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Barbados Journal Oct 2018

I have spent the past month learning a great deal about Barbados, and myself. This month I discovered that selecting “allow dirt roads” on your GPS is a big mistake in Barbados.

It all came about on a beautiful sunny morning. I was driving the kids to school and a house fire on the main road had traffic backed up for miles. It gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the island and I’d grown fond of discovering new sights around every turn.

On a small island like Barbados one would think it hard to get lost… but the island is filled with roads and cart paths that run over all kinds of terrain. And in the wet season (September to November) they fill with mud and clay. The problem is that the cart paths show up on GPS apps as dirt roads, even when they are little more than tractor paths through banana fields. Combine this with a glorious sunny morning, an open road in front of you, and the kids singing “Country Roads” in the back seat and it’s easy to feel invincible.

As I drove along the heavily pot-holed pavement, the road turned into a dirt cart path, and I didn’t listen to that small voice in my head whispering – ‘STOP!’. The view was amazing; we were driving along the edge of a mountain with a steep cliff edge to our left and the mountain rising up on our right.

It had rained the night before and I began to worry when the car started sliding. The road was narrow and the drop steep. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the wheel. The car rounded a corner and I could see that a few meters ahead the steep cliff turned into a gently sloping hill, but the car starting sliding towards the edge of the cliff just as I rounded the corner, and I nervously gunned it along the path praying we’d make it to the hill. Luckily we got there and I thought about turning around but didn’t want to face that slippery corner again. So I kept going and drove the car straight into almost 3 feet of clay that had filled a dip in the cart path.

I looked down at my silk pants, white top and high heels and realized I might not make it to my morning meeting and the kids would miss school.

My son and I put sticks and branches under the tires and after about an hour of trying we rocked the car out of the big mud pit (with half of it all over us). I found a small promontory to turn the car around and slowly headed back to the main road. Getting out of the mud was satisfying, but I was taking it too slow and became stuck again. This time we were on an upward slope and there was no way that my son and I could rock the car out. Luckily some men had arrived to work in the fields and immediately offered to help. They easily pushed the car out and around the corner to the paved road.

The whole time this fiasco was going on my daughter was sitting in the back seat, taking picture and pointing out how beautiful the view was. When finally arrived back at the main road she commented “Mum you always find a way to make a perfectly ordinary day turn into an adventure.” And that is how I hope they view every stupid thing that I do!

I have noticed that I am beginning to lose some of the terribly selfish driving habits I picked up in Toronto. Here ‘Bajans’ drive slow and easy, if they see a car wanting to cross the highway, they will stop to let them pass. They are kind. It’s unsettling if you’re from Toronto and driving far too quickly behind them, but over time you slow down and start to realize that being kind, and offering that public gesture, is important. I used to think that people are drawn to Barbados because of the slow pace, but I realize there is much more to it. The people here have grace and they cherish it. I hope a little of that grace rubs off on me.

Barbados is a beautiful country but it is the people that make it a terrific place to live.

Benefits when building with natural materials

 

Farm to Building

Several years ago, I worked in some of Toronto’s most innovative kitchens. Certainly, in my youth I was captivated by the culinary arts and have since wondered how it informed my interest and subsequent career in architecture. The past year has revealed to me an obvious thread: the transformation of materials.

In both cuisine and architecture ingredients are transformed. In both professions there is an understanding about materials used   where they come from, how they can be transformed, and how they must be appreciated. There are parallels between sustainable architecture and sustainable food.

Where materials come from: local or organic?

Farm-to-table is a social movement with which many are all familiar, characterized as serving local food through direct acquisition from the producer, incorporating food traceability. There’s a strong environmental case for food traceability.

Few materials are created equal, and when it comes to food, “food miles” actually make up just a small portion of an ingredient’s carbon footprint – just 11% according to the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). How the food grows comprises roughly 83% of its carbon footprint. To summarize the DSF’s research, the ideal choice seems to be food that is organically (responsibly) grown, and the benefit of local ingredients is simply a bonus.

The same may be true for building materials; let’s look at wood as an example. Wood is a fantastic material. It is renewable, can be sourced sustainably, and actually sequesters carbon. But not all wood is as environmentally-friendly as you may think. If sustainability is important to you look for wood products with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. FSC is an indication that the wood has met stringent harvesting and environmental standards. It prohibits illegal logging, forest degradation, and deforestation in protected areas, and is the only framework supported by NGO’s such as Greenpeace and WWF.

