Thursday, May 28, 2009

75 years ago today

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets. Annette, Cecile, Marie, Emilie, and Yvonne Dionne were born to Elzire and Oliva Dionne of Corbeil, Ontario (just outside of North Bay Rock City, for those of you keeping track) on May 28th, 1934. They were the first (documented) set of quintuplets to survive infancy; they were also the first and only set of identical female quintuplets. (The odds of that are unbelievable--the initial egg splitting, then each of those splitting again, and one of those splitting a third time. It boggles the mind. The "sixth" likely died in the womb.) Their combined birth weight was less than 14 lbs., and when you consider that they were born two months premature in a farmhouse, in 1934, to a mother who didn't know she was pregnant with multiples...the odds against their survival were substantial.

The story of the Quints is fascinating. The Ontario government took control of their lives when they were four months old, establishing the girls as wards of the Crown, and taking them to live away from their parents and their siblings on the grounds that Elzire and Oliva were unfit parents (though the Dionnes still got to keep their other five children). The girls were raised in a compound by the doctor who "delivered" them, Dr. Allan Dafoe (he was assisted by two midwives) and a few other caregivers. The compound, colloquially known as Quintland, included an observation deck where tourists would come daily to watch the girls playing inside the compound.

The Quints were big business. It's estimated that they earned approximately $1 million in 1934, and brought approximately $51 million to Ontario in tourism-related revenue. I know that sounds like a lot of money, but you need to think of it in perspective of 1934--you know, THE MIDDLE OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION. The girls' images were used to sell just about every product imaginable, including corn syrup, baby food, toys, candy, toothpaste, Lysol, Heinz, Victory Bonds, Carnation Milk, and cod liver oil. And, of course, this doesn't even begin to touch the commemorative merchandise that was produced to sell to the tourists.

The other half of the story is a very sad one. The girls' parents did eventually win back custody from the Crown, in 1943, and with it access to the girls' money. Having grown up separately, they had to be re-integrated into a family that treated the girls differently from the other children. Once they reached 18, all five left home and had very limited contact with their parents. Marie and Emilie both died quite young, and Yvonne passed away from cancer a few years ago. Before her death, she, along Annette and Cecile, revealed that they believed that their father had sexually abused them as teenagers.

With the way that our culture currently treats multiples--particularly with John and Kate Plus 8 and their reality show ilk--the story of the Quints is well worth remembering. I do believe those kids are being exploited, and I wish that people would remember that they won't be children forever. Someday they will be adults who have to live with everything that's happening right now.

Friday, May 22, 2009


There were a lot of things that I liked about Frost/Nixon. I liked the cast, and thought that both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen were excellent. I liked the staging, as well, and thought that the contrasts in location worked really well to emphasize the tensions.

I did not like the pseudo-documentary style, where the characters would occasionally break out of the established narrative to comment on themselves or other characters. This can be an effective device when used properly, but I don't think that it is here: it's dropped roughly halfway through, so it doesn't go anywhere meaningful, and ultimately just winds up being distracting.

The other problem that I have with it is that the climax of the film falls a bit flat. Actually, the real problem is that the climax is just fine; it's the rest of the movie that seems flat: We get to that point where Nixon says the unthinkable...and then we see almost nothing else of their interview. Did it really go nowhere from there? I find that hard to believe, so I will have to check out the source material.

It's a 3.5 out of 5, I think. Worth seeing, but not as strong as it could be.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Quick Poll on Buttons

If you needed buttons for a February Lady Sweater, would you choose:

a) Tudor Rose buttons


b) Epona* buttons?

**Epona is a Gaulo-Roman goddess connected with horses, and one of the antecedents of Rhiannon in the Mabinogion.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Against Despair

A recent facebook post by a grad school friend about her favourite Timothy Findley book, Pilgrim, inspired me to pick up my favourite Timothy Findley book, Headhunter today. (I haven't read all of Pilgrim. It was a bathroom book at my parents' house for a long while, and I really can't think of anything less suited to be a bathroom book.) Headhunter is, in many ways, deeply uneven--but it is also magical and inventive, and thoroughly engrossing.

