Drive bys

emmett-2
I failed to get a photo of the mint field, but the sights, sounds, and smells of Jon’s ranch in Emmett elicits the same sense of homesickness

The first time I drove from Justin’s to Jon’s new place in Emmett I had the windows rolled down, the sun roof wide open and I could smell it before I could see it.

Peppermint.

I slowed down and inhaled deeply.

And then I burst into tears.

I drove on past corn fields and hay fields and through the short wind-y pass–my very first time–with tears rolling down my face and a sharp pang in my heart.

That sudden, unexpected missing of something long missing but not forgotten stirred up remnants of loss and sorrows past and current deep from the bottom of the well.

Most of the time I don’t think about the loss. The too-soon loss of a parent. The deep uprooting as my mom packed up and moved to Utah for a better opportunity to support her family. The missing in my heart of the people and places, scenes and scents of my childhood. I was already away at university, so it’s likely any returns to my home would have been brief and scattered. But the roots had grown deep into that small farm town and there is still a part of me that longs for home, despite being perfectly rooted in a lovely Provo neighborhood for nearly 30 years since.

For a time I thought maybe we would somehow recreate it here. Fell in love with Midway and Daniel. Hannah and a few other stretches out east in The Basin where there was enough water for a few trees to grow here and there. Tiny farmhouses in patches of green would catch my eye. “I could live there,” I thought.

But it wasn’t to be.

And even if it would have been, I’ve never seen a peppermint field in Utah.

I still miss the tangy, earthy smell of mint in the early morning and the dusky evening hours every time I walked out my front door, and especially after a good rain.

I miss rain.

[Day 18 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Siblings

siblingsThis is skewed to reduce the glare, but is one of the family photos that used to hang on the wall at Mom’s

I could no more write about only one of my five siblings than I could name a favorite sibling or child. There are stories to tell, of course. Some funny. Some dark. Some happy. Some sad. But I could not choose just one.

So I thought to take a moment to write about how this past year, the second since we became orphaned by losing our mother–our last remaining parent, I have felt compelled to make greater effort to extend myself to my siblings.

I’m one of two who has lived in vicinity of Mom, who has been our center since Dad died over 30 years ago. It didn’t require much effort to see my siblings. They came to Mom, and therefore to me.

But our sense of that physical center–our hub–dissipated with Mom’s passing and the selling of her home, which, though neither of of our childhood homes, is the home the next generation remembers best. And where our families have gathered together for the past several years. The geographical center is now the Meridian-Boise, Idaho area. Two brothers live there and it’s the shortest drive for my Portland brother, my Coeur d’Alene sister, and my Spanish Fork brother and my Provo self.

I find myself drawn there whenever I can get away. When my sister needed to be there with her son for soccer, I went so I could catch 3 of the 5.

Earlier this summer when oldest son and his wife wanted to go to Portland for a friend’s wedding, I offered to drive them. We stopped in Meridian coming and going, and again I hit 3 of 5.

When my brother bought a ranch in Emmett after going through a painful divorce, I went up again. The pretense was to offer help with his move. But mostly it was because I needed to give him a hug and see for myself that he was going to be ok.

Finally getting into cell phone range after a visit to girls camp a couple of months ago, I was excited to learn by text that not one, but two of my brothers–or at least part of one’s family (Portland and Meridian) were coming here. I threw together a Sunday dessert which my local brother’s family joined after just returning from a weekend in Wyoming. Three of five.

My brother Keith sends us photos of his family and their visits throughout the beautiful NW from whence we came. My brother Jon reaches out with photos of his growing herd of cows. My brother R.D. and sister Jayne Anne draw me out when my heart has curled up into a ball for whatever reason and I’ve not properly responded to any random bit of news. My brother Justin and his family host us–serving as our new hub any time any one of us is traveling through. Each has his or her own way of reaching out to maintain those ties that deeply bind us, but which now require a few more miles, a little more effort to maintain.

It’s so worth it.

They have my heart.

[Day 17 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Learning new things – gymnastics was not my friend

When I was in about 6th grade, I was a full head taller than almost all of the boys. It felt awkward enough walking single file down the hall to lunch or recess. But it felt even more awkward high up on the balance beam.

I worked hard to be a straight A student and it seemed fairly effortless until it came to the gymnastics unit in P.E. Oh I could nail the vault and hold my own on the unevens, but the balance beam was my nemesis. I was sure I was going to fail, which made me mad. And I was sure I was going to fall, which made me afraid.

