Halloween 2017: It’s a Wrap

pumpkin penduncles

Three pumpkins, three unique peduncles

In a flurry of activity, Halloween came and went. October 31st landed on a Tuesday this year, but trick-or-treating children continued to ring the bell until 8:30 that night. There were fewer than last year, but we still had about 300 costumed little ones at the door.

costumed children

Our driveway at the height of the evening

Passing out Halloween candy

Mike passing out candy at the door

Baby in pumpkin costume

Ray and Sara’s darling “pumpkin” stopped by for a visit and a photo-op

Mike took the day off of work so he would have time to carve pumpkins. It’s become a yearly tradition. We ended up with six pumpkins this year. I planted three from Bonnie Plant starters, and the squirrels planted three more. One of the pumpkins rotted in the week leading up to Halloween, but the others were hale and hearty.
The pumpkins went from this

To this

and finally this: I’ve had as much fun watching the squirrels “clean up” as I did when the pumpkins were whole and carved.

Mike came up with our costume idea this year. We dressed as “aging” (ha) black and white screen stars. We rented costumes from a local place called Natasha’s Attic. I bought a black wig but Mike’s hair is naturally dark so he just had to wear a hat. We applied grey theatrical makeup to any exposed skin, then used black mascara and white makeup for highlight and shadows.  If you follow this link, you’ll see the stunning example we worked from. We’re makeup novices, but we made do with our limited skills and had fun.

I helped my sister pull together her costume again this year. We’ve always enjoyed dressing up for Halloween. Sharon has MS and relies on a motorized scooter to get around so her costume has to be easy to put on and off.

Last year I bought a small, decorative cat from my friend Lexi’s Etsy shop. I knew Sharon would love it, and could use it to decorate the front of her scooter. That cute little cat inspired this year’s costume!  She decided to dress up like the little cat.

I made a small tulle apron to match the one on the kitty, and I used one of my soft pumpkins for her wrist. I added a scrap of green ribbon, then sewed the pumpkin to a hair tie. I picked up the cute glasses at a paper store of all places. If you follow this link to Kelly’s blog, you’ll see the two of us sporting a pair. Sharon popped out the lenses, then wore the kitty glasses over her own.  The small skeleton came from a shop in Willow Glen, and Sharon bought the faux fur scarf online. She’s always cold, so she really liked the warmth it provided.  I think she’s adorable.

At long last, we’re enjoying autumn-like weather. Halloween, 2017, is a wrap.

The End of the Lawn: Our Garden One Year Later

I’m excited to share photos of our garden one year later. We replaced our lawn last November with drought tolerant and California native plants.

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November 2015 * Newly planted native garden in front of the house

Not only do these plants survive and thrive on limited water, but they also attract hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects. Those visitors are a boon to any garden.

native garden

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

Salvia and native grasses

Salvia and native grasses

Nepeta and newly sprouted sweet peas

Nepeta and newly sprouted sweet peas

Once established, the plants only need water about once a week. It’s been an exciting step away from the outdated monoculture of suburban lawns to a more bio-diverse garden. As the drought dragged on, I let go of the fantasy of a cottage garden and fully embraced a garden that fits my environment. San Jose averages only 15 inches of rain a year, and virtually no rain throughout the hot summer months.

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November 2015 * Newly planted native garden in back of the house

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

November 2016 * Native garden one year later

native garden back of house

2016 Native garden near swing

native garden near patio

2016 * Native garden near patio

Adding a rain catchment system earlier this year meant I could fill a box with tomato plants and water them guilt-free. I’m also enjoying letting things be, which means making sure a weed is a weed before yanking it from the earth. We’ve had a number of self seeded flowers this year including Sweet Peas, Nigella and Mirabilis Jalapa.

Halloween “Postmortem”

We’re exhausted (because we’re not twenty anymore) but boy did we have fun. We attended two Halloween costume parties, back to back.

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First Halloween costume party of the season

We were too darn tired for the final party, but missed out on seeing those friends.  On Halloween night we opened the door to over 400 candy-seeking trick-or-treaters.

Halloween Night 2016

Halloween Night 2016 * These two homemade costumes were my favorite of the night. Upper and lower left, our front garden under blue lights. Mike’s pumpkins after dark, lower center

Mike expertly carved four of the seven pumpkins, leaving the two round ones for my first attempt at pumpkin soup. The smallest of the seven is part of my Thanksgiving display.

pumpkin-carvings-2016

Spiderman, a Minion, Arching cat on a slate roof, Socks the cat

Our costumes needed explaining at the Friday party (what…you’re a meat pie?) but Saturday’s party was a different story. Pretty much everyone dressed up as either a character from the movie Sweeney Todd, or as someone from the Victorian era.

mrs-lovett-and-her-famous-meat-pie

Our hosts, who are also from the UK, served a variety of traditional meat pies, but included a vegetarian option for yours truly.  They really got everyone in the spirit. We played a few games, danced and Martin gave all the guys a pretend shave, fully embracing his role as host and the deranged barber, Sweeney Todd. Diane dressed as Mrs. Lovett. You’ll see photos of the two of us and other party-goers in the short video clip below.

My lovely host awarded me the prize for best female costume at the second party. I’m pretty sure it was my crazy wig that pushed things over the top.sweeney-todd-party-alys-and-diane

alys-with-skeleton-in-red

I bumped into this skeleton in the lady’s room. The cheek!

All in all, it’s been a fabulous Halloween season.

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The Giving Pumpkin

On a cool winter day, long before its scheduled appearance, a tiny pumpkin seed broke ground. How quaint, I thought, but how could it last? It was still cold at night.

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Pumpkin Sprout * March 4th, 2016

According to my seed packet, pumpkin seeds should go in the ground in May after “danger of frost has passed.” It was early March after all.

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The start of something special

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Pumpkin Vines (foreground). My crop grown from seeds in the Earth Box. RIP my failed little crop. * May, 2016

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Pumpkin Vines and a Strolling Mouse the Cat * May 26th, 2016

As weeds appear, they are unceremoniously tugged from the earth, but I let other tiny seedlings grow. When it comes to my garden I’m part dictator (off with their weedy heads) and part socialist (everyone deserves a fair chance).  I didn’t pamper the pumpkin, but I didn’t discourage it either. Before long, we were checking on the plant every day.  In the heat of summer, pumpkin vines grow like weeds. Curly tendrils grab hold of nearby plants and meander across the garden. The Giving Pumpkin took off before spring!

If you’re new to planting pumpkins, it goes like this: the seed sprouts and a small plant appears. Several leaves form and the vine trails. Male flowers start to grow on the vine, opening by day, closing at night, and dropping from the vine within a day or two.

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Male Pumpkin Flower * May 7th, 2016

Then the female flowers appear and the bees are on the job. The bees travel between blooms, cross-pollinating as they gather nectar for the hive.

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Female Pumpkin Flower

Presto! Tiny green pumpkins begin to form on the vine. It’s not a done deal by any means. Those tiny pumpkins might last a day or two before shriveling and dropping to the ground. Sooner or later though, a glorious pumpkin takes hold and off it grows. If you’re lucky, the fabulously forming fruit goes undetected by rats, squirrels and the dreaded squash bugs.

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Turning Orange in the Sun * June, 2016

The size of the mature leaves closely determines the size of the pumpkin.

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Pumpkin leaf correlates to the size of the fruit

Here’s what’s new this year with this fabulous giving pumpkin. As the fruit forms, the energy diverts from the plant to the fruit.  In the past, once that happened there was no turning back. In rapid succession, the leaves turned ashy, literally crumbling to dust in your hands.

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Pumpkin leaves turn to ash

I removed the dead leaves, harvested all three pumpkins, and figured that was that. My son asked it we could leave the vine a little longer, as we spotted a tiny budding pumpkin. So we did. To my delight, several new leaves formed at the joints and the vine took on a second life: more leaves, more flowers, more fruit. I’ve never “grown” such a prolific pumpkin.

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Pumpkin Vine at Dusk * June 10th, 2016

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New growth on the self seeded pumpkin

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Tall twins and a cousin * August 9th, 2016

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A Second Pair of Pumpkins * August 9th, 2016

The average life of a pumpkin plant is 90 to 125 days from seed to maturity. When I harvested the last pumpkin we were well into October.

The last of the pumpkins. Not quite orange, but full of teeth marks.

The last of the pumpkins. Not quite orange, but full of teeth marks.

What a fabulous crop! I may start following Pauline’s advice. I’ll just toss a bunch of seeds over my shoulder and let nature do the rest. This season was great fun.

*With a tip of my hat to Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree.

Note: On October 31st, my husband carves the pumpkins and we display them on the deck. We average 300 costumed children at our door each year. It’s a festive night. Here are some of his carvings from prior years.

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Mad About Pumpkins

We’re mad about pumpkins. We grow them, dress them up and carve them for Halloween. Without further ado, some of my favorite pumpkins from the past decade.

October 31st: A Journal

pumpkin carving

Mike’s carvings 2014

Today’s post is a tiny departure from the norm. Since you’ve followed my Halloween preparations throughout October, I wanted to share details from our action-packed day. Here we go.

6:40

I woke up without an alarm to overcast skies.  Rain in the forecast.  Super excited, except that it’s Halloween. Hopefully it will rain before and after the candy gatherers come out to play.

7:30

Carpool three teens to school.

7:45

Wait for the school parking lot traffic to clear.Read a few of my favorite blogs. Leave a long comment on Pauline’s fabulous garden post (one of my favorite subjects of course) but apparently never hit the ‘post’ key. I’ll head back there today, trying to recapture in detail how much I love her garden and her post.

8:15

Tidy the kitchen and start some laundry. I live a glamorous life.

Under strict instructions from my youngest son, I remove all items from the deck. The fairy garden isn’t scary enough.

Line the walkway with pumpkins, candles and the aforementioned fairy garden.

lining the deck with pumpkins and candles

Lining the walkway/ramp with candles and home-grown pumpkins

Inside, Mike guts three pumpkins and decides what to carve. He traveled the day before, up at 4:00 am and home at 10 so he’s tired.  Lindy offers moral support. Mike chooses three of his pattern favorites.

lindy offers moral support

Lindy offers moral support

Mike carving pumpkin

Carving the deadly diva

The skies open up. Puddles form. Honest to goodness rain in San Jose. Giddy with excitement, but still hoping it stops by 5:00 pm. Go out to brunch with Mike, an incredibly rare treat on his day off from work.

rain in the gutters

Rain!

halloween garden in the rain

The rain makes everything look off-kilter

2:00

Well, someone has to fold the laundry.

2:30

Gather the teens from school. It’s still raining so my youngest son is indecisive about hanging black plastic on the deck awning. He waits.

tasty treat trifecta

Tasty treat trifecta: Candy corn for Mike, kitty treats for Lindy, and left over seeds and pulp for the neighborhood squirrels

2:45

Pick up a self-bake pizza, narrowly avoiding a car accident in the process. To my tremendous surprise, the driver follows me into the pizza place and apologizes! Life is good. Note: Halloween is the biggest take-out pizza day of the year. Back home, I review college application materials with my oldest son. UC applications open November 1st. He’s ready to go.

4:00

It’s now or never. With Mike’s help, my youngest son covers the awning and sides of the deck with heavy black plastic, saved from year to year for this purpose.  His friend arrives around 5:00 and they scope out hiding places, adding black lights and string. The boys ready their masks. I repeat firm instructions:  they’re not to scare anyone under the age of 14.

scary halloween deck 2014

Converting the deck into a frightful state

5:15

Pizza in the oven.

5:17

Pizza devoured.

5:30

Race down the hall to get ready for the second of three Halloween parties. The boys man the door as the trick or treating begins in earnest.

Attaching the false eyelashes is always the trickiest part for me. I don’t wear much makeup throughout the year, so I’m always out of practice.

6:00

Dressed and ready to go, I continue passing out little bags of pretzels. Most of the little girls at the door ask if I’m Elsa from Frozen. I nod and said yes. I was going to make bookmarks to go with them. When did I think I was going to find the time? Next year?

8:00

We’ve passed out all the pretzels, a box of gummy candy, packets of cookies and granola bars from our pantry and anything else we can think of. 240 bags and buckets have passed by our door. The supply of acceptable give-away treats depleted, we post a note of apology and close up shop.

8:45

Walk through a cool mist to Lisa and Roy’s Halloween party a few blocks away. Eat. Socialize. Try really hard not to drift off in the comfy chair.

party hosts

Halloween Party Hosts Mary Poppins and Bert the Chimney Sweep

Late

At this point I am so tired that I’ve lost track of time. I manage to remove my makeup before crawling into bed, though briefly considered sleeping with it on. Yes, I was that tired. Drift off, patting myself on the back for finishing off my no-candy countdown.

decal and makeup

Decal eye makeup, false eyelashes and some eyeshadow in between

If you’re still here, thanks for reading.

Today I’m readying our garage for voting tomorrow.  Friends in the States, don’t forget to vote November 4th.

Pumpkins: Just the Facts, Ma’am

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Pumpkins are so entrenched in our North American culture this time of year, that it’s easy to forget they’re not equally popular the world over.  They’re native to Central America and Mexico, but they’ve been grown in North America for five thousand years.

Bob's Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

Bob’s Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay

Pilgrims learned to cultivate, grow and store pumpkins from the Native Americans.  Without them, they would have starved in those early 1600s winters. Pumpkin pie is traditionally served  at the Thanksgiving meal.  It’s easy to forget what a significant role it played in the early Pilgrim’s lives.

White pumpkin with flowers

Thanksgiving flower arrangement

We have a number of pumpkin festivals and pumpkin “patches” in our community.  We attended many of them when our boys were young, and were sorry when a few closed to make room for development.

The immensely popular Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival, dubbed the World Pumpkin Capital celebrates 42 years in 2012. The festival highlight for those of us serious about pumpkins, is the great pumpkin weigh-off.  Last year’s winning pumpkin tipped the scales at a mind-boggling 1,704 pounds. Unfortunately, the festival has grown so popular that it can take upwards of an hour to get to the center of town.  We joined friends for an off weekend last year, so we could drive through Half Moon Bay and along the beautiful coast, while avoiding the traffic nightmare.

Bob's Pumpkin Farm

Lifting Weights at Bob’s Pumpkin Farm

I dream of growing our own “Atlantic Giant,” out back, but lack the stamina and will power of the serious growers. It’s fun to read about the efforts the hard-core growers employ, and to see the amazing results.  It was quite the thrill growing a 62 pound beauty this year.

I can’t wait to see what the seeds and flesh are like inside.  My husband lovingly carves our pumpkins year after year.  We dry and store seeds for the following season and the cycle begins anew.

assorted pumpkins

2011 Pumpkin Crop

Pumpkin Facts

  • Pumpkins are a member of the gourd family, which includes cucumbers, honeydew melons, cantaloupe, watermelons and zucchini.
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever baked was in 2005 and weighed 2,020 pounds.
  •  In 1584, after French explorer Jacques Cartier explored the St. Lawrence region of North America, he reported finding “gros melons.” The name was translated into English as “pompions,” which has since evolved into the modern “pumpkin.”
  • Pumpkins are low in calories, fat, and sodium and high in fiber. They are good sources of Vitamin A, Vitamin B, potassium, protein, and iron.
  • The heaviest pumpkin weighed 1,810 lb 8 oz and was presented by Chris Stevens at the Stillwater Harvest Fest in Stillwater, Minnesota, in October 2010.
  • Pumpkin seeds should be planted between the last week of May and the middle of June. They take between 90 and 120 days to grow and are picked in October when they are bright orange in color. Their seeds can be saved to grow new pumpkins the next year.

 U.S. Census Bureau and the Guinness Book of World Records

Resources:

Halloween Countdown

Pumpkins and Flowers

Pumpkins and Flowers