Saturday, January 30, 2016

Oyster Haven: The Little Cherubs Room

Yesterday when I blogged about Oyster Haven, the lakeside house we're setting up as a VRBO rental, I told you all about the largest upstairs bedroom.  (If you haven't seen that post about "the Norman Rockwell Room," complete with before and after pics, click on over and take a peek.)

Today, I'm going to show you the smallest upstairs bedroom, which we have dubbed "the Little Cherubs Room."  In the online real estate listing, it was shown as a nursery.
As you can see in the before picture, there's not a whole lot of square footage in this room, so the challenge for us was to figure out how to make it sleep as many as possible without being claustrophobic.

We decided to paint this room with the same light gray ("Lunar Surface") shade we used in the Norman Rockwell Room.  And I decorated the walls with ceramic angels, gifts from my late mother-in-law that I'd used as part of my home décor for many years--items that I love, but knew I wouldn't miss too much.  (In my "real" home, I'm trying to reclaim wall space to make room for portraits of my earthly angels: my grandchildren!)  I also hung several pieces of artwork portraying cherubic little children, including a favorite of mine titled "Taps," by Besse Pease Gutmann.  It used to hang in my living room, but it seems to be right at home here in this Oyster Haven guest room.
To adorn the main bed in the room, I brought an angel-themed tapestry throw pillow that had been languishing in our attic at home, and then made a coordinating bed scarf with--what else?--fabric from my mother-in-law's attic!  (Attics are the best places to find treasures!)  The floral velveteen just happened to match the colors in the pillow beautifully.  I've felt Mom's help so often on this journey, and know how tickled she would have been about this lake house we've bought just a stone's throw from the beloved home where she raised her eight kids.

Again, we went with a minimalist approach for the furnishings: new metal platform beds (a full and a twin) and new mattresses, and pristine all-white bedding with pops of color.  Since the room is so small, I kept the window treatments very simple.  The previous owners left the shades and curtain rods, and I found a pair of sheer white valances at Walmart, for next to nothing.  The bedside tables were secondhand furniture store bargains.

Okay, then.  Enough chit-chat.  Without further ado, here are the after pictures.
It's pretty cozy in here--not much room for a dance party or anything.  But with two windows, there's plenty of natural light (which you would see if I'd thought to take these photos in the daytime!).  Overall, we think it works.

Then the icing on the cake is the sign on the door that tells you you're about to enter this heavenly little space.
As a little girl, the Little Cherubs Room might have been my favorite bedroom out of the four in the house: a snug little haven to curl up with a good book.  And even as a big girl, I find it utterly charming.

Now if only vacation-goers find it (and the rest of the house) as charming as I do...

To be continued!  There's plenty more to show you.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Oyster Haven: The Norman Rockwell Room

I have always been a fan of Norman Rockwell's artwork.  I can't look at any of his endearing illustrations that depict patriotic, family-oriented, small town life in America without smiling and being filled with the warmest of fuzzies. 

So when my husband's younger sister, who has experience owning a VRBO house, said that it might be fun to have theme guest rooms--complete with signs on the doors--at Oyster Haven, I knew right away that one of the bedrooms was going to be called "the Norman Rockwell Room."

A quick aside: If you haven't been here before, Oyster Haven is the name we've given to the updated circa 1830 Colonial on the lake in upstate NY that we bought last fall, hoping to be able to list it on VRBO for a spring 2016 opening.  My hubby and I have made many trips to NY from our home in NH and stayed at the house (so we can attest that the first floor master bedroom is mighty comfortable!  Really, it is!).  We've been working our fingers to the bone--deep cleaning, painting walls, overseeing repairs, hanging curtains, refinishing furniture, clearing brush down by the beach, and completing a host of other projects.

Okay, then, back to the Norman Rockwell Room!

The biggest of the three upstairs bedrooms in the house had lots of potential, but was painted a rather hideous bright yellow (actually, it just might be the same shade I chose for my boys' nursery back in the early 80's).  It didn't look too bad in the real estate listing photos we saw online, but in person, the color was a bit garish and the walls weren't in the best shape.  However, the room itself was charming, with wood floors and lots of natural light flooding in through four windows.
It's amazing what a coat of paint will do for a room.  I found a shade of light gray called "Lunar Surface" that totally transformed the space.  Then I added some framed Norman Rockwell prints.  (One is a wedding gift from a childhood friend that I've used in my own house since I was a newlywed, and the others are glossy pages ripped out of an oversized Norman Rockwell coffee table book that my baby sister and her husband found at a thrift shop not too long ago and passed on to me.)  There was already a white wooden shelf on the wall, left by the previous owners, so I filled it with some little Norman Rockwell figurines and a Norman Rockwell collector's plate.  I'd had these knickknacks for years, and they really did need a new home anyway.

