Friday, July 31, 2015

Saying Yes to Mom's/Grandma's Heirloom Dress

I promised a Part 2 to yesterday's post, so here it is.

When my dear departed mother-in-law was a college undergrad double-majoring in English and French, she was voted Rose Queen by her classmates at the College of St. Rose in Albany, NY.  She was a beautiful, talented, and vivacious coed who held other titles as well, but this one was very important--because she had to purchase a bridal-style dress to wear as St. Rose royalty, and that same dress would become her wedding dress not too many years later.

The dress Mom chose is utterly magnificent.  It is made of champagne-colored satin, with a layer of soft tulle over it to soften the sheen.  It is actually very simple and unfussy, except for the illusion bodice bordered with cutwork, intricate beading, and tiny seed pearl embellishments.  The epic train on this gown is cathedral-length.

For her role as Rose Queen in the early 50's, Mom wore a crown with her glorious satin stunner, and she carried a bouquet of white roses.

For her role as bride, when she married my father-in-law in 1956, she wore a veil and carried a bouquet of calla lilies.

Mom had the foresight to have her Rose Queen/wedding dress professionally cleaned and preserved, and it was stored carefully wrapped up in blue tissue paper in a large box, under a bed in one of the upstairs bedrooms at my husband's childhood home.  When the oldest of his sisters got married in 1983, the box was opened and she wore it.  And then the three younger Pearl sisters also wore their mother's dress when they were married in 1993, 1994, and 2005.  All four Pearl daughters not only exchanged their vows in Mom's heirloom dress; they danced the night away in it at their receptions as well.  By the time the last two sisters used it, it was starting to show a little wear.  Ripped tulle and lost buttons had to be replaced, and some of the beading had to be redone.  At this point, the dress was already more than 50 years old--technically an antique.  But after each wedding, my husband's oldest sister has taken on the responsibility of making sure that it is professionally cleaned again and properly stored, ensuring that it would endure for decades to come.

The next generation of Pearl girls first used Mom's dress when one of her granddaughters (a daughter of the oldest Pearl sister) was married in it in 2010.  However, it was determined that in order to preserve the aging gown for any of Mom's other granddaughters who might also want to wear it in the future, the bride would change after the ceremony (and subsequent photo shoot) into a second bridal gown of her own choosing for the reception.  Although the satin on Mom's old beauty has held up very well, the seams are a bit fragile and a night of dancing would be a little rough on it.

A little over a week ago, Mom's dress--now more than 60 years old--was used again, by another daughter of my husband's older sister.  What amazes me about this dress fashioned way back in the 1950's is that not only it is so classically styled and tailored that it never looks tired or out-of-date, but so many different Pearls--with different coloring, heights, and body types--have worn it, and each one has looked stunningly beautiful in it.  It is a dress in which a bride truly does glow and shine.  A dress fit for a princess (or a Rose Queen).

Before my niece's recent wedding, I was tasked with closing up a pair of inch-or-so-long rips that had formed on the armhole seams of Mom's dress, one on each side, due to the disintegration of the old thread.  I did them by hand, worried that if I dragged the heavy dress over to my sewing machine and tried to maneuver it that way, I might damage it somehow.  So I hand-stitched very carefully, and when I was done, I ever-so-gently pulled on one of the newly-sewn seams to make sure it would hold...and rrriiiippp!  Ohhhhhh noooooo!  The repair job I'd just finished was fine; but suddenly there was a brand new six-inch gaping hole, where the seam had broken apart from just above the armpit down the side of the dress.
At that point, I began to shake.  This dress was more than a mere dress; it was a piece of Pearl history--a piece of Mom.  "Mom, help me out here!" I whispered desperately.  She always liked to sew--it's something we had in common--and talking to her really did make me feel confident that with her heavenly help, I wouldn't end up destroying that precious dress.  Well, thanks be to God (and to Mom, too!), I was able to repair the seam, using my machine this time to ensure that it would hold strong throughout the ceremony.
So!  Crisis averted!  But I think perhaps it's time to take Mom's dress to a professional seamstress (who wouldn't be me!) to have all the fragile seams reinforced.
Okay then, let's have some fun.  Do you have an heirloom wedding dress in your family?  Did you wear your Mom's or your grandmother's bridal gown when you got married?  I love these sorts of stories, so do share if you have one!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Saying Yes to the Dress--and to Flo Rida!

