Friday, January 28, 2022

A Birthday Celebration, and Celebrating a Birth

Last Sunday, we had a family get-together to celebrate the late January/early February birthdays in the Pearl family.  Son #5 turned 29 in January, and then exactly a week later, son #4 turned 34.  Our granddaughter Princesa (the second oldest of son #3's four kids) is about to turn 6 in February, followed a few days later by her uncle (our son #2), who will be turning 37.

Gulp!  It's hitting me that when our "baby" celebrates his next birthday, he will be turning 30.  Which means that in January of 2023, all five of our boys will be in their 30's...for a little while anyway, until our firstborn turns 40 later in the year.  40!!

It's fine.  I'm fine.  No biggie, really.  Except...WHERE IN THE WORLD DID THE YEARS GO?  I MEAN REALLY, Y'ALL, WHERE?  (Did you notice that "y'all" I threw in there?  I thought that after almost five years of being a Virginian, I should start talking like one.)


With our oldest son and his family now settled in their new house out in Iowa, this recent family party was a tad smaller that the ones we've been hosting since we moved here in 2017.  We had 20 gathered together in all, eight adults and 12 children (between the ages of one and seven).  Our youngest son, although one of the birthday boys, couldn't be here either, because he and his wife live in Nashville; but we FaceTimed with him during the festivities. And in honor of him, I made a pin-the-tail game for the kids to play that featured one of his and his wife's beloved (or at least tolerated?) kitty-cats.

Instead of spending hours slaving over a hot stove, my husband and I opted to order and pick up Chipotle catering for 20, and I can't recommend this enough. Everyone loves it, there are always leftovers, and they even give you the disposable dishes, serving utensils, plasticware, and napkins.  It's not cheap, but it's well worth it for a special occasion.  All I had to make was a Bailey's Irish cream cake (a crowd-pleasing recipe from Emily Stimspson Chapman's cookbook) and two dozen cupcakes.  Easy peasy.

I am always happiest when all of our peeps--or as many as possible--are with us, under Papa and Grammy's humble roof, making memories together.  Even though my husband and I have a favorite post-party joke that instead of putting the house back together again after everyone has gone home, perhaps we should just torch the place and start over (ha ha!), we truly wouldn't have it any other way.  It gets very messy, but it's always SO worth it.  And I don't know what we'd do without that spacious basement that we finished off with our own two hands. (Actually, my favorite guy's two hands did a lot more of the work than mine did, but I helped where I could.)

These two birthday boys were New England fans growing up;
and they're Tampa Bay fans now, too.
All of our boys are big fans of the GOAT, Tom Brady.

Three days after our little birthday shindig, we got the happy news that our firstborn son's wife had given birth to their new baby girl, who is their 6th child this side of Heaven.  She wasn't due until February 10, but arrived about two weeks early.  She was born at home with the help of a midwife, and mom and baby are doing well!  

So we have 18 grandchildren now, and yet another January birthday to add to the family calendar.  God is so good!

I love my gang so much.  I feel like the luckiest woman on earth.  I like to quote Jim Harbaugh, whose family motto growing up was, "Who's got it better than we do?  Nobody!"  

Saturday, January 15, 2022

A Poignant Lesson about Dealing with Loss

Those of you who've been following along here for a long time (hi, my handful of faithful readers!), or those who might have only stumbled upon this humble little blog in the last few years or so, know that my husband and I made a big move south in March of 2017.  (It's a recurring topic here at String o' Pearls; but old folks like me tend to repeat their stories, as you might have heard.)  We left our longtime home in NH, where we'd lived in the same house for 26 years, and moved to a small town in Northern VA.  Three of our five sons had moved to the same area (two of them are practically next door neighbors, and the third lives less than two hours north of them), and they appeared to be putting down permanent roots; so after much soul searching (and much encouragement from the most loving peanut gallery imaginable), we decided to relocate.  We realized that if no one was going to be moving back to the Northeast, our home in NH didn't make much sense anymore...and we found a perfect little town as close to midway as possible between the two places where our VA boys lived and bought a house there.  At the time, we had ten grandchildren with a couple more on the way, and six of them were in VA.  With 3/5 of our sons and more than half of our grandchildren in the same vicinity, it appeared to be as perfect a situation as we could hope to expect.

Our oldest son and his wife and four little girls were living in the Midwest, near her parents.  We figured they would end up settling down out there.  Our youngest son was still single and in the Army, stationed in Germany, and we didn't know where he would end up when all was said and done.  But still, three out of five ain't bad, right?  The decision to move seemed like a no-brainer.

We had a few months in VA getting our new nest feathered, and then we went up to NY, where we spent the summer escaping the VA heat, enjoying Lake Champlain, and managing our Oyster Haven VRBO rental property.  And what do you know: during that time, our firstborn decided to make a radical career change that would have him working out of DC before too long...and living a stone's throw from us.  So when we returned from NY in early September, his wife and four daughters moved in with us while he finished his training.  Within a few months, they'd found a sweet old farmhouse to rent, and it was less than 20 minutes from our house!

A quick aside here: our fourth son's triplets were born right about the time our oldest son's family came to VA. Things got really busy really fast, I'll tell you!

I believe that there was some divine intervention at play with our move, I really do.  We sold our NH house for the full asking price without ever having to put it on the market and found the perfect cozy house in our new VA town, where we could become a central meeting place for our ever-growing family. We didn't initially win the bidding war for this house, but then got it because the other buyer's deal fell through.  Everything just fell into place.  I believe that God arranged things so that we could have not just three but all four of our sons who were married at the time and all of our grandchildren living so close to us that we could be a part of their daily lives.  It's been almost too good to be true.

In the almost five years that we've lived in VA, seven more grandchildren have been added to our string of Pearls, and two more will make an appearance in the coming months.  Our youngest son has gotten out of the Army and is married now.  It's just been an amazing time for our family.

Cue the deep sigh here...because life throws you curve balls, and change is inevitable. Our oldest son has switched companies and is going to be based in Iowa now, so just after the New Year he and his wife had to pack up and move back out to the Midwest.  They bought a charming farmhouse with more than four acres of land--and they are our aspiring homesteaders, so they plan to get chickens and sheep (which they had here in VA) and maybe even a cow! For our son, as far as job satisfaction and quality of life (time at home with his family!), this is just the best move ever. But when he and Regina and their five kids took off in their packed-to-the-gills minivan last Saturday, we felt a bit bereft. That, my friends, was a tough goodbye.

This feels like an enormous loss for my husband and me.  I get weepy-eyed often, trying to adjust to the reality that they won't be a stone's throw from us anymore, that when we say goodbye to them now and they ask "When will we see you again?" it might not be for months.  (Every single time they left our house when they lived near us here, they would ask that.  And it was never more than a few days until we saw them again--a week at most.)  We are going to miss them all so much...but I guess I should dry my tears, since we are planning to drive out to Iowa pretty soon, to help out in the week or two leading up to the birth of baby #6, who's due in early February.


I've been way too long-winded with my lead-up here.  I wanted to share something amazing that happened today, but I wanted to make sure you knew just how timely this occurrence was, given my current emotional state.

Our oldest son's four girls (aged 6-10) are doll fanatics. They have American Girl dolls, baby dolls, and porcelain dolls, and they are all played with regularly. Recently I was making a drop-off at Goodwill and I decided to pop in and see what they had.  There was a shelf piled high with porcelain dolls, so I combed through them and found three really pretty ones that were in great shape, priced between $5 and $8, and I decided that I would get them; as long as I could find a fourth, I thought I would bring them out with me when we go to Iowa, as housewarming presents for my favorite doll enthusiasts.

I went to another thrift store (one that I used to frequent with Regina...sniff!), and my search paid off.  I found a never-played-with Little Dutch Girl doll, still in the box with a Royalton Collection brand tag, with her arms and legs still protected by bubble wrap.  Her white garments had some brown mildew or age stains on them, but I spot-cleaned them and she looked terrific.

Today I was about to throw away the box that the Little Dutch Girl doll had come in, but as I turned it over, I saw that there was an exceedingly poignant hand-written message on it.

In case you have trouble reading it, here's what it says:


This is Autum's [sic] Birth Day Doll from Nana--

I will love you baby until my eyes close in death, 

and will always be reminded of the little girl I was

robbed of--

God love you, watch over and keep you 

is my heart's cry to God--

My love


Oh. my. goodness!  This is so sad...but if there was ever a time that I needed to see what real loss would be like, this is it.  

Did Nana buy this doll for her granddaughter's birthday, even though the little one had already died? Is that why it was like new in the box?  My heart aches for the poor woman who wrote this note!

I will miss my babies terribly.  But I will be able to see them--maybe not as often as I'd like, but I will... unlike this poor grieving grandmother!  If this Nana is still alive, I pray that God has given her solace and peace! And if she's not, I hope she's been reunited with her beloved little darling in Heaven.

Even though five (soon to be six) of our grandchildren will be living a two-day drive away from us, Papa and Grammy still have a very full, very grandchild-rich life in VA.  Just this past week, we had dinner at son #2's house one night, with his four little guys (I forgot to take any pictures). 

Another night, we watched son #3's sweet five-year-old daughter overcome her initial shyness to cheer with her squad on the sidelines at her Christian school's varsity girls' basketball game.

One morning, we babysat for the cheerleader’s two younger sisters while her mom had a 28-week sonogram to check on her baby brother.

We had son #4's four little ones over for two daytime playdates.


All that in just one week.  How extraordinarily fortunate am I?

I know that I can't even begin to imagine what true suffering, the kind described in that heart-breaking note on the box, is like.  Nevertheless, I reserve the right to feel sad about what we've lost.  Lucky for me, though, there are still plenty of adorable little folks nearby who can help Grammy to remember how very blessed she is!