How To Forgo Summer Camp & Save MoneyWhy send your kids to summer camp this year?  You can save so much more money by creating your own summer camp and spend that much needed time with your kiddos this summer!

By doing a bit of research, you can keep your summer spending to a minimum and still be able to enjoy all that your city has to offer.  I usually make a list of my kids favorite places and start there. 

Free Movies Days

Well, when my kids we’re much smaller, summer camp movies were free.  Now, depending on the theater you go to, it can be anywhere from $1-$4.  Either way, it’s still much cheaper than a full price ticket.

Living in sunny Southern California, I usually opt for Regal Cinemas or AMC Theatres.  Both offer summer camp movies 2 days a week and if you click on the links above, you can find theaters near you with a list of movies playing all summer.  Granted, these movies are NOT new movies, but escaping the heat, soaking in the air conditioning, and letting the big screen entertain your kids for a while, more than makes up for it.

Free Museum Days

If you’re like me and like to add a little culture and some learning to your outings, free museum days are a great deal.  Whether it’s checking out dinosaur bones or gazing at the stars, you’re sure to find something that will keep them entertained for hours and tire them out just enough to let you enjoy the day as well.  Some of the museums on this link are always free, some have certain days of the month available, and some are just by donations.  Rest assured, that if museums are on your list, you’ll find one right up your alley and with just a little bit of planning, it’ll make the kids happy as well.

Free Park Days

I know I already mentioned movies.  However, for a much more fun outing, pack a snack, bring your camping chairs, and catch a movie under the stars.  Most communities have local parks that plan both movies in the park or if you feel like dancing under the stars, music in the park.  Both of these fun outings beat the heat by being night time events and tons of family fun.  Best part about these, they’re free!

However, if you want some fun Adult time of the same variety, check out the Rooftop Cinema Club.  This specific one is local to L.A., but I’m sure most big cities have something similar.  How fun is watching movies outdoors, under the stars, surrounded by the glowing lights of the city!?!

Or maybe you’d like something a little more adventurous and want to watch movies surrounded by dead people.  For those thrill seekers, Cinespa shows movies in two locations, the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery or historic movie palaces around L.A..

Whether you choose the rooftop, cemetery, or palace, expect to pay for much more than just the movie, but with an experience like that, why not?

Free Beach Days

Most beaches in southern California have some type of parking fee, but usually it’s minimal.  However, a couple bucks to soak in some rays, getting wet, and tiring out the kids is more that worth it.  Don’t let parking fees keep you away, there are so many beaches in California, it’s not hard to find free parking either. 

Don’t want to melt in the sun?  How about the beach at night?  That’s right, it’s the time of year that the grunion run.   Don’t worry, you don’t have to run after fish on the beach, they come to you.  If you’re not interested in getting fishy, let the kids do it, or just let it be a learning experience.  Trust me, the kids will love it and you’ll love doing something free, under the stars, spending time with the kids, while they run around ‘til their little hearts are content.

Catch a local Ball Game

I’m lucky enough to live in an area with two Baseball teams, so I have my choice to choose from.  To get the best bang for my buck, I go with companies like seatgeek.com or cheaptickets.com.  I can get Dodger or Angels tickets starting at $5 each!  Which means, for my family of 4, I can catch a local ball game for $20, plus parking.  Granted, you’re not allowed to take your own snacks in, but you can have a large dinner before the game, tailgate, or spurge at any one of the food booths they have to offer.  Usually, this is the only family outing we spend a little bit more on during the summer.  But considering I’m saving so much money on everything else, it’s worth catching a game or two this summer.

So there you go, with a little bit of planning, a packed lunch, and some sunscreen, your kids will love the summer camp you have custom built for them, much more than those other ones.  Have fun!

-Sandra

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Tomato & goat cheese soup
Goat cheese in my soup? How did I get here?

A couple of years ago, my Chicago native husband convinced me to take a trip and traipse around the city with him.  Never having been and knowing my love for travel, I jumped at the chance to get to know the city he so deeply loved.  Of course, being the conscientious adventurer, I delved into all things Chicago, especially the food and had a list for my must stop and dine places in the city before we even left L.A.