During Christmas vacation in 1979, in the middle of my senior year at the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, MA, I was home with my family in Plattsburgh, NY.  It was during that break, sometime around New Year's, that my longtime boyfriend and I took each set of parents out for a drink, separately, to break the news that we were going to get married (and that it would probably happen the following December, since he would be in flight school after graduation and Christmas was the only sure time he would be able to take leave).

There was no diamond ring involved (we were two poor college students!), no getting down on one knee, no hoopla.  We had been dating since the summer following our freshman year in high school when we were both 15, with a couple of brief, mutually agreed upon "breaks" to make sure that we weren't holding each other back; at this point the two of us had been privately planning our future together for about two solid years.  By the time we broke the big news to our folks, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion--so nobody was gasping with surprise when they heard about it.

Once the engagement was announced, my mom and I thought it would be fun if I tried on her wedding gown, especially since I thought that if it suited me, I might decide to wear it for my big day. This grainy snapshot is the only proof I have that I did try it on that winter, and that it actually fit me.  (My 57-year-old middle section is jealous of my 21-year-old waistline, I'll tell you that.)
I love that a picture of my mom wearing the dress is visible in this shot, too.
I'm glad I tried it on; but I didn't say yes to my mother's dress.

I ultimately decided that although Mom's wedding gown was lovely, it was too "Scarlett O'Hara" for me, with its big hoop skirt, and that I might prefer something long-sleeved for a winter wedding.  I didn't try on many dresses before I found "the one" that made me say yes; but I discovered during that short hunting process that I didn't like the way I looked in pure white.  As soon as I put on the antique white (or champagne)-colored gown that I ended up buying, it made me feel like a beautiful bride.  I knew immediately that it was the dress for me, and I never looked back.  It was on a clearance rack for $90, but it made me feel like a million bucks.
Or maybe it was that handsome groom by my side that made me feel like a million bucks.

Yeah, that's it.  That's the ticket.

Our first dance, to...??????
Neither my husband nor I (nor any family member or guest who was there that day) can remember which song we chose for our first dance as husband and wife.  I think it MIGHT have been Chicago's "Just You and Me," because that was the theme song for the junior prom we attended together in high school.  But I really can't remember at all!  I suspect that the band made a suggestion for something that was traditionally chosen by couples, and we didn't care one way or the other because after 7 and 1/2 years of dating, we just wanted to get married--and we both said, "Sure, whatever!"

But I do really wish I could remember what was playing when the photo above was snapped!  Some of my sisters-in-law have tried to rectify this situation for us, so that we can dance to "our" first dance song at family weddings.  The song they chose for us is "Wild Ones" by Flo Rida.  It's so us.  If you don't believe me, check out these rap-tastic lyrics:

Hey I heard you were a wild one

If I took you home
It'd be a home run
Show me how you do

I want to shut down the club
With you
Hey I heard you like the wild ones

I like crazy, foolish, stupid
Party going wild, fist pumping
Music, I might lose it
Blast to the roof, that's how we do'z it


Flo Rida?  I think?
Yikes!!  Let me just say that when it comes to my traditional, conservative husband and myself, that's NOT how we do'z it.  But that's what makes this ridiculous song such a funny choice, and why the humorous Pearl family loves to see us get up and boogie to it when the DJ plays it at wedding receptions.

Here we are, a couple of wild ones cutting a rug to "our" song at son #4's wedding to Braveheart in February of 2014.

Now back to talking about dresses!  I really want to tell you about my mother-in-law's gorgeous satin wedding gown.  It's 60 years old now and has been worn by all four of her daughters and two of her granddaughters (so far).  The niece I wrote about in yesterday's post is the most recent bride to wear it.  But this post is getting long, so I'll save that for tomorrow!

