Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hola from Puerto Rico!

No time to blog today: it's time to hit the beach/pool/swim-up bar by the pool.  I'm having an early Mother's Day celebration here in sunny San Juan with my boyfriend/husband/favorite pilot.  Here's the view from the balcony of our room on the 16th floor of the Caribe Hilton.
I flew here last night with my husband at the wheel (yoke, whatever) of the airplane, after meeting up with him mid-trip at the airport in Atlanta.

I never thought I'd say these words: this white-knuckle flyer has become a bit of a jet-setter. Who would have believed it?

More to come about the trip later, but I just want to thank all those who said prayers for my dad.  His surgery went well yesterday, and he's comfortably recuperating in the hospital.

Adios, amigos!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Prayers for Bigfoot

I really have no time to blog this morning. I have to leave soon to fly to Atlanta to meet up with my husband in the middle of his trip, and from there I'm going to tag along to San Juan, Puerto Rico and spend his 30-hour layover with him.  I feel a bit guilty going off to a sunny, beachy vacation spot (it better be sunny!) today, because this morning my father--better known to his friends, family, and especially to his grandchildren as "Bigfoot"--is having surgery to amputate the rest of the toes on his right foot.

I have written before about my dad's recent health issues, including surgery to open up a blockage in an artery, the development of deep ulcers on the bottom of his right foot (exacerbated by the poor circulation that made the by-pass necessary), and the removal of the pinkie toe of that foot in one operation and then the toe next to it in a subsequent procedure. (Poor Dad!)  Unfortunately, he's still got some sores that refuse to heal, and his doctor has determined that this latest surgery is necessary so that the infection won't spread and lead to the loss of his leg somewhere down the road.

The doctor has assured my father that he'll still be able to drive, wearing a regular shoe with filler in the front part of it.  That, for Bigfoot, would be the only indignity he couldn't handle: not being able to drive.  He doesn't really complain about the loss of the toes; but he does often say, "I just wish it had happened to my left foot [the non-driving foot]."

My dad has a great attitude about the trials he's being put through--and true to form, he sees the funny side of it all, too.  He's always loved gifts of  t-shirts, caps, blankets, sweaters, or any item you can think of that can be embroidered or imprinted with his famous moniker--the unique title, he says, that will make his grandchildren and great-grandchildren remember him long after he's gone.  (I mean, he seriously loves his nickname. Case in point: he and my mom don't have a garden gnome in their yard; they have a Sasquatch figurine.)  After he lost two toes, one of my sisters said perhaps his name was going to have to change now, and she had a "Three-Toed Sloth" t-shirt made for him.  If you know my father, you know that's exactly the way he likes to play things.  For Bigfoot, laughter truly is the best medicine.
My daddy and me, Thanksgiving 1974 (rocking our 70's hair and fashions).
I was there when my dad woke up in the recovery room after his last surgery, and I would feel utterly terrible not being there this time if not for the fact that two of my sisters live nearby will be with him and my mom.  Thank God Mimi and Bigfoot never have to be alone. I'll be praying up a storm, though, and I'm asking anyone out there reading this to say some prayers for him, too.  God bless Bigfoot, and please let this be the last indignity his poor old size-13 foot has to endure!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

What We Wore [Last] Sunday, Volume 10

I couldn't access the Internet for about a week when I was out of town recently, so last Sunday I couldn't join all the other well-appointed ladies over at Fine Linen and Purple for "What I Wore Sunday," a weekly event that I've begun to enjoy being a part of.  So today, instead of showing you what I wore to church today, I'm going to show you not only what I wore last Sunday (several hours after Mass), but what some other important people in my life were wearing that afternoon, too.  Not to church, but to an event celebrating the upcoming Sacrament of Matrimony that two families will be celebrating along with their children.
From left to right in the back row, here are the players (also known as the parents of the two cute young things sitting in the front row) and what they wore:

~My son's Cuban-born future father-in-law: a light blue oxford cloth button-down shirt, jeans, and a smiling face laced with a healthy dose of Latin charm
~My son's future mother-in-law: beige linen capri pants (you can't see them here, but they were awesome), a navy blue sweater with ruffle accents over a white shell, a couple of happy tears in her eyes, and lots of loving expressions and radiant smiles directed at her beloved little girl 
~Me: a Danny & Nicole brand sleevless cotton dress, from the sale rack at J.C. Penney a few years ago (in a zebra print, which is a bit out of character for this conservative-dressing old lady) and a shrug from Dress Barn, along with a teardrop or two and lots of proud and happy "My boy is getting married!" smiles
~My hubby: his trademark leather cowboy hat, a Kelly green polo shirt (with Notre Dame-themed embroidery on it--another trademark as far as his wardrobe is concerned), jeans, and the killer jut-jawed smile that made me fall for him in the first place 
Here's a close-up of my "Sheena of the Jungle" dress (that's what my husband likes to call me
when I wear animal prints!).
The other three parental units are also wearing little pins made by my son's future m-i-l, with a photo of the happy couple on them; but I'm not wearing mine because it was pinned to my coat, and I removed that for this photo.  Most of the 25 people in the room wore these pins as fashion accessories that day.
Now here's what the future bride and groom in the front row wore:

~The bride-to-be: jeans tucked into brown leather boots, a beige sweater, a bold orange statement necklace, and most importantly, a mega-watt smile and a gleaming diamond ring
~The groom-to-be: cotton shorts and a good-looking polo shirt with a plaid collar, along with expressions of pride, relief (that the surprise had gone off without a hitch, after months of planning), and pure joy

Okay, that's what we wore.  Now head on over to FLAP, where you will probably get more detailed information ("deets," as the youngsters say nowadays) about where to find the latest and greatest fashions than you did from me here today!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

