Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Verdict is in: The Best Indoor/Rainy Day Play Businesses in Ashburn and Sterling

In the past two years, there has been an absolute explosion of indoor kid-friendly play places.  It is a gold mine for parents... but the endless choices are, at least to me, a bit overwhelming.  I hope you find this review helpful when you're trying to make up your mind on a cold or rainy afternoon coming soon to a town near you.   Included in this review are the newest option, "Monkey Joes" of Ashburn, tried and true "Chuck E Cheese", the original-indoor-posh-playspace of Ashburn, "Chibis", "Sport Bounce of Loudoun", and a surprise at the end.

Monkey Joes, Ashburn, VA
Today, Jimmy and I tried out Monkey Joes of Ashburn for the first time-- and loved it!  Its a fabulous combination of all of the aformentioned options; guess thats the luck of the latecomer!  There are token-machines and ticket-spittting games like Chuck E Cheese, 5 large and awesome bounce houses (our favorite being a giant Pirate Ship- you know me, of course I had to try it too!), and an enclosed baby/toddler play area plus adult comfy area, like Chibis.  The very soft baby/toddler area is great- it has a moving (and still soft) train ride, several climbing options, and walls full of engaging activities little ones.  It even has a free mock-up of one of the more popular video game, designed for tots, so cute.  The 'adult' area was, of course, my favorite - it offers 2 public computers, a large TV tuned to (not too loud) news, and comfortable adult-friendly chairs. There is also coffee for sale!. Unlike Sport Bounces "adult lounge", it is open and in the middle of the facility, so you can actually keep an eye on your kids.  Also unlike Sport Bounce, it doesn't have 2 very comfortable and inviting looking chairs that actually yell at you to insert money every 10 seconds (they are massage chairs... but you can't sit in them unless you pay, or want to be yelled at to insert money.  Ugh.  Once, suffering from back pain, and frustrated, I resorted to unplugging one of the chairs.)  So if you want a nice combination of indoor playspace plus games/tokens/prizes (though not nearly to the level of Chuck E Cheese), Monkey Joes is a fabulous option.

First, we played some of the games.  The offering is paltry compared to Chuck E Cheese, and they are more expensive (2 - 4 tokens per game, unlike 1 for all Chuck E Cheese games).  The games also have much shorter play time.  For example, there is a skee-ball-esque game in which you have to try to throw balls into a milk jug.  You get 4 balls, that's it, for 2 tokens (50 cents).  At Chuck E Cheese, you get 10 balls for Skee Ball, and also 10 for basketball- for 25 cents token.  However, the tickets are generous.  There is also a game thats entire job seems to be handing out ticket jackpots.  After playing games for about 30 minutes total, we scored over 300 tickets. Note: do not play the 'claw' or 'prize' games (of which there are 3).  You won't win anything. All we got was a single tootsie roll after shelling out at least 6 tokens.

Jimmy showing off his tickets from the "smack the weasel" game @ Monkey Joes.
Monkey Joes Pirate Ship outside view
The best part about Monkey Joes though, is the bounce options.  They are the highest quality available, and offer much more than just boucning; slides, obstacles, climbing apparatus, ect.  I think I saw just one 'generic' moonbounc in the whole place.  Here is Jimmy going down the coolest and fastest slide at Monkey Joes, on the "Pirate Ship", with its extra-wide, and extra slick! slide.  Monkey Joes is also exceptionally clean.  There are hand-sanitizer canisters lining the walls, and I saw broom and lysol-armed staff constantly making their rounds. One random cool feature is the kid-sized toilets and sinks in the bathroom.  Adorable! and convenient. 
Of course, we will always love Chuck E Cheese, with its mesmerizing excitement, colors, sounds, and activity.  The problem with Chuck E Cheese, is that was can't leave without spending at least $50 on tokens, food, and extras.  But it definitely wins for the most kid friendly video games and ride-ons.  A bonus is the free playground in the back (At the Sterling location at least).  Unfortunately, if your kid is doing something at Chuck E Cheese, he is spending money.  I'd say 25 cents every 2 minutes, on average.  It is also perpetually noisy and crowded.  One thing I like about Chuck E. Cheese though, is they DO offer beer and wine... probably to get us to shell out more dough! They must know some casino tricks. 

Jimmy on his favorite ride, the monster truck that goes 'way up', and lasts for at least 2 minutes. 

Another ride-on truck, this time with a friend!
Chibis, Ashburn, VA 
Chibis is also a lot of fun, for kids under 3.  The website says '6 and under,' but I think any child over the age of 4.5 would become bored quickly.  It is relatively small compared with the other facilities, and not as many play options.  However, there are definite draws:  there is a HUGE baby play area, which is kept extremely clean.  There is also a massive indoor McDonalds-type playground (but nicer and cleaner than Mcdonalds!) Additionally, they have a play kitchen, a quiet-play area with doll houses and trains, and a few other random climbing toys next to the large playground.  Jimmy loves the trains in the 'quiet play' area, but honestly, we could do that at home, or even Toys R Us! I always find myself thinking "you are not burning enough of your "crazy toddler" energy in here! Go run around! Mommy wants you to actually NAP later!"  The adult area and snack bar is also very nice, and clean.  The food is cheap healthy (unlike every other aforementioned location), and there is gourmet COFFEE! They also have a nice adult sitting area/eating area.  However, just like Sport Bounce, it is not in view of most play areas.. which just doesn't work if your kid is under 3.  I usually just sit in the play kitchen area...thankfully there are some adult sized chairs and a sofa.  Another bonus: although the entry fee is a bit pricey, 10 or 11 bucks, once you pay, that's it!  No enticing video games or ride-ons.

View of  playground and 'play kitchen' adult sitting area at Chibis
Sport Bounce of Loudoun - Ashburn VA
We went to Sport Bounce once, for a birthday party.  It is jam packed with massive bouncing apparatus.  The slide pictured below is amazing, scary even for a 32 year old woman.  I screamed (loudly) the entire way down.

However, the set-up is crowded and not very comfortable.  It is basically a massive warehouse, which I suppose is necessary to fit all the bounce houses.  In the middle they have 3 birthday party areas, they obviously do a lot of parties... but if you're not there for a party, there is literally no where to sit... unless you go to the 'lounge' mentioned in the introduction.  Small, snack and coffee machines, a few chairs, and the 2 annoying massage chars.  And no view of your children.  Jimmy likes bouncing, but not for more than 15 minutes.  He spent the rest of his time on the cool kid-sized train ride, which is fun, but why on earth does it only fit one kid at a time?  It is huge, and could easily fit more cars.  There are no attendents (its self-propelled), so parents are left in charge of stopping the ride.  This means that your child might end up waiting 10 minutes for someone elses 'darling' to be done.  I timed Jimmys rides to 90 seconds.  In my opinion, Sports Bounce is a mediocre and uncomfortable place to spend a rainy afternoon.  We will not be going back unless we're invited for a birthday.  At least we will have a place to sit (for 30 minutes anyway). However, if your kid likes to jump, there is no better option.  The place is literally packed full of bounce houses! 

One lesser known alternative is the Claude Moore Rec Center 'Open Play', which is held Fridays October - March I believe.  The cons- it is open 4 hours per week - 8am - 12pm Fridays only.  Children have to be under 5 years old, which is fine since everyone else is in school.  I believe they make exceptions for teacher work days though.  The bonuses- It is $5 per child.  There are 2 moonbounces, toddler basketballs, big inflatable balls, and cool skate-board like thingies that can be hooked together. We figured out how to make a train ride, and did it every week.  Once, we had 8 cars with at least 10 kids riding around.  Tons of fun! We went most Friday last winter, and will be going back this year as well.*  

*I haven't actually called to see if this program will continue, so before heading out in the fall, you might want to call them: 571-258-3600.

Our self-made 'choo choo train' at Claude Moore Rec Centers "Open Play" 

One bonus about Claude Moore is that there is a very nice, very little known, toddler friendly playground in the back.  It has a nice, clean, covered picnic area as well.  Perfect for fall or winter days when it warms up in the afternoon--- just in time for "Open Play" to end!.  You can't see it from the road, which I believe explains why we hardly have company.  It is connected to the pre-school, so every once in awhile, you will be joined by a small class.  However, the playground is open to the public, even during preschool hours.  Double bonus: it's free.
Jimmy being eaten by a cute caterpillar at Claude Moore Rec Centers playground. 
So when the inevitable cold rains and chilly weather makes its unwelcome presence this year (I am VERY MUCH an outdoor/summer girl),  I will be taking Jimmy to Monkey Joes  (unless of course it is between 8-12 pm on a Friday.).  I will be saving Chuck E Cheese for 'special occasions', when I have a few extra bucks in my pocket.  Chibis will be reserved for those inevitable days where I didn't get any sleep and am too exhausted to join in the fun.  It's quiet (at least it is after 1pm), relatively calm, comfortable, and they sell gourmet coffee.   If they open any new facilities (although I don't know how many more the local economy can take! I mean really!), we will be trying those out as well.

Also, please let me know if you have any other favorite indoor play businesses that you think I've unfairly left off this list!  As usual, please post all comments in the 'comments' section below the blog.  No emails please.  To follow me, enter your email in the 'follow by email' box in the upper right hand corner.  You will get a confirmation email from "FeedBurner", and need to click a link in the email in order to activate the feed.  You will NOT receive any spam, nor will your email address be used for any other purposes besides following my blog. 

Until next time.... goodnight Ashburn and Sterling!  I'm off to bed.  I had a little too much fun at Monkey Joes, and I'm freaking tired.

Got kids? Check out my new childrens book on Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Deliciousness! So much effective deliciousness.

It has been about 2 months since I started my anti inflammatory diet.  Two very difficult months!  I have to admit, avoiding sugar (sugar!?) and wheat gluten takes an extrodinary amount of will power.  Will power which I do not possess.  That is why I regularly eat sugar and wheat gluten.  I probably eat something on the "no no" list (ice cream sandwiches, french toast, donuts) about twice a week.  I have to admit that the days following my "cheating" I feel pretty crappy.  Not from guilt.... I feel no shame!  I just feel tired, run-down, and in pain.  But hey, most of the time I don't cheat.  An occasional chips ahoy isn't going to kill me, but it sure doesn't improve my chances.  I ain't perfect though, just trying to do my best.

I was proud of this creation (below)!  It is basically vegetable soup/minestrone.  I made a broth using water leftover from wilting kale to saute it.  I added trimmings from kelp, onions, tomatoes, garlic and carrots to the broth while it simmered.  That night, I also dumped in the extra tomato juice I strained from my garden tomatoes while making pizza sauce (ended up with a gallon of sauce!! :) For tons more recipes/tips, check out my deliciousness pinterest page!

Tonight, I added a cup of gluten free macaroni, a can of kidney beans, a can of corn, and the leftover sauteed kale/onion/carroy/sweet potatoes I had made the night before.  Spices included turmeric, salt, and pepper.  You don't need anything else... the combination of all the vegetables makes it fabulous!

"PFM's minestrone-ish soup"  I could eat a gallon of this!

I am a thin person, and this diet is so healthy its hard not to lose weight.  I have to eat A LOT, and OFTEN! I usually pack in nuts and dried fruit between meals twice a day.  I got tired of all the jars/bags in my pantry and made "PFM's anti-inflammatory snack of awesomeness": 

Om nom nom nom

Walnuts, pistachios, almonds, soy nuts, peanuts, dried blueberries/cranberries/raisins/plums, and some banana chips.  

This is a delicious concoction my friend made this "Goddess Lentil sautee" for my for lunch during a playdate.  Yes, lunch and playdate (with 3 very young children running around screaming.)  While engaging in stimulating conversation at the same time.  She is a super-mama! (or shall I say... Goddess??) I don't have the recipe, but it included a goddess dressing.. I think hummus and avocado? with lentils, and tomatoes/cilantro/lemon garnish.  Yes, she added a garnish.  GODDESS!  It was fabulous and I still crave it. 

Goddess Lentil Sautee

Healthy "taco salad":
Fill a bowl with baby spinach
In a seperate bowl, mix mashed avocado with plain hummus
Spoon mixture on top of spinach, and top with plain greek yogurt
Top with corn or other gluten free chips (favorite is 'near east multigrain' chips, made with corn, quinoa and chickpeas)
My favorite hummus, hands down!

So yes, the diet is definitely working!  My pain and fatigue levels are dramatically down.  I am using 2 apps to track everything:  Docs Diet Diary, where you can track what/when you ate, and follow your symptoms, and "how are you feeling", which actually graphs how you've felt (scale 1-10).  I love 'how are you feeling!'.  It can apply to any mental or pain condition, and its simple, quick, and effective.   The diet tracker is useful, but I wish it also had graph/analysis functions.  I've discovered that 1) supplements don't seem to make much of a difference *except fish oil.), it really is 'what you eat', and 2) Sugar and Gluten really do affect your energy/inflammation levels.  Its not just hype!

The hookworms (HOOKWORMS?? you say? Read this next.) are around the 'teenager' stage right now, and since I only have 5, I can't attribute any of the postivie changes to them yet.  Once I have a larger, mature, dose, I will be able to analyze that data as well.  Keep coming back to track "Potomac Falls Mama's hookworm and anti-inflammatory saga" over the coming months ; ) Given the story so far, its bound to bring on new, hilarious adventures.

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