Thursday, May 23, 2019

Suzy Homemaker at Heart

My daughters-in-law, who are all in the thick of raising young children, toddlers, and babies, make comments from time to time about how immaculate my little house (a.k.a. my empty nest where no offspring live anymore) here in VA usually looks.  The toilets sparkle!  It smells good (as in, it doesn't smell like dirty diapers)!  There is little-to-no clutter (because we decluttered like nobody's business when we sold our house--filled with 26 years' worth of raising our boys--in NH two years ago).

Sometimes it makes me feel a little embarrassed--like it's possible that I spend too much time cleaning when I should be doing more important things.

But I have ALWAYS been a neatnik, even as a little girl.  (Even as a teenager!)  From the time I was about eight, I always had my own bedroom.  In our family, there was an older brother, then me, then a younger brother, and finally two younger sisters close in age.  So it just happened to work out that the boys shared a room, the "little" girls shared a room, and I had my own--at least until I left for college.  This was probably the best arrangement I could have asked for, because I craved order, and my two little sisters most certainly did not.  It was natural for me to keep my clothes folded and put away in drawers, or hung up in the closet, rather than strewn about the floor.  My bed was usually made, and the books and knickknacks on my built-in shelves were carefully arranged.  I thought of my bedroom as my own little "apartment," where I could escape to read or listen to 45's on my portable record player in peace.  (It was an introvert's paradise!)  My parents used to use me as an example for my brothers and sisters, much to my dismay--"Why can't you make your beds, like Laura does?"--but the truth is that I didn't do it to earn any brownie points with them; I did it because I loved having a neat and orderly hideaway of my own.

I also learned to bake as a young girl, because I definitely had a sweet tooth but my parents couldn't afford to stock the pantry with store-bought goodies, snacks, and desserts.  However, there was usually a box of Bisquik on hand for making pancakes, and some basic staples like sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, eggs, and margarine.  And thus, my lifelong love of making coffee cakes--and baking in general--was born.  (I even tried homemade doughnuts once, and they were delectable!)  It was part of my weekend routine for a number of years, starting at about the age of 10, to make Tollhouse cookies (my dad's favorite) as a special treat for my family every Saturday.

So as you can see, I was a regular Suzy Homemaker by nature.  (Does anyone even get that reference anymore?)

Aside from being a wife and mommy (the only jobs I ever really wanted), I dreamed of having a home of my own to take care of one day.  I couldn't wait to fix up and decorate my own little house, to bake in its kitchen, even to clean it.  (Yes, that's my shameful secret: I actually like to clean!)

Of course, when I had four boys in four years (followed by a fifth son who came along five years after son #4), I had to relax my standards or I would have lost my mind.  My house was not as clean and tidy back in those days that my boys were morphing into men, to say the least!  I learned to deal with cluttered tables (with half-full drinking cups and crumpled wrappers left behind on every available surface), clothes left on the floor, jock straps and smelly socks discarded in the most unfitting places, unsightly splatters around the toilets...well, you get the idea!  I often went to bed with dirty dishes in the sink, knowing I'd have more energy to deal with them in the morning.  My cleaning philosophy could be described as "crisis management": whichever thing needed tending to most at the moment got done; but that meant that the house was seldom clean everywhere at the same time.  I never had a cleaning lady (because as I explained, I don't mind cleaning at all, and I wasn't going to pay someone else to do it).  "Best at hiding dirt" was my criteria for picking carpet and flooring in our house, so it could look clean even when it wasn't.  If I didn't have time to deep-scrub a bathroom that needed it, a quick wipe-down with baby wipes or Clorox wipes made things look presentable.  And here's my guilty little secret: I LOVE to vacuum (my husband likes to call me the "mad vacker").  I guess I'm just hard-wired to enjoy the most mundane of household chores.

But there is so much less to do now, housework-wise, than there was when our boys were living with us.  Here are some panoramic pictures my sister took of the first floor of our VA house, when she was here for a short visit in March.

As you can see, this is a house where, unless the grandkids are visiting, there's a place for everything and everything is in its place.  It helps that we have so much less stuff now than we did after we'd been living in our old NH house for more than a quarter of a century.  I'm hardly a minimalist, but my husband and I are definitely living more simply in our new VA digs.

I never had a hall linen closet as neat and orderly and filled with soft, pretty sheets and towels as I do now.  (Marie Kondo would even approve, methinks!)

