Tag Archives: Christmas

Coconut Retrievers

This island is absolutely covered with free-running cats and dogs! They call island mutts Creoles on the French side of the island and coconut retrievers on the Dutch side. Some are not so nice– like the scroungy mutt who nips at the heels of runners– and some are generally loved and just hang around. There’s a yellow dog who lives on the sidewalk of the small shopping district of Maho. He is just a regular fixture, and nobody minds him.

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Many of the students at American University of the Caribbean have adopted a stray or shelter animal. Our neighbor had a cat for a while– she was the sweetest. She used to sit on the window sill and wait for me to walk by and scratch her head through the cracked window. My friend Stacey has two cats from a shelter here. Several students foster animals. I know of at least one who takes puppies home every trip back to the States and finds families for them. Other expats and locals take care of the strays, too. The little league team I help out with adopted a dog who wandered on the field one day. She lives with their coaches, who have two other rescues.

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I had been begging Ben for a puppy all last semester, but as far as I could tell, he wasn’t too interested in that idea. I had pretty much given up on the idea by the time Christmas break rolled around.

Two days before Christmas, while my family was visiting us, Ben slipped off to “run some errands” and didn’t get back until dinner time. He came back with something in a bag. I opened it, and there was a sweet little puppy face looking back at me! We named her Kito, which means “precious gem” in Swahili.

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Kito has been busy keeping us up at night, peeing on the floor, and eating rocks. We’re a little more tired and a little less tidy than usual, but she’s more than worth it. There’s something nice about having something warm and fuzzy to cuddle with. As Lucy Van Pelt would say, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” I’m glad that God made puppies; they certainly are nice to have around.

Christmas in the Caribbean

We had a white Christmas this year… A white sand beach Christmas, that is.


While most of our med school compadres went back to the States or Canada for Christmas, Ben and I opted to stay on the island. My parents and my sister flew in to spend a week on the island with us, and we had a blast! Going home to see family is awesome, but it was even better to have them come see us this time.


Being in a new place calls for new traditions, but it also shows you how important the old ones are. Sometimes you just need the smell of homemade cinnamon rolls for it to really feel like Christmas.

We ditched some of the traditional Christmassy things– no lights outside, a small paper tree rather than a real evergreen, no Christmas cookies.


We kept some of our traditions– my great grandma’s Christmas cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning, reading Luke 2 from the Bible before opening presents, observing advent, Christmas carols on Christmas Eve, putting our gifts in hilariously ridiculous prank gift boxes.


We did some things we’ve never done before– “wine” (sparkling cider) and cheese for lunch, a trip to the beach.


On Christmas morning, we woke up to the sound of a restless puppy wanting to go outside. Ben took her on a short walk, and I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast. My parents and sister, Kaylee, came over after their morning run and we read the Christmas story in the Bible and opened gifts. When the cinnamon rolls were ready, we had breakfast.

 After this, we drove across the island to Wilderness for a hike. Before long, we could see a storm rising from the sea near St. Barth’s, so we ran back down the hill and jumped in the car just in time! We drove home and had sparkling cider, cheese, and crackers for lunch  (we’re practically on a French diet).

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My mom and I finished making the rest of the cinnamon rolls and we all headed down to Mullet Bay Beach. I grew up in Arizona and Ben grew up in subsaharan Africa, so neither of us have had many white Christmases. The lack of snow here on our tropical island was nothing new for us, but going to the beach was. It’s a welcome change!

  
At the end of the day, tired but happy, we had dinner of smoked chicken, mashed potatoes and rolls. We took a stroll to the casino to see the Christmas village in the parking lot. Then we set up the laptop and enjoyed our family favorite Christmas movie– Christmas Do-Over– while our worn-out little puppy snoozed at our feet.

The best Christmas traditions, to me, are not the ones that have to do with red and green garland, music, or food. The best tradition to have at Christmas is simply to be with family. Whether the family around you is your parents and siblings, spouse and children or your closest friends, let’s be thankful for the loved ones that God has given us.

And We Have a Winner!

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Guess what came today!

That’s right– Caribbean Dream by Rachel Isadora. Last week, I announced a giveaway contest for this book. Today it’s time to announce this winner!

By the way– I bought this book. I didn’t receive it as an incentive for the giveaway. I just like the book and thought you might like it, too!

On Tuesday, I’m going to give it and a couple other similar books to the local kids I tutor for their little league library. I’m looking forward to reading it with them.

And now, without further ado, congratulations to our winner….

…..Octavia Carpenter!

Be looking in your mailbox for your copy of this book!

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This book isn’t the only thing that arrived on the island of Saint Maarten today.

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At 2:43 pm, this Delta flight soared over Sunset Beach and touched down on Dutch Caribbean soil. I watched it taxi from my friend’s house on the hill and strained my eyes to see the passengers exiting the plane. Finally I saw them… my mom, my dad and my sister! I’m so excited to spend the next week with them here. Tune in soon to hear about our Caribbean Christmas adventures!

Second Sunday of Advent: Forgiveness

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Last week, I wrote the history, tradition, and significance of Advent season.  Today, I will be talking about what we did for the second week of Advent. If you like, you can gather your family and join in the timeless tradition of Advent devotions.

Tonight, we lit the second advent candle, the Forgiveness Candle. This candle reminds us that Jesus came to us in order to bring forgiveness of our wrongdoings.

The Bible tells us that the reason that Jesus came to us was to glorify God (John 17:1). The primary way He did this was by reconciling the world to God. From the very first, people alienated themselves from God by disobeying God. God commands that we do all things good and right, as is outlined in the Bible and written in our consciences. But each one of us has violated that command. Because even the smallest wrongdoing completely dirties us before God, we are unable to enter his presence as we are. God is so completely holy that He does not tolerate the filth of unholiness. Because He is just, He requires punishment for wrongdoing– physical death and eternal separation from His presence after death.  But because God loves us and desires to show His mercy to us, He decided to make a way for our relationship with Him to be repaired. He sent His Son, Jesus, to the world to take the punishment for our wrongdoing. Jesus was the only one who could take on every wrong ever committed and bear our punishment in our place, because He was the only man who ever lived a perfect life with no mistakes. When He died, God turned His back on him and let Him bear the pain of physical death and separation from His presence for a short time. But because Jesus is God, the power of evil and death had no hold over him. After a short time in the grave, Jesus rose again, this time with a body that would never be destroyed! If we repent of our wrongdoing and accept Jesus’ sacrifice, we too can live forever with God. Our wrongdoings– every single one of them– have already been paid for by Jesus. We can be forgiven.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is the celebration of the first spark of hope for forgiveness entering the world.

For today’s Advent devotional reading, you can read the following verses:

Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Luke 1:68-79: “….for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of God…”

Because of the forgiveness of God, we no longer need to live with the burdens of guilt, of shame, or of fear. This freedom is the beautiful blessing of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree for $0

Each year around the end of November, we are faced with the reality that CHRISTMAS IS COMING and we totally didn’t budget for it the way we should have.

For my family this year, this is due in great part to a giant international move that we were not planning on at the beginning of the year.

But as Christmas approached, we did not panic, and neither should you! Christmas does not have to be ridiculously expensive. I plan to post a few different money-saving ideas that living on student loans and freelance illustrating has driven me to dream up.

One great thing about being an international grad school family is that it makes you resourceful and inventive. And it’s actually a lot of fun!

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Today’s Christmas budget-saver is a 100% totally free Christmas tree. There are several ways to get a Christmas tree for free. You can grow it, cut one down in the woods, steal one from Walmart, or make your own. The first suggestion will take you about five years, the second is not kind to the forests and is also probably illegal, and the third is definitely illegal, although totally feasible. At least according to the Walmart cashier who subtly suggested it to us last year. I’m not sure if he was kidding or just didn’t want the hassle of going outside to ring it up.

I weighed my options. There are no Walmarts on our island to steal from,  no pine trees to cut down in the forest, and the only soil I own is in my dustpan, so I decided to make my own Christmas tree.

Here’s how I did it:

First, I gathered my materials.

  • I used the pole from a miniature flag (the kind that’s popular to attach to your car windows here on the island. I ripped off the flag, hung it on the wall, and just had the stick laying around). You can use anything long and skinny: a dowel, a skewer, etc. Sharpening the end to a point may be helpful, too, if it’s not already sharp.
  • A whole lot of paper and cardboard. I used about 5 old newspapers, a used notebook, a consumable book, two magazines, this year’s used-up calendar a big box and a bunch of little boxes. Even the box your toothpaste came in will work.
  • Scissors and possibly an exacto knife
  • A pen
  • A ruler (optional)
  • A large tin or something along those lines for the base
  • Decorations: String, tinsel, ornaments, ribbon, popcorn, shells, hairclips, etc.

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The next step is to anchor your pole. I just duct-taped it securely to a square of cardboard.
Now prepare to cut your paper. What size do you want your tree? The paper part of my tree is about 2 feet tall. It took me four hours to cut and stack the paper. The bottom layers of paper are a foot across. If you want a taller tree, cut larger squares. If you want a tiny tree, start with smaller squares.
Cut about half an inch of stacked paper to 12″ x 12″ or however large your bottom layer needs to be.
Pick up the first sheet of paper. Fold corner-to-corner and crease so that I makes a triangle. Do the same the other way so that you have a creased “X” on your paper. Where the lines intersect is the exact center of the paper. Use your pen to poke a hole in the center. Slide the paper onto the pole.
Repeat this until all your 12×12 paper is gone. Now, cut another stack of paper to about 11.75″ x 11.75.” Crease and slide the paper the same way you did before.
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Continue in this way. You’ll have to feel out the size changes as you go. If you want your tree tall and slim, you should decrease size of your paper less often and make more gradual decreases. I you want it shorter and fatter, decrease the size more often and make the decreases in paper size greater.
As you go, alternate the type of material you use. Be creative! Have fun with color and texture. Raid the recycle bin, check your pantry, and go through those stacks of paper you don’t need. I was amazed at how much recyclable material I found in our tiny one-bedroom apartment.
Leave a few inches of your pole paper-free. Slide the paper up to the top of the pole so that you can anchor the pole into the base.
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To make your base, fill your container (I used an empty Nido tin) full of beans, rocks, or sand. Create a hole in the top and stick the pole of your tree into it. Make sure to anchor and balance it.
Now is the most fun part! Time to decorate.
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Make a tree topper. I used tinfoil to fashion a star.
Use a needle, thread, and popcorn to make a popcorn strand.
I made woven paper heart ornaments. Directions coming in a future post.
The little pink hearts are made with clay mixed with cinnamon essential oil.
You can sew baubles directly onto the tree or hang them from a strand of popcorn/tinsel.
You’re finished! Congratulations. You have created a Christmas tree for free. Now, go enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. You deserve it after saving those trees and that money.
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Foodie Tuesdays! Pumpkin Spice Latte Pie

Hellooo holiday season! I love Thanksgiving and I love Christmas, so this part of the year is one of my favorites. To kick off the winter holidays, I’m starting a new segment called Foodie Tuesdays. Check back every week for new recipes! I’ll try to stick to international foods, but sometimes I just need some good American pie.

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This pi r squared.

 

As I mentioned in my post last week, I made a chocolate pumpkin spice latte pie for Thanksgiving. Here’s the recipe:

  • Gather ingredients.
    1. 1 1/2 – 2 lbs prepared pumpkin pie purée. I used one 2 lb can of pumpkin pie filling– the kind that is already spiced.
    2. I cup milk
    3. 4 eggs
    4. 1 1/2 cup melted butter (1 cup for crust and 1/2 cup for pie filling)
    5. Chocolate powder to taste (1/4 cup) if you want your latte to be a mocha
    6. Finely ground instant coffee to taste (1/4 cup)
    7. 1 cup crushed gingersnap cookies
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  • First, prepare your crust. We ground the gingersnap by soaking them in the 1 cup of butter and smashing them with a pastry cutter. You can put them in a plastic bag and crush them if that works better for you.
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  • Mix the crumbs with the butter and use a fork to evenly smash them to the bottom of your pie pan. I used a casserole because I don’t have a pie pan. Such is the budget expat life.
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  • Preheat your oven to 425* F
  • Beat your eggs. Add them, the milk, and the remaining butter to your pumpkin pie filling.
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  • Fill two small bowls with 1 cup of pie filling each. Add your coffee to one and your chocolate to the other. You may have to add extra of one or the other powder so that the pumpkin does not overpower the other flavors.
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  • Pour the orange pie filling into the pie pan. Smooth the surface.
  • Drop teaspoons of the coffee and chocolate pie filling all over the top of the orange pie filling
  • Use a butter knife to swirl and marbleize the two colors
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  • Put the pie in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes. You should turn the temperature down to 350* F after the first 10 minutes.
  • Voilà! You have created a delicious treat to rival Starbuck’s most famous holiday drink.

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Check back next time to find out how to make your own earth-friendly Christmas tree for FREE.

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First Sunday of Advent

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

My family loves celebrations and traditions. Growing up, we had many wonderful traditions leading up to Christmas– little gifts for Christmas countdown, paper chains, setting out a new nativity scene every day for two weeks, picking out a live tree, decorating parties. Of all the traditions of my childhood, one stands out in my mind as a particular favorite. Every Sunday for the month leading up to Christmas, my mom would cook a special dinner and my dad would lead us in Christmas advent devotions. My memories of this annual event are so vivid. I can almost smell the scent of burning wax and hear my dad’s voice reading from the book of Luke in the Bible. This year, we’re thousands of miles away from my parents, but we’re carrying on the Advent tradition in our own home.

The Advent candle tradition has been observed for centuries by Catholics and protestants alike. Traditionally, a wreath is constructed from evergreen boughs, laid flat on the table, and four candles are arranged in a circle on the wreath. One tall, white candle is set in the center. Each of the four Sundays before Christmas, a new candle is lit. On the first Sunday, one candle is lit, on the second, two are lit, and so on. On Christmas, all four candles on the wreath are lit, and finally the white candle is lit, as well. This candle is the Christ candle and it honors the birth of Jesus.

The four candles in the circle have no set meaning, although there are many different names and symbolisms given to the candles. Some call them the peace, hope, love, and joy candles. In my home growing up, they each represented a different group that announced the coming of Jesus. The first candle was the prophet candle, representing Old Testament prophets; the second was the angel candle, representing the angels that appeared to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds; the third was the shepherd candle; and the fourth was the wise men candle.

Generally, the lighting of the candle is accompanied by devotional and scripture reading. My dad would always read from an Advent devotional book and then choose portions of Scripture to accompany it.

The lighting of the Advent candles is not a religious ritual. It is simply a way to prepare our hearts and minds for the Christmas season. Like many people observe Lent to help themselves remember and focus on the approach of Easter, Advent devotions help us to remember that Christmas is coming and also remember why we celebrate Christmas at all. It’s a time to take a break from the distractions and busyness of life and take a few minutes to think about the meaning of Christmas. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless Walmart isles of toys and the explosion of red and green in Hobby Lobby, Pinterest and our news feeds. But the true reason we even have Christmas at all is that 2000 years ago, a baby boy was born in a cave in the Middle East, and He changed the world.

Now that’s something to celebrate.

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In preparation for Advent Sunday, I bought some candles at the Chinese market next door– they didn’t have pink or purple candles, which are traditional, so I bought red, green, yellow and white instead. Oh, well. At least they look Christmassy! I went to a baby shower today and ended up with some bits of green ribbon, which look great tied around the candles. We don’t exactly have evergreen here, so my ribbon will suffice. Also, I think the circular formation of the candles must have some significance, but I don’t know what it is–anyway, it looked weird without a real wreath.  I set them up in a line and they looked beautiful.

Ben found an Advent devotional on his Logos app on his phone. We sat down to dinner with Matt, I lit the candle, and Ben began to read.

The devotional he chose called the first candle the Shepherd Candle. It signifies the Lord’s guidance in our life as a shepherd. In many places in Scripture, God is called our shepherd. It seems like a weird metaphor to a society without a whole lot of shepherds (or sheep for that matter), but it was a very tangible comparison for Middle Eastern ancients. A shepherd watches vigilantly and lovingly over his sheep, and he protects them from harm and cares for them.

Here are some Bible references that talk about Jesus as a shepherd:

If you don’t have Advent plans for this evening, why not take a few moments to read these scripture passages? Whether or not you have an Advent wreath, candles, or even a Bible in print, you can celebrate the Christmas season by celebrating Jesus.

 

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Or how does your family observe Advent?