Archive | August, 2011

Eco-Friendlier Wheeled Backpack

I’ve known all summer that I’ll be writing a back-to-school review for wheeled backpacks, but it’s taken me months to find a company that sells a more eco-friendly backpack that has wheels!  You know the backpacks on wheels that congest school hallways? …why yes!  I finally understand why they are so popular. I have a son that simply cannot manage a large, full-day school backpack. He complained of neck and back pain all last year and I would watch him walk from my car in the morning struggling to balance his full back-pack into the school. I knew this quest would be difficult because although there are many green backpack options – they don’t have wheels. My search ended when I discovered Lands’ End where I found a backpack on wheels that is PVC-free and mad without flame retardants. Would I have liked recycled materials and locally made? Of course, but these just don’t exist yet and I like to give large companies a positive nod when they are making responsible decisions like not using PVC.  The backpack arrived a few days ago for me to review and I love it. More importantly, so does my son. One tip I learned when purchasing a backpack online is you need to gauge the size of the backpack compared to your child. The Lands’ End site does a great job with showing you with each backpack design how it measures and how tall the child should be.  Click here to see an example of this chart – I would have requested the wrong backpack without the help of this diagram.

The backpack for Angelo has a handle that adjusts to two different levels and it reaches quite high – my older son could use it no problem and he’s tall. The child can also wear the backpack because shoulder straps tuck out of a secret zippered compartment if you decide to ‘wear’ the pack on your back. The kids like the cool factor with this!  There are also different compartments inside the backpack…a sleeve for lunches to be tucked in and separate from papers and books – this can be a bonus when a child’s lunch leaks. Also, a must for me…pockets on either side for reusable water bottle. Most of my stainless steel water bottles leak now…I don’t really care, but they need to be upright in a backpack otherwise all of the books get wet.

So heading back to school, if your child needs a backpack with wheels to give his/her back a break…think of
Land’s End. They are a large company, that can provide very quick turnaround for service/questions and have lots of designs that kids & moms will enjoy.  I’ll post my back-to-school supplies recommendations next week, along with my picks for sending your child to school with a litterless lunch system.


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Skip Licensed Backpacks and Check out Ecogear



All Natural Hair DIY Deep Conditioner

My hair and I have a love/hate relationship. If I want to describe my hair, most days it looks like unruly, long, wavy, hippie hair. I’m okay with all that. It’s the color I struggle with. I get my hair streaked once a year and enjoy how my appearance seems brighter after I have some blond put in my hair. I truly don’t think there is a way to make your hair lighter without chemicals, so I haven’t researched the slightly less alternative options.  I have also learned that damaging my hair to keep it lighter in color makes no poo methods of hair maintenance difficult. I enjoyed using baking soda and apple cider vinegar for 6 months before my hair started getting dry…brittle actually. So I got a good trim and started using Green Beaver shampoo & conditioner. This combination has been working well, but since it’s summer I’ve been looking for an all natural moisturizing treatment for a deep conditioning.  I experimented with coconut oil and olive oil and have been using Tropical Traditional Virgin Coconut Oil in the ends of my hair every few weeks to give it some extra moisture & shine. The first time I made the mistake of applying a large amount of it to my entire wet head…I looked like I was caught in an oil slick. After receiving some tips from the greenies on the Mommy Footprint fan page, I really like how my hair reacts when I apply it to the ends of my hair when it starts drying out after regular trips to the pool.

Gillian Deacon, Author of There’s Lead In Your Lipstick: Toxins In Our Everyday Body Care and How To Avoid Them, has some great tips for DIY, all natural deep conditioning treatments. Check out:

Gillian’s tips:

Make your own conditioner: slather your hair in coconut oil, wrap your hair in a towel and leave it for a few hours. For a hot oil treatment, heat extra-virgin olive oil and massage through dry hair. Wash thoroughly after 20 minutes. For a revitalizer, mash an avocado and mix with two tablespoons of honey; massage into hair and wash out after 20 minutes.

Summer can be hard on hair – between trips to the pool and sun exposure. My jar of Virgin Coconut Oil for Hair Treatment is specially made for hair treatment because it contains a higher content of protein than the other oils Tropical Traditions sells. This is an unrefined coconut oil and is made from organic coconuts. I’ve mentioned Tropical Traditions before because I’m impressed with their packaging…my coconut oil arrived in a glass jar. So skip expensive, chemically laden conditioners and try an all natural approach with deep conditioner for your hair…it not only feels great but you won’t get a headache from the smell!

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No Poo Anyone?



Westcoasters Love The Grind

Simply known as ‘The Grind’…anyone from the West coast knows what you’re talking about.  The Grouse Grind is a challenging hike that is 1.8 miles up the side of Grouse Mountain with over 2,830 stairs and *cough* me and my boys completed it yesterday. It was truly a summer highlight and since my boys are ages 7 and 9 – I’m more than a little proud. And if we’re including me in the celebrating, I’m a little proud of me too. I had some great advice from friends on how to approach the mountain with two children and the best advice – which can really pertain to any summer hiking – was the following:

Water – lots of it. I packed up three stainless steel bottles with tons of ice and at the 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 marks of finishing the Grind, we would finish a bottle. It was glorious because it meant we were resting, but also my backpack got so much lighter!

Heat – don’t hike with children in the heat. The trail is probably most popular when it opens early in the morning, because hiking in mid-day heat would be tough. The weather was overcast and slightly cold which made for perfect hiking conditions.

Proper footwear – Sandals or Crocs are not a good idea for mountain trails. We wore just average running shoes with socks and didn’t have any twisted ankles or problems with the rough terrain of the mountain.

Don’t look up – it was funny advice when I read it on the Grind For Kids website, but what great advice!  On very steep terrain…don’t look up. Much better to look to the left, right, and down at your feet. Enjoy the surroundings and keep a close eye on the rocks, stairs, and tree roots!

Keep it fun & light!  During our 1:45 hr hike up the Grind, my boys and I had plenty of time to comment on the experience and our surroundings. My boys noticed people that were trying to make it up the mountain and maximize their workout with amazing speed and we all know everyone loves bragging about their ‘time’ on the Grind.  But we agreed at the beginning of the hike that it was about the journey…nothing more. At every stop we drank our water, commented on how beautiful the mountain is, and chatted with other people as there’s a very cool vibe among all 1st timers of the Grind. Experienced hikers were also very supportive and had sweet words of encouragement for my sons – it was just a lovely experience. I know why so many people complete this hike on a regular basis. You pretty much make the hike what you want to. I remember doing The Grind 15 years ago in my 20s.  I got a really good time since I was in great shape, but when I got to the top feeling sore all over I hadn’t maximized my enjoyment.  I had the opposite reaction with my sons. I remember getting to the 3/4 marker and feeling sad it was almost over – I wonder why nobody tells you how much more you’ll enjoy everything once you have children!

Thank you Grind For Kids for the helpful tips and next summer my kids will participate in this great program. The Grind For Kids program is you ask friends to pledge $1 for each time you complete the Grind between June and September. When you sign-up for this program, you pay $20, receive a timer card that you swipe at the bottom and top of the mountain (records your hiking time & info) and guest services will take your bag up the mountain for you so you can do the Grind without anything weighing you down.

And of course once you’re up the mountain, you will spend one of the best days of your summer. During the summer months, Grouse Mountain offers the hilarious Lumberjack Show, peak chair, Birds in Motion, and the majestic Grizzly Bears that were rescued as orphans and brought up to live on 2 acres on the Mountain – Coola and Grinder. We visit Grouse Mountain every summer and it never disappoints. Really quality family entertainment once you’re up the mountain…my kids have deep belly laughs during the Lumberjack show and it’s awesome to teach them that the wind turbine that you can see at the top of Peak is now powering 25% of the resort’s operational electricity annually.

I hope the hiking tips help any family new to hiking. It is a family activity that I’m enjoying more and more; absolute quality family time to bond with nature without computers, phones, and interruptions to get in the way. Thanks to Grouse Mountain and Grind For Kids for the tips & summer highlight for me and my boys.  Enjoy these pictures of our day!

