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Lunar New Year

February 28, 2015

I’ve been meaning to tell you, dear Reader, “Happy Lunar New Year.” Goodbye Year of the Horse, Hello, Year of the Sheep and / or Ram / and or Goat. That it’s unclear whether it is the year of the sheep or the year of the goat is very non-Western, isn’t it?

When I think of sheep I think docile, I think consumer-culture, and I think Jesus:

Jesus and sheep

Baaaaah.  When I think ram, I think Rocky Mountains, I think aggression, and I think trucks. Don’t you?


Throwing goats into the mix, oh man:


Goats have long been associated with demons in Western culture. As Cake succinctly put it,”Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell.” Goats have a really bad rap in the Bible.


But think of our mountain goats in Jasper National Park. I’m going to wish you that kind of a Happy Year of the Goat.

What I mean is this:


I wish you the courage to take a few great leaps this year.


I wish you grace and strength in the difficult spots we invariably find ourselves in.


I wish you wisdom in choosing your battles. (Not like goats.) And strength to fight the ones you do choose.

baby goat jumping

I hope you remember to be playful and kid around, at least some of the time.

bateman goats

I wish you the kind of pleasure that can only be got from doing something difficult and challenging.

And I hope you find yourself ascending to heights you hadn’t thought possible:

Mountain Goat (Oreamos americanus) on rocky outcrop, western montana.

House of Flurfel

The Spoils of December

January 25, 2015

By this time of year, it is always clear, that some gifts are hits, and some gifts are …


… not going to get the love you imagined they might. Poor colouring book, without even a scribble of colour even though all the trappings of Christmas are long since tucked away, ‘cept that wreath made of wine corks that I keep forgetting to take down.

But then there’s those surprise hits:

Who knew Uno would steal the show? Thing is though, after many Christmases with kids, I’m beginning to notice an obvious pattern: it’s not the money spent on the gifts that make them the best ones ever, it’s the amount of time you invest in playing with it with the kid you give it to that makes ‘em the best gift ever. Have you noticed that too?

Muskeg Creek Trails

December 29, 2014

Muskeg Creek Sign


This is one of my favourite places to be. Maybe you know it.

Muskeg Creek Trail

You could call it stark. Or you could call it “subtle.”  I prefer subtle.

Bare Trees

In the summer there are leaves. In the winter there are none.

Muskeg Creek Trail 3

The pictures come out dull but when you’re out there, the colours do blaze at you.


Ever notice how many shades of white there are? If “snow white” was a single colour, we couldn’t see tracks.


Bunny tracks in Muskeg Creek white…

Paper Birch


Paper birch white…

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker white…

Woodpecker Downy Male

This is the male Downy Woodpecker; he has a flash of red on his head.

Can you tell I got a new camera for Christmas?







Damn You Auto-Collorectal: Or, How to Punk Yo Mama’s iPhone

December 23, 2014

I get mad at the auto-correct on my iPhone when I text. It twists. It mangles. It un-cutes cute spellings and it cutes things that shouldn’t be cute. Like when Mr. B. texted me after a November bike commute that he almost froze his “button off.” It wierds things up. Sometimes I want to use non-standard spellings. If I want to spell “kuh-razy” like so, well then I want to spell “kuh-razy” like so. I’ll admit it’s not very kuh-lassy of me, but it’s my beeswax. Don’t judge me, iPhone.

And of course I need to use words that aren’t in my phone’s meager little dictionary. If I want to text, “Zipadeedoodah,” it’s because I want to text, “Zipadeedoodah.” I’m not going to type a 13-letter word by accident and I resent having it auto-corrected to “Zips Dewdrops,” so that I have to type it all over again.

If I’m on my way to Athabasca, it’s not helpful to have my message corrected to “on my way to Arty Tabasco.”

Why, iPhone? Why do you continually correct my, “I love you texts,” to read: “I live you.” To whom would I say that?

But at the same time, I do appreciate the technology of predictive texting. I.e. when your phone uses it’s “intelligence” to guess what you’re going to say to save you the time of having to type it. Stephen Hawkings says it has allowed him to communicate twice as fast and that he wouldn’t be able to continue to lecture and write articles without it. He said this, mind you, in the same Guardian article in which he said Artificial Intelligence might predictively spell the end of the human race. Maybe. Or maybe A.I. will spell the end of the human rice.

