Rainy days and Fridays.

Dear friends,

The view from my kitchen window.

I woke up to pouring rain this morning. We are in the midst of a long and severe drought, so it is a welcome, blessed relief. Over the last two months, we’ve had nothing more than a sprinkle or two, but today it’s a gullywasher. We’ve lost more than a couple trees and shrubs on our acreage, so I imagine the plants that have managed to hang on are soaking it up as fast as they can. Mr. Mom and I feel as if we are one with our little patch of ground, its undulating meadow, its meandering creek, its tall stand of trees that is home to turkeys and deer and squirrels and rabbits and birds of many feathers, and together, we are grateful.

I’m off work today, so a rainy day thrills me even more. I love to putter around the house in inclement weather. I’ve got plans to finish a project a two, maybe catch up on my ironing, cook something wonderful but simple for supper, and pack.

Mr. Mom, Parker and I are taking advantage of the long weekend to travel to Oklahoma and visit Kate. She can’t come home until Thanksgiving because of her tennis schedule and you know what they say — if Mohammad can’t come to the mountain . . .

If her coach doesn’t mind, we hope to sit in on a practice session. I’ve been glued to the television this week watching the US Open, but who needs Serena Williams if I can watch my CupKate and her team whack the cover off the tennis ball?

I wish all of you a lovely holiday weekend, filled with rain if you need it, or sunshine if it suits you better.

With gratitude {for nature’s timing, which often is everything},

Joan, who’d love to hear how you’ll be spending your holiday weekend

The rain began again. It fell heavily, easily, with no meaning or intention but the fulfillment of its own nature, which was to fall and fall.
— Helen Garner

The first sign of Fall.

Dear friends,

In my world, the first sign of Fall is the school photo.

Not cooler temps, not football, not aisles of school supplies including “a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils” (name that movie!), all of which have arrived in our corner of the world.

No — the real first sign of Fall for me is the ubiquitous school photo, that 2″X3″ technicolor reminder of poor wardrobe choices, goofy smiles, and regrettable hairstyles.

Every now and then, though, a good one comes along. And forgive me if I brag by noting I received a good one yesterday. Take a look:

I’m not sure when school photos got all fancy and stuff, but I’ve noticed the last couple of years we’ve had far more ordering options. I don’t even remember selecting this particular three-shot lineup, but I was delighted to see it sitting on my kitchen island when I got home last night.

I used to think my boy had a whole lotta me in him, but these days all I see are Mr. Mom. Some days I feel like I have two versions of my husband under foot — Mr. Mom 1.0 and Mr. Mom 3.0. Fortunately, both versions seem to run compatibly in our household.

By the way, it feels like approximately 2.47 weeks ago that I came home to find this school photo on the kitchen counter.

I promise not to get all weepy on you, but I do want to say this:

OH MY GOD! WAS THERE EVER A MORE ADORABLE CHILD IN A SWEATER VEST?

Sorry. I’ll contain myself now.

By the way, the “adorable child” gene did not come from me. My dear sweet Gram saved every single one of my school photos in a small Hallmark book titled “What is a Grandmother?” that I gave her when I was a child. She glued one or two photos to each page of the book and carefully noted the school year and the grade of each. You only need to flip through a couple of pages to figure out I’m not the source of my children’s photogenic features.

That third grade overbite was a doozy, though I have to give my mother props for choosing the snazzy plaid jumper and crisp white blouse.

Before I get off the nostalgia wagon, I just want to mention that I have vivid (and fond) memories of my first- and second- grade portrait outfits. Both were made by Danskin. Does anybody else remember their line of girls’ knit basics — jumpers and turtlenecks and skirts and trousers in Dick-and-Jane shades of navy, red and white? I recall they were a little pricey, more than my single mother could afford, but my Gram always took me “school clothes shopping” and always seemed to find a way to buy several pieces of Danskin to round out my back-to-school wardrobe.

Parker’s back-to-school wardrobe this year consisted of a new pair of athletic shoes and four t-shirts ordered online. Sixteen-year-old boys wear a lot of t-shirts and seem to prefer shopping online rather than going to stores with their mothers, who might or might not hover outside the dressing room and insist they model every conceivable combination of apparel within reach. It’s a modern parenting dilemma I’m learning to live with.

