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December 2012

Taking care of my most important eco asset

Views from Gloucester Falls Track, Barrington Tops National Park Tricia Hogbin

Over the past few years I’ve gained an appreciation for my most important eco asset. It’s not solar panels, rainwater tanks, or a passively designed home, nor is it local food or public transport.

I’ve learnt that my most important eco asset is my health. I often forget how important it is until it fails me.

Trying to live a simple, sustainable life does take more time and energy.

Usually I don’t mind. I enjoy cooking from scratch rather than eating processed packaged food. I like visiting the greengrocer, butcher and farmers market rather than the supermarket and I’d rather hand make gifts than buy them.

I even don’t mind hanging the washing on the line rather than tossing it into the dryer. I look upon time spent at the clothes line as an opportunity to relax and meditate.

Similarly, one of my favourite memories from my daughters first few years is evenings spent folding cloth nappies with my husband. This time was an island of calm amongst the chaos of having a new born. I would have missed those moments of connection if we’d used disposables.

But my willingness to do so much from scratch disappears the moment I become too busy, tired or sick.

Processed and packaged food creeps into our home, we order in takeaway, and I find myself buying rather than creating.

I usually put a huge amount of effort into trying to make our lifestyle sustainable, yet put little effort into looking after myself.

I want to have the energy I need to live the life I want, so have changed my priorities.

My New Year's resolution is to put my health and well-being at the top of my list, rather than let it languish somewhere near the bottom.

I’ve made this promise before and broken it. I think I know why, it’s clutter.

Next week I’ll be sharing my plans to edit not only my space, but also my time.

[Originally published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 29 December 2012]

Do you have a new year's resolution? Do you think you'll keep it? 

I hope you are enjoying the festive season. We've just spent a week farnm-sitting Jane's small farm paradise. There were horses to pat, sheep to herd, and a river to kayak. 

Now we're packing our belongings and moving into the shed at our little farm. I'll be honest, the novelty has worn off. It's hot and dusty and the task or reducing our belongings so that we fit seems insurmountable. I wish I could just shove everything back into the cupboard like I usually do. 

Festive limits: Too much of a good thing

Too much recycling Tricia Hogbin little eco footprints original-001_260 x 350

Overflowing recycling bins are a common sight during the festive season. Indeed, the bin pictured is mine from a few Christmases ago.

It is easy to look at this recycled bounty and congratulate ourselves for being great recyclers. However, this mountain of packaging is a sign that something is wrong.

When it comes to recycling, we can have too much of a good thing. We should be trying to put less into those recycling bins, not more.

The common saying "reduce, reuse, recycle" is a hierarchy expressing the order of importance of these ideas.

Given the focus on recycling in environmental education, it is easy to forget that the "reduce" is more important than the "reuse" and "recycle". Recycling is the last step in the hierarchy.

Only if we really need to buy something, and reuse if possible, should we then recycle it.

Christmas celebrations and a house full of guests test my ability to reduce consumption. Thankfully I've improved since the year my recycling bin overflowed. For example, I buy less, reuse last year's Christmas cards by upcycling them into gift tags, and reuse my daughter's artwork and old maps as wrapping paper. We also buy fewer gifts and eat less packaged food. I reduce the amount of packaged food we buy by favouring fresh and seasonal produce and by purchasing wholefoods in bulk.

Much to my husband's frustration I target a good proportion of my angst against packaged food at packaged cereal. Avoiding packaged cereal is one of my favourite ways to minimise waste and save money. Rather than going through boxes of expensive cereal this Christmas, I'll be serving guests homemade porridge, eggs on toast, or homemade yoghurt and fruit.

This year I'm particularly keen to reduce the amount of bottles left over after festivities by cranking up the old Soda Stream and making ginger beer. I also recently discovered that tonic water can be home-made. How cool is that? So if I can find a source of cinchona bark I might try making tonic water too.

Wishing you all a simple, safe and meaningful festive season.

[Published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 22 December 2012]

Don't let fear of uncertainty stop you from following your dreams

Our Little Farm warming party 1

We're finally moving to our little farm this weekend.

Daddy Eco is worried we'll roast in the shed (literally) but all Little Eco and I care about is that we'll be together again and that we'll be living at our little farm. It's home.

The move and many of the other changes happening right now were initiated by Daddy Eco accepting a new job. He left a safe and secure public service position for one that is far from secure. 

It's a change he had been wanting to make for years. But I had dissuaded him because I thought giving up a permanent position was a stupid thing to do. So he plodded along in a job knowing it wasn't his ideal. 

Eventually we decided to risk the uncertainty.

He's happier because he's working in a job he loves; I'm happier because I got my little farm; and Little Eco is happier because she has space to play and explore (and a paddock for a horse). 

I'm glad we didn't let fear of uncertainty stop us from following our dreams. 

Now, all we have to do is embrace the uncertainty. 

Embracing uncertainty by preparing for worst case scenario

The main reason uncertainty is feared is concern that the worst could happen. However, if you identify the worst case scenario and prepare for it, then there's nothing to fear.

For us, worst case scenario is Daddy Eco could lose his job and my short-term work could dry up. This could realistically happen. Indeed, a few months into his new job Daddy Eco managed, by some miracle, to survive a sudden staff cut. 

We are preparing for worse case scenario by reducing debt. We're going to reduce our spending and put every single dollar we can into debt reduction. Having less debt and some savings will give us the freedom to follow our dreams without fear. 

Is fear of uncertainty stopping you from following your dreams?

We recently held a farm-warming party. The kids took off and entertained themselves. The adults sat around and relaxed. And our back paddock was scattered with tents. Perfect! I actually forgot to take a single photo during the party - so only have photos of the morning after (above). Madeline managed to take some pics and I shared pics of some of the farm-warming gifts we received on Instagram - including a bag of poo and a mulberry tree propagated from a nearby historic property. 

It pays to go slow

Foraged roadside apples Tricia Hogbin Little eco footprints

Many of us will head off on a car trip at some stage during the festive season.

I used to dread long car trips, but a change in attitude, a little planning, some snacks and a thermos of tea (just like my Gran used to pack) have helped me embrace the journey.

I've learnt to love slow travel. The concept of slow travel is part of the slow movement - a movement that advocates a cultural shift toward slowing down life's pace.

Slow travel is about engaging with communities along the route and not letting the anticipation of arrival undermine the pleasure of the journey.

We'll be driving to the south coast in a few weeks. It's a trip that takes only four hours, but often takes us seven or more.

First stop is often The Australian Botanic Gardens in Mount Annan. Entry is free and being only minutes from the Hume Freeway, its café and playground provide a nice alternative to the roadside fast food stores.

Next to the café is my favourite part of the gardens, the Fruit Loop Garden, where I'll sneak a taste of bush tucker.

Late summer and early autumn, we stop in the Southern Highlands to forage apples from roadside trees. Last year we picked a huge basket. I stewed the lot and we had a freezer stash of stewed apples that we enjoyed as apple and rhubarb crumble for months.

We also often stop to breathe in the beauty of Fitzroy Falls and to browse the antique store. If it's the right time of year, we visit a nearby farm gate stall to buy a few bags of blueberries.

On longer trips we visit a library - a great place to stop because they're air conditioned, calm, free, and have power points to charge cameras, phones and laptops.

Playgrounds are another good place to stop. We use to identify playgrounds with toilets along our route and have found some amazing ones.

Perhaps this festive season you could take time to add a little "slow" to your travels.

[Published in my column LESS IS MORE in the The Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine 12 December 2012]

Spring was....

Spring 2012 was the season...

Going for a bike ride by Little eco footprints

...Little Eco and I started staying regularly at our little farm. Two nights a week we join Daddy Eco in the shed. 

We've fallen in love with the space. Space to run. Space to ride her bike. Space to explore. 

Card made from paperbark_Little eco footprints

...Little Eco started making sweet paperbark cards from the trees near our dam. 

Spring 2012 dry back paddock Little eco footprints

...We discovered just how dry and hot it gets at our little farm. Water is high on our list of priorities.

Spring 2012 our local swiming spot Little eco footprints

 ...Given the heat, trips to a nearby creek became a favourite afternoon activity. 


...I spotted these super cool lights at Berry Markets. I'm planning on making something like this for our shed.  

Spring 2012 shipping container cafe Little eco footprints

Spring 2012 Shipping container strudent accomodation in Canberra Little eco footprints

....our home dreams changed from a rammed earth home to a shipping container home with a roof-top shipping container pool (natural of course - so that it doubles as water storage).

I was thrilled to visit a shipping container cafe in Queanbeyan and to spot student accommodation at ANU made from stacked shipping containers



....we showed Little Eco where her Daddy and I got married


...I traveled loads for work. There were trips to Scone, Deniliquin, Canberra, Sydney and Perth. I enjoyed being part of a '21 Gum salute' and planted a tree at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra. It was a quirky bent threatened plant that coincidentally grows in the wild only near where I grew up. I'm looking forward to watching this tree grow.

Spring 2012 Minimalist packing Little eco footprints

...with all this travel I finally nailed minimalist packing. Little Eco and I travelled to Perth for 6 days with carry-on luggage only. 

...I realised that we can cope (just) with both parents working full time. It will be worth it in the end. It looks like I'll continue working full time for all of next year too. It's a combination of being interested in the work that is available and wanting to reduce our debt a little.  Full-time work is not what I envisaged when we initially bought our little farm - but I'm slowly learning to accept that simple living can be fast and include full-time work (at least for a little while). 

How was Spring for you? Please wish us luck for Summer - at the end of December we move into an uinsulated shed. 

Winter was....