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!