It’s a beautiful day in New York.

Dear friends,

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting in a Starbucks window seat on the Upper West Side drinking my latte and watching the world walk by (so very “You’ve Got Mail”).

It’s a beautiful day in New York City.

Over the last four days, my responsibilities and anxieties have melted away and all that remains is one fabulous, monumentally memorable mother-daughter trip.

I’m relaxed. I’m happy. My heart is full with gratitude for the gift of this time with Kate. I’m guessing it won’t surprise you to hear that I have very nearly burst into tears a million times — so many things have moved me these last few days. Even as I type this and look out the window while waiting on Kate to fill her coffee order, I am overflowing with joy.

There is beauty everywhere.

We’re off now — to soak up one last day in the city. Truth is, though, we could be anywhere. Mostly I am off to soak up one more glorious day of memories with my sweet child.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful Saturday, too!

With gratitude {for all the love and beauty in this world},

Joan, who is convinced travel is a fool-proof tonic for the soul

The Mountain. {Part 11}

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 previous installments, click here.

Hiking deep in the woods on our mountain.

Mr. Mom went to Colorado early in the spring of 2010, full of hope that the opportunity to stand in front of a judge and plead our case would finally bring reason and fairness to our dispute with our neighbors, the Unfriendlys. After five years, our start-and-stop attempts to improve the historical road and gain access to our property had ground to a halt, and this injunction hearing was key to getting us back on track.

Unfortunately, when Mr. Mom showed up at the Pueblo County Courthouse for the hearing, it became immediately apparent that we were in for more frustration. To start, the Unfriendlys and their attorney, Dick Slick, showed up more than 20 minutes late for the 9:00 am start. If you know anything about litigation, you know “delay and bury” can be an effective tactic. And our opponent, Mr. Slick, proved himself a master.  After he and his clients arrived egregiously tardy, he immediately introduced dozens of pieces of evidence and proceeded to talk at length about each one.

His “evidence” kicked off with a mind-numbing series of photos – all of trees and all of which he said we destroyed during our road improvement efforts. Mr. Mom found it difficult to sit quietly as Mr. Slick pointed to photos of mature trees that were removed at Junior’s request (to route the road around the Unfriendlys meadow) and instead claimed that hundreds of such trees had been destroyed on the Unfriendly’s property at every stage of road improvement.

Unfortunately, the trees were just the beginning of the untrue claims made by the Unfriendlys. Mr. Slick also showed a photo of a random pick-up truck and claimed it belonged to a commercial tree-cutter that Mr. Mom and Jack hired to “steal” trees from their property. He showed a photo of a neighbor’s pond and claimed the road runoff had muddied it. (In fact, a heavy rain after the Unfriendlys dug up our culverts had contributed to the mud in the pond.) He showed a photo of Jack’s trailer loaded with firewood that Jack had cut while clearing his land and claimed Jack had stolen the wood from the Unfriendly’s acreage. And more than once, Mr. Slick reiterated the Unfriendly’s false claims that the road had been widened to a minimum of 60 feet, with parts as wide as 80 feet.

Mr. Slick’s verbose and untrue claims consumed all of the morning and most of the afternoon – or what little of it was left after the Unfriendlys and Mr. Slick returned another 20 minutes late from the lunch break.  With about an hour left in our one-day hearing, it became clear Atticus Finch could never present our case in the remaining time. He had barely gotten started when the judge called time and said the remainder of the hearing would have to be scheduled for a future date.  Mr. Mom and Jack were furious but Atticus acted like it was par for the course. The hearing adjourned and Mr. Mom drove home more frustrated than ever, with the “temporary” injunction still in place, and with nothing to show for yet another trip to Colorado.

By the time the conclusion to the hearing was scheduled for a month later, I was able to take off work. Mr. Mom and I asked a friend to stay with our children, and we headed out a couple of days early for some much-needed R&R.  We spent two beautiful days in early May exploring Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs. Although we hadn’t gotten many breaks from the justice system so far, I managed to catch a break from law enforcement while in Glenwood Springs.

