Friday, May 31, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday," Volume 16: Business Class Edition

Joining Jen and freinds over at Conversion Diary once again, for another installment of 7QTF--just to share with you my thoughts on one of life's simple pleasures.
Today's topic: flying business class on overseas flights.

Okay, that's not really a simple pleasure for most, because it costs an arm and a leg; but for the wife of an airline pilot, who has the unique privilege of flying non-revenue (free, to put it more simply) on a stand-by basis (and if there happen to be available seats up front: woo hoo!), this is one perk worth taking advantage of.

Even if you've spent your life as a white knuckle flyer.

Really, sitting up in business class makes getting over your totally rational but statistically-unsupported fears (you can read more about my battle to overcome an almost debilitating fear of flying here and here) and tagging along with your man, as he pilots a plane across the Atlantic to European locales you thought you'd only ever see while watching the "Bourne" movies, totally worth it.  (TOTES.)

But why am I using so many words, when I can let pictures (taken on a trip home from Barcelona this past February) do the talking for me?  7 Quick Takes, coming right up!
Ah, a row all to myself, with a fully reclining seat...
This is how I like to roll, people.  (Open mouth, insert silver spoon.)
Lots of leg own personal TV screen...and so many movies and shows to choose from, I don't know what to watch.  (A person should have such problems while flying, right?)
A pre-flight glass of champagne?  Yes, please.  (My pre-flight nerves can always use a little help whenever they can get it.)
A glimpse of the captain--MY captain--before take-off...which gives me the secure feeling that everything is going to be fine as I ride in this gigantic tube of metal over the great, big, dark, scary ocean.
Safely at cruising altitude: let the pampering begin!

For openers, I give you the hors d'oeuvre course: smoked salmon with capers, onion relish, and sour cream.  And a little cream of asparagus soup for good measure.  ("Wonder what they're having back in coach?" thinks the super annoying lady riding--for free!--up in seat #2D.  "I bet it's not this.")

Next up: the mixed green salad course, but I forgot to take a picture of it. So, moving on...
Now for the main course, described like this in the business class menu: pan-seared chicken breast with citrus salad, mashed potato, and grilled asparagus with roasted garlic.
(Delectable; although I think the gemelli pasta with cheese sauce, radicchio, spinach, and shitake mushrooms, or the grilled beef tenderloin with blue cheese sauce, lyonnaise potatoes, and sauteed haricots verts, would have been fine choices as well.  So many menu choices, so little time to eat!)
For dessert, I chose a simple ice cream sundae, and even turned down the offered additions of whipped cream and nuts--because c'mon, did you see how much food I'd eaten already?
This was the perfect light dessert choice, because I was too full for anything more elaborate (and there's ALWAYS room for ice cream--you know that!).  Although I must say, some of the other items on the dessert cart--yes, they roll a dessert cart through the business class aisles!--looked mighty tempting.

Please don't hate me for this post!  I assure you that although my husband has been working for the same airline for 25 years now, it's just in the last two or so (since my youngest son left for college) that I've actually become something I never in a million years thought I would be: a frequent flyer!  And on most of my trips, when I'm traveling across this great country of ours to visit with my sons and my granddaughters, I'm sitting all squished up in a sub-par coach seat, just like regular folks (if I'm lucky enough not to get bumped from the flight in the first place)--eating my free Biscoff cookies or Lilliputian-sized bag of pretzels and liking it (not!).  That even happened to me on my recent trip to San Juan, which I blogged about yesterday, and I had to buck up and make the best of it.

Okay, for more Takes that are Quick--and hopefully not as full of bragging as this one--head on over to Jen's.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Theme Thursday: Self-Portrait

I was lucky enough to tag along with my husband on one of his working trips last month (one of the perks of being married to an airline pilot...if you're into the whole terrifyingly unnatural FLYING thing, which I am learning to finally enjoy in my old age--or if not exactly enjoy, at least do without feeling the need to write teary "good-bye/I hope I was a good mom/have a great life" letters to all of my children before I board the airplane).  My favorite captain was headed to San Juan, where he would lay over for a day at the oh-so-cushy Caribe Hilton Hotel right on the beach...and back at the ranch, the old nest was going to be as empty as I thought, What have I got to lose?

Best.  decision.  ever.

When we first arrived and got settled in our room, my thoughts as I looked out the window at the beachy nightscape went something like this: Why in the world do people spend thousands of dollars to fly here and stay at this hotel?  I mean, it's nice and all...but not THAT nice.

For the record, I was wrong.

It WAS that nice.  The next morning, the view out our window looked a lot more like a proverbial slice of Heaven than it had the night before.

And what was even nicer was that my husband and I were able to spend a whole day in Paradise, and it didn't cost us a dime for the air fare or hotel room.

We had to get some digital evidence of our magical day, to prove that it had actually happened and wasn't a figment of our imaginations.  Too embarrassed to ask anyone to snap some pictures of us standing near the beautiful, turquoise-colored ocean, we decided to take a couple of self-portraits ("selfies," I think the youngsters are calling them these days), with my husband holding the camera at arm's length.

Here we go.
Let's try that again, shall we?  (You're not trying to tell me something, husband of mine, are you?)

Much better.  Perhaps we should quit while we're ahead?

Third time's the charm.

