Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #31): Fighting Discouragement

Welcome to the club!  If you love books as much as I do...then we totally get each other.
For the past couple of months, my oldest son's wife and their four daughters (2, 4, and twins aged 6) have been living with us at our new house in VA, while our son was completing some flight training in FL in preparation for his new career with a regional airline.  It has been a wonderful opportunity for us to be involved on a day-to-day basis with the lives of these precious girls.  They will be moving into their own place very soon and we're going to miss having them around; but luckily their new house is less than 20 minutes away from ours, so we'll still be able to see them often.

This is the older of the twins (by a whole two minutes), doing what she loves to do best.  And I totally get her.
This eager reader cannot put a book down, once she gets into it.  She reads until the last possible minute before the lights go out at bedtime.  She brings whatever book she is currently devouring to the table (with her nose in it, just like the saying goes), and is barely conscious of her mom's gentle admonishments to close it and eat now, read later.  This photo was taken recently during their homeschool's weekly "Tea Time Tuesday" celebration, which features poetry readings and sweet treats, when she had a plate of animal crackers--and chocolate icing to dip them in!--on her plate.  (Now that, my friends, is dedication to reading!  Even I might have put my book down, no matter how good it was, for chocolate icing!)

I might add that these girls' mother is a former librarian/archivist; so they come by their love for books naturally.  All four of them think their regular trips to the library are almost unbearably exciting.  Fresh new piles of books for each girl!  It never gets old--it's like Christmas morning every single time!

I like to imagine giving Erin's Ring to this granddaughter (and all the rest of my growing brood of grandchildren, too) a few years down the road.  She will be ready for it before I know it.

And that, I think, is what will keep me from being discouraged by the lack of worldly success that has thus far eluded my two novels.  It helps me to remember that the whole reason I set out to write Finding Grace (which was the one and only novel I thought I would ever write) ten years ago was so that I could pass it down to my children's children.  I imagined writing a book that would hopefully inspire them to fight all the bad influences in our increasingly fallen world.  So despite the fact that neither book has made much money for either me or their publisher, maybe they can do their small part in helping young readers--the ones who are near and dear to my heart, and maybe even a few strangers I will never meet--to find the Catholic Faith, to embrace the Faith of their Baptism more fully, or to make a better decision when faced with difficult choices.

If you are interested in receiving a signed copy of Finding Grace at a discounted price, visit Catholic Reads and find out how to subscribe to their newsletter.  The sale is going on for a limited time through this website, which is dedicated to helping relatively unknown works of Catholic fiction by relatively unknown authors get into the hands of more readers.  Knowing there are generous folks like this out there, working hard to promote books like mine...how can I be anything but encouraged?

That's it for today.  Now go find yourself a good book to get lost in!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #30): a New Book Review from Catholic Reads

Welcome to the club!  I'm so glad you're here, fellow bookworms!
So I've got some news today.  I was absolutely thrilled to read a new review of Finding Grace, which was published just yesterday over at a wonderful website I discovered recently called Catholic Reads.  This novel, my debut as an author and my beloved "baby," is not a newborn anymore; it has celebrated its fifth birthday already.  (Where does the time go?!)  But even though it's been out there, available for reading, for half a decade, it can still use all the help it can get as far as promotion and marketing.  So I will be forever indebted to the good people over at Catholic Reads for including Finding Grace (a recipient of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval) on their site.

Here's a snippet from that brand new review:

Finding Grace by Laura Pearl

Reviewed by S. Leigh Hall

The theme of Finding Grace, a young adult novel by Laura H. Pearl, is to understand the life of a teenage Catholic girl surviving high school amid the rapidly changing culture and tumultuous conflicts of the 70’s. There is so much to talk about because there is so much to Grace’s story as she strives to live her faith during a time when our society questioned deep moral issues.

The first part of the novel covers 1972, Grace’s freshman year. From the beginning, we learn that Grace Kelly who comes from a traditional Irish family dislikes her name. She finds it humiliating that she is so unlike her namesake, the beautiful actress/princess from the movies. As she discusses the problem with her father, the first issue of the decade is introduced as he demonstrates an aversion to “women’s lib.” His hopes for his daughter’s future include a good marriage or life as a nun.

This topic of discussion isn’t the first conversation of its type, but her father indicates that he believes his daughter is a saint or will be someday, and Grace makes an important decision affecting the rest of her life. Her mission becomes learning all she can about the saints and striving to achieve that goal.

