Author: elizabethbalderrama

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

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A dream of mine came true earlier this week when I visited the newly opened Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood! Jonathan and I were in California to celebrate graduation parties, and I knew we had to go to Harry Potter world since it just opened in April. My sister, Katherine, joined Jonathan and I. We were full decked out in Harry Potter shirts we ordered especially for this trip. I’ve not had the chance to go to Orlando’s Harry Potter world, and I could hardly contain my excitement at the opportunity to go to the new park in Los Angeles! By the way, I’m a Harry Potter fan, if you can’t tell…

I have to admit that I had pretty high expectations – I couldn’t help myself! – but they were exceeded by this beautiful, magical place. The attention to detail is staggering. You are truly in the Harry Potter films as you walk through Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.

We had early admission, which was a fantastic idea. The Harry Potter section was practically empty. It was early, and still somewhat dark, but we were able to ride the famed 3D Forbidden Forest twice in a row with a 10 minute line! We then went directly on the Flight of the Hippogriff ride, which was my favorite! Flight of the Hippogriff (pictured below) had an awesome Buckbeak animatronic, and was placed in Hagrid’s pumpkin patch. Hagrid’s log cabin was also there, too!

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Oh my gosh, doesn’t it look so real?! It’s amazing. After enjoying the rides, we started exploring the shops. Honeyduke’s especially hit the mark. I mean look at that! You can even see the look of delight on the woman in the picture below!

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We bought Fizzing Whizabees and a Chocolate Frog, and we were impressed at the quality of the chocolate! Delicious! We also explored all the other shops, and it was all so much fun. A feast for the eyes!

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My hair sort of bunched up weird in the above photo, but isn’t that astrological wallpaper awesome? In the midst of exploring, we also caught a couple shows – the dance performances of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang as well as the Hogwarts choir. We grabbed some refreshments, too, and pumpkin juice is delicious! A yummy cinnamon spice flavor, plus that adorable pumpkin cap! I only wish I could have brought some home with me.

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I insisted on having dinner at the Three Broomsticks. It was delicious, and the food looked exactly like the replicas they put out to help you order. Does that seriously ever happen? That sticky toffee pudding was also so good! Plus the Three Broomsticks looks exactly like it does in the films.

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If only I could take the Hogwarts Express off to a real Wizarding education! Oh well, this is definitely the next best thing! I’ll treasure this experience for a long time to come, and I still have some Honeyduke’s chocolate to enjoy!

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Easter Sunday 2016

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Happy Easter! He is risen! We hosted a big family Easter feast at our house this year! I was pretty nervous about the cooking, but my apprehension led to some highly successful advance planning! I would say that this is our first truly successful time entertaining. I wasn’t running around, sweating, wondering why in the world the pot roast is taking two hours too long or forgetting to put out glasses and napkins. Yay! We cooked up two pot roasts, a leg of lamb, and a ham, as well as baked a carrot cake from scratch, and everything was ready at party-time, if you can believe it. I’m still in disbelief. 

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We even attended sunrise Easter service, which is my favorite! It’s so beautiful and joyful with the birds singing! I made a few bird-inspired Easter eggs this year, copying the awesome blog StudioDIY’s project. Seriously creative and an adorable twist on Easter eggs!

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We somehow managed to comfortably fit twenty people in our house for the Easter feast. I enjoyed decorating with lovely and inexpensive flowers from Aldi’s (my favorite grocery store), as well as an adorable carrot garland from Michael’s, and my swan and flamingo Easter eggs.

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Part of our secret to Easter’s entertaining success was having guests bring side dishes, which were amazingly delicious! We had scratch-made egg rolls, Mexican rice, twice-baked potatoes, and so much more! It was way better than we could have done, and made it so much easier on us.

It was a warm, beautiful day (although it had been threatening to rain), and everyone enjoyed the sunshine as they searched for cascarones! Remember this cascarones battle last year? This year’s was even bigger!

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Eek! Jonathan is coming to get me! I snapped this photo right before I got a confetti egg smashed on my head. Oh, well – part of the fun I suppose!

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I hope you all had a wonderful Easter! He is risen!

