DIY Gifts from the Heart – Christmas Terrarium

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It’s that time of year again. Time has flown and it’s Christmas gift time.  As usual, I am going with the theme of my children making gifts for family.  This teaches them to look beyond the commercialisation of this time of year, and to express their love for family by transforming regular household items into items of beauty that I’m sure their family will treasure.

The last few years we’ve made edible goods. This year I decided to do something different. One day when I was looking at old jars, I decided to start collecting them to upcycle them by reusing them rather than recycling them.  This started my plan many months ago to make terrariums for family members using old jars.

A terrarium is essentially a jar with a plant growing inside it. It can either have a lid and be sealed, or it could be open.  Those with lids create a mini ecosystem in that evaporation forms condensation which ends up watering the plant.  Many plants can be planted in a terrarium, from decorative plants, to succulents.

As I was using reused glass jars, I decided to have an open terrarium and use existing succulents I had around my garden.

So how to get started and what do you need?

  • Old jars, cleaned
  • Large pebbles
  • Cloth
  • Soil – preferably one for bonsai or cacti as they have good draining qualities
  • Horticultural / activated charcoal

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Method

Place the pebbles at the bottom of the jar to about 2 cm. This helps with drainage and to keep your plants healthy.

I added some extra coloured pebbles and going with the Christmas theme, I had green, red and silver.

I cut a small bit of cloth (I used an old reusable cloth bag) and put over the pebbles before adding the soil layer because I didn’t want the layers to mix much.

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I added some activated charcoal then the soil. The activated charcoal acts to keep your terrarium fresh and stops any bad odours. Pat the soil down to prevent air bubbles.

I then added my plants. As my jars were small, I only used 1 to 2 plants per jar.  I added some more decorative pebbles on top and viola – done!

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The terrarium needs to be lightly watered through a sprayer about once a week, so it should be low maintenance.

My children were involved in all aspects of this activity, from choosing the colours and order of the layers, to selecting the plants to the actual plants. I know that they’re going to be so proud to give this to their family.

There are a lot of videos on how to make these and I share a few with you below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cy5btxZHaEw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3WuoU5-Rjs

It’s not too late to start your own DIY gifts from the heart project this Christmas. So what are you waiting for? Continue reading

The paste test

For World Environment Day this year, I went along to an event at my old university: Macquarie University.  In fact, the event was held at the Lighthouse Theatre which brought back many memories of student plays, late night boogies and flirtations. This is where I met many of my dearest friends and where I also met my husband.

Love

Facilitating my trip down memory lane was Costa Georgiades. I really enjoyed his enthusiasm and passion and one thing that he talked about was toothpaste – yes toothpaste. He was talking about how to engage with your family and friends and suggested sticking a tube of toothpaste in the middle of the dinner table during a dinner party and talking about toothpaste – the good and the bad. This has also recently come to light as many of the mothers in my mother’s group are trying to encourage good dental care in their children and are wondering if they should add toothpaste to encourage their toddlers to brush.

Following the event, I did start a conversation with some friends around toothpaste over lunch – but now I’m going one step further and writing this blog with the hope of sharing some of my research.

The use of toothpaste goes back millennia.  It has been used to maintain good oral hygiene and different things have been used to achieve this.  Usually toothpaste has been used to help in the mechanical motion of brushing. In fact most teeth are cleaned very well with a simple brush without anything, however over time fluoride has been added into the mix.  Toothpaste usually includes different ingredients to provide an abrasive surface, thereby allowing the brushing action to be more effective.

Micro-beads

micro toothpaste

Some toothpastes even contain plastic.  Micro-beads are tiny plastic particles added to things like toothpastes and exfoliating scrubs for abrasion.  In toothpaste they seem to be added only for the ‘pretty’ factor.

These micro-beads are made of polyethylene and polypropylene. These plastics don’t break down and are increasingly being found in oceans and waterways.  Various states in the US have already banned products with micro-beads, but other places such as Europe and Australia are lagging.  There are different players in the cosmetic industry however that are starting to move away from the use of micro-beads in their products. For more on micro-beads, please check out the following links:

Company commitments and Products with and without micro-beads.

