By Mary Heyl

Halloween has come and gone, but before you start putting up the holiday decorations, enjoy your jack-o-lantern and Halloween candy for just a few more days! Read on for fun ideas for your decaying pumpkin, preparing for next year’s gourds and new ways to enjoy the kids’ Halloween candy.

No matter how many hours you spend carving your pumpkins, they just never seem to last long enough to enjoy for more than a day or two. But you can stretch out the fun just a little longer by using your old pumpkin instead of throwing it away. Carved pumpkins make great temporary planters, so pick up a few annuals or perennials and repot them in your jack-o-lantern to decorate your porch for a week. When the pumpkin starts to break down, you can plant the whole thing right in your backyard. The pumpkin will naturally compost and provide fertilizer for your plant!

Rotting pumpkins and uneaten seeds make great food for the birds. Cut out the front of your jack-o-lantern, starting at the top of the mouth and working your way up to the eyes. Set it out on your porch, birdbath or a nearby stump and fill it with leftover pumpkin seeds and other kinds of birdseed. You can continue to refill it throughout the month or cut up your empty bird feeder into smaller chunks and compost it for next year’s garden (or for other critters to enjoy feasting on!).

It’s never too early to think about next year’s jack-o-lantern. Save some of the pumpkin seeds from this year’s gourd and let them dry. Store them in a cool, dark place (but not too cold) throughout the winter and spring months. Late May throughout the first couple weeks of June is the ideal time to plant your pumpkin seeds so that your pumpkins will be ripe and ready to harvest in October.

If you’ve found yourself in the rare position of having lots of leftover Halloween candy, you’re in for a real treat. Nancy Heishman’s Crazy Halloween Blondies are a delicious way to incorporate those leftovers into a tasty dessert that everyone will enjoy.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a 13×9 pan with parchment paper, letting the ends extend up the sides. Grease the paper. In a large bowl, beat 1 cup of melted butter and 2 cups of packed brown sugar until blended. Beat in 2 large eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla. In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of all-purpose flour, ½ teaspoon of baking powder and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Gradually add this to the brown sugar mixture, mixing well.

Stir in 1/2 cup of chopped pecans and 1/3 cup each of the following goodies: M&Ms, chopped candy corn, coarsely chopped mini pretzels, chocolate chips and butterscotch chips. Spread into the prepared pan and bake 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Spread a jar (12 oz) of hot caramel ice cream topping over the bars, and sprinkle with ½ cup of chopped pecans and 1/3 cup each of M&Ms, candy corn, pretzels, chocolate chips and butterscotch chips. Lifting the parchment paper, remove the bars from the pan and cut into bars (approximately 2 dozen). Enjoy this ooey gooey tasty treat!