Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I'm Back, and Life Will Never Be the Same

If you've been checking in here and wondering why it's been almost a month since I last posted something at String of Pearls, there's a very good reason for my hiatus.  On November 25, my dad passed away.  We had known that he was probably terminal, but were hopeful that his chemo treatments were going to buy him some time--even a year or two, according to the best case scenario.  On November 21, however, he got very sick and had to be admitted to the ER; that very day, he got the devastating news that his leukemia was not responding to the chemo and he had at most a week or two to live.
My older brother took this picture of my Dad and his bride of
60 years not long after he got the bad news.
Dad had previously thought he wanted to die at home, and we were preparing to be trained by hospice so that we could fulfill his wishes; but he ultimately chose to spend his last days at the hospital.  I believe it helped him to keep from getting anxious, having all that medical staff nearby.

However, it was anything but lonely there for him.  Every day, it was like there was a party in his room, with talking, laughter, food and drink.  He was always surrounded by loved ones: his wife, his sister, his kids, his grandkids, and even a few of his great-grandkids were there with him, so that he was never alone.  And it was simply an amazing time--joy-filled in its way, if you can believe that.  As one of my sisters said, it was like we were having a big Irish wake...but the guest of honor actually got to be present to party along with everyone else.
Dad's doctors even allowed him his nightly after-dinner glass of Tia Maria (which he hid under his tray whenever the nurses came around, even though it was written right on his chart that he was allowed to have it!).
Cheers, Dad!

Look at his happy smile.  My mom is by his side;
my daughter-in-law Preciosa and grandson G-Man are on
his bed.

This is our second-oldest son, who along with our middle son
was there to say good-bye as Dad passed on to the next life.
(Notice that Dad is resting his hand on Mom's arm; he never
stopped touching here when she was in the room with him.)
Dad ("Bigfoot" to his grandkids and great-grandkids) was completely lucid and fully engaged with those around him, telling lots of stories and even jokes; he kept his sense of humor until the very end.  "How are you doing, Leon?" a nurse would ask; and he would chuckle and respond with a wry, "I've been better."  Here's an excerpt from my Christmas newsletter, just to give you an idea of what my father's passing was like: A whole bunch of us (including his beloved wife, his three daughters and their husbands, a number of grandchildren, and three of his ten great-grandchildren) brought a lasagna dinner to the hospital and celebrated Thanksgiving with him: he smiled and raised his after-dinner glass of Tia Maria for a toast; he regaled us with stories of his first date with my mom and their short courtship before he asked her to marry him.  Then just hours later, not long after midnight, he died with a brown scapular around his neck as we stood around his bed, praying and laying our hands on him.  He was enjoying the company of his family almost to his last moments, and he did not suffer.  His was the holiest, the most peaceful death one could ever imagine.  You couldn’t script a more perfect passing from this earthly life to the eternal one.  God love him; he had a hard life in many ways, but was also very blessed and never took his blessings for granted.  I hope Dad’s enjoying a beautiful Christmas in Heaven, most especially with the father he lost when he was only six.  May he rest in peace!

Dad died one day shy of his 82nd birthday.  He really wanted to make it to the 26th, but God had other plans for his birthday celebration.  I have so much to say about my dad's last days and hours, so much I want to write down and post here because I feel it absolutely must be shared.  But I have been suffering from the most severe writer's block I have ever experienced.  There is so much to say, and I fear that no matter how hard I try, I won't be able to do the story justice.  But in the days to come, I'm going to force myself to sit in front of this computer and try to get it all down, while the details are still fresh enough in my mind.  I don't want to forget one minute of it...but actually, if I live to be 100, I don't think I could ever forget it.  The experience of watching my dad face the end of his earthly life with such courage and peace was profoundly life-changing for me.

I had our Christmas cards printed up months ago, because for once we were ahead of the game: we had a great family picture, with--miracle of miracles!--all 18 of us together (including all 7 grandchildren), since we'd had the forethought to have a professional photographer take pictures during our week-long family reunion this summer at our Oyster Haven retreat on Lake Champlain.  But I haven't had the heart to finally start addressing the envelopes and getting them in the mail.  Today, I am forcing myself to do so. 
And in the coming days, I will post more about my father and his extraordinary passing from his earthly life to his eternal one.  Until then, God bless you and yours throughout this holiday season and always.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Blog Blessings (Books and More Books!); and Dumpster Diving's still a thing, right?  I hope so!

