Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Couple of Pictures (That Are Worth a Thousand Words...)

Or perhaps a few hundred, at least.  Because I still don't have time to put together a good blog post.  We just said good-bye to our oldest son and his family and finished cleaning up the house that my husband and I, our five sons, and their significant others and offspring inhabited during the wedding weekend (a home owned by my husband's second cousins, who live two doors down from the home in which he grew up).  Now we have to finish getting the old Pearl homestead prepared to be closed up until the next family gathering by the lake.

But even though I don't really have time to write, I thought you might be interested in this picture of my #4 son and his beautiful new bride (whose blog moniker, I've decided, is going to be "Braveheart"), along with their young and very good-looking bridal party--which includes my other four sons and three of my nieces.  This picture really displays the beauty of the church where they got married--which coincidentally is the very same church in which my husband and I exchanged our wedding vows 33 years ago!
I have one other picture I want to share before I sign off and get back to work.  I took this shot of Braveheart standing silhouetted against the backdrop of the frozen lake and the mountains of Vermont, as she was getting ready to put on her veil and leave for the church.  I thought it made a very dramatic and striking tableau indeed!  For the nuptial Mass, she wore an antique ivory satin wedding gown, with intricate beading on the bodice, that belonged to her grandmother.  It perfectly suited her petite frame and dark hair and eyes.
I feel like this would make a lovely oil painting--and if I ever write a novel that's a period piece, perhaps I shall use this image on the cover!

There's more wedding stuff to come soon--but probably not until after we get back home tomorrow and my poor neglected laptop and I become reacquainted.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

We Had Another Wedding!

I'm back!  Or I will be, very soon.  It's been quite a busy week for the Pearl family, what with the wedding of son #4 and all.  And it's not going to start slowing down completely until our oldest son and his family (including their darling trio of little girls) head to the airport tomorrow morning for their return flight to Colorado.  But in the meantime, I thought I'd post a picture of my husband and me with our five handsome boys, all gussied up in our wedding attire just before we left for the church on Saturday.
That's the groom in the center, sporting those snazzy black and white kicks.

I have lots more to say, and lots more pictures to post.  But you'll have to be patient with me, my dear readers (if you're still out there...hello?).  You'll be hearing from me soon, I promise (or I warn you).  In the meantime, all I can say is that the Pearl family has been blessed beyond measure--and our string just keeps on getting longer and longer as we continue to add on beautiful and priceless new gems! 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

WWRW: Olivia and the Little Way

I told you in a previous WWRW post that I was reading Olivia and the Little Way, and that I would try to get a review done as soon as possible.  Well, here it is!  (I don't know why it took me so long to read this extraordinary Catholic novel (one that's targeted at the pre-teen audience, but is really for readers of any age, if you ask me), but I'm sure glad I finally did.  I can't recommend it highly enough!
If only Nancy Carabio Belanger’s award-winning novel for young readers, Olivia and the Little Way, had been available to me when I was in middle school or junior high—how I would have benefited from the beautiful messages that are woven into each and every page!  During those sometimes awful formative years, when so many of the influences on young people are not exactly good ones, it would have been incredibly beneficial for me to read about Olivia Thomas’ introduction to and growing friendship with one of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church: St. Therese of Lisieux, also known as the “Little Flower,” the beloved saint who taught the “Little Way of Spiritual Childhood.”

As a young girl, I remember vividly wanting to be good (and of course failing routinely, as we all do); but I don’t remember going about the business of my daily life with the specific goal of becoming a saint always in the forefront of my mind.  I suppose I sometimes felt as St. Therese herself felt: “when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passers-by.”  Well let me tell you, Belanger’s outstanding book definitely reminds the reader of the all-important goal of achieving sainthood; but it also reminds her that one need not go through life’s trials alone, because there are friends in Heaven to whom she can turn for help.  And one of these powerful friends is dear St. Therese, who herself felt she had “to look for some means of going to Heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight.”

The novel’s heroine Olivia Thomas is the oldest child in a Catholic family, with two younger siblings.  Her family is getting ready to move from Texas, where she has lived her whole life, to Michigan.  On the cusp of entering fifth grade, Olivia is not thrilled about the idea of leaving all of her friends behind and becoming the dreaded “new girl” in school; but at least there is one huge plus to look forward to: Olivia will now live close to her beloved grandmother, with whom she has always spent part of her summer vacations.  Before Olivia heads back home from her grandmother’s house to spend the rest of her last summer in Texas, her grandmother gives her a very special gift: a St. Therese chaplet.  She also begins to talk to her granddaughter about her favorite saint and to tell stories about the amazing ways St. Therese of Lisieux has interceded for her.  As time goes on, Olivia begins to build her own special relationship with St. Therese.