Kids these days have so many photos of themselves, don't they?  When I look at the Facebook pages of my nieces and nephews, I am amazed by the thousands I see posted. My husband and I dated for three years in high school and then four years in college, before we finally got married about six months after our 1980 college graduations; yet from that seven-and-a-half-year time period, there only exist about as many photos of the two of us together as you see on this very page.  I wish now that we had more!  If only easy-peasy digital photography had existed back when we were a little more plastic-looking and a little less long in the tooth!

But I'm grateful to have these "selfies" from a wonderful day that I won't soon forget.

(BTW: the reason my sunglasses are so gi-normous is that they are actually made to slip on over a regular pair of glasses.  I'm wearing not one but two pairs of glasses in these photos. you know just how cool I really am.)

I just love linking up with Cari for these Themes on Thursdays, and now I'm going to head on over to Clan Donaldson to see what's shaking.  You should do the same!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Five Favorites, Volume 4

Joining Hallie once again for her fun and fancy-free weekly link-up.
I like this concept, because five just happens to be my favorite number.  I was one of five siblings, and that's the number of children God gave my husband and me as well.  Five is awesome; high fives to that--high fives all around!

So in honor of the number five, here's a favorite photo of my five favorite offspring (it's a five-way tie, no matter what any one of them might try to tell you when the others aren't listening).
1, 2, 3, 4, and 5: Five Favorites.

This picture (if I had to give it a title, I'd call it "The Ties That Bind") was taken way, way back in 1998, at a family Baptism in the church where my husband and I got married.  The littlest guy there on the lower right is now 20.  The oldest brother (the tallest one--at the time, anyway--in the back, in the red shirt) is the father of three and in a matter of months will turn [gulp!] 30.

For all of you darling young "mommy bloggers" out there, here's this mommy-turned-grammy blogger's experience: I blinked, and these five boys turned into five men.

If you head on over to Hallie's, you might actually see some other bloggers' five favorite beauty products worth buying, or five favorite books worth reading, or five favorite recipes worth trying...Here, you're just getting a whole lot of motherly pride, times five.  Go on, then. Over to Hallie's with you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Pig Tales

I'm sort of into pigs.  That is, I'm into collecting decorative pig-themed thingys (for lack of a better word).  It all started many years ago with a pig-shaped wooden cutting board given to us by my late mother-in-law, who'd had one made for each of her eight children.  After their beloved grandmother on their father's side died, Mom gave Nan's favorite cutting board to a local woodworker to use as a template, and eight faithful copies were reproduced--as mementos of a grandmother who was a top-notch cook and baker (my husband still waxes nostalgic over her chocolate cakes and pumpkin pies).  I was already married to my husband at the time, so let's be honest: Nan's pig cutting board was not his; it was mine.

And for some reason, after that cutting board became a part of our kitchen, I decided that piggies were absolutely adorable and I would build my kitchen decor around them.  A long, long time ago, one of my sisters-in-law went through what she now considers an unfortunate goose-themed kitchen phase, but her husband put the kibosh on that pretty early on in their marriage.  I, on the other hand, never outgrew my pigs.  My husband has been very indulgent about this weird pig obsession, and I have to say it has come in very handy as far as giving my sons gift-giving ideas for Christmas, Mother's Day, and birthdays.

My second oldest son, in particular, says that when he's out shopping, it seems he's always coming across pig knickknacks that make him stop and say, "I have to get that for Mom."  Such was the case several months ago, when he was in TJ Maxx looking for something else and stumbled upon a unique pig-shaped canister made of glass.  He snapped it up and held onto it, planning to give it to me on Mother's Day--but I happened to be out in CO at the time, celebrating with my oldest son and his family.  So last night, when I drove over to his place to have dinner with him and his girlfriend, he handed me this oddly-shaped bundle of packing paper, and here's what was inside:
As my son pointed out, it's not only decorative, but useful as well.  "It's a useful pot to put things in," I replied, quoting on of my favorite literary characters--Winnie the Pooh, of course.  (Do you remember that story?  Where WTP is bringing a pot of honey to Eyeore as a birthday gift?  Then on the way, he gets a little rumbly in his tumbly; and when he presents the empty pot, he tells Eyeore he's brought him a 'useful pot to put things in'?)

Anyhoo...before I take up too much more of your time, long story short: now I've got a useful pot to put brown sugar in.  And I just love it!

There's nothing like a good pig tale, is there?  (Or a sweet son who thinks of his dear old mom whenever he sees a pig!)

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Baby Celebrates Memorial France

My youngest son flew to Paris almost a week ago for a six-week university-sponsored internship, in which he would be a kind of research assistant to a retired U.S. Army major who now teaches over there and is working on a project involving the war memorials of France.  I had a hard time saying good-bye to my boy last Tuesday night, knowing that he would be spending so much of the summer so far away from home (which you already know if you read this post from last Wednesday).

But when I read his Facebook status yesterday and saw the pictures he'd posted, I finally realized that if he hadn't been able to do this internship, he would have missed out on the experience of a lifetime.

In the words of this young Army ROTC cadet/college student I'm so proud to call my son, who before this trip had never been out of the country (unless you count a couple of ski trips to Canada) : "Just celebrated Memorial Day at the cemetery in Saint-Avold, France, one of the largest WWII cemeteries in the world (over 10,000 buried), where I got to meet a 2 star general and his aide (both special forces), then I traveled all across France and discovered 8 new monuments/memorials.  Yeah, this was easily the best Memorial Day I've had..."
When I saw the pictures he'd taken yesterday, a lump formed in my throat.  There are so many memorials that have been erected by the French in honor of U.S. servicemen who came to their aid during the Second World War and lost their lives in the process.  So on this day when we honor all those brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives to ensure our freedoms, I'll let some of the pictures he took of the touching tributes that dot the French countryside do the talking.

