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October 2013

September 2013

Forest bathing - Discovering the benefits of wandering through a forest

Forest Bathing Little eco footprints

I recently stumbled across the concept of 'forest bathing', an activity widely practised in Japan. Forest bathing, or Shinrin-yoku, is basically a short wander through a forest. The benefits of forest bathing include relaxation, stress relief, mental clarity and even increased immune function.

For months, if not years, I’ve been telling myself I should embrace daily meditation. However, despite knowing of the relaxation benefits, I find meditation almost unbearable. I’m not very good at sitting still and quietening my thoughts. However, going for a wander in the bush – that’s something I can easily manage.

To forest bathe, you go to a forested area and wander. Walk slowly, breathe, smell, listen, touch and look. It’s as simple as that.

Apparently, 15 minutes of forest bathing is all you need to start seeing the benefits.

I’ve been squeezing in a quick forest bathe most days. I find a few moments wandering through bushland puts everything into perspective. Until recently, I attributed this fresh perspective to the fresh air and connection with nature, but apparently the smell of bushland is a major contributor to the health and well-being benefits. That forest smell, called phytoncides, or wood essential oils, is considered to have similar relaxation benefits to aromatherapy.

Besides walking, forest bathing also includes taking time to simply sit. On each forest bathing visit, I choose a spot to briefly sit and be still. I watch for wildlife and wind down.

I appreciate that not everyone lives next to a forest. Wandering through a garden or parkland has similar benefits. When working in the city, I used to duck down to a local park for a few minutes, particularly when stressed or needing to concentrate. The benefits of that quick visit far outweighed the hassle of taking time out from an already busy day.

So, next time you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, find a forest to smell or, at the very least, a garden to sit in.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 21st September 2013.

Winter was....

1. winter was...when we enjoyed the first egg from our new hens

Winter 2013 was when we enjoyed the first egg from our new hens. 

3. Winter was....when our chooks (especially Eagle) got given plenty of love in return

The hens are given plenty of love in return. 

4. Winter was...when I stopped worrying about dragging an only child out to a rural property

I've stopped worrying about dragging an only child out to a rural area. Between school and visitors there are plenty of friends to play with. And when she is alone....

6. Winter was....when Little Eco had fun exploring - again in fancy dress

...there are always adventures to be had (more often than not, while wearing fancy-dress). 

7. Winter was...when Monday night became campfitre night

Monday night became 'campfire night'. I treasure our campfire conversations and am already looking forward to next Winter. 

9. Winter was....when kindling collection became one of my favourite moments of the day

Afternoon kindling collection became one of my favourite moments of the day. Initially I begrudged this chore, but quickly learnt to appreciate being forced to wander our property as the sun set. 

10. Winter was....when we finally got water...and then it didn't rain for 2 months

We finally got a water tank....and then it didn't rain for two whole months. Literally!

12. Winter was....when Daddy Eco built a fence for Spike

Daddy Eco built a fence. Somehow, 'build a fence for Spike the loan pony' made it to the top of our 'to-do' list. We still live in a shed, don't have a bathroom or internal plumbing, but we have one very nice fence. 

The fence was a necessary step in helping Little Eco fulfil a dream of getting a pony. In reality, spending our time and money on a fence, when we are bucketing water inside so that we can wash the dishes, is silly.

But there are no regrets...because fulfilling dreams is what life should be about. 


(I'm cheating with this picture because it's from Spring).  

This is little Eco telling me how happy she is to have a pony "from here to the end of space and back again"

I'll choose that happiness over a kitchen tap any day. 

Autumn was...

Summer was..

Spring was..

Winter was..


Are you washing your clothes too much?

Line drying Little eco footprints

Clothes washing is one of my least liked chores. Our clothesline with a view makes hanging the washing out to dry almost bearable – but the washing, folding and putting away feels tedious. At the risk of making you cringe, I strive to wash my clothes as little as possible. By doing so, not only do I save time, but I also reduce the environmental impact of my clothing.

Considering the entire life cycle of a garment, everyday washing and drying typically damages our natural environment more than any other phase, including farming, manufacture and transport.

A few years ago, I participated in a 'six items or less' challenge, where I wore only six items of clothing for a month. I rediscovered the lost art of spot cleaning. Until that challenge, I’d tossed my clothes into the dirty clothes basket at the end of the day without scrutinising whether they actually needed washing. During the challenge, I got into the habit of machine-washing something only if it was beyond spot-cleaning. I also discovered that ironing is a great way to freshen already worn clothes.

It appears my old tendency to wash clothes that did not actually need washing is the norm. Or, in the words of Tullia Jack, a consumer culture researcher, my unnecessary washing was a “habitual, inconspicuous consumption ingrained in daily practices”.

