Thursday, January 31, 2013

A "Two Thumbs Up" Review for my Book!

Just a quick post from NYC, while I'm waiting to board a 7:25 p.m. flight to Barcelona (with my airline pilot husband in the captain's seat up front, and me happily ensconced in business class--or at least I better be!).

I was thrilled to see a positive review for my novel Finding Grace on Lisa Hendey's today.  If you're interested in checking it out, just click on this link.  I sent a copy of the book to reviewer Victoria Gisondi several months ago, and I was just tickled pink when I read what she thought of it.  Ever since it was published, some days I just want to crawl in a hole and hide (I can't explain why, exactly; I think it's because I've put myself "out there," and realize I have to develop a thick skin as far as facing criticism of my little book); other days I'm on a cloud.  Today, I'm on a cloud!

And in a couple of hours, I'll be on a whole bunch of them.  ;)  Because hey, you know what?  I think I'll celebrate this positive review with a little trip to...oh, I don't know--Barcelona, maybe?  (Ha ha!)

Hopefully the flight over the ocean tonight won't be as bumpy a ride as the one from Boston to NYC today--yikes, it was a bit nerve-wracking!  Luckily, I could keep getting reassured by my husband that everything was fine and I had nothing to worry about!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Finished Santa Ornament

Yesterday I worked on the prize for the ornament giveaway.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about and/or haven't entered yet to win a one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted wooden Santa ornament, you can go back to my January 28 post and find out all the details.  And you might want to check out the January 29 post, too.)

I spent a couple of hours painting last evening and got about this far.
Then I decided I didn't like Santa's face very much, and also that I wanted to give the ornament an antique finish (because I just like things that look old).  So I kept tweaking it and adding layers of acrylic paint, and then when the paint job was completed to my satisfaction and the whole thing had been coated in shiny varnish, I added an antique gold cross.  As a final touch, I made a tiny string of pearls (wink wink) for Santa to hold--a great gift for some lucky gal on Christmas morning, am I right?  Here is the final product, which I hope will fill the lucky winner of this contest with the spirit of Christmas--even though he/she won't be able to hang it up for another ten months or so!
(This ornament is made of sturdy pine and is about 5 and 1/2 inches tall.)
Fortunately, I still have my lighted Christmas tree up, so I could hang this little guy and give you an idea of what he would look like on your tree.  There's still plenty of time to enter the contest, if you're interested!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Decorated Tree

My husband, who is my most trusted adviser and constructive critic in all areas of my life (even when I need to know whether or not I look fat in a certain outfit--which he has assured me, each and every time I ask this, I never do), read my blog post yesterday and astutely observed that perhaps when I announced I was having a contest where people guess how many Christmas ornaments I have, I should have included a picture of our decorated tree. How right he is (as always).  That probably would have made the contest more fair.  I mean, whenever they have one of those "guess how many M & M's are in the jar" contests, you always get to look at the M & M-filled jar before you hazard a guess.

So in the spirit of making this ornament giveaway contest as fair as it can be (because "a lot" of ornaments could mean different things to different people--it could be any number from 100 to 1,000, right?), I'm posting this picture of our 9 and 1/2-foot artificial tree, all decked out for the 2013 Christmas season.
If you guessed yesterday and would like to change your guess, just go back to that post and leave me another comment.

I hope when I finish the wooden Santa ornament, it will be at least as good a prize as a jar filled with hundreds and hundreds of M & M's (but that's setting the bar a little high, I think).

Monday, January 28, 2013

Ornament Giveaway

Well, I got the ornaments off the Christmas tree yesterday, finally.  Today will involve numerous trips to the attic to lug up all the plastic storage bins and stack them neatly along the wall.  And while I'm up there, I'm sure I'll find a zillion things I should box up and take over to Goodwill.  Keeping up with my attic is a never-ending chore.  Somehow, no matter how often I try to organize it, the junk piles keep multiplying.  (My late mother-in-law used to use her basement as a storage place and spent so much time working in it that one of her friends once remarked, "I think you have a man down there!")

But when you live in one home for over twenty years and raise a lot of children in it, it's amazing the amount of junk you can accumulate.  And while I periodically go through my attic junk piles and do sweeping purges to get rid of all the no-longer-useful and/or out-of-date items, I must sheepishly admit there are still some 80's-era dresses with NFL-sized shoulder pads up in my attic that I can't seem to let go of just yet, lest they miraculously come back in style...not to mention nostalgia-inducing baby and toddler clothes that haven't served a useful purpose in two decades, but nevertheless fill an enormous Rubbermaid container....and pretty much every toy my boys ever owned, because when my grandchildren come to visit, I want to make sure Grammy's house has lots of toys in it.

What is my problem anyway?  (Actually, I think my problem is that I have a convenient walk-up attic--a ginormous attic!--that can be easily accessed by a door in one of the bedrooms.  My attic was the envy of my mother-in-law, who could only get to hers via pull-down steps that were precarious at best and nearly impossible to navigate once her knees began to go.)

Anyway, back to the subject of Christmas ornaments.  I counted them, for the first time ever, and I certainly do have a lot! I have every kind of ornament you can imagine, made of every kind of material.  There are wooden ones, resin ones, stuffed cloth ones, paper and cardboard ones, metal ones, and fragile ones made of blown-glass, crystal, porcelain, and ceramic. Some are sports-related, some are Irish-themed, many are religious, and some--the most precious ones of all--were hand-made by my boys in grade school.  I have soldiers made of clothespins and family photo ornaments made by gluing the pictures inside round metal juice can lids.  I have many Hallmark ornaments, including collections of Norman Rockwells and Madame Alexanders, and I also have collections of Holy Cross and Notre Dame yearly edition ornaments in brass; most of these collectibles are gifts from family and friends, and I cherish them all.  Each November when I bring my ornament storage containers down from the attic, I open them up and get so excited--because sometimes, in the course of the year, I'll forget what I have; and when I see some forgotten beauty again, I'm like a kid on Christmas morning.  "Hello you," I'll say as I unwrap the tissue paper and rediscover one of my babies.

So you get the idea that I love Christmas ornaments.

I suspected that my ornament count was getting really high, but this year as I put them away I tallied them up and finally figured out exactly how many I have.  So I decided to have a contest, wherein you guess what the number is.  The winner will be the person who comes the closest, and the prize will be a hand-painted Santa Clause ornament, which I cut out of wood with my scroll saw many moons ago and for some reason never finished.
I promise you it will look much better when it's done!  I'll post a picture of the finished product  ASAP.
You have until Sunday, Feb.10 to leave a comment on this post with your guess, and I'll announce the winner on Monday, Feb. 11.  (I learned from my first giveaway--a copy of my book--that I should probably give people longer than overnight to enter a contest!  Especially when I've got a Santa to make!)

Good luck!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Unexpected Treasures

Yesterday, I started taking down all my Christmas decorations.  As anyone out there like me--anyone who tries to make her house as much of a Christmas wonderland as she possibly can every year--knows very well, this is a PROCESS.  A long and tedious one, where everything goes back into its specially appointed box, and then the boxes go back into big plastic storage bins, and then the plastic storage bins get carted up to the attic...
Ready to tackle the tree today and carefully store away all my precious treasures...I have no idea how many ornaments I have; I just know there are A LOT of them.  (Now that I've said that, I'm curious and I'll probably count them.)
Putting it all out around Thanksgiving time is so much more fun that taking it down afterwards.  I hate to see it go.  That's why it's already a month after Christmas and I'm just getting to it now.  That, and the fact that my husband and I have been out of town more than we've been home.


