The Mountain. {Part 3}

Author’s note: This story, at its essence, is about a mountain and the people who loved it. It is inspired by our experiences with the legal system, which are a matter of public record. However, I have fictionalized the details of this story  and the characters (except for my family), both for narrative convenience and for privacy reasons.  Also, I am not an attorney. If you are, and if you read this story and note that I have used the words “district court” when I should have said “appellate court,” well — perhaps, you should read a John Grisham novel instead. My point in telling this fictionalized account is not to discuss the finer points of the law, but to relate some of the life lessons learned by two ordinary people who were trying to achieve a modest dream and found themselves at the mercy of our nation’s legal system.

To read the preface, click here.

To read Part 1, click here.

To read Part 2, click here.

A view of the valley below our mountain.

After we returned home from our first family vacation on the mountain, we couldn’t stop talking about it. We talked about it to friends and family, we talked about it to ourselves, we talked about it to anyone who would listen. We read books on cabin building and spent hours debating the relative merits and costs of the various types of construction. We talked about where we would place our cabin – in the meadow, or in a wooded area where the tall pines would provide protection from wind and snow. We talked about how we would source water. How we would heat the cabin. Whether solar panels made sense.

We talked about it so much we sparked the interest of my friend Sandy, who had always loved vacationing in Colorado and was an experienced backpacker and camper. Though her two sons were pretty small boys, she and her husband, Jeff, agreed to accompany us on our next summer’s camping trip in July 2006.

While we spent the year accumulating camping gear and planning our trip, Jack continued to make progress on the road. Jack and Mr. Mom talked by phone frequently for updates. Jack had a couple of run-ins with Mrs. Unfriendly and she had been difficult, bordering on nasty.

Throughout the process, Mr. Mom learned a lot about road-building. He’s always been a pretty handy guy and he came to the conclusion he wanted to help Jack improve the road and to build our cabin by hand. He envisioned spending a couple of summers there, working full-time with Parker as his apprentice, helping Jack on the road, and felling logs and constructing a small dwelling suitable for our summer adventures. I dreamed of a screened pavilion, where we would sit and drink coffee and nap (and perhaps even sleep when we didn’t feel like sleeping in the cabin).  Mr. Mom thought he could cut his teeth on my pavilion and then move on to the cabin.

Our two-family vacation that summer is now the stuff of family lore. It was beset by calamity from beginning to end and I lampooned it in our family’s Christmas newsletter later that year by writing: “In a story-line reminiscent of John Boorman’s 1972 landmark film ‘Deliverance,’ a long-awaited vacation for our family became a terrifying battle against the forces of nature in the Colorado Rockies.”

It all started when, only a few miles from our home, half of our gear flew off our trailer and scattered across a busy highway. We were delayed an hour dodging cars, retrieving our underwear and sleeping bags, repacking, and securing our gear to the trailer with more care. Things took a turn for the worse when we arrived at Sandy’s house to discover she had been ill with a sinus infection, had made a last-minute trip to urgent care, and was nowhere close to having her family packed and ready to go. We had planned to leave Sandy’s house at 6 pm and arrive in Pueblo at 6 am, where we would sleep a few hours, then trek up the mountain. Instead we left Sandy’s house close to midnight, exhausted and more than a little behind schedule.

By 6 am, we were in the middle of a grueling drive through Oklahoma’s panhandle and only halfway to our destination. I was so tired I was close to a nervous breakdown. If ever tortured, I would crack in a minute if sleep-deprivation was used against me. Mr. Mom kept telling me to sleep while he drove, but he was as tired as I was, and I was afraid to doze off for fear he would also.

Finally, we pulled over and told Sandy and Jeff we couldn’t drive another minute without sleep. “Give us an hour to sleep in the truck,” I said, “and we’ll soldier on.” Problem was, Sandy’s young boys had slept soundly since we departed and they woke up just as we pulled over on a quiet country road. As we tried to sleep, Sandy attempted to keep her two small and very energetic boys from running up and down the road, throwing rocks at each other, and announcing their every thought at the top of their lungs. We caught a catnap of about 20 minutes then realized the effort was futile. Our kids had awakened, too, and wondered why we were stopped, plus it was growing ever hotter in our truck without the air conditioner running. Parker declared he was cramped and decided to ride with Sandy’s family in her minivan. We started our engines and moved on.

