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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“One for you, one for a friend” Giveaway!

It’s time for another giveaway! This time I’m giving away two medals blessed by Pope Francis during the Canonization mass for Saints John Paul II and John XXIII.

In order to be entered to win, you need to do all three of the following:

  1. Like my author Facebook page, if you haven’t done so already.
  2. Tell me who you’d give the other medal to. You can leave your comment on this post or on my Facebook  posting with the same photo.
  3. Live in the U.S. or Canada.

That’s it!

And stay tuned, I have lots more giveaways coming!

Medals Light Blue Background

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Speak, Pray, Cook – Day 13 (L’Ultimo Giorno – The Last Day)

If I were to write out all my thoughts from my last day in Rome, I’d have . . . well, probably I’d have a memoir! However, I’ll capture some of the basic events and photos for you now.

On my way to school, I said my last “Buongiorno, San Pietro!” as I crossed Via della Conciliazione.


I’m going to miss this view on the way to school!

We finished the last of the Level 2 books, so we took a test in class. I didn’t do very well (what would amount to a D+ or C- in my school), but I seemed on par with many of the other students. Actually, considering most of them spoke and understood more Italian than I did, I was pretty surprised I didn’t do far worse!

We had a break after the test, so I ran down to the local coffee shop for one last authentic cappuccino. Only one euro! And with two packets of sugar, even this non-coffee drinker found it pretty tasty. :) It was the same place we got a free cappuccino and croissant on our first day of class, so I felt I had come full circle. I was at the same place, but this time I wasn’t just handing the guy a coupon. I ordered in Italian, and like a real Italian, I stood at the bar to drink it instead of taking a seat.

Cappuccino con zucchero (I might almost be converted to a coffee drinker if we had cappuccinos this good back in the States.)

Cappuccino con zucchero (I might almost be converted to a coffee drinker if we had cappuccinos this good back in the States.)

After the break, we finished up our class by going over our test results and then listening to an Italian song, proving yet again that listening is the hardest part of learning any language for me.

After class, my young Russian friend wanted to go to lunch again with her Serbian roommate and another Russian girl. However, they wanted to go back to the same salad place I’d already eaten at twice that week. No way was I doing that again. They charged us 2 Euros for bread! I told my young Russian friend that I wanted to go to the Musei Capitoline, which she had already been to, so I had a good excuse to slip away and spend some quiet time just soaking up Rome on my own one last time.

So I headed off toward the museums, stopping briefly to eat my lunch of an apple and some popcorn on the steps of Sant’Andrea della Valle, which some of you might remember was the first church we had mass in for my pilgrimage and where I got to be the lector. This church has definitely become an old friend for me.


Sant’Andrea della Valle

Then I continued my walk toward the museums, which are behind the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II (the first king of a unified Italy). Even if you’ve never been to Rome, you’ve seen pictures of this building that the Italians jokingly refer to as the “wedding cake.” Knowing how the Italians feel about it, I hadn’t originally put it on my list of things to see, but I also wasn’t really sure where the entrance to the museums was. My Russian friend said something about them being “to the right” of the monument.

Monument to Vittorio Emanuele (or as the Italians refer to it, the "wedding cake")

Monument to Vittorio Emanuele (or as the Italians refer to it, the “wedding cake”)

To make a long story short, I ended up walking up into the monument, visiting briefly a museum display they had on the history of Italian soldiers (of which my grandfather, Angelo Cattapan, was one during World War I), and then coming up to the front to visit the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

You get a pretty nice view of Piazza Venezia from this first level of the monument.

Piazza Venezia from the steps of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument

Piazza Venezia from the steps of the Vittorio Emanuele Monument

However, if you want the really good views you need to pay 7 Euros to take the elevator up to the tippy top of the monument. Boy, am I glad I did! The views from up there are spectacular.

View from the top terrace of the monument

View from the top terrace of the monument

You feel like you have all of Rome at your feet. As this was the last day of my trip, it was the perfect spot for me to get a vantage point of my home from the previous two weeks.

Did you know iPhones can talk panoramic pictures? You do now!

