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homelife, classes and other notables

2014 August 12
by Rachel Turiel

Rose: “I wish people never bought things they didn’t need.”

Me: “Really? (Thinking here of Rose’s rotating mental catalogue of things she covets but doesn’t actually need) Why?”

Rose: “Because then they wouldn’t have to have yard sales.

Quiet pause; head scratching.

Rose: “Because I feel left out of all the things I want to buy at yard sales but can’t buy because I’m saving money for a rat.”

Which is to say, we’re making huge strides here. And sure, it’s subtle, but at our house we get really excited about people articulating feelings and needs. Because, hey, we can empathize with that. It’s hard to think of all those polyester old lady blouses getting snapped up by other shoppers.

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I, meanwhile, have become a grandmotherly-like parody of my own baby-nostalgic self. Just now, in the library bathroom, I heard a Mama talking to her tiny, non-verbal son in that one-sided conversational way, “Are you ready to go? Should we go have lunch now?” And I had to completely refrain from bombarding the mother at the handwashing sink with how “I used to do that with MY babies! And now, we have ACTUAL CONVERSATIONS!” (Although my friend Sue wonders, reasonably, if all that continuous pre-verbal chatting accounts for having children who can now monologue cheerfully for thirty excruciating minutes at the dinner table).

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Dan is actually selling some of these brain-tanned hides. Website coming soon(ish).

Dan is looking ahead to the soon-approaching bow-hunting season, which means he’s trying to tan all of last year’s hides. He carries pots of warm brains through the house, small rotten drips leaping onto our floors. The kids hardly look up from whatever they’re doing, though the smell is the olfactory equivalent of getting slapped across the face. Ultimately, I think we’re all comforted by having ways to mark the seasonal transition: Dan and his hide-tanning, me appraising chokecherries for that ripe purple glow.

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And Col? He’s more like his father, daily. He’s inherited his father’s propensity to find useful stuff tossed to the side of the road. Yesterday, walking home from the river, he ferreted from the bushes a left leather glove 3 sizes too big, which he wore home with pride. “Daddy will love this,” he mused.

The rat has landed:classes6

Mama and baby are doing just fine.

I’m teaching some more classes, because I keep getting inspired and want to share. My ability to plan ahead is lacking, because what happens is I’m walking with the kids along the river, and the wild berries are popping and I think how fun it would be to get others excited about these iconic Southwest berries. And, so I am.

Animas River Plant Walk

Monday, August 18th 4:30 – 6pm. Location: Meet at trail on east side of footbridge behind high school. Cost: $15. Kids free with parent.

The riparian berries are abundant this time of year! Learn all about chokecherries, hawthorne berries, buffalo berries, sumac berries, juniper berries and rose hips. We’ll also see some late-season riparian plants and talk about their medicinal uses, historical uses, seed dispersal and more.

Chokecherry Cooking Class

Sunday, August 24th 4-6pm. Location TBA. Cost: $25

In this class we’ll be talking about the natural history of the chokecherry tree, one of the most important plants historically in the Southwest. We’ll make and take home: chokecherry jelly and chokecherry-apple fruit leather. You’ll learn how to separate the flesh from the seeds, how to use and preserve chokecherries with minimal sugar and come home with a variety of recipes. All supplies included. Space is limited.

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Chokecherries in action.
To sign up for classes, call my secretary, or e-mail me at sanjuandrive(at)frontier.net

August blessings to you all!

p.s. Just got the news of Robin Williams’ death. So so sad. Feels like I spent half my childhood watching Mork and Mindy. Dan and I have both lost to suicide (creative, bright, shining, loved) friends who suffered from bipolar disorder. May we all be a beacon of kindness and support to those in need. Wise, clear-hearted Anne Lamott’s take on Robin Williams’ death. Helps, some.

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DIY Kitchen: nutella

2014 August 7
by Rachel Turiel

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Teaser. Back to nutella recipe a little later. Stay tuned.

A switch has been flipped in the garden, everything responding to the late-summer force which urges plants to grow higher, fuller, faster. Eating from our yard has become less whimsical novelty, more all mouths on deck, everything is ripening now! (Full organic disclosure: Col spotted and removed an earwig from my sauteed broccoli tonight).

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These summer evenings, we’re out till dark-thirty, closing down the river, the neighborhood park, Col and Rose still swinging high into the pinking sky as the teenagers and deer creep in, claiming the next shift.

Front yard swingers:

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Back yard:

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The rains have come and gone and come again in biblical proportions, lashing down mightily at the earth. Then the sun returns like a warm and encouraging miracle. Dan and I reconvene at the days end, comparing notes: “I was downtown, it was crazy, Smelter Mountain was obscured.”  “I was home, watching hail pile up in the cabbage leaves.” And then we pause, letting a silent prayer of gratitude wash over us, which maybe contains the smallest amount of, “more, please?”

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Very naughty chickens.

The evening grosbeaks have returned to our feeders with their babies, all hapless and fuzzy and incessantly hungry.  The parents occasionally pretend to forget about their offspring, until they show up flapping and mouth-gaping and unavoidable. Dan and I watch, amused, feeling a certain kinship. The kids need to be fed, AGAIN? (My new exercise regime is simply feeding children).

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Outside, Col pursues cabbage butterflies with a lacrosse stick. He’s created a mausoleum of delicate bodies, small black dots jeweled into papery white wings. I am deeply ambivalent about this. “Thanks!” I tell Col, while a cascade of conflicting emotions nibble at me. The cabbage butterflies lay eggs on plants in the mustard family (broccoli, kale, cabbage, turnips primarily), and the eggs hatch into voracious caterpillars. Which is to say, this life contains many opportunities to ponder complexities.

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Rose has sprouted trunk-like legs, learned to do backbends, and is a fount of strong, changeable emotion. (Sometimes she needs help turning the emotional dial, like last weekend when it got set on howlingly bereft because Col wouldn’t tell her what he was howlingly bereft about five minutes earlier. Again, the complexities.) On a neighborhood walk, she jumps in puddles, cartwheels down sidewalks, pledges undying love to decrepit one-eyed cats who thread between her legs. Watching her unbridled enthusiasm is like beholding a classical artwork, the kind that lodges in your heart and tells you something about the indomitable human spirit.

But, nutella:

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What Dan and I do after the kids are asleep, the blog-postable stuff, anyway.

I kind of can’t believe I’m posting a recipe for nutella when breakfast is a veggie omelet sponsored entirely by our own yard (earwigs included), and our diet has never been more local. But I’ve adopted this homemade nutella as my go-to snack, packing a 1/2 pint jar of it to the library to keep my energy up while deadlines tap me on the shoulder.

I find this nutella to be delicious, but I have to admit, I’m no longer reliable. Col shared a piece of pumpkin bread with me last weekend and the sugar roared out at me while the pumpkin was a small, pathetic whimper in the background. Which is to say, I’ve lost my American taste buds for sugar. (Rose would like to mention that there are many other American things I’ve lost my taste for, such as fashion). And, I haven’t eaten actual nutella in years. But, I know there’s more of us out there than ever, who’re trying to decrease sugar and increase nutrients. This is for you.

Ingredients

full disclosure: I ususally make triple this recipe and never measure, but I recommend starting small and playing around with ingredients. Maybe add cinnamon? Or sub out the coconut milk for almond milk?

1 cup hazelnuts

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (could sub in 1/2 melted chocolate bar)

2 TBSP coconut oil

1/4 cup coconut milk (or even better, coconut cream on top of refrigerated can OR skip the coconut milk and add shredded coconut)

3 – 6 TBSP honey

1/2 TBSP vanilla

Directions

Blend in food processor. Store in fridge. Lasts 1-2 weeks in fridge, but it shouldn’t.

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seven things

2014 August 6
by Rachel Turiel

1) To meet overwhelming demand (i.e. the few friends who missed the first class), I’m offering one more Edible Weeds Class. Monday, August 11th, 4-5pm. We’ll learn which common weed in your garden has Omega-3 amounts to rival flax seeds; which plant has more nutrients than spinach, though will never ask as much from you as a gardener. We’ll talk history, culture, philosophy, and we’ll sample some of my favorite weed-sponsored creations. Come hungry. $15/person, or 2 for $20. Kids welcome and free. If you’re interested, e-mail me at sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net.quickie Me, teaching last edible weed class with very official hand outs.