As Olivia navigates the obstacles to sainthood that abound as a middle-schooler (especially one who is trying desperately to fit in at her new Catholic school), she finds many opportunities to call on her special new Heavenly friend for assistance and encouragement.  It’s hard to befriend the class outsiders when it means the “cool girls” might decide to lump you with them, and it’s hard to fight the kind of peer pressure that makes you embarrassed to stand out in any way; but with the help of St. Therese, Olivia learns to stick up for the underdogs while at the same time praying for and exhibiting compassion for the big wigs who act uncharitably toward others, knowing that sometimes love can help to turn lives around.  Olivia perseveres in practicing the “Little Way,” even when it is extremely difficult and she’s not sure that her efforts are bearing any fruit.  She makes mistakes along the way; but as she struggles along, it is touching to read about how she yearns for that visible sign—that promised shower of roses from Heaven—that will prove her new patron has been listening to her prayers.  What’s also very touching is that other characters in the book (ones you might not expect) are inspired to turn to St. Therese as well.  Ultimately, the book shows that though we are all sinners and far from perfect, we are all souls worthy of love, understanding, and forgiveness.

Surely, Belanger’s sweet, entertaining, and inspiring novel Olivia and the Little Way would have been the perfect book for me to read in my girlhood years; but it was incredibly beneficial for me to read it now, and I’m in my mid-fifties!  I’ve found that in the aftermath of reading this little gem, which is aimed at young adult readers but is certainly an enjoyable read for any adult as well, I have been energized anew with the desire to do every small thing with great love, to imitate St. Therese’s “Little Way” to the best of my ability, just as Olivia learns to do in the course of the story.

If you have an impressionable young reader in your house, she should read this book.  If you’re an adult who never got to know St. Therese very well when you were young, you should read this book.  If you want to be inspired to win souls for Jesus through small but important acts of love and self-sacrifice, you should read this book.  And afterwards, you should read the sequel, Olivia’s Gift.  (That’s what I’m going to do!)

On her blog, Nancy Carabio Belanger (who has a deep devotion to St. Therese of Lisieux) states that this is her mission: “to fill the bookshelves of pre-teens with books that celebrate our Catholic faith, modesty, the gift of life, and a wholesome childhood.”  Olivia and the Little Way does all of those things, and does them while introducing the reader to a saint whom we should all get to know better.  Bravo, Nancy Carabio Belanger—mission accomplished!
Okay, now you can head on over to Jessica's to see what's keeping everyone else up way past their bedtimes, reading by flashlight under the covers so Mom and Dad won't catch know the drill.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Few Wee Tidbits...No Time for More

We're back from our trip out to South Bend, IN, where we celebrated junior parents weekend with our youngest son, his buddies, and their parents.  Now we've got some quick last-minute things to take care of before we get back on the road again--we're headed for Upstate NY tomorrow or the next day for the wedding of son #4.  There are rehearsal dinner menus to be printed, there's a cake to be decorated, and there's a tooth to be implanted--hooray!!  If you come here often, you know that I was discouraged to lose both back molars on one side of my upper jaw several months ago, and I had to wear a sort of Invisiline braces contraption with a faux tooth embedded in it to my #3 son's wedding in December.  Well, I didn't HAVE to wear it; but I chose to, because I found that I'm much too vain when it comes to having a full set of teeth.  I really like the idea of having a full set.  Full sets of teeth are my favorite.  It would probably have been a good mortification for me to go without that device, trying to smile as widely as possible to show off my unfortunate gap...but alas, I am no saint.  And I thought I was going to have to wear the device again for this wedding, and lisp my way through another major event in my sons' lives; but my dentist asked the people who are making my new crown (also known, at least right now, as my best friends) to put a rush on it, and they have it ready for me today.

Anyway, gang, I really don't have a lot of time to spend attending to my poor, semi-neglected blog.  If I allow myself to try to compose something of substance, it will be 2:00 in the afternoon, I'll still be in my bathrobe, and I will have missed my dentist appointment altogether.  I simply can't let that happen!

But I thought I'd share a few quick tidbits with you.  When I scrolled through my Facebook news feed this morning, I saw that someone had posted this.
I thought I was just the worst texter in the universe, but this reminded me that it's not my fault.  Curse you, auto-correct!  The funny thing is, though, that a couple of times I've typed the word "Cahtolic," and auto-correct is like, "WHAAAAT?  I can't think of a word that is even remotely CLOSE to that one.  No corrections, lady.  You're on your own."  Really, auto-correct?  Really?

Another recent Facebook news feed gem is this meme posted by my husband's youngest brother, the #8 sibling in a proudly Irish family.
OMGoodness gracious, this is the best!  You really gotta love the Irish!

Okay, I'm off now.  I've got places to go, things to do.  Because in FIVE DAYS, son #4 will be receiving the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony--which is mind-boggling, because it seems like only yesterday that he was receiving his very first sacrament.
By the way, we did not wait until he was almost a year old to baptize this boy--although it might look that way, judging by the above picture. When he was born he weighed 10 lbs., 12 and 1/2 oz., and he was 24" long (at least--that was the length of the measuring tape and they didn't even bother to straighten him out completely, so he was probably longer), and he could already hold his head up without support.  He looked about 2 months old from the get-go!

