Thursday, January 29, 2015

T-Shirt Blankets for My Boys

This past Christmas, I decided to give each of my five boys a special, personalized gift--one that wouldn't cost all that much in dollars, but would be priceless in a different way.

I spent hours web-surfing, looking for a place to have t-shirt quilts professionally made (something I've actually wanted to do for them for a long time now), using cast-offs from their schoolboy days that I still had stashed away in piles all over the house; but then I decided that I wanted to tackle these quilts on my own.  It wasn't so much that I was bothered by the high cost of having someone else create these one-of-a-kind gifts for my boys; it was more that I simply wanted to, as my oldest son used to say in his toddler years, "do it my own self."

I can sew, but I'm no quilter; so the ones I made are technically t-shirt blankets rather than quilts (with no fluffy batting inside, just backed with cotton sheeting).

I spent a great deal of time on--and had a great deal of fun with--the making of these gifts, and I infused them with something a random on-line seamstress couldn't: immeasurable amounts of a mother's love for her now-grown sons.  I think my boys liked them, if the smiles in the following pictures are any indication.

It felt good to make use of close to 150 old t-shirts for this project--some of them still bearing indelible, ground-in dirt stains from football practices long ago.

Even though I used so many up to make these blankets, I still have lots of leftover t-shirts that I ought to give to Goodwill but can't part with quite yet.  But at least the piles have gotten smaller since Christmas!

Here are some photos from the trenches, as I plugged away at this daunting (at first) but ultimately rewarding DIY project.

All I can say is, phew, I finished! With all that was going on this past fall (the birth of a grandson in October, and in November, the wedding of a son and the publication of a new book--not to mention lots and lots of travel), I wasn't sure I was going to have the blankets completed and under the tree on Christmas day.  But in early December, I stitched my last seam...and then my poor, overworked sewing machine up and died on me.  The old girl was a real trooper and managed to keep chugging along, although I could tell she was straining towards the end.  And now I'm either going to have to get her motor fixed or buy a whole new machine.

It was all worth it, though, for this:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Scenes from Grammy's Lap (Episode 1)

My little buddy G-Man hangs out on my lap a lot these days.  Enough that I thought I might run a little ongoing "series" of photos here at the blog during my extended stay in VA, and I think I'll call it "Scenes from Grammy's Lap."

I love today's photo, taken while my adorable grandson was napping sweetly, with his pudgy little hand resting on mine.
I think I'm getting pretty good at snapping pictures with my cell phone while holding G-Man, raising my right hand high overhead while my left arm is otherwise occupied.  (Just so you know, I'm patting my own back right now, with the same right hand I was just telling you about.)

This picture, taken from this interesting angle, is rather artsy--don't you think?  Too bad I'm not on Instagram, where I've heard such photos are found in abundance.  But I'll never be on Instagram.  (However, I was never going to be on Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, either, so...)

Stay tuned for future episodes of "Scenes from Grammy's Lap."  (You're on the edge of your seat, I can feel it!)

Monday, January 26, 2015

An Irresitible Face, and a Face for Radio

I'm still here, in spite of all evidence to the contrary.  Still trying to have my own little (very, very little--these days anyway) voice in the Catholic blogosphere. I've been busy, you see.  Because...well, because of this, for one thing.  This wee happy munchkin, who is better known here at String of Pearls as "G-Man."
This FACE!  How can I tear myself away from it to blog?  I could blog when he sleeps, I suppose; but I like to let him slumber on my person, you see--in the crook of my arm or on my shoulder...which makes trying to type on my laptop a tad problematic.

I've been spending quite a bit of time with this handsome little lad.  My husband and I traveled down to VA to stay at the home of our middle son, his wife Preciosa, and their firstborn son G-Man, just after New Year's.  We live in New England (and I have to say that with the record-breaking blizzard that is hitting up that way right about now, being down here where it's [relatively] balmy is not too shabby at all).

