The Mindful Merchant

Shop – Eat – Live – Mindfully

Cucumber Query July 9, 2010

Filed under: cleaning,eco-friendly,friendship,green,non-toxic,stupidity — MindfulMerchant @ 3:04 pm


I am one of those bad friends that never reply to FW: emails. You know, the ones that tell the recipient they are special and important. The kind that usually end with threats like seven years of bad luck if you fail to send it out to 20 of your bestest friends in 5 minutes.  No response = doomed for a life of eternal bad luck since not only do I never forward them…I rarely read them.  Delete. Delete. Delete.


There are exceptions to my reading though. When my friend Jen sent me a FW entitled “The AMAZING Cucumber”…how could I not have a peek? This forward was about 13 special ways this vegetable can enhance my life.


(Now do I have your attention?)

cucumbers No, it is not that kind of email. This one explains the health benefits of eating cucumbers that are full of vitamins and minerals. I did not know that cucumbers were that good for us. I thought they were mostly water and not much else.  Not so! <according to the life changing attachment> It also claims you can prevent a hangover, use it to boost energy and other AMAZING things. Jen sent it to me knowing I am interested in non-toxic cleaning options.  


The record-breaking hot temperatures this week meant I spent a lot of time with the kids indoors. Stuck for fun things to do one afternoon I found the old email in a folder and read it to them. We decided to play scientists and test some of the claims.  ( says the claims are undetermined)


First, we tried to clean pen off the basement wall. No one owned up to writing on the wall with pen, but one of our girls names is Sarah. hmmmm   Here is the before, and the after. It did not completely take away the mark, but it is less prominent. We all agreed it was not an effective way to clean the wall.


July_2010_003 July_2010_006

Next, we cleaned the mirror using the cucumber before the girls took their showers. It is supposed to eliminate the glass from fogging up. Unfortunately, the mirror was just as foggy after and I really had to work hard cleaning the smears off the glass.



Finally, we took a pair of Daddy’s dress shoes and “shined” them with the cucumber. Let’s just say, my husband had to get the shoe polish out after we were done with them. He was not impressed with the results, nor our justification that his shoes made a significant scientific contribution.


I have not tested the rest of the claims because we gave up after those three failing results. I must say that I appreciate when people send me green suggestions, please keep those coming. In this case I recommend cucumbers are best enjoyed in a lovely salad, or covering puffy eyes at a spa.


If you receive a FW: titled “The AMAZING Cucumber”, do not get excited. You can delete. Delete. Delete!


You’re welcome.




Sunscreen Surprises June 17, 2010

Filed under: Canada,children,health warning,heath and safety,non-toxic,safety,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 9:13 pm



sun The first official day of summer is days away. In the northern hemisphere, the summer solstice officially begins on June 21st at 7:28 am EDT. As the weather warms and we shed our clothes, many of us are starting to think about sunscreen. Before you reach for your favourite brand, the Environmental Working Group published its 4th annual Sunscreen Guide. If you have time to read this year’s report, it is full of interesting and concerning cautions. If you do not, here is my “Cliff Notes” version.


The EWG tested approximately 1400 products with SPF – beach and sun lotions, lip balms, moisturizers, sprays and creams. 1361 of those products received poor marks. Only 39 earned the highest green rating. That means they recommend only 8% from the 1400 tested.  Kind of scary isn’t it?


So why did the majority of beach and sport sunscreens rate so poorly?  The EWG’s explanation, “A surge in exaggerated SPF claims above 50 and new disclosures about potentially hazardous ingredients, in particular recently developed government data linking the common sunscreen ingredient vitamin A to accelerated development of skin tumours and lesions.”


The EWG recommends we avoid two chemicals – oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (vitamin A). The research regarding vitamin A/accelerated cancer connection is not conclusive.  They suggest we avoid retinyl palmitate as long as there is doubt about its safety. Oxybenzone is a hormone-disrupting compound that penetrates skin and enters the bloodstream.


Another interesting read is Sunscreen Exposed: 9 Surprising Truths. Here are a few points.

– The EWG reports there is “no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer”.  (?)

– There is some evidence that some sunscreens might increase the risk of the deadliest forms of skin cancer in some people”.   (what?!)

– There are more and more 50+ SPF products and higher on the market…”but no proof they’re better”.


If you hauled out your old sunscreen from last summer, do not throw it away just yet. It is easy to find its score on the website. Just type in the name and chances are the results will be there – hundreds and hundreds of products were tested.  Hopefully the brand you currently use is one of the safer products and does not appear in the Hall of Shame report.  If you are shopping for a new SPF products check out the top EWG recommended beach and sport sunscreens, lip balm, moisturizers and makeup.


mimesI have not found a safe sunscreen that my family likes.  We tried a few of the low hazard products on the EWG list with disappointing results. Last summer was particularly frustrating. I wasted money on a popular, highly recommended sunscreen at the health food store. It was thick, sticky and did not absorb or blend into our skin. We looked like a travelling mime troop at the park. 


So…this summer I have started my sunscreen search again. I am also looking into sun protective clothing.  (My husband and children are groaning and rolling their eyes!)  The EWG suggests the best protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays is clothing, hats and shade. Sunscreen is a secondary means of protection.


If you have a favourite sunscreen or any sun safe strategies, I would love to hear them.  





Eggciting Natural Dyes March 31, 2010

Filed under: eco-friendly,healthy,holidays,non-toxic,recipes — MindfulMerchant @ 1:16 pm



One of our family Easter traditions is decorating eggs. Store bought egg colouring kits are effective and seem harmless but they are full of synthetic chemicals and artificial colours. I am trying to reduce our synthetic chemical exposure…so it seems strange to dye eggs (and our skin) just for a holiday craft.   This weekend I want to give natural food based colourings a try.  


  1. Place eggs in a single layer in a pan and cover with water.
  2. Add 1 tsp of vinegar.
  3. Add your natural dye ingredients…the more you use, the darker the colour.
  4. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

The process sounds easy but I might have to play around with different ingredients for varying colour and intensity. For a glossy finished product you can rub the eggs with a little vegetable/olive oil when cooled.


Here are some natural egg dye options. Luckily, these are common foods you might have in your kitchen that will provide good colour. Frozen or fresh produce work equally well. Canned produce will give lighter, more subtle colours.


Red – pomegranate juice, raspberries, cherries

Pink – pickled beets, cranberries, red grape juice

Orange – paprika, yellow onionskins

Purple – blackberries

Green – spinach

Greenish/Yellow – yellow delicious apple peels

Yellow – turmeric, chamomile tea, green tea

Blue – blueberries

Brown – black tea, strong coffee


So, I am gearing up to conduct the natural egg dye “scientific” experiment. I figure the worst-case scenario my house stinks and we enjoy many egg salad sandwiches this weekend.  Wish me luck.




Something Stinks – the Natural Deodorant Experiment January 18, 2010

Filed under: all natural,greenwashing,health,health warning,non-toxic,shopping — MindfulMerchant @ 3:53 pm


Jakes 001 What is a gal gotta do to find an all-natural, healthy, effective deodorant? Seven years I have been experimenting and still no luck. (Isn’t that ridiculous?) Friends and family have suggested brands that they like but I have not had the same results. I think it is a body chemistry thing, what works for one person does not mean it will work for another. Either that or I am a freakish sweaty mess.

Yes, I have reframed my expectations. I expect using natural deodorant means I will continue to sweat (and that is healthy) but it should keep me adequately fresh throughout the day.  I do not expect it to work after a long hike or a game of hockey.  Am I asking too much?

My husband isn’t happy with the experiment because (a) I complain a lot (b) I try to pawn the rejects off on him and (c) he does not say it…but sometimes I stink with the “pits”.  The more I research the product the crustier I become. It is more than just the expense involved. I naively thought companies that market as organic, environmentally friendly and natural would make products that are low hazards for our health. This is where I first learned about greenwashing.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database reports, two of the deodorants I used (one during pregnancy with my daughter) and the other for the last year both received higher health hazard scores (6/10) and (4/10) than the popular generic brand (3/10) I was eager to replace.   What’s up with that?!

I wrote both companies to inquire about their troubling hazard scores. Both responded and both questioned techniques the Environmental Working Group used to analyze fragrance in products. One company said that if the EWG really investigated, they would likely change the hazardous rating to a lower score. (?) I was pleased they took the time to write me but their answers did not satisfy.

This forced a closer look at the ingredients. When shopping for deodorants, here are the deal breakers for me. I want to avoid products with formaldehyde a volatile organic compound (VOC). According to The Green Guide, it might pose the greatest health risk in roll on deodorants. Health Canada is not concerned about aluminum (and/or zirconian) but I am. The jury is out on studies that suggest this mineral contributes to Alzheimer’s. I figure, if we coat our cooking pans to protect our food from coming in contact with aluminum, I am not going to slap it under my armpits. I also want to avoid any ingredients ending in paraben (possible hormone disrupters) and fragrances other than essential oils.

So…the experiment continues. In the meantime, I alternate a few natural deodorants switching and combining trying to outwit bacteria. I realize now I have to do some homework before I shop for any green, organic or environmentally friendly products.

My next step is to try making my own deodorant from a recipe I recently found during my “investigation”. That takes cooking in my kitchen to a completely new level.  Wish me luck.

Have you had success with natural deodorants?  Do tell…

P1016199 - Copy


Step Aside Nancy Drew January 15, 2010



nancy drew My next few posts will be focusing on some interesting tidbits of green information I discovered. The more I read about environmentally friendly, all-natural, organic products, the more I realize the importance of research. I consider myself a ‘green’ greenie and part-time sleuth these days.


Greenwashing.  “The practice of companies disingenuously spinning products and policies as environmentally friendly. It is a deceptive use of green PR or green marketing. The term green sheen similarly been used to describe organizations that attempt to show that they are adopting practices beneficial to the environment” ~ Wikipedia



I was shocked to discover the following terms are almost meaningless.  Hypoallergenic, Allergy-Tested, Dermatologist-Tested and Fragrance-Free. These scientific words imply safety and natural purity but the reality is they mean almost nothing since they are unregulated by the government.   According the FDA there is no such thing as a non-allergenic cosmetic since everything can cause a reaction to someone.


Here is another marketing ploy. Against Animal Testing. Cruelty Free, or Not Tested on Animals. Often these labels do not mean what they imply. In some cases companies mean they do not test animals in their buildings…they outsource it to other labs. Sometimes it means that a product has not tested on animals in the last five years but the research is current.


Isn’t that interesting? I say interesting with the intonation a TV detective uses after discovering a clue <while raising one eyebrow>.   Surprising?  Not really…I guess.


flashplacement2 So what can consumers do about this?   Even though labelling is unregulated, there is still a chance what the manufacturer says is true.  The best way to tell is to look for this Leaping Bunny logo from The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC).  This is a great website for listing Canadian, U.S. and International companies that support cruelty free practices. They provide a free pocket sized shopping guide too.  Be careful to check for the real Leaping Bunny logo and not an imitation.  Yup, there are fake cute bunnies slapped onto labels out there.  Another trustworthy source is PETA  (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).  Click HERE to search for cruelty free companies and products.


You can also investigate your favourite beauty and personal care products to find out just how “natural” or “organic” they really are at the Environmental Working Group Safety Cosmetic’s Database (EWG).   Warning, do not attempt this if you are having a grumpy day…it will only make things worse.


There is Right to Know movement happening. The hope is that manufacturers will have to list all ingredients and disclose if a product is hormone disrupting etc. so consumers can make informed purchasing decisions. For more information about this, have a look at Toxic Free Canada website.


I feel duped and mad at myself for being so trusting.  That is in the past now and naiveté is sooo 2008.  I hope these little nuggets of green information help you with your future purchases.



P1016199 - Copy 



are organics fuelling my lottery addiction? December 20, 2009



I have started buying lottery tickets. Not for a dream vacation or fancy car…just so I can buy organic food. (I kid, I kid…sort of)

Lindsay, my sister-in-law and I often discuss our escalating grocery bills. She has a frugal gene too. We are both interested in buying organic food but wonder who can afford to pay the prices? There is no getting around it, organic food is expensive. Lindsay has asked me to put my frugal skills to the test and research how we can lower our monthly grocery bills, yet eat as healthy as we like.

Many argue that organic is not worth the money. My husband is one of those “anti-organic – it’s all a marketing ploy” thinkers. When he spies the price of organic grapes (after I have put them in the cart) the vein at the side of his head pulses. We debate, we share interesting articles and he does not shop with me anymore.