I wish I'd taken a photo of our old linen closet in NH before we moved.  It was overfull and disorganized, and most of the towels in it were threadbare and dingy.  I gave up on colored towels when my boys became teenagers; their Clearasil would leave bleached-out spots on them, so I switched to off-white for all of our family's towels...and by the time we finally sold that house in NH, none of those crusty old things were worth hanging onto.  To stage our house for selling, we got fluffy new towels--pretty ones!  And then when we moved into our new house, we bought some more, so that when we ever do have guests we have nice towels to offer them.  So here's what my linen closet looks like these days.  (Like something out of Good Housekeeping, practically!)

It really is kind of fun, after all the years of child-rearing and cleaning up after a passel of messy boys, to have a neat house most of the time.  I can't deny it.  It is very bittersweet to have your kids grow up and leave you; but the sweet part is that there isn't as much housework to do, because there aren't as many messes.  I'm actually enjoying living in a house that I can keep as neat and orderly as my heart desires.  It is one of the best benefits of having an empty nest (aside from the much smaller grocery bills and laundry piles!).

It would be sad if my husband and I were alone in our neat little house all the time, though; luckily, 14 young children are often here, with their precious sticky hands, running around like whirling dervishes and leaving trails of animal crackers in their wake.  They're keeping it real for Grammy, reminding her that a house is for living, and living can be very messy!

So girls, sweet daughters-in-law of mine, don't think this is what my house always looked like!  Believe it or not, I once lived in a house with toys and clothes all over the floor, overflowing laundry baskets, piles of junk mail and dinosaur drawings on every counter, dirty diapers spilling out of the garbage can, etc.  I didn't always live like I do now!  You, too, will be amazed at how much easier it is to take care of a home that only has two grown-up people living in it.

But you will miss the chaos sometimes, as I do.  So thanks for bringing your wee ones over frequently to remind me of how wonderful that season of life truly is!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Big BIG News--Delivered via Fortune Cookies and an Ice Cream Cake

I originally wrote this post on March 10, and I have been patiently waiting to post it until I got the green light from the parties involved.  But YAY!--I finally get to share it, as written the day after the events transpired.

March 9 was a bit of a red banner day for my husband and me, and for our family in general.  We got some pretty amazing news from two of our boys and their wives--and the fact that they were able to surprise us (when they thought perhaps we'd guessed beforehand) made the experience of hearing it that much more exciting and fun.

Before I say any more, I want to introduce you to the two boys involved, sons #3 and #4.
This was taken in the summer of 1988, when son #3 was just over 2 and #4 was 6 or 7 mos.

Here they are in May of 1992, when their oldest brother (far right) was about to make his 
First Holy Communion.  Son #3 (the one making the goofy face) is 6 here, and #4 is not quite 4 and 1/2. 
 (Son #2 is 7 and looking pretty dapper in this picture, if I do say so.)

Another shot from May of 1992.

We have been fortunate that our boys really like each other.  Oh, they did fight sometimes when they were kids--I'm not trying to paint too rosy a picture here.  They bickered over toys and video games, like all kids do.  But they generally got along really well and enjoyed most of the same activities.  They were great playmates and partners in crime.

Sons #3 and #4 (and later, #5) were always roommates growing up.  They were only a grade apart, so they played on the same sports teams throughout elementary school and high school and they had many friends in common.  They both went to Notre Dame and lived in the same dorm (although they each ended up spending later years living off campus).  They were both cadets in the Army ROTC at ND, and both went into the Reserves after graduation (and initially did their drilling at the same Reserve unit in MD).  They both settled in the Charlottesville, VA area and took jobs in civilian contracting.  They both went to work in the same building and shared a not-very-clean bachelor's apartment (that their mom feverishly scrubbed and tidied for them whenever she came to visit).

Are you getting the idea that these two are close?  Wait.  I'm not finished yet!

When these two boys got married--less than three months apart!  #3 in December of 2013 and #4 in February of 2014--they lived in duplex houses in the same development, literally around the corner from each other.  Since then, they have both bought new, larger homes for their growing families.  These houses are only a few minutes' drive away from one another.

Both of these wonderful boys are the fathers of three children: son #3 and Preciosa have G-Man (4), Princesa (3), and Rosita (1);

and son #4 and Braveheart have triplets--Senorita Paquita and identical twin boys Pumpkin and Peanut--who will turn 2 in August.

Isn't this just the greatest story?  And I'm just getting started.  It gets better.

Since our house (the one we bought almost exactly two years ago, when we sold our NH home and moved south to be near our ever-growing family) is in a great central location for the four married sons who live in the area, with no one having to drive more than an hour to meet up here, I arranged a play date with my girls on March 7.  Only three of the four daughters-in-law--and 9 of the 14 grandkids--were able to make it, because some of our oldest son's kids were sick.  While the gang was at our house, son #4's wife, Braveheart, casually invited my husband and me over for dinner the next night, saying that our fourth-born wanted to "treat us."  We gave each other a look, because although we love to help our kids out whenever possible and are always ready and willing to babysit for any one of them if we're free, we had just been talking about what a treat it is to just sit and relax and have dinner with them and their little ones.  So needless to say, we were happy that we had plans with them the next night and were very much looking forward to it.

