Monday, November 30, 2015

Turning Lemons (or a Cat Door) into Lemonade!

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving week, from the Sunday before until the Saturday after, with our oldest son, his sweet wife Regina, and their four darling little girls. (Here at the blog, I call them Bonny Babe, Cutie Pie, Little Gal, and City Girl.  And I know a lot of people wish bloggers would go ahead and use everyone's real names already...but I'm trying to give my family a modicum of privacy, if possible.)  We spent the holiday here at Oyster Haven, our soon-to-be VRBO rental house on Lake Champlain.  It was good to give the place a second "test run."   (The first was with our baby back in late October, before he headed off to a three-year stint in Germany.)

I've been feeling a bit empty since the gang left.  There's still so much to do here at the house to get it ready for rentals, so I should be too busy to feel blue; but I miss all the noise and activity that you have with little ones underfoot.  My husband had to fly out to the West Coast last yesterday, so that just made me feel more lonely.

Instead of wallowing in self-pity, though, I decided to make lemonade out of lemons, if you will.

One of the kinks we discovered while our boy and his family were here last week was that a little shelf I'd hung on the wall was an accident waiting to happen and should be taken down before we have any paying customers.  This sweet antique beauty was left by the previous owners, and from the looks of it, might even be original to this circa 1830's farmhouse.  I thought it looked lovely hanging on a wall in the dining room.
We now have a claw-foot oval oak table (an antique reproduction that I plan to eventually transform with a shabby-chic paint finish), handed down to us by my husband's sister (at my favorite price: free!), and also some borrowed chairs that we used for our Thanksgiving feast.  So the room was a little more crowded, and as our son was walking past the shelf he bumped into it with his shoulder.  It wasn't even a hard bump, and yet the fragile thing broke into pieces.  So--the shelf is gone, and I've moved the silver wreath over to the spot where it used to hang. ( And now I'm working on a project involving that old window...but more about that later.)
Okay, so another thing about this house is that it used to have several cats living in it.  Although we had them as pets when I was growing up, I am not a fan of felines.  At all.  And neither is my husband.  (I've written about this aversion to cats in the past, if you want to read this very old post, or maybe this one.)

Just around the corner from the dining room, in a little hallway on the right, there is a door that goes down to the basement.  Like all the doors in this house, it's a sturdy old solid wood door--but look what those cat-loving owners did to it!
Aaarrrggghhh!!!  Why would anyone ruin a perfectly good door like that?  Oh, I guess so that they wouldn't have to have the kitty litter box upstairs on the main floor.  But still.  Lemons, that's all I saw whenever I looked at that cat door down there.

So I decided to make lemonade.

Back in NH, I have a scroll saw that made it possible for me to sketch the outline of a cat onto a piece of thin plywood and then cut it out along the pencil lines.  On a recent trip home, I did just that, and then painted my homemade cat silhouette black.  When we arrived here for Thanksgiving week, I attached it to the door, right near the cut-out area.
I liked the fake cat (emphasis on fake), but this tableau was still missing something.  A cover for that cat door, for one thing.  Since buying this place, we've already caught four mice who were living down in the basement--and we didn't want their buddies to start using that nifty little entrance to migrate upstairs.  So I covered the hole from behind, using a scrap of faux wainscoting that we had in our NH basement.
And as you can see, I also added a mouse.  I just couldn't help myself; I always like to add a touch of whimsy to our home[s].

It's a little silly, maybe.  But I hope not tacky.  What do you think?  Will our VRBO guests think it's fun...or will they think I'm crazier than a crazy cat lady?

I realize some of you who are reading this might be cat people, and therefore you think that cats are so wonderful that they're already lemonade.  If so, I'm sorry if this post offended you in any way.  But I can't emphasize enough that the only good cat--in this woman's humble opinion, anyway--is a wooden one.

Have a great week!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

What Are You Thankful For?

For their visit with us at Oyster Haven, our twin granddaughters brought along some Thanksgiving decorations that they'd made at their homeschool co-op to show their Papa and me.  These homemade turkeys are so delightful that we're going to use them as centerpieces for our Thanksgiving dinner tonight. 

On the feathers of the twins' turkeys, they've listed some of the things they're thankful for.
So tell me, what are you thankful for?  (Besides cows and horses, and pumpkin pie and stuffing, of course.)

God bless you, dear readers, on this beautiful holiday and always.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


It's been a busy, happy week here at Oyster Haven, where we've been enjoying time with our oldest son, his wife, and their four daughters (four and under).

If you come to String of Pearls often, you know that Oyster Haven is the name we've given to the house on Lake Champlain that we bought a few months ago and are setting up as a VRBO rental property (until my husband retires, and we sell our NH house and move there for good; or until we can afford to own two homes outright--whichever comes first!).

