Monday, December 27, 2021

41 Years and Going Strong!

Forty-one years ago today, my husband and I were married on a bitter cold day in our hometown in Upstate NY, at his family's parish church (which was the one connected to the Catholic high school where we met as freshmen in 1972). We had begun dating at 15, in the summer of 1973, and were married seven years later.  We got engaged in December of 1979 while seniors in college, and chose to get married two days after Christmas the following year.  My husband was going to be starting flight school in the Navy shortly after graduation, and that was pretty much the only time he knew he would be able to get enough days off in a row to get married.

Some people told me that it was a bit selfish to put our families through a wedding during the busy holiday season, but it was either that or wait another whole year or more until he earned his wings.  At that point, we felt like we'd waited long enough to finally start our life together!  And I have to say, a Christmas wedding is so incredibly lovely.  The church is so beautifully decorated already that you don't have to spend a penny on flowers.  Our church was blooming with a profusion of poinsettias and bedecked with garlands of greenery. Wreaths were hung on every pillar, and right  behind us when we had our photos taken on the altar there was a glorious Nativity set.  I can't imagine a more perfect setting, personally, for getting married. 

Or a more perfect partner with whom to go through life. He is my rock.  He is my hero.  And I know that God chose him just for me.

Recently, I found a collage in my Google photos.  It had been made up with pictures of my guy and me without any input on my part.  The top middle photo is from one of my sisters-in-law's weddings in 1993; the rest are more recent, from the past five years or so.  There are a couple taken by our beloved lake in NY, a couple taken on trips to Rome, one in the stands at a Notre Dame football game, and a few from holiday celebrations. This collage managed to include some true highlights of our life together.   (I'm surprised, however, that Google only chose one with us holding a baby grandchild!)  I might have chosen other pictures if I'd made this collage myself, but I thought it was nice and would make a good anniversary tribute.

The Baltimore Catechism describes the purposes of marriage thus:

(1) To enable the husband and wife to aid each other in securing the salvation of their souls;

(2) To propagate or keep up the existence of the human race by bringing children into the world to serve God;

(3) To prevent sins against the holy virtue of purity by faithfully obeying the laws of the marriage state

What a gift a good marriage is.  As I said, I can't think of a better marriage partner (or a better father for my sons) than the guy I married.  If I do make it to Heaven, he will have most definitely helped me to get there. What an example he has been for me!  I can only hope that by the time my life here is over, I will have learned to live out my Faith with the kind of purpose and passion that he does.

Forty-one years in, and our family has grown by leaps and bounds.  Just a portion of us were together on Christmas Day, and look at how many dear souls are in this picture!  

That day, we had only 13 of our 17 grandchildren with us (Peanut, one of the triplets, escaped before the photo was taken, so if you count them up you'll only find 12!).

But the two soon-to-be-born grandchildren were also there.  Here are my sweet girls who are expecting in 2022, one in February and the other in April.

That 22-year-old bride in the first picture up there could never have imagined how big and beautiful her family would become. All I can say is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (my favorite Christmas movie, BTW).  And it all got started on this date in 1980.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Christmas Celebration Preparations

I just realized that I forgot to push the "publish" button on this post this morning.  Oops!  So I'm sending it out a tad late.

Good morning, dear readers!  And happy day before Christmas Eve! 

I’m  just sitting here by the light of the tree, drinking coffee and thinking warm thoughts, getting excited for the coming days.  (Our super awesome overlit Griswold family tree has many light settings, and this one is the candy cane/red-and-white-lights-only option.  The photo doesn't do it justice; but isn't it pretty?)

This will be our fifth Christmas in VA.  And each year since we've been here living near our four oldest sons, we've floated the idea that since we get to see them so often throughout the year, we would be okay with having a family celebration on some date before or after the 25th, so that they can either stay home on Christmas with just their little ones or enjoy time with their kids' grandparents and aunts and uncles on their moms' side.

But in spite of the lack of pressure to spend Christmas Day itself with us, that seems to be what most of our VA peeps actually want to do!  Our youngest son is in MI with his wife's family this Christmas.  But the four sons who live near us down here have all agreed that an Open House party at Papa and Grammy's centrally located home is a good idea.  So as long as everyone stays healthy until Christmas, we could have as many as 33 people here that afternoon: 16 adults (including not just our four sons and their wives, but a couple sets of their in-laws, plus the brother and girlfriend of one daughter-in-law) and 17 kids.  

