Thursday, July 14, 2016

Book Review: The Colour of Magic

After I finished reading Game of Thrones, I felt a bit...lost. I didn't have thousands of pages waiting for me to read. Some how I got it in my head that I needed to read all of Discworld. No idea where I got the idea from. I had read two books ages ago and thought they were pretty good so hey, why not. So I researched the order. And then got scared about how I was going to find all the books to read, so I decided I would download the ebooks from the library to save on the wait time in between books. Now I'd like to point that I've never read an ebook before. I don't have a tablet, so would have to read it on my phone. How bad could it be? 

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

The Colour of Magic
By Terry Pratchett
288 pages

Rincewind is a wizard, a very bad wizard. During a series of unfortunate events, he meets Twoflower, a tourist, and his luggage. There are more misadventures and unfortunate events. And then it's over in a to be continued manner.

Oh that's a terrible summary, but I sort of only a little bit remember the book. I blame this on the fact it took me four months to finish it, so my comprehension of it was a bit stuttery. The first problem is now that I'm not in a book club I have no motivation to read: I'm in a knitting phase and you can't knit and read at the same time. The second problem was trying to read an ebook on my iphone. Horrible. Never to be repeated.

The third problem was the book was only just ok. The world Pratchett created is interesting and fun and detailed, but I didn't really like the main character of Rincewind. I guess it wouldn't be a problem because he's only in some of the books, and I did like some of the characters - like Death. But the fourth problem is I'm not a huge fan of deus ex machina as a plot device. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is good but...Discworld is good but...well I guess I like things a bit more realistic. I'll give Pratchett credit though, it was a fun book with a good sense of humour and even though it took me forever to finish it, I did enjoy the book and would recommend Discworld to anyone who like humourous fantasy.

Will I keep reading the series? I don't know. The whole ebook thing is definitely a no go. And 40+ books is a lot especially if it takes 4 months to read one. I'm still thinking about it. I might read the Witch books and the Death books though. The whole start to finish thing is just a bit too much.

I'm definitely going to have to fix this reading motivation thing. Might be time to get back into a book club...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Grand Slam of Curling: Champions Cup Volunteer Wrap Up

I've volunteered for a dozen Curling Canada events, numerous local curling events, and a ton of other major sport type events. I've done everything from taking out garbages, selling merchandise, pretending to be media, and leading teams of other volunteers. But one volunteer gig remained elusive...I hadn't gotten the opportunity to volunteer for a Grand Slam of Curling* event. Until last month...

When I heard Heather Nedohin and her team from the Sherwood Park Curling Club had gotten the first ever Champions Cup, I knew I had to volunteer. I tweeted at various people and eventually was sent a link to fill out the volunteer form online. I couldn't attend any pre event volunteer rallys to size a jacket or anything. I got the impression most of the volunteers were coming from the curling club, as everything was done there pre-event, though the actual event took place at a local arena.

I was sent a volunteer schedule a few weeks before the event. This was more first clue it would be an "interesting" week, as I'd been assigned 3 different jobs. Interesting.

TV production bench. Always nice to be back working on the bench!

I received an email telling me to pick up my jacket and enjoy pizza a week before the event. When I got there, it turned out to be a volunteer orientation. Not sure why this surprised me, but it wasn't necessarily communicated that the jacket pick up was a meeting. Interesting. I picked up my jacket and asked if we'd be meeting our team directors. Turns out there were no teams and no team directors. One woman did the volunteer scheduling for all volunteers. No one was in charge of any one area. Interesting. I had been assigned 3 areas that were relatively similar, basically part of the officials team (though I did meet a volunteer who had been assigned 5 different distinct areas to volunteer for!). And it turned out there was someone in charge of this area, but that person wasn't in charge of the volunteers. So this person didn't know us or our contact info and had not done the scheduling. Interesting.

The volunteer orientation was quite disorganized. There was pizza and some people talked, but they didn't have a microphone so I barely heard anything. And they made the mistake of asking if anyone had questions (don't ever ask 200 people if they have questions, that's just asking for trouble). An hour later, they finally talked about volunteer parking. And that's it. I learned nothing about my jobs or anything else really. Interesting.

