The Mountain: Please, God, tell me it’s not really 2018 and this thing is still going on.

Dear friends,

2018 - 1

It’s been 20 months since I last wrote an update about our mountain saga. You might have forgotten about it. You might have thought that it was over. You might have thought — if you read my last post — the case had been resolved in our favor.

<insert rueful laugh here>

HELL to the NO on all counts.

A lot’s been happening, none of which I’ve been interested in writing about. In part because of the Great Clean Out of 2017, wherein I pretty much gave up writing in favor of a major home re-organization and purging project. In part because . . . what can I say? I hate this case.

But last week a new friend told me she had read my mountain story in its entirety and I started thinking about how unraveled the whole narrative is and how much still hasn’t been told. So I decided to dip my toes back in the story, ease into the memory of it all, and share the parts I can remember and bear to tell.

In this post, I told you about another landowner on the downhill side of the Unfriendlys who had discovered our nasty neighbors had encroached on his property, creating a cloud on title and complicating his efforts to sell his lot. Mr. Mom and his brother Lloyd bought the two-acre parcel from the frustrated owner and undertook the legal action to force the Unfriendlys to move their fence and their fancy locked gate back to its rightful place — off what is now our parcel and off the county road. The process meant we spent yet more money on yet more (and different) attorneys — and like everything legal, it took forever — BUT we prevailed. The end result was that Junior Unfriendly was highly annoyed when he was forced to spend some $18,000 to move his fancy electric gate. (Seriously, the damn thing looks like the entrance to South Fork, clearly an attempt to signal “Important People Own This Property.”) But, more importantly, it meant we now owned property adjacent to the Unfriendlys that was accessible by a county road, which rendered our ownership of the Unfriendlys mineral rights usable and relevant again. It felt like a small victory. We hoped it was a signal things would start moving in our direction.

At some point it became clear that following the Appellate Court’s ruling in our favor in August 2013 that the Unfriendlys had no intention of settling with us. Rebuffing Mr. Mom’s efforts to negotiate a financial payment for the easement and avoid yet another bench trial, the Unfriendlys made it clear they’d see us in District Court. So last March, Mr. Mom and I made the long drive to Pueblo for yet another week in court.

(I want to pause just a moment here to give emphasis to a point that’s easy to skim over. The Appellate Court ruled in our favor in August 2013 and remanded the case back to District Court. And it was three and a half years later in March 2017 when that subsequent trial took place. I honestly can’t remember what happened in that span of time and why it took so long. I could look up the details, but the point is . . . it represented more delay, more frustration, more pointless legal bills, more years in which we couldn’t access property owned by our family for more than four decades).

I know I took notes during the trial last March. But I recall very little. Here’s what I do remember. One, it was clear from the beginning the same judge who had ruled against us in the previous district court ruling was now gunning for us. Two, Mr. Mom kept saying the whole thing was an open-and-shut case, but I could sense we were in for another screwing. The Appellate Court ruled we would prevail if we could prove the road the Unfriendlys wanted us to use as an alternate route was private (and therefore not legally accessible to us). We felt like the evidence was irrefutable. The evidence included both documents and testimony the road was built and maintained by private landowners, was gated and locked and was not used by the public, and the landowners in question had for decades paid taxes on the property containing the road. A County Official even testified the road was NOT on their books and they did not maintain it or claim it.

The Unfriendlys claimed it was a public road because, among other things, a county snowplow had a few times driven down the road for a distance (we pointed out and the snowplow driver testified — in search of an easier place to turn around), and utility workers had occasionally used the road (we pointed out and documents proved — by permission of the landowners), as well as other spurious and silly claims.

It took four days for us to say our piece and the Unfriendlys to say theirs. During the entire show, I focused on three things. 1) The Judge. 2) Our attorney, Matt O’Malley, and 3) the Unfriendly’s attorney, Dick Slick. (You can read this post if you want a recap on the bumbling, lying, snake-of-a-Dandy I’ve dubbed Dick.)

The judge seemed frustrated we were back in her courtroom. (Her previous verdict was overruled. Who wouldn’t be?) She made continuing snide comments about how this case has gone on for far too long and had been a “travesty” and I could tell her sympathy didn’t lie with us.

