Saturday, December 27, 2014

Our Wee Elf (and an Anniversary)

On December 20, our troops started trickling in, so that by the evening of the 22nd, there were 15 of us staying here under the roof of Casa Pearl: 11 adults (my husband and myself, our 5 sons, and our 4 daughters-in-law) along with 4 precious grandchildren under the age of 4.  (And let's not forget the 2 big, hairy dogs who stayed in the basement "apartment" with son #4 and his wife.)

Today, 2 of our boys took off for parts south, with 2 of our daughters-in-law...and the youngest of our beloved Christmas houseguests: a jolly wee elf, our almost-3-month-old grandson G-man.  Here he is, all tucked into his car seat and ready to get on the road, posing for one last priceless picture in this killer elf hat.
Can you see now why I've been too distracted to blog?  So much cuteness to soak in, so little time!

Tomorrow, 2 more sons will be taking off, and we'll have a few quality days with just our oldest son and his gang (including twins Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie and their younger sister Little Gal).  With such an "empty" house, I should be able to find a few moments now and then to write, and I intend to catch you up on our holiday doings.

We were inordinately blessed this Christmas, with all of our favorite peeps gathered together to celebrate.  We won't soon forget the week we've just had.  My husband and I didn't need a single gift (although our sweet and generous children insisted on giving them to us); just having them here was the greatest gift we could have ever asked for.

34 years ago today, my husband and I received the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and started a family, our own little domestic church.  And happily, our pews are filling up.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Talking with Deacon Tom about Erin's Ring

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk about my new YA Catholic novel Erin's Ring last week with Deacon Tom Fox over at Catholic Vitamins.  I was very nervous beforehand (and when we had to cancel our phone chat on the originally appointed afternoon--due to technical difficulties--and reschedule for the following day, I felt I'd been given a "stay of execution" or something!).  But Deacon Tom is so wonderful and he put me totally at ease.  I felt as if we were two friends chatting at the kitchen table over a cup of coffee!  (And it didn't hurt, I'm sure, that my awesome husband was upstairs praying a Rosary for me while I was having my interview.)

Here's a link to the podcast, if you're interested in listening.  If you're not familiar with Deacon Tom's show, this might be a good time to become a follower!  ;)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ready and Waiting

I've been busy making my house ready to have all five sons, four daughters-in-law, four grandchildren (and let's not forget two big dogs!) staying in it for about a week, starting this afternoon!  The great thing is that this two-story Colonial in which we raised our family is going to be able to fit 15 people and a pair of dogs fairly comfortably...which means that my husband and I are never, ever going to sell it.  (And if the grandkids keep coming--let's hope they do!--we may just have to convert our walk-up attic into a dormitory.)

Two of my sons are on the road right now, traveling up north from VA.  Son #3 is set to arrive within the hour, with his wife Preciosa and almost-three-month-old son G-Man; so is son #4 and his wife Braveheart, with their canine "babies" Allie and Finny.  A few hours after my two Charlottesville boys get here, my husband will be returning from his last trip until after the New Year (woot woot!), and he will meet our baby (a college senior who's flying in from Notre Dame) at the airport in Boston, then they'll drive home together.

Tomorrow, our firstborn, his wife of five years Regina, and their three adorable daughters will join the party.  And the day after that, #2 son and Ginger (the newlyweds!) will round out the crew.

To say that I'm looking forward to Christmas this year is the understatement of the century.

I have been baking, wrapping presents, cleaning, and arranging all the rooms so that everyone has a bed.  (Except my baby, who will be sleeping on a couch--which he will have no trouble doing, since he's been blessed with the ability to sleep anywhere, anytime, with lights, noise, etc. This is a handy skill that he and his brothers inherited from their Mom's side of the family tree.)

I'm on my way out to the grocery store, to get a few key items that we won't be able to do without around here once the gang has fully descended upon us.  So I'll just leave you with a few pictures that tell the story of my recent activities (which have not included blogging, you might have noticed!).

The Nativity is set up in its place of honor in the dining room...


...and I hope our grandchildren are entranced by it.

I've added length to our already quite long dining room table, by putting a round drop-leave table at the end, with one side down.  We should be able to squeeze 14 people around it now!  (G-Man gets a lap--mine, if I have anything to say about it!)

 The tree is lit!

Family game night, anyone?
And you can tell there are going to be little people around, that's for sure.
The fridge has magnets on it, for the wee animal lovers who
will arrive tomorrow!

This hand-crafted rocking horse, which we bought
from a FL neighbor for their father--about 30 years ago--
is still in great condition!

The high chair we bought for their dad is still in remarkably good shape,
too.  (There's a crack in the tray, but Grammy took care of that.)
There are Santas all over the place!

