Thursday, October 31, 2013

Red Sox Win World Series...Again!

This morning I'll be two-legging it back home from a week-and-a-half-long visit with my oldest son, his wife, and my three sweet little granddaughters.  I'll either be strapped in a seat 30,000 feet above the ground or rushing from one end of a busy airport to the other (and these are just my two very favorite ways to spend a day).  Before I go, though, I thought I'd get something posted--you know, because I've stated that my goal is to blog every day, rain or shine.

So real quick, sports fans (although you've probably heard this news already):

Last night, the Red Sox won their third World Series in 10 years!  Against the Cardinals, in game 6.  And Sweet Holy Caroline, they did it at Fenway!
So much for the storied Babe Ruth Curse.
Take that, Bambino!

I haven't been watching the Sox much in recent years (I let my hubby do most of the watching for me), because I haven't been able to love them like I used to since the retirement of catcher and team captain Jason Varitek.  But they've still got Big Papi.
And once again, they're the best team in baseball.  They're wicked good, those guys.  They are the champions, THEY ARE THE CHAMPIONS...of the WORLD.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What You Should be Reading (If Not Wednesday, Then Some Other Day): My Brother Pier Giorgio, His Last Days

I have become so very fond of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, the future saint who has been called "A Man of the Beatitudes."  Beatified by John Paul II in 1990, he was named the Patron Saint of World Youth Day in 2000.  I'm joining Jessica over at Housewifespice for my favorite link-up, to share the title of a book about him that I absolutely love: My Brother Pier Giorgio, His Last Days by Luciana Frassati.

I haven't read it recently and I'm not reading it today, so I'm cheating I guess.  But I've read this book written by his sister Luciana so many times, it's a good bet that there was at least one Wednesday in the past where it was the one I had my nose in (and said nose was probably running from all the crying I was doing).

If you haven't heard of this extraordinary young man, or if you don't know a whole lot about him, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's life story is utterly fascinating and incredibly inspiring.  This particular book deals only with his final week on earth--with his last days: his "passion" and tragic death at the age of 24.  If you want to read more about him, here is a short article.  Or you could read this biography, also penned by his sister.

I admire this man so much that I had to include him in my novel Finding Grace.  My shy little heroine, who is determined to achieve the goal of sainthood while living in the world, is "introduced" to Pier Giorgio (I won't tell you how--you'll have to read the book to find out!), and she becomes enchanted with him to the point of having a bit of a crush, even though he's been long dead.  After discovering Pier Giorgio in a book about modern saints and reading as much as I could find about him, I can imagine that I, too, might have felt like Grace--if at 15 I hadn't yet met the true man of my dreams: the boy who would become my husband, the boy who made crushes on other males forever a thing of the past for me (and the boy who was my main inspiration for the character of Grace's love interest, Tom Buckley).

I can't recommend this book highly enough.  Not long ago, I wrote a short review about it for Goodreads, which I've copied here.  If you do read it, I'd be interested to know if it affects you as deeply as it affected me.


's review
Sep 18, 13                                                
It's almost impossible for me to put into words how inspiring this book is. Luciana Frassati's memoir about her brother's last week on earth--when he lay dying of polio at the age of 24, surrounded by his unwitting loved ones in his family home, quietly suffering until the bitter end so as not to divert the attention from his elderly grandmother, who was also dying--is one of the most moving and affecting tributes it has ever been my privilege to read.

I was first introduced to Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925), a perfect model of Christian faith, hope, and charity if there ever was one, when I read a couple of pages about him in a book about modern saints called Faces of Holiness. Something about his story--and his handsome face with its engaging smile--spoke to me, and I wanted to learn all I could about him.

My Brother Pier Giorgio, His Last Days is the first complete book I ever read about this future saint, who was named a Blessed by Pope John Paul II and is considered a patron of young adults (although I went on to read a biography, also penned by his sister, titled A Man of the Beatitudes). I devoured it in one sitting. And not long afterward, I re-read it. Then I re-read it, and for good measure, I re-read it once again...I truly don't know how many times I've read this beautiful book at this point. It's a slim volume, and a quick read; but so much holiness, self-sacrifice, and love are packed in its pages.

This book will inspire you to become a saint, and it will show you that you can be an "average Joe" like this young Italian man was--an athletic mountain climber, a jokester with countless friends, a student who struggled academically, a son who was misunderstood and underappreciated by his family, a man in love who had to renounce the woman of his dreams because his parents didn't approve of her--and yet, you can make the kind of heroic sacrifices in your daily life that will put you on the path to Heaven. You can love God and revere the Blessed Mother. You can treat the poor and the sick with true Christian charity.

It has been said of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that he always carried a Rosary in his pocket, and that people were moved to imitate him just by seeing the joy on his face when he prayed. I know that I, for one, have been moved by him. And this heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting, story of his last days is well worth your time--whether you're a Catholic or not.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Office Space

I'm not referring to the laugh-out-loud movie here--you know, the one that has a bit of a cult following among the younger generation.  (The one that I've only seen in the cleaned-up version on TV, and might not have enjoyed quite as much in all its R-rated naughtiness had I seen it at the theater when it first came out.)
Well, that was fun (or possibly confusing, if you haven't seen "Office Space"--although most of the bloggers/blog readers I know of are members of the "younger generation" of which I spoke above).  But it wasn't my intention to do a movie review or anything remotely like that today.  I really just wanted to show you how I turned some wasted space behind the couch in our family room into a mini-office for my husband.

For many years, he toiled away at the massive piles of bills and paperwork he must constantly deal with in our finished basement, where we have an office area equipped with filing cabinets, two desks arranged in an L-shape, a desktop computer, a printer, and just about anything a person might need to stay on task.  We also had a classroom set up down there on one side of the basement for the five years that we homeschooled our youngest son, and a TV that our boys used mostly for playing video games.   But as the years went on, and we converted the attached two-car garage just a few steps away from our kitchen into a comfy man cave/sports room with a giant flat-screen TV, my husband started doing less and less of his paperwork down there.  Instead, he worked at a laptop either on the coffee table in front of the couch in the family room or on the oversized ottoman in front of the couch in the man cave (since he could multi-task from either of these stations, and watch TV while slogging through those piles of paper).  I was okay with this set-up for quite a while, but then I just got sick and tired of always having to move the piles whenever the surface of his makeshift "desk" was needed for some other activity.  Plus, he acquired a new, relatively portable Apple desktop computer that he was carting to and fro, which wasn't ideal.