There's the teaser; now if you want to read the entire review, here's the link.  (Spoiler alert: there's a passage in there that particularly tickled me, about how the writing style reminds the reviewer a bit of St. Therese's autobiography, The Story of a Soul.  AND...I think I can die happy now.)

If you're looking for worthwhile works of modern Catholic fiction, you should check out Catholic Reads.  Here's an excerpt from the founders' mission statement, which appears on their website's "About" page:

Our Mission

We are four readers who got fed up with how hard is to find good Catholic fiction that features authentic  Church teaching, themes, and characters. When we did manage to find a good story it was usually something written fifty years ago or in a genre that wasn’t always our favorite.
But we love books and we love reading. So we kept searching.

And we found dozens of hidden worlds, indie authors, small presses, and magazines. Despite the lack of advertising, imagination and art are alive and well in our parishes. We started Catholic Reads with the aim of putting authentic Catholic fiction into people’s hands. We want our nation and our world to have the chance to see what the Church’s imagination has to offer.

Wow, I just love this!  And I hope that exposure on this wonderful site will lead more readers to Finding Grace, and that Finding Grace will in turn lead even just one soul closer to Christ.

Okay then, until next time, happy reading!

Monday, October 23, 2017

My Sunday Best: The Notre Dame Fan Edition

I don't seem to have time to blog as much as I'd like to anymore...and when I do blog, it's often to link up with my fellow Virginian, Rosie, to show you what I wore to Mass...so if you didn't know better, you might surmise that String of Pearls has become a fashion blog.  Which would make me a fashion blogger.
If you're finished rolling on the floor laughing (or just LOL-ing, or whatever it is you're doing), I'll continue with this "My Sunday Best" post--which is even more fun than usual because the backdrop for my fashion shoot is none other than the lovely campus of Our Lady's University, Notre Dame, in South Bend, IN.

You see, I was out there with my husband this past weekend, along with various and sundry members of the far-flung Pearl clan, to watch the Irish play the USC Trojans--and spank them, 49-14!

Saturday's game didn't start til 7:30 p.m., but preparations for the family tailgater (a long-standing Pearl tradition) over at the stadium parking lot were underway about 12 hours before that.

For the tailgater, I wore jeans along with a Notre Dame sweater vest that I snagged on eBay awhile back, used but in good condition, for a fraction of its original cost.  It was unseasonably warm yesterday, sunny and in the 70's, but that's what I'd packed so that's what I wore.  I could have gotten away with short sleeves, that's how nice it was.  In October.  In South Bend.  Go figure!
I love the embroidery on this uber-rah rah sweater vest.
I used to think these sorts of sweaters were a bit much, geared toward grandmotherly types.  In fact, I had a mild case of buyer's remorse after I'd ordered and received this vest, and I never seemed to be in the mood to wear it.

But now I'm a grandmother.  (Many times over!)  So it's perfect for me.

My husband and I took a break from the festivities at about 3:15 and started walking over to the Sacred Heart Basilica, in order to get there in time to get a seat for the crowded pre-game 4:00 anticipated Mass.  I normally like to wear a skirt or dress for Mass, along with a lace mantilla on my head; but as you can see, my Sunday Best ensemble yesterday was a lot more casual than normal for me.
These are the tightest-fitting jeans I own.  They are not absolutely skin-tight, but are as close to "skinny jeans" as I've ever come.  They're Riders brand, bought on the clearance rack at Walmart for a mere $5, and they've been mostly sitting in the bottom of my drawer for the past few years.  I've got about six pairs of looser-fitting jeans that have boot-cut legs, and I'm more comfortable in that style.  But it was a day of taking fashion risks.

It was also a day of having my picture taken with photo-bombing strangers, outside the Basilica, in the shadow of the Golden Dome.

After Mass, we had a little time to kill before we could enter the swanky club section, located way up high above the crowd, with a magnificent view of not only the field, but also the Basilica, the Golden Dome, and the "Touchdown Jesus" mosaic on the Hesburgh Library.   Yes, up there in the first-class section with all the beautiful people: that's where we were going to watch the game with my brother- and sister-in-law.  (The fact that our family now has access to these seats is a long story for another post; but suffice it to say, we are all a bit giddy about it.)