A couple of hours later, in the middle of nowhere, Sandy called our cell phone with an urgent message to pull over. Once stopped, the side door of their van flew open and Parker bailed out and rushed toward our truck saying one of the boys had thrown up inside the van. We were yet again delayed while Sandy’s youngest son continued to puke by the side of the road and she attempted to clean the interior of their van with a handful of wet wipes. The look on every adult’s face in our two-vehicle caravan said it all: Holy hell, can I just die now?

We arrived in Pueblo in the early afternoon, at which point we realized “a little sleep” was out of the question if we expected to make it up the mountain and set up our campsite before sundown. The adults had all been awake for 30-some hours and we were more than a little punchy. We stopped by Jack’s house and he followed us to the mountain in his four-wheel drive truck because we knew Sandy’s minivan couldn’t navigate the road.

One of the many lovely views from our meadow.

At the bottom of the mountain, Sandy and her family unloaded the contents of their minivan and our trailer into Jack’s truck bed while Jack rode up the mountain with us in our pickup, sans trailer. We could see the progress he had been making on the road, but it was a very difficult, very slow drive even in our four-wheel drive truck. On one particularly steep and rocky section, a spot we nicknamed White Rock Hill, our tires kept slipping and it took expert maneuvering by Mr. Mom and more than one try to make it up what was essentially a limestone hill. (In later stages of road building, we would add 300 tons of fill dirt and a Switchback to make this section much easier to drive over.) As we drew close to our meadow, a particularly sharp rock punctured our tire and brought us to an abrupt halt.

Perfect. Sandy and her family were at the bottom of the mountain and we were at the top. We had a flat tire and were running out of daylight. Jack and Mr. Mom spent another half hour changing the tire, then told Parker and me to chill in the meadow while they went to get our friends and our gear.

Chill was the operative word in this scenario, because just a few minutes after Mr. Mom and Jack disappeared down the mountain, the sky turned dark, the wind picked up, and a scary lightning storm appeared with a few rain drops and considerably cooler temperatures. Parker and I were dressed in shorts and t-shirts – without jackets, without any gear really, just each other and our dog, Ed.

It sounds stupid, but I had no idea what to do. I didn’t grow up on the mountain – Mr. Mom did. And he had told our family a frightening story years ago about being caught in a freak hail storm in the middle of summer and nearly succumbing to hypothermia. I honestly didn’t know if standing in the middle of the meadow or huddling together under a tree put us at more risk of being hit by lightning. We decided to huddle under the tree as the lightning and thunder and wind grew ever more threatening.

Parker was 10 at the time. As we shivered and as the sky grew ever darker, he looked at me and said with all seriousness, “Are we going to die on the mountain?”  “Of course not,” I declared, but at that moment watching the violent lightning that was moving closer, I worried it was a crapshoot. “Dad will back soon,” I added, knowing the dirt road would be impassable if it started raining. For all I knew, we could be stuck on the mountain alone all night.

To be continued . . .

Communion.

Dear friends,

As I was falling asleep Friday night, Mr. Mom rubbed my back and asked me what I was thinking about.

“About tomorrow,” I said. “About how excited I am to try my new recipes.”

“That’s funny,” he said, trailing off for a moment “ . . . how happy it makes you to cook.”

“Not really,” I replied. “I’m just like my mom. The funny thing is I never even saw it coming.”

Colleen was a cook by necessity. A mother of four with nary a reliable man in her life, she had plenty of mouths to feed, including her parents, who she took in during their later years, as well as cousins and uncles and neighbors and anybody who needed a place to stay and a home-cooked meal.

When I was very young, she owned a diner named for her only son. Not long before she died, she told me how much she enjoyed her work there. Creating daily specials like chicken and noodles were a particular pleasure she said, even though the hours were long and the work was exhausting for a sole proprietor.

Other than when she made cheesecake and baklava, I never saw her use a recipe. She left behind no cookbooks, no recipe box, no trace of the unadorned but nourishing meals she cooked over the years.

For most of the years I can recall, she cooked in a tiny apartment kitchen – about 8’ X 8’, with every square inch of countertop and wall space filled. I never thought about it at the time, but I suppose her petite domain was efficient, if crowded. She never complained, never longed out loud for something more spacious or better equipped. And plenty a day she cooked for 20 or 30 or more people from that sliver of a kitchen – then carried cardboard box after cardboard box of food to the nearby “community building” for the large gatherings she always seemed to be hosting there.

Nobody left Colleen’s table hungry. If she thought four would be on hand for supper, she’d cook for eight.  You never know when a fellow might want an extra pork chop, she’d say.  And holiday meals – well, those were occasions that demanded extensive menus and days worth of effort. In addition to the cooking, there was always loads of dishes to be washed by hand since she didn’t have the luxury of a dishwasher (electric or otherwise).

Besides, she wasn’t about to trust her “good china” to anyone but her own hands. Her Noritake service for 12 had been shipped all the way from Japan, a gift from her son who visited there while on leave during a tour of duty in Vietnam.  In all the years I saw her cook – and all the special meals I saw her serve on her treasured china – she never chipped or broke a single piece.

I can remember seeing her stand in the kitchen, hands on hips, paused between steps, thinking, as she moved from the stove to the refrigerator and back. Her cooking was instinctive more than trained. But she knew she wasn’t an innovator. She stuck to the meals she knew best – hearty, simple, typically Southern-style dishes that would stick to your ribs and make tasty leftovers. (Fried potato cakes made for breakfast from leftover mashed potatoes were my favorite.)

I can remember seeing her at the table, enjoying the food as much as she enjoyed serving it. She never rushed through meals. She knew they were sacred. She liked to talk – to laugh – at the table. She communed, and perhaps that’s what stuck with me most.

Colleen never once put a bouquet of flowers on the table. There was never room anyway because she typically fed a table full of folks with an array of serving dishes full to the brim — fried potatoes, gravy, corn, green beans, meatloaf, biscuits, food she could whip up on a dime.

The linens and flowers and elaborate place settings you see on my table delighted her, even though it wasn’t Colleen’s style. “Your tables are always so pretty,” she’d say every time she came to my house for a meal.

I wish I would have told her that china doesn’t make the table – love does, the joy of cooking does – and I got it all from her.

With gratitude {for love learned at the table},

Joan, who can’t remember a happier Saturday than yesterday

Heartbreak in the grocery aisle.

Dear friends,

I think it’s obvious that food has been on my mind lately. A lot.

Clearly, food being on my mind is what led to the cleanse. And now that I’m a full five weeks into the cleanse, food is on my mind for a different set of reasons. Some of the conclusions I’ve drawn are what I expected; others have surprised me. I thought I would share these thoughts with you — and the easiest way to do so is with a list. Er, two lists actually.

What I miss:

  1. Cheese: Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese! I miss cheese so much I can’t describe the feeling. I knew I would, and I was right. And the craving for cheese and the enjoyment of cheese hasn’t diminished one bite. Er, bit. I haven’t cut cheese out entirely, but I estimate I’m eating about 20% of the volume of cheese I used to eat. I no longer eat cheese every day. And a typical serving is now 1 oz. In case I haven’t said it, I love cheese. I miss cheese. Cheese broke my heart. And is there anything more tragic than heartbreak in the grocery aisle?
  2. Wine: I haven’t given up wine entirely, but I’ve really limited my intake. As much as I enjoy it, I remind myself it’s liquid (empty) calories. And it’s hard to drink wine without craving cheese. They’re the devil’s duo in my life.
  3. Crunchy, packaged snack foods: Cheetos, Doritos, Pita Chips, Pretzels, Fritos, Triscuits, Pork Rinds, Saltines . . . you name it, if it crunches and comes in a package, I miss it. I crave it. Whereas I have managed to moderate my cheese intake, I can’t be trusted around the salty, crunchy stuff. I don’t go near it. Can’t. I know you can’t buy happiness, but you can buy comfort and it comes in a Pringles can.

What I don’t miss:

  1. Butter: I can’t believe I’m saying this. I love butter, always have. But giving it up has been one of the easiest transitions to healthier eating I’ve ever made. Haven’t missed it for a single second.
  2. Sugar and sweets: Just like butter. I simply don’t need sugar and never find myself craving it. Once you give it up, you realize how naturally sweet many vegetables and legumes are. Or, maybe I was born with a cheese tooth instead of a sweet tooth. Whatever it is, I’m doing fine without sugar. I miss baking. Actually, I miss baking a lot. But sugar? Not at all.
  3. Salad dressings: There are so many hidden calories and weird ingredients in most commercial salad dressings. I gave it up immediately in favor of a teaspoon each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Now, I don’t even need the oil. A sprinkle of vinegar allows the texture and flavor of salad greens to really shine and it’s amazing how much flavor exists in a salad if it’s not drowning in dressing. I’ll never go back.
  4. White rice and bread and pasta: This one really surprised me. I thought I would die without bread. And pasta. Guess what . . . I’m doing just fine. In five weeks, I’ve eaten one slice of bread and two small servings of pasta. And there have been no nervous breakdowns. Who knew?
  5. Huge portions of meat: I like to call myself a “flexitarian” because although I enjoy meat, I’ve never been a devoted carnivore. Four ounces a day has been easy breezy. And surprisingly, on the two occasions I’ve exceeded my daily limit, my gut has made sure I realized the error of my ways. Earlier this week I ate lunch at a nice cafe, where pan fried chicken livers were the daily special. In spite of the fact I knew they’d be breaded in white flour, I ordered them. And I really enjoyed every single bite. But you know what? Two ounces were all I needed to feel entirely satisfied.
  6. Huge portions of anything: I’ve been weighing all my food at home even though I’ve gotten really good at judging by eye. I’m truly surprised how satisfied I can be with four ounces of just about everything.
  7. 13 pounds: I can’t believe I’ve lost 13 pounds in five weeks. I’m astounded. And now I realize how much crap I was eating and what it does to my body.

I’m wondering if you find it interesting that there’s only three things I miss and seven things I don’t miss. I never made it past Algebra II, but I think the math is working in my favor on this one. Although, have I mentioned I miss cheese?

I’m also not missing a rigid adherence to arbitrary rules. I told you I’ve always had trouble with moderation. So I’m trying to do better about not sweating the small stuff. Last night, Mr. Mom and I went out for dinner at a very nice restaurant. I had salmon and risotto. The risotto was loaded with cheese and butter, but instead of fastidiously avoiding it, I ate a few bites. It was pretty good, I have to say. And since the salmon filet was huge — probably a good eight ounces — Mr. Mom got a second entrée with half of my salmon and most of my risotto. He thoroughly enjoyed it (in addition to his Italian sampler). By the way, I took two bites of his stuffed veal Florentine. It was oh-my-god good and I didn’t feel guilty for one second. That’s real progress, folks.

Today’s big meal is also about progress. I’m just betting you I can be happy with one small piece of fried chicken and no cake. Not that long ago, I wouldn’t have cooked such a meal in the midst of a cleanse mindset. Feast or famine, you know. But I enjoy cooking so very much (and my family enjoys my cooking so very much) that it seemed ridiculous not to do something we all love. And like I said, boiling brown rice and making vegetable soup just isn’t all that interesting.

So today I shall cook. And I shall eat. With joy and without guilt.

With gratitude {for moderation, blessed moderation},

Joan, who wants to make certain you know she misses cheese and always will

Of leeks and chickens. With a side of husbands.

Dear friends,

So I might have mentioned I’m cooking four Thomas Keller recipes on Saturday.

Because I really need to eat something besides brown rice and oatmeal and vegetables and all the other healthy and whole foods that have graced my table for the last month.

And I really need to cook something fun for a change. Because — you know — brown rice and oatmeal and vegetables and other healthy and whole foods aren’t all that fun without some butter and flour and sugar thrown in.

The thing I’m really excited about, besides the fried chicken, besides the pineapple upside down cake, besides the peperonata rustica, is the leek bread pudding.

Mmmmmm. Bread pudding.

I’m going to get up really early Saturday morning. Because the chicken has to be brined for 12 hours. And the Soffrito (a carmelized onion and tomato mixture) takes about five hours to properly cook on the stovetop.

By the way, Soffrito is ONE of the NINE ingredients required for peperonata rustica.  If you follow famous chefs and you’re tempted to complain Thomas Keller’s recipes are inaccessible, you’re not going to get an argument out of me. Despite what my new cookbook forward says — that Ad Hoc at Home contains “family style recipes” — I’m doubting the average home cook will invest five hours on a single ingredient for a stewed pepper recipe. But I’m bored. And I’m hungry. So I’m devoting my entire day to Thomas Keller and his insane culinary creations.

Anything for love.

Speaking of . . . while driving me home last night from Parker’s tennis match, Mr. Mom said he’d be happy to do my grocery shopping for me on Friday.

So I started describing exactly what I needed in very precise terms. (Because, you know, it’s a Thomas Keller recipe.)

Joan: So I need two whole chickens. Small chickens that . . .

Mr. Mom: Cornish hens?

Joan: No! Listen to me! Small chickens, 2 1/2 to 3 pounds each. Not five pounds like you’re likely to find at Kroger’s. Go to the health food store. Look for organic chickens. They’re typically smaller. Do not bring home a five-pound chicken. And I need two chickens. Be sure to get two chickens that are 2 1/2 to 3 pounds each.

Mr. Mom: I got it. Two chickens. Small chickens. Not Cornish hens. Two. Small. Chickens. 3 pounds each. Not five. Not five pound chickens. Two small chickens. Not Krogers. Organic. Small chickens. Two . . .

Joan: <interrupting> And leeks. I need leeks. You know what those are, right?

Mr. Mom: Um . . . are they black?

Joan: No! They look like green onions! Like giant green onions.

Mr. Mom: Oh yeah. Yeah, I’ve seen those. Kroger’s has those.

Joan: Fine. But don’t buy the chicken at Kroger’s.

You can imagine where the conversation went from there. Mr. Mom cut me off by suggesting I should just text him my grocery list when we got home. Which, of course, I did.

Joan:

Two chickens. Leeks, one bunch. Fresh pineapple. 6 red bell peppers. 6 green bell peppers. Chives. Onion powder (large container). Garlic powder (large container). 1 lb plum tomatoes. 1 qt heavy cream. 1 qt buttermilk. 3 lbs butter.  1 lb Comte or Emmentaler cheese (or Gruyere if neither is available).  Jarred piquillo peppers, 8 oz or more.

Mr. Mom:

What size chickens do you want?

With gratitude {for precision . . . in recipes, in grocery lists, and most especially in attentive husbands},

Joan, who intends to add the Thomas Keller notch in her belt with a meal her family will talk about for the rest of their lives

Night, night.

Dear friends,

Source: Pinterest

Apparently, we’re all pooped.

Last night, by 5:30 pm supper was over. Parker stretched out on the sofa, Kate hid in her room, and Mr. Mom and I curled up under a quilt on our bed.

Some two hours later, I woke up to a quiet house and realized we had all dozed off.

I think the spring crazies finally got the best of us. I think a big wall of tired crashed down on us. I think Mr. Sandman sandbagged us. I think . . . I think I’m going back to bed.

With gratitude {for a family siesta when we most needed it},

Joan Van Winkle

A buck a smile.

Dear friends,

I spent most of yesterday either standing in line (enrollment lines, housing lines, financial aid lines, you know the drill), or driving in line (who knew interstate traffic could be so busy on a Tuesday?).

But one of the lines I stood in — at the college bookstore — took me right past a bargain bin.  And just look at what I carried out for one measly dollar:

The Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail.

If you’re a foodie, you know who Thomas Keller is. If you don’t know him (but love food), you need to. I’ve coveted this cookbook for a while now, but never plopped down the $30 to buy it because my shelves are full.

But a buck? You gotta be kidding me! It’s almost like the college enrollment gods were smiling upon this road-weary mother about to lose her first-born to adulthood and craving comfort of any sort.

Guess what I’m cooking this weekend?

Buttermilk Fried Chicken by Thomas Keller.

I know. It’s going to bust my clean-living diet all to hell. But Ad hoc’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken is a mountain I must climb, so be it. I’m also going to climb the Leek Bread Pudding mountain, and the Peperonata Rustica mountain, and the Pineapple Upside Down Cake mountain.  That’s a  lot of climbing for Saturday, but I think I’m up to it.

Wish me luck. (And a one-day, unlimited-calorie, free pass.)

With gratitude {for the $1 admission price to culinary heaven},

Joan, who figures, if nothing else, she’s got 90 days to cook herself into her daughter’s memory and encourage her to come home pretty please once in a while

Enrolling we will go.

Dear friends,

I got home Sunday evening from a week-long work marathon that flat wore me out. I didn’t even unpack, as I turned around Monday afternoon for a 30-hour road trip to enroll Kate in college.

At least I’m getting two trips out of one packing hassle.  You gotta look on the bright side.

Meanwhile, Kate got dinner on the road at her favorite chain — a place nowhere near the town we live in now and highly reminiscent of our former life in Okie-land.

According to Kate's Tweet, "You have issues if you order anything but tea at McAllister's."

Better yet, we discovered last night that Kate’s new college town boasts her favorite ice cream and burger spot (known as Braum’s, for my homeland readers).  While I’m starting to freak out about my oldest child’s impending departure (90 days is impending in my book, folks), she’s already licking her lips for tastes of home.

You know, it just occurred to me that if we went to visit her (as opposed to her coming back to see us), our family could stop at all of our favorite Oklahoma haunts and eat our way through a lifetime of happy culinary memories.

I just love it when karma works this way.

With gratitude {for Oklahoma barbeque, Tex-Mex, chicken fried steak, hot hamburgers, sweet tea and so many other culinary favorites},

Joan, who refrained from spoiling her “clean eating” record of late on this trip home but knows similar restraint will be impossible in August as she says goodbye to her little birdie

The Mountain. {Part 2}

Author’s note: This story, at its essence, is about a mountain and the people who loved it. It is inspired by our experiences with the legal system, which are a matter of public record. However, I have fictionalized the details of this story  and the characters (except for my family), both for narrative convenience and for privacy reasons.  Also, I am not an attorney. If you are, and if you read this story and note that I have used the words “district court” when I should have said “appellate court,” well — perhaps, you should read a John Grisham novel instead. My point in telling this fictionalized account is not to discuss the finer points of the law, but to relate some of the life lessons learned by two ordinary people who were trying to achieve a modest dream and found themselves at the mercy of our nation’s legal system.

To read the preface, click here.

To read Part 1, click here.

Once we returned to Oklahoma, Mr. Mom got busy – consulting with Mother over the road deal, talking with Jack about his plans and timeline, talking with friends who knew a little something about road-building and forestry improvement, and contemplating how to best proceed with the Unfriendlys. Mr. Unfriendly had died some time ago and his son, Junior, told us he was the manager of Mrs. Unfriendly’s affairs in regard to their mountain property.

Mr. Mom guessed the Unfriendlys would be unhappy about the road improvement since they had been trying to deny access to the road for years. But Mr. Mom wanted to be a good neighbor, so he called Junior to advise him of our intentions to improve the road (for which we were told we had a deeded easement) and to ask for his cooperation. Junior was polite and said he might want to change the route of the original road, but then he dropped out of contact and failed to return any more of Mr. Mom’s calls.

Weeks, then months, passed and Junior continued to evade Mr. Mom. Finally Mr. Mom left a pointed voice mail message: “Road improvement starts tomorrow,” he said, “on the historic route. If you want to change the route, you can discuss it with the road builder, Jack, when he shows up in the morning.”

When Jack arrived the next day, Junior was there. Jack had brought along a friend, Tom, and the three of them walked Junior’s property, looked at the overgrown road, and discussed Jack’s plans for improvement. Junior said his mother was unhappy with our plans, but knew our easement was valid and that she couldn’t stop us. He asked if Jack would be willing to deviate from the old road in a couple of spots in order to preserve a particular meadow. Junior said he might want to build a cabin in that spot one day and he’d always hated how the road went through the meadow.  Jack said it would be more work to build a new stretch of road as opposed to improving an old one, and it would require the removal of mature trees, but he agreed to accommodate Junior’s request. It seemed like an easy compromise to remain good neighbors to the Unfriendlys.

Work began soon thereafter. Jack had a full-time job so he worked on the road in his spare time. Jack had several friends, including Tom, who all agreed to help Jack with the road improvement whenever they could.

Because Junior had stalled so long, Jack didn’t have much time that year. It would snow soon and work would have to be put on hold until after the spring thaw.  But in the short time he had left, he managed to “scrape in” parts of the road with his D6 bulldozer, (which involves removing the scrub brush that had grown up). Late that fall, Mr. Mom and Parker drove to Colorado to visit the mountain and check on Jack’s work. Mr. Mom was pleased how much Jack had been able to do in a short time. While he was there, Mr. Mom met with Junior and Jack to discuss the final plans for re-routing around the Unfriendly’s meadow. There was still a long way to go, but Mr. Mom was excited to finally be making progress.

By way of explanation, mountain road building is a difficult process because of the terrain. The historic road had always been a dirt road, accessible by foot, by horse and mule, and by vehicle. But some spots were nearly completely overgrown and some spots had eroded to bare rock, so a great deal of work was needed. Additionally, Jack’s deal with Mr. Mom included extending the historic road all the way through our property to the peak of Jack’s property, which meant a lot of dirt would have to be moved. And because it’s easier to move dirt downhill rather than uphill, Jack would have to first create a “rough road” accessible by his heavy equipment. In this way, Jack would be able to start at the top of the mountain and work his way down in his efforts to improve and finish the road.