What we needed, I thought, was a small office on the main floor of the house.  That way my husband could be where the action was while he worked, instead of holed up in the "dungeon" for hours on end.  But where in the world could we put one?

It suddenly occurred to me that although I love our cozy family room, there has always been a large empty space behind the couch, because we've always kept it pulled up closer to the TV-watching area of the room.  This space has come in handy for displaying our oversized Nativity set (on a folding eight-foot-long table) at Christmastime, but otherwise serves no real purpose.  Perhaps I could turn that wasted space into an office space?  (I'm not on Pinterest; but for those of you who are, things are about to get very Pinteresting.  Maybe.)

The first thing I did was angle the couch, so that there would be a little more room behind it (and this turned out to be a win-win, because not only did it create more office space, but it gave anyone sitting on the couch a better view of the TV.   (The couch has always been the least favorite place to park oneself in this room, when we're watching a game or a movie, although it has proven to be quite useful for napping.)
The next thing I did was take a trip over to Home Goods to see if I could find a narrow table that would be the right height to use as a desk back there, and I did--for less than $80.  It's got a bottom tier, too, which is a handy place to keep the printer.
Isn't this the cutest little office you ever did see?

We ended up making a second trip to Home Goods to find another little table to give my husband more storage/filing space, and we found the perfect piece, again for less than $80 (boy, if you need something for your home--be it furniture, rugs, dishes, knickknacks, or what-have-you--this place always seems to have the goods).  See it on the left?  Is it not adorable?  And it's got a slot on one side for an "in box" and a slot on the other for an "out box," to hold all the paperwork that's been dealt with and is ready to take down to the basement and file.
I love that this secret little office is out of the way, and that from this angle you can hardly tell what's happening behind that red leather sofa.  And now the coffee table is free to hold plates, cups, books, and whatnot.

The best part about the new office space, though, is that here's the view of the TV from the work area.

Okay, perhaps I'm a little too proud of our new miniature office.  I'm sure Pinterest has about a million better ideas to offer, but I just love what we've done here.

Is there anything more satisfying than figuring out how to turn a chunk of wasted square footage in your home into a useful space, and spending less than $200 to get to get it done?   It only took us about 22 years to figure out how to do that in this room!  But necessity is the mother of invention.  Or so I've heard.

Monday, October 28, 2013

What My Little Sweeties Wore Sunday

I told you yesterday that I would try to get back to blogging daily, so here I am again!  And I warned you that although I've been a bit too link-happy lately, I was planning to write up a "What I Wore Sunday" post, and here it is.  (I can't give up the link-ups cold turkey, you know.)
When I saw the ensembles sported by my two-year-old twin granddaughters on Sunday morning, I knew I would have to share them.  Maybe it's because as a mommy, I had a houseful of boys--and no little girls with whom to play dress-up; but I just can't think of a cuter sight than wee lasses in white ankle socks and black Mary Jane's (which is exactly what any daughter of mine would have had to wear until she got old enough to drive to the mall and buy her own shoes).  And that's just what Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie were wearing on their way to church, where they were going to "see Jesus."  (They are angels as well as geniuses.)
Oh my gosh, is there anything more adorable than those little feet?

The dresses the twins wore were exactly alike--but not as identical as they are, because although the flowered frocks were the same style, they were different colors.  And they were tea length, which made the girls look so sweetly old-fashioned.
Adding little white cardigans just made the whole get-up that much more unbearably adorable.  Not to mention adding an armful of soft stuffed animal friends.
I stayed home and watched Little Gal (an eight-month-old sweetie with two bottom teeth who does nothing but smile and coo) while the twins went to Mass with their parents.  My husband and I had attended a special anticipated Mass celebrated in a huge heated tent on the grounds of the Air Force Academy the night before, just after the Notre Dame-Air Force game ended.  (We beat the Falcons 45-10, by the way.)  We had the Notre Dame Club of Colorado Springs to thank for providing the Mass, which turned out to be very helpful to my husband, who had to spend most of the day Sunday traveling back home from CO so that he could get back to work today.  He would have made sure to get to Mass regardless (only in the direst of circumstances would he ever resort to using the "traveler's dispensation" to miss his Sunday obligation), but it made things a lot easier for him.

So I didn't dress up for Mass this week.  I wore the same clothes to the after-game Mass that I'd worn to the football game.  Here I am with my daughter-in-law, just before we started our pre-game tailgater.  We were both looking pretty rah-rah Notre Dame, don't you think?  (My hair is hiding the navy blue shamrock appliqued on my jacket, with "ND" embroidered in the middle of it in gold.)
The Mass in the tent, surrounded by hundreds of other Notre Dame fans, proved to be a very moving experience for me--which surprised me, because I am seldom moved by outdoor Masses and much prefer celebrating Christ's Sacrifice and receiving the Holy Eucharist inside a church.  But twice, my eyes filled with tears.

But that's a subject for another post (and if I'm going to keep trying to blog daily, I need to conserve some ideas for another day, right?).

Okay, now head on over to FLAP and check out what the better-dressed bloggers were wearing yesterday.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Blogging from the Heart

When I was a newbie blogger back in March of 2011, I was so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  My head was constantly filled with subjects I thought would be fun and interesting to write about, and I routinely had a week's worth or so of  blog topics all lined up and ready to go at any given moment.  I knew I had almost no regular followers, aside from my husband, one of my sons, and a smattering of relatives--but I didn't mind that at all.  Comments?  What are those?  100 people checked out my post today?  Break out the champagne--it's a new high!  I knew String of Pearls would never become a super-blog, but I didn't care.  I just enjoyed the process of trying to fashion an essay every morning that might resonate with my loyal posse or with anyone who might happen to stumble upon it on their journey through the world wide web.  I used to pop awake in the morning raring to go, like a little kid who remembered she had a  brand new toy to play with.  I would put on my coffee (first things first, of course) and I'd sit down in front of my laptop almost giddy with excitement.  If I hadn't posted anything by about 9:00 a.m. at the latest, I'd feel like a slacker.

