Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Miraculous Medal Saint, The Little Flower, et. al.

I feel a special connection to St. Catherine Laboure, since I've been wearing a Miraculous Medal constantly (even when I sleep, shower, work out, or swim) for the past twenty years or so.  She is the 24-year-old French nun to whom Mary appeared in 1830, the humble human daughter chosen to make sure that the medal was created, according to Our Blessed Mother's exact specifications, in order to spread a special devotion--she is the Miraculous Medal saint.

Last summer, just as I'd finished up the final edits of my Catholic YA novel, Finding Grace, I inherited an authentic relic of St. Catherine Laboure, who is one of the Incorruptibles, which was found among my late maternal grandparents' belongings. (If you're interested in that story, you can find it here in an August 2012 blog post.)  With it came a signed document dated 1955, with a raised seal, identifying the relic as coming ex ossibus (from the bones) of the famous saint--which I guessed, but would not have known for sure without that official paper.
I was blown away when I saw this precious relic, especially because of my devotion to the Miraculous Medal--which I worked into the story of Finding Grace by having my main character, Grace Kelly, wear one always, the way I do.  (When I did the cover artwork for the book, I made sure that Grace's Miraculous Medal was prominently displayed.)

That's not all, though.  There was a second relic in the same little box, right beside this one; and although there was no stamped and signed paperwork to proclaim its validity, it appears to be an authentic relic of St. Therese of Lisieux (the "Little Flower").  It just so happens that I feel a devotion to St. Therese as well!  She talks of the "Little Way to Spiritual Childhood," whereby even the littlest and humblest among us can become saints--by living out our lives with faith in God's plan for us and having a childlike love for Him.  By performing even the littlest tasks assigned to us in our various vocations as if they are prayers.  There are many flowers in God's garden, St. Therese teaches.  We may not all become great saints, but we can become saints nonetheless.  In her words: “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm.  If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” I imagine that sweet, self-effacing, self-sacrificing young nun, who only lived to be 24 and considered herself among the tiniest of the flowers in the garden, would never have believed that she would one day be named a Doctor of the Church.

My airline pilot husband was able to take two trips to Paris while our son was doing a college internship there this summer.  At the end of June, he and our boy did a lot of sightseeing together (and then flew home in the same plane, one in the cockpit and one in business class!), and one of the places they visited was the church where Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Laboure.  (When my husband Face-timed me to tell me about it, I got choked up and felt the sting of tears!  I would have loved to be there with them.)  They were able to take this iPhone photo of the saint's incorrupt body, which lies near the chapel where the apparitions took place.
And here's the chapel, while we're on the subject.
When I told my publisher, Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel books, about these precious saints' relics that had miraculously fallen into my possession literally days before the book went to print, she said that surely I should consider St. Catherine Laboure and St. Therese of Lisieux the patron saints of Finding Grace.  I like to think of them that way.  And my book could use all the help it can get, because although I believe it has a great message for young people, it's not really getting into the hands of many of St. Catherine and St. Therese, pray for me!

My publisher believes that the Catholic homeschooling community is a place where this book would be well-received, and once there, word-of-mouth among satisfied homeschoolers would drive sales.  If only I could figure out the best way to tap into that market!  Can any homeschooling bloggers/blog readers out there give me some advice on this?  (I'd be willing and able to travel--there are perks to being married to a pilot!)

In closing, I thought I'd bring up another almost-saint who appears prominently in Finding Grace: Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati.  (I don't have a relic of him--that's not where this is going.)  If you've never read about him, I urge you to do so.  And if you have teenagers (boys especially), have them learn about him.  He was a modern guy, a regular Joe, a handsome young man who had countless friends, a fun-loving goofball, and an athlete.  He was a normal young man who smoked a pipe and fell in love.  And he will be counted among the saints. His story is fascinating.  (And coincidentally, he died at the age of 24, just like St. Therese.)

I've already had 31 years longer than either St. Therese or Bl. Pier Giorgio did, and I'm not even close.  I pray that by the time I leave this earth I'll get there.  Lord, make me a saint!  I will be the smallest and least beautiful of all the flowers, if only I can live in Your Garden.  In the meantime: St. Catherine Laboure, St. Therese of Lisieux, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for me!  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

A Chip off the Old Block

As if you haven't seen my second grade school portrait enough already (first last Thursday and then yesterday), I'm posting it yet again.

Earlier today when I showed son #2 yesterday's post comparing our childhood pictures to prove our close resemblance, he said, "There's another one of me that looks more like you than that one, remember?  That one's okay--but the other one's better."

Sure enough, I racked my brain trying to think of which picture of him everyone in the fam always thought looked spookily like this second grade picture of me--and then I remembered: it was this one of him and his older brother, from June 1987, when he was almost 2 and 1/2.
That's my boy, a chip off the old block all right!  We've even got matching bangs (although his are neater and more even than mine were!).

