The Mindful Merchant

Shop – Eat – Live – Mindfully

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!



I know more about computers than my 8 year old…maybe. November 14, 2009


6e62514e9aa0e1c6[1] I remember being so impressed there were computers in my daughter’s junior kindergarten class. It did not take long before she was comfortable navigating her way around a computer. Now I learn useful tips and shortcuts from my eight year old. That is humbling.

The other day I casually made one of those stupid “When I was little” comments when a few of our children’s friends came over to play. Never say anything that begins with “When I was little” unless you really want to feel prehistoric. The kids were chatting about their favourite computer games while sitting down for a snack. I piped in with “When I was little, there were no computers at school or at home…we used typewriters”. The room fell silent. Everyone turned to look at me in amazement. No computers? What is a typewriter? Followed by the inevitable “Wow, you are OLD!” comments. That night before bed, I dug out a neglected jar of wrinkle cream and tried to target certain areas.

The girl’s school does a great job educating children about environmental issues. They come home with new earth friendly ideas, (see my post on candlelit dinners) pressure us to make more green changes…and be consistent.

Now that the children are a little older, they are starting to learn about pollution, endangered animals and the effects of climate change. My husband and I do not always know how to answer their questions. While searching for information I discovered a few educational web sites that I like to explore with the kids. They talk about environmental conservation, concerns, wildlife protection and making a difference in the community. The best part is they deliver the information in an interactive, and  fun way. These websites are not just for children or teachers – I learn something every time we play a game or take a quiz.

First, I must give my cyber safety shpeel. Just a reminder to make sure your children’s computer time is a safe experience. Sit down with them, read instructions together and pay attention to their activities on line. Sometimes being in the same room while they are working on the computer is not enough supervision. Be careful and cautious.

Here are three educational websites that I think are worth checking out.


National Geographic Kids.

Our kids like the People & Places section (See and read about the 7 wonders of the world or tour Greece)

Space and Science section (Find out if Pluto is no longer a planet)

Just Joking (Me, I am not so crazy about the jokes after a few weeks – but our kids love it and it gives them a good reason to call the Grandparents)

Recipes from around the world (like Kwanzaa Creole Bread Pudding)


Eco Kids Canada

What a good site for quizzes! We love quizzes.

This is a great resource for information under Homework Help – Climate change, renewable energy, First Nations & Inuit, Earth Day, Waste and Wildlife.

Very good print outs for colouring. A fun craft for young children.


EEK ! – Environmental Education for Kids

This is my favourite site.

We like Critter Corner to read about all the critters of the world. It shines a light on endangered species.

Our Earth discusses our environment and environmental issues in an easy and direct way.

Natures Notes taught us about Phenology. (Nope. I am not telling you what that means) It encourages observation, something all children do so well.

They even discuss environmental jobs…like a Hydrogeologist. How cool is that?


Children learn from modeling. They follow our lead in life and when it comes to environmental issues, we should try to discuss, be enthusiastic, and act. If you are curious or interested in eco-friendly websites for children these are my suggestions to start. Have fun!




H1N1 is giving me a headache November 1, 2009

Filed under: health — MindfulMerchant @ 1:39 pm


These are confusing times. I am obsessed with the amount of information swirling around the media, internet, workplace and schoolyards. Should we get the H1N1 vaccination – or not?  Is it safe?  Whom can we believe?  For every compelling article there is another completely contradicting the argument. Frustration, mistrust, anger, and fear are some of the emotions fuelling the debates. Even attempts to stay neutral or “on the fence” has consequences. Does anyone want to read anything more about the H1N1 virus or vaccination?  Not me.

My husbandOctober 2009 025 and I have had many discussions about H1N1. I bet this is a popular subject in your home too. This morning, after reading the paper and following the twitter chat I started getting very emotional about the subject. He calmly made a few observations that have resonated with me.

He reminded me that everyone makes the best decisions they can for their children and themselves. Period. There is no right or wrong in this situation – there is only what is right for you and your family.

Let us stop judging others. I know I have been doing it (and am embarrassed to admit that). If we ask someone his or her opinion, be prepared to hear something different from our own. If you are not open to hearing anything different, do not ask.

When this pandemic is over, we will look back on this situation and consider what we could have done better, what we should have done differently. In the meantime, we can support our friends, family, neighbours, co-workers, and fellow citizens’ decisions. It is tough enough to wade through the information without having to deal with negativity and animosity from those around us.

This is a good opportunity to re-evaluate our lifestyle – diet, exercise, sleep requirement, hygiene,  our environment and overall health. Making small healthy changes will be a positive outcome during this challenging time.

Be safe and good luck with your decisions. I wish you and your family a healthy year.




Here kitty kitty October 23, 2009


alice Cleaning the cat’s litter box is worth playing the annoying “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game with my husband. We both despise the chore and are willing to make it the best out of 3, then 5, and sometime 10 just to get out of the job. 

