300th Post – Reader Appreciation Giveaway

This giveaway is sponsored by me, I thought it would be fun to celebrate my 300th blog post by choosing some of my favorite things to share.  The best part is that I don’t just have one set of what is pictured, I have put together two!  One for the winner to keep and one for them to choose to give to someone else (or have me ship to someone else).

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What’s included in each package?

  1. 1 Tops Docket Gold Notepad – I adore these for list making
  2. 1 Smareco Notebook – you can use an app with it but the paper it uses is lovely and has an almost French-style horizontal rule to help with penmanship
  3. 1 IKEA chocolate/candy mold – Las Vegas is getting an IKEA in the near future but I do pop over to the one in Arizona when we are over there
  4. 2 bags of Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Morsels – top 8, sesame, and oat free, among other things
  5. 2 jars of No Sugar Added SunButter – be aware they do roast the seeds on shared equipment with Soy
  6. 1 Bicycle charm – just a shout out to bikes
  7. 1 square of Vintage Sandylion Fuzzy Stickers – I’ve been collecting fuzzy stickers since 3rd grade, these are little forest animals (awww. . .)
  8. 1 Pentel Ener-gel Pen – I personally prefer super duper fine point pens (think .38mm tips) but most people don’t so I chose a nice smooth gel pen with a slightly larger nib
  9. 1 pack of 3 Eccolo notebooks
  10. 2 Lego black curved plates – when you put them together they make a heart, great for homemade friendship necklaces
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Thank you for reading these 4+ years!

To enter, just leave one comment and let me know what posts you like to see here (reviews? recipes? advocacy?) or just tell me who you’d choose to have me ship the second set of goodies out to.

Also, because I’m running this giveaway, it is open not only to US residents but internationally (except where it may be prohibited, I’m not going to be able to sit down and check every jurisdiction so the honor system applies).  The cut off for comments as entries is  March 15, 2015 at 12PM Pacific Standard Time.  One entry per person, please.  I’ll assign numbers to each entry in the order of their comment submission and use a random number generator to pick the winner.  They’ll be contacted via the email they provided and if they don’t respond within 48 hours I’ll pick a new winner with the same time rule.  The winner gets to pick another person to receive the same package.

3/15/15 – The giveaway has ended, the random number generator picked comment 9 and I’m awaiting a reply within 48 hours from the winner.

Homemade Vegan and Nut Free Chocolate Oranges

You know you’re a food allergy mom when. . . you find yourself re-imagining childhood treats!  Chocolate oranges are a December holiday memory for me and I wanted to share the flavor and fun with my kids.  Longtime readers of this blog will know I get into the chocolate crafting spirit at this time of year and 2014 is no exception. . .

My family moved to the United States from England when I was about three years old but our love of British chocolate endured.  In the store the other day I perused the label of a childhood favourite (see what I did there?) – a chocolate orange from Terry’s – and knew it wasn’t an option for our family because of nut warnings.

I debated getting chocolate molds (amazon affiliate link), orange foil (amazon affiliate link), and orange extract to create these but cooking with food allergies is complicated enough without getting a bunch of extra supplies.  Enter Google!  The very first result when I searched “home made chocolate orange” was a post from February 2013 on a site called “Lilyshop” entitled “How to make a chocolate orange.”  The author used a hollowed-out orange to accomplish her orange shape and the presentation was pretty stunning.  Her ingredients were chocolate, cream, and orange extract – none of which are problematic for our family with our current restrictions (peanut and tree nut free, oat free, vegetarian, and sesame free) but I still strive to go top 8 allergen free whenever I can so I can be the most inclusive.

So!  Yesterday we braved the store (we did venture out over the weekend to go to the Clark County Museum and the Natural History Museum as a family but I wasn’t going to go shopping!) to get items for a holiday packet to send to my brother (December 1 is the recommended final ship date for APO packages if you want them to make it to their intended destination by December 25th).  All I needed were oranges since I had the chocolate and coconut oil I anticipated using to create the recipe (I skipped orange extract because I wasn’t sure what brand would be safe and also wanted it to be easy to make).

