Sunday, December 29, 2013

Imitating Art, and Artistic Genius

As far back as I can remember, I've been interested in drawing and painting.  I have used many types of media--ink, pencils, charcoals, pastels, oils, and acrylics--over the years, with varying degrees of success.  I like to work with acrylic paints the best, because they mimic oils but dry so much faster--and I've always been impatient when it comes to seeing the finished product of anything I happen to be working on at the time.  (Also, I'd rather deal with the ease of a soap and water clean-up than be required to use smelly cans of turpentine or paint thinner.)

I'm not a great artist.  Most of what I create ends up looking pretty amateurish.  (Hey, that IS a word.  I half-expected the spell checker to put a squiggly line under that one.)  Perhaps if I'd taken a lot of art classes or attended art school, rather than majoring in English at a liberal arts college, I might have been able to become a proficient artist--but when it comes to my so-called "art," I'm mostly self-taught.

I did, however, take two entry-level art courses as electives at the College of the Holy Cross: one was Introduction to Drawing and the other was Introduction to Painting.  I didn't get as much out of the drawing class as I was supposed to, because I skipped a number of classes.  You see, when I signed up for the class, I didn't realize that it was going to involve sketching nudes.  And when I say nudes, I mean, you know...buck naked actual human models sitting up there in front of the classroom, posing in all kinds of embarrassing positions--all so that a roomful of decidedly not-Rembrandts could do awkward charcoal renderings of them.

I muscled through the classes where the model was a female.  I really wanted to throw a robe on her (or a fig leaf or something--anything!), but I managed to do a few not-very-detailed and not-very-good sketches of her in her birthday suit.  But when I found out that a male model was going to be sitting up there for three straight classes, I was appalled and told my professor that there was no way I could possibly be there for those sessions.  I would take a hit on my grade for the class, if that's what she thought I deserved, but I simply could not be there looking at some strange naked guy.  At that point, my husband and I were still just boyfriend and girlfriend, but although we weren't yet formally engaged, we knew that we would be getting married as soon as possible after graduation; and--how do I say this delicately, so that if my sons read it they won't be scarred for life?--I really didn't think it was right to see another man in a disrobed state before I saw my husband that way on our wedding night.  Ahem.  Sorry, perhaps that was TMI, but there you have it.  I must say, the professor was very understanding and she didn't end up giving me any zero's for the missing work.

So--you get the idea that when I draw or paint people, I prefer to have them wearing clothes.  I like how people look in clothes.  Clothes are my favorite.  And I think it's sort of hard to paint the folds and shadows in garments, so I contend that if an artist really wants to challenge himself, he should paint his models properly clothed.  (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)

For instance, I was inspired to try to copy this Winslow Homer image of a pair of lads (with clothes on every part of their bodies except their feet)
and I painted this in acrylics, as a gift for my husband's older sister.
It's most definitely the work of an amateur, but I absolutely love the subject matter.  And the clothes.

Whatever God-given talent I have was passed on to my five boys in much greater intensity, and as children they spent hours and hours sketching animals, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, sea creatures, and more than anything else, dinosaurs.  Sons #2 and #4 are really the only ones who are still interested in drawing, son #4 in particular.  He never copies from photos or other artists' works (like his very unoriginal mom); his drawings go straight from his fertile imagination onto the paper, without reliance on any crutches or points of reference.  Just to show you how talented he is, here is an image that sprang completely out of his head, and I think it's extraordinary.
This is a picture taken of the work while it was on the computer screen; printed out on paper,
it is much crisper and sharper, and even more amazing!
Our #4 son created this piece recently as a wedding gift for his older brother.  He used to do all of his work using pencil and paper, but he drew these images--his own original takes on the Notre Dame leprechaun and the FSU Seminole--using a newfangled device whereby you do the drawing on a pad with a stylus and the image is magically transferred to the computer screen, and then color and other effects can be added.  I think this boy of ours is an artistic genius, I do; and I truly believe he could be a Disney animator (so if anyone out there who's reading this right now has an "in" over at Disney, feel free to put in a good word for him!).

Some of us try to imitate the artistic genius of others, and some of us are truly artistic geniuses.  But either way, if a work of art brings any small amount of enjoyment to the viewer, that's what it's all about.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Celebrating 33 years together...

...and preparing for the wedding of another son!

Yesterday marked 33 years of wedded bliss for my husband and me.  We are spending some post-Christmas/pre-New Year's time in the small town in Upstate NY where we grew up (and met, in high school, over 40 years ago).  We do this almost every December, after spending Christmas at our own home in NH, so that we can see family members from both my side and his.
Wedding day: December 27, 1980.
Last night, we decided to break away from the extended family gathering and have a nice romantic dinner--just the two of us--at a local restaurant known for its rustically lovely ambience, excellent service, and fine cuisine.  My husband had steak au poivre and I had beef Wellington, and oh my goodness, it was all indescribably delicious.  When they heard we were celebrating our anniversary, they gave us each a glass of champagne, on the house, which was very sweet.
33 years, five sons, and three granddaughters later!
We went to this particular restaurant with more than just our anniversary in mind, however; because in less than two months, we are going to host a rehearsal dinner in their event room, the night before the wedding of son #4, and we wanted to talk to the proprietor and get some questions answered.

