Maggie Wilson Author

Historical Non-Fiction in Northern Ontario

More About Iron. It’s Child’s Play

The issue of nutritional iron has resurfaced. I’ve been feeling tired lately, and I suspect it is partly due to the change in my diet. Just after Christmas, I stopped eating factory farmed meat. More recently, I changed my iron-rich breakfast of homemade granola (with prunes!) to plain old toast and peanut butter. Why? I was too lazy to make the granola.

Then a Facebook friend posted a link to this news item about a health initiative to mitigate dietary iron deficiency, “a problem that affects about 3.5 billion people worldwide, especially in developing countries.” NGO’s introduced Cambodian cooks to the “lucky iron fish.” When they added it to the pot used to boil drinking water, the water absorbed nutritional iron.

“The fish is thrown into the pot with the day’s drinking water, along with a squeeze of lemon juice (vitamin C helps iron absorption in the gut). Made from scrap iron from a nearby factory, the fish cost $1.50 each to make.

Lab studies have shown that the drinking water provides about 75 per cent of daily iron requirements. More important, it increases the body’s iron stores, so more circulates in the blood. In continuing field studies, people report feeling better and having more energy.”

lucky iron fish“Where can I get one?” I LOL’d. That was the kick in the pants I needed to get my rear in gear and stir up a big ol’ batch o’ grains, nuts, and seeds. (And prunes!)

In some shape or form, iron has been a theme throughout my life. From anemia to iron overload and everywhere in between. The first time I encountered iron in its native state was in the sandbox.

OK. It’s story time:

Dad ran his business from his shop in the basement. That meant that he was home to monitor us and make sure we were fed and watered. The monitoring, however, more often than not fell to the boob tube. We watched children’s programs until the game shows started. If he didn’t intervene, we were good until lunchtime.

Every now and again, he’d exercise parental responsibility and shoo us outside. “Turn of the TV!” he’d say, “Go outside, and get the stink blown off!” If the weather was iffy, we played on the front veranda, otherwise, we had the run of the rear yard where we played Lost Kids or Davy Crockett or Swords.

OK. You need to use your imagination: I'm the eldest holding the sword, and the the younger kids are my brothers. And we had no sheild. The picnic table and swing are correct.

OK. You need to use your imagination: First of all, there’s a board fence around the yard. Pretend that I’m the eldest holding the sword, wearing a pop-top most likely.  Because I did not run around like a heathen!  Replace the cute little girl with a cute little boy and the photo is IDENTICAL!  But we had no shield. Or Raggedy Ann. The picnic table and swing are correct, though!

One time Dad took a more active role in our play. He came up from the basement and told us to come outside to the sandbox.

He said, “I have a job for you to do.”

This was interesting!

“Look,” he said, “This is a magnet, and this is a metal nail. See how the nail sticks to the magnet?”

This was VERY interesting!

iron filings“Now, look what happens when I do this!” He passed the magnet through the sand and when he lifted it to show us, it was covered in tiny black particles. “I want you to fill this pill bottle with these metal filings. Can you do that for me?”

Well, yeah!

And so began a lifelong love affair with science.

(cue sound-clip of a phonograph needle screeching as it is yanked off the LP.)


And so began a 20-minute-long love affair with science. I filled about a third of the tiny pill bottle, stood up, dusted off my hands and went inside to watch the Flintstones.



Categories: In Other News, Mom and Dad


38 replies

  1. Love it, Maggie – particularly taken with the expression ‘rear in gear’ which I have gone all these years without knowing! xxx


  2. “Rear in gear” was one of my mom’s favourite expressions and it still escapes my lips on a regular basis.
    What made me laugh was the 20 minute fascination with science. Wow – you held out much longer than I did!! I’m really pathetic in the category of all things science. I prefer to think of it as magic and let it go at that 🙂


    • I wonder if the saying is a regional one? I’m not sure where I picked up the habit.

      Glad you got a chuckle. I do enjoy the sciences (good thing for a mineral collector, you think?).

      I think what got me all those years ago was the fact that on some level I saw through to Dad’s game. A magnet and some sand: keep the kids occupied for hours and hours!


  3. Don’t know about a lucky iron fish but I have always eaten a lot of watercress for iron…or maybe because I really like watercress. Another very enjoyable post.


    • Hi Simon – thanks for reading and remarking.

      Watercress is one plant that has never made it to my plate. I don’t know why exactly.

      In our garden, we deliberately allow lambs quarters to take hold. A great substitute for spinach.

      The leaves have an interesting texture – water beads up on the surface. Reminds me of GoreTex – a fabric that repels moisture.

      A benefit with the lamb’s quarters is that if allowed to flower and go to seed, the winter birds LOVE it. Found this out last winter and I’m glad that we had several of the plants. It was a very tough season.