But only until I have grandchildren and get a do-over.

With gratitude {for school photos of my children that on any given day make me weep, but that just might be a sign of aging},

Joan, who invites you to leave a comment about a memorable school photo and thereby convince her that the Year of the Overbite wasn’t the worst in school-photo history

The Mountain. {The Bombshell}

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.

In the fall of 2011, we were settling into our new home and getting acquainted with our new community. We were making friends and finding so much to our liking about our new place. Kate had started her senior year at a new high school and was still mourning the end of life as she knew it in our hometown, but Mr. Mom, Parker and I were excited about the possibilities that awaited us.

After we found out that our real estate litigator, Atticus Finch, had died in the middle of an appeal by the Unfriendlys, we sought the help of our condemnation attorney, Matt O’Malley. He agreed to help us, though we realized it would take considerable work for him to pick up where Atticus left off. (“It’s only money,” I said with mock blitheness.) O’Malley juggled both cases simultaneously, and Mr. Mom spent the fall fretting over 1) our defense of the Unfriendly’s appeal of the verdict in their trespass case against us and 2) our condemnation case against the Unfriendlys, which we believed would be the successful culmination of our attempt to gain access to the road leading to our property.

As had been the case for years, I was on a “need to know” basis related to the legal details. I found the whole thing so taxing, so infuriating and so stressful that I ignored most of it. Mr. Mom handled the cases alone while I worried about my new job. If something major happened, he looped me in. Otherwise, I asked few questions and was too impatient to listen to complicated answers.  In keeping with my attitude over the last five years, I just wanted the ordeal to be over. I had pinned my hope to the idea that a condemnation hearing would get us over the finish line in speedy fashion (“speedy” being a relative term in legal matters).

As fall turned to winter, there were three important decisions in our favor related to our cases. First, a district judge (the same one who tried the Unfriendly’s lawsuit against us) granted us a court date regarding our condemnation case. We requested a hearing for “immediate possession” of the road leading to our property because we had been effectively banned from our property for the years during and after the Unfriendly’s lawsuit. O’Malley argued that due to fire danger, we had a compelling reason to be given access to the road and to begin our forestry improvements. The judge agreed to hear our case and the hearing was scheduled for April 2012. I couldn’t help but laugh bitterly at the irony of scheduling a hearing for “immediate possession” five months into the future. Still, the hearing date represented progress.

Second, the appellate court dismissed with prejudice the Unfriendly’s late appeal of the damages awarded in their trespass suit against us. “Dismissed with prejudice” meant we could finally put that expensive and infuriating (and pointless) lawsuit against us squarely in the “over” column, and we would never again have to worry about paying more than the $1 in damages decided by the district judge.

Third, the district judge denied what was a predictable motion by the Unfriendlys to dismiss our condemnation case against them. Things seemed to finally be moving in our favor and we celebrated Christmas 2011 with a heightened sense of expectation and optimism for 2012 – although the long wait for our hearing date in April meant spring dragged along in our world.  Still, we had been used to long waits in our quest to claim the mountain and this was just another one.

***

If you read this post, you know Mr. Mom got halfway to Colorado for the April hearing only to learn it had been postponed until June. We tried not to interpret the delay as a bad sign, but it was hard not to see it that way given how many times in the past five years a delayed hearing had turned out to be ominous foreshadowing of bad things to come. In June, Mr. Mom made it all the way to Colorado before he learned that hearing was also postponed. A short time after Mr. Mom returned from that trip, we received the worst news of all: the judge dismissed our condemnation proceeding and, in doing so, ruled in favor of a recent motion from the Unfriendlys for a summary judgment against us.  The bottom line was that we were told our condemnation attempt was illegal and, therefore, we were liable for the Unfriendly’s legal fees to defend it. The judge had effectively ruled we were permanently landlocked with no way to redress it.

Our heads were spinning. The same judge who had ruled in the Unfriendly’s lawsuit and who had refused to levy more than $1 in damages against us in that case — and who had granted a hearing in our attempt to condemn an easement while denying the Unfriendly’s motion to dismiss our condemnation case — had just reversed himself by throwing out our condemnation case and ordering us to pay the Unfriendly’s legal fees in defense of that matter.

