Sunday, June 28, 2015

Erin's Ring Receives Two Catholic Press Association Awards!

My publisher, Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books, emailed me yesterday with some exciting news:  Erin's Ring received two awards from the Catholic Press Association at their recent annual gathering in Buffalo, NY.


B09b: CHILDREN'S BOOKS AND BOOKS FOR TEENS: Books for Teens & Young Adults

First Place

Chastity Is for Lovers by Arleen Spenceley, Ave Maria Press

Second Place

Erin's Ring by Laura H. Pearl, Bezalel Books

Third Place

Real Life Faith: Bible Companions for Catholic Teens by Mary Elizabeth Sperry, Liguori Publications


First Place

Master of Ceremonies by Donald Cozzens, ACTA Publications

Second Place

The Oblate's Confession by William Peak, Secant Publishing

Third Place

Erin's Ring by Laura H. Pearl, Bezalel Books



I suppose I didn't need to add the highlighting.  I guess I'm just. so. excited!

Now it is my job to figure out how to get the word out about these awards, which will hopefully make Erin's Ring more attractive to prospective readers, booksellers, schools, and parishes.  If you're reading this and you have any advice to offer or know of any people I should contact, please email me.  I'd love any help you can give me!

God bless you, dear readers!

(Also, if you'd like to see a complete list of the 2015 Book Award winners, here's the CPA site.)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Walking, and Pondering the Meaning of Life

Yesterday morning, I took my usual walk--the daily four-mile walk that is part of my grand plan for making my osteoporatic bones become more healthy--along the shore of Lake Champlain.
It was a glorious morning here in Chazy, NY--sunny, breezy, not the least bit humid.  Not long after I set off, I saw the happiest sight: two young boys in swim trunks and life vests, newly released from school for summer vacation, playing on the rocks on the shore of the lake, watching their father install a dock.  I smiled, thinking how wonderful it is to be a kid in the summer, with nothing but freedom and fun ahead for the next couple of months.

But then I realized that the boys' father was submerged up to his shoulders in the lake as he worked, and he'd left a small four-wheel all-terrain vehicle idling up on the side of the road, right near the rocky spot where his boys were playing.  And right away, my imagination began to run away with me, creating all sorts of terrifying scenarios.  What if the four-wheeler's gear shift suddenly switched into "drive" on its own, and mowed down those boys?  What if they ran away in fear and tripped on the rocks, falling head-first into the lake, unconscious?  What if I needed to try to save one of them, because their father became incapacitated himself?

As these thoughts rushed through my brain at break-neck speed, I decided that yes, I would gladly risk my life to save those young boys--complete strangers to me, but my brothers in Christ.  Even if I died doing so, I thought, that would be okay.  More than okay, in fact, for that might be just the selfless action that could help this sinful soul of mine find its way to Heaven.

Wow, right?  Sunny day, happy kids squealing in delight at the water's edge, with their dad right nearby...where did these dark imaginings come from?!  And these grandiose thoughts of heroic rescues?

Anyway, I moved on, trying to clear my head of scary images.  And I started ruminating on an aspect of myself that I'm not particularly proud of.  While moments ago I had contemplated dying to save young lives, I was struck by the thought that I have had a lot of trouble lately dying to self when it comes to dealing with someone who is actually very close to me, someone I love.  I was reminded of a passage from one of my all-time favorite novels, Graham Greene's The End of the Affair.  The heroine of that story, who has a conversion experience after a near-tragedy and promises God that in return for His mercy she will give up the man with whom she is having an affair, is writing in her journal about the inconsistency of her feelings: how can she tell the Lord that she wants to suffer as He suffered on one hand, and yet not even be able to stand spending a couple of hours in the grating company of her husband (whom she has never loved the way she loves the man she gave up) on the other?  Yikes.  "That's me," I thought.  "I SAY I want to carry big, heavy Crosses; but then I don't like the small, light ones God sends me--and I can barely lift them, much less carry them."

