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.


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


  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.


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.


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!