Consumer culture

Last winter I spent a disproportionate amount of time kvetching about my boots to Tristan as we walked the dog after dinner each night. Our rural street is sidewalk-free and not a bus route, so it spends most of the winter with a hardpack of icy snow on it, and I hate, hate, hate walking on it when it’s slippery. It makes me feel like a little old lady as I totter along, focusing all my attention on ensuring that my feet are not about to go sliding out from under me. That’s no way to pursue my daily goal of 10,000 steps, with teeth clenched in anticipation of a fall.

Do you remember this article about how most winter boots fail even the most basic traction test from last winter? Of course my boots were not on the list, and I spent the whole winter idly wondering whether better boots would make for more enjoyable winter walks. It’s not the cold temperatures that keep me inside on winter evenings, it’s the fact that I just don’t feel comfortable walking on the ice — especially holding a dog prone to lurching at snowflakes and shadows.

That’s why I was particularly delighted to say “Heck yes!” when the nice folks at Mark’s invited me to a demonstration of the innovative anti-slip technologies and slip-resistant footwear they offer. I’ve always liked Mark’s for their variety of styles from work wear (whether your work is in an office, a hospital or a construction site) to casual wear. One of my family members is sporting a new Mark’s coat thanks to a Black Friday sale, and another wore his elfin-inspired Mark’s winter boots well into May last year. This is just a few of the boots they had in stock that illustrate the range of styles in men’s and women’s footwear that incorporated anti-slip technology:

Photo of boots

I learned on my visit to Mark’s that depending on the boot manufacturer, there are a couple of different types of anti-slip technology. Boots made with the Green Diamond (as seen in this Cascade model) and Vibram’s Arctic Grip (as seen in these seriously adorable Sperry boots) technologies have granules in the soles you can actually feel. They’re slightly different from a technology standpoint but the outcome is the same – improved traction on wet and dry ice.

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What was really fun is that they’d brought a giant slab of ice right into the store, so I could try out the various anti-slip technologies. I have to admit, I was impressed. First I just sort of kicked at the ice, but then I really tried hard to slide across it and it was like trying to skid across a hardwood floor with those little grippy things on your socks – I could feel the boots literally digging into the ice. You can see here where I’ve made scratches in the ice trying to skid.

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Over the years, I’ve tried a few different cleat and crampon-type solutions and have always been frustrated by them. Either they’re a hassle to use, or they fall off, or they destroy my 20m wooden porch as I traverse it from the front door to the driveway. It makes so much sense to have a gritty texture baked right into the soles of the boot, and it’s so thoroughly embedded that even as the rubber wears away through use, new bits of the grippy grit material are exposed, ensuring you many years of traction.

The article I referenced earlier was based on a study that’s put out by iDAPT, part of Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network, called “Rate My Treads.” It’s a very Canadian innovation: they’ve set up a lab to test the slip-resistance of boots by having real people walk in the boots across icy surfaces in subzero temperatures with winds up to 30 km per hour. They traverse an incline and give snowflake ratings based on the boot soles’ ability to maintain traction. They found last year that more than 90% (!) of the boots they tested did not meet their minimum standard for slip resistance. Mark’s carries several of the brands that did meet that minimum threshold, though, including Merrell, Sperry, and Wind River. See the full list of boots that iDAPT tested and rated here.

Are your winter boots on the nice list or the naughty list this holiday season?

(Disclosure: I received compensation for participating in and writing about the demonstration of the technology behind Mark’s slip-resistant boots, but all opinions expressed here are fully my own.)


It’s time to throw back the curtain on a fun new project the family has been working on through the summer! We’ve been selected as participants in IKEA’s Sustainable Living project. Through the project, IKEA invited ordinary Canadian families to use their products to live life in a more sustainable way. What does that mean? It means making simple changes to save energy, conserve water, reduce waste and recycle more, and make healthier lifestyle choices. Saving the planet and her people, one RYET lightbulb at time!

This project could not have come at a better time. As a family, we’ve been talking a lot lately about healthy choices, both for our bodies and for the environment. We’re also becoming more and more conscious about “stuff”: from product packaging to ethical sources to sustainability. In other words, we’re trying to be mindful of ourselves and our environment, in all the dozens of little choices we make every day.

And also, we love IKEA. Seriously. I’m sure more products in our house have come from IKEA than any other single retail outlet. There’s not a room in our house that isn’t tricked out with more than one IKEA piece, from a dresser I was given way back in 1989 (still going strong!) to our dining room chairs (bought from AS IS the month we got married in 1999, reupholstered twice over the years with fresh IKEA textiles and still used every single day) to a zillion lamps and shelves and storage baskets and decorative items to our freshly renovated SEKTION kitchen.

So working with IKEA on a sustainable living project was just about as perfect a fit for us as I could imagine. Plus, I love any adventure that starts with a shopping trip.


That’s me with my new BFFs from the IKEA Ottawa store. 🙂


Our project has been focusing on three key areas: save energy (and $$$!), conserve water, and make healthier lifestyle choices. To that end, we’ve used IKEA products to make a handful of small but meaningful changes. We’ve switched our lightbulbs to energy-saving LED bulbs (did you know LED bulbs use 85% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last up to 20 years?) and picked up a new cozy rug for the living room, a throw blanket and a warmer duvet so we can turn the temperature down an extra degree in winter. We’ve started using water decanters to keep in the fridge so we don’t waste water running the tap to get cold water – to say nothing of avoiding plastic disposable water bottles. And we’ve been using re-usable food containers to store leftovers and bring healthier lunches. These are just a few of the ideas and inspiration we’ve gotten through this project.

Want to know more, including one small change that will save us more than $100 each year on our hydro bill? Check out our project feed on the IKEA Canada Sustainable Living site. Some of the other participants have also been posting excellent tips for making better choices for people and the planet. My 10-minute update of our threadbare sofa cushions was inspired by, but not officially a part of, the sustainability project as well.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, and writing about the project on this blog was not a condition of our participation in the project. In fact, I’m not sure IKEA knew I had a blog when we were selected to be participants.


We’ve been meaning to do something about the sofa for quite some time now. Funny, not too long ago I came across the blog post I wrote in 2008 when we bought it. It’s been a great couch – oversized and slouchy, with plenty of room and plenty of tolerance for being at the hub of a busy life full of boys, dogs, cats, visitors, and a lot of spilled coffee.

blog Ikea old pillows and sofa

While it’s a comfy couch, it’s starting to look more than a little bedraggled. How did I let the pillows get to this state of threadbaseness? Life is busy, yanno?

blog Ikea old pillows

Also, I have to admit that the green and red colour scheme has worn almost as thin as the pillows. Since the first year we came back from PEI, I’ve had in my head that I’d like a “sand and sea” colour scheme in the living room. There’s no room for geometric green and red in my sand and sea vision.

A new sofa is simply not in the budget for now, though. As long as the existing one (and its durable chair-and-a-half companion piece, not shown) continue to do their jobs of keeping our collective toushies off the floor and are not visibly leaking stuffing or aggressively poking us with springs, we’ll tolerate the barely noticeable central sag in the frame.

We’ve been spending a LOT of time in IKEA this summer for a fun new project which will be announced anon. Part of that project was the rolling out of a beautiful new MARSLEV rug which DID match my vision of a sand and sea colour scheme, but which definitely did NOT match with the red and green cushions. You can see it peeking out under the “before” picture above. A new couch was not part of the project, nor were cushion covers. However, when I was perusing the Ikea website and saw not only that they had cushion covers that would fit both the large back cushions and the smaller cushions, and that they had them in colours that were within the realm of sand and sea AND harmonized with the new MARSLEV rug, I could not resist.

