The Mindful Merchant

Shop – Eat – Live – Mindfully

The Big Reveal July 14, 2010

 

Ta-Dum!  The Mindful Merchant got a makeover!  What do you think?

 

Last summer my pal Chris handed me a birthday card. Inside were two words – start writing! He surprised me by setting up all the things I needed to start a blog; domain name, set up a site, accounts etc. Awesomely nice, isn’t he? This pushed me to stop talking about what I would like to do and actually try something new.

 

After geeking out, studying WordPress guides and blogging 101 books, I felt by mid-August I could give it a whirl. I wrote my first post, and nervously sent it out to a small group of friends and family. Thankfully, my peeps cheered me on with kind words and helpful feedback. I am grateful for their encouragement.

 

My computer/social media knowledge was…minimal. (o.k. – I am was technically challenged) The learning curve has been HUGE. I finally joined Facebook (told ya) and the magical world of Twitter. A shift in thinking about green, healthy, more earth-friendly living has grown into a fun hobby that I absolutely love. Now I have readers from different parts of the world – and they are not my relatives. Wow.  Through blogging, I have made new friends, met interesting/creative people and feel more connected to the Ottawa community.

 

Here we are a year later and it is time for a change. I have grown tired of the drab brown and green WordPress template. Thanks to Maria and Dawn at Sweet Blog designs for their creativity, computer tech-wizardry and “getting” my intentions and humour. I hope you like the new design – I do!

 

Thanks Chris for the inspiration and all the computer help over the year. Thank YOU for subscribing, joining the MM Facebook Page, sharing posts, the kind shout-outs, and taking the time to comment. I especially love the comments – so please keep ‘em coming. 

 

Here’s to another year making small changes for a healthier home and planet.  Cheers!

 

 

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. 

                                                                                                                                       African Proverb

 

 

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Itchy Scratchy June 3, 2010

Filed under: children,family,health,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 1:25 pm

Warning:  The following post will likely make you itchy. 

“Mommy, my head itches.” Not the words you want to hear just before bath time on a Monday night. I turned to look at my daughter and she had both hands on her head scratching furiously.

 

                                                               Oh…please…please…not THAT.

 

Luckily, my neighbour is a nurse. After knocking on her door, she hurried over and confirmed that Sarah had lice – a virtual lice city on her head. How did I miss them?! Well they blended in beautifully with her thick dark brown wavy hair. After checking the whole family, we discovered that Gillian had a few…but not as bad a case.  Operation ‘Disinfect’ kicked into high gear. 

 

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I never had lice as a kid and neither had my husband. Not knowing what the heck I was doing combined with an itchy panic was not pretty. At 9pm the only store open was the local drug store. I raced out and consulted the pharmacist. He recommended a treatment and a separate comb. I questioned the ingredients and he offered a different brand that he claims is the “least toxic”. I bought it and treated all of us. I also washed in hot water everything I could stuff in the washing machine.

 

It was a late night for us grease balls. I combed out the kids hair meticulously. I will spare the gory details but let me say, it took almost 2 hours to pick through Sarah’s thick hair. <eeew>

 

The next day after all the embarrassing “Hey, you might want to check your kids” phone calls were done I sat down and took the time to investigate treatments and techniques…one day too late.

 

If you have young children I recommend you look into options NOW so you’ll be prepared with a treatment that jives with your family. Since this is a medical topic I am not comfortable recommending a brand or a treatment especially because we are in the midst of dealing with our outbreak. However, I will caution you that many over the counter topical treatments in Canada contain chemical pesticides. Some of the chemicals, like Lindane (a neurotoxin from the same family of chemical pesticides as DDT) are banned for agricultural use but are still acceptable to pour over our heads to treat lice. Read the labels carefully. There are many reports that indicate some lice are resistant to these chemicals anyway.

 

There are some funky natural treatments on the internet. Interesting ingredients involving mayonnaise, shower caps, petroleum jelly, conditioner, tea tree oil and plastic wrap (not all combined!) The health food stores sell many non-toxic natural kits with essential oils too. I purchased one for our second treatment next week.

