Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Ideas Please! Where would you take Five Kids on Vacation?

For Christmas this year, Wes and I put it into the hands of our five children, ages 5-14, to "choose their Own Adventure." (You can read more about it in this post, it is adventure 5). We have several other Adventures planned for the year as well. 

When we discussed their choice vacation with them, they all wanted either Hawaii or Disneyland. We love Disneyland, but are thinking of maybe trying different things this year, and we are already going to Hawaii on a different adventure. We are actually pretty good a traveling frugally, which is part of the reason we can do so many fun adventures, but when we are already doing more expensive trips like Hawaii this summer, I asked the kids to think of some less expensive options. Maybe somewhere we have not been before.

So far, they are stuck on Disneyland and Hawaii. I think it is because that is what they know. Thus I decided that we need to broaden our horizons. I bought this book for them to give them ideas:

Sadly, the kids aren't interested in reading through (or even skimming) it. BUT what I think they would do is to discuss and research places as recommended by friends. That is where you all come in. Give me some ideas of places we could go with our 5 kids. What places can I let them google and research as they "choose their own adventure"?!

Please feel free to comment here or on Facebook with ideas. OR you can email them to me if you want to. Really, any way you are willing to post/give me ideas is totally awesome! If I get some responses, I will write a follow up post after I discuss those options with the kids! 

Thanks in Advance!!!

Beckees Deal with Superbowl food

We are a family full of football fans!!

Wes played football all growing up, I was always a fan, and our two oldest boys have played for several years. We have a split family when it comes to which teams we root for, but our most fanatical, vocal fan is our middle child AKA #TomBradysBiggestFan. Wes grew up rooting for the 49ers (don't worry local friends, he has mostly outgrown that!). I lived in Denver in my early teens during which time my friend's dad was the coach of the Broncos, so I have liked them for a long time. BUT as we have lived in Washington state for 5 of the past 8 years, we all kind of like the Seahawks. Well, all but #TomBradysBiggestFan. He is all about the Patriots. And if I am being honest, I am kind of with him these days. #GoPats! In case you doubt his intense fandom, this is what he wore to CHURCH on Sunday LOL:

Regardless of where our alliances fall, we always have a big family party on Superbowl Sunday! I don't make any specific meals, but we basically have appetizers of all different kinds available for people to eat throughout the day. Sometimes I will buy a huge sandwich from like Subway as well, but mostly it is appetizer day. We have a few faves, but we also like to mix it up. Some of the faves that I plan to make this Sunday are as follows:

NOT a low calorie day, but for sure tasty and fun (and low key for me as far as cooking so I can enjoy the game!)

Any ideas of other awesome foods I could add to my Superbowl snack/apps day?! 


Meal plans for 1/30-2/5

I bet you were wondering if I had made a meal plan or simply given up. I actually DID do a meal plan for this week, and so far we have stuck to it, but I didn't post it because it needs to be changed a little bit. 

The Superbowl is a huge deal for our family, and it is especially a huge deal with one of the favorite teams is playing. Those of you that know our family know that my middle son is oft referred to as #TomBradysBiggestFan. Seriously, he has been a Patriots/Tom Brady fan since he was like 3. And I mean he's a hard core fan. Like, we live in Washington State where people are fanatically huge fans of the Seahawks. like almost all the people. In fact, during football season schools, companies, even hospitals have employees/students wear their Seahawks gear each Friday. They call it Blue Friday (It's seriously a big thing. Read about it here.) Well, on Blue Fridays, my kid bravely and stubbornly wears his Patriots jersey to school. Every.Week. Relentlessly! 

So, Superbowl is a big deal. BUT when I was planning this weeks meals, I forgot that Sunday is the Superbowl. We do that say differently as far as food goes, so I need to change the plan for Sunday. I will write a whole post about that in a few minutes. For now, I will post my original plan, but keep in mind that Sunday will change! 

Above is a picture of my plan for the week. (With my notes and all) And for those that cannot see or read the picture, here it is:

Monday 1/30: Turkey Noodle Soup 
Tuesday 1/31: Leftovers! 
Wednesday 2/1: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese with Salad and Brussell Sprouts
Thursday 2/2: Crock Pot Chili with rolls
Friday 2/3: Chicken Pillows W/Broccoli and Salad
Saturday 2/4: Baked Potato Bar 
Sunday 2/5: Roast, Orzo, veggies, salad (will change to SUPERBOWL food!)

So a few notes and recipes:

Monday 1/30: Turkey Noodle Soup
  • I pretty much always do turkey noodle soup the day after turkey.
  • I feel like my Turkey Noodle soup has really, really bumped up a level since my mother-in-law introduced me to these amazing noodles (which you can find in your local freezer section). Reames Frozen Noodles
Tuesday 1/31: Leftovers
  • Guys, when you actually cook every night, the leftovers can build up fast, so it's a great idea to have a leftover night at least once a week or so. That's tonight's plan!
  • Admittedly, some of my kids will not eat the stuff we have leftover, so we may end up supplementing with PB&J sandwiches or noodles and butter. We will see how it goes.
  • The best thing I did during med school/residency when I was trying to meal plan like a boss, was to plan leftover days, then CLEAN OUT ALL the leftovers after that meal. Pull out all the leftovers from the week, let everyone pick and choose what they want, then when everyone has eaten, get rid of the old food, clean out that fridge! Make room for next week's leftovers. :)
Wednesday 2/1: Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese with Salad and Brussell Sprouts
  • I might change the Brussell Sprouts to a different kind of veggie because we have eaten them a lot lately.
  • This is a favorite meal for Wes and the kids, but it is not low cal, so that's why I make sure that we have salad and veggies with the grilled cheese and tomato soup.
  • Also, since I cannot eat cheese or greasy foods, I will stick to the veggies and Salad for this dinner. BUT just because I cannot have it, doesn't mean the kids and Wes should miss out on a favorite meal!
Thursday 2/2: Crock Pot Chili with rolls
  • This might be my favorite go-to meal in the winter especially. It is SO easy and so good! 
  • EASY is the goal for Thursdays because it is so crazy with kids activities! The crock pot is my friend on Thursdays-lets hope this week I remember to start the food in the morning. LOL
Friday 2/3: Chicken Pillows W/Broccoli and Salad
  • This meal is a little bit of a thing to put it together, so I don't love to make it often, but it is THE favorite of several of my kids. They have requested this meal for weeks and weeks, so I finally put it on the meal plan-on a night when we have nothing else going on except date night for me and Wes!
  • Before I share the recipe, let me note that when I make chicken pillows, the morning of, I take our my small crock pot and put in 2 or 3 breasts of chicken and cook them in the crock pot all day-then I shred the chicken instead of dicing it. Just a little change that makes it easier for me and I like it this way! :) 
  • The picture below is the Chicken Pillows recipe I use (thanks Mom!) 
Here's the typed out version of the recipe:

