Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick-or-Treating (9)

Happy Halloween, everyone!

I went way, way back in the archives today to find some cute pictures of my boys dressed up for trick-or-treating--back to a time when my husband and I were still relatively new parents, and our boys were round-cheeked cherubs who were shorter than we were and just beginning to understand what this crazy holiday is all about.

Here's one from 1985 that makes me smile:
Son #1 (2) is a jack-o-lantern, obviously.  Son #2 (9 mos.) is a...well, what do you think he's
supposed to be here?
My firstborn is wearing the same costume that I'd made for his first Halloween the year before, but for this time around I'd found a little hat to go with it at the Hallmark store and added that.  He was as happy as a clam being a "PUH'-kin" (big emphasis on the first syllable) for the second year in a row.  (You may recognize this costume from my Oct. 23 post; in 1988, it was recycled and worn again by son #4.)

Now for son #2's costume.  You can't imagine how excited I was while I was making that costume for my baby boy, thinking that he was going to be the cutest little trick-or-treater on the block.  I'd found the black-and-white-striped knit material and immediately thought "zebra costume!"  And in case the stripes weren't a dead giveaway, I figured once I added those cute ears to the hood of the little hooded top, it would be patently obvious to anyone with half a brain that of course my little guy was supposed to be a zebra.

"What's he supposed to be?" asked my friend (the gal who was my best friend among the young Navy wives with whom I hung out during those Jacksonville, FL years), with a truly puzzled look on her face.
"What do you mean?  Can't you tell?"
"You can't be serious!" I said.
"Let's he a jailbird bunny?" she asked, laughing.

At that point, I realized two things: 1) the ears I'd made were too big for zebra's ears; and 2) I should have added a black felt mane to the hood.  But it was too late for that, so my sweet angel took to the streets in a jailbird bunny costume.  (Dear readers, I must know: at first glance, did you realize that he was supposed to be a zebra?  Or were you as confused as my friend?)

The very next year, 1986, the jailbird bunny costume made another appearance, on son #3 (6 mos.):
Notice I hadn't gotten around to adding the zebra's mane yet..Guess I was sort of busy,
with three boys aged 3 and under!
Son #1 (3) dressed up as an Army man that year--which was sort of prophetic, because although his dad was a Naval aviator, this son is now a Chinook pilot and captain in the US Army.  Son #2 (21 mos.) was Superman, of course--or as he liked to say, "Soup-in-man."  I love these costumes because they're really p.j.'s--and they got lots of wear, long after the trick-or-treating was over.  (The Soup-in-man cape was attached with Velcro and could be removed at bedtime.)  Those were my favorite kinds of costumes: ones that could be recycled later on, or that could double as sleepwear.  Waste not, want not; that was my credo.

I also liked costumes with animal ears...even this one, which apparently didn't scream "CUTE LITTLE ZEBRA" as loudly as I'd thought it would.
C'mon!  He's a zebra!  Anyone can see that...right?
Well, I guess that's it for this Halloween costume commemorative series.  It has been a delightful experience for me, and I hope "my girls" have enjoyed seeing their guys as cute little trick-or-treaters.  Now it's time to go back to coming up with something original to blog about every day.  (Scary!)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trick-or-Treating (8)

Really?  Have I really put up seven posts in a row that focus solely on my sons' Halloween costumes of yore?  (R and K, are you sure you're not getting tired of this yet?) Some of you out there are probably thinking, "It's not like her kids even had the greatest Halloween costumes in the world!  She was a lazy costume-maker!  I've seen WAY cooler costumes!"

You're right, you know.  Compared to some of the stupendous Halloween costumes I've seen in my day, the ones my boys wore weren't always blue ribbon-worthy.  But I always thought they looked absolutely and positively adorable when they dressed up to go out trick-or-treating.  And that's my prerogative as their mom, I guess.

My husband and I aren't big Halloween people ourselves.  I mean, we loved getting into it when our kids were young, but we've never been the type to host or attend adult dress-up parties every year, the way many of our friends do.  (What I'm trying to say is that we're a bit boring.)  But back when my husband was an aviator in the Navy, before we had kids (and we were just twenty-something kids ourselves), we did dress up once for a squadron Halloween event.  I thought I'd post that incredibly embarrassing 1982 picture here for posterity, to prove to our boys that once upon a time, their parents were young, too.  And that we could be crazy with the best of them.
I don't know why we don't look rounder.  I remember making these big, round felt pillows (notice that they have brown fabric on the inside--the chocolate centers!); but I think we tied the front and back parts at the waist instead of letting them hang in all their circular glory, and we ended up looking like the messed-up, misshapen M&M's you sometimes find in the bag, the ones that you don't dare eat.  These costumes are very scary, I think, for two reasons: 1) we're both wearing black tights (my husband might kill me for posting this picture); and 2) it was the era of men's shorty-shorts (he's definitely going to kill me).

Now you see why we don't dress up every year.  The potential for post-Halloween humiliation is enormous.

But I'm supposed to be posting pictures of the boys, not us; so here's a gem from 2000 starring son #3 (14) and son #4 (almost 13), dressed to impress the ladies for a junior high dance at their Catholic grade school:
Son #3 was a big fan of the whole pirate thing, so this costume was a natural choice for him.  To achieve this look, all I had to do was go up in the attic and find his dad's old jacket from his Navy dress blues uniform, and then fashion some epaulets for it out of shiny gold fabric and fringe.  The party store hat had actually already been worn by son #5 in 1995 when he was a pint-sized pirate, but it must have been "one-size-fits-all," because it worked for a much-larger-sized teenage pirate, too.  (Love those recycled costume elements!)  I did buy the requisite pirate's eye patch for this tall, lanky buccaneer (and I think there was a plastic hook for his hand that came with it as well).  The finishing touch, which hadn't been added yet here, was a Beanie Baby parrot perched rather precariously atop one of the epaulets.  (Yikes [shudder]...remember the Beanie Baby craze?)

Son #4 is sporting one of his dad's old Navy flight suits, his dog-tags, and some aviator's shades to channel Tom Cruise in "Top Gun"--certainly not the first time those flight suits had come in handy as costume material around Halloween.  Talk to him, Goose.

Wow...look at these guys!  They're a couple of junior high heartthrobs.  Move over, Justin Beiber!  They must have had to swat the girls away like flies!  (Mom's a little biased.)

Okay, tomorrow is the last day of this "Trick-or-Treating"/ old-costume-pictures theme.  I'm going to have to scour my photo albums for a good finale!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Trick-or-Treating (7)

Subtitle: "Recycling Halloween Costumes."

I was always a fan of recycling Halloween costumes from year to year amongst my boys.  It was one of the ways I tried to be green, long before being green was as laudable and politically correct as it is today.  I didn't see the point in purchasing new plastic swords or new silly hats from the party store, or coming home with yards of new fabric from JoAnn's, if I had perfectly good leftover costume-makings in the attic that could be reused instead.

If you are a regular reader (bless you, by the way), you might recognize this recycled costume that my baby wore for Halloween 1995, when he was almost 3:
Yes, it's a costume I'd made way back in 1989, when my four oldest sons dressed up as tigers and leopards--long before this little guy was even born; it's the very same costume, in fact, that son #3 was sporting in last Thursday's post.  As I noted in that post, I think it's pretty much an indisputable fact that little ones look positively adorable in Halloween costumes that involve animal ears, and I think this photo bears that out.  I just don't know why my baby looks so glum here.  Hasn't he been briefed that before the night is over, that plastic basket of his is going to be filled with candy?

I just have to pause here to say this.  I'm so happy that my daughter-in-law and son #3's sweetheart both requested that I keep showing these old Halloween costume pictures until October 31, because every morning I wake up and one of my first thoughts is, "I've got to look through my photo albums!"  And what a fun way to start my day!  What a great activity for this mom whose nest is much too empty nowadays!

