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Lisa Chin Quee

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Caribbean Tales Film Festival 2019 : Five Short Films by Female Directors

We are weeks away from film festival season in the 416. Watching movies is one of my favourite things to do – from big blockbuster light and fluffy to the dramatic storytelling of life’s deeper journeys. Film festivals usually showcase independent filmmakers telling stories that reflect a variety of real, authentic experiences.  That’s a big difference from the  cookie cutter format of story lines mandated by a corporation for mass consumption.  Toronto is best known for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) happening Sept. 5-15, 2019, but  running along side the renowned festival is the Caribbean Tales Film Festival (CTFF) Sept. 4-20. In its 14th year it is not as well known as TIFF but a gem for movie enthusiasts – whether they are Caribbean nationals and descendants or from the wider multicultural community. This years selection spans the Caribbean from Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Dominica, Haiti, U.S Virgin Islands to submissions outside  the region inclusive of  Suriname, Guadalupe and Africa.

There is an unexplainable joy and sense of oneself when the character’s on the big screen reflect your image, culture and its nuances, whether it is comedy, drama or animation. It is simply: acknowledgement of your existence. And there is also a slight – maybe big – difference when a story is told from the female perspective. Of course, the films are for everyone regardless of culture, ethnicity or gender because there will always be something in the story, the culture, that will resonate and remind you of your own.

The Caribbean Tales Film Festival is well represented with works from female directors; below you will find excellent options to add to your festival “must see” list.

Ms. Sugga
Ms. Sugga is a short film directed by Mary Wells from the island of Jamaica. The short film features a strong, feisty animated sugar cane stalk that travels in time with two kids (Tamika and Omar), and a wise African Chief (Tacky). The four make their way through history, encountering characters from the past.

Venus and Magnet
The ten-minute short film Venus and Magnet is about a bond between a dog and a chicken. Elspeth Duncan from Trinidad and Tobago directs the short film. In a world where diversity often divides, Venus, Doggess of Love, proves that no matter how different we are, we can still be friends.

Three Minutes Three Minutes
The short film Three Minutes, directed by Juliette McCawley, from Trinidad and Tobago, is about a couple who get more than they bargained for while awaiting the results of a pregnancy test. 

March of the Mokos
A short film, March of Mokos is about an old African ritual that found expression in Trinidad’s traditional carnival. Directed by Kim Johnson and inspired by the most famous carnival in the Caribbean, the twenty-four minute short March of the Mokos displays carnival in a historic yet captivating manner.

Judgement Day
In 2017 Jason Jones, a human rights activist, filed a historic constitutional motion against the state, challenging colonial-era anti-homosexual laws in Trinidad and Tobago. The short film Judgment Day, directed by Francesca Hawkins, opens up deep divisions between civil rights activist and politically influential religious groups. 

 

Click Caribbean Tales Film Festival  for a full schedule and list of films.

 

Facts: More Women in Top Positions Mean Higher Profits

More women in executive positions means more profits for companies. What? Do you need me to say it again? More women in leadership roles translate to higher profits; an increased bottom line. Yes, that would make sense considering approximately half the population of the globe are females and contrary to a particular antiquated school of thought – the gender on a whole is fairly intelligent and business savvy. Natural talent and understanding how the other half makes decisions – first hand – for their households is a unique added superpower; especially in boardrooms.

This I know and believe, it  makes logical business sense but the statements above are not merely my own wishful thinking – they are facts, fully supported by research published by the UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO). The report shows companies that increase gender diversity in management positions have significant increases in profits ranging from five to 20 percent. The findings were based on a survey of 13 000 companies across 70 countries.

The individual increases may or may not be based on the following gleaned from the survey but they are points that should be taken seriously. Fifty-seven percent of the businesses surveyed said the increase of women at the top made it easier to attract and retain talent, and others said they saw more creativity, innovation and openness while enhancing the company’s reputation.

“These results are eye-opening,” said Deborah France-Massin, who heads ILO’s employers’ activity bureau.

What Does Balance Look Like?

Balance isn’t necessarily a 50-50 split but defined as a 40-60 percent ration of either gender. However, according to the ILO, the benefits of  gender diversity take effect when it is at least 30 percent of senior management and leadership positions. At least 60 percent of companies within the survey acknowledged that they did not meet these numbers. And in nearly half of the companies, their entry-level management recruits did not meet the one out of three ratio.

There is still a far way to go and with the range in cultural expectations and laws internationally, the numbers vary from continent to continent.

The Global Range

The Middle East and North Africa counted only 10 percent of women in management positions. Although globally more women are working they are less likely to have a job than men; consequently, less likely to be in executive roles.

