Saturday, November 28, 2015

AM~Erica is Quietly Thankful in Tradition

So anyway...

A couple of days ago, our family took part in  a day that so many other families do on the 4th Thursday of every November: feasting and giving thanks.

Don't get me wrong, gratitude is regularly given, but this is supposed to be some sort of beautiful culmination with others on THIS day.

Our day began as it has the past several years. Some background first:

When we moved back to the KC area after 3 years in St. Louis, it became easier to handle holidays like this one. Why? Because our family was pretty much all in KC. It was good to be home! However, when we returned, it became apparent that gathering at my grandmother's house for brunch (as we had done for so many years, as far back as I can remember) may be difficult. Not only for her, but to get all of us out there, and to make sure food was brought in. So we decided that we would love to host the Thanksgiving brunch at our house. So, like Captain Picard's #1, we made it so.

My grandmother made about 3 of the years, but got to where she didn't feel comfortable leaving her abode. Those years, we made a point to take her some dessert so someone could be with her.

Also in the past, we would have big dinners with my in-laws. As time & circumstances scooted around in many different ways & forms, we decided to host the evening meal, too. After my grandmother passed (still missing her dearly), and with some topsy-turvy craziness, we were holding the meal at our house.

Now then, we still held our brunch with my folks & brother, as we've done for several years now. We cooked up eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, fried potato hash browns, and cinnamon rolls. With some kitchen renovations going on at my parents' house, we cooked everything. Which was fine by us. We actually keep it simple enough to be able to do so.

After a really nice visit with my folks, they left to go out to my uncles for the afternoon/evening. This is when we would generally get ready for my in-laws to come that afternoon & evening for the big meal...but this year was different.

Most of the in-laws had moved over the spring & summer. With some health issues & other circumstances, none of them would be coming to our house. Now then, we did let one of them know they were welcome to come, as my sister-in-law is in town due to life circumstances - so we made sure to let her know she could come over & we would have food.

As it turned out, she had gone ahead & made plans with a friend she was staying with. Sad she couldn't join us, but it was OK.

There was so much rain! It just rained, and rained, and rained...
My hubby had gotten a new (to us) smoker from my dad. My hubby was really excited to use it to smoke our turkey AND ham for the evening's feast! With scooting our patio table closer to the smoker to put the umbrella up to protect the smoker a bit, it was a crazy-ingenius way to keep the smoker going.

Eventually I made most of the other dishes, and my hubby took over the yams & rolls.

By the time dinnertime rolled around we had a delightful spread:

First up is the meat. My hubby smoked a beautiful turkey & ham. It was his first time EVER to brine a turkey, and even smoke a turkey. Everything was smokey-delicious & was better than restaurant our family's own humble opinion.

The kiddos voted to have mac and cheese as a side, of course. So I bumped it up to Pirate's Booty brand aged white cheddar shells and cheese, then added a sprinkle of parsley to make it appear fancier. Kids loved it! YAY!

My hubby took care of the yams. Simple yams with a few marshmallows to be warmed & toasted in the oven.

I make the cranberry sauce! Homemade stuff around here. It makes me happy when I get to make it.
(recipe HERE)

When we were originally putting our menu together, we talked to the kiddos about what they might want. Teen Boy, one of our pickier eaters, said that he couldn't imagine the Thanksgiving feast without things like cranberries, stuffing/dressing, and mashed potatoes. No, he doesn't eat any of those things...but he just felt like it wasn't the holiday if missing this sort of montage of dishes.

With that said, and we obviously chose cranberries, we were deciding whether to do mashed potatoes or stuffing. I brought up doing colcannon as our mashed potatoes. My hubby was thrilled with the thought! So, colcannon is what was decided upon. And it might have been my best batch yet!
(recipe included HERE)

We knew we needed rolls. I put my hubby in charge of the rolls, and he chose these bread rounds that were about the size of Lil Guy's head!

We got the feast finished up & placed onto the table as Teen Girl was getting the simple table settings ready.

The plated feast

Shortly after our bellies were satisfied, we realized we forgot something - the green beans! I forgot to steam them! Since this was the case, we decided to save them. As green bean casserole is not the biggest hit around here (I mean...I like it), I try to keep it a healthier option by sautéing mushrooms & onions to add to the steamed green beans, plus toasting some almonds, for a beautiful hericots verts (harrah-co vay) dish.

After enjoying all of this around the table, Teen Girl brought up wanting to play some Apples to Apples.