Like I said, I knew almost no one was reading my blog--that in some ways it was the proverbial face that only a mother (or a ridiculously supportive hubby) could love--but still, blogging filled some sort of need in me that I didn't even realize I had.  I know a lot of people who say they feel just awful if they miss their daily work-out and it sort of ruins their day (and I've tried to be one of those people, but I've found that there are many days when I decide not to exercise and I feel really, really happy about it); well, that's kind of the way I feel about blogging.  When I haven't been keeping up with my String of Pearls daily, I feel a little sluggish and out of sorts.  (My husband, my daughter-in-law, and my baby sister have told me that they kind of feel that way, too, when they stop by the old blogeroo and see nothing new posted.)

I've had plenty of legitimate excuses for missing days recently (like the months of almost constant travel  my husband and I have been doing as of late, to visit with our beloved kids and grandkids and to cheer on our beloved Irish), but I still feel lousy.   I've missed more days of blogging this month than during any other single month in the 32 months I've had this blog: 10 days already.  This just will not do.  So here it is, post #850 (Yikes, 850!  You must be bored by now!): a post about why I haven't been writing enough blog posts lately!

Most of the best bloggers (the ones who actually have hundreds or thousands of followers and make an impact on the lives of countless faithful readers) say that you should try to post something every single day.  I agree--and I've really tried to do that, up until recently.   Most of the best bloggers also either host or participate in blog link-ups with other bloggers.  And that's where I think I got myself into trouble.  After I started linking up with much more well-known bloggers, I found myself trying to come up with posts to fit a certain theme instead of just writing whatever was on my mind.  I caught myself comparing my blog to others' and finding it wanting, and that would kill off a lot of my creativity and motivation.  I became too interested in checking--multiple times throughout the day--to see if more people were stopping by String of Pearls than usual on link-up days, and to see if anyone new had left a comment.  It became almost like a little addiction for me.  And I started to lose the joy I'd started out with at the beginning, when I was really writing mostly for myself.  When I was finding my "voice" as a blogger.  
That's not to say that I haven't enjoyed linking up with fellow bloggers or that I will never join a link-up again.  I really like being involved in Housewifespice's "What We're Reading Wednesday," because if there's one topic I love to talk about, it's reading.  I look forward to the book recommendations I find there and I appreciate having the opportunity to promote the works of some wonderful author e-friends I've "met" on-line (and knowing that through the link-up, more potential  readers/consumers will be reached).  I also plan to join the fine ladies at Fine Linen and Purple this week for an installment of "What I Wore Sunday"--something I haven't done in a dog's age--because when I saw the outfits my two-year-old twin granddaughters had on for Mass this morning, I decided that such cuteness must be shared.  So look for that fashion extravaganza tomorrow.

Okay then, I have set a goal for myself: to become a daily blogger once again--to write from my heart, without any concern about stats or comments or becoming a household name.  To get back to my roots and blog for the sheer joy of it.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Theme Thursday: W


I thought I'd link up with Cari over at Clan Donaldson today, to pay tribute to the wonderful letter W.
Papa was reading an alphabet book to our twin granddaughters this morning, and did you know that W is for wiggly worm (and that he had two such creatures sitting on his lap at the time, too)?
W is also for wise (beyond their years), which describes my little angels, who've known all the letters of the alphabet for ages already, and they aren't even two-and-a-half yet!  (So W is for WOW!!, as well!)
Now head on over to Cari's, where I'm sure you'll find plenty of wicked wacky W-themed posts today.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 22: A Red-Letter Date

My oldest son was born yesterday.
I'm sorry; that was misleading.  He wasn't born yesterday in the literal sense (and I didn't mean to imply that he's a gullible naif, either); he was born on yesterday's date...thirty years ago

That's right: the little newborn peanut sleeping peacefully on his exhausted mama's chest in the above grainy, pre-digital-age snapshot is now a thirty-year-old husband and father to three daughters of his own.  Have thirty years really passed since 1983?  It truly seems like only yesterday.  And no matter how old he gets, there will always be a part of me that sees him as that newborn baby boy who first made me a mother and changed my life, in every possible way, for the better.

My husband and I went out to Notre Dame last weekend for the ND v. USC game, and afterward we flew with our youngest son (who is a junior there and has his fall break this week) out to CO to spend some time with our firstborn, his lovely wife, and our three beloved granddaughters.  (As they would say, "We love them BI-I-I-S much!")  And then we're going to catch the ND v. Air Force game this coming Saturday, since the AF Academy is conveniently located right around the corner from our son's home.  Back-to-back Notre Dame football games, with a week of Papa and Grammy bliss sandwiched in-between: it doesn't get much better than that!

En route to CO on Sunday, we encountered some problems getting out of Indianapolis, where we'd driven after our ND weekend to meet up with our #4 son, who was stopping at an Army base there to take care of a bit of admin on his way back from his six-month deployment in Afghanistan.  We had dinner with him Sunday night and he shared a hotel room with us, and then we parted Monday morning because we were flying west to CO and he was flying back down to his home in VA.  But we always fly stand-by (which you know if you visit here often), and every flight out of Indianapolis was overbooked for most of the day.  (Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos had just been in town to play Manning's old team, the Colts--which may have had something to do with it!)  So we got stuck and couldn't get a flight out until after 7:00 p.m.  But then we heard from our returning hero, and his first flight was delayed until about 7:00 p.m. as well, so we were able to meet up with him again and spend the whole day hanging out with him in the Indianapolis airport, which was a bonus.  I'm convinced that our delay on Monday was all in God's plan, so that we could spend some extra time visiting with our fourth son.

