Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Grace-Filled Tuesdays: Book Club "Meeting" #27: Marketing

Hey, did you know that I have this online book club called Grace-filled Tuesdays (where I discuss my two Catholic novels, Finding Grace and Erin's Ring, and the things that inspired me to write them)?   If you didn't know before, you do now.  And it's Tuesday, so welcome to the club!  Grab yourself a cup of coffee (that's what I'd do, anyway, because that's what I always do) and have a seat.  I'm so glad you're here!
You know, I have to say that I am proud and honored that both of my novels made it into print (proud and honored, and also deeply humbled), because they are filled with lovable Catholic characters, inspirational story lines, and plenty of positive messages for readers of all faiths.  I feel this way in spite of the fact that neither has enjoyed wide readership.  I admit that sometimes I feel a bit discouraged by my books' lack of worldly success (something I vowed I'd never do...but I am only human, after all).   On occasion, I'll say to my husband, "I think my little experiment with being a writer has been a dismal failure."  But then he'll remind me again of the reasons I wrote these books in the first place, and those reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with money or acclaim; instead, they have everything to do with trying to use the gifts God gave me, such as they are, to their fullest potential, and more importantly, striving to use them for His greater glory.  If achieving that goal is the point of it all, then I need to have a "mission accomplished" attitude and go a little easier on myself.

The hardest thing about writing books, apparently, isn't even the writing itself; it's the marketing.  If you're not good at marketing, it is well nigh impossible to get your books into the hands of readers.  I keep plugging away at it, by now and again hosting a giveaway over at Goodreads or here on the blog, by reaching out to Catholic bloggers who might be willing to review them, by contacting Catholic schools to see if they would be interested in having some donated copies for their libraries.  But for the most part, I stay where I am most comfortable, incurable introvert that I am: very much behind the scenes, where I am neither seen nor heard.  This is not a good marketing strategy, by the way.  In case you were wondering.

So yesterday, in an effort to make more of an effort in the marketing department, I ordered new business cards.  (The information on my old ones was a bit out-of-date.)  You can custom-design them at Vistaprint for an extremely reasonable price: $9.99 will get you 500--which is about 480 more than I would probably ever need, mind you, but you just can't beat that price!

So I'm having this one made for Finding Grace.
And this one for Erin's Ring.
I should have figured out a way to put both titles and both book cover images on one card, but I am not tech-savvy enough to manage that.  So I'm going to have 1,000 business cards in all.  That should be plenty.  I should be set for years to come, even if I finally get brave enough to put myself "out there" on a more regular basis and end up doing some book signings.

I am enjoying having a wonderful office in our new house in VA, where my husband and I each have our own desks, our own rolling desk chairs, our own printers, our own file cabinets, our own shelves, etc.  I would have loved to have a set-up like this one back when I was working on my books.  It almost makes me want to write another one...but before I do that, I think I need to figure out how to market the first two!

As I was unpacking boxes after the move and organizing my new office space, I came across a letter that I had forgotten about, and it was a good reminder that I am not in this business to make money but instead to touch the heart and soul of even a single reader who might benefit from reading my work.  These are the words of one such reader, who contacted me last year via email (most likely by clicking the "Email Me" link on the sidebar of this blog):

Mrs. Pearl,

I recently finished your book "Finding Grace" and wanted to thank you for writing it.  My mother read it and gave me a copy quite a while ago.  I am ashamed to say how long it sat on my book shelf.  My mother grew up in Rutland, VT [across the lake from Plattsburgh, NY, the setting for Finding Grace] and went to Catholic school.  I think that probably made her love the book even more. 

I know your book is aimed towards teens or youth, but I think it has a very wide appeal.  I am a 39 year old mother of 6 (two boys, then four girls) and I found lots of inspiration to be a better mother, wife, daughter, and human within its pages.

I found myself wiping tears from my face when I got to the part at the end of the book when Irene was at the church.  You tackled some very tough subject matter with kindness and grace.  I am hoping to get my oldest daughter to read it (she will be 13 this summer).  I find myself wanting to recommend it to everyone.  Again, thank you so much for writing this book and sharing it with the world.

I find myself wiping tears from MY face, dear reader of Finding Grace.  Because of your kind words of affirmation, I dare to believe that the four-and-a-half-year stretch I spent bringing Grace Kelly's story to life was not a waste of time.  And I find myself inspired to become a better marketer.  (Also, you have my permission to share it with the world.  Share away!)

