Peru: A Small Service Excursion Abroad

Hello faithful readers! My name is Megan, and I am Amy’s publishing assistant until May. Since she is on a trip this week, I’m here to share my experiences with you from my spring break trip over the last 10 days: Peru!IMG_9515.JPG

Before we get into specifics, I’ll give you a little bit of background information about me. This year I am a senior at Mount St. Mary’s University and will be graduating with a degree in Communication and with a minor in Spanish. I grew up as a military brat (Ooh-Rah!), and when my family was stationed overseas from 2006-2009, we traveled as much of Europe as we could manage. Though I don’t really have a place that I’m “from,” I currently live in Carroll County, Maryland, where I graduated high school. I love romance novels, which is what drew me to Amy’s open position, and my favorite novel of hers is Whispering Vines because, in my mind, it’s closely linked to my favorite movie, The Longest Ride, but features a fun Italian twist, and with recipes!

Over the first 10 days of March, my Spanish teacher finally achieved her four-year goal to get me on one of her Spanish study abroad experiences. Doctora, as she’s known by all her students, has been trying to get me to study abroad in Spain or Costa Rica, the month long excursions, since my first year in college, but I never wanted to spend an entire month away from my family. The Peru trip, though, was 1) only 10 days, 2) open to members of my family, which means I could take my mom, and 3) probably the only time I’d ever go to South America, so it was the PERFECT time and place to go.

Thus began our journey to South America.

Friday, 3/1/2019: Travel Day.

 

We woke up at 330 am to drive to Dulles airport, fly to Panama City International, and then fly again to Lima. Our passports were stamped with our visas, and we stayed overnight in a small hostel to rest before moving to lower altitudes.

Saturday, 3/2/2019: Travel Day Part 2

 

We woke up early again to fly from Lima to Cusco, and then took a van from Cusco to Urubamba, a town much lower in altitude. For reference, Cusco is about 11,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is about 8,000 feet, and Urubamba is closer to 6,000 feet. Staying in Urubamba allowed us to adjust to the altitude gradually and avoid some altitude sickness! At the hotel San Agustin, they had Coca Tea to help with the altitude. Coca Tea is made by steeping the literal Coca leaf in water and drinking the tea produced. I, personally, was NOT a fan, and chose to stick to my Altitude Rx natural pills instead.

Sunday, 3/3/2019: Ollantaytambo Visit

 

Our first real day of excursions! We visited the town of Ollantaytambo (Oh-yan-tie-tahm-bo) which had some ancient Incan ruins. Doctora scheduled a tour guide to lead us on different cultural tours, and this was the first day we met her. She led us through the ruins of Ollantaytambo and explained many of the different histories of the Inca, including the importance of the Incan cross, the terraces created in the mountainside to help with irrigation, protection, and to support the structure of the mountain, and even where the name Ollantaytambo came from. One of the possible explanations for it being named so could be a misconstruction of the Quechua (the Incan native language) word “tampu,” which referred to a small resting place for many of the Incan messengers to stop on their journeys. A “tampu” was supplied with food by the “allyu,” which was the Incan equivalent of a state. The state paid its dues in labor and supplies to Cusco, the capital of the region, and each “allyu” was responsible for maintaining their “tampu” for the messengers and other travelers. “Tambo,” then, could come from a mispronunciation of “tampu.”

Monday, 3/4/2019: Machu Picchu

 

Our day to Machu Picchu started with a van back to Ollantaytambo, where we rode a train car with MANY windows to the Machu Picchu station. Machu Picchu, or MaPi for short, is now considered to be the eighth wonder of the world, and many more people travel to it than before. Our hotel was the new Casa Andina, and we heard the roar of the Urubamba river outside our window while we slept. The town of MaPi has become very centralized for tourists, and includes many different restaurants, a shopping market that you can easily get lost in, and bus trips to and from MaPi itself. Once we rode to the top of the mountain, we saw the breathtaking ruins, climbed many stairs, and learned more than enough about its history from our tour guide. There were even llamas roaming free across the grasses, and they were incredibly unbothered by all the people.

