Gotta Guatemala Days 7 and 8

Day 7:

This morning we left our hotel in Antigua and took a short bus drive to a coffee plantation.


Veronica took us through the whole coffee-producing process, which is a lot like the chocolate-making process–at least in the early stages with the roasting and shelling.

Two interesting things I learned:

1. The coffee bean is actually red when it’s ripe. When it’s green, it’s not ripe yet. The inside of the bean is a pale parchment color. This outer skin is shelled. Then the inner most part of the bean is roasted until it’s that brown color we’re used to.


2. It takes one whole coffee tree to make one pound of coffee!

3. One pound of coffee used to make 40 cups of coffee in America, but thanks to Starbucks, we’ve grown a taste for darker, richer coffee, so now one pound of coffee only makes 32 cups of coffee in America. In Europe, they only get about 15 cups of coffee out of one pound.

They have to keep changing this display based on our changing taste in coffee.

They have to keep changing this display based on our changing taste in coffee.

On the same site as the coffee plantation is a museum for the music native to this land. The Maya used turtle shells and seashells to make music. They also had wood and percussion instruments, but there were no string instruments until the Spanish colonists arrived.


We had a yummy lunch with a Guatemalan stew, vegetables, stuffed peppers and fresh guacamole and tortillas on the plantation/museum grounds. Then three native men performed traditional songs on instruments they made themselves because to be a musician here means to make your own instrument.


We had a little time to shop and then headed back on the bus for a three-hour ride to Lake Atitlan. This lake is kind of the Lake Como of Guatemala. Our hotel is right on the lake, which is surrounded by mountains. We arrived in time to take a little stroll through the gorgeous botanical garden that is on the hotel’s property before we had dinner.

Day 8:

This morning we got to sleep in. That meant we had more time to observe the amazing birds and gardens at the hotel.


Then I walked down to the dock to take a photo of the helipads that the hotel has. After I took the photo, I turned toward the lake and spotted a helicopter flying over it. Suddenly, I realized it was probably headed right toward me! I mean, how manny helipads could there be on this lake? I ran back down the dock and got far enough away to take a couple photos, but I could feel the breeze from those helicopter blades.

Helicopter landing at hotel

Helicopter landing at hotel

A short bus drive after breakfast took us to the town of Panajachel. We had three hours here to shop. All the shops were mainly on the same main street, and it’s exactly what you’d expect a town of indigenous people to be like. Lots of stalls with natives in their brilliantly colored and intricately woven clothes, some of whom follow you down the street trying to make a deal with you. I bought a few small things (including some things I’ll use as giveaways. Watch my Facebook page for details.)

At 12:30, we headed back to the hotel for a delicious lunch of traditional Guatemalan food.

We had the afternoon at leisure. My friend decided to go swimming at the hotel pool (no surprise to those who know her). I went with two other ladies in our group to go ziplining. It was my first time. We had to walk a ways down the street from the hotel. I thought it might be in the nature preserve, but my two companions thought it was fuather down the road. Long story short, it was in the nature preserve. When we got there, it was 2:00. The girl at the counter, who spoke only a little English, said that the next tour was at 3:00. There were two courses: the long and the short one. One of the women I was with had already been ziplining and had done a short course, so we decided on the long.

The girl told us that there was a half-hour walk up to the long course. We decided to start our trek right away to give us plenty of time to find it. So we started climbing up the jungle terrain of the mountain side. Soon we came across a suspension bridge.



Then another suspension bridge.
Really long suspension bridge!
Then another one. Then a huge waterfall. Then another suspension bridge. Around the fifth suspension bridge, I said, “This really is my Indiana Jones vacation.”

After almost a half hour, we found we had traveled in a circle. We headed back to a spot where they had a bathroom and a reception desk. The guy behind this counter didn’t speak much English either. He said something about the butterflies and pointed to the left. So we followed a path marked by a butterfly sign This brought us to .. . a butterfly garden. Did we need to walk through it? It turns out that brought us in a circle, too!

