Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Cup Overfloweth

Yesterday was a wonderful day, filled with blessings and joy.  For one thing, I got to spend the whole day with three of the most adorable little lasses west of the Mississippi--my twin granddaughters Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie, along with the newest addition to my oldest son's family, a little peanut of a girl who shall be known on this blog as Little Gal.  This miniature human, who looks as perfect as a porcelain doll, is absolutely precious.

I am so happy in my role as Grammy to these three sweethearts.  I found this quote on-line that I just love: "Becoming a grandmother is wonderful.  One moment you are just a mother. The next you are all-wise and prehistoric." (~Pam Brown)

There is no greater reward for growing old than becoming a grandparent--so I'll take becoming prehistoric any day of the week if it means I get to have grandchildren!

Here's another gem I've quoted before in this blog: "Grandmas are moms with lots of frosting." (~Author Unknown)

As the kids like to say these days, SWEET!

Or how about: "Grandmas never run out of hugs or cookies."  (~Author Unknown)

I really like this Author Unknown guy.  He describes exactly the kind of grandmother I intend to be.  As they grow up, I hope that's just what these girls will think about when they think of me: love and baked goods!
Grammy and  her Little Gal.
Papa and Grammy topped off their day yesterday watching Bonny and Cutie take a bath, which is always a treat.  As you can plainly see.
As if the day wasn't as close to perfect as possible already, I found out last night that another positive review for Finding Grace had been posted on Amazon.  Shortly before I turned in for the night, I checked my e-mails and to my delight found a message from author Therese Heckenkamp (Past Suspicion, Frozen Footprints), with whom I've become on-line friends, telling me that she'd posted a review on Amazon as well as Goodreads, her Catholic Fiction website, and her blog.  If you'd like to read Therese's review, just click on this link.

Too much happiness for one day, right?  But wait, there was hubby and I then had a "Downton Abbey" date and watched two episodes of Season 3, while lying in bed with his iPad screen propped up in front of us.  A perfect end to a perfect day.

Indeed, my cup overfloweth. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Raising Boys!

It's been ages since I made any changes to this blog.  I don't like change, and I resist it like a stubborn three-year-old boy who has to have an older brother pin him down on the rug so his mother can brush his teeth; but last night I got motivated to fine-tune "String of Pearls" a bit.  Some time ago, when I finally got up the courage to try something new, I made my first tentative change to the look of my home page and added the pink tabs across the top naming some of the topics about which I blog most often, just in case anyone wanted to read about something specific, like "Faith."  But some of the categories I originally put my posts in were a bit broad.  For instance, posts about either my husband or my boys were lumped together in an all-inclusive category called "family."  Almost everything I write about is connected in some way to my family, so to be more specific I added "marriage" to the posts spotlighting my best guy, and "life with boys" to the posts that pertain to my offspring and my experiences as a mother who raised all boys and lived to tell the tale.

(Wow, this is probably really boring!  Maybe I'll skip telling you about when I learned how to embed Internet links in my posts--it was thrilling for me to be able to add this new techno-skill to my blogging repertoire, but I doubt you would find that story at all scintillating.)

I must admit that adding a "life with boys" tag to some of my posts was inspired in part by reading Rachel Balducci's awesome book Raising Boys is a Full Contact Sport.  My husband and I both read it, actually, and we both felt like she could have been talking about us!  Like us, she and her husband were blessed with five sons in a row--although they did go on to add a daughter to their family, which we did not.  Her description of life around her house with five loud, lively, competitive, sports-crazy, exasperating and at the same time ineffably sweet boys,  pretty much mirrors what ours was like for many years, before the nest got emptied out.  (Was she hiding in our house or something?  If not, then how else would she have known about calling seriously overgrown toenails, a hallmark of life with hygiene-wary young lads, "talons"?  Well, in the Pearl household when they got that long and gross we called them "raptor talons," because we REALLY like dinosaurs; but still...)

Over the two years I've been working on this blog, I've often written about the weirdly wonderful experience of being a mother to all male children; it's such a part of who I am, and some of my favorite posts have been the ones where I try to describe how uniquely blessed I feel.  Surely, there should be an easy way for a reader to find those posts so near and dear to my heart, I thought.  (You're welcome, by the way.)
It's hard for me to even put into words how much I loved every page of Balducci's hilarious and touching look inside the house, mind, and heart of a woman with all sons.  For instance, her son Augie asks her, "Do you know why these cookies are the best?"  Then he answers his own question, "Because you made them."  I believe this is a conversation I have actually had with each of my sons on multiple occasions over the years.  Early in the book, Balducci says that her boys' "love language is food."  True that!  I know whenever one of my boys would ask me why I made better cookies than all the other mothers, I'd tell them the special ingredient was love.  She also talks about the way she has to hide the fun snack foods in empty boxes of bran flakes, and how her sons can sniff them out.  I spent years trying to hide bags of chocolate chips in the craziest places (often in empty boxes of foods I knew they'd never go near), and they always seemed to find them.

I feel a kinship to Rachel Balducci.  When she was out with her crew, strangers would come up to her and ask if she was going to try for her girl; I got that question all the time, too, along with pitying cries of, "Five boys!  Oh, better you than me!"  Her boys have every one of the Calvin and Hobbes books; so did ours, and they devoured them all.  The similarities between the Balducci household and the Pearl household are significant, let me tell you.  The competitiveness.  The tussles. The need to win every contest.  The interest little boys have in bodily functions, but the disinterest they have in the hygienic practices needed for the upkeep of said body...I could go on, but I won't.

I love all the funny stuff in this book, and I can so relate to all of it!  But it's the poignant way Balducci speaks of the privilege (yes, the privilege!) of having all sons that really tugs at my heart, because she so perfectly expresses how I feel about my guys.  She writes, "I am almost acutely aware of the honor and privilege it is to be raising my sons.  These boys in my care are tomorrow's men, and like parents the world over Paul and I will have a direct impact on the future through the way we raise our children."

Boys are very sweet to their mothers.  When my boys were young pups who were pinging off the walls at times, my husband would assure me that one day I would have tall, strapping lads walking on either side of me, protecting me and treating me like a queen--fine men who would go out in the world and make it a better place.  And that day has come. I love this quote from Balducci's book, because this is it, in a nutshell--this is the way I feel about my relationship with my sons: "It is certainly a mutual admiration society, even on the days when child rearing is grungier and louder than I would have imagined.  These boys are the jewels in my very rustic crown, a crown I wear with a complicated mixture of pride and humility."

I love, love, love this book!  When I was younger I read Jean Kerr's Please Don't Eat the Daisies, another great book for mothers of boys, and it too was funny and touching.  But Raising Boys is a Full Contact Sport is even better.  It's sharp, witty, and skillfully written. And even though it speaks to me in a special way, I don't believe you have to be a mother of all boys to enjoy it.

All that being said, having three granddaughters is so delightful!  And I wouldn't want you to miss seeing pictures of my little sweethearts, so I added a "grandchildren" tag to some of my posts, too, so that pictures like this one wouldn't be too hard to find in my mega-category called "family."

This is my son, the oldest of our five boys, holding three-day-old Little Gal, the youngest of his three daughters.  I have to say that being the parent of all girls appears to be a pretty special blessing, too!

