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November 2013

Creative countdown to Christmas

Creating-our-own-advent-calendar-from-natural-materials-is-far-more-meaningful-than-popping-down-to-the-shop-to-buy-one. LIttle eco footprints

Counting down the days leading up to Christmas is a tradition in our household. Instead of purchasing a commercially available advent calendar, we make our own from natural materials.

Counting-down-the-days-to-Christmas-using-our-home-made-advent-calendar-made-from-rocks. Little eco footprints

Each day corresponds to a chosen activity rather than a chocolate or a toy. In previous years we have created our calendar from fallen leaves. This year we branched out and used stones.

Creative-countdown-to-christmas-rock-stone-advent-little eco footprints

Little Eco drew pictures of things she is grateful for on each stone using permanent paint pens. Each stone is numbered and corresponds to a chosen activity.

In previous years I’ve chosen quick nature play or craft activities that we could do as a family. This year Little Eco chose the activities herself. I asked her what she wants to do more of and felt a pang of guilt when she told me “I want to do crafty stuff with you, like we used to.” Ouch – she’s right. We used to do a lot more creative play together, but since she’s started school I’ve neglected craft.

Creative-countdown-to-Christmas-advent. Little eco footprints 2

To help her choose the activities, I set her up in front of my ‘‘creative play for littlies” Pinterest board. I’ve saved dozens of links to creative play ideas I had planned to do. But like many “pinners” - I haven’t actually gotten around to the “doing”. At least the person who named one of their boards “Awesome things I will never take the time to actually make” was being a tad more realistic than me.

Over 24 days we’ll create nature crowns, corn husk dolls, clay owls and a woven skipping rope. I’ve set aside an hour each afternoon for us to create together. I’m not too concerned about completing every activity. It’s more about the process than the outcome (thankfully - because she's been pretty ambitious with her list).

Is there something you love doing that you don’t do enough of? Perhaps you could do your own creative countdown to Christmas? Think about what you truly enjoy doing – and do more of that.

I'll be tagging our creations on Instagram and Twitter using #creativecountdown. Feel free to join in. Use our list, or create your own. 

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 30th November 2013.

Here's our Creative countdown to Christmas list

  1. Build an insect hotel
  2. Create a sock caterpillar
  3. Make a nature crown
  4. Weave a fairy rug
  5. Make a toilet roll owl
  6. Paint and play rock dominoes
  7. Make a Japanese flying carp
  8. Learn how to use a sewing machine
  9. Make a recycled tin can windsocks
  10. Create a dancing marionette.
  11. Craft a tissue box monster
  12. Make a bow and arrow
  13. Weave a jump rope
  14. Make egg carton love bugs
  15. Paint a bug tic-tac-toe.
  16. Make a cute clay owl
  17. Make a corn husk owl
  18. Create a corn husk doll
  19. Make a changing faces toilet roll doll
  20. Make a dream catcher
  21. Sew a kangaroo
  22. Sew another kangaroo
  23. Weave a friendship bracelet
  24. Make a toilet roll snowman

If you would like some more creative play ideas - here's our lists for 2012 and 2010

Wishing you a calm and creative countdown to Christmas. 


Declutter your Christmas

Declutter-Christmas. A-clutter-free Christmas is more about time with friends and family and less about consumption. Little-eco-footprints
It’s all too easy for the Christmas festive season to become cluttered. Too many gifts, endless commitments and too much consumption create clutter and distract from the good stuff.

I like the idea of decluttering Christmas to create more space to enjoy time with family and friends.

Here are my top six tips for clearing the clutter from Christmas:

1. Fewer gifts

We’ll be continuing our tradition of giving our daughter only two gifts - one from us and one from Santa. I’ve noticed that by giving her fewer gifts she places more value on what she receives.

2. Clutter-free gift giving

The last thing I want to do is gift someone clutter that they then have to find space for in their home. I like the idea of gifts that are used and enjoyed. Local or homemade food, art and craft materials, and vouchers for adventures are my favourite clutter-free gifts.

3. Less food

Food waste increases significantly at Christmas, with an estimated 35% of food ending up in the bin. Embrace simple, seasonal and local food and dish out only as much as can be eaten. Do you really need four kinds of meat and five different salads?

4. Reuse

Last year’s Christmas cards will be upcycled into gift tags. I’ll also be reusing my daughter’s artwork as wrapping paper.

