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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?


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.

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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.

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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).



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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.”



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.
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)


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:



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2017 May 22
by Rachel Turiel

Up to our puppy-fostering tricks again.

Rose and I are out doing errands, bustling in and out of the car with lists and bags, my mind clamped on things to remember like mantras that could derail my life if I lose the thread. Pickuplibrarybooks. Meanwhile Rose is sharing every thought particle that touches down in her brain. It’s like mental athletics, watching my own thoughts bloom and get knocked off course by her next flurry of questions and observations. Right now she’s telling me that she really wishes the word pecans was spelled peeCONS, because that’s how she likes to say it. I am wondering if I need three more cups of coffee or three more hours of meditation.

“Do you think they’re married?” Rose wonders about two white-haired ladies walking into the grocery store together. “They have the same hairstyle,” she says by way of explanation. I am considering a response while Rose has already turned the page of her mind. “I can’t decide if I want to get both ears double pierced or just one.” Dropboxesatthriftstore.

Pushing the cart down the aisle, she observes, “it would be hard to have smaller arms than we do.”


“I’ve noticed that I want to help so much more when I’m happy,” Rose tells me, packing broccoli in a plastic bag. She spent two hours the previous day in deep sadness.

“Why do you think that is?”

“Because when you’re happy you have everything you want.”

“And then you have enough happiness to help others?”

“I guess. Also, now that Nana bought me flip flops I have all the shoes I need.”

“Awesome!” I reply with silent but fervent gratitude to the gods of enoughness. May they visit frequently and stay long.

Lemon curd with white sugar.

Lemon curd with coconut sugar.

Sometimes being with Rose is a little like surfing. When I can put my attention on the wave of her latest question, we can ride the swell of her beautiful mind together. I can drop my agenda and paddle with her into the current where she shows me the exact reflection of her ten year old mind. Other times, I forget what I’m doing, miss my turn, lose my mantra, sense my space collapsing, choke in the undertow.

On the way to a party, I tell her I’ve never been to the house and I know nothing more than the address. Absolutely nothing.

“Will the party be outside?”

We’re back at home, making our second batch of lemon curd. Between squeezing lemons and stirring lemon juice Rose wonders, “What did Col read before comic books?” And, “Is Daddy ever going to shave his beard again?”

Sometimes the questions don’t need answers, they just need space, to be set free, to evaporate into the field of our kitchen, where lemon curd is thickening on the stove; the sourness makes itself known, while the sweet undertones are what remain. Rose’s questions are nothing to fear, it’s actually just her finely-tuned mind filtering through waves of sensory information. We spoon lemon curd into our mouths, savoring the deep, full richness of the yellow treat, and of life.

Enormous lemons from Tucson.

LEMON CURD – Makes 1 cup plus few extra “taster” spoonfuls


1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 – 1/3 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

4 TBSP butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces


Whisk lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks until smooth in heavy-bottomed saucepan, off the heat. Once whisked, place pan over low heat and whisk butter into the mix, one piece at a time until melted. Once melted, turn burner up to medium-low and keep whisking. Simmer and whisk until curd has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon – about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat. It will continue to thicken as it cools. Store in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Same photo as above, before the judicious cropping.

Don’t forget to remove the seeds.

Whisking briskly.

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2017 May 2
by Rachel Turiel

Spring is coming on fast and green. I spend a portion of every day gazing out at the pink and white canopies of our fruit trees (which, from above, look as tight and bouncy as trampolines) in a neurotic, love-sick panic over savoring them while they’re here.

Taking sub-par, indoor photographs of my family while blooming fruit trees explode with color in the background is one of my strategies for clinging to the short season. Here’s Col eating a burrito with pink and white trees behind him.

“I’m not really a surly tween, I just play one on my mom’s blog.” (Plus, blooming crabapple in background.)

Here’s Col and Dan tolerating being posed while blooms start to fade out.

