Thursday, May 31, 2012

Exercise & Learning Lessons.

Everyone knows that exercise is important.  As a doctor, I tell people every day how important exercise is.  Yet, like many people, I just don't enjoy exercising.  The closest I ever got to enjoying exercise was riding a bike.  Now that's fun.  Plus, using a bike instead of a car, is definitely part of going green, and would score me big points in my saving the environment challenge

So I thought about buying a bike, even a secondhand bike, but I didn't want to fall into the trap of paying money for exercise equipment that is not going to be used.  My first consideration was hiring a bike, certain cities (eg. Tel Aviv) have 'green bike' programs where you can rent and return bikes at docking stations throughout the city.  The concept is brilliant.  They've called it Tel-O-fun - see... I told you bikes are fun!
Unfortunately Modiin, does not yet have a Tel-O-fun system, and hiring a bike from my local bike shop just wasn't worth it.
Fortunately, my parents had an old bike lying unused in their garage (for the last  +-20 years) and they sent it to me with a friends' furniture shipment.

With no more excuses left, I 'upcycled' my broken bike with some new tyres and rode home.

Now which of you can spot the problem with the picture on the right of me riding the bike?
Don't cheat and scroll down to the rest of the story.
If you can't see it, ask your kids, they may be able to pick it out.

Answer: No helmet

The first place I rode to, was my book swap group. 
I got a lot of  "wow, that's impressive", even more of  "are you serious?"
and quite a few "Why do you not have a helmet!!?!*" 
To which I replied something about, well I don't ride fast, I'm just trying it out, I'm on the sidewalk not on the road blah blah blah...

The second place I rode to, was a meeting about e-cards.
On the way back, just a few metres from home, I crossed the road, at an angle, with a bump and fell.
Several "Oh my word, I'm so stupid"s later, I was in the semi-emergency room having a laceration on my face glued and a couple scrapes cleaned and bandaged.

I thought of posting the gory picture of me with blood dripping down my face, but some people consider that stuff gross.  So here's a pic of me with my bandaged eye and bruises.

The next day, I went to buy a helmet. 

Happy exercising everyone.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to make a kitchen from a cardboard box

Yesterday I spent the afternoon, building a kitchen... for my kids... from a cardboard box.

I found my inspiration on the Disney Family Fun site. and made a few adjustments.
Their plan is for a double unit, one part stove, one part cupbard & sink, but I wanted it to fit into my kids' plastic outdoor house.  The house could only fit one box, so I combined the sink and stove units and sacrificed some cupboard space.
DIY recycled play kitchen

large cardboard box  (I used an old moving box left behind after our kids' stuff swap.)
colored tape  (I couldn't find any colored packing tape, so I got the kind they use for electric cables)
craft knife (I put too much strain on my splice precision knife, -my fault, I still recommend the knife,- and found that a sharp scissors, and kitchen knife can also work if neccessary)
rimmed bowl (I try to avoid going out to buy MORE stuff, so I used an extra one from my kitchen)
soap dispensor pump (apologies to my sister Shiri who has no dispensor for her soap now)
plastic caps (I used ones without holes)
nail & hammer
screws & plugs (honestly, I didnt even use the plugs in the end, as the screws were stuck into the thick cardboard, but depending the thickness of your box, perhaps have them in case)
stay-tab from top of soda can (do you have a better name for it?)
permanent marker

Cardboard kitchen with oven and stoveHow to make a cardboard kitchen

1. turn cardboard box upside down
2. outline rimmed bowl on the top of the box, where you'd like your sink to be, and then use a craft knife to cut a circle about 1cm smaller than the bowl's diameter, then place your bowl inside. Consider using glue or tape to keep it in place.
3. make a small hole for a faucet and place the soap dispensor pump inside
4. draw a rectangle for the oven and use craft knife to cut out the top and sides of the oven.
5. use permanent marker to appropriately decorate the stove burners and stick them onto stovetop with superglue or glue gun.  I also put a piece of red tape under each of the burners, which gives the impression of a 'hot working stove'.
6. make holes in the caps, insert the screws and then push them into the box to make the knobs
7. use colored tape over hard jagged edges and for decor.
8. attach a stay-tab or alternative to just above the oven door with a screw to keep the oven door closed.
(Warning: after looking for a picture of a stay-tab, I saw several warnings regarding how they are choking hazards, if there will be small children playing with this kitchen, I would suggest using something else to close the oven, eg. a rectangular lid, that can swivel from horizontal to vertical thereby keeping the oven closed)

Enjoy making your own!

What's this all about?

One day, I kind of woke up and realised that I just wasn't taking responsibility.  I think of myself as a pretty responsible person, I am a mother, a doctor, a contributing member of society.  However, because of my actions, the environment was suffering. 

