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Preparing a Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey AND Snowy Day Treats

photo of turkey with words superimposed: Thanksgiving Dinner: How to Roast a Perfect Turkey and Other TipsIn Northern Virginia we are preparing for a maybe-it-will, maybe-it-won’t snow forecast just in time for Thanksgiving. So I figured it was a perfect time to share a few popular seasonal posts — my foolproof way to prepare a Thanksgiving turkey as well as some of our favorite snowy-day treats.

My family wishes yours a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

{Giveaway} Win Two General Admission Tickets to the JLNV’s The Enchanted Forest #JLNV #TEF

The Enchanted Forest Postcard at the Westin inTysons CornerUpdate: Congratulations to Julie, who is the recipient of the two general admission tickets to the JLNV’s The Enchanted Forest! Thank you for participating and responding in a timely manner!

I may join others in seeing Christmas displays going up in stores before Halloween, but one place I’ll never complain about seeing twinkling lights on trees of hearing the ho-ho-ho of Santa is at the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s (JLNV’s) annual The Enchanted Forest.

This event is a gala, fundraiser, and child’s delight all wrapped up in one delightful weekend. Go for the family fun, but know that you are helping your local community in doing so. There really is something for everyone, so whether you have kids or not — I urge you to check it out. Shopping opportunities abound, whether via vendors, the silent auction at the gala, or the “forest” of trees which are decorated top to bottom with items along a theme and are up for bid all weekend long. There are live performers throughout the day in the forest, hands-on activities for the kids, and then there are also “premium event” activities such as gingerbread house decorating (premium event tickets include the price of a general admission ticket). Premium Event tickets do tend to sell out, so you may want to pre-purchase.

This is an event better experienced than described, everyone I know who has been once turns it into an annual tradition.

One lucky CaffeineandaPrayer.com reader will win a two-pack of general admission tickets, so be sure to enter!  Scroll down to see entry form. Full disclosure here — I am a member of the Junior League of Northern Virginia. But if you’re a regular reader here, you already knew that…

The Junior League of Northern Virginia’s 14th Annual The Enchanted Forest

November 22-23
Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
Sunday: 10 am – 1 pm
Westin Tyson’s Corner (7801 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22043)
Tickets and schedule informationhttp://www.jlnv.org/the-enchanted-forest

The Enchanted Forest

trees 1-lightenedFirst and foremost, there is the forest itself. This event is a fundraiser to support the mission of the League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), an organization of  women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women, and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.  The center of the event is a ballroom filled with pre-lit artificial Christmas trees that have been creatively decorated by theme with items and are up for bid via silent auction.  For example, there are trees filled with items for pets, or a tree that is all Barbie items, or everything needed to make martinis. Trees range from about 3 feet to 7 feet tall.  You can ooh-and-aah at row after row of creativity and generosity in the ballroom while little ones are entertained by performers such as the Great Zucchini, Groovy Nate, Mr. Knick Knack and more. (See the TEF page for the schedule of performances.) Get your photo taken with Santa (see schedule) — and no, you don’t have to be a kid to do so! General admission tickets ($14) grant you access to the forest and the “More Family Fun” activities listed below.

photo-kharris2More Family Fun

In addition to the forest itself, there are more activities at The Enchanted Forest event. The JLNV has brought part of their community work in-house for the public to see firsthand. The Kids in the Holiday Kitchen room allows the children an opportunity to learn about healthy food and exercise habits and prepare some food themselves. Family members of all ages can have fun with hands-on science experiments and learn more about the JLNV’s partnership with the Children’s Science Center in our exploration room.

What’s a holiday event without a model train? Marvel at the National Capital Trackers Model Train Display — popular not just with the kids, but with those who are still children at heart!

Get a jump on our holiday shopping at the Marketplace filled with a variety of vendors. Don’t forget to pick up a copy of “What Can I Bring?” – the JLNV’s coveted cookbook. (Hint: It makes a great gift for teachers.)

Premium Ticket Events

Extend your experience with these premium ticket events. See the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s The Enchanted Forest page for schedule and to purchase tickets.

Breakfast or Brunch with Santa: $35

Enjoy a meal and some very special time with Santa. Please check web site for details — this often sells out quickly!

Gingerbread Workshop: $35 per house

This is always one of my favorites! Attend a Gingerbread Workshop where you will decorate your own edible gingerbread house with royal icing and an assortment of candy.  Your completed house, covered in candy trim with a cookie roof, will be yours to take home that day.  Event includes a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket.