How materials can be transformed: embodied energy

When it comes to buildings, significant amounts of energy are required to process raw materials. Embodied energy is the energy consumed by all of the material processing required for the production of a building, including mining, processing, manufacturing, and transportation. Every building is made of a complex list of processed ingredients, all of which contribute to its total embodied energy.

A great practical example is to strip back the layers of a typical house and look only at its structure: steel studs versus wood studs. The University of Bath has concluded that the embodied energy and embodied carbon of steel are more than three times that of sawn softwood. Therefore, responsibly-harvested wood studs can be much less demanding in embodied energy levels. When you add up all the structure, insulation, finishes, and itty-bitty components of a house, choosing the right materials goes a long way in reducing your carbon footprint- those materials also need to perform well, be durable, and non-toxic.

How materials must be appreciated: high-performance, healthy, and beautiful

Nutrition is 99% invisible. We don’t need a nutritional breakdown of a Big Mac to know the value of its contents. The same is true in buildings: the products you can’t see usually provide the most value.

Building to high performance standards with natural materials will always satisfy your appetite. In a cold climate (like Toronto) this means using above-Building Code levels of insulation, airtight, high-performance windows, and efficient mechanical systems. Making it look appetizing is simply the dressing on the salad.

This article was contributed by Mike Mazurkiewicz for Sustainable TO

 

 

An eruption in paradise: Bali in the wake of Mount Agung

Flights booked, bags packed – my partner and I were about to embark on the common-held dream of backpacking Bali.

“You’re still going?” a friend asked us a few nights before our departure. Her voice brimmed with bewilderment. “Haven’t you heard? They evacuated half of the island!” An impromptu Google search confirmed her cause for panic. “Travel Warning in Effect!” the headlines shouted. “Experts Warn of Mount Agung’s Massive Eruption!”

We shrugged our shoulders, crossed our fingers and headed to the airport as scheduled. We agreed that if Mother Nature was going to blow, we were prepared to witness her fury firsthand.

Bali sits in the southern part of the Indonesian archipelago as the only predominantly Hindu island in the mostly Muslim country. For the Balinese locals, Mount Agung is a volcano that bears a sacred importance. Along with being the highest point on the island (and, therefore, the closest to the heavens), many locals believe that it is a replica of the cosmological Mount Meru, which, in the Hindu religion, is considered to be the centre of all universes.

I had always heard of Bali to be a magical meeting point of spirituality and nature. When I arrived to the island, this truth was confirmed. Inside and out, the beauty of Bali was overwhelming. It’s an island that people often perceive as the ultimate paradise, but its merit goes so much deeper than the lush tropics and sunny coastal beaches; there’s something present in Bali that I can only describe as an ‘aura,’ created and sustained by various pieces of a cosmic puzzle- the people, the culture,  the environment, the spirituality and, above all, the devotion. Our first days on the island were seasoned with this energy.

Walking down the streets of each city on our journey, it was almost impossible to miss a holy ceremony or celebration taking place. The narrow sidewalks were lined with “Canang Sari,” handwoven coconut leaf baskets filled with flowers, small gifts, and incense as an offering to the gods. Nearly everyone smiled, said hello, and radiated a spirit of gratitude and love. And although many areas were heavily occupied by western expats and tourists, it seemed a place where locals and visitors thrived in creative harmony.

Prior to hearing about the brewing rumbles of Mount Agung, we planned to summit to its peak, but decided otherwise as the entire island (including myself) waited in anticipation for the volcano to explode. Instead, we opted to drive our motorbike to Mount Batur, another sacred volcano just 18 km northwest of Agung. It was far enough away that it sat outside of Agung’s evacuation zone, but many had still chosen to flee the area.

The foggy, uphill winding roads that led us to Batur and its surrounding villages were eerily quiet. There were very few locals, let alone tourists, frequenting what once were busy streets. As we parked our bike near a small market, a herd of nearby shop owners rushed to our side. They yelled about their products, waved fruit in our face and pulled us every which way. They begged us to purchase souvenirs, got angry when we politely declined, and watched in resentment as we eventually got back on the bike to continue our trip.

It was in that moment that I felt a shift in perspective.