We don't look quite as much like twins these days (but maybe we would if my son didn't have all that scruffy facial hair...).
All of you young moms out there, or young moms-to-be (hello, nieces!), or young gals who haven't yet begun the amazing journey that is motherhood, I'll say what I keep saying here on my grammy blog (or perhaps you could call it a "really old mommy blog"): know that you will blink your eyes and your little angels will go and grow up on you.  It's sort of sad...but at the same time, oh so wonderful!  And as much as I miss those smooth-faced little boys in matching plaid shirts and blond bowl cuts, I love the men they've turned into like crazy. Being a mother to grown children (and a grammy to boot!) is just great, it's indescribably fantastic, it''s crazypants, as my daughter-in-law would say.

Monday, July 29, 2013

You Can Always Go Home Again

Today, our second oldest son is moving back in with us--not forever, but for the upcoming school year. When I told my dad this recently, he raised his eyebrows as if to say, "Better you than me!"  The last thing he can imagine is wanting to have an adult child move back home to live with him and my mom.

Maybe that's just because my siblings and I are not nearly as cool and fun as my own boys are.  Because my husband and I are not recoiling in horror at the idea of having this grown child sharing a roof with us--quite the opposite.  We are just thrilled.  Our #2 son has been living in a bachelor apartment (read: disaster area that almost always looks like it's just been hit by a tornado--a tornado that not only scatters clothing all over the place, but leaves piles of dirty dishes with weeks-old decaying food scraps stuck to them piled up high in the sink) for the past two years, while teaching math at a large public high school.  This bachelor apartment he inhabited tended to have that unique odor about it that we folks around here fondly call "the smell of a man," and even multiple air fresheners were not able to totally mask it.  He's been getting along just fine (for a non-neatnik, anyway) up until now, but his car recently died and he wanted to finally buy a brand spanking new one.  On top of that, his rent was going to go up significantly, and he was unsuccessful at finding a roommate to share costs.  So we offered to let him move home for a year to help him get a little bit ahead financially, and although the commute to work will be a good bit longer, he decided to take us up on the offer.

If there's one thing we want all of our boys to know, it's that they CAN go home again.  This house is here when they need it; it's so big and empty that their dad and I are rattling around in it most of the time now anyway.  And we're traveling about so much these days that chances are our boy will be living in this five-bedroom/two-and-a-half-bath Colonial all by himself half the time.  Between his teaching job, his football coaching responsibilities, and his part-time landscaping job, it's not like he's going to be hanging around here all day long asking, "What's for dinner?"  (Actually, making his dinners--and doing his laundry--are two chores I'm going to take on with joy.  This is a one-year situation, I believe, and I'm going to milk it for all it's worth!  I miss having boys to take care of!)

It seems like yesterday that this son, who is now 28, was in kindergarten and looked like this:
Last week, I posted my second grade school picture on this blog, and one of my nieces commented that it looked like my second-born when he was a little guy (wearing a wig, of course).
What do you say, dear readers?  Does that boy look like his mommy?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thoughts on a Sunday

It's day 7 of 7 Posts in 7 Days, and I'm just barely going to make it, folks.

It's been a busy, busy day: first 9 a.m. Mass, followed by a big brunch of eggs, bacon, and homemade to-die-for coffee cake, followed by a couple of hours hanging out with my main man and the Geek Squad at Best Buy (trading in the top-of-the-line Macbook Air he got me for my birthday for a PC laptop which doesn't intimidate me quite so much--and is smaller and lighter than my old one, and has a Windows 8 touch screen, so it's sort of like a Mac in ways), followed by a couple of hours in the kitchen preparing chicken piccata and mashed potatoes for the best birthday present buyer ever and our baby boy, the newly minted paratrooper who just got home from Airborne school yesterday.  Phew! That was quite the run-on sentence.  SoooOOO...

Instead of trying to come up with some scintillating (hah!) or original (not likely!) post, I thought I'd send you over to the blog of author Nancy Carabio Belanger (who wrote the well-loved and successful YA Catholic novels Olivia and the Little Way and Olivia's Gift).
Nancy posted a perfect meditation today on the importance of attending (and staying through until the end of) Sunday Mass, where the "greatest event in humankind" is recreated on the altar, and she expresses herself on the subject better than I ever could.  I was truly inspired by her words today, and I think you will be, too.  (Just click here to read.)

I hope you've had a happy and holy Sunday, and have a great week!  (We'll see if I can continue this daily blogging thing without any breaks, now that I'm finished with Jen Fulwiler's epic blogging challenge...)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

{simple saturday}: Not Too Shabby

I've only got a few minutes to sit at my trusty old laptop today.  A short, sweet, and simple post is what's required, because my husband and I are at another big family gathering in Upstate NY (and what better way to keep it simple than by joining Iris, whose Saturday blog link-up is all about simplicity?).