Taking down the Christmas decorations always gets me in a bit of a spring cleaning mood, and this year is no exception (even though the temperatures outside right now are decidedly un-spring-like).  As I've been putting away the Nativities and Santa figurines, and pulling down the garlands and wreaths, I can't help but notice all the dust that's been accumulating over the holidays, and suddenly I am overcome with the need to clean and organize every corner, nook, and cranny of my house.  So that's why yesterday I found myself going through an enormous cardboard moving box in the basement, absolutely filled to the brim with each and every binder my youngest son kept during his four years of high school--binders crammed with tests, class notes, essays, papers, and computer print-outs.  This box has been sitting down there, neglected completely, ever since he began his college career at Notre Dame in the fall of 2011.  Like his older brothers before him, he asked me to hang onto his old notebooks in case there was any material in them that he might want to use as a reference at some later date.  But like his brothers before him, while he was home for Christmas break he gave me the official okay to toss them out.  (He hasn't looked at those binders once since he donned his cap and gown at his high school graduation.)

But I couldn't just throw away four years of his life's work without giving it a look-see first, so I made sure to sift through everything very carefully.  I ended up with a huge collection of tests, class notes, and such, which I dumped off at the recycling center yesterday; but I put aside for safekeeping any artwork, essays, or papers I could find.  And mixed in with all those piles of loose-leaf pages covered with messy,scribbled notes and math problems, I unearthed some unexpected treasures.

Like this one, a short, hand-written essay from his Humanities class freshman year, on the subject of "My Parents' Greatest Gift":  "Throughout my life, my parents have given me plenty of gifts, but one in particular exceeds all others, and that is my Catholic Faith.  Yes, my education, my clothes, my home and my worldly possessions have all been amazing gifts...but none of these comfort me in my times of hardship or give me hope for the future like my faith."  Wow, that just about did me in when I read it.  How wonderful it is for my husband and me to know that we (and I do give my hubby the lion's share of the credit in this) were able to instill such a deep love for the Catholic Faith in our youngest son; and how wonderful that he thinks of it as the best gift we ever gave him.  In my times of hardship--like those times when I question whether or not I've done as good a job as I should have in my vocation as a mother to the five souls entrusted to me by God--this gift from my baby will give me hope.

I found another freshman paper where he was asked to write about three aspects of his life that were important to him, and he chose family, sports, and last but certainly not least, faith.  In the "family" section, he wrote: "From an early age up to now, creating and maintaining a close bond with my family members has been of great importance to me. Fortunately for my parents and me, we have always been very close and rarely feel alienated from each other.  Whenever I have a problem, whether it's in school or in any other aspect of my life, I always know that I can go to my parents for help.  Perhaps this is because over the past five years, for grades 4-8, I was home-schooled by my mom and dad."  Wow again.  If I ever question whether we made the right move when we decided to homeschool him (which we never did with his brothers, and to explain why we did with him is long and involved and a subject for another day), all I have to do is refer back to these words. Another gift from my baby.

In the "sports" section of that same paper, he talks about following in the footsteps of his four older brothers, whom he idolized, and playing football and lacrosse at the same high school they attended:  " brothers were all excellent lacrosse players, and several of them received Academic All-American honors...  [Now] I am carrying on the Pearl legacy at St. Thomas; that... makes me feel that I am part of something that is much bigger than myself, and sometimes, it humbles and overwhelms me."  No essay written by any one of our boys about the important things in life would ever be complete without mentioning how enriched his life was by team athletics.

And finally, our youngest son talks again about his faith: "However, nothing has humbled me more or had a greater impact on my life than my Catholic Faith...I love God with my whole heart and wish only to please Him.  He showers us all with unconditional love, even if we do not deserve it.  And if He was not only willing, but longing to [suffer and die] for me, the very least I can do for Him is sacrifice one hour of my entire week to worship my Lord in the show the Savior of the World that I truly love Him in return."
Our youngest son with his former teachers!
My son got an A+ on this paper, and the teacher commented, "You express yourself so well!"  It's true, son #5 is a very good writer.  But it's not how well he expressed himself that makes these unexpected treasures I found in that box in the basement so precious to me; it's the subject matter about which he chose to write.

I'm so happy that taking down the Christmas decorations got me inspired to clean the house!  Just look at what I would have missed out on if I'd put off emptying out that box for another year (or ten)!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Letter B (ABC Book, Pages 3 and 4)

Well, as promised, here are two more finished pages of the ABC book I'm working on for my twin granddaughters.  You can find the cover of the book here, and the illustrations for the letter A here.  And now--oh, I'm so excited!--today is all about [drumroll]...the letter B! (I feel like Maria on "Sesame Street."  Or more accurately, perhaps, Cookie Monster.)

Here's the page 3 illustration.

And here's page 4.

Okay, kids, that's it for the beautiful letter B!  The butterfly page is a little weak, but I really like the page with the books and teddy bear on it.  Books are the twins' very favorite things in the entire world.  And they are quite fond of bears, too.  (Not to mention the fact that they do a pretty mean "growl" whenever they see an image of one.)

By the bye, my airline pilot husband informed me last night that there are lots of open seats on his flight to Barcelona this coming Thursday (speaking of people, places, and things that start with the letter B), and just as many on the return flight.  So he was wondering if I wanted to tag along, and I said, [gulp!] "Maybe.  Um, yeah, maybe."  And then just to clarify about all these open seats that were available, he said there were a whole bunch up in business class.  Bingo! "Sure, why not?" I answered my beloved.

Looks like I may be going to Barcelona next week...and I may take my laptop along with me so I can say "hola mis amigos" from there.

(Gee, what would we do without the letter B anyway?)

Friday, January 25, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday" #2: Birthday Boys, Books, and Blogs

--- 1 ---
Today is my fourth son's 25th birthday.  He's 25 on the 25th--it's his champagne birthday!  And lucky for him, he's old enough to actually drink champagne.  (My twin granddaughters will be 2 on June 2 this year, but it's going to have to be apple juice for them.)

This son of mine is extremely intelligent (what my husband and I like to call "scary smart"), a guy with a college physics degree who remembers clearly every random tidbit of information he's ever learned, even the stuff from grade school science that we all tend to forget over the years.  He's also hilarious--and you don't have to take his biased mother's word for that; you can ask anyone who knows him and they'll tell you the same.  His sense of humor is razor-sharp, and he's so quick with the off-the-wall, zany retort that you're laughing before you ever knew what hit you.  He has a way of using just the right unexpected, high-end vocab word in a joke--something that all the best comedians, like Jim Gaffigan and Brian Regan, do--to make a line so much funnier than it would have been if delivered by someone with less comedic talent.  My boys are all very humorous, and they make my husband and me (and each other) laugh on a regular basis.  But if you polled our sons about which of them was the funniest, four out of five would pick this son.   (He wouldn't pick himself because he's too modest; but he would probably make some perfect joke about it.)

For instance, here is a recent random "status" post from his Facebook page: "When I play footsies, I play to win."  (Son #5, who's no slouch himself in the humor department, commented, "I'm not very good at footsies...I've lost so much money."  To which the birthday boy shot back, "You can't hustle me, J---.")

I keep saying that I'm going to give up Facebook forever, because I waste too much time on there and I don't think it's good for my soul; then I read "conversations" like that one between my sons, and I know I'd miss out on too much joy and laughter if I gave it up. 

To give you another peek into the offbeat personality of this wonderful son who's celebrating the quarter-century mark today, here is a picture of him--doing his best impression of a dreamy teenage girl--at the dinner table over Christmas.  It was taken by an older brother's girlfriend (who was trying to get him to pose for a serious shot).
And here's another winner, taken of him with son #2 during a "couples Christmas photo shoot" we were doing with the boys and their girlfriends, before his own girlfriend had arrived.
(For the record, son #4's girlfriend is extremely pretty, and looks nothing like his bearded older brother.)
He's a total goofball, this boy, with the tenderest heart imaginable, and I just love him.  Even if you don't know him (which most of my readers do!), tell me you can look at these pictures and not love him.  You can't, I know you can't.