Just Three Ingredients!
Just Three Ingredients! (Photo credit: RLW)

The photo above was taken by my son and he helped me make these and is by me as I write this post so he voted it was the best picture.  I convinced him cropping out his foot on the carpet by the bag of chocolate chips would be ideal, though.

Vegan and Nut Free Chocolate Oranges

Supplies

Knife and cutting board

Muffin pan (optional)

Metal saucepan and metal bowl (essentially a make-shift double boiler)

Spatula/scraper

Ingredients

2 medium sized oranges (navel is just fine)

1 teaspoon of orange juice

1 teaspoon of orange zest

1 9 ounce bag of Enjoy Life dark chocolate morsels (other Enjoy Life varieties are fine)

1 teaspoon of coconut oil

Water for your makeshift double boiler

Directions 

Halve one of the oranges and use a small knife to hollow it out.  There are great in-process pictures here so I didn’t try to take pictures with a knife in hand myself.  Do this over a bowl so you catch the juice.  With the second orange, zest it on the bottom hemisphere so you can then halve it and hollow out the top.  You’ll likely have enough chocolate to make 1 1/2 orange peels into chocolate oranges but if you need more zest I’d use the second orange for zesting and any excess chocolate can go into an ice cube tray or other mold for general snacking.

Tip: when I hollowed out the orange halves there was a small hole at the bottom so before you melt the entire bag of chocolate chips, reserve about 10 individual morsels (more if you’re using mini-chips) to fill the hole before adding the melted chocolate mixture.  Set the orange halves in a muffin pan or on something that will keep them stable.

Heat some water (maybe an inch or two, making sure it won’t touch the bowl you set on top) in the saucepan to boiling and reduce the heat to simmer the water.  Set a metal bowl on top of the saucepan and add your chocolate chips (less the 10 you reserved).  Stir with a silicone spatula/scraper and add the orange zest.  Follow with the one teaspoon of coconut oil.  Once the mixture has become liquid, you’re going to add the orange juice very gradually.  The chocolate may start to seize a little so that is why I’d suggest waiting until the very end of melting it.

Once mixed, spoon the chocolate into the hollowed out orange halves and use a knife to level the top.  Put them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes or in the fridge for longer.  You want them to set but not become solid at this point because you’re going to slice them before putting them in the fridge to become solid.

Vegan, Nut Free, Gluten Free Chocolate Orange Slices
Vegan, Nut Free, Soy Free, & Gluten Free Chocolate Orange Slices

If you want to be really fancy, after you quarter the orange halves into slices you can use a toothpick to make some detailing on the side of each slice or you can leave them smooth.

They were delicious right after slicing – easy to bite into – so if you prefer them at that stage be aware that putting them into the fridge again for too long is going to give you a more snappy chocolate instead of a yielding one.  I am thinking if you want them fudge-like you can add coconut cream to your chocolate mixture but I haven’t tested the idea yet.

As presentation goes, this is a lot of fun!  Maybe do a version with mint or make a batch of Cybele Pascal’s top 8 free thin mints to accompany the chocolate oranges for an allergy friendly tea party?

Vegan and Nut Free Chocolate Oranges from OhMahDeehness.Wordpress.Com
Vegan and Nut Free Chocolate Oranges from OhMahDeehness.Wordpress.Com

If you’d like to buy pre-made fancy chocolates, check out Indie Candy (I’ve sampled the top 8 free orange truffles and they are amazing), Premium Chocolatiers, or Vermont Nut Free Chocolates (these do have milk) to start but you can really have fun making treats in your own kitchen so I hope you’ll try!

Food Find: Pascha Chocolate

I came home recently to find a box marked “perishable” on my doorstep and whisked it inside.  Those of you in Southern Nevada will know that the shipping window for perishables here is very limited and has already passed for 2014 (that is, until November or so rolls around).  I was so surprised to find I was the lucky recipient of some unsolicited chocolate!

In early 2013 I had read on my friend Colette’s blog Learning to Eat Allergy Free that there was a new allergy friendly chocolate and it was fair trade to boot.  I did not find Pascha Chocolate in stores at that point but was the lucky winner of a giveaway hosted by Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy Free at the end of last year and I loved what I received.  I wonder if I got into the system as someone that will gladly consume large quantities of chocolate and when I received the box this past week and realized I never had the chance to write about my take on Pascha Chocolate.  It was time to remedy that (see also: Disclosures).

