ashley english by 14

small measures with ashley: happy hallow-green

For the first eight years of my life, we celebrated Halloween in my house. From Wonder Woman costumes to Lambchop get-ups, come All Hallows Eve, we got down. Things changed when Mom became a born-again Christian. During the remainder of my time at home, I have recollections of church soirees, with my brother and I dressed as Mary and Joseph, or something similar. It was…different, to say the least. You can only imagine, then, the fervor with which I embraced the holiday back into my life once college rolled around and I’d moved away from home. I was shameless, hitting up houses dressed as a nun. I looked forward to the dark evening with a fever possessed by children on Christmas Eve. Or their birthday. Or a trip to the toy store. [image sourcing, clockwise from top left: blue jake, the farmer's wife, strite's orchard, mariquita, the daily green]

While I still feel this way, as I’ve aged, I’ve begun to look at Halloween through a new lens-through “green-colored glasses,” if you will. The holiday is ripe for critique, from an ecological vantage point. From the synthetic, packaged costumes to the additive/preservative/synthetic-everything content of most Halloween candy, this holiday could use a green make-over. I’m certainly not advocating an abolition of the night and all its attendant guilty pleasures (I don’t yet have children, but when I do, this might be the one time of the year that this high fructose corn syrup-free, all-natural, mom-to-be lets her hair down and gives the kiddos carte blanche). I’m merely suggesting that it might be worth giving the annual night of debauchery a once-over. Here are a number of simple, easy, small measures that will help in greening up the ghostly hour.

CLICK HERE for Ashley’s Hallow-Green (Putting the Eco in Ectoplasm) ideas after the jump!

Candles- Consider soy, palm, or bees wax candles instead of paraffin. The former are renewable resources, while the latter is petroleum-sourced. Soy and beeswax candles also burn cleaner. Soul Shine Beeswax is a local favorite (with an online shop!). Aloha Bay has some fantastic scented votives (Satsuma and Mountain Mist are heaven-meets-palm!), as well as a host of tea lights in plain and colored options.

- When it comes to pumpkins, why not pick your own from a nearby patch? You’ll save fossil fuels used in long-haul transit, plus you’ll get to find the pumpkin that speaks to you personally (that does happen to others also, right?), all while enjoying the crisp Autumn air. When the season has passed, put the Great Pumpkin to work-scrape out, rinse off, and roast the seeds; peel your orange orb and cook its flesh (could there be anything more Hallow-Green-y?); and compost anything that’s left.

Candy- What’s Halloween without candy? That’s what it’s all about anyway, right? Keep that tradition, just consider losing the chemical baggage that comes with most commercially prepared sweets. Equal Exchange and Endangered Species offer fair-trade certified, organic dark chocolate mini bars. Fair-trade certification ensures that producers have been fairly paid, work in safe labor conditions, are directly involved in the trade transactions, participate in democratic and transparent organizations, are involved in community development, and promote environmental sustainability and stewardship. For more information about fair trade, check out Transfair USA .

If lollies are more your thing, Yummy Earth and College Farm Organic make pops with no artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, or high fructose corn syrup. College Farm also carrys a line of hard candies that could weaken the resolve of the most die-hard HFCS addict (vanilla caramel, anyone?). Lastly, never underestimate the power of good ‘ole fruit leather. Stretch Island Fruit Co. offers organic fruit flatness in apricot, grape, raspberry, and tropical flavors.
Even if you go the Snickers and Milk Dud route, consider giving the tricksters one or two pieces, as opposed to the usual greedy grabbing free-for-all. They’ll be getting a good bit throughout the night, anyways, so a quality allotment from you is all that’s really needed.

Costumes- After the aforementioned nun guise, my costume repertoire expanded heartily. I have been, in no particular order: A geisha (many, many times, on account of a lovely kimono I used to own); Maude, of Harold and Maude (which changed my life when first viewed at age 20); Jackie Kennedy, holding a fake bit of brain, that in hindsight might have been just a wee bit in poor taste (oddly enough, someone inquired during that evening whether I was dressed as Parker Posey, who played ‘Jackie-O’ Pascal, in The House of Yes ; a trophy wife, complete with 50′s-era dress and a karate trophy; and a genetically modified tomato for my “Mad Scientist” party two Halloweens ago (red yoga pants, red sweatshirt, red fleece hat, green cut-out felt leaves on hat, red slippers, and fishing lures on hooks attached to the sweatshirt to indicate a tomato that had been hybridized with fish genes to endure colder temperatures-reality is MUCH stranger than fiction, folks. My male partners-in-Hallowed-crime have been: Harold, to my Maude; Andy Kaufmann; John Kennedy, to my Jackie; Marlon Brando as The Godfather ; and the Mad Scientist who spliced my fish’s genes.

The point in my historical costume retelling lies more in the costume materials themselves and less in the personas involved. Each get-up was crafted largely with either supplies on hand, or those readily available in a nearby thrift store. Some items were bought new and become regular players in my wardrobe (I still bust out the red yoga pants every Thursday at 5:45 for a nearby yoga/pilates session). I wore my geisha’s kimono for years. The umbrella to which I affixed Maude’s “Make Love, Not War” sign was the one I used for rainy days during my time in D.C.. When crafting your or your child’s Halloween costume, consider exploring your (and their) closet, local thrift stores, costume rental shops, or fabric stores for ideas and inspiration.

Decor- For this holiday, it’s easy to take decor cues from the season itself. Winter squashes, gourds, corn stalks & cobs, and leaves are everywhere and look magical festooning a stoop, doorway, driveway, or door mat. Perhaps the harvest look isn’t quite horrific enough for you. Then purchase creepy Halloween decor that can be re-used every year, instead of throw-away paper items. Consider making things yourself, or, if you’re short on time, or just not much of a DIY-er, check out Etsy or Ebay for spooktacular offerings.

If you’re hosting a ghoulish get-together, remember that the devil is in the details. If your number of guests exceeds your ability (or desire) to use actual serving ware, consider natural, compostable options, such as the new Bare line from Solo. Party fare could also highlight seasonal (and local, if at all possible) foods, such as butternut or acorn squash, apples, root vegetables like beets and turnips, and, of course, pumpkins!

For further Hallow-Green inspiration, haunt these sites, guaranteed to spook you into something spectacular!:

Planet Green
Green Halloween

What frightfully fun eco ideas do you stir into your Hallow-Green cauldron?

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ashley english / small measures



Your story is so similar to mine and I have had the same wild-abandon approach to Halloween as an adult (my mother was already born-again, but became a strict Pentacostal). Every year, my husband and I host a pumpkin-carving party for our friends. I bought the extra bowls and spoons (for the veggie chili) at the Goodwill. We have room to store them, but if you don’t, it’s still a cheaper and kinder option than paper and you can just donate them right back!

Jen O

I’m with you on this, growing up with a mom who was simply frugal.

I would add: make your own goodies to give out to the kids you know. I look at this as the first holiday of cooking season! Pumpkin bread of course, candied apples and the list goes on.

With kids, we collected a big box of cast off but fun clothes and jewelry year round, so it was ‘raid the dress up box’ when Halloween came. Of course the decor is found around the house: old wood for grave stones, sheets, spaghetti and ketchup for guts (ug)–you get the idea!


I agree in principle with the post and the comments so far, but there are challenges that make some of these suggestions unrealistic for many (mostly because the price of organic treats and soy candles are prohibitive). Also, it seems to me that people have become (perhaps unnecessarily) afraid of home made treats, and they end up getting chucked. I don’t mean to be a downer, but it would be nice to hear some examples of holiday ideas that are a bit more creative…

kari @ rubina

absolutely beautiful, simple, and inspiring. i loved how you focused on her creative process… i love hearing the way other designers go about their work. thanks!


We always made our own costumes growing up, it was much more fun than buying one in a store. And you always knew that no one else would have your costume. We continue this tradition with our son, this year he’s going out as a candy vending machine!

Have to disagree on the candy thing- it just wouldn’t be Halloween without Dots, Kit Kats, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!


I’m really excited about this post. I was having an internal battle about giving out candy this year (we’re in a new house and apparently we get 400 kids!!! egads!) and although I don’t have time to order any of these items this year I will for sure do it next year. Excellent post!

ashley english

Beth-I hear ya on the homemade treats. If you’re having a party, that’s the way to go, without question. For passing out to trick-or-treaters, though, it can be difficult to get parents to accept such items as “safe,” no matter how much you know them to be.
I do know, also, that some organic candy can be pricey, especially if you are visited by lots of trick-or-treaters. A mixture of organic/natural and traditional candy is the best of both worlds, then. Like I said in the post, I’m not advocating giving up anything-I enjoy a Reese’s cup or two myself-only suggesting mindfulness about other Halloween options.
For more green “creative” Halloween ideas, check out this video of Danny Seo on CBS’s Early Show from last year:

paige anderson appel

go ashley! right up my alley… we are actually giving out fairy crystals, seashells, felt pumpkins to the trick or treaters this year. oh and yes, yummy earth lollies. xoxo


Great post, full of wonderful ideas. To be honest, it seems like Beth must not have actually read the article, because I found it to be full of sensible, creative ideas, and I certainly didn’t think Ashley was twisting anybody’s arm to live beyond their means.


daughter of a former pentecostal minister here. no trick or treating for me until i was 16. i, too, dressed as a nun later in life- when i was very pregnant with my first! hubby was the guilty priest. too fun! i so relish making my kids costumes now and enjoying the holiday through their eyes. and yes, it is the one time that i allow some intake of the forbidden toxins, though most of it is left for the candy fairies who leave lovely little handmade tokens and some mama approved chocolates! ;)


This is a fun article, and I like the idea of thinking of any festival in a green way – you can then embrace it in a much more individual way. The thing that made me post was the idea of using soy and palm oil candles. Growing soy and palm are significant causes of rainforest loss, and as such are not necessarily a greener solution, unless you look carefully at where the products have come from. See for example, this article in the UK’s Independent newspaper on palm oil:

or the UK’s Observer newspaper on Soya:

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