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Christmas austerity . . . bah humbug

I loathe Christmas. The crass commerciality. The Northern Hemipsphere-themed decorations in, what, October? Managing expectations. Too many end-of-year events. The self-imposed pressure to do everything right. Resenting expectations. Being exhausted/wanting to hide in a cave somewhere. Present frenzy. Tired, over-it kids.

“Why are we doing all this?”

Why indeed.

December 1 saw me attempt to decorate The Tree with the kids. We got the string of golden stars draped around our rather modest potted Norfolk pine and then . . . meltdown. Small people fighting over decorations, a teenager entirely uninterested in anything except a book. How hard could it be to do something nice together, I thought? So, I packed away the Christmas decorations, after a little rant about not sharing and do-as-you-please attitudes, and informed the brood that we would be adding one decoration per day and as they were added they were to think about The Meaning of Christmas. Oh dear.

However, our eldest, who is fourteen (not the one with the book), came up with a lovely idea. She traced out a Christmas tree with string on a corkboard, trimmed it with some co-ordinating decorations in our higgeldy-piggeldy collection and found online some printable tags for us to write down one thing each day for which we were grateful and pin to the tree, with almost a month’s worth of gratitude waiting for us after Christmas. We did this most days, at dinnertime, and although we have yet to read all our tags, just the doing was enough to get us all thinking less about what we wanted or were unhappy about, and more about the good things what we already had.

Let’s try that again . . .

I love Christmas. I’m a December baby, so this month has always been exciting to me. I’m a bit like Wombat in Mem Fox’s Wombat Divine . . .

Wombat loved Christmas. He loved the carols and the candles, the presents and the pudding.

I love going Christmas light spotting with the kids, pulling out the decorations from under the house and stringing them about the place in mismatched glory, reading Christmas stories with the little ones, watching some favourite, ever-so-slightly-cheesy Christmas movies with the kids . . . Miracle on 34th Street, Polar Express and A Christmas Carol (the animated Jim Carrey version – is Jim Carrey ever not animated?) . . . and choosing presents.

I worried about how much we spent on gifts for our children and our extended family as opposed to how much we gave to charity. Our six-year old chose a small gift to take to school for their charity Christmas drive, we made a  modest cash donation and bought our Christmas  cards from one of the charities we support, and our four children each chose a special gift for a child in migration detention in Australia, which they loved doing. We stick pretty well to a budget and don’t go for flashy presents, except for a bike or a special art class at odd times for which grandparents and uncles and aunties usually chip in too, but when I totted it all up the contrast was stark.

10:1, roughly (including the gifts on behalf of Santa Claus), in favour of our first-world white children and their cousins and a couple of thank-you gifts for our kind and supportive parents.

It was amazing to see it, and think about what we could have done with that money. Solar panels for a family in East Timor, sponsor a child’s quality education in Africa and leave change.

Why were giving gifts to each other on a budget instead of paying it forward extravagantly?

It didn’t seem to fit with the idea of healing love and a small baby who was supposed to be a world-changing gift, or the story of St Nick delivering presents and kindness to those who needed it most.

It’s a common theme, whether it is wrapped in sermons to “keep Christ in Christmas” or blog-posts on not buying-in (boom) to the materialist consumerist waste-fest, give time not presents etc.

Partly, I agree with the sentiments and partly they irk me. It seems a little humbug and a little mean. Austerity is the new black, it seems, but should it be the new red-and-green?

Over the last couple of days, I have reflected on what we did give our children this Christmas.

We gave them time and love, spending a happy, peaceful day together, just the six of us, instead of our usual distracted and busy lives.

We gave them thoughtful gifts, things they needed, things to share and play with together and special things, longed-for and to be enjoyed.

We also gave them the opportunity to experience the pleasure of giving. Even Mr Four. I had forgotten just how much little ones enjoy giving out the presents! Our eldest was busy making gifts for everyone – simple, but ever-so-thoughtful. Our second created a gift card for the family to share a treat together, to be paid for our of her own money. And this year, I asked each of the children had to make or buy a gift for one of their aunties and uncles or grandparents in my family and they did so well, choosing thoughtfully, spending time making and presenting it carefully.

It was such a delight to see the gifts for our children, our nieces and nephews and our parents, chosen with care and love, gratefully received, and with pleasure. Surely that’s worth something.

So perhaps, that 10:1 ratio is a more of an investment in our family – in showing of love, having fun and in teaching to our children, my Grandma’s (famous in our family) maxim:

give generously and receive graciously.