Stay tuned for Part 2 of "Saying Yes to the Dress"--it's going to be so much better than the TLC show with a similar name, I guarantee it.  ;)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Still Here (and Have I Got News for You!)

I'm still here, in spite of evidence to the contrary!  My poor little blog has been a very neglected baby as of late.  My "IRL" life has been a tad too hectic to allow much room for having much of an Internet life.  But I've missed blogging.  As a person who thinks and expresses herself better on paper (or make that on computer screen) than in person, I've come to believe that I sort of need this daily writing exercise to maintain my emotional and psychological health.  As weird as that sounds...

Anyhoo, there are many legitimate excuses for my Internet absence the past few weeks.  For one thing, there was that health scare of my husband's not too long ago, which I told you about.  But praise God, he's fine now--not quite back to normal yet, but his platelet count is rising steadily and he's able to do just about everything he wants to do...except go back to work.  But he's still on vacation anyway.  And if that vacation happens to be extended for reasons beyond his control...well, we'll enjoy our extra time together.

Aside from that unexpected sojourn at the hospital, there was also a big family wedding to celebrate.  All of my husband's seven siblings and their families gathered on the shore of Lake Champlain for the happy occasion.  Two of our boys--#3 and #4, with their wives Precisosa and Braveheart--were able to make it.  And let's not forget our sweet grandson G-Man!

As one dear old friend put it in a Facebook comment, after having spied him at church: "He is one chunk of cuteness!"  He is indeed.  And Papa and I were thrilled to spend some time with our little buddy.

Our beautiful young niece was married to her college sweetheart, by an archbishop who is the uncle of her new husband.  (They call him "Uncle Father Charlie."  Isn't that the best?)  This particular archbishop is the papal nuncio to Ireland, and having him come to the church in Plattsburgh where so many Irish Pearls have been married (my hubby and myself included) to say the Mass was a big thrill for all in attendance.
This girl is utterly beautiful, inside and out. 
And her hubby's not too shabby, either.
I must also mention that the archbishop (a truly humble, down-to-earth man with a wonderful sense of humor) gave the most beautiful, moving, spot-on homily about marriage that I have ever heard.  I wish I had it on tape so that I could play it for anyone who tried to tell me that traditional marriage (as in: the sacred union of a man and a woman in Holy Matrimony, as ordained by God) is no longer relevant.  I wish you'd been there, dear readers, to hear this holy man describe in the most succinct and perfect way just how sacred, how important, how relevant marriage is.

After the magnificent nuptial Mass, the wedding party and their guests made a pit-stop at the Old Stone Barracks in Plattsburgh, NY, an historic 19th-century building that once housed Civil War soldiers behind its thick stone walls.

My husband's older sister (the oldest of the eight Pearl siblings and the mother of that lovely bride in the photos) and her husband are in the process of restoring and renovating this breathtaking and iconic piece of Plattsburgh history, and turning the historic landmark into a thriving brewery/tasting room/event center/bed & breakfast.  With all the excitement being generated in the North Country with regard to their project, my sister-in-law marvels that Valcour Brewing Company has made the front page of the paper numerous times and has been the subject of several local TV news stories and PBS shows, yet they haven't had to spend one penny on advertising so far.  (Look for a future post, where I'll tell you more about this amazing dream project that my sister-in-law and her man-with-a-vision--a dynamic duo if there ever was one--have undertaken.)

But back to the wedding festivities: after the brewery stop, we all headed over to the reception, where somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 of us ate, drank, and danced the night away.  It was just a fantastic event, filled with family and friends, and bursting with so much love and joy. 

My husband enjoyed some local brews with two of his boys (not up to Valcour Brewery standards taste-wise, but at least the collector's bottles were cool-looking!).
 And he got to dance a daddy-daughter dance with two of his girls.
It was a magical night.  I only wish our other three boys could have made it, along with daughters-in-law Regina and Ginger, and our four precious granddaughters.

