NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- Elaine Lidholm believes in the power of battery-operated pumpkin saws to create the biggest and best jack-o'-lanterns.
"It's the greatest invention of the last several years," Lidholm says with a chuckle and a side apology to iPhone.
"I have a big party each year and invite all the kids from church. I set up tables for those who paint and for those who carve. I buy carving kits, but in the hands of the unskilled, the handles always broke, or the children couldn't make the first puncture.
"Now they sell battery-operated pumpkin saws that make quick work of carving, and they make cleaner cuts than a hand tool. I got a couple at Ross or TJ Maxx or someplace like that for $2 each, and it has revolutionized pumpkin carving at my house."
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For her jack-o'-lantern party, Lidholm -- who works with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Richmond, Va. -- sets up an assembly-line approach with tables. It's select your template at one table, trace the template onto the pumpkin at another table, and carve at a third table.
"I put big buckets between the tables for the pumpkin innards, and what my dogs don't eat, I put on the compost," she says.
"As an extra added benefit, I usually grow a fine crop of volunteer pumpkins the next year."
To get your home and yard in the true spirit of Halloween, here are some easy-do decorating ideas from Home Depot:
* Create a scarecrow family. Use dowel rods or stakes cut proportionally to each family member's size. Place old clothes over the rod. Stuff the body legs, and arms with plastic bags until you get a "shape." Use old sports balls or pumpkin heads for the scarecrow head -- or use a hat to cover the "face." Place in front yard.
* Makeshift graveyard in front yard. Make a tombstone out of leftover plywood for each family member. Paint them black and everyone can personalize their tombstone. Put in the front yard or line up along the pathway to the front door. Attach some gauze or fake "Christmas" snow for effect.
* Invasion of the big black spiders. Cut up egg cartons -- one egg cup per spider -- paint black, and attach black pipe cleaners. Attach randomly all over the side of the house, or let them crawl up to the roofline.