After a bit of web-surfing, it became apparent to me that everytime I throw something away, I am personally contributing to the growing landfills in my country.  Every time I buy new items, I am supporting increased use of energy, fuel, often unnecessarily. 

Soon, I found that there were several practical easy things I could do, to take responsibility, and I honestly couldn't think of any excuse not to do them.  In fact, some of them even became fun, which is why I decided to share this story with you, on a blog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

How to grow tomatoes from seed

Growing tomatoes is supposed to be very easy, and in my short experience, if you don't forget the watering, it really is.  I found a simple youtube video which gives clear guidelines on how to grow tomatoes from seed.

I used this Morgan & Thompson youtube video as a guide and made a few modifications.
Firstly, I did not invest in packet tomato seeds, and simply used the seeds from overripe baby tomatoes left in my fridge and destined for the trash.
I read somewhere that egg cartons make a good starting 'pot' as the water drains through them.
So I took half an egg carton, put it out on my kitchen windowsill and filled it with a nice compost mix (now I have no experience and no idea what makes a GOOD compost mix, so I simply used the only mix that my local garden store sells).
I then squeezed out the seeds (pips) from a few baby tomatoes - I actually used many baby tomatoes, on successive days as I didn't really have faith that they would grow.
But they did grow.

Tomato plant seedling in egg carton

The first time that I tried to grow tomatoes by seed, I didn't water them, and surprisingly, they didn't grow, so this time I was very religious about watering them well every day. 

And they grew, and grew and grew and grew.

It was really fun for the kids (and even more so for me) to watch the tiny germinated seedlings and note the appearance of the cotelydon leaves, and then the true leaves.  It was almost like my seedlings were acting straight from Renee's Garden's script. 

Tomato seedlings in egg cartonAfter the appearance of the first true leaves, I followed the instructions and transplanted to small pots.  My windowsill was full of little pots and I begged friends and family to 'adopt some of my seedlings', new seedlings continued to germinate in the egg carton but for lack of space and 'adoptive families', I had to put them out where they quickly dried out. 
I've read a lot about hardening off plants that were started from seeds indoors - I'm not sure if a windowsill is considered indoors - but for lack of patience I never hardened off any plants, and simply moved a few of them to a semi-shaded spot on the edge of the garden when I ran out of prime windowsill space.  Actually I would say those plants have done the best, so far.  Two of those outside plants were designated for my daughters, they each helped to transplant them and water them and it's very exciting as we watch the the plants literally grow from day to day.

Tomato plants grown from seed

Today I decided it was time to transplant my kids' tomato plants into their final destination.  Here's a video of how I did that.

Happy tomato growing everyone, if you have tomato plants too, let me know how they're going, and feel free to leave me tips.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

How to make a dollhouse from a cardboard box.

I grew up in a house with four girls, a big dollhouse and lots of plastic dolls.  I have great memories of playing with the dollhouse with my sisters and wanted the same for my kids - without buying an expensive dollhouse and plastic dolls which would probably end up destroyed in the dumps polluting the environment that I'm trying to save.

DIY cardboard box dollhouse

So I did a bit of research online, and decided to make a dollhouse from a cardboard box.
(I must admit that I found so many different examples of cardboard dollhouses online, that I'm not sure who to credit for my final design.)

Items needed:
a big box
scraps of wrapping paper
furniture magazines

Step 1: Find a box (I used the box from my sewing machine).
Step 2: Cut off the top 2/3 of the front side of the box.
Step 3: The bottom 1/3 that's left can be laid flat to represent the garden, and the bottom of the box taped shut.
Step 4:  Use the top 2/3 of the front that you have cut away to make the upper floor (second storey) (you may need to further cut it to size).
Step 5: Use strips of remaining cardboard and tape to reinforce the upper floor, ( I later added a piece of cardboard as a divider between the bottom 2 rooms which further reinforces the upper floor.
Step 6: Tape down old wrapping paper as the wallpaper/carpeting for each room.
Step 7: Cut out pictures of furniture and decor (eg. clock, closet etc) from magazines and glue onto the walls
Step 8: Spraypaint roof and outside of house (I still haven't done this...), paint garden green...
Step 9: Fill your house with furniture, we used furniture that we had been given as gifts, sand toy as the 'bath', I made a fridge from a small medicine box.  Check out this link for a great way to make recycled doll furniture.  (I already had furniture given as a gift, so I just modified those instructions for my toilet seat.

wooden peg dolls

The dolls in my house are a great alternative to plastic dolls (which break easier and I'm assuming are harder on the environment than these wooden dolls).
A friend of mine bought them for me from Etsy and we used craft koki's (markers) to color them.  You can also go to the general Etsy page and search wooden dolls to buy already-colored dolls, however I recommend doing them yourself - its fun and cathartic. 
I've since found that you can buy a variety of wooden people cheaper on Amazon  (using specifically the above link to amazon helps support my blog).

Colored wooden peg dolls

Hope you have lots of fun with your dolls and dollhouses, let me know how they turn out via  twitter or facebook.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fun green things to do with kids

Yesterday our city, Modiin, held a book swap where everyone was invited to bring old books or dvd's in good condition and to choose other ones to take home from the collection.  We took 5 items and were told we could 'on our honor' take home 5 alternate items (ie. there was no tickets or checking involved).

I took some healthy snacks in my bag and the kids and I had fun choosing books and a dvd. 

There was also a nice activity run by volunteers from the ecological farm in the area. 
We took pinecones and a fistful of local clay (I think it is collected from the riverbeds) and made porcupines

pine cone craft kidscraft with pinecones
Instructions: how to make the porcupine, take a pine cone and lay it on its side, squash a fistful of clay onto the side of the pine cone, leaving a lump near the pointed side of the cone. Mold the lump into the shape of a nose and smooth all the sides.  Finally, take a stick and poke holes for the eyes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What do drawsomething, marine art and blue bins have in common?

The three principles involved in 'saving the environment' are reduce, re-use and recycle.
When it comes to paper I think I can (for the right or wrong reason) abide by all three.

- I'm always saving things on gmail documents, or on my iphone, thereby reducing the amount of paper I use by writing things down or printing them :-) ...
- Many companies, including electricity, mobile phone and other companies offer to e-mail you your bills rather than printing and posting them.  I like this for many reasons; I usually forget to check the postbox anyway, this way I can archive them in gmail without wasting space in my small house on filing systems and of course, it brings me one step closer to my goal of saving the environment. If you're still not sweet on the concept, be aware that some companies offer incentives or specials if you sign up for their no-paper billing.
- I also, went through a big drawsomething phase, where I created many artistic masterpieces without wasting any paper at all.

When I'm finished with the paper that I really needed to print, like work presentations, notes from my years in university when I didn't have a laptop and the lecturers didn't e-mail us powerpoints... (wow, so oldschool), I divide it into really confidential, censored, and public.  Really confidential work documents unfortunately have to lawfully be shredded (although my impression is that the shredded pieces do go to recycling).  Censored items, I give to my kids for their countless drawings and art projects at home.  The public pages I collect and hand in at my kids ganim (nursery schools) for their art projects. 
-  Let me add that schools (especially for young kids) are a great place to give in items for re-use or upcycling.  Our school collects everything from cereal boxes and toilet rolls, to plastic tomato baskets and metal tea-candle holders.

A side note about our marine art project: we took a previously used piece of paper and painted a blue sea, on another page I drew some fish, and the kids colored in the fish.  We then used small round stickers from our craft drawer for the fish eyes.  Next we used leftover green playdough to make plants and plankton in the sea for the fish to eat.  We used kid scissors to cut out the fish and finally glued the fish onto the sea page.  It was a lot of fun, involved many different skills and was enjoyed both my 2 year old and my 4 year old.

We're lucky that we live in Modiin, in Israel and almost every building has its own big blue bin for recycling paper.  In addition, at work I have a paper recycling bin, and in my work parking lot there is a drop-off point for big cardboard boxes to be recycled.  (Of course, I can't fit all our big cardboard boxes in my car to drop them off, but I am under the impression that our city recycles the big cardboard boxes they collect anyway).
If you live in an area that doesn't have municipality collection of paper for recycling, investigate other options.  For example, my parents in South Africa have a private company Ronnie Recycling, who collect their paper weekly for free.

If you can suggest similar services in your city, please share the details in the comments section.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What is a kids' stuff swap?

In a previous post, I outlined my big plans for a kids' stuff swap. 
On Friday, I did indeed host the swap and there was good news and bad news.
Bad news - there wasn't a great turnout, there were 7 of us (not terrible, but I had invited many more)
Good news - one of the women brought so many items, there was enough for us all to find a great swap.
Great news - it was a fun morning, relaxing, drinking coffee and eating biscuits, hanging out with friends.

We had books, some toys and a lot of clothes in good condition (including some with the tags still attached).

I forgot to take photos during the actual event, but I did snap the lovely items I took for my daughters.
(My eldest daughter was very excited to have a new dress and fancy skirt, after growing out of her others)

I also took a photo of the huge bag of goods which were leftover, and later donated to charity.

All-in-all a successful event.  Try hosting your own and leave me a comment to let me know how it goes.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Weeds or Greens?

In my journey to get as green as I can (while sacrificing as little as possible), it came to me,
what could be greener than... green... lettuce.