So with about another half-hour before we could enter heaven the club, my husband and I went around to the back of the Basilica and found a big rock under a tree, just off to the side of the Grotto, where we sat and said a Rosary together.
Here's another fashion risk I took yesterday: see those blue-and-gold, perfect-for-a-Notre-Dame-football-game leather flats (a bargain find from the TJ Maxx clearance aisle)?  When the day started out, I was wearing them with nude knee-high stockings (like grandmothers tend to do), for several reasons; they were new and never-worn, for one thing, and I didn't want to risk getting blisters; and as a rule I don't like to wear closed-toe shoes without socks or stockings anyway, because I worry my feet will sweat and make my shoes get stinky.  However,  I know wearing stockings or panty hose has become pretty much obsolete with the well-heeled crowd these days; so I decided to live on the edge and ditch my hose (literally--I threw them in a trash can).  I believed that these deceptively comfy shoes wouldn't give me any trouble.

How wrong I was!  By the end of last night, walking had become brutally painful, and you should see the blisters I had on my pinky toes when I woke up Sunday morning.  Ouch!  I shall never go without socks or stockings--or at least peds--ever again.

But what an incredible day and night!  The tailgater get-together with so many wonderful relatives and friends!  The exceedingly comfortable club seats!  The endless food and drink in the fancy club!  The fabulous view!  THE BIG WIN!!  It was about as great as it can get.

Aside from the Basilica, the Dome, and the Library, from where we sat we also had a great view of the new Jumbotron screen.  And what moved and touched us immeasurably was the way it was used as a vehicle to spread the Faith.  Before each game the ND team kneels together in the locker room and says the "Our Father."  They showed this sweet tradition on the Jumbotron; and as the sports fans watched the team praying, many voices in the crowd could be heard joining in to pray the Lord's Prayer.  At one point there was also a priest giving a public service announcement about Mass times and inviting visitors to attend.  In a world that tries to squelch all talk of God and religion, it was refreshing and encouraging to witness the way Notre Dame is evangelizing on game day.  I know that in recent years many faithful Catholics have been very disappointed by some of the decisions the administration has made; but be assured, the Faith is still alive and well in South Bend.  And the fans who fill the football stadium on game day appear to be on board with that.

They are also on board with standing and singing along during the National Anthem, loudly and proudly, with their hands over their hearts.
God, Country, Notre Dame.  Yes, indeed.

Now head on over to Rosie's for more Sunday fashion talk!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #29): Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect, Redux

If you've never been here before, welcome to the club.  I'm so glad you stopped by!

Several years ago, I did a four-part series of posts called "Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect" here at the blog, to detail which parts of my first novel were inspired by true events and people from my life and which were purely fiction; and then when I formed this online book club, I re-posted the series in 2016.  (You can read the last installment of that series here, if you wish, and it provides links to the previous three.)

I'm not a very prolific blogger these days (said the busy Grammy who moved from NH to VA last spring to be closer to her grown sons and grandchildren, and who now has so much to blog about, but so little free time to do it!  A good problem to have, by the way!).  But yesterday I happened to pick up an old photo album with a 1984 picture of my husband and me on the cover, all dressed up to attend a Navy dinner, and I knew I had to write a Grace-filled Tuesdays post about something that happened that night and made its way into one of the scenes in Finding Grace.
I'm kind of glad I came across this almost-forgotten photo again, because I do think it's time to revisit the idea that when an author writes a work of fiction, she can't help but allude to people, places, and events from her own life.  It's just about impossible to avoid it.  They say you should write what you know, after all.  However, nothing in either of my books is autobiographical, per se.  (Except of course the way Grace Kelly feels about Tom Buckley in Finding Grace, because I was channeling my high school self there, and the inspiration for Tom was my then boyfriend/now husband of 37 years.  But other than that, anyone who reads my books must understand that the rest is fiction. And even Tom became a whole new person to me in the course of the four-plus years I spent writing the book.)

Let me tell you about those two crazy kids in that photo above.  They were young (so young! Only going-on-26!) so in love, and the relatively new parents of their first baby boy.  The fresh-faced girl in that photo never thought she was thin enough (but the woman she is now would kill to have that body again!).  She was still working on losing her post-partum weight when this photo was taken, and in fact was probably already pregnant again here with her second son, but didn't know it yet. Aside from the unfortunate uber-thick bangs, she's not at all bad-looking, but she is about as self-deprecating as they come.  For this fancy Navy "dining out" event, she is wearing a Victorian era-inspired bridesmaid outfit that she'd worn in her sister's wedding a while back (and they say you can never wear a bridesmaid outfit again!).  The lace-trimmed cotton calico skirt was made from a Laura Ashley pattern and the blouse, from the then-popular Gunne Sax brand, was dyed to match.  She is also wearing ivory-colored tights and her wedding shoes.  Her husband thinks she looks great; but then again, love is totally blind in his case and he always does.  He looks like a movie star here, because even a not-so-handsome man looks amazing in Navy dress whites.  And he's already handsome, no matter what he's wearing.  Very handsome.

