Monday, March 13, 2017

We're Leaving a Welcome Letter Behind...But the Star Comes with Us

If you read my post yesterday, you know that I'm leaving a letter in a welcome basket for the new owners of our beloved NH house.
I mentioned that I would share the letter with you; so here it is (hankies are not included, but they ought to be!).

March 17, 2017

To the new owners of this wonderful house:

Welcome to your new home!  We hope that you will be as happy living here as the Pearl family has been.  If you are even half as happy as we were, you will be very blessed indeed.

We moved into this house in December of 1990, when we had four young boys aged 7 to just shy of 3.  Our fifth son was born in 1993, after we’d been living here for a few years, so this is the only home he has ever known.  Our four oldest sons are now married with children of their own, and our youngest is an Army LT currently stationed overseas.  (Those little boys who grew up here are men now who range in age from 33 down to 24—how did that happen?!—and we will soon have more than twice as many grandchildren as we have children!)  This home has been like “true north” for us, a comforting and comfortable gathering spot for our family for more than 26 years, and it is with heavy hearts that we leave what we thought might be our “forever home.”  If any of our grown sons had settled nearby, we undoubtedly would have stayed here.

But by saying all of this we don’t mean to make you feel sorry for us!  Because we are moving to an area of VA that is near three of our married sons; and we are very excited about a future that includes spending way more time with them and their wives and children on a regular basis, while also being close enough to more easily give them any help and support they might need.  So as hard as it is to say goodbye to [this town] and [our street address], which essentially brings an end to a beautiful, full chapter of our family’s history, we know that this is undoubtedly the right move for us.  We will always cherish our memories of the times we spent here.   And we feel confident that this home is going to be loved and enjoyed by your family as much as it was by ours.

Our youngest son once wrote an essay about this house, for a freshman English class at St. Thomas Aquinas (where all of our boys went to high school).  Here is an excerpt from that essay, titled “A Hidden Gem”:

Driving down the street, there are pleasant houses on either side, all of them tucked behind trees and surrounded by forest, as if the woods were fighting violently to regain their lost territory. Though they look nice, keep going past these imposters. Keep going. Just a little further...There it is! My home.

It is the last house on the right; a big, white house with black shutters. It is a two story building with a large front yard, big enough to fit five rowdy boys who decided never to grow up. To common passers-by, it is just an ordinary house at the end of some street. And yes, like any home, it is where I sleep, it is where I eat, and it is where I live. But to me, it is so much more than just an inn or a breakfast nook.

It is a familiar face that says, "Hello there! How was your trip?" after I've traveled long distances; a life-long friend that is always there when I don't know where else to go. It is my playground, my home field advantage for all my backyard football games; where our family-famous Wiffle Ball homerun derbies are held. It is…where I learned about life, about the One who made me, and the One who sacrificed Himself for us.

This is where the seven Pearls live. And although there are nicer houses on our street, our house is a hidden gem, stowed away from the rest of the world. It is everything I want out of a house. Everything I need out of a home.

Our hope for you is that your son comes to feel the same way about this place as our boys did.  May you have many years of health and happiness in this “hidden gem” we’ve called home.

With best wishes,

the Pearls

Our sons all have such fond memories of growing up in this house, as you can see by that heartfelt essay penned by my baby; and they know how much their mom and dad have loved it, too--mostly because it was the cozy nest where we nurtured them and watched them grow, where we lived through so many happy times with them.  They all seem to be very sensitive to the fact that although we are excited about living closer to some of them, it is very difficult for us to cut our ties to this place.  That's why we were especially touched by a Christmas gift that our second-oldest son and his wife had handcrafted for us through an Etsy shop.  It is a miniature clay model of our house, attached to a porcelain platter, with the word "home" written on it.  Here is a close-up picture of the model (when it was a work-in-progress), which the artisan shared on Instagram.
She even included a teeny version of the large metal star that has hung on our front door for many years.  It's cream-colored with the words "Faith" and "Family" written on the edges of each of the star's points.  (The two most important words, am I right?)