We went minimalist for the furnishings: new metal platform beds with new mattresses, and pristine all-white bedding, except for "pops of color" (as they say on HGTV) from the bed scarves and throw pillows.  Lucky for us, the previous owners left the curtain rods, along with simple sheer white curtain panels that suit this room perfectly.  The rug is one that had been in our basement at home but wasn't needed there anymore.  The bedside tables were bought for a song at a secondhand shop here in NH.  (This house came together with hand-me-downs galore, I tell you!)  And we splurged on nice luggage racks for our guests.

So, are you ready for the big reveal?  I give you the Norman Rockwell Room!  Ta da!
I made the bed scarf with fabric from my mother-in-law's attic.  I wish you
could see how pretty it is--the photo doesn't do it justice.  It's  velvety black
corduroy with a golden, green, and brown paisley pattern on it.
As you can see, it's a big room!
This room sleeps four comfortably.  It's got a queen and two twins in it.
We could have added a third twin bed without even crowding the room,
but decided against it.
I wanted a Norman Rockwell pillow.  So I went to my favorite online site:
Etsy! There I found this tapestry panel, perfect for pillow-making, with the iconic
NR image on it.No matter what you're looking for, you can always count on Etsy!
Once we had all of the bedrooms named, I decide to have small brass plaques engraved to put on the doors.  I went to a place in the mall and put in my order, and I was appalled to learn that to have four plaques made, it was going to cost me close to $100.  (Whaaat?!  For four tiny pieces of brass with a few letters on them?!)  I almost cancelled my order...but then I thought that it just might be worth it after all.  A scene formed in my mind, and it went something like this: a family gets to the house to begin their lakeside vacation, and their kids scamper excitedly upstairs and go running up and down the hall; then someone calls, "I get the Norman Rockwell Room!"
I'm hoping that, like the cat door (remember that story?), this will be one of the endearing quirks about Oyster Haven that will keep people coming back, year after year.  And if so, I will consider those brass plaques to be money well spent.

I hope you've enjoyed the tour!  There's more where this came from, so stay tuned.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Little Boys in Short Pants...and Grown Men Who Tower over Their Mama

If I'd been blogging regularly lately (which I have not--and I have a million excuses, but we won't get into that right now!), I would have told you that my two youngest sons recently celebrated birthdays.  Since I was last here at String of Pearls, son #5 turned 23, and then exactly a week later, son #4 turned 28.

If you're a mother, then like me you've wondered how it is possible for time to move at warp speed when it comes to the maturation of your babies; and you'll understand me when I ask, "HOW IN THE WORLD DID THIS HAPPEN?!" Because, oh, about YESTERDAY, my two birthday boys looked like this.
My heart is bursting here.  I mean, have you ever seen a cuter pair of wee brothers?

But that photo was not taken yesterday, my friends; it was taken over two decades ago, when we were all a lot shorter in the tooth than we are now.  (Why, son #5 didn't even have any teeth at all yet!)

But as tough as it is to come to grips with the fact that it has been a very, very long time since my beloved sons have needed me for almost everything (boo hoo!), it is a unique joy and blessing to have been able to watch them morph into the tall, handsome, hardworking, responsible, kind, faith-filled, thoughtful, and loving men they are today.  (I would use more glowing adjectives, but you get my drift.)  This is what those little boys in the photo--who now tower over their mama!--look like now.
Son #4 and his mommy, at a Notre Dame football game
a few years back.

Son #5 and his mommy, out in South Bend his junior year in college.
When my boys were little, I liked to dress them in short pants and knee socks, with round-collared shirts.  I had a weakness for that classic, old-fashioned style that was part British prince and part John John Kennedy.  It was almost sad when they got too old to wear that sort of thing anymore.
Son #3 sporting a seersucker suit made by his mommy.
For our 1985 Christmas card, I bought a pattern and made matching red corduroy rompers for my two oldest boys.  (They subsequently got passed down to my younger sons over the years.)
The wreath embellishment was added later; it was on the romper when son
#4 wore it for our 1989 Christmas photo.
Not one to get rid of anything with the least bit of sentimental value, over 30 years later I still have those red rompers hanging in a closet, ready to be borrowed by my grandsons, and I also have the pattern.

