Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Blog Handles for All My Peeps

I know that some bloggers use the real names of all their family members when they write about them.  But for some reason, when I joined the blogosphere in 2011 I thought it best to give all of my peeps aliases.

I was a little boring when it came to my husband (I simply call him my husband here at String of Pearls, or sometimes my guy) and my sons (#1 or my firstborn, #2, #3 or my middle son, #4, and #5 or my baby.  Pretty creative, huh?).

But in 2009, a new member was added to our original "Big 7" (shameless This Is Us reference, #sorrynotsorry), and I had to come up with a name for her.

When it came to the daughters-in-law, I was kind of forced to get more creative.  I mean, wouldn't it have been tiresome to call them the wife of son #1, son #2's wife, and so on?  I wanted to think up some fun aliases to use here at the blog.  I really put some effort into it, and here are the handles I gave to our sons' wives after they joined our clan.

Wife of son #1: Regina
Wife of son #2: Ginger
Wife of son #3: Preciosa
Wife of son #4: Braveheart

Here I am surrounded by these four sweet girls (first my daughters-in-law, now my precious daughters and friends) when they were all at our old home in NH for Christmas in 2014.

I have special reasons for choosing each of those names for these girls.  And now that my baby is about to get married and I'm going to have to call his gal something more inspired than my baby's wife, I wanted to come up with the perfect name for her, too.  And I think I found it.

I'm going to call her Babisiu.

As with all the names, this one has a special origin and meaning for us.  The word babisiu means "baby" in Polish.  This future daughter-in-law of ours, who is our baby's baby, has some Polish blood in her--so that's one reason I chose it; but also, in December of 2017, we flew to Poland and picked her up at the airport, and then the three of us traveled about five hours through dark and deserted rural back roads to meet up with our youngest son, who was on a deployment there at the time and had four days of leave just after Christmas. We had a short but wonderful Polish holiday together in a beautiful city called Bialystok--so always and forever, she shall be my Polish girl with a Polish blog alias.

There they are, our baby and his Babisiu, enjoying a delicious steak dinner with us on our last night in Bialystok.

Our grandkids have some interesting names here at the blog, too.  This is the line-up, oldest to youngest (so far!):

Twins: Bonnie Babe and Cutie Pie
Little Gal
City Girl
Triplets: Pumpkin, Peanut, and Paquita

I actually have a lot of fun deciding what to call everyone.  Lucky for me, because soon I'll have to come up with some more names for grandchildren who are currently in utero.  I hope I don't run out of ideas!  (But if I do, what a wonderful "problem" to have, don't you think?)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Celebrating the Bride-to-Be (A New Pearl to Add to Our String)

Last Sunday, I left upstate NY--where my husband and I grew up and met, and where we now spend our summers taking care of our "Oyster Haven" VRBO lakeside rental home--well before the crack of dawn, and caught an early flight to DC and then a second leg out to Michigan.  That afternoon, I attended the bridal shower of our youngest son's fiancée, who will become the newest Mrs. Pearl in September.

It was the most lovely and joy-filled shower, hosted by her younger sister (the matron of honor), and celebrated at the home of one of the bride-to-be's close relatives.

One of our other daughters-in-law also hails from the Midwest, and after repeated trips to visit with her extended family over the years, I am convinced that people who are natives of that part of the country are pretty much without exception some of the warmest, friendliest, most kind, unassuming and welcoming folks you will ever meet.  And I've also noticed a trend: the women out there really know how to cook!  (They all seem to make their own homemade jams--a skill that my jam-loving husband--who has to make do with Smucker's most of the time--surely wouldn't mind me acquiring.)

The food was plentiful and delicious, the guests were friendly and delightful, and the setting was comfortable and charmingly decorated.  The converted garage where the shower was held, now an awesome party room, boasted an idyllic lake view out past the back yard.

The games were mostly pearl-themed.  (Perfect!)

There was also a "Who Knows Her Best?" game, and the bonus question was, "What is the bride-to-be's favorite thing about the groom-to-be?"  My future daughter-in-law said that she almost answered "his sweet personality," but then couldn't decide on one thing; so her answer was "EVERYTHING."  (That is the only right answer for a doting mom to hear about her beloved baby boy, I can tell you that!)

