Tuesday, March 31, 2015

For the Love of Books: National Library Week--and a Giveaway!

It's Tuesday, which is supposed to be set aside for meetings of the "Grace-filled Tuesdays" book club. There will be no meeting today; but we will talk books.  Oh yes we will.

You've probably guessed this about me already, but...I am a big fan of books.  The biggest.  This meme really speaks to me.
A non-reader might say that reading makes a person boring, but I beg to differ. (Please, I beg you, don't think I'm boring!)
Full disclosure: I've always got a stack of reading material on my nightstand--mostly novels, but every now and then a non-fiction title sneaks its way into the line-up.  This is what my "to read" pile looked like a few months ago here at my son's house in VA.
Part of the reason I shared this picture with you is that I wanted you to see that framed drawing of the Blessed Mother, lovingly rendered in pencil by a friend of my daughter-in-law Preciosa.  I'm so glad that this beautiful drawing lives in the guest room that my husband and I are using while we're here!   Such beauty cries out to be shared.

I have already read the top three books in that stack up there.  And a number of others, not pictured.  But I've finally just started the one on the bottom, Fulcrum, by my on-line pal Dan Flaherty (who, incidentally, interviewed my first and third sons and their wives about meeting on CatholicMatch.com and wrote articles about them for the Catholic Match website).
I've actually been wanting to read Dan's book for a long time now, but since it's a story about Irish-Catholics in America, I was afraid to read it while working on my own story about Irish immigrants, Erin's Ring, because I thought the subject matter might be too similar.  For instance, in my book there is a real neighborhood in Dover that was nicknamed "Dublin," and in Dan's there is fictional one in Boston called "Shamrock."  But actually, I don't like to read any other novels while writing one of my own.  (For me, reading and writing fiction simultaneously is kind of like trying to dribble and chew gum at the same time--and if you can do that, my hat's off to you.)  But listen to this enticing synopsis on the back cover of Fulcrum:

A fictional neighborhood of Shamrock in the historic city of Boston is the setting for this Irish-American drama. Set in the immediate postwar period, Fulcrum portrays the lives of six teenagers who see their traditional neighborhood changing and wrestle with a response that will be true to their roots and to their conscience.

The tale is set against the backdrop of a classic Red Sox-Yankees pennant race, an old-fashioned mayoral campaign and the passion of football in autumn, all intertwined with the powerful presence, teaching and piety of the Catholic Church.

Fulcrum is an epic blend of Field of Dreams, The Last Hurrah and The Bells of St. Mary all rolled up into one, and destined to be a classic of Irish Catholic fiction.

This book is obviously a must-read for a Hibernophile like me!  (Yes, I just learned a new word, and I could hardly wait to use it.)

Okay, we've established my love of books.  And mind you, I mean the kind made out of ink and paper--and stored at an establishment that I hope will not go the way of the dinosaurs, now that eBooks are so popular: the public library.

And that was my neat little segue into my next topic: National Library Week.

In honor of National Library Week, I'm going to give away one copy of each of my novels here at the blog.

Tuesday April 14 is "National Library Workers Day," and I thought that was a perfect reason to give away a copy of Erin's Ring--a book that features the public library and a kindly and helpful librarian who works there.  If you win, perhaps you could give it to a special librarian in your life as a gift (or then again, you could keep it and share it with your favorite reader, middle school-aged and up).

Thursday April 16 is "Celebrate Teen Literature Day," and I thought that was a perfect reason to give away a copy of Finding Grace--a book that I wrote with high school-aged readers in mind.  If you win, perhaps you could give it to your favorite teen as a gift (or your favorite adult, for that matter!).

To enter the giveaway: leave me a comment anytime between now and Saturday April 18.  In your comment, let me know which of the two titles you would prefer to win.  It's a short window of opportunity, so if you want to throw your name into the hat, don't shilly-shally!

I look forward to your comments, fellow bookworms!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Santa v. the Easter Bunny?

If you come to this here blog often, you know that my husband and I have been living with our middle son and his wife, and their precious, chubby-cheeked offspring G-Man, almost exclusively since early January.  We've been able to get back north to our snowbound home in NH a couple of times, but it wasn't until our trip there earlier this month that we finally got around to getting all of the Christmas decorations taken down and put away until next year...

...with the exception of the tree.  Which is still standing, and still has lights on it.

But now it's an Easter tree.  That's right: move over Santa Baby, there's a new sheriff in town and his name is the Easter Bunny.
Actually, there are still a few Santas hanging about the house, too; they're having trouble remembering that it's not all about them anymore.

