Happy Halloween!

It’s Halloween! I freely confess, this is not my favourite of holidays. When you’re a little bit introverted the whole thing can feel slightly intimidating. Plus I’m actually a gigantic scaredy cat. Horror movies are so not my thing, and the loud noises of the neighbourhood kids setting of firecrackers in the park all night are jarring to me.

But my kids adore Halloween, and now that I’m a teacher I’m required to get in the spirit of things at work, as well. So, I help my kids pull together costumes every year, and get dressed up myself. I buy a bunch of candy and am very generous with trick-or-treaters who come to my door. I decorate the house and try to make it fun for everyone else.

One thing that I do actually enjoy every year is carving pumpkins with my kiddos. I am not the most confident carver, though, and usually stick with a pretty basic design. These jack-o-lanterns from 2013 are a good example of my typical handiwork:

jack o lantern halloween pumpkin

This year I decided to step things up a notch, though. I got some templates from Netflix and opted to create this Panda, from Jim Henson’s Word Party.

netflix

Meanwhile, my kids carved their own pumpkins.

halloween jack o lantern pumpkin

Here is my result. Not perfect, but not too bad!

halloween pumpkin jack o lantern

And here are all of our pumpkins, all lined up in a row.

halloween jack o lantern pumpkin

After finishing their pumpkins, my kids spent the evening watching The Nightmare Before Christmas on Netflix and discussed exactly how much candy they will collect when they’re trick-or-treating. Spirits are high around these parts, yo.

As for me? I think I’ll continue to catch up on Season 11 of Supernatural on Netflix this evening. An actual scary movie is just a little too much for me.

Happy Halloween!

I was inspired to write this post because I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team. The opinions in the post are my own, but take the fact that I receive cool promotional swag from Netflix as you will.

Riding the Ghost Train

I have been invited to visit the Ghost Train in Stanley Park, here in Vancouver, for a number of years. But I didn’t take anyone up on the invitation because (1) I often had a time conflict, and (2) my kids are super afraid of spooky Halloween stuff.

I feel the need to defend my offspring at this point. They are actually quite brave. They will try new things, push themselves, ride roller coasters and jump off of diving boards. But people in scary costumes? Not their thing. Which is fair, because I am the biggest scaredy cat in the world when it comes to horror movies and haunted houses.

This year, I was free and so was my friend, so we decided to go together. It gave me a chance to scout it out and decide if my kids would enjoy it. Plus, the 2016 theme is “Day of the Dead”, which is right up my alley. I especially enjoyed the mariachi band playing on the train plaza.

stanley park ghost train mariachi day of the dead halloween 2016

So, what did I find? When you enter there is a pumpkin patch, which is totally not terrifying. Ditto on the folks collecting for the food bank. The decorations are on theme and non-terrifying. There was a man in a devil costume roaming the train waiting area. He was being pretty respectful of the children there, which made him only slightly scary but not particularly overwhelming. So far, so good.

The train ride itself got off to a spooky start because a rider behind me was scared that something would jump out at her and she was giving vent to her fears. After a couple of minutes, though, it was clear that nothing particularly startling would happen. There were live performers who did look at the train, but nobody jumped or ran at me. Much like the guy in the devil costume, it was only mildly scary.

After the train ride, which took about 15 minutes and was enjoyable, we headed to the Spooky Barn. It featured Shakespearean dioramas that you can view through little holes in the wall. It was cute, and it was dry and warm. I wouldn’t recommend it for preschoolers mostly because I don’t think it would be all that engaging for them, but older kids would probably enjoy it.

img_2522img_2523

My friend and I skipped the activities and maze, because we weren’t there with kids. But all in all it was not nearly as scary as I had feared. I would totally bring my very cautious eight-year-old along. And for younger kids, or those who can’t stay up late, there is a matinee train during daylight hours that doesn’t include live performers.

If you’re local and want to know more about the Ghost Train, visit www.ghosttrain.ca.

What’s my conclusion? Sometimes things aren’t as scary as they seem. And also, it’s good to have friends to come along for the ride once in a while.

Happy Halloween!

Scary, Scary Words

Happy Halloween! In honour of the holiday, I thought I’d take a walk on the spooky side. I’m not a fan of horror movies, but there is plenty of scary stuff in the life of a parent. There are some words, for instance, that may not have been at all alarming pre-kids. But now that we have children, these phrases will cause most of us to break out into a cold sweat. Today, I have gathered some of those words here, and the resulting post is not for the faint of heart. Read on … if you dare.

scary words happy halloween strocel.com

The Scariest Words a Parent Can Hear

  • Honey, my work is sending me out of town for three weeks.
  • Double extra bonus points – The work trip overlaps Junior’s birthday party, so I won’t be able to help out.
  • Time to go for a swim, telephone. Cue sound of flushing toilet.
  • Dry clean only.
  • Here, baby brother, let me give you haircut.
  • Daddy, Daddy, I found the permanent markers! (Thanks for the inspiration.)
  • No public restrooms.
  • Oh, Mom, I forgot to tell you, I need to bring cookies to school tomorrow. They can’t contain nuts, dairy, soy, eggs or sugar.
  • Mom, do you really like that blue dress? Yes, I do. Why do you ask? Um … nothing.
  • Overseas flight.
  • Oops, that wasn’t just a fart.
  • Upon answering the door. Hi, I’m your neighbour. I thought you might want to know that your three-year-old is running naked down the street.
  • Daylight savings time.
  • Here, doggy, have some of my chocolate.
  • Some assembly required.
  • We are out of wine.

What words strike fear into your parental heart?

Happy Halloween!

Halloween Hand-me-Downs: Costume Swap Day

It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here on Strocel.com. Last week I promised you a post about cow power, but that’s going to need to wait until next Thursday, because right now I want to talk about Halloween. It’s still September, but I drove by a field filled with orange pumpkins the other day. If you don’t want to be up late at night trying to pull a costume together on October 30, you may want to spend some time now thinking about what you and your kids will be doing.

Happy Halloween!When it comes to Halloween I’ve done it all – I’ve pieced together costumes from stuff we had on hand, I’ve bought pre-packaged costumes from big box stores, and I’ve sewed everything from scratch. But the greenest, cheapest and easiest way to go may be an idea I heard from my friend Robin of Our Big Earth. Costume Swap Day Canada offers a great alternative. You bring your old costumes, other families bring their old costumes, and you swap. No last-minute panic – or sewing – required. You can see the simple brilliance, right?

The concept reminds me of my favourite of all sources of kids’ clothes: hand-me-downs. Finding someone with a kid just a little bit older than yours is sort of magical. What’s even better is when you have someone with kids born in the opposite gender order of yours so that you can swap. I have an older daughter and a younger son – I’ve been able to trade clothes with one of my friends who has an older son and a younger daughter. It really is a total win-win situation. I love the idea of incorporating that into Halloween planning.

The Costume Swap Day folks are still looking for people to set up swaps in communities across Canada. The big day is October 13, so if you want to plan Halloween fairy (or Great Pumpkin), you have a month to plan.

As for our family, I’m still trying to nail down my kids. I am hoping that I can convince them to go with something easy that isn’t going to require sewing on my part. If I’m actually going to sit down at my sewing machine, I’d rather be making something for myself. My kids are currently on a Star Wars kick, so it could go either way. We have stuff for some of the costumes, not so much for others. I’ll keep you updated on how it works out for me.

Now I’d like to hear from you – what do you usually do when it comes to Halloween costumes? Are you crafty? Do you order online or head to the local Wal-Mart? And how do you keep it green? Tell me!

PS – While Costume Swap Day is an advertiser, I was not compensated in any way for this post. I just think it’s a cool (and green) idea, and I wanted to share. Plus I’m hoping one of you will organize a swap near me, so that I can take advantage of it.

Putting on a Brave Front

It’s Halloween, but I won’t be doing anything scary today. I don’t like scary movies or scary books or the dark or snakes – especially snakes. The way they slither around is just not natural. When something is just a little scary, it sticks with me. I can’t watch certain TV shows right before I go to sleep, and frightening images stay with me for years. Often, the material doesn’t even have to be all that scary to freak me right out. The 1987 movie The Lost Boys, for instance, which Wikipedia describes as an “American teen comedy horror film” can still give me nightmares almost 25 years later.

Because I am really a huge wimp, there are a lot of things I avoid for my own good. I have never read a Stephen King novel, and I probably never will. I haven’t seen many iconic films that nearly all of my contemporaries have, including Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project and The Exorcist. I made the mistake of going to see the movie Seven with my friend, who had told me only that it starred Brad Pitt. I was expecting something more along the lines of A River Runs Through It. Instead I was up with nightmares for weeks.

Spooky!

When I was a teenager, I decided that if I hid under the covers the scary things that surely lurked there in the night couldn’t get me. I started pulling my comforter up over my head as I slept for this reason, leaving only a small gap near the top so that air could circulate. When I was in my early 20s and living by myself, it also drowned out the normal sounds from other apartments, that would keep me awake if I let them. I somehow felt more secure, when my head wasn’t exposed as I slept. I realize, of course, that the very idea that an actual monster or intruder would somehow be stopped by a blanket makes no sense, but we all sometimes do things that make no sense.

Now I’m a parent, though. I gave up pulling my blanket over my head on the night that my daughter Hannah came home from the hospital. I needed to be able to hear her every wiggle and peep, so I learned how to sleep with my head exposed to the dangers of the night. I also learned how to walk around my house in the dark without freaking out, because turning on lights when you’re trying to get babies to sleep is counter-productive. In the end, my sleep deprivation and new mama instincts won out over my fear of the dark. I couldn’t afford the indulgence of irrational fear in the face of the practical realities of child-rearing.

Now Hannah is six and a half and her brother Jacob is three, and I have to put on a brave front for them pretty much every day. I can’t let them see that I’m terrified of snakes or afraid of the dark, because I don’t want to transfer those fears to them. When they wake up crying and telling me they’re afraid of something, I can’t say, “You’re right, ghosts are scary, let’s cover our heads and hope they don’t see us!” I have to be the grown-up and communicate an aura of calm, even if I’m completely terrified on the inside.

Pumpkin family

Tonight, when the teenagers are out setting off their firecrackers and Jacob is crying about how he’s scared, I’ll put on my brave face and comfort him. When masked children come to our door and Hannah tells me she doesn’t like the scary ones, I’ll tell her she has nothing to fear. And when my house creaks as it cools down for the night while I try to fall asleep, I’ll resist the urge to hide under my down duvet. It may be Halloween, but I’m still the mama, and it’s my job to make little people feel safe – not convince them their irrational fears are justified.

What are your irrational fears? How do you put on a brave face for your own kids? I’d love to hear all about it. And, of course, I hope that you have a very happy Halloween!

PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my October review on Wednesday, November 2. I’d love it if you played along. Write a post on or before October 2 and come back here to include it in my link-up!

In Praise of the Cheap Halloween Costume

So far, I have made most of my daughter Hannah’s Halloween costumes. I’m fairly crafty and I like to sew, so with the exception of the year when I had a two-month-old at Halloween, I was the one who created the costume. I’m building on a family tradition, as my own mother was fairly adept at concocting homemade Halloween costumes for my sister and me. She didn’t sew as much as I sew, but as a matter of principle our costumes never came from a package at the store.

Last year, for my son Jacob’s first Halloween I continued the trend, sewing him a scarecrow costume to match Hannah’s Dorothy. At the risk of bragging, I was quite proud of the results.

Scarecrow and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in parenting, it’s that you should never say never. Because you, my friend, will find yourself bribing your toddler with candy or pushing your three-year-old in a stroller. I recently had my principles tested yet again and found that I was just not that committed to them after all. I had grand plans once again to sew Halloween costumes for my children. Hannah was going to be Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Jacob was going to be a firefighter. It was going to be great.

When I found myself in Fred Meyer buying groceries for our weekend in the US, I wasn’t looking to buy any Halloween costumes. After all, I had a plan. I love plans, and I avoid deviating from them. But then, a cowboy hat caught my eye. It wasn’t just any cowboy hat, either, it was a cowboy hat very much in the style of Woody from Toy Story. While Jon ran off to find a mat for Jacob to sleep on and the kids waved their hands in front of the spooky decor, I decided to take a look at the cowboy hat. Lo and behold, it was Woody, and right beside it was none other than Buzz Lightyear.

Jacob loves Buzz Lightyear. He had asked to be Buzz Lightyear. I nixed it, because I had no idea how to make a Buzz Lightyear costume. But now here was a costume right in front of me, for the low, low price of $19.99. It was cheaply made, but roomy enough that I could easily layer warm clothing underneath for trick-or-treating. And then Jacob caught wind of what I was doing, and I had no other choice. Even though I didn’t play to buy a costume, even though it will probably fall apart before Halloween gets here, and even though it was undoubtedly made in a sweatshop where workers are subjected to deplorable conditions, I knew I had to shell out.

By the time we left the grocery store we had one sleeping mat, one box of gluten-free cereal, lots of organic fruits and veggies, our fair share of snack food, and one Buzz Lightyear costume that cost us $19.99. It was money well-spent.

Jacob loves his new Buzz Lightyear costume

I believe in buying second hand whenever possible. I believe in taking the time to make things by hand, and I believe that childhood shouldn’t be commercialized. I have serious qualms about buying cheap synthetic clothing made under questionable conditions overseas. But I also believe that sometimes, the pure and unadulterated joy of your three-year-old outweighs all of your crunchy granola principles, and that’s a good thing.

What are your kids dressing as this Halloween? And are you a costume crafter, thrifter or buyer? Tell me all about it!

In Praise of Halloween

Two years ago, we noticed a Halloween decline in our neighbourhood. Less than half the houses gave out candy, and we had fewer trick-or-treaters than usual. It was a Friday night, and the weather wasn’t good, so we thought that perhaps people were away for the weekend or weren’t feeling up to braving the elements.

Last year, we noticed an even bigger decline. My husband said that maybe a quarter of the houses gave out candy, and there were even fewer trick-or-treaters. It was a Saturday night, but the weather was fine. Jon did report that when he stopped by the mall to pick something up, the place was full of kids in costumes, collecting candy from the merchants. Halloween, it seemed, had moved indoors.

Hannah's Dorothy dress
Hannah as Dorothy Gale

Before I go any further, I need to say something. If I were a merchant with mall space, I would be handing out candy. And if I ran a mall, I would have a trick-or-treating event. It brings in business and creates goodwill. I understand why they do it. And I even understand why, as a parent, you would rather take your children to the warm, lit, dry mall than trudging around your cold, dark, rainy neighbourhood. I see the upsides. But we don’t take our kids trick-or-treating at the mall, and I think it misses the point of Halloween.

The point of Halloween, in my book, is community. It gives my kids a chance to visit their neighbours. They return to the same houses every year. They look forward to the Halloween displays that appear like clockwork. They hand out candy at our door before and after they go trick-or-treating, complimenting other kids’ costumes, greeting their friends and classmates, and calling out, “Happy Halloween!” Each in our own way, we join together as neighbours to create an experience for the children. We travel our neighbourhood on foot and participate in a communal experience.

My little scarecrow
Jacob as the Scarecrow

I have fond memories of Halloween as a child. Dressing up, going trick-or-treating, eating candy, playing with sparklers and watching the neighbourhood fireworks display all loom large in my own Halloween history. I also remember the Halloween fear – poison and razor blades and all manner of items might infest the Halloween haul, don’t you know? I suspect that these kind of tales may have played a large part in the mall Halloweens of today. But these stories are false – there has never been a proven case of a stranger tampering with a child’s Halloween candy.

Invalid rumours aside, there are downsides to Halloween. All that candy is expensive, and it’s also pretty unhealthy. The plastic packaging and the plastic decorations and the plastic costumes aren’t exactly easy on the earth. And the dangers of fireworks, especially when used improperly, are very real. But I think that, even with its downsides, Halloween is still a good holiday, and a great chance to take a step out of our normal lives. If we are so inclined, we can take steps to make it safer and more environmentally friendly. Although, after watching my own mother hand out ‘healthy’ treats and dying of embarrassment, I never will, hippie mama though I may be.

Scarecrow and Dorothy
Ready to go trick-or-treating

I am happy to report that after the past two years, Halloween was back in my neighbourhood this year. In our area, reports of its demise were premature, and we can look forward to many happy Halloweens ahead. We had about 140 trick-or-treaters, so many that we ran out of candy just before 8pm. More than half the houses handed out treats, and our kids had huge hauls. Which is good, because it won’t be so obvious to them when I start pilfering it. I’m only thinking of their health, you understand. I steal their candy because I care. And signs are I’ll be able to steal it next year, too.

I’d like to hear what Halloween is like for you. Are there lots of trick-or-treaters in your area? Do your neighbours all participate? What about you – do you ‘do’ Halloween? If not, why not? And if you do, are you concerned about the messages that Halloween sends? And have you ever gone trick-or-treating at the mall? I’d like to hear all about it!

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