We finally made it to Detroit, and then caught a late flight to Minn-St. Paul, where we spent the night.  Then yesterday morning we flew to Denver, got a rental car, and drove the rest of the way to CO Springs.  Phew!  Mission accomplished.  (Every trip these days feels like that Steve Martin-John Candy movie "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"!)
I meant to blog yesterday, in honor of the birthday boy, but I was just completely wiped out from all that jet-setting.  So I thought I'd honor him today, and while I'm at it tell you that my husband's older sister (who happens to be the godmother of our oldest son) became a grandmother for the first time yesterday.  Her firstborn, a daughter who was named after me, gave birth to a baby girl--on the very same date that I gave birth to my first child oh-so-many years ago.  My husband commented on how special it was that the two Laura's became new mothers on October 22, albeit three decades apart.  This niece was also born on a special date in the history of my love story with my husband: she was born on the anniversary of "Will you go with me?"--which I blogged about once before, if you're at all interested in checking that out.   And best of all, our niece and her husband named the baby after her beloved grandmother, my husband's late mother.  Needless to say, the whole Pearl family was touched and teary-eyed hearing that this sweet newborn baby girl would have the honor of sharing a name with Grandma--a woman responsible for rearing a pretty incredible string of Pearls who have all kept their Catholic Faith and gone on to have large and loving families of their own.

There are so many blessings abounding in our family these days, especially when it comes to our children and their cousins.  There's so much to be proud of, so much to be happy about.  Birthdays, weddings, engagements, career successes, military accomplishments, new babies...I said it the other day, but I'll say it again:
I usually try to link up with Jessica over at Housewifespice for What We're Reading Wednesday, but all I've been reading today is Goodnight Moon and Sandra Boynton board books (not that those aren't terrific in their own way!).  Maybe I'll join the link-up again next week.  But for now, I must go--the twins will be awake soon, and then it's play time!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Back in the USA!

We've been out of town and out of Internet service for a couple of days, in case you're wondering why I'm such a slacker when it comes to keeping up with this blog.

But today, I've got WiFi--and I'm glad, because I've got happy news to report.

Six months ago, my #4 son (an Army Reservist and also a civilian contractor who works in the field of military intelligence) left for Afghanistan, and at the time it seemed that he would be gone forever.  I wrote a post about him shortly after he'd left, which you can read here if you're new to this site (or if you'd like to give that post a look-see again--and it's worth it, if only to get a glimpse of his utterly adorable first grade picture).

Yesterday, our boy was finally on US soil once again, thank the Lord.  And last night, we were able to meet up with him at a base in Indiana.  It just so happens that we were out at Notre Dame with our youngest son for the ND-USC game on Saturday (and in spite of losing quarterback Tommy Rees to injury in the second half, ND hung on to win it 14-10--woo hoo!), and we only had to drive about four hours on Sunday to welcome son #4 back to the land of the free and the home of the brave. 

Here's a picture of our brave returning hero with his dad and baby brother.
He didn't cut his hair for the whole do you think he was over there in his role as an Army lieutenant or as a contractor?

He's already been accused of looking like Ashton Kucher with this new do, and this is most decidedly NOT a compliment in his book--so it's a sure bet he'll be cutting those luxurious locks off toot sweet--if you'll excuse my French.  (Or at least by the time he has to drill with the Army in a couple of weeks!)

Today, my boy--a hero of whom we are very, very proud--flies down to VA, where his "fam" as he calls them (his devoted girlfriend and equally devoted dog) eagerly await his arrival.  They had a tough separation back in April.
It should be quite a reunion.

For all of you who've been praying for him, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Now my husband, son #5, and I are off to CO to visit with son #1, who turns the big 3-0 tomorrow--yikes, I'm the mother of a thirty-year-old!  Our youngest boy is planning to spend his college break this week playing with his nieces and becoming their favorite uncle (because, yes, everything in our family is a competition!).

Have a great week, and hopefully I'll be checking in more often.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Happy Feast Day, St. Hedwig (a Day Late!)

Yesterday was the feast of St. Hedwig.  I didn't realize this until I was sitting with my husband in the pew before Mass started and I opened up my October edition of Magnificat to get prepared.  Here is what Magnificat reports about St. Hedwig (a saint with whom you may be familiar, but with whom I was not, I must admit, before yesterday morning):

Saint Hedwig was born in Bavaria around the year 1174.  She married a prince of Silesia and they had seven children.  She led a most devoted life, looking after the poor and the sick, and founding hospitals for them.  When her husband died, she entered the monastery of Trebnitz and died there in 1243.
I always like to read about women saints who were married and had lots of children, because it helps me to believe that no matter what your station in life (whether you're living "out in the world" or you're cloistered in a convent), sainthood is indeed achievable.  It helps me to believe that it is possible (not easy, but possible) to be in the world but not of the world--even if you're married to a prince.   Although Hedwig did live the later years of her life--after she was widowed in 1238--as a religious, for the better part of her time on earth her vocation was wife and mother. That's good news for regular folks like you and me who are living ordinary lives while striving to reach that glorious goal.
Of course, while raising seven children of her own, St. Hedwig was also founding hospitals for the poor and the sick...which is more than I have ever done or will ever do.  So I may have quite a long way to go before I cross the finish line...

St. Hedwig, pray for me!

Thinking about this saint with her unusual name got me to thinking about Hedy Lamarr, an actress who was known as the "Most Beautiful Woman in Films" during Hollywood's Golden Age, and wondering if Hedwig was perhaps her real name. (I remember my dad telling me that as a young movie-goer in the 40's, he had a boyhood crush on the raven-haired beauty.)   Sure enough, she was christened Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler when she was born in Vienna, Austria in 1914.*
It appears that even when you pick a saint's name for your daughter that isn't all that appealing on the surface (sorry, St. Hedwig--but yours, with its hard edges, isn't very melodious-sounding), you can come up with a nickname that is incredibly cute.  A granddaughter called Hedy?  Bring it on.  [Insert smiley face emoticon here.]

*Thanks, Google!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What We're Reading Wednesday: Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect (Part 3)

I've been so busy the past few days (so, sew busy--making three matching satin flower girl dresses for my middle son's upcoming wedding...but more about that another time).  I haven't been blogging, you might have noticed, or even reading other more productive bloggers' blogs.  I've just been hunched over my trusty Sears Kenmore sewing machine, stitching and zig-zagging to beat the band, or standing at my ironing board, tirelessly pressing seams flat; but I'm finished now, and happy with the results of my labors--and I'm in the mood to write.

