Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Family Christmas Book, by Traditions Press

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, can we officially talk about Christmas?  Good!  Because as I've told you already, I like to start early.  There's nothing like pre-Christmas anticipation.

On a recent re-post of "Cwismas Memowies" (which originally appeared on this blog two years ago), I got a comment from a reader I'd never "met" before, who wanted to know if I had any recommendations for Christmas memory-keeping books.  Ours, a gift from my mother-in-law, had room to record the events of 11 Christmases.
That sweet little hardcover journal called Deck the Hall actually came in a special boxed set of books titled collectively "Christmas at Our House."  These books are filled with the most lovely artwork and I treasure them.  I have no idea where my mother-in-law found this unique gift (although I'd hazard a guess that it was at T.J. Maxx).  So far, I haven't been able to locate this set of books on-line, so it may be out of print.
There are other great Christmas memory books out there, however.  After their marriage, I gave my son and his wife a book I'd heard about through a friend.  It's called "The Family Christmas Book" and it has space to record the special memories of 25 Christmases.
This hardcover gem, destined to become a family heirloom, has a vintage look about it and has been around for quite a while.  (I know this because my friend had recorded almost 20 Christmases in it already by the time she told me about it a few years back.)   It was written by Nancy Simms Taylor and is published by Traditions Press.  If you'd like to check it out, just head on over to

I may just have to get myself a copy of this one, record memories made with my grandchildren!

(P.S.: This is the last day to enter the giveaway contest. If you want a chance to win a signed copy of Finding Grace, leave me a comment before midnight.  I'll announce the winner tomorrow.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Fun Around the Thanksgiving Table

Among many, many other things, I'm thankful for times like this...

...and silly boys who refuse to completely grow up--and make me weak with laughter on a regular basis.  There were only four people sitting around our dining room table last night, eating turkey and reminiscing about old times...but somehow it felt like a lot more.

(Just a little reminder on this biggest shopping day of the year: you could win a free Christmas gift for someone you love.  I'm giving away a signed copy of Finding Grace.  Leave me a comment on that link, or this one, or just right here on this post, if you want to throw your name into the hat.  I'm taking names until Saturday at midnight and the winner will be announced on Sunday.)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Sweet (Make That Not-So-Sweet) Thanksgiving Story

My husband's all-time favorite dessert is pumpkin pie (especially if it's topped with a mountain of whipped cream--and if you think I'm exaggerating about the mountain part, trust me, I am not).  His paternal grandmother made the best pumpkin pies in the world, and she even baked them for him on his birthday because she knew how much he loved them.  That boy was convinced that no one could make pumpkin pie like Nan.  His mom--who was not that interested in baking anyway--never really tried her hand at it, knowing that her mother-in-law had the desserts thing covered.  But then after Nan died, my husband had to be content with Mrs. Smith's--which for a frozen pie is pretty darn good...but still, not Nan's.

As a starry-eyed newlywed, I was determined to feed my new husband like a king.  So I set out to make his favorite dessert well enough that if it didn't remind him of his grandmother's, at least he would prefer it to the store-bought varieties.  One of my happiest memories of those early days of our marriage is when he told me, after my very first try, that I was the only person who'd ever made a pumpkin pie that reminded him of Nan's.  Woo hoo!  Nailed it!  I was a pumpkin pie aficionado, a pumpkin pie whisperer; I had been put on the same level as Nan, the Pumpkin Pie Boss herself.  And it had been done completely out of love, because I don't even like pumpkin pie myself.  I would eat almost any other dessert (besides carrot cake or anything that has pineapple in it--yuck and double yuck) before I'd eat it.  This is one of the few things my husband and I haven't been able to see eye-to-eye on; but after 33 years of marriage we have found a way to deal with it: I make the pumpkin pie, he eats it.  And everybody's happy.

Just when I was getting cocky about my vaunted pie-making skills, however, I hit a snag one year.  My husband cut his usual 1/4 pie-sized slice and buried it in whipped cream, and after the first bite he said, "Something's different.  This doesn't taste like your usual."  It turned out I'd forgotten a very important ingredient, the ingredient that makes pumpkin pie a dessert rather than a vegetable side dish: THE SUGAR! 

Needless to say, that was the least Nan-like pumpkin pie I ever made.  I felt so terrible, like I'd ruined Thanksgiving.  But my husband, being the hero and the trooper that he is, said, "No, it'll be fine.  I'll just sprinkle sugar on the top of each piece."  And you've got to hand it to him, he gave that a try.  But you know what this experience taught us?  Sugar baked in a pie gives it a whole different flavor than sugar poured on an unsweetened pie.  Lesson learned.  The day after that fiasco (the big black mark on my pie-making reputation), I ran out to get the ingredients to make a replacement.  And I never made that mistake again, I can tell you that.

Well, the first pumpkin pie has already been made in preparation for tomorrow's feast, while the second one is in the oven as I write this.  And I know they both have sugar in them (so, SWEET!--as the kids say).  For the next few days, my husband will be in hog heaven (as in: pie for breakfast, pie for lunch dessert, pie for dinner dessert!).  He doesn't even have to share, because my boys are more like their mama: cake/cookies/brownies/chocolate candy bars/ice cream before pie, ALWAYS.  So that means those pies are all for him--and he's my main reason for being thankful, on Thanksgiving and every other day of the year, so nothing could make me happier.

Ain't she a beauty?  My husband is on a trip and gets home tomorrow, so I texted him a picture of the first pie when it came out of the oven, and I thought I'd share this cute comment he sent back.
Yes on the sugar, no on the cracks: I think we have a winner!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers!  I'll see you in a few days.   (Don't forget  the giveaway!)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Re-visiting a Post Called "Cwismas Memowies"

I'm going to do something today that I tend to resort to when I'm too busy or distracted to blog, or when I feel as if I've run out of interesting ideas to share with you: a re-run.  Make that a re-post.