On this Memorial Day, God bless our brave men and women in the military, who continue to fight the good fight for us.  And God bless America.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

What I Wore Sunday, Volume 12

God bless you on this glorious Sunday morning!

You know what time it is: it's time to hit the links!  (No, I'm not talking about golf--although today might finally be a good day for that activity around these parts, if one was so inclined; after days and days of almost incessant May showers, the skies are clear!)  Let me put that another way: it's time for one of my favorite weekly blog link-ups:
That's it.  That's the one.  Hi, ladies!

Here's what I wore today, for the 9:00 a.m. Mass with my hub-meister.  (I don't know where that came from.  No wait, yes I do.  It came from knowing my husband for the past 40ish years and living with him for the past 32-plus.  We haven't begun to look alike, the way they say spouses often do; but we've begun to sound alike.)
Even after all those years, I like to try to look pretty for my husband.  I love wearing dresses (and even find them much more comfortable than pants); and since we don't have the kind of social life that requires a lot of dressing up, I love wearing them to Mass every Sunday.

Outfit details:
~Cotton sundress (old): Karin Stevens brand; under $20, from a sidewalk clearance sale somewhere or other, many moons ago  
~Short-sleeved cardigan with Peter Pan-style lace collar (new):  Joseph A. brand; from TJ Maxx, $19.99  (Can you say "demure"?)
~Patent "leather" ballet flats, with gross-grain ribbon bows: American Eagle brand; from Payless--a steal, on sale for $12.99

These shoes deserve a close-up.  They're adorable, if you ask me, and about as comfortable as it's possible for shoes to be.
My husband was a lector at Mass today.  I love it when he reads, because he has the deepest, most resonant voice.  It literally feels as if God is speaking...which of course, He is--using my husband's booming yet melodious baritone as His instrument.

You know what?  I'm taking a picture of what my main man and favorite lector wore to church this Sunday, too.  (When I told him my plans, he was all like "What!?!"  But then he got into the spirit and was all like, "So, should I do the slimming hand-on-hip pose?"  And the thought of him employing that classic WIWS move got us laughing so hard that I'm surprised I was able to get a decent picture.)
Here's the breakdown of his outfit:
~Gray tweed sports coat: a Christmas gift from my parents--about a million years ago
~Light blue button-down oxford cloth shirt (monogrammed, no less!): LL Bean, a birthday or Father's Day gift from me--about a million years ago
~Kelly green tie: ?
~Navy blue slacks: BJ's Wholesale Club--bought fairly recently, maybe only a thousand years ago
~Brown shoes: ?

As is so often the case, I was struck by how much the readings today could be applied to my own life--almost as if God knew exactly what I needed to hear, exactly when I needed to hear it.  The second reading included these words written by St. Paul in a missive to the Romans (but this particular letter of his needed to be delivered to me, too):

"...we boast in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

I have been letting my "afflictions" (if they can even be called that, when in light of all the suffering in the world they have been so minuscule as to be practically non-existent) get the better of me lately, instead of enduring them in such a way that they will build my character and increase my hope in God.  Message received, St. Paul--and sent via the beloved voice of my husband, no less!

Now head on over to FLAP, where the fashions are fabulous and the gals are God-centered!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

{simple saturday}: Bathing Beauty

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a new blog link-up I thought I'd try on for size.

So...I'm joining Iris, whose motto "Live Simply" inspired this link-up--which is nothing short of inspired, I tell you.  As Iris says, {simple saturday} posts can be "short."  They should include "simple words, clear speech."  Maybe a picture or two

Nothing fancy, folks.  It's just simplicity all the way here at String of Pearls today, and over at Country Girl's Daybook, too.

Well, it's about that time again: summertime; which means that I must finally start shedding some of the comforting clothing layers I've been hiding under throughout the cold months because...[shudder] bathing suit weather is almost upon us.

And the last time I looked really cute in swimsuit (in my very objective opinion) was circa 1961.  Not to toot my own horn or anything--but at the tender age of three, I think I looked like a little bathing beauty. (Here's the proof.)
Now?  Not so much.

And that is all!

Now head on over to Iris's blog to see what others have posted--you simply must!  (I'm not going to say, "Did you see what I did there?"--because I know you're not a simpleton.)

Friday, May 24, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday," Volume 15

By the time I get this 7QTF posted, I'm going to be # gazillion on the list of linker-uppers, and no one is even going to see it.*  I just checked, and there are 77 people who've joined Jen already.  It's 9:30 a.m. as I begin typing this--but that's very late in the QT world, my friend. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to get those top spots every week (unless Jen is doing that inverse order deal, where the late-comers actually hop right to the front of the line; I love the order switcheroo that rewards procrastinators like me!).

*(which is about as many as would see it anyway--let's be real!)

Okay, speed is of utmost importance today, so these Takes are going to be Quick, Quick, Quick!

--- 1 ---
My youngest son came home from Notre Dame last Sunday...for about two minutes, and then he was off on some exciting world travels.  He boarded a plane for Paris on Tuesday night, and he will be spending the next six weeks in France, living with a retired military family and doing an internship that involves researching war memorials in Europe.  What an amazing opportunity for this kid from small-town New England!  I wrote about his departure here, if you're interested in seeing some photos of the tall, strapping young lad of whom I'm so inordinately proud (and his pathetic mother, with her swollen eyes and puffy face--I swear, it looks marginally better when I'm not weeping uncontrollably).

