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?


— 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?


— 4 —

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


— 5 —

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


— 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.


IMG_2547 IMG_2548 IMG_2550 IMG_2551

— 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!

Angelhood 2 1400x2100

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

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October (Month of the Rosary) Giveaway!

As October is the month of the rosary, it seems like the perfect time to give away another rosary blessed by Pope Francis!

Rosary blessed by Pope Francis

Like the first one I gave away, this one was bought while I was in Rome for the Canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII and was blessed by Pope Francis!

Here are the rules to enter:

  1. Follow me on Facebook.
  2. Comment on either this blog post or one of the October Facebook posts with the same image as shown above.
  3. Live in the U.S. or Canada so that I can mail the rosary to you.

Contest is open from October 1 until October 7, 2014.

And don’t forget to check back tomorrow when I reveal the cover of my upcoming YA novel Angelhood about a reluctant guardian angel named Nanette.

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How to Buy Fruit in Rome

In honor of Monica over at Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families who is headed to Rome for a twelve-day pilgrimage, here’s what I learned about how to buy fruit at a supermarket in Rome. This came in very handy during my last trip to Rome as my lunches were often on-the-go and consisted of a piece of fruit, a granola/protein/fiber bar, and some gelato.

The first thing you should know about a Roman supermarket is that they are not huge like they are in the U.S. They are more the size of a 7-Eleven. However, they do carry fresh produce. When picking out fruit or vegetables, be sure to use the plastic gloves and plastic bags that are supplied. They don’t want you touching the food without gloves on your hands.

While bagging the fruit, check for a number on the sign that says “tasto” next to it. Not actually sure what “tasto” means, but it’s some kind of identifying number. For example, the golden apples (mele golden) in the picture below are “tasto 5.”

The "tasto" number is in the upper left on this sign for golden apples ("mele").

The “tasto” number is in the upper left on this sign for golden apples (“mele”).

Take your bag to the weighing station. Then just hit the number for your item. For example, for the golden apples above, I simply pressed number 5.

Press the "tasto" number you want.

Press the “tasto” number you want.

The machine will spit out a little sticker that gives the price for those items based on their weight. Put the sticker on your bag, and you are ready to head to the cashier.

Here's the sticker for my golden apples!

Here’s the sticker for my golden apples!

Really a pretty simple process once you get the hang of it, and a great way to buy fresh fruit and veggies while in Rome.

And don’t forget to check out Monica’s website as she’s the official blogger for this pilgrimage she’s on. Can’t wait to hear all about her fantastic adventures!

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Setting Reveal!

As we creep closer to the release of my YA novel, Angelhood, I’ll be revealing bits and pieces of information about the book. Today, I’d like to talk about a real church in Chicago that I used for two important scenes in the book.

Back in 2011, I went on a Catholic Church Tour to do research for a middle grade novel I was working on. Little did I know that just a month later, I’d be hit with the idea for Angelhood and end up postponing work on the  middle grade book in order to pursue this new endeavor.

While working on Angelhood, I needed a location for the guardian angels to meet, and the church that fit my needs perfectly was Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, one of the churches from the tour I had taken a month earlier! Funny how God gives us things before we even know we need them!

So here are a few photos of Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, which I’ve visited twice now.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica

The Tower

The Tower

The front entrance

The front entrance

The Altar

The altar

Clearly, this photo was taken during my pre-iPhone days.

Clearly, this photo was taken during my pre-iPhone days, and doesn’t do the beauty of this church justice. I’ll need to go back to get a better photo some day!

The church has paintings that depict the seven sorrows of Mary. One important scene takes place near the back of the church and involves a character looking at one of these paintings. This particular one is Mary standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die.

Mary at the foot of the cross

Mary at the foot of the cross

The pew from which a character gazes at the painting

The pew from which a character gazes at the painting

Another extremely important scene in the book happens in an area behind and to the side of the main altar. In this part of the church, you’ll find a replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta. I won’t reveal what happens here, but let’s just say that a pretty powerful guardian angel can be found at this spot from time to time.

Replica of the Pieta at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica

Replica of the Pieta at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica

And then just because they’re pretty and play a minor role in the book, here are the stained glass windows over the exit.

Doors and stained glass windows inside Our Lady of Sorrows

Doors and stained glass windows inside Our Lady of Sorrows

So why am I revealing this setting today, September 15, when my book doesn’t come out for several more months?

