Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Happy Birthday to My First "Best Friend"

Growing up in the 60's and 70's, the photo booth was to young folks what the digital camera (or cell phone camera) is to kids today: instant gratification. We could mug, put up "bunny ears" behind each other's heads, giggle hysterically, or just smile our "cheese" smiles, and we had our photos in hand within minutes of when they'd been snapped. These photo booth pictures are iconic images of our youth for those of us of a certain age. I can't imagine there's anyone from my generation who doesn't have at least a few of these strips of black and white pictures, arranged in vertical columns of four, lying around somewhere--be it in a trunk in the attic, in a shoebox, or in a scrapbook. Sometimes, we would cut the strips so that we could share them with friends, just as kids share photos with each other on Facebook nowadays.

The three photo booth pictures above are of me and my first true "best friend," all taken before we were in high school. We met as students at a Catholic grade school when we were both 10, and that was 43 years ago! Wow, that doesn't seem possible! My family had had a bit of a nomadic lifestyle up until that point, with homes in New Jersey, Delaware, and New York. We moved to the town in Upstate New York that became our permanent home when I was just about to start 5th grade, and that is when I met this dear friend. From the beginning, we just clicked. And today is my friend's birthday, so I wanted to dedicate today's post to her.

There's nothing like those friends you make during your school days; there is that bond forged with people who "knew you when" that can never quite be duplicated with friends you make as an adult. In the 1988 movie "Everybody's All-American," Dennis Quaid (whom I've always liked as an actor) plays a college football superstar who moves on to play in the NFL. At one point in the movie, when he's been a pro for awhile, he's feeling jaded and wondering who his real friends are; and he comments to his cousin, "You think you're gonna go through your whole life making close friends, like [the ones you make when you're a kid]. You don't. It's just somethin' that happens to you when you're young." I thought that was a touching speech when I first saw the movie, and I think in many ways, it's true. How can I ever become as close to a woman I meet today as I was to this old friend of mine, the girl with whom I stayed up talking late into the night on countless sleepovers at each other's houses?

My friend and I have so many shared experiences, some rather hilarious. For instance, in junior high, we bought our first--ahem!--supportive undergarments together. (I, for one, was too mortified to tell my mother I thought I needed one, so I decided to sneak off and buy it for myself with my babysitting money!) We had no idea what sizes we could possibly need, but we tried on some lacy underthings until we found what worked for us. The kind, helpful, wise saleslady handed us some shopping bags through the dressing room curtain and said that if we'd like to wear our new ones home, we could put our old ones in the bags. "Thank you very much," we said, and we proceeded to puff up the bags to look like they had something in them. Then we made our purchases and strolled proudly out of the store, carrying empty bags and wearing the proof of our budding womanhood. Isn't that a great story? I mean, you can't make this stuff up! And there will never be another female friend with whom I can share both the hilarity of that particular shopping expedition and the poignancy of crossing that line from little girl to young woman.

After college, marriage, and babies, my friend and I found it practically impossible to get together. For some of those years, we lived far apart. For the past 20 years or so, we've been separated by a mere four-hour drive; but with the hustle and bustle of family life, most of the time we might as well be halfway across the country from one another. I was raising my five boys and she was raising two daughters and a son. And she was faced with a situation that every mother dreads: her son was diagnosed with leukemia when he was about nine and waged a long, tough battle against it. He is healthy now--thanks be to God!--and he's a thriving sophomore at an Ivy League college. For all she went through and the grace with which she did so, I admire my friend tremendously and consider her a hero. She is a fiercely loving mother, just as she was always a fiercely loving friend.

The great thing about old friends who've known you forever is that when you do finally manage to get together, it doesn't matter how many years have passed. You feel like you're picking up right where you left off.

So, here's to old friends! And Happy Birthday to my very oldest friend, my first "best friend."

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Patriotic Doorway

I love this picture, because it is of a doorway that is not only very beautiful, but one that holds special memories for our family. I've been waiting for the perfect day to use it in a post, and I can't think of a more fitting time to do so than today, Memorial Day.

This is one of the doors to the Sacred Heart Basilica at the University of Notre Dame out in South Bend, IN. And by the way, talk about a place that's chock-full of holy pictures and statues, and how these beautiful images help those who see them "ascend more easily in spirit to Heaven"! (For more on this topic, see May 15, "The Veneration of Holy Images.") The glorious beauty and splendor of Sacred Heart Basilica takes your breath away, it really does. As great as it is to see the inside of the football stadium on game day, with the enormous "Touchdown Jesus" mosaic that graces the library visible in the endzone, it would be a shame to visit the campus and leave without seeing the inside of this magnificent church.

Notre Dame has always been a staunch supporter of our military. They have ROTC units for the Army, Navy, and Air Force on campus. Several of my sons and nieces, after completing four years in ROTC programs, have had their commissioning ceremonies--have become officers in the U.S. Army and Navy--right in front of this door.

I love the saying carved in stone under the arch--a fitting tribute for people who are faithful Catholics, patriots, and diehard Irish fans all rolled into one: God, Country, Notre Dame. (I would, however, amend it to read: God, Family, Country, Notre Dame. If that's what was inscribed on there, this doorway would be quite perfect!)

On this day, we remember all those brave men and women who've served in the military; we remember those who've given their lives for their country; and we pray for our troops who are scattered around the globe, doing what they do with heroic selflessness and courage. God bless our troops! God bless America!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mary's Fiat

When the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell Her that She had been chosen to become the Mother of God, She could have said no; but She didn't. Her response was: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) This was Mary's yes; it is called Her fiat, which in Latin means "let it be done." As Robert Wenderski writes in "She Could Have Said No," an article in the May/June 2011 issue of Lay Witness, "...what if she politely declined, claiming unworthiness? The consequences are imponderable--all what we now call salvation history vanishes."

Mary's role in mankind's redemption is key. As Wenderski says, "God could have chosen any number of ways to redeem fallen humanity. He chose the best way. God wanted to become one of us, to assume human nature, so as to possess a human intellect and a human will. He desired to take a human body and be 'born of a woman.'"

Some non-Catholics cannot understand why Catholics venerate and pray to Our Blessed Mother. They believe that devotion to Mary takes away from devotion to Jesus; but nothing could be further from the truth. The two of them, Mother and Son, are inextricably intertwined. She is a Mediatrix; because Her Son loves His Mother, He will do what She asks, if it is for the good of our souls. (Remember, Jesus' first public miracle--the changing of the water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana--was performed at the request of His Mother.) When we pray to Mary, we are entreating Her to intercede for us with Her Divine Son. As Wenderski puts it, "Our Lady mediates grace (that Jesus merited) through her prayer. So, our heavenly Mother does for us now what she did for her Son when she walked this earth. She does everything she can to aid us."

When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth (where She stayed for three months until the birth of Her cousins's son, John the Baptist), Elizabeth cried, "Blest are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb." (Luke 1:42) Mary's joyous response to her cousin's greeting, also found in Luke's gospel, is known as the "Canticle of Mary" or the "Magnificat." Here are the first five lines of this beautiful prayer:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
And My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden,
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.

She was a humble virgin who became the Queen of Heaven. She is the loving Mother of all mankind. But without Mary's fiat, where would we be? Because Mary said yes, God's Son came into the world and Heaven was opened to humanity. Thank you, loving Intercessor and Mediatrix! Thank you, dear Mother! And Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Art Appreciation

I've always loved Norman Rockwell paintings. Some might say he's not a real "artist's artist," like a Michelangelo, a da Vinci, or a Monet. But whenever I look at one of his works, I am filled with pure and utter happiness. He had a way of capturing everyday moments of life in America with such poignancy and sweetness! (And in his paintings, all of his adorable little boys have heads shaped just like my middle son's head was shaped when he was a sprat. My boy could have been one of his models, no kidding.)

Norman Rockwell has been a favorite of mine for as long as I can remember. I have books and calendars filled with his artwork. I have framed Rockwell prints, porcelain figurines, and even dishes that display his paintings--many of them gifts I received from loved ones and therefore cherish that much more. I will forever be a Rockwell fan!

Why anyone would purchase a Picasso over a Rockwell is beyond me. I don't care if some critics believe that Picasso's work (or worse yet, Jackson Pollock's!) is more deep and meaningful than Norman Rockwell's, or that it displays a more unique brand of talent. I just don't enjoy looking at it; and shouldn't art, above all else, be enjoyable?