--- 2 ---
Speaking of my youngest son, he told me on Mother's Day that he'd gotten me a gift at the college bookstore at school, and that he'd bring it home with him.  It would be late, he said, but he assured me it was coming.

When I was in the midst of helping him re-pack for his big European trip, I noticed a plastic shopping bag with wadded up newspapers in it sitting there amdist the piles of wrinkly clothing, and I asked if it was garbage.  "Oh, yeah--I forgot!  That's your gift," he said. (There is a very good chance that if I hadn't noticed the bag, he would have completely forgotten, in the excitement of packing, all about the belated Mother's Day gift he was planning to give me. If that seems unbelievable to you, then you haven't raised a house full of sons.  A daughter would have had the gift all boxed up and beautifully wrapped--with a bow even, perhaps. And it probably would have been the first thing she unpacked when she got home. A son, although well-meaning, is not as details-oriented.)

So I unwrapped the newspaper and beheld a beautiful porcelain statue of St. Patrick...only he'd been beheaded.  My son was dismayed, and he looked at the broken statue in shock, wondering how in the WORLD this could have happened.  I mean, that fragile statue was loosely wrapped in newspaper and stuffed in a plastic bag, then crammed into a small, soft-sided carry-on bag filled with DVD's and books, and then the carry-on bag was stuffed into a crowded overhead compartment on an airplane.   (Indeed, how in the world do these things HAPPEN, I ask you?)

My poor baby; he felt awful.  But I assured him it was a clean break at the neck, and that it was nothing a little glue wouldn't take care of.  It really does look as good as new--even on close inspection, it's hard to tell that it was ever broken.  I love it, as I love all things Irish-themed and saints-themed.  I'll cherish it even more when I remember how my son carried it lovingly (his version, anyway) home from school to make me happy on Mother's Day.

--- 3 ---
Speaking of the Irish (we were: St. Patrick--remember?), I absolutely love them.  I'm enthralled and delighted by any and all things Irish.  My mother's maiden name was Kelly, and her father had some McCormick relatives, so I do have some Celtic blood in me.  But my husband is 100% Irish on both sides; his parents' families are filled with Roaches and Buckleys and Foleys and Sweeneys and McCoys--the only thing that isn't Irish about my husband is the name Pearl.  We still haven't figured out exactly where that came from, and we can't help but wonder if there were some communication problems at Ellis Island somewhere along the way that resulted in a misspelling, or something along those lines. Anyway, the Pearls are Irish to the core, and proud of it.

Which brings to mind this funny headline (a joke, perhaps?) and accompanying photo that made the Internet rounds a few years back:


Under the photo was this news flash: "This award-winning photo of the recent flood waters rising in Ireland captures the horror and suffering there.  Keep these people in your prayers."

You gotta love the Irish.  You do!

--- 4 ---
I'm on an Irish kick, so bear with me.  My beloved late mother-in-law lived and breathed all things Emerald Isle.  Her father, the handsome Irishman for whom my husband is named, came to this country from County Cork at the age of 19 and never returned to the "Ould Sod."  Mom's father died young, when she was only 10 years old, and the hole he left behind never really filled up for her.  My husband can still remember that when he was growing up, every year on March 19 (the anniversary of her father's death, on St. Jospeh's feast day), his mother would be in a terrible mood, mourning the dad she lost too soon. She missed her father every day of her life; and when she died in 2009, the first thing I thought of was the joyous reunion between them.  I could almost hear him talking to the little girl he'd doted upon during his short years on earth, with a hint of brogue in his deep voice...

If you want to read a wee bit more about this Irishman, here's a post about him, written back when this blog was but knee high to a grasshopper.

--- 5 ---
When I finally got inspired to write the novel I'd dreamed about writing for as long as I could remember, I knew I'd have to include a lovable Irish character--and thus was born Jack Kelly, the father of my humble little heroine, Grace Kelly.   When I started writing Jack's character, there was a little bit of every dad I admire most in him: my husband, my late father-in-law, and my own father.  Some of the things he says are eerily similar to things I've heard come out of the mouths of these three men.  But physically, he's more like another man I know (a friend who's a father of six, rather on the short side, with a keen wit and a devilish twinkle in his Irish eyes).  Ultimately, as I went along, Jack stopped resembling anyone in my real life and became a completely new person to me, someone I wanted to know better.   And I had fun trying to figure out just what he might say next.  I hate to sound all writerly (you know, with the old "The book just wrote itself!" nonsense--because if books could write themselves, I'd like to think I might have a second novel completed already); but Jack really did kind of write his own lines.  He was a hoot and I loved spending time with him.

Warning!  Warning!  Here comes the shameless plug!

Okay, you can't say you haven't been warned.  But if you'd like to get to know this quirky and charming Irish dad better, along with his five tall, handsome sons (I wonder who inspired those guys!), his long-suffering daughter, and the two boys--one a friend, one a  love interest--who play such an important role in her life, you should get yourself a copy of Finding Grace.  (And if you'd like to save on the Amazon retail price, contact me.  I can give you a better deal!)

