Sunday, January 20, 2019

The K's Aren't Finished...But I’m Hoping They’ll Be A-OK

Today, I've been at work on the K's.

Way back in 1993, when my youngest son was less than a year old, I painted a kangaroo on a wall at our boys' Catholic grade school, in the hallway outside the Pre-K classrooms.  It was an ABC project that the principal had asked me to do, with one image per letter, as a big wall mural for the little ones to enjoy as they walked down the hall.  (Kind of an ABC Book, but on the walls!)  I had a key to the school, and my husband would take our five boys for a couple of hours at a time so I could go over there during weekends or after-school hours and get it done, in bits and pieces, over the course of a few months.

I wish I had better photos, taken with something other than a cheap Instamatic camera, of those murals.  (Sadly, many years later, when the Pre-K moved to another building and those rooms over the gymnasium were made into offices and conference rooms, the murals got painted over.  So these blurry photos are the only proof that they ever existed!)  That same year, I painted Winnie-the-Pooh and friends on the walls of one of the Pre-K classrooms.

The previous summer, before the beginning of the 1992 school year, I had also painted animals and nursery rhyme characters on the walls of the other Pre-K classroom, when I was pregnant with son number five.  Occasionally when I was working on those, I had my four boys with me, hanging out in the empty school, with piles of paper, pencils, and coloring books to keep  them occupied (for they, too, loved to draw)...and plenty of snacks!!

I don't know why I'm posting these pictures that I glued onto cardstock pages and stored in a binder--pictures that I haven't looked at in ages and ages.  Taking a trip down memory lane, I guess.  And maybe part of it is that I'm trying to preserve some memories for my family.  It's been years since I've thought of that artwork I got to do at our boys' grade school, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if they've completely forgotten all about it.  (Using the blog for family archiving purposes here, as I often do!)

Anyway, for this ABC Book project I'm working on now (which was also originally started in 1993, for my baby, but shelved for decades!), it seems only fitting that the kangaroo I painted on the wall at St. Mary's that same year should make an appearance here.  And if I had a photo of that old kangaroo that was better quality...I would probably just photocopy it and then cut and paste the picture onto a page for this book, as I've done with some of my other old artwork for this project.  How much time that would save!  But alas, I find myself working a new version today, trying to make it resemble the old version as much as possible. 

I've got to figure out a way to fit a koala bear in here, too--maybe a tiny one in the distance, hanging out in a tree.  We shall see.

'Kay then, I guess that's it for the K's.  For today anyway.  I'll post the finished pages as soon as I can, sometime after my husband and I get back from our week-long trip to our old hometown in Upstate NY (we fly out tomorrow morning).

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Baptism of Our Lord--and Our Youngest Grandchild

They both happened on the same day--yesterday--and what a glorious occasion it was!   Can you think of a more perfect day to have a child receive the sacrament than on the day we celebrate Jesus' Baptism?  The pleasingly plump little fella who now shares a baptismal anniversary with Our Lord is the third-born son of our second-born son and his wife Ginger.
With his Papa, my hubby, for whom he was named.

When we sent pictures from the ceremony to my husband's siblings (care of the oft-used family text stream), one of his brothers commented, "What a great day to be baptized," and then joked, "Was the priest's name John?"  It wasn't--but wouldn't that have been something if it was?

The little guy (whose blog handle shall be "Topper," I've decided) was born in late October and was initially going to be baptized quite a while ago; but he ended up going through a number of health crises, including RSV (for which he had to be hospitalized for over a week, and which led to some other upper respiratory infections), so it had to be postponed.  As it ended up being rescheduled to take place on the most perfect Sunday of the year for a Baptism, all was well that ended well.  (And he is definitely doing much better health-wise, although he's still battling a stubborn cough.)
This is what a newly-baptized Christian feels like: oh, the joy!

There was a big (by VA standards) snowstorm that started on Saturday night and continued all day Sunday, so not many family members were able to make it to the Baptism--including our oldest son and his wife, who were named Topper's godparents.  But Papa and Grammy stood in for them, and we were so grateful for the opportunity to see our littlest grandchild receive this all-important first Sacrament of Initiation, whereby he became officially united with Christ and the Church.

Topper wore the same christening gown and bonnet that his two older brothers, Junior (3) and Jedi (18 months) wore.