Okay, enough with the third person narrative.  The girl is me.  Switching to first person now.  The bridesmaid outfit had looked perfectly at home when I wore it for my sister's nuptials--after all, her wedding dress was an authentic Victorian white lace gown, circa early-1900's, that had been found in our grandmother's attic.  Why, then, would my sweet and modest skirt and blouse ensemble not be perfectly at home at this Navy shindig?

So we got to the event, and I looked around at all the beautiful young women with their salon-styled tresses, attired in classy LBD's and silky body-skimming, spaghetti-strapped cocktail dresses, wearing strappy heels and statement jewelry...and I felt like a juvenile country bumpkin dressed as if I was on my way to a square dance.  I was mortified and wondered why in the world I had no idea how a girl was supposed to dress for such an occasion.  I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I remember feeling embarrassed for my husband, who must surely think every woman there was more lovely-looking than I could ever hope to be.  Our good friend, a single guy who was in flight school with my husband, smiled at me and said, "You look nice, Laura."  I knew he meant it, because in my experience I've found that men are so much less critical, so much less likely to overthink everything, than women are.  He was a friend who liked me and he was trying to give me a sincere compliment.  But my cheeks were flaming.  I was mortified and wished I could twitch my nose, "I Dream of Jeannie"-style, and be magically transported back home.  Maybe there was something--anything!--in my closet that I could change into that would fit the occasion better than the outfit I was wearing.

I excused myself and went to the ladies' room.  And while I was in the stall, I overheard two women at the sink talking in conspiratorially hushed tones and giggling.  "Oh my gosh, that outfit!  Did you see her?"  "I know.  She looks like she's on her way to a high school prom!"  They said a few other specific things that made me realize with a pang that the person they were talking about was none other than I.  I felt pierced by their words, utterly mortified, and I hid in that stall until I heard them leave.  Then I returned to the dining area and somehow made it through the rest of the night with my head held as high as I could hold it.  Not that high, mind you (the heavy bangs were probably weighing it down), but I managed.  And later, when I unloaded on my husband about my tragic fashion faux pas and my ladies' room nightmare, he assured me that I would always be the prettiest woman in any room in his eyes.  Sigh...When you're loved like that, how can it possibly matter what you wear?

When I was writing about Grace Kelly, with whom I share some personality traits (among them shyness and sometimes crippling insecurity), I thought I'd tweak that real-life event to make it fit into her story.  So when you read this part of the novel, an excerpt from Chapter 8 about Grace's difficult first day of high school, know that it was inspired by that night when I was the young wife of a Naval officer and had to listen to some gossipy women rip apart my outfit as I crouched in a bathroom stall, fighting tears:

       After the final bell had rung and Grace had retrieved from her locker the books she would need to do that night's homework assignments, she made a quick trip to the girls' restroom before heading down to Sister Immaculata's classroom [for detention].  Just as she was about to exit the stall, two girls came in, tittering and talking in conspiratorial whispers as they brushed their hair and touched up their faces in front of the mirror.  Grace froze with her hand on the door latch as she heard one of the girls say with mean-spirited glee, "She looks nothing like her hunky brothers.  Not the least bit.  That awful, kinky hair!"
       "Maybe she's adopted," coldly suggested the other.
       With a jolt, Grace realized that she was the most likely target of their catty comments.  Grace herself had wondered the same at one time--it would certainly explain why she didn't resemble the boys in the least--until Gus pointed out that she was almost the spitting image of their Aunt Nancy, proof positive that she'd been born a Kelly.
       "I'd be embarrassed if I had that name--and looked like that!"
       "I'd have it legally changed as soon as I turned eighteen.  I mean, c'mon."
     Crestfallen, humiliated, yet reluctant to embarrass the two girls by revealing herself and letting them know that she'd heard every petty word, Grace remained behind the safety of the stall door until she was sure that they were gone.

I know just what my poor little heroine felt like, and so that scene was easy to write.  While it was not exactly autobiographical, it was definitely inspired by something I'd experienced firsthand.

But at least I never had to share a name with the iconic beauty who was the princess of both Hollywood and Monaco.  That would have been a hard name to live up to indeed.

Does this post make you want to read Finding Grace?  If so, please do!  And share it with your friends.