One of the places we stopped at after our improptu photo shoot at Wrigley Field, was the Standard Market Grill.  Being a mom of a child with Celiac Disease, I make it my mission to research places that have gluten-free menus in place for our next visit with the kids.  I wish I could say I sampled everything on the menu, but no, sadly.  Having had a hearty breakfast, I opted for something light and refreshing to hold me over until dinner, and went with the gf tomato & goat cheese soup.

I have to say, I was a bit apprehensive about goat cheese in my soup.  Although I love all things cheesy, goat cheese is not high on that list.  However, I was reassured it was an amazing dish and it did not disappoint.

So how does this bring me to this recipe? Did I steal it? Nope! I didn’t take enough money for bail, so I scoured the web until I found something similar and just as tasty.

INGREDIENTS

2 tbsp-olive oil
1-medium yellow onion
2-garlic cloves
1/4 tsp-red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp-dried thyme
1 – 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
1-cup vegetable broth
2 oz goat cheese
2 oz queso fresco
black pepper

INSTRUCTIONS

Over medium low heat sauté with olive oil, onion diced finely, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and dried thyme, for 5 minutes or so or until onions are soft. Stir occasionally until slightly brown.

Next, put whole can of tomatoes and vegetable stock in a blender (including the juice from the tomatoes). Add the sautéed mix to blender. Blend on pureed setting. 

Then, pour into soup pot and bring to a boil. Add water if desired for a thinner soup. Pepper to taste. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Sprinkle on goat cheese and let melt before stirring.

Last, serve and top with queso fresco.

Side Note: if you’re not a soup person, use 1/4 cup less broth and use it over pasta for an alternate dish. Enjoy!

-Sandra

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Uber Rider 101As an Uber driver, I have read countless articles on how to be a better Uber driver, ways to give outstanding service, how to get 5 stars and such. However, I have yet to read a single article on how to be a better rider.  Maybe it’s the whole “the customer is always right” bit.  Having been on the giving and receiving side of the service industry, this is not always true. I’ll not bore anyone with 101 ways to be a better Uber rider, but I will let you in on the top 5 ways to improve your riding experience regardless of who your driver is.

  1. Be considerate

This should be a given and you may think, you don’t have to be because you’re paying for a service. But here’s the thing, you are getting into someone’s PERSONAL car. Uber “the company” does not pay our car payment, they don’t wash our cars, they don’t pay our insurance, heck, they don’t even put gas in our cars.  These are OUR vehicles. We use these vehicles in our everyday life. To take our kids to school. To go to church on Sunday. To go to our other jobs. So in this instance “do to others as you would have others do unto you”. 

I have been lucky and have not had a problem in this area, but I’ve heard some horror stories.  Uber riders I’ve had have been extremely respectful and even ask if eating in the vehicle is permitted. I personally do not mind, as long as what you bring into my car is taken with you. Common courtesy goes a long way.

  1. Be understanding

You may have taken a particular route a million times, but chances are your Uber driver has not. We have our GPS to guide us, but if you prefer an alternate route, say so. Most of us don’t mind, especially if you can maneuver us around construction or traffic. But understand that there are some drivers out there that prefer to stick to the map. If they do, don’t get offended, just sit back and enjoy the ride and be confident in the fact that Uber has provided us with the means to get you to where you are going.

  1. Have a conversation

If you feel awkward getting into a strangers car, realize that we are human too and probably feel a bit awkward about it as well.  I tend to break the ice by confirming the destination and usually ask if they are headed to work and what time they start. I can’t control the traffic, or if Uber was called too late to get to work on time, but at least I know I can do whatever I possibly can to get there on time.

I’m not breaking any laws or getting a ticket for my Uber rider, but I’ll usually let them know what the map ETA states, so they are aware of the length of time in the car.  Usually, that bit of conversation is enough to naturally ease into further conversation. But in the event that it doesn’t, at least it subdued the awkwardness for both of us.

  1. You’re an Uber Rider, Enjoy the Ride

The whole point of Uber is to get from point A to point B without driving yourself. I drive in Southern California in an area notorious for its traffic. If you’re taking an Uber, there may be traffic to contend with, but you can relax and let your driver maneuver around it. The best thing about Uber is the stress free ride; letting someone else take the wheel. Knowing we’ve been vetted and given the green light to do so.

