Thursday, March 22, 2018

The U's Are Unveiled

I thought I'd pop in today and post the latest pages of the ABC Book I'm working on for my grandkids.
Once I finish a page on cardstock, I scan it to my computer and then put the original in a plastic sleeve in this binder.  (I'm sure this is how all the professional children's book authors go about their business.  Or maybe not.  But since I think of this book as a gift of love for my grandchildren and nothing more, this system is working for me.)

As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been inserting scanned images of some of my old artwork into the book wherever I can, with a dual purpose: 1. It's a good way to preserve some pieces that have sentimental value to me but are not necessarily ever going to hang on a wall; and 2. It saves time!  (And maybe with a little help from these old friends I will finally finish this project, which had its humble beginnings a quarter of a century ago!)

For the right-hand page, I re-purposed an acrylic painting I did of my husband tossing our firstborn son into the air, inspired by a grainy snapshot I'd taken of them on my Instamatic camera. 
I painted this 16 x 20 canvas in 1984, when I was the mother of one baby boy and could find stolen minutes during naptimes for such pursuits.  (By 1988 I was the mother of four little boys, and minutes became harder to steal; so it would be a number of years before I picked up a paintbrush again.) This acrylic painting used to hang in our upstairs hallway when we lived in NH.  I don't think I have a place for it here in VA, but I like the idea of it living on in the pages of this ABC Book.

I wish I could say that now that the U's are uploaded, I'm almost finished with the project.  But I haven't exactly been going in order.  I still have to do I, J, K, N, O, Q, and R before I get to V, W, X, Y, and Z.  But I am officially over half-way done--and that feels almost like a miracle!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Mama Mia! Make Way for the M's!

Two days straight of blogging, two days straight of pages for the ABC Book.  Will wonders never cease?!

If you stopped by here yesterday, you saw the completed L pages--along with some of the old artwork that I figured out how to re-purpose for them.  Today's M pages contain all original artwork, but I'll show you where I got my inspiration for these new drawings.

I wanted to include a mouse, because I love mice (in theory, that is; not when I am faced with them in real life, scurrying around our basement).  And I just happened to have this photo of one that I painted on the wall in our NH house (and then, sadly, had to paint over for the new owners when we sold it a year ago!).  I came really close to using this image over, to save time, but then decided the page I was working on needed an original colored pencil-and-ink drawing instead.
Furthermore, I knew I had to include Our Blessed Mother, Mary (the greatest M of all time), in these pages, but I procrastinated forever, because I just couldn't figure out how I wanted to draw Her.  In my opinion, it was the most important illustration in the whole book, and I didn't want to mess it up.  There are so many beautiful images of Mary from which to draw inspiration, and I couldn't make up my mind about how I wanted Her to look in this book.

Well, we moved to VA about a year ago, and there is a lovely statue of Mary holding the Child Jesus up on a side altar in our new parish church; so I decided that I would try to mimic that image (to the best of my amateur artistic ability).  It seemed to be calling out, "Use me."

Here is that statue, the one I see every Sunday at Mass:
Now, bearing in mind that what I end up with doesn't always look like what I have in my mind's eye when I get started, here are the M pages.

I may have to go back and touch that second one up, make it more vivid, because sometimes when I scan my drawings the colored pencil shading I use for the skin gets kind of washed out.   But otherwise, these two pages are ready to go to print.

If I ever do finish this book (and I am determined now that I will!), my plan is to have it printed so that I can give gift copies to my grandkids.  But one of my daughters-in-law (the wife of son #3) is convinced that she could help me sell them. When she told me this the other day, I kind of laughed and said, "Silly girl, my books don't sell!"  But she assures me that she thinks there is a market for this one.  She has a large number of Facebook and Instagram friends (not to mention IRL friends!), social media-savvy young Catholics who might be willing to help me spread the word.  So we shall see, my friends.  We shall see...

Just in case, perhaps I should stop publishing all the pages here at the blog.  But I'll be sure to post peeks at future pages now and again, for those of you who are interested.  (And if you are, thank you so much.  My readers may not be legion, but they're the best!)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Lads and Ladies, I Give You the L's!

