Friday, June 30, 2017

Lovin' Life in Virginia

I love my new home state.  I do.  I mean I even bought myself this shirt.  And see how happy I am?  I've got some serious Virginia love going on.

In the three months since we've been residents here, after moving away from the house we thought was--but decidedly wasn't--our "forever home" in NH, I have truly, truly grown to love my new Southern zip code.

It helps that three of our married sons and four of our grandchildren (soon  to be eight, actually!) live less than an hour away from us now.  And it helps that all of our VA kids were actually really excited to have us move nearby and become a bigger part of their day-to-day lives.

I got a bad case of poison ivy a couple of weeks ago--something that hasn't happened to me in about 40 years (and I hope I've got 40 more before I ever have to go through it again).

I was put on prednisone and antihistamines, but the rash got much worse before it got better, and new hives kept popping up.  I began to worry that not only was the steroid not working, but that I might be allergic to it.  (I'm allergic to four different antibiotics, after all.)  On Father's Day, my husband and I were attempting to fly out to the Midwest to see our oldest son and his family, but I ended up backing out of the trip, worried that I would have an anaphylactic reaction in mid-air.  We'd spent the whole day at one major DC airport, where we'd been bumped from two consecutive flights.  We were on a train headed to the other airport to try to get the last plane out of Dodge, but I was so incredibly itchy that I started to get panicky, and we ended up driving back home for the night.  I felt just awful.  My husband flew out the next day without me (he had no choice: he was going out there not only to have a short visit with our son's gang, but also to fly a scheduled working trip to Honolulu and back from an airport near where they live).

A few nights after my husband left, I was alone at our new house, and as I stood up I had a sudden sensation of being on the verge of passing out.  I had a serious bout of anxiety, and gripping the counter to keep from fainting, I called 911.  Then I realized I should have just called one of my boys, now that they're so close by.  So I called the 911 operator back and tried to cancel the ambulance, but the EMT's came to check on me anyway.  It was so embarrassing.  Eight of them trooped in the front door, and I spent most of the time they were with me apologizing for wasting their time.  (Who knew poison ivy could cause so much trouble?!)

Long story short, though: my middle son was my hero that night and drove 35 minutes to my house to get me after the emergency crew had left, and I ended up having two sleepovers at his house, with his wife and his two darling kids.

That's just one of the many reasons I'm so happy that we're here in VA now, neighbors to those who are most dear to us.

My husband doesn't have a VA t-shirt.  But he does have this awesome bar glass, part of a gift basket of VA-themed items that our kids had waiting for us when we first arrived here in March. 
Okay, so we've established that I love it here...but right now I'm about to head to the airport with my hubby to take an early morning flight out to Michigan.  Details to follow later!  This post is going out into the blogosphere, finished or not.  (I will probably shudder later and fret about all of the edits I should have done...)

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #28): Writing...about Writing

When I go too long without doing it, I really miss writing.
In the new office in our house in VA that I share with my husband:
a vintage typewriter, bought at a consignment shop in NH for $65.
It was something I thought a writer ought to have.
That's not to say that I believe I'm a particularly good writer; it's just that I have a burning need to write.  It's an exercise that feeds my soul.  I love words.  I love figuring out how to arrange them best so that they say just what it is I want them to say.  Not that I'm always successful, mind you; but the process of messing around with them is just so. much. FUN.

I suppose that's why blogging has been such a good outlet for me for the past six years--and why I keep coming back to it, even when I think I've got nothing interesting to say anymore.