On a morning when Mr. Mom wanted to sleep in, I decided to roam Glenwood Springs for a Starbucks. The entire middle of the town was torn up with road construction and, while cruising in search of coffee, I managed to speed through a construction zone.  I saw a cop wildly gesturing at me as I merged into a single lane, but I didn’t understand the meaning of his signals. As traffic came to a complete stop, he sprinted over to my window and screamed at me to pull over in the parking lot ahead. I did as I was told, only to encounter a very agitated policeman.

“Do you know you were speeding in a construction zone?!” he screamed at me as I rolled down my window.  He was red faced and angry. I’d gotten my fair share of tickets in my day, but I’d never managed to make a cop this mad before. “You just earned yourself a $300 ticket, lady!”

“I’m sorry,” I said, sincerely. “I’m from Oklahoma and I’m just visiting. I didn’t realize.”

“They don’t have construction zones in Oklahoma?!” he shouted sarcastically.

“Of course. I mean, I know it’s a construction zone, but I didn’t know the speed limit. I looked but didn’t see a sign posted. I was coming in from back there on highway 82. The last sign I saw said the speed limit was 45. Then I never saw another sign until I saw you.”

“Well the speed limit is 25 and you were doing nearly 45. Didn’t you see me waving at you?”

“Yes, sir, and that’s when I slowed down,” I said. As he asked for my license and registration – and as I dug through car to find what I needed – I unraveled. My hands were shaking, my eyes started watering, and I kept thinking about how in the middle of our court mess, I had managed to get myself into an expensive snafu. I thought about having to drive back to the hotel and tell Mr. Mom that my carelessness had resulted in a $300 fine. I felt terrible so I just kept telling the policeman over and over again how terrible I felt and how very sorry I was.

Maybe my sincerity was obvious. Or maybe the cop could sense I was a woman in need of a break. Either way, once he ran my license and came back to my window, his tone had changed. “You’re a hard woman to stay mad at,” he said with a smile.  “You’re right that the zone is not well marked. I’m going to let you off with a warning and I’ll talk to the city about putting up more signs.” “Oh thank you!” I said, along with two more I’m sorrys before driving away and thinking, finally, something good had happened to us in Colorado.

The feeling didn’t last long, though. A day later when our hearing resumed in Pueblo County, it was the same song, second verse. In a court matter, the plaintiffs are given the advantage of presenting first and last. The defendants (which was our position) only have one opportunity to present – sandwiched in between the plaintiff’s bookend arguments. Atticus Finch did his best to present our case concisely and persuasively. He entered as evidence aerial photos from the National Forestry Service that showed the historic road had been in existence since at least the 1930s. He showed topographical maps that made it clear the historic road was the only feasible route to our property. He showed photographs and a videotape Jack had recorded that showed the state and width of the road. He showed the deeds to our property, the Unfriendly’s property, and the surrounding properties to demonstrate how the easements had passed from one owner to the next.

As soon as Atticus finished stating our case, Dick Slick started pontificating again. It was obvious to us he hoped to talk so long another delay would be inevitable. We now understood what Mrs. Unfriendly meant when she told her housekeeper she intended to make the road cost us as much money as possible (in legal fees and travel expenses!). Finally, the judge interrupted Mr. Slick and asked how much more time he needed. The crafty attorney equivocated, saying he wasn’t sure but he thought another day would be necessary. The judge cut him off and told him that wasn’t going to happen. “Wrap it up,” he warned. “We’re finishing this today and I plan to rule within two weeks.”

We drove home and waited anxiously during the longest two weeks of our lives. When the judge ruled, he said that Jack did not have an easement, the result of which is that he was permanently barred from accessing his property via the road he had worked so hard to restore (and which also meant he had no other way in than to hike straight up a canyon or take a miles-long trek through the national forest). The judge said we had an easement of some sort, but the details would have to be sorted out at trial, which was scheduled for the last week of September 2010.  And then, in an odd twist, the judge upheld a partial injunction – meaning our family was allowed to use the road to access our property, but our use was restricted to personal travel only. Mr. Mom’s plans to timber our property to reduce the risk of fire and to improve our forest was put on hold for yet another summer season. The partial injunction also meant all road work would be put on hold indefinitely.

After the ruling, we couldn’t help but feel like things were going downhill fast. Atticus told us the judge was not experienced in real estate law and had “gotten it wrong” on several points. He seemed confident the judge’s mistakes could be cleaned up at trial, but it only served to shake our confidence in the justice system and our ability to extract ourselves from the colossal mess the road had become while retaining any measure of sanity or financial stability.  We were depressed and disappointed — so disappointed we decided to cancel our annual vacation on the mountain.

