Category Archives: Green Health

Top 5 Green Resolutions for the New Year

By Leah Kaminsky

Happy Near Year! We may be well into 2013, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to add a few green resolutions to your list. (And, hey, if you’ve already broken a few of your other resolutions anyway, why not make room for a few more?). Whether you’re already a Green Queen or you consider washing out an old shampoo bottle for the recycling bin a big accomplishment, here are just a few great green resolutions for the New Year.

1. I will stop using plastic bags. All of them. Type “fashionable reusable shopping bags” into Google and you’ll find a wide range of fun and funky bags that are just as much of a fashion statement as a purse or clutch. I actually enjoy picking up new bags wherever I travel as a souvenir – certainly makes grocery shopping more fun! If you find yourself consistently forgetting to bring your bags into the store, look for ones that can fold up small and fit into your purse or pocket.

2. Forget the bottled water. If you turn to bottled water for filtration, switch instead to an on-top water purifier or a jug you can keep cold in the fridge. Most of the bottled water you buy really isn’t as pure as you might think, and there’s little you’ll find in them that you can’t achieve via a more sustainable filtration option – one that doesn’t require petroleum to make bottles, carbon emissions to ship and deliver the product, and recycling.

3. Bike or walk to work. If you’ve also resolved to get into shape in the New Year, then this is the resolution for you. Try starting small by resolving to bike, walk, run or hey, pogo stick to work at least once a week, and build the number up from there.

4. Put an end to your paper habit. Do you really need a printed version of that document? How about a printed book? Take a look at your paper habits, and propose an accomplish-able reduction. You may, for instance, resolve to go from ordering printer paper once a month to once every two months, and reuse printing mess-ups as scrap paper for notes. You could also begin using an e-reader, buying only used books, or borrowing books from friends or the library.

5. Buy local, in-season produce. In the global food market, we’ve gotten used to being able to eat whatever we like whenever we’d like to, regardless of the season. But those strawberries you purchase in the middle of winter are at the very tail end of a long carbon emissions chain. Instead, buy local and make it a creative endeavor to cook in-season.

Do you have a few green resolutions of your own? Tell us all about them in the comments below.

A Journey With Breast Cancer Part 5: Nails

By Jeanne Romano

My whole life I bit my nails. I tried everything: icky tasting gunk, miracle cure creams, gelatin vitamins and even hypnosis. Oooh. Of course nothing worked. Finally in my 30s I turned to falsies. No not those. I had plenty of that –I’m talking about acrylics. I was so captivated by my fake nails that I changed my polish every day. Having beautiful nails opened a whole new world to me, not to mention a pop-top or two.

Fast forward 15 or so years: “Jeanne, you have breast cancer.” The terrible news was followed by all the gory little details. Blah… blah… blah… then, “And you’ll need to avoid manicures, pedicures and the use of artificial nails! No, not my nails!

I know what you’re thinking. How can nails be such sore spot in the grand scheme of cancer? To me it just felt like yet another assault on my body, on my femininity. I knew that my immune system would be compromised and apparently any little nick or cut especially on my fingers could actually create a serious infection requiring antibiotics and possibly hospitalization. So not only were manicures and my glorious fake nails out, I had to stop picking at the dry skin around my cuticles – extremely dry skin because of the chemo – oh the irony of it all.

The fix: I used a pair of sterile nail clippers. Never peeled or tore off any skin. Not that I had to be told that biting my nails or picking at my cuticles was bad habit (not just a matter of aesthetics). It had to stop. It was particularly important on the hand of the arm that had lymph node dissections. Remember, your skin and your fingernails protect your hand and arm from infection.

But wait, there’s more… Nail discoloration, nail detachment, and the less than groovy grooves. The medical experts writing for DermNet NZ lists onycholysis and onchomadesis as possible side effects of chemotherapy.

