Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mom's Memories on a Shelf

I wish so much that all four of my daughters-in-law had gotten to meet and know my late mother-in-law, a true second mom to me, a one-of-a-kind lady who left her kids and grandkids much too soon.  If I am succeeding at all at loving my sons' wives well and making them feel welcome in our family, it's because of the excellent example I had in her.

My mother-in-law passed away very suddenly in 2009, before she had the chance to see any of her grandchildren get married.  She died about eight months before our oldest son's wedding.  Our firstborn's wife, Regina, did get to meet and spend a few days with her future husband's grandmother during the summer of 2008, when she came to a Pearl family get-together at the old homestead on Lake Champlain.  But unfortunately, Preciosa, Braveheart, and Ginger, the three other girls who have joined our family since Mom's death, never even got a chance to meet her.

It would be impossible to describe this amazing woman in one blog post.  To tell you the truth, trying to put into words what she was like and how I (and so many others) felt about her simply overwhelms me.  It can't be done.

But she did have a smile that lit up the world.
I'm sorry about the poor quality of this blurry old photo, circa 1991.  But her smile shines through, even in this fuzzy vintage snapshot.

I've been thinking of Mom a lot lately.  I can hardly help it, you see.  My husband and I have been staying at his childhood home this summer, with all of her things about us.  It makes sense for us to stay here, rather than in our NH home, because it's right down the street from Oyster Haven and that makes it easier for us to manage our VRBO property.   (And while we're at it, we get to enjoy the lake that's right in the back yard; there's that, too.)

My husband had to commute to work and fly a trip to Rome, and I'm here all by myself for a few days.  So I thought I'd make myself useful and do some housekeeping and cleaning.  I've been organizing drawers and cabinets, dusting, sorting through some of the clutter and figuring out which items are keepers and which we can donate or toss.  The family has already done a lot of culling and sorting, and yet there is still much to go through.  There are still lots of knickknacks ("objects d'art," Mom used to call them, in her best French accent) gathering lots of dust on the many shelves throughout the house.

Mom was a collector.  She collected china, silver, crystal, religious medals and devotionals, Hummels and other figurines, fabric, high-quality linens...and so many other interesting bits of bric-a-brac.  Many of her precious tchotchkes are of very little monetary or even sentimental value (on a number of them, the TJ Maxx red clearance tags are still stuck to the bottoms).  Those are easy to find new homes for.  But some of Mom's things are essentially priceless.  They either belonged to her own mother, or were acquired during travels, or were given to her by her children.   They tell a story of a life filled with curiosity and purpose, a life well-lived and filled with love.

One of my favorite showcases for some of Mom's memorabilia is this high narrow shelf in the kitchen.  It's been there as long as I can remember (and I first visited this house in 1973, when I started dating my husband); every inch of it is filled with mementos of Mom's beautiful life.

This shelf, which is located right over the island in the center of the big, warm kitchen that is truly the heart of the house, is crammed with cups and saucers, pitchers, and vases, and miniature tea set pieces.  A few of these treasures appear to be new, the kind that often come with FTD floral arrangements.  Some, on the other hand are definitely antiques and might be worth something at auction; they come from Ireland, England, Spain, Germany, Japan...and also from locations in the US, such as Williamsburg, VA. In the past few days, I've taken every single beloved piece down to remove years of dust layers (and even long-dead insect carcasses).  As I was carefully washing each item in a sink filled with soapy water, part of me thought, "We need to get rid of some of this.  All it's doing is gathering dust (and bugs)."

But how in the world could we ever decide which of these well-loved bits of pottery and china should go?  They all meant something to Mom and held special memories for her--and not one of the sweet knickknacks on this particular shelf has a TJ Maxx sticker on it.