This result was beyond dizzying to us. A year after the judge ruled we were landlocked, which our attorney said gave us a clear legal path to secure an easement through condemnation — and several months after the same judge granted our condemnation hearing – he contradicted himself by saying, in essence, “Sorry. No go. Pay the defendant’s legal fees and go home. You will never have a legal easement to drive to your property.” It was a stunning and disorienting setback that knocked us for a loop.

Mr. Mom and I spent hours and hours over many days discussing our situation. I was ready to quit and suggested this option immediately. “It’s over,” I declared. “It’s unimaginable that we have to pay their legal fees, but let’s pay and move on.” I asked Mr. Mom to consider at what point we say enough is enough, both financially and emotionally. I had been ready to say uncle and walk away years ago, but I kept going because of Mr. Mom’s and Mother’s refusal to let the Unfriendlys deny our family access to our property – property that our family owned and used freely for two decades before the Unfriendlys moved in and started causing problems. Giving up was as unimaginable to Mr. Mom as the judge’s latest decision was to me.

Mr. Mom had spent years figuring every angle in this case. He knew there were at least a few more options (including the wild card of the Unfriendly’s mineral rights, which we still owned), all of which he was ready to pursue vigorously. The least expensive and most direct options were to file a motion to reconsider with the judge, and if that failed, to appeal the judge’s ruling.

It is complicated to summarize why the Unfriendlys were successful in convincing the judge to reverse himself and to throw out our condemnation case. To boil it down to its essential element, the Unfriendlys claimed that our condemnation proceeding was illegal because the matter of the easement had already been decided in their trespass suit against us. Therefore, we were not entitled to “a second bite at the apple” with a condemnation proceeding.

O’Malley subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the ruling by asserting in a very detailed, very complicated, very compelling brief why the Unfriendly’s argument was not correct. Our motion to reconsider hinges on a key legal concept known as “collateral estoppel” (or issue preclusion).  The Unfriendlys claimed we are attempting to try the same legal point twice. O’Malley cited a lengthy list of reasons with applicable case law why this was not true, including a Supreme Court ruling that trespass and condemnation matters could not be combined.  The Unfriendlys responded with another brief stating why our response was incorrect. O’Malley then responded with a brief stating why their argument was incorrect. This is how the system works – one side files something and then both sides argue back and forth with various written responses until time for response runs out. Then a judge eventually rules after weeks or months, and the ruling is often followed by more motions (to reconsider, to dismiss, to appeal, etc.) and the flurry of responses begin again. It is a mind-numbingly, heartbreakingly tedious and expensive process for the average bystander. It’s why people like me (of average intellect and constitution and financial resources) give up and why people or organizations with deep pockets (the Unfriendlys) often win.

Thus, as of August 17, 2012, our motion to reconsider and multiple responses were on the judge’s desk awaiting a ruling, for which he may take up to 63 days to respond. If the judge does not rule in that time frame, it is considered a denial of our motion to reconsider. If denied, O’Malley is prepared to file a motion to appeal with the appellate court.

So that’s it. My story has caught up with real time. Real time involves a lot of waiting. Waiting doesn’t make for a very interesting story.

In the mean time, Mr. Mom is already looking ahead – what to do if the motion to reconsider is denied, if a motion to appeal is denied, if the appeal is heard but the appellate court sides with the original ruling. Mr. Mom and O’Malley (and a host of other players I haven’t bothered to write about, including a surveyor and expert in right-of-ways who has been doing a lot of research on our case and says he’s never seen anything like it and is convinced there’s something more to the story – perhaps corruption or vastly undervalued mineral rights sitting underneath all our properties) are planning contingencies. At least once a week, Mr. Mom tries to explain some new fact they’ve discovered, a new piece of the puzzle and how it relates to a possible outcome. I half-listen because the story is only bearable to me in summary.

Detail by detail, law by law, ruling by ruling, the story is excruciating. I developed a low threshold to the case’s pain years ago and, like a woman with a sensitive tooth who stops drinking cold beverages, I avoid as much legal detail as I can.

