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between holidays

2018 December 11
by Rachel Turiel

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

Suddenly something clicked.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The magic of filling the house with beloveds:

Same beloveds, six years ago:

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

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Joy permalink
    December 12, 2018

    Oh my goodness Rachel, thank you! My holiday gift to myself today was to cozy up alone at my office and not work, but read your holiday post and the other 2 holiday posts mentioned. I laughed and cried. You ARE an empathy warrior. I think it is your super power. I love learning empathy from you.

  2. Dale in Denver permalink
    December 12, 2018

    This right here is the most amazing reason for the season:
    “celebrating baby Jesus as proxy for all children having inherent worth.”

    I can get on board with that – such a lovely bridge to all of my Christ worshiping friends that I’ve had such difficulty figuring out how to cross.

    Also, my oldest son just committed to attend Fort Lewis next fall. I’ll have reason to travel to a part of the state I’ve never been but love to learn about through your posts.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 12, 2018

      Dale – that is so cool! Congrats to your son! There is so much to recommend Fort Lewis: gorgeous surrounding landscape, diverse student body, excellent professors, small classes, great athletics. Yay for all of you!

      • Dale in Denver permalink
        December 12, 2018

        I had many friends from HS go there for college, but I’ve never made it that far west from I-25 southbound. He is going to be playing golf. And he enjoys the outdoors in general – biking, fishing, hiking, snowboarding. I think it will be a great fit for him. It’s a long way from home – 6-1/2 hours with half of it over two lane mountain passes – which is not appealing to me. But, he’s gotta get on with living even if his mama will miss him….these 17 years went entirely too fast.

        • Rachel Turiel permalink
          December 12, 2018

          I hear ya on how fast it goes. Surreal time warp. As for the distance between Denver and Durango, you wouldn’t believe how many people I know that cover that distance routinely and like it’s no big deal. Although, I sense that when a child leaves home there’s a symbolic distance that just can’t be bridged. Sniff.

  3. Rachel Buklad permalink
    December 12, 2018

    I love this blog. You made my morning. Now, can you share your pumpkin pie recipe?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 13, 2018

      Thank you, Rachel!

      For 2 pies: mix approx 6-8 cups pumpkin/squash, 4 eggs, 1 can coconut cream, 1/4 sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt to taste. Bake in crust for 15 minutes at 425F, then next 45 mins at 350F.

  4. December 12, 2018

    As someone who abhors pumpkin but loves squash, I am all for this recipe alteration.

    So far, I think we’re doing pretty well on the non over consumerist Christmas in our house. Asked the almost 4yo what his favorite parts of Christmas were, and he forgot to even list presents until I prompted him. Of course, then he said he wanted a mountain of presents in his stocking, so I guess we aren’t perfect. Ha.

  5. Chi-An permalink
    December 13, 2018

    1. I can’t stop laughing at that pic of the deer skull in the pot. It just looks like the deer is wearing a pot lid for a hat!
    2. Wow your kids have grown up all of a sudden! When did that happen? What happened to baby Rosie and who is that young woman in your kitchen?
    3. Whenever I hear people saying “remember the reason for the season” I think “Mhm. I am. Peppermint bark!” But I love your baby Jesus interpretation too.
    4. I agree that even $50 sounds like much for something you’re not sure he’ll take to. Maybe there is a way to sweeten the pot? Pair it with photography lessons at a local art school or with a friend, that might encourage Col to try it. Or share it out- camera as something for you to do with him and you share ownership (only if you really want a camera!).
    5. I was contemplating getting a mini color printer for my daughter for her art projects, but then I realized she would probably go through ink and paper like nobody’s business.

  6. melly permalink
    December 16, 2018

    i stumbled onto your blog from the nytimes article a few days ago (which i loved) and i just wanted to tell you how much i’ve been enjoying it! (i’ve been clicking on all your links to read the relevant entries from 2010 etc and marveling at how long ago it is, how small your kids were)
    your writing style is so, so beautiful – i just love your metaphors and the portraits you paint when you’re describing the beautiful world around you, whether you’re camping or just looking at your backyard – and your lessons about empathy have really touched my heart and made me want to re-examine my interactions and make sure that i’m remembering to really hold space for people, to be there for them without any sort of expectation or judgement. (with your acute awareness of the importance of that, you must be an amazing mother)
    although i have no kids and a very different life from yours, so much of what you say really resonates with me, and makes me think or laugh (the relationship between dan and elk never fails to amuse me, best bucks hahaha). i’ve even written down a couple ideas from you in my journal, some of the things about willingness and requests (who’s right is the worst game), because they are viewpoints and ideas that i want to remember and incorporate into my life and my behavior.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 19, 2018

      Melly, how lovely to get this comment from you. Thank you for all this appreciation and for your readership.

  7. December 19, 2018

    I’m here by way of Angela at Tread Lightly and I loved this and the linked posts so much. At what age did you start seeing the empathy conversation work? I ask because every time I try this, with my now near-4-year-old, ze just gets angrier as I talk! Either I’m doing it wrong (so possible) or empathy is unappreciated (also so possible).

    Other thoughts:
    Viking deer?
    I love that mandala kitty on the board.
    Even $10 is too much for me to spend on a surprise I’m not sure of :D

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      December 20, 2018

      Revanche – lots of different way to deliver empathy. I think the most important thing is your intention: to be curious, to connect, to feel into what’s true for someone else without story or judgment. Try not to distance yourself, or be clinical. Some people like non-verbal empathy, others like you to name feelings and needs, others don’t like you to name feelings. Maybe start with the fewest words and add strategies as you get positive feedback.

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