When Christmas {Train} Comes to Town

Like most toddler boys, Little Lion Man is obsessed with trains.  Although when my oldest daughter was his age, she loved trains too.  In fact, because she loved Thomas and trains so much, we saw The Polar Express in the cinema when she was close to his age, however, she was a timid toddler and a few of the scenes frightened her.

But it didn’t frighten my Little Lion Man.  He hollered out, “Whoa!” when he watched the Polar Express cascade down the mountainside like a roller coaster.

Since Little Lion Man loves locomotives, we boarded the 7 ½ gauge CP&G Railroad at Crews Lakes Wilderness Park for a ride on the Christmas Train to the “North Pole”.  When Little Lion Man spotted the little engine chugging down the track, he had a similar reaction to The Polar Express. “Whoa!  Mama, it’s a train!”

Winding along tracks through the woods, reminded me of a similar train in England years ago.  On that train ride long ago, Allana met my friend, Suzie, her mum and Father Christmas.

But I digress.

Over the track and through the woods to Santa Claus we go went, but Little Lion Man wanted nothing to do with the big man in red.  He preferred to watch the trains arriving at the station.

After a quick photo opportunity and an even quicker word with Santa to remind him of the toys to bring, we were back on our way home.

At the end of the day, that little train ride brought a great deal of joy to one little boy.

And the rest of us had fun too. 

Merry Christmas!

What Christmas music is moving you this season?

Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

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Tinsel and Lights and Happy Hanukkah

The other day I heard a Christmas song and the singer’s enchanting voice unhinged a memory.  I saw myself driving on a country hillside road on a long commute to work.  Almost as clear and haunting as the vision, her voice gave goose bumps similar to the ones that appeared when Allan and I first started dating and we would listen to Everything But The Girl’s Acoustic on long car rides while holding hands.

Tracey Thorn, the lead singer of Everything But the Girl, has released a Christmas album entitled Tinsel and Light.  The first song I heard off the album is the very same song that transported me to a time before parenthood.

I realize when artists go solo they despise being linked to their former band life, but Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel and Lights does just that.  The entire album reminds me everything I loved about Everything But The Girl but sprinkled with Christmas goodness.

You can listen and download entire the album on amazon.

While searching around YouTube and the internet for Tracey Thorn and Everything But Girl, I found this really fun interactive Tracey Thorn Advent Calendar full of videos, music, photos and Christmas cheer.

And on the subject of downloads, here are two you can’t pass up because both downloads benefit great causes.  Matisyahu released a new song for Hanukkah appropriately entitled Happy Hanukkah.  All proceeds go to the Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.  Download and donate here.

Then, download O Holy Night  performed by Ladywell Primary School from iTunes to help raise money for meningitis research in young Caden’s name.

For the next two Mondays leading up to Christmas, I will be sharing my favorite Christmas songs.  I would love for you to join in the merry music making by linking up and sharing your favorite holly jolly holiday tunes.



Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Music Monday: It Feels Like Christmas

Even before the calendar flipped to December, my family and I were already all sparklejollytwinklejingley for Christmas during Thanksgiving.  Thanks to the Straz Center, my family and I experienced the joy and magic of Christmas a little early with the help of our favorite elf and star of Elf The Musical, Buddy.

And speaking of elves, a funny little Elf on the Shelf found a home in our tree on the first day of December.

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I know what you’re thinking. I swore I would never buy one because I said these elves symbolize everything that is wrong with Christmas, not to mention how incredible creepy, clown-like, Chuckie-wannabe these elves are.   Therefore, this holiday I’ll be eating humble pie instead of Christmas pie which is best served cold because this little North Pole transplant likes the cold.  Don’t judge me because there will be more photos like these.

Giggles went for a joyride.

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The next he snapped some photos of the tree.

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On Friday evening, we visited Christmas Town more than once.  My family and I once again experienced the wonder of Christmas with the help of Busch Garden’s Christmas Town.  The wondrous icy sensation of Snow World melted our hearts, but the truly heart-stopping, good cheer happened for me at Cheetah Hunt.  Nothing beats humming and singing a happy Christmas tune just before you’re catapulted into the atmosphere at high speed.

Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree, for me
I’ve been an awful good girl
Santa baby, and hurry down the chimney to…..NIGHAAAAAAAAAA!  OH MY GOD!

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However, while stopping Snow World at Busch Garden’s Christmas Town, we witnessed a travesty.  As my girls and I waited patiently in line to play in the snow, we watched two pre-teen boys beat the living ice cubes out of Frosty the Snowman.  The bad boys ripped off Frosty’s broomstick arms and beat him repeatedly until his head broke off.  As Frosty’s poor decapitated head lay helplessly on the ground, his attackers ripped off his carrot nose and violently stabbed him in the neck with his own nose.