Okay, moving on.  I can't even remember the last time I looked at this picture--also from 1995--of sons #3 (9) and #4 (almost 8):
These two boys, like their mom, had no trouble recycling costumes.  You might recognize son #4's glorious ninja costume, which he's wearing in the picture from last Wednesday's post.  That boy never got tired of dressing up like a ninja.  Getting a store-bought costume, which was something I avoided whenever possible, turned out to be a very good investment in this case.  He got at least one more Halloween out of it, and then his younger brother resurrected it about five years after this picture was taken.

When I first looked at this photo, I couldn't figure out what son #3 (that cute kid!) was supposed to be.  The party store bowler-derby hat was used the following year for his hobo costume (again, see last Wednesday's post), but he didn't exactly look like a hobo here. Then suddenly, my memory was jogged: that year, he'd told me he wanted to dress up as A MAN.  So I found his dad's 1970's-era polyester three-piece suit in the attic, got him the hat, and painted on a mustache. My husband and I laughed when we broke this picture out. The man costume is just too funny.  "Now that's original," my husband said.  "It would have been easier if he'd just wanted to go as a boy," I joked.  But all I can say is, at least he didn't want to be a woman and dress up in drag.  I would have had to put the kibosh on that one!  And while this costume was very simple in concept, I just love it--and I'll take it over a Freddy Kruger costume any day of the week!

I really must thank you for putting up with this trip down memory lane, which has been highly entertaining for me.  Just two more days of costume pictures to go.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trick-or-Treating (6)

Or a better title for this post might be "Imitating the Saints" (a good occupation for all of us, I'd say!).

When our boys were attending the local Catholic K-8 grade school, the 1st- and 2nd-graders were allowed to wear costumes to school for their Halloween parties, but there was one caveat: they had to dress up like SAINTS.  Each year, there was a "Parade of Saints" in the schoolyard, and we proud parents would come with our cameras and take pictures of our little angels as they marched around the perimeter of the tarmac playground.

When my four oldest boys were in 1st and 2nd grade, each Halloween I would pull together some saints' get-ups for them that I thought would be more than adequate; you know, like a bathrobe and a staff and there you have it--St. Joseph!   But then I would show up for the parade to see costumes that looked like the moms had spent months and months perfecting them, and I'd be a little mortified.

"But I'm a very busy mom,"  I'd tell myself.  I'd had four sons in four years, and while I loved a good saint's costume as much as the next person, I just didn't feel like I had the time to craft the costume to beat all costumes for my kids, the kind of costume that would produce gasps of wonder at the Parade of Saints.  That wasn't high on my list of priorities at the time.

So when the four oldest boys were going through those early grades, here is an example of what, to me, was a perfectly acceptable saint's costume.  I give you son #4, Saint James the Greater (1995):
This costume was achieved with a bathrobe and a hand towel.  But lest you think me the laziest costume-maker of all time, I DID fashion the rustic fishing pole he's carrying here (because this saint was a fisherman who became a "fisher of men"), even cutting the wooden fish out with my scroll saw and painting it.  I need to get some points for that fishing pole!

By the time my youngest son was in 1st grade, Saint James the Greater was in 6th grade and it had been a long time since I'd had to make a saint's costume for anyone.  My baby's first saint's costume was not bad; but for his second and final appearance in the Parade of Saints, I decided to go all-out for a change and put some real time and effort into it.  I give you Saint Patrick (2000):
The robe was made from an old sheet and the scepter from the handle of a broken mop, but I actually bought the green fabric and gold rick-rack especially for this costume.  I painstakingly appliqued those shamrocks on the robe.  I was determined that my baby, whose middle name is Patrick, would be the most splendid Saint Patrick possible. Although his was not even close to the most amazing costume in the parade that year, I know my little part-Irishman was very proud to wear it in honor of one of his patrons.

God bless the administration of this Catholic school for the effort they took to remind the young, impressionable students who went there that the real heroes they should try to emulate are not Ninja Turtles, professional sports stars, Spiderman, or the like; they're the brave warriors for our Faith, some of whom gave their lives for it.  The real superheroes are the saints.
All the wee saints, lining up to head out to the schoolyard for the 2000 parade.
God bless you on this Sunday and every day, and may Saint James, Saint Patrick, and all the saints watch over you.  In honor of the Patron of the Emerald Isle, I'll leave you with this old Irish proverb:

May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Trick-or-Treating (5)

I hope I'm not losing anyone out there yet.  The subject matter of my recent posts--my grown sons as young boys in their childhood Halloween costumes--is thoroughly engaging as far as I'm concerned, of course.  I just hope my readers (all twenty-something of them!) won't drop "String of Pearls" like a fun-sized Milky Way bar into a pumpkin-shaped plastic bucket.  (Did that simile work?  Or should I just have stuck to the old familiar stand-by "like a hot potato" instead?)

ANYWAY, this blog is now officially dedicated to the cute-little-boys-in-Halloween-costumes theme until October 31, per the request of two of my girls (my girls!  I have girls!  After raising only boys, I now have girls!).  As noted on Wednesday, both my daughter-in-law and son #3's girlfriend have asked that I keep this party going until the holiday is over.  So that's the plan, and my mission now is to accomplish this without boring everyone.

Okay then, here's a photo from 1996 that makes me smile every time I look at it:
This one is a little different than the photos I've been posting so far, though, because these boys of mine were not dressed up to go out trick-or-treating here.  They were on their way to a junior high Halloween dance at their Catholic grade school.  So these killer costumes were not for the procurement of candy; they were for the ladies.  (Parents of small children, be forewarned: you're going to blink, and suddenly your precious babies are going to be asking you to drive them to grade school dances...and then they're going to be in high school, and they'll drive themselves.  It happens, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.)

My contribution to these awesome costumes was a big goose egg.  All I had to do was go up into the attic and unearth one of my husband's old Navy flight suits and one of his old helmets, rustle up a pair of cool-looking shades, and presto--son #2's very macho costume was complete.  He was transformed into an almost-12-year-old Top Gun fighter pilot.  And if I remember correctly, our parish priest lent my eldest son (13) a shirt and collar for the occasion.  Father may have believed (or hoped) at the time that this pious altar server would one day have a calling to the priesthood, but my boy ended up being called to a different vocation.  He's married now, and the father of twins with another on the way!

Ah, good times...good times.  These old pictures are so much fun to look at.  (Aren't they? And just think, there are more costumes to come!  Hello...hello...are you asleep or something?)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Trick-or-Treating (4)

The subtitle for today's post is "Spotlight on My Baby."

Two of my recent Halloween-themed posts have included pictures of my four oldest sons dressed up to go trick-or-treating--long before son #5, my baby, came on the scene.  Therefore, just so that he doesn't feel  left out, today's post is going to be devoted entirely to him!  You wouldn't believe how many times--back when he was knee-high to a grasshopper--we would be talking about some past event and his little voice would pipe up, "Was I alive yet?"  When he was young, the five-year age gap between him and his closest brother seemed as wide as the Grand Canyon.  Poor sweetie!

But baby, the spotlight's on you today!  And boy, are you ever ALIVE!

Before I show you the costume my youngest son wore when he was going on 5 years old--one of those rare store-bought costumes that I purchased on-sight, because it was utterly PERFECT for him--I have to tell you that this boy could do a T-Rex roar like nobody's business.  It sounded exactly like that of the fearsome beast in the movie "Jurassic Park."  I'm embarrassed to reveal that at that tender age, he'd already viewed "The Making of Jurassic Park."  (This was a video we'd made our older guys watch before we let them see the real deal, so that the movie-making magic and special effects wizardry would be revealed and they wouldn't be frightened by the realism of the movie's dinosaurs.)  My baby had watched it along with his big brothers, and he'd studied the T-Rex closely.  Very closely.  He was obsessed with that JP T-Rex.  He used to stomp around the house roaring and swinging his head from side to side, with his arms scrunched into his chest and two hooked fingers on each hand.  That boy WAS a T-Rex!  So when I found this perfect little T-Rex costume, I had no choice but to buy it for him on the spot.
The T-Rex costume was not retired on November 1 that year, not by any stretch of the imagination.  No, in fact it was worn for a good while after Halloween--often, and everywhere. You probably didn't know this, but a T-Rex costume is perfectly acceptable 5-year-old attire, for anything from playing in your front yard to grocery shopping with your mom.  And it makes the most glorious p.j.'s imaginable.

