Win Two Tickets to This Weekend’s JLNV’s The Enchanted Forest

Combine the best of the holiday season — the magic of a winter wonderland and the spirit of giving back to our community — by taking your family to the Junior League of Northern Virginia’s 11th Annual The Enchanted Forest this weekend!

This event is a tradition not only for the JavaFamily, but for many Metro-DC families.   Begin by walking through a forest of theme-decorated trees and handmade gingerbread homes (all available for silent auction), meet celebrity chef Lorraine Wallace, have Georgetown Cupcakes & Cocoa with the Snow Fairy Princess or Breakfast and a Photo with Santa.  The Junior League of Northern Virginia (JLNV) presents an entire weekend of celebration, featuring the Children’s Science Center and Kids in the Holiday Kitchen with entertainment, cooking demonstrations and themed crafts for children, as well as gift and holiday decorations for sale, and a silent auction and evening gala for the adults.

Sounds fun, but what does this have to do with giving back?  The JLNV is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers.  To date, the JLNV has invested more than $2.7 million dollars in our mission-based programs.  Funds raised from the event go towards this mission and The Enchanted Forest highlights two key community initiatives of the JLNV.  Kids in the Kitchen works with children in the community to stem the tide of childhood obesity through awareness of the benefits of making sound nutrition choices and moving your body.  The JLNV has pledged and provided $250,000 of funding to the Children’s Science Center in an effort to bring a science-focused children’s museum to Northern Virginia and provides “Museum Without Walls” events at area festivals and schools to excite children about science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as to raise awareness about the need for such a museum right in our own backyard.

Event information:

The Westin Tysons Corner
7801 Leesburg Pike
Falls Church, VA 22043

Saturday, November 19, 2011
10 am – 5 pm

Sunday, November 20, 2011
10 am – 1pm

General admission: $11
Call 703-442-4163 or visit or email to purchase advance tickets.
Premium event ticket (Breakfast with Santa, Gala, Georgetown Cupcakes & Cocoa) pricing varies and subject to availability.

Giveaway Rules and All the Fine Print:

This event is so fun that words and even pictures do not do it justice.  So I’m giving away one two-pack of tickets to a lucky winner for general admission tickets. 

To enter:

  • Simply comment below about what you love about the holidays, about the Junior League, or about giving back to the community, you must include your email (won’t be visible to the public) so I may contact you  between now and 9 am Eastern Friday, November 18, 2011
  • Additional OPTIONAL entries may be earned by:
    • Tweeting about this contest with a link back to this page (feel free to use this link: and the hashtag #jlnvtef (please then comment here with a link to your tweet — if you let me know your twitter handle, I’ll look for you to follow you!)
    • By liking the Caffeine and a Prayer Facebook page and commenting here that you have done so
    • Or if you are already a fan of the Caffeine and a Prayer Facebook page, simply commenting with a separate comment to let me know so. 
    • NOTE: In order to comply with the spirit of the Facebook rules, please remember that it is not the act of liking the page that is the additional optional entry, it is the act of then commenting here, you are not automatically entered.  Please do not feel compelled to like the page if you are not interested in receiving Facebook updates from Caffeine and a Prayer.  I try my best to be a good blogging citizen and keep up with the ever-changing rules.
  • Winner will be notified via email Friday and you must respond by Friday or I have to move on to the next winner as this is a quick turnaround and tickets are only good Saturday or Sunday.  I will need your name so I may add you to the Will Call list.

What you will win:

  • Two general admission tickets valid for one day only either Nov. 19, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. or Nov. 20, 2011, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.  A general admission ticket includes access to The Enchanted Forest of Trees, Holiday Gift Boutique, Holiday Entertainment on Center Stage, Kids in the Holiday Kitchen, National Capital Trackers Model Trains Display, Pictures with Santa, and the Children’s Science Museum 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:

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


Disclosures: I am the immediate Past President of the JLNV.  The JLNV has provided these tickets for the giveaway.

Marble Jar App Rewarding for Parents and Kids

“Please pick up your backpacks!” “Did you brush your hair?  Your teeth?” “Have you done your homework?” I know we aren’t the only household constantly asking our children these questions because I see parents kvetching about it on blogs, Twitter and Facebook and when we visit friends I see a variety of chore charts and reward systems on fridges and mud room walls.  I, too, have tried various charts and positive reinforcement systems so that I don’t have to feel like a constant nag and am often annoyed by the clutter they create.  We have had stickers, popsicle sticks in jars, marbles and so forth.

And along came Marble Jar, the app.  I was already considering it before I was asked to review it, so naturally I jumped at the chance!

Just like its physical counterpart, the idea is that you set up jars where your child earns a marble for accomplishing a task.  You determine which task and you can set up different categories of jars if you like (i.e. Morning Routine) or put everything into one jar.  You also determine what goal your child is working toward once they fill up the jar.  There is a shelf for all the jars.  Once a jar is completed, it becomes a “golden jar” and you may simply copy that jar to start over again.  This allows you to have short-term goal jars and long-term goal jars.  For example, completing daily routine jars may simply allow the child to then have free play time, whereas long-term goals may be a reward of a coveted toy or a slumber party.

There are many different colored marbles to choose from and a satisfying “plink” when the child drops the marble in the jar.  Also, there are jars for the parents too, such as a “Calm” jar (using a calm voice, etc.)  Anyone in the family can use the jar system!

I love the fact that this is highly customizable (it comes with some default jars and tasks, but you may change them, add/delete jars and tasks, say how many marbles it takes to fill a jar).  However, in its current state, the app is not without its problems — all of which Marble Jar creator Anna Roseblum Palmer assured me are about to be fixed, when I spoke to her at the Blogalicious ’11 conference.

Originally she designed the program to be partially hosted on a server so it could be on multiple devices (i.e. Mom and Dad could have it on both of their phones and you could update the jars from either device) but this meant it required a login every time you wanted to go into the marble jar and also led to a lag time every time you performed some sort of a transaction.  Palmer plans to redesign the app so it resides completely on your phone, eliminating the need for a login and no phone-to-server lag time.  This change, however, means that  it can only live on a single device, but I think that compromise will be worth the sacrifice. Knowing that these changes are coming along makes me even more willing to stick with the Marble Jar app. Talking to Palmer gave me some good insights as to how to use the system — initially I was setting up separate jars for each kid, but she said she lumps her kids together and that way they egg each other on by saying, “Hey, you haven’t brushed your teeth and that’s keeping me from getting my free play time!”

The JavaKids love any opportunity to get their hands on my iPhone and they enjoy the array of colors of marbles and the sound of the marble drop and watching the jars fill up.  So far we are only using short-term goals, but I can see that this would work for long-term goals.  And my favorite part — no clutter on the counter tops!

Interested?  Download Marble Jar from the App Store.


Disclosure: This post is part of a compensated post series sponsored by Marble Jar.  Screen shots provided by Marble Jar.

Halloween Treats for PBS Fans

Dinosaur Train's BuddyIs your little trick-or-treater a PBS fan?  The children’s network has come out with special episodes, books, costumes and even a trick-or-treat bag to celebrate the spooky holiday.  And one lucky Caffeine and a Prayer reader can win a copy of the book, The Spooky Scavenger Hunt, see the end of this post for details.

Halloween Episodes

For Dinosaur Trainfans, don’t miss the new episode Haunted Roundhouse/Big Pond Pumpkin Patch premier October 20 on PBS Kids, with repeats on October 24, 28, 30 and 31.  Check local listings for the time.  Description:   “In Haunted Roundhouse, dad takes the kids on a special Night Train to Troodon Town, where the Troodons have decorated their Roundhouse into a “haunted house” for a spooky party. The kids end up meeting a strange new nocturnal creature – a mammal named Vlad Volaticotherium, who was hiding in the roundhouse trying to get some sleep.  And in Big Pond Pumpkin Patch, the Pteranodon family learns more about the customs of their neighbors, the Lambeosaurus family, when they are invited for the first time to accompany them to the Big Pond to celebrate “Gourd Day” – a kind of Mesozoic Halloween. The kids see their first pumpkins, and Larry Lambeosaurus even shows our family how to hollow them out and carve faces into them.”

Sid the Science KidSid the Science Kid watchers will enjoy the new Spooky Science Special, which premieres October 17 on PBS Kids (check local listings) and repeats October 25, 28, 30 and 31.  Description:  “In Halloween Spooky Science Special, it’s Halloween time and Sid and his friends have dressed up in the spookiest and scariest costumes possible.  Sid is a bat with big fangs.  May is a spooky black cat.  Gabriela is a furry, yucky spider.  And Gerald is a super spooky skeleton that goes boo!  Susie (dressed as a silly mad scientist) loves their costumes, and helps the kids discover that Halloween can be spooky and scientific!  The kids investigate how bats are helpful creatures that catch mosquitoes, spiders are expert engineer web builders, cats are leaping aerial acrobats, and skeletons help hold up our body frames!  At the Halloween party, the kids also investigate how to make icky, gooey green slime.  Susie then ends the day with a special “Halloween Parade” song so the kids can march around and show off their spooky and scientific costumes!”