This old star is rather rusty now, and I almost flung it into the dumpster this morning.  But then I just couldn't do it.  Instead, I decided to repaint it with some of the leftover glossy Colonial red that we've used on our front door for the past 26-plus years.  (Should I distress the finish or leave it like this?  What do you think?)
This star is going to find a home in our new house in VA, and it will be a sweet reminder of the "hidden gem" where it used to hang, welcoming us home every time we turned into the driveway.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My Sunday Best: a Biker Chick Bids Her Old Parish Farewell

I had to join the "My Sunday Best" link-up today, just had to; because this is a Sunday like no other: it is the last Sunday Mass my husband and I will attend at our longtime parish in NH (at least until we come back for a visit), because we're closing on our house here on St. Patty's Day and moving to VA right afterward.

If you've been here before, you know all about the big move.  But if you're new, here's the deal, in a nutshell: my husband and I are selling the home where we've lived for 26-plus years and raised our five sons, and leaving the town we moved to 27 years ago when our oldest boy was halfway through kindergarten, so that we can live closer to some of our kids and grandkids.  It's a tough break to make, but it's going to be so wonderful for us and for our family once we rip off the Band-Aid.

It's ridiculously cold here this morning.  (In fact, we had a pipe freeze and burst last night in our basement, which is of course just the thing you want to happen when you're trying to pack up your things to move!)  I think perhaps God is trying to help us to get over our sadness about leaving what we thought might be our "forever home," because I have to say that I won't miss New England winters!  I mean, don't even get me started; because our movers are coming Tuesday and Wednesday, and that's exactly when a huge snowstorm is supposed to hit us.  After a mild, relatively snowless winter, we're going to get pounded with the white stuff on the very days the moving truck is in our driveway.  AAAGGGHHH!!!

But anyway, on to what I wore for Mass.  Shockingly, it was not a black skirt and black tights with a sweater--my usual uniform.  Here's what I wore, an ensemble that my husband (and good-natured fashion photographer) called my "tough biker chick look."
As you can see, the packing is well underway.
I guess if you wear a jean jacket (even a nice soft one from the LL Bean outlet, without any Hell's Angels-style embroidery on it) and leather boots (even if they're rather ladylike riding boots from a JC Penny after-season clearance sale), that makes you look like a biker chick.  Sure it does.
I got these boots, regularly priced at $130, for $9.97
(At that price, I decided I needed a pair in black, too!) 
I've had them for years now.
Without the jacket, the dress is decidedly not biker chick attire--no matter what my husband says.  It's a faux-wrap knit dress from Dress Barn (clearance, of course), with awesome belly-hiding ruching at the waist.  The sleeves are elbow-length, which I love.  I thought it was a good choice today, because although the photo doesn't do the color justice, it's a nice Lenten deep purple with taupe polka-dots.
I doubt anyone would choose to wear this dress while
riding her hog.
We met up with one of our neighbors, who moved onto our street shortly before we did in 1990, outside of church, and he hugged us and got a little misty-eyed talking about our move.  It still seems a bit surreal.

I mean, it seems like only yesterday that we were moving in and making this place feel like home.  One of the first things I did in this house was to use a stencil to paint a couple of pineapples on the walls in the foyer, since the pineapple has historically been considered an American symbol of warmth and welcome.  Last night, I found the very stencil I used all those years ago, hiding out of sight on top of a metal shelf in our basement workshop.  I decided to bring it down to VA with me, and one of the first things I plan to do when I get there is to paint a pineapple on one of the walls near the front door. 
Speaking of welcomes...I have put together a welcome basket for the new owners.  (Full disclosure: in it are two unopened bottles of red wine that we already had, and an unused Yankee candle in a glass jar that we already had as well.)  I put a letter in the basket, too...

Hey, you know what?  That's a story for another post.  Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about that letter.