For instance, here's one of my favorites, a new addition to my Santa collection, a treasure found at our downtown Hallmark store just before last Christmas.  He's supposed to represent England, hence the English transferware design on his porcelain robe.  He looks really good in my dining room, hanging out with my transferware cups and saucers.
But that stubbornly entrenched English Santa didn't stop the old Easter Bunny from muscling his way into the room and claiming some tabletop space of his own.  No, he did not.
The Easter Bunny is trying to take over the kitchen.
And the family room, too.
But Santa is holding his ground on a shelf in our upstairs guest room, as you can see.
Yes, Easter is almost here.  But neither Santa nor the Easter Bunny is the real "reason for the season," of course.  It's that crucified Savior, depicted above in a painted plaster version of the Pieta that lives on our pine shelf--that God-made-Man who gave His life to save us and rose again three days later.  It's the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

G-Man knows.
And as you can see, he's already feeling that Easter joy!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Blog Blessings

String of Pearls has given me so many unexpected blessings in the four years it has occupied its own little (itsy-bitsy, teeny-tiny) spot in cyberspace.  The four-year mark came and went on March 7 (the anniversary of my very first--not very follower-worthy--post, "Ready, set, go!"), and I forgot to celebrate the milestone.  So a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my blog, which is a baby no more.  (They grow up so fast, don't they?)

One such blessing, truly unexpected and deeply touching, came to me several weeks ago, when I received this sweet email from a reader:

Hi Laura:

My name is [---], and I'm a regular reader of your blog. It's lovely, and I enjoy it a lot.  I've also commented a few times on your blog.

Anyway, good luck with your new book. I have to get around to order a copy.

The reason I wanted to reach out to you is to let you know about a lovely rosary I saw.  It can be found on a Catholic web site, called Trendy Traditions.  The owner, a mom called Melanie, makes lovely rosaries.  I was scrolling through and discovered a string of beads called an Irish Mother's Rosary.  She can add up to five children's names, and a saint medal, if you want.
The only caveat is that it's a tad on the expensive side, but perhaps a lovely gift for a birthday, anniversary or Mother's Day.  You can find the rosary by scrolling through the rosary section and then clicking on the picture of the Irish rosary.


With prayers,

When 99.9% of the emails I receive are junk, junk, and more junk, do you know what a blessing it was to receive this note?  To realize that there are people out there, completely unknown to me, who read my little blog and feel they've gotten to know me well enough to share something like this--and to be absolutely on the money about how much I would love just such a Rosary (which I've already hinted to my husband, loudly, would make the greatest Mother's Day/birthday gift ever)? 

I was so touched by the thoughtfulness of this reader, whose name I do remember seeing in my blog's combox from time to time, and with whom I now feel a strong connection.  Her outreach led to a short back-and-forth email session between us, and this new connection--one that never would have been made without the help of String of Pearls--has led to further blessings.  Because my new friend is an independent journalist, and she has agreed to read and review Erin's Ring!

Do you want to see the lovely Rosary [---] so thoughtfully shared with me, out of the blue, just because she's so nice?
Here's the link: http://www.trendytraditions.org/Irish-Mother8217s-Rosary_p_97.html, in case you have some loud hinting of your own that you'd like to do.  (You're welcome!)

It's incredible the people I've "met" in the past four years, all because of String of Pearls.  I mean, I even have an Australian "pen pal."  (Hi, Erin!)

And speaking of Rosaries, you should "meet" another lovely blogging friend of mine, Sarah over at Cherishing Everyday Beauty.  She handcrafts lovely cord Rosaries, and it has become a true ministry for her.  Sarah and I have been corresponding via our blogs for years now.  I thought I'd share a recent email I received from this beautiful, faith-filled young lady, a newly-minted college graduate and teacher (a girl my husband and I would like to fix up with our youngest son, no kidding):

Dear Laura,

A couple of years ago, I gave away a cord rosary on my blog which I believe was ultimately sent to you.  If I recall correctly, at the time, you asked me to make several more in Notre Dame colors which I unfortunately did not have at the time, nor did I have the funding to purchase them (oh, college life...).  In a recent conversation with a priest-friend (who also makes these cord rosaries), we began talking rosaries since he had recently purchased more cord and -- out of nowhere -- I remembered you and I immediately wanted to get some more cord to make those rosaries for you... if you are still interested.  [Sarah went on to talk about how much God had blessed her with a job right out of college, and she also provided a link to a website showing all the different colors of cord available, including Irish green and Notre Dame blue and gold.] Just let me know your order and I'm more than happy to comply... no pressure ;-)

God bless you!
In Christ,

Now I ask you, how blessed am I?  I eagerly responded in the affirmative to Sarah's email, and she generously sent five cord Rosaries for my sons, and another four for my grandchildren.  And as an added bonus: as her fingers worked the cord, fashioning these made-with-love Marian devotionals, she prayed for the lucky recipients.  Including my little G-Man, seen here holding his Fighting Irish-colored Rosary.
My twin granddaughters like to wear their Easter-basket-colored Rosaries around their necks.  :)
Visit Sarah's blog, if you'd like to find out how you, too, could get one of her hand-crafted cord Rosaries.  Or just if you want to be uplifted or inspired. 

