Sunday, January 31, 2021

Just Because: A New(ish) Name for My Blog

I'm just tickled to be here at this new link-up from longtime blogger Rosie at A Blog for My Mom.

Thanks, Rosie, for getting this off the ground.  When I discovered it, I was reminded of what the blogosphere was like when I gingerly dipped my toes into those unknown waters almost exactly ten years ago (way back when I was about to become a first-time grandmother, to twin girls), and through this exciting new-to-me medium “met” so many wonderful people.  I’ve missed those halcyon days when there were so many blog link-up “get-togethers”!  I'm determined to join your new Just Because link-up as often as I can, now that I'm off social media and trying to get back into the swing of regular blogging.

When I set out to create my blog back in 2011, I wasn't really very tech-savvy (not that I am now, but I've improved about a thousandfold).  I decided to call my humble little site String of Pearls, but then when I tried to give it a corresponding web address, that name was already taken.  I didn't know back then that if I'd added my first name to the address, or perhaps some dashes or underscores, I might have been able to use it and the address would have made more sense.  I picked, because it wasn't taken and it reflected my identity as a mom to five boys (who jokingly sometimes called me "Mumsie").

Well, this March my String of Pearls turns ten.  And as a little anniversary present to myself, I'm going to give it a new(ish) name.  Henceforth, it shall be known as "String o' Pearls."  

I can't believe I didn't pick this more Irish-sounding title in the first place, now that I think of it.  My husband is just about 100% Irish.  I'm more of a mutt or a melting pot: 20% Irish, about half English, with some Norwegian and other Northern European mixed in there.  But although my blood is not as green as my husband's, I absolutely adore all things Irish.  I am an incurable Hibernophile.  And now, my blog will reflect my deep and abiding love for Irish culture.

That's it for me.  Now head on over to Rosie's.  Just because. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Happy Birthday to Son #4!

Yesterday, the 4th son in the lineup of our five boys (our "basketball team," as everyone used to joke when they were growing up) turned 33!  I'm not really sure how this happened, when he looked like THIS not too long ago.  But it did. 

First grade school picture, so adorable!

This deep-feeling, faithfully Catholic, extremely intelligent, and kind-hearted guy has a biting wit and a way of putting things that amuses his family no end. He is a talented artist (his cartoons are amazing), a video game enthusiast, a dog lover, the devoted husband of our beautiful daughter-in-law Braveheart, and the hardworking father of four children under 4: triplets Pumpkin, Peanut, and Paquita (3-and-1/2) and 15-month-old Hermanita, who is his mini-me at that age...well, not quite; but if you substituted her glorious mop of dark hair with its signature top-of-the-head pigtail for a brush cut, they would absolutely be twins.

Hermanita, and a drawing I did of her daddy many moons
 ago.  Can you see the resemblance? 

Son #4 came along just over four years after the birth of son #1, so they were a tight-knit little pack.  Then, one week shy of son #4's fifth birthday, son #5 came on the scene.  It tells you a lot about this kid that even though he had spent five years as the baby of the family, he never once exhibited even the slightest bit of jealousy when his little brother took over that coveted spot.  In fact, he took our youngest son under his wing and was his staunchest defender and protector and his most enthusiastic playmate.  

We love this guy--and his growing family--big-time, and are so grateful that we live just over 1/2-hour away thanks to our big move south, so that we can see them often and help out as much as possible.

Sweet boy (yes, you will always be our boy!), we are proud to call you our son and wish you many, many more Happy Birthdays!

Friday, January 22, 2021

7QT: That Papa and Grammy Life

I haven't done a Friday 7 Quick Takes link-up post in a dog's age; but now that I've deleted all of the social media accounts that were taking up WAY too much of my time, I seem to have a lot more time for blogging. Which leads me to my first Take...