Heeeeeere's...Little Gal!

Here she is, Little Gal--our newest granddaughter!

This petite beauty joins 21-month-old twin sisters Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie to make for a very busy--but very blessed--household for our oldest son and his wife.  Born at a mere 6 pounds even, Little Gal is indeed a very tiny human, and she is absolutely perfect in every way.

Okay, my friends, that's it.  As they say, that's all she wrote!  No time for blogging today--not with all these precious little girls surrounding me!  I've been a busy Grammy, and it's off to bed before long.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

It's a Girl!

If you've been reading this blog lately you know that our oldest son and his wife were expecting a new baby, and that my husband and I were all set to fly out there to help out with their 21-month-old twin girls before/when the new little one (due March 3) arrived.  We had been planning to leave tomorrow, but heard there was a snowstorm coming so decided to leave a day early.

Well, our newest granddaughter had her own plans and couldn't wait for Papa and Grammy to get there today.  Our son called at about 8:00 last night to say that our daughter-in-law's contractions were strong and about 3-4 minutes apart, and they wondered if it was time to go to the hospital.  (The doctor had said to wait until they were about 2-3 minutes apart.) Since her labor and delivery the first time around took only about 3 hours, I told him if I were in their shoes I wouldn't wait too long.

They obviously felt the same way, because they got in the car and left their house at 8:23...and Little Gal (that's what I'm going to call her in this blog) came along at 9:11!
Mother and baby are doing well, Daddy is thrilled that he was able to be there for the birth (he was deployed to Afghanistan when the twins came into the world), and Papa and Grammy are tickled pink.  (Very pink.)

Three granddaughters!  We are truly blessed.  And we can't wait to meet this new little angel!

My husband and I are leaving for the airport soon with plans to 3-leg it out to Colorado, so I'm going to spend most of my time today way up above terra firma (my favorite place to be). For a recovering aviaphobic whose knuckles still tend to get a bit white at times, this is not a perfect way to spend a day.  But today, I think I'll hardly notice I'm in the air.  I'm on a cloud already.

Friday, February 22, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday" #6: "Downton Abbey" and Other Fine Things

--- 1 ---
My husband and I have climbed aboard the "Downton Abbey" bandwagon, and we're loving it.  (Are we the last people on earth to do this?)  After hearing glowing reports about the PBS show from my husband's brother and his wife--with an emphasis on the hilarity of the zingers flung by Maggie Smith's character--we watched the seven episodes of Season 1 that were free of charge on Netflix a couple of months ago, and we really enjoyed them.  But Netflix didn't have the subsequent seasons available, not for free anyway; and so we just kind of drifted away from the whole DA crew: sweet Mrs. Hughes and trustworthy Mr. Carson, conniving O'Brien and dastardly Thomas, gracious Lord Grantham and tenderhearted Lady Grantham, et. al.  We could certainly live without them, we thought.
Oh, how naive we were!   (We were such noobs.  I'm embarrassed to admit that I used to think the show was called "Downtown Abbey.")

Even though she's posted spoiler alerts, I couldn't resist reading some of Rachel Balducci's recent posts about the show on her Testosterhome blog, and my interest in continuing on with the series began to grow.  And actually, on Super Bowl Sunday, I watched two episodes back-to-back with my mother (and thanks to that black-out at the Superdome, I didn't miss as much of the game as I thought I was going to and was still able to catch most of the 4th quarter with my dad).  Something MAJOR happened to one of the characters on that fateful Sunday, and you'd think that it would have ruined everything for me as far as becoming a follower of the show goes...but somehow it didn't.  I really only watched that night to keep Mom company while Dad watched football; but in reality I just got sucked right in.  The show is so well-written and well-acted, and the characters have such depth.  It's hard to resist.

Anyway, my hubby and I decided to buy the second season from Vudu so that we could watch it together.  (We got nine hours' worth of shows for $14.99--which is a heck of a lot cheaper than two tickets for one two-hour movie at the theater.)  We've been going through the episodes two or three at a time when he's home from work--having "Downton Abbey" date nights.  My husband is not just suffering through it for my sake, either.  He really likes the show--although he says if he had to put into words exactly why this is so, he couldn't.

What is it about this show that's so addictive?  When my husband returned from a trip last night, we watched the last three episodes of Season 2, and now it's on to Season 3!  I just have to make sure I don't ruin the experience for my guy by telling him some of the plot twists I already know about...
--- 2 ---
You need a PhD in remote control usage these days, so there's no chance I'll try to sneak in any "Downton Abbey" watching while my husband is out of town for work.  As much as I might like to watch another episode or two on my own (I mean, hey--it's quiet and lonely in this empty nest when he's on a trip!), I can't for the life of me figure out how to get our new 70-inch TV set to switch over to the place where the Netflix and Vudu movies are listed.  It takes about a dozen remotes to perform this function, and even though my husband went through it all very slowly with me once and I wrote down all the steps on a scrap of paper (which has since been lost), my brain can't seem to retain the information. It's just too hard!  I mean, look at this collection of remotes, all necessary to run one television set.  This is insanity!
It makes you almost long for the days when you had get up and turn knobs on the TV to change the channels or volume.  Almost.
--- 3 ---
I'm a huge fan of vintage artwork, particularly when it involves children.  Here's a sweet example.
This little girl is so much like me.  She has a doll collection: me.  She likes to sew: me again.  And she's wearing a headband, just like I do every single day because I have absolutely no imagination when it comes to my hair: I'm really close on this one!  (I'm channeling Billy Murray talking to Andy MacDowell here, from the movie "Groundhog Day." My family members will know this without explanation, but I thought I'd clarify for those of you who don't make a practice of quoting movie lines ad nauseam, as we Pearls like to do.)
--- 4 ---
Speaking of sewing (we were speaking of it, right?), I'm working on a project for my twin granddaughters.  I'm hoping to get a matching pair of simple cotton sundresses made for them by the time we leave for CO tomorrow to spend a few weeks at their house (because the twins are about to get a new baby brother or sister.  Have I mentioned that?). The pattern is an easy one, without so much as a zipper or a button, so I should be able to finish in time.  I'm using some fabric I got from my late mother-in-law's attic, as I've done for the dresses I've made for them in the past; so again, this will be like another special gift to the girls from their great-grandma.
I was worried that the fabric I chose might not work well with this particular pattern (perhaps a pastel floral would be prettier?), and I wondered aloud, "Will this be cute enough?"  Then my husband reminded me that our granddaughters would look cute in anything--potato sacks included.  And of course he's right.
--- 5 ---
It's so much fun, after raising five boys, buying (and making) clothes for little girls. Look at these sweaters I picked up at Target yesterday.  Aren't they adorable?
I especially like the tulle flower on the shoulder; it's just the right feminine touch.  I raised only boys, so needless to say I never purchased anything pink, or any garments with cute little tulle adornments on them either.  (My sons objected to the very word "cute" when they were young ruffians, seeing it as an affront to their manhood.  And if they'd ever heard the word "tulle," they would have objected to that one, too.)  So shopping in the girls' section is a fun new activity for Grammy.
--- 6 ---
I have just begun reading Franz Werfel's The Song of Bernadette, a novel based on the life of St. Bernadette.  Werfel was not a Catholic; he was a highly respected Jewish author from Vienna, an outspoken critic of Hitler who fled occupied Austria in 1938 and found refuge in Lourdes.  There, he learned about Bernadette Soubirous and the 1858 Marian apparitions.  He made a vow to God that if he made it safely to America, he would write Bernadette's story.  In his words, he would "sing the song" of Bernadette.  He kept his promise and his novel was published in 1941.