I know that the majority of the readers who frequent this blog have probably read this one already (hi, family!), but maybe they don't remember it.  Also, I've acquired a couple of new readers since it first appeared on "String of Pearls" almost two years ago, and I doubt they're planning to slog through the 875 posts in the archives (sheesh!  I've been wordy!).  So hopefully this will seem like new material to most of you.

It's snowing today (so it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!), and I'm decking the halls with boughs of holly (I know it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but don't judge me!).  My youngest son is going to be heading home from Notre Dame this evening (yippee!  I'll have two boys here under this roof for Turkey Day!), and  when I asked him if he was okay with the house being decorated for Christmas already, he replied that he'd be disappointed if it wasn't.  (That's my boy!)
Even though I KNOW the Christmas season really starts on Christmas,
and it ends when we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord,
I couldn't "like" this on Facebook.  I'm bad.  I don't wait.

With the start of Advent just around the corner, I'm really feeling full of the joy of the  season--so I thought it would be fun to re-visit a favorite post about my favorite holiday.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cwismas Memowies

For Christmas 1991, my mother-in-law gave me a sweet hardcovered book titled Deck the Hall, a sort of journal for keeping Christmas memories. It has lovely vintage illustrations inside, along with some holiday recipes and places to paste photos. But the most important thing is that it has empty pages to record details from each Christmas under the headings "Our Family and Friends," "Holiday Menus," "Family Milestones and Memories," and "Gifts Given and Received." On the first page of this book, it says: "Here is a Christmas keepsake book in which you may record all the particulars of your own family's Christmas celebrations, year after year for a decade (plus a year to grow on!). You'll have room for records of who came, what was served, gifts given and received, family photographs...and for each year's special moments and memories."
This little memory book is now one of my most precious keepsakes, because I faithfully kept it each and every Christmas for eleven years, until there were no more empty pages to fill. I can tell you every detail of those eleven Christmases--whom we saw, what we ate, and what our favorite presents were; but more importantly, I can tell you those sweet, priceless "particulars" that may have been forgotten if I hadn't jotted them down in my cherished copy of Deck the Hall.

For instance, on Christmas day 1991, my eight-year-old firstborn son--who'd gotten the radio-controlled race car he'd wanted so badly--couldn't stop saying, "Santa sure knows what I like!" (Wink wink, nudge nudge. That Santa's something, isn't he?) And that same year, my #4 son, who was three and going on four at the time, was almost beside himself over all of the "Cwismas Pwesents" he'd gotten--but especially an enormous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure that was almost as big as he was. He followed me around all day long, holding his precious Leonardo by the arm and asking, "Mom, do you wish you were a kid so you could get this turtle?" It didn't matter how many times I said, "I sure do!"--he simply couldn't stop asking that question! (Actually, that's something I would have remembered without this book. It was simply adorable!)

I even jotted down wake-up times in my little copy of Deck the Hall. In 1991, my two oldest sons woke up at 3:30 a.m. In 1992, the two oldest woke up at 1:00 a.m. and son #4 woke up at 3:00. Son #3 was the sleepyhead that year: he slept in until 4:30! (Are you seeing a pattern here?) I have pretty clear memories of extremely early Christmas morning wake-ups without my memory book. But when I was thumbing through it today, I found an interesting little tidbit from Christmas 1994 that I'd forgotten: my husband and I actually woke our kids up at 3:00 a.m. that year so that Daddy could see what Santa had brought before he had to leave for work. We woke our kids 3:00 a.m.!! But when you're an airline pilot and you're not the most senior guy on the list, you often have to work holidays; so we did what we had to do to have a special Christmas all together. Here's what I wrote in my memory book about that incident: "This was the first year no one had woken up on their own by that time!" (Oh, the irony.)

When my kids were little and I was right in the thick of raising them, I didn't think I'd forget all the miniutiae of each wonderful Christmas; but as I've gotten older, the memories have become a bit hazier. It all goes by so fast! Sometimes I wish I could just go back there, even for a day--and Christmas day would be fun, wouldn't it? I would love to see those five darling little boys in their cartoon character jammies (pants optional), with their smooth little rosy faces (pre-facial hair), and their blue eyes shining with delight as they open their "Cwismas Pwesents." In fact, I'd just like to hear the phrase "Cwismas Pwesents" uttered one more time.

And that, my friends, is why God gives old folks like me grandchildren!
Okay, before I go--don't forget about the giveaway:  you could win a signed copy of Finding Gwace Grace--just in time for Cwismas Christmas!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jumping on the Dinovember Bandwagon!

An intriguing post came across my Facebook news feed the other day, a shared article about a little something called "Dinovember."  Here's a picture from the article--a little teaser for you, in case you decided it wasn't worth your time to click on the handy link I just left you.
Trust me, this  is just about the coolest idea ever. It makes me wish our dino-lovin' boys were wee lads again, so that my husband and I could do for them what these uber-creative parents are doing for theirs.  They are pretending that their kids' plastic dinosaurs come to life during the night, Toy Story-style; and when the kids wake up each and every morning during the month of November, they see what the little prehistoric rascals have been up to.  Outstanding!

Okay, here's another picture--but after this, if you haven't clicked on that link up there yet, you really should.  The article not only gives more hilarious scenes of dinosaur naughtiness and mayhem, but it also explains why these parents came up with this idea for a "month-long imagination invasion" in the first place.
My boys are now between the ages of going-on-21 and 30; but they all remain little boys at heart.  They still love dinosaurs.  My middle son--the one who's getting married in less than two weeks--was surprised with a dino-themed birthday party thrown by his fiancée when he turned 27 in May.  (I think I made him a dinosaur-themed birthday cake when he turned 7, too.)
I just couldn't help myself: this morning, I decided to try my hand at creating some Dinovember magic.  (You never know when such a skill will come in handy--with the grandkids, of course.  Yeah, that's it, the grandkids.  Because obviously my boys are much too old for such shenanigans...or are they?)
Oh, no!  Watch out, Ralphie!  Forget your Little Orphan Annie decoder ring!
And don't let Randy lie there like a slug!
Pick him up, fast!  Run!  (Did you recognize Ralphie's house from A Christmas Story?)
I hope these dinos like dark chocolate (the lesser of two chocolates)--I wouldn't want to make a pack of hungry
prehistoric monsters angry. I see T-Rex has gotten his hands on the only milk chocolate bar that's left.
Let's just hope he doesn't have a nut allergy..
We have so many toy dinosaurs in our attic--I've been incapable of giving even one of them away over the years.  Even the broken ones are stored up there, together with the ones that made it through five boys intact.  If all of those extinct creatures came to life and got loose at the same time, there's no telling how much chaos they would cause around here.
Okay, that was fun for me.  Was it fun for you?
Have a great week!
(And don't forget the Finding Grace giveaway.)


