Magical Muggles

Earlier this year, we started reading the illustrated Harry Potter books with the kids. We weren’t sure how it would go since the books are pretty long and there aren’t pictures on every single page (the illustrations are gorgeous though!) We read about 15 minutes every night before they go to bed and it quickly became one of our favorite activities. I remember when I first read the Harry Potter books and becoming absorbed in JK Rowling’s story telling. I loved the adventures, characters and mostly the magical elements. When the final book of the series came out (after Dave and I were married) we ordered it same day from Amazon. I stayed up literally all night to finish the book that day because I couldn’t put it down!

Reading it with Brent and Tessa has been a magical experience for us now. I love seeing them discover the characters and story much in the same way I did. Brent’s school does “Literature Day” in place of Halloween where students dress as a character from a book and bring the book with them to the school parade. This year, it was pretty easy to decide which character he would be, and I must say he was the cutest Harry Potter 😉

It’s also been fun watching the movies with them after finishing the book. We are currently on the 3rd book and it’s been a treat for them to be able to see the movie and eat popcorn.

We also went to Universal Studios to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Dave and I had gone before and loved it and now that the kids know more about the places, it was so fun to see them experience it for the first time! I especially loved that Brent asked if he could wear his costume to the park!  

They loved the butterbeer drink at the Three Broomsticks restaurant, riding the Flight of the Hippogriff rollercoaster and Brent loved seeing the castle (part of the line to the ride inside). One of the best parts about being a parent is seeing your kids’ excitement and pure joy when they see or discover things for the first time!

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Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria, British ColumbiaWe had the best week up in Victoria, British Columbia! We started early with an 8 am flight out of LAX to Seattle, then a quick less than 30 minute flight to the Victoria airport. Dave’s dad had a work conference and his parents were kind enough to invite us to tag along on the trip. The last trip with just out family and his parents was our epic South America trip to Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay (before we had kids). This was my first time in Canada, and the kids as well (also their first time out of the country although it didn’t feel very foreign ;)

We stayed at the Fairmount Empress Hotel which is absolutely gorgeous! The gardens were absolutely gorgeous and July was the perfect time to visit. We had great weather, in the 60s with a nice breeze since we were right on the harbor.

Victoria British Columbia Fairmount Empress Hotel

Victoria British Columbia Fairmount Empress Hotel
Victoria British Columbia Fairmount Empress Hotel Victoria British Columbia Fairmount Empress Hotel

Victoria British Columbia Fairmount Empress Hotel

Here are some highlights from our trip:

Butchart Gardens: Victoria is known as the ‘Garden City’ and these gardens were incredible to say the least! The 55 acre land is a former limestone quarry that the Butcharts converted into a series of extremely well manicured gardens, including a Japanese, Rose, and Mediterranean Garden. It also has a few fountains, a carousel, a fireworks stage, a tea room, restaurant and a gelato shop. Its one of those places you could stay all day.

Butchart Gardens Victoria British Columbia family travel

Victoria Food Walking Tour: the tour started at the Victoria Public Market and then the local guide took us to a few locations nearby. We tried amazing bread from a French bakery, macarons, ice cream, pierogis, meatballs and chocolate. Dave’s mom planned most of the itinerary and this was a really fun way to try local spots and all the food was delicious.

Parliament: the parliament building which was just a block from the Empress hotel gives tours and also has a restaurant on the ground floor. I honestly didn’t know much about Canada and it was interesting to hear more about their government.

British Columbia Victoria Parliament British Columbia Victoria Parliament British Columbia Victoria Parliament

Beacon Hill Park: 200 acres of an awesome, free, public park. The land was set aside by a former governor who didn’t want any for-profit activities on the park. It’s beautiful with walking trails, lakes, peacocks, mini golf, a small splash pad shaped like a watering can and a goat petting zoo! There were 42 goats when we went including about a dozen babies.

Beacon Hill Park Victoria British Columbia free public park kids Beacon Hill Park Victoria British Columbia free public park kids Beacon Hill Park Victoria British Columbia free public park kids Beacon Hill Park Victoria British Columbia free public park kids

Carriage tour: we liked learning from the guide more about the history of Victoria and seeing Beacon Hill Park, the coast and the historic part of the city.

Victoria British Columbia

China Town walking tour: it was interesting hearing about the history of China Town and seeing the alleys that were created that are now filled with little shops and restaurants.

