Saturday, March 31, 2018

Making Old Things New Again

I love that old New England adage, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without."  That sort of thinking has kind of gone by the wayside in our throwaway society, where shiny and new is always thought to be better and is just a short click away.  Which is too bad, because some things are worth keeping--not just because they can be fixed, but because they have priceless sentimental value.

When my grandmother (my father's mom) died, we went through her things, and this old broken frame is one of the items that I took.  In it were photos of my mother and her five children.  We five were Grandma's only grandchildren, because my dad's only sister married relatively late in life and we never had any first cousins on his side.
That's me top-left, in 6th grade--with an awful hair-do and a string of pearls.  And please check out
my older brother's 'do, top-right: Justin Beiber ain't got nothin' on him!
My grandma had SO MANY framed family photos in her house (I think I inherited her taste for home décor!).  She was such a lovely, soft-spoken, refined, almost regal lady, and because she was this way, I always assumed that everything she had in her home was top-quality.  It certainly always appeared that way to me, due to Grandma's high-class aura.

But the truth is that she was a survivor of the depression, whose well-to-do father lost everything in the big crash of 1929.  He never recovered financially and became a broken man.  Grandma's mother, a tough, no-nonsense matriarch and mother of six, got a nursing degree and became her family's primary bread-winner.  Grandma was the oldest of her siblings, her father's favorite.  She had been given a roadster of her own and was ready to start college at Bryn Mawr--she was just totally living the life of Riley--when her world came crashing down.  She, too, eventually went to nursing school.  And she, too, eventually became the primary bread-winner of her family, when her husband died and left her with two small children, a six-year-old boy (my dad) and a two-year-old girl.  For the rest of her life, money was always very tight.

So the truth was that everything Grandma owned was not the newest and the best.  This is what the back of that picture frame I inherited looked like.
The little oval on the bottom left had broken off completely and was being held to the rest of the frame by duct tape.

Just yesterday I was thinking about that frame, which I knew was hiding somewhere amidst all the precious mementos that had survived the culling process when we made the move from NH to VA about a year ago.  I have five children, too, just like my mom; and I thought it would be adorable to fill this frame with photos of them--my favorites from their toddler years, when they all posed wearing the same white sailor suit.

When I found the frame, which was in a trunk down in the basement storage area of our new house, I kind of laughed.  It probably should have gone into the dumpster when we moved, I thought.  But I never could have done that.  It was my grandma's.  We were everything to her, and that little broken frame was a symbol of her love for us.

It took a little bit of engineering to get the back of the frame in some kind of working order (truly, what it needs is a bit of soldering, but that's not going to happen--so duct tape it is!); to keep the broken piece from flopping, I added some cardboard strips for support.  (Hey, I was joking before, but perhaps I am an engineer!)
I am so pleased with the results--and so glad I decided to figure out how to give Grandma's frame new life.
Ahoy, cuteness!
We have very little space on the fireplace mantel in our new house, because we have a huge flat-screen TV hung on the wall right above it.  But this sweet little frame--an homage to both my grandmother and my boys--fits perfectly.
I am so pleased with how it looks.  It's like a whole new frame in the front.  No one needs to know what's going on in the back but me--and the great thing is that whenever I do look at all that duct tape, I'll think of my grandma and smile.

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Real Face of Jesus

You might have seen this Aleteia article making its way around social media recently.  It is about a group that did intricate scientific studies of the Shroud of Turin, and using the information gleaned from it came up with a 3D model of the Man--Jesus Christ--who was wrapped in that cloth after His death by crucifixion.  It is a fascinating and thought provoking article, and if you haven't seen it yet you can read it here.

That article led me to click on some other related links, one of them a short YouTube video about an artist named Ray Downing, who has done a series of paintings of what is believed to be "The real face of Jesus" (also using information coded in the Shroud to come up with these images).  It's not a long video, and definitely worth a look, if you're interested.

I am so drawn to Downing's paintings.  I can't stop looking at them...because whenever I've tried to imagine what Jesus really looked like, this is the face I saw.  It really is.  These paintings are achingly beautiful.  Here are just some of them.

I love these images.  I can't seem to stop looking at them.  I feel as if in some way, they have actually drawn me closer to Our Lord.  I am so glad that I stumbled upon them just before Good Friday, because I believe they will help me to meditate today about the great Sacrifice He made for us, with His death on the Cross.  I just find myself wanting to look at them all the time.

Ecce homo.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Whole New Chapter

Don't let that title fool you--I'm not talking about books here.  It's been a while since I wrote a new chapter for one of those: almost four years, to be exact.  And as much as I'd like to believe I will someday write a sequel to Erin's Ring (a really compelling story I've been kicking around inside my head for several years now), I'm not sure I'll ever get around to it.