Originally, we were going to replace the red and keep the green to harmonize with the new blue cushions, but it was altogether a bit too cool. Instead, we kept the red for a bit of a PEI sandstone flavour, and covered the large green back cushions with a pair of deep turquoise SANELA cushion covers. We also covered the embarrassingly raggedy smaller throws with a pair of light blue SANELA covers, and kept a hint of green and beige with a contrasting OTTIL cover on the third one.

Whenever dealing with IKEA projects, I build potential exasperation with non-standard measurements into the plan. However, to my delight, each pillow fit snugly and exactly into the cushion covers. They were snug enough that I had to work to get them in, but that tautness makes the pillows look fresh and full.

Voilà, a brand new sand and sea colour scheme (and an end to those awful, threadbare cushions!)

blog Ikea new pillows

Total project cost: $62 in cushion covers, 10 minutes of effort. I’m so thrilled with the results! We’re now well on our way to that sand and sea colour scheme, AND we’ve averted the need to even consider browsing for new living room furniture for at least a year or so. That’s a huge double win in my books!

To my delight (and, let’s be honest, surprise) the colours pick up beautifully on the re-upholstered IKEA dining room chairs that I fixed up the last time I was feeling crafty. (Hey, I’m half Scottish and half Dutch; if I can extend the life of an existing piece rather than dump it in the landfill and buy more stuff, I’ll do that every single time!)

Stay tuned and I’ll tell you all about my new IKEA project soon!

(By the way, this was not in any way a sponsored post. I have been working with IKEA, but it was simply proximity to their products – and a lifelong love of IKEA – that inspired this instant-renovation.)


I have been following with interest the story of French’s versus Heinz ketchup. If you’ve missed it, the story so far goes something like this.

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Last year, worlds collided in the condiment aisle when Heinz introduced mustard not too long after French’s introduced ketchup. There was a lot more going on behind the scenes than just new product launches, though. If you grew up, as I did, in southern Ontario, you knew that Heinz ketchup was made in Leamington, a small town just outside of Windsor. In 2014, Heinz stopped making ketchup at the Leamington plant, which meant that not only were those factory workers out of work but all the local farms who supplied tomatoes to the plant were devastated as well. This article says Heinz consumed more than HALF of Ontario’s processing tomato crop, and Leamington’s economy was so inextricably bound to Heinz that it was called “Tomato Town.” The Toronto Star reported in May 2014:

This much is certain: Leamington ketchup is done. No longer will 200 bottles of the red stuff roll off the Leamington line every minute. No longer will the plant, which really has played a muscular role in the growth of the global conglomerate, boast of 80 million bottles of ketchup made annually. No longer will Heinz ketchup sport the “Proudly Prepared in Canada” label, the one with the red maple leaf, a claim made since the first bottle of Leamington ketchup was stoppered in 1910.

As a result, that monster-sized rendering of a ketchup bottle on the Oak Street side of the factory, the one with the crowing banner “Home of Canada’s Finest Ketchup,” will have to go. As for the argument over whether the Canadian version is sweeter than the Heinz ketchup made in the U.S. of A. — well, that conversation is over.

Into that giant footprint stepped French’s in January of 2016. French’s started making tomato paste for ketchup at the Highbury Canco plant formerly occupied by Heinz, using local Canadian tomatoes. Then suddenly everyone was talking about French’s ketchup in a social media groundswell after one fellow’s impassioned Facebook post went viral last month. As more and more people shared Brian Fernandez’ post about how he loves French’s because its ketchup is free of preservatives, artificial flavours and high fructose corn syrup, French’s ketchup flew off the store shelves. Each time I visited the grocery store this month, I chuckled to myself seeing the nearly sold-out shelves of French’s ketchup.

It was an easy decision for me as a consumer. Canadian made? Yes please. Inputs produced by Canadian farmers? Yes please. Free from high fructose corn syrup and preservatives? Yes please. I have been a lifelong fan of Heinz ketchup, but it was clear to me which brand I’d be buying from now on.

And so my jaw literally dropped open when I read this morning that Loblaws has said it will no longer carry French’s ketchup.