Costumes to Buy or Make

Complete the look with a Sid the Science Kid Happy Halloween black trick-or-treat bag, which can be bought online and personalized with a name.

Dig Into a Book

The Spooky Scavenger Huntfrom Grosset & Dunlap is a great read for the season.  Featuring the characters of the Dinosaur Train, the book is based on Mr. Pteranodon taking Buddy and Tiny on an evening outing to the Big Pong for a nature walk using their senses.  The Conductor explains to them that he has night vision because he is nocturnal.  The book is a simple read with brightly drawn illustrations and is a nice story about using your senses to explore nature.  It would be a fun extension activity to take your child for a nighttime walk in your own neighborhood to see what you can explore by focusing on your sense of sight, hearing, and smell.  Soon available wherever books are sold, for $3.99.

Giveaway Details!

PBS is providing one copy of The Spooky Scavenger Huntfor me to give to a lucky reader.  To enter, simply leave a comment below telling me either what your child’s favorite Halloween costume is, or what your favorite Halloween treat is and why.  You must leave your email address so I can contact you to let you know if you have won.  Due to PBS’s shipping restrictions, the winner must live in the US.  Contest runs until midnight Eastern time November 1.  Winner will be chosen at random from eligible entries.  Extra entries allowed by tweeting about this contest and posting a link to the tweet in the comments section.  Winner must respond to notification email with 24 hours or I will have to move to another winner.  Prize will be shipped directly from PBS.  Good luck and thank you!

AND THE WINNER IS…. JILL!  Congratulations and thank you Jill and Latonya for participating!


Disclosure:  PBS provided me with a copy of The Spooky Scavenger  to review and is providing a second copy to give away.

Lunch Planner Doc: Simple Tool to Reduce Chaos

I’m a list maker, a binder gal, an iPhone app junkie.  I own not one, not two, but THREE label makers. (One for home, one for the office, and one simply because I liked the fonts better). Yes, I have a problem. I like to organize things. Alas, I was far better organized before I had a family. My loving JavaKids and JavaHusband are the antithesis of Organization. The are the personification of Chaos. I love them any way… but my constant battle to maintain order is much akin to the battle between good vs. evil in the many episodes of Star Wars my son likes to recount endlessly over dinner. 

And so, when I stumble upon a system that makes all four members of the JavaFamily happy for more than a week, I consider it a success.  When I find something that works, I like to share it with YOU!

Food PyramidI would love to say that we have fantastic, creative school lunches around here, but the fact of the matter is, my kids don’t really like creative lunches.  They insist that I follow the Food Pyramid (no, seriously, they check the magnet on our fridge…) and they don’t like for me to get fancy with presentation. No fru-fru Bento box meals for them (though I’m going to keep trying to jazz things up). Also, JavaGirl is going through an impossible stage where she’ll inexplicably turn her nose up at a food she loved just three days earlier. Since becoming a Kindergartner, she’s become quite opinionated about everything. Both kids love fruits and vegetables, but my son dislikes most proteins and anything his sister likes, he is certain not to like (she likes chicken, he does not.)  He likes mayo on his sandwiches, she only likes mustard. She likes peanut butter, he only likes soynut butter.

This has made packing lunches a challenge. Even more so if JavaDad has to do it.

Finally I decided to make the kids part of the process. I created a simple matrix and now each week we go through and plan out their lunches and morning snack and post it on the fridge — one sheet for each kid. Because they are so tied to the food pyramid, I help them see how their lunches correspond to the food groups. To make life easier for absent-minded JavaDad, who often helps pack the lunches, I painstakingly detail out everything such as including ice packs and napkins. This way, no matter who packs the lunches, every single item is included, every preference is remembered, and if a kid complains about not liking a lunch, I can point out that he/she personally chose that lunch, quickly quelling any grievances.

Miracle of miracles — lunches come home eaten. Lunch-packing is faster. No more “oh wait, we’re out of ___” panics because we have planned lunches for the entire week and make sure anything we need is stocked or on the Sunday shopping list. It’s not rocket science, but with the whole family being involved, it’s no longer just another one of Mom’s harebrained ideas.

Some additional changes that have helped:

  • I’ve put a bin on the lower shelf of our kitchen island that holds all of our lunch-making items including Posh Pouches, reusable water bottles and thermos cups, plastic containers, etc. instead of constantly moving them from the dishwasher to the different “appropriate” spots in our kitchen cabinets (i.e. glasses cabinet, “plastic containers” cabinet, etc.) only to have to retrieve them every morning. Now it’s a mere arm’s reach from the dishwasher to the bin, and from the bin to the counter where the lunches get packed — everything is in one place and my cabinets are less cluttered.  Why didn’t we think of this sooner?
  • The kids know that the first thing they need to do when they come home from school is empty out their lunch boxes and snack sacks, putting ice packs in the freezers, emptying out containers, and setting everything that needs to be washed by the sink.
  • I don’t like packing up sandwiches the night before as I feel they get a little soggy, but I do try to prep anything that can be, the night before (i.e. slicing tomatoes, putting carrots into a Posh Pouch, pre-filling cups and keeping in the fridge).

You can download the lunch planner form as a Microsoft® Word document or a PDF document.

Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation. Photo credit: Microsoft Image Gallery (lunch bag).

Raw Milk – Stirring Up Memories and Controversey

jar of raw milkI love to tell people that one of the blessings of living in Northern Virginia is that we drive to the east to find museums and drive to the west to find farms.  I’ve blogged before about our membership in the CSA (community supported agriculture) program with Great Country Farms, but last week we joined our friends to visit their cow from their “cowshare” at another farm and try some raw milk!

Raw milk has been in the news a lot lately, in fact, if you are NoVA local, you may have read or heard a story on WTOP about cowpooling.  Raw milk is fresh milk, straight from the cow and refrigerated without being pasteurized.  It is not legal to sell raw milk in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but a share program is legal in Virginia — essentially people can buy into a herd of cows, paying into the costs of boarding a cow and in return receiving a quantity of the milk from the herd.  This is what my friend does and each week she drives out to the farm to pick up her glass jars of fresh, raw milk.

The JavaKids have always enjoyed our CSA program and making the connection between where food comes from and how it gets to our table, so this field trip out to the dairy farm was a natural extension.  We went to the store and saw all the jars lined up in the fridge, ready for pickup.  I showed the kids the jars of milk and then we walked outside and saw the three cows from which the milk came!  Since the cows had made a bit extra, our friend allowed us to take a jar home to try — and I showed the children how the cream rose to the top and gave them the option of shaking it up so the milk would be whole, or skimming the cream to make butter and turn the milk into skim.  (They opted to shake.)

They couldn’t wait to try it, and immediately declared it delicious.  Since we often buy organic, I can’t really say I noticed a huge difference in taste (except that I usually drink skim, so of course it was more full-bodied), but they loved it.  Later, when we allowed it to separate again, I gave each child a spoon of just the cream, which JavaGirl loved and JavaBoy wrinkled his nose and called, “disgusting!”

Eager to share their discovery with their grandparents, we made the usual round of phone calls.  Most were surprised that we were able to access raw milk, but my grandmother and mother both said, “Well, it used to be that was the only kind of milk we drank.”  My father was amused, but not surprised as my kids are always adventurous.  My mother-in-law’s immediate reaction was, “Why?  Isn’t there a reason we pasteurize milk?” 

Mixed reactions like these are exactly why drinking raw milk feels like participating in making moonshine during the Prohibition, even though unlike moonshine, raw milk is legal and many think, actually good for you.  Farmers who provide raw milk, whether through cow shares or other programs (methods vary by state) fear government raids like ones that have happened in California (see Jessica Haney’s post on The DC Moms) and that’s why the owner of the farm we went to last week asked that I not name her farm when blogging about this experience, though she is very careful to follow the local laws and cites them on all her materials.


Part of the cow share herd.

I do not claim to have enough of a science background nor any medical background to be able to argue either side of the pros and cons of the raw milk vs. pasteurized milk debate.  Pasteurization kills of certain pathogens in order to minimize disease.  Raw milk proponents say that it also kills of valuable nutrients and microbes that bring health benefits and that when under proper management, farms that produce raw milk can produce just as safe if not safer milk.  My friend feels confident about her choice to purchase from this farm because it is a very small operation and she has personally seen the many precautions in place to ensure that the cows are healthy and that the milking and storage is conducted in a sanitary manner. 

For some pro-raw-milk arguments see and   Some pro-pasteurized-milk arguments are at the FDA site and Centers for Disease Control site. 

I’m not ready for our family to become full-time raw milk drinkers, but I’m glad we had the opportunity to visit the farm, try the milk from our friend’s cowshare, and that my kids got a chance to get an even better understanding of how milk looks straight from the source.