I was also reminded of the admonition in C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters:  "Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.  Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."  So true.  And just as Hell can be reached by small sins, repeated over and over until they separate us from God, so too can Heaven be reached by small acts of mortification and self-sacrifice--by practicing St. Therese's "Little Way of Spiritual Childhood."  Anyone, no matter how small, can practice this "Little Way," I remind myself of this all the time.  And then I pass up perfect opportunities to do so.

With my head in the clouds, I walked a tad farther than my usual two-mile mark, so I checked the GPS on my phone to see how far I was from my mom and dad's house.   I saw that I was 2.1 miles from "home," so I turned around to head back.  And that's when I saw it: a signpost.

I've seen a lot of interesting historical marker signs in my walks around Chazy (some of which I shared with you in this recent post), but I'd never seen this one--and I would have missed it entirely, hidden there in the trees by the side of the road, if I hadn't walked too far, too busy pondering the meaning of life to turn around when I usually do.  Right as I changed directions, there it was.
It was like a sign.  Literally.  And it overlooked a small Catholic graveyard--just what I needed to see as I was contemplating life and death, sin and redemption.
Talk about a reminder of the true meaning of life: that the purpose of this very short one we get to have here on earth is to live in such a way that we can be with God in the next one, the one that lasts forever.  That's the goal, and if I want to reach it...I better learn how to carry my little daily crosses with greater faith, hope, and most of all LOVE.

[On a side note: I loved seeing that this area was the site of the first Catholic church in Northeastern NY, built in 1790.  If you read Erin's Ring, you know that it is in part the story about Dover, NH's first Catholic church (home of the second-oldest parish in the state), built in 1830 by Irish immigrants.]

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

My Niece, Confirmation, and the Holy Spirit

Yesterday, I was surprised, humbled, thrilled, and ineffably touched to be asked by one of my nieces to be her Confirmation sponsor.  She will receive the sacrament in the spring of 2016.

Her mom (one of my husband's wonderful younger sisters) told me that she was nervous to approach me about it, and even worried, "What if she says no?"

As if I would ever do so!  Aside from being asked to fulfill the duty of godparent to a brand new Christian soul, I cannot imagine a greater honor.  That this amazing child, whose knowledge of her Faith is already light years ahead of where her aunt's was at her age (or even now, I dare say), would deign to choose me is just...what word can I use?  Well, my eyes got wet last night when she asked me, if that helps you understand how I felt.

This niece, who is about to enter eighth grade along with a brother and a sister who were all born on the same day (yes, she's a triplet!), is one of the sweetest, most intelligent, most charitable, most empathetic young ladies you'll ever meet.  She is 13 going on 30, I swear.  Just so bright and such a deep thinker.  She reads and writes at college level already.  She is deeply committed to not only her Catholic Faith, but also to the members of the domestic Church created by her dedicated parents--one that includes not just the brother and sister with whom she shares a birthday, but two older brothers as well.

My niece was instructed not to make a rash decision, to pray about it before choosing a sponsor.  She told her mom that last night when she was working beside me in the kitchen, helping me with the guacamole by chopping the onion (the job I hate most, as it always brings on the tears), she felt like the Holy Spirit was telling her that I was the one.

Well, even without the onions, there were tears!

I am now resolved to pray to the Holy Spirit--daily and zealously!--to help and guide me, so that I'll be the best Confirmation sponsor I can to this serious young Catholic.  She certainly deserves that much.
God bless her, along with all the other young people who will be preparing to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, and with it the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, in the coming school year.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Birthday/Father's Day Tribute to My Guy

I haven't known my husband my whole life.  But almost. 

Here he is at about 9.  It would be 5 years before I met him, 6 before we started "going together."  He was always the snappiest of dressers, even back then, as you can plainly see.
He is a funny guy.  When he sees that picture, he likes to poke fun at himself by pointing out that the ribbon he's proudly holding, earned at the yearly local Swimkana, is not a blue first place prize.

