Crafting Feed

So soon?

No matter what sort of winter we’ve had, I always find the first warm days a bit of a shock.  Winter is endless, formidable, a bully that stays longer than the three months it's allotted.  It’s supposed to be a  long candle lit and cocoa fueled rest, interrupted by nature’s workout regimen of shoveling and roof raking.  Every year I want it to last a bit longer. Just a bit more time to get indoor projects done without such a pull to be outside; that would be would be wonderful. Like a farmer, all year long I set aside inside tasks that I’ll take on when the garden is hidden by snow and the walkways are coated in ice. When the only reasonable course of action is to stay inside, I’ll be sure to get through the hundreds of photos  waiting to be edited, sorted and labelled. When daylight fails at 4:15, surely then I’ll finish the knit vest I started last winter.  And oh the quilting!  Winter was made for hand quilting.    

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If only the darkness of winter didn’t make me want to curl up and sleep.  If I could slip ahead through time to spring and siphon a bit of that energy to take back to the darkest days, oh what I might do! The To Do list of projects would...

well...

if I’m honest, the list would probably still be just as long since as soon as I knock off one thing I come up with another.  But there would be fresh faces on that list, and new characters to get to know, instead of the glares of long ignored residents.  

Potato print bunnies

So as much as I enjoy getting to skip a hat, reacquainting my feet with sneakers and an extra hour of sunlight, it all feels like a guest who has arrived early for the party.  I’m happy to see her, just not yet.  


Before you toss your tree...

Growing up, we always got our Christmas tree on my brother's birthday (Dec. 20) and dragged it out into the woods on Epiphany (13 days after Christmas).  Now that I'm an adult, the tree comes home on MY birthday (Dec. 8) and leaves when I'm feeling tired of all the festiveness and want a return to normal.  No matter how you decide it's time to take out the tree (maybe you use the "I can't take stepping on another *%#@ pine needle" method), why not get a little more use out of it before it goes?

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I usually associate wreaths with the weeks leading up to Christmas, but why should our celebration of winter end there?   The weeks after Christmas can be hard.  For the last month there was so much to look forward to  and so much to get done before Dec. 24th and then splat.  Nothing.  Just cold and dark and chores that were neglected in the preChristmas crunch.   If ever there was a time that needed a little festive cheer, it's now. 

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I'm sure a google search would bring up half a dozen ideas on what to use as the base of the wreath, but I used what I had on hand, the base from my Advent wreath.   A grapevine wreath (the sort you find at craft stores) or a styrofoam ring would work too. 

Then with gardening shears and plastic bag in hand, I headed out for a walk.  Along the way I gathered pine cones, interesting dead flower heads, bittersweet, and assorted greens. 

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Back at the house I turned the shears on my Christmas tree, cutting off branches until I had enough to fill the wreath.  For some reason I felt like I should be careful to cut evenly from all sides of Scrappy (yes I named it) so the tree, which was headed for the curb, wouldn't look funny.  You needn't follow the same "logic". 

Anyway, once the wreath was covered in greens, I added the bits and bobs from my walk.  Then a scrap of ribbon for a bow and it was door ready.  A nice sight to come home to and it didn't cost a thing.

 
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Easy Last Minute Halloween Ghosts

 

 

Whether Hurricane Sandy decided your Halloween decorations would look better in someone else's yard, or the holiday snuck up on you, it's not too late to get in the spirit.  

I've made these ghosts three years in a row now, each time trying new tweaks (no, arm like protuberances are not an improvement) and learning from them.  No, these ghosts will not make the neighborhood kids shriek in fear, but I love how each one ends up with an individual personality and the way they sway when the wind blows.  The more you make, the better the effect.

Materials:

  • roughly a yard of fabric per ghost.  Muslin is really cheap (a little over a dollar per yard) and works well.  Old sheets would be classic, but I never seem to own white sheets.  Blue ghost anyone?
  • Yarn or string
  • Big needle - yarn or darning needles are ideal
  • Waterproof markers such as Sharpies
  • Styrofoam ball for each ghost - 6" diameter or larger works best.  These can be found at craft stores.  You could also use a plastic, rounded container like a large yogurt container, gallon milk jug or soda bottle.  It needs to be something that will give the ghost shape and is easy to pierce with a needle.

