Monday, April 30, 2012

Disco Shirts and Dream Dresses

Yesterday after Mass I got sucked into watching a TLC rerun of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  (It was the one year anniversary of that historic event.)  One of the most entertaining things about seeing the "wedding of the century" again was enjoying the fashion show--particularly the haberdashery!  One of the fashion critics on the program made the comment that most of the hats were utterly ridiculous, and I couldn't agree more.  While Kate Middleton's mother wore a very becoming wide-brimmed hat that matched her tasteful suit, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie sported outlandish headgear that made them look like a couple of cartoon characters out of a Dr. Seuss book or something.  So silly!

But I just had to force myself to look past the over-the-top hat styles, because Kate Middleton's wedding gown couldn't have been more of a fashion triumph!  I thought it was just incredibly beautiful!  I love the long lace sleeves she chose to wear, so reminiscent of those on Grace Kelly's iconic dress from her 1956 Monaco wedding.

Sometimes when I see a glowing bride like Kate Middleton (or my beautiful daughter-in-law) on her big day, it makes me wish I'd put more thought and effort into transforming myself into a princess for my own shining moment.  I was a very young bride in 1980--22--and at that point, I could count the number of weddings I'd attended on one hand.  There was no such thing as the Internet (so no to go to for ideas, no on-line shopping), and our small town had exactly one shop specifically dedicated to bridal wear.  I hadn't given a whole lot of thought to what my "dream dress" would look like; I only knew that the two or three I tried on at the local bridal shop (both extremely poofy, made out of snow white satin, and covered with pearls that may have been glued on rather than sewn, as a few of them fell off in the fitting room!) looked dreadful on me.

My wrinkle-resistant, washable Qiana dress.
Then one day, my husband's older sister and I were strolling through the mall, and we noticed a sign at one of the women's clothing stores that said, "Clearance--We are closing out our bridal section, and all bridal wear must go!"  Before this, we didn't even know that store had a bridal section!  On a whim, we went in, and I fell in love with the very first dress I tried on: an empire-waisted, long-sleeved gown in "antique white," a color which looked so much better against my skin than pure white.  It wasn't made of heavy satin, but rather a soft, silky fabric called Qiana, which had a lovely drape to it and was all the rage at the time.  The gown was half off, only $90, and there was a matching veil with a lacy Juliet cap in the same creamy color for $50.  On the spot, I put both items on layaway and didn't look back.

As my wedding day drew near, my mother offered to sew some sequins and seed pearls on the bodice of my dress to jazz it up, just as her mother had done for her; I thought about it, but decided that I liked it the way it was and wanted to keep it simple.  Years down the road, I sometimes wondered if I'd made a mistake about that.  A little extra shimmer and bling could never hurt a wedding gown; why had I insisted on such simplicity?  And why hadn't I had my hair done at a salon, instead having my sister-in-law--who was only 12 at the time!--get out the curling iron at the last minute and do my hair for me?  And why did I skip wearing mascara, worried that I would cry and look like a raccoon in pictures?  (Actually, I did cry reciting my vows, so that was probably a good call.)

My husband pooh-poohs my second guessing, telling me that he about had a heart attack when I walked down the aisle as it was.  (What a sweet-talker.)

I remember my mother-in-law, who was very knowledgeable about fashions and fabrics, told me that the Qiana fabric out of which my wedding dress was made would date it, so that it wouldn't be as timeless as if it had been made from silk or some other natural fabric.  I sometimes wondered if I'd made a big mistake when I chose it.  But you know what?  I've had it hanging in the back of my closet for over 30 years, and every time I take it out to look at it again, I realize that I love it as much as I did when I tried it on at that store in the mall and my sister-in-law assured me, "It's perfect--you should get it!"

And you know what else?  I've decided that I'm okay with the fact that the synthetic Qiana fabric dates it.  Do you know what that means?  It means I own a vintage wedding dress.  And you know how much I like anything vintage!

Anyhoo, I went on-line yesterday to do some research about wedding dresses from the 70's and 80's, and first I searched for and found the web definition for the knit fabric known as Qiana: "a silky nylon fiber first developed by DuPont in 1968; initially intended for high-end fashions, it became a popular material in the 70's for men's shirts..."  That's right, the fabric out of which my wedding dress was made was also used to make those shiny, long-collared shirts that were worn with tacky-looking polyester double-knit leisure suits by John Travolta wannabes when they hit the discos in the 70's!  Yowsah!  How embarrassing.

My favorite thing: the three-dimensional venise lace appliques.
As the "disco fever" started to die down, though, designers actually began to use Qiana for evening wear and wedding gowns.  In 1979, the year before I got married, designers Bill Schad and Miss Hilda created lines of empire-waisted Qiana gowns with three-dimensional venise lace embellishments.  The stretch knit made them comfortable (I can attest to that--mine was a dream to wear), and the dresses were lined throughout the bodice and skirt for modesty (I didn't even need to wear a slip underneath).  I'm thinking that my off-white Qiana gown might have been a designer knock-off, because just like the images I found on-line, it too has an empire waist and venise lace appliques on the sleeves and bodice.  In fact, it was those lace embellishments--along with the graceful drape of the silky knit fabric--that made me fall in love with my wedding dress in the first place.

I was no Kate Middleton on my wedding day, but I love my dated, bargain basement wedding dress all the same.  In fact, if I could go back and do it all over again, even knowing what I know now I wouldn't change a thing.  I'd still pick that Qiana dress...and I'd still have my sister-in-law work her magic on my hair with a curling iron.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Obligation

I'ts Sunday, and I'm about to get ready to go to an early Mass.  I'm doing this because faithful Catholics are obligated to attend Mass each and every Sunday (and on holy days of obligation as well).  But there's more to it than that.

That word--"obligation"--gets a bad rap sometimes.  It seems that nowadays, people often view the obligation to attend Mass as a negative thing.  But going to Mass is not a punishment (in fact, it's a privilege!); it's not some awful chore that we must get out of the way (all the while hoping that Father doesn't ramble on when he gives his sermon) so that we can go out for a nice brunch or rush home and start fixing our game day snacks.  Going out for brunches and watching football games on a big screen T.V. are great Sunday activities for families; but the most important Sunday activity is the Mass, for it is celebrated at the instruction of Our Lord Himself, who told his apostles at the Last Supper to "do this in memory of me." 

At the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we commemorate Christ's ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. He gave His life for us; the least we can do is joyfully give Him a mere hour of our time every Sunday! 

I read these two lines on a Catholic website, and it sums this post up perfectly: Understanding why the Mass is so important is the first step to loving the Mass.  And when you love the Mass, going to church on Sunday no longer feels like an "I have to," but instead becomes an "I need, I want to."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

eThis and eThat

On April 24, I wrote a post called "Lost in the World of Technology," in which I bemoaned the fact that eBlogger (the outfit that provides me with free access to its services so that I can send my little musings and ramblings out into the blogosphere every day) had changed its look and layout, leaving me feeling lost for awhile.  How dare they confuse me, I thought, just when I'd begun to feel so comfortable with the blogging process.  I mean, I was on my way to becoming a techno-nerd, practically.  (Hyperbole, anyone?)

I searched the internet that morning, hoping to unearth some humorous cartoon that would be a fitting addition to that particular post, and I found one that I thought expressed what I was feeling.  It was okay, I guess; but yesterday in my cyber travels, I found an even better one.  As soon as I saw it, I thought of how betrayed I'd felt the other day and said to myself, "Ain't this the truth?!"
You've probably seen some humorous, old fashioned-looking illustrations (called "your ecards") similar to this one already; if you're on Facebook, they are being shot all over the place--with "like" thumbs up's and comments attached.  (Ah, Facebook: my new passion.  There's a subject for another day!)  Some of them are so sharp and witty that you will find yourself L-ing O L along with your phalanx of Facebook friends.

Here's one that made the rounds recently when son #3 sent it to his brother, son #2, who has been sporting facial hair in various lengths and styles (from the neatly trimmed goatee to the truly scary, long, scraggly, unkempt mountain man beard) for the past five or six years.  Along with the ecard, son #3 said this: "I am sure you concur with this gentleman."  The words our middle son employed there, we thought, were every bit as funny as the ones in the caption, and they just added to the humor.
If you have a Facebook account and you haven't seen one of these funny, vintage-style ecards yet, I'm sure it won't be long until one of them ends up on your news feed.  Whoever is responsible for them, kudos to you, my friend.  They have made me :) and LOL like nobody's business.

