Happy 11th Birthday, Allana Rose!

Tonight as a birthday treat, my first born child (our soul sister) will choose dinner and as to no surprise, it will be some neighborhood steakhouse.  She’s the most green, environmentally conscious carnivorous child (a direct result from all the rare steak I consumed while she was in utero).  But apart from her appalling meatilicious diet, she does have some outstanding qualities.

She has beauty that radiates from the inside-out.

She’s wicked smart with a sense of humor to match it.

She’s compassionate and the most thoughtful kid you’ll ever meet.

She’s creative, imaginative and inquisitive.

For her, ART is more than just a set of initials.  She puts in the ART in artistic.

Happy 11th birthday to our beautiful, brilliant Allana Rose!

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+


Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili

PhotobucketThis week I was a sneaky chef.  When I made Skinnytaste’s Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili, I didn’t tell my kids there was pumpkin in the chili.  I added sour cream to hide the evidence and watched my kids stir the condiment into their bowls happily without a clue.  After all, we always add sour cream to the kids’ chili to mask the heat.

“This is really good, but it tastes different,” my oldest observed when she tasted it.

“You like it?”

She nodded.

Good.  And then like clockwork, my youngest daughter bolted off to the restroom, because she always needs to pee right in the middle of dinner.

Once she left the table, I asked my oldest again, “Do you really like it?”

“Yes, why?”

“I just want to make sure you really like it.”

“I do, but why?”

“Because there’s pumpkin in the chili.  Not like pumpkin pie pumpkin, but a pumpkin puree like a mashed up pumpkin.”

“Really?  Because this is good!”

“It is, isn’t it?  But don’t tell Emmalynn!”

Allana relished in our little secret.  Once Emmalynn returned to the table, Allana questioned her about the chili.  “This chili is really good, isn’t it Emma?”  She asked with devilish grin.

“Yes, it is really good!  We need to eat this every week!”

Sounds like a plan to me.

Actually, I was pretty surprised as to how good this chili turned out to be.  I had my doubts, but deep down inside, I knew my Gina (a.k.a. Skinnytaste) wouldn’t let me down.

Besides being chock full of vitamins and minerals (vitamins A, C, E, and K, magnesium and potassium), it’s the perfect fall comfort food that’s so simple from start to finish.  And because it’s a crock pot meal, it’s the perfect quick healthy dinner to have prepared and ready to serve before a long night of trick-or-treating on Halloween.

Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili
(Adapted from Skinnytaste.com)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb 99% lean ground turkey
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 small onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp chili powder, to taste
1 bay leaf
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
2 (15 oz cans) of white beans (northern, navy beans or cannellini), rinsed and drained
15 oz can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
4.5 oz canned chopped green chile
2 cups low sodium, fat free chicken broth
Sour cream for topping (optional)
Chopped cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large heavy sauté pan and 2 Tbsp olive oil over high heat. Add meat and cook, breaking it up until white, about 5 minutes.  Add to crock pot.

If needed, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the sauté pan. Then add onions and garlic and sauté about 3 – 4 minutes. Add cumin and sauté another minute.

Add onion mixture to crock pot along with beans, pumpkin puree, green chilis, broth, chili powder, oregano and bay leaf. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.

Adjust seasoning to taste before serving. Top with a dollup of sour cream and chopped cilantro.

Thanks for joining our weekly Friday Food Fight! Can’t wait to see what everyone is flinging this week!

*Also submitted at*

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Another Spooktacular Time

Every year, my kids look forward to our Halloween tradition, SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular.  My children absolutely love SeaWorld and all the fun SeaWorld’s Halloween Spootacular offers, but what I love most about this Halloween experience is that the trick-or-treating party atmosphere is included with a one-day admission.

Unlike previous years, the weather has been ridiculously warm for October and I advised my girls to wear something cool for fear that dressed as Merida and Finn, they would suffer heat strokes.  So, Allana modified her Adventure Time Finn costume by wearing a sweatband instead of Finn’s usual bear fleece cap.  Instead of Merida, Emmalynn decided to match her sister’s costume by dressing as the Bubblegum Princess from Adventure Time.  Liam could stay cool in his road costume from last Halloween and thankfully, the shirt still fit him.

