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October 2015
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December 2015

November 2015

A calm and connected countdown to Christmas


The countdown to Christmas has become a festival of chaos and consumption. If you prefer to roll into the festive season feeling calm and connected – rather than overwhelmed and broke – now is a good time to prepare your plan of attack.

Here are my three favourite tips for avoiding the chaos and consumerism of Christmas.

1. Embrace less is more when it comes to gift giving

This Christmas we’ll continue our tradition of giving our daughter only two gifts – one from us and one from Santa.

Knowing our gift rules, she slowly and thoughtfully prepares her wishlist (and I suspect she is going to continue to believe in Santa for a very long time).

She declutters her initial long list down to only a few carefully chosen items.

Like simplifying in general, take away the clutter and you end up with only what’s truly important.

At eight years old, she understands that getting fewer gifts isn't the norm. I questioned her about how she feels about our gift tradition. She gave me a cheeky smirk, suggesting that she would like more ... but then told me that "I like getting less because I play with what I get more. I don’t have to decide what to play with".

By giving her less, we take away the overwhelm and help her appreciate and value what she has.

Rather than depriving her, we are teaching her the value of wanting less. If you want less, getting everything you want is a realistic goal.

2. Create new family traditions

We've found the key to reducing the focus on gift-giving is to create other, more meaningful traditions.

Taking something away is less noticeable when you replace it with something better.

New traditions (or re-connecting with old traditions) fill the gap left when we take away the emphasis on gift-giving.

Homemade advent calendar 2012. Tricia Hogbin

My favourite festive season tradition is our countdown to Christmas.

We make an advent calendar from natural materials.

Counting down the days to Christmas using our home made advent calendars is one of my favourte christmas traditions (last year's calender). Tricia Hogbin

Last year we used clay.

Homemade advent calendar 2013. Tricia Hogbin

In earlier years we've used rocksleaves or bark.


This year we used Jacaranda seed pods. 


In previous years each ornament, stone or leaf is numbered and corresponds to a chosen creative activity.


We chose quick nature play or craft activities that we could do as a family and avoided activities that required us to buy anything. We used natural and recycled materials and made use of what we already had.

We roll into Christmas feeling more connected and creative.


When creating your new family Christmas tradition, think about what you enjoy doing as a family and do more of that.

3. Slow down before Christmas

This year we are simplifying our creative countdown to Christmas.

Instead of spending time creating together, we will simply spend time together.

I feel like our family could benefit more from a good dose of calm rather than creativity this year.

Each day we will linger at the table after dinner for at least half an hour. Some days we may simply chat. On other days we may choose to play a board game or craft together. Or we might even choose to help our daughter catch up on homework.

There are no rules other than we sit together.

I'm also carefully evaluating each and every thing we do and scheduling catch-ups for the new year, rather than trying to squeeze them in before Christmas.

Wishing you a calm and connected countdown to Christmas.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 23rd November 2015.

How to create white space in your life

Forest Bathing Little eco footprints

I recently wrote about the benefits of having white space in your life. Having pockets of time where nothing is scheduled gives you a buffer or margin of error. You can better respond to challenges or opportunities and can find time to relax and recharge.

But white space isn't easy to find.

You have to create it.

And work hard to keep it.

Here are some of the tools I use to craft white space into my days:

1. Sacrifice money for time

This is probably the most effective way to find more time. Pay for it – by working less.

Choosing to reduce our household income has been the biggest factor in increasing our family’s breathing space.

A year ago our collective income dropped by around 40 per cent. We've barely noticed the reduced income, largely due to making drastic changes to our spending. But we have definitely noticed the increase in our resilience and happiness.

We laugh at dramas now. We’re less overwhelmed.

I appreciate that I'm making this recommendation from a privileged position. But there are many equally privileged time-poor people who could choose to sacrifice money for time. 

You can switch to part-time, job share, take time off as unpaid leave, become a single income household, or search for a more flexible job.

2. Practice saying no

Every time we say 'yes' to someone or something, we are saying 'no' to someone or something else.

We can’t do everything.

Nor can we have everything.

Saying no is easier if you cultivate contentment and learn to be grateful for what you have and with what you can do.

Having a clear vision of what is important to you also makes saying no easier.

Unfortunately, many of us are so busy and overwhelmed that we've lost sight of what’s important.

Enjoy a little white space and you’ll likely find some clarity.

We also have to learn to say no to things we’d like to have. And things we’d love to do.

3. Be patient

The biggest game changer for me has been learning to accept that life is long (touch wood) and that not everything has to happen now.

Even important things can wait.

We don’t have to rush to the finish line.

Missing out on things we really want to do is a necessary part of creating white space

4. Acknowledge and enjoy your down time

I was going to call this tip 'stop wasting time'. But there’s nothing wrong with wasting time, as long as you do it mindfully.

Most of us already have white space in our days – we just don’t notice it because we spend it mindlessly staring at screens. It’s white space but without the benefits.

Be intentional about the free time you have and swap some screen time for true down time.

Go for a walk. Sit under a tree. Meditate, breathe and unwind.

