Fall is the best time of year in El Paso and it's such fun for me to get out of the house and do things after the long hot summer. So, when I received a call recently from my friend Bonerella Skelly (remember her? sells hats to witches at her Millinery?), I was thrilled to accept an invitation to meet the Calaveras, her brother and sister-in-law.
"I especially want you to meet Ghouliana and take a look at her garden. I told her that if anyone would appreciate it, it would be you, Wanna," Bonerella said. "I'm going to email you her address and phone number. Do this for my sake, will you, please? Ghouliana and Craneo are relatively new to El Paso, but she does want to widen their circle of acquaintances. The folks we know are all mostly family and witches."
"Well, of course," I said. "I would love to meet her and tour her garden. Because of my sun- and heat-sensitivity, I am not much of a gardener myself, but I do love fresh vegetables and fruit."
2009 was a very hot summer, but fall promises to be a bit cooler this year, or so the weather man was saying recently. Sure enough, a cold spell came through the night before I was to visit, and I even got out my windbreaker when I left home to meet Ghouliana and tour her garden.
As I rang the doorbell, I smelled smoke from the back yard. A man, er, well, verrry thin man, er, skeleton came around the corner, waving his tongs.
"So nice to meet you, Wanna," he said. "I'm Craneo. Skully speaks highly of you, and of course, Bonerella is one of your biggest fans. She gave us one of your cards and we have been enjoying your website."
"Well, thank you so much," I said. "I always say that half the fun of storytelling and miniatures is sharing what you do with others."
"Ghouliana feels that way about her gardening," he said, leading me around the house to the back yard. "She usually gives away two-thirds of what she harvests."
"Wanna's here," he called to his wife.
"Hi, Wanna!" Ghouliana hollered, looking up from her shovel. "Come on over. I feel I know you already from your website. "
"Be right there," I called, as her husband guided me gently by the elbow across a wide expanse of still-green lawn. (My husband quit watering ours probably three weeks ago!)
A billow of smoke from the grill swirled around us. "Bonerella and Skully will be coming as soon as she finishes at the shop. I'm making my famous Sheesh Kabobs, Wanna. You better come and get 'em while they're hot," he said, heading for his grill.
"I'd love to, Craneo, but I'll have to take a rain check; my husband is taking me out to dinner tonight."
"Another time, then, " he said, turning something on the grill with his tongs that yielded a splatter and a hiss and sent more plumes of smoke billowing up into the chilly air.
"Hi, Wanna," Ghouliana said. "I hope you'll excuse me, but I have to get this out of the ground tonight. The vulture has already been at it, and now it's the dogs."
"Ike! Stop that barking or you won't get a bone!"
What a shrill little critter he was, almost beside himself as he wove in and out between her legs.
And next thing I knew, there was another dog, yapping away madly, too. Ghouliana stamped her boot and pointed a bony finger at the two barking dogs. "Spike! Ike! Get over to your doghouses, or else!" They slunk away momentarily.
"I am so sorry not to greet you at the house myself, Wanna, but these dogs have discovered that my prize Ruffly Blue Gruesome has bloomed, and they have no restraint. I have to get it out of the ground before we forget and let them out of the dog run when we're not going to be around."
She gestured to the top of the tree. "I was just sick to discover that Vernon's already been at it, too."
I looked up and gasped audibly as a gigantic vulture momentarily flapped down from the top of the tree, then back up again. I thought he was after me and squealed, but well, actually, I guess he had his eye on the Ruffly Blue Gruesome. Anyway, it was quite unnerving.
Ghouliana said, "Ignore him. He's usually quite helpful, coming in to clean up after I've finished my harvesting, but for some reason both he and the dogs decided they wanted my prize blossom this year."
She shook her shovel at him. "Vernon, get back up there or I will NOT let you clean up the leftovers. And I mean it," she said, stamping her booted foot again.
"Wanna, I've already gotten several things out and loaded into the wheelbarrow. Why don't you look over the rest of the garden while I finish here, and then Craneo can bring us a warm drink."
It was quite chilly as the sun started going down, so I stamped my feet a bit to warm them because I had forgotten to put on any socks.
At this, the vulture rose into the air for a moment, then settled back down, and the two rather rabid-looking little critters began their shrill yapping again from the doghouses as soon as Ghouliana quit looking at them.
"Beginning with spring, about every two weeks I sow something new," my new friend confided as we surveyed the remains of her bountiful garden.
"Those Sqush Plants are ready; need to get them in tomorrow.
And I better get that Frog's Eye before Fernando over there gets it first.
As if in agreement, a wierd little frog nearby burped at me. He looked so much like that plant! I shuddered, as it seemed almost cannibalistic to eat it.
"Oh," I said. "Is that Tongue Stem? Bonerella was telling me that you had given her one, along with one of your Bloomin' Eyeball plants."
"Yep," she said, nodding. "I only have that one left. We ate on the others all summer long. Tongue Stem is great with a dipping sauce."
"See," she said, pointing, "Those Blue Eyes are late summer plantings, just about ready, too. "
"The Watchfuls make excellent jam, by the way. Sort of a tart blueberry-like taste."
I walked toward the back fence. "Wow, these are lovely," I said. "Why, I didn't realize we could even grown HandinGlove plants in this region."
"Well, I have had to coddle them a bit, and shade them with netting during extreme heat, but I won First Place last year at the Fair."
I am embarrassed to say that I squealed again, as a bright yellow-green snake (or was it a fat worm?) wove in and out of the soil and right over my foot.
"Oh, don't mind Slither. I hire him each year to aerate the soil. He does take a perverse pleasure in startling people who aren't used to my garden, though."
An unearthly sound came from behind me as Ghouliana poked at the Blue Gruesome, which seemed very reluctant to come out of the ground. "Omigosh," I cried. "Can it feel?"
"Nah," she said. "It's just the sound of all the roots and tentacles pulling loose. Although I will say a lot of my friends won't have them in their gardens because of that noise."
The next plant was a Climbing Eye Scream, quite heavily loaded. It also made noises, too, sort of a cross between a smacking and a slurping sound as the little mouths opened and closed. Ghouliana laughed as I jumped back in alarm. "Craneo says this one ought to be called an Eye Slurp, instead of an Eye Scream," she smiled.
Behind the Eye Scream was a sort of bush that looked unlike anything I had seen growing before.
"What is this knobby looking plant?" I called. "It reminds me in a strange way of something we miniaturists use called Tiny Turnings."
"Oh that's a KnockKnock Bush," Ghouliana said. "It only has one or two vegetables a season, but they are doozies. Sort of a cross between Frankenstein and Broccoli."
I peered into the wheelbarrow. "Um, yes, I see a couple here." What a harvest!
"Now those are SOME pumpkins," I cried, pointing at two beauties in the barrow.
"Looks like you've had a bountiful crop, Ghouliana," I said.
"I just love a full pantry and freezer," she replied. "Don't you?"
"Oh yes," I agreed. "It certainly makes meal preparation more fun to have a variety to choose from."
After I finished my warm drink and chatted for a while, I said my goodbyes to Ghouliana and Craneo, promising that next time I would stay longer.
I had a question, but I wasn't about to ask her on my first visit, although I was quite curious. I mean, do skeletons really EAT? I could hardly imagine what uses she would put those crops to, otherwise, and was reluctant to ask how she planned to use what she had already canned and frozen. There are several local Farmer's Markets in the area this time of year, so perhaps that's where she'll be delivering her extras.
I also understand she has a relative who is a plastic surgeon. I wonder ....
I enjoy landscaping as well as storytelling, so this project was fun for me on several levels. I knew I wanted to use a skeleton - I just happened to have a plentiful supply, having ordered from Oriental Trading Company in 2008 after not being able to find many at the local Dollar Trees. I also knew I wanted the skeleton to be DOING something, so that sent me rummaging through my landscaping and outdoor materials, where I came across some things I thought I might use.
At first I thought about having him (in the beginning it was a male) cleaning up trash and raking leaves and piling them in a wheelbarrow.
Then I came across a miniature shovel in the drawer, and thought, Better than raking, he will be digging something. But what? Then my eye fell on some sprigs of artificial flowers that I had purchased and had been removing from the stems. That's when my scene really began forming in my mind's eye. My skeleton wasn't a He, he was a She, and she was digging up a prize plant before .... before what? Before the first frost hit?
Then I remembered a wonderful vulture and tree that I had purchased in the after-Halloween sales one year and I could just see in my mind's eye that vulture perched in the tree peering down at something. So, when I went looking for the vulture and the tree, I found the fence sections that I had purchased at some point, too. I believe they were all Lemax.
But would a skeleton be digging with bare feet? Then I remembered a great pair of boots that I had purchased in Chicago and knew instantly that my skeleton had to be wearing those boots so she could rescue a vegetable or plant of some kind before that vulture could get it. (Here you can see that I have painted the interior black.)
So, I began experimenting with placement of the spade so that I could shape the skeleton. I use this piece of foam inside the plastic bag to pin into when I am draping the skirts on my miniature dolls. It provided a handy way to position the shovel before I had the actual base ready.
Quite often when I want to duplicate movement I ask my long-suffering but obliging husband to pose for me, but he wasn't around. So, I Googled for pictures of people using a spade. I knew the joints would have to be manipulated, so I got out my heat gun and an Exacto knife with a new blade.
I used the heat gun to soften the joint then cut a slit so that it would bend better. Sometimes I alternated. Some people can use just a glue gun, but I don't find I get realistic results if the joint isn't cut first. I knew the wrist would have to be changed and the fingers would have to be curved, but decided I'd better wait on that until later since their joints were more fragile.
The leg that would be positioned on the shovel needed to be bent at the hip and the knee. I did not have to cut as much at the hip, but the knee required a bit more.
In order to fit the boots on, I had to cut the feet off. I held the boot up against the foot, marked a line with a marker for cutting, and used my heavy wire cutters to cut away the feet.
I painted the interior of the boots black to make them look more realistic. Here I have glued the right one in place with a glob of Tacky and a drop of Super glue. It is on the straight leg, so I propped it against a glue container to dry before working on the other leg. After it was thoroughly dry, I propped and glued the other boot at the angle required to go on the spade, figuring I would use the heat gun if necessary in order to manipulate it more when I actually glued the entire skeleton in place.
Although these Oriental Trading Company skeletons are good and in scale, they are a bit more rough than the few that I have from Dollar Tree. Notice the webbing between the fingers here. However, I figured that would give the hands a bit more stability so didn't try to separate them. Here I have begun curving the hands a bit with the heat gun, knowing I would have to have about everything else in place before I could finish the fitting to the spade handle.
I decided my skeleton would want something to wear. So I thought I would finally have a use for a hand made sweater that I purchased at a craft show on the Oregon coast YEARS AGO and just never figured out quite where to use it. I wondered what to put with it, overalls, jeans, a skirt? However, what's the point of having a skeleton if you cover it all up? So, I decided the sweater, the boots and a cap would do.
Boy, was that sweater a pain to get on! I was beginning to wish I had used something less likely to catch on roughness and those fingers! Looking around in desperation, I decided to try a straw to hold the tight cuff open while I maniupulated to get the hands through. That didn't work, so I used a paint brush handle, and that helped.
Here she has received eyeballs, although I am waiting on the painting until I get her posed.
I planned to give her a cap but with what I thought was every color of blue and green imaginable in my stash, I could find nothing that would match that sweater. Then I remembered a Cheap Thrill from years ago.
Little crocheted hair clips trims.
Yup! the right color, too.
So, with a band across the top of her head, now my skeleton was wearing ear muffs.
Originally I had planned to give her black socks that I had cut from the top of another Cheap Thrill, a real pair of Halloween socks. But black somehow didn't go with the rest of her outfit.
So I cut some ribbing from a baby washcloth, and that worked nicely.
By the way, here's something useful about using Super glue. Because I live in the desert, everything seems to dry out before I use it up, especially Super glue, but I have discovered that, rather than unscrewing the lid and poking a hole in the top, if I just stick a pin into the tube the glue will puddle up so that I can use it, and then it reseals itself. Other people probably already know this, but it sure has made a difference for me. This tube has been pricked several times, but I just poke a hole in a new place the next time.
Being the thrifty soul that I am, I am saving these feet for future use, even if they are kind of clunky looking. Painted black, they would almost make diving flippers ....
Once I had Ghouliana's clothing and posture figured out, I began working on the base.
I decided to keep my original idea of using the tree, the vulture and the wheelbarrow, but since I wanted a garden, the trash basket was put back in the drawer for another time. Here I am working on placement, using three sections of the fence and the wheelbarrow, which I have already filled with harvested items. That slit/mark is where the spade and skeleton will go. Behind her will be the uplifted soil where she has removed her vegetables, and in front of her will be the remaining plants.
The Lemax tree has a nice broad base, so I knew that I would have to build up the soil to blend it in. The setting base is foam core, by the way, and has already been given a coat of black paint, although it looks brown here. Brown would've worked just as well; I just happened to have a bottle of black handy.
The first thing I did after gluing the fence sections in place was to put them "into the ground." I used a mixture of brown paint and Tacky glue and coated the outer edge and between the divisions of the fence. Then I poured on my handy-dandy dirt mixture of coffee grounds, sand and model railroad foam. For the loosened soil on the inside of the fence, I used freeze-dried instant coffee to form a sludgy mixture which I sort of spread and troweled in.
Here you can see that the entire base has been given the dirt mixture, and the soil mixture is ready over by the fence. (I used the wheelbarrow to roll through the mixture, both to get the tracks there and to put a realistic coating of dirt on the wheel.)
I have added the next layer of glue and am preparing to sprinkle on the instant coffee for the soil where she will be standing and working.
The spade is in place, although not yet positioned correctly; the wheelbarrow is where it needs to be. Although the picture is somewhat blurry, you can see that I have let the boots "walk" in the soil mixture for a realistic somewhat muddy look.
After this it was just a matter of deciding on what to use for the rest of the plants in her garden. This was great fun, although I made a big mess going through my stash of artificial and natural plants and greenery, as well as my collection of Halloween stuff.
The last thing to do was to use the heat gun and glue to manipulate Ghouliana's arms and hands to clasp the spade handle and fix her firmly in place.
Well, I thought it was the last thing, until I remembered some great little wierd dogs from McFarlane's series from the Tim Burton movie The Corpse Bride. Perfect!
And by the way, the Blue Gruesome and the HandinGlove plants were from one of the McFarlane figures, too.
I had originally planned to have a bag of bone meal in the setting, but when I decided to use the dogs I didn't have enough room. Here's a free printie for you, if you want it.
Hope you enjoyed learning about Ghouliana's Garden. And by the way, we've been invited over for snacks on Halloween, so stay tuned.