Monday, December 25, 2023

43 Years

On this date in 1980,  I made the best decision of my life and married the man who’d become my forever boyfriend when we were both only 15.  We were 22 on our wedding day, which seems incredibly young to me now that all of our children are 30 and older.

In the months preceding our big day, someone told me that having a Christmas wedding was unfair to our families and guests, that it would add stress to and take away joy from their holiday season. 

I hope that wasn’t true (and why would anyone say that to a bride-to-be?!  ­čś│).  But as far as I’m concerned, I can’t think of a more beautiful time of year to get married.

Happy Anniversary, [insert private term of endearment here].  I love you more today than I did in 1980…and that’s saying a lot!

Merry Christmas 2023

I woke up early this morning and was sitting in the living room, which was still dark except for the tree lights, drinking my coffee and thinking about how very blessed I am and how I wouldn't trade my life for anyone's in all the world.  I have five sons whom I adore, they have five wives who feel like daughters (and who love my boys, which is the only important trait a mom looks for in a daughter-in-law, right?), and I am a Grammy to 22 of the most extraordinary little people on God's green earth.

Joy to the world, indeed.

My house is quiet.  Much has changed since I was raising those five boys who are now husbands and fathers, living in their own homes, with their own lives, and raising children of their own.  They are establishing holiday traditions for their own growing families, so our family celebrations don't look anything like they used to.  As someone who by nature has always resisted change, this has been difficult to accept at times.  But ever since our move from NH, where we raised our five sons, down to VA, where we live close to three of them  (and 14 of our 22 grandchildren), we know that we will spend at least part of every Christmas with a good portion of our family gathered together.  What a gift that is!

On the 23rd, we were able to get all of our VA gang over to our house for an early Christmas celebration.  (By some miracle, no one was sick--I think we all still have PTSD from last year's epic stomach bug fiasco!)  The grandkids had a wonderful time running around the house, and it looked a bit like a bomb had gone off in here after they all left.  But it was just the best, and I hope my husband and I can stay healthy enough to give them this one crazy party every Christmas season moving forward.  I'm never happier than when my home is full of my people.  And my husband and I truly live to hear the sound of our sons' laughter in the house.  That is the best gift of all.  We don't want their presents; we want their presence.  (I just made that up!  But I'm probably about the millionth person to say it, so I suppose I can't take credit!)

There are no little people opening their stockings in this house on the 25th.  It's quiet here.  But it's peaceful and I've got the best husband in the world and I am feeling very happy

I hope you are having the merriest of Christmases, dear readers!  

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

It's a Wonderful Life (Truly It Is!)

What a beautiful time of year this is!  I love it so much.

Last week, we went to some of our grandkids' Christmas concerts; one night, it was our 3rd grade grandson G-Man's show at his Catholic school; the next night, we got to watch five of our grandchildren performing together: two of G-Man's younger sisters, who are in 2nd grade and kindergarten, and our triplet grandchildren (also in kindergarten, two siblings in one class together and the other with his cousin); and finally, the next day, we watched two of our granddaughters, younger siblings of the aforementioned kids (4-year-old cousins who are BFF's and classmates), perform in their pre-K concert at their Christian preschool.  It was a busy week!  It is so special that these cousins are schoolmates/classmates.  It is a joy to their Papa and me to see them experiencing all of this together.

My husband and I also squeezed in a movie date over the weekend and went to see The Shift, a new film out by Angel Studios (they also did The Sound of Freedom).  It is just SO GOOD, we highly recommend it!  The theater that was showing the movie was in danger of closing not too long ago (thanks to all that Covid business, ugh!); but they didn't. I'm so grateful, because every now and then, it's a huge treat to go out and watch a movie on the big screen.  And they have a giant, glorious Christmas tree outside this multiplex, so we snapped a date night selfie in front of it.
On Sunday, son #4 and his kids (the triplets plus one, who calls herself an "honorary triplet") came over for brunch after Mass.   And the 6-year-old girl triplet couldn't stop looking at the "quilted" ornaments on our tree.  For some reason, she was fascinated by them, especially when her Papa told her that I had made them.  I learned this simple and rewarding craft more than 40 years ago, when I was a young Navy wife who wasn't even a mom yet.  I used mostly traditional red and green Christmas fabric scraps from other projects for the first ones I made.  Since then, I have used materials that have special meaning to "quilt" the balls.

I made NY State Lottery ornaments for my mom, my siblings, and myself
after my dad died, using scraps from his old T-shirts.

I used some old baby garments that my boys wore to make the blue and yellow
one.  (The smaller one on the bottom right is one of the originals from 1981.)

The maroon, grey, and white one was made out of bits and pieces of
my boys' old Catholic grade school uniforms.

Yesterday, I made this one for the granddaughter who was so intrigued
by them, and I plan to give it to her tomorrow for her family's tree.

(I shared the step-by-step process of making these ornaments here at the blog a while back, if you're interested.)

Not much else is new.  We're just trying to get all of our must-watch Christmas movies in before the 25th, if possible. Last night we watched my favorite, It's a Wonderful Life.  

