Monday, June 27, 2011

I'm Becoming a Jet-setter

I'm leavin' on a jet plane...I know when I'll be back again. I'll be back on Thursday.

I'm going out to the Midwest again to visit my granddaughters and their mommy. Those three girls of mine are turning me into a jet-setter! I can't wait to see them! But you know how much I love to keep me (and my pilot and my plane) in your prayers! Thanks!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

One Last Hurrah

Back on June 2 (the same day our twin granddaughters were born), our son's high school lacrosse team lost in the quarterfinals of the play-offs, and I was lamenting the end of the long and wonderful era of cheering on my sons from the sidelines. High school sports were over for our family, forever, and that made me a bit sad.

Well, yesterday we got one last hurrah, one last opportunity to watch our youngest play lacrosse. He was chosen, along with 29 other boys from around our state, to play in a game called the "Twin State All-Star Lacrosse Game." We traveled about 2 hours to watch him compete in a game against top players from a state that borders ours. He played extremely well (in the picture, he's the one in the red jersey); but what was even more satisfying to watch was how he embraced his new team as if he'd been playing with them for ages. They had a 1 hour and 15 minute practice session in preparation for the game; then they ate lunch, watched a girls' high school all-star lacrosse game, and had a team photo taken. Beyond that, they had only a 1/2 hour warm-up before game time. There wasn't much of a chance to really get to know each other. Some of the players had teammates from their high schools there with them, but our son was the only one from his team. He was acquainted with a couple of the guys from his youth lacrosse days, but he really didn't know anyone there all that well. If I'd been in his cleats, I'd have felt so shy and out of place. Not him. He was talking to his teammates as if he'd been able to spend a lot of time with them, and fist-bumping with the goalie and the other defensemen whenever his team scored a goal. He's not an extrovert or anything, but he manages to feel comfortable in most settings. And this boy is nothing if not a team player.

Our state's all-stars beat the other state's, 13-10. Woo hoo! It was a really fun game to watch. But the most enjoyable thing of all was watching my youngest son show, for one last time, that it never matters to him if he has a good individual performance--because with him, it's all about the team. I am so very proud of this boy!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

T-Rex Toys: They're Not Just for Kids

I had so much fun doing "T-Rex Week," reminiscing about how much my boys all loved to draw T-Rex and play with T-Rex toys when they were little fellas...then I remembered this amusing picture. It was taken just last Christmas, when Santa (forgetting, apparently, that these four ranged in age from 17 to 25) left some stocking stuffers that were a hit. Look at the Christmas joy on those faces; it reminds me of Ralphie when he got his Red Rider B-B Gun in the movie "A Christmas Story." This just goes to show that a man usually has a little boy inside him, and that little boy is never too old for T-Rex toys.

Today's post had to be a quickie, because we're going to watch our youngest son play in a senior All-Star lacrosse game with a neighboring state. It's a two-hour drive and we're going to be gone all day, so I've got to get ready now. But I just couldn't resist sharing this picture of sons #2 through 5--they're fine young men, but still kids at heart.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"T-Rex Week" (Episode 5--the Finale)

The T-Rex drawings my youngest son did when he was very small were actually quite amazing, because in drawing--as in everything else--he was always playing "catch up" with the others. He was always trying to copy his four older brothers, who were his heroes and role models. They were good at drawing dinosaurs, and he was determined to be good at it, too. I almost chose a wonderful picture he did at age 7, but then decided on this fairly recent effort instead. It had been ages since he'd drawn a T-Rex, and at the age of 16 he sat down and did this, just to see if he still "had it." (He did!) So far this week, I haven't showcased a T-Rex "head shot," so I thought this was a good piece of artwork to use today.

Did you know that Tyrannosaurus Rex translates to mean "King of the Tyrant Lizards"? And T-Rex, a fearsome beast who ruled supreme, was indeed the undisputed king during the time it roamed the earth. Scientists who've analyzed the skulls of different species of dinosaurs have found that T-Rex actually had a large brain, at least as far as dinosaurs go. So as if size and brute strength didn't give it enough of an advantage, the T-Rex could probably outthink it's prey as well.

To end "T-Rex Week," let's recap what we know about this amazing prehistoric creature:

~T-Rex stood 15-20 feet tall, was about 40 feet long, and weighed 5-7 tons

~T-Rex could run, upright like an ostrich, about 15-20 MPH

~T-Rex chomped on its prey with a force of 1,500-3,000 lbs. and had a septic bite

~T-Rex had a head the size of a small sedan and teeth from 6-13 inches long

~T-Rex had incredible eyesight and a keen sense of smell

~T-Rex had quite a large brain (for a dinosaur), and was a cunning as well as ferocious hunter

I have really enjoyed "T-Rex Week," and I hope you have, too. It's been a great opportunity for me to show off the artistic talent of my five sons; but it's also been fun talking about T-Rex, the fascinating monster that captured their imaginations when they were little guys and moved them to create some of their most inspired works of art.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"T-Rex Week" (Episode 4)

This scene, which looks like something out of a Discovery Channel documentary, was drawn by son #4 when he was 12. He's really captured a moment here, hasn't he? Don't you feel sorry for that poor Brontosaurus? That big old herbivore wouldn't hurt a fly; just give it some leaves and assorted greenery and it's a happy camper. It will fight to the death with Tyrannosaurus Rex to defend itself, using its enormous tail as a weapon; but its big, slow-moving body and rows of short, flat, plant-eating teeth are no match for the likes of the ferocious, carnivorous T-Rex.

