Thursday, April 27, 2017

House Tour: Part I

I've been posting some photos of the new house over on Instagram and have been encouraged by several followers to do a little tour.  I actually love it when the bloggers I follow give us glimpses into their homes, so I thought it might be fun to do that here at String of Pearls.

I suppose that technically, this is really Part II of the house tour.  Because I've already shown you the downstairs half-bath in our new house in VA (it's a bird bath, actually).  But I thought I'd start now at the front entrance and take you through the living room and dining room--which have always been two of my favorite rooms in the house.  I like to sit in such rooms, sipping a cup of coffee while reading or simply enjoying the peaceful ambience.  Family rooms (with toys and TV's and the necessary clutter of daily life) and kitchens (with their necessary messes), make up the true heart of a home; but I find that I also need some tranquil, pretty, uncluttered spaces in my life.

So, here we go.  Let's start at the front door, shall we?
I actually love the front entrance of this house.  It's very bright and airy.  It's also a bit on the grand side--with a two-story ceiling open to the second-story landing...and columns.  Columns!  Well, la-di-da, we have columns in our house.  I feel like Scarlett O'Hara or something.
I've always been a fan of the practical over the dramatic, because I look at two-story foyers like this one and think how much bigger the rooms upstairs could be if there was a floor there instead of all this wasted space.  (Also, my worry-wart side cringes at the idea of one of my darling little grandchildren deciding to see what it would be like to play circus performer and climb up on this railing.  [Shudder.])

But there are no two ways about it--it does make for a lovely entryway.

This house is much more open than our traditional Colonial in NH, which for the most part was what would have to be considered closed-concept.  Walls--the rooms had walls.  But in this house all the rooms downstairs pretty much flow into each other.  From the front entrance, you can see the dining room on the left, the living room on the right, and the kitchen/family room area straight ahead.

The dining room is a good bit smaller than our old one; but the fact that it has three walls instead of four makes it feel a good bit bigger than it is.  We took two leaves out of our antique oak table so that it wouldn't spill too far out into the hallway, but they can be added when we need them for big family dinners.
The tray ceiling, painted the same gray as the walls beneath the chair rail, is such an unexpected and beautiful touch.  My old dining room was bold red under the chair rail and cream above it; but I love this gray-and-white dining room just the way it is and have no plans to repaint it.  If it ain't broke, as they say, don't fix it.  I was inspired by the color scheme to find traditional black-and-white toile valances online, and I think they look lovely in this room.
From the dining room, you can see right into the kitchen from one angle.
And into the living room from another.
The living room, like the dining room, is smaller than the one we had in NH.  But the fact that it, too, is open on one side makes it feel so much roomier.  And what we found when we had a crowd here on Easter (15 adults and 5 small children) is that guests are much more likely to sit in there and chat than they were in our old house in NH, because they don't feel cut off from the action.  While some of us were sitting at the dining room table talking after we'd finished our meal (one of my favorite activities, hands down), there was a small group hanging out in there, and it was like we were all together in one large room.

I love that this room was painted almost exactly the same shade of green as our old living room, and that means that our old couches (and they are OLD--we bought them in 1994!) look just perfect in there.  It's like we've recreated our NH "Rosary Room" here in VA.

So that's the front (and probably the prettiest) part of our new house.  But the best thing about this (or any) house is not the stuff in it, of course, but the people.  And on Easter Sunday, our entryway looked prettier than ever, when it was filled with our three VA daughters-in-law (who between them are expecting five babies in the coming months!!!).
And then by the staircase just next door to the living room, there was this priceless encounter between Princesa, in the arms of her daddy, and one of her fun uncles--which ended in kisses and giggles.
I think this is going to be a very good house.  A very good house indeed.

