Tag Archives: pumpkins

About last night…

So last night was Halloween.  As you can tell from previous blogs, this is my favorite night of the year, and my favorite thing to do is scare the ever loving crud out of trick-or-treaters of all ages.  We start it with ambiance…the yard was supremely creepy this year!

We had dozens of Jack-o-Lanterns, we filled the yard with brush from my neighbor’s tree trimming, I spread spider webs over all the branches…

There was even a flaming gas can that lit up our KEEP OUT sign.  This is a great trick that I think I stole from the movie “Son of Rambow” which is a delightful little film if you’ve never seen it.  About some very young British kids making a fantasy film in elementary school.  This flaming gas can is normally the head for my scarecrow, but I didn’t have time to make a scarecrow this year.

Around 7:30pm I started to get worried.  We’d had only one party of very young trick-or-treaters and it had already been dark for 30 minutes.  In a normal year, the little ones come around sunset, and within an hour of darkness, everyone has finished trick-or-treating entirely.  Was it going to be a bust year?

Since they moved Daylight Savings time to November, it was still not getting dark early, and since it was a school night, I was really worried that we weren’t going to have any trick or treaters.  But, around 7:45, they started coming.  Thank goodness!

To pull my gag, I wrap myself in old blankets and put on a creepy burlap sack mask that I made a few years ago after watching the film “El Orfanato,” a Spanish horror film produced by Guillermo del Toro (who did Pan’s Labyrinth, etc.) which is one of the scariest films I’ve EVER seen.  A little deformed boy in an orphanage is forced to wear this little burlap sack over his head so the other children aren’t frightened by his deformities, and to make the mask a bit more whimsical for him, a kind woman sews little buttons on for the eyes and gives him blushing cheeks.  But, for the viewer, it only makes the mask more terrifying.  So I did my best to copy it:

You can see that I’ve cut one hold so I can see out through one eye, and that’s the thing that creeps kids (and parents!) out the most.  Seeing that eye.  But I don’t blink or move it, so they can’t tell whether it’s real or not.

All together we got about 10 groups of trick-or-treaters.  We get fewer each year.  I’m not sure what to attribute that to.  I generally don’t scare the littlest ones, I just sit there and let them try to figure out whether I’m real.  I had one little girl who was almost hypnotized, she wouldn’t grab any candy OR turn around and leave, she just stood there staring at me.

The older kids get a big scream when they reach for candy, of course.  The best moment was when a group of pre-teens were too scared to walk up the sidewalk, so they forced their aunt to go for them.  She kept saying, “It’s fake guys, I know it’s fake, that’s why I’m coming up here to get you your candy!”

About that moment I screamed and lunged for her, and she was so surprised that she just passed out backwards onto my sidewalk and didn’t move.  For an instant I thought I had given her a heart attack and killed her, but then she started laughing and her family was rushing up to her and laughing, too.  “I’m about to kill that guy!” she said, and then said, “Look at me, a grown woman, getting scared like that!’

Ultimately she was a great sport, and told me she was excited to see the footage uploaded to YouTube, and you can find the link at the bottom of this blog entry.  Sweetheart, if you ever read this, you are welcome to bring your family over to my house for dinner one night!

It was a great night, a fun time had by all.  Big thanks to J-P, Jacques, Karen, Sharon, Chris, and Christian for helping pull it off!

Even Oliver got in the spirit with his pumpkin costume:

He only wore it for a short time before getting totally ashamed and humiliated, so much so that he didn’t want to be outside with the rest of us and just wanted to mope on the bed:

A big HAPPY HALLOWEEN to all of you!  Only 364 days left until NEXT Halloween!!!

Here is a quick tour around my front yard at night:

And here is a 5 minute clip of me scaring trick-or-treaters, including the woman who passed out!

And a final few images for you to enjoy!

Happy Halloween!

It’s Halloween!  My favorite day of the entire year.  I loved Halloween as a kid, but because our parents strictly forbade us from eating candy, we had to donate all our candy to the church food pantry each year.  Trick-or-treating was about the activity itself, not about the candy at the end.  (Though, I confess, I usually snuck a few pieces here and there when Mom wasn’t looking!!!)

As an adult, I fell in love with autumn through Ray Bradbury’s books Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes (which has also been turned into a FABULOUS film, easily Disney’s scariest film of all time), and fell in love with Halloween all over again through his novella The Halloween Tree.  Chances are you’ve never heard of this little book.  Like Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, Bradbury wrote this book for children, but it’s really meant for adults.  It has brilliantly-etched, supremely creepy illustrations from the great Italian-American artist Joseph Mugniani.

The book tells the story of all the holidays like Halloween that have been observed throughout the history of civilization…from Mexico’s El Dia de los Muertos, to the death holidays of ancient Egypt.  It’s not only educational, it is suspenseful and fun, and a quick read.  Whether you have kids or not, you should own a copy of this book.  It’s out of print, unfortunately, but both new and used copies can still be found on Amazon for under $5, which is a total bargain.  I usually keep 3 or 4 copies on hand at any given time because I love loaning them out.  It’s truly a miraculous little book.

Growing up in West Texas where we have no trees and only two seasons: bitter cold and blazing hot, I never experienced AUTUMN as a kid.  But through Bradbury’s books, which so perfectly capture the spirit of autumn in a boy’s mind and heart, I feel like I inherited childhood autumn memories from Bradbury.  Who couldn’t with words like these:

“It was the afternoon of Halloween.  And all the houses shut against a cool wind.  And the town full of cold sunlight.  But suddenly, the day was gone.  Night came out from under each tree and spread.  Anyone could see that the wind was a special wind this night, and the darkness took on a special feel because it was All Hallows’ Eve.  Everything seemed cut from soft black velvet or gold or orange velvet.  Smoke panted up out of a thousand chimneys like the plumes of funeral parades.  From kitchen windows drifted two pumpkin smells: gourds being cut, pies being baked.

“The cries behind the locked house doors grew more exasperated as shadows of boys flew by windows.  Half-dressed boys, greasepaint on their cheeks; here a hunchback, there a medium-sized giant.  Attics were still being rummaged, old locks broken, old steamer chests disembowled for costumes…”

All our holidays are being taken over by marketing specialists and commercialism, and rather than let Halloween disappear into a Hallmark card of inflatable lawn decorations and poly-molded plastic ghosts hanging from trees, I have always endeavored to bring the homemade spirit back into Halloween by making most of my decorations and doing my best to truly terrify the children who come trick-or-treating at my door.  We’ve softened this holiday into a candy-corn love fest with cutsie costumes and decor…when this is the one night of the year when you’re supposed to be scared so much that your mom doesn’t want to do laundry that night!  I haven’t had much time to devote to decor due to my recent travels, but here is what my front yard looks like this morning:

I spent about $4 on spider webs and spiders (one of the greatest Halloween decorations EVER invented…and one of the most mis-used…you have to stretch the webs VERY thin for a realistic effect), my neighbor has picked up a few items from garage sales to contribute, but largely the decor is homemade.  Her trees got trimmed last week, so we just drug the branches into my yard to make it look overgrown, and stretched spider webs across the homemade stick-fence and the branches, and the place looks pretty creepy!

Last Saturday night was my annual pumpkin carving party.  After tonight I’ll have some night-time photos of the pumpkins all lit up, but here are a few we snapped the night of the party:

I’ll carve a few more before it gets dark.  I like my yard to be absolutely FILLED with jack-o-lanterns.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I put a homemade burlap sack mask over my head and lean awkwardly against my front door so that I look like a homemade scarecrow.  When the kiddies come up, they usually don’t give me a second look because they are eyeing a black cauldron of candy sitting in front of me, and I jump and scream at them as soon as they reach.  Then, if the volume of trick-or-treaters permits, I continue following them up the street and jump out and scare them when they come back from neighbor’s doors, also!  You should get scared on Halloween…that’s what makes it fun!

(One year I ran out of candy and had to squat down to make myself look short, dash a few streets over, and trick-or-treat to get more candy to give to MY trick-or-treaters.  I got a few nasty, suspicious looks from the adults who could tell I wasn’t 10 years old.)

I do hope each and every one of you has a truly terrifying Halloween tonight.  Think of my on my favorite night of the year!!!

And if you haven’t watched my little 5-minute short film called “Pumpkin Eater” on YouTube, you should head over and check it out at the link below.  It’s fun for the whole family…maybe a tiny bit creepy, as well.  Happy Halloween!



I admit it.  I’m an October junkie.  I can’t get enough of it.  October is the one month of the year when I come ALIVE!!!

There’s something about the way the wind changes direction and starts to sound and feel a little uneasy, especially around sunset and at night.  Leaves start to change and fall, and they give a visual element to the wind.  You can SEE the wind as it takes the leaves on a whirlwind tour down the street.

Pumpkins start appearing in the markets and in front yards.  And you all know exactly how I feel about pumpkins!  Every single thing about them is a miracle.  They’re big and round and orange and seem ready to explode.  They are the color of autumn.  You can carve them into delightfully twisted, scary faces.  The smell when you pop open a pumpkin’s freshly cut lid is intoxicating to me.  And, of course, they are incredibly delicious.  I use pumpkin in everything.  All parts of the pumpkin, in fact, from the blossoms to the seeds.

It was autumn that inspired me to create the pumpkin carrot cake that eventually led to Gordon Ramsay calling it the “best thing ever created on MasterChef” and that shut Graham Elliot up for half a minute while he waited for his mouth to finish “org-sming.”

And then there are the October holidays.  Halloween for most of us.  That time when kids roam the streets in the suddenly chilly, early-dark air.  They come to my house and find the windows boarded up, a falling-down fence made of rotten sticks, a yard filled to the BRIM with evil, grinning jack-o-lanterns….

Usually a creepy scarecrow with a rusty tin-can head, jagged eye and mouth holes ripped open, with blue flames belching out of its head.

Half of them end up too scared to actually walk up to the door.  But that’s the point.  Our holidays have become so commercial, and Halloween isn’t about candy, it’s about FEAR!  In our overly-sensationalized age, with our horror movies and and the internet, kids rarely actually get SCARED on Halloween any more.  I feel it’s my personal task to change that.  I remember loving the fear on Halloween, scared that a monster was going to jump out of every bush.

For those kids brave enough to walk the sidewalk to the front door, they usually encounter a big black cauldron filled with the BEST candy on the block…Snickers and Butterfinger and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.  Fog swirls around the front door, and maybe…just maybe…they notice the stuffed creature propped up in the corner.

Sometimes the parents question whether or not that stuffed creature might be real, but the kids know better.  It’s just a prop.  With one strikingly realistic eye staring at them.  But the eye doesn’t blink, so it can’t be real.

They reach for fistfuls of candy bars and AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I jump out and scare the living daylights out of them.  Usually the parents scream louder than the kids, and most of the time, the kids bolt for the street and don’t come back.  Occasionally I’ll get a couple that have to prove their masculinity and they’ll come back and poke at me with sticks or proclaim “I wasn’t scared, I was just pretending!”

Those are my favorite.  I let them pass on to the next house, and while they’re busy getting candy, I sneak through the shadows to the bushes several houses down.  As they approach that house, I jump out and scare them AGAIN.  Then I swoop off into the shadows while they recover…and hide again in the bushes another few houses away.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

It’s GREAT fun, the parents always get such a kick out of it.  And increasing numbers of kids show up each year and say, “Oh, I remember THIS house” as they approach the stuffed creature on the front porch.  Somehow they always think I’ve taken a year off, because they are ALWAYS surprised and terrified.  I love it.

Creative decorating is always a priority in the fall.  One year we decorated a friend’s house and it was so outrageous the paper sent a photographer out.  We had flown in swamp moss from southern Louisiana and draped the house and trees with it, boarded up the windows, hung pumpkins in the trees…then on Halloween night we actually hung ME in the tree!  I rigged up a seat harness connected to an “invisible” black rope, so I was hanging comfortably by the waist, then we tied a white rope noose around my neck, I blacked out my eyes and tongue, and I just hung there swaying in the wind.  The kids all thought I was a prop, but the parents would walk up, staring cautiously, wondering how we had made such a realistic dummy.  Then, of course, I’d scream and scare the parents while the kids were getting candy at the front door.

Just as they would run back to their terrified parents, the creepy Pumpkin Man arose from the graveyard and chased them away to the next house!  This is my friend Jacques, and we found a pumpkin large enough to hollow out and fit over his head.  It was HEAVY, though, and I think his neck and shoulders were sore for a week afterward!

We usually have at least 20 jack-o-lanterns, and people always ask how we ended up with so many.  On the Saturday before Halloween, I host a pumpkin carving party.  I usually end up with a dozen friends over, and everyone carves at least two pumpkins while I ply them with baked pumpkin goodies and pumpkin beer.

The other holiday in October I love is El Dia de los Muertos, or “The Day of the Dead.”  It’s a Latin American holiday that precedes the Catholic holiday All Soul’s Day, and it’s when families remember all those who have died.  Generally they celebrate with a feast amongst the graves of their ancestors, with lots of candles, fireworks, and they give out candy-sugar skulls to the kids with their names written across the forehead.

For my annual Fall Dinner Party a few years ago, I themed the event and the menu for El Dia de los Muertos, and I made candy skulls for each of my friends.  That was a mammoth task, it took me almost a month.  But it was worth it!  Click HERE to find out how to make them.  I’ve done my Fall Dinner Party almost every year since 2001, and people come from all over the world to attend.  Some years it’s so big I have to seat everyone outside.

This year I’ll be able to spend the 2 weeks before Halloween in the northeast, enjoying the fall colors and festivals there.  This will be my second trip to Vermont, but my first time in Maine and New Brunswick.  I’m very excited!  Hoping to get lots of good photographs and enjoy meeting folks in the rural areas who still celebrate in an authentic way.  If you live in New England or northeastern Canada, drop me a note and maybe we can meet on my trip!