It has been estimated that the head of an adult T-Rex was about the size of a small sedan (that's an interesting little factoid I found while preparing for "T-Rex Week")--so imagine the jaws and teeth that went along with that massive head! In 1996, a team of Stanford scientists determined that T-Rex chomped on its prey with anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 lbs. of force--a force comparable to the bite of a modern alligator. (FYI, in comparison, an adult human can bite with a force of only 175 lbs.)

Some experts believe that rotten, bacteria-infested meat lodged in its numerous, razor-sharp teeth and gave T-Rex a "septic bite," which may have infected and eventually killed its wounded prey. So T-Rex had not only an incredibly strong bite, but most likely a toxic one as well. It seems that most of the dinosaurs on which it preyed stood very little chance against it. Of course, Triceratops had its mighty horns to take jabs at the king, and Stegasaurus had its rows of protective, armor-like plates along its back and its spiked tail for whipping; but once a Tyrannosaurus Rex was able to sink its teeth into its prey, it may have been all over simply because of the toxicity of T-Rex's bite.

The final episode of "T-Rex Week" airs tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

"T-Rex Week" (Episode 3)

Today's Tyrannosaurus Rex artwork was produced by son #3 when he was about 9 and 1/2. He's the one who'll say he wasn't that great at drawing, but I think this picture proves him wrong!

I hope you're enjoying "T-Rex Week" so far! These creatures, along with all of their many dinosaur friends, played such a huge role in this house for so many years. We have countless books about them, and as you can see, the boys spent countless hours drawing them. I miss good old T-Rex! We have saved our enormous collection of dinosaur toys, so if any of the grandchildren become interested in these prehistoric animals, they're going to love to play at Papa and Grammy's house.

When the first dinosaur remains were uncovered, it was thought that dinosaurs were cold-blooded, slow-moving creatures, like reptiles. Since then, scientists have determined that T-Rex appeared to be a very fast runner who led an active lifestyle, and therefore may have actually been warm-blooded. Through analyzing T-Rex fossils and comparing them with existing fossil remains, they believe T-Rex had about a 30-year lifespan.

No one has a clue why T-Rex's arms were so short and useless-looking. (Really, what is up with those arms? In every other way, T-Rex is so fearsome to behold, but its arms are faintly ridiculous.) Maybe they were used to clasp its prey close to its chest? That's as good a guess as any, I suppose. I think that's more plausible than the theory of some evolutionists, who believe the arms would have eventually disappeared altogether if T-Rex hadn't become extinct first.

The female T-Rex was larger than her male counterpart, outweighing him by as much as a few thousand pounds. After all, she had to produce and lay all those T-Rex-sized eggs. But a few thousand pounds--no fair! The female T-Rex was probably always asking her mate, "Do I look fat in this outfit?" And he was probably afraid to say yes, or she might eat him.

I think I better quit while I'm ahead here, because this began with some nice, official, scientific facts and has devolved into silliness. But stayed tuned: there are still two more episodes to go!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"T-Rex Week" (Episode 2)

Today's T-Rex artwork was done by son #2 when he was 10. It is a fine rendering of that famous scene from the movie Jurassic Park, when the electricity fails and the dinosaurs break through the security fences, wreaking havoc all over the compound. Here, the escaped T-Rex is eating the tire on one of the jeeps that brings visitors on a tour throughout Jurassic Park. The rain is coming down in torrents and two terrified children, Tim and Lex, are trapped beneath the jeep screaming.

This movie was a favorite of all of our boys, but especially our baby. He would have it on in the background while acting out the scenes with our vast assortment of JP toy dinosaurs, vehicles, and figurines. And he did a mean imitation of a Tyrannosaurus Rex--throwing his head back to make the same roaring sound as the beast in the movie, while holding his arms close to his body with two crooked fingers and stomping around the house. It was really quite hilarious. And spot on, too! It was an inspired bit of acting, you really should have seen it.

The thing about the scene depicted above that always bothered me, though, was that after Dr. Grant rescues Lex from the jeep, the T-Rex approaches and he tells her not to move, because T-Rex's visual acuity relies on motion. Apparently, if they don't move, the dino won't see them. (How this could be determined from studying bones, I wasn't quite sure; but for argument's sake, let's say this is true.) However, as Dr. Grant and Lex are smashed up against the jeep not moving, the T-Rex's nose is mere inches from their bodies; he's sniffing and snorting, and yet he doesn't appear to realize that two tasty snacks are right there for the taking. I always thought: C'mon, they could smell, couldn't they? Wouldn't that be handy for a carnivore to be able to smell its prey?

I decided to do a little research on this; I did some investigating on-line and found that there have indeed been studies done on the olifactory cavities of dinosaur skulls, and CT scans have proven that T-Rex's olifactory capabilities far surpassed those of any of the other huge predators that were examined. That's right, T-Rex was found to be the undisputed king of smelling. This would make sense, as it would give T-Rex the ability to locate prey and patrol a large area of territory. So it seems a bit of creative license was taken in Jurassic Park as far as that scene by the jeep, where the T-Rex comes off as being unable to either see or smell what's right in front of his nose. But it makes for a great dramatic effect, and I hate to find fault with a film that delighted my dinosaur-loving sons by bringing these prehistoric creatures to life in a way that had never been done before.

Monday, June 20, 2011

"T-Rex Week" Begins! (Episode 1)

On May 24 (in a post called "Drawing Dinos") I said to stay tuned for "T-Rex Week." Well, this is it, "T-Rex Week" is here!

I'm going to post a picture a day from now through Friday, one by each of my sons--who all spent a good chunk of their childhoods drawing these fascinating prehistoric beasts. It's easy to see why my boys were so interested in Tyrannosaurus Rex. After all, this creature was about 40 feet long, 15-20 feet tall, and weighed 5-7 tons. It had a massive head, with jaws that were about 4 feet long; it's teeth could be up to 9 (some sources even say 13) inches long, perfectly designed for ripping meat. Some scientists think T-Rex could run up to 15 MPH on its powerful legs. What a terrifying sight this monster must have been to its prey! It's no wonder he's called the king of the dinosaurs.

There, now that I've given a few facts, I won't feel like the only reason I'm doing "T-Rex Week" is because it's an opportunity to brag about my boys (although I do have to say that I think they all have lots of artistic talent).

Today's T-Rex is by son #1, rendered at the age of 12.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

(Click image twice to enlarge for easy reading; otherwise, it's a bit blurry.)

Happy Father's Day to all the great dads out there, especially my husband (best dad of of all time, in my unbiased opinion), my oldest son (the brand new daddy to twin girls), and Bigfoot (my funny, eccentric father).

Above is a poem that was given to my husband's father after he'd had his third son. When we had our third, Papa decided it was time to pass it on to us. The original is in a silver frame and remains a cherished memento from a man who was extremely gifted at fatherhood. This is a copy I typed up to share with you. It is very touching, especially for dads who are raising boys.

My husband loves this poem...and lives it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

An Early Happy Birthday to My Husband

Tomorrow is my husband's birthday, and it is also Father's Day. How a propos that the two celebrations fall on the same day...because he truly is the best father in the world (and I'm a totally objective person when it comes to him).

Even the rush my husband got from flying F-18 fighter jets in the Navy was nothing compared to that of spending time with his boys. Landing on an aircraft carrier: very cool. Being surrounded by his cute, rambunctious, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle t-shirt-clad sons: even cooler.

These days, he's a commercial airline pilot; but if you ask him what he does, he identifies himself as a father first, a pilot second.

My husband is just the best, that's all there is to it--and easy on the eyes to boot. He is, as the kids are saying these days, "all that and a bag of chips." (Are they still saying that, or did I just prove how out of touch I am?)

I am so happy that I've known him since we were kids. We started dating at 15, and when we were together a whole year later, we got all dressed up to go out for a big fancy dinner on his 16th birthday. That's a lot of birthdays ago, and I still think he's the best thing since sliced bread. Our high school principal, Sr. Bernadine, believed my husband should become a priest, and I think sometimes hoped I'd be out of the picture at some point. Back then, I never thought she liked me a whole lot; I realize now that she might have viewed me as a stumbling block to his vocation. But Christian fatherhood is also a noble and necessary vocation, and my kids and I are extremely thankful that he chose it.

So Happy Birthday to the best husband/father/pilot/cowboy that I know! XXOO

Friday, June 17, 2011

Random Thoughts about Adorable Things

There may not be a whole lot of cohesion to this post, because I'm just going to sort of ramble.

This Norman Rockwell illustration is one of the ones I considered for yesterday's post; however, since I was talking about my son who just got his first teaching job, I wanted a piece of artwork that showed a male teacher. But this one is so cute, too, that I needed an excuse to post it. This Rockwell painting perfectly illustrates the fact that every time this artist painted a little boy's head, my #3 son--my middle child--could have been one of his models. (I mentioned this once before, in "Art Appreciation.") Those thin little necks connected to those perfectly formed little, it brings me back. That's him in the red, although the others aren't far off either. When I look at this painting, my eyes go right to those little boy heads, and my heart wells up with love for my third son, who was an absolutely adorable little boy with a Norman Rockwell head. (Do you think I'm weird?)

Moving on, now: a couple of days ago, I was reading one of my favorite blogs,, and P.W. had a post with a picture of her cherub-faced little nephew. She said that he never asks for a cup of milk; he asks for "Milkie Milkersons." It's funny little tidbits like this that keep me going back to her site. I mean, I was really amused by her nephew's moniker for milk! It reminded me of my husband, who insists on calling a hamburger a "burgatroid" and a hot dog a "hot diggity dog." So I got to thinking...perhaps Papa and I need to start calling milk "Milkie Milkersons" around our twin granddaughters about a year or so hence. You know, to plant the seed...

But little kids don't really have to come out with funny sayings; when they say regular things in their own funny way, that's equally adorable. This brings me back to my middle son, who for the longest time couldn't pronounce his r's and l's--a real bummer for a kid whose last name was Pearl. (Thank goodness we didn't name him Earl.) The problem worked itself out, without any speech therapy intervention; but for a long time, he struggled with those two letters. Anyway, my second son loves to tell the story about the time I took the four older boys to the library to get their first library cards. When the librarian asked son #3 his name, the best he could do as far as his surname was "Puh." She made him repeat it a few times (Really? She hadn't noticed that we'd all come in together, and therefore assumed that he would have the same last name as the others?), until finally, one of the other boys set her straight.

When my middle son was about four, my father, an incorrigible tease (and a bit of a giant child himself), once asked him, "Who are you supposed to be? Buggs Bunny?" With absolute seriousness, my boy replied, "No." Then he pointed at the top of his head (his perfect Norman Rockwell little boy head) and asked, "Do you see any ee-oh's?" As soon as he skipped out of "ee-oh"shot, my husband said to my father, "He's not Buggs Bunny, silly; he's Elmer Fudd." Of course, as a parent, you always hope your children will eventually outgrow their speech problems; yet when they do, it's really sort of sad. I miss the Elmer Fudd accent. My son was cute enough without it, but that was the cherry on top.

Okay, now how to wrap this up? I guess by saying that I can't wait to hear the twins speak--to hear what their little voices will sound like and the cute things they will say. And I can't wait to spoil them with homemade cookies and sippy cups filled with nice, cold Milkie Milkersons.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Praise of Good Teachers

I had already decided on the title of this post before I came across an article with the very same title, by a woman named Deborah Stipek, in the on-line version of the San Fransisco Chronicle (from May 23, 2004). I would never set out to plagiarize, I give you my word! And for that, I can thank all the excellent English teachers I had throughout high school and college.

In her article, Miss Stipek writes: "Good teachers make all the difference. According to research by academic expert William Sanders and others, the effectiveness of the individual classroom teacher is the single biggest factor affecting students' academic growth. In one study, for example, Sanders found that students who had been taught by three ineffective teachers in a row scored below the 50th percentile in mathematics by the end of the third year. By contrast, those with three highly effective teachers scored above the 80th percentile. Teachers' effect on academic growth dwarfed other factors, such as class size, that have been given so much attention."

I know the term "effective" might seem a bit too subjective; but I think most of us know when a teacher is doing a good job and when he isn't. And the whole "class size" debate has seemed like a bit of a waste of breath, ever since my husband and I found out some years ago that the nun who was the principal at our sons' Catholic elementary school started her career at that school as a young teacher with a classroom of 70 (yes, 70, that was not a typo!) second-graders. She had all those students jammed into a room that now holds classes of only 25 or so; yet she was able to be an effective teacher and discipline was not an issue. That being said, I'm not advocating 1-70 as a good teacher-student ratio. In the current climate, I fear that would result in utter chaos. I just think that, in general, there's too much obsessing over class size. I believe a good teacher can handle a class of 25 as well as he can a class of 17. The bottom line is that there is only one perfect teacher-student ratio, 1-1, and that can only be achieved through homeschooling (a great option for parents who are dissatisfied with the education their children are receiving at the schools in their area).

I'm in the mood to talk about teachers today because--yippee!--our second oldest son was hired two days ago to teach math at an excellent high school about an hour from where we live. Aside from his Catholic alma mater, this school was the #1 choice in his job search.

It was a great relief to us that our son was able to get hired right out of grad school. While he was in the process of getting his undergraduate and master's degrees, friends of ours who heard what he was studying would inevitably say, "Oh, he'll be golden! Math teachers are always in demand--especially male math teachers." Thank God they were right! For his part, after his extremely positive initial interview with the math department head and an assistant principal at this school (the department head told him she would hire him that very day, if she had the authority to do so), my son said," Mom, I just had to get in the door and let them meet me. How could they not love me?" (I may have mentioned this before: this boy is very funny and gives me at least one hearty belly laugh a day.) It was the very first school at which he interviewed and he was offered the job; it just doesn't get much better than that.

I think those kids he's going to teach are very lucky, because I have no doubt he'll be very effective at his job. He'll expect a lot from his students, and won't be afraid to let them know it; but he'll use humor to make learning fun. He's a great coach, too, so hopefully this high school will be able to give him the opportunity to do that as well as teach math. He's been coaching football and lacrosse at his old high school for the past six years, and that experience has definitely helped to prepare him for being in charge of a classroom filled with teenagers. I heard this on the radio, and it made me think of this son: COACHES TEACH SPORTS; TEACHERS ARE CLASSROOM COACHES. What a great observation. I think I'm going to have a sign with that saying on it made for him to hang in his homeroom!

(Illustration by Norman Rockwell)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thoughts on Being an Old-Fashioned Wife

When my best friend from college was about to get married, her mother advised her to do herself up each evening so that when her husband came home from work, she would look good for him. She said that she herself might spend the day looking a bit of a mess, but she always changed into something pretty and put on some make-up before my friend's dad walked in the door at night. (You know, the whole 1950's-June Cleaver-dress and pearls routine.) My friend thought this was downright archaic; women had come so far since those bad old days, after all, and modern men had learned to appreciate a woman for more than her appearance.

Over the years, I've come to believe that my friend's mother was actually very wise, and I do think a woman should try to look good for her husband. After all, most women will dress up, do their hair, and put on make-up for an evening out with their female friends; I think a husband deserves at least as much effort! But I don't necessarily mean only for those times when a wife is going out to dinner with her hubby, or to a big event like a wedding; I mean on a regular basis. I think it's important for a woman to try to look her best, even after she's "snagged" her man.

I don't wear tons of make-up anyway, but I do exactly the same things to my face every day that I do when my husband and I are going out on a "date" or to a party. And I try to dress in a pleasing way, even if I'm just wearing jeans. That's not to say that I've never spent whole days in a bathrobe, or in raggedy work-out attire, because I sure did a lot of that when I was a young mother, and still sometimes do; but for the most part these days, I try to make an effort to look as feminine and pretty (I'm using relative terms here, mind you) as I can. I feel like when I was younger, the bloom of youth did a lot to make up for occasional carelessness regarding my appearance. Now that I'm over 50, I don't have that to fall back on anymore.

I still think of my husband as my boyfriend (my sons are probably sticking their fingers down their throats about now), so I try to present myself to him the way I would if we were still in the courtship stage. At least most of the time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Cowboy Blood

I know I've mentioned several times in this blog that my husband almost always wears a cowboy hat. It's such a part of him that on the rare occasion that he isn't wearing one, he's inevitably asked, "Hey, where's your hat?" He's about the only person in our neck of the woods who wears a cowboy hat, as we live in New England--and not on a farm or a ranch, but on a cul-de-sac street lined with Colonial-style houses. We don't own horses--heck, we don't even have a dog (except when we're taking care of our son's dog, Allie). Nothing about our life here calls for this sort of western headgear, but the bottom line is this: my guy just plain likes cowboy hats.

When we were young, before we were married, my husband and I bought matching black felt cowboy hats (don't ask me why!). After we were married, we ended up spending a few years living in south Texas when he was stationed there in the Navy, so we got some good use out of them there when we went to western bars and attempted to learn the Two-Step. Down that way in the Lone Star State, the cowboy hats made sense; wearing them just made us blend in with the locals. Here in the Northeast, however...not so much.

I've often wondered what makes my husband such a fan of cowboy culture. For instance, one of his favorite movies of all time is "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Also, he's mentioned more than once that he thinks it would be very cool to be a rancher. But it's not like he's even spent all that much time on horseback or anything. I mean, there was that one memorable incident when he went horseback riding in Norway (while there on a summer cruise as a college Navy midshipman) and his horse threw him. That's a funny story, one which he tells very well. But I can't even remember if he's been on a horse since then.

So what is the source of this fascination with cowboys? I think I've finally figured it out: he's got cowboy blood.

Above is a copy of a movie poster from 1932. When my husband and I were dating in high school, his parents had a large version of this poster in their T.V. room, and my husband's father talked proudly about his mother's cousin, Tim McCoy, who'd been a big-time movie actor who reached the pinnacle of his fame at Columbia Pictures in the 1930's. The thing that's really neat about this poster is that Tim McCoy's name is huge, and then in tiny letters, it reads, "with John Wayne." This guy was a bigger star than the Duke at one time! Tim McCoy was the son of Irish immigrants (an Irish cowboy, like my husband) who starred in nearly 100 westerns, silent and talkie adventures, made in the 20's, 30's, and 40's.

So my new theory is that my husband wears a cowboy hat because he can't help it. It's part of his genetic make-up. It's just in his blood.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Importance of Attitude

Here is a passage that was printed on a page of the "Family Connection" newsletter that we used to get from our boys' Catholic elementary school. (You can click on the picture to enlarge it, so that you can read it more easily.) We had this posted up in our kitchen for years and years. I think it's pretty inspirational.

I woke up today thinking, for the first time since I began this blog, that I had nothing whatsoever to say. I started to get the feeling that maybe this was the end for me--that my little experiment in being a blogger had gone as far as it could go, and I should quit while I was ahead. But c'mon, what kind of attitude is that? I can always pass on the wise, witty, or inspiring words of others on days like today, when I have none of my own!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Safe Journeys

If this picture looks familiar, it's because I just posted it a couple of days ago, after my trip out to the Midwest to meet my new granddaughters ("Miracles," June 10). I decided that I wanted to post it again after my husband saw something interesting in it that I hadn't even noticed. Look at it closely: do you see anything odd about the plane taking off in the background?

Okay, I'll give you a hint: it has to do with the shape of the cloud behind the airplane.

Do you see it yet? I can't hold it in any longer, so I'll say it: doesn't it look like the plane has a big white angel's wing attached to it?

The funny thing is that minutes after I snapped this picture, my flight began to board. And I began to get nervous, as usual; so as I often do, I prayed to my own Guardian Angel, the pilots' Guardian Angels, and the Guardian Angels of all the passengers on my flight. I prayed that all of these Heavenly protectors would keep us safe on our trip. Now, I wonder: when my plane took off, did it, too, have a giant angel's wing on it? I think perhaps it did; maybe not one that anyone on the ground could see, but every bit as real as if they could. I'm not necessarily saying that this picture is some kind of sign; but I do think that if nothing else, it's rather amazing that the timing was such that when I pressed the button on my camera, that wing-shaped cloud was in the perfect position to create this illusion.

Each of us--every single soul on earth--has been given a Guardian Angel; yet we often forget about the existence of these special friends, and we forget to pray to them. Who knows how many disasters have been averted by their intervention? Saint Frances de Sales said this on the subject: "Make yourself familiar with the angels, and behold them in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you."

I don't think I'll ever be able to board an airplane again without thinking of this picture; and hopefully, it will remind me to always pray to my Guardian Angel for safe journeys.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Easiest Ever Fruit Cobbler

This is a pan of strawberry cobbler that I made recently--about five minutes after it came out of the oven! (It always goes fast.) After seeing my two baby granddaughters, I keep thinking of that little rhyme, "Sugar and spice and everything nice; that's what little girls are made of." So I've been in the mood to talk about sweet, sugary things--and this recipe definitely fits that bill.

I'm not sure if "cobbler" is exactly the right name for this dessert. All I know is that it's super easy, and it's delicious--even to someone like me, someone who spent most of her life believing that fruit had absolutely no business showing up in desserts. I could never understand why anyone would choose a slice of fruity pie over a hunk of chocolatey cake. This is one of the few areas where my husband and I have never seen eye-to-eye. After years of living with me (the cookie and cake lady), he's now totally on board with the kind of desserts I like. I mean, he might prefer a strawberry-rhubarb pie, but he'll happily eat a caramel brownie if that's what's being offered. But for the most part, I've stubbornly refused to get on board with his fruit thing.