So I'm not into the modern stuff, but I do appreciate many kinds of art. And I love to paint. If I could just have as much talent as Norman Rockwell had in his pinkie finger--or in the fingernail of his pinkie finger, or in the half-moon-shaped white part of the fingernail of his pinkie finger--I'd be on cloud 9!

On a sidenote, yesterday I got an update from my daughter-in-law after her most recent appointment. Her doctor says that the twins' arrival will be any day now. Oh boy! I can't wait to meet them, to find out what they look like, to see what kind of personalities and interests they'll have. Will they someday be musically gifted like their mother, who can play the flute, piano, and accordion? Will they sit for hours drawing detailed pictures of animals and dinosaurs like their father used to do? Or will they have some new interest all their own, one that runs in neither family? All I know is this: to me, those babies are going to be more beautiful than any work of art.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Facing the End of an Era

People have been asking me a lot lately if I'm doing okay, now that my youngest son is about to graduate from high school. "Are you sad?" they'll probe, with a sympathetic look, or "How are you holding up?" They've been making me feel a tad guilty, as if I'm a cold fish or something; because for some reason, I've been surprisingly calm about the whole thing, as if God has prepared me for this huge change that is about to take place. 

I don't really like change--which is tough, because things are always changing.  But I've been thinking that there's a time for everything, and it seems like the time is ripe now for moving on to the next phase of life. After all, I have a married son, I'm about to become a grandmother, and three of my grown sons have moved to faraway places. My husband and I have talked about this quite a bit, about how we're sort of looking forward to the incredible freedom we'll have to hit the road whenever we feel like it to visit all of our far-flung offspring (which will soon include my youngest, actually, since he'll be at a college about 17 hours from home).

I mean, we've been at this school business a long, long time. Our oldest son started kindergarten in September of 1989, and our youngest will finish high school in June of 2011. That means we've had kids in school for 22 years (now I feel old!); it's an era that has spanned four decades--the 1980's, 1990's, 2000's, and 2010's. When you think of it that way, it seems like eons. That's a lot of permission slips, progress reports, parent-teacher nights, and brown bag lunches! Yes, I get nostalgic when I look back on all the wonderful things that have happened during these 20-plus years; but there are some things about having kids in school that I won't miss at all, and it's that aspect that I've been focusing on lately. So incredibly, I've been feeling mellow, peaceful, and as if--for once--I might be able to get through a bittersweet ending to a really great time in my husband's and my life without a lot of crying.

Oh, how naive I was!

Yesterday, I was out running errands in my big red van, thinking deep thoughts  (as I often do while driving by myself--when I'm not listening to Rush Limbaugh or singing, poorly, at the top of my lungs). Out of nowhere, it hit me: it was the last day of classes for my baby, the last official day of school. I was thunderstruck, and sitting there in my van, the tears began to flow.

The actual schoolwork is over for son #5. Yesterday, he said his good-byes to the underclassmen he won't see in the hallways anymore. Today, he's on a senior field trip to an amusement park; next week is packed with fun senior week activities, followed by a couple of days of graduation practice and early releases; and finally, the graduation ceremony will take place over the weekend. What I'd like to know is this: how in the world did we get here?!

The boy who I thought I'd have with me forever is getting ready to leave the nest, and I don't know how I'm going to handle that. I don't think I'm going to be a rock after all. This child is the one who came along after a big break (there are only four years and three months between sons #1 and #4; between #4 and this one, there are five years). He was the greatest surprise we ever got, the icing on the cake, the person who completed our family. He's the one my husband and I had the privilege and pleasure of homeschooling from 4th through 8th grade. And now, his boyhood school days are coming to an end. It's the end of an era not only for him, but for his parents as well.

On the one hand, I feel exceptionally lucky that my husband and I both cherished the time we had with our boys and appreciated how wonderful our life was when they were growing up; and on the other hand, I feel hoodwinked and disbelieving, and I find myself asking that age-old question that all parents of grown children ask: "Where did the time go?"

What happened to frightened little boys diving into bed with us during thunderstorms? When was the last time one of them picked dandelions for me, or climbed into my lap? Or needed help learning his spelling words? When did they all grow taller than their father? Get deep voices? Learn to drive? And how can it be that my baby boy will be leaving us in a few short months?

Okay, enough wallowing. I've got to remind myself to focus on the sweet rather than the bitter--to realize that just as my son's upcoming commencement marks a new beginning for him, it's a new beginning for my husband and me, too. I'll be all right. I will!  But I'm going to need a lot of help from God. And a lot of tissues.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More on the Grandparent Thing

That was just too much fun talking about the whole grandparenting thing in yesterday's post, so I had to put up a few more quotes today--ones that didn't make the cut yesterday, but made my husband laugh when I read them to him aloud after I'd already pushed the "publish post" tab.

"Grandparents are there to help the child get into mischief they haven't thought of yet." -Gene Perret

"'You're more trouble than the children are' is the greatest compliment a grandparent can receive." -Gene Perret [I'd like to meet this Gene Perret, whoever he is, because he has made some hilarious observations about being a grandfather.]

Several years ago, when our son was newly engaged and grandchildren weren't even on the horizon yet, my husband and I were in a drugstore and saw this huge selection of funny t-shirts for wee ones. We were so amused by the sayings on the shirts that we ended up buying four of them in size 2T to put away for the far-off (or as it turned out, not so far-off) day when we would become grandparents. We wanted to buy one of each style, but finally managed to narrow it down to four t-shirts; my personal favorite is the one on the left in the above picture, and my husband's is on the right.

Just by buying these t-shirts, it seems we're already getting our grandchildren into "mischief they haven't thought of yet"! I hope their parents will have lots of patience with us.

Here is one more gem I came across in my travels; I love it because it makes me think of my husband and how much fun he's going to have playing with his grandkids: "To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word 'boo.'" -Robert Brault

If that is the description of a perfect granddad, my husband is the man for the job. And I'm looking forward to hearing our grandchildren squealing and giggling during games of "Tackle on the 45," "Mighty Mungus," "Sack of Potatoes," and "Booshz Booshz." (I don't even know how to spell that last game, which is one of my husband's own creation--but our boys will know what I'm talking about.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Joy of Being a Grandparent

Here's one of those great Irish Proverbs (you just gotta love the Irish!): "Children are the rainbow of life; grandchildren are the pot of gold." [I think the guy in the picture above realized this without being told!]

I don't know this from firsthand experience yet, but I've watched my own parents and my husband's parents, and as much as they love us, I think they'd agree with Lois Wyse, who said: "If I had known how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, I'd have had them first."

With the birth of my own first grandchildren (my oldest son's twins) imminent, I can't help but think about becoming a grandparent and what that means. I've come across some pithy words of wisdom on the subject that I thought I'd share.

"Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting." -Author Unknown [By the way, I love this one and will be happy to work hard at doing my part in this regard.]

"Grandfathers are just antique little boys." -Author Unknown

"Grandmas never run out of hugs or cookies." -Author Unknown [If there's one thing I can do, it's cookies.]

"Grandfathers are for loving and fixing things." -Author Unknown

"No cowboy was ever faster than a grandparent pulling a baby picture out of a wallet." -Author Unknown [Note to my husband here: Just think how cool YOU'LL look doing it, "Papa," because you'll actually be WEARING A COWBOY HAT!]

''Grandchildren don't stay young forever, which is good because Pop-pops have only so many horsey rides in them." -Gene Perret [And they have only so many games of "Tackle on the 45" in them, too, I'll bet.]

"Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation." -Lois Wyse

"Grandchildren are God's way of compensating us for growing old." -Mary H. Waldrip

"It's amazing how grandparents seem so young once you become one." -Author Unknown [How very true!]

There are so many great sayings about the joy of grandparenting, I could go on for pages. But this will suffice for today!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Drawing Dinos

If I had a dime for every time some other young mommy said, after finding out that I had five boys (which, unbeknownst to me, was apparently some kind of curse), "Oh, God bless you!" or "You poor thing, no girls?", I would be a rich woman today. I think some people imagined that our home was a scene of constant fistfights and wrestling matches--of scruffy little hooligans swinging from chandeliers, or something along those lines. Oh sure, my boys could get crazy at times; they roughhoused, they bickered, and they made almost every activity a competition. Let's put it this way: we didn't have a lot of tea parties going on around here. But my boys could also spend hours at a time engaged in peaceful, quiet activities like looking at books and building intricate worlds for their Matchbox cars and toy dinosaurs out of colored wooden blocks. And drawing. Endlessly, determinedly, contentedly drawing. You've never seen so many drawings in your life!

All five of my sons were quite talented artists. There, I've said it. I've bragged shamelessly. But it's true! They all drew constantly when they were little guys, going through reams and reams of paper. If they had sharpened pencils and stacks of cheap white paper at their disposal, they were in Heaven. They would sometimes color in coloring books; but they preferred making their own pictures, and the ones they made themselves were almost always done in simple black and white. I didn't save every masterpiece, but I picked some samples from each of my boys and put them in binders for posterity. Seriously, if I'd saved everything they ever drew, I would need to rent one of those metal storage units to fit it all.

My boys liked to draw snakes, alligators, sharks, tigers, elephants, rhinos, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; but above all, they liked (and were incredibly good at) drawing dinosaurs. I would say that my sons' fascination with these pre-historic beasts--especially the king of them all, Tyrannosaurus Rex--bordered on an obsession. One of these weeks, I'm going to post a T-Rex drawing a day, Monday through Friday, starting with one by the oldest and ending with one by my baby. It'll be "T-Rex Week": you know, like Discovery Channel's "Shark Week."

For today, however, I decided to post my middle son's cartoonish "One-Minute Dinosaur"; it's his trademark, which he perfected years ago. He can--and does--still whip this dino out in no time. This particular son is not really into doing artwork anymore; actually, out of the five of them, only sons #2 and #4 still have a passion for drawing as adults. But I think this T-Rex by son #3 is pretty darn cute.

Stay tuned for "T-Rex Week," though; I think you'll be impressed!

Monday, May 23, 2011

It Seems Like Only Yestertime...

My oldest son is about to become a daddy. To twins!

Many 21st century mothers of a twenty-something son might think, "Yikes! Is he ready for that?" Not me. I know my son is ready, and I know he'll be a wonderful father.

When this boy was little, anything that happened before the present moment, even something that happened two minutes ago, happened "yestertime." I just loved that little "ism" of his. And now, he'll have offspring of his own spouting hilarious and adorable "isms" of their own creation. What fun he's going to have!

When he was less than 16 months old, my oldest boy became a big brother for the first time (see photo), and then by the time he was two-and-a-half, a third brother had joined the mix. When he was just over four, brother #4 came along. And when he was just over nine, the last brother was born and he became this baby's godfather. We had to get a special dispensation for our son to take on the godfather role, since he hadn't yet been confirmed; we're glad we were able to get one, because he may have been young for the job, but he certainly wasn't lacking in maturity or faith formation. He'd always been an "old soul," and he was the perfect choice.

Our oldest was obsessed with books pretty much from birth, absorbing information from them like a sponge. As soon as he could toddle around, he would constantly bring them to us and plop them in our laps. At around two, he learned all of his ABC's, thanks to a Little Golden Book called Grover's Alphabet. By two-and-a-half, he could recite every single word, verbatim, of a book called Honey Rabbit. By three and change, we'd read so many dinosaur books to him that he could distinguish a T-Rex from an Allosaurus (his father and I had them confused until he pointed out the slight difference between them). His love of books rubbed off on the younger ones, and bedtime became a reading extravaganza. It was our firstborn who came up with the idea that we should mix it up from time to time by making up original stories instead of reading out of books; he'd say, "Tell a story with your mouth." We were living in Florida at the time and spent a lot of sunny weekend days with our three little guys near the ocean, building sand castles and running away from the surf, screaming with laughter; so one day I decided to tell a story-- "with my mouth"--set at the beach. It was going to be about my oldest and his two younger brothers finding a crab in the sand, and then just as the crab was about to give one of his brothers a little nip on the toe, he--as the big boy, the hero--was going to somehow avert the crisis (I hadn't yet figured out how; I was making it up as I went along). But I never got to finish the story, because suddenly his eyes filled with tears and his lower lip began to tremble. "What's the matter, sweetie? Don't you like this story?" I asked. "No!" Then it dawned on me: he was upset because the story was about the possibility of one of his brothers getting hurt! When I asked him if this was the reason, he nodded in the most pathetic and heartbreaking way. I explained to him that he was going to save the day, the crab was going to be thwarted, and there was going to be a happy ending--but that didn't matter; his senstive little soul couldn't bear the idea of that near-catastrophe. Boy, did I feel awful! I realized that my mouth wasn't a very good storyteller if my stories were going to make my children sad. So unless pushed, from then on I tried to stick to reading them out of books!

Another earlier time, when our oldest was about two and we were flying home from Florida for a family visit with our relatives up north, our second son, who was about six months old, was having trouble with his ears and was crying up a storm. The flight attendant offered to carry him up and down the aisle for a bit to see if that would calm him down (this was back in the good old days, when full meals were served routinely on flights, and flight attendants had a store of coloring books, crayons, and plastic pilots' wings to pass out to bored, restless children). As soon as the woman picked up his baby brother, our firstborn became inconsolable: who was this stranger taking his brother away from us? Now we had two kids crying instead of one! Our oldest wouldn't stop wailing until our baby was back in my lap where he belonged. He always took his role as big brother very seriously--and he still does to this day; when it comes to his brothers, he is fiercely loyal and protective, and a wonderful role model for them.

It seems like only yestertime that this son of ours was the tow-headed, chubby little toddler in this picture, gently holding the hand of his newborn baby brother. And now, he's going to be a father! How is that possible? But as much as I love reminiscing about the past, thank God time marches forward; for what a blessing it is to live long enough to see your children's children!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

God Has a Plan

This is a picture of my second son, who received his Master's Degree in the Art of Teaching (Secondary Math Education) over the weekend. Much to his chagrin, he was persuaded--you might say forced--by some female friends, teaching interns with whom he worked throughout this school year and to whom he became quite close, to adorn the top of his cap with fabric paint. They knew he'd never buy the paint himself, so they bought it for him. And as if using any product with the word "fabric" in it wasn't bad enough, this paint had glitter in it, which my son saw as an affront to his very manhood. But he's a good friend and a good sport, and so in order to play nice and make the girls happy, he decorated his cap, choosing a sentiment that's short and sweet and to the point: DONE. After lots of hard work, which earned him summa cum laude honors on his undergraduate degree last year, he's finally done; he's ready now to move on to the next phase of his life and begin his career as a high school teacher and coach.

My son, like so many young people, had to take a few detours in the road to find out what he really wanted to do with his life. He went right from high school to his dream college 17 hours away in the Midwest; but two-plus years and a couple of changes in major later, he realized that he needed to take some time off, regroup, and figure out what he was truly interested in studying. He came home and worked for two years as a teacher's aide in a class of autistic students at our local middle school, and he also became an assistant coach for the football and lacrosse teams at his old high school. It was during this two-year stretch that he began to realize that he wanted to be a teacher; and although he enjoyed his work in the middle school, he also realized that he was meant to work at the high school level.

God does indeed have a plan for everyone, and this son's journey to his Master's Degree is a perfect example. My son never dreamed he'd earn his degree from the state university that's close to where we live; but he did, and he had a fantastic experience there. He also never gave the idea of teaching so much as a thought when he was younger; but now, he realizes that it's the only job he can imagine having. Not only is it something he enjoys, but teaching is the vocation that best utilizes his God-given talents and abilities--it's where he can put those natural gifts to good use and hopefully make a difference in the world.

When this son first returned home, my husband and I sometimes worried that if too much time went by, he might not want to get back up on the horse and finish his degree. We had to learn to trust that God knew what He was doing and was watching out for our boy. And He was. Just look at the outcome: now, this future teacher is the most highly educated person in our family, the only one out of the five brothers and their parents with an advanced degree of any kind! He used to joke, at his own expense, that he was on the "seven-year plan" for finishing college. But you know, it doesn't matter how long it takes. Some things are worth the wait, and this is definitely one of them. My husband and I have no doubt that each and every event that led our son to take the path he took was part of God's grand plan for him. He left a far-away university he'd always wanted to attend and ended up at a school to which he'd once sworn he'd never go; yet it was at this university near home that his true destiny was fulfilled.