A confession: I am a huge fan of This website is dedicated to unintentionally hilarious auto-correct fails. I think it’s the funniest thing on the internet. I laugh until I cry. I just do. It features such gems as:


Oh, I know. I know. “Naked Pastor.” But I just can’t help laughing and laughing and laughing. It’s a love hate thing. I hate when predictive texting makes me write dumb things but I love it when it makes other people say dumb things.  And I also loved it when auto-correct auto-corrected my text in which I cursed auto-correct to:


… I laughed for twenty-two minutes. Why is auto-colorectal in my phone’s dictionary? OMG. Clearly it’s there just to make me belly laugh until I’m 10 months younger. The auto-colorectal incident reminded me how much I loved spending time on which is where I discovered this:


McWrap posted this to her Tumblr Feed. She changed every word she could think of in her mom’s keyboard shortcuts to “nugget.” Oh my. This is just a game changer for auto-correct fail lovers everywhere. Did I laugh? Oh I laughed. And of course I told Mr. B and our darling daughter all about it, and the more I pictured Emily’s mom’s flubber-gastedness at this strange new technology her digital-native daughter was using against her, the harder I laughed. So of course, while I was busy laughing at this stranger, Mr. B and our D.D. went into another room with my iPhone and set it to predictively text “Nugget” whenever I typed “Th”; to substitute “i am poop” for “the” as well as “doing”; “Rutabaga” for “kids”; and “fat bug in a rug in a jug” for “you.”

So when my friend got back from Prague I told her that I’d love to hear about her trip. But it came out this way:

I would nugget

It took me weeks to fix it too. Not because it’s hard to fix, but because I seem to only text when I’m in a hurry and don’t have time just now to figure out how to change my keyboard shortcut settings. Well.

Now come on. Does yo mama, who birthed you, and fed you, and clothed you, and cared for you from infancy deserve this sort of treatment?  If so, here’s an instructable on how to do it:

Merry Christmas,

The Flurfels

What to do with Formula Samples

November 24, 2014

I’m not going to go on about how mother’s milk is better than formula. We all know that food that comes in a box and has a shelf life is not as good as the other type of food — whole food, natural food, whatever you call it, you know: food food. But infant formula is food for babies who don’t have access to mother’s milk for whatever reason and like me, I’m sure you don’t have any desire to keep babies from food. And just like if someone were to send you a jar of peanut butter, a crate of oranges, a pumpkin spice latte, a bunch of kale, a can of mace, or a puppy by mail, when you receive a box of infant formula by Canada Post it is your moral problem to do something with it.

You can eat it. You can chuck it. You can put it on a shelf in case you need it later. You could try having it sent back to the return address. Or, you can try to get it in the hands of someone who needs it right now.

My friend mentioned that her church was collecting goods to donate to Win House, so I sent my unsolicited box of mail-order formula with her. Win House accepts donations by appointment. I did remove the coupons first, though, as the internets tell me that as soon as the coupons are used, evil robots send more formula directly to your home.

I asked the Edmonton Foodbank about how they distribute formula and was told that it is only given to people who ask for it. Families ask for infant formula by brand and by type. Formula is on the Edmonton Foodbank’s list of “most needed” items. You can drop off donations at any major grocery store, fire department, or take them directly to the Foodbank.

The Foodbank produces a “Hunger Count” report on who is using their services. 841,191 Canadians use the food bank each month and that number is climbing. Of those users, more than one in three (36.9%) are children. If 6% of those children are infants (0-1) that means that at least 18,717 babies are fed by the food bank every month. (6% is likely a very low estimate and is based on a quick gander at census data from 2011 — I expect the number of infants to be much higher because families with new babies are more likely to need the food bank.) Grossly assuming that 6% of the food bank’s population are infants: at least 18,717 Canadian infants are being fed by the foodbank monthly. If 1 in 4 of those babies are exclusively formula fed 6 bottles per day, the food bank needs 10 million bottles of formula a year to support them. If, however, 9 out of every 10 of those babies are exclusively breastfed, only 4 million bottles are needed per year. If bottles cost $2.50 each, a 90% breastfeeding rate among food bank users would save 15 million dollars per year. But still: 4 million bottles would be needed. 4 million bottles. So don’t chuck it. Donate it.