She was a very gracious receiver of gifts--of which there were many.

My gifts had been purchased online from the wedding registry and sent to the address where the bride is currently living and working, so the only thing she had to open from me at the shower was the now traditional "Little Black Apron" that I like to give my daughters-in-law.  It comes with a string of pearls attached.  ;)

I also like to bring mine to their showers and have a picture of the two of us taken wearing them.  But you probably already gathered that!

There was one gift that was definitely more for my son than for his bride-to-be.  (Yes, it was actually on their registry!!  LOL)

After the guests had all left, I sat and visited with my sweet girl, her mom, her dad, and her dad's cousin and his wife (whose party room we'd been enjoying all day) and their five young children.  When it was almost dusk, her dad's cousin took all of us for a leisurely ride on his pontoon boat.  What a beautiful way to end a beautiful day.

After the boat ride it was getting kind of late, and I had an early flight.  So I drove my rental car back to my hotel near the airport, and before the crack of dawn on Monday, I was on a plane headed back north.  It was a whirlwind trip (and one I could not have taken if it weren't for the perks of my husband's airline job), but so worth it!

I am thrilled to welcome this lovely young lady into the family.  She's a kind, hard-working, faith-filled Catholic girl who loves my son.  And bonus: she loves to cook!  (You should have seen all the wonderful kitchen gear she put on the gift registry!) So my boy will be well-loved and well-fed--lucky him!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

INSTAGRAM GIVEAWAY: A Signed Copy of Erin's Ring

I am currently running a giveaway on Instagram.  On July 25, I will randomly pick the winner who will receive one signed copy of my YA novel, Erin's Ring.

If you're interested in entering to win, you can go to my Instagram feed (where I go by @laura.h.pearl) and find this recent post.  (I also have a tab on the sidebar here at my blog's home page that will take you right over to my IG account.)

Erin's Ring was published way back in 2014, and I haven't been as good at promoting and marketing the novel as I could/should have been.  It is a book that I never thought I'd have time to write, as my family was beginning to grow by leaps and bounds right around the time that my publisher, Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books, approached me with an offer to fund a second novel--one that would be appropriate for younger readers than my first novel, Finding Grace, which was published by Bezalel in 2012.  All I could see ahead of me were the weddings of my sons (one of whom got married shortly before I finished writing the book, and one shortly after) and the imminent births of new grandchildren.  I was also suffering from some strange symptoms which turned out to be caused by hypoparathyroidism, and I had to have a non-malignant parathyroid tumor removed from my neck. We hadn't moved down to VA to be near our married boys yet, and I knew that I would be doing a lot of traveling from NH for all the upcoming family events.  I had no idea how in the world I was going to be able to write a novel (even a relatively short one) in six months' time, with all that was going on in my life and in the Pearl clan.  I am a wife/mother/Grammy first, always and forever, and the role of writer takes a back seat to those vocations.  But somehow, I got it done.  And not only that, but I wrote without panic or stress, in a state of almost complete joy.

I can only attribute this almost otherworldly happiness I experienced while working on Erin's Ring to the Holy Spirit, who was definitely working in me bigtime.  I almost turned down my publisher's generous offer, for fear that my life was just too busy and I wouldn't be able to concentrate properly and meet the requisite deadlines.  Left to my own devices, I would have said no; but during that whole time I was trying to figure out what I should do, my husband's faith in me never wavered.  Even knowing how I sometimes suffer from an extreme lack of confidence, he convinced me that I could do it.  I prayed.  I prayed hard, very much aware that if I turned down this amazing offer, there would most likely never be another opportunity like it for me. And once I signed the contract, the first thing Cheryl did was to take it with her to Adoration, to pray for the success of the book while in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.  (With a start like that, how could I doubt that I had made the right decision?!)

Of course, we all know that true success, the kind that is pleasing to God (the only Book Reviewer whose opinion matters at all!), is not measured by the world's standards.  By worldly standards, my poor little novel has not had a very good run--despite being the recipient of two Book Awards from the Catholic Press Association in 2015.  But I do believe that it can do some good in the world.  And that's what convinced me to have this giveaway, hoping that a copy of Erin's Ring will find its way into the hands of the very reader who needs it, who might be inspired or edified by it.