(And as a sidenote: I am finding that eBlogger is actually a bit more user-friendly since it's been revamped.  That'll teach me to dread change!)

Friday, April 27, 2012

I Think I'll Keep Him

Well, here are the promised results of the little experiment I conducted yesterday morning. (If you haven't read yesterday's post, "Terms of Endearment," you might want to, or this one won't make much sense.)

After I published my blog post, I went upstairs to see what my beloved was up to.  He was in our bedroom, getting ready to change out of his jammies into gym shorts and an Under Armor muscle shirt so that he could start his daily P90X work-out (or as I like to think of it, the "gun show").

"How's my main squeeze doin' today?" I asked, just as sweet as pie.

He did not joke around and say, "Hey, wait a minute!  I'm only your main squeeze?  How many other squeezes do you have, anyway?"--as I thought he might.  No, he simply smiled that killer smile that has melted this heart of mine since I was a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl.

I know I said yesterday that I would be a bit disappointed if he didn't come back with a teasing retort when I used this unfamiliar term of endearment, but I've changed my mind.  He's a better man than I (well, you know what I mean), because although he can tease with the best of them, and the two of us love to make each other laugh, my husband can be a big old marshmallow--a really romantic guy--when it comes to his "best girl."
Here's one of my favorite pictures of my main squeeze.   I love that smile of his.

I think I'll keep him.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Terms of Endearment

My husband has recently taken to calling me his "best girl."  When he first called me this, about a week or so ago, my first instinct was to smile and--hoping to make him laugh--to tease him, "Best?  Your best girl?  Are there others?  Is there a long list or something?  I mean, I'm glad I'm at the top.  But I thought I was your only girl."  My poor, sweet husband! He was only trying, after over thirty years of marriage and a retinue of oft-used endearing pet names he has for me, to mix it up a little.  To make me feel special.  And he does. That guy makes me feel special every day of my life.  He's my best guy (and I'm his best girl). Period.

A couple of days ago, our second oldest son came for an overnight visit.  (He's a high school teacher and this week is his spring break, and he decided to spend part of his vacation catching up with his dear old mom and dad.)  He heard his father call me by this new term of endearment, and his take on it was different than mine: he thought it sounded like something out of the fifties, something you'd hear a husband say to his wife on a black and white T.V. show. Like something Ward Cleaver might call June on "Leave it to Beaver."

"Exactly," my husband said.  That's just what he'd been going for: a sort of throwback to some of that good, old-fashioned chivalry and gentlemanly courtesy so lacking in our modern world.  And really, it's actually a huge compliment: it means that out of all the girls he could have chosen, I guess he liked me best!  How lucky am I?

I've decided that I'm going to start calling my hubby my "main squeeze."  And I'm going to be slightly disappointed if I do and he doesn't come back with, "Your main squeeze?  Are there others?  How many squeezes do you have, anyway?"  If he does, it will be exactly what I deserve.  (When he gets up, I'm going to execute this little experiment, and tomorrow I'll post the results.)

The above painting is called "Little Spooners," by Norman Rockwell.  That's my husband and me on that sagging bench.  At least, that's what I always see when I look at this piece of artwork.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Home, Home on the Range

As much as we've enjoyed our recent travels to visit with our children and grandchildren, my husband and I are happy to be back home for a spell--because Dorothy was right: there's no place like home.  We love our house.  It's a big, white clapboard (make that white vinyl now) Colonial on a quiet, wooded cul-de-sac street.  If we had a lake out back, it would be altogether perfect--but you can't have everything, and believe me, we know how fortunate we are.
My husband and I probably won't be moving anytime soon; but we have both always thought that living on a ranch would be the coolest thing.  We know absolutely nothing about running a ranch, mind you, but we'd sure like to live on one.  I've been hooked on Ree Drummond's Pioneer Woman blog for awhile, and seeing all the pictures she posts of her husband and kids riding around on horseback, building fences together, rounding up cattle and such, makes me want to pack up and head west.  We were just out visiting our youngest son at Notre Dame, and his roommate (who hails from Montana) told us that his grandfather has a ranch.  How awesome is that?  We want one!  We want a ranch.

Friends of ours, a couple who used to live in our town and sent their children to the same Catholic high school our boys attended, had always dreamed of ranch life, too.  The four of us used to joke about it together.  But then about five years ago, when our friends turned 50, they actually did it: they moved out to the country and bought a little farm house on a parcel of land that already had a small barn (with a couple of horse stalls in it), they got a horse and some goats, some chickens and roosters...and they were off.  They were livin' the dream.  They used to live on a cul-de-sac street in town, too; and now they live on a miniature ranch in rural New Hampshire.  They are mucking out stalls, waking up at dawn on bitter winter mornings to break the ice on the water troughs so their animals can drink, and adding constantly to their menagerie.  Like all farmers and ranchers, they are now somewhat tied to their land.  We rarely see them anymore.

Hmmm...if my husband and I decided to do what they did, who would take care of the animals when we took off on our frequent trips to visit family?  (And really, who would muck out those stalls?  We might have to do rock, paper, scissors to figure that one out.)

Well, realistically, my husband will probably never be a rancher.  He'll never have his very own trusty steed, like a true cowboy does; but by golly, he's got his trusty hat.  I love him in that hat.  I took this picture of my rancher wannabe husband at the South Bend Airport on Monday morning. I thought he looked so appealing and rugged--so Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."  His face was sunburned (not from riding the range or wrangling cows or whatnot, but from watching a football game Saturday under a cloudless blue sky without any sunscreen on), and that made his baby blues look even bluer.  We'd been bumped from our first flight and had to sit around the airport for five hours waiting for the next one; so as my husband waited in line to talk to the gate agent and get us rolled over onto the standby list for the next flight, I surreptitiously snapped a couple of pictures of him.  Because I didn't want him to know what I was doing, I had to rush my shots; so I never really got the one I was after.  That one would have showcased the piercing blue eyes.  Oh, well.

Unfortunately, my beloved cowpoke doesn't look particularly happy in this photo; then again, we had just found out that we were going to have to kill five hours at the airport.  But isn't this a cool picture?  If I knew how to use photo shop, I'd put my husband's image on a different background, so it would look like there was a big field behind him, and maybe throw in some horses and cattle.  I mean, the sterile tiled walls of the airport don't exactly scream "Home, home on the range."  Perhaps I'd airbrush the reading glasses out, too, because I don't think he'd be able to hang onto them for very long on a galloping horse.  With those small changes, he'd totally look the part, wouldn't he?

But you know what?  There's nothing wrong with living on a quiet cul-de-sac street in a small New England town...and having the luxury of being able to travel whenever you want to without worrying about who's going to feed your horse.  So I don't think there's any way that we'll be following our friends out to the country!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lost in the World of Technology

I wasn't sure if I was going to blog today, because between the time I blogged yesterday morning and the time I opened up my laptop to blog today (just a little over 24 hours later), I was horrified to realize that eBlogger had completely changed everything on me.  How dare they!  Just when I was getting comfortable with the blogging process and could practically do it in my sleep, nothing on my screen looked the same anymore, and I felt utterly clueless.  Before our second oldest son gave us a TomTom GPS thingamajig for Christmas a few years back, I was always getting lost going places in my car.  Now, I found that I was lost on my eBlogger dashboard page (the page where you compose your posts and then push a button to publish them), after that page had finally become as comfortable and familiar to me as an old friend--or a stretch of road I'd gone down so many times I could turn off my TomTom.

(It's a little hard to read, but the cartoon says, "I want a computer that does what I want it to do, not what I tell it to do.")

While I would like to stay mad at the technology wizards who are working at eBlogger to make sure that their programs and services are as up-to-the-minute and jazzy as they can be, I suppose I really can't.  After all, they offer eBlogger services for free.  So I forgive you, eBlogger.  I do realize that the problem really lies with me.  I've got to learn how to navigate this crazy 21st century world of technology without always relying on my husband to save me from myself.  (I'm really more of a typewriter and White-Out kind of gal.)

It took my husband (who, in case you haven't heard me say it yet, is my HERO) a couple of hours to diagnose my latest damsel-in-distress computer problem and fix it.  Words like "upgrades" and "browser" had something to do with it; and now, instead of logging onto the internet like I've been doing ever since I started "String of Pearls" back in March of 2011, there is a totally new icon on which I must click if I want to get to my blogger dashboard.  Phew!  Problem solved.  For now, anyway.

