Monday, October 27, 2008

In Search of the Perfect Pumpkin

Halloween has never been a favorite holiday of mine. (Please don't tell Joy I said that!) The problem with Halloween is that it falls at the end of October, a time when I used to be extremely busy. It was end of the quarter time at school, so I would be frantically grading papers and averaging grades while trying to figure out costumes for my kids' big school Halloween party. As they outgrew the costume party, football games and activities were added, then when the girls became teenagers, it was volleyball season. All in all, it was all I could do to buy enough candy for the hordes of trick or treaters that would come to our house each Halloween.

Now, of course, all that has changed--there are no papers to grade any more and no children here needing volleyball or football uniforms cleaned or last minute costumes to put together. Living out in the country now, we don't even have any trick or treaters (other than the grandchildren), so I have to be careful not to be too tempted by sales of Halloween candy.

One tradition I did enjoy, though, was our annual trek to the "Pumpkin Patch" for pumpkins for jack o' lanterns and decorations. When the kids were young, we used to go to a pumpkin field about 10 miles away and pull a wagon through the fields, searching for the perfect pumpkins. But children grow up, and eventually the prospect of trudging through muddy fields and rejecting misshapen or moldy pumpkins no longer interested them. When the grandchildren came along, we revived the tradition occasionally, enjoying their child-like wonder at fields full of giant orange globes.

A few weeks ago, I decided taking all the grandchildren to find pumpkins would be the perfect cure for a brief case of the blues. (It was the day after the Cubs had finished their abysmal showing in the playoffs and had broken my heart once again.) It was a warm Sunday afternoon, one of those days that seems like a distant memory now. I decided to go to Curtis Orchard, which is on the outskirts of Champaign. Some years ago, the Curtis family purchased what had been a pig farm and planted apple orchards. (I'm sure the developers of the upscale subdivisions nearby are thankful they didn't want to raise more pigs!) Over time, they added pumpkin fields, a small general store, a cafe, and many children's activities. It has become a popular attraction for the locals, not only for delicious apples and fresh doughnuts, but also as a great place to take the kids on a fall afternoon.

Fortunately, both daughters-in-law and one son decided to accompany me, because otherwise Grandma surely would have lost one child before the afternoon was over! It seemed as though every parent within a 30-mile radius had decided this was the perfect place to spend the afternoon, too. I had come for pumpkins, yes, but I also wanted to just spend time with the grandchildren, and I knew they would want to enjoy the different activities first.

Yes, I know you can't see Granddaughter's face, but that is on purpose--I hope you understand.

The pony ride was the first stop. The three little ones picked their ponies, and we adults guiltily helped them on. I know these ponies are well-cared for, but I can't help feeling sorry for them spending their afternoon going round and round in circles.

Jumping out of a mini-"hayloft," a maze, a bouncy house, and face painting were just a few of the activities they enjoyed. The kids did pause long enough so that Grandma could take their photo together.

Wait--I have 5 grandchildren--where is Grandson #1?

Oh there he is--sliding down the inflatable slide. Even the youngest, who's one, enjoyed this slide--riding down on his Daddy's lap, of course. We also took a wagon ride through the orchard as our driver explained the history of the farm and the different varieties of apples available. Of course, I was in grandkids-photo-taking mode, so I didn't think to take any photos of this.

After two hours of running from one activity to another and being bitten by those pesky pirate bugs which were thick around all the apples, the kids were too tired to trudge out to the pumpkin patch for pumpkins. The orchard does offer already picked pumpkins and gourds for sale, but the lines were very long, so in the end I went home empty-handed. But, of course, we did have fun, and my mood was elevated considerably.

Later I heard about a farm not too far from here that raises pumpkins, and decided last Monday that Grandson #2, who's four, might enjoy a little trip with Grandma. When we arrived at the farm, we were disappointed to find that the only pumpkins they had left were enormous. As I explained to Grandson, "If Grandma can't even lift the pumpkin, then it's too big!" Apparently, news of this pumpkin farm had spread, and business had been booming since the first of October.

The afternoon wasn't a total loss, though, as I bought some gourds and mini pumpkins at a very reasonable price. Grandson was intrigued by the Indian corn, so I bought some for him to give to his mother, but when he wanted some corn stalks, I had to explain that Grandma already had plenty of those at home ready to be picked! This was a "real" farm, so he also had a chance to see the cows, pigs, and some goats.

He was satisfied even if we didn't buy any large pumpkins. And Grandma, well...when I picked him up from daycare, he ran to me, shouting "Grandma!" and gave me a big hug. When your time together starts like that, nothing else really matters, does it?

Time was running out. So where did we finally find our "perfect pumkins"? . . . At the local Meijer's! They may not be "farm-fresh", but the "thrill of the hunt" was the best part anyway.

No frost on the pumpkins yet, but it is supposed to get below freezing tonight, so it is only a matter of time.


  1. I'm so jealous of you having all those grandchildren nearby! Mine is in OK :( You may have been at the orchard the same day we were-there were certainly many families there that day! Weve been eating those wonderful apples for a couple of weeks.
    I do love those little gourds, but I had to quit putting them out in the last few years, because our squirrel family thinks we put them there for their dinner!

  2. Oh Rose, I so loved hearing about your search with your lovely grandkids. They are an armful, glad the parents came along to help out. I know exactly the thrill of being greeted with enthusiastic love when you are first spotted by one of them. It brings tears to my eyes just to think of the feeling that washes over you. You have inspired my to go to the pumpkin farm/corn maze near us for a good carving pumpkin rather than settle for the grocer's selection. The day at the apple farm sounds perfect too, especially the wagon ride. I love stuff like that.

  3. Joyce, I know I am so fortunate to have all my grandchildren living nearby. Not a week goes by that I don't see at least one or two of them. That's funny that we might have been at Curtis Orchard the same day, but I wouldn't be surprised. I've never seen it that crowded!

    Frances, It doesn't take much to make grandmas happy, does it? But I do find I'm not as quick on my feet anymore to chase them when they run off in the wrong direction:) Daughter and granddaughter carved a couple of the pumpkins yesterday, and they turned out really well.

  4. What a lovely post and tribute to your five grandchildren. I know they cherish time with their grandmother in the fields as much as she cherishes her time with them, and there is nothing wrong with getting the perfect pumpkin at the local department store:)

  5. Rose,

    What a wonderful day with your darling grandchildren! I can't think of a better way to lift your spirits then being with children. They radiate happiness and excitement. We used to take our son to a local produce market. He would go to town with Halloween and fall decorations and he always had fresh cider, local apples and giant pumpkins! My son remembers the visits with fondness.

    Your grandchildren will cherish these memories!


  6. Rose - What a perfect, lovely day you describe with your lovely grandchildren. It's wonderful you can spend so much time with them. Your pumpkins look great, and I hope we get to see a picture of them carved!

  7. You're right Rose, about it being only a matter of time (referring to life here), and you spent some of yours very wisely. Your grandchildren will cherish it forever in memories. The picture of the ponies was very insightful. We all get to take our turns getting to ride and then actually carrying the load sooner or later. The object lesson for the kids (and adults) would be even more meaningful if there was a grindstone milling some grain at the center of the wheel. What a wonderful post, Rose!

  8. I spent Saturday much the same way. Brought home fresh apple donuts and fresh pressed cider. Looked at the pumpkins and the fall decorations.

  9. I know all your little ones enjoyed the day spent with you- making wonderful memories for them and for you. This grandma knows full well the joy of having the grands come running with hugs. As Frances said, brings tears to the eyes and a lump in the throat. This grandma didn't get much done in the way of Halloween this year, but will have lots of goodies to hand out never the less.

  10. Loved this post, Granny Rose. Thanks for including us with your lovely family. Who can resist a punkin' patch adventure!

  11. How lovely Rose.......special time to share with our can't beat it.....and as you so rightly say when they run to shouting Grandma, your spirits are raised sky high.....

    I love the search for the perfect pumpkin and all the other attractions at the farm...thank you for letting me into your world, it was such agree with you about the ponies, I thought it was just 'me'

  12. What wonderful pumpkin stories Rose. I don't ever remember going on pumpkin hunts as a kid. Looks like all the grand kids had a great time and what wonderful memories you are creating for them.

  13. Tina, After you've raised your children, you realize how quickly time flies and learn to cherish every moment with the little ones, don't you? It seems like only yesterday the oldest one--who's now 13--was toddling around.

    Gail, I'm surprised that my boys still remember the pumpkin patch; I hope the grandchildren will have fond memories, too. You're so right about them lifting my spirits in a way nothing else can!

  14. What fun. You do have a group of perfect grandchildren too.

  15. Oh what wonderful memories you are making, Rose!
    I'm glad you had your camera - those grandkids of yours look sweet at the farm. And grandson #1 sliding down the slide too!

    I'm with you - I can't lift most of those pumpkins, so I just get little ones for home.

    Oh, I almost forgot - pony rides! How children love them! And I also feel guilty for those poor ponys, but at least they are cared for.

  16. Cindy, I am so lucky they are all nearby so I do get to spend time with them; I'm also the "emergency babysitter" whenever one of them is sick. Posting the jack o'lantern on Halloween sounds like a great idea!

    W2W, the older we get, the more we realize how precious time is. And some days I find myself going in circles:) By the way, didn't get around to replying last time, but a "herd" of woolly worms just popped into my head; rather silly term, but then I couldn't think of another word to use--a senior moment, perhaps.

    Marnie, Sounds like a great way to spend a Sat. afternoon, and from the weather forecast I've heard, good thing you didn't wait till this week!

    Beckie, I know you treasure every moment you get to spend with your "girls." A smile, a hug, an "I love you, Grandma"--nothing can top that.

    Joey, Thanks; we did have fun. No one's ever called me "Granny Rose," but I kind of like it. Beckie and I are still trying to decide which one of us is Thelma and which one is Louise; we'll let you know when we figure it out:)

    Cheryl, I know you enjoy time spent with Poppi and your grandson as much as I do with mine. They are truly precious. The great part about the grandchildren is that they still enjoy the simple things like searching for a pumpkin or finding a praying mantis on my flowers.

    Susie, I don't really remember even getting pumpkins when I was a child unless we grew them. I guess this was a tradition I started with my children and have tried to continue with the grandkids.

    Lisa, this is a case where the trip is more fun than getting to the destination. And I think my grandkids are pretty perfect, too:) Thanks!

    Wendy, I had several much better pictures of them individually, but my children are a little uneasy about my posting photos of the kids. I've tried to explain that the only people (I think) who read this blog are wonderful people who share a love of children!

  17. Hi Rose- Thanks for visiting my blog. What a wonderful day you had with your grandchildren. They are so cute, and they looked like they had so much fun. Those little gourds are so adorable- I almost want to grow some in my garden. I've thought of growing pumpkins too, but they're not a veggie/fruit that you can eat all summer/fall long, lol, so I'll stick to buying them. Happy Halloween!

  18. those do look like perfect pumpkins you did good with your little helpers. how much fun you all must have had!

  19. My grandsons and I found the 2 perfect pumpkins this weekend, a good time was had by all, even the roasted pumpkin seeds were good.

  20. DP, Welcome back to Blog Land! I've tried to raise pumpkins a few times, but they do take a lot of work to keep the bugs at bay, not to mention all the space they need. I agree, much easier to buy them!

    Marmee, My little helpers are indeed precious to me. They can turn a simple outing into so much fun.

    IGW, I haven't roasted pumpkin seeds in years--thanks for the reminder! Some years I have tried to save the seeds to plant the following spring, but without much luck. Much easier just to throw the rotting pumpkin out into the garden:)

  21. What a good grandma you are! These will be the memories that the grandkids will cherish.
    I got my pumpkins at Whole Foods. Their pumpkins seem to have better tasting seeds than other pumpkins.

  22. I love your 'autumny' photos, in particular and it was great to read about your search for pumpkins with your grandchildren. Sadly, I've never had the opportunity to go pumpkin hunting. Ours had to come from the local supermarket, because there was no other choice.

    My eldest son is in his own house for the first time, this year and has already carved his pumpkin, ready for trick or treaters. He will be lucky if he has any, as he has moved to a tiny village, with not much around it! I've told my husband that we will have to dress up and call by so that he isn't disappointed!!

  23. MMD, I must admit the Halloween pumpkins (including the "innards") wind up as compost; I really should try roasting seeds sometime again.

    Mean Mom, There are several pumpkin fields within driving range for us, so it makes it much more fun than going to the supermarket. I think going trick-or-treating at your son's home sounds like fun:)

  24. What a lovely memory to pass along to your grandchildren. Looks like your search paid off. :)

  25. Really enjoyed your blog.
    You brought a smile to my face sharing a wonderful time with your grandchildren.

  26. It sounds like you had a brilliant time, it looks a great place to visit, mine would love it there too. Isn't it great when you can do these things again with your children and then grandchildren, I'm not suprised it cheered you up.

  27. What a wonderful story! You must have enjoyed this day yourself greatly. Thanks for sharing it!

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  29. I just saw Joyce's comment: I am jealous that you have grandchildren full stop! What a fabulous time you had with them. What would anyone do with such huge pumpkins?!
    I'm glad you got yours in the end though.

  30. What wonderful pix of your grandkids. It does do my heart good when my great,grandsons come running holler'n "Hey MeMa". They do keep you young in heart if not in body. I just wish I could do more with mine. I also have 2 grandsons. Their parents do a lot with them.


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