Recently, my daughter-in-law Ginger, who is married to son #2 and is the mother of two-month-old Junior, showed me a website she liked called the Beaufort Bonnet Company--and a navy blue romper in a style the company calls the "Jon Jon" that she dearly wanted for her little guy (for a couple of weddings he'll be attending this year) but thought was too expensive.
I immediately noticed that the Jon Jon romper looked an awful lot like the red rompers I'd made for my boys back in the day, and luckily, I still had the pattern!  So I offered to make a knock-off for her, using some navy blue velveteen that came from the extensive fabric collection my late mother-in-law had in her attic (as I've been given carte blanche by my sisters-in-law to use anything from Mom's stash for my sewing projects).  Ginger was thrilled, but wasn't sure what size to "order," since the weddings are months away and there's no telling how big little Junior might get in the interim.  This romper pattern is one of the easiest I've ever used, so I decided I'd just go ahead and make it in two sizes.
I can hardly wait to see my little grandson in this romper.  But my advice to Ginger is to savor every minute that he's small enough to dress like this, in short pants and knee socks...because before she knows it, he too will be a grown-up man who towers over his mama.

That's what happens, but it's all good.  It's all MORE than good.  You miss your babies when they grow up, leave the nest, and start families of their own; but then along come brand new blessings (some of them are called daughters-in-law and grandchildren!) that fill the empty places in your mother's heart.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Grace-filled Tuesdays (Book Club "Meeting" #12)

Okay, it's Tuesday.  And you know, of course, that Tuesday's child is full of Grace...and Erin!  (Hardee har har.)  So here we are, book clubbin'.
I do think I'm going to have to work on a new meme for Grace-filled Tuesdays.  I'm not sure that this one is snazzy enough.  Here's one that I always loved over at Housewifespice.
It's got that great vintage look about it, and it's a very easy to recognize image.

Mine is...meh.  So-so.  (And I forgot to put the // after the http, so the Internet address is not even technically correct!)  My design team is on it, though. Look for a better meme the next time we meet.

I recently found a YouTube video showing how to make a Christmas tree out of a paperback book, so I decided to try it with a copy of Erin's Ring.  I ended up not being as impressed by the final product as I thought I was going to be, so I never added the ribbons and glitter.  And I'm not going to waste any more of the author copies I've bought from the publisher--even though it's very "circle of life": from a tree, to a book, back to a tree again.
Speaking of Erin's Ring, I was thrilled to see it mentioned in a print publication, an actual paper-and-ink magazine (something that surely doesn't happen every day!).  Catholic Library World featured a number of Catholic publishing houses in its December 2015 issue, and Bezalel Books (the publisher of both Erin's Ring and Finding Grace) was included.  Among other Bezalel works, Erin's Ring got a nice shout-out.
I told you that earlier in the month, when I spoke to some Catholic school students (including the eighth grade class of my nephew and two nieces--triplets!), once we got to the Q and A part of the presentation, the kids got pretty quiet.  Hands were not exactly shooting up in the air.  I thought I'd sort of blown it with them.  But my sister-in-law (the triplets' mom) called me recently and said that she'd eavesdropped on one of her daughters and a classmate, while she was driving them to a basketball game in her van, and my niece's friend was talking about Finding Grace.  This friend told my niece that once I'd come to visit their class, she suddenly felt that it was time to finally read it.  A teacher had recommended it to her long ago, but she hadn't gotten around to it yet.

My sister-in-law was giddy relating the details of the girls' conversation to me.  This young reader claimed that Finding Grace was one of her favorite books of all time.  For four days, she couldn't put it down; and when she finished, she wished it hadn't come to an end.  To say that this made my day would be a gross understatement!  Those are just the kind of words an author yearns to hear--especially a Catholic author who dearly hoped that she would be able to reach and inspire impressionable young people through the medium of fiction.

And book clubs are a great medium for discussing fiction.  So I'll ask you a question, dear readers: if you've read either Finding Grace or Erin's Ring, did you have a favorite character?  Why did you like him or her so much?

And do you have any questions for me?  Don't be shy now, ask me anything you want.

Okay then, until next time, I hope your life will be filled with blessings and grace.  And plenty of good books!

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Luckiest Woman on Earth

There is nothing in all this world as sweet as the way a little boy loves his mommy.