And what better way to jump back into the blogging fray than linking up with my fellow book lovers over at Housewifespice, where you can go and see what everyone's reading today?  There is no better way, obviously.  Sometimes you find out all about some tomes you never even heard of before, so WWRW is a great place to discover noteworthy titles that you might not otherwise come across in your travels through Barnes & Noble.
I am actually working on way too many books at once this Wednesday, as you can see...
I'm only reading snippets of this and snippets of that, because like I said, I've been a sewing ninja lately.  But I recently finished Michelle Buckman's Death Panels: A Novel of Life, Liberty, and Faith, which I told you about here at the link-up last Wednesday.  It was good, but it didn't affect me nearly as strongly as some other books with similar themes have done in the past, books like Brave New World, 1984, The Lord of the World (by Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, published in 1907)--and even Glenn Beck's fairly recent Agenda 21.  Maybe it's because the themes treated here have been done so well so many times already, or maybe it's because there is so much non-fictional horror taking place routinely in our modern world, that fictional accounts such as Death Panels no longer have the power to shock a reader like me.  Don't get me wrong: it's a well-written book and it outlines the tragic consequences in store for people who live under a tyrannical government with unlimited power in a world where the culture of death mindset is firmly entrenched.  It's a pretty terrifying look at what might be not that far down the road for our nation if we're not careful.  But it's also an uplifting look at the way good people can rise up to stop this kind of madness.  However, I still prefer the aforementioned futuristic tales--although you might read this one and think it does Brave New World and the like one better.

I'm still working my way through Henri Gheon's  The Truth about Therese: An Unflinching Look at Lisieux, the Little Flower, and the Little Way, a book I started quite a while ago.  It's a great book so far, and not a long one; but I seem to keep putting that one down and getting myself all wrapped up in others.  I am determined to finish it ASAP so that I can tell you what I think.  In this book, one is supposed to find the "real Therese, beneath the sugar roses and puffy clouds, behind the platitudes and pet-names that took all the salt out of her heroic story."  The author set out to reveal the "heroic grandeur" that lay behind her smile and all the "pretty-pretties," to show us the true reason she was canonized.  I am anxious to finish the book so that I can become better acquainted with this amazing saint, who died at 24 but has the distinction of being a Doctor of the Church.

I am also reading a book by one of my author e-friends, Victoria Carmichael.  I did a review of her sweet novel All the Blue of Heaven (which I  mentioned here at the link-up a while back), and since then we have been in touch back-and-forth on Facebook.  I ended up sending her a copy of Finding Grace for review, and just recently my husband and I returned from a week-long trip and--lo and behold--there was a package from her in our built-up stack of mail containing a copy of her novel Season of Hope.  When I wrote to thank her and ask her why she'd sent it, she said she'd received her box of author copies from the publisher and she thought of me, so it was just "for fun"!  (I continue to be amazed by the generosity of the authors I've "met"--both on-line and in the flesh--since FG came out.)  Season of Hope was published by Harlequin, and let me tell you right now that I have avoided that H-word my entire reading life, because I am a book snob of the highest order (I've avoided Danielle Steele and Stephanie Meyer with equal determination).  But it is well-written, without a speck of inappropriateness, and there is not one character in it who even remotely resembles Fabio--and I must say that I am enjoying it.  I liken it to a well-acted light romantic comedy at the movies--a PG one; it might not win the Academy Award, but it makes you leave the theater with a smile on your face.  This title is one in a series called "Love Inspired," and it is indeed quite inspirational and filled with Christian messages.  The characters are routinely shown praying to God for guidance and help--which is something I never thought I'd find in a Harlequin romance.  So shame on me for judging books by their covers.  Carmichael has another title in the "Love Inspired" series called Season of Joy, and I just might have to pick myself up a copy.  Oh, and she's also penned a novel called Purple Like the West, which has Catholic characters in it.  I might have to give that one a look-see as well.

My friend Victoria (who also writes under the pen name Mary Jane Hathaway) is quite a prolific author.  I can't imagine writing even one more book right this minute, much less multiple books.  I have some loose ideas for a sequel to Finding Grace, but so far I just can't bring myself to put in the kind of time and effort I know it will take to complete a gargantuan task such as that.  (For some talented people, writing a new book probably isn't a gargantuan undertaking; but for me, sadly, it is.)

Finally, another special author friend, Amy Bennett (the first person who left a great review on my Amazon page--that is, the first person who was not a family member or a friend, or who hadn't been asked by me to consider doing a review of my book), just did a book exchange with me and sent a signed copy of her new suspense novel End of the Road.  I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into it, and to post a review on her Amazon page.


Okay, gang, this is a long (seemingly endless?) post already.  But I'm going to finish it up with installment #3 in the "Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect" series, wherein I give you the low-down on which elements of Finding Grace are just the teensiest bit autobiographical and which ones are completely fictitious (you can read installments  #1 and #2 here and here, if you're interested).  Recently, my husband and I were in our hometown for the funeral of his uncle, and we ran into our high school biology teacher (a woman I admired, and upon whom Grace Kelly's Latin teacher is very loosely based).  She told my husband that she'd seen my mother not long ago and that my mother had told her that my book is our story--as in the story of my husband and me and our high school romance.  Now, I don't want to give any spoilers for those of you who haven't read FG and might do so one day (fingers crossed!); but Grace Kelly and Tom Buckley's story is a far, far cry from ours.  My mother is not a liar; but as my husband told our old bio teacher, "If that's what she said, then she hasn't read it."  (I'm pretty sure this is the case, actually.)
I admit that when I set out to fashion a love interest for my heroine, I couldn't help but create a boy who resembled the one with whom I fell in love at the tender age of 15 and who has been my husband for going on 33 years now.  He's always been the only man for me, and therefore obviously my main character would be drawn to the same type!  So Tom Buckley is tall, handsome, athletic, smart, kind, funny, a good son, a devout Catholic--and he has a large space between his two front teeth.  These are all attributes he shares with my husband, who was my high school sweetheart.  Tom is patient, spending hours teaching athletically-challenged Grace how to ski; my husband did this for me when we were dating.  Tom is the high school class valedictorian; so was my husband (and the quotes from Tom's valedictory speech were taken from my husband's actual speech, with his permission).  But even with all of those similarities, as I got into the writing process Tom became a completely unique person to me (as did every other character who started out resembling someone I really knew).  And Tom is the baby in a family of 4 boys, unlike my husband, who is the second oldest in a family of 8 kids.
I wish I was more like my sweet little Grace Kelly, but trust me, I am not that good!  We do share some qualities: like Grace, I'm a bit klutzy and tend to spill things, I worry about saying the wrong thing and hurting someone's feelings, I suffer from a sometimes crippling lack of self-confidence, and I desperately want to figure out how to become a saint; but although I did grow up in an old house around the corner from the university campus in Plattsburgh, I didn't grow up with 5 older brothers.  Those 5 handsome, smart, athletic, momma-loving Kelly boys are loosely based on my own beloved sons.  And Grace's mother's tendency to favor the boys over Grace is based on a fear I used to have that, because I loved my sons so fiercely (and of course, boys was all I knew), if I'd had a daughter I might not feel the same way about her.  Having three granddaughters has set my mind at ease about that (oh, has it ever!), but when I wrote about Peggy, that's what I drew from.