Take 1

I'm finished with social media, for a whole lot of reasons.  I was becoming increasingly alarmed about the way Big Tech is tracking individuals and trying to end free speech in America, and that was definitely the primary reason that I wanted to get as "off the grid" as possible.  But I was also just concerned about the increasing amount of time I was spending in scroll mode.  I mean, I had grown really, really attached (read: addicted) to Instagram.  I deleted Facebook first, and then Twitter and LinkedIn; however, I dragged my feet a bit when it came to saying good-bye to my favorite platform.  But I finally did it.  I broke up with Instagram, and it was initially a little painful.  Yet to my surprise, I haven't really missed it as much as I thought I would.

Take 2

Last week, our fourth-born son's wife, Braveheart, and her four little ones (triplets--identical twin boys and a girl, aged 3 and 1/2--plus their little 14-month-old baby sister) came to our house for their weekly playdate. Our other local daughters-in-law were not able to join us, as they have pre-school and kindergarten drop-off and pick-up schedules to deal with.  But so far, the triplets are not in school; and their mom really needs to have some social events to look forward to each week, to give the kids (and her, too) a much-needed change of scenery.  So for her, it almost always works out to come over for lunch and playtime sometime between Monday and Friday while her hubby is at work

Braveheart tells us that just about every day the triplets wake up and ask if they're going to "Papa-Grammy's" house. (They usually just call us both Papa, because to them we are joined at the hip and share one long name, and Papa is easier to say.)  Their eagerness to see us is about the sweetest thing my husband and I can imagine.  And we hope they always love to visit us as much as they do now. 

Take 3

So last Thursday, that crazy little gang of four was at our house from about 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  At one point, just after lunch, I noticed that Paquita was sitting on the floor looking at some of the children’s books that we keep in a basket just off the kitchen area.   And then much to my delight, I realized that she was flipping through her Grammy's illustrated My Little ABC Book, which I self-published in 2019 as a gift for her and her many cousins.  If that doesn't fit the bill of dreams coming true for me, I don't know what does. 

On my honor, I did not set up this photo.  That really is the book she chose to "read."

Take 4

When we moved to VA in 2017, we didn't want a fixer-upper. Not at this late stage of the game, and not after the more than two decades we'd spent doing DIY projects in the NH home we left behind.  We bought a house that was pretty much move-in ready, with the exception of needing the stained and worn-out upstairs carpeting removed and replaced with a more allergy-friendly wood laminate.  We thought that eventually we would want to finish off the basement and make a big, light-filled playroom for the grandkids.  But we didn't do it right away.  We hired a contractor to put in a full bathroom down there,  but otherwise we lived with it the way it was for a while.

Our older grandchildren did play happily in the basement for a couple of years, hardly taking note of the lack of walls and a ceiling and ignoring the exposed furnace, hot water heater, and many boxes and bins in the storage area. Finally, though, the issue became making it safe and child-proof: with the triplets and a few of their cousins entering the ever-more-curious toddler years, we decided it was time to get the job done.  My husband did all the electrical and lighting work himself, and he was planning to frame and finish all the walls; but we thought we'd hire someone to tackle the ceiling.  However, we weren't able to find anyone available to do it for us, so we decided that my favorite handyman (my husband!) would do it, with me helping out in any way I could.

The former owners had put up one wall (on the right in this picture), and they'd installed a vinyl floor.  But otherwise, the basement was completely unfinished and my husband had his work cut out for him.

Take 5 

We were moving along with the project in late 2019, slowly but surely, whenever my husband had time off from work. But then in early 2020, airplanes stopped flying overseas, and you can't be an international airline pilot and work from home; with all of his trips cancelled, all of a sudden my husband had all the free time he needed to concentrate on our pet project.  I guess I can thank the Covid pandemic for giving us so much time at home together to get the work done (#unexpectedblessings).  By springtime, we had a beautifully finished-off basement with a giant playroom, a storage/sewing and crafting area that could be locked to keep the little ones out, and a small guest bedroom.

Take 6

We are so pleased with the way it all turned out!  The grandkids love it down there.  The playroom is stocked with an impressive collection of toys--many of them vintage favorites kept from when their daddies were little, and others purchased the past few years at thrift stores, Goodwill, and other places.  (I mean, with 9 granddaughters, I needed to get some dolls and dollhouses--two items which we never had in our all-boy house back in the day.)  We still have a vast collection of children's books, too, from when our boys were growing up.  Many of them are about dinosaurs, our boys' childhood obsession.  