This son has been a gift to me and to our family throughout his 25 years here on earth, from the moment he came screaming lustily into the world at a whopping 10 lbs. 12 and 1/2 oz. (yes, you read that right!) until today.  Happy Birthday to my boy!
--- 2 ---
On January 16, I blogged about how my iPhone did a swan dive from my back pocket into a tank full of water, and how I was sure it was a goner.  Here it is nine days later, and by some miracle it's still working almost perfectly.  I did notice, however, that when I went on YouTube a couple of days after "the fiasco" and tried to play Ann Hathaway's rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" from the new Les Mis movie, I could get a picture but no sound.  (That meant while I was out in CO visiting my granddaughters, I couldn't use my phone to entertain them with amusing tunes like "Elmo's Song"--nuts!)  But on the whole, I must say that I'm thrilled "my precious" is working as well as it is.  Siri still talks to me and sets my alarm; I can still get on the Internet and send and receive e-mails; I can still take pictures and send and receive texts.  Heck, I can even make phone calls with it--you know, I can use it to talk to actual people, like we did on the clunky rotary phones back in the olden days of my childhood.

I still can't help but wonder how much time I have left before I try to turn my iPhone on and find out it's gone completely dead.  I have trouble believing that a moisture-sensitive gadget such as this can survive after spending several seconds completely submerged.  Does anyone out there have any experience with this?  Dare I hope that my iPhone came out of this disaster unscathed? 
--- 3 ---
I'm crazy about books!  I love to read so, so much.  I always have, as far back as I can remember.  I didn't read as many novels as I would have liked when I was busy raising my sons, because the lady in this cartoon would have been me.  (Actually, this was a little bit me.  The "no" part, definitely.)
(I laminated this cartoon and it's been on my fridge for ages.)
I did read sporadically during those years, sneaking it in whenever time allowed.  But I've been like a kid in a candy store the last six years or so, always with my nose planted firmly in a good book (and when I say this I mean the real deal, with ink on paper pages; only rarely do I read eBooks).  In fact, I would have finished writing my own novel a lot sooner if I hadn't spent so much time reading!

Currently, I'm working my way through two novels simultaneously (I don't recommend this, but I got too eager): I'm reading Emily's Hope, a novel by Catholic author Ellen Gable, and Death Comes to Pemberley (a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice that involves a murder mystery), by P.D. James.  On Tuesday, I picked up a paperback copy of Rachel Balducci's Raising Boys is a Full Contact Sport at the airport, so I've started reading a little of that laugh-out-loud, non-fiction gem, too.  I'm only a few chapters in, but already I'm hooked.  The subject matter is right up my alley!  Rachel--a mother with five boys whose sixth child is a little girl--has a blog with the inspired title Testosterhome, which I enjoy immensely.  She's so funny, so I knew her book would put a humorous spin on one of my favorite topics: living with a houseful of boys.  (When I finish all these books, I'll try to do some reviews for you and post them here on my blog.)
--- 4 ---
Speaking of blogs, I've recently started reading a very interesting one by M.R. Zapp called Regency Catholic.  Zapp is an extremely talented writer, and her posts are faith-filled and full of thoughtful literary insights.  If you are a fan of the literature of the Austen era, and you wonder what life was like for Catholics during that Regency time period (or you just plain like to savor well-written, insightful blog posts), I urge you to check out her site.
--- 5 ---
Did you ever notice that everyone and his brother these days seems to have a blog?  During our youngest son's Christmas break from college, my husband and I were watching a stand-up routine with him featuring a comedian he likes, and the funny man made that observation...after he apologized to his audience for mentioning that he himself had a blog.  It made me chuckle at first, and then wonder if maybe I'm one of those people who should quietly exit the blogosphere and leave the blogging to those who have a lot more to say than I do.  Some people, like aforementioned writers Rachel Balducci and M.R. Zapp, should definitely have blogs.  They do have a lot of things to say, and they say them extremely well.  And yet, here I am again...putting together my second ever "7 Quick Takes Friday" post, trying to join up with all the other far-more-talented and widely-read bloggers who frequent Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary...
--- 6 ---
I have the best husband.  Sorry, gals; you might want to duke it out with me over that statement, but it just so happens to be true.  Nothing special has happened to make me say this today, because my guy treats me so well on a daily basis (putting me on a pedestal, and loving me "as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her," just as St. Paul instructed the Ephesians) that every day is special.  I'm so fortunate to be able to say with absolute sincerity that after 32 years with this man, I love him more than ever and consider myself the luckiest woman on the planet.  
--- 7 ---
[Sighhhh.....] My sweet birthday boys.  I had one last Friday, and I have one today.  They are just about exactly five years apart in age.  Here is a picture of the two of them, which was taken...Hmmm...I don't remember exactly...Yesterday?
Oh, that's right, it was taken about 20 years ago--which as every mother of grown children knows really was just yesterday.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How I Became a Frequent Flyer (Part 2)

As I said at the end of my post yesterday, one of the main reasons I've become more comfortable with the idea of airplane travel in my old age is that my five sons are grown up now, and with the exception of the youngest (who just turned 20 and is a sophomore in college), they're out there in the big, wide world-- living independently and successfully taking care of themselves.  They've got jobs, cars, homes, and insurance plans of their own. When I board an airplane these days, I'm not thinking, "Who will take care of all my sweet little boys if anything happens to me?"

They'd have been fine if they'd lost me, I know that now.  What's too bad is that I didn't know it back when I was a young mother.  I didn't trust in God enough.  I didn't trust that He knew what was best for my children, and indeed loved them even more that I did; I didn't trust that if He'd taken me "before my time," as they say, it would have all been okay.  Even out of bad situations, God can make good things happen, and I have no doubt now that my sons would have not only survived, but thrived.  (But I sure am glad that God's plan involved letting me stick around long enough to see my boys become men, and long enough to earn the coveted title of "Grammy"!)

Had I trusted--truly trusted--in God the way I should have back when I had babes in arms, I might have taken that trip over to Germany.  You know, the one I told you about yesterday: the one so sweetly offered to me by my dear late father-in-law, the one I so quickly and rudely turned down.  But I just didn't have enough faith.  I believed back then that if I had my feet planted firmly on the ground, I had control over my destiny.  It shames me now when I think of it.

When we were in the throes of the child-rearing years, those crazy, busy days filled with diapers, potty training, temper tantrums, T-Rex imitations, "lunch lady" duty, parent-teacher conferences, trips to Chuck E Cheese, Pee Wee football games, Disney/Pixar movies, and dinners of Kraft macaroni and cheese with butter-fried hot dog slices mixed in (don't judge me!), I told my husband I was pretty sure that, while I had a hard time flying AWAY from my children, if they grew up and scattered to the far corners of the country, I would definitely fly if it meant going TO them.  And just as my husband promised from the get-go that his job as an airline pilot would not require me to become a jet-setter, I promised him that if need be, one day I would learn to be a frequent flyer.

I am happy to report that both of us have kept the flying-related promises we made to each other back when we had smoother skin and fewer gray hairs than we have today.

I remember the first time I realized that my husband and I were on a plane together, with no children on board and two sons at home (our youngest, who was in high school, and our second oldest, who was 22 and living at home while he worked on his undergraduate degree at the nearby university).  It was 2008, and except for that one trip way back in 1991, when I'd traveled alone to Florida to attend my grandmother's funeral, I'd never flown off into the wild blue yonder and left kids behind.  "Do you realize," I asked my husband, "that this is the first time we've flown anywhere together, just the two of us, in the twenty years you've worked for the airline?"  (Twenty years!  That was probably some kind of airline employee record.)  Wow, that was a defining moment.  But here's the thing: our oldest son had just completed his flight training and was about to become an official Army helicopter pilot. There was no way we were going to miss his graduation ceremony.  There was no way my husband, a former military aviator himself, was going to miss pinning those wings on his oldest son's uniform.
Son #1 was the first to spread his wings and leave the nest; it's only fitting that because of him, I learned to fly away from it, too, in order to be there for him the way I'd always been when he was growing up.

