Saturday, August 19, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Blog Business, Baby Boy Bonnets, and Books

So I haven't done one of these link-ups in a while.  But I need to play a bit of catch-up here at the blog, so I thought this was a good way to do it.

1: A FEW WORDS ABOUT BLOGGING...

First things first.  Just so you know, I'm still a blogger.  Yes, it's true: I still blog--but not nearly as often as I used to.  I mean, for the first few years after I started String of Pearls, I would write and publish posts daily; but it's been a while since I was that prolific.

And also, I must take this opportunity to apologize for neglecting all the nice people who have left lovely and heartfelt comments on my posts in June, July, and August.  (It's been a very busy summer!)  So if you were kind enough to stop by and leave me a few words in my combox, and you were wondering why I didn't have the courtesy to respond, you can go back now and see that I have re-read all of your messages and replied to them.  I probably don't say this enough (maybe I've never said it?  If that's the case, I'm sorry!), but it truly makes my day when readers connect with me.  I can't tell you what it means to me to have people, most of whom I've never met, praying for me and my family.  God love you!

2: AND A FEW MORE, ABOUT A BLOGGING CONFERENCE--

So now that we've established that I'm a blogger, I have to tell you how excited I am to be attending the CWBN Mid-Atlantic Chapter's 2017 Blogging Conference at Ana Hahn's house on August 26.  I am so excited (and also a tad nervous) about meeting--IRL!--all these women whose blogs have entertained and inspired me.  You don't have to be a famous or widely-read blogger to attend this conference (at least, I hope that's true--or I've made a huge mistake signing up for this!).  You just have to be a Catholic (check!) and a blogger (check!), so I will be there with bells on!  The fact that this event (or as Ana has called it, this "par-tay") is going to be held in Front Royal, VA, just under an hour's drive away from our new house down there, is just one more reason--among many, many others--why I'm glad to call Northern VA my new home.

3: THANKS FOR PRAYING FOR MY MOM!

Thanks to all who have offered prayers for my mother's health.  As of now, her surgery to remove one of her kidneys has been postponed while she deals with chronic UTI's and various other issues, including general muscular weakness.  She is currently infection-free and growing stronger daily in a rehab center in VT.  We hope that she will be able to have the surgery soon and return to her assisted living home across the lake in NY, strong and cancer-free.

4: AND THANKS FOR PRAYING FOR THE TRIPLETS, TOO!

Also, thanks to all who have prayed for the triplets my #4 son and his wife Braveheart are expecting, possibly any day now.  She has been in the hospital since 30 weeks, due to a scare that they thought would end in an emergency C-section; but as of today, she and the babies are doing very well.  She will be 32 weeks tomorrow, which is HUGE; and they may decide to let her go to 34 weeks, unless of course she goes into labor before that.  Continued prayers would be much appreciated for Braveheart and those wee ones (two boys and a girl).


5: NOW LET'S TALK BABY FASHION, SHALL WE?

My #2 son's wife Ginger is a huge fan of the Beaufort Bonnet Co., and she's a sucker for a baby bonnet.  She just gave birth to a second son in June; but the fact that her children are both males has not discouraged her from purchasing bonnets for them.  (My son, for his part, thinks boys should wear baseball caps rather than bonnets; but he and his wife have reached a compromise on the issue:  by the time they are 18 months old, his little guys are no longer allowed to wear anything but typical "boy hats."  Daddy has laid down the law.)

I just have to share some pictures of these two brothers in their dapper headware.  If you formerly agreed with my son that bonnets are suitable for baby girls only, I think these images might change your mind.
Oh my goodness, are my grandchildren the cutest things you've ever seen, or what?  (Rhetorical question, obviously.  Do not bother to answer.)


6: VA JUST KEEPS MAKING MORE AND MORE SENSE!

Speaking of grandchildren, this fall, our oldest son's wife and four daughters will be living with us temporarily, while he finishes up his airline training and they search for a house to buy in VA.  (Yes, that's right: as of January 2018, when son #1 will begin a new job as a pilot flying out of D.C., all four of our married sons and their families will be living within an hour of us!!  Now we must pressure encourage our youngest son to move to VA, too, when his Army obligation has been completed!)