We went to the same Catholic high school and hung out in the same crowd.  Did you ever see that TV show "Happy Days"?  That was my high school experience.   (Minus the Fonz.)  No one had it better than I did.
Here we have Grace Kelly, Tom Buckley, and Jimmy Sullivan (sorry,
I'm making the assumption that you've read Finding Grace
 and will get that reference), chewing the fat after school.

Here we are, all dolled up to out to dinner on his 16th birthday--41 years ago!

Be still my heart!  Look at those eyes.  Move over
Doctor McDreamy.
Sometimes, I can hardly believe that I was the lucky girl with whom he chose to spend the rest of his life.  I have never stopped marveling at this great good fortune.  I am indeed blessed.
Here we are at our 1980 wedding, anchoring the receiving line at the
Knights of Columbus hall.  I think he is leaning over to say he can't believe
he has to stand there while all his buddies are enjoying the cocktail hour!

Here's my guy, getting ready for the job for which he was so perfectly suited:
fatherhood.  This was taken in 1983, before the birth of son #1.

My husband is far too humble to realize what a wonderful father he has been to our five sons.  But I'm here to tell you that there's no way they could have done better.  Fatherhood has been a true vocation for their dad.  His career has been in aviation, but he has never defined himself by that.  He's defined himself by a job he knows is far more important than flying airplanes: his duty to raise his sons in the Faith.  If the way his boys have turned out, and the excellent women they've chosen to build their own families with, and the joy with which they've embraced the role of fatherhood are any indication, he can rest assured that he's fulfilled that duty well.
Here he is in 1985 with son #2.  (I've used this picture before on the blog, and
explained that he DOES have clothes on in this picture--1980's shorty-shorts.
But it was Florida.And it was HOT.  And the males in my house,
both young and old, were often shirtless.)

Here he is in 1986 nuzzling son #3, at Sea World.
Have you been enjoying the Naval Aviator's mustache in these photos?  That's been gone for a while now, but it was a pretty suave look, don't you think?

He was nuts about them as babies.  But he enjoyed every single phase our boys went through.  He was their teacher in life, their coach in football and lacrosse, and the best role model I can imagine.  (If he's reading this, he will think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not.)
If you want to understand the kind of father my husband was, you can read this old post, and this one, too.  (The writing juices aren't flowing as freely as I'd like them to today, or I'd put together a whole new tribute!)

Now that his boys are all out on their own, he's completely enjoying playing the role of doting Papa to their children.
Happy Father's Day to my favorite guy!  You don't believe me when I tell you this, but you are the best.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Crazy in Chazy

I am currently staying at my parents' house in bucolic Chazy, NY, a history-rich town located near the shore of Lake Champlain.  After months and months spent visiting with/traveling to see kids and grandkids, my dad said, "No more babysitting.  Now it's time for some mom and dad sitting!"

So I'm in Chazy, with my somewhat crazy quirky endearingly eccentric parents.  I'm staying at their house while my husband is away working back-to-back-to-back trips.  I miss him.  He's the kindest, sweetest, least crazy person I know (unless we're talking crazy-handsome).  I will see him on Sunday, and I'm counting the hours.

Anyway, since I found out that I had hyperparathyroidism last fall (and also found out that the condition had given me such bad osteoporosis that I have, to quote my doctor, "the bones of a 70 to 75-year-old woman"), I've been too busy--with the birth of two grandchildren, the surgery to remove the offending hyperactive gland, the wedding of one son, the graduation of my baby, and travels hither and yon to spend time with our kids--to start and stick to a work-out routine that will hopefully lead to better bone health.  Walking is supposed to be a very good exercise for calcium-compromised ladies like me, so I'm determined to walk a brisk four miles a day, every single day this summer, at the very least; and to add cardiovascular and weight training exercises to this routine when I have the opportunity.  The more muscles I have around my bones, the less likely it is that I'll break a hip if I fall.  (That's the hope, anyway!)