--- 6 ---
I've been working at this for an hour-and-a-half now (these Takes have hardly been Quick!), and I just popped over to Conversion Diary to see how many people have linked up.  It's already up to 102!  Yikes, I'm going to be a long way down the list!  But maybe if I bang the rest of this out Speedy Gonzales-style, it'll still be worth it.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my friends Erica over at Boys, Books, and Balls, and Sarah Therese over at Footprints on My Heart, for giving FG some recent shout-outs on their blogs. I've said this before, but I'll say it again: one of the greatest outcomes of having my book published and subsequently endeavoring to find a market for it is that I've "met" some of the most wonderful, generous, helpful women.  They may be only "on-line friends," but I consider them friends nonetheless!  Thanks so much to these fellow bloggers and to others out there who have been kind enough to help me with my promotion efforts.

--- 7 ---
And speaking of books, I'm really excited to read Jen Fulwiler's book about her conversion from atheism to Catholicism, which is going to be published by Ignatius Press this fall or next spring.  If you're a follower of Conversion Diary, you know just what a great writer Jen is (and so funny, too).  I can't wait to hear her whole story.

Now head on over to the link-up, for Jen's Takes...and 103 others!  (AARRGGHH!!  By the time I post this, I'll probably be #150!)
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Theme Thursday: Bodies

I don't have a new photo to share today for the Thursday-riffic link-up with Cari Donaldson  And although I wanted to play along, I wasn't quite sure what kind of picture I could post that would illustrate the very interesting theme for this week: bodies!

I thought, hmmm, should I show you some bathing suit shots of my fifty-something husband and my fifty-something self from our recent trip to San Juan?  No, I, not a good idea at all.  Because while we do have bodies, they're not exactly--well, never mind about that.

Then I thought, hmmm, what bodies do I know of that actually look cute with little fat rolls on them--and of course, that made me think of my three soft, pink, positively edible little granddaughters.  But I'm trying to keep pictures of them off this blog, for the most part, for privacy's sake.

So I'm posting an old photo of my boys and me from way back in 2007--when aside from the oldest, who had graduated from college the year before and begun his military career, these bodies still spent a good bit of time hanging out in their childhood home...near their mommy, who has always been happiest when they're no more than an arm's length away.  I was always the family picture-taker; but during this Notre Dame football weekend get-together, my husband grabbed my camera and told all the boys to huddle around me and show me some love.  All those bodies squished together, those happy made for this great photo, which is to this day my husband's very favorite.
 Where are these bodies right now, you ask?

The oldest is out in CO, where he is stationed in the Army; he's a husband and a father to three little girls under the age of two.  The second oldest lives about an hour away from his dad and me, where he teaches high school math and coaches football.  The third one in line lives and works down in VA, is newly engaged, and will become a married man in December.  Number four is not quite a third of the way through a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.  And the baby left two nights ago for a six-week internship in France (which I wrote about yesterday).  Sometimes, I get panicky at the thought of how scattered about and far apart we all are--at least physically.

What I wouldn't give to have all those bodies--and the beloved souls that reside in them--a whole lot closer to mine.  What I wouldn't give to be able to hug and kiss each one of those "temples of the Holy Spirit" every single day!

[Sigh...]  But you know what they say: If you love somebody, set them free.  If they come back, they're yours.  And these somebodies do keep coming I guess that means that these somebodies are mine.

Now go over to Clan Donaldson and check out some other bodies...or other somebodies...or whatever!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bon Voyage, Mon Fils!

My youngest son just returned home from his sophomore year at Notre Dame on Sunday. And last night (after having him home for a whole day and a half or so--just enough time to fix him one specially requested home-cooked dinner, including his favorite gourmet dish: Stovetop stuffing and chicken casserole), my husband and I dropped him off at the airport, where he got on board a flight to Paris to spend the next six weeks doing a university-sponsored internship.

I am not good at good-byes.  (Understatement of the century, there.)

See the evidence of this is in Exhibit A, the first photo I had my husband snap of me with my baby boy shortly before he left me to go through the security line.
Keep it together, Mom.  Keep it together.  (I wonder if you can tell from the picture that I've been crying?)

But before you judge me, didn't any of you see the movie Taken?  Don't you know what happens to naive young Americans when they're unleashed, sans parents, on the streets of Paris?

Of course, my son is not a flighty teenaged girl, like Liam Neeson's screen daughter in that nail-biter of a film.  He's a 6'2", fit, Army-strong young man of 20, and he was more mature at 10 than I've ever been in my life.  He'll be just fine.  (He will, and I know that--despite the tears.)  But boy, am I going to miss that kid.

I had to try to pull myself together, stop thinking of all the things that could go wrong (What if he loses his passport?!  What if someone picks his pocket or steals his iPhone?!  What if he's allergic to something we aren't aware of--remember those bananas?!), and be happy for him.  What a unique opportunity this is for him!  What fun he's going to have!  This was no time for tears!

I wanted another picture--one where it didn't look like I was saying my last good-byes before my son was sent to the guillotine.  So I give you Exhibit B.  (Much better, don't you agree?)
My husband was able to go through security with our boy--using his airline employee I.D.--and walk with him to his gate.  I waited on the outside, watching and waving until I couldn't see them anymore.  (Then I proceeded to soak through a wad of tissues.)  When my husband met me afterward, he said our son was concerned about me and asked him, "Is Mom going to be okay?"  My poor kids: it's like they're the parents these days and I'm the child!

On our way home from the airport, I clicked on the Facebook icon on my iPhone, and I was tickled to see my son had already taken what he called "an obnoxious tourist-style selfie" on the airplane and posted it.  That made me smile.  When we got home, I absent-mindedly turned on the T.V. and scrolled through the guide, and--I kid you not here--Taken was on T.V.!  How ironic.