Little did we know at the time, a vacation would be impossible that summer anyway.

To be continued . . .

Grappling with gratitude.

Dear friends,

I’ve been away for a few days.

Not away from home, but certainly away from my senses. From what I hold dear, including gratitude.

You see, Mr. Mom and I got some bad news earlier this week. As you might guess, it’s related to our mountain dispute. We’ve been trying to get our heads around this latest development, to understand our options — if there even are any — and what comes next. Frankly, though, we feel like we’ve been sucker punched and it’s hard to think straight when you’ve had the wind knocked out of you. The judge’s latest ruling unleashed a tsunami of heartache and regret and frustration and grief — and we’re standing dazed and battered on the shore while the remnants of our dream drift out to sea.

I’m not trying to be dramatic and I’m certainly not trying to foreshadow the conclusion to my weekly story — if I even get that far. Right now, I just feel silly and stupid and embarrassed about the whole thing. When I started telling the story in installments, I thought it would be cathartic. And, honestly, we thought we saw a light at the end of the tunnel and we believed the story would have a happy ending. (I foolishly thought I had a “keep your chin up, folks” story to tell. And how perfect is that for a gratitude blog?)  As things have unfolded in recent weeks, however, it’s hard to believe in the happy ending and it’s doubly difficult to keep writing a narrative that looks as if it’s about to break our hearts.

So the last few days I’ve swallowed hard and thought a lot about gratitude. I said at the outset of this blog that I aspired to cultivate gratitude in my life — to reflect on it and savor it and spread it. And in a way, I feel like I’m cutting and running on my promise to myself and to my readers if I can’t muster the courage or the fortitude to finish the story and to unearth something, anything from this experience to be grateful for.

Here’s the truth as I know it today: If you ever think you know what’s next in your life, you’re delusional. And if you ever think you have any control over it, you’re certifiably insane.  The business guru Peter Drucker said “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” I think Peter Drucker is full of BS. Life happens, and sometimes life sucks and sometimes it breaks your heart and sometimes it flattens you.

It seems to me the real test is — can you get back up? Can you walk through the rest of your days without a 10-pound stone of sorrow and regret in your pocket? Can you uncover something positive to dwell on, can you heal your heart, can you redeem your faith in this life?

That’s what I’m focused on right now. I’ll let you know how it goes.

With gratitude {for a partner whose admirable composure and stability has made a very difficult week bearable},

Joan

PS: I have a few more installments of our story already written. I’ll continue to publish them on Mondays until I run out of installments or run out of words.  In the mean time, I’m taking a little blogging break. Kate and I are headed out for New York City and I can think of no more restorative activity than mother-daughter bonding in the Big Apple. However, at a time when I’m grappling with gratitude, I can say without reservation that you, dear readers, are a source of support and encouragement and friendship for which I’m immensely thankful.

The Mountain. {Part 10}

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 previous installments, click here.

A pretty back-country drive not far from our mountain.

Neither Mr. Mom nor I could sleep that cold winter night in February 2010 when we found out we were on the brink of disaster. Our heads were spinning – at the seven-figure amount the Unfriendlys were asking the court to make us pay; at getting a second opinion and being told we had been screwed; at the pieces of the puzzle we couldn’t make fit together about the case and the attorney who failed us; at our separate but equally urgent attempts to find a new attorney and identifying the very same man.

After tossing and turning all night long and drinking an entire pot of coffee between us the next morning, Mr. Mom called Atticus Finch at 8:00 am MST. He got right through. He told Mr. Finch our unlikely story – about how he had wanted to hire Mr. Finch right after their phone call the day before, but I vetoed the idea. He told Mr. Finch about the series of connections that led me to him, which made Mr. Finch chuckle, and how we concluded our finding him was “meant to be.” He gave Mr. Finch our credit card number to pay a retainer and Mr. Finch promised he would file a motion before the deadline and told us not to worry. And, at my urging, Mr. Mom scheduled an in-person meeting with Mr. Finch in two weeks.