A got a new, very sturdy, version of "The Night Before Christmas,"
and I think we'll start a new tradition this year, and have Papa read it
aloud to the kids on Christmas Eve.
I hope the grandkids will be delighted with my little lighted village.

It's Ralphie's house and school from the movie "A Christmas Story,"
and the bridge from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life. "
I'm leaving some of the sugar cookies unadorned--and I plan to get some help decorating them, from a trio of miniature baker's assistants.

Well, it won't be long before the first of the troops will be pulling in the driveway, so I must go.  Is it possible to be TOO happy, I wonder?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

My Hubby, the Irishman

Uh oh...I'm doing it again.  Re-posting.  This one is from 2012, but I thought it might be worth a repeat here at String of Pearls.  I've just had a second YA Catholic novel published, titled Erin's Ring, and this new book is a love letter to the Irish people and their God (also known as THE God!).

Reading this old post today about my husband, he of the 100% Celtic blood (don't know where the name "Pearl" came from, though,  because it doesn't sound very Irish), I realized why both of my books are so heavily populated with Irish and Irish-American characters!  Love, love, love those Irish.

So here's that post.  Click on it and give it a read, won't you now?  Faith 'n beggorah, it's a good one, 'tis indeed.  Promise!
Please note the shamrock suspenders!

Friday, December 12, 2014

My Reluctant Angel, Again

Sometimes I go the lazy route here at String of Pearls, and I show you old posts instead of coming up with something new.  And you guessed it, that's what I've decided to do today.

Not that I get so many visitors nowadays--but when I first posted this little story two years ago, hardly anyone was reading this blog.  I think this particular post got less than 25 "hits" back then, so unless you're among a handful of loyal longtime readers (mostly related to me by blood or marriage), you probably haven't read it yet--and it'll be new to you!

This one is all about my oldest son, who was very reluctant to play an angel in the kindergarten Christmas pageant at his Catholic school.  When he balked at having to dress "like a girl," I really felt for him.  I should have gotten him a slew of books about sword-wielding, manly angels like St. Michael the Archangel to get him pumped up for the role, I can see that now.  But I did the next best thing and fashioned him a costume that he felt comfortable wearing.  One that he didn't consider to be an affront to his manhood.

And who's to say all angels wear flowing robes, anyway?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Reluctant Angel

Before we moved east and settled in this New England town, where all of our sons attended the same Catholic grade school, our oldest son spent his first half-year of kindergarten at a Catholic school in Illinois.   And one of the last things he did as a student at that school was to play an angel in the Christmas pageant.

For some reason, it was decided that particular year (1989) that the girls would play the shepherds and the boys would be the angels, and this caused my son a whole lot of 6-year-old angst.  Although a shepherd's costume would have consisted of a bathrobe or some other type of  long, flowing garment, he saw that role as masculine enough.  But he felt very strongly that angel costumes were meant for girls.

"I don't want to wear a white dress!" he said, near tears.

He was really quite distressed, and to say he was reluctant to take part in the pageant is putting it mildly; if he could have gotten out of it altogether, he would have.  So I promised him that I would try to come up with an angel get-up that bore absolutely no resemblance to a dress.  Luckily, each mom was in charge of dressing her own little angel.  And luckily, I was able to find white sweat pants to go with a white turtleneck--and as you can see, my son was one manly little angel.  He was, in fact, the only boy among the Seraphim and Cherubim that night who was wearing pants.

Some might say that I should have just told him to man up and put on an angel's flowing white robe; after all, that's how all the other young ruffians were attired that night.  But I felt I needed to respect his wishes on this one, and he went from reluctant to radiant, all because he was wearing pants.  Look at that angelic smile!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Giveaway Winner (and Claddaghs on the Brain)!

Okay, as promised, I'm announcing the winner of the giveaway here at String of Pearls this morning.  When you hear who it is, you're going to think the contest was fixed, but I give you my word of honor that I chose the winning slip of paper with my eyes closed (and a prayer that I would choose the person who needed the book the most).  The winner is my Aussie blogging friend Erin, from Seven Little Australians and Counting.

Yes, the winner of a signed copy of Erin's Ring is named Erin.  That.  Just.  Happened.
Actually, I think Erin is the perfect choice, not just because of the book's title.  I'm also tickled that she won because she told me that so far, Erin's Ring is not easily available in the Land Down Under.  (For those of you who might have tried to order it on Amazon in the US and saw "temporarily out of stock" on the order form, I don't think it will take too long to receive your copy.  I have already been told by two friends that the books they ordered on-line have arrived.)