Did you know iPhones can take panoramic pictures? You do now! The perspective is a tad skewed, but how cool is this?

To make things even better, there weren’t a ton of people there, and at times I felt like I almost had the place to myself.

Top Terrace at Vittorio Emanuele

Top Terrace at Vittorio Emanuele

I spent a lot of time up there, using the labeled photos to identify all the buildings I’d visited, and trying to somehow capture it all in photos and words. I actually sat down in the shade for a while and pulled out my journal.

Finally, I tore myself away. So where to next? The museums were close by, but it was just too beautiful a day to be cooped up in a museum. Instead, I headed to a church that was even closer to the monument than the museums: Santa Maria in Aracoeli.

That's a lot of stairs to climb to get to church!

That’s a lot of stairs to climb to get to church!

Santa Maria in Aracoeli can be reached via the massive staircase in the photo above. However, I had read a bit online where someone had said there was an entrance right off the Vittorio Emanuele monument. Sure enough, after I came down the elevator from the top terrace, which brings you to this sort of middle-level terrace, I found an opening that led right to the doors of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. In the photo above, it would be to the left at the top of the stairs.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli is another amazingly beautiful church. It was nice and quiet in there, so I took the opportunity to say some prayers, including praying for those people who had left special intentions on my Facebook page.

Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Santa Maria in Aracoeli

Well, where next then? Having already decided I’d rather walk around outside than inside a museum, I headed over the river to the Trastevere neighborhood. This is a pretty trendy spot to live in Italy. As my tour guide from the pilgrimage said, “I’m not cool enough to live in this neighborhood.”

That’s not to say that Trastevere is somehow snooty. It’s really rather charming.

The first place I stopped was the Basilica of Santa Cecilia. We had visited this church on the last day of our pilgrimage, but I wanted to go back for three reasons.

Santa Cecilia (It was a lot sunnier than it was on my first visit--in more ways than one.)

Santa Cecilia (It was a lot sunnier than it was on my first visit–in more ways than one.)

1) The church is beautiful. If I were a resident in Rome, this is where I’d want my wedding.

Interior of Santa Cecilia

Interior of Santa Cecilia

2) I love St. Cecilia. As the patroness of music, she’s my mom’s favorite saint. Also, my very first article that was accepted for publication in an online children’s magazine was about St. Cecilia.

3) When we had come for the pilgrimage, I had missed out on visiting the tomb of St. Cecilia and the excavation site under the church. I hadn’t even realized you could buy a ticket to do so until it was time for us to leave! I had been too busy begging the intercession of St. Cecilia! So this time I paid the little nun to go down to the excavation site, which was small, but pretty cool.

Some of the excavations under Santa Cecilia. Basically, they think the area under the church is where her family really lived.

Some of the excavations under Santa Cecilia. Basically, they think the area under the church is where her family really lived.

Also, I may have gotten in where I wasn’t supposed to go. Besides the excavation areas, there’s also a little chapel to St. Cecilia down there, and this is where her tomb is. While I was exploring, an Italian family was also walking around. A man and his daughter had just come out of the chapel area, and the dad was starting to lock up the gate to the chapel. I’m not sure if the chapel was supposed to be locked up or not. They were speaking Italian pretty fast, but I got the sense they had kind of snuck into the chapel themselves, but then the daughter looked at me and then said something to her dad about keeping it open for me.

The chapel that holds the tomb of Saint Cecilia

The chapel that holds the tomb of Saint Cecilia

The dad looked at me and reopened the gate. Then he said something in Italian about Saint Cecilia.

“Qui?” I said. (Here?)

“Si,” and he pointed to a spot in the chapel.

Still unsure as to whether or not I was supposed to enter, I slipped in and said a prayer before the tomb of St. Cecilia. When I turned around, the dad and daughter were still waiting for me by the gate.

I gave them a quick “grazie” and headed out. The man locked the gate behind me, and I wondered if I’d just experienced another of God’s little graces on this trip.