Earlier in the month we were up here with about 50 members of the Pearl clan; this time, it's my family's turn, and my baby sister and her husband are hosting what has come to be known as the "Palooza."  It involves not just our immediate family, but all of our far-flung cousins on my mother's side as well.

There are tents, pop-up campers, and RV's set up all over the vast grounds of my sister's lakeside house, but my husband and I are staying off-site, about 30 minutes away at his family homestead.  I've talked about this lakeside house many times here at "String of Pearls."  It's where my husband and his seven siblings grew up, and when their parents passed away, they decided to form an LLC and keep the house in the family so that there would always be a place where they could gather under one roof (or technically, two--because his older sister bought the house right next door). So we're driving about a half-hour over to the Palooza in the morning, and then a half-hour back home at night when the party finally dies down. But it's well worth it, when you consider the quality of our digs.  Nothing against camping, but we have a hard time thinking about sleeping on the ground in a tent when we can sleep in a comfy bed in a room with a view like this.
Yesterday, before heading over to my sister's, we brought our morning beverages down to the patio on top of the new sea wall (which the LLC had built this year to shore up the eroding bank).   THIS is what I was gazing at as I drank my morning coffee.
Not too shabby, eh?  (We're practically on the border of Canada here; the "eh's" may start flying, because when in Rome...)  

And now I must go, because my coffee's been poured and the patio--and that VIEW!-- beckons!

(By the way: this is day 6 out of the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge, and I haven't missed one yet!)

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Just Plane Crazy Summer!

My youngest son--this guy--
has earned his Airborne wings.  Hard to believe!  (And can I get a "Hooah!"?)

Last night, he called to say that he'd completed his fifth and final qualifying jump of the week (preceded by two weeks of training down in the equatorial South) and is therefore now officially an Army Airborne paratrooper.  I'm so proud of this boy. But actually, the above photo of him is no longer quite accurate. These days, he looks a little more like this:
Here he is with his dad at the end of June, in Paris.  He'd just completed a six-week college internship, and my airline pilot husband was able to bid a couple of trips over there to meet up with him.  They did a little sightseeing together, including a visit to the church where our Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine Laboure and gave her instructions for having the Miraculous Medal created (more to follow on that--there's a blog post all by itself!).  C'est some vie, huh?  Then dad and son flew home together on the same plane when the internship ended, with dad at the controls up in the cockpit.  (That whole driving your kids all over kingdom come thing doesn't end when they grow up and move out, I guess.) And he was no sooner home from France when he turned around and headed down to Georgia.  I sure missed him this summer!

My son feels extremely blessed to have been given two once-in-a-lifetime opportunities within the space of a single summer vacation.  He is so thrilled to have earned that set of Airborne wings.  It's quite an accomplishment, and he can pin those babies on his uniform with pride.  His mother is happy about all of that, too, but she mostly feels blessed that he is coming home from Airborne school in one piece, healthy and whole.  On the day of the first jump, one of the Airborne students experienced a seizure from unknown causes while he was in mid-air, and he was unconscious when he landed.  He broke his leg on impact and remains in a medically-induced coma, while doctors try to figure out what's causing his illness.  Please keep this poor young man in your prayers.

Meanwhile, I am offering prayers of thanksgiving to St. Michael, the patron saint of paratroopers, for helping my boy to get through the experience without any injuries, illnesses, or mishaps.  My cup overflows, as usual. God is so very, very good!

This is what it looks like when you jump out of a perfectly good airplane...
And now I'm saying prayers of thanks that I didn't have to be there to see my son do it.

(Okay, that's day 5 of the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge!  I'm on a roll!)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Theme Thursday: Askew

I'm doing a dual link-up today: I'm on day 4 of a blogging challenge over at Conversion Diary called  7 Posts in 7 Days, and I thought I'd also jump in on Theme Thursday with Clan Donaldson.  It's my birthday, so I can do that.  Right?

Today's Theme Thursday topic is interesting: askew.  I thought about breaking out my Nikon and trying to photograph something crooked or off-center to post here, because above all this link-up is supposed to be about photography.  But instead of doing that, I'm cheating once again and unearthing some old photos, from way, way back when I was a whole lot younger than I am today.  (I was born in 1958, so you do the math. Young I am not.)

I've always thought grade school pictures were some of the best examples of things that are askew that you'll ever see.  Hair, teeth, and/or clothing are often askew in them.

Here's yours truly in second grade, bangs askew.
And in third grade, teeth askew (chipped and crooked).
My hair is askew again, too, if we're being honest.  I had pin-straight hair 364 days out of the year, but on school picture day, my mother insisted on pulling out the pink sponge rollers and giving me "luxurious" curls.  Oy.

Some of my boys' school pictures rival their momma's.  Here's son #3 in first grade.
With that hair, he's a chip off the old block.

And here's son #4 in second grade.
His hair is impeccable.  But his front teeth are a bit of a mismatch.  (Something's askew here!)

At our boys' Catholic elementary school, they had a picture re-take session, for those parents who didn't think the first shot had come out good enough to justify buying one of the packages, but we never did those. It's the imperfection--the askew-ness--that I love about these photos in the first place.  (We never didn't buy a package.)

We get a good laugh when we look at our little-kid selves, all askew in all our unsophisticated awkwardness. (One of my husband's sisters wants to make a "wall of shame" in their family homestead, where she and her siblings post all their most unattractive school pictures.)  But to me, imperfect images such as these are so endearing and sweet.  They're so REAL.  Because let's face it, we don't walk around ready for our close-ups most of the time.  Usually, there's something slightly askew.

There is with me, anyway.  What about you?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Five Favorites, Volume 5

I'm joining Jen again today, for day 3 of the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge--and while I'm at it, Hallie Grace, too, for the Five Favorites link-up.

Favorite #1
This guy!  He treats me like a queen, always has my back, makes me laugh every day, is the best father five sons could ever ask for...and best of all, he still makes my heart go pitter-pat, after almost 33 years of marriage (preceded by almost 8 years of dating, starting at the tender age of 15).  He is not a cowboy, technically, but he's definitely cowboy-esque. When my college friends met him freshman year, they asked me if he was from out West. And that was decades before he started wearing his signature cowboy hats! No, he was not from out West.  He didn't grow up on a cattle ranch.  He was a small town boy from Upstate NY, but he had a slow-talking drawl and a John Wayne way about him, and that can-do, all-male quality that made a gal feel she would always be safe when he was around. That guy was and is a man of character, a man whose faith runs deep, and I consider myself one lucky lady to have lassoed such a winner.

Favorite #2
This pencil drawing, rendered by my husband for an art class in college.  He was working on it when he visited me at Holy Cross our senior year, during one of his breaks from Notre Dame (HC and ND were never on the same schedule).  A hard-working metallurgical engineer, he finally had some room in his schedule for a few less strenuous electives that year, and he thought a drawing class would be an easy A.  It helped that he did have natural talent.  People usually assume that our sons, who are all rather gifted artistically, got their talent from me.  But I think perhaps it was from their dad.  My husband had done this drawing as a little boy, copying it from an art book about drawing portraits; but that original masterpiece had gotten misplaced.  He decided to try his hand at it again, and he tells me he still thinks the one he did years before was much better.  Hard to believe, because I think this one is excellent.

The photo of my husband in #1 was taken at a reunion of all his childhood buddies that we attended over the weekend, and it showed up on Facebook yesterday.  When he saw it, he made me laugh when he said, "Back when I drew that old, grizzly cowboy, I didn't know I was drawing myself!"  (I suppose there are some similarities...)

Favorite #3
Saint Padre Pio.  He's my special patron saint for 2013, chosen randomly for me by the Saints Name Generator (remember that?). It seems that ever since the two of us were thrown together, definite signs that I need to remember to pray to this powerful saint keep appearing in our mailbox.  I can't count the number of Padre Pio-themed mailings we've been sent.  Just the other day we received this special gift:
Message received, dear saint! I must pray Rosaries, Rosaries, and more Rosaries, and while I'm at it, I should remember to pray to you, my special patron, for intercession as well. On the back of the medal on the Rosary ring, there is a small piece of relic cloth that was touched to one of Padre Pio's belongings in the reliquaries at the Shrine of St. Padre Pio, in the Church of St. John the Baptist in NYC.   I will cherish this Rosary ring, and I'll be sure to bring it with me when I go on my long walks.  (I love taking walks, because I get to exercise my body and soul, all at the same time.)

Favorite #4
Making desserts.  (Followed closely by eating desserts.)  Last night, I was Jones-ing for "a little something," as my husband calls sweet treats, so I decided to whip up a chocolate concoction with some ingredients we had on hand.  We've been out of town a lot lately, so I had to work with what we had available.  I threw an 8 oz. package of cream cheese, along with 1/2 of another already-opened package, into a bowl.  Then I poured a ton of semi-sweet chocolate chips in there (I didn't measure, but it may have been just slightly less than  a ton--about 1 and 1/2 cups, or perhaps 2).  I put the bowl in the microwave and heated it at 50% until the chips were melted, and then I stirred the mixture vigorously with a spoon until it was nice and creamy.  Not knowing if it would be sweet enough, I threw in some sugar (1/2 cup?), about a teaspoon of  vanilla, and then I beat in an egg.  I put this chocolatey goo into a pre-made shortbread pie crust, baked it at 300 for an hour, and IT. WAS. AWESOME!  I'm wishing now that I'd measured all the ingredients so I could duplicate it one day down the road.

The only bad thing about this delectable chocolate pie I made (or chocolate cheesecake--I really don't know what to call it) is that it looked an awful lot like the one Minny made for her nemesis in the movie "The Help."
When I mentioned the resemblance, after my husband had eaten about 1/4 of my pie, I kind of ruined it for him.

