Monday, October 21, 2013

Should Babies Be Trick-or-Treating?

I have a rule about babies trick-or-treating. It started out as a silly mistake. A young man knocked on my door with a toddler and a small baby girl. The toddler held up a plastic pumpkin, and the father was holding a pillow case. Without thinking I simultaneously dropped chocolate bars in both the pumpkin and the pillowcase. "Oh, no!" the Dad said, apologetically, "the pillowcase is just the extra bag for when his pumpkin gets full."  He tried to dig around in the bag and give the chocolate bar back.  Trying to spare us both embarrassment, I said, "Well that's not fair. You have two kids in costumes. You get two chocolate bars."  He seemed incredulous. "I do? But one of them is just a baby!"  "Doesn't matter," I declared. "Two kids in costumes means two treats. You can eat it yourself. Because once she's old enough you aren't going to get away with that." The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. So this became my candy-dispensing policy.

A few years later, on Halloween, I found myself with a five month old baby of my own. I was very excited to be celebrating my first Halloween as a parent, but I had nowhere to go. I had a spectacular costume. I was a gorilla, and my little girl was its banana. The costumes had been very difficult to obtain. It turned out to be a huge process just to get into the them and no small feat to walk around in a mask carrying 18 pounds of baby with loose rubber hands.  I entered a costume contest and won the grand prize so I knew I had something good. But that only lasted a couple minutes and the banana costume wouldn't fit her for much longer. It was all rather anti-climactic.  So, wanting to get the most for my effort, I went trick-or-treating.  It was fun to go door to door and see the neighbour's reactions, and because I couldn't communicate effectively in the gorilla mask, I collected a little candy. I hadn't forgotten my self-imposed rule that if you have a costumed child, you should get a treat. I had worked hard for it, and everyone seemed happy to comply.

Exactly one year later, my daughter was 17 months old, and she knew all about Halloween. She asked if she could be a kitty cat. I couldn't find a costume small enough to fit her so I lost several hours of sleep sewing one by hand. I let her paint my face instead of buying an adult costume.
She LOVED trick-or-treating. She loved knocking on doors, hearing people's dogs bark, checking out decorations, and sure, we collected candy.
But this year I wasn't in disguise, and the reaction was different. "Oh. Are you actually collecting candy?" one woman asked flatly.  A few said, "Sorry, I don't have anything for babies."  So I went around to just the houses of people I knew.  One of them made a point to tell me that she felt her child was too young to stay up late or eat candy, even though she was the same age as mine. She coldly handed me some chips and shut the door. After I got home, I saw that she had tweeted, not too subtly, "I can't believe that some parents would take their babies trick-or-treating just to get candy for themselves!"
(Rude neighbour, if you read this, the way I see it I worked really hard planning and sewing my child's costume. I held her hand as she toddled at a snail's four blocks in the pouring rain, tripping over her tail to get to your house. I climbed ten steps to your front door just to brighten your day with her smile, and I think I have earned the crumpled up bag of chip crumbs you gave me. Your petty reluctance over that ten cent item cost you a friendship.)

"Look what the lady gave you, sweetie. A bag of hot air."

But all this leaves me wondering. Is it inappropriate to take young children trick-or-treating? I asked a number of my friends after this and most of them thought that it was acceptable.  Some said they thought it was okay if you only visit family and friends.  But of course not everyone has family in town. I don't. And in my case it was so-called friends who questioned my motives.

Here's my take on it. If someone comes to your door with a baby in a costume, go ahead and question their motives. But really think it out. You'll come to see that their intentions are honest. Are they really committing some kind of ploy to get candy? If so, it's not a very good ploy. An adult costume costs between $29 and $69.  An infant one is at least $24.99 in a costume shop. To make one or and to even to get a free one and carry your child from house to house takes a lot of time and effort. Keeping them up past their bedtime has its own consequences that parents pay for dearly the next day. A box of candy is about $8.99. It's only half that price on November 1.  It would be a more worthy return on investment to just buy candy than to go through all that hassle.

Of course most Halloween parents are not actually motivated by greed. When you see parents with a newborn or a one-year-old out going door-to-door, see them for what they are. These are excited parents who are staying young.  They have a special place in their hearts for all the traditions and rites-of-passage that come with childhood. They can't wait to share these traditions with their new baby, even if it is perceived as silly. They'll have photos one day that prove to their child that they never missed a Halloween, if that is important to them. These are parents who are getting a trial run in parental involvement. And if their child is under two, they are probably working really hard and are pretty tired. Those early years are rough.Who cares if the kid is too young for candy? Maybe Mom and Dad deserve a Kit-kat break.