Our original plan was to go back home to NH on Feb. 2, just after G-Man's Baptism the day before. And then he was going to start going to daycare after we left--just until May, when his mommy plans to quit her job and stay home with him full-time.  But in the last week or so we have come up with a new plan that will enable us to stay down here until our daughter-in-law is finished working.  (We're lucky that as an airline pilot, my husband can commute to work; otherwise, we wouldn't be able to do it!)  During the 7-10 days each month that my husband and I have to be other places--at home checking on our house and picking up our mail (so we can pay bills!), out at Notre Dame for our youngest son's Army ball, out in MI to help our oldest son and his wife when baby #4 arrives in April, etc. etc.--Preciosa's parents, aunt, and cousin are going to take turns filling in, traveling here from FL and AL.

So it looks like we're going to get to know our new little grandson very, very well!  He's going on 4 months old now, and already he's changed so much since we arrived almost a month ago.  He's trying to roll over--and even to CRAWL!--already, and he gets cuter and chubbier every day.  I can't even imagine what he'll be like by the time we head north in May.

So, that's what I've been up to lately, in case you've been stopping by and wondering if I'm ever going to put up a new post.

Before I go, I thought I'd share a link to a recent radio interview I did with Ken Huck for Radio Maria.  Ken has a show called "Meet the Author," and after being given a copy of Finding Grace by an old high school friend, he invited me on his show to talk about it (and Erin's Ring) on January 15.  If you'd like to listen, here's the link (I'm the second person Ken interviewed that day, and my segment starts at the 32-minute mark).

I have trouble advocating for my own works of YA fiction in person--even though I do believe they could be a positive influence in the lives of readers of all ages.  For instance, this past weekend, my husband and I drove over to the DC area to visit with son #2 and his new bride, Ginger; and while at the dinner table with Ginger's whole extended family, the subject of my books came up.  As usual, I got somewhat tongue-tied and embarrassed.  But while talking to Ken on the phone during his radio show, I didn't have ten people making eye contact with me while I spoke and I found it was so much easier that way.  I was nervous before we got started, but Ken put me at ease almost immediately, and I chatted away as if I didn't have an introverted bone in my body.  Amazing.  Who would have ever guessed I'd be comfortable on the radio?!  

It must be that, as that old saying goes, I have a face that was meant for the radio.  Hardy-har-har.

See you soon.  Really, I will.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Babies, Batman, and Secret Blogs

Sorry that I haven't added many pearls of wisdom (or pearls of anything else, either) to this here string lately...

Because, well, I've been busy with other things.  Or should I say other people, one adorable tiny person in particular.  And I've spent an inordinate (and heavenly) amount of time with him on my lap the past two weeks.

"Holy cuteness, Batman!"  Right?  (That was a comment from one of my husband's cousins, when she saw these photos of this precious little Batbaby on Facebook.)

So...I've been otherwise occupied, and not spending a whole lot of time parked in front of my laptop.  But I did write a quick post over at The Write Stuff this morning.

I haven't really been advertising that other blog I started not too long ago, because this one will always have the #1 spot in my heart.  But it does exist, and it is devoted entirely to books and writing.  You can find a link to my latest post here, if you'd like to mosey on over there.

Also, if you click on the photo of me up there at the top of the sidebar on the right, it'll magically take you to The Write Stuff.  A link was embedded into the picture, isn't that cool?  (Holy technology, Batman!  The Internets are amazing!  Pow!  Wham!  Zowee!)

And on that note, having exposed just how old I am if I can remember watching that uber-cheesy Batman TV show from the 60's and thinking it was the grooviest, I'll sign off and wish you a fun and happy long weekend!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Real-Life Inspiration in Dover

For my second YA Catholic novel, Erin's Ring (published in late 2014 by Bezalel Books), I chose Dover, NH, the town where we've lived for 25 years and where my husband and I raised our five sons, as the setting.  (2012's Finding Grace, my first novel, was set in Plattsburgh, NY, where I moved when I was 10 and which I consider to be my "home town.")

A lot of real-life, historically accurate events and people served as the inspiration for Erin's Ring, a book that takes the reader back and forth in time: from the year 1998, when two young girls set out on a quest to determine the origins of a mysterious old Irish Claddagh ring found buried in the garden of their parish church; to the 1800's, when there was a huge influx of poor immigrants from the Emerald Isle, many of whom found employment in the successful Dover cotton mill known as the Cocheco Manufacturing Company; and then back to modern times again.

If Finding Grace was, among other things, a love letter to Plattsburgh, then certainly Erin's Ring is in part a love letter to Dover, a wonderful New England town that has been very, very good to the Pearl family.  Dover's rich history--which includes the story of the plucky 19th-century Irish-Catholics who at one time filled up so many homes in a certain section of town that it was given the nickname "Dublin," and who were instrumental in procuring the land to build the area's first Catholic church--has always fascinated me.  I always thought it would make an excellent backdrop for an historical novel, and I will be forever indebted to my publisher at Bezalel Books, Cheryl Dickow, who approached me with the offer to write a second YA novel for her company and enthusiastically approved my loose outline for the story that became Erin's Ring.

If you have read (or plan to read) Erin's Ring, you might enjoy seeing these pictures of some of the buildings and areas of Dover that I tried to bring to life in this book, which is an inspirational tale of friendship, loyalty, and love...but most of all, faith.

I love this sign on the corner of the main mill building, with the names of all the companies that once used it.  D.M.C. (Dover Manufacturing Company) became Cocheco Manufacturing Company.   (And years after my fictional characters' stories end, it was owned by Pacific Mills.)
Here are some shots of the mill buildings, where cotton was once produced and where newcomers Ann O'Brien and Moira Devry earn 47 cents a day weaving cotton cloth--and where many true-life Irish immigrant girls were employed throughout the 19th century.  It is also the site of the first-ever women's workplace strike in the U.S., which took place in 1828.

The mill was located right on the Cocheco River, which runs through the middle of town.

Here are some shots of Dover's quaint downtown shops, which retain their vintage aura.

I think my publisher's cover art for Erin's Ring evokes this area of town eerily well!  (And she had never even seen Dover!)
This is the heart of the section of town that was at one time home to so many Irish that it was called "Dublin."  (That's the tower of St. Mary's Church there at the end of 3rd Street.)
The central structure in "Dublin" was the church, built by and for Dover's Irish-Catholic population.  In 1827, a group of Irish mill girls threatened to walk off the job and go back to Ireland if they couldn't have a Catholic church, and Cocheco gave them this plot of land to build one. In 1830, a wooden church named St. Aloysius was finished and stood on this spot.  In 1872, it was replaced by St. Mary's, which is still in use today.
The B & M--Boston & Maine--Railroad used to run right by St. Mary's, the tower of which is visible here in the distance.  (Those tracks are still used by Amtrak and other carriers today, and train whistles still occasionally drown out the priest's words during Masses.)
I hope you've enjoyed this little trip around Dover, and that it helps to bring the story of Erin's Ring, and Molly and Theresa's search to uncover its mystery, alive for you!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Tummy Time with T-Rex

My 3-month-old grandson G-Man is not a huge fan of tummy time, an activity that's become very important for 21st-century infants who are back-sleepers.  (Back in the Stone Age when I was having my first babies, they slept on their tummies--so they had plenty of built-in tummy time.  It wasn't until our fifth that this practice was discouraged, so he was the only one of ours who slept on his back or propped up on his side.)

This morning, I decided to give the little guy a playmate for his tummy time session, and he seemed to really enjoy having his plush prehistoric pal up there on the changing table with him.  (I had my hand on his back, on the off chance that he would suddenly figure out how to roll over--lest you think I was so interested in getting cute shots that I wasn't being safety conscious!)

Here are some photos from tummy time with T-Rex, just about guaranteed to help you get through hump day with a smile on your face.

There was some real bonding going on in the nursery this morning, between the son of a man who has been a dino fanatic most of his life and this happy T-Rex friend.  I see a future paleontologist in the making.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Day One with G-Man

Yesterday was the first day back to work for my sweet daughter-in-law Preciosa, the wife of son #3 and the doting mother of our precious new grandson, G-Man.  So it was also the first day of my month-long stint as his live-in "nanny."

The little guy hit the three-month milestone yesterday, causing his parents to remark on the fact that time is absolutely flying, at warp speed.  This is a phenomenon of which all parents become much too aware, as they watch the babies they fed and burped and changed grow up in what seems like about three weeks (in hindsight, anyway) and move out to start lives of their own...and then become parents themselves.  I read this line somewhere, and it's so very true: when you are raising children, the days are long but the years are short.  Exactly!  How can it be that sometimes when you're surrounded by cranky toddlers, bedtime can't seem to come soon enough; yet in the blink of an eye, your children have suddenly morphed into marvelously mature 18-year-olds and they're heading off to college?!

But let's not get ahead of ourselves with little G-Man, who's got a few years to go yet before we have to worry about that!

Here are a few pictures of Grammy's little guy, during our first day together.  (Papa and Uncle J were here with him, too; so pardon me if I sound a little possessive!)

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it!  ;)
In case you're wondering how in the world I got a blog post written already (which you probably aren't, but bear with me), I'm actually up before the baby today, since I arose at the crack of dawn to see my husband off.  The poor guy has to go back to work, so he's going to miss out on all the fun around here for the next few days.  But that's my guy, always toiling away to make my life easier.  The sacrifices he's made over the three decades of our marriage--always putting himself second in order to take such excellent care of his family--are nothing short of heroic, in my book; and I can never adequately thank him for giving me the opportunity to stay at home with my boys when they were growing up.  He is my rock and my hero.  And it looks like G-Man's daddy is following in his father's footsteps, now that he has his own family to care for and protect.
My blogging output will most likely be a tad spotty for the next few weeks, but at least I'm off to a good start here!  And I hope your New Year is off to a good start as well.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Christmas 2014 Photo Dump!

I must be the worst blogger on the planet--and the best user of hyperbole on the planet as well, obviously.  No, the best user of hyperbole in the galaxy!  In the entire universe!

If you come here often to see what's new at String of Pearls (and if you do, you're my favorite), you've probably been a tad disappointed in me and my blogging work ethic, or lack thereof.  But I just can't seem to get myself to sit down at my laptop and write.  Something has been getting in the way...and that something, I believe, is called "real life."  Living it has been taking up so much of my concentration, my time, and my energy (and producing in my soul such an inordinate amount of pure joy), that it's all I can do these days to merely answer the occasional email.

We had an awesome Christmas, that's it in a nutshell.  All of our gang--five sons, four daughters-in-law, four grandchildren (and even two granddogs)--came home and stayed under our roof, from the days leading up to Christmas through a few days afterward, and it was wonderful.  My hubby and I couldn't ask for a greater gift than having our children and grandchildren all gathered together, in the house where we raised our boys, to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We are already looking forward to 2016, when it will happen again (God willing!).

I'd like to enumerate each and every sweet, funny, and happy detail of Christmas week, but I have neither the time nor the energy to do so right now.  I'm down in VA, staying at my middle son's home for the month of January, helping out by watching little G-Man during the day while his mom is at work.  She just finished three months of maternity leave and is about four months away from becoming a SAHM; but for now, G-Man's parents need some in-home help before he goes to daycare.  I'll be here the whole time, and my husband will be commuting to work from here until we head back home in February.

The little guy is cat-napping right now, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to put together a little album of pictures that can do the talking for me, and share with you dear readers some of the highlights of our Christmas.

Our granddaughters loved our tree.

But didn't love wearing clothes.  (Little Gal, when given the opportunity, opted
for the diaper-only ensemble.)
They were also enthralled by our oversized Nativity.
G-Man's tummy time sessions kept us all mesmerized.

This is the face of a contented Papa.

I thought my kitchen looked great when we had the cabinets re-faced recently.  But when I happened upon my six
guys hanging out in it, chewing the fat as in days of old, I thought it had never looked more beautiful.

Our traditional Christmas Eve, with pizza and Christmas crackers.  Everyone wore their paper crowns.

Even G-Man!  (It looked great with his trademark bow tie.)

Now THIS is why Grammy needed a little island: to have the
perfect spot for decorating Christmas cookies with the twins.

Santa thought they were delicious!

I have the most beautiful daughters-in-law!

My girls and me.  (The female Pearls outnumber the males right now!  Who would have thunk it?
Maybe that'll change in April, when grandchild #5 arrives.)

My boys.  (Be still my heart.)

Winner of the best dressed award: dapper little G-Man.

He's a man of many hats... you can see.

And he's very snuggly and edible.

A gift from the heart, from Mommy.
One of these days, I'm going to blog about making five nostalgia-inducing t-shirt blankets for my boys this Christmas.  But not today.  (Look for that post in the coming week or two.)

Keep 'em coming back for more, that's what I always say!