I am the lucky woman who's experienced little boy love times five, as the mother of five sons.  Yet so often over the years, onlookers, unaware of the avalanche of blessings God had bestowed upon me when He chose me to be the mother of all those wonderful boys, didn't seem to get that I didn't feel I'd been somehow shortchanged as a mother.  I thought I was living the life of Riley, I really did.  But if I had a nickel for every time a fellow mom sympathetically shook her head when contemplating this great "tragedy" that had befallen me, because I had given birth to only male children, I would be a rich woman today.  I was subjected to many thoughtless negative comments about my adorably scruffy and mud-stained team of little men: "Poor you!  No girls?"  "God bless you!"  "Better you than me!"  " Are you going to keep trying for your girl?"  "You must be a saint!"

Well I'm not a saint--not even close.  And I'm not a rich woman by Wall Street standards.  But I'll tell you what kind of woman I am: I'm the luckiest woman on earth, that's who.
When you have a son, you are his best girl, the most important woman in his life, until he meets the lucky woman with whom he will be joined in marriage and raise a family of his own, the woman with whom he will grow old.  You are the person on whom he will practice being thoughtful, generous, patient, chivalrous, understanding, and kind.  His dad is the guy he will gravitate towards, when he hits a certain age, pulling away from you just a bit as he becomes more interested in learning what it is to be a man.  But he will never pull away completely, Mom.  So never fear.

You are the person who teaches your boy how to love--and to express that love--when it comes to the fairer sex.  And oh, how he'll love you!

I'll never forget the time I was walking along the main street of our downtown area with son #4 (when he was about four or five), and we passed by a jewelry store.  Displayed in the window was a large collection of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and rings, all featuring the same sparkling, light-blue gemstone.  He stopped to look, and pointed at a necklace that had a big old rock dangling from it (remember the epic necklace from the movie "Titanic"?--sort of like that one!); then he turned his face up to me and said very earnestly, "Someday I'm going to buy that for you." (I'm tearing up thinking about this!)

I'll also never forget the time that I overheard son #3 (who was about five at the time) discussing the subject of marriage with several of his young girl cousins.  They were all planning whom they would marry one day, choosing boys from the cousin pool because they didn't realize yet that there were available choices outside that group.  Then they asked him whom he was going to marry.  And without missing a beat, he said, "Why do I have to marry anyone?  I've got my mom!"  (Fortunately, a heart cannot expand so much that it explodes, or I would have been in trouble that day!)

Those are two incidents out of so many--too many to count; but they give you the idea of how good I've had it.

I was--and am--blessed.  I'm sure there are things that I missed out on and would have enjoyed if I'd had some girl children (I see the special bond that my daughters-in-law have with their mothers); but I wouldn't trade my life for all the tea in China.  Nothing has happened in the 32-plus years since I gave birth to my first son--ever!--that has made me think I was anything less than the luckiest woman on planet earth.

When my boys were little, their Catholic school (or more accurately, mom volunteers at their Catholic school) set up a "Christmas shop" in the gym each year, where kids could buy inexpensive trinkets and even get them gift-wrapped.  So our boys saved up their allowances and excitedly went shopping for their dad and me.  Invariably, they did not pick the useful oven mitt or crocheted potholder for their mom; they picked jewelry.  It was the cheapest kind of costume jewelry, the sort of items you might put in the goody bags at a seven-year-old's birthday party.  But those boys were so anxious to shower me with precious jewels befitting a queen.  I still have some of the baubles they gave me, and I treasure them.  Check out the ring I'm wearing on my pinky here, right next to the diamond band my husband gave me for my fiftieth birthday.  That pink plastic stone has had a special spot in my jewelry box for about 20 years now.
Aside from jewelry, I also have knickknacks that my growing boys chose for me with such care, for birthdays and Mother's Days.  I think they surmised that if their gift involved angels, puppies, flowers, or candles, Mom would love it.  (And she did.)
My sons' gift-giving has evolved, growing ever more sophisticated as the years pass.  For instance, here on our living room mantle sits the amazing, and much too expensive, present our baby picked out for me this Christmas: an ornately-decorated box that opens up to reveal a breathtaking surprise.  (What woman out there isn't a sucker for all things Willow Tree, I ask you?)
The gifts might have changed, but the love remains the same: almost childlike in its simplicity and eagerness to please.

I love my boys fiercely and completely, even more now that they're grown men.  I love seeing the ones who are married treat their wives--who are now their best girls--with the same sweet thoughtfulness that they've always shown me.

