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 Uebbing’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.

Uebbing 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...
Uebbing 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, but 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" Uebbing 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!