Nothing stresses out a driver more, than a back seat driver. I don’t mean the location of your seat, but the manner in which you give us directions and stress us out about driving you. If you wanted to be a back seat driver, you should’ve driven yourself. So enjoy it, converse with us, catch up on some zzz’s, tune us out and tune into some music, it’s your time. Do whatever you’d like to enjoy not having to drive yourself.

  1. Rate us

I’m not asking for 5 stars, and I’m definitely not asking to be 1-starred. Just be honest. I’d rather know I need to improve, than to NOT know I’m doing something wrong, if that’s the case. If you like the service, let us know. If you didn’t, let us know why. It’s that simple. All I ask is to be honest. Don’t be spiteful. If you give a low star, just explain why so we can improve ourselves. We’re human, not robots. We need feedback.

What most Uber riders don’t know is that we rate you as well. It works both ways. Uber wants to know if a rider needs to have their riding privileges revoked or if a driver does. So being honest with your feedback is the best thing you can do for everyone using Uber. Because you can rest assure that since we are required to rate every passenger, we wouldn’t want to pass on a nightmare passenger to the next driver, if it could’ve been prevented.

At the end of the day

You want a more pleasant experience and you want to know if there was something you could’ve done to have one.  Well, here you go. I’ve given you a list of things that are within your control for a more pleasant Uber ride. If doing 1-4 doesn’t make it more enjoyable, then you have #5 to make it more enjoyable for the next person that gets in that car.  Consider it your social obligation to keep great Uber drivers on the road and bad ones off the streets.

-Sandra

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We spend so much time chasing happiness, we resolve that it’s something tangible.  The horrible truth is that you can’t hold it, can’t wish for it, can’t buy it, because it’s a state of mind.  It’s a choice.

Happy when” is a killer to “happy now

How many times have you said:
“I’ll be happy when…I meet the right person to marry...I finish school...I get that promotion. 

How silly does it sound reading that?  I’m sure you’re thinking that if it was that easy, everyone would make that choice. Well, not everyone knows that it’s choice to make. For some, even though they do know it, they’re skeptical. But it is that easy.

How has this been kept a secret? It hasn’t.  Happiness is a state of mind. It’s your perception of what makes you happy. Which is exactly why my idea of happy is different from yours.

Too often we focus on getting to the finish line of being happy that we don’t focus on making our “now” happy. Choose to be happy in the moment. Be happy with the progress you’ve made, be happy with the person you’re with, be happy where you are.

We grow what we water.

Don’t water the negatives in your life that are keeping you from being happy. Focus on all those little things that make you happy. For instance, it can be as simple as being happy that your spouse loves you, works hard for you, loves to have conversations with you and rushes home at the end of the day to be with you. How can that not make someone happy? But if your focus is on those long hours they put in at work away from you, that conversations are mostly about the topics they’re interested in, that they took the long way home to avoid traffic, aren’t you just looking at things that steal your happiness.

What you focus on is what you attract.

I know, it’s so cliché to ask you to look on the bright side. But the reality of it is, that if we train ourselves to do just that, have we not just added to our happiness? Didn’t you just say you’d do anything to make your “now” happy. It’s that easy, finding the happiness in everything. Once you change your view, you no longer chase happiness, you just are happy.

Happiness Disney QuoteEver wonder why Disneyland is the happiest place on earth?

It could be Walt Disney’s perception due to the amount of money Disneyland makes. Maybe it’s because kids are so entertained by the simplest of things. Possibly it’s because parents can take a break and not have to entertain their kids themselves. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because you’ve now shifted your view from being in the real world with real problems, into a world of fun and fantasy where your problems don’t exist.

I’m not saying live in a fantasy world, but by all means, shift your perception. Change how you view happiness.  It doesn’t have to be elusive or far away. It can be right now.

I’ll leave you with a prayer we say every night with our kids to teach them gratitude and how to be happy in the moment.

Dear God,
Thank you for another wonderful day.
Thank you for everything you’ve done and everything you continue to do.
Such as putting a roof over our heads.
Food in our bellies.
And love in our hearts.
-Amen

It may not have been a wonderful day, it may have been a long tough day, but being grateful that we had one more day alive, is enough to make us happy about it, whether good or bad. By the same token, we may not live in a mansion, but we have a home to come to, a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and a family that we love and love us back.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that we forget about, that make us happy. Like a light switch, just switch your perspective and you’ll find, you’ve been happy all along.

-Sandra

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