So I put on my farmer's hat and sowed some lettuce seeds.  I generously allowed my children to help, thereby turning it into an educational activity and  awarding myself a 'good job mom' award.
For a couple of weeks we watered the soil, and eagerly observed for growing seedlings.  Soon something grew, something that looked a lot - like a weed.  Every day I googled lettuce seedlings, and strained my eyes trying to compare my little 'green things' to the pictures on the internet, trying to decide which were weeds and which were lettuce seedlings and prayed that I was pulling out the weeds and not the plants.
Eventually I came to the upsetting conclusion, that the lettuce hadn't grown and that all the growing greens
- were weeds.

My "vegetable patch to be' is situated in an unused area of our frontyard so that if you don't make a conscious effort to visit it, it can easily be forgotten.  Which is exactly what happened.  The abandoned patch was blessed with lots of winter rain, and grew tall with all sorts of exciting varieties - of weeds!
As the end of winter approached, the weeds started peering into the window of my children's bedroom and I decided that it was time to break out the gardening equipment and start weeding... I would say I was knee-high in weeds, but that would be an understatement - it was more like shoulder high, yet I had a nice surprise waiting for me at the finish line.

After de-weeding the vegetable patch, I actually found - vegetables.  Three small lettuce plants had actually survived my abandoning them through the charity of winter rains.  I was very inspired and continued watering them - and even treated myself to a piece of lettuce (after thoroughly washing it).

The reason, that until today I have only eaten one piece of lettuce is that I am Jewish, living in Israel, and after enjoying my first care-free lettuce leaf, I was reminded that I first needed to abide by certain laws of Teruma and Maaser.  I have found several sources of how to do that, including an answer that I received form an Aish HaTorah Rabbi to my question, and have no more excuses so will hopefully be serving my home-grown lettuce to my family or guests soon...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


A few months ago I was browsing the Oprah website and I stumbled upon a page about clothing swaps , well I got hooked on the idea and must have searched about a hundred more websites on the subject.

For those who have yet to be introduced to this novel notion; a clothing swap is where each guest brings a few (say 5) items that they no longer want/use but that are in good or preferably great condition, and goes home with other items that they totally love - for free.  A clothing swap definitely answers to the demands of an ecologically friendly activity.  It's all about re-use, why throw out good condition items (adding to landfills) and buy new ones, (wasting energy used to produce the item, fuel used to transport the item etc.), when can you throw a party and find new uses for the items.

Some individuals have taken this green idea a step further, and made it glamorous.  I was inspired by the Clothing Swap concept and itching to try it out.

So I did.

I invited friends over to my apartment and everybody brought with them items in good condition that they no longer wanted, skirts, tops, dresses, hats, jewellery and something to snack on.  We all had fun, chatting, eating, trying on and modelling the clothes for each other and everybody found at least one item to take home.  Personally, I got a great skirt - top condition and totally my style and a bold necklace which I'd never have dared to buy (for fear that I wouldn't wear it) but have always wanted.  The items that were leftover at the end of the night were donated to charity.  All-in-all a very green and glam affair ;-)

After that I went back to the web-surfing and read about swapping websites.
Some of these websites are for posting items that you want to swap, and looking at other items you may want instead, then like on swapit, a website in Israel, you correspond invdividually to arrange the swop.
I tried using this website, and although I'm intrigued by the idea, I found it too difficult to find someone in a nearby location who had what I wanted and wanted what I had.
There are a lot of swapping websites out there, England has great ones which you can read about here
I particularly like the concept of the American Zwaggle which works on a point system with the site, so that you don't have to do a direct swop, you can give something over to somebody else, receive your points (in this case Zoints), and use those at a later stage to 'buy' an item that you want. 
Now I'd love to find a website like that - in Israel.

So what's next?

- a Kid's Stuff Swop. 
I've invited friends to come bring clothes (I personally, have quite a collection still with the labels on!), books, dvd's, and toys that they just don't use so they can swop 'em for "NEW" STUFF for free!
Kids' clothes that are even gently used - are often stained and torn already, so I'm hoping that everybody sticks to the good condition rule... 

What's a doctor doing - going green ?

When I was young and naive, I knew that I wanted a career where I would be helping people - so I became a doctor. 

A couple years into medical school ( WITS, Jhb, South Africa), we went on a rural rotation, and a beautifully dressed woman took us to see some new hygienic outhouses in a rural village where there was no such thing as a toilet that flushes.  She mentioned, that if one really wants to make a difference in the lives of a large number of people, one should really be in the sewerage development business, after all, no sewerage means more diseases.  Working as a doctor, you only get to help the lucky section of the population who actually has access to a doctor, and of course, you're only helping them once they're already sick as opposed to preventing them from getting sick in the first place.

Now at the end of the day, I did complete medicine, and I am working as a family doctor, (in Israel), and I did not go into sewerage... however the thought stuck with me.

This is why, when I stumbled upon the rather important information that my life was ruining the planet - and that there were many things that I could actually do to change that - it hit home.  I could almost hear the beautifully dressed woman in the rural village telling me; saving the environment one house at a time - now that's a way to really make a difference and help people.