Date Night!

I had a reader ask me about Date Night ideas, so here we go!! Please leave your ideas in the comments section below!!

Date Night in (and close by) PWC:

1) Manassas Side- Head to Carmello's Little Portugal.  It's a little on the expensive side, but was always super super good before the fire.  They've reopened and I'd be willing to give it another shot :)  Since dinner was on the pricey side, head to something on the cheap for afterwards! The Harris Pavilion offers a number of free and low-cost dances, concerts, and more!! (Also, we're in a recession, so if you want to hit the Subway directly across the street from the Pavilion as opposed to the fancy restaurant, I won't tell!!)

2) Awesome Wife Night- Do you want your husband to stop whining about the last chick flick you took him to? We've had some fun nights (fine, some fun laughing at my lack of hand eye coordination) over at Hard Times Cafe in Woodbridge. With sports, cold beer (blech), pool, and frequent special events like Live DJs and Karaoke, you can have a really great time hanging out with your guy and earning brownie points for the next Ralph Finnes movie you need to see. (There's also a Hard Times in Manassas)

3) If you need a little sunshine in your orange juice- Occoquan's Olde Dominion Wine Shoppe does $8 evening tastings as well as free daily mini-tastings.  Most of the shops close early, but you can enjoy walking the waterfront, feeding the ducks, window shopping and then a belgian waffle for dinner (do not judge me!) at the Cock and Bowl. They also serve mussels, which I don't eat, and an impressive list of imported beer.  Caution, however, because when my friend's husband's band (Yeah, it's called Derelict Dog.  Bonus points for using an SAT Hot Word in the name of your band Kevin and Bill!) would play the outdoor patio (which is where you want to sit, under the lights- very cute) our little group of 6-10 people would run up a pretty impressive bar tab if we weren't careful.

4) If your wine drinking needs would better be served in Montclair, Giorgio's/Wine Styles is the way to go.  I haven't been personally, but a few of my girlfriends did a ladies' night there and are planning another one.  The great thing about these tasting nights is that you can actually talk to each other.  Sit, have a few tastes, relax, and really talk.  My husband and I have a rule that we get any "business" out of the way in the first 10-15 minutes.  That means no talking about the kids, the finances, the cleaning, the dog, the drycleaning, etc. after that.  If you have forgotten how to talk to your spouse (and it happens) try this incredibly corny list to get the conversation flowing:  http://scottmoonen.com/2008/03/14/date-questions/

5) Hike.  Seriously.  Pack a picnic and head out to your favorite trail.  Try them all.  Bring bug spray.  Have a grandparent nearby? You can camp while you're at it.  A little campfire and some s'mores with your honey? C'mon that's amazing.  (Day Date: Head out to Skyline Drive and hike 7 Falls.  If you're hardcore, you can do Big Schloss way out in the boonies.  Here's a tip- don't do it several months pregnant in the middle of August, okay? Good)

6) Twilight Golf.  After 4pm you can hit the green for a reduced rate.  Little much for you? That's okay! Head out to your local mini-golf (Woodbridge, Manassas, Gainesville/Bristow, Montclair/Dumfries/Triangle)

7) You know all those local plays I list on the calendar all the time? They're pretty cheap and usually really good! VPstart Crow does some great work from what I hear.

8) Speaking of VPStart Crow, they work out of the Hylton Performing Arts Center, which offers a great variety of performances.   It's a great way to dress up and go to the theatre without getting on 95, which, as we all know, is the devil.

9) I know I've said this before, but I'll say it again.  I love the Workhouse.  I just do.  I know it's technically in Lorton, but that's way close to Lake Ridge, where I kick it ;) Their special events feature movies, gallery shows, dances, and more.  And, it's free to walk around and look....another cheap one!!  There are some great thought-provoking pieces.

10) Wicked expensive but totally awesome: Sailing at Leesylvania (less expensive: paddle boating or canoeing, most local parks with water access offer really affordable rentals, or borrow a kayak from a neighbor- we all know someone with one!) Scuba Lessons together (less expensive, your local pool/indoor swim center for some laps)

Anyone else have thoughts for local dates?

