Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #22): On Being a Writer (Sort of...)

Ready to do some clubbin'?
My kind of nightclub: not the millenials' version,
but the circa 1940 version, filled with jitterbug enthusiasts.
Not that kind of clubbin', silly; not nightclubbin'.  BOOK clubbin'!
So yesterday, my dad wanted to show me some books that mean a lot to him, one of them titled Charlie Wilson's War (which was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks), a non-fiction work written about his old Naval Academy buddy Charlie Wilson, who signed Dad's copy and inscribed it with a personal message.  He wanted to show them to me because he thought I might be interested, because (and I quote), "You're a writer, sort of."

As the author of two novels (and a frequent contributor to the crowded field of Internet blogging), I should have been offended by Dad's little addendum, "sort of."  But I wasn't.  To him, I'll always just be his little girl, and also the mother of five boys who never had a "real" job while she was raising them.  Even though I've had two books published, I don't believe I've become a "real" writer in my father's eyes.

But that's okay with me.  The only job/career/vocation by which I identify myself, the only job/career/vocation by which I measure whatever success I might have had or will have in my lifetime on earth, is that of wife and mother.  This whole writing thing...well, it came to me much later in life than it does to most folks that people call writers.  I was 49 (with the youngest of my five sons about to begin high school) when I started work on my first novel, 54 (and a newly-minted grandmother to my oldest son's twin daughters) when it was published.  I was no spring chicken when Finding Grace made it to print, that's for sure.

Since becoming a published author, I think of myself as a "Grammy" more than a writer.  Writing is something that I love to do, but it does not define me.  So I've often wondered: am I a real writer? 

Not too long ago, however, I saw this meme on the Internet and had a eureka! moment.
I may not be a financially successful writer.  I may not even be a good writer.  But if the need to write is what makes one a writer, then I have that in spades.  So often, I am suddenly hit with an unstoppable urge to put sentences together to express whatever is on my mind at the moment.  I often just have to write.  So perhaps I am a real writer after all.

Sort of.  Maybe.  I guess.  But first and foremost, I'm Mrs. Pearl/Mom/Grammy.

Hmmm, now that we've got that settled...this book club meeting didn't even involve any book talk today.  So I've got a question for you, readers.  Have you read Finding Grace?  If you did, do you remember the part where Tom Buckley pats Grace Kelly (who is dying of unrequited love for him) on the head and it just about melts her?  Would you like to know the rather surprising inspiration for that scene?  Can you guess what might have inspired it?  Stay tuned: next week, I'll give you the answer.

Before I sign off, don't forget about the giveaway: five free copies of my second novel, Erin's Ring, will find their way into the hands of five lucky winners, to be announced on Nov. 1.  For a chance to win, click on the "It's Giveaway Time" image up there on the sidebar.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

About a Boy

Once upon a time, there was a little boy who lost his dad to suicide at the tender age of six.  "Don't be mad at him," he remembers his paternal grandmother, "Grammy," tearfully pleading with his mother in the days following his father's funeral.  "Why would my mom be mad at my dad for dying?" the little boy wondered.

That boy wouldn't know the details surrounding his father's death for many years, until he was a 21-year-old newlywed with a niggling suspicion that he hadn't been told the whole story...and spent hours in the library poring over old newspapers until he uncovered the devastating truth, and then shared his newfound knowledge with his beautiful young bride.

Not a great way to begin a marriage, you might say; but that tall, handsome newlywed with the Paul Newman-blue eyes and the movie star good looks just celebrated 60 years of wedded bliss with his one and only sweetheart.  I'd say that's not too shabby, for a boy whose life could have been irreparably shattered by events that took place when he was only six.

After his father died, the boy's mother (who was the eldest of six siblings) went away to attend nursing school and get her career started, so that she could eventually become the sole supporter of her children.  The grieving widow left the boy and his younger sister with her mother, who'd become the head of the family after the crash of '29 robbed her father of his financial success and left him a broken man.  "Mimi" was a tough-as-nails matriarch, a sensible, hard-working, no-nonsense woman who, when it came to her fatherless grandson (an admittedly sometimes naughty little tyke!), never thought it was best to spare the rod if it meant spoiling the child.

