Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Thoughts from the Empty Nest (Part II)

Yesterday in Part I of this post, I talked about how very fast the years fly by when you're raising children--and the inescapable fact that if you've done your job right, they will suddenly be all grown up and moving out: going to college, getting jobs, getting married, starting families.  It's exactly what you dream and hope for them when they're little, and yet you dread it in a way, too.

Sometimes their new grown-up lives take them far away from the cozy nest you've lovingly built for them, stick by stick--making daily (or weekly, or even monthly) in-person interactions with them a thing of the past.  Phone calls are great, and FaceTime or Skype sessions are even better.  But it's not the same as having them in hugging range all the time...not even close.  [Sigh...]

And the years really do whiz by (even though while you're in the trenches it seems that some days are much too long and bedtime can't come fast enough!).  That Kenny Chesney song, "Don't Blink"--so true.  So very true.

HOWEVER, I want to tell you what an indescribable joy it is to watch the children you raised strike out on their own and make their way in the world, to watch them figure out how to do all the things their mom and dad used to take care of for them.  Heather, a fellow mom of mostly grown sons, put it perfectly in my combox yesterday:  My pride in them far outweighs my longing to gather all my chickees back into the same nest...I used to tell first time moms that they would be shocked by how intense their love would be for their baby but it's a feeling you can't explain until you experience it. Having grown children is the same... every time they repeat a tradition from childhood or call to ask for a recipe or eagerly share old photo albums with girlfriends... my heart just bursts!

What she said.

If you're currently surrounded by wee ones who won't let you out of their sight (even to go to the bathroom!), and you're already sort of dreading the day they'll fly away from you, thinking they won't need you anymore, trust me on this: your kids will always need you.  Our boys still call their dad often, for advice about finances and building things and whatnot, and they (or their girlfriends/wives) also call Mom for recipes.  They want to pick our brains about parenting ("Did you and Dad ever let us cry ourselves to sleep when we were babies?").  They still need us, and I think in a way they always will; but they're leading their own grown-up lives now (all but the baby, who still has a year of college to go), and they're handling everything beautifully.  We couldn't be prouder of them.

So.  For all you moms reading this whose nests are currently quite full and who worry about what it will be like when they're emptied out, I want you to know this: there are SO MANY WONDERFUL THINGS in store for you when your chicks are independent grown-ups, so many blessings to look forward to.  I can't stress that enough and I can't possibly list them all here.  But I thought I'd give you a few examples (from the perspective of a mom with all boys).  And I'm going to let the pictures do the talking.

You'll watch your boys fall in love, and see them happier than you ever knew they could be...

You'll see the pure elation on their faces on their wedding days, as they gaze at their beautiful wives (your new daughters!), and it will make you cry...

Then you'll dance Mother-Son Dances and cry some more (but they're happy tears)...

They might even get married in the same church where you and your husband exchanged your vows, 33 years earlier...

They'll start building their own nests--and when they move in, the first things they'll set out will make you realize that you must have done something right, because their priorities are in order...

They'll beg you to visit them, and when you arrive, you'll find sweet notes on the fridge...

Or flowers and treats set out to welcome you...

They'll call with the exciting news that you are going to be blessed with a grandchild.  Then you might see your boy with his hand caressing the belly of his pregnant wife, like this--and remember those happy tears?  They're flowing again...

Your boys will become fathers, and you'll become a grandparent--a joy that is impossible to describe, it's so wonderful.  There will be little people in your life again, and you will love them fiercely...

Your sons might follow in their dad's footsteps and go to his alma mater.  They might grow big and strong and taller than their dad, but they're always going to  be your babies, no matter what...

Their senses of humor will mature with the rest of them, and those 8-year-old-boy jokes (bathroom humor, anyone?) will be replaced by the kind of comments that will make you throw your head back and laugh...

But no matter how grown-up they get, there will always be a bit of little boy inside your men (thank goodness)...

And they'll always love their mommy, no matter how old they get...

Would I turn back the clock, so that I could have all of these precious souls I had the privilege to raise around me all the time?  Never.  Think of all the great things I would miss if I did!

There is a season for everything in life, and you know what?  I like where I am.  The nest might be empty, but my life is very full.  God is so very good, isn't He?

But before I go, a note to my boys: there's a house for sale just down the street--I mean, if it's favorite status you're after...(Just kidding...I think.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thoughts from the Empty Nest (Part I)

I first became a mother in 1983.  To say that my life would never be the same after that is the understatement of all time.
1983: A baby is born.  (And so is a mother!)

In 1993, the youngest of our five sons was born.  Here is the lively crew that kept my husband and me too busy back then to fully realize that time was passing at warp speed.  In this testosterone-filled snapshot, the four oldest were 9, 8, 7, and 5, and our baby was less than a year.
1993: As people liked to point out, we now had our own basketball team.

We blinked a few times, and suddenly it was 2004.  Sons #1 and #2 were in college out at Notre Dame and their mommy mourned their absence, but was fortunately still busy enough at home that she didn't have time to wallow in self-pity (at least not constantly).  Sons #3 an #4 were still in high school, thank goodness--and my baby boy was 11 and being homeschooled.  (He went to the same Catholic grade school as his big brothers through 3rd grade before we pulled him out and started teaching him ourselves, using the Seton Home Study School curriculum.)
2004: Posing by the big red van, where our boys spent almost as much time as they did in the house!

During those speedily passing years, I was a bit in denial about the fact that when you have four babies in four years--bing, bing, bing, bing--then they tend to grow up and leave you in that same period of time--bing, bing, bing, bing.

Within three years of this awesome picture (go Sox!), sons #3 and #4 were in college and that little boy flexing his almost non-existent biceps in the middle there was just starting high school, where he would eventually grow to be 6'2", sprout some pretty ding-dang impressive muscles, and play football and lacrosse like the four role models before him had done.

We blinked again (would we never learn?), and bam!  It was 2009.

