Santa Cruz, California Visit

Santa Cruz- There is something breathtaking about being immersed in the redwoods with the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and birds singing. It’s grounding. Cathartic.

Sleep in the mountains, visit the ocean.

I will start this post with a preface that my husband and I were born in Santa Cruz, and all of our family currently lives there. We had been locals there for 25 years, until we moved to Texas. Beach Boardwalk? We only ever went when we had company visiting. The Mystery Spot? Only have to do it once. Now when we visit Santa Cruz, we visit our favorite places to eat and let the kids have fun in the mountains and a quick trip to the ocean.

Where we eat

When we visit, it is usually only for a couple days. However, there are two places that we absolutely have to eat at.

If you are visiting Santa Cruz, try out two these places.

  1. Manuels, Aptos 

I have been eating at Manuels since before I can remember. My Dad has eaten at Manuels since before he can remember. “Mannies” is our favorite Mexican Restaurant. It is the Mexican restaurant that we gauge every other Mexican restaurant against. Texas just doesn’t have Mexican food I am used to- Texmex is a class all on its own, one that I am not particularly used to. So, if you are from Texas, make sure to get an enchilada. My favorite is the number 9 or the Friday fish special. Be sure to call ahead for reservations because its always packed.

2. Cafe Brasil, Santa Cruz

We stumbled upon this little breakfast/lunch place when we were running errands. It was the best decision because we go back every chance we get.  I always get the shrimp Muquecas: Freshly made tomato sauce with coconut milk, palm oil, green pepper with your choice of simmered meat. The acai bowls are also very popular. Parking is really limited. We usually park on a neighboring street and walk over.

Where we stay

My parents run an Airbnb in Aptos- Juju Paradise.

 This 1200 sq ft dodecahedron (12 sided) duplex house is in the Santa Cruz redwoods. Enjoy the entire second story 2 bed/1 bath unit that is only 15 min away from Rio Del Mar State beach. You get the best of both worlds- land & sea. You get to take in spectacular views of the redwoods on the 30 acre property with over 50 meyer lemon trees.

Breathe in the redwoods. Soak in the California sun. Immerse yourself in Santa Cruz culture. A true paradise.

We look forward to your stay.

-Cal & Zara


We stay there when we visit. It is up in the mountains for the true Santa Cruz Mountains experience.

When visiting Santa Cruz there is a lot of hype about the beach. We do love the beach and spend an afternoon there if the fog isn’t banked in. However, the mountains are a little more underrated. When we moved to the suburbs of Texas, we immediately missed the open spaces and the quiet.

Can you spot the round house in the woods?

There is something breathtaking about being immersed in the redwoods with the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and birds singing. It’s grounding. Cathartic. If you have a chance to stay in the redwoods, even for a night, you’ll understand the majesty of California. Plus you can always drive to the beach 15 Min away.

Have you ever visited Santa Cruz? Are you planning a trip? I would love to answer any questions you have.

Morning Smoothie


Seriously yummy, quick, and perfect for a satisfying morning breakfast.

My kids love this smoothie and I love this smoothie, so it’s a win-win. Just pop it all into the blender and blend until smooth. I usually have to add a little extra milk for it to get to pouring consistency.

I was worried about the oats, but they blend in really nicely and the they make the smoothie deliciously filling.

The recipe pours about two tall glasses (as in picture).

According to Nutrition Facts: Per Serving: 236 calories; 3.7 g fat; 44.9 g carbohydrates; 7.6 g protein; 0 mg cholesterol; 65 mg sodium

Click here for the recipe from user Astrophe. 

Meal Plan: Sept 5-9th

Thursday Casserole Night: Chicken Noodle Casserole

This week is a little different because we are going to be out of town and binge eating at our favorite California restaurants. The week picks up on Wednesday and continues onto Sunday.

I did my best to add all of the recipes I will be using within the first couple months of planning to my favorites list. You can access the list here. Let me know in the comments if I am missing any!