I became a writer relatively late in life, after decades of being a stay-at-home-mom.  When I started working on what I was sure would be my one and only novel in 2007, I was 49, my oldest son was a year out of college and a newly-minted officer in the Army, my youngest son was a freshman in high school, and the three sons in between were away at college.  Unless it was summertime or the college-aged boys were home on a holiday break, I was often alone in the house during those writing days, down in my basement "office."  I might still be in my bathrobe at 2:30 in the afternoon, if it was a particularly productive session (with my first cup of coffee on the desk, long forgotten and cold--an almost unheard of scenario for me, if you know how much coffee I usually drink, and proof that writing completely took over my thoughts and energies).  Even though I never really believed that all those painstakingly created pages would actually be published or read by anyone outside of my inner circle of friends and family, I thoroughly enjoyed the writing for its own sake.

During the almost five years that I spent writing and re-writing--and for the umpteenth time, re-writing!--Finding Grace (with plenty of breaks, of course, when I had to close up shop for days or weeks at a time to attend to the needs of my husband and my boys), I was so happy.  Sometimes when I was working on the dialogue between Grace and Tom, or Grace and Jimmy, in a scene that really tickled me,  I'd realize that I had a silly grin on my face as I tapped away on the keys of my laptop.  "Yes, that's it!"  I would think, often saying it out loud.  "That's just what he would say in that situation!"  What an indescribable joy that was, spending those years getting to know that cast of characters who became like friends to me.  I miss spending that time with them, I really do.

Some days, though, I would ask myself why in the world I was dedicating countless hours to a fictional story that few people (if anyone) would ever read; my generous and ridiculously supportive husband, however, would tell me that if it made me happy to write, that was enough.  But I couldn't help but wonder: does someone deserve to devote so much time to an activity merely because it makes her happy to do so?  That seemed rather frivolous and self-indulgent to me, and I worried that perhaps my days would have been better spent doing more tangible good in the world.

What I must remind myself on an almost daily basis is that God has not given us all the same talents and skill sets.  Some of His children have personalities and abilities that make them suited for very big and visible ways of making a difference in the world; and some of them are more introverted and shy, and must do their work in quieter ways, behind the scenes.  I become tongue-tied in most situations where face-to-face, I am asked to explain or defend my Faith.  But I can sit at my keyboard and pour out my beliefs through the written word.  I have let my books' characters speak for me at times, and pray that God will appreciate the effort I've made to use them for His greater glory and not my own.

I have an idea for another novel, a work of historical fiction that would be a sort of sequel to Erin's Ring (in that it would involve the same young girls, now a few years older and learning about another fascinating and little-known historical event in the Catholic Church).  So far, however, I have not been able to get disciplined enough to get past the first two chapters.  I would need to do quite a bit of research, and I'm daunted by that prospect.  Pray for me, will you?  Because there is a beautiful story about Mary's intercession, about an event that happened right here in our country and about which most people probably know very little, that I truly believe needs to be told.  I want so badly to write it--not for myself, because I think it will lead to commercial success or professional recognition, but for the greater glory of God and His Blessed Mother.
You know, I just realized that it's Tuesday, so this little post filled with book talk has officially become the latest installment of the Grace-filled Tuesdays Book Club.  I hope you've been enjoying your coffee while you followed along.  As for me, there's a half-drunk mug of cold coffee on my desk that needs warming up.  And I can assure you, there will be a second cup!

Before we adjourn, though, I have one question for you.  If you read Finding Grace, did you find the end satisfying?  Did you think Grace ended up with the right boy?  Were you "Team Tom" or "Team Jimmy"?  (I guess that's technically three questions.)
I'm not sure why I felt the need to add that image.  It doesn't remind me of my Grace Kelly and the two young men in her life in the least.  But it's obviously supposed to depict a couple of sweet kids on prom night, a night which plays an important part in the book.  (And the bottom line is that I've just always been a big fan of Norman Rockwell's all-American artwork.)

Okay then, until next time...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Sunday Best: Vocations, Veils, and Vintage Fashions

Here I am again--blogging for the second day in a row!  (I hope I can keep this streak going...)

