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+

Ground Turkey Tacos

PhotobucketI’ve included Ground Turkey Tacos a few times in my weekly Sunday menu planning feature, Pinning and Planning , but after making my tacos this week, it dawned on me that I should share my taco recipe.  See, I don’t make your typical taco kit tacos.

For most families, tacos are a quick family favorite, kid-approved dinner, but most people use taco seasoning packets located in the ethnic aisle of a supermarket.  Just to be clear, you’re not saving any time or your health using packaged seasonings.  If you’re using a package to make your tacos, you need to stop that immediately and here’s why.  Below are the ingredients for the top two taco seasonings.

El Paso  – “Maltodextrin, salt, chili pepper, onion powder, spice, monosodium glutamate, corn starch, yellow corn flour, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, silicon dioxide (anticaking agent), natural flavor, ethoxyquin (preservative)”

OretegaYellow Corn Flour, Salt, Maltodextrin, Paprika, Spices, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Citric Acid, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Natural Flavor, Caramel Color (sulfites).

In case you weren’t aware, Autolyzed Yeast Extract is code for MSG.

As for taco shells, my favorite are the Garden of Eatin’ Yellow Corn Taco Shells.  They typically cost about a dollar more than the popular taco shell brands, however, they do not contain any hydrogenated oil.  Plus, they have a deliciously strong, real, rich corn taste, which should come as no surprise when you read the ingredients.

“Organic stoneground yellow corn masa flour, expeller pressed high oleic safflower and/or sunflower oil.”

Now, promise me that you will start making healthier tacos by following my recipe.  If you can’t find healthy taco shells, that’s all right.  At least with these MSG-free turkey tacos, you’re moving in the right direction.

Ground Turkey Tacos

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb lean ground turkey
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ onion (Spanish, red or white), chopped
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup Pomi chopped tomatoes
Garden of Eatin’ Yellow Corn Taco Shells

For toppings
Romaine lettuce, shredded
Vine ripe tomatoes, diced
Reduced fat cheddar cheese
Reduced fat sour cream
Lindsay’s Natural Sliced Ripe Black Olives

On a low to medium setting, heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for about a minute.

Add ground turkey and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring and breaking it up until white.  Add spices, salt and pepper and stir for about a minute.  Add tomatoes.

Prepare tacos are directed on box.

Serve the meat and  all the toppings family-style in bowls for everyone to make their own tacos.

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+

Random Tuesday Thoughts about New Challenges, Sweating Purple and Track Tuesday

Stupid Halloween candy!   I was doing so well with the Unprocessed Challenge.  Somehow I survived most of the month avoiding candy corn and chocolate bars.  Then the stupid Halloween candy went on BOGO at my local supermarket and had two very large bags sitting my pantry.  Those fun size candy bars haunted me.

In a moment of weakness, I opened the bag and I ate a bar.  Then, I ate another.  And then, let’s just say I looked like Augustus Gloop falling into the chocolate river.  It wasn’t pretty.  Now, I only have one bag left of my BOGO deal which means I’ll need to buy more candy tonight, however, the new bag will remain sealed until tomorrow evening.  I swear.

Thankfully, that candy won’t be sitting around after Halloween because my kids and I will be participating in the Halloween Candy Buy Back program once again.  The day after Halloween, local dentists collect candy and pay kids for their candy per pound.  Some dentists give toothbrushes too.  The candy is then sent to troops overseas through Operation Gratitude.  Check the website to find a dentist near you participating in the program.  It’s such a wonderful way to give and it’s win-win situation for everyone: kids, the troops and it gets the candy out of my house!

Speaking of giving, my kids and I are participating in the 30-Day Giving Challenge for the fourth year.  Basically, every day in November, you have a task of giving a gift which can be something as simple as sending a card or elaborate as working in a soup kitchen.  If you need some ideas or inspiration, see the gifts we’ve given here and here.  This year, I made my own calendar 30 Day Giving Challenge calendar template.  Print it out and fill it gifts you’d like to give and join us in 30-Day Giving Challenge.

November is also Epilepsy Awareness Month and I found this really great virtual race via my SPA sisters.  On
November 1, you can register to Wear Purple Virtual 5K/Marathon to Cure Epilepsy but you have the entire month to accrue the miles.  The registration fee includes a custom medal engraved with the name of the person you run in support of and a seizure first aid wallet card. All proceeds after cost of medal will be donated to the Epilepsy Foundation.  I’ve registered for the marathon in honor of my niece, Meghan who has lived with epilepsy since infancy.

The first day of November will definitely be busy one around here.  Besides, accruing miles for a virtual epilepsy marathon, celebrating my oldest daughter’s 11th birthday and dropping off candy at the dentist, I’m also kicking off a new fitness challenge.  It’s been a while (a few months at least) since I hosted a fitness challenge and I need to do something to survive the holidays.