That isn't to say that parents who don't trick-or-treat with babies are any less enthusiastic about parenting. They either have their own traditions or perhaps they aren't as innocent when it comes to what's expected of them in those early years. There's no rule book for these things. The point is that trick-or-treating with your children, at any age, is not something a parent should ever be made to feel guilty about.

So what should you do if you don't feel right about giving candy to a baby?  Stock up on Mum-Mums or raisins. If there really are parents who are just plain greedy, this will disappoint them. (Good!)  If they genuinely want an experience for their baby, they will appreciate your consideration.

And if you're that parent who wants to go trick-or-treating but can't face the judgment?  If you're short like me, wear a mask and nobody will know you're not an older sibling.  Donate the candy to a worthy cause, like a child who can't trick-or-treat due to illness or mobility issues. One mom cleverly suggested that you can send it in a care package to our deployed troops.  You can also save the most non-perishable items for the future– those smarties will still be okay when it's time for potty training incentives. In my family we use Halloween Candy to decorate gingerbread houses at Christmas, and even babies enjoy that. If you really don't want to collect candy at all, team up with a charity and collect canned food or donations. 

There are enough issues with child rearing that something fun like Halloween shouldn't garner any judgment. There are easy ways around it. It should be simple as taking candy from giving candy to a baby. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Woman Pushing a Multi-Stroller

I should say up front that I am not a parent of multiples. And I don't purport to know what that is like, or claim that I can sympathize just because I take care of three toddlers daily.  Two of them get picked up by their moms before the witching hour even begins, and I don't know how I would survive if that didn't happen. But what I do have is a triple stroller, which means that everyone I meet automatically assumes I have triplets and therefore no life or energy left in me.  So I know that "face" the moms-of-multiples get from strangers, and I have heard all the comments which I hope qualifies me to make this list.  I dedicate this to ladies everywhere who would make this list themselves if they weren't so darn tired from pushing their multi-stroller. Someone had to say it.

1. "Are those twins/triplets/quads/quints and are they identical?
They might be. They might not be. Does it make each of them any more precious to be part of a little DNA-sharing team?  If they're not identical, will that be disappointing? How do you think it makes children feel to know their individualism disappoints strangers? Even if they are identical multiples, some moms will bristle and think, "I never signed up to be a traveling sideshow."  Another mom might enjoy the attention, and she might even tell you in uterus-wrenching detail how she carried them until her veins and eyes popped out. She might even tell you about how they got delivered five weeks early and how exactly it mangled her body beyond recognition and what their poop was like and how bad the egg salad tasted at the hospital cafeteria. You might not have time for that. The point is, if it's a stranger you're dealing with, you don't know what kind of mom she is or how much detail she likes giving a stranger. If you are just too curious, try saying "your kids are so cute!"  The mom who is not up for having the same conversation ten times a day has the opportunity to thank you and keep walking.  And, rest assured, the mom who is desperate for real human adult interaction will answer all your questions whether you ask them or not.

Tip: If you get asked "Are they quadruplets?" Just shake your head and say, "Clone machine error. Forgot to reset the "number of copies" to 1.

2. "Are they all yours?"
Most likely the answer will be a simple "yes" or "No, I take care of babies."  But what if the situation is that somebody's babydaddy turned out to be a two-timing player and his unlucky lady is bearing the brunt of a custody arrangement this weekend?  She doesn't want to talk to you about it.

The funny thing is that people will ALWAYS ask this question no matter who is in the stroller. I could have a white child, a black child, and a Pomeranian puppy and people will still ask if they're siblings. In fact, I even got asked this question once when the stroller contained only my daughter, a towel, and a clear baggie full of sandwiches. "Well, the first child is mine," I wanted to say, "I'm just taking care of that towel for a friend, and the sandwiches are still awaiting maternity testing results."  Morons.

Tip: If you get asked "Are they all yours?" Say, while sprinting, "They are NOW!!!! Moo hoo hoo haa ha."

3. IVF? 
Why people think it's okay to ask a stranger about her reproductive choices is beyond me. In-vitro babies are still human babies with human destinies. They are miracles with or without technology. They are still made in a womb, not a factory.  Sure, some women like to talk about it, but others feel like admitting to reproductive therapy will garner an "oh, you brought this misery on yourself" attitude, even though she took all the same risks as hundreds of mothers who used IVF and had only a singlet. 