Six years ago, had the Unfriendlys only encountered me, they would have claimed victory long before now. Instead, they met up with Mr. Mom. If you’ve ever watched the John Cusak movie “The Jack Bull,” you have seen in the character “Myrl Redding” an approximation of Mr. Mom. My husband is on many days more like a Bull Terrier than a stay-at-home dad. He considers the mountain his birthright and the lawsuit an arm-wrestling match. He’d rather have his arm broken than say uncle and be denied access to what is rightfully his. He refuses to give up and, as our neighbor Jack once said about Mr. Mom, “There’s no quit in ’im.”

So on he soldiers, while I try to make sense of the story. When I started writing some 20 weeks ago, back when the hearing for possession had been scheduled, I thought the story would be over by now, neatly concluded with a “happy” ending. I thought Mr. Mom and Parker would spend this summer timbering our land and preparing to build a cabin. I thought resolution was within reach.

Instead, we’re still grasping . . . Mr. Mom for access to his family’s property, me for peace and understanding.

To be continued . . .

Epilogue:

So much of the last six years of our family’s life has been colored by this dispute that I’m a long ways from clarity on the topic. I keep trying to support Mr. Mom with every ounce of energy I can muster while simultaneously wanting to allow the nasty neighbors to win. I often think if they can live with their karma, so can I.

We learned last week that a nearby landowner who tried to sell his property recently lost the sale because there was a “cloud” on his title. Why? Unbeknownst to the property owner, the Unfriendlys moved their fence and gate on to this gentleman’s property in 2010, causing a dispute over property boundaries. Now the gentleman has no recourse but to sue the Unfriendlys for trespass and force them to move their fence. (He could ask nicely, I suppose, but that approach didn’t work for us.) His property was under contract for sale for $47,000. My guess is he will spend twice that amount and many years litigating the matter with the Unfriendlys. In some ways, knowing of this situation makes me want to fight the Unfriendlys to the death. In other ways, I want to tell the gentleman “Walk away now. Sure you have property that is virtually worthless due to the Unfriendly’s scheming. So do we. At least you can get from a public road to your property. We have to hike many miles over steep terrain. Count your blessings, neighbor.”

And that’s what I’m doing. Counting my blessings. It’s why I started this blog. And it’s what I’m going to keep trying to do, in spite of whatever twists or turns we encounter on the mountain.

What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?

– Massasoit (The Great Leader Yellow Feather)

Motocross and midnight pasta.

Dear friends,

As I do nearly every Saturday, I spent my morning drinking coffee and watching my favorite shows on the Food Network. Normally, I’ll make a fritatta with whatever’s left in the fridge for our weekend breakfasts, but I was feeling lazy this morning so an early meal eluded me.

By 10:30 am, though, I was starving and the Barefoot Contessa’s Midnight Pasta was calling to me. I answered.

The dish is called Midnight Pasta because it’s a simple recipe chefs like to make when their shift ends. There’s only one way to describe the dish and it’s an oxymoron: simply exquisite.

Our Midnight-Pasta-served-as-brunch was on the stove for all of about five minutes before one hungry mother and two big boys devoured it.

The oldest boy just happened to be ducking in the house for a drink. He had been out riding his dirt bike and I think his stomach must have been talking to him, too. Talk about oxymorons — the sweaty brute at the kitchen counter eating my fine pasta was a study in contrasts.

If you’ve got hungry mouths to feed, give Ina’s recipe a try. Midnight or mid-day, it won’t disappoint.

With gratitude {for Food Network inspiration that filled three hungry bellies this morning},

Joan, who wants observant readers to know that the “Eately” plate in the first photo might or might not have accidentally fallen from the restaurant’s table into her bag during her recent trip to NYC but don’t ask Kate about it because she saw nothing

The Barefoot Contessa’s Midnight Pasta

One pound spaghetti, cooked al dente

1 cup pasta water

1/3 cup olive oil

8 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

A pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 cup torn fresh spinach

Cracked pepper

Salt

Cook pasta and reserve 1 to 1 1/2 cups pasta water. Heat oil in large skillet (I prefer cast iron) over medium high heat and saute garlic until fragrant (not brown). Add pasta water, lower heat a bit, and add salt, cracked pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste. Let “sauce” bubble on the stove until garlic is translucent (about five minutes). Add cooked pasta to the skillet and toss with the sauce. Add parsley, spinach and cheese, and toss thoroughly. Serve immediately. Tasting Notes: Ina’s recipe didn’t call for spinach, but I had a fresh bunch in the fridge that was calling to be used so I threw it in. I’m so glad I did.

