Shopping: It's easy to find fun things for Halloween and Christmas now

News-DemcratOctober 18, 2013 

It was a rainy day on Tuesday when I popped into Eckert's Garden Center in Belleville and made a left turn for the greenhouse. I was immediately greeted by a large friendly population of hand-crafted wood pumpkin yard stakes. Brightly orange and sporting big eyes and sunny grins, they welcomed me in several sizes, from baby pumpkin on up. Plus, there were a few black cats and ghosts. Prices range from $6.99 to $11.99. A bonus: On the larger pumpkins, there is room to personalize. Eckert's suggests using Elmer's Paint Markers so the names or message is permanent. Or, ask about having one personalized for you there.

All Melissa & Doug toys are 25 percent off through October at Ben's in downtown Belleville. Check out the big selection of toys, games and other goodies now; it's not a bad time to stock up for the holidays if you're buying for the kids or grandkids. Plus, battery-operated tea lights perfect for inside a pumpkin are just a dollar on sale.

Newly opened Kidds, upstairs at the entrance to St. Clair Square in Fairview Heightsl is a very cool children's store, with unique clothing and products. It's a perfect place for grandparents to spend their money! (They do layaway, too.)

The hands-on Living Sands display at the front of the small store caught my eye. I grabbed some of it and was astounded. The sensation is like cookie dough, yet it is dry to the touch. Mold it into solid shapes and with a soft touch it will break apart and appear to move. It's nontoxic, anti-bacterial and organic, made of ultra-fine pulverized seashell powder and the same moisturizing oils typically used in manufacturing cosmetics. Also, it won't stain. If accidentally dropped on the carpet, it will easily vacuum up, and dissolves in water for cleaning little hands.

The $24.99 set comes with 1 1/2 pounds of Living Sand, 3 sculpting tools and one sand roller. You will need to find a deep tray or container for the sand.

I can't go to a movie and not eat popcorn. So, when I spied the Whirley Pop Popcorn Set ($22.50 at Sears), I marveled at how such an old-fashioned idea still is popular. The Whirley Pop lets you make popcorn at home the way it's made at the movies. The popper is an aluminum pot that has a clipped-on lid with a wooden handle attached. When the oil and popcorn kernels are added, you crank the handle to get the kernels warmed up and ensure the heat and oil are evenly distributed. Kids will get a kick out of turning the handle -- for a minute or two. The kit includes pre-measured pouches of popcorn with oil and seasoning, but you'll find instructions on how to make your own as well. Check out recipes at I found the boxed set at Sears at the mall, on the lower level by the escalator and the vacuums.

By the way, Justice inside the mall will reopen soon and will include Brothers, a boys shop with sizes 6-16. Both are owned by Tween Brands, so now the guys can get their due with trendy clothes.

During this in between season, it's hard to completely ignore all the Christmas merchandise taking up so much space in stores. I am the kind of person who has an ornament or two that stays out year-round -- a quilted star from my late mother, for example. So, when I saw the delicate gold filagree leaf ornaments with acorn charms on white satin ribbons at Lowe's, I thought autumn, not Christmas, even though they were on a tree. Each is $4.49 and I think they would look lovely hanging from a lampshade (tape the ribbon to the inside), dangling from a light fixture or candleholder, or as part of the decoration on a gift basket. I found them at the Belleville Lowe's, but I'm sure they are available at other locations.

Carve your pumpkin without a mess and at half the price, says Michaels Crafts in Shiloh. The retailer has 50 percent off all its realistic-looking Celebrate It Halloween Craft Pumpkins, available in orange, black and white and a variety of sizes. They can be painted, crafted, carved or used as-is. Sale prices through today are $4.99 to $14.99.

Stock up now on taper and pillar wax LED candles now at World Market in Shiloh. The candles, which have timers but not batteries, have sale prices that start at $3.75. Prices good through Oct. 27.

There's a new quilted winter jacket on the market that likely will keep you wearing it no matter what the cold weather. The North Face has introduced Thermoball outerwear, designed to imitate down. It is constructed of low-weight, high-loft clusters that retain heat even when wet. Anyone who wears down knows it starts to compact, get heavy and lose warmth as it gets wetter out in snow and rain. Thermoball doesn't lose its loft when wet, so it holds in the same heat as if you're wearing 600-fill goose down. Women will like the idea that it has a much less bulky profie than down jackets. If you are traveling, it compresses easily to fit in a suitcase.

Sports Authority in Fairview Heights carries the new jackets for men and women in a couple colors for $199. The Alpine Shop, with O'Fallon and St. Louis locations, also carries them, as well as Thermoball vests for $149. In St. Louis, look for them at REI and Dicks Sporting Goods, too.

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