Category Archives: Green Living

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.

Green Your Holiday Celebrations

By Leah Kaminsky

There are few times of year quite as homey as the holidays. From the smell of ham roasting in the oven, to the sound of latkes crackling in oil, to the warmth of kindling roaring away in the fireplace (or at least on the TV), it’s not hard to look forward to all the holidays have to offer. Yet, take a look at any post-holiday trash bin (or, more likely, bins plural) and it’s easy to see this isn’t the greenest time of year – despite how that Christmas tree or wreath might make it appear.

But not to worry. There are plenty of ways to keep your eco-conscious clear so you can enjoy those holidays and still keep your eco-friendly morals high.

Buy local and organic. Look to your neighborhood organic food supplier for delicious holiday produce, using classic holiday spices to give non-traditional holiday produce the right feel. More good news: turkeys are native to just about every climate, so you’re sure to find a sustainable turkey farm near you. The same goes for sustainable pig farms. Find your farm first, research its philosophy, and order early, as they tend to have a limited supply.

Forget the wrapping paper. Newspaper, fabric and magazines have much more personality than traditional wrapping paper. Even old paper calendars will do the trick.

Buy energy-saving holiday lights. Many stores now offer LED holiday lighting, which offer substantial energy savings over traditional lights. Good for the earth, good for the wallet!

Make your tree just a little greener. Buy from an organic, pesticide-free tree farm as near to your home as possible. And when the holidays are over, search for a tree recycling program rather than dragging the tree to the curb. Many cities will gladly turn your tree into mulch or wood chips.

Rethink holiday cards. Holiday cards are a great way to show your friends, family and colleagues that you care, but let’s be honest here: how long does anyone keep all but the most important cards before chucking them into the trash can? Rethink your strategy by reducing the number of cards you send, opting for a paperless e-card, or buying cards made from materials you know can be recycled…even if that means saying no to glitter.

With a little forethought, having a green holiday is entirely within your reach. So green your traditions and enjoy all the season has to offer!

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!

A Journey with Breast Cancer, Part1: Chemo and Radiation Rescue

By Jeanne Romano

There are many wonderful blogs and articles, even full websites, dedicated to the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Most of these works cover the doctor recommended remedies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure your doctor knows what’s what when it comes to your hair, skin, teeth, nails and even the infamous “chemo brain” fog.

Being a breast cancer (double mastectomy) survivor and being all too familiar with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, I’ve tried and tested many of these recommended products.

In a series of blogs I’ll go over all the major chemo and/or radiation concerns and share what’s out there (and there’s a lot) to help you heal the external you while you’re focused on the internal you. Each blog will go into detail and name names. Yes, real products that actually work, where to get them, how to use them and even how much they cost.

Jeanne and friends at a 3-day walk in support of Breast Cancer

YOUR HAIR

This is probably the most feared chemo side effect and rightfully so. It’s also the most misunderstood. While chemotherapy is different for each person – and hair loss is pretty common, it’s still an awful feeling when large clumps of hair suddenly fall out or are left on your pillow. It can be very scary, even traumatic. Not having hair (especially for women) is a constant reminder of what’s happening to your body. And isn’t funny how we all remember our hair as being our beautiful crowning glory –even if it wasn’t?

In the “Hair Blog” we’ll go over some cool things that might help speed the re-growth of your hair once your chemotherapy is complete.

YOUR SKIN

Like many of you, I experienced all sorts of skin reactions from both chemo and then again with radiation. My problems ranged from rashes and cracked skin to blisters and peeling – even some bleeding. Not pretty and often painful.

In the “Skin Blog” we’ll explore organic skin care –available products that should go a long way to protect and regenerate your skin.

YOUR TEETH & MOUTH

Chemotherapy packs quite a punch. What I learned and according to Cancer.gov, chemotherapy often plants that punch right in the mouth. Xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, is a condition of insufficient saliva. Saliva, of course, aids in cleaning, neutralizing acids, speech and alerts us that we’re thirsty. Dry mouth can lead to an unclean mouth which invites cavities.

In the “Teeth & Mouth Blog” we’ll discuss the many options designed to keep your mouth happy and healthy. And with everything else you’re going through the last thing you should be dealing with is repeated trips to the dentist.

YOUR NAILS

Not everyone experiences damage to their fingernails. However, many of you might notice superficial effects – ridges, breaking, thinning. Radiation is also a risk for nails.

In the “Nail Blog” we’ll chat about common issues of “chemo nail” and look into possible problem solvers for care and feeding (yup, vitamins are a thought) of your nails.

YOUR COSMETICS

It’s tough to feel good about your looks when your eyelashes and eyebrows are gone, you’re bald, feeling bloated and you may even have reddish dry chemo-skin. The emotional reaction can be very difficult. And contrary to common acceptance, it’s not always as simple as throwing on a wig, using make-up or applying false eyelashes.

In the “Cosmetic Blog” we’ll look into makeup and cosmetics that just might help fight the blahs – which can go a long way (it did for me) to restoring a sense of self.

YOUR BRAIN

When I first heard about “chemo brain” or brain fog I thought it was a joke. Not true. Many patients, including myself have reported being frustrated with a type of cloudiness that can occur before, during, and after their treatments.

The “Brain Blog” will be a bit different; only recently have legitimate studies been conducted to try and clear up the confusion. We’ll investigate.

YOUR PEACE OF MIND

Pampering you. While medications for nausea, diarrhea, mouth pain and other side effects are often necessary, creating a resting place with cozy sheets and pillows to make your sleep comfortable is equally important.

In the “Pamper” blog we’ll discuss resources to hopefully make it easier to let go: listen to music, journal (if that’s your thing) or just figure out simple ways to relax.

 

DIR-DIY: 7 Simple Rules for DIY

(Do It Right … Do It Yourself)

By Jeanne Romano

I’m the youngest of three girls. I’m not sure if my dad taught me how to do “things” around the house because I was his last chance for a boy or I was the only one who constantly asked him questions like, “What’s the difference between a Phillips head and a flathead screwdriver?” Either way I’ve always been happy that my father took the time to infuse me with the passion to do it myself.

I would love to say that Pops taught me the correct way to do things, unfortunately he was one of those dads who didn’t read instructions, made things fit when they didn’t, had left overscrews and duct taped the unintentional gap or two.

As an adult I learned the hard way how to do things right (don’t ask) and now I’m thrilled to be able to work on my own home. It’s a real money saver, it’s lots of fun and I love when I can say, “I did it myself.”

So, let me share a little of what I’ve learned with a few simple rules for any DIY project:

  1. The scope:
    1. Did you bite off more than you can chew? Make sure to choose a project to match your abilities.
    2. If this is your first toe in the water I strongly suggest you take it slow and small. For example, if you’ve never painted walls, pick one small wall. Once you complete that one if it went well and you feel encouraged to move on… move to a larger area and paint away!
    3. Give yourself plenty of time. Try not to leave this to a Friday before someone is coming visit on Saturday or Sunday. If you’re a cook, you often try recipes before serving it to guests. Same should apply to DIY projects.
    4. Weekend projects are often a good idea. Block out the whole weekend. Involve kids, friends and/or your spouse. It can be really fun. One caution though; if you involve your children please supervise and make sure everyone knows their job and how to succeed.
  2. The budget:
    1. One of the main reasons to do something yourself is to save money.
    2. Shop around for professionals and get quotes. Your goal becomes clear; beat their number.
    3. Remember to include the cost of your time as well as ALL supplies.
  3. Instructions:
    1. We’re so lucky to live in a time where instructions are merely a click away. Your project will most likely be online somewhere.
    2. Most products, like paint, varnishes, stains and finishes, as well as all tools come with a full set of instructions. Read them.
    3. Instructions are especially important when it comes to ventilation and drying time. Many of the newer products are safe and green – however all manufacturers are required to spell out the hazards (if any) on both their labels and in any available literature. You can find this online on sometimes, in an attached pamphlet or in the box if there is one.
    4. Believe me, you’ll end up spending more time and money correcting your errors if you take short cuts or are impatient when it comes to manufacturer directives.
  4. Select the right tool for the job:
    1. Even something as seemingly simple as choosing the correct brush for the texture of your surface and product you want to apply to the surface.
    2. We often spend more money than we should because we apply the “overkill” approach to our project; we get sucked into the more expensive, bigger or a designer name. It’s rarely necessary. Get what you need and get out of the store!
  5. What’s the worst that could happen?
    1. This is one of my constant mantras. If you look at your project with the knowledge that you can always change your mind or return it to its prior state, or if all else fail get someone to help you – you’ll approach your endeavor with confidence.
  6. Magazines and photos:
    1. Like bringing a picture of a haircut to your hairdresser, it’s a good idea to gather photos and examples of items, color and design that speak to you. You may need to adjust certain things to fit your budget and space, however it’s often easier to have a visual in your head.
  7. Opinions:
    1. Like everything else, your friends and family will have opinions. Careful. There’s nothing wrong with involving others, especially those who have done this before. Just make sure your project stays within your vision and you actually do it yourself!

Just make sure you’ve done your homework, that you carve out enough time and have enough money to finish the job. It feels so good to be able to point to something and say, “I fixed, painted or replaced that myself.”

By the way, the difference between a Phillips head and flathead screwdriver is the Phillips head has a crisscross tip that fits into the screw head and a flathead has a single edge for single slot screws.

Are Fruit and Veggie Washes Really Better?

By Leah Kaminsky

It seems like every grocery store I go to these days is touting their “green” veggie and fruit washes. “Get rid of pesticides!” they proclaim. “Eat healthier!” Naturally, the allure of such products is tempting, but the last thing I want to do is remove pesticides by spraying my produce with more chemicals. So, what’s the truth? Are fruit and veggie washes really a good idea?

First, as this study of one fruit and vegetable wash shows, there’s really no way to get rid of all pesticides if they’ve been applied systemically. However, pesticides, bacteria and dirt that appear on the surface of produce is much more easily removed. While water will do the trick for water-soluble pesticides, you need something with a little more acidity for those that aren’t (and good luck figuring out on your own which one is on your apple). That makes sense if you look at the ingredients for one produce cleaner called Fit, which operates primarily through its many acids:

Ingredients in Fit: Purified water, oleic acid (from Vegetable Sources), Glycerol (from Vegetable Sources), Ethyl Alcohol (from Corn), Potassium Hydrate (from Basic Minerals), Baking Soda (from Basic Minerals), Citric Acid (from Cornstarch and Molasses), and Distilled Grapefruit Oil.

None of these ingredients are particularly harmful or unnatural. This renders that fear of replacing chemicals with chemicals largely unfounded, making the question less, “Is it safe?” than, “Is it necessary?”

According to another study completed by Jack Bishop of Cook’s Illustrated, the answer is a solid no. As Bishop suggests, all you really need is a bottle of vinegar slightly diluted with water to have the same effect.

In the end, it seems distilled water, vinegar, or one of these simple home remedies (here and here) will do the trick just fine. What you wash produce with is far less important than simply washing it. So wash away, and eat up!

Fall Activities for Kids

By Leah Kaminsky

Of all the seasons, few are as kid-friendly as fall. This is particularly true if, unlike me, you live in a region where fall means more than shifting from soul crushingly hot to pleasantly warm. Here are my top activities for making fall as fun for kids as possible.

Visit a Farm

Nothing says fall quite like loading the kids into the car and heading out to a pumpkin farm or apple orchard. Kids will love the whole adventure, from finding the biggest/strangest/most perfect pumpkin in the patch to standing on tippy toes to grab the reddest apple. And, while you’re there, many enterprising farmers also have added hayrides and corn mazes into the mix. This is an opportune moment to sneak in a lesson about sustainable produce while you’re in and amongst it

Baking

Of course, once you get the pumpkins home, the kids will want to start carving them, but there are great baking opportunities for your produce as well. Roasted pumpkin seeds are always a hit, and if you bring home extra pumpkins from the patch, you should have more than enough for your favorite pie, muffin, cake and bread recipes. Apples are also great for similar recipes, as well as apple crisps, crumbles, applesauce, apple butter, jam – you name it! Other fall produce like squash can also be fun to play with and will give kids a better appreciation for the multi-faceted food they’re putting into their bodies.

Crafts

Image via: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mommyknows/

Fall is pretty much craft time galore. After spending an afternoon jumping in the leaves, have kids pick out their favorite few and turn them into a placemat. Make acorn necklaces, Thanksgiving cards – the list goes on. While there are a number of approaches to take, it’s often most fun and informative to incorporate elements from the natural environment when you can, given how vibrant and giving it is at this time of year.

There are far more fall activities than just this. Do a quick internet search for more, and enjoy the season in all of its cinnamon-y glory!

Have a Green Halloween

By Leah Kaminksy

 

Step out your front door the day after Halloween, and you’ll likely find a wasteland of toilet paper tangled in trees, discarded plastic belts and Dracula fangs, and candy wrappers dotting the landscape as far as the eye can see. As fun as Halloween can be, it doesn’t exactly rank high on the eco-conscious scale. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are just a few ways to make your Halloween a little more green – and healthy, too.

Candy

Although it’s unlikely you’ll ever manage to convince the kids that dried fruit makes a great substitute for candy (hey, it’s sweet!), there are some candies that are better than others. Fair trade, organic chocolate, for example, has all the taste while still promoting sustainable and ethical growing and production practices. Almost every type of candy is available in fair trade and organic form, so peruse your local or online health store for more.

When baking treats for school celebrations, you might want to consider swapping white sugar for agave nectar or coconut sugar, which rank lower on the glycemic index but taste just as good (if not better), and white flour for whole grain.

Decorations

From plastic spiders to paper maché pumpkins, Halloween decorations create a lot of waste. Try recycling plastic decorations from last year rather than buying them brand new every year. However, if new decorations are a must, look for recycled, durable materials or try your hand at making your own green decorations, whether that means having the kids collect pine cones for a wreath, turning old jars into a candle holder, or decorating with local produce like squash and gourds.

Costumes

Like decorations, Halloween costumes also tend to come with a lot of plastic, and to be for single use. You can make Halloween costumes green by reusing elements of last year’s costume, like a cape or a crown, to make something new. For a costume that’s new to your child (if not the world), try visiting a costume exchange, where parents can both donate and buy old, unwanted costumes on the cheap. And of course, don’t forget to give kids a reusable bag or a pillowcase to collect candy rather than a plastic bag.

Going green on Halloween is easier than you might think. Just get a little creative. So…trick or treat, eco-style!