Sunday, December 20, 2009

In Gratitude

As you know, 2009 has been a particularly difficult year for the independent retail sector. At Mindful Hands, we recognize that you have many choices for where to shop. As we enter our 14th year here in Old Town Alexandria, we want to take a moment to express our gratitude to our many loyal customers, friends, and supporters. Thank you for your wonderful support over the years and your continuing patronage!

We wish you a healthy, prosperous, and happy New Year!

- Sally, Chris, Lilo, Amida, & Lissy

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thinking Outside the Box

Think outside the box this holiday season. Instead of shopping at "big box" or national chain stores, shop instead at your local neighborhood stores. You'll find your neighborhood "mom-n-pop" shops have most everything you need for your holiday gift-giving and home decorating.

And you're much more likely to discover some unexpected wonder or unique handmade treasure at a locally-owned shop.

Shopping at locally-owned independent shops also helps strengthen the local economy. Did you know that:
  • A locally-owned shop returns 68% of its revenues to the local economy, whereas a national chain returns only 43%?
  • Locally-owned shops employ more local residents and pay them substantially higher wages, in addition to having a broader range of jobs available?
  • Local businesses buy more than twice as much from other local businesses, and also are more likely to use local banks and other service providers?
  • Local businesses contribute more to the community through charitable giving, school funding, and other non-profit organizations?
Every dollar spent in a locally-owned shop is a vote for the health and welfare of your community and supports your neighbors in their livelihoods. This holiday season, think "outside the box" and support your locally-owned stores. Your neighbors thank you!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Teaching Kids About Climate Change

Things are definitely heating up, including the Earth! According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average Earth temperature has increased by 1° Farenheit in the past century and is predicted to increase a further 2-6° in the next. Global warming can result in severe climate conditions across the planet, including extended droughts in some areas and coastal flooding in others.

Simple changes to your own lifestyle can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere and help to reduce the effects of global warming. If you have children, you can make it a fun family project to learn about climate change and global warming. And, just like 14-year-old Alec Loorz (see below), your kids can become advocates for change.

Here are some fun sites to get your kids interested and involved:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

October is World Fair Trade Month

The simple act of buying fairly traded products can make an enormous difference in the lives of disadvantaged families all over the world. Fair Trade ensures that artisans and workers in developing countries receive a fair and living wage for their work.

Buying fair trade products means that:

  • a child can go to school instead of going to work
  • a single mother can support herself and her children
  • enironmentally sustainable practices are used
  • employees work in a healthy and safe environment

At Mindful Hands, we purchase many of our products from the Tibetan exile community, living in India and Nepal. After losing their country to Chinese Communist invasion in 1959, the Tibetans have since been in danger of losing their unique culture. Our support of these communities ensures that Tibetan families can support themselves and also helps to preserve their cultural heritage by bringing traditional handicrafts to American markets.

To learn more about the Fair Trade movement, check out these resources:

To learn more about Tibet and the Tibetan exile community, check out:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thank You!

THANK YOU to everyone who voted for us in the American Express "Shine A Light" award. We were not chosen as one of the 3 finalists, however, we could not have gotten as far as we did in the judging phase without the help of all of our wonderful friends and supporters. Thank you!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Shine A Light on Mindful Hands!

Good News! Mindful Hands has been nominated for a "Shine a Light" award sponsored by American Express. Please VOTE for us by Sept. 13, we need 50 votes to be considered for the award. Click on the image to the left to read our story and cast your vote!

We could not have made it 13 years in Old Town Alexandria without the support and loyalty of our wonderful customers and friends! Thank you!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Support Local Artists

The fall arts season is upon us once again. Alexandria, Virginia is fortunate to be home to many nationally-acclaimed artists as well as the world-renowned Torpedo Factory Arts Center. On the weekend of September 12 & 13, King Street will once again be closed to traffic from Washington Street east to the river. Several of Alexandria's local artists, many of whom rent or own studio or gallery spaces in Old Town, will be exhibiting their works along the sidewalks in front of their galleries. Look for these talented, and local, artists:

- Mindful Hands' own art director, Chris Engnoth, will be exhibiting his fine art watercolors and digital paintings (that's "Key Bridge on Ice" above) in front of 211 King St.

