Monday, December 27, 2021
Thursday, December 23, 2021
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
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.
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.
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
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?
Sunday, December 12, 2021
Wednesday, December 8, 2021
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
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!)