For now, though, head on over to Rosie's a blog for my mom for more stylish (and less biker chick-ish) Sunday ensembles.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

That Was Us; This Is Us

With our closing fast approaching, I have been walking up and down the stairs at our house almost non-stop for the past couple of weeks, going through all the closets and storage areas--of which there are many, let me tell you.  Lots of nooks, lots of crannies.  I never could have complained that this house didn't have enough storage space!!  In fact, it might have been better if there had been less, because then we might not have accumulated so much stuff!  I mean, we've had 26-plus years to amass all of it...but really, there is SO. MUCH. STUFF!!  I cannot stress this enough.  And I know I could just let the movers box it all up and deal with it when we get to our new place, but I feel strongly that it will be less stressful for me in the long run if we get rid of what we don't want or need on this end.

So life has been very busy indeed.  Every morning I wake up and it's the same thing: I go from basement to first floor to second floor to attic, then back down again, only to repeat the process about a hundred times during the course of the day.  These treks up and down the stairs are broken up by quick trips to the recycling center and Goodwill.  Fun times!

I must say, it has been interesting looking into boxes and bins that have languished, all but forgotten, for ten or even twenty years--and sometimes longer.  And it has also been exhausting, both emotionally and physically.

A little while ago, I met up with my husband in the family room on the first floor.  While I've been relentlessly culling through the flotsam and jetsam of a long life well-lived, he has been busy working on all kinds of projects that we promised to complete before closing, such as the renovation of the master bathroom.

But I caught him as he was sitting on the couch.  Not resting, mind you; he was making one of the countless phone calls one needs to make in order for a move to happen smoothly.  I dragged myself over to my overstuffed chair and plopped down, and when he got off the phone I channeled my inner Jack Pearson and complained (somewhat pathetically), "This house is breaking me.  I'm broken."  (Please tell me that you watch "This Is Us," and that you remember the scene where Jack tells the OB/GYN who delivered their triplets that the babies have broken his wife Rebecca.  If you aren't a fan of this show, I'm not sure that we can be friends...)
As I go about the business of separating the wheat from the chaff, of trying to decide what to keep and what needs the old heave-ho, in an effort to be as ready as possible to pack up and leave this home where we raised our five sons, these words keep popping into my head: "This was us."  So many of the things I find are reminders of who we were in the past, when it was just seven of us (just my husband and me and the big five--another "This Is Us" reference, sorry about that), living together under this roof.

Things like this backpack that belonged to our oldest son, for instance, which I found yesterday in the attic.  In one of the small zippered compartments, there were a bunch of empty fun-size candy bar wrappers.
Along with the evidence of his trip snacks, there was also still an airline bag-check tag attached, showing that when he last used this backpack he'd been flying to Chicago in January of 2002.
That was him, back then: he was a seemingly incurable chocoholic who was flying back to the Midwest to start the second semester of his freshman year at Notre Dame, after coming home for Christmas break; but it's not him anymore.  Today, he's a super-healthy, organic-eating adult, married and the father of four young daughters.

In the attic I also found our old baby bathtub (bought when we had our first son, in 1983, and used for all five of our boys), a baby carrier/seat, and a walker, each coated with dust after spending more than two decades stored in the rafters.  These items (which are going to be heading to the dumpster once it gets delivered to our driveway tomorrow) reminded me that when we moved into this house, we were the parents of young children who hoped to have more babies--and we did have one, three years later. We were fresh-faced babies ourselves, just 32 years old (which is younger than our firstborn son is now!).  That was us.
But that's not us anymore.  These days we're the much-older parents of four married sons and an officer stationed overseas, and we're "Papa and Grammy" to seven grandchildren and counting.

But to look around our attic, you'd think we had a houseful of little fellas living here still.  I found the metal tray we used to serve our boys breakfast in bed on their birthdays.
Pac-Man?  Really?  Does that date us, or what?

I also found plastic bins of legos, complete with the step-by-step building instructions.
Judging by this plywood sign, you'd think we still had kids at the local Catholic grade school, wouldn't you?
But no, that's just something that I painted a couple of decades ago for the annual carnival fundraiser at their Catholic school and never got around to throwing out.  They loved that carnival, which was held on the tarmac recess field right next to the brick school building.