That's right, dear readers; our #3 son just got married on Pearl Harbor Day and the ink is barely dry on his marriage certificate, and now son #4's wedding is just over the horizon.  All I can say is that life in a big family is always the most glorious roller coaster.  We had sons #1 through #4 in a span of just over four years, so I guess it should surprise no one that their weddings would take place in similar rapid-fire fashion!

I know that my first daughter-in-law Regina was thrilled when son #3's wife Preciosa joined the clan and helped to even out the ratio of men to women in the Pearl family.  Now those two gals will be able to welcome son #4's bride into the fold.  (I haven't come up with a blog name for this young lady yet, but I surely will.)

I'm sorry that I've been such an incredible slacker lately when it comes to keeping current here at "String of Pearls."  I'd love to get back to the habit of posting daily, and hopefully I will very soon.  I've got plenty of things to tell you about (I'm sure you're waiting with baited breath!  And by the way, what the heck does that phrase even mean?), once we finally get back home and the busy-ness of the holidays is past...and you know, all that's going on in my life is stuff like preparing for another wedding in our family!

I'm feeling overjoyed, overwhelmed, over-excited, and all sorts of other adjectives that start with "over."  Mostly, though, I'm just feeling over-blessed.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I was going to take a short hiatus from blogging.  But then earlier this evening when we were Face-timing with our middle son and his brand new bride (who are spending Christmas with her folks down in FL), he said he was having some FOMO (that stands for "fear of missing out," in case you've never heard that acronym before), because this is his first ever Christmas away from home.  He told me that he missed seeing a new blog post today, because if I'd blogged about what was going on here at ye old homestead, reading that would have helped to alleviate the FOMO he was having.

Oh, the guilt!

Here I thought everyone would be so busy having Christmas fun that the last thing anyone would miss would be a "String of Pearls" blog post.  I guess I was wrong.

Aside from the newlyweds, we were also missing our oldest son, his wife Regina, and our three darling granddaughters today.  They had just made a major trip east for the wedding in early December, so they're spending the holidays at their home in CO.  We did Skype with them earlier today, though, and got to watch them open the gifts we'd sent.  The girls loved their new stuffed animals.  That made our day!

We had sons #2, #4, and #5 here with us, and we feel incredibly blessed.  We laughed a lot, ate a lot, and spent a lot of quality relaxation time together.

Okay, I'm going to keep this very short and sweet, because it's practically bedtime...

So I'll just leave you with a few pictures.



Merry Christmas to all--and to all a good night!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Dresses for My Granddaughters (and Other Sewing Projects)

I was so happy to hear that the box I sent to son #1 and Regina arrived on Saturday--because it contained three special Christmas frocks that I made for twins Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie and their baby sister Little Gal, who is celebrating her very first Christmas.  I was doing the work very last- minute this year, and almost talked myself out of making them at all.  It took me about two days of straight sewing (which included being up until 3:00 a.m. one of the nights!), but I got them done on time.  When my husband and I went to Fed Ex to ship them last week, we were told they would arrive today, but they actually arrived early.  It's a Christmas miracle!

For the past two Christmases, I've made jumpers for the twins out of fabric that my late mother-in-law had stashed away in her attic.  For their first Christmas, the jumpers were made of red velveteen with little green tree-shaped buttons.  For their second Christmas, they were made of green pinwale corduroy with some red ribbon accents.  This year, even though I still have some lovely hunter green velveteen that would have been perfect,  I had my heart set on a cheery cotton Christmas print.  I have several pieces of such fabric from the girls' great-grandma's attic, but not enough of any one to make three matching dresses.  So I ended up taking a trip to JoAnn's, where they were having a great sale on Christmas prints.

I love the way these dresses turned out!  There's nothing cuter to me than a little girl wearing a dress with a Peter Pan collar.  Regina commented that they had a sort of vintage look about them, and I agree.  I feel like these dresses are what you might see little lasses wearing in some ad or TV show from the 50's.  I am a sucker for anything with a vintage look about it, so the fact that these dresses evoke a bygone era makes me love them even more.  I can hardly wait to see them on my adorable trio of granddaughters.
For the twins

For Little Gal
Aren't they totes adorbs?  I added the star buttons as an afterthought, because the dresses seemed like they needed a little something more.