After that, I headed over to nearby San Francesco a Ripa. I stayed only very briefly in this church. I don’t think it’s known for anything too spectacular, yet it’s still an incredibly beautiful church. I realized as I was sitting there that thousands upon thousands of artists over the last 2,000 years have put their blood, sweat, and tears into the artwork that fills these churches. It’s awe-inspring, it’s amazing, and I could write a whole blog post about it.

San Francesco a Ripa (don't ask me what the Ripa part means)

San Francesco a Ripa (don’t ask me what the Ripa part means)

Then it was time for a gelato stop. I headed over to Fatamorgana. Like San Crispino and Gelateria del Teatro, this was another gelato shop that was recommended in various books and/or websites. However, all three of these places failed to impress me. They served small portions for relatively high prices. San Crispino was worst for the price, and Fatamorgana was worst for the taste. These three shops might offer unusual flavors (I had white chocolate and rum plus chocolate and orange at Fatamorgana), but I’m not sure the unusual flavors were really worth it. The white chocolate and rum flavor at Fatamorgana was far more “ice” than “cream,” and gelato should definitely be creamy!

Don't let the whipped cream fool you. The gelato underneath wasn't nearly as good as the whipped cream itself.

Don’t let the whipped cream fool you. The gelato underneath wasn’t nearly as good as the whipped cream itself.

The good part of my gelato stop (in addition to conducting my business there entirely in Italian–yay for the guy not switching into English for me!) was getting to eat the gelato at a nearby piazza that had an active playground for kids. You could tell this was a real family neighborhood in Rome.

Then it was off to Santa Maria in Trastevere, another church from the last day of my pilgrimage. I spent a good amount of time writing in my prayer journal in a small chapel with some college-age kids who looked like they were doing the same thing on some sort of retreat. (They had matching yellow shirts.)

Santa Maria in Trastevere

Santa Maria in Trastevere

While I was in there, a bell rang and then I heard the now-familiar opening words for the mass in Italian. Without planning it, I had timed my visit for the 5:30 Friday night mass! So I slipped out of the side chapel and took a seat in the main church. Since the word “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving,” attending mass seemed like a good way to spend part of my final evening thanking God for an amazing trip.

By the time mass ended, it was well after 6:00. Dinner is usually after 7:00 in Rome, so I spent a while strolling through the Trastevere neighborhood toward the center of Rome. I knew where I wanted to go for dinner, so I just took my time getting there. On the way, I stumbled upon yet another church, Santa Maria della Scala (St. Mary of the Staircase), and popped in for a quick photo.

Santa Maria della Scala

Santa Maria della Scala

Then I wandered back over the Tiber and headed into the center of Rome. My destination was Polese, the restaurant where we’d had our first dinner of the pilgrimage. I even knew exactly what I wanted to order, and I was determined to do it all in Italian. Of course, the waiter greeted me in English.

Waiter: Good evening.

Me: Buona sera. Un tavolo per uno? (Good evening. A table for one?)

He pointed me toward a table: This one, okay?

Me: Qui? (Here?)

I was determined to fight back with Italian.

Waiter: Si.

I took my seat at the end of one of the long tables that is out in front of Polese. One of the reasons why I picked this restaurant is because it sits along a piazza that actually has trees and green plants. There were about twelve seats at this long table, and a couple sat together at the opposite end.

The waiter asked me in English if I wanted water.

Me: No. (shaking my head emphatically) Un bicchiere di vino bianco della casa. (A glass of the house white wine)

I said it kind of slowly, the words still not flowing as naturally as I would’ve liked.

The waiter smiled at me and left me with the menu.

A few minutes later, another waiter came up to take my order. I requested the tonnarelli cacio e pepe and bruschetta al pomodoro.

Thankfully, he responded in Italian. “La bruschetta prima?” (The bruschetta first?”)

Me: Si, grazie.

While I was waiting for my first course, I looked around and realized I had been seated at the exact same table I had sat at when we’d eaten here for the pilgrimage. The only difference was that I was at the exact opposite end of the table. That first time I had sat in the end chair closest to the piazza. This time I was seated in the chair closest to the actual restaurant.