- Our next door neighbor, Nar Steele of Cobblestone Art Gallery, will be exhibiting watercolors, multimedia works and painted birdhouses in front of 213 King St.

- Visit Todd Healy at Gallery Lafayette at 320 King St. Todd is well-known for his paintings of local Old Town scenes and architecture.

- Andrew McDonald, former vice-mayor of Alexandria, showcases his photos and other works at AHM Gallery, 215 S. Union St.

A trip to Old Town Alexandria is never complete without a visit to the internationally acclaimed Torpedo Factory Arts Center. The Torpedo Factory is sponsoring "Art Activated" with artist demonstrations, hands-on activities, and special dance and music performances on Saturday, 9/12, from noon - 4pm.

If you can't make it here the weekend of Sept. 12/13, don't fret. The Torpedo Factory Arts Center and the art galleries and studios of our many talented local artists are open year-round. Celebrate the Arts any day of the year in Old Town!

Support Your Local Businesses

If your community is anything like mine, there have been lots of mom-n-pop shops closing up lately. In every block there is at least one empty storefront. And we are fairly protected here on the outskirts of the nation's capital. Other parts of the country have been hit far worse by the continuing recession.

Old Town Alexandria, VA, where I live and own my shop, Mindful Hands, is lucky to be home to a large number of distinctive independent shops, catering to a wide clientele - from upscale chic boutiques to fine art and home decor galleries to multi-cultural fair trade and eco-minded handicrafts to family-centered children's stores. Many of Old Town's shops will promoting our community by sponsoring family-centered activities, on the weekend of September 12/13. Here are a few:

- Mindful Hands will be partnering with our friends, the King Street Cats, for "Kitty-purr-looza," a kitten adopt-a-thon, on Saturday, Sept. 12, from noon to 4pm. The kittens will be in their new "kitty corral" and, if past kitty-purr-loozas are any indication, it will be a kitty 3-ring circus! Stop by to pet and play with these frisky felines and maybe even take home a new friend (or two).

- Enjoy free lemonade and cookies, before or after playing with the kittens, jointly sponsored by Mindful Hands and our neighbors SoBe Unique Shoes - all at 211 King Street.

- Hooray for Books!, an independent children's book store, at 1555 King Street, will be offering hand-cut silhouettes - shadow portraits that capture the unique personality of your child - by Anne Leslie. She's one of only 75 silhouette artists in the United States, and she'll be at Hooray for Books! on September 12 from 1:00 - 5:00pm.

- The largest display of collectible kaleidoscopes will be at Arts Afire Glass Gallery, 1117 King St, all weekend long and through Sept. 30th. Artist reception, Fri-Sat, Sept. 11-12, from 5-8pm and 1-4pm on Sun 9/13.

- and don't miss "Children in the Churchyard at Christ Church," 118 N. Washington St., for family-friendly activities including a moon bounce, Sat and Sun, 1-4pm, FREE.

Support your local artists, businesses, and community institutions. In these tough economic times, your dollars do indeed count!

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Power of Prayer

We've all faced what seem to be insurmountable difficulties in our lives, whether it be illness, financial woes, or a devastating loss. If you're a religious person or among the growing number of Americans who call themselves "spiritual but not religious," you naturally turn to prayer to help you through those difficult times. But does praying help? Well, the research is in and the results are unequivocal: yes and no.

Science has studied that very question over the last several decades with some surprising, and controversial, results. One could argue that science has no place in studying the power of prayer, that prayer by its nature is personal and the effects immeasurable. Still, science being science - and many scientists themselves also being religious or spiritual persons - there has been a growing interest in measuring the tangible results of prayer.

One study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health found that intercessory prayer (praying on behalf of someone else) had positive therapeutic effects on the health of hospital patients diagnosed with cancer and AIDS. A similar study by the Mayo Clinic found no such correlation (Time, 2002). And other studies have been equally lauded or criticized in turn (WebMd).