The Internet is amazing.  Aside from these wonderful blogging friendships, it has made so many things possible for me that would have been unimaginable at a different time in history.  Without it, I doubt I ever would have learned about a wonderful Catholic publishing company called Bezalel Books, and I never would have known what to do with a manuscript called Finding Grace, which I had plugged away at for more than four years in my basement "office," never dreaming it would ever actually be a real book.

And speaking of real books (and how instrumental my Catholic blogging friends have been in helping me to promote them), here is a recent email from my dear friend Therese Heckenkamp (a young mother, author, blogger, and all-around sweetheart), who took time out of her busy life to read and review Erin's Ring:

Hi Laura,

I wanted to let you know that I finished your wonderful book and posted my review to my blog, Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes&Noble, Catholic-Fiction.com, and TraditionalCatholicNovels.com.

Thanks for the lovely read, and I hope you're having a blessed Lent!

God bless,

It is hard for me to imagine being more blessed than I am.  All is right in the world this Palm Sunday in the year of Our Lord 2015:  our family is healthy and happy--and growing; our boys and their spouses are strong in the Faith, preparing to celebrate a glorious Easter; and these blog blessings are just the icing on the lamb-shaped cake my oldest son has plans to make next Sunday.

Friday, March 27, 2015

I Love Being a Grammy!

I just have to tell you, readers, that I love being a grandmother.  A "Grammy," that is.  It is quite simply the best job on earth.

I always thought I was born to be a mother.  Motherhood was the only career I ever really wanted--the job I dreamed about having from the time I was a young girl, tenderly caring for my 8-inch vinyl baby doll--a sweet [now]vintage cutie with painted-on hair and blue eyes that opened and closed.  A high-tech drink-and-wet number, this doll had one little hole in the center of her rosebud mouth, so that she could be fed with a bottle, and another in her nether regions.  It was just like taking care of a real baby!  Right?

The doll of which I speak was a gift from my maternal grandmother on the occasion of my birth (the birth of her first granddaughter).  It came with a pint-sized wooden crib, painted white and decoupaged with pastel animals.  More than half a century later, I still have that doll--none the worse for wear, except for a few ink marks on her skin, and faded lips that were brought back to life with the help of some pink nail polish.  I still have that crib, too--although the paint has begun to chip away in spots.  If I was at home right now, instead of at the house in VA where my little G-Man lives, I would take a picture of my childhood doll and her little crib and show it to you.  (Remind me to do that someday down the road, won't you?)

Yes, motherhood was the stuff of dreams for me; and God is so good to me, when I grew up and married my Prince Charming, He gave me exactly what I'd always wished for: a house filled with children.  He gave me five sons, who grew from chubby, rosy-cheeked, bright, funny, utterly endearing little fellas into tall, strong, handsome, bright, funny, utterly endearing young men.  Now, incredibly, four of those former little fellas are married, and two of them are fathers themselves.

And those children they've brought into the world, those three precious little girls and that one precious little boy (so far, wink wink)...oh my, no one told me how much I would adore my grandchildren!  Well, actually, my dear late father-in-law did: he used to say, "If I'd known how fun grandchildren were, I'd have had them first."  And this was a man--trust me when I tell you this--whose life had always revolved around his children.  He never identified himself by any career he held.  (Well, okay--maybe he liked to remember his Naval Aviator days, with a heavy dose of pride and nostalgia, but...)  My father-in-law was always first and foremost a family man, a dad.  Lucky for me, the apple didn't fall far from the tree, because his son is no different.  So it is gratifying to see our boys following in the footsteps of the generations of Pearl men who came before them, transitioning into the roles of husband and father with joy and enthusiasm, and with a seriousness of purpose that proves they realize the importance of both of those sacred vocations.  My husband and I couldn't be prouder of them for the way they've embraced family life, and for bringing sweet, faith-filled women of character into our family, giving us the daughters we never had before.

I adore my grandchildren, plain and simple.  They melt me completely.  Just recently, we were Skype-ing with our oldest son's family, and Cutie Pie (one of the 3-and-a-half-year-old twins) leaned very close to the camera, so that all we could see on our computer screen was the top of her head and her honey-colored bangs, and said quietly, "Grammy, I want to be just like you."  Oh my goodness, I can't describe what hearing those words, in that innocent voice, did to me.  I don't know if she'll still feel that way ten years from now...but wow, to say that I felt on top of the world when she murmured them that day is quite an understatement.

Cutie Pie's mom also told me recently that she insists on wearing the dressy wool button-up coat that her aunt and uncle gave her for Christmas, all the time, instead of the pink hooded parka that she normally wears.  Apparently, it reminds her of one of my winter coats, because she tells her mother the reason she wants to wear it is that she wants to be "just like Grammy."  My heart constricts with love when I hear this, and my eyes "get hot" (as her daddy used to say when he was a small boy, struggling mightily to be a little man as tears threatened).

I don't think I'll ever be able to button up my winter coat again without thinking of Cutie Pie and smiling.