Because the group is so large and figuring out how to time a sit-down meal is pretty much impossible (believe me, we've tried, and it gets complicated; especially with people driving from 1/2 hour to an hour away, with babies and small children and their nap schedules to figure in--not to mention Christmas Day overexcitement!).  So this year, we are having a come-when-you-can, stay-as-little-or-long-as-you-like, heavy hors d'oeuvres and snacks, old-fashioned cocktail party kind of a party. 

We have tried cooking a beef tenderloin for our gang here.  We have tried a buffet-style menu, with lasagna and pulled pork and other hot casserole-type items in chafing dishes.  We keep fine-tuning, trying to figure out what we can manage best without a staff of catering professionals on hand to make sure all goes smoothly and everything stays hot.  (A quick aside here: How positively dreamy does a catered party sound?!)  So I am actually kind of excited about trying this more relaxed format for a Pearl family party, and I've been working on my menu.  Here are the items I'm planning so far: Swedish meatballs; cocktail weiners in barbecue sauce; piglets in blankets (yes, Little Smokies are going to play a major role in this shindig!); deli meats and slices of deep-fried turkey (my husband has always wanted to try cooking a turkey this way); rolls for sandwich making; Tostitos with salsa and guacamole; Buffalo chicken dip with Fritos; loaded baked potato dip with Ruffles; Pimento cheese dip with crackers; veggies and dip platter; baked stuffed mushrooms; deviled eggs; fruit. There may be more items added, but that’s it so far.  And the guests are bringing stuff to share as well.   (I'll also have mac and cheese as a backup for any picky eaters in the younger crowd!) I have crockpots for keeping the meatballs and Little Smokies warm, but most of the foods we'll have out won't need to be heated.  I THINK this is going to be our most stress-free party yet.

For dessert, I'm making a red velvet bundt cake with cream cheese frosting and several batches of Christmas cookies, and I've also got plenty of store-bought goodies, too, including lots of chocolates and chocolate-covered treats.

If you have any egg allergies in your family, like we do, these are great
(and easy!) eggless cookies: 1 box red velvet cake mix, 1/2 c. water,
1/2 c. oil, white chips, and sprinkles; bake at 350 for 8 minutes.

I will break out some of my pretty Christmas platters and serving dishes (because if they never get used, why even have them?), but otherwise, it's going to be paper and plastic all the way, so there won't be much to clean up afterward.  (She throws her head back and guffaws loudly, remembering that after every giant family party--disposable plates or not--she and her husband joke that perhaps it would be easier to torch the place than to clean it!)

I've been collecting party supplies here and there for the past month.  The planning part of having a
party is one of my favorite activities. :)

BTW, do these chips look fun to you...or sort of gross?  (I’m going with fun.)

I'm going to take a break for the next few days, until the excitement dies down, and just enjoy being in the moment with all the people I love most.  But here's wishing you all a blessed Christmas.  Joy to the World!    Let earth receive her King!

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

A Homemade Christmas: St. Nicks for Everyone!

This year, my husband and I joined forces in Santa's workshop to create large wooden St. Nicholas figurines—five of them, one for each of our sons and their wives—for Christmas.  We had made one for us a few years ago and the kids said they'd like to have similar ones for their own houses.  

The first year we had ours, it towered over our little grandson Simba.

Nothing could make me happier than having a project like this to work on!  I absolutely love making gifts; to me, it's so much more fun than shopping for them.

My favorite carpenter bought some pine boards, 1-inch thick and 10-inches wide.  I sketched the basic shape for him and he cut out five of them with his table saw and sanded them for me.

I changed my mind and had my husband ignore the feet, for simplicity's sake, 
and just have the gown/coat go to the ground.

Then I set out to paint them. 

As I was working on them throughout November, I realized that totally by accident, the first two faces I finished sort of resembled two of our sons.  (I mean, not exactly; but sort of.) So then I set out to make each son's St. Nick look a little bit like he does.  I made the coats and other details slightly different, depending on each son's personality and interests, so that they would be five be one-of-a-kind St. Nicks. I also added pearl accents and glued a couple of coins on the bases (you know, because St. Nick is supposed to bring coins and leave them in the shoes).  I tried to find coins that were stamped with years—or in some cases, foreign countries—that are significant in our boys' lives.

