Monthly Archives: July 2013

Tancil Court, Alexandria, “I Can Shine Garden”

“I Can Shine Garden” teaches children to grow vegetables

By Alice Reid

I Can Shine

Thanks to a hard-working group of children and more than a dozen volunteers, we’ve had a productive and fun spring at the “I Can Shine Garden” at Tancil Court in Alexandria.

While the weather was still cool, the children planted seeds for collards, spinach, bok choy, and lettuce as well as peas, radishes, and carrots. For their labors, they have harvested more than 10 pounds of collards, several bags of peas, lots of carrots and so much Swiss chard and bok choi that there’s been enough to supply several dishes for the children’s after school snack. Bok choi was the big surprise. The kids went from “Hunh? What’s that?” to “Yum, we want more.”

Coming along we have four tomato plants, a handful of pepper plants, some zucchini plants, pole beans ready to climb on our teepee, and some cucumbers to compete with them. Over in our little “annex”, i.e. two abandoned tree wells in the court yard of this Old Town Alexandria public housing project, we have a watermelon patch going, and a 10 by 10 foot area that the kids planted with sweet potato slips they rooted themselves. Keep your fingers crossed that the potatoes catch on. Oh, and we have two baskets of regular potatoes coming along as well.

We are also participating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a Harlequin Bug experiment (the Organic Vegetable Garden is also participating in this experiment). The USDA is trying to find the best kind of bait to lure these voracious bugs away from collards and their other cabbage-family favorites and into traps. We have four USDA-supplied collard plants at the corners of Tancil Court. Each one has a pheromone-laced bait  hanging above it to lure the bugs. Each week the children tour the baits, count and collect any harlequin bugs that may be resting on the plant leaves. They bag and freeze any they find, and those are collected by the USDA. Tancil Court is one of several area gardens participating in the experiment.

Summer is when we focus on harvesting our crops and maintaining our garden. We’re also hoping to do a couple of projects such as making solar ovens and baking a pizza using some of our own produce.

We sometimes use healthy snacks as a teaching tool, such as serving “parts of the plant salad,” – carrot roots, celery stems, spinach leaves, broccoli flowers, pea seeds, and tomato fruits – all blended with a little ranch dressing.

This project started three years ago under the auspices of a city effort to combat childhood obesity through healthy activity, i.e. gardening, and healthy eating habits. The garden has certainly helped these children on both fronts.

Reposted from the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia blog.

2013 Junior 4-H Camp!

A few weeks ago Reggie and myself were out at out annual Junior 4-H Camp which is held at the Northern Virginia 4-H Educational Center in Front Royal, Virginia. Our camping cluster is Fairfax County, Arlington County, and the City of Alexandria, which means that those three VCE units send campers for the same week. Lenah Nguyen, the Fairfax 4-H Extension Agent, Reggie, and I were had at work through out the summer getting ready for this wonderful week of camp.

This year, camp had a theme of “Disney!” with our spirit days and camp events all in the Disney spirit.

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Our camp shirt designed by one of our counselors, Alexia!

Each day started bright and early with a delicious breakfast. After everyone was pleasantly full, campers went off to their 3 classes. These classes included archery, canoeing, outdoor cooking, outdoor living skills, high and low ropes course, Counselor in Training, weird science. outdoor sports, fishing, arts and crafts, swimming, and so much more!

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Robotics Class programming their robots

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Archery class shooting at some targets

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Fishing class learning how to cast a rod

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Weird science class shooting off film canister rockets

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Canoeing class out on Lake Culpeper

After classes everyone was definitely ready for lunch! The afternoon program was immediately after lunch. This was put on by the summer staff members while the counselors had their teen time. The rest of the afternoon consisted of free recreation time and swim time which were very popular events for everyone – time to just relax and have fun!

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Lunch in Molden Hall

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Afternoon program with summer staff member Shark Bait

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Afternoon program fun with summer staffers Chimp and Pandora

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Campers having fun in the ‘ool (We call it that because there’s no “P” in the pool!)

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Campers playing basketball during rec time

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Camper showing off some awesome cannonball skills during swim time

And every night we had an evening program where all of the campers were together having a great time. Sunday night we were scheduled to have Nemo’s Pool Party, but unfortunately that didn’t happen because of rain. But we did a fun photo scavenger hunt instead.

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Product of the photo scavenger hunt

Monday night was Cinderella’s Ball, and crafts/games/rec time for those who just didn’t feel like getting their groove on. Campers danced the night away upstairs, while downstairs there was gau-gau pits, card and board games, and summer staff member Hawkeye even had the x-box Kinect Adventures up and running!

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Everybody conga!

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Intense game of gau-gau downstairs from the dance

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Having a blast at Cinderella’s Ball!

Tuesday night was our Lightning McQueen Camp Olympics! Packs competed in relay type events to see who came out on top! The event culminated in the Piston Cup – a relay race in which each pack designed and created a “chariot” that everyone had to take out for a lap. These chariots showed some amazing creativity and imagination from our campers, I was truly impressed. Unfortunately I do not know who the winning pack was – but everyone displayed great teamwork skills and had a great time!

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Pool Noodle Spinning Relay

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Getting ready for the Piston Cup!

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Hula-Hoop Relay!

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And they’re off! Packs racing in the Piston Cup

And our last evening program was the talent show! We had several AMAZING acts from all three counties. We were treated to fantastic singers and dancers, fabulous performances of the “Cups Song”, a stand-up comic, some amazing soccer skills, and even a mime! All of the campers who got up on stage have such great talent and made it a fun evening for everyone!

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Some of our amazing talent show acts

After our evening programs, it was time to start winding-down, and we had our nightly campfire. This is not the type of campfire where we sit around roasting marshmallows and making smores, much to some peoples disappointment. Our campfire is a time to reflect on the day, gain some insight into tomorrow, and we even sing a few songs, but most importantly is we have a great time! Each day during pack meetings, the packs would come up with a chant or song unique to them which they would perform at campfire that night. The camp summer staffers usually concluded the campfire with vespers – lessons to take away from camp and into your life away from camp. And on our final night of campfire, the summer staffers performed the ever popular “If I weren’t a staffer…” song.

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Campfire Circle

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Packs having fun during campfire

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One of the packs presenting a song during campfire

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More campfire fun with summer staffer Melody

But sadly the week had to come to an end on Thursday. But it was a great week of camp, and we cannot wait for next year!!  If you want to see more pictures from the week, visit Arlington4H on instagram!

If this sounds like something you/your children would enjoy – registration will start in early March!

And we had an amazing group of teen counselors this year. We hope to have them all return next year, but we are always looking for more outstanding teens to join us at camp! If you will be 13 by March 1, 2014, you are eligible to be a Counselor-in-training. If you will be 14 or older by January 1, 2014, you are eligible to be a teen counselor at camp. If this sounds like something you or your teen would be interested in – the application will be available around winter break.

Teens in Foster Care Learn that “Cooking Matters”

Last week a group of ten teens in the Arlington foster care system attended a week-long Cooking Matters for Teens course taught by program assistant Ellen Mathis and extension agent Jennifer Abel. Each day participants learned about healthy eating and prepared two-three recipes. Healthy recipe selections included turkey tacos, sweet potato fries, baked mozzarella sticks, fruit salad, mango salsa, fruit and yogurt parfaits with homemade granola, and many others. On the last day of the course, the teens had honed their cooking skills to such a degree that they were divided into teams with a captain for each team and assigned one of three recipes to prepare on their own with minimal guidance from the instructors. Teams prepared baked French fires, flaked baked chicken, and fruit smoothies.

Upon completion all participants received a textbook with recipes, certificate, and aprons and potholders. The teens expressed a great deal of enthusiasm for the course and said that it inspired them to do more cooking on their own and for their families. One teen even said that she wants to volunteer with VCE at other nutrition classes in the fall.

The Cooking Matters program was created Share Our Strength, a national anti-hunger organization, and provides curricula and resources for healthy cooking and nutrition programs for kids, adults, teens, families, and child care providers.

A Cooking Matters participant prepares a baked chicken recipe.

A Cooking Matters participant prepares a baked chicken recipe.

How Money Buys Happiness

What type of spending makes you happiest? Cash or credit?

The New York Times reports on an interesting study comparing prepayment to repayment. Researchers gave 99 people the opportunity to buy a gift basket. Some study participants refrained from purchasing the basket until they could pay in full. Others got the basket right away and paid later.

gift basket 2Participants then rated how much happiness the purchase provided. So, who enjoyed the gift basket more?

“Although the gift baskets were identical, they provided more happiness to those who had paid in advance,” per the Times opinion column “Happier Spending.”

So how do you get more happiness for your buck?

Try this. Determine how much you want to spend on various items in a given month, e.g., $40/month for movie tickets, $100/month for restaurants, whatever. Using envelopes marked “movies,” “restaurants” or “embarrassing personal hobby,” put that much cash inside. Use only what it is in the envelope for the designated purpose for the month. By paying in cash — and paying up front — you have no chance of charging more than you can afford.

And your embarrassing personal hobby may become that much more fun.

By Megan Kuhn, Master Financial Education Volunteer

Money Talk Course Kicks Off a Five-Week Series

Last night we kicked off our first class in the Money Talk: A Financial Course for Women five-week series at Arlington Central Library.  We had 34 participants attend the class on Financial Basics, where the instructor covered topics including values and goal setting, budgeting, calculating your net worth, and credit management.

P1060291The participants posed many of their questions and concerns during the session, including:

–          What is a SMART goal?

–          Is there a way I can get my credit score for free?

–          How do I correct an error on my credit report?

–          I have a year left on my mortgage.  If I can swing it, should I pay it off now, or should I make my normal monthly payments and take the tax benefit next year?

Each attendee had the option of purchasing a workbook with helpful resources and worksheets to accompany the course lectures.  At the end of the session, one participant remarked that she normally hates talking about financial matters, but this class made the content much more enjoyable.

For more information on this series or other programs, contact Jennifer Abel at or 703-228-6417.