As for our attorney, he didn’t seem on his game. Or maybe I should add he didn’t look well. I privately told Mr. Mom that O’Malley looked like a walking-talking heart-attack and I fervently hoped he didn’t expire.

Dick Slick was most definitely on his game. His old assistant, Sven, was gone, and his new guy seemed a lot less on the ball. But Dick was as groomed and bombastic and sarcastic and melodramatic and . . . awful . . . as ever. I refused to speak to him, even when he tried to exchange insincere pleasantries with me. He made me clench my jaw and seethe with anger every time he told a new lie. During one break while we were all cooling our heals in the hallway, Mr. Mom and Dick both ducked into the men’s room at the same time. (Awkward, I thought.) When Mr. Mom returned to my side, I said quietly “I wondered if both of you would come out alive. I half expected you to kick his ass in the bathroom and call it good.”

Mr. Mom laughed and whispered to me, “Listen, that guy is . . . not right. I mean it. You should have heard him. He was on the toilet grunting and straining and moaning. Like, he seriously was in distress. I think his karma is all bound up in his bowels.”

I laughed out loud. It was a terrible thing to take delight in, but I admit I did. His hair may be as perfect as the Werewolf of London, and his suit may be expensively tailored and his lies effective, but his gut . . . his gut knows the truth.

We came home from Colorado prepared for another long wait, but the verdict came relatively quick. By late summer, O’Malley gave us the news that the judge had ruled against us. I wasn’t surprised. I didn’t cry. I didn’t even curse or get upset. I had foreseen it. Facts mean nothing in this case — at least they mean nothing in this District Court. And I had sat through a week’s trial knowing O’Malley was lining up all the chess pieces for a strong appeal and that — we prayed — the Appellate Court would once again see through the charade and would enforce case law.

But because we lost, the Unfriendlys filed another claim for us to pay their attorney’s fees. So in December, Mr. Mom drove to Pueblo yet again for a hearing on that matter.

This is important for me to say out loud. For you to know. Because it is emblematic of everything I despise about this case. The Unfriendlys claim to have spent nearly three times what we have on legal fees. Yet neither they nor Dick Slick can produce any shred of evidence that the transactions have occurred. There is no letter of engagement or retainer agreement. There are no billings. There are no cancelled checks or bank records (from either the law firm or the Unfriendlys). They are all missing. A couple of years ago when Mr. Mom had to go to court for an earlier hearing on this topic (before it became a moot point because the Appellate Court overruled the District Court), Dick Slick testified that Ukranian hackers destroyed his computer records. Yeah. He said that out loud. Ukranian hackers ate his homework. This time around, however, he blamed it on Sven. Just so you know, our attorney, O’Malley said in court, “I just want to get this straight. In the last hearing you said you could produce no records because of Ukranian hackers. Now you’re blaming an ex-partner?” (I know it won’t surprise you to know we can document every dime we’ve spent on attorney’s fees, both through billings and bank records.)

So, yeah, we could end up owing tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the Unfriendlys that no one can document or prove were owed, charged or paid. It’s inexplicable but I’ve learned in this case, sometimes, the absurd is reality. It’s all in the hands of a judge.

And in yet one more twist that no one will believe (or maybe you will if you’ve followed along this far and this long, and therefore you grasp that this case is not normal), we learned yesterday that our attorney, Matt O’Malley, died suddenly this week. For those counting, he’s the second attorney who’s died in the middle of our case. (He’s the third who’s expired, if you remember Dave Moore, the guy who had a mental breakdown and stopped responding to filings and showing up in court unbeknownst to us back in 2009.)

So, yeah, we’re less than two weeks away from our appeal deadline and our attorney is dead. There’s just no delicate way to say that. And no need to gnash my teeth about it. I suppose one of his partners will seek an extension and take over. Maybe I should be more solemn or reverent about the loss of a human life. But I called it. Almost a year ago I called it. And I’m numb to it.

And numb, right now, is a lot better than the alternative.

With gratitude {for whatever gets me through the night},

Joan, who spent a good portion of December on the sofa watching Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel and Turner Classic Movies, and who gulped their cheesy optimism and happy endings as a tonic to real life, especially Miracle on 34th Street, where the courts run smoothly and the judge is sensible and kind, and a happy ending for all is guaranteed

PS: I am well aware this post is dark. And I’m not usually dark. I’m working on it. I’ve taken up Yin Yoga and I’m meditating and walking regularly and it really is helping. Equanimity may not be just around the corner but it’s out there somewhere and I’m actively seeking it. You may not be surprised to learn I had some blood work done recently and my results were concerning. Three years ago, all my numbers were in the “green” (good) range, and now several are in the yellow (concerning) and red (problem) range. My doc looked at my scores and asked me if something bad happened last year. I laughed out loud. “I laid off 10 people and stopped running and gained 15 pounds. Oh, and I lost a court case.”

Maybe that explains why I was obsessed with my house last year. It was a convenient diversion, and the clean and clear space brought a sense of calm and order to my world. It’s the perfect environment for me to get back to normal in. And I will. If I know anything, it’s that I fervently believe in the power of goodness and love, and I’ll hang on until the scale tips to that side. Maybe I’ll start writing more regularly. It has always helped me make sense of the world.

And, for the curious or concerned, Mr. Mom is doing fine. Like me, he gained weight last year. But, heck, we’re getting older and we eat like kings, so whattya gonna do?










The Great Clean Out of 2017.

Dear friends,

The master bedroom during the middle of a closet purge.

Before the arrival of every new year, I find myself contemplating resolutions. I’ve always thought of myself as the Queen of Self Help. Someone who has both the drive and resourcefulness to set ambitious goals and meet them. Ready, set . . . GOOOOOOOOOO!

And then I cave.

(My philosophy is if a goal isn’t intimidating enough to make you cave early on, it’s probably not worth being called a goal. Cleaning the kitchen, for example, requires little forethought or dedication.  It’s a “just do it” kind of thing. But cleaning and organizing the whole house? That’s enough to make you gulp. That’s a goal. )

But, sometimes, after I cave, I find the fortitude and the stamina to take a deep breath and dig back in. It seems to me the persistence to keep digging in, again and again, is the key to any kind of success. And though I haven’t always persisted in every endeavor I’ve pursued, I recently completed a very big goal worth writing about.

Dubbed the Great Clean Out of 2017, my goal was to clean and organize my home in a way I had never before pursued. I was feeling leaden, a bit cornered by the clutter, and looking for a fresh start. I know my age has something to do with it, but I was slowly starting to panic about the size and maintenance demands of our home. I told Mr. Mom how frightened I was of becoming one of those old couples whose home “caves” in on them because they lose the ability to keep up with things. One day they wake up old and surrounded by too many objects too many decades out of use or style. It’s a literal nightmare for me.

So I vowed to tackle our entire home and to give myself a year to do it. It seemed reasonable and the more I thought about it, the more my motivation grew. I started telling everyone of my plan. I vowed to not only clean and organize, but to purge. And purge some more. Followed by a side of purge.

I made a list. (Because nothing feels as good as check marks on a list.) I divided big jobs into little jobs. I knew I would never find the motivation to clean and organize the laundry room, for example. It’s too big, too full of built-in cabinets that had been stuffed and ignored. So I wrote down 45 items on my list, items I thought sounded manageable, such as “Kitchen desk,” and “Night stands” and “Buffet drawers” and “Coffee cart.” Things I could do in less than an hour so that I might feel energized to tackle another item on the list. Then another.

My strategy worked. I started 2017 with a bang and, by March, I had checked off more than a third of my list, including two really big/challenging spaces such as the dish pantry and the kitchen. (It took me multiple days spread over two weeks, but cleaning out every single drawer and cabinet in my kitchen — as well as scrubbing and streamlining every surface — was a true mood booster and personal triumph.) I was stoked.

Then life got hard and my enthusiasm waned. Long hours and challenging dynamics at work diffused my focus on my goal and sapped my energy. I tried to keep plugging along but the check marks slowed.

The one thing on my list I had been too overwhelmed to break down into smaller chores was the basement. I had written BASEMENT in all caps at the bottom of my list, a visual representation of the enormity of the task.  I put it on the bottom of the list because I rationalized my Great Clean Out would be deemed a success if everything but the basement got done. I mean, who would blame me? It was so stuffed that we couldn’t even walk around. Much of the contents were boxes we were too exhausted to unpack when we moved into this home, topped off with six years of stuff we should have purged but chose instead to throw in the basement.

Fortunately, my daughter offered to come home for Labor Day weekend and help me. Between her and Mr. Mom, who did all the heavy lifting and hauling off while Kate and I sorted, purged, organized and cleaned, we finished the basement in a single (albeit long) day.

There’s nothing quite like completing a project that has intimidated and plagued you for years. Finishing the basement was like a tonic, and it gave me the energy to check off a few more items on the list in the following weeks.

I was so inspired, I even added new items to the list. I decided to paint and recover my dining room chairs, a project I started before Thanksgiving and finished today. I painted the buffet and the mantle and two mirrors. I made a new slipcover for the ottoman in the den. I cleaned and repainted our deck furniture and bought all new cushions. I replaced the light fixture over the kitchen island. I hired a company to clean our carpets. After Parker moved out, I redecorated the guest room with new side tables and bedding and cleaned out his long-ignored closet. I bought a new mattress and all new bedding for the master bedroom. I reupholstered a wing chair. I bought a new sofa and recliner for the living room and new slipcovers for the sofa in the keeping room.

As 2017 drew to a close, I had two remaining chores on my list — the dreaded laundry room and the refrigerator.

First — I know a refrigerator should be cleaned regularly, not part of a major purge. But I spontaneously scribbled it on the list thinking it would be an easy win, and then I proceeded to ignore it for a year. By the time I completely emptied it last week and scrubbed every surface with soap and water, it was in dire need. If you need a mental boost and decide to do nothing else, clean your refrigerator. It seriously might have been the most energizing and pleasing project I completed all year.

Second — despite breaking the laundry room down into four manageable items on my list, I ignored it until the bitter end. I gave serious thought to skipping it all together, thinking I could still pat myself on the back for doing everything BUT the laundry room. But on Dec. 30, still clad in my pajamas at 11:00 am, I decided to dive in. I even tackled one item not on my list — our four-drawer filing cabinet (which happens to reside in the laundry room), which hadn’t been attended to in more than a decade.

Guess what? I found my “lost” passport. I found my daughter’s immunization record, which she had asked for last fall but which Mr. Mom couldn’t find despite digging through the filing cabinet. I found three savings bonds I didn’t know we had, gifts to my children 20 years ago from a family friend. I found our wills, which I thought had long ago been lost. Score four for the motivated mother cleaning in her PJs on the day before her deadline!

Now that I’m done, I’m enormously gratified to say that I literally touched (and cleaned or purged) every single item in our home. The only thing I ignored was the garage. It’s Mr. Mom’s space so I never even put it on the list. And I don’t feel bad. It needs a lot of love (and a deep clean) in my opinion, but it’s not my hill to die on.

With the interior of the house “done,” I’ve started thinking about the outside. When spring arrives, I hope we will find the energy and inspiration to power wash our exterior and our driveway. We need to re-stain the deck and wash the windows. But I really just want to enjoy the satisfaction of finishing the Great Clean Out of 2017 for a while before I think about the next list of projects.

Because the truth is — keeping up a house is never-ending, just like keeping a drawer or cabinet tidy takes continual attention. If I hadn’t ignored things for so long (hello basement), a year-long clean out wouldn’t have been necessary. But since it was, necessary, I’m awfully glad to have it behind me.

With gratitude {for finishing},

Joan, who once set a goal to run a thousand miles in a year and didn’t achieve it, but thinks the Great Clean Out might have been even more demanding.

PS: I’ve included quite a few photos in case you are curious and/or looking for inspiration to tackle your own dreaded chores. Under the label of truth in advertising, I should note a whole lot of personal interests took a back seat to this year-long endeavor. Yes, I cleaned and organized my entire house and purged several pick-up loads of excess baggage. But my quilting took a hit and I finished only one small baby quilt and a few pillows in 2017. My fitness took a real dive. Cooking and baking seriously diminished except around holidays or special occasions. And my writing was non-existent. I guess what I’m saying is everything comes at a cost. I spent an entire year focusing on our home at the expense of other interests and I’m looking forward to a change-up in 2018.

A clean desk is so satisfying. And handy.

Freshly scrubbed and de-cluttered, the kitchen project was enormously satisfying.


The reorganized cleaning pantry.

Refurbished deck furniture.

Room to spare in the reorganized sewing room closet.

The BASEMENT! Clean and organized after only six years.

The refreshed guest bedroom.

Refurbished dining room chairs.

The living room.