I've been working on the interiors for a while now, and having fun deciding what kind of special amenities we'll provide to make our guests feel comfortable during their stay.

Renters are not going to get the same treatment as our granddaughters, however; for our girlies, we left out some special blankies at the ends of their beds,
and some special horse toys on their nightstand,
and let's not forget Grammy's very own trio of baby dolls--the ones she always shares with her granddaughters when they come to visit.
When not mothering those baby dolls or reading books that we've had since their daddy and his brothers were little boys, the girls have been enjoying visiting with our "horse neighbor," as they call him.  Because aside from a lake in Oyster Haven's back yard, there is also an old barn across the street...and living inside of it is a real-live horse named "Buddy."  Buddy's owner has given us the green light to pay him visits whenever we want, so...

When we're not visiting Buddy, we're exploring the beach (for short spells--it's a tad cold to enjoy it to its fullest right now).

Looking at these pictures, is it any wonder that I'm feeling so #thankful this week?  (Don't ask me why I put the hashtag on there.  Just trying to be current, I guess.  You know, to keep up with the cool kids.)

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with family and friends--and football, of course.  We'll just be holding down the fort here.  It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Boston, Here We Come!

Tonight, Notre Dame plays Boston College at Fenway Park in Boston, a city with deep Irish-American roots.  It's actually an away game for BC and a home game for the Irish, their "Shamrock Series" game for 2015. (Each year since the Shamrock Series began in 2009, ND has had one home-away-from-home game per season on its schedule.)
So tonight, my husband and I are going to be at Fenway, cheering on our boys in blue green and gold.  They're going to be wearing new uniforms designed specially for the occasion.


You know what else looks pretty ding-dang snazzy?  Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, with a football field where the baseball diamond should be.
That's Fenway's famous "Green Monster" on the left.

I am so excited for this game.  We put in for tickets ages ago, knowing that it might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Notre Dame play a football game at this historic ball field--and lucky for us, it's only about an hour's drive from our home.

Right after the game ends (very late tonight!), we're heading up to our lake house in NY to meet up with our oldest son and his family (he's the dad of four daughters, four and under) to spend Thanksgiving week together.

Notre Dame at Fenway...grandchildren at Oyster just doesn't get any better than this.

Go Irish!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The T Pages are Totally Finished!

Remember that ABC Book I've been working on (or mostly NOT working on) for my grandchildren?

Well, way back in June, I finished the first T page, as a birthday homage to my identical twin granddaughters (the oldest of my beloved grandchildren) who were turning four at the time.

Five months later, I've finally gotten around to doing the second T page--because I'm determined to finish this book by the time the twins turn five!!  And if I want to do that, I've got to get a move on.

Another motivator to finish, oddly enough, has been the positive comments about my little homemade picture book that I've received here in my combox at String of Pearls.  (I may not have the most readers of all the bloggers on the Internet; but I've got the best and the sweetest, hands down!)  Several people have said that they think I should actually publish and sell the ABC Book, and that they'd buy a copy if I did.  And while I won't hold them to that, the interest they've shown has helped to inspire me to complete the project while my grandchildren are still in the right age bracket to enjoy it.

So here are the T's.  (10 letters down, only 16 left to go!)

Aside from encouragement from readers to keep working on the ABC Book, I can't tell you the number of blessings that have been showered upon me by this little old blog of mine.  Some of the people who have stopped by here over the past four-plus years have enriched my life in ways that I never could have imagined before I took the plunge and set up shop in the Catholic blogosphere.

One of them is Erin, an Australian blogger (a homeschooling mom of TEN!).  She was on Goodreads recently and saw a comment about Finding Grace in a Catholic fiction discussion about the "most underrated Catholic books."  She took time out of her busy life to send me this email:
go read comment no 9
you get a rave:)

The comment Erin saw actually came from another longtime online friend of mine, Catholic author Amy M. Bennett, someone I never would have "met" (and become Facebook friends with) if she hadn't read Finding Grace...which she never would have heard of, if not for her connection to blogger Therese Heckenkamp, whom I had contacted to see if she would post some information about Finding Grace on her Catholic fiction website, and with whom I have been corresponding for years now...and so on and so on.  It's like a ripple effect!  There are so many interconnections.

I find it truly amazing that this extraordinary world has been opened up to me.  The Internet--and for me especially, blogging--has certainly made it possible to "meet" people I never would have otherwise had the opportunity to know.  That's why even though it's become harder for me to post here as frequently as I used to, I am determined to keep this blog up and running.  Who knows how many new friends are out there, just waiting for me to find them?

Okay, I'll be posting pages for another finished letter before you know it.  I mean it.  No kidding.

And have a great weekend!