Deo gratias!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Plug for P90X

By now, you've probably seen the T.V. infomercial about Tony Horton's popular workout regimen called "P90X"--or you know a friend or 2 (or a dozen) who've tried it. If you've never heard of it and are looking for a way to get into amazingly good shape, you should give P90X a shot. It's a hard-core fitness program that uses something called "muscle confusion" to work all the different muscles of your body and get them into tip-top condition.

I know from the firsthand experience of watching my husband go through the program that it really works. I mean, look at the picture of him above. He's over 50, and check out those chiseled abs and pecs.

Oops, sorry. That's not my husband. That's a drawing that my youngest son did of Leonidas from the movie 300, as a cover illustration for his 8th grade research paper about the Battle of Thermopylae. (It could be my husband, however; the resemblance is uncanny.)

At the age of 50, my guy began the P90X program, and sure enough, within 90 days he'd lost about 20 pounds and was in better shape than he was at 30. Several years later, he continues to do P90X workouts on a daily basis (taking Sunday, the Lord's Day, off). His weight remains stable, he has more energy and stamina than ever, his blood pressure and pulse rate are really low, and his heart is strong and healthy. When he goes in for his regular flight physicals, his doctor says, "Whatever it is you're doing, keep doing it."

As long as you own a DVD player and a television, you don't need a lot of expensive equipment to follow the P90X program: just some hand weights, resistance bands, a pull-up bar (the kind that hooks onto a standard door frame will do the trick), and a yoga mat. You can cancel that gym membership, because you can do P90X in the privacy of your own living room--the ultimate "judgment-free zone."

Go to BeachBody.com and check it out. I can almost guarantee that if you follow this regimen religiously, you'll get in the best shape of your life! (And Tony Horton is not paying me to say that!)

It just occurred to me that you may be wondering: do I do P90X with my husband? Well, um...no. To be honest, I'm a bit intimidated by the intensity of it. But I found other products at BeachBody.com that suit me better: "Turbo Jam" and "Slim in 6." I recommend those, too, especially for women.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hans and Gretchen: They're a Couple of Characters

Okay, I need to start this off by apologizing to the menfolk in my family, because this is going to be a super-girly post about one of my favorite subjects: dolls. I know I put up a post about dolls not that long ago, "just the other day," as my mother is wont to say (May 14, "Thinking About Twins!"), so I should have gotten it out of my system with that one. But it wasn't enough, guys; it just wasn't enough. And I should get credit for my man-pleasing post about sports two days ago ("The Origins of Lacrosse"), shouldn't I? So I'm sorry, but you'll just have to bear with me on this one.

When I was taking doll classes years ago, I became very interested in antique German dolls known as "character dolls," which made their first appearance in 1908 at a doll exhibition in Munich. At the time they caused quite a stir, because they weren't like the "pretty" porcelain-headed dolls that had been produced in France and Germany during the 19th century. Those idealized doll faces, though beautiful, were more mask-like and stylized, with small mouths and enormous glass eyes; they all looked about the same, and were meant to illustrate the ultimate in feminine beauty. The dolls that shocked the world at the Munich exhibition presented human faces with more truth and realism. Their facial features more closely resembled those of real humans (warts and all, if you will). At first, these newfangled dolls were called "art dolls," but eventually they came to be known as "character dolls."

My dollmaking teacher had hundreds of molds for us to choose from, and she had many of the character doll molds. Real antique doll heads were used to create the molds from which reproductions can be made, which makes reproduction heads slightly larger than the originals. Even though a doll expert would be able to tell the difference between a copy and the real deal, when using an antique reproduction mold a modern dollmaker is required to carve her initials into the greenware of the doll's head before it is fired into porcelain; that way, she is unable to to try to pass off her doll as an original antique and sell it for much more than it is worth.

I have two favorites among the German character dolls: one is J. D. Kestner's "Hilda" (she can be seen modeling christening dresses in my April 7 post, "Making Christening Dresses, Part 2"); and the other is Kammer & Rhinehardt's "Hans/Gretchen" (using the same mold, the doll can be made as either a boy or a girl).

I have posted a picture of true antique versions of Hans and Gretchen, from a book called Rare Character Dolls by Maree Tarnowska. I have also posted a picture of the reproductions of Hans and Gretchen that I made in my doll class (the pair of blonds dressed in red and black). I tried to dress my little sweeties in antique fashion; some of the fabrics used to make Gretchen's dress are indeed vintage, as are her genuine leather shoes. Her wig is made of mohair, which is what the old dolls had, rather than synthetic fibers. I think my little doll couple looks very sweet, and I love them both; but I also think there's nothing like the real thing. There's just something about truly old dolls, ones that have been around for 100 years or more and have been passed down from generation to generation, that can't be duplicated. But since authentic antique dolls are prohibitively expensive (at least for this doll enthusiast), making reproductions is a great way to enjoy the beauty of such dolls without the cost.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting All Blogged Down

I have been trying to figure out what exactly is so addictive about blogging. Ever since I began this blog several months ago, sitting down to write a daily post has been a treat I look forward to every morning, along with my first cup of coffee. I don't really feel like I've started my day until it's done.

Weird, huh?

I've talked to my daughter-in-law (herself a veteran blogger) about this, asking her why she thought it was such an addictive habit; and once she answered simply, "It's fun." That is so true--it really is fun! Another time when we were talking about it, she said she thought she liked to do it because she got enjoyment out of putting together a good sentence. When she said that, I thought, "Bingo!" I get the hugest sense of fulfillment out of putting thoughts down in writing, then editing them and re-working them until they convey just what I want to say in the best way I can figure out how to say it.

This love of the written word goes back to my college days. I began as a biology major in the fall of 1976; but by the end of my first semester, I realized I'd made a HUGE mistake (any "Arrested Development" fans out there?) and switched to English, because I knew it was the subject I would most enjoy studying. The fact that I couldn't wrap my brain around chemistry played into the decision, too, if I'm being honest. Either way, it was a good move for me. I was definitely a right-brainer, more at home writing papers than working out mathematical equations. I enjoyed the satisfaction I'd get when I'd labored over a paper and polished it up to the point where I felt it was ready to pass in to my professor. In those days, that often meant revising and re-typing a paper five, six, seven times before I was happy with it (how I would have loved to have a word processor--but alas, this was the Stone Age!); yet I never tired of slogging away at it until I thought I'd expressed my thoughts as well as I possibly could. I actually loved writing papers, which my husband--who was at the time my boyfriend, and was majoring in metallurgical engineering--couldn't relate to at all. My senior year, one English professor offered my class a choice at finals time: writing a 20-page paper that we could work on ahead of time and pass in on exam day, or taking the traditional blue book exam. I was shocked that I was the only one in the class who chose writing a paper over taking a test, but my left-brained boyfriend thought I was a lunatic!

So blogging gets those writing juices going and gives me the opportunity to, as my daughter-in-law so aptly put it, put together a good sentence (I hope, anyway). It also gives a frustrated novelist, a category into which so many former English majors certainly must fall, an opportunity to write something up, push the "publish" button, and see it magically appear on the computer screen, looking all professional--to live out the fantasy of being a published author.

I also love that blogging gives me the opportunity to tell stories that will amuse my family, and to create a written record of some of our family history. And it's a great forum for a shy, none-too-confident person (who's not much for speaking up in a crowd) to express herself. But I think that, above all, I blog for one simple reason: it's fun.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Origins of Lacrosse

Last week on the sidelines of my youngest son's lacrosse game, one of the moms commented, "This game is so much fun to watch. I wonder who came up with it." I was thrilled to be able to tell her that it was actually an American sport; that it was North America's very own game, originally played by the Native Americans. She was surprised. "I thought it was probably British, some kind of variation of cricket or polo or something," she said. Nope! This side of the pond gets all the credit on this one!

I'm so proud that lacrosse is all ours, because to me, it is probably the most exciting sport to watch--even more exciting than football. This game, called by some the "fastest game on two feet," requires tremendous athleticism: a combination of speed, quickness, strength, field sense, and stick skills. And I may be a bit crazy, but I even like how incredibly cool the players look in their lax gear. Take a gander at this picture of my son and two of his teammates heading down to the field; they really do call to mind warriors going into battle, carrying their sticks like weapons. (Although I'm not condoning using them as such, and not just because it'll land a player in the penalty box; those metal shafts could be lethal if used incorrectly.) I mean, these modern-day players may not look quite as fearsome as their Native American counterparts, but they definitely have the intimidation factor going on.