Last weekend, my second-oldest son went to the mall and fought through a crowd to meet a pair of local sports-talk radio celebrities.  He came home with bobble-head figurines of the two men, and his wife Ginger was laughing about how much our son loves to collect things (a passion she doesn't share).  Our boy has large collections of hardcover books, decorative bookends, movies on DVD, statues of favorite saints, Notre Dame collectibles, football cards from his boyhood days...well, you get the idea.  I had to laugh, too, because you know, I kind of like to collect things myself: dolls, Catholic artwork and statuary, English transferware dishes, Salmon Falls pottery, nativity sets...again, you get the idea.  And my mother-in-law...I tell you, no one had a greater passion for collecting things--and the memories they hold--than she did.  So the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree with my boy. It's in his genes, I guess.

Well, Mom, I know you'll be happy to hear that I put every single piece of your china and pottery right back where it belongs up there on that shelf above the island, all shiny and clean.  Lined up in the same order, each piece in the place you assigned to it decades ago.  And if this house is still in the family decades from now, I'm sure the whole collection will still be right there, where it's always been, reminding us of you every time we walk into the kitchen.

Oh, and one more thing: I love you, Mom, and I sure do miss you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mary at the Olympics

I've been noticing something about the 2016 Summer Olympics, and it fills my soul with joy: I've been noticing that Mary, Our Blessed Mother, has been a big presence at the games.

When you watched Jamaican sprinting superstar Usain Bolt, a devout Catholic, win the gold in the 100m, did you notice that he was wearing a Miraculous Medal?
You can read more about this inspiring champion, and his devotion to Our Lady, here.

Bolt was not the only track athlete showing his love  for and gratitude to Mary at the games.  Here's a picture (along with a caption) that one of my friends shared on Facebook.
"At the conclusion of the women's 5000m finals on Friday, gold medal winner Meseret Defar of Ethiopia showed where her help comes from. Immediately after crossing the finish line, she pulled a picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help from under her jersey, showed it to the cameras and held it up to her face in prayer."

Our Lady of Grace was there at the track, on a Miraculous Medal, when Usain Bolt crossed the finish line ahead of the pack.  Our Lady of Perpetual Help was there at the track, in the crumpled picture Meseret Defar had hidden under her jersey when she ran for gold. 

And it's not just the Track & Field athletes who pray to Our Blessed Mother for help before competitions.  Gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky reportedly prays a Hail Mary before every race.  (Here's an article about Ledecky, if you'd like to read more.)
I think it's interesting that these athletes with strong Marian devotions are the ones winning the gold medals.

Some might argue that surely, in our crazy, messed-up world, God has more important things to worry about than who wins an Olympic gold medal and who doesn't.  But I would argue that this highly visible world stage in Rio--where athletes from all over the world have come together for sporting events that have millions of people tuned in and glued to their televisions--is actually a perfect venue for promulgating devotion to the Mother of God.  It is an opportunity for so many viewers to see that She listens to the petitions of those who believe in Her and have faith in Her intercessory powers with Her Beloved Son.  It shows that as God-less as the world seems to have become, there are still many faithful among us, even though their voices are often drowned out by the louder ones of the non-believing minority.

If Bolt, Defar, and Ledecky had not even qualified for the finals, would anyone even know about their love for Mary?  Would these stories about medals and prayers be plastered all over social media?  Probably not.  So I don't think it's any coincidence that they've been among the athletes who've stood out at these games.  They have been, in a way, agents of evangelization.

I am so incredibly touched by the stories of Marian devotion that have come out during these Olympic games.  I have not been watching religiously, so I may have missed some.  If you know of any others, please share them with me in the comments!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #19): For the Love of Boys

 "Write what you know."

That's the advice authors are often given when it comes to writing fiction.

I don't know much about many things; but I do know about boys.  And I know about how a mother's heart can literally ache with love for her sons. So I decided to use my own five lovable sons as the inspiration for Grace Kelly's five older brothers in my first novel, Finding Grace (published in 2012 by Bezalel Books), and myself--at least parts of me, anyway--as the inspiration for their adoring mother, Peggy Roach Kelly.       
One of my favorite Kelly Pearl boys, supporting his mama's work.
(He loved the book from the get-go, and devoured it in manuscript
form, but did remark that it really started to pick up around
Chapter 5...when Grace's brothers burst on the scene.) 
Here's an excerpt from Chapter 6 of Finding Grace:

          It was interesting how much the five brothers resembled one another, particularly from behind, where one couldn't see the variations in their facial features.  They were all Roaches, similar in height and build, and all had Peggy's chestnut-colored hair (only Grace had inherited the stature and coloring of the Kelly side).  They shared a gait that was uniquely their own, genetically programmed, so it seemed--the "Kelly boy walk": they sort of dragged their feet, yet bounced, with hands jammed in their pockets and shoulders slightly hunched, their heads leaning forward a bit.  The five of them laughed together easily as they made their way over to the church, looking and acting for all the world like a set of giant quintuplets.  They seemed nearly identical in appearance from this view, and as they say about babies of multiple births, they had almost a language of their own.  They often finished each other's sentences, and laughed at the same moments.  Their hand gestures and the inflections of their speech were uncannily alike. 
          They shared a tight bond that was indeed extraordinary, one that their parents hoped would never be broken.
          Peggy drank them in with her eyes; Grace saw the expression on her mother's face and wished for a moment that she had ever been the one to produce such a look of naked adoration.  Then she watched her brothers loping along ahead of them, and if she'd had a mirror she would have realized that her own face bore an expression very nearly the same as her mother's.
          "Aren't they something special?" Grace thought, filled with tenderness.  Right then she knew more clearly than ever that she hoped she would one day be the mother of many boys.

Although this book is most definitely a work of fiction, the feelings these five endearing Kelly boys stir up in their mother and baby sister were very easy to write...because I've had these very same feelings myself so many times, while watching my boys walking along together, their pleasantly deep voices (and sometimes high-pitched hysterical laughter) filling the air with the best music my ears could ever hear.  In their boyhood days, my husband and I would often follow behind them as they made their way across the church parking lot for Sunday Mass; we'd remark on how they had the same walk, the "Pearl boy walk," and I would drink them in and think that there wasn't a mother alive who had sons as wonderful as mine.  So in the book, I just had to have Peggy and Jack, the boys' parents, and Grace, their sister, following along behind them as they cross the church parking lot.

I wrote what I knew.  I knew those Kelly boys, because they were so much like these guys.

Good boys.  Sweet boys.  Faith-filled boys.  Boys who, while being unique individuals, share so many fine traits and are fiercely protective of one another.  And boys who've always treated their mom like a queen (there's that, too!).

So here are my book club questions for today's post:  If you read Finding Grace, did you like Grace's brothers?  Did they seem real to you?  Which one was your favorite?

I look forward to your comments.  Thanks for stopping by, dear readers! 

(And one last thing: I am looking for book reviewers for both of my novels.  If you might be interested in receiving a review copy of either Finding Grace or Erin's Ring in exchange for an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, and/or your blog, please contact me using the EMAIL ME tab on the sidebar.)

Sunday, August 14, 2016

My Sunday Best: Confessions of a Blogger Stalker

Hey, you know what?  I think I'm going to join Rosie today for the "My Sunday Best" link-up.  (I'm blogging again, I'm linking-up with other bloggers.  Who am I anyway?  For a while there, it almost seemed as if the blog--or at least my blog--was dead...but there's a little life in the old girl yet!)
You might be impressed to find out that I actually know Rosie (A Blog for My Mom).  Well, that's a bit of a white lie--but I have met her and spoken with her, several times.  In real life!  And she's simply adorable.  Like a true blogger stalker, I accosted her in the back of the church once after Mass, when I was down in VA a couple of years ago visiting my second-oldest son and his wife, and in the parking lot of that same church another time.  So I don't really know Rosie.  But my husband and I are seriously considering selling our large Colonial in NH and getting a smaller home down in VA, where we'll be close to 3 of our 5 sons.  (Winters in VA, summers at our Oyster Haven retreat on Lake Champlain: how does that sound for a retirement game plan?)  So there's a possibility that I'll run into her again.  (Fingers crossed!)

I seem to run into a lot of Catholic bloggers whom I admire at churches, or in close proximity to churches.  In 2013, I met Katrina Harrington (Cedars and Tiny Flowers) by the lake across the street from Notre Dame's Sacred Heart Basilica, right after Sunday Mass.  (We were headed out to South Bend for a football weekend, and I actually screwed up the courage to contact her ahead of time and ask if we could meet!)  That was back when her oldest son was just a toddler and she was expecting son #2.

My Sunday best that day was a black denim skirt that had long been (and still is) one of my wardrobe staples, paired with a short-sleeved cardigan with pearl buttons, in royal blue, one of my favorite colors to wear.  (But the gal standing next to me in this picture is the one who really looks like royalty--isn't she gorgeous?)
I also had a photo op with Dwija (House Unseen, Life Unscripted) a couple of months ago. I was visiting my oldest son and his family, who are members of the same parish as the Borobias.  After Mass, there was a big going-away party for the parish's beloved young pastor, who had been reassigned; and since I'd promised my second-oldest son's wife Ginger that I would say hi to Dwija if I ran into her and tell her what a big fan of hers Ginger was, I did just that. After we talked, I left without getting a picture, because I was feeling a little embarrassed about being so star-struck; but my husband insisted that I get one, and he's the one who made this photo happen.

My Sunday best this time was a tea-length flowered sundress that I've had for eons and worn to death (purchased at Costco for about $15) and a black cotton one-button short-sleeved sweater that I found years ago on the clearance rack at Walmart.  (I only shop at high-end clothing establishments, as you can see.)  Dwija looked beautiful in her geometric-print dress--but then again, how could she look anything but beautiful, with that gorgeous face and radiant smile...and that incredibly adorable accessory she's carrying?
I wear the outfit I had on for my photo with Dwija on lots of Sundays in the summer.  It's practically a Mass uniform for me. In early July, when I was down in VA helping out my daughter-in-law Preciosa (she'd fractured her arm, which was very inconvenient for a mom of two under two!), it was my Sunday Mass outfit.  Those three big, good-looking accessories behind me made it look much better than usual.
Seriously, this outfit is so cool and comfortable, I usually don't even bother changing into something else after Mass.  This oft-worn uniform served me well on a walk with my grandson G-Man and his dad, on a sweltering hot July day in VA.  (As he was being pulled along in his wagon, the little guy insisted on holding my hand the whole time--which melted me even more than the Southern sun!)
So these are not outfits that I wore this Sunday for Mass...but they are part of what I consider my Sunday best, so I thought I could get away with posting them here today.

Now if I could just get a picture with Rosie...

While I try to figure out how to make that happen, why don't you head on over to A Blog for My Mom--to get a look at what will undoubtedly be much better fashions than you've seen here!

Friday, August 12, 2016

7QT: Family Reunion at Oyster Haven (#lakesidepearls)

I've gotten so rusty when it comes to blogging this summer, I might have to oil up my fingers with some WD-40 so I can work the keys on this here old laptop of mine!

But I have good excuses, readers, I do--16 of them, to be exact: 5 sons, 4 daughters-in-law, and 7 grandchildren, who came and spent the first week in August with us at our Oyster Haven home on Lake Champlain.  (That doesn't explain the rest of my lazy, hooky-playing summer, though, does it?  But I digress.)

You know what?  I think I'm going to find 7 pictures that I'd like to share with you from our too-good-to-be-true week, amongst the many winners we had taken by an old friend who is also a professional photographer.  So this has now become a 7QT post!
Huzzah!  Blogging AND linking's a banner day here at String of Pearls!

Well, you know how when you build an upcoming event up in your mind ahead of time, and then you worry that it can't help but fall short of your heightened expectations?  That did not happen.  My husband and I have been eagerly anticipating our vacation week with the kids and grandkids for almost a year now, imagining how wonderful it was going to be...and then it ended up being even better than we'd hoped.  I mean, by a mile.

QT #1: A Little Slice of Heaven
The setting helped, of course.  At our Oyster Haven retreat, there is a deck and a large patio out back, and best of all, an expanse of lawn that resembles a football field leading down to a private beach.

And this is the spectacular view from the back yard.