Two years.

Dear friends,

Nineteen years ago, our first child was born. I can remember with vivid clarity the concentrated emotion surrounding that event. For the first two years of Kate’s life, her father and I had a laser focus on her every need, emotion, and developmental milestone. Any new parent knows the feeling I’m talking about. It was frightening in some ways, but magical in so many more. We were a family of three — perfectly contained, thoroughly in love, completely content.

Then Parker came along and the whole dynamic changed. A family of four is entirely different than a family of three. And when the siblings are born 2-3 years apart, as ours were, the children can become their own self-contained unit, far more content to entertain each other and less needy of their parents’ attention. We were blessed that Kate and Parker developed a close relationship and enjoyed each other’s company right up until the moment Kate went to college.  We’ve been the four amigos for a very long time. (Well, 16 years to be exact.)

So it occurs to me now that — just as we enjoyed two years alone with Kate when she was a baby — we will now have two years alone with Parker. We’re a family of three again — two parents with a laser focus on one child.

I know. Kate will be home for holidays and such . . . and we’ll always really be a family of four, Lord willing, but it feels once again like we’re a family of three.

For example, there’s only three voices in the dinner conversation now. And only one of them is our child, so we’re naturally more attentive. It’s interesting, lisenting to this solo son’s voice without an echo or an interruption or an aside from his sister. In some ways, he’s on his own two feet for the first time since he was born. I wonder what he makes of it. I hope he’s enjoying our  undivided attention.

I’m certainly enjoying giving it to him. I’m enjoying listening to his voice with a new ear, one not distracted by another child’s concerns. I’m enjoying his company in a way completely different but just as satisfying as that of his sister so many years ago. When Kate was an only child, I read Dr. Seuss to her. I played with her. I cuddled her. Now that Parker is an “only” child, I watch reality television with him. I discuss social media with him. I seek his opinion on politics, community events, and family priorities.

Two wildly different stages of parenting, but still one deeply satisfied and appreciative mother.

With gratitude {for two years — then and now — as well as all the years before and after},

Joan, who just discussed with her son his essay comparing the sociological imaginations of Socrates and Forrest Gump and thinks adult conversations with your children are awfully cool

Got goals?

Dear friends,

I’ve been writing Chapter 20 of The Mountain. It’s a little longer than usual and when I publish it on Monday, my story will be caught up with real time. It’s a difficult chapter to write for many reasons (not the least of which are recent discouraging developments), and I’ve felt a bit worn out by the process. Wait . . . let me rephrase that. I’m not worn out by the writing. I’m worn out by the ordeal that prompted the writing.

I’ve also been getting used to life without Kate in my home. A week makes a big difference and I don’t feel nearly as morose as I did even a few days ago. We’ve either talked or texted every single day since she’s been gone. I haven’t laid eyes on her, of course, but in many ways I feel just as “connected” as I did when she was here. So far, she seems willing to indulge my endless curiosity about what she’s making of college life and to answer my myriad questions about her courses, her professors, her teammates, her coaches. I expect the daily chatter will taper off as we both settle in, but who knows? Maybe not — and that would, obviously, be just fine with me. It still kills me, though, to walk past her empty bedroom every day. (How do mothers who lose a child ever deal with the empty bedroom? It breaks my heart just to contemplate it.)

The combination of pouring myself into the end (for now) of my mountain story and figuring out how to be the mother of a daughter at college has left me more than a little unsettled. I feel unusually rudderless — almost like there’s an urgent need to “redefine” myself but I don’t know how to get started.

I suddenly feel so one-dimensional (I should read more! I should exercise more! I should reinvigorate my social life! I should pursue a new hobby!), and I can’t decide if I’m struggling with a crisis of identity or idle time.

I keep asking myself “Who do I want to be when I grow up?” (as if I’m not). As if I haven’t spent the last 25 years vigorously and sharply defining myself as a successful executive and mother of two.

Every night last week, I came home from work, ate the supper Mr. Mom prepared for me, then collapsed on the sofa in front of the television. And that pretty much sums up my most recent weekend, too. “So that’s it?” I asked myself yesterday. I’m just going to turn into a big, fat couch potato? Where are my aspirations for an empty-nester life, for Pete’s sake?