This might sound like some horrifying Dickensian tale, but never fear: that boy adored his upbringing in that tiny town in upstate NY, describing his seven years in his beloved grandmother's care to his own offspring in later years as the most idyllic of childhoods imaginable.  He was surrounded completely by women (his grandmother, his sister, and several teenaged aunts who were still living at home at the time); he had no strong males in his life to use as role models for later on, when he would become a husband and dad himself.  And yet he was married at 21 and soon after became the dad of many.  By the time that boy was just 28, he was already the father of five: three daughters and two sons.

Once, when that boy's eldest daughter's fourth son was six years old, it suddenly occurred to her that he was the same age as her dad had been when he lost his father.  The idea of leaving her own boy motherless was so difficult to contemplate that she asked him if he had any memories of his father.  "Nope," he said, in the tight-lipped fashion typical of him when he didn't feel like talking about something.  "None at all."  And the boy's daughter was unspeakably sad when she heard his answer.

But a few years later during a thunderstorm, the daughter realized that her dad hadn't been entirely truthful when he gave her that curt reply.  As a fierce storm raged outside, she told him how much thunderstorms frightened her.  "Oh, not me," he replied.  "I love 'em.  One of the earliest memories I have from when I was a little boy is of sitting on my father's lap on the porch, watching the lightning come down."

"Aha!" thought the daughter.  "So he does remember his father!"  And she was happy, because that meant if she'd died when one of her own boys was only six, he might remember her, too.

That boy is an old man now.  His health is deteriorating, and he is facing the end of a long life well lived.  He's handling the most recent prognosis from his doctor with his usual courage...because at six, he had to learn how to be brave and strong at a much younger age than most of us have to; at six, he learned to take what life threw at him without complaining or asking for pity.  He didn't have a father to show him the ropes when he was growing up, but he learned how to climb them on his own.  He was a boy who figured out, all by himself, how to be a man.

I am proud to call that boy my father.
My dad, first row on the right; his "Mimi" next to him;
his mother holding his little sister on her lap;
and his father, not too long before he died, back row on the left.
(The other man in the photo is an uncle who was already grown
and gone when Dad moved in with his grandmother.)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Things are Getting a Little Nutty around Here!

Today as I was boxing up some books in my living room (high school and college yearbooks, college text books, and other weighty tomes that my husband and I have probably not cracked open more than once or twice in the quarter of a century-plus that we've lived in this house), I found the oddest thing.

Behind a very old, leather-bound family Bible that was lying horizontally in the bottom corner of one of the built-in bookshelves, there was a pile of almonds.
Wait a minute--what?!

I mean, it's not that my husband and I are opposed to snacking in rooms other than the kitchen.  We do that all the time, often bringing a tray of crackers and cheese into the living room to have while enjoying drinks by the fire, munching on chips and salsa while watching football games, or using our family room as the site for our in-house dinner-and-a-movie dates.  But I was really perplexed trying to figure out how in the world a pile of nuts could make its way to the back corner of the bottom bookshelf!

Then it hit me: there was a squirrel invasion in this house, back in 2011, when I was a fledgling blogger.  I first heard the sneaky critter skittering around in the living room (although I didn't know until later that he was a squirrel and not an axe murderer), and the next day I found a framed picture overturned in there on a table.  Discovering that hidden stash of nuts today made me wonder if before he eventually made his way upstairs, the little scamp had also found an open bowl or container of almonds somewhere and had started squirreling them away behind that Bible!

I have since immortalized my little nighttime intruder in a painting on the wall of the bedroom where I finally got him trapped until the Animal Control guys could come and get him the heck out of my house the next morning.
I chronicled this nutty story years ago, here and here.  The posts are long-ish, but they are entertaining, if you've got the time.  (I used to have more words and less pictures in my blog posts; I think perhaps I've gotten a bit lazy as the years have passed!)

