-year-old who is with her large extended family at the site of a plane crash that took the life of her beloved grandmother a year earlier.  In spite of being a member of a tight-knit Catholic clan that includes numerous devout members (including an uncle who is a holy but very down-to-earth priest), Kate's faith is not very strong.  She hasn't said a Rosary since she made her First Holy Communion--in fact, she hasn't said many prayers at all lately.  She's not even sure that she believes in the power of prayer anymore and wonders if God is even listening. Everyone in the family has struggled with Grandma's death in his or her own way; after all, she was the glue that held them all together, and losing her so suddenly and violently was unspeakably tragic.  But Kate's mom is the only one who just can't seem to figure out how to cope with her grief, and she has become clinically depressed.  Once very close, she and Kate have developed a strained relationship.

Kate wanders away from the memorial service, drawn inexplicably to the nearby woods.  And there in the grass, she finds a bead from her grandmother's Rosary, which had been somehow missed by the crash scene investigators a year ago.  And it's not just any bead; Kate's grandmother had the initials of each of her children and grandchildren engraved on the silver beads of her Rosary, and this one, by some miracle, happens to be Kate's bead!

Not long after her great discovery, Kate learns that other people--strangers who happen to be going through serious crises in their own lives--have found beads from Grandma's Rosary, too, and that they seem to have experienced what can only be considered true miracles.  Kate enlists the aid of her best friend and cousin, Evelyn, in a quest to find Kate's mother's bead, hoping it will lead to the miracle for which Kate has been praying.  She is desperate to get her hands on it!  Could having that precious bead be the key to bringing about the emotional and mental healing of her tortured mother?

I won't say any more about the plot (other than that it's a page-turner), because I don't want to give too much away.  But suffice it to say that Kate learns that even a single bead from the Rosary can change lives. The Devil fears Our Lady and Her Rosary, and for good reason: this prayer draws countless souls away from him and towards God.  And that is just what happens in the course of this sometimes sad but ultimately heartwarming novel. Kate's transformation--from a petulant teenager searching for a "magic bullet" that will fix her mom, into a mature, compassionate, prayerful young woman--is just the sort of "coming of age" tale that could provide much-needed inspiration for young readers who are on the cusp of adulthood.  (And like all good YA fiction, it is a compelling read even for those adults who aren't quite so young anymore.)

Engelman's characters are fully fleshed-out and sympathetic; the beliefs of the Catholic Faith are explained gently but truthfully, and without apology, through conversations between Kate and some of her mom's siblings; and the mystery of the beads--and how they got into the hands of the very people who seemed to need them most--keeps the reader guessing and eager to find out what happens next.  Like I said, it's a page-turner.  This is an all-around terrific novel--certainly for Catholics, but I believe it could also be enjoyed by readers of any religious tradition.

A Single Bead shows that life is messy, and it's hard--and that even when we pray, we don't know if our prayers will be answered the way we want them to be.  But it also shows that we have to trust in God's plan for our lives, trust that if we give all of our worries over to Him, He will take care of us.  This deeply affecting story about suffering and pain that eventually leads to forgiveness and healing reminds us that even when something unspeakably horrible happens (yes, even something as tragic as a fatal plan crash), God can make good come from bad.  As Kate's Uncle [Father] Joseph puts it, "So, while a Rosary bead, in and of itself, doesn't possess power, God can make use of an  object--or a situation, or a person, or anything, for that matter--to give us his grace."

A quick aside before I wrap this up: along with being a testament to the power of the Rosary, this book also shows that there are no bonds in this earthly life stronger than those of family.  As I read Engelman's descriptions of Kate's many aunts and uncles and cousins, I kept thinking of our own extended clan--although we don't have a priest in the family (yet!).  And Kate's grandmother reminded me very much of my late beloved mother-in-law, a devout lady whose life also revolved around praying for the many loved ones in her life--including 8 married children and 32 grandchildren. She was a Rosary- and novena-praying ninja!  She prayed constantly for all of us and our special intentions, and we received many graces and blessings because of the time she spent with Rosary beads in her hands.

There has been a lot of well-deserved praise for Stephanie Engelman's debut novel, which has even been translated for foreign markets. Kudos to this gifted author for using her estimable writing talent to tell a story about the healing power of Mary (and Her Rosary) in a struggling young girl's life--and indeed, in the lives of so many others as well.  I think Mary's Son would very much approve.

I hope to be back in the coming months with reviews of three other Catholic novels I'm reading, one of them YA (The Perfect Blindside) and the other two just plain A.  Stay tuned, readers!  And in the meantime, join Carolyn et. al. for more book recommendations.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Grace-Filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #36): Writing about Writing about Writing

I love to write.  Writing is my favorite.

And one of my favorite subjects to write about, not so oddly enough, is writing.

So yes, as the title of this post has already warned you, today I'm going to be writing about writing about writing.

Confused yet?

I haven't been the best of bloggers in recent months (make that years), but my output used to be rather prolific here at SOP.  My archives are jam-packed with old posts about any number of subjects, and if you're ever bored and hungry for fresh[-ish] reading material, you could always scroll through them and hopefully you'd stumble upon something that would pique your interest.  The 1,300-plus posts are not all about books and writing, not by a long shot; but those grouped under the label "Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club" most definitely are.