Because today is the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, which makes it the “titular feast day” of the basilica! Happy Titular Feast Day, Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica!


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Ten Books That Have Stayed With Me

You’ve probably seen the challenge around Facebook. No, not the Ice Bucket one. The other one. The one where someone challenges you to list the first ten books you can think of that have stayed with you. They don’t have to be famous or great works of literature, just affected you in some way.

Although I’ll post this list on Facebook, I thought it would be fun to say a little more about each book here on my website. So here goes!

1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery–If this surprises you, you don’t know me very well. I read Anne as a book report recommendation from my sixth grade reading teacher. This is the book that made me want to write stories for teens and tweens. It probably also influenced my decision to be a teacher. A friend of mine recently discovered Anne, and when she saw the movie, she said, “Yep, this has Amy written all over it.”

2. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling–This also should not surprise anyone who knows me. I’ve been to some of the Harry Potter sites in London, ate lunch at the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first books, and was one of those who hung out at bookstores until midnight to buy the last few books on the night of their release. If the Anne of Green Gables series lit the fire for me to write for kids, the Harry Potter books refueled it.

3. Izzy, Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voight–Read this in eighth grade. Knocked my socks off. I’d never read realistic fiction like this before. The book opens with the narrator in the hospital waking up as the doctors tell her they’re going to have to amputate her leg. Slowly, she remembers the date with Mario and his drinking and the car crash.

4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle–Read it as part of a Battle of the Books competition in junior high. Talk about taking us to other worlds!

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee–Didn’t read this one until I was forced to teach it! Ha! Who would’ve known teaching English would’ve actually brought me even more novels to read!

6. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls–This is another one I didn’t end up reading until I had to teach it. I’m not even a dog lover, but I loved this one. I even loved the dogs in this one. It’s simply but beautifully written.

7. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie–Okay, I’m kind of using this a stand-in for all of Christie’s mysteries. I haven’t read them all, but I’ve read quite a few. How does she manage to almost always get me at the end?

8. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle–It may all be elementary for Holmes, but Watson and I are usually left feeling a bit clueless. Also, I just love quirky detectives.

9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen–Like Murder on the Orient Express, this is kind of a stand-in for all of Austen’s novels. She just makes you want to live in another time period where people at least pretend to be polite to one another.

10. Wonder by R.J. Palacio–Read this just over a year ago. If you like kids’ books but haven’t read it yet, go grab a copy. It’s a beautiful tale of a disfigured boy who faces going to a regular school after years of being homeschooled.

I like Harry Potter so much that I have the first book in three languages (English, German, and Italian)!

I like Harry Potter so much that I have the first book in three languages (English, German, and Italian)!

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Labor Day Giveaway

Time for another giveaway! This time it’s a one-decade rosary and prayer booklet that I bought in Rome on the day of the Canonization Mass for John Paul II and John XXIII.

To enter, you must do the following three things:

  1. Like my author Facebook page (you can find it by hitting the blue ribbon with the letter f in the right-hand side of this website).
  2. Leave a comment on the giveaway post on my Facebook page.
  3. Live in the U.S. or Canada so that I can ship it to you.

Contest ends at midnight on Monday, September 1, 2014!

One decade rosary and booklet 2

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What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Every week my friends Ginny Marie and Gretchen host something called The Spin Cycle. Basically, every Monday they post a writing prompt, and then bloggers are welcome to link up their responses by the end of the week.

Since this week’s topic seems so fitting for a teacher, I’m joining in. The topic: What You Did on Your Summer Vacation!

Summer is always divided into two parts for me. The first part is summer school. My district has a really nice four-week summer school program in which most of the classes offered are enrichment, so it’s a nice break from the regular curriculum yet still keeps kids’ minds actively engaged. I teach a guided independent reading class and then screenwriting and iMovie classes. The four weeks always fly by!

The second half of summer is travel time! This year I spent two weeks in Italy. I will not recount the whole trip here since I have fourteen previous blog posts on it! If you missed any of it and want to read about my fabulous trip to Rome, I suggest you start with the post Plan E, Or How I Ended Up in Rome Twice in One Year. Grab a cup of tea and get comfortable because my posts are kind of long.

Best. Vacation. Ever.

Best. Vacation. Ever.

And of course, I read some books, although I’m struggling a bit to remember them all. I know I read the following:

  • Show Me a Sign by Susan Miura (must get book review up soon!)
  • A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (need to do book review on this one, too)
  • Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, S.J.

I feel like there were more, but I’m blanking at the moment. I’m currently working on reading . . .

  • Impervious by Heather Letto
  • The Complete Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by James Martin, S.J. (started while in Rome but not finished yet)

If you’d like to join the Spin Cycle and/or read about other people’s summer adventures, click the link below.


Second Blooming

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Rome by the Numbers

My mom’s been asking me how many churches, museums, etc., I visited while in Rome during my Speak, Pray, Cook adventure. I’ve finally finished totalling them up. Here’s my Rome trip “by the numbers.”

Average miles walked by day: 6-8

This is a rough estimate, but the round trip walk to school was about 2.5 miles, and I usually made that trip twice a day (once in the morning for class, and once in the late afternoon for the evening activity or my own touring and/or dinner plans). So between those two trips alone, I was doing five miles a day. Of course, there was also a lot of walking between the sights that I visited or walking to dinner or walking through museums. Therefore, I’m sure I walked at least another mile beyond that, but probably more like 2-3 extra miles a day.

Hours spent learning Italian: 40

My classes were about 3-1/2 hours every day. Plus I spent about a half hour on homework a night. That means over the two week time period, I spent about 40 hours directly learning Italian. Of course, living with a woman who only spoke Italian meant more practice!

Number of churches visited: 25

I knew I’d visited a lot, but I didn’t realize quite how many until I wrote out the list. Surprisingly, only 8 of them are ones I’d visited before. They are the starred churches.

Santa Cecilia

Santa Cecilia

  1. San Pietro (St. Peter’s)*
  2. Chiesa Nuova
  3. Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (St. Mary over Minerva)
  4. Sant’Ignazio di Loyola (St. Ignatius of Loyola)
  5. Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels)
  6. Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major)*
  7. Santa Maria dell’Anime
  8. Santa Sabina
  9. San Alessio
  10. Scala Santa*
  11. San Giovanni in Laterano (St. John Lateran)*
  12. San Clemente
  13. San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains)
  14. Santa Maria delle Vittorie
  15. Sant’Agostino
  16. Chiesa del Gesu
  17. Santa Maria in Aracoeli
  18. Santa Cecilia*
  19. San Francesco a Ripa
  20. Santa Maria in Trastevere*
  21. Santa Maria della Scala
  22. Pantheon* (Basilica di Santa Maria ad Martyres)
  23. Sant’Andrea della Valle*
  24. Santa Maria del Popolo
  25. San Luigi dei Francesi

 Number of Order of Malta Sites Visited: 2

I’ve begun the process to become a Dame of the Order of Malta, so I decided to visit their two spots in Rome: the magistral villa and the magistral palace.

Number of Museums Visited: 4


Galleria Borghese (art museum)

Sometimes on vacations I end up doing museum overload. It was nice this time not to overload myself with too much information.

  1. Capuchin Museum and Crypt
  2. Galleria Borghese
  3. War exhibit at the Vittorio Emanuele Monument
  4. Castel Sant’Angelo

Number of Excavation Sites Visited: 3

Rome is the Eternal City. They’re always digging up and discovering new layers to the city. I visited three of them.

  1. San Clemente–Under this church, they found an older church. And under that church, they found a first-century Roman home. It’s the perfect example of how Romans have built upon their history time and time again.
  2. Santa Cecilia–Under this church are the remains of what they believe to be St. Cecilia’s family home. And of course, her bones were moved here after she was declared a saint.
  3. Largo del Torre Argentina–At this excavation site, they found the ruins of four ancient Roman temples. This is where Julius Caesar was believed to be killed. Et tu, Brute?

Number of Gelato Shops Visited: 7



Some were so good, I went back for seconds. :)

  1. Giolitti
  2. Old Bridge
  3. Frigidarium
  4. Fatamorgana
  5. San Crispino
  6. Gelataria del Teatro
  7. LemonGrass


Number of Gelato Flavors Tried: at least 14

I should have kept better track of my gelato flavors, but I know there were at least 14 flavors tried.



  1. Amarena con panna
  2. Limoncello
  3. Melone
  4. Mela
  5. Champagne
  6. White chocolate and basil
  7. Garden sage and raspberry
  8. Honey
  9. Vanilla with bourbon
  10. Stracciatella
  11. White chocolate and rum
  12. Chocolate and orange
  13. Dark chocolate
  14. Strawberry
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