(Hey, that leads me to another favorite: The Help.  In book or movie form--both are excellent.) 

Favorite #5
Camp Patton.   Adorable blond cherubs.  Real family life, with all its wonderful chaos and noise.  A young wife and mother whose razor-sharp wit and ability to turn a phrase are unparalleled in the blogosphere (and a husband who provides some wicked amusing one-liners from time to time as well).  Camp Patton is Comedy Central for all of us blog-readers, and we miss it when we click on it in the morning and there isn't a new post up yet.  (No pressure, Grace!)  So head on over to the Camp now and see what's on Grace's mind today.  And while you're at it, you'll find other Favorites lists to peruse.  Tell them I sent ya.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect (Part 2)

It's day 2 of 7 Posts in 7 Days--and so far, so good!

Over the weekend, I got some exciting news: Finding Grace was chosen as one of three finalists in the Young Adult Fiction category for an award called the Catholic Arts & Letters Award (or CALA). I was a bit blown away by the announcement, never believing when I sent in five copies of the book to the contest reviewers that it would make it this far.  The winner will be announced at a Catholic Writers Guild conference in NJ in a couple of  weeks--and it just so happens that I have already signed up to attend the first two days of the event, having been encouraged by both my husband and an author e-friend of mine that I should bust out of my shell of shyness and fear of all things new and just do it. On Sunday, I was laughing with my oldest son about pulling a Zoolander move--you know, preparing a big acceptance speech, jumping up on stage when they announce another author's title, starting to thank everyone...and then having to slink away in shame.  (Like I would EVER let that happen!) Really, though, winning would just be gravy at this point.  Or frosting.  Take your pick.

The news did make me feel like talking about my baby, though, so I thought today I'd give you another peek into  "The Making of Finding Grace."

In the first installment of this series, I told you that like Grace, I lived right in the heart of Plattsburgh, around the corner from the college, and like Irene, my best friend lived out on the lake in Cumberland Head.  My house was an old two-story with a covered front porch (and a front porch swing!) and my best friend's was a one-story modern ranch.  But aside from where we lived and the type of homes we inhabited--and the fact that we had countless giggle-filled sleepovers--the two girls are not like us at all. Not physically or really in any other way.
The old homestead (note the swing at the porch's far right).  I stopped my car when in town recently and
snapped this, hoping the current owners wouldn't come out and think I was some sort of creepy Internet stalker
I do share Grace's shyness and lack of confidence, and the way she feels horrified if she knows she's hurt someone's feelings or put her foot in her mouth.  And like Grace, I was not given a middle name (and neither were my two sisters), and my dad's reasons for giving them to his sons but not his daughters were exactly the same as Jack Kelly's.  That first conversation in Chapter One between Grace and Jack was inspired by several similar discussions I had with my father during my formative years.  Particularly after a nasty run-in with my 6th grade teacher, Sister Juliet, who accused me of lying when I told her "Laura Harding" was my full name. "Everyone has a middle name!" she cried angrily.  (I'd go into the gritty details for you, but the incident left a sting that lingers to this day!  I was accused of being a liar in front of all my classmates. Someday I'll get over it!)*

Finding Grace has a definite pro-life message, and so I wanted to show what the possible consequences are when people react in different ways to a teenage/unwanted pregnancy.  I don't want to give away specific details (because I would love it if you decided to read the book, and if you do, that would spoil the story for you). But recently, I was at a family reunion and one of my sisters-in-law asked me if I'd ever known anyone who had gone through the process of dealing with such situations.  The answer is NO.  Those story lines involving two characters in the book are completely fictional.  Since I'd had no personal experience in that area, I read lots of material on the subject (in publications such as Celebrate Life, American Life League's magazine, and Lay Witness).  I went on-line and read the heartbreaking reflections of women who'd actually gone through such traumas. And then I used my imagination to fill in the blanks.  I worried that because I had no close personal experience or professional expertise on the subject, it wouldn't ring true.  So if it did, I'm extremely grateful.  I prayed a lot while writing those difficult sections.

The one true-life experience that I worked into the teenage pregnancy portion of the book was inspired by something that I'd really been involved with.  When I was in high school, my lawyer godfather asked me to come to the hospital with him twice, when he'd arranged private adoptions for unwed young mothers and needed someone to help him carry the newborns from the nursery to the homes of their adoptive parents.   (Yes, I held that precious cargo in my arms as we drove away from the hospital--because this was the 70's, and infant car seats were a thing of the future.)  One of those babies was a boy with a deep cleft in his miniature chin, and if you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about.