Chicken Pillows

2 Cups diced, cooked Chicken (or shredded)
8 oz Cream Cheese, Softened (sometimes I use more if I want it creamier)
1-2 onions, chopped
2-4 stalks celery, chopped
8 oz fresh mushrooms, cut
2 (or more-I usually use like 4) packages refrigerated crescent rolls
Melted butter
Seasoned bread crumbs

Gravy: Make a white sauce (1/4 C flour, 1/2 square butter, salt, pepper, and 2 C milk, one bullion cube for flavor) OR open can or 2 of cream of anything soup, OR Mix the white sauce with a can of cream of anything soup (this is what I do)

For the Pillows:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Saute onion, celery and mushrooms in olive oil or butter. Add to a bowl where you have already mixed the cream cheese and the chicken. Mix the veggie in. Drop by spoonfuls on to the center of a crescent roll, Close up the roll and pinch the edges closed. Roll in melted butter, then roll in the seasoned bread crumbs. Put on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve with gravy.

Saturday 2/4: Baked Potato Bar 
  • Dare I admit that this is basically another meal designed to use up leftovers? I put this meal after chili, broccoli, and the chicken pillow gravy intentionally so we can use all those items as possible toppings for the potatoes! 
  • Besides the leftover toppings, I will have available, butter, sour cream, ranch dressing, bacon, and various other options. 
Sunday 2/5: Roast, Orzo, veggies, salad (will change to SUPERBOWL food!)
  • Roast, Orzo, veggies and salad is the traditional Sunday meal for my family. It is awesome! But alas, this Sunday it will change!
  • More on the Superbowl foods in another post
  • Go Pats!
And there you have it! Meal Plans for this week!!!


Friday, January 27, 2017

Still rollin with the punches...

Gosh guys! It is a good thing that I reminded myself in that post a couple days ago that sometimes you just have to remember the goal behind your plans and roll with the punches. Because let's talk about this again:

Yes, Meal Planning (gone wrong?). Lest review the original plan:

Monday 1/23: Pineapple Chicken, Rice, Asian salad
Tuesday 1/24: Haole Haystacks, Rolls 
Wednesday 1/25: Ham, Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts, green salad
Thursday 1/26: Crockpot Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Pasta, Veggies, Ambrosia
Friday 1/27: Sinigang, Rice, Green Salad
Saturday 1/28: Beef Stir Fry, Rice, Salad
Sunday 1/29: "Thanksgiving in January" Turkey, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, Salad

AND here's how it has gone so far:
Monday 1/23: Pineapple Chicken, Rice, Asian salad 
Tuesday 1/24: Haole Haystacks, Rolls 

Wow, made it 2 whole days without deferring from the plan...

Wednesday 1/25: Ham Fried Rice using ham and leftovers from Tuesday

Then it got really crazy, because I blew it, I BLEW IT! on Thursday. I forgot to put the meat balls in the crock pot in the morning. I had purposely done a crock pot meal because I knew Wes was on call Thursday so I had to drive kids all over town to various practices and activities. I figured with Crockpot food ready to go, kids could eat whenever they were home (my oldest daughter amazingly has nothing on the Thursday night schedule so she watched the kids as I drove back and forth between home, practices, etc). BUT I FORGOT to do it. My oldest kids are old enough to cook dinner, so I told them the plan. I mentioned it was supposed to be Sweet and sour meatballs served over pasta with veggies and ambrosia (which I also forgot to start the night before, so that was out). My kids said "so we can make our favorite meal instead with those ingredients, right?!" And Yes, yes they could. Here's what they made: 

Thursday 1/26: Pasta with marinara and  Meatballs.

Today is Friday. Since I was off a couple days, I was DETERMINED to stick to it for the last few days. I did my end of the week fresh produce shopping trip, and what I believe is one of the must have ingredients for Sinigang (daikon/white radish) was no where to be found. I was on a mission. They were out of it at Safeway (which is usually where I buy it). In fact, they were out of it at 2 Safeways. Did not have it at Walmart. So, I thought I would try one last place: Rosauers. And THANK GOODNESS!!! THEY HAD IT!!! So, the plan for the rest of the week will proceed as planned. 

Friday 1/27: Sinigang, Rice, Green Salad
Saturday 1/28: Beef Stir Fry, Rice, Salad
Sunday 1/29: "Thanksgiving in January" Turkey, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, Salad

I better remember to take that Turkey out of the freezer tonight...

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

When Life gets in the way of plans...

Yesterday when I posted my Meal planning posts, one of my prep/planning steps was "stick to it" or something like that. Guys, I really think that is a great plan, but sometimes life changes plans, and I have always tried to be really good an going with the flow and adjusting to changes. That's ok too, as long as you remember the goal. 

I have to ask myself  a lot of questions to determine whether it is more important to "stick to it" or to roll with the punches. In this case, I asked Why do I want to stick to it with my meal plans? What was the purpose of the plans in the first place? And the answers were that I was trying to save money by not eating out so much. 

