Holiday Recipe: Rum Balls!

This week for the Spin Cycle, Ginny Marie has asked us to share our favorite holiday recipes. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to bake, so when I think holiday recipes, I think Christmas cookies! We definitely have our favorites in my family, and the only I often make is the batch of rum balls. Yummy.

I can remember vividly the first time I helped my mom make them. After watching her roll the sticky concoction in her hands before rolling them in powdered sugar, I looked at the gooey residue left on her palms and said, “That’s how you make them!?!” I couldn’t believe something so yummy looked so icky in its preparation. Oh well. The mess is worth it!

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Ingredients:
1 cup pecan chips*
1 package of vanilla wafers
1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup light corn syrup
3 tablespoons rum
1 teaspoon vanilla
sifted powdered sugar for rolling balls

*If you can’t find pecan chips in your store, buy any other type of pecans (e.g. halves) and chop them until you have 1 to 1-1/2 cups finely chopped pecans.

Break the vanilla wafers into smaller pieces and drop them into a blender—about eight cookies at a time. Chop them in the blender until they are very fine, like graham crackers crushed for a graham cracker crust.

Continue crushing vanilla wafers until you have 1 ¾ cups crumbs. You’ll use a little more than half the package of wafers. Turn the cookie crumbs into a bowl with the pecan chips.

Add powdered sugar, cocoa, and salt. Mix well with pastry blender.

Add syrup, rum, and vanilla. Mix well. Put bowl in freezer for 5-10 minutes to make rolling easier.

Roll the balls using a tablespoon or a small cookie scooper to measure out the dough. Roll balls in powdered sugar. Let rum balls dry several hours before storing in air-tight container in refrigerator.

To keep hands from become too messy, try using powdered sugar on the palms of your hands while rolling.

Yields: about 40 rum balls

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Want to see more holiday recipes? Head on over to Lemon Drop Pie and follow the links.

 

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December Giveaway: Cross Bracelet from Rome!

For the December giveaway, I’m raffling off a cross bracelet that I bought in Rome last July. I had it with me during the Sunday Angelus, so it’s been blessed by Pope Francis, too!

Green Cross Bracelet

Enter below! You can earn extra raffle entries by tweeting about the contest every day until it ends.

And don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, so you’ll know if you won!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Shake It Off!

This week on the Spin Cycle, Ginny Marie is giving us free rein to discuss whatever we’d like for her linkup, so I’ve decided to share a funny, little story from last week.

On Thursday, I met with my spiritual director. (If you’ve never heard of a spiritual director, just think of it as an adviser or mentor who helps you in your spiritual life.)

During our session, we started talking about the fears I have regarding my book coming out next year. What if people hate it? What if they read something into it that I didn’t mean to be read there? Oh, I’m sure so-and-so is going to hate it. And what about this other person? Oh, I can just imagine the hate mail and the bad reviews!

My spiritual director responded by saying, “Well, you know someone’s not going to like it because that’s just how things are. There are people out there who are just haters. It’s their mission to put down other people. They’re going to hate simply because that’s what they do.”

And immediately my mind flipped to that Taylor Swift song “Shake It Off.”

‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
Shake it off, Shake it off

After my brief pop-culture-induced ADD moment, I was able to pull myself back into listening to my spiritual director who had moved on to talking about how Jesus had his haters too. He had been scorned, ridiculed, ambushed–even betrayed by one of his closest friends! We can take comfort in knowing that he dealt with his share of haters, too.

And that’s when I burst out laughing. I held up a hand. “Wait,” I said to my spiritual director. “Wait right there. I just got the funniest picture in my head. First, you mentioned haters having to hate, and I thought of the lyrics ‘haters gonna hate’ from Taylor Swift. Then you mentioned Jesus having haters, and I thought of that passage where Jesus tells his disciples that if they enter a town where the people won’t listen to them, they should just leave and shake the dust of the town off their feet, so now I’m picturing Jesus leaving a town and shaking the dust off his feet, all while singing ‘Shake it off, shake it off.””

Moral of the story: When criticism comes your way (or even when the fear of criticism keeps you from moving forward), just remember the advice of Taylor Swift and Jesus–and shake it off.

Got a random story to share this week? Join the Spin Cycle.

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Halloween Show and Tell

This week on the Spin Cycle, they’re doing a Halloween recap. Here’s my Halloween, in brief.

It started off well enough. Two weeks before Halloween, I was invited to a pumpkin carving party. I like to think they turned out pretty well.

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My prepared pumpkin, ready for cutting!

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Do you recognize mine?

Five days later, my pumpkin was rotting into mush, so I threw it into the trash.

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Just days before the mush set in

 

That’s okay, I thought. I’ve got another–uncarved–pumpkin. It will last until Halloween.