Last night was a rough one for this mommy.  But this morning, my husband and I awoke to the comforting "bloop-blooping" sounds of text messages coming through on our iPhones, and we got the word that our son had landed, met up with his host and the other interns, and they were all at the market.  It looks like he's already settling right in, living la vie francaise.

He'll be fine, he will (although he'll miss my exquisite home-cooking--I don't think French cuisine relies heavily on Stovetop stuffing).  And hopefully I'll be fine, too.

Monday, May 20, 2013

3 Reasons I Love Catholicism, Volume 2

I just love Micaela Darr's new link-up on her blog "California to Korea."
It gives Catholics a place to "rant" (as one follower put it in the "Comments" section after last month's first ever "3 Reasons I Love Catholicism" link-up) about their deep love of the Faith which was founded by Christ Himself.  With all the anti-God/anti-religion ranting that goes on in this day and age, this is the kind of ranting I'd like to see more of!

I'm not only crazy about the subject matter, but I also appreciate the lengthy window of opportunity Micaela gives fellow bloggers to add their posts to hers.  I desperately want to do justice to the beauty of the Catholic Faith, and because I worry I won't be able to, I've been experiencing writer's block this time around.  After all, there are SO MANY reasons to love Catholicism, and so many linkers have already stated a slew of them--and done so in a far more eloquent way than I ever could.  But this link-up is one I feel strongly about supporting, and I've got to stop procrastinating; so here goes.

1. Catholicism is the only religion that recognizes Mary's essential role in salvation history.  It is the only religion that recognizes Her vitally important role as Mediatrix--for through Her, we can grow closer to Our Lord Jesus.  She has the power to intercede for us to Her Son.  He wants us to love Her as He does, and to think of Her as our mother, too. People of other faiths sometimes misunderstand Catholics' relationship with Mary, thinking that we worship Her in the same way that we worship God.  We don't worship Mary; we venerate Her, we are devoted to Her, we love Her; we believe that we are Her beloved children, and that She listens to our prayers.

There is nothing more touching to me than seeing little ones showing their love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.  My oldest son and his wife are teaching their two-year-old twin daughters all about Her.  When they put the twins to bed at night, they remind them to talk to Mary or their guardian angels if they get scared.  When we were out west visiting with them recently, the girls stopped by to say hi to Her on their way out of the church after Mass.
We should all be like small children, who seem to have an instinctive love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Back in the early days of my blog, I wrote about our neighbor's little boy, who couldn't pass our garden statue of Mary without stopping to kiss "the Lady."  Although his family was Catholic, they were non-practicing--yet he was inexplicably drawn to that image of the Mother of Our Lord.  (You can read that short post here.)

To me, Marian devotion is one of the most beautiful aspects of Catholicism.  Which leads me to...

2. The Rosary!  My husband and I are convinced of the power of this devotion.  We began to say a daily family Rosary about eighteen years ago, when our oldest son was 11 and our youngest was 2.  At that time, sons #2 and #3 (10 and 9) were going through a phase where they just couldn't seem to get along.  They knew just how to push each other's buttons, and their spats often ended with a punch or a shove.  I had begun to worry that they were never going to get along, and it was very distressing for me--because even though I had five sons and people probably think that means there was one big wrestling match going on at all times, that really wasn't the case.  Considering all the testosterone around here, we had a pretty peaceful house.  I'm like the timid dinosaur in the Disney movie Toy Story--I don't like confrontation!--and I couldn't bear to think that these two boys weren't going to grow up to be friends.

Well, we started praying the Rosary, beginning our special petitions each time by saying "For peace and harmony in our household"; we also put photos of the dueling brothers under our statue of Our Lady of Grace--a practice adopted from my mother-in-law, who would do so when one or the other of her eight children needed special prayers.  Within about three weeks of starting the daily Rosary, my husband and I suddenly realized that our two fighters had stopped fighting.  It seemed nothing short of miraculous to us.  They were acting like best buddies and have been extremely close ever since!
For many years, we were able to keep up this practice--all seven of us, sitting in the living room together.  We would often have what came to be known as our "pre-Rosary talks," where we would sit down to pray and start talking about this 'n that, laughing and storytelling, and then realize that an hour had gone by and we'd better get down to business.  Those talks are the basis of some of my fondest memories of family life--not to mention those Rosaries.  Having all those deep male voices joined together in praying the Rosary was like listening to soothing Gregorian chant...and because it was so comforting and lulling, I often slept through the last few decades (letting the angels finish my Rosary for me).  Once the older boys got into high school and everyone's school and sports schedules became so crazy, it got harder to get the whole crew together at the same time; and unfortunately, the practice of saying the Rosary as a family fell off.  My husband and I still say one together every day, however, and we firmly believe that our family has received many blessings through the intercession of Our Lady.

I just love all the sacramentals associated with Mary: Rosaries, statues, holy cards and pictures, the Miraculous Medal (which I wear always, trusting in the graces Mary promised to those who wear it with confidence).
Beautiful religious imagery always touches me so, and that's why one of the reasons I love Catholicism is--

3. The churches.   There is nothing that lifts my soul as much as entering a beautiful Catholic church, where no expense has been spared to glorify God, the Blessed Mother, and the saints through artwork, statuary, and stained glass.  As far as I'm concerned, the more ornately decorated the church is, the better.  Where better to showcase man's God-given artistic talents than in God's house?