Okay, I really must go.  The cake has cooled, so it's time to go into Cake Boss mode and get that thing decorated. 

Have a great week everyone!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Few Weekend Updates

Well the Goodreads giveaway ended, and three winners have been chosen to receive free paperback copies of Finding Grace. Thanks to all of you "String of Pearls" readers who threw your name into the hat.  I think I'm going to run another giveaway contest in the summer, so if you entered this one and didn't win or didn't enter and wish you would have, keep an eye open for the next one.

In other news, my husband and I are out at one of our favorite places on the face of the earth, the University of Notre Dame, enjoying a Junior Parents Weekend extravaganza with our youngest son.
We had a bit of a crazy ride out here (which you know about if you read this post), but we arrived in good shape at midday on Friday and it looks like the car we left back at the shop in Syracuse has already been fixed and is ready to be rescued on our way back home on Sunday.  The trip was a bit of a pain, but we got here--and it was certainly worth all the hassles.  We're having a terrific time with our baby.  He and I even got to cut a rug last night, and he impressed me with his swing moves; and then his father joined us on the dance floor for that classic party number "YMCA"--because I mean really, how can you possibly stay seated when that one comes on?  (If you've ever been to a Pearl wedding, you'd know the answer to that question is, "You can't.")

Life is good here in South Bend!  I hope you're all having a great weekend, wherever you may be.  Without snow!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Last Chance!

Just a quick reminder (the last one--I promise!) about the Goodreads Giveaway.  I'm giving away three paperback copies of Finding Grace.  If you want to enter, there are only 15 hours left to do so!  Just click on the "Enter to win" button there on the right for all the details, and you could be one of the lucky three.  Who doesn't like free stuff, right?

I made a mistake back at the beginning when I said the contest would run through midnight tomorrow--it actually ends at midnight tonight.  Don't dilly-dally, would-be readers.  The clock's ticking!


If you're interested in getting to know Grace Kelly, her charming and funny Irish dad Jack, her brittle on the outside/soft on the inside mother Peggy, her hilarious and goofy friend Jimmy Sullivan (who'd like to be more than a friend, the poor guy), and the love of her life, Tom Buckley, then enter to win and you can meet them all!

This was MY "Tom Buckley" in high school.  Actually, he's still my Tom Buckley...
so it's not surprising that he and Grace's fictional love interest share
 a number of personality traits and stellar qualities!

Okey-doke, then.  You've been reminded.  And now my husband and I are off to Notre Dame to spend junior parents weekend with our youngest son.  Have a good one, everybody!  And if you enter the contest, may you have the luck of the Irish!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Giveaway Reminder and Tales from the Road

Don't forget to head on over to Goodreads, where you can enter to win one of three paperback copies of my novel Finding Grace.  There are only two more days to go before the contest ends and the lucky trio of winners will be notified.

There's a handy "Enter to win" button right there on the right, at the top of the sidebar.  Click that and it'll take you where you need to go to get your name on the list.  (Come on, hit that button; what have you got to lose?)

In other news, it's our youngest son's Junior Parents Weekend at Notre Dame this weekend, and my husband and I were planning to fly out of Boston early on Friday.  But Old Man Winter was heading to town, due to dump a ton of snow on us throughout the day Thursday (as part of a weather event that they're calling "Snowmaggedon" down South), and it looked like all the flights on Friday were going to be filled up by passengers whose flights on Thursday were sure to be grounded by the storm.  We thought about flying out last night to get ahead of it all--but obviously everyone and his brother had the same great idea, because all the flights were overfull last night, too.

So we packed the car up and got on the road at about 9:00 p.m., spur-of-the-moment-like, and drove about six hours well west of the storm's path.  The only trouble was that after stopping for gas a few hours into the drive, the car started chugging and we started getting a blinking "check engine" light.  So at about 3:00 a.m., we pulled into a hotel in Syracuse, NY, and my husband is planning to head over to the Nissan dealer this morning (after the complimentary breakfast, which I wouldn't miss for the world) to see what's going on.

My uneducated guess is that we got some bad gas (gasoline, that is--what are you thinking, anyway?) or something, because the car started chugging a little and the light came on right after we stopped to fill up.'s a typical Pearl road trip.  Our tales of breakdowns and hours spent sitting on the sides of highways waiting for AAA to come rescue us are somewhat legendary at this point.  But we expected this sort of thing when we had our big old red 15-seater Dodge Ram van money pit; we didn't expect it with the sleek little charcoal-gray Nissan Maxima we got when the old girl died.  (Et tu, Maxima?  Et tu?)

At least we have a couple of days to get things squared away, because back when we thought this was going to be a trip by plane that was going to go off without a hitch, we weren't planning to arrive in South Bend until Friday afternoon.