I Need Me Some P90X Arms

Tony Horton, I think I may finally need to jump on that P90X work-out train of yours--the one my hubby's been on the last four years or so.  I've been relying on my way-less-unbearably-difficult "Turbo Jam" and "Slim in 6" DVD's to whip me into shape, but I think perhaps I'm going to have to get a little more serious.  Because I've never had very impressive upper body strength, you see (with the exception of my freshman year in college, when I rowed crew at Holy Cross and could actually do a couple of pull-ups in a row); and it has become apparent that this empty-nesting mother is finally going to have to build up some serious arm muscles.  I realized this after reading a heart-tugging on-line article the other day, written by Simcha Fisher, a mother of nine who was reminiscing about the days when she had only one baby to care for. (More about that in a bit.)
Here I am, back in 1983 when I was a first-time mom to an 8-day-old baby boy--
 back when my arms seemed strong enough (after all, he only weighed just over 7  lbs.).
[Sigh...]  I have been struggling lately with the painful realization that my once-noisy house is now going to be quiet most of the time, after so many years of being filled with the funniest, sweetest, most lovable sons a mother could ever ask for--even though I've had about two years to get used to the idea, so you'd think it would be old hat by now.  I was getting along pretty well, for the most part, despite the distance that separates me from most of my children (and truly enjoying all the "date nights" I get to go on these days with my best guy, now that we're so footloose and fancy-free); but then a few weeks ago son #4 was deployed to a foreign war zone for six months, which was tough for me to accept...and then a few days ago, son #5 (our youngest) informed us that he had not one but TWO great experiences planned for this summer: first, a five- or six-week stay in France, living with an Army colonel's family and doing a sort of Army ROTC summer internship, followed almost immediately by three weeks of Airborne school down South. These are wonderful opportunities for our baby, and the last thing I would do is try to stop him from taking advantage of them.  But the reality is sinking in that he won't be home for more than a few weeks this summer before he heads back to college for his junior year.  And after this summer, he has only one more summer with us before he becomes a college graduate and then he, too, will spread his wings and leave us.

Right now you're probably thinking, "Wait a minute!  Why is this ridiculously over-blessed woman being such an Eyeore, anyway?  Didn't one of her sons just get engaged last weekend?"  Yes, he did! Our middle son asked his girlfriend of a year to marry him--and he did it after months of elaborate planning and scheming, so that both sets of parents, various family members, and many loving friends could see her react to the surprise he'd orchestrated and share in the joy of their big day.  They are hoping to set a December wedding date, so there is much to celebrate--and the happiness they've generated has done much to help lighten the heaviness that has been weighing on my heart.  They make a beautiful couple, and we're thrilled that this son of ours, a glass-is-half-full optimist, was able to find such a perfect mate to be his other half: she is the girl of his dreams, his best friend, his sweetheart, his soon-to-be wife, and the future mother of his children.  God is so very good!

Okay, so you're also probably wondering, "What was all that stuff about P90X and arm muscles?" That wasn't as random as it seemed, mind you; now I guess it's time to tie everything up here into a nice, cohesive package.  Here's what got me thinking my P90X thoughts:  I was so incredibly moved by that Simcha Fisher article I referenced way back in paragraph one of this post, which I found on National Catholic Register's website (and which you can read in full here).   Fisher writes that a mother is "the protector who can't always protect; the one with arms that are designed to hold, always having to let go." When you become a mother, she says, you are "never allowed to be alone. For what?  Only so that you can become strong enough to be a woman who will be left."   [Sniff ]

I need me some P90X arms, that's all I'm saying.

But rest assured that I'm not crying into my coffee as I type this post.  I'm learning that even when your kids grow up and move away, an invisible thread will always connect them to you.  My deployed son just sent an e-mail yesterday, knowing I was worried about how down he was when he first arrived at his post and wanting to reassure me: "Things will get better for me, so you have nothing to worry about.  I got your package by the way, thanks for the brownies.  :-)"  (That invisible thread I mentioned?  Sometimes it's made of baked goods.)  And after I sent my youngest son a text apologizing for being weepy on the phone (and having to pass it off to his dad) when I first got the news that he'd be gone most of the summer, he texted back: "Don't worry about it, that's fine!  I know it's a lot to take in but everything will work out." (Sometimes you find that you've become the child and the wonderful child you raised has become the parent.)  And then there was this recent joyful post on my son's fiancee's Facebook page: "Let me begin by saying that no words I type will even begin to do justice to the LOVE that has been poured out on me...VERY LITERALLY, THE MAN OF MY DREAMS surprised me with an incredible proposal."  (There is nothing more satisfying for this mother than to know that the boy she raised has become the man of a young woman's dreams.)

What I'm trying to say is

Many of the blogs I read are what they call "mommy blogs," written by fresh-faced twenty-and thirty-something gals who are certainly never alone right now (not even when they try to get some privacy in the bathroom!).  They are in the midst of raising young children, toddlers, and babies--and also frequently announcing the positive results of their latest home pregnancy tests!  My blog, on the other hand, is what you might call a "grammy blog." I have moved on to another phase of life altogether, and I suppose if I can pass on some wisdom (you do get wiser with age, right?) to the younger generation, that might be a good thing.  So here's my advice, ladies: build up those biceps, triceps, and whatever other 'ceps you have on those arms of yours.  If you think you need strong arms now--to settle chunky, squirming toddlers on your hips, or to lift screaming, flailing babies out of car seats...you have no idea how much stronger you're going to have to be one day.  As a young mother, you need strong arms to lift and carry your children; as a grammy, you need even stronger arms to hug them with all your might whenever you get the chance.

If there are any young moms out there reading this, are your arms aching now (the way your posts about babies sometimes make my ovaries ache)?  If so, sorry about that.  But motherhood is a double-edged sword, isn't it--as painful sometimes as it is wonderful.  And who on earth knew this better than the Blessed Mother?

You know, come to think of it...Rosaries are probably better for the kind of strength I need than P90X work-outs (thank goodness!).

Friday, April 26, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday," Volume 13: the "Will you marry me?" Edition

--- 1 ---

We have BIG news.

Last Sunday afternoon, my husband and I were in a small rustic building (nicknamed "the Library") on the grounds of a scenic vineyard in northern VA, celebrating a very, very special event in the life of our third-born son.  We were part of a group of about 25 people who'd been invited to gather there--in secret!--so that our boy could give his beautiful sweetheart a real heart-stopper of a surprise, one that she won't soon forget.  The surprise involved a sweet, Prince Charming-type guy on bended knee (played by my son, of course) as well as a healthy-sized diamond in a platinum setting.
My son's future father-in-law at the Library. 
--- 2 ---

Everyone pulled together to make the day special and memorable.

My son's girlfriend's fiancee's mother (who, I believe, could have a booming career in the events planning business if she so desired), along with a host of her dear young friends (professional caterers and bakers among them), flew about decorating the room and setting up the food and drink.  One gal had even packed several dozen cupcakes and a tub of frosting in her suitcase and flown with this precious cargo all the way from Miami; another brought gorgeous linens and serving dishes used recently for a big-time Washington event for some important political movers and shakers.  This shabby-chic little old building became the most Pinterest-worthy site you've ever seen, decorated with touches of monogrammed burlap, photos of the happy couple, and mason jars filled with baby's breath.

Meanwhile, my boy and his girl, along with a small group of cousins and friends, were "taking a tour of the vineyard," a ruse that would end when they opened the door of the little building where we were all hiding.  And when the bride-to-be walked in...

--- 3 ---

we all yelled, "Surprise!!"

And when she turned around to ask him what was going on...

--- 4 ---

my son said, "Will you marry me?"

And surprise, surprise...

--- 5 ---

she said, "Yes!!"

Hugs for her man.
And more for her mommy.  (Not to mention some serious bling.)

--- 6 ---

And because she said yes--because God brought these two beautiful young people together and they fell in love--two families are now forever joined.  Our string of Pearls just keeps getting longer.

--- 7 ---
Okay, I think I just won this week's "7 Quick Takes Friday," don't you agree?  (I haven't even read all the others yet, but what could possibly beat out a son getting engaged?)

Not that winning is important...but I did raise all male children, and to say that the idea that everything is a competition was a theme around my house for the past couple of decades is putting it very mildly indeed.  That whole "It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" philosophy is one that we definitely worked to instill in our boys...but winning is more fun than losing.  Let's be honest here.

My husband and I are definitely feeling like a couple of winners these days, let me tell you. To see your son's face lit up with love and joy, kneeling before his future wife and asking her to spend the rest of her life with him...well, it just doesn't get any better than that.

Okay, Jen and her baby are back home now (congratulations, by the way!), and she's resumed her post as the Quick Takes hostess with the mostess.  Why don't you head on over and see her now, and check out what she and all the other linkers are blogging about this Friday. (By the way, don't miss this one.  It's a real winner, too.)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Theme Thursday: Sky

I've been out of town and without Internet service (AAARRRGGGHHH!!!  I need my Internets!) for about six days, and I figured what better way to get back into blogging mode than with a link-up?  So I thought I'd join Cari et. al. at Clan Donaldson and share some samples of my amateur photography with you.  I just so happen to have some photos that work perfectly with this week's theme.

Have you ever taken a picture that looks so amazing to you that you actually think perhaps you missed your calling and could be making big bucks as a professional photographer? That's the way the picture I'm about to show you makes me feel. (Delusional much?)

This picture was taken from a boat with my good digital camera, at the end of a yearly post-graduation event at our sons' high school called "Last Blast."  My husband and I were chaperoning this all-night extravaganza (for the fifth and last time, after our youngest son's graduation in 2011), and it always ends with a sunrise breakfast cruise past this lighthouse.
New England at daybreak: how's that for a beautiful sky?  This might be my best. picture. ever.

That first one reminds me of my youngest son; the next one reminds me of my oldest. This photo was taken with my iPhone camera when I was out visiting him, his wife, and their twin girls in Colorado last summer.  I was taking my daily speed-walk (because I am no longer physically capable of running--that's my story, and I'm sticking to it) around a small lake near their house when I glanced at the dusk sky and was blown away by its majesty. I had to stop and snap away.
How's that for a Rocky Mountain Sky, Colorado?  I think it's positively heavenly-looking.

When Cari asked people to brainstorm to come up with some ideas for a theme for this week's link-up, I was really pulling for LOVE...and if you want to know why, tune in tomorrow for some of the best "Quick Takes" I've ever had the pleasure of posting!  In the meantime, go on over to Clan Donaldson, where the gray skies are gonna clear up, and you'll put on a happy face.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I hope you enjoyed that LONG intermission...

...because it'll be ending soon.   Consider yourself forewarned!

A lot has happened since I last posted, stuff that I'm dying to talk about; but I've been out of town and since I was unable to get Internet access where I was staying, out of touch as well.

My husband and I are on the road right now, per uzsh, on our way back home from an awesome family event that took place in VA (that's a teaser; more to follow).  After the longest vacation I've ever taken since I started  this blog more than two years ago, I hope to be parked in front of my poor neglected laptop in the morning, typing away to beat the band.

For now, though, greetings from NJ, sent using my trusty iPhone (which, by the way, not only survived its near-drowning months ago, but has sustained no lasting injuries whatsoever!  It's a miracle!).

Hey, would you like to read the exciting, edge-of-your-toilet-seat story about my iPhone's swan dive (more like a belly flop, really) into NOT a swimming pool?  "No, Laura.  That was boring enough the first time around," you say?  Well, I'll give you the link anyway!

Okay then, see you mañana!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fashion Plates/Soul Mates

My husband and I met our freshman year in high school in the fall of 1972, but we didn't start dating right away.  In fact, he and my best friend had a bit of an on-again, off-again romance going on for the better part of that school year. Yet even though he was dating my best friend, I didn't get to know him all that well.  I hardly spoke to him--or to any other boy at school, for that matter.  I was what you might call SHY.  He was incredibly "cute" (our word for great-looking boys back in the day)--so cute that I had trouble even making eye contact with him; but somehow it was not immediately apparent to me that he was with the wrong girl, because obviously he was meant to be with me.

During the summer after our freshman year, we'd become part of a group of friends who hung out a lot, going to movies together and then over to Dairy Queen afterwards, meeting up at the local pizza restaurant after football games, and playing rousing games of hearts in each others' basements.  (I don't even remember how to play hearts, now; but back in the day, I was a bit of a card shark.)  We lived in a small Upstate NY town where 15-year-old kids could walk the streets at night unafraid.  I feel like my high school years were one big episode of "Happy Days."  During the summer of 1973, my husband and I became good friends, then he became my boyfriend, then he became my best friend; and in 1980, he became my husband.  (But he's still my boyfriend!)

I think that everything in life happens for a reason, and so I'm happy now that I never met my guy until high school.  Perhaps if we'd grown up in the same neighborhood and been childhood playmates, he would never have looked at me as "girlfriend material"--who knows? Instead, I was one of a handful of new girls who provided fresh new faces at the beginning of our freshman year (girls who hadn't gone to the grade school that was the main feeder to our Catholic high school), and we new gals on the street had the curiosity factor working in our favor with boys who'd been attending school with all the same girls since kindergarten.

If we'd met before high school, would our childhood selves have recognized their respective soul mates?  Would I have seen my future husband and the father of my sons in this skinny kid, wearing a skin-tight polo shirt and black socks with the trademark black Converse Chuck Taylors he still wears to this day?  (He was a winner, though; and he has the second place ribbon to prove it.)
My husband, circa 1968.
Would my husband have seen his best girl in this prim little miss with an overbite, wearing a sundress and matching kerchief?  (How do you pronounce that word, anyway? Ker-chiff? Ker-cheef?  And when's the last time you saw anyone wearing one of those?!)
My siblings and me, circa 1965.
Most of the blogs I read are written by gals a whole lot younger than I am, newlyweds and young moms in the throes of pregnancies and child-rearing.  My husband and I are through all of those phases.  We were both born in the late 50's, were young kids in the 60's, went to high school in the 70's, had our kids in the 80's and early 90's, and now we've moved on to grandparenthood.  Just saying that makes me feel really OLD.

But I wouldn't want to have been born at any other time, or lived in any other place. Because if even one little thing had been different, my life would look nothing like it does.  I might never have met my husband at all, and I can't even conceive of any kind of life without him. My late mother-in-law used to say, "If you change one thing, you change everything."  And I wouldn't change a thing.  (Except perhaps my decision to wear that kerchief.)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Five Favorites, Volume 2

I'm really having fun with all the new link-ups I've found the last few months.   Like this one I'm doing today, with Hallie et. al. over at Moxie Wife--I mean, who doesn't like to talk about their favorite things?

For the longest time, I felt like I was an island (although no man is, you know): all alone at my laptop, wondering who in the world besides my little stable of loyal followers (most of whom are called "relatives") was even reading what I wrote.  But then I discovered link-ups...

Hey, I think I just came up with my first favorite!

1. Blog Link-ups!

It all started this past January, when I made my first tentative foray into the popular "7 Quick Takes Friday" link-up over at Conversion Diary.  By February, I'd discovered "What I Wore Sunday," a weekly faith-filled fashion show hosted by Fine Linen and Purple.  Now I've added "Theme Thursday" over at Clan Donaldson and "3 Reasons I Love Catholicism" over at California to Korea to my ever-growing list of Internet places to go, Internet people to see. It's crazy how many new bloggers I've "met" through these link-ups!  I'm getting more visitors to my blog these days, and they're leaving comments.  I'm enjoying the "conversations" we're having.  It's so exciting!  And it's amazing how many interesting blogs I've found that I might have completely missed out on had I never pulled a Phil Mickelson (that is, hit the links--get it?).

2. The T.V. Show "Psych"

If you've never seen this USA Network show, you don't know what you're missing.  "Psych" is hilarious.  You will probably laugh out loud while watching it...despite the fact that your husband is away on a trip and you're all alone in your big, empty house, watching late-night re-runs of a show that you can see anytime you want to because your sons have given you the first five seasons on DVD as gifts.  (It sounds a little pathetic when I put it that way.)

I love "Psych" because it's hip, irreverent, and funny without being vulgar and inappropriate. Sean and Gus are the best "buddy cops" ever, although they're not really cops.  They crack wise as they investigate murders and other crimes, but you won't see all the blood and gore that's rampant on most crime solving T.V. shows.  It's not quite "Mayberry R.F.D.," but it's about as clean a show as you're going to find these days.  Love it.  Great show.  You should watch it.

3. Sugar Babies

I was at a nearby store called "Piece 'o Cake" recently (it sells cake- and candy-making supplies, party goods, etc.), and I saw these adorable cake decorations in the glass jewelry case near the check-out.  Look at these precious little babies--notice how incredibly detailed they are!  And they are completely edible, made entirely of sugar!

I need to make a cake for a baby shower, just so I have an excuse to buy some of these sugar babies.  I do have two nieces who are about 12 weeks pregnant.  Girls, would either of you like me to make the cake for your shower?  And if so, which one is your favorite: the baby in the flower, the baby under the blankie, the baby wearing a cap and dipey, or the baby wearing nothing but a birthday suit?  Personally, I can't decide; they're ALL favorites.

4. Sugar Babies

Just looking at this image makes me nostalgic for my childhood.  When I was about eight years old, this was far and away my favorite candy in all the world.  These innocent-looking little babies were not the best thing for my teeth, however. Umpteen fillings and four crowns later, I believe my dentist can thank them for helping to put her kids through college.

5. Lemonade Stands

Nothing says summer like a good old-fashioned lemonade stand run by a couple of pint-sized salesmen, shirtless in the midday heat, patiently manning their table with boundless hope and enthusiasm.  Of all my sons, these two (#'s 3 and 4) worked the hardest at peddling Dixie cups filled with Country Time lemonade--and they persisted against enormous odds, because they lived near the end of a cul-de-sac street that didn't see a whole lot of through-traffic.  It's been a number of years since this picture was taken (about 20 or so), so my memory is a bit hazy--but I'm pretty sure their dad and I were repeat customers.

Now if only summer would really come!  (Although I should just thank my lucky stars that we're finally snow-free here, and our 10-minute spring has officially begun.)

Okay, time for you to head on over to the "Five Favorites" link-up.  Because blog link-ups are the best (they're my favorite!)--but then again, I've told you that already.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Theme Thursday: Boys

This is one of my favorite subjects!  I don't even know where to begin!  I've blogged about today's theme many times already over the past two years.  I mean, you could read some of my thoughts about boys here, or here, or here, or here...Sorry, I write about boys a lot. Perhaps I should come up with a brand new post for my link-up with all the other Thursday Themers over at Clan Donaldson.

Most of my readers know this already, but if you're new here, I should tell you that I have five sons and no daughters (or make that I had no daughters, because my oldest son got married four years ago and gave me one--the best daughter I could ever ask for).

Mothers of all boys tend to get lots of pitying looks--well, at least I did.  And they get lots of sympathetic (and dare I say tactless?) comments from other mothers whose offspring include at least a few specimens who are of the sugar and spice and everything nice variety.

For instance, a Navy wife I used to hang out with back when I had three little lads under three once delivered this crushing blow: "All boys!  Too bad.  Maybe at least ONE of them will stay close to you guys."  (Huh?!  What kind of mother says that to a fellow mother? And I know they say, "A son is a son 'til he takes a wife, a daughter's a daughter all of her life," but I refuse to buy that.  And all you mothers of little boys out there who are reading this, don't believe it.  Even big boys love and need their mommies.)

By the time I was a pregnant mother of four boys, I got a lot of this: "Are you trying for your girl?" (Nope, we weren't trying or not trying, if you know what I mean.  God had His own plan.)

And this: "Oh, you must be trying for your girl!"   (Why else would I be pregnant a fifth time, right?  Surely not to get another boy!  Again, no; just hoping for a healthy baby.)  

And of course: "Oh, poor you--I hope you finally get your girl!"  (Why poor me?  I loved those crazy little guys of mine!  I thought I would be one lucky mom indeed if I got another one.)

After son #5 joined the team, it was: "Better you than me!  God bless you!"  (I should have always been ready to respond, "He already has!")

Okay, now for the piece de resistance: "You're a saint!"  (It's not at all true, and a bit embarrassing to hear.  But in this modern world where large families seem to have gone the way of rotary phones and 8-track players--and VHS tapes, too, although we still have a rather large collection of those bad boys--anyone with five children, especially five male children, gets mucho respect from the moms in their neighborhoods who feel like they have their hands full with one or two.)

I love boys.  I love their energy and their simplicity.  I love that they can blow up at each other one minute and be laughing together the next.  There were few undercurrents in our house while our boys were living in it together, few periods of sulking and moodiness.  I'm not saying it was all lollipops and rainbows--but it was great...it was just great.  God blessed me, for sure, when he sent me all those boys.  It didn't make me a saint (yet!  But fingers crossed!), but it made for a very interesting, full, and entertaining life.  It made me happy.  There may have been too many wadded up dirty socks lying around--on the floor, between the couch cushions, and sometimes even on the table (!); there may have also been a little too much bathroom humor.
(This 2004 picture of sons 3 through 5 is worth a thousand words...but you don't want to hear them.)
Let me rephrase that: there was definitely too much bathroom humor.  But I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's.

Once when I was expressing my joy about being a full-time mom, telling my own mother how grateful I was for the life I was living, she said, "Well sure, you've got it made!  With all those boys, you're the queen."  I remember thinking, "But do queens have to spend as much time as I do changing dirty diapers, scrubbing toilets, rounding up smelly socks, doing mounds of laundry, slaving away in the kitchen, driving kids to school, to practice, to games...don't they have people who do all that kind of dirty work for them?"  

She was right, though.  They stopped wearing diapers and bickering over who got to sit up front in the station wagon, they started driving themselves to school and practice, they began to appreciate my cooking (even the pickiest of my eaters, sons #3 and #5)--they grew up, and they learned to truly give me the royal treatment.  They had an outstanding model to follow in their dad, and they have become men who are very much like him.

I love my boys!  (Did you get that already?)  Now head on over to Clan Donaldson for more testosterone-filled posts!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fear of Blogging?

I've been working really, really hard on my well-documented and irrational fear of flying. Having three granddaughters halfway across the country, one son attending college at Notre Dame (which is a 16-hour drive from home), and two sons a full day's drive south has helped a lot with this long-standing bugaboo of mine (understatement of the century; because if my loved ones all lived down the street, there's a good chance I would never board an airplane again!).

But lately I've been battling a fear of blogging.  I've been questioning what I'm even doing here on the Internets (that one was for you, son #4! [smiley face emoticon]) and feeling like perhaps my musings have become a bit tiresome and I've worn out my welcome. I'll go to bed feeling that way, thinking that maybe I'll skip a day or two so that I can come up with something really fresh to write about--you know: "Leave them wanting more!"  [belly laugh] But then I wake up the same as always: anxious to park myself in front of my trusty old laptop, with the tips of my fingers tingling and ready to type.

I can't decide if I'm a blogophobic or a blogoholic. Either way, here I am again! You can't get rid of me that easily!

Actually, I have to come clean here: yesterday I was reading this short but inspiring article called "Don't Be Scared Away from Blogging" on a Catholic Writers Guild blog, and the inspiration for my post today came entirely from that. I'm so glad I read this article and the bloggers' comments that followed it.  It reminded me that just because I'm not one of the well-known  movers and shakers in the blogging world,  I shouldn't feel that my little String of Pearls is without a purpose.  I enjoy the writing process, which is a good enough reason, I guess, to keep plugging away.  I like the idea of writing down our family's stories so they'll have them after I'm gone.  Ultimately, I'm now more determined than ever to keep at it (blogging, that is), if for no other reason than that it's an enjoyable outlet for me and a few people (my husband especially) would be sad if I quit.

When I began writing Finding Grace In August of 2007, I hadn't written a thing since I'd left college with an English degree in 1980; but I always knew that one day I wanted to try to write a book.  I was a stay-at-home mom to five boys, and I put the book-writing dream on the back burner for a long time, giving it nary a thought.  Then when my youngest son was about to start high school, I was finally ready to get started.  (I didn't feel ready in those busy years prior to that; some people are good at juggling a lot of balls at once, but I know I'm not one of them.)

I didn't discover blogging until March of 2011, when I was within a year of finishing my manuscript--and boy, I sure wish I'd discovered it earlier!  By the time I started my blog, I had found my writing "voice" (trying to sound like a real writer here!) through years of working on my book; but I think I would have found it a lot sooner if I'd been a blogger first.

So...long story not short enough, I've decided I'm not going to give up blogging just yet--even if most of the people who read my blog are members of my family!  :)

P.S.: One other great thing about blogging is the new friends I've "met."  One of them ordered my book and was kind enough to give it a mention on her blog today, if you want to check it out!  And by the way, thanks Erica!  You're a saint! ;)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Forget the Three R's; How About the Three B's?

I have a book recommendation for you, ladies (yes, ladies--because let's be real here: there are no gents reading this blog, aside from the male cheerleaders in my nuclear family). (They support me and cheer me on, is what I meant--not that they're actually cheerleaders.) (Not that there's anything wrong with being a male cheerleader--our youngest son rooms with one out at Notre Dame, and that kid is probably the best athlete he's ever met.)  (And hey, there's nothing wrong with being a female cheerleader either. Back in the 70's I did some stints as a cheerleader, you know--two years in junior high and one year in high school--so let's not have any of that cheerleader-bashing that seems to be in vogue these days.)

Let's move on to the book now, shall we?  I am recommending it to you even before reading it myself, which might be a dangerous thing to do.  I suppose I could read it, not enjoy it, and regret mentioning it at all.  But I don't think that's going to happen.  I learned about this book through one of the way-too-many bloggers I like to keep up with these days, Sarah Reinhard--who not only blogs, but is a successful author and the chairperson of the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval Committee.  I trust her opinion.

Okay, so here's the cover of this intriguing book by Pat Gohn:
Catchy title, eh?  Those are three B words I would love to be able to apply to myself...with the exception of that last one possibly, because it reminds me of frightening terms like "booty-licious."  But here's the official on-line definition:

Definition of BODACIOUS

Southern & Midland : outright, unmistakable
: remarkable, noteworthy <a bodacious bargain>
: sexy, voluptuous <bodacious babes>
bo·da·cious·ly adverb

Monday, April 15, 2013

My, What Big Eyes You Have

I've got my fourth son on the brain these days, as he has just begun his six-month deployment overseas.  (For those of you who are praying for my boy, I want to take this opportunity to say a great big THANK YOU!)  He has already been in contact with us via e-mails, texts, calls, and Skype.  God bless modern technology!

This son was one ding-dang cute first-grader, I'll tell you.  When my husband and I took a gander at his school picture that year, we just about died.  The expression on his face gave a whole new meaning to the term "wide-eyed."  His teacher was Sr. Ann, who had all five of our boys when they were in first grade--because even though there were two classes for each grade and students were supposed to be randomly placed between the two teachers, Sister liked getting to know all the siblings in the big families and she was good at getting her way.  At our first parent-teacher conference with Sr. Ann the year she had son #4, she told us how much she loved him and how much she loved his picture.  "Oh, those eyes of his! God love him, those big blue eyes!" she gushed.

Yeah, they were big all right!
Circa 1994.
I can't look at this adorable picture without smiling.  What is up with that trance-like expression?  I think our boy must have just gotten the word on the street (make that the tarmac of the St. Mary's fenced-in recess area), by way of urban legend (make that suburban rural legend), that his killer Pog collection would most certainly one day be worth millions and millions of dollars.  Not to mention his precious stash of rare and valuable Pokemon cards.

Ahhh...those were the days, were they not?

Keep those prayers coming, if you wouldn't mind.  Hopefully the time will fly and before we know it, he'll be on his way back home...with this same crazy-joyful look on his face.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

What I Wore Sunday, Volume 9

Subtitle: Recycling Your Outfits
This morning for 9:00 Mass I wore a dress/jacket combo (by Virgo II)  that I've had at least, oh I don't know, 12 to 15 years or so--I've had it so long I can't really even remember when I bought it.  I do remember that I found it on the clearance rack at T.J. Maxx for $20 when I was looking for something to wear to the wedding of one of my husband's many cousins.  ( I never forget a really good bargain.)

I love a lot of things about this outfit.  I love the yummy ice blue color.  I love the loose fit of the blouse/jacket and the cut of the dress, with its flattering princess seams.  I love the pleated accents on the cuffs and hem, and the 3/4-length sleeves.

I love it that with the cover-up ("blacket"?  "jouse"?), it's modest enough for Mass...

Awkwardest pose ever!
...but when you remove that and add some snazzy heels and a little bling (which I didn't do here, but you can use your imagination), it becomes a perfect evening wear/wedding reception type of frock.
The only thing I would change about this dress is the length; I would prefer that it fell right below the knees rather than right above them.  (We grandmas tend to steer clear of anything remotely resembling a mini.)  Several times over the past decade, I thought maybe I should donate this possibly-past-its-prime outfit to Goodwill, because it is a tad short and I only wear in once in a blue moon anyway.  But I just can't bring myself to do it, because it's been such a good stand-by for so many occasions over the years.  I think those women's magazine articles that advise you to get rid of anything you haven't worn in the past year are off the mark; as long as you buy pieces that aren't super trendy and they continue to fit, you never know when you might wear them again.

Case in point: I wore today's outfit ten years ago, to my second oldest son's high school graduation in 2003...
...and then to his college graduation in 2010.
However, I did decide today to bring this ensemble into the 21st century by removing the Velcroed-in shoulder pads, so that I would look less like Lynda Evans in "Dynasty."  (Is anyone else out there old enough to remember that 80's-era nighttime soap?  If so, you might recall that the shoulder pads on her dresses were EPIC.)

I also decided to accessorize with a beautiful pin my husband brought back from Moscow some years back.
The image of the Blessed Mother is hand-painted on mother-of-pearl.  Isn't it just exquisite?

Today, I wore my brown lace mantilla (you've seen it before), and there was a little boy of about four or five who was extremely interested in this somewhat uncommon sight.  As he made his way up the aisle with his mom at Communion time, he stared at me with a frown of incomprehension on his little face, and continued staring long after he'd passed by my pew.  He kept craning his neck around until his mother forcibly pushed him forward by the shoulder.  So...my battle with not really loving the idea of "standing out" continues...

Have a blessed Sunday and a great week!  And don't forget to check out the other (read "better") fashions on display over at Fine Linen and Purple.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saturday Morning Re-runs

I'm going to cheat today.  Instead of writing a brand spanking new post, I'm going to pull a long-forgotten one out of storage, dust it off, and re-post it.  It's an oldie but a goodie (if I do say so myself--although you may not say so), written when I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed newbie blogger.

If I were to write this post today, I might write it differently (and hopefully with two-plus years of blogging experience under my belt, better); but just like I have nostalgic feelings for those days when my boys were little fellas, I get misty-eyed sometimes for the days when this blog was like a newborn baby to me: keeping me up at night (because ideas for topics were pinging around inside my brain); waking me up too early in the a.m. (because I had to get my post up pronto, so my sister--the first loyal follower I had who wasn't either my spouse or my child--could read it with her morning coffee); and requiring lots of care and feeding just to keep it alive and growing.

I still love my little blog, I do.  But our relationship has moved past that starry-eyed newlywed stage and into something resembling a really good, happy, long-term marriage. And knowing my blog as well as I do now, I don't think it will mind at all if I just give you a link to a June 1, 2011 post titled "Band of Brothers.

Did you enjoy that?  (Hello?  Is this thing on?)

The great thing about blogging is that you can be sitting there at your laptop (desktop, iPad, iPhone, or whatever newfangled Internet-surfing gadget you might have), saying, "Um, NO," shaking your head violently and wondering why you just wasted precious moments of your life on a Saturday morning re-run at String of Pearls, and I don't ever have to hear the answer to that question!

But if reading a two-year-old post wasn't all that enjoyable...hmmm, let's see, what have I got for you?  How about a 20-year-old picture?
Well, I guess that's it for this morning--just a couple of re-runs: an ancient "Band of Brothers" post, and an even more ancient "Band of Brothers" picture to go with it.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, April 12, 2013

"7 Quick Takes Friday," Vol. 12; and "Five Favorites," Vol. 1

--- 1 ---
First of all, I'd like to tell Jen Fulwiler that I'm praying for her and her precious newborn son. And I'd like to thank Grace Patton for hosting Jen's "7 Quick Takes Friday" link-up this week.  I'm a little in awe of both of these women, blogging superstars whose followers are legion and whose sites have become regular reading for me and plenty of others these days.  (If you just mention "Jen" or "Grace" in the blogosphere, everyone knows exactly about whom you're talking--no last names are necessary, like "Cher"!)  When I finish either a Conversion Diary or a Camp Patton post, I always come away thinking, "That was amazing.  And boy, do I wish I could write like that!"

And yet, I plug away here at my shy and mostly-hidden-away-in-a-corner blog, trying to get something posted every day.  Because here's the thing: I think I like blogging WAY TOO MUCH.  I started my String of Pearls about two years ago; and for the longest time, my husband, my middle son, my daughter-in-law, one of my sisters, and one of my sisters-in-law were my only loyal followers--yet I still woke up every morning super pumped to start my day by putting together a blog post that would hopefully make my readers (all five of them!) smile or laugh or have to grab a Kleenex.  I had weeks and weeks' worth of ideas stored away in my head for topics I wanted to ramble on about, and I was usually up and at 'em bright and early, sitting at my laptop with a cup of coffee, a smile, and a brain that was firing on all cylinders.

Some things have changed.  I'm not getting up as early as I used to.  No more setting the alarm so that I can have my blog posted at the crack of oh-dark-thirty.  I now even go through periods where I consider shutting down the whole operation, because I sometimes feel like I've said everything I could possibly want to say.  But the bottom line is that blogging is too much fun to quit.  It  keeps me connected to people (both those I actually know in real life, and those who are my special new e-friends).  And the writing process, something I've loved all my life, is frustrating at times, but always ultimately fulfilling. Besides, my husband (who tops a list of followers, most of whom are related to me, that has grown steadily--by ones and ones!) would miss me if I went away for good.  So here I stay.
--- 2 ---
On a related note, I think I like reading blogs WAY TOO MUCH.  As a for instance, when I found Grace's Camp Patton (and I may have been the last person on the planet to do so), I ended up going back through her archives and reading most of her old posts.  And it's gotten to the point that when I check and she hasn't posted anything new for a couple of days, I feel all let down.  (I believe they call this blog stalking.)

There isn't enough time in the day to read all the great blogs I've been introduced to lately, lots of them due to link-ups like this one.  Two years ago, I read two blogs only: my daughter-in-law's, and Ree Drummond's Pioneer Woman.  Now, I can't even remember the last time I checked out PW (sorry, Ree), and I'm hooked on countless blogs hosted by young Catholic women whose writing is by turns crisp, sassy, witty, informative, laugh-out-loud funny, touching, and profound.  Today after I finish this post (which will probably fit into none of the aforementioned categories, unfortunately), I'll most likely spend a good hour checking out all the other bloggers who've left links to their sites.  And the great thing is that I won't feel like I've just wasted an hour of my life on junk food for my brain (like I sometimes do when I spend too much time scrolling down my Facebook news feed).
--- 3 ---
Okay, since I'm doing a dual link-up today (is this allowed?  Is it against the rules?), both here and over at Hallie Lord's Moxie Wife, the remainder of my "Takes" will also count for:

My number one favorite has to be my better half--my favorite guy, and hands down the best husband in the world. (Sorry, ladies.)  He became my boyfriend when I was 15, and he's been my husband for 32 years.  He's still my boyfriend.
I shouldn't share this picture of us at our junior prom (in 1975, when we were both 16), because I was doing some unfortunate experimenting with my hair at the time, and my husband was doing his own experimentation with bad fashion.  But that's my favorite guy there, back when we'd only been alive half as many years as we've now been married.
--- 4 ---
Here are some more of my favorite guys, my five sons--who are all equally favorites (although they'd each tell you that secretly, I love him best).  This photo is from 2007.
I love, love, love, love, love these boys.
--- 5 ---
I also have some favorite girls: my three granddaughters and their mommy--who married my oldest son and thereby became my first daughter, after I'd spent decades being surrounded by only sons.  (Note to the future wives of my other four boys: you, too, will become my favorites, and I promise it will be a five-way tie.)

Here are my girls:
My identical twin granddaughters, sporting identical Easter bonnets and identical knee scrapes.
Little Gal and Mommy, not long after they got home from the hospital almost two months ago.
--- 6 ---
I'm a voracious reader, so no list of favorites would be complete without books.  I've loved too many of them over the course of my life to pick a true favorite, but I must say that To Kill a Mockingbird probably made the biggest impact on me.  I read it when I was a young girl of 10 or 11, and from that point on, I had a secret goal: I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to write a novel--just one novel before I died, that's all I wanted; not to become the next Nicholas Sparks churning out a new bestseller every year or anything like that, but to write one book that would touch even one person the way Harper Lee's one book had touched me.  I think I can attribute the fact that at the ripe old age of 49 (when my youngest son was about to start high school) I finally began writing a novel that would take me almost five years to complete, almost exclusively to my childhood fascination with To Kill a Mockingbird.  Published in August of 2012, Finding Grace is no To Kill a Mockingbird.  But I don't know if I ever would have even attempted the daunting task of trying to write a novel had I not been so moved by Lee's masterpiece all those years ago.
--- 7 ---
Coffee absolutely has to make the cut on a list of favorites, because I can't really enjoy curling up with a good book if I don't have coffee to sip along with it.  And I have to have it every morning, of course.  And sometimes in the afternoon.  And sometimes with dessert after dinner.  And sometimes while my husband and I are watching a movie at night on TV.  (Lucky for me, it doesn't keep me awake.  I can't tell you how many movies coffee has helped me sleep through.) 

I love almost every kind of coffee, with the exception of decaf.  I used to think Dunkin' Donuts was Heaven in a stryofoam cup, and I can't believe I'm about to say this...but these days my favorite coffees are stronger ones that are touted as "French Roast."  Ever since I tagged along with my airline pilot husband on a trip to Nice in December of 2011, and while there tasted my first ever European-made cafe au lait, I have been trying (without a whole lot of success) to recreate the flavor of that liquid nirvana I had over there in France.
Perfection: cafe au lait at the Cafe de Paris in Monaco, just next door to the famous Monte Carlo casino.
(I am such a world traveler.)
Thanks, Hallie, for hosting this link-up!  (And by the way, last night one of my sisters-in-law mentioned that the moms' book club at her church had just finished your book Style, Sex, & Substance.  And I had just read your blog about a half hour before she texted me that information.  It's a small Catholic world we live in!)

For more Quick Takes, visit Camp Patton!
For more Five Favorites, visit Moxie Wife!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Theme Thursday: Grow

Linking up once again with Cari over at Clan Donaldson!  Today's theme: grow.

I don't know if I'm supposed to be showing you plants and flowers and such-like growing things here, but I'm not going to do that, for a couple of reasons: 1--I still haven't raked away last fall's dead stuff in my perennial "gardens" (and I use that term loosely), so the new sprouts popping through wouldn't be shown to their best advantage right now; and 2--I've got just about the brownest thumb on God's green earth.

While I'm not good at growing plant life, I'm okay at growing boys; so I thought I'd offer some visible proof of this skill I've acquired, which was honed through blood, sweat, and tears over the past 30 years.

The youngest of my 5 boys, who was 5 whole years younger than his next oldest brother and was always in a hurry to grow, grow, grow so he could become one of the "big guys," liked to have us measure his height against that of his brothers on a regular basis.

Here are my bookend boys--sons #1 and #5--during one of our frequent measuring sessions back in 2000, when my oldest was 17 and his baby brother was 7.
The little guy was happy that he and his big bro were exactly the same height here...sort of. (We let him have his day in the sun.  We figured that eventually, with feeding and watering and time, he might really catch up.)

Here's the same pair of boys almost a decade later, on our oldest son's wedding day in 2009.
Catch up our baby did, and then some.  Yes, that boy did grow!  (And look, ma: no knees!)

They do grow, you know.  And before you know it, they're all grown up and you wonder where in the world all the years went.  Every mother of grown children chants that same mantra, but that's only because it's so true.

Okay, now head on over to Clan Donaldson to catch some other signs of growth!