So, when my husband pointed out that we ought to change today's meal slightly, I realized that it's ok to do that! On my plan today was Ham, Potatoes, brussel sprouts and salad. BUT last night we had SO much leftover rice and toppings from our Haole Haystacks, that Wes mentioned that instead of letting that stuff rot in the fridge, we should just make Ham Fried Rice (a family favorite) for dinner tonight. GENIUS! 

And so our weekly meal plan has it's first change, but it is one that will still help me stick with the goal of eating IN at home and thus saving money! Yeah!

Plus, I am totally excited for out Ham Fried Rice dinner tonight-it will be so easy and SOOO good! 

My point, don't worry if you need to adjust your plans sometimes, especially if the change will still help you to stick to the main goal!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Dinner Plans 1/23-1/29/2017

Here is my meal plan for this week:
Monday 1/23: Pineapple Chicken, Rice, Asian salad
Tuesday 1/24: Haole Haystacks, Rolls 
Wednesday 1/25: Ham, Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts, green salad
Thursday 1/26: Crockpot Sweet and Sour Meatballs, Pasta, Veggies, Ambrosia
Friday 1/27: Sinigang, Rice, Green Salad
Saturday 1/28: Beef Stir Fry, Rice, Salad
Sunday 1/29: "Thanksgiving in January" Turkey, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, Salad
A few of the recipes:
Monday's Pineapple Chicken recipe comes from this cookbook:
I don't think I can share the full recipe here (not my recipe), but essentially it is a mix of pineapple apricot preserves, Russian dressing, dry onion soup mix and pineapple poured over chicken breasts and baked. It was really good!
Tuesday's Haole Haystacks is a recipe you have probably heard of under the name "Hawaiian Haystacks" My recipe for this in my cookbook actually lists them as Hawaiian Haystacks. But my Hawaiian friend, Teresa isn't a fan of the name so we now call them Haole Haystacks. 

My recipe has somewhat evolved over the years. When I make Haole Haystacks this is basically what I do these days:
Step 1: put chicken in the crockpot in the morning.
Step 2: About an hour before I want to eat, I shred the chicken from the crock pot. I make a white sauce on the stove top (let me know if you need this recipe-it's simple) add that and one big can of cream of mushroom soup to the shredded chicken in the crockpot. Put it back on High for the next hour. 
Step 3: While the sauces are warming up in the crockpot for the hour, you need to cook the rice and prep the other toppings. I get the rice cooking first. Then I prep bowls of toppings. This is how I prep each item (because this is how I like them):

Broccoli: cut to bite sized pieces and lightly steamed (cooked but with some crunch still to them). I leave some of my broccoli raw because that is how my younger daughter likes it
Pineapple tid bits: open can, drain juice!
Coconut: I just buy a bag of pre shredded coconut and it's ready to go
Water chestnuts: open can, drain water out (if you bought the unsliced ones, you'll want to cut them a bit smaller as well)
Green Peppers: cut in bite sized pieces
Chinese Noodles: Open bag and it's ready to go
Mushrooms, sliced, cooked in butter and seasoned salt until soft and slightly caramelized. YUM.
Carrots, cut and served either raw or lightly steamed (just like the broccoli it can be served either way) serve these raw for this. And because I am lazy, I just buy a bag of shredded carrots, open it and I'm good to go. 
Frozen Peas: defrosted and warmed slightly (I do not fully cook these as I like them to be crisp and not mushy)
Green Onion: just cut it (you can actually use whatever kind of onion you want, but I really like the green onions for this)
Bean sprouts: wash and serve
Snow Peas: I cook these.
Sharp Cheddar cheese: grated

So, once you have the topping ready to serve (I usually put them in bowls), the rice done, and the "gravy" ready, then you just let everyone make their own exactly how they like it. Start with the rice layer, then I would do the cheese and other toppings, with the chicken gravy over the top of it all.

YUM! Cannot wait for this one tonight! I can smell the chicken in the crockpot right now (as a side note, I used the left over chicken from last night combined with a couple more breasts of chicken so I could would have enough).

Wednesday will be simple: we have a precooked ham in the fridge that we will pan fry. I will make either baked potatoes or Potatoes Augratin to go with it as well as baked Brussell Sprouts and a green salad.

Thursday's Crock Pot Sweet and Sour Meatballs is a recipe I am adapting from one I got in this book:

The recipe in this book is from a woman in my mom's neighborhood and is meatballs from scratch with a sauce baked in the oven. As I mentioned above, I am lazy, so I bought pre-made frozen meatballs and plan to use the recipe for her sauce. I am going to try it in the crock pot instead of the oven because Thursdays are insane here. The sauce is basically a homemade barbecue sauce consisting of brown sugar, vinegar, mustard, pre-bottled BBQ sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. I am looking forward to trying this. We will serve it with Veggies and Ambrosia (as requested by my daughter). I will share my mom's Ambrosia recipe another time. It is amazing!

Friday is that Filipino meal called Sinigang which is served with rice and green salad. Sinigang is an acquired taste. I LOVE it, as does my husband and a couple of our kids. Some of the kids will eat just rice and salad on Friday. LOL. The recipe is one from my husband that he got on his LDS mission in the Philippines. 

Before you try this out, make sure you can find a Sinigang flavor packet. We buy either this Knorr packet (this is an affiliate link to it on Amazon):
OR this Mama Sita's brand packet (Also an Amazon Affiliate link):
Here is a picture of the recipe from my Cookbook:

And in case you cannot see the picture well enough to read, here's the recipe:

1-2 Sinigang packets (depending on how strong you want the broth)
2 Liters Water
2 lbs Cubed Pork
1 Daikon (White Radish), peeled and cubed
1 lb Spinach
Cabbage, cut
Green beans
1 spicy pepper, chopped

Season and brown pork. At the same time boil water and Sinigang packet in a big pot. AND cook rice! When water is boiling, add browned pork, daikon, cabbage, green beans, and pepper. Let boil 15 minutes. Add Spinach. Boil another 5 minutes, Serve over rice. 

