Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Review: Petty Theft

I happened across a list of the best graphic novels of 2014, and one sounded interesting because it had to do with single people and books (so right up my alley). Bonus - the public library had it and I didn't even need to wait on a long list to take it out. So, even though I don't really love graphic novels, this was my chance to try a new one that was highly rated and might change my opinion on the genre(?).

Petty Theft
By Pascal Girard
2014
104 pages

Pascal is having hard time. He recently got out of a long term relationship, and screwed up his back running. So no one loves him, he can't run to take advantage of endorphins, he's imposing on a friend because he has no place to live, and his creative career has stalled. Eventually he gets a somewhat unrewarding job in construction, and loiters in a book store on occasion. One day he sees an attractive woman shoplifting one of his books! He makes it his mission to tail her and investigate her crime, but of course he falls for her. How will he ever fix everything?!

The art is simple line drawings, so not "pretty", but effective - it feels more like reading a comic strip in the newspaper. It's funny in parts, and awkward in more parts. Not awkward like the images and words don't work, just awkward because Pascal is...awkward and make some awkward life choices and says some awkward thing. In the end, there's some resolution and a sort of happy ending.

So did it change my mind about graphic novels? Um. No. It wasn't a waste of time, instead was a somewhat enjoyable read, well, quick anyways. But, like so many graphic novels I've read, I felt a bit disappointed in the ending. It just seemed a bit too neat, rushed maybe, forced? Regardless I'd recommend it to graphic novel fans who are looking for a light hearted, not deep, and quick read.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

It's In You To Give: Donating Blood

The Canadian Blood Services has one of the best mottos I've ever seen: it's in you to give. So true! Only 4% of eligible donors in Canada donate blood - that's shocking considering how easy and painless it is!

As somewhat nerdy teenagers, myself and some friends were excited about becoming legal adults, not so we could get legally drunk in bars, but so that we could vote and (at age 17) donate blood. My first blood donation was with some high school friends: we took the bus/LRT to the Blood Donation Centre after school. My second blood donation opportunity came when the mobile Blood Clinic came to our high school - I remember a bunch of the tough football guys passing out. I moved to regularly donating plasma during my undergraduate degree at the university (a hop, skip and a jump from the Blood Donation Centre). I didn't pass the iron level test once, so then quit near the end of my undergrad. I moved to England, and even donated once there. I moved back to Canada and forgot all about this.

Then, this January, as part of a quasi New Year's resolution mindfulness bit, I committed to donating regularly again. I donated platelets a couple months ago, and recently gave my first (hopefully of many) plasma donations.

So now that I've donated all 3 types, I thought I'd post about the experiences and compare some of the processes in case anyone was curious about what it's like.


Becoming a Donor
But why? Why would you be interested in donating? Well...your blood will save lives! Heart surgery, Leukemia, anemic, major surgery, and cancer patients will get your blood, as will car crash victims. Blood donation can actually reduce the risk of heart attack/stroke and is helpful for those with high iron levels (ie. men). Also, apparently you "burn" 650 calories during a whole blood donation. And you get cookies and sometimes soup after, so why not!



Blood types are super interesting, so check out The Facts About Whole Blood. Don't know your blood type? Donate blood for the first time, or attend a What's Your Type event.

Not convinced yet? Time to check out these recipient stories!

Interested in donating? Basically, you must be healthy and at least 17 years old. Check the eligibility criteria and read on!


B-ing Negative
Why don't I donate whole blood like the majority of people? I have a somewhat rare blood type, the second rarest in Canada: B- (somewhat fitting of my personality, no?). A total of 1.5 % of all Canadians are B-, with the most rare blood type being AB- at 0.5% of Canadians, see here for a chart. O- is the universal donor, meaning everyone can receive O- whole blood. So, it's important that if you're O- that you donate blood if you can, because O- is always in demand. My blood type is not so in demand: I can donate to B's and AB's but since those people make up a small percentage of the population, and they can all receive O- blood anyways, I was told a long time ago that my blood would go further if I donated plasma or platelets, both of which are more...involved, than donating blood, and thus, not for everyone.


Chart from Hema-Quebec 

Different to whole blood, AB is the universal plasma donor. As a blood type B, my plasma can go to others with a B blood type (not that many people in Canada), as well as those with an O blood type, which is the majority of the population.


A+, B+ and AB blood types are ideal for donating platelets, though anyone can donate platelets and those donations can technically go to anyone.


Whole Blood
Ok, you want to donate blood, and you've checked the eligibility requirements, now what? First step is to make an appointment, either online via blood.ca, or attend a mobile clinic. Take a look at this info sheet.