Thanks for stopping by, dear readers.  And if you do decide to enter the giveaway contest, may the luck of the Irish be with you!

Monday, June 24, 2019

A Week in the (VA) Life

My husband and I are about to head north for most of the summer.  Starting less than a week from now, we will be staying at his childhood home on Lake Champlain, spending time catching up with extended family on both sides and managing our "Oyster Haven" VRBO rental located three miles down the road from the Pearl homestead.

I am looking forward to a couple of relatively relaxing months spent by the lake with my best guy--especially since we did something wild and crazy a few months ago...we fulfilled a lifelong dream of his and bought a boat.  And we didn't get just any old boat: we got a big pontoon "party barge" that fits a whole slew of people on it at once (which is key these days, with our growing brood).  This summer, we'll be breaking it in without our passel of grandkids, since our four oldest sons all have to save their vacation time to drive out to MI for their youngest brother's wedding in September.  Wait, that's not completely accurate; actually, our firstborn and his wife and five kids are planning to come up for a week or two, since he is now a commercial pilot and can commute to his job from anywhere, within reason (like his dad).  But for the most part, it will just be the summer of Papa and Grammy, the summer of my guy and me.   (You know, as in "the summer of George."  Do you remember that Seinfeld episode?)

It's going to be a little weird, however, being away from all the kids and grandkids for most of July and August.  I've gotten so used to spending time with them on a regular basis.  And I have to admit, I might experience a wee touch of separation anxiety!

My husband and I haven't really made any friends since we sold our NH home and moved south two years ago to live closer to our married sons--who by some miracle all ended up settling within spitting distance of each other here in Northern VA.  It's hard, at 60-ish, to start anew--especially if you're shy and/or introverted (lucky me, I'm both!).  You don't have the built-in paths to meeting other adults who are in your season of life that school and sports provide when your kids are growing up.  We're friendly with a few folks at church, and with the nice young neighbor who mows our little patch of lawn each week.   But it's hard to imagine us forming any deep friendships here, the kind that happen over the course of living in one neighborhood with the same people for decades.  I joined the Altar Society at our new parish, hoping that would make me feel more connected to our new community.  But the truth is that I am often either out of town (in Upstate NY) or busy (babysitting or visiting with grandkids) when the group has meetings or activities, so I haven't been as active over there as I would have liked, and I haven't gotten to know any of the other members really well yet.

The bottom line is that these days, our grown sons and their lovely wives are our best friends.  We enjoy spending time with them and their children more than anyone else--and we see them often now, without having to get on an airplane to do it, so our life here is blessedly full.

Last week is a great example of just how full it is, actually.  Let me show you what it was like, day by day.

Our oldest son was on a trip, so his wife and five kids came over in the afternoon to go to the pool in our neighborhood complex.  My husband was home, and he was going to give swimming lessons to the girls (aged 4 to 8).  We got the kids in their suits, slathered on the sunscreen, packed up the towels and other paraphernalia, and walked over.  It's not far, but it was oppressively hot and it seemed to take forever.  When we got there, the lifeguard told us the pool was closed for a half-hour, because they'd heard thunder not too long before.  There were about 20 minutes left to go, so we decided to wait to see if there would be an all-clear soon.  A few minutes into the wait, more thunder.   That meant the clock was reset and there would be 30 more minutes of waiting.  Such disappointment for the girls!  We decided to head back home and play in our little plastic pools.  The 6-year-old complained, "That will be boring!"

But actually, it wasn't.  It was fun.

On Tuesday, my husband left for a four-day trip.  That evening, I went over to son #3's house to help him and his wife paint their basement, which was formerly a man cave/craft area, but is now going to be an awesome playroom for their growing family.  (They have three kids 4 and under, with a fourth on the way.)  By the time I got to bed, it was well after midnight.  I slept over, so at about 6:30 the next morning I got to enjoy couch snuggles with some of my favorite little peeps--G-Man, Princesa, and Rosita--before heading back home to babysit for son #1's wife while she went to an eye appointment.  (I was too busy painting and snuggling while I was on the sleepover to take pictures.)

