Sunday, June 25, 2017

My Sunday Best: Vocations, Veils, and Vintage Fashions

Here I am again--blogging for the second day in a row!  (I hope I can keep this streak going...)

This morning, my husband and I attended 8:30 Mass at our new parish in VA.  (Joining us was our youngest son, who flew in yesterday from Germany to enjoy a couple of weeks of leave in the good old U S of A.)  We have become quite fond of our new little parish church, located at the center of our new little town.  We are also growing fond of our new pastor, a very holy and engaging priest who has had an interesting history: during his first career, before he answered a calling to the priesthood, he was a special agent in the CIA. 

Today, Father spoke about vocations, and the need to pray for them.  He quoted Saint John Bosco, who claimed that one out of every three men would receive a calling--think about that, one out of three!  How, then, can Holy Mother Church be experiencing a "priest shortage"?  He reminded Catholic parents of the need to portray the priesthood in a positive light so that our sons who might be called are willing to listen.  What we need to really pray for, he said, is not so much the vocations themselves, because they are abundant; but rather we must pray that the men chosen by the Holy Spirit to have those vocations will be open to hearing and answering the call.  I leaned over and nudged my son and whispered, "You're our only hope, now that all of your brothers are married!"  And because great minds think alike, as we exited the church after Mass and crossed the parking lot to the car, my husband also gently teased him about the fact that he must be the one in our family who's destined to become a priest.  He good-naturedly made sure to point out to us that one in three men didn't necessarily mean one in three men in every family.

When this youngest son of ours was in middle school, he was always scrupulously aware of the state of his soul; he used to come and tell us on Friday nights that he would need a ride to church the next day for Confession (a practice that would continue until he was a licensed driver himself).  He seemed so advanced in his Faith for someone so young, and we used to wonder if he ever thought he might have a vocation.  But he never really talked about it.  Years later, he did admit that the idea did cross his mind on occasion.  But he said that was mostly because random adults, completely out of the blue, would ask him if he ever thought about becoming a priest, and he couldn't help but wonder if this was God's way of letting him know that he'd been chosen.

Anyway, on the drive back home in the car, we talked about how the call to Christian fatherhood is also a noble and absolutely vital vocation in our increasingly fallen world.  And that is the call our baby believes he is hearing--at this point, at least.  He was always a serious and mature-beyond-his-years little guy, trying desperately to catch up to his four older brothers.  He has tried to emulate them his whole life, and now they are all married to lovely Catholic women and bringing forth into the world a small army of souls--of future soldiers for Christ--with those women. It is the sort of life he can well envision for himself one day, too. 

Okay, this a "My Sunday Best" post, so I guess I should talk a little bit about Mass fashions now, shouldn't I?

Today I wore a cotton sundress that I've had for close to 10 years (it was a T J Maxx find, no surprise there) and a short-sleeved black cardigan with a lace collar that I've had just as long (also from T J Maxx). There are pictures of me wearing this same outfit at a wedding shower for Ginger (wife of son #2) back in 2014, and I don't believe I've put it on since.  So I don't follow that common advice of closet organizers/purgers everywhere that states if you haven't worn an item of clothing in a year, it's time to get rid of it.  My favorites can sometimes languish in the back of the closet for several years at a time before I decide to recycle them--and then they feel brand new.
With our three VA sons and their gals at the shower in 2014--and my guy of course.
Awkward selfie taken today, with an expression that's a cross between Zoolander's "Blue Steel"
and Dana Carvey's "Church Lady."  (With an unmade bed in the background, no less.)
For Mass, I also donned a veil, a practice I started about 8 or 9 years ago, after giving myself about 5 years to drum up the courage.  This lovely mantilla is a treasure I discovered a few years back among my late mother-in-law's things when we were cleaning out my husband's childhood home.  The buttery-soft vintage lace is so much higher in quality than the modern stuff you find at JoAnn's Fabrics these days.  It's silver-gray and black, and one day in the not-too-distant future, it will match my hair just about perfectly.

I saw the most beautiful explanation for why I feel compelled to veil in a recent Instagram post, and I thought I'd share it with you here.
This young woman said it better than I ever could.  Wearing a veil to Mass most certainly has nothing to do with wanting to seem "holier than thou."  In fact, my fear that others would think that about me is what made it take so long to get up the guts to do it.

Before I sign off, I thought I'd show you some other vintage beauties that I acquired recently (as long as we're talking fashions here).  My siblings and I held a garage sale a few weeks ago to clear out our mother's home before selling it, now that our dad is gone and she has moved into an assisted living facility.  Mom put aside the things she wanted to have at her new place and then urged us kids to take whatever clothes, furniture, artwork, or knickknacks we wanted before the sale started.  I came across some lovely vintage items that I couldn't bear to part with.  Although I will probably never wear these classic accessories, I just wanted to keep them in the family.
The genuine fur wrap was my paternal grandmother's, and it has her monogram embroidered on the satin lining.  And the long white gloves with pearl buttons were my mother's.  She believes they are the ones she wore for her wedding.  I think these pieces are so lovely.  So classy!  So Grace Kelly, so Jackie Kennedy!  My husband, on the other hand, thinks that if I just added a turban to the ensemble, I could channel Chevy Chase in that attic scene in "Christmas Vacation."
So perhaps I have next year's Halloween costume all figured out.

