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Spring = Pussywillows

April 8, 2014

Spring doesn’t photograph well at this latitude. Because it looks just the same as winter.
It feels different, but it looks just the same. The sun setting on an March day in the Edmonton River Valley:
Until this happens:

Pussywillows! Every year I snip a bouquet. Every year, my feet get soaked getting to them.

Dogwood Dogwood


House of Flurfel

Spring Break and the Voices in my Head:

April 3, 2014

There are some angel voices that I can tune into when I need them:  one is my beautifully accented yoga teacher saying, “Marlene, you are doing soooooar awehersome.” Another I’ve been summoning to get me through spring break with the kids:
We were at the City Hall, once upon a time, picking up a communities in bloom award for the community garden: so you’d think I’d be feeling all smug and self-righteous or something, but I’d just made my small children last through a lot of polite sitting and polite clapping and polite speeches about… I don’t remember. I remember the sound of their young, shrill voices bouncing through the glass pyramids, I remember the swivel of heads when my kids made noise at inappropriate moments (psssst… all the moments were inappropriate) and I remember the librarian-like frowns that the sudden and unpredictable movements they made were garnering from the crowd we were standing out in (pssst… all my children’s movements are sudden and unpredictable). Someone had given them plastic promotional toys, produced in China, that said something about conserving energy or some such, and they span around delightfully when you tossed them into the air on their way to quickly breaking and becoming trash.

“These are outside toys,” I insisted, but their counter-argument was to simply to take turns dashing under chairs and tables then throwing their spinners gleefully up into the glassy peaks while I wrestled the toy away from their sibling. By the time I had them all gathered up, children and toys, I was mortified and entirely certain that everyone was staring at me and wondering why my kids weren’t behaving like they do at the end of Nanny 911 episodes after they’ve been wisely bribed and properly threatened and smartly edited. I wanted out of that scene and into the open air. If I could just get from point A to point B without knocking over any displays about sustainability…
I was herding them through the gloom and the dour when an elderly man across the hall waved to me and made the international sign for “I need to tell you something.” I signaled back with the international sign for, “I’d love to hear you out but, gosh, we’re in a rush,” and he signaled back, “Don’t be silly, wait right there, I’m coming over now.” He must have been at least in his late nineties, and very slow to drag himself over after his walker, foot by foot across the vastness of City Hall. I considered dashing away, but my children’s habit of proceeding through a building in an… unlinear way made us even slower then the gentlemen. I braced myself for his arrival and the dispensing of his wisdom. I was pretty sure it would be something along the lines of, “Your children hurt my hearing aides,” or, “When we did things properly women just stayed home so children didn’t bother anyone,” or perhaps, “Ma’am, your children are bad because you aren’t even trying.  You should try.” Oooooooh, that’s the worst. That really gets me. But he didn’t say that.

What he said, when he finally inched his way across the tiled floor, beckoned me closer with a bony, age-spotted finger, and held me with his glittering eye, leaning over his walker to speak, was:
“You want them lively like that. The ones that are dull in the eyes are no good.”

Remember that, now: You want ’em lively like that. The ones that are dull in the eyes are no good. 

Happy spring!

This video combines two of my favourite things:

April 1, 2014

Deconstructing stock photo images and satire.

Year of the Horse, Of Course

January 31, 2014

Happy Lunar New Year. Predictions for the Chinese New Year promise a fast 364 at full-gallop, tail and mane aloft in a rush of speed. One of the reasons I adore Chinese New Year is because I’m slow. Or at least I’m aiming for slow. It’s a process, really, not something I could reasonably say I’ve achieved. In any case it takes a while after Jan 1st for me to reflect and ponder the whole “New Year” thing and by the time Chinese New Year rolls around I’m more or less ready with resolutions and resolves. Also, animal metaphors just work for me. They’re more meaningful than numbers. This year, the year of the horse, I’m focusing on the value of process over product. This year, I’m focusing on mindful. This year, I’m focusing on slooooooow. Or, I should say, doing things at the right speed, which is sometimes fast and sometimes slow.


Click for printable colouring page if you happen to know someone who would like to colour a horse decorated with sea shells and dolphins.

Good-bye Year of the Dragon (2013). I very much enjoyed reading Cressida Cowell’s fantastic “How to Train Your Dragon” series to the kids — wonderful books. I very much appreciate all the beautiful flying creatures my kids have drawn for me this year, all the imaginary dragon’s eggs that have been sat on and hatched in forts and nests in my home this year, and the many conversations about the merits of, say, flame power vs. water power in respect to the fighting strength of dragons. The House of Flurfel has been full of dragons in 2013.

This winter in 2013  our baby turned 4, thus making us a baby-free household by this important standard:


If you aren’t familiar with this “no unhappy babies” symbol, it is on almost everything ever manufactured on this great Earth from toys to bicycles to pajamas to instruct watchful parents to keep said manufactured good away from their babies, lest the baby try to swallow the product whole, thus making the baby unhappy, possibly to the point of death. It seems to me that our world, albeit filled with dragons, became quite a bit calmer and less stressful as soon as those “no 0-3 warnings” became inapplicable to us. It seems to me that life is markedly easier when you don’t have to worry about someone swallowing your bicycle. Or lego. Or pebbles on the beach.

I have become three things in the year 2013 that I was not in the year 2012: An Ashtanga yoga do-er, a ukulele player, and a university instructor. I love all of these things, they have each transformed me, and it’s difficult for me to imagine myself without them now. Funny how that goes. A lot can happen in a year, day by day, increment by increment. Here’s to process; it’s a beautiful thing.

I am converting the room that was our nursery into office space. I’m taking it slow — first I repaired the drywall where the nursing rocker knocked so many little dents into the plaster. Now I’m painting over the “night fury” dragon that someone sketched on the wall with a Sharpie marker. It will take at least one more coat. Goodbye year of the Dragon. Hello year of the Horse. Horses run. Horses work hard when it’s time to work hard. Horses know how to lean into a job. Horses know how to enjoy a meadow full of flowers.

Dragons are lovely with their flight, their sheen, their speed and their tempers, especially when they’ve been tamed. I’m all for the Year of the Horse though. Horses don’t just gallop. They walk, trot, and canter too. They go the right speed.

Some mantras for Marlene:  “This will take as long as it takes.” “We will get there when we get there.” “Breathe.” “Why does everyone get to go to Mexico except for me?” Oh wait, not that last one.

Here’s to ploddingness! Here’s to sniffing roses and munching on daisies! Here’s to things taking a while to sink in and to getting them just right! Here’s to process!  Here’s to change! Happy Lunar New Year.


Reasons to Bike Commute in YEG

November 27, 2013

Partly in response to’s 10 Things I Want my Daughter to Know about Working Out…

Reasons to bike commute to work in Edmonton in November/December/January/February/March:

And the kids are watching my every move…


High Tea at Four for four who are Fours

November 23, 2013

Today, to celebrate Josephine’s 4th birthday, we served high tea to four four-year olds at four p.m. (approximately)


I put on heels and pearls; Papa Flurfel put on a suit jacket and tie. We got the good tea cups out and the girls found a spot for each of Grandma’s lace doilies.

The little ones were totally freaked out by all the formality of being served by grown-ups. “What’s the catch?” they seemed to wonder. They each asked to have their clementines peeled and then we didn’t make them eat their clementines. No catch. There were some spills especially  trying to master the pinky-in-the-air tea-cup hold. One asked to be excused from the table almost immediately. I told her she needed to eat a cupcake first.

My favourite moment by far:  when I set down the creamer set, each one took a sip of milk from the creamer, and tasted a spoonful of sugar from the sugar dish, and then passed it on politely to the next person to do the same.

… is all we need.

November 18, 2013

I was marking papers at the kitchen table the other day when the boy came barging in and emphatically said:

“Mommy. All we need is a jar and a string.”

And I responded, “But, Oliver, I thought all we needed was love.”

And he was so disgusted and confused and annoyed that I would say such a simple-minded, puzzlingly daft thing to him when he was clearly on a very important quest — on the verge of something big.

“No, Mommy!” he cried, throwing his hands up in the air. “Why would you say something so ridiculous? We don’t need love. Love? We have that. All the time. 100 percent infinity love. What we need is a string and a jar.”