Preciosa, hearing that we were going to be in the area that night, said that she and son #3 were going on a dinner date but would stop by son #4 and Braveheart's house to see us before heading back home.  This did not raise any red flags at all, because our sweet Preciosa admittedly suffers from FOMO, and it was totally in character for her to want to join a family party happening nearby.

The next night we got there early and played with the triplets for a bit.  When they went to bed for the night, son #4 and Braveheart ordered Chinese take-out, which we hadn't had in ages (and which we all love).  When we'd finished our meals, Braveheart brought over a small plate with four fortune cookies on it. I broke mine open and the little slip of paper inside read, "Lucky Number 15."  I said, "What kind of a fortune is that?!"  My husband opened his, and it had the same message.  "They're not very creative!  They're not even trying," he said.  He was acting sort of flummoxed--and humorously, even a bit annoyed.  The kids opened theirs, and it was the same deal: two more slips of paper that read, "Lucky Number 15."  So my husband and I are talking about these crazy "fortunes," saying that the whole package must have the same ones, and it must be some kind of mistake.  Son #4 interrupts and says, "So what do you have 14 of already?"  At first, my clueless husband was like, "I don't know."  But finally, the message got through to the two thickest-headed grandparents on earth: THEY WERE EXPECTING AGAIN!  And it would be our 15th grandchild.  Get it?  (Cuz we didn't!)

I can't imagine how crazy the kids were going inside, wondering when we were ever going to figure it out!  But when we finally did, it was awesome.  I'm pretty sure the "Lucky Number 15" incident will become part of Pearly family folklore.
Braveheart and son #4  had to steam the cookies so that they would open up, making it possible to remove 
the real fortunes and replace them with these handwritten clues.  What a clever ruse!

Anyway, once we did catch on, there was screaming and jumping up from the table!  There were hugs and kisses!  Wow.  Just wow!

We were SO excited for them, even though another baby coming along so soon after triplets is a prospect that is understandably daunting.  And boy oh boy, are we ever happy that we live down here now and will be able to help them out as they get adjusted to having four babies 2 and under!  (At least they hope it will only be four!  If you don't mind adding them to your prayer list, they would very much like to experience a non-multiple birth this time around--although of course they are putting it all in God's hands and know that He will take care of them no matter what.)

Okay, so things were pretty exciting already.  My husband and I were really on a cloud, smiling from ear to ear.  Then son #3 and Preciosa showed up, carrying an ice cream cake that they'd brought to share.  When Preciosa first set the box down on the counter, I peeked inside and saw that it had writing on it, and for a split second I thought, "It must have been decorated as a birthday cake, but they just picked it up anyway."  But when I read what was spelled out in blue icing on the top, I immediately jumped up and laughed.  "No way!  Oh my goodness!"  Here's what the cake said: "Sweet 16."

After all that talk about the number 15 just minutes before, I knew exactly what that 16 meant: they were expecting again, too!!!

My husband said after that even though I had already started my explosive reaction, when he very first saw the cake he thought son #3 and Preciosa had made a math error--that the cake was meant to celebrate the news we'd just heard from the other couple, so that the cake should have a 15 on it, not a 16.  Ha ha!  Along with all the exclamations of joy, there was a lot of laughter that night (mostly induced by how slow Papa and Grammy were to understand what the kids were all trying to tell them!!  And not that subtly, mind you!).

So there was more screaming, more hugging, more kissing!  And lots of talk about how they both thought we might have guessed about #15, because of "the look" we'd given each other when Braveheart invited us over the day before.  But nope!  We were clueless.  You'd think that with all the babies that have been born, rapid-fire, since we first became grandparents in 2011, we'd be constantly wondering if someone had news for us.  But for whatever reason, that night we were not really expecting to hear that anyone was expecting.  (Although my husband did mention, after the fact, that as we got into the car to head over to son #4's house for dinner, he almost said to me, "I wonder if they have an announcement to make," but then thought, "Nah.")

The funny this is, Preciosa had just found out that morning, via home pregnancy test.  When she'd told us the day before that she and son #3 were going to stop by while we were in the area (and now we know that they actually had been told the news about #15 already, and they wanted to celebrate with us), she had no idea that they were going to have some happy news to for us, too!