Frosted Glitz Gala: $95 – Saturday, November 22, 7 pm – 11:30 pm

What better way to spend a cold night than inside, dressed in your glitziest attire, nestled amongst beautifully adorned trees and enjoying an open bar, hors d’ouevres, live and silent auctions, music by DJ Loud Tone, dancing and Vegas-style gaming? All proceeds benefit the JLNV.

Giveaway Details:

The Junior League of Northern Virginia has generously provided me with two general admission tickets (a value of $14 each) to give to one lucky reader. These tickets are good for either day of the event and will be available at Will Call. My family has also been provided with two tickets.

 

To enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • The giveaway runs between now and 10 am Eastern, Friday, November 21, 2014.

 

 

 

 

  • Winner will be notified via email Friday and you must respond by Friday 3 pm ET or I will have to move on to the next winner as this is a quick turnaround and tickets are only good Saturday or Sunday.  At that time I will need your name and phone number so I may add you to the Will Call list.

 

 

  • NOTE: You may this shortened link to share the giveaway with friends: http://bit.ly/1F4H05a if you would like to help spread the word about this giveaway and fun, charitable event!

 

 

What you will win:

  • Two general admission tickets valid for one day only either November 22 10 am – 5 pm OR November 23 10 am – 1 pm.  A general admission ticket includes access to The Enchanted Forest of Trees, Marketplace, Holiday Entertainment on Center Stage, Kids in the Holiday Kitchen, National Capital Trackers Model Trains Display, Pictures with Santa, and the Children’s Science Center exhibits.
  • Tickets will be made available through Will Call.
  • Ticket recipients should bring valid picture ID.
  • Premium events and gala tickets are available for separate purchase, those include the cost of a general admission ticket.
  • Event information and additional ticket purchase: http://www.jlnv.org/the-enchanted-forest

Whether you win the tickets or not, I highly recommend going, it’s a fun, fun time and a great cause!

 

{Review} Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Action and Wit Translates Across the Generations

GuardiansoftheGalaxySome of my favorite childhood memories included going to the 7-11 with my father and picking up a comic book (or two or three) and reading them not just once but over and over. But over time, the Marvel Universe and I lost touch, and it is only via references via The Big Bang Theory and when I remember to actively seek out comic books for my own kids (alas, they are not as easy to pick up as they were in my youth), that I sometimes get a glimpse of the continuing storyline. So the true test for me about Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was if I could enjoy this movie without knowing the slightest thing about any of the characters — I deliberately did NOT read up about them ahead of time. The answer is a resounding YES. The second question in my mind was whether the PG-13 rating was going to be problematic for my kids, ages 8 and 10. They are mature for their ages, but I tend to be a bit protective of them — however, I knew they would want to accompany me to the media preview so with some quick research, I found the rating was due to action, violence and language and decided they could handle it. More on this further in the review.

The only other piece of the Marvel franchise I have seen is Iron Man — I haven’t seen Thor, Captain America, or The Avengers. So for comparison’s sake, I would say that while there is a lot of similar humor, I would say that Iron Man skewed to a far more mature audience (Tony and Pepper’s relationship being a major plot line) and that Guardians of the Galaxy, while requiring the ability to keep many characters straight and following a lot of double-agent type of scenarios, had a storyline my 8-year-old daughter could follow and enjoy.

I’ll admit, sometimes *I* got a little lost with some of the characters/species names, but not so much that it really mattered. I was also sitting between two kids, managing popcorn, and had some (funny, but talkative) reviewers sitting behind me, so that may be more a reflection on my situation than the move or… ahem… my brain cells. (Side note: my son also fractured his nose and I had to deal with taking him to the doctor, getting him x-rays that day and setting up an ENT appointment — all while there was no power in my neighborhood — so yeah, I was also a little frazzled that day.)

The movie centers around Peter Quill aka StarLord, a rakish mostly-good-but-sometimes-bad adventurer who travels through space finding/stealing valuable items and chatting up the female gender of all species. The Walkman and mix tape his long-dead mother gave him plays prominently in the movie, so unless you want to have a lot of whispered conversations during the movie with your kids about this, if you haven’t already explained what this mysterious object is to them, do yourself a favor and show them a picture of one. Sound track note:  if you like pina coladas… you’ll like the sound track!

As a result of stealing a mysterious orb, Quill sets of a chain of events that ends up attracting the attention of a beautiful but very deadly Gamora, a smart-talking, MacGyver-sih raccon named Rocket, a tree-like humanoid named Groot, and a revenge-driven “friend” whose species causes him to be overally literal, Drax the Destroyer. This unlikely quintet, uncertain of their own status with each other, soon find themselves in charge of protecting the galaxy from destruction.

There are many times this movie reminded me (and as I discovered, the kids as well) of Star Wars and this included several action scenes, the interplay of Groot and Rocket (only Rocket understands him), and sometimes Gamora reminds me of Princess Leia. I would be curious if you see the same parallels? Quill is a bit of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker combined to me.  I haven’t done any research to see if any of this was intentional — maybe it was.

Let’s talk about the PG-13 rating. Yes, there are definitely some swear words I don’t want my kids using but it is not over the top and I could talk to them both before and after the movie about it and felt like it was handled — I don’t recall any f-bombs being used, if there were, it slipped past me, these were more along words that rhymed with “ick” and “itch” and had the word “hole” in them. There is use of the middle finger. There is very mild romance in this, most of which will probably fly right past them. There is, of course, some violence and action scenes. There are fight scenes, spaceship shooting scenes, an implied beheading scene — that kind of stuff. My daughter, who is the more sensitive of my two kids when it comes to this stuff, did quite well and actually said to me after the movie (quite indignantly), “I don’t know why they rated that PG-13, I was the youngest one in that theater other than babies and it was fine!” (She wasn’t but that’s not the point.) As always, you need to use your own discretion. It could be scary to your kids, and you have to decide what is comfortable in terms of your own parenting style. We usually can talk things through.

We saw the movie in 3D and yes, the visuals were lovely, especially since the many galactic species were colorful and delightfully textured. But I will note that having seen so many movies in 3D lately, I did not find the 3D to be as eye-catching as say, Maleficient or Planes: Fire & Rescue. I can’t really explain why, it just was something that I noticed.

My final verdict: As a family, we enjoyed this movie and we think other families would as well. If you are an adult seeing it on your own, whether you are a comic book fan or not, I think you will be entertained. It is funny, adults will enjoy the retro references (especially if you were old enough to own a Walkman), and it is not overly-reliant on graphics to make the movie work. By the way, the media preview did NOT include the after credits scene, but there IS supposed to be one, so stay for it!

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy opens August 1, 2014. Check your local listings for times and theatres.

Disclosure: My family attended a complimentary media preview screening for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own. Images provided by the movie’s PR team.

{Giveaway} Four tickets to BrickFair VA 2014 LEGO Fan Festival

BrickFair Virginia

The JavaKids check out a perpetual motion machine at BrickFair Virginia 2012.

UPDATE: Congratulations Cindy B.!

This area is obsessed with LEGOs. Just look at the camp brochures and after school activity flyers for the camps and classes for all things LEGO — or try to walk across my kids’ bedroom floors — and it will take a nanosecond to see that these plastic bricks of all sizes are an important part of our culture. But they aren’t just for kids. Perhaps you are married to an AFOL (adult fan of LEGO) or are one yourself. The obsession can go from (almost) cradle to grave. This is why there are fan festivals — to share the joy and fuel the obsession in the best way Americans know how — ostentatious exhibits, sales of more related gear and good old-fashioned fun! Which is why I’m thrilled to be able to be able to share for the third year consecutive year an opportunity for my readers to win a four-pack of tickets to the BrickFair 2014 Virginia LEGO Fan Festival. The event is August 2 – 3, 2014 at the Dulles Expo Center, Chantilly, VA. BrickFair is primarily an exhibit/expo scenario (look and shop) but there are some interactive displays and a few sections where you can play and even win prizes. Although the tickets advise you to allow 90 minutes to view the displays, we have always stayed far longer and this is an extremely popular event, so there are often long lines to get in and a significant wait for games and anything interactive. In other words, plan to stay a while and bring a great deal of patience (and some spending money for the snack bar because you will invariably need it). But my family will tell you it is well worth it! Online tickets sold out already, but you can buy tickets at the door for $12 each (3 and under are free — no strollers allowed). OR participate in my flash giveaway.  The festival is THIS weekend and I have physical tickets to give to you.

