From a young age, our boys have found treasure hunting in nature to be quite the fascinating thing. They enjoy a good Mother Nature designed scavenger hunt as we traipse through quiet forest as snow slowly melts in March, leaving traces of what’s been hiding all winter long.

In September, our kiddos stand by our kitchen window and admire distant trees’ brilliant leaves as the lush green foliage becomes dotted crimson, then fully awash in rusty hues as time passes, inviting the boys to run out and pluck up fallen red leaves to decorate the great indoors. We gather glue sticks, and our little guys put together a portfolio of foliage.

But somehow, nothing in nature’s been more engrossing, more captivating for our mini-botanists than pine cones. From the time we had only one child just learning to toddle, he’d bend to collect pine cones at every chance outdoors. His younger brother has since shared this mighty intrigue.

 

 

Pine cones. Who knew? I’d never taken such a close look before at nature’s floors.

Over time, we’d amassed plenty. I’d return home from work to see conical wonders lined up on our front steps sunning themselves.

My husband and I learned to check our mud room bench before seating to remove our boots, for fear of sitting smack on the beloved collection.

At first, we’d toss them back to the trees when no one was watching.

I kept some cute ones to tuck into houseplants, but we couldn’t save them all.

Or could we?

This year, I got to thinking about the versatility of pine cones.

As a culture, we tend to mad-dash through fall’s cozy splendor and trample over its exquisite beauty, because, you know, Christmas shopping.

And how unfortunate.

Certainly, autumn’s season is a brief one.

It generously gives us a gorgeous harvest of pumpkins and apples.

But how easily getting ahead of ourselves to the holiday season can spoil the whole bunch.

One way to appreciate and stretch this beautiful season into the next is by decorating with – you guessed it – pine cones.

Think about it. During a time of year in which so many think of nature dying, I see nature as coming to life – indoors.

Fall’s the time to fall in love with found items in nature and put them to decorative use.

Get the kids involved, and collect grapevines, branches, pine cones and more to create whimsical garlands, wreaths, and other festive decor.

These decorations can be carried out and enjoyed throughout fall and winter, and getting the kiddos involved in the hunt makes it all the more fun and sentimental, and perhaps make us more appreciative for the autumn season.

And who doesn’t love arts and crafts?

And free ones at that?

Using pine cones in swags, wreaths, garlands and more are versatile because they make for fantastic autumn and Christmas decorations.

And when you loop in lights, colorful ribbons, folds of burlap, it’s a magically festive transformation.

So while we’re trying to keep mum about Christmas during the short-lived mum season, we can enjoy the benefits of nature’s arts and crafts adorning our home and front door much longer.

So mull over the idea of bringing nature indoors as you mull some cider. These are easy, endearing activities.

To use pine cones for crafts, be sure to prepare them for indoor use.

You’re allowed to be sappy with sentiment, but your pine cones shouldn’t be – or wet, or filled with bugs, for that matter.

Follow these simple steps to get your woodsy bounty indoor-ready:

1. Remove any debris or needles stuck on pine cones.

2. Soak them in equal parts water and vinegar for 20 minutes to get rid of any creepy crawlies. The layers will close up while wet.

3. Lay your pine cones out to dry overnight on old Journal Tribunes – after you’ve read them, of course.

4. Line them on a foil-lined cookie sheet and ‘bake’ in an oven preheated to 250º for at least an hour.

As they full dry, the pine cone layers will re-open.

Keep a close eye and check frequently to be sure they don’t burn. This process will melt the pitch from the layers and ensure no growth of mold or mildew. When your pine cones are dry, remove them and cool completely.

5. Craft away! Get your kiddos involved, and rock your favorite paints and glitter. Tie these conical shapes together with twine to create garlands, wreaths, ornaments, whatever you desire. Add evergreen sprigs for a touch of Christmas when the calendar flips to December.

Whatever you choose to do, there are hundreds of crafting websites ready with pine cone decor ideas.

Your creations will give off warmth and add a touch of charm to your home year after year.

And the best part? That creating these festive decorations and gifts was a result of exercise and ample fresh air, at little cost and plenty of love, while making memories with your kiddos.

So when you’re pining for nature’s arts and crafts, look no further than these little charming nuggets fallen from evergreens for memories that will ever last.

Happy crafting! And happy fall.— Michelle Cote is the creative director of the Journal Tribune and a nationally-syndicated columnist. She enjoys cooking, baking, and living room dance-offs with her husband, two boys and a dog. She can be contacted at [email protected]


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