Throughout the world only 20 percent of women are chief executives, and they are usually in smaller companies. On a side note; when comparing the volume of small companies to large companies – small companies make up the majority of companies world wide, for example in Canada almost 98 percent and 99 percent in the USA. Consequently small businesses are the foundation of a thriving economy.

“It is still quite clear that there are fewer women in (management) roles than in the workforce as a whole. And the higher you go up the chain of command in a company, the less likely you are to find women,” says France-Massin.

Pink Collar Ghetto

The Pink Collar Ghetto, refers to fields in which women are typically hired and the wages are lower; it’s in these areas where they usually rise to management levels. France –Massin points out that women exceed in management positions in the areas of human resources and administration more so than financial management.

The primary driving force behind a company is making a profit and so if the fears of hiring women at the executive levels are loss of profits and/or placing a company in jeopardy – that excuse can no longer be used to maintain glass ceilings and glass walls. France Massin said it perfectly: “Companies should look at gender balance as a bottom-line issue, not just a human resources issue.”

Side note: as I sit writing this piece, the breaking news is that Rihanna’s Fenty Line has propelled her to be the wealthiest female musician in the world – she is as female and as authentic as one gets.

Of course I couldn’t just end without highlighting some of the most successful female executives – the list is short and by no means complete or globally inclusive. Although the examples of excellence are of women in Fortune 500, many smaller successful companies are run by women. As well, keep in mind that the majority of businesses that keep our economy healthy are micro and small businesses.

What’s Fortune 500?

“The Fortune 500 is an annual list compiled and published by Fortune magazine that ranks 500 of the largest United States corporations by total revenue for their respective fiscal years. The list includes publicly held companies, along with privately held companies for which revenues are publicly available.”

 Women Powerhouses

Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 28JAN10 – Indra Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, PepsiCo, USA; Economic Forum
swiss-image.ch/Photo by Michael Wuertenberg

Indra Nooyi changed the way PepsiCo did business and increased sales 80 percent over 12 years as CEO. According to CNN Business by paying attention to society’s shift in healthier food choices, she carefully maneuvered the offerings into three categories: Fun For You, the company’s legacy of soft drinks and chips. Better For You, low calorie snacks and diet drinks that include baked chips. Thirdly, Good For You, includes Sabra Hummus, Quaker Oats oatmeal and Naked Juice smoothies. The combination of the three categories captures the varying degrees of tastes and the health conscious.

Ursula Burns & Anne Mulcahy, XEROX

 The story of Ursula Burns and Anne Mulcahy makes history as more than one firsts. Ursula Burns is the first African American CEO of a fortune 500 company, and the first woman to follow another woman CEO, Anne Mulcahy. These two women worked together first while Mulcahy was CEO, and once she resigned, Burns stepped into the position.

Mulcahy stepped into the role of CEO in 2000, when XEROX was on the verge of bankruptcy. She ignored the financial advisors who told her to declare bankruptcy and took the risky route and hunkered down with committed executives all over the world, and sold pieces of Xerox, farmed out manufacturing and eliminated jobs and expenses. Ultimately, saving the company and paying off its debt and improving the product line.

Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns, 2010, Xerox

Working closely, Burns executed on the plans  with Mulcahy and so it was a natural for her to fulfill the role after Mulcahy’s departure. In her tenure she lead the transition from document to diversified services and the transformation of Xerox into two separate publicly traded entities. Both Mulcahy and Burns were long time employees of the company.

 

 

 

Source:

Gender diversity good for businesses and economies: UN, by Nina Larson, Phys.org

CNN Business (https://money.cnn.com/2018/08/06/news/companies/indra-nooyi-pepsico/index.html ) CNNMoney’s Paul R. La Monica and Julia Carpenter contributed to this report.

Ursula M. Burns : https://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/people/person.asp?personId=593846&privcapId=379316

Small Business, by Vangie Beal : https://www.webopedia.com/TERM/S/small_business.html

Canadian Small Business Defined, Stradegy.com, https://www.stradegy.ca/article/canadian-small-business-defined

 

 

 

Turn Down the AC – Women are More Productive in Warmer Offices

Summer is just around the corner – longer days of sunshine, flowers are blooming, city sidewalks are filled with an eclectic mix of people, lunchtime and after-work happy-hours fill patios with a fusion of conversations and laughter.  Ahhh – the beloved signs of warmer temperatures. But wait, chances are, amid the chatter are the complaints of cold air-conditioned offices  because as the outdoor temperatures rise, simultaneously air conditioning switches are being turned on and the air in offices become more frigid. Layers, whether a sweater, jacket or shawl become the necessary “summer” work accessory.

And there ensues the battle of the thermostat – someone usually has to give in to being too warm or too cold; and in most cases the battle lines are drawn between genders. Women usually prefer the thermostat raised to warmer temperatures. There’s a well-established thought that cooler temperatures make for a productive work environment whereas warmer temperatures make people more sluggish and less productive.