Our oldest boy's gang enjoyed playing in the basement while their mom was at her appointment in the morning.  (Our basement is going to get finished off, finally, in the fall; but even in its rough state, our grandkids love playing down there.)

While they were at our house, I had my granddaughters try on the flower girl dresses they're going to wear in their uncle's upcoming wedding.  (The two girls on the end are wearing dresses previously worn for the weddings of our other boys, spruced up with lace boleros and lace at the hem.  The twins in the middle are wearing their First Holy Communion dresses, repurposed with cranberry ribbon to match the bridesmaid dresses.)

After their mom returned and we had lunch at our house, we decided to try the pool again (fingers crossed!).  Without Papa, a former lifeguard and water safety instructor, there would be no formal swimming lessons; but we hoped to get in some good cooling-off time, at least.  I'm happy to say that the weather was perfect, the pool was open, and we all enjoyed a couple of hours of playing in the water (all but the girls' little brother, Simba, who is almost a year old; he is not a fan of getting wet!).

I had to get up early to make the 35-minute drive over to son #4's house, so that I could watch his 22-month-old triplets while he accompanied his wife to her morning OB/GYN appointment (which included the 20-week sonogram!).  Earlier this month, my husband and I watched the triplets for five days, while their parents went to Mexico for a wedding/well-earned vacation.  Those little monkeys were on their best behavior and we had a ball with them--but there were two of us to wrangle them at all times.  Being with them alone for a few hours really made me appreciate what a tremendous job their hardworking mom is doing; she's at home with them, alone--all day, every day, until our son gets home from work.  They are adorable--but into absolutely everything and they definitely keep you on your toes.

One of the wisest moves their parents made was to get this trash can that has a locking lid!

My husband returned from his trip in the morning, and in the afternoon, we watched our darling granddaughter Rosita at our house while son #3 and his wife took the older two kids to see Toy Story 4 at the little downtown theater where we live.  We decided to rent the original Toy Story to watch with her while her siblings were at the movies.

Can you stand it?!  How cute is she, sitting there next to her Papa?  With her little feet not
even reaching the end of the cushion!

When she got tired of the movie, we paused it for a bit and went outside to play in the pool.

Who knew that those cheap little plastic Walmart pools could provide so much quality entertainment?

As if the week hadn't already been jam-packed enough with all kinds of family fun, on Saturday our second-oldest son and his wife hosted a party to celebrate the two recent birthdays of two special people: their second son Jedi (who turned 2) and his Papa (who turned a lot older than 2).  Most of the family was there.  Son #4 was on call for work, so he had to stay behind and his wife came solo with the triplets.  (I think Braveheart was the perfect blog handle to choose for her, don't you?)  Also missing was our baby, who is currently stationed too far away from VA (but not as far away as Germany anymore, thankfully).  And son #1's wife was at a homeschool conference with their baby boy.  But otherwise, all were present.

Son #2 and Ginger have a huge fenced-in yard with a swing set and just about every outdoor climbing or riding toy a kid could hope for.  It is the most perfect yard for having a party, and it was a wonderful day that was enjoyed by all.  13 of our 14 grandchildren were there, and it was the best kind of chaos!

I started this post on Saturday, but finished it up on the Lord's day.  It's a funny thing...after writing earlier in the post that we don't have any friends here in VA yet, on Sunday night I realized that that might not be totally accurate.  As my husband and I were leaving 8:30 a.m. Mass, a dear older woman I met through the Altar Society came up to say hi and chat, and she affectionately grabbed hold of my hand.  She held onto it all the way down the aisle as we walked toward the door of the church, and she smiled at my husband and me as if we were the very people she was hoping to see.  God bless her, just that quick, oh-so-sweet interaction made me feel like maybe--just maybe--this newly adopted town of ours will really feel like home to us one day.

There were no visits with the kids and grandkids on Sunday.  My husband left for work that afternoon, and I have about a million little things to take care of before we start our road trip north when he gets back towards the end of the week, so I kept myself busy at home.

It's Monday now, and there is still so much to do to get ready for our trip.  Today was spent running errands, shopping, sewing (the last of the flower girl dresses, for 3-year-old Princesa), and driving over to say goodbye to son #2 and his family.  In the next few days, I plan to try to see the other families to say goodbye as well.