Saturday Beef Stir Fry served with Rice (use left overs from Friday) and salad. 

Sunday Thanksgiving in January! We have a Turkey in the freezer, so I figured we should cook it and clear our some space in there. Plus we love Turkey year round. It will be awesome! And I think I will just plan to use the left overs for a turkey noodle soup next Monday...look at me already meal planning for next week! :)

This is my plan. Feel free to steal ideas and inspiration or just skip past this and do your own thing! But please wish me luck in sticking to the plan! I am sure I will need all the help I can get to do this. 

And just like that we're back on the meal planning wagon! YEAH! 

Beckee's Deal on Meal Planning

I am a check list person. And I am kind of old school mixed with modern. I like to use apps and my phone for just about everything, but I still write out a lot of my lists and things by hand.

Here are my steps to Meal planning (for our dinners):
  1. Research 
  2. List Ideas
  3. Choose weekly dinners
  4. Compare recipes to my pantry
  5. Make Grocery shopping list
  6. Shop
  7. Try my best to stick to it!!
And to get a bit more specific:

1. Research: I love Cookbooks. 

I even wrote one when I was pregnant with my third child. (Someday soon I hope to do another one!)

When I research, I think about the tried and true meals we love as a family mixed in with new meals from my plethora of cookbooks (or from Internet searches). As I am doing me research, I do step 2:

2. List Ideas

The pencil I wrote in is hard to see in the picture above, so I will tell you that it is the list I made on Sunday (as I researched) of all the meals that looked good to me from my "regular" meals, from ids ideas, and from my cookbooks. (That is the top half of the page anyway). As you can see, it is a long list (about 30-40 possible dinners). I only need 7 for this week, but having a lot of ideas from steps 1 & 2 means I won't need to redo these steps again for a while. Yeah!

3. Choose Weekly Meals

Sometimes this is the hardest part. I have 5 kids that each take turns being extra picky and they all have their favorites. Also, my husband and I really try to eat healthy, which is not the favorite meals for the kids. Plus I have had to remove (or severely reduce) some things that we all love from my diet over the past couple years (most notably cheese and greasy foods). Sad. This all makes the meal picking part  really hard. But with all the ideas from the first couple steps, I choose what I want (with the next step already in my mind, meaning that I try to plan somewhat based on what I already have and can use).

4. Compare Recipes to my Pantry

OK. So once I pick meals, then I get out the recipes. I check through my pantry and freezer and see what ingredients I already have then I move to step 5:

5. Make Grocery Shopping List

Again, the pencil is a little light on that picture above, but this page shows how I organize the first step of my grocery list. On the left side of the page I listed the meals I planned for the week. Then I pull out each recipe and (with my pantry check already done and in my mind), I write the items I need to purchase in the column on the right and a small reminder list of what I already have on the far left. Usually I try to plan and shop for a full week at a time, but one of the items I chose this week for Friday had some ingredients that I have to get a a specific store (it is a Filipino meal). And I want fresh produce for that meal. So, I chose to only shop for the meals through Thursday. I will get the rest on Thursday while the kids are at school.

After I made the pencil and paper list, I wanted a more organized list. For that, I use a great app called "Out Of Milk"  (I have tried lots of apps for this and this one is the one I like) With this app, you can enter your grocery items and it will organize them by section of the store into a check list. Once you get the item, you just check it off and it moves the item. I took a screenshot of yesterdays list with some items still listed in their category and others checked off so you can see it:

This app has WAY more useful things than this list too. Check out all you can do with it:

I love this app. Get it. Try it out. (No, they did not pay me for this...if fact I have no affiliation with them at all. I just like and use it)

6. Shop

If choosing the meals is the hardest part, then this is the next hardest step, because it is SOOO tempting to buy more that you planned to. I love food. I love shopping, so this can be a pitfall. But I try to keep in mind the goal, which is to save money, and that helps me to really stick (mostly) to the list I made! AND I only take my phone with my Out of Milk app open into the store with me. None of the other lists or ideas. JUST that list I made in that app. It helps me to stick to the list and to focus on the goal. Which brings us to my last step...

7. Try to Stick to it

By this I don't JUST mean to stick to the grocery shopping list. I also mean try to stick to the meal plan you made. I know things will come up and you may not perfectly stick to your plan, but try. I often say that all I can do is my best, and sometimes that means I stick to the weekly plan, and sometimes it means we eat out a few times on really rough weeks. I am really trying to meal plan and stick to my goal. I am on day 2 of the plan and so far so good. I will share this week's plan in the next post. Maybe it will inspire some ideas for one of you! 

Getting Real about Money Saving on Food (by planning ahead)

OK, lets get real for a second guys, I have been wasting a lot of money lately. A lot. How, you ask, have I been wasting all this money? By NOT planning ahead. Specifically for meals. 

As you may know, we moved to a new place this past summer, and we are in a rental house. If I am being honest, I thought we would have found and purchased a home by now. And we would have moved into it. Knowing we were in a rental for a max of 11 months, we only unpacked about half our stuff, maybe. 

I only share this story to explain why I still feel unsettled in our new home. On top of that, my kids are in school now and they are participating in activities right now. We scaled down activities for this year, but even with that scaling down, I currently have 2 kids in a musical, 3 kids playing basketball, one in dance, 3 taking voice lessons, one taking bass lessons, and one that only attends public school for half the day because she is in online school the other half at Stanford Online high school. All of that, and my husband is a doctor which means he is on call some nights and weekends.

So, those are all my excuses as to why I have been spending way, WAY too much money on FOOD! I have had a hard time choosing and cooking healthy foods for our family of seven. Which means we eat out. A LOT. Which ends up less healthy and more expensive. Taco Bell is about the cheapest meal for our family and that still ends up at about $30+ for our family. If we go to a sit down restaurant, we're talking $100+ for our family. That adds up fast.

So, I am going back to the basics of meal PLANNING! 