When it hit me what had happened, I had to keep myself from laughing out loud. Of course, God would seat me here! I’d come full circle. On the last night of this trip, I was back at the same place I had been on the first night of the pilgrimage. So why wouldn’t God also sit me at the same table? But even better, he had the waiter put me at the opposite end of that long table. Because that’s where I am now. Metaphorically and literally, I am at the opposite end of where I had been. I am not the same person I was at the start of the pilgrimage, and yet I’m also somehow simultaneously still the same person. I’m at the same table; I’ve just got a completely different perspective.

Polese on the first night of the pilgrimage (three months later I'd have a completely different perspective)

Polese on the first night of the pilgrimage (three months later I’d have a completely different perspective)

While I was eating my bruschetta, a woman came up and asked for a table for herself. The waiter sat her at the table across the aisle from me. She conducted all of her ordering in English, but I had to smile because there was something so familiar about her.

At first, I thought it was because she looked like someone Meryl Streep might have played in a movie once upon a time. Her hair was swept back and held up with a clip. She wore a fashionable blouse, and there was simply something of the carefree, confident global traveler about this woman.

And then I smiled some more because I realized I was looking at a kindred spirit. Immediately, my mind went back to my friend Ellie, from the cooking class on the previous Saturday. She had lived in Austria, London, Japan, and Australia. And now a few years after her husband’s death, she had returned to her home country of Austria and then traveled on her own to Rome. Something told me this woman had a similar story.

I debated asking her to join me for dinner, but I’m at heart a shy girl, and I’m always fearful of imposing on other people, so I finished my meal by myself, adding a dessert after I made sure I could pay for the meal with a credit card because I was running out of Euros.


Semi-freddo (half frozen) + amaretto (almond) = Yummy, yummy yummy!

But as I was eating my dessert, I remembered an article I’d read on the flight over to Rome, about the fun of talking to strangers when traveling. When I’d read it, I thought, “Well, that’s not me. I don’t talk to random strangers when I travel!”

But then I thought, “Maybe I should.”

So I paid my bill and walked over to the next table. “Excuse me. I hate to interrupt your meal, but I heard you speaking English. I’m from Chicago. Where are you from?”

“California,” she responded, and before I knew it, I was seated at her table having a lovely conversation about traveling. She was divorced, her son was changing jobs (he had been working at the same place she was), and she had decided to finally take some real time off and visit Europe. She spoke some French and some Spanish, so she had begun her six-week odyssey in those countries. Now she was making her way through Italy.

My instinct had been right. She was a kindred spirit. She spoke at least a little of some other languages and wasn’t afraid to use them. She traveled on her own, even willing to sit at a nice restaurant alone.

But most importantly, like Ellie and me, she’s the kind of woman, who after going through some difficult times, picks herself up, dusts herself off, and heads off on a great adventure.

I could go on and on about the revelations I had that night, but maybe I’ll save those for the memoir. ;)

I’ll wrap up by saying that I spent the last hour or so of my final night in Rome, sitting on the steps of the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square, gazing at the basilica brilliant under a crescent moon, and trying to journal out all my thoughts.

St. Peter's and the moon

St. Peter’s and the moon

Eventually, I had to tear myself away. I had a flight to catch in the morning and a suitcase to pack.

And a whole cartload of memories to enjoy for a lifetime.

St. Peter's Square is downright magical at night. Arrivederci, San Pietro!

St. Peter’s Square is downright magical at night. Arrivederci, San Pietro!

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Speak, Pray, Cook – Day 12 (Art and History)

I can’t believe I have only one full day left here in Rome! I nearly started choking up as I passed St. Peter’s on the way to school today. All I could think is, “I can’t believe I only get to pass St. Peter’s on the way to school one more time!” I’ll probably be a sobbing mess as I walk to school tomorrow.

Speaking of school, we have a test tomorrow. Should be interesting as I only seem capable of doing my assignments with my notes in hand.

After class today, my young Russian friend and I met up with three other girls for lunch. One girl is from Russia, one is from Serbia, and the other was originally from Russia but now lives in England and speaks English beautifully. The waiter came up to us and asked (in English) where we are from.