Isn't that the best story?  I mean, just the best story?

Life is good, my friends.  Even when your babies do the unthinkable--when they grow up and leave you, and your nest is all emptied out and much too quiet--there is SO MUCH MORE to look forward to.

These two couples are already planning to send their kids to the same local Catholic elementary school.  Those cousins are going to grow up being the best of friends, and I can hardly wait to see what the future holds for them.  For us all.

I am reminded yet again--by the best of news delivered via fortune cookies and an ice cream cake--that I have been inordinately blessed in this life.  God has been so good to me!  And to whom much is given, much is I have some work to do!  (And in the foreseeable future, that work might include helping these young people, with childcare or new mom care or whatever might come up, as they transition from being parents of three to parents of four!)

Sweet 16: I think that's a very good number, don't you?

As an addendum to this post, here are the Facebook announcement pictures that were recently posted by these two couples. (And thanks for the prayers--the triplets are only getting one new sibling!)

First it was Facebook official; now it's String of Pearls official!

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother's Day Came Early This Year

My 2019 Mother's Day celebration was actually last Sunday, when the four boys who live near us in VA gave me an early Mother's Day present: they came over for the afternoon and stayed to have a nice dinner in the dining room with their dad and me.  They didn't bring their wives (whom we totally adore, mind you) or their combined 14 precious offspring (who have stolen Papa and Grammy's hearts utterly and completely); they came alone.
I like how petite these big guys make me feel.  (That's only one of the many things I like about them, of course.)

Normally, our special family events or holiday parties at our new modest-sized, open-concept abode in our little cookie cutter neighborhood are rather loud, crowded, and chaotic affairs--but in the best way.  There are little people everywhere, and parents chasing after toddlers, and tussles over toys to break up; there are cartoons blaring away on the TV's, and juice cups to be refilled, and poopy diapers to be is so, so much fun, and kind of hilarious, with never a dull moment; but as you can imagine, these sorts of gatherings do not provide an atmosphere that is conducive to sustained conversations between adults.

Two years ago, son #2's wife suggested to him that it might be a treat for me to have just my boys over for a few hours, for a change of pace; so he called the two other brothers who were living here at the time and made it happen the Sunday after Mother's Day.  And I have to was so wonderful!  Son #3 brought his 2-year-old boy, G-Man, with him.  (We joked that G-Man could play the part of our absent #5 son, while my husband filled in for son #1, and therefore it would feel like old times, because there would be five boys sitting at my table once again).

I enjoyed that sweet afternoon so much, and I told my husband that would be the perfect Mother's Day present every year: just a few hours with my boys, reliving my glory days as a mother when my whole existence revolved around taking care of them and getting to see them interact in their inimitable way.  Hearing their deep, pleasing voices as they talk and laugh together is one of the things I miss most now that we're in the empty-nesting years.  I can honestly say that they are pretty much my five favorite people on earth, after their dad of course.  And it's not that they don't ever get to talk when their families are around.  But when they're here on their own, it's definitely different.  They are so relaxed.  And they're so smart and clever and sharp-witted--they make their mom and dad laugh til our bellies hurt.

Last year we were out of town, so the boys-only Mother's Day didn't happen.  But I'm so glad it happened again this year--thanks to my hubby, who sent out the first text and got the ball rolling.  As a mother of all grown children (aged 35, 34, 33, 31, and 26), I cannot recommend this sort of thing highly enough.  I never would have thought to ask for it on my own, because I would have worried that my girls would take it as a hint that I didn't like having them around.  (Which is so far from the truth!)  And of course, if our boys were living all over the country, I would never have wanted them to fly or make long drives just to do this for me.  But the fact that they all live less than an hour away from us here in VA made it something they could do. And I appreciate it more than I can say!  Because sometimes--even though the last thing I would ever want to do is to go back in time, because look at all we'd be missing if that happened!--it's fun to get a little feeling of deja vu, of what it was like when it was just my husband, our boys, and me, sharing a house and a life.  It's such a precious time in your life, mamas, when your children all live under your roof.  Cherish every moment, because those years really do fly by.

One of my husband's sisters married a guy who was the youngest of five boys.  When she first got engaged, I only had four of them, and I vividly remember thinking, "I would love to be able to say that I was the mother of five boys!"  God was surely listening; I got pregnant with son #5 very shortly after that.  This sister-in-law now has five children of her own, including triplets.  She told me years ago that she encourages her husband to fly home to see his folks on his own sometimes.  "When we're all with you, you pay more attention to us; I want you to pay attention to your mom!" she tells him.  She said she hopes that when her children are all grown and married, they will sometimes come home alone to visit with her.  This was a bit of a revelation to me, that a mother might ask for this.  And like I said, I probably wouldn't have done it on my own.  But boy, I can attest to the fact that it's a very special thing, having your chicks back in the nest together, even just for a few hours.

The only one missing from our little Party of Five was son #5, who is currently stationed in Oklahoma.  But not to worry: he joined in on the banter with his older brothers via FaceTime.
When they get together, they get so silly, and I believe they're all still little boys at heart. (Maybe all men are?)

After an enjoyable stretch of pre-dinner drinks and snacks and lively conversations about sometimes funny (movie lines, anyone?) and other times serious (the morality of driverless cars that are programmed to make decisions for humans) subjects, we sat down in the dining room to have a nice steak dinner.  Meat and potatoes are always a win with a houseful of boys, so no need to get any fancier than that.

I have always loved family meals eaten in the dining room, and lingering at the table long after everyone's plates are empty.  So my boys gave me the best gift they could ever give me by sitting around the table, talking and laughing with their mom and dad and letting the dishes wait.

I was on a bit of a cloud.  I insisted on getting pictures of each side of the table.

Unfortunately, I forgot to remove my apron for those photos.  But that just gave them one more reason to tease me.  And teasing is their love language, so as far as I'm concerned they can make fun of their mom as much as they want.  (Our side was not the "cool kids" section of the table, I was informed. LOL)

I cannot even express how much I love these boys.  Being a mother was the only thing that I ever wanted in life--and I got that, times five.  Then those five brought me four and now going-on-five beautiful girls to love, too.  And then being a grandmother (to 14 and counting)--that's the icing on the cake.  It's almost too much to bear, and I certainly don't deserve all these blessings.  But I am deeply grateful that God gave them to me, and I don't take them for granted.

My boys brought some Mother's Day gifts.  But the real present for me was their presence.  That was all I need to make it the best Mother's Day ever.

I recently read that during pregnancy, cells from the fetus cross the placenta and enter the mother's body, where they can become part of her tissues.  This cellular invasion means that mothers actually carry genetic material from their children's bodies, a phenomenon called microchimera.  It's no wonder that mothers often say they feel like their children are still a part of them after they've given birth; apparently, that is literally true.  Regardless of this amazing phenomenon heretofore unknown to me, I've always known one thing for a fact: I was my boys' first home--they lived in me once!--and for that privilege, I will be eternally grateful.

I'm going to end this with one of my favorite reflections about motherhood, a famous quote from Cardinal Mindszenty:

The most important person on earth is a Mother.
She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral.  
She need not.
She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral--
a tiny dwelling for an immortal soul,
the tiny perfection of her child's body.
The angels have not been blessed with such a grace.
They cannot share in God's creative miracle to bring new saints to Heaven.
Only a human mother can.
Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creature;
God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation.
What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?

On that note--Happy Mother's Day, dear readers!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

An Open Book: My Brother Pier Giorgio, His Last Days

At the end of this post, I'm going to recycle an old Amazon/Goodreads review that I wrote six years ago, because it is about a book which I believe should be read by as many people as possible and I love having the opportunity to promote it.  This book is a biographical work titled My Brother Pier Giorgio, His Last Days, written by the saint-in-the-making's sister, Luciana Frassati.

If you haven't heard of this extraordinary young man, or if you don't know a whole lot about him, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati's life story is utterly fascinating and incredibly inspiring.  This particular book deals only with his final week on earth--with his last days: his "passion" and tragic death from polio at the age of just 24.  If you want to read more about him, here is a short article; or you could read this biography,  A Man of the Beatitudes, a longer book also penned by his sister, which covers his whole life from birth to death.  (I had my youngest son read this more in-depth book in 8th grade, when he was being homeschooled; I can't think of a better--or more relatable--role model than Pier Giorgio, when it comes to helping adolescent boys grow in manly virtue.)

I admire Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati so much that I had to include him in my Catholic novel Finding Grace.   I thought this would be the only novel I would ever write, and I wanted to include every subject that was important to me; this saintly young man made the cut.

My shy little heroine, Grace Kelly, who is determined to achieve the goal of sainthood while living in the in the turbulent, post-Vatican II 1970's, is "introduced" to Pier Giorgio.  (I won't tell you how--you'll have to read the book to find out!  But it took some finagling, I'll tell you, because the story takes place long before he was beatified.)  She becomes enchanted with him to the point of having a bit of a crush, even though he's been long dead. 