I am really looking forward to tackling the “Eggplant parmesan” night on Friday! This doubles as a vegetarian night. I try to spread out different meats throughout the week; chicken night, beef night, fish night, vegetarian night. Some weeks it works, and others it doesn’t. Sometime this week I am also going to make my tried and true favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe.


Meal Plan September 5- September 9, 2018

Monday- Breakfast Burritos, American Night

Tuesday- Smoothie & Cereal, Mexican Night

Wednesday- Yogurt Parfait, BBQ Night/Misc. Night

Thursday- Eggs & Hash Browns & Toast, Casserole Night

Friday- Pancakes & Fruit, Italian Night

Saturday- Breakfast Casserole/Muffins/Misc., Dinner Out Night

Sunday- French Toast & Fruit, Asian Night

Snack Ideas:

Vegetables- carrot sticks, sliced bell peppers, celery sticks, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, broccoli, cauliflower, sugar snap peas

Fruits- apples, pears, grapes, fresh berries, bananas, orange slices, mandarin oranges, peaches, nectarines, melon, pineapple, apricots

Proteins- hard boiled eggs, hummus, Greek yogurt, cheese slices, cottage cheese, nuts, peanut butter, trail mix

Grains- granola bars, english muffins, graham crackers, waffles, crackers, bagels

Wednesday September 5-

Thursday September 6-

Friday September 7-

Saturday September 8-

Sunday September 9-

Screen Shot 2018-08-31 at 10.46.29 AM

**Click to download the Meal Plan for Sept 5-9 

Do not copy, cite, or distribute without permission of the author

Introduction: Meal Planning

My Mom is an excellent cook.

She is the type of cook that can make anything without looking at a recipe and make it fabulous. Everyone comments on her cooking. She came to the United States from Singapore in the 80’s and met my dad. Her cooking is an amazing fusion of Asian and American. Everything has flavor- blah foods are not her style.

I am not a cook. I tell this to people all the time, but I never take time to explain. My standards for good food are always judged against my Mom’s food. When we go out, its always, “the food is good but…” While, we do have our favorite restaurants and our favorite dishes, we usually are quick to judge them. Because of this, I am critical.

I feel like my story is common- everyone has a good cook in their family and some people learned to become good cooks themselves.

“I learned from my Grandma.”

“I learned from my Aunt.”

“I learned from my Dad.”

Well, I didn’t.

This isn’t to say I am not adequate. I know how to chop onions, boil eggs, and follow recipes. In fact, I follow recipes very well. Recipes are in-tune with my personality- a set of plans that I follow. I am not a rule breaker- I don’t stray from plans or recipes. I don’t add more of this or take away that. This is what makes me, in my mind, an adequate cook.

So where does this leave me? Clean kitchen… frozen meals… mac n cheese?


I am about to turn thirty with two young boys, and I am was generally a mess with meals. I was all over the place. We were eating out too much and spending too much money on food that was all the same. So I came up with a plan.

After scouring Pinterest for ideas, I came up with a plan to stick with. I visited and searched for the most reviewed, most “stared” recipes in the following categories:

  1. -American
  2. -Mexican
  3. -BBQ
  4. -Casserole
  5. -Italian
  6. -Asian
  7. -Misc. (appetizers, desserts, breakfast, smoothies)

6 Categories for 6 nights of cooking, 1 night to go out.

I decided to use because I feel confident with reviews. When I buy something on Amazon, I read reviews. When I book a hotel, I read reviews. I figure if 4,000 other people have made this recipe and they generally love it, then I have a higher chance of my family enjoying it too. My main goals are to:

  1. become more organized with meals
  2. learn different recipes of different genres

I am going to be sharing my weekly menus, with links to the recipes on here so you can follow along. I love using because I am able to see the nutrition content per serving, and I am able to change the number of portions easily on the site. So whether you are cooking for 1 or 10, they have you covered. I also planned out a different breakfast for each day of the week. This has saved me a tremendous amount of time.