And now, back to my boxes...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Gee Whiz--The G's Are Finally Ready to Go!

I couldn't sleep last night (or more correctly, in the wee hours this morning).  While that wasn't good for my physical and mental health and well-being, it was good for my ABC Book.  Because I found that working on the G pages was a genuinely calming activity.  Doing artwork--sketching and coloring my little pictures, and dreaming of the day when I'll finally have a finished book for my grandkids--was a bit of a Godsend, I'll tell you.  If I'm going to be up anyway, I'd just as soon feel like I'm being productive.

So here are the G's, gang.

My husband appreciated that I got all the G's involved: the hard G, the soft G, and even the silent G.  If my grandchildren don't notice how generous I was with this letter, that's okay; as long as they feel the love Grammy put into these illustrations.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #21): Shelf Esteem

I had the thrill of a lifetime this past weekend, while out at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN.  Yes, I did go to the game on Saturday night with my hubby (ND Class of 1980) and a slew of other Pearl relatives, but that part was hardly thrilling.  (If you're an Irish football fan, I don't have to tell you what a depressing experience it was watching our boys lose to Michigan State and effectively end their hopes of having a successful season.)

But on a lighter note, my husband and I did spy something pretty ding-dang cool at Notre Dame's Hammes Bookstore. Two somethings, actually; and I thought I'd tell you about that today, because it's Tuesday--and Tuesdays are full of Grace...and Erin.

That's right, it's  Book Club time.
Shortly after Finding Grace was published in 2012, I contacted the Hammes Bookstore to see if my humble first novel, which included a key scene at Notre Dame's famed grotto (a replica of the one at Lourdes), was something they would be interested in carrying.  I was a newly-minted published author at the time, and I was a bit too shy to do much good in the marketing department; so as you can imagine I didn't "sell" the book very well in my email.  Not too surprisingly, I got a kindly worded rejection note from the folks at ND.

Fast-forward to last football season, when my second novel, Erin's Ring, had already been out for almost a year and had received two book awards from the Catholic Press Association: My husband's sister and I were walking past a display of Irish-themed books at the bookstore, during one of our Pearl family get-togethers out in South Bend, and she commented, "Your book should be here!"  I told her I'd already gone down that road a few years back, without success; and she said, "But now you're an award-winner.  You should try again!"  (I just love my super-supportive, always-affirming Pearl relatives.)

So I wrote another email, feeling slightly more confident this time...and lo and behold, last winter, the Hammes Bookstore ordered five copies of Erin's Ring and three copies of Finding Grace!  Then in May, they wrote to me again to say that Erin's Ring was almost sold out and they wanted five more copies.  And then in August, they requested ten more!  I'm still pinching myself here.

While we were out there I just had to see my books on those shelves with my own two eyes.  So after we arrived on campus Friday afternoon, the bookstore was our first stop.
There's Finding Grace, on the bottom shelf, far right.

I can't help but think that the lovely front cover, chosen by
Cheryl Dickow at Bezalel Books, helps to sell Erin's Ring.

It was kind of surreal for me to find those books on actual bookstore shelves.  And not just any bookstore's shelves, either.  On the shelves of the bookstore at my husband's and sons' beloved alma mater.  With price tags that say "Univ. of Notre Dame" above the bar codes!  I never thought I'd see the day!

Exclusively online book sales are the norm these days for little-known authors like myself, and unless your books are bestsellers, it's hard to get them on the shelves of real live bookstores; so these sightings of Erin's Ring and Finding Grace at the Hammes Bookstore gave my novels a much-needed shot of shelf esteem.

I was one happy author, I tell you.
We'd had to get up at 2:30 a.m. that day to get ready to catch an early flight,
and had had a long day of travel by this point; thus the epic eye bags!

The joy of finding Finding Grace!
If you have any questions regarding either of my novels, please leave me a comment.  I'd love to hear from you--and your queries could provide fodder for a little Q and A session at the next meeting of the club, perhaps? 