And speaking of smiling: check out my happy little G-Man, having a ball in his uber-awesome rubber ducky bathtub the other night.  Oh my goodness, this little boy has me wrapped around his chubby little finger.  I am in love. (You are, too, aren't you?  You know you are!  I mean, look at that face!)

Look at that infectious smile! (It sure reminds me of his daddy's.)
I think I might need to work on finding some new adjectives to use, because I just read this post over and realized I used "little" about a hundred times.  Some writer!  (But little is such a cute little word, isn't it?)

Well, time to sign off.  The little guy will be up any time now (there I go again), and Papa and Grammy's daycare will be open for business.  I hope I'll be back soon.  (I'll try...but you know, these days I'm a Grammy first, a blogger second!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #4): Rings 'n Things

Well, it's Tuesday, so it's that time again: time for tome talk.  (Alliteration: always awesome, anytime.)

For those of you who haven't read Erin's Ring, I thought I'd entice you to think about reading this work of YA Catholic fiction by sharing links to a recent review by my writer/blogger friend, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur--whom I've only met on-line, but with whom I've been corresponding for several years now.  Patrice posted her review on the book's Amazon page, and that's always so helpful; but she also posted it on her Spiritual Woman and Today's Catholic Homeschooling blogs.  I am especially thankful that she shared Erin's Ring with her homeschooling audience, under the headings of English, History, Social Studies, Reading, Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8, and High School.  My publisher, Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books, feels strongly that it would be a good addition to Catholic classrooms, and I am pleased that Patrice concurs. (Patrice was also very generous when I contacted her in 2013 with a review request for Finding Grace; if  you're up for it, you can read that review here.)  Hey, maybe clicking on links isn't really your thang.  If so, here you go--Patrice's review of Erin's Ring, copied and pasted just for you.  With artfully placed vine images before and after to separate it from the rest of the post.
Erin’s Ring

Written By: Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur - Feb• 22•15
Erin’s Ring
by Laura H. Pearl
Waterford, MI: Bezalel Books, 2014

Erin’s Ring by Laura H. Pearl is a delightful Catholic young adult novel. Molly McCormick is the new girl in Dover, New Hampshire. An 8th grader, she is the oldest of six children with one more on the way. Her father is a pilot based at Logan airport while her mother cares for their bustling brood. Theresa Grant’s parents are separated, torn apart after the death of their younger child. She lives a lonely pain-filled life. Yet, she and Molly soon become friends, bonding in a library one day.

Molly found an Claddagh ring in the dirt outside her parish Church and is eager to find out who it belonged to. She shares her quest with Theresa and with the help of a friendly librarian, begin delving into the Irish history of Dover.

Interwoven is the tale of Ann O’Brien who came to Dover from Ireland in 1827 to work at the Cocheco Mill.

This tale is great for middle-school or older girls. Even as an adult, I eagerly read it. Perfect for anyone who enjoys history and light romance. Teaches much about life in the mills for Irish immigrants and the struggle to have Catholic places of worship. A great treat!
Isn't that a kind and thoughtful review?  Now while I figure out how exactly I'm really supposed to be conducting this book club (do I assign a certain number of chapters of one of the books and then at the next meeting discuss a particular theme or plot twist?  Is that how it's done?  Or are you okay with the sort of haphazard way I've been running these meetings?), perhaps you could get yourself a copy of one or the other of my novels (or..both?  Why not!).  If you haven't read them yet, that is.

Anyway, I've decided that since I've introduced you to Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur, I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you about her debut novel, The Rose Ring--for which she used a pen name, Anne Faye.  Recently in the Catholic blogging world, there was a movement to "hashtag show us your list"--that is, to list Catholic-friendly novels that are decidedly NOT the least bit like 50 Shades of Grey--a movement which sprang to life right around the time that the movie adapted from the appalling bestselling trilogy of books came to a theater near you.  I hadn't read Faye's The Rose Ring when I made my list--but if I had, I would have added it.
If you're looking for a sweet and satisfying romance--between characters who are human and real and make mistakes, but are searching for truth and forgiveness and true love--then this book is for you.

I was sent a copy of The Rose Ring in exchange for an honest review, and when the package came in the mail I was so excited to open it and dive right into the book.  After all, the story revolves around a beautiful gold ring with a mysterious past, and a search for its original owner.  (Sound familiar?!)  And this book is part historical fiction: it goes back and forth in time--from the present day, when Julia Manning, a quiet book store employee, finds an old ring in a box that belonged to her grandmother; to the 1940's, when Elizabeth Phelps, now an elderly dementia patient, was given one just like it by a young man who left her to fight in WWII.  (I think Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur/Anne Faye and I are writing soul mates, I truly do!  And you'll have to read Erin's Ring to fully understand why I say that.)

The Rose Ring is a quick read, at 168 pages; however, don't let the length fool you.  There is so much packed into this novel: the heroism of ordinary human beings is on display, as well as the human propensity to sin that causes such agony and sadness in relationships--and these opposing sides of man's nature are handled with gentleness and dignity by the author.  But here's what you won't find in The Rose Ring: those inappropriate, overly descriptive scenes of physical intimacy that litter the pages of so many works of contemporary romantic fiction.