Oh. My. Heart.

I sure do love my kids and I sure am enjoying leaning into a new career. It’s a lot in the air, though, all the time, and it’s terribly easy for me to worry that I’m being pulled so far in every direction that I’m doing a horrible job of everything important, and only a passable job of  the things aren’t. I’ve got quite a bit of evidence amassed, actually, to support this claim; I’ve noticed, for example, that other preschoolers appear to have their hair combed, at least at the start of the day, and… well…I could go on. But… clearly… I am not failing in every way. At least I am keeping that love bucket full up and that is a big, important thing to do. I also have a stash of clean jars and some bits of saved string here and there.

Parents: can you think of one awesome thing to say about yourself as a parent? If not, please ask your kids for help with this.

House of Flurfel

Goodbye to a Best Friend

July 30, 2013

Well. We had to say goodbye to our dog, Gus, who was a very good dog. He had toe cancer which is more aggressive than it sounds. He died on Canada Day and is buried in a farmer’s field at Calling Lake, which  is a good final resting place for a good dog.  Have I used the word “good” enough yet? No, I have not.

These are some of my best memories of Gus:

When we brought Gus home he was too little to climb the stairs. He was cute and fluffy and small. We immediately took him on a back country hiking adventure through Whitehorse Wildland Park. We bought a tent from MEC with a vestibule that we thought our new Gus would sleep in for years to come. The vestibule didn’t work out. It was raining and he was terrified and tiny and trembling. He preferred to sleep in the tent with us, warm and safe. We couldn’t handle his whimpering and trembling in the great big vestibule all by his lonesome.  So there were three of us in the tent instead of two. When we got got home, after hiking to the top of a mountain where we saw a wolverine in a meadow, Gus was big and strong enough to climb the stairs. The next summer, he was too big for the vestibule. We didn’t fit into the tent the way I thought we would, the three of us.

Gus Bath

When Gus was a very young dog I was lifting him out of the hatchback of our car when he bit my wrist. He didn’t hurt me. He applied exactly enough pressure with his jaw to say, “This is very serious, stop and look what you are doing,” but not enough to hurt. His skinny little leg was caught in the metal latch and if I had lifted him out quickly, it would have probably snapped. But I didn’t lift him: I stopped and looked and saw what the problem was because he communicated to me so effectively and gently. Oh, Gus.

When I was expecting Hazel, Gus was driven by some odd instinct to dig holes underneath me whenever I sat down. Birthing holes, as far as we could tell. We thought it was funny. But when Hazel arrived Gus seemed so genuinely hurt and confused that she was not a puppy. For a whole week (which is a long time in dog years) he pretended she and I did not exist. He was bent out of shape and behaving more like a cat than a dog. Then one morning he heard me in the nursery and ran up the stairs to say hello. When he saw that I was holding Hazel it jogged his memory that he was supposed to be hurt, upset and betrayed, not all friendly and happy to see me like he was every day prior to her arrival. He stared at the floor for quite some time. I could almost hear the wheels turning between his floppy ears. Finally, he decided love was the answer and he gave the new baby a good sniff, licked my knee, and laid down at my feet. Then we were officially a family of four.


Hazel and Gus really got a long. Especially when she started flinging solid foods around the kitchen. When the next two babies came along, Gus took it in stride. He’d already been demoted from baby to family dog and he knew that babies grew into food-flinging toddlers and would eventually learn to throw a ball.


Kids are fun, and so are dogs, and so they get along. They find lots of things to be in cahouts about. Oliver’s cry has always been of a particular pitch to set Gus howling. And so when I’d do something mean, like insist on no chocolate milk for breakfast, Oliver would cry and Gus would too so that the house would be full of the most mournful wails and doleful eyes. Other times they’d quietly set to emptying a box of milkbones until the silence would alert me.

And of course there was all this:



That was fun. I loved it. Gus loved it. But the crazy energy of those races can’t compare, in my heart, to all the quiet days and nights of training we did on quiet trails, just him and I, working together to move across a winter landscape like nothing else mattered than going fast.

Then, of course, as dogs do, he started to slow down.