I had a lot to learn, but one of the best lessons I took away from that 3-4 weeks was the value of practice. The word grit must be short for gritting one’s teeth, because that’s pretty much what I did. I gritted my teeth and dug in. I spend more time on the beam than on any other piece of equipment. I’m sure I did fall, but all I recall about it now is that your body and your ego might be a bit bruised, but you can get back up after you fall and try again.

It’s most likely that any inkling of grace or skill I might have had was imagined, and that A I received in gymnastics was simply for meeting a minimum of proficiency. But that practice upon practice gave me confidence and somehow that pulled me through to finish the course and maintain that A average.

I conquered the balance beam. (Someday I will tell you about my battle with the deep end of the pool hashtag: “12 feet isn’t deep.”)

[Day 16 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

balance-beam

How I know the true meaning of the words “Happy Camper”

9226-drops-of-rain-on-a-leaf-pvI grew up in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Eugene and Junction City Oregon. Which means camping for me meant camping in the rain and the mud. Not in the heat and the dry and the dust inherent in any camping activities in Utah.

When I was a teenager, camping meant Girls Camp, within hiking distance of the Pacific Ocean. We slept in tents, not wood cabins. And we dug deep trenches around those tents to keep the rain out, but they never worked.

You know what the best thing is? We didn’t care! We were just happy to be out under the moon and the stars (although most often the clouds) and to be in the middle of the woods and to spend the afternoon on the waterfront (funny how we could still be so enthusiastic for more water) and at least one day “hiking” along the rugged shores of the cold Pacific Ocean.

Personally, I think camping under conditions many would find miserable was life changing and character building. If you could learn to find the good and be happy in such cold and wet and mud, you could learn to find the good and be happy in most anything.

Speaking of the waterfront (as I said – when it’s raining, everywhere is the waterfront), I need to linger a moment longer on those afternoons I lived for the waterfront. At first chance, I would run down the trail to be one of the first to grab the little 2-woman sailboats, don an orange life vest, and would sail the afternoon hours away with whomever was willing to sail away with me. I remember dreaming of living on a sail boat, or, at the very least, of sailing with bigger sails. That hasn’t happened (yet), but it still may someday. In any case, I wouldn’t trade the wind those hours of the wind in my hair (and the resultant hair whipping across my face) for anything.

[Day 15 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

School lunch FOOD FIGHT!

weaponofchoiceI may or may not have just now whipped up a batch of lumpy homemade chocolate pudding simply for the photo op (blurry spoonful or no)

Elementary school cafeterias are so cliche. The bland lunch tables. The generic food. The elite cool table. And everyone else.

As an oldest child, I generally kept out of trouble. I had a responsibility complex and it was ingrained in me to set a good example. But when provoked or when I otherwise deem it necessary, I can stand up like nobody’s business.

I don’t recall who started the harassment, or what, exactly was said. But an entire row of my male classmates were giving me a hard time. (I just recalled – I know I was wearing the soft brown wide-wale corduroy because the aftermath is etched in my memory.)

But I had had enough.

I took a heaping spoonful of pallid chocolate pudding, leveled it horizontal, grabbed the spoon end with my right index finger, pulled back, turned it sideways, and let it go.

BULLSEYE!

I nailed a whole row of smart-mouthed boys right across the face.

It was epic.

As was the food fight/cafeteria brawl that ensured.

I know this because one of those boys has both messaged me on Facebook and provided a descriptive play-by-play in a comment thread over the past couple of years. He STILL remembers! And this must have been at almost 45 years ago.

It was, truly, one of my proudest moments.

Amazingly, I don’t recall an inquisition on the part of the school administration and I don’t believe a single one of us was punished for the uprising. Or the horrible mess.

And I generally behaved myself outside of that moment.

But it remains a proud moment of culinary adeptness. And I don’t regret it.

[Day 14 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Hair today, gone tomorrow

As at least strongly hinted at in my previous post, here is the photo gallery of just how much I don’t worry about hair.

mohawk
mohawk

(not pictured – that time Zack got a mullet and one of the counselors in the bishopric didn’t recognize him and was wondering what stranger I was letting rest his head on my shoulder during church)

shave
shave – there is a good story about this one. maybe i’ll write about it someday.

bluegreen
blue/green

bluegrey
blue/grey (also, one of my favorite. but blue is so fickle)

not pictured – red, which is also rather fickle

also not pictured:
numerous shades of Kool-aid, which are anything but fickle
at least a couple of rats’ tails, male and female
a number of manbuns and manbraids
2nd boy with serious–even superior–manbun

We interrupt today’s programming…

Today’s prompt is all about hair. Truth is, I don’t care about hair. This may have been an advantage to my kids who have wanted to express themselves with their hair. (Maybe later I will gather photos and share.) It has never been a hill I’ve been inclined to die on. (Actually, I like living and I’m awfully fond of my own agency, so there are not a lot of hills I’m inclined to die on.)