Since we had some time to spare before the official open of SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular, I hopped into the single rider queue for Manta, the most amazing roller coaster in Orlando.  On Manta, riders sit parallel to the track to simulate the feel of an underwater flight of a giant sting ray.

After my Manta moment, we made our way down the trick-or-treating path and we eventually found ourselves at Penelope’s Party Zone, located at SeaWorld’s Bayside Stage.  Much like last year, the under-the-sea dance celebration is the most happening Halloween hot spotWith happy pumpkins leading the dance steps and an energetic DJ pumping out tunes to make every creature move, this underwater Halloween dance party is non-stop fun for all ages.


Additional craft tables and art easels have been added to Penelope’s Party Zone this year.  My girls enjoyed assembling the free foam craft witches.

The Spooky Sand Art Station and Apple Decorating Post have returned once again for an additional nominal cost.  At the Apple Decorating Post, large tasty apples or brick-size Rice Krispies treats are dipped into chocolate or caramel sauces and then topped with sprinkles, candies and other sweets of your choosing.

Since I have three children with very different tastes, each could build their own tasty creation.

I especially liked the additional treats for grownups.  Beer in a boat and other soft drinks are now available inside Penelope’s Party Zone to help keep guests cool in this Halloween hot spot.

Just outside the party zone is a new stop, Penelope’s Photacular, where guests can show off their most Spooktacular costume which might make a celebrity guest appearance in a virtual costume parade before the Shamu Rocks show.

Since there was candy to be collecting, no one in my Halloween herd wanted to pose with Shamu, but the polar bear at Wild Arctic was a great catch in Emmalynn’s eyes.

And of course, there were lots of candy stations to visit for trick-or-treating, but sadly there were no mini bananas or peanuts as in previous years.  Those treats were replaced with unlimited quantities of Vitamin Water, which was quite refreshing in the heat, although Liam was more fond of the little boxes of raisins.

After visiting all trick-or-treating stations, Liam and I stopped to cool off at the splash pad inside Shamu’s Happy Harbor while the big kids rode some rides.  Once again, SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular was a huge splash for my family.

SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular takes place every weekend in October (6-7th, 13-14th, 19-21st, and 26-28th) and the daytime event runs from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m.

If you have concerns about food allergies, all park restaurants are equipped and trained to take care of guests with allergen needs.  SeaWorld Park restaurant managers and supervisors will work one-on-one with guests and oversee the preparation of each allergen-friendly meal from start to finish. “Chef Cards“, filled out in advance by guests to outline the foods to avoid, are handed to a chef before the preparation of the meal.

For more information about allergen-friendly meals or to purchase advance tickets for SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular, visit SeaWorldOrlando.com.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Guess Who?

Guess who stepped up to lead story time at our local Barnes & Nobles once she learned it was canceled?

The parents and preschoolers were so disappointed and this supermom simply had to save the day. As I wandered around the children’s section looking for good book to read, I scrolled through the children’s music playlist in my head.  With in minutes, I had an impromptu literary lesson ready to go.  We sang a welcome song and monster songs, like Monster Boogie, to go along with the book, Tickle Monster.  Well, we had to put that stage to good use!  The moms, kids and I had so much fun that I plan to make it a regular event on our moms group calendar.

But that’s not all.  No, Barnes & Nobles didn’t hire me on the spot.  But guess who finally figured out the front-facing camera on her Incredible in an attempt to capture her heroic story time moment?

I’ll give you a hint.  She can pull a story time lesson out of her ass loves reading stories, singing and dancing with kids almost as much as her new cell phone.

“Disclosure: I am participating in the Verizon Wireless Ambassador program and have been provided with a wireless device and three months of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product.”


Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Back to School and Brighter Than the Sun

I drafted this post last week when the girls started school, but there was so much going on with the back to school business that I failed to finish it.  Now, it seems silly to share Brighter than the Sun with Tropical Storm Isaac sitting on top of us.  It also seems silly to share a back to school post while schools are closed due to Tropic Storm Isaac invading our area.

But here I go anyway.  I’m a bit school dazed and confused. Like the winds of Isaac, I’m blowing it.

Emmalynn has the same teacher for the third year in a row, who she adores. I believe her teacher feels the same way about her.  Every child should have a teacher that makes them feel special.

Allana has new teachers but all her friends are in her class.  I feel so sorry for that teacher with all those talkative preteens.

Allana joined the ranks of Safety Patrol and loves it, although I think she likes greeting the dogs in car line more than assisting kids and the fact that she can pick her locker first next year as a reward for services.

This will be the last year both girls will be in elementary school together. I don’t even want to think about middle school yet.

With a week into the school year, we’ve already received information about afterschool programs like running club, art club, basketball and Odyssey of the Mind, which the girls want to do. Of course, on top of that, the girls will be required to do projects that will make me want to pull my hair out, but truthfully, I love that the school offers so many ways for the kids to stretch and grow their minds, bodies and soul.

I believe we’re in for another school year that will produce results brighter the sun.

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

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

A Cake Toddlers Dig

PhotobucketWhen I uncovered this construction cake on Pinterest, I knew Liam would love it for his birthday.  What two year old wouldn’t love a cake with construction vehicles and edible dirt?

I placed my order with our resident Cake Boss, Iron chef Allan and he assembled the cake as outlined by Lauren of Fredellicious. He baked two cakes, one yellow and one chocolate, although our cakes were a Betty Crocker’s Butter Recipe Yellow Cake and Devil’s Food Cake recipe to save on time.

He then, froze and cut the cakes, following Lauren’s slanted stripes cake tutorial.

Then, iced the cakes with his own chocolate icing recipe. (See recipe below.)

And finally, he finished it off with some crushed Oreo cookies and a few construction vehicles.

I love the extra touches he added such as some Oreo dirt in the dump truck and tire trucks along the cake platter.

He even added a small lake.

And just as I suspected, Little Lion Man loved it.

Iron Chef Allan’s Chocolate Icing
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
2Tbsp coffee
2 tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract


Using a handheld mixer, add butter, salt, cocoa and sugar to a medium-sized bowl and mix until well combined.  Stir in vanilla and coffee.  If additional liquid is needed, add small amount of additional coffee until icing shows desired consistency.

Thanks for joining our weekly Friday Food Fight! Can’t wait to see what everyone is flinging this week!

*Also submitted at*

Sweet Tooth FridayPhotoStory Fridaythe hollie rogue Look whooooo’s snapping

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Super Why Live {Review}

My two year old is obsessed with Super Why.  So when he witnessed a live walking, dancing and flying Wyatt in real life, he was completely captivated by it. 

Super Why Live combines live action and animation with audience participation through a visually pleasing and engaging program.  Even my six year old and ten year old enjoyed the show.

The Super Why characters sang many of our favorite songs and few new ones.  The fun sing-along and happy beats encouraged the audience to sing and clap along.  My kids and I shimmied in our theater seats.

Much like the PBS show, the audience was asked to help the Super Readers find clues (letters) to learn the mystery word.  For the purpose of this show, we discovered which super hero has the ultimate reading power.  I’ll give you a hint.  It has three letters and ends with “U”. 

As each Super Reader shared their super reading power and their dreams, lights danced around the theater and over the balcones.  Like magic, our clues (letters) appeared above the stage.

 My kids were completely entranced by the acrobatic musical production until the brief intermission.  Once the Super Readers and the bright dancing lights were back, my kids were captivated once again.

Visit Super Why Live to learn more about the live tour dates and when the tour comes to your city.  Visit the Super Why Live Tour YouTube Channel for footage from the live show, fan reactions and behind-the-scenes fun. 

*My family and I received tickets to Super Why Live for the purpose of this review and giveaway.  I receive no compensation and the opinions are my own.*

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+