I've seen the Academy Award-winning film of the same name, but until now I'd never read the book from which the movie was made.  I am only a few chapters into it so far, but I can already tell that this is going to be an extraordinary book.  The subject matter is fascinating all on its own; but Werfel's storytelling skill and his beautiful prose bring it so beautifully to life.

Although I'm always looking for that next great novel, and this one is a critically acclaimed international bestseller, it never crossed my mind before to read it.  I'm so glad that I volunteered to be a book reviewer for, and that this is the first book for which I will write a review.
--- 7 ---
I rarely have seven interesting things happening in my own life to write about, and today is no exception.  So here's where I tell you it's time to go on over to Jennifer Fulwiler's Conversion Diary, where you'll find some amazing "7 Quick Takes Friday" posts by a host of much-more-interesting bloggers than I.

But before I sign off, though, here's a plug for my husband.  (He likes to tell me that I can always write about him if I'm having trouble coming up with topics.)  We've been an item since he asked me to "go with" him way back in the summer of 1973, and I hate to think what my life would have been like if we hadn't made it through our four-year college separation and gotten married as soon as humanly possible after graduation.  When he left for Notre Dame in the fall of 1976, I was sure he'd find someone new out there (in which case, I tell him, I would have joined the convent), but we made it.  And I just adore this man, who in some ways will always be the 15-year-old-boy I fell in love with.
[Swoon.]  Okay, now really...go on over to Conversion Diary.  I'll just be sitting here, mooning over this old picture of my boyfriend...

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Daddy v. the Bee-ah

I have to show a picture I unearthed during my big picture organizing project.  This digitally-captured image of my son and his wife was taken at an awesome little museum called the Woodman Institute--the pride of our downtown area--way back in the spring of 2010, when these kids were newlyweds who had no idea that within a year or so they would become the parents of twin baby girls.

The Woodman Institute looks like nothing more than a quaint old brick house from the outside, but don't judge this book by its cover.  There is no end to the treasures--of both the scientific and the historical variety--you will find in this little gem of a place.  It has the most amazing things jumbled together within its walls: stuffed creatures of every kind, from smaller ones like fish, birds, and rodents to larger mammals such as a buffalo, a moose, and a polar bear (to name just a few); uniforms and weapons from every war in which the U.S. has been involved; a saddle upon which Abe Lincoln himself once sat; old coins and letters; Indian artifacts; collections of rocks, shells, and fossils; even oddities like two-headed snakes pickled in jars...and as I said before, a polar bear.
I love this picture--and I think the twins would as well, because it features their two very favorite people on earth, along with one of their better-loved furry friends.  ("Bee-ah!" "Growl!")

Here's another one I love, too, because it illustrates what a great protector they have in their dad.
He was getting prepared, even back then, to do battle for his girls.  Bonny and Cutie, you're safe with Daddy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

They Grow Up So Fast!

Last night, I had trouble sleeping.  For one thing, my husband left for a three-day trip to Paris, and I was feeling a bit lonely and restless in my big old house.

On top of that, the light bulb finally went on yesterday afternoon, thanks to a demonstration by my husband on the easy way to move the pictures from my camera onto my computer and then organize them into folders.  (It has pained him all these years watching the way-too-complicated process I've used to move my photos around since I got my first digital camera in 2002).  The reason he decided it was time to finally make me understand how magical and helpful computers can be is that at a meeting a few days ago, we volunteered to put together a picture CD for the athletic director who is retiring from our boys' high school alma mater.  This is a man who had a huge impact on the lives of so many students over the years, and our boys adored him.  There's going to be a big party in his honor, and the organizers were looking for pictures to put in a scrapbook and use for a video slide show during the event.

Well, my husband was right!  I can't imagine how much longer it would have taken me to make that CD using my old methods.  After about four hours of scouring through all of my many, many picture CD's to come up with 145 really great shots for Mr. L's scrapbook/video slide show, and feeling all excited about my newly acquired computer confidence, I got motivated to clear off the crowded memory card on my camera, make folders for all of the haphazardly stored photos in "My Pictures," burn the folders onto CD's for back-up, and arrange the CD's in attractive faux leather storage albums.

I didn't get up from the dining room table until my bottom started to go numb from sitting so long.  And I'm here to tell you that as magical and helpful as computers are, there is no way to do what I set out to do last night without spending lots and lots--and lots!--of time on it.  It wasn't just missing my husband that kept me up until the wee hours of the morning.

My brain is not working all that well this morning, as you might imagine, especially since after retiring at 2:30 a.m. and not really reaching the snoring stage for about an hour after that, I had to set the alarm for 6:30 in order to get the garbage and recycling out to the curb on time.  So if this post seems a little disjointed, I apologize.  And I'm going to go and lie down for a bit here, but I just wanted to show you a few of the pictures I unearthed last night during my big photo organizing project.

Here's my oldest son with his daughter, Cutie Pie, just a little over a year ago at Christmastime.

And as if that isn't the cutest thing you've ever seen, here's my lovely daughter-in-law with the other half of the matching set, Bonny Babe.

These two chubby little blue-eyed angels weren't even walking yet and could barely gum a cracker, and now  they run, jump, climb, say two-syllable words, and know the alphabet.  (I think they might even be teaching themselves to read, I kid you not.)  And on top of all that, they're about to become big sisters to a new baby any minute now. How did this happen? Where did the time go?

[Sigh.] They grow up so fast.

That's exactly what I was thinking about my own babies when I came across this photo of sons #3 and #4, who were teammates growing up as well as brothers.  This was taken about 10 years ago (and it made the cut for the AD's scrapbook!).  I know they look pretty grown up here, but believe me, they've changed a lot.
Excuse me, but my eyes are getting a little wet.  It's probably just because they're burning from lack of sleep, I suppose, but I really must go and get myself a tissue.

Squeeze your kids today!  Because before you know it, they'll be all grown up and having kids of their own. (But you know what, there's something to be said for that, too...)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pretzel Bread for Lent

I thought I'd try my hand at making homemade soft pretzels to take the place of bread or rolls for our meals during Lent.  You might have heard that the pretzel was originally created by Catholic monks in the 7th century and there is Christian symbolism baked into its design.  For example, the dough was shaped to mimic arms crossed in prayer.  (For further details on the history of the pretzel, you can click on this link.)