The next day I attended training to learn how to be a statistician (I had 3 stats shifts). We were handed out a manual, and talked to for a couple hours. I'd always assumed the statisticians were trained officials. But at the slams, 2 hours of training and we were good to go. Terrified actually. That night we were emailed the manual and a cheat sheet. Apparently the SportsNet stats guy had sent them to the organising committee to send to us, but no one had passed it on, which highlights an interesting lack of communication due to the lack of a volunteer team structure. It would have been really really really helpful to have that manual more than 24hrs before the event so we could read it and learn. Interesting.

Statistician training: learning during the calm before the storm.

The next day I attended a 30 minute training session for scorekeeping (1 shift) and timekeeping (5 shifts). Though I was terrified to be a statistician, scoreboard and time clocks seemed to be easier. Keep in mind here that I had at this point driven 45 minutes in rush hour to the arena three days in a row and the event hadn't even started yet. That's three 90 minute driving sessions pre event. This made me quite cranky. This organization can only be described as...interesting.

Finally the event started. The first day I did stats for 2 draws. It was...difficult. There were like 10 variables to check off in the computer program for each shot. Each shot. And I had to score both teams. And they curl quickly. It certainly was an experience. I've always wondered if I could do stats, so this opportunity was useful because it proved to me I can't do stats. I mean, I did an ok job, learned some new skills, met some nice people, but stats is not for me. I liked the challenge, but it was just too challenging. I think being a curling statistician is a fantastic job for a skip. I am not a skip. I know curling, I watch curling, but I don't KNOW curling. For one of my shifts, a former skip of mine helped me out and I learned a lot from that too. Lot's of learning on the stats bench that first day!

Scorekeeping was...hard.

My third shift was on time keeping. This was more my speed. I had to pay a lot of attention, but it was super fun to be down at ice level in the midst of the action. I did find that it got a bit boring after awhile and quite repetitive, but it was definitely an ok job.

Timekeeper's tools.

The next day I woke up with a raging head cold and a bit of a fever. Good thing I was sitting at ice level for my only score keeping shift! Score keeping was, well kind of boring. I got to watch a lot of curling though! And do math. Mostly I was worried about getting the math wrong. But score keeping was a decent job, despite the freezing toes.

Nice view from the scorekeeper's chair!

By now we'd figured out everything was sort of disorganized, and I had started checking when my next shifts were before I left the arena for the day. Good thing too because I had been told I had a Friday 8am shift but was not on the schedule at that time at all. Interesting.

I finished the event doing a bunch of time keeping shifts. Cold toes, but fun.

Not a bad view eh?

Let's just say the volunteer experience initially was disappointing and disorganized, but in then end, it was a great week and I enjoyed my self because the volunteers themselves were fantastic. I've gotten to know a couple officials over the past year and spent a lot of time chatting to them, plus I hung out a bit with a guy I used to curl with, and I knew a few people from the Sherwood Park Curling Club since that's where I learned to curl. I've no doubt the organizing committee put on a great tv event - they've been given the event back in 2018. At the start of the week I had decided not to sign up for 2018 because it was a bit lacking, but after the week played itself out I decided to probably sign up again if given the chance. The curling was good and the people were great. That there is the marker of a good curling event! Perhaps events can be run in different ways, to a similar end. I guess as long as it looks good on TV, then everyone is happy, right?

*Curling Canada runs the TSN events, and I have a long standing relationship with their team. I consider them my people and enjoy hanging out with them a couple times a year. Some I consider colleagues, and some friends. I hope to continue to work with them all for many years to come, and am indeed a Director for an event next year. The Grand Slam of Curling people run the SportsNet events. I've never attended one as they've never been local.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Roller Derby, Or How I Sorta Became a Derby Girl

Recently, I blogged about a knitting book I had taken out of the library that was full of roller derby patterns. It then occurred to me that I've never blogged about roller derby! Which is crazy, because it's been a big part of my life for the past couple years. Why wouldn't I archive my involvement on my blog? Admit it, you're all sick of hearing about curling anyway.

Years ago, like years ago - 2008 maybe? - I went to my first roller derby game. I think it was one of my classmate's birthday and a group of us went. I had no idea, no idea how awesome of a sport it was! One game in and I was hooked - derby is the best mix of fast, loud, violence, and girl power. I didn't grow up watching the banked track games of the 70s, but flat track roller derby in Edmonton became a staple in our lives. For a couple years, a rotating group of friends and I would attend local games semi-regularly. We had our favourite teams and our favourite players. They were like rocks stars every once in awhile on a Saturday night.

And then derby got popular. Like really popular: you couldn't get in unless you bought tickets in advance and even then you had to line up super early just to get a seat. So, we quit going.

There are three sort of "leagues" in and around Edmonton: Oil City Roller Derby (OCRD - which includes River City Riot, a men's team), E-Ville Roller Derby, and St. Albert Heavenly Rollers, plus Greater Edmonton Junior Roller Derby (GEJRDA). There's sort of a main association, the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) that everyone sort of belongs too, but it's not like each of Edmonton's leagues play each other in any routine fashion for points of anything. Each league has their own house teams and travel teams, and these teams play in interleague play or maybe they'll scrimmage with each other or teams will come from out of town or they'll travel out of town. Plus there are tournaments and events. Each "league" has a different culture. It's all a bit loosey goosey but it's amateur sport so it works. Derby is certainly it's own little world with it's own culture.

A few years ago I started going to watch roller derby again. The crowds had dissipated, and tickets were easy to come by, but not so the company. I would drag out particular friends for games, but that got to be annoying. I seemed to love it more than anyone else I knew. I wanted to go to every game, weekly or monthly, but no one wanted to come with me after awhile. This is what happens when, unlike the good ol'days, everyone you know is married or partnered or a parent. No one has time to hang out with the single girl who would rather watch sports than drink wine while gossiping about fashion or home decorating pinterest ideas.

Cue Facebook. Turns out a good friend from way back in the day, like junior high days, had started playing derby. She said if I volunteered I'd get in free. Well, I'm a thrifty el' cheapo so that was right up my alley! She put me in touch with someone (who would later become my first derby friend), and I had a job for the next Saturday night bout. I think I timed penalties?

One game on the stopwatch and I was hooked. I got on some email list or Facebook group or something and started NSOing for OCRD. An NSO is a non-skating official. So the skating refs control the game, but the NSOs run the game. NSOs keep time and score. We time and track penalties, record lineups, and run the scoreboard.

Scoreboard and score keeping. Best view in the house. Hmm, maybe the penalty box is actually the best view?

It was fun. I liked it. The people are different from the people in my real life, and I like that about derby. Over the years I've made derby friends and though I still don't feel like I completely fit in, it's nice to hang out with nice people and mostly everyone has made me feel welcome and one of the team.

Even in the early days, it was always a dream of mine to play. I went to a fresh meat recruitment clinic early on, and actually made it out to two practices, but it became quite clear that I wasn't a natural derby girl. I would have to work super hard at it, the skills, the fitness. I would have to give up most other things (curling, yeah right) to train to get better at it. And I would always worry about my vision - my glasses cost $1000 and I don't have a second pair so what would I ever do if they got crushed?! I just couldn't commit at that point.

Early on in my NSO career, the officials crew for OCRD split to form their own independent crew, and I went with them. So now I'm an NSO for Fistful O'fficials. The benefit to being independent is that we get to officiate everyone and assumingly bring no bias, only experience.

Yes, I do have a derby name. It's a play on my last name, and similar to a nickname my dad had when he was younger. It's not the cleverest (or easiest to spell), but it makes me part of the culture and that's cool. I finally got an item of clothing with my name on it too!

Shortly after the split, I attended an NSO clinic and got learned up. I started regularly attending Rules Nights, a sort of monthly gathering of officials where they talk rules and gossip. I love listening to their stories! I'm active on the Facebook group anyway. It's a nice diversion.

Last September I NSO'd a weekend tournament out of town. This was big for me because though I'm part of the world, I'm not really part of the world, so sharing rides/hotels with other officials hasn't happened yet. Fortunately my aunt lived close to the tournament so I got the best of both worlds. It was a good time. Lot's of derby. Lately I've been carpooling to out of town games, and plan to do at least one tournament this summer again.

I've done all the NSO jobs, I even recently learned how to use a whistle to jam time. I recently sort of sucked at being a Head NSO, but there's time to learn that yet. My favourite positions are penalties, either penalty timing, penalty box managing, or penalty tracking. Timing/box is the best view and you get to watch a lot of derby from the penalty box, but my favourite is penalty tracking. I'm not super great at it yet and still need to work at remembering the hand signals and penalty codes, but it's super fun to be in the middle where all the action is!

