Friday, May 29, 2015

7 Quick Takes Friday: My Boys

I haven't done a 7 Quick Takes Friday link-up post in ages.  The last time I did one, I believe Jen Fulwiler was the hostess, over at Conversion Diary.  Now I'm joining Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum.  Hi Kelly!
My baby is on the road as I write this, heading off to his first real-world job.  My husband happens to be on a trip right now, so he had to say his good-byes to the youngest of his five sons a couple of days ago.  This morning, I was the only one at home when our boy pulled his brand new car (his first post-grad, grown-up purchase) out of the driveway, and it was a surreal feeling. 

Yes, he did wave at me through the trees!
Until today, the nest wasn't truly empty.  Since there's a five-year age gap between sons #4 and #5, the others had been on their own for a while; and all four of the oldest are married now and building families of their own.  But until May 17, we still had one son in college, and he came home on breaks and spent summers with us.  From now on, though, our newly-minted college graduate is going to have a different address from the one he's had for the first 22 years of his life.  And at least for the foreseeable future, he's going to be living far, far from the home where he grew up.


I'm trying not to be depressed about it.  It's all good, I know it is.  This is exactly the way it's supposed to be: your kids are supposed to grow up and leave you.  If they didn't ever want to get out there and make it on their own, you'd know something was amiss.

But I have a painful ache in my heart today.

So to assuage that pain, I decided to take a trip down that lane of memories--a road I tend to travel a lot these days.  And I thought, "If I find seven favorite old pictures of my baby and his brothers, wouldn't I have the makings of a great 7 Quick Takes post?"  (Well, wouldn't I?)


So ready or not, here we go.  (And the great thing about pictures is they take the place of words--because I really do not have words for how I'm feeling today.)





Look at my boys!  To know them is to love them.  (Said their mommy!  But really, it's true.)  Who's the luckiest mom in all of creation?  I am, that's who.
I have some pretty terrific girls to call my own now, too.  Last night, at around midnight, I got this sweet text from son #3's wife Preciosa:

I know it's  late ( don't worry about responding), but I wanted you to know that [#3] and I have been thinking about you as [#5] heads out tomorrow. If you need someone to talk to tomorrow, just know we are here. We are so grateful for your sacrifice of being a stay at home for all your boys and they are better men for it. What a lovely life you have created for them. Thank you thank you thank you. We love you! 👍👍💪💪

(Now my friends, if you can take any more awesomeness, after looking at these pictures of my five lovable boys and reading that heart-tugging message from one of my girls, you should head over to Kelly's for more Quick Takes.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Old Dog (with Graying Hair), New Tricks

For Mother's Day this year, my husband went way, way overboard and surprised me with a Kindle Fire HDX.  This was not on my wish list; in fact, if he had asked me about it, I would have said, "No! It'll be a huge waste of money!  I like real books, not eBooks!  I won't know how to use it." (Ya da, ya da, ya da...same sorts of things I said when he insisted on getting me an iPhone--which has since become an extension of my arm, practically.)

Kicking and screaming, per usual, I am being dragged into the 21st century.

But much to my surprise, I find that this old dog can indeed be taught new tricks!  In fact, just to prove that my husband hasn't wasted an exhorbitant amount of money on his thoughtful gift, I'm using my Kindle to blog today.  Whoa, right?

If I can manage blogging on my new gadget, I may be able to leave my much bulkier laptop behind from now on when we travel by air; and as often as we fly hither and yon visiting our kids and grandkids, that would be fantastic. This nifty little gizmo fits in my purse, for goodness sake. And if I can not only read books on it, but also check emails, surf the net, and write and post blogs using it, it's going to be a life-changer for me.

So, let's get to the blog, shall we?

Topic for the day: going gray gracefully.

I am turning 57 this summer, and the grays are really starting to multiply.  It's weird, but they don't really show up in pictures yet.  As you can see.
By the by: all the photos for this post were taken with my Kindle camera.  It's not perfect, since it's a one-direction camera set up for taking selfies.  But with some careful finagling, you can turn it around and zero it in on things and get the shot you need.

I tried to get a close-up that would show my grays.
Still not super obvious, are they?  Apparently, the light has to be just right.  Let's give it one more try.
There they are!  The same color as that gray towel in the background.  (And as a bonus, my wrinkles show up nicely here, too!)