However, over the years there have been studies that disprove this theory. The most recent study was published last month at the University of California by TY Chang, Marshall School of Business’ associate professor of finance and business economics and A Kajackaite a behavioral economics researcher at WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany . It found that women performed better on math and verbal tasks in warmer temperatures and men performed better in cooler temperatures but it wasn’t a dramatic difference as it was for women.  The study showed that it wasn’t just the comfort, but performance and the degree of effort put forth that was affected by the temperature.

“It’s been documented that women like warmer indoor temperatures more than men—but the idea until now has been that it’s a matter of personal preference,” said Chang. “What we found is it’s not just whether you feel comfortable or not, but that your performance on things that matter—in math and verbal dimensions, and how hard you try—is affected by temperature.”

The research was conducted in Berlin, it included 543 participants; the rooms were set between 61°F  -91°F (16°C – 32°C). They weren’t able to confirm what temperature would be ideal.

However, another study conducted by the University of Sydney, in 2018 shows that 77°F (25° C) was more comfortable and does not lower productivity while being  better for energy use and greenhouse emissions.

On a personal note, I know (albeit I’m one of those who gets cold easily and always has a sweater or jean jacket in hand) that when I’m cold, it’s harder to focus on the task at hand because I’m distracted by the discomfort and thoughts of getting warm.

Chang and Kajackaite, suggest, based on their findings that the mixed gender working environments should raise the thermostats in offices. In the end, it’s better for the environment, more comfortable and makes for more productive and efficient employees which equates to  a more profitable bottom line : cha-ching!

Source

Study finds warmer temperatures improve women’s performance, by University of Southern California More information: Chang TY, Kajackaite A (2019) Battle for the thermostat: Gender and the effect of temperature on cognitive performance. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0216362. journals.plos.org/plosone/arti … journal.pone.0216362

A Slightly Warmer Office Won’t Make it Too Hot to Think, by Dian Tjondronegoro, Christhina Candido, Fan Zhang And Shamila Haddad, The Conversation, April 12, 2018

 

Greek Feta: There’s Something Cheesy Going On

 Is feta cheese made from cow’s milk or sheep and goat’s milk? The answer may not be as obvious as you think. I recently had a chat with my mother about feta, that’s Greek Feta cheese. She like most everyone takes for granted that the feta cheeses sold in stores are all made from sheep or goat’s milk or a combination of the two and are from Greece. I informed her, that it’s not necessarily so. In fact this was not the first time I had this same discussion. A close friend,  ever so gingerly – as not to embarrass me –  advised me that feta is made from goat or sheep after I questioned (while out) whether the feta in a spanakopita was made from cow or goat/sheep’s milk . She gave me a strange – you poor uniformed unexposed woman – look. I proceeded to tell her that some feta cheeses are actually made from cow’s milk. She left it alone and I’m pretty sure she felt she would leave me to my ignorance as a couple times after that when dining out and questioning any feta choices on the menu, she would give me a look. The fact is we are both correct – there was a time when feta was indeed exclusive to sheep and goat’s milk, but it has since changed, I’m not certain of when cow’s milk started masquerading as Greek Feta, but it has.  

Why is this a thing for me? It’s not really, well yeah, it is kinda. I don’t drink/eat cow dairy due to an allergy and so it’s important for me to know exactly what kind of cheese I’m eating. I can and do enjoy goat cheese – crumbled, hard and soft.  Furthermore,  my 60-second chat with my mother made me realize that most people assume and take for granted that feta is the traditional goat/sheep cheese from Greece.

I’m here to tell ya, “it aint always so”. And if you don’t think it’s such a big deal, well the Greek cheese makers sure did, so much that courts have had to rule on feta to lower the tensions between the big dairy nations – Greece, France, Denmark and Germany. Trade agreements amongst countries have been drafted and implemented to regulate the world trade of genuine Greek Feta, it’s origins and who has the right to use the label.

To be considered authentic feta from Greece and to carry the coveted label – Greek Feta – it has to be produced in the designated regions of Greece that have been granted the “protected designation of origin”; they include Thrace and the island of Lesbos, Macedonia, mainland Greece, the Peloponnese, Thessaly and Epirus. The process and the use of sheep and goat to make the cheese is also a part of what contributes to the legitimacy of  Greek Feta. Those produced outside the regions listed above, and made from sheep or goat’s milk must state on their packaging, “Feta style/type cheese” – variations of this labeling in the same vein differ around the world. As well, there are also types made from barn-raised cow’s milk labelled feta; which clearly, is not genuine feta.