What to do:

  • Thread the needle with about an arm's length of yarn. 
  • Poke the needle through the styrofoam ball.  The trick here is to get it as deep into the ball as possible (so the ball doesn't just rip when weight is placed on the yarn), but still be able to push the needle through the ball without it getting stuck.  I have occasionally gotten a needle stuck and been able to shove it out the other side with a chop stick or other thin device. Ghost attaching the head
  • Tie the end of the yarn that went through the ball, to the big long tail.  Head tied

  • Now for the fun part.  Fold the yard of fabric in half so it is roughly a triangle.  Nothing needs to be precise here, these are ghosts afterall. 
  • Find the center of the fold.  This is going to be the top of the ghost's head.  Move down a couple inches.  This is where you want to place the eyes.  If you do use Sharpies, let me warn you that the purple and maroon will run when they come in contact with rain, no matter what the package may say. Ghost draw face

  • Make the face big and have some fun with it.  I've gone with the classic black holes for eyes and mouth look.  I've also made faces that look like candy (candy corn teeth and lollipop eyes).  The kids I've done this with have colored big orange pumpkin heads on their ghosts, have written spooky messages and have made some of the funniest faces you can imagine.  This can even be done with toddlers, as long as you keep on eye on what they decide to color with their Sharpie.  It's the making that matters.
  • When the masterpiece is complete, one again attatch the needle to the thread hanging from the styrofoam head.  Put the head inside the fabric and poke the needle through.  Remove the needle and tie the ghost to a tree.   Ghost final product

 

 

When Halloween is just a fun memory, the fabric can be ripped up for rags or added to your compost.  The styrofoam balls can be reused year after year. 


DIY Mailbox - Tutorial

I wanted a red mailbox.  Someday I want to live in a red house with white trim (like the classic Swedish country home). Red makes me happy. Deciding what to do on the red to make it unique and maybe even say a little about me, that took more time. 

I didn't want to buy a lot of supplies for this little project, which quickly lead to the decision to use spray paint.  That way there was no paint thinner to buy (and then figure out how to dispose of), no brushes to purchase, no temptation to buy lots of colors and then potentially worry about if I had the painting skills to make my ideas happen.

In the end I decided I would make my mailbox into a quilt block - wonderfully geometric and an example of one of my hobbies.

Supplies:

Painters tape

Flexible Ruler

Scissors

Outdoor gloss spray paint: Main color, Secondary Color and Flag color.  You won't need much paint (especially for the flag) so you may be able to use leftovers from other projects.

Drop cloth/cut open trash bag - to protect the ground

Steps:

  1. If the mailbox has been in use, wash it with your choice of cleaners.  This may take some work if there's pitch or other resistant dirt.  Rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer is often effective in loosening pine pitch.  I also had to remove some paper that had been decopaged on to my mailbox by a previous DIY mailbox decorator. 
  2. Open the mailbox and slide out the pin that holds the flag on.  Place the three pieces (pin, flag and circular base for the flag) somewhere safe.
  3. Spread out your ground covering, make sure there's no breeze (I learned the importance of this the hard way) and spray the entire exterior  of the mailbox in your secondary color.  Allow to dry according to the directions on the spray paint.  I admit I didn't do this step so my secondary color is the mailbox's original, slightly faded black.  It worked, but the color looks a bit dull compared to the fresh primary color.
  4. Using the painter's tape, make a design.  There are many (more exact) ways to do this than what I did, but I know myself.  If I started trying to measure exact angles and the like, I would have given up in frustration and never completed the project.  Instead I opted to use the lines of the mailbox as my guide.  IMG_4573
    On my mailbox there was a rectangle embossed across the top and sides.  I followed the lines of that rectangle with my tape to get started, then used those lines as a point of reference for any lines I added.  IMG_4575
  5. Feel free to experiment.  Drawing with tape is very forgiving.  I found having a flexible ruler was helpful in making my design reasonably symmetrical.     IMG_4576