Monday, November 16, 2015

WIWS: A Talbot's Happiness-Spreading Dress, with a Holiday Sweater

I just read a thought-provoking blog post called "I Miss Blogs."  It was written by Christy, whose site is called Fountains of Home, and it really resonated with me.  Christy talks about how much things have changed in the world of Catholic mom blogs in the past few years--and even I have noticed the difference.  So many people who used to post daily or almost daily (myself included!) have turned to other forms of social media, like Instagram, to get their writing fixes.  Some of the bigger blogs (like Camp Patton) have closed up shop altogether (and Grace, we sure do miss you!).  It seems that more and more blogs are filled with sponsored posts--which is a good thing for many moms who need to help with the family finances and are able to earn money from home, while caring for (and often homeschooling) their children.  But all these things have changed the flavor of the blogosphere a bit.

Amelia, from One Catholic Mama, made this comment on Christy's post: "I miss the old days as well. This past Sunday, I thought about linking up with WIWS, but then never did, because I felt silly linking up when not many other bloggers linked up either."  And it made me realize that I haven't really been that excited about the whole link-up thing lately, because I've had trouble even keeping up with my little old blog, to say nothing of trying to remember the fun weekly blog gatherings that I used to enjoy being a part of.  Truth be told, I haven't been a very diligent blogger in the year of Our Lord 2015 (this year, my output is about 1/3 what it's been each of the previous years since I started in 2011).  There are good reasons for this, of course; I've been on the road almost constantly, traveling about to visit my large and ever-growing family--which includes six grandchildren to date.

But like Amelia, I used to feel so energized by connecting with my fellow Catholic bloggers.  I used to get a kick out of linking up for What I Wore Sunday, and seeing the fashionable outfits all my blogging friends had put together to wear to Mass that week.  So because like Christy and Amelia, I miss the way I felt about blogging when I started out, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I'm going to do a WIWS post today.  Don't even try to stop me; I'm doing this.  I got my favorite fashion photographer out of retirement to snap some pictures for me.  So here we go.
The main component of my Mass outfit yesterday was a sleeveless knit sheath from Talbot's, purchased at an after-season sale last year for a whole lot less than the [much too high] regular price.  It's a beautiful purple color, one of my favorite shades.  (Confession: I got this dress in bright red and yummy green, too, because my husband insisted.  No lie, he insisted.  He's the best.)  My husband's sister, a Talbot's shopper from way back, has a theory about their classic, well-tailored clothing: she vows that it makes you feel so happy when you wear it that you end up spreading happiness wherever you go.  Everyone wins, you see. 

I love getting dressed up for Mass.  I adhere to the time-honored tradition of putting on your "Sunday best."  So even though we're not quite into the holiday season yet (despite the decorations that you're seeing at your local mall), I paired my happiness-spreading dress with a 3/4-sleeved black holiday sweater, embellished with sparkly beads at the neckline.  The sweater was a bargain-priced TJMaxx find.
I promise you, I am not four feet tall.  I tend to look extremely short and Hobbit-like in these WIWS photos.  I am wearing comfy flats (my go-to black ballet flats)...but still.

Completing the outfit: black opaque tights, a staple of mine.  Unless you're getting up there in years like I am, you may not be able to relate; but for this Grammy, there isn't a better varicose vein-hiding wardrobe item in the world than a pair of nice thick tights.

Let's take a close look at that holiday sweater, shall we?
Okay, my hair is hiding most of the gems, so let's try again.  (Thanks, honey.  I'll take it from here.  It's selfie time!)
Look at the way those beads reflect the light.  They make me as happy as my dress does!
There was one last accessory to complete the ensemble: my new Grace Kelly-style glasses, which my husband loves but which I still avoid wearing most of the time, because I can't get used to the old-school look of them.
I feel like this is how they look on me.
Although that's not so bad, I guess.  I mean, who is happier, or spreads more happiness, than SpongeBob?  (His duds must be from Talbot's.)

One thing before I go.  If my daughters-in-law are reading this: what are your thoughts on holiday cardigans with sparkly embellishments?  No reason.  I was just curious.

Now if you'd like to see what other [much younger, much hipper, less veiny] fashionistas were wearing this Sunday, head on over to Fine Linen and Purple.

(P.S. I just checked in this morning, and their link-up for this week isn't posted yet; so I may be on my own here after all...but I'll keep checking, and as soon as it's up, I'm there!  Because, you know, be there or be square[pants]!)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

DIY Project: Half-Bath Renovation

So, do you like DIY home improvement posts?

I mean, do you live for the latest episode of HGTV's "Fixer Upper," and like to imagine that you are Joanna Gaines and your husband is Chip?  Because that's us lately, that's my guy and me.

