Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shooting Guns In The Rain

Even if you already have a TN handgun carry license, it is not good enough if you are a TX resident. Who knew? But this is the problem that I had to face once we moved to Houston. Ever since then, my husband and I had been looking for a way to take a concealed handgun license (CHL) class together. One of our friends from church offered us an opportunity to go to a Texas Ranch Retreat and take a CHL class for free! His company is offering classes for their current and potential clients, and we, of course, agreed.

A couple of weeks ago after work, we drove out west to Brenham, TX, to a beautiful cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere. What a wonderful escape from the crowded city! There were a total of 9 people to take the class, and I was the only girl. Not too surprising. We had a delicious dinner and took the class until about 11 pm. It was quite fun, filled with stories and jokes. Apparently, in TX, you can carry a concealed gun to a church, a hospital, and even to work, unless the organization specifically prohibits you to do so. But you absolutely cannot carry to school or to a concert. Maybe that is why there are so many shootings at schools where there is not going to be any opposition to the evil-doer.

We stayed the night at the oldest house in the Washington county that dates back to 1855 or so! It was a beautiful big home decorated with wood and antique items. Oh, and a bear. He was once real. It was more like a romantic getaway that we needed so much. 

The oldest house in Washington County
Honeymoon suite
Gorgeous bathroom

The Bear
The following morning, we had coffee made on a campfire (so cool!), which was very good. My husband is not a coffee drinker, but he loved it. 

See the coffee pot on the campfire?

It was a grim morning, but it was not raining yet. We got into a golf cart and drove to a shooting range. A pretty cool one! 

Outdoor shooting range

My husband got to be in the first group of people qualifying, and I stayed behind to take pictures. As soon as they started shooting, it began to rain! I guess stopping in the middle of it wasn't an option. And even in the rain, he was the best shooter! I am so proud of him.

The second group decided not to shoot under pouring rain, and we got back to the building. A little later, it cleared out, and we went out again. By that time, the ground at the range was soaking wet, and the mud was unforgiving. Of course, I was not prepared for it (wearing flats), and David sacrificed his tennis shoes, so that I could actually walk to the shooting stations and qualify. All this time, he was barefoot, and he loved it. Other guys definitely looked jealous, but he was the only one with a wife there to justify his bare feet. We proceeded to shoot, and I did not do too bad. Everyone in our group qualified, and our shooting results were in the 90th percentile! 

Getting ready to shoot. See the shoes?
My first shot. Not exactly there, but... better than I thought.
Muddy, but happy, we returned home and went to the concert of One Republic band later on that evening. A great weekend, I must say!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Heart-warming Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte

It is only September, but I am in a serious Pumpkin mood. It is when you crave everything pumpkin-flavored. I decided not to wait until Thanksgiving and gave in to it. During the past two weekends, I have made healthy pumpkin bars, healthy pumpkin dip, pumpkin crunch bars, and pumpkin spice chai latte. I have not satisfied my craving yet, so I am sure I will continue looking for something pumpkin to make next weekend. We will need to make sure to pick up another can of it tomorrow. 

I am planning on posting all four recipes, but this one has been my favorite. Instead of going to a coffee shop and spending over $5 on a single chai latte, make it in the comfort of your own home and enjoy it with a good book or over a conversation with your loved ones. I am sure they would love to try some, too! 

Heart-warming Pumpkin Spice Chai Latte
(adopted from Texanerin Baking)

You will need:
- 1/4 cup and 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
- 2 cups of milk of your choice (I used whole organic milk)
- 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 black tea bags
- cinnamon to sprinkle on top 

Yield: 2 cups


1) In a medium saucepan, bring all the ingredients (except for the teabags) to a boil over medium heat. 

2) Take the saucepan off the heat, add the teabags, and let them steep for 3-5 minutes. 

3) Pour into a mug and sprinkle with cinnamon before serving. 

4) Enjoy!!!

Depending on how sweet you like your drinks, you can decrease or increase the amount of honey. 

My husband and I loved it and will surely make it again!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How I Met My Husband

This past week, my husband and I celebrated a not-so-significant, yet important milestone in our life: 4 years since we'd met. Time flies so fast! And, at the same time, it feels like I've known him all my life. In honor of this wonderful anniversary, I want to recall how we met. 

