Author Archives: The Natural Store

Green Ways to Prevent Illness

By Leah Kaminsky

Between the germs your kids bring back from school and those you pick up at work, it’s hard not to feel like illness is inevitable during cold and flu season. And while you can blast your countertops and doorknobs with disinfectant, that’s not the kind of solution that will make my eco-friendly heart sing. So, what can a good old-fashioned greenie do to combat common illnesses?


Help your kids keep colds at bay

Take those everyday solutions and give them an eco-conscious spin.

1.      Wash hands frequently with natural soap. You can kill bacteria without the help of pesticides and chemicals, sulfates and dyes.
2.      Wipe down high-use surfaces frequently with natural disinfectants bought either from a store or homemade.
3.      Create your own hand sanitizer using essential oils and alcohol.
4.      Support your immune system with vitamins. While the actual effectiveness of vitamin C and zinc is still highly debated, they certainly can’t hurt to help support your body’s natural immune response
5.      Eat right. As always, eating healthily is one of the best ways to, well, stay healthy. During seasons when your chances of getting sick are especially high, develop a craving for spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, tea and nuts, which contain everything from vitamin C to antioxidants, phytochemicals, calcium, fiber and healthy fats –known to help prevent disease or simply keep your body strong.
6.      Get off the couch. You know exercise is good for you, but in gearing up for a big battle with your immune system, exercise is really good for you, improving your circulation and lung capacity and getting your body in fighting condition. That said, if you’ve already got a fever, rest is the best option.
7.      Cut back on sugar. The jury is still out on this one, but some people believe sugar and vitamin C are both absorbed by immune cells in the same way, so if you’re overloaded on sugar when your body needs vitamin C’s help, you’ll weaken your immune system’s natural defenses.

In the end, preventing illness the green way is very similar to preventing illness the non-green way. As always, you just have to stay aware and get a little creative.

Why Biking is Good for the Planet and for You

By Leah Kaminsky

It’s been nearly a year since I packed up my studio in Seattle and moved down to Austin. And I’m ashamed to report that my bike sat in its shipping packaging for most of that time. Because, you know…unpacking requires effort.

Fortunately, a recent getaway to the Hill Country changed all that. Just a few minutes riding past wildflowers in full bloom and I was extolling biking’s myriad health benefits. Sure, it was a great way to mix up my regular cardio workout, but I also found it cleared my head, relaxed me, and was just a great way to get around.

Since I’ve returned from my trip, I’ve been into my bike, discovering all sorts of new treasures I’d passed a million times in a car and never noticed. It’s so much easier to get in a workout when I combine it with a commute, and I love skating around traffic jams. Plus, as someone who’s still relatively new to town, it buys me a ticket into a whole bike culture here, helping me meet people as I spin away.

Biking is a culture that’s growing as many green cities try to cut down on their carbon emissions and clear out clogged highways. Bikes help us reduce our dependence on gas, produce no more emissions than what we breathe out, and need fewer parts repairs.

Still, biking is unappealing to many people as it can be quite dangerous in cities that are built for cars. You’ll have to look out for aggressive drivers, opening doors, cars that don’t notice you when making turns, and blind spots when riding next to a truck.

If your city is in particular need of a reform, try forming a bike advocacy group and lobbying the city for larger, more visible bike lanes, particularly dedicated greenways and wider streets.

Yes, I know if you’re reading this from your home in San Francisco I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But for the rest of you, I say, give biking a whirl. It’s a great way to get exercise, reduce emissions and get to work in one go. You just can’t say that about walking or driving.

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Life’s Lessons in Sustainability

How about our ability to sustain? That’s sort of what I’ve been working on for the past six months. Whew! Should I even bother telling you that it’s kept me from writing this blog? I’ve started a draft or two but life continues to intervene.

In March we welcomed two new baby lambs who – for the first time – needed hands-on help (we’re talking tube feedings every four hours throughout the night for two weeks). Especially fun at 1:00 a.m. and then again at 5:00 a.m. with the wind, rain, and coyotes howling. It was hard, but it worked. Despite the odds, we saved both little guys.

Lesson 1: Know your limits and commitment to small farming before you jump in. Saving young lambs and other farm jobs take work. A lot of it. 