I couldn’t believe the horrible scene unfolding in front of us.  “For love of God!  Stop beating Frosty!  All he ever wanted to do was wish everyone a ‘Happy Birthday’.”  Then, my girls chimed in to shout at the cruel children.  “Leave Frosty alone!”

Good Lord.  I can never look at a snowman the same way.  It will take years to heal from this and just when I finally could look at clowns and dolls without cringing.  And while we’re compiling a list of creepy creature, add living statue angels to the list.

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Then, my girls and I enjoyed one more Christmas moment when we visited the Tampa Theater for The Muppet Christmas Carol.  I had never seen the movie before so the film was a first for all of us.  Michael Caine played the perfect Scrooge.

Stay tuned for more posts to follow about each of these wonderful Christmas events!

Does it feels like Christmas or does the thought of Christmas having you cringing?  Are you in the Christmas mood yet or are you a Scrooge? 

What Christmas music is moving you this season?



Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Little Boxes

As I’ve grown older, I’ve become a lazy bargain shopper.  Once a die-hard Black Friday shopper, over the years I skipped out on the Black Friday madness.  Instead, I’ve opted to stay home and stay in my pajamas as I shopped online throughout the holiday season.  By watching the online sales with a little patience and vigilance, I am able to find the same deals or cheaper without having to fight crowds.

Amazon is my outlet of choice and every day is like Christmas when those happy little smiley face boxes arrive at my doorstep to greet me with a big grin.

Speaking of little boxes, I did venture out to take full advantage of Small Business Saturday by visiting my favorite running store, Suncoast Running.  A special little blue box containing a new pair of Brooks running shoes has me grinning bigger than a smile on an amazon box.

For the next four Mondays leading up to Christmas, I will be sharing my favorite Christmas songs.  I would love for you to join in the merry music making by linking up and sharing your favorite holly jolly holiday tunes.



Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Music Monday: Home

There’s so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

When I think of the displaced, homeless victims of Hurricane Sandy, I am truly thankful for a roof over my head.  I am also thankful for the warmth, comfort and love within these walls.

Last year at this time, we were in a bad place financially. Over the past year, things began to slowly rebound, thanks to new opportunities and doors opening.  A year later, we’ve recovered and we’re in a better place now.  It’s such a great feeling to be able to pay all your bills, have money left over for groceries and gas and still have money left over to help others, like the Hurricane Sandy victims, the families of Metropolitan Ministries and others in the need.

Though health, family and friends will always top our list of thanks, I am grateful to be able to afford the holidays without worry and that we can spend it in our home filled with love and happiness.


Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Pretty Muddy, Pretty Dirrty and Pretty Fun

Pretty MuddyAh, dirrty (dirrty)
Filthy (filthy)
Nasty, you nasty (yeah)
Too dirrty to clean my act up
If you ain’t dirrty
You ain’t here to party (woo!)

What better way to recap the Pretty Muddy race than with a help from Christina Aguilera!

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a mud run was never something I thought of trying.  Fear of over-the-top tests of endurance, electric fences and well…mud mostly steered me away from ever participating.  I had heard horror stories from friends who found mud in the nether regions for days after their mud run.

But when Courtney of Journey of a Dreamer challenged her fellow Sweat Pink Sisters to take on the Pretty Muddy, I simply had to go for it.  Who can resist a good challenge?

Obviously there were mass quantities of mud, but Pretty Muddy lacked an electrical fence which was a bonus for me.  Plus, there was a promise of beach balls and bubbles instead of bales of hay.  So with that, I would give it a go and I decided to make “Keep Calm and Get Pretty Muddy” my mantra.

The Friday before the event, a few fitness bloggers and I had the opportunity to preview the course.  I even tested out a few of the obstacles to see if I could even scale them.

Each obstacle offered a “pretty please pass”, however, for me to truly understand the whole mud run experience, I felt I had to at least attempt the obstacles even if it meant falling face down in the mud.  Either way, it would all make for a great blog post and interesting race recap.  Given my race number, I was doomed destined to have a hell of a time.

On race day, Jenny of Metamorfit and I started at the first wave at 8:00 a.m., which I now know was great strategy in itself.  Later I learned that some mud runs have long lines for each obstacle, but since not many people want to start at the first wave, there were no lines and no waiting for us.

I also learned that Pretty Muddy offers a lot more running than obstacles, which was perfect for a mother runner like me.  I loved running through the gorgeous grounds of the Little Everglades Ranch and I managed the soft terrain of the farm quite nicely.