Playgrounds: Fantasy Playground in Lake Ridge

Nestled on the corner of Hedges Run and Cotton Mill Drives in Lake Ridge, just behind the community center and pool, is Fantasy Playground.  This giant wooden play area features balance components, slides, a sandbox, 4 baby and 4 regular swings, a tire swing, covered picnic area, tunnels, and rocks.  Lots of tiny pea-sized gravel rocks.

My children absolutely adore this playground.  They think that it is, quite possibly, the coolest place in our immediate area.  If I drive the wrong way to Starbucks on a nice day all I hear is a loud wail from the backseat about going to Fantasy Playground.

It's not that I don't love going to the playground, because I do.  I'll hit Lake Ridge Park, neighborhoods, heck, we sit at the school playground for about an hour a day on nice afternoons (and some not-so-warm ones where I just can't go back home yet) and sometimes longer.  Also, I know a lot of people think that Fantasy is Fantastic.

(Oh hi, readers.  Just a fair warning: If you're an adherent of Lenore Skenazy you should probably save us both the trouble and stop reading this post now.  Still reading? Because I warned you....)

I loathe Fantasy Playground.  Everything about it.  I don't like the tiny gravel that ALWAYS gets in my shoes.  I don't like the sandbox, because I'm convinced that 1/2 the western world's squirrels (and small children who are potty training) have ahem, well, utilized it as other than a sand box.  Most of all, though, (seriously stop here Skenazy disciples) I hate that this park has terrible visibility and ramps on the play area that dump into the parking lot.  I have 3 children that run on 3 different speeds.  "I'm on Speed", "Buddha meditating under a tree", and "PUSH THE SWING MOMMA!!!".  These three speeds are not conducive to being at this playground and being mindful of my kids.  That being said, if you're okay with not being able to see both of your children at once (which I would be if it was just "I'm on Speed" and one other one, since "I'm on Speed" is old enough that I am confident in his skillz without me, but I have 2 that I need to watch) then you'll probably love it here.

Fantasy Playground:

Pros: Large, elaborate space, well-maintained by the LRPRA and re-stained yearly.  This playground has lots to do and groups can enjoy the picnic area covered by shade.

Cons: Rocks are fun to throw, apparently.  Also, there's limited visibility across the playground so if you have one on the swing you can't see your other one on the slide.  Middle schoolers tend to congregate here for some reason when school is out in my experience, so if you're not comfortable reminding preteens that they can't curse on the playground (which I find to be rather fun, actually) be sure to tell your children to earmuff it if there's a group of them.

Caution: If the pool is not open, there is not a nearby bathroom or porta potty.  Even if the pool is open, the lifeguard on duty may or may not let you use it if you don't have your pool pass.  Even if they will, it's a close call for children who are still in the "when I say I need to go potty right now, I actually mean I needed to go 10 minutes ago and now I REALLY NEED TO GO RIGHT NOW!!" phase.  Also, if you have a daredevil, there is a portion of the playground that has a hole in it down to a tire seat below.  An easy jump for an elementary kid, I've seen a few toddlers not fare quite so well with it.

Recommended for: This is a toughie.  There's no label on this one like there is in Montclair ;)  I would say that despite the presence of baby swings and smaller slides/sandbox for younger children, the BEST time on this playground is had by the elementary set.


Edgemoor Art Studio

 On Tuesday, my 7 year old and I got the chance to go check out Edgemoor Art Studio in Lake Ridge. 
 This bright, child-friendly studio is owned by the very sweet Ruth, who gets bonus points for sharing my philosophy that children are capable of way more than we give them credit for.  Ruth's students start as young as preschool, and she teaches both Art and Literacy.  Students use artist-quality materials during classes including oil pastels, paints, charcoal, found materials, sculpting, and more. 
 Students learn actual art principles, including motion, shading, sketching, painting technique, great artists, and design and implementation of projects.  Ruth shared with us during our visit that she frequently gives "homework"to the kids to do something like design a dog-wash that does it all for you, and then when the kids come back, they'll put their ideas together and build one.  Other projects around the room included still-life, group sculpture, and a sign for a Chocolate Sculpture Class, which she offers with Wine for grown ups ;) or with just chocolate for children.  I think that would be such a fun mom's night out!!
 Do you see these dresses? They're made of paper.  Edgemoor offers custom birthday parties (whoo! another non-mouse with pizza option!!) and these are for a little girl who wants to be a fashion designer.  Her party is going to be making their own fashion out of paper and then they'll have a red carpet walk at the end of the party.  How freaking cool is that?
This sculpture project made of recycled materials and bamboo was made by a 3 year old class.  I love that they include collaboration as part of the class with the younger and older children because for some of us (me) that is a skill that needs continuous development (even at my age).

Edgemoor Classes come in both parent and me and drop-off varieties, and there is an afternoon homeschool class, as well.  8 week sessions run $140 (materials included) for preschool classes, which are an hour long or $160-$220 for older children (again, materials included) which run for 2 hours.

There are also Art Camps offered, which are really on-par price wise with many of the park authority camps.  $175 a week, all materials included for ages 4-6 (9am-12pm) or ages 7-14 (1pm-4pm).  Phonics class info is available via email.

We were very impressed with Edgemoor and my 7 year old has not stopped talking about how he can't wait to go back!! There's an open house on July 10th, in the evening (there you go working parents!!) and I'd encourage you to go meet the very dynamic instructor.  We were definitely impressed and if you're looking for a great art experience for your child, this is definitely the place in Woodbridge to go!!

Help with PW Parks Summer Camps

I really hope this breakdown helps you guys find camp options that work.  A few helpful hints for multiple aged kids:
**Go with SBDCRC if you have multiple ages.  They seem to have the widest age range.**
1) Look for funky times- i.e. Swan Lake Ballet Camp the week of August 1st at BLCC is from 9:30-1.  I’m not saying you want to drive between 2 community centers, but if you choose correctly, you can have one kid in camp from 9-12 and one from 9:30-1 and do drop off and pick up yourself. 
2) If you have Boys and Girls that both want gender-stereotype activities (don’t get mad at me- it happens!!) Again, using an example from BLCC, the week of the 11th you can hit Jazz Camp and CSI Camp (ages 12+ and 8-12 respectively).  Younger kids? Try SBDCRC’s Princess Camp for your girlie girl, and then hit several of the one-day art and science camps.  It won’t net you an errand day every day for a week, but you can get in 2 or 3 of them!
3) Less picky mixed gender and age kids? Try for the cooking classes or art classes.  Several have a decent span of ages and are easily mixed gender.
4) Serious age mix? Tell me about it.  With a 3, 5, and 7 year old finding options that fit our family is HARD.  You can find options, but they’re not great.  My recommendation? Find a camp 2 of your kids can go to.  Find another camp the same week.  Remember that great friend you met this year with kids the same ages as yours? Divide and conquer, ladies.  Divide and conquer.  One of you drop off the littles and one of you drop off the bigs.  Repeat at pickup.  Have lunch together at the park.  It’ll be fantastic. :) 
Just so you all know, this thing was ridiculous.  I’m going to try to get in touch with the park authority to suggest a few things for next year to make camp searching a little bit easier on you (and me, because this may have been the biggest time vacuum ever completed for PWC Moms!!).  In the meantime, I hope this helps.
(PS- The Listings appear after the jump)


Keys Photography

I love all my military mommies.  I also love how brilliant they are, figuring out ways they can contribute financially to their families despite the fact that they move every 2-3 years and have to start over again from scratch.  My friend Megan Keys is one of those entrepeneurial Military Moms, and she'd like to share her business with you!!

From Megan:
I am an On-Location photographer specializing in capturing moments that last a lifetime. Children, Babies, Teenagers, Engagements, Boudoir, Families and Pets. Also Photography coverage for Birthday Parties, Family Gatherings and Major Events. Studio sessions can be set up in my in-home Portrait Studio by appointment only.

Megan is offering a special giveaway for one lucky PWC Moms reader!! Check out our facebook to get all the details!!
The giveaway is closed, but you can still contact Megan for pictures!


Summer Lovin....On the Cheap :)

I love a deal.  I think I've swooned over coupon deals more times than y'all should have to put up with! For summer, though, I like to be especially frugal because there are a lot of days to fill between school ending a school starting and only so much money to spend on each one!!