Then came April, and a sudden call back to the finca (my eco guest house on Vieques island in Puerto Rico) which ended up with me running the place solo, throughout spring break and serving thirty-plus guests a day. Luckily, they were mostly families, which meant flexible, forgiving folks with wonderfully inquisitive kids. I played eco- educator to the kids, teaching them how the finca operates as simply and with as little impact on the environment as possible. I traded their help hanging the laundry with lessons in tarantula catch and release!

Lesson 2: Whenever possible surround yourself with others who want to learn as much as you do and learn from each other. We’re all learning this simple living thing together.

Four days after I returned, my 91-year-old mother had a stroke. She was the person absolutely responsible for giving me my (apparently) diehard commitment to living as environmentally conscious as possible. She “walked her talk” up until the very, very end. She gave her body to science when she passed away at the end of the month, one last expression of her deep, deep commitment to bettering the world, and minimizing our impact in it. Sad yes, I miss her more than I even knew I would. But almost 92 years on this planet surrounded by friends and family, sharing with them the fruit from the trees you’ve planted – it’s a pretty wonderful and fortunate thing. Which somehow balances out the sadness.

Lessons here? Oh, so many. Simply put, as mom would want it: learn as much as you can from your mom while you can. And when it’s real, your walk and your talk are one – and more walk than talk is always best. (That’s 2 of about 2000 lessons learned in April).

Then, a week after my mom passed away, my oldest son was seriously injured in a Jet Ski accident. He’ll be okay – but it has been, and will continue to be, a long, hard haul to recovery. As a commercial fisherman, he isn’t used to hanging around the house, certainly not in a wheelchair. So I’ve been helping out where I can. Somehow in addition to dishes and laundry and lawn mowing, my role as solid waste manager has emerged. I’m coaching him on the cost, and environmental savings of sorting the recycling, yard waste and compost out of the garbage. A sweet backyard garden has emerged. I celebrated by buying them a carton of red worms for the bin.  I may make an urban farmer out of him yet.

Lesson learned? Silver linings abound.  Even in the face of enormous issues, physical or environmental, we are better able to deal with them if we start with optimism and hope.

And then there was July. The month my daughter was supposed to get married, my fortieth high school reunion, and a large family reunion in my mom’s small hometown in Utah. Well, the first event has moved to September (stay tuned for green wedding blogs!) and the other two were perfect punctuation points. Milestones in a year’s seemingly relentless lessons. They were more good opportunities to reflect on it all: what matters, how much it all matters, and what we can do to help. I’m just left wondering – does living actually ever get simple? If so, I’m ready! I’ve somehow sustained!

Lesson here? Yep…I’ve learned it’s clear you can turn just about anything into a lesson – if you’re up for learning.

Water: Going without the flow

If thinking green means getting back to basics, it doesn’t get a lot more basic than water.  Here in the soggy-wet, drip-dripping Pacific Northwest, water seems more than abundant. But truth be told, even here, clean drinking water, and clean watersheds for fish and wildlife habitat is getting scarcer and more expensive to maintain.  For you in dryer climates, who live far away from your  water sources, you may already  know the cost, value;  really preciousness, of water. No matter where we live water is an important natural resource we need to be better about saving. And, like so many other steps towards living greener, it’s pretty darn easy to start saving. Here are some of my favorites.

  •  Turn off the faucet while you scrub the veggies, brush your teeth, or wash dishes.
  • Fill the dishwasher completely before running.
  • Take shorter showers; and sadly – fewer baths (which use a lot more water than showers).
  • Install a low-flow showerhead. They don’t cost much, and both  water and energy savings quickly pays back your investment.
  • Make sure you have a faucet aerator on each faucet. These too are inexpensive and save heat and water, while keeping water pressure high.
  • Plant drought-tolerant native plants that need only minimal watering; learn which works best for your climate.
  • Install a 1.6 gallon toilet, or put a brick in the tank to cut down on water use.
  • Buy a water-efficient washing machine, and always wait for large, full loads.
  • Repair leaks, indoors and out.
  • Just be conscious of it pouring, running, or being “on” without need.

And if these all seem too easy for you, right on! Want to move to the next level? Try researching the environmental cost of maintaining a lawn, and what it would do for our national water supply if we found alternatives – from putting in hardscape to drought-loving groundcovers, or vegetable gardens. I’m game. Are you?