Okay, before I sign off: just a reminder that I'm giving away five free copies of Erin's Ring. 
The winners will be picked on Nov. 1.  To be entered to win, just share a link to this blog post on your blog, on Twitter, or on Facebook--basically, on any form of social media that you enjoy.  Contact me when you do, and I'll throw your name in the hat.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Slow Down...Just Slow Down, Would You?

Oh my goodness, have you heard this song/seen this YouTube video yet?  If not, go grab some Kleenex before you do.
This morning, my husband showed it to me, after it made its way onto his Facebook newsfeed.  When he warned me that listening to this song would make me cry, I said, "Whenever anyone tells me I'm definitely going to cry, I don't cry."

I was wrong.  I cried.

It all goes so by so fast, doesn't it, moms (and dads)?  It wasn't that long ago that I was a young, newly-minted mother with an unlined face, completely besotted with her firstborn son.  Well, it was actually 1983, but it doesn't seem that long ago.
And after that, things just sort of exploded.  Within 2 and 1/2 years, we had a crew of three.  (BTW: this was a photo gift I made for my husband in 1985, before there were nifty ways to play on the computer and make something that would have been much more professional-looking.)
And things just kept getting better.

And better.
And by 1993, we had our own Pearl basketball team (even though all but our middle son stopped playing basketball by the time they got past freshman year of high school, preferring to take a season off between football and lacrosse--but I digress!).

And those boys just continued growing up at warp speed, getting taller and deeper-voiced (and sweeter...and more lovable...and more loved) every minute, despite their mom's best efforts to slow down time.

Fast-forward (and I mean really, FAST-forward) to now, and here's what those boys look like. 

Amazingly, they range in age now from 32 down to 23.   Four of them are married.  Three of them have children of their own.  And my husband and I are now the doting grandparents of 7 little ones-- who are also growing up way, way too quickly. 

It's been a beautiful ride.  My only regret is that we've been traveling much too fast for my liking.  I sometimes feel a bit sad now, about precious moments I might have wasted when I had the chance, wishing at the end of a particularly tough and exhausting day with my brood of boys that bedtime would come soon (like every parent of littles on earth, I suppose); moments I can never get back.  Because boy oh boy, is this adage ever true: the days are long, but the years are short.

Unfortunately, we can't slow down time; we can only try our best to make the most of every minute we have with our children.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

String of Pearls (Book Club "Meeting" #20): An Erin's Ring Giveaway!

Tuesday's Child is full of Grace...
Welcome to the 20th meeting of the Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club at String of Pearls!

Today, I thought I'd talk a little bit about my second novel, Erin's Ring.
Just a little shy of two years ago, at the end of November 2014, this YA Catholic novel was published by Bezalel Books.  Part historical fiction, the story includes some fascinating information about the Irish immigrants who came to Dover, NH in the early 19th century, worked their fingers to the bone in the Cocheco cotton mill, and wouldn't rest until they were able to build the first Catholic church in the area.  That wooden church completed in 1830, St. Aloysius, burned down in 1870; but in its place, on that same plot of land deeded by the mill to its Irish-Catholic workers, a larger brick edifice was constructed.  This church, St. Mary's, still stands today and is in fact where my husband and I attend Mass every Sunday (when we're in Dover, and not off visiting members of our far-flung family).

I was very humbled and honored when I learned that Erin's Ring had received two book awards from the Catholic Press Association.
Here is what the CPA had to say about it:

2nd Place Catholic Press Awards 2015 Winner Category: Books for Teens and Young Adults  
"Presented in a story-within-a-story, Erin's Ring offers an historical novel set within the story of two contemporary teen-age friends from very different kinds of families. Both stories have elements of Catholicism offered as ordinary and important parts of life. The small town setting is appealing and the characters are multi-dimensional. Erin's Ring would appeal to younger teens and older ones looking for light reading."

3rd Place Catholic Press Awards 2015 Winner Category: Catholic Novels  
"This is a charming story, beginning with a charming cover and with a good measure of history, contemporary drama, and spirituality between the covers. It is highly readable and can be used effectively as an evangelization tool for young people who would otherwise never open a book that espoused Catholic morals and teachings. Adults, particularly of the Celtic persuasion will enjoy this lighthearted yet meaningful tale as well."

Last Sunday after Mass, I was thinking about Erin's Ring as I stopped in front of the garden located just to the right of the front entrance of St. Mary's Church in Dover.  This sweet garden dedicated to the Blessed Mother was actually the inspiration for the opening scene of the novelI thought it was the perfect place for young Molly McCormick to find an old Irish Claddagh ring, buried in the dirt at the foot of the statue, which would in turn compel her to research the history of the Irish in Dover, hoping to figure out the origins of the ring.

Here's a picture of the St. Mary's garden, a spot I've always loved.
And here's an excerpt from the first chapter of Erin's Ring.

          Before she could finish storming the heavens with her heartfelt petition, a sudden cool, apple-crisp October breeze blew, and Molly's white lace chapel veil was lifted into the air and landed at the feet of the statue of Mary.  That's what she got for forgetting to fasten it into place with bobby pins!  As she bent to retrieve her veil she noticed a tiny gleam of gold peeking through the dark topsoil in which the mums were planted.  She dug around it with her fingers and pulled the metal object out.  Just as she got to her feet again, her family was suddenly there beside her.  Her mother forgot all about asking her why she hadn't gone in to find a pew yet, for she saw the look of wonder on her daughter's face as she stared at something she was holding in her upturned palm.
          "What is it, Molly?" asked Ellie.
          "It's...a ring.  A gold ring!  I think it's pretty old.  It's got a crack in it.  Look."
           "Oh, it's an Irish Claddagh ring!  How lovely." [Ellie said]...
          "And it's engraved!"  Molly cried, squinting as she read "To Erin--Love, Michael" there as plain as day on the smooth inside of the band...

          Who were Erin and Michael?
          And what story might this ring tell, if only it could talk?

I hope this makes you insatiably curious to know who Erin and Michael were, too, if you haven't read the book yet.

If you haven't and you'd like to, today might be your lucky day.  I'm hosting a giveaway here at String of Pearls, and giving away five copies of Erin's Ring.
If you're a blogger and you'd like a chance to win a free promo copy, just mention the giveaway at your own blog and send me the link to your post, and you'll be entered in the contest.  If you're a blog reader but not a blog writer, you can tweet about it or share it through an Instagram or Facebook post (where applicable, using #erinsringgiveaway), and your name will also go in the hat for the drawing.  Just get in touch with me to show me where you shared the information about the giveaway, and you might be one of the five lucky ones to receive a paperback copy.  The winners will be announced on November 1, the Feast of All Saints, which is fitting for a number of reasons.  It's actually the date I finished the manuscript for Erin's Ring in 2014, and it's also my late mother-in-law's birthday (and the book is dedicated in part to her Irish immigrant dad).

I believe that Erin's Ring would make a great addition to a homeschool or Catholic school reading/religion/history curriculum.  I would love to see it in the hands of more YA readers of all ages, and I greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word.  Thank you!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Growing Pains: They're Not Just for Teenagers Anymore

They aren't.  They're for aging grandmothers, too--for ladies who are no longer gaining inches in height, but are beginning to lose them (!!)...while simultaneously gaining a bit of girth around the middle.  Ugh.

A quick aside: it's great to marry a guy who's close to your age and is deteriorating at the same rate you are.  Luckily for us, when my husband and I look at each other, we still see the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 15-year-old kids we were when we started dating in 1973.  Our eyes are aging at the same pace as the rest of us, you see, which I suppose can be considered a plus!

I got a kick out of this snarky Valentine's Day card I found online the other day.