In 2013, Canada honored the legal decision and trade agreement. Our mere location makes it mandatory for Canadian cheesemakers to add “feta style/type cheese” to their packaging. However those companies who were using the term prior are still allowed to use feta but they are not allowed to package with any artwork alluding to their cheese being Greek.

Generally, in regards to cow’s milk feta, companies are clear in the ingredients about feta made from this source. An example is the popular Canadian cheese brand Krinos, one of their offerings, organic feta is actually made from cow’s milk: https://krinos.ca/products/organic-feta-cheese/. Many of the American made feta cheeses are also produced from cow’s milk.

Cow’s milk feta is perfectly fine for most, but for those of us who are lactose intolerant  it is a big deal; taking for granted that all feta is goat can cause a whole host of  -avoidable- health related problems if eaten unintentionally.   The reason I and so many others are able to digest the goat cheese easier than the cow cheese are the casein/proteins A1 and A2; cow is A1 and goats are A2 , and if you are lactose intolerant A2 is better for your digestion. 

If you aren’t a cheese connoisseur and unable to tell the difference  in taste between the cow’s milk feta style cheese and Greek Feta (albeit,  goat and sheep’s cheese do have distinct flavors), the different source for feta may not be of concern  for you.

So there you go, the answer: authentic Greek Feta from designated regions in Greece are made from sheep and goats milk, while elsewhere there are many brands producing feta from sheep, goat  and  cow’s milk. Maybe now, my friend won’t give me the look, the next time we head out for a bite.

 

 

 

The Night I Realized My Heterosexual Privilege

 

Fall 1992. Detroit.

I was in my 3rd. year at the University of Windsor (after taking a year off) located in Windsor, Ontario, Canada; the border city to Detroit, Michigan.

I lived in a red brick duplex, a two bedroom converted into a three bedroom by making the supposed living room an additional bedroom – by adding a futon and a dresser – this was my room. It worked. I had two roommates – girl friends. We all made do, and lived our most fun, adventurous lives. It was by nature adventurous, because we were away from home discovering ourselves, our boundaries our limitations, our beliefs and our politics.

I had a boyfriend whom I loved with all my heart; he lived in Toronto 3.5 hours away. Albeit, we had broken up a few times.

Detroit was just a hop skip and jump across the bridge or the tunnel. I studied and I played and took the odd job to pay for the much anticipated spring break getaway.

I was having the best time of my life. I only wish I knew it back then, so I would have “mindfully” basked in the elation and not allowed the small insignificant worries to take away from the absolute joy. Of course at the time they didn’t seem small but with age and experience comes awareness.

On this particular night I was dressed to go hang out with my friend *Rob . I was excited and happy. Rob and I were platonic friends. Rob had confided in me a few days before that he was gay. Prior to him telling me, he would go out and not include me, I began to feel excluded; our friendship had been going on a couple years – we had met at the University. So I was feeling pleased and honored that he trusted me with his secret, and that he finally felt that I would have accepted and embraced him regardless of his sexuality.

With the knowledge of his lifestyle now shared – he felt comfortable to invite me out. We were heading to a gay underground bar in Detroit.

As we walked in, the music was booming, in a nondescript black bar, no fancy décor, no windows, in fact it was more like a warehouse and a bar set up for drinking. It was buzzing with people, mostly men. Masculine, Black men; there were a couple of effeminate types and transvestites but for the most part, they were strong, tall, masculine, clean cut, some corporate – looking and some thugy-looking.

I was a sociology major, I observed. Men were on the dance floor with their partners – slow dancing, close, intimate and tender – the same way I would have danced with my boyfriend countless times.  I was shocked, speechless, but I played it cool – I was taking it in, learning. The shock wasn’t necessarily seeing the men together, it was more that they didn’t fit that stereotype of a gay man – you know effeminate, high pitch voice, slim, flamboyant. They were dudes – big, strapping, masculine, with swagger and testosterone-loaded. Men that my girlfriends and I would probably take a second look at walking down Michigan Ave.

I felt like I was in another world. I was. I was in their world – a safe space to be free without judgement, violence, disapproving glances or general homophobia.

Rob was enjoying himself … leaving me to go check out a potential love match.

It was the end of the night, and as we left that non descript nothing special bar, it dawned on me. I was entering into a different world – both figuratively and in reality. My world changed in those moments in the bar, it expanded and pushed the boundaries of a mindset I had all my life.

It gave me a deeper understanding of Rob’s reality. I realized the simple things I took for granted. For instance, I was able to freely walk the streets hand in hand with my boyfriend and even steal a little kiss on the lips if my heart should move me to do so. Anything short of explicit sex, and we were ok; there was no threat to our lives. For days after, different things came to light, literally jumped out at me; I was “woke”. I noticed all the ads on the billboards and the television commercials about love and family showed White heterosexual couples. All the laws on marriage were for men and women joined in “holy” matrimony. The society was built on and infused with the acceptance and elevation of love and loyalty shared between a male and female; both systemically and culturally.

It was in those moments, those days following, I realized my heterosexual privilege. One that I had without knowingly, taken for granted … not even a thought.

But while I was going through my awakening, in 1992-Canada, Rob (and most gay people at the time) was dealing with the fear of coming out and to whom. He was attuned and acutely aware of the behaviors and violence that began with the words fag, faggot, fairy, flamer, sick, abomination, chi chi man, batty man, batty boy, not to mention religion and the religious; as well as, the possibility of discrimination at work or on campus.

As for those other men in the bar and their possible stories; some were likely in the closet dealing with the daily stress of living a double life – married with kids; or in full-blown relationships with women. Some were probably living lonely and alone. They didn’t want to be disloyal or betray these women nor did they want to be alone but they didn’t see another choice – to be ostracized and abandoned by family and society; wasn’t an option.

On top of the three realities above: mine, Rob’s and a bar of strangers is the fact that we were also all Black living in a society that already deemed us second and third class citizens.

I’m a Black woman. By the nature of my being, in this Eurocentric patriarchal society – what privilege did I have? But now, I realized my own. I fit into the larger expectations of society, one intrinsic to the foundation  and its beliefs because I’m biologically attracted to men. Strictly dickly as they say! I never thought anything of it before that night. I wasn’t that naïve I had known that homosexuality existed, a boss I had when I worked in Town Shoes while in high school was gay. At that time I didn’t think about it – frankly, I didn’t really care about what he did in his bedroom and honestly he was just my boss not family or a friend.

Fast-forward 28 years, Rob is still a dear friend. We’ve both been through ups and downs; still living adventurous lives pushing society’s boundaries. Unfortunately, although there are now laws that acknowledge and legally allow marriage, adoption, Gay Pride parades as well as the existence of a political and powerful LGBTQ community, there are remnants of the past – Rob just a few years ago was attacked on the streets for his sexuality. The difference today is that any violence against someone that is a result of homophobia is now classified as a hate crime – homosexuals are now a protected class. And anyone who spews words such as faggot or fairy –are the ones ostracized (publicly anyway.) Oh and yes racism that is clearly part of any aggression is also classified as a hate crime. And in the last 5 – 10 years, commercials show Black, interracial and gay couples as families that eat cereal, do the laundry and take road trips! A sign of the changing times.

*Name changed to protect his privacy.

 

 

 

 

I Lost My Train of Thought – Again: Dementia or Hormones?

So, I had a frightening experience the other day. I was sitting in a small boardroom, gray walls, no windows except for a dark glass (two-way mirror) with about nine other strangers: 50 to 70 yrs. old. We were all corralled for a focus group to get our opinions and experiences, and in the middle of sharing my perspective in response to a particular question – my mind went blank. Completely. Nada. I’d lost my train of thought before, in fact many times, but this was different. I just couldn’t connect the dots, I couldn’t find the last word that I left off that may trigger a retrace-the-steps-memory. The facilitator left me and moved on to another participant. Needless to say, I was embarrassed. She came back to me, and again the same thing happened.

The irony: the focus group was about those who were related to or helping friends or family suffering from dementia and Alzheimer. You can fully appreciate my instant anxiety and embarrassment. I just knew the rest of the group was diagnosing me with early onset dementia and believe me I was right in there with them. I was scared. I tried to brush it off for the next hour, continuing to answer questions but 90 percent of my thoughts and feelings were drowning in a sea of heightened emotions.

Losing my train of thought as I said was nothing new, but not being able to reconnect – that had never happened before. Usually there is some sort of activity or brain wave but there was radio silence. I knew that a woman of my age often has memory challenges – it’s normal with the hormone changes. Nothing to fear; but fear drove me to call my cousin as soon as I left. She shared a similar experience and said she noticed forgetfulness by many of our aunts and uncles – but there was no history of dementia or current diagnosis in the family.

It calmed me somewhat, but having watched a Dr. Oz segment on dementia, I knew a little something about prevention and decided that I would inject the following into my lifestyle – more social contact and be actively and consciously present and mindful always. I’m an entrepreneur, freelance writer and editor and have worked from home for almost 10 years – no regular daily professional contact with the outside world except for early morning workout’s at the gym five or six days per week. It has become my social outlet and similar to the 80’s sitcom “Cheers”, where everyone knows your name; the interactions are usually filled with quick catch-ups and a whole lot of humor but no big dialogues to speak of. I’m single; no kids. I decided that I would make sure to engage in some networking or social activity once or twice a week. Cause honestly after so many years of working in seclusion my communication skills have waned to say the least – my witty sense of humor has diminished – instead of being quick, the quick comeback shows itself an hour or days after a conversation. My vocabulary, instead of the more sophisticated varied versions found in a Thesaurus, what comes to mind are the basic words learned as a three year old and those are the ones that find their way into my discussions – and that’s after my brain does a run through of options (like an old school Rolodex) that are nowhere to be found. Don’t get me wrong I’m no preeminent wordsmith and in fact I’m not one who tries to impress by using “big” words. But you know what they say; if you don’t use it you lose it. Furthermore,  before you think I don’t have a life I do have my mother, family and friends that I talk to and see on a regular basis.

