Thursday, September 15, 2022

A Visit from Our Favorite Iowans

Over Labor Day weekend, our oldest son and his wife traveled from Iowa to VA with their six children to spend a week at Papa and Grammy's house, reconnecting with all their Pearl aunts, uncles, and cousins here, as well as a number of old friends.

If you read this blog often enough, you know all the details; but I'll repeat them for those of you who are new here. Our firstborn's beautiful family lived near us for over four years (when I say near, I truly mean near: they were less than 20 minutes away!).  In fact, they moved here just months after we'd made our big move down from our "forever home" in NH, where we'd lived for 26 years.  During their years in VA, they not only spent a lot of quality time with their extended Pearl family; they also made a number of lasting connections in their Catholic homeschooling community.  The kids made lots of great playmates, many of whom have become pen pals; and the parents also found their tribe of like-minded adults, whose shared major goal is helping their children become saints.

Faith, family, friends; what else is there, am I right?  But sometimes, job situations require a change. So in January, these precious people moved to Iowa, and they purchased a home on more than four acres, where they could fulfill their dream of becoming homesteaders.  And our son's schedule at his new company has afforded him so much more time at home with his family (and time to tend to the cows, ducks, and chickens!).  It was a hard move for them to make (hard for Papa and Grammy, too, I won't lie); but it was the right move.  We don't doubt that they will be blessed in their new life, and that before long, their group of friends will grow and begin to resemble what they had here in VA.

Anyway, it was a wonderful week.  Once again, we had ALL of our grandchildren close by, and we were able to get them together for a family party on the Sunday before Labor Day.

There they are, together again: all of our grandchildren (so far!).
Soon, we're going to need a bigger stoop for taking pictures!

My husband and I usually attend an early daily Mass together; but the week our Iowa gang was with us, I stayed home each day instead.  I wanted to be there to make the kids breakfast, letting their mom sleep in with the baby or at least get a much-deserved break.  So this is what my view was every morning, as I fed bread and/or bagels into the toaster and slathered on the butter and jam. 

I miss starting my mornings with this crew!

There was a lot of visiting with the different Pearl families in the area through the week, and some visiting with friends; but there were illnesses running through some of the families that caused play date cancellations, and our granddaughters were worried that they would have to go back to Iowa without having a chance to hang out with all their VA besties.

Luckily, the night before they were to leave, all of the friends most important to them (three other couples and their many offspring) were able to gather at a local brewery, a wonderful spot with endless grassy fields where the kids could roam and still be within eyeshot of their parents.

This establishment allows guests to bring their own food, so we all brought snacks to share for a picnic dinner, and the adults enjoyed some craft beers.  At 7:00, the live music (a mix of country and classic rock tunes) started at a little outdoor bandstand, and the kids started dancing. 

As it got dark, the outdoor lights that were strung everywhere went on, and we watched the moonrise while the kids--most of whom were up way past their bedtimes!--played a rousing game of "Ghost in the Graveyard."  The weather cooperated: it wasn't too hot or buggy, and the moon was one day shy of being full.  It was utterly magical, a perfect night and a great way for our son's family to end their weeklong visit with us.

My husband and I thought of this brewery get-together as mostly for them.  We thought of ourselves as merely flies on the wall.   (We weren't even sure that we should go, but they insisted they wanted us there.)  After socializing for a little bit with the other couples around the food-laden picnic table, we went off and sat together in comfy Adirondack chairs on the hill, enjoying our beers and watching the kids play while our son and his wife chatted with their peers.  I made sure to take a lot of pictures, because I want to make a memory book for our grandkids.  But it was sweet: a number of times, one or the other of the oldest two (the twins) would come over to check on us and make sure that we were okay--that we weren't too lonely and were having fun.  We assured them that we were doing just fine, and to go and enjoy themselves.  

We must be the luckiest grandparents on earth, to have so many of our grandchildren living nearby (13 out of the 19 now, and that's not too shabby!), and to have such loving relationships with the ones who are far away.  We couldn't be more blessed.  

So we've officially shifted back into our VA life now, after spending the summer months in Upstate NY.  It's good to be back!


Monday, August 15, 2022

Pillow Talk

Can we talk pillows?  

I love throw pillows.  But they can’t just be pretty or match my room decor; they have to “speak” to me, to give a message with special meaning or have pictures on them that tell a story relating to our family.

These two on the couch in the family room speak for themselves—and for me, too.

This toile beauty with an image of St. Peter’s Basilica is precious for two reasons: it was a lovingly handmade gift from our firstborn’s wife Regina; and it depicts ROME, my husband’s favorite European destination during his years as an international airline pilot, and the city that will always have a special place in my heart, too, after the three trips we took there together before the world shut down in 2020 (one of them a week-long dream vacation, two of them 4-day working trips where he flew there and back and I tagged along). 

These matching pillows on our living room couch, with their vintage Parisian advertisements, are meaningful to me for a number of reasons as well.  My husband flew many trips to France, and the first time I ever flew across the pond to Europe was when I accompanied him on a working trip to Nice in 2011.  Plus, I took francais in high school and in college, so you know, I’m a bit of a Francophile I guess.  (Although I must say that I’d take Italy over France any day of the week and twice on dimanche).