This morning before daily Mass, I sat in my living room, reading a new book by a lovely Catholic author with whom I became online friends back when I was writing Finding Grace and Erin's Ring.  (Her latest novel, The Charter Class, just came out.  It's a work of historical fiction about the very first class of students at the College of Our Lady of the Elms, an all-girls school in Massachusetts that opened in 1928.)   I was enjoying the book's uplifting story; the tree lights were sparkling; and for the first time ever, I was drinking my coffee out of one of the Santa mugs my husband gave me for Christmas last year.  It all felt a little too good to be true.

And I thought to myself, "Yes, it truly is a wonderful life."

God bless you, dear readers, at Christmas and always!

Monday, December 11, 2023

A Lovely Second Sunday of Advent

Yesterday, we were supposed to go to a Christmas gingerbread house-making party at our second-oldest son's new home.  All the VA gang--sons #2, #3, and #4, and the 14 children they have between them--were going to be there.  Our boy spent hours the night before, dutifully carving up graham crackers to glue together, so that the houses would be ready for the kids to decorate with icing and candy the next day.  (He made 20 houses!)

Our daughter-in-law, who is such a great cook and truly the hostess with the mostest, was going to make a nice meal for us, and I had put together a double batch of caramel brownies and two pans of hash brown casserole to contribute to the spread.  

But as usual, if you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans!

Yesterday morning as my husband and I were leaving morning Mass, we got a text from son #2's wife saying that one of their boys was throwing up and another had a fever, and they were going to have to cancel the party.

Before we even got home, we got another text from son #4, who wondered if they could swing by our place after Mass.  Their four young kids had been so excited about having a party with their cousins and were all bummed out, and he thought coming to see us might take the sting out of their disappointment. (Note to parents of littles: never tell them something good is going to happen until it's happening!  LOL)

Papa and Grammy were up for visitors, of course.  Plus, I had some hash brown casserole on hand already, and a bottle of watermelon mimosa from Aldi's (the greatest place to shop; if you haven't checked it out yet, you should!).  So I just fried up some bacon and sausage, scrambled some eggs, and took some cake balls that I'd been saving for Christmas out of the freezer.  Et voila!  Brunch is served.

They stayed for three or four hours.  The kids played like angels in our basement playroom while we chatted down there (it was one of those "don't say anything, don't look at them, we don't want to break the spell" situations!).

Then on a whim, we decided to watch one of our boys' childhood Christmas favorites, Jingle All the Way (which is so bad--so, SO bad!--that it's good!  Very funny!).

So even though we didn't get to go to the party we'd all been looking forward to, we had a lovely second Sunday of Advent here.  How about you?

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Baby’s First Christmas Dress

Our youngest son's first child, a daughter who turns one in March (I must give her a blog name one of these days!), is going to be celebrating her first Christmas this year.   She was with us for Thanksgiving, but will be at her maternal grandparents' house in the Midwest for Christmas.

While she and her parents were with us in November, I finished making a Christmas dress for her.  I hadn't sewn anything for her yet and thought it was about time.

I have the coolest pattern book (pictured) that enables you to make dresses from infant sizes up to a girls' size 10. There's a basic pattern (shown on the cover) and then inside, it shows lots of ways to make adjustments that essentially turn you into a dress designer.  I just love it.  Although I must admit, that simple retro-looking dress on the cover, with the Peter Pan collar, is my absolute favorite style for little girls, and it's the one I've made the most often since getting this pattern book.

This little granddaughter's mom likes to cook and bake, so I thought the material I found at JoAnn's was perfect for her. 

After I was finished, my daughter-in-law asked if I could make a matching headband/bow.  I didn't quite trust myself with that task, so I found an inexpensive pre-made set at TJ Maxx and added a button to one of them, using the same material as the collar of the dress.

While our little sweetie was here, we had her open a gift from us--one of those "Baby's First Doll" deals.  My late mother-in-law used to say, "A little girl should always get a doll for Christmas."  I like that way of thinking. 

She thought it was delicious. 

She is a little doll herself.  And I just love her!

Monday, December 4, 2023

Christmas Cheer (An Instagram Post...but on My Blog!)

I'm not on Instagram anymore.  My husband and I deleted our accounts a few years ago, and I haven't missed it.

Oops...I've just begun this post, and I've already told two lies. Mea culpa.  

Truth be told, I'm back on Instagram (as is my hubby), as of just recently.  But only because our youngest son is working on a short film project for his Master's program, and he's posting about it on there, and we don't want to miss any of those pictures and videos.  So that takes care of lie #1.

Even though I’m back “on,” I'm not really planning to post on IG, or to collect followers (L to the OL!); I'm just planning to stalk.  But not too much.  Over-stalking was one of the main problems I had that led me to give up all my social media accounts in the first place.

Okay then, what's lie #2, you ask?  I said I haven’t missed Instagram...but that's not true, because sometimes I do.

I miss some of my favorite Catholic "influencers" (hello, @elizabethfoss!).  I miss the awesome recipes and the gorgeous home decor ideas, and even the pop-up ads, believe it or not. (I am amazed by how Instagram seems to know exactly what kind of clothes I like to buy and wear.  It couldn't be that social media sites are tracking my every move...could it?)  But I am saving money, now that I don't see all those ads for things I never knew I wanted or needed.

Anyhoo--here are some pictures I might have posted on IG, back when I was a prolific IG poster (but certainly not an influencer!).  I just like how my house looks when it's decorated for Christmas, so I thought I'd share.  If I knew how to make a blog link-up, I would make one and have you show me pictures of your Christmas decorations.  (But in this new, rapidly changing world where even Instagram will probably soon be obsolete, does anyone even remember blog link-up parties?)

May you enjoy your social media accounts without over-stalking (you’re probably better than I am, dear readers). And may your Christmas season be merry and bright!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Thanksgiving Recap (2023)

It would be abnormal if I was writing this post the day after Thanksgiving, wouldn't it?  You know, before everyone has moved on from that holiday and has started prepping for Christmas.  But I think getting this on the blog less than a week after is pretty good for me these days!

For Thanksgiving dinner this year we had the three youngest of our five boys and their families with us, which was wonderful.   Three of our sons (#'s 2, 3, and 4) are practically neighbors here in VA, but our baby made the trip all the way from the Nashville area with his wife and absolutely adorable almost 9-month-old little girl.  I am not exaggerating when I say that she just might be the sweetest baby alive.  She's all breathy baby talk, smiles, and giggles, and she rarely cries.  She's an angel and a complete joy, and that's not just a biased Grammy talking.  This sweet little family came and stayed with us for a week-long visit, and it was much too short.

Our firstborn could not be with us.  He and his wife are out in Wisconsin with their six kids, awaiting the birth of baby #7--which should be any day now.  They spent Thanksgiving with her folks, who live just over an hour away from them now.  And our second-born (who lives less than an hour from us) was  celebrating with his wife's family, who has a giant (60-plus people!!!) extended family Thanksgiving extravaganza every year.  (We usually have a "second Thanksgiving" get-together with them a day or two later.)

I LOVE getting things all ready for any big family celebration.  I enjoy cleaning and decorating the house (I decorated for Christmas before Thanksgiving, minus the tree, because our baby will not be with us this year at Christmastime and he loves him some decked halls), setting the table, menu planning, cooking whatever I can ahead of time.   Prepping for family parties might just be one of my favorite activities.  We almost didn't host this year, because son #3's wife was going to...but with five active young kids and about a million things going on in their life right now, she and our son decided that maybe they'd do it next year, if we didn't mind hosting again.

We didn't mind at all.

This was our seventh Thanksgiving since our big move to VA, and all seven times, three or four of our boys and their ever-growing families have come to our house to celebrate it.  (During the four years son #1 lived nearby, his gang always joined us.)  It's overwhelming--that is, it's overwhelming how blessed we are to be here, and how much fun it is to be able to make our home a meeting place for our loved ones.  This year, we had ten adults (including one daughter-in-law's parents, who are local) and ten children.  I decided to use paper products and disposable plastic utensils but I may go back to using real china and silverware next year.  I think the joy I get from using pretty dishes outweighs the hassle of extra clean-up afterward.  Some things are just worth it.

Anyway, we used paper and plastic.  And we set up the food buffet-style.  Most of it had been made ahead of time.  A few days beforehand, I made a pumpkin pie and a chocolate peanut butter pie, and on Wednesday I got the Oreos crushed up and the creamy part mixed for our family favorite "Heavenly Dirt" trifle.  On Wednesday I also cooked two stuffed turkeys, setting aside the drippings to make gravy on Thursday, and our youngest son's wife made a berry crumble pie (it was so yummy!).  That meant that on Thanksgiving day, the only things left to do were to make mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and gravy, and to put together the trifle layers.  I am a huge fan of doing as much ahead of time as you can.  We always cook our turkeys the day before now, let them rest, then carve them and store them in the fridge soaked in chicken broth.  And our turkey is always so moist!!

I call this picture of me and my set table "The Calm Before the Storm." 

I don't know what I'd do without chafing dishes!

In our family, gravy is LIFE.

Even on paper plates, the meal looked and tasted pretty good!

Actually, I may have misspoken earlier.  Maybe DESSERT is life.

We had three tables set up: adults in the dining room, kids at the kitchen table, and then a miniature table-for-two, for our 4-year-old granddaughters (two weeks apart, these two attend the same pre-K and are BFF's).

The tables looked infinitely better filled with people!

We got sparkling grape juice and plastic champagne glasses, so the kiddos could do a toast.  It was moderately successful.  (The way Grammy imagines such scenarios playing out and how they actually play out are two very different things!  Did you know that sparkling grape juice is too spicy?  And that milk actually tastes better in a champagne glass than it does?)  But it was cute anyway.

Speaking of cute...

Here are a couple of my favorite pictures of our day, taken by our youngest son (the filmmaker!) using his awesome camera.   (Nothing against iPhone cameras, which are pretty amazing, but I think his pictures are so much better than mine.)


So that's our Thanksgiving.  I hope yours was a happy one, dear readers.  God bless you and yours!

Now on to Christmas!