I find that if I make up a plan I do pretty well at following it. The hard part is usually making the plan. But I did it this week! And I am going to share with you what my process was, and what my final plan is. You can maybe help me to be accountable. :) 

Watch for that post coming up in just a few minutes!!!


Monday, January 9, 2017

My favorite family places in Salt Lake City Top 5

I told you I was going to post a top five list for the places I have lived in the past few years (really the past 9 years). We have moved a lot in that time and I have covered those places, Omaha, Spokane, Scottsdale, Aberdeen, and Yakima. I thought I was done there, but I am going to include one more place, the place I call home in spite of the fact I haven't lived there in about 14 years, the place of my birth, where I visit frequently and where my family still resides: Salt Lake City, Utah (which I will abbreviate as SLC from here on out)! Which incidentally is one of the most family friendly places you will ever find! 

One final Top Five family spots: SLC

Top 5 Salt Lake City

I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah and lived there until the end of 4th grade. We moved away for a few years while my dad was in law school. We moved back to SLC when I was starting ninth grade. I graduated from high school there (Go Titans!) and College there (Go Utes!). After college I taught high school there for a year before this whole medical schooling journey took us away to Omaha. Though I haven;t lived in SLC for many years, we visit several times a year and it is home for me! So, this one might read more like a visitor than a local view, but here's to hoping I still sound a little like a Utah native! Gosh! :)

Before my list, One Note on DEALS in Utah: 

There are a couple GREAT discount passes you can get if you plan to do several activities in Utah. SO, before you plan a trip to Salt Lake, or if you live there.

What is it? A ski resort

My Experience with it: My family never skied growing up, but we did have a summer time share at Snowbird. So, for most of my growing up years I spent a week in the summer staying in the Iron Blossom Lodge at Snowbird. Which pretty much makes me an expert, well except for the part where I had no clue what was going on at that SKI RESORT during the winter. LOL. I have skied a few times with my husband and kids as an adult. But we had not done a real ski trip in Utah. When we visit Utah, almost all our time is spend visiting family. So, we had not skied much in Utah with our kids. Last Christmas (like a month ago), Wes (my husband) had the week before Christmas off work so we took the kids to Utah, but decided this time we were going to spend the first 3-4 days of our 9 days there at Snowbird skiing as a family. So we stayed at the Cliff Lodge and were able to ski and figure out the winter part of Snowbird. It just makes me love it even more. 

Where is it? Up Little Cottonwood Canyon. 

What can you do there and what does it cost?  There is so much to do there-ski, swim (if you're staying there), play in the arcade, hang out at the snowbird center, hike, ride the tram! Some of it is free (If you want to hike in the summer, just drive up, find a parking spot and start hiking), but much of it costs money (skiing!). Check out their website for more details

What is it? A park with a pond in the middle, lots of picnic areas, a couple playgrounds, and tons of grass!

My Experience with it: I grew up not far from Sugar House park and spent lots of time sledding and playing in this park. I've been to many a picnic in the covered shelters. It is a big park with lots of meeting places.

Where is it? 1330 2100 S, Salt Lake City, UT 84106

What can you do there and what does it cost? You can sled, play in the park, go for a walk or meet up with friends. It is a fun park, but really it's just a park...and it's FREE! 

3. Temple Square

What is it? The grounds around and including the LDS Temple in downtown Salt Lake City. 

My Experience with it: Well, I was married in the temple, and I have visited Temple Square many, Many times in my life. 

Where is it? Downtown SLC. It is hard to miss, and the grid numbering system of the streets on SLC basically radiate out from the Temple. Here is a description of how to get there

What can you do there and what does it cost? So, to go in to the Temple you have to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and you have to hold what is called a temple recommend. BUT don't let that deter you from visiting the grounds. There is a visitor's center where all are welcome to tour, and there are missionaries at Temple Square that can take you on a tour of the grounds and tell you about the history. Or you can take a self-guided tour. ALSO, if you are in SLC during Christmas season, the amazing lights at Temple Square are not to be missed! It is absolutely beautiful there during the Christmas Season. Please read more about Temple Square here

4. Thanksgiving Point

What is it? A big "campus" with shopping, museums, farms, and lots of stuff to do with kids.

My Experience with it: Honestly this was new and not anything like it is now when we moved here, but now every time we visit, people want to meet there for one reason or another. To go to one of the museums or farms, or movies. So, we have been there just about every time we have visited for the last several (10?) years.

Where is it? 3003 Thanksgiving Way, Lehi, UT 84043, USA

What can you do there and what does it cost?  There are a few main events to visit here. I will list them below with a link to each item so you can check out current prices and descriptions:
5. Seven Peaks SLC

What is it? A water park (It was Raging Waters when I was growing up, but Seven Peals bought it a while back) 

My experience with it: I had my 12th birthday party here (when it was Raging Waters). And my family has been there a few times over the past few years. Because we have bought the Pass of all Passes which lets us do lots of awesome stuff including this water park! Some might argue that that the Provo Seven Peaks is better, but I like the SLC one best. Personal preference I guess.

Where is it? In SLC: 1200 West 1700 South in Salt Lake City, UT 

What can you do there and what does it cost? This is a seasonal option for summer fun! Water slides, lazy river, wave pool, and more! Cost changes year to year, but we have found that we go more than one day a year so the Pass of Passes is the best bang for our buck! If you watch Groupon deals in SLC, usually they have awesome deals on The Pass of all Passes. 