But why would we stop the clock, even if we could?  Because with the passage of time comes the opportunity for great joy--the kind of joy you can only imagine when you're a young mother: before you know it, the day comes when one of your children gets married and you realize that there is going to be a whole new branch on your family tree.  Yes, that towheaded little boy you raised is going to be the head of his own household--can this be so?

Here is one of my all-time favorite pictures of my beloved boys, taken that watershed year: son #1 is the beaming groom, son #2 is his best man, and the other three round out his side of the wedding party as his groomsmen.  (I love that they are arranged by order of birth up there at the head table!)
2009: That tiny baby in the first picture up there?  On this day, he became a husband!

Two seconds went by.  It was 2011, and our baby was leaving us to start his college career out in South Bend.
2014: That scrawny little man flexing his muscles, surrounded by his big brothers?  He's a college junior now!

So often when I read my favorite Catholic "mom blogs" and see the pictures these much-younger-than-I gals post of their precious newborns, adorable toddlers, and expanding "baby bumps," I feel almost envious of them.  Because I miss the sweet infants I rocked to sleep, the chubby toddlers I parked on my hip as I went about my daily chores, the completely lovable and deeply loved little boys who filled our days with so much energy, laughter, and pride-filled moments.  With so much purpose.  And sometimes I find myself crying--when alone in my car as I run errands, or when singing a particularly touching hymn at Mass, or just about anywhere, anytime, to tell the truth; because when the people you love most in the world--the people who gave you the one role you feel you were made to play, that of being a mother--are no longer sleeping under your roof (and not only that, but they are a full-day's drive or a plane ride away from you), I won't's hard.  And it's painful.  And it takes a lot of getting used to.

Thank God that I not only love, but really, really like, their dad (my hero, my best friend, and the love of my life, all wrapped up in a package that's easy on the eyes to boot), and that we've decided now that we're empty-nesters, we're going to consider ourselves on one long date; because otherwise, I would find the separation from our boys to be just too difficult to bear.

I've gotten comments on this blog from young mothers who say they like the way I share stories about the blessings in store for them when their children are all grown up, because they can't imagine not having them around all the time and thinking about it is scary.  But I just want to keep it real here and tell you that even though I wouldn't change a thing (because going back in time or stopping the clock would make me miss the extraordinary men my boys have become, and the special women they have married, and the beloved grandchildren with which they have blessed their dad and me), I do struggle.  You will struggle, too.

Come back tomorrow (if you want to, obviously!)--because I think this is getting a tad long, so I'm going to make it a two-parter.  I want to show you just a few of the many unimaginably wonderful joys that await you when your children grow up and spread their wings...even if that means they end up flying a little farther from the nest than you'd like them to.

It's all good, moms.  Truly it is.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Portrait of a New Saint

Not too long ago, my husband and I received a very special gift from our daughter-in-law Preciosa, who married our middle son last December.  It is a signed and numbered print by a talented artist named Carrie Mitchell, who is a good friend of Preciosa's.  It is a portrait of a very special individual, a holy man whom I'm sure you'll all recognize...
Is that not the most beautiful portrait of JPII--or as of yesterday, Saint JPII?  I think it's absolutely brilliant.

The funny thing is, Mitchell never even set out to be a painter.  In the bio on her website, she writes:

As a child I was artistic, but never thought to study art formally. It wasn't until I was finishing my bachelor's degree in Social Sciences that I had an elective to burn, and enrolled in "Painting for Non-Majors." I dabbled in paints for a semester (and loved it), but was soon on my way to studying for my Master's in Theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, a small Catholic school in Ohio. 

While there I had the chance to study for a semester abroad in Rome, where I couldn't turn a corner without encountering a great masterpiece. Quite simply, I fell in love with beauty. But more than that, I understood the power that art has to express ultimate Beauty, God himself.

If you're interested in learning more about the gifted artist behind this portrait titled "John Paul the Great," or if you'd like to peruse some of Mitchell's other works, you can find her here on the world wide web.

There are some things I really love to promote on this blog: books--especially the works of Catholic authors who write wholesome, inspirational fiction, as you might have guessed from all of my What We're Reading Wednesday link-ups at Housewifespice; and art--especially religious works that showcase the glory of God, and also that of His specially chosen friends, the saints.  So it is with pleasure that I introduce you to this wonderful young painter.  Bravo, Carrie Mitchell!  Well done, good and faithful servant!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

WWRW: Kia Heavey's Underlake

Before I get started, let me show you two of my favorite little readers.
These are my twin granddaughters, Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie, back when they were almost a year old, cruising the furniture but not quite walking on their own yet.  They will turn three in less than two months!!  Sniff, sniff.  I haven't looked at this picture in quite a while, and it brings me back to those happy visits in their AL home.  Grammy is feeling a bit verklempt.  (After AL, we visited them in CO.  They just moved, and from now on, we'll be visiting them in MI.  In fact, we're in MI with them now, helping them settle into their new house.)

My granddaughters have good taste.  Just look what they're reading!  They love Little Golden books, which were always some of my favorite read-aloud stories when our boys were little lads.

But what about Grammy, you ask?  What am I reading? Well, I've been doing some interesting reading myself.

Recently, author Kia Heavey and I began to correspond via Goodreads (which I think of as a sort of booklover's version of Facebook).  We realized that we shared a common desire to write inspirational fiction for impressionable teenaged girls and young adults--stories that will engage and entertain them, but will ultimately (hopefully!) inspire them to swim against the tide--to fight the good fight, if you will--as they navigate the thorny path to adulthood in a confusing and dangerous world.

Heavey's second novel, Underlake, is an inspiring coming-of-age tale with a great message for teens and a paranormal twist.  Though aimed at young adult readers, it is an enjoyable read for adults as well.
In her Goodreads author profile, Heavey explains just what motivated her to write her laudable YA novel: she says, "I wrote Underlake to entertain teen girls trying make good choices in the face of tacky pop culture, peer pressure, and permissive parenting."  (That's basically what motivated me to write Finding Grace, so it appeared I'd found a writing soul mate!)  But there's more; Heavey also reveals that she loves "a captivating, creepy story that weaves a spell." (There is nothing whatsoever supernatural about my novel; but Underlake involves a handsome and otherworldly "Boy in the Lake"--and I don't want to reveal too much about him or I'll ruin it for you; but trust me, there is definitely a "captivating, creepy" element in this book!).

