The Mindful Merchant

Shop – Eat – Live – Mindfully

Oh Canada June 25, 2010

Filed under: Canada,children,family,holidays,stupidity,writers block — MindfulMerchant @ 12:00 pm

 

images Think back to the this past winter Olympics…a time when Canada experienced a swell of patriotism. Wasn’t it great?  I love Canada. It is not perfect…but the more I travel and read, I appreciate this beautiful country.

My brother and sister-in-law live in the United States. Our nieces and nephew have dual citizenship…but I thought of them as more Canadian until the Olympics came along. You can imagine our surprise when brother-in-law informed us their children wanted the the U.S. to defeat Canada  and win gold in men’s hockey. 

“Must be a bad connection J…it sounded like you just said the kids are cheering for the U.S.  (hahaha)  What’s that?  Oh…you’re not kidding…I see.”

<crickets> 

So I sent them a ridiculous email…just ‘cause I love them and I was bored.   I came across the draft recently and thought I would post a modified version since it is Canada Day in a few days…and ‘cause I’m low on writing topics.

Dear J & T,

 

 

Out of concern for the welfare of our beloved nieces and nephew I would like to propose that during your next annual visit to Ottawa, we enrol the kiddies in an intensive crash Canadian Ed. program.

 

Some course options could include…

 

 

 Ode to the Maple – Tree tapping, boiling, trudging through Sugar Maple forests and 24 hours intravenous hydration of pure 100% Maple syrup.

 

 

 Gastro Delights – How to spot the best roadside blueberry pie or fresh corn stand 3 kms ahead.  If time allows, preparing the stomach for poutine, beavertails and maple taffy.

 

 

 The Dialect – Learn the correct intonation and application of “eh” and please…it is Zed not Zee.

 

 

 National Sports – Discover the pride that comes from being called a luger. Understand that men sweep and in Canada, we usually cheer a women charged with “2 minutes for hooking”.

 

 

Composting/Recycling 101   Grow beautiful gardens and lawns despite a municipal pesticide ban. If time permits…how to chase green bins and blue bins down windy/icy roads and resolve the 6:45am weekly curb side debate “Paper or plastic?”

 

 

Tim Hortons Toughen up skin sensitivity and hold a cup of coffee without a “sleeve”. Master the optimistic experience of rolling up the rim and learn what it means to want a “regular” every day.  Earn extra marks for greening it up – bring your own eco-friendly coffee cups.

 

 

beaver Canadian Currency  We value our loonies. Learn how to look rich by adding Canadian Tire money to your wallet.

 

 

Canadian Music Appreciation – Convincingly mouth the words to Oh Canada in English & French.  Study the chorus to The Good ‘ol Hockey Game and fill the gaps with hand claps and whoops. Learn the real lyrics to I’se the B’y and Canadian Railroad Trilogy.  Crash course on how to air guitar to Tom Sawyer.

 

 

Our National Treasures & Symbols  Special focus on The Beaver…and The Bieber. The industrious semi-aquatic rodent once prized for its pelt – the young teen pop sensation admired for his bangs.

 

We need to act quickly.  Canadian patriotism is difficult to retrieve once a person finds “aboot” and igloo/dog sled jokes amusing.  Please let us know if you are still coming so we can make arrangements.

 

Love,

Laura

 

Would you believe they didn’t visit us this spring?  Something to do with a sudden illness…very strange.

Happy 143th Canada!   Hope everyone has a safe, fun and relaxing Canada Day. 

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Crunchy Granola June 19, 2010

Filed under: children,healthy,recipes,save money — MindfulMerchant @ 12:26 pm

 

My kids like to help in the kitchen. Tomorrow they are going to “cook” their traditional Father’s Day breakfast. (Co-incidentally, it happens to be the exact same menu as  Mother’s Day breakfast.) We awake to lots of clanging and banging around in the kitchen mixed with loud “Shhhhh’s”. When we come downstairs, coffee is made (they push the button to ON), the table is set with pretty yogurt parfaits and the kitchen looks like a bomb went off. Our favourite parfaits are simply layers of vanilla yogurt, fresh berries and granola. Tasty and fancy shmancy looking.

 

We love granola. I stumbled upon an old  recipe. I forgot how good it was, and how I can customize it to accommodate my fussy eaters. It is much cheaper to make it too. The brand we buy is expensive and rarely goes on sale.

 

As like most of my recipes, I use small handfuls that work out to ¼ of a cup or a ½-cup depending on my mood. The original recipe came from my friend Alice. We worked together in Toronto. She passed away suddenly a few years ago and I think of her whenever I make it. (I also think of her whenever I hear Neil Diamond. She was a fan.) This recipe makes a BIG batch and it lasts in an airtight container for about a month.