That very night, I decided I was going to be more conscious and present in my thoughts; as opposed to the easily distracted, multi-tasking mind that has constant useless chatter going on or the disengaged la-dee-da go through the motions state of being.

It worked, I was mindful, present, which on a spiritual level is where you should be. That’s another article. In any case, still I made an appointment to see my doctor. I explained to her what happened, and she brought out the MoCA (Montreal Cognitive Assessment) test a tool for evaluating cognitive disabilities – 30 questions that help to determine dementia by assessing your orientation, short-term memory, executive functions/visuospatial ability, language, abstraction and attention. You are scored out of 30 and a final mark of 26 or more means you are considered normal. My score came out to 28 or 29. I can’t remember which one exactly, but my lack of memory has nothing to do with dementia – yep, I can giggle about it now! Needless to say – relief washed over me – early onset dementia isn’t the problem.

She also broke down my concerns. As for vocabulary – as an editor and writer for the general public, you are trained to write so that someone at a grade three level can understand – clear, succinct and simple. An aha moment! Whew! She prescribed watching Ted Talks regularly to keep my head in the game and agreed with my plan to increase my social interaction. Also, sometimes our brains just go on autopilot, not her exact words but mine. And of course, my changing hormones are probably a contributing factor.

So once I knew that it wasn’t early onset dementia, I needed to learn more about this memory loss and brain fog that women experience when they become perimenopausal. Now it’s no longer something that happens to other women – it’s happening to me. I’ve heard it for years from my mother, my aunts and now girlfriends.

Firstly, the experts do not claim to know exactly why menopause affects us cognitively, but have deduced that it may be related to falling levels of estrogen which affects parts of the brain that influence memory, attention and emotions. However what they know for sure is that it’s a normal part of our transition and aging as women. Those words alone are comforting. In fact, Nada Stotland, MD,MPH professor of psychiatry at Rush University in Chicago, states, “menopause is a normal healthy stage in life”.

So what is cognitive function?

According to the https://www.neuronup.com, “Cognitive functions are those mental processes that lead to the acquisition of knowledge and allow us to carry out our daily tasks. They allow the subject to have an active role in the processes of receiving, choosing, transforming, storing, processing and retrieval of information, allowing the subject to navigate the world around him.”

Basically it allows us to reason, to pay attention, remember, and process information so that we can interact with our environment independently and fully engaged.

According to a study published in the journal Menopause, the first year after your last period is when memory problems are more acute. So there you go, it gets better.

Managing the change

The effects linked to perimenopause and menopause – the hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia and brain fog – are all normal healthy parts of the process. Of course they cause fatigue and discomfort but I think half the battle is knowing for sure what is causing the irritability, night sweats and then accepting it, because not accepting it and being negative just makes it worse than it is. I know it ain’t easy! Sleep deprivation is one of the worst symptoms because it affects all areas of our lives.  Our daily routines and lifestyles are affected in different ways and can be unpredictable.  Sitting in a meeting or going on a date where all of a sudden you have beads of sweat forming on your forehead and dripping like you just came out of the shower and trying to act normal like it’s not really happening – well that’s embarrassing. But is it really? What if we just own it? Be matter of fact about it … because it is simply  – a matter of fact.

So now I know, with the combination of all the symptoms – hot flashes, night sweats, memory problems, insomnia – that I’m not in the stages of dementia or any other illness or disease but that I’m a woman going through a healthy phase of life.

How do I manage all these inconvenient annoyances without showing my Tasmanian Devil?  Meaning, looking fierce from the lack of sleep and hot flashes, and although not looking for a fight will quickly show my clenched teeth, screeching at the slightest hint of a side eye. Maybe, just maybe – I see you  about to roll your eyes –  I frame it as a colorful stage of life; interesting, dynamic, eventful, unpredictable, the experiences on which laughs and giggles can be had in the comfort of other women also going through it. Plus, if God blesses me to reach the rocking chair stage of life and to have the benefit of consoling, regaling younger women on my embarrassing, treacherous and gut laughing stories – they will know I made it through … to tell the tale. And so will they.

