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On taking a breather (my midlife gap year)

Two and a half years; that’s a long time between blog posts. I declared 2017 my ‘midlife gap year’—a year off to focus on living life rather than earning a living. A year to pause and ponder before moving onto the second half of my life. I embraced all the ‘r’ words: retreat, reflection, reevaluation, rejuvenation, and restoration. I found the whole experience so worthwhile, my midlife gap year extended to two years. It took that long for my pause to pay off, for me to reemerge—restored, renewed and ready.

Small school visits tiny home 1Liv’s small school visits to measure our tiny home for a maths lesson. 

I know stepping away from paid work is a luxury, but it was made possible in part by us living in a tiny home.

Small school visits tiny home 2

We’ve been living in our shipping container home for just over three years, but the approval paperwork has only recently been finalised. Our tiny home is finally "suitable for occupation/use." That we were living in our tiny home illegally is probably another reason I was quiet in this space. I was uncomfortable writing about our tiny home life when we could have been asked to move out at any time. But now that we’re legal I suspect I’ll find my tiny home voice.

Small school visits tiny home 3

It was hard to stop doing, and simply be. In the beginning, I’d cringe each time someone asked me “What do you do?” But by the end I responded with confidence, “Right now, I’m taking a midlife gap year.” If they seemed interested, I’d chat about what I did and what I am going to do, but I was no longer embarrassed about the not doing. We need to respect and normalise the breathers in between.

The breather gifted me clarity about where I am going and what I am trying to achieve. At first, I worried my taking time off paid work was selfish, but I realise now it has helped me to be self-less. I know I’m on the right path, and have become far more patient about how long it will take me to get where I’m going.

I’ve continued writing these past few years. I’m writing a memoir about nature connection. I didn’t feel like writing elsewhere while I poured everything into that. But the end is almost in sight and I’m looking forward to writing elsewhere again.

Nature connection and Shamanic Womancraft 1A few bits and pieces I collected over my year-long four seasons journey with the School of Shamanic womancraft. Each object reminds me of a lesson.

The first half of my breather I focussed on not doing. I retreated and reflected. I created white space and then turned to my intuition to fill it. I found myself studying with the School of Shamanic Womancraft where I discovered that wonderful things happen when we live in sync with the cycles and seasons of life and nature—in particular, when we embrace the dark aspects of those natural rhythms. The moon waxes and wanes. She has a dark phase—a time for retreat and reflection. The seasons come and go. We have autumn—a time for release and harvest. Then comes winter—a time to rest and snuggle. The cycles influence us whether or not we are paying attention. And if we don’t pay attention, if we don’t pause in the darkness, we pay for it.

Autumn Inside Time Outside Nature Connection for women Newcastle NSW 1

Since stepping out of my midlife gap year I’ve been hosting seasonal nature connection gatherings for women in the Newcastle region. The winter series starts soon if you are interested in joining us. More information at itowinter.eventbrite.com.

Autumn Inside Time Outside Nature Connection for women Newcastle NSW 2

Autumn Inside Time Outside Nature Connection for women Newcastle NSW 3

Autumn Inside Time Outside Nature Connection for women Newcastle NSW 4

I’m also hosting two gatherings with Milan Dhiiyaan at our place in the Hunter Valley this weekend (8 & 9th June). An important aspect of nature connection for me is learning about the culture of those indigenous to this land; about how they connect to country. On Saturday we’ll carve our own clapsticks and on the Sunday Wiradjuri & Wailwaan woman Fleur Magick Dennis will teach the women how to connect to Mother Earth through ceremony, while the men and children make a gunya (Aboriginal shelter). And if you join us, you'll get to have a peek into our tiny home :-)

While I was on hiatus, little eco footprints celebrated its 10th birthday. So I thought it was about time I wrote an about page. Only took me a decade ;-)


How to create the time to live YOUR fair and sustainable life?

Your fair and sustainable life

Almost a year ago I wrote here that I was going to step away from this space for a month - to focus on home and start the new year with a calm mind and a clear vision.

It seems one month wasn't enough. This space became one of the many casualties of me ruthlessly clearing the clutter from my schedule. A move that was necessary for me to move even closer to living the life that I aspire to.

We can't have and do everything - we have to choose. And I chose to focus on home for a while.

I practiced what I preach. I simplified my schedule, scheduled in white space, said goodbye to contaminated time, and focused on doing whats important - not urgent

Little eco footprints tny home 1

Speaking of whats important. We finally finished and moved into our tiny home. Here's a sneak peak. 

Little eco footprints tiny home 3

Little eco footprints tiny home 2

I'll share more in the new year. For now I wanted to pop back in briefly to let you know about a free workshop I'll be delivering tomorrow at the Newcastle Fair Share Festival.

The full program looks incredible; teenagers building a tiny home, loads of upcycling workshops, alternatives to consumerism and consumption, and urban farming. 

I'm facilitating a free two hour workshop on 'Creating time to live YOUR fair and sustainable life'. I'd love to see you there. 

I've missed this space and am looking forward to returning in the new year. 

 


Slowing down to start the new year with calm and clarity

Homegrown_Sunflowers_little_eco_footprints

I'm taking our calm and connected countdown to Christmas a step further - and am stepping away from the online world for December.

I want to focus on home and start the new year with a calm mind and a clear vision. 

Sunfower_and_bees_Little_eco_footprints

A thought to leave you with - especially relevant at this time of year:

Our presence is the best gift we can give our loved ones - particularly our children.

Our presence tells them they are noticed, important and loved more than any present ever could.

I'll be back in the New Year. 

Wishing you a calm and connected festive season. xx

My weekly columns will continue to appear in Monday's Newcastle Herald until the end of the year - I just won't republish them here. 

This Monday I wrote about supporting local garlic growers. I included a list of local Hunter region garlic growers.

edited to add: I've just realised half of the Hunter garlic growers were dropped off the article. The list should have also included: 

Moore Wollumbi Garlic
Pokolbin Purple
Patrice Newell Garlic
Stellar Garlic

For those of you outside the Hunter region - you can find lists of Australian garlic growers here and here


A calm and connected countdown to Christmas

Natural_advent_calendar2_Little_eco_footprints

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.

Natural_advent_calendar1_Little_eco_footprints

This year we used Jacaranda seed pods. 

Natural_advent_calendar3_Little_eco_footprints

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

Natural_advent_calendarH_Little_eco_footprints

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.

Natural_advent_calendar4_Little_eco_footprints

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.