Thursday, October 29, 2015

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus



If you didn't know, I absolutely love nature. Natural beauty makes me remember how small I am in comparison to the rest of the universe. And there are definitely some benefits to waking up really early. I usually get to enjoy beautiful sunrises but this morning I got a special treat. This morning when I went outside, I was able to see Mars and Venus beautifully lined up in the East sky.

I thought of the very popular saying 'men are from Mars, women are from Venus'. This is used to show just how different men and women are. And I'd agree that men and women are very different. But that's the beauty of life. God knew what He was doing when He created men and women to be so different. I'd hate to think what life in our apartment would be like if Mr Caramel and I had the same dispositions. We complement each other so well. When I'm nervous and worried, he's cool and calm. When he gets annoyed, I can say 'don't sweat the small stuff'. Venus on its own is beautiful. A glimpse of Mars on its own is a great sight. But when they line up, they're just stunning. And I like to think of men and women in the same way. On our own, we are works of art. But when men and women are paired up well and love and complement each other, we showcase the beauty and perfection of God's plan.

I also thought of my own marriage. Every now and again God gives me a little nudge to remind me that He's still in control (ok, it might be more of an anvil to the head because I'm stubborn). And I was reminded of that as I stared at Mars and Venus this morning. Mars and Venus can be anywhere from 77 million kilometers to 222 million kilometers apart. But every so often, God can align them and make them seem so close together. If God can seemingly ignore millions of kilometers and line up two planets, then why should I be surprised that God could bring Mr Caramel and I together? What's the Atlantic Ocean compared to the vastness of space? And if God can align planets and stars in complete perfection, obviously He is more than qualified to take control of my life.

How awesome is it that the same God who controls the immensity of the universe, controls our own minuscule lives? How humbling is it that God takes the time to create beings that are different enough to complete each other but not so different that we cannot meet? Thank you God for the cosmic reminder.



Wednesday, October 21, 2015

My Journey from Non-immigrant to Illegal Immigrant to Permanent Legal Resident

Illegal immigrants have been prevalent in the news recently and I've been biding my time to write about this.

What comes to mind when you think of an illegal immigrant? A Mexican sneaking across the border? A wave of Syrian Muslims invading Europe? Latinos who refuse to learn English but take jobs from Americans and take advantage of the welfare system? Those are popular stereotypes of illegal immigrants. But just like any stereotype, they're not 100% accurate. You see, until yesterday, I was also an illegal immigrant. Or, if I was to use the more technical term, I was 'out of status'.

Let's explain what that means. I came into America quite legally. I entered at an airport with my shiny new student visa in my passport. At the time, the plan was to go to school, graduate as soon as possible and head back home to the familiarity and security of St Vincent. However, as usually happens when I make plans, God laughed. After I graduated, I applied for and was granted OPT (optional practical training). That meant that I was able to work for a year, while I was still on my student visa. During that year, I fell in love twice - with my job and with Mr Caramel. All of a sudden, it seemed that my life was now in America. My boss was kind enough to be willing to sponsor me for a work visa. However, due to all the technicalities and hoops of that process, my lawyer at the time told me that I didn't stand a chance. Meanwhile, I saw one of my very good friends shell out thousands of dollars to a top rate lawyer, go through the long process for a work visa and get denied. I started to get worried. My OPT was quickly running out.

By the time Mr Caramel and I were engaged, I had very little time left on my OPT. We knew we were going to get married but we also knew that once my OPT ran out, I would be out of status. We decided not to get a quick courtroom wedding for several reasons. We only plan on getting married once. So we wanted it to be a beautiful wedding. Also, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, a courtroom wedding is not valid and we wanted to abide with the rules of the Church. Finally, we knew we loved each other and were going to get married but we didn't want anyone to say that I married him for my green card (more about that later). So we trusted God, planned our wedding and set a wedding date for almost 5 months after my OPT ran out.

And so, in the middle of the summer of 2014, my OPT card expired and I was officially 'out of status'. Or, an illegal immigrant. Life as an illegal immigrant was definitely not easy. My drivers' license expired and without legal status I could not renew it. So now I had a choice. Legally, I shouldn't be driving. But if I didn't drive, I couldn't work. If I couldn't work, we wouldn't be able to save up for the thousands of dollars required for my green card. So I continued driving. And literally every time I got in my car, I prayed. I prayed that I wouldn't get pulled over or get into any accidents. Because I would be in BIG trouble if I did. I continued paying taxes every month, knowing that I could never be a beneficiary of any form of government assistance if I wanted my green card.

Mr Caramel and I spent hundreds of dollars on lawyer consultation fees. All the lawyers wanted thousands of dollars to take our case - not including the other thousands of dollars that would be needed to apply for the green card. Mr Caramel and I simply did not have that kind of money and we knew it would take us quite a while to save up. We reached out to just about every kind of agency - Catholic Social Services, International House, etc. For one reason or another, they couldn't help us. Finally, I was flipping through the Catholic News Herald and came across a story in which the Latin American Coalition was able to help a man facing deportation. It was a long shot - I'm not Latino. But I figured, what was one more no? However, the very nice gentleman that I spoke to had once dated a Caribbean girl and agreed to help us. He put us in touch with a lawyer in Miami who would file our papers from there, for the low price of $1000. We still had to come up with the hundreds of dollars for the medical exam and the thousands for the application fees.

Mr Caramel and I scrimped and saved. We filled in piles of papers. I was questioned, injected and tested for the required medical examination. We collected documents on every aspect of our life. Then we said a prayer, crossed our fingers and submitted everything - including all our savings. And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. And as much as I tried not to, I worried. Would I have to leave the country for my visa interview (read, more expense)? Would I get pulled over for something minor while I drove on my expired license? I had nightmares about being taken away from Mr Caramel. I obsessively checked my case status - Charlotte's office was backlogged for over five months.

And one day, out of the blue, right after our lawyer had said to expect to wait about five more months, our notice arrived in the mail. Our immigration interview was scheduled for October. And so began more collection of information. We had to collect any document or evidence that could show that we were really married and not committing marriage fraud. Yup, we had to prove to the US government that we were really married. On the day of our interview, yesterday, I was so nervous I was literally sick to my stomach. But fortunately, the interview was a lot less painful than I expected and I should get my green card in the mail just in time for our one year anniversary. What better anniversary gift is there? After about a year and a half as an illegal immigrant, I no longer have to worry about being separated from Mr Caramel. I can drive legally. I can travel. And I can silence all the persons who said or suggested that I got married for my green card.

I know that there are many persons who think that it's so easy to become a legal resident. Or think that all illegal immigrants are illegal because they want to be. But it is so difficult. It is expensive. It is time-consuming. It runs your nerves ragged. And there are no guarantees - so many people get denied. So the next time you might be tempted to make an off-the-cuff disparaging comment about 'those illegal immigrants', stop and think. The person sitting next to you in church. The neatly dressed person ahead of you in line at the bank. The person in the next office cubicle. They might also be 'out of status'.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Letter to my students at the start of a new school year

My Dear Students,

Tomorrow, you start a brand new school year. You're excited and I'm excited. My heart is full with so many emotions as I prepare to teach you for another year. I feel both honored and humbled by the opportunity to be part of your lives again.

You've helped me clean and organize the classroom. You've labelled and personalized your notebooks. I've watched you organize your pens and pencils. There was a general buzz of excitement as you tell me that you're looking forward to the new school year. You've told me about the subjects that you're most looking forward to: Spanish, History, Spelling and Science. And yes, we'll be learning all these things, and so much more. You'll learn about decimals, the Crusades, how to use a microscope and how to spell words like 'squeeze' and 'Avenue'.

But those aren't the things that I consider to be the most important parts of this year. I want you to learn to think for yourself. I want you to learn how to evaluate information and come to conclusions for yourselves. You'll see that I don't have all the answers - and that's okay. We can search for answers together. I hope you'll gain self-confidence, poise and maturity. I hope that your love for learning will increase and that you never lose that curiosity that sometimes makes my job a little harder. I want you to see yourselves the way I see you: adorable, intelligent students full of potential. I want you to know that you can do anything and everything you set your minds to.

