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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

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

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. 

 

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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. 

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

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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.

My favourite festive season tradition is our countdown to Christmas.

We make an advent calendar from natural materials.

Last year we used clay.

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.

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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.

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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.

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