As Pooh Bear would say, how lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.  (Lots of somethings, actually!)

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Power of the Eucharist

Today, as the Church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi--the Feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord--I wanted to re-post a story that originally appeared here at the blog five years ago.  It illustrates the awesome power of the Eucharist (and the awesomeness of the man I married) in the most beautiful--I daresay almost miraculous--way.

Click on that link, if you have the time; I don't think you'll be disappointed.

God bless you, dear readers--today and always!

Friday, June 21, 2019

ABC Book Update: C is for Complete!

Well, I have completed my ABC Book project.  (Time to open the cabinets, I think!)

For many, many years now it has been my goal to create a children's picture book for my family.  Way back when, I thought it might be finished in time for my youngest son to enjoy it.  He is 26 now and getting married in the fall; I guess that ship has sailed, hasn't it?  But not long after I became a grandmother 8 years ago, I got inspired once again and started the project anew.

And finally, FINALLY, I am done. 

From A

to Z!

Although it would be nice if I could somehow get this thing published and make it available at an affordable price, I just don't think that's going to happen.  My husband (who is unparalleled when it comes to supporting his wife and going above and beyond to help her see her dreams come true) would probably encourage me to go the self-publishing route if I felt strongly about it--even though that is pretty costly and it is extremely doubtful that I would even come close to making back my initial investment in sales.  (I have decided that God has plans for me that include having books in print but do not include being a financially successful author.  My two faith-filled novels, Finding Grace and Erin's Ring, were a joy to write and contain what I hope are beautiful and inspiring messages for readers; but NYT bestsellers they are not!)

So...even though he would do it in a New York minute, I just can't ask my husband to invest too much money in this ABC Book project.  My gut is telling me that trying to get it into print is just not the path I'm meant to take with it.

I did, however, stumble upon a photo book a Shutterfly-type company called Mixbook a few years back, and through them I was able to have all of my 8 and 1/2 by 11-inch pages copied beautifully into a soft-covered 8 and 1/2 by 11-inch book.  I was quite pleased with the result.

Decided to re-purpose the Finding Grace cover image for the S's--and was happy I could figure
out a way to fit it into a rhyme for this book!

I was kind of tickled when I received it in the mail recently, because it looks like a real book, and the illustrations reproduced remarkably well.  BUT (and this is a BIG but) each soft-cover copy is prohibitively expensive: $69.69.  (And the hard-cover version is $20 more per copy--yikes!)  I mean, at 50 pages it's about twice as long as the average children's picture book, but still...

I was able to find a decent Mixbook coupon online when I ordered mine; but even using that, the price of just one soft-cover copy was over $40 with shipping.  I can't imagine that anyone is going to want to pay that kind of price for a children's book!

You are, dear readers, of course more than welcome to use this link to order a Mixbook copy if you so desire. (Maybe you'll be able to find a 75% off coupon?!)   However, the main reason I decided to share the link is that it will enable you to "flip" through the pages of the book for free, while you view it on your computer screen.  In this new modern age, perhaps that's the way computer-savvy little ones prefer to look at picture books anyway.  (I've seen the way toddlers can work iPhones and iPads; it's impressive!)

To make copies for my own little people, I decided to run off two-sided copies of the illustrated pages  (using the "best" resolution printer setting) on high-quality resume paper and protect them with plastic sleeves.  Then I put all the pages in an inexpensive three-hole presentation binder.  I did use card stock for the front cover, for better durability, and enclosed that in a plastic sleeve as well.

The end product actually came out really well (in person, with better lighting and less glare, the pages look almost identical to the Mixbook versions)--and I'm thinking of offering a CD with all of the printable images here at the blog (for $15 perhaps, s & h costs included?), so that if you are interested in having a hard copy, you can run one off using your home printer.  If you have any thoughts on the CD idea, leave me a comment.  I love hearing from you!

P.S. I have been blogging about this project for a number of years, and if you have any interest in knowing the origins and inspirations for some of the artwork included, there is an "ABC Book" tab up at the top of my blog's home page.  Any posts about the book can be found by clicking on there.