On the day of your appointment, make sure you eat and drink a lot of water (this makes donating faster). Try to include iron rich foods in your diet prior to donating (and always!), and get a good night's sleep. As long as you're healthy, you're good to go. Don't be nervous! Everyone is super nice at the Clinic and it's not as painful as you might think. Also...free cookies as a reward!

When you arrive at the Blood Donation Centre, you sign in (free parking in Edmonton, so register your license plate!) and get your file. Then you initially see a staff member who confirms your identity (so bring your driver's license!) and pokes your finger to test your iron level. I'm always worried about my iron levels, so I try to eat iron heavy food for a few days before donating (yay hamburgers!) and always schedule my donation around my period - you shouldn't donate right before, during, or right after you get your period because your iron levels will be extra low. I was turned away twice and it's no big deal. You just get your iron up and try again after the appropriate amount of time (they'll tell you when you're eligible again). I started taking a mineral supplement called Blood Builder, which was recommended by a local health food store as the supplement recommended in the US for blood donors. True or not, works or not, it tastes gross but isn't as hard as regular iron supplements.

Anyway, once you pass your iron test, you are given a sheet full of personal questions to answer. You do that in a privacy cubicle, then wait to talk to another staff member. They take you to a privacy office, ask you more screening questions about your medical and sexual history, weigh you, take your temperature (via the under the tongue method), sometimes measure your height, take your blood pressure and baring nothing wonky, you are then taken to the donation area.

They set you up on a nice comfy reclining chair. The nurse or other staff member will choose your arm that has the best veins, or you can pick your arm. They use a disinfectant and swab your inner elbow. Then they insert a rather large needle. I'm not kidding, the needle is big and somewhat scary looking. I turn away, and count the ABCs in my head. It's a tiny bit painful as the needle is inserted, but that's it. It's over in a couple seconds. Heck, sometimes the teeny tiny iron test prick is more painful! They usually cover the needle with gauze so you don't have to stare at it in your arm. The needle is attached to tubes. They take some blood for testing, via a series of vials all labelled correctly with your information. Then you're hooked up to the machine, which has a donation bag on it. Now it's time to sit back and relax! You squeeze a stress ball thingy every five seconds, but that's it.

Assuming you're hydrated, donating the actual blood doesn't take long at all, maybe 15 minutes? Race your friends! In total, they take about 450ml, or 1 pint of whole blood from you. The needle comes out, and gauze/cotton is applied to the tiny hole in your arm, and they've started using this colourful pressure tape to keep it on. If you're feeling unwell, you can stay in the donation area, but if you're feeling fine, you can go to the "cafe" section, where you will get a drink (juice, or I think they might have pop?), cookies and soup from the friendly volunteers. You should hang out here for about 15 minutes. Rehydrate/nourish, chat to lovely people, and you're done! Reschedule at the reception desk on your way out. It usually take less than an hour from the time you enter the Clinic to the time you leave.

Here's some advice for after you donate. Don't do anything extremely physical after donating, and you should call the Blood Centre if you feel ill afterwards. The nurses have told me I'm not allowed to bike to/from the centre as biking home after donation is not a good idea. I usually feel pretty good after donating, except after the first donation I felt a bit faint after walking up a couple flights of stairs (I was a teenager and over did it a bit), and then I felt a bit weak after donating platelets (see below). Otherwise I feel fine and can't usually tell I even donated. It's a pretty easy process.

Removing the tape from your arm hair later is more painful that the big needle by the way. Or maybe it's just me.

You can donate whole blood every 56 days. Why so long? It takes awhile for your red blood cells to replenish.

Got 8 minutes? Watch this:




Plasma
Donating plasma is a similar process to donating whole blood, with a few exceptions. You are taken to a different (adjacent) donation area with different machines. Using a process called apheresis, they take out your blood (in the same way as whole blood above), but separate out the plasma. Then, your red blood cells are returned to you. So, this process takes a bit longer than donating blood. For whole blood, you're in the chair maybe 15 minutes, but for plasma it's more like 30-40 minutes in the chair, and about an hour and a half in the Clinic total.

You can donate plasma every 6 days, and actually, your plasma is replenished within hours of donating. I prefer to donate plasma. I feel that it's a bit more useful than my whole blood (see above), and I'm willing to spend a bit longer at the Blood Donation Clinic with all the friendly people. I usually read a book or magazine or play on my phone or yap to people so time goes by quickly. I've never felt unwell afterwards. I'm committed to donating plasma monthly at the moment.

Except last month I got rejected for low iron. So embarrassing - I hate wasting everyone's time. I can't go back for 56 days now. In the meantime, I'm going to work on changing some dietary habits so I don't have this happen again!

This is pretty much what donating blood/plasma/platelets looks like. Easy peasy.


Platelets
Donating platelets is the most involved process of them all. One platelet donation can help up to 3 people though. It's the same initial process, and then you're taken to another adjacent donation area with different machines. There are only 2 platelets beds.

Once settled in, they cover you with a blanket, give you a heated pack to hold in your hand, and put heated bags around your neck and maybe your arm, near the donation site. The heat helps your blood move towards the machine. Needle goes in, hoses get hooked to the machine (a bigger one this time) and you're ready. The machine draws your blood for a certain amount of time, separates the platelets (which go into the donor bag with a bit of plasma to keep it viscous) and then returns the rest of your red blood cells and plasma back to you. This cycle happens a few times, and takes longer than plasma. The length/amount of your donation is based on your weight/hemoglobin etc counts. For me, I was in the chair for 70mins (and in the clinic about 2 hours).

The weird part is they inject you with something, anticoagulant I think, which makes your lips go numb. And they weren't kidding when they said consume a lot of calcium before - when the numbness happens, they feed you calcium chews and Tums to get your calcium levels up. And I felt a bit weak after and couldn't sleep on my arm that night. All in all, this makes for a slightly...intense donation. The first time I was really quite nervous about the process - it was my first donation in many years, so I went for the most complex one. Go big or go home, right? Now that I know what it entails, I think I'd be calmer and less freaked out about my tingly lips. Next time I would eat better and sleep more the night before, consume more calcium that day, and not be as scared of the process.

I would donate platelets again, if requested. Sometimes, due to your platelet make up, you might be a good specific match for someone and they may request you donate. If requested I would definitely donate, but I think I'll stick with plasma for my regular donations.

They prefer larger, male, donors for platelets, because they can take more volume from them - some men can actually donate a double quantity during the same appointment!

You can donate platelets every 14 days. It only take a couple days for your platelets to replenish.

See this plasma/platelets info sheet for more information.

Every once in a while (yearly I think), they'll do a more advanced physical - nothing like the physical at your doctor's office, but you'll get asked a few more questions and your height/weight taken. Nothing invasive, but it takes an extra 10 mins or so.



Where does all your blood/plasma/platelets go? Check it out - very interesting!

I really enjoy donating - the people, nurse, staff, volunteers, other donors, are sooo nice and friendly. It's a lovely way to spend a couple hours. I'd recommend everyone who is eligible donate whole blood at least once. It's helpful to know your blood type, and who knows, maybe like me you'll enjoy the process and will return regularly for future donations!

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Book Review: Blood: The Stuff of Life

May's genere for book club is non fiction. How convenient since I just picked up a book on blood from the library. I've started to donate plasma regularly again (or at least attempting too, I got turned down for low iron last month) so blood is fascinating to me at the moment, and I thought this book would satisfy my interest.

May 2015: Nonfiction

Blood: The Stuff of Life
By Lawrence Hill
2013
384 pages

I really wanted a book that could describe how blood was viewed or important to cultures and history. Instead I got this, the published version of Hill's CBC Massey Lectures on CBC Radio. Lawrence Hill is the author of the famous book The Book of Negroes, which had a CBC mini series so I guess he's well like by those CBC VIPs. Regardless, I was interested in reading radio lectures (yes, still not sure how that worked), especially if I could learn about blood in an up to date, Canadian context.

The first two parts were interesting enough. Hill covered the nature/functions of blood, historic practices, menstruation, blood typing, human sacrifice, honour killings, stem cells, tainted blood, blood donation, and cheating in sports. So far so good, so far pretty interesting. Long chapters, but this was the content I was interested in. Then the book went downhill for me. The last three chapters tie blood to race and religion. To me that's more genetics and cultural upbringing, but what do I know. Topics included race (heavy on Black, with some Aboriginal tie-ins), adoption, citizenship, witches (?), boxing, crime scene investigation, genocide and more race, skin colour, identity repeat etc. The concepts were interesting enough, but I wanted blood, as in cells, not blood as in racial identity.

The last 2/3s of the book was generally repetitive, if not slightly long winded, as it kept coming down to black vs white skin colour. Don't get me wrong, Hill is a great writer, accessible, poetical, but I was just looking for something different I guess. I'll fondly remember reading the first two chapters, and forget that I skimmed through the rest. In the end it's my fault - the subject heading for this books is Blood -- Social Aspects and clearly I was more interested in the science, biology, history, gruesome/gory bits. I'd still recommend this book though, especially if you're interested in how "blood" has been tied to racial identity.

I guess I should just go back to learning about blood by reading Game of Thrones...

Monday, April 06, 2015

Book Review: Sarah Bishop

This month's book club genre was 'published the year you were born'. It was hard for me to search because googling "published in 1980" mostly came up with results for "published in 1980s" which was not helpful. Not even my superstar librarian tricks solved that problem. In the end I narrowed it down to two. The first was Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates, a gothic mansion family generational novel that sounded interesting enough but ended up being just as many pages as those Game of Thrones books I don't have time to finish, so that was out. The only other book that sounded remotely interesting was by the Island of the Blue Dolphins author - and I loved that book! So, I figured, how bad could it be?

April 2015: Published the Year You Were Born

Sarah Bishop
By Scott O'Dell
1980
192 pages

It's the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Sarah Bishop's father is a royalist (pro British), and her brother a patriot (free America!). Her brother enlists and dies. Her father dies when patriot assholes burn down their house. She works in a pub for awhile, then gets into trouble with a lying British Captain. This part of the book was depressing.

Running from the law, the only thing for Sarah to do is enter the wild. She finds a cave and a cute albino bat. She procures food and fixes up the cave as home. A pair of Native Americans help her during their travels through Sarah's bit of the wild. This part was interesting. I wish it ended here.

But then Sarah get's convinced to go to a Quaker meeting in town and they throw her in jail for being a witch. Then she get's freed and goes back to her cave. This part was stupid and the ending was dumb.

It took me a couple hours to read this book, so it wasn't a complete waste of time, but I didn't really enjoy reading it. Would I have enjoyed it if I was in junior high as the target audience? Maybe, Island of the Blue Dolphins is pretty depressing too. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone though. There's got to be better YA books out there. Throw this in the waste of time pile.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: Beatrix Potter - The Complete Tales

I missed the book club get together last month, so couldn't quite wrap my head around this month's theme: Shame on you! Why haven't you read that yet?!. I needed to find a book I was "supposed to" have read, but hadn't yet. This was a hard one. A lot of the popular books, like Twilight or The Hunger Games, I haven't read because I think they're crap. Same with some of the boring classics. And it was hard to find recommended lists for this too, but after trolling the interwebs, I settled on The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime. I went upstairs in our library to pull it off the shelf, and got distracted by the Tolkien section. Oh to have the time to read the entire Tolkien section.

Near to Tolkien, I happened to spy a beautiful volume of The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter. And true to this month's "genre", I have never read Beatrix Potter! Sure, I "know" the tale of Peter Rabbit, but I've never actually read any of the little books! So I checked it out, and it sat on my coffee table for three weeks, then I hastily read it over 3 evenings. Yay for short kiddie tales with pictures!

March 2015: Shame on you! Why haven't you read that yet?!

Beatrix Potter - The Complete Tales
By Beatrix Potter
2012
400 pages

This large volume has all of Potter's 23 animal stories and verses in complete, unabridged format and it includes all the original illustrations (colour and black and white)  as well. Did you know that Potter did all of the paintings and drawings? I had no idea. Also included are a couple picture sequences, and two unpublished stories. The stories are arranged in the chronological order in which they were published, starting with A Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. Each story includes an short introduction, or background, about where/why Potter might've written the story, or to whom she dedicated it, or how the story setting related to her real life. The introductions do an excellent job of setting the scene, and helped transport me as the reader back to turn-of-the-century English countryside.

The stories themselves are quite cute. They are definitely of and for another time period, back when children were allowed to read stories about bags of bunnies being cooked in a Mr. Tod's (the fox) oven (spoiler - the bunnies are rescued). The animals are anthropomorphized, in their cute human clothes, the houses they live in, the items they keep and the activities to do (to market so we can have a dinner party!). And sometimes, there are even humans living alongside the animals. I did find the stories a bit...well, I'm not the target audience. Some of the endings are a bit twee or abrupt, some of them don't seem to have any point at all (like the one about Pig Robinson), and some are just plain boring (like sadly almost any story with a cat in it). But I can see how they would be lovely read-alouds to young children, who would quite enjoy the cute characters and idyllic scenery. It's also quite sweet how some of the characters are reoccurring, and the map inside the book cover really makes it feel like Potter created a world of animals and nature within our own world.

I think my favourite story is The Tale of Peter Rabbit, because, well, look at how cute he is!


It's also your typical morality tale of the "serves you right because you were naughty" variety. And, if you read the rest of the tales, when Peter Rabbit comes up again, he is much changed from his experience, and is basically a kind, upstanding member of the community, his veggie stealing days behind him. Aw.