After discovering Pier Giorgio in a book about modern saints called Faces of Holiness,  I was intrigued by the handsome young Italian who'd had such a short life but had made such an impact during his time on earth.   I wanted to read as much as I could find about him.  (Indeed, I developed a bit of a "saint crush" on Pier Giorgio--just like my Grace did in the novel.)  That is what led me to the first book I ever read about him, My Brother Pier Giorgio, His Last Days, a slim volume that stayed with me long after I'd finished it.  I devoured it in one sitting and have re-read it many times since.   I'm sure I'll read it again, too.  In fact, writing about it today is making me feel like reading it very soon.  (Into the bedside table "to read" pile it goes!)

I can't recommend this book highly enough.  Here's that review that was first published six years ago.  (If you do read this book, I'd love to know what you think of it--and of him!)

's review
Sep 18, 13                                                
It's almost impossible for me to put into words how inspiring this book is. Luciana Frassati's memoir about her brother's last week on earth--when he lay dying of polio at the age of 24, surrounded by his unwitting loved ones in his family home, quietly suffering until the bitter end so as not to divert the attention from his elderly grandmother, who was also dying--is one of the most moving and affecting tributes it has ever been my privilege to read.

I was first introduced to Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925), a perfect model of Christian faith, hope, and charity if there ever was one, when I read a couple of pages about him in a book about modern saints called Faces of Holiness. Something about his story--and his handsome face with its engaging smile--spoke to me, and I wanted to learn all I could about him.

My Brother Pier Giorgio, His Last Days is the first complete book I ever read about this future saint, who was named a Blessed by Pope John Paul II and is considered a patron of young adults (although I went on to read a biography, also penned by his sister, titled A Man of the Beatitudes). I devoured it in one sitting. And not long afterward, I re-read it. Then I re-read it, and for good measure, I re-read it once again...I truly don't know how many times I've read this beautiful book at this point. It's a slim volume, and a quick read; but so much holiness, self-sacrifice, and love are packed in its pages.

This book will inspire you to become a saint, and it will show you that you can be an "average Joe" like this young Italian man was--an athletic mountain climber, a jokester with countless friends, a student who struggled academically, a son who was misunderstood and underappreciated by his family, a man in love who had to renounce the woman of his dreams because his parents didn't approve of her--and yet, you can make the kind of heroic sacrifices in your daily life that will put you on the path to Heaven. You can love God and revere the Blessed Mother. You can treat the poor and the sick with true Christian charity.

It has been said of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati that he always carried a Rosary in his pocket, and that people were moved to imitate him just by seeing the joy on his face when he prayed. I know that I, for one, have been moved by him. And this heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting, story of his last days is well worth your time--whether you're a Catholic or not. 

That's it for me.  But don't forget to head on over to Carolyn Astfalk's latest Open Book link-up for more book recommendations!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Pearls in Rome, Day Eight (Arrivederci, Roma!)

Wednesday, March 27

As I come to the end of this series about our fabulous Roman Holiday a little over a month ago, I realize that there are so many pictures I never even got around to sharing, pictures of some of the most iconic sights in Rome--such as Il Vittoriano, or the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II), the famous white marble edifice located in the heart of the city that has been nicknamed  "the Wedding Cake."

I took a few quick pictures of this impressive and imposing landmark (including the requisite selfie) when we passed by it on our second day in Rome, as we were making our way over to the Colosseum for our tour (my head was on a swivel, I'll tell you, and my eyes were just about popping out of my head, taking it all in!).

There are other places, too, that I never got around to talking about--such as the Castle Sant'Angelo on the bank of the Tiber River. This structure was originally built by the emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum but later became a papal refuge.  There is a secret corridor that connects it to the Vatican, so that the pope can flee to safety if Vatican City comes under siege.

I took some photos, including this one, of the Castel Sant'Angelo on the days we visited St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums.

Actually, this might be a good time to tell you that if you haven't been following along and want to catch up with the "Pearls in Rome" series, here are links to Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, Day Six, and Day Seven.  (Even though these posts have a lot more pictures than words, going through so many of them probably seems a bit daunting.  So suffice it to say that we saw a lot of amazing things and it was just about the best week ever...and I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Rome!)

I chose a travel-friendly outfit for the long flight back to the US.  I almost always dress in a skirt and tights for air travel, a holdover from my husband's early days with the airline (way, way back in the late 1980's!), when there was a strict dress code we had to follow if we wanted to take advantage of the perk of free stand-by flights.  But for this day of sad farewells, I chose a casual ensemble of jeans, a flowy, loose-fitting top, and a soft, open-front blazer. This 3/4-sleeve jacket was a staple of my wardrobe for our week in Rome, and it even fit nicely under my roomy trench coat on the cooler days.  (It was an inexpensive Walmart find--and if you haven't ever shopped for clothes there you should really check it out!)