I have said it before, and I'll say it again: I do not like change!  I like things to stay just the way they are, especially when it comes to technology that I've finally figured out how to use!  And it's silly to admit...but I didn't like the bummed-out feeling I got when I thought I wasn't going to be able to figure out how to blog anymore!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Cowboy and Son at a Football Game

Saturday at the Notre Dame Blue-Gold game, I took this candid shot of my husband and our youngest son--probably going back and forth about the team's prospects for next year like a couple of ESPN talking heads. I think I've mentioned before on this blog that I like taking shots of people from the back, capturing spontaneous, real moments as they interact. These types of photos are so much more genuine than the typical "Everybody smile! 1-2-3...Cheese!" pictures (although I love those, too).

My adorable and equally camera-happy sister-in-law, who was seated beside me, saw what I was up to; so after I took this picture, she had my husband and my son face each other and pretend they were talking. Click! Great shot. And then she instructed my husband to put his arm around our boy's shoulder. Click! Another great shot. Those two pictures that came just after this one are just precious; they don't even look staged. But this is the one that wasn't posed, and it's the one I like best.

So I give you my latest photographic triumph, which I've decided to call "Cowboy and Son at a Football Game."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

One of Those "Most Beautiful Sights"

I'm sharing a photo with you, one I snapped yesterday when we were strolling around the glorious Notre Dame campus on a picture-perfect spring day. I've seen this statue of the Sacred Heart many, many times in previous visits to Our Lady's university; but I've never seen it at this particular time of year, with tulips in full bloom surrounding it. What a beautiful sight!

The problem with me is that I see way too many things that prompt me to have that "This is the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen" reaction. I mean, every beautiful sight can't be the most beautiful--that doesn't even make sense. But when I saw those vibrant red tulips at the foot of this beloved, iconic statue yesterday, I definitely pulled a Rudy's dad-walking-into-the-football-stadium. I was in awe. The picture doesn't really do it justice (the clarity is a bit sub-par--I think I was too eager and took it before the focus was right); but hopefully you can get an idea of how lovely it is. It inspires me to work on my non-existent gardening skills, so I can honor the little garden statue of Our Lady of Grace that we have at home by surrounding Her with flowers.

Well, today is another busy day for us, so--lucky you--I'm not going to ramble on and on. I'm just wishing you a happy and holy Sunday! This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fans for Life

Okay, I mentioned that my husband and I were getting ready to take a trip out to the "Midwest" to visit our youngest son at "college" (and to help our niece celebrate her impending marriage at a big family get-together/"bachelorette party"); I was pretty vague about our destination. But this is a mural on the wall of the hotel at which we're staying. So I'm wondering: can you tell exactly where we are in the Midwest? And which institute of higher learning we are visiting? Does this ginormous tribute give it away?

I'll give you a few more hints, in case you're still wondering. Everyone we've seen this morning at the complimentary hotel breakfast, from the age of one to ninety-one, is wearing some sort of blue and gold or kelly green apparel, every cell phone rings with the most famous football fight song ever written, and images of angry Irish leprechauns assault the eye at every turn. I mean, it's very shamrocky around here, if that's even a word (which it should be).

Yes, we're in South Bend, IN, at the University of Notre Dame--one of the most beautiful places on God's green earth, a little slice of Heaven where the Blessed Mother watches over all from atop Her lofty perch on a gleaming dome of gold. If you've never seen the Notre Dame campus, never attended a football game in her historic stadium (the one that made Rudy's dad proclaim, in that must-see movie from the 90's, "It's the most beautiful sight these eyes have ever seen"), never lit a candle at her grotto (a replica of the original grotto dedicated to Our Lady at Lourdes), never jogged around her two small lakes (St. Mary's Lake and St. Joseph's Lake), never attended Mass at her spectacular Basilica of the Sacred Heart...Well, if you've never experienced all of that (and that's just the tip of the iceberg), then I'm sure you can't imagine that such a place as this could even exist. But if you've done all of those things already, then I'm sure this beautiful Catholic university has already got you wrapped around its finger, and you are a fan for life. This place has definitely got a lot of folks who are fans for life. Diehard fans.

Anyway, we're off in a little bit to have a pre-game tailgater with our son and a whole slew of our nieces and their friends, and with my husband's brother and his wife. Today is the Blue-Gold football game at Notre Dame (which you can catch on NBC Sports Network, I believe), and coming here to watch it was as good an excuse as any to visit our youngest boy, to be a part of a family celebration (the Pearl family's favorite kind: the ND tailgater!), and to spend some precious time soaking up the magic of Our Lady's own university, a place that is just plain good for the soul.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Smile! It's Friday!

It's not even 3:00 a.m., and I am already up and showered and dressed, ready to leave soon for the airport with my hubby. I had a few spare minutes, so I decided to blog now, in case there's no time for it later on.
So...TGIF, right? Doesn't this chubby little cherub look like he's saying, "I'll drink to that!"? Like he's thinking, "That's right: keep that apple juice comin', Momma!"?

Look at those blond curls...those adorable round cheeks and arms. This little guy is almost as edible as my twin granddaughters. (But not quite.)

If you can look at this sweet, sweet painting by one of my go-to favorites, Besse Pease Gutmann (an artist to whom I devoted an entire week's worth of blogs back in October of 2011), and not smile, then maybe it's because you haven't had your morning coffee yet.

And by the bye, it's not even 3:00 a.m., but I'm already having mine!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Prayer to Our Lady

I have lots to do today to get ready for our next trip. We're getting up at about 2:00 a.m. tomorrow to catch an early flight out to the Midwest to see our youngest son at college; and it just so happens that a niece who's getting married this summer (who happens to have the same name as yours truly) is having her "bachelorette party" out there this weekend, so I get to be a part of that happy event, too. Our nieces are so awesome; they always want to include their aging aunts in all of their youthful celebrations. In fact, all the kids in our family really seem to like us old-timers. How lucky are we?

I'm looking forward to the weekend's festivities (except for the flying, of course); but I have to get some things done around here before I can feel ready to take off. Again. We just returned from a trip to AL and VA on Monday, and we're back in the air again on Friday. Yikes! Flying is my life these days--AAARRRGGGHHH!!! But I will keep doing it if it means I get to see my kids and my grandkids. Besides, flying is good for my prayer life. I pray and pray, and then I pray some more. Never do I feel less in control than when I'm sitting in an airplane seat, and it reminds me that no matter how in control I might normally feel, I never really am. The Man upstairs is running the show, and I have to remember that He's the one who knows best.

Anyway, as long as we're talking about prayer, I thought I'd share a wonderful one with you. You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating. My husband gets choked up whenever he hears this lovely ode to the Blessed Mother. It's called "To Our Lady."

Lovely Lady dressed in blue,
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little Boy,
Tell me what to say!
Did you lift Him up, sometimes,
Gently on your knee?
Did you sing to Him the way
Mother does to me?
Did you hold His hand at night?
Did you ever try
Telling stories of the world?
O! And did He cry?
Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things--
Little things that happen?
And do the Angels' wings
Make a noise? And can He hear
Me if I speak low?
Does He understand me now?
Tell me--for you know.
Lovely Lady dressed in blue,
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little Boy,
And you know the way.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reading, Flying--and Blankets!

Reading is one of my great joys in life. I'm never happier than when I have my nose in a beautifully written, touching or funny, what's-going-to-happen-next?, can't-put-it-down work of fiction. As far back as I can remember, I have been an unapologetic bookworm.

I loved to read as a kid, but reading is even more fun as an adult because I can have a nice, hot cup of coffee (with plenty of cream and sugar in it) by my side when I do it. And of course, I need a blanket, too. My lap must be covered by a blanket, even if it's 90 degrees outside. This is some kind of weird tick I have. I can't cook without wearing an apron, and I can't sit on a couch to read or watch T.V. without wearing a blanky.

That's one good thing about all the traveling I've been doing lately: I've been reading a lot of good books. You see, I can't board a flight without a brand new paperback tucked into the bag I plan to carry on and stow under the seat in front of me. Even if I don't ever open it mid-air (which, by the way, never happens), I need to know it's there, ready to help me take my mind off the fact that I'm sitting in a tube of steel tens of thousands of feet above my beloved terra firma. In business class on overseas flights, they have cozy, quilted blankets, and I burrow right in with my book and feel almost as comfortable as I do at home. On domestic flights, when I invariably land in coach (boo!), the blankets are so thin and sub-par that I usually just cover my lap with my coat. But the lap must be covered. Reading cannot take place until the lap is covered.

