5 Reasons You Should Go to the Zoo When it's Cold

Our zoo gets ton of attention in the summer. The splash pad is a huge hit and draws in tons of people, but wintertime at the zoo can be really special too. Here's why you should check it out.
1. Some of the animals who are not active in the summer are out and about in the winter. Usually this includes the bigger animals, but we saw some little guys who were super busy also. The large cats like the tigers and cheetahs seem to love this weather. (This was the first time I've seen the cheetahs do anything but sleep!) 
2. It's the perfect way to get out some energy and get a little exercise. I know that I have listed a bunch of indoor play areas this winter, but sometimes, you just need to get outside and move. We love using the zoo as a way to walk around. RT can now pretty much walk the whole thing without the stroller. 
3. No crowds! Y'all- I got the best parking spot I have ever gotten at the zoo when we went the other day. Right.Up.Front. This never happens! I've been in the summer when I get there before it opens and I'm still close to the last row. But in the winter, you've got your pick of spots. The whole place is yours, so you don't have to fight to get your kid a spot to see the animals or worry about how many people are around. Space to run! Space to see! Space to play! 
4. Keeper chats- Although they don't do the Garden Tales or Zoo Tales during the winter, they do offer keeper chats throughout the day where you can ask questions, see the animals eating, and sometimes get a closer look. 
5. If it's still too cold for you, you can always check out the new indoor reptile house. Neil isn't a fan of snakes, but the new reptile house has aquatic animals, monkeys, and is even getting a sloth soon. So even if you don't like the creepy or crawly, be sure to check it out. It's heated and indoors so everyone can handle it.

We love getting out and exploring, and I love that my family gifts us passes so that we can do it often! In Virginia, you never know when the weather is going to be icy cold or suddenly warm, but we love out cold days too! 

The Tot Lot

It's officially full on holiday season, and for many of us, that means we find ourselves in the mall. I love Macys. I know that they are a little more expensive. I know that the store is huge. But I guess I am officially an adult- because I'm at the age where I'd spend a little more money on something that is good quality over something from a cheaper store that lasts only a few washes. That's how I found myself at Lynnhaven Mall recently.
I can trick RT into thinking almost anything is a game. Running between the racks of clothes? He's in a tunnel. Going into the dressing room, he's trapped with mama. (This doesn't always work when Bubbie is on the other side of the door. The boy loves his Bubbie...) But when I said, do you want to go play, he knows the difference between my version of play and his. 
So we entered the Tot Lot. Lynnhaven Mall's children's play area. Now let me be clear. There were signs everywhere that this area was for small children. First sign- it's called the TOT Lot. I looked up the word tot. The dictionary describes the meaning as "a very young child." Next clue, the fact that there is a large giraffe that says "You must be shorter than my chin to play." While some young children might not be able to read this, their parents sure can. Third clue, the fact that the play structures were little, had basic letters and numbers on them, and seemed very babyish. If all of those clues still escaped adults, the looks of the other adults should have been a clue that something was wrong. So when the group of very large 8/9 year old boys came running through the lot, I was confused and frustrated as to why the adult who was with them seemed oblivious. One of them actually slammed into my mom in a game of tag. RT got frustrated when they blocked the slide. 
Sure- kids want to play, and I get it. But all of the signs should have been a direct clue, that this was not the place for these big boys. Finally a security guard came over and told the dad that they were too big. His reasoning? Oh, they were just big for their age. Okay dad, big for an 8 year old or not, he was still 8. 
I'm not sure if this is an ongoing issue or a one time while we happened to be there type event, but it made me thankful for the security guard. (Am I being a Grinch?) The play structures were fine, and I'd come back to see if this is the norm. RT had a good time once they left and I'm sure would love to go back. Lynnhaven is nice because they offer free parking and several stores that have children's items. I do miss the food court upstairs, but they have added in a good size food court on the far end of the mall. If that doesn't appeal to you, there are several restaurants right outside the mall and even more around it. They have a Santa for photos in the middle of the mall right now too. I'd bring RT back here, but I'm curious to see what the standard is. I love free little places like this for toddlers, and I love that it is strategically placed outside of a Starbucks. Ahhh... a little treat for mama with a little treat for RT. 

Pembroke Mall's Holiday Train Land

So... I recently received the "Worst Mom of the Year" award. I promised RT that if he was super good at our dinner at Yard House that we would take him to see the choo-choo trains after dinner. He was a perfect kid. He ate his food, he colored quietly, he didn't fuss..... we left Yard House and discovered that Train Land closes at six, and it was of course, a little after. The heartbreak began, and it was all my fault. Poor guy.
I knew that we had to get to Train Land ASAP. The display is set up in center court directly across from the Nestle Tollhouse Cookies. The entire collection belongs to one man who brings it out and meticulously sets it up for people to see and enjoy. 

The display will be running daily from now until December 30th, so if your toddler (or husband, or parents, or you!) like trains, be sure to stop in and check it out. RT cried when we left because he wanted to stay longer. I wish things in my life were as magical to me as these train sets always are to him. It's so fun to see how excited he gets.

Sand Pit: Botanical Gardens Favorite Places

I've listed a few of our favorite spots in Botanical Gardens, including the butterfly garden and the airplane overlook. This is another one that you don't want to miss. The sand pit, although not an official stop, is exactly what it sounds like. It's a giant pit of sand. It has a slide at the top and tunnels to climb through. There are a few things to climb on and sand toys scattered around. One of the best parts is that there are adirondack chairs scattered around for parents to sit back and relax. There is also a shaded area for warm days.

You can get to the sand pit by parking in the main parking lot and heading toward the rose gardens. Pass over the bridge and make a right. You'll see the sand pit when the road turns left. It's not actually on the map, as it isn't a garden itself. This spot in the gardens is one of the shortest walks, and it's perfect for a quick weekday afternoon stop or the first stop on a full morning trek.
Whenever people ask me which local membership is the best deal, I never hesitate to say Botanical Gardens. Their two year membership is $165.00. This seems like a lot, but it lasts two years, and it gets in six people in every visit. Unlike many of the memberships, this one doesn't have names on it, so you can bring in different people whenever you come. It also gets you discounts on special events like Latern Asia, the Million Bulb Walk, and the Garden of Lights. It also gets you discounts on classes that they have in the gardens

She Works Hard for the Mommy v.4

Hi all! My name is Mary. I'm originally from New York. I came to Hampton Roads 16 years ago because my father relocated from New York to Cape Charles. I got hired with Norfolk Public Schools teaching kindergarten. I then got my masters in educational leadership at Regent. I have two beautiful little girls ages 7 and 8 and work in West Ghent where my girls attend school. I love being able to see them at lunch and recess each day! It also helps because we are on the same schedule, so I don't have to pay for before or after school care. I now teach first grade and absolutely love the students, staff, and family at my school. The girls and I also live in Ghent and enjoy being able to walk to school together. My biggest challenge as a single mother and teacher is being able to make ends meet.

To combat that I have a few side hustles. I teach workshops at Kitsch, a shop on Shirley Avenue behind Red Dogs. They sell handmade gifts by Virginia artisans. I also started my little side business of making farmhouse style wooden signs and Trays after being inspired by Fixer-Upper!  Recently I began hosting painting birthday parties with my company Easy Peasy Parties. I teamed up with two other talented teachers from Taylor Elementary. One is a baker and the other does hand lettered invitations. The package deal has been a huge hit! Being a teacher and knowing so many kids and families in the has helped spread the word about my service tremendously! Im really excited about how successful the idea has been so far and look forward to helping families have easy, fun, effortless birthday parties in their home!

The parties run for two hours. We arrive thirty minutes before for set up and stay thirty minutes after for clean up. We provide the canvases and paints, custom cake/cupcakes/cake pops in a theme of your choice, and personalized hand drawn invitations. So far we have done unicorns, mermaids, emojis, Minecraft, sharks, and puppies, but are always up for the challenge of something new!

Thanks Mary! Feel free to contact her for info on a party with Easy Peasy Parties. I love supporting things that other moms and fellow teachers do! It's also cool for a new birthday party idea. If you or someone you know is interested in being featured on "She Works Hard for the Mommy" send me a message!

Cinema Cafe

My first movie was at the Naro. I don't remember it, and I am sure RT won't remember this trip, but I do remember my dad talking about how much fun we had. It was a showing of 101 Dalmatians, and we sat in the balcony. Those who know me outside of the internet, know that I'm a huge cry baby. So, you can imagine that when I thought about that today I had a good cry once the lights went down at this movie.

We were going to the Pembroke Cinema and CafĂ©. What I had experienced in the past was that the tickets were super cheap, the movies were ones that were no longer in theaters, and you sat in rolling chairs at tables where you could eat. But when we walked in, we were shocked. The whole place has been transformed. The tables and rolling chairs are gone, and they have been replaced with reclining chairs with small desk-like tables on each chair. You select your seats when you purchase and head inside. Also, the movies are movies that are current. I won't lie; I was a little worried that RT wouldn't sit through the movie, and I had brought coloring books and stickers for sitting at the table, so I was a impressed, but a little worried.
We ordered the pizza, popcorn, soda combo, which turned out to be way too much food for just the three of us, but it was tasty. The popcorn comes with a container of butter that you can add yourself. R sat in my lap which was nice to have the extra tray for the large pizza. 
Cinema Cafe is locally owned and has several locations all throughout Hampton Roads. They have monthly sensory friendly movies and you can rent out a theater for occasions. They allow birthday parties to come in 45 minutes before the movie starts to do cake and gifts. Be sure to find the booster seats if your little one needs one. Also, sign up for their email list on their website and they will mail you a coupon for a free bucket of popcorn. They update their movie times and shows every Wednesday. 
So, the results... RT did sit through the whole thing. We saw Ralph Breaks the Internet. Halfway through he got a little squirmy and then about thirty minutes before the end he was moving around again. But even with the squirming, he didn't make noise and didn't bother anyone. He happily ate the popcorn and pizza and told us that he had a good time. It was a lovely way to spend a cold and kinda rainy Saturday morning. 
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Menorah Lighting: Mount Trashmore

We had the best time on the first night of Hanukkah! Hanukkah lasts for eight nights and is about spreading a little light into the world at what can be a dark time. (Literally dark because it's winter and unfortunately, this year has been a particularly dark year for the Jews.) It's also about a small army standing up for what they believe in, and fighting against what's wrong. I always joke that it is the most punk rock Jewish holiday, but seriously- it is. Even the smallest group can make a difference.

We chose to light the first lights this year with 200 others at Mount Trashmore with dancing, singing, food, and fun. There were balloon animals, coloring stations, the traditional latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil) and Sufganiyot (donuts) were served, and a DJ played Hanukkah songs. When I say that RT danced, I mean that the combo of the sugar, the light up dreidel bracelets, and the techno versions of Hanukkah songs worked together to create a dance machine that I had never seen before.

At sunset we chanted the blessings together led by a local Chabad Rabbi. Chabad is also the organization who put on the Home Depot Menorah building that I wrote about last year. If you're curious at Jewish holidays, they have some events that you may want to check out. Hoping everyone has a Hanukkah filled with light and love!


Hooray is one of the newer indoor play areas for young kids located on Upton Drive out in the Red Mill area of Virginia Beach. Online they advertise that they are for ages 6 months to 8 years, but I think this is more geared for the baby and toddler age. (Hey- it's nice that something is!) The areas are divided into sections. The first is for babies, and features soft things for little ones to climb on and play with. I wish I had known about more stuff like this when RT was learning to crawl.
The second section is for smaller toddlers. It has some smaller slides, things to climb on and through, and lots to play with. Both of these are gated so that little kids cannot escape, and bigger kids can't come barreling though.

Outside of the gated area is a jungle gym type play area with two slides, a rock climbing wall, and things to climb up and in. One big hit of this area was the light up memory game that was on the back wall. Also, parents can climb up if they want to or need to, unlike some of the other indoor play areas in the area. (Who hasn't had to climb up in one anyways- I mean really?!)

In the back is a little "town" with a movie theater, grocery store, vet, and other small buildings. This area was really cute, but I couldn't get RT to play in it for more than a few minutes. He's a climber and spent most of the time on the slides. In this area, the shopping carts were a huge hit.
On the far side is a cafe with what I thought were super reasonably priced drinks and cafe type food. All we had was popcorn, but it was delicious and freshly popped.
So, breakdown of our thoughts. The place was a little more expensive than some of the other indoor places like it. The $12.00 admission fee did let kids come back all day, but it was a 45 minute drive for us. So while that is a nice perk, we were not able to use it. The weekdays are cheaper at $10.00. (Younger children are cheaper.) They also offer monthly memberships which include classes, but I'm not sure what the classes are. During the summer they have a punch card option which would save money too. With all of that being said, the place wasn't over crowded, they had a staff member in the cafe pretty much the whole time, and it felt really clean to me. They do offer birthday parties and have lots of special events there too, including parents' night out and holiday pictures.


Overall, I'd come back here. It seems like a place where I'd be able to get something to eat and sit and talk with some friends while RT played. I love supporting local businesses, and even more so when it caters to toddlers.
In other news, a huge Mazel Tov to my friend Nancy who welcomed her little girl this week!