We have been working on a bathroom renovation project: one that we thought would take about a week at most, but ended up taking many weeks, due to unforeseen setbacks along with many hiatuses--hiati?--to travel hither and yon, because we love our kids and grandkids (and going to Notre Dame football games) so much more than we love working on our house.

But it's finally done!  And I'm so excited to show it off.

Are you ready?  Okay then!  (Yes, it's another bathroom post!  But this is not becoming a bathroom blog, I promise you!)

Our downstairs half-bath, which doubles as our laundry room, has seen very little change in the 25 years we've lived in this house.  Aside from painting the walls and adding wallpaper borders (and painting a cute little trompe l'oeil squirrel sitting shyly on the heat register), we haven't really changed it much.

When we bought the house, there were nice solid-wood folding doors that hid the washer and dryer in their alcove; but they never really worked, because they really didn't provide enough room for those appliances.  Early on, we did remove them, and I hung a shower curtain rod on the wood molding, so that I could hide all the mess and clutter behind a curtain and give the illusion that there was a shower stall back there.  As in, you know, something that actually belonged in a bathroom...unlike, for instance, a washer and dryer!
So here are some "Before" shots.  (Note the mismatched vanity there on the right, with the laminate countertop and doors, and the oak drawer fronts that my husband fashioned himself when the laminate ones got water-damaged).
Here's the old vanity, kicked to the curb, waiting for the garbage truck to haul it away.  She served us very well for many years; but I have to admit, we won't miss her
Taking everything out gave me the opportunity to remove not one, but TWO layers of wallpaper border (I can't believe I was so lazy that I didn't remove one before I put up the other!), and to give the entire room (even the washer and dryer alcove, which had  never been painted) a fresh coat of paint to match the rest of the bathroom.
I remember now that I repainted the bathroom's original antique white walls after the wallpaper border was already up (pasted on over an older border!); so I had Home Depot custom tint a can of paint for me, so that I could match the newer border perfectly.  I was really into borders back in the day. I was the wallpaper border queen.  I was not about to take down those country-cute heart thingys up there when I repainted the room.  Better to get matching paint than to remove those, right?  (Yikes.)

The bathroom's original floor was off-white (ish) 8" tile; but pretty much from day one, it had cracks in it.  And I could never get it to look clean, no matter what I used to scour it.
So there you have it.  That was one ugly little bathroom.  (I'm exaggerating--it wasn't that bad.  But it was tired and dated and needed some sprucing up.)

The first step in the renovation, once the toilet, vanity, washer, and dryer had been removed from the room, was to demolish all the old tile so that my husband could lay the new 12" travertine tiles we'd purchased at Home Depot.  (Travertine is a term I'd never even heard before I became an HGTV addict this past winter.)
As you can see, the squirrel was horrified by the mess we created.

But soon, there was a glorious new floor, laid with precision and care by the best handyman I know.
After my husband had completely finished laying the tile, and all the grouting had been done, this happened.
Yes, that's a hole in that tile.  It appeared when my husband stood on a chair to do some finish work on the walls; and the only solution was to break up the broken tile, replace it with a new one, and re-grout it.
I have to say that I would not recommend travertine, because it is so porous and prone to chipping and breakage.  Especially since they make a porcelain look-alike that is so much more durable. But after that one hiccup, we had a gorgeous new floor.

Aside from the floor, the biggest change in the bathroom was the vanity.  We actually purchased one from Home Depot, made of dark "wood" (particle board!), with a nice marble top and set-in sink.
But when we went to install it, it didn't fit around the the pipes in the wall.  The way it was constructed, there was no way for my husband to change the configuration of the inside to make it work with the plumbing.  On a whim, I measured the vanity top and ran upstairs to see if we had an old dresser that was the right size to be converted into a vanity...and I was so excited to see that this elderly beauty (the first piece of furniture my husband and I ever bought when we were newlyweds in 1980, from a little antiques shop in Texas) had the perfect dimensions!
So my husband started demo on the dresser, by first removing the top.
(In the background: another bathroom badly in need of a facelift! 
But that's a project for another time!)
Then he reworked the two large bottom drawers, so that they would still be usable for storage but would also fit around the pipes.  (The two top drawer fronts are nailed in place and are now for show only.)
Okay, now for some "After" pictures!
We removed the wood moldings around the laundry alcove, which opened up the room a lot.  I may hang a shower curtain again to hide the washer and dryer.  But in the meantime, I've tried to organize the laundry area so that it's not such an eyesore.

So here it is again, the "Before":
And the "After":
I love this bathroom now--mostly because of the custom-made vanity that my husband created by re-purposing a well-loved piece of furniture.  I'm actually glad now that the pre-fab Home Depot vanity didn't work out!

So what do you think?  Is this little half-bath/laundry room "Fixer Upper"-worthy?  I'd love to hear from you!