Two fairly recent events have helped me to have a change of heart about fruit desserts: tasting my daughter-in-law's rhubarb cake (which I thought I was going to have to choke down and pretend to like, but loved); and tasting this yummy confection that I stumbled upon when I decided to change a recipe I'd been given.

I had gotten a recipe called "Pumpkin Dump Cake" from a neighbor, and it was very good, as far as pumpkin things go. My husband loved it, but no more so than a traditional pumpkin pie. And while it was fairly easy to make, it still required adding eggs and spices to the pumpkin before dumping the cake mix on top. I decided to try it with raspberry pie filling, which my husband adores (he would eat it out of the can with a spoon, I swear), and presto! A new family favorite was born. Even my baby, who's usually as anti-fruit as I am, gobbles this one.

Here's all you'll need:

1 can (21 oz.) of fruit pie filling (raspberry, blueberry, strawberry--your choice)
1 yellow cake mix
1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, melted

Here's all you do:

Spread the pie filling in a 9x13" baking dish
Dump a box of yellow cake mix over the top, covering the fruit evenly
Drizzle the melted butter over the cake mix
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 min. (or until cake part is golden)

The best thing about this, to me, is that the fruit layer is thin, because my favorite part is the cake part. (I suppose if you wanted it to be fruitier, you could try doubling the amount of pie filling used.) It tastes great plain, with whipped cream, or warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Enjoy!

Friday, June 10, 2011


I have never been a fan of airplane travel (as I explained on April 10 in a post titled "Fear of Flying"), and I probably never will be. Flying is too unnatural! I mean, look at this photo that I took at the airport yesterday. The fact that that enormous tube of steel carrying hundreds of passengers and who knows how many tons of cargo can lift up off the ground (where any person in his right mind belongs!) and fly through the sky--that, to me, is the stuff of science fiction. I sometimes feel about flying the way the first readers of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea must have felt about undersea travel: "Men flying through the sky like birds? It'll never happen!" I know, I know: there's science involved. There's Bernoulli's Principle, and powerful jet engines, and terms like "lift" and "thrust." The engineers have it all figured out, and by golly, it works! My husband is a pilot, and he can explain it all to me until he's blue in the face, but a part of me is still unconvinced; to me, flying will always be awe-inspiring, scary, and somehow wrong. However, the fact that I can take off early in the morning and touch down by lunchtime in a state that is a 24-hour car drive from home is nothing short of a miracle. And that's pretty swell if you've got two brand new granddaughters halfway across the country that you're dying to see in person. So if you're wondering why I haven't been blogging for a few days, it's because I flew out to see them on Tuesday morning and returned yesterday, something I am aware I never could have done in Jules Verne's day.

I avoided air travel as much as I possibly could when my children were growing up and living at home, but always assured my husband that when they became adults, if they moved far away I would make myself do it in order to see them. I could never stand the idea of flying away from them; but I believed that, if necessary, I would fly to them. Well, that time has arrived, and as much as I dislike being in the air, I have begun to do an awful lot of flying. And I would be a crazy person if I wasn't willing to do it in order to see the two little miracles in the picture below!! (That's one exclamation point for each baby!) Flying, I now realize, is one of man's great innovations, but it's not miraculous; those two baby girls, on the other hand, are truly miracles. A man can make an airplane; but without God's help, he cannot make a baby.I know I'm not the first person to have grandchildren, and every grandma under the sun probably thinks her little darlings are the cutest to have ever graced our planet; but I have to say, folks, in my case, it happens to be true. (Trust me, I wouldn't lie to you.) These two baby girls, who we now know are identical twins, have such fine little features--you should see their tiny ski jump noses and perfectly formed little rosebud lips!--that they look like little dolls. I am completely besotted, and can hardly wait for my son, their proud daddy, to return from deployment and see his little daughters. (So far, he has only seen them on Skype.) And I can hardly wait for my husband--now a doting "Papa"--to meet them. They are so sweet and adorable, a pair of blessings, angels, miracles. I feel the English language doesn't have enough words that are adequate to describe how amazing those wee sweeties are.

Thank you so much to all of you who have prayed for the twins and their mother throughout the pregnancy. Your prayers undoubtedly helped, as the babies were able to return home just four days after their birth. The two of them are gaining weight and had a great first check-up on Wednesday. Their mommy is still having some issues with pain and some other things, but she's a trooper and is a wonderful mother. She and the babies could use your continued prayers.

Okay, I'm going to end with a movie quote, because it fits so perfectly here. When I saw my precious granddaughters for the first time in person, I was reminded of what the dad in the movie Rudy says when he enters the football stadium at Notre Dame for the first time in his life: "It's the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen."

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Glorious Sunrise

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, last night was my youngest son's all-night graduation extravaganza known as "Last Blast," and my husband and I were chaperones. This was the fifth time that we pulled this all-nighter in order to share this wonderful experience with our sons, and it will be the last. And we sure went out of the Last Blast chaperoning business with a bang! The festivities always end with a breakfast cruise, and while they're on the boat the kids watch the sun come up on the first day that they are officially no longer high school students. Isn't that a great way for these friends to say good-bye--and a fine way for these young people to welcome the dawn of a new day (get it?) and the beginning of the next chapter of their lives? It's downright metaphorical. And my husband and I have seen some good ones on these Last Blast cruises; but this morning, the sunrise was without a doubt the most glorious of them all.