Since money does not grow on organic trees, I have to start prioritizing where I spend our money in the grocery stores. I have discovered I can save money buying fresh produce. Why do I bother buying organic fruit and vegetables? After researching the topic, it is much more than being pesticide-free. Organic means that farmers cannot use sewage sludge to fertilize crops. Yes folks, that’s right human feces is a popular fertilizer in Canadian municipalities. Yum! Organic also means free of hormones, free of processing aids and nothing genetically modified. Other reasons include higher nutrient/vitamin content, earth friendly farming practices and supporting local family farmers when possible.

Forget my reasons. Check out some websites and come up with your own. This is an interesting one  The Environmental Defence’s website has a Toxic Nation Reports section full of many different studies.  You can view the toxic chemical profiles of Canadian Adults and Canadian families tested.  You can also head over to their Metallic Lunch Report to see which foods contain the most lead (frozen dinners) nickel (cookies) and other unhealthy metals. What a fun way to spend an evening!

Another website is The Environmental Working Group. They used results from 87,000 tests collected by the U.S. Food and Drug administration and ranked pesticide levels of 46 fruits and vegetables. According to the E.W.G. people who eat the 12 most contaminated produce consume an average of 10 pesticides per day. Rinsing reduces pesticides but does not eliminate them. Peeling helps but unfortunately we lose the good nutrients in the skin.

 Here is a list of items you might want to consider buying organic, and which ones matter less.  Click here for a printable pocket guide.

The Worst Offenders

1.   Peach

2.   Apple

3.   Bell Pepper

4.   Celery

5.   Nectarine

6.   Strawberries

7.   Cherries

8.   Kale

9.   Lettuce

10. Grapes (Imported)

11. Carrot

12. Pear

This is not all doom and gloom though. Good news! Turns out there are many non-organic fruits and vegetables tested that had minimal pesticide residues.  Here are the top results.

The Clean 15

1.   Onion

2.   Avocado

3.   Sweet Corn

4.   Pineapple

5.   Mango

6.   Asparagus

7.   Sweet Peas

8.   Kiwi

9.   Cabbage

10. Eggplant

11. Papaya

12. Watermelon

13. Broccoli

14. Tomato

15. Sweet Potato

The shopping lists will likely change as I continue to research this topic. In the meantime, I will be less concerned about shopping organic when it comes to items on the Clean 15 list.  I have noticed a small reduction in our grocery bills while still trying to eat and cook healthier meals.  Every little bit helps.

I think the lotto is 20 million this week…come on lucky quick pick!



It’s all in the Bag November 26, 2009

Opeaongo farm 004 I have finally trained my brain to bring my own reusable bags when shopping. It only took about two years. Now that most grocery stores charge for bags, it is rare to see someone walk out the store with a cart full of plastic. Green thinkers and frugal shoppers are now on the same page. It’s a beautiful thing. 

Today I stood at the end of a long line at Loblaws. A woman at the front had full cart of groceries and forgot her bags. The cashier in a booming voice said, “Do you need to buy plastic?” The woman sheepishly whispered yes. I have been in her shoes feeling judgement ooze down the line.  Moments like that reinforce the need to bring my own bags… and why I own about 30+ of the suckers. Avoiding the dreaded plastic = no panic sweats and red flushes. (Oh…and it helps the planet.) It is not a good environmental story, but there is a bit of truth to that.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. throws away 100 billion plastic bags each year and less than 2% gets recycled.  Planet Green writes “The petroleum to make 14 plastic bags could drive a car 1 mile” and “Over 100,000 marine animals die every year because of plastic bags”.   Disturbing statistics.

It has always bothered me that I use plastic bags to buy loose produce like beans, mushrooms, and fruit. I discovered a store here in Ottawa called Nayla Natural Care that sells reusable produce bags and ordered a few to try. Turns out, they were an excellent purchase.

Steward Bags makes 100% organic cotton reusable produce bags in various sizes. Located in Cornwall Ontario, it is a growing Canadian company. Their strong mesh bags have an easy drawstring closure and are washable too. Steward Bags’ mission is to support fair trade labour, and help fund regional environmental projects.

You can find a retailer near you buy clicking here or order directly from the company. Ottawa residents can buy them this weekend at the Nayla Natural Care Open house Saturday Nov.28th from 10 am-2 pm. I will be going to pick up more to ‘wrap’ holiday gifts. (act surprised Mom) 

If you are concerned about reducing the amount of plastic in the landfills, I recommend trying this product.  Happy shopping!