Loblaws told CBC News it has sold French’s ketchup since 2014, but the particular brand of the condiment was not extremely popular.

“Demand for the product has been consistently low,” a company official wrote in an email. “As a result, we have decided to no longer offer it as part of our regular inventory.”

The article goes on to say that “French’s ketchup stock is still available in some Loblaws stores, but not all.” I can tell you this for sure: I shop at my local Your Independent Grocer with fierce loyalty, and I’ve been a Loblaws customer for decades, but I will go to whatever store I need to in order to stock up on French’s ketchup, and I will never buy another Heinz product.

I hope Loblaws realizes how utterly tone-deaf and ham-fisted their actions appear and retracts this decision. I’m not saying they should exclusively carry one brand or another, but to exclude a brand riding a wave of popular support because it is made locally, supports Canadian farmers AND is more healthy? What were they thinking? I think Beloved put it best: here in Canada, it should not be the President’s Choice, but the Prime Minister’s choice, and the people’s choice. We’ll be a French’s ketchup family from now on.

What do you think? Spring thaw means BBQ season here in Canada: will you be re-thinking what’s on YOUR burgers and dogs from now on?

Edited to add: Dang, I knew the blog was powerful, but I didn’t realize quite how powerful! *wink* The Toronto Star is reporting that Loblaws has relented!

“We’ve heard our Loblaws customers. We will re-stock French’s ketchup and hope that the enthusiasm we are seeing in the media and on social media translates into sales of the product,” said Kevin Groh, the company’s vice-president of corporate affairs and communication.

“We will work with French’s to make sure we are in-stock as soon as possible,” Groh said Tuesday.

Imma call that a victory. Thanks for listening Loblaws!

Disclaimer: This post is my personal opinion only, and does not in any way reflect the opinions of my employer.


I have been thinking about upgrading my iPhone 4S for almost a year now. The battery is dying and the phone randomly shuts itself down if it gets below 30% charge or the ambient temperature falls below 10C, and I have been afraid to update the last two or three iOS upgrades because the phone is so wonky, so all my apps are out of date, too.

Upgrades are scary though. Change is scary. I don’t need the newest, shiniest iPhone, but I do need one that’s reliable. I came close to jumping up to the 5S this summer when I heard that the 6S was coming out this autumn. I like to stay in the middle of the pack with technology and scoop up the deals on slightly out of date tech rather than get the latest and greatest devices but I have to tell you that when I started reading about the new camera on the iPhone 6S, I was tempted.

Both Rogers (with whom I have my current wireless plan) and Telus (with whom I have a plan for Beloved’s and Tristan’s phones) were offering nearly identical plans and prices: approximately $400 out of pocket for an iPhone 6S, with a commitment to a $70/mos plan for two years. Since I’m paying nearly that anyway for my 4S data plan, I thought maybe I could save a few bucks if I could lump my new iPhone in with Beloved and Tristan’s data-sharing plan and ditch the Rogers plan entirely.

The people at Telus were AWESOME. The first person I spoke to looked at my account and said based on usage, Beloved and Tristan were paying too much, so she dropped them down to a plan with fewer calling minutes that they never use anyway and saved me $20 a month. Then she found me a plan that was almost $20 less than what I was paying with Rogers, so the new iPhone basically paid for itself in a year.


And then, I got transferred to the sales department, and completely unprovoked, the agent said that since I’ve been a Telus customer for more than five years, they would drop the price of the iPhone itself by $100. I was so pleased and excited about the deal that I tweeted about it, and in return Telus tweeted this back to me.

Then they direct messaged me and said for my praise and positive attitude they were happy to DOUBLE the data on my plan from 1GB to 2GB.

Is that not awesome? So in the end, I ended up paying only $300 out of pocket for the device, and will save almost $40 per month on cellphone bills with four times the data that I had with Rogers.

The new iPhone arrived Friday night and it took about 15 minutes for me to fall in love with everything about it. Unexpectedly, I love the fingerprint recognition TouchID feature – no need for a numeric swipe lock screen, as the home button recognizes my thumb print. It gave me the opportunity to clean house, so I have a lot fewer apps, and some of my photos were mysteriously ported over from my 4S. Speaking of porting, it took one easy phone call and about 15 minutes to have my old Rogers telephone number ported over to the new Telus phone.

And the camera. Sigh. Love, love, LOVE the 12 megapixel camera on the 6S. Here’s the first photo I took, of a rainbow ring around the sun Saturday morning.

What an awesome first capture for my new iPhone 6S – rainbow ring around the sun! Happy weekend!

A photo posted by Danielle Donders (@dani_girl) on

I’ve been so incredibly impressed with Telus this week. I only wish I could get more utilities through them – I’d switch everything over in a heartbeat. And no, this is not a paid post. I have just been so badly exasperated with Bell and Rogers over the years that this experience has been worth praising at every stage of the process. I genuinely felt that the Telus staff were trying to ensure I had the very best possible deal for me. Kudos for excellent and praise-worthy customer service, Telus.


Before I had kids I used to be secretly horrified by the conditions of the cars of my friends with kids. How hard is it to keep your car clean, I wondered sanctimoniously. Ha. Shame on me.

How hard indeed. My little Mazda 5, a car I continue to adore into its fifth year, is filthy. Despite my ongoing (oh fine, occasional) efforts to keep it tidy, I have failed. My car is a mess. I have managed to keep the outside more or less clean, depending on the season, but the inside is no match for me. Candy wrappers, hot chocolate cups, bits of crayon, goldfish crackers, and pieces of dollar store crud toys are just a few of the things ground into the upholstery and carpet. I’ve slopped enough coffee in it to fill a kiddie pool, and you could make four whole dogs out of the dog hair in every crack and crevice. And why why WHY Starbucks, do you insist on giving me those little green stopper sticks that serve no purpose whatsover except to migrate into unreachable fissures and reproduce?

In every season but winter, I honestly do make efforts to keep the interior clean. I just don’t understand why it’s so consistently dirty – I throw away the trash regularly. Well, there’s the aforementioned coffee slops, of course. And erm, the undisturbed dust on the dashboard. And well, of course I haven’t done anything about the dog hair, because oh my christ but it is everywhere. But at least I try, when it’s not winter, to pass a vacuum over the hotspots every month or two, and fish out the flotsam and jetsam the kids wedge under the seats. All bets are off in the winter, though.

Which is why I was cursing this endless winter just yesterday when I found myself with my head mostly under the front seat and my arse sticking out the passenger side door, fishing Crayola marker lids and car wash receipts (oh the irony) out from under the seat. I filled an entire bag with accumulated crap. Though my hands were frozen into claws as I continued to root out bits of a deteriorating Wiggles colouring book and a dried up chapstick, my heart was light. I was removing the surface clutter in anticipation of a more serious cleaning – I’d acquired a coupon for car detailing, and my car was going to have a well deserved beauty appointment!

185:365 My new Mazda 5!

Back in the day when we were both a little more shiny and new.

I don’t think I can put into words exactly how excited I was about getting my car detailed. Not just a quick pass at the gas station vacuum, not a few embarrassed swipes at the dashboard grime with a napkin before my mom got into the car, but a full-on bath! Maybe, maybe – dare I hope? – maybe they could even vanquish that odd but omnipresent smell that was less like new car and more like, well, feet?

And I don’t think I can put into words how annoyed, how frustrated, and how mortified I was when Canotek Auto Detailing refused the job.

I have waffled back and forth on whether to out the company here. I try to always be cognizant of the reach of my voice, and to always use my powers of social media for good. I have to be righteously offended to turn on the spotlight and out someone for crappy service. Sorry to say it, but Canotek Auto Detailing belongs in the hall of shame.

