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2014 December 17
by Rachel Turiel

I’ve been waking up at 5am, which seems crazy except I’ve been falling asleep at 9pm, which puts me at a square 8 hours. Early morning is proving to be the best reading time, at least until 6am when Col crawls into our bed, floppy-limbed, his mind rumbling in a low, nostalgic gear suitable only for professions of love. You’re the best Mama, he whispers. And Daddy’s the best Daddy he mumbles towards Dan’s slumbering body. I love everything about you, he says like an investment against his future teenage self. 

dec5Pojupifir plus kids plus our new foster kitten, Axie (named, in a tradition, after my latest literary heroine, see below)

We’ve been entering the holidays, which I’m happy to say has been our typical spirited mash-up, all of which could provide material for the Sinatra holiday video remix of I’ll do it My Way. Which is to say, tradition is simply what we, as co-captains of the family, present to the crew. We cut a few choice conifer limbs for what Rose calls a “Hanukkah bush,” and Col calls “Pojupifir” (adapted from its combined parts: ponderosa, juniper, pinon, fir).

Last night we celebrated the first night of Hanukkah with gluten free butternut squash-potato latkes (topped with green chile sauce and chokecherry-applesauce), cheap red wine and some high stakes dreidel with Col and Rose’s Jewish cronies. (Note to self: for every ounce of red wine, ten ounces water, old girl). On Christmas Eve we’re cooking venison lasagna at the homeless shelter, because my new understanding of Christmas is that it’s about giving. I’ve realized that all the Christmasy things we don’t do no longer put me in a neurotic tailspin of over-analyzation. The kids are getting more comfortable with being different, with being us, which is something I hope they can draw from as teenagers, that we never did anything just because everyone else was doing it. 

Bring your own menorah!

Because the kids have everything they could ever possibly need and want, we’re giving them this for Hanukkah:


Choose Your Own Adventure Sleepover. I figure it’s like being on a cruise ship and having the luxury of choosing your meals and activities. No?

Also, we’ve been practicing for winter by spending a lot of time on the couch reading. The kids and I are cruising through Harry Potter, which they’ve already read with their grandparents, but are enjoying immensely knowing what comes next but arguing over it anyway. To get past Fluffy you say, Good Dog, Col. No, that’s absolutely wrong, Rosie. Of course, I love reading Harry Potter to them, partially because I spend hours bookended by their warm bodies while the dishes go undone (Not true; Dan is a dish angel), and partially because I love Hermione.


I just finished this masterfully-written novel. It had all the elements of good fiction and is about the plucky daughter of poor Irish immigrants who, by unexpected turns, becomes a NYC midwife practicing in the late 1800’s. Not only is the writing lively, rich and absolutely gorgeous (I read about ten of her metaphors to my children’s writing class), but it’s an enlightening glimpse into women’s reproductive rights in the 19th century, which were a sad, secretive thing that women hardly owned. This is one of those books that cocoons you in another time and place, leaving you changed just a little bit for the better. I honestly can’t recommend it enough.


I also loved this book. The message is basically that American kids are unprecedentedly picky eaters and guess who made them that way? The author, who once had two terribly picky eaters before moving to France for a year, believes that all of our wealth and privileged choices plus 21st century parental guilt and lack of a strong culinary tradition has created entitled children who snack constantly yet have little respect for food. Ouch. Not at all a sanctimonious book, the author learns lessons the hard way. (Lessons being: Adults and kids eat the same thing. Reduce snacking, feeling hungry between meals is OK. Relax and enjoy eating, no bribes or rewards). We have revamped our eating habits since reading this, and though my kids often say, “but we’re nottttttt French!…” everyone’s coming to the table hungrier and eating more variety (aka vegetables!).

And if you need more reading material, this book is an absolute freaking gift to humanity (Nevermind her bestseller that is now a movie, this is truly her most stunning book). And this book, recommended by you dear people years ago, remains ever one of my most favorites.

* Thank you to everyone who supported a young artist. Col is beaming with the enthusiasm of the encouraged. I am happy to report that unbeknownst to me he used some of his new funds to buy his sister a fairy ornament. If you haven’t received your cards yet, we are waiting for the second printing (!!) and will ship out before Christmas. Also, excitingly, this exposure netted him commissioned work as an illustrator on a children’s book…written by a friend…for her extended family…but, still!

* Now that I’ve finished My Notorious Life (at 5:56am this morning, just in time for Col’s arrival) I’m having major book withdrawal. Send suggestions quick! 5am is not the same without a good book!

With love and gratitude,



31 Responses leave one →
  1. December 17, 2014

    Finally reading Snow Falling On Cedars – gah! and loved The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – kind of what you are describing, descending into a different world while wrapped in this story…was sad to have it end. If you happened to love moss, you might love this book. I’m looking for Kate Manning’s today – thank you!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 17, 2014

      Debbie, I’ve read Signature of All Things. Loved it.

  2. December 17, 2014

    Inspiring! Thanks for the recs, winter was made for stuff like this! I also loved, FKEA. It was music to my ears…Ever read, Peace Like a River by Enger? Pretty awesome if you havent..

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 17, 2014

      Peace Like a River is one of my all time faves. I reread it often for writing inspiration.

  3. December 17, 2014

    longtime reader, first time commenter! Love the book recommendations and look forward to reading Harry Potter to my 3-yr-old someday (but NO hurry please!) I can second “The Signature of All Things,” which kept me going through weeks of pneumonia last winter. It shows so much love and passion for story. Her “Last American Man” is one of my favorites. For the reader short on time, essays are a gift. The “Best American…” series are terrific. The Best American Science and Nature Writing collections have been my companions through hours of nursing, waiting rooms, & plane rides. Going with the French theme, check out “Self Portrait in Green” by Marie Ndiaye (Two Lines Press). We miss the West a lot here in Chicago, but you can’t beat the bookstores. Happy Wednesday.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 17, 2014

      I loved Last American Man. She did such a good job of showing all sides of Eustace Conway, and then reminding us about his shitty childhood and allowing us to feel empathy for his less lovable parts.

  4. December 17, 2014

    P.S. The PayPal link for Col’s cards is empty of a fee, just a buck for shipping.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 17, 2014

      OK. Will look into it.

  5. Andrea permalink
    December 17, 2014

    Trask, by Don Perry.

    ya, your welcome.

    • Andrea permalink
      December 17, 2014

      I love coming back here for all the book suggestions!

  6. Ellie permalink
    December 17, 2014

    The short stories of Alice Munro? I just finished Runaway, and like all of her other collections, it is fantastic.

  7. Caraway permalink
    December 17, 2014

    Hi Rachel! It’s been too long since I’ve looked at your blog! You guys look awesome and cozy and I miss you! I wish we were there to make/eat gluten-free latkes with you. ANYway, we’ll catch up soon. :-)
    I just finished The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, an Alaskan writer. If you haven’t already read it, I guarantee you’ll love it. The descriptions of Alaskan homesteading in the 1920’s… wow!!! And a beautiful story.
    Happy Holidays to all you guys! And thanks for all the book recommendations!!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 17, 2014

      Loved The Snow Child, glad you did too.

  8. Melissa permalink
    December 17, 2014

    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. Transporting with language, history, unconventional romance, cultural issues. Stunning book.

    The Round House by Louise Erdrich. Not an easy read since it involves a terrible act of violence but the way she is able to capture the teenage protagonist’s feelings and inner monologues is amazing. Love Medicine is also very good.

    You’ve probably already read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson but if not, it is a beautiful, quiet, humble book about love and regret and family.

  9. December 17, 2014

    I want a choose your own adventure sleepover!! Where do I sign up? I’ve been picking up (and putting back down) a lot of nonfiction books these days (though I devoured Tiny Beautiful Things in two days; the only thing I thought was lacking was a “Stump the Chumps” component, where we could find out if any of this amazing advice really worked) and I think I’m hungry for a really good, engrossing novel (and some time to really get engrossed). I recently read “The Hand that First Held Mine” by Maggie O’Farrell, which I think you would like. It has suspense and muzzy baby days and ends on a not that affirms what we do as mother-writers.

  10. Anne permalink
    December 17, 2014

    I just bought My Notorious Life a week or so ago, can’t wait to read it. Another one I’ve been hearing rave reviews about is All the Light We Cannot See by Dorr.

  11. Susan S permalink
    December 17, 2014

    Huge Congrats to Col on his illustrating gig! I would love to see that book they’re done with ther collaboration.

    I’ve been on a bit of a retro reading bender lately. A River Runs Through It is the only book I’ve ever read that, when I finished the last word, I immediately turned back to the beginning and read it again. I think you and your whole family would love Farley Mowat’s books. You could read The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be and Owls in the Family to the kids and have great fun with them. Col would REALLY identify with the young Farley and I think he would enjoy the fact that they’re true stories about Farley’s childhood. Not made up. I finally read Never Cry Wolf, after resisting it on all those enforced reading lists in school for so many years. I LOVED it! Farley’s the one I think of when I read the word “raconteur.” The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is excellent (I really enjoy his stuff!), as are Anansi Boys and Neverwhere. The Eragon books, by Christopher Paolini (a homeschooled kid who grew up just outside Yellowstone in Montana and who wrote the first book, Eragon, when he was 19 years old) would be smash hits with your kids. And if you haven’t read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, you need to. Run, don’t walk, to your local library and check them out. Plan on doing nothing for a month, though, while you read all three. And then plan on not being able to read for a while because your mind is completely blown. Just remember, it was the marketing fools who decided to put his books in the Young Adult section simply because the main characters are teens. They aren’t kids’ books.

    Enjoy your pojupifir and Happy Hannukah to all! :-)

  12. Sandy permalink
    December 17, 2014

    Best book I’ve read all year:

    Happy Hanukkah!

  13. Susan S permalink
    December 17, 2014

    p.s. Thank you so much for cooking venison lasagna at the homeless shelter. This is what it’s about, no?

  14. Cait permalink
    December 17, 2014

    Still Points North, by Leigh Newman.

  15. Carly permalink
    December 18, 2014

    Yay! I’ve got enough book recommendations to keep me for a long while to come. And because I got them here I know they’ll be good!
    Happy Holidays Mash-up.

  16. Becca permalink
    December 19, 2014

    Ever read The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey?
    Beautiful, quiet, wintery.

    • Becca permalink
      December 19, 2014

      Whoops Saw that one was discussed above. Glad you liked it.

  17. Emily permalink
    December 19, 2014

    The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. Loved it! and Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

  18. Jessica permalink
    December 19, 2014

    This is my go to site for book recommendations! I loved Crazy For The Storm (thanks Rachel) and The Burgess Boys.

    Into Thin Air is on tap for the time between Christmas and New Year and I am adding Tiny Beautiful Things to the top of the must read list.

    I just finished The City by Dean Koontz, his latest work and found it somewhat different from his older titles. An enjoyable read for sure.

  19. December 22, 2014

    Keep hearing about this one: Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them by Isaac Fitzgerald. Love these lists; thanks!

  20. December 22, 2014

    Oops, and LOVED Bel Canto by Ann Patchett.

  21. Meg permalink
    December 26, 2014

    This list is fantastic. Thank you! How about Wallace Stegner, a great western writer? Angle of Repose, Crossing to Safety are great. His nonfiction is also supposed to be fantastic, but I have not yet successfully gotten through his John Wesley Powell book.

  22. January 6, 2015

    I should bookmark this page so I can come back to these suggestions. I am almost finished “My Accidental Jihad” by Krista Bremer and while reading it the other day I tried to think who I could recommend it to that would appreciate it. The writing is absolutely gorgeous; I feel like I need to copy every other paragraph. I don’t know you in real life but I KNOW you will like this one:) And it`s easy to read.

    Also, I really enjoyed the couch post you just wrote. So much life happens on the couch when you have a small house and no tv.

  23. Natalie permalink
    January 11, 2015

    Save those adventure sleepover lists! They are such a snapshot of who Col and Rosie are right now. Love them.

  24. Jen permalink
    January 18, 2015

    All my puny sorrows by Miriam toews. Sad, inevitable, piercingly funny

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