Sugar-Free Tips Celebrate Halloween and Fall


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Trick-or-treating has come a long way. Fall festivities include the whole family, and parents often balance young children's needs with the increasingly adult and teen scene of Halloween. With just a little planning, you can enjoy events for all ages out and about in the Triangle as well as at home.

Finding a balance is important. A fuzzy bumblebee costume may look perfect in the package, but Halloween temperatures in the Triangle don't always cooperate. Kids may need to wear coats that cover their prized costumes or peel off layers for October's fall festivals and Halloween activities. By the same token, parents who create fall fun at home try to strike a chord between planning spooky surprises for older kids and fear-free activities for younger children.

Halloween experts from all over the Triangle pass along their tips and tricks for making the holiday full of fun for the whole family.

Create a Festive Mood

Getting people in the mood for Halloween fun starts before any activities begin, says Sarah DeGennaro, program coordinator for The Alliance for Historic Hillsborough. Tour guides for the Spirits of Hillsborough wear period costumes and carry kerosene lanterns during tours the Friday before Halloween. "Before each tour, we offer people apple cider that we keep warm in a crock pot," DeGennaro says. "It's the little things that set the tone."

Gardener Wendy Moses has plenty of experience setting up Halloween PumpkinFest each year at Fearrington Village in Pittsboro. She advises paying attention to details as you set up outside decorations. "Try using multiple tea lights or votives to light your jack-o'-lanterns, and always check the wind direction when you place them," she says. "Cast light on the path, not the pumpkin. You need very high contrast to show off the carved design. Make sure you keep the pumpkin in the darkest possible place."

Be sure to keep candle-lit decorations away from children and flammable materials.

Thinking in terms of scale and who might be enjoying your decorations is also important. Often, landscape materials can do double-duty as decorations. "If you're going to use hay as a winter mulch for any part of your garden, why not create a maze with the bales before spreading them out?" Moses suggests. "Tiny children only need one hay bale's height to make them feel like they're inside a special, mysterious place. Hay bales are also handy to use as platforms for pumpkins and other decorations, to raise them off ground level."

Stacie Whitley, who has helped design the Town of Cary's haunted house with the students of Fright School, says lighting, whether used indoors or out, can make or break your design. "If you have the right lighting, you can do just about anything," she says. Whitley also uses a fog machine or dry ice to create a spooky atmosphere, but cautions that indoor use requires excellent ventilation.

Kids can get in on the decorating, too. Ethan Bunn, 12, has participated in Fright School for the past two years and was inspired to try some of the class's haunted house tricks at home. "We may try a haunted house effect around our front porch this year," Ethan says. "We want to hang sheets around the porch to enclose it, use cobwebs and put dollar store grave markers out on the front lawn." He says his family has also decorated with strobe lights and carved a vampire into their pumpkin.

Carve Creative Pumpkins

The sharp tools required to carve a pumpkin might limit how much children can help with carving, but thinking of carving ideas is right up their alley. They can also help scoop out the slippery insides since the mess and gooey texture are kid-approved.

Julie Meder, festival coordinator for HollyFest, the Halloween event held annually in Holly Springs, sees innovative creations for the event's pumpkin-carving contest. "We've seen one where the pumpkin was based on [the TV show] Dirty Jobs. The artist had cut out the front and put miniature skeletons inside digging it out," Meder says. "One pumpkin itself was shaped like a body, and the person carving it used that to create a work of art. Someone had a vision. We've had very different entries. It's a great opportunity to be creative."

At Fearrington Village, chefs and gardeners turn pumpkins into works of art for PumpkinFest. "Some of the most wonderful designs on a jack-o'-lantern are achieved by carving off the pumpkin rind and varying amounts of flesh but not cutting all the way through the pumpkin," Moses says. "It creates subtle gradations of value, which gives dimensionality to the design."

Make Budget-Friendly Homemade Costumes

Check the materials you already have lying around the house as the first step in creating an inexpensive, unique costume. Whitley, who teaches a Halloween costuming class for kids through the Town of Cary, says she investigates the fabrics, cardboards and "bedazzling" items she has at home before buying a single sequin.

"After that, you can head to the local fabric stores that often have great coupons or sales for 20 percent off," Whitley says. "If you decide to pick up some clothes from Goodwill, try altering them. Get a picture to use as a guide, then try ripping a seam from the side or cutting off the sleeves."

Whitley encourages parents to allow children to drive the creative process. While parents may be need to do the sewing, choosing a costume, color and embellishment are well within a child's abilities.

HollyFest's Meder says the most creative costumes are when parents think, not outside the box, but about using a box. "We have had a child dressed up as a Lego fanatic, which was cardboard painted blue with Lego detailing," Meder says. "And last year, a small cowboy rode a cardboard horse that was attached to him with suspenders."

Turn Trick-or-Treating Into a Community Event

Ross Warren of Morrisville found that by hosting a cookout on his street about four years ago, Halloween's simple mission for candy turned into an anticipated social event, delighting kids and parents alike.

Warren says his two children enjoy planning their costumes and wondering what their friends will be wearing. But now he can anticipate socializing, too. "Bringing the grills out to the street and eating before we go out makes the evening a party for everyone. What used to be a one-hour thing of ringing doorbells when I was a kid is now something that is a lot more fun for me as an adult," he says.

When Sharon Kurtzman's children were young, the Raleigh resident held a Halloween party for neighbors and friends who lived in areas where the houses were spaced too far apart for safe trick-or-treating.

"We would start early-ish, especially when the kids were younger and when Halloween fell on a school night," Kurtzman says. She placed a pizza order a day in advance and asked parents to bring appetizers the adults could enjoy. One year she tried make-your-own sundaes but generally kept the desserts to a minimum because of the sweet treats to come.

Warren says the trick-or-treating itself works better as a group. "For the younger kids, having older examples while trick-or-treating alleviates the fear of walking up to a house alone," he says.

Kurtzman agrees. "I think the kids loved it and have great memories of Halloween and trick-or-treating with a huge pack."

Beware of Food Allergies and Treats That May Not Mix

When Goldfish crackers put fear in a parent's heart or peanut M&Ms cause a shiver, it isn't the ghostly spirits stirring up trouble; it's the treats themselves. For food-allergic kids and their families, Halloween can be a minefield.

"Halloween can truly be one of the scariest holidays for families living with food allergies," says Trish Gavankar, a group coordinator for N.C. Food Allergic Children Excelling Safely. "We tell families to make holidays about the event — dressing up, spending time with friends, music and decorations — and not the food."

NC FACES holds an annual Halloween Fun event with nonfood treats. (This year's event is Oct. 22.) They also offer a few tips for families of kids with allergies to reduce the horror element of this fun holiday:

*    Make up several small treat bags for your kids with safe treats and trinkets. Give them to neighbors ahead of time to hand to your kids when they trick-or-treat.

*     Let your kids trick-or-treat and then trade the unsafe candy for safe treats and surprises.

*     Assign a "Halloween Witch" to come and swap unsafe treats for a bag full of safe treats.

*     Order allergen-free candy online.

*     Have your child trick-or-treat with gloves on by making it part of the costume.

*     Keep the Benadryl and Epi-Pen on hand.

*     Offer tips to friends for allergen-friendly treats: stickers, pencils, coins or other small, nonfood toys.

Get Slimed in the Dark

Dig into the Museum of Life and Science's bag of tricks for fun Halloween science activities. Nancy Dragotta-Muhl, associate director of learning communities for the museum, says she keeps plenty of spooky science gems for museum events, and the following one can be done easily at home, too.

Spooky Slime

Objective: To explore states of matter and phosphorescence.

You will need:

Measuring cup

Set of measuring spoons

White glue

Borax laundry booster

Liquid starch

5 oz. cup

Craft stick

Phosphorescent glow powder (available at Steve Spangler Science:

www.stevespanglerscience.com/product/1586)

Zip top bag

Solids, liquids and gases are the most commonly discussed physical states of matter. Things move from one state to another through energy transfer by changing temperature — heating and cooling, or pressure — increasing or decreasing. Through this activity, you work with both liquids and solids and create a non-Newtonian fluid, which is not really a solid or a liquid. It has a resistance to flow based on how much pressure is put on it.

Ever wonder how things glow in the dark? Phosphorescence is when energy absorbed by a substance is released slowly in the form of light. To make your slime spooky, add some phosphorescent powder to your slime to give it an eerie glow.

Procedure:

*    Mix 2 tablespoons of water with 2 tablespoons of white glue and pour into a clean 5 oz. paper cup.

*     Squeeze in a few drops of food coloring. Stir with a clean craft stick.

*     To add an eerie glow, pour in half a scoop of the phosphorescent glow powder and stir.

*     Now drop in 1 teaspoon of borax and 1 teaspoon of laundry starch. The mixture will begin to congeal immediately and a film will cover the water.

*     Use your fingers to mix all of the ingredients thoroughly. Knead it like you would bread. The lump will get bigger and smoother as it's mixed, and it will probably take several minutes before all of the water is absorbed.

*     Turn off the lights and watch it glow! The slime is also ultraviolet light-

reactive so it will glow even stronger under a black light!

*     Store your slime in a plastic bag.  n

Anne Woodman is a Morrisville-based freelance writer and mom of two who enjoys trick-or-treating with her neighbors and (occasionally) swipes an Almond Joy when her kids are feeling generous.

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Cost: Free

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Cost: $25 first child, $20 each additional child

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Cost: $25 plus taxes & fees

Where:
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111 E. Second Street
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