tampabay.com

Retailers: Don't fast forward through the beauty of autumn

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published November 17, 2006


On a recent drive home from Florida's east coast, I stopped at five stores looking for decent Thanksgiving decorations.

What I really wanted was a wreath, something dear and crafty, like you'd find at a church bazaar. But I was open to anything that might lend my Florida home an autumnal twist.

This was less than a week after Halloween - plenty of time for stores to stash away the pumpkins and roll out leafy fall wreaths, woodsy twig creations and turkey-inspired decor.

Or so I thought.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a selection of Thanksgiving decorations any more.

At least in Florida.

After much hand-wringing and quizzing befuddled sales clerks about where all the autumn stuff had gone, I finally stumbled upon a Thanksgiving door decoration in the clearance aisle of a discount chain store.

Eureka!

I also found three melon-sized decorative balls made of seeds and pine cones in a 75-percent-off aisle. They looked a bit like props from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but I thought they were natural-looking and tactile and would do the trick.

In recent years, stores have transitioned in a blink from Halloween to Christmas. But this year the problem seemed worse.

Instead of making me tingle with the excitement of the approaching holiday, I felt like I was being cheated out of one of the most enjoyable seasons for holiday decorating. I decided to improvise and create my own fall look inexpensively and using supplies that are readily available.

A lot of experts contend - and I agree - that pine cones are heaven-sent decorations just waiting to be heaped in ceramic bowls and rustic baskets or scattered across a cocktail table.

Don't bother with the bagged variety sold at craft stores. Pine cones are abundant down here, and with a little hunting you can find enough to create an interesting display or centerpiece.

Forget those faux fall leaves and go for sea grape leaves instead. Don't pick them - just collect the fallen ones from the ground. They are sensual and often the size of small dinner plates. They turn colors that rival the leaves that make our Yankee friends so smug.

Better Homes and Gardens' Web site, www.bhg.com, offers an autumn crafts section with tips on making a tabletop candleholder by nestling autumn colored candles in a ceramic bowl and surrounding them with those pretty multicolored unpopped popcorn kernels.

They also suggest scooping out a small pumpkin and filling it with flowers for a small centerpiece; or updating the traditional cornucopia by filling a simple wire basket with flowers and small gourds (which, by the way, make a great decoration on their own).

A big earthy bowl of unshelled walnuts accompanied by a nutcracker adds a warm touch in a den or gathering spot. Mandarins, tangerines, persimmons, pears and apples are all in season and look lovely arranged in a bowl or mixed on a platter.

Decorate an ordinary laurel or evergreen wreath with kumquats (newly in season).

A clutch of colorful maize corn looks great on a front door, and harvest-colored mums tucked inside a silver-plated ice bucket look crisp and festive.

And creamy pillar candles twined with vines and twigs and flowers gathered from the yard make a unique - and free - Thanksgiving centerpiece.

If you collect quilts or throws, now's the time to stack away the pastel colors and bring out those with deeper autumn hues.

The lesson I've learned lately is that you can stretch the year a little and slow things down by celebrating fall. I can't even begin to think about my Christmas tree this year until at least the day after Thanksgiving, and even then it might be too soon.

I'm still savoring fall in Florida and its beauty.

And in a little while, I'm thinking about digging out those Publix salt-and-pepper shaker pilgrims.

A Thanksgiving table awaits.

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at (813) 545-5553 or ebettendorf@hotmail.com.