So as far as I'm concerned, that was $20 well-spent. Definitely.

Okay, son, I hope you enjoyed this moment in the spotlight.


(And if you don't get that reference, you really must see that classic movie, "Jurassic Park"!)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Trick-or-Treating (3)

I have gotten two requests to continue showing old pictures of my boys' Halloween costumes--one from my firstborn son's wife (and the mother of my twin granddaughters), and the other from the girlfriend of son #3.  I can't possibly say no to those two darling girls, so I guess I'm on a roll here.  Don't even try to stop me!

As requested, here's another classic picture from a Halloween long, long ago (Halloween 1989, when my four oldest sons were 6, almost 5, 3 and 1/2, and almost 2--and son #5 wasn't even a twinkle in his parents' eyes yet):
I know I've complained ad nauseam on this blog about how much I dislike cats...and these four little trick-or-treaters are wearing costumes that are most definitely feline in nature.  But there are two indisputable facts that contributed to my decision to dress them up as leopards and tigers that year:

1: Little boys LOVE lions and tigers and any species of wild cat that can roar loudly;
 2: little kids look positively, irresistibly adorable in any sort of Halloween costume
that involves animal ears.

It appears that son #4 didn't let me put on his whiskers, although I did manage to paint a black smudge on his cute little nose...and son #3 apparently opted out of the face painting altogether.  But my little lads do look pretty adorable, don't they?  These outfits were homemade, but instead of purchasing patterns, I kind of winged it--so they aren't the most sophisticated costumes you ever saw.  But the pants and tops were nice and baggy and could be slipped over their regular warm clothes (which was good, because we were living in the blustery suburbs of Chicago at the time), and overall, I think they worked.

Such happy times...and so long ago!  (What really dates this photo is the TV set!  That was our fanciest TV back in the day, the one on which we watched Disney VHS movies as a family.  It looks so old-fashioned to me now, and so tiny...)

Stay tuned for another Halloween costume picture tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trick-or-Treating (2)

Okay, posting that adorable picture of my four oldest boys dressed up for Halloween yesterday was so much fun for me that I ended up looking though my photo albums to find some other costumes from yesteryear, and I unearthed this little gem from 1996:
That Halloween, son #3 (10) decided to fall back on that go-to favorite of trick-or-treaters everywhere, the hobo.  All I had to do was buy him a derby-style hat (the millinery choice of hobos worldwide) at the party store, blacken his cheeks a little, cut the fingers off of an old pair of gloves, and lend him one of his father's over-sized flannel shirts.  Easy-peasy.

Son #4 (8) just had to be a ninja.  His was one of the few store-bought costumes I purchased over the years, because I didn't know exactly what a ninja costume was supposed to look like and this one was cheap.  He loved that costume, and I believe he wore it the next Halloween as well.  If it still fit him, I think he'd wear it today.  (He remains quite enamored of ninja culture.)

Son #5 (3) is an adorable little pirate here--YARRRR! For his getup, all I had to buy was the pirate hat and a plastic swashbuckler's sword.  The rest was achieved with an over-sized t-shirt and a bandana belt tied at the waist.  He was your typical little boy, so I think he wanted to be a pirate mostly because that meant he got to carry a sword.

My mom was the Halloween costume-maker extraordinaire.  I remember when I was about 7 years old, she fashioned an award-winning Raggedy Ann costume, complete with a red yarn wig that she designed herself and made by hand.  I don't know how she did it, with five small children born in a six-year span.  She was, and is, the "Energizer Bunny."  When it came to Halloween costumes for my guys, I never put as much effort into the process as she did.  I give her lots of credit.

But these three boys were pretty cute trick-or-treaters just the same, don't you agree?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


I don't have much time to blog today, because I'm going down the street in a little while to have coffee with one of my neighbors.  She has three young daughters who are students at the Catholic school our boys attended (many moons ago!).  They're preparing a big celebration for the school's 100th anniversary, and she wanted to get together with me (someone from the old guard) to see if I could offer any insights.  I'm looking forward to sitting down with her and talking about an institution that played an enormous part in the lives of my sons when they were growing up.  The older four attended this school from K-8, and our baby went there from K-3 (before we decided to homeschool him for grades 4-8).  And truthfully, I'm just looking forward to visiting with this nice gal--and drinking coffee, of course!

With Halloween around the corner, I've been thinking of all the costumes my boys used to wear and how much they loved the whole trick-or-treating rigmarole.  My husband and I have never been into those gruesome, bloody get-ups--ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and such; we liked the cute and harmless costumes best.  Here is what our crew looked like before we took to the streets on Halloween night, 1988:
Son #1 (5) is trying his best to make himself look intimidating in his skeleton costume, but he's really only managing to look sort of grumpy.  (He probably is grumpy, because he realizes that he's not a very scary-looking skeleton!)

Son #2 (not quite 4) is the one wearing the horns--and this costume suits him to a T, because he could be a little devil from time to time.  Note that he's giving you his most devilish smile.  (Are you scared yet?)

Son #3 (2 and 1/2) is probably wondering how in the world a cape is supposed to make him look like a dragon; but this was a happy-go-lucky kid with an insatiable sweet tooth, and he would have worn anything I put him in if it meant he was going to get candy.

And son #4 (9 mos.) is just sitting there being round and chubby, like the jack-o-lantern he's meant to be, wondering what in the world is going on.  I could eat him up.

Each of these costumes was made from a pre-printed panel I purchased at JoAnn's (with the exception of the jack-o-lantern, which I fashioned on my own for my oldest son's first Halloween).  They are not the most creative costumes, but they got the job done: candy was procured, and the people rejoiced.

I can hardly wait to see my twin granddaughters in their Halloween costumes!  Now that will be a treat!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Happy Birthday to My Firstborn Son

Yep, today's a two-fer.  I just finished a blog post about Saint Kateri Tekawitha, and now I'm going to post a second one about my oldest boy--my firstborn son, the person who changed my life forever the moment I laid eyes on him 29 years ago on this date, at 8:37 p.m.  (And a future saint, I have no doubt.)
Ignore the gargantuan glasses; focus on the perfect face of that newborn baby boy!
When this son was just a wee lad, he was always one of those kids who was wise and mature beyond his years.  My husband and I used to say that when we grew up, we wanted to be just like him.
At one, my boy looks eerily like his daughter Kewpie--only with a  lot more hair!
To me, a part of him will always be this tow-headed toddler...but incredibly, this son of ours is now the father of two with a third baby on the way.  He dotes on his identical twin girls.  He takes the job of father seriously, as the vocation that it surely is.  He is deeply devoted to his Catholic Faith, to his wife, and to their growing family.  He is a gentle soul; he's hardworking, responsible, modest, frugal, and prayerful.

Can you tell that I think he's wonderful?

So Happy Birthday, Son!  Dad and I love you more than you could ever imagine.  (No, I take that back.  Now that you've got Bonny and Kewpie, you probably have a pretty good idea of how we feel!)