The use of micro-beads in toothpastes such as Crest are well known.  These pieces of plastic do not breakdown and find their way wedged in small crevices in our mouth. So one of the first things to do in moving towards healthier toothpastes is to not use any toothpaste that has coloured specks in the gel and stay away from any that list polyethylene as an ingredient.

The use of some chemicals in toothpaste and their health impacts is debatable, however I will list some along with a balancing point of view and leave it to you to decide.

Flouride

Soudium flouride has been added to toothpaste for many years with the intent of avoiding tooth decay.  However this is also seen to be a carcinogenic ingredient that when ingested in large quantities can cause paralysis, convulsions and cardiac arrest.  Thankfully though, you would have to eat a lot of toothpaste for that to happen though.

Having said that however, it is a major issues, as fluoride is also added to drinking water (LINK) and overuse of fluoride can have the opposite effect of improving dental hygiene by causing dental fluorosis. In the US, this condition was found in 40% of teenagers.  For more information on fluoride, please go to: Flouride information

dental flourosis

I am now purchasing toothpaste free of fluoride and if you wanted to prevent over-exposure, as stated on the box don’t swallow toothpaste and keep away from children under 6 years of age.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

This product comes from palm oil and is added to toothpaste to create the lovely foamy mouth that you get – giving you that getting clean feeling.

SLS is a corrosive agent that is found in lots of cleaning products and degreasers, so yes, it cuts through plaque, but probably harmful to other parts of your body too and despite best efforts not to swallow toothpaste I’m sure much sneaks in.

SLS

Triclosan

This chemical is added to toothpaste for its antibacterial qualities. Triclosan is said to be very toxic to humans and cause cancer and be a skin irritant.  In animal tests it’s been shown to impact hormonal regulation.

Other studies that have analysed its use in toothpaste however have stated that it is beneficial to prevent gingivitis. Now could gingivitis be treated another way that isn’t so harmful? Maybe. In fact, the US Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the use of triclosam in all products which includes clothing, kitchenware, furniture, and toys, antibacterial soaps and body washes.

Hydrated silica

This is added to toothpaste to provide an abrasive surface to take off enamel and stop enamel on your tooth re-minerilising.  As you can imagine of course, over-use can take off enamel from your teeth leading to tooth-decay.

If you’d like to read from the other side of the debate – essentially stating that none of these claims are true, please go to: Toothpaste Safety implications and toothpaste and cancer myths.

Conclusion

Overall, I think it’s important to take a balanced view.  You can maintain good dental hygiene without toothpaste by using bicarb soda, coconut oil and plain water. The main thing is to brush properly – try this toothbrush jam and groove yourself to better brushing technique.

I’ve already moved my kiddies away from the major brand toothpastes and my toddler doesn’t use toothpaste at all. I probably will continue to use toothpaste – too used to the feeling, but will use ones without these nasties and also will go for a palm oil alternative such as: Riddles Creek Organic toothpaste or Miessence (http://www.miessence.com/shop/en/category/3/body-oral-care), Pure & Green toothpaste

Group Of Young Friends Together

Eating yourself a rainbow

http://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-watercolour-paints/
http://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-watercolour-paints/

My daughter is really into rainbows – like really into them. She draws rainbows everywhere. With chalk on walls. With paint on canvases. With pencils on paper.

I always try to feed my children healthy snacks and what better time to do that then the start of summer. Well to be honest, the last month has felt like summer. Spring has totally been skipped in Sydney which is very alarming to me. But back to the rainbows. On Saturday, I decided to make a rainbow fruit platter.

Apart from being pretty and very appealing to a rainbow obsessed little girl, there is in fact a lot of science behind this theory. Fruit and vegetables come in different colours and these colours are caused by phytochemicals.   Each different colour has a set of antioxidants which helps your body in different ways:

Red

Examples: Tomato, Red capsicum, Radishes, Strawberries, Rhubarb, Cherries, Red grapes, Raspberries, Watermelon and Red apples.

Benefits: red fruit and vegetables have lycopene. This is a powerful antioxidant which reduces the risk of some cancers and protects the heart.