On that note, I think I'll call wrap up this post.  But head on over to Rosie's.  There are bound to be much better Sunday Best fashions over there. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Back in the Saddle

Hi there, readers--if anyone is still out there.  (Testing: 1, this thing on?)

You know, I'm not sure I remember how to do this.  I feel like I've been thrown off the horse.  But you know what they say about making yourself get right back up on that beast again, don't you?  So here I am, back in the saddle, finally.   ("Equestrian metaphors?  Really?  How lame!  Does she think that's the way to make people glad she's back to blogging?")

When I started this blog way, way back in March of 2011, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and filled with thoughts I just HAD to share on a daily basis, I would never have believed that I could go more than a whole month without posting something on String of Pearls. But I just double-checked and yes indeed, my last blog post was dated May 22.  (Has it really been that long since I was here?!)  In my early days as a blogger, and for quite a few years afterward, I was opening up my laptop bright and early every morning while I was still on my first cup of coffee, with fingers itching to get at those keys.  Things have certainly changed. 

Life was very different for me in March of 2011.  My youngest son was still living at home, just about to graduate from high school.  My oldest son was married, but so far wedding bells didn't appear to be on the horizon for any of his younger brothers anytime soon.  (Ha!  That changed quickly--and sons # 2, 3, and 4 got married in an 11-month span, between December 2013 and November 2014!)  In March of 2011, I was still working on Finding Grace, which was about a year away from being published, and I was quite sure it was the only book I was ever going to write.  (Wrong again!)  I was just a few months away from becoming a grandmother for the first time, from meeting identical twin granddaughters who would burrow their way into my heart and open up a whole new world for me.

I had so much I wanted to write about here at the blog: not just about what was going on in my family at that time; but also all that had gone on before, during the years that my husband and I were raising our five boys.  My blog, I hoped, was going to be a sort of chronicle of life in the Pearl family, something I could leave behind for my kids and grandkids to read in the future, to remind them of their history when their memories would inevitably start to fade.  I rarely had a day when I felt like I'd run out of things to say.  Blogging was my wheelhouse.  I loved being a blogger.

It's not that I don't have things to say anymore; actually, just the opposite is true.  I have so much to say--the days are so very, very full--that when I imagine writing about it all, I get overwhelmed and don't know where to start!  My life has changed enormously since I first pushed the "publish" button here in 2011.  My youngest son, 24,  has been a college graduate for two years and is currently stationed overseas (and actually, he has a couple of weeks of leave and is flying home to the States TODAY--huzzah!).  All four of our oldest married sons, who range in age from 33 down to 29, are having families of their own. Those twin granddaughters are--incredibly!--six years old (and reading!); and now with the recent birth of a new grandson less than two weeks ago, six more grandchildren have been added to the Pearl family.  When my two daughters-in-law who are currently pregnant (one with triplets, the other with baby #3) give birth in the coming months, we will have an even dozen grandchildren.

Then there was the big move south a few months ago, from our home of 26 years in NH.  That was tough, leaving the warm and comforting place where we'd raised our sons.  But we are now situated about halfway between two of our boys and their families in one VA city and one of them in another, less than an hour in either direction.  And of course that means four of our grandchildren--soon to be eight!--are less than an hour away from us, too.

Now that we're neighbors, my husband and I are able to do so much with and for our kids.  I have to pinch myself sometimes, I really do.  There have been so many wonderful opportunities to be together, just in the three months we've lived here.  But where to start...

I'll tell you what, I'm going to let some pictures do the talking for me--before I get overwhelmed again and decide to scrap this post altogether.
A restaurant meet-up to celebrate son #3's birthday--something that didn't
happen very easily when we were living up in NH!
My VA boys surprised me with a "Fake Mother's Day" (a week late, because
I was in NY on real Mother's Day); they came without spouses or kids, to
give me a throw-back to what it was like when I was always surrounded by men.
Actually, my little buddy G-Man came with his dad for "Fake Mother's Day"--
and we jokingly said that he was filling in for my youngest son,
who is in Germany.  (I often call him by that son's name, coincidentally!)
I am so thrilled to be able to spend so much time with this little
princess, my Princesa.  (Don't let the innocent, angelic face
fool you--she's a real corker, that one, a little spitfire who is a
good match for her big brother!)

I got to watch this snuggly little guy, Junior, for son #2 and his wife 
when his baby brother was being born not quite two weeks ago.

And I got to watch him meet that little brother for the first time.

This was #8 for us, but it never gets old.  We love being

Four more grandchildren are present in utero in this photo from
the recent baby shower D-I-L Preciosa hosted for D-I-L
Braveheart (the one in the middle,who's pregnant with triplets).

I got to babysit for this dynamic duo (G-Man and Princesa),
yesterday, when their mommy went to meet her new nephew.
I loved how they reacted to our new garden statue of Mary.

Being nearby has made it possible for my husband to share his talents to help
son #4 convert his attached garage into a playroom for the triplets.

As you can see from the pictures, I have a lot to write about!  New babies, baby showers, renovation projects...and let's not forget the tour of our new house, which I started and intend to continue...

Before I go, I have to share a recently discovered blog post that really spoke to me.  Oh my gosh, guys, I found this post on a blog called Writing on My Heart (because the woman who writes there happened to stop by here and leave me some lovely comments, and then I visited her site and found a kindred spirit!).  And I just LOVED it.  These lines from the post remind me so much of what family dinners were always like for my husband and me and our five boys throughout the years:

"In our family, the past lives with us like another family member.  Almost every day, the past is resurrected...I believe my children have grown 'watching movies' of their childhood because of the constant airing that childhood narratives get in our home.  Not a day goes by without someone purposefully steering the dinner conversation towards tender reminiscences of growing-up tickles and mischief...Is it any wonder that our dinners can go on to close to two hours?"

This passage so perfectly describes what it's always been like when our boys are gathered around the table with us. This writer says it better than I ever could, but what her family does is exactly what we do.  And because of this, I can't think of any greater joy than sitting at the table for hours, ignoring the dirty dishes, talking and laughing...because when people get up to start clearing the plates and glasses away, the party always seems to break up.  Now that we're so close to so many members of our gang, I hope that there will be many more happy nights gathered in the dining room, sitting together at the table and waiting until later to worry about cleaning up.  And I hope my daughters-in-law will grow to love those long, lingering dinners, reminiscing over old times, as much as we do.

This blog, I hope, will be like "watching movies" of our lives, too.  That's why feel like I need to keep at it.  So okay, folks: I think I'm ready to ride this horse again.  Stay tuned for more posts in the coming days.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Random Thoughts on a Monday Morning

I had this thought this morning while at Mass with my husband: it's a good thing--a very, very good thing--when you marry someone who makes you a better person.
At our wedding in 1980. He'll say he's the one who "married up";
but it's really the other way around.

I wouldn't have even been at 8:30 Mass this morning at our new parish in VA if I didn't have a husband who, without ever nagging me or intending to induce guilt, pushes me to be a better person.  "I think I might try out a weekday Mass here," he said, without even suggesting that I go with him; and then he proceeded to begin the process of getting ready.  He would be a daily communicant if his airline job allowed it; but whenever he's not flying a trip, it's been his practice to try to get to Mass every morning (although we've been so busy getting settled in the new house that this beloved routine has been interrupted).  I, on the other hand, have the freedom to choose to get up and go to Mass any day of the week I wish...but I usually don't, when he's not home.  Except, of course, on Sundays and holy days.

That's a hard thing to admit here in the Catholic blogosphere, where there are so many people I've "met" (not IRL, but Internet-style) who--like my husband--have inspired me to be a better person and grow in my Faith.

It's not that I'm a big sleeper-inner (that's a word, right?), or anything like that.  In fact, I've always been a rather early riser.  I've always loved being up in the wee hours, before the rest of the house awakes and things get noisy and busy.  Even as a kid, I can remember setting my alarm for 5:30 so I could beat the rush and get my shower in before the rest of my family began to stir, and then as a bonus, I might even be able to squeeze in a little reading time after getting dressed for school.  I am a morning person because I have a selfish love of peace and quiet, of the sense of having the house all to myself (an introvert's dream scenario!).

So without my much-better-than-I and much-closer-to-God husband and the exceptional example he has set for his wife and his boys, I would have been at home this morning, in my jammies, on my third cup of coffee, puttering around my house (maybe working on this blog post), missing out on the opportunity to receive the graces I desperately need but often miss due to my unwillingness to break away from my quiet, cozy little nest.  I wonder if there is a 12-step program to help extreme homebodies like me to get out the door more easily.  I'll have to look into that.

I guess I'm not the only one, though.  I found this post on Instagram.  It's from @carolyn_svellerella (Carolyn Svellinger, who blogs at Svellerella).  I thought it was so profoundly beautiful.

Wow, right?

Anyhoo, as I was saying before I went off on that tangent: because of my husband's quiet example of piety, I was sitting in the pew next to him this morning.  And I was so happy to be there.  I needed to be there.

Here's another random thought I had today: I love learning about new saints--especially female saints who were married women.  (Proof that sainthood is attainable for us all; not just for those who live behind the doors of a convent or monastery, but also for those of us who are in the world and trying with all our might not to be of the world.)

On the way to Mass, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed (a new favorite pastime of mine, obviously) and saw a post from @printableprayers (also known as @kendra_tierney, who blogs at Catholic All Year).  I find truth and beauty from Catholic 'grammers almost every day, which is why I much prefer this form of social media to Facebook!  Anyway, first there was this quote from St. Rita of Cascia, whose feast day is today: "There is nothing impossible to God."  And then there was a synopsis of the life of this powerful saint who is the patroness of impossible causes.

I knew a little bit about her already, but now I know so much more.  At Mass today, the priest also spoke about St. Rita during his homily, and I found myself feeling as if I'd been introduced to a new friend.  I will be invoking St. Rita on the daily, I can assure you.  Because the older I get, the more I realize that a mother's list of intentions for her children does not grow shorter once they've flown the nest and started grown-up lives of their own.  No indeed, it does not; it grows ever longer.  So I want to "meet" and learn about as many saints as I can, and then I need to remember that they are willing to intercede on my behalf if I just remember to ask for their help.

Which leads to another thought I've had a lot lately: "Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems." 
Proof that I was once the mother of darling little boys: here I am at the Mother-Son Dance
at their school in 1992 (when I was in the early stages of pregnancy with son #5).
Adages only become adages because there is truth to them, and there is a whole lot of truth in that old saying.  So many problems can be fixed with a kiss and a Band-Aid when your children are little and living under your roof, sheltered under your wing.  It gets more complicated when their boo-boos aren't as easily fixable.  Watching them fly from the nest, one after the other, to begin their own adult lives is one of the most satisfying things (You've done your job well!  Your child is ready to be independent!) and yet one of the most painful things (How can I let my baby go?  How can I shield him from all the hardships he's sure to face?) your mother's heart will ever have to endure.  And seeing those children who will always be your precious babies struggle through the normal difficulties of adulthood--career challenges, financial worries, risky pregnancies, sick babies of their own--can be brutal at times, even though you remind yourself that you and your husband faced similar difficulties and you got through them.

Without faith, how does anyone get through anything?

Here's a little addendum to that aforementioned adage, another thought I've been having a lot lately: Big kids, big joys!!
Grown sons #2, 3, and 4--our VA neighbors--celebrating a belated Mother's Day
with me yesterday.  (Talk about big joys: these wonderful men are three of mine.)
Yes, it's sad when your nest empties out--especially if you're like me and the only job you've ever wanted since as long as you can remember is to be a MOTHER.  Different bloggers I follow have been writing lately about the tears they're shedding as their oldest children graduate from high school and prepare to go off to college.  Oh, how I can relate!  (In fact, I remember blogging about those bittersweet emotions years ago, when our youngest boy was about to graduate from high school.  I've dusted off that old post from my archives, about facing the end of an era, if you're interested in reading it.)

But guess what?  Your grown-and-gone children sometimes give you even more children.  Our four oldest boys have married and given us four daughters, which we never had before, and our lives have been enriched immeasurably by these sweet girls.  They love our boys, which is the most important thing; but how lucky are we that they love us, too?

And then there are the grandchildren.  If you're reading this and your children are all still young and living under your roof, know this: there is a joy beyond description awaiting you when your children become parents.  My father-in-law used to say, "If I'd known how fun grandchildren were, I would have had them first."  They are the greatest blessing imaginable.  Just when you think the best part of your life is over and all you're doing is getting OLD , they come along and breathe new life into you. They make you feel young again.  They are heaven on earth.
I have lots more thoughts pinging around inside my head, but I think I'll close on that note before the day is gone and I've gotten nothing productive accomplished.  (Although a day that begins with Mass can never be thought of as a day without accomplishment, am I right?)

Have a great week, dear readers!

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Sunday Best: Mother's Day 2017 Edition

I thought I'd join up with Rosie today to celebrate Mother's Day with y'all.  That's right, I say "y'all" now--because I'm a Southerner, have you heard?
(I know I'm a day late, but that's the way I seem to roll these days.  And better late than never, so they say.) 

Not that my Mother's Day Mass outfit was really anything to write home (or blog) about, mind you.  But it was a good excuse to post something here, and better yet, to link up with some other fine ladies.  And maybe to talk about some other stuff, too, besides my $15 Sam's Club shift and $16.99 TJ Maxx cardigan.
I almost returned this dress right after I bought it, because I thought that the modern geometric print was a tad too bold for me, that the hem was a couple of inches too short, and that in general it fit just a wee bit too tightly.  Meaning that it wasn't about too sizes too big, which is my favorite fit when it comes to dresses.  (I am always happiest in loose-fitting garments--layers upon layers of them.)

This wrinkle-free polyester dress has short sleeves and can be worn alone, but I like it best paired with a 3/4-sleeve cardi (as they call them in fashion circles).  Because like I said before: layers.

Those flowers I'm holding were a little Mother's Day remembrance from my husband, and I think they made a nice accessory to my outfit.