One of the many heartbreaking things about those big numbers is knowing that formula companies are actively trying to tip the balance and increase the number of formula fed babies, whether or not they come from the most vulnerable population sectors. They’d rather Canadian food banks need 10 million than 4 million bottles of formula per year for obvious reasons: it’s a good business model for them to prey on newborns from low-income families. Do I sound paranoid?

This week, Reuters reports that a heap of Italian doctors has been arrested for taking bribes from formula companies (including lavish holidays, luxury cruises, televisions, apple computers, etc.) to prescribe formula instead of breastmilk to their patients. Yuck.

Baby food represents a more than 1/2 a billion dollar industry in Canada.When it comes to preventing predatory marketing by formula companies, Canada is “Failing to Make Baby Steps“. Which means formula companies are free to play their hunger games with Canadian babies. What to do about it? I wish I knew.

Similac targets unborn babies in their Canadian homes

November 8, 2014

It arrived while I was teaching night school, and because it was close to my birthday and thinking it a gift, my husband told our daughter that she couldn’t open it for me, she had to wait, and so, a 2 kilo brown box with my name and address on it, full of expedited mystery sat tormenting her until I finally walked through the door and she pounced, pleaded, jumped up and down a few times, and tore it open.

It was a variety pack of infant formula samples for newborns, a rubber nipple in a bubble pack that could screw right onto the formula bottles, and two rebate cheques for when I buy more newborn formula at the store and/or a formula product for gestating women called “Similac Mom.” There were letters congratulating me as a “mom-to-be!” and explaining that “Similac Mom” could solve the problem of “making sure you get the extra nutrition you need so that you have energy — for you and your baby.” There was also some “wholesome support” in the form of 19-page booklet with info about feeding choices and especially how-to tips on bottle-feeding. The gist of the info-advertorial is that while breastfeeding is “truly magical,” Similac formula is nutritionally complete, does contain “galactooligosaccharides,” and has hassle-free packaging “designed with moms, for moms” with a scoop in the lid so it doesn’t get lost. There were coupons for other Similac products, a flyer advertising a free Similac app, and a brochure explaining why Similac is trusted by moms like me, with a nice black & white glossy photo of some strong male arms tenderly supporting a relaxed newborn.

Some context: I have three children and the youngest is in kindergarten. I am NOT a mom-to-be. I have been a mom for 9 years. I am not a has-been as a mom, I am still momming it up, but I am NOT preparing to hold a newborn in my arms. I did NOT consent in any way to being part of the “Similac Club.” That is why, when my 9 year-old opened the package, she proclaimed it, “The dumbest thing ever.” I think it’s worse than “dumb,” though. Here’s why:

When I was a kid in the early 80s’, I watched a documentary in the basement of the Stanley Milner Library about struggles toward development in third world countries. The documentary explained that in some of the poorest countries in the world, formula companies were aggressively marketing to vulnerable populations. They would distribute formula samples and bottles in areas with terrifying infant morality rates, insisting that bottle-feeding was better for babies, and young mothers would stop breastfeeding because they wanted to do what was best for their newborns. When the samples were gone, if a mother wasn’t able to buy more formula, and discovered that her own milk supply had dried up as a result of not breastfeeding while using the formula, her baby would die in her arms. Sometimes the babies wouldn’t die of starvation, sometimes they’d just be malnourished because the mothers would stretch the formula a long ways by over-diluting it with water. Malnourished babies are, of course, more susceptible to death by disease, though. And, if the mom didn’t have access to clean water, even if she could afford the formula, her baby’s new immune system wouldn’t be able to fend off everything that was in the water babies were drinking mixed with formula instead of their mother’s milk. Many babies, infants and toddlers died as a result of these predatory marketing strategies. This film made an indelible impression on me, and I can still vividly remember, 30 years later, the faces of these grieving mothers and especially their thin, empty, outstretched, pleading arms. Formula companies — I have not forgiven you for this. I see, however, that you’ve been able to put this history behind you and to move on. Well.

In 1981, The World Health Organization drafted the “International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes” to restrict unethical and predatory marketing by the baby food industry. Every country in the world has been asked, by the UN, to adhere to it. Under The Code, formula companies are prohibited from producing “educational” materials about infant feeding that feature brand name products, like the one Similac sent me. The Code prohibits the baby food industry from marketing infant formula in hospitals via free samples to new families. The code prohibits initiating direct or indirect contact with mothers for the purposes of marketing. And the code says nothing at all about marketing adult formula for gestating moms. That is, I believe, a new loophole that Similac’s Abott Laboratories has cooked up to get their product into unborn babies. The “International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes” is revised every 2 years to close loopholes that the baby food industry finds and exploits.

Does prohibiting  the baby food industry from marketing infant formula in hospitals or elsewhere via free samples seem extreme in a wealthy country like Canada? Surely no babies will die as a result of her adult caregiver’s legitimate decision to formula feed, right?  Is marketing infant formula in Canada different from marketing anything else to new moms like booties, bumbos and bras? Newborns can’t make decisions, but aren’t their caregivers solely responsible for making smart and educated consumer choices?

It is known that marketing infant formula is a special case. Formula samples don’t just provide an alternative to human milk; using the formula instead of human milk actually causes the supply of human milk to dwindle and disappear, thus creating a problem, otherwise known as “a market”, where there wasn’t one before. Breastfeeding often requires a learning curve. If you are adverse to struggle, and especially to seeing a baby struggle (and who isn’t?), and you use formula or pressure a mom to use formula at the first sign of struggle, the mom/baby pair are much less likely to learn to breastfeed. Where formula samples are handy and available, breastfeeding rates shrivel and droop.

In a study published in The Lancet, new mothers were given formula samples at the hospital, or not,  and then surveyed at 1 month to see if they were still breastfeeding, or not. The moms who were given formula samples at the hospital were significantly less likely to be breastfeeding (78% vs. 84%). Of those who received formula samples at the hospital, some were also sent direct-mail samples, or not, and of those, the moms who received samples by direct-mail were less likely still to be breastfeeding (18% vs 10%). The study found that the trends revealed were even more significant in vulnerable subgroups: mothers who were less educated, first time mothers, and mothers who were coping with a medical condition.

It’s not about taking away anyone’s choice — formula should be available in pharmacies and other normal channels for families that need it. But new moms and their newborn babies are vulnerable people and if marketing formula to them interferes with their babies’ access to free and healthy human milk, those barriers should simply be removed. As humans, shouldn’t we all have a right to human milk? Isn’t this right more important than big pharmas’ “right” to market to infants? We don’t need to regulate the marketing of medical supplies like catheters or band-aids because people don’t buy them if they don’t need them. Formula is different. If it’s there, it’s much more likely to become needed in a long-term way that is profitable for manufacturers and costly to families and taxpayers. That’s why Similac can afford to send me an expensive box of formula samples. It’s like free drinks at a casino — the odds are stacked against you, baby.

A recent study (2014) looked  at the effect of what was in the hospital discharge bags new moms were sent home with. Moms received either no bag, bags with formula samples or bags with breastfeeding supplies. The moms who received breastfeeding bags or no bags were significantly more likely to be exclusively breastfeeding. Moms who received formula samples were significantly less likely to be breastfeeding. Another study (1992). double-blind and peer reviewed, in the Journal of Human Lactation showed a decrease in exclusive breastfeeding when formula sample “gift packs” were distributed randomly to breastfeeding women. It’s the kind of gift that keeps on taking. From babies. Another (2008) study in the American Journal of Public Health showed similar findings, and the research goes on and on. Formula samples, coupons, advertisements and other “gifts” by baby food industry marketers disrupt the learning process and the confidence required to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding is not “magical.” It is physical. It is also social and cultural. Feeding decisions are highly dependent on what is considered healthy, proper, and normal. The signals women get from the ads they see, from the family members they love and respect, and from their caregivers — whether those messages are verbal (like 98% of women can breastfeed) or non-verbal (but just in case you are someone who can’t, we’ll send you home with some coupons and samples). — matter.