As I said earlier, I grew up in Salt Lake, so it was tough, REAL tough to keep this list at 5 items! So here are some honorable mentions that probably should be squeezed into more of a top 10:

  • This is the Place Park (It is a Pioneer site with old time activities, shows, and even live animals. My sister works at the livery stable so you might even see her there if you're lucky!)
  • Hogle Zoo (I grew up going to this zoo. Make sure to get the obligatory picture at the lion drinking fountain!)
  • U of U (University of Utah). #GoUtes! When I was a kid, my dad was in school at the University of Utah and we lived in family housing on campus. I lived there until I was 8 years old. So, I have often said I grew up on the campus. Later I went to the U and got my degree in Theater education. I include it on this list because walking or biking this campus was the most fun as a kid! Plus there are tons of collegiate sports and excellent college theater as well as a professional theater on campus. AND there are tons of kids camps and programs throughout the year and especially during the summer. Check out Youtheater where I worked for several summers during college! Great summer program for kid to experience theater! 
  • Discovery Gateway  A hands on children's museum
  • Clark Planetarium I love planetariums and this one is big! And fun!
  • Lagoon Utah's amusement park! As a kid I thought it was a half step below Disneyland. As an adult I can say it is not to that level, but it is certainly fun! And it is full of great roller coasters! Which I love! 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Top Five Family Fun for Yakima...So Far...

Once again, as I said in this post, I often wonder where the locals really hang out in the places I visit (or when I move to a new place). So, I am going to share my top five local hang out spots from the places I have lived.   I posted about OmahaSpokaneScottsdale, and Aberdeen so far. Today's city is I am JUST discovering, so this list will likely evolve over the years, but for now, here is my Yakima list! 
Top 5 Yakima
After my husband did a fellowship at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ for a year, he took his first "real job" post-training in Aberdeen, WA. We spend 3 years there. Then last year my husband got an amazing job offer in Yakima, WA, and we moved here summer of 2016. We are really just discovering this area and have so, SO much more to explore, so this list is what we have found and loved so far
1. Get Air 
What is it? A trampoline park
My experience with it: We have gone here as a family a couple times and a couple of my kids have been invited to parties here. 
Where is it? 1015 E Lincoln Ave, Yakima, WA 98901
What can you do here and what does it cost? There are trampolines, foam pits, basketball courts (trampoline basketball courts), and more. They have birthday rooms as well. Current prices can be found here
2. Skateland 
What is it? A skating rink
My Experience with it: Very limited. My younger daughter went to a birthday party there and I was there for about 10 minutes picking her up, It is on this list because my daughter LOVED it and cannot wait to go back! It looked like a lot of fun and we will be planning a family fun time there soon! 
Where is it? Actually in Union Gap at  2506 Old Town Rd. Near the Mall. 
What can you do here and what does it cost? I know you can skate there, and there are a few arcade games. Check out more info on their site here.
3. Cowiche Canyon trail
What is it? Hiking trails
My Experience with it: We have hiked a few times up on the trails. It is great hiking. Our kids did great the couple times they hiked with us here. 
Where is it? The trail head locations are in different spots, so look here for the directions to the trail heads.  
What can you do here and what does it cost? Walk, bike, or ride horses on these trails. Kids and Dogs welcome, but they warn to make sure your kids follow the rules and make sure you clean up after your dogs and keep them leashed. Cost-FREE! Yeah! 
4. Akin Center Theatre
What is it? A Theater/performing arts center (plus a center for dance, drama, and music classes AND a preschool). 
My Experience with it: My oldest 3 kids were just in The Secret Garden in October (my middle son played Colin Craven) and my 4th child was just in The Nutcracker in December, That 4th child also takes dance classes there. 
Where is it? 1610 S 24th St, Yakima 98902
What can you do there and what does it cost? Go watch a show! Or take a class. This is a small but mighty community theater that also educates kids in the arts! As a former high school drama teacher I LOVE that! Check out their site and see what they have going on. 
5. Sarg Hubbard Park on the Yakima Greenway
What is it? A park on a larger walking trail
My Experience with it: My husband and I love to walk on the trail around here and this is a park our family loves. We walk here fairly often.
Where is it? 111 S 18th St, Yakima, WA 98901

What can you do there and what does it cost? Play at the playground, walk the trails, feed the ducks on the pond. Just enjoy the area! (If you like Pokemon Go, there are a few Poke Stops around the park and a couple gyms.)
And speaking of Pokemon Go, if you like to play, here's a bonus tip: Downtown, in the area surrounding The Second Street Grill is a GREAT place to play-lots of Poke stops, gyms, and Pokemon spawns. 
I am looking forward to finding more places to hang out in Yakima! For now though, these are our favorites! 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Top Five places our family loves in Aberdeen, WA

Once again, as I said in this post, I often wonder where the locals really hang out in the places I visit (or when I move to a new place). So, I am going to share my top five local hang out spots from the places I have lived.   I posted about OmahaSpokane, and Scottsdale so far. Today's city is not as big or as well known, but equally loved by our family: Aberdeen, WA! 
Today's Top 5: Aberdeen
If you have heard of Aberdeen, you either live in Grays Harbor or are a Nirvana/Kurt Cobain fan. Aberdeen is known as the place where Kurt Cobain grew up, the place he "escaped". But locals don't really like to be know for that. And to be fair, it is so much more than just the place Kurt Cobain was from. When driving through Aberdeen to get the the ocean, you probably get a poor impression of the city because the area you drive through is basically the part of town that is in the worst shape. Plus there is a big homelessness problem in Aberdeen and you will see it as you drive through. 
But at the heart of Aberdeen is everyday working people that are quirky, and loving, and fun. It is a small community where the mayor is your neighbor and little league football field is the place to be on Saturdays. Where Friday nights in the fall will find the whole town at the high school football game, Where a thriving theater community is prevalent. It is a place where kids have opportunities to really develop their talents with involved families and community members. It is a place where the neighbors all know each other and watch out for one another.
And this little community is the place that I most recently left a little piece of my heart! The people make this city what it is, so it's good to know where they all hang out. 
Here is my list of the Top 5 Places where I hung out in Aberdeen with my family: 

What is it? A gym, swimming pool, sports center, preschool, etc.