The game has sure changed since its early days. When the Native Americans played it, lacrosse involved two villages competing against one another, with 60 or more players jockeying for position on a ten-acre field to get possession of one small wooden ball. Field size could vary, depending on the number of participants, and at times exceeded a mile! That's a lot of running--and a testament to the athleticism of the Native American laxers. And I don't think they rotated their middie lines to give players a rest! One game could last for days, and fights for ball possession could erupt into full-scale wrestling matches (which are definitely not kosher in today's version of the game); and I think I read somewhere that lacrosse was sometimes played with a rock rather than a ball, that it was used as practice to prepare for actual battles, and that it was not unheard of to have game participants die in the heat of the contest.

Though fundamentally similar from one tribe to the next, the game was known by many names that ranged in meaning from "little war" to "hit a ball." It was also known as the "Creator's Game." In the 17th century, a French missionary witnessed Hurons playing the game and he dubbed it "lacrosse"--which was a term generally used by the French for any sport that involved a curved stick, including golf and hockey--for the first time in print. The name stuck.

In the middle of the 19th century, Mohawks played a game of lacrosse against whites in Montrael, in the first-ever game between Native Americans and European settlers. White involvement changed the game over time: strategic passing and catching replaced raw athleticism and indiviual efforts; sticks had tighter pockets for easier, more accurate throwing; shorter fields favored a passing game over the Natives' running ability. The game continued to evolve into the modern version we have today.

"The Native American's 'war paint' has become our eye black. The wooden stick outfitted with eagle quills and white horsehair has become a plastic, titanium, and nylon explosion of engineering."* The field is smaller these days, and there are only 20 players on the field at one time. But lacrosse is still a game for brave warriors, and it's one of the most thrilling and entertaining sports you'll ever watch.

*(This quote and other details courtesy of a book called Lacrosse, North America's Game, presented by Inside Lacrosse)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's the Circle of Life!

I decided to start posting larger pictures. The ones I've been putting up lately are sort of small, and you have to click on them to see them well. I regret not posting a larger one two days ago of my statue of Our Lady of Fatima, because it is so very lovely.

Here's a great photo (nice and large, too) of my #3 son, re-enacting that famous scene from "The Lion King," where Rafiki, standing on Pride Rock, holds up baby Simba. My son went on a camping trip when he was out in AZ last summer, along with my niece (who was attending the same Army training school as he) and a couple of their Army buddies. They were in this place that had these amazing rock formations, and when they came upon this majestic rock they thought it looked just like the one from the Disney movie. My son had the forethought to pose on it, both empty-handed and holding up a backpack, planning that Simba would be photo-shopped in later. Isn't he a creative son of a gun?

I can't begin to count how many times that "Lion King" videotape was played in this house, and how many times my husband lifted up my youngest son, then an infant, just so when it came to this part! That little guy lived and breathed "The Lion King." For about two years of his life, my baby walked around clutching a plastic "Scar" figurine in each hand, courtesy of MacDonald's Happy Meals (I know there's a group trying to outlaw Happy Meal toys, but I'm not in their camp). He doesn't do that anymore, but he--and his brothers--still have enough kid in them that they love the movie, and even now will watch it from time to time.

Looking at this photo brings back so many happy memories. (In fact, I'm feeling a bit verklempt. Tawk amongst yourselves. Happy Meal toys--yea or nay: discuss.)

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Rip-Roaring Good Read

If you're in the mood to read a great love story, I recommend Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, by Ree Drummond.

A few months before I started this blog, I read about Drummond in Ladies' Home Journal, and at the bottom of the article it mentioned that she also had a blog, http://www.thepioneerwoman.com/. I thought she sounded interesting and I liked her style--witty, wry, self-deprecating; I was intrigued, so I checked out her blog and was instantly hooked. Before I went on the Pioneer Woman website, I had only read one blog in my entire life--my daughter-in-law's; now, suddenly, I was a follower of not one blog, but two! (The computer was no longer my enemy and I was coming into the 21st century, finally.)

Ree Drummond started her award-winning blog in 2006. On it, she posts stories about her family and daily life on their cattle ranch, she shares awesome recipes (that use lots of butter!), and she showcases samples of her photography. When she talks about the goings-on at the ranch with her husband and four kids, she can be so hilarious that I have found myself sitting at my computer, all alone but laughing out loud (LOL, as the young whippersnappers are saying these days). Ree Drummond's website has a huge following, and she's become quite famous; she's appeared on television shows and published not only this book, but a cookbook and a children's book as well.

Black Heels to Tractor Wheels is the true story of how Drummond met and fell in love with her husband, whom she refers to as "Marlboro Man." She says she woke up one day with writer's block and had no idea what to post on her blog, so she decided to tell the story of the night she (an avowed city girl) met her future husband (a cowboy/rancher) in a bar. Although an unlikely match, sparks flew! Her followers loved it so much that they clamored for more, and she continued to write about their funny, passion-filled (but PG-rated, I assure you) courtship in installments until she had the makings of a book, which just came out this year.

This is one of the most enjoyable reads I've had in a while! Ree Drummond calls her love story "a romance novel, an old Broadway musical, and a John Wayne western rolled into one." She is such a wonderful writer, I could hardly put her book down once I'd started it.

On the back of the book jacket, one reader gave it this tribute: "The best romance since Gone with the Wind." Another said, "One word: swoon." Drummond herself, in her typical humorous fashion, describes it thus: "It's the story of a cowboy. And Wranglers. And chaps. And the girl who fell in love with them."

So grab a cup of coffee and your favorite bookmark (the one in the picture is courtesy of my youngest son, a precious Mother's Day gift that he made for me with his own two little hands in 1st grade in 2000), curl up on the couch, and dive into Black Heels to Tractor Wheels. I think you'll enjoy the ride!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Veneration of Holy Images

I find it so uplifting and inspiring to look at holy pictures and statues, and we have many of them around our house. Here is one of my favorites. It is an Italian-made plaster statue of Our Lady of Fatima, which was bought for me as a gift by my #4 son many years ago, when he was just a little boy, at a garage sale fundraiser at our Catholic elementary school. He only paid $1.00 for it, but this statue is priceless to me. It was dirty and chipped and in need of some TLC when my son gave it to me, but I painstakingly restored it to its original beauty; I repainted it and even bought some gold leaf to touch up the Rosary hanging from Our Lady's belt and the decorations that adorn Her white gown. There is something so sweet and beautiful about this statue, especially the serene expression on Mary's face. I love to look at it.

The veneration of holy statues and images--of Our Lord, Our Blessed Mother, and the saints--is as old as Christianity itself, but many people don't understand the Catholic use of such imagery. Non-Catholics sometimes accuse Catholics of "worshipping statues." A Protestant to whom I'm very close once actually said that to me, and I was completely unprepared to explain why my friend was wrong. I first got tongue-tied and then very defensive, and I didn't know how to tell him what I knew was the truth. I vowed that I would be better prepared to defend the practice of venerating holy images the next time the subject arose.

In a publication called The Fatima Crusader, I recently read an article that perfectly explains the reasons why Catholics venerate sacred statues and images. Here are some direct quotes from this article, titled "The Veneration of Images and Saints."

"The veneration of images answers a need of our human nature; we respect portraits of those whom we love or esteem; moreover it is the will of God that man, who lost true happiness for the sake of material things, should regain them by means of material things."

"The reverence we pay to the image of a saint is not paid to the picture or image itself, but to the individual it respresents; that is, to Christ, to Our Lady, or one of the saints."

"...in venerating images, we express our love for the person these images represent."

"It is not from the images themselves that we ask help, it is from God, through the intercession of Our Lady and the saints. None but the heathen imagine that there is any virtue or supernatural power in the image itself."

"While gazing upon an image we pray with greater recollection; images are steps whereby we ascend more easily in spirit to Heaven."

"They are also a constant admonition to us; either by placing vividly before us one of the truths of religion, or exhorting us to imitate the example of the saint."

"The work of the artist does indeed often prove to be more influential than the words of the preacher, for the impressions we receive through the ear have less impact upon the mind than those which we receive through the eye."