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Feast of Christ the King

O Christ Jesus, I acknowledge Thee to be the King of the universe; all that hath been made is created for Thee.  Exercise over me all Thy sovereign rights.  I hereby renew the promises of my Baptism, renouncing Satan and all his works, and I engage myself to lead henceforth a truly Christian life.  And in an especial manner do I undertake to bring about the triumph of the rights of God and Thy Church, so far as in me lies.  Divine Heart of Jesus, I offer Thee my poor actions to obtain the acknowledgment by every heart of Thy sacred kingly power.  In such wise may the kingdom of Thy peace be firmly established throughout all the earth. Amen.

God bless you this Sunday on the Feast of Christ the King!

Just a little reminder about the Finding Grace giveaway contest: you can leave me a comment on this post, or on this one (or on any post dated November 20 through November 30), and your name will be in the hat for the drawing.  The winner will be announced on December 1--the first Sunday of Advent.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mother of the Groom Attire

I was pleased to find the perfect dress for my son's upcoming wedding on December 7.  I got it through for a very good price, it's a pretty color, and even though I've had spotty luck with fit when I've ordered clothing on-line in the past, it fits great.  It's a little on the loose side, but that's just the way I like my dresses.  I always prefer having a bit of breathing (and dancing!) room rather than wearing something that hugs my frame too closely.  So when choosing between two dress sizes that normally work for me, I opted for the larger one--and I'm glad I did.

On-line shopping sure made finding a suitable dress a lot easier for me.  After I checked out our local JC Penny's, Macy's, and TJ Maxx and didn't see anything close to what I was looking for (at close to the price I was willing to pay), I went on my computer one day and typed in "Mother of the Groom Dresses"--and this is one of the first ones I found.  I could tell by looking at it that I would love it, as long as it fit.  It came in bright red (um, no...that would scream "look at me!" a little too loudly, I fear) and this lovely, more subdued, shade of turquoise.
By the way, that gal who's modeling the dress is nowhere near old enough to have a son getting married.  Why don't they have real groom's mother-aged women model these sorts of dresses, anyway?  As good as I might feel in this dress, I know I'm not going to look anywhere near as lovely as this dewy-skinned, trim-and-toned young model.  But you know what my husband's answer was when I told him that?  "You'll look BETTER."  (That's the guy I married, a guy who puts his wife on a pedestal and treats her like gold.  I'm so glad my daughters-in-law--present and future--get to have husbands who had that kind of father as a role model.)

My only concern is that there are more sequins on the jacket and the bodice of the sleeveless dress underneath than I thought there were, judging by this picture, so when the light hits just right, I'm going to sparkle like a Christmas tree.  I was worried it might be a little MUCH, but when I told the bride-to-be this, she assured me that I was allowed to sparkle.  The mother of her dream man can wear whatever she wants to the wedding, as far as she's concerned.  She's a peach.

I'm going to wear closed-toe shoes instead of strappy numbers like the sandals on display here, because I like to wear stockings to camouflage my veiny shins and ankles.  And my heels will be less than two inches in height, because I just can't do spiky high heels anymore.  But even with relatively low heels, I had numb toes for about a month after our oldest son's wedding--a dancing injury.  (Totally worth it, though.)

My only other concern (besides the excess sparkling) was that I wanted to wear a string of pearls for this latest Pearl wedding, but I didn't want to have to take off the gold Miraculous Medal that I always wear around my neck.  With the scooped neckline on this dress, wearing both didn't look quite right.  Then I remembered that when I inherited relics of St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Catherine Laboure from my maternal grandmother, in the same jewelry case with the tiny reliquaries was a pin--a pin that says "Mother" and has a small blue Miraculous Medal on it.  So I've decided to wear Grandma's pin for my son's wedding in lieu of my Miraculous Medal necklace.  It will keep the jacket closed during the Mass, and if I decide to remove the jacket at the reception, I can always pin it somewhere on the dress's bodice.
With that last (most important) accessory all figured out, this mother of the groom is ready for the big day.  I'm so incredibly happy and excited, I think I'd sparkle even without the sequins!

(P.S.: Don't forget about the giveaway.  If you'd like to enter to win a signed copy of Finding Grace, just leave me a comment on this post or this one.)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Giveaway Reminder

I just wanted to remind you that I'm giving away a signed copy of my novel Finding GraceI can't wait to mail that package out to one of you dear readers, just in time for Christmas.  Ho ho ho!
I haven't gotten too many responses yet; but if you're interested, you can go to yesterday's post and leave me a comment--I love to hear from you!  (Or leave it here on this post, if you wish.)  I'm taking names until November 30, and I'll announce the winner on December 1. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

WWRW: DAD IS FAT, a New Review, and a Giveaway

I just finished reading Jim Gaffigan's DAD IS FAT, which I gave my husband for Father's Day this year.  He read it first (mostly while away from home, in between flights), and said it made him laugh out loud--which came as no surprise, because our family has been a fan of the funny man's comedy routines for a long time now.   He told me that Gaffigan's deep love for his wife Jeannie and their five (and counting!) young children is evident throughout the book, and that his observations on marriage and fatherhood are not just hilarious, but are also surprisingly profound.  Obviously, after that endorsement I had to read it for myself. 
I, too,  laughed a lot while reading this delightful book--loudly and often--and I kept stopping to read passages aloud to my husband.  Even though he'd just read the book himself, and he might be in the middle of an important task (like paying the bills or bidding for next month's trips), he would patiently stop what he was doing and listen, and then he'd laugh along with me.  That husband of mine--he's phat, that's what he is.  He knows how much more fun it is when we laugh together rather than separately.

