Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Balcony garden update

Time again for another tour through our balcony garden. Lots of green things are sprouting (or perhaps more accurately described--growing wild...) in every container. We've been picking away at a few of the crops (like the parsley, strawberries [neither shown here]) and others are getting close. We're also making mental notes of what to include (and exclude) in our garden plans for next year.

Potatoes! The stalks are huge. We've had to prop them up they're so big (and they've been bent over in the wind). Shall I mention again how hopefull I am to have a decent crop of purple potatoes? As long as the aphids Andrew's found on the leaves don't eat up these delicious tubers before we do.

Carrots. We aren't going to continue with our carrot attempts next year. Sure, we have some stalks popping up, but they're taking a lot longer to mature than what they should and there's only about a dozen sprouts in each tub. We might replace the carrots with more potatoes, or more zucchini.

Tomatoes! No problem here. We have tons of tomatoes ripening on both these plants plus more on the two upside down, 'whimpy' tomato hangers. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with these--maybe make a tomato-pepper spaghetti sauce?

Tomatoes in varying of states of ripeness. I wish they could all ripen at once so I could do a big harvest and make something substantial. Oh well.

Blooms on the beans, or are they peas? I'm not sure. It's one or the other. They're rather pretty at any rate, but no vegetables spotted on this plant as of yet.

Blooms on the other bean (I'm fairly certain about this one) plant. It's not as pretty as the purple flowers, but I've already pulled a few yellow beans off. Since my harvest was all of five beans I just chopped them up and threw them in a salad.

A full-view of the peas and beans climbing up their trellises. Some of the leaves are getting a little sun burnt as you can see, but otherwise they're growing quite happily.

Our over ridden red onion box. So here's a problem, we don't know when we're suppose to harvest the onions. The shoots are huge and drooping all over place, but how much is actually growing below the surface? I have no idea, I guess we'll leave them for now. More rouge peppers are popping up here (in the back is the mini-jungle of hanging tomatoes).

The blooms on the red onions.

Peppers. We have tons of these growing--beside the ones that seem to want to crop up spontaneously on their own (again, a product of using composted soil). If they reach full size we'll have plenty to roast up with the tomatoes into something outrageously delicious.

And then there's the red lettuce that decided to sprout in the pepper box--not that we put it there on purpose. It's grown fantastically, better then the lettuce we intentionally planted and seems to be a good companion plant for the peppers. We've been picking it periodically and adding it into our salads.

Banana peppers. We picked these up on a whim when we went to the Kuhlmann's Greenhouse and Nursery in the spring--they should probably be picked soon.

Rhubarb! I'm still occasionally picking stalks and adding them to my stash in my freezer. One day I will bake them into something fantastic, maybe muffins? I definitely won't have enough to do jam.



Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book review: two very different young adult novels

I don't often review books on my blog, but I thought during the summer lull I might take on the task. The two books I plan to focus on are both young adult (YA) novels, the main characters are both 16 years old, and I read them both on my trip to Pittsburgh, but that's where the similarities end. I was also originally made aware of both of these books through two of my favourite blogs, but again these blogs are very different.

First, Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, the witty webmistresses of, which is of course where I heard about their book. Spoiled, is a fun and flirty read, which zips by without any trouble whatsoever. The tone of the book is reminiscent of the style of their blog, right down to their comments on fashions, celebrities and celebrity life. I fear the referencing to clothing, designers, actors and actresses might date the book quickly, but it could also serve as an amusing snap shot into popular culture of the 2010's. The plot is somewhat standard in it's course: two half-sisters brought together for the first time after the death of Molly's (the common-place mid-west born sister) mother. Brook (the LA glamour-girl sister) takes none-to-kind to having her territory invaded and a war of wits ensues.

Even if the storyline isn't original, it's no reason not to enjoy the book. The story is told primary from Molly's perspective (although some chapters are in Brook's PoV) and I immediately found her to be a smart, likable character. It was easy to sympathize with her over her difficulty of fitting in with the high-society of her new school and I couldn't help but root for the cute, understanding boy who popped up to make things a little more bearable for her. Also, the girls' father, Brick Berlin, is a riot. He's constantly on the phone with some agent or producer, struck with absurd movie ideas at random, and makes air-headed attempts at providing words of wisdom to his two daughters. The book doesn't, in fact, end all roses, which I kind of prefer, and it leaves things open for the sequel, Messy.

Since I completed three-quarter of Spoiled on the plane, then finished it the first night in Pittsburgh, I needed something different to read on the way home. When I wandered into the Hudsons in the Pittsburgh Airport I didn't have a particular title in mind, but when I saw Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children I decided to pick it up based on the recommendation of Jenn from (she also writes Cake Wrecks). Actually, I had a short debate between Miss Peregrine's and the first novel in the Hunger Games series, both sounded intriguing, but after reading the first page of each I went with Miss Peregrine's since it seemed to have some link to WWII.

Miss Peregrine's is a considerably different read from Spoiled. The protagonist is a boy, it's more in the speculative fiction/fantasy realm and has a considerably more dark and mysterious tone. The story is about Jacob, a present day boy, born to a wealthy family, who doesn't quite fit in. He has a grandfather who used to tell him fantastical stories about his 'gifted' friends until eventually Jacob (primarily due to growing up) stops believing in them. As the grandfather gets older, he grows paranoid and seemingly delusional--only the monsters he sees are real, and one of them kills him right in front of Jacob. As you might imagine, this event spirals Jacob into a desparate situation where he winds up in therapy and eventually manages to convince his parents he needs to go to the island where his grandfather took shelter during the war.

The island is an obscure little place off the coast of Wales, I think, (I don't remember for sure), it's tiny, there's only one phone on the whole island, and one rentable room too. I can't go into many more details without spoiling the story, but Jacob succeeds in finding the hiding place of his grandfather's 'gifted' friend, still the same age as in the snapshots he was shown as a boy. I liked the story, there were a couple of good twists, and a hanging ending, which definitely indicates another book to come. The 'gifted' friends were an interesting concept, although there were so many I had trouble keeping track of who was who outside the main three or four. Each new character was introduced with a vintage photo, an interesting idea, but after a while I found it redundant to read, 'and Miss Peregrine had a photo...' (or whatever the line was). I also found the swearing a little much for my preference in a YA novel, but maybe that's my own prudishness coming out.

At any rate, I would recommend both of these books, although not necessarily to the same reader--unless like me you like a wide range of genres in your reading material. Spoiled is just plain fun, whereas Miss Peregrine's has a more unique idea behind it.



Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wetaskiwin, where the cars cost less

I understand from my native Albertan friends that this used to be a common jingle heard on television. Andrew and I didn't, however, go to Wetaskiwin to buy a car, although we did go there to look at them. Early on in the week, when the weather for the weekend looked less chancy I'd suggested to Andrew that we should go tubing on the Pembina River. However, as the week drew to a close, the predicted weather indicated rain and cooler temperatures so we had to re-vamp our plans. Instead we decided to go the Reynolds Museum in Wetaskiwin, about an hour's drive south of Edmonton. We'd heard from a few people that it was a good museum and since our time in Alberta is counting down, we thought it was about time to check it out.

The Reynolds Museum is a museum of old cars, farm equipment, and aeroplanes. We'd considered also going to the Alberta Art Gallery (as I still haven't been) and to the Royal Alberta Museum (which Andrew hasn't been too). What clinched the decision for us was that the Reynolds had a feature display of 1920's luxury cars. Both Andrew and I appreciate the aesthetic of old cars and Andrew especially finds the earlier cars appealing. I actually grew up around antique vehicles to some extent (unfortunately I didn't absorb much in the way of mechanical know-how) as my neighbour stored and restored them in his barn (the barn only housed vehicles, neither they nor we lived on a farm). I have a clear memory of riding around in the rumble seat of their 1932 (I think that was the year) Oldsmobile. Also, my father eventually bought a 1968 Dodge Monaco, which (?) referred to as the beast (it's giant, it barely fit in my parents garage at the time, and it's pea green).

The morning started out grey and windy, although we saw no rain, so were quite happy to be spending our day in doors. I ended up turning off of Highway 2 earlier than necessary and came into Wetaskiwin along 2A, which was considerably less busy, although eventually we hit construction where the road went down to a single lane and had to wait for an escort car to take us across that stretch. Then as we approached the Museum we came across a mother duck and her ducklings who had ventured onto the road. It looked like mamma had started to attempt the crossing then realized it wasn't safe to continue as they were all huddled a foot or so from the edge. We didn't see any squished fowl on our way home, so I'm hoping/assuming they made it safely out of harm's way.

At any rate, the museum. The entrance fee is ten dollars for adults, which I think is quite reasonable for the size and collection on display. The first part of the feature collection was arranged in the entrance hall. I don't recall all the specific makes and models of the cars, although the last one before you entered the permanent collection was a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. Posted with each car was their original newspaper advertisement, which were highly entertaining as they frequently aimed to flatter the intelligence or style of the buyer. They also listed the car's features and original pricing. The condition of the cars varied as well from fully restored to cracked windows, ripped upholstery and rusted bodies. Later on in the museum you can peek into the restoration work house and see cars in a range of states of repair.

An array of vehicles make up the permanent collection, ranging from bicycles, to motorbikes, cars that were basically a horse buggy with a motor, home-modified vehicles and farm equipment. I think most of the vehicles were purchased and used in Alberta. We started out taking our time and reading all the available information about the introduction of motorized vehicles to Alberta (including registration requirements, the lack of roads/signage, etc), but eventually recognized we were going to be there all day if we didn't hurry up. The home-modified vehicles were interesting--perhaps not surprisingly--largely having to do with making early cars hardy enough to endure winter. We rocketed through the farm equipment, not being quite as keen on tractors and combines, but slowed again to take a closer look at some of the remaining cars, and the second section of the luxury cars of the 1920's.

One of the luxury vehicles, I think this was the one that sat right up at the front, it was gorgeous.

Andrew standing proudly next to a Detroit Electric (one of the earliest electric cars, circa ~1910, I think). If we had the cash, he'd love to buy one, but they're rare and rather pricey. They're quite an attractive car.
One of the cars in the permanent collection.
A rather classy looking pick up.
Unfortunately we didn't make it out to the air hanger. It was close to 1:00 pm by the time we were done with the cars and we were both getting super hungry. When my parent's visited the Museum last summer they went to a restaurant called Huckleberry's Cafe, so we decided to do the same. We were seated and served quickly (probably thanks to arriving after the lunch crowd). The food was good (and cheep) and our server very friendly. After lunch we took a quick drive downtown to see what was there, there's a local history museum, but as it was closing in on 3:00 pm at this point we opted to head home. All-in-all an extremely pleasant day, nice to get out of the city and see a place we hadn't been to before.



Saturday, August 6, 2011

A trip to Pittsburgh: improving my skills as a librarian

I'm behind, I apologize. Thankfully, Andrew and I have been too busy to be up to much, so I haven't missed any, yet.

I don't blog often about work or librarianship, and I'll try to keep things succinct, since what I do as a 'non-traditional librarian' is anything but glamorous. However, I was quite pleased to be given the opportunity to attend a special health librarian session and thought it a suitable opportunity to talk a little bit about what I do. Two weeks ago I attended a workshop at the University of Pittsburgh titled: The Nuts and Bolts of Systematic Reviews for Librarians, a two and a half day course on systematic reviews.

Before I go any further I probably need to clarify what a systematic review is. This is something I've been doing for the past five years, since I began my job. The explanation I normally give is this: A systematic review is generally a large report where we collect all the possible literature for a given question, synthesize the evidence to answer it, and make recommendations for future practice in medicine. Wikipedia describes it as follows: A systematic review is a literature review focused on a research question that tries to identify, appraise, select and synthesize all high quality research evidence relevant to that question. Right, clear as mud? Yeah, I thought so.

The librarian's roll in this process is crucial, and so it's important that they do it right. It's their job to make sure all the possible information, be it journal articles, conference proceedings, government reports, association websites, etc., are located. If they don't do a good job, then it limits the conclusions and recommendations that the review is able to make. This is the reason why I wanted to go to this workshop, to improve my skills as a librarian and to build confidence in my ability to locate evidence for my co-workers. Also, if you recall, one of my birthday resolutions was to become a better librarian.

Okay, the workshop. First of all, I can't say enough about the instructors. They were all excellent presenters, obviously knowledgeable in the content, experienced in the actual practice of searching for reviews, at ease at presenting to a class (there were about 20 of us), over all friendly, and open to questions and comments throughout their sessions. The course was held in the health library at University of Pittsburgh, in a conference room, unfortunately with no windows (probably better as I'd be inclined to watch what was going on outside). We were seated in small groups, each with our own laptop to work on which were equipped with Internet connectivity, and a thumb drive with all the slides from all of the sessions.

The first day was pretty much review for me as I've been completely immersed in the world of systematic reviews for the last five years as a research assistant, and more recently as a librarian and project coordinator. However, not all the librarians there had actually done systematic review searching, and probably fewer were familiar with the entire review process, so it was a necessary discussion. On the plus side, I was able to provide comments/discussion from my own experiences, and hopefully I didn't annoy people by talking too much. Throughout the workshop they discussed the new Institute of Medicine Standards for Systematic Reviews of Comparative Effectiveness, which I appreciated both because it shows they're keeping their content up-to-date (the Standards were released this spring) and because we've been discussing them at work.

The remaining day and a half focused on the librarian's role in the systematic review, which as I noted above is extremely important. We covered topics like how to harvest search terms, which can be a lengthy and difficult process. In systematic review searching you have to undercover all the different 'official' index terms used by the databases, then you have to think of every possible synonym for your topic, and how it might be combined in phrases, etc. The second half of the day was primarily spent in a discussion of grey literature, a topic that I was particularly keen to learn more about. Grey literature is the hard to find, non-traditional literature that's generally not indexed in databases, and can include: conference proceedings, FDA reports, independent reports from specialized associations, etc. It was a long afternoon and a bit tiring. I need to go back over my notes from the entire day to refresh my memory of the topics and resources discussed.

The last morning was quite honestly something of a blur. My brain was tired (amazing what two days straight in a classroom can do to you, how did I manage as a child?), and I was looking forward to getting home and seeing Andrew. However, we still covered important topics including hand searching (reading line-by-line the indexes of particular journals of interest), and writing up the search for the methods section of the review.

All-in-all, it was completely worth it. I learned new methods, met new people, ate great food and visited a new place. I'll leave you with a few pictures of the University and surrounding area.



The Cathedral of Learning, a beautiful, towering landmark at the University of Pittsburgh.
There were a couple of Carnegie museums around the University, unfornately they all closed at 5:00 pm, so I was unable to visit any of them.
A school for the blind.
Houses in the surrounding area.
A pretty gateway to someone's home.