5. Be realistic and schedule it in.

There’s no sense in scheduling yourself to the limit. You need to leave time to simply play. Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day.

Intentionally book in 'white space'.

Until recently I rarely completed everything on my to-do list. These days my lists are shorter and I actually get to experience the joy of ticking everything off my lists. By trying to do less, I'm achieving more.

Wishing you a week full of white space. 

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 16th November 2015.

How to attract butterflies to your garden


An encounter with a beautiful butterfly has me on a mission to encourage more butterflies. I love the idea of having masses of butterflies flutter through my garden. They are beautiful to watch and perform valuable pollinator services.

The fact that butterflies start their life as caterpillars has some gardeners considering butterflies as pests. But the amount the larvae eat is negligible and is outweighed by their positive contribution as a pollinator and garden ornament.

The first step in welcoming butterflies and other beneficial insects into your garden is to use organic gardening methods.

When you spray pesticides to rid your garden of bad bugs, you are also killing the beneficial bugs.

Learn to expect and accept a few nibbled leaves and focus on building healthy soil using compost and manures.

In a healthy and diverse garden you’ll rarely see any particular insect get out of control.

Next - grow butterfly host and food plants

To encourage butterflies you need to provide resources for both the caterpillars (host plants) and butterflies (nectar).

Grow a diversity of plants and you will more than likely provide host plants and nectar plants for a selection of butterflies.

But you can also be a little more targeted and grow specific plants.

Butterfly larvae (caterpillar) host plants

Some of the most common butterfly larvae host plant families within the greater Sydney region (presumably the picture is similar in other parts of Australia) include Poaceae (grasses), Cyperaceae (sedges), Lomandraceae (mat rushes), and Fabaceae (wattles and peas).

Grow plenty of these plants and you'll be providing plenty of caterpillar food.


Thankfully, the bushland area adjacent to my garden hosts a nice range of species within these families. 

I'm also going to set up a small native butterfly garden especially for caterpillar food and butterfly forage. 

For the caterpillars I’ll grow a range of native grasses, sedges, rushes, shrubs, herbs and climbers. On my list so far are kangaroo grass (shown above), weeping grass and species from the following genera: lomandra, acacia, daviesia, glycine, hardenbergia, commelina, bursaria, pultenaea, boronia and pimelea.

A small wild area like this could be set up in even the smallest corner of an urban garden. And many of these plants will do well as potted plants.

Butterfly caterpillars also feed off many of the plants you may have in your orchard or potted garden (e.g. citrus, bay tree, avocado and figs) or vegetable garden (for example lemon grass, peas, and beans). Maintain a healthy diverse vegetable garden and orchard and you’ll likely encourage butterflies by default. 

Butterfly attracting plants


Butterflies are attracted to bold clusters of flowers in bright colours.

I watched my recent butterfly visitor eagerly collect nectar from purple sage flowers.

Nectar-giving flowers favoured by butterflies are typically long and tubular and occur in clusters. Butterflies have a long, delicate, coiled tongue (called a proboscis) that is good at sucking nectar from deep within flowers.

To my native butterfly garden I’ll add a range of native plants favoured by butterflies, including grevillea, banksia, callistemon, pultenaea, melaleuca, scaevola, and leptospermum.

I’ll also be making sure there’s numerous butterfly nectar plants in my flower and vegetable gardens – including sunflowers, buddleja, marigold, ageratum, daisies and lavender.

Many common herbs also provide nectar for butterflies – including sage, chives, dill, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley and thyme.

Interested in learning more about pollinators in your garden?

Join in next week's Australian Wild Pollinator Count.  

The Wild Pollinator Count is a great opportunity to familiarise yourself with some of the beneficial bugs in your garden and contribute to wild insect pollinator conservation in Australia. The next count run 15-22 November. Find out how to join in here

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 19th October 2015.

The value of white space in your life

Foraged mulberries. Little eco footprints

One of the benefits of simplifying is that my life now has white space. Pockets of time where nothing is scheduled.

In graphic design, white space is the empty space between the elements on a page.

It can improve clarity, make viewing easier, and ensures the purpose of a piece is clear.

The space left empty is almost as important as the actual content.

Fail to leave sufficient white space and a worthwhile message can be lost among the clutter.

Empty space is equally important in our day-to-day lives.

Time intentionally left empty is as valuable as the scheduled moments.

Without the white space we can lose sight of our purpose and become lost in overwhelm.

In my experience, white space rarely stays empty. But it being there allows me to better respond to challenges and grab opportunities.

White space makes you more resilient 

A sick child home from school for the day; no internet for a week; or a broken down car. These unexpected hurdles would have once caused me stress. I would have bemoaned the time wasting.

Now that my schedule has a margin of error, I find it easier to turn negatives into a positive.

A sick child is cause for a slow day at home cuddling on the couch. No internet is embraced as time to clear the clutter from my mind. And being stranded for a few hours evolves into time to wander, read and enjoy lunch in a cafe.

The broken down car happened in the midst of writing this piece. I'm certain that if the idea of turning a hassle into something to appreciate hadn't been at the forefront of my mind, being stranded would have left me frustrated at the time I was wasting. Instead, I was grateful for a few rare hours to relax and eventually returned home feeling like I’d had a mini holiday.