Tuesday, 3/5/2019: Machu Picchu Town and Travel Day

 

Because there are only two major times when the train rides between Ollantaytambo and MaPi, we had the morning to ourselves in MaPi until our 1:30 p.m. train departed back to Ollantaytambo. My mom and I strolled through the market for a bit before sitting in a cute little French bistro for the rest of the afternoon. I sampled a Mochaccino, which was homemade with authentic and delicious Peruvian chocolate. After we returned from MaPi, we took a van back to Cusco city and allowed our bodies to adjust to the higher altitude by simply relaxing and enjoying dinner in the hotel.

Wednesday, 3/6/2019: Cusco City Day 1

 

Our stay in Cusco City began with a trip to the Coricancha, or the Temple of the Sun God. For the traditional Incan people, the Coricancha is the equivalent of the Vatican for Catholics today. This was their holiest of holy places, and it was once covered in gold. Gold represented the tears and essence of the Sun God, also known as “Inti.” When the Spaniards arrived to colonize and conquer, they built a church and monastery over the Coricancha and ordered all other temples to stop construction as part of the conversion of the Incan people. Every 300 years, however, Cusco suffers a giant earthquake, and when the last one occurred in the 1950s, the Cathedral atop the Coricancha fell, but all the Incan stones of the Coricancha below remained completely intact. Because of this, the Incan belief in Inti and their historical culture is somewhat affirmed to the Incan people, and the Coricancha remains a reverent place for the traditions.

After vising the Coricancha, we took a short walking tour of Cusco city and made our way over to the orphanage where we would be serving for the next three days. As part of the Peru excursion, Doctora always works with an orphanage in Cusco to have us complete some time of service. We helped play with children ages three to six in the courtyard for an hour and a half, often giving hugs and physical affection throughout the time we spent there. Though there wasn’t much else to do, it was a good way to begin our service.

Thursday, 3/7/2019: Cusco City Day 2

 

We began the morning by shopping at the local grocery store for food to bring to the orphanage. Then we took the gifts we had of food and soap to the orphanage and volunteered until after lunch. Our Peru group had seven students this year, and we split into two groups for volunteering: those who could teach English to the older girls, and those who would play with the younger children. I was able to help teach English to some of the older girls, and while they knew some already, they were very eager to learn new songs, different English words, and what school was like at the university level in the United States. At lunch time, I was given a small two-year-old named Sandi to feed, and though I’ve never fed a baby anything before, I learned very quickly. She was so quiet, so sweet, and so cooperative that it was very easy! Her favorite thing to do when I held her before lunch and as she sat on the tiny chairs during lunch was swing her legs everywhere, but she was always looking for food.

After our time at the orphanage, we had the afternoon to ourselves, so my mom and I used our cultural ticket to visit as many museums as we possibly could in the Cusco area. We visited the Incan history museum near the orphanage, the Coricancha museum, and two different art museums that featured both popular and contemporary art pieces. We also found the Coffee Museum of Peru, which was free to enter and had a small hallway of information about coffee, as well as some delicious cafe snacks. Our server, Maria, was wonderful and I was able to hold a fluent, easily-understood conversation with her entirely in Spanish! As someone who aspires to be bilingual, if not multi-lingual, I thought this was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip.

Friday, 3/8/2019: Cusco Day 3

 

We attempted to start our day with more service at the orphanage, but due to a miscommunication, there wasn’t much for us to do. Before we left for Peru, Doctora handed out different school supplies for us to donate to the older girls at the orphanage who were attending school so that we could divide everything appropriately, and we handed these supplies out this morning. Many of the older girls at the orphanage actually do have parents, but their parents want to give them a better life, and the nuns who run the orphanage allow the girls to go to school in Cusco so long as they live and help with the younger children at the orphanage. This particular orphanage is only allowed to house children until they turn six, unless they are the older girls helping, and once children turn six they must either be adopted or they will be sent to another orphanage somewhere else in Peru, where more of the older orphans are.

The nun in charge of the orphanage spoke about one child who was in the orphanage because her mother was raped at 11 and had her at 12. Unable to care for the child and choosing to seek work elsewhere, the mother gave her daughter to her grandmother, who wanted to give her to the mother’s aunt who just had a baby herself. The aunt was unable to take care of another child, however, so the child was sent to the orphanage. This child was the one who, when we visited the first day, would go around to each person for a quick hug, over and over again in the circle, until she became distracted by someone else. The nun described how each child has a cross of suffering to bear, just as Jesus did, because they are unwanted or unable to be cared for, but there is Jesus in every one of their hearts, just as there is Jesus in every one of ours. By coming to volunteer, she said, she could see Jesus in our hearts and urged us to go home and hug our parents and our families, and to thank them for loving us and giving us the opportunities that we’ve had.

Sometimes our problems seem incredibly painful, but when compared to the suffering of others, it can easily put into perspective how lucky and blessed we truly are.

Without anything else to help with at the orphanage, we had another free day, and my mom and I took the day to explore the chapels and churches around. We met up with the main group at 2 p.m. to visit the Cathedral, and while no pictures were allowed inside any of the churches, I can promise you they were magnificent. Many of them were heavily influenced by the Baroque style of architecture, and gold leaf was a focal point for many of the decorations and didactic paintings.

Saturday, 3/9/2019: Lima City

 

On Saturday we flew back from Cusco to Lima, where we checked into our hotel next to the airport and began a 4-hour bus tour of the city of Lima. Though four hours may seem like a long time, we only scratched the surface of the cultural and historical elements that surround the city. We visited two main Plazas, the main church of San Agustin, and the Lover’s Park toward the ocean. We had another tour guide for this trip, and she told us many different facts about the history of the city. For example, there are three main colors of buildings from the old Spanish reign: red, blue, and yellow. Red buildings were often used to denote where native people and slaves, blue buildings were for the rich Spanish colonizers, and the yellow buildings were for different industrial shops and stores.

Another fun fact she mentioned was about the Lover’s Park, where they hold a contest every Valentine’s Day to see who can break the record for the longest kiss without breaking away. If you ever want to try and beat the record for yourself, the current one is at 1.5 hours, so best of luck!

Sunday, 3/10/2019: Travel Day Home

Sunday was, in a word, exhausting. We woke up at 3 a.m. for our flight from Lima to Panama City, which took about 4 hours. Once in Panama City International, we then went through ANOTHER security checkpoint that complies with the United States’ TSA requirements, and then flew another 5 hours from PTY to Dulles. Once there, we were free after customs!

Unfortunately, this meant we still had 2 hours to drive from Dulles to Carroll County, where I quickly did my laundry at home and had to drive another hour back to the Mount, where a quiz awaited me on Monday morning.

Normally I am a very organized person and always put my things away, but on Sunday night, I threw everything on the ground of my dorm room and went straight to bed. Though there was no time difference, travel jet lag is real!

Tuesday, 3/12/2019: Reflection Day

Writing this recap of my break has made me realize three things:

  1. No matter how experienced you are at traveling, there will still be hiccups and you will ALWAYS be tired. No one should have to fly 10+ hours in one day, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
  2. Peru, while never my first travel choice (I prefer Europe 🙂 ) was a beautiful place full of natural wonders, amazing history, no bug bites for me (!!!), and great experiences.
  3. Everyone deserves love, and everyone needs love, no matter how big or small. Our problems may be our own, but when we step back to serve others, we realize how fortunate and blessed we are to have what we do, especially when it comes to family. I’ve always been a big supporter of my family, and especially grateful for everything that my parents have done for me, but this trip helped put in perspective some other things about family. Though I may want to kick my little sister sometimes, at least I know I have a little sister. I know where she is, I can call her when I need her, and I know she’s usually safe. Even though my dad may try to go to Walmart more often than any of us needs, I know that I have a dad who is always supporting me, financially, emotionally, and in morale. No matter what hardships I face, I still have a full family. I still have a family that’s together. I still have extended family that I know, and that I know love and support me.

Not everyone gets that full family. Not everyone gets even half a family, or a small family. Sometimes all we have are those with Jesus in their hearts who reach out to help.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my journey and seeing some of the pictures from the amazing trip that I was able to go on with my mom! Amy will be back shortly with more stories of her own trip this week. If I can leave you with one thing today it’s this:

Go hug someone you love and appreciate, and tell them so! In the end we’re all family, and sometimes family needs reminding just how important they are.

Thank you for reading and being a part of my journey 🙂

Sincerely,

Megan

Riding the Roller Coaster of Parenting

IMG_9543Today is Ash Wednesday, and our family certainly took advantage of Mardi Gras and Shrove Tuesday by indulging in food and fun over the past few days. We surprised Katie Ann and whisked her away to Orlando to celebrate her 20th birthday. This is not something we normally do, believe me, but she was on a wild ride on the roller coaster of life over the past few months, and we wanted to show her how happy we are with how she’s handled things and that we recognize how hard she’s worked academically and personally. So, we met Katie at a restaurant near the airport, supposedly for a surprise luncheon for someone else, and told her that we had packed a bag, so she should grab whatever else she needed because our plane was leaving in two hours time! Needless to say, there was a lot of screaming, and many happy tears were shed. While it was a wonderful, joy-filled weekend, there was a lot of introspection for me…

Princess Belle and girlsMany years ago, we took our own princesses to meet the princesses they idolized. Our girls were so little, unaware of the bad things in this world, and unable to grasp the concept that not every girl becomes a Disney princess. I’m sure that, like many young American girls, they never thought about ever having days of darkness, despair, loneliness, heartbreak, or even insecurity. Those big, bright eyes, looking at the beautiful fairy tale princess could not have imagined a world where people can lose hope, lose faith, and lose themselves. 

 

This past weekend, as I watched the dozens (and dozens) of girls in their princess dresses, with big eyes and wide smiles, I longed for a return to those days.

Those were the days when my girls rarely felt like a fish out of water,
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were unafraid of monsters in the closet, 
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and believed nothing could solve problems better than a big bear hug.
Pooh breakfast Pooh and girls

Those were the days when they knew, without a doubt, that with a smile on your face, a song in your heart, a heart full of inspiration, and perhaps a little bit of pixie dust, all your dreams could come true.castle Amy girls (1).jpg

Of course, my girls are still pursuing their dreams. When life knocks them down, they get back up. When there’s sorrow or heartbreak or despair, they put on those smiles, shake the real dust off their hands and start over. And as a mom, I’m so proud of them each time they do that, but my heart still pines for the days when we thought there really is a happiest place on earth where all cares can be forgotten, where the real world doesn’t exist, and where we don’t have to return to the rat race of daily life. I know that the trials and tribulations my girls have faced are just the beginning for them. As they enter adulthood, they will be faced with problems that will feel like it’s them against the universe. And I want them to know this…

My girls, no matter what, no matter how hard it gets, no matter how dark it seems, no matter how broken you feel or how intense your pain is, your dad and I will always be there for you. 

We will help you catch whatever is thrown your way.IMG_7687.JPG

We will ride the roller coaster with you.IMG_9675

We will always remind you that life can be magical if you let it.IMG_9473

And that, when you’re ready, we’ll smile and wave as you climb to new heights and make all of your own dreams come true.IMG_9468

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Ashes and Chocolate

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

 

 

 

Me Enamoré

This past week, Morgan and I were blessed to be able to go on a business trip with my husband, Ken, to Colombia. We spent three days in Cartagena, where his conference was being held, and then the weekend in Bogota. The weekend was an add-on, and the reason is quite funny. My husband does a lot of work throughout Latin America. He is fluent in Spanish and nearly fluent in Portuguese. When he was striving to be more conversational in Spanish, his tutor suggested he begin listening to Spanish-language music. That is how my husband fell in love with Shakira.

IMG_9866Though Ken has never been a big concert-goer (unlike the girls and me), he was beside himself with excitement when he learned that Shakira was coming to DC. He bought two tickets, and he and our oldest daughter made their plans to attend. Alas, Shakira developed some throat problems and had to postpone her world tour. The rescheduled date? When we were on our pilgrimage to Guadalupe. Ken was so upset! But hope was not lost. Fast forward to this past weekend. We knew that Ken would be attending this conference in Cartagena and that Morgan and I were going to tag along. If you’ve never been there, Cartagena is a beautiful city, rich in Spanish, Latin American, and Catholic history. I’ve been with Ken several times now, and I enjoy it every time I go.

So, a couple months ago, Ken came to me with a huge, boyish grin on his face.
“Guess where Shakira’s final concert on the world tour is?” he asked with excitement
“Where?” I asked.
“Bogota.” The grin widened.
“Okaaaay…”
“The weekend we will be in Colombia!”
Ah, I could see where this was going.
“And?” I asked.
“And…we can get a cheap flight from Cartagena to Bogota the night before, tour Bogota that day, and attend the concert that night.” His enthusiasm grew with each word.

And that’s how we came to be at the Shakira concert, in Bogota, on Saturday night. We spent the day climbing to the top of Monserrate Hill, exploring the historic downtown, and even witnessing an ordination at La Iglesia de la virgin della Carmen. We enjoyed obleas, a yummy concoction of two large, round wafers (that Morgan says remind her of the Eucharist) sandwiched with various fillings–fruit spread, cream, caramel, or any combination of the three. Morgan and I have decided that we are going to figure out how to make them ourselves (Amazon must have the wafers, right?).

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The view from Monserrat Hill
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The plaza in the historic district of La Candelaria
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An ordination at La Iglesia de la virgin della Carmen
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Obleas!

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Saturday evening, we joined over 30,000 other fans, waiting in line to get into the park. Even with the VIP tickets that Ken ordered (at a lower price than the standard cost-inflated American tickets), we had to wait over two hours to get into the Simón Bolívar Parque. Once inside, we felt like the filling in the obleas. It was packed! There were no chairs, and even the VIP section was general admission. This did not bode well for someone who is under 5’5″! Luckily for Ken, he’s nearly a foot taller than I am and had a great view, and luckily for me, there were three giant screens above and next to the stage. The concert was great, and Shakira put on a fabulous show. Ken never stopped smiling the entire time.

IMG_9927I was exhausted. I didn’t know or understand the lyrics. I couldn’t see a dang thing other than the back of the heads in front of me. But the predicted rain held off. Morgan and Ken sang along with every song. And I got to see Ken do something he never, ever does. He spent an entire evening doing what he wanted to do. Honestly, that’s so rare. Ken spends most of his life trying to make the girls and me happy. He bends to our every wish and never asks for anything in return. So what if it wasn’t the evening I would have chosen (and my phone was stolen on the way out). For Ken, it was a dream come true. So, maybe no me enamoré (I did not fall in love) with Shakira, but I did fall in love a little more with my husband–a grown man loving life, enjoying a simple pleasure, and wanting to share it with his wife and daughter. 

What I was writing about a year ago this week: Saint Buck, Patron of Granddaughters.

The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

 

Welcome to My World

Before I was an author (I was always a writer), I was a librarian, and before that, I was a history major. I’ve always loved history, but I was prejudiced—I only liked American history. I was so naive! And honestly, arrogant. How long have Americans even existed? What have we really done or learned or taught in the short 250 years we’ve been a nation? Not that America hasn’t made many significant contributions to the world, but in comparison to the Romans, the Greeks, the Byzantines, the Florentines, the Vikings, etc, what kind of history do we really have?

It has only been in the last ten years that I have truly come alive as a history student. Having been so blessed as to have a husband who works in the global energy industry, I’ve been able to travel extensively. I’ve traveled often without my husband, but it’s his frequent flyer mileage that I’m typically using, so I have to give him the credit for that and for helping me figure out that I have the confidence to travel the world without him.

In becoming a world traveler, I’ve fallen in love with art and art history. I often say that I’d love to get another degree at some point in my life—an art history degree. To know and understand art, its masters, and its influence is truly to know and understand history. It’s this love of art and history that inspired my book, Whispering Vines. Now, wherever I go, I’m in search of that same inspiration.

This week, Ken is on business in Sweden, and my schedule was open enough to allow me to travel with him. From the sleepy, little town of Mariefred to the bustling, economic center of Stockholm, we’re experiencing fall in Scandinavia. One thing I didn’t expect is the weather. It’s darn cold here! Having been to Iceland and Copenhagen during summertime, I expected the 60 degree temperatures, as predicted by my weather app, but I was surprised by the raw and damp cold of a cloudy day. Not that we’ve let that stop us!

We’ve enjoyed a ride on a narrow-gauge railroad, a visit to palaces in both Mariefred and Stockholm, a traipse though the ancient ruins of a 12th Century church, the brilliant display of military precision in the Changing of the Guard, an afternoon of fun at the ABBA Museum, and dinner at Viking and medieval restaurants. Junibacken is fun for all who fell in love with Pippi Longstocking and her creator, Astrid Lindgeren. The Vasa Museum takes your breath away when you walk beneath the shadow of the great 17th Century ship and truly is one of the most fascinating museums I’ve ever visited. The list of museums I’m trying to fit in is endless!