Blue/ Purple

Examples: Beetroot, Red cabbage, Eggplant, Blackberries, Blueberries, Purple grapes and plums

Benefits: Blue and purple foods get their colour from anthocyanin.  The darker the colour towards blue, the higher the level of phytochemical. Blueberries for example are considered a ‘superfood’ and have the highest antioxidant activity of any food. The blue and purple foods are considered to help keep your blood pressure in check.
Green
Examples: Spinach, Asparagus, Avocados, Broccoli, Peas, Green apples, Green grapes, Limes, Kiwifruit, Green beans, Lettuce,Cabbage,Celery, Cucumber and Green capsicum
Benefits: Green foods include a whole range of goodies, like chlorophyll, cartenoids, indoles and saponins. They have cancer fighting properties also.
Orange/ Yellow
Examples: Carrots, Rockmelon, Lemons, Sweet potato, Pumpkin, Pineapples, Mangoes, Corn, Oranges, Squash, Peaches, Nectarines, Apricots and Grapefruit
Benefits: These coloured fruit and vegetables have cartenoids, especially betacartenoids.  They have anti-inflammatory qualities and are great for your eyes and skin and helps your muscles after exercise.
White/ colourless/ brown
Examples: Cauliflower, Brown pears, Mushrooms, White peaches, Garlic, Bananas, Potatoes, Dates, Onions, Ginger, Parsnips and Turnip
Benefits: These foods contain a phytochemical called alicin (found in garlic) which have anti-viral and antibacterial properties. These foods also support healthy bones and reduces the risk of osteoporosis and reduces blood cholesterol levels.

Many schools these days have ‘crunch and sip’ where children take in fresh fruit or vegetables to have during class time with water.  This, along with lunches and recesses provide great opportunities to include a ‘rainbow’ in lunchboxes for children.  There is a great website which makes this fun with lots of ideas for parents and teachers.

rainbow fruit

Wheelbarrow gardening!

I had this old wheelbarrow and its tyre became flat. I couldn’t figure out how to pump it and after taking it back to the store I bought it from to see how I could get a new wheel, I was told it was easier to get a new wheelbarrow. Rather than throw it out, I decided to upcycle it into a mobile garden with the help of my kids.  The great thing about having a mobile garden is that you can move it to suit your needs. For example, there are places in my garden that are very shaded in winter and other areas that would be too hot in summer. I can use the wheelbarrow to move the garden to suit the season.

Before
Before

This became one of our projects during the school holidays.  First we painted it – they chose all the colours and actively painted the wheelbarrow with little assistance from me.

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We then visited a gardening store where each child got to choose a vegetable and a flower to plant in the wheelbarrow.  They chose some interesting ones: cabbage and cauliflower and some regular ones like carrot and strawberries.  I planted some Chinese greens too because they’re fast growing. It is only when you have your own garden that you realise the effort and time it takes to grow food. So I think one of the positives about growing food with children is to teach them patience. In spite of this, the fast growing and not likely to fail Chinese greens were also planted to keep the kids interested.

Happy little planters
Happy little planters

The beauty of this activity is that the kids were involved in the whole process.  They were so excited to choose the colours and to paint it and then again to choose their own flowers and vegetables to plant. The flowers as well as attracting bees, were planted because they add colour and are pretty.

They’ve really loved this activity and have taken great pride in it. My daughter almost daily visits her strawberries and counts them. After we harvested the Chinese greens, I had my son help to cook it up and we had it for dinner.  So another benefit is that they’re getting healthy eating habits too.

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Yum-o!
Yum-o!

I understand that not everyone has a house or access to space to grow food. Many schools have gardening clubs, so kids can become involved there. At home, it’s possible to grow some herbs in the kitchen, or if you have a common area, you can help to start a verge garden or community garden of sorts. Many edible plants grow really well in pots on balconies. You can even make a mini greenhouse using an old plastic soft drink bottle.  I think the important thing is to be creative. Look at what resources you have and start a project today!

Mini-Greenhouse
Source: http://craftingagreenworld.com/2014/04/10/spotted-mini-greenhouse-plastic-bottle/

A Good Day

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One doesn’t often have the opportunity to say ‘yay’ and celebrate an environmental win. Today however I could say that. Today the Federal Court overturned the approval of the Carmichael Mine at Abbot Point near the Great Barrier Reef. LINK to article.

The proposed coal mine would have had a serious impact on the Great Barrier Reef. It was the source of one of my grumbles last year (https://ecomummy.com/2014/07/29/protect-the-great-barrier-reef/). So it was with much relief and excitement that read today that the Federal Court overturned the approval. It still can go ahead, which is why the pressure on the government and Greg Hunt must continue.

Please sign this petition or better  still contact Greg Hunt directly:

Greg Hunt MP
Member for Flinders
Minister for the Environment
Postal Address:
PO Box 274
Hastings Vic 3915
Electorate Office:
Shop 4/184 Salmon Street
Hastings Vic 3915
Phone: 03-5979 3188
Fax: 03-5979 3034

But that excitement wasn’t enough because today, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia joined other banks in not wanting to do business with Adani (the project proponent).

While there is always much to do, it’s always great to celebrate achievements.

celebrate-accomplishments

National Tree Day and Other ways to get Children Active in the Environment

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I am always trying to get my children active and thinking about the environment.  They are usually pretty responsive and study various aspects of environmental protection at school and pre-school. But I like to take it one step further and get them outside with their hands digging in the dirt.  Today was the perfect opportunity  for this, being National Tree Day.

My Council, Lane Cove, organised a tree planting day very close to me. It was great because we started the day with a bushwalk along Stringbark creek to a  park that we often go to.  My older two and my niece loved the walk. They kept talking about how exciting it was to walk through the ‘forest’.  I’m very lucky in that I have a little bit of bush so close to me. Many don’t and probably don’t get many opportunities to simply wander amongst so many trees.

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The other exciting part of the day of course, was all the digging that was involved. To my surprise all three loved planting. Well I have to say I was most surprised with my son as he doesn’t usually show that much interest at home.

So a little about National Tree Day. This is a national event where local communities come together to plant trees and shrubs. It started in 1996 and to date over 22 million plants have been planted by over 3.5 million volunteers.

What I loved about today was the fact that it really felt like a community event. Council Bushcare workers and volunteers were on hand to give knowledge and encourage everyone’s participation.  It really warmed my heart to meet these dedicated folk that work tirelessly to propagate all those  trees and regenerate urban bushland areas which are usually so polluted and affected by urbanisation.

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Overall, the day was a success and I am a very happy eco-mummy.

The other thing I’d like to share is an initiative called ‘Cool Australia’s Enviro Week’. http://www.enviroweek.org/

Basically, it’s a program to encourage the participation of young folk in the protection of our environment throughout a year.  You can participate in a few ways: by yourself or a group of friends, through your class or your school.  You make a pledge as to what you will do and the pledges are all positive things that can be done by anyone like gardening, having waste free lunches, spending quiet time in nature …..

So far I’ve volunteered my kids as a group, but will also ask my son to suggest it to his teacher as something that they can do as a class or indeed a school.

I encourage you to check out the website and see how you or someone that you know of can get involved.

Enviroweek

Fun activities with children on World Environment Day

Today, June 5 is World Environment Day.  The day almost caught me by surprise. The weather has definitely turned chilly in Sydney over the last week. While chilly in the morning, it is beautifully clear and somewhat warm in the day. So on this day I’m trying to think of some fun things I can do with my children to give thanks to our planet and acknowledge all that it gives us.

Here are some ideas:

Get out! There is a small bush track which is very do-able for children near me, so I plan on taking a little bushwalk with my daughters. Along the way I’ll point out trees, flowers, teach them to be silent and hear the sounds of the creek and leaves under their feet. If you don’t have bush near you, maybe just look out at the sky, look at the clouds and any birds or trees that may be present.

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Plant a tree.  There is an initiative this World Environment Day called ‘Do Something!’ where it is encouraging people to ‘plant one tree per child’. I might not plant a tree per child (I have three!), but I will plant one today and will do it with my children.

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Grow some food. Not many children have exposure to growing food. If you have a garden, then great get some seeds and get planting. If not, then get some herbs in a pot and get them to help you maintain it and pick leaves to add to salads. Get them to feel the leaves, crush it and smell it….