Please tell me they’ll come later. Tell me I don’t have to chart the entire course this week. Tell me, if you really love me, that lying on the sofa for seven nights straight while eating saltines smeared with butter and watching HBO reruns doesn’t mean my life is over and that I’ll eventually get this whole-new-life thing figured out.

Or . . . you can figure it out for me, dictate it in the comments section, and that’ll be just fine, too. Sometimes a girl just needs the easy answer.

With gratitude {for a robust satellite television package and a pantry stocked with plenty of saltines and butter},

Joan, who resisted the urge to purchase a desk calendar yesterday for the express purpose of charting out “new life” goals because, if there’s anything more demoralizing than lying on the sofa eating buttered crackers, it’s lying on the sofa eating buttered crackers while failing to accomplish a single “new life” goal

The Mountain. {Part 19}

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.

Five days after I managed to side-step the most devastating tornado in American history by less than 15 minutes – all because I was waiting on a load of towels to dry – I woke up on a Friday morning in our new home with a light heart and a sense of joy that I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. The moving trucks were coming, and along with them, my family!

We spent the long weekend of Memorial Day 2011 unpacking the contents of untold boxes. After a two-month separation, I was ecstatic to be under the same roof as my family. I loved our new home, I was settling into my new job, and I had the sense that a very good year was ahead of us. It would be a little tricky getting through the summer since the kids didn’t know a soul, but numerous colleagues had reached out to me suggesting social and athletic activities for my teenagers and offering to make introductions to their kids. We’d been welcomed to Missouri with open arms and were anxious to build a new life.

As Mr. Mom worked to get our household and children’s social lives in order, he also continued to spend countless hours on the phone and Internet pursuing our condemnation proceedings against the Unfriendlys. Our new attorney, Matt O’Malley, was extremely knowledgeable, and the information he was regularly sharing with Mr. Mom made him more encouraged and optimistic than he’d been in years.

According to O’Malley, condemnations are highly procedural matters. As we understood it, we’d go through a step-wise process with more predictable timing and outcomes. In a nutshell, an appraiser would specify a fair price for the road based on an established calculation governed by law. Then we would make a good faith offer to the Unfriendlys to purchase the easement based on the appraiser’s valuation. They could accept our offer or negotiate the price (within a strict set of guidelines). If the Unfriendlys refused, we could request a hearing to condemn an easement, in which the burden of proof shifts to them. In a court of law, they would have to prove that there is an alternate and legal route that is more direct, is feasible, connects to a public road, and offers the “highest and best use” of the property. If they could not meet the burden of proof, they would be forced to accept the fair price and give us the easement. Worst case, O’Malley thought, it could take a year.

Some of these matters had been partially explored in the Unfriendly’s trespass case against us, but there was still a good deal of work to be done with surveyors, expert witnesses, and the like to prepare our condemnation case. During the early weeks, we were encouraged. We were the plaintiffs (meaning we had switched from defense to offense) and it seemed our case was moving in a positive direction. Still, it would be difficult to fully relax until the deadline for appeal had passed in the Unfriendly’s lawsuit against us.

When the deadline passed with no appeal from the Unfriendlys, we breathed a sigh of relief and felt we could finally, fully put the lawsuit behind us.  That chapter of our lives was closed, it seemed, and we believed the condemnation case would proceed smoothly and in our favor. Mr. Mom and I went out to dinner to mark the occasion with steaks and cocktails.  Little did we know we were still in for a bumpy ride.

First, a few days later, the Unfriendlys filed a late appeal, challenging the $1 award for damages.  When Mr. Mom told me, I cursed. I wanted to scream and then I wanted to kick something. Just when we thought the case was behind us, it wasn’t, which meant more legal fees, all the while paying the fees associated with our condemnation. We would now be paying two attorneys — Atticus Finch to handle our defense of the Unfriendly’s appeal and Matt O’Malley to handle the condemnation — and it felt like we were being bled dry.

Then one evening as I returned home from work, I noticed Mr. Mom was on the phone in what sounded like a conversation with a lawyer. I went to the bedroom to change and as I sat down on the bed to remove my shoes, Mr. Mom came in and sat down beside me.  “Well,” he said, “we got some bad news today.”

