Wednesday, June 29, 2016

This flower was alive 100 years ago!!!!!!!!!

This month marked the 100th anniversary of my great grandparents' wedding.

My mother's grandparents, Kate Ballard and William Turner were married at Dawes Road Congregational Church in Fulham, London on June 17, 1916.

I am lucky enough to possess the ACTUAL BOUTINEER worn at that wedding. (Let's not think about the fact that it doesn't look much like what he's wearing in the picture below, ok? Flowers look different after 100 years in a paper envelope.)

The fact that I own a flower corpse a century old makes me very very happy.

Another cool thing is that I got to wear the wedding brooch worn by my great grandma Kate at her wedding, at my own wedding  in February, just shy of 100 years later.

I love that my family has taken such care to keep these precious heirlooms, and that I was able to incorporate them into my own wedding.

Just wanted to brag about that. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Heritage houseplants and other ancient greenery

"What is that strange tall one?" I ask my Baba about a particularly odd and towering plant in her vegetable garden.

"It's greens, and I grow one to seed every year to keep planting, because those were my mother's seeds, and they came from Poland."

How had I, so keen to gobble any scrap of family history, not known about this fantastic edible heirloom in the garden all these years? I'm glad I finally asked.

My Baba's mother traveled to Canada (from a region of Austria which had formerly been Poland and is now western Ukraine) as a toddler circa 1908, dating those seeds' ancestors to over a hundred years old-- at least. How cool, to know my salad holds a connection to that of my ancestors across an ocean a century ago. And that my grandmother, who turned 89 this week, has taken such care to keep this tie to her heritage.

And that's not the only quirky ancient specimen in my Baba's garden. Some of her geraniums are 25 years old. I'm not talking generations of clippings here-- these actual flowers date back a quarter of a century. Inherited from a friend long ago, these blossoms benefit from a very rigorous regimen of care. Every fall they are dug up, potted and brought inside to winter. There are maybe two dozen plants that enjoy this royal treatment in our cottage-turned-greenhouse. And the TLC has paid off. These guys are hearty.

Obviously these impressive offerings got me all excited about real live photosynthesizing keys to the past. Ancient trees are amazing in their own right, but there's something especially fascinating about ancient houseplants-- their intricate connection with human history is unique. Imagine how many gossip sessions they've overheard in various parlours across the ages.

While not a "house plant" per se, this hulking specimen is the oldest known potted plant, dating back to 1775 (!!).

Back to my personal collection of botanical treasures: my dad's side of the family clearly boasts a couple of pretty neat contenders. And my mum's side doesn't fail to deliver either.

While it's a couple centuries younger than its tropical cousin mentioned above, this umbrella tree was given to my mum when she was 22 in 1977 by an old boyfriend. It's stood in the corner of her living room my entire life-- an old friend I recently inherited as she renovates her house.

And while it certainly is no longer alive, one of my most prized family heirlooms is a delicate and crispy boutineer worn by my great grandpa on his wedding day in England in 1916. (More on that, with photos, to come on their 100th wedding anniversary this June.)

As a history nerd I've always been enthralled by historic artifacts-- especially the day-to-day items that offer a tangible connection to the ordinary lives of people from the past. (My favourite so far is a jar of actual cold cream found on the Titanic.) But an "artifact" that is actually alive and has been providing a lush background of foliage to these passing ages? That brings us to a whole new level of amazing.

Friday, June 27, 2014

House burns, humanity loses

I wrote an article for the Spectator Tribune on the destruction of the Criddle/Vane Homestead and why disrespecting our history is bad news for humanity.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Polarized debate over rape prevention misses the point

Check out my editorial in the Spectator Tribune, where I weigh in on the binge drinking/victim blaming/personal safety debate spurred by Emily Yoffe's controversial piece and its subsequent backlash.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Goodbye to Enoch

The frantic knock comes as I’m on hold with the airline, trying to change a mistake on my ticket—something I’m worried sick over, something my anxiety-brain considers a worst-case scenario. Now the doorbell's ringing.

It’s our neighbour from across the street, the one with the cat that looks like ours – she had once dragged hers, terrified, out of the house to show us, grinning with pride—that’s how she knows it’s Enoch in the puddle, bloody and gasping.

There’s a crowd around him—six, maybe eight, people—the neighbour, a woman and some kids from the school, the man who hit him with his car (he is so sorry), the family who drives up and says they will take me to the vet. They are all yelling and trying to help and it makes me feel really good, later, that they are all here with us.

Adrenaline, panic mode, shoes, oh my God, keys, blanket, purse, oh my God. I carry his writhing body in my arms.

There is nothing to be done, we have to let him go. Joe gets there in time to say goodbye. He doesn’t stay for the needle. I always do.


It’s the fourth cat I’ve seen put down, but the first one that left so violently. That was the deal though, we all knew it. Enoch knew it, he must have—the price of freedom.  Six years, nine lives. It wasn’t my choice anyway—it was something he and Joe had worked out long before I came. I hated living with the uncertainty, but even I had started to take for granted that every time he’d flit out into the night he’d dart back in again when called.

The just after reminders cut the deepest, make you wince. His bowl with the kibble he’d left behind that last time. The indent of his body on the bed from this morning. The water glass from last night we knew he’d dipped his paw into, as always—he couldn’t resist. The faint smell of cat piss on the living room chair (because let’s be real, he was a jerk sometimes and used urination as a manipulation tool). His nose marks on the window. His blood on the street.

Then there are the things you don’t want to forget but you know you will, because time’s an asshole that way. So you write them down:

How he loved to play under the sheets as you made the bed.

The sound of his paws scratching at our door when he wanted in.

How he would so eagerly let Joe carry him up to bed at the end of the day.

The way we slept each night with our limbs askew around him, because he’d never ever budge.

How he always found a way to cram himself onto Joe's lap, no matter where he was sitting.

His silhouette on the red fence at dusk, leaning into inky night, just before it pulled him away.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I went to Europe. I don't feel any different.

I went to Europe for a month with my cousin/best friend Paige.

As far as major overseas trips go, it was fairly spur-of-the-moment. It was pretty amazing, and exhausting. By the end I couldn't wait to get home to my beautiful cats and friends and family and city and prairie fields. I like that dreaming of Europe ended with dreaming of home. I like how Winnipeg smells, and free water and bread at restaurants.

Perhaps naively, I thought I might feel differently after this trip. But I don't. Within just days it seemed like a distant memory, almost like I didn't go at all. The disconnect feels incredibly strange. It's new to me. (My New Orleans trip clung to me like a warm glow for weeks... months... even still lingering a year later.)

It makes me think about how maybe we all really are living in a Matrix-like pod world and our experiences are nothing more than code in some sort of computer-based virtual reality and nothing we think or do makes any difference whatsoever.

Not that I'm complaining, if my computer program lets me go to Europe.

Highlights included... desolate black sand beach on Santorini, the graffiti coating Athens, the train ride from Florence to Rome, speaking french in Paris and rushing through the Louvre once again, exploring my grandma's birth town of Leigh-on-Sea, Trafalgar Square at dusk. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Eliciting objectification: what happens when space is created for nasty discourse online

“I would smash her pasty worse than an epileptic in Greggs.”

What does this even mean? I only have half of it deciphered. Basically it’s some sort of violent sexual fantasy.

It’s also one of several choice comments on a photo posted by CBS on their How I Met Your Mother Facebook page, which included a seductive picture of character Robin Scherbatsky and the caption "Would you bother going out if you had this at home?"

This post and the comments it elicited were enough to inspire me to comment on the picture on the show’s Facebook page.

Reasons I think their post is gross:

1. It objectifies the subject. It reduces her to a thing to be appreciated solely for her sexual value, particularly through the use of ‘this’ instead of ‘her’ in the caption. (I want to note this is just as bad when done to men—it goes both ways.)

2. It’s not even funny. Usually the HIMYM page offers entertaining teases about an episode to go with their picture. This one seems to be relying solely on sex appeal. Why?

3. It opened the door to some sick comments. Most of them are fairly generic grunts of aesthetic approval, accolades for—or critiques of— her legs, and some comparisons between her body and the bodies of other characters. But here are some gems (and remember— these are on a CBS Facebook wall post): 

“I'd stay in all her.”

“Those [legs] on her are perfect - I could eatem'up. Where's the bbq sauce? Lol.” 

“Hell no I wouldn't the time I was done...she'd wouldn't be able to look herself in the mirror again.” 

“well you can tell she's aging.”

Why does CBS think it is valuable to foster a ‘discussion’ that resembles at best one big circle jerk on one of its pages? 

Things random Internet people said in response to my comment, which expressed these above opinions in many fewer words (paraphrased):

1. You’re ridiculous.

2. You need to get laid.

3. You’re jealous.

4. You’re a pseudo-feminist. (huh?)

5. Stop shaming this actress for being beautiful. (Do I really need to explain that I’m criticizing the network and not the actress?)

6. The picture is a screen-cap from an episode and should be understood within the context of the show.

The last statement deserves some thought.

I’m a big fan of HIMYM (though I haven’t seen the more recent episodes) and I don’t find its content particularly problematic. They objectify people left and right but it’s over-the-top, goofy and pretty equitable in terms of gender. It’s a hilarious show with some fun and relatable characters.

Is it hypocritical of me to be angry at the photo they posted from that very program? Is there a difference between the content of a fictional show and online posts about the show by a major TV network?

Yes— one is fiction and one isn’t. That doesn’t mean I am uncritical of all fictional content, but it needs to be analyzed on a different level than real life.

When CBS posts this photo and caption, it’s creating a space for viewers to discuss this woman as a sexual commodity. It’s creating an open door for misogyny.

I’m not arguing against using ‘sexy’ images of women (or men) on this show or on TV in general. I’m arguing against the way it was presented.

I’m arguing against calling the person in the picture a ‘this’ (literally an object), which elicited hundreds of responses, many so misogynistic that I frankly can’t believe CBS is allowing them on their Facebook page.

I post content to social media at a TV network for a living. It takes three minutes to grab a screenshot and 30 seconds to think of a catchy caption. It won’t break the bank if CBS pays their staff for another minute to think about the implications of what they’re writing.