What Is Halloween for You?

A Girl and Her CatLike so many holidays and community celebrations, Halloween becomes another opportunity for commerce. I see a lot of parents struggling to find the best way to instill in their children deeper meanings for holidays.

Four inches of snow have definitively killed my pumpkin vines. These hearty pumpkins are my last harvest of the season. As we reluctantly let go of summer and face the coming winter, Halloween is a time of gathering within our communities and celebrating endings.

When NatureMom’s oldest turned four years old last year, she didn’t want Halloween to be all about candy. Her daughter was still young enough that going to a few houses was enough for her, so it was easy to make Halloween about community. She told her daughter that Halloween was a time to visit all of their neighbors, find out how their summer went if they hadn’t talked in a while, and ask about whether they are ready for winter. Sharing and talking with neighbors make the evening much less about candy and more about community.

My children know Halloween as a time when their friends and our big circle of families gather together for a celebration. We start in a local park with a farewell to the season, then we share a meal that includes foods from all of our gardens. After dinner, we let one lucky adult take the children out for trick or treating. The rest of the adults stay home laughing and talking until we all just give in and head home. For us, community is built into the holiday.

Among the endings we celebrate as a family are the lives of our loved ones who have died. The scary, ghoulish themes still so prevalent are our sometimes quite awkward way of acknowledging the dead. We like playing with those themes, too. We dress up and have fun. We also slow down for a bit and take the opportunity to tell one another where we’ve been.

A time of endings is also a time of beginnings. Marking the end of one year’s harvest also marks the beginning of the cycle of rest then revival. When my family members have gone around our circle talking about where we’ve been in the year, we then look forward, considering where will are going.

Holidays give us a chance to stop, acknowledge, and celebrate, encouraging our children to become aware of themselves and their own presence within a community.

Happy Halloween. I hope you get a chance to check in with your neighbors and share the end of your harvest.

Image © Mylaphotography | Dreamstime.com

Top Eco Halloween Tips

Awareness of lowering impact of holidays has been growing. There are several years of eco Halloween tips available online, so I’ve gathered some of the best I’ve seen.

Halloween Party
Treats

I’m not that impressed by the idea of organic candy. The problem isn’t so much the organic or the fair trade (good issues, but not the important ones when it comes to children). How to avoid the sugar and processed foods route altogether? Giving out homemade treats doesn’t always work, since a lot of parents will throw out anything that isn’t prepackaged. I’m hoping you’ll tell me.


Treat Bags

Reusable, of course. I’ve seen some gorgeous Halloween bags. Easy choice, great looking. Done.


Food

Rather than focusing on the frosting and the food coloring, how about beautiful, natural treats. Last year, we had hot soup in bread bowls at my cousin’s house before hauling the kids out to walk through the neighborhood. It’s harvest, and the food should reflect YOUR harvest.


Costumes

Reuse, simplify, be more creative than hag in a bag or commercial character costumes. This seems like an easy one for me because I’ve been working on it for several years and my children are on board. My son made a scythe from sticks, and my daughter gathered grasses for a witches broom. From other parents I know that this is their tough issue.


Make Up

The potentially carcinogenic ingredients in some make up are scary. A cloth mask just over eyes or a breathable mask over the nose will do for most (some experts say this is a no-no), but what if your daughter really, really needs to have green skin?


Pumpkins

We (accidentally) grew our own pumpkins this year, so I want to eat them. Because of this, we are painting rather than carving our pumpkins. The pumpkin tradition started to protect the light, though, and these pumpkins won’t be lit, so it’s a compromise. I see a lot of mandates to buy organic, but I would probably focus on the local first. Pumpkins are heavy. If you can avoid transporting over a long haul, this is good.


Decorations

Do you have costumes that are too small for your children but haven’t been spoken for by others? Scarecrow. One of our old costumes is in front of our house with a giant rock that has been made into a tombstone. No crows so far, so it must be working.

As I’m surrounded by a lawn full of red and orange leaves, I wonder why anyone would paint anything orange during this season. String leaves as you might for a holiday tree. Drape the stringed leaves around the windows and doors.


Lighting

Shake or crank flashlight. Shaking and cranking are jobs that belong to kids.


Tip Lists

Image © James Steidl | Dreamstime.com

Formula Manufacturers Attempt to Reprogram Parents

In the U.S., baby formula and organic milk can include ingredients that result in their formula making some babies sick, even while the manufacturers claim that their formula makes babies smarter. The fatty acids in question are extracted with the neurotoxin hexane.

Given this and Nestle’s attempt to re-program bloggers who continue to boycott Nestle products, maybe it’s time to talk about breastfeeding more in the upcoming weeks.

I can’t be the only one who had a flash of Thank You for Smoking on this one.

Plugging the Resource and Financial Leaks

Wheat BreadA couple of years ago my family put ourselves through a serious budgeting process. We lined up our financial budget and our energy/waste budget to ask where each was leaking. The two processes blended well, since we needed to get out several years of utility bills to check what our energy and water usage had been. Once we started looking at costs, we just kept going and included finances with resources.

We looked for our leaks and set about fixing the holes.


90% Reduction

I dragged my family into this project when I heard about the 90% reduction movement through No Impact Man.

George Monbiot wrote in Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning (or just Heat) that the developing world uses more than its fair share of world resources. No surprise there. As harsh as the book seems, it offers the developing world an out from global warming: reduce carbon emissions by 90% to avoid the worst potential effects.