I could quote the entire article, but those are the main points. And all of this would apply, too, when answering the question, "Why are Catholic churches decorated so ornately? Isn't it a waste of money?" No! Because when a church is beautifully decorated, and adorned with eye-pleasing holy statues and images, it helps those gathered in it to "ascend more easily in spirit to Heaven."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thinking About Twins!

My daughter-in-law has almost reached the 34-week benchmark, and it is dawning on my husband and me that it won't be long before we become grandparents to twin babies!! We are so excited and thrilled, and dying to know a few things: whether they're two boys or two girls; whether they're fraternal or identical; what their names are going to be; if they have my daughter-in-law's dark hair and large hazel eyes or my son's blond hair and smaller blue eyes--or some wonderful blending of their parents' features. I can tell you this: even in the sonogram pictures, they have the cutest noses and mouths! We can hardly wait to meet them.

So I've got twins on the brain these days, and I thought I'd show you my darling pair of newborn porcelain baby dolls. I suppose you'd have to say they're fraternal twins, because they look nothing alike. I made these dolls about 15 years ago, when I was taking a weekly porcelain dollmaking class with a small group of women. The teacher had a whole room filled with molds for making both antique reproductions and modern dolls, and we could choose whichever ones we wanted. She would pour the liquid clay into the molds, then we would carefully clean and smooth the dried and hardened, but still delicate and breakable, doll parts. The parts were fired in a kiln and turned to porcelain; we would paint the porcelain pieces and then they would be fired again to make the painting we'd done permanent. After that, we constructed the soft bodies and attached our heads, hands, and legs to them. Then came wigs and eyes, unless the eyes were hand-painted. And finally, we dressed our little darlings. This class was so much fun for me, because I adore dolls. And yes, I have 5 sons and no daughters; so needless to say, if those twin grandbabies are girls, Grandma is going to give them dolls for Christmas!

The doll on the left is the first doll I ever made. She's called "Sugar Britches" and she was modeled by modern doll artist Boots Tyner. (Don't look at me--I didn't name her! And I'm not sure which name is more bizarre: Sugar Britches or Boots Tyner.) She probably has a bit too much hair for a newborn, but her features are very realistic; and the way her body is weighted, when you hold her, you feel like you're holding a real newborn--floppy head and all.

The one on the right is a reproduction of an antique doll called "Bye-Lo Baby." This doll was designed in 1925 by an American woman named Grace Storey Putnam; she visited a hospital and modeled the face after a three-day-old infant she saw in the nursery. At the time, most baby dolls had a very idealized look, so the Bye-Lo Baby caused quite a sensation because of how realistic-looking it was. When it was introduced, it was an instant best-seller and became one of the most popular dolls ever made. Bye-Lo Babies were made of both composition and porcelain bisque, and they had either painted or glass eyes. (I wish I'd hand-painted the eyes on mine, because I'm not that crazy about how it looks with glass eyes.)

Both babies are dressed in antique baby dresses, which were given to me by my neighbor's mother (a fellow doll and antiques enthusiast).

I think my two babies, my little twin newborns, look awfully sweet together. Looking at them just makes me that much more anxious for the real thing--a pair of living dolls. Please pray for my daughter-in-law and her two little angels as the big day approaches.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Message of Fatima

I was so disappointed this morning that eBlogger was on the fritz, because this, to me, was such an important date on which to post something: the anniversary of Mary's first apparition at Fatima. Of course, I have been able to set up this blog and publish a post on it every day for free, so I guess I really shouldn't complain about the interruption in service! It was strange not starting out my day by writing a post while enjoying my morning coffee (a routine I have come to really enjoy), but I survived. I'm just glad they got everything working in time for me to post something before the day was over.

This is the anniversary of an event with enormous importance for mankind--indeed, an event with the power to change the world. On this date in 1917, Our Blessed Mother first appeared to the three humble Portuguese shepherd children, Jacinta and Francisco Marto and Lucia Santos, at Fatima. Mary told these little seers:

"Say the Rosary every day to bring peace to the world and the end of war."

If only people had heeded Her message!

The story of Fatima is truly awesome. If you haven't read about it, do; it might change your life. Here are some links in case you're interested: http://www.theotokos.org.uk/pages/approved/appariti/fatima.html; http://www.theotokos.org.uk/pages/approved/words/wordfati.html.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Miscellaneous Irish Stuff

This is a picture of one of my beautiful nieces on my husband's side. She's a junior in college doing a semester abroad, and she's having the time of her life. Doesn't she just have the map of Ireland on her face? And she is, in fact, IN IRELAND, as we speak--the lucky thing! Here she is perched precariously close to the edge on the Cliffs of Moher (which apparently are in the running to become the eighth wonder of the world). I can't decide which is more breathtaking: this lovely blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked lass, or the heartbreakingly beautiful scenery in the background!

In the Pearl clan, there's a magical aura about the Emerald Isle. My mother-in-law's father was an Irish immigrant who left his homeland at 19 and never made it back there. Many members of our large extended Pearl family have made the pilgrimmage to the old sod, and those of us who haven't been to Ireland yet dream about doing so one day.

And speaking of things Irish, I just saw this Irish Proverb in a catalog filled with Irish-themed gifts, and I thought I'd share it:


I especially like the dot-dot-dot: the pause that allows the author of this pithy wee bit of Irish wisdom to come up with just the right noun to complete his thought. One might argue whether or not it's a privilege to experience the ravages of time on one's body, but...I'm going to try to remember this proverb whenever I look in the mirror, get bummed out, and wonder, "Who is that saggy-skinned old lady with the crows' feet and varicose veins?" I've got to try to adopt my late father-in-law's outlook (he, too, was a wise Irishman): for each year older that I get, I get one year closer to 70...and free skiing at any ski resort in the U.S.!

I guess growing old gracefully is all about attitude. So let's drink to that. Slainte!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Remembering Papa

I feel terrible that on May 9, my late father-in-law's birthday, I didn't remember to dedicate my blog to him. Dad died in 2003 at the age of 75. He was one of the most wonderful people I've ever known.

Dad had a great life, and during his last 10 years or so he would often talk, with tears in his eyes, about how blessed and happy he and Mom were and how much they loved their family. He would also say that he hoped he'd die quickly, either on the golf course or on the ski slopes. He pretty much got his wish. Dad was playing golf with some friends one September day, finished 9 holes and didn't feel well, went home, had my mother-in-law drive him to the hospital, and was gone within 48 hours. He'd had an aortic aneurism that had burst; he survived the surgery but never recovered from it, and his heart gave out under the strain. Before he went into surgery, Dad received Last Rites from a priest and gave the love of his life a kiss. As sad as we were to lose him, those of us who loved him can't help but be comforted by the holiness of his death.

Dad was the only person I ever knew who said he couldn't wait to turn 70. Why? Because when you're 70, you can ski anywhere in the U.S. for free! Talk about embracing your age and making the best of it. He had such a great attitude about life.

Dad was also the only person I ever knew who said, "I love to hear the sound of a baby crying in the house." By the time he died, he had 26 grandchildren, and he was never happier than when a whole bunch of them were in his house at once--even if they were all crying at the top of their lungs.

My father-in-law had some accomplishments of which he was very proud: having graduated from the University of Notre Dame; having had an exciting career as a Navy fighter pilot in the waning days of the Korean War; having raised eight exceptional children and watching them become eight exceptional adults. But the thing he was most proud of, I think, was being a Papa to his grandchildren. And they adored him.

When Dad died, hundreds of people came to the wake, and it was an eye-opener for my husband. He said, "I always knew what a great father he was, and that I was lucky to have him. But I never knew how many other people he'd touched." There were even some men with whom my husband had grown up who said, "He was like a father to me--more of a father than my own father." Truly, fatherhood was Dad's vocation.

Since the death of his mother in 2009, my husband has commented on more than one occasion that though they weren't perfect people (because no human being can be), his parents were "perfect parents." What a great tribute to them both.

So here's a belated Happy Birthday to Papa, a great man who lived a full and blessed life. We all miss you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Party Crashing

Last week, my youngest son received a prestigious Scholar-Athlete Award from the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame. He and 28 other scholar-athletes from around our state were feted at a fancy gala: the party included a cocktail hour and sit-down dinner, followed by several guest speakers; and then minute-long speeches were given by each of the fine young men who were being honored that night. It was a lovely event, and we were quite proud of our baby boy, who has worked hard throughout his high school career and deserves all the accolades he's receiving now.

