SOMETIMES*

A few years ago I took my kids camping high in the Wasatch Mountains on what turned out to be one of the coldest days that winter. The decision to go winter camping was last-minute, so I called my wife and asked her to throw our tent in my truck so we could leave the minute I got home from work. With that, my dear wife quickly gathered sleeping bags, extra blankets, dry clothes and made my famous tinfoil dinner. You can find that recipe below.

I think little Mitch was on to something; that perhaps sometimes the hard times turn out to be our happiest times. Certainly not in the moment … and maybe not all the time. But sometimes.
— Christopher M. Jones | Mitchell's Journey

We raced into the mountains so we could find a camping spot before night came -but before we arrived at our destination, it was already dark and the temperature was falling rapidly. I carried Mitch on my back a few hundred yards because his legs were much too weak to walk through the snow. Within about 15 minutes we had started a roaring campfire so the kids could get warm while I set our tent. Within minutes I discovered Natalie accidentally packed what was essentially a mosquito net for summer picnics. It offered virtually no protection from the bitter cold. I told my boys it isn’t a good idea to quit at the first sign of a struggle … that we can always find a way if we look for a solution. After some discussion, my boys decided they wanted to stay anyway.

That was the longest and most difficult camping trip of my life. I didn’t sleep more than 15 minutes at a time. No sooner would I doze off that I would awake in a panic, spring from my sleeping bag and make sure my boys were covered and warm. I would then lay my head on the frozen floor and peer into the starry sky through the mosquito net thinking to myself, “What on earth are we doing?”

The next morning we awoke and started another roaring fire. A warm cup of hot chocolate was on the way when Mitch came to me and said, “Hey Dad, let’s not ever do that again.”

“Deal,” I said with a chuckle and then kissed his face, “I am sorry you were so cold.” Mitch smiled and said, “It’s okay Dad. It was fun … but not that fun.” We drove down the mountainside and I took our kids to the first restaurant we saw and I ordered them each a stack of hot pancakes and scrambled eggs. As I saw my boys dig in and chuckle between themselves over the mosquito net, my heart was overflowing. I thought myself the luckiest man on earth. I was so glad to be a dad.

There have been times, in moments of parental doubt, I wondered if dragging my boys out in the cold, away from our warm home was a good idea when they were so young. But then I would find little folded pieces of paper on my nightstand addressed to me from Mitch. In each piece of childhood origami was a hand drawn picture of adventures past. Not once did he draw pictures of Disney Land or expensive vacations, instead he re-created fire pits and fellowship. He seemed to interpret struggle with a measure of fondness. He would draw pictures of our spring camping adventure when we nearly got flooded out by a torrential downpour. He made drawings of the winter camping trips we vowed to never do again. From the boiling hot deserts to the dirty, muddy hills … the things we disliked in the moment, turned out to be the things he remembered and loved the most.

In like manner, when I think of our early days raising a family … when exhaustion and discouragement nearly broke us … those are some of our sweetest memories. I think little Mitch was on to something; that perhaps sometimes the hard times turn out to be our happiest times. Certainly not in the moment … and maybe not all the time. But sometimes.

 

 

Mitchell's Favorite Recipe

Apply portions according to preference.

 
  • Lay down foil sheets to match the number of meals you want to make.  I recommend using two sheets per meal to ensure a strong seal.

  • Optional: apply a light coat of non-stick spray to one side of the foil

  • Lay a bed of tater tots on each sheet.  Two handfuls is usually sufficient.

  • Pour cream of mushroom on top of the tater tots.  Be generous with these portions as they soak into the tater tots and become like gravy.  One can per meal is usually perfect.

  • Cut chicken breasts to desired size and place on top

  • Add corn

  • Season with salt & pepper and other spices to preference

  • Wrap & freeze

 

 

Freezing foil dinners will ensure your meals stay fresh.  When you’re ready to cook it, you simply place it over hot coals and rotate every 5 minutes for about 20 minutes, or until your meal is thoroughly cooked.

There are alternative ingredients to virtually every item on this recipe, but Mitch (and our family) have found this one especially perfect.


Tip on Cooking Over Fire

Be sure to cook over hot coals, not a roaring bonfire.  

iStock-474944786 (1).jpg

The best time to place your foil dinners is after the flames have died down and the bed of your fire pit is filled with red hot coals.

You can also cook your foil dinners on a grill, as seen below.  We made these meals for Cousins Camp 2016:

unlike flames from a fire, hot coals create intense,  even heat

Sometimes it takes patience to wait for the fire to die down and coals to appear 

its a good idea to spread coals out evenly so heat is distributed ACROSS your cooking area

MITCHELL'S FAVORITE

One of Mitchell’s favorite treats was hot chocolate. When it snowed around the holidays he always asked me to make my ‘famous hot chocolate’ (at least Mitch thought it was famous) so he could sit by the window and watch the snow fall and enjoy a warm treat. Our family has many good memories surrounding this activity – so I thought we’d share it with all of you.

There is nothing original about it; in fact, I’m sure Pinterest is filled with a hundred thousand variations. But this was our simple recipe and it was something Mitch loved. Some of you might like it, too.

It is fairly simple to make:

1) Warm milk to a boil over the stove.
2) Add chocolate shavings (Mitch really liked Lindt Milk Chocolate)
He would often take candy bars and use a cheese grater to make the shavings
Generally, 3 ounces of chocolate for every 2 cups of milk works well.
3) Slowly stir chocolate shavings into simmering milk and whisk until completely dissolved
4) Add chocolate to preferred taste
5) Whipped cream, with a puff of cinnamon and sprinkled graham cracker crumbs on top always made it feel extra special. Sometimes Mitch even wanted crushed candy cane on top. 

As with so many things, what we do is often less important in life than how we do it. Having hot chocolate was fun, but making it together as a family made both a treat and a memory. And memories are infinitely sweeter and last much longer.

We have several other things we made as family traditions I will share over the next few weeks/months. Tonight, as Ethan and Wyatt helped me take this photo of some ingredients, we remembered the fun times and the sweet times … and our hearts grew in gratitude.

I was reminded that while we might give each other gifts this season … love, time and attention are some of the greatest gifts we can give each other.

 

A SWEETNESS THAT LASTS

A few weeks ago I stumbled into an old 2004 Christmas card I made with my little family. Each card was a chocolate bar covered by custom wrapper with a short update on our family. I don’t recall any companies making such things back then but that never stopped me from trying something new. Natalie and I printed, cut and adhered each wrapper to every bar. 

I wasn't a designer and this was my first crude attempt at doing this. It wasn't very sophisticated and was more a labor of love than anything. We got better at it over the years but I learned early on it is never really the thing we give that matters; but rather the meaning behind the thing that makes our heart sing. So, when I saw this chocolate bar my mind was awash with memories and warm feelings of a time long gone; a time my children used to crawl over me and wrestle me to the ground when I came home from work. A time before Mitchell’s diagnosis. A time before grief, disappointment and darkness. 

When I saw that clunky little card I was grateful I had the gift of my children and felt a glimmer of hope there will be gentler days ahead.

On the back of the chocolate bar was something that looked very much like any chocolate bar you might purchase, only the words were about our family. 

There was a block of text that read:

Laura-Ashley (6 years old) is an artist. She spends a great deal of her spare time drawing pictures and constructing stapled paper books for us to read. She is the top student of her Kindergarten class.

Ethan (4 years old) is an absolute sweetie. Very kind to others and has become quite an entertainer of adult audiences. He likes to sing and build things with blocks and Legos and is rather proficient with a computer.

Mitch (2 years old) is a wonderful cuddler. Mitch has learned to stand up for himself and often provokes his older brother by slapping his back and running off laughing. We’ll have to keep an eye on him. ;)

Where you might ordinarily see “Nutrition Facts” I replaced with the following “Spiritual Facts”


_____________________________
SPIRITUAL FACTS
Serving Size 1 Child (between 15 & 30 lbs.)
Amount Per Serving
Joy & Rejoicing ………………….100%
Love ……………………………... 100%
Patience
- On a good day …...….……. 50%
- On a bad day …...……...…. 100%
Laughter ………………………… 100%
Compassion …………………….. 100%
Fulfillment ………………………. 100%
Happiness ………………...……... 100%
Heartache ……………..………… 20%
Empathy ………………………… 100%
_____________________________
FAMILY IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL


We replaced the actual ingredients with the following:
INGREDIENTS: MILK CHOCOLATE, A LOT OF LOVE AND APPRECIATION FOR FAMILY, SOME GOOD MEMORIES, A COUPLE OF BUMPS AND BRUISES, AND A LOT OF LAUGHTER.

There were a few other things on it, but you get the idea. Knowing what I know now, I might change a few things: heartache, for example, would go from 20% to 2,000,000%. Love, from 100% to infinity and far beyond.

We only made 100 of these and I kept 2. The chocolate has no doubt gone bad by now and lost its savor; a reminder that everything material has a shelf life. Unlike the chocolate, however, the sweetness of family gets better and better over time. A reminder, too, everything that matters only gets sweeter if we are true.