To say that I was intrigued--and quite anxious to read Heavey's novel--is an understatement.  The author generously provided me with a review copy.  As soon as I received it,  I opened it right up and read the dedication that underscores Heavey's deep desire to write fiction with a counter-cultural message, to give encouragement to those teenaged girls who feel they don't fit in with modern mores and fashions and are looking for deeper meaning in their lives; it reads, "For girls everywhere who are less than thrilled with the popular things."

By the time I'd turned the last page of this well-written page-turner (about a day-and-a-half after it came in the mail!), I could clearly imagine how readers in the author's target audience--to whom she lovingly dedicated this book--might be inspired to follow in the footsteps of Underlake's brave and likable young heroine.

That's just a teaser--you can read my full review here.

I'm sure you'll find plenty of other enticing titles if you head on over to Jessica's.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Country Girl's Daybook is Hosting a Finding Grace Giveaway

I hope you all had a blessed and happy Easter!

I've been without Internet for days (noooOOOOOO!!!  Say it isn't so!!).  That's why you haven't been hearing much from these here parts.  We've been on the road and staying at the homes of two different sons, as well as that of our oldest son's wife's aunt and uncle.  (Is that confusing enough for you?)  But we're now in the car on our way to MI, where our oldest son's family is moving into their new house and their new post-Army life.  So I'm blogging in the car, which is a totally new experience for me.  My husband was able to set up an Internet "hot spot" using his iPhone, and here I am typing away on my laptop as we cruise on down the highway.  Internet in the car--what will they think of next?!  It's like magic.

Anyway, I really wanted to be able to pass on some information before it's too late.  Because a friend of mine is hosting a Finding Grace giveaway, and there are only about three days left to enter.

It's amazing how many wonderful people I've "met" in the Catholic blogging world in the three years I've been adding to my little String of Pearls.  One of the sweetest gals I've gotten to know is Iris, the voice behind Country Girl's Daybook--and Iris is giving away a signed copy of my Catholic novel, Finding Grace, over at her lovely blog, if you'd like to stop by and throw your name into the hat!

Just click on this link for a chance to win: Country Girl's Daybook: finding grace book giveaway
My deepest thanks go to Iris, who is helping me to spread the word about my book--though she's never even met me in real life.  I am truly blessed to have friends like her.

So head on over to Iris's--and as she puts it, "May the odds be ever in your favor."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Yippeeee! The E's are finished!

I've just completed the E pages for that ABC Book I'm working on for my grandchildren.  As you can see, this elephant is filled with Easter spirit.

I love elephants, don't you?  There is something so sweet and cute about them.  My granddaughters surely love them, too, which doesn't surprise me a bit--because their daddy went through a serious Dumbo phase when he was about their age.  So no ABC book would ever be complete if there was not an "E is for elephant" component to it.

I'm not quite sure why I put the arrows on that page.  I didn't do it on any of the previous pages, knowing that my girls are plenty smart enough to pick out the objects on their own.  (They're Mensa-like.  Seriously.  No Grammy bragging going on here.)  But since I felt the need to point out the egg and the ears on that page, I decided to have the lass on the next page pointing to her elbow.

For the first time since I started this project a couple of years ago, I am exceedingly motivated to finish.  For the longest time, I was in extreme procrastination mode; but now when I complete one page, I can hardly wait to get to work on another.

But the ABC Book will have to be put on hold for the next week-and-a-half or so, because today I'm flying down to NYC and meeting up with my husband (who's returning from a trip to London).  Then we'll fly together from the Big Apple down to VA, to spend Easter with son #3 and his bride...and then it's on to WI to pick up our oldest son's second car and drive it down to his new home in MI, where he and his family are moving the day after Easter. the end of all those travels, we'll get to spend some time with our three granddaughters.  Yippeeee!   And I'm sure just being with them will get me even more excited to keep working on this project once we return home.

Well, time to pack.  Have a blessed Easter, and I'll see you next week.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Our Boys' Life Coach

My husband was always very involved in anything that interested our boys; one thing was football (something he'd played himself in his younger days), and another was lacrosse (which he hadn't).

He arranged his work schedule so that he could help to coach their Pee Wee and junior high football teams, and he even did a stint as a freshman football coach when one was needed during their high school years.  As an airline pilot, he was usually able to bunch his trips together so that he could be off and available for game day, and for as many weekday practices as possible.

When our boys discovered lacrosse, this man of mine ("my hero," as I like to call him) became such a knowledgeable student and true die hard fan of the "fastest game on two feet" that he ended up becoming an assistant lax coach as well, dealing mostly with the defense, throughout our sons' youth lacrosse years.  The head coach, a good friend of ours, saw early on how well he understood the game just from watching the action on the sidelines and asked him to join the coaching staff.  My husband reminded him that he'd never played lacrosse himself, and our friend replied, "That's perfect.  I can mold you."  From there, my husband eventually went on to become the head defense coach at our boys' Catholic high school, and for the many years he was in that role (and later he and our second oldest son--as the greatest defensive coaching duo NH high school lacrosse has ever known, in my learned opinion), he led the squads under his tutelage so well that our boys' teams were always ranked at the top of the pack defensively.