Saving your energy…for things that matter

Okay…so I was sitting down, getting ready to write. Realized music would help, then the fan (because even though the rest of the country seems to be dealing with record cold, ice and snow,  I’m in Puerto Rico – and a tad too warm – at least in here at my desk in the cabin). I look at my topic – “energy savings” …and it hits me. Duh. Turn off the fan, the music, unplug the computer and move out to a picnic table – where I don’t need any energy…except a few brain cells.

And basically that’s it. We can list ten tips, a hundred, or a thousand ways you can save energy – but really, like everything else – it comes down to being  conscious  around everything we do. Just think about saving. Like our parents used to tell us to save our allowance, or maybe we taught our kids, or you are teaching your own now.

But sometimes specifics help get us started thinking differently. Here are some of those perfect no brainer ways to start saving energy; the natural resources that it takes to bring that electricity to our homes, and the money it takes to pay for it.  

  • Set your thermostat a few degrees cooler in the winter and higher in the summer. When I’m home, in the pacific NW, I find a fleece vest is indispensible. I basically live in mine when I’m in the house.
  • Wash clothes in COLD water. As much as 85% of energy used to wash clothes goes to heating the water – and laundry soaps are now designed to clean in cold. Don’t take my word for it, learn more from the green laundry experts at Seventh Generation.
  • Install compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) when incandescent bulbs burn out. Learn how best to dispose them though.
  • Unplug appliances when not in use, or use a “smart” power strip that monitors “phantom load” energy use. Find out more about the phantom load, what we use without realizing it, before things are even turned on.
  • Weather-strip and insulate your house: windows, doors, cracks in the basement.
  • Install a Water Heater Blanket – learn how much it can save you at
  • Use a clothesline – indoors, in the basement, or out. Even for half the items you’re drying, or half your loads.  

Think about savings on both an individual level, and collectively, in our communities. That’s where the statistics get staggering. The wild numbers that are revealed when you see what happens if everyone did these things.   

So whether it’s your energy, your money, or our energy, our future needs. Let’s save it. These tropical breezes beat the fan any day.

Taking Steps Towards Greener Living

Wondering how to get started towards a smaller eco-footprint? A more natural lifestyle?  We talk about these things as if we all know – and agree – what they mean.  “Going green” might take on a different meaning for each of us. Contrary to popular myth, going green doesn’t mean you must wear Birkenstocks or dreadlocks. It doesn’t mean you vote one way or another. Some of my best friends and neighbors are of opposing political views. But there’s one unifying issue we all see eye to eye on: wanting to live as healthy and naturally as possible. We shouldn’t make assumptions – what we should do is figure out individually what we want “green” to mean. Is your priority on family’s health? Our planet’s health? Saving your cash resources? Our natural resources? Is it climate change? Whatever motivates you, it’s crucial for you to try and get information from as many sources as possible. Think of me as a little nudge, a helpful friend, but certainly not the authority. There isn’t one single authority anyway. Secondly, prioritize your steps – go for those that are easiest, most cost effective and/or most important to you.   

There are a ton of Top 10 Ways to Go Green lists online. We’ve found some that were too simplistic to be helpful. Others that were overly confusing. So we’ve compiled our own list.  All these ideas could, or should, save you time or money… maybe even the planet. Or at least your small piece of it.

There are 10 key areas I use to organize my thoughts, and efforts, around:

  • Energy
  • Water
  • Transportation
  • Diet
  • Plastics
  • Shopping & Consumption
  • Garden & Yard
  • Trash (solid waste management)
  • Chemicals
  • Learning

In the coming weeks, I’ll focus on one or two of these areas at a time and share some of my favorite ways to make changes. I’d love to hear yours. Until then, why not test your knowledge on a variety of Green subjects:

National Geographic’s Green Guide Quizzes

Going with the New Year’s Flow

a simple breakfast comes from foraging

a simple breakfast comes from foraging

I love milestones. And the changing of the year is one of the biggies for me. Time to celebrate. Time to take stock. What’s working? What’s not? What do you want to keep from last year and take into the next? What can you do better? (aka New Year’s resolutions). Never thought much of the “resolutions” aspect. Just the word sounds like drudgery you’re resolved to perform; or at least attempt. And aren’t resolutions all pretty much the same for most of us? Let’s see…get more exercise, eat better, slow down, spend less and live greener.

A friend just asked me what my resolutions were going to be For 2011 – and I had the funny realization that this year it’s backwards. It’s more about my life changing me, rather than me trying to change my life.

