Monday, 28 January 2013

A Rose by Any Other Name: Book Format Snobbery (a rant)

Right now I am listening to a delightful audiobook, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.  I downloaded this audiobook from EPL so I had something to listen to while I toil away at over 55,000 lines of spreadsheet data (I'm on line 14,190, FYI.).  It helps mitigate the repetition and relatively low brain requirements of the project, and I get to read a book while I work.  It's like every librarian's dream come true (because we never actually get to READ on the job, despite what the general public might think....)

But while I was spreadsheety-data-entrying away and listening merrily to my book, I remembered a debate I had long ago with a friend about the nature and definition of what actually makes a book.  And while urban dictionary defines a book as "an object used as a coaster, or to increase the height of small children", it is seriously a legitimate question as to what defines a book.  Because according to my friend in that long ago argument, an audiobook is in fact not a book and therefore you do not "read" them.

This side of the argument follows as such: a book is only that which has the PHYSICAL hallmarks of a traditional, paper book.  Cover, pages, etc.  This then excludes both audiobooks (which physically can be disks or Play-aways, or non-tangible DRM-laced files) and ebooks.  Obviously, one cannot define a book merely by it's physical existence and characteristics, because an ebook is, in fact, a book.  I define a book not by the fact that it is physically extant, but by it's contents.  It is not the pages, but rather what is printed upon them that makes the work.  In the case of an ebook, you read it like you would a traditional work, using an electronic device of some kind.  But it's still the exact same contents.  The author's work as communicated (which is what a book actually IS, in my opinion) is the same regardless of the method in which it is received

Which is my argument in defense of the audiobook.  It is the same content as the written book (assuming unabridged), and therefore it is a book.  And before anyone says "Oh but you didn't actually READ it, you had it read to you by a recorded voice", I would like to point out that the fact that I do not read it with my eyes doesn't make it any less of a book.  If a person sat here and read me the book aloud while I spreadsheeted myself into oblivion, the book would still be a book, regardless of the fact that I was not the one reading it.

Ergo, audiobooks are books.

And the so-called purists of the printed word can go suck it. 

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Why I have no life: Confessions of a serial hobbyist

It's good to have hobbies.

Hobbies give you something to do when there is nothing to do.  They fill the time, they busy your hands, they keep you mentally sharp, they keep you from having too much money (not really a positive, but a truth), and they provide a creative outlet from which you can present your truest self.

Yes, it is good to have hobbies.  But how many hobbies is it really reasonable and responsible to have?


Once upon a time when I was doing my undergrad I had pretty much zero hobbies.  I was student teaching and working part-time and studying and just didn't have time for frivolities like reading for fun or enjoying the outdoors or whatever.  Pretty much my hobby was watching the evening news.  That was about it.  BUT THEN, after I graduated and moved to the hillbilly-middle-of-nowhere for work, I found that this dearth of hobbies was a serious issue.  I was now living completely alone, with no friends or family within a three hour drive, with a frigid sub-arctic Alberta winter setting in, and my only hobby was watching TV.  This was a problem.  And because I am never one to let a problem fester, I quickly developed a solution to the incredible levels of physical and social isolation... I got a hobby.  Or two.  OR TEN.

Started innocently enough.  The damn town didn't even have a Tim Hortons to hang out at, so I got into walking to the grocery store to pick up one or two things.  Walking became a hobby until it got too cold (and the snow got too deep) to go outside for reasons other than to go to work.  It was then that the slippery slope of ONE MILLION HOBBIES began.  I found a card-making kit at the store, and thought "gosh, wouldn't that be fun, to make a handful of Christmas cards...".  And as everybody knows, card-making leads to scrapbooking (just like dancing leads to sex, just ask the Baptists!).  And it did.  Then I found out the town had a pool.  There's another hobby.  Then I found out the town had a liquor store.  ANOTHER HOBBY (maybe, not sure drinking is really a hobby, it was more like a competitive sport up there...).

Things progressed from there... until at one point I was involved in... scrapbooking, card-making, walking, boozing it up, swimming, jogging, watching hockey, playing hockey, birding, crochet, knitting, playing badminton, skiing, baking, playing in a band, yoga, karaoke, Nintendo Wii, reading and (occasionally) beer darts.  Simultaneously (or damn near).

But then I moved back to civilization and a good number of the army of hobbies died off because I then had access to things like human contact.  And because I went back for my masters (AKA, the hobby and social life killer).  For a while I went back to having a social life.  I was significantly more in touch with other people, and also less drunk.

And all was well.  I had a nice, reasonable number of hobbies.  I knit, crochet, watch sports, do aerobics, read, blog and walk.  And that has been a fairly stable crop of activities for the last year.  I feel like I have just the right amount of time to do all of those things, do them well, and do them as often as I like. 

AND THEN I got the Elna...

She's a thing of beauty...
I haven't done any sewing in 15 years and now that I finally have the real estate for a sewing machine, I picked up this gem on Kijiji.  Think of all the shit I'll be able to make now!  Curtains and tablecloths and pillow cases and throws and valances and shams and skirts and tops and bags and accessories....

Is this the slippery slope back into uncontrollable hobby-ing?  Is this the straw (or rather, much heavier 80-percent solid metal sewing beauty) that breaks the camels back and send me spiraling back into a world when I don't go outside save to go get more thread because THE HOBBIES HAVE TAKEN OVER AGAIN?

Only time will tell. 

But you know what they say.... sewing leads to quilting...

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Jessica Grant's "Come, Thou Tortoise" (a review)

"I would not say no to a tortoise."

Generally speaking, books don't usually make me feel feelings.  I don't get scared at the scary parts, I don't laugh out loud at the funny parts and I certainly don't get all weepy at the sad parts.  Maybe this makes me a monster.  Or maybe I'm just a cool customer.  Or maybe I'm far too aware that fiction is fiction, and in fact not real.  I'm not really sure. 

But what I do know is that if a book DOES make me feel something, then usually it is a damn good book.

Newfoundland author Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise is in fact one of these few damn good books. 

Set in Portland and Newfoundland, Tortoise tells the story of a young woman "of low IQ" named Audrey who is called home when her father falls into a coma.  Forced to leave her pet tortoise behind, the story is told through the perspectives of both Audrey and Winnifred the tortoise.  Without giving too much away, their adventures become a heartbreaking yet uplifting story about varying degrees of the truth, change, and the nature of family.

Reading the sections told from Audrey's perspective are incredibly interesting.  The language style of her character does not use question marks, proper capitalization or quotation marks.  And while I found this type of style to be completely aggravating in Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, in the case of Tortoise it just seems to fit so well.  I think in Haddon's case it just seemed so contrived, whereas the voice of Audrey comes through with so much clarity even without punctuation to indicate internal dialogue vs. spoken elements.

Tortoise is truly funny.  Audrey's literal interpretations of almost everything couple well with the bizarre cast of family and neighbours that inhabit her world.  Her misunderstandings are the fodder for many of the most humorous moments, although Winnifred the tortoise seems also to have a bit of an acerbic wit about her.  But the book is also incredibly poignant.  The full scale of the affection that Audrey's family and friends hold for her is only slowly revealed over the course of the work, but by the end I was full of very rare feelings about this work.  There are moments in this story with so much pathos; moments where Audrey could easily give up.  The incredible honesty and stubbornness in her character in these moments of true despair was very inspiring.  I haven't rooted for a character this much in a long time.  Jessica Grant does an amazing job of really pulling in the reader to not only an interesting story but into the mind of a brave young woman who seems so very nearly real by the end of the story.  And thankfully (I think it would have broke my heart if it hadn't!) Tortoise ends on a happy note.

I haven't been able to think of a single meaningful criticism for this work.  And so I don't think I will criticize at all this time around.  Jessica Grant has crafted a story that is amusing, compelling and very moving.  I would recommend this book to just about everyone.  Try reading the first chapter, and by the time Audrey has locked herself an airplane's bathroom after stealing the gun from an air marshal, you won't be able to put it down.

And for those of you who have already read Come, Thou Tortoise... be Qantas.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Edmonton's "Veggie Garden" (restaurant review)

In all honesty, vegans and vegetarians in Edmonton actually have surprisingly little to complain about when it comes to restaurants that cater to our dietary needs.  I can think off the top of my head of at least two restaurants which are strictly vegan (Padmanadi and Noorish) and several more which are vegetarian/vegan-friendly (Cafe Mosaics, Loma House, Clever Rabbit, Veggie Garden).  Considering that our rivals to the south consider themselves to be SOOOOO cosmopolitan, Calgary leaves vegans begging compared to the selection in Edmonton.  And this isn't even to mention many restaurants which are not specifically vegan/vegetarian, but offer many options that are suitable (too many to mention here, see Happy Cow for the list!)

In Edmonton on a Saturday night, if you're going out on the spur of the moment and haven't made a reservation, I'd recommend a trip to Veggie Garden.  As a fairly new restaurant (less than 2 years old, located where Oriental Veggie House used to be), they could always use the business, and they are rarely very busy.  On times when we have gone there for lunch, we have often been the only customers there, or one of very few tables.  I was quite happy to see that there were at least a good dozen tables filled in this small restaurant when we went there on Saturday night. 

Despite being located in a terrible neighbourhood (south end of Chinatown, right across from the Hope Mission), Veggie Garden is actually a fairly nice restaurant.  The decor is simple, but the restaurant is always clean and the family which runs the place are incredibly friendly and eager to serve.  The free parking right out front is often full, but there are meters around each corner which are free (for now) after 6 PM and on Sundays.  Veggie Garden is open seven days a week, and has an absolutely enormous menu, making for a good selection of lunch and dinner dishes.

And now, on to the food! (forgive the photos, I took them with my cellphone camera so they're a bit lower quality than usual).

Crispy yum-yums!
For an appetizer, we had the spring rolls (which are #3 on the colossal menu, $3.99).  Spring rolls actually come as an order of five, but we couldn't help ourselves and dug in before I could take the picture!  The rolls are nicely crisp, with a filling of cabbage and tofu.  They come with a sweet chili dipping sauce.  Like most spring rolls I've encountered, these one's don't particularly blow my pants off, but they do make a nice little starter snack.

Happiness in a bowl
For his entree, DH selected the "chicken and beef" vermicelli (that's #22, $7.49).  All the vermicelli dishes at Veggie Garden come with spring rolls.  A spicy, dark sauce comes on the side with the vermicelli bowls, allowing the customer to add the amount of spice that they desire.  Everything in this dish was cooked perfectly.  The vegetables maintained their crisp juiciness, and there was definitely a difference in both flavor and texture between the faux chicken and beef.  The value is excellent on the vermicelli bowls, they are a huge dish of food, and we ended up with leftovers to take home from this one.

Presentation a bit sad here.
Something to keep in mind with Veggie Garden is that all of the menu descriptions are LITERAL.  If it says "salty tofu and shiitake", then that is exactly what you will get, a plate of just these two things, no other vegetables or noodles or rice.  I forgot about this fact when I ordered the sweet and sour pork (#44, $6.99).  It is just little faux pork nibbles in sauce with a handful of vegetables.  Not the greatest dish to have as an entree because it lacks the flavour variety that comes with eating something like the vermicelli dishes, with their diversity of components.  I found this one to be a miss; the pork was tender and flavoured correctly, but was overwhelmed by the sauce.  It was just far too sweet.  This dish really needs to be served on rice, with far less of the sauce.  I don't think I would order this again, or I would order it as a side dish to share.

Suspiciously good chicken...
Continuing with the literal, we also ordered the lemon chicken (#42, $6.99) to share.  This dish is probably Veggie Garden's biggest hook.  I have taken several omni friends to Veggie Garden, and when they taste the lemon chicken they are 100% hooked, and beg to go back again.  The lemon chicken is suspiciously good, it is flavoured perfectly, and the texture is quite firm for a faux meat.  The chicken is breaded, making for a delicious crispy bite followed by a savory chewiness. The sauce is not too sweet or overwhelming.  It comes sliced into segments, making it a great dish to share around the table.

Although I neglected to photograph them, we also enjoyed two of the restaurant's smoothies ($3.99 each).  While they offer exotic flavors like jackfruit and durian, the DH and I were not very brave on this account and opted for strawberry and mango.  The smoothies can be made vegan with soy milk upon request.  Both smoothies were delicious, they are almost pallet-cleansing like a sorbet.  I found them well worth the $3.99, especially as the restaurant does not offer alcoholic beverages (food follows Buddhist tradition).

Aside from the sweet and sour pork, all of the items were enjoyed at Veggie Garden were fabulous.  What was even better was the bill!   We enjoyed four items and two drinks for a grand total of $36!  The prices are ridiculously low here, which I think helps Veggie Garden to hold it's own against the popular Padmanadi, which is located just down the street.  For those of you planning to visit Veggie Garden for the first time, I would definitely recommend the lemon chicken and any of the vermicelli bowls as a great way to get and idea of what kind of food the restaurant has.  And, my own personal favorite happens to be the soft chowmein (#34, $6.99), which features tofu if faux meat is not your thing.

Despite it's location, I give Veggie Garden my highest recommendation.  Overall, a great restaurant with great staff that is really deserving of our business.  And with their very low prices, I won't be surprised if they continue to get busier, so get your lemon chicken while you can!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Faux fare or faux pas? Thoughts on "fake meat"

People are usually not vegan for one reason alone. This is just like how people are not Buddhist for one reason, or politically conservative for one reason, or whatever.  We are complex creatures with complex rationales for most things we do.  I would think that most people arrive at a vegan lifestyle through a combination of reasons. Some of those reasons could include (but are not limited to):
  1. Wanting to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight
  2. Wanting to generally eat a healthy diet
  3. Wanting to eliminate consumption of certain dangerous compounds found in high quantities in animal products (e.g.- cholesterol)
  4. Wanting to reduce one's carbon footprint and otherwise benefit the environment (remember that a vegan driving an SUV does less damage than an omnivore riding a bike!)
  5. Having a great deal of love and compassion for animals, and not wanting to support their suffering by demanding animal products
  6. Training for sports competition or other physical activity that requires a very healthy diet
  7. Being part of a culture/religion/family where a vegan diet is the norm
  8. Being disgusted by the idea of consuming a corpse
  9. Lots of other good reasons
For a lot of vegans, you could think of these as categories and break them down into a kind of percentage in terms of how much they caused and continue to affect your vegan lifestyle.  In my case for example, the issues surrounding animal rights and prevention of suffering are about 80% of my motivation for being vegan.  The other components of environmental impact and weight maintenance and some of the other reasons are there as well, but they definitely don't resonate with me as strongly.  And it's different for everyone.

I think the composition of our own individual, personal reasons, leads us very much to our own unique vegan paths, and that our reactions to a variety of issues can be coloured by the reasons with which we identify.  In the case of today's post, I want to talk a bit about the reactions I've felt and that I've seen in others when it comes to faux meat items.

Tempting treat, or uncomfortable reminder?

Faux meat (or meat analogues) serves a couple of different purposes in the vegan world, and our reasons for consuming them could be as diverse as the reasons for being vegan that I was talking about above.  Aside from the generally disinterested members of the community, most vegans I've talked to seem to come down on one of two sides on this issue.

SIDE 1: (some combination of the following...) Faux meat is yummy.  It makes me feel happy-nostalgia-moments from when I was still eating meat.  It is a good convenience food. It is useful to eat faux meat to help you transition into a vegan lifestyle, so you don't miss meat as much.  Faux meat is great for convincing omnis that a vegan diet is not a scary thing and you don't have to give anything up.  Etcetera.

SIDE 2: (again, some combination...)  Faux meat is yucky.  It is highly processed using chemicals like hexane.  It makes me uncomfortable to eat faux meat because it is too close to real meat.  Faux meat is often high in salt and is not part of a healthy diet.  If I went vegan, why would I want to recapture what it's like to eat meat?  Etcetera.

Going back to our own reasons for being vegan, I think where you come down on faux meat can be coloured by your reasons for being vegan.  Although I lean heavily toward the animal rights and protection side of the vegan spectrum, I don't generally feel uncomfortable about faux meat.  If an animal didn't suffer to create it (i.e.- no egg products in the faux meat), then I am quite fine with it and will eat it.  If I was more heavily influenced by some of the other factors, it would likely impact how I feel.  Now keep in mind I do agree with the argument regarding the processed nature of a great deal of faux meat, and as a result I limit my consumption of faux meat as I would with any other product that has been highly processed, like store-bought cookies.  Or I make my own faux meat at home.  For example:

Faux chicken salad made out of mashed chickpeas.
Pulled pork made out of jackfruit
Fried chicken made out of seitan

Regardless of where you come down on the issue of faux meat, be kind.  Don't be mean to your fellow vegan if they pass up your offer of a faux breakfast sausage or analogue slice of ham!  And don't glower at your friend when they nosh on a faux chicken wing!  We get more than our fair share of criticism and fear from the general population about what we do or don't eat.  No matter how you arrived here, and what your personal reasons are, remember... we're all in this together.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

When good patterns go bad: what to do when you crochet something ugly

Sorry for the lack of blogging lately...
Actually, I'm not sorry.  To quote Bob Cratchit, "I was making rather merry", and to blog did not even really enter my mind between the slabs of Tofurky, plentiful libations, and a one-sided, frostbitten game of road hockey.  Despite all that time off (without pay...) I found no time to blog.  I did however find much time for my favorite and most addictive hobby, crochet.

Cute penguin I made on NYE. <3 He reminds me of Gunter from Adventure Time.

But something is rotten in crochet-land-ia, my friends.  And it's not that I have given myself a repetitive strain injury (much, only like two days out of the whole vacation), but rather something far more evil and disturbing...

I have created something UGLY.

This is perhaps a worse crime than creating something that doesn't fit.  At least when it doesn't fit your indignation is righteous.  It's not your fault that it came out too big/small, it's the stupid pattern's fault for not being correct. (Because we ALL check our gauge every-time... herm herm...)  When it doesn't fit, you can chalk it up to a bad pattern, or the wrong hook size, rip it and start over.

But then there are the ugly ones.  This happens when finish a project and realize you have created something so un-pretty and foul that it really should not exist.  Do you rip it?  Do you pretend it's supposed to look that way?  Do you give it away to that friend who's not really right in the head, or to a small child who doesn't yet know ugly when they see it?  Do you make a tearful confession on your favorite crochet forum that yes, it was you who brought forth that heinous wretch of a project?

Or, do you just post it for the whole world to see?

Voila, my panda that looks like hell:

The case for euthanasia.

And I can hear you all saying "oh but vegbrarian, it's not so bad, he's actually quite cute, etc. etc. etc.".  No my friends, he is ugly, and I can prove it... this is what the panda is supposed to look like according to the pattern makers over at Lion Brand:

Uber cuteness, I have failed you.

So what's wrong with this picture?  #1, the eyes are WAY too low on my panda.  #2, how the hell did they get the bottom of their panda to not have corners sticking out the sides?  Panda is worked in the round and then sewn shut across, so I have no idea how they could have possibly accomplished this.  #3, Just look back and forth between them and shake your head and say how much I missed the ball on this one.

What should be ugly panda bear's destiny?  And don't say "do a blog giveaway with him" because that's just mean and I'm trying to gather readers, not scare them off and punish them with ugly toys.

Do I try again?  Take another shot at the panda?  Or cut my losses and stick to penguins?

The one consolation today, is that the panda will never be as ugly as THIS ELEPHANT:

Makes babies cry.