My hubby's carpenter skills were key; he is the one who got the St. Nicks securely screwed onto their bases, and then made triangular braces to go behind them, so that they would stand safely upright.  (So often, not just when he's woodworking, he reminds me of St. Joseph!)

By Thanksgiving, I was ALMOST done with this project, because I wanted to give son #5 his St. Nick while he was visiting us.  But he and his wife decided that since they're currently living in a small apartment, they will wait to take theirs home with them until they have a more permanent living situation and more room. 

I finally finished them all up in time to give them out to the four oldest boys who live nearby during this last week of Advent.  Here they are, all lined up (in order, from oldest to youngest son, L to R):

The ones we made for our kids are shorter and narrower than the one we made for ourselves, for two reasons: we forgot to measure ours before we went to Lowe's to buy the wood and didn't think the board we'd used was as wide as it was (12-inches); and actually, the wider boards were a good bit more expensive anyway.  Plus, I thought the new model, which is about three feet high, was a good size: big enough to make a statement, but not TOO big. 

Okay, looking at that last photo makes me realize that ours is kind of huge.  Yikes, I hadn't really appreciated how big it was until we put it next to the others!  As one of our granddaughters said, it's like our St. Nick is the daddy and those are his five sons.  I love that.  That's how I'm going to think of ours from now on.

Our boys and their families appear to be pleased with these homemade Christmas gifts.  Here are son #2's four little guys giving their St. Nick some love.

May we all have the pure and innocent joy of small children in our hearts this Christmas!  And St. Nicholas, pray for us!

Friday, December 17, 2021

It's a Beaut, Clark

Back when our boys were growing up in NH, it was our tradition for a number of years to go to a local Christmas tree farm to cut down our tree.  I loved how long those freshly cut trees would last (especially since we are definitely NOT those people who take down their tree by New Year's.  No judgment, you understand; it's just that we are not those people).  We always liked to keep our tree up at least until Epiphany.  And then we stretched it to the Baptism of Our Lord.

As time went on, we decided that maybe we would keep it up until our fourth son's birthday in late January...and then eventually, until Candlemas on February 2. 

What can I say?  We love it when we have a Christmas tree in our house!  It's hard not to feel happy when you're looking at a decorated and lighted tree.  And eventually, we went with a fake tree so that we could enjoy it as long as we wanted and would never have to worry about it drying out on us while we were away from home, visiting with family in NY between Christmas and New Year's.  Also, the boys got old enough that they were too busy with school and sports for us to schedule a trip to the tree farm with everyone involved.  The year my husband and I found ourselves going there alone was the last year we had a real tree. 

The artificial tree we had for many years in NH was a beauty.  We had the extra-high ceiling in the two-car attached garage that my husband converted into a giant sports-themed man cave/family room, so we were able to get one that was just shy of ten feet tall.  It had about 1,200 lights on it, a combination of color and white, and it was absolutely packed with ornaments, hundreds of them.  I loved that tree.  Each year, I added an ornament or two, some store-bought, some homemade, even though more ornaments was the last thing we needed.

We celebrated our last Christmas in NH in 2016, and all five of our sons, along with the four daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren we had at the time, spent the holiday with us that year.  It was just wonderful. (Our youngest son also met—IRL—the girl he'd been corresponding with on Catholic Match at our house that Christmas; they've been married for over two years now so I'd say it worked out!)

As you can see, it wasn't easy getting a picture of all the kiddos together—and that was ten grandchildren ago!

Shortly after those photos were taken, we were packing up a house that we'd lived in for 26 years to prepare for a big move south to VA, where our middle three boys (all but the “bookends”) had planted what appeared to be permanent roots.  By March of 2017, we were Virginians, and shortly after we got here, our oldest son switched careers and wound up moving close to us, too.  So now we had four of our five boys and all of our grandchildren near us.  It was too good to be true!

The one downside to the new house in VA was that there wasn't anywhere to display our enormous tree.  I was wondering if I would ever be satisfied with another one...but then we found a downsized tree that was absolutely perfect for us. (It's the official Griswold family tree, after all.)

It fits nicely in the bay window of our cozy little living room.  For the past two years, I haven't put any ornaments on it, because there were too many curious (and sometimes destructive!) toddlers milling about.  But with all those lights (over 3,000!), it still looked pretty without anything on it but a garland and a star.

The triplets are four now, so we decided to decorate the tree again this year.  I've given boxes of ornaments away to each of our boys, but the branches are still sufficiently packed.

And when we moved here, we also got a smaller tree for a corner of our family room.

So we don't have our killer tree anymore; but I think we're doing just fine, don’t you agree?

A few days ago, we received a small package in the mail.  It was a gift from son #3’s in-laws: a tiny felt pennant with a Christmas Vacation quote on it.

I'd say they've gotten to know us pretty well!

We are preparing to celebrate our fifth Christmas in the VA house, which is hard to believe.  The years in our new home state have positively flown by.  And now, with the imminent departure of son #1’s family (they are moving to a new home in the Midwest just after the holidays), we intend to cherish every moment we have with them—and with every member of our ever-growing Pearl clan. 

Sunday, December 12, 2021

First Annual Pearl Gals St. Nicholas Tea Party

I mentioned in a post a while back that I was planning to have a holiday tea party for my four VA daughters-in-law and my five oldest granddaughters.  Any Pearl lady six and up was invited, and it just so happens that the four granddaughters who were technically old enough are members of our firstborn's family; so I decided that since another one of my granddaughters (who belongs to son #3) is going to turn six in a few months, she would make the cut as well.  I wanted it to be a fun cousin party for them, and I'm hoping that in the coming years, as the other little girls mature, it can become an annual family event.

The tea party took place on December 5, the day before the feast of St. Nicholas, so I dubbed it a St. Nicholas Tea Party.  There are so many Santa and St. Nick figurines around my house, I didn't even need to do anything special as far as decorating!

I set the dining room table for 10 with some lovely china left to me by my late beloved mother-in-law.  It's called Royal Hunt by Noritake, and it looks beautiful with Christmas linens.

I stocked up on different festive-flavored teas, and I have to say that the one called "Christmas Tea" by Twinings was the clear winner.  (Barb, thanks for the recommendation!)  I prepared as many tasty bite-sized foods as I could: chicken salad sandwiches on croissants, cut in half; spiral ham sandwich bites; mini pigs-in-blankets; mini quiches; stuffed mushrooms; spears of grapes and strawberries.  I baked cinnamon and vanilla scones, half the size I normally make them; there were shortbread cookies and chocolates and Oreos dipped in chocolate with peppermint chips on them.  There was a mimosa bar as well.  And even honey lollipops for stirring tea, chocolate spoons for stirring coffee!

The youngest of the girls opted for milk rather than tea in her cup (and actually, her mama opted for Diet Coke!).  But not everyone is a tea-drinker, and I'm certainly okay with that! (We had coffee available, too, because coffee is pretty much the lifeblood for most Pearls.) I'm not sure that the food was quite right for the younger set, so I'm already thinking about what I would do differently if we have a 2022 tea party.  But all in all, it was truly delightful.

At the end, each of the granddaughters got a miniature doll, in the most adorable little St. Nicholas sack (Etsy for the win!).

We had a cookie exchange, too! 

And not to be left out of this girls-only event, my husband had special gifts for his daughters-in-law.

Living the dream, right girls? LOL!  (And he is freaking awesome.  The shirts don't lie.)

Our St. Nicholas Tea Party really kicked off the Advent/Christmas season for me.  It was totally joyful and lived up to every dream I had for it.  I'm not even letting myself get caught up in the usual second-guessing game of "the food wasn't right, I wish I'd made such-and-such," which is often my post-party hostess routine.  (I'm working on that perfectionist tendency!)  I'm just taking notes for next year and already treasuring the memories we made this year.

Those pink t-shirts make the perfect ending for this post today.  Happy Gaudete Sunday, dear readers!

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

God Bless Us, EVERY ONE

Our middle son and his wife are expecting their fifth child in April.  Recently, Preciosa had a second sonogram to check on the baby, since an earlier sonogram had shown that there might be a problem with one of the arteries connected to the placenta, meaning that the little one might not be getting all the nutrients he needs.  (I may not be describing the condition my daughter-in-law's OB/GYN was concerned about properly; but you get the gist.) 