Sometimes, I finish the book I've brought along on a trip before the return flight, but not to worry. Before boarding, I just visit an airport bookstore. I've stumbled upon some of the best books in airport bookstores.

Here are some titles that I've read recently that I would highly recommend:

The House at Tyneford, by Natasha SolomonsFrom the back cover: "It's the spring of 1938 and no longer safe to be a Jew in Vienna. Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau is forced to leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlour maid in England. She arrives at Tyneford, the great house on the bay, where servants polish silver and serve drinks on the lawn. But war is coming, and the world is changing. When the master of Tyneford's young son, Kit, returns home, he and Elise strike up an unlikely upstairs-downstairs friendship that will transform Tyneford--and Elise--forever." This is an absorbing story, beautifully told. I am often drawn to books set during the Second World War, and especially books about the plight of the Jews at that time. Apparently, many young Jewish women went to England to work as servants in order to escape Hitler's persecutions, but this was something I'd never read about before. This novel is more than just a love story; it's also a suspenseful page-turner. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta SepetysFrom the back cover: "Lithuania, June 1941: Fifteen-year-old Lina is preparing for art school and looking forward to the summer. In the dark of night there is a knock at the door and life is forever changed. Soviet secret police arrest Lina, her mother, and her younger brother, tearing their family apart. The three are hauled from their home and thrown into cattle cars, where they soon discover their destination: Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina embeds clues in her drawings and secretly passes them along, hoping they will reach her father's prison camp. In this dramatic and moving story, Lina desperately fights for her life and the lives of those around her. But will love be enough to keep her alive?" This book was meticulously researched by the author, who made several trips to Lithuania to interview survivors (some of them relatives) of Stalin's cruelty. Although I've read many books that deal with the Jewish holocaust, I hadn't read much about Stalin's reign of terror in the Baltics. This is a heartbreaking story, but one that shows how the human spirit can triumph even in the face of unspeakable horror. Although this book is technically billed as "young adult fiction," I would recommend it to adult readers.

And finally, lest you think that all I ever read are depressing books set in WWII--

Playing for Pizza, by John GrishamThis one is about Rick Dockery, a washed-up third-string NFL quarterback who has become a laughingstock. Cut by his team and shunned by all others, it looks like his playing days are over. As the back cover of the book explains: "But all Rick knows is football, and he insists that his agent find a team that needs him. Against enormous odds, Rick finally gets a job--as the starting quarterback for the Mighty Panthers...of Parma, Italy. The Parma Panthers desperately want a former NFL player--any former NFL player--at their helm. And now they've got Rick, who knows nothing about Parma (not even where it is) and doesn't speak a word of Italian. To say that Italy--the land of fine wines, extremely small cars, and football americano--holds a few surprises for Rick Dockery would be something of an understatement..." This book is a bit of a departure for Grisham, who is known for his courtroom dramas. I really enjoyed it: football has always been a big part of our life in this all-male house of mine, so I ate up all the sports talk; and I am so intrigued by all things Italian. Reading the descriptions of epic four-course Italian meals, and meeting the emotional and expressive Italian characters that inhabit this book, made me anxious for the day when I can accompany my husband on one of his trips to Italy. Rick Dockery has his likable traits, but he is a bit of a "player" (and by that, I don't mean a football player). Let's just say that I wouldn't want a daughter to date him. But sports fans, this book is otherwise delightful.

Have I rambled on long enough for you today? Were you worried that I was thinking about turning this blog post into a novel? Sorry about that. But I just love talking about books!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

If You're Interested in the Titanic Story...

April 14, 2012 was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. I would have blogged about it on that date, but I was down in VA with my husband, where we were visiting two of our sons--and so writing about a UVA lacrosse game we attended with them took precedence over everything else, even remembering the events of a fateful night in history that shocked and changed the world. But I thought today I'd write a little something about a tragedy that has fascinated me and countless others over the past century.

Back in 1997, when James Cameron's blockbuster movie "Titanic" first came out, my sons who were in middle school wanted to see it in the theater in the worst way. Everyone and his brother had seen it, and everyone and his brother was raving about how awesome it was. It was the water fountain topic du jour on the second floor of St. Mary Academy. Since it was rated PG-13--and in our experience, some of today's PG-13 films would have been rated R at one time--my husband and I pre-screened it in order to determine if our boys would be allowed to see it. Most of it was fine, we thought; but the fact that Kate Winslet's Rose appeared naked from the waist up, and the camera lingered on her--just so that Leonardo DiCaprio's Jack could be shown sketching her nude image--caused us to make a command decision that didn't earn us any brownie points with our sons.

Sorry, guys. The captain says it's a no go.

At the time, a friend who had a houseful of daughters and no sons told me that she thought we were being a bit ridiculous. After all, she explained, that scene with the nudity was all about "art." But my husband and I believe that anyone who thinks a pre-teen or teenage boy sees "art" when he looks at a naked woman is only fooling himself. It was hard having to say no, it really was. When just about all of their friends were seeing the big new hit movie, we knew our boys must have felt pretty unlucky to be saddled with such hopelessly strict and old-fashioned parents. That was tough, we realized; and we did empathize. But we didn't relent.

We ended up ordering an old black and white Twentieth Century Fox film of the same name on VHS, starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyk, thinking that if learning the story of the famous sinking of the "unsinkable" ship was what they were interested in, the boys might watch it and enjoy it. We never could talk them into watching the 1953 movie (they always had a real hang-up about black and white movies, automatically judging them awful; besides, kids these days are utter special effects snobs, having been raised on computer-generated imagery!); but my husband and I watched it and thought it was wonderful. Webb and Stanwyk play a well-to-do married couple traveling on the Titanic with their daughter and son. The father is inordinately proud of his boy, who is about 11 or 12 and has just graduated from wearing short pants to wearing long ones--which at the time was symbolic of a boy becoming a man. But during the trip, Stanwyk's character comes clean about a long-ago affair and discloses that the boy is really not her husband's biological son. He is angry and bitter, and he turns a cold shoulder to the son he has always adored.

When the Titanic begins to sink, the father puts his wife and children in a lifeboat and prepares to go down with the ship, along with so many other heroic and self-sacrificing men who did so that night. But the boy jumps out of the lifeboat and goes in search of his dad, wanting to be a man like his father. When the dad (who thought he couldn't love the boy anymore because of his wife's betrayal) is reunited with him and realizes how brave his son is and that the two of them are going to die together, he is visibly shaken, and it's obvious that he's filled once again with pride and love for him. This is one of the most touching scenes I've EVER seen, in ANY movie--and that includes the sad death of Jack in Cameron's much more widely-known "Titanic."

The older film has the added bonus of starring a young, gorgeous Robert Wagner as the love interest of Webb and Stanwyk's daughter. When I was 11, Wagner starred in a T.V. show called "It Takes a Thief," and I was madly in love with that guy--and completely destroyed when my mom informed me that he was the same age as my father!

In honor of the 100th anniversary, James Cameron's "Titanic" has been re-released in 3-D. I suppose I can't forbid my boys to see it, now that they're all grown up (dag nabbit!). But it still sticks in my craw that Cameron included that gratuitous nude scene. It didn't add a thing to the story--and in fact detracted from it, in my opinion. The 1953 version doesn't have all the modern special effects wizardry that Cameron's has, but I think it's superior in every other way. (Sorry I ruined the heart-tugging ending...but watch it anyway! It's great.)

In 1997, all the hoopla surrounding Cameron's film got me so interested in learning more about the true Titanic story that I went out and bought a paperback copy of A Night to Remember. Written by Walter Lord and published in 1955, when many of the survivors were still alive and could recount their experiences, this book is a page-turner that gives a timeline of the events of that fateful night in chilling and absorbing detail. I devoured it. Couldn't put it down.

I recommend both the 1953 film "Titanic" and Walter Lord's book A Night to Remember for anyone interested in learning more about the fascinating and heartbreaking story of the night the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank, and so many poor souls lost their lives in the freezing waters of the Atlantic--a story of hubris, bad luck, miscommunication, sadness, fear, hope, class division, cowardice, heroism, faith, and so many other things, all rolled into one.

I've re-read the book recently; now I need to watch that wonderful old movie again!

Monday, April 16, 2012

My MVP's on the Sidelines

Well, I never got around to blogging yesterday. But I guess that was the perfect day to take a break; after all, it was Sunday: Our Lord's day, and a day of rest.