By the end of his youth lacrosse days, our oldest son had made a bit of a name for himself.  The summer after 8th grade, the head coach at the high school he was going to attend got wind of this, and he invited our boy--a mere incoming freshman--to go to a lacrosse camp at Johns Hopkins University with a group of older players who would be his teammates the following spring.  It was kind of a big deal for him to be asked to join them, and he was terribly excited.  There was just one problem: the camp was going to run for five days, from Thursday to Monday.  How was our son going to get himself to Sunday Mass, if the camp was on a secular university's campus and he couldn't find a church in Baltimore that was convenient to get to?  And if his coach was working as an instructor at the camp and couldn't manage to carve time out of his schedule to get him there, who would take him?  My husband voiced these concerns to the coach, who said, "Oh, don't worry, Mr. Pearl.  I'll see that the boys get to church."  Now in his defense, we did believe the coach had good intentions.  But we also knew that many, if not all, of the other players--despite the fact that they were for the most part Catholics--would use the traveler's dispensation, since it would probably be a big hassle getting to Mass.  (Not to mention that doing so would mean they'd have to miss a drill or a scrimmage.)  If our son was the only one who cared about going, chances are it wasn't going to happen.
Coach Pearl, with his two oldest sons.
The more he thought about it, the more this situation ate away at my husband.

[A quick aside: why do five-day sports camps always include Sundays?  I realize that lots of the coaches have other day jobs and maybe weekends need to be involved.  But couldn't some drills be postponed until later in the day on Sunday, so that those who want to can make it to church?  Okay, back to the story now.] 

Well, my husband decided to fly down to Baltimore on Saturday, rent a car, and book a room for the night at a hotel--all so that he could be there on Sunday morning to get his firstborn son to Mass.  It was just the two of them, and it was totally worth it.  Then he dropped our boy back off at camp and flew back home.

And I know what you're thinking--the fact that he can fly stand-by for free, one of the great perks of his job, made this sacrifice a whole lot easier than if he'd had to buy an expensive airline ticket.  That's very true.  But it was a sacrifice nonetheless; because if you were married to an airline pilot (or at least to my airline pilot), you would understand that the last place he ever wants to be on his days off is at an airport or on an airplane.  That feels too much like work.  Pilots are away from home too much as it is, and they guard their days at home, and their glorious nights sleeping in their own beds, quite jealously.  Where my pilot wanted to be was not on a plane heading down to MD, but relaxing at home with our four younger sons and me.  However, when it comes to the devout practice of the Catholic Faith and the role of Christian fatherhood--which means that the father is responsible for passing the Faith on to his children, so that they truly know just how important it needs to be in their lives--there is no sacrifice so great that my husband wouldn't make it for the good of his family.

Fast-forward to the following summer: our second oldest son, following directly in the cleat steps of his older brother, had made a bit of a name for himself in the youth lacrosse world, and the high school head coach decided to invite yet another incoming freshman Pearl to join a group of future teammates (one of them being his brother) down to Johns Hopkins for a five-day lacrosse camp.  The funny thing was that right away, the coach said to my husband, "And don't worry, Mr. Pearl.  I've got it all set up and I'll see that the boys get to church."

Do you think my husband heaved a sigh of relief and stayed home, or do you think he flew down to Baltimore again to make absolutely sure his sons were able to attend Sunday Mass?

If you guessed the latter, you are right.  He just couldn't leave it to chance.  But this time, at least, the coach really had made arrangements ahead of time to have someone take the group to church.  Since he was there anyway, however, that someone ended up being my husband.  And if I remember correctly, there were a couple of other lads on the team who joined the Pearls for Mass that day.

Some people might think this is the story of a dad who went above and beyond what's expected or necessary.  But I don't think there's any way our boys can look at those two trips their father took, when he would have much rather been enjoying his days off at home, and not realize just how important the Mass is supposed to be to faithful Catholics.  During those teen years, so many of our boys' peers were questioning the Faith--and their parents stepped back and let them figure out their own paths on their own "faith journeys," even if that meant watching them miss Mass every weekend.  My husband never had to lecture or harangue our kids about attending Mass.  They just did it because they saw through his example that this is what Catholics do; and Pearls are Catholics, so it's what we do.  Some kids might have been embarrassed to have their dads show up at lacrosse camp to take them to Mass; but to our boys, that was just Dad being Dad.  And accepting--without resentment or embarrassment--that he was there to get them to church on time was just them being them.  He showed those sons of his with his very loud actions that there are some things that take precedence over even your most beloved team sport.  God before lacrosse, that's just how it is. 
It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that when several of our sons weren't meeting the kind of young women who were "wife material," they went on and found soul mates who shared their Faith, morals, and values.  All three of our married sons met their spouses that way.  It should also come as no surprise that all five of them still go to Mass every Sunday.  Or that our three little granddaughters (who go by non-saintly aliases on this blog) were given the strong and beautiful names of some of the most eminent saints in the Catholic Church.  The Faith is simply part of who our boys (and now their spouses) are.

Our boys are were football and lacrosse players.  They are (or will be) sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers.  But above all, they are Catholics.

I give all of the credit for the way our boys embrace and live their Faith to their father.  He was once their football and lacrosse coach...but he has always been their life coach.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Proms and Party Shoes and Whatnot

I'm seeing a lot of glittery, glitzy dresses in the stores these days, so it's obvious that prom time is almost here.  Have you heard of something called "promposals," which are a real thing in our nation's high schools these days?  Young fellas now feel required to come up with marriage proposal-style ways of asking girls to be their dates for the prom.  I read about this new phenomenon in a blog and, thinking this had to be some kind of joke, I mentioned it to my #2 son, a high school math teacher.  He assured me that yes, it's really happening.  (Then he rolled his eyes, and said it sure wasn't like that back in his day.)

If things have changed that much since the 1990's  and early 00's, imagine how much they've changed since the 1970's!  Things were a bit simpler then, to put it mildly.

In 1975, I went to the junior prom with my cute high school boyfriend, who did not prompose to me by presenting flowers on bended knee, or with the release of helium balloons from my locker, or with a cupcake delivered to my seat at the cafeteria lunch table with "Prom?" written on it in icing.  We were dating, so it was something like," Um, obviously we're going to go to the prom together, right?"  Had we not been dating, this is the way he would have asked: "Will you go to the prom with me?"  Boom.  Simple.  That's the way things were, and they seemed quite all right.

