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+

A Healthier Holiday Table with Spinach Chicken Sausage Egg Cups

ACS-BadgeWhen the American Cancer Society asked me to contribute a recipe for A Healthier Holiday Table, I was honored.  After watching my aunt lose her life to cancer, it became my goal to educate myself and others about ways to live in a word without cancer and ultimately celebrate more birthdays.

Here are a few easy steps to reduce your risk so that you and your loved can celebrate more birthdays together:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of many types of cancer. Here are ideas on how to eat healthy and get active.
  • Did you know that eating lots of fruits and vegetables can help reduce your cancer risk? The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day. Here are two resources filled with ideas for upping your fruit and vegetable consumption through the day.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products. Here are some innovative ways to add more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to your day while watching your refined carbohydrates, sugar, and fat intake.
  • Limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat. Some studies have linked eating large amounts of processed meat to increased risk of colorectal and stomach cancers.
  • Drink no more than 1 drink per day for women or 2 per day for men. Alcohol raises the risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), esophagus, liver, breast, and the colon and rectum.
  • Stock your kitchen with a variety of foods that you can throw together for healthy meals in a hurry. Keep these foods on hand for fast meals on busy nights.
  • Did you know that being physically active can reduce your risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colon, endometrial, and prostate?  The Society recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week. Here are some tips to help you fit exercise into your busy schedule.

However, holiday office parties and last minute marathon shopping can often make it difficult to adhere to the previous checklist.  By preparing quick and easy healthy meals, you can maintain a healthier table during the holidays.

My Spinach Chicken Sausage Egg Cup recipe is perfect for potlucks and since these egg cups freeze nicely, they’re great for quick breakfasts on the go.  Simply store them in freezer-safe food storage bags and heat them up when you want a healthy breakfast bite in a pinch.

Spinach Chicken Sausage Egg Cups
Ingredients
2 slices whole grain bread
½ cup baby spinach
2 Tbsp reduced fat cheddar cheese
1 link al fresco Country Style Breakfast Chicken Sausage, quartered
2 large eggs
2 egg whites
1 Tbsp non-fat milk
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare a muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Using a 2-inch cookie cutter, cut two circles in each slice of bread.  Lay one circle in each prepared muffin cup.

Lay one to two leaves of baby spinach on top on each bread circle.  Add a few pieces of sausage and a few sprinkles of cheddar cheese.

In a bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites and skim milk.  Add cayenne, salt and pepper.  Pour a quarter of mixture into each muffin cup.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until firm.  Serve with avocado slices and tomato like from Pearland TX.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

December Fitness Challenge: The Gift of Fitness

GiftofFitness_DecChallengeI racked my brain trying to come up with a reasonable and decent, worthwhile fitness challenge for December.

With a marathon next month, I didn’t want the challenge to be anything to strenuous.  I couldn’t take the chance of hurting myself, but I also needed to keep focused and something to prevent me from eating stacks of Christmas cookies.

I didn’t want to do something we’ve already done, such as burpees, planks, push-ups, yoga or  ab exercises even though I could use a push for a six-pack again.  Besides, even after all those burpees, some people still hate burpees, but oddly people love planks.

Then, it dawned on me.  Why not offer a fitness challenge that incorporates a little of everything?  Let my readers decide what they want to do, but keep encouraging them to do it.

So, my loyal Run DMT readers, I give to you “The Gift of Fitness”.  The December fitness challenge is simply a reminder to do something, anything every day.  By doing something every day, we’ll help battle the holiday bulge and kick those extra Christmas calories to the curb.

Anything goes!  Run, walk, plank, core exercises, swim, run, bike or burpee your way through December!  Pick whatever fitness keeps you on track with your fitness goals and do it.

I’m really excited about this fitness challenge and doubly excited because I’m co-hosting it with a truly inspirational and fitness junkie, Jenny of MetamorFit.  Her transformation into a fitness junkie is an incredible story and journey and she’s the perfect co-host because she already does some kind of fitness every day.

If you’re ready to give yourself the Gift of Fitness this December, join us by adding your blog title and url and/or your Twitter handle and url to the linky party below.  Then, follow @denisermt and @JennyMetamorfit on Twitter.  Use the hashtag #fitgift.

Spread the word by regifting our fitness challenge.  Share #fitgift with your readers and followers.  Blog about it and add the button to your sidebar.  Tweet it too.  “I’m giving myself the Gift of Fitness this December with @denisermt and @JennyMetamorFit. #fitgift”

Thanks for playing along and good luck!  Happy holidays!

GiftofFitness_DecChallenge


Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Day-After Turkey Soup

PhotobucketMy MIL makes a mean leftover turkey soup.  When only the skeletal remains of a once beloved bird were left standing on Thanksgiving, I longed for my MIL’s homemade Scottish penicillin.

It baffles me that my husband, having been raised by a lineage of great cooks, lacks an appreciation for soup made from a turkey carcass.  He just doesn’t like it.  Or maybe he only likes it when he makes it.

Bingo.

This Thanksgiving, we got to the vegetable root of the matter when I begged Iron Chef Allan to make leftover turkey soup.  (Secret ingredient: turkey carcass.)  He accepted the challenge and found a recipe from the Food Network that he could stomach.  The recipe calls for leftover vegetables, such as brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes and green beans although he used roasted root vegetables (turnips, parsnips, celery root, pearl onions and carrots).