Since that milestone trip, there have been countless others.  My husband and I have flown--just the two of us--out to Notre Dame for Junior Parents Weekend festivities, leaving sons #2 and #5 to hold down the fort.  With the nest now completely empty most of the time, we've flown to Notre Dame for football weekend family reunions and to various faraway locations where our twin granddaughters can be found (so far, to Wisconsin, Alabama, and Colorado).  When two of our sons graduated from Army training in Arizona, we flew there for the ceremonies.  I've flown alone more times than I can count now, to bridal and baby showers for my daughter-in-law and to help her out out with the twins after they were born, for instance.  When our youngest son had to fly out to Notre Dame for his Army ROTC freshman orientation in the fall of 2011, my husband was slated to accompany him (along with me!), but he got stuck for an extra day in some European city while on a working trip. He called and said I could send our boy with another local family that had a son going out that way for orientation, too, or I could fly out with him myself; it was up to me.  I panicked for just a moment--after all, getting sons squared away out at Notre Dame had always been my husband's territory, not mine; he's the ND alumnus who knows South Bend like the back of his hand.  But I couldn't bear the thought of sending my youngest son (my baby!) off to college with semi-strangers.  So I did it.  My boy and I two-legged it out to South Bend together.  I rented a car for the first time in my life and found my way from the South Bend airport to the ND campus.  I got him checked in for his ROTC orientation.  I was so proud of myself!  For someone who used to spend weeks before an upcoming flight with knots in her stomach and tears in her eyes, this was a major accomplishment.

Then in December of 2011, I accompanied my husband on a working trip to Nice--my first ever trip across the pond, even though he'd been piloting airplanes to Europe for a decade. And in January and March of 2012, I tagged along to Amsterdam  and Athens.  Perhaps, I thought, just perhaps...I was beginning to overcome my crippling fear of flying.

With each successful flying experience, it gets easier for me.  Practice makes perfect, I guess.  My eyes don't well up with tears during take-offs the way they used to, though I'll never get completely used to the sensation of an airplane rumbling down the runway and lifting off the ground.  (Those machines are heavy, you know?  And the people crowded together on them bring way too much luggage along, if you ask me.)  In the back of my mind, I can't help but wonder each time I fly if my final destination will be different than the one printed on my boarding pass, and whether my soul is prepared to meet its Maker.  Yet incredibly, I am so much more at peace in the air than I ever was when I was younger.

When I fly now, my knuckles aren't as white as they used to be; but I still pray--A LOT!  I pray the very comforting "Unfailing Petition to St. Joseph," and I hold onto the prayer card on which it is printed until we are safely at cruising altitude.  I pray to Our Lady and to St. Therese of Lisieux, who is the patron saint of aviators.  I also hold onto my precious authentic relic of St. Therese, which once belonged to the grandmother I spoke about in yesterday's post.

After all those years of avoiding air travel like the plague, I have now become a frequent flyer.  If it means I get to see my two precious granddaughters, I'll fly as often and as far as I have to.
(Picture two identically adorable little lasses, riding a two-man wooden fire engine at the playground.)
But with St. Therese by my side, what have I got to fear?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How I Became a Frequent Flyer (Part 1)

I spent the first twenty years or so of my husband's airline pilot career successfully avoiding flying as much as I possibly could.  It was unfortunate for my husband, I suppose, that he married a woman who was not willing (or able) to let herself enjoy the airline employee perk of free flights anywhere, anytime.  My husband was once talking about my fear of flying to a fellow commercial pilot, and the guy asked, "Did you know this about her when you married her?"

The answer is yes, he did.  And he married me anyway, God bless him.

When my husband was getting ready to retire from his first career as a Naval Aviator, after about eight years, and apply for a job with the airlines, I warned him that even if we COULD fly anywhere, anytime, that didn't mean I was going to suddenly morph into a jet-setter.  He assured me that he was well aware of my feelings and would never force me to fly unless I wanted to, and he's been faithful to that promise.  He assured me he wasn't taking the job so that we could travel about the globe (thank goodness!); he was taking it so that we could offer our children the kind of upbringing we'd both had and loved, one where they didn't have to move every three years and always be the "new kid" in school.  One where we could buy a home for our family and put down roots.

I'm making it sound like I never set foot on an airplane in days of yore, but that really isn't true.  When my husband was stationed in Florida, we flew up north, small kids in tow, for several Christmases and family weddings. We took a family trip to Bermuda to visit my husband's brother once, when we had four sons and the youngest of them was only two. We traveled by airplane to Disney when our fifth son was about five.  (Ah, the Disney trip! Now that's a blog post in itself!  A novel, even!  But I digress.)  One summer when our older boys were in high school, we all flew out to Notre Dame so that they could attend a lacrosse camp put on by the university.

But when my children were growing up, I only took an airplane trip on one occasion without them, and that was when my grandmother died and I had to travel--alone--from New Hampshire down to Florida and back.  As much as I loved my grandma and wanted to be there for Grandpa, I tried to chicken out of making the trip, but then found out that my mother was helping to pay for the tickets of several of my siblings who couldn't afford the plane fare...and there I was, the daughter who could fly for free.  There was no way out for me.  I did not handle that separation from my children well at all; copious tears were involved, and I must admit that even though I am not much of a drinker, alcohol was involved as well.  (Not a copious amount, like the tears; but enough to make me sleep through the in-flight movie.  Enough to make me forget where I was in the "Hail Mary's" I kept saying as the plane made its descent into Boston, so that I had to keep starting my prayers over!)  My husband brought our four boys, ages three to seven at the time, to Boston's Logan Airport at about 11:00 at night to welcome Mommy home; I truly do not believe I have ever seen a more beautiful sight than those five guys of mine waiting for me at the gate when I got off the plane.  I had flown away from them and, wonder of wonders, I had lived to see them once again!  I was alive!  My babies would not have to be motherless, all because I'd gotten on one of those big, bad airplanes without them!  I couldn't hug them hard enough.

As for choosing to travel for pleasure alone and leaving the kids behind--fuhgetaboutit!  I just wouldn't do it.  When our our oldest son was not quite five and our fourth son was about six months old, we were visiting with my in-laws and my father-in-law made what I'm sure he thought was the most generous offer we'd ever been given.  My husband's older sister was living in Germany at the time, where her Army husband was stationed, and one of his younger sisters was over there teaching at a Department of Defense school.  That meant that any Pearl family members who wanted to travel to Germany would have a free place to stay.  And of course, with my husband's brand new job as an airline pilot, he and I could travel over there for free as well.  So Dad said, "Mom and I are going to going to watch the boys so you two can take a trip to Germany."  My knee-jerk reaction to this statement (which definitely sounded like a command to me rather than a "Hey, how does this sound?" kind of deal) was to blurt back, "I'M NOT GOING TO GERMANY!!"  It pains me to think of the way I handled that situation now, because I know I hurt my father-in-law's feelings.  I should have just said "Oh, we'll see," and then figured out a graceful way, with my husband's help, to say no.  Certainly any sane daughter-in-law would have jumped at the chance to take an all-expenses-paid trip to Germany and leave her four children safely behind in the hands of loving grandparents.  But I was not any sane daughter-in-law.  I was a daughter-in-law with a severe case of aviaphobia, and there was no way anyone was going to make me get on an airplane to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, away from my babies!  The thought of it made my heart race and my palms sweat.

As you read this, you may be wondering about my lack of faith; because certainly, if one believes in God and is filled with trust in His wisdom and mercy, he knows that it's no good questioning why things (like plane crashes, for instance) happen the way they do.  One of my siblings pointed this out to me on the drive to the airport for my return flight, after my grandmother's funeral all those years ago, and it annoyed me. How dare he question the strength of my faith?  But if there wasn't some truth in what he said, it wouldn't have gotten under my skin the way it did.  I knew he had a point.  The bottom line was that I wasn't really afraid of flying, per se.  I have a fear of heights, and I get dizzy standing atop a tall ladder and looking down; but I can look out of an airplane window and enjoy the view without the same sensation.
The view out my window, shortly after take-off from Atlanta yesterday.
(Notice the shadow of the airplane, lower right.  That's the one I was riding in when I snapped this shot!)
And if I'm lucky enough to get first class (which these days, is nothing short of a miracle), I love the whole meal served in mid-air thing.  Even in coach, I look forward to the beverage cart coming down the aisle towards me.  It means I'm going to have either a coffee or a Diet Coke to sip on while I read whatever good book I've brought along for the trip.  So it's not the flying I fear; it's the realization that whenever you get on a plane, there's no changing your mind mid-trip and getting off at the next rest stop.  You're along for the ride, no matter what. And my brain is capable of imagining the most horrendous what's.

Obviously, it's dying that I'm afraid of--not flying.

But here's the amazing thing: I have become not only a frequent flyer, but a much less fearful one.  The more I do it, the easier it becomes.  Part of this can surely be attributed to the fact that my boys have grown up and I know they would survive the loss of their mother more easily.  But working on my faith has been a huge part of the process, too.  I'm going to have to take a break here, though, because this post is much too long already.  I think I'll make this a two-parter and finish it up tomorrow.  Now that I'm back home from my most recent travels (which means I'm back to a more regular blogging routine), I don't want to bore you to death with posts that go on and on and on...

See you tomorrow!  (I hope?)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Proof of God's Existence

This is my last day with the twins.  My husband--or "Pop" as he is called by his besotted granddaughters--had to go back to work yesterday.  He flew from here to NYC, from whence he piloted a plane over to gay Paree.  ("From whence"--how's that for author-speak?)  I will be departing bright and early tomorrow morning, and I'll be meeting my husband at Boston's Logan Airport tomorrow afternoon.  We will probably stop at a restaurant somewhere along the way home from the airport to have a dinner date, so that's something to look forward to in the aftermath of what I know from experience will be a sad parting from my darling little girls.

I don't want to spend a lot of time on the computer today, because I need to make the most of the time I have left with the twins.  So I'm going to post two of those picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words photos of them.  I see these photos, which capture the essence of their sweet little beings, as undeniable proof, in black and white, of the existence of God.

I give you exhibit A of God's wondrous creative power, Bonny Babe:
And now for exhibit B, Cutie Pie:
Their expressions are priceless.  I could stare at them all day long (and I do!).  I could photograph them all day long (and I do!).

These two little girls are unique individuals, in spite of the fact that they are identical twins--that they were formed by one fertilized egg that split in two.  There is nothing in science that can explain why they aren't identical in every way, why their personalities aren't indistinguishable.  The only explanation is that God exists, and every human being He creates is a one-of-a-kind soul, like no other on earth.

And that's my two cents for today.  I just can't look at these granddaughters of mine without thinking of their magnificent Creator!

(Coincidentally, when they were in utero, Bonny was known as "Twin A" and Cutie was known as "Twin B.")

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Letter A (ABC Book, Pages 1 and 2)

I was going to try to write a nice, long, thoughtful post today about some subject pertaining to Faith, as it is the Lord's day and ought to be dedicated to Him.  But I'm not feeling the best, and I'm desperately in need of a nap (while my wee twin granddaughters are taking theirs), so I'm just going to post the first two pages of the children's ABC book I'm working on, the one I told you about last Thursday.

Okay, here's the first page.

And here's the second.

This post is not as God-centered as I wanted it to be...although there is an angel involved (a Heavenly being with a face inspired by the angelic visages of Grammy's precious little girls). But for today, when my tired old brain is incapable of putting together a whole lot of coherent sentences, and my tired old body is crying out for a few extra Z's (as my hubby would say), this will have to do.

Stay tuned for the B's, coming soon to a computer near you!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I Hesitate to Ask, But...

In July of 2012, when I had approved the final galley of Finding Grace and it was about to go to print, my publisher (Cheryl Dickow of Bezalel Books) said I should relax for a little bit and try to recharge my batteries.  The work that comes after publication, she warned me, is much harder than the work that comes beforehand.  I couldn't help but wonder, How could that be?  I had just completed four and a half years of writing and rewriting, followed by another five months of fine-tuning the manuscript, creating the book's cover, and going through numerous publisher's galleys, until I was finally satisfied that my novel was ready for publication--so I had trouble believing that anything that happened after the book was published would be tougher than what I'd gone through to get to that point.

It's obvious that Cheryl, an author in her own right and a well-known and respected woman in the world of Catholic writing and publishing, knows a lot more about having a book published than I do, because I'm here to tell you that she was absolutely right.

The process of marketing one's own work is not for the shy or faint of heart--both qualities that might describe the gal who wrote Finding Grace--and self-promotion is exceedingly painful for someone as private, reserved, and happy-when-she's-not-the-center-of-attention as I am.  I mean, my natural tendency is to apologize for the book up front to a potential buyer, "I don't know if you're going to like it.  Maybe you shouldn't spend the money..."  A salesman I am NOT.  But when you have a book published by a small publishing house, the lion's share of the work involved in publicizing it--in selling it--falls on the shoulders of the author.

At first, I was so amazed to see my humble little title on Amazon that I thought to myself, Mission accomplished!  The book is out there, on-line for all to see, without any work on my part.  I was happy enough with that Amazon listing for about the first month after my book was released.  But Amazon carries millions of titles, and it takes more than having your book on that mega-site to achieve success with it.  If no one knows about your book, no one is going to go on Amazon and miraculously "stumble upon" it.  So eventually, I had to leave my comfort zone and take the steps necessary to promote my own book.

I began to do Google searches in order to find websites that showcased Catholic fiction, as well as Catholic book reviewers who might be willing to read my book and publish their reviews.  In the process of doing this, I began some wonderful e-mail friendships with several Catholic authors and even did some book exchanges with them, where I sent them a copy of Finding Grace and received one of theirs in return.  My husband, who has enough faith in me for the two of us, also helped a lot.  He has been incredibly supportive throughout this whole endeavor (starting about 30 years ago, when he began his mantra of  "I believe in you, someday you'll write that book of yours," simply because I told him it was a dream of mine to do so).  Noticing that some of the books on my publisher's website had earned the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval, he encouraged me to apply  for that--so I owe it all to him that Finding Grace received the seal in late November of 2012.  Eventually, the guild will send out a sell sheet to about 500 bookstores and libraries, and that may turn out to be the most effective marketing tool I could ever ask for.

And speaking of libraries: My daughter-in-law (the librarian) told me that if you have a library card for your local public library, you can find a form on-line requesting that they purchase a book that they don't have.  She actually did this recently, and just found out today that the Pikes Peak Library out here in Colorado Springs has ordered a copy of Finding Grace and reserved it for her to check out as soon as they receive it.  Soooo....I hesitate to ask you this, dear readers, but if any of you out there are in possession of library cards and are willing to contact your local libraries to request that they purchase a copy of my book...well, I would be eternally grateful.  I know it takes a lot of chutzpah to ask you to do that, and chutzpah is not something I have in abundance (I'm blushing right now, by the way).  But the last time I checked, Finding Grace was ranked #859,093 in sales on Amazon (not exactly a Top Ten Bestseller, as you can see!), and if copies are going to get into the hands of the impressionable young readers I hope to reach with the book, I could use all the help I can get.
The inveterate bookworms pictured here are obviously much too young for Grammy's book right now...but it was the thought of all the future grandchildren I hoped to have, like these twin granddaughters who arrived when I was still working on it, that inspired me to write Finding Grace in the first place.  I have two copies set aside with their names on them, just waiting until they're the right age to handle the mature themes of the story.