Last year, my daughter-in-law made soft pretzels for Lent, and I knew she'd posted a recipe for them on her blog.  Just as I was about to search her archives, I switched gears and decided that I would try to make pretzel rolls or pretzel bread instead.  When I've accompanied my pilot husband on several of his working trips to Europe, I was served warm pretzel rolls with my dinner up in business class (la-di-da, I know), and I don't believe I've ever had any carbohydrate so good-tasting in my whole life (and I've eaten more than my fair share of carbs, believe you me).  So last week, with this great idea of trying to recreate the rolls my husband's airline serves in mind, I went on-line, typed in "pretzel bread recipes," and found this one:

The process of creating this delightful pretzel bread is a little bit labor-intensive; but if you like to bake as much as I do, and you like a bit of a challenge now and again, I highly recommend that you try it.  Even though I was pretty sure my PB wasn't going to turn out right at all (the dough didn't rise nearly as much as I thought it would), I had success with this recipe on my very first try.
My loaves didn't come out perfectly round and pretty; but they more than made up for it by tasting better than any homemade bread I'd ever attempted to make before.  Pretzel bread is so unbelievably good!  It truly tastes like a soft pretzel--salty and chewy on the outside, dense on the inside--and if you add butter, it's simply nirvana.

Bon appetit!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pointless, Incessant Blogging?

I woke up today wondering what in the world to blog about that I haven't blogged about fifty million times already.  Okay, I've only written 662 posts so far in the almost two years I've been working here at "String of Pearls," so that's a slight exaggeration.  Hey!   [Light bulb moment!]  Maybe I should blog about that: about my tendency to use a massive amount of hyperbole when I talk.  That would be interesting, right?  No?  Hmmm...what to write about, what to write about...

Here's an idea: I could tell you again why I decided to give this blog a title that, when you Google it, takes you to jewelry shopping sites more often than not.  That would be a fun topic to revisit, right?  It would?  Well, here's a link for you, in case you'd like to go way, way back in the archives and check out an early blog post that gives the blessedly short explanation for my title choice. (Over time, I have become decidedly more long-winded. Perhaps I should return to writing the sort of short-and-sweet posts I favored when I was a newbie.)

I actually told my husband I thought I might just skip the whole blogging rigamarole today, and he looked at me wide-eyed and cried something along the lines of, "What?!  Nooooooo! What are you trying to do--kill me?"  (Hyperbolicity is a tendency we both struggle with. That's not a word yet, but it should be.)

Seriously, though, I feel like I've got nothing this morning.  However, I had to come up with something, even just a few words, so that my husband (who is definitely my most loyal reader) won't have to struggle through his day feeling like he has a big hole inside that only my blog can fill.

So I went on-line for inspiration.  And I found these cartoons about blogging.
Funny, right?  And most jokes are funny because there's a little bit of truth in them!

For now, though (and I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing), I have no plans to hang up my laptop.  Have a great week!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

What I Wore Sunday, Volume 2

Well, it's the first Sunday of Lent--and my second Sunday of joining all the stylish gals over at Fine Linen and Purple to show off the awesome, high-fashion outfit I put together to wear to church this week.  (Next stop: Milan!)

I decided to wear purple, as it's the color of the Lenten season.  I just happen to have the most beautiful new Ralph Lauren sweater in the most glorious shade of purple, a gift from my fourth son's girlfriend this Christmas, so I thought I'd pair it with a simple black skirt.
So here's the breakdown of the outfit:
Sweater: Macy's
Skirt: TJ Maxx
Belt: TJ Maxx
Shoes: JC Penney
Tights: Wal-Mart
Miraculous Medal: a 1998 Mother's Day gift from the best husband on earth

Belt detail: isn't this pretty?
I must confess that at the last minute, I opted for boots instead of shoes.  Because--shocker--we're getting hit with yet another snowstorm up here in New England.  (When is that promised global warming going to kick in, anyway?!)  And I also wore a black veil. About four years ago, I decided to start wearing a lace chapel veil (or sometimes a hat) to Mass, so here's the finishing touch on my church ensemble.
(Veil from Veils by Lily.)
It took me about five years of thinking about wearing a veil to Mass before I had the guts to finally do it.  There's nothing I abhor more than feeling as if I stand out or am trying to call attention to myself, and knowing that I might be the only one in the congregation wearing a veil--or one of very few, anyway, in our post-Vatican II world--filled me with a fear that was difficult to overcome.  There was also the fear that I would come across as trying to appear holier on the outside than I really am on the inside.  But I kept reading things about the reasons behind veiling that inspired me to finally take the step.  According to St. Paul, "I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ: and the head of the woman is the man: and the head of Christ is God...[And] the woman is the glory of the man...For the man was not created for the woman: but the woman for the man."  I can almost hear the sounds of feminists shrieking.  But St. Paul is not anti-woman; if anything he is lauding the power of women, the power of feminine beauty, and the fact that women have as their role model none other than Our Lady Herself, who surrendered humbly and completely to the will of God.  St. Paul assures us that while woman was made for the glory of man even as man was made for the glory of God, the two have different roles, each equal in dignity and all for the glory of God. The veil is merely an outward sign of recognizing these differences in roles.  It is also a sign of modesty and chastity.  A woman's hair is seen as her "crowning glory," and she covers it so that God may be glorified instead.

All that being said, I realize that there is nothing wrong with entering a Catholic church bare-headed, and I certainly don't judge those who do.  I've gotten somewhat comfortable wearing a veil at Mass in my own parish church, where I know people are used to seeing it; but it is often an exercise in mortification for me when I'm other places.  For instance, this past fall my husband and I were out at Notre Dame for a football weekend, where we attended Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  Afterwards, we went behind the altar to look at the collection of saints' relics housed there, and were shocked to run into a woman who had been my husband's girlfriend in junior high school.  She'd attended the same high school we did for one year, and then she'd moved away.  This girl was smarter than I was (she always had the second-highest grades in the class, behind my husband) and prettier than I was (taller, better hair, better figure--you name it); yet somehow, I'd won my husband's heart and we began dating the summer after freshman year.

Well, there we were, standing within sight of the Blessed Sacrament, seeing this woman (whose son, unbeknownst to us, was a year behind our youngest son out at ND) for the first time in about 40 years.  And there I was, in my black lace veil, suddenly wishing I could just rip it off my head and look like a "normal" person.  I'm sure I was blushing.  It was as if I was an awkward, shy high school freshman again, with a serious lack of self-confidence, instead of the happily married mother of five grown sons (and a grandmother to boot!) that I was.

When I told my husband later that I really wished we'd run into his old girlfriend outside of the church, so I could have removed my veil, he didn't miss a beat.  "I was proud of you!" he said.

With a support system like that behind me, I will probably continue to have the confidence needed to wear my veil each Sunday for Mass.  I think St. Paul would approve of the way that husband of mine loves his wife!

(Hmmm...Looking at the picture again, I think I might have made a mistake with the shoes.  Maybe all-black would have looked better.  What say you?)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Going Blog Wild

Please don't mention the F-word.  (I'm talking about Facebook!  Sheesh, don't you know me better than that by now?)

It's too soon.

Why don't we talk about the B-word instead?  (Blogs, that is.)

I have become a big fan of blogs.  In the past six months or so, while I've been in the process of trying to market my novel (and have been contacting Catholic bloggers to help me get the word out), I have been introduced to a whole other world of writing that I never knew existed.  There are bloggers out there who have more writing talent in their pinkie fingers than half the novelists who are churning out bestsellers year after year, and I never even knew about them!
(I get as excited about finding a great new blog as son #4 got about the noisy T-Rex sparking "gun"
the Easter Bunny left in his basket in 1990.  Really.  Well, almost.) 