Victoria British Columbia Chinatown

Royal BC Museum: we saw the Mysteries of Egypt at the IMAX then checked out some of the exhibits: Egypt and the mummies, sea life and a giant woolly mammoth.

We were impressed with Victoria as a city. It was not only very beautiful but it was clean, lots of good places to eat, pastries, ice cream shops, unique bookstores, polite people, and we loved the flower baskets that they hang from all the city lampposts. Even though we were only there for a short time as tourists and it was summer, it was such a nice city we could picture ourselves living in – that’s one of my favorite parts about traveling, seeing where other people grew up, live, work and play. It’s my dream to see literally every country in the world. I think each place and city has something unique and beautiful to offer the world.

Victoria British Columbia Victoria British Columbia

Patience, persistence and perspiration

“Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success”

(Napolean Hill)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote, especially starting off a new year. 2017 was a pretty great year for our family. We felt settled in a good routine with Brent’s school stuff, sports, church, work, etc. We had a lot of fun here locally in LA area (lots beach, baseball, new restaurants, Disneyland, etc) and road-tripped a few times up to Vegas and Utah. 2017 was also the first year I’ve been completely healthy since Tessa was born! That pregnancy was particularly hard and it’s been nice to finally see progress and the ability to regain muscle. Since her birth, I’ve had numerous injuries – hamstring, achilles, knee, back – and persistence has been key for me. During the weeks I wasn’t able to fully exercise, I was still at the gym rehabbing, stretching and strengthening and it’s finally starting to have good results. I’m not nearly where I’d like to be but I’m happy with the journey so far. Last year I also started playing soccer again with two different teams (a women’s team and a coed team) which is my main motivation for working out. I wouldn’t consider myself a natural at anything. I was never a natural soccer player or had any particular talent at the piano. These are two things I worked at all growing up and continue to practice and love today. (Thanks, Mom, for forcing me to practice the piano all those years!)

Looking forward, I am grateful to be done with 2017 as all years come with the positive and some negatives. I’m counting down the days to a week long trip to England next month and to enjoying more days at home with the kids. It’s bittersweet that they have to grow up. I know the days are numbered when I’ll have so much time with them, to watch them discover things for the first time and just to genuinely enjoy their company.

Loving where you live

11 moves in 11 years of marriage. Now that Brent has started school we hope to stay here for a long time. We’ve loved getting to move around and see all parts of the country. One of the best parts of moving so much is being able to be a tourist in your own city, we’ve always been really excited to check out the best views, attractions, hidden gems and food in all the cities we’ve lived in. There really has been amazing things about each place we’ve called ‘home’ even if only for a short while – from the historical sites in DC, the BBQ in TX, the canyons in UT and the castles in Scotland. I feel like we feel settled here in Chino Hills and one of my favorite things about this suburban gem is all the parks and hiking trails. While we haven’t taken advantage of the hiking trails and state park (that supposedly have redwoods!) that are just minutes from us, we have because of the kids checked out a ton of parks. Chino Hills has a lot of open space preserved which is one of the most beautiful things about it. We are close to LA but far enough away to feel definitely suburban. One of my favorite places to walk around with the kids is the Chino Wetlands. It’s actually near a prison and an industrial area but inside the park is very peaceful!

chino ca wetlands park

chino ca wetlands park

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chino ca wetlands park

How to Save Hundreds per Month on “Fixed” Expenses

This article is obviously not written by me as I’m not the best with money but I found it interesting and informative. Since before we got married, we’ve tried to find ways to save money and cut expenses. It’s something we are constantly doing since that time 11 years ago and even now we find there are little things we can improve on. Sure I still, years later, miss my magazine subscriptions but in the long run, am glad we have been able to travel, relocate, have kids, a house, etc.

Thanks, Christine, for guest posting this article 🙂

When you sit down to determine your budget, you probably divide your expenses into “fixed” and “variable.” This is a great way to find wiggle room and cut back on certain indulgences. We immediately take a good look at how much we spend on eating out, entertainment, and gasoline. However, sometimes we don’t label those “fixed” expenses correctly. In fact, there are a lot of things that you can do to reduce your payments on things that seem like inflexible necessities. For example, utilities often seem out of our power. No matter what, you’re going to want heating in your house, you must have insurance, and cutting back on an internet connection will significantly reduce your quality of life (and sometimes even your job prospects.) But at the same time, these costs could be draining your finances much more than necessary, as this article points out.