In the world of Catholic fiction publishing, word of mouth is the very best tool for getting books into the hands of readers.  I've been blessed to have Internet friends like Aileen, who has voluntarily helped me to spread the word on various forms of social media.
If you feel moved to do the same, I could use all the help I can get!

God bless you with faith, family, and friends--and let's not forget fiction.  Okay then, this meeting is adjourned.  (But if you have any questions for me regarding either of my books, or if you would like to receive a copy for review, or if you are a teacher interested in purchasing some copies at a reduced rate for classroom use, please contact me!)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Grammy Heaven

One of my daughters-in-law (Ginger, wife of son #2) mentioned that she likes reading these Quick Takes posts, and it got me thinking that it had been a while since I'd linked up with Kelly et al.  So here goes--a couple of random snapshots of life here in Northern VA, where I am currently in Grammy Heaven, hanging out with the little peeps that are already here and helping to prepare for the ones that will be arriving soon.

1
On Wednesday, I babysat for my middle son and his wife Preciosa, so that they could both go to her OB/GYN appointment and get a look at their third child on the sonogram screen.  I got to spend a couple of hours with my buddy, G-Man, who is particularly attached to me lately (not that I'm complaining, mind you) and his darling little sister, Princesa.  As I was getting ready to make the 38-minute drive (only 38 minutes!  Imagine!) from our house to theirs, Preciosa sent me a text telling me that G-Man was whining for me and wondering if I could leave a bit earlier than I'd planned.  Apparently, she'd made the mistake of telling him that I was coming soon not long after he woke up.  So this is how he spent most of his time until I finally got there.
Is it terrible for a grandmother to be sort of happy that her grandson is sad, if the reason is because she's not there yet?  I hope not, because I must admit that this photo of G-Man waiting for me makes my heart burst a little.  I don't even know why he's so crazy about me; I'm not the "fun" one (that would be Papa, who plays "upside-down boy" and games like that). I can only guess that there's still a special bond between us from those early months in his life, when I was living at his house and was his daily caretaker until his mommy was able to leave her job and become a full-time SAHM.

2
The reunion (after the three whole days we'd been apart since Easter Sunday) was a happy one!
Two-year-old boys, in my opinion, are practically the cutest things on earth.  Especially two-year-old boys in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jammies.

3
G-Man put me right to work writing out the alphabet and making a picture for each letter (he is utterly OBSESSED with letters and numbers--and a budding genius to boot). 

4
He also did my hair for me, free of charge. He is quite the stylist.  The hair salon's got nothing on this little guy.

5
G-Man wanted to be on my lap or right next to me on the couch the whole time he was up.  When naptime rolled around, however, Princesa decided that it was HER turn for full-on Grammy attention.  I let her cry for a bit, but she had a cough and a runny nose, and I didn't have the heart to listen to her for long.  So she and I got a little snuggle time in, which was heavenly.
Then we got a little one-on-one playtime in, too, while her big brother slept. 


6
Now on to Thursday, when I drove 35 minutes (only 35 minutes!  Imagine!) to son #4's house, on a mission to repaint the bedroom that will be the nursery for the triplets he's expecting with his wife, Braveheart.  (Talk about choosing the perfect blog name for this sweet daughter-in-law, who is facing the impending births of three babies at once with a great deal of courage.)  The room was a particularly loud shade of blue--the picture doesn't really tell the full story.  I can see why they wanted to paint it.  (Down the road, they will also want to paint the other guest room, which is Pepto-Bismol pink!)
They chose a more soothing shade for their babies, a soft mint green.

7
The kids left me a key so that I could let myself in and paint while they were at work.  When they got home, voila!  A whole new room!  (I love paint, don't you?  It can completely transform a room.)  They were so appreciative that they insisted on taking me out to dinner, which they didn't have to do.  (But it was fun, I must say.)


I loved our home in NH so much; but there were definitely times when I wished I lived closer to my kids and grandkids and could do more for them and their families on a regular basis.  So I'm really, REALLY glad we moved to VA, which truly is Grammy Heaven for me.

Now head on over to Kelly's to see what the other Takers have to say.  Quick!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Birds in the Bathroom

When we moved into our new house here in VA, we noticed that most of the rooms appeared to have been freshly painted--which I definitely appreciated.  Luckily, I liked all of the colors the former owners had chosen--or at least if I didn't think they were quite my cup of tea initially, they gradually grew on me.  The only room that I have repainted since we moved in is the master bedroom, the white walls of which were showing more wear and tear than any of the others in the house.  (We chose a neutral, grayish-beige shade called "Revere Pewter," after we saw how good it looked in our middle son's home.)

The half-bath in the hallway off the kitchen was a cheery sky blue, and at first I thought I might prefer a more subtle (and currently on trend) shade of gray.  I had painted both of the upstairs bathrooms in our old house pale gray, once we decided that we were going to sell, and I really liked the way it looked.

However, the more I studied that blue bathroom, the more the color grew on me.   I had already planned that I was going to hang some framed photos of birds in this bathroom--and not just any birds, but the birds that used to grace the walls of our old upstairs bathrooms (before we went all HGTV and painted over them to get the house ready to show).  Sky blue walls would be the perfect backdrop.

In this photo of the bathroom in our old house (the one our boys used to share), which was taken before we began renovating it last fall, you can see a seagull perched on top of the shower.
In our old master bathroom, there was a robin standing on top of the shower. 

Anyway, I decided that the only thing missing to make my bird pictures look at home in the new bathroom was a scattering of fluffy white clouds.  These took about 15 minutes to add, using some acrylic paint and a round sponge.

There was a little corner shelf hanging in there, left behind by the previous owners.  And I had the perfect knickknack to fill it: a wooden shore bird that was hand-carved and painted by a highly esteemed artist named Delbert "Cigar" Daisey, a Chincoteague, VA native who is well-known for his intricately detailed bird decoys.   (I actually met him once and blogged about the experience, if you're interested.)
Cigar was my late aunt's boyfriend; after her death, my mother inherited the wooden bird carvings he'd given to her as gifts, and then she passed some of them on to her own daughters.  The one Mom gave to me now sits on that shelf in my first-floor powder room.  (He shares the shelf with a little fired clay souvenir I bought in Cancun when my husband and I took our delayed honeymoon in 1982, about a year and a half after our wedding, after he'd earned his Naval Aviator's wings.)
When my second-oldest son was at our house on Easter and saw the clouds in the bathroom, he teased, "You just couldn't help yourself, could you?"  No, I couldn't.  I've always had to have bits of whimsy in my home.  Such as various animals--pigs, birds, squirrels, you name it--painted on the walls.  And most blue walls just cry out for clouds, as far as I'm concerned.  It was almost as if once I got those clouds added to that bathroom, the house felt more like "ours."

After having to paint over all the animals that had decorated the walls of our NH house, I just don't think I have the heart to paint new ones on the walls of this house.  But I'm finding that it's comforting to have photographs that I took of them hanging here--it's as if they made the move with us, and they seem to be very much at home in their new digs.

In fact, as an afterthought, I added a framed photo of the mouse who used to live just outside the door of the first floor half-bath in our old house.
He was painted on the wall just above the floor molding; so I decided that was just where I should hang this little frame.
Hanging a picture frame this close to the floor might be a big no-no in the interior designer's handbook, but I don't care.  I believe you need to have fun with your house and make it look the way you want it to, no matter how much the next owner might question your taste.  If you want birds in the bathroom--and clouds, and mice--then you should have them, IMHO.

But then again, no one would ever pay me to decorate their house!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

We're Officially Virginians!

Hello, dear readers!  I'm back--after being AWOL from this blog for over a month (the longest I've ever gone since I opened up shop at String of Pearls way back in March of 2011).  Here is a link to my last post, written on March 13 in preparation for the house closing that would take place less than a week later.  In it, I talked about leaving behind a letter for the new owners of what we thought was our "forever home" in NH, but was actually just the happy setting for a really long and fulfilling chapter in the life of the Pearl family.  (If you haven't read it, click on the link--and maybe have some tissues handy.)
Now a new chapter has begun, and as tough as it was to turn that page after more than a quarter of a century, to drive away from that beloved Colonial nestled in the woods and head south to VA, we are already starting to fall in love with our new home and our new town--not to mention our new life.  There were tears leading up to and immediately following the big move, don't get me wrong; but the rewards we have reaped already in the short time we've been down here are incalculable.  Life is always changing, evolving and going through new seasons; and although I've never been all that good at accepting change, I can already see that this is going to be a wonderful, blessed chapter in our family's story.

So...we're Virginians now.  And check out the sweet welcome basket our three VA boys and their wives had waiting to greet us when we got here.
I'm writing this post at my perfect little writing desk, situated between two windows in the office my husband and I set up in one of the four upstairs bedrooms in our new house.  An office with two work spaces, two brand new matching rolling desk chairs, two printers, two file cabinets--well, you get the picture.  It's an office for two (a "his 'n hers"!), and before this we really never even had a dedicated office space for one.  I mean, we did have an area of the basement that had a desk and a file cabinet, and that's where our desktop computer and our printer were always located.  But once my husband transformed our old garage into the "new room" (that is, a large man cave/sports room/family room) and the boys stopped using the basement as a hangout, the office down there started to feel a bit like a dungeon, and we started doing our work on our laptops, using random tables all over the first floor of the house.  It feels so luxurious to have a whole room that is an honest-to-goodness office.
By golly, with an office like this at my disposal, I may even start writing again.  (This blog post is baby step #1.  And forgive me if it is disjointed and all over the place--I just really don't even know where to begin, so much has happened since I last blogged!)

So on March 18 we closed on our old house, and that same day we left for VA.  We each drove a car over to Logan Airport in Boston and left one at my husband's employee parking lot, then got into the other one and drove down together to leave it at one of our son's houses.  We got about an hour or two of sleep there, then our boy gave us a ride to the airport in DC, we flew back to Boston to get the other car, and we immediately turned around and made the trip south again, this time staying with another son and his family.  Phew!  That was pretty tiring, doing back-to-back road trips down the East Coast.  At our age, no less.  But we survived all of that.  Then on March 21, we closed on our new house, and that same day, the moving truck arrived with all of our belongings.  To say that it was a whirlwind experience is putting it mildly.
It seems like yesterday that I was painting over the beloved pigs on the walls of my old kitchen

and sweeping up the last traces of Pearl family history littering the floor of the attic, leaving it as clean as a whistle for the new owners.
A quick aside before I go on: I love the random items that ended up in the dustpan that day, because they were such sweet reminders of the boys who'd lived in that house and the memories they'd created there over the years.  There was a dinosaur toy and a Pokémon card; a picture of an NFL player, and also one from a zoo trip years ago; there was Easter grass from their baskets, along with a red Christmas bow and some faux Christmas greenery.  I got teary-eyed when I looked at that pile, amazed that the very last sweep-through of that once-crowded attic would produce such a perfect collection of mementos.
Back to the move-in day now.  I am ashamed to admit that I spent most of it in tears.  Those poor movers--every time they asked me where they should put some piece of furniture, I could hardly answer them.  So many boxes ended up in the basement, because I had no idea where I wanted them to go.   It was all so overwhelming.  The house seemed much too small to hold all the stuff that they'd packed on the truck in NH, even though we'd filled two dumpsters and made countless trips to drop donations off at Goodwill in preparation for downsizing. I was missing my old house something fierce that day.  I was missing that enormous walk-up attic with all of its glorious storage space, for one thing!

But some of my emotional fragility was caused by the stress of moving (it's a thing, I hear) and sheer exhaustion, I'm sure.  Because it didn't take long for my nesting instincts to kick in, and within a couple of days, I was sort of falling in love with our new house.  I was enjoying the challenges of figuring out how to fill in all the new spaces and make it really feel like "ours."

When I packed our two cars to the gills with all of the too-precious-to-go-on-the-moving-truck items (like family photographs, letters that my husband wrote to me when he was in college at Notre Dame and I was at Holy Cross, and hand-drawn cards that our boys made for us in grade school), I included some decorative things that I knew I wanted to hang up almost immediately, so that the new place would feel like home as soon as possible.  I knew that if I let the movers pack them, it might take weeks to find them amidst the piles of boxes.  Among those things we brought in the cars with us were canvases I'd had made from photos of my precious pigs, and the metal star that used to hang on our front door in NH.

While the movers were busy bringing our stuff into the house, my husband heard me hammering nails into the walls.  He said that for a second he was surprised, and he wanted to say, "Really?  You're hanging pictures NOW?"  But then he realized that this is the way I operate, this is what makes me happy.  And after all the tears he'd seen me cry in the previous weeks as we prepared to move out of our old house, he just wanted me to be happy.  (He's the best, you know.  Absolutely the best.  Just sayin'.)

