The Truth About Pumpkins


It’s that pumpkin time of year. Pumpkins stacked artfully on every doorstep. Pumpin crafts in every elementary classroom. Pumpkin-shaped dishes and pumpkin-colored sweaters. And don’t even get me started on the food. Pumpkin spice lattes are only the beginning. Now we have pumpkin spice cookies. Pumpkin spice cereal. Pumpkin spice tortilla chips. Even our beloved peanut butter cups have mutated into pumpkin form for the season.

I love it.

I have no fewer than six pumpkins by my front door. I own an orange shirt (something I once swore I would never do). Pumpkin spice is my middle-aged white lady jam.

Happily, I’m not so young that I can’t make fun of myself for it. And I’m not so old that I can’t question how I got here.

Why have we become so crazy about pumpkins? Sure, it’s a fall vegetable, but so are other kinds of squash, not to mention cabbage and kale. You don’t see anyone obsessing over cabbage season, do you? Obviously this is a very clever marketing scheme. But why does it work so well?

Then the other day, it hit me. I was cleaning up toys in our playroom (like some kind of family-member-turned-slave) and I saw the picture. You see that one up there? It’s from an old Cinderella book I found at a thrift store. The illustrations charmed me, so I framed them and hung them up to smile down on my playing children. And there it is. Cinderella, holding the pumpkin which is about to take her to a ball to meet the love of her life.

No wonder we’re so obsessed with pumpkins, ladies! They are embedded in our mythology as our transportation to bliss.

Think about it. A plain lump of a vegetable, left in the garden after everything else had been harvested, gets chosen to be transformed into something special and lovely. It won’t last forever. The magic ends at midnight. But no one will ever forget it, even after it’s gone. It will have changed the course of a girl’s life, and even the course of a kingdom.

That pumpkin is potential. That pumpkin is hope. That pumpkin is us.

And we are going to ride it away from our daily chores and into a palace of happily ever after.

Too far? Tell me you haven’t thought a PSL would turn your day around. Tell me you haven’t lit a pumpkin scented candle and sat down with your pumpkin shaped treat of choice and taken a brief mental vacation.

I’m not saying that if a cabbage had been all that poor girl had left in her garden, we’d all be drinking cabbage spice lattes today. I’m just saying that there’s a correlation. Our cultural stories have far-reaching affects, and this one is no exception.

So hold your head high as you buy those mini-pumpkins and speak up when you order your pumpkin bagel with extra cinnamon cream cheese. You are part of a proud tradition of women taking leftover vegetables and making them into something magical.

It’s not the solution to all our problems, but it’s a decent way to make it to midnight.

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Don’t Forget to Laugh

Can we take ourselves a little less seriously today?

Lately I’ve been writing and writing and thinking and then writing some more.  Working on word choice. Polishing things up. Trying out new things. Wrestling with big thoughts. That’s cool. It’s part of the process. 

But.

Remember when we were just making up silly stories for our kids? Yeah, there was one about a house that defended its people against a monster.  And another one about the politest pirates on the seven seas.  

I think I need a few more super ducks in my life.

My husband, the world’s most serious man, is actually responsible for reminding me to lighten up this week.  He did it by telling my daughter a story. 

Once upon a time there was a Mexican turkey named Felipe. He lived in Mexico his whole life and never travelled to the United States because he heard that people eat turkeys here.  But one day, he got a chance to take a vacation across the border and he couldn’t resist.  He was having a great time until he realized it was November, the worst time to be a turkey in the United States!  Suddenly, he was in danger of being eaten! He ran to the other turkeys and they took him to the turkey cave, where turkeys go to hide out until Thanksgiving is over.  He stayed in the turkey cave until the coast was clear.  Then he went straight back to Mexico and never came to the United States again. 

Yep, that’s the whole story. It took about five minutes to tell, with whatever tiny bit of energy he had left over at the end of a long work day. But you guys, she thought it was hilarious. She has told it at least three times to different people since then. Only she gets the name wrong and calls him Felipo instead, which really just makes the whole thing even better.

  
I told you we were keeping it light. Nothing is lighter than me drawing a turkey with a sombrero on my Doodle ap. 