I also prayed a lot when I came to the part of the book dealing with Holocaust victims and survivors. Even after I knew just the story I wanted to write and I'd done lots of research to make the places and dates as accurate as possible, I had about a two-month stretch where I just couldn't sit down and do it.  I was so worried about not dealing with that sensitive material properly.  I'd become fascinated with that dark period during a history class in college and I'd read countless fictional and non-fictional works on the subject, but I still felt nervous about doing that part justice.  The only real-life inspiration I had for the Perlmanns' story was that I remembered my parents saying that a Jewish couple with whom they were friends refused to ride in German-made cars, because they'd lost so many family members in the Holocaust.  That stuck with me over the years, and it was my stepping stone; but everything else about that section is made up (although I did have one of the Perlmann twins afflicted with a club foot, which was inspired by the fact that my mother had been born with one--knowing that such an affliction would have made the girls even more attractive for use in the experiments of the evil Dr. Mengele).  It's sort of eerie that I decided to write identical twin girls into the story, though...because a few years later, long after that part of the book had been written, our oldest son and his wife welcomed identical twin daughters into the world. If I'd been writing that part after their birth, I don't know if I could have made my fictional twins girls.  They probably would have been Abe and Aaron rather than Ruth and Rachel.

So those are some of the true-to-my-own-life inspirations that I tweaked and worked into the story, underlined for your convenience.

When my sister-in-law asked me that question the other day, it made me realize that people must often assume that writers rely on their personal experiences for much of their material. So I'm going to post this meme again, just as a reminder.
So should I continue with this fact versus fiction "Making of" project?  Does this interest anyone at all? Anyone...anyone...?  (Bueller...Bueller...?)

Hey...maybe you should read the book (please oh please oh please) before you answer that question. Right? (Bueller...Bueller...?)

(*Please don't think I'm one of those nun-bashers!  Most of the Sisters who taught me in grade school and high school were lovable and saintly!)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sundresses from the Hundred Acre Wood

Okay, this is it: day one of 7 Posts in 7 Days.  (Thanks, Jen Fulwiler, for making me get off my tush--well, actually ON it, in front of my laptop, every morning for seven days straight.) I've been having trouble with my mojo lately, so this is exactly the sort of challenge I needed to get back to my roots as a daily blogger.

If you read this blog much, you know that I have two-year-old identical twin granddaughters. You also know that I have a third little granddaughter--who as a matter of fact is exactly five months old today! (Little Gal, like your big sisters, you're growing up way too fast!)

I love to sew for my granddaughters.  I did sew for my sons--way, way back in the day, when they would still allow themselves to be seen outside the house sporting little seersucker rompers and elastic-waisted dinosaur-print shorts.  But with boys, the opportunities for sewing die out pretty fast.  Not so with girls.  My mother made my First Communion and prom dresses for me, and nothing would please me more than being able to do the same for these precious little girlies.

The twins are absolutely in love with all things Winnie-the-Pooh, so when I saw some Hundred Acre Wood-inspired cotton fabric at JoAnn's recently, I just had to buy it.  It was way more than I'm usually willing to spend, at $10 a yard; but when I brought it to the register I was surprised to find out that, although I had been willing to pay top dollar, it was 40% off that day.  (Huzzah!)  So for less than $30, I was able to eek out three adorable sundresses, with no more than a few meager scraps left over afterward.

Here's Little Gals' dress:
And I made two just like this for the twins:
I like to add iron-on tags to the garments I make for my sweetie pies (I can't find ones that say "Grammy," but these will have to do):
I also like to add decorative stitches when I can, because I have an awesome sewing machine that can do them (thanks, best husband ever):

If you like to sew and these little beauties are making you itch to stitch up some sundresses for your daughters/granddaughters/nieces, Little Gal's is New Look #A6578 ("easy," proclaims the package) and the twins' is see & sew #3889 ("Yes!  It's easy," proclaims the you see a pattern here?)

(And did you see what I did there?)

My daughter-in-law told me that as soon as they opened the box I sent, the twins wanted to put the dresses right on.  And when they wore them to Mass and were asked who made them, they said, "Grammy did it." (How tickled do you think I was?)   Last night, Papa and I were able to see our darlings sporting their new dresses on Skype.

Pooh said, "Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon"; but I say nobody can be uncheered with granddaughters like these--especially when they're streaking across the computer screen--"the slowest-moving blurs ever," as one of my funny sons put it--in their matching dresses.

Cutest blurs I've ever seen.  I'm cheered every time I see them.

Happy sewing!  And have a great week!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

7 Posts in 7 Days!

Writer/blogger Jen Fulwiler has thrown down the gauntlet: she's challenging bloggers to write 7 Posts in 7 Days--that means every single day, for seven days in a row, starting tomorrow.  This is one of the more interesting blog link-ups I've seen lately.  It's an epic blogging challenge, is it not?  I daresay it will be a bit of a challenge for this here blogger, who once upon a time was so on top of her blog that she had her daily musings posted right about the time the rooster started to crow, meaning her followers (all five of them!) could read them along with their first cup of coffee...but lately, sadly to say, has been playing hooky more often than not.

But that's it--no more slacking!  I mean it.  You've been warned.  (And wish me luck.)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

{simple saturday}: Jeepers Creepers...