I thought I'd share the magical beauty of this picture-perfect New England sunrise with you.
I'm pretty proud of this photograph, which was taken with my Canon Power Shot SX100IS--the greatest camera I've ever owned. I think it's beautiful enough to put on a postcard!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

In Praise of Mothers

Today my youngest son graduates from high school at noon, and then this evening his entire class begins an all-night adventure known as "Last Blast." The kids meet at school and then after signing yearbooks and being fed extremely well, they get loaded onto four buses and go to four different locations (places which have been reserved specially for just this class of 178 graduates) where they do things like ride bumper cars, play mini-putt, and bowl. And at every stop along the way, there are parent-provided munchies and drinks: these lucky devils get pizza, sandwiches, chips, desserts (baked with love by students' mothers), ice cream, candy, and who knows what else. The festivities are topped off with a breakfast cruise out past a lighthouse, and in clear weather the kids end their last night as high school classmates watching a glorious sunrise together. On the boat ride, the kids are winding down: some sit on deck chairs passing around their yearbooks; some curl up and sleep; some cry. Last Blast is a truly awesome way to end four years of high school, and for the fifth time, my husband and I are going to be there to witness the whole thing. We have always volunteered to be all-night chaperones; and though we may be getting a little old for this sort of thing, we wouldn't miss doing it this one last time for the world!

Every year, there's a red bus, a white bus, a yellow bus, and a blue bus. The chaperones of each bus decorate it in its designated color with crepe paper streamers, baloons, etc., and they pass out plastic leis, glow sticks, hats and other goodies in the same color to all their student passengers. Everywhere you look, you can tell which bus each student belongs to! It's really fun and becomes a competiton to see whose bus is the best. My husband and I will be chaperoning on the blue bus, riding along with the kids all night as they hit each spot and move on to the next. We aren't 100% sure where they're going this year--it's a big secret! But we are fairly certain that it will end with the traditional sunrise harbor cruise. We are really looking forward to it. Our son is on the white bus (the administration never puts a student on the same bus as his parents), but he has already informed me that I can take as many pictures of him and his friends as I want throughout the night. (Luckily, none of our boys ever requested that we stay away from Last Blast, because I think it's as much fun for my husband and myself as it is for the kids!)

I started out this post planning to say simply, "My youngest son graduates today and then we are chaperoning his all-night graduation party, so I don't have time to write much." I figured that since my daughter-in-law is a new mother, I would just post a beautiful image of Our Lady of Grace, with a tribute to mothers and all the jobs they do, and that would be it. The whole point of this post was going to be to praise mothers! Instead, I went on and on about my son's Last Blast! But maybe what I wrote in this post wasn't so far off the subject of motherhood (and fatherhood, too, for that matter) after all. It's hard to imagine now, just days after the birth of her twin girls, but someday, my daughter-in-law might very well find herself riding on a bus with my son, chaperoning a graduation party like this one. Along with about a million other things, that's the kind of thing that mothers do.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Endings and Beginnings

June 2 was a day of both bittersweet endings and joyous beginnings. On that day, my youngest son put on a blue and white uniform and went out onto an athletic field to represent his high school for the very last time. His lacrosse team, which was ranked 5th in their division, played the #4 team in the championship quarterfinals. Unfortunately, they lost 6-4, so their season came to an end sooner than they would have liked. But my defenseman son has a lot to be proud of: his team's defense kept them in the game and held the other team to their lowest goal output of the season. My son (if I may do a bit of bragging here) had a whale of a game, one of his best ever, keeping their premier attackmen away from the cage and frustrating them completely. But this boy of mine never thinks much about his personal performance; with him, it's all about the team. And it was a tough day for his team.

It hit him at the end of that game that this was it: this was the last time he'd ever put on a high school jersey and play with these boys he's been playing with for the past four years. Last fall, after the last football game (where his team suffered a heartbreaking loss in the championship game), he was sad when it hit him that his gridiron days were over; but he still had lacrosse season to look forward to. On June 2, though, there was that unmistakable note of finality: it was the end of an era, the end of a part of his life that (if he's anything like his four older brothers) he will remember with great fondness. To this day, his brothers will say that their best memories about high school all have to do with playing football and lacrosse (and for son #3, basketball, too).

I snapped this picture as my baby was heading across the parking lot to get on the team bus, for the last time ever, and ride back to school with his teammates. Endings are tough, especially endings to things that have been so wonderful.

But June 2 was also a day of miraculous, exciting, blessed beginnings! Because on the morning of the day that my youngest son played his last game of high school lacrosse, my oldest son became a daddy to two beautiful, healthy baby girls. I am finding myself amazed at the timing of these family events: as our youngest graduates and leaves the nest, we become first-time grandparents! When people ask us, "What in the world are you guys going to do, now that you're going to be empty-nesters?" we just say, "We're going to travel to see our kids and grandkids!" As one phase of our life ends, a new one begins. I couldn't have planned things out better if I tried!

Friday, June 3, 2011

They're Girls!

Yesterday morning my daughter-in-law, God bless her, gave birth to healthy twin daughters. (Yes, they're daughters--those foreign creatures, those soft, sweet things that are going to have their Papa and their uncles wrapped around their little fingers, I'm sure.) My son, who was a baby himself only "yestertime," is a daddy! And there are two more girls in the family--woot woot! We're gaining on the men.

My daughter-in-law was induced yesterday at about 7:00 a.m. (Central time) and had a 6 lb. 10 oz. baby girl at 10:01, followed closely by 5 lb. 9 oz. baby girl #2 at 10:03. One was 20 and 1/2 inches long and the other was 19 and 1/2. Babies in general are simply miraculous, irrefutable proof of the existence of God; but the fact that she had two of them that size living in her is almost impossible to believe. I'm dying to reveal their names, but I have been working hard to keep most personal information about my family out of this blog, so I won't; but I will tell you this: they have been given the most beautiful saints' names, names that could make you cry--perfect names for the little angels I know they're going to be! I love their names, and I can hardlly wait to see the baby girls that go with them.