My previous notion of a harmoniously tuned relationship between locals and tourists quickly transgressed into something that mirrored dependence. Of course, I understood the desperation for making a sale in an almost abandoned town, and such a scene is common in many tourist spots around the world, but the sense of despair revealed a fragility that I hadn’t yet noticed.

As we continued our journey, I looked around at all of the restaurants, resorts, and yoga studios that were overflowing with western tourists- a flock of simultaneous “Eat. Pray. Love.” journeys meeting at the epicenter of spiritual practice. “How much of this was built for indulgent visitors?” I thought.  

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Mount Agung’s imminent eruption and the tourism industry’s imminent effects on Balinese culture.

See, Agung’s last eruption was in March, 1963, and just one month prior, a purifying ritual called Eka Dasa Rudra was to be performed by Hindu priests at the Besakih Temple on Agung’s slope. According to ancient texts, the ritual must be carried out at the temple every 100 years in order to maintain purity and protect humans from disaster at the hands of the gods. But, as the volcano began to quiver and bellow, the priests took it as a divine sign to postpone the ritual. Indonesia’s president at the time, however, urged them to continue through the warning signs, as he had invited foreign visitors from around the world to attend the event.

To the Balinese people, Eka Dasa Rudra wasn’t performed properly. In fact, it was tailored to accommodate foreign guests. As a result, many locals believe that its 1963 eruption, which destroyed villages and killed over 1,000 people, was the gods’ punishment.

If this moment in history isn’t already symbolic enough, you should know that Besakih Temple, which sat on the volcano, was largely untouched by the vicious lava flows that devastated the villages below. Most of the surrounding area was left in ruins, but Besakih stood tall‒ an emblem of devotion that, at that time, was spared.

I pondered on this story for the rest of my trip. Luckily, we left before Agung revealed its fury again in November 2017. When I read about the eruption in the news, I found little information regarding the spiritual importance of the volcano or how the locals were coping. I did, however, read plenty about its disastrous impact on Bali’s tourism.

“What would happen to Balinese culture at the whims of the tourism industry?” I thought to myself. “Could the island sustain its divine energy?”

But, in the spirit of Bali – in it’s exclusive wonderment to the rest of the world, I knew the answers to these questions were simply worries, curiosities of the future, not to be meditated on, as divinity is a power that, akin to a volcanic eruption, moves on its own terms. A feeling that I will never forget.

What is the deal with eco-tourism?

It’s a term being thrown around a lot within the tourism industry — eco-tourism. But, what exactly does that mean?

In the simplest terms, eco-tourism is the idea that your travel will not impact the environment. Instead, it will actually contributes to the local community.

When people travel, they tend to bring a lot of their baggage with them. And no, I’m not talking about emotional baggage or your carry-on.

Tourists tend to focus on only one thing. Sightseeing. They want to hit the most popular destinations, take perfectly filtered images for their Instagram account at the nicest restaurants, or visit franchise stores to do some shopping. These tourists take taxis, trains, and planes, and sometimes even use products with dangerous chemicals that could contaminate oceans. Don’t even get me started on the number of plastic straws used in beverages.

Most tourists create a carbon footprint that has the potential to damage a community, especially in remote locations or islands that depend on their natural beauty to attract revenue. While there isn’t much that can be done about completely eliminating this footprint, there is a way to reduce it. The answer is, obviously, eco-tourism.

According to the International Ecotourism Society, for an activity to be a part of “eco-tourism”, it has to have an educational aspect. It should promote conservation and community, while trying to adopt sustainable practices. Guides and participants must recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People There should also be some financial benefit towards these practices. 

The activities must also operate within low-impact facilities.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) describes eco-tourism as “environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples.”

The definitions are still open to interpretation. Some agencies choose to describe any nature-related activity or tour as eco-tourism. For example, whale watching in Hawaii is described as an eco-tourist activity. However, the cruise boat itself could be impacting the ecosystem below the surface of the water. A more ecologically-friendly activity would be to kayak or canoe the waters with a guide who talks about the wildlife or the conservation techniques in place to protect the natural beauty of an area.

Tourists can take tours of plantations or farms; but they can also participate for a day, learning hands on how food grows and gets to their plate. Visit an indigenous settlement and listen to stories from the community. If you go on a nature walk, stick to trails — don’t wander into a natural environment without a guide. Remember, the purpose of eco-tourism is to learn and give back to the community.