Perhaps you'd think we had a passel of teenaged lacrosse players living in this house as well, judging by the bins of old equipment still carefully stowed away in the basement.  (Those are old heads ready to be re-strung, lying on top of some stringing materials.  I guess the boys never got around to fixing them up.)
Lacrosse was a huge part of our lives.  That was us, for so many wonderful years.

We used to ski a lot back in the day, too.  When our four oldest sons were young, we would take a yearly ski vacation over their winter break with some of their Pearl cousins; and during the five years that we homeschooled our youngest son, he participated in a ten-week program where he skied in NH every Monday with a group of homeschooled friends.  That was us, and we still have ski equipment in the attic to prove it.
Aside from all the sports gear, we sure had a lot of old-school gadgets and technology. (In fact, my husband just took a collection of floppy discs over to Best Buy the other day for recycling!)  That was so us; we were a land-line, flip-phone, and desktop computer family, before the days of smart phones and iPads.
The times, they have been a-changin'.  Because all of this stuff--all these reminders of the activities we shared and the good times we had together--isn't really who we are anymore.  That was us then.

This is us now.  The big five has multiplied, and we wouldn't want it any other way.  It's like we're "new and improved."
It really has been hard weeding through and tossing out so much of what feels like our history, the story of us. But the whole point of this move is to live closer to our boys and their families.  Because staying in this house surrounded by memories cannot possibly make us anywhere near as happy as being able to spend more time with the people we love.

Okay now, before I sign off: it's Tuesday, and you know what that means, right?  "This Is Us" is on.  (NBC, 9:00.)  I'm going to just ignore the bare walls, the empty shelf, and the boxes of files on the family room floor and enjoy it.  Join me, won't you?

Sunday, March 5, 2017

My Sunday Best: Earrings, Band-Aids, and Other Accessories

I'm joining Rosie today for the "My Sunday Best" link-up, one of my favorite places to be on the Lord's day.
It was a sunny, brutally cold day here in NH on this first Sunday of Lent, and I decided to dress (mostly) in liturgically-appropriate purple.  I wore one of my favorite knit sheath dresses, bought at a Talbot's after-season clearance sale a few years ago.  I couldn't decide which color I liked best (they were all so pretty!), so my husband encouraged me to get three of them, in shades of Kelly green, bright red, and deep purple. (Did I mention that I love it when he goes shopping with me?) I chose the purple one today and topped it with a black 3/4-sleeve cardigan, a recent TJ Maxx bargain find, and my favorite Walmart opaque black tights. 
As you can see from my much-too-awkward fashion photo there, we have begun the process of taking pictures off the walls and boxing up our books, CD's, etc., in preparation for our coming move to VA.  But I decided to hang the Papal Blessing back up for this photo, so JPII could do one last "My Sunday Best" photo-bomb in this house.

I love the bow-shaped rhinestone buttons on this cardigan.  Let's see if we can't get a better look at them, shall we?
Photos just don't do them justice.  (For Mass, I also wore my beautiful lavender veil from Veils by Lily, a gift from my husband a couple of Christmases ago.  As you could probably tell from the picture, but I thought I'd point it out anyway.)

Moving on to other fun accessories from this week's Mass ensemble: I actually wore earrings today, which is something I rarely do; and they were dangly ones, rarer still.  But these beauties were a gift from my oldest son and his wife (for Mother's Day or my birthday a few years back), and I just love that they have not only pearls on them, but Miraculous Medals as well.
Aren't they lovely?

I wore another not-so-lovely accessory today: a collection of Band-Aids on my arm, to cover a long , narrow burn I got from the edge of a hot frying pan the other day.  (I'm a fairly decent cook, but I'm an accident waiting to happen in the kitchen.  I should really never go in there.)
After Mass, as we shook hands with the pastor on the way out, he said he'd heard through the grapevine that we were moving soon.  He wished us well and said that he would give us a blessing before we left, and needless to say, the waterworks started. I am so easily brought to tears these days!  But it's hard to imagine that we will no longer be parishioners at the church where our boys received their sacraments, served as altar boys, and attended Mass with us for so many years.

