Saturday, September 19, 2020

Learning New Tricks (and a Link to my "Secret" Blog)

Uh oh...eBlogger went and changed the dashboard page format on me.  For a few weeks now, I've been able to click on a "legacy blogger" button and get it looking like it used to.  But now I can't find that button.  So bear with me as a very old dog tries to learn some new tricks!

I'm going to do my first post using this unfamiliar set of prompts to copy and paste a draft (titled "The Latest on My Other Blog") that I was working on recently but never published.  So here we go:

Did you know that I have another blog? (As if one of them isn’t enough in this post-blog era!  As usual, I am a dinosaur!)  It’s called The Write Stuff, and it’s dedicated to books and writing.  I don’t post there often.  But a few weeks ago, I did.  I talked about how 13 years ago I set out to write a Catholic novel with the hope that one day it would have a positive influence on my future grandchildren (back when I didn’t have one yet, much less 16!), and how lucky I am to have lived long enough to see that dream come true.

Here are two photos from that post to (hopefully) pique your interest. 

If you’re interested in checking out that other blog (my “secret” blog), and the most recent post there, click this link.

Okay, I'll be back...I hope!  (By the way a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our daughter-in-law Preciosa, the mom of that little cutie in the picture up there.  She's married to our third-born son, busy raising four kids five and under while also working as a real estate agent on the side.  She's a powerhouse and we love her.)

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Beginning a Whole New Chapter

Life is like this amazing, never-before-read novel, with so many unexpected plot twists.  And just when you get immersed in one particular chapter of it (I'm a wife!  I'm pregnant! I'm a mommy! My firstborn can walk! Welcome to the world, son #5!  I can't believe I have a teenager!  My youngest is a college graduate!  My boys are all married men!  I'm a grandmother!  I have 16--count them, 16!--grandchildren!), that one ends and a whole new one begins.

Here's the latest plot twist in the story of my beautiful and extraordinarily blessed life: my husband has retired from his long-held job as a commercial airline pilot.  His official retirement date was September 1.

Due to the decrease in air travel caused by the pandemic, his airline was forced to make drastic changes.  The company went from being on the cusp of hiring thousands of new pilots just before the Covid-19 crisis hit to having to let thousands of their currently employed pilots go--forget about hiring any new ones.

In order to give some of the less senior pilots a chance to avoid furlough, an early retirement option was offered.  At 62, my husband is three years shy of mandatory retirement age, but he decided to take the early out.  It's like a dream come true for him, really, being able to retire ahead of schedule and spend more time with our ever-expanding family.  And with me, of course!  (This surprising turn of events, this unplanned early retirement, would have to be filed under the title "unexpected pluses of the Covid-19 pandemic.")

In typical Pearl family fashion, my husband's retirement party last weekend was a simple one held here at our house, with our four oldest boys, who live near us in VA, and their wives and children.

There were a lot of little people there to celebrate their Papa's retirement.  And there might have also been a tear-inducing video slide show set to music, put together by our second son and his wife, filled with so many beautiful images of a full and happy life that has been incredibly rich in blessings. [Sniff]

I am proud of the long and successful career my guy had with this major airline, where he was hired in early 1988 after serving eight years in the US Navy as a fighter pilot.  He spent his first few months as an engineer on the 727 before moving on to spend about a year-and-a-half as a copilot on the DC-9.  In late 1989, he began flying the 767, and he spent the bulk of his 32-year career on this aircraft.  He started flying the 767-ER internationally in 1996 and became a captain in 2006--an upgrade which he put off as long as possible during our boys' school years, because his seniority as a first officer allowed him more flexibility with his schedule (meaning more time for coaching his boys in football and lacrosse and more quality family time in general).  He thought he might finish out his career on the 767-ER, but in 2016 he transitioned and became a captain on the A330, which he continued flying internationally until his recent retirement.

With a husband flying internationally for 24 straight years, you might think that I saw much of the world right along with him.  Many pilots' wives tag along on their husbands' trips--especially the ones to popular European destinations--if there are seats available on the plane.  But I was not your typical airline pilot's wife.  Not by a long shot!

I didn't particularly care about traveling abroad (even though my husband got to visit pretty much every major city in Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East that a tourist would want to see), and I had a pretty intense fear of flying.  In fact, when he first got hired by the airline in 1988, I told him that I hoped he didn't think I was going to become a jet-setter, because I wanted to keep my feet securely planted on terra firma, and I wasn't going to leave my babies (we had four boys at the time) to go off galivanting around the globe.  He knew this about me from the get-go, and it never bothered him that I didn't want to travel.  In fact, after he'd been working for the airline for a while he admitted that it was a bit of a relief that I wasn't always saying "take me somewhere!" every time he got back home from a trip, tired and looking forward to a homecooked meal and sleeping in his own bed.  The last place he wanted to be when he wasn't working was in an airport, trying to get stand-by seats on a flight.  In fact, all the traveling he did over the years made him more of a homebody than ever.

We did take a few special family trips by plane: to Bermuda, to visit my husband's brother's family; to Disney World--our one and only trip to the Magic Kingdom; to South Bend, so that our three oldest could attend a lacrosse camp at Notre Dame.  My husband took one or two of his sons at a time out to Notre Dame for football weekends, while I held down the fort with the others.  And when our boys were out at Notre Dame during their college years, they were able to fly back and forth between New Hampshire and Indiana as non-revenue stand-bys, and that was a financial blessing indeed during their college years.  But generally, we didn't do a whole lot of travel by air, opting instead for road trips to visit relatives.  However, I used to tell my husband all the time that although I couldn't fly off with him AWAY from my babies, I felt sure that if they grew up and flew far away from our nest, I would be able to overcome my fears and fly TO them.  I pretty much promised him that it would be so.

Do you think I was able to keep that promise?  Did I conquer my fear of flying?

Yes, I did.  (Mostly!)

And remember what I said about chapters, about how they end and brand new ones begin?  In December of 2011, with our youngest son settled as a freshman undergrad at Notre Dame and our four older boys already college graduates and out on their own in the working world (the oldest married with twin daughters), I finally got on a plane that my husband was "driving" and accompanied him on a working trip to Nice (which included a little side trip to Monaco!). He'd been flying international trips for 15 years before I ever got around to tagging along on one; but the time was finally right.

You know what?  I'm going to end here and pick back up next time with a brief re-cap of our Nice trip (about which I wrote a number of posts a LONG time ago, in my earliest blogging days--herehere, and here, for instance..and maybe now there's no need for a re-cap?).  And then after that, perhaps I'll reminisce about some other wonderful trips that I finally got around to taking with my husband--proudly sitting in my passenger seat, thinking, "That's right, everyone!  My husband is flying this plane!"

That chapter of his life is finished now; after spending his entire adult working life--40 years!--with a cockpit for an office, it is unlikely that my favorite pilot will ever fly a plane again.  That's bittersweet...but mostly sweet.

I was almost going to use this post to announce my own retirement, from this blog...but perhaps I'll stick around for a little bit after all.  I might have another chapter or two to write before I'm done.  Au revoir, mes amis!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

An Open Book: Catholic-friendly Fiction You'll Love

This link-up hosted by Carolyn Astfalk always gets my blogging juices flowing once again.  Because who doesn't like to talk about books?!?!  (Don't answer that!  You know you do...)

I did a good bit more reading this past summer than I had been doing in recent years (sometimes while drifting on the peaceful waters of Lake Champlain, lounging on the pontoon boat with my husband--which has got to be the epitome of decadence!), and it felt GOOD!  I always had at least one book going, and sometimes two or three. (But always only one fiction title at any given time...I just can't immerse myself in two separate worlds and make friends with two casts of characters simultaneously.)

First up is Hazel Gaynor's The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter, and I cannot recommend this engrossing and satisfying novel highly enough.  (I am a sucker for well-written historical fiction, and I will definitely be in search of other titles by Gaynor after reading this wonderful book.)

Gaynor's absorbing tale goes back and forth between 1838 and 1938 and seamlessly intertwines the lives of Grace Darling, a real life 19th-century English lighthouse keeper's daughter known as "the Heroine of Farne Isles," who became famous for risking her life in a horrific storm to help rescue some survivors of a deadly shipwreck, and the fictional Matilda Emmerson, a 20th-century Irish girl whose out-of-wedlock pregnancy lands her in Maine.  Matilda becomes  the ward of a distant relative--and lighthouse keeper--named Harriet Flaherty, whose curmudgeonly demeanor hints at a tragic past.

This absorbing story, a page-turner of a book, delves into and connects the lives of Grace, Matilda, and Harriet--with some surprising twists along the way.  There are a couple of sweet romantic storylines, but all is chaste and lovely--you will not find yourself blushing in the least.  Although I don't believe this novel is marketed as Catholic fiction per se, it showcases so many virtues that line up with the teachings of our Faith, including courage, humility, self-sacrifice, forgiveness, and most of all, love.  The pro-life cause is even highlighted, as young Matilda's maternal instincts develop and she becomes increasingly attached to the new life growing in her womb.  At one point she says that at first, she wanted nothing to do with the child; but when asked if she now feels differently, "I nod, almost ashamed to admit to the emotional connection I've felt to the child recently."

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter has everything I love in a novel: historical events told through the medium of fiction; fully fleshed-out characters whom I connected with and loved; a heart-breaking love story; loss and suffering followed by redemption and peace; and throughout, evidence of the deep faith of the characters involved, who routinely cross themselves and say a prayer. The women speak to us in the first person, and Grace Darling talks about picking up her Bible and kneeling by the side of her bed to pray; Matilda even mentions what she was thinking about one day "as I walked to Mass," slipping that detail into her narrative as simply as can be.  How refreshing it is to have Catholicism portrayed as a part of a character's identity in a work of modern fiction, without a lot of fanfare, without disparagement or judgment. (As if all of these elements aren't enough to make me a fan, there's an added bonus: an heirloom locket--once owned by a survivor of the 1838 shipwreck, now worn by Matilda--that has been passed down through generations of women and has an intriguing story of its own to tell!)  This book is just so, so good!

Sorry, I couldn't resist.  Here's a close-up of the lighthouse
 (on an island in Lake Champlain) that is in the background
 in that picture above. (Suddenly, I'm obsessed with

Next up, The Room on Rue Amelie, by gifted wordsmith Kristin Harmel.

Last month on the link-up, I had high praise for Harmel's The Winemaker's Wife.  It was the first book I'd read by this author and I loved her writing style so much that I immediately went in search of some of her other titles. Let me tell you, this well-researched and beautifully executed historical novel definitely did not disappoint.  In fact, I liked it even more than The Winemaker's Wife, which had a few more-detailed-than-I-prefer intimate scenes in it.

A fan of WWII historical fiction, I've read a number of novels about women in the French Resistance, so you would think that I wouldn't find anything new to hold my interest here, but nothing could be further from the truth!  The Room on Rue Amelie follows the life of a young American named Ruby Henderson who falls in love with a Frenchman, marries him, and moves to Paris in 1939.  She has a young neighbor named Charlotte whose family is Jewish, and a husband who is becoming increasingly distant and secretive.   Eventually, she will become involved in fighting the Nazi occupation by helping to smuggle downed Allied airmen out of France.  The courage and self-sacrifice displayed by the characters in this extraordinary novel (based on real heroes and heroines of WWII about which I knew nothing before) is so inspiring, and the edge-of-your-seat drama makes for a real page-turner.

As far as being Catholic-friendly, 100 percent, yes!  At one point, an English aviator who is writing a letter to the parents of a pilot friend who was shot down and killed  "found himself on his knees, praying for his friend's soul, for his own mother's soul, for an end to the fighting, and for the strength to play a role in bringing this war to an end."  Again, there is a beautiful pro-life message in this book, with a pregnant mother managing to survive months of suffering at Auschwitz, to escape against all odds, and to bring her baby into the world safely.  There's also a touching but heart-breaking love story--two of them, actually--and I won't tell you how it all ends, because I want you to read this book!

What is it about WWII historical fiction that draws me like a moth to a flame?  It is always equal parts soul-crushing and uplifting.  Having never had to live through times such as those, I think I like to read about people who had almost such super-human courage in the face of the most indescribably awful circumstances, hoping that being similarly faced one day, their stories will inspire me.

Even though novels set in that era make up a big percentage of my home library, I do sometimes read novels set in modern times as well.  Really, I do!  And I'll prove it with the next title on today's list.

I just finished Closure, a debut novel by a talented young author named Lindsey Todd.  (This is a New Adult contemporary romance, aimed at readers 16 and up.)

I saw this book recommended by an author I follow on Instagram, so I went to Amazon to check it out.  When I realized that it was a love story about two young Catholics who started dating at 15, I knew I had to read it.  My husband and I--now in our 40th year of marriage--started dating at that same age, and there were aspects of the first few sample chapters of the book that I read before purchasing my Kindle copy that reminded me in ways of our early relationship.  Once I got further along in the book, however, it no longer resembled my own life experiences at all.  Morgan and Wade, friends who become much more, eventually embark on a physical relationship before marriage (whereas my husband and I agreed, thank God, to wait); and when one of them wants to stop having pre-marital sex after years of regularly confessing the same sin, and the other one doesn't want to stop...well, there are problems. One becomes more devout as the years go on and wants to live by the teachings of the Catholic Faith; one has been going through the motions all along and really doesn't believe any of it; and like I said...with differences like that, there are problems.