2) Kids and I just finished and loved, The Wind in the Willows. I marveled at the beautiful language, and the kids marveled at the frequent, scandalous use of the word “ass.” We all laughed  at Toad’s antics, and appreciated how Toad was like all of us at our worst: impulsive, restless, narcissistic, and yet aware of his shortcomings and always trying to improve. Col is currently memorizing Toad’s hilarious songs as his new party trick. The last book I loved was J.K. Rowling’s mystery, Cuckoo’s Calling, (written under pseudonym Robert Galbraith). It’s everything you want in a book: fast paced, sharp dialogue, surprising, and including a cantankerous, hard-living detective.

3) Rose’s first client. Business is rolling. Rat’s a coming.quick

4) If you would like to take the canning class (August 26th 6:30 – 8) in which we’ll be making local, organic salsa, more info here. Register HERE.

5) We found the pikas! And after camping with 4 kids last weekend, I am now channeling my inner 3-year old (in the moment, eternally-awed, joyous, loving and silly), who had the best time of anyone on the trip and will remember the least. quickie2

Four kids in a field of wildflowers. I am reminded of Dorothy, Tin Woodsman, Scarecrow and Lion in the poppies, especially after Col dropped to the ground for a spontaneous rest.bolam5

6) Come back tomorrow for my nutella recipe. Guaranteed to change your life a little bit.

7) xo

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just saying

2014 August 1
by Rachel Turiel

dog walking

Rest assured, Rose is a much better dog-walker than speller.

Translation:

I will walk your dog for one hour for four dollars. Does your dog poop on walks? If so, do you have plastic newspaper bags? If you do not I will provide them. This business will be provided for one month.

* Rose is saving up money for the ongoing expenses associated with owning a rat. She’s still in the romantic and dreamy phase, much like many of us when we were pregnant, researching consumer reports pre-approved car seats, selecting The First Outfit to bring to the hospital, imagining endless cuddles and none of the endless pooping. She told me this morning, “When I go to pick up the baby rat, I’ll bring the cage and squeaky toys and all the right food. I’ll have everything ready.” And she will.

Have a wonderful, first weekend of August. August! Can you believe it? I know. Someone said to me yesterday, “Well, I guess that’s it, summer’s about over.” Oh no, there’s much still to savor. I’m expecting lots of sibling fights, nauseatingly hot days, garden failures, all day dishwashing, and all the things that make the days pass particularly slowly. Off to look for pikas this weekend. Much love to you all, always.

xo

Rachel

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Friday fun

untitled

2014 July 28
by Rachel Turiel

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It’s Saturday morning, late July, the sun shimmering like a pool of heat you could drown in. The kids are stationed at Lego headquarters, where small, hard-edged plastic shapes sprawl menacingly. Dan and I dream of the high country, where time-limited wildflowers have arrived like dear friends for the briefest of visits.

Luring the children away from home and onto a hike requires a shrewd craftiness which is surely a developmental stage, for parents.

“We’re going on a pika search!” Dan bullhorns towards the Lego pile. He pulls out our Colorado mammal book and gets the kids oohing over photos of the furry, dish-eared critter that lives in alpine rock piles. Something snaps precisely into their motivational receptor sites because the kids pack notebooks and pens, ready to record very important data on this high-altitude member of the rabbit family.

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American pika. Dan took this picture at next weekend’s camping destination. Someone’s going to have to break the news to Rose that she can’t invite the pika into her tent.

We bounce and rattle up the forest service road. A sleek pine marten bounds through the spruce. Drama builds in the back seat surrounding who will finish their muffin first, the bizarre and fervent goal to have the last crumb standing. We pass meadows colonized by spreading white islands of the noxious weed, ox-eye daisy (and in a nod to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dan sings “I can see the ox-eye slowly creeping…”), and the kids launch cutting-edge challenges: “Try not to whistle for five minutes,” Rose propositions Col.

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Corn husk lily yarmulke. It *was* shabbat after all.

We park and hike up through the trees, into to the alpine, where the whole world is laid out on a platter of green. The meadows flare with color, and we scare up a buck from his day bed under a talus field.