I started this little online book club quite a while ago, at the urging of my publisher (Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books), and it has indeed been a pleasure to host these book "discussions" with you over the years.  It's a great forum for talking about how my two novels went from tiny sparks of inspiration to fully fleshed-out stories filled with characters whom I got to know better and better as time went by.

I enjoy it so much when novels I read have Q and A's with the authors at the end, where a reader can learn exactly what motivated them to write their stories in the first place.  I usually flip back there before I even dive into Chapter One, because it adds another layer of enjoyment for me to learn how the writer was inspired to start the book and the amount of time it took to research and write it.  The writing process itself is endlessly fascinating to me.  So you can imagine why I get such a kick out of sharing my own stories here at the blog--about how I was inspired to write Finding Grace and Erin's Ring and how the books eventually took shape.

Most writers will admit that even the fictional stories they create have pieces of real people, places, and events embedded in them; that was certainly true for me--especially with Finding Grace.  But trust me, this novel is NOT autobiographical (or even semi-autobiographical).  So much of what was real was tweaked and reworked, and characters who were inspired by people I knew began to take on their own unique identities--which surprised and delighted me; truly, these characters became friends whom I missed dearly when I'd finished writing the last chapters.

I think this is a common phenomenon for fiction authors.  In his biography Becoming Jane, Jon Spence discusses how the peerless Jane Austen wove together real life and fiction in her work (I've brought this up before here at the blog, in this past book club post, and this one, and this one, too --sheesh, you guys, I'm like a broken record!):

"Jane wrote her early pieces for the amusement of her family and friends, and she put in shared jokes, teasing jibes, and allusions to real events in their lives."
"Austen is never autobiographical in the crude sense of recording what happened to her or to people she knew.  But a real situation was sometimes her starting point and developed in her imagination as something quite separate from the 'real'."

Yes, Jane, that's just what I ended up doing!  And I didn't even know that you did this, too, until I'd already written Finding Grace!  (I believe we would be BFF's!)

But Austen is by no means the only fiction author who did/does this sort of thing.  Here are a few quotes by some talented modern-day writers whom I also admire, about how real life sneaks its way into their fictional tales.

In the acknowledgements at the end of One Day, a book I absolutely loved, author David Nicholls writes, "It is the nature of this novel that certain smart remarks and observations may have been pilfered from friends and acquaintances over the years, and I hope that a collective thank you--or apology--will be enough."

Ha ha, so true: I am convinced that a novelist cannot help but employ tidbits of actual conversations that he's been involved in or overheard, tweaking them to fit the storyline he's creating.

In the Q and A section at the back of Anne Rivers Siddons' Off Season (a book that had some very strange elements, to be sure, but which I nonetheless enjoyed on the whole very much) the interviewer asks, "Do you base your characters on real people or are they purely products of your imagination?"  And Siddons replies, "There is always a flicker or a seeming of someone real in most of my characters, but by the time I have developed a character enough to carry them through a book, they become their own selves and there's no doubt about that.  I never knowingly copy anybody--I'm not that good at it."

Yes, Anne!  You, Jane, and I--if only we could go out for coffee together and talk shop!  How fun would that be?

I know that when I was writing about Peggy Roach Kelly's feelings for her five sons in Finding Grace, I couldn't help but channel my feelings for my own five sons, whom I adore completely.  Whenever my husband and I would walk with our tall, handsome boys across the church parking lot for Sunday Mass, I would watch them with eyes full of love and think, "Those are all mine!  Those wonderful young men belong to me!"  They had a way of walking, a "Pearl boy walk," that made them look alike from behind. So there you have it,  the inspiration for this scene in Chapter 6 (pages 61-62 in the paperback version), where Grace and her parents are following the Kelly boys across the church parking lot:

"It was interesting how much the five brothers resembled one another, particularly from behind, where on couldn't see the variations in their facial features.  They were all Roaches, similar in height and build, and all had Peggy's chestnut-colored hair (only Grace had inherited the stature and coloring of the Kelly side).  They shared a gait that was uniquely their own, genetically programmed, so it seemed--the "Kelly boy walk": they sort of dragged their feet, yet bounced, with hands jammed in their pockets and shoulders slightly hunched, their heads leaning forward a bit.  The five of them laughed together easily as they made their way over to the church, looking and acting for all the world like a set of giant quintuplets.  They seemed nearly identical in appearance from this view, and as they say about babies of multiple births, they had almost a language of their own.  They often finished each other's sentences, and laughed at the same moments.  Their hand gestures and the inflections of their speech were uncannily alike.

They shared a tight bond that was indeed extraordinary, one that their parents hoped would never be broken.

Peggy drank them in with her eyes; Grace saw the expression on her mother's face and wished for a moment that she had ever been the one to produce such a look of naked adoration.  Then she watched her brothers loping along ahead of them, and if she'd had a mirror she would have realized that her own face bore an expression very nearly the same as her mother's.

'Aren't they something special?' Grace thought, filled with tenderness. Right then she knew more than ever that she hoped she would one day be the mother of many boys."

How obvious is it that that passage was written by a hopelessly smitten Boy Mom?!  I slid that little piece of real life in there as an homage to my beloved offspring; yet as much as the Kelly boys were originally modeled after my string of Pearls, they really did evolve and become their own selves the further along I got in the writing process.

Okay then, that's about it from here.  But before I sign off, I'll leave you with a few images of the six fabulous men in my life, who inspired me to write a book that included five completely lovable brothers and a perfect love interest for my shy little heroine, Grace Kelly.