I jerked my head sideways to look at his facial expression. It seemed the bad news in our life was often associated with the mountain and I couldn’t imagine what had happened now.

“What?” I asked urgently.

Mr. Mom dropped his head and looked puzzled. “Atticus died yesterday.”

“What?” I asked, incredulous. “How?”

“Pnuemonia, apparently,” Mr. Mom said. “He got sick, then got worse, and he died while in the hospital.”

“He’s dead?” I asked, as if the answer might be different if I asked again. “Who’s going to handle the appeal?” I wondered out loud. I don’t know if I was more shocked by the fact that Atticus had died suddenly or by the fact we were in the middle of an appeal without our attorney.

But before Mr. Mom could answer, I said, not quite under my breath, “Holy cow, how many attorneys can we go through?”

Mr. Mom shook his head as if to say “Who knows?”

Our first attorney had bowed out, saying litigation wasn’t his specialty. Our second attorney had experienced a breakdown of some sort and trainwrecked every case he was handling, including ours. Now, our third attorney had just died unexpectedly. We sure hoped O’Malley, our fourth attorney, could handle both the appeal and the condemnation and wouldn’t expire on us.

Six years and four attorneys later, I began to wonder if we would outlast our efforts to claim the mountain.

To be continued . . .

Some unrelated thoughts indicative of my state of mind.

Dear friends,

So I’ve got about a thousand things running through my mind this week, none of which add up to anything meaningful but all of which are eminently fascinating to me.

Such as:

  • Parker got a job. At his parents’ urging. He’s busing tables and mopping floors at a steakhouse conveniently located one mile from our house. He’s making minimum wage. He’s busting his butt and coming home tired. His parents can’t stop smiling. Especially his mother. Especially in response to the statement “It was mayhem Mom! I mean, I worked non-stop for FOUR hours.”
  • I decided that with all my newfound spare time — what with a daughter away at college and a son at work — that I would read. Read books. Books I’ve had on my list for a while but never gotten around to. Right now, I can’t put down Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. I was looking for an objective treatment of the subject and I’m not sure I found it, but I’m tripping over all sorts of interesting facts I didn’t know. Warning: I’m neither a “gun nut” (read: NRA fanatic) nor a “gun grabber” (read: raging liberal who wants to disarm America) that the author uses as his archetypes, but I am interested in the debate, I’m married to a man with a different perspective on the topic than mine, and I want to be more informed on the facts and not the rhetoric. I’ll let you know if I think the book ultimately has anything to add to the dialogue.  Next up: Fraud and Half Empty, both by the brilliant David Rackoff.
  • My dear sweet Kate is doing just fine.
  • My minimalist phase continues (new books notwithstanding). I spent the last couple of days de-cluttering my master bedroom. There’s now a three-tiered television stand with nothing on it but a television. It’s weirdly . . . vacant looking. But in a really calming way.
  • Does it count if I took some of the clutter to my office? I know. It probably doesn’t, but, among other things, I couldn’t bear to discard my “Tulsa” snowglobe. And yet it was imperative that I get it out of my home. Is this kind of emotional oxymoron (I must get rid of it! I must keep it!) the sign of a breakdown? Or is it merely phased detachment? If “phased detachment” (a term I totally just made up) sounds better, I’m going with that one.
  • When Kate left home, I stopped running. Remember that interval training we were doing? Yeah. I fell off the wagon without the incentive of early morning mother-daughter bonding.
  • I have bitten off every last one of my nails. I do that when I get anxious. I’ve been a nail-biter for as long as I can remember. It drives Mr. Mom crazy. I don’t care because his jittery leg syndrome drives me crazy. It’s an even trade, I figure.
  • Now that I have a daughter at college and a son at work, I joked to a friend yesterday that I would soon have to send Mr. Mom back to work. She looked at me with a furrowed brow and said “Well, you won’t get dinner served at 5:30 pm anymore.” I realized that’s no joke and I zipped my lip.

With gratitude {for my clean house, warm dinner, industrious children and long reading list},

Joan, who hasn’t cried in 48 hours and thinks that must be a good sign

Good morning, Sarah!

