Plentiful Pumpkins!

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It’s that time of year again, where everywhere you turn, there’s a pumpkin meeting your gaze. Many of these winter squash are decorated as jack-o’-lanterns, while some of the plainer varieties repose as decorations that are more refined, or as actual food options at the markets. Often thought of as a vegetable, pumpkin is actually a fruit, because it develops from the flower and is the part of the plant that contains the seeds. On the other hand, vegetables include the leaves, stems, buds and roots of plants.

In recent years, pumpkins of varying colors beyond the traditional orange have been developed, with hybrids showing off shades of blue, white, tan, pink, red and green. No matter the hue, this fabulous fruit ripens throughout the summer and will normally reach its full size by September or October, thus the “harvest” time of year that pumpkin evokes.

How can authors use pumpkins in their writing? Setting comes to mind first, of course. A few well-placed pumpkins in your story or book can tell readers that it’s late summer or fall, whether the action is taking place before Halloween or well after, and might even offer a hint as to where in the world your writing is set. Using designer colors for the pumpkins in your novel? Then your book is probably set sometime after about 2005, when these became more widely available.

Pumpkins might also be used to tell readers something about your characters. Want to show that your leading lady or man is earthy, a hard worker, and probably likes to cook or bake? What better way than to show them hoeing in the pumpkin patch and getting a little dirt under their nails, or cooking up some pumpkin to use in a favorite recipe. Picture a couple pulling into the farmers market and lovingly running their interlaced fingers over the pumpkin options. Don’t tell me that scene couldn’t express fecundity, possible sexual repression or just raw sexual desire!

I’ve even used this member of the cucurbit family in my novel, Romantivores, which I’m currently revising. This portion of the book takes place in November, so I didn’t want any hint of jack-o’-lanterns hanging around. I’ve chosen to employ simple white pumpkins to line the sidewalk leading up to the stone building where one of my protagonists works. Not only can these white wonders indicate the time of year, but I also wanted them to suggest a less relaxed or homey atmosphere than their orange siblings, since there’s danger lurking nearby that is yet unknown to my main characters.

Last, but certainly not least, what about those books that include lists of recipes or deftly weave directions for tasty treats throughout their pages? Recipes for pumpkin can fill a cook’s needs throughout the day, from breakfast pancakes to tummy-warming soups at lunch or sweet desserts to finish off a delicious dinner. One of my favorite uses for pumpkin appears below. I came upon this easy idea one day when the bananas on my counter weren’t ripe enough for my usual lunchtime smoothie, and I found a can of pumpkin hiding in the dark recesses of my kitchen cupboard.

SQUOOTHIE (Squash Smoothie:)

1 cup cold almond milk (or your favorite milk product)

½ cup pumpkin (chilled is best)

1 tablespoon honey, or your choice of sweetener

¼ teaspoon vanilla

dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice

Blend and enjoy!

Options: Ice, banana, peanut butter, cumin, bee pollen, or yogurt in place of milk

 

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Uprooted and Transplanted: ‘Moving’ and ‘Starting Over’ as Themes in Writing

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I’m moving to a different city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in a few weeks, so that’s uppermost in my mind these days. All the endless details, half-filled boxes, scratched-out lists, and memories of these past years that grab me when least expected, bringing tears to my eyes. I’m sure that most of you have been there in one form or another. At this point, what better topic for my blog post?

I’ve always enjoyed books where the main character moves to a new home in an unfamiliar town. In the new spot, there’s the painting, organizing, exploring, and then… Stories with this theme seem to fit into about three categories, I’ve noticed. First, you have the ones where everything starts out hunky-dory, and then things start to go downhill quickly. Author Ira Levin was a master with this type, as exemplified in both Rosemary’s Baby and Stepford Wives. The protagonists’ new homes were great until they got involved with the suspicious and creepy neighbors. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, could also fit into this group, since the move made by the main characters from New York to Missouri was certainly a catalyst, fracturing an already fragile relationship.

Another plot line related to moving would be where it’s touch and go for a while, but eventually the lives of the characters you love turn out better than anyone could ever expect in their wildest imaginations. Think Safe Haven, by Nicholas Sparks. Girl runs away from abusive husband and hides out in idyllic location near the ocean. She meets handsome new love interest with adorable kids and, of course, things begin to go awry as her past threatens to catch up with her. After a breath-taking couple of twists in the plot, well, I won’t go into detail in case you still wanted to read this one.

The third group seems to be the most realistic, where the main character relocates for an often heart-rending reason and works toward building life anew. The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg fits neatly into this groove, with the main character experiencing the entire gamut of grief, introspection, doubts, small delights, and eventual self-actualization.

As I tape up my last box and throw away the final list, I’ll certainly be hoping that Ira Levin won’t be orchestrating my personal story from the great beyond, since I don’t think that I’d make a very good Satanist or robot. I picture myself more an Elizabeth Berg sort of an individual. Once transplanted in my new home, I’ll have to really get on the stick with my writing if I’m ever going to get a whiff of that self-actualization stuff. Knowing that I can use my new experiences and emotions as an impetus in my work is certainly a draw, and I can hardly wait to get back to it.