Alice the cat was rescued in North Bay.  We drove to Deep River Ontario to adopt her four years ago this week. She is a sweet little puffball that we love to bits.  I started thinking about how much cat litter we were throwing out with the garbage every week and decided that Alice was going to be part of the green shift in our home too.  According to Green Living Online we dump approximately “2 million tons of cat litter into the landfill every year”. I have always bought clumping litter. It is convenient and easy. I did not know that it could pose health risks to humans and cats.

Sodium Bentonite is a natural clay ingredient. Often added as a clumping agent, it expands like cement when moist making removal easy. Bentonite is used in construction as a grouting, sealing and plugging material. Since cats lick their paws there is concern that when ingested, it will swell inside them. Sodium Bentonite is strip mined which poses many environmental concerns too.

Another ingredient in some brands of cat litter is silica. This ingredient also raises some health concerns. Dust can get in the lungs, which could lead to respiratory problems. Silica is a known carcinogen for humans and pets when inhaled.

These reasons motivated me to start shopping for environmentally friendly cat litter. There are many on the market to choose. Presidents Choice makes one called G.R.E.E.N Twice as Absorbent litter. It contains 96% corncobs, a renewable compostable resource. It is also non-toxic, biodegradable, and phosphate free. I like it because I can buy it in bulk. Like most green litters, it says it is sewer safe.  (It is not advised to flush it since cat feces contains Toxoplasmosis gondii parasite (TG) which is dangerous to pregnant woman and harmful to marine life.  Not all water treatment plants successfully filter TG.) 

I decided to go with the Presidents Choice Green product. There was one tiny flaw in my plan. Unfortunately, Alice  was not on board with this decision. Her refusal to co-operate lead to a creative program that involved two  litter boxes (we had an old spare).  I s-l-o-w-l-y mixed the old clumping stuff with small portions of the new brand. It was reminiscent of a grade 10 high school science experiment. Weeks of adding, then taking away, I was determined she would grow to love (o.k. too dramatic) start to use the new stuff. It was a pathetic battle of wills and mind. The odds were not in my favour.

I am happy to report that last week I smelled victory. I went downstairs to clean the litter box, raised my arms in the air and yelled “touchdown!”  Alice is now making regular deposits in the Bank of Environmentally Friendly.  I think our talk about her health and carbon pawprint was the TSN turning point. If you are interested in changing your cat’s litter, I encourage you to do so because this experiment is proof you really can teach an old cat a new trick.




Organic – wine not? October 18, 2009

 My husband and I love vino…particularly the red stuff. We are by no means wine experts. I tend to buy bottles with pretty labels and my hubby is all about the price imagesCA9B5IPJpoint. You get the picture. In honour of this blog and a lively Saturday night, I decided to delve into the world of organic wine with the help of our friends. Some of our pals are very knowledgeable about wine, and some choose other beverages to quench their thirst. I think our panel of 9 testers were a good representation of the different levels of wine drinkers out in the wine universe.


My reasons for trying organic wine are as follows:

  • Hmmm…great reason to have a party!
  • I am interested in avoiding toxic chemicals. Conventional wine and grape production heavily sprays with pesticides, herbicides, fumigants and chemicals. The fewer chemicals we ingest, the better off we are.
  • I would like to support renewable farming practices, conservation of soil, protection of ground water quality, healthy biologically active soil, and producers that emphasis environmental quality for future generations.
  • I am concerned about our consumption of sulphites. Organic certification means it must not contain sulphur dioxide. Health Canada lists sulphites as one of the nine most common food products causing severe adverse reactions. Organic wine still contains sulphites (as they are a natural occurrence in the fermentation process) but they contain significantly lower levels. red-wine-8-180[1]

Here is quick interpretation of terms on organic wine labels:


“100% Organic” means wine production is with 100% organically grown grapes with no sulphur dioxide added.

“Organic” wines contain a minimum of 95% organic grapes and may contain low levels of sulphur dioxide.

“Made with Organic Grapes” must have 70% organic grape content and could have sulphur dioxide added.

“Biodynamic” meets and typically exceeds organic farming standards and practices. Wine producers take planetary constellations and moon phases into account when working on the vines. Homeopathy practices fight pests and disease.


After tallying the results from our research (wink wink) here are my discoveries… red-wine-cancer[1]

  • Boy, we have super fun friends!
  • Organic wine is hard to find. There are few bottles, limited selection in the stores and it is even harder to find anything Canadian.
  • Organic wine comes in all price points. It can range from $12 a bottle to prices so high I could not pick up the bottles with the pretence to buy. Our nine bottles tested – yes nine! -ranged from $12 -$44.
  • 3 of the bottles sampled received comments like “disgusting”, “undrinkable” and other negative words I cannot repeat. (hamster pee) We all felt that the majority of wine sampled was disappointing and overpriced.
  • On a positive note, we agreed two wines were the overwhelming favourites: Santa Julia Organica Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($12) from Argentina and Navarrsotillo Noemus Joven 2007 from Spain. ($14) If you are interested in trying organic wine these are our (humble) suggestions for a good, reasonably priced starting place. We did try a Biodynamic wine that received positive reviews; however, after learning the large price tag, my husband fainted and we unanimously eliminated it from recommendation.

This is a growing and promising industry.  The health and environmental benefits are inspiring reasons to try new vintages.  I  am optimistic we will find some wonderful Canadian organic wines.  Please let me know if you find a gem.  In the meantime, Cheers! L’Chaim! Kampai! Cin Cin! & Salud!




Sanitizer Insanity October 8, 2009

Filed under: all natural,eco-friendly,green,healthy,non-toxic,Uncategorized — MindfulMerchant @ 8:57 pm
Tags: ,



I am a worrywart. I am always fretting about something, global warming, killer bees migrating to Canada, bird flu, bear attacks (?) and the list goes on. My friends and family still laugh at my stockpiles during the year 2000 drama. Do you remember that? I had enough staples that we could bunker down in our basement for at least six months. They can mock my efforts all they want, but if the world collapsed because computers could not process the number 2000, I know they would have been ringing my doorbell wanting to share the rice and bean supplies, cooked to perfection in my fondue pot.

As you probably have guessed, I am nervous about H1N1. Every day the media and the government have new information about this virus. Our children are bringing home letters about school board pandemic policies and practices. Even the local hockey league has a section devoted to their information and advice about this topic. I am driving my hubby nuts talking about my daily findings.  Love ya!

I think all we can do is educate ourselves, stay calm, eat well, sleep well, keep our bodies in optimum health and make informed decisions for our family and ourselves. One of the best ways to ward off the flu and other viruses is good hand washing practices. It sounds silly to discuss when and how to wash your hands but it is definitely worth a review with our children.


Here are a few reminders…

– Bar soaps are not as hygienic as liquid soaps.

– Forget antibacterial soap, they offer no benefit over regular soap and water.

– Make sure you scrub under fingernails, between fingers and up the wrist – for at least 20 seconds and rinse for at least 10 seconds (remind children to wash for the duration of the tune of Twinkle Twinkle little star)

– During cold and flu season, give every family member their own towel to try their hands.

– You must remove all rings and jewellery before washing to do a proper job.


If you cannot wash your hands (as when travelling Hwy 401 and the rest station is out of soap and paper towels – disgusting!) hand sanitizers are a good option. There is much controversy regarding hand sanitizers. Antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers contain over 65% -95% Ethyl Alcohol to be effective. Infused with chemicals, they can be harmful to our bodies. Only 1 or 2 ounces of the stuff is enough to be fatal to a child. The Cosmetics Safety Database rates Purell and Dial hand sanitizers a score of 7 high hazard out of 10. 

I have found a good natural alternative that is kinder to sensitive skin than generic brands. It is a hand sanitizer by CleanWell. This product is 100% biodegradable, free of toxic chemicals, safe for kids (no ingestion risk) and it kills 99.9% of harmful germs on contact including E. Coli, Salmonella and resistant Staph. I have put the small containers in my purse, the children’s backpacks and the car when hand washing is not possible. Our kids can easily manage the spray application and they like the scent. If you are looking for a safe and effective hand sanitizer this cold and flu season I highly recommend this product.

Be safe and healthy.




Smells good – but isn’t September 30, 2009

Filed under: health warning,toxic — MindfulMerchant @ 12:01 pm
Tags: ,



I am a fool for marketing.  I bought into the implied promise of a clean, fresh smelling and healthy home in a little sleek device that smelled like vanilla and magnolias. I used to buy air fresheners and put one right beside the kitty litter box and the hockey equipment in the basement. The problem is that all it really did was make the room smell like kitty litter, hockey change room and flowery vanilla beans. What an odd and nasty combination!

In 2007 the Natural Resources Defence Council investigated 14 popular brand name air fresheners and found phthalates in 12 of those products.  Some of the air fresheners advertise as “All-Natural” or “Unscented.  There are health concerns with phthalates, which link to fertility, hormone disruption and developmental problems in rats.    Manufacturers use them in shower curtains, nail polishes, children’s toys, cleaners and perfumes as well as many other household items.   Phthalates increase a products durability, flexibility and longevity.

In Sept 2008 the CBC conducted their own tests on air fresheners and found that 1/3rd tested positive for one or two types of phthalates. Currently, air fresheners in Canada do not need to list ingredients on their labels.  Why is that Health Canada?  Sears, Wal-mart and Toys R Us no longer carry toys containing phthalates.  These are chemicals we all need to avoid.

If you use air fresheners or know someone that does, let them know about the potential hidden dangers. After discussing this issue with my Mom she offered this blunt but good advice. “If your house smells Laura, clean it.”   She is right. There is no need for air fresheners that can be harmful to our health and home.  Let’s open up a window instead!