 

It’s an amazing world we live in. Never stop learning about it and striving to explore it. Whether you regularly travel the world by plane or from your reading chair, be open to all aspects of history—the art, the culture, the military, the literature, and the people, living and long passed. It’s only in learning about the past that we can improve the future. I hope I’ve instilled this important fact in my girls and that they are open-minded and open-hearted when it comes to experiencing all that this great planet and its peoples have to offer. Life is an adventure. Embrace it in whatever way what you can.

The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

A Journey of Faith

 

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The Guadalupe Pilgrims

This past Sunday’s first reading told us how, after eating eating and drinking, Elijah was strengthened for his forty day journey to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:4-8). It was a good reading for me because Sunday was the last full day of our journey to Mexico City to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. You may remember that, three years ago, Ken and I participated in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, There, we met a group of pilgrims who have increasingly become more family than friends. We try to get together several times a year, and often, our get-togethers revolve around our Catholic faith. This past weekend, many of our pilgrim family spent five days journeying to the religious sites and churches in Mexico City, praying, celebrating Mass, and enjoying the short time we had together.

 

 

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Friends from our local parish we invited to join us.

Reflecting on that short time, and the way we spent it, I’ve come to realize that this past weekend is a small representation of my life in general. We journeyed a long way, some getting caught in flight delays or heavy traffic, causing us to take a different route (who knew traffic was that bad in Mexico City?). Some came prepared with extra luggage for the many things they would accumulate on the way. Some of us were unprepared for the great temperature variations throughout the day and ran out of clothes. Some traveled alone, and a few were strangers, invited by friends to come along. 

 

How indicative of our spiritual lives here on earth! Though life is short, we travel a long way in our quest to reach salvation. We meet roadblocks, delays, and detours along the way. We aren’t always as good and faithful as we should be, but we carry on, hoping to find the right path. We try to be prepared for whatever life brings us, carrying that extra baggage as needed, often feeling the need to unload some of it along the way. Often, we are unprepared, though, and have to make due with what we have or find a way to meet our needs. We want a way to predict what lies ahead, to see the coming rain and avoid it, but alas, all we know is that there is a sunset at the end of the day and the glorious rising of a new sun in the morning. Sometimes, we travel this journey alone, depending upon God, but realizing we can rely on the love and care of those sent by God to walk the journey with us. Often, we are strangers amidst our fellow travelers, seeking friendship and a spiritual connection. In the end, we are all on a pilgrimage, searching for something to make our lives more meaningful. 

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Juan Diego’s tilma, as vibrant and it was in 1531, undeteriorated by time and circumstances.

Juan Diego traveled each day to and from his home and work. On December 12, 1531, he took a detour, expecting to avoid seeing the Virgin who had been appearing to him, but she was there, waiting along his path, and told him that she would grant him a sign for the bishop (you can read the whole story here). Climbing to the top of Tepyac Hill, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, flowers only found in Spain and not native to Mexico, certainly not in December. Thinking this was the sign, Juan Diego gathered the roses in his poncho, his tilma, and hurriedly took them to the Bishop. Upon opening his tilma to reveal the roses, an image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma. For almost 500 years, the tilma hung, first in the chapel built by Juan Diego and then in the church built by the Bishop. There was no glass protecting it, no frame, no special scientific or technological preservations of any kind, yet the tilma remained completely intact, unfaded, undeteriorated, and unharmed. Upon being moved to a newer basilica, it was placed in a glass frame. A 1921 bombing attempt to destroy the precious cloth resulted in destruction of the altar and melting of the bronze crucifix (some believe this was a sign that Jesus was protecting his mother), yet the glass covering the tilma was not even shaken, no cracks or breaks, no melting of the frame.

Juan Deigo learned that we never know what or whom we will encounter on our travels. Even detours cannot change the course that the Lord has set for us. Along the way, we meet many strangers, some become friends, some become family; all play a part in our journey. At times we feel vulnerable, unprotected, unable to stop the stumbling blocks and even bombs placed before us. However, I have learned that to have true friends of faith on whom I can rely, to whom I can talk, with whom I can pray, helps me keep the course, finish the race, and keep my faith.