I'll be hard on you this year - just as I am every year. I'll push you. I'll make you do things that you might not want to do. And there'll be times that I don't let you do things that you want to do. You'll write more. You'll spell more. You'll do more math. You'll read harder books. You'll have to think harder and work harder than you've ever done in your short school lives. I'm sure there'll be times when you get frustrated and when you'll frustrate me. And that's okay. Do you know why I'll push you? Because you are so smart. Because I know you have the ability to succeed. And because I would be doing you a huge disservice if I let you get lazy or to plateau. You deserve more than that from me. I'll give you my best and I won't let you do any less. So even though there'll be frustrations, maybe even some tears and days when I wonder 'where did I go wrong?', at the end of the day, I love you so much and I know you love me, so we'll be okay.

But we'll have fun too. Don't worry. This will be a fun year. We'll paint. We'll play games. We'll do experiments. We'll make messes. We'll laugh. Because learning should be fun. Perhaps, if I show you how much fun learning can be, you'll never want to stop learning. Also, I think learning should reflect real life. And life can be frustrating, messy and just plain hard. But it can also be full of wonder, fun and laughter.

My precious students, I hope that you'll learn a lot this year. I also know that I'll learn much from you too. You have the whole world at your feet. Your possibilities are endless. And I want to help you get one step closer to those dreams that you might not have even dreamed of yet.

Here's to another year. May it be our best year yet. So let's pick up the pens, pencils and markers. Let's crack open the text books and notebooks. And let's get to learning.

From,
Your very excited Teacher.

Friday, August 21, 2015

I've Still Got A lot of Fight Left in Me

This week has been somewhat difficult for me emotionally. There are times that I get too into my head and can't find my way out. And this past week was one of those times. I had way too much on my mind, I was tired because I haven't been sleeping well. By this morning I was at my limit. I honestly didn't even want to get out of bed. But I did. And I had a song stuck in my head. It's one of the most popular songs of the summer 'Fight Song'. (If you haven't heard it yet, you should give it a listen.) Mr Caramel has this theory that the best solution for songs stuck in your head, is to actually listen to them. And that's what I did. And I'm glad I did.

It reminded me that even though I am so tired - physically and emotionally - I still have some fight left in me. I started thinking of all the things that I've fought for in my life. I've been fighting and struggling for so long. I fought to come to the U.S to go to college, when so many people said I couldn't. I sent out close to a hundred job applications before getting my dream job. I fought to marry Mr Caramel when some of the closest people in my life didn't approve (and still don't). But each time I fight and succeed, it makes the victory so much sweeter.

So I'm going to keep fighting because I have so many dreams that haven't been realized yet. I will take Mr Caramel to see the place where I grew up, even though it costs thousands of dollars. I will get my American Green Card, even though the American immigration process is costly, difficult and time-consuming. Mr Caramel and I will own a home of our own some day. One day, we'll have the life we're dreaming of - complete with kids, dog and porch swing. You know why? Because I'm still fighting. And the difference this time is that I have someone fighting with me. This is not to negate all the wonderful people who've supported me all along. But it's different having someone to actually fight with me, to believe in the same things that I do and to hold me at night when I'm ready to throw in the towel.

I believe in my dreams. Passionately. I've always gone after what I wanted with everything I had. And I'm not about to change that. So I'm going to fight. And keep fighting. And one day, my dreams will explode into reality.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Two Homes

Recently I confused poor Mr Caramel. Out of the blue, I said "I want to go home." What was confusing about this statement was that we were both sitting in our living room. No wonder the poor guy was confused. But I was referring to my first home - St Vincent.

You see, I'm quite homesick. I've been dreaming of St Vincent. I so badly want to take a trip home. I want to show Mr Caramel where I grew up. Take him to all my favorite spots. Let him see why St Vincent will always be home to me. In clarifying for Mr Caramel I realized that I have two places that I consider to be home, and probably always will. St Vincent will always be home. It was my first home and will forever hold a special place in my heart. But North Carolina is my current home. It's where my life is. So I've decided to list the things that I like about each of my homes.

Let's start with my current home - North Carolina:


  1. This is where my life is now: I have an amazing husband, a wonderful job and great friends.
  2. I love how many things there are to do in and around Charlotte. I can go to the ballet, to a musical, to any number of parks or museums. There are several movie theaters close by. And if I'm in the mood for it - the mall is always an option.
  3. I've come to like the distinct seasons. I enjoy seeing the differences as the year rolls through. Each season brings something new. Although, winter will always be my least favorite. I don't like the cold!
  4. When I have to shop - whether for clothes, school supplies, food or whatever - I enjoy the variety and relatively low prices that I just wouldn't be able to get in the Caribbean.
  5. I must admit, I've become a bit spoiled. I like the convenience of drive-through restaurants, self-checkouts, businesses that are open late and the ability to pay my bills and do almost everything online. No more standing in impossibly long lines at the bank on pay day.
  6. You can be more of an individual here. I am my own person. I am not defined as 'Ms So-and-so's daughter' or 'Mr X's grand-daughter'. In St Vincent, everyone knows everyone and their family. So it's sometimes hard to find your identity, separate from your family's. No one here has pre-conceived ideas for the person I should be because of my family.

Now let's move to St Vincent:

  1. I enjoy the weather back home. I never have to worry about temperatures in the 30s or 40s. St Vincent has two seasons: hot and wet or hot and dry. I miss that sometimes, especially in the middle of winter.
  2. People back home are so friendly. It used to annoy me sometimes. You simply cannot go anywhere without running into someone who knows you or your family. And when you're running errands, you're bound to run into someone you know who wants to talk forever and has to inquire about your mother, your sister, your aunt, your grandparents - your entire family! But now I miss that friendliness and the feeling of community. Here, you're just another face in a sea of people.
  3. I love the natural beauty of St Vincent. The simply gorgeous beaches with clear blue water. The green mountains. The stunning sunrises and sunsets. The tropical flowers and birds. Sitting out on the porch and looking at the sun go down over the sea and seeing the fireflies come out.
  4. St Vincent operates in a much more laid-back manner. There are no cars flying along highways at a gazillion miles an hour. Here, everyone seems to always be rushing. In St Vincent, it's not uncommon to hear about 'Vincy time'. In other words, if we're planning to be somewhere at 2pm Vincy time, it's probably going to be closer to 3pm. There are days here when the idea of speeding along the highway for 30 minutes to get to work just seems like the greatest challenge in the world.
  5. The culture. Oh the culture. I have no one to speak dialect with here. And if I say soca, someone will look at me as if I was speaking a foreign language. I miss the excitement and color of Carnival and Nine Mornings. At those times, it's like the very air is buzzing with the excitement of the people.
  6. Racism is not an issue. Growing up, racism was something you read about or saw in the news. Skin color was just a color, not something that defined a person. And no one bats an eye if two people with different complexions get married. Sadly, that is not the case here. And one day, when I have children, they'll have to deal with being bi-racial.
  7. The food. I'm going to make myself hungry just thinking about breadfruit, freshly made fruit juice, plumrose, well-cooked fish, rice and stew peas, coconut dumpling ... ok I'm going to stop there. Let's just say, I'm yet to find anything as good as good Caribbean cooking.

I realized as I was writing this, that some of the things I like were diametrically opposite to each other. I like the convenience of doing business online or going through self-checkout lines here. But I also miss chatting with a cashier in the bank, who's known you since you were a kid. I love the variety afforded to me through malls and super-stores here. But I miss the small stores in St Vincent, where it's easy to ask the owner for a discount, since they're sitting right there and they'll give you the discount because they know your mother, or your sister was in school with their sister, or any other obscure relation.

It made me realize that I can't have it both ways. If I could wave a magic wand, I'd live 6 months in North Carolina and 6 months in St Vincent. Because when I'm here, I miss St Vincent. And I know that if I were in St Vincent, I'd miss North Carolina after a while. I don't think it's a case of 'the grass is always greener'. I think it's more of a recognition that each place is special in its own way and provides something that the other cannot.

So perhaps I should think a little less about how homesick I am and think more on how lucky I am to have two incredible, beautiful places to call home.



Monday, June 29, 2015

Friendship for a Lifetime

This weekend I was reminded of a well known poem that talks about friendship for a reason, a season or a lifetime. If you don't know it, here it is:

Reason, Season, or Lifetime

People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.

When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.

Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.

LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.
It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

— Unknown

This past weekend, two of my very good friends from the Abbey were getting married in Arkansas. Mr Caramel and I, along with my other friends from the Honors program, were invited. Needless to say, Arkansas is not close by. But all of us planned it out, and got in from all over - and I do mean all over - to be there at the wedding. People flew and drove in to Arkansas from North and South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, Missouri, etc. Did we do it just because we had extra time on our hands? Not exactly. But because we wanted to be there for our friend on the happiest day of his life. And also because we value any time that we can get together and have fun.

In all, we spent over 30 hours in a car and drove over 1700 miles. And you know what? It was completely worth it. Those hours of discussing random topics, singing along badly to the radio and laughing about absolutely nothing, just reminded me of what amazing friends I have. I have friends that I can go months without seeing but we pick up right where we left off when we do see each other. I have friends who are willing to sacrifice a weekend to be there for one of our group. 

When I look back on this past weekend, I won't remember how cramped I felt after sitting for so long or how tired I was. I'll remember how honored I felt to be there when two wonderful people promised to spend their lives together. I'll remember sitting around tables in various restaurants - some good, some not so good - discussing everything from theology to movies. I'll remember crossing the Mississippi river for the first time and watching beautiful lightning flash across the sky. I'll remember conversations at the lake. I'll remember how hard we laughed. 

So today, as I dragged my very tired self to work, I thought about how fortunate I am to have these friends. I met them 5 years ago, when I was new to America and they made Belmont Abbey feel like home. They're the first group of people that I truly felt ok to be myself around. Back then, we used to get together for study groups and trips into Charlotte. Now we get together for weddings and Homecomings. And I can easily see us getting together in the not too distant future for babies, 5 and 10 year reunions and any other excuse we can come up with to see each other. And I'm very confident when I say, that these are friends that I'll have for the rest of my life.

So here's to you Honors class of 2014, my American family. I love you guys. Thank you for being some of the best friends I'll ever have. See you for the next adventure.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I Said Yes

To my readers: this is going to be an absolutely sappy, reminiscing blog post. You have been warned.

Last year, Mr Caramel surprised me and proposed in exactly the way I had always dreamed of being proposed to. We were at the beach, watching the sun rise. And at the exact moment of sunrise, at 6:08 am (he checked the exact time), he pulled out a gorgeous ring and proposed to me. And as the sun was rising on a new day, I said yes to a new life. It was my dream proposal. I did what I always said that I wouldn't do - I cried. Yes, I was that cliche. I cried and took selfies and pictures of my brand new ring. Why did I cry? Because it was a moment that could not have been any more perfect. Because I had just agreed to marry the man who had swiftly become my best friend.

Now, I know that it's not yet our one year anniversary. But it's still pretty special to me. Because that weekend taught me so much. It taught me that I don't have to always be in control. It taught me that I need to just relax and enjoy the moment. It taught me that sometimes surprises can be amazing. Below is an excerpt of what I had written in my journal the night before Mr Caramel had proposed:

'I'm on the beach. At sunset. And you know what makes it even more perfect? I'm with the man I love. I love the beach. It's like my soul finds complete peace when I'm at the beach. I'm reminded that I'm just one tiny piece of a wonderfully huge universe and there's a mighty God who takes care of it all. He has a master plan for everything - including my life.

A year ago, I would not have ever imagined that I'd have fallen head over heels in love. That I'd be planning to spend the rest of my life with an amazing man, who's quickly become my best friend.

It reminds me of my favorite Bible verse, 'All things work together for good to those who love the Lord'. It reminds me to trust in God's plan for my life and to  not worry so much and not try to plan every detail on my own.

You know, in planning this trip, there was a small part of me that really hoped that there would have been a proposal this weekend. I don't think he's going to. And it's ok. I don't have to be in control of every last detail in my life. I don't have to plan everything. Because you know what? Sometimes the surprises along the way are the best part.'

Little did I know, that about 12 hours later, Mr Caramel really would propose. And there I was thinking that he couldn't surprise me.

One year later, I'm still working on trusting God. I'm still working on letting go of control sometimes. And Mr Caramel still manages to surprise me. Mr Caramel, thank you for asking me to be your wife. That was the best 'yes' I've ever said. I've never regretted it and I know that I never will. Thank you for teaching me, even when you didn't know that you were. Thank you for helping me to be a better person.




Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Close your eyes and jump

Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, hold on to your faith, and jump.

Growing up in the Caribbean, I always heard that America was the land of opportunity. It was the place where dreams come true. Anyone who wants it bad enough, can make it. I'm still not completely sold on it but so far America has been pretty decent to me. I got to attend an awesome college. I have an amazing job. And I'm married to a wonderful man. Now I'm going to try jumping again.

It's no secret that I love to bake. Especially cupcakes. I love trying out new flavors, coming up with new combinations and infusing standard recipes with alcohol. And if I do say so myself, my cupcakes taste pretty good. Over time, I've been toying with the idea of selling my cupcakes. And that annoying little naysayer voice in my head kept saying things like 'Who would buy your cupcakes? What makes you think you're good enough? Why would anyone pay for them?' But I've decided to quiet that voice, close my eyes and jump. The way I figure it, I don't have anything to lose. If it doesn't work out, I'm no worse off than I am now. I have nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Now, I'm not about to quit my job, buy tons of equipment or anything like that. Teaching is and always will be my first love. This is going to be something I do on the side - evenings, weekends, that sort of thing, and see where it goes. I'm going to give it my best shot. It might be that I don't sell a single cupcake, but I won't know until I try. I don't want to be left wondering. I want to know that I've always given life my all.

So, with that said, if any of my wonderful readers are in the market for great tasting cupcakes, let me know. I'd love to make something tasty for you.

Here I go. Jump!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dear Future Husbands of Tomorrow, My Sympathies

Unless you've been living under the same rock which I have been, you've probably heard of the latest singing sensation, Meghan Trainor. I'd heard of her in passing, especially for her hit 'All About that Bass'. And I had heard of her gaining praise for being a feminist (something she apparently may or may not actually identify as). Anyway, this morning I was lounging and enjoying the beginning of my long weekend with the Today show on in the background. Somewhere along the way I started paying attention when Meghan Trainor started to perform her hit song Dear Future Husband. In the crowd, singing along, were numerous little girls obviously not yet out of elementary school. I was perturbed by both the lyrics and the fact that this song is clearly going to have an impact on young girls.

Now let me set the record straight, I am a firm believer that women are equal with men. Equal. Not less than. Not better than. Equal. Different but equal. I think that women and girls should have the same opportunities. Women are just as smart and as capable. But I don't think that it's right that girls should grow up thinking that they are better than men. Because that's not equality. In recent years, I've had the opportunity to be around many different children and it's concerning to me to hear girls say things like: 'Girls are better than boys' or 'Girls are smarter than boys' and that 'Boys are stupid'. And I can tell the difference between 'Ewww, boys have coooties, gross' and 'Girls are not just equal but better'.

And this song just reminded me of this. In her song, Meghan Trainor sings of what she wants from her future husband. She says if he treats her right, then she'll be the perfect wife. Am I the only one who sees a problem with this attitude? You do what I want, then I'll be a good (I'm using good, because it's not possible to be perfect) wife. What about being a good wife because it's the right thing to do? She also states that her husband should not ever disagree with her, he must always do the apologizing and that he should accept that she is always right. If he does these things (along with many other demands), then he would get 'special loving'. Does that sound like the making of a good marriage? That one person is always right? That one person should always do the apologizing?

Now, I am not saying that men should walk all over women. Far from. I enjoy when Mr Caramel opens doors for me and does nice things for me. One person being treated better than another is not equality. And before you tell me that it's just a song, think about the fact that songs become popular because they usually reflect feelings that are decently popular with their listening audience. And it's undeniable that repeating words frequently have an impact on the persons saying and listening to them. If young girls are thinking that this is the way future marriages should be, divorce lawyers should be very happy.

Think of it this way too. Suppose we took Meghan Trainor's lyrics and changed them ever so slightly, so that it was a man speaking of a woman:

Dear future wife,
If you wanna get that special lovin'
Tell me I'm handsome each and every night

After every fight
Just apologize
And maybe then I'll let you try and rock my body right
Even if I was wrong
You know I'm never wrong
Why disagree?
Why, why disagree?