When our family plays this game, wildness generally ensues! Just when you think you've won the judge with your card, there's one that seems to beat yours...OR...everyone has a throwaway card because nothing matches, and the judge has to pick from a selection of nothing that goes with the main card. We laugh until we cry, often. Also, we found the weirdest way to end the game! As we made our way to the last round, and the last person (who just happened to be me in this case), there was a consensus to make the judge pick 3 rounds of selections for the same card just to get rid of cards! It was evilly hilarious, and we may keep this ending to the game for future play.

Then we moved onto our first night of our 4th annual holiday movie/treat run!
(some past tradition interminglings HERE)

This year, we drew our numbers right before Thanksgiving. With Teen Boy drawing the ol' #1, we decided to get things rolling with his picks on Thanksgiving night - especially since there's 5 of us picking as we lead up to Christmas.

I decided to make the fudge. When I made it 3 years ago, it didn't set. We had a fudge butter! Not a bad thing, but it was interesting eating it with a spoon. This time, it totally set up & it was near perfect! YAY!

Teen Boy became hesitant about his movie choice. He seemed gravely disappointed that he might have to change his selection when he learned we were going to watch "A Christmas Carol" performed just a couple of days prior. (reminder HERE with yet another update) However, I did inform him we could keep it as such, and there was no reason to change.

See, they are two different tellings of the story! After we watched the movie, we got to discuss the differences, what we liked & what we didn't.

We saw the movie in the theater when it came out in 2009. We were surprised by how close to the story it seemed, and how not-over-the-top it was for a Jim Carrey movie! It seemed to stay pretty close to the original telling. Some variance, but surprisingly subdued, yet beautiful.

As we got through with this viewing, especially with the one-man-show storytelling of Gerald Dickens, we discussed what was different, what was the same, what we liked & didn't.

Then it hit me! It has been SO many years since I've really read the book. I've taken it for granted & have just heavily leaned on all the different tellings on stage or screen for many years. After pointing out one glaring inconsistency in nearly every telling I've come across, it got me thinking that I really want to read it again. The Mid-Continent Libraries have done their job in bringing in Mr. Dickens to tell the story! I am really wanting to read it again! On pages, and between front & back covers. I'm yearning for the words of Charles Dickens. So I must get on that!

With all of that said & done, plus a couple of glasses of Antioxidant Fortified Jesus Water enjoyed, it was time to call it a night, know that I'm thankful for all we have, for the quiet we got to take in, the roof over my head, the family under it with me, the food we are able to provide, and traditions we can take in, no matter how weird they may seem sometimes. God is so good!

Thankfully, we had enough leftovers to enjoy for another meal. My hubby pointed out that it seemed less glamorous the next night; but even with the food being served from storage containers & on paper plates, it was still just as delightful as it was the night before.

And now we are moving forward into our full-blown Christmas season! Time to prepare an ongoing skit with the hubby for church, as well as a dance to help start the liturgical season of Advent.

In the midst of it all, so thankful. Here's to our own traditions! *CHEERS*

Stay tuned...

God Bless, AM~Erica

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

AM~Erica Enjoys the Dickens Out of the Evening

So anyway...

It's been a while since I've shared anything here. It's been just that crazy!

And there were so many things I wanted to talk about:

* I wanted to share about how our Halloween went.
Today is not that day.

* I wanted to share about our hometown Royals winning it all!
Today is not that day.

* I wanted to share about how I didn't make the parade.
Today is not that day.

* I wanted to share about our decorating for Christmas.
Today is not that day.

Instead, I want to jump ahead to something that I'm so glad we got to take in. No, it's not yet Thanksgiving, and there are only very few things tied to Christmas I'm willing to do ahead of time.

One of the things is decorating. We do get a large part of our decorating up before Thanksgiving. We have people over that day, so we like to be festive. Plus, it allows us to enjoy the sights, within our walls, a little bit longer.

Another thing is taking in the Enchanted Forest/Festival of Trees. This has been shifted around for years, now. My mom & I (and eventually Teen Girl) have taken in almost every year of it since its inception. Starting at Longview Farms, it shifted to Union Station, then quite recently to the Overland Park Convention Center to be a part of the Holiday Boutique. The weekends have shifted around in the past 20+ years, but we've attended all but two of the years. We even decorated trees on two of the years...
...then this year changed. Marillac was no longer sponsoring the trees. So we figured it wouldn't take place. To our shock, the Festival of Trees would still be part of the Holiday Boutique, just taken over by a different organization. And it took place on yet another weekend. My point is that we take in the trees BEFORE Thanksgiving. As for our experience of this most recent outing...
Today is not that day.

There's several Christmas tree lighting ceremonies that happen a week or so before Thanksgiving, too. We tried to take in one of those events a few years ago. We weren't overly impressed.

Then...something different came up. It was something we needed to take in right now if we were going to do it. I came across an opportunity to kick off the Christmas season in an interesting way. And since it was a traveling event, it was now or never!

This particular event was a one-man-show. A storytelling event by a man who was retelling a very popular Christmas tale. It's the tale where the term "Merry Christmas" is used and made it's way into the present commonplace as a greeting highly popular & cultural greeting of choice.

Sir Patrick Stewart does a one-man show of this, even after appearing as Ebenezer Scrooge in one of the many, many film adaptations of it. Our own KC Repertory Theater (aka - The Rep) puts on a stage version every year around this time.

Yes, the beloved story is of "A Christmas Carol." The story of the turning of the heart in Mr. Scrooge during an early Victorian Christmas setting, as told by a now-iconic, and world-renowned storytelling novelist, Charles Dickens. (or as referred to in Raul Dahl's 'Matilda' - "Darles Chickens")

We watch different film adaptations every year on our TV. My hubby has even preached on it for Advent! So what made me get excited about this opportunity to hear this story, yet again, trying to catch this traveling one-man-show of a story we can catch so many times throughout the season?

I was watching the morning news, like I do, on Monday morning. I had gotten the boys off to school, and it was time for me to finish enjoying my coffee before getting ready for the day. Something caught my attention for one of the segments! First, it was theatrical. Uh...Hello? Theater totally speaks to me, if you didn't already know. (This shouldn't shock anyone.) Plus, this distinguished looking gentleman was on my screen. Maybe he seemed distinguished since he looked all proper-like in his very Victorian suit costume. But as the information was pouring from the TV set, I was listening with amazement about the guy who was to do this one-man-show of "A Christmas Carol!"

His name is Gerald Dickens.

Is it a name that sounds familiar? Well it should. Especially when tied to the story he was telling. See, Gerald has some lineage to the author. The one-man-show of the beloved Christmas tale would be performed by the great-great grandson of Charles Dickens!

Our Mid-Continent Libraries were awesome enough to host this gig. He performed in a few places, but it would the be performance on the following night that would be best worked for us. If we could go...of course.

After looking at our schedules, and seeing we could afford to go (it was FREE, people!), and running it by the kiddos (2 of the 3 children were stoked to go), we got ourselves together to head to the performance.

Most of our family are into theater. There's me (of course), my hubby, Teen Girl (it's kind of her passion), and Teen Boy (who just finished a stint as Lt. Brannigan & the voice of Joey Biltmore in his high school production of "Guys and Dolls"). Lil Guy, though filled with so much talent, hasn't quite built his love for theater just yet. He enjoys some, but not his first choice to jump on if the opportunity arises. We're working on him.
With that said, my hubby definitely saw it as an interesting opportunity. My teenagers about came unglued when they found out who was doing the storytelling of THIS story! The youngest swore he didn't want to go, but we informed him he had no choice.

When we got to the venue, there were several folks already there. There was coffee & hot chocolate with cookies being served at the back. We found seats & then took turns to get some toasty refreshment before things got started.

At exactly 7:00 PM, the very beginning of Transiberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve Sarajevo" began to play (I know this song very well - I choreographed a dance to it, of course) and a man slowly made his way onto the stage; as the music is supposed to change to a strong tone, a bell toll came instead, prompting the gentleman to stop center stage to begin the telling of the tale.

There's a setting of a leather-looking wingback chair, a coatrack, and a stool. Each of these things are used throughout Gerald's flowing between each character. You always know which character he becomes in any given moment! He has his own little narratives in there, too. I love the little additions from the storyteller's point of view.

Not taken from the performance we attended, but a photo of Gerald Dickens
in the midst of his storytelling.

Again, not from the show we attended, but more in his storytelling mode.

Once in a while, I look on either side of me. I want my family to not regret me nearly forcing them into another weird idea of mine. As I look, I see my hubby (who is often critical of performance) smiling & fully enjoying it; both of my teenagers seem riveted & into it (even if Teen Girl couldn't TOTALLY stay off her phone - ugh); then I check out Lil Guy who seems completely tuned out & disinterested. Once in a while he will laugh at really fun & wonderfully silly parts, but just didn't seem to grasp the whole thing. Ah well...he'll remember back to this years down the road. I'm sure of it!

With some fun additions in the acting, and some fun audience interaction, we joined in the well-deserved standing ovation given to Mr. Dickens as he wished everyone a Merry Christmas.

As we left, there was ne'er a negative word spoken about the evening! My hubby gave glowing reviews (which is very difficult to get from him, by the way), my teenagers were enthralled with what they got to witness, and then there was Lil Guy. He's the one who wasn't so into it. Right? But then he said, "I know it didn't seem like I was really paying attention, but he was really good! And he was funny."


I thoroughly enjoyed it! And what an awesome way to begin the season! A bit of Dickens' storytelling. Take that as you will.

And, if you ever get the chance to see Gerald do his one-man-show of his great-great grandfather's storytelling - I am highly encouraging you to do so! You will NOT be disappointed!

One of these days, I'd love to be able to catch him doing "Here Comes Dickens!" I'd love to hear him bring a little of each of the author's novels to life!

Now with that said, it's onto our holiday madness. But glad we got a touching way to begin it.

Stay tuned...

God Bless, AM~Erica


UPDATE:  After sharing this post upon Twitter, Mr. Gerald Dickens gave his approval (YAY!) and shared with me HIS blog post of the day including the performance in which we attended. So, I'll share with you. The link to his post, HERE.

UPDATE 2.O:  As I wanted to keep up on the tales of Gerald Dickens during his stay in KC, I took a moment to read his next blog post about his reception that we didn't get to make. Imagine my shock in reading this entry! You might understand why when you read it, HERE!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

AM~Erica's Red Cup Rant

So anyway...

There's a thing going on.
This thing has me pulling out my soapbox again. So, here goes:

Starbuck's has really done it now. They went and changed things.

I know! Right?

Just when we expect the popular coffee spot(s) to rise to the occasion for the upcoming holidays with wonderfully festive cups like these:



Without these, it can't be the Christmas season!

But instead, they bring THESE monstrosities out:

The horror! They are too simple. They don't scream "CHRISTMAS" at all!

What are we going to do?

I want to put it out there that I am a strong Christian woman who doesn't care what Starbuck’s does with their cups for the upcoming holidays. The minimalistic red is fine. The regular cups are fine. I haven't seen any of my fellow Christian friends throwing a fit. However, somehow, "ALL Christians" seem to be super offended by the simple red cup.

So draw something on it. If you want snowflakes, if you want pine trees, if you want a star, if you want a scripture, if you want a cross, if you want a dollar sign, a smiley face, a cat, a saying, if you want whatever artsy thing your heart desires...or even a heart - draw it. Or use the color as the color of love. Use it to illustrate the blood that was shed from the cross for for all of us. Use it to represent there might just be some sort of hot drink in the cup.

Guess what. It's a cup. It holds coffee & tea drinks. You drink from it. If the simple cup offends you, get a cup from somewhere else.

It's. A. Cup. 
Those who are offended, please stop making the rest of us look whiney. For those who think we are offended & want to make a big deal out of it - stop it. We aren't offended.
It's a cup.
Just a cup.

There's so many things the media chooses to cover. The media has now Kardashian'd the news with the ridiculous story that so many Christians are so offended over the red cup.

*face palm*

Look, if you want to keep Christ in Christmas...

Seriously, if you are claiming to be Christian and think that the biggest problem is that Starbuck's doesn't have a festive enough cup for you to be in the Christmas spirit, you are doing it wrong. 
Very, very wrong.

Did you know you can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you...all while holding a simple red cup? It's possible. You can even give any of these people a simple red cup as a caring gesture. And you know what? It will be a more Christian-like Christmas gesture than any graphic that would be printed upon that cup.

I'm going to take it further:
When Jesus blessed the cup & told his disciples to drink from it, he told them it was his blood that would be shed for them; take it, drink it, and remember Christ. 
(Luke 22:19-20, Matthew 26:27-28)
It's kind of a big deal with communion. 
Remember the cup. 
A simple cup.
(I doubt the disciples remembered communion with a jewel-encrusted goblet while wearing fancy robes & stoles. Did you NOT watch 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?')

That simple cup spoke greater than any other cup we want to look festive to feel the spirit. Of anything. That's pretty Pharisaical to think otherwise, amm-i-rite? 

Something to think about while we are allowing ourselves to be consumed by Kardashian'd news & hypocritical views on chain cups during a holiday.

It's just a cup, folks.
It's just a cup.

So drink up, if you choose. You should worry more about whether or not you drink Starbuck's rather than the cup it's in. 

So fill mine with a PSL or a Gingerbread Latte.
Merry Christmas! Share the love.

** No, you don't have to believe what I do, but I do hope you understand where I'm coming from. Just know this is from the heart of a Christian. So I hope you realize "All Christians" do not share the same view as a tiny few.

Stay tuned...

God Bless, AM~Erica