Using-natural-objects-as-christmas-decorations-A-clutter-free-Christmas. Little eco footprints

5. Simplify decorations

By all means – use and look after the Christmas decorations you already have. But before you race out and buy more – consider making your own from natural and recycled materials.

Natural-leaf-advent-calendar-Clutter-free-Christmas-Little eco footprints

6. Learn to accept that you can’t do everything

I find this the hardest part of decluttering Christmas – trying to find the time for all the festivities. We’ll be skipping a few of our after-school commitments and favouring time with friends and family over shopping, chores and cooking.

Transition Newcastle is hosting a gathering this Tuesday exploring the question ‘A sustainable Christmas – is it possible?’ I’ll be kicking off the discussion with a few tips for reducing the environmental impact of Christmas celebrations. 7 – 9 pm Tuesday 26 November, Wesley Hall, 150 Beaumont Street, Hamilton.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 23rd November 2013.

More clutter-free Christmas posts from the archivesAll I want for Christms is a good dose of calm.  |  A feast with a story to tell.  |  Festive limits: Too much of a good thing.  |  Stop buying stuff and donate instead: Charity Christmas gifts  |  A calm and creative countdown to Christmas - 24 nature play & craft activities (I'll be sharing this year's Creative Countdown to Christmas in a few days. You are welcome to join us.)

Pantry pampering - Do you really want your family to bathe in carcinogens?


There are a whole lot of chemicals in cosmetics and personal care products that I’d prefer to avoid. There’s lead in lipsticks, mercury in mascara, and cancer-causing chemicals in bath products for babies and kids.

Even so called ‘natural’ products contain ingredients best avoided.

I checked out the ingredients of a major brand of ‘pure and natural’ face moisturiser against the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database. I discovered that of the 25 ingredients listed, two are considered a ‘high hazard’. There are a further seven (including the main ingredient) that are considered ‘moderate hazard’. Just because something is advertised as containing ‘ingredients of natural origin’ doesn’t mean that it’s safe to put on your skin.

I’ve gradually detoxed and simplified my personal care, replacing each product as it ran out with a safer and simpler option.

More of often than not I found this safer and simpler option in my pantry. I figure that if something is safe enough to eat, slathering it all over my skin and hair won't hurt either.


It may sound crazy – but I wash my face with honey. I place a little honey on a face washer, wash, and then rinse with water. Using something so sticky to wash your face seems counterintuitive – but it works. Honey is apparently great for any skin type and is antibacterial and incredibly moisturizing. I love that I'm washing my face with something that’s simple, natural, package-free, renewable, inexpensive and is made by my very own bees.

I moisturise with almond or coconut oil and a locally made moisturiser with ingredients so simple I could make it myself.

My daughter and I also enjoy regular pantry pampering sessions. Pantry pampering can be messy - so after my daughter mixes up the ingredients, we usually head outside and sit on a towel under a tree.

Here are few of our favourite kid-friendly pantry pampering recipes.


Honey and wheat germ face scrub: Mix a tablespoon of each.

Super moisturising hair mask: Mix a tablespoon of honey and olive oil with an egg yolk. Apply to wet hair and leave for at least half an hour before thoroughly washing out.

Nourishing and moisturising face mask: Mash and combine half an avocado, half a banana and a tablespoon of yoghurt.

If you would like to learn more about chemicals in cosmetics, watch the Story of Cosmetics and visit (edited to add - and read the just launched free e book Less Toxic Living - see note below). 

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 16th November 2013.

Less Toxic Living - How to reduce your everyday exposure to toxic chemicals:  An introduction for families

Kirsten McCulloch of Sustainable Suburbia recently launched Less Toxic Living - How to reduce your everyday exposure to toxic chemicals: An introduction for families

The book is full of practical tips for reducing your family’s exposure to nasty chemicals. For example, the Cosmetics and Skin Care Chapter includes articles on ‘What are the main chemicals to avoid in cosmetics?’, ‘What is in our products: A brief look at Parabens’, and ‘Nanos and sunscreen: Are shade, shirts and hats the safer option?’. 

I’m finding the book super useful and am thrilled to be one of the contributors

The book is available to purchase as a paperback or an e version of the book can be downloaded for FREE!.

Cheaper chooks - How to reduce the cost of feeding chickens

Generous chooks. Little eco footprints

My generous hens are each laying an egg most days. In return, our feed costs have grown. In an effort to save money I’ve been minimising feed wastage and growing our own chook food. Their laying pellets are now supplemented with forage greens, worms and egg shells.