I just don't seem to have the time (or maybe it's the energy, or the mental focus, or a combination of all those factors) to write lately, in case you're wondering why things have been so quiet here at String of Pearls.  Life seems a bit too hectic and out of control these days--even though these are supposed to be the slow-moving empty-nest years, when we finally get to kick back and relax, because we no longer have school and sports schedules to keep up with and the care and feeding of five growing boys to worry about...

Wait, is that how it's supposed to work?  Because the opposite seems to be true, and my husband and I seem to be busier than we ever were when our five sons lived under our roof with us.

When we're not on the road, for any number of reasons (visiting our boys and their wives and children, going to Notre Dame games or family weddings, taking care of my aging parents as they become more and more dependent on the help of my siblings and me, checking up on and/or cleaning our VRBO house on Lake Champlain, etc.), we're home in NH, working to get our house ready to sell--after calling it home for the past 26 years. 

Phew!  Do you think we're tired?  We are!  (And by the by: there will be some fun posts in the near future, with before and after photos to show you how our house renovation projects are coming along.  As I write this, laminate wood flooring is being installed throughout our upstairs, replacing the sad and tired 26-year-old gray carpeting that my husband and I tore out ourselves.  Our bedrooms are going to be absolutely beautiful!)

Anyway, as hard as it is sometimes to find the time to write a new post, I really want to do my best to keep at it, because in the five-plus years that I've been a blogger I have received an inordinate amount of blessings.  Through this little blog of mine, I've made online friends that I truly cherish, some of whom I've had the pleasure to meet in person, and others whom I would love to meet one day.  And I've been contacted by folks who never would have known I existed if not for String of Pearls.

For instance, not too long ago I got an email from a young gal at Beacon Publishing, who'd stumbled upon my site while doing a Google search for potential Catholic bloggers who might make good book reviewers. What was really neat and almost unbelievable is that in a true "it's a small world" coincidence, this girl wrote that she had actually gone on a date with my youngest son, when he was a senior at Notre Dame and she was a junior, about a week before his graduation.  She went on to thank me for raising a respectful and chivalrous, Godly and genuine young man.  She said that I must be a proud mama (oh, I am!).  The purpose of her email was to ask me if I would be willing to accept a review copy of one of Beacon's titles, and of course I was thrilled to do so.  But it was what she said about my son that made my eyes well up with tears--THAT was the real gift.

Not long after I wiped my eyes and blew my nose, look what showed up in our mailbox (two books, not one!)--and this never would have happened if I hadn't shyly dipped my toes into the populated waters of Catholic blogging back in 2011, with the encouragement of my first daughter-in-law.  I am one lucky blogger, and don't I know it!
Stay tuned for reviews of these two books (Matthew Kelly's
Resisting Happiness and Danielle Bean's You're Worth It!)
in the near future!
So I do love blogging, both for the writing outlet it provides and the opportunities it gives me to connect with readers, other authors, and other moms with whom I share so many common interests and experiences.  Realizing that this cyber-community existed back in 2011 was life-changing for me, and I've loved being even a small player in the Catholic blogosphere all these years.  But about a year or so ago, I noticed that many of my favorite bloggers had made the switch to Instagram, and at first I didn't understand the appeal.  However, as my life has gotten busier lately, I find that I'm much more likely to 'gram than to blog.  It's so much quicker!  So I get it now.  (BTW: when there's nothing going on here at my blog, you can click on the Instagram icon on the side bar and check out my Insta-posts, if you're so moved.)

As if my blog blessings haven't been abundant enough, there have been Instagram blessings, too.  This social media phenom has put me in touch with people I might not have otherwise met.  One of them is Catholic author Stephanie Engleman, with whom I recently did a book exchange.  I sent her a copy of Erin's Ring (and threw in one of Finding Grace, for good measure), and in return she sent me her highly recommended YA novel A Single Bead--which looks SO GOOD.  I can hardly wait to read it.
Stay tuned for a review of this one, too.
So I've got some reading to do--which is always a treat for me rather than a chore.  The trick will be trying to find the time for such a guilty pleasure in the midst of the chaos and demands of my current life.  Right now, my husband and I have a huge dumpster sitting in our driveway.  We've already loaded it with the sad old carpeting that we tore out of our upstairs bedrooms and the outdated toilet, vanity, and tile flooring from our recently demolished upstairs bathroom.  Now we're going through our garage, basement, and attic and disposing of all the junk we've managed to accumulate in the past quarter of a century, items that are too mildewed or broken or rusted or worn-out to donate to charity.  Sometimes it's a bit painful ("You want to throw out those plastic sleds?" I ask pathetically, remembering the little boys who once sat on them, red-cheeked and smiling), but other times it's the best feeling ever ("I had no idea how we were going to dispose of those broken mirrors, and those remnants of construction materials from long-finished house projects!" I say, relieved beyond measure).