I’ve just kicked off a two month stint as tropical innkeeper. This alone will probably cause me to exercise more, eat less, slow down considerably, spend almost nothing and overall live a lot more sustainably – just by way of the island of Vieques, and its lifestyle.

I can’t call it a “sabbatical” or even a working vacation. Because it’s all work and no vacation! I don’t know if I’ll get a day off for the next two months – honestly. I’ll be making beds, fixing toilets and doing tons of laundry and email. But nonetheless, it will be spent in a vacation destination and yes, throughout the day, palms will rustle, tropical frogs will chirp, and I’ll return calls from my swaying hammock. So while it is work, it’s work I love. The kind where you see the fruits of your labor – from hanging laundry to painting a table, or pointing guests in the right direction to a quiet beach or great little local restaurant. And therein lays the best part of the job: working with guests.

Maybe it’s the mother in me, or maybe it’s that I always wanted to be a teacher – but I sort of cherish the guests’ learning as a key aspect of the finca. So in running the place as simply as possible, it’s a goal that folks leave their stay with us seeing how easy it is to live more simply. Call it “greener,” making do with less. Here at the finca, you can’t help but see that you, in fact, don’t need to use, buy, and do all the stuff we usually fill our lives with.

So while it’s on-the-job training for me, it’s on-vacation-simple living-training for the guests. They’ll be doing without a lot of things they are used to, and loving it.

For the next two months I’ll live in a tiny cabin next to a small banana grove. We have electricity, hot water and two gas burners to cook on. We’ve even added a bathroom so it’s not really “roughing” it – but it is simple. Furniture is expensive and hard to come by. And really, why bother when you’d rather be outside anyway? Nature and the climate are in charge here. If it’s pouring we don’t work outside. We work early before the heat of the day. When it’s really raining and blowing hard, we’ll even close the doors that are usually open all day and night. No AC, no TV. No WiFi or movies, dishwasher or dryers.

We recycle everything we can and reuse the rest. A wooden box makes an end table, a palate makes a deck screen, old beach towels make cleaning rags. Think I’ll learn to crochet with those darn plastic shopping bags the stores still use here with reckless abandon. Down the road there’s a bar with a patio canopy made of beer cans. I didn’t pack any jewelry and I doubt I’ll miss it. Don’t need to wear makeup (do we ever?) or go shopping for anything other than groceries for two wonderful laidback months. Heck – even at the stores here, you buy, cook and eat what was delivered in a week. No other place to go – so you make do, and learn to get really creative with rice and beans.

So what does this all have to do with new years? And resolutions?

Allowing myself to simply “go with the flow,” to learn, and love that I’m not in charge, is my highest New Year priority; to take advantage of this amazing place and opportunity to its fullest potential. Somehow I feel confident that all those other classics will fall right in line: Get more exercise, eat better, slow down, spend less and live greener.

Simple & Green Gift Ideas

GreenWash Ball

GreenWash Ball

I guess the holidays are officially here. I think our late Indian summer lulled me into a false sense of endless autumn, and made the sudden shift to sub-freezing temps, wind and snow pretty abrupt. I feel like I’ve been catapulted right smack dab into the holiday season…without a lot of time to prepare for the age old issue: what am I going to get my loved ones???

To help me simplify this year, I’m keeping it Simple & Green. My kids are beyond toys now, so maybe that makes it easier. But whether they’re in a home of their own, away at college, or still living with you, they’ll benefit from an active green role model with good ideas for all kinds of cool things to help them minimize their own footprint.

A no-brainer is the battery charger with a set or two of rechargeable batteries. I love this gift idea for an older child or preteen – who will no doubt be given some toy or gadget that eats up batteries for the next several years. How perfect for them to see how easy it is to avoid using regular batteries that are so toxic to our landfills. Their habits haven’t been formed yet – so it’s a great time to help them learn.

Another techno-learning gadget is the Kill a Watt, for those still dubious of the importance of energy savings. These cool things show you the operating costs of household appliances as well as calculating costs and forecasts by week, month and year. Plus they’re on sale right now and easy – just plug in – to use.

But my gifts won’t all be techno. Thinking organic bamboo sheets for my luxury-loving sister, and some herb tea and an electric tea kettle for my dear ol’ mum who’ll love finding out how much energy she saves using it – rather then turning on the stove to boil water. So last century!

For the young homesteaders in the family, twenty-somethings starting up their own households – I love turning them on to great green things they’ve never heard of, like the GreenWashBall Detergent. This innovative little ball cleans your laundry without using any soap! Don’t believe me? Just try it. I used these things when I was doing the laundry for my three kids –it works! And who isn’t going to chuckle finding a soap-less washball in their stocking?

Another fun one is to make a whole green home gift basket. Start with my favorite recycled newspaper baskets (a set of two is conveniently on sale!) then fill them with your favorite green household things like great counter top composters, water filters, natural cleaners like Bon Ami (do you all know how great that stuff is for cleaning sinks and tubs without chlorine???).

For the more elegant, like my sister, I’d fill a gift basket with natural beauty and bath things. Like the de~luxe bath salts, which is another favorite of mine and a great value; looks and feels like the much more expensive brands.
Or for your favorite hypochondriac, how about a gift basket of natural health and wellness goodies? Fill it with everything from the netty pot to Oscillococcinum Natural Flu Relief, — which is also on sale; or herbal cough drops and Breathe Easy Tea.

Need more ideas? How about a yoga mat made from earth-friendly materials, not only non-toxic, but latex-, PVC- and chloride-free and 100% recyclable and decomposable. My daughter will love that. But then she’d also love a BPA-free water bottle, Clementine natural art supplies art supplies or Weleda’s Wild Rose Moisture Cream. (Or maybe that’s just what I want.)

Sort of funny… I could go on and on with these ideas…and here I thought it’d be hard to figure out what I was getting everyone. Now I’ll just grab a good book for each of them, give a charitable donation in each of their names, and I’m done!

Simple Living, Caribbean Style

The Natural Giveaway to our Natural Getaway

The Natural Giveaway to our Natural Getaway

I’m my own guest blogger today. Instead of writing about sustainability at TheNatural, I’ve got my innkeeper hat on. This post is coming from the half of me that runs the finca…la finca caribe, the place on Puerto Rico’s Vieques Island that together, with, is giving away a week-long eco-adventure for two.

It’s been sort of wild to watch the interest in our “Natural Giveaway to the Getaway” sweepstakes climb so rapidly over just a week or two. Hopefully those signing up are interested in more than just the free trip. I’m hoping they’re interested in living greener, eco travel and all that other good stuff.  Because, dear readers, if you think you signed up for a luxury week of Puerto Rican golf and spa…better think again. This is eco travel; simple living, Caribbean-style.

 Guests at the finca often ask us what “eco travel” really means? For us, it’s always meant we run the place as simply, with as little impact on our environment, as possible. We’ve always, in our nearly 15 year history, used terms like “rustic,” “summer camp,” wilderness lodge” and “simple living” to convey the place and our approach. But now that the concepts of “sustainability” and “going green” haven taken hold, we now clearly spell out what we do, and have always done.  Some of the ways we go about minimizing our footprint on our tiny little island of Vieques is with:

  • our  wonderful solar water system for most of our outdoor showers
  • our non-chlorine, salt system pool  (I think we were the first folks on the island to put one in)
  • drying all our laundry on the line – rarely turning on the dryer
  • avoiding  any kind of pesticide or herbicide
  • cleaning with natural products  from de~luxe, seventh generation, method, dr bronners, and sometimes even just vinegar!
  • recycling and re-using everything we can
  • not using disposables, paper or plastic
  • encouraging our guests to bring their own our reusable water bottles (we HATE unnecessary plastic and land fill issues!)  
  • not offering  air conditioners  (you don’t need one with a simple fan and our tradewinds), TV or phone in any of the rooms and cabins
  • encouraging all guests to be part of our beach clean-up effort
  • using minimal water and electricity, and asking guests to do the same
  • re-using magazines, books and music; we even recycle the inn’s old towels for cleaning rags
  • discounting stays to environmental, educational and other non-profit community groups
  • and if you want more there’s our site:

Otherwise, if the idea of a lizard, or even a beetle darting across your floor, and doing nothing more than listening to tropical frogs and watching the stars from a swinging hammock sounds good — then you’re ready for Simple Living, Caribbean Style.

 And like I say to all my friends, neighbors and everyone I met at GreenFest last week, “I hope you win!”

 Hasta la finca!