Okay, then, enough about our woes from the road.  By hook or by crook, we will make it to that JPW at Notre Dame!  How, I'm not sure.  But I'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shoveling through Tears

Back in the day, our five boys were the best team of snow shovelers a New England family could ever hope for.  My husband made sure that they knew the most efficient way to get the job done, and he got them out there when they were quite young to teach them how to do it properly. He did the same thing when it came to lawn mowing, starting out by assigning a small rectangle of grass and gradually having them move on to more challenging sizes and shapes.

We have a large front yard and a large back yard, and our driveway isn't quite airport runway-length, but it's pretty long.  And the thing that was so great about the way our boys worked is that as they got older and were able to take over the responsibility for the outside work from their dad almost entirely, they developed a system for dividing the work area--whether the yard or the driveway--into defined sections and going to town in the most efficient manner.  It was a thing of beauty to watch, I tell you--better than any synchronized swimming routine you've ever seen.  And they took turns being stuck with the least desirable sections, but they worked it all out on their own, without any input from dear old mom and dad.

I've blogged before about my boys and how much we miss their big strong arms and backs, now that they've all grown up and left us.  [Sniff, sniff.]  I mean, we miss them, too; but boy, we really miss their muscles.  We miss having them as our live-in work detail, our dependable team of laborers (who might have been underpaid, but were definitely not underappreciated).  Here's an old post on the subject, written not long after our youngest took off for college in South Bend, IN in 2011.  I was new at being an empty-nester back then, and trying my darndest to adjust to all the changes that were taking place around here.

We have "guys" now (something our boys could only dream about in the good old days when they were the ones keeping our grass trimmed and our driveway cleared off): we have a yard guy and we have a plow guy.  These guys are necessary for us now.  My husband goes away for days at a time for his airline job, and that would leave me to dig out when we get dumped on by winter Nor'easters.  Sorry, Charlie--I just don't have the upper body strength to handle that kind of thing on my own.  I can push a lawnmower when my hubby's not here to do it; but we travel so much these days to visit our kids and grandkids that if we didn't have a lawn service to keep things under control in our absences, we would get ourselves kicked out of our nice cul-de-sac neighborhood.  So we have guys.  I love our guys.

Anyhoo, we got some snow on Sunday night, but the plow guy doesn't come unless we get three inches, and it was just under that.  When I talked to my husband (who Face-timed me from his layover hotel in Moscow), he told me not to worry about shoveling it, but on Monday I decided to do it anyway.  It was fluffy and light, and I knew that if I didn't clear it off soon, it would continue to get packed down every time we drove on it until it would be impossible to shovel.  So I was out there, on a gloriously sunny but ridiculously cold afternoon, thinking about this and that as I rhythmically scraped the shovel from one side of the driveway to the other, and suddenly I stopped and stood there, shovel in hand, while the tears coursed down my face.  I miss my boys, I thought.  I was hit completely out of the blue with the most painful longing to watch them troop outside as a team to divide and conquer the driveway together--just one more time.  To see them young again, sometimes laughing and pelting each other with snow, and sometimes bickering because one or the other wasn't pulling his weight.  Yes, I was even feeling nostalgic about the bickering.
I never would have thought that just the simple act of shoveling a few inches of snow off the driveway would make me so nostalgic and sad.

When my funny second oldest son got home from work and I told him about my weird little crying spell in the driveway, he assured me that he and his brothers don't miss those slave labor days one bit.  They do not get nostalgic about them, he assured me; they do not cry, and they do not sit around thinking, If only we could all go and shovel Mom and Dad's driveway together again.  So I ended up laughing, and all was good.

The end.

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Reminder about the Goodreads Giveaway

Don't forget to head on over to Goodreads, where you can enter to win a free copy of my Catholic novel for young and even not-so-young adults, Finding Grace.  There are only five days left!  All you have to do is click on that "Enter to win" button on the right...see it?  Right at the bottom of that white box at the top of the sidebar over there.  That'll take you to the Goodreads page where you can put your name in the proverbial hat.  What have you got to lose?

This could be you.
Well hello, there, beloved middle son!
Or this.

And hi, sweet baby sister!
Look at those satisfied customers!  (What would I do without my ever-supportive family members?  They are the best book promoters and salespeople an unknown first-time author could ask for.  It's too bad I can't pay them better.)

Sorry, readers.  Do you feel as if you've been tricked today--that you clicked on here to read a blog post and got blindsided with, as Ralphie would put it, a "lousy commercial"?  (I just love that scene in "A Christmas Story" where he locks himself in the bathroom to decode his first secret message using his long-awaited and longed-for Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, and it spells out, "Drink more Ovaltine."  Oh, the disappointment!  The disillusionment!)


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Happy Birthday to...

my favorite my #2 son!

I really don't have any favorites.  But if I say that in the presence of my beloved second-born, he'll give me a look that says, Sure, ma.  You just keep saying that.  But we all know who it really is.