That’s not to let us off the hook about how we give generously to the poor in our town, or our global neighbours or poor overstretched Mother Earth.

But I realised that our kids are already learning the lessons about caring for others, that they’re not materialistic monsters, they love giving and they understand the value of a simple, thoughtful gift.

 I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

The monthly donations, the everyday ethical choices, the commitment to tread lightly and advocacy and action for a more just world are Christmas everyday in small ways. Let’s ditch the sackcloth-and-ashes austerity Christmas and give joyously, generously and without guilt.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Our eco building project . . . starting?


Our project is still a paper dream, over six months after receiving council approval.

We’ve waited patiently for builders’ quotes.

We’ve whittled down those enormous figures to something a bit more manageable.

And, in the last week, after months of gathering all the information the bank needed to do a valuation so we could at last know if we had approval to finance this dream (no, we don’t have a spare $100K sitting in the bank account, sadly), we got our answer. Not the one we were hoping for.

Our initial budget was $80K-$100K, which is a heck of a lot of money to us, but we’d done our research on building costs, were confident that the architect could deliver an outcome within that budget and got the builder to give an initial estimate before we submitted our DA. All good, all on track.

By the time we get the formal fixed-fee quote which the bank requires, the budget had blown out by $65K, and we’d already spent $10K on professional fees plus were covering about $20K of expenses ourselves. So, we decided to ditch the side deck, pergola and new cladding. That saved about $20K and building materials we probably didn’t need. But still way beyond what we could comfortably afford. So, we dropped the garage, (we’re going to re-roof ourselves the teensy existing one for a couple of hundred dollars), joinery and the loungeroom window seat.

The end result is that about $125K of borrowed money, plus $20-30K of our own, adds about $90K value to our abode.

(Don’t you just love how three inconvenient zeros can be rendered by an innocuous capital K.)

Cold comfort that our budget and original estimates of end value were spot on.

All of which leaves us wondering how sustainable green building is if you can’t actually afford it without a massive loan? Or decades of saving? Or compromising the green bit – reducing building waste, recycling materials, low toxicity, quality work that will stand the test of time.

Is green a luxury?

Or is our idea of green unrealistic?







Not messing about too much with food

I’ve been enjoying exploring the world of variously raw-clean-vegan-whole foods (I’m a curious omnivore). There are really creative cooks (or whatever the not-cooking version of a cook is), with a passion for healthy, delicious food that doesn’t mess around too much with the basic – fresh and unprocessed – ingredients.

I quite like that. Throwing a few frozen bananas, some natural peanut butter, and a dash of cinnamon and maple syrup in the trusty Magimix to whip up “icecream” to go with my standard fruit platter for the hungry hordes post-school, is ideal, for someone who’d rather be gardening, is supposed to be working and should probably be vacuuming the remains of yesterday from under the table. Anyway, now the big kids do it themselves if they feel like an creamy icy fix – what’s not to love?

I’m not entirely convinced that a frozen squishy mix of vegetables, fruits and the seemingly inevitable coconut oil qualifies as cake or cookies or pudding . . . but some creations are truly delicious and pretty convincing alternatives to the traditional treats. Like the Vanilla Slice from Wholefood Simply. Incredible.vanilla-slice-1

Or these banana cookies I made recently.

Banana Cookies
Banana Cookies

The best thing about this non-fussy approach to food – besides how easy it is whip something up – is the (mostly) unadulterated tastiness of real, healthy food.

My current favourite place to find afternoon tea treats is Wholefood Simply and I also love The Healthy Chef, My New Roots and Plant-based Munchies for everything from breakfast to dinner.

What about you?

[true] Conservativism


What comes to mind?

 Good sound values, protective concern, rightful caution, the sanctity of hearth and home, kith and kin?


Inert certainty, stuffy moralism, judgmental rigidity, fearfulness?

It’s too easy to caricature and judge, fall into the trap of a dualistic ‘us v them’ mentality. But no one has all the answers and no one is completely wrong. (Here’s an interesting podcast on the benefits of stepping beyond our natural ‘moral tribes’).

I’m not so sure that rigidity, fearfulness, exclusion or inertia are confined to conservatives. Or rather that perhaps the negative aspects of conservatism are apparent across the spectrum of movements, beliefs, philosophies and politics.

The positives of conservatism have much to offer. There is value in caution, in not ditching the tried and true in favour of the latest rage, stepping back to analyse and assess rather than diving in. The precautionary principal underpins ecological protection, if an activity is accompanied by the risk of serious damage, that will outweigh any benefit. The values of hearth and home, kith and kin often find expression as parochialism and racism or so-called family values that give little space to the reality of our diverse human relationships. But, positively, those same values can provide a sanctuary, a place of security and nourishment or relationships of care and love.

