Sunday, July 31, 2011

Devotion to St. Philomena

In recent years, I have become acquainted with St. Philomena, a saint about whom I'd never heard much in all the time I was growing up in the Catholic Church. I don't know where the book in this photo came from; I can't remember if my husband ordered it or if it was a gift from one of the pro-life charities we support. In any case, this book sat on a shelf in our living room for years before I ever thought to pick it up. But one day, the lovely painting on its cover called out to me, and on a whim I decided to open it up and read it. I'm so glad I did! If you don't know the story of this amazing little saint, you might be interested in learning about her. I was going to try to write a short summary of St. Philomena's life and her path to sainthood, but I found a website that does it more beautifully and succinctly than I ever could. The address is if you'd like to click on the link and check it out. There is rather a lot of information on this site, but if you read the first five sections, "The Catacombs," "The Finding of the Body of St. Philomena," "The Marvels of Mugnano," "The Miraculous Image," and "Who Was St. Philomena?", you will get the major details of St. Philomena's extraordinary life and her miraculous powers.

Philomena has the distinction of being the only saint ever to be canonized on the basis of miracles alone, for at the time that her burial site was unearthed in 1802 (about sixteen centuries after her death at the hands of the Roman emperor Diocletian), there was absolutely no known historical record of her existence. But buried with her were some items that gave strong indications that she was a Christian virgin martyr; and then three different people were granted revelations about the unknown saint's life--and their three stories were exactly alike. She actually spoke to one nun, who was then ordered by her superiors to write down verbatim what Philomena had said. Between the miracles that were attributed to Philomena's intercession when no one really even knew who she was yet and these astounding revelations, there was evidence enough of sainthood to begin the canonization process. Although she only lived for 13 years, this little girl is a powerful saint indeed; in fact, her intercessory powers are such that Pope Gregory XVI gave her the title "Wonder Worker of the 19th Century." She is also called "Philomena, Powerful with God." St. Philomena is a patron of "hopeless" or "impossible" cases, like St. Jude; but she is also powerful in cases involving expectant mothers, sterility, marriage problems, and the conversion of sinners, to name a few--and actually, no request is too trivial or important to concern her!

In the above photo, there is also a CD about St. Philomena, which was given to me by my daughter-in-law's father. It includes a section where a nun is reading the actual words of St. Philomena as they were told to the nun who was one of the three people granted revelations about her life. It is extremely affecting to hear about Philomena's terrible sufferings and the courage with which she bore them, and to hear the comforting words that Our Blessed Mother spoke to her before she died. The nun who is speaking has such a sweet, soft voice--so like that of a 12- or 13-year-old girl--that one can imagine it is the young martyr herself telling her own story.

A special devotion to St. Philomena is the praying of a chaplet in her name. You begin by saying the Apostles' Creed; then you say three Our Fathers (one for each of the three Persons in the Trinity); then you say 13 Hail Marys (one for each of the years that Philomena lived); and finally, you say "St. Philomena, pray for us" and add any special request. I made myself a chaplet bracelet with three clear beads for the Our Fathers and 13 red beads(red to represent the blood shed by Philomena) for the Hail Marys. Like a Rosary bracelet, it helps me to keep track of the prayers if I want to say a chaplet when I'm on the go.

I hope you get to know this powerful little saint, who was a favorite of St. John Vianney. In this day and age, we can use all the help we can get!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Where's Allie?

I really shouldn't blog at all today, after putting up two posts yesterday. (But really, what did you think of that picture I posted last night of my little dream puppy? Do you blame me for wanting you to see it?)

Anyway, I'll keep this short. It'll be like a page out of a Where's Waldo? children's book. In this picture, Where's Allie? She pretty much blends in with her surroundings, so you may not have noticed her at first. But keep looking; she's there. She's trying to become one with the blanket (because I guess it's not enough that she's on a comfy couch cushion--the little princess needs a pillow and blanket as well!).

By the way, you might be wondering what in the world Allie is doing up on the furniture in the first place. I guess my husband and I are getting soft in our old age. We were taking care of her during May and June, when my son was doing a lot of traveling for work and the Army Reserves, and for awhile she was content using the plush dog bed we provided for her. Then one day, she hopped up on a chair in our family room as if that had been the norm all along, and for some reason we didn't make her get down. The chair is old and worn, it has a removable, washable slipcover; after all, we thought, what harm could she do? One thing led to another, and before you know it we had decided that if our five sons couldn't destroy this couch in our "new room," a durable leather sectional that we've had forever, Allie probably couldn't either...

The first time my youngest son saw Allie up on this couch, he shook his head and said, "Mom, you're on a slippery slope here. Next thing you know, she'll be sleeping in your bed." That's where I draw the line, though. "That'll never happen!" I insisted. But it's a good thing Allie didn't stay with us any longer than she did, because who knows where we would have found her next!

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Dream Puppy

Okay, I already blogged this morning, and I don't like to put up two posts in one day...but my husband is on a trip, my #4 son left today to drive to VA (he's got a new job starting there, and he's moving in with son #3), my #2 son is out with friends, and my baby boy is working late at the movie theater over at the mall. That means that I'm here by myself, in a big, empty house, and it's dark and rainy outside, and I'm feeling very lonely. At moments like this, I wish I had a dog--a warm, cuddly bundle of love to snuggle up with me on the couch. When my son's dog Allie (the greatest dog in the entire world) was here with us for the months of May and June, I could always count on her to keep me company when everyone else had deserted me!

Because I miss Allie so, I have been going on-line lately, typing in "Plott Hound Puppies for Adoption"--not because I seriously think we're going to get one...but a girl can dream, can't she? And my search led me to my dream puppy a few days ago. This is a picture of her. Isn't she perfect? She's three months old and lives at a shelter not far from us; she's a Plott Hound-Labrador Retriever mix (which is the same mix as Allie, most likely) with a beautiful brindle coat; and she's even got a lovely Irish name: Bridget. I think this is what Allie must have looked like as a puppy, because this face is definitely Allie-esque--right down to the white fur around her nose and mouth. I have fallen in love with this puppy's face! [Sigh...] Yes, it's definitely a case of puppy love.

However, with twin grandbabies located halfway across the country, and our youngest son getting set to leave for his freshman year at a faraway college, and two sons working and living in VA, my husband and I are going to want to be free and unencumbered, so that we can take off at a moment's notice to travel and visit all of our loved ones. It really wouldn't be a great time to adopt a puppy dog. But if it was, this little cutie named Bridget would be my dream puppy.

Hats Off to You, Sweetie!

My second son has been living at home for the past five years, after completing two years of college at a faraway university. For the first two years he was home, he worked as a teacher's aide (paraprofessional) with autistic children at our local middle school. After that, he spent two years finishing his undergraduate degree in secondary math education at the state university very close to where we live. And finally, last year he did his teaching internship at a nearby high school and got his master's degree. (You may remember that I wrote about this son and the odyssey that brought him to this point in his life in my May 22 post called "God Has a Plan.") Within less than a month of earning his master's, my son was hired--after his very first interview--to teach math at an excellent public high school about an hour and 15 minutes from our home.

My husband and I are absolutely thrilled for our boy, and we think this job is going to be a wonderful opportunity for him. That's the sweet part. The bitter part is that he is packing up his things--clearing his room right out--and moving into his own apartment this weekend; and as much as I know that this is good and right and a step he needs to take, here is my problem: I'm going to miss him!

But back to the sweet again. For years I've been begging this son to throw out the old baseball caps he never wears anymore--the ones that are stiff and greasy and filthy and sweat-stained--but I couldn't get him to do it. He stubbornly hung onto them, even after they were no longer fit to wear in public. He's had them hanging on a Shaker peg rack in his room, showcased as if they were trophies. This boy is never without a baseball cap, unless he's in church (and I assume as a teacher he won't be able to wear one in the classroom, either). He always gets fresh new ones to replace the gross ones--so why couldn't he just throw the old ones out when he was through with them? Those yucky caps have been the bane of my existence for years.

Well, yesterday I was working in the basement while my son was packing, and his voice floated down to me. "Mom, come here. I have a present for you on the kitchen table." I hustled up the stairs, filled with curiosity, and guess what my "present" was? Those disgusting ball caps, sitting there in a heap! "I can throw them out?" I asked with awe in my voice, hardly daring to belive this was happening. "Yep," he said, "even the white one with the mud stains on it. The one I was wearing that time G___ got jumped by those guys, and I had to get into the middle of the fight and break it up."

Delirious with joy, I scooped up the grungy caps and dumped them in the kitchen trash can...but then I looked down at that mud-splattered white one with the shamrock embroidered on it, the one my son was wearing when he helped out a buddy, and I reached down to rescue it from extinction. How could I let him throw that one away, when it held a memory about an experience shared with a friend from his first two years of college? Out of all those caps, this was the only one with any sentimental value at all. "Why don't you hang onto this one a little longer," I said, and he smiled and decided he would. (Perhaps now you can see that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, because Mom has trouble letting go of things, too.)

But hats off to you, my sweet boy! You're taking the next big steps in life, moving into your own place and starting a new career; and the fact that you're finally ready to part with your unsightly cap collection just convinces me more than ever that you're ready for new beginnings.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mythological Muscleman

This is a picture of Tony Horton, the creator of the popular P90X work-out regimen on DVD; here, he's demonstrating a side lunge, I believe. Look at that muscle definition! It's obvious that Tony keeps those muscles of his completely confused, which (if you know anything at all about P90X) explains why he's so ripped.

Okay, this is really a drawing of a minotaur, deftly sketched in pencil by my #4 son when he was in high school. He drew this creature from Greek mythology--a creature with the head of a bull and the body of a man (in this case, a man built like Tony Horton)--in several macho-looking poses. I thought these drawings showed true artistic genius, especially because he wasn't copying anything; these mythological musclemen just sprang from his very creative brain and came to life on paper. I saved all of my son's minotaur sketches, and I have almost enough of them to put on a "Minotaur Week" (like I did with those T-Rex drawings back in June)!

I don't have much to say today, except this: isn't my son talented? I thought I'd just post this glorious piece of artwork for your viewing pleasure. You're welcome!

(P.S. For more on P90X, along with another fine pencil drawing which I posted simply because I wanted an excuse to brag shamelessly about the artistic talent of one of my sons, you can check out my May 21 post, "A Plug for P90X.")

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mothers and Sons

My younger brother put on a concert for our family at the big reunion "Palooza" we had this past weekend, as I mentioned in my post yesterday. He always brings his guitar to family gatherings and plays for us, in a casual sort of way; but this was the first time he set up all of the professional equipment he uses when he has legitimate "gigs," and the whole thing was just phenomenal. He had a bunch of adoring fans in the audience that night, but no one more so than his mommy.

That's my mother gazing on proudly at her son, with her chair pulled right up next to the stage. (She started out there, but eventually moved back and sat with the rest of the riff raff in the cheap seats.)

My mother adores my brother, as you can plainly see when you look at these photos, and she's so proud of him. Actually, she's half in love with both of my brothers, but I think that's the way it is with most mothers of sons--at least from my experience. We moms love our boys. My older brother, the oldest of Mom's children, likes to joke that this talented musician son is Mom's "favorite"; but then my younger brother will counter that no, it is in fact Mom's oldest child who is the one she calls "Precious." I, for one, think it's a tie. They're both her favorites, just like all of my five boys are my favorites.

When I first moved here, I met a gal whose husband worked with mine and we became friends. Her husband had grown up in a family of four brothers and no sisters. When her mother-in-law heard that I, too, had four sons (this was before my baby came along!), she gave me a framed copy of this poem that she'd always had hanging in her house. It is so sweet and poignant, and I thought I'd share it with you. (You might want to grab a hankie first.)


To press my lips
Upon a fair cheek, or a brow,
Of my young sons--
So long I have stooped down;

But suddenly today to my surprise,
I find that I must lift my eyes
To meet their eyes;
That I must stand on toe tips
And reach up
To kiss their lips.
These tall young sons--
Each straight as any pine--
Can they be mine?

Soon I must share them,
Soon I know that they must go.
But O, I am so glad
That I have had
Small sons to stoop to,
Tall sons to reach to,
Clean sons to give
That other sons may live.

(Author Unknown)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The iMan and His Apps

This past weekend at my family's big reunion/camp-out/"Palooza," my younger, very talented brother put on a private concert for us on Saturday night. He set up his speakers and other fancy equipment--I don't know what any of it is called, but lots of wires were involved--on my sister's porch. Then he played his guitar and sang for us as the sun went down, until the bugs became so ferocious that we were driven inside.

Although my brother has a "day job," music has always been his passion. He picked up an acoustic guitar as a teenager and mastered it, without taking a single lesson or ever learning how to read music, and throughout high school he played in a garage band with several buddies. He plays everything by ear--and he can play just about any genre, from hard rock to classic rock to country to Elvis Presley to the Beatles...well, you get my drift. He's also very funny, and he tells jokes and pulls a lot of faces while he's performing. We set up our lawn chairs facing the "stage," in true concert fashion, and yelled requests at him. (I think we were a tougher crowd than the ones he plays for at bars and parties--and we weren't paying him!) It was a blast! How fortunate we are to have someone like him in the family to provide us with free, top-notch entertainment. The weekend was so much fun anyway, but my brother's concert was the icing on the cake.

At one point, my brother was about to begin a set of 70's and 80's tunes, and he said if anyone had a lighter, that would be the time to raise it. Not many people carry lighters these days (smoking doesn't have the widespread acceptance it used to enjoy), and I guess at concerts kids raise their lit-up cell phones instead. Well, my husband--the iMan extraordinaire--was Johnny on the Spot and found a free app for his iPhone (he likes the free ones best) called "iLighter Free," which puts a realistic-looking image of a lighter on your screen. What's really neat, though, is that as you wave your phone, the flame moves, too. If it had been darker when this photo was snapped, it would probably look like this cute cowboy was holding up an actual lighter.

Leave it to my husband to find this app. I make fun of him a little bit, because he loves his iGadgets so much. He is the iMan. But some of the apps you can get for the iPhone and iPad truly are incredibly helpful. My husband is an airline pilot and is constantly traveling, and he used to bring along his laptop; now, he can pack his iPad and he doesn't even have to take it out to go through security. No matter where he goes, he can get just about any information he could ever need using Apple's state-of-the-art technology. He even gets updates on the sports teams he follows, and when he receives this information (the score of the latest Red Sox game, for instance), his iThingy plays the ESPN Sports Center theme song. Isn't that cool?

There are more serious--and seriously helpful--apps, however, than ones that provide sports updates. Because my husband travels to Europe for his job, on any given Sunday he might find himself in a foreign city wondering how to find a Catholic Church so that he can get to Mass. Surprise: there are apps for that! (There are apps for everything!) Two of his favorite free apps are "Catholic Mass Times" and "Church Finder." With these apps, my husband can locate a Catholic Church, get directions to it, and find out what times the Masses are. Before he was the iMan, he always figured out how to get to Mass on Sunday, no matter where in the world he was. But it was much more complicated and involved reading paper maps and talking to concierges at hotels, some of whom don't speaka da English so good. Now, all of that information is literally at his fingertips. He just used these two apps this past Sunday, as a matter of fact, to help two of our sons who were on a cross-country road trip and needed to know where to find the nearest church and its Mass schedule.

Now if only he can find apps that will pay the bills, mow the lawn, do his P90X workouts for him...don't laugh, this technology is probably on the horizon. And when it gets here, I know my iMan will be the first to download it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Birthday Girl

Today is my birthday, and I don't want to make too big a deal out of it. I mean, I'm happy I'm still here to celebrate another year of life...but that doesn't mean I particularly like the number of candles on my cake. As my aunt (my father's only sister) said this past weekend at the family reunion "Palooza," she has had a wonderful life and has loved each and every year; she just can't believe how many of them there have been! I can definitely relate to that sentiment.

The reunion at my sister's house on the lake presented a plethora of opportunities for water activites that involved donning a bathing suit, but there's nothing I hate more than having that much skin exposed. I did go for a swim and a rowboat ride with my hubby, and this meant I had to "put on my trunks," as he likes to say. But I was happy to get back into more modest attire afterward. Even when I was a teen and a twenty-something, I couldn't walk about in a bathing suit unless I had a big towel tied securely around my waist. These days, I put swim shorts on over my one-piece, and then a knee-length beach cover-up over everything; the beach cover-up doesn't come off until I'm about to put my toes into the water, and then it goes on again the minute I get back on dry land!

I'm posting a picture today of the last time I looked really cute in a bathing suit. It was taken 50 years ago--a half of a century ago!--at the Jersey Shore, when I was three. Okay, now you know how old I am.

Anyway, I guess there are more important things in life than looking great in a bathing suit. My husband still says, "You're a beach angel!" (because he likes to quote funny movies and T.V. commercials--see my July 17 post titled "Cutie Pie is a Genius!" if you're confused by this reference). As long as he sees me that way, I'll be fine.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

St. Dismas, the "Good Thief"

I have begun to pray to St. Dismas, one of the two criminals who were crucified with Our Lord on Calvary. He is known as the "Good Thief" because of the way he admitted his wrongdoing, accepted his punishment, and acknowledged the goodness and power of Jesus. The other thief railed against his fate and taunted Jesus, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the penitent St. Dismas humbly said to Our Lord, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."

Both of these criminals were pleading for help; but while the other thief only wanted to be physically saved from death, St. Dismas knew he was going to die and was thinking of the true salvation that would come after death. St. Dismas believed that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of mankind, and for his faith, he was rewarded with this promise: "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

I never used to think of this "Good Thief" in terms of being a saint, of being someone I could pray to for help; but of course anyone who is in Heaven is a saint. And there is no doubt that this man, despite the sinful life he led before his conversion on a cross, is in Heaven--and we know this because the promise of sainthood came right from the mouth of the Son of God. Imagine that! Imagine being told by Jesus Himself that you were going straight to Heaven upon your death!

Here is a prayer to St. Dismas, the "Good Thief"; he was a flawed man who was an unlikely candidate for sainthood, and therefore he gives hope to us all as we struggle to reach that goal.

O good St. Dismas, who are in Heaven enjoying the beatific vision of God because of a contrite and humble heart and a kind and forgiving crucified Saviour whose parched lips uttered the assuring words of salvation on Calvary's Cross, "Verily I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise," plead my cause before the court of Heaven and present my spiritual and temporal requests to Our Blessed Lord, with the help of Our Sorrowful Mother and good St. Joseph.

(Here state your request.)

In return for these kind favors, O good St. Dismas, I promise to amend my own life, do penance, and to help spread your blessed devotion far and near, so that at the end of life's journey I may thank you, personally, in Heaven. Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Happy Campers

This weekend, my parents, my brothers, sisters, and most of my first cousins, along with their spouses and kids, are having a big family reunion, (which my youngest sister, the hostess with the mostess, has dubbed a "Palooza," and rightly so). People have come from all over the country to gather at my sister's lakeside house in Upstate NY. Some are staying in a rented cottage a few minutes down the road. Many of them brought their tents and camping gear (one cousin even towed his fishing boat all the way from Michigan!), and they're camping out in her back yard. As you can see from the photo on the left, my sister's property looks like an official campground, complete with a Port-a-Potty. My sister and her husband even graciously offered their R.V. for one family to use, and those lucky relatives are sleeping in air-conditioned comfort parked in her driveway.

My husband and I are not really what you would call campers; as one of our favorite comedians, Jim Gaffigan, likes to say, we're what you would call "indoorsy." (Read: we like comfy beds and hot, running water.) My husband grew up on the lake, with a ski boat anchored right out back and eight siblings who loved to swim and waterski; there was hardly any need for his parents to take their kids anywhere else to provide them with summer fun. They had all they could ask for right out their back door. And my family had a camp on a small lake about 45 minutes from our home, one that was owned by my grandmother for years and then became my parents' special retreat. We would go there for a few weeks every summer when we were kids. At camp, we had a row boat, a motor boat, and a canoe, and a little extra sleep cabin out behind the main cabin that was perfect for slumber parties. That little cabin was musty and spooky, and sometimes had spiders and bats in it, but it made for some great childhood memories. When my husband and I were raising our boys, our vacations were always centered around spending time with family. My childrens' grandparents on both sides had these wonderful places by the lake that we'd enjoyed so much growing up; therefore, why would we need to go to a campsite and set up a tent when we could stay with Papa and Grandma or Mimi and Bigfoot?

So, as I said, my husband and I are not campers. We made the command decision this weekend to forgo a tent and stay at my husband's family home, which is a relatively short drive from my sister's house. That's right, we weaseled out of camping and are sleeping in a king-sized bed with the air conditioner cranked up. I think it looks really fun--really Palooza-like--with the tents set up all over my sister's yard. And by fun I mean uncomfortable.

When we were young parents and people heard that we had five boys, they would often say, "You must camp a lot." Nope! But there are other non-campers out there like us. All you have to do is watch Jim Gaffigan's hilarious DVD called "King Baby" and you'll see what I mean. If you can get through it without laughing until you cry, then you're a better man than I am. When he begins his bit on camping, he says that his parents never took him camping when he was a child. "You know why?" he asks. "Because they LOVED me!" Then he goes on to say that the term "happy camper" is always used to describe someone who's anything but happy. He says that happy campers are the people who are leaving a campsite and on their way back to their houses, where they can shower. Anyway, there is a lot of other funny stuff on this DVD (if you like bacon, it's a must-see!), and I highly recommend it.

Okay, I've gone off-track a bit here. Back to the family reunion. It's been a great visit so far--a bit on the hot side, but if it really becomes unbearable, we can always go jump in the lake, right? It's wonderful to get together with my siblings and my far-flung cousins, to just sit and catch up. We were up until 2:00 a.m. doing just that last night! And my sister's home has provided the most wonderful place to do this. Just look at the photo that showcases the view from her front porch (you can click on it to enlarge it to get the full effect), with the lake and the Green Mountains of Vermont in the background: it is truly magnificent.

We are fortunate and blessed. We ARE happy campers!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Missing My Boys

When the alarm went off a little while ago, my husband said his first thought was, "Where are we going today, and are we flying or driving?" That's how much we've been traveling this summer! I know how he feels; when I woke up the other day at the hotel in Arizona, I thought I was at the hotel at which we stayed when we flew out to the Midwest for our granddaughters' Baptism, and I had to give my head a shake and remind myself where we were and what we were doing.

We just got back from our trip out to Arizona yesterday, and this morning we leave for Upstate NY (by car--yippee!) for a family reunion--my side this time. Not only are all of my brothers and sisters going to be there with their spouses and kids, but most of my first cousins and their families are coming, too. They're traveling from all over the country for this event; some are staying with my sister, some at a rented cottage, and some are pitching tents and camping out on my sister's property. It should be lots of fun.

The only thing I'm bummed out about is that we're not going to be able to have even one of our children with us. My oldest is heading back to Afghanistan, and his wife and babies are out in the Midwest. Sons #2 and #4 are in the middle of a cross-country road trip (they're in Oklahoma at the moment) and won't make it back until the reunion is over. Son #3 lives and works in Virginia now, and he just splurged on an airline ticket a few weeks ago to attend the Baptism (he's the godfather to Cutie Pie); he really can't afford another ticket at this time, and the drive would be a long one for a weekend visit. That leaves my baby--and he has to work on Friday and Sunday. I suppose I could have begged him to try to find replacements for those days, but they're hard to come by on weekends. Plus, he probably wouldn't enjoy it as much as he would if at least ONE of his brothers was going to be there, too. He's always loved being with his big brothers. I remember when he was a toddler, every time they came home from school, he was overjoyed and he'd yell, "Dies!" (He was not a violent baby; he was yelling "Guys!")