Gaffigan reveals that he and his wife are Catholic, and they are obviously open to the idea of having as many children as God wants them to.  As he puts it in the forward, in a letter to his children, "Given how attractive and fertile your mother is, there may be more of you by the time you're reading this book."   What's rather surprising and laudable is that the Gaffigans live in a crowded two-bedroom apartment in NYC, because the alternative is that dad would have to spend hours every day commuting to and from the suburbs--and he isn't willing to give up that precious time, when he would much rather be spending it with his wife and kids.

The comedian's takes on the dad's role during labor and delivery will make you chuckle: "During labor, the father-to-be is always attempting to justify his presence in the room: 'Hey, I'm the dad.  I'm on the team.  I caused this.  Well, I'm in the way, so I will just stand here in the corner and take pictures.'"

It is obvious that Gaffigan worships his wife, even when you're reading humorous passages like this one: "I am undeniably lucky to have married a woman like Jeannie.  She is energetic, hardworking, and takes incredible care of the kids and me.  However, during our marriage there have been periods when she has become rather lazy.  Jeannie describes these periods as 'pregnancy.'  My view has always been, pregnant or not, that does not mean she can't move some cinder blocks."

And of course, his favorite jokes revolve around how pale he is ("Let me tell you, there is no boost to the ego like putting sunscreen on the top of your balding head, but I think swimming in a pool in a long-sleeve sun shirt is up there."), how fat he is ("I put on more weight than Jeannie during each of her pregnancies.  I justify it by thinking, 'Well, just another thing I'm better at than she is.'"), and food ("Once my daughter Katie ate the icing off a cupcake and then asked for more cake on her bread"--my husband loved that one).  Gaffigan cracks wise on every page, but he also reveals the heart of a loving family man.
I don't think I should give away any more funnies.  If you're married and have children, you really must read this book.  It's a riot (but it's sweet, too).  And I didn't think I could love Jim Gaffigan more than I already did...but  now I do.
I recently heard from my friend, author and Catholic Writers Guild president Ellen Gable Hrkach, via e-mail.  She wanted to let me know that she'd finished reading Finding Grace and had written a review.  I was so thrilled to see a new review (lucky # 13!) on my book's Amazon page, and I thought I'd share it with you here.

I would be so excited if one of these Wednesdays, it's what we're you're reading!

4.0 out of 5 stars Epic Coming-of-Age Story, November 13, 2013

Ellen Gable Hrkach "award-winning author" (Pakenham, Ontario Canada)
This review is from: Finding Grace (Women's Inspirational Christian Fiction) (Kindle Edition)
Author Laura Pearl and I have a lot in common. As she says on her blog, "I wanted to write a book that shows that the Catholic Church's teachings on pre-marital sex are not only good for one's immortal soul, but also just make sense and make life simpler and happier." That sounds a lot like me when asked why I wrote my first novel. As well, we both know the joys of raising five sons. It was my pleasure to meet Laura (and her husband, Tim) recently at the Catholic Writers Conference Live in New Jersey.

Laura's novel, Finding Grace, is a coming-of-age story of a girl named Grace Kelly and her journey as a teenager of the 70′s in small town America. This novel deals with some mature themes (Roe v. Wade, abortion, pre-marital sex) but it does so with sensitivity and without explicit details so teens regardless of faith background will enjoy it.

For those of us who grew up in the 70′s, I related to much of what Grace went through and the author captures the atmosphere of that decade well. In fact, I knew a Grace Kelly during my high school years. (I also knew a Rudy Valentino and an Elizabeth Taylor and marveled at how parents could do such a thing to their kids...)

The characters and story line were believable and well-defined. If I were to use one word to describe this book, it would be "Epic." Epic (a word teens use to describe something cool) but it is also epic in size. As other reviewers have mentioned, this is not a short read. Special thanks to the author, who gifted me with a Kindle edition. I was able to read this book in a larger font (I struggled with the print book's tiny font) and I must say, it was a much more enjoyable experience!

Ellen Gable, author

Thanks, Ellen!

For the record, dear readers: I prefer the hard copy version myself, small font notwithstanding.  It just looks better, because the formatting is more attractive--and nothing beats holding a real book in your hands (at least if you're an old school type like yours truly).  What about you: do you like e-books or book books?  Because I'm thinking it's about time for another Finding Grace giveaway--especially with Christmas on the horizon.

If you'd like to win a signed paperback copy of Finding Grace, just leave me a comment below, anytime between now and November 30.  I'll announce the winner on December 1, and I'll get that book mailed out to you in time for you to wrap it up and give it as a Christmas gift--to that special high school girl on your list,  or your BFF...or yourself! (And guess what?  Christmas falls on a Wednesday this year!  How a propos.  It's a WWRW miracle!)

Okay, my fellow bookies (yes, that's right, bookies!  If there can be "foodies" who love food, there can be bookies who love books!)--you know where to go.  Over to Jessica's with you!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


I decided to join Rosie for "What They Said, A Link-Up!"  It totally reminded me of that old Art Linkletter TV gem called "Kids Say the Darndest Things."  (Did I just reveal exactly how old I am by mentioning that show?)

Most of the linkers involved are in the process of raising young kids, so they have a wealth of recent hilarious comments made in Elmer Fudd accents to choose from.  My grown-up sons still say some pretty humorous things on a regular basis, but they do it on purpose.  (It's not the same.)  So I thought I'd make a little withdrawal from the old memory bank and tell you about something inadvertently funny son #4 said way back in 1991, when he was three.