This past week we've been in our old hometown in upstate NY, taking care of our Oyster Haven VRBO house.  We have our first renters of the season, who came for a graduation celebration. So my husband and I attended the 7:30 Mass yesterday morning at his old parish church, the one where we were married in 1980.  It is such a magnificent church; it looks like a cathedral, truly.  I wish I'd thought to take pictures, but I didn't know that I was going to blog until we got home from Mass.  Luckily I had this photo (taken on our wedding day) stored on my computer, to give you an idea of the beauty and grandeur of this church.
Before the final blessing, the pastor invited all the mothers in the congregation to come up and gather around the altar for a special Mother's Day blessing, and then he passed out little gifts.  It was very sweet.
Each of the moms in attendance got this touching little packet.
Once we were back home (at my husband's childhood home by the lake, where we've been staying for the week), I got to work on the dishes I had promised to make for the Mother's Day brunch hosted by one of my sisters and her hubby.  I'd already made a chocolate brownie bundt cake--using a boxed chocolate cake mix and a boxed brownie mix, and covered in chocolate ganache--a few days earlier, and it had been frozen to preserve its freshness and then thawed the night before.  I thought it was going to be SO delish, and if it was a winner, I had planned share the recipe here at the blog.  But it was just sort of "meh."  I mean, it was good, don't get me wrong, because it was chocolate cake; but it was not nearly as out-of-the-ordinary as I thought it was going to be.

Aside from the cake, I was on fruit and vegetable duty.  I always love putting together fruit and veggie platters, because although they require minimal effort they're so colorful and pretty.

And they make you feel better about eating chocolate cake.
You might want to try this awesome fruit dip recipe: equal parts softened cream cheese
and marshmallow Fluff.  It's always a hit.

Does anyone EVER serve raw veggies with anything other than Ranch dip?  (Well, I don't.)
My baby sister put on quite a spread, as she always does.  Four kinds of quiche, eggs, bacon, sausage, French toast casserole, deli platters, donuts, pastries, coffee, mimosas...

I ate so much at brunch that I couldn't eat any dinner.  (Although I did eat a another slice of that ordinary-but-still-yummy chocolate cake...)

It was so wonderful to spend Mother's Day with my mom and my two sisters (along with their families), and also my sisters' mothers-in-law.  That's a whole lot of top notch mothers right there.
My mom.  Isn't she the prettiest 81-year-old you've ever seen?

Sister Act!  (And bonus: Whoopi Goldberg is nowhere in sight!)
The hostess of this shindig was my blond sister on the left.
My mother, front and center, is rocking her trademark bright yellow and black, a color combo she pulls off better than anyone I know.  The two ladies flanking her are looking pretty snazzy, too.  I don't know if it's a generational thing or what, but women of a certain age have an aura of glamour about them that we younger gals, raised in a more casual world (one without white gloves, hats, and nylon stockings) don't seem to possess.  One of them said that if she'd known she was going to get her picture taken, she would have dressed better.  And look at those three--they all look sensational.

My beautiful mom is doing so much better these days.  In the months since my dad passed away, she has faced a slew of health issues--not to mention a staggering mountain of grief over losing not only her partner of 60 years, but her home and her independence.  However, it is uplifting to see that she is getting stronger and seems happier and more like her old self, and she is adjusting to life in her assisted living home with grace and determination.  All she wants from us kids for gifts these days are pictures of her family to decorate the cozy corner room that has become her new home.

So instead of flowers, I had a photo enlargement made for her.  Because who wouldn't be cheered up looking at those five handsome boys of mine?  (Rhetorical question, obviously!!)
I hope you had the beautiful Mother's Day you deserve, all you moms out there; because just as it says on the cards the priest distributed as we ladies stood around the altar after Mass, "a family's greatest treasure is a mother of faith."

Now head on over to Rosie's post.  (That's where I'm going now!)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

House Tour: Part II

So, after giving you Part I of the house tour (and I'm referring to our new house in VA, where we recently moved to be closer to some of our kids and grandkids...since we were much, much too far away from everyone in NH), I thought it was time for the second installment.  It would make sense to show you the kitchen/family room space now, after having shown you the front entrance and the living room and dining room.  That would be the next logical step.  I mean, you can see through to the kitchen and family room areas from the front door and both of the front rooms, since this house has a fairly "open concept" vibe to it.  But I haven't remembered to take photos of those rooms when they're cleaned up and picked up and ready for show; so that will have to wait.  Instead of giving you a tour of the rest of the first floor today, I'm going to take you upstairs and show you the two guest rooms and save the rest of the ground floor for another day.

That's right, moms of young'uns: someday you will have bedrooms in your house that sit empty most of the time and don't really belong to any of your kids anymore, because they will be all grown up and have houses of their own.

You'll blink once or twice, and suddenly your kids will not look like this anymore.
They will not all be shorter than you are and dependent on you for their every need.  They will not be pulling on the hem of your skirt and looking up at you with their arms raised, begging to be picked up. They will no longer call you "Mommy."  (Actually, mine still do that sometimes, so scratch that last part.)

[Sniff.]  Moving on.

As I was saying, you will have empty bedrooms and you will call them "guest rooms," meanwhile hoping that the most frequent guests who will use them will be your grown-up children and their families.

There are four bedrooms upstairs in our new house: the master suite (which is ridiculously large; it's a little embarrassing, to tell you the truth) and three more normal-sized rooms, one of which we have turned into an office.  That leaves two small-ish guest bedrooms--which is the perfect number for us to have, since two of our five sons do not and most likely will never live in VA.

I am thinking of one of these bedrooms as our baby's room.  He's the only one who isn't married yet.  And he's the one who made it hardest for us to pull the trigger and sell our old house, for several reasons: that was the only house in which he'd ever lived, for one thing; and he will be stationed in Germany for about another year-and-a-half, and in a perfect world it would have been nice to be able to wait until he moved back to the States and could spend a bit more time in his childhood home before having to say goodbye to it.

So although this new bedroom is about a third of the size of the big one he used to share with two older brothers growing up in NH, I have tried to make it feel as much like "his" as possible.  First of all, the full-sized mattress is his--although it used to be on the bottom of a metal bunk bed.  (Son #4 used to sleep in the twin-sized bed that was on the top bunk.)  His bed looks a whole lot fancier now, since we put the mattress on a new metal platform bed and topped it with a new bedspread--both of which were bought to make our NH house show better when we decided to sell it.  But when our son comes home, his ratty old Notre Dame puff will come out of storage to replace this bedspread, and that will hopefully make the bed seem comfortingly familiar.
The bedside storage tables in this room were built by my husband, and in the old house they were in our master bedroom. Since this photo was taken, I have filled the shelves of both of them up with books.  Because I have been trying like crazy to figure out where we're going to store all of our books--our many, many books--in the new house, after having to give up the built-ins on either side of both fireplaces in our old house.  (Also my talented husband's handiwork, and so hard to leave behind.  [Sniff.]  Moving on!)

I've hung up the "school days" photo collages that I made for our baby and his two old roommates when they graduated from eighth grade, because nothing says "home" like a whole lot of family pictures. 
The Pack 'n Play and mobile were added for grandchildren and have already come in handy for napping and sleepovers.

On the dresser are some of our youngest son's high school football mementos and a little framed picture of him as a toddler that always sat on the shelf in his room.
This bedroom is not nearly as "all boy" and sporty as the old room in NH; but I think it's going to work out just fine.  (We'll get a chance to put that theory to the test when our son comes home on leave this summer!)

The other guest bedroom is a tad bigger.  In it are the two twin beds (on prettier frames now, with prettier bedspreads) that belonged to our two oldest boys, and in between them is the bedside table that my husband built for them more than 25 years ago.
One wall is adorned with the two oldest boys' eighth grade photo collages.  Since this picture was taken, I have removed the decorative storage bins in the small shelf to the right of the dresser and replaced them with BOOKS. 
Because to quote fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson--
Well said, TJ.  Well said.

As you probably noticed, we also keep a port-a-crib (the old-fashioned one we had for our boys, back before the days of Pack 'n Plays) in this room, at the ready for grandkids' naps and sleepovers.

Hanging on a wall that I can see every time I pass by this bedroom is a cherished piece of artwork given to us by one of our daughters-in-law, who is a friend of the artist responsible for this beautiful image of Pope Saint JPII.
I am pleased with the way these guest rooms turned out.  I didn't even have to paint them--they appeared to be freshly painted by the former owners, and I like the soft blue and yellow hues they chose.  So for now, no painting.

I know my decorating style is not super inspiring.  Joanna Gaines I am not!  But I do love the process of feathering a nest.  As difficult as it was to move away from our old house and all the memories we'd made there (26 years' worth), I am actually thoroughly enjoying figuring out how to make this new place work for us.  I like the challenge of turning it from a house into a home, where our boys and their growing broods can create brand new memories with us.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Heart of a Lion

My dad's name was Leon, but to his friends he was "Lee."  And to his "grandthings" he was "BIGFOOT." Always.  He insisted on that.  (If you were lucky enough to know my father, you know that he was a character.)

Dad passed away on November 25, 2016, one day shy of his 82nd birthday and about five months after celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary with the love of his life.
Mom and Dad on one of their early dates at the Naval Academy in 1955.
The end seemed to come quickly and suddenly, and it took our breath away.  But Dad's death was not really unexpected; just a month and a half before, we had gotten the tragic news that after years of blood disorders, frequent trips to the hematologist, and regular transfusions at the cancer center, he had full-blown leukemia.  Without treatment, he had maybe 3-6 months to live; but there was a slim chance that chemotherapy might buy him a year or two.  He chose the chemotherapy route, because as hard as his life had become over the past few years, dealing with so much pain and illness, he had one goal and one goal only: to stay alive as long as possible so that he could take care of my mother.  That was what he prayed for daily.  That was what he was living for.

We had known for some time that Dad was failing.  His family care doctor had told my sister this quite a while ago, and advised us not to nag him about things like his nightly vodka tonics or his excessive salt intake.  We knew that he felt lousy most of the time, but we didn't know this because he complained about it. Trying to find out what was going on with him health-wise was like pulling teeth.  He was almost heroically stoic when it came to his own aches and pains.  (Poor circulation ultimately led to multiple surgeries and the amputation of eight of his ten toes, but he never once felt sorry for himself or asked, "Why me?") And he wanted to be independent.  Thinking about him now, I believe he would have died much, much sooner if he hadn't been so stubborn and loved my mother so much.

To say that my dad loved my mother fiercely is an understatement.  They met when they were kids (she was 19, he was 20) and were married within a year of their first date, a blind date arranged by a buddy at the Naval Academy.  He knew she was the one for him almost from the very beginning and never had eyes for anyone else.  Right from the start, he told her he wanted to be a dad (and by age 28, he was the father of five).  It was the only role he ever wanted to have, our mother has told us; he lost his father to suicide when he was six, and he spent the rest of his life making sure his own children had what he didn't.

About a year before he died, my four siblings and I staged an intervention.  Mom had fallen and broken a hip already.  Dad was getting increasingly feeble, and it had become the norm for him to call his children in the middle of the night because she'd fallen out of bed (yet again!) and he couldn't lift her.  It wasn't safe at home anymore, we said; it was time for an assisted living situation.  But my dad dug his heels in and said they were staying in their house.  Period.  He agreed to a couple of hours of daily in-home aid, but otherwise he insisted that he would take care of Mom himself.
Dad visiting Mom at the rehab center last year, sporting a Band-Aid on his
forehead...because he had started to fall occasionally, too.
So he did, by golly; he did.  He did all the grocery shopping.  He brought her breakfast and lunch to her on a tray every day, and he heated up frozen dinners for the two of them every night.  He sat with his best girl after dinner and watched "NCIS" or "Blue Bloods" or "The O'Reilly Factor," and then he followed her back to their room and made sure that she got safely tucked into bed.  He took her to her appointments when we didn't even think he should be driving anymore.  I should have known the end was near in October, when he let me drive him to the hospital every day for his first (and ultimately, last) round of chemo treatments.  It was so unlike Dad to relinquish control like that.  After he died, I was so thankful that he was spared the indignity of having his driver's license taken away from him; for Dad, that would have been the last straw, the final assault on his manhood.  Because even though he was failing, and he knew it, he had the heart of a lion and he still wanted to roar. 

So often I am reminded of Dad, by little things that happen in the course of an average day.  Like today, for instance.  You see, it's garbage day here in our new VA hometown.  And garbage day makes me remember Dad with a fondness that, unfortunately, I didn't always feel back when he was alive.  (If any of my siblings are reading this post, you probably know where I'm going with this!)

Dad absolutely loved his job with the NY State Lottery, and if health issues hadn't forced his "early" retirement at 74, he would have happily worked until he was on his deathbed.  So after he no longer had the stimulation provided by work, I think he just needed to have other jobs to do around the house, jobs that only HE could perform properly.  (We're pretty sure he had OCD, although it was never diagnosed.  But that's a subject for another time.)  And garbage, for some bizarre reason, was of monumental importance to him.  He had specific methods for tying the plastic bags, loading them into the big cans, placing the cans just so at the curb--and in spite of the fact that all of his past-middle-aged children had been successfully disposing of garbage at our own homes for decades, none of us could be trusted to do it right.  We used to joke that of course we couldn't help, because we didn't have our PhD's in garbage.

Even when the end was near for Dad, trying to get him to let you help with the garbage was brutal.  He would follow you around, barking instructions, inching painfully along stooped over his walker while holding a tall kitchen garbage bag into which you were supposed to empty each of the small trash cans located throughout the house.  Trying to convince him that you could take care of this task on your own was futile.  I remember saying, "Dad, please sit and rest and let me do this for you. And even if I do the unthinkable and miss one can this time, it's no big deal.  The garbage man comes every week!"  He could really frustrate you with his inability to give up control.

Now I see that my father was just trying to do what he could still do, for as long as he could do it, when so much of his strength and vitality had been cruelly stolen from him.  Now when I remember his stubborn refusal to let me take out the trash by myself, without him supervising me every step of the way (to the point of even watching from the door to make sure that I parked the cans in exactly the right spot at the end of the driveway), I realize that I shouldn't have gotten so annoyed with him.  I should have been proud that he still wanted to roar a bit, that his lion's heart had not been completely beaten down by illness.

Knowing that I enjoyed doing artwork and creating homemade gifts, Dad once asked me to paint something special for him.  An incurable Anglophile, he wanted me to make a coat of arms and incorporate a picture of a lion's head and the words "Coeur de Leon." The phrase "Coeur de Lion" is often associated with Richard I of England, the 12th-Century Crusader-King who is known as "Richard Couer de Lion" or "Richard the Lionhearted."  In French, "Coeur de Lion" means "heart of a lion," and the way the French word "lion" is pronounced sounds very similar to my dad's name.  So...get it?   Dad was always a sucker for a good pun (the cornier, the better).

So here's what I made for him, as a gift for Christmas 2002.  It's mine now and hangs on the wall of one of the guest bedrooms in our new house.
My father was a complicated man, flawed--as we all are--and sometimes hard to understand.  He was even hurtful at times, without meaning to be; but at heart he was as good and strong and moral and brave and loving as they come.  And never in his life did he demonstrate just how incredible he really was until his final days, about which I must write when I can bring myself to do it.

When I look at this painting, I think of my lionhearted dad and the way he roared through life for as long as he could...but then when he knew his death was imminent, gave himself over to God with the meekness and gentleness of a lamb. Even though it meant he had to do the unthinkable and leave my mother.

It is my fervent prayer that I've inherited even the tiniest piece of the heart of Leon, my father.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

House Tour: Part I

I've been posting some photos of the new house over on Instagram and have been encouraged by several followers to do a little tour.  I actually love it when the bloggers I follow give us glimpses into their homes, so I thought it might be fun to do that here at String of Pearls.

I suppose that technically, this is really Part II of the house tour.  Because I've already shown you the downstairs half-bath in our new house in VA (it's a bird bath, actually).  But I thought I'd start now at the front entrance and take you through the living room and dining room--which have always been two of my favorite rooms in the house.  I like to sit in such rooms, sipping a cup of coffee while reading or simply enjoying the peaceful ambience.  Family rooms (with toys and TV's and the necessary clutter of daily life) and kitchens (with their necessary messes), make up the true heart of a home; but I find that I also need some tranquil, pretty, uncluttered spaces in my life.

So, here we go.  Let's start at the front door, shall we?
I actually love the front entrance of this house.  It's very bright and airy.  It's also a bit on the grand side--with a two-story ceiling open to the second-story landing...and columns.  Columns!  Well, la-di-da, we have columns in our house.  I feel like Scarlett O'Hara or something.
I've always been a fan of the practical over the dramatic, because I look at two-story foyers like this one and think how much bigger the rooms upstairs could be if there was a floor there instead of all this wasted space.  (Also, my worry-wart side cringes at the idea of one of my darling little grandchildren deciding to see what it would be like to play circus performer and climb up on this railing.  [Shudder.])

But there are no two ways about it--it does make for a lovely entryway.

This house is much more open than our traditional Colonial in NH, which for the most part was what would have to be considered closed-concept.  Walls--the rooms had walls.  But in this house all the rooms downstairs pretty much flow into each other.  From the front entrance, you can see the dining room on the left, the living room on the right, and the kitchen/family room area straight ahead.

The dining room is a good bit smaller than our old one; but the fact that it has three walls instead of four makes it feel a good bit bigger than it is.  We took two leaves out of our antique oak table so that it wouldn't spill too far out into the hallway, but they can be added when we need them for big family dinners.
The tray ceiling, painted the same gray as the walls beneath the chair rail, is such an unexpected and beautiful touch.  My old dining room was bold red under the chair rail and cream above it; but I love this gray-and-white dining room just the way it is and have no plans to repaint it.  If it ain't broke, as they say, don't fix it.  I was inspired by the color scheme to find traditional black-and-white toile valances online, and I think they look lovely in this room.
From the dining room, you can see right into the kitchen from one angle.
And into the living room from another.
The living room, like the dining room, is smaller than the one we had in NH.  But the fact that it, too, is open on one side makes it feel so much roomier.  And what we found when we had a crowd here on Easter (15 adults and 5 small children) is that guests are much more likely to sit in there and chat than they were in our old house in NH, because they don't feel cut off from the action.  While some of us were sitting at the dining room table talking after we'd finished our meal (one of my favorite activities, hands down), there was a small group hanging out in there, and it was like we were all together in one large room.

I love that this room was painted almost exactly the same shade of green as our old living room, and that means that our old couches (and they are OLD--we bought them in 1994!) look just perfect in there.  It's like we've recreated our NH "Rosary Room" here in VA.

So that's the front (and probably the prettiest) part of our new house.  But the best thing about this (or any) house is not the stuff in it, of course, but the people.  And on Easter Sunday, our entryway looked prettier than ever, when it was filled with our three VA daughters-in-law (who between them are expecting five babies in the coming months!!!).
And then by the staircase just next door to the living room, there was this priceless encounter between Princesa, in the arms of her daddy, and one of her fun uncles--which ended in kisses and giggles.
I think this is going to be a very good house.  A very good house indeed.

I'll be back again with Part II of the tour.  But in the meantime, have a great weekend!