When I started my blog in March of 2011, with the encouragement of my sweet daughter-in-law, I had only ever read two blogs in my life.  Pioneer Woman was one of them (a blog I found by accident when it was mentioned at the end of a Good Housekeeping article I read about PW's Ree Drummond).  Pioneer Woman is a big-time mega-blog, and its founder is now quite famous.  She has written a book chronicling her courtship and marriage to her cowboy husband and two children's books about her beloved Basset Hound Charlie, and she currently has a cooking show on Saturday mornings on the Food Network.  I love Ree's blog; she's absolutely hilarious--self-effacing and goofy--and she adores her family and her life with them on their cattle ranch in Oklahoma.  The photos she posts are magnificent. She's definitely worth reading, but there are so many lesser-known blogs out there in cyberspace that have just as much--and sometimes more--to offer.  The other blog I'd read was the one my daughter-in-law had been keeping for several years before she met and married my son.  It has gone through some title changes over the years and is now called Morning Glory.  My girl is a faith-filled Catholic wife and mother, a librarian and lover of books, an accomplished writer and musician, and an enthusiastic crafter/seamstress/knitter.  Her blog is absolutely delightful, and bonus--it often showcases photos of my adorable twin granddaughters!

For the longest time, these were the only two blogs I followed.  But as I said, a whole new world has been opened up to me, and I have discovered so many wonderful blogs--more than I could ever have time to read on a daily basis!  One blogger I enjoy is Sarah Reinhard over at Snoring Scholar.  Sarah is a self-described social media junkie who has a "bit of an obsession with reading," and her posts are often dedicated to reviewing the books she reads.  In a recent post, Sarah explained perfectly why blog-reading has become so popular with everyone, not just with me.  She was reviewing a book that consisted of real letters between two women who were lifelong friends, saying it read more like a blog than a book--and here's how she described what she loved about blogs and found "so rarely in books: the honesty, the bare emotion, the hilarity mixed in."  That's it!, I thought.  That's exactly why I love blogs so much.  I am often disappointed by books, even ones that are touted as New York Times bestsellers and get nothing but glowing reviews; but I am rarely disappointed by the sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, sometimes quite profound musings of my new blogging friends.

Here's a short list of the blogs that have been providing me with entertainment and soul food lately: Jen Fulwiler's inspiring Conversion Diary (which I've been linking up to lately via "7 Quick Takes Friday" posts); Kate Harvey's Pinterest-worthy Something Ivory (which I've mentioned before, and is a lovely little trip into a world where all aspects of life are shown at their most graceful, beautiful, and calm); Rachel Balducci's humorous Testosterhome (a laugh-out-loud peek into the daily grind of a busy mother who has six kids, five of them boys--this one speaks to me, I wonder why?); Margaret in Minnesota's sweet and funny Minnesota Mom (which was recommended to me by my daughter-in-law, and which I love); M.R. Zapp's cerebral Regency Catholic (a must-read for would-be writers and anyone who has a soft spot for Jane Austen and the era in which she lived); and Katrina Rose's simply endearing Cedars and Tiny Flowers (the work of a young Catholic wife and mother who was actually one year behind my #4 son at Notre Dame, discovered through Conversion Diary's "Quick Takes").  I have a new friend named Erin in Australia, a homeschooling mother of nine whose blog is called Seven Little Australians and Counting (another lucky "Quick Takes" find).  I also know a group of darling twenty-somethings, some of them related to me, who have recently begun a blog together called SMC Women on a Health Mission (it's charming, informative, motivational, and amusing all at once).  Just yesterday, when I had decided I wasn't going to look at one more new blog, I stumbled upon a gem called Mama needs coffee.  I'm sorry, but with that title, I just had to check it out--and I'm glad I did.  The mama in question is a young American journalist with two blond baby boys close in age (I can relate!) whose husband's job required a Rome!  She's so witty--even when she's discussing motherhood and a host of other serious topics that affect not only Catholic women, but all of us.

There are others.  I've gone a bit blog wild, so as I said, that's the short list.  But if you're in the mood to read today and you don't have a good book available, click on some of the links above and check out what these bloggers have to say.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Friday, February 15, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday" #5: This 'n That

--- 1 ---
I have just signed on to be a volunteer book reviewer for a website called Catholic Fiction.  I took this tentative step outside my comfort zone because I have a strong desire to see more good Catholic-themed (or at the very least, Catholic-friendly) novels on the shelves of bookstores and libraries--particularly on the shelves of school libraries, where they will find their way into the hands of impressionable young people who desperately need an antidote to the poisonous messages that abound in much of the "literature" they're reading these days.  Any small thing I can do to help the cause of promoting Catholic fiction seems like a good way to spend the extra time I have now that I've given up Facebook-surfing for Lent.

I have always been a voracious reader, and I have pretty strong opinions about the books I read.  I like to recommend books I've enjoyed to loved ones.  But I've never written up polished reviews meant to be read by the public.  Because of my lack of experience in this area, I was half-expecting Catholic Fiction to turn me down when I applied for the job.  Did I really want to give myself homework assignments?  Did I really want the pressure?

It turns out that yes, I think I did.

As a college English major way back when, I obviously had to write an awful lot of papers. And I thoroughly enjoyed writing papers--a concept which my husband could never quite understand.  He majored in engineering and used to say he would choose taking a test filled with math problems--the stuff of my nightmares!--over writing even a short paper any day of the week, and he wondered who in their right mind wouldn't. Once, an English professor I had gave our class a choice for the final: we could write a 20-page paper ahead of time and turn it in on test day; or we could come in and take a typical blue book essay test.  He warned that he would grade the paper harder than the test, since anyone who chose that option would have a lot more time to work on it.  I was the only student in that class who chose the paper--can you believe that?  I was absolutely giddy about being able to skip that test and was truly shocked that none of my classmates wanted to take advantage of a deal that, as far as I was concerned, amounted to being given a green light to play hooky for the final. (My husband was not shocked at all and saw my choice as proof that I wasn't in my right mind).

Long story short: I think I'm going to enjoy my Catholic Fiction "homework assignments."
--- 2 ---
I've gone without Facebook for two days now--two days going on three.  I am having serious withdrawals, people.  It's so difficult being Facebook-friendless!  The only good thing about it is that I realize I probably picked the right thing to give up for Lent.  Our sacrifices should be painful for us, right?  We're not supposed to "like" the sacrifices we choose, right?
--- 3 ---
My second-born son turned 28 last week, and this is the cake I made for him.
Does this look like a typical cake for a 28-year-old man?  Well, maybe not, but it's the perfect cake for this particular 28-year-old man.  He is a book-lover these days (which could not be said of him during his schoolboy days, when the only books he ever picked up were those that had been assigned and reading was the last thing he would ever do "for fun"!). He really likes the fantasy and historical fiction genres, and he reads a lot of Arthurian legend stories.  So I thought a cake shaped like a knight's shield would be the perfect way to say "Happy Birthday."  (My dragon came out a bit messy.  I think we can agree that Cake Boss's job is safe.)
--- 4 ---
My husband and I are so excited that we're about to welcome a new grandchild into the family.  In a little over a week, we will be flying out to CO to lend a helping hand with our twin granddaughters (20-months-old) during the home stretch before the new baby arrives. My son and his wife chose not to be told the sex of the child by the sonogram technician, and they have not revealed the boy and girl names they've had picked out since early in the pregnancy.  They were the same way with the twins, and you'd think they would have cracked somewhere along the way--but they didn't.  (Your secrets are safe with those two!) The whole world--the two of them included--got the happy surprise that their first children were girls on the day of their birth.