Even if I'd had time to blog, it would have been difficult. First of all, I had limited success getting my laptop hooked up to the Internet while we were in VA; and besides, yesterday was quite a busy day, because mid-morning we drove two-and-a-half hours to watch sons #3 and #4 play in a men's "semi-pro" lacrosse game. So with game time and the long drive back, that event took up pretty much the whole day. Son #4 had to go to work afterward (he works a night shift, the poor guy!), and then my husband and I took son #3 out to dinner, where we joined up with our niece and her fiancee. That was delightful. And then we visited with my husband's sister and her husband, who'd been kind enough to open their house up to us while we were visiting our boys, until about midnight--which may not have been the wisest thing to do, given our 3:45 wake-up time this morning!

Since we fly using stand-by/space available passes (courtesy of my husband's airline job), we always have to try for the earliest flights out of anywhere; then if we get bumped, we have other options as the day goes on. But today, everything went like clockwork and we were able to get an early flight into Atlanta and then a connecting flight to Boston. It's good to be back home, but I'm feeling a little teary-eyed and blah today. That's partly because I'm exhausted; it's also partly due to the sadness I always feel when these trips come to an end and we know that we won't see our far-flung sons, our daughter-in-law, and our twin granddaughters again for months. (And to quote Lloyd Christmas, "I hate good-byes." I'm not good at them.)

So here's an unsolicited piece of advice--a pearl of wisdom, if you will--for any young mothers out there who might be reading my humble little "String of Pearls": enjoy every minute while your kiddos are living under your roof; because to quote that timeworn cliche, time flies. It really does. Like a tracker jacker chasing Katniss Everdeen. (See, I can be topical.) Like a supersonic jet. Like a meteor, even.

I tell you, it seems like only yesterday that my husband and I were watching sons #3 and #4 playing high school football together. (Lacrosse, too.) They probably preferred it when I tried to get action shots, but I used to love to catch them standing side-by-side on the sidelines and snap away. Now, their high school glory days are long gone; so it was very special having the opportunity to see them on the field together again yesterday. I was able to get another one of those sideline shots that I love so much--and they were standing in just the same spots they were in the football picture from long ago! It was like deja vu, all over again. Some of the guys who play with "the Herd" lacrosse team are young bucks fresh out of college and some are in their mid-twenties, like my boys. But some of them are thirty- and forty-something husbands and fathers. I'm afraid to blink my eyes, because next thing you know, my boys will be playing in "old-timer" leagues. (Actually, son #3 plays lacrosse with a bunch of older guys already--along with playing on this team with his younger brother--and he's thoroughly enjoying that.)

Anyway, I've gone on much longer than I meant to. When I started out, I was going to just post these two photos of my beloved sons, Mom's MVP's no matter what team they're on, with brief captions under them. I thought I was too down in the dumps to write much of anything. But I think blogging is cathartic for me!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cowboy at a Lacrosse Game

Yesterday, we flew from AL to VA for a short visit with sons #3 and #4. Last night, the boys took us to a lacrosse game. This was big-time college lacrosse: #1 ranked UVA against #7 ranked Duke. The home team didn't do so well and lost 13-5 to the Blue Devils--but it was a lot of fun anyway.

Afterwards, we had dinner at a Hibachi restaurant, which might be my #1 ranked dining out experience: it's great food (love that fried rice and yum yum sauce!), entertainment (watching the talented and amusing cook make the food--especially that volcanic onion--is almost as good as eating it), and sports (trying to catch those shrimp and chicken bites that he tosses at you with an open mouth, the competition grows fierce!) all wrapped up into one. We had a great time.

There was a gal seated at our table, facing our group from the other side of the enormous griddle (or as I like to think of it, the stage), who sat there the whole time utterly bored-looking and stone-faced, and we just didn't get her. How can you eat out at a Hibachi restaurant and not smile from ear to ear through the whole dinner? I submit that you cannot.
Anyway, I thought I'd post a photo from last night's game. I think of it as a rather artsy shot. That's my husband, the Suburban Cowboy (with son #4 to his right), intently watching the action out on the field. I call it "Cowboy at a Lacrosse Game."

It's so wonderful getting to spend time with our VA boys!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thinking of My Grandma

Ever since becoming a grandmother almost a year ago, I find myself thinking often of my own two grandmothers, who were both wonderful and loving women.

Growing up, my siblings and I were fortunate that we lived close enough to our paternal grandmother to see her on a regular basis. She was an extraordinary woman. She was one of the most elegant-looking ladies you’ve ever seen, naturally beautiful in that way that fashion models are: tall and lean, she was almost regal in her bearing, carrying herself with a fluid sort of grace; and her patrician face was marked by remarkably good bone structure. She was strikingly beautiful, always meticulously groomed and coiffed, and always well put-together in understated but gorgeous, impeccably-tailored clothing. You know, the kind of clothing where the simpler the cut, the more expensive the garment. I never saw her looking less than spectacular.

Grandma grew up the oldest of six children in a well-to-do family. Her father was a man of some wealth, but he lost it in the crash of ’29. As my mother tells it, when my grandmother’s father lost his money, he lost most of his spirit and ambition, too, leaving Grandma’s determined mother as the tough-as-nails matriarch who essentially became the head of the household. Grandma saw the life that had been plotted out for her—as a well-heeled young lady with a roadster of her own, on her way to college at Bryn Mawr—come to a crashing halt. She ended up having a rather tough life. Widowed at a young age, she became a single mother to two young children, my father and his younger sister, and became a public health nurse to support them. But though she never again enjoyed the kind of wealth and privilege with which she’d been raised, Grandma never lost that kind of upper crust way about her, a way of carrying herself that set her apart. In fact, although she was born and raised in New Jersey, she somehow ended up with an incongruous British-sounding accent. She was the only person I ever knew personally who called a tomato a “to-mah-to.” And she wasn’t putting on airs; that’s just the way she spoke.

With her extraordinary beauty and her high class mannerisms, Grandma might have come across as snobby and unapproachable if she hadn’t been such a warm, loving, funny person; but she was that and more. And she was an absolutely perfect grandmother.

My two brothers, two sisters, and I were Grandma’s only grandchildren, and she doted on the five of us unapologetically. No matter what the outside world thought of us, as far as she was concerned, we could do no wrong. She adored us absolutely, and we knew it.

And she had an uncanny knack for knowing just what any one of her grandchildren might need at any particular time, without a word being said. She seemed to read what was going on under the surface, and she was there with her own personal brand of magic to give any one of us just the boost he or she needed.

For me, that time was the year I turned eleven. At ten, I’d begun to suspect that my looks were sub-par when a female classmate made the offhand remark, “You know, you wouldn’t be so bad-looking if it wasn’t for your nose.” Up until that point, I don’t believe I’d given my nose a whole lot of thought. But after that girl’s thoughtless comment (kids can be so cruel, can’t they?), I couldn’t stop inspecting my apparently grotesque proboscis in the mirror. And suddenly, it seemed rather hideous. It was not the pert, small, upturned “ski jump” nose with which my best friend and my younger sisters had been blessed; it was a long, hooky beak. Why hadn’t I noticed this before? As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I turned eleven I had to start wearing glasses and--lucky me!--had braces put on my teeth at the same time. I was the tallest kid in my class—and was taller even than my older brother, who was a year and a half my senior; combine that with the baby fat I still carried around my middle, the glasses, the braces, and my apparently hideous nose, and the word “awkward” doesn’t begin to describe the phase I was going through. My grandmother must have sensed my discomfort with my appearance, because out of the blue she presented me with a couple of full-page Oil of Olay ads, torn out of her fashion magazines, which featured large black and white photos of a lovely model with a long, thin, somewhat beaky nose. “This model has your nose and eyes,” she said. And then she assured me, “This is what you’re going to look like when you grow up.” (Is it any wonder that when my greasy adolescent skin finally dried out and I had to start using moisturizer, I turned to Oil of Olay products, and use them to this day? The power of advertising!)

I’d like to tell you that my grandmother was right, that I eventually morphed into the spitting image of the woman on those magazine pages. But that model had high, sculpted cheekbones with a lot less flesh on them than mine, and she didn’t have the pad of fat under her chin that I can’t seem to get rid of even when I’m at my thinnest. However, I absolutely adore my grandmother for knowing how shaky my self-esteem was back then and wanting to give my morale a much-needed boost during those difficult pre-teen years. No matter what anyone else might have thought of me, I knew I was always beautiful in her eyes.

When I began dating my husband in high school, she was crazy about him from the start. I used to tease him that she loved him more than she loved me (it may have been true!). Whatever-- or whomever--her grandchildren loved, Grandma loved, too.