Faye's characters have made huge mistakes in their lives, and have lived to regret them deeply and painfully.  Both Julia and Elizabeth are tormented by their pasts and feel utterly betrayed by the men they loved and trusted. I won't tell you how Julia has been hurt, or what she ultimately chooses to do when the man who broke her heart suddenly comes back on the scene--because I don't want to spoil it for you, in case you decide to get your hands on a copy.  I won't tell you if Elizabeth's fiancé ever returned from the war, for the same reason.  But I will tell you that this wonderful novel poignantly and beautifully illustrates that no matter how unforgiveable our actions might seem, there is hope for forgiveness, redemption, and peace.  There is hope for true love--not the stuff of your typical secular romance novels, but the kind of sacrificial love that mirrors Christ's love for us. 

The Rose Ring is an inspirational romance novel--it's engaging, thought-provoking, and hope-filled.  As an added bonus, it's got that WWII-era historical fiction component that I can never resist.  And best of all, it's clean enough for your middle school-aged daughter.  In fact, the two of you could curl up on the couch and read it together.  Thumb's up on this one.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Prayers for Mimi

My mother ("Mimi" to her grandkids and great-grandkids) had an unfortunate accident last Wednesday.  She fell at home and broke her right hip.

It just so turns out that my husband and I were at home in NH (back from VA for a week-and-a half or so to take care of some important things), getting ready to pack the car for a drive north to Plattsburgh, NY, when we got the news.  My husband was planning to deal with plumbing issues at his family's home on the lake, the result of a furnace malfunction that led to burst pipes and caused flooding in the basement.  And while we were there, I was looking forward to visiting with my folks, maybe bringing them out some home-cooked meals...

Well, one of my younger sisters called Wednesday morning, and I immediately thought something was wrong.  It isn't like her to call on a weekday morning for no reason.  Everything was fine, she assured me.  She was just calling to apologize because she'd made Mom and Dad some potato and leek soup, and she'd only made enough for two, unaware that we were due to arrive that evening.  I assured her that we had been planning to get our own dinner and proceeded to get back to my packing.  Then less than a half-hour later, she called again.  "Wow, two calls in one day.  To what do I owe the pleasure?" I joked.  "Well..." she said.  "You were worried the first time, and it was nothing.  But now there IS an emergency."  She had just gotten a call from my dad, who had frantically called 9-1-1 and was waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

Long story short: my husband and I left earlier than we'd planned to and got there in time to visit with Mimi on Wednesday in the ER, and we saw her safely moved to a room upstairs.  While my husband dealt with the plumber on Thursday, I was able to be there at the hospital while she was in surgery and stayed for a few hours after she got out of recovery.  Then I was able to spend most of Friday and Saturday with her in her room, accompanied by one or the other of my two sisters (who shall heretofore be known as "Saint R" and "Saint B").

My mom has always been a whirlwind of energy--the "Energizer Bunny" was what we all called her.  She's feisty and has a great sense of humor.  Case in point: here she is in the ER the day of her injury, while waiting to be transferred upstairs--and just look at that smile!
It was somewhat terrifying to see this cute, indomitable 79-year-old utterly sapped of energy post-surgery, with barely enough juice to open her eyes or whisper a few words.  She couldn't feed herself, much less stand up and walk on her own.  We spoon-fed her, but she could eat no more than a few tiny bites at each meal.  She had so much trouble waking up from the anesthesia and pain narcotics that I had begun to wonder if she was going to be okay.  The doctor had warned us that it's a whole different ball game when a hip replacement is done after a traumatic break than when it's done electively, to relieve the pain of arthritis.  It was going to be slow-going, he said.  But still, it was scary...

My sister (Saint B) got Mom to wake up enough to finish a whole milkshake on Friday night.  That was huge (and proves my theory that ice cream has magical healing powers)!  And on Saturday, she began to turn a corner, spending more time sitting up in a chair than lying in bed.  When my husband and I were driving back to NH on Sunday, Saint B told me that Mimi was doing, in the words of the nurses, "so much better!"  She was sitting up, eating M & M's (yet another medicinal food item); and she'd walked a few steps--with help, of course.

Today, Mimi is scheduled to be transferred to a rehab center.  She's got a long road ahead of her before she can move back home, so please keep her in your prayers!  (My dad could use a few as well; it's going to be lonely for him while she's away.)

Now it's back to VA for Papa and me, where our little G-Man is waiting for us.  I feel kind of guilty that I'm not there for Mom, and dearly wish that I could be two places at once--in VA taking care of G-Man, and in NY helping to take care of Mimi.  I thank God every day that my sainted sisters both live close to our parents (Saint R lives literally around the corner from them).  When things like this happen, it only reminds me of how blessed our family really is.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Best St. Patty's Day

Faith 'n begorrah, my husband and I had the best St. Patty's Day!

No, we didn't dress up like leprechauns and head down to the local Irish pub to drink Guinness.  It was a quieter sort of celebration.

It didn't start out all that great, truth be told.  In the morning, my main squeeze had a routine-when-you-get-to-be-our-age colonoscopy; and then just after I'd dropped him off back at home, a little lightheaded but none the worse for wear, I had to go to the dentist and have two porcelain crowns put on a pair of side-by-side lower molars.  You know, because the gigantic fillings that have been keeping them together since the 60's were starting to deteriorate and my teeth were developing cracks.  (#oldpeopleproblems)

But looking at the bright side (because there's always a bright side, dontcha know), we're lucky we have the means to take care of our aging bodies, and that at the end of the day, the two of us are pretty hale and hearty for a couple of fifty-somethings who are slouching toward the big six-oh.

Since my husband wasn't allowed to do even so much as a light work-out (doctor's orders!) and I had no plans to do so anyway, we spent the rest of the day being decadently lazy and just enjoying each other's company.  In the afternoon, I put our New England boiled dinner in the crock pot; and while it simmered away, we watched The Quiet Man--which I have to say just might be my all-time favorite movie.  It's extremely romantic, funny (and I mean laugh-out-loud funny), and utterly delightful.  And it makes me want to move to rural Ireland, buy a thatch-roofed cottage, get some sheep, and learn how to farm.  (I'm not kidding, either.)

Have you seen this John Ford classic?  If not, you've missed a real humdinger.

John Wayne plays Sean Thornton--a big, handsome ex-boxer and man of little words--and he's terrific in this movie.  And Maureen O'Hara is phenomenal.  After the movie ended, I turned to my husband and said, "I wish I was feisty, like Mary Kate Dannaher.  Should I be feistier?  Would I be more fun if I was feistier?"  (This is what I have been putting my poor husband through for almost thirty-five years of marriage.  The man is a saint.)

After the movie, we feasted on corned beef, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, and we followed it up with this colorful cake.
Is this too green?  Is it too much?  Too Irish-y?

Maybe so.  But The Quiet Man is just the right amount of Irish, I'm here to tell ya.
John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara--Sean and Mary Kate--smolder together on the screen; and yet, nothing is said or done in this film that makes it inappropriate for even the youngest members of your family to view right along with you.  And for Catholics, it's a joy to watch a movie where priests and practicing members of the Faith are portrayed in a positive light, as normal, likeable, down-to-earth people.

Yes, we had a wonderful day.  How about you?  Did you stay in and celebrate quietly, like we did?  Or did you paint the town green?  Tell me how you celebrated the feast of Ireland's patron saint--I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Book Signing, A Book Review, and a Book Club--with Lots 'o Irish in 'Em!

Happy St. Patty's Day, everyone!

It's a book club day today--a "Grace-filled Tuesday," that is.  So as long as we're supposed to be talking about books here, what better day to tell you about the book signing I had this past weekend?

Here's what I wore for the event: a green sleeveless knit sheath dress that I picked up at the after-season Talbot's clearance sale (along with a red one and a purple one, because I have the kind of husband who says "Get one in every color" when he sees how much I like something); and a navy blue cardigan I stumbled upon in an Irish goods online catalog, embroidered already with a green and white Claddagh design--and as if that wasn't perfect enough, it was monogrammable (but I decided to skip my name or initials and have them embroider my book's title on there instead).
I meant to have my husband take lots of pictures at the book signing, especially when people stopped by to purchase a book and chat.  I thought it might be a good idea to use these pictures of satisfied customers holding their copies as promotional tools.  But it ended up being so busy after almost every one of the five Masses (the anticipated on Saturday, three morning Masses on Sunday, and then a Sunday evening Life Teen Mass), it was all we could do to keep up with making change and putting tick marks in my little notebook to keep track of the numbers. 

A person should have such problems, right?  (#feelingblessed)

Overall, we sold 59 copies of Erin's Ring, as well as 10 copies of Finding Grace.  I went into the weekend thinking if we sold a dozen books total, that would be pretty good--so I was not quite prepared for how well it went!  We were able to give a check for over $200 back to our parish (1/4 of the sales), and that felt really, really good.

I had lots of Irish stuff 'n things on my display table.  My publisher, Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books, said I should have fun with it.  (The Easter basket was actually her idea--thanks, Cheryl!)
There was an Irish cut-crystal vase (picked up by my husband way back in college, when he went to Ireland for a Notre Dame rugby team trip) with faux shamrocks in it, and even a pot o' gold--filled with coins that were also faux, of course.
For the first Mass on Saturday, we set up in the foyer near the front doors at St. Mary's (the church that plays such a prominent role in Erin's Ring).  My husband attended this Mass while I got things ready.
The foyer of St. Mary's.
After that Mass, we brought everything home, and then set it all up again in the church hall at St. Joseph's (the other church building used by Parish of the Assumption, which was formed by the merger of the three formerly independent Catholic parishes in Dover, NH) the following morning, for the 7:00 a.m. Mass.  I attended this Mass and my husband watched over the table for me until I could come out and join him.
The parish hall at St. Joseph's.