I don't think I'm going to color my gray hair...mostly because I can't imagine dealing with the upkeep. I've never even gotten highlights before, and I just don't want to have regular (and expensive) hair appointments to keep at this late stage in the game.
In case you're wondering who the handsome towheads are in the above photos, here's an interesting little tidbit: I've never dyed my hair; but my four oldest sons went bleach blond, along with their teammates, back when they played high school football. My firstborn was pretty blond already; but the others had hair as dark as mine or darker. It was kinda crazy!

Well, all the cool kids might be doing it, but I'm going to resist resorting to the use of hair dye. I'm going to fight the urge to hide my grays.  Maybe I'll just say that I'm going ash blond--that's a real thing, right?

And I am a grammy, after all.

A grammy who knows how to rock a Kindle Fire, that is!

(Speaking of new tricks for old dogs like me: I've noticed lately that many of the blogs I read have gone through numerous design changes, and I've only changed the look of mine once in the four years I've had it.  I've read that a blog should be mostly white, so I thought I'd try simplifying things a bit.  If people don't like it, I could always switch it back to the pink striped background.  What say you?)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Grace-filled Tuesday's (Book Club "Meeting" #6): Snail Mail from My Angels

It's book club time!  So here's the Grace-filled Tuesdays trademark meme, with a quote by St. Francis de Sales, the Patron Saint of Writers.
This meeting is going to be fun, because it's going to be driven by a group of polite, intelligent, funny, sweet, enthusiastic, deep-thinking young readers--readers who are, in fact, the very target audience for Erin's Ring, my second work of YA Catholic fiction.

Not too long ago, I blogged briefly about the wonderful experience I had visiting a group of 4th-graders from two classes at Queen of Angels (one of the classes was my niece's).  They had just finished reading Erin's Ring in school and were eager to talk to me about it--and truly, it was the best book club meeting I'll probably ever have.  (If you missed that post, you can read it here.)
Actually, I must confess that when I set out to write Erin's Ring, I envisioned it as a junior high-and-up-type of book; but after meeting with this group, I realized I was selling younger readers short--because those kids were certainly more than ready for this book.  They had prepared questions ahead of time, and they took turns being called upon...and I was definitely not prepared for the insightfulness and maturity their questions revealed.  They wanted to know everything:

Q: When did I know that I wanted to be a writer?
A: When I was about their age, actually!

Q: How did I come up with the inspiration for the book?
A: Like Molly, I love finding old things and wondering whom they might have belonged to.  I love the Irish and their history.  And Dover, NH's history has the most wonderful built-in true story involving Irish immigrants.  So there you go.

Q: What was my favorite part to write?
A: Probably the romantic parts, since I'm such a sucker for all that mushy stuff.

Q: How did I pick the names for the characters?
A: Some are inspired by people I know. For example, Theresa was named after my niece's--their teacher's--mother, and Seamus Finnegan was named after two beloved dogs in my life.  But some are just made up because I like them.

Q: Why did this particular character seem like the main character of the book, but then as the story progressed, it seemed like that other character became more important?
A: The story just evolved that way, and kind of surprised me as well.  But that's what seems to happen: you start out with one idea in your head, but as you move along, the characters take you in different directions.

Q: How did I come up with the title Erin's Ring?
A: The answer I gave to that last question was that I thought it had a nice ring to it--LOL!!  Get it?--but that it also has a dual meaning, since Erin is a character in the book but also a name for Ireland itself.

Those are just a few of the questions they asked; I wish I could remember them all.  They did ask if I knew any other authors, which I thought was an interesting question, and I told them that most of my contact with authors is strictly online.  I know very few writers in real life (IRL, as they say); I met a handful at a Catholic Writers Guild Conference in the summer of 2013--among them Ellen Gable, Erin McCole Cupp, and Michelle Buckman.  But most are people I "know" strictly from Facebook and/or email correspondence--included in these "friends" are Therese Heckenkamp, Nancy Carabio Belanger, Cheryl Dickow, and Amy M. Bennett.  (As a matter of fact, before I sat down to blog today, I brewed myself some pinon coffee and poured it into my Black Horse Campground mug--both gifts I received from Amy as a thank you for supporting her excellent work on the Black Horse Campground Mystery series.)
As if meeting the kids in person wasn't enough of a thrill for me, I was just tickled a few days ago, when I checked our mail box and found it positively jam-packed with letters.  Not junk mail, mind you; actual LETTERS.  Typed-up letters in hand-addressed envelopes, from my 4th grade buddies at Queen of Angels.
I could hardly wait to dive into that stack!

There were 16 letters in all, each one written by a team of two students.  They all expressed such gratitude for my visit--because in their innocence, these kids don't know that it is actually I who should be thanking them!  But here are some of their words of thanks:

Thank you for coming to our 4th grade class to talk about Erin's Ring...

Thank you so much for coming we really enjoyed your visit...

That is the best experience that we will ever have, again thank you so much we will remember that forever...

We are all so happy that you came we were looking [forward] to it for months...

The other day it was really fun having you come to our class.  We liked that you gave lots of detail in your answers.

We really enjoyed the visit and hope you continue to write amazing novels...

We loved the book and the experience of you coming was awesome!

Every author needs to have a cheering section like the fourth-graders at Queen of Angels, let me tell you. At one point in the presentation, when I was explaining how I got the opportunity to write Erin's Ring for Bezalel Books, I mentioned that I had written and published another novel first, a book targeted at slightly older readers than they; and right away one of the girls piped up with, "Finding Grace."  I was surprised, and said, "Oh, you know about that?" and my niece's colleague joked, "They know your Social Security Number!"

And every author needs such kind critics, too--critics whose comments sound like this:

We loved the book because it was very interesting.  The book taught us that you need Faith Friends and family to help you through tough times.  This was an amazing book and we really hope you make a sequel.

We really enjoyed reading the book thank you so much for writing it...

I am happy that both of the classes got to read Erin's Ring.  This book was outstanding and I will recommend it to other people...

Do you think you will write a sequel to Erin's Ring because we loved the first one...

It was creative and interesting at the same time...It was very romantic, and kind...

I enjoyed your book even though I like writing about horror, mystery, and murder...

We really enjoyed reading "Erin's Ring" and thought it was well written...

It was a sad but happy story...

This book was...suspenseful with a little bit of mystery.  I it swapped between the future and past.  Your book was amazing and I felt like I was right there with the characters...All around my final judging is five out of five stars...

We really hope you soon make another book for our age, we really loved Erin's Ring.  We are not pushing you to make a new book but we would like it if you did.

Umm...I guess I should start thinking about writing a sequel.  (?)

I was pleased that there wasn't just one character who was every reader's favorite, or even two; Molly, Theresa, Ann, Seamus, Erin, Michael, Luke, Finny, and John Hughes were all mentioned in the different letters as favorites--and that's almost everyone in the book.  I love how one of the kids said I felt like I was right there with the characters.  If readers can't relate to or care about your characters, it doesn't matter how great the plot of the story is; so I'm thrilled that these 4th-graders were able to connect with so many of the people who inhabit the world of Erin's Ring.

I was also quite touched by how much they enjoyed seeing pictures of Dover, and of the library's historical room that plays such a big role in the story.

We loved your presentation and all those pictures of Dover!...

We loved the pictures of the old library.  The historic room seems really cool...

I included a glossary of 19-century and Irish terms in the back of the book, and one student commented on that:

The glossary was very helpful for the words we didn't know.  For example we didn't know what chemise meant but then learned...

I have been told by several fellow authors I "know" that I should write a YA novel aimed at boys, because certainly so far the books I've written would probably appeal more to girls.  But I was surprised to find out that the young men at Queen of Angels who read Erin's Ring were absolutely fine with the mushy parts.  One of the letters said this:

The boys didn't mind the romance at all.  (Woo hoo!)

Several of the students talked about wanting to be writers themselves one day.  A couple of the girls told me they enjoy writing short synopsis blurbs for the backs of books, and they sent me some of their work, which I found to be filled with promise.  I think there might be an editing job in one little girl's future, too; she found an error in Erin's Ring that neither I nor the publisher (nor any of the beta readers who read the book when it was in manuscript form) ever caught.  She showed me where I'd written on page 167, "Erin reached over and patted her mother's hand, and her own eyes were wet.  'Mummy, please pray for my Erin...'"  As is, that sentence makes no sense, and it should read, "Cara reached over and patted her mother's hand..."  Good eye, my friend!

Also, my niece mentioned that the class put together a family tree diagram so that they could keep all the various characters from the different generations straight, which I think was a great idea.  In fact, I wish we'd added that to the book.  (Next time, I'll do that...if there is a next time!)

So in summary: These angels liked the romance.  They liked the history.  They liked the drama of the big fire, and the plot twists and turns they weren't expecting.  They connected with the characters.  They're itching for a sequel.

The day I visited them, they were excited to have me sign copies of their books and scraps of paper, once the Q & A was over.

I still can't wrap my brain around the idea that anyone would want my signature.  It was never a desire for fame or attention or money that motivated me to write.  It was not my goal to be "successful" in the way the world views success; my goal was to give glory to God, and to hopefully inspire even one young reader to grow closer to Him...

Well, those wonderful kids at Queen of Angels made me feel as if I've achieved my goal.

I don't know if, as that one student wrote, they'll remember my visit to their class forever.  But I know I will.

Monday, May 25, 2015

He Waved at Us Through the Trees

A week ago yesterday, the youngest of my five sons graduated from the University of Notre Dame.  He's a baby no longer--which I should have grasped when he turned 21, I suppose, more than a year ago.  Or even more so when he hit 22 in early 2015.  One can hardly be considered a baby at 22--after all, that's the age my husband and I were when we exchanged our wedding vows!
But now, it's official: he's a grown-up--a college graduate and also a newly-minted officer in one of the fine branches of the US military.  I would love to post pictures of his commissioning ceremony last Saturday, the day before his commencement, with one of his older brothers doing the honors of leading him through the recitation of his oath, his dad and me attaching his shoulder boards to his dress uniform, and another older brother pinning his rank onto his beret.  But I'm going to refrain, as I've heard that in these scary times in which we live, it can be dangerous to post pictures of loved ones in uniform on the Internet.  Needless to say, however, his father and I are inordinately proud.

It was wonderful for our youngest boy to have three of his older brothers, with their wives and children, in attendance over the weekend out in South Bend.  My husband and I rented a large, lovely home not far from campus so that we could all stay together comfortably, and it was a very special and memorable time for our family.

Here's our youngest son (the man of the hour) in the middle--standing outside the house he shared this past school year with seven other guys, flanked by son #1 (holding his new baby daughter, City Girl) and son #3 (G-Man's daddy).  There was a party there on Friday night, with all the housemates and their families.  Chipotle was consumed in large quantities.
And here's the graduate with son #4, right after the graduation ceremony. 

All of our grandchildren were there for their uncle's big celebration; all, that is, except for the one who is still in utero.  Son #2, his wife Ginger, and their wee unborn baby were unable to travel from VA to be with us; when it's playoff weekend and you're the defensive coordinator for a high school lacrosse team, sometimes you just can't miss a game.  (And bonus: our teacher/coach-son's team advanced to the finals and ended up winning their conference championship this past week!)

Love me a good family get-together photo op, know what I'm sayin'?  However, getting a picture with our three oldest granddaughters is always a challenge.  It's like herding kittens.  But sitting on the stoop at their uncle's house, we tried our darndest.
The girls tend to be a bit camera-shy; but not G-Man (a.k.a. "Bubba" or "Bubbs").  He's always ready for his close-up. 
Hey Bubbs, Popeye called.  He wants his forearms back.
And my daughters-in-law are all beautiful and photogenic.

Daughters-in law Regina (wife of son #1 and mother of four little girls under
 the age of 4) and Preciosa (wife of son #3 and G-Man's mommy).

The cutie next to me is Braveheart (wife of son #4), whose brother to the
left of her joined us for the weekend.
I don't know if I've ever seen my youngest son look more handsome, or more ready to take on the
world, than he did last Sunday.

Here he is with his dad, a proud alumnus of the class of 1980, in front of Notre Dame's iconic golden dome.

Sometimes, I think I've been around the blogosphere too long already, with over 1,000 posts in my archives since I started out in 2011.  For several years, I blogged almost daily; but I've been having trouble keeping up that pace lately--and trouble believing that I still have anything to offer that can't be found on a million other far more entertaining and engaging sites.

But I guess this been-there/done-that grandmother does have something to share with blog readers, the bulk of whom appear to be young moms in the throes of training their babies to sleep through the night and their toddlers to use the potty, and who are struggling through tears as they send their little ones off to kindergarten.  I can share what it's like to be at what seems like (but isn't!) the end of motherhood, when the school days are over and all the chicks have left the nest for good.  I can share what it's like to welcome new children into your family--in my testosterone-heavy household, that means new daughters only; but many of you will welcome both sons and daughters to your folds.  I can share what it's like to know that you have done your job well (or as well as you could, with the graces God gave you)...and that although that feels wonderful, it also means that your children--those precious souls for whom you lived and breathed for decades, who gave your life such purpose--will not go to sleep under your roof at night on a regular basis anymore.  Indeed, what seemed, when they were babies and toddlers, to be the stuff of sci-fi fiction, will be your new reality: you will not know where they are a lot of the time, or exactly what they're doing, every single moment.  And you will have to let go, hoping that in the way-too-short time you were allotted to shepherd them to adulthood they have learned by your example and guidance what it means to be a child of God and a soldier for Christ.

I can remember my youngest son (the strapping, 6'2" college graduate) as a dear little boy, as clearly as if it was yesterday.  He was a real homebody and very attached to his parents, and whenever his dad and I had to leave him behind at the house (in the good care of his older brothers), he had a routine that never varied.  He would stand by the dining room window that faces our driveway, and as we backed the car out we would roll down our windows and stick our arms out to wave at him, even if it was the dead of winter and freezing cold outside.  As we drove down the street, if we looked back at the house we could see him standing there framed in the window, waving back.  He would remind us each time we left to "wave at him through the trees," meaning we should keep waving until we got far enough from the house that he could no longer see the car through the trees.

"Waving through the trees" was our special tradition.

So as we were getting in our car on Sunday evening to begin the long trek back to NH, leaving him behind to pack up his things, say good-bye to his friends, and head home himself two days later, we asked him if he was going to wave at us through the trees.  "Of course!" he replied.

This is the last view we had of him as we pulled away from his off-campus house in South Bend.

And he did wave at us through the trees.  He waved until we could no longer see him in our rear view mirrors, standing there framed in the doorway.

So that's another thing I can share with young mothers on the front end of that amazing roller coaster ride called parenting: lots will change, but some things never will.  And your babies will always be your babies.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Zooming in on My Boy (ND Class of 2015)

My sweet, handsome, kind, intelligent, caring, thoughtful, youngest son (and no, by the way, I'm not the least bit biased!) graduated from the University of Notre Dame this past weekend.

My baby is a baby no longer.

I am still trying to come to grips with the fact that my husband and I are at the end of an era, and that our sons are all adults now; and I'm just not ready to write about it yet.  But I'd love to share some pictures of our newly-minted college graduate's big day with you.

The commencement ceremony was held in the football stadium at Our Lady's University.  My husband and I snagged a seat at about the 50-yard line, all the way up in the nosebleed section.  (In fact, we were as high up as you could go--which we thought was perfect, because it afforded us both shade and backrests!)

As far away as we were from our son, I was able to zoom my Nikon camera right in on him.  I got some great pictures of him processing into the stadium and sitting in his seat in the far left section, with fellow graduates of the #1-ranked Mendoza School of Business.
The rest of this post is an unapologetic photo dump.  My boy is the tall one with very short blond hair, a chiseled chin, and a smile that can light up the world.  (Again, no bias here.)
"Hi, Mom and Dad!"

"Woo hoo!"

"Hey, [junior year roommate], I found my parents!"

"No, not there.  Way up there, see?"


"Okay, Mom.  I've been a good sport.  But enough pictures."

Looking over his shoulder at me: "Yep, I see you, Mom.  Still up there snapping away."
Isn't it amazing how clearly I could see him all the way down there on the field, as long as I zoomed my camera and looked at him through the lens?

More to come soon, I promise.  But until then, enjoy this iconic shot we got after the graduation was over...