Freaky Tales from Wood Buffalo

Happy Halloween, boils and ghouls!

My library has just started a blog, and I wrote up our first post, all about strange tales and occurrences in Wood Buffalo (in and around Fort McMurray).

If you enjoy local ghost stories, please check it out here!

Happy haunting!

Smuggling Rats Across Canada: A Charming Family Memory

Did you know that rats, particularly domesticated “fancy rats” are available in many parts of Canada as pets? Much like a hamster, these little guys are cute and charming companions. My family has a history of having pet rats, starting with my Father.

Before I was born, my Dad had a rat named Studley. He would tell me about how Studly would accompany him on walks, and even swims, and that he was just The Best Rat Ever. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, rats are cute. Look at this ‘lil guy!

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So, one Easter morning in the mid to late 90’s, when we were living in New Brunswick, my little sister and I awoke and ran into the den, where we found the usual candy, chocolate, and little toys awaiting us. After surveying our treasures, our parents peeked into the room and asked if we’d observed the cage yet. We had a large cage on one side of the room which, until recently, had been home to our rather grumpy rabbit, Peter. While Peter was quite old and sadly didn’t make it till Easter, I gazed inside and saw that two new friends were quietly exploring the cage.

My sister and I were delighted and each named one of the rats- we decided to name them after the Rugrats, Tommy and Chuckie. Tommy was my rat, and he was white with grayish markings on his back. Chuckie, my sister’s rat, had a more reddish tinge to his spots (like Chuckie’s hair!)

The rats were so adorable- while many of our family and friends who visited were squeamish of them (particularly of their tails), others would remark at how cutely they munched on their food, how diligently they cleaned themselves, and how curious and smart they were. We would let them crawl over and around us, and they loved perching on our shoulders as we watched TV or did our homework. The two were brothers, and would sleep nestled up curled around each other.

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We loved our rats very much. Domesticated rats live longer than their wild counterparts- about 3 years. Tommy and Chuckie both passed away of “old age” within short time of each-other, and it was one of my first real-life experiences with the end of the natural cycle of life and death.

A short while after Tommy and Chuckie died, my parents got us two new companions to fill the rat-shaped holes in our hearts. I asserted my tween power and declared their names would forever be known as Frodo and Sam, as I was in the middle of reading The Lord of the Rings and enjoying it immensely.

Our new rats were again white with some grayish colorations. Frodo was my little guy, and he was very active, always climbing things and wanting to have a look around. Sam was a bit lazier, but again they were best buddies as well as brothers. Sometimes we would give them pieces of French Toast Crunch cereal, and laugh at how cute they looked crunching on their little rat-sized toasts.

After we’d had Frodo and Sam for a little while, our parents informed us that we were moving to Northern Alberta, to a province far away in the middle of the Boreal Forest. I pictured us living in a quaint little wooden cottage in the middle of nowhere. Great! Sounds fun! But, although my parents didn’t want to alarm us, they mentioned that rats are banned in Alberta. While this policy is meant to keep Alberta free of wild rats, it affects pet rats too.

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This poster is so dramatic. “White rats can only be kept by zoos, universities and colleges as well as recognized research institutions in Alberta. Private citizens may not keep white rats, hooded rats or any of the strains of domesticated Norway rats.” – Alberta.ca

My family is united and defined, perhaps more than anything else, by our love of animals. My Mom has worked at vet clinics and at the SPCA, and we’ve had all sorts of creatures in our home over the years. Our pets are our family, and it was inconceivable to us that we wouldn’t bring the rats to our new home in Alberta. So, we prepared ourselves for Frodo and Sam’s potentially perilous journey.

My Mom actually had both of the rats anesthetized and neutered at her vet clinic (I’m thinking this procedure, for pet rats, is a medical rarity?)- they were both boys, but now there was no possible way they could breed even if they somehow escaped into the wild. I suppose she did this partly so that if we DID get into any trouble at the airport, we’d have at least a chance of keeping them.

So, we finally set out to move, with a large number of critters. Each of us was responsible for at least one pet-carrier, and we took our babies to the airport- a cockatiel (Jerrie), 2 cats (Jill and Smudge), an aging Labrador Retriever (Stinker), and the two rats.

The rats’ carrier was made of thick plastic with thin slots on the sides. Panic gripped me as we approached the security gate to get cleared for our first flight. I watched in terror as the airport staff inspected the carrier, peering inside and craning his head.

“These are…?”

He looked at me quizzically. I steeled myself.

“My hamsters.” I squeaked.

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Whether it was an act of mercy on his part, ignorance of rodent species diversity (or the regulations of our destination province), apathy, or simply not wanting to initiate a dramatic scene, he let us through without any difficulties. I can only imagine the absolute chaos that would have ensued if they had tried to take away our Frodo and Sam. It would have been devastating and traumatic for our whole family, and probably the entire room…

And so, we made it to our new home, safe and sound with our entire family, including the rats. We settled into life in Alberta. You might think that Frodo and Sam, once they lived out their few years on this earth with us, were the last rats my family would know in our new home province. However, this was not the case…

My mom continued to work in SPCA and vet roles in our new town, and as had always happened before, we often ended up fostering or adopting animals that didn’t have homes. And wouldn’t you know it, it turned out that other people in Alberta had pet rats, and in some cases (such as moving into an apartment with an inquisitive landlord) they needed to re-home their rats.

In steps my Mom, of course- she can’t bear to see an animal in need- and so over the years we acquired three more rat companions. One was a lone rat who we named Sir William after the character in A Knight’s Tale. Bill, or Billiam, as I often called him, was white with black spots, and had the softest and sweetest temperament of any rat I’ve yet met. Later we also became the guardians of two sister rats named Sugar and Spice for their respective fur markings.

I’m still living in Alberta, but my family has since gotten a home back in New Brunswick- they’ve had more rats since moving back. I haven’t myself, but I’d be willing to bet that there are more pet rats in Alberta living out their quiet lives in secrecy today.

 

ALC, Jasper Municipal Library, impulse purchases, eating too much, and almost burning down our hotel room (?!)

On The Conference

The Alberta Library Conference has been a blast so far. Everyone is in a really good mood because we are in Jasper and the weather is absolutely gorgeous!

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^flags from recent Pride week, and the lovely mountains, which always remind me of The Lord of The Rings.

The conference is being held at the Jasper Park Lodge, which is super fancy (and has an awesome cafe with super passionate barista!)

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On Friday my manager and I attended a pre-conference where we learned about being savvy when talking to the media. I volunteered to be a mock interviewee (i’m trying to take opportunities to work on my public speaking, because it’s still a bit out of my comfort zone…).

We attended the First Timer’s Reception in the evening where they had tons of free books (unedited proofs and advanced readers copies) for us to take!

Yesterday I presented my session, There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You!). Although my nerves did suddenly appear and I felt my face reddening, I did enjoy sharing all I’d learned about graphic novels the past few months. I saw some familiar faces in the crowd, even a few smiling strangers, and a bunch of people have come to me afterward to give positive feedback and ask me about accessing my resources lists and presentation materials, which fills me with joy!

^Playing the ukelele during group-work to avoid awkward silence!

I had about 45 people register, which is wonderful! Like I’ve said before, even if one person finds some information in my presentation useful or interesting, then I am a happy woman. I hope lots of people were inspired to take a closer look at how awesome graphic novels are! When my session was over, I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion, but the good kind.

Some other highlights of the conference:

  • Keynote speaker Scott Bonner, Director of Ferguson Municipal Public Library, on his experiences serving the community during turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • Adventures in Animation, where many practical ideas were shared about lively, community-focused programming

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^these feminist posters are so awesome!

  • Stand Up! Access to Justice, where I learned about recent and upcoming resources being created by the Centre for Public Legal Education in Alberta (CPLEA)
  • an author talk by Trevor Herriot, where he shared his passions about birds, grassland environments, Indigenous traditions and meeting places, and conservation
  • Keynote speaker Sheila Watt-Cloutier sharing her deep knowledge on the current condition of the Arctic and Inuit adaptation to a warming climate
  • Learning, Art and the Third Age, where we looked at the importance of art programming and created a quick, cool, group art project

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^colourful community art that took only minutes to create

  • Up With Voices: Zines, where we learned about zine collections and creation, zine workshop programming, and an exciting Indigenous zine project currently in the works

These are just a few highlights, but overall this conference has been amazing and I wish I could have attended every session!

Jasper Municipal Library

Of course we had to visit Jasper Municipal Library at some point! Thursday morning we got directions from a lovely woman at the Jasper info center. The library is a mix of modern and cosy. I am in love with the cute manga-style posters welcoming you in. A library staff told me they were created by a local teen for a program!

We also stumbled upon this adorable Little Free Library in town.

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Regarding Impulse Purchases

We had some time to explore the Jasper shopping scene a little bit.

I promised myself I wouldn’t spend any money on cheesy souvenirs, but we were exploring on Thursday morning and I fell in love with these finger puppets. A grown woman can spend her money how she likes, right?

Not pictured: the one I got for Mom for Mother’s Day 😉 SORRY MOM, IT’S A SECRET.

I also tried on some really expensive patterned pants in the Fairmont Lodge store, and of COURSE they fit me perfectly. Comfy + cute pants are tricky to find, so I got out my wallet resignedly.

Brookies, Lattes, General Facestuffery

On Wednesday evening when we arrived, we had a delicious meal at the restaurant beside our hotel, and a quick soak in the outdoor hot-tub, we retreated to our room for the night.

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^ My wellington was super yummo.

We also ate in Jasper town-site as well as the Jasper Park lodge buffets.

The Coco Cafe has the coolest bathroom design, and lots of funky art throughout.

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@mscocojasper #cafe #jasper #latte #breakfast #art

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At the Fairmont Fitzhugh’s To Go, I tried my first ever Brookie (Brownie/Cookie) and Cruffin (Croissant/Muffin).

The Brookie was the winner.

On Nearly Burning Down Our Hotel Room

On thursday morning, we knew we would have to talk to the hotel staff because our room was ridiculously hot. We had kept the air conditioning on all night but with no success. We talked with the hotel desk staff who said that the air conditioning wasn’t set up properly from the winter and that we shouldn’t use it. We advised them that it was emitting cold air so they basically said “oh, OK then, guess it’s alright”.

When we returned that evening the room was like the deepest steaming crevice of hell. Something was obviously messed up. We called the desk. A guy came up and urgently advised us that there was no exhaust hose connected to the air conditioning, so although it was providing cool air from the front, all of the hot air was escaping out the back directly into the curtains behind. “This is bad” he said. “This could have caused some damage.” My manager and I imagined having to call our library admin staff to advise them we’d burned down our hotel (this became a running joke for the rest of the shenanigans we got into on the trip).

Ah well, what happens in Jasper stays in Jasper.

It seems like Elijah Wood didn’t take up my offer in a previous post to crash the conference, unfortunately. IT’S COOL I’M STILL FANGIRLING FOR YOU ELIJAH 😀

A Rather Overdue Love Letter to Elijah Wood from Alberta’s Unfortunate Fangirl

Dear Elijah Wood,

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My friends have been tagging me in posts like these ^ with lots of exclamation marks to let me know you are coming to the Calgary Expo next weekend; this is because I have awesome friends who know that I enjoy travelling to the nerd expos, that I am a huge fan of yours, and that LOTR was my first ever fandom. Unfortunately I won’t be able to realize my dream of meeting you this time, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Now, about The Lord of the Rings. My Dad got me into the books when I was 10 years old. He wanted to make sure I read them before the movies came out, and for that I am eternally grateful. The books were (and are) life-changingly excellent, and catapulted me into a lifelong love of reading. The movies took my interest to the next level- Dad and I bonded over the cinematic masterpiece of the trilogy as each movie came out. I got “the shakes” after watching The Fellowship of the Ring in the theatre because it affected me so much (ok, maybe that was also partially due to sitting tensely and staring at an illuminated screen for 3 hours straight).

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^ Freaking iconic!

LOTR became my obsession, I was seeking it, seeking it, all my thought was bent on it. I had a literal shrine in my bedroom with everything from a paper-mache Sting dagger to a Gandalf the White cardboard standee that my shy mother somehow haggled off of a movie store employee because she knew it would bring me joy. I took a replica One Ring off of a bookmark and attached it to a necklace that I wore to school regularly- I remember being called “Ring Girl” because of it. I got a set of plastic Fellowship figurines for Christmas one year and took them into the snowy woods with my camera, attempting to recreate scenes from the movies. (The resulting photos were about as impressive as you’d expect).

Elijah, you were also my first ever crush. Because I’m a freaking weirdo, I realized you were my first crush in The Fellowship of The Ring when Frodo was stabbed with the Morgul blade by the Nazgul and his eyes became all pale and creepy.

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^ boyfriend material

I had an account on one of your fansites where I posted in forums for the first time in my young life, squeeing enviously over posts where other girls recounted times they met you in person at various events. I frequented lordoftherings.net and refreshed the page every 10 seconds so I could hear every version of the randomized intro “Hi, this is [actor name] and welcome to lordoftherings.net”, but I especially got excited to hear your voice.

While my tween obsession of near-stalker levels has faded, I am definitely your fan forever.

I tried drawing you as Frodo a few weeks ago. I wish I could say that I cut the left side of the picture like that for artistic or compositional reasons, but really it was because I made your right eye freakishly large. Sorry.

I’m a married woman now, but once a fangirl always a fangirl. I’m an eternal Ringer- as both a Lord of the Rings fan as well as a member of a handbell choir- how about that. Speaking of handbell choir, I was in the novice group previously but I lost my mind and managed to shoehorn my way into the advanced group when I found out they are learning none other than THEMES FROM THE FREAKING LORD OF THE RINGS!

Last year I had the privilege of meeting and getting a picture with Mr. John Rhys-Davies at the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo. He complimented me on my cosplay. I told him “you’re my favorite dwarf forever” and he said “aw, I love you”. My little hobbit heart grew three sizes that day.

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I also managed to get a pic with Sauron himself. He’s actually a really nice guy.

The year before that I met Billy Boyd and was entranced by his Beecake concert. Bought all the CDs!

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^ (Sorry Billy, the real picture is on an external harddrive tucked away somewhere and I am too lazy to find it at the moment, but here is a blurry picture of the picture of me and Billy Boyd, screen-grabbed from a picture of me holding the picture of me and Billy Boyd!)

I’d very much love the opportunity to meet you too, Elijah. I was more than ready to drive or fly to Calgary to see you.

But Elijah, would you believe that the very weekend you are visiting is the same weekend I am going to my first ever Library Conference, and as a speaker? I have worked at a library for 7 years and in September I am beginning my Master program with the goal of becoming a librarian. At the Alberta Library Conference in Jasper, Friday afternoon, I am doing a presentation session on the versatility of the graphic novel format. I’m super passionate about it and excited for the opportunity (been prepping it and working on my public speaking skills for several months!), but I can’t say i’m not bummed out that I am missing the opportunity to see you at the expo in Calgary.

So, since I can’t say it there, let me say it here- I think you’re Terrific with a capital T, you gave us the perfect Frodo and made my tween heart flutter- thank you for coming to Alberta- I hope you have fun in Calgary, and I’m sorry I’ll miss you when you’re here!

-Sincerely, Shauna

P.S. if you have time, feel free to swing by Jasper and crash the Alberta Library Convention! You know you want another adventure in the mountains! XD

Conferences, public speaking, oh my…

Last year I submitted a proposal for a session to the Alberta Library Conference organizers. I had a flash of inspiration and submitted it on a bit of a whim, not really thinking it would be accepted.

I got a pleasant surprise- my conference session proposal was accepted! So I will be traveling to Jasper at the end of this month with my lovely manager to attend my first library conference (and to present there!)

I’ve been around Alberta a bit, and I’ve been to gorgeous Jasper and Banff a couple of times on road trips, but I, as well as my manager, naively assumed that we could fly to Jasper for this trip instead. (Wrong-o!). So, we’re going to do the whole trip in our library vehicle. This will be the first time I am traveling so far for work. It’s cool!

My conference session is called There’s a Graphic Novel For Everyone (Yes, Even You!). It covers topics such as

  • What is meant by “graphic novel” and how that name relates to additional terms like comic, web-comic, manga, etc.
  • The importance of realizing that graphic novels are a format, not a genre, and can be on any topic or theme!
  • Graphic novel readers advisory for specific topics and genres, like non-fiction, biography, reluctant readers, award winners, focus on diversity, LGBTQ+, Indigenous and more
  • In-depth exploration of some Graphic Novel excerpts
  • Reflections for library staff and teachers
  • Resource links and title lists

My session is 1 hour long so I am going to have to keep an eye on time, as I have tons to share on this topic.

I am extremely excited for this conference, even though public speaking is not in my comfort zone. I have been preparing for this conference for several months and this is the first time in my life that I am actually EXCITED to stand in front of a group of strangers and talk. Passion is am excellent motivator!

Here is a sneak peek of the mascot (?) I made for the session. This picture is from the session called “Get To Know Graphic Novels!”

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