And she did this for my siblings, too. She took one of my younger sisters aside when she was a little girl and let her in on a big secret: she removed her dentures, showed her gummy smile to her wide-eyed granddaughter, and then popped her dentures back in. Grandma must have known that my sister was in need of some special attention at that time, because she never did that funny little trick for any of her other grandchildren. That was the special bond that just the two of them shared, and I can only imagine how thrilled my sister must have been to know that Grandma trusted her, and her alone, with such a deep, dark secret. (I never suspected that my beautiful grandmother had false teeth until I learned about it after her death. My sister kept that secret faithfully, as I’m sure Grandma knew she would!) I’ll bet if I polled my other siblings, they would have similar stories to tell about their unique relationships with our dear grandmother.

Right now, my twin granddaughters are happy little ten-month-old babies; their every hurt or disappointment can be fixed with a hug, a song, a story, or a belly tickle. But when they’re older and they go through some of the difficult stages kids go through, I hope I can be for them what my grandmother was for me, and for all five of her grandchildren: a source of unconditional, all-consuming, fiercely powerful love and support.
Grammy and her little darlings!
Grammy promises to do her best, girls. Luckily, I have a great example to follow.

God bless you, Grandma. I miss you!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Pot of Gold

Cutie/Kewpie and Bonny Babe, cruising the house with the help of Mommy and Papa.

My husband and I are absolutely delighted to be spending some precious time with our adorable twin granddaughters and their parents this week. If there's a greater joy in life than being a grandparent, I don't know what it is. Back in May of 2011, shortly before these girls were born, I did a blog post about grandparenting and I included an old Irish proverb that I just love: "Children are the rainbow of life. Grandchildren are the pot of gold." In these outfits, our little darlings are both!

I've come across several other quotable quotes about the joy of grandparenting, and I thought I'd share them today.

"The idea that no one is perfect is a view most commonly held by people with no grandchildren." ~Doug Larson (And certainly, a view held by people who haven't met my granddaughters.)

"Surely, two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent." ~Donald A. Norberg (I hope those two sweeties of ours get as much out of the relationship as we do!)

"On the seventh day, God rested. His grandchildren must have been out of town." ~Gene Perret

"Few things in life are more delightful than grandchildren fighting over your lap." ~Doug Larson (How very, very true!)

"An hour with your grandchildren can make you feel young again. Anything longer than that, and you start to age quickly." ~Gene Perret

"No cowboy was ever faster on the draw than a grandparent pulling a baby picture out of a wallet." ~Author Unknown (That one was for Papa, the "poser," the "Suburban Cowboy"--one of the only guys in our neck of the woods who always wears his trusty cowboy hat.)

"Grandparents are similar to a piece of string--handy to have around and easily wrapped around the fingers of their grandchildren." ~Author Unknown (We are wrapped already. It's a wrap, people.)

"Grandchildren: the only people who can get more out of you than the IRS." ~Gene Perret

And finally, "Grandchildren give us a second chance to do things better because they bring out the best in us." ~Author Unkown (You may have noticed that Author Unknown is a pretty astute guy.)

That last one gets to me, because I think it reflects how many of us parents of grown children feel. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was becoming a mother, and I love my sons to pieces. When they were growing up, I always wanted to be the perfect mother--like Bambi's calm and gentle, soft-spoken mother, I used to tell my husband; but I know sometimes I probably got it all wrong. Grandchildren are sort of a "second chance," and they're the hope of the future, and they provide such pure joy that, as Bill Laurin said, "If I had known that grandchildren were going to be so much fun I would have had them first."

Yes, these granddaughters of ours are indeed our pot of gold at the end of the raibow. Papa and Grammy are wealthy beyond measure. (Let's keep this to ourselves, though. I wouldn't want the IRS to get wind of it.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

They Can Date...When They're 30

Here is a picture of my little Cutie Pie/Kewpie last night, flanked by adoring men. (How many adoring men does it take to feed one irresistible baby girl a bottle? At least two, apparently, and Papa and Daddy were only too happy to do the job.)

I believe that this sort of scene--you know, a man on either side, each bidding to play the part of knight in shining armor--is going to become an all-too-familiar one for this little peanut and her identical twin sister when they grow into the beautiful young ladies they are destined to become. The bummer for their daddy, though, is that not all of those future adoring men will be doting relatives, and that's when things will get tough for my boy! He has already mentioned, only half-jokingly, that his girls aren't ever going to date, because they'll be joining the convent. He has also suggested that he may have to get himself a shotgun, and that he'll always just happen to be in the process of cleaning it when young men come to call on his precious daughters. Just to keep them honest, you understand.

It's a whole new world for my oldest son, who grew up with four younger brothers in a house rife with snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. After being raised in a virtual man cave, he is now a father to not just one little sweetie made of sugar and spice and everything nice, but TWO! He is now outnumbered three to one. (Welcome to my world, son!) But he is loving every minute of it.

My boy was far away on deployment when his twin daughters were born. He got to see them for two weeks while he was on leave, when they were about a month old, but didn't return from Afghanistan for good until they were four months old. It took those baby girls a little while to get used to him, but now they light up when he's around. Cutie/Kewpie in particular is currently going through a "Daddy's girl" phase. For my husband and me, there's nothing more heart-tugging than seeing one of our granddaughters resting her head on our son's shoulder and hugging him with her chubby little pink arms.

My daughter-in-law recently repeated a quote she'd seen, and I believe it hits the nail right on the head: "A father is his son's hero and his daughter's first love." So true!

And in the case of my little granddaughters, their father might be their ONLY love--at least for a good long while. They might not have to become nuns--I mean, my son is not an unreasonable man. He'll probably allow them to date...eventually...when they're about 30.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Heaven, We're in Heaven...

Bonny Babe with her doting Papa.

That's right, Papa and Grammy are in Heaven. It may look like just some tiny, nondescript, not-so-special town in rural Alabama, but this place must be Heaven--because we are surrounded by ANGELS. We are here with our twin granddaughters, Bonny Babe and Kewpie Doll (the baby formerly known as Cutie Pie), and they are the most beautiful little beings you've ever seen: they have golden, downy-soft hair; peaches and cream-colored, velvety-soft skin; smiles that would melt your heart; and the biggest, brightest, bluest eyes you can imagine (framed by the longest, darkest lashes you'll ever find that haven't been created by a tube of mascara!). They are angels on earth--no exaggeration. They may act like puppies sometimes, squealing and rolling around and crawling all over whatever adult is sitting on the floor with them; but they are angels. You can take my word for it.

Papa is definitely in Heaven! Because the last time he got a chance to spend time with his beloved granddaugters, we were on a long, arduous road trip with them from Upstate NY to their new home down here, and with all the upheavals in their life, they were a little unsure of Papa. (They were a little unsure of any man who wasn't their daddy during that time period, though.) But this time, both girls warmed up to both Papa and Grammy almost as soon as we walked in the door yesterday. Just in the short time we've been here, Papa has fed them, put one of them down for a nap, walked with them from one end of the house to the other and back again while they held onto his hands (they really like to walk!), and acted like a human jungle gym, letting them crawl all over him and use him to pull themselves up to standing positions. He has gotten enough smiles from those two little girls already to fill his soul to bursting with happiness--and we still have three more days here. His soul will have to expand by the end of the week, I guess, to hold all that happiness in.

And this morning, Bonny Babe looked right at him and very slowly and deliberately said this: "Pa Pa." It may have just been a coincidence, but it sure didn't seem like it! (The girls are also saying "Na Na," so I'm considering changing my title from Grammy to Nana, just so that I can claim they've said my name, too!)

Stay tuned for more pictures of our little angels in the days to come! But for now, I'll sign off from our little slice of Heaven here in the South.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Heading South

On Holy Saturday, we Skyped with our oldest son and our daughter-in-law, and we got to see our twin granddaughters--our little pumpkins--in living color, performing all kinds of cute little antics. We sat there mesmerized by those two blue-eyed beauties as they rolled around and buried their faces in a soft blankie on the floor, pulled themselves up to standing positions with the help of the couch, walked back and forth holding onto the hands of their mommy, climbed all over their daddy, and smiled tentatively at a computer screen that was showing their Papa and Grammy and one of their uncles--all talking and waving and smiling frantically at them! Whenever my husband and I see those girls on Skype, it's like we're watching the best movie or T.V. show EVER. We never get bored!