1. AMF Lanes (formerly part of kidsbowlfree.com, which you can try if you're traveling/visiting relatives) is offering 2 free games per kid per day from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  Adults can add on 2 games per day for $27.95 (one time fee).  Shoes are not included.  Buy your own and make it free or rent them for $4 a kid. 

Movies- (It appears AMC is not doing their summer movie program this year, so I'm including some really inexpensive Fairfax options for those of you willing to drive.  Call AMC and complain, you have my blessing!) 
1. Regal Cinemas Summer Movie Express (Manassas and Fairfax locations) is offering 2 G/PG
movies for $1/ticket on Tuesdays/Wednesdays at 10 am.

2. Rave Motion Pictures (Fairfax Corner and Centreville) is still having a FREE summer movie
festival for 8 weeks on Tues/Wed morning at 10am.

3. University Mall Theatres  will be hosting a Summer Cinema Camp from June 20 to September 2nd.  Monday-Friday there will be a 10am family-friendly showing.  Tickets are $2, or, buy a season pass for $11 or a pack of 10 tickets for $15.  Their Tuesday showings are always $2 each for tickets, popcorn, and sodas.

1. Barnes and Noble will give your child a free book when they bring in a reading journal showing they read 8.

2. Borders has the same program for ages 12 and under, but you read 10 books.  The link I've provided is to the Krazy Coupon Lady, who has the form that you need to fill out in PDF form.  Scroll down and print it out.  

3. Prince William County Library Summer Quest- All ages can earn prizes for reading.  This year it's online and it's FREE :) Registration starts June 1st.

Amusement Parks-
1. Busch Gardens is again offering its free preschool pass! All you have to do is be a Virginia Resident!! Note to my military mommas, you can score free tickets to Busch parks (including Busch Gardens and Sesame Place).

Vacation Bible School-
1. Free or Cheap, have you read our VBS Listings yet? You'd think these churches want people to show up with their prices ;)

1.  Fairfax County (I'm sorry guys! They just have really great stuff!) Park Authority offers free performances throughout the summer.  I'd recommend the one at Frying Pan Farm Park because your kids will love running around and checking it out afterwards!

2. Wolf Trap has changed its Theater in the Woods presentations so now you get two performances for $8! Check out the schedule and order your tickets early- they sell out! Afterwards, you're almost at Tysons Corner, so you may as well do a little shopping ;)

3. Locust Shade Park (Yay PWC!) offers performances in their ampitheater for $4 per person all summer. 

4. There are free concerts throughout the summer at Sean Connaughton Plaza

1. Waterworks Park has a Tot/Parent Swim every Wednesday (Starting June 2) from 9-10:30 for $3.50 per child with parents free.

2. Splashdown will offer a similar program on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-10:30 for $4 a child.

The Potomac Nationals offer games for $1 on Mondays, with $1 tickets and $1 hot dogs all night long.


Guest Review: Guppy Gala at the National Zoo

Y'all, I can't be everywhere and see everything all at once.  (Although, if you tell my children that I will hotly deny it.  I know all, see all as far as they know!!) Because of my pathetic lack of omnipresence, I'm excited to welcome my first guest blogger, the fantastic Gaby from Domestic Goddess Musings.  In addition to being an awesome momma, Gaby is also the wife of Eric who runs BeatingDebt.org and has helped people all over the country (including himself) get out of hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.  Thanks for the article, Gaby!! 

It all started with a BuyWithMe daily save offer: 50% annual membership to the National Zoo as well as 50% off tickets to the Guppy Gala. After much deliberation (read: is it cheaper to ride the Metro to the zoo or have free parking with the membership), I decided to go ahead and purchase the membership and tickets for the family.

The Guppy Gala, which I had never heard of and did minimal research on, turned out to be WELL WORTH the $10 (discounted) tickets. Even at the full price of $20/person, it was a great deal. Each ticket includes free parking and dinner.

The gala is one of the zoo's annual fundraisers, and it's a great family event. I took my three kids and was accompanied by my neighbor and her little one. Despite the crowds, double stroller and single stroller manipulation wasn't bad, and we were able to stay together pretty well.

First off, let's talk swag. Subway provided veggie, cold cut, and turkey 6" sandwiches, Utz chips, and Coca-Cola drinks for each paid customer (though my two 2 y/o and under scored sandwiches as well). The dining area was a little field with picnic benches set up. Free tip #1: If you get there early, take one of the benches as far away from the drinks area as possible. It allows for a quick get-away and faster access to the (very clean) Port-a-Johns. As we walked through the gala, we received food of every sort: hot dogs, chicken nuggets, Minute Maid juice boxes, Honest Tea drink pouches, soft pretzels, funnel cakes, brownies, and doughnuts. The was also a HUGE Stoneyfield yogurt area that had all sorts of samples and coupons (super score!). I saw lots of people walking around with foods that we didn't see, so free tip #2 is come with an appetite and/or after a good, hard workout.

Second, let's talk activities. My kids learned a few zookeeper duties, like how to scoop poop, catch snakes, and train animals in receiving touch. They also totally dug the ginormous inflatable slides. The walking animals (Po the Kung Fu Panda, Mrs. Elephant, Mr. Wolf, and someone else that I didn't photograph so I can't remember) were a little suspect at first, but they eventually started giving them lots of love.

There was an Arcade Alley sort of space that would have been great for kids older than mine (my oldest is 4). Another play area had a bike course, climbing wall, and a couple of other really good energy burning activities that were just a little too advanced for us.

Third, let's talk shows. There were cheerleaders (but we didn't watch them because we personally feel like no child that young should be wearing shorts that short in public) doing their fly through the air routines and clappers tapping their hearts out. Roaming jugglers and stilt walkers fascinated my kids over and over again. My two elder kids got a kick out of the dancing animal characters, especially the tree frog. It was nice to have a break from the walking.

Finally, let's talk animals. Surprisingly, we didn't really get to see very many. My neighbor and I commented that the gala seemed like a giant advertisement (although the only items for sale were wine, beer, and ice gelati). The animals we did get to see were pretty cool. The lion cubs were out and playing a few of the lionesses. The barn was open, and the kids got to get one-on-one with a few cows, alpacas, donkeys, and goats. My little 1 y/o was terrified after the cows started lowing at her, but the older two and our friend's little one had fun. There was a zookeeper on hand to talk about the animals and another to distribute fish food for the koi. That was a huge highlight of the evening.

Overall, the Guppy Gala was a really great event. On the way out, the sponsors were giving away their wares rather liberally, and I got enough healthy snack food for preschool snack bags for the next three weeks! Free tip #3: Bring a recyclable grocery bag with you for all the goodies you score. There were some being given away this year, and we each scored one, but bring one in case there aren't any next year. Free tip #4: If you plan on staying 'til the bitter end, bring an extra of those bags to put all the extra goodies in. This way, you can have a "dry" bag for the coloring pages, pencils, crayons, posters, etc. and a "wet" bag for all the food and juices. Makes it a lot easier! I am already looking forward to next year's gala! Kudos to the National Zoo for putting on such a great event.

National Zoo's Guppy Gala
-Free parking
-Close to the Metro if the thought of driving in DC stresses you out
-LOTS of free food
-TONS of activities for kids of all ages

-Pushing tired kids uphill in a stroller
-Just a smidgen too many things to do; I felt like we had to keep go, go, going so we wouldn't miss out on anything. As it was, our kids didn't do even a fraction of the activities, yet we barely managed to cover the whole festival.
-The $20/person over 2 y/o might be a turn off for some folks. We can only hope there's another BuyWithMe (or like company) special next year! I really do think everyone got their full money's worth at the event, though.

-For all ages
-If you've got small kids or kids who aren't used to walking much, then you MUST bring a stroller (or rent one).

Find a fabulous deal on a social coupon site and enjoy it with your family.

-Domestic Goddess out.


Pink Bicycle Tea Room

My baby girl is my 3rd of 3 kids.  I didn't really mean to try for a girl (I think I've shared before we successfully planned only 1 of our 3 kids, whoops!) but I am so glad that I have her!! I can't believe I might have missed out on dress up clothes and tea parties!!

On Wednesday, we were so excited to go and check out the Pink Bicycle Tea Room in Occoquan with some friends! We had 2 lovely mommies and 3 lovely little girls.  I was also there. :)

First of all, let's talk about dressing up for no reason in the middle of the week.  I'm pretty sure it's better than therapy.  I'm a stay at home type of momma, so I never get to dress up.  It was so fun to throw on a hat (it was from Target and super cute) and a dress and heels.  My daughter and I even did our makeup.  Note to self: she picks blue eyeshadow for me every time.  I should really throw out the blue :)

Pink Bicycle Tea Room is located on Commerce Street, which means you have to loop down Main Street and back up since it's one way.  The door that looks like it should be the main door is NOT the door- the door you want is through a small garden just to the right.  It's very easy to find.  When you first walk in there is a reception area, and, if you didn't have time to run to Target for a hat, there's a rack of them for you to choose from.
The bathroom is in the waiting area, just to the side of that gold chair you're seeing in the picture.  There are several rooms set up for tea, which is nice if you're having a larger gathering since you can have a room all to yourself, as the ladies in the first room we went through were doing.  I didn't appreciate that we had to traipse through their party every time one of our little princesses needed to use the facilities, but I guess there's only so much you can do with the layout of a house!!

Back at our table, everyone had their own china setting.  A lot of people complained online about this, but I actually thought it was really cute.  Shabby-chic seems Occoquan-appropriate.  My rose teacup reminded me of my grandmother and made me smile.  If you're looking for all-matching settings and a very "high tea experience" this is not the place for you.
The girls had lemonade from a very cute frog teapot.  My daughter wanted to give him a "widdle kiss" so he'd turn into a prince :) There is a large menu and I have to apologize because I didn't take pictures of the grown-up food.  One of my friends had a gorgeous looking salad, and two of us had tea sandwiches and fruit.  The scones were yummy, although I don't think they're what you're typically thinking of when you hear "scone".  They were more like a very delicious hot roll served with cream and jam and less like the flaky biscuit-reminiscent scones that I'm used to.  Still good, though.  The girls had the Little Princess Tea which came in 2 courses, a fruit, bear cookie and cheese plate that was very cute in the 2 seconds before my daughter re-assembled it (you're seeing the after) and then a plate of PBJ and cucumber sandwiches, fruit and brownies.  The girls were such little angels, behaving well the entire time and getting restless only in the final few moments.  The mommies actually got to have some grown up talk, which was amazing.

I would definitely say that a good time was had by all.  Here's my breakdown for you.

Pink Bicycle Tea Room
Local, cutesy, and kid-friendly as far as the atmosphere.  Moderately priced as far as tea-rooms go.  Bright, welcoming and enjoyable.  The food was good, the girls enjoyed everything.

I'm not sure if our hostess was having a long day, but she could come across a little bit "gruff" and inadvertently offended one of our party.  (I would have been offended, too).  The bathroom is not nearly as cute as the rest of the tea room and could use a little attention.

Obviously this space is not peanut-free.

Recommended for:
I would recommend this location for ages 3 and up.  Old enough to behave and not throw the china (which is real) and older would have a lovely afternoon with mommy or some friends.

The menu runs from $10-$26 and includes unlimited pots of tea. We tried the house blend, which came very highly recommended and I really liked, and then an off-menu blend that was tropical in theme, which was also very lovely.
Note that for parties of 6 or more, or if you separate your checks, a 20% gratuity is automatically included.
Reader Experience (If you have an experience similar or different to ours- we'd love to hear about it): 
I had made reservations several days ahead of time but when we got there, it took over 7 minutes for someone to come greet us, and then they said they didn't have any reservation for us. Well we had 2 little girls that wouldn't of been happy if they weren't going to get to have a tea party. So eventually they were able to seat us. There was a bridal party in the main room. We were seated by the restroom. No biggie. Each course, including just getting some water took at least 15 minutes in between. The girls weren't super quiet but they were not that loud. The waitress kept coming and telling them "Sshhh!". They were antsy because the courses took so long. We spent like an hour and a half there. The food was so plain and the brownies were stale. It really made me think, why on earth is everything taking so long!  It was just some apple slices, cheese and teddy grahams. Nothing impressed me. They never even told us that the girls could use the hats for their tea. Waste of money and time. I could've done something at home that would've been way better, fresher and more fun.