However, a new comparison of multiple studies conducted over many decades has found some surprising similarities among the research participants. In general, people who consider themselves to be religious:

(1) exercise better self-control
(2) are better able to achieve their long-term goals
(3) live healthier lives
(4) live longer lives
(5) have a more positive outlook on life.

So, whether your prayers are answered or not, it may certainly be true that "prayer may not change things for you, but it sure changes you for things" (Samuel M. Shoemaker).

For more reading:
"Investigating the Power of Prayer," Time, Jan. 16, 2002
"Probing the Power of Prayer," WebMD, 2000
"Religion May Have Evolved Because of Its Ability to Help People Exercise Self-Control," ScienceDaily, Jan. 1, 2009

Prayer Wheels in Tibetan Life

If you've ever visited the Himalayan regions of northern India or Nepal, you will see these "wheels on sticks" being twirled everywhere by the old and young alike. Tibetans, being a deeply religious people, believe wholeheartedly in the power of prayer. Prayer wheels are filled inside with handwritten prayers and stamped on the outside with one of the most common Tibetan prayers, "Om Mani Padme Hum," the prayer of compassion. As you spin the wheel, your prayers fly on the wind and are dispersed to the four corners of the world, bringing prayers of peace and loving-kindness to all.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Sad Realities of Kitten Season

"Kitten season" is upon us once again, This annual ritual starts in late spring and usually runs through early fall. What is kitten season, you ask? Kitten season is the time of year when millions of homeless kittens will be born in the streets, parking lots, highway rest areas, and woods all across America. They will largely die - killed by starvation, cars, or predators - before they reach six months old. The lucky ones will end up in shelters, only to be euthanized two or three weeks later when no homes are found for them.

Here are three things you can do to help:

(1) spay or neuter your pets
(2) spay or neuter your pets
(3) spay or neuter your pets

And if you're looking for a new companion, please consider adopting a homeless dog or cat from your local shelter.

At Mindful Hands, we work with a local no-kill shelter, King Street Cats, to help find homes for the many pregnant cats and their kittens that end up in the shelter's care each spring.

We will be hosting a series of adopt-a-thons for the King Street Cats (KSC) at Mindful Hands' store location at 211 King Street in Old Town Alexandria. The next adopt-a-thons will take place on Saturdays August 8 and August 22 from noon to 4:00pm each day. The King Street Cats currently have sixty kittens looking for loving homes. Won't you be a friend indeed to a kitten in need?

For more information:

"Coping with Kitten Season," The Humane Society of the United States

The King Street Cats

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Greening the Family

You're already reducing, re-using, and recycling. You're bringing your own reusable bag to the organic market, you've replaced all your ordinary lightbulbs with compact fluorescents, and you've even started composting. So now what? Well, how about taking the burden of "going green" off your own shoulders and getting the whole family involved?

Here's a few simple suggestions for making the green revolution fun for the whole family:

(1) Toy recycling night. Have your kids go through their toys and games, considering what they want to keep and what they no longer play with. For every toy no longer wanted, have them consider if it can reused (by being given to someone else), recycled (toys with wooden or plastic parts), or reduced (thrown away). Assign 2 points for every reused or recycled toy, 1 point for everyone reduced. Decide ahead of time a realistic points total for your family and the treat that will be rewarded when the total is reached (such as family fun hike at a nature reserve or park).

(2) Plant a tree. Research trees that are native to your area and have the family go along to the nursery to pick one out. You can have fun planting the tree in your yard while enjoying a backyard picnic.

(3) Organize a community clean-up day. Have your kids and their friends make posters to put up around the neighborhood. Enlist other families to help clean up streets, sidewalks, and curbs. Enjoy a community potluck lunch after the work is done!

For more ideas for family fun while going green, check out these websites:

Ch-ch-ch-changes! The Earth Sangha moves to new location

It's been said that nothing is permanent except change. Our long time friends and fellow meditators, The Earth Sangha, who hosted the Tuesday and Wednesday evening sessions at Mindful Hands, have moved their meditation sessions to a new location. They will now be meeting at Yoga in Daily Life at 2402 Mount Vernon (in the Del Ray section of Alexandria, near the Braddock Road metro station).