So within hours of taking ownership of our new home, we already had a few gallery walls completed.

This one in the kitchen--with my pigs taking center stage.
And this one in the family room--it's my little homage to our life in NH.
That's all the home décor I'm going to subject you to right now.  Let me know if you'd be interested in a more in-depth house tour in the future (it has been suggested to me by some people who have seen the pictures I've posted recently on Instagram).

So we're settling in and starting to get familiar with our surroundings.  We like the small, charming Southern town and our friendly new parish.  But what we like best is being less than 40 minutes from two of our boys and their families, and about an hour and a half (soon to be more like 50 minutes) from another.  We have seen them all so much already--and now we can do this without getting on an airplane!  We had all of them over for an Easter brunch, along with a college friend of two of our daughters-in-law, one of my husband's brothers, his wife, and their daughter and son-in-law, and one of my husband's sisters, her daughter, and two of her grandchildren.  It is so wonderful to be able to host a big family holiday celebration that doesn't involve people having to travel long distances!
All three of our daughters-in-law that live down here are currently expecting.  And here is the drawing my very talented fourth son created to announce the impending birth of his first child(ren):
Yes, there are three eggs in that nest.  They are expecting triplets!!  I'd say that we got down here just in time, wouldn't you?  And we didn't even know this was happening when we made the sudden decision to move to VA about a year or so ahead of when we originally thought we might do such a thing.  God was certainly giving us a not-so-gentle nudge in this direction, and now we can see why He thought it would be better if we moved sooner rather than later.  There will be five new grandchildren born here in VA in 2017 (bringing our total to a dozen!), and we think we'll be able to give our kids a lot more help and support with their growing families now that we're all practically neighbors.

I have to think of a way to finish off this post, which could go on forever and ever, I fear, now that I've finally ended my month-long Internet silence!  It's coming to a close soon, I promise...

One of the hardest things about leaving our old house was that our youngest son, who has never lived in any other home and has always been quite attached to that one (as you know already, if you've clicked on that link at the beginning of this post and read what he wrote about it!), is currently stationed in Germany and won't be coming back to the States for good for about a year-and-a-half.  Selling his childhood home when he is living so far away, and isn't married yet with a house of his own, seemed like a rather heartless thing to do.

Not long after we moved in, I was coming back from a shopping trip, and as I drove into our new neighborhood I was struck by how pretty it was, with the outline of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance.  I pulled over and snapped this picture and texted it to him, saying that although I knew it wasn't the same as our old neighborhood, it wasn't too shabby.
He sent a humorous text saying that he didn't like it.  I texted back, "I will always miss our old house.  Always.  And I will miss living in a town and an area I knew really well, and running into people who knew you guys when you were small.  It's hard."  But the flip side, I told him, was that we had seen two of his brothers and their wives that day, we were babysitting two of the grandchildren the next day, and the day after that, his other brother was coming over to visit our new house with his little son.  "Those are the things that make this move all worth it.  But I still get a little weepy sometimes.  Maybe I always will.  Even though I really, really like our new town and the new house, and I think you will, too."  Etc.

Here is the text response my baby sent back.

He is the best.  Absolutely the best.  Just sayin'.  (It's a trait he inherited from his dad.  All my boys have it, this best-ness.)

So that's it from the great state of Virginia (which is for Lovers, you know).  For now, anyway.  And I promise--or perhaps I should say that I hope--it won't be another month before you hear from me again.

Monday, March 13, 2017

We're Leaving a Welcome Letter Behind...But the Star Comes with Us

If you read my post yesterday, you know that I'm leaving a letter in a welcome basket for the new owners of our beloved NH house.
I mentioned that I would share the letter with you; so here it is (hankies are not included, but they ought to be!).

March 17, 2017

To the new owners of this wonderful house:

Welcome to your new home!  We hope that you will be as happy living here as the Pearl family has been.  If you are even half as happy as we were, you will be very blessed indeed.

We moved into this house in December of 1990, when we had four young boys aged 7 to just shy of 3.  Our fifth son was born in 1993, after we’d been living here for a few years, so this is the only home he has ever known.  Our four oldest sons are now married with children of their own, and our youngest is an Army LT currently stationed overseas.  (Those little boys who grew up here are men now who range in age from 33 down to 24—how did that happen?!—and we will soon have more than twice as many grandchildren as we have children!)  This home has been like “true north” for us, a comforting and comfortable gathering spot for our family for more than 26 years, and it is with heavy hearts that we leave what we thought might be our “forever home.”  If any of our grown sons had settled nearby, we undoubtedly would have stayed here.

But by saying all of this we don’t mean to make you feel sorry for us!  Because we are moving to an area of VA that is near three of our married sons; and we are very excited about a future that includes spending way more time with them and their wives and children on a regular basis, while also being close enough to more easily give them any help and support they might need.  So as hard as it is to say goodbye to [this town] and [our street address], which essentially brings an end to a beautiful, full chapter of our family’s history, we know that this is undoubtedly the right move for us.  We will always cherish our memories of the times we spent here.   And we feel confident that this home is going to be loved and enjoyed by your family as much as it was by ours.

Our youngest son once wrote an essay about this house, for a freshman English class at St. Thomas Aquinas (where all of our boys went to high school).  Here is an excerpt from that essay, titled “A Hidden Gem”:

Driving down the street, there are pleasant houses on either side, all of them tucked behind trees and surrounded by forest, as if the woods were fighting violently to regain their lost territory. Though they look nice, keep going past these imposters. Keep going. Just a little further...There it is! My home.

It is the last house on the right; a big, white house with black shutters. It is a two story building with a large front yard, big enough to fit five rowdy boys who decided never to grow up. To common passers-by, it is just an ordinary house at the end of some street. And yes, like any home, it is where I sleep, it is where I eat, and it is where I live. But to me, it is so much more than just an inn or a breakfast nook.

It is a familiar face that says, "Hello there! How was your trip?" after I've traveled long distances; a life-long friend that is always there when I don't know where else to go. It is my playground, my home field advantage for all my backyard football games; where our family-famous Wiffle Ball homerun derbies are held. It is…where I learned about life, about the One who made me, and the One who sacrificed Himself for us.

This is where the seven Pearls live. And although there are nicer houses on our street, our house is a hidden gem, stowed away from the rest of the world. It is everything I want out of a house. Everything I need out of a home.

Our hope for you is that your son comes to feel the same way about this place as our boys did.  May you have many years of health and happiness in this “hidden gem” we’ve called home.

With best wishes,

the Pearls


Our sons all have such fond memories of growing up in this house, as you can see by that heartfelt essay penned by my baby; and they know how much their mom and dad have loved it, too--mostly because it was the cozy nest where we nurtured them and watched them grow, where we lived through so many happy times with them.  They all seem to be very sensitive to the fact that although we are excited about living closer to some of them, it is very difficult for us to cut our ties to this place.  That's why we were especially touched by a Christmas gift that our second-oldest son and his wife had handcrafted for us through an Etsy shop.  It is a miniature clay model of our house, attached to a porcelain platter, with the word "home" written on it.  Here is a close-up picture of the model (when it was a work-in-progress), which the artisan shared on Instagram.
She even included a teeny version of the large metal star that has hung on our front door for many years.  It's cream-colored with the words "Faith" and "Family" written on the edges of each of the star's points.  (The two most important words, am I right?)

This old star is rather rusty now, and I almost flung it into the dumpster this morning.  But then I just couldn't do it.  Instead, I decided to repaint it with some of the leftover glossy Colonial red that we've used on our front door for the past 26-plus years.  (Should I distress the finish or leave it like this?  What do you think?)
This star is going to find a home in our new house in VA, and it will be a sweet reminder of the "hidden gem" where it used to hang, welcoming us home every time we turned into the driveway.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

My Sunday Best: a Biker Chick Bids Her Old Parish Farewell

I had to join the "My Sunday Best" link-up today, just had to; because this is a Sunday like no other: it is the last Sunday Mass my husband and I will attend at our longtime parish in NH (at least until we come back for a visit), because we're closing on our house here on St. Patty's Day and moving to VA right afterward.

If you've been here before, you know all about the big move.  But if you're new, here's the deal, in a nutshell: my husband and I are selling the home where we've lived for 26-plus years and raised our five sons, and leaving the town we moved to 27 years ago when our oldest boy was halfway through kindergarten, so that we can live closer to some of our kids and grandkids.  It's a tough break to make, but it's going to be so wonderful for us and for our family once we rip off the Band-Aid.

It's ridiculously cold here this morning.  (In fact, we had a pipe freeze and burst last night in our basement, which is of course just the thing you want to happen when you're trying to pack up your things to move!)  I think perhaps God is trying to help us to get over our sadness about leaving what we thought might be our "forever home," because I have to say that I won't miss New England winters!  I mean, don't even get me started; because our movers are coming Tuesday and Wednesday, and that's exactly when a huge snowstorm is supposed to hit us.  After a mild, relatively snowless winter, we're going to get pounded with the white stuff on the very days the moving truck is in our driveway.  AAAGGGHHH!!!

But anyway, on to what I wore for Mass.  Shockingly, it was not a black skirt and black tights with a sweater--my usual uniform.  Here's what I wore, an ensemble that my husband (and good-natured fashion photographer) called my "tough biker chick look."
As you can see, the packing is well underway.
I guess if you wear a jean jacket (even a nice soft one from the LL Bean outlet, without any Hell's Angels-style embroidery on it) and leather boots (even if they're rather ladylike riding boots from a JC Penny after-season clearance sale), that makes you look like a biker chick.  Sure it does.
I got these boots, regularly priced at $130, for $9.97
(At that price, I decided I needed a pair in black, too!) 
I've had them for years now.
Without the jacket, the dress is decidedly not biker chick attire--no matter what my husband says.  It's a faux-wrap knit dress from Dress Barn (clearance, of course), with awesome belly-hiding ruching at the waist.  The sleeves are elbow-length, which I love.  I thought it was a good choice today, because although the photo doesn't do the color justice, it's a nice Lenten deep purple with taupe polka-dots.
I doubt anyone would choose to wear this dress while
riding her hog.
We met up with one of our neighbors, who moved onto our street shortly before we did in 1990, outside of church, and he hugged us and got a little misty-eyed talking about our move.  It still seems a bit surreal.

I mean, it seems like only yesterday that we were moving in and making this place feel like home.  One of the first things I did in this house was to use a stencil to paint a couple of pineapples on the walls in the foyer, since the pineapple has historically been considered an American symbol of warmth and welcome.  Last night, I found the very stencil I used all those years ago, hiding out of sight on top of a metal shelf in our basement workshop.  I decided to bring it down to VA with me, and one of the first things I plan to do when I get there is to paint a pineapple on one of the walls near the front door. 
Speaking of welcomes...I have put together a welcome basket for the new owners.  (Full disclosure: in it are two unopened bottles of red wine that we already had, and an unused Yankee candle in a glass jar that we already had as well.)  I put a letter in the basket, too...

Hey, you know what?  That's a story for another post.  Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about that letter.

For now, though, head on over to Rosie's a blog for my mom for more stylish (and less biker chick-ish) Sunday ensembles.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

That Was Us; This Is Us

With our closing fast approaching, I have been walking up and down the stairs at our house almost non-stop for the past couple of weeks, going through all the closets and storage areas--of which there are many, let me tell you.  Lots of nooks, lots of crannies.  I never could have complained that this house didn't have enough storage space!!  In fact, it might have been better if there had been less, because then we might not have accumulated so much stuff!  I mean, we've had 26-plus years to amass all of it...but really, there is SO. MUCH. STUFF!!  I cannot stress this enough.  And I know I could just let the movers box it all up and deal with it when we get to our new place, but I feel strongly that it will be less stressful for me in the long run if we get rid of what we don't want or need on this end.

So life has been very busy indeed.  Every morning I wake up and it's the same thing: I go from basement to first floor to second floor to attic, then back down again, only to repeat the process about a hundred times during the course of the day.  These treks up and down the stairs are broken up by quick trips to the recycling center and Goodwill.  Fun times!

I must say, it has been interesting looking into boxes and bins that have languished, all but forgotten, for ten or even twenty years--and sometimes longer.  And it has also been exhausting, both emotionally and physically.

A little while ago, I met up with my husband in the family room on the first floor.  While I've been relentlessly culling through the flotsam and jetsam of a long life well-lived, he has been busy working on all kinds of projects that we promised to complete before closing, such as the renovation of the master bathroom.