Big words and science alert:

“Onycholysis is the detachment of the nail from the nail bed, or the skin below the nail. The nail begins to detach at the top of the nail and progresses back to the cuticle. This side effect occurs specifically with the group of chemotherapy drugs containing taxane. Onchomadesis is the loss of the entire fingernail.

The development of “Beau’s lines” is also on the list of chemotherapy side effects. Beau’s lines are horizontal grooves that appear on the nails. They result from an interruption in the production of keratin. Fingernails and toenails, which you most likely know, consist of keratin, which is a fibrous protein.

Now that I was forced to go au natural I minimized these effects on my nails by soaking my hands and feet in ice water. It was cold but worth the discomfort.

I also messaged my hands and fingers everyday to increase the blood flow.  Because I used natural or organic products before my cancer I looked for the same (if not more intense) ingredients to help with my hands, cuticles and nails.

My three favorite brands were and continue to be:

Burt’s Bees Lemon-Butter Cuticle Creme offers calming combinations of natural ingredients, including vitamin E – which was wonderful for the intensive care of my chemo-dry cuticles, brittle nails and chapped, cracked fingertips.

de~luxe has a fabulous line of “healing” products, many using the nut of the African Shea Tree which provides powerful nourishment and healing to severely dry skin. According to their inserts, this particular hand cream is authentic “treatment grade” that is naturally rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins A & E.

Avalon Organics Hand & Body Lotion has a triple dose of rich lipid sources, certified organic Sunflower, Flaxseed and Coconut Oils. It’s long-lasting and easily absorbed. With an important bonus for chemo patients of Beta Glucan for cellular renewal.

It may take weeks to months, once you finish treatment, for your nails to grow out of these chemo effects and resemble your old nails.  I wish I could promise all the knowledge, ice water, creams and messaging will make your nails better – but I can’t. However I will say that I was able to keep my nails as healthy as possible while they were under attack. And while we may not be able to cure cancer, this critical interruption in my bad habit, cured my nail biting.

Natural Bee Removal

By Leah Kaminsky

On a sunny Tuesday morning, I laced up my running shoes, shut the front door behind me and stepped out into the front yard to stretch. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just the chirping of birds and the slight hum of insects in flight. Then I turned back to the house to make sure the door was locked and saw this:

A bee swarm so big, the Terminix guy wouldn’t even touch it. “They’ll kill me!” he cried when he stopped by our house the next day. “I’m calling the man with the bee suit.”

Naturally, being the green advocate I am, I logged onto Facebook and updated my status with a panicked remark about being on pins and needles while the exterminators blasted my Alfred Hitchcok-esque swarm out of existence. (We all have our limits, and mine just happens to be bees).

I expected my friends to empathize with me, but instead I received a steady stream of comments about the colony collapse disorder, along with pleas to call a beekeeper for a humane removal. If you haven’t been keeping up with the honeybee crisis, this is the widespread dying off of honeybees, attributed in part to pesticides and genetically modified crops. This is bad news for the food chain and therefore humanity.

As I soon learned, a much more humane option than extermination is bee removal, which can be performed either by a professional service or by any one of many eager beekeeping hobbyists. Many beekeepers will actually do the service for free, as they need bees to sell local honey.

Here’s how it works:

  1. When the beekeeper starts work, you lock yourself safely in your house, especially if you’re in an area with large populations of hyper-aggressive Africanized bees.
  2. The beekeeper lures the bees from their hive or swarm and into a hive box, a container in which the bees can nest.
  3. The beekeeper will then remove any honeycomb or nest from the wall and seal any entrance holes, so it doesn’t rot and attract more bees in the future.
  4. Without a home or a queen to lead them, any remaining worker bees the beekeeper can’t capture will die in three days to a week (kind of sad, I know).

Voila! Bees gone, carried away to make honey in someone else’s yard. In the end, I was happy we did it the humane way and to have done my part to safeguard the ecosystem. And I was really happy not to have a massive swarm of potentially angry bees hanging off the side of my house. Phew!