Wednesday (beginner-level) sessions stay the same at 7pm to 9pm but Tuesday (intermediate-level) sessions will change to 7:45 to 9:20pm. Visit The Earth Sangha or call (703) 764-4830 for details.

We wish them much success in their new location!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Saving the Children of India

When Anita Edgar, a grandmother from Devon, England, vacationed in India one winter, she was horrified at the hundreds of children living in abject poverty and forced to beg in the streets for a miserable living. When Edgar returned to England, she packed her belongings and went back to India, determined to help these street children however she could.

That was thirteen years ago and she's never looked back. The charity she founded now operates four orphanages, three night shelters, and three independent-living cottages for older children in and around Goa, India. It also operates a children's hospital and "Manna on Wheels," a free food-distribution program. Altogether, the charity's residential programs care for more than two thousand of India's street children.

We are pleased and honored to host Ms. Edgar at Mindful Hands (211 King St, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia) on Thursday, June 18, from 12:30 - 1:30pm. Bring a brown-bag lunch and come hear Ms. Edgar's riveting talk on the activities of her charity and the lives of the street children, both before and after their rescue from the slums of India. Like the film, Slumdog Millionaire, her tale is both profoundly heartbreaking and sublimely uplifiting. Please join us.

To learn more about the El-Shaddai Charitable Trust, visit

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tea & Chocolate: World Fair Trade Day, May 9

Join us for fairly traded tea and chocolate on World Fair Trade Day, Saturday, May 9. Fair Trade ensures that artisans and workers in developing countries receive a fair and living wage for their work. At Mindful Hands, we will be serving iced berry tea from Choice Teas and a variety of fair trade chocolate treats.

Worthy cause + chocolate, 'nuff said?

For more information and directions:

Buy Fair Trade: It Makes a Difference!

Punam's parents were ill and could no longer care for her or themselves in the New Delhi neighborhood in which they lived. Punam was introduced to a family-owned artisan cooperative where she learned the art of the beading to make jewelry and sewing handbags from recycled saris. Artisan cooperatives, usually owned and run by women, helped Punam escape from the abject poverty that is so often the fate of women in India. Through her work at cooperative, Punam was able to learn a skill while also earning an equitable wage in a safe working environment.

Punam's is just one of many families whose lives have been transformed by the growing number of companies that support and promote Fair Trade.

Fair Trade means an equitable and fair partnership between artisans in developing countries and the importers who buy their handicrafts. At Mindful Hands, we work with organizations that adhere to the principles of the Fair Trade Federation:

  • - providing a fair wage in the local context

  • - engaging in environmentally sustainable production practices

  • - providing healthy and safe working conditions

  • - providing financial assistance as need be

To learn more about the Fair Trade movement, check out these resources:

The Fair Trade Resource Network (

The Fair Trade Federation (

DC Make Trade Fair, a local grassroots organization (

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Just Relax!

Feeling stressed? Who isn't these days? April is Stress Awareness Month. According to, a certain amount of stress in one's life is normal. Too much stress, however, can lead to headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, depression, a weakened immune system, and other serious health problems.

One of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle is to learn how to relax. Simple changes in your lifestyle can often be the best cures for stress. Here are some suggestions:

  • Turn off the television and listen to peaceful music instead.
  • Add a water fountain in your living room or bedroom. The sound of gently burbling water can be quite soothing.
  • Soak in a warm tub. Add lavender essential oils for a particularly refreshing experience. The scent of lavender is known for its calming qualities.
  • Take a walk in a park. Surrounding yourself with nature acts as a counter-balance to weekdays overloaded with cars, computers, and other man-made contrivances. Nature is healing.
  • Start a meditation practice. Even five minutes a day can have a profound impact on your stress levels.
In Alexandria, two recurring events can help you start on the road to relaxation:

The first is Dona Witten's guided meditations for healing and relaxation. Dona uses guided relaxation exercises and calming contemplations to help you learn to cope with stress and anxiety. She offers her relaxation workshops at Mindful Hands on the first Saturday of every month.