Jack took up his work again in late spring 2005. We decided to spend a week on the mountain that summer for a long-awaited family camping trip to our mountain. The road was very rough, but we were able to drive to our property in our four-wheel drive pickup. For Mr. Mom, it was the first time he had been able to drive there in decades, a pleasure I underestimated until I saw his face.

Even weeds are lovely on the mountain.

We set up our campsite in the middle of our largest meadow. I was astounded by our view – of neighboring mountains, scenic valleys, and the unbroken high prairie, which spread out for miles in the distance. It was like a tourist’s postcard view, and I couldn’t believe this Eden belonged to our family. I’d been skiing in Colorado a couple of times in my life, but I’d never been on the mountain in the summer. The blue skies, crisp air, and lush green forest almost created a sensory overload for this Oklahoma girl, who was used to parched, brown grass in mid-summer.

The view from our meadow.

We used our time together to explore the mountain, to relax, and to reconnect – with nature and with each other. Mr. Mom knew every inch of his family’s property, so even though the kids and I were often “lost,” he never was. Mr. Mom taught Parker how to chop and split wood and how to start a fire with a flint and steel. I was the keeper of our campsite, planning meals and making beds (which consisted of our motley assortment of air mattresses and army cots) and generally tidying up. Jack and his wife, Mindy, visited us a couple of times and shared meals over the fire with us. We played horseshoes and soccer. And although the kids thought it was nothing more than a family camping trip (without the luxuries of civilization to which they had grown accustomed), Mr. Mom and I knew how very fortunate we were to have a place like the mountain to escape to and to call our own. Mother was thrilled. She had always envisioned her children and grandchildren would reap the benefits of her and Father’s farsighted land purchase all those years ago, and we were following in her young family’s footsteps all these years later by spending time on the mountaintop.

Volunteer irises make their home in our canyon.

Our week on the mountain that summer remains one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life. You see, there is no time on the mountain. When you’re off the grid, time is immaterial. You get up when the sun rises and turn in when the sun sets. In between, time stops. You can sit around the fire, cook on the fire, nap, hike, read, talk, and enjoy the view. I did all of those things. And in doing so, I realized how simple life could be when lived in pace with the rhythm of nature.

We came home that summer more excited than ever, with plans to return as often as we could and fully committed to building some sort of dwelling – no matter how rustic – on our beloved mountain.

To be continued . . .

Smile, please.

Dear friends.

Long day yesterday.

Happy day yesterday.

Went to work early and got home late, but it was a good day. Good day at work, good day for my family. Oh, and Mr. Mom was feeling poorly, but now he’s feeling better.

And it all added up to a bedtime smile.

I tripped across this on Facebook right before I went to bed last night. It made me happy.

So even though I was pooped, I decided to share it with you in case it might make you happy.

Here’s hoping you have a good day, too.

With gratitude {and a smiley face},

Joan, who is willing to admit that maybe it was the glass of wine with dinner (her first one in a month) that contributed to the bedtime smile, but who looks a gift horse in the mouth?

It lifted me up where I belong.

Dear friends,

Starting tomorrow, I begin a grueling five-day stretch of work that starts before 8:00 am and ends at 10:00 pm or later each day. If my name were Zack Mayo, I’d call it “survival training.”  But since I’m not an officer’s candidate, I’ll have to call it by its real name: Leadership Week. No matter what you call it, by the time it’s over, the week will be screaming in my face — all Sargeant Foley-like — saying “Don’t you be eyeballin’ me girl!”

I hope I survive. [whimper]

I hope I don’t freak out and nearly drown in the dunk tank like Officer Candidate Daniels.

And since I’ll be a tad occupied, I don’t know if my “meditations” will really be “daily.”

Just sayin’.

Don’t get too worried if I’m a little late. Or if I DOR.

‘Cause I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to go! [except work, of course]

With gratitude {for one of my Top 3 movies of all time, which I watched Sunday afternoon and which got me in the right frame of mind for my grueling week},

Joan, who has always been fond of Sid Worley because he was an Okie, and who’ll give MAJOR bonus points to anyone who can tell me the song playing on the jukebox in TJ’s bar when Zach thanked Paula for helping him get through Officer’s Candidate School and every heart in the theater broke as he let her leave with the flight instructor