Either way, Pop and Grammy will be over the moon.  And I'm packing these two wall crosses in my suitcase, so we're prepared for anything.  (One of each?  Just kidding.  We know it's just one baby this time around.)
--- 5 --- are things going out there in the Facebook world?  Have I missed anything important?  Not that I'm having trouble steering clear of that little blue square with the F in the middle of it whenever I turn on my iPhone or anything.  I hardly even notice that silly icon anymore.  I'm doing fine, really.  I'm glad I gave Facebook up for Lent, as a matter of fact.

But really, how are things out in the Facebook world?
--- 6 ---
A week or so ago, I decided to cash in a JC Penney coupon that had come in the mail, so I headed over to the mall in search of some item that, after deducting the $10, I couldn't afford NOT to buy.  I thought about buying a pretty new dress, or an adorable pair of flowered denim capris; I tried on both of these items, but to my dismay my body--after months of not working out on a regular basis (but eating chocolate and buttered bread on quite a regular basis)--has become...shapes.  (Full disclosure: I am quoting a joke by Dane Cook, a comedian I do NOT recommend, because his humor is so often off-color and inappropriate; but he did do this bit on TV about a guy who wasn't exactly fat, but was "shapes," and now this is my husband's and my favorite way of describing our fifty-something, aging silhouettes.)  Anyway, since my body has become shapes but my feet--God bless them!--loyally remain the same size and shape no matter how much chocolate or bread I eat, I decided to look for a cute pair of flats.

I think I can say "mission accomplished," don't you?  If these aren't cute, I don't know what is.  (They're "fun"!  They're "female"!  It even says so on the box!)
And with the coupon, they were a mere $27.  I couldn't afford not to buy them, you see. And actually, because the shoes were so inexpensive, I couldn't resist a car-length red winter coat that was marked all the way down to $24...

Those are the two clothing items I enjoy buying most these days: shoes, for the feet that never let me down by going and changing shape on me; and coats, under which I can hide my shapes.
--- 7 ---
And on that rather ridiculous note, I think I better end this post and redirect you over to Jen Fulwiler's Conversion Diary, where you can check out a whole lot of awesome blogs.  Have a great weekend! 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wishing you love and happiness on the feast of St. Valentine!  (Do you love these vintage cards as much as I do?  I heart them so much!)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

40 Days Without Facebook... :(

You might recognize this logo.

It's one that's become a little too important to me over the past year.

My husband and I first joined the world of Facebook about three years ago, when one of his siblings helped him to set up a page in the summer of 2010.  We had to get with the times, we were told, and Facebook was a great way of keeping up with the doin's of our kids. Okay, okay; so we got a page.  I didn't get my own, because I didn't think I was going to go on there very much anyway.  We thought of my husband's page as "our" page, even though it had only his name at the top.  In those days, I was an old school snob who thought the Facebook craze was completely ridiculous, so I didn't care about having a page of my own. I would NEVER get hooked on it, I vowed; I would never become one of THOSE people. Those "like"-aholics.

Once he'd loaded a bunch of pictures to get it up and running, my husband logged onto our Facebook page only sporadically.  I used to hop on it when I thought of it (which was about once in a blue moon), and I'd leave comments punctuated with smiley faces and hearts.  I left such a comment for one of my sons' college buddies once, because a post of his had made me laugh out loud.  (By the way: I'm giving up use of the acronym "LOL" for Lent.)  He came back with a comment that began, "Mr. Pearl."  Apparently, all the FB friends out there were really my husband's, not mine, and they had accepted the fact that he was into smiley faces and hearts. was time to get my own page.

Since I've established a Facebook account in my own name, I have become one of those people I vowed I'd never become, I admit it.  I check my Facebook news feed more than once a day.  More than three times, even, or four.  I "like" almost everything I see.  It's way too easy, when you've got an iPhone handy, to do a quick check whenever the spirit moves you.

So last night when I was trying to think of a sacrifice that would really hurt this Lenten Season, I decided to give up Facebook.  I plan to log on for a few minutes every Sunday, just to make sure I'm not missing any important notifications or messages (because there are some people who use it as their main way of contacting me).  But that's it.  I mean it. No Facebook.  No Facebook friends.  No "likes."  I hate to make it sound like a heroic sacrifice, because it isn't; but I do think it's going to be rather difficult getting through the days without my FB crutch.

I'm going to give up desserts, too, and try to use the time I might have spent [wasted?] on FB each day to say some extra prayers--perhaps an extra Rosary.

So if you're a FB friend who's used to hearing from me and you're reading this, you'll know that I'm not avoiding you.  I'm missing you, that's what's happening!  And I'm wondering how many adorable pictures of your kids you're posting that I'm not seeing.  But I'll be back after Easter.  And my finger will probably go numb from hitting that "like" button.  :)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Shall I "Sacrifice"?

It's that time of year again, when I must decide what "sacrifice" (or "sacrifices") I intend to make during the Lenten Season.

I put quotes around the word sacrifice--because in light of what Our Lord sacrificed for love of us, nothing I have ever done for Lent, in my weak human attempts to walk with Him in the days leading up to His Passion, can really be called that.  Not even close.
A 16th-century painting by El Greco.
I often give up Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke for Lent, because there are days when I crave that ice cold, fizzy, zero calorie deliciousness so much that it is absolutely painful for me not to be able to taste it.  Yes, I used the word "painful" there.  God have mercy on me, please. 

Another thing I have routinely given up for Lent is chocolate, and sometimes not only chocolate but all sweets and desserts, chocolate and otherwise--for a whole 40 days, mind you--which is nothing less than a first step in the canonization process, right?  God have mercy on me, please.

Sometimes I think giving up diet soda is a better form of self-denial for me than giving up desserts, because then I know for sure that my motives are pure and I'm not "sacrificing" sweets with the underlying hope that at the end of Lent, I might be a couple of pounds lighter.  Without my fizzy and delightful zero calorie oral fix, I might in fact be a couple of pounds heavier.  So there's some food (and drink) for thought, as I try to decide by tomorrow morning what it's going to be.

One Lent many years ago, when my boys were much younger, I gave up Dunkin' Donuts coffee (but not all coffee, because yikes!  How would I survive 40 days of THAT?) and the TV show "Everybody Loves Raymond" (but not all TV shows, just that one because it was my very favorite).  One of my sons, who was in junior high or high school at the time, called me on it.  He joked, "Really, Mom?  You're just giving up one kind of coffee, but not all coffee; and one TV show, but not all TV?"  He said it teasingly, but I did feel a bit chastened.  After all, there had been Lenten Seasons where a couple of my sons, just grade-schoolers at the time, had gone without any TV whatsoever--which for them really was a heroic sacrifice.

I may use this Lenten Season to make more time for prayer--to actually kneel at my bedside both morning and night, with the kind of fervent dedication I witness daily in my husband.  Perhaps I should say a second daily Rosary--a devotion that would take a mere 20 extra minutes out of my day, 20 minutes that I normally have no trouble wasting on all manner of trivial pursuits.