It must be hereditary; we have a few grandsons who are completely dinosaur-obsessed these days.

Take 7

Nothing makes Papa and Grammy happier than seeing this new generation of Pearls enjoying some of the same toys their daddies played with and reading some of the same books their daddies read (and oh yes, their Grammy's ABC Book, too!).  And nothing tickles us more than seeing the basement playroom we "made" for them being put to good use.  We know that all the time we spent down there, covered in construction dust and paint splatters, was well worth it, when we see it filled with our favorite little people on the planet.

I guess I'm out of Takes already!  Before I sign off, I'm going to add some recent photos taken of me with a handsome little fella who is the youngest of my 17 grandchildren.  I used to dread my children growing up and leaving me.  I used to fear growing old.  But now I am grateful that those two things happened, because otherwise I would never know the unique joy of being a grandmother.  And I think you can plainly see that joy in these two pictures!

That's all for this Grammy.  For more, head on over to the 7QT party at Kelly's.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Little St. Julian Mary Pearl, Pray for Us!

Please keep our oldest son, his sweet wife, and their five children in your prayers today.  This afternoon, there is going to be a burial service for a child whom our daughter-in-law miscarried about two weeks ago.  It was too early on in the pregnancy to determine the sex of the baby; therefore, they have chosen the name Julian Mary, since Julian is a saint's name that can be used by either a boy or a girl.  And of course it's always a good idea to add Our Blessed Mother's name as a middle name.

This tragic loss follows much too closely on the heels of their loss of Liguori Mary last May.

I don't know why some lives are snuffed out "too soon" or "before their time," as people often put it (as if we mere mortals can possibly know the best time for a life to end). But I do know that God has a plan for each and every life, no matter how short, and that those two precious babies (who join two others who also went straight to God's arms some years ago, before they could be held by their parents) lived exactly as long as they were meant to live.  They accomplished the purpose God had for them and then went home to Him. They will never be forgotten; and I can only imagine how joyous it will be when their siblings and their mom and dad are reunited with them in Heaven.

I am comforted by the image of these four wee saints, four powerful intercessors, looking out for the loving family of which they are just as much a part as the four sisters and one brother who live and breathe on this earth.   I know that their Papa and I will remember them every day for the rest of our lives, and we will speak their names aloud as we recite our intentions during our daily prayers and Rosaries. 

Please keep this faith-filled couple, who trust completely in God's plan for their family and have accepted their losses with extraordinary grace, and their children (especially the four girls, tender-hearted "mothers" who so wanted another baby to love on) in your prayers, as they mourn this tragic loss.  Thank you!

St. Julian of Norwich, pray for us!  O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!  And St. Julian Mary Pearl, pray for us!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Happy 28th Birthday to Our Baby

Yesterday, our youngest son turned 28.  That’s unfathomable to me, because that’s about when it seems he was born--yesterday or maybe the day goodness, where do the years go?! (I'm sure I've said that about a million times on this blog already; but it bears repeating.)

Here's a picture of our boy yesterday, getting ready to eat a funfetti cake baked from scratch by his wife of about 16 months. 

And here's another picture of him...also taken yesterday.

This kid...every mother should have one like him.  I mean that.  And I am not biased.  (I'm not!)  I'm not seeing him through rose-colored glasses when I say that he has been the most loving and devoted son his whole life, and that his enthusiasm for being a member of our family--with four older brothers he always looked up to and adored--has never flagged, even a little bit.  In a way, he was born an old soul; even when he was a wee lad, he had a manner about him that made more than one person ask him if he thought he might one day be a priest.  (God had other plans for him, however.)  I just adore him, and I'm thrilled that he found a wife who seems to feel the same way about him as his mommy does.