As for my hair, I never did the back of my hair as a kid, because I just didn’t care. Most of the time I go with the messy bun simply because I am inept with a round brush, I don’t want to spend any time on my hair and I want my hair out of my face.

In any case, I have to get up early to complete these prompts before work, only sometimes they don’t come until later in the day and since I was in the mood to write early this morning anyway and I’ve had a few things on my mind, I will dispense with the hair and post what I wrote this morning:

(Trigger warning: waxing both long and political here. Yikes!)

Yesterday I read a thought-provoking article about Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and how we are all to blame for the pickle we find ourselves in with this election.

Last night as I read the bittersweet story of the unlikely friendship between a poor, illiterate prisoner and the editor of an encyclopedia, it struck me how we so easily sit–smug in our literacy and our education–in judgment of those who never had similar opportunities and who never seem to catch a break. Instead of educating them or giving them a hand up, we simply throw them in prison. Again and again and again.

This morning I read this astute observation from Rick Soulier, who posted a story about Carrie Tolstedt: “Carrie Tolstedt, the Wells Fargo Bank executive in charge of the unit where employees opened more than 2 million unauthorized customer accounts – thereby committing “unfair and abusive practices under federal law,” according to the head of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — was not fired. Instead, she’s leaving the bank with a pay package of $124.6 million.

Poor kids go to prison for possessing a few ounces of cocaine. Top Wall Street executives defraud millions of customers and get a fortune. If this isn’t a rigged game, then I do not know a rigged game.”

This right on the heels of Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s 400% increase in pay as she and her company extort ridiculous profits from parents of children who can’t breathe.

Rick is correct. This is a rigged game.

It occurs to me that the frustration of the people in this election is not simply because we cannot trust either of the candidates or because the behavior we’ve seen throughout this election cycle has been, to be frank, deplorable. It is, in part, because we have had enough. We recognize that it is a rigged game. We are done with the status quo. We are desperate, yet powerless, to upend it.

While I continue to deplore the damaging racism, bigotry, misogyny and the complete lack of respect that has so freely flowed these past several months, I believe I now have a tiny awareness of at least one of the roots of the unrest. The people most ill-served by the system are growing tired of playing a rigged game.

I don’t blame them. I don’t know how to make things right. But I can no longer sit comfortable and smug in privilege I was simply born into. At the very least, I need to publicly state that this is wrong. And we need to fix it.

[Day 13 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir and I’m already off-script.]

Decisions: should I stay or should I go now?

my-commuteThe first time it was easy. I hadn’t planned to go back to outside-the-home work until my youngest was in school full time. But I happened to glance at a want add in the newspaper my neighbor was having delivered to our house while he was out of town and it caught my eye: “Google searchers wanted – part-time, flexible, temporary.”

“You should apply for this,” was clear and unmistakeable, as was the “Stop!” when I tried to quit after the company did something which I felt strongly about and the HR person on the other end of the phone did not quite hear me the first time and I was about to repeat myself declining their offer.

The second time, nearly 8 years later, it was a little trickier. I’d been recruited by a former coworker from the first job, which had since become much more than flexible and temporary, but was still for the most part part time. I was nervous leaving a place I felt comfortable. Where the people I worked with were like family. And where I was good at what I did to the point a number of people relied on me and depended on me as their supervisor.

I recall standing, shaking nervously, with a big bold pit in the bottom of my stomach, at the window just before my interview, looking out over the airport runway.

“What are you thinking? You are afraid of flying!” This was true both literally and metaphorically.

All of a sudden a feeling of peace and calm washed over me.

The interview went well.

I had an offer shortly after.

As well as an unprecedented counter offer from my current employer, who was quite taken aback by my resignation.

A big decision to make – why leave a perfectly good job at which you are good and in which you are comfortable?

It all came down to the surety of that feeling of peace and calm I felt looking out over the ramp. Parts of it were going to be literal rocket science. I was completely out of my element and my comfort zone. But I was going to jump.