How did I get so lucky?

Rhetorical question.  I know we'll never have the answers to questions like that one until we get to meet our Maker in the hereafter.  Just as we must endure trials and tribulations that seem unfair in this life, God also bestows on us so many blessings that we don't necessarily "deserve."  It is my job, for the rest of my days, to just be ever-mindful of how inordinately I've been blessed, and to make of my life one great expression of thanksgiving to that most loving of Fathers...Who made me a mother.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bloglovin' and Baptismal Garments

Before I get started here, I have a bit of news.  I've recently signed up for Bloglovin', which I've heard a lot about but never looked into before today.  (With social media and modern technology, my motto has always been, "Baby steps.")  There is now a little tab up there at the top of the side bar on the right, and if you click on it, it'll take you there.

I'm just lovin' the whole Bloglovin' thing.  Every time I figure out how to do something new, I feel ten years younger.

I'm pretty sure I'll never figure out how to make heads or tales of Pinterest, however.  I am what you would call a "Pinterest fail."  But never say never, I guess.  Because did you hear I'm on Bloglovin'?!

Okay, enough about that!

I thought I'd show you the Baptismal bonnets I made not too long ago for my two newest grandchildren: a boy I'm calling "Junior" here at the blog, and the as-yet-not-born-but-coming-soon granddaughter I've decided to call "Princesa."

I have blogged about Baptismal gowns before here at String of Pearls (here and here, if you're interested).  I have a treasure trove of gorgeous white linen napkins, pillow shams, and tablecloths, adorned with beautiful cutwork and lace, that I rescued from my late mother-in-law's attic.  She was a talented seamstress and a hoarder of high-end fabrics bought at clearance prices, and I'm sure she had some great projects in mind for those lovely pieces I inherited.  (They were carefully stored in plastic wrappers, with the sales tags still attached.)  I thought it would be a great way to honor her by making christening gowns for the great-grandchildren she never had the joy of meeting before she went to her heavenly home.  It would make the gowns like family heirlooms, even though they were technically new, not antiques that had been handed down for generations.  So when our first grandchildren were on their way (identical twin girls Bonny Babe and Cutie Pie), I made a pair of gowns that have since been worn by their two younger sisters.  When G-Man was born, he got a gown, too, which will now be used by any siblings that follow him in my middle son's family.  And when Junior was born, he got one exactly like G-Man's; so my second son's family also has a gown of their own, to use for any subsequent children they might have.

Before I had actual grandchildren to wear them, I used a porcelain doll (here, a reproduction of a German antique) from my collection as a model for the gowns.
But they look even better on real babies, like Junior here.
The gowns in which G-Man and Junior received the Sacrament of Baptism had actually been made way back in 2011.  (If you click on those links above, you'll see that I made two pairs of gowns for the twins, not sure which style would fit them better if they happened to be teeny tiny, as twins are apt to be.  So after their mom chose two matching gowns, that left two others for future grandchildren.)  I hadn't made caps or bonnets to go with the second pair of gowns.  I whipped one up for G-Man, a year ago when we were living with him and his mom and dad down in VA.  But I wanted to make another one for Junior, as well as a more feminine-looking one for Princesa.

So I took some of Mom's beloved linens (a tea towel and a pillowcase) and fashioned these beauties.
Boy's version on the left; girl's on the right.
Here is one of my dolls (this one designed by a modern doll artist) modeling Princesa's bonnet.
And here, he's modeling Junior's.
This doll looks very sweet in it...but nothing compares with how adorable Junior himself looked in it on the day he was Baptized.
Can you stand it?  Isn't he precious?
Living dolls beat porcelain dolls, hands down--every day and twice on Sunday!

These little christening bonnets/caps are actually very easy to make, no pattern necessary.  If you can sew a straight seam, you can make one.  Would you like me to do a how-to post?  I still have an impressive collection of linens handed down to me from my mother-in-law, so just let me know and I'll post that as soon as I can.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Playing Catch-Up!

I'm on the road a lot these days, and when I am, I find it hard to get into blogging mode.  So then I'm faced with the predicament I find myself in today: I've been away from the blog for so long that I have to play a little game of catch-up (not to be confused with ketchup).
I'm such a sucker for these vintage ads.
So before I get going, I'm going to tell you that one of my New Year's resolutions for 2016 is to be a whole lot better at keeping up here at String of Pearls.