My Sister's Patron, Saint Kateri Tekawitha

My younger sister posted the most poignant story as her Facebook "status" yesterday.  She wrote: "Around 1972, a little Catholic girl read a story about a Mohawk Indian saint and felt an immediate connection.  Her family visited the shrine in Akwesasne and she decided this would be her Confirmation name.   The nuns reassured a baffled Bishop during Confirmation that this was a soon-to-be beatified Native American.  Kids teased her.  Almost 40 years later, today in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI will finally make Kateri Tekawitha a saint and [I] will have a legitimate Confirmation name."
Kateri Tekawitha was indeed beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980.  And as of yesterday, October 21, 2012, she is now numbered among the canonized saints of the Catholic Church and she has the distinction of being the first Native American saint.  In lieu of writing about Saint Kateri Tekawitha myself, I thought I'd provide you with links to a couple of website pages that tell all about her life, if you're interested in learning about her.  (Note that the first short biography contains one inaccuracy, saying that she was canonized in 1991.  The second one comes from the national shrine to the "Lily of the Mohawks.")

There is nothing more wonderful than reading about a saint's life and feeling the kind of connection that my sister felt.  My youngest son had a similar reaction when he encountered and was inspired by a saint he'd never known about before.  This was when he was in 5th grade and was being homeschooled by my husband and myself.  During a phonics lesson, we were reading about Saint Dominic Savio, a very sickly and holy boy who was a protege of Saint Don Bosco and died at the tender age of 15.  "He died when he was only 15, and he's a saint?" my boy asked with awe in his voice.  I told him yes.  "And he wasn't a martyr?" he persisted.  I answered again in the affirmative, and I asked him if he'd like to read more about this young saint who'd grabbed his attention. There was only one slim biography that I could find on-line, a used copy of a book that was long out of print, and I ordered it for him.  He devoured it and decided that he would choose the name Dominic for his Confirmation name.

When I was Confirmed, I chose the name Joan, after the very famous Joan of Arc.  I must admit that I didn't feel that deep connection to Saint Joan that my sister and my son had felt to the patrons whose names they chose.  Before I was confirmed, the saint's biography I had been most touched by told the story of the children of Fatima; but it had been several years since I'd read it by the time my Confirmation day came, and I didn't even consider choosing either Jacinta or Lucia as a Confirmation name.  I ended up asking my mother what name she'd chosen, and when she told me it was Joan, I decided to choose that name as well.  So the main reason I wanted to have Saint Joan as one of my patrons was to honor my mother.

Don't get me wrong, I am not at all sorry that I've had this brave warrior-saint in my corner since junior high.  I have no doubt that she's done battle for me against the forces of evil that would like nothing better than to separate me from God.  But in the past ten or fifteen years I have read about the lives of many other saints, like Saint Therese of Lisieux (the "Little Flower"), to whom I feel a deep devotion.  If I could choose today, I would take Therese as my Confirmation name.

But as with everything in life, God knows better what we need than we do.  If there was ever a person who was afflicted with fears and insecurities, it's me.  So I think maybe I've needed a saint like Joan--an exceedingly brave young peasant girl who was called upon by God to lead an army and was martyred in the most terrifying way for love of Him, yet wouldn't deny Him--on my side all these years.

Saint Joan of Arc, pray for me!  Saint Therese of Lisieux, pray for me!  And Saint Kateri Tekawitha, pray for me!

(FYI: My sister chose the Confirmation name Tekawitha, not Kateri--so you can imagine how this might have thrown the Bishop for a loop!)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fall, My Favorite Season

I'm getting a REALLY late start on blogging today.  My husband and I had an early wake-up for 7:00 Mass, so that we could drive about an hour and a half afterward to meet our #2 son, his girlfriend, and his girlfriend's parents for a hearty brunch at a really cool restaurant with a retro "1950's diner" theme (lots of chrome and waitresses in poodle skirts!).  Then we visited with our son for a couple of hours at his apartment, which is completely lacking the old "woman's touch," if you get my drift.  It's not as bad as a boy's college dorm room, but it' messy.  Very man cave-esque.  He and his father talked football while I snuck into the bathroom and scrubbed the toilet and sink.  Had I been less dressed-up, I would have gotten down on my knees and scoured the tub as well. (I can't help myself; when I have the opportunity, I still clean up after my boys!)

After a nice visit with our son, we drove home and have been vegging out ever since in our own man cave/new room, watching NFL football on our 70" flat-screen T.V.  (Go Patriots!)

While I sometimes get a bit footballed-out by Super Bowl time, I have to admit that football is one of the things I love about fall, my favorite season.  Yesterday, we caught the Notre Dame-BYU game and watched our #5-ranked Irish win their 7th straight game of the season.  (Go Irish!)  It' so much more fun these days to watch football games in the comfort of our own home than it used to be.  How did we ever survive all those years with a measly 32" screen?
The players look so big on this thing, you feel like you're right there on the field with them!
Football isn't the only good thing about fall, though.  I love the weather--the crisp, cool air that's so much more refreshing than the heat and humidity of summer.  I also love wearing long pants and a sweater.  (If I never had to put on a bathing suit again, that would be okay with me.  And I don't even own a pair of shorts anymore, thank you very much.  In the summertime, it's capri pants all the way for me, baby!)

Although I'm a bit of a neatnik (which explains why I can't visit my single sons at their bachelor pads without breaking out the cleaning supplies), I love the beautiful messiness fall brings to the landscape.  I took a long walk yesterday, and this is what the sidewalk on our street looks like at this time of year.
Beautiful!  I don't even feel the urge to get out my broom and dustpan!
In the summer, every dandelion in the yard is an eyesore, every weed stands out like a sore thumb, and dying flowers are a blight on the garden areas.  But in the fall, no one expects perfection anymore, because even the most meticulously manicured yards in our neighborhood are littered with fallen leaves, acorns, and pine needles.  I see beauty in this glorious imperfection--and it's a good thing I do, because our house is completely surrounded by birch, oak, maple, and pine trees, and by the time all the branches are bare, they've left us quite a mess.
Our statue of Mary in the garden out front.  At this time of year,  She's "Notre Dame d'Automne."
Fall is wonderful!  It's a time for hot chocolate, spiced hot cider, Bailey's Irish Creme (yum!), fires in the fireplace, and wrapping yourself up in a cozy blanket on the couch to watch a football game on TV.  The world is painted in harvest hues of orange, yellow, red, and brown, and the clean, nippy air feels like heaven.  And best of all, the holidays are just around the corner.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Woman I Admire

I promised not to get political on "String of Pearls," to keep it a happy place where you can go to get away from all of that serious stuff.  With the election fast approaching, politics is very much on most of our minds--but this blog was never intended to be a platform for me to express my personal views.

Despite that promise, however, I think it would be okay if I told you that I really like and admire one of the presidential candidate's wives; I like her very, very much and think she's a positive role model for women--and I would feel this way even if I wasn't planning to vote for her husband.  Which I am.  (Uh oh, I may have inadvertently expressed a personal political view there.  It won't happen again.)

The woman I'm talking about is Ann Romney.
Poor Ann gets trounced on and trash-talked about daily, for no better reason than that she happens to be married to an extremely wealthy man.  The have-nots these days often despise the haves, jumping to conclusions about them and assuming that anyone who's never had to live paycheck to paycheck can't possibly understand the concepts of anxiety or suffering, or care about the problems of those who are less fortunate than they.

There was an interview with Ann Romney in my most recent issue of Good Housekeeping, and after reading it, I liked Ann ever more than I did before.  I was impressed by the fact that she is a woman with deep faith.  She was asked, "What is the prayer you say when you're faced with...a big possibility, whether it's running for President or something that involves your children?"  Her response was, "What I've learned is that you can never ask God to tell you what the end is.  You can ask, 'Is this a good thing to do?'  But not, 'How is this going to turn out?'"  Although Ann is a Mormon, her answer is one that I can relate to as a Catholic.  We are taught to pray, but to remember that our prayers aren't always answered the way we think they ought to be, because God knows better than we do what's good for us.  We know that we must accept His will for us, no matter how difficult.