This morning, my husband and I attended 8:30 Mass at our new parish in VA.  (Joining us was our youngest son, who flew in yesterday from Germany to enjoy a couple of weeks of leave in the good old U S of A.)  We have become quite fond of our new little parish church, located at the center of our new little town.  We are also growing fond of our new pastor, a very holy and engaging priest who has had an interesting history: during his first career, before he answered a calling to the priesthood, he was a special agent in the CIA. 

Today, Father spoke about vocations, and the need to pray for them.  He quoted Saint John Bosco, who claimed that one out of every three men would receive a calling--think about that, one out of three!  How, then, can Holy Mother Church be experiencing a "priest shortage"?  He reminded Catholic parents of the need to portray the priesthood in a positive light so that our sons who might be called are willing to listen.  What we need to really pray for, he said, is not so much the vocations themselves, because they are abundant; but rather we must pray that the men chosen by the Holy Spirit to have those vocations will be open to hearing and answering the call.  I leaned over and nudged my son and whispered, "You're our only hope, now that all of your brothers are married!"  And because great minds think alike, as we exited the church after Mass and crossed the parking lot to the car, my husband also gently teased him about the fact that he must be the one in our family who's destined to become a priest.  He good-naturedly made sure to point out to us that one in three men didn't necessarily mean one in three men in every family.

When this youngest son of ours was in middle school, he was always scrupulously aware of the state of his soul; he used to come and tell us on Friday nights that he would need a ride to church the next day for Confession (a practice that would continue until he was a licensed driver himself).  He seemed so advanced in his Faith for someone so young, and we used to wonder if he ever thought he might have a vocation.  But he never really talked about it.  Years later, he did admit that the idea did cross his mind on occasion.  But he said that was mostly because random adults, completely out of the blue, would ask him if he ever thought about becoming a priest, and he couldn't help but wonder if this was God's way of letting him know that he'd been chosen.

Anyway, on the drive back home in the car, we talked about how the call to Christian fatherhood is also a noble and absolutely vital vocation in our increasingly fallen world.  And that is the call our baby believes he is hearing--at this point, at least.  He was always a serious and mature-beyond-his-years little guy, trying desperately to catch up to his four older brothers.  He has tried to emulate them his whole life, and now they are all married to lovely Catholic women and bringing forth into the world a small army of souls--of future soldiers for Christ--with those women. It is the sort of life he can well envision for himself one day, too. 

Okay, this a "My Sunday Best" post, so I guess I should talk a little bit about Mass fashions now, shouldn't I?

Today I wore a cotton sundress that I've had for close to 10 years (it was a T J Maxx find, no surprise there) and a short-sleeved black cardigan with a lace collar that I've had just as long (also from T J Maxx). There are pictures of me wearing this same outfit at a wedding shower for Ginger (wife of son #2) back in 2014, and I don't believe I've put it on since.  So I don't follow that common advice of closet organizers/purgers everywhere that states if you haven't worn an item of clothing in a year, it's time to get rid of it.  My favorites can sometimes languish in the back of the closet for several years at a time before I decide to recycle them--and then they feel brand new.
With our three VA sons and their gals at the shower in 2014--and my guy of course.
Awkward selfie taken today, with an expression that's a cross between Zoolander's "Blue Steel"
and Dana Carvey's "Church Lady."  (With an unmade bed in the background, no less.)
For Mass, I also donned a veil, a practice I started about 8 or 9 years ago, after giving myself about 5 years to drum up the courage.  This lovely mantilla is a treasure I discovered a few years back among my late mother-in-law's things when we were cleaning out my husband's childhood home.  The buttery-soft vintage lace is so much higher in quality than the modern stuff you find at JoAnn's Fabrics these days.  It's silver-gray and black, and one day in the not-too-distant future, it will match my hair just about perfectly.

I saw the most beautiful explanation for why I feel compelled to veil in a recent Instagram post, and I thought I'd share it with you here.
This young woman said it better than I ever could.  Wearing a veil to Mass most certainly has nothing to do with wanting to seem "holier than thou."  In fact, my fear that others would think that about me is what made it take so long to get up the guts to do it.