But for all the teens and young adults out there who might enjoy and be edified by Finding Grace, it sure would be nice if they could find it at their local public library...(I'm blushing again.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

My First "7 Quick Takes Friday": Birthday Boys, Brownies, and Books

--- 1 --
Today is the birthday of my youngest son.  He's turning 20, and my oldest is 29, so for the next nine months all five of my boys will be in their 20's.  Together.  Yikes, how did we ever get here?  Certainly, there was a time when my baby never thought he'd catch up to the older brothers he idolized and finally be one of the "big guys."  My first four sons came along in a pack, with only four years and three months separating #1 and #4, and then there was a five year break before the birthday boy joined the ranks.  For so long, the gap seemed huge and unbridgeable.  But it has closed right up over the past few years, and I am beyond thrilled to be able to say that my youngest son and his older brothers are truly the best of friends.

Just thinking of my baby, with his sharp sense of humor (his jokes and impressions often quietly delivered, so that you'll miss them if you aren't within earshot), his drive for excellence in all endeavors, his deep and abiding faith, his tender heart, and his fierce and absolute love for and loyalty to family, makes a lump form in my throat.  I adore this boy--or I suppose now I should say "this man."  He makes his mother proud every single day of his life.  So here's a wish that he'll have a Happy, Happy Birthday with his friends out at Notre Dame.  (And that he won't hold the gift we gave him--a ticket to see the Irish get trounced by Alabama in the BCS championship game--against his dear old mom and dad!)
The birthday boy.  I love his face!
--- 2 ---
And after all that talk about brothers who are best friends in #1, I feel I have to tell you that I am the luckiest mother in the world.  I have had the privilege of raising five sons--five good, strong, moral Catholic men who will be brave warriors in the fight against the forces of evil in the world...five soldiers for Christ.  God blessed me in a special way when he sent me a houseful of boys--and not in the way people meant went they found out about my testosterone-filled household and cried out in pity, "Oh, God bless you!"  (I certainly heard that enough over the years.)   I love those boys.  My sons are not only sweet, and "momma's boys" in the best possible sense of the term, but they're fun to be around, too, and very, very funny.
Mom's boys,  at the wedding of my firstborn in 2009.
--- 3 ---
Okay, now after all that talk about boys in #1 and #2, I must add that there has been no greater joy for this mother of five sons than to become a grandmother to a couple of darling girls--my identical twin granddaughters, who are 19 months old now and with whom I am currently staying.  Papa and I (or "Pop" as they call him) are spending about a week out in Colorado with our oldest son and his wife and our two little buddies, and it is just Heaven on earth, I tell you.  I like to talk about these little girls--a lot!--as you already know if you read my blog on any kind of regular basis.  And I can't recommend twins enough for first-time grandparents.  My husband and I each get to hold a bundle of cuteness at the same time, without having to wait our turn--something we both admit would be difficult for us if we were trying to share one granddaughter!  And while we're on the subject of cuteness: Is there anything in the world cuter than a toddler fresh from the bath, wearing fleecy footed pajamas?  I submit that there is not.

--- 4 ---
I have just read the most amazing book called The Loser Letters, by Mary Eberstadt, a book that my daughter-in-law had checked out of the library and read before I got here, and one that I had planned to read as soon as I could get my hands on a copy.  Wow, what a powerful book!  If you are familiar with The Screwtape Letters, you will be reminded of it when you read this winner of a book.  P.J. O'Rourke writes on the back cover, "As a Christian humorist, Mary Eberstadt is the rightful heir and assignee of C.S. Lewis, and her the legitimate child (or perhaps grandchild) of 'the patient' in The Screwtape Letters."  In Lewis's classic tale, a senior devil named Screwtape writes a series of letters giving advice to his novice nephew, Wormwood, on how to win the soul of a man to whom he has been assigned, a man referred to as  "the patient."  By the end of the book, the reader has been shown that even good people, people who call themselves Christians, must be on guard against the devil's constant efforts to separate them from God.  In Eberstadt's destined-to-become-a-classic tale, a modern young woman named A.F. (A Former) Christian writes a series of open letters to the "spokesmen of the New Atheism," advising them on how they should change the way they market their product to the masses, in order to win more souls away from "Loser" (God) and over to the side of the "Brights" (Atheists).  In the course of trying to exhibit how unenlightened the "Dulls" (Christians) are and telling the history of her own conversion from Christian to Atheist, A.F. Christian ultimately gives the most compelling arguments for the existence of God and the necessity of religious belief.  Like Lewis, Eberstadt is a superb satirist with a true literary gift and a razor-sharp wit, and she brilliantly accomplishes the task of unmasking the evils of a God-less culture.  This is a fast read, and I can't recommend it highly enough.
--- 5 ---
I felt like baking something for dessert last night (after all, my third grandchild--who will make his/her appearance in less than two months--has a sweet tooth that needs satisfying, and Grammy is only too happy to spoil him/her in utero), so I went on the Food Network website and found the greatest recipe for homemade brownies EVER (and I've tried a lot of different homemade brownie recipes in my day, mind you).  I wanted to give you a link to the recipe here, but for some reason it's not working; however, if you go to the "Recipes" section of the website and type in a search for "Cocoa Brownies by Alton Brown," you'll find it.  Just make sure to add about 6 oz. of chocolate chips to the batter--because adding chocolate chips to anything can only improve it.  (You know that, don't you?)
--- 6 ---
I have been struggling with different things lately, the specifics of which I am much too private to go into here.  I've been feeling in need of the kind of help that can only come from above.  With thoughts of Lewis' patient and Eberstadt's A.F. Christian in my mind, and knowing that life here on earth can be difficult and only makes sense if I remember that the whole purpose of it is to find a way back to God and everlasting life with Him in Heaven, here is a quote from one of my favorite saints, St. Therese of Lisieux: "The world's thy ship and not thy home."  Indeed, the journey can take you over rough seas, but the destination is worth the trip!
St. Therese, the "Little Flower."
--- 7 ---
Last but not least: This is my first "7 Quick Takes Friday" post.  I've read some other bloggers' Quick Takes (a Friday activity that was created by Jen Fulwiler at her blog, "Conversion Diary"), and they are very interesting and entertaining.  I'm afraid, though, that mine haven't been "quick" enough (not to mention interesting and entertaining enough).  If I do this again, I'll try to make all 7 of my takes a little less wordy!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

ABC Book for the Twins

Many years ago, when our youngest son (who will be 20 tomorrow!!) was a baby, I began work on an illustrated children's ABC book for him.  I had planned to make three pages of singsong rhymes with illustrations for each letter, and had completed the A's, the B's, and the D's...and then progress on the project was suddenly and forever stalled.  My baby boy turned one and became mobile, and somehow my ambitious plans were shelved away for another day far, far into the future.

That day came around the time my twin granddaughters (now 19 months old) turned one.  I decided that I simply must finish what I started for this new generation, first giving myself a Christmas deadline (didn't happen!) and now hoping to get it done in time for the girls' second birthday in June.