...where'd she get those peepers?

Jeepers creepers, where'd she get those eyes?

These are the eyes of one of my two-year-old twin granddaughters, Bonny Babe.  And she got them from the Author of Life, of course.  Because who else could create something so beautiful?

What's even more miraculous than the simple beauty of these "windows of the soul" is that underneath those long dark lashes and behind those sky-blue orbs, there exists a complex system that could never have come about by some random process.  If ever there was an argument for intelligent design, this might be it:

Those baby blues of hers enable her to see the world about her--and maybe most importantly [wink, wink], to recognize her Papa and Grammy when they appear on the computer screen during Skype sessions or come through the front door of her house after a months'-long absence (thank you, God, for the gift of sight!).

There is another pair of eyes in the world that is almost identical to this pair, because Bonny Babe has an identical twin sister, Cutie Pie.  By God's hand, one fertilized egg split and produced two precious human beings; they have an eerie resemblance to one another, but are definitely individuals with their own personalities, likes and dislikes, temperaments, and immortal souls.  They are far from clones.  And while their eyes look similar from the outside, these two little girls see the world through their own unique lenses.

So there it is, pure and simple--some hard proof, if you ask me, of the existence of God: the complex inner workings of the eye, and the miracle of the creation of identical twins.

That's all I've got today, but there's more over at Iris'.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Man Rules

Men are from Mars, and women...well, you know the rest.

The men v. women debate is one that has always interested me.  I've had a lot of opportunities to try to get into the psyche of the male creature, having been surrounded by nothing but men in my house until the oldest of our five sons got married in 2009 and subsequently gave us our first daughter and then three female grandchildren.

Back in 2011, I blogged about the differences between men and women in a post called "Men Are from Mars, Women Love to Talk."  (It's a mildly amusing post, if you haven't read it before and would like to click on the link and check it out.)
Another super hilarious commentary on the differences between the hairier sex and the fairer sex is the YouTube video sensation called "It's not about the nail."  (OMGoodness, watch it if you haven't yet!  Most couples will instantly see themselves in it!  Ladies, your husbands/boyfriends might even say something like, "I can't even laugh.  It's too raw, too true"--as my sister-in-law's husband proclaimed, tongue-in-cheek, when we watched it at the recent Pearl family reunion).

Men really are from Mars, though, aren't they?  They do not have that uncanny ability we gals have to read the minds of others.  They get confused when we skip around between topics without any hint of a segue; they are usually three topics behind and stop us with, "Wait a minute--how did we get on this subject?"   They can't keep up.  I like to say they are simple creatures (and I say this in a slightly envious way, mind you, not a derogatory way--because the complexity of my over-thinking female brain is not something I always love about being a girl).

Yes, we're different.  It's how God made us, and He did so on purpose.  Men and women are equal in value as human beings, with immortal souls, created in the image and likeness of God; but equal doesn't mean exactly alike.  We don't operate the same way, and that's something we can't or shouldn't try to change--and in fact (dare I say it?) it's something that should be celebrated a lot more than it is in our modern world, where it seems there are forces trying to wipe out the very differences between the sexes that make them so complementary, so necessary to one another's physical, emotional, psychological, and intellectual well-being.
I thought I'd share with you today a list that we have laminated and hanging on the side of the bar in our man cave/sports room.  Ladies, if you can laugh at yourselves, you're going to really enjoy these "Man Rules," written by some insightful anonymous Martian.  (Note that all are equal in importance, and therefore each rule is ranked rule #1.)  I posted a few of these rules in "Men Are from Mars, Women Love Shoes" a long time ago, but here is the list in its entirety.

At last a guy has taken the time to write this all down.  Finally, the guys' side of the story.  We always hear "THE RULES" from the female side.  Now, here are the rules from the male side. These are our rules!  Please note: these are all numbered "1."  ON PURPOSE.

1. Men are NOT mind readers.

1. Learn to work the toilet seat.  You're a big girl.  If it's up, put it down.  We need it up, you need it down.  You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

1. Sunday sports--it's like the full moon or the changing of the tides.  Let it be.

1. Crying is blackmail.

1. Ask for what you want.  Let us be clear on this one: subtle hints do not work!  Strong hints do not work!  Obvious hints do not work!  Just say it!

1. Yes and no are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question.

1. Come to us with a problem ONLY if you want help solving it.  That's what we do.  Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.

1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument.  In fact, all comments become null and void after 7 days.

1. If you think you're fat, you probably are.  Don't ask us.

1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the OTHER ONE.

1. You can either ask us to do something or tell us how you want it done.  Not both.  If you already know best how to do it,  just do it yourself.

1. Whenever possible, please say whatever you have to say during commercials.

1. Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we.

1. ALL men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings.  Peach, for example, is a fruit, not a color.  Pumpkin is also a fruit.  We have NO idea what mauve is.

