|Like so many other things, Americans really do take Halloween to excess. For weeks leading up to it, stores are full of Halloween paraphenalia, people are carving pumpkins and decorating their front yards, and kids are planning their costumes. And by the weekend beforehand, it’s all on – whole neighbourhoods are decorated, and everyone out for a night on the town is in costume – standing in the pharmacy at midnight Saturday night, I’m in the queue with a Woody from toystory, a puss-in-boots, and a guy in chainmail covered in fake blood.And being their first real Halloween, the kids were wildly excited about finally getting to dress up in their costumes – Angus as a wizard, Evie as a black cat, and Digby as a ghost pirate (just like on the pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland – the scariest thing he could think of). Local businesses open for trick-or-treats on the Sunday afternoon, so after a Halloween event at the local school playground, we went down the strip for a trick-or-treating warm up. Besides candy, some of the businesses were giving away little gifts, vouchers and things – the comic boutique handing out free comic-books got Angus’s attention – “wow, Dad, this place looks cool, do you think we could come back here later?”.
But serious trick-or-treating started Monday afternoon, when we joined our neighbours and some of their schoolfriends to roam the neighbourhood in a pack of marauding 7to9year olds. Around the corner, the old people’s home had set up a haunted house in the basement, which Gus and Evie thought was great (too scary for Digby, who was happy painting a pumpkin while we waited).
And by nightfall, a few blocks towards Lincoln Park, we hit the jackpot – an entire street closed of for a Halloween trick-or-treating party. Every house is done up with pumpkins, tombstones on the lawn, cobwebs in the trees, sound and lighting effects and even smoke machines – and crowded with literally thousands of kids, parents and residents, all in costume. Some of the houses are so over the top that Digby was too scared to go close enough to get candy (a couple even had Evie thinking twice).
We made it up one side of the street before the booty started getting too heavy to carry, so had to skip most on the way back. We stopped at Stellas, our local diner for a late dinner on the way home, where our Maitre-D (dressed as a pirate himself) got Digby up on the table to ‘Arrgh’ for some photos together. ‘Now that’, chuckled a passing trick-or-treater, ‘was the coolest thing I’ve seen all night’.
Weighing up the haul the next morning, the kids had managed to collect over 500 pieces – about 11pounds of candy – between them, which none of them thinks in any way excessive – seems they’re assimilating with the local culture already.
And for us parents, it’s the 1st of November when the real horror of Halloween begins.
After a hectic and stressful month in Chicago getting plans in place to settle for the winter – finding a job to start, a school to enrol with, and an apartment to move into, we’d planned one last getaway – to see fall in the great North woods.
We’d managed to line up another home exchange – a beautiful little cabin on the shore of lake Nokomis, about a 5 hour drive due North. Fall color reports showed our timing looked good, and the seasons seemed to turn as we drove – from the late Summer green of Illinois up through the shades of Autumn in Wisconsin.
And after four weeks in a small apartment in a big city, we arrived to find paradise – a cosy little cabin looking over the lake, surrounded by big rolling green lawns and alder forest in its autumn glory – and sunshine!
First morning, we woke to a commotion on the lake – two bald eagles fighting, one of them circling and swooping the other looking distressed down in the water.
“Dad, get the canoe, we’ve got to rescue it! And It’s angry – we’ll need our bike helmets!”
I staggered around in my pajamas, looking for paddles in an early morning pre-coffee haze – but fortunately the poor thing took to the wing before we all ended up in the water together.
We spent the days lazing around reading, kicking a ball around on the lawn, riding our bikes, and paddling around the lake. Midweek, a strong wind came through and stripped the trees of their leaves literally overnight – it seems Fall is more of an event than a season in these parts. The kids raked the dry leaves to play in – diving, rolling, swimming through the piles.
Heading out to explore the area, we visited some farms to pick apples, get lost in a cornmaze, and go raspberry picking. Fiona left her birkenstocks in the picking field and flummoxed the farmer when she rang up to find them – “Ah, hi, I think I left my thongs in your raspberry patch” – it turns out that a thong is something entirely different in these parts, and not something local farmers expect to find abandoned in their raspberries…