Idaho Meat and Greet

Friday morning, I foolishly set my alarm for 5:30 AM. Did I really think I wouldn’t be up before then, ready and raring to go?!

Ha. Silly Mark.

When I woke up automatically and checked the clock, it was 4:30. I closed my eyes again in a half-hearted attempt to fall back asleep, but gave up that pursuit eight minutes later. The open road, and the promise of a wonderful weekend with Tara and the kids, was impossible to resist. By 6:30 Audrey, Rusty and I were on the road, the Family Truckster chewing up the miles as we headed east. Direction: Idaho.

The Columbia Gorge was ablaze with fall color, big-leafed golden maples offering a beautiful contrast to the evergreen-carpeted hillsides and affording me with scenery different than what I encountered on my previous trips over the summer. And then we hit dense fog, and freezing temperatures. It was 26 chilly degrees at the first rest area where we stopped. I thought back to my road trip earlier this year, where 90s were a constant and the humidity made me drip. Talk about the difference between night and day.

Then again, so much has changed since then. In every possible way. And all for the better.

We arrived at the hotel in Boise shortly after 2:00 – just fifteen minutes ahead of Tara. The kids and I hung out in the lobby, and suddenly she was there. I swear, {cue romantic sweet talk} just the sight of her makes my heart flutter. That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering all the “you’ve got it bad” comments on my post last week. Yeah, whatever. I admit it! We hugged and kissed, and I introduced her to the Petruska offspring. “I can’t believe I’m standing here in front of you guys,” she said, and it was every bit as surreal a moment for me, too. She’s “known” my kids for many years, since they were 7 and 2, and pretty much watched them grow up…online, of course. Having everybody together in person added a whole new dimension to our relationship, and kicked the “serious” factor up several notches!

After getting settled into our respective (and, I might add, separate – the kids were across the hall) rooms, we headed down to the pool. The hotel was really nice – far better than the Super 8 I stayed at across the street on the 4th of July – and the swimming pool was no exception. It was large, indoors, heated…and filled with saltwater, as we were soon to discover. I hadn’t been swimming in years, but had a lot of fun, even though a certain girlfriend who shall remain nameless decided it would be a hoot to dunk me underwater when I was least expecting it. Turnabout, of course, is fair play. We played a bit of water volleyball with the kids and enjoyed a dip in the hot tub. You know what? Being on vacation is nice! I could get used to the lifestyle.

It was getting late and we hadn’t eaten since before the sun had even come up, so we returned to our rooms, showered, and then headed out to dinner. Our destination? Big Jud’s, a hamburger joint featured on Man V. Food. Tara and I are fans of Adam Richman‘s food series, and actually, the first time we met we went to lunch at Salvador Molly’s in Portland, which had also been one of Adam’s stops. The place was packed full of Boise State Broncos fans, gearing up for the big game on Saturday. Actually, the whole city was awash in blue and orange. They love their college team, those Idahoans do! Big Jud’s claim to fame is a 2-lb. cheeseburger. How could we resist? The burger, a basket of tater tots, a basket of fries, and four drinks only set us back $27.99 – not bad for four people. We split it into quarters, leaving us each with about a 1/2 pound, and somehow managed to devour the whole thing (thanks to some help from Rusty, who is the quintessential teenager-with-an-appetite). The food was delicious, and it was great fun watching everybody get to know each other. We hit a grocery store after dinner, then went back to the hotel for a game of Phase 10. The cards were a great icebreaker (not to mention the beer we had (yes, including me) (but not the kids, of course) and the cookies (Audrey and Rusty devoured the entire bag) and the old-school rap music that Tara fired up) and everybody was getting along wonderfully by the time we finished. We followed that up with another dip in the pool and jacuzzi before returning to our rooms. The candles and mellow music Tara surprised me with made for a sweetly romantic finish to a great first day.