For today ("Fat Tuesday"), though, there are about four bottles of Diet Coke in the fridge with my name on them.  There will be fudgy homemade brownies with chocolate chips in them for dessert, after tonight's fattening dinner with my husband.  And hopefully before I turn in for the night, I will have figured out how I can make room inside, by giving up some material comfort that I'll miss in the weeks to come, in order to fill myself up with love for Christ.  As weak as I am, I know I will struggle with whatever small "sacrifice" I choose.  So God have mercy on me, please.

Monday, February 11, 2013

And the winner is...

Laura Morschauser!   She guessed 430, and the correct answer was 439.

Laura, the Santa ornament will be in the mail to you ASAP.
Thanks for playing everybody!

What I Wore Sunday, Volume 1

Well, dear readers, I have decided to try a new blog link-up (similar to what I've been doing on Fridays when I add my "7 Quick Takes Friday" posts to those of other bloggers over at "Conversion Diary").  This one is called "What I Wore Sunday," and it's a weekly event over at a blog called "Fine Linen and Purple."  It's not supposed to be about fashion in general, but specifically about what women are wearing to church on Sunday.  It's about "attending church and encouraging each other to look our best and go with confidence."

I love this idea!  And I love it that it appears most of the women who are participating are young wives and mothers (younger than yours truly) who are attractive and fashionable and enjoy looking feminine and pretty.  It goes to show that dressing modestly doesn't necessarily mean looking dowdy and frumpy!

I have often said to my husband that I think it's sort of sad that so many people attend Mass these days looking extremely casual and sometimes even slovenly.  There is no end to the type of functions that will inspire people to dress with great care--to "put on their Sunday best," as they used to say once upon a time; but unfortunately, attending church services on Sunday does not appear to be one of them.  What event could be more meaningful for a Catholic than the Mass?  Ghandi was once quoted as saying that if he believed what Catholics believe about the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, he would crawl to church on his hands and knees to receive it.

Some years back, my husband and I decided that, since Sunday Mass was the most important hour of our week, we were going to try to dress accordingly: that is, he was going to wear a suit coat and tie, and I was going to wear a skirt or a dress.  And I must say, once you get used to it, putting together a Sunday outfit for Mass each week becomes a joy rather than a chore.  I love to dress up--I think most of us girls do!  So here's what I wore this Sunday for 11:00 Mass with my husband.
I am a clearance rack shopper, so none of the items I'm modeling here cost me very much.

I picked up the red coat last week at JC Penney's end-of-season sale--for only $24!  (And two days after I bought it, a blizzard dumped two feet of snow on us.  I don't believe the winter season has really ended yet, do you?)

The black skirt, made of soft suede-like material, was a TJ Maxx find from a few years ago. It was priced at $16.

The leather riding boots were one of my best finds ever.  I bought them at JC Penney about five years ago at the end-of-season sale, which as you've probably figured out is my very favorite kind of sale.  They were originally priced at $130, and I got them for--are you ready for this?--$9.97!  (At that price, I felt compelled to buy a brown pair as well.)

And the hat is my favorite part of this ensemble.  About four years ago, I decided I was going to start covering my head for Mass, like we used to do when I was a kid back in the 60's, by wearing either a lace veil or a hat.  When my oldest son got married a little over three years ago, I needed a hat to wear for his winter wedding.  I scoured the antiques and secondhand shops in our town and found this sweet vintage number (black felt with a gross-grain ribbon bow) for $10 at a quaint little place downtown.
Well, that's my first foray into the world of "What I Wore Sunday."  I'm the grandma of the group, I think--but that's okay, because I really am a grandma!  I love clothes as much as the next girl (especially when they're on sale), and I love dressing up for church on Sunday. So I'm looking forward to checking out all the posts each week on "What I Wore Sunday."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pictures of Mother Mary

I haven't been dedicating enough of my blog posts to Mary, Our dear Mother lately (or for that matter, to any topics pertaining to my Faith).  I was reminded of this recently while reading my daughter-in-law's blog, which has been given a new title with great significance. It is now called "Morning Glory" (formerly "Knit 1 Pearl 2"), in reference to the book 33 Days to Morning Glory, which she and my son have been using as a guide to consecrate themselves to Jesus through Mary.

In the early days of my blogging, way back in 2011, I made up a CD filled with pictures of the Blessed Mother that I'd found on-line--thinking they might come in handy somewhere down the line for Faith-themed  blog posts.  But as is often the case with things I decide to put in a "really safe place," I just stumbled upon this CD a couple of days ago while I was puttering around in my basement office.  I loaded the CD onto my computer to view it, and it was like looking through one of our family albums filled with half-forgotten but well-loved photos of our boys (from their babyhood days through the many stages of their inexorable march toward manhood).

And that got me thinking: She is family.  She is our beloved Mother, my beloved Mother.   And She loves us--loves me--more than any human mother possibly could.  We human mothers love our children so intensely that we can't conceive of a greater love than ours; so that's a hard concept, sometimes, to wrap our earth-bound brains around.

Here is a picture of Mother Mary with Her arm around Her beloved Son.  This one is lovely and it really moves me.
And here's another, of Mary as Our Lady of Grace--the image that is engraved on the Miraculous Medal I always wear around my neck, strengthened and comforted by Mary's promise that "graces will abound for persons who wear [it] with confidence."
Images of the Madonna and Child are always so beautiful and touching, but I think the one below is particularly wonderful.  Jesus is so real here, with his rolls of baby fat, sleeping peacefully in the crook of His Mother's arm.  Mary is so real here, too--so obviously in love with Her precious Baby Boy.
Mary is the epitome of the feminine ideal--gentle, kind, humble, and modest (a role model for all women)--and this next painting portrays those traits so perfectly.
Many years ago, I got into a discussion with a non-Catholic (a borderline anti-Catholic) who parotted the timeworn accusation that Catholics worship statues and paintings.  I didn't do a very good job of disputing his claim, because I hadn't seen the turn the conversation was about to take and I was unprepared.  My response was about as effective as a little kid saying with a pout, "Nuh uh!"  I wish I could say my piece now, though, because I've had about 20 years to think about it, and this is what I would tell this person: beautiful images of Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, and the saints--such as the ones on this page today--are meant to be reminders of loved ones, just as the pictures of my children in our family photo albums are reminders.  I don't worship the baby pictures in my albums, and they don't take the place of my actual children.  But those pictures make me think about my most precious gifts from God; they fill me with warmth and love and the desire to pick up my phone and call or send a text--right that minute, while the spirit is moving me.

So it is with religious statues and paintings: they are reminders for faithful Christians.  And sometimes, we need reminders in our lives.  Sometimes we need to stumble upon a beautiful image of our Mother Mary to remember that She loves us and She's always there when we need Her, and that She is deserving of our attention.  Maybe we need reminders every now and then, in the form of beautiful works of religious art, so that our spirits will be moved and we'll remember to pray.

(If you want to enter the ornament giveaway, this is the last day.  Send me your guesses by 5:00 p.m.)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Happy Birthday to Son #2!