I actually submitted this little story to Reader's Digest in 2003 for the "Life in These United States" humor section.  The tough thing about these submissions is that they had to be brief (less than 100 words), and I found it sort of difficult to convey the adorableness of this exchange between brothers using so few words.  Reader's Digest didn't think what I sent them was worthy of publishing (or receiving a $300 prize!).  The great thing about having a blog, though, is that you can publish whatever you want.  So here goes:

My husband and I were traveling to visit my in-laws with our four sons, aged three to seven.  We were due to arrive right at lunchtime, so my husband and I promised that as soon as we said hello we would make sandwiches, and we started taking orders in the car.  The two middle boys asked for peanut butter, no jelly.  Our oldest son said, "Ditto."  Hearing this, the three-year-old looked at his big brother and asked earnestly, "Does ditto taste good?"
And here's the face of the cutie pie who almost put in an order for a ditto sandwich.
[Sigh...]  I miss those days!

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Internet, and How It's Changed Everything

Yesterday, I did a bit of a mini-rant about Facebook and the etiquette it often seems to demand.  Sorry about that, Facebook (and Facebook friends).  You know I love you.  And at least right now, I just can't quit you.  I can't do it.  I'm not that strong.

It's actually hard to imagine a Facebook-less, social media-less world these days.  Goodness gracious, it's hard to imagine any kind of life without the Internet.  (I just re-read that last sentence.  Yikes!  I can't believe those words are coming from a lady who likes to convince herself that she was born about 100 years too late, and fancies herself just the type of old-fashioned gal who would feel right at home in Jane Austen's world.)

My husband and I just went on-line this morning to order handcrafted, one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts for our sons that we never would have been able to find without the world wide web.  You could trek all over kingdom come (and you'd probably come home empty-handed) if you physically went in search of what we found by merely typing in a few key words, which led us to the wonderful world of Etsy and a host of other obscure sellers that offer the most interesting and unique gift items.  Shopping will never be the same.

And then there's the way the Internet has changed forever the way folks do big parties and weddings.  It offers an inexhaustible wealth of ideas for making any event that much more special and memorable.  When our boys were growing up, we might have a "theme" for their birthday parties (which was pretty much always either dinosaurs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or sports), so we'd get the paper goods and goody bags to fit the chosen theme and I'd decorate the cake accordingly.  We'd have pizza and play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, eat cake and ice cream, and that would be about it.  If we weren't doing an at-home party, we might take the pack of little boys to Chuck 'E Cheese for a treat.  When I see the kinds of birthday parties parents are throwing for their kids these days, through the blogs I read, I'm in utter awe of the creativity and work that is being put into them.  They make the parties we threw seem a little lame in comparison.  But it's so easy these days to find interesting ideas out there on the net, and then to incorporate them into your own parties.

Last night, just for the heck of it, I was sitting at my laptop and I typed in "Rehearsal Dinner ideas."  (My middle son is getting married on December 7, for those of you who are new here or who haven't visited this blog recently.)  Even though I've already got the decorations, centerpieces, and favors I worked on boxed up and ready to pack in the car for the trip down to VA (in less than 3 weeks!), I was curious to see all the great ideas I might have missed out on and would probably kick myself for not thinking of doing.  (Why do I torture myself?)  My search took me to a whole bunch of Pinterest "pins," and sure enough, I saw so many cool ideas, I could never use them all in one lifetime (unless I decided to become a professional event planner).  It's incredible how many beautiful and creative ways you can make a rehearsal dinner or a wedding that much more amazing.

When my peers (who are now called "grandmas") and I were getting married back in pioneer days 1980, we didn't have an easily accessible central source that would lead us to a multitude of great ideas, the way young brides do these days.  And we couldn't check out, with the simple click of a button, a slew of different photographers to see who would be able to best capture our big day.  In our small town, there were a couple of professional photographers to choose from.  Websites were something even the Jetsons hadn't heard of yet, so it was necessary to actually visit the photographers' studios and peruse photo albums filled with samples of their work before you signed your name on the dotted line to reserve their services.  Back then, there wasn't a whole lot of creativity going on; most of the shots were very typical--like the walk down the aisle shots, and the families and wedding party lined up on the altar shots.  Very posed and very conservative.

I must say, though, that our small town photographer managed to snap several practically Pinterest-worthy pictures--ones that he set up, with no input from the happy couple (who were just 22-year-old babes in the woods, utterly oblivious and more than happy to put the whole picture-taking responsibility completely in his hands).  I think this one, which he took as I was bobby-pinning my veil in place shortly before the bridesmaids and I left my house for the church, is rather artsy.  (Yes, I do have a bobby pin in my mouth here.)
And then there's this one from the reception--which the photographer told us was his signature favorite shot.
My husband thinks this is a ridiculous picture and he doesn't like it at all.  Whenever he looks at it, all he sees is his hairy wrist and the tux sleeve that was too short for his extra-long arm.  Nowadays when I look at it, I think to myself, "Hey, I think I've seen this exact kind of shot on Pinterest!  Our photographer was really ahead of his time!"

Okay, this post has rambled on for awhile now, and what was my point?  That the birthday parties we hosted for our sons weren't quite up to today's Pinterest standards?  That modern photographers do a better job than the ones we old dinosaurs had for our weddings?  Hmmm...

Oh, that's right: my point was that the Internet is awesome!  And I'm sure our boy's upcoming wedding, which is being planned by a super-enthusiastic and super-creative duo (his future wife and his future mother-in-law) is going to be awesome, too.  And speaking of dinosaurs, I really hope the dinosaur-crazy groom and his lovely bride will have their digital-age photographer create a Photoshop masterpiece like this one (which you've probably seen already in your cyberspace travels, right?).
Now THAT would be AWESOME.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Kisses for Our Lady

Last night I was scrolling down my Facebook news feed, which some might better describe as "wasting my time."  This is an activity that I enjoy so much when I find happy things on there, like loads of new pictures of my nieces' newborn daughters, or e-cards that are funny, relevant, and clean...but not so much when it's jam-packed with inappropriate humor, political rants, and instructions to "like" something, or else--you know, as in: if I don't hit the "like" button on every worthy sentiment I see on my news feed, it'll be obvious to the Facebook world that I have no heart.  I don't want to be instructed by FB that I need to prove how much I care about things by "liking" every post I see on there.