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We bring the kids here to show them that you can fill your heart without accruing a single object, that the earth overflows with miracles that require only our attention, that entire ecosystems thrive with each species taking just enough. Maybe it’s far-fetched, but I’m hoping that these trips act as an answer to why I won’t buy the kids toys that provide a 2-hour hit of joy before becoming forgotten under the couch. (Which, truthfully, is most toys. And so, I say “no” a lot). I believe children have the greatest power to find simple joy in the art of living and playing and being, and I don’t want to dampen or confuse this ability with unnecessary stuff.

Someday, when I’m an old woman (if I am so lucky) with nothing left to lose, I will publicly share all my strong and unpopular opinions. Like, that acquiring more stuff will never, ever bring true, lasting happiness. And that our confusion over this is bringing great harm to ourselves and our earth. But until then, it’s the kids who get my dubious sermons.

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We scurry from columbine to penstemon to the impressively adapted alpine willow, no taller than a child’s pinky finger. We patrol the vast talus fields, listening for the telltale pika squeak, looking for the plant bundles they dry in the sun. We hear only one pika—not typically a shy animal—over several hours, and my heart clenches in alarm. It is said that as our world warms, the pika, designed to survive winter at 12,000 feet, can die if exposed to temperatures as mild as 78 degrees.

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We cheer ourselves up by searching for indian paintbrush hybrids. Rose is thrilled to discover what happens when the pink paintbrushes hang out with the cream colored ones. 

For the next few hours, we ramble around, nibble wild plants, and collect this wild world into our hearts. At this age, undoubtedly, the kids get more excited to watch a movie than go hiking, but I can see the subtle forces of nature chiseling their characters, reminding them of what endures, and seeping, quietly, inside, where it counts.

* I honestly couldn’t think of a title to this post. Offer your ideas and I’ll cook you a roadkill steak with sauteed garden weeds on the side.

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this time of year

2014 July 23
by Rachel Turiel

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clouds

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This time of year, I become greedy for the monsoons,

for the cool hand of rain to quiet my thirst.

As if the clouds owe me something.

When really, they’re simply the curators of water droplets,

aggregating and unravelling.

Lifting and carrying oceans throughout the sky.

As if that wasn’t miracle enough.

 

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Rain falls on the Earth, and we love that.

2014 July 16
by Rachel Turiel

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We’re at 10,500 feet, tents tucked in the tall spruce, the La Plata river bending clear and cold below us. Wildflowers splatter the slopes like a Jackson Pollack painting. Dan steps back to admire his “tarp-craft,” and admits, “Well, now I kind of hope it rains.”

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Rose spots a chipmunk, no doubt head of campsite clean-up, names it, “Chitty,” and becomes very curious about which foods in our cooler Chitty would most enjoy. “Are you hoping she’ll eat out of your hand?” I ask Rose. “No, I’m hoping she’ll sit on my lap,” my daughter replies with alarming sincerity. Col takes a Round Robin-style approach to camp life: he throws rocks in the river, target shoots with the BB gun, and forms an archive of mud cakes on a coveted piece of plywood Dan finds.

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While Dan and I say a million times a day: “the kids will appreciate this when they’re older” (this, being all our fringe, non-mainstream ways: Why go out to eat when we have a freezer full of roadkill? Pack your bags, camping again!), I often wonder what it’s like growing up in this family now, from their perspective. I mean, it’s possible that Rose dreams of thumb-happy weekends on an iPhone. And Col? He issued the bizarre request recently that we do some traveling outside Colorado, as if we’re people who actually leave the zipcode.

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Afternoon: lightning smacks the nearby ridges, hail pelts the ground, a new stream picks a route right through camp, waterfalls swell, the river turns muddy and high. We huddle under the tarps, layer on clothes, and give the kids our toothiest smiles, trying to relax any brainwaves registering alarm. The storm persists; morale sags. By hour four, the kids ask to go home.

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Dan tells them, “Rain falls on the earth, and we love that. Can’t we be part of that?” The kids are dubious, and yet the rain feels like a metaphor, something about enduring discomfort, allowing it in, trusting it will pass. A meditation teacher once told me, “we practice (meditation) to increase our capacity to endure discomfort.” I believe parenthood works towards this end, too.

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You will be happy to know that I always take my fashion sense to the woods. Also, IPA gluten-free beer pretty tasty, minus the embarrassment over buying gluten-free beer. But, plus the excitement of: beer!

