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the gift of paying attention

2019 May 24
by Rachel Turiel

The lilacs are overdoing it, drooping under the weight of their own perfumed purpleness. The fruit trees have had their 15 minutes of flowery fame and are now settling into the more serious business of making fruit for the masses.

The robins, who just last month (photos restored on last post!), were part of the dominant paradigm, have vanished. The black headed grosbeaks are now flashing their outrageously orange breasts, while the year-round residents patiently make room for the showy tourists. Yesterday I got almost no work done because two white crowned sparrows navigated their way from California to our very crab apple trees.

Serviceberry enjoying the 225% of average precipitation this month.

Rose turned 12 on a very pink day:

Col created an imaginary recessive squirrel mutation called “Squirrelentia,” in which affected squirrels become particularly rabid, prone to ripping the hands off humans. Yay, science class!

Dan is apparently still learning when to say when on elk antlers.

Mother’s Day came and went with promises for more comically-altered newspapers. Just what a mom wants.

We had (invasive) Eurasian-collared dove for breakfast.

I have a new garden apprentice! Rebecca lives downstairs and has a special way of caring for everyone on the property. When I’m ready to pull out the volunteer yarrow and toss it in the compost she gently suggests, “maybe we can replant that somewhere else.” Of course we can! Here we are planting tomatoes just before a predicted low of 29F. Because you know how wild I can be.

We adopted a dog! Rocket’s been with us for almost three weeks and has exponentially increased the flow of love in the house. His main focus is loving everyone exactly as they are and stashing bones under the peach tree (though occasionally a stinky deer leg ends up in Col’s bed). Dan and Rocket have been sharing elk liver (raw for Rocket, sautéed in cream and onions for Dan) and I think they both feel a particular kinship in their shared culinary appreciations. Rocket is really here to help us through the teenage years, to deliver the message that we’re each worthy of love just as we are. He is allowed on the couch because it’s important that he take his message to where the people are at. 

Today, Rocket is snoozing on the couch after dunking his children in love and sending them off for their last day of school. I am thinking about a training I did for liberal activists this week; I learned a lot from them, but did notice they did not seem to enjoy the activity of connecting with our Republican senator’s humanity (However, I love trying to see the humanity in everyone while remaining strong in my own truth and passion. Call me for a training!). The lilacs I cut yesterday are counteracting any circulating dog smells (we now blame all bad smells on Rocket). And the brave tomatoes made it through the frosty night.

Yesterday the kids had end of the year Presentations of Learning. Col communicated his personal growth through comic illustrations.

“So, my friends and I were throwing edamame shells at each other and I decided to clean up the shells on the ground even though no one else was.” Col’s take on integrity.

In Rose’s presentation, she shared the quote she created last year: There will always be someone who does better than you, and someone who does worse, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try your best. This year, she explained, she refined her guiding quote to better fit her 6th grade self (her 6th grade self!!!): I want to focus on the positive and celebrate my accomplishments without comparing myself to others. Me too, Rose. All of us, too.

These were the last 3 books I loved, even though each was painful to read in its own way. Maid. A Mother’s Reckoning. Little Fires Everywhere (this last one was fiction, at least).

Last night I was giving Col a back rub, which seems to counteract all the misfiring neurons, the testosterone-sponsored boundary-pushing, the sister-directed snark, the spontaneous beatboxing (which I’ve come to love…after coffee) and he said, “that feels so good. If I could stay in one moment forever, this would be it.”

I kind of feel that way about spring, how it comes on so slow and mysterious, the wild lupine creating breathtaking purple tributes to themselves and then naturally fading into their own seedy background. The land is waking up into a procession of awe: vining clematis, pinkest phlox, and macgillivray’s warblers flashing yellow as they flit into the cottonwoods.

This daily parade of awe-inspiring life feels like the gift for paying attention.

p.s. Dan explaining why we didn’t get the kids easter baskets this year. “We’re Jewish, we passover Easter.” (Only some of us thought this was funny).

sunny with a chance of robins…and teenagers

2019 April 17
by Rachel Turiel

*not sure why photos aren’t showing up; it’s kind of distracting. Try back later? But I love that you’re here, and love every comment you leave (hint hint). xo

First, the robins came, descending on our crabapple trees like an efficient crew dispatched to pluck every last dangling, winter-shriveled, red orb. Next came the cedar waxwings with their black, comic book hero eye masks and inexplicable yellow-dipped tails, so lovely and uncommon that I wondered how to make up the guest bed of our yard and entice them to stay awhile. By the time the evening grosbeaks showed up, I thought the tree was picked clean, and yet, like the clown car of the vegetative world, the crabapple trees renewed themselves daily. There’s something wondrous about the orchestration of it all; the elegance and simplicity of resources flowing towards needs.


Snowy robin.

In other news, there are apparently teenaged people in the house. Col’s voice just dropped a few octaves, and both kids come home from school requiring an afternoon snack that lasts right into dinner. I find myself saying antiquated things like, “save your appetite for dinner,” while Col growls like a wolf at the kill of his cereal bowl, urging me to back off. And secretly I love all this feeding of children; how I can hand them a plate of cheese and apple slices like a tangible manifestation of my love. Whew.

Where does she keep finding these longer sets of legs to snap on?

Last week Col’s buddy Cedar was here, both of them gulping cereal before soccer practice. I was milling around, always interested to eavesdrop get a sense of who Col is with his adolescent friends, listening in on what’s important in their lives.

Col: I hate it when I pour too much milk in my cereal bowl.

Cedar: Yeah. You want just enough milk so that your cereal floats.

Pause for chewing.

Col: I’m really happy with how my Hero’s Journey comic is coming out for Humanities.

Cedar: You should see mine, it’s so cool. Super Homer Simpson Duck.

Col: I’ve seen it. It doesn’t look like Homer Simpson. Or a Duck.

Pause for unrelated beatboxing.

Col: My comic has ten panels leading up to the Call to Action.

Cedar: That’s so dumb.

Col: Why?

Cedar: Because you should have less, like me.

While they are loading granola into their mouths you can almost smell strange hormonal processes happening. Their bodies must constantly tingle with growth; bones and tendons knitting into larger versions of themselves like little factories operating around the clock. Frontal lobes are scribbling out pathways titled “what’s cool now” and “that’s so dumb” while perhaps other trajectories like “discernment” or “caring over-much” get pruned.

Sometimes we’re all gathered at dinner, chatting and eating, and Col lets out a string of beatboxes, almost as if he’s re-organizing his brain, or issuing a neural placeholder as he moves from “gory comics I wanna draw” into “conversation with parents.” Then he tells us, “I just love our house.” When we press him on details, he looks around and says, “Just, you know, where the bathroom is placed. It’s just perfect.”

Is he meditating? Pausing for a mini growth spurt? Re-routing neural pathways into “family appropriate humor?”

We took a trip to the Sonoran Desert over spring break. These are Rosie’s photos:

And yet, connection is just as important to the tween/teen set as when they were little. This morning Rose e-mailed me from school saying, simply: “I want you to e-mail me.” Fair enough. And when I’m not parenting via food, I like to give Col long back rubs on the couch while we chat about potential summer jobs for him (the other option is to install retractable spikes on the couch). Here, he can unload bits of his mind with me. He tells me he appreciates the friends he can have actual conversations with. “It’s a sort of maturity thing,” he explains (and then the next morning, 35F, takes off for school on his bike without a jacket).

Rose is two feet away, making another batch of slime while sharing her current grievances. And it’s so strangely Pavlovian, how I’m primed to want to respond with my great, logical advice when she’s hunkered down in her amygdala. I can help! says the well-intentioned heroine, Supermom. Yet, if Rose is swamped with jealousy, anxiety, sadness, all my wisdom will land as tangibly and helpfully as if I just responded in French. i.e. this never equates to a good teaching moment. All I can do is meet her where she’s at, surrounding her emotions with love and care while checking to see if she’s ready to move into her upper brain, where she can access choice, logic, planning and empathy.

******

I’ve read two excellent books. Both of them heartbreaking. This is a novel about a Nigerian immigrant family trying to find success on America’s terms, and the pain that fundamentalism can wreak on a teenager’s expression of sexuality. And this non-fiction book was written by an undercover reporter who spent four months working as a guard in a Louisiana prison, and who found the system so inherently inhospitable to anyone’s humanity, it became disturbingly and increasingly more challenging for him to treat the inmates with respect over time. More cheery reading!

Oh, and the kids and I just finished another Carl Hiaasen book. We love how he always provides an adventurous plot through which to show that teenagers are mostly well intentioned and misunderstood and adults are often buffoons doing various levels of damage to the earth and society.

*******

There are a few crabapples left on the trees, and every day a couple robins touch down to wrestle one off with their long beaks. The vultures have returned, and the apricots are at various stages of bursting into bloom. The mornings are cold questions, answered by deliciously warm afternoons. We are harvesting chard from the greenhouse and stealthing it into dinner as we watch from our big windows, life transform, inside and out.

Mending

2019 March 8
by Rachel Turiel

Far, far away a millionaire lawyer is testifying against a (supposedly) billionaire president while myriad news outlets cover the shockingness of it all, though our collective sense of shock seems to have been hammered and deadened. Nearby, a democratic presidential nominee is proposing a 2% tax on people whose assets are worth over 50 million, which seems a bit like someone’s very distant Monopoly game.

And here, in Tupperware Heights, snow is melting, robins are singing their hearts out, and siskins gather in the ash tree at 7:30am like spectators waiting for the game to start, belting out their collective buzzy zhreeee, sounding very urgent.

Inside, 36 tiny tomato seedlings perform sun salutes through the muted window. We listen to Tattoo You on cassette and the kids can’t believe people used to just wait for tapes to rewind. Rose is amassing a PhD on slime. Col is selling used lego minifigures on Ebay, making frequent solo trips to the post office to mail out tiny packages. I have been mending wool socks and jeans, sewing up, with minimal skill, heel holes and knee blow outs and feeling unexpected happiness about reviving a pair of winter socks with a needle and thread.

Col and Rose are also babysitting weekly AKA receiving teachings from a 3 year old who told us sagely last week, “Sometimes I’m nervous to go to ballet class because I really just like to stay home and play and eat snacks.” We were all stunned quiet for a second and then were like: thank you for giving voice to the truth.

Dan is lasered in on the neighborhood bucks, in their season of dropping antlers. He’s tuned into their daily perambulations, and will send me texts from work: “Can you check on Longbeam? Last seen at the crabapple on Eastlawn.” “Still antlered,” I’ll text back.

Last week in the neighborhood Col and I saw a big buck with one antler, and called Dan at work to describe it to him. “Okay, so he has a notch in his right ear?” Dan asked. “And some patches on his upper side? That’s Obsession Buck. He had both antlers this morning.” You could hear the suspense music cued up in his brain.

Longbeam, Quirky-tine, Obsession buck and one of the ‘small-mediums’ during the week we got three feet of snow:

Longbeam holding steady, and his antler-less buck posse.

Three years in a row of Obsession Buck’s left side antlers. In background: slime studies.

It snowed a little in February.

I got a really lovely award: The Durango Women’s Resource Center Extraordinary Woman of 2019: champion of Peace and Nonviolence. Article here. Wow. Though the honor brought up enough stress in me that I had to book a therapy appointment, I am now feeling even more strengthened and bolstered to stand in my own power as I walk the path of nonviolence. Please check class listings for upcoming classes. And if you don’t see something that works for you, make a request! (Also, a reader from Honolulu has offered technical support for an online nonviolent communication class, so look for that offering in April).

Being highlighted and recognized by a room of 150 people is a few galaxies out of my comfort zone. 

My sister-friend-collaborator-cheerleader Kati Esperes-Stevens speaking about my work and saving me from speaking about my work:

One of the central practices of nonviolent communication is to speak honestly with the most care for the collective, while listening for what core needs (like belonging, safety, meaning, autonomy) are underlying others’ opinions, judgments and behavior. When we can see what’s truly at the essence of our and others’ behavior and words, we can soften to them and ourselves, opening up to infinite possibilities for collaborative resolution.

Sometimes it looks like this: (told with kid-permission, cause that’s where we’re at in 2019).

Rose is getting ready for soccer practice when Col comes home with a friend and the friend’s dad (who is picking something up from me) and Col immediately kicks Rose’s soccer ball out from under her. She protests. He ramps up, keeping it away from her with more force and effort. Col’s friend, watching, laughs. Rose is getting annoyed because she’s trying to get her soccer gear together and get out the door; I am feeling embarrassed because I want this dad to see me as a competent mom and my kids as good people. Suddenly the kids start tug-o-warring with the soccer ball like toddlers with a toy truck. Annoyance and embarrassment increase! Col’s friend continues to laugh, though I detect some discomfort in his voice. I get Rose to help me get stuff together for the friend’s dad and then everyone leaves except me and Col.

I approach Col in his room with some victim narratives and punishment fantasies running through my head. I can’t believe he did that to me! I’ll take away his screen time! (hint: punishment is a strategy we use to assuage our own anger; it doesn’t address the actual issue, so the issue will resurface).

Me: Hey Col, that was really hard for me. I felt really embarrassed because I want people to see the best in you, and to see me as a good parent. (Already, I feel some relief in naming this, owning my reaction). And Rose felt really annoyed. She just wanted to get out the door with ease. I’m wondering if you were trying to make your friend laugh by dominating Rose?

Col: Yeah, I guess so.

Me: Okay. And what do you get through his laughter?

Col: He thinks I can dominate Rose.

Me: Yeah. And what does that get you? (because dominating your sister isn’t a true need).

Col: He thinks I’m better than her.

Me: Okay, yeah. And if he thinks you’re better than your sister, then what do you get?

Col: He admires me.

Me: (I let his words be, though I internally translate as him wanting to be seen, appreciated and belong.) I totally get that. I want you to feel admired, too! You want your buddy to think you’re cool, and funny and that you have some power in this household. Is that right?

Col: Yeah.

Me: Do you see that your strategy has a high cost to me and Rose?

Col: Yeah, I don’t want it to have a cost to you. And I don’t want it to have a cost to Rose. (I feel tremendous relief and celebration hearing this, and have almost completely softened to Col).

Me: Can you think of some other ways you can get that admiration from your friend that doesn’t have a cost to us?

Col: I could show him some of my art, or tell him about my eBay sales.

Me: I love those ideas. Do they feel doable?

Col: Totally.

Because we are interdependent beings, when we trust that our needs matter we are more willing to meet the needs of others. And if we know we can contribute to others without sacrificing our own needs, we are more likely to choose this because, well, it feels damn good to contribute to the well being of others. We’re wired for that!

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

All the love,

Rachel

bits

2019 February 7
by Rachel Turiel

Yesterday Dan and I were taking a walk in the neighborhood, me jabbering away as I tend to do, him glassing people’s backyards for familiar bucks as he tends to do, when he crossed the street and walked right up to a large, funky deer antler that had just been shed. After doing a little ceremonial ritual on Crestview Ave, Dan picked up the antler, studied it for a moment, and announced “Ahh, it’s The Limper.”

Finding one of The Limper’s antlers is pretty exciting, but the big bonanza will be finding “Obsession-Buck’s” antlers for a third year in a row. Will keep you posted.

Col made some retro technology greeting cards (thank you Brooke at Basin Printing, Patron Saint of children’s creativity). He would like you to know that you can buy 5 cards for $5 or 10 cards for $8. He would also like you to know that although he had to look up an Atari game console and Walkman on the internet, the flip phone was found in his mother’s pocket. See them on Dan’s etsy site.

Col’s cards.

Stack o’ hides–tails included!–also on Dan’s etsy shop, for that special person in your life.

Also, I have been so strengthened and soothed by the work of Natalie and Nathan at the Center for Emotional Education. Getting on their e-mail list is a short path to excellent support and soothing wisdom.

In the span of a couple months I have lost all my steady work, and a good portion of my income. The magazine, Edible Southwest Colorado, for which I’ve been managing editor and staff writer for eight years has folded. And my ten year parenting column at the Durango Herald is also history. You can read my last column here. I’ve been a little adrift lately without these anchors. I’m grateful for the nonviolent communication workshops I’ve been giving for organizations and businesses. (That was an ever so subtle plug. Do you, your marriage, your organization, workplace need some communication support? Testimonials here). Info on upcoming classes for individuals here.

(I am doing a 1/2 NVC workshop in Mancos in mid-March; if you’re interested let me know).

I’ve been reading a ton, as usual, and loved these three novels, An American Marriage, Unsheltered, and The Mars Room, all of which are in some way about how–as one of my middle school writing students wrote–“Life is like baseball, you never know what kind of pitch you’re going to get.” Some of those unexpected pitches end up changing our lives.

One more thing: I am in need of a very simple website for my nonviolent communication work and would love to trade someone their time for my time. I can offer editing for your writing, some communication consults (via phone works great), or entrance into one of my upcoming classes.

Last night:

Col: What video games did you play as a kid?

Me: Ms. Pac Man as a kid. And, I played a lot of Tetris in college.

Col: In your fraternity?

Me: FRATERNITY?

Rose: (scoffing) Col, that’s for pregnant women.

(Thank goodness for the younger children, for they will always be younger.)

Big Love. Stay warm,

Rachel

wonder

2019 January 24
by Rachel Turiel

Rose is making iterations of slime—metallic, glittery, cloud-like—while speaking to her audience in informative Youtube-esque tones. “Hi Guys, I’m back with a really cool version of butter slime.” Her audience is a foster dog, and maybe a small percentage of Col’s brain, the part not engaged in drawing a comic strip.

Col: So, Mom. In my comic the guy just got zapped with F8 and now he’s bad so he started attacking everyone on the island. What should happen next?

Me: Mmm. How bout some part of him realizes that he just hurt people he didn’t want to hurt and he feels a little bit sad about it.

Col: (eyeroll + groan) Mommmmm…

Slime making fest.

How to make an 800 sf house seem smaller: add a foster dog.

How to make an 800sf house seem bigger: keep a xmas tree in your house for 1 1/2 months, then remove it!

Outside it is snowing. It has snowed so much this winter that a new music has encoded itself into my brain: the sound of shovels scraping sidewalk, which has become a neighborhood call and response. Outside, life is simple: bend at the knees; scrape and fling. Swishing through snow, alone, on my ancient nordic gear, has been a refuge. 

The hide tanning process does not stop for snow.

Inside, life is a bit more complicated. Mostly, I’m celebrating through gritted teeth all the opportunities I’m being given to not foist all my great ideas on my children. This requires deep childbirth breathing and holding the fierce animal of my agenda back while allowing my kids to do it their way. Sometimes this means that they choose the thing that doesn’t quite seem to be working for them. And I get to muzzle the stampeding buffalo herd of my own helpful advice, while getting curious about what their choices feel like to them, so that if they want to change things up it is their voice, not mine, that guides them. Because that is the voice they will live with.

When Rose reports, reflectively, “Sometimes I get pretty influenced by my friends,” this is not the time to call the Buddhist monastery to see if they take 11-year olds, to disable youtube and their perky, influential personalities or have a head-shaving party to throw off the shackles of conventional beauty norms. But, it may be the time to ask a casual question or two. What does that look like? When do you notice that? How does that feel?

Sometimes, I want to whisk my family to the woods until Col and Rose’s prefrontal cortices are fully developed. If I could unscramble cultural messages embedded in their brains while they sleep, I would. It’s okay for boys to hug each other. Girls don’t need to be accommodating and beautiful to matter. You don’t need to buy that next, new thing to be accepted. True belonging comes from accepting yourself. 

My friend Nathan said something so beautiful: “It isn’t our job to sweep away the cruelty of the world so that our children never see its face, but to hold them as they witness the horror and determine to meet it in their own way.”

Sometimes that horror is Rose asking a group of friends, “Can I join you?” and hearing “no.” If I can stay curious, helping Rose to explore what this feels like, perhaps (fingers crossed), she can move beyond revenge fantasies and open her heart to the emotion of loneliness or hurt. Sometimes the first question to arise is: How do I punish those who hurt me? I’d like to explore the question: What does loneliness and hurt need?

On Sunday, we all watched the lunar eclipse. The Patriots, who’ve become easy scapegoats for all my disdain, had just won the playoffs on a coin toss which I was a teeny bit grumpy about. (I may be a bit triggered by the happiness of millionaire Trump supporters).

We got out of the car just as the shadow of the earth began sweeping across the luminous moon, dusting it in darkness. Right before our eyes: incomprehensible celestial bodies interacting. A sense of wonder—which could be translated as awe for the great mystery, for the interplay of species and events beyond our control, or I don’t know, just nature—filled me with relief and reassurance because it’s always available, and I need it now more than ever. The chittering band of bushtits who showed up unprecedented in our yard this week; the sun sparkle on dollops of snow; Rose donating to Col ten minutes of her screen time. The wonder of it all! The next morning, pre-sunrise, we caught the full moon, glowing and huge, having shaken off its shadow, melting into the snowy hills.  

Oh, and Col turned fourteen. No biggie.

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.