Col is in a state of quiet emergence, pushing forth courageously into the light of spring. He’s dusting himself off after a long winter in the opium den of his lego pile, peering out the window wondering what’s out there that might be fun for a 12 year old boy. His comfort zone can exist within a slim circumference (lego pile and comic books at the center), but I sense his boundaries expanding.

Yesterday he announced he wanted to start a Boys Hobby Club in which he and some friends launch rockets and fly model airplanes together; he is loving Aikido; he wants to try parkour classes. After his last soccer game, in which he tried to score for the first time (in competitive games he’s usually more comfortable in defense) he told me, “I usually like to let my team members score, but this time I just wanted to try.” He shrugged while I suppressed the urge to jump off the stadium seat of my couch and cheer wildly, hoisting the goal-attempting soccer player on my shoulders while celebratory music blared. Instead, I played it cool and squeaked out an emotion-tinged, “I saw that, honey!”

Here’s Col’s invitation to his friend Ben for the Boys Hobby Club. “The club is about launching rockets, piloting model vehicles/airplanes, building models,etc…”

“Call my mom for details.

Details are unknown.”

Kill me.

Col (he’s really not surly) in front of the moose hide Dan’s tanning.

Moose hide softened!

Yesterday, in the writing class I teach to ten homeschoolers, we learned about emotions that other cultures have named (from this article) like “gigil,” a Tagalog word which means: “the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished.” I would have to add “or bite. Specifically, 9-yr old bottoms.” Or “desbundar,” a Portuguese word meaning, “the feeling of shedding one’s inhibitions while having fun.”

I had the kids create and name their own emotions. They were all fantastic. Col’s was “That feeling when you find a really good stick and then you accidentally break it and have to find another one.” This might be the first discussion topic of the Boys Hobby Club. They could bring in a golden retriever to be a guest speaker.

My word was “sweat-reward,” that feeling when you’ve reached the top of your hilly run, you can taste the sweat dripping down your face, you feel worked but strong, and you know that the hardest part is behind you.

Dan’s was “track-elation,” that feeling you get when you find a fresh deer or elk track and there’s no other human footprints around, and you know you’re the first to spot the track. Also related: track-deflation.

Rose’s word was that feeling when you see that spot of gunk on your floor and you think you can just wipe it up easily with a rag, but it actually requires scraping. With tools.

Rose and Col are the funniest married couple who aren’t actually married. Yesterday Col walked out of his room and Rose said, “Col, you really should change your –”

Col: “Nope.”

Rose: “– shirt.”

But then he went back into his room and emerged with a new shirt.

When she’s not sharing her opinions with others, Rose just wants to run with the dogs.

Hope you’re having a beautiful spring,

(Details are unknown).


p.s I found this memoir in our little free library and loved it so much. (It’s about boyhood and manhood and growing up in the company of Long Island, baseball-obsessed barstool-warming men who become the author’s ad hoc father-figures and his unlikely, crucial support system.

p.p.s Our family just watched this movie and loved it so much.

p.p.p.s What’s your new emotion word?

p.p.p.p.s If you’re subscribed to get e-mail notifications and aren’t getting them, try adding the email address: sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net to your e-mail contacts. If that doesn’t work, let me know and I will personally e-mail you a notification.

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The new, improved family trip

2017 April 11
by Rachel Turiel

I found the vegetables.

Courtesy of Rattlebox Farms – that’s Col levitating pogo-sticking in the background.

And, we found the desert wildflowers.

And the great horned owl nest.

And the nest woven with a plastic bag marked “candy.”

And the nest built onto the top of a jumping cholla cactus (which was surrounded by detached cholla stems like an impenetrable moat, though not so impenetrable that I didn’t get ten spines in my foot through my sneaker while taking this photo).

Col spotted the first vermillion flycatcher.

And had a spiritual experience at the Pima Air and Space Museum.

And, just being amongst the wild, fanciful saguaro cactus, many of which are over 100 years old, was like visiting wise sages at whose feet you wanted to sit for a few decades.