My Experience with it: When I moved to Aberdeen, several people told me to joint he YMCA. I did because I thought it would be good for sports and activities for the family and I hoped I would be motivated to work out. I had no idea how much time I would spend at the Y. It is really a hub of activity for the community. I worked out there, my kids took swim lessons and played sports, and my youngest even went to preschool there (best preschool in town!). So, I had a lot of experience with the YMCA in a lot of different areas. And I can tell you, I talked to half the town at the Y each week! People participate in Y programs and work out there. It is a local hang out! I miss the Y!

Where is it? 2500 Simpson Ave, Hoquiam, WA 98550

What does it cost and what can you do there? OK, so admittedly as a visitor to Aberdeen/Hoquiam, this might not be the main hang out, but it is on my list because I was literally here daily.  Often I was there multiple times a day. There is a ton to do there-free swim or swimming lessons, working out, playing sports, taking classes, preschool, etc. There is even a drop in child care area so parents can work out in peace for an hour and a half/day. If you are living in or near Aberdeen/Hoquiam, you really should get an annual membership (Membership rates and details can be found here) AND as a visitor, you CAN get a day pass-it would be worth the cost to swim during open pool time with the family! 
2. Little League Football field and baseball field

What is it? Little league football and baseball fields/games

What is my experience with it? My sons played little league football every year we lived there. They did not play baseball, but baseball is even bigger in town than football. The little league games are actually fun to go watch and they have great facilities, The little league baseball fields are in south Aberdeen and the football little league plays home games on the same field that Aberdeen High school plays their games on. Lots of the locals come to the games. If you are visiting town you will likely find a big group of people to meet or visit with at these events. Plus they are entertaining (my husband was assistant coach and he got booted out of the game by the ref at the very first away game. The ref was an idiot...BUT, It can get a little heated out there, but is just pure entertainment to watch). There are always great concessions to buy that help support the programs too, so come hungry and just plan to stay for the day and watch all the games! :) 

Where are they? Aberdeen Little League Baseball fields/Pioneer Park Sports Complex: 214 S Tildon . The Aberdeen Little League Football plays at Stewart Field: 800 Willard St  Stewart Field is also where you will find half the town each Friday night in Fall cheering on the Aberdeen football team, the other half of town is usually cheering Hoquiam high school! :) 

What does it cost and what can I do there? Go watch some kids sports and eat some food to support the organizations! Admission to games is usually a donation and food prices vary, 

3. Bishop Center 

What is it? A performing arts center/theater

What is my experience with it? Right after moving to Aberdeen, my oldest son was asked to sing with the Grays Harbor Symphony at a Christmas performance at the Bishop Center (You can watch his performance here). Shortly after that, my husband, oldest son and I were in Les Miserables there, and just this year my middle son played Michael Banks in Mary Poppins there. We have also gone to watch quite a few shows there. The shows are Phenomenally well done and the special events are always entertaining! 

Where is it? Located on the campus of Grays Harbor College. Address is: 

What does it cost and what can you do there? There is a variety of special event shows that come here as well as Orchestra and Choral performances and main stage theater productions twice a year. Prices vary for each show. They are currently rehearsing for Anything Goes which will open in March. Check out all the upcoming events here.

4. 7th Street Theater

What is it? A theater in Hoquiam

My Experience with it: This theater, like Bishop center, has special events that come through (even Macklemore stopped here on his small town tour last year!). There are monthly movie nights as well. BUT my main experience with this theater was working as a board member for the group 7th Street KIDS. Each summer the KIDS group puts on a musical in 6 weeks with kids ages 7-16. And they are great! They also do a mini-camp show that is a 2 week long program with a short musical for ages 6-12. My kids were in Honk!, My Son Pinocchio, and my younger daughter played Baloo in Jungle Book Kids version (at mini camp). So, I have a special place in my heart for the summer show put on by 7th Street KIDS! 

Where is it? 313 7th Street, Hoquiam, WA 98550

What Does it cost and what can you do there? There are a lot of special events happening at the theater with varying prices. Check out the list of upcoming events here. (Notice Hoquiam High school performs their musical here each year-I wish I could see Little Shop of Horrors next month!!!) And take note of their popular Movie series!

5. Sam Benn Park and Finch Park

What are they? Parks, they are both parks

My experience with them: Yeah, I know I am cheating on this one as this is clearly two different parks. But guys, I have to include both because my kids liked Sam Benn best, but Finch has a spray ground, so I couldn't ignore that appeal. So, this is a two for one! 

Where are they? Sam Benn: 300 Hanna Ave, Finch: 608 W Sumner.

What can I do there and what does it cost? FREE! Parks to play at for free! Sam Benn is my kids favorite as it has disc golf, a playground, basketball courts, and usually their friends were there! But I am including Finch here too because on a hot summer day you will find LOTS of friends cooling off at the spray ground there. Finch also has a playground, covered picnic tables, basketball courts and a baseball diamond. 

Honorable mentions: 
  • Rainier Lanes Bowling at 415 W Heron, Aberdeen (Fun place to bowl with a mini golf area and some arcade games. It's right by Safeway)
  • Lake Sylvia at 1812 N Lake Sylvia Rd, Montesano, WA 98563. LOVE this place. The only reason it's not on my list is because it is Montesano! Go there! (You need a Discover Pass
  • Harborena at 2112 Simpson Ave in Hoquiam. Fun Skating spot. My kids loved it.
  • Extreme Fun Center in the Mall at 901 S Boone St in Aberdeen. This place opened right about the time we moved away, but we went back to visit and spent some time here. If we lived in Aberdeen still, this would be a major hang out I am sure! It is a lot of fun! Check it out! 
  • Coming Attractions Movie Theater in the mall at 1017 S Boone St (the other side of the mall from the Extreme Fun Center). 

Beckees Top Five Places to hang out in Scottsdale with the Fam

Once again, as I said in this post, I often wonder where the locals really hang out in the places I visit (or when I move to a new place). So, I am going to share my top five local hang out spots from the places I have lived.   I posted about Omaha and about Spokane so far. 