Here are three eco-tourism activities you can do in Ontario:

  • Redwing Institute Culture and Nature Discovery Walk: Take this 3-hour journey and learn about the Indigenous people of Humber Valley. Participants will explore the river valley, participate in a traditional ceremony, sample food and music, and explore history through oral storytelling. Part of the fees go towards a skill-development program for women from the Indigenous community living in Toronto.
  • Visit a Biosphere Reserve: Wilderness Eco-Adventures offers half and full day guided excursions of the Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Reserve. Climb cliffs, explore caves, and see rare wildlife. They also offer more intensive workshops where you can learn a new skill like geology or bushcraft. Looking for a challenge? Spend three nights under the stars this winter. Proceeds support the Biosphere Association’s environmental projects.
  • EcoCab through Toronto: Instead of taking a bus or renting a car, see downtown Toronto up close with a pedal-powered bicycle. Don’t worry about the physical activity as each tour guide will also be your navigator and official pedal-er). There are four routes to choose from.

Have you participated in eco-tourism? Let us know what your experience was like in the comments below!

Toronto to Iceland – top 5 places to visit

Visiting Iceland is at the top of my bucket list. The hot springs, volcanoes, and of course, the Northern lights. It’s one of those countries that looks serene and quaint, despite tourism being one of their largest sources of revenue. Airfare costs are usually pretty cheap, as are hotels and tours.

Travellers can either sign up for a guided tour or self-guided tours that include car rental, GPS, and lodgings. Self-guided tours are great because you can also prepare your own personal stops in between the recommended attractions.

Here are the top five things to do while hitting up a self-guided tour of Iceland:

Blue Lagoon: This is a popular destination, which means it may be a bit crowded. Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa with a breathtaking view. Enjoy some time in one of the heated springs or relax under a waterfall. Visitors an also sign up for other spa services like massages, silica mud masks, or saunas. For this attraction, remember to book early. The lines can be a bit lengthy, and if you are able to swing it, choose as many private options as possible.

Horseback riding: Horses roam the hillsides freely, but there are a few that tourists can ride on guided tours of the area. These animals are well kept and not overworked. Guides will follow trails that show off Iceland’s most serene landscapes, including rivers and mountains. This activity only has incredibly reviews from TripAdvisor, with most participants saying the trip was “magical”.

Glaciers and waterfalls: Despite climate change, Iceland still has a number of large glaciers and waterfalls to explore. Glaciers are made when ice and snow accumulate over centuries. They are large, beautiful structures and the perfect place to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, as the locations are rather remote. Tour groups offer a number of guided hikes and climbs through these glaciers for people of various skill sets.

Explore a volcano: There are a number of volcanoes throughout Iceland, and the country takes advantage of these phenomenons and offers tours of each region. Don’t worry, they are not active. For those who want a bird’s eye view, there are helicopter rides available that fly over a few volcanoes and lava fields. For those who want are more active tour, take a 3k hike through Thrihnukagigur, a volcano located between Reykjavik and the Golden Circle area. The tour will take you through caverns right into the heart of the dormant volcano!

Skaftafell Park: This park is 4800 square kilometres and home to some of the most surreal landscapes in Iceland. Pick one of the many trails and enjoy views of waterfalls, fields, mountains, and glaciers — all within one park. Make sure to check out the Scartifoss (Black fall), a waterfall that flows off black basalt columns. Nature lovers can actually camp overnight within the park!

Have you visited Iceland? What are your suggestions? Let us know in the comments below!

Festival life reminder of beautiful womanhood

Barefoot in the dirt, dancing around a bonfire with my soul sisters, music, wildflowers, and lichen everywhere. This was FrogFest, the celebration of music and nature, and a true healer of the heart after a long hard year of trucking away in the grind of city life.

Festival life in the summer has become as important as seeing cherry blossoms in May and eating fresh apples in late August. It is an essential part of the Canadian music lover’s life and is a process of revival in the midst of hot and hazy summer days. So, what does it really mean to be a woman immersed in nature and music with her best friends? Why venture out into the forest to not shower for three days and commit yourself to the frenzy of festival life?

Quite simply — to free yourself.

If only for a moment, bills cease to matter and the monotony of the nine-to-five life disappears. Life becomes about the next song, the heartbeat of the vast powerful forest, and picking wildflowers because that is the most important thing you could think to do in that moment.

Millennials are living in a time of low employment opportunities, rising living costs, and an increasingly frightening world. In the wake of the impacts of climate change and a growing sense of disunity on the international stage, young people today are left to face growing challenges. But instead of giving up all hope and turning away from the world, festivals like FrogFest inspire me to believe there is a collective of individuals who want to change the world for the better.

Alongside music, sexy people, and the lush forest landscape, there were many conversations around the importance of barter, trade, and changing society from the capitalist confines that have ravaged our planet. I personally witnessed a young seven-year-old lad trade a drawing for a patch that my friend had sewn. When a young woman tripped and fell during a show, ten people were there to pick her up instead of none. The entire experience was a series of gift giving, from physical objects to spiritual offerings. Festival spaces aren’t only about getting trashed and listening to tunes. It’s about experiencing the freedom to be inspired.

It is also a place to really honour the space and power of womanhood. I was lucky enough to camp with some of my oldest and wisest women friends. To see the ladies who have loved and supported me so happy and complete reflected how much opportunity being outdoors gives us to be our full selves. It was empowering to feel attractive in my natural body, and I saw many people, myself included, who frog-hopped into meeting a special someone who made them feel even more lovely in the brief and beautiful dream world of festival life.

If you haven’t been to an outdoor weekend festival before, it is well worth it. Gather a group of your best girlfriends, bring your most colourful and beautiful possessions to share, and get ready to feel more free than any amount of therapy can offer.

Oh, and don’t forget to find a magical frog in the woods. Ribbit! Welcome home.

Here are some photos from FrogFest

[Best_Wordpress_Gallery id=”8″ gal_title=”FrogFest”]

Simple Mother’s Day ideas in Toronto 2017

Use this Mother’s Day to celebrate with your loved ones, whether it be your own mom, your children, or other friends and family. It doesn’t have to be a big affair — the most important thing is to make time for that special person in your life, that person that gave you hope and encouragement. If you happen to live in Toronto, there is a plethora of events you can choose from if you are looking for something to do that’s a bit outside the box. Whether your mother loves art or nature, history or salsa dancing, there is a little something for everyone to enjoy. Here are a few of our favourites at Women’s Post!

Georgia O’Keefe at the AGO:

What better way to celebrate the power of motherhood and women then to look at the stunning art of Georgia O’Keefe? She is a phenomenal artist and the AGO is hosting their largest ever exhibition with over 80 works on display. There is also a floral Georgia O’Keefe cocktail that will be offered at the Mother’s Day brunch at the FRANK restaurant on May 13th and 14th. (327 Dundas St. W.) The brunch itself is pretty expensive (and reservations only), but if you are just looking for an after-exhibit beverage and a cozy atmosphere, you should absolutely check it out.

Spadina Museum:

The historic Spadina Museum is beautiful and elegant, perfect for a classy mom date out on the town. The museum is putting on a special exhibit called “The Language of Flowers”. A portion of the event includes designing a floral ‘talking’ bouquet where each flower has a message hidden inside. This event requires registration, but is a simple way to enjoy the prettier things in life while learning about the history of Toronto. (285 Spadina Rd.)

Check out the cherry blossoms:

The cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Trinity Bellwoods and High Park, and everyone is flocking to see how beautiful they are. It is also the perfect location for family photos. The cherry blossoms only come out for a limited time and they are breathtaking to witness in full bloom. If you go to Trinity Bellwoods, there are a host of delicious brunch spots. Maybe check out Trinity Bellwoods Brews if your mother fancies a pint on her special day. There is also delicious vegan ice cream at Olenka’s, which never disappoints.

Mother’s Day Chocolate Tour: 

Almost every mom I know loves chocolate — it is a fact. Luckily, there is a chocolate tour that will lead you and your mother through a sweet and delectable experience. There is a chocolate demonstration and many samples will be provided on route. It’s also one of the more reasonably priced chocolate-themed events this May. This tour promises to be a delight, just make sure you don’t eat too much sugar! (443 King St. W.)

Mother’s Day Roncesvalles Food Tour:  

Keeping in the food theme, maybe try something a bit less sugar-laden. This Rocensvalle tour pairs delicious foods and neighbourhood history all into one fantastic afternoon. Roncesvalles is a hip and trendy part of Toronto, full of delectable eateries. At $30 a person, it’s a great opportunity to do something different with your mom, while still enjoying the food nooks in the area.

 

Happy Mother’s Day from Women’s Post!

My harrowing journey trying to find vegan Easter eggs

There is no way around it. Finding affordable vegan Easter eggs for kids is a challenge.

First of all, it’s a miracle in itself that there are vegan Easter eggs in stores. It is fairly easy to find a chocolate bunny, vegan cream eggs, and even little dark chocolate bunnies at health food stores, but impossible to find anything affordable for kids! One cream egg is around five to six dollars. Imagine buying dozens for an Easter egg hunt?

I was unprepared for this dilemma when I committed to host a vegan Easter egg hunt for my daughter’s Girl Guide group. Lo and behold, I found myself panicking at some non-descript health food centre trying to price crunch seven dollar chocolate bars for 20 children. As a vegan mom though, it is necessary to think quickly in such situations and I opted for the plastic eggs filled with skittles and jujubes (both surprisingly vegan) and non-dairy chocolate chips. The problem was solved, but there was an unexpected twist that forced me to pull out my vegan mommy powers again.

When I hid the eggs outside for the scavenger hunt and nature walk, the slugs took over. I quite literally mean the little slimy bugs that manifested and decided to make their new homes on the cheerful looking plastic eggs. It was ironic that the vegan eggs I’d worked so hard to make were very nearly ruined by an animal. Did the slugs not know I was trying to save them?

When my daughter and the other little girls noticed the slugs, pandemonium erupted with shrill screams and a flurry of little ladies running around panicking.  I quickly took the egg with the biggest slug and scooped him onto my finger. I began talking about how amazing he was, how slugs function in the forest and joked about how much they loved Easter eggs. The girls took this in and stopped being afraid of the interesting critter. The vegan eggs turned the nature walk into a very interesting learning experience.

For future egg hunts, I will decidedly abandon buying the eggs all together. Instead, making vegan Easter eggs at home with a mould. Vegan chocolate will be a much cheaper and yummier alternative. Simply takes cocoa, sugar, and other select ingredients depending on what type of eggs you would like and a mould. It is also healthier to make your own eggs because it won’t contain the additives found in mass-produced chocolate.

Be sure to use the weekend to get outside, soak in some rays, and smile because the days of seasonal depression are finally behind us. Just watch out for the slugs!

Happy Easter from everyone at Women’s Post!

Teaching the cycle of life — with gardening

Gardening can be used as a powerful tool to teach children the interconnectedness of all things — including our dependence on and understanding of how the cycle of life works. It may appear to be a bit deep of a conversation to have while your family plants their tulips and herbs, nevertheless I think it’s an important connection to emphasis.

Plants are born, and once they die, they can return the next year in a new form, or grow into something else that helps the earth. This process of gardening helps children understand the concept of life and death cycles in a larger context. We are all born, we all die, and what happens to us is merely within the nature of life itself. Using gardening as a teaching tool for kids to understand the philosophical inquiries of the meaning of life may seem a bit far-fetched, but what better way to concretely show how the life works in its most natural state.

When my daughter was young, we had a garden of beautiful hybrid tea roses in our backyard and the two of us would tend them in the summer. She would help me dig up the dirt with her little bucket and we would watch these beautiful flowers bloom. On the other hand, we would also watch these flowers die at the end of the season. Every year, it would make my daughter sad. She couldn’t quite comprehend why we would tend so carefully to a set of flowers that would wither away at the end of season. Through a child’s eyes, it made me realize how truly sad it is to watch a brilliant flower slowly shrivel up and fall apart unto their inevitable death.

I explained to my little girl that the roses would return next year and that the flowers have to die in order to be born again. Explaining the cycle of life and death to a child through gardening ultimately helps when a loved one dies as well. It is a way to explain to a child that everything from a flower to a person has to die, but that it gives way for something else to be born in its place. The following year when my daughter saw our beautiful roses bloom again, it also helped to prove that the cycle of life is constantly moving and changing.

Understanding that all living things from plants to people are intrinsically a part of the same world is a connective and vital experience as well. It may also be interesting to explain that the cycle of life means that we return to the ground once we die, and become something else again.

