A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg

Home Away Home


In November of 2003 we returned to the ranch to catch up and catch our breath. It had been a very busy year. We took my mother to Hawaii to find her childhood footprints at Kalaupapa, completed the package for the “Full Circle” CD, visited Dan’s mom in Peoria, and had the CD mixed in Connecticut. Then we drove to Maine, found architects, tore down the old house and began building a new one. We traveled by bus throughout the Summer Tour, wandered Dan’s old stomping grounds at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, and recorded a Soundstage concert in Chicago. Returning to Maine, we shopped for cabinets, appliances, flooring, wallpaper, fixtures, furniture, and rugs. We both knew couples whose marriages had barely survived building a house together, but we were having a grand time. 

     The ranch had been all Dan; there were no signs of the previous two wives anywhere. Now, here we were, creating a home that would reflect my ideas and tastes as much as his. In his 30s and 40s, Dan never would have relinquished that kind of control. He’d made a lot of mistakes in his love life, but in his 50s he had taken the lessons learned to heart. 


     While we both had definite ideas about what we wanted in a house, we had very different priorities. Dan wanted an arched eyebrow dormer over the front door, like the one on his family’s home in Peoria; I wanted arched doorways inside. He knew which newel post and bannisters he wanted; they all looked the same to me. I knew exactly how deep the teapot shelf had to be over the kitchen breakfast nook; Dan was a coffee drinker who didn’t share my obsession with British afternoon tea. He wanted big mantels and marble hearths; I wanted cup pulls on the kitchen drawers. 

     Whenever our builder, Bryan, asked us a question about a part of the house, he could tell right away which of us would be giving him answers, just by the level of engagement reflected on our faces.

     In the Fall of 2002, he gave us directions to a huge salvage yard and showroom in Brooksville that specialized in architectural antiquities. We went upstairs to look at lighting fixtures and there were literally hundreds of antique brass sconces and glass shades covering the walls and shelves. If Dan had been a dog, his tail would have started wagging madly. My eyes glazed over. He dove in, carefully choosing sconces and pairing them with shades, then setting them aside. After a while I snuck away to look for a doorknob for my office. At the end of two hours, I had chosen one ornate doorknob set. Dan had chosen 25 wall sconces and shades, and three brass chandeliers with suitable glass shades. He knew where each sconce would go, and how high up they should be placed.


     We climbed a ladder to the top of the house and were amazed at how big the attic was. It had seemed so much smaller on the floor plans. At the ranch we’d rarely used the attic, and we didn’t foresee needing a whole floor of storage space here. However, we could use a place to paint, so we added a raised half bath and skylights and, just like that, we were going to have an art studio.

     Dan came in from running errands one day, carrying a sample of green-gray granite with bright blue flecks. Holding it out to me, he pretended to plead, “Can we.....?” It was a beautiful stone sample he’d found at a home goods store just off the island. We went looking for it at one granite showroom, but all they had were little square stone samples pasted on boards. Then we went to The Granite Shop in nearby Sedgwick and both of our tails started wagging. 

     The yard was full of granite and marble slabs, standing side by side like gigantic dominoes. We could pick the exact slab our counters would be cut from, and examine every inch of it for shapes and colors that caught our fancy. For detail-oriented obsessive people like us, this was a boon. The owner, Steve Thoner, used his forklift to pull slabs from the rows so we could examine them fully, in the sun. For a rockhound like me, it was almost impossible to decide; I loved them all.

     Steve had a few slabs of the green-gray stone in the yard; it was Blue Astrale, a granite from Madagascar, and it became our master bath counter. We ordered Kashmir White, from India, for the kitchen counters, then we went in search of marble for our fireplace surrounds and hearths. This was Dan’s thing, so while we followed him through the yard, I told Steve I’d noticed he didn’t have a website. I asked if he’d be interested in trading web work for stone discounts. 

      “Why would I need a website?” he asked, “Business is good.”