A Journey With Breast Cancer Part 4: Taking the bite out of cancer

By Jeanne Romano

You may be surprised by this but your dentist should play an important role in your cancer treatment. I happen to love my dentist, however I think it’s safe to say that having someone probe your teeth and gums with all sorts of pokey implements isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. Unfortunately it’s probably a good idea to check in with your dentist before starting your cancer treatments.

Cancer and your treatments will affect all parts of the body, including your mouth. Especially if you are on a high doses and simultaneous radiation; when the white blood cell count is lowest, oral tissues are most prone to damage which unfortunately could cause delay or even stopping treatment.

If at all possible prior to your treatments, have your teeth cleaned, have a set of X-rays taken, take care of any mouth problems and have your dentist give your mouth the once over to prevent side effects.

Just like common chemo and radiation “side effects,” mouth issues vary – a lot. You may encounter these common problems during your treatments or even for a short time after your treatment ends:

The weirdest problem during my treatment was a loss or change of taste and smell. Being from a home that started each and every Sunday dinner with a bowl of homemade ravioli (yup, mom made the pasta as well as the sauce).  Suddenly, even the smell of sauce made my lip curl. In fact I craved all sorts of unlikely food combinations like (creamy) peanut butter, avocado and hummus on white bread. I agree it does sound a lot like cliché pregnancy cravings.

Another important issue to watch for is dry mouth. It can hurt. Here are some suggestions I got from my dentist to protect my teeth and gums.  They worked!

I…

  • Drank lots of water
  • Sucked on ice chips – found this particularly helpful during my actual chemo treatment
  • Ate soft, moist food that was easy to chew and swallow; cooked cereals, mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, etc…
    • When I did eat foods that required chewing, I made sure to take small bites, chewed slowly (unheard of in my home) and sipped liquids between the bites.
    • If I still had trouble swallowing, I softened my food with gravy, sauces, broth, yogurt or other liquids.
    • Gargled with a moistening mouthwash – I still use this every night before I go to bed.
    • Used and still use a fluoride toothpaste.
    • Brushed my teeth, gums, and tongue with an extra-soft toothbrush after every meal and at bedtime.  Sometime brushing hurt, so I softened the bristles in warm water.
    • Hate not flossing my teeth. I still did it, very gently, every day. Please be extremely careful. Once in a while my gums would bleed and hurt – so it was key to avoid the areas that are ultra sensitive – however keep flossing your other teeth.
    • Did not use mouthwashes with alcohol.

Not all mouth problems can be avoided but the fewer side effects you have, the more likely you will stay on your cancer treatment schedule.

A Journey with Breast Cancer, Part 3: Skin is In

By Jeanne Romano

As you probably know both chemo and radiation treatments are very effective parts of your cancer treatment. However, in targeting cancer cells they can also damage healthy cells – anything that grows quickly, like your skin. So it’s no surprise you’ll probably encounter (if you haven’t already) itching, rashes, sensitivity to the sun and even an allergic reaction or two. Nice, huh?

MY OWN EXPERIENCE REVEALED TWO THINGS YOU SHOULD AVOID. THEY’RE EASY TO OVERLOOK AND MIGHT WORSEN YOUR DISCOMFORT: 

If at all possible, only wear cotton clothing next to your skin –something made of natural fibers. Maybe wear an all-cotton camisole or T-shirt under other materials to prevent dry skin reactions.

TIP: Try washing your clothes in a mild, organic, scent-free or all-natural  laundry detergent. No bleach or fabric softeners.

You may want to avoid all scented soaps, bubble bath, etc… depending on the brand they may contain drying and irritating agents that could trigger or worsen dry skin.

If at all possible, avoid direct exposure to the sun. That lovely warming orb might trigger photo-toxic reactions in your skin which may cause some unpleasant swelling, redness, blisters, and peeling. “Gosh, when you put it that way…” If you plan to be outdoors, try using an organic sunscreen or moisturizer. SPF15 (or greater) is the usual recommendation.

