I'm the editor of Smart, a magazine for women in southcentral Pennsylvania. I said "I do" to my wonderful husband in 2002. We have two adorable children who have taught me much about life and love. With the birth of my second child, I bid farewell to my dreams of having a clean house, folded laundry and family dinners on weeknights.

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Think outside the pumpkin when decorating this fall

By BETH VRABEL for Smart

Ryan Fretz, aesthetic director for the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, uses some tools that the average home decorator doesn’t have available: a staff of designers, mechanics and gardeners.

His degree in fine arts doesn’t hurt, either.

Forget plain old jack-o’-lanterns. During October, dried-gourd ghosts haunt nearly every tree at the Manheim fairgrounds.

A 30-foot-tall pumpkin-headed scarecrow waves to visitors. Skinny gourds look like slithering snakes. Pumpkins seem to be afflicted with 16th-century-era leprosy.

Colorful sprays of corn husks and grasses dot lampposts.

This autumn, think outside the ­pumpkin.

Here are a few of Fretz’s tricks to make your home decor hauntingly ­boo-tiful.

Go off the beaten track

To get the most unusual produce at the best price, Fretz heads to the Leola Produce Auction, 135 Brethren Church Road in Leola. The auction is open to regular folks and not just garden centers on some days. Call 656-9592 for details. There, pick up for $4 a specialty gourd that would go for $15 at a center, Fretz said.

Think floral

For an elegant look, consider gourds as just another piece of a floral display. Fretz gathers seed heads from grasses, locust pods and corn husks, “pretty much whatever we have lying around,” and incorporates them into displays. Hot glue, wire and twine pull the pieces together, with a pair of gourds in the center.

Plan for next year

Don’t toss your gourds at the end of the season, dry them instead. Dried gourds weigh a few ounces instead of pounds, and they can be sanded, painted and crafted into wonderful shapes, either scary or elegant. Just put them away and forget about them for months. Be warned, though, the transformation isn’t pretty. “And you need to be willing to deal with some mold,” Fretz said.

Gourd glossary

Snake gourds: Long, green and, well, snake-like. They can be painted to look like snakes.

Apple and birdhouse gourds: These gourds can be dried and painted to ­resemble fruit. They also make great ­birdhouses once dried.
Cinderella pumpkins: These squat, wide and bumpy pumpkins look like something out of the fairy tale.
Jack-be-little pumpkins: The palm-sized pumpkins are great in crafts. Turn them into pretty centerpieces by tracing the shape of a tea light candle on top of the ­pumpkin, ­carving out the notch and adding the candle.


Don’t try to dry a pumpkin; only ­thick-skinned gourds can handle the drying process. “Pumpkin isn’t going to dry out,” Fretz said. “A pumpkin will turn into an icky mess.”

You can use fresh gourds for the ghosts, too. But remember that they weigh much more than dried gourds, so consider that when attaching the ghosts to posts and branches.

Get crafty
Drying gourds

Step 1: Find a dry place. “Some place that you just don’t have to look at,” Fretz said. Put the gourd in a cardboard box on a shelf in the garage or shed.

Step 2: Don’t look. “In the middle of winter, you don’t want to look at them.” All the moisture comes out of the gourd ­during a weeping process. “There will be an odor,” Fretz said. “It’s not terrible, but it will be distinct.”

Step 3: Craft the gourds. Dried gourds weigh just a couple ounces. To craft them, pull the seeds off the shell, scrub off the mold and, if going for an elegant look, sand down the shell.

Apple gourds and pear-shaped ­birdhouse gourds can be painted to look like the fruits.

Create a dried-gourd ghost

Step 1: Keep the dried gourd in its ­natural grayish-black dried look. Using a hammer, pop out eye holes and mouth.
Step 2: Using wire and hot glue, add pine branches to the bottom of the gourd.

Step 3: Cover with white fabric. Use wire or twine to attach the ghost to a tree branch or lamppost.

Make a corn-husk sunburst

Step 1: Gather similar-length corn husk leaves into a sunburst arrangement. Hot glue pieces together.

Step 2: Add a small round red or orange gourd to the center, attaching with twine, wire and/or hot glue, depending upon the weight.


Creating a spooky mood on your front porch or front yard doesn’t have to be an expensive or time-consuming nightmare.
Here are some tips:

Build a scarecrow

Stuff old clothes with newspaper. For the head, a ­plastic milk jug covered with papier-mâché will do the trick.

Make jack-o’-lantern Jr.

Buy small plastic orange party favor bags and stuff them with newspaper. Tie off the tops with green or black ribbon. Let the kids draw faces on the orange “heads” with black markers. The miniature jack-o’-lanterns will look good dangling from tree branches or on the rail of your porch.

Shine an eerie light

Colored bulbs are available at many drug and discount stores. Look around the house for a lamp that’s easy to reposition and redirect and ­consider splashing the weird light against a wall or doorway.

Carve your own gravestone

Craft your own monuments by purchasing, carving and decorating pieces of Styrofoam, which cost $1.99 to $10.99 a sheet at Michaels. “But don’t use spray paint, it will eat the Styrofoam,” warned Michaels assistant manager Barbara Bennett, adding that you’ll have to hand paint it with acrylic paint.

— McClatchy Newspapers

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  1. woodworking project plans 10/23/2010 at 8:44 am

    These gourds can be dried and painted to resemble fruit.