My daughter-in-law Preciosa sent me the cutest text yesterday, saying that my "fans"--as she called them--were missing me.  She copied and pasted a text she'd gotten from one of her friends, and it said, "Mrs. Pearl hasn't updated her blog in a few days and I'm concerned.  What am I supposed to read at work?"  (I'm quite sure she meant on her break at work.)

Well, far be it from me to deny a hard-working gal a little workplace stress-reliever!  So let me tell you what I've been up to, other than avoiding cracking open my laptop and getting any writing done.

The last time I blogged was on January 6, and in the combox of that post, I got such positive responses (thanks, guys!) to my question about whether or not I should try to write a sequel to Erin's Ring.  So that's another one of my resolutions for 2016: to waste less time on mindless entertainments (HGTV "Fixer Upper" marathons are something I haven't been able to tear myself away from lately!) and more time on writing.  I've dusted and organized my little writing desk, which sits in a corner of our master bedroom.  A few years back, my husband's generous sisters convinced me to take this antique beauty from their childhood home when they were trying to weed through the excessive amount of furnishings and cut down on the clutter.  It is just the sweetest place to work; who wouldn't be inspired to write at a desk like this one?
Why, Jane Austen herself would be hard-pressed to have a better situation than I've got here!  And that poor woman had to write her manuscripts out in long-hand, crossing out mistakes as she went along.  I'm pretty sure I never would have written one novel, never mind two, if that's the way I had to do it.  When I look back at how difficult it was to write even a 3-5 page English paper in college, using White-out when possible and then having to totally re-type entire pages when I realized that I wanted to change the order of a few, it was brutal.  I think there's a very good reason that I never got around to writing a book until I was almost a grandmother.  I edit and re-write every page to death (I'm on about draft #20 by the time any chapter finally passes muster with me!), so I think God knew that there was no way I'd be ready to tackle such a huge undertaking until the computer age had arrived.  I didn't know how to copy and paste back when I was writing Finding Grace (some old dogs take an awful long time to learn new tricks), but Microsoft Word was still my lifesaver and best friend.

Speaking of college, that place where way back in the olden days, I spent four years of my youth: Erin's Ring made it into the "Book Notes" section (where alumni works are listed) of the Winter 2016 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
Okay, so I've been away.  I've been hanging out in Atlanta with my husband, while he's been going through some work-related training.  We flew down there together shortly after New Year's, and then on the 6th, we took a side trip to Tampa to stay with one of my husband's sisters.  Her triplets were getting Confirmed on the Saturday the 9th, and we had been chosen as their sponsors (me for the two girls, and my husband for their brother).

While we were in FL, my sister-in-law arranged for me to speak about my books to two classes of junior high students at the triplets' Catholic elementary school on Friday morning.  Afterward, we drove across town to the Catholic school where she teaches, and I spoke to a large group of 5th-8th graders, as well as my sister-in-law's 5th grade class.
I'm always nervous before these types of events, but my sweet S-I-L assured me that I "knocked it out of the park" when I spoke at her school.  I won't go into the details now (this post is already getting rather long!), but there was one group with which I didn't exactly score a home run.  (Just to give you an idea of how it went down, one 8th grade boy made this comment during the presentation: "Awkward silence."  Which I did think was funny, by the way.)  Unfortunately, this was the triplets' class, and I had really hoped to make them proud of their aunt in front of their peers.  My husband, who was in the back of the room, having my back as always, said it wasn't nearly as bad as it might have seemed from where I was standing.  Up there in front of the class.  The last place I want to be, ever.  Gulp.

After Tampa, it was back to Atlanta for a night, and then for me, HOME.  Where after a green Christmas here in the Northeast, winter has finally hit--with a vengeance!  (My husband will join me tonight, after he finishes up his training.)

Anyhoo, I'll write more about those speaking engagements later.  I think this post has gone on long enough already. 

But I'll be back. Soon.  I promise.  (Okay, now back to work!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Should I, or Shouldn't I?

Last May, I had the privilege of traveling to Chicago to visit my niece's Catholic school, to speak to her fourth grade class and that of the other fourth grade teacher on her team.  Extra chairs were brought into my niece's classroom to make it possible for both teachers' kids to be together for my presentation.  All of these bright young students had read Erin's Ring in class, and--as hard as it was and is for me to wrap my brain around this--they were extremely excited to meet me.