Tip: If you get asked, "IVF?" Play dumb. Thank them. "Why yes, I did play some Inter Varsity Football! But don't be fooled by my young appearance, that was years ago.  If you're noticing my muscular physique, I got that from pushing a multi-stroller." 

4. Did you not realize you can get pregnant while nursing? 
I get asked this by people who actually have a look at the kids and think that I have a toddler and twins less than a year apart. Again, it's nobody's business. It's not up to a stranger to decide whether someone's children are a blessing or a punishment.

Tip: If you get asked how you conceived your children say, like a crazy person, "It shouldn't matter how I GOT these children. What matters is, how do I GET RID OF THEM?!!"

5. You've got your hands full!
This is the single most frequent sentence I hear all day. This is what people say when their thought process goes something like, "There goes something unusual, I'd better open my mouth and acknowledge it with the first worn out cliché that rolls out."  To all the people out there who say this, let me tell you a little something about multi-strollers. They are gifts from heaven. They are the only way a woman can strap down all of her children while she gets some much needed exercise, shopping, or secret chocolate eating done without being considered abusive. The vibrations hypnotize them. The kids get all quiet. Sometimes they fall asleep. When they are strapped in, nobody is able to jump on the sofa or pull the cat's tail or get into the petroleum jelly and smear it all over your purse.  As long as you keep rolling, it's like a mini vacation. So let me ask you, what is the last thing in the world you want to hear when you're on vacation?  A reminder about how busy you are.  I don't have my hands full. I have my hands free.  Can't you see my latte? And my chocolate bar?  I have a stroller!  So what if I'm pushing it with my chin.

Tip: Combat cliché with cliché . If you hear "You've got your hands full" say, "If you think my hands are full, you should see my  heart."

6. Can you spare a minute to talk about Greenpeace/Amnesty/Spare change?
Usually the woman with the multi-stroller has the one advantage that she gets revered. She stops traffic anywhere she wants without pushing the button.  She gets people holding doors for her even when they are automatic. She gets to butt in line sometimes at the food court. Doubly so if one of the kids is crying. The only person more venerated than the multi-mom is the guy walking around the block carrying the hind end of a two-legged dog. But the cause-pushers on the street are completely immune to the plight of multi-moms. These people are all too aware that there are people out there with way worse problems than moms.
The problem is not the cause or the pitch, it's the timing. When a person has multiple children of stroller-age, she accustomed to getting a wide berth. And she is already balancing a giant metaphorical platter heaped with responsibility and guilt, often compounded by lack of sleep. If you come along and add more guilt you're liable to make that platter topple over, which manifests itself as mom throwing her arms up in despair, leaving a careening stroller of babies at the mercy of pedestrians and traffic.
The first rule of strollers is you have to hang on. The second rule is keep rolling, at all personal expense. If you have a little one that wakes up and cries when you stop, it's game over. Sometimes I accidentally lose one of my shoes on a busy side walk and think, "I hope it's still there on my next lap." It's one thing to get asked to support a cause, but to get asked again and again as you go up and down the street is just annoying. We're sorry about your plight, we really are, but parents already have a full pallet when it comes to guilt. If you want busy moms to pay attention, send a pamphlet in the mail and attach chocolate.

Tip: If you get stopped by a cause-pusher, say "Can't you see I have my hands full?"

7. That would be my own personal hell.
There are lots of ways to say that you respect the amount of effort someone puts into their daily routine. This is not one of them. Moms and caregivers do not need to be told that their career or family is someone's worst nightmare. If it's not for you, don't do it, and don't imagine it if you can't keep your trap shut. Sometimes a smart aleck will say, "I'm glad it's you and not me!" to which I reply "me, too!" 

Tip: If someone voices their phobia of having multiple children, smile sympathetically and say, "Don't worry. I don't think anybody wants to sleep with you anyway."

8. Do you want some help?  
Go ahead and ask, if you're handsome and fit and not at all creepy. But that never happens. Women really do appreciate the offer, but they find it hilarious when you clearly don't know what you're asking. What if your offer gets accepted? Just how far are you planning to push that thing?  And what makes you think a portly old man with a cigarette is going to be in better shape than a woman who has been pushing children around every day until they gradually gained a collective weight of over a hundred pounds?  Will you make it up that hill?  Shouldn't you consult your doctor before embarking on an advanced level fitness regime? And if she's going on a level surface or downhill, do you really think she wants to entrust her babies' lives to a total stranger?

Tip: If you receive an offer of help, ask the stranger to hold your chocolate bar in front of your mouth so you can push the stroller with two hands.

9. You look tired
Moms and caregivers don't want to hear this. And do you know who else doesn't want to hear this? Everybody. Just stop it. Instead say, "you look like you could use a coffee!" then buy me a freakin' coffee.  Wait five minutes. Does my appearance please you now, you shallow twit? No? better get me some chocolate.

Tip: Once the twit has bought you coffee and chocolate, use that extra energy to run away from them.

10. Give'r!/ Get 'er done!/ Puuuushhh!
Nothing annoys me more than some ignoramus commenting on my speed or agility. You may look like a dork in spandex but you're no Richard Simmons.  It's not a sport. I'm exposing babies to the big wide world so that they can learn about it. The only thing they will learn about if I go at a cheetah's pace is road rash.  If I finish my walk in record time and get back to the house early, what good does it do me?  That just means that I have to keep them in a holding pattern even longer until the noodle caboodle is ready to come out of the oven. If I go in too early and have nothing to feed them, they'll get into the cupboards and before you know it, there's a potato in the toilet. And while I'm on the phone with the plumber, the kids will eat all the cat treats.  See, I'm not going slow, I'm thinking ahead.

Luckily it takes a special breed of stupid to say something like this, so I don't hear it often.  But it was actually a Give'r-doofus who inspired this list. You see, there's this lovely boardwalk by the lake near my house. It's a perfect place for a stroll with two exceptions: the exit is a steep incline, and the forest is populated with middle-aged loafers with dirty sports jerseys and limply rolled doobies who evidently have no day job because they are fishing at 9:30 am on a Wednesday.
On this particular day, it was my third time ascending the slope (twice because I was doing two laps and the third time because I had lost a shoe.) I took a running start and half way up the hill I heard some dude call out to me from behind the ferns.  I slowed, thinking I had lost another shoe. He had to yell at me two more times, not because he was far away but because I kept saying "what?" unwilling to believe anyone would say something so idiotic.  "Say that again?" I called.  "I SAID... " he hollered, "You're going really slow up that second part of the hill. You got off to a good start but now look at ya'.  Y'ain't gonna make it."
Now I was at a complete stop and had started to drift backwards. I didn't mind confronting him because the only way he could come after me was if he got his sorry old butt up that gentle slope himself. So I backed down the trail. Normally I'm not at a loss for a snappy comeback, but this guy took the cake for rudeness and unfortunately it was at this point that my two year old perked up and started paying attention.  Knowing she repeats everything I say, all I could muster was, "Your words are not helpful."

Tip: If your children are liable to repeat things, you  need to be prepared.  Before you leave the house, have some snide comebacks embossed onto business cards. You can hand them out without missing a beat while still singing "Wheels on the Bus."

Think you have a better tip for dealing with big-mouthed morons?  Leave your comment below!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Harvest Highway Part 3: Port Williams

My last two posts discussed public farms in Windsor and in the Greenwich/ Wolfville Area.

Continuing on our farm-crawl tour of the Harvest Highway, Blue and I explore Agri-Tourism in Port Williams, Nova Scotia. From the 101, you will take Exit 11. Travel along the Greenwich Connector to Starr's Point Road, turn right and follow the signs.

Of you come at the right time of year, you  will see right away one thing that makes Gates U-pick unique: the sunflowers. Even if you opt for one of the other farms, it is worth a visit to Gates just for the opportunity to photograph your family amidst a sea of yellow.
The sunflowers visible from the road are gorgeous, but these are just the small ones. At the end of the orchard is a second field with even bigger sunflowers!  And these are not just eye-candy, it's a sunflower U-pick. Imagine that! Your wee one gets to yank giant flowers from a garden to her little heart's content, all for only a quarter apiece. The attendant offered a great tip which was to pull them out by the root and place them in a bag. Even though I didn't arrive home for another 5 hours and the sunflowers were in the car, ours still survived the trip.


One word of caution: Big yellow flowers generally have bees. While they won't likely bother you with all those big yellow flowers to keep them busy, those with known allergies to bees may want to avoid the sunflowers or bring an auto-injector. If you aren't allergic to bees, I suggest you gather your wits just long enough to stop and have a look at the bees with your child, and talk about how they collect nectar and perform other bee business. It's all part of the learning experience.

Unlike most farms, the hay wagon ride at Gates is optional. It is meant as a tour rather than just a means of transportation. The wagon travels in a loop and deposits visitors back at the parking lot. Once back there, you can get a receptacle for picking apples and then roam the orchards at your own pace.

