Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Mother-Daughter Christmas Offer from Bezalel Books

The power went out at my house on Wednesday during a snowstorm, and even though it was restored on Thanksgiving afternoon, I haven't been able to get the Internet up and running.  And my IT specislist (a.k.a., my husband) has been in Europe, working an airline trip.  So in case you were wondering where I was...


I decided to try something I've only done once or twice before: to blog from my cell phone.  (This thing is my lifeline, I'll tell you!  When the house was cold and dark and the telephone land line was dead, this little gizmo was my lifeline!)

My publisher Cheryl Dickow sent me a link today that she wanted me to share.  She's offering a special holiday "mother-daughter" deal over at Bezalel Books, which includes her inspirational novel Elizabeth, a Holy Land Pilgrimage and my new YA novel Erin's Ring.  One for the moms and one for their daughters--but really both books can be enjoyed by women of ALL ages.

Quantities of this special bundle package are limited, so hurry on over and check it out!

Moms of young girl readers, this could be you:
Or this:
Well, you get the picture.  It could be a beautiful thing.

(Full disclosure: I'm at my sister's house and just hopped on her Internet, so I was able to finish this post up on my laptop--thank goodness!)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Erin's Ring is Out, Just in Time for Christmas Gift-giving!

Erin's Ring is now available for purchase!

If you're Irish (or even if you're not), you're going to love this book.  If you wear a Claddagh ring (or even if you don't), you're going to love this book.  If you're a history buff (but even if you're not), you're going to love this book.  If sweet, wholesome love stories make your heart go pitter-pat (and if they don't, what's wrong with you anyway?!), you're going to love this book.  I don't mean to sound big-headed about my own book; but that right there, folks--that's called "marketing."  (How did I do?)

The Amazon page for Erin's Ring is up and running, ready to receive your orders; and if you head on over there soon, you'll be able to have a copy tucked under the Christmas tree, all wrapped up with love, for your favorite young (or old!) reader.
If you do check out the Erin's Ring page on Amazon, you'll see that this YA novel has already received endorsements from some respected names in the Catholic fiction world, including Nancy Carabio Belanger, Rosemary McDunn, Amy M. Bennett, and Kay Murdy, as well as a blogger with whom you might be familiar (Tiffany, who blogs at Life of a Catholic Librarian).

I am a huge fan of Belanger, whose popular Olivia books are beloved by many and widely used in school curriucla; therefore I was especially humbled by her words: "Highly recommended for Catholic classrooms, Erin's Ring is a Catholic novel that weaves Irish-American history with the present.  This wholesome novel had me shed tears of sadness and joy, and these brave young Irish-Catholic women from different generations drew me in.  Lovingly and tenderly written, Erin's Ring is a story of true friendship, sacrificial love, and above all, the God Who is never bound by time or space."

Cheryl Dickow (president of Bezalel Books, the publisher of both Finding Grace and Erin's Ring), wrote a beautiful blog post today about not only the book, but about the kind of strong, courageous women you'll find in its pages.  If you'd like to read Cheryl's post, click here.

My publisher believes in this book.  My husband believes in this book (big surprise there).  And I believe in it, too.  I would love nothing more than to get it into the hands of as many young readers as possible.  Therefore--

I'm hosting a Christmas giveaway here at String of Pearls.  I'm going to send one lucky reader a signed copy of Erin's RingJust leave me a comment between now and December 8, and I'll put all the names in a hat and choose one.

Okay then.  I look forward to hearing from you.  And may you have the luck of the Irish.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Belated Veteran's Day Post

I never got around to writing a Veteran's Day post back on November 11, but I decided I'd give a nod to our brave men and women in uniform today.  Better late than never!

I thought I'd share with you the faces of some of our best and brightest: some Army ROTC cadets at the University of Notre Dame who recently found out that they will receive active duty commissions upon graduation in May and learned to which branches they will be assigned.  (Among these faces is that of the youngest of my five sons, my baby--whom I love with the ferocity of a mother lion and of whom I am proud beyond words).
All five of our sons accepted four-year Army ROTC scholarships that they'd been awarded their senior years of high school.  My husband likes to point out that when kids these days make this sacrificial commitment to military service, it's different than it was back in his day.  He himself spent four years as a Navy ROTC midshipmen at Notre Dame; after graduation, he became a commissioned officer and fulfilled his boyhood dream of following in his dad's footsteps and becoming a Naval Aviator.  He flew A-7's and then transitioned to F-18's. Yes, he was a fighter pilot--which as far as the cool factor goes doesn't have any equal, in this woman's opinion.  But at the time he served, the only real threat to our national security was the ongoing "Cold War," and young men and women who entered the armed forces during that era were almost guaranteed that they wouldn't be called upon to participate in any ground wars.  It wasn't until the tail end of my husband's Navy career, when he'd started working for the airlines but was still a flight instructor in the Navy Reserves, that the first Gulf War broke out and there was a chance that he might be sent into battle.  While he was not called up, many of his buddies were, and one even lost his life when he was shot down on the first night of fighting.

The amazing thing is that even though the last thing my husband would have wanted to do was to leave his wife and sons and be sent into harm's way, he said that there was something deep inside him that sort of longed to be with his brothers in arms, fighting alongside them, putting into practice the years and years of training that had prepared him to be a combat pilot.  The feeling actually surprised him, he said.  But it was there, this yearning to use his particular set of skills in defense of his beloved country.  And like any true military man, it wasn't because he was some blood-thirsty, violent "war monger"; instead, it was because he felt that he would do anything--even lose his own life--if it meant keeping those he loved back here at home safe.

These are the kind of men who belong in the military.  Men like my husband.  And men like my sons.

Our oldest son served in the Army for eight years--with year-long deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, where he was a Chinook helicopter pilot.  He missed the birth of his first children, his identical twin daughters, while on his second deployment (although he Skyped with his wife while she was in the delivery room).  Two of our sons are Reservists, although one was activated to active duty for a year, and the other had to deploy to Afghanistan for six months as a civilian.  While having a child deployed to a war zone is one of the most uniquely terrifying things a mother can experience, the sense of pride and gratitude such self-sacrifice and courage engenders is indescribable.

Now we have another son who has made the decision to spend the next eight years of his life in service to his country.  He will take that oath of allegiance to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."  He may be sent to a dangerous part of the world, but he has accepted that as part and parcel of being an Army officer.

God bless my boy and his buddies in the ROTC unit at Notre Dame.  God bless all those other brave souls--past, present, and future--who have taken or will take that same oath.  And God bless America!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Coming Soon: Erin's Ring

I'm so excited that my second YA novel will be published soon by Bezalel Books.  It looks like it might be available in early December, in time for Christmas gift-giving.  (Updates on that to follow.)

Erin's Ring is a much shorter story, at less than 200 pages, than my first novel, Finding Grace.  It will be smaller-sized book than FG, too, with a larger font that's easier on middle-aged eyes.

ER is also a simpler tale, targeted at a younger audience than FG--although my publisher feels it will appeal to all ages, to "women from 16 to 60."  There are some difficult themes in FG (teenage pregnancy, abortion, the Holocaust) that make it more appropriate for an older teen reader; but this book is just right for even the junior high set.
The front cover (it will wrap around the spine on the left). 
The font for title has been changed, so it looks even prettier now.
Here's the (hopefully) attention-grabbing synopsis:

What story might this ring tell, if only it could talk?

When thirteen-year-old Molly McCormick, who has recently moved from the Midwest to Dover, New Hampshire, finds an old Irish Claddagh ring poking up out of the dirt in a garden outside her local parish church, she is immediately intrigued.  The ring’s inscription, “To Erin—Love, Michael,” fills her head with romantic possibilities.  She teams up with her new friend, Theresa Grant, to uncover the story behind the lost ring.  With the help of the head librarian at the public library, the two girls become immersed in the rich history of the Irish immigrants who came to Dover in droves during the 19th century, to escape famine and poverty in their homeland and make better lives for their children and grandchildren. 

Molly and Theresa learn about the courage, tenacity, and deep faith that were the hallmarks of these Irish immigrants—people with names like Ann and Seamus, Cara and Finn, and of course, Erin and Michael. The young girls eagerly delve into old records tucked away in the dark corners of the library and learn how instrumental Dover’s Irish-Catholics were in getting the first Catholic church built in their small New England town. 

Molly and Theresa set out to discover the origins of the mysterious ring, but they unearth a story that is far stranger and infinitely more touching than anything they could have ever imagined.

Does this synopsis entice you to read it?  I hope so!
"I want to read it, Grammy!"  Thanks, G-Man!  I knew I
could count on YOU!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ice Cream Daily: That's the Ticket!

Remember I told you about this condition I had called hyperparathyroidism, which was discovered after some routine bloodwork revealed decreased levels of vitamin D in my blood, along with elevated levels of calcium?
And to cure this condition, surgery to remove an enlarged parathyroid gland was required (which I had, on October 8, and which went off without complication)?
Well, the surgery revealed that that crazy tumor-like gland, which over the course of who knows how many years had sneakily swelled from its normal size (about the circumference of a pencil eraser) to the size of a walnut, had been busy causing calcium to leech out of my bones and spill into my blood, without me ever knowing it.  It had been working overtime doing this, to the point where the other three calcium-regulating parathyroid glands on its team had just gone to sleep, figuring that they'd been benched by the "it's all about me" walnut-sized superstar.

As part of the tests that were done to confirm the diagnosis in the months leading up to the surgical procedure, I had to have my first-ever bone scan, and it was determined that I had developed "significant" osteoporosis because of my hyperactive parathyroid gland.  At the time I found this out, I never thought to ask for a definition of the term "significant."

Well, yesterday I had a follow-up appointment with the endocrinologist who diagnosed the disease, and I asked him how bad my bones actually are.  I was not really expecting the answer this doctor gave me: he said I have the bones of a 70-year-old.  As I was trying to absorb this discouraging bit of information, he amended his statement: "Well, I'd say a 70 to a 75-year-old."  Oh, thanks, doc.  That's much better!

I am 56 years old, and my bones have aged way ahead of the rest of me.  There is a slight chance that they could repair themselves a little, now that the offending gland has been removed.  With vitamin D supplements and a calcium-rich diet, I might see a little improvement--and they should at least stop deteriorating at the rate they were before the cure.  But they'll never be 56 again.  Not in this lifetime.

I found out from the doctor yesterday that the current consensus among medical professionals is that calcium supplements may not be very good for you in fighting osteoporosis--they may, in fact, cause calcium deposits to form around your heart.  A better way to make sure you're getting enough calcium is through your food intake, by drinking more milk, eating more cheese and yogurt.  And therefore I've made a decision that's all about wanting to be as healthy as I can be: I'm going to incorporate as much ice cream into my daily diet as my waistline will allow.  Yes, that's the ticket!  It's medicine for me, people; that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

I worry about falling and breaking a hip--not two decades from now, but RIGHT NOW.  However, I suppose everyone who lives long enough ends up with health issues of one kind or another.  And compared to the crosses and suffering borne by many others, having brittle bones and stooped posture seems like getting off easy.  So I won't complain...
I'll just sit here, shrinking...and eating ice cream!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Rehearsal Dinner Cake for a Pair of Teachers

A couple of sweet readers and fellow bloggers, Madeline and Rosie to be exact, have expressed interest in the rehearsal dinner cake I made for son #2 and his bride.  They've stopped by here often enough to know that this is something I always do for my boys

I decided to use the fact that the two wonderful kids who got married last Saturday are both teachers--my son teaches high school math, and his new wife is a kindergarten teacher--as inspiration for the theme for the cake.  Also, my son has become the adopted father of Ginger's beloved black pug, Reagan, so I wanted to incorporate him into the design as well.  (And yes, the Reagan he's named after is Ronald Reagan, who in this woman's opinion is the greatest US president of the modern era; so as if there aren't already a million reasons why this girl is the perfect match for our conservative-minded son, there's another one.)

Sometimes, I break down and buy ready-to-use tubes of colored frosting, even though they just never taste as good as my awesome homemade buttercream.  When I made the Manchester United cake for my sister's son's rehearsal dinner back in September, I used black frosting from a tube; and not only was it hard to squeeze and control, but it also turned your teeth gray-ish if you ate it.
So I decided to be a purist for this cake and mix up my own decorating colors, going with chocolate for the areas that would otherwise have been black.  The only problem was that my chocolate frosting tended to get very melty as I worked with it, and therefore when I tried to spell out "SCHOOL BUS," I almost made a total mess of the whole thing.  I ended up having to scrape off the word "SCHOOL," and then I spelled out the much shorter, much sweeter word "BUS."  Good enough, I thought.

My son is not only a high school teacher, but he's also a football coach, so I added plastic football embellishments in lieu of a decorative frosting border.

I made this two--layer cake in NH, boxed it up, and put it in the freezer, so that it would be frozen solid for the car trip down to VA.  This is what I've done for every wedding so far, and it works like a charm.  The cake is less fragile in its frozen state, and by the time we reach our destination, it's all thawed out.  Then by the time the rehearsal dinner comes, it's moist and heavenly.  This cake did have a near-catastrophe befall it, when a rolled-up extension cord fell over onto the box, just after we'd arrived in VA.  So a chunk of icing just under the wheels of the bus (which go round and round) was scraped off.  But I did some surgical work on it, and patched it up so that you can hardly notice.

Okay then, here it is.  For a pair of teachers, doesn't this design just take the cake?
The couple, God bless them, were happy with the way this cake turned out.  In a way, I think it looks like something one of Ginger's kindergarten students might draw.  But I guess that makes it just about perfect, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sister, Sister--and a Growing Family!

The pictures from son #2's wedding to Ginger this past weekend just keep on comin'!  My baby sister and her hubby were both johnny-on-the-spot all weekend (not just at the wedding, but at the rehearsal dinner the night before), flashing away with their cameras in their zeal to capture every possible photo-worthy moment of this fabulous occasion.  My boy and his bride had hired a professional photographer, of course; but my sister and her man (a jack-of-all-trades who was once a professional wedding photographer himself) didn't let up all night anyway.  Already, she has posted hundreds of awesome pictures on Facebook.  She's a real peach.
This particular sister is probably the #2 fan of this blog, after my husband; or perhaps #3, after my husband and my middle son.  She's a fan of everyone she loves, and everything her loved ones do.  She's a bubbly, happy person who knows how to shower affection on others with an effortlessness and beauty that I have yet to master.  I might be the older of the two of us, but I think I've learned more from her than she'll ever learn from me.
Oh, yeah--and she's stunning, too.  Did I forget to mention that?

My other lovely and loving sister was also at this wedding (it was just us Harding gals, since my dad and my two brothers were unable to make it).  She flew down from NY to VA with my indomitable mom, who's been having trouble walking due to some issues stemming from her arthritis (and one of our nephews came along to help out as well).  My mom, a great-grandmother of four now, didn't kick up her heels the way she used to when she was known far and wide as the "Energizer Bunny"; but she did plenty of dancing in place and had a wonderful time in general.

The Harding women, left to right: the sister on the left is #4 of 5 in our family, I'm #2,
and the sister on my right is the baby.  (The photo-bomber is my oldest son!)
My mom and the older of my two younger sisters are both dark-haired, dark-eyed beauties, as you can see.  The funny thing is that my brunette sister up there on the left looks a lot more like the beautiful new young bride of son #2 than she does like me.  They could be sisters!  (Or aunt and niece, or whatever.)

I normally refrain from posting pictures of my three granddaughters (the children of my firstborn son), out of deference to his and his wife's wish to protect their privacy; but this shot is rather blurry, so I thought it would be okay.  I just wanted to show you our growing family.  Once, we were seven.  But between December 2009, when our oldest son got married, and November 2014, when we celebrated this latest wedding, we have more than doubled in size.  In a mere five years, we've added four daughters-in-law and four grandchildren--so we've gone from seven Pearls to fifteen (sixteen, really, with another wee one in utero: a sibling for our little girls).  Here's our ever-expanding gang, with my mother (who goes by the handle "Mimi").
Praise God from whom all blessings flow! (And there will be more pictures where these came from, just you wait and see...)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Trio of Adorable Flower Girls

Our wee twin granddaughters have just survived another stint as flower girls--their third such stint in the past eleven months.  Three of their uncles have gotten married in less than a year, and all three wanted their beloved nieces to play this special role in the festivities.

Back in December of 2013, for the wedding of son #3 and Preciosa, Bonny Babe panicked and wouldn't leave her mother's side; Cutie Pie raced down the aisle alone, straight into Papa's waiting arms; and the third flower girl, the six-year-old daughter of the bride's cousin, ended up walking down by herself, carrying the "Uncle M, here comes your bride" banner that the twins were meant to carry as a pair, with her following along right behind them.  It didn't go off as planned, but was very cute nonetheless.