There are a lot of people, incidents, and conversations in FG that were inspired by real life but were tweaked to fit my story.  After I'd been writing the book for about 3 years or so, I bought a copy of Jon Spence's Becoming Jane Austen, which I found on the Barnes & Noble clearance shelf.  Here are a couple of quotes from this incredible book that just jumped out at me, because--at the risk of putting my humble self in the same sentence with a literary giant like Austen--I thought, "Yes!  That's it!  That's what I'm doing here!"

"Jane wrote her early pieces for the amusement of her family and friends, and she put in shared jokes, teasing jibes, and allusions to real events in their lives."

"Austen is never autobiographical in the crude sense of recording what happened to her or to people she knew.  But a real situation was sometimes her starting point and developed in her imagination as something quite separate from the 'real'."

Case in point: on the day of my high school junior prom, I went over to the gym in the morning to help with last-minute decorations, and I fell backwards off a ladder.  I blacked out for just a moment, and I was left with a painful egg on the back of my head.  So Grace and I both attended our proms with eggs on our noggins, escorted by handsome gap-toothed dates.  But Grace never fell off a ladder--and if you want to know how she bumped her head, you'll have to read the book.  [Wink, wink.]
And with that little teaser, I think I'll sign off...finally, right?

Now head on over to Jessica's, if you haven't already.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Welcome, Baby Girl

Yesterday, our niece gave birth to a beautiful new baby girl.  My husband's younger brother became a Papa and our sister-in-law became a Moomee, and they are, to quote the newly-minted grandma, absolutely "over the moon." They raised four beautiful, talented, and exceptional daughters of their own, and now their oldest baby has become a mommy.

Our niece is a mother!  Her life is forever changed, and she's about to embark on the most amazing ride of her life.  In honor of this blessed event, here is a quote from dear St. Therese of Lisieux.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl with the biggest blue eyes you've ever seen and the sweetest smile on earth, a little girl who smiled her shy smile at you with her head dipped to one side in a way that was heart-melting.  That little girl grew up to be an extraordinary young woman, and she married her very own Prince Charming.  With the addition of this new life, this new little girl they've brought into the world (a princess, to be sure!), this wonderful couple has created a family--they have created their own little domestic Church. May God continue to bless them, and may they all live happily ever after!  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Aprons: They're Not Just for June Cleaver Anymore

I'm feeling a little Saturday morning re-run coming on again (oh, the laziness!).  Actually, I'm not just trying to avoid the work of writing up a new blog post.  No, that's not it.  Truly, I was inspired to re-post a little essay (first published on this here blog a little over a year ago) after being inspired by an on-line National Catholic Register article I just read.  Written by Jen Fulwiler, who blogs at Conversion Diary, it's called "The Apron: The Ultimate Symbol of a Culture of Life."  This article is both funny and thought-provoking, if you want to check it out.

Apparently, my apron wearing served an even higher purpose than I'd realized.  And I can't tell you how glad I am that the younger generation is finally starting to see what this old grammy has known for years now: THE APRON NEEDS TO MAKE A COMEBACK!  So without further ado, here is my very own paean to the most useful and necessary article of clothing in my wardrobe.  It is not nearly as awesome and profound as Fulwiler's musings on a wardrobe accessory that went out of vogue with the demise of 50's TV sitcoms and pretty much screams "vintage," but it's sort of cute.  (I think.)


Thursday, June 7, 2012

An Ode to My Apron

I thought this vintage Good Housekeeping cover had my name written all over it (that is, if you substitute the pie crust and rolling pin for a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough and a big spoon), because there are two things that I really, really love to do: bake, and wear an apron.

Actually, let me qualify that statement.  I do love to bake, but I don't love to wear an apron; I only wear one because if I didn't, every article of clothing I own would be stained beyond redemption by this point.  Although I consider myself a fairly neat person, I am a fairly messy cook.  I tend to spill things, tip things over, and splatter myself with grease.  I am truly impressed by anyone who can cook without an apron and not end up wearing half the ingredients on her shirt.

My second son is quite amused by the whole apron thing, which I don't understand.  He says I'm always wearing one--even when I sleep!  Not true. I definitely take it off at bedtime. But I do spend more time sporting an apron than most gals, probably; because even standing at the sink washing dishes without one is bad news for my clothes, so pretty much any time I set foot in my kitchen, I strap one on.  Son #2 and his girlfriend came to our house for dinner recently, and when she offered to make the salad, he asked me to get her an apron first. Gullible me--I thought she'd requested it.  I thought she was a fellow apron fanatic.  I realize now that he just made her wear it for his own amusement.

Son, what's so funny about an apron?  Heck, back in the day, most women wore aprons when they were working in the kitchen.  June Cleaver, for instance, wouldn't have dreamed of cooking without one.  Of course, June wore a dress, high heels, and pearls when she was making dinner for Ward, Wally, and the Beave, so she had a fancy outfit to protect. But hey, I don't want to have butter stains on my jeans and polo shirts any more than June wanted them on her dresses.

I need my trusty apron.  It's always got my back (make that my front).  I love it and I don't care who knows it!  So here's a little ode to my apron, a haiku--because that's the quickest and easiest kind of poetry there is, and I have to wrap this up so that I can go and ice a Bundt cake.

My Apron
I love my apron-- 
with big pockets, tied in back.
I wear it always.