The choice on how to cope is personal, but there is definitely one thing that I’ve observed of those at this stage: those who manage their stress levels have less symptoms. Daily exercise has been my go-to option for stress management for about 30 years. The only other thing, than the memory that I’ve noticed are the hot flashes and I take Maca root, a natural alternative – and so far so good, it’s worked wonderfully.

There are many options, opinions and advice from traditional western to Chinese medicine and alternative practices to old wives tales. I’m sure in all that, there is an approach that will work perfectly for me (and you). I will just have to take the time to figure out what works for me step by step.

The Travel Bug

Traveling is one of my favourite things to do. It is one of the best forms of education – you learn first hand about other cultures, foods, politics, religions and social mores; in true context.  Instead of repeating what I’ve stated in other posts about travel, I’ve taken the following from a piece I wrote nine years ago, 2010 – It’s Your Year. Do You. No Apologies; because my views on travel haven’t changed.  Albeit, when you are young and believe yourself to be invincible, your adventures and the chances you take are different. When I look back, I think to myself, hmmm, I must have had an angel looking out for me. And now, although it is still important for me to have a real sense of the community I’m visiting I’m way more conscious of the safety and security of where I lay my head at night. I suppose that comes about because as you get older you become more aware of the things that could go wrong and your susceptibility. Not to mention comfort and luxury of a rated hotel over a youth hostel is a great deal more appealing at this point in my life.

Excerpt from It’s 2010 – Do You. No Apologies.

Bullet point number two: Travel – I wanted to visit the various countries of the world but not as a tourist, staying on resorts and barely leaving the compound. How was one to learn about a culture and its people on a resort that caters to the guests? It never made sense to me, a resort in Timbuktu was the same as a resort in Cuba.  I wanted to live in different countries and learn about the culture, the people, the politics. I knew I couldn’t visit all the countries in the world let alone truly experience them in this way, so I selected two that were close to me – two places that are linked to my ancestry by way of Jamaica: Africa and China.

Kenya: Sitting with the Masai women (1990) (c) lisaliving.com

And so I joined an organization (Canadian Crossroads International) that allowed me to live and work for three months while experiencing life as a local. I went to Kenya during a summer break from university, which opened my eyes to many things…too many to mention. Suffice to say when I went back to school I was an eager participant in my classes, especially those focused on politics and women studies. Other political systems were not just theory to me, I actually lived in and witnessed first hand a different political influence and dogma.  Later on in my twenties I went to Korea and taught English; and although not China I did get to Asia. I also visited Israel for two weeks where I walked the path of Jesus. My thirties began with me living in Atlanta for two years.

Overlooking Jerusalem (1998) (c) lisaliving.com

I’ve visited other countries and islands, I didn’t have the luxury of living in these places but made the best of it by meeting and eating and visiting with the local people: Dominica, St. Barts, St. Martin, Grenada, St. Lucia, Spain, Morocco, Gibralter, Cuba, USA (California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Texas, New Orleans, Ohio, Michigan) and of course Jamaica. I have many more to visit (still would like to get to China) …and a few I’ve saved for my honeymoon – Greece, Seychelles and the Maldives. I must admit as I got older the luxuries of a resort were more welcoming, my spirit was still adventurous but I thought how many times do you have to stay in a hostel to know what it feels like (been there done that!).I’ve been to a few more places since that excerpt was written and still have many more on my list to check off my list.

Organic Grocery Stores in the GTA

I’ve compiled a list of stores that sell organic produce and products within the GTA – it is by no means a complete list of all the stores or options available but it is a good place to start.  Organic foods are generally more expensive, however, as with anything else, you can find deals and the store that best fits your budget.

Nature’s Emporium 

Established in 1993, the Natures Emporium is a family run business that sells only organic and natural foods from local farmers to big brands. They have three locations in the GTA.

Locations

8401 Weston Rd.,   Woodbridge 16655 Yonge St., Newmarket 
 2535 Major Mackenzie Dr. W,         Maple/Vaughan  2180 Itabashi Way, Burlington

     

Blossom Pure 

Established in 2002, by Fahim Alwan, Blossom Pure is a small grocery store located in Etobicoke. Alwan is dedicated to sourcing from Ontario farmers who use organic and sustainable practices. In addition to being organic, all meats are Halal certified. They also carry some Kosher food products.

Location:100 The East Mall, #15, Etobicoke

The Big Carrot

A worker owned cooperative, established in 1983 sells organic, non-GMO, and fair trade.

Locations

Danforth Community Market
348 Danforth Avenue
Toronto, ON 
Beach Community Market
125 Southwood Drive
Toronto, ON 

Organic Garage

Organic Garage’s tagline is, “We sell for less”. The vision of the family is to sell healthy organic options for lower prices than the customary high sales tags.