I've been in some churches that actually make tears come to my eyes, they are so breathtaking.  Entering them feels like entering the gates of Heaven.  The Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame is one of those tear-inducing churches.  The church where my husband and I were married, in 1980 in Upstate NY, is another.  How blessed we were to be joined in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in such a magnificent Catholic church!
Now head on over to see the reasons Micaela and the rest love Catholicism.  There's so much to love--so much to rant about!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bosom Buddies

This is our last day visiting out west with our oldest son and his family, so I'll keep this brief.

Yesterday, our almost-two-year-old twin granddaughters were so hilarious.  They have begun to really PLAY together, chasing one another around the house and making each other laugh like crazy.  For the longest time, they seemed to do what I believe the childhood experts call "parallel playing"--that is, sitting right next to one another, each doing her own thing without paying all that much attention to her sister.  Well, they're paying attention now!  It's delightful watching them become bosom buddies.

Yesterday, they just couldn't seem to go two minutes without touching.  They were wallowing all over each other while sitting on the couch, their limbs intertwined pretzel-style. It was a day of bear hugs, high fives, giggles, and many of those moments parents know well, when it looked like a fun game was going to turn into a tussle followed by tears.  But they just kept laughing.  There was a lot of extreme togetherness going on--and watching them climb all over each other, giving each other love pats that bordered on slaps, nuzzling their heads together (they just couldn't seem to stay separated), I couldn't help but picture the two of them in the womb, sharing that small space and always being in close contact with each other.

The twins were dressed exactly alike yesterday, too, which isn't often the case.  They were wearing matching outfits that I purchased at a clearance sale way back when they were still wearing newborn clothes: denim skirts (from JC Penney, $17.99 marked down to $1.97) and plaid cotton blouses (also from JCP, also $17.99 marked down to $1.97).*  It's usually pretty easy to tell them apart, even though they're identical; but yesterday, we kept mixing them up.  And it didn't help that they were smooshed together for most of the day!

They're awake now, and I hear their cute little mousey voices upstairs, so I'm going to run.  I don't want to waste any of the precious time we have left sitting at my laptop!  I'll just leave you with these pictures snapped during the love fest yesterday.

 *Yes, I'm a bargain shopper; and yes, I love to brag about the deals I find!  

Friday, May 17, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday," Volume 14

I'm normally a daily blogger, or an almost-daily blogger, but I've been neglecting my "String of Pearls" duties lately.  ("Did she just call blogging her duty?  Wow, she has an inflated idea of how important her silly little blog is."  I can hear you thinking that.  I can.)  This probably has to do with the fact that my husband and I are staying with our oldest son, our daughter-in-law, and their three little girls (that's three little girls under the age of two!), and I don't seem to have the energy or desire to write every day. I usually don't like to take afternoon naps, but I've been finding that when the twins go down for theirs, taking a nap sounds a lot more enticing to this old grammy than blogging.  And then when the house quiets down after bedtime, I've been finding that turning in early sounds a whole lot more enticing to this old grammy than blogging.  And when I wake up in the morning before the twins get up (which happens occasionally, since my body still appears to be on East Coast time and keeps thinking it's two hours later than it really is), I've been finding that lazing in bed for awhile and doing a bit of reading sounds a lot more enticing to this old grammy than blogging.

I've been reading a lot of children's books aloud lately, and after re-reading the previous paragraph, I think perhaps their heavy reliance on repetition is starting to affect my writing style.  Which gives me a great segue into Take #1 (for the 7QTF link-up with Jen and the rest over at Conversion Diary): 

--- 1 ---
Yesteryear's classic Little Golden Books are simply the best.  And when I say "classic," I mean just that; not the newer ones, the main characters of which are taken from the latest Disney/Pixar flicks, but the tried-and-true staples of childhood such as The Saggy Baggy Elephant, The Pokey Little Puppy, and The Little Red Caboose.   You know, the vintage ones.  We had a lot of Little Golden Books in our house when our boys were young, and now whenever I see a new edition of a classic title that I know my granddaughters don't have yet, I just have to buy it for them.  Here are the two latest additions to the girls' library c/o Papa and Grammy.
Nothing against popular children's book author Sandra Boynton or anything.  I mean, her adorable little board books fill up half the bookshelves in my granddaughters' house, and they love every last one of them; but nothing really compares to those old-school Little Golden Books--at least in my book.  (Har-dee-har-har.  Did you see what I did there?)

--- 2 ---
Melissa & Doug make the greatest children's puzzles (sometimes also known as "puthh-oths," depending on whom you ask).
Where in the world were Melissa & Doug when my boys were itty bitty sprats?   They would have loved these!  My granddaughters have a pretty extensive M & D puzzle collection (thanks in part to some hand-me-downs from their cousins), and they can't get enough of them.

--- 3 ---
There just isn't anything cuter than watching a wee lass puttering around her play kitchen.  (Especially when she's sporting a pink Easter bonnet.)  Here's a shot of my little Bonny Babe, rustling up some grub with her plastic fruits and vegetables and miniature pots, pans, and dishes.
I'm pretty sure I need say no more about that.  The picture says it all.

--- 4 ---
There are a lot of glitzy, high-tech toys these days, but a big rubber ball will never go out of style.  The bigger and bouncier the better!  Give a small child a big ball, and his fun meter will be pegged in no time.  Here's Cutie Pie playing with a "just because" gift we brought home from a shopping trip the other day.
Target.  $2.99.  BAM!  Score one for Papa and Grammy.  (And give us extra props, because we really wanted to buy two of them, so the twins wouldn't fight over this one, but we held back.  And they are learning to share it.)

