Is there anything more satisfying than making something with your own hands?  Why yes, as a matter of fact there is.  And that is making something with upcycled materials.  Taking old, discarded items and transforming them into something beautiful or useful brings a sense of delight and gratification that you don’t get from purchasing materials off of the store shelf.  How many times have I bought expensive supplies for a craft project, only to find it would have been cheaper to buy it readymade?   Of course, there is always the satisfaction of making it yourself, and it adds a unique stamp on the finished piece, but more often than not, it is equally or more expensive.  Particularly if you include your time.  I know.  I know.  I am retired, but my time is still valuable.

My good friend is the queen of upcycling.  She makes gorgeous bags out of discarded sweaters, leather jackets and wool skirts.  So, I was all in when she suggested that we make stuffed pumpkins for fall out of upcycled materials.  My friend googled some directions, and we gathered our materials:

  • Old, worn fall-colored sweaters that we thrifted.
  • A half bag of stuffing I had in my closet, as well as stuffing from some pillow forms that I was no longer using.
  • Brown, gold, tan, green and cream colored jute and thread that I had on hand.
  • Thin copper, green and gray wire that I dug out of the bottom of my craft box.
  • I took a walk out on our property and collected some sticks.  Mr. U helped me to cut them into various short lengths for the stems.   
  • I found some cinnamon sticks in the back of my cupboard that were left over from making cider last winter that would be perfect fragrant stems for the smaller pumpkins.

My friend came over and I poured us each a hot cup of coffee, lit a pumpkin scented candle, put on some Michael Buble music and we spent a lovely afternoon transforming sweaters into a pumpkin patch.  I have to admit that it felt a little odd cutting up the worn sweaters, but I reminded myself that they would be given new life.  Our little pumpkins were fun to make and turned out full of puffy character. They came to life when I displayed them next to a small dish of acorns that I picked up via Roadsidea. While everyone on social media is showing Christmas decorations, I prefer to completely indulge in fall until Thanksgiving. But the day after Thanksgiving, it is full on Christmas for me.

The transformation begins.

Meet Simon, the 1st

Probably the very first fall decoration I ever made was Simon the scarecrow. His cloths were made from old materials I had on hand from previous projects, long before upcycled was trendy. He is well over 25 years old and not in too bad of shape. Most likely, that is due to the fact that he spends most of the year in the fall decoration box. Looking back, I can’t believe that I took the time between raising young children, work and caring for a home to sew a scarecrow that is set out for 2 months of the year. Not only that, but my mom loved him so much that I made her one…and my sister…and my friend. Hense, Simon the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. What can I say, the need to create is strong. I still smile every September when I pull him out. He adorns the entry table until Thanksgiving and then he returns to his coffin box for the rest of the year. He will definitely make the move when we downsize.


As I mentioned, my friend puts her creativity, thrift and imagination into motion to transform old forgotten and discarded items into something beautiful and useful again. I have been with her on a few of her thrifting jaunts and her eye for seeing beauty in the ugly and worn is never ending. I see an ugly, outdated leather coat or wool skirt and she sees a trendy new bag. When possible, she uses belts or straps from worn out bags as the handles. Each item is unique and has a tag that explains what the material was in its previous life. Below is a sampling of some of her upcycled bags.

This bag was a men’s wool shirt.
These charming little bucket bags were a women’s wool skirt in their previous life.

An upcyled life

Retirement is the perfect opportunity to upcycle our lives. The Oxford Dictionary defines the term upcycle as the “reuse of discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.” Now that we are retired, we have the time, freedom and opportunity to transform our lives. We can sit in front of the TV and let our retirement years slip away unnoticed or we can upcycle our lives. We are discarding our careers in order to have more free time for the things we love. It might be upcycling our health by getting out and walking every day or eating more fresh, real food. It might be taking old interests and upcycling them into something fun and useful again. Below are a few examples of people I know of that have upcycled their lives in retirement.

  • A retired schoolteacher/coach and his wife upcycle items to sell at a local vintage marketplace.
  • A retired physician now creates beautiful watercolor paintings and glass art that he sells in an art gallery in their coastal town.
  • A retired college professor takes treks out in nature equipped with his large lens camera and captures risky action shots of bears, moose, elk, and bald eagles in their natural habitat. He sells these astounding pictures online.
  • A retired graphic designer became a home interior content creator and Instagram influencer.
  • I know of several retirees that have started blogs and written books.
  • A recently retired nurse starts selling her upcycled LoLo bags online.

The opportunities to upcycle and recreate our lives in retirement are endless and it sure beats letting our days slop into each other unnoticed. I hope you take time in the colder months ahead to enjoy nesting, creating and maybe upcycling something… even if it is ourselves.  I would love to hear what others are making from scratch or how you have upcycled your life in retirement. Creativity breeds creativity. 

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween to each of you! Last week we had our annual soup & pumpkin carving party. It is a byop (bring your own pumpkin) gathering. We have two or three different soups and people bring side dishes to share. I make my traditional hot cider, which fills the house with the aroma of cinnamon and apples when people arrive. It tasted especially good this year since the temperatures dropped quickly and we got our first snow of the season that day. Fair warning… it is another picture overload post. I may just give this type of post the acronym “POP.”

We enjoy a casual meal together and then bring out the stencils, knives, candles and pumpkins to create a little Halloween magic. It is fun to see what different designs everyone comes up with. The great thing is that the young, old and in between can participate. My 96-year-old dad even got in on the action. Since he wasn’t up for carving, he decided to draw a smiling face on his pumpkin. (I remember that my mom always wanted him to carve happy pumpkins instead of scary ones.)

What holiday isn’t more fun with kids?

This is where grandkids, or any other children you can find, come in very handy. You get to experience their excitement and imagination, ramp them up on candy and then send them home with their parents. Life is good being a grandparent. We live out in the country, so we don’t get any trick-or-treaters unless they are Harry Potter and a Zombie Cheerleader.

Aside from our darling new granddaughter, we have another new addition to our family. Son #4 got a new puppy, and he is adorable. I love dogs, but we just don’t feel like we want the responsibility for one at this point in our retirement since we still want to do some traveling. So, it works perfectly that our kids have pets; we get our dog fix and then send them home. Kinda like being a grandparent… all of the fun without all of the work and responsibility.

The hit of the evening is when Mr. U, aka “Bops” to the grandkids, pulls out the black cauldron and adds ants’ blood (root beer extract) to stir up a batch of witch’s brew. It is another recipe from our old tried and true recipe book we received when we got married. We used to make it for the boys’ birthday parties when they were little and then when we had grandkids, it evolved into a Halloween tradition. The magic ingredient is the dry ice. Pour the “witch’s brew” over a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream to make root beer floats for dessert afterwards.

This year I found a couple of cute plastic recycle bins at the Dollar Tree. Which, I might add, is a lie because it is now $1.25 for everything. I guess inflation has even hit the dollar store. I had some left-over orange almond bark, so I decided to make a small batch of ghost garbage to fill them and give to the grandkids. The recipe is from a colleague of mine years ago. One Christmas she filled clear bags with it and added a colorful ribbon and tag that said reindeer fodder and gave them out as office gifts.

The actual night of Halloween is pretty uneventful around here, particularly compared to the soup & pumpkin carving party. As I mentioned, we don’t get any trick-or-treaters. However, Mr. U always has to buy a little candy “just in case.” So, on Halloween we usually pop up some popcorn, pull out the trick or treat candy that we did not give out and settle in for a movie. Life is good.

Some of the carvers holding their creations.