But bright and early this morning, we're headed to the airport...and by lunchtime, we'll be seeing our twin granddaughters in person! I dread the two flights that will take us to them, but I can't think of a better reason to keep working on my fear of flying bugaboo than those two little sweetie pies.

Tomorrow, I'll be blogging from down south--and I'll be surrounded by cuteness!

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Our Lord has risen from the dead! Rejoice! I hope you are having a very HAPPY and HOLY EASTER, and celebrating this beautiful holiday with friends and family.

My husband and I actually had our big Easter dinner last night, with our second oldest son. He has to go back home right after lunchtime to do some grading and lesson planning (he's a high school math teacher and he has to work tomorrow), so we had to do it early.

Since son #2 (who likes to call himself our favorite) was the only one of our five boys who could be with us this Easter, I told him I would cook whatever his little heart desired for our special holiday dinner.

His heart desired gravy. And something to go under it: potatoes, definitely; and either chicken or turkey--he didn't care which--with stuffing. The only turkeys our grocery store had were gigantic, and my husband I and didn't want to have a lot of leftovers in the fridge, since we're flying off to see some of our other children tomorrow morning. So I decided to make a big roasted stuffed chicken with mashed potatoes, corn...and lots and lots of gravy. Folks, the gravy was flowing like wine here last night. It was a particularly good batch (not to brag or anything), and my amusing son, in between yummy noises, suggested that I should think about opening up a gravy shop. As far as we know it's never been done. I could totally corner that market! Although I'm pretty sure there's not much of a market for shops that sell nothing but scratch that idea. But it's flattering that my son believes my gravy could launch a Fortune 500 company. It's sweet the way boys always seem to just love their mamma's cooking.

This morning, my husband and I will attend 9:00 Mass with our son, and then we'll have a nice bacon and egg brunch before he has to head back home.

I consider this a wonderful Easter--although in a perfect world, my entire family would be celebrating it together. But I'll take what I can get, and I'm so grateful for all the blessings my husband and I have been given--in particular, our five sons, our daughter-in-law, and our beautiful twin granddaughters. I'm grateful one of our boys could be with us this weekend. And I'm grateful for gravy, too. And bacon.


(Don't you love the vintage Easter artwork? You say you're getting sick of the way I overuse the word "vintage" in this blog? Okay, okay. Don't you love the oldtime Easter artwork? I just love, love, love it!)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Real, or Just Some Guy in a Bunny Suit?

Here is one of our family's favorite photos from Easters long ago. That's my youngest son on the left, snuggled into his Daddy's side--screaming with joy, his gaping mouth chocolate-stained. Sons #3 (middle) and #4 (right) are looking on, sharing this priceless holiday moment with their baby brother.My middle son is holding up proof that the Easter Bunny exists and has visited our house: a hollow milk chocolate bunny (which, picky eater that he was, happened to be one of his top ten favorite food items at that point in his life). My baby and my fourth son are apparently having a contest to see who can open his mouth the widest. With five boys, everything was a competition in our household.

Son #5 was just over a year old in this picture, which means that he hadn't yet fully grasped the concept of the Easter Bunny. At this point, he was merely feeding off the excitement around him. And with four older brothers aged six through ten, there was plenty of excitement to go around. But about three Easters later, this little blond cutie would put the kibosh on all the Easter Bunny hoopla once and for all by announcing with utmost seriousness: "There's no bunny. It's just a man in a bunny suit." Sorry, Charlie. He just wasn't buying it. He was not some rube who just fell off the turnip truck. Santa Claus? Sure. He's an actual person, and he has the help of those magical flying reindeer who land his sleigh on the roof so that he can slip down the chimney. It could happen. But the Easter Bunny? A furry little animal hopping around, carrying baskets of candy to every house in the world? How many could he carry in his mouth at a time? One, maybe? Give me a break. (Apparently, my son was more comfortable with the notion of some creepy guy sneaking into our house in an Easter Bunny costume!)

Try as they might, the older boys could not convince my baby, once he reached the advanced age of four or five, that the Easter Bunny was real. By that age, they couldn't convince him to go and see the latest blockbuster Disney or Pixar film with them, either. When he was one and two, "Lion King" was his life, and the VHS tape we owned almost wore out from overuse; but a mere three or four years later, he thought only babies watched animated films--and when the latest one came out in theaters, he refused to go. He was sure that his brothers were only humoring him, pretending to want to see it for his sake. They had about as much success convincing him that they actually liked Disney movies as they did convincing him that the Easter Bunny was not just some random dude in a bunny suit! And the funny thing is, they really did like animated films--in fact, to this day, they like them. When "Lion King" was re-released recently in 3D, most of my baby's older brothers, now in their 20's, went to see it in theaters. (Moreover, son #2, who is 27, owns an extensive collection of kid-friendly DVD's and counts "Aladdin," "Happy Feet," and "How to Train Your Dragon" among his all-time favorite movies!)

I guess my baby has always been an "old soul." My first four sons came along bing-bing-bing-bing--four in four years--and then he was born five whole years after son #4. He was always trying to "catch up" with the big boys. When he was very young, people used to comment that he seemed like a little old man in a child's body. It was very sweet, yet sometimes heartbreaking, to see him trying to leave behind the trappings of babyhood in a hurry so that he could be just like his older brothers.

What my youngest son didn't understand back in his early childhood days was that those brothers he looked up to with such awe and admiration were just a bunch of big kids themselves. And now, at 19, he's a big kid, too. Because in order to be like his brothers, one must have a Peter Pan-like quality and be a die hard fan of Disney/Pixar animation. And he is: when "Lion King" came out in 3D, he wouldn't have missed it for the world! I guess my baby boy is growing up.

Could that mean that he's finally going to start believing in the Easter Bunny?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Meditation

...that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Celebrating Holy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, the day on which we commemorate Jesus' Last Supper with His apostles on the night before His Passion. The Last Supper was so much more than just a last get-together with friends before the death He knew was coming; at that meal, Our Lord instituted the three pillars of the Catholic Faith: the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the priesthood, and the Mass. On Holy Thursday, Jesus instituted the Catholic Church.

During the Last Supper, Christ blessed the bread and wine with the very same words that Catholic and Orthodox priests use today to consecrate the Body and Blood of Christ during the Divine Liturgy of the Mass. By instructing His disciples to "Do this in memory of Me," He instituted the Mass and made them the first priests.

What an important event in the history of the world! God bless you on this beautiful Holy Week day, as you celebrate Christ's Last Supper and prepare for the joy of Easter Sunday.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Walking with a Purpose

Recently, I bought some new work-out togs made out of that great moisture-wicking material that's so popular these days. I love the top: it gives the illusion that I have a perfect hourglass figure. When I wear it, for the first time since my pre-childbearing days, I appear to have a definitive waist. (I'm sure no one pays the slightest attention to those hot pink panels on the sides...) I think I'm going to have all of my clothes tailored like this, so that I can give the impression of having a Scarlett O'Hara-esque waistline.

I try to work out every day, ever since I learned the depressing fact that women over 50 need to exercise an hour a day...just to MAINTAIN their weight! To shed pounds, they have to cut way back on their food intake, while still performing that hour of daily exercise. Sheesh! Give me a break already!

Anyway, I usually work out at home, indoors, following a routine on a DVD. But sometimes I like to just go outside and power walk, especially if it's a nice day. Well, yesterday it was mild and breezy and sunny, and I decided that I would walk. I usually do the same route, walking about 3 miles total through a grid of neighborhood streets in a development close to our house. I've gotten bored of that route, though. And I got thinking about our forefathers back in the olden days, and how much walking they did. They didn't need to go to the gym and walk on a treadmill, because they pretty much had to walk everywhere. (Kids might walk 5 miles to school and back, uphill both ways, in a foot of snow--like the parents of Baby Boomers such as myself claim they used to do.) There was a time when people didn't walk through random neighborhoods just for the sake of exercise; they walked with a purpose. They had somewhere they needed to go to get something done. Feeling inspired, I came up with a plan: I'd walk toward town and run an errand that would normally involve a car trip, and then walk back.

I'm not sure exactly how far I walked (approximately 3 miles, I believe), but it took me 45 minutes to get to the drugstore, where I picked up some dark chocolate Easter eggs, an Easter treat for my husband and me (having forgotten to get them when I bought the goodies that I mailed out to my boys on Monday). I know it sounds like I defeated the whole purpose of my long walk by buying two bags of chocolates...but I didn't open them up on the spot--they're for EASTER! And incidentally, haven't you heard that dark chocolate is now considered a health food?

I hadn't had any lunch, so after I bought the chocolates, I stopped in at Subway and had a 6" sub and some baked Lays. (Again, it seems like I was defeating the purpose of my walk...but it was well past lunchtime, and I hadn't eaten yet! So get off my back, will ya?)

After lunch, I did the 45-minute return trip, walking at a brisk pace in my Shape Up-style sneakers. (And no joke, on my route there were stretches--both ways--where I had to walk uphill!) I'm not 100% sure if I believe that those newfangled sneakers really do shape up your lower body; but I will say this: long before I hit the home stretch on my walk, my thighs and backside were incredibly sore. And my toes were getting a bit numb. And all I could think of was my daughter-in-law, who has run three marathons (including the elite Boston Marathon), and wonder HOW IN THE WORLD she survived them!

I will never run a marathon, I'm absolutely sure of that. But I may run more errands on foot in the future. Walking with a purpose, I've decided, is a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Easter Finery for the Twins

Over Christmas vacation, I found some lovely pieces of fabric in the attic of my husband's childhood home. His mom, who died in 2009, was an ambitious and talented seamstress, and she had amassed an impressive collection of fabric in her lifetime. I like to use Mom's fabric whenever possible (with the family's blessings) to sew dresses for my twin granddaughters.

I found one piece that was simply adorable: it's cream-colored cotton, sprinkled all over with light blue flowers, tiny dots, teddy bears, hippos, elephants, ducks, and bunnies. Because of the bunny rabbits, I thought it would be the perfect material out of which to fashion some Easter apparel for my little sweetie pies.

I was dragging my feet, though. I wasn't feeling particularly inspired, and I wasn't sure exactly what pattern to use. Then a few days ago, I was shopping at Wal-Mart and happened upon this pattern for the sweetest little old-fashioned baby bonnet with an appliqued tulip on the side. (Totes adorbs--as all the young whippersnappers are saying these days; don't you agree?) Now I knew just what I was going to make. And I had all the fabric I would need, courtesy of my granddaughters' great-grandma.

Just in case the girls don't have dresses that would match the teddy bear-hippo-elephant-duck-bunny fabric I was planning to use for the bonnets, I decided to whip up some simple matching sundresses. Piece of cake, right?

On Saturday, I cleared the dining room table and laid out all the fabric and patterns, and before I turned in for the night, I had everything pinned and cut out. I was ready to begin assembling the garments on Sunday afternoon. Two quick and easy little dresses and two bonnets: I would be done by bedtime on Sunday night, I figured, and I could mail them out first thing Monday morning.

Sewing tends to go one of two ways for me: either the sewing machine and I become one, everything comes together effortlessly and efficiently, and every step of the process is a joy; or every conceivable thing that can go wrong does, I have to rip out almost every seam and re-do it, the thread knots and jams up in the machine for unfathomable reasons, I poke my fingers with needles and bleed all over the material, and a project that should take four or five hours tops ends up taking two whole days. Unfortunately, this particular project fell into the latter category. It probably didn't help that I was up way past my bedtime on Sunday, and once it got beyond midnight, my brain was turning to mush.

I was up very late ('til almost 4:00 Monday morning, in fact), struggling to create two bonnets that resembled the picture on the pattern package and dresses to match. I got up again a few hours later and got back to work, and I finally finished around lunchtime. The box was in the mail by 2:00 p.m.; it should get there in time for Easter, so the girls' mommy and daddy can dress them in their new duds for Mass if they wish. Here is my porcelain baby doll, Aaron (one of the dolls I made in my dollmaking class back in the 90's), modeling a finished dress and bonnet. They're way too big for him, but I just had to see what that bonnet looked like on a baby's head--and I have to say, I'm liking it!

All I could see when I inspected the final products of my efforts before I packed the dresses and bonnets into the shipping box was all the imperfections, the sloppiness, and the mistakes I'd made; but I have a feeling people won't be checking out every crooked stitch with a magnifying glass. They'll be too busy looking at those precious baby girls! And even though the quality of the Easter finery Grammy made for them is a tad sub-par, I'm sure my granddaughters will look positively adorable when they wear it. I mean seriously, those two little beauties could wear potato sacks, and they'd still be the cutest babies on the block!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

One man's trash is another man's treasure--and vice versa--when it comes to art. We don't all like the same things, and I suppose that's good--because it would be an awfully boring world if we did.

I myself am not a great fan of modern art. I enjoy a wide variety of styles and artists (although I love Norman Rockwell's minutely detailed, almost photographic paintings, many of the blurry, dreamy works of the Impressionists also speak to me); but I have no use for the paint splotches Jackson Pollock threw at canvas, or for the strange Cubist works of Picasso.

Take the Picasso oil painting shown here, for instance. Titled "Woman's Head" (that poor, poor woman!), it is worth millions of dollars. It was given to Greece by the artist in 1949, in recognition of that country's fight against Nazi Germany. While I applaud Picasso's altruistic gift to the Greeks, I really, REALLY can't see any beauty when I look at this piece. And it is considered priceless by art connoisseurs. I feel as if a small child could render something that looks just like it, and the only people to whom it would be considered priceless would be his parents! Unfortunately, this Picasso was recently stolen from the National Art Gallery in Athens, along with some other valuable works, and that's a shame. But I'm sorry: I just don't like it. At all.

What's more my speed is this sweet Easter greeting card illustration from a bygone era called "Bunny Kiss," by an unknown artist. Unlike "Woman's Head," this little piece of vintage artwork is for all intents and purposes completely worthless, if you measure it by how much it would go for at auction. But I love, love, love it! It makes me happy just to look at it! This darling child has the most adorable face--which cannot be said for Picasso's subject, that's for sure. (And the bunny's is awfully cute, too.)

I've said this before, but I'll say it again: I may not have the most discerning taste when it comes to art, but I don't care. It doesn't matter to me how much a painting is worth; I just want to feel happy, or moved, or inspired when I look at it.

How about you? What does it for you? The Picasso painting, or the no-name Easter illustration? (Right now, I'm feeling very verklempt, looking at that sweet little kid hugging that adorable go ahead, discuss. Tawk amongst yourselves...)

And by the way, yes, it really is 3:30 a.m. I was sewing until just a little while ago. (I feel like I'm back in college, pulling an all-nighter before an exam!) I figured as long as I was up, I'd blog, too...because I may be sleeping in pretty late tomorrow. Hopefully, this post isn't full of typos!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday

"Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."

The holiest week of the year begins now, on Palm Sunday, as we prepare to reverently commemorate the Last Supper on Holy Thursday and Jesus' death on the Cross on Good Friday, and then to joyfully celebrate Our Lord's glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

Easter is such a beautiful and holy day! And it's such a fun-filled and exciting day, too, when you have little children in the house; because you get to watch their faces light up when they find their Easter baskets filled with treats! I'm still putting together Easter baskets for my five sons--even though they range in age from 19 to 28 now--and I hope to have them in the mail tomorrow. Every year I think, "I really don't have to do this anymore. It's kind of silly." But then I find myself drawn to the Easter candy aisle of my local grocery store, and before I know it I'm filling my cart with all of their childhood favorites: chocolate bunnies, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in the shape of eggs, Sweet Tarts shaped like chicks and bunnies, Reese's Pieces (all orange, and specially packaged for Easter in cone-shaped plastic to look like carrots), Jolly Rancher-flavored jelly beans, and marshmallow Peeps (though the Peeps only go to son #4; he could practically live on them, while his brothers can take or leave them). It's too much, I know it is. But for some reason, I can't seem to stop myself.

I'm going to try to scale back this year, though. Last year, son #4 told me I'd sent way too much, and that he would probably get diabetes if he ate the whole kit and caboodle. ("You don't have to eat it all. You could share some of it..." I offered, pathetically.) I don't know why I continue to go overboard on Easter baskets. I guess it all boils down to this: my boys are all living far away now, and I can't show my love in intangible ways, on a day-to-day basis, anymore; so I send them something very tangible (and edible!) to let them know that they're in my thoughts--and close to my heart, as always--on Easter. I'm not the only mom who can't let go of the Easter basket routine, though; I spoke to my baby sister today, and she does the very same thing with her grown children!

Just as my heart is filled at Christmas with a yearning to let my loved ones know how much I love them through gift-giving, it is filled with that same kind of yearning at Easter--and I choose to express my feelings through chocolate and jelly beans! But isn't it wonderful that on both of these holidays, the whole reason for that ineffable joy is one and the same: the reason is Christ.