The soup simmered for most of Black Friday and the whole house smelled fabulous.  No bones about it.  The final product was spectacular and the best part, it was Iron Chef Allan approved.

https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-4Jd_O59FQPg/ULimAKS5UyI/AAAAAAAAICY/bJNvfRCuqWY/s800/IMG_6690.JPG

Day-After Turkey Soup
(Borrowed from Food Network)

Ingredients
2 quarts chicken broth
1 turkey carcass, all meat removed
1 onion, halved, plus 1 onion, minced
1 carrot, halved lengthwise, plus 1 carrot, minced
1 whole stalk celery, plus 1 more stalk, minced
2 bay leaves
3 cups dark turkey meat
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
3 cups leftover cooked Thanksgiving side vegetables
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves

Directions
Put chicken broth, turkey carcass, onion halves, carrot halves, 1 celery stalk and 1 bay leaf in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer about 1 ½ hours. Finely dice the remaining onion, carrot and celery and reserve.

Dice the turkey meat. Make sure meat pieces are no larger than the size of a soup spoon. (If preparing soup the next day, be sure to store leftover turkey meat in an airtight container before placing it in the refrigerator, top with 1 or 2 ladles full of broth to keep meat moist.)

Before straining broth, remove large bones and carcass with tongs. Strain the broth through a sieve, covered with wet cheese cloth. Discard the solids. Transfer broth to a bowl set in a bath of ice water, which will cool the broth quickly and help keep it fresher longer. This can be done the night before and stored in the refrigerator until the next day.

In a large soup pot, heat garlic cloves in the olive oil. Allow to brown slightly and add minced carrots, celery, and onion. Sweat over medium-low heat until softened, about 7 or 8 minutes.

Dice the leftover vegetables.  Add the chopped sage to the soup pot along with the turkey broth and the remaining bay leaf. Bring to a simmer. When simmering, add diced leftover vegetables and diced turkey meat to the soup. Bring it back up to a simmer. Turn the heat off and cover. Allow to sit and steam for 5 to 7 minutes.

Let simmer for 5 more minutes.  Serve over rice or with drop biscuits.

Thanks for joining our weekly Friday Food Fight! Can’t wait to see what everyone is flinging this week! Remember to visit our Thanksgiving food blog hop too!



*Also submitted at*

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Run DMT Second Annual Ultimate Virtual Christmas Cookie Swap

Maestro cue the music.

*cough*

Eh hem.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
When flour needs some sifting
And batter mixed with an ingredient of good cheer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
It’s yum, yummiest season of all!
Oven timers will be dinging and mom will be singing
As she samples them all!
It’s yum, yummiest season of all!

There’ll be cookies with chips
And some will call to be dipped
And some are powdered with snow
Sometimes you feel like nut
But sometimes you don’t but you choose
To present them with a bow

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
Oh the most wonderful time of the year!

Yes, it’s that time of year again.  It’s time find your favorite cookie recipes or maybe share some new ones in Run DMT’s Second Annual Ultimate Virtual Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap. I know that the title of the cookie swap linky party is a bit of a mouthful, but then so are the cookies I will be stuffing in my face all month long.

Simply post a cookie recipe or any sweet treat on your blog.  Be sure to included add The Ultimate Virtual Christmas Cookie Recipe Swap button to your post and link back to this post.  Then, swing back here to Run DMT and add your link to the linky list.  It’s that simple!  Can’t you just taste the fun already?!  Cookies and comment love is a tasty pair.

It’s all the fun of a regular Christmas cookie swap without all the extra calories.


Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

30 Days of Giving – 2012

Having participating in the 30 Day Giving Challenge for four years now, the challenge has become such an integral part of the holidays, equally important as the turkey and its fixings in November.  To some, it may appear as a huge chore or extra burden to take on during the holidays, but honestly, giving is the easy part.

As a mom, my day revolves around caring for others, however, during this challenge, I find myself daily redirecting my attention to people large and small outside my nuclear family.  I wake up each morning and ask myself, “How can I give to someone today?  What can I do to let someone know they are valued and loved?  How can I make a stranger smile?”

In noble attempt, I try to plan the days, but of course, life gets in the way.  I’ve learned to be flexible and go with the flow of life and let the cards gifts fall where they may.

Here are the 30 gifts my children and I gave this year.

    • Purchased a meal ticket at my supermarket to benefit a needy family.
    • Volunteered at my kids’ school and contributed to a Thanksgiving feast.
    • Gave the gift of humility by wearing a purple mustache on my Facebook profile to benefit Slash the Stache and promote epilepsy awareness and the Slash the Stache fundraiser.
    • Texted “RESEARCH” to 501501 to make a $10 donation to CURE and epilepsy research.

  • Provided and delivered a Thanksgiving meal to a family need.
  • Volunteered at a water station at the Women’s Half Marathon.
  • Donated new clothes and toys to Metropolitan Ministries.
  • Purchase toys at the Dollar Store to benefit Operation Home Front.
  • Donated gently used running shoes to needy high school track students.
  • Sent a Thanksgiving card to my grandmother.
  • Purchased a Hanukah gift for a family in need.
  • Gave baked cookies and a thank you note to my kids’ teachers.
  • Downloaded O Holy Night performed by Ladywell Primary School from iTunes to raise money for meningitis research.
  • Downloaded Happy Hanukah performed by Matisyahu from amazon to benefit Hurricane Sandy victims.
  • Purchased meal vouchers for families in need through Groupon’s Feeding America program.
  • Sent $10 egifts to my Facebook friends via restaurant.com Feed It Forward program.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+