Halloween Traditions

Halloween Traditions - Under the Monkey Bars Blog

Our city of Newburyport is magical in October. The air is chilly and crisp. Leaves crunch against the brick sidewalks as you walk through the city streets. Crowds of people with hot beverages in hand pop into shops and restaurants.

Halloween is our favorite family holiday, mostly because of where we live. We trick-or-treated in Newburyport’s South End long before we lived here — even at the very house we live in now. With houses so close together, this city is the perfect place to trick-or-teat for kids of all ages. Little ones don’t have to walk far to fill up a bag of treats, not to mention it’s safe and beautiful.

My monkeys have learned over the years which houses are too scary and which houses give out extra special things. For example on Federal Street, there’s a woman who gives out balloons on Halloween night. As far as the monkeys are concerned, the house with the “Balloon Lady” is a permanent stop on their Halloween route.

What makes that balloon even more special is that you can’t eat it. My monkeys, like many others, have food allergies. They cannot touch, let alone eat, 99% of the candy they collect on Halloween because it could make them very sick or cause anaphylaxis. Bean has Celiac disease and a dairy sensitivity and Sweet Pea has a severe peanut allergy and a gluten intolerance. Between their different food allergies, we’ve never been able to let them eat candy from their Halloween treat bag.

You would think Halloween wouldn’t be much fun for a family with food allergies. I’m not going to sugar coat it; things were tough the first few years. But we’ve created our own Halloween traditions to make it safe and extra special for our little monkeys. I decorate the house almost as much as I do for Christmas. Our family takes a trip up to the White Mountains for some leaf peeping. We carve pumpkins, then bake pumpkin seeds and make muffins. On Halloween night, friends and neighbors come over to share a big pot of chili while the kids trick-or-treat and play in the yard together. It’s a simple celebration that makes these monkeys feel comfortable on a holiday that could be quite scary for them.

I’ve heard that people use the “Switch Witch” to trade Halloween candy for something else. Witches have always been a little too scary for my monkeys. Instead, I just trade them a party bag for their Halloween candy. This year, I’m filling the bag with natural allergy friendly candy, Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty, and some of the non-food items we give out.

Kids collect SO much candy on Halloween. Have you ever thought about giving out something different? We participate in the Teal Pumpkin project, which raises awareness for food allergies by encouraging people to give out non-food treats so that trick-or-treaters with food allergies can fully participate. There are tons of fun alternatives to candy like glow sticks, coins (mostly pennies), small water bottles, witch fingers, pencils, and erasers. Join me in providing a safer, happier Halloween for allergy kids by placing a teal pumpkin in front of your home and giving out non-food treats. There will be plenty of candy handed out on Halloween even if some of us decide to give out something different.  

Get out there and enjoy the magical month of October! What are some of your family traditions this month?

Savor Newburyport this Fall

Photo Credit: Kelly Marshall

Photo Credit: Kelly Marshall

Call the babysitter: Savor Newburyport starts on September 17th! From fitness classes to late night snacks, book signings to 3 course meals, this inaugural 10-day event has something for everyone.

Seriously though, they had me at eat, shop, and exercise.

Apparently, this is NOT a restaurant week type event. If you flip through the schedule of events on Savor Newburyport’s website, you’ll see tons of one-of-a-kind experiences. Don’t get overwhelmed: there are over 50 to choose from! There’s definitely something for everyone.

When things come together in a different place and in a different way, we’re able to see beyond the preconceptions. We see it in a fresh, new light. Savor Newburyport seems to be doing just that. They’re shaking it up between local chefs, shops, fitness studios, and businesses to give us a perfect opportunity to try something new. Events like Savor Newburyport truly have the potential to bring our community together.

We have so many choices of what to do, where to go, and how to spend our precious time. I choose to spend my time here in Newburyport. Don and I made a conscious decision to move here to raise our family. It’s not just another city. Newburyport is a charming, coastal experience. Living here is almost like being on vacation 365 days a year.

I love seeing couples set up chairs along the boardwalk on a Sunday morning to read the paper and have a cup of coffee. And families riding bikes along the Clipper City Rail Trail to meet up with friends at Cashman Park. You can instantly feel our Newburyport culture with a simple stroll down State Street: easy going, water loving, historical, trendy. We’re a city, and we’re proud. We’ve got loads of brick, a boardwalk, art galleries, sailboats and yachts, restaurants and shops galore, musicians, and of course festivals.

Let’s come together to celebrate all that Newburyport has to offer. Let’s celebrate our fabulous chefs from restaurants new and old. Let’s support our local businesses and shop small. Let’s be part of the magic of this new event. Let’s make it a success so that Savor Newburyport becomes an annual event that we look forward to every Fall.

I’m really excited for the Waterfront Gala. Actually, anything called a “gala” instantly has my name on it. I’ve always loved an excuse to get dressed up! Then there’s the The Last Call event. It’s totally top secret. I’m not good with surprises so I’m dying to know what it’s all about. Apparently after you attend any Savor Newburyport event, you’ll get a password to find out the Last Call details online. What do you think it’s going to be? We might need to line up a sitter for The Last Call too!

We’re meeting friends for the Spanish Wine Tasting and Tapas night at Grand Trunk Imports on Friday, September 18th. I studied in Spain in college and love my vino tinto. From Spain, we’ll head to France for the Bordeaux and Ham 3 course luncheon at Ceia. I absolutely love their charcuterie plates, which will be paired with Chateau Nicot Bordeaux. Ooh la la!

I’m a big yogi but I’m also a creature of habit. I can’t believe Riverside Yoga has been open for more than a year and I haven’t made it over there. Their All Levels Vinyasa class on the waterfront sounds amazing. It will be my first non-studio yoga class. Super excited.

We’re also planning to go to the Farmer’s Market on Sunday the 20th. Apparently there will be an apple tasting from different farmers with recipes from local chefs. We try to hit the Farmer’s Market every Sunday that we’re around so we’ll be there for sure!

Which events are calling your name? If you’re within an hour driving distance from Newburyport, you should definitely check out the schedule. Come see Newburyport shine!

A Slow Down Summer

A Slow Down Summer - Under the Monkey Bars

Summer is always a highly anticipated time of year for us New Englanders.

After such harsh winters, we passionately look forward to three months of sun and fun. At times, we put so much energy into making every summer the best summer ever — packing the calendar with places to go and things to do — that sometimes we forget to make time to relax.

Not just a beach day, but time at home to read a book or play a game together as a family. Everyone is so busy that plans and play dates can rarely be made on the fly anymore. Before we know it, September will be here and our precious summer will end.

How did we get so busy? Why do we feel the need to fill every box of our calendar? Why do we schedule every minute of our free time? And, most importantly, how does this affect our children?

As a society, we are so busy and, in my opinion, highly over-scheduled. It seems to create more stress than coping skills for our children. Kids can sense when we’re stressed, and it makes them stress out too. Taking time to recharge and relax makes you more productive and makes the monkeys calmer. Not only does it give kids time to use their imagination, but it gives us as parents time to cross off a few things on our never ending To-Do lists so that we can be calmer and happier…and RELAX too.

I’m a firm believer in a slow down kind of summer. A summer where kids get bored, and then create things to do. A summer where families and friends spend time together. A flexible summer where we feel like we did things we want to do. A few months with lots of open calendar boxes to fill as you go. To me, that means freedom and it helps me enjoy the time more.

But how do we make summer slow down?

I’ll admit that the first few weeks of our summer vacation were rocky. At times, my girls fought like they were in a ring. I questioned myself and the lack of plans and camps on our summer calendar. And even though I felt drawn to it, we really avoided television and electronics.

And then something magical happened. All of the tension started to fade away as I saw more frequent hugs, pretend play, side by side reading with intertwined legs, and little hands helping me in the kitchen. What changed from the beginning of the summer to now? Time.

All it took was time. Time to unwind and just be.

Sometimes it takes us longer to relax, and that’s okay. I’m not saying just sit in the house all day every day. Keep a list of friends to invite over for play dates, as well as museums and places to go for day trips. When you have a free day, take a look at the list together and choose something to do — or choose to stay home and build forts in your pajamas!

So far this summer, the girls have taken one 3-hour yoga class. That’s it. No camps this year. Not only have we saved some money but we’ve also bonded during days at the beach, walks to the Newburyport Public Library, time at the playground, or testing flavor choices at New England Ice Lollies. We’re really looking forward to Yankee Homecoming here in Newburyport this week: sidewalk sales, bed races, and fireworks. Not to mention the waterfront movies and summer concert series.

I know I’m really fortunate to be able to stay home with my girls and be flexible with our time. I truly believe that spending quality time together helps you become closer as a family.

This is what works for us. I’m not an expert, but these little girls I’m raising…I want to be with them. They aren’t doing annoying things to get my attention, because they have it. My girls are funny, sweet, and almost all of the time (nobody’s perfect!) a total joy to be around.

It may not be for everyone, but we’re having a slow down summer, taking time to relax, and enjoying every minute of our Newburyport summer with each other.

Beach Days

Sand Dollar Beach Days - Under the Monkey Bars

Sandy Point State Reservation, Plum Island

Beach Days - Under the Monkey Bars

It’s taken us longer than usual to get into our groove this summer, not that we’ve totally found it yet. Over the past two weeks, there have been many lazy pajama mornings, play dates with friends, and Plum Island beach days in between.

Unfortunately, the girls have been fighting more often. It’s been a challenge to keep the peace sometimes. Maybe it’s the slowing down of summer or the unplanned days. It’s amazing to see how accustomed we’ve become to being “busy” with jam packed days. The monkeys seem to get lost in the laziness and then lash out at each other. Day by day, it really has gotten better but we’re still a work in progress. As I figure out what works for them in this stage, they seem to figure out each other as well.

And then there are the moments that as a Mom, I cherish and try to store in the back of my mind for those not so easy days. Cuddling on the couch reading together. Marathon Legos in the living room. Just playing on their own for a few hours. Finding bits of things to create a craft. Pretending to be spies in the backyard. Hearing a sweet hug and an “I love you.” Three little words that just melt my heart and remind me why I love being a Mom.

So far this summer, we’ve enjoyed our beach days the most. No one fights and everyone is happy. Their faces light up at the beach like nowhere else. No matter how many hermit crabs or snails they find, each one is special and unique — and worth a, “Mommy, you have to see this!” These monkeys of mine love to explore, imagine, and create. The beach is their canvas, and every day is a new masterpiece. 

Beach Days - Under the Monkey Bars

At the beach, they are free like birds. Loving life. Remembering what summer’s all about. Learning to accept each other and love each other no matter what, because that’s what sisters do. Who knew all we needed were a few beach days to sort out the bickering and relax just a little bit more?

I’m taking some of our blank calendar boxes and filing them with BEACH! Because like home cooked meals, beach days are good for the soul. Hours of sunny play time at the beach, a long shower outside, and a little downtime is the recipe for a perfect summer day for me and my monkeys. 

What’s your favorite kind of summer day?

Take a Hike

Lonesome Lake in the White Mountains of New Hampshire - Under the Monkey Bars

It’s our family tradition to kick off summer with some hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains over Memorial Day weekend, and last weekend was no different. Two full days = two fun hikes!

True of any sport, we’re all about the gear. Obviously, you need hiking poles. Call me crazy but when kids hike with real sticks, it makes me a nervous Nelly. They could poke an eye out! Speaking of eyes, don’t forget your binoculars! Pack lots of water and snacks. Bug spray is a must. We coat ourselves with Badger anti-bug spray and then use the nasty stuff on our shoes and hats. Tucking your pants into your socks will help keep ticks off your skin – and is a fabulous fashion statement.

It’s amazing how chatty the monkeys can be when we’re hiking. We talk about life and what we see: trees, leaves, plants, rocks, birds, and animals. Searching for bear scratches on the trees is always a favorite trail activity. They also look out for poison ivy along the trail (the monkeys read this book on Saturday morning before our hike…cute gift with a hiking pole, right?). Teach kids to follow the trail markers (or blaze) painted on trees/rocks and how to spot their path climbing up rocks.

Last weekend we hiked Artist Bluff and Bald Mountain on Saturday and Lonesome Lake on Sunday. These hikes are great for climbers and jumpers!

the View from Bald Mountain - Under the Monkey Bars

Hiking Gear - Under the Monkey Bars

Artist Bluff + Bald Mountain
If you’re relatively new to hiking, this hike is for you! Gorgeous panoramic views of Franconia Notch and Mt. Lafayette with little hiking effort. It’s rated as a beginner trail, but I would say it’s moderate difficulty because the terrain becomes technical and steep at times. The distance is just right for kids: a 1.5 mile loop for both summits. Sweet Pea first hiked Artist Bluff on foot at age 4. We used to hike either Artist Bluff or Bald Mountain, and now we always hike both summits together. It’s definitely a family friendly trail. There are lots of parents carrying babes or toddlers in packs and kids of all ages on foot.

Park in the dirt lot across from Cannon Mountain. Find the Loop Trail on the right just after the trail starts. Start your hike with Artist Bluff. The climb up to the bluff is steeper than stairs at times, so it’s much easier to go up than down. Plan to take a break to eat your snack or lunch at the summit. It’s best to have something to do that will distract little ones while you’re up there because it’s a long way down!! There are great break spots with vistas along the left side of the connector trail on the way to Bald Mountain. There’s some scrambling to get to the top of Bald Mountain but that view is completely worth it. The Artist Bluff and Bald Mountain hike is a 488 foot elevation gain and takes us about 2 hours including breaks for snacks and monkeying around.

Lonesome Lake Trail Sign - Under the Monkey Bars blog

Hiking with Kids - Under the Monkey Bars

Lonesome Lake
This hike is rated intermediate and we definitely agree. The monkeys quickly noticed that there were less kids and more serious hikers on the trail. The Lonesome Lake trail on the way up and over the mountain was well maintained but really steep. I’m taking a 1,114 foot elevation gain! We cheered each other on and created lots of distractions to make it to the top. There were three distinct vegetation tiers, which was really cool to see. When we finally made it to the top, the view of the Presidentials from the glacial lake was beyond breathtaking.

There’s an Appalachian Mountain Club hut at the lake. It was clean and well maintained with a full kitchen and bunk style rooms for hikers. It was such a great place to stop for lunch and take a break from hiking. This was our first time at a AMC hut. We were super excited about the bathrooms!! And running water!!

We hiked the loop but the other two trails suffered some erosion and I wouldn’t recommend them with little ones. Best to head back the way you came via the Lonesome Lake trail. It was amazing to see what we climbed from the road as we drove away. I’m really proud of these two monkeys! We hiked the 3.7 mile loop in about 4 hours. Hiking Lonesome Lake was a weekend highlight for all of us!

Where do you hike? Comment with the location, trail name, and difficulty. We’d love to hear from you!

Note: All of the stats in this post are from Strava, the app Don uses for cycling. Definitely check it out if you’re interested in tracking your work outs.