While I'm building my muscles on these long walks, I'm also saying my Rosary and thinking all sorts of important thoughts.  I'm clearing my head and letting go of any stress.  (Not that I'm feeling stressed-out here in Chazy or anything!)  I'm only on day two of this well-intentioned plan of mine, but I'm feeling very motivated. 

This morning, I got up bright and early to get in my daily exercise, before my mom had even woken up.  And I just have to tell you, Chazy is a crazy-beautiful and crazy-interesting place to walk.

This area has got some crazy-famous historical landmarks, carefully noted with signs.
The Revolutionary War!

The Battle of Plattsburgh, War of 1812!

And other cool historical milestones!
There are also MacIntosh apple trees everywhere, in this orchard-crazy town.
And crazy-old graveyards, with crazy-old headstones.  (This one is right across the street from my folks' place.)

But the best thing about Chazy is that it sits on the shore of crazy-gorgeous Lake Champlain. 
How's that for a view?!  Crazy, huh?  With scenery like that along my walking route, I might just stick to this exercise regimen!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #7): Judging a Book by Its Cover

Okay, before we get started I want you to notice that I have a new meme for the book club.  I made a meme, all by my own self!  Up until now, I was using just that St. Francis de Sales quote about grace that I found online; but I decided that I needed something a little more personalized and more on point.  Something that would give newcomers to the blog a hint about what we discuss here on Tuesdays.  I spent about 45 minutes setting these items up on my dining room table and arranging them just so...and then this other way...and finally, like this.  And then I used the "paint" program on my computer to add text.  It's not the most professional-looking meme in all of blog land, but I'm satisfied with it.  (Should I send this image over to Instagram and incorporate some snazzy color and lighting effects?  Tell me what you think.)

Just as I hope this book club won't be judged by that amateurish meme, I hope my books won't be judged by their covers.  Or maybe I hope they will.  (That depends on whether people like them or not!)

Covers are important.  An appealing cover gets a would-be reader's attention.  I know that I myself have discovered more literary gems--some that I'd never even heard of before--at Barnes & Noble, just by randomly perusing the covers and picking up the ones that appeal to me.  If I like the cover design, I'll flip to the book's back cover; and if the synopsis and endorsements make it sound promising, I'll often buy it.

Here's an example of a book that I judged by its cover; and it turned out to be one of my favorite books ever:

For Finding Grace, I produced the cover artwork myself, with colored pencils and fine-tipped Sharpie markers.  My publisher asked me if I had an idea for the cover, and I told her I imagined a curly-haired girl shown only from the shoulders down, wearing a Peter Pan color and a Miraculous Medal.  I told her, in fact, that I had done up a rough sketch of this image, hoping she could reproduce something along the same lines.  She asked me to send her what I had, and when I emailed the JPG image to her, she told me she liked it--and that if the book was going to be targeted at young adults, she thought it would work very well.  So I did a better, more carefully rendered version of my original drawing.  When she sent me the final cover design, with the title scrolled across the top in that beautiful font she'd chosen, I loved it.

I have only gotten one negative comment about that cover, from Victoria Gisondi, who reviewed Finding Grace for  Victoria had many positive things to say about the novel, but of its cover she said:  My only aesthetic concern is the book cover which I fear would be passed over in a book store or library. A more modern cover, in the style of teen novels today, would better appeal to the book’s target audience. Perhaps a sharp-looking photograph of the same subject matter...would fare much better than the amateurish drawing that was used. (You can read the full review here.)

Another reader said that the pastel innocence of the cover artwork made her think it might be appropriate for her middle school-aged daughter, but when she read the book she realized that only an older teen would be ready for some of the difficult themes included in the story.