I responded, “Tutti il mondo,” which I overhead someone else say once, and I think means “All of the world.” (I mean, really, what was I going to tell the guy? Well, she’s from Serbia, I’m from the U.S., and these three girls are from Russia, but this one really lives in England now and doesn’t consider herself so much Russian anymore.)

Then he asked something like, “Oh you speak Italian?”

I responded, “Studiamo italiano.” (We are studying Italian.)

Now the one Russian girl was really good in Italian, so she just started asking all sorts of questions in Italian, which I think gave the guy the impression we spoke more Italian than we do; or at least, most of us do.

Anyway, we had a nice lunch with free glasses of Prosecco. The waiter was calling it champagne for us, but he did use the word prosecco once, which is fine because I really prefer it to actual champagne.

Rigatoni Carbonera with free prosecco

Rigatoni Carbonera with free prosecco

After lunch, the very fluent Russian girl tried to find a place for us to “take a coffee and have some dolce.” (It was interesting to talk with her as she often flipped between English, Italian, and Russian. She gave me a funny look at first when I said I was from the U.S. When I added Chicago, she brightened a bit. “Oh, that is a nice city. I wish to go there someday, but the relations between our countries are not so good right now.” How do you say “awkward” in Italian?)

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the right kind of pasticceria. One would have pastries but not coffee; another place would have coffee but no desserts. Eventually, my young Russian friend and I had to break off to go to the museum since our tickets were timed for 3:00.

This time we took the bus up to the Villa Borghese gardens instead of walking (Thank you, Jesus). The Galleria Borghese is a lovely art museum with beautiful paintings and statues. Lots of the statues are of Greek/Roman mythology and will come in handy in my classes.

Hades dragging Persephone down to the Underworld

Hades dragging Persephone down to the Underworld

Bernini's Apollo and Daphne

Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne

Paolina Borghese (really woman, not a goddess)

Pauline Bonaparte (real woman, not a goddess)

There was also a lot of Christian art, including Caravaggio paintings.

Caravaggio's David with Goliath's head

Caravaggio’s David with Goliath’s head

Caravaggio's Madonna with the Serpent

Caravaggio’s Madonna with the Serpent


Bernini's David

Bernini’s David

This next little statue cracked me up. I looked at him and thought, “Yep, that’s how I feel after nearly two weeks of walking around Rome. Like I’ve got to sit down and take care of the blisters on my feet.”

I feel your pain, little man!

I feel your pain, little man!

After our two-hour visit, we enjoyed some time talking and sitting in the gardens. The weather was perfect today, about 80 degrees and sunny with a few light clouds.

Then we walked back to the school neighborhood and visited another gelato spot called Gelateria del Teatro. It’s highly recommended by a lot of websites, but I found my experience to be slightly disappointing, mostly due to price and quantity. I paid 3.00 Euros for a very small cone. (At Giolitti’s, I only pay 2.50 Euros and get a much bigger scoop of gelato.)

On the plus side, this gelateria had some interesting flavor choices, so I had Cioccolato Bianco al basilico (White Chocolate and Basil) and Salvia e Lamponi (Garden Sage and Raspberry). They were tasty flavors, but the portions were tiny.

Tasty but small

Tasty but small

The young Russian and I took our cones to a nearby piazza and sat and talked for a long time. She asked a lot about American culture, and in return, I was treated to a Russian explanation of the whole Ukrainian-Crimean-Russian situation. She’s a smart enough girl to know her country sensors the news on television, but she explained how people feel about the situation.

I think meeting so many people from different countries has been one of the unexpected highlights of this trip. Talking with them and getting to know about their cultures is something I’ll always remember.

On the way home, I made a brief stop at St. Peter’s, just because I could. :)

Standing near the same spot I was in for the  General Audience over three months ago now. Looks like they're setting up for more events.

Standing near the same spot I was in for the General Audience over three months ago now. Looks like they’re setting up for more events.

Bracing myself for an emotional day tomorrow. If I don’t post again for a while, it’s only because I’m making the most of my last day in Rome!

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Speak, Pray, Cook – Day 11 (The Running Russian)

Just when I thought God was telling me to slow down a bit, He sends me the “Running Russian.” Okay, so the girl doesn’t actually run, but the new Russian girl who joined our class on Monday had me doing so much walking this afternoon that I feel like I ran a 10K.

After class, she asked if I wanted to go to lunch. Sure. Why not? However, she’s a vegetarian, so we ended up at the same place we ate at on Monday. I couldn’t persuade her to go elsewhere.

She had salad again; I had gnocchi (and a glass of wine).

And yes, I placed my order in Italian!

And yes, I placed my order in Italian!

Then she wanted me to show her where the good shopping was, so we walked up Via del Corso. I made her take a detour down Via dei Condotti, so that I could see the magistral palace of the Order of Malta. You might remember that I saw the magistral villa last weekend. This is the palace, which is where I believe the real work gets down.

Surprisingly, no one asked me to show them my Order of Malta prayer card. :)

Surprisingly, no one asked me to show them my Order of Malta prayer card. :)

This street led us to the Spanish Steps, where I played the part of the tired old lady who needed to rest her feet for a bit. (By contrast, my Russian friend is only 18.)

When you sit on the Spanish steps, the apartment John Keats lived (and died) in is just to your left.

When you sit on the Spanish steps, the apartment John Keats lived (and died) in is just to your left.

Then we headed to Villa Borghese. These are gardens north of the city center. They are beautiful and quite extensive. They remind me a bit of the parks in London.

The Villa Borghese or Kensington Park?

The Villa Borghese or Kensington Park?

My young Russian friend preparing to take a photo.

My young Russian friend preparing to take a photo.

We tried to get into the art museum in Villa Borghese, but they were sold out for the day. We bought tickets for 3:00 tomorrow. (I’m trying to convince her we have to go elsewhere for lunch tomorrow.)

Galleria Borghese (I'll be back tomorrow.)

Galleria Borghese (I’ll be back tomorrow.)

Then we walked across the gardens to get to Piazza del Popolo. There’s a really cool view of St. Peter’s from there.

View of St. Peter's from the Villa Borghese gardens overlooking Piazza del Popolo

View of St. Peter’s from the Villa Borghese gardens overlooking Piazza del Popolo

The gardens are situated up on a hill above the piazza. My Russian friend noticed someone’s note on the pavement below us. Surprisingly, she told me she couldn’t translate the Italian. Based on her questions in class, I thought she understood more than me.

"But the truth is that I have found nothing more beautiful than you."

“But the truth is that I have found nothing more beautiful than you.”

Down in the piazza below we visited Santa Maria del Popolo. It’s known for a couple Caravaggio paintings that (of course) you are not allowed to take pictures of, but it’s a beautiful church, not too big and it has a lot of angel statues.

Santa Maria del Popolo

Santa Maria del Popolo

Then we headed back toward school, but not before stopping off at Giolitti’s for gelato! (Amarena and cocco for me this time)

We arrived at school on time for the “Visita Guidata” (guided tour). Since it was all in Italian, I couldn’t understand it all, but I can tell you that she was talking about Marcus Agrippa, and we finished our walk at the Pantheon, which I always forget is actually a basilica now.



If I had more time here, I'd try to go to mass at the Pantheon.

If I had more time here, I’d try to go to mass at the Pantheon.

After my Russian friend and I parted ways, I headed homeward, but stumbled once again upon San Luigi dei Francesi, the French church in Rome. However, this time it was open, so I popped in just for a quick bit to discover they were finishing up the mass. In French, of course.

San Luigi dei Francesi

San Luigi dei Francesi

After some quick grocery shopping to finish off my last few days here, I finally headed home. I hadn’t seen the apartment in about 12 hours. I munched on an apple for dinner and chatted with Marcella (in Italian, thank you very much), who was also eating fruit for dinner. Yep, I’m living like a real Italian woman!

And if that wasn’t proof enough of my authentic Roman experience, my laundry is currently hanging outside on the clothesline!

Hope they dry by morning!

Hope they dry by morning!

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Speak, Pray, Cook – Day 10 (Sono in ritardo!)

I can’t believe it’s Day 10 already! I’m feeling pretty much at home. Every morning on the way to school, I cross Via della Conciliazione and say, “Buongiorno, San Pietro!”

Not a bad view for a morning's walk to school

Not a bad view for a morning’s walk to school

A couple times I’ve been running late to school and dashed across at the light, forgetting to look. Not that the sight of St. Peter’s ever gets old! You’ve just got to catch the light when you can.

Class this morning reminded me that some things never change. In my high school German class, I had a friend whose German name was Grizelda (and I really hope I’m spelling that the way she did because I think she may be reading my blog!). Anyway, she was always really good with the vocabulary, and I was always really good with the grammar. We used to joke that together we’d be the perfect German student. Well, nothing’s changed since then. Italian vocabulary still eludes me, but the grammar is relatively easy. Oh, Grizelda, where are you when I need you?!?

To give you an example of the kind of complex grammar we’re doing, today we did the Italian equivalent of the following sentences:

Present Passive Voice: The shop owner is sued by the two men.
Past Perfect Passive Voice: The shop owner has been sued by the two men.
Past Passive Voice: The shop owner was sued by the two men.
Future Passive Voice: The shop owner will be sued by the two men.

In the English classes I teach, this might be grammar I cover with seventh or eighth graders. In other words, in my Italian classes, I’m doing middle school level grammar, but when I talk, I sound like a three-year-old. Oh who am I kidding, I sound like a two-year-old when I speak Italian! Pizza? One for me? Ticket for the bus? One, please.

After class, I headed to Castel Sant’Angelo, which is on my way back to the apartment. I have to say that in talking with other students, I really lucked out with the location of my apartment. It’s nice that I can walk home after class and recharge (myself and my phone) for a bit before heading back out for the late afternoon/evening activities.

When I was on pilgrimage in Rome last April, my group was supposed to get into Castel Sant’Angelo. We arrived before the closing hours, but when we walked up, a guy at the entrance said, “No more. We’re closed. Too many people.” Apparently, they’d reached their max capacity, so this time I was determined to get in there.

Castel Sant’Angelo has quite a history. In short, it was built to be a mausoleum for the Emperor Hadrian (as in Hadrian’s wall, which I saw part of the remains of when I was in Scotland with a friend two years ago).

Starting in the fourteenth century, the building was used by popes as a fortress in times of invasion. In fact, there’s a corridor that connects Castel Sant’Angelo with the Vatican so that the pope could use it to flee attackers whenever Rome was invaded. In fact, this is what Pope Clement VII did when King Charles V invaded during the Sack of Rome in 1527.

Passetto di Borgo

Passetto di Borgo

According to legend, Pope Gregory I had a vision of the Archangel Michael with his sword atop the castle, signaling the end of a plague. Thus, the renaming of the structure and what became a series of St. Michael statues on top of the castle. Angelo (my grandfather’s name) means “angel” in Italian.

One of the early statues of St. Michael the Archangel to top the castle (turns out they had some problems  with the bronze wings and attracting lightning!)

One of the early statues of St. Michael the Archangel to top the castle (turns out they had some problems with the bronze wings and attracting lightning!)

The current statue of St. Michael that tops the castle. Incredibly impressive in person.

The current statue of St. Michael that tops the castle. Incredibly impressive in person.

The view from the top terrace (which is where I took the above photo of the latest St. Michael statue) is absolutely amazing. You get a breathtaking view of Rome from above.

St. Peter's from the top of Castel Sant'Angelo

St. Peter’s from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo

If you’re familiar with Puccini’s opera Tosca, this is where the title character throws herself over the parapet.

A view of the Tiber River from the top of Castel Sant'Angelo

A view of the Tiber River from the top of Castel Sant’Angelo

I took a ton of photos at Castel Sant’Angelo, but there isn’t time to post them all. However, I will share with you a souvenir I bought as it fits in with the them of my trip: an Italian cookbook!

My new Italian cookbook!

My new Italian cookbook!

What I really like about this book is that it shows you a lovely picture for each recipe and tells you what region of Italy it came from.

You know the first thing I'm going to make will be a dessert.