BrickFair VA 2014

August 2 -3, 2014
11 am – 4 pm
Dulles Expo Center
4320 Chantilly Center
Chantilly, VA 20153
Admission: 3 and under – FREE.
Everyone else $12 at door – online tickets are sold out.
No strollers please

 

Caffeineandaprayer.com’s BrickFair VA 2014 Ticket Giveaway Rules:

  • The quick must-knows and must-dos:

    • This is a flash giveaway — it is shorter than my usual giveaways, please pay attention to the time frames.
    • These tickets are good for one day only, at BrickFairVA 2014 August 2 or 3 from 11 am to 4 pm. In fairness to others, please enter only if you actually plan on using the tickets. They have a total value of $48.
    • To enter: Use Please use the Rafflecopter entry form below to comment — make sure you use the term “BrickFair” in your comment. Get creative, but keep it clean!
    • In all your entries, you must include a valid email address so I may contact you if you are the winner. I must be able to reach you via that email address within 4 hours of the end of the giveawayI am not responsible for emails that land in your spam or junk mail or are otherwise blocked by your system or any other technical errors that may occur.
    • Tickets will be physically delivered to you, so if you are the winner, you will need to be willing to provide me a mailing address (no P.O. Boxes due to this being a flash giveaway) within 2 hours of my notification email that you are the winner so we can make arrangements for delivery of the physical tickets.  Time will be calculated based on when my email was sent. If I am not able to reach you, by necessity, I will have to pick a new winner. I am not responsible for emails that land in your spam or junk mail or are otherwise blocked by your system or any other technical errors that may occur.
    • Giveaway ends at 9 am, Eastern time,  Friday, August 1, 2014.
    • Standard rules and giveaway legalese is spelled out in a link in the Rafflecopter form.
    • Winners will be selected at random from all qualified entrants using Rafflecopter.
    • Once a winner is selected and has responded via email and arrangements for ticket delivery have been successfully made, winner will be announced on this site.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Tired of stepping on lots of little LEGO pieces at home? You might enjoy my previous blog post about LEGO organization.

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Disclosures: BrickFair provided four tickets for the giveaway and a set of complimentary tickets for my family. All photos are provided by the BrickFair convention. LEGO is a trademark of the LEGO Group. BrickFair is not associated with the LEGO Group.

{Review} Planes: Fire & Rescue

planesfireandrescueThe JavaKids and I were able to attend a sneak preview of Planes: Fire & Rescue earlier this week for the purposes of giving our review of the movie. Amongst the other invited guests were area firefighters, as the theme of the movie centered around the vehicles who fight forest fires and the opening credits dedicate the movie to the men and women who save lives every day as firefighters.

This movie is of course a sequel to Planes, where we first met the main character, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook).  Now a world-famous racer, Dusty discovers that he has a failing part that may soon end his racing days. As a result of testing his limits, he accidentally sets his hometown’s airstrip on fire, attracting the scrutiny of the safety department, which informs Dusty and his friends that the airport will be closed until improvements can be made, including updating the current fire engine and finding a second firefighting vehicle.

This sets the stage for a guilt-ridden Dusty to go off to Piston Peak National Park to learn how to be an aerial firefighter. Here we meet the brave crew who fights fires, the legendary fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger, scooper Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter, ex-military transport Cabbie, and the Smokejumpers, a team of  all-terrain vehicles who jump out of Cabbie and fight the fires from the ground by creating “breaks” and clearing paths.

Fires aren’t the only enemy the team faces. The Superintendent, who runs the National Park and more specifically is interested in his pet project the newly renovated lodge, is less concerned with safety than with dazzling VIP guests. Do kids in the audience understand the theme of bureaucracy and budget cuts and what happens when money is diverted to build pet projects? Well, maybe not as well as adults, but my kids (ages 8 and 10) understood it enough and it opened the door for some conversations, and to me, any time a movie does that, it’s a win.

Like the other movies in the Cars and Planes franchise, there are some jokes thrown in there that only the adults will get. There are a couple of romance themes. And there are times when the stories get a little clunky. For example, it took me a little bit to realize that Windlifter is supposed to be an Apache helicopter and therefore his off-the-wall-sounding stories are supposed to be Native American lore (I think?) so the way the characters respond to him (“Oookay…”) are not necessarily the most appropriate. But translating lore to vehicle-speak comes out sounding very bizarre. So it may be worth discussing that with the kids.

The visuals are stunning and yet not frightening. Hint: Stay a little bit through the credits for one last joke.

Overall, there are several good themes you can pick out in the story. The kids and I discussed several, including the fact that there can be more than one solution to a problem; the benefits of opening up and telling someone when you are afraid of something; what it means to be brave; and what the Superintendent was doing that was wrong.  There are more, but I don’t want to spoil things.

Is it cinematically perfect? No. Professional reviewers will pick apart elements of the storytelling and characterization. But from a family’s point of view, it was entertaining, provided a platform for deeper discussion, and we walked away smiling. The only regret I have is that I didn’t think to ask any of the firefighters in the audience what THEY thought of the movie.

Planes: Fire & Rescue opens today, July 18 and is rated PG. You can learn more about the movie on the web site or Facebook page.

Image copyright of Disney, provided as part of media kit.