A margin of error in my to-do list also gives me time to embrace positive opportunities.

If our schedule is full to the brim, opportunities aren't even noticed, let alone embraced.

I recently spotted a mulberry tree laden with fruit. There was a time when I would have felt too busy to stop. Or perhaps I wouldn't have even noticed the fruit. I would have rushed on by.

Instead, I stopped and enjoyed picking fruit with Little Eco. We shoved sweet berries into our mouths and laughed at our mulberry stained hands.

It’s these little unexpected moments that I’ll remember.

The following day a friend, knowing that I like making bone broth, offered me as many chicken frames as I wanted. The catch was, they weren't gutted. If I accepted I’d have to drop everything and gut the chickens that night. The old me would have said: "No thanks. Not this time. I'm too busy." Instead, the less frantic me said: "That would be unreal thanks. Would you like some garlic and zucchini in return? I now have a nice stash of nourishing bone broth – and it was free.

For me, stopping to forage and trading home-grown food fills my heart with joy and nourishes my soul as much as my belly.

The unexpected moments of joy that fill your white space will likely look different to mine.

Not all white space is filled by the unexpected.

Sometimes it remains empty.

It’s these moments I enjoy the most.

Time to breathe, reflect and dream....



I’ll be back next week with tips for clearing the clutter from your schedule to create white space.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 9th November 2015.


Ladybirds – the good and the bad

Ladybirds - distinguishing the good from the bad. Little eco footprints

There are masses of 28-spotted ladybirds feasting on my potato patch and gobbling my zucchini leaves.

The majority of Australian ladybirds are beneficial. But there’s a handful of ladybird species that are far from helpful. It’s important to be able to distinguish the good guys from the bad – because you don’t want to accidentally squish one of your garden helpers.

The majority of Australia’s 500 species of ladybirds are great garden helpers.

They prey on sap-sucking garden pests including aphids, scale insects and mites.

A good guy - the common transverse ladybird. Little eco footprints

In my garden at the moment I've noticed the common transverse ladybird and....

A good guy - the spotted amber ladybird. Little eco footprints

..the spotted amber ladybird.

Both are particularly abundant in my sweetcorn patch.

These good guys are welcome in my garden any-time.

They are presumably feasting on the aphids and mites that are trying to suck sap from my corn plants.

The spotted amber ladybird is so good at managing aphids that it can be purchased as a biological control measure for crops. Eggs are sold on strips of tape that are attached to plants. The larvae then hatch and hunt down aphids. Having these guys in my garden is like having free on-site natural pest control workers busying themselves protecting my plants from pests.

But there are a few ladybirds that are not welcome in my garden.

A leaf eating 28 spotted ladybird. little eco footprints

The 28-spotted ladybird is one of them.

It’s one of only eight species of plant-eating ladybirds present in Australia.

These leaf-eating ladybirds can wreak havoc in your garden.

They are particularly fond of plants in the Cucurbitaceae and Solanaceae families, including zucchini, pumpkin, cucumbers, melons, potato, and tomato.

Their numbers can explode seemingly overnight. If left to their own devices, they can defoliate whole plants.

Each time I wander through the garden I squish as many as possible – one of my least-liked garden tasks.

If you don’t like the idea of squashing them, you can push them into a container of soapy water or methylated spirits. Neither method is nice, but in the scheme of things, it’s better than the broad-scale application of pesticides that is used to manage these pests in most commercial crops.

Before you start squishing, it’s important that you can distinguish a good guy from the bad.

You don’t want to squish one of your willing workers.

A bad guy munching on my zuchinni leaves - a 28-spotted ladybird. Tricia Hogbin

The easiest way to recognise a 28-spotted ladybird is to watch it. Is it eating leaves? The characteristic windowing or skeletonised leaf damage it leaves behind is easy to recognise.

If you are still not sure then you can count the spots. There's 13 spots on each elytra (wing shield) and two more on its pronotum (bit behind it's head). 

On the topic of ladybird morphology - check out this wonderful interactive ladybird morphology tool. Perfect for children wanting to learn about ladybeetle bits. 

The common spotted ladybird, a good bug, is probably the most similar looking, but it has much larger and fewer spots.

The fact that the 28-spotted ladybird has taken off in my garden tells me my plants are stressed.

That doesn't surprise me, because I've been intentionally stingy on the water for my potatoes, thinking they could tolerate it. But apparently not.

I topped up my mulch and watered deeply. Infrequent heavy watering is better than more frequent light watering that might not penetrate the mulch.

We've since had a little rain and the number of 28-spotted ladybirds has decreased considerably. 

A outbreak of 28-spotted ladybirds may also be caused by nutrient deficiency. Top-dress with compost and give your plants a good drink of weed tea or seaweed extract and they’ll be more resistant to pests.

If your plants are struggling to deter pests, its also a good idea to check that your soil isn't too acidic or too alkaline. You can pick up a soil test kit from a nursery or hardware store.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 2nd November 2015.