Thursday, February 26, 2015

An Oldie but a Goodie

No, sweet husband of mine, I'm not talking about you.  I would never call you "old"--because if I did, I would have to apply the same adjective to myself.  (Readers, the hubby and I are exactly the same age...or I should say basically the same age, because he IS a month and six days my senior...)

So we've established that this post isn't going to be a love letter to my best guy.

What it IS going to be is a love letter to family traditions, memories, and heirlooms--with a nod to that old New England adage that goes, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without."  It's also going to illustrate how long I tend to hold onto things, particularly if they've played an important role in the life of my family.  And what piece of furniture could possibly play a bigger role in a family's daily routine than a kitchen table?  (Don't answer that; I was getting all rhetorical with you there.)

When my husband and I were two bright-eyed 25-year-olds with a new baby, we bought our first house (a sweet little three-bedroom ranch).  Shortly afterward, we purchased a round drop-leaf oak table at the unfinished furniture store and gave a it a golden finish.  Our family was small back in those days when we lived in that FL ranch  (and one boy--or sometimes two--was always using a high chair), so it was plenty big enough for us at the time.  It fit perfectly in our somewhat cramped breakfast nook area off the kitchen.

Here's a 1985 picture of my oldest son sitting at this table on his second birthday, joined by two of his older buddies (with his almost nine-month-old brother in the high chair in the foreground and another younger brother in utero in his mom), getting ready to blow out the candle on his Cookie Monster cake.
The chairs were a mish-mash of hand-me-downs from my in-laws and consignment shop finds, but I think I like the mismatched look better anyway.  (Eclectic, that's it--that's my style.)

We used this little round oak table until we outgrew it.  By the time we bought our "forever home" in NH, it was relegated to a side wall in the basement, with one leaf down--making room for a bigger kitchen table to handle our bigger family.  Then when our #2 son moved into an apartment about an hour away from us and began his first teaching job, we gave it to him and he put it to good use for a few years.  (Not eating dinner on it, mind you; it was more of a catch-all--but no matter.)  When our boy got married and moved down to VA last year, that table came back to its original owners, like a boomerang.  I considered taking it to Goodwill, but I felt a strange attachment to it and decided I'd better hang onto it...just in case.

Well, it helped out a great deal at Christmastime, when all five boys, four daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren were staying under our grateful roof.  We dropped one leaf and pushed it up to the end of our long dining room table, and it gave us just enough extra seating.  That's it, at the far end in this photo.
I have not had time to take down our Christmas decorations yet, because we've been living mostly in VA since early January, with only quick trips north to take care of business and check on our house.  The only thing I've had the time or energy to pack away is our giant Nativity set.
But I did finally take the Christmas tablecloths off when we were home earlier this month, and I was going to move the drop-leaf table out of the room.  I thought about banishing it to the basement once again, but then I decided that since we have such a ginormous dining room (really, it's a monster--the kitchen could be bigger, but the dining room is something else), maybe I would keep it handy for the next time we all gather in that room.

So here's what I did with it.

I actually think this little table looks adorable here, nestled under the window.  I just may use it in the future for romantic candlelit dinners for two.  I'd simply have to pull it out from the wall a little bit, and then push it back when we're through with it.  Isn't it sweet?   (I'm not letting you answer "no"--so again, rhetorical.)

It just goes to show that if you buy well-made pieces, they will last forever.  Oak is pretty much indestructible.  This table is 30-plus years old now, and it has survived multiple moves completely intact.  And just when I thought we couldn't possibly need it anymore, it appears that we're going to be able to put it to very good use once again.  Yes, it's an oldie; but boy, is it a goodie.

It's the circle of life for this circle-shaped table: When our family was young and small, it was perfect for us, but we outgrew it; and now that our family is so much bigger, we need it all over again.

Do you have any pieces of furniture in your home that have special significance or sentimental value?  Do share!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #3)

Okay, I think I've settled on a meme for the Grace-filled Tuesdays book club.  At least for now.  (Will the people at "" mind if I use it, do you think?)

As my friend Erin over at Seven Little Australians and Counting noted recently, my two novels--Finding Grace and Erin's Ring--are quite different in many aspects.  FG is much longer and deals with a larger cast of characters and a greater number of life-altering events (both for the characters and for the world at large); ER, although partly historical novel, focuses on a much more narrow scope, is shorter, and is more appropriate for even younger readers.  But the two books do have one thing in common: they are filled with characters who are desperately in need of God's saving grace.

Erin's Ring is the type of book that I actually thought about writing way back in 2007, when I decided it was finally time (with my youngest son getting ready to enter high school) to fulfill a dream I'd harbored since I was a young bookworm scribbling stories of her own in a marble school notebook.  I started doing some historical research for it, but I spilled a full cup of coffee all over my stack of print-outs--a classic Laura move, CLASSIC!--and my papers were such an unsalvageable mess that I took the incident as a sign that this was not the book I was meant to write.  (That part in FG where Grace Kelly spills hot cocoa all over herself at the football game?  Semi-autobiographical.)  After praying for inspiration at Mass one weekday summer morning, the story that became Finding Grace began to take shape almost immediately, and I spent the next four-plus years writing that first novel.  Set in Plattsburgh, NY, in the 1970's, FG's heroine comes of age during the era that I did; it is a modern tale (although to the youth of today, it might read like historical fiction!). 

But the seeds of a story about 19th-century Irish immigrants, set in the town where we raised our sons, remained dormant in the back of my brain, waiting to take root.  I loved the history of Dover, NH--especially because Irish-Catholic immigrants had played such a big role in it.  My mother's maiden name is Kelly, and my husband is pure-bred Irish on both sides.  His grandfather came to America from County Cork at 19.  FG has Irish-Catholics in it, but they're not first-generation Irish; I always thought it would be fun to write something about "right off the boat" immigrants like this handsome Irishman who died much too young, long before his grandson and namesake ever got to meet him.
My husband and I moved to Dover in 1989. It wasn't long before I began to learn about the rich and fascinating history of this small New England city, which was settled in 1623 and is the oldest permanent settlement in the state. Dover was the site of Indian massacres, epic fires, and devastating floods--to name just a few of the historical events you could write a book about. But what interested me most (having a part-Irish mom and an all-Irish husband) was the history of the Irish immigrants who began to come to Dover in droves starting in the early 1800's--many to work in the cotton mill in the center of town--and were ultimately instrumental in having the first Catholic church built in what had always been a mostly Protestant area.

I always thought the history of Dover's Irish-Catholic immigrants, whose numbers grew so exponentially by the mid-19th century that there was eventually an area of town known as "Dublin," would make a great backdrop for an historical novel. And thus was born Erin's Ring, my recently released YA Catholic novel, published by Bezalel Books in November of 2014. It has been a labor of love: a tribute to the town where my five sons grew up, to the church my family attends each Sunday for Mass, and to the brave, hardy, faith-filled, wonderful people who left the poverty of their beloved Emerald Isle to find better lives here in America.

Here are some images that helped to inspire me while I was writing about the Irish girls who worked at Dover's Cocheco Manufacturing Company in the 1800's.

Okay then, time to discuss.  Have you read Erin's Ring?  If not, does this post make you want to?  (Say yes!  Oh, say yes!)  Do you have an interesting family story of your own about immigrant ancestors--Irish or otherwise?  If so, do share.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Husband Makes the Grade

I have been given a C+ in marketing.  That's not the worst grade a person can get.  I mean it's not an F!  But having grown up never satisfied receiving anything less than an A, this has been a hard pill to swallow.

Actually, the grade was given to me by one of the kindest, sweetest, holiest men on God's green earth, Deacon Tom Fox of Catholic Vitamins.  He's such a nice man that I'm sure he wished he could give me a better grade than that; but alas, among his many other fine qualities he is a man of integrity and cannot tell a lie.
Back in December, Deacon Tom had me as a guest on his podcast--to discuss my Catholic YA novel, Erin's Ring.  To say that I was a nervous wreck leading up to our phone chat is putting it mildly.  My grade before the recording session began?  A+.  I was doing A+ work in nervousness.  The experience didn't end up being as terrifying as I thought it would be, and wonder of wonders, I was able to carry on a somewhat normal conversation with Deacon Tom.  I may have talked a bit too fast, as is my wont (I'm sure I got an A+ in speed-talking), but I didn't do all that badly.

A few weeks after the podcast, Deacon Tom asked if I would be willing to record a short Catholic Vitamins promo.  All I had to say was this: "Hi, this is Laura Pearl, author of Erin's Ring, a Catholic story of faith and family found in a young teenage girl's search for the origin and meaning of an Irish Claddagh ring...and you are listening to Catholic Vitamins--a podcast with over five years' history nourishing Catholic Faith from A to Z..."

Easy peasy, right?  WRONG!

When I tried to speak the way I normally do, I went much too fast.  When I slowed it down a bit, it sounded like I was reading a script.  Very gently, with a chuckle, Deacon Tom told me after two takes that my efforts had earned me a C+ in marketing.  And then he asked if perhaps my husband (who's had lots of practice making PA announcements from the cockpits of airplanes) would be willing to do the promo for me. husband--my back-haver, hero, and favorite person on earth--did the promo, beginning, "Hi, this is Tim Pearl, husband of Laura Pearl..."  And he sounded like a total pro.  In one take, he had it nailed.  And Deacon Tom gave him a well-deserved A+.
Well, I shouldn't be all that surprised that this is the way it went down.  The marketing portion of the book business is so NOT my forte.  I can use all the help I can get in that department.  (Hiding in the corner, saying nothing, is more my forte.  Yeah, that's it; that's what I'm good at!)  Luckily, my awesome husband is always willing to speak out on my behalf.  And I have lots of kind and generous friends who are helping to promote my books.  For instance, here is a recent review of Erin's Ring, posted by my Aussie friend Erin of Seven Little Australians and Counting. 

Thanks, my hero.  And thanks, Erin.  You both earn top grades.  It takes a village to promote a work of Catholic fiction--and I'm so glad to have you in my village!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#showusyourlist on Fat Tuesday

This is supposed to be Book Club day ("Meeting" #3 of Grace-filled Tuesdays).  But we're going to do something different for Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday, as my husband and I like to call it).  This post will be all about books, though, rest assured my dear fellow bookworms.  About how important it is to immerse yourself in books (and movies) that are "good, beautiful & true"--that are good for your immortal soul.

Erin McCole Cupp, the brilliant and witty author responsible for a top-notch novel you really ought to read if you haven't already, titled Don't You Forget About Me, recently blogged about how fed up she is with everyone and his brother warning readers and movie-goers about the dangers of the whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, but seldom offering their recommendations for better, more spiritually uplifting entertainment choices.  She has challenged her fellow Catholic writers to "hashtag show us your list" on this celebratory day before the start of Lent--that is, to give a list of novels and/or movies they would recommend instead, and to use Twitter, Facebook, and every form of social media to spread the word that there is a wealth of wholesome and entertaining fiction out there just waiting to be discovered.  Erin has invited a whole bunch of peeps to participate in a Mardi Gras  #showusyourlist media blitz.
I agree with Erin: she says we hear all too often about entertainment choices that we should avoid because they are harmful to our souls; but it would be nice if more time and energy could be spent promoting books and movies that edify and inspire us and ultimately bring us closer to God.  In Erin's post, she quotes JPII, who so eloquently reminds us that "art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience... Even when they explore the darkest depths of the soul or the most unsettling aspects of evil, artists give voice in a way to the universal desire for redemption.”

Like most of the writers who will be participating in this hashtag movement, I haven't even read 50 Shades of Grey (a trilogy which I've heard that, on top of every obvious reason to avoid it, isn't even particularly well-written and features a cast of one-dimensional, unlikeable characters).  But I don't think I need to do so to understand just how dangerous a dark and twisted book (and now movie) that glorifies kinky and abusive sex is--and how scary it is that "mainstream" readers ("soccer moms," even) have devoured these books and are now flocking to the theater for more.  I'm trying to wrap my brain around this; and no matter how hard I try, I can't understand this phenomenon.  I can't understand the appeal.  The woman who created 50 Shades is a millionaire many times over...but at what price, I wonder?

Some say it's just harmless escapism; but who would want to escape a world where good and evil can still be seen clearly in black and white, and therefore true goodness and beauty are still alive, and live instead in a world where all is just some murky shade of grey?  Once you start down that path of moral relativism, it's a slippery slope; if no one can distinguish good from evil anymore, all will be chaos.

So when I heard what Erin was doing today, I decided, "I'm in!"

My list includes some wonderful contemporary Catholic authors whom I've gotten to know in the past few years, since I've shyly joined their ranks--some just on-line (so far) and others in person.  They are using their talents as evangelization tools, but making sure that readers are entertained in the process--without having to endure any of those cringe-worthy romantic scenes so prevalent in modern literature!  (Some are writers of YA fiction; but keep in mind that among even adult readers, YA is the fastest-growing market!)
My recommendations (in no particular order):

By Erin McCole Cupp:
Don't You Forget About Me

By Kaye Park Hinckley:
A Hunger in the Heart

By Cheryl Dickow:
Elizabeth, a Holy Land Pilgrimage
Miriam, Repentance and Redemption in Rome

By Nancy Carabio Belanger:
Olivia and the Little Way
Olivia's Gift
The Gate

By Rosemary McDunn:
The Green Coat: a Tale from the Dust Bowl Years

By Amy M. Bennett:
End of the Road
No Lifeguard on Duty
No Vacancy

By Kari Burke:
The Life I Dreamed

By AnnMarie Creedon:
Angela's Song

By Ellen Gable:
Stealing Jenny
In Name Only
A Subtle Grace

By Michelle Buckman:
Rachel's Contrition

By Therese Heckenkamp:
Frozen Footprints

By Kia Heavey:

By Katherine Grubb (not Catholic, but Christian):
Falling for Your Madness

By Laura H. Pearl (because my husband convinced me that I should add his favorite author):
Finding Grace
Erin's Ring

I am so thrilled to be part of the "New Evangelization," using fiction as a tool for helping to spread the Good News.  I came to the writing profession rather late in my life, beginning Finding Grace in 2007 at age 49 and seeing it published by Bezalel Books in 2012, when I was 54.  I was a SAHM for decades, and then shortly after I became a grandmother, I became a published author, too.  (Still pinching myself here.) I seriously thought Finding Grace would be my one foray into the world of fiction; but then in 2014, Bezalel published my second YA Catholic novel, Erin's Ring.  One of my biggest motivators for writing these novels was the urge to provide wholesome and edifying fiction choices for young readers (hoping that they would be enjoyed by the parents of those readers as well).  After watching the way things had progressed over the years during which my five sons were growing up, I felt it was vitally important to do whatever small part I could to fight the forces working against the purity and innocence of the young--especially because they have become increasingly vulnerable to those forces, now that there are so many pervasive forms of social media at their disposal.  It's already such a different world than it was in the 80's and 90's, when I was a young mother.  And I think parents who are wondering what the world is coming to nowadays need to know that there are better choices out there than 50 Shades and its ilk.

I have one more title to add to my list, for a movie I have yet to see but just know I will LOVE.  It's called Old Fashioned.  I've heard such good things!  Check out the trailer.
Now you can head on over to Erin McCole Cupp's blog, to find recommendations for more books and movies that will leave you feeling anything but grey and gloomy.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Grammy's Valentines

Happy Valentines' Day, readers!

I don't have time to write much of a post today.  My husband and I are out in South Bend, were we attended the Army ball last night with our youngest son and his fellow Notre Dame Army ROTC cadets and their cadre.  (We're staying in the lap of luxury, at the recently renovated Morris Inn, right on the campus of Our Lady's university.)  We flew to our oldest son's house in MI on Thursday, spent a night there catching up with our three sweet granddaughters, and then borrowed his car and drove here yesterday.  We'll stay in South Bend tonight to visit further with our baby, then drive back to MI tomorrow after Mass to spend one more night with our firstborn's family, then on Monday we'll fly back home to NH to check on the mail and do some things that need doing, then a week later it's back to VA to play nanny to little G-Man...phew, we're traveling a lot lately, aren't we?  It's planes, trains buses, and automobiles for us these days.

SO...I won't write much today, but look for a post about the Army ball in the days ahead.  It was quite an event!

For now, I'm just going to show you Grammy's utterly adorable Valentines.

The girls showered us with hand-made cards, which totally melted us.
And speaking of melting...that's what I'm doing looking at this photo of G-Man sporting nothing but the Valentine's-themed bow tie that was hand-made by his mommy.

I don't even have to beg these four wee ones to be mine.  They already are--they're mine!  How lucky am I?

God bless you all, on the feast of St. Valentine!  May you be showered with love (and lipstick kisses!).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grace-Filled Tuesdays ("Meeting" #2)

Hello, readers!  Welcome to another installment of the Grace-filled Tuesday Book Club.  Last week's inaugural cyber get-together contained some general info to get us started.  (I've never joined a book club in real life--IRL, as they say, so I'm not quite sure how they're conducted.  If that first meeting wasn't super interesting, bear with me as I learn how this thing is done!)

There wasn't a whole lot of chatter in the comments section after last Tuesday's post; but then again, if you did stop by, you might be like me.  You see, I've never been very good at speaking up in a group.  (I was never the kid with my hand raised high in class, desperately hoping the teacher would "pick me, pick me!" to answer a question.  No, quite the opposite; I lived in dread of being called upon.)  If I had ever joined a book club IRL, I probably would have been too shy to jump into the discussion.

So maybe when we had our first meeting, you were feeling shy.  Or maybe you were running off to procure your copies of Finding Grace and Erin's Ring, so you would be prepared for future meetings!!  And you've been busy reading.  (If so, bless you and I hope you're enjoying them.)

Anyway, let's get this meeting underway.  Today I thought I'd just pose a question concerning Finding Grace (so if you haven't read it and want to, be warned that this post could contain spoilers).
Finding Grace is very much about grace--and not just Grace Kelly, the heroine for whom the book is named, but also the graces we all receive from God in our daily lives.  This book is filled with characters (even minor ones) who are desperately in need of, and ultimately do find, grace.  It is filled with individuals who are struggling under the weight of their unique crosses--staggeringly heavy burdens that are often not even visible to others--and searching for God's help, consolation, and mercy.  Sometimes without even being fully aware that that's what they're doing.

The first title I had in mind for this novel was Amazing Grace.  But before I was even finished writing it, I saw to my dismay that Danielle Steele had a new book out with that very title.  That got me thinking of other possibilities, among them The Path to Grace and Finding Grace.  My husband and I both agreed that Finding Grace fit the story best, as it can apply in a very literal sense (when Grace's love finds her at a special spot at the end of the story) and also more metaphorically, on a spiritual level (when characters who need it find the kind that comes from God).

So here's something we can discuss this week, if you're interested: which character's struggle touched you the most, and how did you see God's grace working in him or her?

By the way, this can also count as the second installment in my "Scenes from Grammy's Lap" series, because this is the selfie I took as I sat at my laptop, typing this blog post one-handed while G-Man nuzzled on my shoulder for his morning nap.  (I call this the very best sort of multi-tasking--and I think the muscles in my left arm are getting quite impressive.)
It's a good thing this book club is happening on-line and not in-person...because obviously, if we were sitting down together, IRL as it were, I would feel the need to shower, perhaps, and run a brush through my hair; and I'd also want to put a little blusher on my ghostly pale face (basically I would want to try to look a little less scary).  But here in the land of full-time, stay-at-home Grammyhood, there isn't always the time or opportunity for such luxuries!

Okay then, leave me a comment if you're so inclined.  I promise I'll get back to you.  And maybe we can get an energetic book club discussion going!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Happy 30th Birthday to Son #2!

Wait, what?  That can't be right.

My second-born son is 30 today?!

Two of my five offspring are now "in their 30's."  How did that happen?!?!?!?!

Why, just yesterday, the birthday boy looked like this.
And the day after that (when son #3 joined the crew), he looked like this--that's him there on the left, with the killer smile and the exposed belly button.
This boy of ours made an early appearance, just as his father and I were getting back into the rhythm of normal family life after a long separation.  17 days before my due date, and just 4 days after his dad had returned from a 4-month-long Navy deployment on an aircraft carrier, he decided that his 15-month-old brother had been stealing the limelight long enough.  My water broke while my husband and I were watching a movie together, and we were off to the races.  After a relatively short labor (6 hours from the time my water broke until the time we heard his first cries, and only an hour and a half was hard labor), our second son burst forth into the world after 2 pushes.  The doctor actually had to say "Whoa, hang on a sec" after the first push, so that he could grab his catcher's mitt.  No one expected it to be that easy (least of all his mother, who'd pushed for 3 hours the first time around, and then ended up having to have a forceps delivery).  But he was very good to me from the start, that kid.

This trend has only continued, through the 3 decades that he's been on this earth (making it a better planet by far--not just for me, but for all who come into his orbit).

I would be sad that the little blond boy in these photos is all grown up, and that it seems like it happened much too fast...but that would be silly.  Because if he was still a little tyke, I wouldn't have moments like this with him.

I don't know if there is any greater joy for a mother of sons than to dance with them at their weddings.  What a blessing that is, to live long enough to see your boys find the women who will be their partners for life.  And these women do not make you obsolete; no, they make you a mother of daughters, finally.

So happy birthday to my sweet second son.  I know it will be a great day for you--because I know you already have the greatest gift you could ever receive.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

WIWS: In the Pink (and Spreading Happiness)!

I haven't linked up for What I Wore Sunday since bellbottoms, hip-hugger jeans, and Nehru jackets were all the rage (slight exaggeration, but you get the idea).  But I just suddenly got it in my head that it was time to join the fashion party again, and what better day than today?  Maybe it's just that the coat I wore for Mass this morning--at St. Thomas Aquinas, the church on the UVA campus that was the site of our middle son's December 2013 nuptials--is PINK!  It's the brightest, happiest shade of hot pink, and I think when I wear it, it makes me a happier person and therefore helps me to spread happiness.  (More about that later.)
I got this lovely new pink wool coat at the Talbot's winter sale--and that's what I wore this Sunday (although by the time we exited the church after Mass, the temperature here in the balmy state for lovers was about 60 and I really didn't need a winter coat at all).  Normally $250, it was marked down to $80--still a lot for me to spend, but I know this well-tailored, high quality item will last forever and its classic lines will never go out of style. 

Did you notice my brown lace mantilla?  It blends right
in with my hair and almost "disappears."
(I'll be making myself a silver one soon!)
My new coat is very pink, isn't it?  I am drawn to this vibrant color, for the simple reason that my husband likes it on me.  Below is his favorite picture of me with his sons, taken on the Notre Dame campus back in 2007; and look at the color I was wearing.  (By the by, this photo was taken in the off-campus apartment of son #3, and the above photo was taken earlier today in that same son's house, the one he shares with his wife Preciosa and his baby boy G-Man.  And let's just say that his new home is bigger, nicer...and infinitely CLEANER!)
One of my husband's younger sisters is a huge Talbot's fan, and she shared with me her philosophy for shopping there (which I have since adopted): she decided long ago that it's worth it to buy well-made, quality clothing in which you feel pretty, put-together, and comfortable in any situation (on clearance, of course!), because then you take all the focus off of yourself ("My outfit is all wrong!" "I wish I'd worn something different!") and focus completely on those about you.  Feeling calm, confident, and unworried about your own appearance, you focus your attention on others and the happiness you feel just spreads far and wide.  (How's that for creativity when it comes to justifying the need to hit the Talbot's sales?) 

Aside from my happiness-spreading coat, I wore a simple black skirt and black wedge shoes (both TJ Maxx bargains, both old as the hills).  And I also wore a pair of sparkly teardrop-shaped earrings gifted to me by my newest daughter-in-law, Ginger, on the occasion of her marriage to son #2.  She thought I'd like them because they're blue and gold (Notre Dame colors).  She thought right.  She definitely spread some happiness my way when she gave them to me.
Then there was the bracelet my husband got me for Christmas this year--with five birthstone-colored pearls, one for each of my boys (from Pearls by Laurel); I might have hinted fairly broadly that it was something I wanted, but it made me very happy to receive it nonetheless!
I'll never be a hand model with a hand like this one!  I'm
not even sure where those scratches came from!
Well, that does it for me.  Now do you want to see what G-Man was wearing this Sunday?  Check it out.  It's proof that the clothes don't make the man--or the baby.
White onesies: spreading happiness like nobody's business, whenever this little guy wears them.

Okay then, to find more happiness-spreading outfits and accessories, stop by Fine Linen and Purple!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Snowbanks, Spoons, and Snuggle-bunnies

Well, the snowbirds have landed back in VA.  We know lots of folks who buy a condo someplace warm and start heading south every winter.  (Jerry Seinfeld even did a bit about that once, how you reach a certain age and the cops show up at your door and tell you you've got no choice but to move to FL and start driving a golf cart.)  My husband and I didn't think we'd ever become "those people," no matter how old we got, because we love living in New England..

In spite of this.
That's how high the snowbanks at the end of our driveway were on Tuesday, when we left to fly back down here.

Wait, let me put this in better perspective.
There it is.  There's our mailbox.

In spite of all the snow--or perhaps in part because of it (because it sure is pretty, isn't it?), it was wonderful to spend a few days back at the old homestead, catching up with our mail, getting some important things taken care of, and having a dinner out with our neighbors--who kindly came down with their snow-blower while we were gone and cleared away the parts that were too close to the house for the plow guy to get.  (Without their help, we would have had trouble getting in the door!)

While we were home, I enjoyed being where I "have my things about me."   (If you've never seen the delightful John Wayne movie called "The Quiet Man"--which you should!--you probably won't get that reference.  I'm channeling Maureen O'Hara's feisty Mary Kate Danaher here.) 
I was especially happy to use one of "my things," the special Christmas gift I got this year from my firstborn son and his wife.
No, it's not the creamer and sugar set (those are pieces of Salmon Falls pottery, made in Dover, NH), or the cup with the way-too-dark coffee in it (somebody give that another shot of cream, STAT!).   It's the sweet vintage spoon that my daughter-in-law found for me on Etsy.  And it's the engraving that really makes it special.
As if I didn't already enjoy the whole coffee drinking experience enough already, this spoon makes it even more fun for me.  It really reminds me of my twin granddaughters, Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie.  Whenever we'd go to their house, they knew I would make a pot of coffee each morning.  Their mommy sometimes drinks it, when she's not pregnant, but she often prefers tea.  And Daddy and Papa are not coffee drinkers.  But they know I am.  And they have a coffee maker that beeps when it's finished brewing.  So even when they were very young, they'd hear the beeping sound and right away they'd say, "Grammy's coffee!"

I love that spoon. It was the perfect gift from that particular family.

So I miss my awesome spoon, and some of the other comforts of home.  But I don't miss the single-digit temperatures.  And if I was there and not here, I'd be missing spending time with  this little snuggle-bunny.
So I think I'm right where I should be.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

WWRW: Murder, Intrigue, Suspense...and Love!

Yay!!  Everyone's favorite spicey housewife, Jessica, is back--after taking a hiatus to, oh, I don't know--live her very busy life with her very large and incredibly good-looking family.  But she's back to hosting her popular on-line book club (once weekly, now monthly) called What We're Reading Wednesday.
I hope the other link-ups will not be too offended when I say that WWRW is my favorite link-up of all the ones I've been exposed to in the blogosphere.  (But I mean, I just really like books. I like to read them, to talk about them, to re-read them, and then to talk about them some more.  Does that make me a nerdy bookworm?  If so, I wear the badge proudly!  Proudly, I tell you!)
Murder is not really a subject about which I normally like to read, on Wednesday or any day of the week.  But that was before I met Amy M. Bennett, the author behind the compelling Black Horse Campground Mysteries series.  (And by "met," I mean became friends with on-line, via an introduction from some mutual friends of ours, books.)  I've never read any Agatha Christie mysteries, but I wonder if these books are the modern-day equivalent of those classics.
A while back, I read Amy's first novel (which was the first installment of the Black Horse Campground Mysteries), End of the Road, and you can see the review I wrote for that gem in this 2013 WWRW blog post.
Not too long ago, I read the second book in the series, No Lifeguard on Duty.
And all I can say is Amy M. Bennett has done it again! 
It was another edge-of-your seat page-turner, and here's the 5-star review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads yesterday:
I recently finished Amy M. Bennett's second novel in the Black Horse Campground Mystery series, No Lifeguard on Duty, and I have to say this: Bennett has done it again--she's taken a reader who was once very skeptical of the merits of the whole mystery/suspense genre and turned me into a fan!

This author has identified her books as belonging to a particular sub-group of the mystery genre known as the "cozy mystery" wherein the reader becomes acquainted with a certain town (in this case, Ruidoso in Bonney County, NM) and gets to know its inhabitants very well, and therefore becomes invested in their lives--almost as if they are well-known and much-loved friends. The reader develops a cozy familiarity with the Black Horse Campground and the cast of quirky and unique characters who live and work there.

After I finished the first book in the series, End of the Road, I was itching to find out what would happen to these people I'd come to know and love. Would Corrie Black, the beautiful yet down-to-earth and humble owner of the campground, end up with Sheriff Rick Sutton, the old beau who once broke her heart but really loves Corrie, yet can't act on his feelings because he's a divorced Catholic whose marriage has yet to be annulled; or would she end up with the intriguing newcomer to the area, J.D. Wilder, a former law enforcement officer with a mysterious past who keeps his distance because he's aware of the Sheriff's feelings? (In many novels, there is a clear-cut "good guy" for whom the reader must root; but both of these characters are fine, upstanding men who treat Corrie with gentlemanly respect.)

My mother-in-law use to watch "Murder, She Wrote," the T.V. show equivalent of the "cozy mystery," and my husband used to tease her about her obsession with violent crimes. "And why would anyone in his right mind stay in the same hotel as Angela Lansbury anyway?" he'd say. "Someone always ends up dead!" That's true of the Black Horse Campground, too--yikes, Corrie's business seems to be jinxed by bad luck, with two murders committed on the property already during one camping season! But without the murder mysteries that need solving, readers of Bennett's series wouldn't have the pleasure of watching Rick and J.D.--Corrie's would-be suitors, who are partners as well as rivals--team up to find the culprits, and while doing so, bend over backwards trying to help and protect the woman they both love.

Bennett's two Black Horse Campground Mysteries are page-turners, with lots of plot twists and turns. But the best thing about them is that they're so cozy. And they keep you wondering: which man will Corrie end up with? The third book in Bennett's series, No Vacancy, is due out soon. I can only hope that it will solve THAT mystery, once and for all!

(And for the record, before I sign off: Bennett's main characters are practicing Catholics, and it's nice to see them carrying out their faith simply and beautifully--going to Mass, keeping their relationships chaste outside of marriage--when so many characters in modern fiction are portrayed as being anti-religion, or even anti-God).

 Okay, are you looking for some more good book recommendations?  Then head on over to Housewifespice.  Because Jessica's back!  (But I told you that, right?)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #1)

Well, several months ago I said that there was going to be a book club here at String of Pearls and that it was going to start in early 2015.  So...I think it's about time I got going on that.

Since my first novel is titled Finding Grace, I thought I'd use "Tuesday's child is full of grace" (a line from an old nursery rhyme that begins "Monday's child is fair of face") as inspiration for the name of the club, as well as the day of the week on which it will be held. (BTW--thanks to those who voted when I asked what your favorite names for the club would be.)  I will use this book club to discuss Erin's Ring as well, which has no character named Grace in it, but is also--I hope--full of grace for the reader.

Okay, where to start?  Well, I'm just spit-balling here...but I though I'd point out some things that both of my novels, Finding Grace and Erin's Ring, contain (and I don't think I've included any true spoilers here, but it might be better to join the club after you've read the books).

1. A family with lots of boys in it (five Kelly brothers in FG, four McCormick brothers in ER--and who knows, maybe that baby Ellie McCormick is carrying is another son?).  Hmm...wonder why?
2. A minor character named Harding, which happens to be my maiden name (the kindly pharmacist in FG, the kindly English landlord in ER).

3. Lots and lots o' Irish characters!  Folks with names like Kelly, Foley, McCormick, O'Brien, Finnegan, Kennedy, McQuinn...if you're a sucker for an Irishman, you just might like my books.  (My mom's maiden name is Kelly; and my husband is just about 100% Irish, on both sides--I never thought the last name Pearl sounded all that Irish, but turns out it is.)

4. Men who are carpenters (Abe Perlmann in FG, Tommy McQuinn and Dan McCormick in ER), with comparisons to St. Joseph the carpenter.  My husband, you might be shocked--shocked!--to know, is also a skilled furniture-maker and woodworker.
5. Pearls (Peggy Kelly's trademark necklace in FG, the strand that holds Mrs. Driscoll's eyeglasses in ER).  Pearls are my favorite jewels, as you might have guessed.

6. Reminders of Mary's role as a Mediatrix, along with characters who pray the Rosary.
The daily Rosary has been a part of our life for many years, and we are devoted to Mary, our Mother.