Christmas 2015

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Christmas was in Houston this year – our first Christmas in our new house! I decorated with evergreen branches, pine cones, and citrus. I strung a star garland across the mantle and decorated the tree with ribbons, handmade snowflakes, and our small cache of ornaments. (We added a little glass cheeseburger ornament and a cuckoo clock ornament this year).

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We also got an adorable tiny nutcracker and two antique soldier ornaments that have been on my parents’ Christmas tree for years. We kept it simple with only a gift or two, but with See’s Candies a must as always! I got a book I have been longing for – The Planets by the Smithsonion.

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On Christmas Eve, my mother-in-law Dalia, and her husband, Eloy, took us downtown to the amazing Shen Yun Chinese Classical Dance performance at the Jones Performing Arts Center. We dressed up and had a wonderful time. Afterward, we had dinner at our house, and I cooked up a salmon our friend had caught in Alaska! The evening wasn’t done yet. We opened presents (or stockings, rather!), and then went to see Star Wars again. After the movie, we still had time before midnight mass, so we relaxed and drank Abuelita hot chocolate and chatted. Ending a late night with midnight mass was lovely. It was full of Christmas carols and the church glowed with lights, poinsettias, and Christmas trees!

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

Snowy Sequoia

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Our first taste of winter this year happened in Sequoia National Park, which we visited on our Thanksgiving trip to California. It was stunningly beautiful and Jonathan’s first time to see the giant trees! We had an amazing time, enjoying the snowy weather!

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We stayed at the Wuksachi Lodge at Sequoia National Park so we could be based on the mountain during our brief stay. It looks almost like a gingerbread house covered with powdered sugar!

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We had to drive with chains, even with a jeep. It felt like driving around in a tank, but we felt super secure. We saw many other 4 wheel drives slipping and sliding on the steep roads. It was best not to risk it.

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We played and hiked in the snow. It was pretty cold on a long hike we went on, so we really bundled up! I could hardly put my arms down. We hiked for about 3 hours round trip to Moro Rock, since the roads to it were closed. It was very cold, and it snowed heavily. We clipped the water bottles to my belt, and the water froze during the hike!

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Underwater Aruba

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[Above: Jonathan and his best friend Sean snuba-ing at a sunken ship off the coast of Aruba. I seriously cannot get over these amazing photos. So beautiful, so many fish, and we were there!]

We just had a fantastic vacation with friends to Aruba! It was so wonderful to indulge in plenty of swimming in the gorgeous waters surrounding Aruba and the amazing pools at our condos, too! We swam and snorkeled, and Jonathan tried snuba. I love swimming and tried to spend as much time in the water as possible during our vacation. It was awesome to explore the underwater beauty of Aruba.

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I love how free and at ease I appear in the photos above! I am so happy in the water!

We had brought our own snorkels and goggles with us, which was a great idea. It allowed us to just snorkel anytime we went to the beach. We also went on a snorkeling/snuba trip on a sailboat catamaran that took us around to great snorkeling spots that were farther out, including a ship sunk during World War II. It was the most amazing experience.

Isn’t it just so gorgeous?!

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The first morning we were there, we went down to the beach with our snorkels and saw this enormous starfish! Just right at the beach! It was a great start to our vacation.

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The whole trip we were just so excited about how beautifully clear the water is and how it’s such a lovely turquoise color. You can see right to the bottom, even to 5 or 6 feet deep. The water wasn’t exactly warm, but very refreshing, and very easy to get used to.

On the day we flew home, we had one last trip to the beach. Little fish were nibbling our toes, the water was so lovely, and it just felt surreal knowing we would soon be home!

Goodbye, Aruba! It was amazing!

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Our Home: The Living Room

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Finally, another room in our home tour (which I promise will take forever), our living room! This room is where we spend almost all of our time. Our home has an open floor plan, and this is the heart of our home (nope, it’s not the kitchen, which is a close second).  You’ve seen the entryway, and it leads straight to the living room. Our whole home has been a work-in-progress, and we just acquired the couch and, as you know, we got the piano for Christmas! The living room is starting to feel really finished – except for curtains. This room definitely needs curtains. It faces west. and that late afternoon sun is punishing! The blinds do help,but if we plan on properly protecting our piano and couch from longterm sun damage, blackout curtains have just got to happen. I have my eye on some bespoke dove-gray pleated curtains (sigh), but just decided I didn’t want to wait any longer to share!

