Halloween has never been a favorite holiday of mine. (Please don't tell Joy I said that!) The problem with Halloween is that it falls at the end of October, a time when I used to be extremely busy. It was end of the quarter time at school, so I would be frantically grading papers and averaging grades while trying to figure out costumes for my kids' big school Halloween party. As they outgrew the costume party, football games and activities were added, then when the girls became teenagers, it was volleyball season. All in all, it was all I could do to buy enough candy for the hordes of trick or treaters that would come to our house each Halloween.
Now, of course, all that has changed--there are no papers to grade any more and no children here needing volleyball or football uniforms cleaned or last minute costumes to put together. Living out in the country now, we don't even have any trick or treaters (other than the grandchildren), so I have to be careful not to be too tempted by sales of Halloween candy.
One tradition I did enjoy, though, was our annual trek to the "Pumpkin Patch" for pumpkins for jack o' lanterns and decorations. When the kids were young, we used to go to a pumpkin field about 10 miles away and pull a wagon through the fields, searching for the perfect pumpkins. But children grow up, and eventually the prospect of trudging through muddy fields and rejecting misshapen or moldy pumpkins no longer interested them. When the grandchildren came along, we revived the tradition occasionally, enjoying their child-like wonder at fields full of giant orange globes.
A few weeks ago, I decided taking all the grandchildren to find pumpkins would be the perfect cure for a brief case of the blues. (It was the day after the Cubs had finished their abysmal showing in the playoffs and had broken my heart once again.) It was a warm Sunday afternoon, one of those days that seems like a distant memory now. I decided to go to Curtis Orchard, which is on the outskirts of Champaign. Some years ago, the Curtis family purchased what had been a pig farm and planted apple orchards. (I'm sure the developers of the upscale subdivisions nearby are thankful they didn't want to raise more pigs!) Over time, they added pumpkin fields, a small general store, a cafe, and many children's activities. It has become a popular attraction for the locals, not only for delicious apples and fresh doughnuts, but also as a great place to take the kids on a fall afternoon.
Fortunately, both daughters-in-law and one son decided to accompany me, because otherwise Grandma surely would have lost one child before the afternoon was over! It seemed as though every parent within a 30-mile radius had decided this was the perfect place to spend the afternoon, too. I had come for pumpkins, yes, but I also wanted to just spend time with the grandchildren, and I knew they would want to enjoy the different activities first.
Jumping out of a mini-"hayloft," a maze, a bouncy house, and face painting were just a few of the activities they enjoyed. The kids did pause long enough so that Grandma could take their photo together.
Oh there he is--sliding down the inflatable slide. Even the youngest, who's one, enjoyed this slide--riding down on his Daddy's lap, of course. We also took a wagon ride through the orchard as our driver explained the history of the farm and the different varieties of apples available. Of course, I was in grandkids-photo-taking mode, so I didn't think to take any photos of this.
After two hours of running from one activity to another and being bitten by those pesky pirate bugs which were thick around all the apples, the kids were too tired to trudge out to the pumpkin patch for pumpkins. The orchard does offer already picked pumpkins and gourds for sale, but the lines were very long, so in the end I went home empty-handed. But, of course, we did have fun, and my mood was elevated considerably.
Later I heard about a farm not too far from here that raises pumpkins, and decided last Monday that Grandson #2, who's four, might enjoy a little trip with Grandma. When we arrived at the farm, we were disappointed to find that the only pumpkins they had left were enormous. As I explained to Grandson, "If Grandma can't even lift the pumpkin, then it's too big!" Apparently, news of this pumpkin farm had spread, and business had been booming since the first of October.
The afternoon wasn't a total loss, though, as I bought some gourds and mini pumpkins at a very reasonable price. Grandson was intrigued by the Indian corn, so I bought some for him to give to his mother, but when he wanted some corn stalks, I had to explain that Grandma already had plenty of those at home ready to be picked! This was a "real" farm, so he also had a chance to see the cows, pigs, and some goats.
He was satisfied even if we didn't buy any large pumpkins. And Grandma, well...when I picked him up from daycare, he ran to me, shouting "Grandma!" and gave me a big hug. When your time together starts like that, nothing else really matters, does it?
Time was running out. So where did we finally find our "perfect pumkins"? . . . At the local Meijer's! They may not be "farm-fresh", but the "thrill of the hunt" was the best part anyway.
No frost on the pumpkins yet, but it is supposed to get below freezing tonight, so it is only a matter of time.