My son was able to "be there" in a way, via Skype, so he has seen his wee daughters. In about a month, he will be home to spend his two weeks of deployment leave with his new little family.

Papa and Grammy are very, very happy, and relieved that mommy and babies are doing so well. Thank you to all of you who have been keeping my daughter-in-law and the twins in your prayers--I know they helped. God is good! Life is good!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Prayer for Safe Delivery

We are eagerly awaiting the news of the arrival of our oldest son's twin angels (and the blue border on this picture doesn't necessarily mean I'm predicting boys--we just didn't have any pink construction paper!). We can't believe that the day is finally here!

I pray that St. Gerard, the Patron Saint of Expectant Mothers, will protect and comfort my daughter-in-law today. Here is a prayer to this saint for women in labor.

A Prayer to St. Gerard for Safe Delivery

O great Saint Gerard, beloved servant of Jesus Christ, perfect imitator of your meek and humble Savior, and devoted child of Mother of God, enkindle within my heart one spark of that heavenly fire of charity which glowed in your heart and made you an angel of love. O glorious Saint Gerard, because when falsely accused of crime, you did bear, like your Divine Master, without murmur or complaint, the calumnies of wicked men, you have been raised up by God as the patron and protector of expectant mothers. Preserve [my daughter-in-law] from danger and from the excessive pains accompanying childbirth, and shield the child[ren] which [she] now carries, that [they] may see the light of day and receive the purifying and life-giving waters of baptism through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"B" and "A" Are on the Way

I already put up a post this morning, and I don't usually like to do two in one day; but I just heard some very exciting news from my daughter-in-law's mother on my answering machine. The babies, heretofore known only as "Twin A" and "Twin B," will most likely arrive tomorrow! We will finally know if they're two boys or two girls, and what their names are going to be!

Today at her appointment, my daughter-in-law's doctor made the decision to keep her in the hospital overnight, as her blood pressure has been a bit high recently. Tomorrow at 6:00 a.m., labor will be induced with pitocin, and at 6:30 they plan to break her water. I pray that means that tomorrow will be the babies' birthday (let's hope they come in a timely fashion and make things as easy as possible on their dear mommy!). What a great birthday for twins: 2 babies born on June 2! How fitting that would be!

I'm afraid that it will be hard to sleep tonight, but that's okay; if I can't, I'll just say lots of prayers. I'll ask my daughter-in-law's Guardian Angel to be by her side as she labors to bring those two little souls into the world. I'll ask the babies' Guardian Angels to watch over them as they make their way out of the safe haven in which they've been snuggled up together all these months. I'll pray that all three of them are resting peacefully together by this time tomorrow night, if not sooner.

If you are reading this, please pray, too: for my daughter-in-law, for her twin babies, and for the twins' father, who can't be there because he's on deployment in Afghanistan. Thank you!

Band of Brothers

I hijacked the title for this post from the 2001 HBO ten-part mini-series of the same name. That "Band of Brothers" was about the experiences of E Company, or "Easy Company" (part of the 101st Airborne Division), during WWII. "Band of Brothers" was a fantastic mini-series and I highly recommend it; however, this post has nothing to do with war stories, other than the tussling and scrapping of little boys. I just thought it made a great title for today's ruminations about my five tight-knit sons.

A number of years ago, a woman whose son played on the high school football team with several of our boys told me that he'd said to her, "The Pearls are so lucky to have all those brothers! They probably never get bored." In this particular boy's house, it was just he and an older sister. I remember being flooded with warmth and happiness when I heard that comment. My husband and I had always thought that our sons had a unique and special situation: they lived in a world where everyone was interested in the same things, played on sports teams together, and even shared mutual friends from school. I remember thinking that it didn't matter if we weren't the richest people in the world, materially speaking; we had given our boys the greatest gift they could ever get, and that was each other. We used to tell them that they were rich in brothers!

Well, a few nights ago, the same sort of thing happened again. It was downright deja-vu-ish. My youngest son had a buddy from school over, and we were hanging out in our "sports room" (also still known as the "new room," even though it was finished off years ago). Whenever our boys' friends come into this room, they spend a lot of time looking all around: at the many framed pictures of the brothers playing football, basketball, and lacrosse; at the line-up of the five brothers' high school football jerseys that are tacked up on the wall, oldest to youngest; at the row of five varsity letters that hang in order in a line over the coat rack; at the tributes to the various sports teams the brothers follow (Notre Dame and the Red Sox very obviously among them). This boy's eyes were wandering around the room, soaking it all in. And then suddenly he said to my son, "It must have been fun growing up with five brothers."  And my son replied simply, "It was. It was awesome." This friend of his was another boy who had only one older sister. I guess boys who have no brothers always think about how cool it would be if they did (and the same could be said for girls who have no sisters, I'm sure).

I hope my boys will always look back fondly on growing up in a band of brothers. Now that they're men--now that the bickering over video games, fighting over whose turn it is to ride shotgun, and all that sort of childhood nonsense is long past--they truly are the best of friends. What a blessing they are, and have always been, to their father and me! As I mentioned in a previous post, some young mothers used to look at me with horror-filled expressions when they found out that I had only sons (gasp!), and they'd say, "God bless you!" I could never think of a good comeback on the spot; but after the fact, I would realize that what I should have always said in response was this: "He already has!"