For the big night, here's what I wore: a modest little gown that was made by my mother; a painful sunburn from lying out in the sun THE MORNING OF THE PROM, thinking I would be a bronze goddess by that evening; and a red velvet bow in my hair (which was in the awkward growing-out stage, after I'd had my hair cut short and almost immediately regretted it).  The main thing I had going for me on prom night, beauty-wise, was youth!  Polished, sophisticated, and red carpet-ready I was NOT.  But that boy I was dating liked me enough to see pretty where I only saw flaws.  (God bless him; 33 years later, he's still doing it.)
Okay, now let's break down my boyfriend's prom get-up.  Eschewing the whole tux rental routine (which was probably a wise choice, given that in 1975 the popular colors for tuxes were yellow, burgundy, and powder blue), my husband wore a white sport coat with his dad's tux pants and bow tie (which, coincidentally, he wore again--along with his dad's matching tuxedo coat--when our firstborn son got married in 2009).  He did rent his groovy raspberry-colored ruffled shirt from the tux place, though.  But the piece de resistance of his ensemble was a pair of shiny black and white platform shoes.  Elton John had nothing on him, let me tell you.  Those babies were stylin'.

When son #4 got married in February, my husband thought about renting a fun pair of kicks eerily similar to those legendary prom shoes; but unfortunately the groom-to-be (let's call him "a chip off the old block") had already beaten him to the punch and chosen the exact same pair to wear himself on his big day.  So my husband stepped aside and wore plain old black, but his boy showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree when it comes to fashion sense.

What goes around surely comes around.  First, I posed for a picture standing next to a handsome boy wearing crazy-awesome shoes.   And then 39 years later, I posed for a picture standing next to his handsome son wearing crazy-awesome shoes--a son who was 9 years older than his father was in that prom picture (yikes, how does that happen?).  Life is simply amazing, isn't it?

If that young girl with a sunburned face and a ribbon in her hair could have peeked into the future and seen herself married to that good-looking prom date of hers (and not only that, but surrounded by their five grown sons), how ecstatic she would have been!  Because even back then, she thought he was "the one," and she hoped and prayed that she hadn't met him way too early.

Now for you moms of teenagers, I urge you to encourage them to fight the current trends in prom etiquette.  If you have sons, let them be the ones who nervously ask (with sweaty palms and lots of "um's"), "Would you be my date for the prom?"  To me, that seems so much more endearing than the over-the-top gestures boys feel they need to make, if only to keep up with the Joneses.  If everything is so big--and so WOW!!--when they're only in high school, how can the much bigger, much more important milestones of life (actual marriage proposals, for instance) ever measure up?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Quick Reminder

I just thought I'd post a little reminder today about the Easter discount that was offered to you, dear readers, by the faith-filled folks at The Nativity Stones Collection--because there's only one week left to use it.  When you place your order, you can use the coupon code FAITH15, and you will receive a 15% discount.

Nativity Stones Crosses are beautifully made.  Each piece contains a bit of stone taken from the Cave of the Nativity in Bethelem and comes with a certificate of authenticity.  These inspirational necklaces are not only beautiful to look at--they carry rare and precious souvenirs from the very birthplace of Jesus.

I just love the dazzling Classic Nativity Stones Cross that I received from the company as a gift.  It is an ornate beauty layered in 18K gold and hanging from a 22" chain.
If you decide to get one of these unique crosses for yourself (or someone you love), I don't think you'll be disappointed!

I was so excited a few days ago when I got a Facebook message from an old high school classmate (one I haven't seen in many years) who happened to visit my blog and ended up ordering a Nativity Stones Cross as a First Holy Communion present for his niece.  It meant that this little old blog of mine was able to lead at least one new customer to a website I am proud to promote.
Here's wishing you peace and joy as you prepare to celebrate the Risen Christ next Sunday.  God bless you!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

God-Given Talents

I wasn't even sure I should blog today.  I published a post yesterday, then a few hours later removed it from my site because I realized that I'd gone a little overboard with the self-deprecating comments (something I have a tendency to do, and I know it's an unattractive trait that seems like a desperate attempt to fish for compliments).  If you read that post, try to erase it from your memory banks.  If you didn't, it was about art--a subject near and dear to my heart--and how sub-par my own attempts at creating it are when you put them next to Michelangelo's.  (Well, duh!  Almost everybody's attempts would fall into that category!)

What I need to remember is that God gave me a deep desire to draw and paint--and even though He didn't give me the same degree of talent that He gave the Masters, He gave me some.  He gave me what He thought I'd need.  He gave me enough to do with it the things that I was meant to do--and I'm hoping that one of them is to finish that ABC Book I'm working on for my grandchildren.  He gave me enough so that I would enjoy the creative process, that I would experience such an indescribable joy while wielding a paintbrush or a pastel crayon or a colored pencil, it would make my heart soar--the way I assume one's heart soars when he can play the piano or sing like an angel (two talents that I can't even conceive of having).  God gave me just enough artistic talent so that I would be capable of producing gifts of handmade love for my wonderful, non-critical family members and friends, and donating my time to paint murals on the walls of my sons' Catholic elementary school...and making that ABC Book, of course.

There is a fine line between humility and disrespect when it comes to acknowledging God-given gifts, and I hope I don't cross it too often.  Therefore, I want to take this opportunity to say that I thank God every day for giving me something that has brought such happiness and purpose to my life.  I truly do.

Now you're probably saying, "Look at her, getting all full of herself.  She's really not that good!"  [Insert smiley face emoticon here.]

I have used my artistic talent, such as it is, to paint all kinds of crazy trompe l'oeil thingys on the walls of my house (animals, mostly).  While I'm aware that this habit of mine might lessen the resale value (but hey, you can always paint over them!), I think this unusual wall art gives our home an endearing touch of whimsy.

Just recently, I was bemoaning the fact that we probably can't afford to update our dated and worn-out kitchen cabinets--the ones original to the house, which we bought in 1990--anytime soon.  So I decided, you know what, I can do whatever I want to these cabinets!  Who's going to stop me?  If we have to sell our house, the new owners are bound to gut the kitchen anyway!  I've decided that I'm going to think of all those cream-colored door and drawer fronts as blank canvases.

And so it begins.
Now if houseguests are wondering where the silverware drawer is, they'll have this handy clue.

When my husband and second oldest son first saw this little painting of a spoon, they thought it was some sort of stick-on decal I'd bought.  I considered that the greatest compliment ever!  To me, it was like having a successful art show at a gallery.

So I'll end here by urging you to use those talents God gave you, whatever they are and in whatever degree He gave them, to make your own life happier and to spread joy to others.  Have fun with them.  Don't compare them to the talents of others (something yours truly would never, ever do!).  And I'm not sure if the spoon I just showed you really accomplishes this...but use them for His greater glory, too, whenever and wherever you can.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

That's Right, You Heard Correctly: We're the "Wild Ones"

A couple of years ago at my niece's wedding, the bride was asking all of her aunts and uncles to name the songs they'd chosen for their first dances at their own weddings.  Then she had the DJ play them and the old married couples got out there one by one and danced to them again, with a big circle formed around them to watch.

When it came time for us, I blanked.  "I really don't know what we danced to!" I said.  My husband came up as empty-handed as I.

"Maybe it was Just You and Me, by Chicago?" I tried, not at all convinced.  We had gone to the junior prom together in high school, and that had been the prom's theme song; so that was as good a guess as any, I supposed.  But my husband and I truly have no recollection of the actual song we danced to for the first time as a married couple.

No idea what song was playing in the background here.  Not a clue.
Is that pathetic and sad?

Before you answer that, keep in mind that when we got married in 1980, it was normal to have a live band (which we did) rather than a DJ, and their repertoire was limited.  I believe that what probably happened is the bandleader said, "Hey, this is the song we usually play when the couple has their first dance together," and my husband-to-be and I just said, "Whatever, that sounds good."  We really didn't have a song that we considered "our song," and we were just so incredibly excited to be getting married--after 7-and-a-1/2 years of dating, starting at the age of 15.  We would have danced to anything.

Anyway, back to our niece's wedding: a couple of my Pearl sisters-in-law decided to have some fun by bestowing upon us a song that would thenceforth be forever ours, and they informed the DJ of their oh-so-hilarious choice. 

They picked "Wild Ones," by Flo Rida, and we got out there and boogied down with our bad selves, laughing the whole time.

So..."Wild Ones" is now "our wedding dance song."   And at every single Pearl wedding since that niece's (and there have been a number of them), that's what we've danced to.  Our brothers- and sisters-in-law slow dance to sweet, touching love ballads...and we are the Wild Ones.  Oooh  oooh oooh oooh.  So you heard we were the Wild Ones?  That's right.  That's so us.  No ballads for this old couple, no way-no how; we dance to a RAP song (Heaven help us!).

Dancing to "our song" at son #4's wedding in February.

And if you knew how NOT us that really is, it would make this choice of a "wedding song" for my husband and me even more funny than it is already.  You gotta love our family; if there's one thing it has, it's a sense of humor.

Now check out the Wedding Song Dance Along at Camp Patton, where the songs are bound to be much more first dance-appropriate than ours.

WWRW: Tyringham Park

I know it's Thursday, and this is a Wednesday link-up...but here is my Goodreads/Amazon review of Rosemary McLoughlin's Tyringham Park, which kept me very engrossed most of the time I was in the air on a recent trip to San Juan and back with my husband.  I kept it on my tray table, along with my ever-present St. Joseph's prayer card and my Styrofoam cup of ever-satisfying airline coffee.  Yep, that's what my in-flight security blanket is composed of: the Unfailing Petition to St. Joseph, a cup 'o Joe, and a good, long book.  I'll admit that I did take a break from reading on the way over, in order to watch "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (which is a great movie, by the bye); but otherwise this sophisticated soap opera of a novel was sort of  very hard to put down.
Okay, now for that review:
When I looked at the back cover of Tyringham Park and saw a blurb that described it as "an Irish Downton Abbey," I was convinced it would be just my cup of tea. This novel about the secret goings-on and inner workings of a grand Irish estate, and the relationships between the wealthy landowners who inhabit it and the people who serve them, is a well-written page-turner. It got to the point where I couldn't wait to see what was going to happen next and I simply couldn't put it down. McLoughlin really knows how to keep the reader's attention, that's for sure.

Tyringham Park has a Gothic feel to it that is reminiscent of the works of Daphne du Maurier or Victoria Holt. For me, that means I get reeled in and my heart beats a bit faster with every turn of the page; but it also means that it's all a little too dark for my taste. If I had my druthers, every work of fiction would feature at least one main character who's a lovable hero or heroine with a heart of gold and it would end happily. This book isn't like that at all. There's a lot of treachery and evildoing, a lot of angst. I thought that at least Manus, the kind-hearted stable manager, would have a squeaky clean past; but he has his secrets, too.

The story begins during the WWI years and centers around the mysterious disappearance of the toddler daughter of Lord and Lady Blackshaw, whose loveless marriage has produced two daughters. Little Victoria is the more beautiful of the two, and she is the clear favorite of her mother as well as most of the staff. The book follows her plain older sister Charlotte, whose life is forever haunted by that one heartbreaking childhood incident. Love-starved and mistreated, Charlotte seems destined to live a tragically lonely existence.

It's hard to describe how many twists and turns are packed into the plot of this ambitious novel-- you name it, you'll find it: passionate inter- and intra-class trysts (although the reader is spared any voyeuristic details), family secrets, skeletons in closets, jealousies and lies, kidnappings, unrequited loves, mental illnesses...I could go on and on. You'll travel from Ireland to Australia and then back to Ireland again. And then you'll finally get to the ending, hoping for a satisfying conclusion. But there are some pretty significant loose ends that don't get tied up and you'll be left hanging. (I went on the author's website to see if there's a sequel planned, and there definitely is.)