Chocolate with Maca
Chocolate with a new to me ingredient: Maca

 

By the way, both Alisa and Colette are taking part in a new spin on ice breaking at this year’s FABlogCon – we are having a morning roundup of Saturday “breakout sessions” that will be limited mostly to groups of 10-15 per topic where you can really get some one on one insight from some brilliant folks.  Colette will be offering information on using that fancy DSLR you are scared to switch into manual mode and Alisa is going to be covering monetization across blogging, writing, and magazine platforms.  You’ll be able to register for the breakout sessions soon, I am having a hard time deciding which one I want to sit in on so I may claim planner’s privilege and hop in and out of sessions to “see how things are going.”

Beautiful packaging
Beautiful packaging

Ahem.  So, what did I receive?  Twitter recap to the rescue because most of it is already gone four days later. . .

I even found myself enjoying the coffee variety and I don’t drink or like the aftertaste of actual coffee.  The coffee flavor makes me think of my mom.  She works nightshifts as a registered nurse (labor and delivery) and has done it for many years so coffee is her mainstay.  There’s something comforting about the aroma of coffee and chocolate that says “mom” to me.  I wonder if my kids are going to smell frying onions in olive oil as adults and think of me?

The 100% cacao chocolate chips are a wonderful addition and the chips will be coming out later this year.  I am so glad to have a 100% alternative to Baker’s chocolate (which is not totally safe for milk allergic families given the “may contain” warnings on the packaging) for baking and cooking).  I tried the 100% chips in my vegan chocolate chili recipe (a lot like this recipe, just with chocolate and agave in the mix) yesterday and it was nice to not have to chop chocolate since the chips melted in perfectly.

Pasca Chocolate Chips
Chocolate Chips Coming Soon

My favorite of the bars was the 60% with Maca variety and I have to say I like the infused flavors much more than the varieties I’ve tried in the past with Goldenberries or Cacao Nibs (two of the types I received from Alisa’s giveaway, which were very good as well).

The children are not fans of darker chocolates, especially E, but I love seeing allergy friendly chocolate diversifying.  Even Pascha Chocolates suggests their 55% bars for the younger set and R did like the 60%.  These options are vegan, peanut free, tree nut free, and more with a great texture and taste.  Hope to start seeing these in stores locally, be sure to comment if you’ve seen them out and about so I can track some down.  Highly recommended.

Food Find: Enjoy Life Foods’ Dark Chocolate Regular Size Morsels

I love what Colette Martin wrote about holiday baking – it is great to see everyone firing up their ovens but baking is a year round thing in our house.  Since you may be pondering holiday -focused baking right now, I thought this review could include a roundup of some chocolate baking ideas I’ve already featured on this blog.  If you are shopping for the allergy friendly baker in your life, I must suggest books by Colette Martin (amazon affiliate link), Cybele Pascal (amazon affiliate link), and Kelly Rudnicki (amazon affiliate link – thank you to my friend Alison for my copy!).  I met all three ladies at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference and they are just as gracious and amazing as I had hoped.  My friend Elyse snapped this picture of me with Cybele that I will always treasure:

Me (on the left) with Cybele Pascal (on the right)
Me (on the left) with Cybele Pascal (on the right)

I was able to taste Cybele’s chocolate chip cookies (amazon affiliate link) at the conference and they were great!  Very cool to see more shelf stable options for grab and go sorts of days.  As usual, I digress.

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Back to the main subject of this post – Enjoy Life Foods’ Dark Chocolate Regular Size Morsels (my free sample is pictured above between the mini chips and the mega chunks from our own stash) are just now rolling out!  I haven’t seen them on store shelves yet but I received a bag free from Enjoy Life to review and they are our new favorite.  They even have five less calories per serving compared to the mini chips (related to being a bit less sweet I am guessing).

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The posts below can feature any variety of Enjoy Life chocolate (substitute freely!).

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chunk Blondies

Holiday Shaped Chocolate (featuring Erewhon Cereal)

Chocolate Covered Chocolate Cupcakes

Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Gingerbread Boys with Chocolate Buttons (or a Gingerbread House)

Chocolate Covered Strawberries and Chocolate Covered Sunbutter Balls

Allergy Friendly Thin Mints

All of the ideas featured here are top 8 allergen free.  As full disclosure, this is actually our first holiday season with new safe foods (read more about that here).  Happy baking!

Elsewhere…

Great Articles

On the food allergy front, there have been some great articles and posts recently that I wanted to highlight because they’ve enhanced my knowledge of the development of allergies:

Protect Your Digestion, the First Line of Defense Against Food Allergies by Dr. Eva Untersmayr – This article is fascinating, if I’d seen it before my presentation last week I would have had to mention it.  Be sure to explore the fantastic website AsthmaAllergiesChildren.com (the site’s founders will be at the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference, see the agenda for details).

From the outside in: How eczema could lead to food allergies by Iona Twaddell – I am trying not to let mommy guilt get to me when I read research articles but I do confess to wondering often whether using Aveeno lotion (which is oat based) with my daughter is related to her severe oat allergy.  I was directed to this article via the twitter feed of Anne F. Russell BSN, RN, AE-C (who will also be a conference speaker and helped us proofread the conference brochure I created… download the brochure here as a pdf – thank you Anne!).

Genetic glitch at the root of food allergies? by Jessica Martin, PhD – I love how Jessica breaks down concepts.  The other day she e-mailed me a detailed response to a question I had and hopefully you’ll see it on her Food Allergy Sleuth site soon.  When she bought a ticket to the conference I was thrilled because I can’t wait to meet her.

Food Allergy Walk and Food Allergy Bloggers Conference

I have a fundraising page again this year for the Food Allergy walk here in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 2, 2013.  I’m on the walk committee and also a co-founder of the Food Allergy Bloggers Conference that will be kicking off with the walk and running through November 4, 2013.  So it will be a big weekend for Food Allergy in Southern Nevada!  We need team members and virtual walkers are welcome!  If our team raises $1,000 before August 31, 2013 our team name will appear on the official walk t-shirt!  We’re just about halfway there, donate and/or join today!

(If you’d like to have a chance to win tickets to The Wizard of Oz at the Smith Center, check out the team page of Young Artists Supporting FARE – a $10 donation during their raffle period earns an entry.)

An Allergy Friendly Kickstarter Campaign

Ending September 10, 2013, here is a Kickstarter campaign that might be of interest – it involves a top 8 allergen free, vegan candy that I’ve backed and you may want to as well!  Premium Chocolatiers needs to raise funds for the equipment necessary to manufacture their vegan marshmallow coated with chocolate and candy.

Vegan, Allergy Friendly Kickstarter Campaign
Vegan, Allergy Friendly Kickstarter Campaign

The way the Kickstarter website works is that if the funds needed to achieve the stated goal aren’t raised, the campaign doesn’t get “funded” and none of the money pledged is charged.  They’re almost halfway to their goal with two weeks left and I’d love to see this idea take off.  $7 gets one bag of “No No’s” shipped to US addresses sometime hopefully in time for Halloween, so check it out here.

The VanSquigglebottoms-to-be

Something with a deadline that is a little further into the future is the fundraising campaign my friends Jessica (not the same Jessica I mentioned above) and Jeff have launched that involves changing their last name to “Van Squigglebottoms” permanently and officially if they raise $1,000,000.00 for Oxfam on or before December 31, 2013.  I hesitated to donate only because I like their names as they are but then I got to thinking that I love the positive approach they’re taking.  They care passionately about the causes associated with the less fortunate and they’re willing to do something off the wall to get the attention they feel this cause needs.  You can see their fundraising page here and I can assure you that even the smallest donation will cheer Jessica and Jeff on.  Even if all you can do is spread the word about their fundraising efforts, that may prompt someone else to donate.

Children’s Literature (and Music!) Reviews

Finally, it has been a while since I rounded up my latest Vegbooks.org reviews.  I’ve even had the chance to review some music which was a lot of fun.

Mind of My Own (CD)

Say Daddy

Where to Sleep

Steam Train, Dream Train

Memoirs of a Goldfish & Memoirs of a Hamster

Paper Son: Lee’s Journey to America

He’s Been a Monster All Day

Blink of an Eye (CD)

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School starts tomorrow and E turns 5!  It is exciting and surreal at the same time.  Have a great week, all!

Food Find: Enjoy Life Decadent Bars

Enjoy Life Decadent Bars

It is always a happy occasion when a box bearing the Enjoy Life Foods sticker arrives at our door, though I did hesitate briefly when offered these bars to review (I was not compensated in any other way) because it had been hovering at 105 degrees Fahrenheit of late.  Vegas summers don’t kid around.  Luckily, putting the entire shipping box into the fridge the minute these arrived seemed to have protected these sweet treats.

In the interest of full disclosure, this was not my first taste of the new Enjoy Life Decadent Bars.  I ordered a Gluten Free Saver special a while back and though the kids adored them from the get-go, my husband and I were disappointed because of our own high expectations.

Speaking of our high expectations, I was at work the day the initial box arrived and my husband sent me this picture with the suggestion that I hurry home:

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…followed by this picture to assure me that our children “wouldn’t suspect a thing.”  It still cracks me up with the parenthetical:

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At any rate, my husband and I weren’t planning to buy Decadent Bars again because we still preferred Chewy Bars.  I think it is like when your favorite musical artist puts out an album that is good compared to other music in general but isn’t your favorite compared to their own previous work.  I know I feel disloyal when I don’t adore a song by Morrissey but sometimes it does happen.  I love Enjoy Life because they are not only top 8 allergen free but oat free which is a specific allergy my daughter has (her allergen list is currently: oat, peanut, tree nut, and sesame).

At any rate, though these aren’t the revelation Plentils were in our household, I’m so glad I gave these another chance as I now have some tips for getting the most out of the experience.  My husband and I agreed they were much better with the following caveats:

1) Don’t expect the flavors to match the names exactly – Chocolate Sunbutter is the most accurate of the four varieties, with Cherry Cobbler coming in second.  The Chocolate Sunbutter has a drizzle of chocolate and isn’t as sweet as the other flavors but in a very good way.  It lets the Sunbutter shine through.  The Cherry Cobbler seems to have other reviewers split about the strong fruity/tart flavor but it ended up being my favorite the fist time around because of the white glaze and the cherry notes offered something unique.  That said, the S’mores and Cinnamon Bun Decadent Bars weren’t what I expected.  Still a nice treat but they both had a strong date flavor that hides any intended marshmallow-esque (that’s a word, right?) or cinnamon ingredients.

2) Refrigerate the bars before enjoying – The first time I bit into the S’mores variety it was not what I expected but on the second go-around I found that the graham cracker texture comes through much better upon refrigeration.  This may not be a problem where you live but our house is always about 80 degrees.  The drizzles on the bars are more noticeable when they are refrigerated as well.  

3) Share with a friend (these are too sweet for adults to eat in one go) – When I initially heard the new line to follow the awesome Plentils from Enjoy Life involved more snack bars I wasn’t sure why.  We love the Chewy Bars so I worried the Decadent Bars meant the Chewy Bars may be phased out, however, once we ate these I realized they are very much a candy bar and therefore in a different market niche.  Colette Martin remarked in her own review of these bars that these fall in the treat category and I agree.  It seems that kids across the board love these, while I find kids are usually split 50/50 when we share Chewy Bars with the kids’ friends.  Something to consider as you decide on the right mix of snack foods to keep on hand.

Overall, these are a great option to add to your arsenal but see how you like each flavor on its own merits and make sure they’re kept on a refrigerator shelf out of reach of certain small individuals (who will remain nameless) that have figured out how to open candy bar wrappers.

Enjoy!

Santa Train in Boulder City (Family Friendly December in Vegas)

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I keep thinking about a dear friend that lost her uncle and her father this month and also about the families in Newtown, CT, it seems strange to write about anything else when I’m so preoccupied about life in general.  On my long run on Saturday I composed a blog post in my head that tried to make sense of what I was feeling as a mother and just as a human being but then decided this may not be the place for it.  If my kids read this someday, I want them to know how many people are kind and caring and that even when events leave us without words, we can use our actions in ways both big and small to be there for all living things.  I have to believe that there are differences to be made.  That celebrating light in the darkest of times is normal and healthy.  I know I’ve personally taken a step back from the internet since the end of September to focus on family and work but at the same time the internet can be a source of community that I really appreciate.

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I wanted to share some of our holiday activities while locals could still take advantage of them this year.  Earlier this month we visited the Ethel M Cactus Garden to see the light display.  The kids are 2 and 4 now so this was an easier outing compared to prior years.  We ate an early dinner, bundled up, and were ready to explore.  We usually go on a weekday but I was working late on the Friday I had promised the children we’d go.  I felt awful not being able to follow through so on Friday the 7th I gave them cups of mint chocolate coconut milk and we drove around our neighborhood counting which houses had lights.  We were able to go to Ethel M on Sunday which meant it was crowded earlier in the evening (I believe we arrived a little after 5pm) but everyone was courteous and made way for one another.  I make sure to bring safe treats with me, so we brought some pieces of this year’s gingerbread house, pictured below.

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The gingerbread house actually collapsed as this photo was taken (see the roof falling in under the weight of the chocolate cookies?) but it has kept well in a bag in our fridge.  Speaking of safe treats, at my daughter’s winter festival at school we knew there would be a lot of holiday treats out so we whipped up some chocolate and crushed peppermint flower lollipops for the kids.  They happened to be the molds I had on hand, the other option would have been dinosaur shapes (which, though festive, weren’t quite what I was looking for).

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The peppermint candies are from Trader Joe’s and I just melted Enjoy Life chips and mixed the crushed peppermint candy in with it before spooning the mixture into molds and freezing them.  Not nearly as fancy as the creations over at Nom Yum & Free (Devin included a beautiful photo of the peppermints in this post!) but they were delicious.  E and R didn’t feel too left out.  E had actually been included in making chocolate dipped pretzels earlier in the day – all the kids used tongs so they never came into contact with the ingredients so when her teacher asked in advance if she could take part, we were glad she could.  Aside from maybe making another batch of thin mints, I’d really like to do a broccoli tree with pomegranate lights like the one I just saw at Sometimes I Veg before the month is over.  Pomegranates are one of my favorite things about this time of year.

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On the 16th we headed out to Boulder City, Nevada to ride the “Santa Train.”  We’ve been on the train before but around the holidays they run it with a Christmas theme.  The photo above is of one of the free trains they were running that day, our view while waiting for our own train to run let us see this 1800s steam engine in action.  E was especially fascinated by it.

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The ticket lets you know to arrive 30 minutes early and it isn’t kidding – we boarded the train at 9:30 and it was already pretty well filled in.

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We were near one of the front rail cars and Santa and Mrs. Claus began in the back.  They made it to our car on our return trip (the train does an out and back), giving attention to every passenger as they passed.  R asked to have a picture with Santa, much to our surprise, so we did pose for one.  My husband and I were thinking it was a great way to get a picture with Santa.  Instead of waiting in line you get to ride a train while you wait.  We don’t really do the Santa myth with the kids but they had fun seeing the costumes.  A young woman dressed as an elf even heralded Santa’s arrival, it was all well done and a wonderful way to support the railway’s efforts year round.

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Nearby there was a model train exhibit open to the public so we walked around there before heading home.  Seriously cool layouts and details, one gentleman even had a mini working steam engine and was feeding scraps of paper into it to get the fire going.

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My husband caught some video of the 11am train leaving the station so I wanted to include it here.  R really likes watching it over and over:

The train runs the 22nd and 23rd under the Santa Train theme but is still a fun outing at all times of the year.  They also do a train robbery and a day out with Thomas the Tank Engine at other times but I’ve never attended those events.  The Ethel M Cactus Garden is open year round and the lights continue even after Christmas so you can beat the crowds and wait for later in the month if you prefer.  I know these are just two events here in town for the holidays but they are both ones we’ll be back to do again next year.