QT #2: Our Boys
We had our whole team together for the week--even our youngest son, who flew home from Germany.  He almost didn't make it, and it was a bit of a "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" sort of disastrous trip for him.  He arrived a few days later than expected, but still was able to spend 4-plus solid quality days with his brothers and their families.  He deemed it worth all the hassles he encountered to get stateside.

So we had our 5 boys with us (they are in birth order here from R to L).

QT #3: Our Girls
And we had our 4 girls with us, too (4 lovely dark-eyed brunettes--because apparently, as was noted in one of our humorous discussions during the week, our sons have a "type"!).

I'd like to show you our beautiful grandchildren as well; but I am trying to respect our oldest son's wish to keep his precious girls' faces off the Internet as much as possible.  Just know that there was cuteness times 7 at Oyster Haven, and that's no exaggeration!  And the little cousins really seemed to enjoy being together for the week.

QT #4: The Team Captain and His Co-Captain
My husband and I are as proud as can be of our team of Pearls.  We had our daughter-in-law Preciosa, a talented t-shirt designer, make up team shirts for the whole family.  Here's the captain, the #1 guy, and the second member who joined his team when we got married in 1980.

Together...we're Tom Brady.  ;)

QT #5: The Original Team of 7
And here's the original team of 7, with our boys wearing numbers assigned according to when they joined Team Pearl by birth.  I love the old-school look of these team baseball jerseys.

QT #6: We'll Have These Numbers for Life
The adults will be able to use their shirts for years to come--because we are definitely going to make this Oyster Haven week an annual tradition in our family.

QT #7: The Gang's All Here (All 18 of Us!)
The little ones will have new shirts made as they outgrow their infant onesies and toddler-sized t-shirts.  But everyone will keep their same number, assigned to show the order of when each teammate joined the family (whether by marriage or birth) for life.  (Thank you, Pinterest, for this genius idea that we unabashedly copied for our own use!)
It has been a tough summer for our family, with the untimely death of my dear brother-in-law.  It has also been a tiring summer for my husband and me, cleaning and managing our VRBO house and making sure it's ready for the next renters (they've been back-to-back most of the summer, a good "problem" to have!).  But this week we had with our gang left us with beautiful memories that will last a lifetime.  I'm so glad we captured some of those memories with this photo shoot.

Here's one more picture (I know it's not 8QT, but this is just too cute not to share).  When the photographer was trying to get some decent shots of Papa and Grammy with all 7 grandkids, the grown-up kids were standing behind him, jumping up and down and pulling out all the stops trying to get the little ones to smile.  It was so hilarious that the photographer snapped one of them, too.
[Sigh]..I love my family. you can imagine, I can hardly wait for next summer!

Now head on over to Kelly's for more 7QT fun.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Family Reunion 2016 (#lakesidepearls)

Our crew started arriving last Saturday and Sunday, for the first edition of what we hope will be a yearly family reunion at our Oyster Haven house on Lake Champlain.  (Well, our baby was supposed to arrive on Saturday, but finally made it home in the wee hours on Tuesday, after a truly nightmarish and Murphy's Law-filled trip from Germany--but that's a story for another post!)

I really haven't had time to blog about what's going on this week, because I'm too busy living in the moment and taking advantage of every opportunity to enjoy my family.  (Also, there are seven adorable grandchildren and four lovely daughters-in-law to dote upon...not to mention our five beloved sons, who haven't been all together, without a single member of the team missing, since Christmas 2014!)

Once our lake house extravaganza ends this coming Sunday, I will have so much free time on my hands that I won't know what to do with myself.  I will certainly be looking for activities to fill the void left by my gang's departure.  So there should be some fun blog posts in the weeks to come.

But in the meantime, here are my boys.  They had lunch out together at their aunt's new establishment, the Valcour Brewing Co., with some of the girls today (while Papa and I happily did babysitting duty back at the ranch).
Just imagine smiley-face emojis with hearts for eyes all over the place, and we'll consider this post all wrapped up and Internet-ready.

More to come, I promise.  #lakesidepearls