The night before Halloween, I picked up my uncarved pumpkin to move it into a more prominent position. It had rotted so badly it left a stain on the spot where I’d placed it. I guess that’s what I get for not putting a plate under it.

On Halloween, I bought some candy: one allergy-friendly kind and one kind I actually like. Guess how many trick-or-treaters I got? None. It never fails. On years when I don’t buy candy, someone knocks on my door. When I do buy candy, no one shows.

Who wants some gummy candy? I’m keeping the Mounds for myself. :)

Candy

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November Giveaway!

It’s time for the November giveaway!

This month I’m giving away something related to one of the main characters in my upcoming young adult novel, Angelhood. The main character’s little sister is named Cecille. I took her name from St. Cecilia because Cecille is a ballerina and St. Cecilia is the patroness of music.

While I was in Rome this past year, I visited the Basilica of St. Cecilia twice. In the gift shop, I picked up a couple St. Cecilia medals. Since November 22 is the feast day of St. Cecilia, I thought this would be a good month to giveaway one of those medals.

How can you win it? By entering the raffle on my Facebook page. Look under the tab “Giveaway” or following this link: http://tinyurl.com/lwm9vat

 

St Cecilia Medal
The giveaway will be open from November 7-21. I’ll announce the winner on the Feast of St. Cecilia on November 22. Good luck!

For more on my visit to the Basilica di Santa Cecilia in Rome, visit this blog post.

 

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Can a NaNo novel really get published?

I first heard about NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month (or as it’s affectionately known NaNo) back in 2010. It sounded pretty crazy to be honest. For the month of November, writers from around the world make a commitment to write a novel (or at least the first 50,000 words of it) during the month of November.

There are a few “rules.” You can’t have started the novel before November 1. You can plan for your novel, but you can’t actually start writing. In other words, you can plot and create characters to your heart’s content, but you can’t start the story itself.

Of course, I did some research when I first heard about it.

How many words per day does that end up being? 1,667. Approximately.

Do people actually do this? Yes. As it turns out, quite a few, and not just adults but students, too.

What does it mean to “win” NaNo? Just hit your 50,000 words before midnight on November 30.

Can a book written that quickly possibly be any good? Could it actually get published? Yes.

How do I know? Because my upcoming young adult novel Angelhood was my 2011 NaNo project, and it’s being published by Vinspire Publishing in April 2015.

Angelhood 2 1400x2100In 2010, when I first heard of NaNo, I decided to try my hand at writing a cozy mystery since I love those. I didn’t intend for it to go anywhere. It was just going to be a writing challenge. I got a few books on writing mysteries out of the library and spent the month of October plotting and planning. When November rolled around, I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. Long story short, I wrote a not-so-hot cozy mystery. On the bright side, I learned it is actually possible to write 50,000 words in a month.

The next year I was planning on using NaNo to motivate me for this middle grade mystery I had been researching for months. The problem was that I hadn’t finished all my research. I was totally stuck in my plotting. I couldn’t work out the kinks in the storyline.

Then on October 29, 2011, (exactly three years ago today and just three days before NaNo was going to begin) I got an idea for a totally different type of book. This one was for young adults, and it was something I was sure from the beginning wouldn’t get published at all. Too religious for the mainstream; too dark for the Christian publishers.

Nonetheless, I felt I had to write it out. At least it would give me something to work on during NaNo. So in less than three days, I hammered out character maps and an outline. November 1 arrived, and I hit the ground running.

By the end of the month, I had 53,000 words, and a young adult novel I had no idea what to do with. Eventually, I found critique partners through the American Christian Fiction Writers. With their support, advice, and encouragement, I revised Angelhood multiple times. Then I started the long process of querying.

Skip ahead to the beginning of 2014. Through another writing group, I learned about Vinspire Publishing and decided to try querying them. And now my NaNo project from 2011 is on its way to publication!

So if you’re thinking about trying NaNo, but you’ve heard too many negative things like “Nothing good can be written that fast” and “NaNo books don’t get published,” think again! I’m not the only NaNo success story. Another writing friend shared this link of 14 other NaNo projects that got published, so it definitely can be done.

Write on!

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Did you know you can follow my blog on Bloglovin? It’s the easy way to keep up with all your favorite blog posts. At least, that’s what they tell me. :)

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7 Quick (But-Not-Entirely-Holy) Takes from Retreat

This week I’m joining “7 Quick Takes” over at ConversionDiary.com by SiriusXM host Jennifer Fulwiler. My seven takes come from things I experienced on retreat last weekend with the knights and dames of the Order of Malta.