1. If it itches, it WILL be scratched.  We do that.

1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," we will act like nothing's wrong.  We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.

1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, expect an answer you don't want to hear.

1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine...REALLY.

1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball or motor sports.

1. You have enough clothes.

1. You have too many shoes.

1. I am in shape.  ROUND is a shape!

1. Thank you for reading this.  Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight; but did you know men really don't mind that?  It's like camping.

Well, that's all he wrote.  As my granddaughter Cutie Pie would say, "Be end."

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What I'm Reading Wednesday: Father Elijah

I just stumbled across another blog link-up, and although I've been trying to break myself of the habit of relying on them to come up with something to blog about, I just love this one because it has to with one of my all-time favorite subjects: BOOKS.  It's called "What We're Reading Wednesday," and it's hosted by Jessica over at
I've recently begun to try my hand at reviewing books for; so these days I'd much rather talk about what I read than what I wear (I think I may be out of the fashion blogging business, having modeled most of my Sunday best outfits already and feeling that that sort of thing is best left to the younger set out there in the blogosphere), and here's what I'm reading today.
I have never read anything by Michael D. O'Brien before, and 100 pages into this book I can already see that I've been missing out.  What a writer!  This author was recommended to me by Sarah Reinhard (of, and I'm so glad he was.  His prose is perfection, and the subject matter of this book is extremely compelling.  It's not chick lit--it's just plain lit.  I'm pretty sure when I'm finished I'm going to recommend it to my husband. Click on this link to the book's page on Ignatius Press, if you'd like to get an idea of what Father Elijah is all about.  (Have you clicked on there yet?  Doesn't it sound like a great book?)

When I finish reading it, I'll let you know if it lived up to its promise of greatness. Meanwhile, I'll keep reading.  And I'll head over to Jessica's to see what everyone else is reading.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Fun at the Zoo

My husband and I just returned from our latest jaunt out to Colorado to visit with our oldest son, our daughter-in-law, and their three little girls aged two and under.

It's amazing how much being a grandmother has done to cure my lifelong fear of flying. Nowadays, my overriding fear is that I'm going to have to go too long without seeing my little sweetie pies--and if that means I have to two-leg it by airplane halfway across the country time and time again to see them, then by golly, I'm going to do it!

The last time we were out there was around Mother's Day, and already they have changed enormously.  The twins are talking non-stop, in sentences, and practically reading their little storybooks verbatim (which reminds me very much of a two-year-old boy I used to know who looked an awful lot like they do, only with a white-blond Dutch-boy bowl cut instead of the fine, honey-colored mullets of his offspring).  Little Gal is over four months old now, smiling to beat the band and trying to keep up with the conversational skills of her big sisters in her own inimitable way.

Papa and I took a trip to the zoo with our three girlies and their mommy on Friday, and I got some great shots of them making friends with the giraffes.  They were thrilled to pet them and feed them lettuce and crackers. Unfortunately, the giraffes were the first animals on the tour, and pretty much everything else the twins saw afterward paled in comparison.  (I mean, the elephants were awesome and all, but unlike the giraffes, they weren't close enough to touch.)
Cutie Pie (in yellow)
Bonny Babe (in pink)

"Oh, hi!"

As if the giraffe exhibit wasn't enough excitement for two pint-sized animal enthusiasts, Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie also got to go for a train ride.  (That's them in the back of the caboose, wearing the matching pink sun hats Papa and Grammy couldn't resist buying them at the zoo souvenir shop.)
My hubby assured me that our little darlings would be fine, but I was a bit of a wreck inside as we helped them into the seats and then watched the ride operator fasten the ridiculously loose-looking seat belts that were ostensibly going to keep them from panicking and trying to climb out of the train while it was moving.  (This is how my brain works.  It's almost a miracle that my sons aren't a bunch of timid fraidy-cats--and I know they're not.  As you may recall, my youngest son is training to jump out of an Army airplane as we speak.)
The twins looked happy for the first five or six loops around the track, but then Cutie Pie began to cry and kept her head down for the last two (which ripped my heart apart, practically).  But she didn't try to stand up or get out of the caboose, and I was so proud of the way she bore up bravely until the ride was over.

My husband and I put the twins to bed last night, because we knew we weren't going to see them this morning (they're a couple of early birds, but we knew we'd be leaving for the airport well before their normal wake-up time).  We finished up the nighttime routine of stories, prayers, and songs, turned off the light, kissed them each multiple times, and told them we loved them.  As we were leaving the room, they both said "I wuff you," and that about did us in.

My husband and I feel so blessed to have these three precious girls in our lives, and with another son getting married in December, we look forward to adding more grandchildren to our family tree.  What a joy it is to live long enough to see your children's children!  We get sad when we leave them, and wish they were closer so we could spend time with them every day.  But we'll take whatever we can get!  And if we have to go by car or by plane or by train (or by foot!) to see them, that's what we'll do.