Today's Top 5: Scottsdale
So, after living in Omaha for 8 years (with a one year break in the middle in Spokane), we moved to Scottsdale, AZ where my husband was doing a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic there. So, like Spokane, it was only a  year spent there, but unlike Spokane, I was not on bed rest! :) Yeah! We loved Scottsdale and really tried to take advantage of the beautiful sunny weather! I learned that I love hot places. I had great air conditioning in our rental house (and basically everywhere), so the extremely hot summers didn't even bother me. It was actually a pretty heavenly year. 

In no particular order, here are my top 5 favorite Family hang outs in (and around) Scottsdale: 

1. Fountain Hill Park 

What is it? A Park surrounding a lake with fountain. With a disc golf course and a Spray ground (important stuff in Scottsdale)!

My Experience with it: I know, this is not in Scottsdale, but in Fountain Hills. But guys, I love it here. Seriously, LOVE it! From where we lived, it was a short drive up to Fountain Hills. It was a very oft visited park for us since we love disc golf and the splash pad was a great place to cool off in the Arizona heat. I would guess we came here once a week at least...

Where is it? 12925 N Seguaro Boulevard, Fountain Hills, AZ 85268 

What can you do there and what does it cost? FREE to disc golf, play on the playground or splash pad, or to walk around the park). But since you will already be in Fountain Hills, you should stop over and spend some money on some of the most delectable chocolates ever at Chocofin! YUM! 
2. Lost Dog Wash Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve 

What is it? Hiking Trails in a preserve

My Experience with it: We like to hike and be active as a family as much as possible, so this was an awesome find! When my kids started school in Arizona, we discovered that there was a parking area and trail head for great hikes, just past their school. It was awesome. So close to home, and really fun! We went on these trails often. Once or twice a month at least. They are family friendly, but stay on the trails to avoid the walking cacti. And MAKE SURE to bring WATER!!! (Gotta stay hydrated in that hot climate)

Where is it? Located at the North end of 124th Street beyond Anasazi Elementary School. (Go to Anasazi at 12121 N 124th St in Scottsdale, drive north past the school and you will drive right into the parking lot for the trail heads)

What can you do there and what does it cost? You can hike some awesome trails! It's FREE! Bring Water!

3. Camelback

What is it? Another Hiking Spot, right in the middle of town

My Experience with it: Here is where I get to hang my head in shame. I only tried to hike this 2 times, both times we had all our kids with us. The youngest 2 were 1 and 3 at the time. It was hard to help them up and at some point I turned around with them both times and sent my husband the rest of the way up with the older kids. So, I have never made it to the top. It is now a bucket list item to do so! Side note-if you have young kids like that it may be a tougher hike than they can handle...but if youare fit and can help them, you can totally make it. BRING WATER though...

Where is it? There are 2 trails up. Echo Canyon Tail parking is at 4925 E. McDonald Dr. And Cholla Trail (which incidentally does NOT have parking at the trail head) is at 6131 E. Cholla Lane. But you can park down the street. Here is the official Phoenix.gov page with info about Camelback. Also Check out this page for some great info about where to park when planning to hike either of these trails. 

What can you do there and what does it cost? Hike. Hike to the top of Camelback then come back here and shame me for not making it to the top. Oh, it's free, but parking is a beast so plan to go early in the morning (like 4 am early) or plan to take a while to park. BRING WATER!!! Staying hydrated in the AZ heat is super duper important friends! 

Please check out this awesome site for lots of info about Camelback.  

4. Phoenix Zoo

What is it? A zoo.

My experience with it: One of my biggest regrets about my time in Scottsdale is that I did not discover the zoo sooner. It was my own fault really. Lots of friends told me to go, but I just honestly didn't want to pay. But near the end of our year there, my mother in law came to visit and she and I decided to fork out the big bucks and take the kids there. 

Where is it? 455 N Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85008  

What can you do there and what does it cost? First of all, as I mentioned above, it is expensive (base prices are about $25/day for ages 14+, $15/day for ages 3-13. Free for ages 2 and under), but it was worthwhile to spend some time there. In retrospect I should have bought a membership when I first moved there and we for sure would have made it worth the $170 it costs for the Family membership (Now I have enough kids over the age of 3 that I would need to buy the $270Family Plus plan, but I still think that would be worth it.)  BUT there really is a lot to do there. Obviously there are lots of cool animal exhibits, but they also have (for additional costs) a 4-D theater, a train, a carousel and camel rides.

5. Wet N Wild Phoenix

What is it? An awesome water park

My Experience with it: Let me tell you something, when we were moving to Scottsdale, most of the houses had pools. I searched and searched for a house without a pool because I had 5 kids under 10 years old and none of them were great swimmers (ironic as I am now living in Yakima and looking to buy a house with a pool). I quickly regretted that decision (though I did feel safer at home without a pool in the back yard). We needed a place to go a cool off. We discovered there was a Wet N Wild water park in Phoenix, AND we discovered that there was a deal on season passes. So we splurged and bought season passes for the whole family. It was a bit of a drive away, but the kids and I spent a big chunk of our summer there. 

Where is it? 4243 W Pinnacle Peak Road, Glendale, AZ 85310

What can you do there and what does it cost? Prices are a little much for daily passes, but you can usually get a great deal on season passes. Current daily prices are listed here and season pass info is here. As far as what you can do, there is a variety of slides, a wave pool (my fave), and a lazy river. Lots to do and a great place to cool off during the summer. 

It was super hard to keep this list to 5 items and here are a few Honorable mentions that really could easily have been on this list. So, make sure to check these out as well!

  • McCormick Stillman Railroad Park at 7301 E Indian Bend Road in Scottsdale. It is a blast! Do not miss it.
  • Pools are a huge deal in AZ since it is so hot! Most houses have pools, so if you live there, make friends, if you stay at a hotel, plan to make use of the pool, or if all else fails, go to a public pool. There is a list of public pools here. 
  • Professional Baseball teams do Spring Training in Scottsdale/Phoenix area. If you are there for that, make sure to catch a game!