But Gus, you newshound, I love that this appeared in the Edmonton Journal just this spring:


You were too old to be pulling, and we all knew it, but a reporter was looking for things to take photos of in the slush and saw me setting up our kicksled this Spring and assumed it was because Gus was going to pull it. He wasn’t. A kicksled is a very human powered thing that just really looks like a dogsled. But the reporter didn’t know that and Gus knew that the reporter didn’t know that, and when he got out his huge camera and asked to take a photo you totally showed off. As soon as the reporter started packing up his equipment, all the lines went slack until I untied them so we wouldn’t trip over them. But you really gave’er for this shot. And you appeared on the front page with your fur all back-lit in the Spring sunshine and no-one could tell you weren’t in your prime, you made sure of it.

It’s been difficult to say goodbye to this friend.


Even though, saying goodbye is the most predictable thing about owning a dog there can be. Is it worth it?

Hell yes.

Thank you, Gus, for approximately 4200 walks, during which you were enthusiastic about the weather, the company, and the whole idea of walking every single time.


Thanks for bringing back those 12,782 sticks and 32,977 balls.


You were a very good dog.


Waffles Chez Flurfel

May 20, 2013

You might subscribe to the silly assumption that just because we are Flurfels we ‘prolly  have the best waffle recipe going. Well. That assumption is entirely correct. And some of you have been asking me for the recipe so here it is:


3 1/2 cups milk

1 1/2 cups cooked pumpkin

3/4 cup vegetable oil

4 large eggs

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups pumpkin & sunflower seeds or other seeds/nuts


First, mix the wet ingredients in a bowl.

3 1/2 cups milk + 4 eggs…



Lightly beaten. And add yer pumpkin.

I love growing pumpkins and like to use our own home grown, roasted and squished pumpkin puree. But a can of pumpkin works too. 1 1/2 cups. I’ve used less here because that’s how much I had in the freezer.



And 3/4 cup vegetable oil. We use canola.

Give that a good mix and get out another bowl for your dry ingredients.


We combine white and whole wheat flours to make 4 1/2 cups.

Add 1/2 cup packed brown sugar…


2 tablespoons of baking powder…


1 teaspoon baking soda…



2 teaspoons cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.


Mix all your dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients to the dry. This is an important step that I almost invariably get in the wrong order and nothing bad ever happens.


Then batterize:


And then sneak in your nuts. 1 1/2 cups.


We like pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Raw and shelled, of course.


On this particular day we were out of seeds so I used a combination of chopped almonds and ground flax.

Add nuts to the batter just before waffelizing. Mix.

Then, waffelate:




House of Flurfel endorses the use of maple syrple on ’em.

Also, make lots and freeze them!


They toast up great.

Pumpkin yum.

The Flurfels

Did I Mention Happy Earth Day?

April 30, 2013

Happy Earth Day. I know — Earth Day was on Monday. But we’re talking about a whole planet, can I have the week to think about it before I post?

You’ve heard of the slow food movement, I hope. I like to think of myself as a slow blogger.

Hazel’s half birthday falls on Earth Day. She reminds us each year and we mark her height on the wall with sharpie. These past six months, she grew 1 cm. I would have guessed more. I suppose the real growth spurts tend to get rolling right about now, though, don’t they? The kids are eating like gorillas.

April 22nd is not a date Edmontonians would choose to celebrate Earth Day, is it?

I get why other Earthlings have it scheduled for Spring — Spring is green grass and sunshine and hope. Except in Edmonton. In Edmonton late April is snow banks receeding away from sodden muck. It’s snow mold on wet ground and swathes of road crush left behind on dusty roads and boulevards. It is months of litter hidden in the anonymity of snow suddenly revealed. It is occasional flurries. It can be hard to keep your chin up in Edmonton, late April. Nevermind getting all rah rah about Earth. I snapped this yesterday on my way from the mothership to the grocery store:


Not even instagram can make that look good.

Edmonton hasn’t been celebrating Earth Day in any official way these past few years. I don’t know why. This year Edmonton’s unofficial Earth Day event was in the asphalt parking lot of a store off a busy street. I’m not criticizing the people who organized it in any way, but, well, sigh.