This last one in the living room says it all.  After five years in VA, I rarely think about our old house in NH anymore, the one I left in tears after 26 memory-filled years.

This is where my heart is now.  I miss this place terribly when we’re away. This is HOME.  The pillow doesn't lie.

What about you?  Do you love throw pillows, too?  Talk to me!

P.S. The impetus for this post is that we're in the car today, on our way back to VA.  We'll be there for almost a week, so that we can attend the 5th birthday party of our triplet grandchildren--and also to just check on the house and reconnect with all of our VA peeps.  As wonderful as our lakeside summer in NY has been, I miss my life there very much!  So I am looking forward to a little time at my home sweet home.  

July 2022 Recap: Our Week at Oyster Haven

I really wish I'd kept up better with the family memories this summer!  But here it is, the last July Recap post (to go along with Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3).

Starting on the 3rd of July and going trough the 9th, we had Oyster Haven, which is otherwise rented out to vacationing guest families, all to ourselves.  Huzzah!!

I have been working hard at detachment—you know, at trying not to feel jealous of the VRBO customers who stay at this beloved house way more than we do.  Trying not to wail, “But it’s not fair; it’s MY house!”  Trying to just feel supremely grateful that we have this idyllic lakeside spot where we can give our kids and grandkids a special rent-free vacation week together each year.  We have owned the house for seven years now, and I’m finding that with practice, the whole detachment thing is getting easier.

But when I look down from the yard at our private beach in its private cove, with our gang hanging out by the water...well, you can see why I wish we could spend more time there!  It's heavenly, truly.

We only had four of our five boys with us this year.  (Our oldest and his wife, who have six kids, couldn’t make the trip from Iowa, due to the schedule of his new job.  But maybe next year!)  So altogether we had 10 adults and 13 kids (aged seven and under) staying in a four-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom house.  We have technically outgrown the house—but we somehow make it work, by golly!

My husband I and took the first-floor Master Suite, which has a queen-sized bed and a twin in it.  We would have welcomed a grandchild roommate (or even two of them, because we had space for an air mattress if needed); but all the kids were able to sleep in the rooms to which they’d been assigned.

Everyone slept family-style, which could have been a nightmare but wasn’t: son #3 and Preciosa had the most kids, five, so they got the biggest upstairs bedroom, the Norman Rockwell Room (with a queen and two twins, to which they added an air mattress and port-a-crib);

son # 4 and Braveheart shared the Aviation Room with their four youngsters (a queen and a twin, with an air mattress and Pack 'N Play added);

son #2, Ginger, and their four boys had the large (but unfortunately not air-conditioned!) basement ping pong room, which we’d converted to sleeping quarters by adding two inflatable beds, one a king and the other a queen, and a Pack ‘N Play for their littlest guy;

and finally, our youngest son and his Babisiu had the Little Cherubs Room, which was more than adequate for the two of them with a full-sized bed and a twin.

Okay, so that’s it for the room assignments!  The rest of the post is going to basically be a photo dump, because I think the pictures will tell the story of our week better than words could. But if I had to sum it up with just a single word, this is the one I would choose: PERFECT.

The kids had a big "project" going all week, which involved digging a
"river" in the sand and filling it with water from the lake.

The kayaks are always a hit with the kids.

As is Papa's pontoon boat!

I don't think there's anything cuter than these little beachcombers!

It's handy to have a mom/aunt in the family who used to be a kindergarten teacher and is great
at organizing fun activities for the little ones!

The grown-ups did all get a night relaxing in the hot tub together, once the kiddos were in bed!

Some of the grandkids got the hang of paddling their own kayaks this year!

Cousin love!

For our youngest grandchild, Jet, it was the first time dipping his toes
in the lake!

Getting to drive the boat is always a thrill!

Catching minnows is a popular pastime at Oyster Haven.

While our daughters-in-law worked to get a good shot of all the grandkids on the dock, Papa and
I couldn't resist a little photo bombing.  :)

Those are just a handful of the hundreds of pictures I took during our week.  But I think they give you a pretty good idea of how wonderful it was.

[Sigh]...I can hardly wait for July 2023!

Thursday, August 11, 2022

It Seems Like Only Yesterday....

I started dating my husband in August of 1973, shortly after we’d both turned 15. He was an amazingly good skier.  He had almost made the US National team for his age group a few years before I’d met him, and he could have pursued the Olympic competition route if he hadn’t been more interested in having a more normal high school experience, where he could play seasonal sports.  During our high school years, he excelled in football and basketball, enjoying recreational skiing whenever he had the opportunity.

My husband’s family skied regularly at Whiteface Mountain, where they got a family pass every year. (Whiteface is home to an Olympic training site and was a venue for alpine skiing competitions during the 1932 and 1980 Games; the mountain is known for having the greatest vertical drop East of the Rockies.)  I had been skiing for a number of years, too, when I met him; however, I’d never been on any trails even close to as challenging as the ones he routinely conquered with ease at Whiteface and other ski resorts like it.  But once we started going out, I often went to Whiteface, which was about a 45-minute drive from our hometown, to ski with him, his dad, and his siblings.

A born teacher and coach, my new boyfriend spent hours with me that first winter, patiently giving advice on how to improve my technique and picking me up whenever I fell down and sat in a snow-covered heap, convinced that I’d never “get” it.  I often begged him to just go and ski with his family, because I was holding him back; but he never gave up on me.  And before that ski season ended, he'd made me confident enough to ride the chairlift to the very top with him.  I might not look as pretty as he did doing it, but because of all his help and encouragement, I could now handle the black diamonds at Whiteface—and trust me, they are extremely steep and intimidating!

All of that seems like only yesterday...and yet, it happened many, MANY years ago.

Last week, we took a long Sunday drive.  It was a glorious, sunny day.  We visited my dad’s grave, about a half-hour away, and then drove on another half-hour or so to the town where my husband’s mom grew up.  On the way, we passed that ski mountain that had played such a big role in our early courtship 49 years ago.

No one took as many pictures back then as they do today, in the age of the iPhone camera, and I don’t think there’s more than one, or perhaps two, of us together at Whiteface when we were young. So we figured we should pull over and take a selfie in front of it, for old times’ sake.

The guy who never gave up on me, thank goodness.

We did ski as often as we could with our boys for a number of years, before they got too busy with other sports (and lift tickets became prohibitively expensive!). Unfortunately, however, it’s been more than 10 years since either one of us has been on skis.  I’ve got osteoporosis now, so I’ll probably never get back on them again.  (One bad fall, and I could break a hip.  No thanks!)  So I sure am glad that I got to enjoy this exhilarating winter sport so often and so much when I had better bones.  

Life is short, dear readers, isn’t it?  It passes in an instant.  And one day you find yourself older than you ever thought you’d be, like me, looking back at things you did half a century ago and saying, “It seems like only yesterday...”

Monday, August 8, 2022

July 2022 Recap: Fourth of July Fun!

So, I'm still working on getting all of our July memories recorded, because better late than never and all that good stuff.  I recently blogged about a nephew's wedding and a grandson's Baptism.   Now it's time to tackle the Fourth of July!  It was indeed a day of glorious family-centered celebrations.

All of our gang who were able to be there (our four youngest sons, their wives, and 13 of our grandchildren) moved into our Oyster Haven house on the 3rd, the day after the wedding.  On the 4th, we all headed a few miles down the road to my husband's childhood neighborhood, where every year they put on a giant parade, complete with a decorated fire engine bringing up the rear.  All the kids (and let's be honest, most of the grown-ups, too) dress up in red, white, and blue, and they have their bikes and strollers adorned with Stars and Stripes.  Spectators set their chairs up near the curbs in front of their houses and sit with beers or sodas in hand, catching up with neighbors as they march by.  Our grandkids really enjoyed taking part in this longstanding neighborhood tradition, one that their dads remember from their own childhood days when they were visiting their Papa and Grandma during summer vacations.

These are some of our people!

A trio of Pearl dads (and a Pearl mom) with their offspring.

Mama's boys.  

Our youngest son has been growing his hair and beard for a little over a year, ever since he ended his career as a field artillery officer in the Army and started grad school.  For the Fourth, he got a special haircut. Yes, he paid someone good money to give him a redneck mullet.  He went off in the morning, presumably to get a long overdue "real" haircut, and came back to surprise us with it!  We got a good laugh out of that. And as if the silly haircut wasn't enough, his parade outfit was short overalls emblazoned with Old Glory, no shirt underneath.  (Stop, you're killing us!)  When he walked into his aunt's house, where many of his Pearl aunts, uncles, and cousins were gathered to get ready to march in the parade, he was heard to say, "Did somebody order up some freedom?!"


His wife is amused.

These three Pearl cousins were born within a six-day period; the nephew on the left came first, our youngest son came four days later, and then the niece in the middle came two days after our boy.  We called them "the triplets"...before there were TWO sets of ACTUAL triplets in the family!

Not-quite-triplet cousins.

We were able to get a group photo of many members of the newest generation of Pearls, the children of our boys and some of their cousins. 

The fun wasn't over when the parade ended, though. Afterward, our crew said goodbye to the extended Pearl family and went back to our Oyster Haven haven for a cookout.  And then when the sun finally set, there were sparklers, glow necklaces, and the next-door neighbor's annual Independence Day fireworks, a truly spectacular show which we can watch right from our own back yard.

This was a turning point for G-Man; this year, he conquered his fear of
the sparklers!

There are times when I don't recognize my country anymore, and I worry about what the future holds for our boys and their children.  I love them all more than life itself!  But on days such as this one, when we celebrated America the Beautiful with such innocent joy and happiness--with hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, ice cream sandwiches, fireworks booming nearby over the lake, and the kids all running around the lawn at Oyster Haven long after it got dark, way past their bedtimes--it was hard to feel anything but hopeful.

When I look at the faces of my grandchildren I see the future, and it looks bright.

God bless my family, now and always.  And God bless America.  (I'm officially ordering up some freedom! Are you with me?!)