I'm stubborn about what I will and won't do on Facebook.  I actually try to use it mostly as an easy way to send a quick message to family or friends, or to look at the on-line photo albums of people I love and don't see often enough.  I don't post a whole lot on there, because as far as telling people details of my life, or how I feel about things...hey, I've got this blog for that!  (Guffaw!)

Sometimes, shared images and stories that come across my FB news feed are really touching, and I realize that without this powerful form of social media, I might never have had a chance to see them.  I rarely "like" the shared posts, but last night I joined more than 980,000 people and I hit that button--and hit it hard.  Last night, this is the image that made me realize I probably can't quit Facebook:
Isn't this the sweetest picture you've ever seen?  What made that little guy have the urge to kiss that statue of Our Blessed Mother?  Did his mom tell him to do it, or was he compelled to kiss Her by that purity of soul that only small children and saints ever really possess?

This FB image gave me a distinct feeling of deja vu.  A long time ago, when I was a newbie blogger, I did a post about a little boy on our street who felt compelled to kiss the statue of Mary that was in a garden area out in front of our house.  His family was Catholic in name only, and there was really no reason for him to know the significance of our humble little garden statue.  But just like the little boy in the Facebook-shared picture above, he felt he needed to "kiss the lady."  I'm going to share that post with you again here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Our Lady Speaks to Us

Here is a little story about an incident that occurred in front of our house. It still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

We have a statue of Mary in a perennial garden in our front yard, not too far from the sidewalk. It's not a particularly large one (about 24 inches tall) or pretty one (just heavy plastic made to look like concrete or granite). But years ago, a neighbor of mine came to me and told me how it had affected her then 3-year-old son. She said they were out walking one day, when suddenly he looked at it and said, "I have to kiss the lady," and he went over and kissed our humble statue. "The lady"! What had drawn him to Her? My neighbor and her husband were Catholic and their boys had been baptized; but they were not practicing their Faith. The incident surprised her, and she made a point to tell me about it the next time she saw me. She thought I would be delighted, and I was.
It does not surprise me at all that a 3-year-old boy would be drawn to an image of the Blessed Mother, even though he had no idea who She was, because a little child's soul is so pure. This story, to me, is proof that Our Lady speaks to us, and we must open our hearts with childlike love so that we can hear Her.
One thing I forgot to add when I originally recounted this story is that after the first time this little neighborhood boy told his mother he had to kiss the lady, he could never see that statue without stopping to kiss it.  He had to kiss Mary every single time he passed by Her.
It's no wonder that "Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world..."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Mama's Got a Brand New Tooth

Or at least she will have one, soon.

Since this past summer, I've had to have two problem molars extracted on the right side of my upper jaw.  First the back one was pulled--no biggie, because it didn't even show when I smiled and that still left me with one molar on that side for chewing.  Then the one next to it was pulled--biggie, because the hole where it should be is very noticeable when I smile and now I have to chew exclusively on the left side of my mouth.

I've told you about my tragic tooth saga, my Dickensian tale of two teeth, several times already (do I hear yawning?), most recently in this post (skip down to #3 to get to the scintillating part about teeth, or the lack thereof).  And now here I am at it again!  Mommy bloggers talk about how busy and crazy it is with toddlers in the house, and how much they worry about losing their post-baby weight; grammy bloggers tell you about how much they miss their grown babies, and how much they worry about ending up toothless old ladies.


At my latest appointment with the oral surgeon, I found out that the metal "root" he implanted, which will someday have a nice fake molar attached to it, is healing nicely.  In about two months, I'll have the green light to go to my regular dentist and have that new tooth made.  Which is great news--but unfortunately, my middle son is getting married in less than a month and I don't want to feel self-conscious every time I smile on his big day (which I believe will be a lot of times).

So, to tide me over while I wait for my implant, the dentist made me a clear retainer-type device that has a faux molar embedded in it.  I have a slight lisp when I wear it, but the device is almost unnoticeable otherwise (unless you really look closely at it; and if you're that much of a close-talker, I'm going to back away from you anyway).
One of my boys, upon hearing my concerns about the embarrathing lithping, said that no one will notice, because the wine will be flowing, the music will be loud, and I'll fit right in with all the other hard partyers out there on the dance floor.  You know, they'll just assume that I've had too much and that's why I can no longer say an S without slurring my speech.  Thanks, son.  I feel a lot better now.

Okay, readers, I had my husband take pictures of me without the fake tooth retainer
 and then with it.
You really can't tell, can you?  I think I'll be able to fool long as I try to speak without using any S or soft-C words.

Thee you thoon.

Friday, November 15, 2013

7 Quick Takes Friday: Sewing Flower Girl Dresses Edition

You're interested in sewing, right?  I haven't done a post on the subject for ages, and I'm sure you've been missing that.  So I've decided to show you the step-by-step process by which I put together three matching flower girl dresses for my middle son's upcoming wedding.  These fancy little frocks will be worn by my adorable identical twin granddaughters, Bonnie Babe and Cutie Pie (age two-and-a-half), and the adorable six-year-old daughter of the bride's cousin.