Saturday morning dawned cold and clear; it had rained overnight and then froze, and a dusting of snow covered the Sawtooth Mountains on the outskirts of town. Again, a big difference from my last visit when it was so hot I could barely stand it. None of us had ever been to Cracker Barrel before, so we decided to check them out for breakfast. The food was so good, in fact, that we stopped there again the next morning – but only after learning that Idaho has this lame law where they don’t serve alcohol before 10 AM, killing our hopes of a Bloody Mary before we hit the road. After breakfast we drove through town, stopping at Union Depot for pictures and cruising by the state capital building before heading to Bogus Basin Ski Resort. The lifts weren’t open, but the drive was scenic and we got a chance to play in the snow for a little while. Then it was on to the Old Idaho Penitentiary, an architecturally stunning prison dating back to 1870, when Idaho was still a territory. It housed convicts until 1973, when the state shut it down, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. We thought it would be fun to tour the site, especially considering it’s allegedly haunted, and sure enough this was probably the highlight of our trip. We wandered around the place for a couple of hours, checking out the various cellblocks and other buildings, and got to see the gallows where a few condemned convicts were hanged. It was a very creepy and cool place! After returning to the hotel to freshen up, we decided to go see a movie, so we headed to the nearest cinema and caught Real Steel. The film was better than we’d expected – how can you go wrong with boxing robots?? – and we all enjoyed it. It was dark when we exited, and dinnertime, so we headed to a local pizza joint called Flying Pie that was – you guessed it – featured on Man V. Food. The place was crowded and we waited a long time for our pizzas, so when they arrived we scarfed ’em down. Good stuff, and worth the wait. When we got back to the hotel it was late and we were tired, so Tara and I went to bed. The kids, of course, spent more time at the pool. Guess they had a little more energy than the old folks in the group.

Sunday brought us to the inevitable end of our trip. After breakfast we said goodbye in the parking lot. On the plus side, we only have to go ten days without seeing each other this time around – Tara will be flying into PDX next Wednesday for Thanksgiving, and staying five nights! On the downside, saying goodbye is neverΒ going to be easy. When you’ve found somebody you are so compatible with and whose company you enjoy immensely, you don’t ever want to part ways. I’ve been in love before, but this time feels much different. She makes me feel complete to an extent I’m just not used to, which is a wonderful feeling, but it means when we’re apart I feel like there’s a big, empty void in my life.

Alone in the car with the kids, I immediately pounced on them for feedback. They had a great time and like Tara very much. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear this; my kids are smart enough to see how awesome a person is, especially one who makes their dad so happy. There was never a doubt in my mind that they wouldn’t fully accept her into their lives.

It feels good to have the initial meeting out of the way, regardless. Next up: my parents!

The 2-lb. burger from Big Jud's. Yes, we ate the whole thing!
Downtown Boise and the adjacent snowcapped Sawtooth Mountains.
View of Idaho's Treasure Valley from the drive to Bogus Basin.
Look how happy and extraordinarily cute we look.
The Old Idaho Penitentiary.
Walking the perimeter of the Old Idaho Pen.
The oldest cellblock in the prison, dating to the 1800s.
Those convicts and their wacky sense of humor!
The gallows were especially creepy. Raymond Snowden died here in 1957, and his ghost allegedly haunts the prison.
Love the architecture!

Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

37 thoughts on “Idaho Meat and Greet

  1. OK, Mark…you can keep her: She’s wearing a sweatshirt for the University of Nevada, Reno — my alma mater! (Go Pack! Woohoo!)

    In all seriousness, congrats — it looks like things are looking up for you and your family, and I know we’re all so happy for you!



  2. I knew it would be a huge success! Congratulations, my friend! You all look so happy together. Thank God you don’t have to wait so long till you see see each other again. I know how hard the separation can be.


  3. Mark, I’ve been DYING to read this post and hearing all about your weekend!

    Okay, first, I LOVE your post title – freakin’ BRILLIANT, man!

    “and suddenly she was there. I swear, {cue romantic sweet talk} just the sight of her makes my heart flutter.”

    OMG…I’m SUCH a romantic, so that made me all giddy and smiley! I bet it felt like a scene out of a romantic movie!

    Okay, second, HOLY COW…do you think that hamburger could get any BIGGER???? OMG, it’s ENORMOUS! And I happen to love burgers, so I would have been heaven!

    GREAT pictures! Love the shot of Downtown Boise and the Idaho’s Treasure Valley! And of course the one of you and Tara!

    “Look how happy and extraordinarily cute we look.”

    And you DO!

    I knew this trip was going to be a smashing success!

    Thanks so much for sharing it with us.


    P.S. *waving* Hi Tara!


    1. I suppose if it had been a romantic movie we’d have dashed across the lobby toward each other with open arms. Knowing me I would have tripped over the carpet, so it’s probably best that our actual embrace was a little more low key. πŸ˜‰

      The official food challenge at Big Jud’s is for 1 person to eat that burger. Sheesh, the four of us barely plowed through it – I can’t imagine one person finishing it all! But there were a bunch of photos on the wall of people who had successfully completed the challenge. I am in awe of their fortitude.


  4. Oh yes…I love the entry, of course!! I’m so happy for you and Tara and the kids, Mark! You all just look so happy and that’s been a rarity for quite sometime now…for both of you!

    I just wish it wasn’t 2 weeks away until you get up here but it will be worth the wait.

    (You like my new name…lol?


    1. I don’t know who you are Frannie, or why you think I’ll be visiting you in two weeks, but I’m a little bit creeped out by it all. Do I have to call the Blog Police and…


      Why, hello there, Tracy!

      Yes, it’s great to be feeling happy for a change! πŸ™‚


    1. Oh, didn’t you know in America we always leave our kids unattended in their own rooms? It’s a USA thing!

      Actually, they’re good kids and have done it before without any problems. It was definitely the way to go! πŸ™‚


  5. Aww, your kids are so cute. I’m glad you guys had so much fun on your getaway! Well deserved and I’m happy the kids had fun with Tara!


    1. Thanks, Jess! They’ll probably see your comment, which will cause their heads to swell, lol. We had a great time – and now when Tara’s back here next week, they’ll all be old buddies!


  6. Card games and 2-lb burgers – definitely good bonding experiences. And I gotta say, in your picture you kinda look like an old married couple – and I mean that in a good way (being half of an old married couple myself).


  7. The Tara part was of interest to me, Mark. Most kids resent “the other woman” even though she may have come into one’s life long after the divorce. Mine clearly understood what a piece of _________was their mother and were supportive and friendly and hopeful for me as well re dad’s girlfriends. But nothing ever lasted over the last 25 years and grandkids fill that empty part of me quite delightfully. From your past posts you seem to have a smooth relationship with ex and that is so precious and enviable. Regards.


    1. Well, the relationship with the ex is smooth sometimes, tolerable at others, and once in awhile rocky. But for the most part, yes – we do get along. The kids long ago accepted her new guy into their lives, and have been nothing but supportive toward Tara. Sometimes I shake my head in wonder at their resiliency; my parents are still together after 44 years of marriage, and I can’t imagine what it would have been like to deal with a divorce and new people in our lives.


    1. Up until June, I’d never been to Idaho either. Now I’ve been through there three times in five months – it really is quite beautiful around Boise. And the cost of living is cheap!


  8. So happy to hear your trip went so well and I love the pictures! Mine went well too, hoping to find the time to post about it yet today. I completely understand what you mean by feeling like there is something missing when you guys aren’t together. It’s hard but yet amazing at the same time.


  9. Enjoyed catching up since i’ve been absent from posting for a while. Sounds like the trip was fun. I was going to say “Love the castle until I read that it was the Pen…” I still love old stone architecture no matter the building. Beautiful!


  10. I still marvel at how perfect all of our visits have been, beginning with our very first night together. I loved hanging out with the kids and can’t wait to spend the day with them…next week! Thanks for making me so happy, babe. πŸ™‚


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