I made these garments out of some linen-and-lace pillow shams that my late mother-in-law had collected--very likely with the idea of making christening gowns for her great-grandchildren one day, so I feel like she and I created them together.  Mom had a lot of these shams, so I was able to make gowns for the families of all four of my married boys.  When our oldest son's wife was expecting our first grandchildren, twin girls (now 7), I actually made two each of two styles of gown and had her pick which ones she wanted for her babies.  That left two extras that I saved for future grandchildren, and I eventually made several more.  One went to son #3 and another to son #2.  When son #4's wife was expecting triplets, I knew she had a family heirloom christening gown for her daughter to use, but I was able to give her two more gowns for the boys (also identical twins!) to wear for their Baptism.  (Our four oldest boys were baptized in heirloom gowns from my husband's family; the only one of my boys for whom I made a gown was son #5, and I plan to pass that on to him when his first child is born.)

I've actually blogged about making all these christening gowns before, here, here, and here, if you'd like to visit those old posts.  (I guess you'd have to be a dyed-in-the-wool sewing enthusiast, or just really, REALLY interested in the making of christening dresses to do you won't offend me at all if you're thinking, "I'm much too busy to be poking around her dusty archives!")

Enough about sewing; back to the subject du jour: here is a picture of Topper with his family, after his initiation into the Catholic Church.

As parents of grown children, my husband and I couldn't be more thrilled and grateful that our boys are fully and joyfully practicing their Catholic Faith, that they are welcoming children into the world with open hearts and passing on the Faith to them as well--and of course, that would not be possible if they hadn't picked the kind of women they have as their spouses.  All four of our married sons chose the most loving and lovable Catholic girls--beautiful inside and out--as partners for their journeys through life.
These are my girls.  I [heart] them.  I'm the luckiest M-I-L on earth.

Three of our married boys--sons #1, #3, and #4--met their wives on (I've blogged about that before, too, but I'll spare you more links for now!).  Topper's parents didn't meet on the website; but they met because his daddy was a groomsman in his uncle's (son #3's) wedding and his mommy was a bridesmaid in that same wedding.  (Two of our daughters-in-law, Preciosa and Ginger, were dear friends in college who never expected that one day they'd marry brothers and have children who were cousins!)  So we joke that 3.5 of the matches in our family came from what son #3 once jokingly called "the family website."

Anyway, that's about it from down here in snowy VA.  I'm just feeling all cozy and warm inside my house, blessed beyond measure, luckier than I deserve.  I don't know how I got so lucky.  But I know that "to whom much is given, much is expected"--so methinks I better get to work and give back as much as possible, while I still have breath in me.

God bless my boys.  God bless my girls.  And most of all, God bless adorable Topper, the newest little Christian in my world.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Is It Too Late to Talk about Christmas Eve Traditions?

I know that for most folks, the Christmas season is officially over.  For many (sadly!), it ended on December 26, or possibly January 1.  But even if you're a Catholic who knows that the 12 Days of Christmas actually go from Christmas Day until Epiphany, you have to admit that perhaps it's time now to think about putting away the wreaths and garlands.  Epiphany is behind us, after all.  For a blogger, it's time to move on to other subjects, right?  I mean, who wants to read blog posts about our family's Christmas traditions at this late date?

If you're saying, "Not me!", then you've been warned and can leave now.

But you see, I was so busy just enjoying the festivities during the Christmas season that I didn't blog too much about my favorite holiday.  So I'm going to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about it (before I start taking the Christmas decorations down next Sunday, which is the Baptism of Our Lord and probably a good time to do it--although I've heard some people hold out until February 2, Candlemas...hmmm).

I love reading about other families' unique Christmas traditions--whether they be special faith-related practices or just plain family fun activities.  Popular blogger/writer/speaker/IG star Bonnie Engstrom recently wrote a blog post about her family's "Elf"-watching tradition ("How We Watch Elf"), and I just loved it.  I may need to start something similar with my grandkids one of these years, and I don't think Bonnie will mind if I copy her (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all).

One of my favorite Pearl family traditions is our Christmas Eve dinner, a not-overly-traditional celebration involving take-out pizza and Christmas crackers.  This is what it looked like this year: we had just our youngest son and his girlfriend with us, because the rest of the gang---our four oldest, their wives, and our 14 grandchildren--were going to be with us the next day, for Christmas dinner.

I was trying to remember when and how we actually started celebrating the night before Christmas this way, so I thumbed through a lovely little hardcover memory book titled "Deck the Hall" that my mother-in-law gave me as a gift in 1991, wherein I recorded memories from 10 Christmases (1991 through 2001).  If I haven't taken this sweet book off the shelf in a while, it is so touching to flip through it and see us the way we were, back when our boys were wee lads.  When I began recording our memories in 1991, our oldest son was 8--just a year older than the oldest of his five kids, his 7-year-old twin girls--and our youngest wasn't even born yet.