So that means it's going to be just my husband and myself. I'd like to show off my guys, my wonderful sons--and of course my three beautiful girls, my daughter-in-law and the twins--of whom I'm so proud, especially to my cousins, whom I haven't seen that much over the years. I love being around my boys; my husband and I both do, because we are in the extremely fortunate position of not just loving our children, but liking them, too. We love spending time with them--they are our favorite people in the world--and I think they'd say the same about each other. The fact that they are such good friends brings my husband and me joy beyond measure. I'm so proud of them all. I mean, look at this picture of them, part of a Father's Day photo shoot from 2008 (a gift for their cowboy hat-wearing dad). Aren't they adorable, and don't they look like they'd be fun to hang out with?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Something Cute and Colorful to Brighten Your Day

I'm getting a bit of a late start today, because I've been in bed ever since we got home from our trip out west. It was wonderful, but exhausting!
For anyone out there who woke up this morning and felt a tad blah, I thought I'd post this image chock-full of cuteness and color to brighten up your day. We received this recently-snapped photo from our daughter-in-law via e-mail while we were on the road. I don't think you can look at this picture of my precious twin granddaughters (Bonny Babe on the left, and Cutie Pie on the right) in their matching outfits without smiling. And as if the colorful flowered sunsuits weren't cute enough, they're modeling brightly-hued hand-knitted caps that were a gift from my husband's sister and her fiance. My sister-in-law commissioned her fiance's talented daughter to make these little fashion gems for the babies. Aren't they absolutely adorable? The caps already fit them at six-and-a-half weeks; but the very soft, fine yarn out of which they're made has a lot of stretch to it, so the girls ought to be able to wear them for a long time to come.

We made it back from our trip to Arizona safe and sound this morning, thanks be to God! I couldn't help but think of my oldest son as we were flying home, though; because as we were in the air heading back to New England in the wee hours today, he, too, was on a plane, just beginning the long journey back to his post in Afghanistan. When we spoke to him last night to say good-bye before he left, he sounded like his old self: cheerful and positive, and seeing the bright side, which is that he has only two months to go out of a twelve-month tour. But it had to be hard, after two weeks of spending time getting to know his new baby daughters, to board that plane and leave his wife and those two little cherubs behind. I struggled to keep from choking up on the phone, because if he can be brave, I want to be brave, too. I am determined to stay as positive as he is, and to think only of how fast the time will fly now that he's almost done. At least he'll be able to see his daughters on Skype, in real time--something that would have been impossible for separated Army families not that long ago. And before he knows it, he'll be back home for good.

And if he ever needs a pick-me-up to brighten up his day while he's over there, all he has to do is look at this picture!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

I'm Blogging from Arizona!

I can't believe this, but we're in Arizona, and I don't have my laptop with me--and I'm blogging! On the road! I feel a little ridiculous, though, because I'm sitting in this special little room/cubicle in the hotel that you have to use your room key to get into, and it's all set up with a computer, a phone, office supplies, and a printer. I'm sure it's here for important businessmen to conduct million-dollar deals, not for silly little housewives to keep up with their very unimportant blogs. But I really am so excited. I like my little morning routine and miss it a lot when we're traveling and I have to skip a few days (unless it's because I'm out visiting my baby granddaughters, in which case I pretty much forget about it altogether).

It is so different here than it is in New England! Everything is so brown and dry, and all the houses are box-shaped and made of earth-toned stucco. We passed an orchard of green trees on our way from the airport in Phoenix to our destination near Tuscon (I think they were pecan trees?) and a few other patches of green growing things, and they stood out like a sore thumb. I don't know if I could live in a place that has so little grass--although growing up, my sons would have loved the fact that they'd never have to mow or rake the lawn!

I really must finish this quickly, because I'm so worried that someone who REALLY needs this little office is waiting and getting frustrated. But here's the big news from our trip so far: my #2 son saw a roadrunner for the first time in his life this morning. He asked the brother who's been living out here the past four months what kind of bird it was, and was shocked that it actually was a roadrunner--a creature which he thought existed only in the animated world of Looney Tunes. He didn't hear it say "Meep Meep," or catch Wile E. Coyote setting up an anvil to drop on its head...but he saw a real live roadrunner. So that was pretty cool.

Today, we head over to the Army base for my #4 son's graduation from Military Intelligence school. He is being given the "Iron Man" award, which is a big honor. (His older brother and two of his female cousins also received this award when they attended this same school; the girls' version was called the "Iron Woman" award, of course. I have a funny story about that, but I'll save it for another time.) This son of mine is a pretty tough individual; he's pretty much made of iron. So don't mess with him, that's all I'm sayin'.

Although he flew out with us, son #2 --a very good brother--is going to begin a long road trip this afternoon, helping son #4 drive his car eastward (it's a trek of over 2,500 miles!). Later tonight, my husband and I are taking the red-eye back home. And I'm looking forward to our flight as much as I always do.

I still can't believe that I blogged from here. This whole world of computers and the internet utterly blows my mind. No matter where you are, you can stay connected! How does it all work? We can Skype with our oldest son in Afghanistan and see his smile as he talks to us. Modern technology is amazing! It's almost as amazing as airplanes flying through the sky. What a crazy, wonderful world!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Touching the Face of God, With My New Carry-On Bag at My Feet

Two days ago, I purchased a snazzy new navy blue faux alligator carry-on bag for my trip out to AZ this morning with my husband. (I actually wrote this post Monday night, in case this Tuesday morning proved too hectic for blogging, so that all I'd have to do is push the "publish post" button. Wow, this has become an addictive little habit. Anyway...) I wanted something smaller and easier to manage than my trusty pink roller bag, which is the greatest suitcase in the world for longer trips but a tad big for a short one. We are only going away for two overnights this time, so I don't need to bring too many changes of clothes. And since it's about as hot as the surface of the sun out there in the Southwest, everything I'm packing is very lightweight and takes up almost no space in a suitcase. I thought it might be handy to have a bag that is perfect for this sort of trip, one that I should be able to slide right under the seat in front of me. There's nothing I hate more than carrying my pink bag down that crowded aisle and trying to hoist it up and stuff it into an overhead bin when the plane is jam-packed and people are waiting impatiently behind me. If I'm going to travel by airplane--which, as you know, I'd rather not have to do--at least I can make the process more bearable by having the right type of bag for every kind of excursion.

I found this little beauty at T.J. Maxx, the greatest store on earth. It was exactly the bag for which I'd been keeping an eye open the past few months, and I fell in love with it immediately. It looks almost like a giant purse, but it's got wheels and a long retractable handle, too, just like a regular suitcase. At first, I balked at the price tag: $39.99! How do these people sleep at night?! (I always have to think hard about making any purchase that exceeds $20.) But then I saw that it was a designer bag with its original price tag on it, and the suggested retail price was $320! "Who in his right mind," I thought, "would pay $320 for a little bag, even one as cute as this one?" But I also thought, "Hey, $39.99 is a real bargain! SOLD!" (As my husband would say, I would have lost money if I hadn't bought it.)

When my #4 son--the one we're flying out to see today, to attend his graduation from Military Intelligence school--called that night, I told him all about my new bag. (I'm pretty sure that half the time, my husband and my sons tune me out when I babble on about things like T.J. Maxx finds; but they at least pretend to be interested.) When I told him it was made of faux alligator, he said, "Ooo, Mom, very chic." That just tickled my funny bone. And it made me even more excited to pack up my chic little carry-on bag and jet out to see this funny boy whom I've been missing for the past four months.

