Cool nights, noises in the shadows, leaves rustling in the evening air: As a child, my biggest thrill (and terror) was traipsing from house to house on Halloween night, waiting for the bigger kids in the neighborhood to jump out and scare the candy corn out of us. They rarely did, but the fear of it was enough to infuse my whole night with a sense of mystery and excitement.
Years later, Halloween is our house’s favorite holiday, hands down. For many years I’ve held a large party, costumes required, and the kids and I even visit the country’s Halloween capital of Salem, Massachusetts. We decorate heavily in October, but many of our Halloween accents never make it into the storage bins because I can’t bring myself to pack them away. I love all kinds of reminders of everyday magic, whether it’s the turning of the leaves, a walk in the brisk fall air, or the blooming of a long-awaited flower. I even find my hens a little magical. Seriously, an egg almost every day? That’s magic to me!
Because we celebrate in such a big way, we’re always looking for ideas to add. Things can get a little stale if we don’t refresh them here and there, with a new tradition added in for good measure. So this year, I went on the hunt for Halloween crafts for kids that would be simple, wouldn’t require me to be in the kitchen alone, and would be wholesome. (We don’t do gory Halloween here; we like the old-school stuff. No blood and guts, only ghosts and witches and crisp fall leaves. And candy, of course!)
Since my daughter is prepping for the PSATs, my son and I put on some Halloween music (“Purple People Eater,” anyone?) and set to work. We love candles, so a craft or two with candles made sense for us. We also wanted to work on a budget and reuse where possible. First, I settled on a jar-o’-lantern, since we had some spare jars without lids floating around. I know in most homes it’s random socks that disappear, but in our house, it seems to be Mason jar rings. Our second project was dollar-store candles decoupaged with vintage Halloween images. Last, in homage to my obsession, I made my own candy corn. Details below.
Earlier in the day, I’d coated the inside of the spare jars with some orange paint I had in the garage. Simply pour the paint into the jar and roll it around until the entire inside is coated then leave the jars to dry upside down. It takes a very minimal amount of paint, so check the “oops” selection at your hardware stare, buy a small sample pot, or share the cost of paint with a friend.
While the jars are drying, you can draw a jack-o’-lantern-face stencil on cardboard or card stock and cut it out with a sharp blade. I printed my templates from a website; there are plenty to choose from if you have limited artistic ability, like me! I cut out the templates, and my son taped them to the jars. Once the stencils were in place, he used a sponge and dabbed them with black acrylic paint. Mason jars are bumpy, so you’ll need a light hand when painting.
Zack did most of the work on this project, and he loved picking the faces and imagining they were having a spooky stare-down. Once the faces are dry, you can loop some thick wire around the lip of the jar and attach another loop of wire for hanging. (We opted to set them on the table instead.) You can make lots of these easily—especially if you’re a jar hoarder, like I am—and line your walkway with tea lights tucked inside.
DECOUPAGE HALLOWEEN CANDLES
Project number 1 finished; on to project number 2! I adore old Halloween advertisements and cards, which harken back to a simpler time, so we decided to use those for candles, too. We hit the dollar store, printed some images of old ads and cards off Google, and grabbed our Mod Podge. I regularly decoupage furniture to give it new life. It’s a simple and useful method for those who don’t mind getting a bit sticky and doing it themselves—which is most of us here at HOMEGROWN! While we used prayer candles, you could easily decoupage a pumpkin with a black lace overlay or adhere beautiful fall leaves in an overlapping pattern.
Once we removed the sticky labels from the candles (heat them with a blow dryer prior to peeling, and they’ll come off clean), we coated the candles with Mod Podge. We then applied the images, working from left to right and smoothing as we went to press out air bubbles. If you want to overlap your images, make sure to reapply Mod Podge as needed to hold the seams down. Once all of the cutouts are applied, coat the entire exterior of the candle with Mod Podge. I used gold glitter Mod Podge for this step because, let’s face it, I may be a simple country girl but I still like glitter! Don’t be alarmed if your Mod Podge takes on a white cast during this step. It’s totally normal and will dry clear. Check out our end result!