Actually, he won't just give me a look that says that.  He'll come right out and just say it.

Because among many other wonderful traits, this boy has a positively delightful sense of humor, and a booming belly laugh that you can hear across town--a laugh that makes you want to join in, even if you don't know what's so funny.

I've blogged about this wonderful son numerous times in the past; here are a couple of my favorite posts about him: this one, and this one.  They're pretty short and sweet, so why don't you click on over and I'll be here when you get back.

No birthday post about any one of my sons would be complete without a little trip down that well-traveled lane of memories; so here's my birthday boy in 1985, at around 6 months.  Is he cute or what?!?!?
And here he is in a more recent photo, one of my favorites of the two of us together (taken at a family reunion in 2012).
That boy gives the best bear hugs!  So does that make him my favorite?  Nah...I've got five favorites, I really do.

But today, on the anniversary of the day he made his entrance into the world and turned it into a better place by far...well, maybe today he can be the favorite.

Happy Birthday to my favorite second-born son!  XXXOOO  Mumsie

Movie Review: The Monuments Men

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I went to see a matinee (because one of the perks of being empty-nesters is the spur-of-the-moment movie date).

If you haven't seen "The Monuments Men" yet, I can't recommend it highly enough.  It's packed with big-name stars like Matt Damon, George Cluny, Cate Blanchett, and Bill Murray (in an understated role for the comedian); it's very entertaining and will even make you chuckle at times.  But it will also remind you of the horror of Hitler's vile hatred of the Jews--and it will do this without ever actually showing you what any of his Jewish victims went through.  You will see it through a ransacked and empty apartment... with a spot on the wall where an oil portrait used to hang, before the lives of the family that used to live in that apartment were torn apart forever.  It will break your heart at times, and move and touch you in ways you never expected.  At least that's how my husband and I both felt as we left the theater.
This movie is based upon a true story about a small group of men, (American and English) who were assembled during the waning days of World War II to go over to Europe and try to locate and reclaim the millions of works of art that the Nazis had stolen throughout the continent.  This rather rag-tag group of not-so-young men was made up of museum curators, art historians, and architects, and they went through basic training in order to join the war effort overseas as real soldiers--soldiers sent to protect the history of mankind, of Christianity, and of Western Civilization, when it comes right down to it; soldiers with the mission of bringing these precious stolen pieces back, unharmed if possible, to their rightful owners.  I have read so many accounts, both fictional and non-fictional, about the WWII era, with which I have always been fascinated; but this is a story I don't remember hearing about before.

Hitler ruthlessly stole an extraordinarily enormous number of famous and important works of art during the war--something like five million pieces--and hid them away (I won't tell you where, because that would spoil the movie's plot for you).  He took them from museums in the cities that were occupied by Germany; but he also took them from private collections.  And of course, many of those private works of art were owned by Jews, and were torn from their homes right along with their owners when the Nazis came to haul them away to concentration camps.  The paintings and statues were of far more worth to Hitler than human beings, however; his plan was not to destroy them, but to possess them and to showcase them after the war in his own personal museum.  But he also left instructions that if Germany was to lose the war, or he himself was to die, all of those priceless pieces of history he'd amassed were to be burned.  In the end, had it not been for the Monuments Men, all of that artwork was slated to meet the same fate as the souls who never made it out of the camps.

The work these art enthusiasts did might not sound very dangerous when you compare it with the mission of the Allied troops who landed at Normandy shortly before the Monuments Men arrived on the scene, or with the soldiers fighting battles at the front; but the war wasn't quite over yet, and their lives were on the line just like any of the troops fighting over there.  In the course of the movie, some of the men involved in this mission are asked if a piece of artwork is worth a man's life.   Put that way, the normal impulse might be to answer, "Of course not!"--because no thing on earth is as valuable as the life of a human being, obviously.  But the Monuments Men believed in their mission.  To them, it was about preserving something that was more than just canvas or marble, really.  If Hitler had been successful in eradicating all of that irreplaceable artwork--that history--from the face of the earth, then even though he lost the war, in a way he would have won.  These men felt a calling to preserve all of those historically significant works of art for future generations and for the good of all mankind, and they were willing to risk their lives to do it.  Each and every piece they took back from Hitler represented a moral victory over one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

It is notable that so many of the greatest works of art the world has ever known are Catholic ones, and this Hollywood movie doesn't hesitate to show that at all.  Two of the most significant pieces that the Monuments Men are in search of were stolen from Belgium by the Nazis: the Ghent Altarpiece
(also known as the "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb"), which is made up of 12 painted panels;
and Michelangelo's "Madonna and Child," from Bruges.
Finding them and seeing that they are returned to their rightful owners is nothing less than a vocation for these men, who risk life and limb to recover them.  I want to tell you about the way George Cluny reacts in the presence of one of these precious Faith-inspired images, because it brought a lump to my throat--but again, I don't want to ruin it if you're planning to go see the movie.  Suffice it to say that I was extremely pleasantly surprised by the fact that the Catholic Faith, so often the object of ridicule and criticism in movies, was treated with great respect--and its images, with utmost reverence.

This is a clean movie, with a PG-13 rating for some scenes of war violence (but not too, too bad) and some swear words.  I highly recommend it, whether you're a WWII buff or not.  And for you readers out there: there's a BOOK BY THE SAME TITLE!  (It's already on my Goodreads "To Read" list!)

Enjoy the rest of this glorious a country with a history full of heroes, in a world with a history full of art.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Two Weeks 'Til the Wedding of Son #4!

Two weeks from today, son #4 is getting married.

That's right, this guy--this cute little munchkin--is getting married.  He is going to be a husband.  How, I ask you, is that possible?
Even he looks shocked about it.

Of course, he's not a two-year-old anymore.  He's a lot bigger, and a lot more grown-up, than he was when that photo was taken.  He's very serious and mature these days.  As you can plainly see by perusing these more recent pictures.
(Christmas 2012, in the arms of son #2.) 
(As the best man, in the arms of his brother, the groom--at son #3's wedding this past December.)
(From the engagement photo shoot, in the arms of the bride-to-be.)
I'm having trouble even wrapping my brain around the concept that in a mere matter of weeks, three of my five sons will be married.

I blinked, y'all.  And this is what happened.  (Yes, I just said "y'all."  My husband and I spent the first few years of our marriage in Texas, where he was in Navy flight school, and I actually found myself using that term for real after a while.  Now that we've been back in our old stomping grounds up north for a couple of decades, of course, all y'all are back to being "you guys.")

So the countdown begins.  And I think I'm ready--although I'm afraid to try on my dress, because I believe it might have gotten a tad snug since I first tried it on.  I put on a few el bee's over the Christmas holidays and they seem to like their new home so much that they've decided to stick around for a while.  I keep planning to go on a big fast to lose them in time...and then I say, "I'll start that fast tomorrow!"

It's a pretty dress, though.  Let me show you.
If you think it looks black, you would be as wrong as my husband.  It's a yummy deep purple color, and the jacket is covered with little sparkly beads that catch the light when you move.  It's so pretty, but it would probably look better on me if I was built like this lovely headless mannequin here.

Okay, then, the only thing left to say today is please keep my son and his bride-to-be in your prayers as they prepare for the beautiful Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Champagne Dresses for Grammy's Darlings

I've finished re-doing the sashes on the dresses my twin granddaughters Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie are going to wear in son #4's upcoming wedding (in less than 3 weeks!).  You might remember these little ivory satin dresses, with navy blue satin sashes and bolero jackets made out of some ivory velveteen I found in my late mother-in-law's attic.
Now these same dresses have got champagne-colored sashes, and I also switched the buttons on the boleros, which resembled little pearl clusters, to antique-looking buttons with large pearls in the center.  Son #4's bride is getting married in her grandmother's vintage satin gown and the bridesmaids will be wearing champagne-colored dresses with lots of beading and bling at the neck, so I thought my wee ones' outfits should have a slightly antique, slightly blingy look about them as well.
While I was fixing up the flower girl dresses, I realized I had enough leftover satin in both the ivory and the champagne to make a dress for my sweet Little Gal to wear, so that her outfit will coordinate with what her big sisters are wearing at the wedding.  Plus, wedding day is also a red letter day in her life: she's going to be turning one year old!  So here's what the little birthday girl is going to be wearing for her uncle's wedding.
It's a special little frock for a special Little Gal.
Grammy can hardly wait to see her darling girls all dolled up in these stylish numbers!  And I've gotta say, it really is fun--after raising only boys--to have little lasses to sew for.  Although I did manage to make a few things for my sons, when they were but sprouts--before they reached the age when wearing homemade clothing would have made them fashion outcasts among their peers.  (That age comes a lot earlier for boys than it does for girls.)  In fact, I made a white linen suit coat for son #4--the soon-to-be groom--to wear when he was six and played the role of ring bearer at his aunt/godmother's wedding back in 1994.  I don't have a picture of him wearing it (my sister-in-law does, in her wedding album); but I just brought it down from the attic, and after 20 years it still looks pretty good.  What's neat is that all those years ago, son #4 was the ring bearer at his aunt's wedding, and now her young son (who's about the same age he was) is going to be the ring bearer at his.  It's all come full circle!
(Before I sign off, here's a little reminder, because I'm going to keep bugging you about this until the contest ends on February 15: don't forget to enter the book giveaway contest on Goodreads!  You could be one of three lucky winners of a paperback copy of Finding Grace.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

WWRW: Olivia and the Little Way (Also, a Little Giveaway, and a Little Press on CTN)

I just love this 1895 painting of two sweet little boot-clad bookworms by eminent Impressionist artist Pierre August Renoir.  I forgot to look up its title, but I've decided I'm going to call it "What They're Reading Wednesday."  These two little girls would make the perfect audience for the book I'm reading today--their mom could read it aloud to them, and they would be entranced.  But more about that in a minute.
I've got exciting news: I'm giving away 3 paperback copies of my novel Finding Grace on Goodreads.   All of you voracious readers who frequent Jessica's Wednesday on-line book club probably know all about Goodreads already; but if you don't, it's a great place to find titles you haven't heard of yet and to read reviews by both published authors and fellow book enthusiasts.