(But not when I'm in bed!)

Friday, October 11, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday: Scrumptious Blog Edition

Sarah Therese from Footprints on My Heart kindly tagged me, more than a month ago, for a "Scrumptious Blog Award."
First of all let me say that I'm sorry, Sarah Therese, that it's taken me this long to respond!  And secondly, I never thought of this blog as "scrumptious" before, but now I've decided that's an adjective I'd love to have associated with my String of Pearls.  What could possibly be better than something scrumptious?  So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Here are Sarah Therese's questions for me
 (which are going to double as 7Quick Takes...or perhaps 10):

1. What is your favorite children's book? 

I have the hardest time with questions like these, because I always love so many books.  But for little ones, it's a toss-up between two.  One is The Boy with a Drum, a Little Golden Book that I read to my boys ad nauseam when they were tots.  It's the first book I ever read aloud to my oldest, starting when he was about six months old.  ("There once was a boy with a little toy drum, Rat-a-tat, Tat-a-tat, Rum-a-tum-tum...")  This book has it all: sing-song rhyme, lots of animals, darling illustrations--love, love, love it.  I also adore The Runaway Bunny, which I read a lot to son #2, who was the child of ours who was most prone to threatening that he was going to run away from home.  "That's okay, because if you do, I'll be just like the mother bunny," I'd tell him.  "If you become a fish in a stream, I'll become a fisherman and fish for you.  If you become a bird and fly away from me, I'll become a tree that you'll come home to.  If you become a boat, I'll become the wind that blows you back to me...You can't win, buddy.  So you might as well stay here." Personally, I think this work from Margaret Wise Brown is way better than Goodnight Moon--but what do I know?  For middle school-aged children, my favorite book ever is Ralph Fletcher's novel Fig Pudding (RL: 4.7~ages 9-12).  Narrated by Clifford Allyn Abernathy III, the oldest in a family of six children, it is one of the most beautiful and poignant peeks inside a tight-knit, loving, normal family that you'll ever read.  It's really not just for kids, although they love it; adults should read this gem, too.  You'll laugh and you'll cry, and you won't soon forget the Abernathy clan.  (If you're like me, you'll read it more than once.)

2. What is your favorite book from the Old Testament?
Here's where my ignorance is going to show, because I don't read the Bible enough to have a favorite Old Testament book.  I am much more apt to read from the New Testament.  This question, however, has inspired me to do a little--make that a lot of--reading.  And I'll have to get back to you with my answer.  I just asked my husband, though (and he's a lot more scrumptious than I am anyway), and he said he's partial to the Book of Ecclesiasticus (or Sirach).
3. What is your favorite past time?
When my kids were growing up, my favorite way to spend time was just being with my husband and boys, for simple activities like "family movie night."  Or standing on the sidelines of one of their football or lacrosse games, next to my favorite person (their dad), watching them do their thing.  Now that they're grown and on their own, traveling has become a favorite past time, because that's what my husband and I need to do in order to see our beloved brood (which includes three edible granddaughters).  Reading is also a favorite past time, especially reading on a rainy or snowy day, when there's no point in going out anyway, and you can curl up on the couch under a blanky without guilt...Hey, how many favorites are you allowed to have?  Because I have a list of activities I could add here, but I'll spare you.

4. What is your favorite childhood memory?
Waking up on Christmas morning!  I know that's hardly a creative answer, but it is hand's down my favorite memory from childhood.  We didn't have a fireplace, so Santa always left our stockings at the end of our beds.  Those bulging stockings were the first things we saw when our eyes popped open on Christmas morning.  When the five of us kids woke up (at zero dark thirty!), we were allowed to congregate and open all the little toys in them, while waiting for our parents to wake up hours later and make their coffee before we were allowed to start opening what was under the tree.  We weren't even supposed to peek at the tree (although sometimes we cheated), but those whispered hours in the middle of the night, sitting on each other's beds and exclaiming over the cheap little plastic treasures in our stockings, were magical.  I was therefore thrilled the Christmas our youngest son was five (and he'd woken up at about 3:00 a.m. with his ten-year-old brother) and he said his favorite part of the festivities that year was "the stockings in the dark."
5. What is your favorite ice cream flavor?  (If vanilla, favorite topping.)
I am addicted to soft-serve vanilla ice cream, which I've blogged about before (and frozen yogurt is not an acceptable substitute).  I don't really like to ruin its pristine perfection, but if forced to add a topping, it would be a toss-up between hot fudge, bits of Heath bars, or crushed Oreos. (I could choke any of those toppings down, with little effort.  You know, for the team.  But give me plain old vanilla soft-serve any day of the week.)
6. What is your favorite form of exercise?  (I thought it would be good to put this in the same section as the above question, since it's the ice cream habit that makes the exercise so necessary.)
My favorite form of exercise these days is not called "running"; it's called  "Turbo Jam," which comes in a set of DVD's from Beach Body.  It includes cardio, punching and kicking (but I'm not a violent person, I swear), and stretching.  It strengthens your core.  It's sort of fun; the moves are more athletic than dance-like, which suits me.  And after a few weeks, you really do start to notice a difference.

7. What is one thing you like to do on rainy days? 
See #3 for the answer to this one.  Let's move on to the next question, then--because after all, movie watching is another perfect rainy/snowy day activity.

8. What's one movie that makes you laugh and cry each time?
Oh, that would have to be "It's a Wonderful Life."  Some of my boys don't share my love of this oldie but goodie, and they make fun of Jimmy Stewart's corny lines as George is wooing Mary (you should hear sons #4 and #5, both brilliant mimics, do the whole moonbeams shooting out of her fingers and toes schtick).  But I just love this classic movie, and I never fail to get teary-eyed at the end, when Stewart's George Bailey is surrounded by his loving family and all the loyal townspeople who've rallied to save him from financial ruin, and Harry Bailey bursts into the house and cries, "A toast to my big brother George--the richest man in town!"