What is the harm of lower breastfeeding rates in industrialized countries?

There is the cost of formula to the families.

There are costs in terms of health care. One lactation specialist calculated the costs of not breastfeeding to the U.S. at over $1 billion dollars in annual health care for the treatment of just four infant medical diagnoses associated with not breastfeeding, including infant diarrhea, a big killer of babies in the third world. A 2001 article in the Journal of American Academy of  Pediatrics calculates that if  “90% of US families could comply with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants.”

Given this information, it might make sense for us, as a nation, to simply pay formula companies not to advertise to new families. But that’s not how it works, is it? We don’t get paid not to prey on infants. This is something we’re just expected to not do. When formula companies don’t play by the rules, who absorbs the costs? Taxpayers, obviously, absorb the economic costs. What about the other ones?

There are economic and there are personal costs. There are, literally, the costs of persons.

Then there are the costs that are much more difficult to quantify. If you speak to a woman who gave birth in the 70s in Canada, when it was routine for moms to be told “you can’t breastfeed,” and for their babies to be summarily given bottles of formula by maternity nurses, you will hear personal stories in which women search for the right words to describe what it feels like to not be “able” at a moment when they are so new and vulnerable, while at the same time caring for someone who is so new and vulnerable.

I’m not new and vulnerable. I’m old hat. That’s how I was able to sit and research this on a Saturday morning.

So how did I get welcomed into the “Similac Club?” Here’s what I think happened:

One of my most popular posts on House of Flurfel is Motherworkin’ Part II: Interruptibility. On October 4th, 2014 a visitor called “Google Authorship Program” visited the post and left the comment:

“Unquestionably believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware of.I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people think about worries that they just don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top and defined out the whole thing without having side-effects, people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks”

Now I do know better but sometimes I am a curious monkey and I replied:

“Thank you, Spambot. I appreciate your unquestionable believe of that which I have stated. The simplest thing to be aware is my favorite reason appear on the internet too! Also, what happens when you reply to Spambots? I prolly shouldn’t…”

A box of formula samples from Pharmacommunications Group Inc. arrived at my home, addressed to me, containing “A special gift for you and baby.”

The blog post is categorized as a “parenting essay,” it contains the words “fussy baby” and even “Nestle coupons” and is tagged with “mothers and work.” It’s about the malaise I felt as a new mom when I couldn’t get lost in writing and research projects like this one.

Similac, a.k.a. Abbot Laboratories, a.k.a. PharmaDirect, a.k.a. Corina Thomas: Similac Club Manger and Proud Mom, do you have Google-bots that comb mommy blogs for new moms lost in a haze of confusion and sleep deprivation with their fussy babies target markets?

Is what you’re doing ethical? I do not think that it is.

I’ve worked in marketing before, and so my educated guess is that the World Health Organization’s Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes seems like some arbitrary hurdle getting between you and your doing your job properly, and not like some rules put in place to protect vulnerable people from predatory marketing. Might you be interested in taking a wider view on this?




A Hard Frost

October 28, 2014

It’s that time of year in Edmonton when the jackrabbits’ fur is not quite brown to blend in with the grass and dirt, and not quite white to blend in with the patchy snow that’s just begun to arrive. It’s the true transition between fall and winter when it dawns on all the little kids that their mom was right, their Halloween costume is going to need to fit over their snow suit.

Parents are dropping their kids off at Elementary school late and spent from the sheer logistical weight of all those extra layers of clothing. Things like soccer balls and gardening tools not yet tucked away look like refuges from a far away land, all helpless and frozen as if in terror to the ground. The walk to school requires at least 10 extra minutes so that the kids can smash the ice on all the puddles and stomp down the grass that’s turned from soft to brittle.

I love the changing of the seasons. Every spring/summer/winter/fall the season it’s not seems so unlikely, nearly impossible. And then there it is. It never fails to surprise me.



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