It is almost impossible to convey to you how much those two wee granddaughters of mine adore books.  If either one of them is ever throwing a little tantrum because her diaper needs changing and she just isn't having it, all you have to do is hand her one of the library books her mommy brings home on a regular basis and she'll usually calm down immediately.  A book--especially one with real, easy-tear paper pages, although the sturdy cardboard variety will do in a pinch--is just about the most glorious plaything that either one of those girls can imagine.  It is truly a wonder to see how content they are when they've got their cute little button noses in a good book.

The first time around all those years ago, I drew the illustrations for my ABC book on very large art paper and hand-printed the text with a fine-tipped Sharpie.  This time around, I decided to draw my illustrations on 8 and 1/2 by 11" card stock, and to use Word to print the text so that it looks neater and more professional.  I've found that I can easily scan the completed pages onto my computer, and from there I should be able to print great color copies of them.  Also, I decided to do only two pages for each letter.  (After all, I'd like to actually get this done before I become a great-grandmother!)

There were several illustrations from the first attempt that I wanted to re-do, so I had to painstakingly re-create them.  Soon, however, I will be working on all original drawings and I look forward to that.

The new alligator, a work in progress here, is not as good as the old one, but he'll have to do!
(And the airplane didn't make the cut.)

One of the main reasons I decided to reveal this project here on "String of Pearls" is that I figured if I tell people I'm working on it, then I'll feel like I have to finish it!  I'm hoping it will motivate me to meet my June deadline.  From time to time, I'm going to post pages of the book so you can watch my progress (and give me a hard time if I drag my heels too much!). I've only got the cover and six pages done so far, so I better get moving.

Okay, to get started, here's the new cover:

I can't think of a better theme for a book for my twin granddaughters than the ABC's. (Warning: I'm about to do some Grammy bragging.)  Those two little prodigies already know all the letters of the alphabet--and I don't mean they can sing the song about them; they recognize them everywhere and point them out to you.  At this rate, they'll be reading by age three.

Keep your eyes peeled for more pages in the coming months, until June when (fingers crossed!) I'll be posting a page that says, "The End."  And perhaps with a little "YAY!" added, because that's what the twins say every time you finish reading them a story.  (I know, right?  I've told you and told you how adorable they are.  Do you believe me now?)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

R.I.P., iPhone?

Yesterday, the most awful thing happened.  My iPhone, which I had inexplicably decided to put in my back pocket (something I really never do) fell out of said pocket giving you any more details than is absolutely took a swan dive into the water and for a couple of seconds it was completely submerged.

I rescued it as quickly as I could, but I'm sure it wasn't quickly enough.  I dried off my precious (and expensive!) iPhone and instantly ran upstairs to ask my daughter-in-law if she had any rice.  She did--she had a bag of nice and healthy brown rice--so I filled a bowl with it and submerged my cell phone in those moisture-absorbing grains, hoping past hope that the near-drowning which had occurred would not result in any post-traumatic electronic stress for my poor baby.  So far, whenever I've turned it on to see if all the functions are working, it appears to be unharmed.  But our youngest son got his iPhone wet awhile back, and it took several weeks for the damage that had been done to render it useless and in need of replacement.  But still, I hope for a rice-induced miracle.

I fear that such hopes are in vain, however, and that I have killed my trusty, multi-tasking companion, the gadget which has been pretty much at my side since Christmas 2012--when, despite my protestations that it was the LAST thing in the world I needed, I received it as a gift from my husband.  Oh, how naive I was!  Anyone who has ever had a cell phone, and especially a smart phone, knows just how dependent upon them their owners become, try as they might to ignore them.  They are hard to ignore, it must be admitted.  And even I (who was determined never to even OWN one, much less get attached to it) can see how that can be a problem if you're not careful.
It's funny that this happened to me yesterday, making me think hard about what a cell phone-free life (horrors!) is going to be like for me until I can get my ruined iPhone replaced; and then I went on one of the blogs I follow and--lo and behold!--today's topic involved the way people rudely ignore each other at the table (even on dates!) because they are fiddling with their iPhones.  It's a very interesting, thought-provoking, and well-written piece, so I thought I'd give you a link to it here if you want to check it out.

Meanwhile, I'm really hoping this isn't the end for my iPhone.  It will be very expensive to replace.  But I'm using this experience as a catalyst to make some resolutions: first of all, I will never--never ever, ever, ever, EVER--put my iPhone in my back pocket again; and secondly, I will never--never ever, ever, ever, EVER--let myself become one of those people who rudely plays with it when she ought to be interacting with the humans around her!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Team Milk Chocolate

My husband and I arrived in CO yesterday, where we'll be spending time with our three girls, our daughter-in-law and our 19-month-old twin granddaughters, while our son is off on Army business.  (There was a time when I couldn't imagine my husband or myself ever using the term "our girls"; for so many years, we were surrounded by nothing but boys!)

The wee ones are napping right now, and Grammy was supposed to be napping, too--because she's exhausted!  (I blame jet lag, since it's two hours earlier out here than it is at home, and this old body of mine still hasn't adjusted to the sleep I missed out on last night.) I made the colossal mistake of setting my iPhone down on the nightstand as I was getting into bed...and then thinking, "Well, maybe I should just check my e-mails before I nod off"...and then getting sucked in once again--and I didn't even see it coming!  Word to the wise: don't get an iPhone.  It's great to have so much at your fingertips at all times (e-mails, Internet, Google, shopping websites, and the list goes on into cyberspace); however, it's also dangerous to have so much at your fingertips at all times.  I can't decide if I love my iPhone or hate it...although I have to admit that it's possible I really, really love it.  Way too much.

Anyway, this will be a quickie, because I really should try to squeeze in a little nippy-nap. But I thought I'd share a bit of wisdom from one of the Pearl family's favorite comedians, Jim Gaffigan.  I "liked" him on Facebook, I guess, so now I get his Facebook posts or tweets or whatever they are coming across my news feed all the time, and they can be pretty funny. So this is a tidbit from Gaffigan that I saw on my ever-present iPhone recently, and I'm sharing it with you lucky readers: Dark chocolate is for people that like chocolate but like to be disappointed.  #TeamMilkChocolate

The reason I love that post so much is that he's absolutely right, at least as far as I'm concerned: I'd never choose to eat dark chocolate unless there was no milk chocolate available--I don't care how many anti-oxidants and other health benefits the dark stuff has to offer.  Milk chocolate offers me the best mental health benefit you could ever ask for: happiness.

I would join Team Milk Chocolate in a minute.  I can always count on milk chocolate.  In my 54 years of life, it has never disappointed me.

Now would somebody please explain to me what that hash tag business is all about?  (#TeamTechnology-Challenged)

Oops, I postponed my nap too long.  Time to go--the girls are up!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Special Gift from My Patron Saint

In keeping with my New Year's resolution to learn as much as I can about St. Padre Pio (the patron saint who was randomly chosen for me using a link called the Saints Name Generator on a Catholic blog I follow), I thought I'd dedicate today's post to him.  Just yesterday, we got something in the mail from the Capuchin Franciscan Friars, and it included a special gift taped inside a card with a picture of my patron on it: a new blue Rosary.
My husband and I often receive gifts of Rosaries, saints' medals, and prayer cards in the mail from different Catholic charities, but I don't remember the last time we got one specifically from St. Padre Pio's order, with pictures and literature specifically dedicated to this holy saint.  I am not a superstitious person, but I do believe God speaks to us through the ordinary things that happen to us every day; and to me, receiving this gift now--such a short time after St. Padre Pio was chosen for me--felt like a message from my new Heavenly protector.

My sufferings in life are infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things; by any measure, I've been extraordinarily blessed.  But like every human, I have my own heartaches and humiliations, my own crosses to carry (though they might be much lighter than the crosses of others).  When I feel weighed down, I need to remember what St. Padre Pio taught: that we should let the suffering and humiliation of Jesus, not our own sufferings, be the usual subject of our meditation.