So that's one reason I'm glad the slip of paper I pulled out of the hat had Erin's name on it.  The other is that she is a homeschooling mother of ten (you read that right, TEN), and I've seen photos of her impressive home library on her blog.  I know this book will find a good home with her, and it will have a chance to be read by many young eager readers.

So Erin, I'll get that copy out to you as soon as I can.  (I'm going to have to look through my archives for your address--unless you want to just send it to me again.)

If you didn't win this contest, readers, there are three other signed copies out there, just waiting to be sent out to three lucky winners.  I'm hosting a giveaway at Goodreads--and if you enter before midnight on December 15, one of those winners could be you.

Aside from the Goodreads giveaway, my publisher Cheryl Dickow has a special Christmas offer going on: a "Mother-Daughter Package," available over at Bezalel Books (Erin's Ring and Cheryl's Elizabeth, a Holy Land Pilgrimmage, $17.99 with free shipping).  Award-winning author Nancy Carabio Belanger blogged about Erin's Ring and this amazing Bezalel offer here.  And if you'd like to order that set, click here.

I've kind of had Claddaghs on the brain lately.  I've always loved the look of Irish Claddagh rings and the symbolism behind the hands, crown, and heart: Friendship, Loyalty, Love.  I fell in love with this sort of meaningful Irish ring back in the spring of 1979, when I was a junior in college and my then-boyfriend brought me a gold one from Dublin, where he'd gone on a trip with the Notre Dame rugby team.  We'd been dating since the summer of 1973, and this was the first serious piece of jewelry he'd ever given me.  I put it on the ring finger of my left hand and couldn't stop looking at it!
This is the original box.  Over the past 35 years, the ring has developed several
cracks that I had to have fixed; but otherwise, it's the original as well.
My Claddagh was not technically an engagement ring, but it could have been--because at that point, we were sure we were going to get married after college.  (We were officially engaged--although without another ring--the following December, during our senior year, and then got married one year after that.)

I do love Claddaghs, and when the story for Erin's Ring started to form in my head, one of the first things I decided was that my young heroine would find an old-looking gold Claddagh ring poking up out of the dirt in a garden next to her parish church, right in front of a statue of Mary.  She would become intrigued by it, convinced by the engraving inside the band--"To Erin--Love, Michael"--that this ring must have an epic, romantic story to tell.  Erin's ring would in turn inspire her to explore the archives of the public library for clues, and in the process she and her best friend would learn all about the Irish immigrants who played a huge role in their small New Hampshire town's history.  (The story is set in Dover, NH, and there is a lot of true Dover history in this book.)  I wasn't even sure at first why the ring had ended up in the garden or how tragic I wanted its owner's story to be; but I let the characters lead me and eventually, it all came together.  In the last few pages, the mystery is solved...but I'm not going to tell you any more--you'll just have to read it!

Since finishing this novel, I seem to be obsessed with the Claddagh image.  Just recently, I typed the word "Claddagh" in a search box on the Etsy home page (a dangerous place to go, I assure you!), and I found this beauty.  It's a wall cross made out of balsa wood.  Look at that intricate scrollwork!  For $15, I thought it was a steal.
And it looks great on my wall of wedding pictures (a wall that's getting mighty crowded these days, now that four of our five boys are married!).
Well, I hope if you read Erin's Ring, you'll have Claddaghs on the brain, too!  (And don't forget about that Goodreads giveaway!)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mary's Day, Mary's Children (A Wedding Story)

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and it's also the one-month anniversary of the wedding of son #2 and his bride Ginger.  I have been meaning to sit down and devote a couple of hours to writing a nice, long post about the glorious day that these two kids got married, filled with delightful pictures of the event; but I've just been having trouble lately remembering that I'm NOT, in fact, a chicken with my head cut off.  And also remembering how sweet the readers of this blog are--and how interested they are in all the news that concerns our growing family.  Activities such as baking coffee cakes and sugar cookies, painting doors, and scouring the attic for our boys' old toys and bringing them downstairs for our granddaughters, all in anticipation of having my entire family with us this Christmas--all of that stuff can wait until after I share these wedding deets with you.

I think this feast day in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a perfect day to talk about a young couple who began their courtship with a 54-day Rosary novena to Her, in order to discern God's plan for their relationship.  I blogged about this before, when I told you their engagement story; but I think it's worth a quick re-tell today.  My boy and his new wife met a year ago yesterday, at the wedding of my middle son and his Preciosa.  She was a bridesmaid and he was a groomsman; and although they talked a little, they never got around to hitting the dance floor together.  My son told me afterward that on the entire 12-hour drive back from VA to NH, he was kicking himself for not spending more time with her.  So the first thing he did when he got home was to send her a Facebook friend request.  (As wonderfully old-fashioned as this couple is in all the right ways, they ARE, after all, 21st-century creatures.)  Once they became FB friends, texts flew back and forth, followed by epic phone calls, followed by visits via air travel...and when it seemed as if they were headed in a very serious direction, they decide to say the novena.  God was a part of the equation from the get-go, and they appealed to His Mother for Her intercession.  Due to the long-distance nature of their relationship, they had to say many of their Rosaries together over the phone.  When the 54 days were up, it seemed that God's answer was something like, "You two really need to be together, and I think you know that."

Within six months of meeting, they were engaged.
And just one year (actually, less than a year!) after being members of the wedding party at the wedding of her college friend and his younger brother, they became man and wife.
It's a beautiful story, isn't it?

And they had a beautiful wedding day to go along with that story.

To begin with, the Mass was very holy and reverent.  The couple recited their vows while holding a crucifix that they bought especially for that purpose, and which they plan to hang in their house for the rest of their days together on this earth.  The music was so incredibly lovely--in fact, the same team that sang and played for the wedding Mass of son #3 and Preciosa a year ago was employed once more.  (Ginger and Preciosa have been friends for more than a decade, and the singer is the younger sister of one of their mutual best friends.)  The litany of the saints, a favorite of mine, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.  It was like being in the company of the angels.  The priest who married them is young and extremely likeable--and as someone pointed out, bears an uncanny resemblance to Brian Kilmeade of Fox TV's "Fox and Friends" morning show!
Ginger picked out something quite different for her attendants to wear than the run-of-the-mill prom-style gown.  She had striped skirts made on Etsy, and then her bridesmaids wore black twinsets with them, accessorized with multi-strand pearl necklaces given to them by the bride.  I LOVED this classy, unexpected look.  Two of the bridesmaids had given birth recently and two were pregnant, so it was challenging coming up with an ensemble that would suit all the various body types; but look at these pictures!  I'd say the outfit flatters every single one of these beautiful young women!  It's like the preppy look meets Audrey Hepburn, or something like that.  (Work with me here!)

Okay, I better stop with the bridesmaid pictures, or this is going to turn into a fashion post!  (But don't you love this look?!)

What about the guys--you didn't think I forgot about them, did you?  Here is a clever shot of the gray-suited groomsmen that I didn't understand at first.
You'd think after raising five sons, I'd know a superhero-themed stunt when I saw one...but I didn't.  It was explained to me that son #2 was pretending to hit the ground, Thor-style, and that the force of his superhero strength made the earth explode and sent all the other guys flying into the air.  How did I not know this right away?  It's so obvious to me now.  I love this picture, because it illustrates a quality in the male of the species that I love so much: a man, no matter how old he gets, will always have a bit of little boy in him.

I'll bet you're smiling, aren't you?  Okay then, on to the reception!

We were thrilled that the party was held in the same Marriott hotel where all the out-of-town guests had reserved their rooms, so it was an easy walk back "home" after the festivities.

The ballroom was decadently beautiful.  The food, served buffet-style, was decadently tasty and plentiful.  The air was filled with the sound of non-stop dance tunes (provided by a father-son DJ duo the bride has known since high school), and the dance floor was packed from the minute dinner ended until the lights went on at the end of the night.  I don't think there was anything about that wedding reception that could have been improved upon.  One of the best things about it was that there were so many CHILDREN in attendance, which is the hallmark of any Pearl wedding--and our son married into a family that is very like-minded!

I got to dance my third mother-son dance in the span of eleven months, and I started to get a little weepy.  But then my son and I decided to do a little swing dancing to lighten things up.

My husband loves watching me dance with my sons.
That's him back there next to the bride, holding his little dance partner Bonny Babe.
I could go on and on here; but I think I'm going to let some pictures do the talking for me.

No wedding reception would be complete without "YMCA"--am I right?

Or my baby's "Thriller" routine.

Cutie Pie was either on my lap or on the dance floor
with me, all night (we were like peas and carrots!),
 until it was time for a sitter to put her to bed.

My husband was sporting his wedding must-have: shamrock suspenders!

Ginger was a spectacularly beautiful bride.

My son likes to say he "married up."  But I'd say they both did quite all right indeed!
Mary, these children of Yours came to You for help when they were in the process of discerning whether or not they should be joined together for life.  You helped them to see that God's answer to their prayers was a resounding "YES!"  Please continue to watch over and guide them.

But I don't have to tell you that.  You're their Mother, after all.

(P.S.: Today's the last day to enter to win a signed copy of Erin's Ring.  Just leave me a comment before midnight tonight, and your name goes into the hat!)