Locations

 43 Junction Rd.
Toronto, ON  
8020 Bathurst St #1,
Thornhill, ON  
579 Kerr St.
Oakville, ON  
 

Fresh City Farms

They source from local farmers as well they have a farm in Downsview Park on two acres. In the warmer temperatures up to 70% of their goods are farmed in Canada.  They boast a wide variety of gluten free, vegan products. You have the option of shopping at the store or online for delivery.

Locations

111 Ossington Avenue
Toronto, ON  
476 Roncesvalles Avenue
Toronto, ON

 

Tianos Organics

375 Kingston Rd. (12.40 mi)
Pickering, Ontario

Whole Foods

This is probably the most commercially recognized and well-known organic store; they are also one of the more pricey options. There are six locations in the GTA.

Locations

Leaside : 1860 Bayview Ave.
Toronto, ON  
301 Cornwall Rd.
Oakville, ON    
155 Square One Dr.
Mississauga, ON    
Unionville
3997 Highway 7, Markham, ON    
Yorkville
87 Avenue Rd.
Toronto, ON    
Yonge & Sheppard
4771 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON    

Online Shopping/Home Delivery

Butcher Box

Choice Farms sources local farmers to provide various meats of your choice that are chemical free, naturally raised, AAA beef and pork. As well as poultry that is grain-fed and raised without steroids or hormones along with wild BC seafood.

You can order your box online, they have various subscription sizes ranging from a one person household to 5 or more. $138 –

Shipping is free. Click: www.butcherbox.ca

Mama Earth Organics 

Local organic fruits and vegetables are gathered each week and because they sell the freshest available produce, each week the options are different. The price of baskets range from $40 – $100

Order online and have your basket delivered to your door.                                  Click: Mama Earth Organics


Mainstream Grocery Chains

With the demand for organic produce growing, mainstream grocery stores are also carrying organic products. The selections are limited when compared to the grocery stores who fully stock organic products and produce but they are also good options. 

Loblaws Real Canadian Superstore
No Frills (limited selection)
Sobeys 
Freshco (limited selection)
Metro
Food Basics (limited selection)  
 

Organic Labels : Can We Trust Them?

Organic produce is better for us and on that I think most will agree.  What people differ on is whether they trust that a brand is authentically organic or just packaged with the same old pesticides but sold at the premium organic sale price. A healthy dose of skepticism is always good which is why you should always do your own research.

In Canada there are different certification bodies that assess, monitor and ensure the standards required for organic farming.  Products that are traded inter-provincially or internationally are  regulated by the Organic Federation of Canada. These certification bodies can give you some sense of security and comfort but if you are still skeptical you can always visit the farms if they are close enough to you.  A conversation with the store/retailer  will usually  glean their purpose, values and integrity. Some farms have videos that show how their processes work with produce and animals.

Identifying locally grown organic products

At the time this was published , with the exception of Quebec and British Columbia provinces do not have regulations that require producers or processors  of locally produced organic  to  have their operations certified. However, you can reach out to the province’s consumer protection bureau to confirm organic legitimacy. Also, keep in mind the certification process can be cost prohibitive for some small businesses.

The Organic Federation of Canada states the following:

It is very easy for Canadian consumers to identify organic products.

  • The “organic” label must always indicate the name of the authorized certifier that inspected the products and validated their designation.
  • In addition, product labels may bear the Canada Organic logo, which will be easily identified on product labels. However, the use of this logo is optional.
  • Only products that contain more than 95% organic ingredients may be labelled “organic” and may bear the logo.
  • If the percentage of organic ingredients is between 70% and 95%, the label will bear the words: “Made with x% organic ingredients.” It is compulsory to indicate the percentage of organic ingredients on the label if it is between 70% and 95%.
  • If the product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, the word “organic” may only appear on the ingredients list, only to describe the certified organic ingredients.
  • All accredited certifying bodies under the Canada Organic Regime are listed on the COO website.
  • As a last resort, any consumer may ask to see the organic compliance certificate issued by the certifier who inspected the product labelled “organic.” Organic compliance certificates are absolutely essential. Products that are not backed by these certificates may not claim to be organic.

Source: Organic Federation of Canada

Organic labels

Logo: The following logo can be used to identify organic produce, however, organic produce that follow the organic Canadian standards may not always have the logo on the packaging. Also, imported products that were produced with  Canadian standards may  have the Canadian organic logo.

09142_Logo_Apr21

Beware of labels that tout “natural “ ingredients, this does not mean it is organic.

Should we trust organic labels? Most of us do not have the time to go the extra mile to make sure our products, especially organic products are as they say on the packages or in our produce sections; we hope and take for granted that regulations are followed and that our grocers are ethical and conduct business with integrity.

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