Maules Creek on the big sky country of the Liverpool Plains in NSW is an endangered White Box-Gum Forest, the last of its kind and home to an amazingly diverse ecosystem. It’s also part of the Gomeroi nation. And the site of a massive open cut coal mine owned and operated by Whitehaven Coal. The mine, which has government approval despite community opposition and in the face of the precautionary principle, will require the Leard State Forest to be clear felled. It will substantially and negatively impact on the water table, which is estimated to drop 5-10 metres, and disrupt the subterranean water system. Most sobering perhaps, the mine will emit 30 million tonnes CO2 each year, equivalent to the annual emissions of New Zealand’s entire energy sector (see

It is also the location and focus of a campaign by an unlikely alliance of greenies, local farmers, the Gomeroi people and now, religious folk (apologies to religious folk for the twee appellation).

On 12 March 2014 at Maules Creek, elders and leaders of the Christian and Buddhist faiths, members of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), took a stand against the continued expansion of coal mining in Australia. The ARRCC (a rather piratical acronym) includes members from every major world religion and is committed to action on “the greatest moral challenge of our time”, to use the possibly prophetic, albeit now infamously hypocritical, coinage by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. (Yes, he really did say that.)

One of those leaders is Thea Ormerod, president of ARRCC, whose thought-provoking opinion piece in The Sydney Morning Herald raises the deliciously radical  concept of counter-cultural climate activism as conservative:

 The movement to wind down coalmining in Australia may be counter-cultural but it is the truly conservative one. Its aim is to keep the Earth’s ecosystems more or less intact for those who suffer the impact of climate change in developing countries, for our own young people here and for future generations. Not a radical position at all.

But as Ormerod states, people of faith are no strangers to the radical path, pointing to the non-violent resistance movements of anti-Apartheid and opposition to segregation.

The irony is that acting to safeguard Earth – creation, gift of God, Mother, sacred country, blessed realm – is now seen as radical, when really, it is the ultimate conservative position.

What could be more conservative than fighting for your home and your children’s future?

For more information on the Maules Creek campaign, and to get involved in the Alliance click here.

P.S I think there is a world of difference between this idea of conservative and the recently reported views of our Prime Minister concerning “ultimate conservationists”.

I want to live!

One of the silver linings of being a mum or dad is getting to watch kids’ movies, especially animated ones, with impunity.

And one of my favourites is Wall-E.

Wall-E  is old-school robot consigned to clean up a heavily polluted, uninhabitable urban Earth that humans have deserted for their intergalactic cruise liners hundreds of years ago. Wall-E just keeps going. Cleaning up. Watching musicals. (So far we have a lot of in common). But Wall-E is also a historian, a curator of an quirky trash ‘n treasure collection, and a custodian, not just of memories , but of life itself.

When the super-sleek latest model EVE lands on Earth for a regular search for signs of life, she comes upon Wall-E and is introduced to his most treasured find – an improbable seedling, green and alive in a brown landscape of towering junk. Seedling and Wall-E end up on the massive Axiom, where humans have settled into a sofa-bound life of mindless comfort and consumerism (all served by the trusty crew of robots – but that’s another story).

Even in the face of a (literally) crushing defeat by the Axiom’s sinister Auto Pilot, Wall-E does not opt out and leave the fledgling little seedling to be flushed out the airlock.

The little robot is more alive than the Axiom’s human passengers.

But then Captain, learning about Earth – home – for the first time, glimpses this. The centuries-long cruise has become a permanent exodus. Despite Auto’s evidence of an uninhabitable brown planet (that is almost unrecognisable to us), Wall-E’s little seedling fills him with the courage to declare – “I don’t want to survive . . . I want to live”.

[Of course, it ends happily and they all go home and grow a new Garden of Eden to the Peter Gabriel soundtrack (it is a kids’ movie after all). And now my almost-14 year old sage is telling me I have to read The Fault in Our Stars for a little intertextual Wall-E brilliance.]

I want to live. I want people to be alive, not surviving in miserable poverty or slaving away producing cheap crap that ends up polluting the land and sea and sky, nor simply, thoughtlessly consuming day by day. I want us to see Earth as home really. Take it under our wing and nurture it. Put ourselves on the line for it. Be custodians – for Earth, for each other.

Otherwise, we’re just surviving.