There are often ways to cut back that we don’t even notice. You can get the same services for cheaper when you shop around, you can bundle and save, you can cut back on parts of a bundle that aren’t giving you any value, or you can play hardball and make a deal with your service provider. Think outside the box, consider everything flexible, and if you really want to cut back on your expenses, then make some changes! Here are some ideas:

Renegotiate Your Internet Bill

It’s surprising to most of us how flexible the monthly internet payment is. First of all, take a good look at whether or not you need the best package. Households seldom need more than 40 mbps, unless they have several gamers playing at once. My household of three simultaneous streaming services going at a time was just fine at 30 mbps. Additionally, don’t get suckered into added-on cable services and landlines if you don’t actually use them. Even if you get it for just a few dollars more per month, it’s not worth it if you don’t actually want to use it. Then, start playing hardball.  I’ve talked down internet providers from an 80$/month deal to $25. Do some research, look up deals online. Compare the prices for your current provider with a competitor in the area. Think of a number that you want and then doggedly ask for it. Don’t forget to follow up on it, too, to make sure that it becomes your regular payment.

Cut Back on Electricity

There are some things you can do to significantly reduce your electric bill without even changing your habits. First of all, replace your regular halogen light bulbs with LEDs. They take significantly less electricity and last longer. Then, add some powerstrips for your entertainment system. All of those plugs can drain a lot of energy, even when they’re not in use. Set those power strips so that you turn everything off when not in use.

Look over Your Cell Phone Bill

We know you want the best. There’s nothing more annoying than dropping an important call, or struggling to get data when you need to look something up. However, if you can cut your bill in half, it might just be worth waiting until you have a WiFi connection to look up that particular YouTube video. Start shopping around and see if a different network will give you a better deal. You might even find a better deal within your own network, by moving to a different plan, and making sure that calls to your most frequent contacts aren’t crippling you.

Save on Heating

If you live somewhere with cold winters, then you might notice that your utility bill spikes as soon as the holidays start. To a certain point this is inevitable. However, there are ways that you can minimize the cost of heating your house for the winter. First of all, do some weather-proofing and insulation. Heavy curtains on the windows, weather-stripping around doors and windows, and insulation in the walls and especially the attic can all make your gas use much more efficient. Get a blanket for your hot water heater. Its cost is minimal and it will save you a few dollars per month, quickly paying for itself. You can also lower the temperature of your hot water heater. How often have you put your hands under scalding hot water and realized it really doesn’t need to come out of the faucet that hot?

Review Your Subscriptions

This is especially important for entertainment subscriptions. Magazines, streaming services, even your Amazon Prime account are all luxuries. Sometimes you can share a subscription with someone else. Other times, you realize you really don’t need to keep up on that one show. Look at things like gym memberships and club fees.

Don’t Take Debts at Face Value

Is a significant chunk of your monthly income going towards something like student debt or medical bills? There are often ways to reduce those payments. Think about refinancing a mortgage, consolidating loans, and prioritizing debts or loans that charge crazy interest rates, and getting those paid off first.

Car Payments

Alright, ready to really take a chunk out of your monthly bill? Look at your cars. How much gas and upkeep do they take? Are you making car loan payments? Could you get by with one less car than what you have? Could you perhaps downgrade for a cheaper vehicle and reduce your monthly costs on the loan? Could you get a vehicle that takes a lot less gas? Could you use public transit for your commute, or bike to get errands done?

What are your best ideas for cutting back on “fixed” expenses?

 

German Pancakes with crispy edges recipe

This past weekend was General Conference and we enjoyed one of our favorite breakfasts – German Pancakes! We make them for special occasion breakfasts like Christmas and General Conference. It’s one of my favorite traditions because we all love them and they’re very easy to make! The recipe we use came from Dave’s family and we’ve tweaked it to have the edges crispy which I love.

The recipe (below) is very easy to make and doesn’t require much time to bake. My toppings of choice are either fruit or powdered sugar and Dave and the kids like syrup or fruit.german pancakes recipe

GERMAN PANCAKES RECIPE crispy edges

Summer highlights

This summer went by way too fast! We kicked off the summer with a road trip to Ansley’s baptism in Idaho with a few days in Salt Lake on our way up. We had an awesome staycation in Newport, an anniversary weekend in Seattle and then another road trip to Provo, Utah for Jake’s wedding! We saw the 7 Magic Mountains again, checked out the improved BYU bookstore, looked for Pokemon around campus, had Bam Bams BBQ with the LeSueurs and the Nashes who also happened to be visiting Utah, found some great babysitters for the wedding festivites – which included Bruges waffles, one of my favorite places in Utah!

The kids also took tennis and swim lessons the last half of summer at their future high school (when Tessa was finally potty trained, ha, ha!!!) They are continuing to improve with their swimming and being comfortable in the water. I think they liked tennis?? Maybe a little too early to tell if they’ll play when they’re older but we’ll probably do more lessons next summer!

Our favorite LA things so far

We’re bit by bit getting settled in and unpacking on rental home in CA. While we miss Austin, we are enjoying the great weather and looking forward to exploring another new city. Some of our favorite family things we’ve done so far:

Hike the Hollywood sign – There are lots of trail heads and we picked one based on Google searches that said this trail was good for strollers. The 2 small dirt lots that are usually available were closed because it was a holiday but, the trail was dirt or asphalt and great for our double jogging stroller. It’s a great hike with views you can’t beat! It’s on the opposite side of the city but if it were closer we’d probably go more.

hike hollywood sign

Georgetown Cupcake – We loved Georgetown Cupcake when we lived in DC and Virginia and happy to be reunited here in LA with our favorite cupcake place. They have classics, everyday flavors  (like vanilla squared), daily flavors and seasonal flavors – I finally got to try their peppermint cupcakes!

Georgetown cupcake

Georgetown cupcake

Tacos – there are so many great taco places, our 2 favorites so far are Guisados (downtown and Santa Monica) and a local place Taqueria Mora. We like simple street tacos, basic sides like rice and beans and carne asada fries 🙂 We’re looking forward to trying more tacos!

tacos

Salt and Straw – we first tried this in Portland and it’s my favorite ice cream so we were excited that they have a location in LA. Last summer I tried their Rocky Road and it was seriously the best rocky road I’ve ever had. Last week I tried Lemon Meringue Pie and it was also amazing.

salt and straw LA

Any suggestions of LA things or in the Chino Hills area?

 

On the road again

December was quite the whirlwind for us as Dave flew out to LA to start his new job the first week, we sold our Texas home, packed up again, found a rental in an awesome area (Chino Hills), drove 20+ hours and are trying to settle in and unpack before Christmas. We’ve always said we love to travel and see new places and we’ve had plenty of opportunities just this year.

Dave and Bruce drove the Uhaul and Brent, Tessa and I took a few days driving and stopped in Marfa, TX and Tucson, AZ. The kids did a good job driving for so long for 3 straight days (although they were crazy upon getting out of the car!) and loved staying in the hotels. Thanks to a tip from a friend, we stayed overnight in Marfa (at the Riata Inn) which is a tiny town in west Texas and saw a unique landmark that’s literally right on the side of the highway!

prada-store-marfa-valentine-texas

riata inn marfa texas

Chino Hills looks a lot like Penasquitos with rolling hills, lots of vegetation, stucco homes, small yards, great weather, great location and lots of good places to eat and shop. We’re excited to explore yet another new city in 2016!

Last day to enter to win a custom at home teeth whitening kit from Smile Brilliant!

See you after the new year hopefully with some house pictures 🙂

How to have a happy marriage 

Today, my husband and I  celebrate TEN years of marriage! I can’t hardly believe it, time sure has flown. We’ve had so many adventures together – 10 moves, 7 foreign countries visited, 1 dog, 2 kids, and 15 ballparks visited!

While we’re far from perfect and life is all about progress and becoming, I wanted to share a few things we’ve learned on having a happy marriage.

-Be the first to apologize and forgive. Don’t hold grudges or let grudges fester against your spouse, nothing good can come from it. Compromise. 

-Give 100%, not just 50% even though you’re a partnership. 

-Invest time in you as a couple – time with no distractions.

-Share the work load, work side by side and learn together.

-Find things you can do together – hobbies, exercising, vacations. 

I am in no means perfect or even good at most of these but I know our efforts to create and maintain a strong marriage will pay off! I’ve loved the last 10 years travelling with Dave and becoming parents together.

Any good marriage or relationship tips?

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*Fiesta Friday returns next week- we are finally closing on our home today!*