Today is my second oldest son's birthday.
Here is a self-portrait, rendered in charcoal pencil by the birthday boy in 2008.  This talented son of mine is about as much of a cowboy as my cowboy hat-wearing husband (who's one of the few New Englanders you'll see moseying about these parts sporting Western-style headgear).  He borrowed the cowboy hat he's modeling in this piece from his dad, because the professor of the college course he was taking at the time insisted that the artists in his class draw themselves wearing some sort of hat.

It's a good drawing, isn't it?  (Told ya that my sons have lots and lots of artistic talent, didn't I?)

While my second oldest son is not a cowboy, he is many other things.

He is a high school algebra teacher who has found his true vocation in life: a passion for trying to pass on--with humor whenever possible, but always with a firm demand for respect and hard work from his students--a better understanding of and love for mathematics.

He is also a high school football and lacrosse coach, who enjoys the challenge of trying to pass on--with humor whenever possible, but always with a firm demand for respect and hard work from his players (do you see a pattern here?)--a better understanding of and love for those two sports.

He is his four brothers' biggest fan, and places the utmost importance on the value of family ties.  When he gave the best man's speech at his older brother's wedding in 2009, he set the bar so high--they laughed, they cried, they stood and cheered!--that now the rest of our boys are dreading having to follow in his footsteps.  (Which they will have to do, because brothers make the best best men.  They have already decided amongst themselves that since #2 was the best man for #1, #3 will be the best man for #2, #4 will be the best man for #3, #5 will be the best man for #4, and then #1 will be the best man for #5.  It all works out.)

He is a wonderful, thoughtful, sweet, loving son (and a completely unapologetic "momma's boy").  He lives pretty close-by, only about an hour from his childhood home, so we get to see him on a fairly regular basis.  We're not going to let him move, unless it's to move back in with us.  (Joking!  I'm just joking!)

He is a big teddy bear of a man who lives his Faith, loves sporting facial hair, gives the best hugs, is always attuned to the feelings of those about him, has a booming laugh that makes you want to join in, and can tell a funny story like nobody's business.  I'm just crazy about this kid!

But I guess I really can't call him a "kid" anymore, can I?  At 28, he's a man.  And I couldn't be prouder of him.

My husband and I were supposed to drive over to our son's girlfriend's apartment tonight, where there was to be a party in his honor. However, it's doubtful that my husband will make it home from his London trip today--he might make it as far as JFK, but the flights from there to Boston will probably all be cancelled (and I wouldn't be surprised if the birthday party will have to be postponed due to weather as well).  We are just getting hammered here with snow!  We're having the Nor'easter to beat all Nor'easters!
That's our driveway out there.  (Yes, I'm up at 2:00 a.m.--and since I can't sleep,
I'm blogging and taking pictures of the snow!)

Just a reminder: there's still time to enter the ornament giveaway contest.  If you want a chance to win a hand-crafted Santa ornament, leave me your guess by tomorrow night at 5:00 p.m.  I'll announce the winner on Monday!

Friday, February 8, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday" #4: Blizzards, Books, and Boys Who Love Dinosaurs

--- 1 ---
We are getting hit with a good old-fashioned Nor'easter today, and we'll probably get from one to two feet of snow by tomorrow.   Par for the course when you live up here in New England.  Ahhh, you gotta love the Northeast!  (I know that sounded sarcastic, and it was--a little.  But I actually do love the Northeast, where there are four distinct seasons--and winter is most definitely one of them.)

It's actually sort of fun being inside during a blizzard, watching the whole world outside turn long as you don't have to be anywhere and you don't lose power.  (Or if you do, you have a fireplace and a stack of logs ready for burning--or better yet, a generator.  And luckily, we have both.)  If you have the essentials on hand (like coffee and a good book), then you can survive blizzards just fine.
--- 2 ---
Speaking of good books, I have a recommendation for you: Katharine Grubb's Falling for Your Madness.  If you enjoy a great love story, and you wish we could go back to a time when men were chivalrous knights in shining armor who honored women and treated them with respect--or if you just plain like to read books that are well-written and full of likable characters and witty dialogue--I urge you to get your hands on a copy of this book! Katharine Grubb is a very cool blogger (10 Minute Writer), and this is her debut novel.  I still have several chapters to go before I get to the eagerly-anticipated conclusion, but I plan to curl up with a blanket and a cup of coffee and get right to it as soon as I'm finished writing this blog post!
--- 3 ---
My husband is the greatest guy in the world.  (When I talked to him on the phone last night and told him I wasn't sure I had enough things to write about to do a "7 Quick Takes Friday" post today, he told me to say that!  Even though I reminded him that his greatness was one of the topics in my very first "Quick Takes" four weeks ago and I was going to start sounding like a broken record.  And sheesh, how often did I have to say it?)  All kidding aside, though, he really is. He was supposed to arrive back home today from a trip to London, but his flight into JFK was cancelled.  (If you're wondering why, see #1 above.)  He may not make it home tomorrow, either.  I know you're probably thinking, Oh, the poor guy--stuck in London!  But it doesn't matter how exotic or thrilling the destination is, he says he's never left for a trip without wishing he could just stay home instead.  He's a prince among men, that husband of mine.  And if any man in our modern world is worthy of being described as "chivalrous," it is he.  (I've been thinking of chivalry a lot the last few days; see #2.)
--- 4 ---
My boys love dinosaurs.  They are 29, 28, 26, 25, and 20 now, and they were all absolutely obsessed with those prehistoric creatures when they were but sprats.  However, I'm not saying they loved dinosaurs, past tense; I'm saying they love them in the present--as in, you can still make them happy with dinosaur-themed gifts.  That's something I've learned after raising all boys: even when they become grown-up, responsible men with jobs and lives of their own, they still have a bit of little boy inside them.  Here are some pictures of sons #3 and #5 at Christmas.  Coincidentally, our middle son's girlfriend had gotten him the same t-shirt as a gift that we'd gotten our baby, and my two boys proudly modeled them for these photos.
The dino-loving twins.
Nuff said.
--- 5 ---
When I see anything pertaining to dinos, I think of my boys.  My husband and I were walking around Barcelona together, exactly one week ago today, and we stopped to get a gelato.  The sign outside the gelato place made me almost misty-eyed.  Sniff sniff!

Note the architectural details of this building.  Can you imagine such an ornate structure housing an ice cream shop here in the US?  I am constantly amazed by the beauty of the architecture in Europe, and Barcelona was no exception.
--- 6 ---
Speaking of beautiful architectural details, check out this McDonald's!   I had to take a picture of this Mickey D's in Barcelona.  It looks like it should be a swanky, four-star eatery, doesn't it?  What a gorgeous building!

--- 7 ---
By the way, let's be clear: I don't have a glamorous, globe-trotting lifestyle.  If you think, after reading takes # 5 and #6, that I'm always off to Europe on vacation or something, that couldn't be further from the truth.  I am a homebody married to an airline pilot (remember that guy I talked about in #3?), and now that our nest is empty, I occasionally accompany him on his working trips to Europe.  And I'm just enough of an "ugly American tourist" that I feel I must take pictures of the McDonald's restaurants I find in every city I visit over there.  It's a weird habit of mine.

Have a great weekend!  (I'll just be sitting here, reading and watching the snow fall...and hoping my husband finally makes it home from London!)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!