This was a pretty swanky affair; I had on a beautiful red suit, the one I wore for my oldest son's rehearsal dinner, and black high heels. I looked like a real grown-up lady, or at least I like to think I did. But the story I'm about to tell proves that you can dress me up, but you can't take me out.

Before the dinner got underway, a professional photographer took photos of each of the award winners individually, and then he took one of the whole group. Moms were invited to take pictures, as long as they waited their turn so that the flashes from the cameras of the amateurs wouldn't interfere with what the professional was doing. Never one to miss a photo op, I made my way with the other eager moms into a cordoned-off space in the back of the hall, a space that was very crowded with not only the boys who were having their photos taken, but also a bunch of round tables and chairs. Several movable "walls," made out of wooden latticework, were set up around the perimeter of the area where the photos were being taken (although I didn't really take much notice of them).

After I'd gotten the shots I wanted of my MVP, I was trying to scoot discreetly around the veritable obstacle course of people, tables and chairs that stood between me and the main dining room, and I accidentally leaned back into one of the movable wall units (which, in my peripheral vision, had looked like a solid wall) and began to fall backward, reaching out on my way down for another movable wall unit and pushing it out of position in the process. I crashed down--hard--landing right on my derriere. Looking back, it felt as if I'd been doing one of those trust exercises and the person who was supposed to catch me had deserted me, leaving me to free-fall into space. My elbow and hind parts were throbbing, my skirt was hiked halfway up my thighs, and my face was a shade or two darker than my suit. I wasn't really hurt, but I was mortified! To make matters worse, I found that I didn't have the strength to get up on my own, and some moms reached down to give me a hand. One of them said, "Don't worry, the boys didn't see anything." But afterward, I asked my son if he'd seen, and he said, "Um, yeah. I heard the commotion going on over there, and one of the guys next to me joked, 'Well, football is a contact sport.' [Let me interject here: that kid was pretty clever. Okay, my son's narrative continues now.] Then I saw you being helped to your feet and I thought, 'Oh, no.'"

My son had a sort of indulgently amused look on his face to go along with the "Oh, no." I guess it's lucky for me that he's not easily embarrassed, even by his uncoordinated mother.

Pratfalls in movies usually make me laugh, and laugh hard. I always thought that in her early movies, Goldie Hawn was so adorably goofy and klutzy; but somehow when Goldie Hawn moments happen in real life, they're not all that cute! And it seems like they happen to me more often than they should. I'm going to blame it on an inner ear imbalance that has yet to be diagnosed.

I tried not to let my unfortunate little episode ruin a perfectly good evening, and it didn't. When I returned to the table, bruised but otherwise okay, and told my husband, my older son, and our football coach's wife what had happened, I couldn't stop laughing. And later on, when my son gave his short acceptance speech, I had everything I could do to keep from crying.

Monday, May 9, 2011

My New Hat!

I got this adorable hat as a Mother's Day gift from my oldest son and his wife. I broke it in right away by wearing it to Mass that day.

My daughter-in-law had asked me a little while ago for a head measurement, and I thought, "Hmmm...wonder what she needs that for." I couldn't help but guess that perhaps she was thinking of getting me something to wear on my head. (My husband said, teasingly, "You think?") She told me that when the package came, it was up to me if I wanted to open it early or wait 'til Mother's Day.

It came, and I brought it up to my bedroom and put it on my dresser; because if it had been downstairs I would have passed it too often, and it would have been calling me, enticing me, like a siren's song: "Open me. Come on, you know you want to open me." (I did!) The curiosity was killing me, but I wanted to prove to myself that I had some will power. The package was definitely safer tucked away upstairs.

Still, I picked that large padded envelope up several times in the days leading up to Mother's Day and thought, "They won't mind if I open it early. They said I could." But I fought the little devil on my shoulder and walked away each time--though it wasn't easy.

On Saturday night, I had fallen asleep on the couch and then woke up to watch a little bit of "Saturday Night Live" with two of my boys (my husband was away on a trip), and by the time I went up to my room, it was after midnight. "Technically," I told myself, "it is Mother's Day now." So I excitedly opened up my package, and this lovely boiled wool cloche hat is what I found. I absolutely love it! And what's not to love? It's got sort of a vintage look about it, it's beautifully made, it sits comfortably on your head and doesn't leave you with "hat head," and it's embellished with a shiny golden doodad and cotton fabric in a striking blue and gold print (Notre Dame colors!). It's just perfect. And it's even lined with the same fabric inside, which is great because I tend to get a bit itchy when wool is right against my skin.

Getting a gift that you really like is such a treat; but it's even more of a treat when you realize how thoughtful the giver is in trying to find exactly the sort of thing that would make you happy, something you might never find on your own. This knit hat made me feel very special on Mother's Day.

(If you like my awesome new hat, it's from a small Nebraska company called Tweedz. Check them out on-line; they have lots of neat designs.)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day!

I want to wish a HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY to all the moms out there, but especially to my own mom. She had 5 kids in 6 years, all by the age of 27. And she retained her sanity. (All teasing aside, she really did!) You're a role model, Mom, and we love you. Thanks so much for everything.

I also want to give a special nod to my daughter-in-law; she is carrying twin babies who will make their appearance pretty soon. Every time she sends sonogram pictures of them, I am filled with awe and wonder that this miracle is taking place within her.

I love that saying, "God couldn't be everywhere, so He created mothers." I also love Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty's tribute to mothers that I posted earlier. (If you want to read it, go to "The Most Important Person," March 7; it's quite beautiful.) There is nothing I will ever do in life that will mean more to me than having had the opportunity to be a mother.

So, all you moms out there: enjoy the handmade construction paper cards with "I Love You" scrawled in crayon, the flowers, the breakfast in bed, the nice brunch out with your family--or whatever treat your loved ones have planned to honor you today. You deserve it.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Trash to Treasure (Making Ornaments out of Metal Lids)

I have gotten into the habit of saving the lids from frozen juice containers and turning them into Christmas tree ornaments. If you want an inexpensive and easy little craft project (and you love Christmas ornaments as much as I do), here's all you need to do:

Take one clean lid. Cut a photo into a circle that will fit inside the lip of the lid (or in lieu of a photo, an illustration cut from a greeting card or any other little piece of artwork you'd like), then glue it onto the lid using a hot glue gun (for quick results) or Aileen's Tacky Glue (if you don't mind waiting for the glue to dry and/or have a tendency to burn yourself using a hot glue gun, like someone I know). For this ornament, I used an adorable picture of my son's dog Allie wearing reindeer antlers. Soon, I'll have photos of my soon-to-be-born twin grandchildren that I will use, but for now Allie will have to do. (If you want to see a close-up, click the photo twice to enlarge it--it's really very cute!)

To hide the edges of the photo, glue faux pearls or plastic beads (you can find them at any craft store) around the border to look like a wreath. Then make a ribbon bow and attach that. To make the hanger, hot glue a loop of ribbon onto the back, and voila!

I know it's only May, but I think any time is a good time to make a Christmas ornament. And even if you're not in the mood now, you can start saving the lids to use later on.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Neither Rhett Nor Ashley Is the Real Deal

Well, yesterday I posted a picture of my husband and me in cartoon form, and today I decided to post the real us. I haven't been all that anxious to post a lot of pictures of my family on this blog, for reasons of privacy; but then I realized that far less people see this than they do our Facebook page, and there are tons of pictures posted on there--so what the heck, I'm posting it. I thought I'd do it in black and white, trying for that old-time glamour (one of my first posts back in March was about how I love the glamour of black and white portrait photos from the 40's and 50's), but I don't know...I look about as nerdy in black and white as I do in color. All I need is some white tape on the bridge of my glasses to complete the look. My husband, on the other hand, looks like a movie star to me. John Wayne, move over. (I'm pretty sure he was the only one in Fenway Park that day sporting a ten-gallon hat.) My husband is everything I would ever want in a man, and somehow I got him! Forget Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, or Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, or Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff, or Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler; I adore a good love story as much as the next girl, but my favorite love story of all time is my own, the one about the two characters in the picture above.

Okay, I'll take a quick breather here to apologize to my boys, several of whom are probably pretending they're about to throw up, a la Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber. Moving on now.