So we headed back to the guy at the reception desk. It was now about 2:35. How would we make it to the meeting point by 3:00? Turns out we were already at the meeting point. We think the guy was just suggesting we visit the butterflies to help pass the time while we wait. But we were so determined to get to the meeting point, we never even took pictures of the butterflies!

Finally, we met our tour guides. They helped us put on our gear and then do a short (20 feet) practice cable, so we could practice stopping. I didn’t stop fast enough and was told to pull down harder on the brake.

The practice finished, we began to climb up the mountain. Right back up the path we had been on with the suspension bridges and the giant waterfall! One of our group members was suffering from asthma, so we had to stop periodically. I was worried for a bit that she wouldn’t make it, but eventually (after over an hour of climbing) we made it to the top. There were six of us doing the long course: my two new friends, myself, and three young people on a mission trip.

We had seven lines to zip down. The first was fairly short, but still felt kind of long to me. I was okay getting started, but as soon as the treetops dropped away from below me, and I was flying over the canyon, I thought, “What am I doing?” But before long, I made it safely to the stop.

Then we hiked up a bit more. Now we were going to be on a long cable. This was very high up on the mountain, and the cable went over a very steep part of the valley. Almost immediately, I was out in the open. It was very windy up there, and I began to flow sideways. My feet were pushed toward the lake, and I was nearly perpendicular to the cable line. Finally, I could see the tour guide at the end of the line. We were told to hit the break when we saw him wave his red flag. Was he waving it now? Remembering how I hadn’t braked hard enough in the practice run, I began to put on the brake, but I was slowing down and still had a long way to go. I released the brake. Before long, I stopped moving. Completely stopped. Right over the canyon, which was hundreds of feet below me.

I looked toward the guide. He was still 200 feet from me. How was I going to make it the remaining 200 feet to the ledge? Did this happen to other people? I tried to remain calm. Surely, there had to be a way to get down. I used my gloved hands to start pushing myself along while trying not to think about the fact that there was nothing below me for hundreds of feet. Before I could get far, the guide at the end came zipping toward me. I don’t know how he did it, but he got to me, hooked us together, and brought us back to the landing.

The next couple of people made it all the way. But the next guy, who had a horrible fear of heights, got stuck out even further than I did! Back out went our tour guide to rescue him.

This is the other guy getting rescued. Obviously, I don't have a photo if my own rescue. :)

This is the other guy getting rescued. Obviously, I don’t have a photo of my own rescue. :)

The third cable was even longer than the second, but it was at more of an incline, so it went faster. Again the wind pushed my feet toward the lake, and I had to hold my hands far enough away from the cable to avoid my arms getting burned. I made it almost all the way to the end of this one. Luckily, there was enough ground coverage for the finally forty feet or so, so the guide only had to run out and grab my legs to pull me the rest of the way.

After that, all the other cables (there were four more) were short and easy. Most of those had us flying through trees, so they were less scary than the first three, which had us flying over the valley below us. In fact, by the time I finished the fourth line, I was feeling like a pro. I got my brake timing down perfectly and was able to stop right where I needed to. I was actually sad when we finished the last one.

At the end of the lines was an optional, short ropes course, which I did, but my two friends from the tour skipped.

We came back to the hotel victorious (with diplomas!) with almost an hour to spare before dinner.

One last day of adventure tomorrow and then the journey home.

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Gotta Guatemala Days 5-6

Day 5:

This was mostly a traveling day. We had to head all the way from Tikal in the north back south past Guatemala City to Antigua. This city used to be the old capital until it was ruined by earthquakes one too many times back in 1773, and they decided to just move the capital somewhere else. That somewhere else, of course, being Guatemala City.

Since we were basically driving on the same path we took two days ago, we didn’t have any sight seeing stops this time. We just drove all day with one lunch break and three quick bathroom breaks.

Mango tree near our lunch stop

Mango tree near our lunch stop

Even without any side trips, we didn’t get to Antigua until 5:23.

Our hotel is very, very nice. It’s a spa actually. We were greeted at the door with some kind of fruity drink in a champagne glass. My traveling friend said the drink reminded her of a Bellini without the alcohol.

Towel swan that greeted us at our hotel

Towel swan that greeted us at our hotel

The two of us did a quick walk around the neighboring blocks for a half hour.  We saw a lot of kids in school uniforms, so we wondered if a local Catholic high school had just gotten out. Maybe they have a long school day here.

Back at the hotel, we had a lovely dinner with lots of yummy dessert choices.

Thank goodness the desserts are small so we can try them all!

Thank goodness the desserts are small so we can try them all!

Day  6:

Oh my gosh! What a lovely day in Antigua today. The weather was perfect, in the 70s and mostly sunny. We started at 9:00 a.m. with a three-hour walking tour of the city led by our very own Veronica, who continues to be filled with valuable knowledge and entertaining stories. For example, did you know that they built corner windows in their houses here in Antigua during the Spanish colonial times because the higher class women were not supposed to move around outside their homes by themselves. They spent most of their days indoors doing embroidery or staring out the windows–hence, the corner windows to give them more to look at!

Also, the carpenters that they had were used to building ships instead of houses, so when they had to make a roof they basically built a ship’s hull and then turned it upside down.

Notice that the roof looks like an upside-down ship's hull.

Notice that the roof looks like an upside-down ship’s hull.

On our walk, we visited the main cathedral near the town square. It is much smaller than it used to be because most of it was ruined during earthquakes.

The cathedral

The cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral

Holy Week is a big deal down here, and preparations have already begun, including this beautiful “carpet” made of colored sand.

Can you believe this is colored sand?

Can you believe this is colored sand?

Our group stopped near the Central Park, but Veronica instructed my friend and I to make a little detour.

Central Park

Central Park

The night before she had told us about a chocolate museum (you know the cacao bean is big here) where we could take a class. Since I had told her we were interested, she instructed us to go right away and make our reservation for the class and then meet up with everyone else at the next stop on the walking tour. The chocolate museum (named Choco Museo) was only a couple blocks away. Unfortunately, it didn’t open until 10:00, and it was 9:57. So we waited. And waited. Finally, at 10:10 it opend. We quickly made our reservation for a 1:30 class and headed toward the “Las Capuchinas,” the convent for the Capuchin nuns. It was damaged in an earthquake in 1773, but has become basically a museum now.

Standing in the circular set of dormitories in the convent

Standing in the circular set of dormitories in the convent


Courtyard in the Capuchin Convent

Courtyard in the Capuchin Convent


After our walking tour, we had a nice (but somewhat salty) lunch with an onion and leek soup and then our choice of entrees. I had the tilapia, but there were also steak, chicken, and vegetarian options.

Lunch ended just in time for our chocolate class, which was awesome. Our instructor took us through the whole process from the cacao pod to the beans fermenting to drying the beans to roasting the beans to the separation of the shell from the bean to the crushing and pulverizing of the bean. We actually got to roast the beans and shell them. The shells are used to make cacao tea, which we got to drink. Then we grounded some of the beans to make two other drinks, the traditional Mayan drink (with chili, paprika, and honey) and then the Spanish version (with cardomon, anise, sugar, milk, and black pepper). It tasted a lot like a chocolate chai tea.

Time to grind the cacao beans!

Time to grind the cacao beans!

Then we finally got to the business of making chocolate candy! We had our choice of dark or milk chocolate. I chose milk, and my friend chose dark. We picked out molds, filled them with the chocolate, and then added things like sprinkles, coconut, macadamia nuts, orange peel, mango, ginger, almonds, and Oreo bits.

Filling my mold with chocolate!

Filling my mold with chocolate!

The chocolate needed one and a half hours to set, so we headed out to a jewelry store to do some shopping for jade.

Then we headed to the church of mercy (Iglesias de Nuestra Señora de la Mercidad). This is a very pretty church with intricate white scrollwork outside which makes it look a little like a wedding cake. We took a few minutes for prayer inside.

La Mercidad

La Mercidad

We also visited the museum at Santo Domingo before heading back to our hotel for another lovely dinner in our open-air restaurant.

Church inside Santo Domingo

Church inside Santo Domingo

One other cool thing we got to see while walking the streets today was a procession of Catholic school kids getting ready for Holy Week.





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Gotta Guatemala Day 4

Today we visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal, a place that will make you feel like Indiana Jones. But before we talk about Tikal, let’s talk about our hotel. This is, by far, the most exotic hotel I’ve ever stayed at. Everything is open air: the reception desk, the restaurant, the pool, the bar. I feel a little like I’m in the Bali scenes from Eat, Pray, Love.


Bar area of hotel


Hotel room with view of lake



Lake at hotel


Our hotel is located in the middle of a nature preserve. There are howler monkeys, wild birds, and perhaps even a crocodile and a jaguar up in the jungle around us. The bad part is that we totally have to load up on mosquito repellent.


Wild birds in our nature preserve


After breakfast this morning in our open-air restaurant, we headed out on the bus. An hour and a half later, we arrived at the national park that holds the Tikal ruins, where we were given several rules:

1. Don’t leave the group. The last person who got last in the jungle was gone for 11 days.

2. Don’t feed the animals!

3. Don’t fall.

Our whole group walked to the area of Temples I and II. Well, actually most of us walked it. A few people got on the back of a pickup truck. You can no longer walk up Temple I, but there are wooden stairs at the back of Temple II and you can climb those 103 steps.

Me at the top of Temple II with Temple I in the background

Me at the top of Temple II, with Temple I in the background

Only a couple of us climbed the giant stone steps up the necropolis. I really felt like Indiana Jones then. Those stone steps were a lot harder to crawl up than the wooden steps to the Temple.

Standing on top of the necropolis

Standing on top of the necropolis – Just call me Indiana Jane


A view of the necropolis from Temple II

A view of the necropolis from Temple II

Then our group split in two. The less hardy took a pickup truck back to the entrance and then the bus back to the hotel for lunch. The rest of us adventurers hiked deeper into the jungle.  We saw the Plaza of the Seven Temples, which was just excavated from 2004-2011, so they haven’t been letting people in for that long. Then we saw the Lost World and then we finally got to Temple IV. You climb Temple IV by a series of 196 wooden steps up the back. Amazingly, George Lucas shot a brief scene from the original Star Wars movie from the top of this temple–and I don’t think there were stairs then, which means they had to bring their camera equipment up by climbing the crumbling and very steep ancient stairs in the front.

Recognize this rebel base from Star Wars?

Recognize this rebel base from Star Wars?

After our arduous trek, we were rewarded with a yummy lunch with fresh gaucemole in an open-air restaurant within the park.

Back at the hotel, we had a quick dip in the pool before dinner. After dinner, we were treated to some traditional Guatemalan dances performed by some local teens and preteens. I even got asked to dance at the end by one of the boy dancers. You’ll have to wait for a photo of that because my friend took photos with her digital camera, and we don’t have a way to transfer those photos to my iPad.

Some of the older dancers

Some of the older dancers


A couple of the younger dancers. Isn't this girl cute?

A couple of the younger dancers. Isn’t this girl cute?

Not sure when my next blog post will be, depends on where we can get wifi!

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Monday Book Review: The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

Normally, I review middle grade and young adult books, but today I am super excited to bring you The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem. This is the the third book in Landsem’s The Living Water series. I enjoyed the first book The Well, I adored the second book The Thief, and I’m absolutely in love with the third book The Tomb! Somehow Landsem’s books just keep getting better and better!

IMG_3483Title: The Tomb

Author: Stephanie Landsem

Genre: biblical fiction

Synopsis: Martha is the good girl. She follows all the laws, as is proper for the daughter of a respected Pharisee. However, it’s her sister Mary who gets to marry the man of her dreams, a poor man who makes her happy even though he has little to offer her. Martha is also in love with a poor man, but he’s a pagan, and there’s no way her father would ever consent to her marrying anyone other than a proper Jew. Even the righteous Simon can’t seem to convince Martha’s father to let him marry his eldest daughter. Martha is such a good cook and law-abiding woman, no man seems good enough to marry her. However, Martha is hiding a secret, a sin that could get her stoned in her hometown of Bethany. And to make matters worse, her brother Lazarus wants to run off and follow their cousin Jesus, whom many (but definitely not all) are claiming is the Messiah!