I'll be back again with Part II of the tour.  But in the meantime, have a great weekend!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Grace-Filled Tuesdays: Book Club "Meeting" #27: Marketing

Hey, did you know that I have this online book club called Grace-filled Tuesdays (where I discuss my two Catholic novels, Finding Grace and Erin's Ring, and the things that inspired me to write them)?   If you didn't know before, you do now.  And it's Tuesday, so welcome to the club!  Grab yourself a cup of coffee (that's what I'd do, anyway, because that's what I always do) and have a seat.  I'm so glad you're here!
You know, I have to say that I am proud and honored that both of my novels made it into print (proud and honored, and also deeply humbled), because they are filled with lovable Catholic characters, inspirational story lines, and plenty of positive messages for readers of all faiths.  I feel this way in spite of the fact that neither has enjoyed wide readership.  I admit that sometimes I feel a bit discouraged by my books' lack of worldly success (something I vowed I'd never do...but I am only human, after all).   On occasion, I'll say to my husband, "I think my little experiment with being a writer has been a dismal failure."  But then he'll remind me again of the reasons I wrote these books in the first place, and those reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with money or acclaim; instead, they have everything to do with trying to use the gifts God gave me, such as they are, to their fullest potential, and more importantly, striving to use them for His greater glory.  If achieving that goal is the point of it all, then I need to have a "mission accomplished" attitude and go a little easier on myself.

The hardest thing about writing books, apparently, isn't even the writing itself; it's the marketing.  If you're not good at marketing, it is well nigh impossible to get your books into the hands of readers.  I keep plugging away at it, by now and again hosting a giveaway over at Goodreads or here on the blog, by reaching out to Catholic bloggers who might be willing to review them, by contacting Catholic schools to see if they would be interested in having some donated copies for their libraries.  But for the most part, I stay where I am most comfortable, incurable introvert that I am: very much behind the scenes, where I am neither seen nor heard.  This is not a good marketing strategy, by the way.  In case you were wondering.

So yesterday, in an effort to make more of an effort in the marketing department, I ordered new business cards.  (The information on my old ones was a bit out-of-date.)  You can custom-design them at Vistaprint for an extremely reasonable price: $9.99 will get you 500--which is about 480 more than I would probably ever need, mind you, but you just can't beat that price!

So I'm having this one made for Finding Grace.
And this one for Erin's Ring.
I should have figured out a way to put both titles and both book cover images on one card, but I am not tech-savvy enough to manage that.  So I'm going to have 1,000 business cards in all.  That should be plenty.  I should be set for years to come, even if I finally get brave enough to put myself "out there" on a more regular basis and end up doing some book signings.

I am enjoying having a wonderful office in our new house in VA, where my husband and I each have our own desks, our own rolling desk chairs, our own printers, our own file cabinets, our own shelves, etc.  I would have loved to have a set-up like this one back when I was working on my books.  It almost makes me want to write another one...but before I do that, I think I need to figure out how to market the first two!

As I was unpacking boxes after the move and organizing my new office space, I came across a letter that I had forgotten about, and it was a good reminder that I am not in this business to make money but instead to touch the heart and soul of even a single reader who might benefit from reading my work.  These are the words of one such reader, who contacted me last year via email (most likely by clicking the "Email Me" link on the sidebar of this blog):

Mrs. Pearl,

I recently finished your book "Finding Grace" and wanted to thank you for writing it.  My mother read it and gave me a copy quite a while ago.  I am ashamed to say how long it sat on my book shelf.  My mother grew up in Rutland, VT [across the lake from Plattsburgh, NY, the setting for Finding Grace] and went to Catholic school.  I think that probably made her love the book even more. 

I know your book is aimed towards teens or youth, but I think it has a very wide appeal.  I am a 39 year old mother of 6 (two boys, then four girls) and I found lots of inspiration to be a better mother, wife, daughter, and human within its pages.

I found myself wiping tears from my face when I got to the part at the end of the book when Irene was at the church.  You tackled some very tough subject matter with kindness and grace.  I am hoping to get my oldest daughter to read it (she will be 13 this summer).  I find myself wanting to recommend it to everyone.  Again, thank you so much for writing this book and sharing it with the world.

I find myself wiping tears from MY face, dear reader of Finding Grace.  Because of your kind words of affirmation, I dare to believe that the four-and-a-half-year stretch I spent bringing Grace Kelly's story to life was not a waste of time.  And I find myself inspired to become a better marketer.  (Also, you have my permission to share it with the world.  Share away!)

