Get thee to a pumpkin patch

As temperatures down South dip into the 40s and 50s, tasteful seasonal decorating requires at least one nice gourd on the front porch.

Carlton offers his little pumpkin
Carlton found the perfect sized pumpkin for him at Berry Patch Farms.

Some of you have been so eager for fall temperatures that you ran out and bought a pumpkin when they first arrived in stores or when the pumpkin patches first opened in late August or early September. Sadly, those early pumpkins are now rotten piles of mildew and orange goo or have long since been discarded.

When the air gets that hint of cool crispness, the first line of a poem by James Whitcomb Riley that I memorized in elementary school invades my mind: “When the frost is on the pumpkin…”

We haven’t had a frost yet, here in Atlanta, but now is the right time to get a pumpkin. If you still haven’t made your pumpkin purchase for this fall, here are few pointers to keep in mind:

1.) Pumpkin patches are fun. In my mind, the more authentic the pumpkin patch, the better, but we’ve seen everything from a random assortment of pumpkins laying out in a field to a church selling pumpkins from their front yard to the grocery store to Stone Mountain’s annual Pumpkin Fest where pumpkins are tucked in around the granite boulders. Pumpkin patches are usually accessorized by hayrides, corn mazes and an assortment of fall foods. To make things easier for you, I’ve found a website listing pumpkin patches throughout the Peach State.

Harris with a big pumpkin
Harris likes his pumpkins a little bit bigger.

2.) Purchase pumpkins where you buy your fruits and vegetables. At most of the pumpkin patches I’ve visited, you spend all your money doing the ancillary activities so that by the time you’re ready to pick out your pumpkin, you can’t really afford a nice gourd. Here’s a hint: you can buy the same size or larger at the grocery store for a fraction of the price of a pumpkin patch pumpkin. I apologize to all the pumpkin patch fundraisers out there, but I am duty bound to report this consumer fact to all of my loyal readers… well, both of my loyal readers.

3.) Pick a pumpkin that wasn’t picked in July. The firmer the pumpkin, the fresher the pumpkin. If it gives when you press on it, then it’s ready for the compost heap, not for carving. And if carving isn’t really what you had in mind, there are lots of varieties of guords that may meet your needs better. You can learn more at this site.

4.) Roast the seeds. In elementary school, I had a teacher who handed out roasted pumpkin seeds as rewards. Perhaps I have too much of a psychological investment in pumpkin as a result, but roasted pumpkin seeds are at least as good as sunflower seeds without all the spitting of hulls. We have trouble getting the process right and typically burn ours, but according the pumpkin recipe page, 225 degrees for an hour should do the trick.

Wallace family
Doesn’t the fall just bring out our family’s togetherness?

5.) Start a family tradition. You don’t have to sit in a pumpkin patch at midnight on Halloween to have a great time with gourds in the fall. Every element of the pumpkin process from the selection to the carving makes for great photos and even better memories.

Growing up, my family never really bothered with pumpkins, but Carla and I have purchased at least one pumpkin every year since we had kids. Some years were so busy that we didn’t bother to carve them, but having pumpkins is one of the highlights of our family’s fall activities.

Better get your pumpkin today. The pickins are getting pretty slim at the farms and patches. Pretty soon, all that will be left are the rotting, decaying or mishapen pumpkins, and no one wants a misfit pumpkin on their front porch.

Where do you get your  pumpkins? How many do you buy each year? Do you roast the seeds or try to use the entrails for pumpkin pie? Don’t hold back! Share all your pumpkin secrets by leaving a comment below.

Holy costume, Batman, it’s Halloween!

Life is filled with difficult decisions. When you are the ages of my boys, one of the most agonizing choices is which costume to wear on Halloween. The conversation this year began in earnest about April.

The Wallace boys as Batman, Robin and little Batman
Gotham City would have no doubt been cleaned up a long time ago if Batman and Robin had been joined by a Batman Jr. to help out.

My boys have a bin of costumes from which they could select any number of identities: Power Ranger (Red), Power Ranger (Blue), cowboy, farmer, soldier, train engineer, train conductor, doctor, chipmunk (can’t tell if it’s Chip or Dale), Abraham Lincoln, Indiana Jones, Darth Vader, Bob the Builder, fireman and those are just the ones I can think of without really looking.

But these will never do. Each year, we must come up with something new. Gone are the days of rushing out to the retail outlet a couple of days before Halloween to pick up a flimsy, plastic (and highly flammable) suit with a stiff, plastic face mask with thin slits for eye holes, nostrils and mouth and a thin rubber band to hold it all together. Back in the day we didn’t
look any more like Superman or G.I. Joe than the man in the moon, but that’s just what everybody did.

In the New South, everybody has to have muscles. Costumes are much more realistic these days, if you call fake foam muscles on a three-year-old “realistic.” Every boy has the abs of Ryan Reynolds and the pecs of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This year, the official Wallace family Halloween costumes are the dynamic duo, Batman and Robin. And, well, Batman again. When you have three children it makes it difficult to be a crime-fighting duo. While the older two wanted their 3-year-old brother to dress up like one of Batman’s numerous nemeses, Carlton wanted no part of the Joker, Penguin, the Riddler, Two Face, etc.

So we have Batman, Robin and Batman Jr.

Most of what my kids know of Batman comes from two comic book series they’ve been reading and a Cartoon Network show, which is the basis of one of the comic books. The obsession grew when Harris wanted to watch a movie on his birthday. At the time, we were still among the 800,000 or so people who hadn’t dropped Netflix, so I went to the streaming options and found the 1966 ”Batman” starring Adam West and Burt Ward.

Batman 1966 movie poster
The REAL Batman and Robin, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, minus phony abs.

They fell in love with the whole campy concept: everything with a “bat-” label, such as “Bat Cave,”  “Batmobile” and even “Bat Shark Repellent Spray;” not-so-scary villains in garish getups, the convenient placement of vehicles wherever Batman and Robin needed them, and, of course, the deductive dialogues between the caped crusaders frequently involving the phrases “Holy” and “Precisely!”

Current Batman obsession + a half hour of Internet shopping + $50 = Halloween costumes. Did you know that Americans spend nearly $7 billion on Halloween? That puts Halloween number two on the most commercialized holiday list behind only Christmas.

The costumes are getting good use, though, with a Trunk-or-Treat event at church, a costume party Saturday night and Trick-or-Treating on Monday night – not to mention all the photos that will be taken, digitally scrapbooked, Facebooked and shared with grandparents in a variety of media.

When the sugar-induced comas wear off, the Dark Knight, the Boy Wonder and the little Dark Knight will undoubtedly retire to the costume bucket where perhaps they can be recycled for some other Bat-o-philes in the future.

In the meantime, Carla and I have to begin thinking about our biggest Halloween decision: how to discard 20 pounds of candy without the boys noticing.

So what’s your costume this year? What was your favorite costume of all time?

Let us know and have a safe and happy Halloween.