     “Every business needs a website!” I answered. It was the beginning of a long and successful collaboration.

     A few weeks later, while looking at bathtubs in an appliance store, we saw a sample of Ubatuba granite gleaming on a window ledge. We immediately agreed that this should be the stone for the kitchen countertops. Quarried in Brazil, Dark Ubatuba is a black stone with flecks of gold and green that glow when the sun hits them. Back to The Granite Shop we went, to exchange the light Kashmir White for the dark Ubatuba. That, in turn, meant the dishwasher and ovens would have to be black now. That was okay; the house wouldn't be finished for almost a year, we still had plenty of time to make changes.

     I liked that I could help pay for things. The tin ceiling in my office was paid for with money earned from a website for a Los Angeles law firm. The carved antique Black Oak armoire and sideboard set in the dining room was a website for a Hollywood producer. The plants and landscaping were partially paid for by a website for Mainescape Garden Center.

     When we weren’t at the house site, or shopping, we were sailing and exploring. I was becoming acclimated to the motion of the boat and only had small bouts of motion sickness now. I know Dan had hoped I’d become as passionate about sailing as he was, and I wished that too, but it never happened. When I was at the helm, I was gripping the wheel nervously, hoping Dan would take over again soon. When I was sitting in the cockpit, I was wishing I had something to do.

     We were sailing into the wind on Eggemoggin Reach during our first sail of the season when Dan tried to unfurl one of the two headsails. He pulled on the line, but nothing happened. He asked me to take the wheel while he went forward to check it out.

     It was overcast and the seas were rough and, as usual, I was worried about  Minstrel being damaged on my watch. Dan knew every submerged ledge by heart, and I was sure he would never put us in danger, but as we got closer to shore I was worried that we should be tacking away from it. (When you’re motoring into the wind with no sails set, you can make straight for your destination. But when you’re under sail, you have to zigzag back and forth so the sails will catch the wind and propel you forward. This zigzagging is called “tacking.”) Of course, Dan was keeping an eye on the shore, and would come back to the wheel when it was time to tack in the opposite direction. Nervous Nelly me, though, I always thought we should tack waaay before it was time.

     After what seemed like ages, he came back and asked if I would take a look at the furling drum. He thought he knew what the problem was, but couldn’t see how to fix it. Thank goodness! We tacked and then I gratefully relinquished the wheel. Tightening the straps on my life vest, I moved toward the jib, hanging on to the handrails all the way.

     The bow was pitching up and down and splashing against the waves as I sat at the front of the boat. I held on to the stainless steel pulpit rails, my feet dangling on either side of the bow. (If a boat was a dolphin, the bow would be its nose.) We seemed to be flying over the water, and each time we hit a wave the spray lashed against my face. So far, it was the most fun I’d ever had sailing. (I am not a daredevil. By nature, I’m a careful, cautious person. But there’s something about being on the bow of a boat with the sea rushing under you and the wind in your face that, well, think Kate Winslet and “Titanic.” On a smaller boat.)

     I could see the glitch Dan was talking about, and after about fifteen minutes I thought I’d figured it out. He called out to me but I couldn't hear what he was saying so I signaled that I was okay and just needed a little more time. Twenty minutes later the problem seemed to be fixed, so I carefully made my way back to the cockpit, soaking wet. As I sat down, Dan pulled on the line and the sail unfurled. Watching it fill, he smiled and shouted against the wind, “That’s my Jeanie MacGyver!” 


     Best. Sail. Ever.


After such a busy year, it was good to be back home in Colorado, but I took a quick trip to Arkansas to visit my parents. They’d lived in Lompoc, California for 23 years, until the last of the chicks had flown the nest. In 1983 they moved to Santa Fe and, in 1993, to Arkansas. Now it was 2003 and they would be moving to Kentucky soon. I started kidding Dad that it was his gypsy blood, compelling him to move every ten years. Mom always went along with what he wanted to do, but each move was bittersweet for her. She was a sociable person, making new friends and joining groups wherever they went.

     Her failing eyesight was making painting very difficult, so Mom started taking pottery classes at Terra Studios, an arts and crafts school, gallery, cafe, and park. Known for their Blue Bird of Happiness glass figurines, the place had a wonderful hippy vibe to it. Dad would drop Mom off there and run errands, and she would spend a few happy hours chatting and creating things to sell in the Terra Studios gift shop. She started with small pots and bowls, but before long she was firing blue whales and foot-tall, brown clay gnomes. She got so into creating pottery, she bought a wheel so she could throw pots at home. I definitely inherited my drive to create from my mother.

     Back in 2000, Dan and I visited Terra Studios with my parents and met some of Mom’s friends. We strolled the grounds, had lunch in the cafe, and bought glass vases to give as Christmas presents. I was so glad Dan liked my parents. He'd barely known his previous in-laws, and I think it's always nice to have someone in your life who makes you feel like a kid.


When I got back to the ranch, I had a bunch of new websites to work on. As winter progressed, walking back and forth across the snowy breezeway to my office became tiresome and messy. So I moved my desk and computer into the house, to a cozy corner of the pool table room in the basement. On his way from the music studio to the kitchen, Dan would pop his head in to see if I wanted to join him.

     While looking through the photos I’d taken in Arkansas I was struck by the similarities between my parent’s relationship and ours. There was Mom, working in her art studio in one part of the basement, while Dad repaired cameras or played the organ in another part. In between, they went upstairs and ate every meal together.


     Dan’s long-time ranch foreman, George, had moved out of the manager’s apartment and into town to be with his fiancé, Jan. George knew every inch of the ranch, and he kept all the machinery running, so Dan was glad he wanted to stay on, in an off-site capacity. That meant creating a new position for someone who would live on the property full-time. They would assist with ranch work and keep an eye on the property, house, and Rilly when we were away.

     It’s a romantic notion, living high up in the mountains, far from the nearest town. For many people, though, the isolation becomes too intense, so we had to carefully screen applicants. We both liked the resume and letter sent to us from a local woman named Cary. She had ranching experience and was a writer who needed the quiet time to create. We could relate to that.

     After our first meeting, we hired her for a probationary period, just to be sure it would work for all of us, and Cary moved into the manager’s apartment. She was a good fit for us, although she and George butted heads from time to time while the rank and roles of their positions were figured out.


     A few weeks before Christmas, we drove into Pagosa to buy a tree. We decorated the house, played CDs, and wrapped presents in secret. It was our second Christmas without Buckaroo and we still missed our little buddy. We had wondered if Rilly might come into her own, now that she was the only cat in the house, but she remained as unpredictable and skittish as ever. 

     On Christmas Eve, we made popcorn and watched Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” and at the end I cried, like I did every single time. The following morning, as we unwrapped our gifts, the wrapping paper was thrown into a bag instead of being crumpled and tossed around for Buckaroo to play with. Our gifts to each other were thoughtful and practical, with the exception of a pair of earrings Dan had bought me in Santa Fe. They were small gold hoops with channel-set diamonds, extravagant but understated; perfect. 

     That night Dan made Cornish game hens and we dressed up for our Christmas dinner. Dan wore a velvet jacket and I wore a long velvet dress and pulled my hair back to show off my new earrings. We used the good china, lit the candles, and put a CD of classical music on. We talked throughout the meal, laughing and remembering the Coon Cat’s antics, funny friends, and holiday dinners past. 

     After dinner, we carried our wine into the living room and Dan stoked the fire. We made love, half on and half off the couch, half in and half out of our velvet finery. We stretched out on the long narrow couch, our bodies pressed together, and stared into the flames for a while. When the fire started to die down we went upstairs and changed into our comfy clothes. Then we went into the kitchen and did the dishes together. 

     If we had known it would be our last Mountain Bird Christmas, I can’t think of anything we would have done differently.


Posted February 6th, 2021  Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2021