Before I sign off, I thought I'd show you some other vintage beauties that I acquired recently (as long as we're talking fashions here).  My siblings and I held a garage sale a few weeks ago to clear out our mother's home before selling it, now that our dad is gone and she has moved into an assisted living facility.  Mom put aside the things she wanted to have at her new place and then urged us kids to take whatever clothes, furniture, artwork, or knickknacks we wanted before the sale started.  I came across some lovely vintage items that I couldn't bear to part with.  Although I will probably never wear these classic accessories, I just wanted to keep them in the family.
The genuine fur wrap was my paternal grandmother's, and it has her monogram embroidered on the satin lining.  And the long white gloves with pearl buttons were my mother's.  She believes they are the ones she wore for her wedding.  I think these pieces are so lovely.  So classy!  So Grace Kelly, so Jackie Kennedy!  My husband, on the other hand, thinks that if I just added a turban to the ensemble, I could channel Chevy Chase in that attic scene in "Christmas Vacation."
So perhaps I have next year's Halloween costume all figured out.

On that note, I think I'll call wrap up this post.  But head on over to Rosie's.  There are bound to be much better Sunday Best fashions over there. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Back in the Saddle

Hi there, readers--if anyone is still out there.  (Testing: 1, this thing on?)

You know, I'm not sure I remember how to do this.  I feel like I've been thrown off the horse.  But you know what they say about making yourself get right back up on that beast again, don't you?  So here I am, back in the saddle, finally.   ("Equestrian metaphors?  Really?  How lame!  Does she think that's the way to make people glad she's back to blogging?")

When I started this blog way, way back in March of 2011, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and filled with thoughts I just HAD to share on a daily basis, I would never have believed that I could go more than a whole month without posting something on String of Pearls. But I just double-checked and yes indeed, my last blog post was dated May 22.  (Has it really been that long since I was here?!)  In my early days as a blogger, and for quite a few years afterward, I was opening up my laptop bright and early every morning while I was still on my first cup of coffee, with fingers itching to get at those keys.  Things have certainly changed. 

Life was very different for me in March of 2011.  My youngest son was still living at home, just about to graduate from high school.  My oldest son was married, but so far wedding bells didn't appear to be on the horizon for any of his younger brothers anytime soon.  (Ha!  That changed quickly--and sons # 2, 3, and 4 got married in an 11-month span, between December 2013 and November 2014!)  In March of 2011, I was still working on Finding Grace, which was about a year away from being published, and I was quite sure it was the only book I was ever going to write.  (Wrong again!)  I was just a few months away from becoming a grandmother for the first time, from meeting identical twin granddaughters who would burrow their way into my heart and open up a whole new world for me.

I had so much I wanted to write about here at the blog: not just about what was going on in my family at that time; but also all that had gone on before, during the years that my husband and I were raising our five boys.  My blog, I hoped, was going to be a sort of chronicle of life in the Pearl family, something I could leave behind for my kids and grandkids to read in the future, to remind them of their history when their memories would inevitably start to fade.  I rarely had a day when I felt like I'd run out of things to say.  Blogging was my wheelhouse.  I loved being a blogger.

It's not that I don't have things to say anymore; actually, just the opposite is true.  I have so much to say--the days are so very, very full--that when I imagine writing about it all, I get overwhelmed and don't know where to start!  My life has changed enormously since I first pushed the "publish" button here in 2011.  My youngest son, 24,  has been a college graduate for two years and is currently stationed overseas (and actually, he has a couple of weeks of leave and is flying home to the States TODAY--huzzah!).  All four of our oldest married sons, who range in age from 33 down to 29, are having families of their own. Those twin granddaughters are--incredibly!--six years old (and reading!); and now with the recent birth of a new grandson less than two weeks ago, six more grandchildren have been added to the Pearl family.  When my two daughters-in-law who are currently pregnant (one with triplets, the other with baby #3) give birth in the coming months, we will have an even dozen grandchildren.