Here are some of my guidelines:

  • Each recipe I cook has at least 1000 reviews with 4.5 or better stars.
  • I follow the recipe as written.
  • I stick to the genre for the day (Mexican, Asian, Etc.) except….
  • BBQ day is also a flex day. If it is too hot, cold, or inconvenient to BBQ, I will substitute for cooking the meal in the oven, or cook another recipe of another genre.
  • We eat out one day a week.
  • First day of the week is Monday. I generally do my planning and publish the next week’s plan on Friday. I do my shopping for the week on Sunday.

Also keep in mind:

  • I will not estimate the time it takes to prepare and cook. Allrecipes includes an estimate on each recipe, but I am not sure how accurate it is.
  • I cannot promise that each meal will be $XX.XX for the week. I will start posting my receipt for the items that I purchased for the week. This should only be used as a guideline because I may have a different amount of people I am feeding, I may already have items needed for the week’s recipes, etc. Too many variables.
  • This is a good guide to start learning an array of recipes in different genres and become more organized with your family’s meals.
  • The first two weeks are a little crazy because we planned our vacation to California. Stick with me! I promise plans will be consistent.

Let me know if you are following along! Let others know what you think of the recipes. Let others know how long its taking you to prepare.

Check out Week 1 Meal Plan here!


Family Cleaning Schedule


Contreras Family Cleaning Schedule


  • Dishes
  • Take out the trash
  • Make beds
  • Pick Up and put away toys
  • Wipe bathroom counters
  • Vacuum (as needed)


Sunday- Planning Day

  • Meal prep
  • Grocery store
  • Mow Lawn
  • Kids Weekly Clothes Organized

Monday- Kitchen & Breakfast Room Day

  • Sweep and mop floor
  • Wipe baseboards & Cabinet Doors
  • Clean out fridge and pantry
  • Clean oven, microwave, Stove
  • Organize cabinets and drawers
  • Clean sink & Counters
  • Laundry- Daddy’s Clothes

Tuesday- Living Rooms & Dining Room Day

  • Wipe baseboards & Walls
  • Dust & Vacuum
  • Vacuum out furniture
  • Wipe Tables
  • Clean High Chairs
  • Clean windows
  • Laundry- Mommy’s Clothes

Wednesday- Bathrooms

  • Sweep and Mop Floors
  • Take Out Trash
  • Wipe baseboards & Walls
  • Dust
  • Clean toilets & Showers
  • Wipe mirrors
  • Laundry- Sheets & Towels

Thursday- Deep Clean

  • Clean vents
  • Clean fans
  • Vacuum stairs
  • Wipe down Doors & Door Knobs
  • Clean Windows
  • Tidy Up Backyard

Friday- Kids Bedrooms

  • Wipe baseboards & walls
  • Vacuum
  • Dust
  • Organize toys & Clothes
  • Laundry- Kids

Cleaning Schedule

Click here to download the Family Cleaning Schedule

Daily Schedule

Family Daily Schedule

6:30 Wake Up

6:35 Potty, Wash Face, Do Hair, Get Dressed

6:50 Breakfast

7:15 Brush Teeth

7:25 Shoes on, Gather Backpack

7:30 Leave for School

8:30 Arrive Back Home- Breakfast for zane & Change Clothes

9:45 Independent Play- Daily Chores

10:45 Quiet Time- Read, Cuddle

11:10 Make Piersons Lunch

11:30 Leave to Pick up Pierson

12:30 Arrive Back Home- Independent Play- Daily chores

1:30 Quiet Time- Nap or Read

3:00 Snack

3:30 Outside Play

5:00 Dinner Prep

6:00 Dinner is Served- One good thing about your day

6:30 Everyone Cleans Table/ Dishes

7:00 Bath Time

7:20 Get dressed, Brush Teeth, Potty

7:30 Clean up toys

7:40 Read

8:00 Goodnight Talk & Sleep





Daily Schedule

Click here to download an editable docx. Family Daily Schedule