Anyway, if you'd like to enter to win a copy, just go over to the sidebar, right there at the top right, and click on the "Enter to win" button.  The giveaway contest started today and runs through midnight on Feb. 15.

Maybe if you win a copy, Finding Grace could be the book you're reading some Wednesday in the future!

From all reports, there is a growing number of adult readers who choose to read young adult fiction, which they find feeds their souls in a way that many current offerings in the adult fiction market simply don't.  (And I know this is true from all my visits to WWRW, when I hear Jessica and other linker-uppers saying just that sort of thing.)  Yesterday on Catholic Television Network's show "This is the Day," Cheryl Dickow (the woman behind Bezalel Books, publisher of Finding Grace) was interviewed over the phone on this topic, and in the course of her interview she mentioned some great Bezalel titles--including my book.  My husband and I watched the show together, and he was so excited about it that when the segment ended, he turned to me, grinning ear to ear, and gave me a high five.  Cheryl's interview takes place pretty early on (from just before 7 minutes in until about the 14 minute mark) if you'd like to check it out. (

So, jumping right on the old bandwagon with enthusiasm, here's what this adult reader whose soul needs feeding is reading this Wednesday: Nancy Carabio Belanger's Olivia and the Little Way.
I've been meaning to read this YA novel of Belanger's for quite some time (as well as its sequel, Olivia's Gift).  I'm not finished, so I don't have a review for you yet.   But I'm excited about it, because--like Jessica and lots of other bloggers I know--I'm beginning to think there's more beef (and certainly less smut!) to be found in works targeted at young adult readers.  I know that the Olivia books are very well thought of and used regularly in Catholic and homeschool curricula, and I know that someday I'm going to want to pass them on to my granddaughters.  Before I do that, I decided, I need to read them myself.

I admire Nancy Carabio Belanger as both an author and a person, although I have yet to meet her.  And I'm sure that her heroine, a young girl who learns about St. Therese of Lisieux from her grandmother and calls on the saint to help her navigate the pitfalls of middle school life, will become a favorite character of mine.  (And my granddaughters', too!)

Hopefully, I'll be back next Wednesday with a review and a recommendation for you.

Now head on over to Housewifespice for more great recommendations, from the YA category as well as many others.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Announcing a Giveaway!

I'm giving away 3 paperback copies of my novel Finding Grace on Goodreads.
You can enter your name to win one of those copies starting at midnight tonight, and the contest runs through midnight on the 15th.  There's a handy little box there on the sidebar on the right, with a handy "Enter to win" button you can click on if you'd like to try your luck.

Why not enter?  What have you got to lose?!

That's it for today.  Now I'm off to work on some sewing projects for my 3 darling granddaughters.

Monday, February 3, 2014

"Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect" (Part 4): I Can Relate to Grace

I've heard that authors who are writing their first novels have a hard time keeping them from being a bit semi-autobiographical, and I suppose that's somewhat true about my own debut effort, Finding Grace.  The story is set in my old hometown in Upstate NY, and Grace lives with her family in a sweet old house very much like the one in which I grew up on a street very much like the one where our home was located.  Like my own childhood best friend, Grace's best friend Irene lives in a modern, ranch-style house out on the lake; and like my then boyfriend/now husband, the boy with whom Grace falls in love in high school lives on the lake, too, on the other side of town.  Two colleges near and dear to my heart play a part in the novel: the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, where I graduated in 1980, and the University of Notre Dame, where my husband graduated that same year.  Grace starts high school the same year my husband and I did--1972--and she and her friends attend a Catholic school very reminiscent of the one we attended...

I could go on and on.  (And I have written several "Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect" posts already, if you'd like to peruse those here, here, and here.)

But there are many important differences, too. Contrary to my mother's assessment that the novel [which I don't believe she's read in full] is about my own story with my husband, which is simply not true (and I would tell you how it's different, but that would spoil the plot if you haven't read the book yet), things happen in this book that came completely out of my imagination--things about which I have no personal experience.  Things that not only never happened to me, but didn't happen to anyone I was close to.  So this work is most definitely FICTION, with a capital F, and it's important for the reader to remember that. 

None of the families of the main characters in Finding Grace even remotely resemble the families of the real life individuals who inspired them.  And that's the key word here: "inspired."  Because most of these characters--Grace Kelly, Tom Buckley, Jimmy Sullivan, and Grace's five older brothers-- share some traits with real-life people, but they truly did become, over the course of the five years the book was coming together, quite unique individuals.  Of course Tom Buckley has a whole lot of the same qualities I admire in my beloved husband; I started dating him at 15 and never looked at another guy--how could he not?  And of course Grace's brothers share many traits with my own five wonderful sons, whom I just adore--and again, how could they not?  But these characters all took on lives of their own as I wrote; they became people completely unlike anyone I knew in real life; they sort of whispered to me what they'd say and what they'd do, and they helped to move the plot along.  I started out with a loose outline for my story, but the characters took me on many unexpected detours--because no matter what I thought they ought to do, over time I came to know what they WOULD do.  They became good friends that I missed once the final chapter was done.

I miss them still!  (Perhaps I shall write a sequel?)

I am not Grace Kelly, although I know very well what makes her tick and I share many of her feelings and insecurities.  Grace and Tom's high school story does not follow the same path as my husband's and mine (and again, I don't want to say too much about that, because--spoilers!).  But I know just what it's like to feel as if the boy you love is so much better than you deserve in every way, that he's perfect, in fact; to worry about not being beautiful enough, and to think that he's so much easier on the eyes than you are--and what does he want with little old you, anyway?  Oh yes, I had confidence issues--just like Grace.  I hid (and still hide) behind my glasses, like my shy and sometimes awkward heroine.  All the feelings Grace has for Tom in the book were easy for me to write about, because I felt the same way about my guy back when I was an insecure teenager, back before I let myself believe that in his eyes I was beautiful enough.

When my husband and I graduated from high school in 1976 and went off to colleges that were separated by almost 900 miles, I wondered if the best part of my life was over.  (Tears were shed the day he left for Notre Dame, about a week before I departed for Holy Cross.  Copious tears.)  I was sure that he would meet a smarter, prettier version of not-me out in South Bend.  And what would that mean for my future? Well, then I would join the convent, I figured, because I had already made the determination that he was the only one for me.

Within a few months of arriving in Worcester I'd gained the famous "freshman ten" (the culprit was not really beer, but rather greasy slices of pizza eaten at midnight--accompanied by zero-calorie Tab, of course), while my main man remained Adonis-like; but my weight gain didn't seem to bother him.  Although we'd decided we weren't going to hold each other back from seeing who else might be "out there," our relationship deepened--we'd been friends first before we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and now we were best friends--through hand-written letters and late-night phone calls.  Then I added 10 more pounds my sophomore year, while at the same time experimenting with a short haircut that didn't suit me and new glasses the size of ski goggles.  And still, our relationship flourished.
This 1978 photo of us, taken at a friend's wedding reception the summer after our sophomore year of college,
 really does make me think of Tom and Grace.  My heart still skips a beat when I look at that handsome face of his. 
(And then I cringe a little when I look at mine, remembering how unlovely I felt when this was taken!)
Absence, in our case, really did make the heart grow fonder.  And by the end of our sophomore year, he knew what I'd known all along: that we were headed for marriage, and the only thing standing between us and the start of our life together was two more years of undergrad studies...900 miles apart.

But we persevered.  And we racked up enormous phone bills.  And we visited each other's campuses on our breaks, which were never the same weeks, and reconnected every Christmas and every summer vacation.  And I grew my hair out again.  And I stopped eating so much pizza, even though those extra 20 pounds were never a deal-breaker in his book.  And we did it, we made the long distance thing work.  And we had the happily-ever-after ending everyone roots for, when we were finally joined in Holy Matrimony--in the hometown where we'd met--in December of 1980.  And even though I've always felt I got the better end of the bargain, that saint I married, that guy who is the best helpmate I could have as I navigate the thorny path back to the Father who made us both, likes to say that he "married up."

Now what about Tom and Grace?  Does their story have a happy ending?

I guess you'll just have to read the book to find out!  ;)

(P.S. Finding Grace has a Facebook page now.  If you'd like to stop by there for a second and "like" it, you'll be my best friend forever.  Pinky swear.)

Saturday, February 1, 2014

A New Look for the Old Blog

So...what do you think?

After almost three years without changing the background design of my blog, I decided to go with a new look. It's like an early birthday present for String of Pearls, which was born in March of 2011.  I can't believe my baby is almost three!

I really, really fight change, once I've gotten used to something--but the fact that I'm doing this shows that perhaps this tiger can change her stripes. 

Stripes...get it?

I think this is prettier and more appealing to the eye than the old design--but is it too busy?  Too colorful?  Too distracting?  Is it a good fit?  (Does this outfit make my blog look fat?  Be honest.)

I truly would like to know what you think!  I can always switch it right back to the old style, with a simple click of a button.

And now I'm going to add my husband's favorite photo of me with his progeny (which also happens to be my original blog profile pic), because I think the pink sweater I'm wearing in it goes really well with my new blog.

Have a great weekend!