Getting to Hogwarts: Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station

Every Harry Potter fan longs to attend Hogwarts, the most magical school in the world. But before you can board the Hogwarts Express, you have to get on to Platform 9 3/4. Do you have what it takes to cross the magical barrier and enter the wizarding world? We visited Platform 9 3/4 to find out! Platform 9 3/4 is located at King's Cross Station in London. King's Cross is both a railway station and a London Underground (Tube) stop, so if you are taking the Tube to King's Cross, you will have to exit the Tube to get to the railway station portion.

Boot Sale Bargains

Whether you live in Marlborough, UK or Menlo Park, CA, summer is the season for garage sales. The only difference between the garage sales in the US and the ones in England is that the sun doesn't shine on the ones in England, and they're called car boot sales. Instead of holding the sales on their front yards, people pack their stuff up in a car and gather at a common ground.

Pupusas with lettuce and beef (aka Pupusalad)

I very rarely buy frozen foods, and when I do, it's usually only one of five dishes: quiche, chicken curry, teriyaki meatballs, Filipino lumpia, or chicken tamales. All but the lumpia come from Costco (the lumpia comes Goldilocks!). The chicken tamales were the result of a blogger partnership with Del Real Foods; they sent us some of their prepared Mexican dishes, and we've loved them ever since. Whenever I see Del Real's chicken tamales at Costco, I can't help stocking up on a pack or two to stash in the freezer!

Easy veggie lasagna

Pasta dishes are a dinner staple at our house, but one item that hardly ever makes it onto our menu is lasagna. I think it's because I always associate making lasagna with a lot of WORK. I have to make the meat sauce, make the white sauce, cook the noodles, then layer everything, then bake. That's a lot of pans and a lot of time, especially for someone who usually starts thinking about what to make for dinner 30 minutes before dinnertime!

A few weeks ago I decided to bite the bullet and make a lasagna. When planning the ingredients, I decided to use Trader Joe's canned marinara sauce, and that turned out to be the shortcut that turned lasagna into a dreaded time-suck into a dish that I can make as easily as a stir-fry. What I've come to realize is that lasagna is as labor-intensive as you want it to be. You can easily substitute prepared foods for some or all of the ingredients like the white sauce and the red sauce, so all you really have to do is layer the dish.

Here's a  set of guidelines for making veggie lasagna, complete with "in-a-pinch" shortcuts. I used the word "guidelines" deliberately -- this is not a recipe! I don't have any measurements, and you can substitute meat for the veggies, or use whatever kind of shredded cheese you have on hand. It's all very loosey-goosey, which is how I usually like to cook. Enjoy!

Easy veggie lasagna

Sautee chopped onions, garlic, red bell peppers, mushrooms, and zucchini.  Simmer till the liquid evaporates. If you're in a pinch, steam a bag of frozen veggies.

Make a white sauce with butter, flour, milk, salt, and pepper. In a pinch, use a jar of alfredo sauce.

Make a red pasta sauce. In a pinch, use canned or bottled sauce.

Boil lasagna noodles. In a pinch, use no-bake lasagna noodles -- but be forewarned! In my (admittedly limited) experience, no-bake noodles turn out to be hard and chewy unless you par-boil them or let them sit for a while in boiled water... in which case, you might as well boil the noodles anyway!

Layer the ingredients -- tomato sauce, noodles, veggies, white sauce, mozzarella cheese. I try to get to 3 layers.

Finish off with a layer of mozarella cheese. Bake at 400 for 50-60 minutes.

You can make a second batch so that you have enough food for 2 meals without any more work -- just increase the quantities and get out a second casserole!

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Celebrating Philippine Independence Day

Today marks the 118th anniversary of Philippine Independence Day. On June 12, 1898, the revolutionary armies of the Philippines, led by Emilio Aguinaldo, leader of the armies and first president of the Philippines, declared the Philippine's independence from Spain.

Northern California has such a large Filipino community, so it's a given that there would be Independence Day celebrations in the area. It has been a while since I've been to one of them, so I decided to take the family up to San Francisco to participate. Other than occasional trips to Goldilocks and Asian groceries for Filipino meals and snacks, I don't live the Filipino lifestyle that much. The kids are always eager for a chance to chow down on lumpia and pork barbecue, so they happily came along.

Free form apple tart

apple tart

My favorite summertime dessert is fresh fruit, and my second-favorite summertime dessert is baked fruit with some kind of dough. We love fruit pies, fruit tarts, and fruit crumbles - especially when topped with vanilla ice cream! While we do buy them occasionally, I prefer making and baking them, especially when all the fresh, sweet summertime fruit arrives at our local farmer's market. I'm not very good at making pie crusts, but crumb toppings are easy-peasy, and I have a go-to sweet pastry dough from food blogger Jennie Perillo, so I can whip up a fruit crumble or tart whenever the whim strikes me.

Frozen Live at the Hyperion -- experiencing Frozen in a new way

Being a parent has many benefits; one of the more unexpected ones is having a convenient excuse for watching Disney's Frozen more times that I can remember. To be honest, I may have watched the movie more times than the kids have! What can I say? Elsa's coming-of-age story, the power of sisterly love, and Anna-Kristoff's sweet, goofy romance really resonated with me.

After watching Frozen half a dozen times in the movie theater and countless more on tv and DVD, I thought I had finally gotten the Frozen Fever out of my system. Then Disney had to go and come up with a stage version for the Disneyland Resort and invite me to the premiere performance.... and now I find myself obsessed with Frozen all over again!  Frozen: Live at the Hyperion opened at Disney California Adventure on May 27, and it has given Frozen lovers like me a chance to relive the Frozen story in a totally different way.

10 Reasons to Fly out of San Jose Mineta Airport.

Remember the days when you could show up at the airport 10 minutes before your flight left and still make it on board? 9/11 put an end to those days forever, but lately it seems like we're being asked to get to the airport earlier and earlier.

For weeks we've been hearing horror stories about long TSA lines at airports causing travelers to miss their flights. Airports have been updating their websites,masking passengers to allow extra time to check in. So when I began planning a business trip to LA, I decided to err on the side of caution.  I planned to arrive at the airport 2.5 hours before my flight departure time -- for a 1-hour flight! 

I shouldn't have worried -- I was flying out of San Jose. The security line took me only 15 minutes to get through! I was much too early, but at least I spent most of my time relaxing in a comfy chair instead of stressing out in line.

Any time I have a choice, I fly out of San Jose Mineta Airport (SJC). I like it so much better than the Bay Area's major airport, San Francisco airport (SFO)! For one thing, it's closer to us than the San Francisco airport is. Also. Alfie's office is a 3-minute walk from the airport, so we can park in his office garage and save on parking fees. Obviously these don't apply to most people, but there are many other reasons to choose SJC over SFO. Here are ten of them:

1) It's a smaller airport, so it takes less time to get to your gate.

2) Less people fly through SJC so it means thinner crowds and shorter lines.

3) All the seats in their waiting lounges have outlets,Mao you don't have to crouch on the floor or fight to gain access to the only outlet in some obscure corner.

4) They have comfy seats with wide armrests for your coffee, along with power outlets and USB charging ports.

5) They even have a business lounge that any traveler can use. In addition to the usual chairs with outlets, the lounge has tables and cubicles so people don't have to balance their laptops on their laps.

6)  They have a water bottle refill station. Way to go green, SJC!

7) Their restroom stalls have enough space for parents and kids to be in the same stall.

8) There's even enough space in the stalls for luggage!

9) They have nursing rooms so moms who don't feel comfortable nursing in public don't have to feed their baby in a toilet stall.

10) Last but definitely not least, they have a Smashburger!! 'Nuff said!

The only disadvantage I can see is that fewer flights go out of SJC, especially international flights -- but British Airways has just begun a new service from SJC to Heathrow, so that's half of our international flights taken care of! If only they had flights to the Philippines as well... At least the smaller number of flights means that I can still enjoy SJC as the undiscovered gem that it is.

Preparing for the teenage years and underage drinking

Don't worry, dear reader; that's sparkling apple juice in the kids'  champagne flutes!

One of the most wonderful things about seeing kids grow is seeing how they change their minds. That ability to adapt is how they end up discovering favorite new foods, taking up new hobbies, and making new friends.  Of course, that ability to adapt can also be challenging for parents as kids get exposed to ideas and habits that clash with the values that we as parents are trying to instill.

Take drinking, for instance. The Pea is 15, and she tells me, "Mom, I hate the taste of alcohol! You don't ever have to worry about me drinking!".  That could well be true, but given her recent turnarounds, I'm not going to take that as gospel truth:

Two years ago: I hate jeans. I can't move in them and I can't breathe in them.
Two days ago: I need more jeans. They're all I wear!

Two years ago: I can't drive an Autopia car without crashing into the rails! I'm a terrible driver and I'm never driving, ever.
Two weeks ago: I'll be old enough to get my driver's permit in 6 months! I can't wait!

Two weeks ago: Mom, I hate the taste of alcohol! You don't ever have to worry about me drinking!
Two years from now: ????

She's a freshman, and already some of the parties that her friends have been invited to have featured alcohol. What's it going to be like when she goes to prom in just a few years?  I think it's never too early to start talking to your kids about topics like alcohol, underage drinking, or drinking and driving.  Want some tips to get your conversation started? Check out the Prom Drinking Guide that I wrote in partnership with SheKnows and Anheuser-Busch, and check out Anheuser-Busch's Family Talk About Drinking initiative on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Disclosure: this is a compensated post.

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Packing list for a Color Run

Color Me Rad color run in San Jose

I've been wanting to go on a fun run with 3Po and Jammy for a while now, A color run -- fun runs inspired by the Indian celebration of Holi, where runners are showered in color -- seemed like the perfect way to start. With their crazy soccer schedule, however, it always seemed like they had a soccer game conflicting with a run I was interested in, so it took a long time before the stars finally aligned and we were able to find a free weekend that coincided with Color Me Rad in San Jose. To our delight, Alfie and The Pea decided to join us, so the run turned into a family affair.

We had an amazing time (head over to Bonggamom Finds for a detailed description of the Color Me Rad race). 3Po and Jammy ran the 5k with hardly any effort whatsoever (probably not surprising since they're training 3 times per week on a competitive soccer team), and we ran at an easy pace. Volunteers plastered us with color at 4 stations along the way and at the finish line. To make things even messier, it had been raining every day for a week, so parts of the course turned into a "bonus" Mud Run!

By the time we finished the race, we were covered in colored powder, colored gel, mud, sweat, and rain. Fortunately, I put on my planning hat ahead of time and figured out ways to minimize the amount of mess we brought home with us. Here are 10 things I recommend for everyone to have (some things need to be with you during the run and other should be left in your car) for any color run:

The right attitude

Many runners get annoyed when they're forced to slow down, so set your expectations of what this run is all about.  This is not a race where you're likely to achieve a personal record. There will be lots of walkers and lots of kids, so be prepared to dodge a lot of slow-goers and even a stroller or two. The operative word is "fun", so focus on enjoying the moment and getting covered in color!
Color Me Rad color run in San Jose

White tshirt

Color shows up better on a white tshirt! Wear a white tshirt that you don't care about, because the color may not wash off completely. The shirts may not come out of the wash completely white; they might end up stained a very light pink or orange. For some reason, the free tshirt included in the Color Me Rad registration packet was grey, not white, so we decided to bring the grey shirts and keep them in the car, to change into after the race.  Alfie, The Pea, and I wore old white shirts we no longer cared about, and for the boys, I bought a 4-pack of Hanes white tees at HomeGoods for just $5!
Color Me Rad color run in San Jose

Plastic garbage bag cover-up

A friend taught me this trick a long time ago -- if you don't want to wear a long-sleeved jacked to your race but are concerned about feeling cold at the beginning, wear a garbage bag to stay warm! Tear out neck and arm holes, and wear it like a t-shirt. Once you start feeling warm, you can tear the garbage bag off and stuff it in the nearest trash can!
Color Me Rad color run in San Jose


None of us wanted colored powder in our eyes, so we all wore cheap plastic shades while running. Color Me Rad sells plastic sunglasses at packet pick-up and on race day. They cost just $5, so it's worth buying a pair and sparing your nice designer shades from getting doused in dye.
Color Me Rad color run in San Jose


Unlike sunglasses, I think caps are entirely optional, but worth mentioning. Whether you want to wear a cap or not depends on whether you're okay with getting your hair covered in color. The Pea wanted her hair colored, so she didn't wear a cap. I've read reports of people with light hair having more trouble washing the color out of their hair, but The Pea (who is blond) didn't have that problem.
Color Me Rad color run in San Jose


The dyed cornstarch powder used to coat the participants in color is non-toxic, and it's supposed to be safe when inhaled in small amounts -- but when you're running and gasping for air, the last thing you want is to breathe in a whole lot of powder! Many people bring bandanas and pull them up over their mouths and noses as they run or walk through the color stations. If you don't have a bandana, try holding your breath as you run or walk through the color stations.
Color Me Rad color run in San Jose

Baby wipes

After the run, you are sure to be covered in color, both powder and liquid. We had color literally running down our faces, necks, arms, legs, and clothing. You're going to want to wipe at least some of that color off before you get into your car! The race venues will probably have hand washing stations near the porta-potty area, or maybe even actual restrooms, but in case you don't have access to a lot of running water and paper towels, it's a good idea to have a large pack of baby wipes in the car.
Color Me Rad color run in San Jose

Extra tshirts

After the run, your shirt is sure to be saturated in wet, slimy, or powdery color. If it's a cold day, the last thing you want is to drive home feeling cold and clammy, so don't forget to have an extra shirt on hand in the car. There's nothing like changing into a clean, dry shirt!
Color Me Rad color run in San Jose

Plastic bags

You'll need a bag to dump all the layers that you peel off! You can pack an extra garbage bag in your car, or even better, pack a reusable cloth bag -- you can throw the bag into your washing machine along with all your other stained clothes.


Even after peeling off your tshirts and jackets and caps, even after you've wiped off your face and your hands, there's still a good chance that parts of your body will be stained with color -- I'm talking shoes, socks, legs, arms, hair, neck, shorts, pants, etc.. Bring 1 towel for each person to sit on for the ride home, so the color doesn't stain your car seats!

Color Me Rad color run in San Jose

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