Okay then, that's it for today.  Meeting adjourned.  And until next time, happy reading!

Monday, October 9, 2017

My Sunday Best: 80's Style

For Sunday Mass this morning, I wore a dress that I bought at TJ Maxx long, long ago, in 1988 or 1989, back when the fourth of my five sons was just a chubby baby boy. (And now, he's a husband and a father to three babies of his own--triplets born on August 20.)
I've blogged about this infamous dress before here at String of Pearls.  There is actually a sort of sweet story behind it.  (You can read that story here, in an old post from the archives, if you so desire.)

I have thought about giving this dress to Goodwill numerous times over the years, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it (even when it had become hopelessly out of style and I hadn't worn it in a dog's age).  They say that if you hold onto something long enough, it will come back in style.  Maybe that's why I still have this dress hanging in my closet.  (Or maybe it's because of this.  You know, the aforementioned sweet story, which explains how for me, even a dress can become a precious artifact, a tangible reminder of the long, rich history of my life with my husband.)

Two things made me fall in love with this dress when I saw it on the clearance rack at TJ's.  First of all, there was the fabric: the deep royal blue color; the floral print; the swishy silkiness.  And secondly, there was the beautiful lace collar.  I've always been a sucker for lace.
The puffy blouson-style waist, the lace collar, the shoulder pads, the gathered fly-away sleeves, the well-past-the-knees length (my favorite length); these were all the rage in the late-80's/early-90's. This modest and uber-feminine dress pretty much screams "Princess Di," the fashion icon of the era.  She was the well-dressed woman we were all trying to copy.

My favorite thing about this blouson style is that the waist is completely elasticized, and then the top of the dress blouses over it.  This is the only reason I can still wear a dress that I wore almost 30 years ago, when I was just about the same age as that father of triplets I was telling you about is today.  I remember that even when I bought it, I was thinking ahead to a day when I might be a bit thicker around the middle; I hoped that because the waist could expand with me, I might be able to wear it practically forever.

It has probably been about 15 years since I've had this dress on.  So don't listen to the fashion experts who tell you to purge your closet of any garments you haven't worn in the past year.  You might just miss them down the road.  I think I would have missed this faithful old dress.

I did decide to add a cardigan with pearl buttons, even though it was pretty hot and humid here in VA today.  I was delighted to see that I actually had one in the perfect shade of royal blue.  This sweater matches so well that it looks like it was made to wear with this dress.

I feel like the cardigan makes my 80's frock look less outdated.  It's another bargain find from (where else?) TJ Maxx.  The brand is Audrey and Grace, which I can only assume refers to two other fashion icons with timeless appeal, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly.  Not bad company to be in, I'd say.

After Mass, I went over to the rental house that our oldest son and his family are going to move into soon and will call home for the next two or three years.  (For the past month or so, our daughter-in-law and four granddaughters have been living with us, while they wait for our son to finish training for his job.)  I had offered to paint their kitchen, which would be very nice if not for the bright yellow walls.  And the rather garish sponge effect.

Speaking of the 80's and bad style...my peers and I, we were all sponge painting our walls back then.  But you'll have to excuse us: we didn't have HGTV to guide us.  So our walls tended to look like this.
Yep, we were all Princess Diana wannabes, with sponge-painted walls.

Well, my second Sunday Best outfit was not as lovely as the one I wore to Mass.  It was the old pair of jeans and the Boston Celtics T-shirt that has become my painting/staining uniform.  It has gotten a lot of use the past few years, as you can see.
The order of the day was NEUTRAL color.
Et voila!  Before and after.
Today was a good day, a productive day.  It made me happy to do this for our son and his family.  When I put on that sentimental dress this morning, I was a little verklempt.  I couldn't stop thinking about how unbelievable it is that I'm old enough to have owned a dress for almost three decades...and more unbelievable still, most of my sons are now older than I was when I first bought it.  I don't know where the years go, I really don't.  It's a bit scary!  But whenever I feel the urge to throw myself a pity party, I need to remind myself that although I'm getting older, there are some pretty amazing rewards for having lived this long.

Remember those triplets I was just talking about?
And those are just three of the eleven-going-on-twelve grandchildren with which my husband and I have been so richly blessed.  And now that our oldest is moving nearby, we will be seeing all of them on a regular basis, without having to get in an airplane to do it.  Life is good--SO good.

Well, that's it for me.  Now you might want to head on over to Rosie's (where you'll undoubtedly find more up-to-the-minute fashions, worn by less long-in-the-tooth women).