I'd recommend this book, or any of the Beatrix Potter tales, to anyone who has small children. The artwork alone is worth a look, as some of her paintings are quite the portrayal of the perfect country life. This is a worthy collection for adult fans as well, so if you remember reading these stories as a kid, pick up this book and read them again to your own kiddlets!




Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review: Frostbike

When I was looking to buy my new house, I made sure I was close to a direct public transit bus to work. As my house hunt progressed, I started to consider bike routes to work - and I totally lucked out! My new house is less than 6km from work and my bike route is awesome! It's all sidewalk, paved trail or quiet residential street, plus it's flat. In the summer it takes me about 25mins door to door, and in the winter about double. That's right - I biked in the winter! Well, not every day, but most days. I took the bus when it was super windy or during and for a few days after heavy snowfalls. And then I got lazy and found reliable free parking a few blocks from work so I drove during the dead of winter, but I'm back on my bike now! I love it. It's quicker than traffic. I don't pay for parking (or the bus). It's better for the environment. It's exercise. It's freedom.

So I was excited to read Frostbike!

Frostbike
By Tom Babin
2014
304 pages

Tom Babin is a journalist currently at the Calgary Herald. One day instead of getting stuck in winter traffic, he digs out his bike, some long johns, and starts pedalling! But why don't more people bike in the winter? Babin sets out to dispel myths, provide tips, explore bike cities around the world and ultimately encourage everyone to ride through the snow. 

Frostbike is split into 3 sections. First is The Bike. Do you need a special bike to ride in the winter? Babin describes the winter bikes of the past, tests out a fat bike, and talks about the trial and error mods for his own bike. He discovers that with a few minor tweaks, you can ride any bike in the winter. So surely that's not stopping most people from winter biking?

Next is The City. Perhaps the most controversial, Babin talks about winter bike infrastructure, politics, and snow removal. He travels to the top winter biking cities to learn how all the people move around on their bikes and discovers bike infrastructure helps, but people bike in all sorts of cities with all sorts of winter issues.

Finally is The Attitude. Why did we stop playing outside in the winter? Why does no one ever walk around town in the snow? Why are outdoor winter sports participation rates dropping? Why don't we enjoy winter anymore? His advice? Just try it! And Babin closes the books with tips to help you love it.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about winter biking, or to those who are wise winter bike veterans - Babin's book is an easy quick read that is informative and interesting. It's inspiring too, it might get you on two wheels.

Honestly, it was a tough sell in the beginning but I'm so glad I got into winter biking! It's harder in the winter, and it takes longer and sometimes it's cold and slippy but it's still better than getting stuck in traffic! I'm looking forward to the spring/summer/fall bike season, but next winter you'll find me and my handmedown mountain bike with studded tires back on the road. Try it! You'll like it!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: The Sisters Brothers

Every year, the university I work at chooses a book of the year. We all read it and then the author visits and there's public readings, workshops, etc. I was super excited to read this year's book because rumour said it was a darkly humorous western - I like dark humour (I think) and I hadn't read a western in...well ever but I super love Firefly so I couldn't wait to read it. I was able to convince book club to read dark comedies for February and couldn't wait to take The Sisters Brothers along with me to Moose Jaw for my vacation!

February 2015: Dark Comedy

The Sisters Brothers
By Patrick deWitt
2011
325 pages

Charlie and Eli Sisters are infamously known as the Sisters Brothers - hired, brutal killers. The Commodore sends them out to San Francisco to find a prospector who assumably did wrong. The brothers head out on their new used horses, and after a series of misfortunes (and killings) eventually find the prospector. But things don't go as planned and the brothers' future is irreparably changed.

This book is full of shooting and dirt and horses and gold dust. Eli is the narrator and deWitt does a suburb job giving insight into his character. The younger brother is a pensive man; seeing the wild west through his eyes somewhat tempers the violence. You can really feel his inner dilemma about his chosen career. deWitt does a great job overall of making the killing not overly violent, and I guess this is the dark humour of the novel. Consider Eli's unfortunate horse, Tub, who is a most tragic character, yet all the ills that befall him are actually...funny, in a perverse way. Poor Tub.

Besides the violence, which is really in the background, I really enjoyed reading this western. It makes me wonder why I don't read more westerns - something I will definitely fix in the future! I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes westerns, and horses,  or darkly humorous books, or those who aren't scared of violence. It's a quick read, I think y'all should pick it up and follow the Sisters Brothers through their gold dust tinged last job!