In the world of Catholic fiction publishing, word of mouth is the very best tool for getting books into the hands of readers.  I've been blessed to have Internet friends like Aileen, who has voluntarily helped me to spread the word on various forms of social media.
If you feel moved to do the same, I could use all the help I can get!

God bless you with faith, family, and friends--and let's not forget fiction.  Okay then, this meeting is adjourned.  (But if you have any questions for me regarding either of my books, or if you would like to receive a copy for review, or if you are a teacher interested in purchasing some copies at a reduced rate for classroom use, please contact me!)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Grammy Heaven

One of my daughters-in-law (Ginger, wife of son #2) mentioned that she likes reading these Quick Takes posts, and it got me thinking that it had been a while since I'd linked up with Kelly et al.  So here goes--a couple of random snapshots of life here in Northern VA, where I am currently in Grammy Heaven, hanging out with the little peeps that are already here and helping to prepare for the ones that will be arriving soon.

On Wednesday, I babysat for my middle son and his wife Preciosa, so that they could both go to her OB/GYN appointment and get a look at their third child on the sonogram screen.  I got to spend a couple of hours with my buddy, G-Man, who is particularly attached to me lately (not that I'm complaining, mind you) and his darling little sister, Princesa.  As I was getting ready to make the 38-minute drive (only 38 minutes!  Imagine!) from our house to theirs, Preciosa sent me a text telling me that G-Man was whining for me and wondering if I could leave a bit earlier than I'd planned.  Apparently, she'd made the mistake of telling him that I was coming soon not long after he woke up.  So this is how he spent most of his time until I finally got there.
Is it terrible for a grandmother to be sort of happy that her grandson is sad, if the reason is because she's not there yet?  I hope not, because I must admit that this photo of G-Man waiting for me makes my heart burst a little.  I don't even know why he's so crazy about me; I'm not the "fun" one (that would be Papa, who plays "upside-down boy" and games like that). I can only guess that there's still a special bond between us from those early months in his life, when I was living at his house and was his daily caretaker until his mommy was able to leave her job and become a full-time SAHM.

The reunion (after the three whole days we'd been apart since Easter Sunday) was a happy one!
Two-year-old boys, in my opinion, are practically the cutest things on earth.  Especially two-year-old boys in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jammies.

G-Man put me right to work writing out the alphabet and making a picture for each letter (he is utterly OBSESSED with letters and numbers--and a budding genius to boot). 

He also did my hair for me, free of charge. He is quite the stylist.  The hair salon's got nothing on this little guy.

G-Man wanted to be on my lap or right next to me on the couch the whole time he was up.  When naptime rolled around, however, Princesa decided that it was HER turn for full-on Grammy attention.  I let her cry for a bit, but she had a cough and a runny nose, and I didn't have the heart to listen to her for long.  So she and I got a little snuggle time in, which was heavenly.
Then we got a little one-on-one playtime in, too, while her big brother slept. 

Now on to Thursday, when I drove 35 minutes (only 35 minutes!  Imagine!) to son #4's house, on a mission to repaint the bedroom that will be the nursery for the triplets he's expecting with his wife, Braveheart.  (Talk about choosing the perfect blog name for this sweet daughter-in-law, who is facing the impending births of three babies at once with a great deal of courage.)  The room was a particularly loud shade of blue--the picture doesn't really tell the full story.  I can see why they wanted to paint it.  (Down the road, they will also want to paint the other guest room, which is Pepto-Bismol pink!)
They chose a more soothing shade for their babies, a soft mint green.

The kids left me a key so that I could let myself in and paint while they were at work.  When they got home, voila!  A whole new room!  (I love paint, don't you?  It can completely transform a room.)  They were so appreciative that they insisted on taking me out to dinner, which they didn't have to do.  (But it was fun, I must say.)

I loved our home in NH so much; but there were definitely times when I wished I lived closer to my kids and grandkids and could do more for them and their families on a regular basis.  So I'm really, REALLY glad we moved to VA, which truly is Grammy Heaven for me.

Now head on over to Kelly's to see what the other Takers have to say.  Quick!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Birds in the Bathroom

When we moved into our new house here in VA, we noticed that most of the rooms appeared to have been freshly painted--which I definitely appreciated.  Luckily, I liked all of the colors the former owners had chosen--or at least if I didn't think they were quite my cup of tea initially, they gradually grew on me.  The only room that I have repainted since we moved in is the master bedroom, the white walls of which were showing more wear and tear than any of the others in the house.  (We chose a neutral, grayish-beige shade called "Revere Pewter," after we saw how good it looked in our middle son's home.)

The half-bath in the hallway off the kitchen was a cheery sky blue, and at first I thought I might prefer a more subtle (and currently on trend) shade of gray.  I had painted both of the upstairs bathrooms in our old house pale gray, once we decided that we were going to sell, and I really liked the way it looked.

However, the more I studied that blue bathroom, the more the color grew on me.   I had already planned that I was going to hang some framed photos of birds in this bathroom--and not just any birds, but the birds that used to grace the walls of our old upstairs bathrooms (before we went all HGTV and painted over them to get the house ready to show).  Sky blue walls would be the perfect backdrop.

In this photo of the bathroom in our old house (the one our boys used to share), which was taken before we began renovating it last fall, you can see a seagull perched on top of the shower.
In our old master bathroom, there was a robin standing on top of the shower. 

Anyway, I decided that the only thing missing to make my bird pictures look at home in the new bathroom was a scattering of fluffy white clouds.  These took about 15 minutes to add, using some acrylic paint and a round sponge.

There was a little corner shelf hanging in there, left behind by the previous owners.  And I had the perfect knickknack to fill it: a wooden shore bird that was hand-carved and painted by a highly esteemed artist named Delbert "Cigar" Daisey, a Chincoteague, VA native who is well-known for his intricately detailed bird decoys.   (I actually met him once and blogged about the experience, if you're interested.)
Cigar was my late aunt's boyfriend; after her death, my mother inherited the wooden bird carvings he'd given to her as gifts, and then she passed some of them on to her own daughters.  The one Mom gave to me now sits on that shelf in my first-floor powder room.  (He shares the shelf with a little fired clay souvenir I bought in Cancun when my husband and I took our delayed honeymoon in 1982, about a year and a half after our wedding, after he'd earned his Naval Aviator's wings.)
When my second-oldest son was at our house on Easter and saw the clouds in the bathroom, he teased, "You just couldn't help yourself, could you?"  No, I couldn't.  I've always had to have bits of whimsy in my home.  Such as various animals--pigs, birds, squirrels, you name it--painted on the walls.  And most blue walls just cry out for clouds, as far as I'm concerned.  It was almost as if once I got those clouds added to that bathroom, the house felt more like "ours."

After having to paint over all the animals that had decorated the walls of our NH house, I just don't think I have the heart to paint new ones on the walls of this house.  But I'm finding that it's comforting to have photographs that I took of them hanging here--it's as if they made the move with us, and they seem to be very much at home in their new digs.

In fact, as an afterthought, I added a framed photo of the mouse who used to live just outside the door of the first floor half-bath in our old house.
He was painted on the wall just above the floor molding; so I decided that was just where I should hang this little frame.
Hanging a picture frame this close to the floor might be a big no-no in the interior designer's handbook, but I don't care.  I believe you need to have fun with your house and make it look the way you want it to, no matter how much the next owner might question your taste.  If you want birds in the bathroom--and clouds, and mice--then you should have them, IMHO.

But then again, no one would ever pay me to decorate their house!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

We're Officially Virginians!

Hello, dear readers!  I'm back--after being AWOL from this blog for over a month (the longest I've ever gone since I opened up shop at String of Pearls way back in March of 2011).  Here is a link to my last post, written on March 13 in preparation for the house closing that would take place less than a week later.  In it, I talked about leaving behind a letter for the new owners of what we thought was our "forever home" in NH, but was actually just the happy setting for a really long and fulfilling chapter in the life of the Pearl family.  (If you haven't read it, click on the link--and maybe have some tissues handy.)
Now a new chapter has begun, and as tough as it was to turn that page after more than a quarter of a century, to drive away from that beloved Colonial nestled in the woods and head south to VA, we are already starting to fall in love with our new home and our new town--not to mention our new life.  There were tears leading up to and immediately following the big move, don't get me wrong; but the rewards we have reaped already in the short time we've been down here are incalculable.  Life is always changing, evolving and going through new seasons; and although I've never been all that good at accepting change, I can already see that this is going to be a wonderful, blessed chapter in our family's story.

So...we're Virginians now.  And check out the sweet welcome basket our three VA boys and their wives had waiting to greet us when we got here.
I'm writing this post at my perfect little writing desk, situated between two windows in the office my husband and I set up in one of the four upstairs bedrooms in our new house.  An office with two work spaces, two brand new matching rolling desk chairs, two printers, two file cabinets--well, you get the picture.  It's an office for two (a "his 'n hers"!), and before this we really never even had a dedicated office space for one.  I mean, we did have an area of the basement that had a desk and a file cabinet, and that's where our desktop computer and our printer were always located.  But once my husband transformed our old garage into the "new room" (that is, a large man cave/sports room/family room) and the boys stopped using the basement as a hangout, the office down there started to feel a bit like a dungeon, and we started doing our work on our laptops, using random tables all over the first floor of the house.  It feels so luxurious to have a whole room that is an honest-to-goodness office.
By golly, with an office like this at my disposal, I may even start writing again.  (This blog post is baby step #1.  And forgive me if it is disjointed and all over the place--I just really don't even know where to begin, so much has happened since I last blogged!)

So on March 18 we closed on our old house, and that same day we left for VA.  We each drove a car over to Logan Airport in Boston and left one at my husband's employee parking lot, then got into the other one and drove down together to leave it at one of our son's houses.  We got about an hour or two of sleep there, then our boy gave us a ride to the airport in DC, we flew back to Boston to get the other car, and we immediately turned around and made the trip south again, this time staying with another son and his family.  Phew!  That was pretty tiring, doing back-to-back road trips down the East Coast.  At our age, no less.  But we survived all of that.  Then on March 21, we closed on our new house, and that same day, the moving truck arrived with all of our belongings.  To say that it was a whirlwind experience is putting it mildly.
It seems like yesterday that I was painting over the beloved pigs on the walls of my old kitchen

and sweeping up the last traces of Pearl family history littering the floor of the attic, leaving it as clean as a whistle for the new owners.
A quick aside before I go on: I love the random items that ended up in the dustpan that day, because they were such sweet reminders of the boys who'd lived in that house and the memories they'd created there over the years.  There was a dinosaur toy and a Pokémon card; a picture of an NFL player, and also one from a zoo trip years ago; there was Easter grass from their baskets, along with a red Christmas bow and some faux Christmas greenery.  I got teary-eyed when I looked at that pile, amazed that the very last sweep-through of that once-crowded attic would produce such a perfect collection of mementos.
Back to the move-in day now.  I am ashamed to admit that I spent most of it in tears.  Those poor movers--every time they asked me where they should put some piece of furniture, I could hardly answer them.  So many boxes ended up in the basement, because I had no idea where I wanted them to go.   It was all so overwhelming.  The house seemed much too small to hold all the stuff that they'd packed on the truck in NH, even though we'd filled two dumpsters and made countless trips to drop donations off at Goodwill in preparation for downsizing. I was missing my old house something fierce that day.  I was missing that enormous walk-up attic with all of its glorious storage space, for one thing!

But some of my emotional fragility was caused by the stress of moving (it's a thing, I hear) and sheer exhaustion, I'm sure.  Because it didn't take long for my nesting instincts to kick in, and within a couple of days, I was sort of falling in love with our new house.  I was enjoying the challenges of figuring out how to fill in all the new spaces and make it really feel like "ours."

When I packed our two cars to the gills with all of the too-precious-to-go-on-the-moving-truck items (like family photographs, letters that my husband wrote to me when he was in college at Notre Dame and I was at Holy Cross, and hand-drawn cards that our boys made for us in grade school), I included some decorative things that I knew I wanted to hang up almost immediately, so that the new place would feel like home as soon as possible.  I knew that if I let the movers pack them, it might take weeks to find them amidst the piles of boxes.  Among those things we brought in the cars with us were canvases I'd had made from photos of my precious pigs, and the metal star that used to hang on our front door in NH.

While the movers were busy bringing our stuff into the house, my husband heard me hammering nails into the walls.  He said that for a second he was surprised, and he wanted to say, "Really?  You're hanging pictures NOW?"  But then he realized that this is the way I operate, this is what makes me happy.  And after all the tears he'd seen me cry in the previous weeks as we prepared to move out of our old house, he just wanted me to be happy.  (He's the best, you know.  Absolutely the best.  Just sayin'.)

So within hours of taking ownership of our new home, we already had a few gallery walls completed.

This one in the kitchen--with my pigs taking center stage.
And this one in the family room--it's my little homage to our life in NH.
That's all the home décor I'm going to subject you to right now.  Let me know if you'd be interested in a more in-depth house tour in the future (it has been suggested to me by some people who have seen the pictures I've posted recently on Instagram).

So we're settling in and starting to get familiar with our surroundings.  We like the small, charming Southern town and our friendly new parish.  But what we like best is being less than 40 minutes from two of our boys and their families, and about an hour and a half (soon to be more like 50 minutes) from another.  We have seen them all so much already--and now we can do this without getting on an airplane!  We had all of them over for an Easter brunch, along with a college friend of two of our daughters-in-law, one of my husband's brothers, his wife, and their daughter and son-in-law, and one of my husband's sisters, her daughter, and two of her grandchildren.  It is so wonderful to be able to host a big family holiday celebration that doesn't involve people having to travel long distances!
All three of our daughters-in-law that live down here are currently expecting.  And here is the drawing my very talented fourth son created to announce the impending birth of his first child(ren):
Yes, there are three eggs in that nest.  They are expecting triplets!!  I'd say that we got down here just in time, wouldn't you?  And we didn't even know this was happening when we made the sudden decision to move to VA about a year or so ahead of when we originally thought we might do such a thing.  God was certainly giving us a not-so-gentle nudge in this direction, and now we can see why He thought it would be better if we moved sooner rather than later.  There will be five new grandchildren born here in VA in 2017 (bringing our total to a dozen!), and we think we'll be able to give our kids a lot more help and support with their growing families now that we're all practically neighbors.

I have to think of a way to finish off this post, which could go on forever and ever, I fear, now that I've finally ended my month-long Internet silence!  It's coming to a close soon, I promise...

One of the hardest things about leaving our old house was that our youngest son, who has never lived in any other home and has always been quite attached to that one (as you know already, if you've clicked on that link at the beginning of this post and read what he wrote about it!), is currently stationed in Germany and won't be coming back to the States for good for about a year-and-a-half.  Selling his childhood home when he is living so far away, and isn't married yet with a house of his own, seemed like a rather heartless thing to do.

Not long after we moved in, I was coming back from a shopping trip, and as I drove into our new neighborhood I was struck by how pretty it was, with the outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  I pulled over and snapped this picture and texted it to him, saying that although I knew it wasn't the same as our old neighborhood, it wasn't too shabby.
He sent a humorous text saying that he didn't like it.  I texted back, "I will always miss our old house.  Always.  And I will miss living in a town and an area I knew really well, and running into people who knew you guys when you were small.  It's hard."  But the flip side, I told him, was that we had seen two of his brothers and their wives that day, we were babysitting two of the grandchildren the next day, and the day after that, his other brother was coming over to visit our new house with his little son.  "Those are the things that make this move all worth it.  But I still get a little weepy sometimes.  Maybe I always will.  Even though I really, really like our new town and the new house, and I think you will, too."  Etc.

Here is the text response my baby sent back.

He is the best.  Absolutely the best.  Just sayin'.  (It's a trait he inherited from his dad.  All my boys have it, this best-ness.)

So that's it from the great state of Virginia (which is for Lovers, you know).  For now, anyway.  And I promise--or perhaps I should say that I hope--it won't be another month before you hear from me again.