On our way to the car, we stopped at the Mary Garden not far from the church entrance.  I love this little garden.  When I set out to write Erin's Ring and decided that my heroine would find an old Irish Claddagh ring with a mysterious past, I knew right away that she would find it poking up out of the dirt in this garden.
It's prettier when things are green and blooming, obviously; but even on the bleakest days of winter I love this spot dedicated to Our Lady.

Speaking of Erin's Ring, I am hosting a giveaway over at Instagram (#erinsringgiveaway): I will be giving away a free signed copy of the book, with the winner to be announced on St. Patty's Day.  If you'd like to know how to enter, click on the Instagram icon on the sidebar and it will bring you to my home page.  I have been advertising the giveaway using pictures of my adorable grandchildren holding copies of Erin's Ring.  Just "like" one of those posts and you'll be entered to win (and if you tag a friend, he or she will be entered, too).

That's it for me.  Happy Sunday, everyone!  Now head on over to Rosie's for more Lenten fashions.

Friday, March 3, 2017

I'm Hanging Out over at Instagram These Days--and Running a Giveaway

I am the worst. blogger. ever.  It's like I'm never here anymore.  But I have a really good excuse, I swear!  You see, after more than 26 years, we're moving from what we thought might be a "forever home" for us; and it's happening so much faster than I ever imagined it would.  (We decided we might want to sell in late January, and we will be closing on March 17!  And the house never even got listed.  It's a crazy story.  If you're new here, this recent post explains the whirlwind that is our life right now.)
It's really hard to get ready for a big move (from NH to VA) when for so long, you never thought you would leave your beloved house--and therefore you didn't do a lot of purging through the decades.  Especially if you have an enormous walk-up attic that conveniently fits a whole lot of packages, boxes, and bags, making it easy for you to procrastinate and say, "I'll get to that later."  And especially if your five boys--who are now ranging in age from 24 to 33, with four of them married and having families of their own--also had the mindset of, "I'll get to that later," leaving almost all of their boyhood memorabilia behind (figuring, and rightly so, that Mom and Dad had a lot more room to store it than they did).

This process is feeling like a bit of a Lenten sacrifice for me, going through all of these precious and even not-so-precious things.  (People say, "Just let the movers box it up and worry about going through it when you get down there."  However, the idea of having to spend the first few months in our newer, smaller house culling through all of this junk is so stressful to me that I'd rather take care of it on this end. )  But it's undoubtedly been good for me.  I'm a saver, particularly when it comes to items that tell the story of our boys' history and our life as a family in this house.  I gotta say, this experience is making me realize that I keep a whole lot more than I should...and it's making me want to live my life clutter-free (or clutter-reduced, anyway) from now on. 

For instance, I kept every single trophy my boys ever received--even the participation trophies from youth sports.  Last night, I FaceTimed with son #2, going through each and every one of his awards to see which I should keep and which I should toss, and we both had a good hearty laugh.  Apparently, he's okay with not holding onto his t-ball participation trophy from kindergarten!  Huh, who would have thought? In the end, there were very few items that he felt strongly enough about to hold onto. After we spoke, I decided to do a brutal clearing-out of his brothers' trophies, too, without bothering to FaceTime each of them (I don't even know who I am anymore!!), keeping only the ones that said "MVP" or "Offensive Lineman of the Year" or something equally noteworthy.  (Full disclosure: my youngest son's trophy collection has not gone through a weeding-out yet; I just can't get rid of anything of his until he gets further along in his grown-up life.)

So now there's a box containing evidence of my four older boys' football, lacrosse, and basketball glory days in our garage, awaiting disposal (as soon as we get a second dumpster--yes, we've already filled one!).  Kind of sad--but kind of freeing, too.
And these old decaying football pads, chin straps, gloves (and jock straps--ew!): you know what I said to them?  "Buh-bye."  I did.  I'm so proud of myself.
These old presentation boards from grade school science fair projects?  Buh-bye to them, too!
Why did I keep them, I wonder?  I never even liked the science fair--it involved too much stress, and too many car rides on school nights to connect our boys with their study partners!  (Don't even get me started on group projects for school--I think all kids should have to work individually!!  That's my personal takeaway as a "been there-done that" mother of grown children, and I hope you don't mind that I shared it with you.  If you are driving your kids all over the place during the after-school hours so they can work on their group projects, you have my sympathies, mamas!)

I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that in my travels in the attic, I found a large plastic bin filled with folded-up old calendar pages.  We used to hang a huge calendar on our ginormous bulletin board in the kitchen, in order to keep track of all of our boys' activities and our family events.  I remember not being able to throw them out, my excuse being that sometimes I jotted down phone numbers on them, and I might need to refer to an old page someday.  In truth, I thought of them as a sort of journal of our family life, and I couldn't seem to get rid of them.
I am proud to report that these precious-to-me-but-to-nobody-else-on-earth pieces of paper are now in the recycling bin.  But I did take photos of a few random pages before I tossed them in there; it was the only way I could make the break.  (Picture me sitting here with a sheepish look on my face.)

Here's another find that should make me feel pretty sheepish.  In my youngest son's trunk, I was going through all the treasures to make sure there wasn't anything in there that would be better off in the "toss" pile, and I found a ziplock bag with a splint and two finger casts in it, from when he hyper-extended his pinky in a football game in high school...and kept on playing!  This baggie was right next to a sweet collage I made as a memento of our homeschool classroom, when he graduated 8th grade and went to the same Catholic high school his brothers had attended.  I asked my husband for his advice regarding that ziplock bag ("Toss it out!" he said, without hesitation), but then I didn't take it.  Why do I even ask him, if I know what I'm going to do already?
I found my oldest son's LL Bean backpack from high school, with his initials embroidered on it.  It's still is pretty good shape, actually, considering its age.  (LL Bean is the best!)  And inside I discovered the suede and leather saddle shoes that I got him on clearance before he started his freshman year and which became a bit of a trademark for him.  He literally wore them throughout high school; I replaced the first worn-out pair with another exactly like them so that he could make it through until graduation!
In spite of keeping lots and lots of things (oh my, those boys sure collected a lot of football cards!), some of them as ridiculous as those little finger casts, I have managed to get rid of a mountain of useless clutter.  I have made countless trips to both Goodwill and the recycling center.  And you cannot even imagine how many empty large plastic bins I have now, after four straight days of working like a dog up in that attic!  I wish I had a Fitbit; I'd love to know how many steps I've taken and how many stairs I've climbed.

I still have some work to do.  Such as boxing up these precious T-Rex and St. Patrick Halloween costumes worn by my youngest boy back in the day.
My husband has been working so hard, too, getting all of our plumbing issues resolved, going through mounds of filed paperwork, finishing bathroom renovations, prepping walls so I can do the touch-up painting that we promised to do.  And yesterday, he had the sad task of taking down our boys' football jerseys in the "new room," our garage-turned-man cave/sports room.  That was a tad painful.  A few days earlier, I'd taken down over 100 framed pictures on the walls of this room, many of them photos of our boys in their football, basketball, and lacrosse-playing days.  That was tough.

I've been chronicling our move over at Instagram if you'd like to follow along there (because unfortunately, for the foreseeable future I'm probably going to be 'gramming a lot more often than I'll be blogging).  Just click on the Instagram icon on the side bar and it'll take you to my home page, if you're interested.

Now about that Instagram giveaway I mentioned in the title of this post...I'm giving away a free signed copy of Erin's Ring, and the winner will be announced on St. Patty's Day.  If you want to know how to enter the contest, look for my recent Instagram post with this darling image of Princesa reading Grammy's book, and the directions for getting your name in the hat are in the text under the picture.
May you have the luck of the Irish!  (And I hope that we will as well, as we go through this difficult transition!)

See you over at the 'gram, dear readers.  :)