At our campground we were woken up at regular intervals by coyotes. I began to see the nighttime separated into coyote sections, much like an orchestra. Howls from the Catalina foothill section could be heard in the early part of the evening. The Romero Wash section chimed in at dawn.

We’re used to camping at some remote and ragged spot that Dan pinpoints on a map based on its proximity to elk and opportunities for solitude. Here, we stayed at a campground which had a spotless bathroom (electric outlets plugged with blow dryers, cell phones and a macbook computer), dishwashing station (dish soap provided), and campers with all manner of motorhome accommodations arranged in a circle around a large gravel area, in which the kids played soccer when the desert sun relented.

This campground was close to Tucson, where we had plans to dazzle, intrigue and entertain the kids between marching them up desert mountains.

The campground had a cheerful and orderly feel. We met a young man on the road from Mississippi with his cat Leo, who he took on two leashed walks a day to tire him out. An extroverted, white-haired man from Oregon liked to visit our campfires with his female dog Barney. He warned the kids, “Barney may reach her limit of being pet. She may get tired of it…but it hasn’t happened yet.” We were especially intrigued by one neighbor who arrived after dark and didn’t emerge from his Prius until late morning, surprisingly tall, unrumpled and carrying nothing more than a water bottle. There was something mysterious, incongruent and even sinister about his routine. He’d drive away for the whole day without so much as sitting at his picnic table, returning after dark to again sleep in his car.

There was a surprisingly harmonious mix of humans and animals at the campground. A great horned owl nested fifty yards from the bustling campground bathroom, and every morning (as the coyotes put down their instruments) the resident gila woodpecker pair battered their beaks on the metal signs marking each campsite.

We took hikes, which we considered immediately successful if everyone set out without apocalyptic anxiety about walking. We were agenda-less enough to yank the car to the side of Hwy 77 south of Holbrook when Dan said, “Hey look – they call that desert pavement,” and Col replied, “I want to check that out.” We got around old school, without internet, mapquest or the ability to emergency-google in Globe, Arizona on a Sunday: “where is the good coffee?”

In the desert the kids refreshed their inventory of competitive bickering with whole new topics, like: who makes the best campfire? Whose turn is it to carry the dishes to the dishwashing station? Are those horses or ponies along I-40? But, vacation bickering is like a small grain of sand in your sandal. You feel it, but it doesn’t really slow you down.

A Col backpack.

After four nights of sharing our campground with the Prius mobster, Barney the dog, who never did tire of being pet, and retirees bouncing around the great Southwest in their spic and span motorhomes, Col said to me, “I think this is one of my favorite camping trips yet.”

I didn’t mention to him that this whole trip had reordered my notion of camping. This was the first camping trip where we had taken showers, or driven past nations of strip malls to get to the heart of a city (Tucson), or spent mucho dinero to go to “nature museums” when unscripted nature lived just 50 yards from our deluxe bathroom.

It occurred later to Dan and me that maybe at this stage of parenting, where the kids are less small, vocal accessories who just want to be with their parents, and more tweens of growing opinions and preferences, that we may need to rethink our family adventures.

Which is to say, the kids aren’t exactly moved by multiple days of silence and botanical study. They’re not looking to throw off the shackles of civilization’s pressures and cocoon themselves in successive days of e-mail abstinence. In fact, they’re increasingly more interested in what other human animals of their age group are doing and creating. Where we want to unplug and untether ourselves from the wackiness of modern civilization, they want to dive in. And yet, they flourish under the paradigm of family time, nourished by the very act of us eschewing responsibilities to be with them.

So, we’re engineering a new plan called “the family trip.” It’s going to include camping, wilderness time, and dipping into nearby towns to touch down into the civilization that provides the kids comfort and fun. It’s not like we’re going to start traveling around in an RV, but maybe we’ll come out of the woods for a funnel cake in Silverton.