The 90% reduction project became the Riot 4 Austerity. Reductions they recommend cover seven categories:

  1. Gasoline
  2. Electricity
  3. Heating and Cooking Energy
  4. Garbage
  5. Water
  6. Consumer Goods
  7. Food


Our Audit

Using the calculators developed by other rioters, I entered my family’s emissions estimates into a spreadsheet. We were already below average in our energy usage and waste, but we had a long way to go before we could meet the 90% reduction target.

At the same time, we looked at financial budgets for that period asking what we spent our money on and how to spend less.

Though our usage was below average, our heating and cooling costs seemed high. We started our audit in the spring, so we determined that we wouldn’t use the air conditioning that summer—or since. Instead, we opened all windows and doors at night to let cool air in then closed the blinds to unused rooms in the day—we left blinds open in rooms we used since we also didn’t turn on lights during the day. That winter, we set our thermostat to a chilly 60-62 degrees. Together, these summer and winter plans reduced our bills and our energy usage by 33-50%. We’re nowhere close to the 90% reduction, but we made a big impact for ourselves.

We were not just pushing all numbers down. We were looking for ways to improve. In some cases, we allowed ourselves to spend more. We paid an extra amount per unit to our power company in order to cover the amount of our highest monthly usage with wind power. That ends up costing us an extra $175/year.

In other cases, our reductions worked well to reduce both impact and costs. When we buy flour, rice, and beans in giant bags, we save a lot of money and end up with just a burlap or paper bag to show when we are done rather than a garbage full of plastic bags. Buying in bulk means big savings.

Bread was a big expense for us. We wanted high-quality, whole wheat bread. We bought locally made bread, but it was $4.50-5.00 a loaf. Crazy (but delicious). We were eating a lot of bread, so this was a leak point. We plugged that leak when my husband embraced his love of breadmaking and started buying in bulk. We now buy 25lb bags of locally milled flour for $8.00 (about a 2-month supply for us) and 1lb blocks of yeast for $6.00 (covers about 6 months for us). We were eating about 10 loaves of bread a month. For comparison, that was about $285 for 6 months of store-bought bread; when we started making the bread, we paid about $30 for 6 months of homemade bread. Granted, that doesn’t include the energy costs of baking 2-3 loaves a week, so boost the cost a bit. We probably aren’t as efficient in our energy usage as a commercial bakery, but we plugged a little financial leak in this case and replaced it with a fun activity and really great bread.

One of the leak points that we didn’t plug was a room that is particularly cold every winter. This room could use more insulation. We weighed the savings in energy against the expense and decided that was just not the time for us. Every family needs to set their own priorities.

One of the things I have liked about the Riot 4 Austerity is the general lack of judgment. This could become yet another opportunity for holier-than-thou environmentalism, but it doesn’t need to be. I think people will make better, longer-lasting choices when inspired to do the right thing—a positive choice—than when they are bullied or they give in to guilt—a negative choice.


Balancing Your Financial and Carbon Budgets

We know that reducing is the most important of the three Rs of Reduce Reuse Recycle. We can reduce in small ways, like reusing Halloween costumes from year to year, but this is really only a very first step. We need to become aware enough of our full impact, then we can be realistic about what it would take for us to use our fair share.

Start with a resource audit, home energy audit, or even a simple carbon footprint audit. This is a step in building awareness.

Move on to ask yourself how you can reduce energy and resources while saving your family money.

For my family, both of these endeavors involved finding our leak points and deciding where they overlap. That is how we prioritized our own reductions. We didn’t try to do everything at once, but we do come back to our budgets and ask how we can continue to do better.

Figure It Out

This post is for the Green Moms Carnival on Saving Money through Green Means hosted this month by Condo Blues.

Image © Budda | Dreamstime.com

8 Best Babywearing Halloween Costumes

Put the chicky in a sling and you're ready to go!

Put the chicky in a sling and you're ready to go!

Creative babywearers incorporate their babies into excellent Halloween costumes. After seeing so many great costumes, I wish I had a baby to wear this year.

I passed up several great baby costumes (the jack-in-the-box) in favor of great thing-on-thing themed costumes.

8. Baby Dorothy being worn by a big rainbow.
Wear in any carry as long as you can see enough of the baby’s dress to make it clear who she is. Sparkly ruby slippers essential.

7. Farmer with a hatching chick.
Like many of these costumes, this will work best with a front carry in either a mei tai or a structured carrier.

6. Monkey climbing a tree.
If the baby carrier is brown, ideal. This is one of the costumes that could work with a sling.

5. Bee on a giant flower.
Like the monkey on a tree, this could work with a sling or a structured carrier as long as the baby carrier itself matches the parent.

4. Devil carrying flames.
The flaming baby will work with any carrier, since it doesn’t require the baby to be a creature with a face.

3. Football player and football.
Love this! Convince dad to carry a sleeping newborn in a sling, and you’re there.

2. Alien bursting from parent’s chest.
I have yet to see anyone actually try this, but this is my dream costume.


MOST STUNNING BABYWEARING HALLOWEEN COSTUME

1. Spider’s web and spider.
Maybe it’s the Martha Stewart perfection of it, but this costume is fun and beautiful. The high contrast between white costume for parent and black costume for baby really plays up the pairing. Best of all, the spider is easy to make. Borrow dad’s black athletic socks, stuff, attach with safety pins. How easy is that!

If you are looking for great babywearing Halloween costume ideas, check out the comprehensive post by Mamanista from last year.

I’m loving the spider and spider’s web costume so much that I might borrow a doll from my kids and dig up an old front carry baby carrier.

Image © Beatrice Killam | Dreamstime.com