This book is well-written and kept me turning the pages. I don't want to give too much away--but I was really hoping that the one whose Faith was weak would have a reversion so that the two of them could get married and live happily ever after.  Is that what happened?  Well, I'm not going to tell you, in case you decide to read this book.

Like the other two novels I talked about today, Closure deals with themes of Faith, suffering, courage, self-sacrifice, and love (both true, self-giving love and false, selfish love); and by the end, the reader learns what this author believes TRUE love really looks like. There are a number of scenes of physical intimacy, although they are not salaciously written, and given the strong pro-chastity message of the story, I don't consider them gratuitous.  I'm sure many young people who are madly in love think that no one can understand the physical attraction and desire for intimacy they feel, because no one has ever loved anyone like they do. Well, Morgan and Wade certainly understand those type of feelings; and that makes the decision by one of them to stop what they're doing (even if it means losing the "love of their life") even more courageous--and hopefully, makes this story just the inspiration an older teen reader might need to fight similar temptations.  Todd's book is a testament to the fact that living a chaste life can be hard, but it is not impossible!  And nothing is impossible with God.

There aren't really any other characters who get fully fleshed-out, other than the two main players. And maybe the ending was a little anti-climactic.  But even so, this is a compelling tale.

Phew!  If you're still here after this blog post-turned-novel, congratulations!  And if you want any more book recs, just click on over to Carolyn's blog!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

An Open Book: Beach Reads for August 2020

It's been ages since I linked up here with Carolyn et. al. for An Open Book.  But I've been doing a good bit of reading lately, so I thought I'd chime in.

Beach reads are always fun, and I'm spending the summer on the shore of Lake Champlain with my hubby, so you could say that all the books I read these days could fit into that category--even the ones that are more literary than the usual pop fiction "chick lit" that you think of when you hear that term.  I've read some good ones and some not-so-good ones.

First, one of the not-so-good.

I thought I would absolutely adore a novel with that title (after all, that's the name I gave to the title character of my own humble first novel); but I did NOT!  (I actually blogged about my disappointment in this book in this previous blog post, which you can read if you're interested.)  It was going to be just my cup of tea, I thought, as I began reading The Grace Kelly Dress: a multi-generational tale involving a wedding dress copied from the iconic gown worn by Grace Kelly when she married Prince Rainier.  But alas, I found it somewhat underwhelming.  I had trouble caring much about the characters, and when that happens, a book loses me.  It doesn't matter if the setting is spectacular and the plot intriguing; I need a character-driven story, and if I can't connect with the main players, I lose interest.  So I give this one 3 stars at most.

This next one, on the other hand, was a 5-star winner in my book (if you'll pardon the pun).

I had high hopes that The Yellow House would be just my cup of tea as well, and this time I was right: it WAS!  This absolutely beautifully written book (from page one, I was enthralled with the achingly lovely prose) is set in Ireland during "the Troubles," with a large cast of fleshed-out, engaging, believable characters.  There is a great love story included (always a key element in any novel I read), but thankfully, very little in the way of blush-worthy scenes of intimacy. There are plot twists that will shock you and keep you turning the pages.  And the Irish setting--'tis a complete delight for a Hibernophile like meself.  Many of the characters that populate this gem are practicing Catholics, and it was refreshing to have this be central to the book without being used to trash the Faith (as many modern secular works are apt to do).  Going to Mass is mentioned in passing, as if it's just the thing you do, of course; and that was a balm to this reader's soul.  I can give this book my highest form of praise by saying that I will most definitely be re-reading it sometime in the future.  It's that good--IMHO, as they say.

This next one was also simply wonderful. (Sorry, I forgot to take a picture of my copy with the lake in the background!)

See the source image

The Winemaker's Wife is another book that I will probably re-read at some point.  It's a WWII historical novel (and if you've come to this blog before, you know that I can almost never resist a good WWII novel), set in the Champagne region of France during the German occupation.  The story weaves a number of well-drawn characters' lives together.  There are Jews who live in constant fear of deportation and death; there are brave French Resistance heroes and despicable Nazi villains; and there are both witting and unwitting Nazi collaborators.  And throughout, there is the making of wine--which, if you know nothing about that (which I didn't) is very interesting in and of itself.  Again, there are touching love stories involved.  And Harmel exposes how wartime brings out the very best and the very worst in human beings, with life-altering--often heartbreaking
--consequences.  But ultimately, this is a story of courage and hope.  I highly recommend this one. (In fact, I liked it so much that I've just gotten another novel by this author called The Room on Rue Amelie, set in WWII Paris.)

I am so in awe of the way some of these authors write!  What a gift it is to have the ability to use language so beautifully while at the same time crafting a complicated and meaningful story that stays with readers long after they've finished the last chapter.

The last one I want to mention would earn more than 5 stars, if that was allowed.  It's non-fiction (yes, I read that, too, sometimes).

You guys.  Humility Rules.  This one is so amazing.  I have devoured it in two sittings, and though it's a very quick read, it is anything but lightweight.  There is so much wisdom packed into this slim volume.  I think it's going to become part of my daily inspirational reading.  It outlines St. Benedict's Rules--in modern language that anyone can understand, with down-to-earth anecdotes and plenty of humor.  Even the illustrations are comical, yet they illustrate profound truths that followed faithfully can lead even the most humble sinner to sainthood.  I have been guilty of sometimes having feelings of worthlessness, of being far too self-deprecating; but that is not true humility, and it is not holy.  As J. Augustine Wetta writes, "Genuine self-esteem is a form of holiness, and holiness, in St. Benedict's eyes, is not about self-love but self-abandonment...To discover God's power in our lives, we need to climb the Ladder of Humility."  He goes on to describe and explain the 12 rungs of this ladder and how climbing it can lead to sainthood.  Incidentally, I became aware of this book via an Instagram post by one of the Catholic influencers I follow there...which makes me realize that all social media is not bad.  I need to curb my desire to scroll endlessly and waste too much time staring at my iPhone screen; but sometimes, I do come across information that could change my life for the better.  This book is proof of that.