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spring awakenings

2017 March 24
by Rachel Turiel

Our yard is in a state of anticipation. The trees are swollen with buds. The chives and lemon balm have just broken the surface, sending up leafy green scouts from the underground. Tiny, new calendula, lettuce and arugula are blinking into the light. Everything is dainty and tentative. (Except the dandelions, who as usual, are unfurling leaf upon leaf upon grocery sack of leaves).

And we are off to the Sonoran Desert to camp for a week. As Rosie says, we’re excited about family time, adventure and travel snacks. In fact, Rosie’s peak vacation experience may have already occurred in the energy bar section of the grocery store yesterday.

Col is looking forward to the Pima Air and Space Museum; Dan’s got some desert birds on his list; and I am hoping to soothe my mind on some desert wildflowers. And, crazy, but in Southern Arizona, it’s the end of their growing season—peak harvest—and there are farmer’s markets every day in Tucson. I told Dan we could probably skip the far away Tuesday market if we can get to the markets on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Here are some things I’ve written elsewhere:

My Edible Southwest Colorado page (food and stuff)

What Col and I learned about diversity

Col’s been taking Aikido.

Possibly for the sole purpose of learning to throw his sister:

Happy earliest spring everyone,


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Grain-free cauliflower pizza crust

2017 March 15
by Rachel Turiel

Rose is sitting at the table wearing an explosion of pink fashion and eating fresh roadkill deer heart appetizer. Dan is explaining (mansplaining? bucksplaining?) about the buck deer whose one remaining antler is barely hanging on. (The buck he has been trailing for days, having already picked up his first dropped antler). Col is humming, whistling and otherwise providing constant background noise. And, our two foster puppies are sleeping in a pile of unconscious twitches and groans.

“I love all these clothes Aubrey brought over,” Rose gushes, forking seared deer heart into her mouth, “especially the shawl shirt.” Shawl shirt?

“So, tomorrow, I’d love to leave before dawn,” Dan starts. “I’d be back in time for breakfast. He’s gotta drop tomorrow.”

*whistling sounds*

“Also the purple dress, the cute tops, the skinny jeans…except they gave me a headache.”

“The skinny jeans gave you a headache?” Col breaks through the fog of his whistling to ask.

I place the pizza on the table, shifting the tomato seedlings out of the way, picking up the note in Dan’s handwriting that says: “mammal femur, deer ulna, bird bone,” (later, he explains this is a wish list from his friend Tracy, which doesn’t really explain anything). I wait for everyone to hush, to behold, awe-filled and reverent, this castle of pizza: the melty cheese roof covering the ramparts of toppings, all mortared by tomato sauce to the crispy crust.

“I think I’ll try the jeans one more time, and if they still give me a headache, I’ll give them away,” Rose announces.

*more whistling*

Turns out, there is no quietly reverent moment, but there is pizza, warm, delicious and ready.


Foster puppy muffins, because we needed just a little more nuttiness and sweetness in our 800 sf house.

If you were wondering how much snow is at Coalbank Pass, Dan might dig you a snow pit.

Grain-free Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Just a word about this pizza. It’s passed the test of kids, grandparents, many guests. You don’t actually taste the cauliflower, but you feel good about it being there.


2 cups almond flour

2 cups arrowroot flour (plus a little extra for patting down the crust)

2 cups steamed and blended cauliflower

2 eggs

2 TBSP melted coconut oil or butter

pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350F. Put pizza stone, cookie sheet, or whatever you want to cook the pizza on into the oven, greased with oil or butter. Mix wet ingredients first (eggs, oil and steamed, blended cauliflower – the more blended the better). Add all other ingredients. Mix well.

Pull pizza stone out and press dough first with a rubber spatula and then with floured hands – this dough is moist and sticky- evenly onto stone. Bake for 15 minutes or until top is crispy, and then flip and bake for 10 more.

Add sauce, toppings and cheese and bake for another 10 – 15, and then for the bubbly cheese effect, broil for 5 minutes.


Patting the dough down:

Baked crust:

Spreading the sauce:

Ready to bake:

The moment of glory:

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