Okay now, "disgusting" might be a bit rough.  But seriously, folks...we still love what we see--warts and wrinkles and whatnot and all--when we look at each other.  We're going through a lot of growing pains, a lot of changes in our life (hello, empty nest!).  But one thing remains a constant, and that is our unbreakable bond, which seems to grow ever stronger, even as the years work to sap us of our youthful vim and vigor.  We make a good team, the best team; and as long as we have each other, I don't believe there's any storm we couldn't weather--with God's help, of  course.
We are not expecting any serious storms, and God willing, there are none looming on our horizon.  But we are about to rock our world a bit: we are planning to sell the house we bought 26 years ago, the house we moved into when our oldest son was in first grade and where we raised him and his 4 younger brothers.  We  are about to begin the process of cleaning out and updating said house--which although we love dearly is a tad on the "dated" side--so that we can move from NH to VA and be closer to 3 of our sons and their families.

It's a hard decision to make, in a multitude of ways: because we've gotten so comfortable here, for one thing; but more importantly, because this house holds nothing but fond memories of many happy years spent watching our five boys grow up to be men.  However, between our frequent travels to visit our kids and our many trips to NY to care for our Oyster Haven VRBO house, the sad truth is that it sits empty a lot.

Here's a line from Kate Morton's The Lake House (a book I told you, in yesterday's blog post, that I wasn't going to read just yet...but it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind, you know).  When I read it, it struck me like a sucker-punch to the gut, because I realized that although the house to which Morton refers in the novel is a decaying mansion that was abandoned by its family 70 years earlier after a terrible tragedy, our home here in NH kind of fits this description as well: "Houses weren't meant to stand empty.  A house without occupants, especially one like this, still filled with a family's possessions, was the saddest, most pointless thing on earth."

So we shall move.  My husband and I love our house, but it's just too big for the two of us, and too far away from our boys for them to get to it very often.

But those possessions!  Can we talk about those possessions?

I went up to the attic yesterday to start the overwhelming process of figuring out what we must keep and what can be tossed or donated.  And here's what greeted me.

And that's just one-half of the attic.  The other side is equally crammed with boxes, bags, and bins.

I ended up getting all caught up in reminiscing, as I looked around and realized that there is so much stuff that belonged to our boys in the attic, you almost wouldn't believe that they don't live here anymore!  (The closets in their bedrooms are still filled with clothes that I can't bear to get rid of yet, either!  They could seriously pack nothing but underwear and socks when they come to visit, because there are pants, shirts, sweatshirts, and jackets aplenty.)

While rummaging through the attic, I found their childhood dinosaurs and Jurassic Park toys.  (They're in the KEEP pile, definitely!)
I found their football and lacrosse equipment, which I should have donated (but didn't) to some local youth programs years ago, when all those helmets, pads, and gloves would have still been up to code.  (This makes no sense, I realize; but for now anyway, this stuff goes in the KEEP pile, too.)
I found old Halloween costumes, like our youngest son's T-Rex outfit (that he wore constantly until it didn't fit him anymore) and his Saint Patrick robe and mitre, which I made for him to wear in the All Saints parade when he was in first grade at Catholic school.  (Are you even wondering whether or not I'll keep these costumes?  If you think I'm ready to give them away, you don't know me very well.)
I found the white linen suit coat that I made for son #4 to wear when he was the ring bearer at his aunt/godmother's wedding.  (Stain notwithstanding, it's a KEEP!)
I found high school football jackets from the different years our boys' football team won state championships, embroidered with their names and numbers. And they were hanging right next to the two "official, authentic" (read: very expensive) Joe Montana and Derek Thomas 49'ers football jerseys that had been cherished Christmas gifts of our two oldest sons in their pre-teen days.


It was not a very fruitful trip to the attic, if the goal was to find a bunch of things to get rid of.  There's just so much of us, and our history as a family, stored up there.  I'll have to go back when I'm feeling a little bit stronger, my friends.

Just so you don't think I'm totally pathetic: I did find two long-unused humidifiers, which made their way into the Goodwill pile; I also found an old ski parka of my husband's that had seen better days and a long-neglected wool tweed overcoat that I'd had since the late 80's (complete with then-popular linebacker-style shoulder pads, a la Linda Evans in the TV show "Dynasty").  So my efforts at beginning the purging process weren't completely unsuccessful.

But even though I haven't worn it in more than a decade, I had a little pang as I dropped that tweed overcoat off at Goodwill.  After all, it had been a gift from my husband; he'd shopped for it himself at TJ Maxx, going on a description I'd given of a coat that I loved and would have bought if we could have afforded it.  This was the Christmas of 1988, which was probably the most difficult year financially of our entire marriage.  It was a year he shouldn't have spent much at all on me, but he knew how dearly I wanted that coat (and after having just moved from FL to IL, he also knew I kind of needed it).  Even though I was no longer wearing it, every time I visited the attic and looked at that coat, I was reminded of how much he loved me.  Even though I hadn't worn it in ages, it was, to me, a symbol of my husband's love.

And our attic is filled with such symbols!

I'm going to stop here, before I regret giving that coat away, and I'm going to chalk up these pitiful pangs of nostalgia to growing pains.  I'm also going to remind myself that sometimes, you have to go through painful experiences to get to something better.  And when I weigh the two options--an often empty house, filled with a family's possessions, or a new house closer to the people I love, filled with more people than things--the answer is an easy one.

We're growing.  It's painful, yes; but it's so beautiful, too.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

An Open Book: Bezalel's Quality Offerings

Hi fellow bookworms!  Are you ready to talk books?  I am!  So I'm linking up with my fellow 'worms over at Carolyn Astfalk's blog.
Okay, then.  Well, recently I had myself all pumped up to start a juicy-looking secular work of fiction by Kate Morton, a best-selling author whose novels I've enjoyed in the past.  The cover grabbed me; and the title did as well--especially now that we've purchased a lake house of our own (#oysterhaven!) and have enjoyed one glorious family reunion week there with all 18 of the current members of Team Pearl.

I've gotta say, this one looks good, and I hope it won't disappoint.
I posted the above photo on Instagram a few days ago.  See, I'd already put my feet up, opened up a nice cold bottle of Diet Coke, and gotten myself ready to settle in for an hour or two of  having my nose firmly planted in a good book, which has to be my favorite guilty pleasure of all. Besides Diet Coke.  And coffee.  And chocolate.

But I digress.  Books, that's what we're talking about.  Books.

So I was planning to become immersed in what I hoped would be a grippingly readable fantasy world.  But when I was barely more than a chapter into Morton's novel, I had to go upstairs for something or other, and I spied a too-long-neglected paperback on my nightstand.  It made me realize that before I move on to yet another book, I really should finish this one that I'd already started months ago, when the summer was young.  I was thoroughly enjoying said book, but then put it down when life got busy and never got around to picking it back up.  (I could do that, you see, because it's a collection of short mystery stories that get tied up nicely by the end of each chapter, rather than a novel per se, although they all feature the same thoroughly engaging time-traveling priest.)

Here's the cover of that book I started but didn't finish.
The Father Capranica Mysteries, Stories of the Strange and Supernatural, by Father Mike Driscoll, Ph.D, was published by Cheryl Dickow's wonderful Catholic company, Bezalel Books, which published my two novels as well.  (And I couldn't be more proud to have the imprint of Bezalel--a company esteemed in the business for producing quality works of both fiction and non-fiction--on my "babies," Finding Grace and Erin's Ring!)  When I started Fr. Driscoll's book, I remember being enchanted by the main character, a diminutive priest who finds himself jumping back and forth in time to investigate all kinds of strange happenings, "things-that-go-bump-in-the-night," as it were; so before I delve any further into The Lake House, I'm determined to go back and re-read The Father Capranica Mysteries from the beginning, finish it, and next month perhaps I'll have a review finished to share at the October Open Book link-up. 

Another offering from Bezalel that I've been enjoying lately is actually a coloring book.  And it's not just for kids, either.  Cheryl Dickow very generously sent me a copy of the company's recently published The Stations of the Cross, an adult coloring book, by Kathryn Mulderink, OCDS (with illustrations by Father Victor KyNam), hoping I would spread the word if I found the opportunity to do so.
Adult coloring books like this one appear to be a popular trend nowadays; in fact, I've seen racks of them all over the place--not only at bookstores, but at Walmart, Michael's, and even Bed, Bath, & Beyond.  I think adult coloring books are to the new millennium what paint-by-numbers kits were to the 1950's.  I mean, check out this display I noticed on a recent shopping trip.
Putting a Catholic spin on a popular trend is something that Cheryl Dickow does very well, employing her proudly Catholic company as a tool to evangelize our beautiful Faith.  Bezalel's adult coloring book is filled with masterfully and tenderly rendered illustrations of the 14 Stations of the Cross, each with a coordinating scripture passage and prayer.

When I sat down to color one of the pages, I chose to begin with the 4th Station, "Jesus Meets His Mother," because as a mother of sons this is an image that has always touched me deeply.  I set to work with my trusty colored pencils, and I found the experience of adding color to the beautiful illustration very relaxing.  When I was finished, I read the inspiring prayer to the right of the picture and was reminded of all the suffering Mary willingly took on when She surrendered completely to the will of God.
Ever the self-critic, I wish now that I'd used a darker color behind the faces of Mary and Her Beloved Son, so that they would stand out better against the background.  But there are 13 more Stations to color, and I can try to do better next time.

As I was contentedly coloring this page, I was struck by how perfect an educational tool this would be for homeschooling families.  It combines an art lesson with a religion lesson seamlessly.  In fact, if this coloring book had been around when we were homeschooling our youngest son during the years he was in 4th through 8th grade, I would certainly have incorporated it into our art curriculum. 

Get this book for your homeschool book shelf.  Or just get it for yourself, so that when life's pressures get to you, you can find peace as you create art that will feed your soul.

So that's it from me, until next month.  But head on over to Carolyn's for more book talk.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Family Reunion Photo Dump (#lakesidepearls)

As you might know, about a month ago we had our whole gang stay with us for a week at our Oyster Haven VRBO house on Lake Champlain.  All 18 of our family members were together: my husband and I; our 5 sons and 4 daughters-in-law; our 5 granddaughters and 2 grandsons.  (We have decided that for the rest of the year, the house will be open to other folks for vacation rentals; but for one glorious week each summer, it will be all ours!!)

I've already shared some of the professional pictures we had taken during that week.  (If you didn't see that post and are interested, you can go here and check them out.)

But I also had my iPhone and digital camera at the ready to capture as much of the magic as I could.  So here are a few of the photos I took, to give you an idea of how great the week was (and how much I'm already looking forward to the planned 2017 #lakesidepearls reunion!).
Papa and his newest granddaughter, Princesa.

Son #4 and wife Braveheart.

Son #4 and Braveheart.

Let the Wiffle Ball games begin!

Cousin love!

Son #3 and his boy, G-Man.

Ginger and her son, Junior.

Imagine a bunch of heart emjois!!!

My bookends, #1 and #5, with two of son #1's girls.

My baby and my granddaughter, Cutie Pie (one of the twins).

Son #3 and his little Princesa.

Preciosa and her G-Man.


Cutie Pie and Junior.

My boys!!  <3
Son #2 with his family, Ginger and Junior.

This little guy is a water baby!

Son #3, Preciosa, and G-Man.

Fun on the lake.
Two of our girls, Braveheart and Preciosa.
Son #1's wife Regina and their youngest, City Girl.

#5 and a couple of his nieces.

Little Gal got very attached to her uncle, #5.

My bookend boys with Little Gal in the middle.

When Junior wasn't in the lake with his parents,
he was in the pool with his cousins.

G-Man be like, "Hey, what's going on here?  What am I missing?"

I could gaze at this view all day.

Son #2 and Junior.  Heart-melting.

Son #3 and Princesa.  Also heart-melting.

Dads on duty.

Visiting our horse neighbor, Buddy.

The twins and Little Gal all got to ride him.

"See you next summer, Buddy."
I have so many more good shots, but I'm sure you've had enough by now--if you're even still here.

But if you don't mind...I'll think I'll scroll through these pictures a few more times, and soak up all the sweet memories we made in our house by the lake this summer.