I thought this fashion-forward alligator bag was all I was going to talk about in this post, but then one of our lovely nieces, a soon-to-be fellow pilot, did the nicest thing for my pilot husband. I couldn't wait until I get back from this trip on Thursday to share it.

I may not have mentioned this before, but I am surrounded by pilots in my family. My oldest son is currently a Chinook helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army. My husband was a Naval Aviator who flew A-7's and then F-18 fighter jets for about eight years, and for the past 23 years he has been a commercial airline pilot. He followed in the footsteps of his own father, who did a stint as a Naval Aviator in the waning days of the Korean War before entering the civilian world to run a family dairy business and raise eight children. We have a brother-in-law who is a retired Air Force pilot and now flies for an airline. One of my husband's younger brothers followed the same career path he did (going from Naval Aviator to commercial airline pilot)--and not only that, this brother's father-in-law was a career airline pilot, his wife was a flight attendant before she became a full-time mom, and his wife's brother is an airline pilot. And now, his second oldest daughter--his little girl!--is about to earn her aviator's wings and become a Navy helicopter pilot! (You'd think with all these aviation nuts around me, I'd think flying was the coolest thing in the world! Well actually, I do think it's a cool thing to do...but only for other people.)

We are so proud of this niece of ours: she's a funny, energetic, competent, driven, absolutely stunning blonde beauty with sky blue eyes and a dazzling smile, and we have no doubt that she will make her mark in the male-dominated world of Naval Aviation. Just yesterday, my husband received a package from this niece that included a polo shirt with aviator's wings embroidered on it (which is much more macho than a preppy little alligator or polo player, let me tell you!). She also sent her uncle a plaque decorated with a copy of "High Flight," a favorite poem of his--and undoubtedly a favorite of all military pilots. (It is really quite beautiful, so I thought I'd add it to this post. If you didn't stop to read it yet, you really should.) We used to have a large framed poster of this poem hanging in our house, but it got wrinkled and torn during a move and we haven't had it displayed for awhile. My husband is absolutely thrilled to have another copy to put up with all of his other Navy memorabilia, on what folks in our Navy days used to call the "I love me wall."

This high-flying niece is not only a very accomplished young lady; she's thoughtful and loving as well (and may have earned favorite niece status with her uncle, at least for the time being). Congratulations, L, on your great achievement! You've worked hard, and you've earned those wings! And thanks for thinking of your uncle. Your gifts touched him beyond words.

Well, I'm going off into the wild blue yonder once again, flying on a wing and a prayer, slipping "the surly bonds of earth" to touch the face of God...with my chic new alligator carry-on bag at my feet. Wish me luck!

Papas Need Naps, Too

Here's another classic photo for you. Is this a priceless moment captured on film, or what?

This is my husband holding Bonny Babe (that's my new little code name for the slightly older/slightly bigger of the twins, in case you missed yesterday's post). Yes, Papa wanted to rock his baby granddaughter to sleep; but he thought while he was at it, he'd catch a few winks himself. Old people like us tend to take these unplanned naps whenever we find ourselves settled into seats that are the least bit comfy. To keep this from happening we have to keep moving, like sharks.

Note that Papa and baby are each holding one hand in a very similar position. I guess when her sister Cutie Pie isn't around, Bonny Babe has to do the mirror image thing with someone. It might as well be Papa.

Also note that Bonny Babe's other grandfather can be seen in the background, looking somewhat amused. But I don't know how a person--particularly a person of a certain age--can be expected to keep his eyes open when he's holding a warm, sleeping bundle of Heaven like Bonny Babe on his lap...and he's ensconsed in an overstuffed rocker/recliner that is seriously way, way too comfortable...and the afternoon sun is streaming in the window, warming his face and causing his eyelids to droop...and he's rocking back and forth; back and forth; back and forth; back...and...What just happened? I think I must have dozed off there. What was I saying?

Oh, I was talking about my husband, wasn't I? And his tendency to fall asleep in his tracks, which I rarely ever do. (If my boys are reading this, they're having a good laugh. I can't remember the last time I made it through a whole movie on DVD without a least a little catnap or two.) Anyway, I love this picture. Sweet dreams, Papa!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cutie Pie is a Genius!

Here's another one of those pictures that speaks a thousand words. And do you know what it's saying? It's saying "My granddaughter is a genius!" ("You look amazing!" "You're a beach angel!" That's from a Travelocity commercial, and the fact that I'm alluding to it here only proves that I watch way too much T.V. For those of you who put your time to better use and haven't seen this commercial yet, sorry for the obscure reference--but it really is funny!)

Anyway, this is the younger (by two minutes) and smaller (by a little over a pound) of my identical twin granddaughters. To make it easier to distinguish her from her sister without revealing her name on this blog, from now on I'm going to refer to this twin as "Cutie Pie." And her slightly older, slightly bigger sister will be "Bonny Babe."

Cutie Pie is only five weeks old here, and she's reading sheet music already! Doesn't she look like she's really trying to make sense out of all those notes? She's a prodigy! That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Cutie Pie's mommy taught herself to play the accordion; that's evidence of musical genius in my book, so perhaps this little one has inherited her mother's talents. If you're thinking "Perhaps the baby is simply mesmerized by a random pattern of dots, if she can see anything at all," then I guess you just don't get it. Because my granddaughter is a genius.

I must go get ready for Mass. Have a blessed and holy Sunday!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Daddy's Little Girls

I am going to try to make my next few posts short and sweet (hey--that description fits my twin granddaughters!). I've been traveling a lot lately and have let some things that need doing around here slide--but don't worry, son #3, I am still working hard on that special project, (;--so I need to step away from my blogger dashboard and get them done. But I have several pictures I want to post that truly are the kind that speak a thousand words, so I won't have to write much to go with them.

The photo above is one of the gazillion that I took during the time my husband and I were out in the Midwest for our granddaughters' Baptism. I love to catch people unawares, when they don't know they're having their picture taken. They don't always like the whole "candid camera" routine--say, if you catch them making some weird expression or something of that nature. But some of my favorite shots are taken from behind anyway, because I think that sometimes people convey as much with their body language as they do with their faces. When I saw my oldest son, the new daddy home on leave from Afghanistan, sitting there gazing down at his baby daughters over the side of their crib, I quietly slipped away to grab my trusty camera and capture this ineffably touching moment for posterity. I'm so glad I did, because this simple picture tells the whole story of how besotted my boy is with his tiny baby girls.

My son's tender heart, always a large and loving one, has been introduced to a type of love the enormity of which he could never have imagined until now, and he is forever and profoundly changed. He is a FATHER. His life will never be the same. He will never be able to look at the world in the same way again, because now it will seem fraught with dangers he hardly noticed for his own sake; but the world will also be a happier, fuller, more interesting place, now that his daughters--those wondrous blessings from God--are in it. And no matter how old they get, they will always be Daddy's little girls.

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's Tough Being Technology Challenged

I wish I was a little kid, because if I was, I would probably never struggle with computer issues. My little nieces and nephews are so computer-savvy, it's scary. (This candid photo of three of my adorable nephews that I snapped during the Pearl family reunion in early July perfectly illustrates this comfort level that today's kids have with computers. Wow--don't these boys look positively transfixed?) Having been born into a world where it is practically imperative that you know how to surf the internet, they are totally unintimidated by all the gadgetry that I am still struggling to understand. If you have a technology question, just ask someone under five feet tall and there's a good chance he can fix it for you! When my boys were young, it was mostly male children who were obsessed with things like video games; but today, little girls are every bit as interested and knowledgeable.

It's true that some big people are as good as kids at dealing with modern technology. My husband is one of them. He has an iPad now (a gift from the boys and me at Christmas that touched him so deeply, he got misty-eyed) and an iPhone. I have dubbed him the "iMan." I know Don Imus has dibs on that nickname, but I'm using it anyway.