Tullia explored what happens when people wash less. She recruited 30 people to wear the same pair of jeans for at least five days a week for three months without washing them. She was hoping to explore how society reacts to dirty and smelly clothes. However, unexpectedly, participants found their jeans weren’t visibly dirty and didn’t smell. It seems we can get away with washing our clothes a whole lot less than we think.

Perhaps the idea of washing less doesn’t appeal to you? At the very least, washing in cold water using an environmentally friendly washing powder and line drying will reduce the environmental impact of your clothing. While line drying takes more time than tossing clothes in the dryer, it’s a few moments of quiet outdoor time, so it isn’t too bad a chore in the scheme of things.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 14th September 2013.

Finding joy in having less

Less is more. I enjoy and saviour one coffee a day far more than if I allow myself multiple. Little eco footprints

The desire to reduce my impact on the environment motivated me to learn how to live better with less. However, over time the environmental benefits have become almost secondary to the happiness and wellbeing benefits. I’ve discovered that having and doing less creates a sense of happiness and relief rather than deprivation.

Appreciating that less is truly more is nothing new. The Greek philosopher Socrates wrote almost 2500 years ago that ‘‘The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.’’

Just because something brings you happiness doesn’t mean that you’ll be happier with more. In all likelihood, having more will only lessen the joy.

In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Ruben tells the story of a boy who loved his toy car. He took it everywhere, always played with it. Then his grandmother gave him 10 toy cars, and he stopped playing with the cars altogether. Having more caused him to love what he had less.

This story made me realise that the less I give my daughter, the more she will enjoy what she has. Obviously there’s a point where you cross the line into deprivation, but to be honest I’m nowhere near that line. I struggle to resist giving her all she desires. But I appreciate that by not spoiling her with endless toys and gifts I’ll be helping her grow up with the capacity to find joy in having less.

Racing to fulfil a desire also takes away most of the fun. The anticipation, dreaming and planning often brings more happiness than the item or event desired.

Enjoying less can also turn modest pleasures into a luxury. I enjoy and savour one coffee a day far more than if I allow myself multiple. I stop and savour the moment, truly tasting and enjoying the flavour (and the caffeine). Learning to stop and enjoy what I have rather than wanting more is the secret to reducing my impact on the environment and increasing my happiness. 

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 7th September 2013.

Perfect popcorn & three of my favourite ways to dress-up popcorn

Plain popcorn is a tasty, frugal and healthy snack. Little eco footprints

I love popcorn. Not the packaged pre-popped flavoured type, nor the bags you pop in the microwave, but good old-fashioned kernels popped on the stove. It is one of my favourite pantry staples – economical, healthy, versatile and my first snack of choice when confronted with hungry children.

We buy popcorn in 5kg bags, which usually lasts us a year. At around $20 for a 5kg bag it works out at around only 50c for a large bowl of popcorn.

Served plain, it makes for a healthy snack. It’s a wholegrain, high in fibre and antioxidants and it’s one of these wonderful foods that counts as a vegetable as well as a wholegrain (perfect for kids who don’t like vegetables).

Popcorn is easy to pop on the stovetop. Half a cup of popcorn will make a large bowl. I melt around 1 tablespoon of coconut oil, butter or ghee in a large heavy based saucepan. Heat on high until hot, add popcorn and shake briefly to ensure all the kernels are covered in oil. Place on a lid and wait until there is less than 2 seconds between the popcorn pops. I used to shake the pot while popping, but I've since learnt that it pops perfectly if you leave it alone

What I love most about popcorn is that you can dress it up in so many different ways.

Here are a few of my favourite fancy popcorn recipes.

Start with ½ cup of popcorn and pop as described above and reduce the added salt if you use salted butter to pop your popcorn.

Sweet and salty rosemary popcorn: Add 1 tablespoon of butter to warm popcorn and stir to coat. Combine 1 sprig of finely chopped rosemary, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of brown sugar. Sprinkle over popcorn. 

Home made sweet and spicy popcorn. Little eco footprints

Sweet and spicy popcorn: Melt 20-30 grams of butter, add 1 teaspoon of each of ground cinnamon, ground cumin, paprika, salt, and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Pour over popcorn and toss to coat. 

Dijon buttered popcorn: Melt around 20-30 grams of butter. Let it sizzle, get foamy & turn a bit brown. Whisk in 1-2 tablespoons of dijon mustard. Add a small handful of chopped chives.  Pour over popcorn and toss to coat. 

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 31st August 2013.

What is your favourite way to enjoy popcorn?