While Gates offers a modest 20 varieties of apples instead of the 40 or more that some other farms have, the price is a little lower than the competition. It is only $6 for the first 10 lb bag and $5 for subsequent bags. Pears are $5 a bag which is a steal. At the time of our visit, Gates was the only farm that was still offering U-Pick pears. I'm not sure if that was because they have four varieties or because Gates doesn't have the throngs of people coming in and picking the trees clean. 
On top of the great prices, the Gates farmers understand that your children want instant gratification when it comes to delicious fruit, so they boast an all-you-can-eat policy. I'd hazard to say that most folks are going to help themselves no matter what the orchard policy is, but for the sticklers, Gates will give you their blessing. Healthy free munchies... no guilt required. Parents have enough guilt about everything else in parenting, we don't need to add the shame of cowering behind a hay bale with half eaten cores until the farmer goes by.
Munching on the sly. She gets it from me.

Another family picnic ruined by the paparazzi.
This U-pick is sweet and simple and I don't feel like it requires any further embellishment. It's an excellent spot for a picnic or a family outing. And most of all, it's the place to be if your aim is to teach your youngsters something about agriculture. Gates' claim to fame is that they specialize in educational tours, so these are the guys who will gladly answer any questions your children may have come up with in relation to farming. I would go as far as to say that Gates would be one of my top choices for a school or day care field trip. You could even bring some harvest themed books along with you and read them here, under the shade of the trees.

For added fun, if you have kids under 5 they might love this snazzy song by Nancy Stewart: ***Warning: the music will play when you click on the link. Turn your volume down if loud.***  You can download the FREE mp3 to play in the car or, if you're like me and Blue, you can break out into spontaneous song and dance in the middle of the orchard.

Willowbank U-Pick
If you're not tapped out from all that dancing, continue down Starr's Point Road to the loop at the very end and turn right. Follow the signs to Willowbank U-Pick.

We loved Willowbank. This orchard has a drivable loop so you can circle the orchard and park close to where you are picking. If you have been following my blog, you know how much I hate carrying stuff, especially when I usually also end up carrying my slow moving tot.  This is excellent.

And what's more is the price structure. In addition to the slightly above average $8 bag, Willowbank offers a deal of $4 for a 10 lb+ bag of ground apples. It is a dollar less for subsequent bags of either. Since Blue can't reach most of the branches, the majority of her apples end up being from the ground anyway. She doesn't mind collecting them this way. I showed her how to inspect them and she hunts for good ones like she's collecting Easter eggs. Since our bag wasn't completely full, the farmer eyeballed it and charged us a dollar for about 40 apples. It has been a week now, and the remaining apples are still as fresh and unscathed as the tree apples. 
The 3 point inspection process: 1. Check for worm holes 2.Wipe it on your shirt 3.Show Mom.

Willowbank also offers a moderate number of attractions including a hay tunnel, petting zoo, antique museum, hay wagon rides, pumpkin picking, corn maze, picnic and recreation areas, and walking areas with river views. Weekend visitors can get a bracelet for $5 and kids 2 and under are free. I couldn't persuade Blue to try the hay tunnel because it had scary Halloween decorations, but I asked some other parents who raved about how much fun their little ones had in it.
This here's an alpaca.

The petting zoo was a tad underpopulated in relation to the number of people who happened to be in it with us. There were two skittish sheep, two over zealous goats, and one alpaca.  You should Google alpacas before you go because inevitably, someone is bound to ask what the difference is between a llama and an alpaca. If you've spent even 30 seconds on its wikipedia entry you can come out looking like an expert in zoology. Your kids will think you are a genius.  Then you will step in poop.

In addition to the petting zoo animals that don't like being petted (but are fun all the same), there is a white donkey behind an electric wire. This is the only donkey I have ever seen who doesn't look like he's suffering from depression. He had a comical hee-haw that all the kids found entertaining. There was also a pen of turkeys and an enclosure with really cool bunnies. I  believe one was a black Flemish Giant, or just a really big honkin' rabbit. Another one, I think was a spotted Rex, or a freckle bunny, as Blue dubbed it. 
Freckle Bunny

I don't have much else to say about Willowbank but it was my favourite by the end of the day. This will be my first choice next autumn. While I do love a simple apples-only farm for a distraction free learning experience, if I'm going to drive more than an hour I do like to have a little extra something for my daughter when the apple picking is done, and I like that something to be in moderation. Willowbank has just the right number of people, it doesn't have overinflated prices or a herd of over-aggressive goats who eat your hair and pee in your purse. It just has a few nice things, which take up exactly the amount of time and cash that I want to spend in a farm. 

Bee and pear photos provided by courtesy of Toa55 and marin, respectively.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Harvest Highway Part 1: Windsor

Also see Part 2: Greenwich and  Part 3: Port Williams

It’s a shame that in within Halifax, city of trees, there is not a single public orchard to speak of. What this means for our city raised youngsters is that they can develop a disconnect between the food they see every day and its place of origin. Books and family gardens can help, but nothing can compare to seeing with one’s own little eyes the row-upon-row, acre-upon-acre vastness that is food in the making. There’s no better real life sensory experience than feeling the earth with your hands, running (or toddling) between corridors made of fruit trees, hiding in the hollows made by low hanging branches, and being free to pluck fruit right off a plant. You scarcely need words for this learning experience. Your child will observe, “Here is a tree, and here is an apple. I pull it, and I can eat it.” Suddenly, your child realizes, all the picture books weren’t kidding. 

Luckily Haligonians are only a short drive away from the portion of the 101 affectionately known to locals as the Harvest Highway. Around every turn there is a farm so breathtaking that you’ll realize you haven’t seen fields so green and skies so blue since the last time your Windows XP desktop was set to default.
But where exactly should you go to treat your tots to some hands-on harvesting? Every farm has its own unique history and character. So on the last weekend in September, Blue and I set out down the 101 on a “farm crawl” to test out seven of the most popular farms open to the public. 

First let’s have a look at the map, just in case these rural zones confuse your GPS. If you are traveling out of Dartmouth, be sure to take Magazine hill to the 101. The Circumferential exit to the 102, as my neighbours discovered as they arrived in Truro, will not take you to the Annapolis Valley.
Our first stops are in Windsor, about 45 minutes away from Halifax. Take Exit 5 toward the Evangeline trail until you get to King Street, or you can take Exit 5A and west down Wentworth Street toward O’Brien, which becomes King Street. We will meander down College Road, 400 to be exact, to Howard Dill’s Farm, home of the Dill’s Atlantic Giant, the world’s largest variety of pumpkin. 

Giant vegetables are the stuff that dreams and fairy tales are made of. Children love giant anything, even if it is a vegetable. From Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, to Jack’s Beanstalk, James and the Giant Peach or Charlie Brown’s Great Pumpkin, giant food is certain capture your little one’s imagination.

It's exhilarating to choose your perfect future jack-o-lantern from within the grade A selections they have perched upon pumpkin pyramids. Visitors are gently barred from trampling the giant pumpkins gardens by a polite sign and a tiny string fence, so put your little one on your shoulders and he just might catch a glimpse of the next “world’s largest” still incubating. You'll marvel at how these farmers know how to sustain precious life; if you’re lucky you might even spot one of the oldest and most resilient cats who ever pushed his nine-lives to the limit.

At Dill’s you will also find jarred preserves, souvenirs, baked goods and gourds. You can take home your own ottoman sized pumpkin for about $25, or even a giant fifty pound watermelon. “What would I do with a fifty pound watermelon?” you ask. Grab a tarp, a big knife and a handful of spoons. Slice it in two and Bam! The easiest and most fun meal your kids’ mom ever came up with. 

Despite the title, “Giant Pumpkin Farm”; Dill’s is actually a very small farm. There is little more walking required than a trip to the store. You won’t be exhausted, unless of course you get macho and carry one of those giant suckers to your car in one arm, children in the other. Either way it won’t take long, so you might as well head on down the road to complete full the harvest trifecta of pumpkins, apples, and corn.
This time you’ll go back out to King Street (South on the Evangeline trail) and go about 400 metres to get to Highway 14. Turn right and follow the signs to Daniel’s U-Pick (4473 Highway 14, Windsor). It’s practically across the road from Ski Martock.
Daniel's U-Pick with Ski Martock visible in the background.
Daniels U-Pick can be described in two words: simple and scenic. This hidden gem hasn’t got all the bells and whistles that attract tourists to other U-Picks, but what it does have is spectaular panoramic views of the countryside and rolling hills. Instead of displaying admission prices, accepted credit cards or directions for parking, the signage at Daniel’s quaintly touts the merits of apples. “Apples have no cholesterol” says one folksy hand-painted board. “Pesticide Free!” says another, with a smiley faced apple. Adorable. 

It is an authentic experience, unhindered by crowds or distractions, and complete with peck hampers and cider. It’s all about the apples. (And possibly grapes– the signs were perplexing.) And your children can discover the simple joy of picking them. What more is there to say?
There might be grapes (?)
Apples are approximately $1 a pound. Or less when you buy a larger quantity.

A family watches a stunt plane zoom through the great blue sky over Falmouth.
“But the corn!” you say! “What about corn mazes?”  Okay I’ll admit, I do enjoy a good corn maze, from a distance. Daniel’s doesn’t have one. But if you go further down the 14 and turn right onto Sangster Bridge road, follow the signs, and you’ll soon find yourself at Davisons’ Corn Maze (1112 Falmouth Dyke Rd.)  It was not open yet when I got there, but I can tell from the road it has a play structure, picnic tables, cows, and the same gorgeous view of Martock. Someday I hope to give it a more thorough review. 
A beautiful day at Davison's Corn Maze. $5 Admission

You can see that Windsor can stand its own against the more popular Annapolis Valley destinations. And it’s less than an hour away, which is a huge bonus. One could easily make a whole day of it. And yet, Blue and I forged on in our journey, for it was only 10:30 am and we never let a big blue sky go to waste.

Next stop: Greenwich/ Wolfville.

Harvest Highway Part 2: Greenwich/ Wolfville

If you missed my last post, I began explaining how I gave my two year old a crash course in agri-tourism by visiting seven farms along the 101 Highway through Annapolis Valley. The last post discussed Windsor, and in this one we will explore two of the most famous farm hot-spots: Noggins and Elderkins. 

Have a look at the map:
What you will do is follow the 101 Northwest until, like a cheap computer game from the 80's, the highway bumps into a geographical boundary and everybody veers west. Take Exit 11. Take the Greenwich Connecting road and turn left at the lights to get to Noggins Corner Farm. There it is, on the right! You made it.


Hot Fries line. Shoulda packed a picnic.
Now, writing about popular attractions always creates a paradox for me. On one hand, Noggins has crowds and all the problems that come with crowds: waiting, parking, the corn stand running out of corn, and other people's kids knocking my kid down.  But on the other hand, finding a massive throng of pumpkin pickers and apple eaters means that, duh, lots of people love Noggins. And you probably will too.

A view of the Orchard
 Noggins is the one-stop shop of farms. They have...ready for it? Corn maze, slides, sandbox, water pumps, photo area, tire mountain, hay bales, rope web, rope maze, washer toss, picnic area, food stands, fresh corn cobs, popcorn, cider, haunted house, pumpkin house, u-pick apples, u-pick pumpkins, u-pick flowers, u-pick herbs,  hay wagon rides, geo-caching, walking trails, a farm market. The view from the orchard is picturesque. And the staff are helpful, friendly and well organized.

Hay Bales
Rope Spider Web

If you have kids age three and older I wouldn't hesitate to recommend Noggins, with a word of advice: Tackle the orchard before you enter the play area. I can't even count the number of parents I heard pleading with their children to leave the Fun Zone Distraction Zone to go have a look at some trees. A corn maze is not the place you want to be when your little monsters are having a ball and trying to elude you. I used to play in corn fields myself as a kid and I can attest that they are super fun and a great family challenge. Especially compared to a potato maze, if there is such a thing.

Corn Maze 2012

Water pumps.
Noggins with toddlers is a different story, given their fickle nature. Even though kids two and under get into the attractions for free, Mom and Dad (or parent and partner, let's be modern) will have to shell out $18.40 for what might amount to the most expensive 20 minutes your child ever spent in a sandbox. The haunted house is too scary. The rope course confounds most little ones- they can go right under the ropes and they can play this game at a bank for free. The tire mountain, rope spiderweb and haystacks are okay if you have a wee climber and can find an opening where there are no big kids to step on your toddler's head. Blue gave the water pumps a try but lacked the height and dexterity to use them, and the slides (made of massive black industrial pipes) are a little terrifying for some.

That leaves the corn maze, which I could go wrong in so many ways I could write a whole post about it.  Think about getting lost, or getting lost holding a 30 lb child who won't stop saying "up," getting lost and your child needing a new diaper or clean clothes and won't stop saying "up," or getting lost while your child ducks in between the corn but you're too big to fit, yet you forge on anyway getting turned around and creating your own crop circles. Better just wander into the corn long enough to take a family photo and then get out and buy a cob for $1.50. Why go into the corn when you can put the corn into you?