This iron-on tag is my favorite detail, though.
Almost every year, I make at least one new ornament for our tree, along with several others to give various and sundry loved ones as gifts.  One of my projects this year involved making use of some of the truly magnificent pieces of antique laces and embroidered fabrics that were sent to me by the sister-in-law of one of my Pearl sisters-in-law (is that confusing enough?).  Knowing I liked to sew and do craft projects, this relative-of-a-relative thought I might be able to re-purpose some of these old family heirlooms that she'd been hesitant to part with.  As a thank you for this box of treasures (which include what looks like a delicate lace-trimmed bridal veil from the Roaring 20's--someday I'll show you!), I decided to cut some of the embroidered flowers out of a disintegrating lace table runner and applique them onto stuffed heart-shaped ornaments made out of some scraps of my mother-in-law's velveteen.  I made one for my Pearl sister-in-law (since this lace is part of her husband's family history) and one for her generous sister-in-law, who totally tickled me by sending all of those goodies my way.
It just goes to show that you should never throw out a beautiful piece of antique lace or cutwork, because they just don't make that stuff like they used to.  Even if it is stained or has holes in it, you can still salvage bits of it and showcase it in new ways.

Enough sewing talk!  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Mary's Fiat (Redux)

I can't believe this is the last Sunday of Advent and Christmas is just around the corner!  I don't know where December went.  (Yes I do; we had a wedding in our family, for one thing!)
Today, as I think about the coming birth of Our Savior, I am reminded of the enormous role His Mother--and Our Blessed Mother--played in salvation history.  So I'm re-running a post that I dedicated to Her way back in the early days of this blog.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mary's Fiat

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

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

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

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

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

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


May the peace and joy of Christmas be in your hearts, now and always!

Friday, December 20, 2013

7 QTF: The Wedding of Son #3 and His Preciosa

Time to talk weddings!

And since I have a lot to say, I thought the 7 Quick Takes Friday forum might be just the ticket.  Actually, I might need 14 Takes (and none of them all that Quick!) to do this thing justice, but I'll try to squish all of my gushing commentaries into 7 meaty sections. 

Okay, as you may already know, our middle son got married on December 7.  (He's the one who, when at the age of five or so was asked by one of his female cousins which one of them he intended to marry, said, "Why do I have to marry anyone?  I've got my mom!"  Is that not THEE cutest?)

The wedding ceremony took place at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church on the grounds of the University of VA, and it was incredibly beautiful and holy.  I blogged about that already here, if you haven't read that post.  And aside from that post dedicated entirely to the nuptial Mass, I blogged briefly about the big day here, here, and here, and I posted a few teaser pictures as well.  But I'd like to tell you more about it, because it was quite an event.  As one of my sisters-in-law who was in attendance remarked, it was "magical."
The young men in this picture, with the exception of the one who stands third over from the bride, are my sons.
I'm going to end Take #1 right here, so if you'd like to go back and peruse the previous posts to which I so helpfully gave you links, you may do so now.

