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.

Monday, March 21, 2016

March Challenge: Eat Local in Edmonton Week 3

Oh wow I suck at this...

On Thursday evening I needed to grab cookies for work on Friday and vegetables for Roller Derby Officials Rules Night BBQ. I was halfway done my shopping when I realized I was at Safeway and wasn't even allowed to be there! Major fail. I totally forgot. Safeway is just so damn convenient! Sure I could've gone to H&W, but then where would I have gotten the cookies? Two stops. Sigh. Oh the guilt.

Saturday though I only needed fruit and bread so it was H&W for the win!

I didn't eat out at all this week.

I bought some vitamins from Optimum Health, which is a local chain of health food shops. And I bought some delicious natural sausages from them too. Random thing to have in a vitamin store!

So yes, I failed again. But it did make me realize something: I value convenience over everything else, over time, over location, over money. I've still got two weeks left in this month, and though I'm pretty sure I'll fail again, I'm going to try to at least get to the Italian Centre Shop before the month is out!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: Knitting Books - Dinosaurs and Roller Derby

Normally I get my knitting patterns from Ravelry, but I recently took a couple knitting pattern books out of the library...

Knitted Dinosaurs: 15 Prehistoric Pals to Knit From Scratch
By Tina Barrett
128 pages

I'm really into dinosaurs lately, because apparently I'm a 10yr old boy trapped inside a 35yr old women's brain. Sigh.

Anyway, this book was great because the patterns weren't stupid hard. That's usually how I feel about knitted toy patterns, so this book was refreshing in that respect. The illustrations are colourful, the text seems well laid out and easy to understand, and there were a few pages devoted to knitting/toy making techniques at the end. Each of the 15 dinosaurs got their own pattern, as well as a small section with interesting tidbits of info.

I took this book to work to show to the library staff crafting group that I'm trying to get going...and they loved it! I'm sure many people of all ages will be getting dino gifts in the future. I flagged 3 possible dinosaurs to make in the future, and believe me, as soon as the need arises I'm casting them on.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who like dinosaurs, or who needs to give a dinosaur gift; it's a good one for slightly more than beginner knitters.

Knockdown Knits: 30 Projects from the Roller Derby Track
By Toni Carr (Joan of Dark)
146 pages

I love roller derby (I should probably blog about my involvement in the sport...). Heck, I even have a derby name, and yes it's on an article of clothing so it's legit. In fact, though I don't skate, I've worked almost 50 games as a non skating official over the past couple years. So I was excited to check out a roller derby knitting book.

The book was very visually appealing, with coloured roller derby girl pictures smattered between pattern text. It even included text boxes with explanations about roller derby - so this alone makes it a good read for those interested in or involved with the sport. It looked good. It sounded good.

But, I didn't find any of the patterns inspiring. Not a one. That's not to say they weren't interesting or useful or whatnot, just that I couldn't see my self making any of them. Some were easy, ripe for a beginner, and some were more complicated, but none grabbed my attention. I guess the finished products were a bit...boring? I'm not sure what it was, but after browsing through the book I just returned it to the library.

I'd recommend this to knitters who like roller derby or who might want to learn more about the sport. Just because I didn't like the patterns, doesn't mean you wont!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

March Challenge: Eat Local in Edmonton Week 2

Week 2 was somewhat less eventful than week 1, but annoying nonetheless.

So annoying. For my weekly shop I needed fruits/vegetables, which I happily got from my local green grocer H&W - they were giving away a 10lb bag of potatoes if you spent $30, but since the deals are so good I never spend more than $10, I didn't have to lug home a bag of potatoes to eat for 2 months. From there I went straight to Elsafadi Market. Last week, I went to Safeway first, felt guilty, then went to Elsafadi and found everything I needed there anyway. This week was the opposite. I only needed beef, almond milk, butter and chocolate chips. That's it. They had butter, but it was kind of smushed. They miraculously had chocolate chips, but they had expired 3 months ago. And they didn't have almond milk. Ok, so I could go back to regular milk, but they didn't have that really either - they only carry 2%, 3% and homogenized. Um. No. Not drinking full fat milk. So I walked out. I didn't even go to the neighbouring butchers for my meat because I was annoyed. Since milk of the almond or skim variety is kind of a staple in my life, I can't make Elsafadi my go to grocery store. I went to Safeway, got everything I needed, and didn't feel guilty, only annoyed. And sad: I really wanted to be able to do all my food shopping in a 10block radius from my house from local businesses. If only H&W carried dairy!

So the grocery search continues. Earth's General store would have everything but meat and is not super convenient. Italian Centre would have everything but also isn't super convenient...or is it? Maybe next week...

This was an eat-at-home week, plus I went to my parents twice for dinner to watch the Brier curling event on TSN with my mom, and once to a friends for dinner/curling on tv. Besides my weekly lunch from local campus cafeteria vendor Filistix, the only food I ate out was our curling league wrap up party, and I guess that also counts as giving my money to a local business. I did buy some cookies from the roller derby bake sale, so all in all eating out was very homemade.

I didn't really buy anything else. So I win here too.

A problem with my whole non-chain idea: my credit card accrues points for free groceries at Superstore. Which is a chain. Which I'm not really allowed to shop at. Well for food. But I guess that's ok because I'm not giving my money to big corporation - they're actually giving me money! And that whole non chain grocery store thing isn't going very well anyway...

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

March Challenge: Eat Local in Edmonton Week 1

My first week of buying food from local vendors turned out mostly good, with minimal guilt!

I was near the southside location of Earth's General Store on my way back from the airport last Monday, so I stopped in to get my weekly groceries. I'm pretty well stocked at home so only needed fruit and a few other ingredients. Earth's General Store is a locally owned organic shop with huge environmental leanings. I've shopped there on occasion for years for various things like my stainless steel Klean Kanteen water bottle, natural and chemical free shampoos and soap and other health supplies, and it's my go to place for bulk soaps etc to fill empty containers. But I don't usually shop there for food, mostly because the southside location is not convenient, and while the downtown store is closer, I'd have to really plan a trip on my bike properly to haul stuff home.

Their fruit was more expensive than my local H&W produce market, but it was good quality - except they didn't have bananas. And I had to change up my meal plan for the week because they didn't have honey garlic sauce. This I predict will be a problem - I rely on jars and cans of sauces and they're harder to find outside of the big supermarkets. One solution would be to buy ingredients to make my own sauces of course. I also needed almond milk, which caused me to panic when I saw the price: I can buy almond milk for much cheaper by the case at Costco or Superstore. While I bought a container, I'm not sure if I'll be continuing this habit in the future. Earth's General Store may become part of my regular buy local routine though. They're good people. I'll need to think about how I can do the downtown store on my bike on my way home from work, which will mean potentially getting out of my weekend grocery shop and switching it to a Friday or Monday. Something to ponder.

On Saturday, I headed out to do my weekend shop and man was I full of anxiety. I needed toilet paper and a few other things, plus I had to run a couple errands and I didn't have much time at all. I hadn't had time to run reconessance on the local Lebanese grocer, and the Latin and Italian grocery stores were in the opposite direction from my errands, and I was just unsure who would have all the ingredients I needed. So after my trip to H&W for fruits and vegetables, I went to Safeway. Fail. And man, did I ever feel guilty about it (I guess that's the point of such a challenge eh?). So, on my home I stopped at the Elsafadi Market, and sure enough, they had everything I had already bought (except the brand of toilet paper I buy). In the future, I think Elsafadi would work quite well for the few non-fruit/veg groceries I need to pick up as the selection was ok and the prices seemed comparable. I'll certainly stop there again. And after Elsafadi, I stopped at Sunbaked Pita Bakery for a couple dozen fatayers. Guilt alleviated. Reconessance ran. It'll be less of a fail next weekend.

This week I was supposed to go to Prairie Noodle Shop, but my friend bailed and I stayed home. The day after, I had eaten my lunch by 11am and dinner by 4pm, so when my massage therapist mentioned I should go for Vietnamese noodles after our appointment, how could I not?! I stopped at Nam Kitchen, a local hole in the wall Vietnamese restaurant near my place. I'd been there before but couldn't remember if it was any good. Luckily it was fairly tasty, and the MSG didn't bother me too much so I'll probably be back for another noodle bowl at some point.

On Friday, colleagues decided they needed to go out for happy hour wine, so we went to Parlour, which is right near work. Parlour isn't small business per say, but it is owned by a local hospitality group that owns a number of large restaurants around town. So I didn't feel too guilty, as it sort of meets the criteria. I've been to Parlour before and am not super enthusiastic about their pizza, but it was $5 off happy hour so I win.

On Sunday, I met someone for coffee at Remedy Cafe, a locally owned small chain that serves chai and indian food. It was tasty as always!

Later in the week I needed bus tickets and bought some at the Petro Canada station. Afterwards, I felt super guilty I didn't go to a local shop - and then remembered my challenge only applied to food. And I ran out of toilet paper - which caused me to panic, but again, not food. Check out I Heart Edmonton who is doing a #buyYEG challenge for everything this month too.

This has got me thinking about how I can spend more at local businesses for more than just food. So a few days into a 31 day challenge and I was already upscaling out of scope!

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

March Challenge: Eat Local in Edmonton

I spend about two weeks a year working curling events around small city western Canada. While I'm there, I always try to visit local restaurants - I'd much rather give my money to a local, small business than a mediocre big box chain restaurant. Some of my favourite curling vacation eateries include Eats Amore food truck in Kamloops, the Gallery Cafe in Moose Jaw, and most recently El Norteno for tacos and Grande Prairie Coffee Company for sweet treats while in Grande Prairie last week.

In Edmonton, of course my regular favourite place for lunch around campus is Filistix - I make a weekly pilgrammage out to building nine for their solid coleslaw and tasty entrees. The guys have been really good to us over the years, and part of the reason I love going there for lunch is because they remember our names and treat us like friends instead of customers.

But that's it. While I often profess my hatred for chain food, I don't make that much of an effort to eat out at more local restaurants. Part of the reason is I don't eat out a lot (downside of being single) and I live in the northside ghetto which is pretty much a food desert. So while in Grande Prairie, I got to thinking about how I could spend more of my money locally.

This doesn't just apply to restaurants though. I regularly shop at H&W Produce for my fruits & vegetables, as well as the bread they stock from the Italian Bakery or the pitas they get in from Sunbaked Pita Bakery. I often say I want to marry H&W, and if they sold dairy, baking and canned goods I wouldn't have to shop anywhere else. But, I usually have to finish my weekly grocery list with a trip to Safeway or Superstore, and on the rare occasion Costco for meat.

So why can't I just take my money and put it ALL back into local food vendors?

I've decided that in March 2016 I'm going to only eat at and buy my groceries from local small businesses and restaurants in Edmonton. This means only eating out at restaurants owned by a real person and not a CEO of a national/international chain or large company. This means buying my groceries from locally owned business and not chain supermarkets.

This does not mean I'm going on a 100 Mile Diet. I'm eating and buying whatever grown wherever, but the people selling it have to be local small business owners.

Theoretically this shouldn't be too difficult. I can still make my weekly stop to Filistix, but I can't eat my favourite pizza from Famoso (which started local, but now counts as a chain). I can still make my weekly stop to H&W, but Safeway and Superstore and Costco are out. I'm excited to search out local restaurants in my neighbourhood, and I've been meaning to make Earth's General Store my go to spot for groceries. I'm not sure where to get meat but this will be incentive to find a northside butcher. I panicked yesterday about toilet paper, but that's not a food! Now that the weather is nicer and I can get back on my speedy bike and the roads are clear, this should be fun!

I think I'll try do a weekly blog update too. I'm looking forward to this! Please leave your local restaurants and food vendors in the comments!