It's a process.  And it's coming along.  And I will write more about our renovations and preparations for the big move, I promise; but today, I just don't have the heart.  So I'll leave you with a few pictures that tell the story better than I ever could.
This bathroom was good enough for five growing boys to
share; but it needed a facelift for sure--it was hardly ready
for its HGTV close-up.

My husband and I tore up all the carpet in the upstairs
ourselves, and removed every tack and staple.  (Ugh!)  But 
we saved $1,000 on the new floor installation by doing so. 

First thing in the dumpster: that nasty carpet!

Try as I might, I could not come up with a good reason to keep
this catapult project that our youngest son made for his high
school Latin class.  (Note the TMNT cereal bowl--a
nice touch!)   So into the dumpster it went...sniff!!

For a family with NO baseball players in it, we sure had a lot of
gloves!  I was going to donate them, then realized that they
were covered with mildew and into the dumpster
they went, to join all the moldy, deflated footballs and
basketballs that we found in every nook and cranny of the

Our master bedroom floor, ready for its make-over.

Oh, baby!  Aren't these floors gorgeous?!

Our whole upstairs is getting floors  like this! 
As if I didn't love this house enough already,
it now has the floors of my dreams!

So that's a taste of what's to come.  I'm going to post before and after pictures of all of our bedrooms; my husband and I are trying to give them a "Fixer Upper" vibe that will appeal to savvy house-hunters.  (We'll see how we do with that...)

Until next time, you can find me on Instagram.

Monday, November 7, 2016

My Sunday Best: The Usual, with a Dash of Panache (and Also Nerdiness!)

I'm linking up with sweet and adorable Rosie, a fashionable mom of five-soon-to-be-six little ones, over at "a blog for my mom"--to show you the Sunday Best outfit I wore to Mass this week.  (I was going to say this morning; but it's almost midnight right now, so by the time I get this finished and posted, it will actually be Monday.)
I was feeling like quite the fashionista by the time I had put my church ensemble together, I tell you.  I mean, it's true that I was wearing what I almost always wear: a black skirt, black tights, and black leather flats.  I could just about live in black skirts, truly; I have six of them, in different lengths and styles, but I think the one I wore this Sunday (a TJ Maxx find from years ago) is my all-time favorite.  It's swingy and comfortable and slimming, all at the same time.
I often pair my usual black skirt with a colorful sweater, and that's just what I did here.  This soft, cowl-neck beauty (east 5th brand, from JC Penney a few winters ago) is such a glorious shade of royal blue--the picture doesn't do the color justice.

But here's where the panache part comes in: I almost never wear belts; but for this Sunday Best ensemble, I added a wide, stretchy belt (a bargain from--where else?--TJ Maxx) at the waist.  I had forgotten I even owned this snazzy accessory; but we've been cleaning out all of our closets in order to rip up the carpeting in them (we're having new wood laminate floors installed throughout our upstairs--woo hoo!!), and guess where I found it?  That's right, it was buried in the back of my closet, where it just might have languished yet another 26 years if we weren't in the process of getting our home ready to sell!
As if the groovy belt didn't add enough panache to my outfit, I decided I needed a little bling, too.  So I broke out my 14-carat gold charm bracelet (the one filled with charms my husband has picked out for me himself as gifts over the years), which I don't wear nearly often enough, as the T-Rex tail tends to get snagged on loose-weave fabrics.
But it wasn't all flash and panache, glitter and gold; there was a pretty nerdy-looking accessory involved in my get-up as well: my Grace Kelly-style glasses, which I've been forcing myself to wear more lately (even though I don't think they are all that becoming on me), because my husband loves them so much.
I know large plastic frames are the "in" thing for glasses right now (it's like we're back in the 80's--an era not exactly known for its fashion "do's"!),l but I still can't help but feel nerdy in them.  Kind of like this lovable but very nerdy guy here.
Seriously, though, I do love to dress up for Mass.  And I know there are plenty of other gals who enjoy putting on their Sunday best every week, too.  Why, you could meet some of them if you head on over to Rosie's.  So off with you now.  And God bless you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #25): Giveaway Winners!