The Warmest of Welcomes
Welcome back, dear readers!  Are you all caught up?
And speaking of welcomes, I must tell you about the amazing thing that the mother of my new daughter-in-law daughter Preciosa did to welcome all of the out-of-town guests who came to the wedding.  Keep in mind that this was a big wedding, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 guests--and almost all of them came from afar.  Although son #3 and Preciosa, son #4 and his fiancée, and my husband's sister and some of her family live in Charlottesville, VA, the lion's share of the wedding guests had to travel that weekend.  It was, for all intents and purposes, a "destination wedding."  Lots of folks traveled all the way from Miami.  The bride's parents are from FL, my husband and I live in NH, and other family members and friends came from CO, AL, NC, CT, NY, and other states far and near.
But do you know what my son's new mother-in-law did for all of the out-of-towners?  She put together welcome bags for every single one of us!  She hand-stenciled the first initials of our last names on the canvas bags and filled them with water bottles, packages of tissues, little guide books about all there was to do and see in the area, and snacks that included a FL orange and a bag of VA peanuts.  I forgot to ask her how many welcome bags she put together, but trust me, she had to make a lot of them.  And then she had them delivered to all the hotels where the guests were staying so that they would be there when they checked in.
Notice that a bag made for a male guest has a simple monogrammed letter on it (nice and manly); but a bag for a couple or a young lady also has a burlap strip embellished with pearls.  Such attention to detail!  Such thoughtfulness!
Preciosa's mother is one of the most thoughtful and caring mamas you'll ever meet, as this none-too-easy-to-pull-off gesture illustrates.  With all she had to do in the months leading up to the wedding, giving the guests a hearty welcome was a priority with her.  This gesture alone--although it is only one of the many thoughtful and loving things I've seen her do in the short time I've known her--convinces me that my son will be cherished by his new family.  That's a great feeling. 
Décor to Die For
This mother of the bride was a busy, busy lady from the time my son put a diamond ring on Preciosa's finger in April until the big day in December.  She and her daughter had a vision for decorating the event room at King Family Vineyard--a huge, majestic space with soaring ceilings, giant chandeliers, a mammoth stone fireplace, and rustic decorative touches such as wine barrels stacked in cubbies high up on the walls.  That vision was a combination of country charm and urban chic that included, among other things: burlap tablecloths for the round tables and burlap runners for the long farmhouse tables at which the bridal party sat; navy blue monograms (on the burlap covers on the chairs of the bride and groom, as well as on the wedding cake topper); antique-looking mottled silver vases filled with baby's breath, pine cones, and roses; King Family wine bottle corks glued together and tied with burlap strings, to fashion holders for the cards on which the table numbers were printed; and a huge hand-painted sign above the mantle that read "I have found the one whom my soul loves."
Every guest sat down to find a handled mason jar filled with ice water, personalized specifically for him or her--to use during the dinner and to take home as a favor at the end of the night.  Preciosa's mom had painted each and every one with chalkboard paint and then added the names in white.  Such attention to detail!  On top of the rustic-chic navy blue and white linen dish cloth that served as a napkin, there was a printed card filled with thanks and expressions of love from the newlyweds.
In the bar area, there was an antique suitcase sitting open, with a burlap sign above it to let guests know that if they had brought cards, they could deposit them there.  There was a big wooden hutch at one end of the room, and Preciosa's mother had filled it with framed photographs of the bride and groom at all ages, and creative little burlap discs on which she'd printed out Notre Dame and Florida State logos--because if I haven't told you yet, you should know that these two kids are equally fanatic about the football teams of their alma maters.  Every single detail that could be thought of--well, it was thought of.  The bride's mother also had little pennants made, to be carried by young cousins of the bride, announcing when it was "Time to Cut the Cake" or alerting guests to get ready for the "Sparkler Send-off."
I could go on and on!  Suffice it to say that this wedding was packed with so many lovely and creative details that it should have been covered for an article in a bridal magazine--and Preciosa's mother could open up a wedding planning business!
Food and Drink Aplenty
One of the best decisions the bride and groom made was to have their big event catered by a local barbeque place rather than to serve prohibitively expensive plated dinners.  The guests were free to go through the buffet line and heap their plates with tender beef brisket, delectable grilled chicken, gourmet mac and cheese, salads, vegetables, and homemade bread.  And they could (and did!) go back for seconds!  The food was plentiful and pleasing to any palate. 
There were also plenty of spirits for the over-21 crowd, and the bar was open all night.  My husband and I decided when son #1 got married four years ago that since we don't have any daughters and will never have to put on an entire wedding, we would always offer to take care of the bar bill, along with several other incidentals.   For this event, we were able to buy all of the hard alcohol in tax-free NH (live free or die!) and cart it down to VA, which saved us a bit of expense.  Now that we no longer have our beloved 15-seater Dodge Ram Van (I miss my big red house on wheels!), we had to wait to buy the bottled beer, soft drinks, and mixers down in VA.  King Family provided the wine for the reception, of course.  And as a piece de resistance, my sister-in-law and her husband, who are getting ready to open up a microbrewery in Upstate NY, brewed a special IPA for our boy and his bride as a wedding gift (and let him give it a special name), and they provided some kegs of that to be enjoyed by all. 
We bought more alcohol than we needed, and we ended up bringing quite a few bottles back with us; at the Pearls!
Instead of a gigantic wedding cake, the bride and her mom chose to go with cupcakes for the guests, along with a small (topper-sized) traditional white-cake-with-white-frosting wedding cake that the bride and groom could cut and feed one another.    And when I say cupcakes, I don't mean just white-with-white.  There were some of those.  But there were also red velvet ones with cream cheese frosting, Snickers ones filled with caramel and peanuts, Heath bar ones, and I don't even know what other varieties of nirvana were on that tiered cupcake holder that was designed and made by the bride's mother (because--AARRGGHH!--I somehow never got around to getting a cupcake!).  The amazing thing is that one of the bride's friends from Miami baked all of these delectable items--AFTER she arrived in VA a few days before the wedding, with her baking pans packed in her suitcase!
As if all of this feasting wasn't enough, later on during the dancing, homemade apple cider donuts were available, freshly made on-site and served from a cart parked just outside the reception hall.  (This was my boy's special request.  Good call, son!  All that dancing sure makes a wedding guest hungry!) 
Music and Dancing
The reception started out with chamber music during the cocktail hour, followed by DJ'd dance music after the meal was over.
The newly married couple danced their first dance as man and wife to a beautiful song called "You Wouldn't Mind (Body and Soul)," which was written and recorded by the bride's good friend Colleen Nixon--who also did the music for the wedding Mass.
When father and daughter danced, there was not a dry eye in the house, I'm sure.  I danced the mother-son dance with my beloved middle child to pretty much my all-time favorite song, the Backstreet Boys' "The Perfect Fan."  My son said some very sweet things to me while we danced.  I cried.  But then again, I can't listen to that song, sung by FIVE [Backstreet] BOYS who love their moms, without crying.
After the tear-inducing numbers were over, the party started and the dance floor was hopping until they turned on the lights to signal the end of the festivities.
I just love my new daughter.  She is so full of life, outgoing, loving, and fun.  As you can see from these pictures, she enjoyed her big day to the fullest!
And no Pearl wedding would be complete without my baby dancing to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," with everyone gathered round him in a circle.  It's a crowd pleaser--every. single. time.
There was one other musical component at this wedding--something that the bride arranged as a special surprise for her new husband.  It was AWESOME.
Right in the middle of the festivities, an Irish bagpiper in a kilt and full regalia, entered through a back door and proceeded to play the "Notre Dame Victory March."  That really got the Pearl contingent fired up, and we all sang ND's famous fight song at the top of our lungs.  Look at my son's happy face.  He was just beyond thrilled by this thoughtful--and really fun--gift from his new wife.

Brothers Make the BEST Best Men

There were two best men in this wedding--son #4 and a good friend of the groom's from his college days--because the bride had chosen two maids of honor.  Son #3's college friend spoke first, and his speech was wonderful.  Then son #4, with a tough act to follow, gave an incredibly moving speech about his big brother.  He nailed it.  His speech was funny and sincere and heartwarming all at once, and his words were just chock full of love, admiration, and respect for a brother who is also a best friend.

Our sons all decided long ago that they would be the best men at each other's weddings: son #2 was our firstborn's best man four years ago, and he gave a killer speech; son #4 was the best man for son #3 at this wedding; son #5 will be the best man at son #4's wedding in February of 2014; when son #2 gets married, son #3 will be best man; and when our baby gets married, our oldest will be his best man.  Their dad and I never asked them to do this for each other; they made this plan on their own.  And after listening to two of my boys speak so movingly about a brother at two different weddings, I have to say that this might be the most touching part of the whole deal for me.  That or the mother-son dance; it's a toss-up.

Mothers of only sons, take heart: men may not be as comfortable expressing their emotions as women are, but they are capable of giving the most incredible tributes when called upon to do so.  They may not always show it the way we gals do, but their emotions run deep.  These boys of ours might jokingly call each other "losers" when they're hanging out casually together; but they would absolutely take a bullet for one another.  They support, respect, and appreciate each other, in spite of the differences in their personalities, and they truly are the best of friends.

The Sparkler Send-Off

I loved this send-off for the bride and groom!  Back in the day, people threw rice at you.  This is so much prettier!  (Not to mention safer for the birdies.)  What a spectacular ending to a perfect wedding day!   This newly minted Mr. and Mrs. look about as happy and in love as two young people can be, don't they? 


And on that note, I'll sign off and send you over to Conversion Diary, where you can find out what's been shaking with Jen and lots of other bloggers whose posts I'm sure you'll enjoy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Happy 4th Anniversary, Kids!

Four years ago today, our oldest son got married to a lovely young lady he'd met on two years earlier.  The two of them hit it off immediately, after meeting on-line in November of 2007 and spending lots of time on the phone; so they arranged to meet for the first time in person under the clock at Grand Central Station in January of 2008. 

Isn't that romantic?  Doesn't it sound a bit like that old movie "An Affair to Remember" with Cary Grant and Jean Kerr, where they plan to meet at the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day?  Only way, way better, obviously, because neither of them got hit by a taxi and they both showed up, right on schedule!  They clicked right away, and the rest, as they say, is history.  By the following month (after spending only a second weekend together), my son called and told me that "uh, I think might have to, you know, start saving some money...because, um, I think I'm going to be buying a ring pretty soon." (!!!!)

Within six months of meeting in NYC, they were engaged.  They had a rather long engagement, however, because a mere three months after my son put a diamond ring on his beloved's finger, he was deployed to Iraq for a year.  But finally a couple of months after he returned, they were married in an absolutely glorious wedding ceremony in the bride's hometown in Wisconsin, at the Catholic church she'd attended all of her life.  The nuptial Mass was so incredibly beautiful and holy; the bride's older brother sang and was the cantor, and when he sang the Litany of Saints, it just made your soul soar.
My oldest son is a guy who never wanted to date just anyone for the sake of having a girlfriend; he was always looking for "the one."  Well, take a look at his face on the day of his wedding.  His expression tells the story better than words.  I think it's safe to say he found what he'd been searching for.

So our boy got what he'd been searching for--the woman of his dreams, his soul mate; and my husband and I, after raising five sons, finally got our first daughter!  (Now that I have two daughters-in-law, I have given this one the blog name "Regina.")
Look at that sweet, beautiful face!  Our son hit the jackpot four years ago, that's true--but our whole family did, too.

The wedding reception was held in a gorgeous old historical building, in what had once been the auditorium of a Catholic school called Notre Dame (how apropos for the Pearl family!).   I think the ceilings must have been about 30 feet high, and the place was all pillars and arches and soaring arched windows and gleaming wood floors.  That venue would have looked magnificent with no decorative touches at all added, but Regina's choice of simple vases of pussy willows as centerpieces for the tables was absolutely stunning.

When guests arrived, they didn't sign a typical guest book; they signed a large coffee table book about NYC--which of course had great meaning for this couple.  Another interesting idea that Regina came up with was to use what looked like old fashioned library book check-out cards (Remember those cards in the back of the library books?  Remember card catalogs?) as place cards for all the guests.  They even looked as if they'd been typed up using an old school-style typewriter.  She is a librarian, which made this little detail especially endearing and fun.  As favors, she and my son made homemade hot cocoa mix and put it into cute little mason jars, with labels that had their names and "The Perfect Blend" printed on them.  Adorable.

The wedding party (with our four other sons as their brother's groomsmen!) sat at a long banquet table that was set up on the stage, with a majestic red velvet curtain as their backdrop.  After dinner, the table was cleared, the curtains were opened, and the musicians took over the stage.  For two hours, a famous local band played polka music, and that was followed by two hours of a DJ who played contemporary party tunes.  The dancing was spirited and even the little ones got involved (and the stage became a mini dance floor as well!).

I have so many wonderful memories of that wedding, which WAS the perfect blend: a holy and reverent wedding Mass, followed by a delicious dinner in a spectacular setting, and topped off with four hours of non-stop dancing and merriment (including polka dancing, which no Pearls really knew how to do but were game enough to try anyway!).  Life was good; it was very, very good.

But it got better!  Within 18 months, these two lovebirds were the parents of identical twin baby girls.  And about 20 months after that, the twins were joined by a little sister.

We're so proud of our son and his wife.  They are wonderful parents who are completely open to having as many children as God wants them to.  And as far as my husband and I are concerned, when it comes to grandchildren, the more the merrier!

I was not a blogger when my oldest son and his wife got married, so I haven't really talked much about that wedding here at "String of Pearls."  I thought it would be fun to do so today, as a way of celebrating their anniversary.

And it is wedding season, you know: because my husband and I celebrate our anniversary on December 27; and our middle son also had a December wedding, back on the 7th, which I have yet to blog about in the detail it deserves.  So be on the look-out tomorrow, because I'm planning a 7 Quick Takes Friday post about it! 

In the meantime, HAPPY 4th ANNIVERSARY to son #1 and his lovely wife Regina.  I love you both so much, and I pray that God blesses you with many more happy years together. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

WWRW: Don't You Forget About Me

I have been way too busy to read books lately (my middle son got married on December 7, and since returning from our week-long sojourn in VA, I've been catching up on rest, housework, Christmas preparations, you name it).

But not long ago, I read the most awesome book, and I thought I'd share it with all my WWRW peeps.  (If I already shared this title with you at the link-up, sorry 'bout that.  My brains are a little fried right now--that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it).

If you haven't read Don't You Forget About Me, Erin McCole Cupp's wonderful murder mystery/suspense novel (which is a Catholic novel to boot), then you don't know what you're missing.

Not too long ago, I posted a review of Erin's book on Goodreads and Amazon--and I'm going to just be a lazy blogger and  copy and paste that review here.  (I think I just really, really want to be part of the book party over at Jessica's...but I also really think you should read this book!)

Laura Pearl rated a book 5 of 5 stars

Erin McCole Cupp’s novel "Don’t You Forget About Me" will grab you on the first page and keep your interest until the cliff-hanger of an ending (which cries out for a sequel—and I’ve heard through the grapevine that one is indeed forthcoming!).

Cupp’s delightfully funny, self-deprecating, and flawed but very real and very lovable heroine, Mary Catherine Whelihan, leads a cast of unforgettable characters as she takes a crazy ride back to her old hometown of fictional Walkerville, PA, where she attended junior high at Our Lady of the Seven Dolors Catholic Elementary School in the 1980’s. Mary Catherine, once the target of class bullies and back-stabbing mean girls, is now a successful children’s book author who goes by the pen name of Mary Cate Wheeler. But this novel illustrates, with cringe-worthy realism, the fact that no matter how far you travel from your roots or how successful you become, your past remains forever a part of who you are.

Cupp has created a whale of a whodunit mystery that’s a true page-turner. This story has it all: a decades-old unsolved murder that occurred a stone’s throw from Seven Dolors; local mobsters ready to wipe out anyone who threatens to expose their treachery or stands in the way of their money-making operations; a handsome, charming love interest for Mary Catherine, a doctor named Gene Marcasian, who was her best friend/almost flame during their junior high days and who still makes her heart go pitter-pat; a wise-cracking best friend who helps Mary Catherine crack the convoluted murder case wide open—and that’s just a partial list. Lives are in danger from beginning to end, and it’s hard to separate the good guys from the bad guys. I guarantee if you start this book, it’s going to keep you up long past your bedtime, because you won’t want to put it down.

Oh, and there’s also tomato pie--which I’d never heard of before reading Erin’s book, but which I’ve curiously begun to crave.
On top of the humor, intrigue, and edge-of-your seat plot twists, "Don’t You Forget About Me" has a beautiful pro-life message and presents the Catholic Faith, and those who practice it with confidence, in a very positive light. Without being preachy or in-your-face about it, Cupp compares the difficulties and heartaches of being a jaded, fallen-away Catholic with the peace and joy that comes when one humbly and trustingly puts his life in God’s loving hands.

Erin McCole Cupp is a masterful storyteller and a brilliant writer. Her character development is top-notch, and when her likable characters converse, their dialogue rings absolutely true. "Don’t You Forget About Me" is smart, sassy, and utterly entertaining. I can’t say enough good things about this book! I highly recommend it.

Now head on over to Housewifespice for more reading recommendations.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Evangelizing Through Fiction

I'm a little embarrassed about how much I've been using this blog and my Facebook pages lately to push, push, push Finding Grace, because I can't think of anything I dislike more than calling attention to myself.  Yet I feel I must make an effort to market/promote it to the best of my ability.  It took attending the Catholic Writers Guild Live conference in New Jersey this past summer to convince me that it's okay to want people to read my book--in fact, it's okay to encourage them to read it.  Because it's not about me at all; it's about sharing a message.  It's about using fiction as a form of evangelization.  That is truly what I set out to do with this book back in August of 2007, when I first sat down to write it.  I wanted it to be entertaining, humorous, and sweet; but most importantly, I wanted it to be a tool to combat the poison being peddled as literature in this secularized age--I wanted it to unabashedly show the joy and beauty of a life lived according to God's will and His laws.

But here's the kicker: what I didn't bank on was that if I wanted anyone to read it and be positively affected by it, I would have to try (and I mean try hard) to "sell" it.  That's been the tough part for me.

My baby sister has an easier time selling my book than I do (she even saw to it that the library of the public school where she works got a copy and put it on display), so I'm going to shamelessly use her here as a promotion tool.
Isn't she gorgeous?  I told her that ad agencies use beautiful women to sell things all the time--so I thought maybe I ought to do the same!

Many people wouldn't in a million years read religious non-fiction books, because they find them too dry and boring.  But they will read a novel with a good story in it, because they enjoy that so much more.  And that's where a Catholic author can use the medium of fiction to quietly evangelize: through the actions of characters that a reader comes to know and love, an author can inspire that reader to change his life, to be a better person, to seek the Truth.  I hope--I pray!--that that is what I accomplished with my humble little novel, and that even one soul will be edified by it.  I would rather please the Man Upstairs than be successful by the world's standards.

There are very few authors--of fiction in general and Catholic fiction in particular--who are going to become household names or see their works adapted to the big screen.   I read somewhere that the odds of being a "successful" author are roughly the same as winning the lottery on a $1 ticket: about 1 in 1,270,000.  (I have no idea if that's an accurate figure, but it sounds about right.)  I suppose if I'd been willing to sell out and write a book filled with sexual perversity, vampires, or zombies, Finding Grace might have a shot at becoming "successful."  As it is, it's currently ranked at about #600,000 on Amazon--which is a pretty far cry from the #1 spot!  A bestseller it is not.  But I believe in this book anyway.  I believe that it can do some good in the world.  I believe that a high school girl being fed the falsehoods taught in sex ed classes (where the word "safe" is used in a way that is so incredibly misleading) might actually be inspired by the hard lessons learned by some of FG's characters to make different choices than the world would have her make.  I believe that she could be inspired to imitate my sweet, self-effacing little heroine, Grace Kelly--who might be unsure of herself in many ways, but is very sure that with the help of the saints, she can become one herself.

Okay, 'nuff said.  I'll just end here by letting you know that the Kindle version of Finding Grace has been reduced from $7.99 to $4.99--just in time for Christmas gift-giving.

Thanks for your patience, dear readers!

Monday, December 16, 2013

3 Reasons I Love Advent

I'm linking up with Micaela today, over at California to Korea (and Back Again).  She does a monthly blog link-up called "3 Reasons I Love Catholicism," and this month's 3 Reasons are specifically devoted to the season of Advent.

I love Advent.  I love the joyful anticipation of the birth of Our Savior.  I love getting the house ready, putting up the decorations (and don't judge me, they go up as soon after Thanksgiving as humanly possible--and because my husband was going to be working a lot during the holidays, I must meekly admit that they went up before Turkey Day this year).  I love the shopping for or the hand-making of gifts, the wrapping.  I even love the trips to the post office to ship out gifts to far-flung family members.  (It helps that we have the most cheerful crew of postal workers in our town that you ever did see.  In our local post office, there's nary an even mildly disgruntled employee, ever, no matter how long the line is.)

Anyway, here they are--3 reasons I love Advent.

1: The Advent Wreath
I love that Advent is filled with family traditions, like the lighting of the candles on our Advent wreath every Sunday.

Our oversized wreath has tall 7-day candles that stay lit throughout the week, until it's time to light another one the following Sunday.  We have back-up candles ready to replace the burned-out ones, until eventually we have all four lit up at the same time.  This wreath was a DIY project that my husband and I worked on together in preparing for the 1999 Christmas season; he cut a large, donut-shaped wooden frame in his workshop, and I painted it green and glued on the faux pine boughs and other embellishments.  I found the Baby Jesus doll that rests in the center some years later in one of our all-time favorite Catholic gift catalogs, Leafet Missal.
When we first started using this Advent wreath, I was worried about leaving the candles burning while we were either sleeping or away from the house; but those pillar candles encased in glass that we order from another favorite catalog called Mother of Our Savior Catholic Goods are like the ones they use at church, and they are very safe.  I got used to the idea of keeping them lit 24/7 pretty much immediately, and I've always loved walking by the living room any time of the day or night and seeing the soft glow of those candles.

We start our yearly Advent Wreath Ceremony by reciting the following prayer:

O God, by whose word all things are sanctified, pour forth by blessing upon this wreath and grant that we who use it may prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ and may receive from Thee abundant graces. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

On the first Sunday, my husband (or one of our sons) lights the first candle, and we pray:

O Lord, stir up Thy might, we beg Thee, and come, that by Thy protection we may deserve to be rescued from the threatening dangers of our sins and saved by Thy deliverance. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Then each successive Sunday, we light a new candle and say another special prayer, until all four candles are burning round the clock. 

There wasn't an Advent Wreath in our home when I was growing up, at least that I can remember, and this is a tradition we started with our boys that is very special to us.

2: Nativity Sets
The same year we made that huge Advent wreath, we invested in a huge (church-sized) Nativity set, with figures made of painted plaster.  We decided that as far as the Advent wreath and the Nativity set--those important reminders of the real reason for the season--were concerned, we were going to go big or go home.

I absolutely love Nativity sets.  My family had a very simple little one growing up, with a small cardboard stable and poorly painted plaster figurines; but I remember sitting and staring at it in wonder when I was a little girl.  My mother always had Baby Jesus and the 3 kings in place from the start, and that's how we set ours up as well.  I think the idea of waiting to put the Christ Child in the manger until Christmas morning is wonderful, as is waiting until Epiphany to add the kings; but I just can't seem to do it that way, because I like to see the whole story being told at once.  That was the tradition in my husband's house as well, so that's the way we do it.

We bought the 19-piece set of plaster figurines first, the tallest of which is about 18".  After a couple of years went by, my husband fashioned a large stable out of scrap wood we had in our basement, I stained and varnished it, and our Nativity set was complete.

Setting up this beautiful crèche is absolutely my favorite part of decorating the house for Christmas.

My boys know how much I love Nativities.  A couple of years ago, sons #3 and #4 pitched in to get me this incredible Willow Tree set as a Christmas gift.  (It's a big one--St. Joseph is about 15" tall.)  It's so lovely that I keep it out all year long.
I have other sets, too.  Like this small set my mom gave me one year, one that was made in Mexico.
Apparently, I cannot have enough Nativity sets!

3: Joyful Anticipation
This really IS "the most wonderful time of the year," as the song says.  There is so much happiness to anticipate, and it's truly not about the gifts.  It's about celebrating the coming of God's Beloved Son, who was sent as a Savior for the whole world.  It's about anticipating that glorious birth, because without Christmas, where would we be?

For my husband and me, it's also anticipating the joy of being together as a family again.

Our Advents used to be filled with little boys in white oxford button-downs and gray slacks (that beloved Catholic school uniform--not!), counting down the days in anticipation of school break and Santa Claus.  Nowadays, it's Mom and Dad who are counting down the days until college breaks and work vacations, anxious to see those grown-up boys (and now their girls!) who are traveling back home for the's Mom and Dad who are filled with the anticipation of the season.  And because of that, this will always be my very favorite time of year.
From the Christmas 2012 photo shoot.  (Preciosa, now our daughter-in-law, was the photographer here.)
I'm sure there are a lot of bloggers who are more eloquent when expressing why Advent is a season to love; head on over to Micaela's to see what they have to say.