Coming Along...

Wondering what we're working on lately? Currently we are working on creating a strong financial foundation, preparing for a move to North Carolina (goal date: summer 2013), slowly building up a collection of spooky items, and starting our foray into miniature models.

Monday, October 7, 2013

When Is My Kid Ready For A Haunted House?

"Is my child ready for a haunted house?" A friend of mine asked this question on Facebook the other day, and since I am a horror AND haunted house aficianado with kids I took a stab at it. She told me I should take my advice and turn it into a blog post because she couldn't really find anything on Google and sometimes when we get old, we forget what it's like to look at scary stuff as a kid, when it's new and fresh and (often) ACTUALLY frightening. (Which is not to say adults don't get frightened too; I know plenty of them that won't set food in a haunted house!) It can be difficult to tell if your child is too young (in years or emotional maturity) to go to a haunted attraction. So here's my advice:

Number One: KNOW YOUR KID. What they can handle will vary widely based on their individual personalities and ability to separate fantasy from reality. I've got a 9 year old son who HATES horror and being scared. I have an almost 7 year old daughter who LOVES it. Neither has been to a 'true' haunted house yet. The younger one has asked to go but I am not sure she is ready, since some of them are pretty extreme. The older one was invited to a classmate's birthday party at one this year - I didn't even know that was a thing, I think it's AWESOME, but he's not going and NO ONE CAN MAKE HIM).

Number Two: CHOOSE YOUR HAUNTED HOUSE WISELY. Each haunted attraction will vary widely based on what kinds of scares they offer.

a) Check to see if they have an age limit. Most don't but almost all recommend your kids be at least teenagers.

b) See if you can find local friends who have been there and get their opinion on how scary it was.

c) Find out if the workers touch you or not. Some houses allow this, some don't.

Haunted houses use a variety of scenarios to scare. Total darkness. Strobe lights and other light effects. Scary sounds and music. Fog. Jump and 'startle' scares. Disturbing imagery. Some even have sections where you may have to crawl, be squeezed, feel like the walls are closing in, or go down slides or through tunnels. Can your kid handle stumbling through the pitch darkness, only to have someone with a chainsaw jump out at them and chase them?

We went through our local park district's 'haunted hallway' a couple years ago and it was actually REALLY well done. My husband and I ended up having to carry both kids while they buried their faces in our necks. Even charity or local haunted houses are staffed by people like me who take pride in scaring people and they're usually really well done. I worked a Jaycees haunted house when I was in high school and was in a very realistic torture scene, stationed next to an actual rotting pig's head (from a local butcher). We had a truck that looked like it was going to drive right into you, a bunch of scary clowns, a mad scientist's lab with actual edible organs, and more. This was 20 years ago. I can only imagine they've improved since then.

Number Three: TALK TO YOUR KID. Don't just drag them to a haunted house kicking and screaming or surprise them when you get there. Discuss what sorts of things they should expect from it, and ask them if they think they are ready for it. It's FUN to be fake-scared. It's NOT fun to be really terrified. Help set your kid up for success by making sure they know it's all pretend, that the people working there are having a ton of fun and working hard so that YOU will have fun too.

So you've considered the above and your kid says 'I'm ready Mom and Dad, I want to do this!' Is there a litmus test to see if they can handle it? Here's my personal succession of tests:

1) Read scary books together. 

From my daughter's first grade open house. All the other little girls had Barbies, princesses, American Girl, mermaids. Then there's my daughter's at the end of the line.
a) If they haven't even read Goosebumps, start there. My horror-hater can't even handle Goosebumps!

b) Grab your favorite anthology of scary campfire tales from when you were a kid. Read some of those together.

c) Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Any of them, as long as they have the ORIGINAL artwork. If your kid can look at the artwork without running screaming, you're off to a good start.

Best children's book EVER.
2) Watch some scary movies together. It can be hard to find horror movies that are ok for kids but if they can't handle even a moderately extreme scary movie, DONT TAKE THEM TO A HAUNTED HOUSE. Haunted houses typically have a good amount of gore; so if your value system doesn't want them seeing gore / disturbing material (people sliced up, bodies hanging, bodies burning on spits, torture scenes), stay out of haunted houses. I actually would like to write up a list of scary movies that are appropriate for kids, more or less, and rank them. For the sake of this post though I'll just throw out a few suggestions.

MILD: Nightmare Before Christmas, Hocus Pocus, Mr. Boogedy

MEDIUM: The Hole (Joe Dante). Ghostbusters. Gremlins (warning: talks about how Santa doesn't exist! I just tell my kids 'that's made up for the movie'. Because we separate fantasy from reality but goddamnit we believe in SANTA CLAUS.)

WILD: Poltergeist. The Frighteners. Insidious.

If your kids can make it through that whole list, they might be ready. (Haven't seen some of the films? Check out the Parental Advisory section for each film on IMDB or go to Common Sense Media. Both are excellent resources for determining if a film fits your family's value system.)

3) How well do your kids handle people's yard haunts ON Halloween? Will they walk through a scary yard where people might pop out at them, or do they make you go get the candy? If they won't set foot on the crazy neighbor's lawn, or they wet their pants when the dude down the street in the hockey mask comes after them, they're probably not ready. If they will stride up, play along, giggle right after they scream, take their candy, and skip away, you're probably good to go.

My costume for our yard haunt last year.

There's no exact way to tell FOR SURE if your kid can handle a haunted house this season, but if you follow this advice and your kid passes the litmus tests, I think you can safely give it a go and probably guarantee a good time.

One final piece of advice: if you are anywhere NEAR Mount Carroll, IL - we are three hours away and we still make this trip whenever we can - and I recommend that you do this OUTSIDE the Halloween season because they are open year-round and you will get a much better tour: TAKE THEM TO RAVENS GRIN INN. It's a haunted house that isn't at all a traditional haunted house: it's weird and wonderful, the owners are amazing people, they will tailor the tour to your kids' fear level, and it's my second favorite place on earth. 

Both my kids (even the scaredy-cat) have been there multiple times (my daughter was 3 the first time we visited) and they love it. You couldn't possibly find a better way to introduce your kids to the fun of being scared than you could here. 

The 3-year-old ringing the front doorbell... because none of the adults would.
(Here's a link to an old review I wrote of them the first time I ever went, if you want some spoilers!)

Best of luck, happy haunting, and have fun!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Trying To Stay The Course

It's been six months and I've made progress but at the same time feel like we haven't moved at all. The honest truth of the matter is that I am a heavy dreamer and over the years have moved without a lot of purpose or direction, just following whatever dream pulled me the strongest. I've ended up with some big messes to clean up as a result. The two biggest messes that really affect us starting a business are finances and home organization.

Finances are still rough. We are still planning to move to North Carolina next summer so most 'starting a business' plans are on hold until then (I do have some things I can work on in the meantime, and I have plans to do them after I finish tackling the next hurdle). We've taken Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University course (wonderful material) and have improved the way we handle our finances as a family over the past year, but there's a lot more work we need to do. I'd love to start all my businesses debt-free and continue running them debt-free. I think that's a worthwhile and important goal, but it also means it'll take longer to get to the OPENING THE BUSINESS point. The focus for 2013 is to really cut back on spending, save enough for the move and for six months' worth of living expenses (my husband will be trying to find a job in North Carolina before the summer but if he doesn't, we will most likely be moving anyway), and to be debt free by the end of the year. There's a lot of dollar signs involved in those goals, so they're pretty lofty, but that's the aim.

Home organization. I'm probably a hoarder. I call myself a recovering hoarder, at any rate. Are you always a hoarder, or are you no longer a hoarder once you've moved out of the hoarding mentality? I believe I have moved out of it over the past few years. I don't NEED things anymore. I don't have a burning desire to acquire STUFF. I rarely shop. I have gotten rid of hundreds (literally) of boxes of items from our home. It's still like having ten pounds of sugar in a five pound bag though. I'm not quite done with my first decluttering pass-through (which has only taken me, oh, YEARS to do, and that's no exaggeration) but I'm close. I can see the end, I know what's going to be left and what's going to go, and I mostly know where I want everything to live.

Over the past month I've been critically reevaluating my home and what will be left in it. It's a small home but it's still packed to the gills. There are a lot of things I'd like to keep. Things I just plain LOVE (books being the big one there; it breaks my heart to imagine getting rid of any more books than I already have, and yet I STILL have too many). Things I want to keep for the Not House. Crafting supplies, of which I have WAY too many - yet they are important for my business endeavors. General house detritus. Some days I'm ready to sell it all and start with a clean slate. Some days I'm on Pinterest, pinning beautiful homes and thinking I should just become a minimalist already. There's a balance I need to strike, and I'm not quite there yet. Do I box up all my collections, my Not House items, until I have the business? Do I box up all but my favorite books until I have the space? Or would it be better to let these things go, and acquire them again when my dreams are realized? (The books, by the by, can also go in the Not House.)

There's also the question of moving. How much of this stuff do I REALLY want to move with us in six or seven months?

Those questions are largely rhetorical, as what is right for YOU isn't necessarily what is right for me. They are just the things that go 'round my mind when I'm cleaning the same things over and over and feeling it wear on me. I'm slowly figuring it out. It's getting there.

This affects the business at this time largely because I don't have much space. I don't have much crafting space (I do have a crafting desk and some space to work, but it's small), I certainly don't have a lot of STORAGE space, and as far as crafting the miniature displays I mentioned in my last post six months ago? I REALLY don't have the space for those yet. It's frustrating, because it's something I really want to tackle, but I have to accept my current limitations and change course again.

Right now I'm planning, once I get just a tad more organized, on starting with a subset of the Not House that I will call Fudge & Oddities. My vision for the store itself is a fudgery (and popcorn, and possibly retro candy) with eclectic crafts / home decor for sale. I need to find a rental commercial kitchen up here before I can launch the food part of it (I already located one in North Carolina), but the Oddities part I can start pretty much right away. I can start it before I move because I can go to vendor fairs with my wares... and I can continue to sell that way when we move to North Carolina, and until we have the money for a storefront. At which point I will have to make a decision: buy land for the Not House and start there, OR open a store in town and then move later to the Not House land, wherever it may be. That's a ways down the road though. I'm still not sure where this whole thing will end up. I'm just going to start with making some wares and selling at fairs (and on etsy), and we will see where we go. I certainly never imagined two years ago that I'd be moving to North Carolina, so who knows where we'll be two years from now?? It's good to have a vision but it pays to be flexible because life throws lots of curves.

In the meantime the hardest thing for me to do is to pull myself out of dreams and stick to the path. There's plenty of room for productive dreaming ON the path, but I often get distracted by dreams not on this exact path. For instance, there's a piece of commercial real estate for sale in the town we currently live in that I keep dreaming about. I could start Fudge & Oddities AND a holiday store in one location, AND live above it! But it's in my home town, which we plan on leaving in six months, AND we are not financially ready to buy a building at this time. This isn't the first piece of real estate that has caught me like this, and it certainly won't be the last, but man they really tug at my heart when they catch me. I could do so much with it! It's hard to be a dreamer sometimes, it really is. I still mourn that bar in Mount Carroll. (It was so very lovely.) I still desperately want to start Spirits Haunted Pub (there's a restaurant for sale 15 minutes from me that would be a great location for it, and I dream about that frequently as well).

If I won the lottery these are the things I'd be launching right away, along with a few other key businesses. I would happily work these businesses until the day I die. I certainly wouldn't be trudging along, spending years of my life digging myself out from the pile of STUFF in which I live. I'd hire a few professional organizers to help me sort it all out, I'd hire a cleaning person to help me keep my house clean (I LOATHE cleaning, I really do), I'd figure out exactly where my ideal Not House location is, I'd buy some land, and I'd start launching my businesses.

Since I don't have millions of dollars at my disposal though, I can't even hire ONE professional organizer. I have to keep doing it myself, step by step (with my limited home-organization skill set, at that!). It's slow, sometimes excrutiatingly slow. Sometimes it's hard to see the progress and I have to slow down and remind myself of all the work I've done. Sometimes I dream about where I want to be and I want to fast forward SO DESPERATELY... except I don't really want to fast-forward my life. I just want the drudgery to be done.
It's important to lay a good foundation though, or the whole thing will crumble; I know this. I think we are working hard to do it the right way. I'm proud of us for taking the time to do it RIGHT.

But if any eccentric billionaires happen across this blog and want to donate some money to the cause, I certainly wouldn't turn you down! I ain't gettin' any younger... and I have enough dreams to occupy me for several lifetimes.