No, I'm talking about LIFE--the great big, amazing, surprising, ever-changing, sometimes terrifying, sometimes gloriously perfect, God-written book of life.

This morning, I was passing this photo collage that hangs on the wall in the stairwell of our "new" house in VA.  (I need to put the word "new" in quotes now; because as of March 20, we have been Virginians for a whole year already.)
My boys!  (If you're thinking this is the most adorable quintet of lads you've ever laid eyes on, you're spot on!   #truth.)

I pass this collage of cuteness countless times every day, on my way from the first floor to the second and back down again.  Those precious faces, more dear to me than any others--save the face of the man they call "Dad"--look a lot different these days, to be sure.  Those round-cheeked, soft-skinned little fellas range in age from 25 to 34 now, so you can imagine how much they've changed.  The four oldest of them are married, and have given us 12 grandchildren so far (with two more on the way!).  A number of those grandchildren are older than my baby boys were when these photos were taken.

How does that happen, anyway?  You turn your head for one minute...But I'm here to warn you, it will happen, mamas: your children will grow up.  Meanwhile, you'll feel exactly the same age you were when they were in diapers, so it's a very strange phenomenon.  (You will not look as young as you did when your babies were in diapers, unfortunately...but that's a topic for another day.)

Yes, once upon a time, I was the fresh-faced mother of very small boys.  It was all I'd ever wanted to be, from the time I was a little girl: a full-time wife and mother, a homemaker (and I don't care how antiquated and un-PC that sounds!), taking care my home and family.  All my hopes and dreams were fulfilled, all my prayers answered, when God gave me five sweet sons to raise and a doting and supportive husband who made it possible for me to do it without working outside the home.  God has blessed me so much more than I deserve, and I am constantly reminded that to whom much is given, much is expected.

When our four oldest boys were between the ages of 3 and 7, we moved into a lovely Colonial house on an idyllic acre-plus of wooded property on a quiet cul-de-sac street in NH.  Two years later, we welcomed a fifth son.  This was our home--in every possible definition of the term--for more than 26 years.
But the chicks, they do leave the nest.  As I said before, mamas, this is a fact of life; your babies grow up (the nerve!).  They go to college, they get jobs, they get married, and before you know it, they're buying homes in which to raised their own chicks.  If you're lucky, they stay within striking distance.  But in our case, they moved much too far away to see them on a regular basis without constant traveling.  Long car trips and cross-country flights became the norm.  During the last few years that my husband and I lived in that beloved house in NH, we spent so little time under its roof that we began to wonder why we even owned it.

But God works in mysterious ways, doesn't He?  Who would have thought that three of our boys would end up settling in Northern VA, two within minutes of each other and the other less than two hours away from them?  If we picked a spot somewhere in the middle, we decided, we could see all three easily and our new house could become the perfect gathering spot for their growing families.  But no, we thought; we could never, ever sell our NH house.  It's too full of memories!  We've put too much sweat equity and love into making it the perfect place for us!  Our house is practically a member of the family!  Maybe it doesn't make sense for us anymore, but we could never sell it and move somewhere else.  We just couldn't do that.

Never say never, my friends; because do that we did.

A year ago, we moved to a small Virginia town that we have grown to love.  Our town is surrounded by bucolic rural vistas (Horses!  Cows!), and everywhere we go, we can see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  We've joined a new parish run by two of the most holy priests a thirsting Catholic could ever hope for.  (Not that we didn't love our old parish; but liberal thought in the Northeast is so pervasive that even in the parking lot of Catholic churches, you will see bumper stickers promoting pro-abortion political candidates.  Not so here in NOVA, thank the Lord.)

We made this move for our children and grandchildren, of course, and that alone would have been worth it; but it would have been so much harder if we hadn't been as pleased with our new adopted hometown as we are.  I am a manic nester; I burrow in and fill every space with comforting and familiar furnishings and mementos, and after I've feathered my nest, I find change very difficult.  That's why last year, the Lenten season was marked by sadness, stress, and exhaustion: I was dismantling a home that I never thought I'd leave, and all I could see when I looked about me were memories of a long and happy life lived there, surrounded by growing boys.  Getting that house ready to hand over to a new family was, for me, the hardest Lenten sacrifice I could imagine (not to put too dramatic a spin on it!).
After all the framed photos of our boys playing sports, all the pennants and homages to the Red Sox and the Patriots, came
down, the last items to go were our boys' high school football jerseys.  It was sad.  And afterward, my husband could
no longer hang out in this "man cave" he'd built himself, by converting the garage, even though it had been
his favorite place in the house.

As I swept the attic out attic one final time, this is the pile that went into the dust pan: it tells the story of our life in that house, doesn't it?
I think perhaps my attachment to worldly things needed a bit of adjustment, and God saw fit to help me let go of that house for the good of my family. I still feel little waves of sadness and longing sometimes when I look at photos of our family gathered in our old NH house.  But I wouldn't change where we are for all the tea in China.  The move was, to put it simply, the very best thing we could have done--for ourselves, and for our kids and grandkids.

The incredible thing is that not too long after we moved here, our oldest son moved to the area, too, (probably just for a few years, as he begins a new career where he will originally be working out of DC; but we'll take what we can get!).  In fact, while he was in training in another state, his wife and their four girls lived with us for a couple of months, until they were able to find a suitable house to rent.  (They found one, just 17 minutes from us!)

So never fear: just when you think that part of your life is over, that wonderful season of hearing little feet going pitter-pat around the house, this is what will happen.
I am so happy that I kept most of the toys our boys played with when they were young.  They
are being enjoyed all over again!

And just when you think that with your 60th birthday looming on the horizon, the best season of your life is behind you, you'll look in your kitchen breakfast nook and see the new baby paraphernalia you've gone out to buy, because your house is once again often filled with adorable little people.
One of our daughters-in-law made us a sign for Christmas that reads: "Papa and Grammy's House, Where Cousins Become Friends."  If that's what this house will be for our grandkids, then once again I'll say that this move is the very best thing we could have ever done for our family.

I'm going to end this post (which I think of as a celebration of the one year anniversary of living in our new home) with a few pictures from our recent St. Patty's Day celebration--with all four married sons and all 12 grandchildren in attendance.

See those little people in those pictures?  They're just a few of the very good reasons I'm not posting much here at the blog these days.  Being a hands-on Grammy is almost a full-time job.  (I'm "off" today, and taking advantage by blogging this morning, and later on going to Confession and Mass.)  And just like being a SAHM to five little boys, it's a really good gig.

Even if you have to sell your home and move to a new state to get a gig like this, I'm here to tell you that it's very much worth it.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The U's Are Unveiled

I thought I'd pop in today and post the latest pages of the ABC Book I'm working on for my grandkids.
Once I finish a page on cardstock, I scan it to my computer and then put the original in a plastic sleeve in this binder.  (I'm sure this is how all the professional children's book authors go about their business.  Or maybe not.  But since I think of this book as a gift of love for my grandchildren and nothing more, this system is working for me.)

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been inserting scanned images of some of my old artwork into the book wherever I can, with a dual purpose: 1. It's a good way to preserve some pieces that have sentimental value to me but are not necessarily ever going to hang on a wall; and 2. It saves time!  (And maybe with a little help from these old friends I will finally finish this project, which had its humble beginnings a quarter of a century ago!)

For the right-hand page, I re-purposed an acrylic painting I did of my husband tossing our firstborn son into the air, inspired by a grainy snapshot I'd taken of them on my Instamatic camera. 
I painted this 16 x 20 canvas in 1984, when I was the mother of one baby boy and could find stolen minutes during naptimes for such pursuits.  (By 1988 I was the mother of four little boys, and minutes became harder to steal; so it would be a number of years before I picked up a paintbrush again.) This acrylic painting used to hang in our upstairs hallway when we lived in NH.  I don't think I have a place for it here in VA, but I like the idea of it living on in the pages of this ABC Book.

I wish I could say that now that the U's are uploaded, I'm almost finished with the project.  But I haven't exactly been going in order.  I still have to do I, J, K, N, O, Q, and R before I get to V, W, X, Y, and Z.  But I am officially over half-way done--and that feels almost like a miracle!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Mama Mia! Make Way for the M's!

Two days straight of blogging, two days straight of pages for the ABC Book.  Will wonders never cease?!

If you stopped by here yesterday, you saw the completed L pages--along with some of the old artwork that I figured out how to re-purpose for them.  Today's M pages contain all original artwork, but I'll show you where I got my inspiration for these new drawings.

I wanted to include a mouse, because I love mice (in theory, that is; not when I am faced with them in real life, scurrying around our basement).  And I just happened to have this photo of one that I painted on the wall in our NH house (and then, sadly, had to paint over for the new owners when we sold it a year ago!).  I came really close to using this image over, to save time, but then decided the page I was working on needed an original colored pencil-and-ink drawing instead.
Furthermore, I knew I had to include Our Blessed Mother, Mary (the greatest M of all time), in these pages, but I procrastinated forever, because I just couldn't figure out how I wanted to draw Her.  In my opinion, it was the most important illustration in the whole book, and I didn't want to mess it up.  There are so many beautiful images of Mary from which to draw inspiration, and I couldn't make up my mind about how I wanted Her to look in this book.

Well, we moved to VA about a year ago, and there is a lovely statue of Mary holding the Child Jesus up on a side altar in our new parish church; so I decided that I would try to mimic that image (to the best of my amateur artistic ability).  It seemed to be calling out, "Use me."

Here is that statue, the one I see every Sunday at Mass:
Now, bearing in mind that what I end up with doesn't always look like what I have in my mind's eye when I get started, here are the M pages.

I may have to go back and touch that second one up, make it more vivid, because sometimes when I scan my drawings the colored pencil shading I use for the skin gets kind of washed out.   But otherwise, these two pages are ready to go to print.

If I ever do finish this book (and I am determined now that I will!), my plan is to have it printed so that I can give gift copies to my grandkids.  But one of my daughters-in-law (the wife of son #3) is convinced that she could help me sell them. When she told me this the other day, I kind of laughed and said, "Silly girl, my books don't sell!"  But she assures me that she thinks there is a market for this one.  She has a large number of Facebook and Instagram friends (not to mention IRL friends!), social media-savvy young Catholics who might be willing to help me spread the word.  So we shall see, my friends.  We shall see...

Just in case, perhaps I should stop publishing all the pages here at the blog.  But I'll be sure to post peeks at future pages now and again, for those of you who are interested.  (And if you are, thank you so much.  My readers may not be legion, but they're the best!)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lads and Ladies, I Give You the L's!

In case you're wondering what that title means, I'm talking about the L pages of the ABC Book I've been working on (very, very slowly) for the past five years or so.  Actually, I had started this project not long after the birth of my youngest son, back in 1993; but then when he got mobile about a year later and his four older brothers got ever-busier with their sports and school activities, I put it on the back burner and would have forgotten about it entirely, I think, if it wasn't for my husband and one of my dear sisters-in-law, who would occasionally remind me that they'd like to see the finished product one day.

Then TWENTY YEARS LATER in 2013 (yikes, the years fly!), as the second birthday of our first grandchildren--identical twin girls--loomed on the horizon, I decided that I needed to finish the project once and for all.  But first, I determined that in order to do the book justice I would have to re-do the original pages and make a fresh, clean start (which I blogged about here, if you're interested).

A lot has happened since I first blogged about this ABC Book five years ago: we have twelve grandchildren now, ten more than we did when I wrote that post, with a couple more who are currently in utero.  And suddenly, I am on fire to finish it, before all these precious little ones grow up and it's too late for them to enjoy it.  (In my defense, though, one big reason that I've had trouble finding time to spend doing artwork is that we now live close to our four married boys and their ever-growing families, after a move south from NH to VA a year ago; so life seems to be busier than ever these days.  I mean, we're really, really busy.  Really busy, in a very good way.  But I digress...)

Okay then, before I show you the new pages, I have to guiltily admit that I re-purposed some previously rendered artwork for them.  Even though these pieces weren't done originally for this book, they're mine and I made the executive decision that it was okay to use them.  (Especially since it helps to speed progress along nicely when I don't have to come up with all new work!)

I found a way to use this acrylic painting, which was a Christmas gift for my dad in 2000.  Because I have some granddaughters who are utterly obsessed with lions, I knew I would need to include one in the L's; and why draw a new one when I already had a perfectly good one on hand--right?
I also used a really old acrylic painting that I did when I was a senior in college.  I was trying, rather ineptly, to copy a photo I had snapped of my husband laughing with two of his high school buddies while they shared a joke at a 1979-1980 New Year's Eve party at my house, shortly after we'd gotten engaged.  That's my guy in the middle (supposedly--I'm not trying to be humble when I say this painting is not all that good).
And finally, I re-purposed a colored pencil-and-ink drawing of son #2 in his favorite "Soupin' Man" jammies that I did back in 1992, when I had thoughts of using my artwork to make my own greeting cards for friends and family.  (I don't think I ever actually did that, but it was a nice idea.)
Most of what I do is not really suitable for hanging up on the wall, but I think it does the job of illustrating a book for children just fine.

So do you want to see how I employed those almost-forgotten pieces of artwork for the L pages (which I purposely wrote in such a way that they would fit)?

Okay then, here they are.

I had to crop out the beer bottle to make that second one work for this project.  (But those boys were all 21 when the photo was taken--I promise!)

I love that all I had to create for those two pages was a lemon!  How lucky am I?  And I never could have done what I did here back in 1993, when there was no such thing as a scanner or color printer that you had in your own house.  Back then, I had to go to places like Staples or Mail Boxes Etc. to achieve the kind of effects that I can now make happen right at my own desk in my own home office.  I'm thinking perhaps it's a good thing that I waited twenty years from the time I first began (back when my baby was still a baby!) to finally get around to finishing what I started, so that all this modern technology could give me a leg up.  Procrastination has its pluses as well as its minuses, I guess!

It's is moving along so well now that I'll be posting the M pages tomorrow.