Our bags were packed and sitting by the door.  [Sniff!]  Before we walked out that door for good, we did one last quick check of the apartment to make sure that we hadn't left anything behind and that the place was as immaculate as possible.  (As VRBO homeowners ourselves, we know how much it is appreciated when guests treat the property respectfully!)

There was a taxi stand right next to the Pantheon, which was a few minutes' walk from "our" little apartment.  So we left at 7:00 a.m. and dragged our roller-bags over the cobblestones toward the Pantheon to catch a cab to the Termini train station.
That's my guy up ahead.  I was lagging a bit...reluctant to leave!

Good bye, Pantheon!  I'll miss you!

We boarded the Leonardo Express, and I couldn't stop taking pictures (from my seat on the train, through the window)--even as the city rushed past us in a blur.

Before we knew it, we had been assigned seats on our flight-- together up in First Class (woo hoo!).  That's all I needed to feel safe and comfortable on the trip across the big, blue ocean: my OBALP (Old Building and Loan Pal) sitting right beside me.

Actually, I needed one other guy with me, too.  I always hold this St. Joseph holy card in my hand when we take off, and I say the Unfailing Petition to this powerful saint that is printed on the back of the card.

(I say all I needed was those two guys to feel comfortable...but the cocktails, four-course meal, dessert cart, and movies-on-demand didn't hurt either!  I can't lie.  Those things definitely helped to take the sting out of having to leave my beloved Rome.)

I watched a couple of movies.  I read a book on my Kindle (Ornamental Graces by Carolyn Astfalk--I recommend it!).  And before I knew it, we were back on American soil.

I still can't believe we went on this trip!  We had talked about it many times over the past 15 years or so, and had even started to make plans on several occasions; however, more important family-related matters came up and we had to put our dream of a Roman Holiday on hold.  But we finally did it!  We actually made that dream come true.  I have to pinch myself sometimes.  Ask my husband how many times I've said recently, completely out of the blue, "Thank you so much for taking me on that trip!"  (His reply is always, "No, thank YOU!")

Our meals since we've been back home in VA have had a heavy Italian influence.  LOL!

I know I'll never forget our time in Rome.  But I also think that these blog posts documenting our days there will help to keep the memories fresh for me.

I hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane!  And if it is your dream to visit Rome one day, I hope you get to do it.  You will not be disappointed!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Pearls in Rome, Day Seven (Vatican Museums--Including the Sistine Chapel!)

For the entire time we'd been in Rome thus far, my hubby and I had seen nothing but sunshine and blue skies.  (If you haven't been here in a while and you want to read the first six posts about our recent Rome trip, here are links to Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five, and Day Six.)

Tuesday, March 26

On Day Seven, we had our first experience with gray and gloomy weather.  It was raining lightly but steadily as we walked over to the Vatican Museums in the morning and waited in a fairly long ticket line. Luckily, the coat I'd packed for this trip was a loose-fitting, water-repellent trench with a hood attached, so I was able to stay dry enough.  We didn't have umbrellas, and we probably should have bought one from one of the many vendors trying to sell them to us as we waited in line.  But my husband decided he could deal with the rain bare-headed, and fortunately it never really poured down hard.  Before we knew it, we were inside anyway.

We rented two sets of audio tour equipment, which consisted of headphones plugged into little battery-operated boxes that hung about our necks.  These devices gave audio narrations explaining all that we were seeing, room by room.  If you missed a bit of information about a particular piece, you could hit the replay arrow and listen again.  The rooms and many of the individual works of art in them were numbered, and we used the little audio tour boxes to select the numbers we saw as we made our way through the museums.  (Did that make sense?  I hope so.)

The Vatican Museums display a vast collection of priceless works of art which have been amassed by the popes throughout the centuries.  There are so many pieces of precious artwork housed in theses museums, including world-renowned ancient Roman sculptures, giant tapestries depicting the life of Christ, and some of the most acclaimed masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance painters.  There are rooms filled with  magnificent frescoes by Raphael.  And that's before you even get to the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's famous and indescribably beautiful paintings on its ceilings.

Friends, readers, bellas...I don't think I can describe what we saw.  As usual, when it comes to this Rome trip, I'm going to have to mostly let my pictures do the talking.  (And luckily, until we got to the Sistine Chapel, visitors were allowed to take as many photos as they pleased.  So what do you think this visitor did?  That's right, you guessed it: she took a whole slew of photos!)

The first rooms were filled with artifacts from ancient Egypt...including actual mummies!