During the previous sleepless night, I determined that we were driving to Colorado – yet again – to meet Atticus Finch. I knew we had to hire him immediately in order to make the filing deadline and stave off the summary judgment, but I was hell-bent to sit across the table from him at our earliest possible opportnity and ask every question I could think of until I was satisfied. I blamed myself for being too “detached” from the whole road thing up until this point. I was foolish enough to think if had I been paying attention, I could have seen some of this coming and prevented it.

Forty-eight hours later, Atticus filed a motion on our behalf explaining we had no knowledge of our previous attorney’s actions. Claiming gross negligence, Atticus asked for a reasonable period of time to prepare a response.  He also asked for a new hearing regarding the injunction that had barred us from our property. Unlike every previous attorney we had worked with, Atticus called Mr. Mom frequently. He asked lots of questions and listened intently to the details. He shared drafts of every document he intended to file with the court and asked for our input before he filed them. He emailed us copies of every document he filed as soon as he filed them. Within a week of working with Atticus, we suddenly realized how a competent and skilled litigator operates.

Our next trip to Colorado was both comforting and sobering. Atticus and his firm had more than met our “fitness” test so far. His answers were thorough, but he seemed as befuddled as we did about how we managed to end up in this unlikely fix given the particulars of the case. He became the fourth attorney in five years who examined our deed and proclaimed we had a valid easement – and since he specialized in real estate litigation, we considered his opinion rock solid. He said it would take some work to undue the damage created by Mr. Moore, but he seemed confident he could turn the case around. Finally he gave us an estimate of what it would cost to take our case through trial – at which point we gasped and wondered how in the world we would ever pay our legal bills and stay solvent.

Since the Unfriendlys had named three defendants in their lawsuit – Mr. Mom, Mother and Jack – we would be responsible for a third of any judgement awarded to the Unfriendlys, as well as a third of the legal bills. We began to contemplate what in the world we could liquidate – or mortgage – to get us through this mess. We had no choice – we were being sued for a large sum of money and we had to defend ourselves. We began to regret our decision to try to work things out with the Unfriendlys in a neighborly way. We regretted our decision to trust Junior’s word on a handshake. We chided ourselves for being so naïve. It sounds cynical and it pains me to say this, but we realized we should have taken legal action against our neighbors before they did us. Now, we were on the defense and, as we would soon learn, it’s an expensive and time-consuming position to be in.

I honestly don’t remember how long we were on pins and needles waiting on a ruling from the judge regarding our motion. Whatever it was – a matter of a few weeks – we would discover it was but a blip in what would become the timeline of our case. When the judge finally ruled, it seemed like the first break we had gotten in five years: he agreed to let us respond to every motion our previous attorney ignored, and he scheduled a new hearing on the injunction for two months later (which we came to realize is fast in court terms). Atticus said the judge’s ruling was a “do-over” of sorts.  He was confident he could have the injunction lifted at the subsequent hearing, and then we would have the opportunity to stand before the judge at trial and plead our case.

In the weeks leading up to the hearing, Mr. Mom became a full-time assistant to Atticus. He poured over documents, did extensive research, and documented timelines and conversations, as well as every interaction he or Jack had ever had with the Unfriendlys. He read every draft of every document Atticus prepared, asked lots of questions, pointed out misstatements of fact, and tried to understand case law in order to formulate the strongest argument in our favor. And because over the years he had met and befriended a lot of people with property near ours or with an interest in forestry, mining and road-building, he was able to help identify and recruit witnesses, expert and otherwise, who would testify on our behalf.

Mr. Mom poured himself into the case. Although he believed Atticus was competent and trustworthy, Mr. Mom had been burned once and wasn’t about to put our livelihood in the hands of another attorney without strict oversight and without coming to understand on his own the law and the merits of our case. He quickly learned about the rights of landowners and the nuances of easements – including the differences between a prescriptive easement, an appurtenant easement, and an easement by necessity. Every night when I came home from work, for as long as I could tolerate it, he talked about everything he had learned that day, how it applied to our case, the strategy he and Atticus were discussing, and what progress had been made.  I was numb to the details long before the hearing arrived.

As it drew close, Mr. Mom and I decided he would travel to Pueblo alone. It was a busy time at work for me and I would have had difficulty taking time off. Plus, we would have needed to make arrangements for someone to stay with our kids. As much as we had on the line, and as much I wanted to stand beside Mr. Mom and look the Unfriendlys in the eyes as they testified, we decided I would stay home.

Mr. Mom traveled to Colorado alone in the late spring of 2010. As he drove away from our house, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that we had no control over our future and that whatever happened to us, our mountain and all of our assets might very well be the result of a decision that had nothing to do with the truth of our situation.

To be continued . . .

Mr. Mom’s Day.

Dear friends,

In case you’re wondering where my children’s gigantic eyes came from, now you know. They’re Mr. Mom’s.

Forgive me if I point out he was adorable. He still is adorable, except when he torments me with his bed-making hijinks.

Look at that sweeeepy li’l bub. Makes me want to hug him. Is there anything cuter than a bub that falls asleep standing up? He fell asleep draped over a chair and ottoman the other night. It was still pretty cute even though he’s a not a li’l bub anymore. He’s a very big bub.

Okay . . . well, that’s just awkward. Despite his ’70s “groovy” phase, though, I still love him.

Happy Mr. Mom’s Day, Mr. Mom!

We think you’re still pretty groovy!

With gratitude {for the li’l bub that became my best bub},

Joan, who thinks the world would be better off if there were more Mr. Moms to celebrate Mr. Mom’s day

Okay, so now’s he just tormenting me.

Dear friends,

I can be a bit particular about things.

One of the things I can be particular about is my bed.

Like my dining table, I think my bed ought to be beautiful, multi-layered and carefully arranged.

And just like I adore buying linens for my tables, I adore buying linens for my bed. I tend to switch out duvets and shams frequently.

With each new set comes a new linen/pillow “arrangement.”

And I don’t usually like to disparage Mr. Mom, but he’s totally out of his league on this one. He cannot seem to keep up.

I purchased new linens not long ago. And despite the fact that I have taken great care to teach him how to properly make the bed, he can’t seem to do it with the precision I require.

The deal is — if he wants to get his tookus out of bed, I’ll see that it gets made. But Mr. Mom is typically still in it when I walk out the door in the morning, so all I can say is — you snooze, you lose buddy.

Except I’m losing because he is either unwilling or unable to make the bed properly.

This is what awaited me when I walked in Wednesday night:

Was he bored? Did he take up Bed Origami? Pillow Jenga?

The fold of the duvet is an approximation of my specifications, but the top sheet is supposed to be military-tight and tucked in on all sides. You can’t see it from this photo, but the sides of the sheet were hanging woefully below the platform.

And those pillows? He was mocking me. I don’t like to be mocked.

It’s bad enough that our bed is lopsided. It’s been that way for a few years after we finally cried uncle on a long series of “compromise” mattresses. He likes rock hard. I like feather soft. So we bought two twins and laid them side-by-side. Mine is six inches higher than his because it has a pillowtop and two additional store-bought foam pads. (He has to climb uphill to snuggle. That might be too much information, but it enforces the personal space I require and I wanted you to know in case you suffer from the same marital dilemma.)

My point is — my bed is already lopsided and he keeps making it worse by refusing to make it properly.

So my question to you, dear readers, is what’s a girl to do?

With gratitude {for the sage advice I know you will offer a damsel in distress},

Joan, also known as the Princess Who Suffers Not from a Pea but from a Pea-Brained Partner

Homeward bound.

Dear friends,

I was digging through the archive last night for today’s encore presentation and I tripped across a post I wrote three years ago about home.

It’s a sweet post, full of my particular brand of nostalgia, but what stopped me in my tracks was a comment from my reader and bloggy friend Sizzle. She wrote: Neighbors can become like family in that way. I can’t wait to own a home and settle in and have a neighborhood that is mine.

Well guess what? She did it! Just last weekend. Click here to read “Tales from the Big Move.”

Dontcha just love happy endings?

With gratitude {for dreams come true},

Joan,who wishes her longtime reader Sizzle (and her fiance, Mr. Darcy) a very happy homecoming

Homeward bound.

First published August 19, 2009

And every stranger’s face I see
reminds me that I long to be
homeward bound.
                     — Paul Simon

Three years ago next month I moved back to my hometown after more than 20 years of adult life spent in cities that — while sometimes enjoyable, fascinating, affordable, charming, or convenient — never felt like home.

I moved back to Mayberry not sure what to expect after so many years away, but certain of one thing: I’d know my neighbors.

I didn’t expect to like them all — who does? — but I expected to feel connected.  And life in my little town hasn’t disappointed, even when individuals have.  Despite one moment of uncertainty the first week we moved back when I experienced a what-have-I-done? panic attack at — of all places — the grocery store, I’ve done my best to savor and cultivate what it means to be a part of a community.

I’ve dropped in to check on friends who are having a rough time; I’ve offered meals to anybody I thought needed or would enjoy the hospitality; I’ve hosted a variety of gatherings in my home; I’ve welcomed kids of all stripes through our doors in the hope they’d find something welcoming and nurturing here.

This is nothing special, of course.  It’s what neighbors do.  I remark on it only because I lived for so many years in anonymous urban and suburban environments where sprawl and fear and privacy fences inhibited eye contact, much less meaningful connections.

And so now I live here and — despite my nostalgia and tendency to romanticize everything — I admit life isn’t perfect in Mayberry and neither are its citizens.  We’re human.  We draw judgments when we should refrain from an expedient conclusion, turn a cold shoulder when we should offer a warm embrace, share gossip when we should point out the honorable, forget to give the benefit of the doubt, and occasionally throw the baby out with the bath water.

But we also mow each others’ lawns, watch out for each others’ children, extend kindness and civility to those across the sidewalk or the counter, share the bounty of our gardens, and try to remember that community means our common destiny extends to the fellow next door as well as the fellow across town, to the fellow of privilege as well as the fellow on the margin.

We are neighbors.  We infuriate each other and we adore each other.  It’s a glorious tussle of virtue and frailty that defines our community and binds us, home to home, soul to soul.

For your viewing pleasure.

Dear friends,

I should be ashamed to admit this, but I’m going to tell you anyway.

We have four televisions in our home.

And you’ve figured out by now that there’s four people in our house. So, yes, it’s not uncommon for each of us to watch television alone in a separate room — me in the master bedroom watching the Food Network or an old movie; Mr. Mom in the den watching the latest endurocross; Kate in her bedroom watching “Teen Mom” or “Friday Night Lights” or “The Office;” and Parker in the kitchen watching “Tosh.0” or “Ridiculousness” or “Storage Wars.”

It’s kind of shocking how varied our tastes are and how openly we disparage the choices of every other viewer in the household.

Occasionally, though, our sensibilities converge and it’s a beautiful thing indeed.

Last night, while waiting for Mr. Mom’s pork loin to finish on the grill, three of the four of us found ourselves gathered around the kitchen television, snacking and wishing supper would hurry up and cook already. Parker and Mr. Mom were watching “Pass Time,” a reality/game show on the Speed network where the objective is to predict the elapsed times of drag racing vehicles.

Believe it or not, I know a little about drag racing. And the other two motor heads that were in the room with me know a fair bit, too. Our competitive spirits flourished last night as we tried to best each other predicting times for a variety of vehicles.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering how a girl like me knows anything about drag racing, I have to attribute it all to Mr. Mom. In his 20s, he was an accomplished and money-winning racer. I didn’t spend much time at the track because that’s not exactly my kind of, um, mileau. But you can’t be married to a man obsessed with fast cars without absorbing some of the information. To this day, I know the sound of a fine running engine when I hear it and I have a good idea of how much money goes into building a 8.9-second car.)

Anyway, that show ended and the darn pork loin still wasn’t cooked. I tried to switch to “What Not to Wear” (an all-time favorite of mine!) and I thought Mr. Mom and Parker were going to wrestle the remote out of my matronly hands. We ended up watching “Workaholics,” a Comedy Central show that I can best describe as “The Office” meets “Beavis and Butthead.”

Mr. Mom and Parker promised it was funny. I was skeptical, but found myself laughing out loud only a few minutes in. I don’t often share a sense of humor with the juvenile and male tastes that dominate my household but, hey, it happened to work for all of us last night.

As soon as supper was fully cooked and consumed, however, Parker asked to borrow my car so he could watch game #1 of the NBA finals at a friend’s house. “Really?” I asked, shocked. “You don’t want to watch the game with Dad and me?”

Yeah. You know the answer to that question, don’t you?

With gratitude {for our family television hour, while it lasted},

Joan, who declares the best thing she has watched on television this week is the HBO documentary “Weight of the Nation” and the worst is “Housewives of New York City”

Walk this way.

Dear friends,

Source: Going Places 2 on Etsy

So I probably haven’t mentioned that I haven’t been running.

It’s true-confession time here folks: I haven’t gone for a run since the week of this post (wherein I embarked on a cleanse).

I can’t say exactly why I’ve puttered to a stop. I could blame it on the hills, but then I’ve already done that. What I want to say is that I lost motivation, but that’s kind of a cop-out. I mean, who really ever has motivation to do the hard things in life? I never do. But many times, I find the discipline. Or I find the incentive. And one or the other keeps me going.

But in the case of my running, I just flat out fell off the wagon. Kaput. And whatever mental trick (or discipline) had kept me going for two years — well, it ran plumb out, as we Okies like to say.

I’ve been beating myself up for it for awhile. But I bet you know as well as I do that’s a total waste of time. Self-flagellation usually doesn’t motivate us and hardly ever gets us back on track.

So you know what I have been doing instead?

Walking. Briskly. For 30 a minutes a day around my neighborhood.

Instead of feeling bad about the thing I’m not doing, I’m trying to feel good about the thing I am doing. It’s not the same level of exercise I had been used to, but it’s a far sight better than the month I spent on the sofa doing nothing but wallowing in my laziness.

I’m going to take it as a sign I’m learning moderation. I’ve already told you it’s feast or famine around my house. I’m either running 20-30 miles a week, or I’m spending every spare moment on the sofa.

Walking — for me, it’s a real step forward. It’s a sign I don’t have to conquer the world, and I don’t have to give into every sedentary inclination that tempts me.

All I really have to do is overcome the little voice in my head that tells me life is all or nothing.

With gratitude {for lesson #1 this week on moderation, with news about others yet to come},

Joan, who felt a little antsy when a jogger passed her by last evening but let the negative feeling flutter away with the breeze and counted it as “personal growth”

The Mountain. {Part 9}

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 previous installments, click here.

Coming home after Matt’s death was one of the longest, hardest drives we ever made. After 12 hours on the road, we stopped at home just long enough to drop off our gear, then we drove the 45 miles to Matt’s house. No one was there and, after a few calls, we learned the visitation was underway at a distant funeral home. We drove another 70 miles and made it just as the family was leaving. We hugged and we cried, but there wasn’t much to say when nothing about the tragedy of our friend’s death made sense.

The funeral the next day, as well as the rest of the summer and fall, was a blur. Matt was still paying Mr. Mom for his business, so between unraveling the financial complications of Matt’s death, grieving with his family, and trying to find anything resembling normalcy in our lives, Colorado and its problems seemed far, far away.

We were jolted back to the reality of our unpleasant situation, however, as autumn dawned and answers seemed harder and harder to obtain from our new attorney, Dave Moore. Though Mr. Moore continued to assure us the injunction barring us from our property would soon be lifted, things seemed stalled.  He told us he was seeking expert witnesses to inspect the road and analyze the terrain – and all the while we kept wondering how such a court action could have happened without our knowledge or participation. Finally, winter set in and we realized we had lost practically the entire season of road improvement in 2009. When we first struck our deal with Jack in 2004, we never imagined that five years later, work still wouldn’t be complete.

We also never imagined what happened next.  Not long after 2010 began, Jack, Mr. Mom and Mother were served with a large stack of legal documents we didn’t quite understand. When you have no legal training, deciphering legal documents is always daunting. But these papers – something about a summary judgment — seemed especially ominous to our untrained eyes. Call after call to Mr. Moore went unreturned, so after a couple of days Jack drove to the law office and demanded to see him.

Mr. Moore was nowhere to be found. His partner hustled Jack into the conference room and told him Mr. Moore was on an extended leave and could no longer handle our case. Jack was stunned and couldn’t quite make sense of this news. He kept asking questions, none of which the partner was able to answer. Finally, just before walking out, the partner said “You need to a find new attorney.”