I struggled between 3 stars and 4 for this book (out of 5), because although the writing is very articulate and I couldn't put it down, I didn't always enjoy the experience of getting into the heads of its cruel and scheming characters. It's a bit depressing, actually! So I decided to give it 3. But if you're a huge fan of the Gothic romance novel, you might rate it higher.

I know this review makes it sound as if there were no morally admirable characters whatsoever in this book, but that's not completely true.  There is a character named Miss East who will remind Downton fans of the estimable Mrs. Hughes; and there are several other kind-hearted folks.  So the book isn't unrelentingly gloomy--but still, much too gloomy for me.

Also, I mentioned I was reading The Book Thief  in a previous WWRW post, and that a review would be forthcoming.  I haven't been able to put together much for that literary masterpiece (I'm too overwhelmed!), but I did post a few words about it over at Goodreads, if you're interested.
Now skedaddle on over to Jessica's for more book talk.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Trusting Love for Mary

This is one of my favorite pieces of artwork (and I've got a lot of things hanging on my walls--ask anyone who's ever been inside my house!), even though it is not the least bit valuable in any monetary sense.  It is unsigned and titled "His Prayer."
I originally blogged about this wonderful vintage piece, a secondhand shop score,  here.

This morning my husband and I attended daily Mass, and as I was reading through my Magnificat before the service began, there was a "Saint Who?" essay right before today's morning meditation that caught my eye.  It was all about recently canonized St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, a saint who was devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  He wrote a book called The Holy Rosary to help form Opus Dei's members, and here is a quote from that book:

"My friend if you want to be great, become little.  To be little you have to believe as children believe, to love as children love, to abandon yourself as children pray as children pray.  You have to do all this if you are going to achieve what I am going to tell you in these lines: The beginning of the way, at the end of which you will find yourself completely carried away by love for Jesus, is a trusting love for Mary."

As soon as I read that, I thought of my sweet pastel print of a blonde-haired little boy (who reminds me very much of five little boys I used to know, once upon a time), gazing at a statue of Our Lady and praying before Her as only an innocent, unsullied, trusting child can do, with simplicity and abandon. 

I want to be like that child.  God, make me like that child!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What A Creative Way to Make an Announcement!

My middle son got married this past December, and recently he and his wife shared some wonderful news with the Facebook world (we had known for a month or so and had been sworn to secrecy until the first trimester was behind them).  Let me show you how they revealed their glorious surprise to my husband and me. 

First they showed us this photo:
We looked at it. "Ice, ice," I said hesitantly.  "Ice, ice--oh, hey, are you guys having a BABY?!"  My husband sat beside me, looking at the picture with a confused expression on his face, and he said, "How did you get THAT from this picture?"  Obviously, some of us old-timers are more aware of what's going on in the current world of popular music than others.  Some of us are more hip, if you will.

Then these two adorable newlyweds quickly had us peruse this second photo:
Bingo!  Grammy (who is SO up-to-date with the hip-hop music all the young whippersnappers are listening to) had guessed it, but now the light bulb went on for Papa.  We were going to be grandparents--AGAIN.  And this baby will make four! 

The newest little Pearl on our family string is due to make his or her appearance in October.  To say we are over the moon--both for ourselves and for this happy young couple who went into their marriage completely open to God's plan for their newly created family--is an understatement.

I can't help but picture a darling little cutie pie with dark, naturally curly hair, like his or her mommy's--and her gorgeous olive skin, too (instead of the pale, easily sunburned Irish skin with which our boys have been cursed).
And maybe piercing blue eyes like his or her daddy's.
(I only say that because this baby's mommy, who has the prettiest brown eyes you ever did see, thinks this would be an attractive combination.)

My son and his Preciosa will find out at 18 weeks or so if their baby is a male or a female, and then I can just say "his" or "her" when I talk about grandchild #4--and I can show images of wee ones wrapped in pink or blue, too, instead of safe, neutral yellow!

Isn't it something the way young people make announcements these days?  If I recall, our parents (who were in Upstate NY) were informed about our pregnancies over the phone (from Texas, Florida, and NH).  Not nearly as creative or fun a way to break the news, huh?

Here's how the baby announcement became "Facebook Official" (that's a real thing, you know).  I told my son and his wife that if they'd had the helpful caption there when they broke the news to Papa and Grammy, it wouldn't have taken as long for the old guy to "get" it!

We are praying for the health and well-being of this newest little Pearl, and I would appreciate it so much, dear readers, if you could also keep this ecstatic young couple and their precious little one in your prayers.  Gracias!

Monday, April 7, 2014

String of Pearls Gets Liebstered (Again!)

On March 24, I was Liebstered by my friend Iris over at Country Girl's Daybook.  (I got Liebstered once before, about a year ago, and I blogged about it here.)  I've been procrastinating about answering Iris's Liebster Award questions and choosing some deserving blogs to nominate.  You see, here's the thing: when I read through Iris's list of questions and thought about naming my proudest moment, I was utterly paralyzed and thought I'd never be able to come up with a response; because how in the world can I pick just one?  I have five grown sons of whom I'm inordinately proud, for reasons too varied and numerous to count.  But I've finally decided it's time to respond to Iris's very generous invitation to share a little bit more about myself with you (as if you don't hear enough already!), so here we go--

First of all, here are the rules of the game:

Liebster Award Rules:
Acknowledge the blog that nominated you (done, Country Girl's Daybook)
Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger created.
List 11 bloggers with less than 200 followers that deserve some recognition.
Write 11 questions for them to answer.
Notify them they've been nominated.
Iris's questions:
1. Let's start with something simple.  If you only had three wishes, what would they be?  (Wishing for more wishes is not allowed.)
My first wish: to live to see all my boys happily married, with children--God willing.  (Or ordained priests, if that's the vocation to which the two who are still single are called--but I don' t think that's where they're headed.)  Secondly: to be the one to go first, because I don't want to outlive my husband.  And finally: to get to Heaven!
2.  What has been the proudest moment in your life so far?
Okay I was worried about answering this one (as I told you above); but I have it figured out. It's not one moment, however; so far it's three proudest moments that are tied, and eventually, it may be five.  I cannot conceive of feeling prouder than at those times when I've seen my five sons all dressed in tuxes, up on the altar of a Catholic Church, with one of them in the role of groom and the other four standing up for their brother as his groomsmen.  I have witnessed this proud moment in 2009 at son #1's wedding, in 2013 at son #3's wedding, and then again a mere two months later in 2014 at the wedding of son #4.  When I see my boys like that--those tall, strong, handsome, sweet boys, who are all my favorites (it's a five-way tie!)--my heart expands to the bursting point and feels as if it will be ripped from my chest.  I choke up.  My eyes fill with tears.  And I think about how blessed I am that God gave me the great honor of providing them with their very first home--that they grew inside me, which is such an astounding miracle.  And now they're standing there together, fine men, all grown-up and getting married...I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie "Castaway," when he finally gets a fire started and he beats his chest and shouts, "Look what I have done!", or something to that effect.  Of course, I know I certainly didn't do it by myself, but still...

Heart bursting here, looking at these five grown brothers who are each other's strongest supporters and best friends.  Proud mama here.

3. What is your absolute favorite meal?
I think I would have to say filet mignon, potatoes (mashed or baked), corn, and salad.  This has become our traditional Christmas dinner, because all the meat-and-potatoes men in our family love it.

4. What is your favorite color and why?
Blue, because no matter what shade it is it's always so pretty.  It's the color of the sky and the ocean.  It's Mary's color.

5. What is your guilty pleasure?
Sometimes, I sit down with a bag of those mini Reese's peanut butter cups and I unwrap and eat them one by one, always meaning to stop after a reasonable number.  But I end up eating almost the whole bag by myself.  My stomach has a limit when it comes to food items such as meats and vegetables and there is a point beyond which it will no longer stretch.  But it seems to have endless room for Reese's peanut butter cups--or peanut butter M&M's, or Dove milk chocolates, or Lindt chocolate truffles...actually, it has endless room for all kinds of chocolate goodies.  (Sorry if that answer grossed any of you out.  I know, I have a problem!)

6. Is there something you like to collect?  Certain kinds of trinkets?
Over the years, one of my favorite things to collect has been English transferware dishes, and I have a fairly extensive collection.  Most of the ones I own are reproductions of antique designs.  Although I have some that are red, green, and brown, the bulk of my collection is blue (because--well, see #4).  The great thing about these dishes is that you can find really inexpensive random pieces at T.J. Maxx (a diner plate might be $3.99, for instance), or you can often find transferware (both original old pieces and lovely reproductions) at consignment shops and second-hand shops.  It doesn't have to match--in fact, I have a number of different patterns, but they all go together nicely.  I sort of think that the fact that my dishes are mix-'n-match makes them more interesting.  And the fact that they aren't rare and expensive is a plus, too, because I use and enjoy them all the time.
7. When you were five, what did you want to be when you grew up?  Did it happen?
At five, I think my only dream was to one day be a mommy (and that one stayed with me until 1983, when I finally became one for the first time).  But I do remember when I was about 7 or 8 and we were asked at school to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up.  And I drew myself as a librarian.  I remember what my drawing looked like, and I've tried to recreate it here for you.
I also remember the teacher very kindly and gently explaining to me that if I was going to be a "Mrs.," my last name was going to change; so she suggested that I erase that title and change it to "Miss," which I did. 

I did not become a librarian (although my oldest son married one).  But I loved books then, and I love them now, so this seems like it would have been a perfect career choice for me.

8. What's your go-to recipe for a weeknight? was mac and cheese back in the child-rearing years.  But now?  Well, it almost always involves chicken breasts.

9. Name one thing that makes you peeve, critter?
Frogs!  Ugh!  I cannot even imagine being able to touch one.  (So imagine how tough that was, as the mother of five little boys who were inveterate frog wranglers.)

10. What skill or hobby have you always wanted to learn?
I really wish I could play the piano or any kind of musical instrument.

11. What book should I be reading?
Finding Grace?  (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)  This is a hard one for me.  I like books, remember?  Lots and lots of books!  I just read The Book Thief and I thought it was brilliantly written and sort of life-changing.

Okay, my turn.  I nominate the following blogs:

1. Christina @ Filling My Prayer Closet
2. Tiffany @ Life of a Catholic Librarian
3. Madeline  @ A Dash of Snark
4. Maia @ From Little Hands
5. Annery @ Annery at Home
6. Joy @ Joy in the Morning
7. Gabriela @  Under Grace
8. Aileen @ Pure and Simple Glance (What better way to get your blog started, Aileen?!)
9. Nancy Shuman @ The Breadbox Letters, It's Only Write, The Cloistered Heart
10. Elizabeth @ Super Swell Times
11. Blair @ Blair's Blessings

All right, I was too late on #'s 10 and 11.  Kendra @ Catholic All Year got to them first!  If you want to read their Liebster answers to Kendra's questions, go here and here.

And now for my questions:

1. Do you have a favorite saint with whom you feel a special kinship? (Who is it, and why?)
2. Do you have a "bucket list"?  (And if so, what's the first item on the list?)
3. Where is your favorite place to swim: a heated pool, a freshwater lake, or the ocean?
4. What are three words that describe you?  (Sorry--I hate it when people ask me questions like that.)
5. Are you fluent in a second language?
6. Do you like to travel, or are you more of a homebody?
7. What's your all-time favorite book (if you can name just one; if not, how about your three favorites)?
8. Do you love to cook (or would you rather eat out and have someone else do it)?
9. If you could only have one dessert for the rest of your life (a horrible prospect, I know!), what would you choose?
10. Is there a particular work of Catholic art that is your favorite?  (Share the image with us, if you can.)
11. What inspired you to begin your blog?

Thanks again for the nomination, Iris.  I hope I wasn't too long-winded!