Dan gets us through some low points by telling stories of his childhood summers camping in spongy, soaked Eastern Canada with his dad. If it wasn’t rain, it was (say it with me)…bugs! Dinner was what malingered in the cooler, titled “goulash:” a fretful compilation of blackened bananas, whole, bony fish, a few shriveled garbanzo beans. Col and Rose howl with laughter, forgetting for a blessed minute, the rain soaking their ponchos.

Six hours later, the storm lets up. The mountains are instantly greener. A blue patch of sky spreads like a rip in the clouds. “That’ll freshen up the flowers,” Dan says like a parody of his own indefatigable optimism. The sun delivers one last blast of hope before crawling over the western ridge. We eat a dutch oven meal of warm, meaty deliciousness, remove our ponchos, and I read to the kids around the fire. We go to bed.

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The next morning is cold and clear, sun sparkling off every green, living thing. We hike to an alpine lake, and in an ironic twist Rose begs me to hike farther with her. The ground gets marshy and Rose states the obvious: “Well, take off your shoes,” hers long since abandoned. We sploosh through the soupy wildflowers, the lake mud, waking up the soles of my feet.

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Now home, I think of everything the children saw on this trip: the baby grouse tucked into tall grass while her mother led us away in the opposite direction, deer sneaking around misty morning slopes, the robin who forged an aerial path through camp to her nest, insects wriggling in beak. I don’t know what level of future appreciation for these experiences will dawn on the kids someday, but I believe that right now they know how much their parents love wild places, rain and all.

OUTTAKES:

Alpine sunflower. Rose had a need to touch flowers as she walked. Not sure why, but seems auspicious.

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Our new camping tradition is this dutch oven “Daddy bread” that Dan makes our first morning. This one sponsored by chokecherry-applesauce.ruby6

Baby grouse that Rose may or may not have touched, making up for Chitty never really being all that sociable.ruby8

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On beyond dandelion

2014 July 9
by Rachel Turiel

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Apropos of nothing in this post, Col has been fashioning spears for spear fishing. It’s been one of those things that as a parent I’m like, “Oh cute, my son’s talking and planning a lot for this spear fishing thing.” And then I actually tune in and realize he’s fashioned four different types of spears from Dan’s broken arrows and is damn serious about nailing a trout.

I was walking out the door when Dan called after me, “hey, thanks for the weeds.” A tangle of toothy greens draped in balsamic vinegrette occupied a corner of his lunch plate. I searched his face for sarcasm and found only sincerity. This is where we’re at. No apologies.

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It’s almost funny, how much time I spend coaxing reluctant food from soil, while the weeds grow (and grow and grow…). I’ve constructed hemp-cloth shades for the lettuce, tried to psyche the spinach out of its Julyish propensity to flower, and watched a new row of bok choi get mowed down by some nocturnal insect overnight. Meanwhile, the purslane weaves itself through the carrot patch like there’s no place it’d rather grow than the arid Southwest. The forest-green amaranth grows like a trick-plant: pick ten leaves and they’ve remade themselves the next day. The lamb’s quarters exhale a meadow of greenness into our salads.

dandy3Purslane: Eat me for your daily Omega 3 intake!

Eating weeds is about going with rather than against the flow, about working less and reaping more, about becoming more intimate with your garden, about preparing for a changing climate, and wringing the most nutrition from your food.

It may be true that every Brooklyn hipster and his gluten-free dog purchases a $5 bundled bouquet of dandelion greens at the weekly farmers market. Even notable doctor, Jonny Bowden, listed dandelion greens as a starred vegetable in his book, 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. But, lets talk about the lesser known weeds, common mallow, alfalfa, amaranth, lamb’s quarters, purslane, red clover, and more. The ones which defy your curses, efforts and neglect, growing into gorgeous caricatures of their own trickster healthfulness.

I’m offering classes this summer, on fermentation, canning, writing, but first: edible weeds!

List of all my summer/fall 2014 homesteading and writing classes HERE. (Thanks to everyone who’s been sharing the info on these classes. Means a lot to me!)

Identify (and eat!) Edible Weeds

Sunday, July 20th, 10am – 11am; Location: TBA upon sign up. Cost = $15, or 2 spots for $20. Kids free with a parent.

Common garden weeds are packed with nutrients, adapted to native soil conditions and natural rainfall. Come to my home garden and learn to identify common, edible weeds, the best time to pick them, which parts are edible and how to prepare them. Come home with handouts, recipes, and nutritional info. Sample some delicious, easy to prepare treats. Limited to 10 people. Must sign up by Friday, July 18th. To sign up, e-mail me at sanjuandrive(at)frontier(dot)net.

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This is not to say we’re not all about some garden kale, too.

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freefalling

2014 July 2
by Rachel Turiel

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Latest foster kitty, Boris. He may or may not be named after Boris in The Goldfinch.

We’re freefalling into summer. The kids are a grubby blur. I catch them scarfing fistfuls of garden peas; daily vegetable consumption: Check. Dan calls from work with ideas for our next three camping destinations. I’m bowing at the holy fucking temple of turnip greens (sauteed with oil, garlic, salt; who knew?). The rate at which I pull weeds is directly related to how much lettuce is left in the garden: edible weeds currently tipping the scales. The kids have feralized within the neighborhood, traveling like hobos from trampoline to trampoline. Best way to find them is to open a window and listen. In the evenings, the chickens run to the worm-spangled compost, proving that things are happening in those brains regarding memory.

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Tonight’s perfectly respectable salad-to-be of amaranth and purslane. 

We seek water—creeks, rivers, lakes—to soothe the pinch of the Southwestern sun. The kids insert goose feather sails into driftwood boats and point them downstream towards the Pacific ocean. At home they mold endless mud cookies, drying them systematically on boards, to be hurled, concrete-dry, at a piece of plywood. Thwack. They have a hardened row waiting for their friend Jonny, his birthday gift. Inside, Col reads the comic book TinTin and it’s all still so new—this boy, reading—that I have to refrain from asking, So, when you say you’re reading, what exactly does that mean? 

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Homeschooling at the kitchen table has dropped off the map. However, I always feel a sense of accomplishment when my kids spend the day outside pulling entertainment from the twin engines of nature and imagination. “Look, they’re so…creative, er, I mean innovative, or, well, um…happy,” I tell Dan. But, I get confused sometimes, because what was it I’m supposed to be preparing my children for? Happiness? An income-producing job? Honestly, it might be something more like: need very little so you don’t have to rely on that income-producing job. 

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Sulphur euphoria sets in at The Geyser. Between Dolores and Rico; highly recommended, though I can still smell sulfur on my skin 2 showers later.

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The rare June roadkill, backstraps in cooler, nabbed outside Telluride last weekend.

I’ve always liked this quote by Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Because we’re pretty good at that, I mean, really, when are the children not coming alive? You should see them at the river. On the neighborhood trampolines popping like popcorn. Huddled pointedly over their sticky orbs in the backyard mud pit. Their very brain architecture renders them built to come alive. I envy them their buoyancy, and siphon off what they generously spill.

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Recently, at Junction Creek, Col scrambled up a boulder, discovered fish below and spent the next two hours attempting to bomb trout with rocks. Hey – leave those fish alone, I almost shouted, before discovering that this nine year old was uncannily close to nabbing dinner. He’s already fashioning a spear for our next trip. I’ll bring the cooler full of ice.

As usual, parenthood is a slew of questions I can’t answer. But, here’s a knockout recipe for cabbage/carrot ferment.

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This is the original recipe. Isn’t it beautiful? Red cabbage with turmeric and ginger. But honestly it tasted like medicine. So I cut it with carrots and now, it’s dreamy.

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Cabbage/Carrot Ferment (the easiest ferment recipe yet. No pounding necessary).

Ingredients:

~ makes one quart ~

2 cups chopped cabbage

2 cups grated carrots

1-2 TBSP chopped ginger

1-2 TBSP chopped turmeric

1/2 cup water

1/2 TBSP salt (if this is too much salt, try 1 tsp)

Directions

Mix first four ingredients in a bowl. Mix water and salt in a separate container. Pack veggies into a quart jar. Pour salt water on top. Press veggies down below liquid with a fork. Add more water if necessary to bring liquid above veggies. Cap. Set on counter for 3-7 days. Check daily and re-press vegs below liquid if needed. Taste for preferred sourness.