Also on the first Saturday of the month, Historic Christchurch offers a Labyrinth Walk, from 9:30am to 12:30pm. Labyrinths have been used for many centuries as tools for meditation, contemplation, and relaxation. I've walked the labyrinth myself at Christchurch and it is, surprisingly, profoundly invigorating as well as deeply relaxing. Certainly a great way to start your weeked free from stress!

As Ovid once said: "Take a rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Join Earth Hour Today!

Two years ago, 2.2 million people in Sydney, Australia simultaneously shut off their lights for one hour in protest of global warming. One year later, the movement had grown to 50 million people around the globe including international landmarks such as the Roman Coliseum, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Sydney Opera House.

This year, the goal is to reach one billion people around the world - and today's the day! The darkness has already started. Beijing's Bird's Nest Coliseum and the Great Pyramids in Giza went dark for one hour. Athens has turned off the lights at the Acropolis. In New York, the Empire State Building will also go dark.

The City of Alexandria, VA has asked its residents and businesses to support Earth Hour. Mindful Hands, my little shop in Old Town Alexandria, plans to participate. You, too, can join one billion people around the world by turning off your lights TODAY for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30pm local time.

For more information and to view videos of the global dark hour, visit

Use your light switch to Vote Earth!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Little Madness in the Spring

Ahhh, Spring! Spring temperatures (again), Spring smells, Spring sounds. Spring means a freshness in the air, a lightness in the step, the casting off of the heaviness of winter. There's a vivid sense of renewal, rejuvenation, a new kind of energy, a hope, a dream, and the anticipation of things to come. Certainly a kind of madness overtakes us: Spring comes once every year yet each Spring feels new, as if there had never been a Spring before.

To start your Spring off right, I thought I would share with you one of my favorite poems about Spring. This is from Emily Dickinson:

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown --
Who ponders this tremendous scene --
This whole Experiment of Green --
As if it were his own!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Key to a Simple Life: Being Pleasant

One of my favorite quotes is from Elwood P. Dowd, of Harvey fame:

"To get along in this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant."

Of course, Elwood was also an alcoholic and I certainly can't recommend taking to drink to get along in this world. However, it seems to me that we can all benefit by taking a page from the book of Elwood. You only have to turn the TV to any "reality" show to see that we are now living in a world that encourages conflict, competitiveness, and the demeaning and humiliation of others. Yet, the participants on these shows don't seem to be happy. In fact, they seem to be living largely unhappy, complicated, and conflict-ridden lives.

I have to agree with Mr. Dowd, there's a lot to be said for being pleasant. Elwood largely avoided conflict by trying to be as agreeable as possible to those around him. He helped when he could, shared what he had, and tried to get along with everyone. He found everyone interesting and listened to their stories with fascination and appreciation. People liked being around him because he cared.

Sounds to me like a recipe for a happy life.

6-foot rabbit optional.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mmm-Mmm! That's Good Eatin'!

If you've ever grown your own vegetables you know there's nothing tastier than carrots, turnips, or fresh herbs pulled right from the ground and onto your dinner plate. Yet most of the produce you buy in your neighborhood grocery store travels up to 1,500 miles to get to your table. It's often over- or under-ripe and almost always tasteless by the time it reaches your refrigerator.

Even if you can't grow your own vegetables, there's still another solution to buying produce from industrial agribusinesses: buy from your local family farmer. In recent years there's been a growing awareness that locally-produced food is not only better tasting but it's better for you, too.

There are many benefits to buying locally-grown food, including:

  • locally-grown food is picked when it's ripe and not before, so it's more nutritious and tastes better
  • locally-grown food is often cheaper since family farms don't have the high overhead of transportation and labor costs
  • you'll contribute to the economic health of your local community as more of your dollars will stay in the community
  • you'll help to preserve the long-term viability of family farms, protecting them from encroachment by development
  • locally-grown food is often healthier for you and for the environment as many family farmers use fewer pesticides and other chemicals or use entirely organic farming methods

Chris and I support a local farm, the Farmstead of Charlotte Hall in Maryland, through a program called Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Every week, just-picked produce is delivered to a community location (in Alexandria, the drop-off location is Mindful Hands; how's THAT for convenience!). Members of a CSA buy shares in the farm prior to the growing season and then receive the bounty of their investment throughout the summer and fall.

The Farmstead's season runs for 21 weeks from June 2nd until Oct. 29th. Each week, members will receive a hand-picked selection of the ripest and tastiest vegetables, including lettuce, tomatoes, onions, beets, peas, carrots, radishes, turnips, squash, potatoes, and a variety of herbs. Mmm-mmm! Now, that's good eatin'!

To find a CSA in your area and for more information on buying locally-grown food from family farms, try these sources:

Sustainable Table (
Local Harvest (

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Time for Happiness?

Here's another idea whose time has come: a national Happiness Index. We all know that money doesn't buy happiness, and with the current state of the economy, that message has hit home, hard, for many of us. So if happiness doesn't come from financial prosperity then where does it come from? The little country of Bhutan seems to think it knows.

Bhutan has implemented a national Happiness Index, called the Gross National Happiness, to measure the success of its people and its government policies. Built on the "four pillars" of sustainable development, environmental protection (more than 25% of its landmass is protected forest), cultural preservation, and good governance, Bhutan has seen dramatic improvements in literacy, infant mortality, and the general health and welfare of its population.

Now other countries are studying the model, hoping to develop their own models of health and happiness that go beyond economic success. Both Great Britain and Canada have implemented national indices of well-being. Perhaps it's time for the U.S., too, to shift its focus away from increased consumption towards an increase in quality of life.

For more on Bhutan's Gross National Happines index:

"A New Measure of Well-Being from a Happy Little Kingdom," The New York Times, Oct. 4, 2005.

"Bhutan's Enlightened Experiment," National Geographic, March, 2008.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Time for Peace?

Have you heard about The Peace Alliance? The Peace Alliance is a grassroots organization lobbying the U.S. Congress to establish a Department of Peace. This cabinet-level position will bring best practices and educational models to resolving conflicts both domestically and abroad.

Too many times, individuals as well as nations react to violence with more violence. Special interest groups often encourage a culture of violence and war because they, directly or indirectly, benefit from it, escalating conflicts beyond control and beyond any hope for reconciliation.

Well, the old models clearly aren't working. It's time to change our way of thinking. We need to replace our current paradigm of competition with one of cooperation, replace conflict with consensus and reconciliation, move away from a world segregated along special interests to one united under humanitarian interests.

Let's try some new ideas, let's try peace.

Vote for Peace:

Read more about
The Peace Alliance.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Feeling Better

I scanned the headlines today in the Washington Post and felt like crying. Bad news everywhere: war in the Gaza Strip, Ford and GM revenues down more than 30%, $50B Ponzi schemes allowed to run amok by the very regulators who are supposed to be protecting us, and on and on.

Then I came across this quote by one of my favorite people, His Holiness, the Dalai Lama:

"Choose to be optimistic. It feels better."

I realized that there is little or nothing I can do about the many national and global crises we seem to be facing lately, but I can certainly do something about my own attitude. Rather than focusing on the negative and getting more and more depressed, I can focus on what I truly believe in: the inherent goodness and resiliency of people everywhere.

No matter what trials and tribulations we may be facing currently, I heartily believe that we can and will get through this.

I choose optimism because it does feel better.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Simplify: Less is the New More

Everything seems to slow down for me in January. January and February are two of the slowest months for my shop, Mindful Hands. The holidays are over, days are shorter and nights longer, no vacations planned. I always find January to be a good time to take stock of all the "stuff" Chris and I have accumulated over the years - from old clothes no longer worn, books no longer read, videos no longer viewed, and assorted knick-knacks we no longer have the use or room for.

All of it goes into one big pile in the basement. When we're satisfied we've combed through all our belongings as thoroughly as we can, we box and bag it all and leave it by the curb in front of our house to be picked up by The Lupus Foundation. It's a "win-win" - we get rid of our stuff and they get the funds from the sale to thrift stores.

If you're interested in un-cluttering your life and giving away your stuff, try these resources: