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November 2012

A calm and creative countdown to Christmas - 24 nature play & craft activities

Natural leaf advent calender 2012 by little eco footprints 1

We're ready for a calm and creative countdown to Christmas

We made our advent calender, like last year and the year before, from fallen leaves. This year we collected the leaves and bark from our little farm - making it extra special. 

Natural leaf advent calender 2012 by little eco footprints 2

Natural leaf advent calender 2012 by little eco footprints 3

We'll be on the move a lot in the lead up to Christmas, between our urban home, our little farm, and a few days farm sitting. So we're taking the calender with us - and have hung it in our van. 

Each day of the month corresponds to a fun nature play or craft activity.

I've chosen quick and simple activities that we'll do after dinner each evening. 

  1. Go for a walk in search of feathers
  2. Climb a tree
  3. Paint a picture using feathers instead of paint brushes 
  4. Create a feather mobile 
  5. Go on a leaf hunt & make a leaf collage
  6. Grow sprouts on the kitchen bench
  7. Build a robot out of rubbish
  8. Make toilet roll creatures
  9. Make jewelry out of bits of nature
  10. Paint with mud 
  11. Role play being snake safe
  12. Go bird watching 
  13. Make a nature paint brush
  14. Create some heart rocks and hide them around our neighbourhood
  15. Make playdough
  16. Build with playdough and wooden blocks
  17. Make and enjoy bath paints
  18. Make a fruit neclace
  19. Make pop corn & create a pop corn necklace 
  20. Go for a walk around the block and pick a bunch of flowers
  21. Make a rain gauge 
  22. Make a bow and arrow
  23. Make boats out of bark
  24. Draw with chalk on something you wouldn't normally draw on

Wishing you a calm and creative count down to Christmas. 

Are you doing an advent calender this year? With gifts or activities? 

I'll be sharing pics of our calm and creative countdown on Instagram and Twitter using the tag #creativecountdown. Would you like to join me? 

All I want for Christmas is a good dose of calm

I'm refusing to get caught up in the chaos and commercialisation that typically accompanies Christmas. Instead I’m aiming to slow down and embrace "less is more". There’ll be less rushing around and more time with family.

Leaf advent calendar Little eco footrprints

My first step in distancing ourselves from the commercialisation of Christmas is our advent calendar.

Our calendar won’t be fancy or purchased. Nor will there be any toys or chocolates to mark each day. Instead I’m continuing a tradition of using fallen leaves to create a natural advent calendar. Each number will correspond to a quick nature play or craft activity that we’ll do as a family. 

It will be our third year of using such a calendar. My daughter races out each morning, grabs a leaf, and begs me to read the activity for the day. Activities are mostly quick and simple and can be completed using items we already have. This year activities include building a robot out of rubbish, painting a picture using flowers and leaves instead of paint brushes, and floating paper boats.

Next I’ll tackle gifts. I get overwhelmed at all the gifts my daughter receives at Christmas. I’m sure she does too. I’ve watched her move from unwrapping one gift to the next without pausing to register what she has just unwrapped. I’ve also seen her struggle to decide which new toy to play with, only to give up and play with a box or wrapping paper. You may be familiar with this scene. 

We give our daughter only two gifts. One gift from us and one gift from Santa. As she gets older we might introduce the rhyme ‘something I want, something I need, something to wear, something to read.’

I also want to avoid the food waste typically seen at Christmas. We’re not going to use Christmas as an excuse to be extravagant. Our Christmas meal will be simple, local and fresh.

We’ll also be trying to apply the idea of ‘less is more’ to other aspects of Christmas including travel and Christmas parties.

Could your Christmas benefit from a little ‘less is more’?

[This column appeared in The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 24 November 2012]

Turning a chore into an adventure

I was dreading yesterday. I had to drive three hours return just to drop something off. What a waste of time (& petrol!). 

Hunter Valley Zoo 1

Then I changed my attitude. Instead of dreading the trip I turned it into an adventure. I kept Little Eco home from preschool and dragged her along. We did the drop-off and then visited Hunter Valley Zoo

Hunter Valley Zoo 2

Hunter valley Zoo 3

She especially liked the Kangaroos and Wallabies and I especially liked the Flying Foxes. 

Hunter valley Zoo 5

Hunter Valley Zoo 6

Hunter valley Zoo 7

We also discovered that Deer will eat absolutely anything - including the hat off your head and the dress off your back. 

Perhaps you could turn your next chore into an adventure?

Starting small

Growing silverbeet

I’ve been dreaming of a kitchen garden bursting with herbs, rows upon rows of seasonal produce, and a food forest overflowing with citrus, berries and nuts.

We are moving from our urban Newcastle home "up the valley" to a small rural Hunter Valley property for a tree change. I’m excited that I’ll have ample space to grow food. However, my initial enthusiasm has morphed into overwhelm. There’s a water supply to organise, our soil is degraded and hydrophobic and I somehow need to protect our garden from rabbits and kangaroos.

Not knowing where to start, I contact local sustainable farming guru Mark Brown of Purple Pear Farm for advice. Mark reminds me to have fun. He suggests that success is more likely if I enjoy the experience.

"Having fun starts with starting small so that the garden activity is achievable. It is also important to start with vegetables you and your family love to eat."

I’m going to heed Marks advice and start small by growing a few pots of silverbeet and its pretty relation rainbow chard. By growing in pots I can start growing now and take the pots with us when we make the move towards the end of the year.

I’m going to sow seeds directly into pots filled with potting mix enriched with a little compost, well-rotten manure and rock mineral fertiliser.

The outer leaves should be ready to harvest in only 6 – 7 weeks. I love that silverbeet can be harvested as you need by picking the outer leaves and that plants can go on producing for months and months. I’ve had some plants last for several years.

Twisting the stalks off at the base, rather than cutting, reduces the amount of leaf damage in later pickings. Harvesting this way, from the outside, prevents plants from going to seed.

There seems an endless range of ways to eat silverbeet: quiche, gratin, frittata, lasagne, cannelloni, omelette, pie, soup, or as a simple steamed side. I’m particularly fond of steamed silverbeet with a sprinkle of nutmeg. The young leaves can also be eaten as salad leaves and the stems can be diced and cooked like celery.

With so many ways to prepare Silverbeet, perhaps my family won’t even notice that I’m only serving them one type of green veggie.

If you were to grow one vegetable only, what would it be?

[This column appeared in The Newcastle Herald Weekender magazine 17 November 2012]


CHange and nature play 1

There's a lot of change happening for me at the moment. 

We're moving from a comfy urban home to a rural shed and then a temporary tiny home.  

We're trying to let go of all our 'stuff'. 

I'm finishing up in a public service position I've held for 14 years and instead of juggling two jobs will focus on my work-from-home job with a not-for-profit I'm passionate about. 

CHange and nature play 2

I'm also starting a regular weekly column in our local paper The Newcastle Herald. I'll be a columist. Eeep! My column will be titled 'Less is More'. 

I'm excited about the opportunity share the idea of simple living with a broader audience, but also extremely nervous. How will I churn out good content each week? 

My column will appear each Saturday in the Weekender Magazine insert starting from this Saturday. For locals, it will be where Gina Cransons Backyard column was. I'm going to miss Gina's column as it was the first page I turned to each Saturday. I have no idea how I'm going to fill her creative proverbial shoes.

I'll simultaneously publish each column here at Little Eco Footprints. For the remainder of the year, while I juggle full-time work and the column, my column will 'recycle' some content from Little Eco Footprints. So to long-term and regular readers, I apologise for the repitition. I promise I'll feature new and fresh content in the new year. 

While I'm on the topic of the Newcastle Herald - they featured Little Eco Footprints a few weeks back in an article titled Less is Moreish. I thought Gina did a great job of selling the less is more message. 

CHange and nature play 3

And there's one more change. I've welcomed three sponsors to this space. You'll see their buttons over on the right. There's Eco Toys, Biome, and Echolife Australia. I'm not accepting cash for sponsorship. Instead I've bartered products with companies I know and love. I figure that if they don't sell something I need then I shouldn't be promoting them. 

For the next three months I'm going to limit the number of sponsors to three. After all, going green is not about buying green, so I don't want to feature too many promotional posts. 

Has there been much change in your life recently? Are you good at embracing change? 

The one change I'm struggling with is letting go of 'stuff' - so I particularly enjoyed Rachel Meeks recent post on Fear is Not a Good Reason to Keep Old Junk