You know the first thing I’m going to make will be a dessert.

I had planned to return to school for a free extra lesson on pronouns (I know, sounds exciting, doesn’t it?), but I spent too long in Castel Sant’Angelo. In fact, I nearly got lost in it. I had decided to use the audio guide but couldn’t even find all the numbered spots to hit the play button. By the time I got out of there, it was too late to go to the special pronouns lessons. Oh well, I decided to go home and rest for a bit.

After a rest at home (during which I worked on my homework–yes, we get homework), I headed back out. My plan was to hit Giolitti’s for gelato, then Chiesa del Gesu for prayers, and then school for the Tuesday night group dinner.

On the way to Giolitti’s, I remembered that I hadn’t signed up for the dinner. It’s the only activity they ask us to sign up for ahead of time. So I had to take a detour to sign up in the school office.

I headed next to Giolitti’s, but I stumbled upon Sant’Agostino church along the way.



It was a church I wanted to see for its Caravaggio painting of Mary holding a rather large baby Jesus in front of two “scandalously scruffy pilgrims” (or at least, so says my guide book).

Caravaggio's Madonna del Loreto

Caravaggio’s Madonna del Loreto

Finally, I was off to Giolitti’s. It was crazy busy at 5:00 in the afternoon.

Giolitti's (small street, big sign)

Giolitti’s (small street, big sign)

I ordered apple and champagne this time. Rumor has it that the liquor flavors (like today’s champagne and last week’s limoncello) are actually made with liquor. I can neither confirm nor deny that; however, I can tell you that the apple flavor had pieces of real apple in it, and it was delicious!

Mela (apple) and champagne

Mela (apple) and champagne

Next it was off to Gesu. This is a Jesuit church and the place where St. Ignatius of Loyola is buried. Interestingly, he’s not buried in the church that bares his name.

Chiesa del Gesu

Chiesa del Gesu

The whole church, including the altar where he’s buried, is very ornate, something that would probably not please him too much.

Tomb and Altar of St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits)

Tomb and Altar of St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits)

However, I have to say that I find a lot of the artwork very moving. As I knelt in prayer before his tomb, my eyes drifted upward to this lovely mural on the ceiling above his tomb.

Mural on ceiling above St. Ignatius's tomb

Mural on ceiling above St. Ignatius’s tomb

I assume that’s St. Ignatius riding on clouds that are carried by angels and being lifted up into heaven. His posture makes him seem so joyous, as if he’s stretching out his arms to greet Jesus. What a beautiful way to think about death! That when our life ends, the angels will carry us up on clouds so that we can greet Jesus with outstretched hands.

I stayed long enough in the church that 6:00 p.m. mass started while I was writing in my journal in the back. The organ started playing a tune I recognized but couldn’t name right away. Suddenly, I was moved to tears, but I couldn’t figure out why at first. I had just been writing in my journal about how well the trip was going. How many blessings I’d received. The familiarity of the organ music was starting to bug me. What song was that? Then a line finally came to me: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” No wonder I was crying! Isn’t that just what I had been doing when I’d been listing off all my blessings in my journal?

Finally, it was time to head to school for the Tuesday night dinner. However, when I arrived, there was no one there. I pulled out my list of activities. Oops! I was a half hour late. I thought the dinner had been at the same time as yesterday’s “tandem night.” Nope! Sono in ritardo! For the second time today, I was late for something at school and had to miss out.

As I wandered around the neighborhood looking for a place to eat, I first chastised myself for not double checking the time. I’ve double checked the time for every other activity over the last ten days. Why didn’t I double check this one?

But then as I sat eating my dinner (a simple panini and a limone Schweppes) in the park near Castel Sant’Angelo, I realized that I’ve been doing a lot of running around on this trip. I haven’t taken nearly the amount of quiet time I thought I would. So I ate my sandwich leisurely watching runners and dog walkers and kids playing in the park while classical music was piped through some speakers in the street fest behind me.

Not a bad view for a casual dinner

Not a bad view for a casual dinner

And then I strolled leisurely home, stopping briefly at St. Peter’s. Just because I could.



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