 Now what am I forgetting? Oh, the produce picking! See how distracting that fun zone can be? To be honest, I didn't even pick apples or pumpkins here this year because I did it last year, had a blast, and took photos, which I will recycle, and admit to doing so lest you think Blue has a Benjamin Button thing happening.

There are over fifty varieties of apples here. We ate at least one of each. My favourite was Empire. They also have the "Delicious" varieties, which everyone loves. Other than that your apple picking experience is about on par with the other farms. If it has rained in the last couple days or might rain, bring mud gear. The hay rides are non-optional if you are picking; they bring you down into the orchard. This means that you will be at the mercy of the comings and goings of the wagon. This is a lousy time to have a diaper blow out or muddy pants (especially if you must sit your child on your lap on the way back). So my suggestion is to either bring your little tot's survival kit with you, or else check out one of the other U-picks where you can park adjacent to the orchard.


Due east along the Evangeline trail is Elderkin's. It is only a couple minutes from Noggins but is technically in Wolfville, not Greenwich. The store was bustling with visitors and it wasn't difficult to see why. In addition to produce, they also sell soft serve ice cream and delicious home-baked goods. There's a reason for the expression "selling like hot cakes." Baked confections straight from the oven are something worth lining up for. When I made some lame comment like "popular spot, eh?" the smiling employee told me that people come from miles around, especially on weekends, sometimes for the baked beans alone.  So then I had to buy some and see for myself. Not that I got to have much, Blue took one bite and declared, "This is mine."

I sneaked some when she wasn't looking, though, and yes, they delivered. Large kidney beans, not too sweet or too watery- just perfect. And they are served with homemade brown bread. We also sampled some seafood chowder that was just the way I like it- hearty and brothy and full of big chunks of good stuff. Not over thickened with flour or over fattened with cream. And it comes with a homemade bun as well. I also bought some cheesy rolls and some confection items- I couldn't help myself- and it was all fresh and fantastic, everything you want in home-baked goods.

The staff at Elderkin's are wonderful. (Bear in mind, I never tell anyone I'm writing about them, because I want a real customer experience.) When I asked what the chowder was like– I always ask because I've been ripped off by cheap canned stuff too many times– the employees at the cash actually introduced me to the chef who took the time to explain her recipe with a lot of flair and pride. I also had a brief conversation with Aaron, one of the Elderkin Clan, who confidently explained why people keep coming back. "It's been established since 1996," he says. "People know the name now. And they want ice cream and bakery items which they can't get everywhere. And all our recipes are made from scratch with fresh ingredients," he says.

While Elderkin's doesn't have all the attractions that its neighbours offer, this young Elderkin is super cordial about the competition. "We don't have a playground just now," he says, "but they have those things up at Noggins to bring families into the area and that's great. We get families with young children too. There's enough business to go around." He says they may consider adding a play structure in the future. For now, Blue is satisfied to select a pink picnic table from the rainbow of tables and eat her beans in the orchard. We've never had a more picturesque picnic.

And while Elderkin's may not have a slide or a spiderweb, what they do have is over a hundred acres of U-pick pears and apples. They also have a darling little pumpkin patch right beside the road, which is very convenient if you aren't keen on hauling large pumpkins long distances. Bring a bag or a cart though; it's hard to juggle a child and a pumpkin at the same time while crossing a busy road like you're playing Frogger.
Elderkin's Pumpkin Patch

One last thing that I like about Elderkin's is that they have a different price system depending on if your U-Pick bag is opened or closed. So if you choose not to fill your whole 10 lb bag, you will pay only $7 instead of $11 for a bag stuffed to the max. So there is no pressure to jam it full and carry 15lbs or toppling apples around. Parents carry and drop enough stuff as it is.

So between Noggins and Elderkins, my final verdict is this: If you have very young kids that might not be ready for an undertaking as large as Noggins, Elderkin's is your better bet. You can come and go on your own time, you won't have to fork over $9.20 for your kid to eat sand and get trampled, and you can get yourself some ice cream. You deserve it.

If you have adventurous kids who are ready for the fun zone at Noggins, you will have a blast there.  If it's drizzling or damp, even better. Bring a towel, jump in puddles, and have more of the place to yourself. And hey, there's no reason why you can't do both farms. Why not spend the afternoon having lunch and picking herbs and pumpkins at Noggins, then head down the road to Elderkin's for apple picking and a delicious home-baked supper?  That's my definition of a perfect day.

Noggins Market
Next stop: Port Williams