10 Fall-Inspired Vase Fillers

River rock vase

Smooth river rocks anchor three simple stems for an easy autumn look, shown here at Parcel 104 at the Santa Clara Marriott Hotel.

Vase fillers have become very popular with nearly every home décor retail establishment and craft store offering a multitude of options beyond glass pebbles. Far from merely taking up space in a vase, vase fillers have multiple uses and can accent candlescapes, be scattered on a holiday table, mounded in low bowls for a coffee table centerpiece, gathered in clear containers … the list goes on. (This Halloween I’m using small, sparkly, lime green balls that are marketed as vase fillers for the bubbly brew in a witch’s cauldron.)

Of course, with nearly everything that rises in popularity, the price also rises. One of my favorite stores has an average price of $20 for fillers! I love to decorate with vase fillers seasonally, so it can be a substantial added expense to the holiday decorating budget, unless I can find low cost, yet appealing, alternatives.

And over the years I’ve done just that. So here are my top 10 stylish and affordable fall-inspired vase fillers. Most of them are either found in your yard for free, or may be picked up on your next trip to the supermarket. Any one may be used on its own, or combine them for interesting layers. Find a couple of branches from the trees in your yard and voila! An instant fall accessory.


1. Bird Seed ($5 to $10 for 10 pounds) I love using bird seed in my fall arrangements. It displaces easily, so pushing a candle into the filler or arranging large stems is a breeze. Look for a seed blend with all the colors of fall.

2. Pinecones (Free to $5/bag) Your yard can be the source of wonderful home accessories for the fall. I’ve collected basketfuls of pinecones from having just one tree in my front yard. Pinecones are relatively easy to paint, especially if they’re still closed, so they can take on a black hue for Halloween or red, gold, or silver for the holidays.

Layer Spanish moss, faux leaves and twigs for a rustic fall look.

Layer Spanish moss, faux leaves and twigs for a rustic fall look.

3. Fall leaves (real or faux) (Free to about $10 for 120 leaves) Real leaves can be brittle and break easily, while a good quality faux leaf will last for years. Sprinkle them in as the top layer of your vase arrangement, tuck them into a basket of pinecones, or scatter them on the Thanksgiving table.

4. Candy corn (about $2 for 1 pound bag) – The classic Halloween candy looks great with candles or spooky branches.

5. River rocks ($3 for 28 oz., Cost Plus World Market) – Rather than scooping rocks from your landscaping, opt for clean, smooth river rock as an alternative to glass pebble. They compliment any fall arrangement and make a good, study base for botanical stems. Great when layered with other materials.

6. Tree bark (Free) Take to your yard and collect any naturally exfoliated bark. Allow it to dry completely in the garage or mud room and dust off any critters or dirt before adding it to your arrangements. Lightweight and textured, it fills space and adds rustic charm.


Display seed pods, pine cones and leaves in clear vessels for an instant fall display.

7. Seed pods (Free) If you’re lucky enough to have a tree that drops interesting looking seed pods, use them! Be careful, though – some pods can burst open and deliver their contents unexpectedly if crushed.

8. Twigs (Free) See how much your yard can yield? After every storm or windy day, it seems like there are a ton of little twigs blown from their branches. I experimented with twigs a couple of years ago and was more than satisfied with the look. They can be spooky for Halloween or rustic for Thanksgiving.

9. Spanish moss (About $3 a bag at craft and home improvement stores) This gives great texture and a different look than the other filler ideas. Great for layering!

Thanksgiving 09 038

Dry beans are a colorful and inexpensive way to add texture to vase displays and candlescapes.

10. Dry beans ($1 to $3 per pound) The range of colors available in the dry bean section of the supermarket is astonishing, from green to burgundy. I find the best selection at Fresh and Easy markets. Layer them in a tall cylinder and pop in a few branches of bittersweet for an arrangement to take you from September all the way through to Thanksgiving.

So much color, so much texture … I hope you’ll try using vase fillers in your décor this year!

Note: As many of these options are flammable, if you’re using a vase filler in a candlescape, be sure to keep the flammable material away from the flame. A clear candle sleeve works very well. ($12 to $16, www.williams-sonoma.com)

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9 Things to Do Ahead of Thanksgiving

© evgenyb – Fotolia.com

There are times when you know you are going to be busy and stressed. You know it. You can see it coming. It’s happened before. And at those times, it’s prudent to look at the situation and ask, “What can I do to prepare, to minimize stress?”

And so it is with Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re hosting dinner and have decided to make most of the dishes yourself, then you’re going to be busy—really busy—on Thursday. Fortunately, many tasks associated with Thanksgiving dinner can be done ahead of time on either the Tuesday or Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, helping to ease the pressure on Thursday. Here are 9 things you can do today to get started on your Thanksgiving meal.

1. Thaw the turkey. If you’ll be roasting a frozen bird, be sure to allow plenty of time to properly thaw it. The folks at Butterball recommend at least one day for every four  pounds for the preferred refrigerator thawing method, or at least 30 minutes per pound if you’ll be using a cold water thawing method. For more tips, visit www.butterball.com.

© Kasia Bialasiewicz – Fotolia.com

2. Chop veggies.One of the most time consuming tasks in cooking any meal is prepping the ingredients. The French call it “mise en place” – having all the ingredients measured and ready to go before starting the recipe. If you’re making stuffing and mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, you can put mise en place in place in your kitchen by dicing the onion and celery (and apple, if you use it) for the stuffing and placing them in airtight containers or zippered plastic bags. Keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. (Add a tablet of vitamin C to the apples to help retard browning.) The same goes for potatoes; simply peel, dice and place in a bowl filled with ice water (so they don’t turn pink). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. and keep it refrigerated.

3. Break bread. Tearing up a loaf or two of bread was one of my tasks as a child on Thanksgiving morning. But, this is one task than may be done up to two days in advance; slightly stale bread works better for stuffing anyway. Keep the bread chunks right in the mixing bowl you’ll use to mix up the stuffing, cover with plastic wrap and keep it on the countertop.

4. Make cranberry sauce.I swear by homemade cranberry sauce! It’s so easy, and once you make it you’ll never go back to the canned variety—at least not for holidays. Lucky for busy Thanksgiving cooks, this is one dish that gets better with a little age on it, so make it now to enjoy on Thanksgiving. Use the recipe right on the package of fresh cranberries; I add some cinnamon, orange juice and zest, and maybe even a splash of Grand Marnier.

©sugar0607 – Fotolia.com

5. Bake pies. Because your oven will get a workout on Thanksgiving Day, bake pies at least one day in advance. According to the USDA, anything made with milk or eggs—such as pumpkin pie—must be refrigerated to help stall the formation of bacteria. Cool the pies on a wire rack, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge overnight. For more holiday food safety tips, visit www.fsis.usda.gov.

6. Select serving dishes and utensils. Assess your menu as well as your supply of serving dishes and utensils and choose an appropriate dish for each menu item and set them side. It’s also a good idea to put a sticky note in each dish indicating what goes where. If you’re serving buffet style, arrange the dishes on the buffet table, to ensure adequate space and flow.

7. Set the table. Here is another time-consuming task that can take precious focus away from the kitchen and your guests on Thanksgiving Day. Set the table completely—linens, place settings, cutlery, centerpiece, candles—on Wednesday evening.

  8. Set up the bar area. If you’re having more than a few people over, it’s a good idea to dedicate an area for beverages. It could be a countertop in the kitchen, a sideboard in the dining room, or even a card table set up in the family room. Pick a spot and set out glassware appropriate for the beverages you’ll be offering your guests. If you’re serving wine, set out the red wine and a corkscrew, as well as a bucket to keep the white wine cold.

  9. Make dips and spreads for hors d’oeuvres. My mom’s entertaining advice rings true to this day: if your guests have something to sip and something to nibble, they’ll happily wait for dinner. Once the bar is set up, mix up an easy dip (like the old standby onion soup mix dip) or a tasty spread like a garlicky, salty olive tapenade. When guests arrive, set out the dip/spread with some raw vegetables with cheeses and crackers.

For an hour-by-hour breakdown of Thanksgiving Day cooking tasks, download the Thanksgiving Countdown.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Thanksgiving by the Numbers

What did Abraham Lincoln have to do with Thanksgiving? When was the first Thanksgiving celebrated? How is the date for Thanksgiving set? Find out!

