Fall Fun

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the crisp hoodie weather, the crunch of the leaves, spooky Halloween stories, carved pumpkins, all things apple (crisp, cider, pie), spicy scents, and the thrill of it. Most of all, I love that you can move around and be outside without sweating bullets. It’s one of the best times to get out and get moving. And what better way to do that, then to check out some of the area’s best haunted attractions!

My fiancé and I started a tradition of going around to different haunted houses hayrides each weekend in October. This is our fifth year (and we actually expanded the fun into September)! Not only is it a crazy good time, but between the scares, belly laughs, and trekking through cornfields and woods, it’s also a pretty awesome way to burn a few calories and sneak in 2,000+ steps. Afterwards, you can enjoy a few fall snacks to put those calories (and then some) back on. Uhhh…triple win?!

I’m really not sure what’s going on in the state of Pennsylvania, but they have some kickass haunts. They are perfectly creepy, gory, and even downright funny. But beware, because if you are traveling from New York or another state that has strict rules about practically everything, you will be in for a shock. Some of the haunts in PA don’t have any metal detectors or security checks, and actors are allowed to touch you. (Touch you in the sense that they can poke, prod, run fingers through hair, and in some cases, put you in a cage or jump up on a wagon and drag you off.) Call me crazy, but I think these things add to the suspense, fear, and entertainment.

Tips

  • Plan Ahead – We (well, I) like to map out our haunts in early September so we have a clear action plan. Some of the places we travel to are over 3 hours away (this is serious stuff!). If you don’t want to drive 6 hours or more round trip, you could see about hotels or other things you could do in the area and make a weekend getaway out of it.
  • Visit Early – Most attractions are open the last two weekends of September, which is actually the perfect time to go. (Keep this in mind for next year.) Lines are short and you can get by with paying for the base ticket instead of upgrading (see below).
  • Dress in Layers – Fall weather is unpredictable. Remember the time it snowed on Halloween? It’s always a good idea to wear pants if you will be in a wooded area (think deer ticks). I usually opt for jeans, boots, a long sleeve shirt, and a fleece jacket. One time last year we needed hand and foot warmers because the wagon ride was so cold. Two weeks ago I went in a t-shirt and was still hot. Just check the weather before you go.
  • Wear Proper Footwear – This shouldn’t have to be said, but still – don’t wear flip-flops, sandals, or heels because…duh. Wear something that will support your feet while walking on uneven ground. Boots or sneakers are always a good choice.
  • Splurge for the VIP Pass – When it comes to haunted attractions (and amusement parks), I really believe in going all-out. You might spend $25 or more per person for a VIP ticket, but that will allow you to skip the lines and go first. Why is this a big deal? Believe it or not, you could be waiting in line for hours before you even get to go through one attraction. That just sucks the fun right out of everything. Do yourself a favor – get this pass and you can do the royalty wave to everyone else as you board your wagon first.

NY/PA Attractions

#6 – The Barn of Terror

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Photo property of The Barn of Terror

My Rating: 1.5 Stars

Location: Lake Katrine, NY

Cost – CASH ONLY (ATM on site): $33 per person

Theme: Creepy Farm Family

Duration: About 60 minutes

Review: I kept waiting for something to happen and it just didn’t. First you walk through an 8-room barn and silo, then you take a bus down to a corn maze. The barn was dark and the costumes were pretty cheap and mostly looked the same – bloody hockey mask and black robe. The corn maze was so boring I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Truly disappointing that the space is there, but the creativity was severely lacking. After 15 years in business, you would think there would be more excitement.

Bottom Line: Regardless of the stellar reviews on Facebook, this “haunt” is not worth your time or money. The only reason it gets 1.5 stars is that I got quite a few steps in thanks to the corn maze.

#5 – Headless Horseman

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

Location: Ulster Park, NY

Cost:

  • It’s cheaper to buy tickets online, but plan ahead because tickets are non-refundable due to weather. You can, however, use them for another night.
  • $45.90 + tax – Online Ticket
  • $49.95 + tax – On-site Ticket
  • $25 extra for Scream Pass (aka VIP badge of honor)

Theme: A Series of Haunts

Duration: 2.5-3 hours (depending on wait times)

Review: There are 10 attractions (including a hayride, corn maze, and several haunted houses) and a little “village” of gift shops and cafes, which makes for a full evening. All guests must go through a bag check / metal detector after purchasing tickets. Keep this in mind because that line gets long fast and all ticket holders are considered equal until you pass through the gates. The hayride theme changes slightly every year, but the other attractions are pretty much “fixed.” Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. This year I went on opening night back in September and was really disappointed that the company didn’t take advantage of their 25th year in business to do something special for the guests. It was like any other year with the ridiculously long lines and predictable haunts.

Bottom Line: If you live in or near the Hudson Valley, try it at least once, but I wouldn’t go out of my way.

#4 – Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Location: Glen Mills, PA

Cost:

  • $40 –  (Base) Combo – General admission to all three events
  • $75 – VIP Combo – Front of the line privileges to all three events
  • $100 – Super VIP Combo – Front of the line privileges to all three events, PLUS: VIP parking, hot dog, popcorn, soft drink, and t-shirt

Theme: The Walking Dead Meets Prehistoric Times

Duration: 90 minutes (minimum)

Review: There were zombies, there were dinosaurs. There were also spiders, snakes, and clowns. A scare for everyone. It was just okay. We went on a weekend in September – there weren’t any lines so we were able to get by on just the base ticket. There were only three attractions – hayride, corn maze, and haunted house. The theme was a bit odd, but the special effects were pretty cool. I love Psycho and A&E’s Bates Motel series, but there was little connection to both. I think the majority of my disappointment stems from just wanting more.

Bottom Line: If you’re in the area, I would recommend checking it out for a fun evening. But if you have to drive over an hour, I would say skip it.

#3 – Pure Terror Scream Park

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My Rating: 4 Stars

Location: Monroe, NY

Cost:

  • Prices are cheaper on-site. Cash only.
  • $45.25 – Online General Admission
  • $68.69 – Online VIP Admission

Theme: Clowns

Duration: 90 minutes (minimum)

Review: There were clowns, lots of clowns. There were also spiders and very dark places. A scare for everyone, really. After I got over the frustration of finding the place, parking, and waiting in line, it was fun. We went on opening night so it was cheaper and there were fewer people. There are six haunted houses that are seriously awesome. One group is admitted at a time, which causes a really long wait in line, but a better experience once you’re actually inside. The makeup and special effects were so good that it was hard to tell real person from prop. I love that they incorporated the new release of IT into one of the houses – very nice touch! This was my first visit, but according to the website, the content is freshened up each year. Will most likely make this an annual trip.

Bottom Line: Definitely check it out!

 

#2 Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

Location: Spring City, PA

Cost:

  • $18 – Individual Attraction Tickets
  • $35-44 – Combo Pass
    • General admission to 3 haunted attractions
  • $39-48 – Super Combo Pass
    • General admission to 4 haunted attractions
  • $78 – Pennhurst VIP Pass
    • Front of the line privileges to all 4 haunted attractions
  • Note: online tickets have varying service charges

Theme: Insane Asylum

Duration: Approx. 2 hours

Review: This place is really cool because it is actually an asylum turned haunted house. The original buildings have been repurposed to create a haunted insane asylum, catacombs, and more. There isn’t a hayride, but you won’t be disappointed by the 3 main attractions:  Dungeon of Lost Souls, Containment Tunnels (new for 2017), and Mayflower After Dark. There are creepy clowns and walking dead, but the real terror here is the idea of the insane asylum and the horrible things that were probably done there. That and the fact that you spend a lot of time walking in near darkness and through strobe lights. While you are waiting on the lines you may or may not be terrorized by the cast members. Luckily, the VIP pass will help you avoid this. Again, do the royalty wave as you enter. I can’t wait to visit again this year!

Note: This is the ONLY haunted attraction that actually reduced some of their prices for the 2017 season. Very impressive.

Bottom Line: You’ve gotta go. I’m sure this one will be on your list for years to come.

 #1 Reaper’s Revenge Haunted Attraction

My Rating: 5 Stars

Location: Scranton, PA

Cost – CASH ONLY (ATM on site)

  • $45– General Admission
  • $70 – VIP Package
  • $3 – Parking
  • Note: online tickets have a $2.75 service charge

Theme: All Things Creepy

Duration: 75-90 minutes (minimum)

Review: There are 4 attractions including a hayride, dark forest walkthrough, pitch-black indoor walkthrough, and zombie maze. There are hillbillies, spiders, zombies, government officials (super scary), and the Grim Reaper and Michael Myers make appearances out in the woods. There’s also something really cool that happens during the hayride, but you’ll have to just take my word for it because saying too much would just ruin it. The combination of so many different attractions and a super long and enjoyable hayride makes this my number one choice. The first time we did this, we were laughing, we were screaming, we were having so much fun. We wanted to do it again. This year we are making a special trip on Friday the 13th 😉

Note: The price increased $10 from last year. I’m not crazy about it, but I still think this one comes out on top.

Bottom Line: Make the trip. I don’t care if you’re in California, Florida, or Toronto. It’s worth it.

I hope you go and have a great time this fall. I’d love to know if I’m missing out on any good ones 🙂

Happy October!

A Polish Easter

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I’ve always been fascinated by other religions, nationalities, and holiday traditions. For a while, it was hard to understand that not everyone had the same Easter morning rituals as my family. Sure, there were egg hunts and treat-filled baskets, but it was so much more than that.

Easter has always been one of my favorite celebrations. Although the traditions have evolved slightly over the last few years, they remain rooted in the spirit of my great-grandmother. And (other than the true meaning of Easter, of course), the highlight of the day is the bread we make for breakfast.

The Bread

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My granny used to make fabulous Easter bread. The recipe was written down on two sides of a little white index card with a pink flower, but she never had to reference it. It’s a simple combination of everyday items – flour, sugar, vanilla, butter, milk, eggs, and yeast.

Granny was very finicky about the whole baking process. Ingredients were gently folded into each other; the dough was never punched, but lightly kneaded; she barely spoke while making it. I remember how she always let me taste the flour/sugar mixture to make sure it was sweet enough. She let the dough rise, and it sometimes tripled in size. The result was a perfectly sweet and dense, and just delicious bread.

Now, it’s a bit different. My nanny has inherited the bread baking responsibility, and I think she worries too much about making it the same exact way with the same exact results. But, if I’m honest, I think hers comes out better – sweeter, lighter, and just tastier.

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We’ve kept the tradition of baking on Good Friday morning. Since it’s a fasting day, you’re not supposed to eat between meals, but I always manage a few bites because not much compares to the taste of freshly baked bread straight from the oven!

We usually make a few large loaves and a bunch of small roll-ups filled with apricot preserves (my favorite!), cinnamon and sugar, or honey and pecans or walnuts. I’m partial to the little rolls.

The Blessing of the Baskets

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When I was younger, we used to go to St. Joseph’s Church (a Polish church) to get our baskets blessed every Holy Saturday. I enjoyed this. We would bring pretty baskets with our bread, colored eggs, butter lamb, horseradish, ham, and kielbasa. My nanny outfitted them with pretty ribbons and doilies. The priest would say a few words and then sprinkle holy water on the food so that it was ready to eat on Easter morning.

We don’t do this anymore, but I wish we did because it is what made the breakfast even more special.

The Breakfast

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Instead of an Easter lunch or dinner, we always have breakfast. It consists of paczki (Polish cream or jelly-filled donuts), pastries, our bread, colored eggs, cold ham, cold kielbasa, and lots of horseradish. I absolutely LOVE this meal and cherish it because we only have it once a year.

 

How do you celebrate with your family?

Happy New Year!

Chinese New Year, that is.

In a way, I’ve been a little slow going this year. As Martha Stewart would say, I’ve got a lot of “good things” going on. But it’s definitely time go jump back into the swing of things, and what better way to do that than with a celebration?

Celebrations!

When I was younger, my grandmother gave me a book of Celebrations around the World. That was and still is one of my favorite books. I’m Catholic, so I celebrate Easter, Christmas, and the rest of the commercialized American holidays, but it was always fun to read about Purim, Dia de los Muertos, Eid ul-Fitr, St. Nicholas Day, Holi, and many others. I loved seeing the colorful outfits, reading the descriptions of the delicious foods, and learning about traditions that were completely new to me.

Chinese New Year

Goodies from my work celebration: hot & sour soup, traditional Chinese desserts, green apple bubble tea, and general tso chicken.

One of the most colorful celebrations is Chinese New Year. It’s a 15-day tradition to welcome in the year with parades, yummy foods, gifts of good fortune, and family time. In the days before the New Year, families clean their houses from top to bottom to get rid of last years bad luck and welcome the good health, happiness, and fortune of the New Year.

Red Envelopes

The Chinese see red as the symbol of joy, energy, happiness, and good luck. During the new year they place crisp money in red envelopes and give them as gifts to family and friends. This is a way of wishing the recipient a happy new year filled with good luck. Traditionally you accept the envelope with two hands and to be polite, do not open the envelopes in front of the giver.

Chinese Zodiac

2017 is the year of the Rooster, the fire Rooster, to be more precise – a combination that only happens once every 60 years. Those born during the year of the Fire Rooster are thought to be very trustworthy and responsible with their work.

Unfortunately, according to Chinese Astrology, it’s unlucky if your birth sign matches the current zodiac sign. Take extra precautions to avoid any dangers or warnings. For everyone else, however, 2017 is said to be a year of good fortune and happiness. I think we can all rejoice in hearing that!

For more information about the Rooster Sign, Chinese Zodiac Signs, and Chinese culture in general, check out this comprehensive site.

Happy New Year and may it be filled with health, wealth, and happiness!