The real Earth Day news, according to the Flurfels, was Putrella blooming at the Muttart Conservatory. That was nice. Putrella is a Corpse Flower. Aptly named because the meter wide and meter tall blossom smells like rotten flesh. Think dumpster full of fish guts near a boat launch in July:


What a beaut. Very exciting. And not just to us nature-nerds — there were people lined up for hours outside the conservatory to catch a whiff of Putrella who only reeks for a couple days. Thousands of people. Lined up to smell a flower. There was even a fiddler.

It made me happy to see so many people excited about a putrid blossom.

The week before we were at the WEM aquarium and an interpreter was telling us about sharks. When she got to the part about how sharks, a 400 million year-old species that survived every mass extinction to date, are now endangered due to human causes — finning, pollution and habitat loss — my Hazel shed a few real tears. Why does my kid care so earnestly?


Because she is a sensitive person who understands biology at a level of depth that often surprises me. She loves animals and she simply has not built up a thick layer of environmental fatigue like the rest of us have.  She is utterly convinced that the Earth is a precious and beautiful place that should be protected and cherised. She does not understand why she has inherited a legacy of environmental destruction and why the people she’s inherited it from don’t observe some basic rules such as “don’t shit where you eat” and “don’t poison and then eat the hand that feeds you.”

And it’s not just her, it’s the boy too. I took him to see this at the Imax:


Oh, dear. He softly wept during the opening footage of glaciers crumbling into the ocean, just as soon as Morgan Freeman narrated that the Earth’s beautiful crown of ice is melting away to nothing. By the time we reached the part where a baby polar bear dies of starvation because the polar ice has shrunk too far away from the seals for him to be able to swim for his supper, Oliver let out the most sorrowful wails.

Is this simply terrible parenting on my part? Am I a jerk who shouldn’t be exposing my kids to such depressing information about the world because it’s simply not age appropriate? Is this because I breastfed them too long and have an unhealthy infatuation with growing organic vegetables?

To my credit I did ask at the front desk before buying our Imax tickets if the film was suitable for 4-year olds. I was assured that it was. It’s just nature footage, I was told.

Even if I refused to read all the non-fiction books about sharks and such that Hazel brings home from her school library, and prohibited the watching of their favourite PBS show in our home, and burned The Lorax and stopped growing kale in the community garden and serving it for supper, and even if I showed a general disdain for nature and yelled at them not to get dirt on their clothes and didn’t swoon with rapture when we went on hikes and saw things like baby foxes, and even if we traded in our canoe for a case of beer and some fireworks and yabbered on about how the economy is something that people need to nurture and obey instead of vice versa and even if I was utterly convinced that the way a policy affects the next revenue quarter is more important than how it affects the next generation, even then I think my children would notice that a bum deal is going down.

What can we tell them? Can we buy them off with a stuffie of a panda bear and a “real fruit snack”?

What’s the solution? I know it’s not putting our faith in this guy:


He is NOT on it, people.

The solution definately isn’t to get rid of scientists so they stop uncovering such depressing information.

Nor is the solution to just seperate ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically from nature and hope that works. Even if that was possible, it’s not desirable.

Playing outside is healthy. I think we can all agree on that. So why do the parks always seem so hauntingly empty? Have you noticed this too? Does it bug you?


In this case, the playground is being ignored because the puddle is way more interesting. Or, as Oliver kept shouting gleefully, “EPIC PUDDLE! E-PIC!”

Solutions necessarily have more to do with hope than despair.

I think the solution, if there is one, has something to do with letting kids muck about. I think it has to do with knowledge and ingenuity. Keeping chins up. Despair isn’t useful even if the hurt is real. Beyond that? It’s murky as an Alberta lake in August.

I would like ask Stephen Harper how he would explain the crumbling of polar ice caps and drowning baby polar bears to a 4-year old? I would like to hear his tips on convincing a 7-year old, ahem, 7 and a half year old, that her concerns about animal habitat are unneccessary.

Cause I could use a little help. I can assure you, I do not have it all figured out over here.

Puddles and hugs, Earthling. That’s really all I got.

Did I mention Happy Earth Day?