Our firstborn and his wife are homeschooling their girls, and this year the twins (6) will be in first grade.  I am excited to find out as much as I can about homeschooling networks and resources in Northern VA at the CWBN conference--yet one more reason I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to attend.

7: AND FINALLY, I'VE GOT A BOOK RECOMMENDATION FOR YOU.

I am way behind on some assignments I've got to finish--reading and reviewing a couple of books by Catholic authors that I was given in exchange for honest reviews.  But for some reason, I've had trouble reading books lately, especially non-fiction works, and have taken to reading short articles and Instagram posts instead.  So that's part of the reason I'm procrastinating with those reviews. But also, I think I'm just going through a rather arid patch when it comes to writing.  (Thus the blogger's block that I've been battling for quite some time now!)  I did, however, read a novel recently, on a last-minute flight down to VA the day we thought the triplets were going to make a premature entrance. (I purchased it at an airport book store right before I boarded the plane, because an engrossing novel has always been the best medicine for me when it comes to forgetting that I'm sitting 30,000 feet in the air.)

I highly recommend this book, an extremely well-written debut novel by an author I hope will write many more.  It was a page-turner.  If you like Kate Morton's books, this one's for you.
Well, that's it for me.  Now over to Kelly's to see what other people in the Catholic blogosphere are up to.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Who's Got It Better Than We Do?

My husband and I are spending the summer in our old hometown in Upstate NY, working hard at being the caretakers/cleaning crew of our Oyster Haven VRBO lake house (and my husband is commuting to work from here).  So today, on the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I got to attend a noon Mass at my childhood parish church.  And then I stayed afterward to pray a group Rosary.
We moved to this wonderful town when I was 10, and I went to the Catholic grade school just across the street from this church.  This is where I went to Sunday Mass every week as a kid, but it's not where I got married.  My husband and I actually exchanged our wedding vows in his parish church across town--the one that was connected to the Catholic high school we both attended.  We thought it was apropos to get married there: seeing as how we'd met at that high school and started dating when we were 15, that church seemed to be more a part of our story as a couple.

But the church I was in today was where we gathered in November for my father's funeral Mass.  It's the first time I've been back inside it since he died.

Both of these churches that are special to me are just breathtakingly beautiful, but I thought I'd show you some pictures of the one I was in today.  I had forgotten just how glorious it is; my goodness, it rivals many of the ornately beautiful Catholic churches I've had the privilege to visit in Europe, when I've tagged along on some of my husband's working trips.













How's that for a feast for the eyes, on Our Lady's special feast day?  You could almost believe you were in Heaven, couldn't you?  (And these iPhone photos don't even begin to do it justice!)  Is there anything more beautiful than the inside of a Catholic church such as this one?  Don't answer that, because obviously the answer is an emphatic "No!"

When I am present for the Sacrifice of the Mass--surrounded by beauty such as this, hearing the soothing sound of the voices of the faithful solemnly joined in prayer--I often think of something I heard about the Harbaugh family.  When well-known football coaches Jim and John Harbaugh were growing up in their close-knit, loving family, their parents had a phrase they used all the time.  "Who's got it better than us?" Jack and Jackie Harbaugh would ask their kids.  "Nooo-body!" John, Jim, and their sister Joanie would answer.

Well that's how I feel about being a member of the Catholic Church, the best family on earth, and having this Woman as my Mother.
Truly, who's got it better than we do?  NOOO-BODY!  That's who.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Please Pray for the Triplets (and Their Bravehearted Mommy!)

I am asking you, dear readers, to pray for my daughter-in-law, Braveheart.  She is 30 weeks pregnant with triplets (two boys and a girl), and this morning she woke up bleeding and had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance. 

It turns out that one of the amniotic sacs had ruptured, so until the babies are delivered (it could be either within days or within weeks), she is going to stay in the hospital where she can be monitored.  She was given a steroid shot to help the babies' lung development, should they arrive too soon (32 weeks was the benchmark they hoped she would reach in order to ensure the safest outcome).  But so far, so good--praise be to God!  All three babies have strong healthy heartbeats.  They are little fighters.  In fact, early on, the smaller of the two boys looked like he wasn't going to make it, and the doctors told the kids to prepare for two babies instead of three.  But he rallied and grew like crazy and is now within ounces of the other two, doing just great.  Like I said, they are fighters.

And my Braveheart is a fighter, too!

She is the wife of my fourth son, and is in every way the perfect mate for him.  They are both very intelligent and cerebral, and they can talk about scientific or philosophical topics all the livelong day.  But they also share an offbeat sense of humor and an appreciation for little-known cartoons and kid-friendly video games.  Their children are going to have two very fun and interesting parents.  I can hardly wait to see them in action.

Here is a picture of my sweet girl, the soon-to-be mom of three, at our house last Christmas.  She was celebrating after scoring her dream present--a Pikachu costume--in our first-ever family Yankee Swap, as her hubby and her beloved doggies looked on. (She would not learn that she was pregnant with her first child[ren] until about a month or so later.)

Isn't she a hoot?  My boy adores her, she adores him, and we adore them both.  We can hardly wait to meet their three tiny angels.

Please keep Braveheart and her wee ones in your prayers.  Thank you so much!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

My Baby's New Blog!!

My baby boy (he's 24 now, but as long as I'm living my baby he'll be) just created a new website called The Layman's Movie Corner (Where Philosophy, Film, and Faith Find a Home), and I'm so excited about it.

He plans to use his own little corner of the Internets as a forum for reviewing newly released movies, which he'll watch through the lens of his Catholic Faith--thereby making it a forum for talking about two of his greatest loves: movies and Catholicism.  To say that I am proud of this young man is an enormous understatement.
Here is a little teaser from his site (which currently includes a couple of blog posts and will also feature, in the not-too-distant future, not only more posts but also podcasts), an excerpt from his "About Me" page:

While the majority of my development into a functioning, moral human being came from my Catholic upbringing, movies have always been there to fill in the gaps, or even more accurately, help me apply my Catholic principles and viewpoint to tremendous stories in which the morally correct answer may not be immediately evident......That, and movies are just so dang entertaining and helped develop my sense of imagination and wonder growing up.

To put it all into a nice, easily-digestible package, I'm just an average Catholic struggling his way through sin to, hopefully, live a moral life immersed in grace who also happens to love talking about movies. My hope is that this project will allow me to combine these two great loves of mine into something that you might find entertaining, inspiring, informative, or all of the above.

(You can read the full "About Me" post here.)

We are all meant to give glory to God in our own unique ways, depending on our God-given talents and gifts, our interests and abilities, and most especially, our particular vocations in life.  Why not, then, through movie reviews?!  Isn't this the greatest idea for a truly original blogsite (said my youngest son's mother in her not-at-all-biased humble opinion)?!  Couldn't it fill a void for the Catholic movie-goer who's never sure which films are worth the time and which he should avoid?  It could fill a niche, I think; and as I said, I am just so excited about the whole thing.

My youngest son has always been fascinated by movies and the magic that goes into producing them.  I think this started with "The Lion King" when he was about one or two.  But his deep love of movies and movie-making really blossomed and flourished when we let him watch a short film called "The Making of Jurassic Park," because he was obsessed with being allowed to watch that PG-13 movie at a much younger age than his brothers had been allowed to watch it--he was always trying to play "catch up" with his heroes!--and we didn't want him to be traumatized by the much-too-realistic dino attack scenes.  He couldn't get enough of that behind-the-scenes look at Stephen Spielberg's groundbreaking blockbuster.  He wanted to be the next Spielberg--that was his big dream.  In third grade, when they had a "Career Day" at school, he said that he wanted to be a movie director when he grew up.  He actually directed a short film to show his class that day, using his Jurassic Park toys and the stop-motion filming technique he'd learned (with me as his videographer), and he called it "T-Rex T-rouble."  (This short film is actually fairly impressive for a third-grader and still exists for posterity on a VHS tape that I will keep forever!)

I can't think of a better way for my movie-loving boy to spend his free time while he's stationed overseas than building his new website; and it is my dream for him that he will be "discovered" online, that his posts will go viral and someday, he'll be able to actually make a living from the movies, about which he has always been so passionate.  And what a beautiful (and unexpected!) way for a layman like him to give glory to God.

Monday, July 31, 2017

I'm So NOT Melania!

My mother has taken to calling my husband and me "the Trumps."  (If I wanted to be at all political on this blog, which I DON'T, I would tell you that that is not nearly as much of an insult to me as so many of my close friends and family members think it should be).  Mom does this because we now own two homes--which makes us proverbial real estate magnates, I suppose.

Our lake house, which we bought about two years ago and dubbed "Oyster Haven," sits on a parcel of land that is probably more priceless and more idyllic (more heaven-on-earth-spectacular) than anything the Trumps own.  I may be biased, but I'm serious, I really am; I mean, look at this view from the deck of our circa 1830's farm house-cum-VRBO vacation rental.
Not too shabby, eh?  And hopefully someday, once we've whittled down the mortgage with rental income, we'll be able to spend whole summers there and provide our kids and grandkids with a yearly vacation getaway courtesy of Papa and Grammy.

But just because we've taken our first tentative steps into the vacation rental business, you can hardly compare us to POTUS and his glamorous (and Catholic! Yes, Catholic!) wife, Melania.  As I remind my mother every time she calls us "the Trumps," I doubt that Melania does as much cleaning as I do.  I sincerely doubt that FLOTUS scrubs as many tubs and toilets.

And that, my friends, is what I've been doing every weekend this summer.

My husband and I are the cleaning/maintenance/hospitality crew that gets our place ready between the 10:00 a.m. check-out time of one set of renters on Saturday or Sunday morning and the 4:00 p.m. arrival of the next group of guests the same day.  It's a grueling six-hour process that involves vacuuming and dusting and making up all the beds; scrubbing the bathrooms and kitchen until every surface gleams; restocking the towels, toiletries, K-cups, and the gifts of chocolates and wine; making sure the grill, boats, and outdoor furniture are clean and stored appropriately; trimming away the overgrowth on the bank by the beach; hauling away the garbage and recycling...It's a lot of work, and I am always bone-tired at the end of cleaning day. 

We have a great routine, though; we make a good team.  My husband and I usually make up all the beds together.  Then he drops off the dirty linens at the laundry service while I get to work cleaning the interiors.  If we need anything, he picks it up at the store on his way back from the laundromat, and then he gets to work on the exteriors.

No matter how respectful our renters have been or how relatively tidy things appear when we start out, the process rarely takes less than the full six hours to achieve the kind of quality we both want.  Sooner rather than later, we will have to hire a professional cleaning service to do this for us--especially now that we live in VA and not NH, and the drive to Upstate NY takes almost twice as long.  We can't just "pop up" here anymore to take care of Oyster Haven.  Luckily, we are able to spend the summer months (peak time) at my husband's childhood home on the lake, just 3.5 miles away from our property.

But until we can find a reputable cleaning service to get the job done, it's up to us to do it.  I am the maid, the help, whatever you want to call me (and so as you see, Mom, I am so NOT Melania!).
That's me (on the right--ha ha!); so, so NOT Melania--and that was
about four years and several pounds ago!
I'm not going to show you the Oyster Haven bathrooms, no matter how proud I am of the sparkling sinks and toilets.  But would you like to see the bedrooms?
The Norman Rockwell Room.

The Little Cherubs Room.

The Aviation Room.

The Master Suite.
I guess that last picture doesn't really show what the whole master bedroom looks like (there's a twin bed in there as well).  But isn't this queen bed pretty?  I like the hotel look we've given to all the beds in the house, using mostly crisp white linens with touches of color thrown in via the bed scarves and decorative pillows.  In fact, our beds look an awful lot like the ones in the hotel where my husband and I have a room booked for tonight.

The reason we're staying at a hotel is that my mom is in a hospital across the lake in VT, and we're going to visit her there tonight before flying to the Midwest tomorrow out of the airport just a few  miles down the road from the hospital.  Mom was supposed to have surgery early tomorrow morning to remove a cancerous kidney, but she has some other health issues right now and the procedure has been postponed.  Please keep her in your prayers, because she needs to get well enough to have this kidney removed ASAP.

Also, please keep my husband and me in your prayers, as we will be transporting some very precious cargo over the next few days, all the way from Chicago, IL to Pensacola, FL: our oldest son's wife and four young daughters, who have been separated from him for the past month while he's been in flight training and are joining him for the rest of the summer.  (They have an adventure planned that includes spending the next few months living together in a furnished Airbnb house.)

I don't know how much blogging I'll be able to do in the coming week, because I can't bring my laptop along (the minivan will be bursting at the seams, so I can only pack a small carry-on bag for our flight out to Chicago).  But when I get back, I'll fill you in on our cross-country road trip with our girls, I'll update you on my mother's health, and maybe I'll even continue with the VA house tour that I started but never finished.
Our new southern home is very nice, but I'd be willing to bet that it's not nearly as sumptuous as any of the lavish abodes the Trumps own.  Just one other way that I'm NOT Melania!

Hope you're having a good summer, dear readers!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Flying High, Like His Dad

Our oldest son is currently in the process of training for a new career.

Actually, he's going back to his roots, going back to the career he first had when he graduated from Notre Dame and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army: he's training to become a pilot.

He flew Chinook helicopters in the Army, and now he is learning to fly a fixed-wing aircraft.
I don't think our firstborn ever imagined that he would choose this as his career path.  He never expressed a desire--at least that I can remember--to follow in his dad's footsteps, by transitioning from military flying to commercial flying.  When he went through flight training in the Army, he just thought that flying helicopters would be a fun and interesting way to spend the years he would be in service to our country, repaying the Army for the ROTC scholarship that had made it possible for him to earn a degree from one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the land--and I say that about ND without any bias whatsoever!  ;)

While "fun" might be an unusual adjective to employ when talking about a career that included difficult year-long deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan and having to watch the birth of his firstborn twin daughters via Skype, our boy did get a lot of satisfaction out of being good at what he did and using his abilities to aid his brothers out in the field.  But when his eight-year stint in the Army ended, he assumed that his days as a pilot had ended, too.

For several years after returning to civilian life, he worked as a project manager for a major corporation out in the Midwest.  About a year ago, he left that job when he moved his family to his wife's hometown, and he tried his hand at selling life insurance (which he soon realized is not the type of work that is suitable for every personality type!).  He was unsure of what his next move should be; then his dad reminded him that he was a good pilot and he seemed to enjoy that kind of work, so perhaps he should not discount that as a possibility when thinking about his future career.

Not too long after that conversation, he made the decision to get back into flying.  And he is once again the happy boy I remember, the guy who is comfortable in his own skin and quietly confident without being arrogant.

No matter how old he gets (he's 33 now--how did that happen?), I still have vivid memories of him as a little boy.  From day one, he was an "old soul," as firstborn children often are.  He was a sensitive little guy who always wanted to do the right thing; he never wanted to disappoint us and caused us few worries through the years.  Growing up, he gave 110% at school and in sports.  He was humble. He was kind.  He took his Faith very seriously.  He didn't get into trouble.  At the risk of embarrassing him, I have to say that he truly was a dream to raise.

When he was in 7th grade, he learned a hard life lesson.  He was on his Catholic grade school's junior high basketball team, and as usual he was giving it his all in practice.  There was an 8th grade boy who had had back surgery over the summer vacation and had recently been given the green light by his doctor to get back into playing sports.  He had been the star of the team the previous season, and he was anxious to cement his positon in the starting line-up.  He was playing a bit timidly (so obviously, he wasn't really ready to be back in the game yet--at least not mentally ready), and he began to spread rumors that our son was purposely trying to re-injure him in practice in order to take his starting spot on the team.  The boy's mother told the coach that our son was intentionally targeting hers, even going so far as accusing him of biting (?!) when the two of them went up for a rebound.  Everything that mother-son duo claimed our boy was doing was so out of character for him, if you knew him at all, and we didn't believe a word of it.  The coach had known both boys for years and didn't give the accusations any credence whatsoever either.  But there were still kids at school who believed the lies and gave our poor son dirty looks in the halls.  Ultimately, we told him that people can say things about you that aren't true and there's really no way you can stop that; but you can live your life in such a way that when people hear what they're saying, they won't believe it.  It was really tough on him; but he held his head high and didn't retaliate at all, and eventually, the rumors died away.

This boy of ours has four daughters of his own now.  His twin girls are six.  In the blink of an eye, they will be in junior high, too, and they might have to deal with jealous or insecure peers who want to slander and hurt them.  I have no doubt that with him as their dad, with his loving guidance and his example of faith and fortitude in action, those girls will live their lives in such a way that no one will be able to believe any ugly lies told about them. 

Meanwhile, he'll be flying high--just like the dad who raised him and taught him what it means to be a good dad.

Time Flies When You're Having Grandchildren

Hey, remember me?  I'm a blogger.

It's true.  Pictures don't lie.
That's my trusty laptop behind me in this nerdy selfie.  I opened it up for the first time in weeks today, with fingers itching to get at that dusty keyboard.  (I could have sworn I heard the old girl say,"What is going on here?!"  She thought she was getting the whole summer off, but no dice.  It's back to work, my little beauty.)

I remember when I used to blog every morning, first thing, with a mug of hot coffee parked close at hand and a head full of potential topics, any one of which I just knew would be the perfect subject for the BEST.BLOG.POST.EVER.  (Not really--but I was very enthusiastic about this blog--it was my baby; and after decades of dreaming of becoming a writer but never writing at all, I couldn't wait to write about EVERYTHING.)

I know I sound like a broken record here...but I really am going to try to get back to blogging more regularly. Really.  Pinky swear.  No more of this weeks-and-weeks in between posts.  I'm not going to promise daily activity, because I have found that life gets in the way much too easily these days, so that's a promise I can't possibly keep.  But I can do better. And I will.

But time really does fly when you're having grandchildren!  They keep you young and they keep you entertained and they keep you busy.  Our latest addition, a wee lad I'm going to call "Jedi" here at String of Pearls, was born to son #2 and his wife Ginger in mid-June, and we were able to attend his Baptism in early July.
Papa and Grammy with the new little Christian.
Our youngest son was able to come home on leave from Germany just in time to play the role of godfather for his new nephew. 
Our baby holding his godson; Papa holding Jedi's big
brother, Junior.
We also attended a big, lovely party in Jedi's honor on the Fourth of July, with all the rest of our VA gang, before we headed north for the summer.  Our baby's girlfriend--she's another CatholicMatch.com match!--joined us, too.  (Eight of our twelve grandchildren are present in this photo, four of them in utero; our other four granddaughters are currently living out in the Midwest with our oldest son and his wife.)
For the months of July and August, we will be staying through the week at my husband's childhood home on Lake Champlain, which is only about three miles down the road from our Oyster Haven VRBO property.
This is the view my husband grew up with.  Not too shabby, eh?  (That's his older
sister, owner of Valcour Brewing Co., in the middle, one of his younger
brothers on the far right, and his brother's wife next to him.)
On the weekends, we clean our place and change all the linens as soon as one set of guests leave.  Check-out is at 10:00 a.m. and check-in is at 4:00 p.m., so we have a six-hour window to get everything done for the next set of vacationers.  It's exhausting but so worth it!  (Because someday, hopefully, we'll be in a position to actually spend the summers here and have this little slice of heaven available to our kids and grandkids whenever they wish to visit!)
Our view isn't too shabby either!
One great motivator for me to keep up with this blog is that I am planning to attend the CWBN Mid-Atlantic Conference in Front Royal, VA (not far from our new house down there!) on August 26.  If you follow Time Flies When You're Having Babies, then you know who Catholic blogger Ana Hahn is.  She is hosting this event, which will feature some other popular bloggers you might have heard of if you spend any time in the Catholic blogosphere.  I'll most likely be one of the few ladies in attendance at this shindig who's grown children are the ones having babies; but maybe being an older blogger--old enough to be the other attendees' mother, in most cases--will make me seem wise.  ("Fake it til you make it," as one of my dear Pearl sisters-in-law likes to say!)

But Catholic bloggers are only called bloggers because they engage in an activity called blogging, so I'd better keep at it, right?  No more neglecting this here blog of mine.  I almost-promise.