My husband and I are spending the summer at his childhood home in Upstate NY--by the lake, as I already mentioned--tending to our Oyster Haven VRBO rental property just down the road.  We have framed pictures of the covers of my two novels hanging in that house.  I have been historically terrible at promoting and marketing my own works, and they had a relatively short run before they went out of print; but I thought advertising them at our rental might be a way to keep them alive.  Recently, my husband got this text from a guest, after he had spent a week at Oyster Haven with his wife and their grown kids and spouses (and also their toddler grandchild):

Well, you never know...He was probably just trying to be kind.  But I do hope that there will still be readers for these books.  In that vein, I published a post at my other blog (a blog that I set up to dedicate specifically to the topic of writing) today as well, if you want to pop on over.  It's "book club" day there (here, too, I guess!).

Enjoy the beach!  Enjoy books!  Or best of all, enjoy them together!  And don't forget to check out Carolyn's link-up for more book recommendations.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

August 2020 Resolutions

I have decided to drastically scale back on other forms of social media for the month of August, which should make it so that I have more time to devote to this poor old neglected blog of mine.

More time to read, too--not just Tweets and IG captions, but actual BOOKS. (Some of the ones I’ve finished recently and am currently reading will most assuredly make it into a future blog post.)

More time to get in shape, because the past month of too-little working out has not been very good for my stamina (or my waistline!).

July was an extremely busy month for us here at my husband's childhood home by Lake Champlain.  There were get-togethers with many members of our extended Pearl family, including nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews.  And best of all, we were able to spend a week at our Oyster Haven Vrbo house early in the month, with most of our own family (three of our boys and their wives, and 11 of our 16 grandkids).  When we get to use Oyster Haven to make family memories of our own, it makes all the work of running it as a rental property for others to enjoy worth it!

We also made a short trip back to VA late in July to reconnect with our kids and grandkids, with whom I got to enjoy some belated birthday celebrations.  (If turning 62 can be considered cause for celebration--ha ha!)  Missing our family--our gang down in VA, and our married son in OK--is the only downside to our summer life up here in Upstate NY.  Because other than that, things are pretty near perfect. Lake Champlain is literally in our back yard, and this is what we wake up to every morning.

I need the tranquility this lake provides, I really do.

We are living in terrifying times, and watching YouTube videos of the chaos and rioting in our cities (which I don't believe always show up on the mainstream media, but I see posted on Twitter) fills me with a feeling of despair.  Will we ever be okay again?  Will people who disagree politically ever be able to treat each other with respect?  With such drastic differences of opinion regarding vitally important issues (many on which we can’t really compromise), issues regarding faith, freedom, morality, and the right to life, can the Left and the Right ever truly live in harmony?   And even this: will the Catholic Church eventually have to go underground--literally underground--so that the faithful will not have to endure physical persecution?  (Because let's face it, emotional/psychological/media-driven ideological persecution already exists, and it's getting worse all the time.)

This blog has never been nor will it ever be a political platform.  But many of the issues some call "political" (such as abortion) are merely a matter of good v. evil, right v. wrong, and I don't even know how they end up being topics for heated discussion.  And I can't help but think that this Covid-19 crisis, like almost every aspect of life on planet earth these days, has been politicized.  I'm not nearly eloquent enough to explain how much I worry about the way this virus has changed the face of human interactions (do you see what I did there?--our faces are all changed via the masks); but I read this post by Melody Lyons at The Essential Mother Blog, and she expressed some of my innermost feelings better than I ever could.  If you have a few minutes, please read it.  She writes so beautifully, and as an individual who would be considered one of those particularly at risk from this virus, her words are exceptionally powerful.

That's it for today.  Just trying to scrape the rust off this blog site and get it back up and running again.  My husband and I are off to Mass now, at the church where we got married (it'll be 40 years ago this December!).  Some of the pews are roped off, and we have to wear masks as we walk in and out of the church and when we are in line to receive Communion; but at least, for now, we have an infinitely better option than watching the Mass live-streamed on TV.

Bye for now!  Happy Sunday!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Looking for Beauty in a Broken World

I was going to say "an ugly world," because that's how I often feel these days after watching a horrifying news story featuring the violent rioting in the streets of our cities or one of those ever-changing reports about the Covid-19 pandemic (which apparently has no end in sight, or maybe it does, or who knows?). But if I let myself go down the rabbit hole of worry, anxiety, and sadness that opens up before me, I'm afraid I'll fall into a dark pit of despair and get truly depressed deep down in my soul.  And I know that no matter what, Our Lady promised at Fatima that in the end, Her Immaculate Heart would triumph.  And She keeps Her promises.  So there's hope, always.

The world is damaged, but still beautiful; broken but still fixable.  And I want it fixed, ASAP, for the 28 (and counting!) people who mean the most to me: my children and grandchildren.

Not to put a morbid spin on things, but relatively speaking, I will probably not be long for this earth.  The average life expectancy for a woman in the US today is 81.1 years (I just looked it up), and I'm about to celebrate my 62nd birthday; so if I get another 20 years in this life, I will have done better than average.  My husband and I have talked about this frequently as of late--but when we do, it's not to fill ourselves with an ever-present fear of dying, but rather to remind ourselves that we should live every single minute of every single day to the fullest.  And most importantly, we remind ourselves that we should strive, to the best of our frail human abilities, to keep our immortal souls in a state of grace.

So it's not for myself that I worry about the chaotic state of the world, or even for my husband; I desperately want it to heal for all of my beloved offspring and their beloved offspring.

I also want it to heal before religious freedom is eradicated in this country.  With so much hate-fueled violence exploding all over the place in recent weeks, I expect that the mob might come next for the Catholic Church and Her faithful, who have already been weakened by months of being denied Mass and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  But Christ warned us that they would hate us because they hated Him first, so this is something we need to prepare to face.

But I refuse to despair completely!  I am putting my trust in Our Lady's promise.  And I look at the faces of the people I love and believe that God will make something good come out of all this bad we're experiencing these days.  He loves us and wants the best for us, and as long as we stay faithful there is no force that can destroy us!

Look for beauty wherever you can find it.  I find it in images like these--all photos texted to me recently by my by daughters-in-law Ginger and Preciosa.

Son #2 with his #3 son.

Son #3's most recent family photo.

Son #2's firstborn, giving Ree Ree a moment of extreme 
deja vu--because his dad and his uncles were as crazy
about dinosaurs back in the day as he is!

I can almost feel my pulse rate slowing down when I walk away from all the negative stories on social media and look at these pictures.  They make me believe that all will be well.  We just need to pray lots of Rosaries!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Reading Novels, Raising Boys, Praying Rosaries

The 3 R’s, you might say!  But these just happen to be the things that are on my mind today.  And there is a connection between them, I assure you, although they seem like random, unrelated topics. Bear with me here.

As for that first R, reading novels:
I have always thought that the greatest of guilty pleasures was having the free time to dive into a well-written, engrossing novel, preferably a long one, with lots of historical content (WWII is an especially intriguing era for me) or with several generations of interweaving family relationships--and with as few gratuitous scenes involving sexual situations described in embarrassing detail as possible.  (None of those is the best amount, actually.  They have never yet added to any book I've read!)  Some mystery is also welcome, but nothing too scary or dark.  I don't need a happy ending, although I do admit I like them.

When I found this novel recently and chose it as the first pick on my summer reading list, I thought I was going to adore it.

Three generations of women who wore the same wedding dress [swoon]!  And the title, The Grace Kelly Dress--if you know me at all, you know that I kind of have a thing about Grace Kelly.  I even named the title character in my first novel, Finding Grace, after her.  And the eye-catching cover!  [Insert heart-eyed emoji here.]

But half-way into it, I was like, "Meh..."

When our oldest son and his family were visiting us recently, I was telling his wife (a fellow bookworm who was a librarian before she became a homeschooling mom of 5) that given the title, I was surprised that I wasn't enjoying it more.

My boy, without missing a beat, deadpanned, "That's the title...and you're surprised that it isn't very good?"  Then he gave me one of his charmingly crooked grins and I pretended to scold him for his impertinence, and we chuckled about it.

Obviously, there aren't many guys who would be drawn to a book about a dress.

Which brings me to the second R, raising boys:
I cannot tell you what a pure delight it was to have been the only female in our family of seven, totally outnumbered, the whole time our sons were growing up in our house.  I've often said that men are simple creatures, but when I say that, it is not meant to be the least bit derogatory.  In fact, it is my humble opinion that we females could learn a lot from them.  Their needs are clearly articulated and easy to satisfy, and they don't have a lot of undercurrents in their emotions.  They don't waste time looking for problems where none exist.  At least mine didn't.  Generally speaking, men seem to express their anger and/or frustration easily and then move on fairly quickly.  It makes for a pretty peaceful existence, or at least that was my experience.  People used to say, "Only boys?  God bless you, you poor thing!"  Or they'd ask if we were going to "try for our girl."  But I can honestly say that God gave me exactly the family I was supposed to have, and I never felt like I was missing out on something better.

But we didn't read the same novels, my boys and I--unless it was something they were required to read for AP English in high school.  And then, to my joy, I got to hear one of them say he didn't hate Pride and Prejudice--and even (and I quote), "Mr. Bennett is really funny."  He didn't go so far as to become a diehard Austen fan, but I'll take it.

So if you're a mom of all boys, take heart; feed them and cheer for them and just love them, and someday, you might get to experience the exquisite joy of watching them in the role of loving fathers to your precious grandbabies.

Son #1, currently a father of 5.

Son #2, father of 3 with one on the way.

Son #3, father of 4.

Son #4, father of 4 (including almost-3-year-old triplets).

"God bless you," they liked to say to me?  Indeed, he already has!  (And I just want to add that son #5 has been married less than a year and isn't a daddy yet, so that's the reason he wasn't included here.  He has always followed proudly in the footsteps of his older brothers, though, so I have no doubt that he will be an amazing father as well.)

Finally, I come to the third R, praying Rosaries:
I'm quite sure that our family's countless blessings can be attributed to the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and Her most powerful prayer.

Back in 1995, when our youngest son was two, we began saying a daily family Rosary with our boys.  (They even dubbed our living room the "Rosary Room," because that's where we would gather to say it.)  For a year or so before we started doing this, we had two sons very close in age who were going through a fighting phase (mostly arguments, but sometimes ending in a shove or a punch) that made their poor mom wonder if they would ever be friends.  They were like oil and water and knew just how to push each other's buttons.  So when we instituted the family Rosary and would list our intentions before beginning to pray, my husband would first say, "For peace and harmony in our household."  (We also put photos of those two boys underneath our statue of Our Lady of Grace, prayerfully hoping that She could work to make them get along better.)  I kid you not, within three weeks' time, my husband and I both noticed that the squabbles had stopped.  They. Just. Stopped.  Now I'm not saying that there was never any bickering or disagreement amongst our children from that point on, but the two who had been at each other for far too long were suddenly friends again.

The power of the Rosary.  Don't doubt it.

Once our boys got into high school and their schedules were crammed with sports practices and games, daily hours of homework, etc., it became harder to get everyone gathered together at the same time.  But my husband and I continued the practice even when they couldn't join us.  The beautiful thing is that now, some of our boys and their wives have begun reciting family Rosaries, or decades of the Rosary, with their own young children.

This summer, my husband and I plan to say lots of our daily Rosaries while anchored out on the lake in our boat.  That's what we did last night, and it was like a little slice of Heaven.

Oh Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!

(And P.S.--I think I will try to finish The Grace Kelly Dress, and I'll let you know if it gets better in the second half!)

Friday, June 19, 2020

Inspired to Blog Again

This summer, I have decided to rededicate myself to this blog!  I don't know why I felt the need to make that a bold exclamation rather than a simple statement--because trust me, I really don't expect anyone out there in Internetland to be as excited about this not-very-newsworthy development as I am.

But I AM excited, because I miss being here.

I have spent the last few years using Instagram as my main social media fix, writing easy-to-digest blurbs and hashtags on my iPhone to go with carefully selected and filtered pictures...and while it's been fun and interesting in its own way, I have begun to realize that it's not all that good for me, and that I miss actually sitting down at my laptop every day and really writing.

If you follow Jenny Eubbing's Mama Needs Coffee blog (isn't she the best?), you might have read her recent post titled "He Is Doing a New Thing,"  in which she talks about ditching her other social media accounts and getting back to her first love, blogging (and also working on another writing project about which she is being somewhat cryptic, but which sounds like a book).  What she had to say in this post struck a chord with me.

Eubbing writes, "when I am on Instagram, I literally see life differently. I’ll squint at a funny or terrible toddler episode through a critical eye and consider 'is this good content?' before snapping a picture and freezing a moment and sort of stepping back from the present moment like I’m the creative director or producer of my own life.

When I am the producer of my own life, I am not actually in it, moment by moment. I’m thinking of getting the shot, of capturing the quote. I’m thinking of you guys, of an audience out there, waiting and willing to consume the funny or thoughtful or entertaining content I’m blasting out into the world. And there isn’t anything wrong with that at first glance, right? Except that, for me, it’s constant. It’s not like a well-planned and carefully policed time limit where I indulge in harmless good fun for a set number of minutes a day and then put the phone away, it’s constant.