Since I like telling stories, I will not go for a "long story short." It will be a long story long. Sometimes stories are better that way. 

In 2005, I returned from America where I had spent a year as an exchange student. My family had moved to Omsk, Russia by that time, so I joined them there. Even though I was a junior at an American high school, Russian school could not care less, and I had to go to the 11th grade again. It was a new school with new people, so, to say the least, it was challenging. In addition, in Russian schools kids learn British English. Needless to say, I lost all of my British accent by the time I came back from the States. Teachers usually frown upon American accent and try to break it as soon as possible, but I got lucky. My English teacher, Oksana Demidova, did not mind it at all. Moreover, in the middle of the school year, she left us to get married and moved to America. I loved her and missed her, but little did I know that Oksana and her family would become a major part of my life later. 

After graduation, I got a scholarship at a local state university to become an interpreter. I figured that English was something I was not bad at, so I decided to pursue it as a profession. During the year, my college instructors did try to break my American accent, but they were unsuccessful. Through my mother's colleague, I found out about Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC, which worked with students from Omsk region. They offered full scholarships to students with outstanding academic record and good English skills to come and study an economic profession. I applied and got selected! I was ecstatic, since I fell in love with the States when I had lived for a year with my wonderful host family in Missouri. Before leaving for school in August, I emailed Oksana, my former English teacher. I knew she lived somewhere in the States, but I was not sure where. Oksana responded very quickly and told me she would be in Omsk in a couple of days with her whole family. It would be so great to see her again! Moreover, she lived in Raeford, NC, which was within 30 minutes from my University! What are the odds?

After I met Oksana, her husband David and daughter Sasha, they promised to take care of me in the States. And they did! You see, when you travel overseas, you are allowed to bring only two suitcases, about 50 lbs each. Not bad, unless you are leaving home for four years. When I got to the dorms, I was shocked: students literally brought their homes with them! Lamps, linens, curtains, fans, bean bag chairs, and mattresses, to name a few things. I brought only clothes and was discouraged. Oksana and her family supplied me with everything necessary for a freshman. I felt so blessed! I spent all my weekends in their home, and it was wonderful.

Oksana and her daughter Sasha

Fast-forward three years. Oksana was teaching Russian at a military base, and I started helping her students to get ready for their final test. After six months of an intensive Russian course, soldiers would hold a 20-minute conversation to show everything they've learned. I would talk to them on the phone, so that they would hear another native speaker and learn to adapt before their test. In the very beginning of my senior year, I spoke with a couple more students over the phone, one of which introduced himself as David. In perfect Russian, he told me about his huge family of 7 and how much he enjoyed learning the language. I offered him my help, which he gladly accepted. We Russians really appreciate when people of other cultures show interest in Russian. A couple of weeks later, I asked Oksana if David still wanted help, since I had not heard from him after our initial conversation. She promised me to find out. 

When Oksana approached David at school and asked if he wanted my phone number, he said he did not do blind dating. However, it was nothing like that; we truly wanted to help him learn Russian and do well on his exam. At that time, I started a busy semester with 24 credit hours and did not look for love to add to my hectic schedule. I guess that is the point: love comes when you do not expect it. Next day, David called me and offered to meet him at a coffee shop one afternoon. On September 11th, 2009 I met him at the Coffee Scene and... my life changed forever. We spoke only Russian for an hour and a half, and I kept thinking how hopelessly out of my league David was. Handsome, smart, funny, strong, he was much more than what I had hoped for in a husband. Before we parted, David asked if we could meet again to speak some more Russian... over a dinner. That was definitely a hint that he liked me, too. 

We met two days later at Barnes and Noble and spoke Russian for another two hours. The time flew by quickly, as we genuinely enjoyed each other's company. At the end, he asked me if he could call me and speak with me in English. That was so cute! Of course, I said yes. He did call me later. And texted. And took me on a date a week later. And met my parents (and was approved by them right away). 

It may seem like a lucky arrangement of random events, but... when I think about it, I can clearly see that it is much more. All my life I was preparing to meet my husband: going to the States as an exchange student, meeting my English teacher in Russia who later became David's Russian teacher at Ft. Bragg, NC, moving to the same state as she, and getting a scholarship at a military town. David went into the military because he was not in a serious relationship and was not looking for one. He ended up at Ft. Bragg, studying Russian. It was not even on his list of preferred languages! How can all these things line up perfectly to bring together a Russian from Siberia and a Texan? The answer is quite obvious: God brought us together and blessed us with each other. I strongly believe that because I tend to trust facts. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Seven Essential Truths To Teach Your Kids - Resolutions Parenting Session 2

While it is true that rewards and punishments are an important part of bringing kids up, it would not be right to boil such a complicated process down to material things (you can read about five things you owe your kids here). Interaction with kids involves much, much more. Teaching kids how to be good, kind, hard-working people will be a difficult task, but there are several things that we need to make sure to relay to the future generation. I really like the list that Curt Williams of Youth-Reach Houston suggested during the second session of his Resolutions Parenting seminar a couple of weeks ago. 

This is a summary of what kids need to hear in the home if you do not have time to read this whole post: 
1. My love for you is unconditional, but my blessings are absolutely conditional.
2. I love you, but I love your father/mother more. Do not get between us, as it will not turn out well for you.
3. I am not your friend; you will have many friends. I am your parent, which is a much higher calling than being just your friend.
4. I am not fair. Life is not fair. It would be good if you would just realize this and get over it.
5. It is my job and my intention to create in you a great work ethic. This will be a difficult process for you.
6. My world does not revolve around you, and if it did, you would turn out pretty messed up.
7. If you grow up to be simply religious, I did not do my job well. I hope to introduce you to the simple and deep joy of knowing Christ.

And here is the extended version if you are really interested in what I think about all this. 

1. My love for you is unconditional, but my blessings are absolutely conditional. - This point is talking about not mixing love and rewards. Showing kids that you love them unconditionally is very important, but not necessarily with material things. Spending time, playing games, and being affectionate are all great ways of expressing your love for your kids and, in my opinion, are more meaningful than giving gifts. Some modern parents prefer to give an iPad or a smart phone to their kids to play with instead of spending some quality time with them. Technology is great, of course, but it should not be a substitute to real parent/child interaction. And, once again, children should understand that even when you spank them or take away their toys/gadgets (blessings) in order to discipline, you still love them and are doing it for their own good. 

2. I love you, but I love your father/mother more. Do not get between us, as it will not turn out well for you. - Not every parent understands the importance of this truth until problems arise. Women tend to love kids more because of the bonding during pregnancy and, generally, spending more time with the children while taking care of them. I can see how the husband can get moved to the second place in the list of the mother's priorities, especially if he is not helping much. I believe it is important for mothers and fathers to remember that they married their spouses first, and the children are a result of that love. Children will grow and leave, and you will stay with your spouse. Instead, show your children how important your spouse is. Go on dates, kiss and hug, make jokes. Kids will not feel jealous; on the contrary, they will be proud of how their parents love each other and will learn about a healthy married relationship early on. I love this one, but I definitely see how it can be a problem in our family, mainly due to cultural differences. In Russia, women almost always put their children on the first place; it is just something we are accustomed to do. Additionally, parents should not threaten children with phrases like, "Wait until your father/mother gets home!" It puts the second parent into bad light. You and your spouse are a team, and there is no need to play good cop/bad cop with your children. 

3. I am not your friend; you will have many friends. I am your parent, which is a much higher calling than being just your friend. - Some parents try too hard to be buddies with their kids and fit in with the young crowd. It is not wrong to try and be young, except when parents get ridiculous about it. For example, Curt shared about a father and a son he had see at the mall. The father (quite overweight) was wearing skinny jeans and a tight shirt, trying to look "cool." His son was walking far away from him, hoping no one would associate the two. The kid was embarrassed of his Dad! This sounds like a nightmare to me. Of course, being a trustworthy source of wisdom for your children is important, but so is not crossing the line between being a parent and a buddy to your child. My Mom has become my best friend (aside from my husband) once I got older, which is wonderful. However, when my sister and I were younger, my mother was definitely a mother first, teaching us about life and not always being fair (as we thought then). Speaking of being unfair, read on.

4. I am not fair. Life is not fair. It would be good if you would just realize this and get over it. - Do you remember telling "But that's not fair!" to your parents, with tears in your eyes and all the sorrows of the world on your face? Whatever it was, your parents did not treat you "fair," and praise the Lord for that! It was for our own good. Truth is, at that age, we did not know what was good for us. Not letting kids smoke or stay out late while other kids may be allowed to do that can feel unfair to the children, but parents surely know that it is better that way. Speaking honestly, nobody wants to be treated fairly if you think about it. When we make mistakes, don't we want to be forgiven and given another chance instead of bearing punishment? For all of our sins, we deserve to live a horrible life, die a terrible death, and burn in hell forever. Harsh, but true. Therefore, we do not want to be treated fairly; we want to have forgiveness we do not deserve. And Jesus Christ brings it to us. Living a perfect life that we can never live and dying a terrible death for our sins did just that - brought us His salvation. We are blessed to be treated unfairly!

A couple of ways to treat your children "unfairly" for their own benefit (that are absolutely normal):
- Raising boys differently from girls 
- Saying no to one child when you allowed the same thing to another

I believe that you know your kids and know what is better for them. Teaching them that life is not fair will prepare them for the ruthless reality they will have to face later. 

5. It is my job and my intention to create in you a great work ethic. This will be a difficult process for you. - Do your kids know how to cook? Or to iron? How about washing dishes? There might be crock pots and dishwashers in your house, but besides making your life easier, they rob your kids of useful skills. The children may not be washing dishes and cooking for living, but doing chores and learning how to work will definitely be useful for their future. Start early and ask you kids to help around the house. It will teach them work ethic and provide invaluable time spent together. 

Allowance has been a controversial topic, and I have heard many different opinions. I am not sure what will work for us, but I agree with Curt's idea of not paying kids for doing nothing. This way, children would feel entitled to getting money without working for it. Instead, pay them for extra jobs that go beyond the usual chores, like cleaning the garage or mowing the lawn. Earned money will be so much more cherished! We have recently seen a news episode about a 6-year old boy who gets paid for picking up his neighbors' trash. That is how he gets money his toys. Brilliant! 

6. My world does not revolve around you, and if it did, you would turn out pretty messed up. - During this parenting session, Curt Williams shared about a car sticker he had seen before, which read, "You are special and unique, just like everybody else." I think it summarizes the world we live in pretty well. Almost everyone is told as a child that they are special in a unique way. Individualism is imposed from a very early age, until the kid grows up, graduates, and goes into real world. Even speeches during graduation are full of inspiring promises that students will go and become anything they want. Reality is, not everyone will even work in the line of their profession, for one reason or another. Only exceptions will change the world and become Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses. Funny that both last names end with "s." Maybe that is the secret of being successful. Majority will get an okay job, work from 8 to 5, get married, buy a big TV, get kids and maybe a dog or two. That is the best scenario, and it is a trivial one. I am not saying that people cannot be happy living this kind of life. It is possible, absolutely, but only when we cherish right things. Kindness, love, service, and helping others are so much more important and rewarding than buying another gadget or toy. Teaching kids to be servant-minded instead of self-centered is essential to their happiness. Material things can satisfy at first, but they never lead to the true joy in life. Taking them to other countries to understand human suffering will change their view of life and will teach them what really matters.  

7. If you grow up to be simply religious, I did not do my job well. I hope to introduce you to the simple and deep joy of knowing Christ. - I see how simply taking your kids to church every Sunday and saying Grace before the meal just because those are customs may not lead them to faith. Those things may become just something you do because others do that. Like doing the dishes or washing your hands before dinner, for example. It does not have much meaning to it. Moreover, after time, kids may start hating church and everything connected with religion just because it is their parents' way. Religion is by no means equal to faith, and teaching religion to kids as a system of traditions may divert them from the real thing. Invading young minds with dead religion is like vaccinating them against a disease. When they encounter true faith, they may reject it because they will not know the difference between the two. Let me try to explain my point further with a simple real life example that many people can probably sympathize with: weight loss. If you want to lose weight, you've got to have right motivation. Losing pounds to fit into a wedding dress may be quite powerful in the short run, but it probably will not keep that weight away for too long after the big day. The key to a successful weight loss is right motivation, or things that really matter, like staying healthy to be able to play with your kids and grandkids. When something bigger is at stake, it tends to keep us on track longer. The same with being a kind, loving, Christ-like person: only a deep belief of doing good for other people because of our Lord being kind to us will keep your fire of kindness and compassion burning. When you understand that you are never alone, never forsaken, and never have to deal with things that are out of your control by yourself, life changes. That is the difference between teaching your kids religion and teaching them how to have the most wonderful relationship in the world -  a relationship with our Savior. 

We are very excited to teach our future kids all (or some) of these truths, however hard it may be. Growing kids is a huge responsibility, so help us God! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

What You Owe Your Kids - Resolutions Parenting Session 1

Since we moved to Houston, we have been almost constantly surrounded by kids. For those who do not know, we have 16 nieces and nephews (12 boys and 4 girls), and all of them are from my husband's side. One day, we are hoping to be parents as well, and, looking into the future, we do not miss any opportunity to learn about parenting. I guess this way we are hoping to be proactive and prevent some of the potential problems that may arise later. Of course, we will not know what works for sure until we have a chance to experiment with our kids, and some things may work better than others. Every family and situation is different, but the basic principles that we learned from Curt Williams of Youth-Reach Houston last Saturday do sound good.

During the first session of his Resolutions Parenting seminar, Curt shared  his list of The Five Things You Owe Your Kids:

1. Food
2. Clothing
3. Shelter
4. Access to medical care
5. Access to education

When he tried to understand why a lot of kids these days reign over their parents, disobey, and misbehave, he found out that part of the problem lies in all the blessings that kids take for granted. Internet, cell phones, and brand name clothes that most kids have are extras, not the basics, and they feel entitled to have all those things. He said that we all want the blessings of obedience without obeying, and parents often reward kids by giving them stuff when they disobey. So, Curt talked to a social worker to find out what minimal conditions parents are legally bound to provide to their children in order not to lose their parental rights. The result was a list of five things mentioned above. 

1. Food - we are talking about very basic food, like chicken breast and frozen veggies, and not about Gatorade, candy, pizza, and nuggets that kids prefer. 

2. Clothing - kids have to have two pairs of clothes, size and weather appropriate. Only TWO! Walmart brands will do. 

3. Shelter - a covered and screened structure, with hot and cold water and heat. Nothing said about A/C, personal rooms, or even beds. Curt suggested kicking out kids early on to teach them the rules of your family. When his young son did not want to brush his teeth and go to bed, Curt put him outside in the pouring rain for a little bit to teach him a lesson. When he opened the door to see his kid several minutes later and asked what he wanted, the boy said, "To brush my teeth." He learned that if he wanted to live in Daddy's home, he had to obey. 

4. Access to medical care - once again, very basic. Parents do not have to take their 16-year old daughters to plastic sergeants to increase their breast size. Apparently, that happens.

5. Access to education - public schools or home schooling are fine. Private schools and tutors go well above and beyond basics. Also, parents should let kids fail in school if they do not want to do their homework. Children learn from failures and not from success. 

Eye opening, isn't it? Of course, this is a minimal list that is meant to show parents that anything beyond the basics is a blessing. If you provide all the extras to your kids and they behave well and obey you, great! However, if they do not listen to you and do not appreciate all their blessings, it is time to change something. Here are some suggestions of things that are extras:
- Cell phones                                - Video games
- Internet                                     - Extracurricular activities
- Brand name clothing                - College
- iPods                                          - A car
- Stereos                                      - Social life 
- Computers                                 - Concerts
- Trips and outings                      - Pizza/soda

Curt Williams told us a real life story of a small Latin single mother and her huge 15-year old son who was abusing her. She absolutely could not control him and did not know what to do. The last drop was when he pushed her against the refrigerator. Poor woman, fearful for her life, called Curt and asked for his advice. He suggested warning the son first that if his behavior did not improve, he would see some changes in the home. Of course, this warning did nothing to change the boy. So, one day, when he returned from school, he found his room empty, with only a pillow and a blanket on the floor and two sets of clothes from Walmart in the closet. Boy, did he rage! He stormed out of his room, screaming, "Where is my stuff?!" Mother quietly replied that this was the change she had warned him about. Bad behavior - no stuff. The boy (probably, after watching too much TV) flipped his phone and tried to call the police on his terrible mother, but... his service was cut off. Infuriated, he ran to the land phone and called 911. The policeman came, and the three sat down on the couch. The boy told his story of an unfair mother who took away all HIS things. The mother explained her approach to try and tame her abusive son. The policeman leaned behind the boy's back and hi-fived the mother. Then, he took the boy outside and warned him that if he heard from him again, the boy would go to jail.

Do you think this calmed the guy down? Nope. Since he could not have his stuff, he decided to leave home. And he left. The boy went on to his friends, sleeping on the couch, but no mother would want to have an extra 15-year old mouth to feed. His mother called Curt Williams and told him how wonderful the house had been since her oldest left and asked what to expect next. Curt told her exactly what would happen: the boy would return and try to bargain. Four days after he left, the son came back home and said to his mother, "Fine, I will come back home, but only if you give me back all of my stuff." "You must be out of your mind!" exclaimed the Mom. "Why in the world would I want you back in my house? Since you left, the younger kids stopped fighting, and I no longer worry about money disappearing from my purse. If you want to come back, you will have to change." The boy returned and slept on the floor for several weeks. Then, he started helping his Mom around the house with the chores. After a while, he asked for his stereo back. "No," said the mother, but she returned his bed. Every time he would ask for something back, she would say no and return something else instead to show him that she was in control. Over time, he learned that if he wanted to live in his mother's house and enjoy all the blessings, he had to follow her rules. Fast forward several years: the boy is in college and absolutely cherishes his mother, treating her like a queen! 

This puts a tear into my eye. What a great story! Hopefully, we will never let our future kids run the show at our home, and it won't get too far that we would have to take radical measures. But I absolutely agree with the idea of teaching kids to appreciate what they have and not to feel entitled to things. Curt Williams also suggested taking your children along when you travel to other countries and show them how other kids are much less fortunate than the average Americans. If you cannot afford to travel, start volunteering at a local shelter and see the real life there. Teach this to your kids as soon as they start understanding the concepts of rules, obedience, and consequences to their actions. 

Giving things to children:
- Robs kids of ambition and initiative
- Removes from the parent the ability to reward
- Doesn't prepare kids for the ruthless nature of our society, where everything must be earned. 

Kids are told that they are unique and special, and they grow up feeling entitled to all the blessings of the world. Yet, reality is different. I am sure you know what I am talking about if you have ever looked for a job. There are many other people who you have to compete with to get the spot under the sun. By guarding children from all the troubles and failures they create weak people who grow up unable to make a change in the world. A wind blown tree is a tough, strong tree because the stronger the wind that blows on it, the deeper and stronger its roots grow. 

When we were growing up, we also did not have much. My sister and I lived with my mother at a communal apartment in Kazakhstan and were struggling. Our grandmother helped, and that was a blessing. My mother worked at a government job as a fire fighting unit dispatcher, and she was often paid her salary in... food or clothes instead of money. I remember when she was given 300 cans of pork, which is similar to American Spam. We had to eat it every day, because there was nothing else to eat otherwise. My Mom would sew us clothes, and we hated it because we just wanted to fit in and wear store-bought outfits. Now, I love when Mom sews us something because it is unique! Very interesting how perspective changes as you get older. We were never really given things, and from a young age my mother told me I had to study well if I wanted to go to college.  The only way I would continue my education was getting a scholarship. We learned to work for our blessings. There was no other way to get things we wanted. That is why I studied hard and got a full-ride scholarship at a private American university. Now I see that our poor childhood was Lord's blessing in disguise. I know that our children will be far more blessed, so it will be upon our shoulders to teach them to be great, God-loving people who do not take things for granted. We cannot wait to be parents!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Amazing Zucchini Crust Pizza

How would you like to eat pizza and not feel guilty? Okay, maybe you never feel guilty eating pizza. Then how about eating pizza and do good for your health? Oh, it is possible without sacrificing the flavor. The secret is zucchini crust! My co-worker, Chloe, spoke very highly of it and shared a recipe, and we gave it a try. Now it is a favorite! 

The original recipe can be found on the loveandprimal website, and below is our take on it. 

For crust:
- 4 shredded unpeeled zucchini 
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste) 
- 2 eggs 
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
- 1 cup (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese 
- Garlic Powder (to taste) 
- Seasoning (to taste)

Topping suggestions:
- sliced tomatoes
- spinach
- mushrooms
- chicken sausage
- pepperoni
- sliced olives
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Shred zucchini and let it sit for a little bit to separate some of the water. Drain the liquid. 

Combine zucchini with the eggs, Parmesan, mozzarella, and cheddar cheeses, garlic powder, and seasoning. Press into greased baking dish.

Bake, uncovered, at 400° for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, prepar
e your optional toppings for the pizza.
  • Tomato slices instead of the sauce. 
  • Any kind of meat. We used chicken sausage and pepperoni, but you can also use ground turkey, meatballs, and ham. (divide a total of 8 -12 oz of meat) 
  • Grape or whole tomato slices
  • For other veggies, we got spinach and mushrooms, but sliced onions, green pepper, broccoli florets, and red pepper can work as well. 
  • Shredded mozzarella and shredded cheddar (1/2 cup per layer).

After the crust turns golden brown, add the toppings.

Spread tomato slices over the top of the zucchini (use these instead of sauce). 

Layer other ingredients in this order: meat, vegetables, cheese, and sprinkle garlic powder and seasoning.

Make 2 – 4 layers, depending on how deep you want your pizza. 

Bake for another 30 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 6-8 servings.

Enjoy your healthy pizza!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Rainy Day in Genoa, Italy

After our stressful night in Rome (you can read about it here), we went to our cruise and prepared for departure. This was our second cruise, and we were very, very excited to travel with our parents this time. I remember talking about a Mediterranean cruise as a vague, future, maybe-maybe not event with my parents, and then it actually happened! The Lord is truly gracious. After having dinner, walking around the ship, dancing in an empty room with no music, and a couple of drinks, we were excited about our first port of call, Genoa, Italy. The bulletin promised a nice sunny weather with about 75 degrees for the following morning, and we could not wait to see this wonderful Italian town. 

Needless to say, we were quite disappointed when we found out that the weather was less than cooperating. I had a shawl that my husband had brought from his last tour to Afghanistan which kept me kind of warm, but I was still pretty cold. We took a hop on-hop off bus tour around town (surprisingly, the guide was Russian) and sat on the second floor of the bus, where it was windy (too windy). However, the views were very pretty. 

After several stops, we decided to get off and to look around. It was cloudy and chilly, but not too bad... yet.   Within several minutes we found a house up on the hill and decided to check it out. Here are our men leading the way.

The house turned out to be... an oriental museum! We got to see beautiful Chinese pottery, ancient military uniforms and other artifacts. Who knew that we would learn so much about Asia in Italy!

As soon as we were done with the tour, it started raining. At that point, we weren't too adventurous any more and just wanted to go back to the ship. A street vendor sold us a couple of cheaply made umbrellas for 5 euro each, and we continued on our path. However, it was a little bit too late; we got wet, and my Afghan shawl bled onto my white shirt, completely ruining it. Originally, there were several places we wanted to visit, but the maps that we had did not have a lot of street names and, therefore, were not too useful.

After about ten minutes of trying to figure it out, we gave up, ran to the bus under the pouring rain, and returned to the ship. Unfortunately, I can't tell you much more about Genoa!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

When in Rome...

After four days in Athens (read about our Greek adventures here and here in case you missed it), we flew into the Eternal City, Rome. We were to meet my parents there and take our Mediterranean cruise the following day. The very first thing that shocked us was the taxi fare. Coming from Greece where everything is cheap, a 10-min ride for 50 euro seemed to be a little too much! But we were very glad to meet my parents. In the evening, we decided to go out into the city. The hotel ran cheap shuttles to and from the city, so we took it to see Rome. Driving by the ancient ruins was very exciting! We arrived near the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland), or the National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, which is also known as "the wedding cake" due to its dominating size and pompous and un-matching architecture. Not unmatched, but un-matching, as in not fitting the Medieval neighborhood.

   We walked among thousands of tourists, took pictures, and had wonderful Italian pizza. It has very thin crust and white sauce, which makes it deliciously different from pizza that we are used to. Ancient buildings several feet below the current street levels (due to time and numerous floods that would bring dirt to the roads) were breathtaking and made me really understand why Rome is called the Eternal City. 

During the first night in Rome we visited the Trevi Fountain, which is truly breathtaking. According to the legend, those who throw a coin into the fountain will surely return to Rome. Two coins guarantee that you will meet your love in Rome, and three that you will not only fall in love, but also stay in Rome forever. We stopped at one coin.  

We also stopped by the famous Spanish Steps (which were built by the French and have nothing to do with Spain, by the way), and took a picture where Audrey Hepburn had ice cream in the 1953 film Roman Holiday.

We were completely in love with Rome by the time we decided to head back to the hotel around 10:30 pm. We went to the bus stop, which was by the very pretty old building, and found lots and lots of people waiting for the same bus.

The next bus would be leaving in an hour, so everyone was trying to make it on this one. When the bus came, all hell broke loose. People ran to the door, pushing each other. I once again felt like I was in Russia. I managed to squeeze in pretty early on and saved three more seats for my husband and parents. I felt so smart! But only a couple of minutes later the driver announced that no one is allowed to save seats and that not everyone will make it to the bus. I started panicking. By this time, my parents were on the bus, but my husband was not. The driver said that only four more people would get on. I almost started crying and ran to the exit, loudly saying that I was not to leave my husband alone in Rome at night when I saw him at the door. Praise the Lord! This experience definitely spoiled some of the excitement, but not for too long. We still loved Rome and were looking forward to spending three more days there upon our return from the cruise. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

European Honeymoon - Greece Part 2

There were many interesting things that we got to see and experience in Greece. Below is a rather random list of them. 

- IKEA is truly everywhere! Except for Nashville :(

- Greek food is fresh and tasty! And cheap.

- Lots of little cafes around town. This one is just getting ready to open in the morning.

- Gorgeous amphitheater in Acropolis, in a great condition.

- Lots of homeless dogs around the city, including the marble steps of Acropolis.

- Light, refreshing Greek beer for only 1 euro ($1.32).

- Authentic Greek salad in Athens was very good.

- It was so good that I ordered it again at another cafe. 

- The Acropolis Museum was built over the ancient ruins that can be seen through the glass floor. It is an amazing feeling to walk over them!

- What do you think of when you hear "grilled fish?" This is grilled fish Greek style. Surprisingly, it was delicious.

- This cocktail was not that good... due to Bailey's and Grand Marnier not mixing well together. As a result - curdled cocktail. 

- However, Greece is not a wonderful fairy-tale resort. I am sure it can be, if you pay enough, but we wanted to experience the real thing. And the real thing... is full of graffiti everywhere. Even some stones near Acropolis were vandalized. Every single building in the city is covered with "paintings" as well. I had never seen anything like it! 

- Athens is the city of contrasts with new and old buildings next to each other, and both are covered in graffiti.

- The weather was amazing there, about 90 degrees in Fahrenheit (+32 in Celsius) every day; yet, Greek women love wearing boots even when it is hot. 

- Guess what it is. To me, it looks like potatoes, but it was grilled cheese. 

- The Panathenaic stadium was originally built in Athens in 330-329 BC! All the seats are made of marble.

- Greek feta cheese is creamy and delicious! I want to find something similar at home.

- Greeks love coffee. They drink it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Coffee and nothing else. They call it frappe - coffee, sugar, water, ice and milk. Surprisingly refreshing! And costs only $1.00. 

- Athens reminded me of Russia in many ways, such as crazy driving, lots of motorcycles, and people staying out until late during the week days. Speaking of Russians, we met a lot of them in Athens. Many come to Greece to buy... fur coats. Even though it is summer and the weather is hot, fur coats shops are almost everywhere. We were offered some of them, but, thank goodness, I had an excuse - it is too hot in Houston for fur coats at any time of year. 

This is about it for Greece. Three days in Athens were a little to much to our taste, but it also gave us an opportunity to go at our own pace and truly dive into the local culture.