Then there was the big move south a few months ago, from our home of 26 years in NH.  That was tough, leaving the warm and comforting place where we'd raised our sons.  But we are now situated about halfway between two of our boys and their families in one VA city and one of them in another, less than an hour in either direction.  And of course that means four of our grandchildren--soon to be eight!--are less than an hour away from us, too.

Now that we're neighbors, my husband and I are able to do so much with and for our kids.  I have to pinch myself sometimes, I really do.  There have been so many wonderful opportunities to be together, just in the three months we've lived here.  But where to start...

I'll tell you what, I'm going to let some pictures do the talking for me--before I get overwhelmed again and decide to scrap this post altogether.
A restaurant meet-up to celebrate son #3's birthday--something that didn't
happen very easily when we were living up in NH!
My VA boys surprised me with a "Fake Mother's Day" (a week late, because
I was in NY on real Mother's Day); they came without spouses or kids, to
give me a throw-back to what it was like when I was always surrounded by men.
Actually, my little buddy G-Man came with his dad for "Fake Mother's Day"--
and we jokingly said that he was filling in for my youngest son,
who is in Germany.  (I often call him by that son's name, coincidentally!)
I am so thrilled to be able to spend so much time with this little
princess, my Princesa.  (Don't let the innocent, angelic face
fool you--she's a real corker, that one, a little spitfire who is a
good match for her big brother!)

I got to watch this snuggly little guy, Junior, for son #2 and his wife 
when his baby brother was being born not quite two weeks ago.

And I got to watch him meet that little brother for the first time.

This was #8 for us, but it never gets old.  We love being

Four more grandchildren are present in utero in this photo from
the recent baby shower D-I-L Preciosa hosted for D-I-L
Braveheart (the one in the middle,who's pregnant with triplets).

I got to babysit for this dynamic duo (G-Man and Princesa),
yesterday, when their mommy went to meet her new nephew.
I loved how they reacted to our new garden statue of Mary.

Being nearby has made it possible for my husband to share his talents to help
son #4 convert his attached garage into a playroom for the triplets.

As you can see from the pictures, I have a lot to write about!  New babies, baby showers, renovation projects...and let's not forget the tour of our new house, which I started and intend to continue...

Before I go, I have to share a recently discovered blog post that really spoke to me.  Oh my gosh, guys, I found this post on a blog called Writing on My Heart (because the woman who writes there happened to stop by here and leave me some lovely comments, and then I visited her site and found a kindred spirit!).  And I just LOVED it.  These lines from the post remind me so much of what family dinners were always like for my husband and me and our five boys throughout the years:

"In our family, the past lives with us like another family member.  Almost every day, the past is resurrected...I believe my children have grown 'watching movies' of their childhood because of the constant airing that childhood narratives get in our home.  Not a day goes by without someone purposefully steering the dinner conversation towards tender reminiscences of growing-up tickles and mischief...Is it any wonder that our dinners can go on to close to two hours?"

This passage so perfectly describes what it's always been like when our boys are gathered around the table with us. This writer says it better than I ever could, but what her family does is exactly what we do.  And because of this, I can't think of any greater joy than sitting at the table for hours, ignoring the dirty dishes, talking and laughing...because when people get up to start clearing the plates and glasses away, the party always seems to break up.  Now that we're so close to so many members of our gang, I hope that there will be many more happy nights gathered in the dining room, sitting together at the table and waiting until later to worry about cleaning up.  And I hope my daughters-in-law will grow to love those long, lingering dinners, reminiscing over old times, as much as we do.

This blog, I hope, will be like "watching movies" of our lives, too.  That's why feel like I need to keep at it.  So okay, folks: I think I'm ready to ride this horse again.  Stay tuned for more posts in the coming days.