So let’s talk about that couch. It’s brand-spanking new and just awesome! This couch design has all the pieces assemble and disassemble with ease. You can arrange the couch in any imaginable way you can think of, and Jonathan and I took that to heart and envisioned a deep, long couch with a back entrance, as you can see. I’ve been dreaming of a navy blue velvet couch for so long, and I can’t believe it’s come true this soon! It’s like something you pin on Pinterest, but think it probably won’t happen for 10 years.

Also another dream-come-true, our piano. I’ve already waxed eloquent about it at Christmastime, so I’ll just say I love it and play it, and I’m so happy it’s here in the heart of our home. A new addition is the rowing machine – my birthday present from Jonathan I got a few weeks ago! I love rowing for some reason, and I have been wanting a rowing machine for a long time. It’s been fantastic, and I’m not even that sore!

This is where we lounge, watch TV, exercise, play music, and even eat (the coffee table lid comes up and forward for TV dinners). It’s also where Marvin lives (our roomba). The living room is pretty much the center of life at home.

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Happy Independence Day!

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We had a fantastic 4th of July! We had friends come on over for brisket bbq and fireworks. Lots and lots of fireworks. Jonathan definitely has a thing for fireworks, and he purchased two cartloads of fireworks. I still can’t believe we went through all of them (though it did take five hours, seriously). Last year, actually, our neighbors told us that it seemed like World War III was going on in our backyard! I made a strawberry and blueberry shortcake to help us celebrate patriotically. I also read the Declaration of Independence again (I have a pocket Constitution with the Declaration – very handy). We decided to cater (okay, I decided, since I wasn’t up to cooking that much; the shortcake was enough), and the whole hangout went so smoothly. Plus it was tons of fun! Happy Independence Day!

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It was hot and humid, and it actually rained when we ate, so we ate inside, but other than that, we were outside throwing firecrackers and more! We had pretty lights strung up and plenty of citronella torches. Our patio is quite different from when we first moved in, with the paving stones and picnic table and hammock, etc.

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As it got dark, we started firing off fireworks! The guys could hardly wait. The sun had barely set before they were setting everything up, starting with sparklers.

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As I said, it was humid (I don’t even notice the humidity anymore, truly), but my camera did. It fogged up for several minutes when I took it outside, but I decided to shoot anyways. I was amazed by how beautiful the foggy camera shots of the fireworks were! The first photo was not fogged, but these next two are. Isn’t that so lovely?  The bursts of fireworks are just iridescent with color and light. I hope you had a wonderful 4th of July, too! The Declaration of Independence is so incredible, and I am proud to be part of a country that expressed itself so eloquently and nobly for the cause of democracy and independence. It changed the world, and still is.

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Easter 2015

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I know it’s been a little while, but here our pictures from our Easter celebration! He is risen!

Jonathan and I woke up extremely early to attend the outdoor sunrise mass that our church does each Easter. It was lovely to celebrate mass and Easter with the sky growing gradually lighter and the birds beginning to sing! Afterward we napped for a few hours before waking up and checking out our shared Easter basket. See’s Candies is always a traditional must-have. I usually handpick a pound, but I couldn’t resist the adorable bunnies and poppies baskets and egg! I themed the basket around the bunnies and the orange and purple poppy colors.

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We hosted Easter at our home for a small crowd of family and friends, and to mix things up, we grilled burgers! I gave up hamburgers for lent, and it was high time I had a burger! Luckily the predicted thunderstorm held off, and we were able to eat on our patio. Like I did the year before, I baked a tiered carrot cake from scratch; I’ve decided that’s going to be a new Easter tradition. It’s absolutely delicious, and, frankly, a ton of work, so I can only manage it once a year!

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Cascarones, or real egg shells filled with confetti are a popular Easter activity in Texas. I don’t particularly remember cascarones in California, but maybe they were there, too, and not as popular? Anyway, so many stores here have cascarones at Easter time. My mother-in-law hid cascarones and regular plastic Easter eggs all over the yard. After our Easter lunch, and before dessert, we ran around finding all the eggs and throwing the cascarones at each other!

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The confetti seemed to easily fall out of everyone’s hair but mine! I had so much confetti tangled up into my ponytail. But it was so much fun – this has been one of my very favorite Easter celebrations! Happy Easter! He is risen!

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