Starting November 1, I’m kicking the candy to the curb and focusing on the core this month with planks.  So, join me this Thursday as we kick off a fitness challenge called “Thanks for Planks!”  Stop by here on Thursday to learn all the details of the challenge.

And that’s about it.  Phew.  And I thought October was a busy month!

And now for the runs.  I ran 6 miles last Thursday then rested on Friday for the race The Living Dead Challenge the next day.  (Details tomorrow!)

6.2 miles
Time 1:01:02
Ave Pace 9:51
Max Pace 6:44

Since I ran in two races two days in a row (5K Saturday night/ half marathon Sunday morning), I rested Monday and I decided to skip the speedwork today.  I did run 4 miles though.

4 miles
Time 40:28
Ave Pace 10:07
Max Pace 7:56

What about you?  Did you speedwork today or did you skip on the sprints?  What challenges are you facing in the next coming month?

To join our Track Tuesday linky party, do your speed work (at least 4 quarter mile sprints) on Tuesday or any day you that works best for you, blog about your times and remember to add our cool Track Tuesday button to your post.  Then, link up your post at either Ricole Runs or Run DMT to share Track Tuesday Speed Work Sessions.  To show support for our other virtual running partners on the Track Tuesday Team, be sure to visit the other blogs listed in the linky party.  Give them a virtual high-five and leave some comment love too.

*Also linking up at*


Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Random Thoughts about Television and Track Tuesday (Speedwork Wednesday)

I hoped this week would be my quieter, calmer week, but that was just a pipedream.  The girls had Monday off which through threw the rest of the week for me.  Instead of spending Monday piddling about doing chores, I spent it entertaining them and working on school projects.

Since I chaperoned a field trip on Tuesday, there was no catching up yesterday.  And now, Little Lion Man came down with some nasty cold with a fever.  Today, I’m playing catch up on my housework and blogging, which is why my Track Tuesday post is now a Speedwork Wednesday post.  Oh well.  Such is the life of a mom on the run.

Esme and I made our television debut yesterday.  If you missed it, you can watch me make a fool out of myself test out the Shed Pal  at WTSP.com.  My husband said the producer really caught my personality.  Next time, I need to remember to sit up straight, suck in my gut and get a manicure.

Speaking of television, I am still obsessed with Once Upon a Time.  This show is even better in the second season now that magic has made it to the real world.   My girls love it too and we each have our own predictions about each character and storyline.  Although with it airing on Sunday night at bedtime, they typically have to wait until Friday night to watch it.  Since there was no school on Monday, they were so excited to watch it in real time.

Have you watched any episodes of Guys with Kids?  The one-liners are seriously laugh out loud and the style of the show reminds me of the programming we watched back in the 80s.  Jimmy Fallon even announces at the beginning of each episode, “Guys with Kids is filmed before a live studio audience”.  When is the last time you heard that before a show?!

Rather than a throwback to the 80s, I prefer to call  it “a Disney Show for grown-ups” because it’s as silly as any of the kids’ shows on Disney today, like Good Luck Charile.  Either way, it’s nice to have a show that finds humor in everyday life without falling back on the same old jokes.

Speaking of new jokes, I’m also watching Go On and The New Normal, but the comedy on those shows is anything but normal.  Both are also laugh out loud funny and occasionally, a bit tearful too.

The weather has been gorgeous in the early morning, almost cold.  Although it doesn’t take long to warm up when you’re running!

Due to camping and a late night Halloween party, I took a few days off from running this weekend, but I did manage to fit in my 12 miles before the our camping trip on Friday.  Not my best run, but at least I did it.

12 miles
Time 2:14:55
Ave Pace 11:15
Max Pace 8:50

Monday, I squeezed in 4 miles.

4 miles
Time 40:10
Ave Pace 10:03
Max Pace 8:05

Yesterday, I rocked some speedwork!  I shaved ten seconds off my sprints from last week!  I got my mojo on thanks to the cooler weather!

1 mile

Lap 1 – 0.25
Time 1:47
Ave Pace 7:37

Lap 2 – 0.25
Time 1:46
Ave Pace 7:13

Lap 3 – 0.25
Time 1:52
Ave Pace 7:31

Lap 4 – 0.25
Time 1:51
Ave Pace 7:28

1.1   mile
Time 10:13
Ave Pace 9:18

So how did your runs, speedwork and work-outs go this week?  Link up and tell me all about it.

To join our Track Tuesday linky party, do your speed work (at least 4 quarter mile sprints) on Tuesday or any day you that works best for you, blog about your times and remember to add our cool Track Tuesday button to your post.  Then, link up your post at either Ricole Runs or Run DMT to share Track Tuesday Speed Work Sessions.  To show support for our other virtual running partners on the Track Tuesday Team, be sure to visit the other blogs listed in the linky party.  Give them a virtual high-five and leave some comment love too.

*Also linking up at*


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+

Pinning & Planning – August 26

When you plan your meals for the week, will your week go as planned or do some meals get tabled?

Although planning meals saves money and time, sometimes weeks don’t always go as planned.  Some evenings will serve an unforeseen school event or family situation which wasn’t on the menu and it will cause dinners to go uncooked.  When that happens, I just postpone that meal for another night or the following week.

Such was the case last Friday.  An unanticipated road trip caused us to miss our Friday evening pizza and we had to catch a bite on the road.  So dining out for two meals last week may not have saved us any dough, the pizza was saved for tonight and next Friday’s family pizza night will be leftovers.

As for this week’s supermarket ad, I wasn’t really impressed with the meat selection.  Salmon and shrimp were on special, but my kids won’t touch the stuff.  However, while stopping by the supermarket for milk the other day, I happened to stumble upon two unadvertised specials, such as Greewise (Publix’s store brand organic) thin cut chicken filets for $5.59/lb and organic ground turkey for $5.50.  See, sometimes it pays to swing by the meats on the way to the milk cooler.

Here’s my menu for the week:

Sunday – Pizza

Monday – Black Beans and Spanish Rice

Tuesday – Roasted Grape Tomatoes and Arugula with Linguine

Wednesday – Ground Turkey Tacos

Thursday – Chicken-Mushroom {and Spinach} Quesadillas

Friday – leftovers

Saturday – dinner out

About my ground turkey tacos, I make my own seasoning, which is so simple and seriously makes the tastiest tacos ever.  I add extra cumin and this chili powder recipe.

If you are using taco seasoning from a packet, please stop now. Those packets are so unhealthy.  They’re full of sodium, MSG and garbage.  Here are ingredients as they appear on the label of the packet you probably have in your pantry:

“Yellow Corn Flour, Salt, Maltodextrin, Paprika, Spices, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Citric Acid, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Natural Flavor, Caramel Color (sulfites)”

Think you don’t see MSG.  Think again.  “Autolyzed Yeast Extract” is another form of MSG, as well as a few others.  Once you remove MSG from your diet and your taste buds adjust to the way food is supposed taste, you will notice a huge difference in food and your overall health.

As for the “leftovers” I’ve planned for week…honestly, my family is not the biggest fans of leftovers, but I love them.  If I enjoy a meal, I love eating it the next day.  My family will eat leftovers if I present them in another form, which makes two meals out of one.  This week’s leftovers will consist of leftover turkey taco meat which will be used for nachos and that my kids love.

So, what’s cooking this week?  Do you stick to the weekly plans?  Are leftovers part of your weekly menu?  Link up and share.

If you’re not on Pinterest, add a comment below with your email address and I’ll send you an invite.

Denise Mestanza-Taylor+

Run DMT in the NYC

The Taylor Clan has landed in New York City!  That’s right. Run DMT is in the NYC!

My family and I decided to take a road trip to the Big Apple because of BlogHer and what a road trip it was! Wow.  We survived the traffic and 21 hours on the road.

Now, we’re rested, reenergized and ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple with a vacation that is full of firsts.

It’s my first BlogHer experience and I will be meeting Stacey, Lolli and Migdalia for the first time as well as many other of my favorite bloggers.

This is the first time two of my children will see NYC.  My oldest has been here before, but she doesn’t remember the experience.  So I guess, really two children will experience NYC for the first time and one will experience it all over again like it’s her first time.

Although we will be doing all the typical NYC tourist stuff like a Broadway show, the museums, the Statue of Liberty and the 911 Memorial, this trip is all about keeping the kids happy.  Because as any parent will tell you, when the kids are happy, the rest of us can be happy and enjoy ourselves.

However, since we have limited interact access in my parent’s apartment and no TV, this trip is already off to a not so good start.  Little Lion Man is already crying about “no Why”.

Oh well.  I guess that’s a good thing.  It will force us to be less tethered to our electronic devices and really experience things, like real-life trains instead of happy-faced trains with a really special special.

But how will anyone know what I’m experiencing if I can’t blog it, check-in or tweet it?

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

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+

Golden Brown Little Lion Man

My baby boy is two today.

Where did the years go?

Where did all this blonde come from?

He’s two in every way and all boy every day

with some gorgeous golden locks tossed in

and brown eyes that melt my heart.

I just love my sweet Little Lion Man with his golden brown texture like sun mane to bits.

Happy Birthday to our planes-trains-trucks obsessed, bubble blowing, pizza eating, daredevil, swims like a fish, elevator loving, bright, beautiful boy!

Happy 2nd Birthday, Liam!