This Old Schoolhouse

by Ann Russek

Two years ago, my husband and I moved into our dream home. It is a small 1880's one room stone schoolhouse. It is, to say the least, a fixer-upper. We had planned on doing most of the work ourselves to save money. Being young and a tad bit too optimistic, we bit off far more than we could chew, do, or afford. Not to mention that on the day we closed on the schoolhouse, we discovered I was pregnant with our first child.

So, now a little older, poorer, and a little bit wiser we are limping along doing repairs as we can afford them while trying to pay down some of our credit card debt and school loans. In the meantime I have dedicated myself to making our little pile of rocks as cozy and homey as I can for next to nothing.

This time of year is my favorite for "sprucing" up the place. Autumn and early winter are just full of decorating possibilities. One of the least expensive ways to get your home ready for the holidays is to make use of dried herbs, flowers, and other greenery from the garden, woods, and roadside.

If you don't currently have a garden or know someone who has herbs and flowers good for drying, this is a good time to start dreaming and planning your garden for next year.

Some plants that are easily grown and dried, fragrant, or just plain pretty:

Sweet Annie: Very fragrant and a bunch looks lovely in a bit of pottery or vase.
Artemisia: These thin silvery leaves are easy to dry and are beautiful on their own or in an arrangement.
Lavender: This classic herb is very fragrant and has small purple flowers. This is nice in a small bundle tied with a ribbon or in a dried arrangement.

Cone flowers, straw flowers, and even weeds that grow along the roadside can be gathered and made into wreaths or arrangements.

Don't forget other things that are in great abundance this time of year such as pine and spruce branches that can be placed around knick-knacks, used in arrangements, or tied into bundles. Also, maple leaves or any other leaves at the height of their autumn color can be gathered (still on the branches). In a bucket, mix a solution of silicon and water. Place the cut end of the branches into the bucket and let them "drink" the solution for several days. This will make the leaves more resilient and able to hold their color. You can make wreaths that will last the whole season and brighten any room or front door. These leaves can also add color to a basket filled with gourds or other collected treasures.

Speaking of gourds, these are some on the cheapest seasonal decorative knick-knacks around. In Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, they sell for one dollar a dozen. You can of course, easily grow your own.

Other things to remember include: Pumpkins to line your steps, carve into jack-o-lanterns, or make into pies; Pussy willows and cat tails collected from family or friends who might have them growing in a swampy part of their yard; Luminaria or Silver Dollar plants make a lovely addition to any dried arrangement or wreath (careful though, they are very fragile); Cloves and cinnamon in a small pot of water on the woodstove or radiator make any house smell wonderful and feel like home.

Consider growing an herb garden that will compliment your yard in the summer and help decorate your home in autumn. Also, if you don't have anywhere to plant a garden, consider having a kitchen herb garden. All it takes is a few seeds and a few small pots. Best of all, you can start one today!

Next time: How to give new life to old furniture and tables for next to nothing!

True or False

Debt is preventing me from taking a vacation this year or the vacation I'd like to take this year! Tell us: Yes, debt is affecting my vacation plans! or No, we're going exactly where we want to go but we'd love to learn make our trip as inexpensive as possible!

Ann Russek lives in rural Pennsylvania with her husband, her 17 month old daughter, and cat. She is a full-time mom, a full-time writer, and a part-time college English instructor. She is also obsessed with making "something out of nothing."

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