Just a couple months later--in February of 2014, when son #4 married Braveheart--the twins were to be the only flower girls in the wedding.  That time, we decided from the get-go that we shouldn't put everyone through the stress again; so when my husband and I processed down the aisle ahead of the wedding party, we each held the hand of one of the twins, and their mommy followed closely behind holding their baby sister, Little Gal.  (There were no older flower girls involved in that wedding.)  It all went off without a hitch; and although the way our sweeties came down the aisle wasn't textbook flower girl style, it was very sweet.

This time around, there were five flower girls altogether: the twins and three older girls (the bride's niece, along with the daughters of two of the bride's friends).  During the rehearsal, we tried to get our granddaughters to process down the aisle with the other three, but they weren't having it.  The poor things--for every single wedding with which they've been involved, the ceremony has taken place right in the heart of what would be their nap time!  So Papa and I asked if we could just do a repeat of the February performance, and let them come down the aisle by our sides, holding onto our hands.  It was absolutely the right call!  They are just too young for the job, in our opinion.  Five- and six-year-olds make ideal bridesmaids, but younger girls are not always ready to be in the spotlight like that.  At least ours aren't, because right now they're just too shy.

So that's how it went with this latest wedding of son #2 and Ginger: we got the little girls down the aisle and happily seated up front with us; and later, the three older girls came down together.  They were just precious!  All somewhere in the neighborhood of five or six, those three girls were the perfect age for the job.  They looked (and I believe felt) like princesses in their satin dresses, carried bouquets, and wore flowers in their hair.  They were quite the trio of best buddies.
There aren't many little girls who have played this role three times between the age of two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half, like our twin granddaughters have.  I hope by the time our youngest son gets married, they'll be the right age for the job.  And perhaps by then, their little sister can be a flower girl right along with them!  With this in mind, I'm hanging onto these dresses I made.  All I'll have to do is change the sashes so the color matches the décor of the next wedding.  (I like to think ahead...but no pressure, youngest son!)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wedded Bliss

Hi all!  It's been a busy weekend, filled with such joy and excitement and fun.  Our family has once again been blessed beyond measure.  But no time to blog about it now--my husband and I are about to get on the road, and we've got a long drive ahead of us.

Here's a little teaser for you, a picture of my beloved second-born son and his gorgeous, glowing bride, "Ginger," leaving the church as husband and wife.  They are over the moon, and so are we!
That's all I have time for today--we need to check out of our awesome Marriott suite, pack up the car, and hit the highway.  But I will be back, trust me, with more details about this glorious occasion.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Going Right to the Source[s]

When I decided to take Cheryl Dickow, the president of Bezalel Books, up on her incredible offer to write a second young adult novel for her Catholic publishing company, I knew almost right away that I wanted to write a book with an historical component in it.  (In fact, before I decided to write Finding Grace back in 2007, I was thinking of writing a story something like this second novel, Erin's Ring, but I didn't feel ready to tackle it yet.)  The New England town where my husband and I live--where we moved in late 1989, and where we raised our five sons--has such a rich history, I believed that I could mine it and come up with a compelling tale.  And I hope I did.

Erin's Ring goes back and forth between the 1800's and the 1990's.  It interweaves the lives of some fictional young Irish immigrants who moved to Dover to escape poverty and famine in their homeland (and found employment in the non-fictional Cocheco textile mill, which was formerly known as the Dover Manufacturing Company) with those of two contemporary junior high classmates named Molly and Theresa, who bond over their trips to the public library's "Historical Room."  The girls begin researching the history of the intrepid 19th-century Irish immigrants of Dover, in the hopes of uncovering the owner of an old Claddagh ring that Molly found in the garden near her parish church; but they end up learning so much more than they ever dreamed possible. 

Anyway, I had half the story written in my head before I even sat down at my laptop keyboard; but first, I had to do a bit of research to get some of the facts straight about some important true events that were going to provide a backdrop for my story.  Furthermore, I wanted to be able to make my descriptions of 19th-century life in this town credible.

These days, you can find almost any information you're looking for on the World Wide Web, but I didn't want to have all of my sources come from the Internet.  I wanted to hold some actual books and papers in my hands.  I wanted to see these time-yellowed documents up close, with my own eyes, and to smell the mustiness that proved their age.  So I went down to our local public library, where I was told about a locked room upstairs, for which a special skeleton key was given out upon request, that housed all the precious old research materials I was looking for.  I went up there and immersed myself in Dover history for hours, taking pictures of the pages which contained snippets of info that I thought I might want to use (as this seemed a lot less painful than carrying them downstairs to copy them on a printer, locking and unlocking the old oak door for every trip there and back).

I was so enthralled with this information-packed room!  Is it any wonder, then, that I wrote it into the book?  Is it any wonder that although none of the characters were inspired by people I know in real life, I decided that Molly would have the same love of all things old and antique that I do?  The same love of history, and the same love of books?  They say you should write about what you know; and I know about loving to handle old things--wondering who has held them before me and what those lives lived before my time were like.

Here are some of the pictures I took back in early June during my foray into the archives of the Historical Room, when Erin's Ring was still but a twinkle in my eye (or my brain, or whatever).

Okay, then, fellow fiction and/or history buffs...does this get you all excited to read Erin's Ring?  (If so, mission accomplished!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It's That Time Again--


Tomorrow my husband and I are packing up the car and heading down to VA for the wedding of son #2 to an extremely sweet, incredibly big-hearted, dimple-cheeked beauty (who shall be known as "Ginger" on this blog).  This will be our third family wedding in the space of eleven months.  On December 7, son #3 and his Preciosa tied the knot; they were followed closely by son #4 and Braveheart, who got hitched on February 22, 2014; and now we have the wedding of son #2 to Ginger on November 8.  I'll tell you, a lot can happen in a eleven months!  (For instance, son #3 and Preciosa are already parents!  By the time they celebrate their one-year anniversary, little G-Man will be two months old!)
That's right, little guy.  Grammy's talkin' about you.
Back when son #1 got married (way, way back in December of 2009), I made and decorated a large sheet cake for his rehearsal dinner.
The dinner was held in a place that had a tiki bar and a huge sand volleyball pit,
and the guests wore flower leis; so the cake was in keeping with that "theme."
And because when they were growing up, there was always a lot of emphasis on fairness (I used to deal out the colored wooden blocks, to make sure that no one got more than his fair share of the big red ones--which would have put the whole universe out of alignment, let me tell you), I decided that this would be one of my "things" for each of my boys' weddings.  Yes, I'm always happy to have a good excuse to make a cake, and I always enjoyed creating special cakes for their birthdays; so I thought it was a great idea to plan to make rehearsal dinner cakes for all of them.  I figured it could be like that "groom's cake" tradition (is that a Southern thing?).
Son #3's cake:
The groom likes dinosaurs; the bride likes monograms; I just aim to please.

Son #4's cake[s]:
The bride thinks she's Ariel; the groom thinks he's Michelangelo.
Who am I to tell these kids-at-heart that it's time to grow up?
I can't show you the cake I made for son #2 and his bride yet, because I don't want to ruin the surprise before the big day [that is, the day before the BIG DAY].  But I'll just tell you that it's a large, two-layer, decorated sheet cake, and that lots and lots of buttercream frosting was employed.
Recipe for heavenly goodness (I quadrupled it for my cake!):
1 cup softened butter, 1/2 cup light cream, 1 tsp. vanilla,
6 cups confectioner's sugar.  Whip like crazy 'til very fluffy and creamy.
My Kitchen Aid mixer (aka: my right-hand man) has been busy, busy, busy in the days leading up to this wedding.  And in the past months, so has my trusty old Kenmore sewing machine.
Ginger is going to have five flower girls in her wedding party, and I am once again the dressmaker for these little angels.  Two of them are my twin granddaughters (3 and 1/2), who've played this role twice already, in the weddings of their uncles who got married this past year.  Luckily, it looks like the dresses I made for them to wear with one older girl in their first go-around last December, with navy blue sashes and velveteen boleros,
and then again in February, with champagne-colored sashes, when they were on their own (with their baby sister sporting a coordinating dress),
are still going to fit.  (That's one big plus about having the weddings come so close together!  And making them a bit on the big side was definitely the right move.)  I just had to stitch up three matching dresses in bigger sizes for the older flower girls.

I love this very simple yet elegant dress pattern.  On the pattern package, it is shown made out of flowered cotton; but fashioned out of ivory satin, it has a very classy look to it.  Add a satin sash and some covered buttons, and voila!  It's a perfect flower girl frock.
This time around, the sash is pale pink, there are no boleros, and there's a pearl-cluster button on the front of the sash.
My dining room looked like a factory sweatshop for a while there!
I can hardly wait to see that quintet of flower girls in these dresses!
Okay, then, that's it from Casa Pearl.  I'm going to be on the road tomorrow, and busy until after the weekend.  So in the coming days, I'll only be posting some already-prepared teasers about my soon-to-be-released Catholic YA novel, Erin's Ring.  (It might even be out in time for Christmas gift-giving!)  And then next week: get ready for wedding deets!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Power of the Eucharist

I've been meaning to write about a rather extraordinary thing that happened to my husband and me, on a rather ordinary day, while we were doing ordinary things.  I don't know why I didn't write about it immediately after it happened, so that I could tell it in sharper detail, remembering the exact words that were spoken by all the players.  But I'm afraid now that if I don't tell it, it'll grow too fuzzy in my mind to repeat.  (Although considering the circumstances, that isn't likely.)

So here it is: a true story about the Holy Eucharist--and its power over even those who don't comprehend its significance.
Back in late spring or early summer, my husband and I were on our way to the airport, looking forward to a trip out to the Midwest to visit our oldest son and his family (including our three precious granddaughters)--taking advantage of the best perk of his job: non-revenue stand-by privileges, which allow us to travel for free on flights, if there's space available.  We boarded the shuttle bus that takes airline employees from their parking lot over to the terminal, and when we got on there were four women in their mid-thirties or so sitting nearby, gabbing excitedly.  From the way they were dressed and the bags they had with them, it looked like they were taking off on a "girls only" getaway, perhaps to someplace beachy and exotic.

We didn't mean to eavesdrop, but it wasn't a very big bus.  And before long, one of the gals was gossiping about a wedding she'd gone to not too long ago, and how weird and awkward it was standing-sitting-kneeling-standing-sitting-kneeling her way through a too-long Catholic nuptial Mass.  There was some "OMG-ing," some chuckling, and some joking about how crazy those Catholics are--you know, the whole "What's that stuff all about, anyway?"  This was a tad annoying, of course, because it always stings when I hear the Faith denigrated and made fun of by people who don't understand it and certainly don't love it.  But whatever; so far, it was pretty easy to ignore the prattling going on, and to just do some mental eye rolling and silent sighing.

Then the gal who'd gone to the wedding told her girlfriends that she'd gone up for Holy Communion.  Unfortunately, the presiding priest hadn't instructed the guests that if they weren't Catholic, they should just come forward with arms folded to receive a blessing; or if he had instructed them, she hadn't been listening.  So she found herself sort of trapped in a line going up, and when the priest put the consecrated Host--the Body and Blood of Christ!--in her hand, she didn't know what to do with it.  So she ended up putting it in her purse, and she'd been carrying it around in there for weeks!!  At this point, I felt myself go all cold inside, and I looked at the floor, feeling shocked and sad.  She kept talking about how she'd asked Catholic friends what she should do, and no one had any good advice to give her.  She mentioned that she was worried now that it probably had make-up on it from spending all that time in her bag.

My husband, God bless him, spoke up.  "Hi, listen, I'm a Catholic.  You shouldn't be carrying that around.  You should take the Host to a Catholic priest.  Or if you have a Catholic friend who knows one, have them take it."

At this unexpected instruction, the girl looked appreciative, but also a bit shame-faced.  My husband proceeded to assure her that no one would be angry--in fact, he told her that everyone would be happy if the Host was returned to someone who knew what to do with it and would treat it with the respect it deserved.  She thanked him, and we all exited the bus when it reached the terminal.

Then my husband realized with a jolt that he should have taken it himself, to be absolutely sure that she didn't just continue to carry it around.  So he hustled over to where she and her friends were checking in and said, "I can take that Host for you."  And God bless her, she agreed to give it him.  She reached into her purse and produced a small, soft-sided mini-purse made to hold credit cards and whatnot.  And the Sacred Host was in the outer pocket of this purse, inside a see-through plastic sleeve meant to hold a driver's license or some other sort of picture ID.  It was not covered with make-up, as the girl had feared it might be.  It was clean, having been protected by the plastic.  But it was broken.

Here's the amazing thing, though: after being carried around in that woman's purse for weeks, the Host was broken cleanly into three pieces, one slightly larger than the others, with no crumbs in sight.  It was broken in three, like the Trinity.  To my husband and me, that seemed nothing short of a sign from Heaven.

My husband made a Sign of the Cross and consumed those three pieces, and we both finally felt at peace.  Had he not caught up with that woman and asked her to let him have that precious Host, we both would have always wondered what had happened to it.

We've talked about this incident several times since it happened.  In spite of the fact that the non-Catholic woman seemed very disparaging about the rituals of Catholicism, my husband likes to point out that there was something about that Host that made her feel as if she couldn't just throw it in a garbage can.  She didn't believe what we believe, yet something about it spoke to her and made her realize that it was not just run-of-the-mill bread.  And something made her bring up the subject of her embarrassing Catholic wedding faux pas within earshot of a guy who loves Our Lord more purely and deeply than anyone I know, and who would know just what to do about her situation.

Whenever I remember that extraordinary ordinary day, I get chills.   My husband and I both believe that it was no accident that we were on the same employee bus with that particular woman on that particular day...and that something compelled her to tell her story, so that we could hear it.  God does indeed work in mysterious ways!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Erin's Ring is Finished! (And Erin Go Bragh!)

It's All Saints Day, and coincidentally (or perhaps not so coincidentally, I suspect) it is also the birthday of my beloved late mother-in-law.  She was one of the saintliest people it has ever been my privilege to know.

Mom was a raven-haired beauty, with translucent
 blue-green eyes and a dazzling smile.
Mom was Irish, through and through.  I've got some Irish blood in me, with a mom whose maiden name was Kelly, and I've got plenty of British blood from my Anglophile dad; but my husband's family on both sides has blood that runs almost pure Emerald Green.

I've always been extremely enamored of the Irish: of their looks, their wit, their love of music and dancing, their gift for storytelling.  (It's not surprising then, is it, that my first novel Finding Grace was a paean to the Irish?)  But what I love about them most is their devotion to their faith.

And I've always been fascinated by the story of my mother-in-law's immigrant dad, who came here at nineteen and never saw his family back in Ireland again.
'Tis himself, my husband's handsome grandfather.
Unfortunately, this Irishman after whom my husband was named died too young, when Mom was just a girl of ten.  She missed him her whole life.  The Feast of Saint Joseph was the anniversary of his death (again, I suspect this is not a coincidence!); my husband can remember the way she grieved for him every single year when March 19 rolled around  during the years he was growing up.  (I've written about this man before, if you want to read that post here.)

Erin's Ring is a story about Irish immigrants in my adopted hometown, Dover, NH.  We have lived here since late 1989, when our oldest son was half-way through kindergarten, and it didn't take me long to learn that this small city (settled in 1623, it's the oldest permanent settlement in the state) has quite a fascinating history.  And that history is very tied in with the 19th-century Irish-Catholic immigrants who came to work in the Dover cotton mills and played a huge role in several key events.  When Cheryl Dickow approached me with the opportunity to write another young adult novel for Bezalel Books, I knew almost right away just what I wanted to write about.  And I knew I wanted to dedicate this book, in part, to my husband's Irish grandfather.

It is with great joy and satisfaction that I was able to tell Cheryl that I think the galley is ready to go to print on this date.  I was up very late last night, skimming through the fourth galley she had sent, trying, as she put it, to make it as "perfect as it can be this side of Heaven."  I worked through Halloween night and into the wee hours of this morning; and finally, at about 3:30 a.m., I emailed her to say I think it's a go.

I didn't plan to finish Erin's Ring up today.  The original appointed deadline for having the manuscript completed was December 10.  But it's so interesting that it worked out this way.  Not only is it my mother-in-law's birthday; but there was a tragic incident that actually occurred here in Dover in 1870, late on the night of October 31 and into the wee hours of November 1 (and it will play a part in the story).  How fitting that during those very hours, I was busy making a final sweep through my manuscript before giving Cheryl the green light!

When I set out to write this book, I had the idea that it would be "about 15 chapters long."  But it ended up being 17.  I love the symbolism there, because Saint Patrick's Day is March 17.  That's not an important thing, I know; if it had taken 16 or 18 chapters to wrap the story up, that would have been fine.  But I'm pleased that it took exactly 17.

I know how thrilled my mother-in-law would have been to see this book dedicated to her beloved dad (along with the son she named after him).  Just the fact that I finished today, of all days, feels like a sign that she's had a hand in the whole thing.  So thanks, Mom.  And Happy Birthday!  XO