I cleared most of a precious Wednesday off to make the 30 km trek out for my appointment. He barely glanced at my car before telling me that oh no, there was no way he could do this job in 45 minutes (though I’d been told on the phone to expect the appointment to last 60 to 90 minutes.) No, it would be extra to clean this car.

No thanks, I said with my best smile. I’d read some reviews that complained of this business upselling, and I was mostly prepared for it. Do what you can in 45 minutes and that will be good. Oh no, he said, I can’t do that. I can’t just start the job and not finish it. I asked him what’s involved in the package, and he says interior vacuum, clean surfaces, exterior wash, window cleaning, and undercarriage wash. Great, I say, looking at the snow still caked on the roof and falling outside. Skip the exterior and undercarriage wash and just do the vacuum – that’s all I want. He flat out refuses.

No matter what I say, he’s got an argument. Just do the vacuuming, I say and he replies that he can’t run his $1700 vacuum for 45 minutes, he’ll burn out the motor, he’ll pay more in hydro than he will earn from the coupon deal. He is fixated on the $7 that he says he earns from the group deal and I tell him that I totally get it (you might remember I costed out the value of these deals from a business perspective and it’s rarely worth it for the business) but that he chose to offer the deal and I am choosing to take him up on it. The more we talk, the more obstinate he gets. I hate confrontation and I don’t like to be rude and I really just want my car a little bit cleaner than when I got up this morning. I’m totally willing to negotiate on what gets done but when tell him that there’s no way I’m paying for anything extra, he flat out refuses my business. He tells me to go back to Living Social and get a refund, because he’s not running the risk of ruining his expensive vacuum and paying all that electricity consumption for $7.

I’m equal parts shocked and mortified as I back my car (still dirty) back out of the bay. I mean, yes, the car was dirty — that’s why I bought a detailing package! And yes, I get that it may have been dirtier than baseline. But for a business owner (I checked, he was the business owner, or at least said he was) to completely refuse to honour the deal or come to any sort of compromise was, in my opinion, ridiculous. He clearly gets by on the up-selling, and while I’m sympathetic to his need to make a profit, I’m not cool with him doing it via bait and switch. His obstinance and eventual rudeness didn’t do much to ameliorate my opinion of him and his business, either.

Don’t get sucked in by this deal. I’ve got a note in with Living Social, and I’m reasonably confident they’ll refund my money, but I’ll pursue this if I have to. He’s still running a deal with Groupon, although his website is returning a 404 right now. (Kinda wish I’d clicked that before I bought the deal. :/)

So, anyone want to recommend a car detailing place? Preferably one with an industrial vacuum and a better attitude? Because, sadly, my car still smells like feet.


Your thoughts regarding VoIP telephone, please?

26 August 2013 Consumer culture

I have been waffling over switching to Rogers “Home Phone” service for more than a year now. Under the current offer, we stand to save about $45 per month for the first two years, and about $20 per month thereafter, which would be pretty sweet. But what I am really coveting is the bonus offer […]

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The skinny on “mom jeans”

29 March 2013 Consumer culture

Okay, peeps, we need to talk about jeans. I was going to play this one straight for comedy, but like all things that are truly funny, this cuts a little too close to the bone for me to leave my insecurities completely, ahem, behind. I’ve been perturbed by the term “mom jeans” from just about […]

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A very long ramble about about the time the coffee maker died and she lost an entire Sunday to the quest for a new one

25 March 2013 Consumer culture

On a Sunday morning already off to a rocky start by virtue of it starting at 5:15 am, and further compromised by the need to stand barefoot outside on the frozen patio bricks in nothing but a nightgown trying to encourage a suddenly willfull puppy to pee on the outside instead of the inside of […]

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Crowdsourcing input for a new computer

19 July 2012 Consumer culture

So, my three year old laptop is circling the drain and I’m thinking about upgrading. I’m crowdsourcing random opinions. I thought the debate was laptop versus desktop. From what I understand, most pro photographers would be horrified to find out I do all my photo editing on a laptop. Desktops are cheaper and better for […]

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