1: Finding a Pattern
When I set out to find a pattern for the dresses, I thought simple would be best (especially since they are going to be worn by some pretty young flower girls, who might have been uncomfortable with too much fussy tulle and netting).  I didn't want underskirts, or any material that was too stiff.  I imagined an unadorned sleeveless satin dress with an empire waist, finished off with a navy blue satin sash to match the color of the bridesmaid dresses.  (And this happened to be exactly what the bride-to-be had been imagining, too.)  But most of the patterns I found in the "wedding party" section of the pattern books were extremely complex to make and probably would have been uncomfortable to wear.  So I chose this relatively easy-to-make pattern, envisioning it with a few inches added at the bottom to make it tea-length.  I liked that it also came with a pattern for a little bolero, because since it's a December wedding, I wanted the dress to have some kind of jacket.
2: Including Some of Mom's Material
I've blogged before about my dear late mother-in-law, a gifted seamstress who collected bolts of fabric the way some people collect coins or stamps.  Her attic was filled with boxes and boxes of material, and her head was filled with the many ways she could use it to make life more beautiful.  In the years since her death, I have been encouraged by my sisters-in-law to use as much of Mom's precious stash as I want.  A while back, I found a couple of yards of some beautiful ivory-colored velveteen, and I put it aside for a rainy day.  Once I found this pattern for the flower girl dresses, I knew Mom's velveteen would be perfect for the little boleros.  And almost miraculously, it was the exact same shade of ivory as the satin I found at JoAnn's to use for the dresses.  So the boleros are special to me, because they make me think of Mom--and they make me wish that she was going to be there to see her great-granddaughters wearing them as they walk down the aisle (or freeze in place, or run crying, or flop on the ground--how will they do with this whole flower girl gig anyway?).
It never ceases to amaze me that flat pieces of fabric can be turned into garments that people can wear.  I love the process of making that happen.
3: Cutting and Pinning
Did I say I love the process?  Truthfully, I don't love the cutting and pinning, because I'm very impatient and I want to get to the sewing.  It's not until those raw-edged pieces of fabric are finally being joined together with a needle and thread that I'm truly happy, because I know I'm getting close to seeing the final product.  But cutting and pinning must be done.  And with three dresses going at once, there was a lot of that happening on my dining room table.
4: Making Covered Buttons
I had the hardest time deciding what kind of buttons to use on the backs of the dresses.  I kind of wanted to use rounded faux-pearl buttons, since this is a Pearl wedding, but I thought they might make it uncomfortable for the girls when they leaned back in their chairs.  I was looking for a rather flat button, but couldn't find a style I liked.  Then it hit me that buttons covered in the same fabric as the dresses would be a classy way to finish them off, so I picked up some kits for making them.  It's really quite easy to do, using little scraps of leftover fabric.
 5: Finishing with Hand-Sewing
I actually love it when I get to the part where the finishing touches are done by hand.  It's the kind of work I can do while watching television, for one thing.  And for another, it means the garment is almost complete!
 6: Terrified to Make the Buttonholes
(or: Velcro is My Best Friend)
I have made lots and lots of buttonholes in my life.  My machine makes it really easy to do so, and I normally don't hesitate a bit when the time comes to make them.  But for some reason, I got a major case of sewer's block with these three dresses, and I couldn't get myself to begin the process.  While I've made a lot of buttonholes, I've screwed up or almost screwed up a lot of them, too; and I couldn't bear the idea of ruining these sweet little dresses I'd worked so hard to make by messing up the final step.  So I procrastinated...and I stewed...and I tried to think of some other way to have the backs fasten, rather than by buttoning up.
And then on a trip to JoAnn's I found just what I was looking for: iron-on Velcro strips made specifically for use in garments.  Huzzah!  It worked like a charm, and after those magical strips were ironed in place, I added the covered buttons to make it look as though the dresses have traditional button-up backs.
 No one will be the wiser!  Is Velcro amazing or what?

7: Finally, the Finished Product
Okay, if you're still reading this, thanks.  And now here they are: three matching flower girl dresses.  TA-DA!  They were made with love, as well as blood (literally--I did poke myself with a needle a few times, and these dresses have already been spot-cleaned), sweat, and tears.  But I think the project was a success.

I just realized how crazy this whole blogging business makes a gal.  Because when I was working on these dresses, more than a month ago, I took pictures along the way--just in case I needed them down the road.  We bloggers are always thinking, "Hmmm...maybe this is something I can blog about someday."  Aren't we?  Or is that just me?
I don't know why I spent 7 whole Takes this Friday, boring you with the details of this sewing project.  In fact, I believe I already posted a couple of pictures of these dresses on this blog not too long ago, now that I think of it.  But they are cute, aren't they?  And there is something extra-special about handmade dresses, in my humble opinion, even when they aren't as polished and perfect as professionally-made ones.  I can hardly wait to see them on the three little girls who will be wearing them on my son's wedding day.
Okay then, that's the end of sewing class.  You are dismissed!  There are better blogs, and better Takes, over at Conversion Diary, if you want to click on over that way.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why do I blog?

I've traditionally saved this sort of thing for lazy Saturday mornings when my brain can't come up with anything new to talk about--but I'm going to post a couple of re-runs today.

My husband and I attend daily Mass together this morning.  Afterward, as I was brewing the first of my three or four Keurig cups of coffee in anticipation of sitting down to hit my trusty keyboard with caffeine-enhanced enthusiasm, I was thinking about the whole blogging business and wondering why I almost look at it as some sort of job I need to do each day (or as close to each day as possible).  And then in my travels through my blogging dashboard page, as I scrolled through the list of previously published post titles absent-mindedly, hoping for a burst of writing inspiration, I came across a very old post, written when I'd only been at it about two months, and I thought I'd re-post it today.  (Note that I mention in this post that blogging is a great activity for a "frustrated novelist"; at the time, I was still keeping Finding Grace, which I'd been working on for almost four years at that point, a secret from everyone but my husband, my boys, and my daughter-in-law--who was one of the first people I allowed to read the entire manuscript when it was still a work in progress.  It was my way of giving a sneaky little hint about what I was up to.)  This post titled "Getting All Blogged Down" really does explain pretty well what motivates me to keep on bloggin'.

There's another post on the topic called  "Permanent Records" that I wrote a lot later in the game.  It was published just this past June, after my blog had celebrated its second anniversary.  It, too, gives a pretty good explanation for why I find blogging such an appealing and meaningful exercise.

So many people blog nowadays, it has become a topic for comedians and cartoonists to joke about.

And I get that.  Why in the world would anyone care what I have to say about anything, anyway?  I'm not famous.  I'm not an expert on anything.  As a mother to five grown sons, I have some experience to share--but even when it comes to that, there are blogging moms out there who've raised/are raising a whole lot more kids than I, and they have a more entertaining and/or inspirational way of expressing themselves when they talk about it.

And yet I sit down and type up an essay nearly every day.  I must do it.  I must write.  It's hard to explain.

I took a little break there, to read a few of my favorite blogs.  And I was tickled to see that my young friend Kate, who has a beautiful blog called Something Ivory, posted a thoughtful and insightful essay on the topic of blogging/writing today.  Kate is so eloquent and lovely--I think of her as the Grace Kelly of the blogging world--and she explains very well what motivates most of us blogger-types.  If you haven't read Kate's blog before, you should give it a look-see.

Why do I blog?  I don't know exactly...but I know that if I quit, my husband would miss my ramblings, especially when his job as an airline pilot takes him far from me and I can't talk his ear off in person.  (I don't talk off many ears--but his, I do.)

So...if you're a blogger and you're reading this, tell me: why do you blog?  Is it for the pure joy of writing?  Are you trying to preserve memories of your family's special moments for posterity?  Do you write mainly for yourself, your family, and your friends, or do you hope to reach a wider audience?  Are you a fellow Catholic who uses your blog as a forum to evangelize about our beautiful Faith?

I'm just curious.  (And I also love it when I get a comment or two.  Smiley face emoticon.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What We're Reading Wednesday: End of the Road

I have been so blessed in the past year or so (well, really in the past 55 years or so--but I digress).  In the days, weeks, and months following the publication of my novel Finding Grace, I have met--both on-line and in person--some of the most wonderful people, among them fellow writers who have been so incredibly kind and generous.  I have been humbled, buoyed, moved to tears--if there's an emotion to have, I've probably had it--by the things they have done to help me get the word out about my book.

Trying to promote and market a novel written by an unknown author and published by a small Catholic publishing house is no easy task; but it sure is a heck of a lot easier when you have friends in your corner who post reviews of your book on Amazon, or on their blogs and websites; or who send you Facebook messages out of the blue, filled with encouraging words; or who pass your book on to family members and friends when they're finished with it themselves.  (More than sales, even, I am interested in readers!)  There are some special people who have gone above and beyond to offer whatever support they can, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to properly express how grateful I am for the gift of their friendship. 

Among the long list of people who have been so wonderful to me are three Catholic authors: Ellen Gable Hrkach (whom I had the pleasure to meet, finally, in August, at the Catholic Writers Guild Conference), Therese Heckenkamp (whom I haven't met--yet!--but who was the first person to take a chance on my book and list it on her website), and Amy M. Bennett (who has been my e-buddy/Facebook friend ever since she read Finding Grace, on Therese Heckenkamp's recommendation, and contacted me afterward, and whom I hope to meet one day).  I have read books written by all three of these women, and I thought I'd use the WWRW forum to spread the word about the good work they are doing by writing clean, engaging fiction that both entertains and inspires.  This Wednesday, it is my pleasure to share a recent review I wrote for Amy M. Bennett's murder mystery/suspense novel,  End of the Road.


23998643's review
Nov 09, 13  ·                                    

 5 of 5 stars           

I just finished reading this terrific, engaging, page-turner of a mystery/suspense debut novel by Amy M. Bennett--and it left me thirsting for a sequel!

Corrie Black, the beautiful, spunky, raven-haired owner of Black Horse Campground (which she has been running on her own since the death of her beloved father, Billy Black Horse), is used to peaceful summers in fictional Bonney County, NM, surrounded by a group of loyal longtime friends and a collection of repeat customers who have become almost like family to her. She is shocked when Marvin Landry, who has been vacationing at the campground for many years with his wife Betty, is shot in his RV--in cold blood, in broad daylight. Marvin seems to be the most unlikely victim of such a crime; and thus begins an investigation into this bizarre murder, led by Corrie's childhood friend and former flame, a great-looking man of few words named Sheriff Rick Sutton. One prime suspect emerges right away: a handsome, mysterious, and secretive stranger named J.D. Wilder, who just so happens to have pulled into the campground on his Harley under the cover of darkness--the very night before the murder.

That's all I'm going to give you in the way of details, because I don't want to spoil the plot for you. But I will say that although the "who-done-it?" genre is not one that I'm normally drawn to, Bennett has made a convert out of me. "Was it J.D.?" I kept wondering. "And if not him--then WHO?"

But even without the attention-grabbing murder mystery at the heart of this story, I would have wanted to keep reading, if only for the enjoyment of Bennett's writing style and her excellent character development. Not to mention the fact that there is an intriguing love triangle for all of us hopeless romantics. Corrie can't help but have feelings for both Rick, who's always been her rock, and J.D., who makes her heart skip a beat; they are both very attractive, and they are both real men in the best possible sense--brave, strong, and chivalrous.

For a Catholic reader, it was heartening to see that Bennett did not hesitate to include her main characters' devotion to the Catholic Faith in the book, simply by mentioning that the workers at the campground fill in for one another on the weekends for short spells so that everyone has the opportunity to get to Mass. Religion is so often denigrated in modern fiction, and authors so often take pains to make sure readers know that their characters either have no religious affiliation or don't believe in God at all; thus, I found the simple references to Mass-going utterly refreshing.

Amy M. Bennett is a talented writer who won the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) contest in 2005. End of the Road actually started out as a 2009 NaNoWriMo project and was completed two years later. It was the winner of the 2012 Dark Oak Mystery Contest, and I can surely understand why. It is a winner.

Although the mystery of Marvin's murder was solved by the end of this book, the love triangle wasn't--I hope that sequel's coming, Amy.

Highly recommended!   

P.S.  Coming in future WWRW posts: reviews of Therese Heckenkamp's Frozen Footprints and Ellen Gable Hrkach's In Name Only.

P.P.S. Don't forget to check in at Jessica's for more book talk.