That's What It's All About!

What IS it all about, anyway?  WHY are we here … and WHAT are we doing about it exactly? The answer doesn’t have to be as esoteric as we sometimes make it seem. The meaning of life is an age-old enigma, and anyone whose pondered it knows that it’s not really about money, profession, power, skill, health, accomplishment, stature or influence … although these things all affect us and the lives we live. No, the Mountain Farmgirl experienced the TRULY important essence of life last week at a simple family gathering, and it didn’t consist of any of the above.  Come join her in “That’s What It’s All About”!

What IS life about?  “All of the above” might be an appropriate answer if life was a simple multiple choice question. Throw in a good dose of  personal expression, and some sort of acknowledgment of and/or reconciliation with your Maker,  and  our days are mighty full! But are they FULL-filling?  Ahhh, as Shakespeare quotes in Hamlet, “…There is the rub”.

A pastor I knew decades ago loved baseball, and he once likened life to a game of it .  ‘The game lasts for hours’, he said, ‘but the amount of time the ball is actually in play is pretty darn short’.  It was a good analogy.  I had gone to him seeking some elusive answers as a disillusioned and questioning twenty-something, and even though I’m not personally a sports-minded person, it made me think about how much “my game” was really “in play” in all the important ways. 

I’m in a good place right now in my life.  I’m healthy, active and in good shape. I am married to a good man who has provided well for his family.  I  have a business I love, and even though we’re struggling as much as the next guy in this economy, I love what I do and we’re hanging in there. I am prouder than button-poppin’ punch over all my kids and their spouses. I  have several deep and meaningful lifelong female friendships; and I’ve learned to say “no” when appropriate,   carving out, instead, sacred personal spaces within which I can be myself, create my art and write my heart out. 

But in essence, it isn’t about the “what we do” in life that is most important, it’s about 1) who we share our time and ourselves with;  2) how we do it; and 3) our personal reconciliation with our Creator and understanding our unique relationship to everything in this wonderful, confusing, awesome and sometimes insanely tumultuous world.

I had the wonderful opportunity to experience The Big “What-It’s-All-About” last week, for the occasion of my mother’s 85th birthday.  My sister and I have been planning it for about a year and a half, and I can’t believe it has so quickly  come and gone! However, the memories of this event will be with us all forever.
Back about a decade ago when my husband and I were writing out our ‘Pros and Cons’ list about uprooting our HudsonValley-based family for a New England mountain adventure in Innkeeping, the list was pretty top-heavy on the “Pro” side. The biggest negatives for my husband, myself and our children were being so far away from our parents (and grandparents)  in their golden years. This has continued  being the hardest thing to adjust to, but interestingly, I see my mom more now than I ever did when we lived a stone’s throw away!  For many years she would come up for long stretches in the summertime, until she got too busy with all her committees and newsletters and the wonderful work she does for retired teachers and education  in New York State.  The 7-hours trip is longer than I like her to make alone, although she would (and could) do it in a heartbeat and think nothing of it. But now I go down to visit her for about 10 days each spring and fall, and we talk on the phone and email every single day, and occasionally someone will drive her up here in between. And that’s what happened for the Milestone Birthday, which was an opportunity to honor and show our love and appreciation to my mother … and all get together to have one big family fun time.

Our ‘reunion’ of sorts was not really a full blown family reunion, as many of our clan were not able to be here. Our oldest son, Christopher, had just moved to Rochester, NY where he was working at a relatively new job, and his wonderful wife had just started her doctoral program at the University that week.  Obviously, they were not able to get away. Neither was our second son, Noah, who had just started a new job in a new city as well. Several of my sister’s children and grandchildren were also unable to come, as well as my dear, sweet Aunt Ruth, whom we spoke to on the phone every day. They were all sorely missed but we all understood why it wasn’t possible for them to travel so far.  But the rest of us were all here with bells on … and the interactions that took place amongst us made fun memories that will last a lifetime.


I’d love to share our cast of characters with you. First and foremost is my mother, Harriet  … or “Hattie” to many of us, Grandma or “Amah” to some. She is awesome!! Years ago I was asked to write an article about her for one of the teacher’s newsletters that were paying tribute to her, and I started it out by saying “My mother is the original Super Woman”. It is so true. A graduate of Barnard College, with a Masters in Education, and a long and impressive educational resume, she is equally at home running a statewide meeting as she is publishing a newsletter, painting a house, wallpapering a room, butchering a deer, putting on a gastronomic feast for 20 or being an encouragement to her grandchildren! … ALL of which she has continued to do with great finesse even within the last 12 months!

My mother, my sister Sue and brother Don

My wonderful sister Sue drove up with her, her son Ryan and her friend Collette.  Sue lives in the state of Florida, and even though we are sisters by birth, we are Friends Forever. Sue is the one I sometimes write about who has the gift of laughter, and making everybody happy just by walking in a room. Her son Ryan is a roofing contractor on the hot roofs of Florida.  Ouch!


             Ryan                     Collette in the kayak           Ryan and my sister Sue

Collette splits her time between Florida, where my sister met her shortly after high school, and Amish country in Pennsylvania where her family is originally from. We have all ‘adopted’ Collette into our family and love her a lot!
My brother and his family live not far from my mom, and keep good tabs on her while my sister and I live so far away. Donny is my youngest sibling and the most awesome auto mechanic, having won Chrysler’s Mechanic of the Year more than once. He is an all-around great guy.  My sister-in-law Jeanie is very ecologically minded, and an extraordinary painter, quilter, gardener and generally artistic person.

                         Nate & Lori      Donny & Jeanie  Collette   Ryan

Their oldest son is Danny, a supreme outdoorsman who hunts, fishes, grows his own food and is generally self-sufficient.  He is an RN and in the Air Force Reserves.  His girlfriend Alyssa is a teacher, and shares all his interests.
Lori, my brother’s daughter, has MANY interests.  A former teacher of Montessori, she is very much into mountain biking, running, yoga, rock climbing and nutrition and health, and is a Zumba instructor. Her boyfriend Nate is a former racer.


           Danny & Alyssa                                  Me           My niece Lori

My mother’s cousin Emelie Tolley is the author of dozens of books on herbs and gardening. She is one of my kindred spirits, who lives in the state of Maine.
Last but not least is my cousin Barb, one of my best friends and my ‘adopted sister’!  Barb arrived days before everyone else to help me get ready, have some one-on-one time before the crowd descended, and generally gave me a lot of moral support as I prepared for almost a week of family fun!


       Danny    My Mom & Cousin Emelie         This is me     My Cousin Barb

Of course I don’t want to leave out my husband Dana, daughter Alida and youngest son Joshua, who all helped me get ready in lots of ways. And, oh yeah ... I had a lot to do with organizing it all.


    Dana, my husband      Josh and my daughter               Josh and me
Family reunions can be challenging, but if you are well prepared and very organized (without being too structured), it will almost always run smoothly! Almost all of the food preparation was done well in advance, so meals ran like clockwork, and no one spent too much time in the kitchen instead of having fun with the family.


The first half of our get-together took place  at our inn in White Mountains of New Hampshire over Labor Day weekend. It was pretty laid back.  Some went on a 3 ½ hour zip line canopy tour through the mountains and had a blast! Others went to see waterfalls or look for moose. Lori and Nate did some mountain biking, and yoga class. One night we had a wonderful dinner at our favorite restaurant across the street.  Afterwards, we came home and celebrated my mom’s birthday with homemade birthday cake. We made it to look like an afghan she knitted for a charity raffle. Here it is, mimicking the photo of it, and looking like Noah’s Ark.
Although I had been praying for perfect weather for months, we actually could have used an ark for some of the NH trip. I was very disappointed with the forecast of rain, until I realized that I needed to take the advice I have written on a sign in our lobby: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, but about learning how to dance in the rain”. How true!! We certainly got plenty of opportunities to do this, and everyone had a wonderfulk, happy time being together, regardless of the weather.

The second half of our trip took place at our cottage on the coast of Maine, where we hiked, kayaked, picnicked, went to the Botanical Gardens, and played games. We laughed so hard sometimes that we could barely breathe! We reminisced and told stories about memories from long ago. And in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time to go our separate ways. However, we prolonged the inevitable by having lunch at LL Bean in Freeport, and then visiting our daughter’s apartment and Tea House in Portland. We basically got most of another day out of it!
And so it was that I think we all realized how precious family time can be.  In the aftermath of our friend Prescott’s untimely death last year, we are hyper-aware how fragile life is and how it doesn’t come with any guarantees for any of us. Being together, sharing laughs, sorrows, some problems, playing games, taking walks together … generally being there for each other and feeling the family bonds of unconditional love … and THAT, Farmgirls, is what it’s all about!


Until next time,

Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from Cathi

The Mountain Farmgirl



By: Sofie
On: 09/16/2013 09:22:56
You have inspired me to write about my cast of characters you've done yours so beautifully
By: Judy Nance
On: 09/17/2013 11:46:54
What a great story on a loving family event. I enjoyed the pictures as well. I also believe in gathering at every opportunity. We just celebrated a new kitchen reveal on Sunday, introducing our talented contractors to our friends ad family. It was really about celebrating their integrity and character performing their God given talents. I always enjoy your posting. Thanks, again. (btw, I have done the Zip Line in New Hampshire. SO FUN! Hope to return some day.
By: Heather :) :) :)
On: 09/19/2013 15:45:59
I'm really glad that you could spend some time with family and Happy Birthday to your mom :) :) Love and hugs from the ocean shores of California, Heather :)
By: joyce
On: 09/21/2013 06:51:15
What a lovely family. Your mom's awesome. Enjoyed the article.
By: Joan
On: 09/21/2013 21:53:37
What a precious time y'all had - so good to hear about families doing a real get together. Thanks for sharing. God Bless

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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