I am happy to report that the arteries appear to be working perfectly, and this sweet baby, who will be grandchild #19 for his proud Papa and me, is doing just fine.

Do you want to see an absolutely precious little face?  (Don't bother to answer that question; I'm going to show you regardless!).

That beautiful face!  I love him already.

Incredibly--despite modern technology that can give us images like these, which are undeniable proof--there is still debate about when life begins and whether or not a baby growing in his mother's womb has an inviolable right to life. In recent news, abortion rights activists in Mississippi are panicking over a Supreme Court case that pro-lifers hope might lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.  (Dare one hope?!)  I think anyone who still believes that pre-born babies are somehow less human than they are after birth should have to look at sonogram photos like these. Hundreds of them. Because imagine still insisting, after seeing such images, that these vulnerable little souls are not fully human and deserving of protection.  It's inconceivable to me.

Our son and his wife already know that this sweet tiny person growing in the safety of his mama's womb is a boy, their second son.  Because there are only two sexes, male and female, and it can be scientifically determined even before birth which one a person is going to be.

A few years from now, God willing, this little fella will be a healthy, chubby-cheeked, round-bellied toddler visiting our house at Christmastime, and he'll be joining his cousins in checking out the ornaments on our tree with a look of wonder on his face.  But just because he isn't big enough to do that yet, just because he's still too small to be with us out here in the big, wide world, that doesn't mean that his life is any less valuable than the lives of the grandchildren we have who've already been born.

Photos from a recent visit with son #4's four little ones.

What better time than Advent, when we await the birth of the Baby Jesus, to cherish the lives of every single human person, from conception to natural death?  I submit that there is no better time.

God bless us, every one--no matter how small.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

As Easy as ABC: Absolutely Beautiful [Internet] Connections!

When I self-published my My Little ABC Book back in 2019, through an online site called Bookemon, I was really only doing it to be able to give copies of it as gifts to friends and family (most especially my grandchildren).  Not exceedingly professional in execution (and I'm not being modest here), this picture book was a true labor of love: something I'd begun in 1993 after my youngest son was born and hoped to finish in time for him to enjoy it in his toddler years--but then I'd shelved it for a couple of decades and finally got inspired to finish it when that son was in his 20's and the grandchildren started coming fast and furious.

I was tickled when my niece sent this photo of her
oldest reading the ABC book to her little brothers.

In the years leading up to the completion of the project, I posted updates about my progress quite a bit here at the old blog. So after My Little ABC Book got into print, there were actually several loyal readers who ordered copies from Bookemon.

From time to time, over the past 10 years that I've been a blogger, I've talked about closing up shop here on the Internet, but also about how hard that would be because of the many unexpected blessings blogging has brought me. One of those blessings, without a doubt, is the way it has connected me with people whom I would never, in a million years, have "met" if I hadn't started this String o' Pearls (formerly known as String of Pearls).  I've corresponded with readers as far away as Australia and Austria, and from all over the United States.  Years ago, I began "talking" with a sweet Catholic blogger who was about my youngest son's age.  That was back when we lived in NH and she was in Northern VA.  After our move to VA in 2017, we became practically neighbors; and I was actually able to meet her in person (IRL!) when my husband and I attended her community Christmas shows, musicals where she played the violin, two years in a row.  (Then, enter Covid-19...grrr!  But that's a subject for another, less cheerful, post!) 

People poo-poo Internet relationships, but sometimes they lead to real connections, real friendships.  That sweet young gal I met via blogging just emailed me to fill me in on her family's latests news.  She said that she'd recently visited her little nephews and they were looking at the ABC book, and she wanted me to know that she was thinking about me.

I really do feel extraordinarily blessed by the community that I found after I started this blog.  Many of the people I used to "know" here in the blogging world have moved over to Instagram or just off the Internet completely (and believe me, I get that!).  I miss them.  But I will always cherish my time here, and the friendships I've made.  It's the last thing I expected when I wrote my first post in 2011, thinking of this as merely a space to keep an online scrapbook of family memories.  It has been that, but so much more.  Life is indeed full of surprises!

I'm not sure how to end this goodbye, until we "meet" again.