Here's an excerpt from one of St. Padre Pio's letters, which I plan to refer to often in 2013 for inspiration: "Therefore, let your entire life be spent in resignation, prayer, work, humility and in rendering thanks to the good God.  If you happen to notice a feeling of impatience rising, immediately have recourse to prayer.  Consider that we are always in the presence of God, to whom we have to give an account for our every action, both good and bad.  Above all, turn your thoughts to the annihilation which the Son of God suffered for love of us.  I want the thought of the suffering and humiliation of Jesus to be the usual subject of your meditation.  If you practice this, as I am sure you will, in a short time you will experience its salutary fruits.  Such meditation will act as a shield to defend you from impatience when the most sweet Jesus sends you suffering, places you in a state of desolation or wishes to make you a subject of contradiction."

I hope I can follow this saint's wise counsel in my daily life.  I'm sure for every step forward, I'll take two steps back.  So St. Padre Pio, pray for me!

Friday, January 11, 2013

No Place Like Home

Well, after about a week of outdoor living in sunny Florida at my sister-in-law's house (with its giant screen around the pool and hot tub area, which makes it so that the sliding glass doors in the back can be left wide open and the bug-free patio essentially becomes another room of her house), I'm back in the land of snow, blustery temperatures, and weather forecasts promising freezing rain tonight and into tomorrow morning.  There's nothing like freezing rain to make you ask yourself, "Why do I live up north again?"

There is no outdoor living going on up here in New Hampshire in January, that's for sure.  In fact, everyone stays holed up inside their houses from about mid-December to mid-March; the only neighbors you see on foot out there are the ones who have dogs that need walking. (Why do I keep thinking I'd like to have a dog again?)

While down in Tampa and Ft. Lauderdale, I was actually starting to ponder the merits of becoming one of those "Snow Birds."

"Hey, we should buy a house down here!  Wouldn't the kids and grandkids love to visit us if we lived here and had a swimming pool?" I asked my hubby.  Having been temporarily infected by the Florida fever I'd caught, he actually agreed it might be a good idea.  I mean, they really know how to live down there!

But you know what?  It's true that no matter how plush and comfortable your surroundings are when you're away on vacation, there really is no place like home.  That's a timeworn cliche for a reason.  Even our youngest son, who'd spent the previous evening lounging in a hot tub with four of his cousins, said this when we landed in Boston: "I wish I had a few more days at home before I have to go back to school."  So I asked him if he would have liked a longer stay down south, but he answered no. "I'm a homebody, Mom, you know that," he said.

It's cold.  It's gray.  It's snowy and freezing-rainy.  But it's home, and we love it.  It's filled with happy memories--some of them involving little boys bundled up in parkas and snow pants, romping around in the white stuff.  Little boys like this one.
(My middle son was the model for this drawing.)   
I don't always want to be cold; but when I do, I prefer New Hampshire.  Stay warm my friends.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Back Home (for a Little While, Anyway) and Back to Blogging

Sorry about the dearth of blog posts lately!  I lugged my very heavy laptop along on my recent trip (from Boston to Tampa, Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa, and Tampa back to Boston), but for most of the seven days I was away from home, I was unable to get any Internet access.  Forget blogging; I couldn't even check my e-mails on it.  I don't know why I keep bringing it along with me, making my life on the road (particularly at airport security check points) so much more difficult.  But now that I'm a blogger, this laptop and I are pretty much joined at the hip.

Before I go any further, please forget the blog post I wrote at the hotel in Ft. Lauderdale on January 6.  You know, the one predicting--very boldly and confidently--that Notre Dame would beat Alabama for the national championship title the next day.  Erase it from your memory bank.  I was wrong, and that's all I'm going to say about the game...except that after the first quarter, when ND was trailing 21-0 already, my husband and I were sort of glad we hadn't been able to find any available tickets to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on, and instead had to watch the game on a mid-size flat-screen TV set up at a tailgater next to ours in the stadium parking lot.  The game was a disaster.  But hey, the Irish gave us a lot to be happy about all season--and for that alone, we should be grateful.  And ND making it to the BCS bowl game at Sun Life Stadium gave my husband and his seven siblings a perfect excuse to get together for a fantastic family reunion in sunny Florida.  And we had the most amazing tailgater you've ever seen, located right next to the stadium--I mean, we literally were parked as close as you could be.  As one of my brothers-in-law put it, January 7 "was a perfect day...until kick-off."  So the bottom line is that a good time was had by all (except during the game itself)--and my husband and I are really glad we made the trip down there with our youngest son.
In two or three days, our baby boy will go back to ND for the spring semester and my husband and I will board a plane again--this time headed out to CO to stay for a week or so with our daughter-in-law and the twins while our oldest son has to be away doing Army things.  So in two or three days, I'll be packing up the old laptop once again, and hopefully I won't be too busy doing Grammy things out west to get a few blog posts up.  Since I'm home for such a short time, and most of my time in the next couple of days will be spent preparing for my next trip (unpacking, doing laundry, repacking, etc.), I may not be the best blogger.  But there are so many good ones out there to follow, and today I'm going to "introduce" you to a Catholic blogger I've "met" in my cyber-travels recently.  Her name is M.R. Zapp and she did a review of Finding Grace today on her "Regency Catholic" blog, if you're interested in checking it out.  It is a no-holds-barred, very honest critique, and ultimately a sweet endorsement for my book (warts and all).

Hey, I missed you guys.  Did you miss me?  It's good to be back in the blogosphere!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Being Irish in South Beach

Well, the past few days have been busy, visiting with my husband's siblings at his sister's house in Tampa.  For some reason, I couldn't get my laptop connected to my sister-in-law's Internet, so I couldn't blog.  It was probably better that I couldn't anyway--there was too much fun to be had, just talking and laughing with loved ones who are much too far-flung about the country, and soaking up the comfortable, relaxing, and WARM Florida way of life. A person could get used to this.  Especially a person who boarded a plane on Thursday in New England, where the temperature was hovering around minus one, and now finds herself getting overheated wearing no more than a t-shirt and capris!  In January!

Seven of the eight Pearl siblings had already been reunited in Tampa, and then yesterday, we made the drive to Ft. Lauderdale, where we met up with my husband's youngest brother and checked into our hotel.  We'll be staying here until Tuesday morning (better known as the morning after Notre Dame beats Alabama for the national championship).

Last night, the eight sibs, several of their spouses, and a handful of the 32 Pearl first cousins hit South Beach, and WOW--what a night!  We went to an Irish pub & restaurant called Finnegan's, which was jam-packed with Notre Dame fans.  I mean, I doubt anyone wearing a "Roll Tide" t-shirt would have felt brave enough to show his face in that place! Finnegan's was flying Notre Dame flags at the corners of the outdoor seating area and blasting the Notre Dame Victory March every 45 minutes.  (With all the ear-splitting celebrating going on, however, I could barely recognize that well-loved song!)  At Finnegan's, it was like one, big, loud, happy and--I have to be honest--somewhat inebriated Irish family. Truly, complete strangers were forming bonds with other Irish fans based solely on the "Beat Bama" t-shirts and Manti T'eo jerseys they were wearing.
The Pearl Sisters
The Pearl Brothers
There is so much excitement in the air down here right now.  Our hotel is chock-full of Irish fans.  We just got back from the hotel's complimentary breakfast, where one of my sisters-in-law said that shortly before we came down it was packed and abuzz with spirited Irish fans, and a crimson-shirted Alabama fan came into the dining room and yelled, "Roll Tide!" She said everyone stopped talking, looked at him, and the room went silent.  You could hear crickets, she said.  And the poor guy (a good-natured, funny sort) said, "Really?  No one is going to respond, even out of pity?"

Okay, sports fans, today's the day.  The tailgating starts soon, and after that, the winning. Go Irish!