At the start of the race, we ran through bubbles and I lost Jenny somewhere in the foam.  Very soon after the bubbles, we plunged into a pond and my soggy pond-soaked shoes felt 10 pounds apiece.  Once back on the trail, I wrung out my shoes with every squishy step.

Soon enough, my shoes were all wrung out just in time for the first mud pit positioned in front of a barn.  With my first step into the mud pit, I learned there is a strategy for stepping into mud pits.  Per my mistake, I stepped in too close to the edge and I couldn’t move my feet.  I had to pull my foot out and start over with a giant step forward. Giant step right! Giant step left!  Grab hold of the opposite edge and PULL yourself out! 

Just after the barn was an obstacle I like to call, “What Wood Jesus Do?”  Since I didn’t know the best way to attack this 2×4 wood carrying obstacle, I chose to carry my plank crucifixion style (over the back of my neck and across my shoulders) while I ran.

Past the planks, we found a huge inflatable slide with a pool of mud at the base rather than water.  Just after the slide and close to the 1.5 mile mark, I could hear the M.C. calling for the 8:15 wave to start and I knew I was making good time.

Around the bend just after the slide, there stood a cargo net to climb. Then, after another short run, I crawled through two tunnels full of mud, which made me feel a little claustrophobic.  Thankfully, I was off running again.

After a short distance, I had to scale the over and out obstacle.  I climbed over one, crawled under one into a pit of mud, back over another and under once again in yet another pit of mud.  Then, I was back on my way, but in the wrong direction.  I ran about a quarter mile off the trail when a sheriff on ATV cashed me down and told me and a few other ladies to go back the other way.

Once back on the right path, I bounced through beach balls and then shortly after that, I had to maneuver through the rope netting of the “get a leg up” obstacle, which included more mud of course.

The last mile led us back toward the start where only two more obstacles remained.  With only a little distance left to go, I had a few more wooden walls to climb.  Once over the walls, I ran as fast as I could up a slight incline to the finish line.   But first, there was one more mud pit to crawl through, which is where most of my mud damage happened.

Even with all the obstacles, I finished somewhere around 35:00, which I think is pretty excellent for someone with no previous crossfit experience.  Besides running, the only training I did to prepare for this race is climbing a playground apparatus at the park with my two year old son.  Honestly, I thought I lacked the upperbody strength for such an event, but I am in better shape than I thought.

So would I do it again?  Abso-pretty-lutley!

I am so on board for Pretty Muddy again next year!  I loved the endurance race adventure run without all the competitive pressure of a clock or all-star athletes.  Pretty Muddy was good wholesome, down and dirty fun.

Next year, I would love for my runner mother girlfriends to join me because I could have used a hand in that barn dance mud pit.  Plus, it would be fun to be part of a team with matching shirts and a team motto.   Of course, I’ve already got a ton of team ideas floating around in that Pretty Muddy brain of mine.

So who’s with me?

Ladies, please don’t fear the mud because it washes off better than you’ve heard!  Think of it more of a mud bath spa experience minus the sliced cucumbers on your eyes and a bit more climbing.

*A special thanks to Courtney for roping me into Pretty Muddy and for sharing her photos with me!*

Two Tribes and Yes, We Can

Like many Americans, I will be so glad when this election is over, however, I don’t believe it will end tomorrow at midnight.  With the popular vote being so close, I predict many states will call for a recount and America will be waiting for weeks to learn the name of our next president.  I also predict that Obama will win the electoral vote nationally but Romney will take Florida based upon a quote printed in the Tampa Bay Times from former Governor Jeb Bush:  “As Pasco goes, so does the state of Florida.”

It’s been such an ugly election and possibly even worse living in the swing state of Florida in the I-4 Corridor but the ugliness wasn’t limited to the TV or radio airwaves.  The spew of negativity and discontent from either side has been plastered all over my Facebook newsfeed.  I had several liberal friends complaining about Obama signs being stolen from their yards, however, ironically no Romney friends reported any such acts but perhaps not so surprisingly since Romney held a rally here last Saturday.

Then I spotted a defaced Obama sign outside my early polling precinct.

On Saturday, the last day of early voting, I waited in an hour and a half to cast my vote for Obama in sea of Romney supporters wearing buttons and t-shirts.  I should have worn my Obama tube socks.

Four years later, I’m still an Obama Mama.  Yes, Mr. President, I’m ready to move forward, past all the ugly partisan politics and get back to work fixing the economy and making America prosperous again.

Yes, we can.



Visit Xmas Dolly and Jade Louise Designs for more Music Monday.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+