Hi, readers!

I haven't been here for a whole week.  Sheesh, I don't know why it's become so hard for me to keep up with this blog on anything even close to resembling a daily basis, which is the way I started out five years ago!

Or perhaps I do know...Let's just say that there's a lot going on in my life right now, making it so that I am rarely in my own home and able stick to any sort of regular routine.  Tonight, however, I am actually in my house in NH, after lots of time spent on the road visiting elderly sick parents and tall strapping sons and wee adorable grandchildren. (Not to mention Prague. Which was amazing.)  It's so good to be home!  But it isn't exactly relaxing: my arms and shoulders are aching tonight, after a long day of painting one of the many rooms that I intend to paint in the coming weeks as part of our valiant effort to get this house we've lived in for 26 years ready to sell.


I do have time for a quick book club "meeting."
Especially since I need to announce the five winners of the Erin's Ring giveaway!  Thank you to everyone who helped me to spread the word about the contest on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter during the past two months.  I am more grateful than I can ever tell you, and I wish I had a copy of the book for everyone who pitched in.  But here are the winners:

Micaela Darr
Christine (Epiphanies of Beauty)
Aileen Searles
Amy Cattapan
Marlin Weenie

If your name is on the list, please contact me, using the "Email Me" button on the sidebar on the right, to provide a mailing address for your copy of Erin's Ring.

I am especially happy to announce the winners of this particular novel, featuring some plucky 19th-century Irish-Catholic immigrants who made a huge difference in the New England town where my husband and I raised our five sons, on this particular date; because it's not only All Saints day, but also my late mother-in-law's birthday.  She was an Irish lass through and through, with a father who came from County Cork at the age of 19 and never went back to the Old Sod.  (He is mentioned in the dedication at the front of the book.)  Mom's father died when she was only 10 and she missed him terribly her whole life; I like to think of them together now, in a place even more beautiful than the Emerald Isle.
Again, thanks to all who shared my posts.  Hopefully, this contest helped to give Erin's Ring some added visibility that it might not otherwise have gotten.  I dearly hope that all who receive a copy will enjoy it and pass it on.

And happy birthday to my beautiful, beloved mother-in-law, with her smiling Irish eyes.  She is sorely missed, never forgotten.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays ("Meeting" #24): Austen Talk, and a Giveaway Reminder

It's Book Club time again!  Because Tuesday's child is full of Grace...and Molly, and Theresa, and--well, you get the idea.  ;)

I do love the meme I've been using for the club.  When I found this vintage-y-looking drawing of this sailor suit-clad little Victorian lass reading a book, it was like, "Bingo!"  It was perfect--just what I was looking for.  (Why don't little girls wear gigantic hair bows like this anymore?!)

Anyhoo--let's talk books.

Some readers might deduce that my first novel, Finding Grace, is at least partly autobiographical, since Grace Kelly starts high school the very same year I did, falls in love with a handsome, gap-toothed boy like I did, etc., etc., etc.  But it really isn't.  However, I don't think a novelist--especially a first-time novelist--can help but have parts of themselves and the people and places with which they are most familiar in their first efforts; at least that was true for me.  But if this sort of thing is good enough for the likes of  Jane Austen, then I suppose it's good enough for me.  Here are some quotes about Austen's writing that I've used before here at the book club:

"Jane wrote her early pieces for the amusement of her family and friends, and she put in shared jokes, teasing jibes, and allusions to real events in their lives."

"Austen is never autobiographical in the crude sense of recording what happened to her or to people she knew.  But a real situation was sometimes her starting point and developed in her imagination as something quite separate from the 'real'."

Please don't think I'm trying to say that I should ever even be mentioned in the same breath as that esteemed 19th-century author (the nerve!); but those passages from Jon Spence's biography Becoming Jane Austen perfectly describe the method to my madness when it comes to writing fiction.  Many of the characters and scenes in my books come completely from my imagination; but others have their starting points with real people or situations and then develop into something entirely different in order to fit into my story.  (Case in point: at our last "meeting," I told you how I took a loving pat on the head from my future father-in-law, a gesture that made an indelible impression on me, and transformed it into a touching exchange between Tom and Grace in Finding Grace.)

