Fall into fun on a budget

October 09, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

Sunny skies, crisp air, fresh pumpkin aroma, and leaves crackling underfoot.

Autumn is inherently appealing.

Maybe that's why families flock to pumpkin patches and corn mazes each year, ready to pay for the season's sensations.

These trips can be a lot of fun, and they are a great opportunity to stock up on pumpkins, gourds, squash, straw and corn stalks.

But let's not forget to reap the harvest of autumn's treasures - the uncommercialized opportunities - right in our own homes and backyards.

Leafy fun

Rake, pile and - one, two, three - jump into nature's red and golden trampoline! It's a rite of passage into fall. Most everyone has leaves in their yard or at a nearby park this time of year. I see them as a free gift.


Odds are you have a rake or two in the shed. If not, many stores have gardening tools on clearance sale now. I just picked up two child-size rakes for 20 cents each. Score! It won't be long until the leaves fall and we'll be out back, swinging off the swing and throwing ourselves into a deep mound of leaves.

Make scarecrows

When we are spent from playing, the piles of leaves can be bagged up and saved for scarecrow stuffing. Why shell out hard-earned cash for a run-of-the-mill scarecrow decoration when you can create one with your family from items you have around your home at no cost?

Search the attic or drawer bottoms for an old shirt and pants. You might even craft parent-and-child scarecrows, depending on what you find. Be creative with accessories. You'll likely be amused at the characters you can create using odds and ends.

Autumn hiking

Another day, I plan to dig out my favorite cozy sweater and hit Devil's Backbone Park along Md. 68 near Boonsboro. My whole family loves to cross the footbridge over Antietam Creek and hike the nature trail along the hill. The trail ends on the "island" section of the park, an ideal place to gather distinctive leaves.

My children take the leaves home and iron them, with help, between waxed paper covered with a cloth. The samplings make festive wall art, and the only cost is the price of the waxed paper.

Make fall soup

Oh - the joy of greeting autumn with a steaming pot of homemade soup. On a day of play, I'll cut a corner with canned veggies. All the better that supermarkets in the area offer canned veggies this week for 60 cents each.

Toss your favorite veggies into a couple cans of tomato juice, add some rice and spices, and you've got yourself a hot, satisfying, inexpensive dinner when you come in from the cool.

Use your pumpkin twice

After jack-o'-lanterns have been carved, make sure you get your money's worth out of your pumpkin. What homemade treat will you serve with belly-warming hot spiced cider?

Let your taste buds be your guide. My family will be baking the pumpkin seeds, and won't let all that savory pumpkin flesh go to waste. Should we use it for bread, cake, waffles, pies or soups? Most of these goodies can be thrown together using pumpkin flesh and ingredients you are likely to have stocked in your pantry.

Mmm so many delicious fall recipes, so little time.

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is

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