At the top!



Car Seats and Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are chemicals I’m always on the lookout for.  These chemicals are often applied in combinations and they are added to materials (all various kinds) during manufacturing to reduce the material catching on fire or slowing down the combustion process. When I was researching for my article on greener life jackets I assumed that the US and Canadian governments are the ones mandating flame retardants be added to products. tested over 150 children’s car seats and over half (60%) tested positive for brominated flame retardants, PVC, and/or heavy metals.  Brominated flame retardants are particularly scary because of how persistent they are in the environment (they don’t break down) and their accumulation inside the food chain and human bodies. With the sensitive developing systems of babies in car seats and for the length of time some are in their seats, this research one by is getting a lot of attention.

After learning about greener product foam (GAIA foam) rather than PVC based foam I asked 11 of the top car seat manufacturers if they had considered an ‘all natural’ car seat. If you think about it, new parents invest hundreds of dollars in organic mattresses and bedding all to avoid flame retardants, PVC, and other chemicals. Why not give them the option with car seats? A few of these companies got back to me, but not with any encouraging information. I’m mean how hard is it to replace toxic foam inserts with wool and ensure the materials are organic and lead free for the plastic buckles? We are already expecting to get charged through the nose for an option like this…it’s okay.  Go ahead.  Some of us will pay for it.

As quoted from the article summary, in the 2011 testing, car seats containing brominated flame retardants declined by 18% but some companies continue to use more potentially hazardous brominated flame retardants compared to their last tests in 2009. Hmm and three of these are Baby Trend, Recaro, and Britax. Makes me happy I never used the Baby Trend play pen I received for my first son. Think about products that are padded.  Obviously babies need padded products to ensure safety, but before purchasing you need to ask and research how if the company is/isn’t using flame retardants. We are talking about play pens, highchairs, play mats, car seats, mattresses, swings, etc.

There are better car seats and worse car seats when researching chemical exposure. These brands are listed here from the testing.  The top three for each include:

Worst 2011 Car Seats:

Infant Seat: Graco Snugride 35 in Edgemont Red/Black & Graco SnugRide 30 in Asprey
Convertible Seat: Britax Marathon 70 in Jet Set & Britax Marathon in Platinum
Booster Seat: Recaro Pro Booster in Blue Opal & Recaro ProSPORT Toddler in Misty

Best 2011 Car Seats:

Infant Seat: Chicco KeyFit 30 in Limonata, Graco Snugride 35 in Laguna Bay & Combi Shuttle 33 in Cranberry Noche
Convertible Carseat: Graco Comfort Sport in Caleo, Graco MyRide 65 in Chandler and Streamer, Safety 1st OnSide Air in Clearwater, and Graco Nautilus Elite 3-in-1 in Gabe
Booster Seat: Graco Turbo Booster in Anders

Yes, reports like these make all parents want to throw up our hands and trash items like this, BUT remember these are car seats we are talking about. They are important and need to be used no matter what the rating is from And, this report was probably done to raise awareness for people in the market for new car seats when expecting babies. I have 3 booster seats in my van right now that are used everyday.  They are not 2011 models so it might be hard to figure out what level of flame retardant exposure they have.  But they will stay planted firmly in my van because when I purchase items like this I already have an awareness that these products contain this crap. I know because I didn’t pay an arm and a leg for them and when you are dealing with foam and cheap plastic…you will probably find flame retardants and PVC. Especially if these products were made several years ago. I hope the results from has a trickle effect in two areas of consumerism: 1) the companies listed using high amounts of chemicals will experience some significant loss of sales 2) will get parents asking questions. Only when a company has heard the same complaint and the same questions from thousands of parents will they do something to change their manufacturing protocols. Remember that flame retardants are added to materials when they are manufactured. If our governments are mandating that flame retardants be added, then I want the big companies giving me some alternatives than meet flame retardant testing without chemicals (wool, mineral based flame retardants, etc.). If the government is not mandating that flame retardant chemicals be added to these products…give parents the option of buying products that haven’t been coated or sprayed in flame retardant chemicals.



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