I'm going to tell a quick story about the kind of boy he was.  When he was 12, he suddenly developed SVT (supraventricular tachycardia): an extra electrical pathway in his heart that had probably always been there but had been dormant suddenly came into use, causing his heart to beat at an alarmingly fast rate.  Not all the time, but definitely after any kind of physical exertion and even sometimes out of the blue.  He could have gone on heart medication for life, but that was not deemed the best way to treat the condition.  So he underwent a procedure called a catheter ablation, the purpose of which was to zap that extra pathway and put it out of commission so his heart rate would remain stable.  The first attempt at an ablation didn't work, so he went on medication; then the following year, his doctor attempted the ablation again.  This time, it was completely successful, and our boy left the hospital completely cured of SVT.  It was as if he'd never had it at all.  Thank God for modern medicine!

Anyway, waiting as your beloved child undergoes another heart procedure--even one that is not as invasive as traditional surgery and is considered a same-day procedure, where he can go home as soon as he recovers from the anesthesia--is extremely nerve-wracking, obviously.  And we were so thrilled to see him afterward!  But before we could say anything to him, this extraordinary 13-year-old boy, still groggy from the drugs, asked his dad and me, "How are you guys doing?" He knew how worried we were, and he was more worried about us than he was about himself.

How's that for a "mom brag" tale?  But isn't he the sweetest?  Can you see why I just adore him?

This is the boy who came along almost exactly five years after the youngest of our first four boys was born.  He was a delightful surprise, and I'll tell you, God definitely knew that our family was not complete without him.  

Happy Birthday, sweetie!  We can't wait to celebrate with you in person soon!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I hadn't made the decision to revive this blog in time to do a lot of Christmas posting, so I thought that today I'd do a quick catch-up or re-cap or what-have-you.

We had a beautiful and blessed holiday season--especially since our youngest boy and his wife, whom we hadn't seen in more than a year, were able to be with us for about two weeks. We had a family party the day after Christmas (all five sons, their wives, and their 17 darling offspring aged newborn to 9) at our centrally located VA home.  It isn't the biggest or the grandest house, and the yard is...well, it's so small it can hardly be called a yard.  But we are perfectly situated for all four of our VA-based kids to meet here with their families.  (We just have to entice our baby and his wife, who currently live in OK but will be moving--east, hopefully!--this summer, to end up settling in VA, too. Ha ha!...But really, we do.)


Aside from the family party, we had our second annual adults-only party on December 30.  (I wrote about our first one in this post last year.  It's a fun post if you have the time.) This is a tradition that my husband and I love so much, a real highlight of our holiday celebrations.  It's wonderful to have all the little ones running around the house together; but it's so incredibly special to get our grown children and their spouses gathered under our roof without their kids, so that we can all relax and enjoy real conversations that aren't interrupted by boo-boos, cousin squabbles, or poopy diapers.  We had drinks, hors d'oeuvres, and desserts, and we did our Five Favorites gift exchange (which we've decided we prefer to a Yankee Swap).

I wish I had posted pictures of our Christmas decorations here at the blog in the days leading up to Christmas (I was busy posting them over at Instagram instead!).  I think our house looked particularly lovely this Christmas...but maybe that's because it was so often filled with family.  My boys have always been my favorite element of home decor--and wherever they and their dad are, that's my home.

Now that I've decided to blog again, I have so many things I want to write about!!  I can hardly wait to get started.  So I'll be back before too long.  In the meantime, here's hoping that 2021 is being kinder to you and yours than 2020 was. God bless you!

(P.S. For those of you concerned: thankfully, almost all of the adults, and a number of the kids, in our family had already had and recovered from Covid before our Christmas get-togethers.  We had herd immunity going big-time!)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Getting off the Grid (Sort of...)

Over the past week or so, I deleted my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram accounts.


It's fine.  I'm fine.

The first two, Facebook and Twitter, were relatively easy break-ups for me. Because of the truly scary privacy concerns I have regarding the tech giants who control them, along with all the angry, bitter political back-and-forth that dominates those platforms (at least on my feeds!), it was actually a very freeing feeling to remove them from all of my devices and know that those familiar icons would not be calling out to me anymore, giving me that hard-to-ignore urge to click and "just look for a minute"...which in turn, more often than not, led me to scroll endlessly when I should have been spending my limited time on this earth doing something more meaningful.