The third time it was more difficult. I had an opportunity to leave what felt, even though it was soft-funded, a more secure part-time position to work full time as part of a new team “educational technology.” In the interview my boss described the security between the two positions as “sixes.”

Full time was a big commitment. Not really what I wanted to do, but something I felt compelled to do. The benefits–particularly the tuition benefit–would be especially helpful for our last two kids. I tried to discuss it with family to get their input. Little was forthcoming. I sought inspiration and guidance, and again, little was forthcoming.

The weight of this decision was heavy on my shoulders.

I jumped again.

Now, nearly three years later, I still find myself asking if I did the right thing. The part-time job I left this time is long gone. I’ve moved well beyond my comfort zone once again and find myself doing work and accepting responsibilities I would never have dreamed of. I became a frequent flier and spent over two months traveling–Washington D.C., Atlanta, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami–in just over a year and, surprisingly, loved almost every minute of it.

But as I drive along the pastoral perfection that is my short commute–God is used to hearing my prayers along this commute–I still often ask, “Am I supposed to be here? If I’m not, please tell me where I am supposed to be.”

And the silence still weighs heavy on my shoulders.

[Day 12 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

Lost

lost
I try not to care about things, so aside from misplacing my car keys and my cell phone checks people may have written to me in the olden days and even sometimes my shoes on a regular basis, losing things isn’t too much of an annoyance, with two exceptions.

1. My cat. (See previous post.) I am still both heartbroken and (trying to) holding on to hope for Mowgli.

2. A couple of years of my life.

Here is the story. One day I got a warning about malware on my blog. I immediately took it down and consulted with my friend who hosts my blog. She worked to clean it up, but it was more work than she had anticipated and she eventually sent me what I thought were backup files and told me I was good to go. Because this web/IT thing isn’t my thing, I was a bit lost as to how to restore my former content, and, thinking it was still existing in some files in my email, went about blogging again to my heart’s content.

Time passed. Time passes in quantities of years while I avoid things that intimidate me. Eventually I dug around in my email and realized that the backup isn’t files, it was just a code to revert to something in wordpress that I assume once housed about a year and a half (or more–because it is too sad and overwhelming for me to think about, I have avoided determining just how much is lost) of my life.

That wouldn’t have even been an issue so much because several of my friends had all my content in archived, if you will, in Google Reader. But Google threw us all under the bus (for which I will never forgive them) and even though we signed up for new “reader” apps we learned too late that all the content in Google Reader disappeared and the new readers didn’t access past posts, and all was lost.

The sadness and sense of loss I generally protect myself from gets too close to home every time I search my blog for details of a memory I can’t quite recall but which I know I wrote about once and my search for it comes up empty. Where this comes full circle for me is when I wrote about Mowgli the other day and I clicked on the “that darn cat” tag and realized that all my cat posts are missing. I must tell you that my cat posts may be some of my favorite and best posts and now they are as gone as my cat (which I am feeling far less cavalier about than I sound).

I’m sure 90% of my blog insignificant and is probably no big loss. But I know there is a good 10% that is essentially written witness to my life and a view into my heart that often seems (to me at least) lost on anyone else. And losing that feels (to me at least) like losing a part of myself.

It hurts me more than a little, so I try not to think about it unless I really have to. Like just now with this prompt.

Post edit: Curiosity got the best of me (I should have known better), and I checked. I lost much more than a year or two: September 2007 to November 2012. Let’s try not to think about this too much as I’m feeling more than a little gut-punched right now. hashtag: I need a hero.

[Day 11 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]

Chaos Theory: Life’s messy, but you can’t always clean it up

dark_heart_of_the_milky_way
Dark Heart of the Milky Way – Wikimedia Commons

This is a hard one for me because the older I get the more I realize life’s messy, and you can’t always clean it up. We are all broken, most of us in ways that won’t be fixed until the next life. That is the painful truth. We are often entangled in other people’s messes, simply because we love. And it’s a lonely road because it’s one thing to write about your own hot mess, but bringing other people into it is infringing on someone else’s story, and it’s just not done. So everybody’s messiness stays inside our heads and our hearts instead of getting released into the world and feeling lighter. Sometimes all you feel is the heaviness of reverberation as it weighs on your mind and in your heart.

Even though sometimes we find ourselves needing a break from the messiness, because we love we stay. (My friend Angela wrote a beautiful and honest book about this theme, I recommend.)

What is the answer? Is there an answer? I don’t know. I just know that whenever I ask, my answer is always not to abandon and it is always to love. Or at least love the best I can.

[Day 10 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir]