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between holidays

2018 December 11
by Rachel Turiel

Speaking of holiday ambivalence, I was in a bit of anguish recently over our American canonization of Santa as hero of, I don’t know…consumerism, punishment and reward? Also, feeling sad about the transformative life-force of generosity being co-opted by obligatory spending. (Did you come here for a bit of buzzkill?) And, Dan said a bunch of confusing things to me, something about looking to wise elders, the beauty of trees inside, and maybe he even mentioned pumpkin pie.

Suddenly something clicked.

“Are you saying I can approach Christmas honoring my own choices for authenticity, integrity, and generosity, instead of putting energy into my disdain around societal messages?”

Dan looked at me like, Did I say that? And then decided that “yes!” he did.

“That’s so helpful, honey,” I said, picturing weaving simplicity into our holidays, only buying gifts out of love and joy; celebrating baby Jesus as proxy for all children having inherent worth; and focusing on the gift of togetherness in this cold, dark time.

And then the next day Rose said, “I don’t mean to sound selfish, but aren’t we supposed to get a present each night of Hanukkah?” And then I put “buy more Hanukkah presents” on my to-do list. Oy.

 

Boiling the skull of the deer Col shot, possibly the least complicated thing happening this season.

The finished skull interestingly displayed in a co-designed space of two children. More complicated.

In other signs that everything is proceeding completely as expected, Dan has created a computer photo folder called “best bucks.” He’d been driving around during mule deer mating season observing the hormonally-swollen bucks parading around, assembling harems and assessing their ladies for receptivity. It was a very exciting time for him, being self-appointed judge of the La Plata County best bucks pageant.

Apparently, we are creating the new cookbook “How to use up 125 squash in a month.” It’s very specific to, well, our house. We’ve settled on one recipe. Pumpkin pie (but call it squash pie and you will lose two crucial eaters). 2 pies/week = just about right.

My 11-year old has a to-do list. She really values organization. I noticed the bottom item was “But most of all have fun.” Whew.

Sometimes Dan and I communicate important thoughts in notes for each other. Found this recently.

When Rose asked me what I wanted for Hanukkah, I told her, “just for you to be completely satisfied on Dec 25th.” #smallgoals. But really, all I want is to be able to live in alignment with my own values while holding full care for my children while they grapple with the inevitable pain that seems built into many of our cultural norms. #moresmallgoals.

Col asked me recently if I could choose any superpower, what I’d choose. “To be able to empathize with anyone, anywhere, anytime,” I replied, easily.

He sighed, visions of retractable finger-claws and telepathic mischief evaporating. “That’s so boring.”

“It could save your life,” I pointed out. “It could save Christmas.” And truly, it has, here and here.

This morning Dan and I had our usual circular Christmas conversation.

Dan: “So, I’ve been researching cameras and found some that could be great for a Christmas present for Col.”

Me: “Have you ever heard him mention interest in owning a camera?”

Dan: “No. But the point is to surprise him.”

Me: “But what if the surprise costs $50 and he doesn’t really take to it?”

Dan: “Good cameras are between $100 – $200.”

I’m as confused as ever. Seriously. Please advise.

Last night at the dharma center, teacher Erin Treat told the story of Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill. “And really, Sisyphus adored that boulder. He could have just walked away and gone home,” she said, pausing to let the truth of that sink in. He could have freed himself. “What could we all put down, and just start walking home?” (home being metaphor for your heart), she asked the assembled mass of us. I know what you’re thinking, dear reader. There’s something here for me. Thank you for believing in me; I’m working on it.

There’s so much daily magic that arises spontaneously. Last Friday night the kids asked what our plans were and I said, “lighting Hanukkah candles and playing board games.” I waited for the riot, but everyone nodded happily. Col liked to say, in his best radio announcer voice, each night of Hanukkah, “time to light the candles for Jewish Christmas!” And then he’d glance at me to determine what level of mom-provocation he’d reached. So I’d pummel him. And then we’d celebrate all the miracles. Including the tremendous gift of being home together bathed in laughter, light bickering, and connection. I’m guessing this won’t always be our collective vision of a good Friday night. (Now that Hanukkah is over, Col likes to serenade me with “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” Assault by Christmas music?)

We’re back in hackysack season! Best way to close out an evening, I mean at least until 8pm when we’re all in bed:

The magic of filling the house with beloveds:

Same beloveds, six years ago:

The magic of everything familiar (squash, snow, small people):There’s also the daily magic of mornings: coffee maker burbling, the sky blueing at the cusp of dawn, snow settled in the north faces, magpies snitching deer hair from the pile of hide scrapings, and small people stumbling out of their room looking for snuggles. These are the gifts I’d like to unwrap every day.

Dystopias and utopias

2018 November 21
by Rachel Turiel

I’m feeling a bit ambivalent about Thanksgiving this year. I mean celebrating one supposedly inclusive harvest season amidst a generational history of settlers who stole land, committed genocide and aimed to destroy fully functional, community-centered, earth-connected indigenous cultures is like sprinkling a little baking soda on a landfill and calling it a success. Why aren’t we talking about the truth? I broached this topic with the kids, wondering if they had the whole picture. “You mean how Columbus was a murderer?” Col asked. Yeah, pretty much that vein of history.

This is not to say don’t enjoy your holiday fixings; we are grateful to be included in our friends’ gathering. I’m just saying the more we can all acknowledge the devastating truth of history, and its present-day repercussions, the more likely it is that we may choose to stop perpetuating oppression.

In other news, Col shot his first buck deer. Hard to say if this was a bigger moment for Col or Dan. In his typical understated way, Col returned from the hunt, flushed and adrenalined and bloodstained, told me the whole story, ate a couple tacos and then settled in with a comic book on the couch while my heart leaped around my ribcage. We’ve been enjoying deer roasts and deer burgers and celebrating the whole, wild reality of this 13 yr old boy feeding the family.

Also, I got a piece published in the New York Times. It’s about navigating the complexities of raising children who want to fit in and be accepted while their parents (that would be us) live a pretty unconventional lifestyle. I’m really honored to share this essay, and really bewildered by some of the comments. My favorite thus far is the person who with all seriousness says it’s OK to not wear makeup or shave my legs, but not having a smartphone is taking it too far.

Col is working on a series of drawings of retro technology, including my first computer, which almost sent me to the chiropractor, hefting it to the electronics recycling.

Interestingly, Rose just completed a dystopian/utopian literature project in which she created a dystopia where people outsourced their humanity to their phones. After the historic “screen attack” which killed most of the community (except the few who “threw their phones from the tallest building smashing them into a million pieces,”) the utopia was born, where people spoke face to face, solved their problems nonviolently and relearned practical skills like farming, hunting and using medicinal herbs. Slay me. After her exhibition, she came home and asked to watch a video about making a hygienic toothbrush holder out of a tennis ball. Complexity.

This was a big year in which I trusted the kids to monitor their own candy consumption, which meant deep breathing through food coloring. We all survived. #Jewishsanta

And I’ve been reading, lots of reading. First I read this fascinating memoir written by a man whose son nearly died from a meth addiction. Then I read the son’s memoir. Both were horrifyingly riveting. Also, this heartbreakingly beautiful memoir, written by Anthony Ray Hinton, who spent 30 years on death row before being exonerated. His crime, you will see, is that he was black and poor. Note: I like to link to Amazon so you can see the reviews, however, consider spending your $ at independent bookstores, or this online book retailer that donates to literacy programs worldwide, or go to your local library, or borrow from me.

Our 126 frost-damaged winter squash are starting to mold in the root cellar. Thus, we’ve become very serious about winter baking. Squash steams on the stovetop and bakes in the oven, continually. “I only eat pumpkin now,” Dan told me while tucking into a plate of pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread.

With love,

Rachel

Willingness is not a fixed state *or* Playing the game where everyone wins

2018 November 2
by Rachel Turiel

It’s a Saturday morning and I am thinking of nothing more than sipping coffee while the trees outside flare into deeper intensities of their autumn selves. Later, there may be a bit of tomato processing on the agenda, or some casual bathroom cleaning, not the kind you’d do for company, but perhaps an offhand drive-by with a sponge. It’s just Rosie and me at home, moving in our separate though intersecting orbits.

Except, Rosie is actually whizzing around at a meteoric pace, taking up and shedding activities, the byproducts scattered like fallen leaves about the house. Just as I’m sighting the rare animal of an unstructured day, Rosie wonders aloud what she will possibly find to do until her friend Fawn arrives later in the afternoon.

“Maybe,” Rosie begins brightly, “you could drive to Fawn’s, pick her up and bring her back here.” Driving 45 minutes roundtrip when Rose’s friend has a ride into town, though much later, conflicts with my leaf-gazing non-agenda. This day that unspools in spectacular openness for me, is for Rose, tauntingly boundless, a deep chasm of boredom to overcome before arriving at the fun and connection that friendship provides.

Rose and Fawn do exactly what you’d expect two eleven-year-old girls to do: they get on the phone and discuss. Shortly after, Rose puts the phone on speaker and says, “So, Mama, we’re wondering what’s the reason that you don’t want to pick Fawn up early. Like, is it the cost of gas? Or, the extra sitting in the car? Or, do you have other plans? And, we’re wondering if we can offer you some gas money or in some way make it work better for you.”

Listening to Rosie and Fawn show consideration for me, express interest in making my life more wonderful, I feel, in one remarkable moment, my willingness shift. My focus widens from preserving my own agenda to contributing to my daughter’s sense of joy and connection. I think of the advice of Marshall Rosenberg, developer of nonviolent communication: ”Instead of playing the game ‘Making Life Wonderful,’ we often play the game called ‘Who’s Right.’ Do you know that game? It’s a game where everybody loses.” Like a magical formula of physics in which the more you give the more is available, Rose’s willingness to care for my needs creates more willingness in me to care for hers.

I don’t need gas money (I’m picturing a handful of coins unearthed from couch cushions), but I ask the girls if they’re open to helping me with some chores, the ones which I’ll have less time for because of the drive. They are thrilled and grateful to be meeting up six hours early. They are empowered by their ability to shift the power dynamics of an adult-child relationship with their own care and compassion. They say yes to my request, wholeheartedly. Their willingness to help me contains no obligation nor resentment, and neither does my decision to make the extra drive. In fact, I now see the 45-minute drive as a sweet opportunity to enjoy my daughter and her delightful friend, as well as an easy way to contribute to their happiness, which actually boosts my happiness because we’re wired for interdependence; interdependence runs on mutual generosity. It’s the game where everyone wins.

In typical parenting paradigms, in which a child gets rewarded for behavior deemed “good,” the child may be robbed of the beneficial feelings generated by true willingness to give to others or contribute to positive family culture. This willingness creates the scaffolding that supports cooperation, creative problem-solving, fearless honesty, and the trust that everyone’s needs matter. This is the fuel I want our family to run on, rather than the hope of reward or fear of punishment.

Back at our house, Fawn chops the last of the frost-rescued tomatoes. Rosie cleans the bathroom until it gleams. The wind flings sunset-colored chokecherry leaves to the ground where they shine like the tree’s own reflection. The beauty of this life is almost too much to bear. My coffee is now cold, but the rest of me is filled with warmth.

the fruit buffet and other urgencies

2018 September 25
by Rachel Turiel

I am making peach-plum jam, not because it sounds like a lovely combination (though it is), but because the plums are at full-squish and the peach-ripening assembly line of our counters are at capacity and the crew (me) needs to move in another 20 pounds that have fallen from our backyard tree.

Really what I want to do is watch the robins and evening grosbeaks, who spend much of their day nabbing chokecherries from our tree. “They’re back!” I tell the kids each morning. “Those robins are such fatties,” Col replies, gazing out our east window, watching the fluffed up robins swallow chokecherries whole. The grosbeaks—seeking just the seed—painstakingly work the berry over in their beaks, spitting the purple flesh all over our walkway. You can hear the grosbeaks cracking seeds in their jumbo jaws, their beaks stained purple. I feel so much companionship with them.

Rare raven sighting in the chokecherry tree.

Chokecherry syrup on acorn waffles.

Facing my fruit-hoarding tendencies.

Dan has been bowhunting much of September. When he has cell service I get cryptic texts like “7 X 8 @ wallow @ ten yards but no shot!” (Later he told me he could hear the animal slurping up water but with his head facing Dan at the water hole, no ethical shot). He’s hunting with a homemade bow, which is deeply meaningful to him—the challenge, the crafting of his weapon, the intimacy with the animals—but odds are pretty tough. He needs perfect access to vitals, no foliage blocking the shot, 15-yard range max, and ten seconds to pull his bowstring back before some ultra-wary cow elk busts him. You know those subdivision signs “If you lived here you’d be home now.” I keep thinking: “If you had a rifle you’d be home now.” But really, I’m happy for all his happiness.

Dan trying to prove something by eating his traditional bowhunting sandwich at home. More on the bowhunting sandwich in latest issue of Edible Southwest Colorado Magazine.

The kids are not enjoying school tremendously this year. After many years of homeschooling, it feels a bit heartbreaking: waking them up (before the robins have even arrived) and rushing them about so they can be on time for a day of sitting and following someone else’s learning plan. I actually told Col he didn’t have to go to school (which I didn’t exactly mean, but I didn’t exactly not mean, but wanted to hear his response). He said, “I know school’s not supposed to be fun. I need to go so I can learn things and then get a job someday.” And then the whole world dimmed. Really? Is that what your parents are modeling to you?

I just finished two excellent books by female immigrants. This one, a novel by Imbolo Mbue, is a fascinating illustration of what happens when a Cameroonian family yearning for security and belonging intersects with a wealthy American family, which (surprise, surprise) lacks so much connection and vitality it makes you rethink the word ‘privilege.’ And yet, Imbolo Mbue manages to humanize everyone which makes things really interesting. (Thanks Mom, for the recommendation).

And this memoir written by an Iranian immigrant is a light and funny meditation on growing up Iranian in America. Hint: family and food are everything. Rose read Firoozeh Dumas’ kid novel version of the memoir and loved it.

In other news, I’m teaching some new nonviolent communication classes that I’m really excited about. They are filling fast. Come join us! More info here.

Where things get weird: green grape jello. (Or, how to proceed when an entire grape vine ripens at once).

Fruit recipes:

Fruit leather recipe

Fruit cake recipe (not fruitcake, but a wonderful gluten free cake that is accentuated with fruit!)

Spiced, dried pears

Peach BBQ sauce

Grain-free apple crisp

I actually love the particular abundance of seasonal food, how the urgency of ripeness grounds me in work so vital and immediate; how the earth gives freely, encouraging my own generosity, (I love telling the kids’ friends sternly: nowdon’t leave without a box of peaches); how the very caloric abundance calls into question the dysfunction of our American quest for novelty; and how, engaging in this unpaid work I get to detach from the capitalist system for a micro-moment, exploring a different paradigm for determining value and worth.

Dried peaches, plums, pears.

Dried yucca fruit – our favorite.

Between when I started this post and today the robins and grosbeaks have stripped the chokecherry tree bare. Dan has returned, elk-less, though integrating gracefully back into the wild chaos of homelife. Six boxes of peaches are exhaling ripeness into our house, all of which we’re determined to enjoy fresh (i.e. it’s a good time to stop by hungrily) and the apple and pear trees, groaning with weight, wink at me suggestively as I pass them on the way to the chicken coop. School is a conundrum and certainly a manifestation of a larger, dysfunctional system that values economic growth at the expense of human well-being (i.e. no fault of teachers). Right now the best I can do is model connecting to love and life force when my kids are home. (Though I’m contemplating creating a class called “How to raise disobedient children.” Feel me?)

But seriously, enough about me. Tell me about harvest season in your region, about your own back to school paradigm, your bird encounters, book recommendations, recipes. Really, I would love that.

xo

Rachel

wanting what you have

2018 September 4
by Rachel Turiel

We head out of town for six days, Dan and I hungry for adventure, for family connectedness, for the magic that happens when we’re all together, peeling off layers of modern complexity. The kids are skeptical, unsure if they want to unplug from friends, home, and flush toilets. Rose wonders, her voice slightly accusatory, a lawyer preparing her argument: will there be any mosquitos? “Yes, Rose. There will be mosquitos,” Dan says. “At least one. Named Fred,” I add. She is not amused.

We arrive at our first spot by late afternoon. We’re going to stay in a tipi, we’ve told the kids with the kind of enthusiasm that works on toddlers, or like we’re impersonating telemarketers trying to upsell the experience of camping. The interior—floor rugs, furniture, bed—is covered with a layer of dirt. “I get the bed,” Col announces about the saggy futon dusted in silt. No one argues with him.

The farm is funky, gardens and pigs interspersed with random, handbuilt outbuildings, like someone prepared for an influx of interns who never came.

I am ready to unload the car, to find a broom and sweep out the tipi, when Rose grabs my hand and bursts into tears. She’s sad about finishing the last Harry Potter book in the car, about our dirt-strewn quarters, the composting toilet, and her two friends swimming at the lake together back in Durango without her. At this stage of my education I am so clear that an outburst of feelings is like sap developing in a tree wound, the psyche’s healthy response to emotional pain. There is nothing to fix, to explain, to change. In fact, the most helpful thing I can do is not obstruct the flow, to allow mourning to be a healing response to sadness.

I hold her and hug her and listen. I put myself in her shoes. “You will miss Harry, Ron and Hermione so much! They were like reliable buddies all summer,” I venture. She cries harder for a moment, but I know this helps the sadness burn cleaner and quicker.

“Hey Rose,” Col interrupts, “There’s a ping-pong table in the farmhouse. Come play!” Rose nods and then tells me, “I want to go play but I just don’t want to be distracted from being sad.”

“You want to get it all out so you can go play with your mind free?”

“Yes.”

Rose’s mind clears and she joins Col. The farm manager finds us and explains the rules, like “no fires, unless you really want one.” He grants Dan permission to shoot his bow into the huge mound of horse manure. And he offers to sweep out our lodgings. “I guess we haven’t had visitors for a while,” he says.

Dan cracks a beer. We haul sleeping bags to our newly swept tipi. We watch the farmer toss a wheelbarrow of pot trimmings to the pigs, which they devour (they are lusty eaters, standing in their food troughs as they eat, tossing empty bowls in the air in protest). We visit the 3-month old piglets, who flop onto their sides, letting us scratch their soft bellies, during which they go from instantly alert to deep slumber.

Post-snuggle coma.

Col removes a chicken from my back.

Later, Dan keeps snapping pictures of me cooking dinner on our camp stove. Why? Cause he’s had two beers? Because he’s on vacation? Because I look good in the blazing yellow rabbitbrush? Because wanting what you have is the best strategy for having what you want?

We play fierce, after-dinner rounds of doubles ping-pong, and walking back to our tipi, orange sunset fireworks exploding over the dry hills, Rose asks, “can we stay here two nights?”

Day Two

Driving from Fort Garland, CO to Questa, NM under a sky that seems to unfold exponentially as we head south, Dan, Rose and I discuss the op-ed I want to write called “Why you should delay giving your child a smartphone.” (Dan edited my original title: “Don’t give your child a $%@*! smartphone!”). Col is absorbed in a novel and can’t be accessed.

Me: “So, there’s the addictive part.”

Dan: “What about addictions that are good?”

Me: “I can’t think of any good addictions.”

Rose: “What about books?”

Me: Silence.


40 year old farm with 40 year old playground equipment.

We arrive at the Taos Goji Berry Farm and hear from the hosts that the bears have “been active” in the apple orchard we had reserved for camping. We get an instant upgrade into the cottonwood grove, strung with hammocks and solar lights. We spend the evening unpacking, visiting the farm animals and chatting with the owners who’ve been here over 40 years and say it’s the driest year they remember. We eat lentils, rice and veggies doused in peanut-ginger sauce from a bottle. “A very expensive bottle,” Dan adds, testing the theory that people value things that cost a lot. The kids devour several helpings, the sky pinks up and then fades to black and we crawl into our sleeping bags feeling warm and full, in multiple ways.

Day Three

The kids wake up thinking of nothing but oatmeal. We’ve brought hippie single serve packets and like kings with their gold, each morning is spent counting, fondling, and trading their great, sugary wealth.

Just outside the Goji Berry Farm we discover loaded oak trees, acorns so ripe if you stand under them you can hear them plink to the ground. They are delicious raw, mild and nutty, and we scoop them off the ground on the side of the dusty road.

I am already feeling the wild magic of being together, the layers of complexity peeling away, the simplicity of fewer options, the relief of our four schedules synching up, even if the current agenda item is sip coffee in the cottonwood grove while the kids tally up oatmeal packets.

We hike to hot springs on the Rio Grande, everyone engaging in their own distinct style. This is so fun, Rose shouts as the river currents carry her downstream, again and again. Col digs canals in the sand and Dan and I clock into the hot pool like relaxation is our job.

Hiking out we spy a small herd of bighorn sheep. Col grabs my hand and whispers, “this is so exciting.”

Dan and I are calling this trip ‘The Family Celebration Trip,’ partly because we’re both oriented toward meaning-making (while not so skilled at American fun, outside of I don’t know, reading and stalking elk with whittled stick weapons), and because themes create family cohesiveness (see: meaning!). We introduce this idea to the kids, who are skeptical but lubricated by the chips and salsa we’re eating at a Taos restaurant.

We practice. “I’m celebrating that Col chose veggie filling in his, er deep fried burrito.”

Dan: “I’m celebrating that Rachel is still my dream date after all these years.” The kids groan on cue.

Dan gives them each a sheet, titled “Family Celebration Trip 2018” to fill out while we’re waiting for our food. 1) What do you want to celebrate from your life this past year? 2) What do you want to celebrate about another family member? 3) What is one thing about the world (independent of you) that you want to celebrate? Everyone scribbles away and we agree to read our answers aloud later.

After dinner the sky cracks open and Rose and I run, holding hands, towards our car in the chilling rain.

Day Four

We pack up after the daily oatmeal and coffee celebration. The kids are broken in to our temporary lifestyle, in which we have everything we want because it’s precisely all we have. No one has mentioned electronics since we left home, electronic-less.

This is so good for them, Dan and I whisper, in a stolen moment together. But, also for us. Being present to these children, tending to what arises in the moment without distraction feels like a balm for some modern ailment.

I notice that Rose and I are developing an implicit agreement around challenging emotions. She knows to lay her raw emotion at my feet, that I will hold her fears, anger and jealousies, and that she will emerge feeling lighter. She needs empathy for missing her friends, for school starting, for Col breaking his hammock agreement and not following daily oatmeal protocol. And each time, it feels like we’re underwater together, dog-paddling through the discomfort. And my role is just to stay with her, to exude care, to paddle into the waves alongside her, to say without words: your emotions are nothing to be scared of, to toss away all my previous training that sees pain and wants to distract, fix, educate. And sometimes, I think: this time we might not emerge, like when she says I’m ready to go home“ and we have two more nights away. But I keep swimming, holding her hand, listening, seeing it from her perspective, and suddenly she’s in the hammock calling out cheerfully, “watch this, it’s called the hang-glider move!”

Col needs less empathy, but more help uncovering what’s important to him in the moment. Like last night, we’re in our tent in the cottonwood grove, and he finishes the book stapled to his hands for the past three days and immediately starts talking, singing, poking me, rolling on top of me. “Hey Col, I noticed you finished your book and now it seems like you’re wanting something from me. I’m really wanting to read and relax. Do you know what you want?”

“Attention,” he says, point blank.

“Oh. Ok. How ‘bout I rub your back while I read?”

Col: “That would be wonderful.”

Day Five

We wake up back in Colorado, in a snug A-frame cabin on the Conejos River. We drove in on the heels of a storm and the willows are shiny, the meadows rain polished, and everything is the tawny color of summer fading out. We set off early for fishing, and already by 10am the sky is more cloud than blue.

The kids cast and reel, cast and reel while a wild storm charges down valley. The sky turns grey-blue and the first drops of rain come fast. We hustle back to the car, feet soaked, lightning smacking nearby peaks. As Dan drives down the muddy, washboard road, lightning cracking open the sky, a balloon Rose is playing with in the backseat pops suddenly just behind Dan’s head. He jumps about a foot. “You didn’t think that was actually lightning did you?” Rose asks. “Well, no, but it’s like you’re about to shoot a deer, ready to pull the trigger and your buddy shouts ‘BANG’!”

Back at our cabin rain obscures the valley. I make hot chocolate, coffee and snacks, and we gather to complete our celebration exploration, which includes reading our pep-talks from last year, writing new ones and setting goals. Col scribbles, “I want to be nicer to Rose.”

Can we just stay here forever, doing our nerdy family exercises, playing board games, hiding out from the complexities of American culture, eating out of our cooler where everything tastes amazing because it’s exactly what we have?

We play endless rounds of Exploding Kittens on the pullout futon in front of the glowing woodstove, Dan shelling acorns (1, then 2, then 100). Col accuses Rose of cheating every time she wins. She tells him, indignantly, in a spectacular storm of mixed metaphors, “Well, you’re not the brightest knife in the shaft!” I ponder the mystery of family. How for so many years the kids seemed to inhabit every molecule of our personal space, their needs tendrilling out so compellingly that I couldn’t distinguish my own from theirs. And now, as they inch slowly farther from us, their worlds expanding, it is us sometimes pursuing them, wanting to be in their orbit.


The sun sweeps away clouds. Day passes into evening. Our focus is on what is right in front of us, and it feels like celebration: dinner, two fresh trout; the kids’ shared laughter; the shooting star Rose and I spot simultaneously; this current, fleeting configuration of family.

There were no mosquitos.

summer wrap up

2018 August 21
by Rachel Turiel


The kids are folding laundry, a chore I’ve asked them to complete before I bribe them to walk downtown together with ice cream money so I can work uninterrupted. “This is not a bribe,” I tell them, and they nod cooperatively, allowing me to think I am upholding my values. While they’re folding two loads worth of laundry, Col stops, holds up some of his clothes and asks Rose, “do you think this is a good outfit for the first day of school?”

Rose answers him as if this is not a monumentous moment in the history of their sibling relationship*, a moment in which Col is publicly acknowledging that his little sister has wisdom and experience that he doesn’t, that he is interested in her knowledge, and furthermore, that he considers her judgment valuable.

“I think you might be a bit hot,” she replies.

A few more things:

We just returned from a fantastic six-day trip in Colorado and New Mexico, in which we camped on eclectic farms. We saw adult pigs devour marijuana trimmings, and played fierce games of doubles ping-pong in the farm community building. More on that soon.

Col and Rose found the hummingbird vortex on the Lake Fork of the Conejos River.

We came home to a bursting garden.

Why do garden tomatoes make me feel so wealthy?

Oh snap, this is not a college fund.

Also, this is BIG. I discovered that you can make this recipe for roasted tomato sauce, omit the olive oil and water-bath can it. And then you add the olive oil when you open the jar. It is just as tasty and it’s better not to heat olive oil too high anyway. BIG news, right?

Rose says this photo is called ‘green’:

Latest odd home project: Noyaux Liqueur (apricot kernel liqueur – why not? Just make sure you disable the cyanide first. Should work with peach pits too).

A sign that bowhunting season is coming:

Dan’s new “elk ears” he made of actual hide and hair. Questions welcome.

We always have a book we read on trips. It coalesces us around something, brings us together, gives a shape to our evenings around the campfire. On this trip we read the most fantastic book by Carl Hiaasen. I think it would be appropriate for ages 10 – 14. It’s sort of a mystery, full of absurd though fully believable suspense and the unlikely hero makes it all worth it. He’s a former Florida governor, presumed dead, a rough outlaw who is also champion of animals and other voiceless and vulnerable beings. Plus, it takes place in Florida and is full of gators and sea turtles and huge, deep rivers.

I think that’s it for now. Oh, wait – have I told you how much I appreciate you all coming back here, reading my stories, commenting, sticking with this space as my kids become teenagers? Well, I do. So much.

* later I asked Rose what it was like to have Col seek her fashion advice. “I was so surprised,” she said. “But I knew just to act like it was normal.” Attagirl.

xo

Rachel

letting the mental guard dog of sibling disputes off its chain

2018 July 31
by Rachel Turiel

The thought comes to me like a thunderbolt, like a message from a burning bush; from someplace beyond my mind’s usual mundane chatter. Col is in Washington DC with his grandma. Rose is inside reading Harry Potter. And I am plucking cabbage worms off brassica plants, contemplating how peaceful it’s been since the all-day meal special of sibling bickering has fallen off the menu. And then the thought that stills me is this: I am not responsible for my children’s relationship.

Col in Congressman Tipton’s DC office requesting that Tipton join the bi-partisan climate solutions caucus, specifically because of pikas and skiing.

Of course I want my children to be best friends. In my fantasies the two of them are allies, bolstered by a two-lane flow of support, compassion, collaboration and cooperation. When the world is confusing and painful I want them, as fellow participants in the genetic and social experiment of our family, to turn to each other. Though really, I’d settle for them just being able to squeeze onto the same couch without anyone throwing elbows.

Partially I long for this because it would bestow harmony upon our home, but also I’ve been shackled to a story about what’s good, right and best. Siblings should protect each other! They should be confidantes! If Dan and I model kindness, it should trickle down! (Small clue: believing in what follows a “should” is the short path to suffering). And truthfully, when I am attached to one particular outcome, then I lose choice in how to respond because I become the proverbial hammer searching desperately for a nail, missing the truth of what is.

Sibling relationships are a wild and mysterious thing. Something deep and old and unknowable is working itself out while it looks like Col and Rose are simply arguing over who gets the first shower after camping. My squirrely mind wants to control, fix and steer. It wants to wave my red flag when I hear Col charging Rose $3 to claim her own lost earrings that he found. But who am I to engineer their path? They get to snap the pieces of their relationship puzzle together. If the pieces don’t fit, they can rotate or reconfigure them, sand them down, trade them out.

As a leader in this family I have the responsibility to model compassionate expression, to offer support, and to care for everyone’s needs without directing the outcome. It’s liberating to drop this task—the job of making sure my kids are friends—from the long list of what’s required to run a household.

Miramonte Reservoir, a bit south of Norwood, Co. Dan: “Didn’t the Rolling Stones play here? Oh wait, that was Altamont.”

Col returns from DC and I try out this new stance, repeating it frequently to counteract the worn neural pathways of my mind that suggest we’re all doomed because Col and Rose aren’t magnetized to each other.

And yet, strangely, they are. Their elbow game on the couch is a source of breathless laughter. Col wants to play soccer in the street, but only if his sister joins. Somehow our house does seem more peaceful, but not because my wanting it made it so, it’s that my mind is more peaceful because there’s less wanting. The despair I’ve felt about the kids not relating as I’d wish leads me to try to control external circumstances, rather than learn to tolerate that which I can’t control.

Also, because I’ve let my mental guard dog of sibling disputes off its chain, I’m less likely to micro-analyze Col and Rose’s interactions, looking for who left fingerprints of guilt on the surface of their last conflict. This means I get to see them more clearly. Miki Kashtan, founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication suggests that we turn the channel from the “boring movie of our mind,” the one that predictably features the repetitive script of our fears and biases. “It’s much more interesting to see the reality of what’s actually going on,” Kashtan says.

The reality is this: Col wins three consecutive games of chess then offers strategic advice to Rose, which she declines. They jump on the neighbor’s trampoline. They return for snacks. Rose makes Col toast and suggests he say ‘thank you.’ He doesn’t show gratitude to her satisfaction. She sighs, sings a few bars from the musical Grease and requests that Col sing Danny’s part while she takes Sandy’s. I observe it all without commentary, without making evaluations on my friendship-o-meter, nor do I grasp to this moment, sweet as their giggly singing is. Surely there is a sibling throw-down in their future. And just as likely there will be the inexplicable magic of a brother and sister crooning along to a 70s musical in a relationship of their making, the ending not yet written.

What responsibility are you holding onto that you could release?

waiting and non-waiting

2018 July 10
by Rachel Turiel

Dearie Dearest Dear Ones,

I am trying not to spend this summer waiting, waiting for the morning smoke to clear, waiting for the evening temperature to drop, waiting for the monsoons to come and put the fire out. It’s come to my attention that when we’re waiting, we’re not exactly living. And speaking of living, wearing ice-cold wet socks to bed is the best personal air-conditioning unit I’ve discovered. I hope you never have to try this.

This is smoke (not a cloud) over Hesperus Peak. My Herald column on how the weathering the fire is like raising children.

Besides the oppressive smoke and above average temps, summer has been everything I loved about homeschooling (being with the kids!) without the inherent challenges (the obligation to actually teach them something).

Apparently we’ve neglected to sign our kids up for much in the way of summer activities so they’ve been finding their own way. Col has been drawing WWII airplanes, and I do my best to see and appreciate his work without getting hung up on the images of planes shot down and consumed in a fireball of death.


Thanks Greg and Jo for the amazing colored pencils. Col would like you all to know that his WWII airplane images are available for sale. (Spitfire not pictured). He’s also open to ideas on how to market his images.

Rose has been channeling her inner retiree. I come home from teaching and she’s glued beads to yarn, yarn to jars, and jars to jars to make side by side q-tip and cotton ball dispensers. She’s used a pint of expensive, raw honey to concoct a honey-oat scrub, has added lemon balm to our ice cube trays, and melted every lip balm in the house together so all separate beeswax-based products can unify into a melting pot of diversity. I get a little anxious when I see her rummaging through the medicine cabinet with eager fingers, but keep telling myself that it’s cheaper than camp.

When the kids leave the house, I become air traffic controller, keeping track of my little planes lifting off and landing around town, changing destination and passengers, making emergency landings at garage sales (where craft supplies are legion), and doing my trust-breathing exercises while they are off radar in the river.

Today, during our morning snuggle, in which Col enters a hypnotic state of affectionate goodwill, he sighed and told me “Daddy’s my number one role model,” and then quickly explained, “Because he’s a boy. You’re number two.” The kids are not impressed with my ability to track their daily flight schedule, but are pretty certain that with just a bit of extra practice Dan could join any World Cup team should they need an extra player. Recently Rose assured us that once her three months of acute chiropractic care was over, Daddy could probably study up and take over her maintenance care.

Cherry pitting and World Cup.

I am equally full of hypnotic professions of affection at bedtime and last night I was in Col’s bed telling him how much I appreciated his resiliency, his ability to name feelings and adjust to circumstances out of his control. “You know, when your friend cancelled plans and you just said ‘I’m disappointed but what else…” I must have been beaming some crazy mom adoration from my eyes because Col interrupted me to say, “Mom, this is awkward,” he said. “Can I read now?”

Alpine spring beauty.

Dan and I have taken some lovely trips into the high mountains. Col asked me why I was so eager to go backpacking and all I could think to say was that it was a treat to enter into the culture of wild things.

On one trip, a ptarmigan made a big fuss over us, circling our sleeping bags at dusk and calling (presumably to her young, letting them know who not to trust); coyote sounds bounced around the peaks; we found scorched oak leaves carried on the wind fifteen miles from the fire; and always, the wildflowers spearing up through the rocks, snowmelt, smoke, drought fills me with awe and admiration to be in the presence of their wild culture. One morning we found a group of elk bedded in a meadow. The lead cow gave some deep, warning grunts, alerting her posse to our whereabouts. “Have you heard that sound before?” I asked. “Unfortunately, many times,” Dan replied.

Books! I enjoyed this memoir of an unbelievably challenging childhood under patriarchy and tradition gone wrong; this gorgeously-written post-apocalyptic novel that takes place in Colorado, where beyond the zombie-violence it was oddly tender and touching, and this beautifully-written novel about a summer camp in the Colorado mountains where idealism meets realism. What’s my next book? Seeking recommendations! (p.s. buy from your local, independent bookstore or look for at your library).

I am offering a Family Nonviolent Communication Workshop at the end of July. Col helped me make this flyer. He also helps me enter into the depth of scary, messy conflict, scrabbling around for our most useful tools of curiosity and care, and coming out into resilient, thriving, connecting resolution. I want this for all of you.

There are a few spaces left. More info here. If you are local and want to be on my mailing list, let me know.

Washing greens:

Drying greens:

Effing boots.

All the love,

Rachel

p.s. (whispering, giddily) I don’t think we’re waiting any longer for the monsoons.

uncontrolled fire edge and gluten free rhubarb cake

2018 June 20
by Rachel Turiel

Dear Ones,

There’s so much that’s happened since we last met here.

Col went to DC with his grandmother and sent us this postcard:

True. I’m not sure he’s ever had as much to talk about in 13 years.

A forest fire’s been raging a couple miles north of us, which seems to have settled some due to recent rain, though isn’t expected to be completely out until the monsoons (fingers-crossed) come in mid-late July. It’s hard to explain how consuming it’s been fighting this fire, I mean checking hourly for updates on weather, air quality, fire activity, evacuated friends. (We have an evacuated chicken taking refuge in our coop, which adds to my sense of purpose). Everyday there’s a new map depicting the jagged red line of the “uncontrolled fire edge.” I keep thinking there’s something by a similar name that lives in my mind, something I try to control, keep contained, while conducting frequent strategic meetings to give myself the illusion that a semblance of certainty is possible.

Outstanding fire photos here by beloved local photographer Jerry McBride.

We made it to the forest for a camping trip just before the entire San Juan Forest got put on Stage 3 fire restrictions, i.e. shut down. (Also shut down: all open space surrounding Durango. Anyone want to start a ladies walking club at the mall?).

Dessert platter to celebrate my birthday! Gifts not pictured: new socks and spatulas!

Possible grown up version of the people above, but in different configuration.

I haven’t forgotten about the rhubarb cake recipe. Stay tuned.

We fell in love with a foster dog, who left us for his forever family. (I guess that’s how it’s supposed to work, but still).

Now that we can’t go into the forest, or go outside (because of smoke) we spend a lot of time watching the World Cup. I keep thinking of the Quiddich World Cup in Harry Potter, imagining Peruvian and Iranian soccer teams arriving via portkey to Russia. We’re rooting for Mexico, Peru, Senegal and Iceland. (Ok, and Japan, Portugal, Argentina…).

We like to catch the weekday 6am World Cup game on the nano-screen before Dan leaves for work.

Indoor chess game VIXIII

Dan being Dan figured out that there’s some public land that not managed by Forest Service and for Father’s Day we all got an emotional high being in contact with wild plants and marmots for the day.

Indian Paintbrush.

Purple Fringe.

The 13-year old hand holder.

At one point Col requested to walk alone with just me. We’ve been telling our kids forever that they can tell us anything, anytime, of any nature. I prepared myself. Col grabbed my hand and said, “Mama? You know that new lego airplane I’ve been working on? That’s what I want to talk about.”  (He was nervous about snapping on the wheel struts, but proud that he figured out how to fit two lego pilots side by side. Feelings!). Whew.

Since the smoke has improved I’ve been turning the kids loose on bikes with their shared flip phone. Five minutes ago I got this text from Col: headg. And then I descrambled it in my mother de-crypter and got: heading home. 10/4 little pilot.

I really want to share this Rhubarb Cake Recipe with you because:

  1. Rhubarb season may be ending in your locale.
  2. I made this recipe up all by myself!
  3. It’s insanely delicious: golden crust, light crumb, rhubarby tang-smack to the taste buds, and in the scheme of modern diets, pretty healthy.
  4. If you’re past rhubarb season, sub in cherries, apricots or whatever fruit is coming into your region.

Eat with coffee.

Make sure you have eggs.

Rhubarb Cake

1 cup almond flour

1/2 cup buckwheat flour

(fine to sub both flours for wheat flour)

3/4 cup butter or coconut oil (gosh, this sounds like an awful lot of butter. If this scares you, try and 1/2 cup and report back to me).

1/2 cup sugar or honey

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

3-4 stalks apricots or 3/4 – 1 cup chopped fruit

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix all ingredients except flours together, including fruit. Slowly add in flours just to moisten. Place in greased bread pan, cast iron pan, pie pan and bake for 25 – 35 minutes. (Cast iron cooks quicker than glass or ceramic, so stay attuned).

All the love,

Rachel

15 minute grain-free peanut butter chocolate chip cookies

2018 May 25
by Rachel Turiel

“There is no shortage of grosbeaks,” Dan reassures me after a five minute lull in the morning siege on the feeder is followed by hordes of evening grosbeaks returning to their personal safehouse, where Col and Dan are poised to chase neighborhood cats off with BB guns. A small table of evening grosbeaks at the breakfast rush.

Here’s a different kind of bird (one of our new flock of chickens). Col took this picture and I couldn’t help thinking: one sweet, slightly-awkward and emergent adolescent photographing another.

As per May usual, we’re issuing daily quotas on consumption of greens. If you’re not eating a gallon of lettuce, chard, spinach, etc…you’re not pulling your weight. Full disclosure, there’s a 50% chance of finding an elm seed in your salad and a .549% chance of finding a small insect, marinated in salad dressing and still alive. Aphids don’t even count.

We seem to be having a few checking account issues currently, namely that money doesn’t seem to stick around there very long, but Dan reminds me that we still have apples in the root cellar in May, and maybe I’ll see if I can trade those apples for the kids’ soccer fees, like an old timey bartering community! (Actually, I am trading greens for the space I’m using to teach my current NVC class. Thanks to the lovely LeeAnn at Stitch).

The garden is a bit like a museum lately, delicate pieces unveiled by day, only to be covered at first whiff of nightfall. 

Rose was selected to represent her school in a 5th grade-wide community dance competition. She and her partner danced the merengue. Her partner wasn’t Dan, but he helped her practice.

Our days have been slightly crazy lately with everyone’s end of the school year presentations and graduations; Rose vigilantly at the table penning cards of gratitude to each teacher past dark; getting the summer issue of Edible magazine to the printers; my mind thinking that 3:00am is a good time to wake up and figure stuff out; and, carting teen chickens outside every morning, and back upstairs each night. Thank god for books and bedtime. I loved this memoir, about the author’s seventeen brushes with death, which was harrowing, entertaining, horrifying and ultimately inspiring. And then this gorgeous, incredibly-written novel about a family whose fifth son is transgender and how the family orbit changes to accommodate this reality.

The other day Col confided that he hates it when “Daddy assumes that when I ask for screen time it means I’m bored.” I asked him if he wanted to let Dan know this, and then maybe issue a request. Fifteen minutes later Col popped up in Dan’s workshop (where I was fiddling in the adjacent greenhouse). “Hey Daddy, I wanted to talk to you about something,” he said, earnestness turned up to eleven. And without making Dan at fault, Col squeaked out what’s up for him followed by the request that Dan not respond to screentime requests with assumptions of his boredom. Dan received him with gratitude and I could see Col’s personal power inflate. Later he said, “I’m so proud that I talked to Daddy.” And we celebrated that instead of nibbling on the empty calories of resentment, Col got to express his feelings to his Daddy, who was happy to hear what was true for his son. This is the exact model we use in my nonviolent communication classes – how to express what’s true for you while caring for the relationship.

Oh wait – you were here for the 15 minute cookie recipe? Here it is!

These cookies are super delicious, only take 15 minutes to make (including baking, but not clean up), and are approved by my children who are highly suspicious that I am hiding kale in everything I bake. Thanks Steph, for the recipe!

Grain Free Peanut Butter Cookies 

Heat oven to 335F
Combine in large bowl:
1 egg
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar (brown or white or mix)
a splash of molasses
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto greased cookie sheet, press down with fork and bake for 7 – 10 minutes @ 335F.
Hippie Version
Sub out almond butter for peanut butter
Add 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
Reduce sugar to 1/3 cup
Add 1/4 cup raisins
***********
Love and cookies,
Rachel