Anyway, according to what I jotted down in this book, it looks like the first year we opted to have take-out pizza for our Christmas Eve dinner was 1992--and I suspect the menu we chose that year had a lot to do with the fact that Mommy was 8-plus months pregnant and very tired.  But the boys loved it so much that we decided to make it an annual family tradition. They proclaimed, after that first time, "We should have this every year!", and thus a tradition was born.  Even when they outgrew the "Pizza is the best food on earth" mentality, it remained our favorite way of doing things on December 24. We ordered pizza from Little Caesar's (a New England fan fave), or sometimes Pizza Hut, and ate it on fine china in the dining room; and truly, for our boys at that time in their life, that was a more spectacular dining experience than any they could imagine.  Add sparkling grape juice in wine glasses and tons of iced sugar cookies, and wow, could life get any better?

The following year, 1993, I thought it would be fun to add something more to make our Christmas Eve goings-on even more our own; so I bought English Christmas crackers and put one at everyone's place.  We popped them open together and took out all the goodies hidden inside: we put on the paper crowns, oohed and ahhed ironically over the terrible, cheap prizes, and as we ate our pizza feast, we took turns going around the table to tell the corny jokes typed up on little squares of paper.  So 1993 was the year we really solidified our plan for how we would proceed each year.  Pizza and Christmas crackers.  We only messed up one year, when we forgot to call for the pizza before every pizza joint in town closed early for the holiday; that year, we had hors d'oeuvres and desserts for dinner, but we still had our crackers and crowns!

Back in about 2000 or so, I made up a "Recipe Book" for each of my boys as a Christmas present.  My oldest son had asked me to give him my recipes for certain desserts that he loved, so that his future wife could make them.  (Isn't that the best?)  This was well before I was aware of Shutterfly or anything remotely like it, so I made up hand-lettered pages of recipes rather inexpertly on card stock, with photos and illustrations added.  I had five photocopies of each page run off over at Staples, and then I put the copied pages in plastic sleeves in binders.  (Super professional-looking, as you can imagine!)  Along with the recipes for foods, I included some extras like "Recipe for Making a House a Home."

And here are the pages for "Recipe for Christmas Eve Dinner."

So that's how we do it.  Or at least, how we always did it.  (And of course, alcoholic beverages were added, as our boys came of age!)

Now that our four oldest boys have families of their own, they are making their own traditions.  We will probably seldom be all together for Christmas Eve henceforth, but I hope they carry fond memories of all the years we celebrated this way together in their hearts.

Those memorable nights--gathered around the dining room table in paper crowns, laughing too hard at not-funny jokes, anticipating the joy of Christmas morning--must have made an impression on our oldest boy, at least.  Because he and his wife decided that pizza-and-crackers would be the Christmas Eve tradition in their household as well. It is so wonderful seeing it being carried on with the next generation of Pearls.  #success

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

Mass today was so wonderful at our new little parish here in rural Northern VA.  It gave me that happy feeling I often get on Sundays, that understanding that to be a Catholic is to know true joy!  It makes me wonder why anyone would choose to be anything else!

Students from the local Catholic grade school (called Epiphany Catholic School--how perfect is that?) did the readings.  Their school choir sang the songs.  And after Mass, adorable little people clad in their neat and tidy school uniforms passed out house blessing kits to all the parishioners.

So when we got home, my husband and I did our first-ever house blessing.  That seems kind of embarrassing to admit here in the Catholic blogosphere--that it was our first; but we didn't grow up practicing this tradition in our families, and we didn't know anyone who did.  Things had begun to change a bit in the Church by the late 60's and early 70's, when we were in junior high and high school, and we fear that in some ways our faith formation was a bit lacking.

I've often said that I credit my early religion classes, in 1st and 2nd grade, with giving me the foundation that led to a lifetime of solid Catholic Faith.  I can still remember the way the illustrations in the catechism text looked, and the nun who taught us; I can still see in my mind's eye the page that showed the black spots that would fill my soul if I committed sins.  I can remember living in dread of soiling my newly-whitened soul after I made my first Confession, and kneeling to say an Act of Contrition if I ever thought I did anything that might have left a spot.  (Oh, to be as sweet and innocent and ready at any moment to meet my Maker as I was back then!)