I started out with butterflies in my stomach.  My voice shook as I introduced myself.  My hand shook as I held up an old photo of my husband's Irish grandfather, one of the people to whom Erin's Ring is dedicated.  However,  I was quickly put at ease by the Q and A format.  The children had all brought written questions they'd prepared ahead of time--thoughtful, probing, beyond-their-years intelligent questions that truly blew me away.  I ended up thoroughly enjoying the experience.

One of the most frequent questions I got from those Windy City fourth-graders had to do with the subject of a sequel for Erin's Ring. (The consensus was that it was practically imperative that I write one!)  Most of those eager young readers were just dying to know what happened NEXT.  Did Theresa's folks mend their broken marriage?  Did Molly start dating class heartthrob John Hughes?  I told them that I wanted to tie up most of the loose ends (most importantly, the story behind the mysterious Claddagh ring) by the final chapter, but I also wanted to give the reader the opportunity to decide for themselves how everything turns out.  Not good enough, they informed me; they wanted more.

There is nothing more rewarding for an author than to talk to people who have 1) actually read their book, and 2) actually enjoyed it!  I'll tell you, if the Amazon shopping public at large felt half as enthusiastic about the merits of Erin's Ring as those kids did, I just might have a New York Times best-seller on my hands.  ;)
On Friday, I will be talking to some more Catholic school students about Erin's Ring.  One of my husband's sisters has arranged for me to visit her triplets' eighth grade class, as well as the school where she was recently hired to teach fifth grade English; so I have two speaking engagements in one day.  I am your stereotypical writer: shy, reserved, introverted, better on paper than in person; so please keep me in your prayers! 

But in the meantime, I thought I'd share something I'd started working on even before I met with those Chicago fourth-graders last May.  I don't know if I'm really going to take their advice and write a sequel, but I do have an idea for some further adventures for Molly and Theresa...

Here's a little teaser, still in the rough draft phase. ;)

Chapter One
Dover, New Hampshire—October 2000

           “Here we go again!” Theresa Grant said with an exaggerated sigh, rolling her eyes and smiling indulgently at her best friend, Molly McCormick.  “It’s Erin’s ring all over again."
          “Would that be so terrible if it was?” Molly retorted, without missing a beat.  “Hey, if not for that ring, we might have never even become friends at all!  Life is full of mysterious coincidences and seemingly random events that end up changing everything.  That ring is what led me to the library that Saturday; and there you were, with your nose buried in that book about the sinking of the Titanic, even though the report wasn’t due for months—and the rest, as they say, is history.”
           This was true.  Molly, the pretty newcomer to the 8th grade class at Dover Catholic Elementary School that fall, had walked into the library one early October morning in 1998—on a mission to discover the owner of an old Irish Claddagh ring that she’d found poking up out of the dirt near Saint Mary’s Church, in a garden that was watched over by a large statue of the Blessed Mother.  It was engraved inside the golden band with the words “To Erin—Love, Michael,” an epithet which had filled Molly’s impressionable young mind with all sorts of heady romantic possibilities.  She had gone to the library that Saturday, hoping with every fiber of her being that she would uncover an epic, drama-filled, holding-hands-as-they-walked-off-into-the-sunset love story from the olden days, and she’d bumped into Theresa before she ever made it to the history stacks.
          That fateful day, Molly had thought that she was the one who was painfully in need of a friend, after having just moved away from the only home (and the only school) she’d ever known in the Chicago suburbs.  Everyone at her new school in Dover seemed to have friendships formed a century ago, while they were still in diapers.  She didn’t know at the time how desperately Theresa had needed a friend as well.
          Longtime Dover, New Hampshire resident Theresa Grant, who was once a popular and outgoing kid, had been retreating further and further into a self-protective shell, following the tragic death of her little brother a few years earlier and the subsequent break-up of her parents’ marriage.  It was interesting that it ended up being Molly, instead of Theresa’s dear old friend—and the class heartthrob—John Hughes (who was almost like a cousin to Theresa, even though they weren’t related by blood), who’d helped her to rejoin the land of the living.
          And it was Molly, along with the whole big, wonderful, God-centered McCormick family, who’d inspired Theresa to renew the Catholic Faith she’d lost, when all else seemed to be lost.  If she hadn’t gone to confession that day…if Father Dominic, a compassionate and holy young priest, hadn’t been there to reassure her that her complicated feelings about Luke’s death didn’t make her a monster, and that God’s love and mercy knew no bounds…
          Well, it didn’t bear thinking about.  And things were so much better now.
           Eventually, with the help of the head librarian and chief archivist, Mrs. Driscoll, and the library’s information-packed historical room that she allowed them to use for their research, the pair of intrepid amateur sleuths did unlock the mystery of the ring; and Erin and Michael’s incredible story—a tale of loyalty and love, hope and redemption, and most of all, faith—definitely didn’t disappoint.  How could it, when it included the miraculous conversion of a young Protestant who risked life and limb to save the Blessed Sacrament, charging into the flames on a mission of love?  And as if learning about this miracle—a Baptism by fire, literally—wasn’t enough, an enduring friendship between the girls was forged amidst the dusty, antiquated volumes that told the story of Dover’s 19th-century Irish immigrants, who left the poverty of their beloved homeland behind hoping to find a better life in America, worked their fingers to the bone in the once-booming cotton mill called Cocheco, and ultimately were responsible for erecting the first Catholic church in the area.
           For the longest time afterward, Erin McQuinn and Michael Kennedy, and all the extraordinary details of the pair’s heart-wrenching love story, occupied more of the girls’ time than was probably healthy.  But those memories had finally begun to fade, as thoughts about meeting cute boys (and possibly experiencing real-life love!), and making the volleyball team, and going to high school dances, and all manner of normal teenage activities had moved in and pushed aside the fairy tale musings.
           Now here they were, two years later, both fifteen years old and sophomores at Aquinas (the Catholic high school located out on Dover Point Road—just past the big red barn at Tuttle’s Farm, as you were heading south, toward Portsmouth).  Molly and Theresa, the “Dynamic Duo,” as their classmates liked to call them, because you rarely saw one without the other.  Hearing that would set Molly off with mock anger, and before you knew it she was spouting one of her stinging soliloquies.  “But who gets to be Batman?  And who’s relegated to Robin, the lame sidekick?  And what kind of name is ‘Robin’ for a superhero, anyway?  Unless the bad guys are a gang of evil earthworms.”  (John often said that Molly McCormick, not his girlfriend but his great friend who also happened to be a girl, made him laugh more often than anyone else he knew.)  She might grouse about the fact that people said she and Theresa were practically joined at the hip; but deep down, Molly loved having a friend who was so close, she was almost like a sister.  For heaven’s sake, she was burdened with five brothers at home—who were good boys, she supposed, relatively speaking anyway, but still managed to try her patience on a daily basis (except for sweet and adorable, utterly edible, not-quite-two-year-old Jack, that is).  True, she did have one sister.  But Bridget was only four—hardly old enough to be a confidante.
          Today, Molly and Theresa were experiencing an extreme case of déjà vu: they’d been assigned a history project last week—a major term paper worth a big percentage of their second-quarter grade, and it was due right before Christmas break.  A similar junior high assignment had been the very reason Theresa had been at the library that day two years ago, when they set out on their quest to unravel the mystery of Erin’s ring.  But this time around, the students were specifically instructed to work in pairs (how perfect for these two experienced history researchers!); and furthermore, they had to give a presentation in front of the class, complete with poster boards and power points, and you name it.
          “Partners in crime again!  I mean, you’re going to be my partner, right?  Or is this friendship over?”  Molly smiled at Theresa, delighted by the prospect of spending countless engrossing hours poring over all those old documents housed behind glass doors, just as they had in the early days of their friendship.  Hours marveling at how different their lives were than those of girls who’d lived a century before them—and yet, strangely, how much alike.  Hours making each other laugh, and even, at times, making each other cry.  Something about that historical room and its contents seemed to stir up the deepest and most conflicting emotions!
          “Do I have a choice?” asked Theresa, as she and Molly left the cafeteria and jostled their way through the packed second-floor hallway, weaving toward their lockers to exchange books and head to their next classes.
           “Of course not."
           “I figured as much.”  Theresa smiled at Molly slyly, ready to reveal her bargaining chip.  “So I’ll be your partner, as long as I get to pick the topic for our project."
          “Wait a minute—I don’t get a say?”
          “I know that you like to rule the roost over at your house, bossing all the younger ones around.  But no, I don’t think you get a say here.  You’re not going to be the boss of me, Molly McCormick!  Because I have the perfect topic:

What's the topic, you ask?  What life-changing event in Catholic history is going to be the subject of this as-yet-unnamed sequel?   You're going to have to read it I'm going to have to write it to find out!

So...should I write it?  Or shouldn't I?