Now for our exciting news!  As if this summer wasn't crazy enough already, my husband and I have decided to take on an ambitious project of our own.  We are purchasing a house on the lake, just 3.5 miles away from the house where my husband grew up.  The two of us met and began dating in Plattsburgh, when we were only 15 years old, so it seems fitting that we should retire there and spend our golden years where we got our start--in the Adirondack region that we both love, with family nearby.  We love our home in NH; but with our boys all moving away, getting married, and establishing themselves in different parts of the country, Dover doesn't seem as much like home as it once did. 

We're not in a hurry, though.  We'd hate to sell the house that's been home to us for a quarter of a century, the house where we raised our five sons, and then have one or two of them move back to this area.  Plus, with my husband still working it would be tougher to commute from Plattsburgh than it is from here.  So...for the time being, we are looking at the house on the lake as a retirement investment for us, and we plan to put it on VRBO and rent it out for weeks at a time.  And perhaps we'll block off a week or two every summer for our own personal use, and hopefully the kids and grandkids will visit us there.  Then eventually, we'll probably sell the NH house and reside there full-time (when we aren't flying hither and yon to visit our far-flung brood).

So if you know anyone who's looking for a sweet spot to take a vacation, where they'll have the run of a house with 4 bedrooms, 2 and 1/2 baths, a gourmet kitchen, a large patio with a hot tub and a fire pit, a football field-sized grassy back yard, and 253 feet of lakefront (with a glorious private beach and spectacular views of Valcour Island, "Gunboat Island," and the mountains of VT), we might have just the ticket when we're up and running next spring.  And hey, at cocktail hour they could head on down the road to the Old Stone Barracks for a nice cold glass of Copper Nails, or one of Valcour's other trademark brews.   ;)

Okay, I think that pretty much brings you up to speed on what's been happening in my life.  I'll be back soon, I'm sure.  But before I go, don't forget about the giveaway over at Goodreads.  You could win a signed copy of Erin's Ring--for free, so what have you got to lose?!  The contest ends August 15, so don't delay.

I hope you're enjoying your summer!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Win a Copy of Erin's Ring

I am giving away two signed copies of Erin's Ring.  The contest starts tomorrow (July 15) and runs through August 15.  This book would make great summer reading for your pre-teen or teen--or dare I say, even for you!

Book Giveaway For Erin's Ring

Erin's Ring by Laura H. Pearl
Erin's Ring
I am giving away two signed copies of my Catholic YA novel, Erin's Ring. Published in 2014 by Bezalel Books, Erin's Ring is part historical fiction, p…more

Giveaway dates: Jul 15 - Aug 15, 2015
2 copies available     
Countries available: US 


Okay, String of Pearls readers, if you're interested you can head on over to Goodreads and enter to win:

Saturday, July 11, 2015

A Reminder to Cherish Every Minute

I have recently had a loud and clear reminder that it is important to cherish every minute, because life can change in an instant...without warning, when you're tootling along without a care in the world and you least expect it.

Last Monday was predictable and routine: I spent the day taking my mom to a doctor's appointment, shopping with her, and making dinner for her and my dad, while my husband did some handyman jobs at his family's home on Lake Champlain.  But that evening, there was a hint that things were about to change--when some of my husband's siblings and I saw that my husband had developed what looked like a weird rash on his feet and legs.  (An allergic reaction, we wondered?  But why didn't it itch?)  Those red spots looked exactly like the ones that appeared on my face the day my fourth son was born.  He weighed in at almost eleven pounds (yes, I said eleven), and apparently the strain of pushing him out into the world broke every blood vessel in my face.

Okay, so broken blood vessels sometimes have an obvious cause, and when they do, they don't warrant a lot of concern.  But what kind of strain could possibly do that to my husband's legs?  What kind of exertion would have caused that?  Especially when we're talking about an extremely fit guy who does strenuous P90X routines on a daily basis and is in better shape in his 50's than he was in his 30's!

My guy felt absolutely fine, so he wasn't too concerned.  Along with the red rash, he had a bruise on his shin, but he couldn't remember how he'd gotten it.  He dismissed it as a random "old man injury" as he sat with some of his siblings and me on the patio by the lake, enjoying a cocktail after a long, tiring day spent working on the front door of his family's home--sanding, patching rotten spots with wood filler, and getting the frame all prepared for the new screen door that he had plans to install.

We went to bed Monday night a bit perplexed but not overly worried. I got up early Tuesday morning and blogged (something that I don't always get around to doing when I'm visiting with family).

Then my husband got up.  And I took one look at the bruise on his shin and knew something wasn't right.  Because now it looked like this.
I was alarmed.  I thought perhaps he'd gotten some sort of insect or spider bite--and he had noticed a lot of spiders around when he was working on the door frame the day before, so maybe that was the answer. The big red circle was red and swollen, but it didn't hurt or itch at all.  I thought he might have an infection that was spreading; but he had no fever and felt completely normal.  Things just didn't add up.  Then as the icing on the cake, my husband admitted that he'd found blood blisters in his mouth, on the insides of both cheeks.  When he'd brushed his teeth, he'd spit out blood. 

That did it.  We were on our way to the ER.

After check-in and initial questions from the nurse, a PA came in to ask my husband what was going on.  It's never a really comforting thing when a medical professional says, "Huh.  I've never seen anything like this before.  I'm going to go get Mike and have him take a look."

After assessing the situation, it didn't take long for Mike, who was the young doctor on call, to order blood tests.  And when the blood work came back, we found out that the reason for the broken capillaries on his feet and legs and the easy bruising was a rather serious one: my husband's platelet count was extremely low, and he had a condition called ITP (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura), which causes the immune system to malfunction and go into platelet-attacking mode. They think this condition is sometimes triggered by a viral infection, so we couldn't help but believe that it was a direct result of a nasty viral illness that had laid him pretty low and sent him to the ER just a couple of days before.

It wasn't long before my husband was visited by a hematologist, who told him that he would be admitted and more tests would be ordered.  After ten hours in the ER, hooked up to an IV treatment and waiting for a bed to become available, he moved upstairs and had more blood drawn.

Through all of this, my indomitable husband appeared hale and hearty, per usual.  His color was good, he felt fine, and he looked less like a bedraggled patient than I did.  I mean, he was...well, see for yourself.
Look at that smile.

On Wednesday, my husband received a second IV treatment.  He had to spend Wednesday and Thursday nights in the hospital (where I slept in a reclining chair, because I couldn't bear to leave him), and he was finally discharged on Friday morning, when his platelets had climbed to a safe enough level.

A priest came in to see my husband on Wednesday, and he gave him a blessing and Holy Eucharist.  The entire time he was in the hospital, my husband was unfailingly optimistic and calm; he was the best possible patient and I'm sure his cheerfulness and kindness made a huge impression on the nursing staff who took such beautiful care of him during his hospital stay.  But his eyes did fill with tears in the aftermath of receiving Our Lord.  It pained me to see his tears, but didn't surprise me at all.  He is always, always close to God; but I'm sure, with all the uncertainty and fear created by this strange episode, he felt His presence more acutely than ever.

Although he's on the mend, my husband could still use lots of prayers as he continues to get better.  I know many of you who read this blog are fierce prayer warriors, so I'm counting on you.  In the meantime, I'm going to storm the heavens, too...and I'm going to cherish every minute I have with my extraordinary husband.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

St. Francis, I'm Glad We Had This Talk

I love St. Francis de Sales.  There are so many wise and inspirational quotes attributed to this holy saint that totally resonate with me and make me want to be a better person.  Words that inflame me with the desire to amend my life, atone for all my sins, and just...DO BETTER.

This is one of those quotes:  "Be who you are and be that well."

Just as you sometimes feel like the priest is looking directly into your very soul when his homily seems to be tailor-made for you, I feel like St. Francis de Sales is speaking to me here.  Because although I am well aware that, as they say (they, or maybe it was Theodore Roosevelt), "comparison is the thief of joy," I too often compare myself, with all my real and perceived shortcomings, to those about me; and when I do, I sometimes feel that even if I'm the very best me that I can be, it will never be good enough.  When I do this, I know that I'm forgetting that God made me the way I am for a reason, and that He loves quiet, introverted, shy (and sometimes socially awkward) me as much as he loves the guy who walks into a party and immediately lights up the room.  When I do this, I know that I'm like a petulant child, flinging a birthday gift back at the giver, upset that it's not the toy I had hoped for.  When I do this, I know that I'm too busy not loving myself to love others well.

And yet...and yet, I fall back into this sinful way of thinking, time and time again!

I give lip service all the time to the idea that it would be a very boring world indeed if we were all created exactly alike.  But almost in the same breath, I wish for a bigger personality, a more outgoing and engaging personality--forgetting that just as the world needs spirited storytellers, it needs listeners.  And just as it needs people who are good at talking off the cuff at a party, it needs people who may not be so great at that, but whose unique gifts include the ability to express themselves quietly, through the written word.

You'd think that at about-to-turn-57, I would have learned by now to be comfortable in my own skin, to realize that there's nothing wrong with just being the way God made me.  Well, that's the birthday gift I'm going to give myself this year: acceptance--and with it, I hope, unadulterated joy.  I'm going to be who I am; and I may not be that as well as possible, but I'm going to give it the old college try.

St. Francis, I'm glad we had this talk.  You can talk to me anytime, and I'll try to listen.

(P.S.  I know you've been waiting with baited breath for the next book club "meeting," so look for a Grace-filled Tuesdays post next week.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

WWRW: Ken Huck's Summer Reading List

Today, I thought I'd share some summer reading recommendations from Ken Huck of Radio Maria.  (Ken has a show called "Meet the Author," and he was kind enough to have me on to talk about Finding Grace back in January).  Here is Ken's list (pay special attention to #4--wink, wink):


Meet the Author – 2015 Summer Reading List By host, Ken Huck


This, the 5th annual, list was inspired by a listener. I think there is something for everyone on this list – men, women, young, and adult.  The books are in no particular order. I also suggest books that parents can share with their children. 

1.       A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac by Margaret Rose Realy. Great book for any time of year but especially good for summer.

2.       Divine Renovation: Bringing Your Parish from Maintenance to Mission by Fr James Mallon.  You will come out of the summer energized with ideas to help your parish. 

3.       Visiting Mary: Her U.S. Shrines and Their Graces by Julie Dortch Cragon.  If you want to incorporate some visits to shrines with your vacation this book is full of ideas and a list of shrines for nearly every state. Keep in the car glove compartment!

4.       Finding Grace by Laura Pearl. Wonderful books for moms and dads to read and share with their teen children. A wonderful coming of age novel that will keep you guessing to the very end! My favorite recommendation this past year for young adults.

5.       The Glory of the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf, Not Peace But A Sword – The Great Chasm Between Christianity And Islam by Robert Spencer, or Christianity, Islam, and Atheism by William Kilpatrick. With militant Islam in the news nearly every day I recommend all three of these books.

6.       Prayer Works! Getting a Grip on Catholic Spirituality by Matthew Leonard. Just because it is summer it doesn’t mean you can’t work on your faith practices!

7.       Something Other Than God by Jennifer Fulwiler, and Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms by Holly Ordway. Two of my favorite conversion stories.  

8.       Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything by Robert Reilly. The Supreme Court is expected to redefine marriage this summer and this book will explain how we got to this point in our culture.   

9.       No Turning Back by Fr. Donald Calloway.  If you don’t know Fr. Calloway’s story you need to read this book!   

10.   Saint John Paul the Great: His Five Loves by Jason Evert.  A fantastic overview of the life of this great saint of our time.

Books for moms to share with daughters: The “Lily series” of novels Sherry Boas. Sherry is a fantastic writer and even greater mom.  

If you have teens check out Regina Domain’s The Fairy Tale Novels series and the John Paul II High series of novels by Christian M. Frank about the adventures of a group of teens at a tiny Catholic school.


Hope you're having a great summer, filled with great books!  Now head on over to Jessica's for more good titles.