The back cover of the book gives away far more than I am in my synopsis, but I’d actually recommend not reading the back cover before you read the book. I didn’t, and I’m glad I skipped it. I enjoyed the many twists this story took along the way.

If you follow me on Facebook, you may already know that this story brought me to tears–several times, in fact. Landsem has a way of making Jesus so real. Any Christian is familiar with the story of Jesus coming to Martha and Mary’s house for dinner, and how Martha complains that her sister won’t help her with the food preparations. But what Landsem does is flesh out this scene for us, so that we get a clearer picture of what it might actually have been like. In doing so, she illuminates Jesus’s human nature. I think we tend to focus mostly on his divine nature, but it’s wonderful to spend some time thinking of Jesus as the guy who comes over for dinner and the children run to him and throw their arms around his legs.

I could go on and on about how much I liked this book, but I don’t want to spoil any of it for you. I highly recommend all of The Living Water series. You can read them in any order, but at the end of The Tomb, there is an epilogue where Landsem brings together characters from all three of her stories.

You can find the book on Amazon here and at Barnes & Noble here. You can also follow Stephanie on Facebook and Twitter or visit her website.


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Gotta Guatemala Days 1-3

When the first cold finger of winter began pushing its way into Chicago last December, I said to my friend, “I’m sick of winter already. Do you want to go some place for spring break. I don’t care where as long as it’s warm.”

She said, “How about Guatemala?”

I said, “Sounds warm to me!”

And that is how it came to be that on the first day of spring, my friend and I headed to the “Land of Eternal Spring,” Guatemala.

Day 1:

Our first day was really just a travel day. We flew from Chicago to Dallas, and then from Dallas to Guatemala City. We had some time to kill between our two flights and my friend had day-long passes to the first-class lounge for American Airlines, so we ended up being able to enjoy a relaxing atmosphere (with free drinks!) in both ORD and DFW.

A little mid-morning snack at ORD

A little mid-morning snack at ORD

Unfortunately, our flight out of DFW to Guatemala was delayed due to rain, so we didn’t end up getting into Guatemala until about 8:00 their time, which would be 9:00 p.m. Chicago time. We’re all in the Central Time zone, but apparently they don’t do daylight savings here.

Getting to the hotel was very easy as our tour group had a driver waiting for us at the airport. It’s not a very big airport, so compared to O’Hare, it was nothing. Still, the dark night sky punctuated by city lights, the honking of passing cars, and the line-up of people waiting for loved ones was enough to wake me temporarily from the sleep that was threatening to overcome me.

Before long, we and our luggage were on a van with about eight other tour members. The ride to the hotel was no more than ten minutes. It’s a very nice hotel, I’m sure one of the best in the city. By American standards, we might say a few things like the hairdryer might not be the latest and greatest, yet my friend and I have both traveled enough to understand that this is a very, very nice hotel.

Our tour guide met us at the entrance and gave us a quick tour of the hotel, along with instructions for where to get our late dinner at the hotel and where to meet in the morning.

Here is what I had for dinner.


Day 2:

We had breakfast at 7:30 and then met our tour director for an orientation. A few words about our tour guide, whom we’ll call Veronica for the purposes of this blog. She is fabulous! She’s originally from Algeria and speaks at least four languages. She studied in France, was in the military for the Gulf War (but got injured during training and never fought), and then came to Guatemala about 25 years ago on a cultural mission. She loved the people so much that she never left! She is extremely animated and a great storyteller. Veronica has studied history and anthropology so she is very knowledgeable.

After our orientation meeting, she took us to Popul Vuh, one of the key museums in Guatemala City. If I had walked through Popul Vuh on my own, I don’t think I would have gotten half of what I got out of it with Veronica’s guidance. She told stories and gave explanations worthy of an anthropology class. I learned a lot about the Maya culture and how it developed over time. I’m sure she’ll be sharing much more of this in the coming days.

Right next door to Popol Vuh is a museum called Museo Ixchel, which displays the handmade textiles native to this land.


Museo Ixchel on the left, Popol Vuh on the right


After the two museums, it was time to head back to the hotel for lunch. I ate a number of things, including rice, a little roasted chicken, some steak, grilled vegetables, and roasted potato. For dessert, I tried a cookie, a profiterole (filled with a yummy cream center), a baked apple, and then a piece of traditional Guatemalan candy. This last one would be the red ball you see in the photo. When I picked it up, I thought it would be some kind of jellied, fruit-based candy, but while it may have been fruit-based, it really just tasted like giant granules of sugar. I left most of it on the plate.


After lunch, we had a bus tour of Guatemala City. Unfortunately, there was a marathon scheduled for the afternoon, so the traffic was terrible and we didn’t get to see the Catedral Metropolitana or the Palacio Nacional de la Cultuura. If you’ve been with me since last year’s Speak, Pray, Cook tour of Rome, you know I like visiting churches so I was disappointed not to see the cathedral.

What is the city of Guatemala like? By American standards, it’s a dirty, mid-size kind of town with more than its fair share of slummy areas. However, it has several redeeming qualities. It has some of the coolest graffiti I’ve ever seen.


The streets are far more tree-lined than we usually see in urban areas in the States.

image And they have some of the most amazing piñata makers you’ll ever see. If there is a Disney character out there, they’ve made it into a piñata.


Also of interest was the fact that St. John Paul II visited Guatemala three times, so they built a statue of him.

JP II statue in Guatemala City

JP II statue in Guatemala City


After our bus tour of the city, we headed back to the hotel where we had some time to visit the pool and jacuzzi before dinner.

Picture of the pool from the dining area after we had dinner

Picture of the pool from the dining area after we had dinner

Day 3:

An early start this morning since we had to travel most of the distance across Guatemala to reach the northern region of Peten, where the ruins of Tikal are.  The ride involved a number of hairpin turns up and down the mountains so our tour guide Veronica drugged us all with dramamine. Well okay, it was offered, and she talked so often about how horrible it is to get sick on the bus that I took her up on her offer. While I found the mountains quite pretty, I also found all the trash along the highway quite surprising. Let’s just say Guatemala is in desperate need of an Adopt-a-Highway program.

Anyone want to adopt this highway?

Anyone want to adopt this highway?

On the way to Tikal, we stopped in Quirigua, our first visit to a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Quirigua is the site of Mayan ruins, including many stelae and statues depicting animal-human hybrids.

Zoomorphic statue (part jaguar, part crocodile, part turtle)

Zoomorphic statue (part jaguar, part crocodile, part turtle)


Me in front of one of the tallest stelae in the world. It was built to honor an ancient Mayan king.

Me in front of one of the tallest stelae in the world. It was built to honor an ancient Maya king.

Then we headed to Rio Dulce for lunch. Now I was really feeling like I was on a tropical vacation. Check out this thatch-roofed restaurant along the river!


During the afternoon drive, we watched a documentary film on digs being down in the Maya ruins. After all theses archaeological talk, I’m beginning to feel like I’m in an Indiana Jones movie.

Tomorrow we visit the ancient ruins of Tikal. It is sure to be a packed day!

And for all you Star Wars fans, be prepared to be very jealous! If all goes well, I’ll be stopping by a spot made famous in the original Star Wars movie!

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Lenten Reflection and an Unexpected Rant about Confession

Here’s another of those Lenten Reflections I wrote for my church’s prayer book, followed up by a bit of a Lenten/Confession Rant.

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent – March 3

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20

“Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow.” Maybe it’s because I’m an English teacher, but this line always reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. Sometimes I feel like my sins are a big red letter that I’m wearing around for everyone to see. That, somehow, everyone will know the horrible things I’ve done and shun me for them. That’s when lines like this in Scripture comfort me. What a gift we have in the Sacrament of Reconciliation! I don’t have to wear my sins on me like some scarlet letter. God forgives me, and He’ll make my “crimson” sins “become white as wool.”

An old friend recently requested advice about going to confession because she hadn’t been in many years. My advice? Go! Don’t be afraid! Simply tell the priest how long it’s been, and he’ll guide you from there. I’m sure helping us realize God’s infinite compassion and mercy must be one of the most gratifying aspects of a priest’s vocation.


IMG_3404So after I wrote and submitted this to my church, several interesting things happened that have me ranting a little. First, one of my neighborhood churches has decided to cut back their confession times from every Saturday to every other Saturday, and they’ve moved it from a reasonable hour on Saturday mornings to 8:00-9:00 a.m. Who except the holiest among us are going to get up that early for confession? And what happened to Pope Francis’s request to have *more* confession time so that more people would come?

Then I found another neighborhood church that only offers it for a half-hour a week. What? A half hour?

Then a friend, who hadn’t been to confession in a long time (not the same friend mentioned in the passage) told me she went and had a horrible experience. The priest made her feel like she was judged instead of forgiven, and now she probably won’t go again for a really long time! This is all in direct contradiction to Pope Francis’s request to priests.

I swear, poor Papa Francesco must be banging his head against the walls some days.

On the bright side, I had a mostly positive confession experience myself this weekend. Archbishop Cupich decided to start a “Festival of Forgiveness,” during which churches would stay open for 24 hours for confession. (Yay!) Now this is more in line with Pope Francis’s requests. However, only a handful of churches participated. (Boooo!) I headed off to one during the last hour of the Festival. The line was 25 people along, and there was only one priest who was taking 7-8 minutes per person. (More booing.) Thankfully, a second priest arrived and started a second line. (Yay!) He wasn’t a priest I knew, but he talked with me for a little while and gave me a simple prayer to say when I ask God for forgiveness: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Simple. I like it. :) Now if only all priests could be good confessors.

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Monday Book Review: Saving Kabul Corner by N.H. Senzai

Here’s the second in my reviews of juvenile mysteries for these year’s Edgar nominees!

IMG_3252Title: Saving Kabul Corner

Author: N.H. Senzai

Genre: mystery

Age group: middle grade

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Ariana is a bit perturbed that her perfect cousin Laila, who just moved from Afghanistan to California, has honed in not only on her bedroom, but also on her best friend Mariam! Ariana dreams of the day when Laila’s father will return from his job in Afghanistan and she and her family can move into their new home where she’ll finally have her own room. But things never go as planned, and both Ariana’s and Laila’s worlds get turned upside down when a rival Afghan grocery store opens up in the same shopping plaza as Ariana’s family store. This reignites an old family feud that was long thought to be buried back in Afghanistan. When the family store, Kabul Corner, is vandalized, Ariana and her friends decide to find out who’s trying to destroy their business. Is it really the Afghan family who runs the rival store, or is somebody else out to get them?

If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you might remember that I also reviewed Shooting Kabul, N.H. Senzai’s first book (sort of a prequel to this one) two years ago. While I enjoyed that one, I think I enjoyed this second book even more–probably because it seemed, at least to me, to follow a more traditional mystery plot. There are clear suspects, clear clues, and a good old-fashioned wrap-up of whodunit at the end.

Another thing I really enjoy about N.H. Senzai’s books is that she gives us such a lovely glimpse into the true Muslim culture. I teach at a very ethnically diverse school, and it’s fun for me to see characters with names like that of some of my students: Fadi, Zayd, Naj, Nasreen. Some of my students’ families have fled Afghanistan for the same reasons as the characters in this book, so it helps me to understand what their life might be like at home as they worry about family members who may still be there or may even be helping U.S. forces in the area.

Kudos to N.H. Senzai for a fun mystery! I think I may be adding this as an option for summer reading for next year’s group of incoming sixth graders.

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Spin Cycle: 28 Inspirational Quotes

For this week’s Spin Cycle, Ginny Marie of Lemon Drop Pie is asking us to list 28 of . . . well, whatever we’d like! We’re just celebrating that the 28-day month of February is almost at an end. (One of my former principals used to call it the “armpit of the school year.”)

For my post, I’ve decided to list 28 inspirational quotes. In the comments, tell me which one was your favorite or if you have a favorite that I didn’t list!

Quotes on Success


Believe with all your heart2.

Success Robert Collier3.

How far you've come4.

Life is a succession25.

Einstein Say NO6.

If You Can Imagine


 Funny Quote

This one made me laugh. I guess it’s the Spanish version of “If someone hands you lemons, make lemonade.”


House on Fire8.

Always do right Mark Twain

 Quotes about kindness


Schweitzer do for others10.

Mother Teresa kindness11.

motivational click november einstein collection


Wonder Collage

Quotes about Hope



Dwell in Possibility Dickinson15.

Prayer of Protection16.

Carson Downton Abbey


Roosevelt knot hang on18.

All's right with the world2


Angel Quotes

Thanks to my book Angelhood coming out in two months, my friends are sending me lots of angel quotes. So here’s a whole set of them.




Angel Start Moving


May There Always Be An Angel By Your Side.

Angels Can Find Us

Entertain angels

Psalm 92 Angel Wing

Walk with Angels 2
Walk with Angels27.

Can't see your angels28.

Friends are angels

Stop by the Spin Cycle to see what other kinds of lists other bloggers came up with.

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Lenten Reflection for Thursday, February 19, 2015

My parish puts out a daily Lenten reflection booklet with passages meant to help us ponder the day’s readings.  This year I wrote three of the reflections. Here’s my first one. It’s based on Luke 9:22-25.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Well, who on earth wants to take up a cross? They’re heavy, cumbersome, and painful. They slow down our progress on the path we want to take, but perhaps that’s the very point. I have all sorts of plans, but God keeps sending me these crosses–unwelcome illnesses, sudden requests for help from friends and family, added expectations at work—that keep getting in the way of what I want to accomplish.

And that’s when I’m forced to remember the first part of Jesus’s directive. If I’m going to follow Him, I first need to deny myself. As the band Mercy Me sings in their song “So Long Self,” I have to say good-bye to me: “Well, it’s been fun, but I have found somebody else.” That somebody else, of course, is Jesus. And if I really want to follow Him, I have to keep “turning outward” as Pope Francis has been reminding us to do: to deny myself, to turn toward others, and to pick up whatever cross God asks me to bear today.

* * *

The reflection booklet obviously doesn’t include video, but that doesn’t mean I can’t include video in my blog post version! Here’s the video from the song I mentioned by Mercy Me. It’s kind of a silly spoof on the idea of saying good-bye to yourself, but I still really like it.

Got any other great songs that put you in the mood for Lent?

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Monday Book Review: Fake ID by Lamar Giles

It’s time to review another Edgar nominee, this time for best young adult mystery.

Title: Fake ID

Author: Lamar Giles

Genre: mystery

Age group: young adult

Synopsis: Teenager Nick Pearson has been living in the Witness Protection Program for years. His father, a former mob ally, is a key witness in a case against a big-time mobster–or at least, will be a key witness once the police capture the mobster. Unfortunately, Nick’s dad has problems playing by the rules; thus, Nick’s family is forced to change names and locations several times. When Nick lands in the small town of Stepton, things go wrong quickly. A student at school commits suicide, but Nick isn’t convinced it wasn’t murder. Worse yet, he fears his dad is messed up in the whole deal.

Giles provides several nice plot twists to a story that keeps getting more complicated as Nick investigates, so I can see why it’s been nominated for an Edgar. After years of reading so many mysteries, it’s a little hard to surprise me so I’ll admit that there was one plot twist that got me.

Parents may want to be forewarned that there is foul language in the book, but it didn’t seem gratuitous to me. I’m sure high school students hear similar or worse language on a daily basis. There are also brief mentions of sex and one short make-out scene. Nick certainly isn’t the perfect hero of a romance novel, but he’s a kid trying to do the right thing despite his father’s mistakes, so we root for him to succeed, and there are definitely some humorous lines in here.

One other thing I feel compelled to mention is that after the questionable suicide, one character mentions that another character says there won’t be a Catholic funeral because it was a suicide. I don’t know if Giles purposely included this erroneous idea or if he’s unaware himself. However, as a Catholic with a book about teen suicide due out in just a couple months, I thought I should clear the air. Someone who has committed suicide can have a Catholic funeral Mass. If you’d like an explanation, feel free to see this article.



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