I know a goodly number of officials by now, and have a good core group of people who I feel comfortable hanging out with. It's overwhelming socially sometimes: there's lot's of people, and small talk or drinking at an after party is so not my thing, but I'm trying to get to know people.

Probably I'll always wish I was a skating ref. I'm over my dream of being a derby girl, but wouldn't it be great (and safer) to be a skating ref?! But then I'd have to learn to skate. And learn all the rules. And man there are sooooo many rules. At the moment I'm concentrating on being a good, reliable NSO. That's enough for now.

"It doesn't matter what you did, it only matters what the ref thinks they saw you do."

So once or twice a month I head out to the arena and hang out for an evening. I'm more comfortable with the role I play and the people I play with. I'm almost at 50 games as an NSO, which is not as many as some but more than others in Derbyland.

I love it. When there's no derby for awhile I miss it. I'll always love the game, and I'm so fortunate they like having me around! Even though I bring mediocre baking to the double headers, I really do think this is where I'm going to stay for awhile yet!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Review: Wizard of the Grove

Do you have a book that, when rereading it, causes you to vividly remember where you were the first time you read it? Wizard of the Grove is that book for me. I spent the summer of 2002 travelling in Quebec and Ontario. I remember picking out the book before I left Montreal, annoyed because I had finished Lord of the Rings v.1 but didn't bring v.2, and really all I wanted to do was keep reading that but there was no point buying the additional volumes that I already had at home. It took me forever to find a book that seemed long enough to last me for my trip in Ontario, and I also didn't want to start a massive series because assumably I'd be finishing up Lord of the Rings for the rest of the summer when I got home. Anyway, picking out this book was an ordeal.

It was a fantastic read though. I remember sitting in the park near Niagara Falls, reading while I wasted time until it got dark and they lit up the Falls. I remember I was listening to La Bottine Souriante's Anthologie I on my discman (!). It was really hot in Ontario that summer. I was not super impressed with the town of Niagara, but the Falls themselves were pretty. I was too cheap to go on the boat tours or behind the falls, as this was my first time ever encountering PST. Also I'm just cheap. So I sat on the grass and read my book.

Then it sat on the shelf for thirteen years. It moved with me a few times. I could never manage to donate it during various book culls. I guess there was a reason, as a couple months ago I picked it off the shelf, sure it would be the perfect size to take on my flight to Las Vegas to watch the Continental Cup of Curling. 

And it was. Perfect.

Wizard of the Grove
By Tanya Huff
576 pages

Wizard of the Grove collects together two novels, Child of the Grove (1988) and The Last Wizard (1989). It chronicles the story of Crystal, a young female wizard who was created for one purpose: to destroy the last living evil wizard. The first novel is about the history of how she came to be, her family, and the lead up to and resolution of a great war. The second novel deals with the aftermath of the war, and follows Crystal as she travels to the last wizard tower with two new companions. So the first is about war, the second is about a journey, and they're both full of world building and your usual fantasy characters like dragons and goddesses and beasts and of course wizards and their magic.

The first novel is stronger, and more brutal, whereas the second is more adventurous. There are elements of love in both, though as someone who dislikes romance in books, I didn't find these storylines overpowering. And actually, my favourite part is Crystal's friendship with Lord Death. I can understand why young adult me really liked these novels, as they were fantasy, but not hardcore fantasy, and romance, but not hardcore romance. Huff has created interesting characters and an interesting world and I enjoyed myself immensely reading this book on both occasions.

Perhaps the main reason why I enjoyed this omnibus was the presence of a strong female lead in a fantasy novel - like when does that ever happen?! (And if you know of any other fantasy books with strong female leads, please please please leave me a comment!) She's not a pathetic pushover or one who is searching for a man to save her either, she's a proper kick ass character. There's also a healthy dose of humour to offset the brutality (especially in the first novel), and who doesn't love a book with Death as a character?

I'd recommend this to any woman who likes fantasy stories with strong female characters. And bonus - they rereleased the book in 2012 with an updated cover so it's still around. I'm going to track down more of Huff's work too, which is something I've always meant to do. There's a reason this book has survived on my shelves after all these years, and it's not going anywhere. It will stay in it's spot until I'm ready for another reread in another thirteen years!

March Challenge: Eat Local in Edmonton Fail

There's still one more week of March, but I pretty much quit this challenge right after I started. I barely made it a few days before breaking the March rule: only buy food from locally owned businesses.

I don't think this was a waste of my time though, as I did learn a few things. First, I value convenience over all - over price, over time and over location. Second, it's easier to find locally owned restaurants than it is to find locally owned food marts, at least in my neighbourhood. Third, chain grocery stores trump locally owned stores in terms of variety (and in one case, lack of expired chocolate chips!). Fourth, I live in a food desert, and I'm mostly too lazy to go beyond my neighbourhood borders for groceries, though I'll go farther afield for restaurants.

Pretty sure I'll keep trying to eat a locally owned restaurants. I feel that's a mostly manageable and sustainable goal. Groceries though, well I'll keep going to my chain supermarket for dairy and miscellaneous items, but still frequent the locally owned green grocer, and am searching for a local locally owned deli/butcher.

This failed challenged has caused me to think about all the things I buy though, and where they're sold and by whom. So it wasn't a total lose: failing in March has made me more conscious of my purchases, and that knowledge has still got me thinking about buying locally owned when possible, and when convenient. I guess I'm only half a failure.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: Let's Get Primitive: The Urban Girl's Guide to Camping

We went camping as kids: I have many memories of waking up in a tent trailer or eating lunch outside the camper. My only memory of tent camping was when a bunch of dads took us girls camping in their big canvas hunting tent. For a couple summers when I lived in England, we went for a week long field camping vacation at a big Christian conference (another time, another story), which was my first camping experience since being a kid.

Last summer, I borrowed a tent and went camping twice - once for a night in Drumheller at this cramped private campground, and once for a few days in Jasper. It's not like I love loved it, but it was enjoyable. Quiet. Pretty. Simple. And I thought about going camping again every day since Jasper...until I went to Iceland: now all I can think about is going camping around Iceland!

So I bought a tent. And I'm planning on going camping this summer. I have a couple group trips tentatively lined up, and I might even get brave enough for a solo trip or two. As a librarian, I'm preparing by reading up on the topic. The internet is good, but I came across a book that I remember hearing about years ago and it sounded promising. It wasn't available at my local libraries, so I actually interlibrary loaned it (My first ILL ever! Weird for a librarian eh?)...

Let's Get Primitive: The Urban Girl's Guide to Camping
By Heather Menicucci
236 pages

I was hoping for a practical book which included camping tips for women. Um. No. What I got was valley girl, pretentious, glamping* stories with a few tips but mostly just "bring your make up and a skirt and a bottle of wine and some condoms" sort of stuff. Almost unreadable. Extremely trite and girly and wordy. It's too bad because between the lines were some good ideas, but wow, well, I'm not so girly, so this was mostly lost on me.

And that's it. I wouldn't recommend this book. You want to go camping? Read the internet. Unless you're quite girly and want to go glamping, then this is the book for you. Blah.

*glamour or luxury camping or lame

Book Review: The Marvels

I already read The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. Time for the next one...

The Marvels
By Brian Selznick
672 pages

I loved Hugo Cabret. Wonderstruck was good. The Marvels would be good too, right? Meh.

Unlike the other two, which included pencil drawings and text all mixed together, this one was text bookended by the graphic story. And that's where it went wrong for me.

The first part is art. It tells the story of Billy Marvel, how he got shipwrecked, then his career in theatre, then the stories of Billy's family through the generations. This part was really well done, complex, yet perfectly portrayed in all pictures, gripping, moving, almost adult ish. If the rest of the book was as good as the first part, well bring it on.

Then the text happened. And I felt let down. There's a story about young Joseph and his uncle Alexander, and Alexander Nightingale's fantastic house, which is stuck in some fantastic time period. The story is not gripping, moving or almost adult ish. It is draggy, contrived, and juvenile. Yes there's a twist. Which is interesting but...contrived.

Finally the beautiful art comes back to close off the story, showing us the adult life of Joseph and continuing the story of family through the ages.

So, two thirds is fantastic, but the main text didn't hold my attention very well. I'm not the target audience though and I suspect many people of all ages will enjoy this book. It was still good enough to convince me to read Selznick's next book.

I would recommend The Marvels to anyone who liked Selznick's other books, or anyone who enjoys theatre. It's a quick read and still worth your time, if not for the great graphic art.