Which came first: the pumpkin or the seed?

Or in other words --

Did the house I grew up in seem scary because I'm a natural scaredy-cat, or am I a scaredy-cat because I grew up in a naturally scary house?

It's a Halloween conundrum to be sure.

But I'm going to vote for the latter. To this day I don't like to be home alone, and I have a hunch it's because I used to d-r-e-a-d being home alone here:

This is a recent photo from a local newspaper, and it only shows an itty slice of the enormous house. But isn't she a beaut?

If you were a spooky ghost, a menacing murderer or a ridiculously hairy spider, wouldn't you want to move right in?

Someday I'll tell you all about it, but right now it's time for a Halloween party. And I can't imagine a better party than the one I threw at my childhood house last year.


(If you've already received a better invitation, I understand and I hope you have a wonderful time and get lots of candy.)

Everybody got your costumes?

(You're not seriously going as an
underarm model AGAIN, are you?)

And now I'm going to use a little blog TRICK

to bring you a recycled Halloween TREAT:

Small Works is brought to you today
by the letter "S" and by the number one.

Welcome, Friends! Come in to my very sincere pumpkin patch.

Today it's my blog Halloween party!
I'm glad you could come. First, let's have a story:

Mac will do exactly what I would do . . .

Because I am really such a scaredy-cat. That's why the letter S: S for Scared.
But why the number one, you ask?

Because one is the loneliest number. (Now I hope I haven't put that song into your head, because I want you to get in a scary and lonely mood for the next Halloween story . . .)


I grew up in a very big house. Seriously. If you could see it you would say, "Wow. That's a big house. I wouldn't want to be in that house alone in the dark."

You would be correct to think that.

Here's a picture of me in my parents' bedroom, and I think it captures quite well how I felt living in that big big house.

Do I look like a frightened little mouse in a great big room? Because that's what I was, for almost my entire childhood.

(For the record, I must admit that it was also an incredibly cool and wonderful house, but this is a spooky blog story . . .)

Raise your hand if your house had a suit of armor in the dining room -- because mine did. It also had funny names for the rooms (it was the kind of house where you would give the rooms names, like "the receiving area", "the music room" or "the butler's pantry." It was a little like growing up on a "Clue" board, except instead of Professor Plum we had Professor Harold Hill.)

One of the places in the house was
"The Long Dark Hall."

The "LDH" was indeed long, with a dark wood floor and two iron gates at either end. There were floor-length red velvet drapes hanging on sets of french doors all the way down one side. There were two medieval-looking chairs against the wall on the other side.

And there were ghostly footsteps in the hall when I would lay in bed at night. I think the steam in the pipes made them, but they sounded exactly like slow and deliberate steps made by a ghost in black heeled boots. When I had to pass the yawning entrance to the LDH at night, (which I did have to in order to go upstairs), I would of course run. And I think my face looked like Mac's face.

So in honor of Halloween, I thought we could venture down the long dark hall together and have some spooky fun. I bet it isn't as scary as I thought it was.

First, let's have some
spooky organ music . . .

That's the Long Dark Hall
(now imagine some iron gates . . . scary, huh?!)

Let's tiptoe together.

I wonder what we'll find?

Here's a door -- let's open it . . . .

cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .

EEEKKK!!! I knew it! That's the kind of thing I always knew lived here!
That's it -- I'm running . . . .

Here's another door.
Should I open it?

cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .

I expected scary but I didn't expect the rack.

Still running . . .

Next door . . . cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .

Should we go on?

Okay, just one more door . . .

cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .


This is much scarier than I intended. Enough film noir . . . black and white films are always scarier than color films. Let's change film before we open the next door . . .

cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .

A nightmare of being chased by Man-Eating Fish?
By an artist I really admire?

This is getting better.

I think we should continue. . .

cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .

Whew!!! It's just Leaf-Man.

(I don't know what Li'l Russ has to look so grumpy about. I think his mom did a fantastic job bringing his vision to life. Speaking of which, I used to be very sad and jealous because I only got store-bought Halloween costumes. I felt like my mom didn't care enough to make me cool costumes like Leaf-Man. But I was recently talking to a friend who told me they always felt sad and jealous because their mom didn't care enough to get them store-bought costumes. There's a Halloween moral there somewhere . . .)

But shhhh! I hear talking . . . .

cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .

Oh good!

It's just three adorable little trick-or-treaters, Li'l Russ, Dave and Big John, the cousins from next door. They must have been told to either look tough or to look like the sixth grade bullies just stole their candy.
(Li'l Russ, you are a darling scarecrow but didn't you ever smile on Halloween?)

Now I'm feeling much more relaxed. We're almost to the end of the hall, and the gates are open so we won't be trapped here.

Another door . . . cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .

Now here's a happy memory! I'm sure Lindsay's must be the one in the middle and Chelsea's must be the one on the left. Judging by the tablecloth, Hannah was too young so Russ must have carved the one on the right for her.

Alas, no little pumpkins in my house this year!
(Maybe we'll go out to dinner.)

Well, now I'm pretty out of breath. We're at the end of the LDH.

All I see is the HALLOWEEN VAULT.
Should we open it?

It looks a little scary . . . . cccrrreeeaaakkk . . .

Whew! It's only full of Susan's old artwork:

And Li'l Russ yelling . . .


Happy Halloween!

"The way into my parlor is up a winding stair, and I have many curious things to show when you are there . . ."

I was helping Lindsay work out the details on a framing project yesterday when suddenly around the corner and across the glass of the frame I had pulled out of the closet came a fairly substantial house spider.

Lindsay let out a little shriek

Jessie Wilcox Smith

and I immediately thought, "EEEKK!! Was that thing on the frame the whole time I was carrying it out here??" but I said, "Don't worry -- I can get this one!" and I grabbed a tissue and popped the sucker in the toilet with very little fanfare.

Super Mom.

I tell you this story as opposed to the one last week

Willy Pogany

where a little bit smaller spider appeared in the kitchen and I was squealing like Little Miss Muffet and prancing around on my tippy toes while Hannah calmed me down and assured me that she would take care of it and it would be okay.

Weenie Mom.

Why the difference?

Well, spider #1 was one of those light colored, translucent guys. The kind we had EVERYWHERE in the house I grew up in.

Spider #2 was menacingly dark and a bit leggier -- a much-smaller-cousin of the kind we also had EVERYWHERE in the house I grew up in, but especially in the basement.

And when you encountered spider #1 in that house, you were just so darn glad it wasn't spider #2 that you could shrug it off and spit in its eye.

All of this reminded me that it's spider time once again (it being fall and also Halloween), and therefore we might perhaps revisit my spider post from last year's spider time.

If you've read it (*yawn*) and want to get back to carving your pumpkin then I shan't mind a bit.

If, however, you're looking for a leggy tale on this somewhat gloomy pre-Halloween Thursday . . . . then

"Will you walk into my parlor?"
(said the spider to the fly . . .)

and enjoy the rerun:

Late summer. The first cool nights. They want to come in the house. They will keep trying until they are dead.

I've been terrified of spiders for as long as I can remember. Literally. One of my earliest memories is of being afraid of the spiders in the window well of the basement bathroom when I was 3 years old. In my defense, they were black widows.

From the age of 5 on, my childhood was spent in an enormous house that was an absolute leggy wonderland. I could handle the ubiquitous yellowy-white house spiders. But the ones with hair (eek!) or red markings on their bellies (seriously! in the house!) were unbearable to me.

Every fall, my dad would give us the black widow lecture (be on the lookout for them -- I just found one ______ [fill in the blank]), including the tale about the woman who had the black widow fall in her hair.

This leads me to believe that my fear of spiders may be genetic. The fact that my father either (a) believed or (b) got a thrill from retelling that story makes me suspicious that perhaps he killed them because he was a man . . .

but inside he was squealing
like a little girl.

I have not used our backyard hose once this summer (it's in the spidery corner) because Russ failed to spray at the appropriate time and NOW . . . it being late summer and all . . . draw your own conclusions.

There's a story there and it may involve the words
"if you really loved me . . ."

Instead I have carried the dog's water down to his kennel from the kitchen every day. Silly?

Okay. But I told you I'm really afraid of spiders.

I was reminded of the spider-in-the-hair story recently in a Sherman Alexie poem, "The Summer of Black Widows." He tells of the spiders carrying stories in their stomachs.

I loved this idea of opening doors slowly, listening for stories. . .
Or peeking into windows, looking for stories. . .
Searching the lines of faces, hoping for stories . . .

My pieces have been referred to as "Visual Stories."

I like this description, and I hope it's true. During an interview with the curator of the Rochester Art Center, she asked me if all my pieces were in "the narrative style." At that point I was terribly nervous and I fumbled around to find an answer that would sound like I knew something about art.

But later I realized that the best answer was just yes.
Definitely yes.

Because I love stories.

I found a marvelous 1936 sticker book designed to give children a glimpse of the stories of other children around the world.

Inside the characters are blank except for outlines. The setting of the characters is drawn in. This reminded me of the way we see people. We see where they are now. We see their outline. But sometimes we forget that we're also usually seeing the blank.

And everywhere there's a blank, there's a story to fill it.

Sometimes we only get to put in a few stickers.

We should try to find as many of the stickers as we can. When we open doors we must always be listening for stories.

(but let's hope we only find stories.)


After daylight savings this weekend, our sunset will be in the 4:00 hour . . . . ouch.

Which can mean only one thing . . .

It's Halloween again!

I used to wonder how my mother could be so disinterested in Halloween. She never seemed to care about it one whit -- I don't remember her even coming to school to watch us parade around in our costumes. There was never any Halloween decorating at our house. And when we were older, unless the kids were home to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, that didn't really happen either.

I can now say, quite honestly, that it's only one of the mysteries about my mother that I have come to understand completely as I have aged. Because I'm not so much into Halloween myself. As soon as there were no little kids around, I sort of lost interest in it.

Of course, I still continue to buy enormous bags of candy. But I (selfishly) only buy the best mini candy bars now -- if it's a year when it snows or blows and we don't get many knocks on the door, I'm secretly happy because it means more candy for me!

I guess that's not the real
spirit of the holiday, is it?

My Halloween decorating reached a new low a few years ago. I decided to go for "one-stop decorating". So I purchased a large canvas, mounted a few of my favorite vintage cut-outs on it, painted a little border and I can now be happily decorated in 32 seconds just by opening a plastic garbage bag and hanging it on a
pre-existing nail.

Looks festive to me.

For years in the magazine biz, however, I devoted an inordinate number of hours to creating Halloween decorations that promised to "Make This Your Spookiest Holiday Ever!", or some other such nonsense.

Let me assure you that one would need to care much more about Halloween decor than I do to reproduce any of these projects at home. The only one I would have liked to have kept was these little candy containers:

I purchased little plastic "witches' kettle" treat cups, covered them with papier mache and added wire handles before decorating them with paint and glitter. The skull glows in the dark!

Ingenious! (but also insanity).

Don't try this at home.

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to acquire a large collection of a vintage girls' magazine I had never seen before, "Calling All Girls."

Does anyone remember this publication?

"Calling All Girls" will definitely warrant an entire post, but I didn't want to let your Halloween crafting be over before I shared their suggestions for using your leftover pumpkin seeds (I hope you haven't already thrown them away).

The feature begins with this:

"Fun with a pumpkin has really only begun with Halloween if you know the secret. Mrs. Pumpkin Eater probably knew it, and that was why Peter succeeded in keeping her very well as the nursery rhyme claims."

I'll let you judge for yourselves whether or not these projects would keep you entertained if you were living inside a slimy pumpkin carcass. All I know is that if these projects made it into the magazine, I was working way too hard.

There are pumpkin seed Christmas ornaments:

Pumpkin seeds for bath-time fun:

Pumpkin seeds for your year-round gift giving needs:

Pumpkin seeds for your school valentine's party:

Pumpkin seeds to grow in your Easter leftovers:

Pumpkin summer fun:

And then before you know it,
we're back to Halloween again!

Halloween again, indeed.
I hope it's not too late for me to get a pumpkin!


If it's Friday, it must be time for Small Works Dental Records!

By which I mean Susan's attendance records (the Guiness Book type, not the identifying-a-body type), in which a new personal best was achieved this week!



and Friday --

I had the distinct pleasure of starting each morning
with a trip to the dentist!

My dentist is afraid that Russ will think we're having an affair. I keep telling him that Russ will just be happy if he fixes my teeth so I'll stop complaining about them. And there's nothing like a root canal on a dark, rainy October day to get my Complaint Mechanism up and running.

My Complaint Mechanism is well-tuned and seems to be running flawlessly.

But speaking of records . . .

Surely my prolific parents have set one in the annals of quilting history. They sent me a new picture this week of all the quilts they have now completed for the great grandchildren.

Fun and colorful quilts for the great grandchildren.

There are so many amazing things about the whole my-parents-making-quilts-thing, but perhaps most amazing is that they've done them all in less than 18 months.

The original amazing array for the children and grandchildren.


I wonder what they're going to take on next?

It being Friday,
I know exactly what I'm going to take on.

Or take in . . .

I never met a Fall Friday where I didn't like to do a little baking. So for today's treat, I've decided on this oldie-but-goodie from our favorite Santa Fe Cookbook (already you must know you can't go wrong . . . )

These have replaced pumpkin pie at our house since I introduced them two years ago, and even people who don't like pumpkin pie
love these:

Click if you need to enlarge the recipe.

All you need is a fork and a truckload of whipped cream
and you'll be in
Fattening-Fall-Food Heaven!

(And well worth every calorie, I might add.)

Happy Weekend!

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