 

The most important and effective treatment seems to be the combing process. Friends and medical people told me that a good metal lice comb is essential to remove the nits (lice eggs) near the scalp. Invest in the good comb because the ones in the kits are plastic and useless.  Muster all the patience you can, section and comb hair lubricated with a slick treatment to make sticky egg removal easier. Comb from root to tip and wipe on a tissue with each pass. Soak the comb in hot HOT water for at least 5 minutes before using it on someone else. To prevent spread or recontamination, make sure to wash clothing, linens and towels in hot water. Pillows and bedding can go in a hot dryer, vacuum carpets and mattresses. Typically, a louse cannot live off the human body for more than 1-2 days.

 

I used to check my kids by examining the top of their heads but clearly, that is not the best spot. Look behind the ears and the back of the neck first and then move around the head. I have seen magnified pictures before of the different stages of the head lice life cycle, but that did not help me Monday night. If you see what looks like dandruff and it is stuck to the hair (you cannot blow it away) it could be lice.

 

I hope you will not have to deal it…but if you do, know that it is a very common problem among children ages 3-10 and their families. I will continue combing and checking for weeks after the last treatment.  I will also add drops of tea tree oil to our shampoo for preventative measures in the future.  One good thing to come of this…my house has never been cleaner.

 

 

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Pin It For The Planet June 2, 2010

Filed under: Canada,climate change,environment,fitness,health,save money — MindfulMerchant @ 8:49 pm

 

May 31st – June 6th  The World Wildlife Fund of Canada launched Pin it for the Planet Campaign. They are inviting Canadians to do the unthinkable and use creative car-free transportation options the week. The idea is to pin your car key in a visible spot to make a personal act public, show your commitment to the environment and inspire conversation.

 

I find it hard to give up my car. My first instinct is to grab the keys and drive without a thought about the distance…especially when I am in a rush. The crazy thing is that I live in an area where most stores are within easy walking/biking distance too.  I am trying to change that habit, plan ahead and make small changes.

 

Driving the car less may sound like a big inconvenience, but there are benefits to consider. Decreasing your use of the car will save money on gas, insurance premiums, parking, etc., increased health benefits from exercise, and helping the planet.

 

 

Here are some interesting facts from the WWF website.

 

– If every Canadian left their car home just one day a week, we would save about 4.86 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of taking about 800,000 cars of the road per year.

– Approximately 70-80% of Canadians drive to work regularly.

– According to the Canadian Automobile Association driving a mid-sized vehicle, 18,000km/year averages more than$8400. in fuel, maintenance and other costs. (A mini-van is approximately $11,200.)

 

It is mid-week into the Pin It campaign, but not too late to get involved. You can track your contribution on their website and enter to win cool prizes too.  They are not asking Canadians to stop driving completely…just a little less.

 

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Who’s thirsty? May 9, 2010

Filed under: children,greenwashing,health,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 7:02 pm

 

XUP is a blog I read religiously…the Ex-Urban Pedestrian. No topic is off limits and the discussions that follow are lively.  It is smart, thoughtful, unpredictable, hilarious and always informative. If you have not read it – I encourage you to check it outXUP brought to my attention a product called VitaminWater and her concerns…thought the topic was right up my alley.

 

So today we made a trip down the beverage isle in the grocery store and I picked up a bottle of VitaminWater. My daughters jumped up and down clapping “Oooh, can we get it?  Can we?  Can we?” I asked them how they recognized this drink. “We’ve had it LOTS of times,” they informed me. Oh really? Hmmm. I read the ingredients and realized XUP was right…this is right up my alley.

 

It seems the kids have sampled VitaminWater a few times at birthday parties and after hockey games/practices. They also told me it was o.k. because they were “good for you” drinks. As I put the bottle back, I suggested that we do some investigating and look into the ingredients. “Awww,” my youngest said with a stomp for extra drama, “That’s never a good thing!”

 

images The drinks look appealing with vibrant colours and catchy flavour names. There are many days I sure could use some Endurance Peach Mango and Focus Kiwi Strawberry.  According to The Center for Science in the Public Interest, they contain 0-1% actual juice despite their inspiring names.

 

My kids say the drinks taste like Kool-Aid and Jello.  <Yes, they have sampled those products too.  Ugh.> 

 

There are 32.5 grams of sugar in each bottle of VitaminWater (FYI a can of Coke has 39 grams). American researchers feel that artificially sweetened beverages and those sweetened with sugar and high fructose corn syrups are the top cause of childhood obesity in America.

 

Vitamin fortified drinks sound promising but many of the vitamins we cannot process. For example, vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble. They enter the blood stream through dietary fat. For optimum absorption, it is best to take them with a meal or they pass through your body with minimal effects. The bottom line is that vitamins in water are not as nutritious as vitamins found in food.

 

There are other brands of vitamin water on the market. If you are reaching for them as a healthy form of nutrition carefully read the ingredients.   I am going to think of them as a soft drink with a twist.   My daughter is right…most of the time I look into the ingredients of a product…it is disappointing. 

 

Oh, and a  little footnote -  Coca-Cola the manufacturer of VitaminWater is being sued by The Center for Science in the Public Interest for alleged deceptive marketing practices.

 

 

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p.s. I removed the fructose & artifical colouring portion until I dig deeper on this nutritional information. Stay tuned! 🙂

 

The Flake Debate April 6, 2010

Filed under: biodegradable,environmentally friendly,health,health warning,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 3:10 pm

Once a month my husband and I end up in a giant grocery store…together…buying the heavy big bulk items we cannot carry on our usual walk to the shops. We have different shopping styles. Without kids, I take my time, compare prices and read labels. He likes to peruse the roasted chicken counter and the discounted clothing bin. (He loves finding odd coloured t-shirts that have been marked down multiple times until they are $2.00)

 

Sigh.

 

This past weekend we found ourselves implementing our ‘see you in the kitty litter isle in 10 minutes’ plan.  When we met up he put a  bottle of dandruff – 2 in 1 shampoo in the cart.

 

“That stuff is awful,” I said. (Actually, I used a more colourful vocabulary) “You don’t have dandruff and never have!” I said taking it out of the cart.

“That’s why I don’t,” he said, “its preventative.” Back in the cart it went.

“Trust me, it’s horrible” I plucked it out again.

<ATTENTION customers…there’s a fight brewing in the kitty litter isle>

“O.k. why is it so horrible?” He asked putting it back.

“Well…harmful chemicals…I read scary things,” I vaguely replied as I removed the bottle.

“Be specific…I’m not convinced.” This time he wedged it between the groceries.

“Aggh…I can’t remember the specifics! I’ll have to do some research,” I grumbled.

“You do that,” he grumbled back pushing the cart containing dandruff shampoo to the checkout.

 

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What I should have told him is that popular dandruff shampoos contain a toxic ingredient – coal tar. That is the black liquid distilled from coal and it has a long history linked to cancer (miners, chimney sweeps etc.) Lathering up with coal tar extract is not the only problem. The environmental impact from coal mining continues for years polluting ground water even after mines are closed.

 

The brand my husband bought contains zinc pyrithione. Zinc in this form is problematic even though it is supposed to degrade quickly in water. An interesting study conducted by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation in 2004 found that 3 millilitres of dandruff shampoo containing 0.08% zinc pyrithione killed half the fish added 24 hours later to a 1000 litre tank (within four days). 1% of the added zinc was still detected in the water – 80 days later.

 

The Environmental Working Group website gives the shampoo we purchased a hazard of 6 and reports its ingredients are linked to cancer, allergies/immunotoxicity as well as other concerns.

 

Another ingredient to watch out for is selenium disulphide. It has long-term environmental effects and considered very toxic to aquatic life.

 

If you are looking for healthier alternatives look for tea tree oil shampoos found in health food stores. Another option is to add a few drops of tea tree oil to a capful of your regular shampoo. If you want to use ingredients from your kitchen, vinegar or apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water can soak into your scalp before shampooing as another natural suggestion.

 

I have not tried any of the homemade treatments but I am looking for a tea tree shampoo to replace the shampoo my husband liked.  He is willing to stop buying the 2 in 1 stuff but he informed me there is no way he will smell like fish and chips…even for “preventative” measures.