Then there rooms filled with hundreds and hundreds of Roman sculptures, astoundingly life-like figures created by the hands of incredibly skilled artists.

The tapestries were breathtaking.

The opulent beauty of everything the eye beholds as you walk from one section into the next is indescribable.  If you are a lover of art, or architecture, or just plain beauty in general, a visit to the Vatican Museums is for you.  Actually, I can't imagine any human who could help but be moved by the majesty of it all. The term "awesome" is overused in our day and age, so that it has kind of lost the power it should have; but that is the perfect word to describe this amazing place.

My husband and I both felt unutterably moved by the almost otherworldly beauty of Raphael's paintings.  We spent a lot of time in the rooms adorned with his frescoes.

I remember thinking, "How can the Sistine Chapel be any better than this?!  How can Michelangelo's paintings be as good as Raphael's?"

I was about to find out...because when we finally got to the last stop on the tour, I was completely blown away.  My husband and I spent quite a lot of time in the Sistine Chapel, standing in the midst of throngs of noisy tourists, listening to our audio boxes and replaying some of the sections.  We just couldn't tear ourselves away from that magnificent chapel.  People were admonished to be quiet and remember that this was a holy place, a place of prayer, but it got loud at times.

When we first entered the Sistine Chapel, I didn't notice any signs saying that photography was against the rules (later, my husband would explain that the warning sign near the entrance had been hidden by the thick crowds), and I saw dozens of people pointing their cell phones and cameras at the walls and ceilings.  So thinking that it was okay to do so, I started to take photos with my iPhone, too, until I was told to stop.  (After that, numerous announcements were made over the loudspeaker reminding visitors that photography was not allowed, yet most people kept snapping away. I am a rule follower, though, so I stopped as soon as I was told to.)  I actually have a few beautiful pictures of the huge wall fresco known as "The Last Judgment" on my phone, taken when I didn't know photo-taking was a no-no; but I don't feel right publishing these "forbidden" images at the blog.  So here's one that I found on the Internet.

I was also thrilled to see (and get a photo of) this beautiful lady Michelangelo painted on the ceiling, an image that I'd tried to recreate with charcoal pencil as a very amateur teenaged artist (I once wrote a short post about this subject here).  Something about this face has always appealed to me.

My husband and I ended up buying two souvenir books at the Vatican Museums gift shop, one called Raphael's Rooms and the other titled The Sistine Chapel.  These picture books are filled with all the glorious paintings by those two unparalleled artists that we were lucky enough to see with our own eyes on our seventh day in the Eternal City.

We had purchased our tickets at about 11:00 a.m., and we didn't emerged from our long day of touring the museums until 5:45 p.m.!  Wow, that was some experience!  By then, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining again.  We couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather than we had during our time in Rome.  The temperatures were mild, and other than that not-too-heavy rainfall on the morning of the seventh and last day, it was simply glorious all week!

As we left the Vatican area, we passed by Old Bridge and this time there was no line, so we enjoyed some cones piled high with gelato. (Later, after dinner, we would each order another double scoop over at Giolitti's, just before we headed back to our apartment and called it a night--because we thought our last full day in Rome deserved an extra treat.)
They had an Oreo flavor--and it was molto delizioso!

Walking back across the Tiber River, as the sun began to set, the view from the bridge was incredible...I mean, just look at this stunning picture I got--with the dome of St. Peter's there in the distance.  (#nofilternecessary)

This was another night that we had a later dinner than usual, and it was the only time all week that we didn't dine al fresco.  Looking through a guide book one day in our apartment, we had stumbled upon a recommended restaurant called Fraterna Domus di Roma.  Located in the heart of ancient Rome (near the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, the Spanish Steps, and the Vatican), Fraterna Domus is actually a convent where the sisters in residence serve a family-style meal each night of the week except for Thursdays.  We had made a reservation, and starting at 7:30, we were served a four-course, home-cooked dinner (soup and/or pasta, salad, pot roast with potatoes and green beans, fruit) by the most friendly and adorable Italian-speaking nuns.  We thought having dinner in this cozy and welcoming convent dining room was a fitting way to end our week-long sojourn in Rome.

Even the tiny chapel in this mid-city convent was inordinately beautiful.  I couldn't help snapping a quick picture as we passed by it on our way out of the building.

After dinner, we strolled to our Pantheon neighborhood.

We were kind of stuffed (the nuns did not take no for an answer when they came around with heaping platters, offering seconds!), but we had to have one last gelato at Giolitti's.

After that, we went back to the apartment to start the packing process, because we were going to have to catch a taxi at 7:00 the next morning, and then a train to the airport...

It was almost time to say a sad arrivederci to Roma...

More to come!