So although I'm rather fond of its cover, as far as Finding Grace goes I guess the jury is still out on whether or not it would have benefitted from a different sort of look.  However, I am convinced that the cover of Erin's Ring suits it to a T.
This time, instead of using one of my amateur drawings, publisher Cheryl Dickow chose the cover artwork from a pool of professional designs.  When she sent me the cover she'd created, it took my breath away.  I thought it was perfect.  Right away, I was reminded of a sweet love scene in the book, where Ann and Seamus are walking in downtown Dover, NH, on a snowy night in 1828.   In the book, Ann is even carrying a muff!  The less-than-perfect thing about this artwork is that the couple is dressed a bit too grandly for my poor Irish immigrants.  If the man was wearing a flat cap and tattered knickers, it might be better.  But later in the book (and later in the century) there is another pair of sweethearts in the story named Erin and Michael who are not at all poverty-stricken, and they might very well be dressed just so.

I love that this cover has so much green in it, like the Emerald Isle itself.  I love that although it evokes a long-ago era, it has a modern CGI (computer-generated-image) quality to it, which I believe is particularly attractive to discerning younger readers.

When I visited Queen of Angels Catholic school in May, to speak with a wonderful group of 4th-graders about Erin's Ring, several of the kids commented on the cover.  One of them asked me why I chose that particular image, and I told them that the publisher actually chose it, but that it is exactly what I would have chosen myself.  One asked me which scene in the book it's supposed to portray, and when I told them that I immediately thought of Ann and Seamus' big night when I saw it, several of the kids said that's the scene they thought of as well.  One boy commented that the artwork has the high-tech look of a Pixar animated movie.  I agreed, and in turn asked the class if they liked that about it--which they did.  Long story short, I think my publisher did a bang-up job of coming up with a cover that would resonate with the book's target audience.

Now I'll ask you: do you like the cover of Erin's Ring?  Do you find it eye-catching?  Do you think it represents the story well?  Do you like the CGI effect, or do you think a more traditional painted scene would have suited it better?

Okay then, meeting adjourned.  Until we meet again, may you be showered with many graces.

Monday, June 15, 2015

I Smell a Sequel to Yesterday's Post

If you read yesterday's post, you know that our twin granddaughters like to sniff their Papa and me.  They tell us that we have a smell (a good one, I trust), and that it lingers behind us when we leave a room.  This need to smell us has always seemed rather endearing, although a little bizarre.  But apparently, it's not as strange as one might think.

As both Nancy Shuman and Madeline commented yesterday, there is a scene in the original "Parent Trap" movie, starring Haley Mills, that involves one of the twins she plays (Susan) sniffing her grandfather's jacket--for the purpose of "making a memory."

I searched to the best of my technology-challenged ability to find a YouTube clip of that scene to share with you here; but having failed on that score, here's a snippet from the movie script:

Charles McKendrick: [Susan starts sniffing the coat he is wearing]  My dear, what are you doing?
Susan Evers: Making a memory.
Charles McKendrick: Making a memory?
Susan Evers: All my life, when I'm quite grown-up I will always remember my grandfather and how he smelled of
[smells his jacket again]
Susan Evers: tobacco and peppermint.
Charles McKendrick: Smelled of tobacco and peppermint.
[starts chuckling]
Charles McKendrick: Well, I'll tell you what.  I take the peppermint for my indigestion, and as for the tobacco
[looks around]
Charles McKendrick: to make your grandmother mad.

I thought my sweet little grandson G-Man was just going in for a snuggle in the above picture, taken a month or so ago during our lengthy sojourn with him in VA; but perhaps he, too, was simply learning how to "make a memory."  Perhaps it's not just twins who like to take the time to stop and smell the grandparents.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

We're Not Getting Older, We're Just Ripening!

My husband and I just got back from a week-long trip out to the Midwest.  Our first stop was the University of Notre Dame, where we attended his 35th college reunion.  We had a blast.

It was sort of an eye-opener, though, to realize that we truly are no longer spring chickens.  One of the days there was a class Mass, and when we got to the assigned chapel I looked around and whispered in my husband's ear, "I think we're in the wrong place."  I thought, This must be the class of 1970 or something; these people surely didn't graduate OUR year.