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Thanksgiving Timeline

One of the best, surest solutions for busy people on a busy week like the days before Thanksgiving is to use a timeline and/or a checklist. So I’ve come up with the Thanksgiving Countdown to help you navigate through last-minute details and help you make sense of everything that needs to be done.

The Countdown includes essential tasks from shopping to homekeeping for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then a full-blown hour-by-hour schedule for Thanksgiving Day. Plus, get turkey roasting times!

My goal is to help you arrive at your own Thanksgiving dinner table a little less stressed and filled with gratitude for the gathering of family and friends. Download your copy of the Thanksgiving Countdown here:Thanksgiving Countdown

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Holiday Shopping Tips

Today is National Clean Out Your Pantry Day! It’s the perfect time to clear out the expired, dried out and simply unidentifiable things in your pantry and the fridge. With Thanksgiving just 9 days away, we’ll need the extra storage space to lay in holiday staples and to get a jump on grocery shopping for turkey day.

Yesterday I was chatting with my produce guy at the local supermarket and he congratulated me for getting an early start on some Thanksgiving Day essentials. He said that last year the store ran out of many items, including carrots and sweet potatoes. I personally know they ran out of pie crust and pumpkin days before Thanksgiving!

So this year it’s essential to get started now on that holiday grocery list. Thankfully, most stores already have Thanksgiving staples on sale. Here are a few tips to help make your way through the aisles – and hopefully eliminate the need for return trips!1. Make your list based on actual recipes, not what’s in your head. Sure, you may remember that pumpkin pie has pumpkin in it, but does it use condensed milk or evaporated milk?

2. Divide your list into perishable items and non-perishable items, or things with a longer life. Shop for the non-perishable, long life items now to get the best selection. Things like refrigerated pie crusts, canned pumpkin, nuts, frozen veggies, spices and root veggies all fall into this category. Then, schedule time next week Monday or Tuesday to purchase those perishable items like a fresh turkey and fresh herbs.

3. Decide what items you may purchase in generic or store brands, and what items must be your favorite brand. My local store is stocking more and more store brand items and squeezing out national brands. Prices may be a bit lower, and some things are totally comparable. Others, like nuts and veggies, are not the quality I prefer. For ingredients that are the “star” of a dish, I have chosen not to compromise the taste and quality. I may spend a little more on pecans for my pecan pie, but I know I will not be disappointed to serve it to my friends. I’ll go for what’s less expensive for supporting role ingredients.

4. Buy a carton of whipping cream. It lasts for weeks and you never know when you’ll need it.

5. Just in case you forget something, check with your store to see if it will be open on Thanksgiving Day. This way, you’re not scrounging the shelves of a convenience store looking for those crispy fried onions …. (Yes, that was experience speaking.) Photo © Matty Symons – fotolia.com

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Just Charming

How to Make Custom Wine Charms in Minutes!

The perfect accompaniment to the perfect wine pairing is a set of wine charms to help your guests distinguish their glasses. (I’m assuming here that your guests won’t be writing their names on plastic cups with a Sharpie® marker.)

If you don’t have a set of wine charms, or not enough, or don’t know where to buy them, never fear! With a few craft supplies you can create custom wine charms for Thanksgiving or any occasion. The possibilities are endless. Here I’m using a paper punch and some left over paper and cardstock from other projects. (I happen to have a wine bottle punch, but use what you have!) Or, how about using vintage buttons, or charms from your travels that never quite made it on to your charm bracelet? A set of wine charms also makes a great holiday gift for the hostess on your list. The hoop earring findings may be purchased for a few dollars at craft stores; look in the jewelry making section. I’ve found that ¾ inch hoops are the ideal size.


-Hoop earring findings

– Beads

– Paper punch

– Cardstock, artist paper, scrapbooking paper in a variety of colors and patterns

– Small hole punch

-Needle-nosed pliers

1. Punch shapes for the charms from the papers. Each charm should be unique, so that each guest can easily identify his or her glass.

2. Punch a small hole near the top of each shape.

3. Layer a bead (or two), the punched-out shape and another bead (or two) onto a hoop.

4. Holding the hoop with one hand, with your thumb close to the end of the wire, position the pliers about 1/8 of an inch from the end of the wire and bend the wire up at a 90 degree angle. When placed through the loop on the other end of the earring hoop, the wine charm will stay on the glass.

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