Anyway, using the kit provided by the school, I lit the stick of incense and my husband sprinkled holy water in every doorway and room of the house.  I wrote in chalk, 20+C+M+B+19, on a VA-shaped piece of wood that I painted with chalkboard paint and nailed above the door.  (I hope this is okay; I was worried that no one would be able to read the blessing if I wrote it on the door frame, because it's painted white.) 2019 stands for the year.  The initials C, M, and B stand for the three Magi--Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar; but it also means "Christus Mansionem Benedicat," which is Latin for "May Christ Bless This House."

Finally, we recited this prayer together:

"Bless this house and all who inhabit it.  Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect His love.  May all who come to our home this year rejoice to find Christ living among us; and may we seek and serve, in everyone we meet, that same Jesus who is Lord,  forever and ever.  Amen."

There are so many reasons why we are thrilled that we made the bold decision to leave our longtime home in NH and move to VA back in March of 2017.

For one thing, we get the best pop-in visitors--like these three little people who showed up on my doorstep yesterday.  They belong to our middle son, and they live just over a half-hour away in one direction.

G-Man and Princesa--playing the Magi?

We also get to frequently witness sweet moments like this one, between our second-oldest son and his two oldest boys (he has three of them!); they live less than an hour away in the other direction.

But we also love the idyllic little town where we landed, even though before we bought our house we knew almost nothing about the area.  The location alone--a central meeting spot for the four sons who have settled here with their families--would have made it ideal; but it is also just a lovely place to live.  And our parish...I can't say enough about how much we love our new parish, and the priests there who lead their flock with courage and love, unafraid to say the tough things that need to be said so that we will all find our way back to our Father in Heaven.

Today, our pastor spoke passionately about the importance of Catholic education and the need to support our Catholic schools any way we can.  My husband and I made sending our boys to Catholic school a top priority, and thought any financial sacrifices we had to make to do so were well worth it; and we feel very strongly about the need to have thriving Catholic schools available for our grandchildren and their peers, and for generations to come.  So we are currently trying to decide the best way to lend support to our local school, an institution named for this day.

Readers, I have to tell you that I am brimming with feast day joy!  We had coffee and pastries after Mass, at a little gathering in the church hall hosted by the Epiphany Catholic School--and even met someone new there, an art teacher who could potentially be a friend.  (What are those anyway?  I have not made one yet down here in my new hometown.  #introvertproblems)  We did our first-ever Epiphany house blessing.  It was just an all-around good day and I am filled with love--for my family, my home, my Faith, and most of all for Christ.

I feel blessed.  And now my house is feeling that way, too.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Now for the N Pages

I am finally, finally nearing the finish line with this ABC Book, with just four more pages of illustrations to do. Before I show you the N pages, I wanted to thank those of you who left comments on my last post, about the X, Y page--which is a bit odd, to be sure, and most likely won't suit everyone's tastes.  (It may even get a re-boot, if I decide I just can't live with it the way it is.) Lately, when I get a blog post up I often don't get around to going back and checking on it for days--so I just got around to replying to your comments today, dear readers.  I'm sorry it takes me so long.  I really do appreciate it when you stop by!

Now for the N's...

I got a suggestion from one of my favorite bloggers, Colleen Martin for this letter.  Thanks to her inspiration, the word "novena" is included in this children's picture book that I've been working on for my grandkids--and I couldn't be happier.  Although this book is not a completely Catholic work, I have tried to throw some Catholic words and imagery into the mix, along with all the animals, foods, etc.  Hopefully in some small way, this humble little ABC Book can be an evangelization tool for innocent, impressionable little eyes.

The first novena page I did came out like this.

But after it was done, I thought it looked a bit too bland and I wanted to add some color.  So I re-did the page, giving the novena prayer card a blue border.

I decided not to tilt the card this time--not sure if that was a good idea or not.  And for some reason, I made the new 9 orange...then added some black spots.  And now I'm afraid that it looks sort of like a cheetah.  I'm not really sure why I did that; sometimes my hand seems to have a mind of its own.  When I told my husband I thought I'd ruined the page, he said not to worry because kids like colorful things.  Which reminded me of something very important: this artwork is not going to hang in the Louvre; it's for small, relatively uncritical children!  (And most of the ones who will look at it call me "Grammy" and they love me!)

Here are the two N pages together, safely in their plastic sleeves in my binder--which is very full, now that I'm nearing the end.

The baby had to be called Nancy, because that was the name of my paternal grandmother as well as two of my aunts, one on my mom's side and one on my dad's.

And I am so, SO glad the to have novenas represented.  Our family believes strongly in the power of these prayers--we are saying one now, to St. Peregrine, for a loved one who was recently diagnosed with cancer. ( Please pray for one of the most precious Pearls in our string, as he begins the fight of his life.  Thank you!)