It may help to wear special protective clothing that shields your skin from the sun. This type of clothing has special built-in SPF protection. You might also want to buy a product that adds sunscreen in the wash. The reason I mention it is because of those sneaky overcast days.

Try not to indulge in long, hot baths. Even though a hot soak sounds so relaxing (even therapeutic) than let’s say a lukewarm shower, hot water has a tendency to dry out sensitive skin.

OBVIOUSLY THERE ARE TONS OF PRODUCTS OUT THERE TO HELP YOU THROUGH THIS. HERE’S WHAT WORKED FOR ME:  

HYDRATE. I can’t say recommend this enough. Try drinking at least two to three quarts of water or non-caffeinated, alcohol-free beverages every day. I know what you’re thinking. You’ll probably spend half your day in the bathroom. Annoying yes, worth it? Absolutely.

Hydration also means your skin. Organic moisturizers such Aloe Vera are the way to go. They’re formulated to promote moisture in skin cells and create a barrier on the outermost layer of your skin. This layer is designed to protect your sensitive skin. The old standby baby oil might be just the ticket for slavering on after taking shower. Baby oil is made to penetrate baby skin and create a protective seal, locking in much needed moisture. If it works for baby, it just might work for you.

It’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves when washing dishes or handling cleaning products. During chemo and radiation your hands might be sensitive and showing signs of irritation. For an additional barrier, try thin cotton gloves beneath the rubber or vinyl gloves to further protect your skin.

TIP: Inflammation often responds well to the application of a cool, wet (cotton) cloth.

I sprinkled simple cornstarch on my skin to relieve itching. You may prefer cornstarch to talcum powder, which may cause some irritation.

Don’t forget to chat with your doctor and/or medical team about your skin. If you experience some tenderness it might be possible to reduce your dosage of chemotherapy or radiation – remember your medical team is there to help you – and you are the most important part of the “team.” Don’t be silent about your discomfort; there are alternative drugs. Be sure to let someone know if you feel burning in your skin during the administration of chemotherapy. Burning may be an allergic reaction to the intravenous tubing.

Take extra care to protect your skin if you receive radiation before chemo. Your skin might develop something called radiation recall –which might cause (more good news) painful blistering or peeling.

When therapy is over your skin should rebound, although not immediately. It might take a while so be prepared for the possibility of some lingering irritation and/or soreness. There might also be some scarring. The best product I found (and still use) for reducing the look of scars and rejuvenating skin is Strivectin-SD.

According to the American Cancer Society, it usually takes six to 12 months for the skin to return to normal. Just so you know, my skin was back in less than that. Yes, there are still some dry patches but for the most part, because I asked questions and did some additional research, I took extra care. Some patches are still a bit rough however in general my skin is in fine condition. And soon, yours will be too.

Gift Giving Guide for the Non-Green Relative or Friend

By Leah Kaminsky

For the green consumer, holiday gift shopping can be a stimulating opportunity to flex their green problem-solving skills. Sick of wasteful wrapping paper? Use newspaper. Tired of cheap, throwaway clothing? Give organic.

That’s well and good when giving gifts to friends and family who have a bit of an eco-bent, but what’s a greenie to do when giving gifts to someone who’s staunchly non-green? Let’s do some strategizing.

The Profile:

  1. Your relative who grew up during WWII, when canned goods were practically a patriotic duty. “We ate beans from a can and we liked ‘em that way!” Warning: This person may not be a big consumer, but they’re likely clinging to chemical-laden housewares.
  2. Your shop-a-holic friend who cares only about more, more, MORE, regardless of where “more” comes from. Warning: May be a fan of saying, “That sounds delightful, darling. Just delightful!”

The Gifting Challenge:

The Non-Green Relative or Friend either pays no attention to green trends or actively despises anything that disrupts their regular patterns of consumerism. The green movement may make them feel guilty, which can spark a visceral reaction against anything interpreted as being eco-friendly.