There is less of me and the people I know in Erin's Ring.  Having spent four-and-a-half years bleeding onto the page (that is, onto the computer screen) with Finding Grace, I thought that was the one and only novel I would ever write; when I finally finished it, I was pretty sure that I didn't have another one in me.  So Molly and Theresa, the main characters in Erin's Ring, are wholly fictional creatures--unlike Grace Kelly, whose confidence issues, shyness, and deep love for a boy she meets in high school were well-known to me.  The only trait Molly and I share is an obsession with combing through the attics of old houses in search of treasures that hint at a romantic past.  At her age, if I'd found an antique Irish Claddagh ring buried in the dirt, engraved with the names of two lovers, I would have been every bit as intrigued by it as she is.

That being said, Molly's dad is an airline pilot (like my husband) who is also a talented wood-worker (like my husband).  And Molly's parents have just the sort of loving relationship--one with lots of teasing and laughter, and a deep shared love of family life--with which I have been blessed in my marriage.  I definitely thought of my hubby when I created Dan McCormick.  So there are small bits of my real life embedded in my second book, too.

Okay then, before we adjourn this "meeting"--
I just want to remind you that I'm giving away five free copies of Erin's Ring.  Share news of the giveaway on your favorite form of social media (on your blog, Instagram, or Twitter, using the hashtag #erinsringgiveaway), and you'll be entered to win.   Winners will be chosen and announced on Nov. 1.

I'm not the best marketer/promoter, so I could really use your help sreading the word about this giveaway.  I actually roped my family in to help with the campaign, and look at the photos I've been using, featuring my middle son and my two youngest grandchildren, Princesa and Junior.  These peeps of mine are so adorable that for the first time ever, I got lots of people to re-tweet my tweets on Twitter.  (Really, who can resist these these faces?!)

You're probably smiling now, aren't you?

And on that note: until next time, dear readers...

Monday, October 24, 2016

Pearls in Prague: Part Three

If you come here often you might have read "Pearls in Prague, Part One," wherein I told you that my husband has been flying commercially for 28 years, the last 20 of which he's been working strictly international flights.  And wherein I told you that I never got around to tagging along to see any of the wonderful European cities he'd flown to until 2011, when he'd already been an airline pilot for 23 years.  And wherein I said that I went on a string of awesome trips with him in a relatively short period of time, but then hadn't been able to do so for about four years now.

Then I told you how I played stowaway (make that spoiled business-class traveler) on his most recent four-day trip to Prague, flying over the ocean on October 17 and flying back on the 20th.

So now we're all caught up.

Having a husband who flies here, there, and everywhere makes movie-watching interesting--especially when you live in a house where you are the only woman among six men, so you watch  more action/adventure-type movies, like the Bourne and Mission Impossible franchises, than you do romantic comedies.  These macho sorts of films always seem to be shot in exotic locales like Rome, or Moscow, or Athens, or Paris...or Prague.  All places that my husband has been multiple times.  And as the action is unfolding, he'll usually say something like, "I've been to that plaza."  Or "I've walked on that street."  And I'll usually tease him, saying something like, "Oooh, la-di-da!  You're such a world traveler."  (But actually, he IS a world traveler.  So joke's on me!)

When we were in Prague, I was so taken with the iconic Charles Bridge.  The view is spectacular, to put it mildly.  And all along its length on either side, there are larger-than-life-sized holy statues.  It's truly an homage to the Faith, and so heart-stoppingly beautiful that I think I could spend all day on it and never get bored.  Its wide, cobbled walkway was teeming with tourists the whole time we were there.

And bonus: my husband informed me that now when I watch the first installment of Mission Impossible, which was shot in Prague, I'll be able to do what he usually does and say, "Hey, I recognize that street!  I recognize those stairs!  I stood on that bridge!"  He found this YouTube video clip for me, so that shortly after I'd walked the same route Tom Cruise walks in this scene from the movie, I could watch it on my iPhone and have the thrill of firsthand recognition.
So cool!  That's really how it all looks!

Anyway, without further ado I'll show you some of the photos I took while we were walking across Prague's Charles Bridge (and not falling off of it, like John Voigt's unfortunate character).

I never had even the slightest hankering to see Prague, but I should have.  I would go back there in a heartbeat, I really would.  It's such a clean, beautiful city, so filled with history and Catholic imagery and gorgeous architecture.  I'm still pinching myself when I think, "I was there."
But I was.  I really was!