Wouldn't we start yelling about misogyny and warping the thinking of young boys? We'd start talking about how unfair that is to women and how women deserve better treatment. Not every man is a misogynist. Not every man is responsible for the mistreatment of women throughout history and the world. And not every man should have to bend over backwards to please a woman. 

Marriage is a partnership of two equal persons who become one in the sight of God. No one person in a marriage is more important or more deserving of respect. Not the man. Not the woman. They should both strive to make the other person happy. They should both try to be the best spouse that they can be, even if the other person forgot the flowers. They should both apologize and be willing to accept that they are wrong sometimes.

Dear Future husbands of tomorrow, if your future spouses all believe Meghan Trainor's lyrics, you have my sympathies.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Caribbean-ish Barbecue Sauce

I call this barbecue sauce 'Caribbean-ish' because it's based on a Caribbean recipe (and the taste reminds me of home) but I make some alterations since I can't always get my Caribbean seasonings. Anyway, this barbecue sauce has been a huge hit with Mr Caramel and with anyone I make it for so I thought I'd share it. It's super easy to make and keeps well in the fridge for weeks.

Ingredients


  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, finely minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced (or 3 tsp ground ginger)
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rum
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp cream sherry 
  • 2 tbsp chili powder
  • about 2 tsp black pepper
  • about 1 tsp white pepper

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Stir in the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until tender.
  3. Reduce heat to low. Mix in ketchup, brown sugar, 1/2 cup of the rum, tomato paste, vinegar, cream sherry, chili powder, black and white pepper. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes, until well combined and heated through. Stir in the remaining rum.
This recipe makes about 3 cups. It's great on chicken, pork, ribs, etc. Try it and let me know how much you love it, because I know you will.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Is it really all downhill from here?

It was my birthday this weekend. And I had an amazing time. I also did a lot of thinking. Maybe it's the whole growing old and reflective thing. Many people wished me happy birthday (which I do appreciate) but then so many of them felt the need to tack on that it was 'all downhill' after 18, 21 or some other arbitrary number. And it got me to thinking.

The phrase 'it's all downhill from here' can be a very contradictory phrase. If a person is talking about having concluded the hard part of a task, then 'it's all downhill from here' can imply that the hard work is over and now they can just coast downhill. In that case, it's a good thing. On the other hand, it can imply that you've gotten to the summit or climax of something and there's nothing else that can be as good or as exciting. When 'it's all downhill from here' was being tacked on to 'happy birthday' it felt as though it were the second meaning - that all the excitement was over and that there was nothing else wonderful to look forward to.

And I thoroughly disagree with that. I just turned 25. While we cannot predict the future, if all things are equal, I have more life to live than I have already lived. Most of my life is still ahead of me. And that, in and of itself, is something exciting. My life is not perfect, not by any means. But I think it's still pretty great. At 25, I have a wonderful husband who tells me that he loves me every morning. I have my dream job, with amazing students and a great boss. I have a cozy apartment that I love coming home to. And I have the best friends I could ever ask for. To me, that's pretty great and I am so thankful for all these things.

But I have so much more in life to look forward to still. I'm looking forward to being a mother one day. To Mr Caramel and I buying a home together. To getting a dog. To buying a car where I like something else in it besides its price. To showing Mr Caramel the beautiful island where I grew up. I still have so many dreams left to fulfill. I still have so much life left to live.

So, no. Life is not all downhill from here, now that I've lived quarter of a century. In no sense. I'm not going to be coasting downhill because all the hard work is over. I've still got a lot of work to do. And I'm not going to be going downhill because I've seen the best that life has to offer me.

As I wrote this, I was reminded of a relatively old song, Natasha Bedingfield's 'Unwritten'. I am still so excited about life - what it is for me now and all that's left to come. And I hope that I never lose that excitement. I hope that I never stop dancing in the rain or skipping in parking lots. I hope that I never stop looking forward to what's unwritten in my life. I hope that my life is not downhill from here.

Here's to another quarter of a century!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Interracial Marriages

Over the last week or so, I've been researching a topic that might tick some people off (if they're ticked off, oh well). I've been looking for data on interracial marriages in North America, the Caribbean and Europe.

Last week, someone decided to question and criticize why I had married someone who was not from the Caribbean and someone who was not black. That prompted me to start looking for some solid facts about interracial marriage in the United States. From there, I decided to compare it with data from Canada, Europe and the Caribbean.

So here's what I found. In much of the United States, interracial marriages were illegal until 1967. Yes, you read that correctly. Until June 1967, it was illegal in many states to marry someone of a different race. I'm not going to go into the whole Supreme Court case but I think it's shocking that had I lived only fifty years ago, I would have been unable to marry Mr Caramel. Since then, there has been a steady increase of interracial marriages. According to the US Census data, interracial marriages accounted for 8.4 % of all marriages in 2010 and 15.1% of the new marriages that year. Statistically, Caucasians were the least likely to marry someone of another race (9.4% of white people married someone from another race). Asians were the most likely to marry someone else (27.7%). There are wonderfully enthusiastic articles that are cheery about the fact that the approval rates for interracial marriages are at an all time high. Apparently, 87% of Americans approve of interracial marriages and 60% would approve of it if someone in their own family married someone from another race.

Now isn't that just lovely? According to a 2015 estimate, the United States has a population of just over 320 million people. So, by my calculations, there are over 4 million people who do not approve of interracial marriage under any circumstance and 128 million people who would not be happy if their family member married someone of a different race. Isn't that cheery? Shouldn't we be happy with these statistics? While I was doing research for this post, I came across so many different websites that spewed ignorance and hate and purported that interracial marriage went against the Bible (it doesn't!), that it was unnatural (errr.... what?) or that it was 'racial genocide' (I don't even have words). Let's look at some more recent specific examples. In 2010 (just 5 years ago), a justice of the peace in Louisiana refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple. And in 2011, a Baptist Church in Kentucky voted to bar mixed-race couples from joining the church.

Needless to say, that I was quite shocked by these findings. I decided to widen my search and see what the situation is like in other countries. In Canada, 92% of people approve of interracial marriages. In France, 11.8% of all marriages are interracial (3.4% higher than the U.S.). In Northern Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland), interracial marriages account for 11% - 25% of all marriages.

But it was when I turned to the statistics from England and the Caribbean that a light bulb really went on. In England, there were never any laws against interracial marriages and records of such marriages predate the 17th century. To me, the stunning and inspiring fact was that England does not even look at race or ethnicity when examining data for marriages. The same holds true in St Vincent, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Yes, these countries examine the ethnic makeup of their populations but they don't consider it an important variable in marriage data.

To me, therein lies the problem. Why should it even matter what are the races of persons getting married? Do we measure their heights? Their weights? Their favorite colors? Or how about what kinds of cars they drive? No. That's absurd you might say. Why? Because those things have no bearing whatsoever on the marriage. So why does race? Because for way too many people, the differences in skin color are so important that we have to question and record it.

So let's get back to Mr Caramel and I. We're different. He likes the color red. He's 5' 8". He likes to play computer games. He's happier with an Excel spreadsheet than with a pot or pan. My favorite color is pink. I'm vertically challenged. I like reading historical fiction. And I like to dance and sing badly while I bake. Oh yeah, his complexion is more like vanilla ice-cream and he's Southern American while I more resemble chocolate and I'm from the Caribbean. But we love God and each other and that's more important than any of our differences.

Maybe one day, race would be so trivial that people would wonder why it even mattered. Maybe one day, future generations would wonder why we were so petty and shallow as to care what race someone mattered. Maybe that's overly optimistic. But 50 or 60 years ago it was overly optimistic to think that persons of different races could even hope to get married. And to the narrow-minded person who scornfully asked why I would marry a white American, I say that it's so simple. Because I fell in love with his heart, not his skin.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fishing for Quadrilaterals

My students are currently learning about quadrilaterals in Math. I don't know about you but it can be hard to keep all of them straight: rhombus, trapezoid, parallelogram. So I decided to make it fun. After we spent one math lesson introducing them, we went fishing. And I decided to share it since I'm sure I'm not the only teacher who's trying to make quadrilaterals fun.

You'll need a dowel for each child (I used 12 inch one), yarn, magnets, paperclips and cutouts of a variety of quadrilaterals. I printed and laminated sheets of quadrilaterals. Just do a search and you'll find a lot of them. I like the colored ones because I think they're more fun. Then I cut them out and put a paper clip on each one. For the fishing rods I let my pipsqueaks decorate them. Then I tied a length of yarn to one end and attached a magnet to the end of the yarn.

Of course there are several ways to play this game, but here's the way I did it. I would give the name of a quadrilateral or a clue for a quadrilateral (e.g. all four sides are the same length) and my students would have to 'fish' for that quadrilateral. Anything else gets thrown back.

There was a lot of giggling, a few unfounded claims of 'you're cheating' but most importantly, they were using the correct names for the shapes and recognizing which shape they were supposed to be 'fishing' for. They had fun. They were learning. In my books, that's a win!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Easy Cheery Cherry Brandy Cake

Tomorrow, Mr Caramel and I are having two wonderful friends over for dinner. I was part of the Honors Fellowship at Belmont Abbey College and I made some wonderful, wonderful friends who are more like a quirky family than anything else. Anyway, I'm having two of them over and of course, I need to cook up all kinds of yummy stuff. In preparation I decided to make my easy (in other words, middle of a long work week) version of my cheery cherry brandy cake. Before you ask, it's cheery because of how much alcohol is in it. The easy part comes in because I am not afraid of using a cake mix when I'm pressed for time and dressing it up. (I do have a from-scratch version of this cake that tastes slightly different. I'll post it when I get around to it.) This time around I made a 13" by 9" rectangle cake but this recipe also makes simply scrumptious cupcakes.

Anyway, enough of my chatting, here's my recipe.

Ingredients

1 box of white cake mix (I like the ones with pudding in the mix)
10 oz bottle of Maraschino cherries
1/4 cup water
about 1/4 cup of brandy
eggs as called for in the cake mix directions
oil as called for in the cake mix directions
1 tsp cherry extract

Directions


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees for dark or non-stick pans or 350 degrees for regular pans. Spray cake tin with cooking spray, or line cupcake cups.
  2. Drain cherries. Reserve liquid. Chop cherries.
  3. Add water to the liquid you drained from the cherries. Add enough brandy to bring the liquid to one cup (about 1/4 cup).
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine cake mix, liquid, eggs, oil and cherry extract. Using an electric mixer, mix on medium speed for about 2 - 3 minutes or until well combined.
  5. Add cherries and fold in.
  6. Pour batter into cake tin and bake according to the directions on the cake mix box.
Ingredients for Topping

1 can of cherry frosting
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup brandy (yes, I did say 1/4 cup)
Maraschino cherries (optional)

Using an electric mixer combine all the ingredients and mix until smooth. Add more brandy if the frosting is too thick or more powdered sugar if it's too runny (only add a little at a time). Spread on cool cake or pipe onto cooled cupcakes. Feel free to decorate with cherries.


It's been a long week and it's close to my bedtime so I just spread the frosting (yes, the cake is still in the pan) and added some sprinkles. 

Even though it's super easy and quick it is really, really tasty and it tastes like you've slaved on it for hours. The only hard part - trying not to eat too much. Tell me how this works for you and I promise to share the fancier version of this recipe soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Caramel Spice Breakfast Muffins

Mr Caramel and I got invited to join some dear friends of ours for brunch after Mass tomorrow. Besides the fact that they are wonderful company, I'm so happy for the invite because it gives me an excuse to make something yummy. I got the inspiration for Caramel Spice Muffins from the Betty Crocker website but I've tweaked it, added just a little alcohol (of course) and made it my own. So of course, I had to share it.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup caramel topping
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp cream sherry
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Topping:

1/2 cup melted butter (or some spray butter)
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
caramel topping


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat 16 muffin cups with cooking spray.
  2. Beat butter, sugar, caramel topping, eggs, milk and cream sherry on low speed. (The mixture will look really strange at this point, but don't worry.)
  3. Stir in flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. (The mixture will still look really strange. But trust yourself, don't dump your batter.)
  4. Fill muffin cups to about 2/3 full. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
  5. Meanwhile, mix sugar and pumpkin pie spice together in a small bowl. 
  6. Remove muffins from pan. Roll in melted butter, or spray with spray butter. Sprinkle with sugar mixture. Drizzle with caramel topping.
Tip: If you don't have pumpkin pie spice you can combine 4 tbsp cinnamon, 4 tsp nutmeg, 4 tsp ground ginger and 3 tsp allspice. 


These muffins are very, very tasty and just might be one of my favorites. Try them and let me know what you think.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Easter Egg Crafts

Even if you're Catholic and celebrating 40 days of Easter, the time for Easter eggs has passed. They've been decorated and the dye cleaned up - hopefully. What do you do with the Easter eggs that you've painstakingly decorated? Maybe you've eaten a few of them, but more than likely they get tossed out. This year, I finally decided to work smarter, not harder. I decided to buy artificial eggs for my students to dye. They were pretty cheap at Walmart ($1.29 per dozen to be precise). This saved me from boiling dozens of eggs - not something I consider to be fun. I didn't have to worry about them cracking and most importantly, they wouldn't end up in the trash as they could be used for further crafts.

I've decided to share the crafts which my students and I did using those left-over eggs. Do I need to say that you can't do these crafts with real eggs? I do? Ok. Don't do these crafts with real eggs. Anyway, they were really easy (if I can do it, anyone can), they were super cute and really affordable.

Spring Wreath

The first craft which we did was a spring wreath. The equipment needed: a wire wreath frame (I used a 12 inch one), a hot glue gun, a bow (like one that you'd pop onto a gift) and some artificial grass. All of these can be found in a craft store or the craft aisle.

First we glued the bow to what would become the top of our wreath. I know they have that little sticky patch, but trust me and put some glue. Then we liberally spread glue on the wire rims of the wreath and stuck down the artificial glue. This is what it looked like at this point:
Then, using more hot glue, we stuck down our Easter eggs. We started on one side, near to the bow, and kept sticking on eggs until we got to the other side of the bow. In all, we used 16 eggs. Then my students added extra grass wherever they thought needed it. Finally, they gave it a 'hair cut' (they loved this part) to just tidy up their wreath and cut off any straggly blades of grass. 

This was the final product: 

 I think it looks pretty neat, if I do say so myself. My students were quite proud of themselves.

Bird's Nest Craft

After doing the wreath, we still had 8 eggs left over. So we decided to make mini bird's nest. This was a really easy craft to do with simply adorable results.

For this one I picked up two 6 inch miniature twig wreaths and two little bird figurines and two 6 inch white foam discs. I got all of these in the craft aisle for just about $18. (In case you haven't caught on by now, I have two students, thus the need for two of everything.)

First, we trimmed the foam discs to fit as the base of our nests. Then my students had a blast painting them brown and different shades of green to look 'natural'. We fit the wreaths over the bases. Then my students went to town gluing on the grass that we had left over from our previous craft. They jut about covered the bases and then added a few pieces onto the twig wreaths. My students chose not to stick down the eggs as they wanted to be able to play with their nests and move the eggs around. If you're planning on using these nests just as decorations, you might want to attach the eggs. Finally, they perched the birds on the nests.


And there you go. Both these crafts cost just about $25. We had lots of fun making them and I didn't have to feel guilty about throwing out eggs that we worked so hard to decorate. So keep them in mind for next year or take advantage of those post-Easter clearance sales and make something cute for spring.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns,
Hot cross buns,
One a penny,
Two a penny,
Hot cross buns.

For anyone who does not know what hot cross buns are (my sympathies to you), they are simply delicious semi-sweet buns, traditionally baked for Good Friday.

Mini History Lesson: Hot cross buns have a very long history. They are usually made with raisins or currants, with a cross on top. Queen Elizabeth I tried to outlaw them (don't ask me why). Hot cross buns were only permitted at burials, Good Friday and Christmas. King James I also tried to ban these delicious buns. Although this makes no sense, it led to them being more popular around the time of Good Friday and Easter. Hot cross buns remain popular in the UK, the Caribbean, New Zealand, India and Canada. Legend has it that if you share hot cross buns with someone, it will ensure your friendship in the upcoming year.

Ok, that's the end of the history lesson. When I was growing up, my mom always made enough hot cross buns for the feeding of the five thousand. As long as it was Good Friday, my mom was baking hot cross buns. When I asked why she made so many, she said that there would always be people to eat them. And she was right. Everyone got some, from the parish priest to the beggar outside the church. Neither my sister or I liked raisins so she made them without. They were the only things that we ate on Good Friday. Looking back, I'm not sure that they should have counted as fasting or penance on Good Friday because they were SO GOOD!! Now that I have my own home, I am still baking hot cross buns (without raisins). While I don't make enough for five thousand, I am happy that I have loved ones to share with. 

This is not a difficult recipe, but it is time consuming. This is not something you can whip up an hour before eating. You have been warned! Now, without further delay, my recipe (makes about 25 buns):

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 9 cups flour
  • 2 tbsp instant yeast
  • 2 large eggs
Scald milk and butter (in other words, heat but do not boil). Let cool for a few minutes then pour into a large bowl. Add sugar and salt. Stir.

In separate bowl, combine flour and yeast. Stir 6 cups of the flour mixture into the milk mixture. Add beaten egg. Mix in the remaining flour. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5-8 minutes. The dough will be somewhat sticky. Lightly coat a bowl with cooking spray and put dough into it. Cover with a towel and let it rise for about 1 hour. (Work on your patience meanwhile.)

Punch down dough (fun part) and divide it into 2 balls. Let it rest for 10 minutes. While your dough is resting, gather ingredients for the filling:
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • Optional: about 2/3 cup of raisins
Combine the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. 

Turn your dough onto a floured surface and flatten. Sprinkle with the sugar and spices and some raisins (if you're using them). Fold the dough over onto itself, as though closing a book. Flatten it again. Repeat this about 3 or 4 times. You do not have to use all of the spices and raisins. Pinch off golf-ball sized pieces of dough and form into balls. Place two inches apart on greased baking sheets. Cover them with a towel again and go back to working on your patience for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. After your dough is finished resting, you can go ahead and pop them into the oven or you can use a clean pair of scissors to make two perpendicular cuts (a cross) on the top of each bun before you bake them.


Bake for about 12-13 minutes. 

While the buns are baking, combine about 1/2 cup hot water with about 1 cup granulated sugar. Stir in the sugar gradually until no more sugar can dissolve. When the buns are finished baking, and still hot, brush on your sugar-water to make a nice gooey glaze.



You can end here and enjoy your hot cross buns while they're warm or work on your patience some more, in order to add an icing cross. Or you can do what I do, have one while they're hot and then let the others cool.

To make the icing, combine about 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, 1 egg white and a splash of milk. Add more powdered sugar if needed to make the icing thick.When the buns are completely cool, (I repeat, completely cool), pipe a cross on each bun. If the buns are not cool, the icing will run. 

Finally, after hours of patience, go ahead and eat your hot cross buns. Don't forget to share them with your friends. 

Happy Easter!


Sunday, March 29, 2015

I Didn't Give up Chocolate for Lent

Lent has come to a close. We are now into Holy Week. As Catholics, most of us are reflecting on the Passion and death of Jesus and are looking forward to His glory at Easter. And if we're really honest, we'd admit that there's a part of us that's looking forward to the more trivial things: flowers in church again, meat on Friday, an end to fasting, etc. Come on, you know it's true.

Another thing that we think about as we get closer to the end of Lent is whether our Lenten sacrifices really did make us better people. Maybe giving up the soda, chocolate, sweets or Facebook really did help us. Maybe it did help us to develop a sacrificial spirit or to spend more time in prayer. This year I didn't give up chocolate. I didn't give up sweets. I didn't give up Facebook or desserts or soda (wait,, I don't drink soda anyway). I didn't give up anything tangible.

Insert Disclaimer Here: This is not in anyway making light of or putting down people who gave up any of the aforementioned items.

Good. Now that we got that out of the way, here's what I did give up: Worry. I gave up worrying for Lent. For those of you who know me well, you know that I'm a major worry-wart. I worry way too much. So this Lent, I decided to give up worrying. My great-grandmother used to say that you can't worry and pray at the same time. Her philosophy was that if you're worrying you're not praying, and if you're praying then you shouldn't worry. It might sound a little simplistic but it's largely true. When we worry, we are not trusting God to take care of our circumstances. One of my favorite saints is St Teresa of Avila. She once said 'Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. Patience obtains all things. God alone suffices.' I had that quote on my bedroom wall for a number of years and I finally decided to put it into practice.

Now I'm going to be honest. I didn't suddenly become some totally zen, placid, unruffled individual. I slipped up. But I'm a lot less of a worry-wart than I was when Lent started. Instead of worrying, I'd pray. In situations where I would usually have worried, I forced myself to stop and pray and ask God to help me trust Him instead. And it's been wonderful. Even Mr Caramel (as one of my friends dubbed him) has noticed a difference. I didn't realize how much my worrying was noticeable. When Mr Caramel mentioned that he noticed that I was worrying less, it made me think. It made me think that I didn't ever want my incessant worry to affect our marriage. I didn't want to pass on my worrying habits to any children that we may one day have.

This is not to say that I didn't have many opportunities to worry. More popped up than usual. For example, Mr Caramel's car decided that it needed repairs - over $1000 worth of repairs. Instead of worrying, I trusted God. Thankfully, our tax refund came through and helped to pay for that. Yes, we needed the tax refund money for something else that we are desperately saving for, but I'm trusting that we'll get the funds we need. There were so many instance this Lent where I think it would have been understandable for me to worry, but I chose to pray instead. And I feel more at peace now.

So now that Easter is around the corner, people will be returning to their sweets, Facebook, Twitter, alcoholic beverages. But I will not be returning to my worry. I gave it up for Lent and I do not intend to fall back into that bad habit.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Boozy Banana Cake

This recipe reminds me of home in the Caribbean since it includes both bananas and alcohol. I had some bananas that had to be used sooner rather than later so I decided to make a boozy banana cake this weekend.

Ingredients

For Cake

1 1/2 cups butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
5 eggs
1 cup mashed bananas (about 2 large bananas)
2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp brandy (optional)
4 tbsp golden rum
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup sour cream

For Rum Glaze

(The rum glaze is optional but it adds a lovely, sticky, tasty glaze to the cake, especially if you're going to eat it while it's warm.)

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup rum

Method


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare (grease and flour or coat with cooking spray) a 10 inch Bundt pan or two 8 inch round cake pans.
  2. Beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. 
  3. Beat in eggs one at a time.
  4. Beat in the mashed bananas, vanilla, brandy and rum.
  5. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt over the batter. Mix on low speed until no streaks of flour remain.
  6. Fold in the sour cream.
  7. Pour into cake pan(s), (The batter will be somewhat runny.)
  8. Bake for 40-50 minutes for round cakes or 60-80 minutes for a Bundt cake.
  9. While the cake is baking, prepare the rum glaze:
    • Combine the butter, water and sugars in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
    • Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 5 minutes.
    • Remove from heat and stir in the rum.
  10. Remove cake from the oven and place on wire racks. Allow to cool slightly for about 5 minutes. 
  11. Poke hoes in the cake using a toothpick or small skewer and pour about 1/4 cup of the glaze over the cake.
  12. Allow to cool for 5 more minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and place on a platter.
  13. Spoon more glaze over the cake, little by little.
I know it seems like a lot of work but this is actually an easy, non-fussy cake that tastes quite delicious.


Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

St Patrick's Day Shenanigans

Not to state the obvious here, but yesterday was St Patrick's Day. And my classroom was not immune to some St Patrick's Day shenanigans.

My students are still young enough, innocent enough, sweet enough or whatever to believe that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy and leprechauns are real. I don't know when but some time before I started teaching them, it became 'tradition' that the leprechaun made an appearance at school. So I inherited being the classroom leprechaun. Now, I'm not going to argue whether or not children should believe that these characters exist. But I did have fun pretending to be the classroom leprechaun. It was quite enjoyable to stay late after they had left on St Patrick's Day Eve (is that a thing?) to do 'mischief' and hide 'treasure'.

When my students got to school on St Patrick's Day, they made a quick beeline for their classroom, just knowing that their leprechaun would have been there. (On a side note, this reminds me of the child-like faith that we are called to have in our Heavenly Father.) When they got there, they were greeted with a note from Leppy the Leprechaun stuck to their door. The note informed them that he had done all kinds of mischief, which included: changing the date on the whiteboard to 'Sunday March 17, 3015', putting green water in the Venus fly trap, hiding their chairs, flipping one of the computer screens upside down and putting green food coloring in the jug they use to water their plants (so when they filled it, the water was green).



As they cleaned up after the very naughty leprechaun, they found green notes giving them clues to where his treasure was hidden. When they did find his 'treasure', they were so thrilled to get chocolate coins that they didn't notice that the coins said 'Bunny Bucks' (the leprechaun treasure supply store, aka Walmart, did not have any of the chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil). 

In the afternoon, we indulged in a painting session to paint leprechauns. I think this was a great success especially as my clothes remained paint-free.


My students apparently can't wait to see what Leppy has in store for them next year. I don't think that I would be speaking out of turn to say that Leppy enjoyed his St Patrick's Day immensely and is also looking forward to next year.

Friday, March 13, 2015

10 Year Old Refugee Can Still Sing

Yesterday I was home sick from work, feeling at least a little sorry for myself. While I was lying in bed, scrolling through Facebook, I came across a video that immediately made me forget my self-pity.

In the video, a ten-year old Iraqi refugee named Myriam, was talking to a reporter from a Christian television show. In it she speaks about missing her home, her school and her friends. More importantly, she talks about forgiveness and the way she still trusts God and has hope in God. At the end of the video she sings a song about joy. Now it's one thing for me to describe it, it's another for you to look at it. So take seven minutes and see the video for yourself.


Isn't that just heart-wrenching? The children at the end of the video can still laugh and smile and play. And they're not alone. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there were 16.7 million refugees at the end of 2013 (and we can safely assume that the numbers have not gone down). Of those refugees, about 50% of those are children. So, some quick math tells me that there are over 8 million children like Myriam around the world: children who have had to leave their homes, their friends, family members, schools and everything that's familiar to them. 

Now, I don't know about you, but my conscience started pricking me just a bit. Here is this child whose world has been turned upside down. But she still radiates joy. It got me to thinking about how often I complain or whine. If you ask me, we're a society of complainers. We complain about too many red lights. We complain that the line at the drive-through is too long. We complain that it's too hot, too cold, too sunny, too rainy. We complain that the remote is all the way on the other side of the room or that the latest season of our favorite show isn't on Netflix yet. We complain that the grocery store is out of our favorite brand. There are entire websites devoted to people posting their 'First World Problems'. There are songs that poke fun at our habitual whining (Weird Al Yaankovic - First World Problems). And we raise children to be the new generation of whiners: sharpening my pencil is sooooo much work, I have too much homework, there's too much/not enough ketchup in my sandwich, I didn't feel like going to school today, I didn't get a long enough turn on the swing on the playground, the line for the slide is too long, etc, etc.

Do you see what I mean? Here we are complaining about the most inconsequential things and there are children who can still sing and find joy in situations that we cannot begin to imagine. I was reminded of Anne Frank, another child who was also driven out of her home years ago. While she was hiding in a cramped attic she was able to say 'Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy'. If Anne Frank and Myriam can find beauty and joy, why can't we? 

So the next time you're tempted to complain about your DVR being full or some other petty problem, stop. Take a moment and say a prayer for the 8 million child refugees and their families. And then find something to smile about instead.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Butter Spritz Cookies with a Hint of Rum

I love to bake. And I love to bake with alcohol. I've been asked to share some of my recipes so here's my first one.

I got a cookie press as one of my wedding gifts and since then I keep looking for excuses to use it. These spritz cookies are really delicious, at least in my opinion. I added just a hint of rum. You can increase or decrease the rum content to suit your tastes.

Ingredients

1 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 2/3 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp rum (I like using golden rum)
Optional: food coloring


  1. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Beat in the egg then stir in the vanilla and rum.
  3. Combine the flour and salt.
  4. Cover dough and chill for at least 1 hour.
  5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  6. If you decide to color your cookies, divide your batter into bowls and add a different color to each bowl and stir in gently.
  7. Press dough out onto ungreased cookie sheets. (I wipe out my cookie press each time I change colors to avoid a muddy looking batter)
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden.
  9. Transfer cookies to wire cooling racks and cool completely.
This recipe makes about 2 1/2 - 3 dozen cookies. If you store them in an airtight container they usually last about a week or so.


The last time I made them, I made green four-leaf clovers, pink flowers and plain sand dollars.

Try them and let me know how they turn out for you.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Change the World

I love listening to music. I'm usually listening to music: when I'm alone at home, when I'm in the car, when I'm cooking or baking. (Save the lecture on the value of silence for another time.) Every so often, a song makes me thinking. I was listening to Pandora and Carrie Underwood's song 'Change' came on.

It got me to thinking about the little ways in which we can make a difference. Not all of us are going to cure deadly diseases or become great world leaders. But we can all make a positive change in the corner of the world in which we live. It got me thinking about things that we can do to make a difference:


  1. Smile. We always hear about this one. And it's true. A smile does make a difference. Smiles are contagious. 
  2. Leave your loose change at the self-check out or vending machine. It's not a lot. I mean, if it's your loose change it's usually less than $1. But it'll make someone feel quite lucky.
  3. Send a letter to someone that you haven't spoken with in a while. And yes, I did say letter. It's not going to take you forever and it'll only cost you a stamp. Come on. How excited do you feel when you get something in your mail box that's neither junk nor a bill?
  4. Share something inspirational on Facebook instead of a link to bad news or your thousandth selfie.
  5. Buy someone flowers for no specific reason. I'm not talking about an expensive bouquet of long-stemmed roses from the florist. Walmart and Bi-Lo sell very pretty bouquets for somewhere close to $5. They're inexpensive but I dare someone not to smile when they get a bouquet.
  6. Help someone who looks like they need a hand. Whether it's opening a door for an elderly person or picking up a dropped toy for a parent with their hands full. I'm sure that they'd be grateful.
  7. Leave an anonymous kind note for someone to find. Think of how happy you would be to find a lovely note on your desk when you're having a rotten day.
  8. Pay someone a compliment. And I don't mean something like telling them how much you like their new haircut when really it looks like they got their hair cut by a blindfolded two year old. Look for something genuinely nice to say (it'll do you good to look for the good in others too).
  9. Donate something you haven't worn in a while to Goodwill or a thrift shop. Come on, if you haven't worn it in the last two years, do you really need it? And while you're at it, how about donate a book that you haven't read in a while to your local library.
  10. Leave some candy or baked goods for your neighbor. Just make sure you don't leave it where a pet can get it or that they're not away on vacation.
And I'm sure that if you think about it you can come up with more ways to make someone smile.



Thursday, March 5, 2015

Teaching: Not What I Do but Who I Am

Today I was reading an article on Helen Keller with my students. (Their curriculum must really like her, she shows up three times in their text books.) Every time I read the Helen Keller story, I am so touched and amazed by her teacher, Anne Sullivan. That is not to say that Helen wasn't wonderful, determined, etc but I think her teacher was a very special person. And today, that story got me thinking about my own identity as a teacher.

I always used to say that I would never be a teacher. My mom is a teacher. Two grandparents were teachers. And let's not get into the extended family. I used to hear that teaching ran in the family and that I was destined to be a teacher. So naturally, I decided that I would never be a teacher. Besides, I saw the hard work that my mom did, working long after school ended. Additionally there were the 'helpful' (ahem ... ignorant) persons who used to tell me that I was too smart to be a teacher, that I would be wasting my intelligence if I became a teacher. So it was settled. I was not going to be a teacher. End of discussion.

I graduated high school and I had a long list of careers that I did not want to pursue. Doctor? Nope. Lawyer? Definitely nope. Anything in business? Nope. Anything that required sitting at a desk for most of the day? Nope. Wonderful. I knew what I didn't want to do but I wasn't sure what exactly I did want to do. Somewhere along the line I stumbled into the Teachers' College in St Vincent. Honestly, not because I was sure that I wanted to teach. I still wasn't sold on that idea. But I had to start somewhere and it was what I considered the best of my bad options. And go figure. The joke was on me. I fell head over heels in love with teaching.

Fast forward a few years. I was just starting out in my current job. And both 'Caletra' and 'Ferdinand' were too long, too foreign or just too much for my students (5 and 7 years old at the time) to wrap their little American mouths around. So they started calling me Teacher. And it stuck. That's it. Teacher. I get amused looks when I take them on trips and persons hear them calling me Teacher. Pipsqueak #2 (my younger student) has asked me if I have any other names besides Teacher. And forget trying to teach whether the word 'teacher' is a proper noun (capitalized) or a common noun (no capital letter). Let's just use another example for that lesson, shall we?