--- 5 ---
Please keep praying for my fourth son, who is on deployment in Afghanistan.  Some of you have already said you're praying, and I want to let you know that your prayers are deeply appreciated.  So far, so good; and he's already been gone over a month, so he has less than five to go.  Because of the nature of his job and the crazy hours he works, my boy doesn't have much time to do anything else.  After work, he works out, eats, Skypes with his girlfriend, sleeps, and then it's time for work again.  It's like Groundhog Day over there (you know, the Bill Murray movie?), he says.  He works 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are no "days off" on deployment.  He's counting the days until it's over and he's back home again.

But keep those prayers coming.  And here's a recent photo of him (which was given a cool color treatment by his girlfriend).  I thought you might like to see whom you're praying for.
My son's "blue steel" beats Ben Stiller's by a country mile, don't you agree?

--- 6 ---
Six hours in the ER is not a fun way to spend the night when you're visiting with your beloved grandchildren.  Luckily, though, the patient was not one of my three little girls; it was me.

I was taking an antibiotic because I have a tooth that needs some root canal work, but I'd pushed back the date of my oral surgery so that I would be able to spend this week with my oldest son's family while my husband had some time off from work.  I was in some pain, and the doctor wanted me to take an antibiotic in case the tooth got really infected while I was out of town.  I took the medication religiously for seven days (four pills a day), and I was thrilled because I've already had allergic reactions to three commonly prescribed antibiotics, and it seemed like I didn't have a problem with this one.


No sooner had I taken the last dose two days ago, and within hours I had an itchy rash on my abdomen.  I took some Benadryl and hoped that would be it.  Then through the night, the rash grew and grew and spread and spread and itched and itched (children's book-style, again).  Yesterday, no amount of Benadryl would control the continuous spreading or the unbearable itching, and finally at dinnertime my husband took me to the hospital.

Long story short:
1. I'm allergic to yet another antibiotic.  (I hope I don't run out of options.)
2. Epinephrine and I don't mix. It made my blood pressure skyrocket and brought on the scariest headache I've ever had--besides the one I got during labor with my firstborn son, and that was diagnosed as preeclampsia.  (I don't know which is worse: having hives all over your body, or feeling like your head is going to explode.)
3. Thank God for ER doctors.  I don't know how they do it!  The ER was jam-packed when we arrived last night, and we waited for three hours just to be seen.  How do those guys keep their cool and get it all done. when they're dealing with multiple emergencies all at once?

--- 7 ---
I'm so glad I discovered blog link-ups!  (Like this one, for instance.)   I am continually amazed by all the wonderful people I've "met" because I've linked; I feel like some have truly become friends.  (I'm rich in eFriends!)  There are so many sharp, funny, insightful, faith-filled, thoughtful women out there--and they're good writers, too!  One day I'd like to meet some of them face-to-face, like my friend Erica over at Boys, Books, and Balls.  Erica and I "talk" a lot.  And recently she was kind enough to give my novel a plug on a "Five Favorites" post at Hallie's Moxie Wife, as well as a couple of mentions on "Yarn Along" (another link-up I would enjoy, if only I knew the first thing about knitting).

Well, it's nap time now, and I think after last night's ordeal, I better try to get some shut-eye.  But you can head on over to see all the other bloggers who've linked up with Jen today.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Theme Thursday: Animals

Linking up with Cari over at Clan Donaldson for another installment of "Theme Thursday."

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were down in VA to attend a surprise party that our third son's newly-minted fiancee threw to celebrate his 27th birthday (which didn't turn out to be a surprise, exactly, but was a whole lot of fun--and dinosaur-themed to boot!). While we were there, the soon-to-be-betrothed couple took us to see the venue they've chosen for their December 2013 wedding.

Their reception will be held at a well-known vineyard in Northern VA, an establishment that is surrounded on all sides by breathtakingly beautiful mountain vistas.  This vineyard sometimes hosts polo matches, and back behind the events center there's a barn that houses some beautiful horseys (sorry--horses, that is; I've been hanging around with a pair of almost-two-year-old twin granddaughters as of late, and that's what they call them; and while we're at it, horseys say, "Beigh, beigh.").  I couldn't resist taking some pictures of those gorgeous animals.

I LOVE horses, but only at a distance. Or when they're safely tucked away in their stalls, looking at you with those big brown eyes, hoping you've got a sugar cube or a carrot you'd like to share.  I love to look at them and feed them, and maybe give them a gentle rub on their snouts.  (Is that the right word?  Snouts?  I'm not much of an equestrian, as you've probably surmised.)  But the idea of hopping up in the saddle and riding one of those huge, muscular beasts fills me with fear.  One of these days, I'd like to get up the nerve to go horseback riding.

I never used to think I had a bucket list, because my life has been almost fairy tale perfect, and I don't feel the need to say "Oh, I must accomplish this [or that] before I die!"  I've already checked off every important item on my list.

Marry my high school sweetheart: check.
Become a mother: check.
Become a grandmother: check.

And then there's that item I never thought I'd be able to check off, because it seemed like a pipe dream (and it certainly wasn't necessary as far as making me feel fulfilled).

Write a novel: check.

But riding a horse might just be on my list now.  In the meantime, I'll enjoy the twins when they ride their little wooden one.
"Yee-haw," as my little granddaughters would say.  Now head on over to Clan Donaldson for more animal pictures!