Jack called Mr. Mom immediately, who in turn, quickly called me. None of it made sense to us and even though we had no insight into what had happened, it became instantly clear why answers and returned calls had been so hard to come by. Our attorney had gone off the rails, we concluded. I told Mr. Mom to call our friend, Brett, who lived just a few miles away and whose law firm helped us with the sale of Mr. Mom’s business several years ago. “Brett is somebody we trust and who can help us understand our options and the best course of action,” I said. “Call him now.”

After a short conversation, Brett told Mr. Mom to call Mr. Moore’s firm and ask that the “billings and pleadings” be sent to his office. Mr. Mom did as instructed and, within a matter of hours, Brett had the necessary paperwork to make sense of our case. He called Mr. Mom immediately with the grim news: “You’ve been screwed,” he said, using words a bit more colorful.

Mr. Mom didn’t know what he meant, so Brett laid it out for him. “Your attorney hasn’t been showing up for your hearings and he hasn’t responded to any of the motions or the lawsuit filed by the Unfriendly’s attorney. That’s why you received papers last week. Since your attorney hasn’t responded, their attorney has filed a motion seeking a summary judgment for damages. You’ve got three days to file a response. If you don’t, the Unfriendlys will be awarded damages of $1.5 million. You need a Colorado real estate litigator. Right now.”

Mr. Mom called me at the office to tell me what Brett had said. It was around 3:00 pm and Mr. Mom said he couldn’t talk long because he was going to get on the phone and try to find a Colorado attorney before 5:00 pm. I told him he had hired the last two attorneys and look where that had gotten us. I hung up the phone and burst into tears. I put my head on my desk and cried so hard I thought I might vomit into the trash can underneath it. After a few minutes, I dialed the phone with unsteady hands and called my boss. In between long, bitter sobs, I explained that I needed to take a couple of days of vacation.

My boss came right to my office. She listened to my story then sprung into action.  She reminded me that we both knew plenty of well-connected attorneys, including the Dean of our local law school, who could make a recommendation. She helped me compose myself and sat with me as I called the Dean and asked for his immediate help. Then she sat with me and told me everything she knew about litigation, which was considerable, and what to expect in the days and months ahead. She told me she had a few dark days of her own related to lawsuits, and that the sun always comes up tomorrow. Then she sent me home and told me not to come back to the office until things were on track.

During my long commute home, the Dean called me on my cell phone. He told me he had tracked down one of the most influential attorneys in the state of Colorado and asked for a referral on my behalf. He said he would email me before the night was over with the name and phone number of a top-notch real estate litigator. Then he closed with these words: “Joan, this is serious. Whatever the attorney charges, pay it and don’t question it. Whatever he says to do, do it. Now is not the time to worry about money.  You need the best counsel, and trust me, it’s worth it.”

When I got home, Mr. Mom met me at the door. “I found an attorney!” he said. I was a bundle of nerves and snapped. “You found the last two attorneys and that didn’t exactly work out for us. I’m taking care of it this time!” I told him I was awaiting an email with a referral for a litigator that I was certain would be better than whatever he could find on his own. He started telling me about how he had Googled “Colorado real estate litigator” and had found this attorney in Denver – Atticus Finch – who looked pretty good on the Internet. So Mr. Mom called him, and Mr. Finch just happened to be available to talk.

“Oh, that’s a good a sign!” I said sarcastically. “I cannot believe you want to hire a lawyer you found on the Internet!”

“Really, Joan, Mr. Finch seems on the ball,” Mr. Mom said. “We talked for an hour and I told him everything that has happened. I told him we needed to file a response by Friday and he thought it would be no problem. All I have to do is give him our credit card number for a retainer and he’ll get right on it.  I told him I would call him back in the morning after I talked to you.”

I laughed out loud as I poured myself a glass of wine. “We are not giving that attorney our credit card number!” I said, taking an extra large drink in hopes it would calm me. “I’m on this. I’m going to find us the best damn attorney in the entire state of Colorado!”

An hour later, I had consumed enough wine to feel more than a little woozy. So when I logged into my email account and found the referral in my inbox, as promised, I had to blink several times to read the message correctly.

I picked up my laptop and carried it into the study where Mr. Mom was still reading about attorneys on the Internet. “You’re not going to believe this,” I said, as I pointed to the email message on my screen. “The law Dean is referring us to Atticus Finch. You and I seemed to have found the same guy.”

To be continued . . .