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Boris and Lila, available for adoption in one week…you might have to adopt Rose with them.

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just a dream some of us had

2014 June 24
by Rachel Turiel

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Dan ushers the kids into the truck like an eager cruise director, hot for tips. The four of us bounce up the forest service road, kids snacking in the backseat.

Rose: Did you just eat only the taco and not the lettuce?

Col: No.

Rose: Let me see, open your mouth.

We rattle up through the dusty pine-oak belt, through the aspens reflecting sunlight like a thousand fractured mirrors, and into the cool, spruce-fir zone, which only Southwesterners could appreciate as green and lush. And we do.

Up here, the background music is grosbeaks, western tanagers, thrushes, and Rose tied to a truck wheel, whinnying.

Col: Lets say you’re my horse and I have to tie you up.

Rose: Neighhhhhhhhhh.

Col: And I named you Lero.

Rose: But sometimes you call me Weirdo.

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Lero/Weirdo hitched to a skateboard, pulling her owner up and down the road. 

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And up. And down. 

We’re here, just us, for three days, and I begin to see all the subtle forces shaping these kids. There’s the way Dan turns everything into a song, discharging tension at crux moments, like teethbrushing. There’s my DIY sensibilities around food, elevating a mug of hot chocolate (scooped from a tin) to a rare and exotic treat around the campfire. (And Dan’s response to Rose’s request for a second cup: “That was just a dream some of us had.” Thanks, Joni Mitchell). And, there’s the time we spend here, in the woods, under the stars, in the weather, within the wild forces of nature.

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Watching cow elk and their newly-born calves, romping and nursing and skating around snow patches. 

Col and Rose are finding their place here, in the wild. And I’ve written and deleted this sentence a hundred times over the years of writing this blog, but the truth is that this world is changing. Their kids may never see what we see today. This worries and saddens me immensely. And of all the things—mere trinkets them all—that I do to lessen this burden, sometimes it seems the best I can do is to bring the kids here; to bear witness, to invite them to fall in love with this wild, rich, generous world.

It’s impossible to know what will sift out from our time in the woods, what tangible experiences are taking root in the children’s souls. A secret thrill electrifies my heart when Col points out a golden eagle, turning circles over a high ridge. And when, after a strenuous hike, Rose announces at our destination of 11,000 feet, “What a beautiful view, I’m so glad we came,” a box marked “perseverence” (or maybe, “hells yes!”) gets checked in my mind.

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Junco nest.

I can’t quantify this knowledge, these experiences, the enthusiasm with which Rose greets a red columbine, eager to suck the nectar from an elegant, red spur. There will be no “local bird identification” section on the SAT; no colleges looking for students who can scrap together a salad from the forest.

But this education, this spending time in nature feels as foundational as reading, writing, arithmetic. It’s a force, an entity, a benefactor shaping our lives, offering us a roadmap to what’s valuable, while exposing the worthlessness of much we hold onto. So here we are, getting to know the wild world, because we can’t love and protect what we don’t know.

We took the kids on a hike, which like many things, we’d have never set off on if we knew exactly how rigorous it would be (Lucky we didn’t know). One thousand feet up in one mile, no trail. We distracted the kids from their own burning calves with the search for the elusive fairy slipper orchid.

Found:

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Calypso bulbosa

Rose eagerly sampled all the edible wildflowers:

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Red columbine nectar: sweet as sugar. But, as Col says, “different than cake.”

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Glacier lillies, sweet and juicy, especially the torpedo-like buds, named “bananas” by Rose.

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Dan feeding Rose a “banana.”

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Blueberry flowers, a sweet-tang pop of flavor.

Home now, and this is good, too. We love our civilized world. I couldn’t breathe without books. Dan is watching (with copious whoops and hollas) the World Cup on the smudged screen of his laptop. Col is magnetized to his legos, and Rose has recently discovered emoticons and wants to send smiley texts to everyone she knows.

On our last night camping, Col whispered from the nest of his sleeping bag, “I’m really glad we’re here, and I’m also looking forward to going home tomorrow.” I felt the same way exactly. I sincerely hope there’s a way that nature and civilization can walk hand and hand into the future.

xo

Rachel

 

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