Dear friends,

I have a friend from back home named Sarah. She’s one of the most adorable 20-something girls you’d ever want to meet and she tweeted this yesterday:

Sarah is the daughter of a woman I went to high school with named Shelli. Shelli’s adorable, too, so it runs in the family. (In fact, back in high school another friend of mine used to say about Shelli: “Isn’t she the most adorable girl ever?”)  Anyway, Sarah has told me before that she likes to start her morning with Debt of Gratitude, and that thought alone makes me happier than you can imagine. Probably happier than Dr. Pepper, m&m’s and my blog make Sarah.

I was not having a stellar day yesterday. It was my first day back at work after returning from Oklahoma and it was jam packed with meetings and other obligations in which I had little interest. Everybody knew I had just returned from taking Kate to college and everybody kept asking me how I was doing.

I smiled. And I said fine. But really . . . I wanted to burst into tears. So when I saw Sarah’s Tweet mid-day, it sure perked up my melancholy little heart.

“I can’t be sad and mopey,” I thought to myself. “I have to go home and write something for Sarah!” I wish I had something more creative, something more profound, something more substantive than “thank you” to offer her (to offer all of you, really), but I don’t.

Still, since this is a blog devoted to gratitude, I can’t exactly argue with an expression of appreciation, no matter how modest.

So thank you, Sarah, from the bottom of my heart for evicting me from Mopeland and back to real life where I count my blessings every day.

With gratitude {for Sarah and all my readers whose daily visits enrich my life},

Joan, who also wants to give a shout-out to Debbie, her first college roomie who made her home-to-college transition so much more bearable all those years ago

PS: While I’m counting my blessings, will you indulge me just a moment? I want to show you some photos I took of Kate at college. She’s in a lovely environment and it gives me comfort to know her world is a pretty, happy place.

Kate outside her new apartment. She’s on the 2nd floor. Hooray for the built-in Stairmaster!

Kate’s bedroom. We both were pleased with the pink-and-black decor and the $20 craigslist desk. Hooray for cheap chic!

Kate and her roommate, Houda. Houda from Casablanca. I love saying that! You know what else I love? Houda is Muslim and speaks Arabic. Hooray for cultural diversity in Kate’s life!

The college girl.

Dear friends,

My two favorite brunettes of all time.

Some women my age would be embarrassed to admit this, but during my college years, Cosmopolitan magazine was my primary textbook. I scoured every issue and took its advice seriously. I thought Helen Gurley Brown was it, and I longed for a career as glamorous as hers.

My views have changed considerably since then — though my appreciation for independent, outspoken women has never waned. So I was sorry to hear Ms. Brown died yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 90.

From her NY Times obit, I learned a story about HGB that had never before caught my attention. Chiefly, that her mother sent the legendary Cosmo editor a telegram just before her best-selling (and career-making) book, “Sex and the Single Girl,” was published. In it, her mother wrote: Dear Helen, if you move very quickly, I think we can stop publication of the book.”

I cringed when I read it. I never want to be that mother, I thought. The naysayer. The second-guesser. The older woman dispensing one generation’s advice to a younger generation for whom the old rules don’t apply.

Lord knows I’ve been dispensing plenty of advice in the last few days as Kate prepared to go to college. Everything from where to buy the cheapest textbooks, to how to get answers from college administrators, to why it’s important to thoroughly read the syllabus.

In the end (where end equals Sunday night, time for mom to go home already), I simply had to zip my lip and walk away.  And, yeah, I walked away with tears in my eyes, trying hard not to make eye contact with the girl who wouldn’t be helped by a tearful goodbye. I left her among her friends and contemporaries, where I hope she will find the space and the encouragement for her unique voice to develop and her dreams to flourish, which is the only thing I ever hoped college would offer her.

I told her to call me if she needs me. (I know she won’t hesitate because barely two hours after I departed, she called to ask where I had put the Q-tips that I unpacked. I’m not sure if I’ll be more or less relieved if her next call for help is about a matter of more consequence.) I told her I loved her. I told her I was proud of her.

And then I drove six hours home, where a new adventure awaits me, too. (Just as soon as I stop crying. Kiddingnotkidding.)

With gratitude {for the strongest, smartest, kindest college girl a mother could hope for},

Joan, who finds it odd that the mother who breezed through Kate’s first day of Kindergarten had to look away or burst into tears while buying last-minute dorm supplies at Wal-Mart on Saturday (Who knew separation at 19 was harder than 5?)