Adventures of the Yellow School Bus | "Not Your Normal Toothy Grin" | Text and 23 Photos by Candice Granger

I'm a fan of Halloween. In fact, I would say the whole month of October is my favorite. The days get cooler and shorter, time for sweaters, slippers and hot chocolate. Yum. It seems like October is the gateway month to large family gatherings, plates of delicious food and yummy desserts. I just love it, I love it all! Our kids love October for one thing: Halloween candy. But pumpkin carving holds a close second. Last year, we carved the normal pumpkin design: triangle eyes and the big toothy grin. This year I wanted to do something a little different...spice it up a bit.

So, the kids and I watched a whole lot of "extreme pumpkin carving" videos on YouTube. We were pumped up and ready to carve a masterpiece! But reality hit pretty quickly when we started sketching our ideas on paper. Lena Marie decided a ghost would be a fun alternative to a toothy grin and Zeb just wanted something with sharp teeth.

Off we went to HEB to pick out some pumpkins! Zeb liked the little cooking pumpkins. I was unsure how those would carve but thought we could give it a whirl. Lena Marie went for the biggest pumpkin she could find. We picked up a few pumpkins that had some soft spots. I wouldn't have even looked for a soft spot on a pumpkin if it wasn't for a tip I came across on a website. It said soft spots usually mean the inside is already turning mushy. Yuck. A pumpkin is already mushy when it is "good". What would a mushy, mushy pumpkin look like...or smell like? We passed on the soft spots and found nice size pumpkin that didn't slosh on the inside and did not have any soft spots! Yay!

Zeb picked out his tiny pumpkin. He said it only needed some sharp teeth. Easy to please!
We got to carving right away.  The kids drew their designs on the pumpkins and started sawing with their pumpkin carving tools. We bought a pumpkin carving kit a few years ago and boy, does it come in handy!  Definitely worth the $6.00!  If you don't have a kit, use a serrated knife to cut your pumpkin up.  Or you could head to your garage and see if you have a drywall saw or a jab saw. Those little guys would work awesome on a pumpkin!

TIP:  Add a notch to your lid when cutting your pumpkin's top off.  That way you know
exactly where your pumpkin lid fits.  

TIP:  use red or brown marker to draw on your pumpkin instead of a black sharpie.  Black sharpies are visible even after the lights go out and your pumpkin is aglow but the red or brown melt away.  

This is where I got a little tricky.  We wanted to carve away the skin so the light glowed through the walls.  Woooo....spooooky!   Carving away the skin is nothing new to the "extreme pumpkin carving" world but it was definitely new to us!  I wondered if it was as easy as it looked.    

You need some tools.  Tools that you might now have lying around - like clay trimming tools.  We had them because Jim Bob, my hubby, is a potter.  This tool (shown in picture above) helps a potter trim away excess clay as it spins on the wheel.  I used it (much to Jim Bob's dismay) to carve away pumpkin skin.  It wasn't as easy as the pros made it look.  Check out this video with Martha and a master pumpkin carver, Ray Villafane.  I felt like Martha, for sure.  

TIP:  drill a hole to start your carving.  It makes it easier to stop and start when you
are sawing like a crazy person.

TIP:  If you are going to put a real candle in these small pumpkins, you will need to keep the lid off!  The pumpkin is so small that it burned the lid to a crisp within minutes!   It also didn't have enough ventilation with the lid and the candle burned out quickly.  

Well, we carved away the skin and Zeb wanted some really sharp teeth on his pumpkin but it wasn't easy carving away the skin on a small triangle shape like that.  The teeth kept popping off!  I kept saying, "Oops!  There goes another one!"  Don't laugh - this is how many teeth we ended up with.  Alright, go ahead and laugh - it's pretty funny.  Zeb was excited that he had 3 teeth left!  

I wanted to decorate my pumpkin a little different.  I thought the drill might be a fun tool to use.  So I marked off a design with a red marker on my small pumpkin using lots of little dots.  I just eyed but if you need to use a ruler - go for it!   I also gutted the pumpkin.  

I got two different size drill bits...1/4" and 1/8" size and started drilling holes!

This was the fastest pumpkin carving I have ever experienced!  It was awesome.  A little messy but I took the pumpkin over to the water bucket and washed it all out.  It cleaned up pretty nice!  I can't wait to see it all lit up!

Now on to the Big Mammoo.  Somewhere on that pumpkin (if you squint your eyes and hold your tongue just right you might see it) is a picture of a ghost.  I needed to carve all the skin away and reveal that ghost.  Lena Marie had no problems telling me exactly where she drew those lines.  Wish me luck.

Lena Marie did a great job cutting the top off the pumpkin and removing all the mushy stuff but she wasn't strong enough to rake that skin off the pumpkin.  It's tough!

I wasn't sure how much flesh to remove either.  We took about a 1/4" to 1/2" off but after I lit it up last night, I think I will have to take another 1/2" off!  It lights up a little bit but I want it to g-l-o-w!

I switched to another pottery trimming tool to remove bigger chunks.  

Lena Marie trimmed away some bit around the eyes.  She desperately wanted to carve but it wasn't as easy and soft as you would think.  

While I was busy with Lena Marie, Zeb took it upon himself to carve another pumpkin.  This is what was left when I looked up.  It kept him busy for quite awhile but ended up as goat food.

Getting closer!

Lena Marie is using a drill bit to drill holes in the eyes of her ghost.  A drill bit goes into a pumpkin like butter.

I carved "BOO" a little deeper into the ghost thinking that it might glow a little brighter.  I need to make the entire ghost as deep as the "BOO" and then keep carving "BOO" even deeper.  If you are going to try this technique, I say carve until it starts flexing a bit...I still have 1/2 to 3/4" walls.  The light just isn't glowing through like I thought it would.  That's okay, though.  I will get after it again before it gets dark!

Add "pumpkin cleaner upper" to the pro list of chicken keeping.  Our chickens cleaned up every single bit of pumpkin we left on the table!  Thanks chickens!  I guess I won't eat you today.

All lit up!  Lena Marie said it was "Boo-tiful!"  She's so funny.

I thought the Holy Pumpkin turned out great.  I bet you could get really creative with the dot/hole patterns!  I loved the light that it cast on the floor and walls.

TIP:  If your pumpkin is looking less plump, you can soak it in a cool water bath for up to 8 hours to re-hydrate it and plumb it up - like Botox for pumpkin!

The biggest bummer about carving the pumpkins is how fast they get disgusting!  I read and read about how to keep pumpkins longer.  There were a few tips but surprisingly there wasn't a cure-all.  I have to remind myself that a pumpkin is a piece of fruit that can not be preserved no matter how long it took me to skin it.

TIP:  Spritzing your pumpkin with a bleach solution or hairspray can help your mold growth problem but in the end, after 10 - 14 days, the pumpkin will meet it's demise no matter the strength of your aerosol product.

Happy Halloween!

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