Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ice Skating Fun

Ice skating in an outdoor arena has always been something I've wanted to do and since we're no where close to New York's Rockefeller Plaza, I wasn't sure it was going to happen. My sister, Ange, looked into it and found a cute little outdoor skating rink in St. Louis. Two days before Christmas, we decided we would brave the crazy rain, sleet, and snow storm to go ice skating. We put on all our warm clothes, laced up our skates, and went outside to brave the weather. It was actually really nice. The arena had Chrimstas music blaring out of the speakers, a large fire pit, and a cute little cafe for some warm food/drinks.
We had decided that we would all be skating, even mom. She hasn't ice skated or rollerbladed in a long time so she was a little nervous. She hung on the the side for a few rounds and eventually made it to the middle. It was really nice to have a girls day, especially since it was something that I was really looking forward to! We each had a few falls and I'm not sure we stopped laughing the whole time we were there! We skated till our little hearts were content....
It was so nice--I really appreciate the small things that my family does to make our breaks back home so memorable!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Cookies

Yesterday was baking day..we baked Christmas cookies from 11am to 5pm. It's always a lot of fun to start the cooking, but by the end it's a lot of work. We started out with a few recipes, but gradually kept adding to the list. The one thing I wanted to do was sugar cookies. I love doing the cut outs and adding icing! We got all the ingredients and headed out to Ms. Chrissy's house--she has any baking tool needed and all the fun gadgets for making cookies. We started out with our sugar cookie dough because it had to be refrigerated for a few hours before it would be ready to roll out and cut. We made two different batches...one batch was for the cookie cutters that I bought and the other batch was tweaked just a little. The only cookie cutters I could find anywhere were stand-up cookie cutters. The cookie cutters were Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer--there was the snowman, Bumble, Yukon Cornilus, Santa, Rudolph, etc. We were hoping our cookies would come out great but we were a little nervous that they wouldn't build up like they were suppose to. Stand up cookies are not as easy as one might think! We mixed together both batches, put them in the refrigerator, and started on the next cookie--Spritz cookies! Since it was still early in the day and we were still excited about baking cookies, we decided we would make red and green dough. The red dough would be Poinsettas and the green dough would be Christmas trees. After we made the dough, it had to be put into the spritzer gun. This gun was aggervating--too many parts and very confusing directions. We eventually figured it out--it made some great cookies! We had a little bit of dough left over so we decided to make our own special "HOHO" cookies. The cookies were so good...I think most of them were eaten before the day was over.After the Spritz cookies, it was time for the sugar cookies. We put flour everywhere...on the counter, on our spatulas, and on our hands. We rolled out the dough and punched out our cookies. I did the first batch and made them a little too thin, which made it extremely hard to get them on the pan without making the cookie deformed. I happily passed off the dough duties and started putting the cookies in the oven and taking them out. A few of the cookies got painted before they went in the oven. We mixed egg yolks and food coloring together and painted on the dough--the coloring absorbed into the cookie dough and made decorating the cookies easier than decorating them all with icing.

We did save a few cookies that we would ice after they cooked but knowing how well they would have turned out with the painting, we probably would have painted them all before we cooked them. The cookies wouldn't have taken so long but because they were stand up cookies, we had to cut out Santa and then we had to cut out his feet. Hours later, we had all the dough baked and all we had to do was ice, assemble, and serve to the boys.

By the end, we were starting to go crazy. The Christmas music blaring on the computer and all our hard work was breaking. We tried to ice together Santa's legs or the sleigh, but no such luck. The cookies ended up looking so good...we made a little scene of our hardwork. It was pretty painful passing out the Christmas cookies to the boys and seeing them eat the cookies in 3 bites...the cookies that took us all day to cook...in 3 bites! I'm not upset or anything, but it would have been nice if they would have savored the flavor a little longer and chewed the full 32 times before swallowing. Oh well--I'm guessing that means they were delicious! I had a great time baking Christmas cookies...so many great memories were created!


Thursday, December 18, 2008

We've Finally Made It To 5th Semester!!

The time has come for me to finally say WE'RE 5TH SEMESTER! Jason's final exams were on Monday and yesterday he was emailed the last of his grades. He wouldn't let me say anything about being 5th semester because he didn't want me to jinx it. He has worked so hard for the past 16 months...I'm so proud of him.
It's hard to believe that 4 semesters ago we were just moving to St. Maarten and now we are almost ready to move back to the states. Time has definitely flown, especially when we look back on how far we've come. During the semester, it sometimes feels never ending!
Congratulations to all our friends that are another 4 months done! We're home for a few weeks on break--time for a little rest and relaxation.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Time For The Goodbyes

We have made it to the end of another semester, which means saying goodbye to all the 5th semester students and spouses. We are losing a lot of great families this semester, but I got to help give a proper goodbye to one family. Reece, Dave and Ashley's son, is in the 4th grade class that I help out during the week. We planned a surprise party for Reece's last day!! Last week we sent Reece with a note to another teacher that read "keep him here for 5 minutes and then send him back" and while he was gone the class helped planned the surprise party. We talked about signs, food, music, and other things the kids wanted to have for the party.
We pretended we were having a 'holiday party' so Reece wouldn't catch on to the surprise party we had planned. The kids had to keep a secret all day yesterday and then after lunch, we were going to have the party. The kids brought in so much yummy food....cakes, brownies, chips, candy, and drinks!!When it was time for the party, we sent Reece to go find his parents....and the class all hid! They hid behind their tables in the front of the class by the sign they made for Reece. When Reece walked in the room, they all jumped up and screamed "SURPRISE!!"
Reece suspected something was going on, but I still think he was surprised! It was so cute to see the kids all excited to help give Reece a surprise going away party. The class ate TONS of food, got really hyper, and then went for the candy! The day was great! At the end of the day, the kids took turns sharing a memory with Reece. It was so sweet to hear some of the kids...a few even got a little teary eyed. The day ended with a group hug and wishing Reece good luck at his home in Minnesota!

I can't believe that the semester is already over and we've said our goodbyes. This time next semester we'll be the ones that say goodbye to the island and our island friends!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh the Joys of High Season

High season on the island is November-April....which would put us right in the middle of this crazy time! High season means more tourists, more traffic, more chances to get stuck behind the the bridge, and more boats and yachts in the harbor. The bridge that leads into the harbor goes up and down quite a bit during the day to let the larger boats in and out of the harbor. This can be very irritating, especially when I have an appointment somewhere, when I have a car full of groceries, or when my car is running on gas fumes. High season can be a little crazy, even a little irritating, but being able to see and google over the huge yachts and boats makes the craziness a little more tolerable. Some of the yachts are multiple stories tall, have anything the owners could possibly need or want, and a few even have helicopter pads on the back.
Sometimes when I'm at the grocery store, I will see some of the crew from these boats shopping. They have as many as 6-7 carts loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables, the best cuts of meat, wines, and anything else the owner's heart desires. I was always curious..."how could people afford this much food, especially here?" Then I see the boat(s) they own and realize that it's probably just chump change. The boats definitely are amazing! It's always fun to go and sit by the bridge and watch them come in and out of the harbor! High season can definitely have its frustrating moments, but seeing a huge yacht out in the sunset, makes it just a little bit better.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It's Almost Time

Our countdowns are getting so small--Christmas is 16 days away AND we go home in 7 days!! We're so excited to be back home with our family! We wish we could see all of our family when we go home, but they're spread all over the country so it makes things a little more difficult. For the holidays,we usually send out Christmas cards with pictures on them. I like them because it updates our friends and family that haven't seen us in awhile. Well since block was Monday and Jason doesn't have finals for another week, I talked him into a 'Christmas photo shoot' on the beach. He wasn't thrilled with the idea, but he knew how bad I wanted to get some pictures of our little family. We threw on our clothes, put red ribbons on the dogs, and headed down to the beach. Our island friends, Andy and Alissa, took our pictures for us. Alissa has an amazing camera...so we agreed to take some pictures for them if they would take some pictures of us.
Here are a few of the pictures that we got of our little family...there are more in the photo album!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Lace Up Against Crime

This morning there was a 5K race that was held to help fight crime on the island. The race was supported by and held at CIA, a private school on the island. I decided that I would help fight crime on the island and make my heart a little stronger by being part of the race. I run a little bit with Camille, but we usually do interval running instead of running without stopping so I was a little nervous. I was determined that I was going to set my goals high for the race....I was going to run 3.1 miles (5K) without stopping to walk. Seems easy enough, huh? The race was scheduled to start at 7:00am but registration was at 6:00am. I rolled out of bed at 6:00am and the house was still dark. I couldn't hardly get my eyes to open, but after a few minutes of sitting on the couch I felt a little more awake. I've only been awake a handful of times before the sun... it was beautiful, windy, and cool. It was a great morning for a race!! There were quite a few people that came out to run and it could have been because the first place prize was a one-night stay at the Sonesta. There were parents, students, teachers, and even a few of the locals that came out to run...there were probably 50 participants!
At 7:00am, I got beside my running partner, Alicia, and headed to the back of the pack to start the race. I didn't want to get sucked into running at a faster pace than one I was used to. The race started off great--we had some adrenaline and some nice weather! When we got about 20 minutes into the race, I had decided that I was tired and needed to walk. I've never done 30 minutes straight...it is much harder than it sounds. Even as I sit here typing, 30 minutes is a show on TV or a meal if you are Rachel Ray, but it doesn't seem like a long time. Trust me...when you have to run, 30 minutes is a long time. Thanks to Alicia, I was motivated and encouraged to run it all the way out. We finished the race sprinting across the finish line at a time of 31 minutes. I felt a great sense of accomplishment as I crossed the finish line....I had accomplished my goal. I'm definitely not someone that enjoys a nice run...it's pretty much torture everytime. I love the feeling that I have when I'm finished running. Today was great! I was talking with some girls afterwards about being capable of running. I'm very fortunate to be a young, active woman that enjoys challenging myself. I don't need to take the small things like running a 5K on a beautiful island for granted...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Do You Hear What I Hear??

The Christmas season is getting closer, but it has been so hard to get in the Christmas spirit! The warm weather, palm trees, beaches, and Caribbean music make it hard to get in the Christmas mood! Yesterday on my way to the grocery store, I heard CHRISTMAS MUSIC on the local radio station. It threw me off because I was expecting to hear local music, not Christmas music. The song was Silent Night and I had no choice but to turn the radio up as loud as I could get (without busing my car's speakers) and singing along! I only heard the one song and then the station went back to regular music, but just hearing the one song made it feel a little more like the holiday season.
Not only did I hear a Christmas song yesterday on the radio, but the private school put on their Holiday Concert last night. The kids have been practicing all week long on their songs, skits, and dance routines and it was nice to see it all put together. The concert was great! I enjoyed watching the kids perform for their family members, teachers, and the rest of the school. The concert was different than concerts that I remember being a part of when I was younger. There are many different ethic groups, religious views, and languages that make up the school--so the traditional songs don't fit for all the children. A few songs were done with a beachy theme, Silent Night was sung in French and English, the Hannukah song was performed, and the 12 days of Christmas had the words changed to school related things. Turtle doves, maids a milking, and pipers piping are foreign to the kids so they were changed to text books, blue folders, and clocks a ticking.

The holiday concert was great! It really got me in the Christmas spirit...I even caught myself humming some of the songs back in my apartment later that night.

The island is also starting to put up Christmas decorations...Jason's school has garland on the railing and a huge Christmas tree in the middle of the rotunda; my school has a tree outside by the pool; some houses are decorated... AND there are Christmas trees at the grocery store. There was a house that was decorated from top to bottom so I thought I'd get a few pictures.


I am now in full Christmas mode....I have a few Christmas parties coming up in the next two weeks and I have found a Christmas website that plays Christmas music 24/7. I'm already planning shopping days, cookie making days, and gift wrapping days for when we go back home. I LOVE CHRISTMAS!! I have realized the past couple of weeks that Christmas is what you make it, regarless of where you live.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

So Much Fun....So Little Time

On Wednesday, November 26th, I was like a kid in a candy store! I was so excited and giddy at school that all the kids were wondering what was going on. My sister, brother-in-law, and niece were coming to St. Maarten to spend a few days, including Thanksgiving, with us. Their flight got in at 3:00pm, so I rushed home after school to change and then hurried to the airport. We were so excited to see them! When we got there, they were exiting the terminal so we got to see them right away. It was so good to see a familiar face...I'm not sure we stopped talking long enough to breathe! We threw their bags in our apartment and took off towards the beach. Since Mullet Beach is right by our house, we just walked down there for a little bit before dinner. Ana loved looking for seashells and running through the waves, she could definitely be a beach girl!
There is a point on Mullet Beach where a restaurant used to be built (before Hurricane Lewis-in 1995), so we walked out to the point to explore a little.
After exploring and playing in the waves at Mullet Beach, we decided we were getting hungry. Ana had already decided where she wanted to go for her first dinner on the island...The Stone. The Stone is a restaurant where the food comes out on a hot brick that has been baking in the oven for 15+ hours. Your food comes out raw on the brick and you get to cook the meal, just the way you like it. Ana said it was as good as she remembers...I'm not sure she left one thing on her plate!Thursday was Thanksgiving and diving day! Ana got scuba certified on their last vacation, so diving in St. Maarten was a MUST on her list. We woke up early, threw on our swimsuits, and drove to Grand Case. After we got all of our diving stuff and got to Creole Rock, the dive site, we realized that the water was pretty rough and the visibility might not be the best. We all fell in and headed down to 30 feet. The visibility was horrible--I could barely see everyone and the only way I knew where our dive instructor was because of his yellow flippers. We stayed down for about 5 minutes and after checking with everyone, swam up to the dive instructor and signaled that we wanted to surface. It was a little intimidating to be underwater and not know your surroundings or where you are going. We didn't have the best day for diving, but we realized that we can't control Mother Nature. Oh well...maybe another day!
Thursday night we went to a potluck out at Brian and Melinda's house....we had about 30 people and the food was amazing. We had the traditional food, plus a few new dishes! It was great to spend Thanksgiving with some great friends...and it was even better that we had our family there!
Friday was our day to explore the French side of the island. We decided that we were going to go to Pinel Island for the day and then that evening we were going to pick Jason up from school and head over to Sunset Beach to watch the airplanes fly in. Pinel is a tiny island right off of St. Maarten. We had to take a ferry to get to the island, which is chaos in itself. The ferry got us safely to Pinel Island! We got some chairs and an umbrella and unloaded all of our goodies.
We ate some lunch, built a sandcastle, buried Ana in the sand, and then decided that we were going to hike over to the other side of Pinel. I had never been hiking on Pinel and I'm glad that we decided to do it! The view was amazing--we could see a few of the surrounding islands from the top. We made it back from the hike just in time to catch the next ferry that was leaving the island. We knew when the planes come in and when they leave so we wanted to make sure that we made it back to see them land and takeoff. Watching the planes come in is actually pretty neat. The planes get so low that at one point we felt like we could touch them. After the planes land and board new passengers, they have to takeoff. They back up to the fence, turn on their boosters, and off they go. Well--someone figured out that you could stand behind these massive planes and get pelted with sand and hot plane fumes. We couldn't go to Sunset Beach and not stand behind one of the biggest planes....stupid idea!
After Sunset Beach, we decided to go home and get ready for dinner. We agreed on Cheri's Cafe in Maho. Cheri's Cafe is an outdoor restaurant that puts on a singing/comedy type show while you eat. We tried to stay as long as possible, but we were exhausted. We made it through a few songs and then decided to call it a night!

Saturday was Jason's designated day off! He decided that he would take Saturday off and we would hang out at the beach. He wanted to go and hang out at Orient, order lunch, sit in chairs, and act like tourist. We headed out early so we could get a full day of fun in the sun! Orient Beach is the most 'touristy' beach because there is parasailing, banana boats, tons of umbrellas and chairs, and a lot of little beach restaurants. We made ourselves comfy at 'Kokomarina' and decided to walk the beach a little bit.
We started walking up and down the beach and noticed tons of jellyfish laying on the sand. They were everywhere....they didn't have tentacles so they didn't sting us. It was kind of cool to be able to pick them up and throw them back into the water. At one point, we were swimming and the jellyfish were all around us!
Not only were there jellyfish that day, but we also had baby sea turtles. I don't know how many times I've been to the beach and been diving and I've never seen a baby sea turtle. Ana couldn't wait to go diving and see the sea turtles and because of the weather that didn't work out. She still got to see her sea turtles, just in a different way!
Orient was so much fun! We even swam out to the trampoline (it was free for the day) and jumped and just acted like kids again. We had a great day...besides getting a little sunburnt!
Sunday was back to the books for Jason and back to the beach for us! It was the last full day that they would be here so we wanted to live it to the fullest. We headed out early to Loterie Farm, which is the zipling through the trees. We got there right when they opened so it was really quiet. We had heard that there were monkeys, but we had never physically seen them. We started just walking up the path and there they were. There were about 10-15 monkeys...some were babies and there were even a few big ones. I didn't have my camera...but Chris did so when I get those pictures I'll try and post them. Ziplinging was a great time as always! After ziplining we decided to head to a new beach...Friar's Bay. Friar's Bay is a great beach and it even has a hike that we did to another beach...Happy Bay. We had a great time...I stayed in the shade and slept most of the day. It was a great day to relax! I didn't want to get anymore sun, considering that I got a lot of sun at Orient! That night we all went to a little restaurant by our house and enjoyed some crepes for dessert. We even brought the dogs along...they love crepes too!
We had such an amazing time exploring the island with our family. We didn't realize how much we missed them! The house is much quieter and we are trying to get back in our old routines.... school, homework, studying, cooking, and working. We have 13 more days until we'll be back home to see the rest of our family.