Paint – Children love to paint and today you can ask them to paint what they see, or what their ideal world would look like. You could even make your own paint. Here is a recipe for for homemade watercolours:

1/2 cup bicarb soda

1/4 cup corn starch

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar syrup

Natural food colouring

Ice cube tray

Mix all ingredients together on a container or bowl.  Stir immediately with a fork to combine until thickened. Pour small amounts into an ice cub tray, then add some food colouring, use immediately, or leave to dry.

http://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-watercolour-paints/
http://happyhooligans.ca/homemade-watercolour-paints/

Get crafty using recycled materials. Use egg cartons, cereal boxes, lids of milk bottles, old paper – anything really and get creative.

Give back to others. There are a number of elderly people on my street and one recently broke her hip. I never got to drop by, so hopefully in the next little bit I can get my kids to help bake some cookies and drop by and say hello. It’s so important to teach children empathy and how to care for others.

If you’ve done anything today to give thanks to Mother Earth, then let me know. I’d love to hear about it!

Childhood adventures to save the planet!

BOgey Bugz

If you were to create an environmental mascot, what would it be? Would it be a panda? A koala? Or a frog? How about a booger?  Well it was this in fact that inspired Martin Lever and his daughter Remi to create the ‘BogeyBugz’ book series.  I met Martin and Remi some years ago when I lived in Abu Dhabi. When the books were launched, he gave us a copy of the book series as a gift. At the time my son was too young to fully understand the books. But as he got older he grew to LOVE the books.  He knows all the characters off by heart and their characteristics. We had to read the BogeyBugz every night and they’ve now been a part of our lives for about 4 years. Now that my son and daughter are sharing a room, we’ve introduced the book series to her and so another BogeyBugz fan has been made.

The BogeyBugz are a great book series that teach children about different environmental issues ranging from global warming, to deforestation and pollution in a fresh way that isn’t too preachy. They’re colourful and fun and aimed at teaching these concepts to children. The books also have a ‘Facteria’ section which acts like a quiz to reinforce the concepts.

I was lucky enough to talk to the author and illustrator of the BogeyBugz, Martin Lever.

How did the concept of the Bogey Bugz come about?

I used to tell my daughter “made-up” stories when she was younger at bedtime. One evening as we were settling down for a new tale, she picked her nose as little ones do! And an idea popped into my head. What if Bogeys could be good things not bad things! Remi liked the idea…and we started to work out the characters, their personalities, and think of a cause which they could champion.

Why did you want to send out an environmental message in these books targeted at kids?

We love our planet. Sir David Attenborough is largely to thank in many ways! And while we’re not hardcore environmentalists, it’s depressing to see how much harm mankind has done to our incredible home. We also noticed that there is little to no written material for pre-schoolers and early primary schoolers that addresses the simple rights and wrongs when it comes to the environment. This seemed like a natural cause for a bunch of maverick Bogeys to adopt!

 

How were you able to make these complex environmental problems into ‘adventures’ and ‘fun’ for kids?

The key to these stories was marrying reality (ie. a real environmental problem) with fantasy. Roald Dahl was a master of the absurd. And we (I say “we” because Remi helped plot out the tales!) took inspiration from his work in trying to find the most abstract solutions to real world problems. Children’s minds are a wonderfully free-flowing font of imagination. So for every environmental issue, I simply asked myself “how would a child solve this?!”

Will the BogeyBugz go on any more adventures?

The BogeyBugz are out there right now “pickin it for the planet”. And when they get back in touch with me, I’m sure they’ll have some new adventures that need writing up

My son has a question for you: ‘Does Plasmo really know the answer to everything?’

Plasmo likes to think he knows everything! But as with all “know-alls”, he sometimes gets things wrong.

 

Well overall the books get the thumbs up from my children. My son’s favourite is ‘The Big Melt’ which is about global warming and how the Bogey Bugz save the ice caps from melting by using ice cream!

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If you wanted to buy a copy of the books you can buy them online at:

http://www.amazon.com/The-BogeyBugz-Environmental-Adventures-Set/dp/9889979578

To find out more about Martin Lever and check out his talents in writing and art, go to:

https://www.behance.net/martinlever and http://www.martinlever.com/index.html