Chooks enjoying some freshly picked greens. Little eco footprints

The supplementary home-grown food doesn’t replace commercial laying pellets. They still have access to a continuous supply of pellets, but thankfully I now need to refill their feeder less often.

A good quality rain-proof chook feeder reduces the amount of grain spilled, spoiled or taken by pests and other birds. Australian made Royal Rooster feeder. Little eco footprints

A good quality rain-proof chook feeder reduces the amount of grain spilled, spoiled or taken by pests and other birds. I’ve been very pleased with our Australian made Royal Rooster chicken feeder.

Storage bulk chook feed properly reduces wastage. Little eco footprints

It’s also important to reduce wastage of stored chicken food. I store our bulk feed in galvanised metal garbage bins.

Harvesting Clucker Tucker forage greens. Little eco footprints

Our chooks get a basket of freshly picked greens at least twice a day. I raid our veggie garden for silverbeet, spinach, kale, beetroot leaves and weeds. I also have a bed of forage greens grown specifically for the chooks. I planted a seed mix by Green Harvest called Clucker Tucker. The mix includes bok choy, buckwheat, forage chicory, clover, cocksfoot, linseed, lucerne, millet, forage plantain, silverbeet, subclover and sunflower.

The chooks get access to bugs and more greens when I move their chicken tractor every fortnight and during free-range time at least once a week.

Worms are a high protein chicken food. Little eco footprints

My chickens also get a big handful of worms every few days. Worms are high in protein, and given the response when I toss a handful into the chook pen, are considered a delicacy. I usually have at least two worm farms on the go and sometimes more to ensure I have enough to sacrifice a few to the chooks. An easy way to collect worms is to crack an egg in one corner of the worm farm. Return a day later and that corner will be full of worms ready to collect.

Dried and crushed egg shells  are a great source of calcium for chooks. Little eco footprints

Chickens need calcium for strong egg shells. One option is to give them shell grit, but a cheaper option is to feed them egg shells. I collect our egg shells, dry them in the sun (or by the fire in winter) for a week and then crush them.

There’s a range of other home-grown chook feed options I’m exploring. I’m growing extra corn and sunflowers and plan to grow meal worms.

I like that these home-grown chicken feeds not only save money, but also reduce food miles.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 9th November 2013.

Ditching shampoo and going ‘no poo’

The tools for going no poo - bicarb soda and apple cider vinegar. Little eco footprints

I ditched shampoo around six years ago. Motivated by promises of healthier hair and an opportunity to save money, avoid chemicals and reduce packaging, I went “no poo”. The unappealing, but commonly used term "no poo", simply means not washing your hair with commercial products.

The most common approach is to wash your hair instead with bicarb-soda and rinse in diluted apple cider vinegar.

No poo enthusiasts and many dermatologists claim that avoiding or minimising the use of shampoo is good for your hair. Shampoo strips the hair of the beneficial oil sebum, only encouraging the scalp to secrete more oil. Then begins a cycle of needing more frequent shampooing which in turn creates the need for conditioning treatments and styling products to repair and control the damage.

When switching from shampoo, your scalp may go through a transition period where it readjusts the amount of oil it produces. Fearing a few weeks of oily hair, I ditched shampoo while I was at home with a new baby and could easily get away without leaving the house. Others save the transition till holidays or winter when they can hide under a hat or beanie.

There are two main methods of washing with bicarb-soda, one involves applying it dry and the other involves applying it wet.

I trialled both, before settling on applying dry. I sprinkle a handful of bicarb-soda onto dry hair, massage it into the scalp and comb it through using my fingers. I then rinse thoroughly, massaging my scalp as I rinse.

To apply it wet, mix around one tablespoon of bicarb-soda with one cup of water, pour onto wet hair, massage it into your scalp, and rinse.

Rinsing with a solution of acidic apple cider vinegar detangles and balances the alkalinity of the bicarb-soda.

I pour around 2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a jar and dilute with around two cups of water. I then pour this over my hair and leave for a few minutes before rinsing in cool water.

I now wash my hair only every week or so and no longer need styling products to control my previously frizzy hair. I brush between washes with a bristle brush and if needed tidy with a hair straightener add a little coconut oil to the ends to control frizz.

I’m pleased that, when it comes to shampoo, less is definitely more.

Originally published in my Newcastle Herald column 'Less is More' 2nd November 2013.