After the 7:00, we packed everything up and headed across town to St. Mary's, where the rest of the book signings were to take place after the 9:00, the 11:00, and the 5:00 p.m. Masses.  The church hall at St. Mary's was the best of all the locations used for this event: it is not only big, light and airy; it is also where the parish hosts its coffee-and-donuts gatherings after the 9:00 and 11:00 Masses, so lots of people come through there.  There was a great deal of interest and enthusiasm about both books from the folks at those Masses.  I wish I'd gotten some "action shots" there, but at least I got a picture with our pastor, Father Aggie.
The parish hall at St. Mary's.

We made one trip back to St. Mary's in the evening, and this time we had to set up in the foyer again because the parish hall was locked.  There were lots of young people at that Mass, and they snapped up quite a few books on their way out of the church.  I pray they will be inspired by them.

I am so incredibly fortunate that my first-ever Erin's Ring book signing was at our parish--and mostly at St. Mary's Church.  My sincerest thanks to Father Aggie and all of my kind and generous fellow parishioners at Parish of the Assumption for making this a successful event.  My cup overflows, it truly does.

Before I sign off, I thought I'd share a new review of Erin's Ring, by Catholic novelist/blogger Kari Burke.  If you haven't read it yet, maybe Kari's words will make you want to, and you can join us here on future Tuesdays when we discuss it!

Okay, I'm off now--to work on preparing my New England boiled dinner and green cake!  Because even though it's Lent, tonight--in honor of good St. Patrick--we feast! 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

I'm Back--with News about a Book Signing!

I'm still here, readers.  I'm not sure if any of you are, though, since my output at the old bloggeroo has been fairly pitiful lately.

But I've been a tad busy, you see. And spending my days with my little buddy, G-Man, has reminded this former SAHM just how all-consuming the task of full-time baby care is.  It's the best job a Grammy could ever ask for, trust me; but at the end of the day I am so tired that I can't force myself to think about sitting down at my laptop and trying to come up with an interesting new post.  How you young mommy bloggers do it, I'll never know.  My hat is off to you, ladies!

I don't write much these says; but I do take lots of selfies (I like to call the photo series "Scenes from Grammy's Lap")--of G-Man sleeping peacefully...and me looking all scary and disheveled, with messy hair and no make-up, unshowered and wearing work-out clothes that are never used for working out anymore.
Yikes.  How about another, less scary pic of Grammy?  This one was taken on a day when Papa was splitting duties with me, so I was able to shower, brush my hair, and put on a little blusher.
I like this one a lot better--especially because I used magical Instagram color and lighting effects to enhance it (and there's more news: I've jumped on the Instagram bandwagon!).  But Papa did point out that because of the angle and that crease, G-Man's head looks too big for his neck here.  But it's not, I assure you.  That's just an optical illusion.
I've had so many wonderful things happen to me in the past few weeks.  I've been contacted by Ascension Press to see if I'd be willing to blog about a new DVD series they have out that helps to show young people the beauty of the Mass.  My answer was a resounding "YES!"--but I have yet to sit down and give that project the attention it deserves.  An old blogging friend of mine sent me some beautiful hand-made cord Rosaries for my family members, and I've been meaning to post some photos of those.  I was also contacted out of the blue by a thoughtful reader who saw an Irish Mother's Rosary in her online travels and thought I'd like it (it can be personalized with five names; how perfect for this mother of five sons!), and I wanted to share that story with you, as well as the address of the awesome website where an Irish mom can get one of those beautiful Rosaries.  I've got pictures of G-Man to share that are to die for, and also a sweet story about something one of my twin granddaughters said recently that completely melted her Grammy's heart.  (It's about a coat, and I'll be sure to tell you that story in an upcoming post.)  I missed the first anniversary of son #4 and his bride Braveheart almost a month ago, and on the same day, the second birthday of Little Gal--both big milestones I would normally have celebrated on this blog.  Mea culpa!  I certainly have a lot of great topics to blog about, when I get myself back in the groove.  The hubby and I are home in NH for almost two weeks, while G-Man is cared for by his other grandma, so I'm going to be doing a lot of catching up--both at the house and here at String of Pearls.  (Congratulate me: my Christmas decorations have finally been taken down and stored away in the attic.  With the exception of the tree...now there's another blog post topic for you!)

But the big news today is that I'm having my first book signing for Erin's Ring, after the anticipated Mass at St. Mary's Church (the church that is so prominently featured in the novel).  Our pastor put an announcement in last week's bulletin and this week's, too, so this thing is really happening!  I will be in the church hall after all four Masses tomorrow as well.  I'm a little nervous, because I've only had one book signing in my three years as a published author.  At the Catholic Writer's Guild conference in NJ in August of 2013, I had a table for one hour.  (During that time, I signed one whole copy of Finding Grace--but I think that still counts!)