I recently re-read a favorite book from my youth, Gone with the Wind, which I hadn't read in about 30 years. If you haven't read it and you love not only a gripping will-they-or-won't-they love story, but Civil War history as well, I highly recommend it. As Southern writer Pat Conroy says in the Preface, "I know of no other thousand-page book that reads so swiftly and grants such pleasure." It's true; I've tried to read Les Miserables--a book of similar length--twice, but found I just could not get through it. This book, on the other hand, is such a page-turner that you'll be amazed how quickly you come to the end. And if you're anything like me, when you're finished, it only leaves you wanting more!

In an earlier post ("Gone with the Wind, Revisited," March 18), I said that when I first read this book, I'd already seen the movie and so as I was reading, whenever I tried to envision Scarlett, she was Vivien Leigh; and when I envisioned Rhett, he was Clark Gable. That might have been true in 7th grade, but that was not the case this time. The wonderful thing about books is that just enough details about appearance are given that the reader can conjure up his own mental picture, and this is definitely what happened with me on this go-around. (As good as Gable was, my Rhett Butler was even better!) The other great thing is that when reading a book, one is able to get inside the heads of the characters and know what they're thinking--and although Leigh and Gable did an admirable job of embodying two of literature's most iconic characters, there is no way to really get a handle on them and the things that drove them to act the way they acted unless you read Margaret Mitchell's masterpiece. I still love the movie, but in my opinion, the book has it beat by a mile.

In the Preface, Pat Conroy says that his mother, a Southern belle who married a macho marine fighter pilot from the North, used to argue with her husband about the book. "I hate Ashley Wilkes," Conroy's father would say. "The guy's a pansy if I've ever seen one. Of course, Rhett Butler's a pansy next to me." And Conroy's mother would insist, "No matter what girls say, they'd much rather marry a man like Ashley Wilkes than Rhett Butler." I have to disagree with Conroy's mother on this one (after all, she herself married a man a lot more like Rhett than Ashley!). Ashley Wilkes is a man who may seem "honorable" because he never cheats on his wife; but he commits adultery in his heart by lusting after Scarlett and stringing her along for years, giving her the impression that she's the one he really loves. Rhett is a hard-living man: a drinker, a gambler, a ruthless and ethics-challenged businessman, a womanizer--definitely no saint; but in his way, he has more honor than Ashley. It's his pride that's his Achilles heel--that's what keeps him from revealing his true feelings to Scarlett. He's too afraid of opening himself up and being rebuffed by her. And Scarlett is not only ignorant of what love truly is, but she's too proud, too, and leaves important things unsaid. And so the two of them spend their lives at "cross purposes," to quote Rhett. This book can drive you crazy, it's so frustrating; if either one of them would ever let down his guard, they might have been happy together!

If you haven't read Gone with the Wind, you might want to give it a go. You will definitely be entertained.

And if you're female and you do read it, I'd be interested to know: whom would you pick--Ashley or Rhett? I know my answer: I would have to choose Rhett Butler, for although he's no Boy Scout, he has many of the qualities I love in my husband. Rhett's all man--a strong, brave, take-charge guy, someone you can count on in any crisis; but he can be so tender when the situation calls for it, and he has a soft spot for those who are vulnerable, especially children. These are all things that I love about the guy in the cowboy hat in this picture. He's got all of Rhett Butler's good qualities (and then some) and none of the bad! He's the whole package, the real deal. As I've said before, he's my hero.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cartoon Couple

Awhile back, I posted a drawing of my 5 boys rendered in pen and colored pencils by my fourth son ("My Pearls of Great Price," March 30). Our whole family has long thought that this boy is such a talented artist and cartoonist, someday we might actually be seeing his name in the funny papers. He is always drawing these original, zany characters that spring from an uber-creative brain, a quick wit, and a somewhat--how to put it?--off-beat sense of humor. (He also has a way of turning a phrase that makes people LOL; I use the term "uber," one of his go-to adverbs, in honor of him.)

This is a cartoon he did of my husband and me a few years ago. He's captured my husband's caricature-worthy features to a T: the Dudley Do Right chin; the prominent space between his two front teeth; the black Converse "Chuck Taylor" sneakers that have been the only footwear he's ever worn (unless the occasion requires something dressier) since I started dating him back in the early 70's; the Western-style jacket with the "sheepskin" lining; and finally, the piece de resistance, the cowboy hat--not exactly a typical wardrobe item in our New England town, but something he never leaves home without. My husband thinks being a rancher would be the coolest thing in the world--if he knew anything about running a ranch. Actually he thinks it would be cool to own a ranch and let someone else run it, and then he could just ride around on a horse wearing a cowboy hat, surveying his land. (His boys have called him a few things on account of the cowboy gear, including "a poser" and "the Under-Armor Cowboy.")

I don't have as many interesting features to spotlight as my adorable hubby, aside from my boring and ridiculous hair-do (should 50-plus women still be wearing headbands?), which hasn't changed in decades. But I do like the way my son has drawn me, for several reasons:

1) Some artistic license was taken so that it appears I'm very slim and have almost no hips. (Guess who's my favorite?)

2) My son decided to give me nice round eyes; the truth is that if I'm smiling at all, my eyes are reduced to nothing more than slits.

3) He's drawn me cradling--practically caressing--a steaming cup of coffee. And my ever-present coffee cup is as much a part of me as my husband's Chucks and cowboy hat are a part of him!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mary's Life Is An Example

(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I read this article, "Mary's 'Hidden Life' Is An Example for Mothers," in a Catholic newspaper called The Wanderer years ago, and I decided to laminate the beginning portion of it and put it up on my fridge as a daily reminder to myself that the job of wife/mother/homemaker is a truly worthy one. Our Blessed Mother was a stay-at-home mother, after all, and so I can look to Her as a role model.

And yes, I do like to laminate things, as you may have noticed if you've been reading this blog. I keep a huge package of self-laminating sheets on hand at all times.

But back to the subject at hand: Mary, and the example She sets.  As the Holy Father, JPII, said,  "Mary's example enlightens and encourages the experience of so many women who carry out their daily tasks exclusively in the home...It is a question of a humble, hidden, repetitive effort, [and] seen as a mission of service and love, it is of extraordinary value in the Lord's eyes."

Some days, when I'm exhausted and I feel like I'm performing the same dreary tasks over and over (grocery shopping, folding and putting away load after load of laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, scrubbing toilets and showers, cooking, vacuuming, running my car from one end of town to the other like a taxicab--if you work exclusively in the home, you know the drill), I start to feel a wee bit sorry for myself and wonder if anyone even notices or appreciates all that I do. Which is really pathetic, because I know they do, whether they say it or not (and actually, my husband voices his appreciation quite often). But still, I sometimes feel like I'm Cinderella, and everyone else is going to the ball but me! At those times, this clipping reminds me that my "mission of service" to my family is one of great value, and it gives me inspiration to keep carrying out those "humble, hidden, repetitive" tasks with a happy heart, in imitation of Our Blessed Mother.

This clipping is just the intro to a long article, but its words, quoted from Pope John Paul II, resonate with me and make me proud of my job. I wanted to share them with other women who, like me, are sometimes made to feel like they aren't contributing enough to the world by working only in the home. Besides, and most importantly, I thought this was a good time to focus on Mary, as May is a month dedicated to Her.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mom's Valuable Player 2 (The Sequel)

This is my youngest son at his lacrosse game yesterday. By the way, his team won 8-4 (and he got an assist--which is no big deal for the short sticks, but a pretty big deal for a defenseman).

My fourth son was already in college before this son even started high school, so throughout his high school playing days, he hasn't had to share Mom's Valuable Player status with anyone else. When the others were in high school, I sometimes had 2 or 3 MVP's out on the field at one time; but for the past 4 years, it's been all about my baby.

I love taking pictures at football and lacrosse games. Everything happens so fast, though, that I often miss the big moments. When by some miracle I do manage to get a decent picture, it's very satisfying. I like this shot. If you click on it to enlarge it, you can clearly see the expression on my son's face. (In the top lefthand corner of the picture, you can also see my husband, the team's defense coach, in his signature black Chuck Taylors with the laces untied.)

In a month, this son graduates from high school and the era of watching our kids play sports will come to an end for my husband and me. That makes me a little misty-eyed. After all, that has been a huge part of our life for many years. Ah well, your kids have to grow up and move on; there's no stopping it. But for the rest of this lacrosse season, I'm going to snap away and get as many pictures as I can!