It is hard work to tend to plants and help them grow, and ultimately is an example of how life works in itself. Next time you are in the garden with the kids, talk about the cycle of life — it is sure to be a beautiful, philosophical experience for everyone involved.

Life-changing documentaries released in 2016

Documentaries are one of the most influential tools of education in our modern world. People are constantly immersed in images, video, multimedia, and social media, creating an information-overload culture that sometimes makes it difficult for messages to get through. That’s what’s so great about documentaries. There is nothing more thought-provoking than showing people through the lens of a camera the realities of the world we live in and the importance of changing it.

Which documentaries are the best so far in 2016? Here is a list worth checking out. Get ready to think, learn and discuss.

Before the Flood (2016). Directed by Fisher Stevens.
Before the Flood (2016). Directed by Fisher Stevens.

Before the Flood

Before the Flood was a documentary that was all the buzz at its release at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last month in Toronto. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the main subject leads an investigative journey around the world about climate change. The documentary was directed by Fisher Stevens, who made The Cove. Martin Scorsese is an executive producer for the film.  DiCaprio is a UN Ambassador of Peace and is dedicated to raising world awareness for climate change. Barack Obama, an avid environmentalist as well, is featured in the film. This is arguably one of the most awaited environmental documentaries of the year. It will be released on October 21 2016 by National Geographic.

Amy (2016). Directed by Asaf Kapadia.
Amy (2016). Directed by Asaf Kapadia.

Amy

Directed by Asif Kapadia, Amy takes the viewer on the life journey of singer Amy Winehouse, including her downhill climb into drugs and alcohol, ending in her death on July 23, 2011. The documentary explains how Winehouse began as an aspiring jazz singer and her soulful voice led to her success relatively quickly. It then describes how her complex relationship with her father and a troubled relationship led her into drug and alcohol addiction. Winehouse deteriorates and becomes severely anorexic, leading her to be the butt of many international jokes by tabloid media. The documentary gives an intimate background into how a life of fame can make a person crack, and how despite her fame and success, she felt quite alone. This documentary is definitely worth watching. Amy won a 2016 academy award for best documentary feature this past year.

 

The power lines. Provided by Koneline.
The power lines. Provided by Koneline.

Koneline

Koneline is a Canadian-made film and focuses on the Tahltan native clan, located in Northern B.C. It features the various elements that affect people of Northern B.C., ranging from the impact of the mining industry to hunting in the region. Director Nettie Wild portrays the northern landscape in such a beautiful manner, it becomes mesmerizing to the viewer and tells the story of the land, highlighting the influence imagery and filmography can have on expressing how land affects people. Wild attempts to demonstrate how the various people who live n Northern B.C have a story and perspective into their struggle to survive in the area and how working together will bring peace and understanding. Koneline won Best Canadian Feature Documentary award at Hot Docs in 2016, and is being screened at several venues across Canada.

Amanda Knox (2016). Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn.
Amanda Knox (2016). Directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn.

Amanda Knox

Amanda Knox follows the life of American college student, Knox, who was falsely charged with the murder of her roommate, British student, Meredith Kercher. Knox was sentenced to jail in 2017 for 26 years and served four years before being acquitted in 2011. The documentary focuses strongly on the negative power of media sensationalism and how it can ruin people’s lives. The story is told from Knox’s perspective and also includes her then-boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, who was also convicted and later acquitted. The film is directed by Rod Blackhurst and Brian McGinn and was released on Sept. 10, 2016 on Netflix.

Cameraperson (2016). Directed by Kirsten Johnson.
Cameraperson (2016). Directed by Kirsten Johnson.

Cameraperson

Cameraperson is an autobiographical account of the influence of filmmaking on director Kirsten Johnson. She creates a compilation of work and combines it into a fascinating journey of how filmography can impact the person who creates it. The film showcases postwar Bosnia, a housewife in Nigeria, and other glimpses into Johnson’s 25-year career. The documentary runs deep and lends a glimpse into the rarely seen perspective of the filmographer as the main subject. Previously Kirsten Johnson has received a Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography award: U.S Documentary for The Oath (2010) that told the story of Osama Bin Laden’s driver, Abu Jandal. She was the cinematographer for Citizen Four (2014), which was the documentary that told the story of Edward Snowden, a previous employee of the NSA. Cameraperson was released on September 9 2016.

What documentaries have you watched? Let us know in the comments below!