I had lunch with my mother in Huntsville last week, and we wandered around downtown, and spent sometime poking through the antique shops there. (Sadly, the downtown is mildly less exciting since the yarn shop moved 25 km outside of town.) I was surprised by how many Royal Family-related antiques there were until my mom reminded me of who used to populate the Muskokas in the summertime--anyone who was anyone in Toronto owned land there, and summered outside of the city. And, naturally, anyone who was anyone in Toronto would be a staunch Royalist. In Headhunter, Findley describes this attitude as "more British than the British", which I think works quite well.

The cat would like to say hello. We've been travelling so much these past few weeks that he's been a bit lonely, and is a bit sucky as a result.

I still have to collect my thoughts about Frost/Nixon, but I think I'm closer to formulating exactly why it doesn't work all that well for me--or at least, why it doesn't work as well as I want it to.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

long weekend

I've had about five failed updates in the past week; for some reason I have found this particular time very difficult to write about. I suspect that the largest reason for that is that I haven't done anything particularly interesting in the past week. This academic year simply refuses to die, which is frustrating, as I'm less than two weeks from the end of this contract, and I would just like to bloody be done already.

The major accomplishment of the last few days has been watching Frost/Nixon with my dad. I need to think about it a bit more, but I'll post something more thorough in response once I've thought it through.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

She Goes On

I took the bandage off my finger yesterday, in hopes that it had sufficiently healed...but found it was not to be, as it started to bleed again today. This, coupled with the the few minutes of snow at 7:30 this morning, made for a rather inauspicious start to the day.

My mom's Mother's Day socks are coming along nicely. I will probably finish the first one today, and get started on the second one as quickly as possible, as I cannot wait to be done. I have the yarn for a February Lady Sweater waiting for me, and I really want to get started on that...or really, to be doing anything other than these socks.

I'm sad not to see my mother on Mother's Day. She's in Scarborough at a family gathering, I think, celebrating the mothers and our family's May birthdays. But she knows I love her no matter what--including that six month period where she persisted in omitting vowels from all of her emails and IM conversations with me.

Friday, May 08, 2009

One good turn...

I cleaned the craft room today in preparation for the purchase of a large file cabinet. My house is approximately 875 square feet, so space is always at something of a premium, and new additions need to be plotted out very carefully. The cabinet in question did not actually materialize, but I'm happy to have done some serious organizing in my room, and you'll be pleased to know, Readers, that I actually culled a whole bunch of acrylic yarn from my stash and sent it on to the Value Village.

I almost sliced off the tip of my right index finger last night when I was cutting onions on the mandoline. I was holding the onion with my hand, and thinking, "I wonder where the holder is for this. I'm probably going to cut off the tip of my finger." About three minutes later, I nearly did that. Fortunately I stopped in about 3/4 of the way through. It's not a deep cut, but it is right on the tip, so it is pretty sensitive. According to my mom, I should've superglued it shut--this is the new hot treatment in the ER for this type of wound, rather than stitches.

A strange thing happened, though. After I'd washed the cut out, and wrapped it in paper towel, I was holding my finger above my head to help slow down the bleeding. Suddenly, I just felt all of the blood drain out of my head. My vision went blurry, and sound went far away. Fortunately, I managed to get my head down between my knees before I keeled over, but it was pretty touch and go for a few minutes there. The same thing happened last summer when I sliced my ring finger instead of a cucumber.

I don't know what my problem is. I'm not an especially squeamish person, and I've certainly injured myself in much worse ways, involving much more pain and blood. (I wouldn't say that I'm accident prone so much as just a bit careless and a bit foolish.) I've treated people with much worse injuries--the time Fiancé fell off the wall behind Cellarman's, anyone? It usually doesn't bother me at all. And yet, these last two times...who knows?