— 1 —

Why do all retreat centers smell the same? Has anyone ever been to a retreat center that doesn’t smell like musty air, old linens, and antiseptic cleansers? And would it be wrong for me to bring a scented candle next time?

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— 2 —

The eight-pointed cross in the Order of Malta’s shield stands for the eight beatitudes. They are the guidelines that all Christians should strive to live by. As knights and dames of the Order of Malta, our retreat leader said that we in particular should use them to guide our actions. Oh boy, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Order of Malta

— 3 —

What kind of maniac decided these kinds of faucets would be good? Why would you want to burn your left hand while your right hand freezes?

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— 4 —

Even something as simple as a doorknob can remind you why you’re here.

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— 5 —

You know the seminary grounds are vast when the priests need golf carts to get around.

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— 6 —

Perhaps the best place to listen to listen to Hillsong United’s song “Oceans” is sitting on a body of water, like the lake at Mundelein Seminary.

 

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— 7 —

Best story told on retreat:

At lunch, I had the pleasure of sitting at a table with a woman named Peggy who has been to Medjugorje several times. The first time she went was at the instance of her daughter who was about 20 years old then. Peggy and her kids walked alongside the mountain where Mary is said to have been appearing since 1981. As they were walking, a strange woman approached them and said, “Maria will be on the mountain tonight.” Yeah right, thought Peggy. They say Mary may appear every night, but no one really knows when she will and when she won’t appear. But this odd woman kept insisting, “Maria will be on the mountain tonight.

Peggy didn’t want to go to the mountaintop that night, but again her daughter insisted. In fact, they had to leave early to “get a good rock” to sit on. Well, up they went, but not early enough to get “good rocks.” All around them people prayed in their various languages. After a while, it was too much for Peggy, so she and her kids headed back to the guesthouse where they were staying.

Late that night, some Germans who had stayed up on the mountain came back and made a lot of loud noise. Peggy and her kids came down to see what the commotion was about.

“She come!” proclaimed the Germans.

“Mary?” Peggy asked. “Mary was on the mountain tonight?”

“Ja,” said the Germans. “She come!”

Well, of course, Peggy went back up to bed feeling miserable. As she lay they, she said, “God, why do I feel so awful about this? You know that if my kids had been there, they wouldn’t have seen Mary.”

And then she heard a voice say, “But she would have seen them!”

Bam! Now that’s a pilgrimage story!

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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Monday Book Review: Show Me a Sign by Susan Miura

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these Monday Book Reviews. I am way behind, but I’m so happy today to be talking about Susan Miura’s Show Me a Sign.

IMG_2637Title: Show Me a Sign

Author: Susan Miura

Genre: mystery

Age group: YA

Synopsis: (taken from back cover) Seventeen-year-old Nathan Boliva is under investigation by the FBI for a kidnapping he didn’t commit. Deaf and beautiful Haylie Summers agreed to go on a date with him, then disappeared the day before. When the Feds discover a text was sent from Nathan’s cell phone, asking Haylie to meet him behind her garage, Nathan becomes a prime suspect.

Tied and blindfolded, Haylie struggles to grasp Nathan’s role in her captivity. He doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would kidnap her. Then again, if he didn’t, who is holding her hostage, and why?

Desperate to solve the crime and rescue Haylie, Nathan and his best friend Alec set out at midnight to gather intel . . . and end up with far more than they bargained for.

* * *

You all know how I love a good mystery, and Miura’s book Show Me a Sign is no exception. I love how Miura uses a deaf character in this story. Haylie’s inability to hear what is going on while she’s captured adds to the suspense and mystery in this story.

Nathan is a great hero as well. He wants to do what is right, but like a typical teenage boy, sometimes jumps in without thinking ahead to the consequences. His only concern is “saving the girl.” At the same time, Miura keeps Haylie from just being a “damsel in distress.” She’s feisty and has a good head on her shoulders.

Also, I really enjoyed the friendship that existed between Nathan and his British best friend Alec. Of course, I’m a bit of an Anglophile, so that may account for my tastes, but who doesn’t laugh when they tease each other about the way they talk? When Alec talks about bobbies and tellies, Nathan says, “They’re cops, not bobbies. And it’s a TV, not a telly. Speak English.” Alec responds, “You speak English.”

I’d recommend this book to upper middle grade and high school students who enjoy a fun mystery with a great male protagonist and a very worthy female counterpart.

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Cover Reveal of Angelhood!!!

If you’ve been following me on Facebook, you’ve seen a few sample pieces of this already, but today I’m revealing the full cover. After all, October 2 is the Feast of the Guardian Angels. What better day could there be for me to reveal the cover for my story about a reluctant guardian angel! So here it is . . .

The cover of my young adult novel, Angelhood!

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What do you think? Didn’t the cover artist do an awesome job?

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