 

Sigh.

 

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The Challenge Choosing chocolate February 4, 2010

 

chocolate Valentine’s Day is in less than two weeks. Although I am not a big fan of the holiday, any excuse to indulge is always a good thing. I like to remind myself of the many health benefits of chocolate every time I dig into a piece.  Occasionally, I splurge on a bar of Green & Blacks Dark 85% Cocoa.  Not too bitter, decadent and delicious.

Chocolate contains flavonoids – pigments found in plants that act as antioxidants that help reduce damage to our bodies. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals which clog arteries, damage cells and contribute to chronic illness and ageing. Dark chocolate contains a large number of antioxidants. (Apparently nearly 8 times the number found in strawberries?) Milk chocolate has fewer flavonoids, more added sugar and added milk fat.  White chocolate fans might be disappointed to learn it contains no flavonoids and is the least healthy of the three.

There is a dark side to chocolate that I wish I knew a long time ago.  Most chocolate comes from cocoa farms where farmers work in unsafe conditions and receive below poverty wages. In recent years, the media has exposed the common practice of forced labour on cocoa plantations in West Africa where 70% of the world’s chocolate comes from. Save the Children estimates that 200,000 of the 600,000 children on the Ivory Coast are working on cocoa plantations. An estimated 12,000 work without family or relatives and that suggests human trafficking and slave labour. Big chocolate manufacturers (Hershey, Mars, Cadbury, Kraft) acknowledge that conditions must improve. They joined government and non-profit initiatives with the promise to change children’s working conditions, reduce pesticide use, improve farming practices and wages. Unfortunately, activists say there has been little progress over the years.

Chocoholics do not despair. Knowing where your chocolate comes from makes it easier to swallow. There are labels to help consumers with shopping decisions.

Certified Fair-Trade – Farmers and workers are paid a fair price. No child, slave or forced labour practiced.

Rainforest Alliance-Certified – Chemical pesticides are limited using conservation measures. Workers are paid the legal minimum wage or higher and have good working conditions.

Certified Organic – Grown without chemical pesticides or synthetic fertilizers using soil and water conservation.

This Valentines might be a good time to reconsider the heart shaped box of assorted centers and buy chocolate that is better for your health, the workers, and the planet. Oh, and the extra thought could win you big points with your sweetheart too.

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a New Takeout Twist January 21, 2010

Filed under: environment,environmentally friendly,health,health warning,save money — MindfulMerchant @ 8:54 am

 

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There is an exciting new campaign beginning. It is called TakeOut WithOut – an initiative to reduce restaurant waste. It is simple and smart. All you have to do is say no to unnecessary packaging when you take out. 

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K.B, Lee, founder of Ever Bamboo created this non-profit campaign because of the dangers of polystyrene (Styrofoam) and excess packaging especially when it comes to take-out. He collaborated with Lisa Borden of Borden Communications and TakeOut WithOut launched to inspire and help people fill their stomachs…not the landfill.

In addition to manufacturing and environmental concerns, there are serious hidden health risks associated with common takeout containers.  Most foam cups and takeout containers are made with polystyrene. The main chemical component, styrene has the potential to leach into your food, then you, then the landfill. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that styrene is a possibile carcinogen to humans.  Plastic containers can be recycled, but they contain resins, which also pose serious health risks. They are also made from petroleum, a resource in short supply.   These are good reasons to try and avoid these hazards.

160 x 160 So what is involved?  It is easy to do.  TakeOut WithOut (TOWO) is asking consumers and restaurants to…

Refuse unnecessary stuff. When taking out say no to unnecessary packaging like napkins, plastic cutlery and the plastic bag. Take only what you need.

Retake your own reusables. Bring your own coffee mugs, containers, bags, cutlery and bottles. (Carry extras in your purse, briefcase, backpack or car so you will always have on hand.)

Reconsider your habits.  It might take a while to break an old habit, but even small changes have a big impact.

This initiative is healthy, saves money, and the environment. You can click here to check out the Takeout Without website and join the campaign.  If you feel inspired, please forward the website to friends, co-workers and your favourite restaurants.  Let’s keep the campaign growing! 

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