7. An important male character with many of my husband's attributes--physical and otherwise (Tom Buckley, the handsome, gap-toothed love interest in FG, and Dan McCormick, the airline pilot/devoted husband and father in ER--and when I wrote about Seamus Finnegan in ER, it was my husband's face I pictured).  I read an interview once where an author admitted that even after many years as a writer, her husband still got a little jealous of her male characters.  I could never create a love interest for my female characters who didn't have at least a passing resemblance to my guy, so I don't think that's going to happen in our house!
8. Allusions to St. Joseph (see #3), the patron saint of families (and to whom we Pearls pray, with utmost confidence, for special intentions regarding our various family members--especially the powerful prayer called "The Unfailing Petition to St. Joseph," which was included in ER).
9. Information about our dear friends in Heaven, the saints (there is a lot more of this in FG than in ER; but even in the much shorter ER, the reader learns for whom Saint Aloysius is the patron).
10. A climactic scene involving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I can rarely receive the graces of this sacrament without tears, always humbled by God's endless capacity for mercy and love.  It has the awesome power to heal and console, so I think it is fitting that when my characters have major struggles in their lives, they wind up in the confessional unloading their burdens before God, aided by a holy and compassionate priest.

During some recent airline travels, I started reading a work of fiction wherein the main character is a young woman who pretty much lives to read--she's a quiet type who works in a bookstore and always has a novel going.  I find this sort of character in a lot of the novels I read.  And it hit me that many people who write novels create characters who are avid readers (and often writers) like themselves.  My sweet bookworm Grace fits this bill, always alluding to Mr. Darcy and other favorite characters from her favorite books--and hey, it just so happens that all of her favorite works of literature are mine, too!  Who would have guessed?  But with Erin's Ring I actually managed to create two young female characters who aren't obsessed with reading, like I am.  However, Molly McCormick loves learning about  history and combing her grandmother's attic for treasures from times gone by...and boy oh boy, does that ever sound like a girl I know very well.  (Can writers ever really separate themselves entirely from the characters they bring to life?)

Okay then, that's a good start--don't you think?

If you're reading this, and you've read both of my novels, can you think of any other similarities between the two?  Or do you just have a question you'd like to ask me?  Leave me a comment, I'd love to hear from you!  And I will respond--that's a promise.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Welcome to the New Little Christian!

Yesterday, our little grandson G-Man was baptized.
My husband and I, unfortunately, had to miss the big event.  But there's a good reason for this.

We had spent the month of January in VA, staying at the home of son #3 and his wife Preciosa, babysitting for the little guy during the week while his parents worked.  (Luckily, my hubby's airline job gives him lots of flexibility and he was able to commute to work from there.)  Originally, we were going to stay long enough to see G-Man receive his first sacrament and then head home today, traveling by car; but instead, we flew home to NH on Thursday to spend a long weekend checking on our house, collecting and sorting through the mountain of mail that's been held for the month we've been away, paying bills, and keeping some key doctor's appointments.  And tomorrow, we're planning to fly back down to VA--where we will be living until May (with the exception of about 7-10 days per month, when we have to be at home and/or other places)!  Our daughter-in-law is going to stop working at UVA as soon as the school year ends in mid-May, and then she plans to stay at home full-time.  She found herself feeling very sad about the prospect of putting her angel in until she begins her new career as a SAHM, Papa and Grammy (with some help from Preciosa's parents and some other relatives on her side) are going to be the full-time caregivers for that sweet little boy.

And he is sweet, let me tell you.  Check out this photo of him: he's smiling while sleeping.  He is one happy baby.
Back in 2011, when our twin granddaughters were on the way, I went on a christening gown-making spree.  I made two identical gowns out of some linen and cutwork pillow shams that had been part of my late mother-in-law's collection.  Then I thought they might be a tad big for twin babies, who were bound to be tinier than most newborns; so I made two more gowns, in a different pattern.  The twins weren't all that tiny, for twins anyway (6 lbs. 10 oz. and 5 lbs. 9 oz.), but my daughter-in-law Regina chose the smaller-sized pair of gowns, which left me with two extra beauties to pass on to my other sons when they began having children.  I blogged about these dresses ages ago, and I had one of my porcelain dolls model them for my readers.

Here is the gown that G-Man wore (along with a cap I sort of pieced together at the last minute).  He's about 15 lbs. now, and it fit him perfectly!

Before we left on Thursday, my husband and I took a slew of photos of him modeling his christening outfit.  Here's a sampling.  (It sure looks better on this living doll than it looked on the porcelain one!)

While we had to miss G-Man's big day, at least his other grandparents were able to be there.  And since three of our sons (#2, #3, and #4) live in VA these days, 3/5 of our children were there celebrating together.  When my daughter-in-law Ginger texted me this photo of my three boys, their wives, and the adorable newly baptized Christian, my heart swelled with love and gratitude.
God is good.  All the time.