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peeling the onion of anger

2017 October 9
by Rachel Turiel

It’s a puzzle of a Tuesday evening. Rose has soccer practice at a time that was once reserved for family dinner and needs to be shuttled to and from the soccer field; Col has a friend staying late; our foster dog needs a walk; everyone needs to be fed; Dan is 11,300 feet up in the high country chasing elk with his bow.

Col and this friend are deep in the fog of the next plan brewing and Col answers my questions with distracted monosyllables. This buddy seems to bring out in Col a thirst for adventure, for independence, for the kind of fun that is made of risk and hilarity and a few things you might not want your mother to know. When I told them recently that I felt hesitant about them riding bikes downtown because of their history of pushing the envelope together, this friend said with endearing transparency, “Oh, that’s not just with Col. I push the envelope whether I’m with him or not.” Though I sometimes wish Col was enamored with say, the cautious, rule-abiding art of library science, I am very fond of this friend.

I tell the boys that dinner will be ready in five minutes. They filter out the frequency of my voice in favor of nerf gun discussions. Finally Col’s friend nudges him, looks up at me and repeats, “dinner,” as if we have discovered a common noun in our different languages.

I assemble a meal that hits all the food groups currently existing in our fridge and call for the boys. Col and his buddy are missing, not on the property, not within shouting distance. There is no time to track them down. Rose eats, grabs her soccer bag and we drive away not knowing where the boys are. I feel annoyed, thinking: they should have told me where they were going. They knew dinner was impending. Driving home, my mind simmers with satisfying fantasies of what I will say and do when I find them. The blame center of my brain is like a city at night: lit up and active.

In the car, I resist the magnetic lure of distraction (radio, cell phone, punishment strategies) in favor of what I advocate for my children: to acknowledge and investigate all feelings. Breathing a little space into my clenched chest, I notice that behind the anger is a desert of sadness, dunes of fear rolling and cresting.

There’s this existential sorrow over my children growing up and calving off the glacier of our family, landing in the wide ocean of their own lives, paddling ever farther from home. Meanwhile I’ll be in the kitchen, a caricature of my own loneliness, prepping another meal in hopes they come home hungry. This is only part invention. When I volunteered to accompany Col to the flea market recently he said, “but I want to go with someone Mama. Like, a friend.”

The kids are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. Growing and stretching and leaving, a thousand small practice goodbyes. And it’s all been so lovely, couldn’t they stay just a bit longer?

The children needing me less is both wonderful and heartbreaking. They are free to prepare their own breakfast and also free to make bad decisions, decisions which are bolstered by the advisory boards of their own peers, who have equally, alarmingly undeveloped prefrontal cortexes. Sometimes popular culture and peer influence looks like rotten bread crumbs which they hungrily follow. This is where fear shakes me by the shoulders. Sometimes a winning strategy is to make really clear agreements with them, other times it’s doing the heart-searing work of letting go.

I am grateful to see that underneath the hot kick of anger is fear and sorrow. I can surround these feelings with love. The inroads of self-empathy clearcut through the misplaced blame. For these are universal experiences of motherhood: arms achingly full and then achingly empty.

Also, the sadness and fear are simply messengers pointing to what I’m really yearning for: connection, however it may look between a tween boy and his mama right now.

When I arrive home—the boys still missing—I hop on my bike and hear their voices less than a block away. They’re deep into mischief, the variety of which would be familiar to generations of boys.

I explain that not knowing where they are leaves me worried, and I want them to check in with me before they take off. No threats or punishments, just stating boundaries. They understand and readily apologize.

The three of us sit down to the spread that was warm and fresh an hour ago. The boys express their gratitude for dinner and are forthcoming in the specific brand of 12-year old boys: an endearing blend of self-doubt and bravado. I can see that they’re wobbling on their own precipice, experimenting with who they are outside of family, and yet needing their home nest to be welcoming and steady. I feel a thread of connection, braids of their tweenhood and my own mom-ness, weaving us all together tonight.

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the sameness of sheep

2017 September 27
by Rachel Turiel

Everything is happening with reassuring predictability. The goldfinches have returned, their bright yellow summer costumes already fading as if adhering to some stricture of fall fashion. The sunbathing vultures unfurl their wing-capes to the morning sun; their days here are numbered. Frost sneaks around the garden like a bandit in the night. Dan is a blur of bow-season comings and goings. (He recently left me with a bag of half eaten chocolate covered espresso beans, which is the exact right drug for solo-parenting).

A decade of similar September memories are lodged in my cells, released under the precise conditions of temporary fatherless children seeking a wrestling partner while I press tomatoes through the assembly line of roasted sauce. Outside it’s cold and then warm and then cold again, daily.

On another note – did you leave that metal pasta spoon (in above photo) at our house after a summer potluck? We are holding it safe for you, while apparently using it.

And yet, I am always blindsided by the melancholy of fall, the way walking through the orange glow of aspens fills me with both awe and a sense of grief. I don’t know, maybe it’s the heartbreaking truth of impermanence. Every day something succumbs.

This year, with the kids in school, I’ve had more time to explore this grief, some of which is due, no doubt, to transitioning out of my role as homeschooling parent; a whole family paradigm, slipped away. But, there’s more. There’s the micro-anguish: present work disappointments, coons nabbing our grapes, the kids orbiting ever farther from the sun of their home. And the macro: climate change, inequality, our cultural lust for the next distraction.

Last arctic gentian of 2017.Last sun-ripened colander of tomatoes, 2017

Christine King, teacher of nonviolent communication, says grief’s job is to drop you into the river of all souls – it asks us to be quiet and stop all forward movement.

I’m finding that grief can be this expressway connecting you both to universal human suffering, and the universal human generosity of spirit. When you’re in grief it’s very difficult to exist on the busy surface of life. And so, you’re plunged into a deeper undercurrent. It unseats any delusions that you will be spared the pain of loss and disappointment because of any wall you’ve erected of money, yoga, organic broccoli or goodness. Grief is a finger tapping you on the shoulder, reminding you that everything you hold dear will change.

And yet, in this raw and open state, small kindnesses become magnified and envelop you like a warm blanket. The morning onslaught of birds to your feeder feels like a holy avian party. Kneeling football players become unexpected heroes. Kate Braestrup, author and chaplain, says “you can trust a human being with grief, for grief is just love squaring up to its oldest enemy.”

And so, I’ve been quieter, taking more walks and less runs, talking less and listening more, feeling more, knowing less, and believing that you can trust a human being with grief. And yet, there is assurance in the predictability of cottonwoods flaring yellow, in the kids that need feeding, the basil that needs harvesting, and another season turning, showing us something inescapable and true.

“I love this nip in the morning air,” I told Dan back when September was young.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because it’s so new.”

Dan laughed, because for many people “new” means foreign travel, or remodeling your house, or something that creates a wave of excitement in the circulatory system of your life. On personality quizzes Dan and I both score embarrassingly low on novelty seeking behavior. Which may explain a lot, including why when I read this passage at the end of Charlotte’s Web to the kids recently, it brought tears to my eyes, happy tears.

“Life in the barn was very good – night and day, winter and summer, spring and fall, dull days and bright days. It was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, the glory of everything.”

And so as September fades out, we shuttle squash into the root cellar, whiz up batches of pesto, cover the tomatoes one more time, find another way to cook beets, make time to walk in the oakbrush as it turns from green to psychedelic to dust, and tend to our feelings, however they may present themselves.

Total winter squash count this year: 168.

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the life hacking of school mornings

2017 September 17
by Rachel Turiel

We are trying to lifehack school mornings, which seem to be some test of American fortitude, or I don’t know, a scheme to increase reliance on snack foods. For the first couple weeks I felt a bit like an anthropologist discovering a highly strange cultural phenomenon. So everyone rises to an alarm and rushes around putting small bits of food in containers and shouting at each other?

Which is to say, mornings are intense. Dan told me a story he heard about 15 elk gathered at a water hole, clicking their teeth territorially at each other. He told me this after I had apparently been clicking my teeth at him trying to move him aside at the stove. After which he pivoted. And I grabbed the pot I needed.
We are on our bikes at 7:45am, all senses deployed as we ride single file through commute chaos, Dan practicing his elk call (he’s been put on notice by Rose to stop before we approach school grounds) and me reminding Rose that it’s not a great time for me to answer questions, unless it’s really important.

“Okay,” she agrees. Three minutes later she wonders cheerily, “Do you say fridge, refridge, or refrigerator?” Right. The really important stuff.

It’s all somewhat surprising, really, to hear Col announce on the way home from school, “I really enjoy the way Mr. Rich teaches math.” I make a point not to fall off  my bike, but just reply, “Oh, cool,” as if I totally saw it coming. Same with all the unprompted showering and changing clothes, something homeschooling at the kitchen table never inspired.

All of which to say, school is going really well for both kids. Col often goes hiking for P.E. and today groups of children spent several hours building boats out of cardboard and duct tape to send their teachers across the river in. During school. It was some sort of team-building competition of engineering, although a friend of mine asked if they were actually trying to drown their teachers.

Offering up an innocent little question to the kids, like, “how does lunch work at your school?” can yield so much information, it can get a little competitive, like if you were interviewing Sonny and Cher simultaneously.

I appreciate the streamlined nature of my new role: feed and support children (and drive them to soccer). Which I find to be much easier than trying to facilitate a whole education.* When they arrive home I am ready with snacks and empathy. Col tells me that he hates when this one boy shares his kettle corn with everyone but him. “Hmm, sounds like you want to be included,” I reply, rather than tracking this boy down and roughing him up, or giving Col a lecture about the nutritional components of kettle corn.

When Rose and I reunite, she usually needs about fifteen minutes to wade through everything that didn’t go quite right: her water bottle leaked, recess was too hot, she didn’t do well on her spelling test, this one boy at her table is disruptive. Offering her the balm of my presence without advice or empty reassurances (“it’ll get better”) is like beating a dusty rug with a broom, eventually all the dust falls away, and the rug is fresh, renewed.

And sometimes if everyone’s really ragged, I pull them close to me and we read, like I did when they were overstimulated toddlers, or exhausted preschoolers, or like I’ve been doing their whole life. I imagine Col calling me someday from work, overwhelmed and aggravated, and I’ll pull out Harry Potter and begin reading.

Speaking of reading, this book was a quick, light and fun read. This memoir was fascinating, funny and heartbreaking all at once, and actually, so was this one, just with way less swearing.

Also, here is a link to my last Durango Herald column, which a friend said was my best, because there was actually a plot.

And, I’ve written many things for Edible Southwest Colorado magazine, if you’re interested:

Squirrel for Dinner – yes, it happened

Bone Broth – nature’s multivitamin

The Great Homemade Dog Biscuit Challenge (in which I got to “interview” some of my fave dogs)

DIY BBQ Condiments

Karlos Baca – indigenous chef forages for a new paradigm

*A friend mentioned she’d been waiting for me to explain why we stopped homeschooling. For us it was a lovely way to keep the kids close when they were young, to avoid the reward/punishment game that most schools rely on for cooperation, and to give them space and freedom to get curious and follow that curiosity. As time passed it become clear that it was challenging for the kids to feel motivated to learn from me and Dan. Last year, trying to teach Rose the difference between it’s and its, I gave her seven sentences to work through. She reported matter-of-fact, “I’ll do four.” And instead of insisting she do them all, I might have said something like, “OK, then lets just snuggle and have a snack.” Which was a clue (one of many) that the parent as teacher dynamic had reached its limit for both of us. 

Oh – and this is Sadie, our latest foster pup. She’s part border collie and part cray cray, but so smart and fun. She often invites our neighbor’s enormous dog over for a playdate and they go wild finding bones and antlers in the yard. And then, Dan busts them for stealing useful bones and antlers out of the solarium, “hey – that’s the deer ulna I use to scrape my hide! And that’s the antler billet I use for flintknapping.”

xo

Rachel

p.s. Accepting any and all suggestions on how to life hack school mornings. My wise friend Carrie suggested that if I got out of bed at 6:30am rather than use that time to watch half an episode of Orange is the New Black, I might end up feeling a bit less frantic. This is the kind of help I need.

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2017 August 30
by Rachel Turiel

We set off for eight days, car full of collective hopes, expectations and gear. We remember the mushroom-collecting baskets, the homemade pesto, one rawhide drum, 15 books among us, but 50 miles down the road, Rose announces that she neglected to bring a single pair of shoes. Including the pair she did not walk out of the house with.

Lunch stop and a few choice boletes on Red Mountain Pass.

Ridgway Thrift Store provides: flip flops and sneakers for $2.50, plus one more book and the books each kid picked out at the Ouray bookshop. New count = 18.

By mid-afternoon, at Ridgway Lake, the kids have already entered sibling vacation mode, in which geographic proximity, lack of outside social inputs, and commitment to fun melds them into something approximating friends. Dan and I sit against a tree, watching them splash and swim, sinking into that familiar role of being happy simply for their happiness.

That night, we introduce our sacred space (“our evening activity” we call it, as if we’re aboard the Love Boat) with drum, smudge stick and a bird’s nest we found on our property. The focus of our ritual time is recognizing their journey from nestling to fledgling, from homeschooler to child of the world.

The kids are wide eyed as we tell the story of how we decided to homeschool. Next, we ask them to identify the strengths they developed as homeschoolers.

“One thing,” Col says, “was getting to know my parents and my home better.”

We come up with a list of 12 strengths, pass the drum around to close the circle, eat a little chocolate, and climb into our sleeping bags. “Goodnight everyone, I love you all,” Rose calls out. I nudge Col and he replies with a resigned, “good night, Rose.”

DAY TWO

We set up camp in the Slate River Valley outside Crested Butte. Col catches a respectable-sized brook trout and pops the tiny, raw gumdrop of a heart into his mouth, seemingly as an answer to a question the organ posed sitting in his palm.

The late-August sun feels like an old friend I’ve reconciled with after a summer of arguing; we all bask in its generosity. When Dan and I return from a run, the kids are sorting fishing lures, and Rose announces that they’ve been sorting “and just talking.”

“Not really,” Col counters.

At our evening campfire, Rose asks, “If you were starving in the desert and had only a wooden torch and an old rag what would you do?”

We try to parse it all out when Rose announces, “you cover the wooden torch with the old rag so it doesn’t burn you too much when you eat it!”

Things devolve from there into perma-hilarity. Col asks, “Would you rather eat me or Rose if you were starving and we were both dead?”

I eye up Rosie’s thighs and Col deadpans, “No, seriously. Which?”

Dan asks if this is a competition to be chosen or not chosen.

For our evening activity we each write the values we developed through homeschooling (identified the night before) on paper targets and then shoot them with our bows to symbolize staying focused on these values: independent learning, connectedness, rootedness, going at our own pace, family time, nest and rest, practical skills, belonging.

The kids love the archery game, which we play till the darkness kicks us out and into our tents. That night a deep rain polishes our campsite clean.

DAY THREE

We spend the morning drying out, drinking coffee and watching animals across the valley like its a TV station broadcasting frolicking elk calves, meaty clusters of bucks, and one large, slow-moving bear.

Later, we cross the Slate River, and creep up the slope, north of where we saw all the animals. The kids flounce through the last flare of wildflowers, swat mosquitos, and are amazingly resilient about the Dan-led, trail-less bushwhack.

That night after our gratitude ceremony (in which we read pre-written notes detailing points of thankfulness from these past six years of homeschooling) we present the kids with watches, which I thought might be akin to getting a brick of responsibility thrown in your lap, but they’re thrilled and spend much of the evening synchronizing, “What time do you have now? How bout now?”

At night, Rose calls out to me and Col in our tent, “Goodnight. I love you Mom and Col.” Col looks confused, scowls and tells me, “I’m working my way up to that.”

DAY FOUR

We wake up in the Slate River Valley and watch the pre-sunup lightshow on the ridges. Fog fingers creep down through aspens, pink clouds recline on the western slope.

Rose shows up at campfire ponytailed and in pajamas that somehow seem like an outfit. Col shows up in yesterday’s clothes, but immediately chops wood and starts the fire. “I’ve got 7:12am Rosie, how ’bout you?” “Same.” Sigh of relief.

We slosh some Frangelico in our coffee and Dan mentions to me that someday we’ll have to do an Empty Nest Colorado Tour.

“Many,” I agree.

“What will the theme be?”

“Wildflowers, elk, coffee and scrabble.”

Col spots the black bear, humpy, lumbering and thigh-heavy, in the upper clusters of trees. The bucks fold their legs under them and settle in for a morning nap. The elk calves run literal circles around the herd and Dan says it’s their last burst of wild energy before settling into the trees to bed down for the morning. “Like how you guys get a burst of energy before bed.” We drink coffee, hot chocolate and pass the binoculars around.

We pack up camp, resupply in Gunnison, including a trip to Six Points Thrift Store, in which we pick up six more books and three pairs of shoes. Plus the book Dan surreptitiously bought at the Ouray bookstore for an anniversary gift. New book total = 25. Dan and the kids play soccer in the park while I take a walk, charmed by the flowing in-town ditches and subsequently, the greenest lawns this side of the Mississippi. We drive an hour southeast of Gunny to the Quarter-Circle Circle Ranch  at 9,300 feet. The two male hosts (one of whom chain-smokes and packs a pistol, fascinating the kids) give us a quick run down on the wood cookstove, kerosene lamps and 1000 gallon/minute spring, which all serve as our domestic technology for the next couple days.

Evening appetizer. Plus, as Dan says, the siblings are now even. 1:1.

That evening around the campfire we hold a forgiveness ceremony, Quaker meeting-style, in which each family member has a chance to share something they regret from our years of homeschooling, while the others simply listen without commenting. It is profoundly moving to allow the words to be spoken, and then to let them go, absorbed and freed.

DAY FIVE

Dan and I go for a gorgeous and grueling sunrise run and then pack up for fishing on a nearby creek. I’m not prepared for how much I enjoy watching the kids fish. Maybe it’s because I’m sitting beside a meandering mountain stream without much agenda; maybe it’s because I’m with the family, though everyone is quiet and focused (so focused that Rose turns down a snack of chips, a historical first).

The sun peeks in and out of clouds, the plants are tall and seedy, and it’s perfectly quiet except for Dan coaching the kids: “Nice cast. Yup. That’s a fine place to put your hook. Eye on your lure. Start reeling in. Slowly.”

The kids catch nine trout between them. Col winces as he pushes his finger into each fish’s mouth and snaps their spine. Rose performs this task without flinching.

That night, our “evening activity:” decorating prayer flags that Col and his homeschool co-op made six years ago with images representing our homeschooling years. Next, we cook a multi-dish meal (including nine fresh trout) on the wood cookstove, which is an exercise in mindfulness as each burner’s heat is a byproduct of proximity to the firebox and there are no “off” switches.

“Rootedness.”

After dinner Col pulls me out onto the porch and cries in my lap in remorse for the fish he killed.

“Is it sad to think of all those precious fish lives?” I ask, employing empathy as a tool to help him get closer to his emotions.

“Mom, you’re making me sadder,” Col sniffs, deflating into my arms. I trust that allowing that sadness can act like a fire to cleanly burn away emotion, but I back off and just hold him without words.

Later, the kids swing in the most picturesque setting I could imagine and then fight over who gets to light the kerosene lamps until Dan reminds them that there are two. Dan and I come back from a sunset walk to find the kids in the bottom bunk together. “We’re snuggle-wrestling,” Rose explains.

DAY SIX

After breakfast Col says to Rose, “You can draw with me if you want,” which Rose is wise enough to realize is Col’s way of saying, “I want to be with you.” I love how these trips ignite their friendship; or maybe it’s that these trips strip away distractions and complexities, laying bare what was always present.

We’re sad to leave the Quarter-circle Circle Ranch and rejigger our plan to camp in Crestone in favor of heading north (through Salida: coffee and ice cream) to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs for the sake of fun, just pure fun for the kids.

Dan sets up our next campsite and I read poolside while the kids attack the water slide. Rose makes two girlfriends almost immediately and I worry that Col will be left out. When I approach the group Col tells me “These are our new friends Natalie and Lauren. We’re playing with them.”

Back at camp, the kids have a fierce throwdown over who gets to present the hat to Dan that I bought at the ranch. Twenty minutes later they’re sitting around the fire making up new swear words (with copious clicks, consonants, and yak-herding Mongolian sounds), laughing hysterically.

That night, as always, we bring out the drum, the smudge stick, and the nest, for which the kids have found small rocks and special flowers to place inside. We’ve come to love our evening ritual, and I can feel it sealing us together, marking our collective transition out of homeschooling, beginning to transform and ready us for what’s next.

Gathering at the start of a rock labyrinth that we find at our campsite, we hold hands and walk along the stones, recounting our lives together. We name aloud their developmental stages, the decision to stay home together, the names of people who’ve been an integral part of our journey, the kids’ accomplishments, and then we stop at a lodgepole pine where two presents await. They each find a necklace (made by my talented silversmith friend). On one side of the silver coin pendant a heart with wings is etched into the metal; on the other the word: soar. They put their necklaces on and walk over a stone threshold into our arms. “We are your nest, your home,” we tell them. “Always here.”

DAY SEVEN

The kids sleep late. The morning is frosty and Dan and I linger, warming hands on coffee mugs, by the fire. Today is our 15 year wedding anniversary and I wake up feeling…is it happy? I don’t know. It feels deeper, steadier, more trustworthy. I recognize that in a different life, Dan and I would be backpacking in the epic Collegiate mountains surrounding us; the kids, if asked, might choose some sanitized hotel with its packaged entertainment. And yet, there is nowhere I’d rather be than here, the sun mingling in the tops of lodgepole pines, hummingbirds buzzing Col’s red swimshirt hung to dry, frying bacon on the cookstove.

I’m grateful for this trip, for the simplicity, the slow and open rhythm, the ease of so much time and space, the way it’s knitting us together as a family as we each play a different role in our shared story. (I can imagine buying a van and never coming home, looping through this extraordinary state until the kids are 18. But wait – we’re transitioning out of homeschooling.)

We pack up after breakfast and head south. We drive through the San Luis Valley, which is like a Hollywood depiction of the Mountain West: acres of sagebrush meadows rolled out to the foot of the lofty, imposing Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range.

In the car, the kids read. (Not owning hand-held electronics has been a great strategy in not needing hand-held electronics). We find a radio station dubbed “Hippie radio” and sing loudly along with The Who, Stones and the Eagles. Dan rouses the kids from their books to get them to listen to Jethro Tull. “The only rock band to include a flute,” he instructs. The kids are unimpressed but I’m delighted. My partner of 22 years, who prefers bushwhacking in the wilderness to concerts, knows these things?

Dan and I each find a shirt; Col snags a 2009 Oprah magazine, the rights to read it providing sibling fodder for at least 20 minutes of bickering. 

We stop in Crestone for lunch (Desert Sage Restaurant, so good) and leave the kids in a park with ice cream while we take a walk.

“You know, in another fifteen years it’ll be our 30th wedding anniversary, and we’ll be sixty,” I tell Dan, as we take in the funky residential area, seemingly free of pesky building codes.

“We should be in good shape because we already live like 60 year olds. You know, how we enjoy Scrabble, plant identification, taking walks together, no coffee after 3pm.”

Later, heading towards the Sand Dunes, U2’s One comes on. We sing along. Yellow sunflowers blur past our windows and the lyrics almost bring me to tears.

One love, one blood/One life, you got to do what you should/One life with each other/Sisters, brothers/One life, but we’re not the same/We get to carry each other, carry each other.

One life/We get to share it/Leaves you, baby, if you don’t care for it.

The sand dunes are hot and wild. We climb and sink and slide and afterwards Col notices that when he blows his nose, grains of sand come out.

Tonight, our last night, in a lodge in South Fork, is bittersweet. The kids agitate to watch a movie and we acquiesce and head to the hot tub. Already a subtle layer of separation is erected between us and the natural world; between parents and kids; between self-made fun and easy entertainment.

We don’t let the four walls hamper our ritual. Out comes the drum, the smudge and the nest. Tonight, we write peptalks to ourselves, addressing the inevitable challenges that will arise as fledglings. My heart is pierced with the hope and vulnerability of everyone’s words.

DAY EIGHT

Dan and I go on an early run, the chill air hinting at a new season. Rosehips are reddening, the plants are a tangle of late-season overgrowth. Back at our sweet lodge, we cook breakfast on easy appliances, and then write postcards of gratitude to the people who supported us in our homeschooling years. We pack for a final time, feeling the heaviness of endings, but also a tingle of anticipation to return home.

We stop on Wolf Creek Pass for a mushroom hunt, finding a few boletes and the stunning and stalwart gentians, flaring up in summer’s last stand. In Pagosa Springs we make lunch of the last edibles rolling around the almost-empty cooler, remembering how we could barely close it 8 days ago.

After lunch, we wade into the San Juan River holding hands. Together, we lower the nest into the current and watch it surf down the river until it fades out of sight. Goodbye homeschooling. And then, we pile into the car and drive back to our homeland.

  • Our dear friend, Tara Frazer, life-cycle celebrant (trained in family and healing ceremonies by The Celebrant Foundation and Institute in New Jersey), and proprietor of Four Trees Life Coaching and Ceremonies provided unparalleled assistance in planning our ceremonies. She can be reached at tarafrazer@yahoo.com

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August transition

2017 August 11
by Rachel Turiel

The rains have come, the evening grosbeaks have returned, the zucchini plants are spitting out slender, green fruit, and I just bought a hefty bag of school supplies for Col and Rose. (Rose did a good job of calming me down in the school supply aisle of the Store That Will not be Named when I was possibly over-reacting about the 75 pencils Col is supposed to show up with. But really. 75?).

Which is to say, transition is brewing. Sigh. School starts in 10 days. Archery season starts soon after. Our beloved foster dog is getting adopted today. Mornings and nights carry a chill. And as per mid-August usual, I’m pacing the garden, certain the tomatoes will never ripen before first frost.

Best recipe for fermented pickles here.

I spent much of June and early July trying to keep the garden alive, stopping just short of fanning the spinach on the hottest of days. Now, after steady weeks of rain, mushrooms are sprouting under the ash tree and our bathroom door has so swelled with moisture that we can’t shut it. Not that we ever did much anyway. The rain has made me so magnanimous that yesterday a pair of grasshoppers flagrantly mated in front of the chard—the same nemeses who’ve all summer had a 25 cent bounty on their head—and I just shrugged and laughed.

At home, Col reads and reads (this series, lately), while Rose fills the chicken’s water with fresh mint leaves, trims her own hair, strums through her small repertoire of ukulele songs and leaves a thin, but accumulating scrim of clothes on the floor so that the earth’s crust is no longer its outermost layer.

We leave tomorrow for our weeklong Farewell to Homeschooling Colorado Tour, which is centered around camping, farmers markets, fishing, and some ceremony and acknowledgement around our years of homeschooling and the big transition ahead. The theme is fledge.

Tying flies for fishing. Dan to Col: “My grandfather taught me that when you’re tying a fly you want to make it durable.”

Right now we’re packing: the recent overabundant crop of zucchinis, the last of the wild meat, many books, and Dan announces he’d like to bring (in our already jammed up Subaru) his 3D foam, lifesize deer archery target. I wait for him to laugh, letting me know this is a joke. “I could remove the legs,” he suggests.

With love and affection in these waning days of summer,

Rachel

p.s. From the “there you have it” files:


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The news from 12,000 feet

2017 August 4
by Rachel Turiel

“We’re going into the eye of the teeth,” Dan tells me as we ramble up the forest service road, motioning towards the heavy, grey clouds ahead. I think he’s mixing metaphors, or anatomy, or something, but, it’s true, the sky has dropped, storm clouds knocking around in all directions.

We miss the storm somehow, and find a sweet, secluded spot to set up camp for two nights, the time-carved humps of Hermosa Peak rising up in the front yard of our view. There are no trailheads or 14-ers to draw people, and it’s quiet here. The kids are on a double sleepover, and I tamp down my Mama-anxieties by reminding myself that everyone is exactly where they want to be this weekend.

Full disclosure: we traded a WWII era rifle for this canvas wall tent, which makes waiting out a thunderstorm (with woodstove, New Yorker magazine and coffee) extremely pleasant.

We fall asleep to rain, wake to ravens. Our first morning, we consult the map and make a plan: up this forested chute, under that talus slope, up through the last trees and then popping out into the alpine. This is exactly what I want my 45 year old body to be able to do, I realize as we cinch up packs and set off early, hoping to spend as much time as possible above the trees before the afternoon storms auger in.

We scare up three fat grouse, watch a family of five weasels scamper and twist like furred-snakes with feet, hear coyotes yipping, fall in love with all the flowers, get busted by pikas who stand sentinel on their rock piles eeep-ing at us. We spot five sleek, orangey-brown bucks, a herd of over a hundred elk on a distant ridge, and four big bull elk napping by a snow patch.

Dan moves—quiet and alert—like there could be an animal around every bend. And, sometimes there is. We scare up a doe from her bed in what Dan calls a “juicy meadow.” Dan motions across the lush, greenness of it, red and orange paintbrush confettied throughout, and asks, “Doesn’t it sort of make you wish you were an herbivore?” Dan marks up his map with notable info, like: “wallow here,” “juicy meadow,” or “flower city,” the way others might make a note of a great vegetarian restaurant when traveling somewhere new.

At 12,000 feet, looking out onto the panorama of San Juan mountains, we make our own weather forecasts: Raining on the La Platas; high pressure over the Sleeping Ute; storms building over Lizard Head; moisture pummeling Grizzly Peak.

Why is our human eye so attracted to mountains – to these uplifted and eroded rocks?

At 12,000 feet, the spruce and fir trees are smaller than humans, the willows smaller than my hand.

There are no trails; we navigate our route based on weather, wildflowers and elk.

The sky lifts and we lay down in a patch of flowers, boggling over the questions of life. Like, if no matter is created or destroyed, from what does a seed become a towering spruce tree? Why such breathtakingly specific diversity of lifeforms – the feathery petals of paintbrush and the tight, circular disk of a sunflower?; the floppy petals of sneezeweed and the cylindrical funnel of bluebells? Why does arnica always bloom in configurations of either 1, 3 or 5 flowers? Why is my mind so drawn to wildflowers that I want to roll around in them, get their scent on me?

WHO CREATED THE FLOWER WE CALL ELEPHANTHEAD? AND WHY?

Back at camp, we make a fire, crack beers and consider the thousands of conversations we could catch up on from the past 12 years. Instead, we opt for what’s alive in us right now (Weasels! Sore muscles, epic-ing over everything, the holy simplicity of this moment). Grey jays call from the thicket of trees above us. Robins congregate in open spots. The sun closes up shop on another breathtaking summer day, trading places with stars.

Related posts:

This Moment
Fireworks
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Feeling all the feels

2017 July 26
by Rachel Turiel


I am sprawled on the couch in post-everything formation: post-beer, post-dinner, post-bell curve plummet of my own energy. I am reading to the kids, who are similarly sprawled at the end of their own long, lovely summer day.

“The thing is,” Rose interrupts, “part of the reason I was so disappointed is because I was so excited for Summer Soccer Fun. And then I felt like crying on the field.” I immediately close our book and breathe some space into the collapsing tunnel of my 9pm mind.

“Summer Soccer Fun” is a weekly, informal community soccer game which Dan coaches and refs, open to everyone. It’s one of the highlights of our week – all these little bodies passionately chasing a ball. (I’m always so impressed with the girls, because when a ball comes towards me, I run the other way).

Tonight was a hard game for Rose. The one other girl who is reliably there was out of town. Some intimidatingly good, new boys showed up. Her shorts split within the first quarter. She didn’t play her best.

I scroll through all my possible responses, the explanations, the reassurances, the advice-giving, none of which actually say: I hear your pain. And admittedly, there is a part of me that has a slight agenda for both of my children to be the next Dalai Lama. So, when I see their discouragement, their quickness to second-guess themselves, how they can be derailed by self-doubt I can feel disappointed that their Bodhisattva training is not quite complete.

And yet, Rose is making it easy for me by naming her feelings rather than launching small emotional missiles at innocent family members, as we all tend to do when inside the claustrophobic storm of our own pain. (i.e. my pain becomes your fault because that feels better than sitting with my pain). Great, short, funny video from Brené Brown on blame here.

“I get it, sweetie,” I tell her. “You were so excited all day for soccer, and then it didn’t go how you wanted, that made it extra disappointing. You really missed having Carson there. Sounds like it feels really supportive and more comfortable when there’s even just one other girl.”

There’s nothing to fix. Just feelings to acknowledge and allow.

We’re cool with all the feelings around here. All of them. Rose tells me about her nervousness on the first day of camp and how it feels like a stomachache. Col shares that he’s jealous when it seems other kids have parents who just take them to Walmart and buy them things. Dan told me yesterday that he felt embarrassed. The kids know that I can get overwhelmed and overstimulated when they decide to perform a Journey tribute on kazoo at 7:00am.

When the kids name rather than act out a feeling, it’s like a 911 call to my brain: Stop, listen, empathize. This is not to say that the path is always direct. Last night we had to employ some high level sleuthing to determine that Col’s verbal smackdown towards Rose was due to anger over her ending a game abruptly, hours ago. Of course it helps when I remember I’m not a Mama wolf who needs to bite my child into submission. We try to investigate the emotional missiles by looking into what needs aren’t being met in the moment. (“She ended the game. I was mad. I had a need for consideration.”) Because, focusing on the behavior rather than what’s behind it is like trailing the wrong culprit in a crime, i.e. you’ll never solve it.

Brené Brown, writes in her latest, bestselling book, Rising Strong, that acknowledging and allowing feelings is a characteristic of the most resilient people. “We cannot selectively numb emotions,” Brown says. “When we numb the painful emotions we also numb the positive emotions.”

The comedian Louis CK explains that he won’t get his kids cell phones because every time they’re sad, they’ll reach for their phone as a distraction instead of dealing with their sadness. About a sorrowful moment, he says “I cried so much. And it was beautiful. You’re lucky to live sad moments.”

Lisa Feldman Barrett, neuroscientist, has discovered that the more accurately we can pinpoint an emotion, distinguishing between alarm, concern, unease, rather than general “awfulness,” the more likely we are to manage our stress without aggression or addiction. She cites studies that show cancer patients have lower levels of harmful inflammation when they more frequently categorize, label and understand their emotions.

And really, feelings are like the engine light in your car, simply an indicator that something needs our attention. For instance, children’s boredom can be a sign that they’d love an opportunity to contribute, to know their lives have purpose; resentment can indicate a need to be heard; doubt might be a flag pointing to a wish for support and encouragement.

And just like the weather, emotions pass. If we get comfortable with temporary storms of jealousy, anger, fear and despair, giving each feeling compassion, it’s less likely we’ll act on these emotions, which is where we often cause suffering to others. If we “name it to tame it,” as psychologist Daniel Siegel suggests (by simply naming the emotion), it diffuses the charge, making us less likely to numb ourselves with food, exercise, alcohol and drugs, shopping, busyness, withdrawal or blame. It’s no wonder addiction has been called an emotional disease.

And really, this is all good news. Sitting through a rollicking emotional storm is uncomfortable, even scary at times. But, if all our efforts towards stopping the weather of our children’s emotions are put towards care for their pain, amazing things happen. When disappointment comes unbidden (losing at a board game, plans fall through), we can help our children recognize and greet an old friend.  Oh it’s you, disappointment. New neural pathways are built and strengthened. Trust is built. And the path to peace becomes more direct.

Related posts:

parenting as a practice
Field guide to weathering the (emotional) storm, and *an invitation
I can understand that

Reading is medicine and other summer discoveries

2017 July 13
by Rachel Turiel

“I feel so much better,” Rose tells me after a midday slump, in which she was certain we’d already spent our whole summer at home, isolated and lonely, wringing feeble drops of fun out of a motley assortment of neglected playthings.

I didn’t mention that we had just returned from a mother-daughter backpacking trip with friends, or that she had declined a tubing invite for the sake of rest and regrouping after skinny-dipping in mountain lakes and “feeling so responsible” hefting her pack through the mountains. I hugged her, listened, murmured my understanding and led her to the couch to read to her. Because reading is medicine.

Alternative reading positions.

Everything else is so July-familiar: the way I’m waiting for the monsoons without an ounce of equanimity – the clouds aggregating and posturing like teenagers while I feel only greed; the way Rose cruises through the buffet of our garden nabbing peas, raspberries, serviceberries, and cherry tomatoes – and how I pretend to care that she gets first crack, but secretly love her foraging ways; the way I return euphorically sweaty from early morning runs, Col greeting me at the door with a hug that he retracts when he sees how damp I am and then overrides it, falling into my arms; the way I tell Dan that I’ve got a good idea and he says, “really?!?” eyeing the bedroom.

I think summer is halfway over, if school starting up is the benchmark. This may or may not be the time to announce that after six years of homeschooling, the kids are going to (a project-based) public school this fall. I know. What is this: 6512 and growing institutionalized learners?

The metaphor here, Dan says, is that for so long we fed our babies in the nest and now they’re ready to fly. And there’s so much more to it, like the part about how I never exactly loved being my child’s teacher. I loved snuggling on the couch while we read another chapter of Harry Potter (language arts?), loved lounging around making cookie balls in our pajamas (fractions?), loved that they had time to play, so much time to play.

But also, honestly? I feel a huge sense of relief in handing over this responsibility to someone else. I have ambitions that don’t involve selecting and overseeing another semester of curriculum. I don’t want to be the enforcer of sentence capitalization.

And I will miss them like crazy. I will worry about the pressures of school, popular culture and fitting in. I will secretly wonder if much of institutionalized learning is a time- and soul-suck. And I will remind myself that Col and Rose are emotionally intelligent and self-aware, cooperative yet empowered, and that they love to read; and if that’s what came from our past six years of homeschooling (plus an encyclopedic knowledge of airplanes and excellent gymnastics skills), then I’ll celebrate that.

What we’re reading:

The kids and I are reading Land of Stories, about which I feel the same way I do when the kids ask to play at a park – like some wholesome, innocent nub of their childhood still remains. Also because Col is reading books in which children are starving and parentless and pitted against each other, this series seems really tame, despite all the (predictable) villains. And I’m not even talking about Hunger Games, though he loved that series too.

Col is devouring this and this series.

I read and loved:

The Leavers (novel – about immigration and adoption, China and NYC, and the most gorgeous, wrenching, arresting writing).

Unsettlers (non-fiction – about people breaking up with consumerism and forging their own way in America).

All These Wonders (delightful, illuminating and surprising true stories from the Moth live storytelling event)

And the Dark and Sacred Night (fiction so believable you forget you’re reading about people that don’t exist).

The Bright Hour: a memoir of living and dying (memoir – painfully beautiful and heartbreaking).

Love,

Rachel

Related posts:

Got me the technology blues
Book list swap
the singing season

the ordinary sacredness of one afternoon

2017 June 22
by Rachel Turiel

In our family’s archery cosmology there are many ways to make a good shot. Your arrow can fly straight and smooth, loosed from the runway of your fingers like a bird fleeing a cat. If you overshoot your target, but your aim is perfect, someone’s still likely to say, “Niiiice.” There’s also beautiful form, on which the kids coach me (“Look at the target, Mama, not your hand”), and which I’ll always accept with a flush of amazed gratitude because it’s reassuring to watch your children outstrip your skills. You’ll even be recognized simply for not getting permanently discouraged when your arrow fizzles mid-flight, nose-diving five feet from the target, again.

It’s Father’s Day and we’re on a family bow shoot in the fragrant, shade-streaked woods, moving together in semi-organized unity. We all shoot handmade bows, and I like the look of the smooth, bendy wood in our hands. The ancient humanity of it isn’t lost on me, nor the relief that the kids’ fingers aren’t yet clutched around electronic rectangles from which they’ll someday access a more complex, fraught human experience.

The kids both take aim at a rotting stump and then solicitously, as if I were stooped and fragile, lead me in closer for my shot. There’s an ordinary sacredness to this day, the kind you’d miss if you weren’t the type to feel nostalgic for the moment that just passed.

On a Venn Diagram of our individual passions, our circles seem to be moving farther apart. There’s not a sliver of overlap between Col’s fondness for nerf guns and my interest in wildflowers. Dan’s tolerance for the undeodorized smells of wild animals, alive or dead, hasn’t acclimated him to the offensive nasal sting of Rose’s nail polish. And vice versa.

What we do enjoy together is increasingly precious. This is why we clear the calendar to watch the NBA finals, all of us gathered around the laptop, alternately cheering and biting our nails (And Rose creating a roster of nicknames for her favorite players). Or, why we foster puppies, each of us (well, 3 out of 4) unified in ushering little creatures towards their forever homes. Or, why I still read to the kids before bed, a beloved ritual, someday obsolete.

As the kids’ inner and outer lives become more complex, joining together for low stakes fun (i.e. no one’s trying to have a serious discussion about feelings) in the peaceful setting of the woods brings us back to a simpler time. Plus, the hermit thrushes are singing, elk meat is marinating in a cooler, and Rose is pointing out the next target – that dark dirt mound behind a rotting stump.

“You mean that little grouse poking its head up?” Dan asks.

“No Daddy, it’s a turkey,” Rose says, slamming her arrow into the target.

We roam the forest for another hour and then head back to our car where Rose makes a fire and Col wanders around seeking spruce sap, irresistibly flammable, to coat the ends of sticks.

I crack a beer, start piecing together shish kabobs, and think, I could do this forever. And then I realize, we have been.

Col returns with sap and starts conducting fire experiments. He responds to our safety admonishments with, “You guys are so parent-noid.”

Really, it’s such a short time that we’re all together in this particular configuration of family. Who knows how the Venn diagrams of our lives will continue to coalesce and separate; what will remain and what will fall away. We grill and devour the kabobs, share a little chocolate and I read to the kids while they gaze into the fire.

“It’s going to be such a great drive back,” says Rose, who’s good at pre-emptive happiness. “We’re gonna be all full and fat and happy.”

xo,

Rachel

Notable Dan moments, in honor of Father’s Day:

:: Last summer we hiked into an old miner’s cabin above Silverton, about which it was written in the log book “would never be locked,” (my story about it here and Dan’s here). Alas, due to disrespect of visitors it was locked. We had brought a can of soup to cook on the wood stove. And Dan forgot to bring a lighter. The kids were panicked. Then, Dan found 15-year old emergency matches in his pack and a metal file. We had hot soup for lunch.

:: One morning near a campsite in late May, Dan found this wild turkey, shot hours before and left (with just the breasts removed). He brought it back to camp, removed all the remaining meat and we ate wild turkey fried in bacon grease for breakfast. God bless the scavengers. Plus the biggest pot of turkey soup enjoyed for weeks.

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even boredom gets boring and spinach pie

2017 June 13
by Rachel Turiel

Last weekend from our camping spot you could see into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Beyond my wood-chopping daughter is Sleeping Ute Mountain. We could also see the Abajos in Utah, Shiprock in New Mexico and the Chuska Range in Arizona.

The girls did a lot of cooking.

The boys did a lot of projectile-arts.They rotated through BB guns, a .22 rifle, throwing knives and archery. That’s Mesa Verde in the distance.

The girls launched some projectiles, too. But I don’t think the boys did any cooking.

We’ve been acquiring foster dogs at an increasing rate. Last week, late at night, I tiptoed into our bedroom and whispered to Dan, “there are two people asleep in our house who aren’t people.”

Now we just have Iris, a little heeler mix, who is a bit timid with me but adores Col and Rose. “Iris is like a little sister to you,” I told Rose last week. “Literally,” she replied. (Indeed. That same night Rose was given a bag of hand me down clothes and Iris immediately nabbed the pink bathing suit and dragged it away).

You can tell summer vacation has begun because Rose is strumming a ukulele with the confidence of a Hawaiian master (though she’s only been “playing” for a total of 2.6 assorted and unrelated hours), while Col is unleashing nerf bullets at a frightening velocity. It’s an odd sort of duet.

We’re freefalling into summer. Despite homeschooling, we keep a fairly regular schedule during the school year, and last week our entire routine plummeted off the cliff. The kids are like prisoners just released, a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of their freedom, searching for the cruise director with her schedule of activities. (The cruise director can be found in her garden plotting the next strategic action against the hundreds of roly polys who are mowing down her tender seedlings. FYI: brain size not related to success here).

This is the checklist I left for the kids before going on a run last week and leaving them to meet up with buddies at the Rec Center. I came home to kids gone and all boxes checked, and not to be over-dramatic, but wondered if this was a little like witnessing a the first lunar landing.

Our summer program is loose, unfolding in real time and sponsored by the kindness of friends plus tween independence. We’ve been sending the kids out into the world with my old flip phone (replaced with my mom’s newer old flip phone), snacks, and a general plan. Rose called me from the pool last week to say, “I met a new friend named Mackenzie. She’s here from Albuquerque. Can she sleep over? I’m going to put her on now.”

Some days a heavy blanket of boredom falls across the house and motes of snark fall directly into the kids’ eyes. Next, a nerf bullet is accidentally launched at a ukulele. Suddenly, Rose becomes gravely concerned with every questionable action Col has ever taken. “He really should have made eye contact with that tour guide last fall. I mean she was looking right at him!” Col may start singing an unflattering song about someone whose name rhymes with his sister’s. Just then, Rose decides that Col is playing too rough with the puppy, the puppy who is dying for someone to roughhouse with her.

At this time I send the children outside with their little canine sister where fresh air and space seems to brush the snark from their eyes. They inevitably end up two feet from each other and I remember this is part of summer; that most inventiveness starts with a little boredom, and boredom is like a hot, sticky pit they have to crawl out from before they come into the refreshing waterfall of their own creativity.

I’m not entirely sure what the goal of summer is anymore. Like if Col spends half a day in the dark, zombie-chamber of his room reading comic books, only to emerge to have a nerf war with the neighbors, and Rose is bouncing around between the pool and the ice cream shop downtown, sending me responsible, though poorly-spelled texts and I’m home working staging my latest coup against the roly polys, are we covering all the bases?

The Union of Young, Beleaguered Spinach Processors.

We’re in a glut of spinach and eggs right now, which make so many great combinations, even if mostly we’re eating spinach omelets because no one wants to actually stand at the hot stove for more than ten minutes at a time. This spinach pie requires a bit more time but is totally worth it because it’s a crowd-pleaser, makes for great leftovers, the kids love it and it’s walloped with green things that I’m sure they’re deficient in.

Last night after Col helped me clean up our spinach pie dinner, he said, “Thanks for letting me help clean up dinner.”

“What part are you thankful for?”

“That it’ll help prepare me for when I have a wife.”

Spinach Pie

Prep time: 30 minutes; Bake time: 40 minutes; makes two 9″ pies.
Ingredients:
3-5 medium potatoes (mix of sweet and white OK – equal to approx 4 cups cooked tates)

3-4 cups packed raw spinach
1 cup minced onions
4 eggs
2 cups grated cheese
5 TBSP butter 
3 minced garlic cloves

1-2 tsp salt and/or pepper to taste

1 small can tomato paste, or 16 oz tomato sauce or salsa (optional)

Directions:

Chop potatoes into approx 1/2” pieces and steam until fully cooked. Meanwhile, sauté onions, garlic, spinach and butter in a pan for 10-15 minutes. Beat eggs in a large bowl. When potatoes are cooked, add all ingredients into bowl with eggs and mix. Pour mixture into two 9” pie pans and bake for 35-40 minutes at 375F. After 20 minutes of baking, spread tomato sauce/paste/salsa on top of pies.

The merging of all ingredients:

Ready for the oven:

Out of the oven 40 minutes later:

So, so yummy:

“I love this meal but I’d rather be playing ukulele.”

How we adults like to eat spinach pie:

xo,

Rachel

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