I blocked both of my Ishbels tonight. They look great.
Ishbel the Red

Ishbel the Grey

Thursday, May 07, 2009

the kids rant

The Boyfriend (or rather, the Fiancé) has started a new job this week. In the process of getting to know his co-workers, he's (apparently) had to talk a lot about his relationship with me, and had to justify a number of the choices that we've made as a couple. The biggest one, of course, is our decision not to have kids right fucking now. (I should probably also add that there's been a lot of consternation over our decision to get married two years from now, and not this year or next, from quite a lot of people--friends, family, and otherwise.)

The Fiancé, when asked, told his co-workers that kids are part of the future, but unlikely to happen in the next two or three years. Why not? said the co-workers. Because we can't afford to have kids right now, said the Fiancé. That's stupid, said the co-workers. You should just have them--everything else will just sort of fall into place.

So then the Fiancé came home and asked me: Do you think that's true?

It is true, I imagine. For some people at some times. Waiting for more money probably sounds foolish to a lot of people--once you start down that path, is there ever really enough money to have kids? The people the Fiancé was discussing this with live on household incomes of about half what we make combined, he said, so why couldn't we make it work? (Can you tell that I'm the primary breadwinner and billpayer in our household?)

Why not? First, these people are eligible for support from the government that we wouldn't be because they make so much less than we do. Second, these people haven't just purchased houses. Third, these people don't have a combined $50 000 in student loans that need to be paid back. Fourth, these people don't work on ten month contracts, and have two very scary months where there is relatively little income. Fifth, these people have very different relationships than Fiancé and I--while we've been together for nearly 5 years, we've only lived together for one, and the other four have been long distance. We need (and deserve) time to figure out US together. Sixth, neither of us wants kids right now, and it irritates me to no end that I need to justify that to people.

We will have kids when we are ready to have them, and when we want to have them. Why is that so hard for other people to understand?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Follow the directions

I like to make fun of my partner because he is an inveterate non-follower of directions. Any time he is required to do something that involves reading from a manual and progressing through steps, he's usually convinced he should "just know" instinctively how it will work. This can lead to a particularly awesome combination of hilarity/frustration.

My students also don't follow directions. After every single test and assignment, I will stand at the front of the class and say, "The most important thing you can do to ensure your success is to read the directions carefully, and make sure that you know what the question means." But they don't. And then they lose marks, and say, "But my answer is right." And I say, "Your answer may be factually correct, but it doesn't answer the question as it was posed."

All of this is a lead up to say that I should probably practice what I preach. Back in February, Starlite75 came up for a few days and we dyed some yarn together. One of the things that every single set of directions for yarn dyeing tells you is that you should tie your hank of yarn in several places. I assumed that the two ties in my Knit Picks Bare skein would be sufficient. That assumption was incorrect, and I spent the better part of 45 minutes this morning detangling the skein on my swift. It wasn't a huge deal (I am the kind of weirdo who like untangling knots) but it could've been avoided pretty easily.

The offending yarn is now a pretty little pink and white cake, and I'm off to get started on some socks for my mom for Mother's Day. Good times.

Monday, May 04, 2009


Why are things often on sale when you don't really need them, or can't afford them? Pick Up Sticks is having a 20% off everything in the store sale, including the Dream in Color line. Damn!

I'm home from work today because I'm sick. I wore my contacts home, and forgot to pack my glasses. I was very excited to come home yesterday and take out my contacts, but when I got into the bathroom they were nowhere to be found. I wore my old glasses for a little while, but they are in such poor shape (they're four years old, so any anti-scratch coating is long gone) and the difference in prescription is such that I wound up with a lingering headache. I also wound up throwing up all morning, but I'm not sure whether or not that is related to the glasses.

Ugh. I hate being sick. I napped on the couch for a while, and felt much better when I woke up, but now that I've been up for about an hour I'm starting to feel woozy again.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

painted ladies and a bottle of wine

Not much new to report here. I'm back in the Bay, having survived the trip home and trip back with intense winds pushing away at my beloved tin can of a car. My mom and I went to a yarn store yesterday. It had been about five or six years since the last time I visited it, and it has changed a lot. Where previously there was lots of very overpriced acrylic yarns and snotty saleswomen who didn't believe someone in her early twenties could be serious about knitting, there is now a store filled with a wide variety of fibers (including the whole Rowan line) at reasonable prices. Having spent my money at the Frolic last weekend, I only picked up a couple of balls of Patons' recently discontinued SWS soy-wool yarn, but my mom actually bought a couple of things (including a Fleece Artist thrum kit for me to make her some mittens). As we left, she remarked, "I really feel like I should be buying more yarn."

And she has decided that once we find a yarn and a sweater pattern that she likes, I will make her a sweater.

Having just learned that we will not uncover the secret of the final Cylon until July, the boyfriend and I have decided to rent Miracle at St. Anna for a treat tonight.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

I love a man in (powder blue) uniform

Last night, my dad and I went to a Blue Jays game. Our tickets were free through the alumni association for the university. It was the first game I'd been to in probably about seven years. The organization is now doing "Flashback Fridays" in which everyone wears the vintage uniforms from the 70s, and I have to say that I like it. There's just something about the powder blue/royal blue combo that I love. If I ever find myself with a spare $100 I'm definitely going to get one of the replica jerseys.

The whole trip down was very nostalgic. We always come down the 400 to Black Creek Dr, and then head down Weston Rd. to Lakeshore. There's new row housing, and the Palais Royale has been re-done. Can I get married there? Please? If I win the lottery? (Side note: How cool would it be to get married in the venue that I've seen my favourite artists play concerts? I could make a much more persuasive pitch for a Finn song as a wedding song in that case, I think.)

The game itself was pretty awesome. Paul Molitor was the guest of honour, and they showed lots of video clips from the years (1993-1995) that he played for us. The Jays' victory was also pretty sweet. (Although I would've pulled Halladay before that last batter--brother had lost it, in my opinion. That said, Cito Gaston has two World Series rings and I have none, so take that for what it's worth.)

One of the biggest changes to the Dome itself (I am refusing to call it the Rogers Centre) is that there is now the Toronto Blue Jays' Level of Excellence--which is this club's version of retiring the jerseys. The most notable name in the Level of Excellence for me was that of Tom Cheek, who was given the number 4306. 4306 was the number of consecutive regular season games that Tom called on the radio for the Blue Jays, starting in 1977 and going up until 2004. I grew up with his voice (and that of his partner, Jerry Howarth), as my dad always preferred to listen to the radio commentary while watching the broadcast on TV. This was the first game that I'd attended since his death, and it was very strange not to have his voice in my ear--particularly as the Jumbotron showed the clips from the old games, when I can still remember the calls he made at the time.

The club is hosting the Stitch and Pitch knitting night in late August this year against the Oakland Athletics. Think there's any chance I can talk my dad into that?

Friday, May 01, 2009

Into the blue again / after the money's gone

Watching Canadian PM Stephen Harper talk about the whole Chrysler situation on TV this morning has me wondering what's going through his head. He's the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada--the man who united the right to take control of the country. He wants to minimize the influence of the government in the lives of private citizens--you know, all the usual good capital-C Conservative kind of stuff.

And here he is to tell us that the Canadian government, along with the government of the province of Ontario, and the United States, is becoming a shareholder in Chrysler: he is telling us that in order to 'resolve' the situation, the government has had to step in, pony up some cash, and take a seat at the boardroom table. On his watch, the government is now more involved in Big Business than even the NDP has dared to dream.

I wonder if, as he stood up to give that press conference, the lyrics from Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" flashed through his head: "How do I work this? Where is that large automobile? This is not my beautiful house...this is not my beautiful wife."