I need to get caught up with the rest of the world when it comes to all this newfangled technology. It hurts you when you don't understand the magic of computers; it really stinks when you just turn them on and expect them to work all the time--and then for some inexplicable reason, they don't. I got up two hours ago planning to type up a quick post, and to my dismay, I found that I couldn't get on-line. I was helpless in the face of such a catastrophe. Drat! Dang those internets! (That word is not a typo; it's just a wee gift for son #4.) The computer and I definitely have a love/hate relationship. Anyway, I had to wait until my husband woke up so that he could "re-boot" something or other, whatever that means.

Although I'm not as afraid of pushing the wrong button on my laptop as I was a few years ago, I think I'm still lightyears away from being able to fiddle with our wireless internet system. So unless my husband (or perhaps some five- to eight-year-old niece or nephew) is there to help me out, I'm always going to be toast. Perhaps a few years down the road I'll be able to get help from my granddaughters!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Flying on a Wing and a Prayer

As you know, I am rather aviophobic (there are two terms for fear of flying--aviophobia or aviatophobia; I just looked it up), but all I seem to do these days is FLY! The funny thing, though, is that instead of sitting there with my eyes squeezed shut during my least favorite part, take-off, I've become a bit obsessed with taking photos through the window. I think this one is kind of neat. This picture is actually one of a series that I snapped as we rumbled down the runway, took off, winged over the water, and finally ended up high above the clouds; I like it because you can so clearly see the waters of the Atlantic and the blessed terra firma, which I always hate to leave. You can also see the delicate-looking wing that is helping to keep an enormous hunk of metal weighed down with over a hundred souls and all their baggage (why does everyone have so much baggage?) airborne...AAAAGGGGHHHH!

This picture was taken on my most recent flight out to the Midwest with my husband to see our oldest son, who is home from deployment on leave, his wife and her family, and our darling month-old twin granddaughters. My son and his wife don't live out there, but it's where my daughter-in-law hails from. When she found out that she was expecting twins shortly after her husband left for his year-long deployment, she decided it would be best to go back home and stay with her folks through the birth of the babies and afterward, until he returns for good. It was a very wise decision, as she needed to go on bedrest for the last couple of months of her pregnancy, and she had that great support system around her. Her dear mother, an excellent cook, brought her meals on trays and did her laundry for her, allowing her to get the rest that was required to carry the babies to just shy of 37 weeks, which is considered full-term for twins.

My husband and I always enjoy the time we spend with my daughter-in-law's parents. Her mother is very sweet and makes anyone who walks in her door feel instantly at home. Her father is an intelligent, well-read, soft-spoken man, but he has a definite silly streak, too. He has introduced us to some interesting and amusing television shows, movies, and books. On this most recent trip, we watched a DVD called "The Reluctant Saint." This 1962 film, starring Maximillian Schell as St. Joseph of Cupertino and Ricardo Montalban as the Abbott who is reluctant to believe in his sanctity, is not only touching and well-made, but it is also quite humorous in spots as well. I found myself thinking that it would be impossible to make a movie like this, a beautiful tribute to a Catholic saint starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood, in this day and age. They just don't make them like this anymore.

If you've never seen "The Reluctant Saint," I highly reccommend it. It tells the story of Guiseppe, a 17th century Italian man who as a boy was thought to be the village idiot. He was slow, absent-minded, considered a nuisance and a dunce, and treated harshly. Even his own mother didn't know what to do with him and wished to be rid of him. Guiseppe became a servant at a Franciscan monastery, where he joyfully and humbly worked in the stables. He was not very bright and struggled with his studies; but when he was being examined for the priesthood, the examiner asked him about the only thing he knew well, so he passed and eventually became a real member of the Order and entered the priesthood. Guiseppe was very devout and had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. His life was marked by ecstasies and levitations. Numerous times, people saw Guiseppe rise from the ground while praying or saying Mass. He became so famous for miracles that the friars had to keep him hidden away. I won't tell you any more about the life of this amazing saint, because I really want you to see this movie. Although it is a fictionalized version of his life, it will acquaint you with St. Jospeh of Cupertino, the "flying friar."

I ended up praying to this saint, about whom I knew nothing until I saw the movie, before our return flight--because guess what? St. Joseph of Cupertino is a patron of air travelers, aviators, and astronauts (that makes sense, I suppose, because he himself could fly). Now, I will always pray to St. Joseph of Cupertino for safe air travels, along with another powerful patron of aviators, St. Therese of Lisieux (to whom French pilots during WWI were very devoted); I'll pray to my Guardian Angel, the pilot's Guardian Angel...the list grows. But when it comes to flying, that's how I roll: on a wing and a prayer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's "Tummy Time"!

I think these two photos of my infant granddaughters having "tummy time"--taken during our recent visit with them at their maternal grandparents' house out in the Midwest--are just precious. My question, though, is this: who is enjoying the experience more--the babies, or their Papa and their Daddy? I love seeing these two grown men lying on their tummies next to the girls, talking to them and encouraging them to exercise. (Daddy even demonstrated some push- ups for them, but they weren't having any of it.)

"Tummy time" is a new term for a couple of oldsters like my husband and me (and it's a very cute term, too; I love to say it). This activity has become a normal part of infants' lives since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended putting babies "back to sleep" more than a decade ago. When my four oldest boys were infants, it was the custom to put them down in their cribs on their bellies. By the time we had our fifth, this had changed, because research had found that there was a possible link between babies sleeping in that position and SIDS. So our youngest child slept either on his back or on his side, propped into place with rolled-up receiving blankets (another position we were told was safe) during the infant stage. At first, this change to sleeping on the back was difficult for my husband and me to get used to. Our every instinct was to put our little one down on his belly. But even though our other four had thrived despite sleeping on their bellies, we weren't about to disregard the latest recommendations of the pediatrics profession; and our youngest son, of course, did absolutely fine.

With the change in sleep position, however, it was found that more infants develop flat spots on the backs of their skulls; they also get less chance to work the muscles in their upper bodies. Lack of "tummy time" can delay how long it takes a little one to master such skills as lifting his head and turning over. It may also have an impact on sitting up and crawling. The solution is simple: you flip your baby onto his tummy several times a day, when he or she is awake and you can be there to supervise. "Tummy time" promotes trunk stability, limb coordination, and head control.

It was very exciting for the two men in the picture above--and for Mommy and me, too--any time one of the twins would stretch, arch her back, kick her feet, or lift her arms. I think my son and my husband had more fun watching those two babies squirming around on a blanket than they do watching television coverage of Olympic athletes competing for gold. "Tummy time" is not only good for little babies, it's entertaining for their parents and grandparents, too!

(Some information courtesy of an on-line article from Parents magazine, "Tummy Time," by Sheryl Berk.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Welcome, Little Christians

I would like to introduce you to the two cutest little Christians in the universe: my identical twin granddaughters, who were baptized on Sunday morning!

My husband and I just returned this afternoon from a five-day trip out to the Midwest that was just fantastic. We got to see our oldest son, who has been in Afghanistan for the past nine months, and to watch him in "daddy mode" with his one-month-old baby girls; and we got to attend the Baptism of our very first grandchildren, who really are about the most adorable creatures God ever put on this planet. Our #3 son was chosen as a godfather to one of the babies, and one of our lovely nieces was chosen as the godmother. (My daughter-in-law's older brother and his wife are the godparents of the other baby.) These two young people, my son and my niece, were so thrilled and touched to be given this honor that in order to attend the Baptism, they both flew out from Southern states on the East Coast on Saturday and then had to turn around and fly back home on Sunday. But they wouldn't have missed it for the world. It meant so much to my oldest son and his wife that they were able to be there--and I know it meant a lot to the proud new godparents, too.

This Baptism was extra-special because the babies were actually baptized by their maternal grandfather, who is an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church. It was a beautiful and holy ceremony, and my two granddaughters were perfect angels. (I'm sure you're not surprised; and no, I'm not biased.) Neither one of them made a peep throughout the whole ceremony, even when the water was poured over their heads.

The twin babies looked like twin angels in the christening gowns and bonnets that I made out of my mother-in-law's treasured linen pillow shams (see "Making Christening Dresses," March 8, 2011, for more on this). The little porcelain doll that modeled these dresses awhile ago on this blog ("Making Christening Dresses, Part 2," April 2, 2011) looked very sweet in them--but not nearly as adorable as the pair of living dolls that donned them on Sunday. My daughter-in-law ended up choosing the style shown in the top picture in that April 2 post for the girls to wear on their big day; this was a great choice, because it was an extremely hot day, and the backs of the gowns are open and just tie in two places with ribbon. I've decided that this is a perfect design for a christening gown, because it's cool to wear in the summer over a lightweight onesie, yet it can be slipped over a cozy sleeper for a winter Baptism. The simpicity of the design makes putting the gown on the baby and removing it a quick and easy process. There's no pulling the gown over the baby's head or struggling with tiny buttons.

Anyway, it was just a wonderful occasion and we feel so blessed. It wasn't easy saying good-bye--either to the babies or to our son, who will be returning to Afghanistan in about a week-and-a-half to finish the last two months of his deployment. But my husband and I feel extremely lucky that his job affords us the opportunity to fly stand-by for free, so that no matter how far away they live, we will be able to be there for important events in our children's and grandchildren's lives. I may become a fan of flying yet. Miracles have been known to happen!

Friday, July 8, 2011

We're Going to the Twins' Baptism!

We're leaving in about 10 minutes to go out to the Midwest to see our son and his wife and our twin baby granddaughters, and we're so excited--because on Sunday, the twins are going to receive their first sacrament: Baptism. As my father, a convert to Catholicism and a staunch supporter of the Church, would joke, "There will be two less heathens in the world." My father, I have pointed out before, is an incorrigible tease, and sometimes his jokes are a bit over-the-top. But it really is exciting that those two little girls will now officially become members of the Mystical Body of Christ. What a joyous occasion it will be!

When I get back, I'll tell you all about it. See you Tuesday or Wednesday.

The Angelus

I've got angels on the brain this morning, for a couple of reasons. For one, I'm flying out to the Midwest (again! I'm a jet-setter!) with my husband later in the day to see our oldest son, who's back from deployment, and to attend the Baptism of his twin daughters...who are perfect little angels. (My husband hasn't seen them yet, so he's chomping at the bit!) And two, since airplane travel is going to be involved, you can bet I'll be getting in touch with my Guardian Angel to ask him to protect us on our trip. I can't seem to stop thinking about angels, so I thought it was a good day to post a prayer named for an angel, the Angelus. I've been curious about this prayer lately, having recently heard it mentioned; but I don't know much about it, so I decided to do a little research.

This prayer is traditionally said three times a day, and it is a distinctly Catholic practice. Many years ago, it was common for village church bells to ring at 6:00 a.m., noon, and 6:00 p.m. each and every day, to remind the faithful to pray the Angelus. (Those times also corresponded with going to work, breaking for lunch, and ending the work day to go home at night.) The praying of the Angelus is a devotion in memory of the Incarnation, when God the Son was miraculously conceived in Mary's womb and became flesh.

The Angelus gets its name from the opening words of the Latin form: "Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae" ("the Angel of the Lord declared to Mary").


The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word. Hail Mary...

And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us. Hail Mary...

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of the angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.

I think most of us who grew up in a post-Vatican II world have probably never even heard of the Angelus. For my part, I've heard of it--I've seen it mentioned in books--but I've never prayed it. In our busy world today, it's hard to imagine all Catholics stopping what they're doing three times a day to pray when they hear the sound of church bells ringing. But it would probably be a better world if we did.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Making Family Memories

Last week, most of my husband's family gathered at the family's home by the lake in Upstate NY. It is the same house in which my husband and his seven siblings grew up. It is the house in which my mother-in-law lived until the end of her life, even after my father-in-law died--and that meant occupying a large, sprawling, five-bedroom house all by herself for six years. But she loved that house; she used to say, "The only way you're going to get me out of here is in a pine box." It would have killed Mom to ever have to leave it. For the past eight years, this house has been known as "Grandma's House;" but Papa loved it just as much, and he worried that after he and Mom were gone it might be sold and go out of the family. To make sure this wouldn't happen, shortly before he died Dad made his eight children co-owners of the house. He needn't have worried, though; all eight of the Pearls who grew up there love that white Colonial by the lake almost as if it is a member of the family, and they would have fought to keep it. Following their mother's death two years ago, they formed an LLC with the sole purpose of maintaining and managing that property and keeping it in the family for as long as the last of the eight siblings is alive.

This house has seen so many family gatherings where every nook and cranny is filled with people of all ages, from babies to tweens to teens to adults. It's a big house, but the fact that so many people have slept there at one time reminds me of the parable of the loaves and fishes, in a way: the house always seems to expand to make as much room as necessary for the number of people that are staying there, and somehow, almost miraculously, we all find a place to rest our heads at night. One of my husband's sisters purchased the house next door some years ago, and that has been a huge help with the spillover, since our family has expanded yearly. As one of my sons put it once, "There always seems to be a new baby in our family." It's true! And now that the eight siblings' families appear to be complete (the youngest of the nieces and nephews is not quite two years old), my oldest son has brought two new baby girls into the family--and we are all looking forward to a whole new baby boom from this next generation!

It is so wonderful to have a place to gather that is all about family, where so many wonderful family memories have been created. I don't believe there is one of the 33 first cousins who will ever forget all the great family times spent at Papa and Grandma's house. And they will never forget their Papa and Grandma, who loved them all so dearly and always joyfully opened their house up to the chaotic masses that descended upon them.

This past week, during our most recent annual family reunion extravaganza (when 27 of the 33 first cousins were together at the house, ranging in age from 22 months to 26 years old), I managed to snap the two candid photos above. They were not staged; twice, I just happened upon kids sitting in what is fondly called the "Fun Room," looking through a scrapbook/photo album that contains old photos of Papa and Grandma and their parents and siblings when they were young, along with other family memorabilia such as old, yellowed newspaper clippings and wedding invitations. There are pictures of Mom when she was the "Rose Queen" at her college and Dad when he was a young Naval officer and aviator. There are pictures of Mom and Dad on their wedding day. These kids miss their Papa and Grandma; and looking through a scrapbook that tells the story of their grandparents' lives is as compelling an activity for two almost-grown-up boys getting ready to start high school in the fall as it is for a little girl who will be in third grade. I was so touched when I caught them sitting there, poring over those photos.

But how happy Mom and Dad would be to know that the tradition they started goes on! I'm sure that as long as any of their children are alive, there will be family gatherings at the house they both loved so much--and new family memories will continue to be made.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Boy is Back

Last night, at 11:15 p.m. (Central time), my oldest son completed the long and arduous journey that brought him home from Afghanistan and into the arms of his wife, from whom he's been separated for more than eight months. We don't have any details as of yet--just a quick message to let us know that he arrived safely--but we can imagine how joyous that reunion was. By now, he has had that first meeting with his adorable month-old twin daughters, and he was no doubt up most of the night last night helping with their feedings. I believe he must be about as happy as it's possible for a human being to be right about now. In two days, we will be flying out for the twins' Baptism, and we can hardly wait to see our son with his new little family.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been keeping our boy, his wife, and his baby girls in their prayers all this time. Keep those prayers coming!

(Illustration--once again--supplied by my old stand-by, Norman Rockwell.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Belated Happy Anniversary to My Mom and Dad

I was out in the Midwest getting to know my new granddaughters better when my parents celebrated their 55th anniversary on June 30. Even if I had brought my computer with me on that trip, I never would have had the time to blog. I forgot I even had a blog, to tell you the truth. Because you know what? The care and feeding of twin babies is a time-consuming job! As my husband put it: one baby is a 24-hour a day job; two is like trying to squeeze 48 hours of work into 24. My wonderful daughter-in-law and her amazing mom have been very busy for the past month, and I only regret that I don't live around the corner so that I could give them a hand more often.

55 years of marriage is quite a milestone, though, and I don't want to let it go by without a mention. So I'm sorry it's late Mom and Dad, but Happy Anniversary!

I'm really glad that my mom passed my dad's rigorous screening process (she had to fill out a questionnaire and send him a photo, no joke) prior to their first date, a blind date which had been arranged by one of my dad's Naval Academy buddies. I'm surprised that she didn't decide my dad must be some kind of nut job and back out altogether. But she's a good sport and she showed up. My dad, however, still hid himself until he got a good look at her. He said that if she had been a "dog" (his word, not mine), he was going to let himself out the back door and disappear. Apparently, he'd been set up on one unsuccessful blind date too many. Lucky for me that my mom was such a beauty, or I wouldn't be here today! My dad still remembers the beige cashmere twinset she was wearing--that's how big an impression she made on him the first time he laid eyes on her. When does a guy ever remember what a girl was wearing?

Within about three dates, my dad had declared his love for my mom, and they were married less than a year after they first met. For Dad, it was pretty much a case of love at first sight. Mom wasn't sure quite as quickly as he was...but Dad was persuasive. And it didn't hurt that he looked like a young Paul Newman back then. My mother's younger sisters thought he was such a dreamboat! When they married, Dad was 21 and Mom was a child bride of 20. And by the time Mom was 27, she'd already had five children. My parents are "Bigfoot" and "Mimi" to 17 grandchildren; and as of June 2, they became great-grandparents when my son's wife gave birth to twin girls. What a legacy they will leave behind--and to think, it all started with a blind date!

My parents are a great role model for my siblings and me, because after all those years together, they still act like a couple of lovebirds. I can only hope that my husband and I are blessed with as many years together!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Epitome of Cuteness

Look at this little peach--she's positively edible! You just want to nibble on those chubby little arms! And those huge blue eyes, that button nose...what an irresistible little girl! You would have to have a heart of stone to be able to look at her and not say, "Now she is just the epitome of cuteness; it's as simple as that."

This little muffin is the youngest of the many Pearl family first cousins. There are 33 in all; my firstborn son is the oldest, and this little cutie pie is the youngest. She's 22 months old, she's the spitting image of her mommy, and she has a personality to match that cute little mug of hers.

This week, my husband's family--all eight siblings and all but two of their spouses, and most of the incredibly close first cousins (along with one cousin's husband and three cousins' boyfriends)--are gathered at the family's lakeside homestead in Upstate New York. Each year, we get together over the Fourth of July weekend to play in a golf tournament to honor my husband's father, "Papa," the late and beloved patriarch of this sprawling clan, and to just sit and talk, laugh and catch up with each other. This family reunion is something that we all look forward to throughout the year and enjoy to the fullest.

I have mentioned before that I adore hats (see "Mad Hatters," April 29), but I don't think I've ever seen a more adorable hat on a more adorable head than this one. All I can think is this: I'm going to have to see to it that my twin granddaughters have some awesome Easter bonnets and various charming chapeaux such as this one to wear on their precious little noggins. The hunt for stylish and adorable millinery begins in earnest! In the meantime, I can enjoy this image, which is just the epitome of cuteness in my book. I thought you would enjoy it, too!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Mirror Images

My son, the father of the two little angels in this picture (whom he has yet to see in person), is on his way back from deployment in Afghanistan. HALLELUIA! Within a few days, he will be able to hold these two precious girls in his arms for the first time. I am so happy that he will finally be able to spend some time with his wee daughters and their wonderful mother.

My daughter-in-law went through her entire pregnancy--including several months of bedrest--and the birth of her twins, and then the first month after their birth, all without a husband by her side. She endured these hardships with grace, humor, and strength, and she is a hero to me. My son, too, had heavy burdens. He had to continue to serve his country in a far-off war zone and be satisfied with glimpses of his new little family on a computer screen via Skype; and yet, he never complained and continued to smile and chuckle through every Skype conversation we had with him. He, too, is a hero to me. These two little girls are in good hands, that's all I have to say. Having these two terrific people as parents--well, it's like they've won the lottery.

The picture above is one I took on my most recent trip to see my granddaughters (they are about four weeks old here). The two of them look so much alike anyway--but what was so funny was that they kept posing exactly alike as well, with their arms in the same positions. So often, they looked like perfect mirror images. I only regret that I didn't have my camera ready to capture them "holding hands," which they did from time to time.

Please pray for my son's safe journey home to see his baby girls. And keep his wife in your prayers, too, if you wouldn't mind; because after this two-week visit, they still have about three months to go before my son comes back from this deployment for good.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

President Garfield's "Rules for Living"

I have been away from my computer for many days. If you read this blog, you know that it's because I flew out to the Midwest to spend some time with my new twin baby granddaughters and their mommy, from Monday, June 27 to the wee hours of Friday, July 1. I finished helping my daughter-in-law with the 3:00 a.m. feeding on Friday (which, with twins, took until about 4:30), hopped in the shower, and left at 5:00 a.m. to begin the trek to the airport for my return trip. I landed and was picked up by my husband, who drove me home so that I could quickly re-pack. And then we got on the road for a four-and-a-half hour car trip to Upstate New York for a reunion with his family. The past week has been a busy and exhausting time (I slept little while I was out visiting the babies, running on adrenaline--or as my husband put it, "baby fumes"), but it was also so wonderful that I can't even find the words to do the experience justice.

Normally, the tears I shed on the day of a plane trip have to do with my nervousness about flying through the sky in a big, scary tube of metal; on that day, however, the copious tears I shed as I awaited take-off were for a different reason: I already acutely and painfully missed those two adorable little bundles of sweet perfection. I cannot think of a more joyful way to spend four days than feeding, burping, changing, comforting, cuddling, and rocking those two precious little girls--and of course, smelling their little heads and kissing their soft little cheeks. I would have liked to post a new picture of them today (I took lots!), but my camera batteries just died, and I have not as yet transferred the photos from my camera to my computer. So instead, I decided to post the document below about President Garfield's "Rules for Living," since I had it stored already in "My Pictures." I can't for the life of me remember where it came from, but it spent a good deal of time posted on a door in our kitchen when our kids were growing up, because we thought it contained a lot of wisdom about living a good life.

That being said, I don't know if President Garfield was a complete teetotaler or what, but I think the rule that says "Drink no intoxicating drinks" might be a bit extreme. In both my husband's extended family and mine, old Garfield might find a bit of opposition to that one! I mean, it seems like the occasional spot of Irish whiskey can't hurt too much, or the cold beer that goes so well with grilling in the summertime or football games in the fall. And it would be a shame to never partake of the champagne during a toast at a wedding. Even Our Lord and His Blessed Mother weren't against a bit of alcohol for special occasions and feasts; after all, when they ran out of wine at the wedding feast at Cana, Mary asked Her Son to perform his first public miracle and turn water into wine. He didn't respond, "Mother, I can't do that, because no one should EVER drink intoxicating drinks"; He did what his mother asked Him to do so that the party could go on. So I think maybe President Garfield was being a tad overzealous on that one. As long as you keep your wits about you and don't overindulge, I'm certainly not against the drinking of adult beverages.

Otherwise, however, there is a lot of good advice here. I remember once when my oldest son was in junior high, the mother of one of his basketball teammates accused him of trying to harm her son during practice drills; she insisted that my son was trying to cause an injury that would allow him to move into her son's starting spot. My poor boy was so upset by the accusation, and he was worried that people would believe the lies that had been told about him. But as Garfield advises, "If anyone speaks evil of you, let your life be so that no one believes him." My son's character was such that this is exactly what happened: no one who knew him believed the other boy's mother, without my son having to utter a single word in self-defense.

Maybe a few of these "rules" can be taken with a grain of salt; and there's nothing in them about faith, which is a huge omission--for without God, none of us can live life as we should. But for the most part, this is a great guide to living a good life. (Click to enlarge for easier reading.)