On the matter of wealth, Ann was asked, "In preparing for this interview, we collected questions from readers.  One question that came up again and again was around your financial success.  There's been a lot of talk about your husband's interest income and his earning $68,000 a day for speeches--which is more than most Americans make in a year.  How, with your family's wealth, can you understand the struggles of regular folks?"  I found her answer poignant and perfectly expressed.  Ann replied, "I acknowledge that we are very lucky and our struggles are not financial, but that does not mean we have not struggled.  You don't have to struggle in the exact way of every person on this earth to understand and have sympathy for those going through difficult times.  And, for me, I've gone through very serious health issues.  Once your health is taken away, you have nothing.  And so I would love people to know that we do care and that we do understand what it means to struggle financially.  And for Mitt, to have had success and to say, 'I understand how jobs are created'--I really believe that the country will be so much better off if he's President."

You don't have to struggle in the exact way of every person on this earth to understand and have sympathy for those going through difficult times.  Wow.  To me, that statement is nothing less than profound.

Ann Romney is a breast cancer survivor and she has MS.  She knows what it means to suffer, but I guess there are people out there who think that if you're rich, you have no problems--and apparently no heart.  I think this woman has a huge heart.

I've always felt an affinity for Ann Romney.  Like me, she fell in love with her husband when she was a teenager and she raised five fine sons with him.  Like me, she was a stay-at-home mom.  Of course, people probably think, "Sure she didn't work.  With all that money, she could afford to stay home all day eating bon-bons and watching soaps."  But I don't care if you're rich or poor or somewhere in between, staying home to raise five boys is an exhausting full-time job, rewarding but often difficult--and I can tell you from experience it's highly unlikely that Ann Romney spent her days in front of the tube eating bon-bons.

In the GH interview, Ann said that she got very depressed when she was first diagnosed with MS and went to a "scary, dark place for a long time."  (Blessed are they, the poor in spirit...)  What pulled her through was her faith, her husband--and riding horses, which apparently is an activity that is therapeutic for people who suffer from MS.  I was touched by the way she said Mitt buoyed her up when she was so low; he told her, "I don't care if you're in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.  I don't care whether you make dinner; I can eat cold cereal and toast.  As long as we're together, as long as you're here, we're going to be OK."  (Then she had to apologize to the interviewer because she started to tear up.)

I love this woman.  And her husband's reaction to her illness is exactly the one I know my husband would have if I was similarly afflicted.  There is something about these two people that makes me believe with absolute certainty that they should be the next couple to occupy the White House.  And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Yay for Science!

My husband and I just dropped our youngest son off at the airport, after his much-too-short fall break from college.  Actually, he's still on break--but he wanted to fly back to South Bend today so that he would be sure to be there to watch the Irish play BYU tomorrow afternoon.  I'm a little sad right now, so I thought I'd stick to something light and humorous to give myself a little pick-me-up.

I recently found the funniest t-shirt on a site called  (Be warned, some of their shirts are inappropriate; but most of them are just plain silly--like my boys.)  I thought a t-shirt with this particular design on it would make a perfect gift for son #4 and his girlfriend, who are both unabashedly nerdy when it comes to their love of all things science-related.
Isn't that just the best?  (With Christmas around the corner, I just might have to order a couple of them.)

My son was a physics major who now works in a field called biometrics.  His girlfriend was a neuroscience major who now works doing nephrology research for a professor at an august institution of higher learning (as she waits for an opening in the neurology department).  They can both tell science jokes like nobody's business...but make no mistake, they really, really love science.  And they're very, very smart.

My fourth son met this wonderful girl on a dating website called around a year ago.  This is also where my oldest son met his wife of almost three years and where my third son met his lovely girlfriend last spring.  It has become, as son #3 likes to call it, "the family website."  (We should do a commercial for them!)

And by the way, all you Catholic parents out there with twentysomething--or thirtysomething--children who dream of settling down but have yet to meet "the one," don't be afraid to suggest CatholicMatch.  With three successful matches in our family alone, we have become true believers.


It think it's so funny--and so adorable--that son #4's girlfriend was attracted to him in part because he mentioned in his CatholicMatch profile that he was a physics major.  She admits that she finds the combination of good looks, good values, and a scientific mind (specifically, one with lots of physics knowledge) to boot just about irresistible.

That's a killer combo, to be sure.  There must be others out there who think like this girl does; that might explain the popularity of the TV show "Big Bang Theory."  (Only I'm going to tell you this, as a totally unbiased mother: my boy is a whole lot better looking than the science nerds on that show!  Not that it matters, but I'm just saying...)

Okay, I've gotten two good plugs in here for websites you might want to check out: one for Noisebot and one for CatholicMatch.  The rest is up to you!

What's Up with Cats?

I was mowing the lawn yesterday, which was an oddly enjoyable chore, as it was an absolutely glorious--sunny, but crisp and cool--fall day.  As often happens when I mow, I was deep in thought as I robotically pushed the lawn mower from one end of the backyard to the other and back again.  And for some reason, yesterday my mind was on CATS.  I don't even really like cats very much, so go figure!

This lack of affection I have for cats has been well documented on this blog, on more than one occasion.  My husband feels the same way I do: we both much prefer the idea of a dog as a pet.  (As far as pets go, with us they are mostly ideas anyway.  I doubt we'll ever have a real dog again.)

But cats--they're everywhere!  They pop up constantly in our speech, have you noticed?  You can be a hep cat or a cool cat (or as Sammy Davis Jr. used to put it, you can just be a plain old cat).  If the word cat is attached to your name, then you are the coolest.  This is good news for my hubby, whose college friends always called him "Pearly-cat."

You can be curious like a cat (although I believe monkeys are pretty curious creatures, too; as proof, there's that famous literary character named George).  Or you if you like to gossip, you can be catty.

You can have cat-like reflexes, though it seems to me that the term gazelle-like reflexes makes more sense, because gazelles, I'm pretty sure, are faster than kitty-cats.  (Don't tell me about how cheetahs are cats, and they're even faster than gazelles; I don't want to hear it.)

The cat's in the cradle, and sometimes he's got your tongue.  If you're a model, you sashay down the catwalk and you probably hear a lot of catcalls.

You can be a fraidy-cat or a scaredy-cat.  Or how 'bout a lolcat (or LOL-cat)?  Lolcats make you laugh out loud, partly because they sometimes wear human clothing, but mostly because they don't understand the concept of good grammar.  I think lolcats may not be as popular as they used to be; but at one time, the "Pictures" section on my #4 son's Facebook space was filled with images such as this:
LOL, right?  A lot of my boy's lolcat pictures featured kittens baring their fangs and firing automatic weapons, but this sweet little guy is a little bit more my speed.  He could almost turn me into a cat lover.  Almost.

When I accompanied my airline pilot husband on three of his working trips to Europe in late 2011 and early 2012, there were European cats who were trying their best to change my negative perception of creatures of their ilk.  They seemed to be following us wherever we went--from the inside a small Italian restaurant in Amsterdam
to the top of a high hill overlooking the city of Athens.

They just wouldn't leave us alone!  Cats--they're everywhere!  It doesn't matter if you don't keep them as pets; you can't get away from them, not even when you're a tourist in a foreign land.  That's my experience, anyway.  So I just have to ask: what's up with cats?

Well, that's what I was thinking about yesterday while I mowed the lawn.  I thought that, secretly inside, you wanted to know that.*

*(FYI, in case you don't recognize it, this is a reference to a line from my husband's all-time favorite movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  And that's something else I thought that, secretly inside, you wanted to know.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Striking Resemblance

My #3 son has a wonderful girlfriend whom he's been seeing since this past spring.  Recently, she sent me a photo of her mother's Uncle Jim.  When her mother met my son for the first time, she was immediately struck by the incredible resemblance between these two men who were born decades apart and totally unrelated by blood.

Here is an old photo of my son's girlfriend's great-uncle:
Now here is a recent photo of my son (I tried to give it an antique color effect so that the resemblance would be even more striking):
The eyebrows...the eyes that slope down at the corners...the smiles..the chins...even the hairlines.  Don't the two of them look extremely similar?!  It's downright eerie, if you ask me!  These guys could be related--they look almost as much alike as my 16-month-old identical twin granddaughters do!  When I first saw that grainy old photo, which the lookalike's girlfriend sent to my iPhone attached to a text, I was blown away.  I was visiting with my oldest son's family out in Colorado at the time, and I asked both him and his wife, separately and without preamble or hints, whom they thought the photo looked like--and right away, without a moment's hesitation, they both said the name of son #3.

I think it would be so strange to have a doppelganger.  I can't imagine what that's like (and when the twins are older, perhaps I can find out from them exactly how it feels to see your mirror image in another person).  Back on 3/18/12,  I wrote a post about a friend of ours who was sure he'd seen me at Mass on a Sunday when my husband and I were most definitely out of town, but I have yet to see this woman with my own eyes.  I have, however, seen the resemblance between my boy and his girlfriend's Great-Uncle Jim.  And it is indeed striking.

I guess if you go back far enough, though, we're all related--aren't we?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Storming the Field

I don't know if I'm going to lug my laptop along anymore when my husband and I go on weekend trips.  I bring it, thinking I'll blog every day...and then it often ends up sitting on the hotel room desk, sad and ignored, while I'm out having a good time.  Sorry, laptop.  (That's not a very good way to treat an electronic device that has done so much for me, is it?)

It was a GREAT weekend at Notre Dame, and I was too busy and having too much fun to blog about it.  I was just enjoying living in the moment--without worrying about snapping away on my camera or typing away on this keyboard.

I did take a handful of pictures in the stadium on Saturday, as my husband and I watched the Irish play Stanford in the pouring rain.  (Despite our rain ponchos, our jeans were completely soaked by the end--but if you know how the game turned out, you know it was totally worth it!)  At one point I glanced over at the "Touchdown Jesus" mural on the library, and I thought it looked so neat looming majestically above the crowd in the stands that I braved the raindrops and took my iPhone out to capture the image as quickly as possible.
My phone got a little wet in the process but wasn't irreparably harmed.  Afterwards, one of our nieces told us that many of her friends' cell phones got ruined by the rain in the course of the game.  (Again, if you know how it turned out, you know it was totally worth it!)

ND and Stanford ended up tied 13-13 at the end of regulation play, and then ND scored first in overtime to make it 20-13.  The greatest moments came right at the very end of the contest, when Stanford was threatening to score and the Irish defense came up HUGE and held them at 3rd and inches and then 4th and inches, denying them the touchdown that could have sent the game into double-OT.  Earlier in the game, the announcer had said that, in order to ensure the safety of all the players and coaches, it would be greatly appreciated if spectators didn't come down onto the field after the game.  So I'm asking you: do you think the ND students stormed the field after that game-winning goal line stand, or did they respectfully follow orders?  (In case you're having trouble deciding your answer, here's a picture of the ND student section storming the field when the fat lady had sung.)
It's funny, as I watched the students pour out of the stands, I said to my husband,"They weren't supposed to do that.  Are they going to get in trouble?"  (I'm a rule follower from way back, you understand.)  He smiled indulgently at me as if to say, "Silly girl," and replied, "These kids have been waiting a long time to have a team they can be this excited about.  No one's going to begrudge them that celebration on the field."  Okay, that was a bit of paraphrasing there.  I don't believe my husband used the word "begrudge"--although he may have--but that was the gist of our post-game exchange.

As my husband and I walked back to our nieces' off-campus house to have dinner, rehash the game, and celebrate this awesome victory with family and friends, our soaked-through jeans got even wetter (if that's possible).  But it was a small price to pay to have been able to watch this electrifying game right there at Notre Dame's stadium, in the shadow of "Touchdown Jesus," with the student section absolutely on fire.

The Irish are now 6-0 and ranked 5th in the nation.  Excitement is in the air.  Die-hard Irish fans are wearing Hawaiian leis in honor of defensive powerhouse Manti T'eo (you just gotta love Manti, I don't care where your loyalties lie!).   The students are going to storm the field to celebrate victories alongside their beloved team--and don't try to tell them they shouldn't.  They are beginning to believe, for the first time in a long time, that their boys in blue and gold could have a horse in the race for the national championship.

So, my dear readers, I'm sorry for neglecting my blog for the past few days--but you can see that there was a lot going on out in South Bend while my husband and I were there.  I tried to post something early yesterday morning at the hotel before we set out on our 16-hour road trip back home from Notre Dame, but I just couldn't get it done.  I'll try to stay on top of it from now on.

But until next time--GO IRISH!!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Faux-ny Baloney Week, Day 5: Faux Rush Seats

About 25 years ago when we were living in Florida, we bought four oak chairs with rush seats to go with our antique oak kitchen table.  I've always liked the idea of giving the kitchen a farmhouse feel (like the rustic one in the movie "Baby Boom," a gem which you must watch if you haven't already!), so I liked the way the rush seats gave our chairs a country look.

The problem with rush seats, however, is that--like cane seats--they tend to get saggy over the years, and then the rush strands begin to break.  When this started to happen, I put cushions on the chairs to hide the breakage; and as a Band-Aid fix, I would try to control the damage with the help of Aileen's Tacky Glue.

About ten years ago, I finally decided that it was time to get the seats replaced.  But when I looked into that, I found to my dismay that it was going to be prohibitively expensive to have them professionally done.  (And I don't even want to talk about the disastrous outcome of my DIY attempt at it.)  With real rush replacements out of the question,  I did the next best thing: I made faux rush seats that are actually way more durable and much easier to keep clean than the real thing.  These rush seat imitators will last forever, and they were actually pretty easy (although time-consuming) to make.  If you have rush seats that are in need of repair, like I did, you might want to try this inexpensive trompe l'oiel treatment.

First of all, it helps if you have a handy husband who has a workshop full of different types of electric saws and other furniture-building tools--which I do. (If you don't, you may need to hire someone for part of the job.)

Once my husband was on board with this project, I unscrewed the seats and removed the rush strands from one so that he could use the wooden frame around which the rush had been wound as a template.  On durable medium-density fiberboard, or MDF (a great wood substitute, especially if you're going to paint it anyway), he traced around the frame and cut out four solid seats that could be screwed back on the chair frames from underneath.
One of the old dilapidated rush seats, and the template for the new ones.
I began by painting each MDF seat brown (figuring that as I added lines of a lighter golden color to simulate the rush strands, the brown base coat would become the "spaces" between those lines), then I used a yardstick to mark the basic "X" design in pencil.  As I said on Wednesday, if I'd been a blogger back then, I could have taken pictures of the step-by-step process I used to accomplish this.  But in the absence of photos, I'll just tell you that it was done in layers: first, a layer of golden lines of "rush" painted over the brown; then some highlighting in a lighter color followed by some shading in a darker color.  I just played around with them until I liked how they looked, and to finish them off, I gave the seats a couple of coats of polyurethane as a sealer.
I still keep cushions on these chairs, because the flat wooden seats don't have any give and aren't as comfortable to sit on as the real rush seats were--which means that a lot of that painstaking faux finishing work I did remains hidden.  So I suppose if you don't feel confident about doing the rush effect, you could just paint your wooden seats a golden-brown color and top them with cushions.  Your chairs would last forever, and no one would be the wiser!

Well, that's it for "Faux-ny Baloney Week."  From now on, I'm just going to be keepin' it real here at "String of Pearls."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Faux-ny Baloney Week, Day 4: Faux Birds

This morning, my husband and I are taking off on a long road trip out to Notre Dame.  The Irish play Stanford on Saturday and ESPN's College Game Day crew is going to be on the ND campus.  Unfortunately, our youngest son is not; he's competing in an Army ROTC Ranger Challenge event off-site, and he's going to miss the game and all the Game Day excitement.  But when the weekend is over, he's coming home with us for his week-long fall break.

Lest you think that the fact that I'm on the road today is going to get you out of being subjected to another installment of "Faux-ny Baloney Week" decorating tips, I'm sorry to tell you that I wrote up the week's blog posts ahead of time so that all I would have to do is push the "Publish" button each day.  (I don't hear groaning out there, do I?)

Today's subject is a fun one anyway: faux birds!  Yes, it's like an Alfred Hitchcock movie around here, but without the terror.  I've painted some friendly birds in both upstairs bathrooms.  I don't know what it is about bathrooms that makes me think, "You know what this room needs?  Birds!"  But apparently, that's how my mind works.

Shortly after we moved into this house, I painted five or six birds on the walls of the master bathroom.  In subsequent years, I painted over some of them when I changed the birds-and-birdhouses decorating scheme; but I thought two of my little feathered friends--a wren sitting on the heat register near the floor and a robin perched on top of the shower wall--were so cute that I couldn't bring myself to paint over them.  I remember when my mother-in-law was visiting once, she said it was good that I'd painted the robin discreetly looking the other way, so that you didn't get the sense that he was watching you as you showered.  That's true, he's a very sensitive robin--that's another reason why I didn't have the heart to paint over him.
Some years later, when I decided to give the boys' bathroom (the other full bath on the second floor) a beach theme, I felt compelled to paint a seagull perched on the top of the shower wall in there.  This seagull, like his robin buddy, is also a true gentleman and looks the other way while people are using the shower.
I don't know if this post will inspire you to paint faux birds on your walls.  Personally, I happen to like seeing birds and all sorts of animals in my house.  Fake ones, though.  Not real ones, like the flying squirrel that dropped in one night when I was all alone.  (The famous squirrel invasion!)  Or the chipmunk that scurried inside once when we left the door open too long.  No, I like the fake ones much better.  We did have a bird fly inside once, and it took forever to chase him around and steer him toward the doorway so he could find his way back outside.  That was a little crazy!   Faux-ny birds in the house are definitely preferable to real ones.

You know, I've been wanting to get a dog, but we just can't take on the responsibility of a dog right now because we're traveling too much...but I could paint a faux doggy companion for myself on the wall, couldn't I?  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Faux-ny Baloney Week, Day 3: Faux Marble

Okay, I hope you aren't getting tired of this week's theme.  If so, just remember: it's hump day.  Before you know it, you'll be saying "TGIF!" and this faux-ny baloney business will be behind us once and for all.  (I think I just like saying "faux-ny baloney.")

Anyway, I thought you'd be interested in this tip for extending the life of a table with a finish that's seen better days--like a wonderful, oval-topped antique beauty that my mother-in-law gave me many years ago.  Here's my tip, for what it's worth: paint is always an easy and inexpensive answer.

This lovely old table had been stored outside, under the deck, and years of weather had wreaked havoc on its finish.  If I'd been a blogger back then, I would have taken a "before" picture so you could see how much TLC the poor baby needed.  The varnish had worn completely off and the wood had begun to get sort of soft.  I wanted to restore it and use it in my living room as an end table, but I didn't think stain and varnish were going to do the trick--not with the condition it was in.  But paint, I've learned, is a great concealer of flaws.  So I painted the legs and bottom of the table with a shiny dark brown enamel paint, which almost gave the look of  varnished wood.  I would have loved to have a marble top made for this table; but knowing that would be much too expensive, I decided to give it a phony marble finish.
If I'd been a blogger back then, I also could have taken pictures showing the step-by-step process for creating a marble effect.  But if I remember correctly, I first painted the whole thing with a dark green shiny enamel paint.  Then I sponged on a lighter green color, along with some white and black.  And finally, I painted random thin white lines to simulate cracks.  If you don't look at this table too closely, you might be fooled for a nanosecond into thinking it actually has a marble top.  (When it comes to many of the decorative touches in my house, it's best if you don't look too closely.)  So take a quick look--
--now look away!

I just love trompe l'oeil--which in French means "fool the eye" but in English means "totally fake"--finishes.  They can sometimes help you turn trash into treasure, and they give your home a touch of whimsy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Faux-ny Baloney Week, Day 2: Faux Stained Glass

Been there, done that...I know, I know.  I already showed you my front door sidelight windows, which are stained glass pretenders.  But I just have to show you what I did to the window in the master bedroom last week.  With the same type of product I used before (a decorative window film from Light Effects, which is sold at our local Home Depot for $19.99; it comes as a 24" X 36" sheet, and can be cut to size), I was able to create this lovely stained glass effect.
Our master bath isn't one of those enormous spa-type deals, with a giant shower big enough for a whole football team to use at once, a ginormous Jacuzzi tub, and a vanity top long enough to double as a landing strip for an airplane.  We don't even have a double sink, but for the past 22 years have been peacefully sharing the one that sits atop our modest-sized vanity.  Because the bathroom is so small, it's bothered me for years to have curtains hanging over that window--semi-sheer white ones, with lots and lots of gathers to make sure no Peeping Toms could see through them at night...curtains that hung down to the top of the toilet bowl tank and made the room feel too closed-in.  But I couldn't figure out how to get the privacy we needed without using all that fabric.

This window is on the front of our house, facing the street.  We live in a fairly private area at the end, not far from the cul-de-sac, where there are still some empty lots filled with trees.  But there is a house directly across the street from ours; and although the neighbors who live there are not the Peeping Tom sort, privacy has still been our #1 issue when it comes to our bathroom window.

I wanted a change, but what were my options?  What to do, what to do?  And then it hit me: the reason I'd installed the faux stained glass on the small windows on either side of the front door was so that no one could peek in on us at night; and if it worked for those windows, then why not for the master bathroom window?

It's such an easy process, too; you just clean the window, cut the Light Effects plastic sheet to size, spray water on the window with a spray bottle, remove the paper backing from the sheet and then position it in place, using a squeegee to remove all the excess water.  The "stained glass" will stay put indefinitely--but if you decide you want to take it down, you can just peel it off and re-use it somewhere else.  It's got to be the easiest trompe l'oeil decorating product on the market!

The day I put up the faux stained glass in our bathroom, I was absolutely thrilled with it. It looked so pretty with the sunshine streaming through the window.   But then as night fell, that window began to look like a gaping black rectangle, and the thin plastic film on it no longer seemed to be providing the kind of privacy a bathroom demands.  I couldn't help wondering what could be seen out there in the dark, with the house lit up from the inside.
YIKES!  Had I made a huge mistake?
So my husband stood out in the pitch darkness of the front yard while I moved around in front of the window, and then I went outside and he stood in front of it waving at me; and we both decided that, although vague, shadowy shapes could be seen, no one was going to be able to see anything that they shouldn't.  (Phew!)

SO...if you've got a window that you need to cover for privacy's sake, but you don't want to use any of the traditional drapery treatments, I recommend that you think about turning that ho-hum, pedestrian window into a stained glass beauty, with the help of this user-friendly product from Light Effects.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Faux-ny Baloney Week, Day 1: Faux Bricks

Okay, folks, welcome to "Faux-ny Baloney Week"!  The topic du jour: faux bricks.

When I said I might put you, my dear readers, through something like this the other day, I was only kidding.  But today I woke up wondering what to blog about, and  I thought, "Why not?"  I have so often found inspiration for DIY home decor projects from watching home improvement shows like TLC's "Trading Spaces" or reading women's magazine articles; and blogs are like on-line magazines for the modern age, in a way.  So I just thought I'd spend this week, Monday through Friday, showing you some of the creative things I've done around my house--whether to add a touch of whimsy or to save money with faux finishes instead of having to replace things that are tired and worn-out--and possibly inspiring you in the process.  My mantra is, "This is my house, and I'm going to decorate it any way I want!"  I have fun with my house, and I love it in all its whimsical glory...all the while realizing that if we had to sell our home, most women who came in to look at it would be somewhat horrified by my decorating "style" (and I use the term loosely).  But my house is not for future buyers; it's for my family and me to enjoy in the here and now, right?

Okay, now that I've set up the premise for this week's blog posts, let's get down to business.  I'm not going to cover faux granite (having just done that in Saturday's post); today I'm going to discuss faux bricks, a favorite go-to decorating theme of mine.  I've talked about them before, but I'm going to talk about them again.  Yes, I love faux bricks that much.

Shortly after we moved into our house almost 22 years ago, we noticed that there were vertical cracks in the wallboard above some of the doorways--the result of the house settling, we assumed.  For many years, I tried to patch and spackle those cracks, hoping to hide them from view, but none of my efforts made a difference.  Then about 10 years ago, after seeing one of the designers on "Trading Spaces" do a paint treatment on the walls that was supposed to look like exposed sections of old and weathered bricks, I decided that I would work with those cracks rather than against them: I decided to paint my own version of "exposed bricks" over the cracks, and--voila!--turned a structural minus into a decorating plus!
In the kitchen, over the doorway to the basement.
Upstairs, over the door to a bedroom once shared by my three youngest boys.
In the family room.  (There was no crack in the wallboard to hide here; I just got carried away.)
So what do you think?  If my house was on the market, and you came to check it out and saw these faux bricks all over the place, would you immediately turn to your spouse and whisper, "The first thing we're going to do after we move in is paint over those bricks!"?

I understand, believe me I do.  And I won't hold that against you.  But I love my faux-ny bricks.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Prayers at the Grotto

There is a place that touches my soul--and has touched the souls of countless others--every time I gaze upon it: this special place is the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes at the University of Notre Dame, a faithful replica of the one in France that marks the location of Mary's 19th-century apparitions to St. Bernadette.  I've blogged about this beautiful stone cave carved into a little hillside behind the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Notre Dame's glorious campus before; but it's a subject that bears repeating--especially on a Sunday, when one's mind is focused on prayer.
My husband, two of my sons, and I, praying at the Grotto a few weekends ago.
Some people think Notre Dame is all about the football, but there is so much more to that place than football or any other sport.  To me--and to so many others, I know--Notre Dame is about the Grotto and all that the Grotto stands for.  It's about celebrating our Catholic Faith on a daily basis, out loud and with joy; and it's about realizing our frailties, but feeling confident that we can ask Our Blessed Mother--Our Lady, for whom the university was named--to help us out as we struggle along in our quest to be joined one day with Her Beloved Son.

Don't get me wrong, the football is great.  Especially this year--so far anyway!  (Did you catch the 41-3 win over Miami last night?  How about those Irish, huh?)  And there are so many other wonderful traditions that make Notre Dame a unique and special institution.  But the Grotto...the Grotto is in a league of its own.

Mounted at the Grotto is a copy of a letter that Dr. Thomas A. Dooley, Class of '48, wrote in Dec., 1960 to then Notre Dame President Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C.  Tom Dooley was a well-known and acclaimed humanitarian who brought relief to Southeast Asia during the 1950's; he was, in fact, the very man who inspired Pres. John F. Kennedy to establish the Peace Corps.  Six weeks before his death, as he lay suffering in a Chinese hospital, Dooley wrote this very moving letter to Fr. Hesburgh about the Grotto.  Here are some excerpts:

Nothing earthly or human can touch me...Because I can pray...How do people on earth endure anything if they cannot have God?

I realize that the external symbols that surround one when he prays are not important...

But just now...and just so many times, how I long for the Grotto.  Away from the Grotto, Dooley just prays.  But at the Grotto, especially now when there must be snow everywhere and the lake is ice glass and that triangular fountain on the left is frozen solid and all the priests are bundled in their too-large, too-long old black coats and the students wear snow boots...if I could go to the Grotto now, then I think I could sing inside.  I could be full of faith and poetry and loveliness and know more beauty, tenderness, and compassion.  This is soggy sentimentalism, I know, (old prayers from a hospital bed are just as pleasing to God as more youthful prayers from a Grotto on the lid of night).

But like telling a mother in labor, "It's okay, millions have endured the labor pains and survived will, too."  It's consoling...but doesn't lessen the pain.  Accordingly, knowing prayers from here are just as good as from the Grotto doesn't lessen my gnawing, yearning passion to be there.

So Father Hesburgh, Notre Dame is...always in my heart.  That Grotto is the rock to which my life is anchored.  Do the students ever appreciate what they have, while they have it?  I know I never did.

[I just want to offer] my thanks to my beloved Notre Dame.  Though I lack a certain buoyancy in my bones just now, I lack none in my spirit.  I must return to the states very soon, and I hope to sneak into that Grotto...before the snow has melted.

It is well-nigh impossible to visit Notre Dame's Grotto and read Tom Dooley's letter without tears springing to your eyes, a lump forming in your throat.  I think he expressed perfectly what so many others have felt when they've lit candles there or knelt to pray a Rosary.

And lucky me--at this time next weekend, I'll be out at Notre Dame again, to watch another football game with my husband and drive our youngest son back home with us for his week-long fall break.  And while I'm there, I'll get another chance to pray at the Grotto about which Tom Dooley wrote so movingly and eloquently.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

No More Faux-ny Baloney

I'm so excited!  Today my husband and I went to Home Depot to talk to the kitchen designer and ordered new kitchen countertops, which will be installed in the very near future.  Our entire kitchen could probably use an update, as it hasn't been changed at all--aside from getting new appliances to replace the ones that stopped working--since we moved into our house in December of 1990.  It was a new house in the sense that it had never been lived in before and wasn't even entirely finished off on the inside; but it had been sitting empty for almost three years, and then the builder went bankrupt and it went into foreclosure.  So we got a great deal on it, and we got to choose a few interior design elements--like the kitchen flooring, some light fixtures, and the upstairs carpets; but the kitchen cabinets and countertops were already in, and we didn't have the funds to both purchase the house and do a big kitchen makeover.

Our kitchen cabinets are dated; I think at one time that sleek, modern, Scandinavian look was in style, but I know it's not anymore (except in doctors' exam rooms and such).  And even when we were house-hunting and first saw this home of ours, we didn't love them.  But the house itself--the size, the number of bedrooms, the layout, the beautiful wooded lot on which it was located--was so perfect in so many ways (it was our dream house, really) that we decided we could live with the kitchen, no problem.  And we have, for 22 years.  Happily.

The only thing I've done to the kitchen is give the original laminate countertops a faux finish. They were a solid mocha color, and about five or six years ago they were really starting to show a lot of wear and tear.  So I sponge-painted over the mocha with dark brown, cream, and black paint to create the look of granite, then added some polyurethane as a sealer.  I was happy with the finished product for a long time.  I mean, look at them.  They look okay, right?  From a distance?
I thought they did.  But recently, I decided that the time has come to get some new-and-improved countertops.  The real deal.  No more faux-ny baloney stuff.  So I'm getting new laminate counters that look like granite.  (I know you're probably puzzled, and wondering why I don't just get me some real granite countertops--but it doesn't seem wise to spend that much money unless everything else it getting updated, too.)

Here's a little sample piece of the new faux granite laminate I chose, sitting atop the old faux granite counter that I painted:
You're probably thinking that the new faux granite looks almost exactly like the old faux granite, and wondering why I'm bothering to make this change at all.  But trust me, it's going to be a big improvement.  I'll post the after picture to prove it!

I love trompe l'oiel and faux finishes.  I've blogged in previous posts about this weird fascination I have with all sorts of faux-ny home decor treatments.  There was that post about faux stained glass windows.  And one about faux bricks.  Others, too, involving pigs and various other animals.  I could do a whole "Faux Finishes Week," which would be every bit as exciting as Discovery Channel's "Shark Week," don't you think?  Hey, I might just do that!  (Or will I?  With me, nothing is as it seems, is it?)