I have been busy trying to come up with some table decorations that will be appealing to the eye.  Here's what I have so far:
Erin's Ring is a book that celebrates the Irish, and it's almost St. Patty's Day, so I thought it would be okay to include some shamrocks and a pot o' gold in my table decor.  Hope it's not too much.

I just remembered that one of my sons had an enormous Irish flag that used to hang on the wall in his dorm room...I've got to go down to the basement now and dig through some boxes to see if it's still there.

I'm hoping for the luck of the Irish this weekend.  Please keep me in your prayers, won't you?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

WWRW: Novels about WWI and WWII

It's that time again--time for linking up over at Housewifespice to talk books.
I've gotten back to reading a lot more these days.  This is partly because I'm finished with my own writing project (Erin's Ring), which took up most of my time the second half of 2014.  And it's also because I'm not living at home in NH right now, but with my middle son's family in VA.  If you come here often, you know all about this--and about how Papa and Grammy have been playing nanny to their little grandson, G-Man, for the past couple of months, helping his mommy out until her job ends in May and she can become a SAHM.

Being away from my own house gives me a lot more free time, you see ("free" being a relative term here, when your days are devoted to the care and feeding of a five-month-old).  I mean, I can't putter about, spring clean, purge my attic of old clothing that should go to Goodwill, or even take down our Christmas tree and all of our Christmas decorations, etc. etc. etc., because I'm just not there to do it.  So in some ways, this winter-down-south is a bit of a vacation for me.  And when my grandson is napping peacefully in my lap (because no, I'm not going to put him in his cold, impersonal crib when I can have the joy of his sweet weight resting on me), I do have one free hand to hold a paperback book.  And I've become very adept at flipping the pages one-handed.

So, as I said, I've been reading a lot more these days.  In the past week or so, I've read two novels that I enjoyed very much (enough, in fact, to give them four- and five-star reviews on Goodreads).

The first is Once We Were Brothers, by Ronald H. Balson.  I was drawn to this book for two reasons: it was the author's debut work, and the story had an historical fiction component set in the Second World War.
This was such a terrific read!  I'm always drawn to WWII-era historical fiction, and this novel definitely didn't disappoint.   Although I've read lots of books (both fiction and non-fiction) that deal with the Holocaust and stories of its survivors, this take on that tragic subject matter was fresh and original, extremely moving, and exceedingly well-written.

This book goes back and forth, from 1940's Germany to present-day New York.  It is centered around two boys--one a Polish Jew and the other a German gentile, raised as brothers before Hitler invades Poland--who are divided by the war and go their separate ways, with devastating consequences.  When they meet more than half a century later, a lawsuit ensues, as one "brother" accuses the other of Nazi atrocities.

I couldn't put this book down and devoured it in two days.  I look forward to reading more by this talented author.

(Also, as a Catholic, I was deeply moved by Balson's depiction of a self-sacrificing Catholic priest and a group of brave Catholic nuns, who hid Jews and were instrumental in leading many to safety.  Although this is a work of fiction, I know that there were many such real individuals who secretly risked their own personal safety to save Jewish lives.) 

After I turned the last page of that book, I could hardly wait to start another.  But I didn't have a whole lot of time to search for a new title.  I ended up at Target rather than Barnes & Noble, and the pickins in the book and magazine section there were a tad on the slim side.  But I'd heard of Jo Jo Moyes, the author of The Girl You Left Behind; and judging by the synopsis on the book's back cover, I thought it might be something I would like.
And it was.

This bestselling novel is an endearing and well-written blend of historical and contemporary fiction (with some courtroom drama thrown in there).  Hmmm....that sounds very much like Once We Were Brothers, doesn't it?  It's a different war this time, but it deals with German occupation and wartime struggles and tragedies.  And it jumps back and forth in time...Yes, there are some definite similarities!  I guess I tend to be drawn to the same sorts of books, over and over.

Jo Jo Moyes's complex novel takes the reader on a journey back in time to a small, German-occupied French village during WWI, forward to modern-day, 21st-century London, and then back to France again.  The lives of present-day characters become interwoven with the lives of characters long-dead, in ways that surprise the reader.  The stories of both past and present have at their core compelling and poignant tales of deep love and unbearable loss--and the people involved are intricately linked by "The Girl You Left Behind," an obscure Impressionist painting of a beautiful, red-haired young woman with an inscrutable expression on her face.

My only real criticism is that I'd like to read a love story by a modern author where the players don't fall immediately into bed; I'm always hankering for a good old-fashioned version of boy-meets-girl, with "first comes love, then comes marriage," and so on--and that is definitely missing here.  But otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book--a page-turner that gripped my imagination and kept me up way past my bedtime several nights in a row!  I was still thinking about it, long after the surprising and deeply satisfying conclusion.

Okay, that's it for me; now head over to Jessica's for more book suggestions.