 

 

 

 

 

Alice’s “Good for you” Granola

 

2 ½ or 3 cups rolled oats

Handful of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds, unsweetened grated coconut

Couple of spoonfuls of ground flaxseed

½ cup of maple syrup

2 tbsp of honey

2 tbsp of safflower oil or vegetable oil

(Optional – dried fruit like cranberries, blueberries, raisins or cherries)

 

In a large bowl, combine maple syrup, honey and safflower oil. Toss in all the other ingredients except the dried fruit and spread out evenly on a cookie sheets. Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly brown. Give it a stir a few times during the baking and add the dried fruit after you take it out the oven. Let it cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

 

If you like to eat granola this is an easy, tasty recipe.  Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

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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.  

 

 

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Mindful Gnome June 4, 2010

Filed under: climate change,community,environment,gardening,stupidity — MindfulMerchant @ 8:34 am

 

blog_stuff_010 Lawn ornaments are not green or good for the environment but they sure make a select group of garden lovers happy. I happen to like lawn ornaments. Go ahead and laugh…that’s o.k.  I know that lawn ornaments are tacky and I rein in the urge to have our yard covered in whirligigs, and bright chatchkas.

 

Some garden art is green, like repurposed bicycle parts, machinery and other recycled objects that artists turn into beautiful pieces. Garage sale finds are another good way to reinterpret and reuse treasures outdoors. A plastic solar leprechaun with a pot of gold that glows (sadly) is not eco-friendly, no matter what the tag says.

 

My philosophy for garden decor comes from unfinished magazine Feng Shui 101 articles at the doctor’s office, brutally honest comments from friends and family, and my husband’s patience limit. This philosophy also takes into consideration maintaining a positive relationship with your neighbours. Community is so important, after all.

 

Here is my approach to lawn ornament placement. blog_stuff_022

 

1. Less is more. Overcrowding is a tacky. Even small clusters are risky – depending on arrangement.

2.  Size matters. If your ornament is the biggest item in your garden…you might want to scale back a wee bit.

3. Save the religious icons and statues for indoors, or at the very least…keep them in the backyard. While I completely respect that amount of devotion, you run the risk of looking like a cemetery or place of worship. (Unless that is a look you are trying to achieve – by all means)

images 4.  Be one with the ornament. Ask yourself “If I were a gnome…would I live under this hosta or stand out in the middle of the lawn in the blazing sun?” Guaranteed you will find the perfect location every time.

5. Please rethink cut-outs of robust women with bloomers showing, fountains of cherubs peeing, a homage to Tweety Bird and other potentially offensive displays.

6. Practice realism. Sleeping bunny on a table = fake. Sleeping bunny placed under a low pine bow = real-ish. Sort of.

 

The other good thing about garden ornaments is that as climate change and disappearing habitat endanger certain species…we can replace them with fake replicas and with proper placement…hardly notice their absence.  That is comforting.

 

 

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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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Jack Pine Trail May 28, 2010

Filed under: Canada,community,environment,family,fitness,hiking,Ontario,Ottawa — MindfulMerchant @ 8:44 am

 

P1018198 Ottawa has a wonderful Greenbelt Trail system that connects to the Rideau Trail, the Trans Canada Trail and the Capital pathway.  We are slowly exploring different trails around the city and all are different and beautiful.

 

Prime Minister King appointed a French urban planner named Jacques  Gréber work on a master plan for Canada’s Capital. In 1950 Gréber proposed that the Greenbelt would protect the Capital and the rural land surrounding it from unchecked spreading of urban sprawl. This met with complaints from developers who called him “Jacques Grabber”. Following his plan, the Federal Government began acquiring land in 1956 that today encircles the Capital from Shirley’s Bay (west) all the way to Green’s Creek (east). Now we have 20,350 hectares of beautiful land to enjoy and 200 square kilometres (124 sq mi) of greenbelt in the downtown core alone. Merci Monsieur Gréber.

 

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This past weekend we visited Jack Pine Trail.  It is a popular trail  because friendly chickadees and other birds will eat right out of your hand.  Hanging out with good friends and the gorgeous weather inspired us to enjoy the outdoors with the kids. It is an easy, flat terrain and there are a few loops to choose from depending on ability.  We filled containers with birdseed and off we went.

 

Unfortunately, I did not stop to think that the great feeding stories all took place during the winter months. Maybe it was the time of day, the abundance of bugs and other food, or our large group but the birds were not interested in our birdseed…or us. We did a lot of standing around with our hands outstretched and it was disappointing.  We even tried singing “Ah-a-aah-ah” just like Cinderella calling the little creatures over to the window…to no avail.  Could it have been our singing?

 

 

P1018202 “This is the worst hike EVER!” my daughter informed us when the bird feeding activity tanked. (Made our friends feel special – I’m sure)  Thank goodness, things perked up once we saw other interesting things like ducks, a beaver, fish, minnows and at the bottom of the pond…a large camouflaged snapping turtle. Can you spot him/her in this photo? The turtle discovery brought the fun back to a memorable level.  Whew!

 

If you are looking for a free and fun outing, the Nation’s Capital Greenbelt is definitely worth exploring.  Bring your camera and maybe a picnic – it’s marvellous.

 

 

 

 

 

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