What do you think? Are you feeling inspired? If I can doodle a brown blob and call it a turkey, you could make up a story like that.  You know you could.

Let’s tell stories today and not worry if they aren’t masterpieces, okay? Heck, they don’t even have to make sense.  

I mean, they probably eat turkey in Mexico, too.  Just don’t tell Felipo.

The Last

  

Last red leaf of autumn
With all the rest turned brown
How did you come to be here
Still crimson on the ground?

Was it blind chance that left you
Hanging lonely on the tree?
Or were you extra stubborn
Like mules and goats (and me)?

Did you feel the cold wind 
And see your brothers fall
Then cling on extra tightly
And refuse to hear the call?

And in the bitter ending
When you saw you were alone
Did you feel a surge of triumph
Or shiver cold at the unknown?

Was it hard to finally let go
To feel your grip slipping away?
Or did it come as a relief
To float off into skies so grey?

It seems no more than wasted effort
That short delay of common doom
But, oh my last red leaf of autumn
You shine so brightly in the gloom

Counting versus Recounting

  
It’s that time of year when we all begin to think about gratitude.  The lists are showing up everywhere.  My Facebook feed is full of them.  One a day, lengthy lists, or random thankfulness.  It’s the question on everyone’s mind.

What are you thankful for?

Count your blessings.

I love it all.

There is something so right about taking time to be grateful, and making a list is a quick way to remind ourselves that we have so, so much to appreciate.

Still, sometimes I wonder if making a list is enough.  Sometimes I wonder if we need to take the time to tell our stories in order to truly feel the gratitude we ought to feel.

A list may tell how many things I have to be thankful for, but it doesn’t begin to express how deep that gratitude goes.  

A list will say that I am thankful for my husband, but that seems like too trivial a way to express how I feel about the man I called in college to come change my tire in the rain.  Not only did he drop everything to come, not only did he lie on his back in a puddle to make sure I could get safely home, but he took the time to show me how it was done, to make sure that the next time I ran over a nail, I wouldn’t be helpless.  We weren’t even dating, but already he knew how important my idependence was to me.  That same man climbed up on my roof last night to clean out my gutters after a long day of work and also didn’t bat an eye when I said I didn’t need to call a plumber to fix the clog in the sink because I could take it apart myself.  He called me on the phone after I got a rejection letter last week and began making plans for how to move forward, completely refusing to allow me to wallow in self-pity, and he also rubbed my feet when I dropped onto couch exhausted after our Halloween party.  These stories and a million more are what I mean when I say that I am thankful for my husband.  One word is really not enough.

A list may highlight the important people and moments in my life, but it doesn’t say why they bring me to my knees in gratitude.

A list will mention that I am so thankful to watch my oldest daughter grow and mature, but that’s a cliche if you don’t know about the little girl who raged at me day after day, losing her everloving mind over things like crust on her sandwiches and how much time she had in the playplace at McDonalds, screaming at me and kicking me and once even biting me.  You need to know the girl who slowly began to control that fury, only unleashing it on special occasions, like when her little sister touched her things or when I insisted that she wear socks with her shoes.  You need to know about the day that we went head to head, just like all those hundreds of others times, and I sent her to her room to cool off, and she came out a while later, still sniffing back her tears, and threw her arms around me and said, “I’m sorry for yelling at you, Mom.”  Am I thankful for that moment?  More than you can possibly imagine without understanding all that came before it.

A list may cover all the things that have made me happy, but it doesn’t help me find gratitude in the things that interrupted my plans, the things that caused me pain, the things that broke my heart.

A list will never mention the time we left behind our life’s work in another country to start all over again here, three kids in tow.  It’s not something I felt particularly thankful for at the time. But if I sit down and tell the whole story, I can’t help but mention how my husband was offered a job even before we left Argentina, how my extroverted oldest daughter arrived here just in time to start first grade and was caught up in no time, how happy our children were to be close to their grandparents and what that has meant to the grandparents.  The whole story reveals how I had to face my fear of failure head on and realize that life as a failure isn’t as bad as I would have thought.  And if I keep telling long enough, eventually it will come out that being here, where we never planned to be, meant that we were only minutes away when a dear friend’s life crumbled away and that we are still here to be a support as she puts together a new and wonderful one.  That one painful story introduces a whole new list of things to be thankful for.

So here’s my thought for Thanksgiving month: maybe we can take a few extra minutes and do more than count our blessings.  Maybe we can recount them, telling the stories of our blessings and being blessed by them all over again.

Maybe those stories can become something that our children can be thankful for.

Ode to Pie

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Pie, oh, pie
I will not lie
I could eat you ’til I die
Oh sweet, sweet pie

Cherry, you’re delightful
You’re a gift from heav’n above
You are tart and you are sweet
But it’s your ruby red I love

Pie, oh pie
I will not lie
I could eat you ’til I die
Oh sweet, sweet pie

Apple, you’re a classic
You are warm and fill my soul
With your cinnamony goodness
Each wholesome bite makes me feel whole

Pie, oh pie
I will not lie
I could eat you ’til I die
Oh sweet, sweet pie

Pecan, you’re kind of quirky
Your nutty outside is forbidding
Rich, sticky sweetness rewards the daring
and no need to share you with the kidlings

Pie, oh pie
I will not lie
I could eat you ’til I die
Oh sweet, sweet pie

Pumpkin, you’re the king of pies
You make me feel like I am wealthy
Smooth and spicy, but best of all things
I can tell myself you’re healthy

Pie, oh pie
I will not lie
I could eat you ’til I die
Oh sweet, sweet pie

Happy Thanks Day

Sarah woke up on Thanksgiving morning and sniffed the air expectantly.  No scent of roasting turkey reached her nose.  She lifted her head off the pillow, listening for the sound of the TV showing the big parade.  All should could hear was a strange humming sound.

It all came back to her in a rush.  She wasn’t at home.  She was at Carrie’s house, down the street.  Her mom and dad were in the hospital, taking care of the new little baby.  She could see them later this afternoon, but for now, she was spending her favorite holiday at the neighbors.  Sarah tried hard not to cry.

“Happy Thanks Day!” shouted a voice in her ear.

Sarah jumped, hitting her head on the bunk above her.  Carrie was hanging over the edge, grinning down at her.  Her bright red hair stuck out around her ears.  She flipped off the top bunk.  “Come on!  Let’s head downstairs!  I can hear Freddy already.”

“Shouldn’t we get dressed and comb our hair first?” asked Sarah.

“Not me!” Carrie said.  “You know what I’m thankful for? Pajamas!  You know what I”m not thankful for?  Combs!”  She raced out of  the room.

Sarah followed more slowly.

At the bottom of the stairs, Carrie was laughing and ducking as her big brother Freddy flew a remote controlled airplane around the room.  That explained the humming sound.  The plane swooped close to Sarah’s head and she jerked away, heart pounding.  Was he trying to hit her?  She chose a low chair in the corner, hoping to stay out of the way, while Carrie begged for a turn.  In Carrie’s hands, the toy flew even more dangerously.  She knocked over a lamp, which didn’t break, and then an old vase, which did.  At that exact moment, Carrie’s mother came down the stairs.  Sarah sighed with relief.  Now Carrie would have to put away the airplane.

“Happy Thanks Day!” said Carrie’s mom.  “Oh dear, the vase is broken!  Well, fortunately, I was never very thankful for that vase.  Get the broom, Freddy!”

“I’m not thankful for sweeping,” Freddy said.

“You’d be even less thankful for cutting your foot on broken glass.”

“Good point!” he said, laughing, and began to sweep up the mess.  “I’m also super thankful for a helpful little sister,” he said as he finished up.

Carrie held the dustpan for him.

‘I’m thankful for sunshine!” Carrie said when they were done.  She and Freddy ran to the door and yanked it open.  Outside it was snowing, a light fluffy snow, just the kind that Sarah loved.  If she was at home, she would bundle up in her orange Thanksgiving sweater and her hat and mittens and winter coat and go out to play.

“I’m not thankful for snow,” said Freddy, shutting the door firmly.

“Me either,” Carrie said.  “But I am thankful for forts!”

Brother and sister got busy piling every blanket and pillow in the house on the living room floor.  When they started building, they called Sarah in to help.  She had certainly never heard of making such a mess on Thanksgiving morning.  Didn’t they have guests coming over soon?  But no grown ups said anything, so the kids built the biggest, most elaborate fort Sarah had ever seen.  It was fun.  So much fun that she forgot it was Thanksgiving and that everything was wrong.

“Who’s thankful for spaghetti?!” sang Carrie’s dad, coming out of the kitchen with a heaping platter.

“Me!” shouted everyone, rushing toward the table.

Sarah poked her head out of the fort.  Spaghetti?  For Thanksgiving?  Where was the turkey?  She joined the others at the table, staring wide-eyed at the garlic bread and meatballs.

“Guests first!” announced Carrie’s mom.  “Sarah, are you thankful for spaghetti?”

“Um…yes, but…”

“But what, dear?”

“Isn’t there any turkey?” Sarah mumbled, though it came out sounding more like “Uma ena turkey?”

“Oh, of course, you must be surprised.  But no one in this house is thankful for turkey.  We are very, very thankful for Harold’s spaghetti and meatballs, however.”

Sarah nodded, trying to look like this made sense.  Wasn’t turkey what the pilgrims ate?  Wasn’t that the point of Thanksgiving?  To remember the pilgrims?  She watched Carrie’s dad pile spaghetti and bread on all the plates.  It was unnatural.

It was also delicious.

The meal was long and loud.  (“I’m thankful for music!” shouted Freddy before belting out the Spider Man theme song.)  There was quite a bit of mess. (“I”m thankful for laughter!” giggled Carrie after snorting so hard that milk came out of her nose.)  Dessert was heaping bowls of ice cream with lots of toppings.  (“I’m thankful for cherries!” said Carrie’s mom as she put fourteen of them on her ice cream.)  It felt strange not to be eating pie, but Sarah did discover that chocolate sauce and caramel sauce blended together was the best taste on earth.

When they were finally finished, Carrie’s parents pushed their chairs back.  “I’m thankful for paper plates,” said Carrie’s mom, dumping everything from the table into the trash.  That explained the lack of china.

“I’m thankful for neighbors with new babies!” said Carrie’s dad.  “Ready to go see your baby sister, Sarah?”

Sarah looked down at her pajamas, now stained with sauce in a few places.  She nodded reluctantly.

It was a short drive to the hospital, and a long walk up all the stairs to the room where Sarah’s family waited.  Sarah pushed open the door.  Her mother was still on the hospital bed, a little bundle of blankets in her arms.  Her father sat in a chair nearby, a plate of turkey and stuffing on a tray in his lap.  They both looked up and smiled.

All of a sudden, it felt like Thanksgiving.

Sarah ran to her mother and buried her face next to the sweet-smelling bundle that was her little sister.  “Happy Thanks Day,” she whispered.  “I’m thankful for you.”

Then she sat on her dad’s lap and told them all about spaghetti and ice cream and the best and weirdest Thanksgiving ever.

 

 

To Face Your Fears

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The street is dark
The air is cold
It’s me and my brother
My sister’s too old

A creepy glow
Unnatural green
I think nothing of it
It’s Halloween

A figure jumps
It’s black and fat
I know that tail
My neighbor’s cat

Fearsome smiles
And flickering flames
Just jack-o-lanterns
Ours look the same

A horrid face
Boo who? it asks
But I’m not scared
It’s just a mask

My brother stops
Your turn, he says
Wait? By myself?
In my fairy dress?

I swallow fear
I grip my bag
My hands still shake
My wings still sag

Take courage now
There’s candy there
It’s just three words
It’s only fair

I stand up straight
I ring the bell
Trick or Treat!
I loudly yell

A friendly smile
The candy falls
The chocolate kind!
The best of all!

I slip away
My victory won
Bring on more doors!
Bring on more fun!

If Halloween’s
The perfect time
To face your fears
Well, I’ve faced mine

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net