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{Giveaway} Junior League of Northern Virginia’s The Enchanted Forest – 2 Tix

Junior League of Northern Virginia The Enchanted ForestThe holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day makes me positively giddy. There’s an extra bounce in my step, a holiday tune in my head, and a usually a goofy grin plastered on my face. I make an extra effort to remember what I’m thankful for, to spread some holiday cheer, and to reflect upon what to improve upon in the upcoming year.

A big part of my “getting in the spirit” tradition is attending the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s annual The Enchanted Forest. This event is so incredible, so magical, it is nearly impossible to describe in mere words. One simply has to experience it to really grasp it, but I will do my best. Mark you calendar right now for November 23 from 10 am – 5 pm and Nov 24 10 am – 1pm and read on!

One lucky CaffeineandaPrayer.com reader will win a two-pack of general admission tickets, so be sure to enter! 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 13th Annual The Enchanted Forest

November 23-24
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 Junior 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 performers such as Reston Conservatory Ballet, Pirate Magic and others are in the room. (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 ($13) grant you access to the forest.

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.

Cookies with Santa: $25

Enjoy holiday cookies and some very special time with Santa. Event includes a photo with Santa, milk and holiday cookies, story time, a craft activity, and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket, and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free cookies.

Cocoa and Georgetown Cupcakes with Snow Fairy Princess: $25

JLNV The Enchanted Forest Snow Fairy

The Snow Fairy Princess is on her way to Town! Enjoy decorating Georgetown Cupcakes while visiting with the Snow Fairy Princess. Event includes a photo with the Princess, Georgetown Cupcakes and cocoa, story time, a craft activity, and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket, and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free cupcakes.

Breakfast with Santa: $30

Ever wonder what Santa eats for breakfast? If so, join Santa for a full breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes, assorted pastries, freshly baked bagels, assorted cream cheeses and jams and jellies, fresh fruit, assorted fresh juices, coffee, hot tea, and much more. Event includes a visit, story time, and photo with Santa, as well as a craft activity and a General Admission ticket. Children under 18 months of age are not required to purchase a separate ticket and all adults must purchase a ticket. When ordering, please indicate if you require gluten-free pastries and bagels.

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.

Mistletoe Masquerade Ball (Gala): $90 – Saturday, November 23, 7 pm – 11:30 pm

Need a night out? Indulge in an evening of dancing and merrymaking at the Mistletoe Masquerade Ball, featuring an open bar, hors d’oeuvres, DJ, live and silent auctions and casino events.

Giveaway Details:

The Junior League of Northern Virginia has generously provided me with two general admission tickets (a value of $13 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:

  • The giveaway runs between now and 9 am Eastern, Wednesday, November 20, 2013.
  • I am using the Rafflecopter widget for the first time — please let me know if you have any problems.
  • Winner will be notified via email Wednesday and you must respond by Wednesday 7 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.
  • You can use this shortened link to share the giveaway with friends: http://bit.ly/1j7H49i

a Rafflecopter giveaway

What you will win:

  • Two general admission tickets valid for one day only either November 23 10 am – 5 pm OR November 24 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.
  • 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!

My Funny Valentine

Valentine’s Day has a habit of going awry in the Java household. I won’t go into the gory details, but there have been incidents with smoke alarms in our home, restaurants burning down, reservations getting double-booked by the restaurant and then cancelled at the last minute, waiters breaking out in fights over our table, snowstorms, and my personal favorite, a meat-switching/money-skimming scandal that ended up in the local paper.

I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home, and though I wasn’t quite “feeling it,” Wednesday night, I decided to embrace her tenant about making an occasion of special days. JavaDad very kindly made a late-night run to the store to get a Valentine-themed table cloth and some pink paper plates and voila — we had a “Valentine’s breakfast” with the kids Thursday morning and they opened their cards from us.

Amazingly, that put me in more of the spirit, and I ran out to the store that morning, before I was due at JavaGirl’s school for her class party, and picked up some last minute Valentine’s decorations for the dining room. JavaDad and I had never made plans for dinner, and we had loosely discussed getting take-out. I decided to spruce up the dining room a little more and make it feel like more of an event. JavaGirl loves to decorate, so I decided I’d pick up the supplies and rope her into the act so we could surprise “the boys” since JavaDad was picking up JavaBoy (and dinner) up on his way home from work.

I fell in love with these brightly colored, fuzzy wool heart garlands at Target and draped one on the chandelier and one on the mirror.

Usually, I have the kids collect sticks and branches from the woods and we decorate it with hearts for a Valentine’s tree. This year we didn’t quite get enough sticks and Ididn’t get around to making the tree, then I found this lovely lit cherry blossom tree at Kirkland’s and decided it would make a wonderful Valentine’s tree and possibly even double as our Easter tree.

I had meant to move the lovely roses JavaDad gave me to the table, but the guys came home earlier than I expected and surprised me — still I have to show them off because JavaDad is not a “flowers” guy. Not bad, eh?

Not the most elegant table I’ve set, but with paper plates, take-out food, our heart-themed tablecloth, and our various Valentine’s Day loot, we had a festive and low-stress event. And what the kids loved is I told them to put on pajamas. I even put on my heart-themed pajamas,  you know, the ones I usually reserve for going out to see the space shuttle.

 

Perhaps next year JavaDad and I will try again to go the more traditional date night route, but our pajama and fuzzy hearts night was just perfect for this year. I hope however you chose to celebrate (or not celebrate) it was equally perfect for you!

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Disclosure: This post includes an Amazon Associates link — clicking on it and shopping on Amazon.com helps support this site without costing you an extra penny!

 

 

Sesame Place Opens for Winter: A Very Furry Christmas

Sesame Place show

Nothing like Sesame Street characters doing jazz hands!

Motherhood is an endless “To Do” list and taking my kids to Sesame Place has been on my list. Summer 2011, however, became The Summer That Swim Team Took Over Our Lives, so we never made it. Luckily, Sesame Place has opened its doors with a winter offering, “A Very Furry Christmas.”

Sesame Place Vapor Trail

Riding the Vapor Trail with JavaBoy -- just the right-sized thrill for him at this age.

The theme park has a holiday-themed makeover and while water rides are shut down, there are still many popular rides open including Elmo’s Flyin’ Fish, Blast Off, the Vapor Trail, Peek a Bug, Grover’s World Twirl and more.  There is an entire jungle gym type of area with climbing challenges for kids of all ages from the very small to much older kids (think cargo nets and a slippery Cookie Monster’s Mountain).

Sesame Place climbing sectionThere are multiple shows throughout the day that emphasize the values of sharing and giving in the holiday spirit (Christmas is the holiday that is most emphasized, though mostly in a secular sense).  You can find a description of the shows here

Sesame Place dancing with Cookie Monster

JavaBoy got called up on stage to join in the fun!

Having never been in the summertime, I cannot compare the experience to a summer visit.  What I can tell you is that the JavaKids thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  I worried whether JavaBoy, age 7, would be too old for the experience, but he enjoyed the rides, especially Blast Off.  Ever the ham, he got called up on stage to dance with Cookie Monster in one of the shows, which also made his day.  The climbing area was a huge hit and let them burn off a lot of steam.  JavaGirl is at the perfect age to take in the wonder of it all.  Our children are not theme park veterans, so if your kids have graduated to serious thrill rides this park may not be for them.  But what made Sesame Place and in particular, A Very Furry Christmas, nice for us as a family was that it was a miniaturized version of a Disney experience — you had characters, shows, rides, a parade and a big tree lighting, but weren’t completely overwhelmed.  We went on opening day and the lines were quick.  Everyone we encountered was polite.

For my children, seeing the characters in the shows was enough of an up-close experience, they didn’t even feel the need to wait in line to see hug them and get a photo.  However, if you choose, there is a character dining experience option available.  I peeked into the restaurant where it occurs and it isn’t particularly glamorous, though the kids looked happy.  Think of a large elementary school cafeteria with Abby Cadabby running around.

There is, of course, an option to get a photo with Santa and this was one of the few places we encountered a line.  Given that we were in jeans, we decided not to get a photo, but it had a lovely set to do so.

Sesame Place swings

We enjoyed the park from the moment it opened until closing.

The drive to get to Sesame Place was not bad from Northern Virginia and while it is possible to get there and back in a day, given the late hour of finishing up, we opted to get a hotel room and then check something else off my list — visit the Please Touch Museum.  If you haven’t been to Sesame Place before, be forewarned that though there are signs marking the highway exit, the last turn is not well marked, we nearly missed it!

Another hint — line up early for the parade, look for the dots on the edge of main street and that is where you are allowed to line up.  It may be worthwhile to pack a small towel or blanket to sit on while you wait, though the gift shop will be more than willing to sell you one!  Seating for most shows begin half an hour before showtime and it is worth it to get a good seat.  Lockers are available to store the various gear families invariably bring, no outside food allowed in.  Lesson learned the hard way — they do not sell camcorder supplies in their gift shops (oops) and I don’t remember seeing SD cards either.

My final take:  Definitely worth the trip if you live in the Metro DC area or closer, a family fun experience that will probably be one of those “remember when” memories forever, and it makes me even more determined to return in Summer 2012 to see what it’s like to visit in shorts!  For more information on ticket prices and other questions, visit this site.

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Disclosure: My family was invited to attend as media for opening day and received complimentary tickets.  I was not required to write about it nor did this impact my opinion of the event.

Christmas Card Traditions

Christmas Card

We are not the McPhersons – but this is the kind of chic photo I wish I had of us to use in a Christmas card photo instead of trying to choose between a series of photos where invariably one of us has our eyes closed, one of us is talking, another is looking away and so forth. Photo by Tiny Prints.

I did not come from a “Christmas card family.”  There are two types of families — those who send Christmas cards and those who don’t.  (Well, okay, obviously there are three — those who don’t send them because they don’t celebrate Christmas…) Sending cards was just not one of my mother’s interests.  My Great-Grandma Herbert, who lived to be 103, was a Christmas card sender and in return received literally hundreds of them and I used to marvel at the stacks and stacks of cards she would receive. When my friends reached their mid-twenties, I was surprised to start receiving Christmas cards myself. As they married and had kids, I started receiving photos of their children and wondered, “What am I supposed to do with these?”  I had zero Christmas card savvy.

I made a couple of clumsy attempts to send Christmas cards but didn’t become an official card sender until 2001.  JavaDad and I were engaged and about to move cross-country in January and it seemed like a good time to establish a family tradition — I decided that since we had a combined address list of all of our friends (the wedding invitation list) we would write a family newsletter, enclose a small card with our new address, and establish ourselves as a Christmas card sending family. In typical Type A style, I thoroughly researched this – created a list with a column for cards sent and cards received and learned that typically one crosses someone off the list after two years of not receiving a reciprocal Christmas card (I make a lot of exceptions, and goodness, thank you to all those friends who didn’t cross me off their lists all those years!)

We live far away from our hometown and our friends have scattered far and wide, so there are many friends we haven’t seen for years and whose children we’ve never met.  For the longest time I never really understood the appeal of receiving photos of children we didn’t know, until we had kids of our own — now I get it. I enjoy seeing how much other people’s children have grown over the years and foist photos of our kids on our friends — perhaps our childless friends also say, “Why do they keep sending me photos of kids I don’t know?”  I am going to pretend I don’t know that photos of our children end up in trash cans (I, by the way, can never bear to throw away a photo!)

Some people get a full newsletter from us.  Some, particularly if they live close by and know all our news, get just a photo card like these adorable ones from Tiny Prints. But in this day and age of Facebook, email, and text messaging, I find that our annual Christmas card is a way to reach out in a slightly more personal way and touch base with friends.  Yes, I’ll admit, I use mail merge and printed labels.  I rarely have time to include a handwritten note and my penmanship is so awful that most people couldn’t read it anyway. Yet I still think there is something to that physical card that is more personal, more meaningful, more individual than an electronic card – we all enjoy getting mail from loved ones.  Every year JavaDad and I review the list, add and delete, fold newsletters or carefully stuff photo cards, apply labels, affix return address labels and stamp the cards and take them to the post office. Sometimes we barely get them out before Christmas, and yes, sometimes we’ve even been late. But we always try to make that connection and I know that I feel more connected when I receive a card from someone – there is something about the knowledge that they have in some way produced it, touched it, and intentionally sent it to ME.

We make bets as to who will send us a card first (the Paynes win every year!) We display the cards in a French memo board in our family room and enjoy watching it become overstuffed with cards. And then in January I take the cards and put them into a special Christmas card scrapbook, which allows us to keep all those photos of kids and compare how they’ve grown over the years, re-read family newsletters, and sometimes, treasure cards from friends and family members who are no longer with us.

Whether it is Christmas, Hannukah, Thanksgiving or New Year’s (I’ve even seen some people shift it to other holidays such as Valentine’s Day or Halloween!) are you a holiday card sender?  What are your traditions or tips?

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Disclosure:  This post is sponsored by Tiny Prints.

Foolproof Way to Roast a Turkey (and Cornbread Stuffing, Too!)

This is not really a foodie blog, but apparently that is where my mind is at during the holidays!

When I made my first Thanksgiving turkey nearly 15 years ago, my mother sent me a sage, yet humorous email, with instructions.  I printed that email out and pulled it out year after year and managed to keep it despite moving cross-country twice since then.  I’ve also picked up a few tricks of my own along the way and have written them in the margins and finally got wise last year and wrote up my own version for future generations on our family blog (and also because I was terrified of losing all those precious notes!

So for anyone who may not have the benefit of such notes, I share with you, a time-tested way to roast a (usually extremely large) holiday turkey, complete with humorous asides and a to-die for cornbread stuffing recipe from my mother!

Turkey Prep (notes written for myself and future generations)

We buy a local brand of turkey, Shady Brook Farm, rather than Butterball and I think it makes a difference.  But my second choice would be a Butterball.  I prefer fresh to frozen.  If you have to buy frozen, remember to give it several days to thaw in the fridge.  If it is still not thawed, you will have to let it thawed in a bucket or sink filled with cold water and make sure the turkey is fully submerged.

I also prefer a covered roasting pan (you’ll need a really, really big one if you follow my tradition of cooking 20+ pound birds).

Ready… this is the part JavaDad and I always forget.  BEFORE YOU PREHEAT THE OVEN… remove the second rack and make sure to put the remaining one at the lowest level.  Should you forget to do this, say every year for 9 straight years, you can always put the rack out in the cold on the deck.

Oh yeah, now is a good time to make sure that your roasting pan is on the counter, ready for the big bird.  Not, say, down in the basement.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees.  Nope, not a typo, you are going to cook it for 30 minutes at 500 degrees to give the bird a beautiful tan and seal the juices in.  It takes a while to get up that high, so turn that oven on now.

Always check the neck and chest cavities for a plastic bag with the gizzards and liver, and also for the neck itself.

Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water and put it in your rack.  Make sure you rinse out the sink and anything else you may have touched (faucet handles, etc.) and Clorox them as well afterward.

Stuff the turkey (some of your relatives are anti-stuffed turkey — they don’t realize that the turkey is merely a gigantic cooking/flavoring hole for the stuffing, why else would I cook a turkey?)  You need to not pack the stuffing very tightly, it needs to go in loosely.  I make sort of small loose balls to put it in.  Don’t forget you can put stuffing in the neck cavity as well.  You will remove the stuffing before carving the turkey — do not let stuffing sit in the turkey after it has been cooked!  And remember, your stuffed turkey will take longer to cook than a non-stuffed turkey.

Oh, and I leave the “pope’s nose” (fatty bit just under the chest cavity) on the turkey, but Grandma E always cut it off.  It adds good flavoring to the drippings.

After you’ve stuffed the turkey, rub some poultry seasoning all over the skin — everywhere.  Then rub softened butter all over the skin (I find it easier to do the poultry seasoning first, then the butter).  I tend to put a few bits of butter on the top of the exposed stuffing as well.

Pour some water (about 1/2 cup) into the bottom of the pan.  Don’t worry about any stuffing or butter that has dropped into the pan.

Put tin foil over the wing tips and ends of the drumsticks to protect them from burning.

Put the bird in the oven with no lid for 30 minutes at 500 degrees.  I put about half a stick of butter into a bowl and put that on top of the middle part of the stove so it softens during that 30 minutes of time.  When the time goes off, baste with the melted butter and also the pan drippings, then put the cover on, turn down the temperature to 350 degrees, and set timer for another 30 minutes, repeat butter softening trick.  I baste every 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending on how frantic the other food prep is).

Do not rely on the “pop-up” device in the turkey to tell you when the turkey is done.  Use a thermometer.  Or if something terrible has happened to your thermometer that year, you will know your turkey is done when the legs move freely at the joint and the juices run clear.  When using the roaster, my turkey usually cooks about an hour faster than the timetable says it should.  Make sure you check both the turkey itself and the stuffing when you use a thermometer.

Because you have browned and sealed the turkey at the beginning of the cooking, you will not have to worry about removing the lid/tin foil at the end of the process to get that golden color, so if you are looking at other cooking instructions, ignore that part.

The turkey carves better after it has been allowed to “rest” — I usually let JavaDad take the pictures when it is right out of the oven, then I have him make one cut at the breast to ensure the turkey is cooked through.  Then I put the lid back on and let it rest and stay warm while we put the casseroles in the oven.  (Note:  At this point I usually announce to everyone in the house that I am about to go into “crazy mode” because I am going to assemble 3-5 casseroles at once so I want no one walking into the kitchen or talking to me for the next 10 minutes, please because I am trying to keep measurements and times in my head and am criss-crossing the kitchen.  Regardless which side of the family is visiting, they will take this as their cue to come in and fix drinks at that exact time and ask me lots of questions.  Even JavaDad, who should know better because I have threatened his very life if he does that yet again this year.  If you ever figure out a better plan, let me know.  I still love them all – I just have never figured the mystery of this out.)    You can cook the squash, green beans, and sweet potatoes at the same time, even if the recipes contradict each other as to temperature.  I usually go with whatever is the highest temp and then reduce the cooking time for the other dishes accordingly.

Remember to remove that stuffing from both cavities!

By the way, it is apparently a weird Newby family tradition to ask each other what size bird you are cooking.  I didn’t realize other families didn’t do this until I got married and had married friends.  Keep up the tradition, for my sake.  : )

Grandma’s Cornbread Stuffing
You may want to make the cornbread the night before.

Cornbread
(Makes 7 cups, I usually double the recipe)

  • 2 cups cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 425F.  Sift dry ingredients together.  Combine with well-beaten eggs and milk.  Blend well.  Stir in butter.  Pour into well-buttered shallow baking pan.  Bake at 425F for 15-20 minutes.

Stuffing
(make twice the recipe, then stuff the turkey with as much as you can and bake the extra stuffing in a pan.  NEVER stuff a turkey and leave it to sit – stuff JUST BEFORE cooking and empty the stuffing from the turkey as soon as dinner is over.)

  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery with leaves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons parsley
  • 5 cups cornbread crumbs
  • water to moisten the stuffing

Sautee vegetables in butter until tender, but not browned.  Combine seasonings and crumbs.  Toss with vegetable mixture until well mixed.  Add enough water to moisten crumbs.  When you have a separate pan of extra stuffing, make sure to add even more water to that batch b/c it will not benefit from the juices of the turkey.  Put some water in it at prep time, then sprinkle a little more just before it goes into the oven.

What’s YOUR favorite recipe for the holidays? Post it on your blog and link here or post your recipe in the comments section!