Trading pins at Disneyland Paris


One of my favorite things to do at a Disney park is trade pins. They're the perfect souvenir because they're small, inexpensive, and long-lasting. They're a lot of fun to trade, even for casual traders like me. My pins would be of no interest to the serious pin trader who owns dozens of binders of rare pins worth thousands of dollars, but many Disney park cast members wear lanyards filled with pins, and they are happy to trade any pin you want with them, up to two pins per day. Most of the pins sold in the parks are sold in all parks, but there are some pins that are exclusive to each park. So when we planned our first-ever visit to Disneyland Paris, I was determined to carve out some time to browse, buy, and trade pins.

12 ways Disneyland Paris differs from Disneyland California

Disneyland Paris

Disney has six theme parks around the world -- Florida, California, Japan, Paris, Hong Kong, and now Shanghai. Disney parks are not a "once-you've-seen-one-you've-seen-them-all" kind of thing. All parks stay true to the Disney brand, and many experiences will be the same. The Disney characters are the same, many of the rides are the same, even whole areas are the same. In all parks, you'll enjoy immaculate surroundings, friendly cast members, an immersive experience, and attention to detail. But each park has quite a few things unique to the park, and to the culture of the host country, so each park will give visitors a unique experience. That's why I want to visit all the Disney Parks around the world before I die!

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.