  4. I have really weak nails despite a good diet and often wonder wether I’m low on iron, must scour ebay for one of those fish!


  5. I get kicked out of donating at the blood bank all the time for low iron so if you do track down where to buy one of these, I’d like to know too!

    I’ve used “rear in gear” and I’m from a different region of the world. Maybe it was introduced by migrants from a particular culture?


    • Hi there, thanks for stopping by!

      If I find a source for the lucky fish, I will certainly let you know! Cooking in a cast iron vessel will serve the same purpose. However, if it is properly cured, there will be little benefit.

      Apparently, when the aid organizations introduced the concept to the third world countries, at first they tried an ordinary disk of iron, but it didn’t catch on. Because the fish is considered a lucky icon, there was more acceptance. I think I’d resist having an iron nail floating around in my soup, too!

      Will have to see if I can suss out this “rear in gear” thing. I just tossed it off when I wrote the post, without a second thought!


  6. So funny that “rear in gear” has taken off… completely besides the point of the post! We, too, heard rear in gear down in Sunny Cal… maybe it’s a generational thing, eh?

    Can you get iron from your lambs quarters? (Cuz I know you can get it from spinach but since you sub it just wondering.)

    Do you remember Wooly Willy? (Google it if you need to; I won’t spam you with a link.) Great fun with iron filings.



    • Hi Melissa! Yup, lamb’s quarters and callaloo aka amaranth are both good sources of iron.

      Regarding dietary iron, besides the issue of availability in the digestive tract and needing vitamin C for uptake: vegetarians supposedly need to double the RDI of iron if it is acquired from non meat sources.

      I did Google Mr. Willy. I recall seeing him somewhere in my childhood travels!


  7. Fascinating, and so clever to use a ‘lucky’ fish!


    • It’s so easy, isn’t it? I love how low-tech it is. There’s an element (no pun intended) of “black magic” (again no pun) since the people were comfortable using only iron that was shaped into something they recognized as charmed.


  8. Don’t usually truly lol, but I did at the end of your post, with the twenty-minute Science Wunderkind. Very funny wrapup!


  9. ‘Blow the stink off’ takes my fancy!’ Love the sound of the fish, but haven’t heard of one before. Shall look forward to hearing if you find one and if it works. Enjoyed your post Maggie!


  10. I don’t know if it’s true but my mother cooked in cast iron pans and said that it transferred iron. Sounds like the same concept!


  11. And I thought your dad had another purpose for collecting the iron! I think I;ll keep that one in mind when I’m trying to shoo the kids outside.
    I’m laughing too at the ‘rear in gear’. I use it too but now I’m wondering where it originated.

    Gawd I went away to google the expression in the middle of this comment, couldn’t find the origin but found a WP blog called ‘Rear In Gear’ and then started reading a post and telling her how I found her through you. No wonder I never catch up in my reading. lol


    • Well, thanks for persevering! Glad that you made it! That’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while… all of the detours involved in writing a comment! 🙂

      Dad let on that he need the filings for his work – he was an electronics repairman – radios and TV and the like. I sensed that I had been “had’ when he was not concerned that I quit my job.


  12. I don’t wanna tell Grandma how to blow eggs, so excuse me if I speak out of turn. There are lots of reasons for fatigue, and iron deficiency is only one of them. (Anyway, I took iron and it made me tired.)May I suggest a visit to a holistic practitioner who can consider the whole you? Sounds trite, but they can pick up small things that we overlook. Just a suggestion, dear heart. xxx 🙂


  13. Ah, the sandbox… a landscape of nothing but sand with an eight foot horizon and a child can spend a summer there building worlds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I recall, ours wasn’t quite so generously proportioned. Which meant on occasion a squabble or two broke out as we three kids vied for sandbox supremacy. I was (and still am, as it happens) the big sister. And big sisters rule the sandbox!


  14. As for fish and iron, I have a little story. 🙂

    Down the road from us, lives a macho-man, the kind of guy who decorates his house with the heads of hapless critters. A few years ago, he spent a small fortune stocking his backyard pond with snow-white carp. Unfortunately, he failed to account for the iron-rich water in our area. His carp are now a shocking shade of pink.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a funny story. I like how comeuppances come up that way.

      I had no idea that iron would have that effect on a fish’s pigmentation. Interesting to note, thanks!


      • The iron stains everything it touches. Left untreated the water will turn all whites into pinks. There are a lot of guys around here that toss their tighty whities on a regular basis.

        Keep in mind that the glaciers picked up a good portion of the Iron Range and dropped it all over the Midwest.


        • I knew that the rust stains would make a mess of clothing, not to mention the gaggingly awful stench in the water. But I had no idea that it would alter a fish’s outsides. Makes sense, now that I think of it.



  1. From the Back Seat of the Marl-Mobile – The Zombies Ate My Brains

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