But you know what? I like it. I like being called Teacher. Because that's who I am. It's not all of who I am. I do have an identity outside of my classroom but being a teacher is a huge part of my life.

I'll never amass a fortune from teaching. I might not make it into the history books. There might not movies about my life. There'll probably never be buildings or streets named in my honor. I might not get a Noble Prize or inducted into any Hall of Fame. Possible? Maybe. Probable? Nah. But it's ok. Really it is. I don't need all of that. I'm happy with knowing that every day I give of my best and that I'm shaping one teeny, minute corner of the world. There's a quote that I came across. It says that teachers touch the future (Author Unknown). There is another quote that says 'what teachers write on the blackboard of life, can never be erased'. And I believe that. I still remember my kindergarten teacher. We all have teachers that we remember or still talk about, for better or for worse. I don't know how my students will remember me. I can't know for certain how my influence will impact their lives. But I hope that it's in a good way. Teachers have such amazing jobs, that brim both with potential and with responsibility.

I don't know how long my students will call me 'Teacher'. As they get older, they might gradually start calling me by my actual name. But I'm not in any hurry for that day to come.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Books ... books ... books!!

Today was National Read Across America Day. Thursday is International Book Day. And anyone who knows me, knows how much I love books. So of course, this is the perfect excuse to write a post on one of my favorite topics.

For as long as I can remember, I've loved reading. I was the geeky kid that read everything, from the encyclopedia to the list of ingredients on boxes, from the dictionary to the phone book. For me, I loved learning more and more. But it was learning in the most magical way. My favorite books were the Children's Illustrated Classics. They carried me to different places and times. I traveled to the Netherlands with 'Hans Brinker', to the time after the Crusades in England with 'Ivanhoe' and 'Robin Hood' and Canada with 'Anne of Green Gables'. I wanted to learn more about the time periods and the countries in which the books were set. After reading these classics, I would turn to my encyclopedias and other non-fiction books to see if the details were accurate. Besides learning about the dikes of the Netherlands and King Richard the Lionhearted, I also learned valuable life lessons. 'Pollyanna' taught me to always look for something to smile about. 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm' taught me about being determined to achieve my goals. I devoured mythology, not just Greek and Roman, but also Norse, Native American and Indian. And I learned to appreciate the beauty of different cultures. For a girl growing up in a very small island, my books opened up worlds that I could only dream about. My books taught me about countries that I still hope to see one day: England, Ireland, Greece, Austria, Switzerland and so many more.

My 7 year old self reading 'Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm'

I still love to curl up with a good book.There's nothing quite like curling up on my couch with a blanket and a well-written book. My weekly trips to the library are just delightful. Historical fiction works are still some of my favorite books. And don't make the mistake of letting me loose in a book store. I can literally spend hours in a book store browsing the aisles and trying to narrow down my selections so that I don't spend the fortune that I don't own.

So, what are some of your favorite books? What were some of your childhood favorites? What's next on your reading list?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Apathy... Whatever!

Today at Mass, the priest quoted Dorothy Sayers when referring to sloth. It is described as the 'sin that believes in nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die'. He said that the quote can be summed up in one word: 'whatever'.

Usually when I think of sloth (and I don't think I'm alone in this), I think of someone lying around all day, doing nothing. But in Mass today, the priest pointed out that sloth includes apathy, indifference and procrastination. And it made me think about how often I'm guilty of this in my own life. How many times do I think 'whatever' when I hear about some wrong in society? How often do I plan to contact an old friend and I put it off and put it off until I forget about it? How often do I get satisfied with 'good enough' or 'it's fine'? How indifferent have I become to rising crime rates, poverty and social injustice? How often does someone ask my opinion and I respond with 'whatever'?

It reminded me to never lose my passion. I should stop putting off things that I want to do, things that I need to do. I will try not to get apathetic about the persons or things in my life. And, when asked for my opinion, I should actually give my opinion and not respond with 'whatever'. After all, life should be exciting. Life should be lived with zeal and passion. We only have one life to live and do we really want to spend it just scrolling through Facebook or watching episode after mindless episode on Netflix? These things are fine in moderation. But why don't we be a little less slothful and try something new. Pick up a new hobby. Volunteer for a cause close to your heart. Improve an existing skill. Write a letter - not a text message - to someone you haven't been in contact with for a while. Do something!

Friday, February 27, 2015

An Unorthodox Teacher

According to the Collins English dictionary, 'unorthodox' is an adjective describing something that is not conventional in belief, behavior or custom. And that completely matches both my teaching style and my classroom. I guess I should back up and describe my job a little. I teach two adorable girls who are home-schooled. Now, I'm not going to debate the benefits of homeschooling vs public school vs private school (another day, another blog). But I am going to say definitively that my job is a legitimate teaching job. Even though I only have two students, I still plan lessons, teach, check my students' work, go to the library for new books for them every Saturday and spend a lot of my time looking up new activities and field trip destinations. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get back to the main point of this: the fact that I'm a very unorthodox teacher.

I went to school in the Caribbean. While I cannot honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed school, I did well and I am very grateful for the quality education which I received. Education in the Caribbean, at least when I went and when I started out as a teacher, is very traditional. It demands a lot from students and there is a high standard of discipline. When I was in school, students sat in very orderly rows. I remember 'copying notes' from the chalkboard (yes, I said chalkboard, not whiteboard). We were drilled and quizzed in spelling and 'times tables'. We had exercise books and text books for just about every subject - and heaven have mercy on you if you forgot a required book at home. We all read the same passages from the same Reading books. We had copious amounts of homework every night. End of term tests were the bane of the existence of both students and teachers alike (one group had to take them, one group had to prepare and grade them). Things might have changed in the 5-ish years that I've been in the US, but that's what school was like when I was a student and when I had my first classroom.

Now I did say that I appreciate the education and discipline that I received, It helped make me the person that I am today. But it was never the way that I wanted to teach. I didn't want my classroom to be made up of neat little rows of students who sat still for hours everyday, copying work off their board or doing pages and pages of work from a text book. So now that I have lots of freedom to run my classroom as I want, it is definitely unorthodox. My students and I sit around one table. It's easier for me to monitor what they're doing or for us to all share one book. There are autographed posters from the ballet on the walls. There are shelves and shelves of wonderful books. The windowsills are covered in plants that refuse to grow straight up and are as unorthodox as their environment.


That's the classroom. Now for the activities. To the ordinary observer (borrowing a term from Anne of Green Gables), these do not look like school activities. An ordinary observer might see two kids sitting at their desks, playing a video game - Sid Meier's Civilization V, to be precise. But an extraordinary observer might realize that my students are learning so much about Social Studies and Geography as they create their civilizations: Should I create a farm or a trading post? How much is my citrus worth in a trade agreement? Should I build a new city so far away from my capital? The mountains which are protecting my city are also making it harder for me to travel between cities. So, yes, there'll be video games in my classroom. To the ordinary observer, there are three persons (who don't vary in height much) lounging on the floor. To the extraordinary observer, we are reading and discussing Black Beauty. Who says you have to sit at a desk to read? How many people always sit at a desk when they're doing pleasure reading anyway? To the ordinary observer, we're just looking at a YouTube video. To the extraordinary observer, we're learning about Estonia, or some other Country of the Day. To the ordinary observer, their teacher is doing something on her phone. To the extraordinary observer, I was stumped by a question from my 7 year old student so I'm looking it up.

So yes, my classroom is unorthodox and I'm unorthodox, even a little odd. But my students do well. They excel on, and even enjoy the yearly standardized test which they have to take. They both read above their grade level and can talk your ear off about science. Beyond all that, my students are learning that learning can and should be fun. They're learning to think for themselves. They're taking responsibility for their own learning when they choose what and how much to read. They're learning that there isn't always just one right answer. They're learning about the value and beauty of other countries and cultures. They're learning that I don't have all the answers just because I'm older than they are. They're seeing that learning should continue throughout life. Isn't that what any teacher would want for his/her students?

What do you think? I'd love to hear from fellow teachers, or anyone who's ever been a student for that matter.