There had to be some mistake, because everyone there looked sort of, you know, old.  Sort of like a bunch of grandparents.

But oh that's right--my husband and I are grandparents!  (Hello, mirror.  Have we met?  My name is Grammy and shocker, I know, but I am not a 25-year-old.)  The awakening was rude, my friends.  Because while my best guy and I cherish our roles as Papa and Grammy more than life itself, we sometimes forget that with this privilege comes advanced age.

Enough about that.  You're as young as you feel.  (Or you can keep telling yourself that!)

Anyway, after a wonderful weekend, spent attending all the events with one of my hubby's freshman year roommates and his lovely wife, we headed to MI to spend some time with our oldest son's family.  Because, as I noted above, we are grandparents.  And visiting our grandchildren is the joy of our lives.

Here are some pictures of our three oldest grandchildren, identical twins Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie (4) and Little Gal (2) at a nature center near their home, where they got all wet and sandy and had a perfectly glorious time.

Thanks to his airline job and the perk of non-revenue stand-by tickets, Papa and I have been so fortunate when it comes to seeing our precious grandchildren on a fairly regular basis, despite the distance that separates us from them.  We wouldn't want them to have enough time in between visits to forget us...however, that isn't really a worry when it comes to the twins.  Because not only do they remember everything (and I mean everything), but apparently, we leave our scent behind.

Cutie Pie actually said that to me this past week, out of the blue:  "Grammy, you always leave your smell behind."

Thank you?  I think?  ( this a good thing?  Because I'm not sure it sounds like a good thing.)

The girls have long had this habit of snuggling up close and sniffing us, saying, "I want to smell you!"

One day while we were there, I had gone out for a bit.  I returned to the house and was on my way up the stairs, when suddenly Cutie Pie was behind me.  She wrapped her arms around my waist and said, "I want to see your smell."  I stopped, and then she sniffed my skirt and said, "Ahh, that's great!"

"Hmm," I said to my daughter-in-law Regina.  "What is this odor I give off, anyway?"

She laughed and said, "I think they smell your perfume, or Dad's cologne."  Guess what, though?  Neither of us wears any artificial scent like that.  That smell is all us, baby.  Us, combined with soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, and laundry detergent.  Not to mention a bit of ripening.

Lest you think only one of the twins is this way when it comes to a heightened sense of smell, that is not the case.  One day this past week, Bonny Babe sniffed the love seat in the family's living room (where Papa had been sitting with her the night before, reading a book to her) and proclaimed with excitement: "This couch smells like Papa!"

I choose to take this obsession with the way we smell as a compliment.  After all, at least we know that when we're not there with them, we leave behind something for them to remember us by.  If love has a scent, I hope that's what they smell.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Twin Purpose: A Belated Happy Birthday, and an ABC Book Update

A few days ago, my beloved oldest grandchildren--identical twins Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie--turned four.  I neglected to give them a birthday shout-out on their big day, because I had ambitious plans for a blog post and didn't fulfill them in time.

Those plans involved getting out my watercolor pencils and fine-tipped sharpie pens and doing a little artwork.  I spent a few hours at it this morning, and I tell you, I'd forgotten how happy I feel when the creative juices are flowing.

Today, I'm unveiling a new page for the ABC Book, which I haven't worked on in quite a LONG time (due to putting it aside for six months to write Erin's Ring; then playing nanny to my sweet little grandson, G-Man, for four months; then seeing my youngest son graduate from college and soon afterward leave the nest--excuses, I've got a million of them!).

This illustration is a belated birthday gift to my girlies, who were most definitely the inspiration for it.

The next page is going to say, "And it's for tall, tall trees, and tiny baby toes."

When I get to it, that is.  Which may not be for a couple of weeks, since we're leaving tomorrow for South Bend to attend my husband's 35th college reunion, and right afterward, we're going to spend about a week visiting with the twins and their two little sisters out in the Midwest...

Such is the life of a jet-setter/world traveler/would-be homebody/besotted Grammy.

But stay tuned, because more installments of the ABC Book will be coming, sooner rather than later.  I am determined to run off copies of this book for my grandchildren this Christmas!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I'm Finally Writing an "About" Post!

Most of the fun blogs I read have an "About" page, so you can get to know the women behind them.  I thought it was about time I had one of those, too, to introduce you to my family and me--especially if you're new to String of Pearls.

I started this blog in March of 2011, when the youngest of my five sons was about to graduate from high school.  I knew little to nothing about blogging at the time, but was encouraged to take the plunge by my oldest son's wife (more about her, and the other daughters-in-law who have been added to the family in the intervening years, in a bit).  I was thrilled to see that I could go on the Blogger website, pick out a template, and just start writing and publishing.

I have only updated the look of my blog once, as far as the background design; but I've changed the banner across the top numerous times, using different pictures of my sons.  I tried to make a recent photo of our growing clan work as a banner, during my latest attempt to jazz things up; but I couldn't get it to fit the way I wanted it to.  And I just don't think I'm ready to spend money on a professionally designed blog page.  But here's that image of my precious "String of Pearls" that I would have used, if I could have made it stretch all the way across the top without cutting anyone off.
Anyhoo, I've decided to go the simple route and just have the title up there.  (I'm open to your suggestions, if you think my site looks too plain!)

Okay, moving on to the "about" stuff...

My husband and I attended the same Catholic high school in Plattsburgh, NY, and we started dating the summer after our freshman year, when we were both 15.  This photo of us was taken at the junior prom in 1975. 
Yes, we are very young here, and very fashion-challenged.  If you've stopped laughing, we can move on now. 

We went off to college (the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN for him, the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA for me), with the idea that we wouldn't "hold each other back" if we were meant to find someone else; but we made the long-distance relationship work and just grew closer over the years we spent apart.

We graduated in May of 1980 and got married that December.
When we started out our married life, my husband was an officer in the US Navy and a flight school student, and he went on to fly A-7's and F-18's.  Off aircraft carriers.  Yes, he was that cool.

In 1983, we welcomed our first boy.
By 1988 (just four years and three months after the birth of #1), we had four of them.
And just when we thought our family might be complete, we were blessed with son #5 in 1993. 

We moved to Dover, NH when our oldest son was half-way through kindergarten, and this is where we raised our brood.  They all attended the same Catholic grade school (except for #5, who left there after 3rd grade and was homeschooled from 4th grade through 8th grade), and they graduated from the same Catholic high school--where they all excelled at academics, football and lacrosse, and being the sweetest sons a mom could ever ask for.
These are my boys!
The four oldest are all college graduates now, and all married.  I've given their wives aliases on the blog:
     2009: #1 married "Regina"
     2013: #3 married "Preciosa"
     2014: #4 married "Braveheart" and #2 married "Ginger"
So now I have "my girls."

I have given our precious grandchildren (five of them now--and counting!) aliases at String of Pearls as well, to protect their privacy.  (And at the request of our firstborn and his wife, I don't publish pictures of their daughters unless they are from the side or back, to further respect their wish to keep their lives out of the public view.)
After decades as a happy SAHM, I decided to fulfill a childhood dream.  When son #5 started high school in 2007, I began writing a novel that I never thought I'd actually see in print.  Finding Grace was published in 2012.  Then pinch me, I must be dreaming--a second novel, Erin's Ring, was published in 2014.
I am truly an empty-nester these days, with the graduation of our baby from the University of Notre Dame just a few weeks ago.  I enjoy traveling with my husband to visit our kids and grandkids, which is made easier by the fact that his airline job affords us non-revenue stand-by tickets to anywhere we need to go.
I love my Catholic Faith, Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish, drinking coffee, eating chocolate, reading good novels, writing (this blog, and Catholic fiction aimed at young adults and adults), sewing (especially dresses for my granddaughters), drawing and painting, spending time with my beloved sons and their families, being a "Grammy," and being the wife of the greatest guy on earth.

I am inordinately blessed, and don't I know it!  And I guess that's about all there is to tell, as they say, "that's all she wrote"!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Empty Nesting 101

One of my sweet Pearl sisters-in-law shared a blog post with me via Facebook yesterday.  It was titled "25 Rules for Mothers of Sons" and came from a blog called Life Out of Bounds.   Well, I tried to read #25 (my favorite--the writer definitely saved the best for last!) out loud to my husband last night, but I couldn't get through it.  I got all choked up and started to cry.

I'm going to share #25 with you, lucky readers; this is the one that really got to me, as a mother of all sons (and no matter who you are, you might want to have a tissue handy):

You are home to him.  When he learns to walk, he will wobble a few feet away from you and then come back, then wobble away a little farther and then come back.  When he tries something new, he will look for your proud smile.  When he learns to read, he will repeat the same book to you twenty times in a row, because you're the only one who will listen that many times.  When he plays his sport, he will search for your face in the stands.  When he is sick, he will call you.  When he really messes up, he will call you.  When he is grown and strong and tough and big and feels like crying, he will come to you; because a man can cry in front of his mother without feeling self-conscious.  Even when he grows up and has a new woman in his life and gets a new home, you are still his mother; home base, the ever constant, like the sun.  Know that in your heart and everything else will fall into place.

Okay now, pull yourselves together.  I'm not done with you yet.

If you come around these parts much you know that on May 25, I said good-bye to the youngest of my five sons--and that he was heading to a state far, far away, where he will begin his grown-up career.  My husband was on a trip at the time, so I was the only one there to watch him back his car out of the driveway...and to wave at him through the trees as he drove away.  After he'd pulled out, he put his car in park and grabbed his iPhone, and he snapped this picture of the old homestead.  That night he posted it on Facebook, with this caption: "Welp, today I left the place I've called home for the past 22 years to start my career as an adult.  Although it's weird and sad in one way, it's cool and exciting in the other.  And despite what my mom might've been imagining this morning, I will make my way back to it somewhere soon down the road."
By that night, he had finished the first of four long legs of driving.  He had planned to get as far as Buffalo, but here's the rest of that Facebook post: "Also, before I start being a professional adult, I figured I'd make a detour to Niagra Falls."
My husband said he almost advised our boy not to veer from the best trip route just to see this, but stopped himself.  Our son had thought this through; he'd never seen this famous landmark and it's what he wanted to do, so who were we to tell him he shouldn't?

I'm loving the Niagra Falls selfie (and also feeling grateful that although he'd been told that the Canada side of the falls was better than the US side, at least his detour didn't take him over the border).

I'm also loving the fact that this kid only had about two weeks to transition from being a happy-go-lucky college senior sharing a house with seven other guys to being a car-owning, cross-country-driving, responsible adult getting ready to begin a challenging career in a state he's never been to, and that he handled it all with his usual quiet confidence and resourcefulness.

Watching your child take his first wobbly steps as a baby is a thrill that's hard to equal; but it is also indescribably wonderful to watch him take his first tentative steps into adulthood, and to know that you've helped him become a man who is ready to take on its challenges.  He'll still need you, of course; but not all the time, and not for everything.

All of this got me thinking about a post I wrote just over a year ago, all about the unique joys moms can look forward to in the empty nest years.  As I need to remind myself about the many pluses of having grown children right now, instead of focusing on the negatives (I miss my baby!!  I wanted him to have more of a summer, home with us, before he had to get out on his own!!), I decided to re-post it today.  It's sweet, and if I recall it was pretty popular when it was first published (own horn, consider yourself tooted!).  If you tend to be leaky, you might want to have a tissue handy.  Okay then, here's that post, mamas.

Now, time to focus on my husband.  Whenever I say I have no one to take care of anymore, he reminds me that I've still got him. 

Thank goodness!