  6. No matter what design you make, there are a couple things to keep in mind. 1) make sure your tape ends overlap other pieces of tape.  This will create a clean, square end and guard against any primary color finding a way under the tape.  IMG_4574
    2). When you're done taping, take the time to rub all the pieces of tape, to ensure the edges stick to the mailbox completely.  Otherwise you can get some bleed through.
  7. When you're satisfied with your design, spray the entire box in the primary color and allow to dry.  Now is a good time to paint your flag too, if you want to.
  8. When the paint is dry (really dry, not just tacky) start removing the tape.  If you liked peeling dried glue off your hands as a child, you're going to love this. IMG_4581
  9. Reassemble the flag.  Sit back and enjoy what you've created.

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DIY Mailboxes


One of the fun things about walking, is seeing the creative ways people have found to personalize their space.  There are the houses painted in bright, fairytale colors; tree forts complete with glass windows; weather vanes ( I have such a weakness for weather vanes); statues made from found objects and of course the ubiquitous mailbox.  As long as the door stays shut and the flag is well attached, there's very little reason to think about these oddly shaped boxes, until someone makes them worth noticing. 

About a year ago I did a post about a walk I took in Lincoln, where I was surprised at the number of unique, home decorated mailboxes.  There was one mailbox that I debated whether or not to include in that post.  It was gray, with just the name Frost painted on it.  There was really no reason to give it a second glance except that it was the spitting image of the mailbox in front of Robert Frost's home in the White Mountains.  I decided this was more likely coincidence, than an homage of any sort and left the mailbox out of the post.  This spring, that gray mailbox went through a major transformation.  I decided to explore the neighborhood and see what (if any) other changes had occurred.

Circles mailbox 042112Formerly the Frost mailbox

I started out in the parking lot of the Lincoln Exchange, one of the few public places to park near Tower Road.  You can click on here to see my route.  The Exchange is home to one of the town's post offices, and I always feel like I'm stepping back in time when I walk through those doors to buy stamps or what not.  We'd had a week of summer weather (in April mind you), so it was a pleasure to walk under stone colored skies through the occasional shower.  It's the sort of weather I imagine when I think of the Pacific Northwest, great for a visit but I wouldn't want it everyday.

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The lilacs are in that wonderful inbetween stage where the closed buds are one shade and the opened blossoms another.  If I were an impressionist painter, I would paint lilacs the way Monet painted water lilies, one after another, trying to capture each change in light and growth.

As I headed to the Frost mailbox (as I think of it) I realized I was just steps from a cute little tree lined road I pass all the time and have wondered about.  I didn't have a schedule to keep, and I figured if it didn't come out somewhere I recognize, I could always retrace my steps, so I took a left on Upland Road and immediately discovered more DIY decorated mailboxes!  Don't you love serendipity?

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I like the easy, sketch-like look of the ladybug.  Whoever painted this was Ok with imperfection, and in that created something lovely.  I wonder what the inspiration was to create a house around the mailbox.  Maybe the house was originally the mailbox, but the post office decreed they needed a USPS approved receptacle?  Maybe they needed something to help the mailbox stand out so plow drivers wouldn't hit it?  I have seen one other similar to this in Lexington (next town over).  In that case the wooden exterior was intended to look like a house and garden.

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The picture is a little dark, but can you see the painted window, complete with lacy white curtains on the front?

As I continued down Upland to Beaver Pond, I saw several boxes decorated by kids.  Think back to being a kid and just how few things you had complete control over.  Now imagine being given permanent paint, part of the family home and permission to do what you want.  What a heady opportunity!  And then that art work is on display for everyone to see: the mailman, people driving by, anyone coming to visit and of course their friends on the bus.  What a great idea.

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Hand flowers lincoln 042112Notice the difference in hand sizes?  It's like a much more personal version of those stickers people put on their minivans to show how many people are in their family.

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These hand flowers make me smile.  Kids grow so quickly that artwork which makes those stages of growth a little more permanent are a wonderful idea.  When I was three or four I was at camp with my family.  There was an organized children's program so the parents could go off and do things on their own.  One day we were all given white t-shirts and the counselors traced our hands on them in permanent marker.  Mine was green.  I loved that shirt.  When I outgrew it I dressed my dolls with it.  Sometimes I'd place my hand over that earlier tracing and try to imagine I'd ever been that small. 

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This garden mailbox was in front of an artist studio.  One side was clearly done by children, and then the other has a bit of an adult's touch.  I wonder if they crafted that roadrunner shape themselves.  The spirals and zigzags behind it make me think of a meteor shower.  Looking at that mailbox, the way it's been warped over time and has started to rust, I can imagine the painting as an effort to beautify it in its last days of use.  Then again, maybe it was new and shiny when those little hands drew rabbits, flowers, dogs and curly ques.  The kids may have kids of their own by now, but this reminder of their younger selves remains.

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There was one mailbox that looked like a great steamer trunk, the sort George Bailey dreams of traveling with in It's a Wonderful Life.  Now it's just an unadorned mailbox, bought from a store, but imagine what it would look like with old-timey stickers from around the world and passport stamps painted on it.  

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When I got to the end of Beaver Pond I realized it intersected with Tower Road, the place where I'd found so many unique mailboxes a year ago.  What prompts one area, in a rather traditional, historic New England town to create so many works of public art?  I believe residents gain inspiration by driving past each other's creations each day.  It's the same logic that drives people in economically depressed areas to clean up a corner or a vacant lot and by doing so inspire neighbors to take on their own beautification projects. 

As I walked Tower Road back to the exchange, it was nice to see a lot of my favorite mailboxes still standing.  There was the shocking tiger striped box, the Grandma Moses style red fox and more.  At the end of the street there was a new addition, a yong girl's dream mailbox, all purples and reds with fluffy white rabbits and a shiny moon.

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What do you make of those little running figures?  They remind me of Crockett Johnson's character Harold, who with the help of his purple crayon sets out in his pajamas each night for all sorts of adventures. 

As I drove home I thought about all the personality and creativity that went into the mailboxes I'd seen, and I wanted a bit of that for myself.  For the first time in my life I live in a place where the mailbox is a box (not a wall of doors with tiny keys).  What could I create that says a little something about me?

Check back for the next post and you'll see.


A Personal Landmark

A landmark was destroyed recently.  It's demise didn't attract the attention of the media, just as it's existence never did.  You won't find it on any sort of historical registry, but it was a piece of the local landscape for years.  It was a life size wooden sculpture of a black bear; the sort that is carved with a chainsaw.  He stood on his hind legs, his paws over his stomach, looking out at the Bedford Street traffic with a sort of bemused curiosity, a cross between Gentle Ben and Winnie-the-Pooh.

When I first started to get to know Lexington I used the bear as a landmark, a sign that I'd found the right road to take me back to the highway.  Once I knew my way around better, he just made me smile.  His owners must have had a soft spot for him too.  When they built a wall along their property to block the noise of the street, they designed it so the wall formed a little alcove around the bear.  It was like the bear was on display at a museum, a more rustic and ursine Birth of Venus

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I'd love to show you a photo, but I never thought to take one, until the morning I drove down Bedford Street and saw a wood chipper parked next to the bear. No, I thought.  They wouldn't chop him up into so much mulch.  They must be trimming the overhanging limbs and this was just a convenient place to park.  When I passed on my way home that evening, he was gone.  The absence highlighted by the unpainted boards of the fence that had previously been hidden by his massive form. 

This winter when the snow piles were so deep only the bear's shoulders and head were visible, I thought about doing a little yarnbombing.  He looked like he could use a scarf.  I never did knit one; the bear, after all, was someone's personal property, but I kind of wish I had.

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Thanks to Google Earth I was able to find a photo of the bear.

 

 


Collecting - Mailboxes

Growing up, my older brother was always collecting something.  He collected bottle caps (I can't remember why), coins, stamps, Star Wars action figures, and baseball cards (Topps, not Fleer).  I'd listen to him rattle off what made one item more valuable than another, how they should be handled, just how many he needed before he had a complete set, and I wanted to have a collection too.  I was fascinated by the planning: where to get the next one, how to organize the ones you have.  And I loved the guidebooks full of arcane minutiae set in endless tables. 

I love glass, so I started a collection of old bottles, the sort that can be found in the woods near deserted cellars.  I picked them up at flea markets and tramping through the woods, but I never wanted to look in any of the guidebooks I brought home from the library.  I liked the idea of all those facts and guidelines for collecting much more than the reality of studying them.  So I stopped collecting anything that anyone else might find valuable.  I had a collection of itty, bitty pencils (ones with working erasers were the top find), rocks that looked like animals (I still have my first, a hamster) and teardrop shaped glass sun catchers.  

Today my urge to collect manifests itself in the pictures I take.  There are certain images that I never tire of: weather vanes, hollows in trees, squirrels, animal tracks, shadows and most recently, mailboxes!  This latest collection started when I took a wrong turn and ended up on a road with some of the brightest owner-decorated mailboxes I've ever seen.   I say owner-decorated because there are all sorts of companies making unique mailboxes, but what caught my eye was the DIY nature of these mailboxes.  Let me show you what I mean.  

Tiger mailbox 040311.jpg This tiger striped mailbox was the first one to catch my eye.  You just don't expect to see something like this in Lincoln, a historic, rural, New England town. 

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Further down the road I spotted this cheetah mailbox.  Could their owners be friends?

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This Canadian goose mailbox is a bit more traditional.  I liked how the goose on the front seems to be daring you to come any closer.

Fungi mushroom mailbox 040311
This one intrigues me.  I'd love to talk to the artist.  Both sides show fungi on a desolate landscape.  It felt sci-fi inspired to me. 

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In addition to alien-world look of the painting, it has a lucky horseshoe underneath.  I don't know if it's intened to bring luck in the form of good tidings, or if the homeowner was just trying to preserve the mailbox from the snow plows.  All up and down the street I saw trees with gouges from plow blades, and mailboxes which had clearly been knocked down a time or two.   This winter the snowbanks were so high that on some streets all you could see of the mailboxes was the tiny mailbox-door sized holes their owners had made.

All of those plow mishaps have lead to some creative solutions. 

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The base of this mailbox is surrounded by concrete blocks.

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These brightly painted mailboxes have been secured to a stump in addition to having metal supports. 

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And my favorite plow-war veteran would have to be this one.  The original support only goes so far as the first milkcrate at which point it ends in a splintery mess.  So the mailbox is actually being supported by two milk crates attached to a dolly with a web of bungy cords.  Now that's Yankee ingenuity (and thrift).

Dinosaur rusty mailbox 040311

This old rusty ol' dinosaur has seen a crash or two.  Wouldn't it be great if they actually painted it like a dinosaur?  The door just needs a tongue and razor sharp teeth like a T-Rex.  A couple cold reptilian eyes on the side and it would be perfect!

Red fox folk mailbox 040311
This fanciful, red fox out for a moonlit run is my absolute favorite.  The simple lines and bright colors look like something out of a children's book.  I look at it and imagine the rest of the fox's adventure, and then I start to imagine what sort of story I could paint on my own mailbox. 

I think I'll collect some more mailboxes (for inspiration of course), before I take that leap. 

 




The Frost is on the Pumpkin

Every morning I make my way to the hall window to see what the weather has in store for the day.  Admittedly, this is not the most accurate way to determine the weather, and it may be the reason why I often find I'm inappropriately dressed by noon, but today there was no mistaking the message mother nature was sending.  

A rather forlorn looking squirrel lay belly down, stretched out on a branch, soaking up the meager warmth of the sun.  Delicate, icy half-moons laced my neighbor's shingles and he was scraping his car windows, for the first of many times this season.   As my grandmother Crockett would say each fall, "The frost is on the pumpkin, for sure".    

In honor of all those pumpkins whose demise was hastened by last night's frost, I offer this photo salute. 

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Just a few of the many decorating Drumlin Farm in Lincoln.  I like the restraint of the middle one.

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The droop of the ear is priceless. 

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These baby spooks make me want to pinch their cheeks.

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Spitting wax pumpkin 102910
The serendipitous melting of the wax adds just the right touch of gore.

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This one appears to know it's destined for the compost heap. 

Speaking of which, I read this week that the decomposition of organic material in landfills creates methane, one of the greenhouse gasses (Composting for Dummies).  Why isn't this talked about more?  Actively encouraging citizens to compost seems like something rather easy for towns to do.  My town got a grant so it could offer compost bins to citizens for a tenth of what they normally cost.  I'm new to all this, so I can only assume there are roadblocks that I'm unaware of.  Otherwise, wouldn't there be PSA's and the like touting the benefits?  

OK, back to the pumpkins... 

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Our pumpkin from several years back and Z's first time as master carver.

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This year's masterpiece, slightly remodelled by a squirrel eager to help with the composting process.

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Still plenty spooky, if you ask me. 

Could this be why we didn't get any trick or treaters?


Pumpkins n' spiders n' ghouls, oh my!

I grew up sheltered by massive pine trees, which each year dropped blankets of golden needles across our yard.   I ran across them, enjoying the way they slipped beneath my feet ice-like and vaguely disorienting.  I bundled them and bound them with string, creating what in my mind looked like a cross between a haystack and the corn stalks people bought at Tuttle's Red Barn.  I'd place these bundles along the front of our porch and wonder why the rest of my family didn't see what I did in them. They usually only lasted a day or two before my brother decided they were fun to use for batting practice, but I continued to make them.

That urge to decorate the front of my home with some of autumn's beauty is still with me, all these years later.   After reading about Julie's decorating for fall in Under the Tulip Tree, I started to think about what I wanted to do this year, which lead me to notice the decorations around me on my daily walks.  Here are a few of my favorites. 

  Pumpkins lincoln rd 101810
This one strikes me as quintessential New England, from the shape of the house, to the simple elegance of the assorted pumpkins and mums. 

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I wonder if anyone ever sits in that chair, or if it's just their for appearances.   Either way, it makes the doorway appear all the more inviting.

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I believe it's humanly impossible to look at these without smiling.  Each time I pass them I imagine the giggles and antics that went into decorating them.

IMG_3436 I know there are plenty of scarier ghosts available in stores, but I enjoy the variety you find in the homemade ones.  You can't see it in the photo, but the yard actually has a whole family of ghosties, each with a unique, child drawn face. 

Witch 102910
This ingenious witch sways in the breeze.  She has a tiki torch for a broom, and a delightfully bloated green face.  I'd love to take a closer look inside her robe to see how she's held together, but not knowing the people who live there, that could be a bit awkward. 

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This simple, yet colorful, display ended up inspiring my own decorating.  After years of wanting, but not buying indian corn,  I "splurged".  I felt a little foolish when I realized three ears of corn, that I would enjoy for at least two months,  cost less than a drink at Starbucks.  It made me wonder just how much I had thought it would cost.  It is just corn after all.  Then I remembered years of seeing it in the grocery store, asking my mother to buy some and being told "No, it's too expensive".  It probably was, for a single mom raising two children.    Or maybe she just didn't want to get any and it was an easy excuse.  Either way, remembering that makes me enjoy the little bundle on my door all the more.

 

Post Script - you may have noticed I have a preference for homemade decorations.  If you feel the same way, a pattern for crochet indian corn can be found at Alicia Kachmar's website