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Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: Cheap and Easy Autumn Decorating

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[Photographs: Helen Jane]

To prepare your home with a little autumn flair, you don't need wallpaper borders of leaf-motif or plastic skull bowls. Autumn home decorating can incorporate items from around the house to inspire your harvest mood. Here are some ideas that make make use of old cans, corn husks, acorns, bird seeds, paper bags, and more.

Tin Can Hobo Candles

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Turn kitchen cans of all sizes into beautifully rustic candle holders for any occasion. These candle holders are lightweight, reusing something that I would have recycled, and if they don't get returned to me, I don't mind. It's just a can.

1. Peel the label off the can.

2. Fill the can with water, freeze the can.

3. Use ice pick or an awl to hammer holes into the frozen can.

4. Melt the ice, either by putting outside into a plant or put in the sink.

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5. When empty, dry and paint the cans.

Corn Husk Napkin Holders

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1. Using corn husks for tamales, soak the husks in hot water for 10 minutes.

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2. Cut out the most napkin-ringed size from the husk—here, you'll see it's the middle portion.

3. Set outside to dry.

4. Tie with kitchen string and tuck your napkin inside.

Note: When you're done with the corn husks, you can compost them.

Bird Seed-Filled Mason Jar Candle Holders

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I love Mason jars for their inexpensive functionality. Decorate for autumn by simply filling glass jars with bird seed.

The bird seed anchors the tea light candles, raising them from the bottom of the glass and giving them autumn appeal. When you're done with the candles, remove the tea lights and feed the birds.

Acorn Paper Napkin Rings

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I used wood glue to reunite the acorns with their little hats. These require little more than an acorn, paper, and glue.

1. Find some acorns and acorn tops. Glue the tops on with wood glue.

2. Cut a strip of sturdy paper, 3" tall by 8.5" wide. Loop it into the desired size. (I used a toilet paper roll for a template.)

3. Rip another strip of sturdy paper the same width but a smaller height. Wrap around the ring.

4. With wood glue, glue the acorn onto the ring.

Autumn Garland

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Using Guajillo chili pods, bay leaves, and the ends of the corn husks from the Corn Husk Napkin Rings above, I made a rustic garland perfect for autumn inspiration. I used these particular chilis because the chance of me blinding myself by accidentally rubbing my eye was minimized. These aren't terribly spicy. My favorite part about this garland is that I can reuse it for a chili cook-off award belt next fall.

When pregnant with my daughter, my nesting instincts manifested in that I bought large stockpiles of spices and herbs. One of those purchases was a bulk bag of bay leaves. This garland uses lots of bay leaves, but of course, you can use less.

1. Thread the biggest needle you can find with twine or kitchen string.

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2. String the chilis crosswise, plunging the needle through the chili about an inch below the stem.

3. String them in the order, chili, bay leaf, chili, bay leaf, corn husk end, bay leaf, and so on until you feel the garland has reached its natural end.

Paper Bag Luminarias

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20101007-seriousentertaining-paperbag.jpgPaper bag luminarias not only set a cozy mood, they also make everyone look great. I got this idea from attending the blogger's retreat Mighty Summit where organizer Maggie Mason filled various sizes of paper bags with bird seed before placing tea lights and votive candles in them. These bags lined the middle of the tables and gave off the most flattering light. Since I used all my bird seed in the jars, I used simple potting soil to fill the base of these paper bags.

For added style, stamp or punch a leaf on to each bag before lighting the votive candles inside.

And of course, you'll want to keep an eye on these candle holders, especially if autumn cocktails are involved.

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