Is it possible to become addicted to hearing your own voice? That’s how instagram makes me feel."
Yikes, I thought when I read that, I too may have a bit of a problem...
Eubbing also said, "I feel so incredibly convicted that the very nature of the game: the algorithm, the endless dopamine feedback loop, the social positioning and posturing and signaling, is not just benign wasted time, buy is actually bad for us."
Okay, it's clear that I do have a problem--and maybe it's time for me to scale back drastically on Instagram, if not completely.  That "dopamine feedback loop" Eubbing references--that high you get when someone likes one of your IG posts (especially someone well-known, an "influencer" whom you admire, with a platform that has thousands of followers)--is addictive.  For most of the years that I've been a blogger, I wrote because I was inspired to and because I loved the process itself, and I seriously never even thought about who would see a particular post, or who would like it; but with Instagram, the insta-gratifiction of all those likes is dangerously seductive. I have craved those Instagram interactions more than I should over the past three years, since our big move to VA from our longtime home in NH. While the pluses of having four out of our five married sons--and all 16 of our grandkids!--close by are countless, as are the blessings, as a shy and introverted sort I have not really made any non-family friends yet in our new hometown.  So I think I've been using my Instagram friendships as a sort of lifeline.  But the fact that I will meet few if any of the people with whom I've become friendly on the site makes it seem a little pathetic that I've been spending so much time there.

So back to the blog it is!  I do this mostly because I love to play with words, to rearrange them and edit them until they sound just the way I want them to.  Sometimes I have something deep and meaningful to say, but more often I'm just here jotting down family memories so that they'll live on for our kids and grandkids long after we're gone.

I decided to clean up my sidebar and make it less crowded with links to products that I endorsed years ago.  I also decided to change my photo.  The one I've been using for ages was taken in 2012, about a year after I started this blog, and I don't look quite that young anymore.  Back then, I had just published my first novel, Finding Grace, and I wanted to look like a writer, so I posed sitting in front of my laptop at my dining room table and my husband good-naturedly took this picture.

Back then, I was 54 and had one married son and wee twin granddaughters.  Oh boy, how things have changed.

This is more how I look now--especially since I have a baby on my lap, which is a near-constant state of affairs (lucky me)!  I'm more of a hands-on Grammy than a writer these days. (This darling little girl is the youngest of our middle son's four children; she's also the youngest of our 16-going-on-17 grandchildren--the latest gem on our ever-lengthening string of Pearls.)

Next month I'll turn 62.  Gulp!  My husband turned 62 today, and I said, "Yikes!  In 8 years, we'll be 70."  I can't wrap my brain around 60, so 70 is going to be beyond weird.  But little people like the one lounging sleepily on my lap in that picture make growing old a lot less painful for both of us.

As far as updating my photo, I decided to choose one where I'm wearing a string of pearls (it seemed apropos).  It is actually cropped from a selfie my husband and I took this Easter, when we got all dressed up in our Sunday best to live-stream Mass at home on TV.  (By next Easter, I hope this quarantine/lockdown era will be a hazy memory.)


Happy Birthday to that handsome guy there, the one I fell in love with in 1973, and the one with whom I'll celebrate 40 years of marriage this December.  It's been a great ride so far, and I wouldn't want to be on it with anyone but him.  (Also, I know he will be happier than anyone that I'm going to try to blog regularly again, because he is my most ardent follower and biggest fan, and he is not biased in the least!)

Ciao for now!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Little Saint Liguori Mary Pearl, Pray for Us!

I am sad to report that our oldest son's wife suffered a miscarriage on May 9, which was the day before Mother's Day in this year of Our Lord 2020 and also my beloved late father-in-law's birthday.  The baby she was carrying was at about 12-13 weeks gestation but in all likelihood had expired in the womb weeks earlier.

This family-oriented, hardworking, loving couple, whose Faith is strong and true, have five healthy children living on this earth.  With the loss of this pre-born child, they now also have three little saints in Heaven interceding for them, and for all of us.

As they were unable to determine whether the baby was a boy or a girl, the grieving parents have decided to name this perfect little soul Liguori Mary--a name which would work in either case.

Our son and his wife are working with A Mom's Peace, a lay apostolate that offers help with burial and remembrance ceremonies for couples who have been devastated by miscarriage or stillbirth (and arrangements have been made to have the baby buried in a church cemetery tomorrow).   We became familiar with this wonderful organization last year in August, when our second-born and his wife experienced the tragic loss of their fourth child at about 15-16 weeks gestation.

We are indeed living in the Valley of Tears, are we not?  There are tragedies and losses that seem impossible to endure, and yet we do.  But we have Our Father in Heaven, the Blessed Mother and Her Beloved Son, and the Communion of Saints (who have been joined by Liguori Mary Pearl) helping us.  Loving us.  Waiting for us to meet them in Heaven one day, when our time comes.  And oh, what a joyful reunion it will be!  I imagine these never-met grandchildren of ours, these wee souls--spotless, pure, innocent, and filled with light--welcoming their parents home someday, and it brings tears to my eyes.  I hope that I will get to see them, too!

Please keep our boy and his wife, who have fulfilled their wedding vows with perfect faith, trust, and obedience, in your prayers as they cope with their loss.  Thank you!

St. Alphonsus Liguori, pray for us!  O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!  And St. Liguori Mary Pearl,  pray for us!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Sometimes, I Go by "Ree Ree”

I can't believe I haven't been blogging madly away lately, with the tons of extra time at home we all seem to have these days (but I don't want to mention why we have this extra time, because I think we've all been hearing about/talking about the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating fallout more than enough).  Unfortunately, however, I have not been in much of a writing mood.

But I really do want to get back to keeping up with this poor neglected little site of mine.  So here's a lighthearted little post--mostly for me, I guess (as it falls under the category of "online scrapbook of Pearl family memories"), but maybe you'll enjoy it, too.

My self-chosen grandmother handle is "Grammy."  I thought this would be a cute variation of the "Grandma" title that my siblings and I used for both of our grandmothers growing up.  It took some of our grandchildren much longer to master my name than it did for them to call my husband "Papa," but I was in no rush.  And if in the process of trying to pronounce "Grammy" they had come up with an adorable alternative and it had stuck, I would have been totally on board with that.  But our verbally precocious oldest grandchildren, the twins (now almost 9), started out by calling me "Gra Gra," which eventually morphed into "Gray," and finally they were able to manage "Grammy."

Some of our other grandchildren have had trouble saying "Grammy" when they first began to talk, so I've answered to "Mammy" plenty of times.  "Mammy" didn't stick with any of them, however, once they were able to master the G-R sound.

But then our second-born's firstborn son, Junior (who is now 4), came up with his own unique variation: "Ree Ree."  And my son and his wife thought it was so cute that they all started calling me that. Now Junior's younger brother, Jedi, calls me "Ree Ree" as well, and I'm sure baby brother Topper will follow suit, once he gets more verbally inclined.

So of the four sons who have children, three of the families call me "Grammy" and one calls me "Ree Ree."  If you had told me this would happen ahead of time, I would have thought it very strange; but now, it just seems totally normal.  And I sort of like having both monikers.

I can't tell you how wonderful it's been to live so close to all the little people who call me by those two names (16 of them now, with two more on the way).  We are so glad we made this move to VA, where we could be a regular part of all their lives.  Trips to Grammy's/Ree Ree's house are fairly routine--or at least they were, pre-coronavirus.  Case in point: back in September of 2019, I got this text from Junior's mom.

Oh my goodness, is this the best or what?   She followed it up with, "Meanwhile he's in his underwear and doesn't know how to pedal."  (My girls are so funny, among their many other great qualities.)  That little guy can run away to Ree Ree's house anytime he wants--although he does live 50 minutes away, so it's probably not going to happen!

Junior is quite the host with the most, and one of the last times his parents had Papa and Ree Ree over for dinner, he made place cards for everyone so we'd know where to sit.

I especially like that he wanted me seated next to him at the table.  (Heart-eye emojis all over the place.)

I do believe I'm the most blessed (and perhaps only?) Ree Ree on the planet!  Life is good, my friends.  Even when the world seems to be falling apart around you, there is always a reason for joy.  In my case, make that 16-going-on-18 reasons.

Stay healthy, dear readers!  And believe that this will be over one day, and our lives will be filled once again with big family dinners!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Beating the Coronavirus Blues (through Art!)

I am aware that I am luckier than many during this difficult stay-at-home period, and for that I feel extremely grateful.  I am an incurable homebody, never happier than when I'm hanging out with my hubby in our home, which has always felt like a sanctuary to me during every stage of our almost 40-year marriage—from the first tiny, humble apartment we lived in as newlyweds to the sweet cookie cutter Colonial we inhabit now, in our empty-nesting golden years.  We’d almost always rather cook our own meals than eat out, so restaurant closings aren’t stressing us out much at all (other than the worry that so many of them will probably be put out of business if this goes on much longer).   I have a plethora of hobbies and interests to keep me occupied inside the cozy and comforting walls of my own house—reading novels, sewing, drawing and painting, blogging, working on DIY projects, Netflix binge-watching with my guy—and even cleaning (yes, I admit it: I actually like to clean my house!).   And I don’t need to constantly interact with lots of people—in fact, having “nothing” on my social schedule is usually right in my wheelhouse.  To quote my introverted youngest son and what he said of himself and his bride of less than a year, I, too am "eerily well-equipped for quarantine life."  

But it’s one thing to choose to stay at home, and quite another to be forced to—especially when you’re not sure when things will ever return to normal.  The stress caused by fear and uncertainty about the future can be oppressive at times.  When I need to “get away from it all” and chase the coronavirus blues away, nothing does the trick better than spending a few hours messing around with a blank piece of paper and some colored pencils.

During Holy Week, talented and well-known botanical artist Katrina Harrington (of @roseharringtonart) hosted a #prayandpaintwithRH challenge, with a different bloom for each day, chosen specifically for its timely and meaningful religious symbolism.  I didn't participate every day of that week; but I was able to get two drawings finished and posted to the Instagram hashtag link-up.

Here was Wednesday's offering, featuring a yellow flower called St. Johnswort:

Along with the above image, I wrote this: "I cannot feel anything but happy and peaceful when I break out my colored pencils and get the creative juices flowing.  I spent the last few hours in a state of near euphoria, forgetting all about the world's problems and focusing on creating this picture.  @katrinaharrington is a gifted botanical artist.  I am not!  (Obviously!)  But my first love has always been drawing and painting faces.  So along with this weak rendition of St. Johnswort, named after St. John the Baptist, is the face of one of my wee granddaughters (also a weak rendition, because her perfection cannot be duplicated by an amateur artist like her Grammy!).  St. Johnswort is also called Christ's Bloody Sweat, because the red ends of the many stamens of this flower resemble drops of blood."  (You learn so much about flowers, and all the beautiful religious symbolism attached to them, if you follow Katrina!)

On Easter, the chosen flower was--what else?--a Resurrection Lily, or an Easter Lily.  I was not able to complete my artwork in time for the link-up on Sunday, so I posted it on Easter Monday:

Here's part of what I wrote to go along with this colored pencil drawing: "Here is my best effort at a Resurrection Lily, a beautiful bloom that symbolizes Our Lord's triumphant victory over death (alleluia!); and because I can't seem to create any piece of artwork that does not include a face, it is paired with a drawing of a baby that was inspired by one of my precious grandsons on the day of his Baptism.  It seemed fitting to show a tiny Christian on the day he was reborn through the sacrament and made a member of Christ's mystical Body alongside a flower that is  symbol of Christ's glorious Resurrection from the dead, by which we were saved and given the hope of eternal life with Him in Heaven."  Then I thanked Katrina for her #prayandpaintwithRH challenge, which in my case turned out to be "a true balm for the soul."

Holy Week is over, but I still feel like drawing babies and flowers, two of God's most glorious perhaps this will continue to be my way of finding peace and joy, until the worst of this current crisis is past, our churches are reopened, and life starts to make sense again.  

I hope you have a lot of babies, and a lot of flowers in your life...because they can both really help beat the coronavirus blues, can't they?

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Easter 2020: Mass at Home (Plus a Special Blessing)

Easter was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

In so many ways, the whole lockdown, or quarantine, or stay-at-home order (whichever you prefer to call this strange situation that is life in America these days) under which we've all been living has given families the opportunity for a kind of togetherness that they were never able to enjoy before.  Many parents are tele-working from home rather than leaving in the morning to drive or commute to their offices, and while this can create challenges as far as work productivity, I'm sure, it also means a lot more time spent at home with their offspring.  And children whose schools have been closed--possibly, in many states, even for the rest of the academic year--are being homeschooled by their parents or are participating in some sort of distance learning on their computers, or a combination of the two; I'll bet there are many parents who used to declare "I am not the type who can homeschool!" who have learned that in an emergency, they can, and they are better at it than they thought they were.

With everyone stuck at home--goodbye movie theaters, sporting events, concerts, and even play dates at the local park!--thank goodness there are all sorts of video streaming services available to us in our high-tech age to help fight off the homebound boredom!  There's always Netflix or Disney Plus to keep the troops entertained...but one cannot live by screen alone, and I've heard that giant jigsaw puzzles and good old-fashioned board games are being employed by families more than ever before in the past month or so, as the weeks stretch on and there doesn't appear to be a definite end in sight (although, God willing, there will be soon).

So there is some good to be found in these times.   There is always some good, however small, if you really look for it.

But there's also much bad.  No one wants to be forced to homeschool; that should be a choice parents make after much research and discernment.  No senior should have to miss out on prom, graduation, and a host of other social activities that are part and parcel of every high school kid's regular life in these United States (or at least were).  Working from home isn't always easy, and for some (maybe most), it isn't even an option.  Many Americans are currently jobless, and countless businesses will probably not survive the shutdown.

And the right to assemble, so long taken for granted by us all, has been stripped away because of an invisible enemy with the power to take life--but about which even the scientific experts cannot come to a unanimous agreement.  While they decide the best way to fight it, we stay locked in our houses...

Yes, there is also much bad.  And you don't even have to look that hard for it.

But I was going to talk about Easter, before I went off on that tangent.  Easter 2020, the best and the worst of it.

The worst, of course, was not being able to attend Mass or to receive Our Lord's precious Body and Blood.  And that was a uniquely painful experience for those of us Catholics who have never been denied the freedom to practice our Faith openly and regularly, without a care in the world.  Yes, it was painful.  But it was also an opportunity to embrace Christ's Cross in an intimate way during the season of Lent, and to grow closer to Him through prayer.  It seems we are always closest to God during the times in our life when we suffer most.

A dear friend from high school emailed me after my last post (when she found herself unable to leave a comment here at the blog).  Her mother was one of the most beautiful souls I have ever met, a devout Catholic woman whom I always considered to be a living saint.  It's obvious that when it comes to her daughter, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  My friend wrote the most touching letter, first remarking that when she read that post, she sensed "a feeling of sadness and maybe some powerlessness" on my part, regarding the closure of our VA churches.  (I misspoke in that post, by the way; our bishop did actually tell the churches in the diocese to stop having public Masses before the governor's mandated closures of all "nonessential" businesses and meeting places were announced.  So I'm sorry for giving a false impression there.)  She then proceeded to tell me about some of the positive things that had happened in her faith life, in spite of the disappointments caused by all the closures and cancellations.  "For the veneration of the cross on Good Friday," she wrote, "I chose to use a small comfort cross that belonged to my late mother.  Instead of kneeling before it as I would have in church and probably should have done here at home, I held it to my heart with both hands and felt closer to the crucified Christ than I ever have before."  She also related how she'd begun new daily prayer devotions, even though "sitting quietly and clearing the thoughts racing through my brain" is not her strength.  "I'm sure I'll struggle with that again, but, at least for now, I will work hard to continue this practice in my home church."  Her home church.

I can absolutely relate to this friend's experience.  Never before have I felt as deeply and surely that the home my husband and I have created is truly a "domestic church."  And as sad and strange as this time of quarantine has been, in some ways it has made me grow in my Faith in ways I never could have imagined.  Because of the fact that I have to try so much harder to be intentional about living sacramentally these days, when the Sacraments are not available to me, I sometimes feel closer to Our Lord than ever.

Has this happened to you?  If so, leave me a comment below.  I would love to know if you also feel that when this whole scary episode is behind us, you believe you will love the Lord, and the Mass, with a renewed zeal--a zeal so intense that it feels as if your heart will burst.

I did post a picture on Instagram on Easter Sunday, with my husband and me all decked out in our Sunday Best attire for our at-home Mass (live-streamed from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, which has been the "home parish" where we've chosen to "attend" 10:00 a.m. Sunday Masses during most of the lockdown).

As I shared over on the 'gram, my husband's Sunday Best included one of his iconic ties with pictures of his grandchildren on them.  For me, it included a fascinator hat that I purchased about seven years ago on a shopping trip with one girl who I knew would soon be my daughter-in-law (and another who ended up being one of them, too--although none of us could have predicted that at the time!).  I have chickened out of wearing this fancy little headpiece for four different sons' weddings in the intervening years...but I finally found a congregation small enough (just the two of us!) that I could wear it to "church" without feeling self-conscious.  I figured that since this was about the most unusual Easter Sunday I'd ever experienced in my lifetime, sporting a special Easter bonnet was in order.

In our family room, we've set up an "altar" on the mantle, with my first-class relics of  St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Catherine Laboure (both precious heirlooms inherited from my maternal grandmother), a small pair of crucifixes, a small reproduction of the Pieta, two lit pillar candles, and some saint prayer cards on display.  Even when all the Catholic church doors are opened wide once again, I don't know if I'm going to be able to dismantle that mantle.

It was a very different sort of Easter for the faithful this year, no doubt about it.  But as the Notre Dame priest reminded us in his homily that day, the Cross and the Resurrection are unbreakably intertwined; without one, there would not be the other.  So we just need to keep bearing the weight of this suffering that we didn't choose but have been forced to carry as best we can, knowing that there will one day be a glorious reward unlike anything we can imagine.  So in spite of all the reasons to be sad, given the current situation, I felt a real joy in my heart on Easter morning.  I felt keenly and humbly aware of my many blessings.  And I wanted my Easter finery to show on the outside all that I was feeling on the inside--thus the famous long-hidden-away fascinator!

At 2:00 p.m., our local VA parish had a drive-through blessing, so we headed over to join the line-up of cars in the church parking lot.  One by one we drove by our wonderful pastor, an extremely holy priest who must be missing ministering to his flock in person terribly, and he sprinkled us with holy water through our open windows as we drove past him.  He shouted the most enthusiastic Easter blessings, with a beaming smile on his face.  He tends to be a relatively shy priest, whose usual demeanor might be called "serious"; so his utterly joy-filled expression as he greeted his parishioners was both touching and inspiring and made me think, "Yes, that's right!  We ARE an Easter people, and alleluia IS our song!"  There is really no room for sadness, is there?  No matter what may come in the wake of this pandemic.  Jesus died for our sins, and now He is risen; and if we put our trust in Him, all will be well in the end.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Faith!  Thank you for a husband who has been the perfect partner for me and the best father for our boys!  Thank you for all my undeserved blessings, too many to count!  Thank you for my life, dear Lord, and thank you for giving yours for me, a poor sinner, so that I have the hope of spending eternal life with you in Heaven!

Easter 2020: it was the worst of times.  But as always, it was also the best.