Category Archives: Green Living

Mixing Up Natural Bug Repellant for Peace of Mind

By Leah Kaminsky

Raise a hand if you’ve experienced this before: you want to sit outside on an idyllic but mosquito-filled summer’s night. You reach for the bug repellant and your eye falls on this abbreviation in the ingredient list: DEET, a chemical linked to neurological problems, skin and eye irritation, and who knows what else. Not to mention all the other big chemicals you can’t pronounce. You opt for the screened-in porch instead.

Sound familiar? Well, don’t pack those lawn chairs up yet. There’s a solution around the corner, and its name is essential oils.

As you may have noticed, insects aren’t like us. While we pay extra money to get massaged with essential oils, bugs like to stay as far away from them as possible. Mix just a few potent drops with any household oil (olive, vegetable, etc.) or in rubbing alcohol and those bugs won’t touch you.

Different essential oils repel different bugs, so choose yours based on the worst culprits in your area. For mosquitoes, try cinnamon, citronella or castor oil. Lemon or regular eucalyptus oil is also great for mosquitoes, ticks and lice, while rose geranium oil is only effective on ticks and lice. If you’ve got more than one of these pests, try a mix n’ match approach. Carpet-bombing can’t hurt anyone except the bugs.

As a general rule, go for one part essential oil for every 10-20 parts oil or alcohol. Add aloe vera for a lotion-like feel.

Apply your natural bug repellant like you would any other, avoiding sensitive areas like your eyes. Store what you don’t use in a dark bottle and keep it out of the sun.

So there you have it. Mix together a few oils and you’ll have your completely natural route to total bug aversion. Bugs beware!

Say “I Do” to Planning a “Green” Wedding

By Leah Kaminsky

Weddings don’t just have a big impact on your wallet, they affect the environment, too. If you’re an eco-minded fiancée, here are a few ideas to keep the waste and emissions of your nuptials to a minimum.

Pick a central location.

If you’re like me, you’ve got family and friends spread out all over the world. Think strategically about where you have your wedding, choosing a location that’s central for as many people as possible.

Use local resources.

Wherever you go, draw from local resources. Find in-town caterers who support local, organic farmers. Or, if you grow your own food or flowers, source them right from your garden, leaving meat off the menu. Cut out the global labor and resource chain by finding a seamstress in town to make your dress. Hire in-town staff to reduce the carbon cost of travel emissions.

Embrace the backyard with DYI.

For a hyper-local wedding, hold it right in your backyard. Decorate tables with colorful fruit, or knit your own flowers for a cute, green gift your guests can take home. Another great idea: pick a wedding date when the flowers are sure to be in bloom and forget the florist altogether.

Recycle and repurpose.

From the invitations and thank you cards to the placards on each table, work only with recycled paper. Wear a friend or family member’s old wedding dress, or have a seamstress turn your plain white dress into something spectacular you can wear time and time again. You can even decorate the venue with crafts and sculptures made from recycled materials.

And of course, make sure that the venue is set up for recycling the day of, too.

With these tips in hand, you’re sure to have a fun, green wedding. Congrats!



Tips for Traveling Green This Summer

By Leah Kaminsky

For the eco-conscious traveler, staying green on the road can present a wide range of problems. There’s little to buy in the airport that isn’t vacuum-sealed with plastic and unfortunately, bottled water is a necessary evil in developing countries. That said, there are still many options available, just as long as you consciously apply those green principles you use at home when you’re traveling.

Choosing a Hotel

Many hotels are slapping the word “green” next to their name these days, so be sure to use a resource like the Green Hotels Association to find properly vetted places. If you can’t find one in your destination and price range, take preventative measures, like leaving a note asking housekeeping not to change your sheets and towels unless you ask them to. Also, bring your own reusable water bottles and toiletries so the staff won’t have to throw out your partially used soaps at the end of your stay.

Just like at home, turn off all lights and electronic equipment, switch off both heat and air conditioning when you leave for the day and take short showers.

Getting There and Back

By far, the place where travelers have the highest environmental impact is on getting to and from their destination. You can offset some of those emissions by using a carbon exchange, by opting for the train if you’ll be traveling a particularly short distance (especially in Europe), or by renting a hybrid or electric car. No matter what mode of transportation you choose, packing light will use less fuel.

Once You’re There

Get to know the local culture by shopping for snacks in farmer’s markets, and make sure the products you buy really are local. Don’t take any brochures or maps unless you’re sure you’ll use them, and instead, use your smart phone when you can. If you’ll be out in the wilderness, stay on the trails and don’t touch the wild life. And, most of all, get around on your own two feet. Walking and also biking are great ways to immerse yourself in a local culture. Using public transport is another good option and will get you oriented to you new surroundings much more quickly than a cab ever will.

Staying green while you’re traveling is well within your means, as long as you think it through ahead of time and stay on your toes. Happy trails!

Superfoods For The Savvy Shopper

By Juli Goetz Morser

Doesn’t it seem like every six months a new super food hits the headlines as the be-all-and-end-all cure for some common or chronic health ailment? Think acai berry, pomegranate, coconut water, goji berries for some of the latest trends or salmon, blueberries, oats and walnuts for the old timers. If food is what we consume to provide nutritional support for our bodies, then super foods are touted to go beyond basic nutrition with claims to lower cholesterol, control diabetes, fight heart disease, strengthen the immune system, and generally help us live longer.

Since we all want to live healthy lengthy lives, these new and old ‘discoveries’ and their so-called healing properties can be pretty alluring. Kind of like the silver bullets for health. But you’ve got to wonder if these claims amount to, well, a hill of beans. Unfortunately, this is where things get a little murky. For instance, last year the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the health claim that omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. But when used on a label, the claim has to say that the research is not conclusive. Kind of confusing, huh?

So what is a savvy shopper to do? Well one approach is to simply not worry about eating specific foods for specific ailments until the FDA gives the final word. Another option is to go ahead and add a variety of these calorie sparse and nutritionally dense super foods to an overall healthy diet. Why not? It may not be the quick fix you are looking for or even the magic answer, but it just might be something worth eating for.

Here are some everyday super foods to put on your grocery list:

Beans – the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend three cups weekly of these fiber-filled nuggets. They are also a good low fat source of protein, carbohydrates, magnesium and potassium. Edamame (whole soybeans) also contain omega-3 fatty acids for an added bonus.

Blueberries – the darker the better. These small berries are packed with antioxidants, phytoflavinoids, vitamin C and potassium. Berries in general are low in calories, high in water and fiber, and can satisfy sweets cravings with a lot fewer calories than typical baked goods. Frozen berries are said to be just as good, nutritionally, as fresh ones.

Broccoli – this may be one of America’s favorite veggies. It appeals to all ages and is available year round. It is a rich source of Vitamin A, C and K and has plenty of fiber.

Dark orange vegetables – sweet potatoes, carrots, orange bell peppers, butternut squash and pumpkin are all super high in vitamin A. Sweet potatoes, unlike white potatoes, also are loaded with vitamin C, calcium, and potassium.

Eggs – the incredible edible egg contains 12 vitamins and minerals, including choline, while also providing quality protein.

Low fat or fat-free yogurt – believe it or not, low or fat-free yogurt is actually higher in calcium than some other dairy products. It is a top quality source of protein and potassium and can contain probiotics, which help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines.

Nuts – the key to nuts is how much you eat. They rate well due to their protein, antioxidant, high fiber and heart-healthy fat content, but watch the quantity. Go for small portions, about 100 calories a day.

Oats – naturally! Rolled oats or even food that contains a lot of oat bran are the rare super foods with an FDA approved label that they may reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low fat diet.

Quinoa – this ancient grain is high in protein and is a good source of iron, zinc, vitamin E, selenium and fiber. In addition to quinoa, try these whole grains: barley, buckwheat, millet, wild rice, and whole wheat.

Salmon – the American Heart Association recommends eating cold water fatty fish like salmon twice a week because they are chock full of the omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon is low in calories and saturated fats, high in protein and is a good source of iron. Choose wild over farmed salmon when possible as farmed salmon may contain elevated levels of contaminants and artificial coloring.

Dark Chocolate – a super food? Really? Yes, really. Dark chocolate with 60% or higher cocoa content is a potent antioxidant. And the darker it is, the lower the fat and sugar content. Oh, and did we say it’s yummy?

Growing Your Own Food in an Urban Environment: Part II

By Leah Kaminsky

In Part I of this series, we learned how to use recycled or re-purposed containers and a windowsill to grow an urban garden. Today we’ll look at two other great routes—raised beds and grow bags.

For those with a little more space (or the willingness to give up the whole patio), raised beds are a great way to grow a full and vibrant garden that can feed the entire family. Raised beds are freestanding structures made with wood, stone, concrete or any easy-to-use building material. They’re filled with soil and compost and customized to fit the dimensions of the available space. The beds need to be at least eight inches to three feet in height according to the needs of the produce you’ll be growing there.

Raised beds are an easy way to make spaces arable that normally aren’t. If you live in an apartment building and have access to both a balcony and rooftop, you can grow produce with high sunlight demands on the roof and those with lower demands on the balcony. In that way, raised beds increase the versatility of the food you grow.

If building your own bed (or hiring someone to do so) sounds too complicated, you might want to buy a grow bag at your local gardening center. These relatively inexpensive bags are durable yet flexible, accommodating a range of spaces even when filled with soil. Try enlisting other tenants in your apartment building to purchase several dozen for the building rooftop. You can plant just one crop or several and have your own rooftop farm. Once harvest time rolls around, celebrate community work with a big cooking party or barbeque.

No matter what route you take, urban gardening is a wonderful way to create a self-sustaining garden and have a little fun while you’re at it.

Growing Your Own Food in an Urban Environment: Part I

By Leah Kaminksy

Stay tuned for part two!

Just because you live in a city or on a small plot of land doesn’t mean you can’t grow your own food. In fact, the less space you have, the more fun you can have getting creative.

First matter of business: try to find old materials that can be turned into containers. This can be anything from used tires, wine barrels, kiddie pools, buckets, big mixing bowls, and so forth. As long as it’s round and relatively deep, you can work with it.

Buy a rich, dark soil from your local gardening store or if you have the space, make your own compost from food scraps. Line containers accordingly, making sure to leave a two inch gap at the top to allow room for water. Then plant any fruit or vegetable that does well in your climate. Greens like lettuce grow in most environments, as do turnips and peas.

Shallower containers like wading pools dry out more quickly than deeper containers, so make sure to water regularly.

If making room for a used tire garden puts you into hysterics (“A used tire? In my apartment?”), all is not lost. You can still grow a garden even if you’re only working with a windowsill–preferably one that gets six to eight hours of light each day. All you need is a smaller container that maximizes sun capture (open bowl, good; closed watering can, bad).

If you’re nervous about a big undertaking, start with herbs and then work up to tomatoes, lettuce or small root vegetables.

Shop your local hardware store for cheap shop lights to use on cloudy days.

No matter which strategies you choose to grow inexpensive, pesticide-free food, approach your garden with a new set of eyes. See possibilities, not problems. This is, after all, a creative problem solving challenge. Think hard, have fun and play!


Tune in next week for more ideas in Part II of this urban gardening series.

The Real Price of Cut Flowers

By Leah Kaminsky

Though Mother’s Day has come and gone, it’s taken nearly a month for me to clear all of those “50% off Mother’s Day Flowers” emails from my inbox. Flowers are, after all, the go-to gift for Mom, and I feel just a little bit less guilty about living far away when I know I can brighten my mom’s day with the click of a button.

But have you ever wondered where these flowers come from and how they find their way to their destinations? Stephen J. Dubner at Freakonomics did, and what he found may dull your enthusiasm.

Turns out, 80% of all cut flowers sold in the United States come from places like Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. These flowers must be refrigerated immediately and shipped, first by air and then by truck.

That adds a lot more carbon to the atmosphere than going out to the garden and snipping a rose. And as Dubner points out, it’s a little strange that we care so much about high “food miles” when cut flowers are crossing the nation, causing extra pollution as they go.

So what’s an eco-minded mommy-lover to do the next time Mother’s Day rolls around? If you live far away, you have a couple options:

1. Send money to your mother’s partner, sibling or friend along with a nice card asking them to make the flower purchase from a local grower.

2. Try one of the new plastic flowers, which, according to Dartmouth geographer Susan Freidberg, are lightweight, great looking, made relatively near you and will last indefinitely. The same goes for Christmas trees, but we’ll save that for another post.

Or, you could think of other gifts altogether, like a new painting from that local artist you know she loves.

Reducing the carbon the cut flowers business produces is well within our reach. We just have to be honest about the environmental impact and get creative.

Are you allergic to Grandma’s candy dish?

I would wake up and I cough like a ninety year old man.  In the shower, my eyes would itch. And, pouring a cup of coffee usually spilling it all over me because of my non-stop sneezing jag.  Sound familiar?  I was allergic to my life; turns out that having an allergy is the most common denominator among people of all ages, sex and ethnicity. In fact it’s estimated that approximately 40 million Americans suffer from some sort of allergy.

Here is a short list of things I did that made my life less of a sneezing, coughing, itchy-fest.

  • No fresh flowers.  Sad, I know, however they are often the culprit
  • De-clutter. Knick knacks are fun — but seem to collect every speck of dust on the planet
  • Vacuum your mattress and cover it with a hypo-allergenic mattress pad. Unless you are allergic, the best materials are cotton and bamboo
  • Use unscented soaps, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, moisturizers and lotions
  • If you want to use room deodorizers find an organic fruit spray. They are a lovely alternatives and have been proven to be effective at killing viruses and bacteria without harmful side effects
  • Brush the dogs outside and often

The more you about common allergens in your life the less Kleenex, nose sprays and pills you’ll need to buy.

Going Vegan, Going Healthy

By Leah Kaminsky

Veganism has come a long way since the days when every vegan brownie tasted like cardboard. I don’t know about you, but I have accidentally scooped up my fair share of appealing cookies from gas stations around Seattle only to realize after the fact that they lacked eggs and butter. If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of heading down this road, here are a few more reasons why.

Veganism in its simplest form is a diet and lifestyle that excludes all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey, as well as makeup and clothing tested on or made from animals. So, if you want to go vegan you’ll have to stop attending that weekly meat club and wearing great Aunt Dina’s creepy fox fur.

The reasons for becoming a vegan are as diverse as there are people in the world. Ethical vegans have a moral aversion to harming animals, including keeping them in captivity and harvesting their products. Dietary vegans like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton believe the diet to be healthier than all others, while environmental vegans credit the toll animal products take on the earth.

To avoid nutrient deficiencies (which, by the way, you’ll have anyway if you consume the average junk food American diet) enlist your doctor or nutritionist to help you locate alternative sources of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and iron. An over the counter supplement is always a good idea, but you’d be surprised how many of these nutrients you can get from other foods like spinach and beans (high in iron and protein) and fortified grains such as bread or cereal (high in B12, which is hard to find in plant products).

Start slowly with meatless Mondays, experiment with a new vegan recipe, replace your old makeup with vegan alternatives and step it up from there.

As long as you don’t let your newfound veganism become an “all French fries, all the time” diet, you just might find yourself losing weight and feeling better too.

How-to Throw a Naturally Fabulous Party

Love having parties and entertaining but worry about the waste you and your guests are creating? Don’t worry—you can be a social butterfly and an eco-friendly party expert at the same time! We put together a few handy how-to tips on for a chic shindig with natural flair.

1. Send electronic invitations. Considering most guests don’t save invitations, the paper variety isn’t a very sustainable option. Instead of buying pre-printed invitations or making your own using a printer, create an email invite with a service like Evite or

2. Use washable plates, silver, and glassware. We bet your first instinct is to head to the store for disposables—but why not use the dishware you and your family eat off every day instead? Or head to your local thrift store for an eclectic mix of used items. You can create a colorful tea party with an array of thrifted teacups.

3. Choose decorations that can be reused.  Pass right on by those latex balloons, unless you’re okay with seeing them pile up in your trashcan. Invest in come colorful paper lanterns instead—they’re party-friendly for all occasions. You can also scoop up handcrafted party décor on, or follow a DIY tutorial and make your own.

4. Make your own snacks and cake.  Creating your own party buffet from scratch will not only impress your guests, it will also satisfy cravings and leave them talking about your yummy dishes for weeks afterwards. If you’d rather skip kitchen duty, find a local catering company or baked goods shop and place an order.

5. Use creative wrapping paper. Save money and resources by creating a wrapping supply chest full of colorful comics from the newspaper, or pretty pieces of craft-store fabric that giftees can save and reuse. You can also buy plain white silk or muslim and dye them with color-saturated veggies like beets, spinach, and onion skins.


Getting creative with these ideas will make your event memorable—as well as eco-friendly!