The Solution:

There’s only one way to give green to the non-green friend: don’t let them know you’re doing it. Such gifts could include:

  1. A cookbook…that just happens to slip in tips on buying local produce.
  2. Jewelry…that’s sustainably made and purchased from a small, local vendor. Who needs to know?
  3. A bicycle…with an electric boost. This will be especially good if your gift recipient is into gadgets.
  4. Everyday goods made from BPA-free materials…that distract the recipient from their inherently green nature. For instance, this reusable coffee mug, which features a major youtube meme, will have any pop culture fan in hysterics before they realize you’ve tricked them out of using paper coffee cups.
  5. Products they’ve asked for…but with a green spin. If, for instance, you find “books” on your recipient’s holiday list, swap a new book with something secondhand, or buy them an e-reader.
  6. Products you present as being cool new trends in generaland not just to the cool green movement.

Voila! With a little creativity, you’ll turn this time of consumption into a time of sustainability. And your decidedly non-eco conscious friend will be none the wiser.

Natural Nails

By Leah Kaminsky

It doesn’t take a genius to guess that nail polish is filled to the brim with nasty chemicals. All you need is a nose and a closed room.

In fact, most nail polishes contain what is called the “toxic trio”: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde. Together these chemicals have been associated with asthma, developmental and reproductive problems in lab animals, hormone disruption, dizziness and increased cancer risks.

But for those of us who love the sight of cheery, polished nails, there are a few key steps we can take to mitigate the risks.

1. Polish at Home

While professional manicures might feel good, all that time your fingers spend soaking in chemicals is sure to add up. Whether it’s methacrylate chemicals in gel polishes or acetone in nail polish remover, you want your interaction with these chemicals to be short and sweet. Polish at home to control your exposure.

2. Go for Water-Based Polishes

Water-based nail polishes can be removed with nail polish removers that are less harsh.

3. Ventilate

As much as you may love painting your nails in the privacy of your own room, it’s best to polish outside when you can, or at the very least in a room with a window and/or a fan.

4. Try a Natural Polish

While the natural label isn’t a guaranteed chemical-free experience, natural nail polishes are worth it if they’re from a brand you trust.

If all else fails, just try to go longer between touch-ups. Painting your nails every other week will cut your yearly exposure in half without significantly affecting your style.

Fitness Options for the Winter

By Leah Kaminsky

I’m an avid runner. To me, there’s nothing more rewarding than that post-run feeling, when the endorphins are still pumping high and my muscles feel that oh-so-good kind of sore. But when the weather gets cold and the sun takes its sweet time rising, there’s nothing more miserable than the thought of swapping my warm bed for the dark and cold. There’s only one way to keep that winter fitness high: get strategic.

  1. Take full advantage of the gym. Whether it’s sticking to the elliptical or checking out that spin class you’ve been meaning to take for years, now might just be the best (and warmest) time to do it.
  2. Embrace winter sports. When you open your door to find a thin sheen of snow masking half an inch of ice, running is the surest way to break an ankle. But cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and trekking in boots can be just as heart pumping, and a good way to mix up your routine.
  3. Dress warmly. Long johns, waterproof pants, thick socks, head warmers, gloves, thick jackets, whatever. Just make sure to keep it warm. Even better, dress in layers, removing your outer shell when you get too heated. This will decrease your chances of developing sweat-induced chills.
  4. Multi-task. There’s no getting around it: that initial plunge into the cold air will be disheartening no matter what. Get warm quickly by moving more than just your legs, strap weights to your arms and incorporate them into your exercise routine. Another multi-tasking trick: listen to podcasts or audiobooks to keep your mind off the cold.
  5. Have fun. Maybe it’s a skate around the rink after work, or a weekend trip to the mountains. Get your family and friends in on an active vacation or event and you’ll be much more likely to follow through.

Maintaining fitness in the winter is possible but you may have to trick yourself into it. And really, there’s no better feeling than finishing a good workout in the cold and stepping into a warm house for a steaming shower. Now that’s motivation.

How to Have a Local Thanksgiving in Non-Thanksgiving-y Places

By Leah Kaminsky

Here at the Natural Store, we like to share eco-conscious ways to decorate and throw parties during holidays like Thanksgiving. Often, we suggest looking to the surrounding environment for in-season, local solutions. This is all well and good when you live in a place where autumn leaves blush vermillion and the landscape is dotted with pinecones that leap right into wreaths, but what about if you live some place tropical, say, Southern Florida? Here are our top five tips for making that temperate climate work for you.

  1. Cook up a wintry smell. When you’re craving the scent of fall, it’s a good time to whip up a batch of mulled wine. Whether you enjoy the drink or not, there’s no holiday smell more authentic than cinnamon, sugar, ginger and orange. Potpourri is also a great way to go, as are locally made, scented organic candles.
  2. Make the most of your seasonal produce. Grapefruit, mandarins, oranges and pumpkins are available in warmer climates around this time of year. Use this produce as the base for breads and muffins or simply spice up bland recipes with a squeeze or peel of citrus.
  3. Avoid paper products. While paper plates and plastic forks make for easy clean up, they’re not the greenest solution. Instead, keep a nice set of china on hand that’s decorated for the season. Plates with wreaths, for instance, can be just what an ex-Northeasterner needs to get into the crisp, autumn spirit.
  4. Embrace your local birds. From quail to geese, swans and ducks, there are many native Florida birds that would make a great addition to your Thanksgiving table. And, if your heart is set on turkey, you should be able find a number of regional farms. Turkeys, it seems, thrive in just about any climate.
  5. Make a few compromises. At the end of the day, going for local decorations in temperate climates may require a few compromises. That coconut rind may not make for a traditional Thanksgiving look, but why can’t something so tasty make for a sumptuous cornucopia? After all, Thanksgiving is about celebrating local harvests. So make the most of yours!

Having a green, local Thanksgiving is definitely possible, no matter where you are. With a creative mindset and a can-do spirit, your Thanksgiving will be a hit with the whole family.

Eco-Friendly Hair Tips

By Leah Kaminsky

Our hair is an essential part of our mojo, and we want it to be easy to style and always looking great. But for those of us who worry about the long-term health effects from the chemicals in hair dye, getting that regular touch-up can be a scary thought. Not to worry, there’re plenty of natural options out there to help you look your best tressed.

Blondes and Red Heads

Great news for blondes: If you’ve got a scratchy throat and the need for touch-up, you can kill two birds with one stone. A weekly chamomile rinse is great for brightening dirty blonde or brown-streaked hair. In fact, any yellow-blossomed flower or herb will do, including mullein, yellow broom leaves, turmeric and quassia chips. Marigold is good for red-gold highlights, though it’s hard to get a full, rich red. To create your natural color treatment steep the flowers or herbs in a quart of boiling water for half an hour, strain and cool the mixture. Then pour it through clean, towel-dried hair at least fifteen times, leaving it in for half an hour before rinsing it out.

The downside? I’m sorry to say, my fellow greenies, but the chemicals just have the natural stuff beat when it comes to quality. Herbal dyes have to be applied progressively to get the full color you seek; even then they’re not necessarily all that accurate and they’re certainly not long-lasting.

Brunettes

If you’re a brunette, make like an Egyptian and dye your hair with henna. Buy dried henna powder and mix it with a lightener like chamomile to ensure a less brassy tone. Add the mixture to boiling water to make a thick paste, then stir in some vinegar to make it stick. Apply the cooled mixture to your hair, wrap it in a plastic bag and let it sit for thirty minutes to two hours before rinsing and allowing to air dry.

Henna is a very effective dye, the only downside here being that it’s hard to control the exact color results. A more complete guide is available here.

No matter what approach you try, always test the dye on a hidden patch of hair and also on your skin to see both the resulting color and to test for allergic reactions. And as always, have fun!