RECIPE: HOMEMADE CANDY CORN
I also found a recipe for my beloved candy corn. I was looking for one without beeswax because, frankly, unless you’re a beekeeper, it’s a tough ingredient to find. (If you are a beekeeper, there are plenty of recipes online.) This one is very simple, and although it takes a while to cool, it’s well worth the wait and fun to prepare—not to mention the money it could save me, considering I buy and stash candy corn all year round!
- 2/3 cup organic light corn syrup (read more here on the differences between this and high-fructose corn syrup; or, better yet, make your own cane syrup)
- 1 cup white sugar
- 5 Tbsp butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (make your own with a HOMEGROWN 101)
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/3 cup powdered milk
- 1/4 tsp salt
- red and yellow food coloring (courtesy of The Kitchn, red substitutes for the commercial stuff include steeped hibiscus flowers, boiled cranberries, beet juice or powder, and pomegranate juice; for the yellow: annatto or very small amounts of saffron or turmeric)
1. Mix the sugar, syrup, and butter together in a medium saucepan over low heat. Once everything is dissolved into a homogenous mixture, turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium and let simmer 5 minutes, tops. Be precise: This is candy.
2. After 5 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Set the mixture aside until it is just cool enough to handle but still warm and pliable.
3. While waiting for the mixture to cool, sift together the powdered sugar, powdered milk, and salt in a large bowl. Once the sugar mixture is just cool enough to handle, add it to the powdered sugar. Knead the dough with your hands to incorporate as much of the powdered sugar as you can. Don’t worry if there’s a little powdered sugar left unmixed.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl and roll it into a large log. Divide it into three sections. Press divots into two of the dough pieces. Drop 12 or more drops of yellow coloring into each divot. Drop 6 red drops into just one of the divots (red + yellow = orange!). Knead the color into the dough, kneading the yellow section first so as not to cross-contaminate. You can use your bare hands or gloves, if you’d like, although the color should wash out after a few hand-washings. Make sure the color is completely solid and mixed in, not marbleized.
5. Once the colors are incorporated, wash your hands thoroughly to ensure you don’t get orange dye on the yellow dough. Start with the white dough. Cut about one-fifth of the dough and roll it out into a long worm. Do the same with the yellow dough then the red dough.
6. Press the three worms together firmly without distorting the shape. Use a sharp knife and cut the dough into triangles. Set aside and allow to dry as you repeat steps five and six with the remaining dough. Here’s the hard part: waiting for the candy to dry before eating. Good luck! (NOTE: Keep an eye out for a HOMEGROWN 101 coming soon with more photos of Michelle’s process.)
MORE DIY HALLOWEEN PROJECTS
While searching for my own projects, I came across several others I’ve bookmarked for future years:
- Fake tombstones made from empty cereal boxes
- Milk-jug ghosts or skeletons
- White stockings as spider egg sacs
- Old toilet paper and paper towel rolls with cut-out eye slits. Tuck glow sticks inside and nestle into the bushes. Watch out: Creepy eyes!
- Most importantly, parents, don’t forget your Dremel for carving pumpkins. Endless ideas!
More than anything, Halloween is a time of togetherness for my family. We’ll spend enough time prepping the chicken coop for winter, figuring out if we canned enough, kicking our cooking into high gear, and most importantly, looking for a farm of our own. This will be a busy winter for us, so we cherish fall as a time of freedom after the harvest and before the planning. It’s also a time to remember our blessings and keep our loved ones close. Autumn brings us many magical gifts. I wish you as many blessings as there are falling leaves!
P.S. I got into a discussion with a stranger at the store this week, recalling the days of the homemade costume. (Hooray for ingenuity!) I disclosed that I was a hobo for roughly a decade, and she said that her most memorable costume was when she broke her arm: Her mother turned her into a slot machine. I laughed out loud. Loudly. I’d love to hear about your favorite HOMEGROWN costumes—new or from years past—in the comments section below. Happy haunting!
Although she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.
ALL PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE