8.03.2022

what i'm reading: like other girls: best youth fiction i've read in a long time

A girl wants to play football.

That's all.

Well, not quite all. Mara wants to be herself. And that self wants to play football, among other things. 

Mara isn't trying to make a statement. She doesn't want to be political, and although she knows she's gay, she doesn't want to come out -- not yet, not until she is far away from her hometown.

But when other athletic girls also want to join the football team -- and when one of them is out, and political -- there is no "just". The girls' decisions prove to be a crucible for everyone involved: coaches, football players, siblings, parents, and of course the girls themselves. Many fail, and cause harm. Some rise to the challenge. Everyone is changed by the experience.

Friendship, romance, self-acceptance, identity, sexuality, gender, adult support, adult betrayal, leadership, morality, ethics -- all those themes and more are woven through Like Other Girls. And all through interesting characters, realistic and compelling plot lines, with humour and with passion.

Like Other Girls is one of the most fully realized and well written YAs I have read in many years. Cheers to Britta Lundin! I hope we see many more wonderful books from her.

8.01.2022

what i'm reading: killers of the flower moon: the osage murders and the birth of the fbi

I'm sure many of you have read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. It's an award-winning bestseller that garnered a lot of attention when it was published in 2017. If you haven't read it, get it from your library, or add to your Kindle, or run to your favourite local bookstore to pick it up. It is an excellent and very worthwhile read.

Killers of the Flower Moon is written like a cold-case murder mystery. Grann reveals the evidence both of long-ago murders and the detectives who sought to solve them, unwinding the many knots, false clues, and dead ends. It's exciting and suspenseful -- and when the case appears to be solved, the reader discovers  another, deeper level to the mystery. 

Along the way, Grann reveals an Indigenous community that was devastated by settlers who regarded them as subhuman, and completely expendable. Lives were shattered -- from greed, from hatred, and from total disregard. It's safe to say that most readers who pick up this book have never heard of the Osage murders. The book is revelatory, yet in keeping with everything we know about the fates of Indigenous people in the Americas. The Osage murders were a modern version of Pizarro claiming Atahualpa's gold.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a fast-paced, accessible read -- gripping and compelling -- the kind of story that seems almost impossible to believe, and yet is thoroughly researched and documented. Truly excellent narrative nonfiction.




7.29.2022

the great canadian sox shop for quality products made in canada

Add the Great Canadian Sox Shop to the list of companies I'm happy to have found. 

I am so, so, so tired of buying things that instantly fall apart. I'll absolutely pay higher prices to avoid that. The worst is when you opt for higher prices, and the damn thing still falls apart after only a few uses. Future landfill.

In my experience, socks are very prone to this syndrome. As holes started to appear in the last batch of socks I bought, I started looking online for a better alternative. The only thing we can buy locally is crap, and of course made in Bangladesh, Cambodia, or China. Crap made in China that needs constant replacing comes with a mighty big carbon footprint.

There are many places online to buy socks. Why did I choose the Great Canadian Sox Shop?

* They have a huge selection.

* Most of their products are made in Canada. Actually in Toronto!

* They are a family-run business. I don't know what their labour practices are, but they must treat their 40 employees better than the Asian sweatshops do.

* They have a loyalty program. (Not a deciding factor, but a plus.)

* They have an option to ship with minimal packaging.

* For woolen socks, they follow the Responsible Wool Standards.

* And most importantly, everything I've purchased from them has been very high quality. On their own brand, J. B. Fields, they actually have a no-risk guarantee, good for a full year. 

My first purchase included an eye-catching postcard telling me I was supporting a small, family-run, Canadian business, plus a little "how to care for your socks" piece. It said, "Socks last longer if you don't put them in the dryer." I decided to try that. I purchased a second drying rack, and started hanging the socks to dry. And guess what? My electricity bill went down!

(This drying rack is stainless steel, comes already assembled, folds flat, and is both sturdy and lightweight. If you're into laundry, this may be your new favourite thing.)

7.27.2022

the game report: an update that is not completely analog

Back in December of last year, I blogged about starting a game night at home, rotating every-other week between games and music. I was super happy about it. 

Seven months later, I can report mixed results -- mostly mixed because my partner really doesn't like games. This has always been a source of frustration for me. For some reason (unknown to me) he decided to give it a try, but doing something you really don't like on a regular basis is not much fun. 

It hasn't been a total washout. Plus... we've become addicted to a new-to-us videogame.

Not a gamer, but I love games

We don't have a gaming system and generally don't play videogames -- not because I'm opposed to them (or think they're evil, as some people seem to), but because I know I would find videogames incredibly addictive. I'd rather use my screen time watching movies or series. But there have been some exceptions.

Sometime in the early 2010s, we stumbled on Angry Birds on our Roku. We really enjoyed it and played the full game (with no power-ups) for three stars. Recently, I tried to get the newer Angry Birds Reloaded on our AppleTV. It wouldn't play properly, and apparently it never has on AppleTV, for anyone, ever. 

But while trying to make that work, we stumbled on Badland. Now we're hooked. At least I am. Allan claims to be ambivalent, but he looks pretty hooked to me.

The internet tells me Badland is an adventure/platforming game. You guide a character (called a clone) through a series of challenges (called checkpoints). Each checkpoint requires different strategies and you have to figure out what they are. This is the kind of simple but challenging game I enjoy. 

I love Badland's steampunk-style graphics and sound effects. It's very challenging and endlessly frustrating, which of course makes it very satisfying. 

Although I am addicted to Badland, I don't want to play it alone. Allan and I play as a team, taking turns, or handing off the controller when a checkpoint gets too frustrating. Sometimes we'll watch a one-hour episode of a series, then play Badland for the rest of the evening.

Allan and I have three nights each week together, and I'm confining my videogame play to those. Althought this conflicts with my movement towards digital minimalism, I'm enjoying it too much to care.

Tabletop games: how we fared

Here are the games we played and the results - good, bad and mixed.

  • Qwirkle. This is the game we've played the most because it's the one Allan likes best -- or at least dislikes least. It's fast, fun, a little challenging but not mind-bending. A good combination of luck and strategy.
  • Ticket to Ride. This is my favourite of the new games we acquired. There are decisions to make and things to think about, yet it moves along quickly. I'm hoping Allan will still agree to play it once in a while.
  • Pandemic. This game appears to be impossible to win, at least with two players. It's a cooperative (not competitive) game, and I want to play it with all hands -- Allan and I together playing six different players. Allan finds it too much work. I understand that, as I've been introduced to board games that I feel that way about. I'm holding out hope that we will play again, or will play with friends/visitors. 
  • Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective. This was the game I was most looking forward to, and it's turned out to be a total bust. It's beautifully designed, and the story and clues are very well written. But the entire game consists of reading (voluminous) clues -- and nothing else. There are no actions or decisions or movement. Just a lot of reading. It feels more like an assignment than a game. This was an expensive disappointment. I now also see that reviews of board games may be not be useful to me, as this game got rave reviews.
  • Banagrams. I love anagrams, but it turns out you can get too much of a good thing. I play (and am obsessed with) the New York Times' Spelling Bee daily, and I also play Wordscapes, and that's plenty of word games for now. It's possible when I finish Wordscapes -- I'm on level 5,400-something out of 6,000 -- I'll like Banagrams more.
  • Rummikub. I looked for games that are similar to Qwirkle, and ended up with Rummikub. Azul was also in the running, but the price was prohibitive. We haven't played this one yet, and I'm looking forward to it.

7.24.2022

the unscented company for greener, scent-free products

I highly recommend The Unscented Company! Here's why.

Looking for a pump-bottle liquid soap, I was very surprised to find a total absence of unscented soap where I live. In a large supermarket and two drugstores, there was no unscented hand soap! I was even more surprised -- and disgusted -- to see that even baby products were not unscented. Why would you put artificial scents on a baby's skin??

I tried a hand soap that claimed to be lightly scented, but it was still too much scent -- which was predictable. Fibromyalgia gives me a hypersensitive sense of smell, plus scents bother my respiratory system, plus I have very sensitive skin. Plus I find the artificial scents used in most scented products unpleasant.

I gave the supposedly lightly scented product to a co-worker and my quest continued. 

In a neighbouring town -- which means 40 minutes away by car -- I stumbled on The Unscented Company's hand soap. It is (of course) unscented, contains no dyes, cleans well, rinses easily, and wasn't expensive, even in the small, independent drugstore.

When the bottle was almost empty, I found The Unscented Company's products at a few online retailers, but even better, I found that they sell direct as well! 

What really clinched it for me: they sell refills. This is something that should be so commonplace, yet is almost unheard of. To summarize:
* quality products
* no scent
* no dyes
* refillable containers
* no animal testing
* independent company
* made in Canada
* full ingredient disclosure

I compared prices, and some, such as laundry detergent, were a bit higher -- but only for the first purchase. Refills are very economical. And although it's not difficult to find unscented dish soap or laundry detergent in our area, I'd rather buy from a Canadian company that sells refillable products, than P&G or Unilever.

I bought:
- hand soap
- laundry detergent
- liquid dish soap
- refill packs for all of the above
- dishwasher pod

Everything has been very nice. I have the refill boxes in our big pantry. Each box has the number of plastic bottles that have been replaced. 

A reminder note about this blog: it is always ad-free. I do not post "affiliate links" or get freebies from companies I write about. Just the occasional thank you.

7.22.2022

follow-up: response from pacific coastal airlines

This is a follow-up post to getting home: horrific customer service from pacific coastal airlines.

Tl;dr: Those are the rules. Too bad for you. Next time buy travel insurance.

Good afternoon, Laura

I wanted to write today to let you know your letters to [company's principals] were all received and forwarded to me so I could respond and address your concerns.

When I look at your letter and how your travel day unfolded, I can certainly appreciate that it must have been incredibly stressful, starting with checking in, in SFO, only to find your terminal had been changed.  I’m happy to see that United was able to find you another flight at 1130, but this certainly put a strain on your ability to make the flight out of the South Terminal.  Waiting for an hour for your baggage also didn’t help, and I’m sorry to see you had to wait that long to get your luggage.

As a traveller on 2 separate tickets (United and Pacific Coastal), unfortunately, neither airline is aware of the other booking and in each respective case, even though to you your itinerary has you going from San Francisco to Port Hardy, United sees you going from SFO to YVR and we see you as going from YVR to YZT.  Unfortunately, if one causes you to miss the other flight (even if the situation was reversed), the circumstances you were under, do not factor into the cancellation or check-in policy of the airline.

Attached is our rules around check-in close times (the same that were presented to you).  The reason we close check-in at 40 minutes, is so we can ensure an on-time departure.  It is at this time, that our pilots begin to finalize the flight details, looking at the  number of passengers checked in,  the checked bags and their weight, as well as any cargo and its weight.  Based on calculations they make, they then order fuel, the fuel truck comes (while bags are loaded) and then we board and depart.

Accepting new check-ins after the flight closes, would require them to start again and this would ultimately cause a delay.  If we miss our take-off slot at YVR, we could be waiting another 20-25 minutes on the ground, waiting for an opening, from Air Traffic Control.  This would burn fuel and also delay everyone on the plane into their final destination and could have a domino effect of people missing ferries or perhaps now a rental car office is closed etc.  As you can see, there are a lot of factors at play and we have to draw the line somewhere.  The line is 40 minutes and yes, we have denied someone check-in because they missed it by 1 minute.  As you were 10-minutes after flight-close time, while it may not seem like much, in the context of preparing the aircraft for departure, it is VERY late. 

I certainly sympathize and understand that why you arrived late was not your own fault, but rather that of the circumstances of your earlier travel in the day.  That, however, does not play a role in how our agents will (and did, in this case) handle your reservation.  For them to rebook you and collect the reservation reactivation fee is correct.  The alternative would have been a full forteiture of the ticket.  So that fee is actually a service to prevent that from happening. 

What we have here is what travel insurance is for.  Specifically trip interruption insurance.  This is for when a passenger has unforeseen expenses as a result of certain travel being disrupted (Cruise, train, ferry, airline) whereby the reason of the disruption is not attributable to the transportation provider but rather simply ‘circumstance’ – you having to take a later flight, bags taking 1 hour to come out etc.

Again, I’m sorry that we were not able to transport you to Port Hardy on June 12th.  Unfortunately, I am not able to oblige your request for a refund of the reactivation fee or reimburse you for your accommodation.

Respectfully,

[name]

Customer Relations

I give them points for writing a personal letter that clearly shows that someone read my complaint, rather than a form letter, and for explaining why the rules exist, rather than just repeating the rule. 

The worst part of this is that I have to continue to fly on this airline, as they're the only one with service to Port Hardy. I'll be using them again in October, and it's going to hurt!

7.19.2022

what i'm reading: four fish: the future of the last wild food

After reading a review of Paul Greenberg's Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food when it was published in 2010, I added the title to The List. When I read it recently, more than 10 years later, the subject matter had become so much more relevant to me, in a way I could not have imagined in 2010.

In Four Fish, Greenberg unpacks the histories of the salmon, bass, cod, and tuna -- the physical and biological histories of those animals, and the cultural, social, economic, and political histories of human's interactions with them. 

Each fish's story is told through a human element that brings it to life, and through Greenberg's personal connection to fish and fishing, making the stories accessible and engaging. 

And each story is complex and circuitous. Greenberg has a deft touch for imparting the salient bits, (mostly) without getting too bogged down in detail.

I live in salmon country

In the chapter on salmon, Greenberg travels to a remote area of Alaska, where an Indigenous nation is involved in the wild-salmon trade, attempting both sustainability and profitability. 

The story could have taken place in my own community. Living on Canada's far west coast, the salmon and the many ways people's lives are linked to it are ever-present.

Indigenous fishers; non-Indigenous fishers, both commercial and sport; the aquaculture (fish-farm) industry; government regulatory bodies (almost universally hated); conservationists; the tourism and hospitality industry; the food industry; casual environmentalists -- all have a stake in the future of this iconic fish, and each has a different perspective. And other than rapacious Food Inc companies whose practices are completely unsustainable, none of them is wrong. It's complicated, and there are no easy answers. 

Bluefin is the new whale

Greenberg argues passionately that the bluefin tuna should be a protected species, the way whales and dolphins are -- animals no longer thought of as legitimate targets for either hunting or food. The bluefin -- which is but a distant relative of the tuna many of us (including me) eat -- is almost extinct. 
The bluefin conservation advocates, often former tuna fishermen who have been able to pull themselves away from the lure of tuna's silver-ingot bodies and marbled-sirloin flesh, have tried all manner of spells to get those who eat tuna or those officials who legislate over them to somehow sit up and take similar notice -- to abstain from eating them or to pass enforceable regulation for the sake of their preciousness. It is this often-futile battle that is the most telling part of the tuna fishery today. It is the battle with ourselves. A battle between the altruism toward other species that we know we can muster and the primitive greed that lies beneath our relationship with the creatures of the sea.
Greenberg reviews how hunting whales -- how humans' very concept of the whale -- has changed over time, culminating in the end of whaling.
It was the broadest and most far-reaching act of kindness humanity has ever bestowed on another group of species. Though contested and embattled and fraught with disagreements that result in violations, this kindness has persisted. The whaling moratorium remains in effect to this day.
Shifting baselines

Four Fish gave me a name for a concept I have thought about many times: shifting baselines. Greenberg credits marine biologist Daniel Pauly with the term, and says he was struck by
both the profound significance as well as its relative invisibility in the contemporary news cycle.

The idea of shifting baseline is this: Every generation has its own, specific expectations of what "normal" is for nature, a baseline. One generation has one baseline for abundance while the next has a reduced version and the next reduced even more, and so on and so on until expectations of abundance are pathetically low.

Before Daniel Pauly expressed this generational memory loss as a scientific thesis, the fantastical catches of older fishermen could be written off as time-warped nostalgia. But Pauly has tabulated the historical catch data and shown that the good old days were in fact often much better. This is not nostalgia on the part of the old or lack of empathy on the part of the young. It is almost a willful forgetting -- the means by which our species, generation by generation, finds reasonableness amid the irrational destruction of the greatest natural food system on earth.
I can think of a dozen other applications of shifting baselines, from the price of gas to the health of public services to originality in writing and music. Applied to the wild, it is very, very sad.

Q: Which fish should you eat? A: It hardly matters.

Greenberg notes that the issues of the future of fish cannot be managed -- or even significantly impacted -- on the consumer level. I share this perspective on most environmental issues, and I appreciated the validation. 

If you eat fish and care about the planet, you are probably familiar with the Seafood Choices Alliance ratings of fish: fish designated environmentally safe to eat, fish that are on the brink of danger and should be eaten only rarely, and fish you should not eat at all. Greenberg reviews the positive impact this has made and concludes:
For in the end, this somewhat passive response to the global crisis in fisheries robs the conservation movement of the will to stage more radical, directed, and passionate action. Daniel Pauly, the author of the shifting-baselines theory and frequent critic of the limited views of the sustainable seafood movement, said as much in a recent paper. "The current faith in the magic of free-market mechanisms must be questioned," Pauly wrote. "Consumers should not be misled that a system of management or conservation based on purchasing power alone will adequately address the present dilemma facing fisheries globally."
Greenbery notes that when he would say he was writing a book about the future of fish, people everywhere would inevitably ask, "Which fish should I eat?" 

His conclusion: it doesn't much matter. Action must be taken far upstream, and on a much grander scale.

Practical suggestions and solutions

Greenberg closes the book with a set of principles that could steer humans away from the total destruction of the world's fish, while allowing us to harvest and consume fish sustainably. He writes:
For too long it has been entrepreneurs who have decided which species to domesticate and which to leave wild. Their decisions have been based on market principles and profit, and they have historically not consulted with the managers and biologists who study wild-fish dynamics. This is senseless. If we continue along this pathway, we will only destroy one food system and replace it with another, inferior one, just as we have already done in most of the world's freshwater lakes and rivers. We therefore need a set of principles that guide us forward with domestication, one that is inclusive of impacts on wild oceans. 
He then sets out five principles that would guide aquaculture into a new era. Much of it is already taking place, in tiny enterprises scattered around the globe. Will this trend reach a point of global sustainability? Is it even enough to be considered a trend?

The giant web that holds us all

Similar to another book I recently read and reviewedAnimal, Vegetable, Junk by Mark Bittman, Four Fish speaks to the interconnectedness of all living organisms on our planet. Both books reveal the utter foolishness of humans' attempts to interfere with that connectedness, and of the human belief that only more interference, often in the form of technology, can solve the problems that humans have created. 

Like Animal, Vegetable, JunkFour Fish reveals the breadth and depth of how humans have poisoned the Earth, or as Greenberg writes, "the loss of abundance and the greedy privatization, monopolization, and industrialization of fishing that caused it."