One of the first American things we did upon emigrating just over four years ago was visit a pumpkin patch. It, therefore, became an important part of our annual traditions, so much so that the kids insist that we return to the exact same farm each year. This year, however, only five of us visited the pumpkin patch. At 14.5, our oldest son has outgrown the tradition and opted out. Sniffle.
We started with the horror barn. At night, there are live actors inside the barn who jump out at visitors and there are also moving parts and more special effects. I am a horror movie fan and totally cool with gore but I don’t imagine I would cope with the evening version of the horror barn. Mr Pict and I once visited the London Dungeon early in the morning which made us the first visitors. Mr Pict nipped to the restroom, leaving me alone in a dark room. When one of the models moved, I screamed very loudly and almost punched the poor employee. Anyway, the day time version of the horror barn contains the fixed props, some of which are very gory, and some sound effects. My kids love it but we did see a couple of kids crying, one hysterically.
The Alien barn is another favourite of the boys. It is all 3D paint effects, black light glowing, and disorienting strobe effects. And it definitely can be disorienting: in the pitch black, I walked smack into a wall that I thought was a door.
We also did a lot of the “country fair” type stuff that the farm runs during its Halloween festival. We shared a funnel cake, which is a must, and the boys used canon to fire vegetables at targets. A new thing this year was a range of sports ball activities. My very unsporty boys had a whale of a time measuring the speed of their baseball throws, getting balls through targets, shooting hoops, and scoring goals.
We also made another attempt at the farm’s corn maze. My children know nothing of the story and movie ‘Children of the Corn’ beyond the title but still decided to act out being spooky little ghouls among the corn stalks. The idea of the maze is to visit each of five stations within it in order to paint the fingers of one hand a different colour. For a bit of fun, the pattern of the colours on each individual’s hand then determines a funny little action each person takes – such as playing air fiddle or shaking your tail feathers. We have never yet managed to find all five stations. I think we are officially hopeless at mazes – though we did find our way back out again.
We hopped on the wagon which took us out to the pumpkin patch. The boys had wanted to select a small or medium pumpkin each but there were only large ones left so they agreed they would team up to pick and carve one communal pumpkin. Getting them to agree on a pumpkin was a whole other matter. Pumpkins were considered and rejected, argued over, discussed and dismissed. Finally they found one they could all agree upon. Now we just have to agree on a design and carve the thing.
In what has become a Halloween tradition in the two years that we have lived in America, we headed to Shady Brook Farm this weekend to have some spooky themed fun and pick out pumpkins. Mr Pict and I had thought to take the kids somewhere else, change things up a bit instead of repeating the previous years’ jaunts, but the boys all protested and wanted to return to familiar territory. The Pictlings have determined the tradition.
The boys bounced on the giant trampolines, looked at the animals, played on the climbing frame, and ate pretzels, funnel cake and deep fried oreos. The middle two boys had a shot of a corn cannon, blasting corn cobs at various objects. Everyone guffawed when my 10 year old managed to hit the giant corn doll in its groin. Our 6 year old had fun blasting zombies with a paint ball through a rather too rapid fire technique.
There are two barns that get decked out spooky style for Halloween. In the evening, folks can wander through the dark interior while real life “ghouls” terrorise them but by day it is equally fun to wander around and see all the grotesque and fun decorations. The kids love the alien barn. Donning 3D glasses makes paint jump off the walls and models of aliens seem to vibrate. The kids think it is massive fun. My 12 year old and I then had a wander through the horror barn. It’s grotesque in places with imagery lifted from gory horror movies but it’s the room full of clowns that freaks me out the most.
Then it was time to head to the pumpkin patch so that each of the boys could select a pumpkin for carving. I guess the pumpkins were nearing the end of their season as there were many rotten and smashed ones littering the ground. It, therefore, took a while for the kids to find the pumpkins they wanted. We set them a size and weight limit which was not an issue for our 10 year old who wanted the smallest, roundest, most orange pumpkin he could find.
We then did some freestyle carving to turn the pumpkins into a My Little Pony, two vampires and Jack Skellington. With that, the pumpkins were ready to be transformed into lanterns for Halloween.
The farm runs a whole Halloween event. In the evening, adults – or at least adults who like a thorough scare and have strong bladders – can explore various barns, fields and corn mazes in the dark while people dressed as various horrific things terrorise them and they encounter horrible props. In daylight, it is still possible to wander through the attractions but, of course, there are sources of light and there are no actual human horrors lurking in corners, just grotesque props. We, therefore, started our afternoon at Shady Brook Farm by heading into the Horror Barn. I went in first with my 11 and 7 year olds. Later Mr Pict went in with the 5 year old. Our 9 year old didn’t want to do it at all, which is fine. Getting the creeps is not for everyone. The thing that unsettles me in the barn is actually the claustrophobia. The narrow corridors created by hoarding and the darkness creep me out far more than corpses dangling from a ceiling and vampiric girls chewing on pet cats. However, this time around, the first room was filled with clowns. I have a proper, deep-seated fear of clowns. Even happy clowns give me serious chills so horror clowns really make my flesh crawl and my spine judder.
After the horror barn, we went into another barn that is a 3D Alien experience. It’s pretty lo-fi but really effective. We were each handed a pair of 3D spectacles and then we entered the darkened barn where the walls of the corridors had been painted with fluorescent paint that vibrated and sprung forward from the walls. There were also dangling dayglo threads and the odd alien figure lurking in a corner with its big eyes and long fingers. There was also a walkway through a rotating cylinder that was dizzifying and the exit was via two large inflatable pillows that we each had to squeeze between. It was exactly the same as last year but none of us minded because it was a ton of fun.
The boys then played on various items of play equipment: an inflatable assault course, a bouncy slide, giant bouncing pillows to trampoline on, wooden play equipment with slides and fireman’s poles and a rope spiderweb. They also snacked on pretzels because we cannot take those kids anywhere in Pennsylvania without them eating pretzels. After the snack stop, we decided to undertake one of the mazes. Last year we had attempted the large corn maze and became terribly lost and bewildered and then panicked as one by one the kids all needed to pee. In desperation, we actually exited via an unofficial gap, having entirely failed to discover each of the designated stations and the exit. This year, therefore, we stuck to the weenie haystack maze and the kids had fun playing hide and seek among the haystacks and crawling through and inside the corn tunnels and the corn wigwam.
A tractor-towed wagon ride delivered us to the pumpkin patch where the kids selected and rejected and selected again about half a dozen pumpkins each. A couple of them were even set on taking home pumpkins that were too heavy to lift. They were told to scale back their ambitions. With carving designs in mind, they finally chose pumpkins they felt were the perfect size and shape for what they wanted to create and construct and two were even green instead of the traditional orange.
It’s rather nice to be cycling through things again as it means we are establishing new traditions in our new country.
*PS I am unsure as to why some of my photos are appearing so small. I have just moved to using Flickr to host my photographs for the blog and I clearly have not got the hang of it. Hopefully it is not too visually annoying.*
This past weekend, we decided to embark on a seasonal family trip and went for a jaunt to a pumpkin patch. We had seen a lot of publicity for Shady Brook Farm’s Halloween events so that was the one we plumped for.
I have to admit that at first I thought we might have been ripped off. The entry price was not cheap and every ticket booth had a large sign declaring that no refunds would be given. Was this because some people might find it all too scary and want to immediately leave or was it because the whole thing was a bit sketchy? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying goes, so we decided to risk it. At first it looked as if our cynicism was valid: in front of us lay a whole area of what looked like sideshows and fairground food places requiring more money to exchange hands. However, once we explored a bit more, the whole farm area opened up and we could see that there were far more activities than we had anticipated at no additional cost and actually a good few of the fairground things (bouncy slides, for instance) were also included in the ticket price.
Our four boys had a blast! They found the pig and dachshund races hilarious, enjoying the puns and jokes made by the commentator as much as they enjoyed seeing animals racing around a track. The 3D Alien Encounter was a lot of fun simply because it was unlike anything we had experienced before, wandering around with 3D glasses on so that scenes from painted walls jumped out at us. The Barn of Horror was a massive hit with the kids. We wandered around the interior of a very dark barn, tight walls creating a maze and limiting our field of vision, fomenting fear of the unknown. At almost every turn, the narrow rat-run would open up to reveal a creepy scene. Thankfully during the day the scenes are just inhabited by mannequins and props whereas at night they have real people jumping out. Initially some of our kids found it too creepy and disturbing but sibling competition and an innate love of the macabre rallied them and eventually all four of them did a tour of the barn. For me the creepiest bit was actually an audio recording of a voice whose direction could not be accurately placed talking in hushed tones as we weaved our way along one particular corridor. We also attempted the Giant Corn Maze (they really missed an alliterative and punning opportunity by not designating it the Maize Maze) but were defeated in the end. The boys also munched on soft pretzels (which they had had in Scotland) and funnel cake (which they had not), declaring both to be delicious and devouring every morsel.
The object of our visit, of course, was to visit a pumpkin patch and select some pumpkins for carving. We, therefore, hopped aboard some rough wooden wagons being hauled behind a tractor and chuntered past a field decorated with zombies before arriving at a pumpkin patch. And there they were, those symbols of an American Fall, all orange and plump, lolling among the dry grass on the ground, among green tendrils of recent growth, just waiting to be selected and carved up as a Halloween decoration. This was a first pumpkin patch for both myself and the kids so they scattered and scampered and I bounded after them, camera in hand, capturing this first experience for posterity. Eventually they had each selected one they felt was appropriate for them – my non-conformist second son obviously choosing an odd shaped pumpkin – and we clambered back aboard the wagon to take our pumpkins home to be stabbed and skewered and scooped and carved to form lanterns for Halloween night.
We now have an American family tradition under our belts and it has certainly whetted our appetites as a prelude to Halloween itself.