But I caught him as he was sitting on the couch.  Not resting, mind you; he was making one of the countless phone calls one needs to make in order for a move to happen smoothly.  I dragged myself over to my overstuffed chair and plopped down, and when he got off the phone I channeled my inner Jack Pearson and complained (somewhat pathetically), "This house is breaking me.  I'm broken."  (Please tell me that you watch "This Is Us," and that you remember the scene where Jack tells the OB/GYN who delivered their triplets that the babies have broken his wife Rebecca.  If you aren't a fan of this show, I'm not sure that we can be friends...)
As I go about the business of separating the wheat from the chaff, of trying to decide what to keep and what needs the old heave-ho, in an effort to be as ready as possible to pack up and leave this home where we raised our five sons, these words keep popping into my head: "This was us."  So many of the things I find are reminders of who we were in the past, when it was just seven of us (just my husband and me and the big five--another "This Is Us" reference, sorry about that), living together under this roof.

Things like this backpack that belonged to our oldest son, for instance, which I found yesterday in the attic.  In one of the small zippered compartments, there were a bunch of empty fun-size candy bar wrappers.
Along with the evidence of his trip snacks, there was also still an airline bag-check tag attached, showing that when he last used this backpack he'd been flying to Chicago in January of 2002.
That was him, back then: he was a seemingly incurable chocoholic who was flying back to the Midwest to start the second semester of his freshman year at Notre Dame, after coming home for Christmas break; but it's not him anymore.  Today, he's a super-healthy, organic-eating adult, married and the father of four young daughters.

In the attic I also found our old baby bathtub (bought when we had our first son, in 1983, and used for all five of our boys), a baby carrier/seat, and a walker, each coated with dust after spending more than two decades stored in the rafters.  These items (which are going to be heading to the dumpster once it gets delivered to our driveway tomorrow) reminded me that when we moved into this house, we were the parents of young children who hoped to have more babies--and we did have one, three years later. We were fresh-faced babies ourselves, just 32 years old (which is younger than our firstborn son is now!).  That was us.
But that's not us anymore.  These days we're the much-older parents of four married sons and an officer stationed overseas, and we're "Papa and Grammy" to seven grandchildren and counting.

But to look around our attic, you'd think we had a houseful of little fellas living here still.  I found the metal tray we used to serve our boys breakfast in bed on their birthdays.
Pac-Man?  Really?  Does that date us, or what?

I also found plastic bins of legos, complete with the step-by-step building instructions.
Judging by this plywood sign, you'd think we still had kids at the local Catholic grade school, wouldn't you?
But no, that's just something that I painted a couple of decades ago for the annual carnival fundraiser at their Catholic school and never got around to throwing out.  They loved that carnival, which was held on the tarmac recess field right next to the brick school building.

Perhaps you'd think we had a passel of teenaged lacrosse players living in this house as well, judging by the bins of old equipment still carefully stowed away in the basement.  (Those are old heads ready to be re-strung, lying on top of some stringing materials.  I guess the boys never got around to fixing them up.)
Lacrosse was a huge part of our lives.  That was us, for so many wonderful years.

We used to ski a lot back in the day, too.  When our four oldest sons were young, we would take a yearly ski vacation over their winter break with some of their Pearl cousins; and during the five years that we homeschooled our youngest son, he participated in a ten-week program where he skied in NH every Monday with a group of homeschooled friends.  That was us, and we still have ski equipment in the attic to prove it.
Aside from all the sports gear, we sure had a lot of old-school gadgets and technology. (In fact, my husband just took a collection of floppy discs over to Best Buy the other day for recycling!)  That was so us; we were a land-line, flip-phone, and desktop computer family, before the days of smart phones and iPads.
The times, they have been a-changin'.  Because all of this stuff--all these reminders of the activities we shared and the good times we had together--isn't really who we are anymore.  That was us then.

This is us now.  The big five has multiplied, and we wouldn't want it any other way.  It's like we're "new and improved."
It really has been hard weeding through and tossing out so much of what feels like our history, the story of us. But the whole point of this move is to live closer to our boys and their families.  Because staying in this house surrounded by memories cannot possibly make us anywhere near as happy as being able to spend more time with the people we love.

Okay now, before I sign off: it's Tuesday, and you know what that means, right?  "This Is Us" is on.  (NBC, 9:00.)  I'm going to just ignore the bare walls, the empty shelf, and the boxes of files on the family room floor and enjoy it.  Join me, won't you?