IMG_7022.JPGOur journey here on earth is short, very short. We should not waste a moment of it. Despite the detours, we must continue on. Having a faithful group of friends and family will strengthen us along the way. As St. Paul said to Timothy, I hope to one day say to my dear friends across the nation and into Canada,

“But you must keep steady all the time; put up with suffering; do the work of preaching the gospel; fulfil the service asked of you.
As for me, my life is already being poured away as a libation, and the time has come for me to depart.
I have fought the good fight to the end; I have run the race to the finish; I have kept the faith
all there is to come for me now is the crown of uprightness which the Lord, the upright judge, will give to me on that Day; and not only to me but to all those who have longed for his appearing.
Make every effort to come and see me as soon as you can.”

2 Timothy 4:5-9

The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.

Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschisler and at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018).

Mountains, Body, and Soul

I took a walk early this morning in the area described in my book, Summer’s Squall. The rest of the family left well before dawn to climb Redcloud and Sunshine, two of the five over 14,000-foot mountains in the San Juan range of the Rockies, where we have a second home. We all climbed Uncompahgre Peak last week, and I’m still plagued by sunburn!

FullSizeRender.jpg-1This morning, I walked with my earbuds in my ears, enjoying Drums of August, the 4thbook in the Outlander series. I listened intently as Clare described the wilds of 18thCentury North Carolina, easily picturing the scene as I, too, was surrounded by vast mountains and an expanse of wilderness.

Though Clare’s words filled my ears, I remained acutely entuned with my surroundings. While it’s not normal to see a bear or mountain lion roaming the dusty roads of the subdivision during the day, it would be careless to discount their presence. After all, the high peaks and plateaus of the Rockies remain one of the last true wilderness areas in the continental US; the land still belonging more to the elk and bobcats than to the few human inhabitants. I saw no people for the majority of my walk, but I did have several neighbors pause their morning meal to watch me as I strolled by, the wide eyes and flick of an ear or tail the only acknowledgment of my passing.

IMG_6699I sucked in the mountain air and breathed the fresh scent of sage and wildflowers. Around every turn was a majestic view. I stopped to admire a patch of purple lupine, our mountain peak looming in the distance. Sage lined the roads and spread across every stretch of ground, perfectly seasoning the deer and elk that will provide the basis of our meals throughout next winter if Ken and his companions are lucky in the fall.

At one point, I looked up and realized just how far I had walked, and how far I still had to go as I gazed across the vegetation and up to a far-off peak, behind which our cabin stood. Heaving a sigh, I continued on. As Clare gave account of the skull she discovered after falling from her horse, I found myself staring intently at the sage I passed, envisioning hollowed eyes and a pointed nose on every pale rock that hid in the underbrush. Tall stems of Indian paintbrush slipped through the fingers of the sage as it FullSizeRender-1reached, like outstretched hands, grasping for the sunlight. Quaking aspen waved to me as I walked, their leaves shaking and shimmering in the gentle breeze and glow of the morning light.

I came to a fork in the road and was suddenly not sure of my location on the mountain. One way would take me back to the cabin. The other…I honestly had no idea. It could lead me back to where I had already been, or it could take me to one of the ranches that claimed vast amounts on woody acreage, where cows grazed and often stood in the middle of the road, uncaring as to whether your car needed to pass. It could also lead to the great expanse of public land where anyone is welcome to hike or hunt, but no houses would ever be permitted, thus preserving this beautiful wilderness.

Hoping my instincts were correct, I turned to the left. I passed more thickets of sage and the tall, white trunks of aspen trees. Wildflowers, some I do not know to name, dotted the rocky ground along the road. As I turned a bend, I stopped and tilted my head back as far as I could, then reluctantly squeezed the last few drops of water from my bottle into my mouth. When the bottle was empty, I lowered my head, and my gaze fell on a familiar sight. Not too far into the distance, I saw the green triangular roof that rose above the lupine and sage, topping the log cabin that was nestled into the side of the mountain. I headed to the cabin, bypassing the main door and walking around to the back deck to take in the view that never grows old. Gazing across to the peak of Cannibal Mountain (which we hiked last week), I took a deep breath and savored the sweet freshness of the outdoors.

IMG_1414.jpegWe have no internet on our mountain, no cell service, and a phone that only calls local numbers, in case of emergency. The television, channels provided by satellite, is rarely on. Whether we are fishing in the lake at the bottom of the road, hiking the tall, round peak of Round Mountain that looms above our cabin, or sitting on the back deck, there is a quiet and peacefulness that cannot be found in my normal world.

I spent just a few minutes basking in the glow of the sun that seems close enough to touch when standing at close to 10,000 feet above sea level. I closed my eyes and enjoyed that quiet peacefulness. Our time in the wilderness will be over in the blink of an eye, and this is a feeling I want to remember, to take back with me when I return to civilization. This moment will have to last and sustain me until the next time we are able to carve out a few days, hopefully a couple of weeks, from our hectic routine to return to the mountains, to refresh our bodies and souls.

Please join me in celebrating the much-anticipated release of Island of Promise, the second book in my Chincoteague Island Trilogy. I am very happy to partner with Sundial Books on Chincoteague for this celebration. All are welcome on Wednesday, July 24 from 1:00-3:00 at Sundial Books. For more details: https://www.facebook.com/events/238528263576139

The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.

 Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture MeWhispering Vines, and Island of Miraclesare all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vineswas awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracleshas outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad(2013), A Place to Call Home(2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines(2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms(2017), The Greatest Gift(2017), Summer’s Squall(2017), Island of Promise(2018).

Withdraw From Your Cares

IMG_0884-001I recently heard of a survey, showing that 52% of Americans reported unused vacation days in 2017. This is down 2% from the previous year, but the trend remains–Americas, unlike their counterparts around the world, are not leaving work behind to spend downtime with their friends and family. And while more people did take time off, half a million more vacation days were lost in 2017 than in 2016. 705 million vacation days were left unused. Of the days not used, Americans forfeited 212 million days, a donation of $561 per person on average in work time to their companies.

I read those numbers and gasped, shaking my head that so many people would rather work, or feel the need to work, rather than take time for themselves. While cost was cited as a barrier to taking time off, I can’t help but ask, what is the cost of a day at home, or at a local park, or at a free museum? Compare the cost of a vacation to that of a hospital stay after a heart attack or stroke brought on by long, stressful days at the office? Almost the same number of people reported their children as barriers to time off. Really? People won’t take vacations because their children get in the way? What kind of world are we living in?

For the first half of our marriage, Ken was an elected official and then the head of a state agency. For all of those years, he was expected to work, or least be available, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He and I both knew that, for the sake of his mental health and the health of our family, he needed to take breaks. Vacations, no matter how big or small, near or far, were always vital to our family and his sanity. For more than ten years now, Ken has worked for a global company, which means that often, while I’m in bed asleep, he is on the phone with colleagues in Korea or Australia. He travels often, almost weekly, and his sleep schedule is never normal. I fear that, without a vacation, he will have a mental or physical breakdown. And his job is not at all abnormal in this world of the internet, cell phones, and ease of travel.

When I was a child, our family didn’t have money to spare, but my brothers and I felt like we were the richest kids in the world. My parents took us to Andrews Air Force Base to see the Blue Angels. We visited every Smithsonian Museum. We hiked up and down the hills at the National Zoo, laughing at the monkeys and marveling at the elephants. All of those things were free. Meals? Hot dogs at the concession trucks. To my parents, these were low-cost days away from work, spent with family. To my brothers and me, they were priceless days that made lasting memories.

I encourage everyone to take a break this summer, or multiple breaks. Go outside. Connect with nature. Discover a passion. Enjoy time with your family. Play ball with your kids. Last summer, the company that Ken worked for was being sold, and we weren’t sure of Ken’s employment future. Rather than a long, expensive vacation, we borrowed a dear friend’s cabin in the Poconos. We hiked, zip lined, and even parasailed, but most of the trip was spent playing games, doing puzzles, and taking it easy. Morgan and Jacob spent hours fishing, and Ken and Katie enjoyed frequent naps. It was wonderful.

So, work hard this summer. Make each day count. But don’t forget this beautiful advice:

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The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available to pre-order.

What I was writing about this time last year:  Oh, The Places You’ll Go (to borrow from Dr. Seuss)

Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines,  and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016.  Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores. 

You may follow Amy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/amyschislerauthor, Twitter @AmySchislerAuth, Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/amyschislerand at http://amyschislerauthor.com.

Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017)