 9. Rain or sunshine? 
Oooh, tough one.  Of course I love sunshine.  But sometimes a rainy day is a bit of a treat (see #3...again!).  My sister-in-law who lives in FL was not disturbed in the least by the three straight weeks of almost constant rain she encountered when spending part of the summer in Upstate NY a few months ago.  It's boring, she says, when there's nothing but unrelenting sunshine.  I think I agree with her; so I guess rain and sunshine are both my favorites.
 10. What is your favorite inspirational quote?
That would have to be this one, which I put right at the beginning of my novel Finding Grace because I absolutely couldn't imagine not including it in my heroine's story:
"God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint." ~ St. Therese of Lisieux

Now head on over and visit my friend Sarah Therese's scrumptious blog; and while you're at it, stop by and see more 7's from Jen and the gang at Conversion Diary.


Here are the rules for the SCRUMPTIOUS BLOG AWARD:
1. Once you are awarded, post about it on your blog and link back to the person who awarded you.
2. Answer all of the questions on the tag.
3. Do not award anyone who has more than 100 followers.
4. Come up with 10 new questions.
5. Tag 5 to 10 people.

I tag the following 6 bloggers:
Erica from Boys, Books, and Balls
Olivia from To the Heights
Kristin from Team Boda
Natalie from Between the Bobseins
Amelia from One Catholic Mama
Rebekah from Rebekah's Web Log

Here are my questions for you:
1. What was your favorite sitcom growing up?
2. What song makes you happy every time you hear it?
3. Have you ever had anything happen to you that you thought was bad, but it turned out to be for the best?
4. Do you have a favorite saint you pray to, or one to whom you feel a special friendship?
5. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
6. Do you prefer scary movies or comedies?
7. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
8. When you have 30 minutes of free time, how do you spend it?
9. What's the hardest thing you've ever done?
10. If you could be any fictional character, whom would you choose?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Theme Thursday: Double

My better half and I have some great advice for all of you parents out there whose children are going and growing up on you (wait--how did that happen?), leaving your nicely feathered nest (the nerve!), getting married (a joy, to be sure), and having children of their own (the gold at the end of the rainbow, I tell you).  Here it is: when you have your first grandchild...have twins!  Why have a single when a double is so much more fun for everyone?  (And by everyone, I mean the grandparents...because we've seen what taking care of infant twins round the clock looks like, and believe me, it's not for the faint of heart.  It's the best possible way to break into the grandparenthood club, but not quite as easy for a set of first-time parents.)

I realize you can't order just exactly what you want, but twins truly are the very best way to start out, especially when Papa and Grammy have been missing having babies around the house as much as my husband and I had been by the time Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie arrived on the scene just over two years ago.  We both admit that it would have been well nigh impossible to wait our turns if there'd only been one little bundle of joy to hold and cuddle, one little soft head to sniff.  We might have behaved like a pair of nap-deprived toddlers, yelling, "Mine, mine, mine!"  But we each had a baby to hold, a baby who looked so much like her identical counterpart that it was as if we were seeing double.

Now, these two look-alikes have a seven-month-old baby sister, Little Gal, and our cup runneth over.  As we look forward to the wedding of our #3 son in December, we can't help but think of all the other angels that will be added to our String of Pearls in the coming years (no pressure, kids).

But no doubt about it: we were doubly blessed, right out of the gate.

Now head on over to Cari's and you'll really be seeing double.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What We're Reading Wednesday, and the Giveaway Winner

It's Wednesday, which is exciting for two reasons: it's a day to link up and talk about books with Jessica and all the other eager readers who visit Housewifespice for this weekly on-line celebration of the written word;
and it's the day I get to announce the winner of my latest giveaway contest (the prize being a signed paperback copy of my novel Finding Grace).

The names are all there in the hat (a dapper one at that, a straw cowboy hat with "ND" embroidered on the band, because every item of clothing my husband owns is a paean to his alma mater), so drumroll please...
And the winner is Rebekah Es!

Rebekah is an extremely talented writer who blogs at Rebekah's Web Log, if you haven't discovered her yet.  I am actually very happy to send Rebekah this prize, almost as a thank you, since she has told me that she's in the midst of reading my book already (and she's not even related to me!).  I hope by the time she finishes it, she'll still be glad she won another copy.

Rebekah, please let me know where I can send the book (by going to the "Email me" tab on the right).  And thanks for entering.  For that matter, thanks to everyone else who threw their names into the hat.  This was fun for me.

What isn't quite as fun is reading Michelle Buckman's Death Panels: A Novel of Life, Liberty, and Faith--but not because it isn't well-written and a page-turner to boot.  A novel set in America in the year 2042, it is reminiscent of 1984 and Brave New World; but because so much of the "that will never happen" aspects of those cautionary tales have become a whole lot less unthinkable in our modern world, it is that much more frightening. Given all that is going on in our country today (and I'm not going to go into details here, because I swore I'd keep this blog a happy place and there's no possible way to talk about politics or the state of our government and still be happy), it almost reads like a news story rather than fiction.  In Buckman's futuristic America, which has ceded its national sovereignty to a global entity called the UO (Unified Order of the World), babies born with abnormalities are routinely euthanized, women who dare to become pregnant after having two children are taken away for forced abortions, and patients are routinely denied care, depending on how the government perceives their worthiness.  Marriage is all but a dead institution, and Christians who are out in the world and haven't been banished to The Dome (a place where Christians called Dominians live together in poverty) must keep their religion a secret.  Each citizen has an ID chip that helps the state keep track of his every move--and even his every food choice.  The government controls every single solitary aspect of life, and its mantra is "For the good of the nation, for the good of the world."  Does any of this sound as if it's not too far-off in our once great nation, if we're not careful?
I'm not too far into Buckman's book yet, but I will say that there are heroes--among the Dominians as well as those living out in the world under the noses of the corrupt government.  And these people are willing to risk their own lives to save even one innocent baby born with Down's Syndrome from government-enforced euthanasia.  So even in what appears to be a very dark story, there is hope.  When I finish, I'll try to remember to post a more in-depth review.

Okay now, for more book talk, head on over to Jessica's.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Giveaway Reminder!

Today is that last day to leave me a comment (I love comments!) on this post, and you'll have a chance to win a copy of my novel Finding Grace.  See, it's just sitting there on my little desk, waiting to find out where its new home will be.
If you really like free stuff, and you really like to read, just stop by and say hi, and your name will be in the hat tonight when I pick the winner.

Good luck!