In case you're wondering what that title means, I'm talking about the L pages of the ABC Book I've been working on (very, very slowly) for the past five years or so.  Actually, I had started this project not long after the birth of my youngest son, back in 1993; but then when he got mobile about a year later and his four older brothers got ever-busier with their sports and school activities, I put it on the back burner and would have forgotten about it entirely, I think, if it wasn't for my husband and one of my dear sisters-in-law, who would occasionally remind me that they'd like to see the finished product one day.

Then TWENTY YEARS LATER in 2013 (yikes, the years fly!), as the second birthday of our first grandchildren--identical twin girls--loomed on the horizon, I decided that I needed to finish the project once and for all.  But first, I determined that in order to do the book justice I would have to re-do the original pages and make a fresh, clean start (which I blogged about here, if you're interested).

A lot has happened since I first blogged about this ABC Book five years ago: we have twelve grandchildren now, ten more than we did when I wrote that post, with a couple more who are currently in utero.  And suddenly, I am on fire to finish it, before all these precious little ones grow up and it's too late for them to enjoy it.  (In my defense, though, one big reason that I've had trouble finding time to spend doing artwork is that we now live close to our four married boys and their ever-growing families, after a move south from NH to VA a year ago; so life seems to be busier than ever these days.  I mean, we're really, really busy.  Really busy, in a very good way.  But I digress...)

Okay then, before I show you the new pages, I have to guiltily admit that I re-purposed some previously rendered artwork for them.  Even though these pieces weren't done originally for this book, they're mine and I made the executive decision that it was okay to use them.  (Especially since it helps to speed progress along nicely when I don't have to come up with all new work!)

I found a way to use this acrylic painting, which was a Christmas gift for my dad in 2000.  Because I have some granddaughters who are utterly obsessed with lions, I knew I would need to include one in the L's; and why draw a new one when I already had a perfectly good one on hand--right?
I also used a really old acrylic painting that I did when I was a senior in college.  I was trying, rather ineptly, to copy a photo I had snapped of my husband laughing with two of his high school buddies while they shared a joke at a 1979-1980 New Year's Eve party at my house, shortly after we'd gotten engaged.  That's my guy in the middle (supposedly--I'm not trying to be humble when I say this painting is not all that good).
And finally, I re-purposed a colored pencil-and-ink drawing of son #2 in his favorite "Soupin' Man" jammies that I did back in 1992, when I had thoughts of using my artwork to make my own greeting cards for friends and family.  (I don't think I ever actually did that, but it was a nice idea.)
Most of what I do is not really suitable for hanging up on the wall, but I think it does the job of illustrating a book for children just fine.

So do you want to see how I employed those almost-forgotten pieces of artwork for the L pages (which I purposely wrote in such a way that they would fit)?

Okay then, here they are.

I had to crop out the beer bottle to make that second one work for this project.  (But those boys were all 21 when the photo was taken--I promise!)

I love that all I had to create for those two pages was a lemon!  How lucky am I?  And I never could have done what I did here back in 1993, when there was no such thing as a scanner or color printer that you had in your own house.  Back then, I had to go to places like Staples or Mail Boxes Etc. to achieve the kind of effects that I can now make happen right at my own desk in my own home office.  I'm thinking perhaps it's a good thing that I waited twenty years from the time I first began (back when my baby was still a baby!) to finally get around to finishing what I started, so that all this modern technology could give me a leg up.  Procrastination has its pluses as well as its minuses, I guess!

It's is moving along so well now that I'll be posting the M pages tomorrow.

Friday, February 16, 2018

7QT: My Little World Traveler

Let me start right out by admitting that the title of this post is a bit misleading.  It IS about my youngest son, my baby; but it's been a long, long time since he was little.
I mean, these days I have many grandchildren who are older than he was when that photo of him was taken in 1994.  He's 6'2" and has been for about a decade now.  And he no longer allows me to dress him in round-collared shirts.  (Sniff, sniff...where do the years go?  Okay, snap out of it, Laura!  Moving on.)  He's not only tall and broad-shouldered, but also smart and funny and talented and kind and sweet and handsome (said his mommy), and he's a 25-year-old Army officer stationed overseas, with a serious girlfriend he's been dating for over a year.

So.  Now that we've got the size of said traveler straightened out, as well as enumerating some of his finer qualities (and now that I've embarrassed him, if he's reading this), I can tell you that the world part is absolutely true.  This boy of mine has taken snapshots and selfies in some of the most beautiful cities and countries around the globe.  And I thought I'd join Kelly et. al. over at This Ain't the Lyceum and share some of them with you here.

1. My Boy in Ireland

2. My Boy in London

3. My Boy in Finland

4. My Boy in Croatia

5. My Boy in Switzerland

6. My Boy in Germany

7. My Boy in Prague

That's 7 already, right?  7 Quick Takes of 7 really cool places.  And those are just some of the far-off lands our boy has had the opportunity to visit since he graduated from Notre Dame and started his Army career.

I can add another Take, though, can't I?  A bonus take, perhaps?  Yeah sure, why not!  So here's one of the other places where he got to play tourist.  In case you were interested.

8. My Boy (and His Girl) in Venice

Gosh, I could add some pictures from Rome, couldn't I?  And from Poland, where his girlfriend, my husband, and I all met up with him a couple of days after Christmas.  (Now that excellent adventure is a great subject for a future post, let me tell you!  I posted pictures from the Poland trip on Instagram, but never got around to blogging about it here.)

Anyway, I am incredibly happy that during these years that he has been fulfilling his military obligations, my baby boy (and that cute mug of his) has had the opportunity to visit so many spectacular places when he's been on leave.

But I miss him...and I can hardly wait until this little world traveler is stateside again!

(Now don't forget to click on that helpful link I gave you!)

Thursday, February 1, 2018


I’d like you to meet Michael.  He’s one of my heroes.

Michael is the nephew of my second-born son’s wife, the third-born of her sister's six children. He just turned nine years old and I am going on sixty; but believe me when I say that when I grow up, I want to be just like him.  When you hear his story, you will undoubtedly feel the same way.

T-shirts were made for Michael's friends and family to wear in support while he fights the toughest battle of his young life against a bitter foe, a disease that has ravaged his body but not his spirit.  The shirts have this logo on the front: #MICHAELSTRONG

And oh, is he ever strong!  His poor body has been through the wringer ever since he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, T-cell leukemia, in March of 2017.  He's gone through a series of intense chemo treatments with their merciless and horrendous side effects, treatments that would test the spirit of a person of any age.  He's been in the hospital countless times, enduring a level of pain and suffering that is impossible to imagine or describe.  All he wants is to be a regular kid: living at home with his parents and five siblings, not in a hospital bed; going to school with his friends; playing sports and taking swimming lessons.  He just wants to engage in all the normal activities that children his age get to enjoy and take for granted, and he can't.  Every now and then, when his health allows it, he is able to visit his Catholic school and see all of his classmates there.  As his mother wrote in a December 2017 Facebook post,

"Michael was invited into his third grade classroom today to briefly make a Christmas ornament with his friends. This brought tears to this tired cancer mom's eyes and soul and a grin from ear to ear to our little Michael. The social isolation he has faced since March has been more than most adults can comprehend. His classmates cheered and were so welcoming. They even sang to him. We could not stay long due to low counts, but Michael's smile and laughter was enough to show me that there wasn't much else he would have rather done. His illness has made him appreciate the little things we used to all take for granted."

Can you see that he's smiling under his mask in those pictures?  Cancer is trying to wage a war against him, but Michael's heart and soul remain invincible.  He is so brave, and his deep faith is a wonder to behold.

Michael smiles through the agony and can't bear to see his mother looking sad. He apologizes for the inconveniences his cancer causes his family.  He continually thanks his parents and his devoted Nana (who is by his side whenever they can't be), as well as all the members of the hospital staff who care for him.  He continually prays for others as he walks his pain-filled Way of the Cross, offering up his own sufferings for people he knows who are ill or dying.  I can only imagine how the fervent prayers of this young saint-in-the-making sound to the ears of God, and how much good they do for those who need them.

I can't believe that I haven't blogged about this amazing little boy yet.  He is in my thoughts and prayers every single day, and he's one of the people my husband and I always include when we list our special intentions before we pray our daily Rosary.  He has been fighting his epic battle against cancer for about a year now, and like the saint for whom he is named, he has been and is a mighty, courageous warrior.

This past November, his mother shared this on Facebook:

"Michael is very weak, many times he has to crawl up the stairs or I have to carry him. He is skinnier than a skeleton and pale and bald, but he is always trying his hardest and never likes to see his mom cry. He’s my world and my reason for living. Strongest 8-year-old I know."

As much as I've wanted to share his story here (if only because it might inspire even one more person--someone who might not have heard of him otherwise, had they not stumbled upon this site--to offer much-needed prayers for him), for some reason, I have not mentioned him yet at String of Pearls.  I think it's because I am so profoundly sad about the illness that is robbing him of so much of his childhood, and at the same time so profoundly moved by the way he has faced all the pain and fear and loss of normalcy with an almost otherworldly strength.  His story is too big, too important, too hard to put into words that will do it justice.  Just as I have not been able to sit down and write the story of my father's poignantly beautiful last week on earth, I have not been able to write about this extraordinary child and the tremendous cross he has been chosen to carry, either. For how can I possibly do him justice?  If he isn't a saint living among us, I don't know who is.  How can I ever rightly convey the magnitude of his courage and grace, his acceptance of the unacceptable?

Perhaps the best thing to do is to share with you some more thoughts about Michael in the words of his dear mother, who is suffering every pain along with her beloved son.  I can't even imagine how excruciating it is for her to see her boy suffer so. Her heart has been pierced by a sword and she is in need of your prayers, too, during the next three years that Michael is receiving treatment for his leukemia.   (These quotes can be found on Michael's Caring Bridge site, if you are interested in reading more about him and following his story as updates are added.)

As hard as it is for this loving mother to leave her other five children in the care of nannies much of the time while she's in the hospital with Michael, when all she ever wanted to do was be a SAHM and care for her brood herself, she writes:

" a family, we will do whatever we need and must do to save Michael’s life. He’s one amazing fighter. Rarely complains and trust me being held hostage in this prison (hospital) is hard on an adult, I can’t imagine doing this at age 8. He continues to teach me patience, the value of suffering, and being tough and willing to fight no matter how much it seems TOO HARD. I  hate saying this, but he was 'picked' for a reason."

She also writes:

"Michael never ceases to amaze us with his smile that can light up any room, courage, perseverance, faith that is stronger than anyone we know, and love... Suffering, or watching such a young boy suffer, is something so indescribably painful it's hard to put into words. We love Michael more than life itself. The fear of this cancer trying to take our son is beyond terrifying. Oh how we wish we could go back to the days before cancer, when we thought life had its challenges! Our local priest, who has become like family and who Michael absolutely LOVES, has reminded us that Jesus is with us in our pain, He will not abandon us and we must stay close to Him and our Faith.

I will share one short story with you. Because we are never able to get michael to eat anything due to the chemo-induced nausea.....when he asked for a five guys hamburger the other day we were shocked! We masked him up and took him in to let him order a hamburger. However, right away, we noticed him sitting in a chair tears streaming down his eyes making his mask wet. I said, "Michael, why are you crying? We never leave the house and you are the one who wanted to do this. What is wrong?" He looked to the corner of the restaurant where a very clearly homeless man was looking down at his table, with no food on it, but a couple peanuts he had gotten out of the free peanut bucket. Michael said, "Mom, if he cannot eat, then I refuse to eat. I want him to have my food." I told Joe about the situation and Joe gave Michael enough money to keep the sweet cold homeless man comfortable for a while. Michael's eyes lit up with joe and he ran over to the homeless man and said, "Hi! My name is Michael and I have cancer. I want you to have warm food and money. I love you!"

If you haven't learned a lesson from this boy.....I'm not sure what to say."

I'm not sure what to say either.  Because as I said before, when I grow up, I want to be just like him.  He is a role model for us all.  That beautiful, touching story about his love for a homeless stranger reminds me so much of things I've read about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who was always similarly concerned about helping the poor, even when he was just a young boy like Michael.

Please pray for this special boy to be completely cured of this dreaded disease.  Pray that God will continue to give him the strength to endure the years of treatments ahead of him.  And please keep his beautiful family in your prayers as well.  They're suffering right along with him.

As the #MICHAELSTRONG T-shirts say on the back, "PRAY FOR MICHAEL, In It to Win It."  Pray, my prayer warriors.  Pray as if this boy's life depended on it...because it does.