I used Instagram stories to announce my departures from FB and Twitter (because I wasn't quite ready to dump Instagram yet!).

LinkedIn was also extremely easy to leave.  I only joined that site a number of years ago to use it as a way to promote my two Catholic novels, Finding Grace (2012) and Erin's Ring (2014)but even at the beginning I rarely posted anything on there, and I never really figured out how to use that social media tool to its maximum benefit.  I wrote my books during the seven-year period that occurred after more than two decades of being a  full-time SAHM to five boys--beginning when the youngest of our sons started high school, and ending when the grandchildren had started to arrive and the rest of our single older boys started to get married in quick succession.  (I mean, really quick: three of them were married in an 11-month period, between Dce. 2013 and Nov. 2014!!) Once I became a grandmother, I moved beyond the novel-writing phase of my life and entered the SAHG (Stay-at-Home-Grammy) era.  (Ha ha--at my age, perhaps I should just call it the "SAG" era?  But I digress.) And the sad truth is that my books are now out of print--although used copies are still sold on Amazon.  (Luckily, I have a personal stash that I purchased from my publisher a while back, so even if I have lots more grandchildren than I already do, I should have enough to give them all a copy of each book.)  Anyway, the bottom line is that I realized I just don't need to be a part of a career networking site anymore, if I ever did, so farewell LinkedIn.

The only site that was painfully hard to leave was Instagram, where I followed some of the most inspiring, talented, funny, faith-filled Catholic writers and "influencers" (most of them former bloggers whom I'd originally discovered through their blogs), along with a number of beloved family members.  I LOVED Instagram, I won't lie.  But Instagram is owned by Facebook, and as a matter of principle, I felt I needed to make a complete break.  That was the one that hurt.  That was the one site that gave me the most joy and the one I'll probably always miss.

HOWEVER, truth be told, Instagram wasn't really all that good for me, no matter how much I tried to convince myself otherwise.  I spent too much time thinking about what picture I could take for my next post. (Never have I taken so many pictures of the food I was cooking or eating!)  I was scrolling through feeds that led me to other feeds, and then to others, and others...and before I'd know it, I had spent over an hour gazing at the lovely pictures of complete strangers...and sometimes, comparing myself negatively with their curated perfection.  Also, like Facebook, Instagram knew what kind of clothes I liked, what kind of books I read, and it was constantly enticing me to buy a cute lace top or a WWII historical novel that looked like it was right up my alley.  In a way, I'll miss those well-targeted IG ads, because they exposed me to some items that I would never have otherwise found on my own.  But then again, isn't it a little creepy that Instagram knew exactly the kind of things I normally purchased?  Isn't it a little concerning that my online activities are being followed, and noted, by some phantom Internet overseer?

So I said my sad good-bye to IG with this post last Sunday:

I thought it was apropos to go out with a photo of a cup of coffee, a good book, a set of Rosary beads, and a picture of Jesus.  This pretty much tells the story of how I'm hoping to spend the extra time I'll have now that I'm not distracted by what's happening on IG.

I guess I'm kind of off the grid--but I'm still here at my String of Pearls (which turns 10 this March!), so that's not quite true.  I've decided that I'd like to get back into blogging (and that right there is a statement that seems almost as old-fashioned as saying, "I think it's time to bring back VHS and cassette tapes").  Hopefully I'll be blogging more, praying more, and reading more good books.  Sewing and drawing more, too.  That's my plan for 2021.

So I'll be back, dear readers.  And if you have a blog that I used to read, before I got so thoroughly entrenched in the IG world, I may be visiting it more often now.  And when I do, I'll most likely be drinking coffee.

(Please note: I am not judging you if you still enjoy all the aforementioned forms of social media; for me personally, the negatives had begun to outweigh the positives, so I did what I felt I had to do for my spiritual and mental well-being.)